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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Punked Out 2: Do you feel lucky: Week 458: Critpunk: The Crittening

First crit: title your story. That’s prime real estate you’re wasting that could be used to set up a theme, character, expectation, etc.
Second crit: Characters. There’s not much there. He’s a discarded student who had some bad stuff happen. Time is spent on what he knows how to do, but we don’t really understand his history, personality, etc., and mostly that’s because he interacts with environments, but not other characters. He has a goal, and he does it, but we need more.
Setting, you have, and it’s both diesel and punk. It’s heavy-handed: Big corporations sucking up homes. Acid rain. Diesel smoke everywhere. But it’s present and obvious.
The biggest thing is you have a lot of long rambling worldbuilding going on, and most of it doesn’t help us get to know our character any better, or develop themes or anything interesting. Spend less time on the history of atomics in relation to dieselworld; it doesn’t matter. Who this character is and why they decide to die for their cause is better. Though society’s ills rarely have a magic one-shot solution like the unnamed protagonist’s magic hydrocarbon-eating bacteria that he got after a week of research (lol) that he tosses into a fuel center like a hobbit chucking a ring into Mt. Doom; that felt a bit trite.

How to Change Stone into Bread
This story has the alchemy, and it’s got a pair of lovable rogues. They do a heist, though the story meanders through the entire intro section before telling us the plot. The characters feel pretty shallow, and I think it’s because they only really interact with each other; everyone else is generic NPC lizard warriors or unnamed laborer 24. The heist isn’t particularly interesting, but it has some tension going for it. I didn’t really care about the noble sacrifice, and left the story feeling like I’d seen this all before. Either the heist needs to be interesting (hard to do in the tight word-budget) or the characters and setting need more depth. You might read two stories from this week: “The Faceless Artist” for how to get more twists in a heist, or “Warp and Weft,” to see how use characters to better effect.

The Faceless Artist
Heavy-handed is the hand that wields the paintbrush; there’s not a lot of subtle strokes in your introduction, and both the intro and the middle sections are your weakest parts. They meander, and I would cut at them relentlessly until you get the barest pieces from them you need. Certainly you don’t need the hustler, and you can give us the setting and the world politics we need in fewer words. The end is a fun bit, with a fun twist of a betrayal that speaks at the ruthlessness and corruption a genre like this demands. Jacques is about an inch deep as a character until he finally gets a moment at the end where he gets to make a punk choice. More time in the story needs to bring out who he (and his nasty master) are so that the betrayal actually hurts the reader. What does Jacques have to lose? Where does he come from? One infers CR is clever, since he’s got a bunch of rebels in his pocket and is just using them, but again, the story doesn’t explore much of this. It also feels like you need to get serious with that paintbrush: For a story about art, I didn’t get the powerful visuals I’d like to see. The red canvas is a start, but I need more vivid imagery.

Heaven's Door
Monolith means “one rock” and it’s a big rock, not a living planet. (The secondary definitions are figurative, and refer to social structures, so your world-organism doesn’t fit there either).
Okay, on to the biggest thing: This is a LOT of exposition. A loving lot. And there’s also no established purpose to any of it yet; why do I care? You endlessly wax on about the setting and slam down history book chapters, and so by the time I even meet a single character (and character is a strong word for Sil-K1, who not developed with much), I’m already rolling my eyes and falling asleep. You can cut huge chunks out of this and lose nothing.
Onto the plot: Dunno what it is. This is partially a character problem: I don’t know your character’s motivations. I’m not sure why the clans are meeting, or what it’s about. Even the dialogue is just an excuse for more exposition on boring history. When you finally tell us about the discovery of the weird thing, I still am lost, because despite the previous exposition, they’re on a [weird object]; I don’t know what’s normal and what’s not.
Flatly put: This isn’t biopunk; there’s no rebels, and the focus is on the setting, not the bio tech; it’s a neat setting (as a note, if you want to see this setting done right, read The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley), but clarity is big problem here. There’s some sort of ‘revelation’ at the end, but it makes no sense. There’s something interesting buried here, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is or what you were trying to do.

Warp and Weft
There’s a lot of good stuff here. The spinning wheel and weaves of light conjure up mythologies and the themes that come with them. The story is also quick to establish its purpose. It’s a bit on the nose predicting the trend of society, and it feels like it simplifies the industrialization of England as a process of widespread acceptance, rather than the widespread resistance and brutality it entailed. It’s not very punk, though, yeah, they are rebelling against the system. Still, it has strong characters speaking meaningfully, and the solution doesn’t come easily. I like the image of woven solidarity in the end.

Dig Deep For Victory
This is the good poo poo; it’s brutal and dystopian, and our rebel protagonist is trapped, with no real good choices. She is well characterized with her motivations, but we also get her son, with his own motivations and experiences. The metaphors are clear, but not overwrought. There’s also a lot of solid description and setting that helps fuel the feel of creeping towards the despair that lands at the end.

Welcome Friends Open
A lot of solid moments here that hit the aesthetic. The story doesn’t spend much time contrasting this cuddle-rebellion to the reality, just a few lines and Mallet’s experience with his boss, but the reader probably is familiar enough with the alternative from their own life experience, as the story’s world sort of assumes The Present But More. It’s an interesting job to make a cuddle-hacker brutal, and the twists in the story are fun, with the protagonist jolted around. I get a sense of Callie; the boss is an archetype, so not deep but serves his story function. I do think there’s more to be done with Mallet; he’s not much like a cop, and is the decision at the end really a decision for him? We don’t see that cop side, just his sort of pathetic history that shows why he’s so attracted to the cuddle-side. Still, this nails the ‘punk and has other solids, like dialogue and a good beat at the end.

Underground Resistance
This does what several stories this week did, though it does it a bit better than the alchemypunk or the diselpunk ones. It does feel cliche though; this and the examples listed have a predictability to them, and not quite as original a spin as the high end of the week. The world is black and white in the sides, and a bit on the nose, though you certainly can’t deny it’s got the corporate dystopia part of the ‘punk genres. The characters are there, but they’re not quite memorable. It’s hard for me to put a finger exactly on what is missing, because I don’t think it’s just one thing, sort of a combination of a lot of factors that would need to be strengthened a notch. I do wonder what kind of story we would have seen if you’d started with that low moment where she shoots her husband and boss, rather than making that the ending. Playing with the story structure so it’s not so linear, or the protagonist at her lowest might take things in a more interesting direction.

the future is closer than you think
There’s a lot of exposition here, and as much talking, but it doesn’t feel like dialogue. There’s a metaphor the story tries for: the fissioned atom, the fissioned people, but too much here bounces off me. I don’t really get a sense of the characters, and therefore I’m not sympathetic to their relationship woes. There’s too much abstraction in the story, I think. I also didn’t really feel like this was properly ‘punk, and didn’t get a good sense of the setting either. There needs to be something more concrete and visceral for the reader to hold on to.

It’s a functional story, but extremely predictable, and there’s not really a reason the grandma can’t tell the kid what she’s doing to shut him up earlier rather than later when she does anyways. I knew exactly where the story would go after the first section, and then it did. That steals away all the tension; even when a German soldier is interrogating them, there’s no tension—but there should be. It’s a spy thriller, right? Then it needs to feel like the characters are in danger! Or the plot needs some twists.
The kid as a character doesn’t really land, because they’re a mix of little kid and adult. One thing you can do to get a better sense of how kids talk is do a search for “student talk” and look for classroom videos. Kids are hard to get right, but they certainly aren’t saying “Don’t you want revenge? They took your own daughter away” at like age, like, 8 or whatever. The other characters don’t feel as off, but they’re not particularly deep either, they’re very much archetypes.
I also don’t feel it hits the genre; it’s not very ‘punk, and knitting is just a thing that happens, rather than an integral part of the setting or theme.

New Beginnings
There’s a couple of typos, which indicates you might not have reread this. Certainly, it feels like there’s a lot to revise. Where’s the “punk” part? We really don’t really need all the worldbuilding. There’s no story here, just a long ramble about inventing a better ghost-battery. I can’t really say a lot more than that, because you’re not giving me much to work with. There’s no dialogue. No conflict.
I have some homework for you for your next story: Two characters who have opposed interests must have a conversation, and at the end of that conversation, something important to one of them must have changed.

Cinderella...but with swords
This story knows how to have fun. The voice was distinct and memorable, and it gives a good energy and character to our narrator. It also lands a lot of humor, which is a tough thing to do. The fast pace also carries the reader through the story breezily. Because the story pulls from Cinderella, it gets to take a lot of shortcuts that keep it lighter, but it does miss out on giving much depth to other characters. We get a bit: Gareth the chivalrous, Mordred the creep, lines like “does the girl come with the factory” / “sure why not” (nice), but it’s mostly light strokes. Perhaps delving more into the acidic villainy of the step-nemesi would make the ending more cathartic. I also might spend a bit more time on 15) with, say, the step-mom’s bawling or some other nudge to her victory, though the last line is funny. If you need me to go through and point out your best lines, there’s a bunch, but I can do that. I suspect, though, you already have a good idea of which are which. Anyways, thanks; it was a fun read.


Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

Thunderdome CDLIX: Picaresqueties

Hello, please write me some picaresque stories. What is picaresque? It is a genre of novel originating in early modern Spain. The picaresque features rogues, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells and others of low social class. The protagonists live by their wits and are often morally ambiguous or outright villainous. They move through a series of episodic adventures*, usually without substantial change to their circumstances at the end. The narrative may include elements of satire or absurdism. For more details you can look at the Wiki article:

The original picaresques were set in realistic contemporary settings. More recently, the style and structure of the picaresque has been adopted by sword and sorcery writers (think Jack Vance's Eyes of the Overworld or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories) and even science fiction (e.g. Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero). I'd love to read about actual 16th century Spaniards but I will also happily accept a broader interpretation of the genre. 'The Big Lebowski' is a picaresque as far as I'm concerned.

*A whole novel would include many such episodes, but for a Thunderdome story just one is probably enough.

Word limit: 1759 (the year Candide was published)
Signups close: 5pm Saturday AEDT
Submissions close: 5pm Monday AEDT

List of entrants:
My Shark Waifuu
Barnaby Profane

List of judges:
Sailor Viy

(It's been a long time since I judged, so let me know if I left anything out of this post.)

Sailor Viy fucked around with this message at 22:28 on May 24, 2021

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

In toxx

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012


Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

May 19, 2021


Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012


Butter Activities
May 4, 2018


Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

*** Deadline Extended ***

Signups close: 5pm Saturday AEDT
Submissions close: 5pm Monday AEDT

Nov 16, 2012


May 31, 2011

The happiest waffligator
Gonna write about a lamp blessed with conscience. But it can only 'speak' Morse Code! Soon it develops a hatred for the alphabet. It seeks to crush all letters. My story will describe this lamp's destruction of the letter I, but also attempt to show the humanity of this logocidal lamp.

I'm calling it, a Pixar-esque picaresque.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

toanoradian posted:

Gonna write about a lamp blessed with conscience. But it can only 'speak' Morse Code! Soon it develops a hatred for the alphabet. It seeks to crush all letters. My story will describe this lamp's destruction of the letter I, but also attempt to show the humanity of this logocidal lamp.

I'm calling it, a Pixar-esque picaresque.


Apr 11, 2012
Finally have some free time AND am not injured, so in if allowed.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Flesnolk posted:

Finally have some free time AND am not injured, so in if allowed.

Toxx plox join the club

Apr 11, 2012

E: :toxx:

Somebody fucked around with this message at 08:39 on May 21, 2021

Dec 30, 2011

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


Apr 12, 2006

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

Signups are closed.

Butter Activities
May 4, 2018

A Tale of Two Storage Lockers

This one was going better, I had the mark reeled in. I was behind far enough tonight. Lenny had done a decent job hooking him and let me step in to close, probably out of pity. He wasn’t the most sympathetic guy, but I guess he felt bad enough to give me a chance to redeem myself from the few I’d blown earlier.

“Like I said I’ve gotta get rid of these things. My boss added a zero to the order, he’s some trust fund dipshit. He’s only gonna notice if the loving back is full of goddamn speakers. You’re doing me a favor almost as much. This thing retails at 1k, if you’re an audiophile today is your lucky day!”

It took a few more minutes, but I talked him into it, walking away with ~50 dollar speaker system and me pocketing the 200 or dollars he had on him. This time I made sure to pick a street dark enough that the lovely print job on the box contained a repackaged pair of garbage speakers from some factory in some country I never heard of that didn't look like what it was.

Geography was never my strong suit. Davit, who was busy arranging the product in the back of the van, had come from halfway around the world or something, some accent that sounded like Russian to me but don’t tell him that- but he fit right in with us. Though, between his thick accent and extra-high-pressure tactics his sales skills may have been worse than mine.

Hours later I still only sold enough that we were barely breaking even between the rented truck, the shitload of bottom-shelf speakers and all the repackaging. Around 1 am, we finally called it quits. We only had the van rented for a couple more days.

We grabbed a case of piss-beer at the gas station, spending 20 or so minutes unwinding as we usually did. I kept it to four since I figured we’d have to drive back to the larger storage locker on the outskirts of the valley. Lenny insisted on driving and snatched the keys from me because he’d been riding that middle seat most of the day, the prick. I probably shouldn’t have given him so much poo poo.

Lenny was still throwing them back with almost impressive speed and driving with his other hand, me sandwiched between Davit and him, after I lost that argument as well.

It was when Lenny spilled some pisswater lite on me and almost swerved into another lane while trying to open another round I began to get a bit nervous about his driving ability tonight.

“Len, for real, you good to drive? We got like 20 miles to go.”

Davit told me to stop being a bitch. I dropped it.

We were one or so miles away from the storage locker and I was beginning to relax, despite Lenny’s increasingly loose interpretation of California road laws.

Until I saw flashing red and blue lights in the rear.

“Lenny! gently caress! Davit, hide the beer.”

Davit was passed out and slumped against the passenger window.

“Wake the gently caress up!” I shook him, finally getting a response. “Hide the empties and shove that case behind you. Where’s that lovely cologne you always use? Give some to Lenny. Hurry up!”

But Lenny had another idea. He floored it.

It did not make much of a difference in the physical distance between a lovely utility van and the black and white.

“WHAT THE gently caress ARE YOU DOING”

“I can’t get a third!” Lenny slurred.

I turned back into the road just in time to see Lenny attempt to turn sharply, almost flipping the van. He turned the other way, sloppily correcting and then overcorrecting, heading straight into the side of some abandoned fast food joint, slamming into the wall at an angle, trapping the drivers side door. I pushed past Davit and yanked on the handle on his door. Davit finally woke up and helped me get the door open, into blinding lights and a cop yelling.

Lenny continued to look at the wall smashed up against the windshield and down at the steering wheel in disbelief.

A cop tried to football tackle Davit, who managed to sprawl and stuff him, leaping over him and sprinting into an alley as I followed and overtook. Behind me, I heard an impact and Davit cursing as another cop slammed Davit into a dumpster and began kicking him in the ribs.

I kept running for another couple blocks, looking for anywhere I could hide. gently caress this, I’m getting a real job. I’m calling up my uncle and seeing if he’ll give me a second chance at this contracting firm tomorrow morning. For what seemed like forever, I carefully made my way through back alleys, trying to get some distance between myself and the crash without getting spotted by the dozen or so black and whites swarming into the area and peeking around the industrial parks.

I finally took a second to catch my breath and look around. The storage locker probably wasn’t far, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I was.

Crossing another street, a black and white round the corner just as I was about to duck behind another building. It lit up, and I took off sprinting again and lost sight, but I was back to square one.

I caught a glimpse of the sign for the storage center we were going to, through an alley and across the street. After sprinting through the alley, I ran across the street and up to the gate dial pad and began furiously typing, seeing red and blue lights reflected from a nearby cross street getting closer.

Running inside, I made my way to the locker in the air-conditioned section where our locker was, which was a relief on its own. From the second floor, I could see the entrance of the compound and make sure I wasn’t followed.

No luck. A cop must have noticed the gate closing automatically. Now they’d probably call up the night guard and figure out who punched in the most recent code.

poo poo, Lenny had the keys anyway. What an idiot. Why did I even come here? Why couldn’t I just get a regular job?

I ran out the back, hoping I could find a place to climb over the back wall and hop over the wire onto something not too far down. As I made it to the back row, I noticed a locker where the rod wasn’t locked in a position to actually prevent the locker from staying closed.

Quietly I pulled it up and ducked underneath, bumping into a box. This one was pretty full but I found enough space so I could lean against the box and catch my breath in the darkness. I waited for what seemed like days. I heard a helicopter sweep overhead for a few minutes. I passed the time mostly thinking about the various ways I could get out of this line of work for good and still make rent.

After what probably was at most an hour I figured the cops would have gotten bored. I don’t think they were going to spend much more time chasing me unless it was a really, really slow night.

I turned my phone light on and looked around the locker. Despite it being a pretty massive space, it was nearly full of boxes.

I looked into a half open one, and despite my promises to stop grifting and get a real job I decided that maybe this opportunity was one I couldn’t pass on.

The entire storage locker was full of Iraqi Dinars.

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Bobo and Ferrs Meet Their Match
1753 words

Just north of here there is a lovely winding river surrounded by forest, and in one of the bends where the river widens and the water slows there is a very fancy vacation home that was recently purchased by Mortimer and Angela Richmond as a summer escape for their family. It’s not polite to say how much they paid, but you or I or anyone else sensible would say it was quite expensive indeed. Mortimer, however, thought the price that they’d paid was “almost too good to be true”, and as is so often the case when people say something like that, there was indeed a catch. As the Richmonds were unloading their luggage from the back of their shiny SUV and carrying it into the house, they were being watched from the bushes by a pair of burglars named Bobo and Ferrs.

Before anybody gets the wrong idea: Bobo was a plump raccoon with a wonderfully bushy tail, and if you know anything about raccoons you’ll know that only the cleverest and sneakiest get to be fat and bushy-tailed. And Ferrs was a crow, with glossy black feathers that had a hint of dark green when the sun hit them from a certain angle, and a pointy beak sharper than those nice tweezers for pulling out splinters. Normally raccoons and crows don’t get along very well, but when they do team up they can be real trouble. And real trouble is exactly what Bobo and Ferrs were.

Nigel and Lucinda Richmond, ten and thirteen respectively, carried a pair of cat carriers into the house, and the cats inside were complaining in the way that only the most pampered of cats can.

In the bushes, Bobo rubbed his pointy little hands together and smiled, because fancy cats tend to eat fancy cat food, and fancy cat food was what Bobo and Ferrs liked to eat the most. “Jackpot,” he said.

“We should be careful,” said Ferrs. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened with the Vanderflugs, remember?”

“Of course I remember,” said Bobo, scratching his belly. “You bring it up every time.”

The Richmonds spent the morning moving in and filling their refrigerators with the food they’d brought.

When they were all unpacked, Angela put on her bathing suit and laid herself out on the back deck in a lounger, with a Tom Collins beside her. Up in her bedroom on the second floor, Lucinda sat by her open window and scribbled in a notebook propped on the sill.

Mortimer had bought Nigel a lovely wooden canoe as an early birthday present, and the two of them maneuvered it down to the dock with an assortment of paddles and fishing rods. They paddled out into the river and cast their lines, drifting lazily in the summer heat.

All the while, Bobo and Ferrs watched, silent and unseen, like the professionals they were.

“That’s a nice boat,” said Bobo. “I’d like to have a boat like that someday.”

“What on earth would you do with a boat?” said Ferrs.

“What wouldn’t I do? Drifting along, wherever the river takes us. The good life.”

“You know I can fly, right?”

“But flying takes work, if I understand the principle correctly. Plus, if we’re floating, we get to hang out together.”

“Well, that does sound nice.”

As the sun sank low, Nigel and Mortimer returned to the dock having not felt so much as a nibble at the ends of their lines. They tied up the boat and stumped up towards the house.

When night fell, and the last of the lights clicked off in the house, Bobo and Ferrs slinked and hopped across the lawn towards the back door to the house. There was a cat door installed near the bottom of the human door, and Bobo pushed it tenderly. It didn’t budge.

“Locked,” he said. “Give me a minute, I can pick this.”

“Could be noisy -- there’s a better way,” said Ferrs, and she pointed her beak towards Lucinda’s window on the second floor, still open to the cool night air.

“Be careful,” said Bobo.

“Always,” said Ferrs, and her wings made no sound as she flew up to the window and hopped inside.

A minute passed, and Bobo started to get worried, but no lights came on inside. Finally, there was a click and a sliding plastic sound on the other side of the door, and Ferrs poked her head through.

“You’re getting slow,” said Bobo.

“I was trying to keep an eye out for the cats, but they must be in one of the bedrooms,” said Ferrs. “Do you think this door’s going to be big enough? You’re much fatter than last time.”

“Thank you for noticing,” said Bobo, proudly. And despite a bit of wriggling, Bobo managed to squeeze through.

Did you know that there are some cat foods that are so fancy that you have to go to a special store to get them, and that they make custom blends of the finest ingredients specific to your cat’s individual pampering needs? Well, it’s true, and that’s the kind of cat food that the Richmonds got for their cats, and they kept it in its own special little fridge.

Bobo and Ferrs made their way across the polished hardwood floors towards the cat food fridge. Ferrs kept watch while Bobo pried open the door. There, stacked like bricks of gold in Fort Knox, were dozens of plastic containers of Le Chat Épicurien.

“Oh dear, I may faint from joy,” said Bobo, reaching into the fridge.

“Just take one for now,” said Ferrs. “And hurry, before the fridge starts beeping.”

“Fine, fine,” said Bobo, pulling one of the containers out of the fridge and closing the door. “You worry too much.”

“And you don’t worry enough,” said Ferrs, leading the way back towards the cat door. Bobo followed on her tail, waddling on his hindlegs and carrying the loot in his hands.

“Well, well, well,” came a voice from the darkness. “It appears we have guests, Fifi.”

“So it would seem, Romeo,” came another. “And they appear to have made themselves quite at home.”

Two fancy cats emerged from the kitchen, tails flicking like menacing metronomes. Ferrs hopped backwards to hide behind Bobo, who put the pilfered container of cat food down carefully.

“Now now,” said Bobo, nudging the container towards the cats and wiping his fingerprints from the plastic. “I think there’s been a simple misunderstanding.”

“Oh?” said Fifi, who had sable fur and hazel eyes. “Romeo, do you feel that you have failed to understand this situation?”

“I should say not,” said Romeo, who had luxurious orange fur and a mane like a lion. “Shall I yowl and rouse the humans? Or shall we have a bit of fun first?”

“Friends, Fifi, Romeo, if I may call you by name?” said Ferrs, stepping out from behind Bobo. “Allow me to introduce myself: Ferrs the Crow, at your service, and this is my associate Bobo.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Fifi, inspecting her claws as Romeo circled the burglars.

“Let’s talk this out, before anybody does something hasty,” said Ferrs. “You’ve caught us fair and square, and obviously we’ve mistaken you for pampered rubes rather than the fellow professionals you clearly are.”

“Obviously,” said Romeo. The orange cat brought his face menacingly close to Ferrs.

“But having acknowledged our regrettable error in judgement, I would propose a mutually beneficial relationship, one more transactional in nature.”

“If you’re approaching a point, I would advise that you reach it quickly,” said Fifi.

“Fish,” said Ferrs. “Salmon, to be precise. My associate Bobo here is an expert fisherman, and there are plenty just off the dock right down there. I propose that you let us leave quietly with this meagre container of food, and in exchange we bring you a fresh, fat fish, big enough for both of you.”

The cats eyed the pair of them suspiciously. “If you have fish, why would you steal our food?”

“For variety: one gets tired of eating the same thing, day in and day out, no matter how delicious,” said Bobo, picking up Ferrs’s thread. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Romeo stared long into Bobo’s eyes, and then turned to Fifi. “It has been some time since we last had fresh salmon, my dear.”

Fifi looked at Ferrs, and then at Bobo, and then back at Ferrs. “A whole salmon?”

“We’ll be back in the blink of an eye, and it’ll still be wriggling,” said Ferrs.

“Very well,” said Fifi. “But be warned: if you cross us, you shall regret it dearly.”

“Fear not, we are professionals,” said Bobo. “I do believe this could be the beginning of a highly profitable partnership.”

“We shall see,” said Romeo.

Ferrs and Bobo snuck back out through the cat door, with Bobo clutching the stolen container of cat food, and they slinked across the lawn and down towards the banks of the river. Romeo and Fifi sat behind the window into the kitchen, watching them carefully.

“That was close,” said Bobo.

“Too close,” agreed Ferrs, leading them down towards the dock where the boat sat moored.

“How are we going to catch a fish? Is this even the right time of year for salmon?”

“Don’t be daft, Bobo,” said Ferrs, hopping onto the gunwale of the canoe. “We’re not going to catch any fish for those puffed up housepets.”

“Oh good,” said Bobo. “Then what exactly are we doing?”

Ferrs gave Bobo a mischievous look. “Didn’t you say you liked this boat? If we ration it out, I think that container of cat food should last us at least two days.”

Bobo’s eyes lit up. “Marvelous. I was getting tired of that house anyway.”

Bobo’s little hands worked quickly at the knots that Mortimer Richmond had inexpertly tied to secure the canoe. As the boat started to drift down river with the two burglars safely aboard, the cats in the house realized they’d been had and raised an awful ruckus. The bedroom lights blinked on in the various bedrooms, one after another, but by the time the humans came down to the kitchen the thieves were long gone.

Under starlight, Bobo and Ferrs floated down river in Nigel Richmond’s canoe.

“Do you think this goes all the way to the ocean?” asked Bobo, trailing a paw in the water.

“I suppose it must,” said Ferrs.

“I think I might like to see that,” said Bobo.

And the pair of them floated on.

Apr 11, 2012
I'm not feeling well and some of the symptoms have me concerned enough I've scheduled a covid test tomorrow. I'll see if I can still get stuff written, but I'm requesting toxx leniency.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Flesnolk posted:

I'm not feeling well and some of the symptoms have me concerned enough I've scheduled a covid test tomorrow. I'll see if I can still get stuff written, but I'm requesting toxx leniency.

get it done, if you don't make it i'll give you some extra time (~24h) before i fire the toxxcannon

May 19, 2021

What have I gotten myself into now? I think to myself as I run through the alien jungle, trying my best to not trip over branches and dodging the trees. I look for the device that is transmitting my current location to my fellow soldiers, I find it and begin taking it off my suit. After a few clicks and beeps, it’s off, but I can see the ship hovering over me and it’s looking like it’s about to land.

I have to find a way to get rid of it, or better yet it could be my ticket off this planet. That might just work, the hard part is the actual hijacking of it of course.

I’ll suppose I will just have to make do.

“It says that he’s over here, where is he hiding?” The soldier says over the radio as I look over from the bushes. The soldier looks at his handheld tracker device and steps forwards, straight into my trap,

His body is torn apart as the explosion rips right through him, making him into a thin red paste. These mines that they issued to us pack a punch.

I look over to see the pilot of the ship leaving his ship.

“What the hell just happened!” He shouts as he looks at the strewn remains of his former friend. I put the barrel of my gun up to his head and I have my finger on the trigger.

“Don’t move or I’ll put a bullet in your head,” I say to him.

“Alright man, I’ll do whatever you say,” He says with quavers in his voice.

“Good. Now walk towards the ship. I want you to fly me off of this rock and to the nearest space station that isn’t owned by the corps.”

“We can’t leave. They’ll shoot any ship that is unauthorized to leave off-planet out of the sky.”

“They aren’t that crazy to shoot on their own people are they?”

“You must have not been with corps that long. Most superiors care little about their soldiers, we’re just cannon fodder to them.” The pilot says. I hear from the distance the sound of a tracking party, they must have sent a group after the ship after they heard the explosion.

“I don’t believe you. You just are stalling for time so your friends can reach me while I’m distracted. Now get on the ship and fly or you’re dead.” I say with anger in my voice. No way I’m going to be tricked into staying on this hell-hole planet and being executed, or worse.

The pilot obliges me and gets into the ship, with I following not that much behind him holding a gun up to his back.

The ship’s interior is rather small and cramped. This type of model must only really be used for scouting missions or small runs.

The pilot gets into his seat, and I sit in the seat beside him.

“What’s the nearest space station?” I ask.

“That would be Oenias, plenty of bars and lowlife.” The pilot says.

“Are you implying that I’m some kind of scumbag?”

“No no, I’m just saying that it would be a good place to hide from the corps”

“Yeah, whatever. Get the ship started up and get me there as soon as possible.”

The Pilot begins flicking switches and turning knobs on his control panel, for all I know he could be hitting a distress button but I suppose that doesn’t matter considering that the corps already knows something is up.

The ship hums to life and begins slowly taking off the ground vertically. As it does so, I see at least five corpsmen outside the window, they raise their rifles and begin shooting at the ship, but most of their shots miss.

The ship was at least five hundred feet up in the air, getting ready to jump into faster than light speed. That is until the ship began taking fire.

I heard a loud crashing sound that comes from the rear of the ship. Guess the pilot was right, corps superiors really are bat-poo poo crazy.

“Warning, breach in hull detected. Advise evasive maneuvers,” The ships ai bleats out.

“We’re going down. I told you that they would shoot us down.” The pilot says with fear on his face as he frantically tries his best to get a hold of the situation.

“Shut up and focus on flying this thing. I’ll go to the rear of the ship and see if I can make some field repairs.” I say. As I take some tools and head to the back, I hear another loud crashing sound.

“Warning, critical failure imminent. Apply immediate repairs or enter your nearest escape pod.” The ai bleated out.

“This tin can doesn’t have an escape pod!” I say out loud in frustration. The back of the ship looked completely screwed, only barely being held together. There was no way were getting off-planet with this type of damage.

I head back to the cockpit, with the pilot still struggling to hold his cool.

“We’re going down! We have to brace for impact!” The pilot shouted out. I quickly got into a seat and buckled my seatbelt, I then assumed brace position, with the pilot doing likewise.

The ship crashed and I blacked out.

I wake up in a haze, fading in and out of consciousness. The ship is a wreck, and I look to my left to see the mangled corpse of the pilot, guess he wasn’t so lucky. I tried to unbuckle my seat belt and get up from my seat but I had very little strength left in me. Weariness takes me, and I lay back in my seat and close my eyes, blacking out.

A noise woke me from my slumber, someone or something tore into the ship. The corps? Or something worse?

I heard a pair of footsteps approaching my position, I was easy prey in my current injured state.

“Looks like we got a live one. Good thing we got him before the corps could,” One of the men called out as he shone a light on me. Let me guess, slavers.

“He doesn’t look too bad. Could fetch a good price in the market if we fix him up.” The other one said. Yup, slavers.

The one with the light spoke to me, “You awake buddy? Don’t worry, we’ll fix you up, but after that, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to sell you. Consider your enslavement the payment for us saving your life.” I used all my remaining strength to try to break free, but it was all for nothing. “You aren’t in the best of shape to walk out of here buddy. I suggest you do your best to cooperate or else you might not make it out of here.”

“I am not your buddy,” I say between my gritted teeth.

“That’s a real shame. Jake, hit him with a tranq. I want to make this easier for both of us.” One of the men injects a syringe into my arm. It makes me drowsy, and after a few seconds, I lose consciousness.

“He’s waking up. Someone call Alda,” A voice says as I wake up. I’m in a room now, sitting in a chair with my hands and feet restrained by rope. I feel better than I did right after the crash, but not by that much. I focus my attention on a door, the only way in and out of this room, no doubt closely being watched.

The door opens and a woman enters the room, she closes the door and approaches me, which allows me to get a closer look at her.

She looks to be in her fifties, graying blond hair in the style of a bob. She has a nasty scar on her cheek, from a knife wound probably.

“Who are you?” Her voice is grating, it perfectly matches her appearance.

“Who’s asking?” She slaps me hard across the face. I begin to see bright spots and flashes.

“I will ask you once again, Who are you?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” Another slap goes across my face, this one is harder and makes my cheek bleed. drat, is this bitch’s hand made out of steel?

“You match the description of corps deserter. I could sell you back to them, the corps is real keen on punishing their deserters harshly.”

“So why don’t you? Why are asking who I am if you already know my identity?” I ask.

“What did they teach you at training?”

“I was trained as a sapper, corps thought me how to build and breach fortifications, how to lay and clear mines, that sort of stuff.”

“So you know how to build bombs then?” She asked with interest in her voice.

“Look if you’re going to send me back to corps, do it already.”

“I will be blunt with you Mr.Jackson, I want to recruit you into my gang.”

“Why would I want to join slaver scum?” The woman flinches at the insult but she quickly regains her stride.

“Because we pay well, you get looting rights, and you won’t get sent back to the corps.” The deal does sound tempting, especially the part where I don’t get sent back to the corps to be flogged for desertion.

“gently caress it, I’m in.”

“Wonderful, welcome to the team. Sergei! Cut him loose,” She yells out before promptly leaving the room.

As I wait for Sergei to free me, I wonder if I made the right choice. Did I just get drafted into another army, only with better pay and fewer rules? Then again, who says this deal is permanent? I will just have to bide my time and look for an opportunity to escape.

Sergei comes into the room and cuts away the ropes that were restraining me.

Apr 12, 2006
the proposal
1754 words


Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 15:39 on Jan 10, 2022

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Diamonds and Chains

1330 words

The Antwerp job had been clean as the dew off the shady side of morning clover. The Red Diamond that had recently belonged to the old summer queen was safely in the luggage, concealed in a bar of soap with a density match good enough to make it invisible to the machines at customs. I was paying through the airline magazine, wondering who ever bought any of this stuff. Pink was in the next seat, her head lolling against the window, her already wild blonde hair mashing into the glass, a tiny drop of drool slowly descending the right-hand side of her chin. I almost did see the knife in the stewardess' left hand as she came forward with a bloody mary in her right had to time my countermove carefully. She lunged at my exposed neck. I intercepted the hand, striking from above and knocking the blade loose. It fell, bouncing off the unoccupied cushion. I grabbed it with my free hand, then thrusted with it underneath her right, poking gently inches below her armpit. "Tell me who sent you," I said.

"You'll just kill me anyway," she said through gritted teeth.

"I might," I said. "But that would mean wasting a perfectly good drink." Her grip on the glass wasn't as tight as I would have wanted, but she adjusted, made sure it didn't slip any further.

She looked down so far her pupils almost vanished. "It was the Arch-" And that's when things got weird.

One minute we were in an intercontinental jet plane, then next we were in a giant open wicker basket, carried by a huge winged beast. By a dragon, red-scaled and ancient, steel cables and chains connecting it to the basket.

"I wasn't asleep," shouted Pink as she nearly jumped back from the rope line. 

The stewardess, now sporting cat ears and a generally feline appearance, twisted away from the knife and broke my grip. She let go of the drink and ran into the basket, climbing over the passengers who had started to crowd the aisle. It wasn't a total loss. I caught the drink.

I only ever have bloody marys on airplanes. Strange. They're damned tasty and get the job done, but I never seem to want one other than when I'm thousands of feet in the air.

"Alys, What's happening?" asked Pink.

"We've got a new enemy, looks like," I said.

"You mean other than Queen Vestria?"

"Not her," I said. "Someone else. Also, the airplane seems to have transformed into a dragon."


"I don't know if they're related. The assassin seemed as surprised as I was."

Pink took off her gloves. No point hiding the extra knuckles in this mess. She started a few basic impossible gestures, gathering up magic power and letting the violet in her eyes come out. "No illusions," she said. "This is real. We're still in the prime plane, too. There's a field surrounding the basket." I looked past her and saw it, a shimmer in the air. "Air pressure regulation. Clever little spell."

A sound started to emerge from the horns that had replaced the airline speakers. A tin-whistle tune we were both familiar with. Pink curled her ring finger into a tight spiral and flicked it out, weaving a countercharm around the two of us, so we didn't fall asleep like nearly everyone else in the basket. Still awake were the staff. I spotted five catgirls coming from the rear of the plane, and five more, including the original assassin, from the front. Not great odds, even worse with my only weapon being an unfamiliar knife. I looked at Pink. She looked at me, and then the rope line. I nodded, and we both grabbed the top rope and swung up, switching out hands around at the handstand position, and swung around down to the bottom side of the basket. Lots of places to grab, an easy catch for both of us. We scrambled down quickly, looking for a hatch of some sort. We found it, in twisted wicker that Pink could unwind with a simple unbinding spell.

"Right," I said. "First, let's find our luggage." Pink was ahead of me, a tiny firefly leaping from her hand and seeking out the bag. I followed it and picked it open, faster than the key with the kind of locks they let you use on planes. I had a nice short sword in there. Pink had her rings. And of course there was the Red Diamond itself.

"What does the Red Diamond do, anyway?" I asked.

"Do?" said Pink? "It does nothing, not for us. We give it to Delphine, and she gives us an unreasonable amount of money. We do that not only because we really like money but because Delphine is a powerful sorceress known to take her good long time dealing with double-crossers."

"Ah, she likes us." I said.

"She likes you," said Pink. "Me, I think she mostly despises."

"She likes me a lot, though," I said. "If it can get us home safely, I'll take my chances with her rather than a thousand foot fall into the ocean."

"Nothing like that," said Pink. "It cuts through glamours is all."

"Really?" I said.

"Like, on an absolute scale. You could see Mab or Titania or Oberon as they really are with it."

"I don't think I'd want to," I said. Elder Fae without their illusions redefine ugly, and those ones are older than sin.

The catgirl assassins came charging down the stairs, in force, with knives and crossbows. We'd be targets climbing back up the side. But we had our proper weapons.

"How many can you take?" asked Pink.

I readied the sword, shaking off the peace bonds. "Five, I said "Maybe six with a little luck. You?"

"Four, if my aim holds," she said.

"I count at least a dozen," I said.

A twang announced a crossbow bolt from one of the lead catgirls. It flew wide left. "Now," said Pink, "Would be a good time for a clever plan."

"I have a desperate one, is that good enough?" I said.

Pink sighed and readied her rings.

"Brace yourself," I said.

I only have barely enough magical talent to activate enchanted items. But that doesn't mean I didn't pay attention at school. I know seventeen languages, although most of them I've never spoken to a native speaker. The professors said I had the right intonations. Time to find out. I shouted at full blast a question in high Draconic. There was a roar in response that I think was a common ritual greeting: "What's in it for me?"

I shouted the word for 'freedom', and the entire room lurched.

I charged, sword first at the off-balanced enemies. Each time they threatened to regain advantage I shouted a direction and the hold shook again. They barely had a chance.

After, we rode the top of the great beast, of Flaxolithicus the Red. It took most of the flight to loose the chains. They had magical locks that Pink has to unspool, and simple steel ones that I had to patiently pick, and there were dozens of them. We left the cable harness in place until we landed outside of Boston, and parted ways after.

"So I have a question," said Pink.

" Who the new enemy is? Arch-something, ring any bells?"

"No, that will take care of itself."

"Then what?"

"The only way this makes sense is if the plane was the dragon all along, covered with a powerful glamour," she said.

"Agreed," I said.

"So did that just happen to be this plane?" she asked. "Or are all jetliners actually chained dragons?" She was frowning. Pink didn't like chains.

"Good question," I said. "We should ask Delphine."

Delphine grinned. "You've got it bad for Delphine, don't you?"

I don't think I blush that easily. "An unreasonable amount of money," I said, which brought warmth to both of our souls.

Dec 30, 2011

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

The Congregation of the Catacombs
1483 words

The old catacombs along the southeastern coast are traveled only by scoundrels, mourners, and the desperate, and after his misadventures in the Warden Mountains, Shadrach Zann was all three: a thorough scoundrel, mourning the failure of his campaign and the loss of his sellsword's pay, and desperate for passage back to more temperate country. A derelict chapel offered him welcome passage to the catacombs, and a half-day's stroll down the quiet corridors of the dead did a great deal to improve his mood. He reminded himself of the funeral customs of the mountains, of the niches sealed with delicate stonework, and was delighted to find a scattering whose seals were clearly undisturbed. By his third day in the catacombs, antique bracelets jangled around Shadrach's wrists, agate effigy figurines of horses and hawks were swaddled in his pack, and he wore a tiger's-eye circlet on his brow simply to amuse himself. At this rate, Shadrach thought, he would regret returning to the surface.

On the fourth day, as Shadrach rested at a crossroads to eat his evening meal of hardtack and dried goat, he heard a strange clattering coming from a corridor. He rose, hand swift to the sword at his hip, but his panic became despair when he saw the thing approaching him: a walking skeleton, clean moon-white bone shrouded in immaculate black silk, motes of grey half-light in its eye sockets. What use would a sword be against bone? There was only one strategy that offered much hope: surrender, the scoundrel's oldest friend. "I am at your mercy," called Shadrach, raising his hands above his head. "I mean no ill."

"And I mean none to you!" called the skeleton back, in the rich tones of an ancient king or well-remembered father. "Be at ease, traveler. It's been a long time since we had a visitor in our halls. Tell me, are you fresh from the surface?"

"A few days away from it," replied Shadrach, all too aware of the weight of his days of plunder resting on his wrists and forehead. "Show me the exit, and I'll be on my way."

"Nonsense! You are our guest. Let me invite you to our gathering -- if you would grace us with a few stories of your surface travels, we would be honored. Would you be so kind?"

Shadrach considered his host: the shining sockets, the fine silk shroud, the fingertips worn by time into polished ivory needles. He silenced the part of his brain already appraising the silk, but he listened carefully to the one which imagined the skeleton's grasp on his throat. "The honor," he replied, "is mine."


In an ancient and forgotten chamber of the catacombs, its sarcophagi collapsed to rubble, the skeletons mingled with the rowdy joy of a wedding party. Some were dressed in silk, others draped with decaying furs, and still more were in what might be called the state of nature. Shadrach's host led him towards the center of the room, and the chatter and laughter fell silent in his wake. "My friends!" announced his host. "We have a living traveler! He has agreed to grace us with stories; let us give him all due honor."

Shadrach was bidden to sit on a half-ruined sarcophagus, and he sat. Too keenly was he aware of the crowd, dozens of visages of Death, any of whom could end him on their slightest whim. He cleared his dry throat. A murmur went up, and a moment later, his host pressed a glass into his hand: a mouthful of a dark, vinegar-sour liquid that must once have been wine. It went down his throat without returning, which was enough, and Shadrach began to speak.

"My name is Shadrach Zann, and I've recently arrived from the Warden Mountains. My company and I were hired by the Duke of Annamiro to break a siege on his city by Veronis to the east, seeking control of the trade routes. We rode in to find the Veronis camp in shambles, for..."

There was a dead silence in the air, and Shadrach knew at once that it was not the silence of rapt attention. After he trailed off, there was a voice from the crowd. "War stories? How tedious!" Murmurs of affirmation followed, from which Shadrach could only glean that Annamiro was constantly being besieged by someone or other, Veronis more often than not, and oughtn't someone have learned by now? Shadrach's host made a dry, half-cough sound that Shadrach suspected was a skeletal attempt to clear his throat. "Ah, my apologies, friend. I should have warned you about military topics. Do you have anything else?"

Shadrach tried to clear his mind. There were a few amusing anecdotes from his youth; if they were good enough to win drinks from soldiers, perhaps they'd convince skeletons to spare his life, he thought hopelessly. "Well! As a youth, I was an apprentice at the Academy of Antiquities, before my father's fortunes failed. My mentor once called on me to perform a strange initiation --"

"No!" The protesting skeleton towered over its fellows, but its voice was high and strained. "No wizards. No rituals. Nothing like that!"

"Ah." Shadrach gritted his teeth. "The audience has spoken, then. I throw myself upon your mercy, friends. What kinds of stories would you like?"

"Well," his host said, "perhaps you might start with the weather."

"Oh! Yes, yes, of course," said Shadrach, speaking without thinking, as was so often useful in his travels. "It's been a lovely warm summer. Good weather for traveling, of course, and they tell me it's good for wine grapes."

Another murmur went up from the crowd, but a warmer one, Shadrach thought (or hoped, at least). "Wine grapes? Have you seen them? Are the hills covered in vines?"

"I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. This season I've mostly been through pastureland, sheep and cattle --"

The host stepped forward, resting his skeletal hand on Shadrach's shoulder convivially; Shadrach forced himself not to flinch. "Ah, cattle! Yes, I recall that once saw a cow. What color were yours? Mine was, I believe, yellow."

"Mostly white," said Shadrach, "and sometimes spotted, with great curling horns. The villagers have a saying about plain white cows producing fine white cheese, and you know, I don't think they're wrong? I could have lived off of the cheese they make in those villages." He scanned the silent horde, who seemed mesmerized. Was this the secret? Weather, animals, food -- the stuff of life, after its long absence? Very well, then. It was not below Shadrach's dignity to wax rhapsodic about cheese.

For the hours that followed, Shadrach remembered every meal he had eaten over the last few months, and described each in painstaking detail; if his audience lost patience with him, their ivory faces didn't show it. He spoke of rainstorms that forced hasty stops to a night's travel but left the fields and foothills green; he told tales of every village mongrel and stray goose he could think of, and endured requests to replicate their calls. Only once his throat was dry and his voice was a croak did the skeletons begin to dissipate, apparently satisfied. Shadrach's host beamed. "A fine performance. Very fine. Come with me, please?"

Shadrach, weary and jittery, could only follow. His host led him down a dusty corridor, continuing to speak. "Yes, all in all, a most successful visit, and we are grateful to have had you. It's only a shame about the war stories and the bit about the Academy. I was very much hoping I could extend you a permanent invitation to join our congregation -- it has been some time since we have met any so recently among the living -- but we are very selective about our company, as I hope you can understand. Even the threat of further war stories, I fear, is enough for some of my company to brand you a bore. My sincere apologies; I only wish I could offer you eternity."

In a stammering, raspy voice, Shadrach reassured his host that he understood completely. They had arrived back at the crossroads from which they'd departed, and with a deep bow, Shadrach's host turned and left him there. Shadrach's nerves and knees collapsed at last, and he slumped to the floor, to spend a fruitless hour waiting for sleep.

When his strength returned, Shadrach marched through the catacombs until he found a stairway, and he ascended into a chapel and interrupted a pig farmer at prayer. He'd hoped to be many miles further down the coast when he emerged, well out of range of Annamiran or Veronisan agents, but the concept of fighting a living man seemed almost refreshing. A few day's labor bought Shadrach passage to a quiet western port, and there his stolen grave goods bought him a year's comfortable living -- but for months, he dreamed only of black silk and ivory needles.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Positive Energy Guaranteed
1758 words

My latest target is a gleaming black metal and glass house in the hills. The wife, Monica, sees me regularly for tarot readings and when I mentioned my newest service, house cleansing, she enthusiastically signed up. Sweating in the Los Angeles summer heat, I can’t imagine why she did. The house is modern and soulless; the only energy I could imagine getting from it is a sense of superiority. Still, she insisted she’d been getting “bad vibes'' and needed a professional to improve its energy. I may not be a professional smudger but I am an expert at taking rich people’s money, so I assured her that she’d feel much better after my sage burning.

I dab my brow, adopt a serene expression, and knock on the door. Monica answers. “Hi Rowena! Welcome, come in.” Rowena is my professional name. Rachel just isn’t witchy enough.

“Thank you,” I say, stepping into the air conditioning. Everything in the house is minimalist and expensive. The obligatory swimming pool sparkles outside. Monica and her husband hover awkwardly. Maybe they’re expecting me to pull out a magic wand.

“Why don’t you sit on the deck while I perform the ritual?” I suggest. They retreat to the lounge chairs overlooking the city. Seriously, how could anyone feel bad vibes when they have that view?

Whatever. I pop open the kitchen window and light my sage bundle. I wander around the house slowly, letting the smoke settle over everything. With the couple outside, I don’t even bother mumbling the ritual phrases. I’m casually opening the dresser drawers, hoping to find some cash, when a voice behind me makes me jump.

“Could you burn your incense elsewhere? I’m haunting here!”

I whirl around, slamming the drawer closed a little too hard, and come face-to-face with a faintly glowing patch of light about the size of a basketball. I look around for mirrors that the light may be reflecting off of, then for hidden cameras that the voice may have come from. Finding nothing, I peek outside. The couple are still sitting there, flipping through magazines.

I turn back and the light ball is still there. “What the hell is this?” I mutter to myself.

“I think you mean who the hell am I. Alas, I have no answer for you. I only … appeared a few months ago, when this awful couple demolished my home to construct this monstrosity.” Its voice sounds like it’s coming through a walkie talkie with low batteries.

“So you’re a ghost,” I say slowly, hoping it will refute that statement. Instead, it moves up and down in an imitation of a nod. Well, poo poo. That makes my job a whole lot harder.

“Okay. Look, ghost, Casper, whatever your name is …”

“I don’t remember my name, but Casper is a fine substitute.”

“That was a joke, but fine. I’m burning this sage because the owners hired me to improve the energy of the house.” Now that I was paying attention, I can physically feel its energy, like heat, emanating off of it. But the energy’s not negative or evil, it’s a little angry and mostly sad. “I can see that you’re really bringing the mood down, so you’ll have to leave.”

“I know a witch when I see one, and you are no witch. You can’t make me go anywhere.”

For the first time in a while I’m unsure of myself; if I’d known smudging would bring me in contact with real-life ghosts I would’ve stuck to nice safe crystals and reiki healing. Experimentally I wave the bowl of burning sage at him. He moves away. “Stop that, the smoke is quite irritating.”

“Yeah? Well, I’ve smoked up the entire house, and I’ll keep doing so until you leave.”

Casper flashes angrily. “The only purpose I have left is to haunt these people for destroying my home, and you would take that away from me?”

“I would,” I say firmly. I can’t afford to get another Yelp review, ghost be damned.

“Everything okay in there?” Monica calls from outside.

poo poo, I should be done by now. “Just fine!” I shout back, glaring at the ghost.

He vibrates. “How many times can they hire you to solve their problem? No, I believe I can wait it out. After all, I have nothing but time.”

“How about we make a deal?” A scheme is slowly forming in my mind. “I can give you a new purpose in life, afterlife, whatever, as long as you leave this house. Meet me at the top of the driveway and I’ll tell you more.”

I sense that Casper is intrigued. He bobs, then his light fades. The sad energy goes with him, thank God. I quickly walk through the house again with the smoke just to make sure, muttering the ritual phrases this time, then go out to the couple and collect my payment.

I hike up the driveway and call an Uber. While I’m waiting, I hear his voice again. The ghost is nearly invisible in the sunlight.

“All right, I’m listening. What do you have to offer?”

“Instead of haunting this one couple, how about I give you the opportunity to haunt many people? The type of rich people who tear down old houses to make stupid modern mansions. There’s a lot of them around here.” I pause, dangling the bait.

“Go on,” Casper says. I’ve got him hooked.

“As you know, the most lucrative part of my job is clearing houses of bad energy. Not a lot of people talk about ghosts these days, but bad energy is the same thing. Business has been slow lately, so what I need you to do is go into houses and haunt them. Lurk around, make people sad, maybe slam a door if you’re feeling jazzy. I drop a leaflet in the mailbox, they hire me, I do my thing, you leave, we repeat. Sounds good?”

Casper hovers, clearly thinking it over. I know he’ll agree, so I wait patiently. “All right, I’m in. But I get to decide how I haunt them, understand?”

“That works for me.” I tell him an address and he fades away.

The scheme goes better than even I could’ve imagined. Based on a passionate testimonial from Monica, business increases. We get our breakthrough when Casper haunts the house of a semi-famous YouTuber, who makes a series of videos about his paranormal encounters before hiring me to banish the ghost in dramatic fashion. The YouTuber’s channel goes viral and it becomes fashionable to have a haunted (sorry, “bad energy”) house and to have me cleanse it. I’ve got almost more work than I can handle so Casper doesn’t even need to haunt my clients’ houses anymore. However, he continues to do so because he seems to truly enjoy it, and I'm happy to have him as my partner in crime, bolstering my reputation. He takes particular joy in haunting the extravagant mansions of celebrities (“there’s always some unused room to hide in”); his proudest achievement is ruining a pop singer’s birthday party with his depressing energy. The money from the grateful singer and her copycat friends paid my rent for months. Between podcast appearances, TV interviews, and celebrity bookings, I’m busier and richer than I’ve ever been. I even get my very own Netflix series greenlit!

It’s all worth it as I save enough money to do the impossible: put a downpayment on a house in Los Angeles. In honor of Casper, I buy a small cute Victorian house, ornate woodwork and all. The furniture from my apartment barely fills the space, but I love it. After years of scraping together rent with my roommates, having my own place is pure bliss. After Casper has a grand time haunting the Victorian house of a much richer family, I have a great idea.

“Hey Casper, where do you go when you’re not, you know, here?” I ask as we sit in a nearby park, debriefing.

“Hmm, I go to a sort of shadow world, between this world and … somewhere else. I can still see into this world, so I mostly just follow you around.”

“Creepy, but okay. Would you like to live with me in my house? There’s a little turret for you to haunt, I’ll come visit if I ever want to feel sad.”

Casper starts to glow so brightly that I’m afraid passers-by will notice. “Are you serious? Rachel, it would be an honor. I have been waiting for an invitation inside, out of respect, you see.”

“Well, respecting boundaries already makes you better than some roommates I’ve had,” I say, happy that he’s accepted.

He reappears as I walk up to the front door that evening, quivering with excitement and just as bright as before. “You’re going to have to tone that down if I’m watching TV,” I say as I open the door. He zooms around the entire house like a hyperactive puppy. For once his energy is happy instead of sad.

“Your home is just as beautiful inside as it is outside!”

“Yeah, well, it’s your home now too,” I say awkwardly, not used to this sincerity from him.

Casper stops moving in front of me. I wonder if I’ve said something wrong, then his light increases even more, to the point where I have to shield my eyes. “What’s going on?” I ask.

“I do not know … but I think that this is it. This is what I was waiting for.”

“You needed to enter this specific house?”

“No, I needed a new home. And now that I have it, I can rest.”

Oh poo poo. “Oh no you don’t, we have a smudging scheduled next week at Kylie Jenner’s house! And the TV show starts filming next month!”

“Thank you Rachel,” Casper says. His light grows to encompass the entire home, then fades slowly. He’s gone, but not completely. I can still feel his energy in the walls. Still, I’m pissed. I’m glad he got everything he wanted, but what about me? With the transient nature of LA trends and without a real ghost to bust, business is going to eventually dry up. Then it’ll be back to tarot cards and crystals, and now I’ve got a mortgage to worry about.

“gently caress you,” I say to the house. I get a wave of positive energy in return. In spite of myself, I smile. Really, the scam hasn’t changed much, I tell myself. Who needs real ghosts when you have people who believe in ghosts?

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

A Lengthy Line of Bad Ideas
1434 words

Malthus Mondegreen was questioning his life decisions as he swung by one precarious hand from the crumbling sandstone of the bluff, scrabbling with his other hand for a grip on a dangling loop of vine. Below him came little clicks and clacks as dislodged pebbles bounced off the small ledge below and out into the void.

Decision the first, agreeing to the insinuative suggestions of the small oily man who’d accosted him in the pub five nights before. “A simple job, friend, just take this little parcel to my business associate in Madrigale. Half the money now, half on arrival! There’s absolutely nothing in the entire world that could go wrong!”

In the sweaty, desperate, uncomfortably suspended light of day, Malthus was obliged to admit it was his own fault. Don’t trust anyone who calls you friend, specifically don’t trust anyone who profanes the Lady of Misfortune. Something can always go wrong. His grip on the rockface was ever more tenuous, the frangible sandstone powdering and flaking away. As he lunged for the vine and caught it in the trembling fingertips of one hand a piece of rock the size of his head levered out from the cliff face and plummeted in a leisurely sort of way down to the river below.

As he watched it fall he realized that his whole life up until now had been nothing but decision after decision that were rushed and of an impulsive nature. He’d been in relationships, agreed to jobs, broken promises, and built businesses and partnerships on the flimsiest of foundations. Every time, he’d been wrong-footed, led astray. All to fill the vacuum of time, find the right people to talk to and to spend his time with. In the end all he’d found were too many wrong people with all the wrong words to make it work.

He’d been living that lifestyle for so long that hanging on with his fingers to keep from being sucked into the canyon below was almost natural to him. Emboldened by this thought Malthus pulled on the vine with his left hand and grabbed with his right to scramble back up the slope then collapsed, panting. His backpack was still there, presumably with the oily man’s package inside.

Looking back down again, Malthus could see no going past the bluff. The trailhead gave way to a pointy spine of rock, looking down into a rain-streaked chasm that might have been an ancient gulch, might have been the broken end of the bridge that he’d been heading towards.

The lack of a road had been a concern to him, and it was while he had been sitting on his pack and rolling a smoke to meditate on that concern that the thylacine had leapt out at him and scared him. It had scared him right off the edge, in the process sending his tobacco and matchstick spiralling off into the abyss.

Malthus looked around for the animal but saw nothing – perhaps his horrified shriek and panicked scrabbling had scared it off, he thought cheerfully. Devoid of tobacco he sat and enjoyed the ground underneath his feet and lack of imminent mortal danger.

Then a high voice raised in anger caught his attention and he looked up. A small caravan was plodding up the road towards him.

Malthus eyed the new arrivals. They were a motley lot, horses caparisoned with bags and sacks filled with unidentifiable bulges.

"We are a company of travelling salesmen," said the most luxuriantly bewhiskered of the group when they had finally reached the top. "Would you like to buy anything? Friend?" Malthus frowned. "Do you want to buy a small cage of silkworms?"

The salesman wiggled his fingers in the air in a motion that he appeared confident would awaken in Malthus a desire for silkworms.

"We have some other offerings," he continued, slowly, as if talking to an idiot or a foreigner. “Even a wolf’s pelt. Would you like to see it? The wolf was ferocious beyond description." The whiskered man drew out the syllables of ‘beyond’, letting them linger in his mouth.

Malthus scowled and looked back down the cliff. The one with the great black beard kept his eyes fixed on Malthus and his hands near the cutlass that was sheathed on his saddlemount.

The lead salesman approached, horse hooves raising little puffs of dust. He had pince-nez on the bridge of his nose and looked down at Malthus as though divining his deepest desires. "What do you want? What do you want? Do you want to buy a wolf’s pelt?"

"No," Malthus said. "No, I don’t want to buy a wolf pelt."

"Come on now. It’s not as if it can hurt you," said the middle salesman. "It’s dead. "

Malthus looked at them and then past them back down to the road, which stretched out endlessly down the precipitous hillside.

"I don’t want a cage of silkworms, either," he said. “Have you got anything for people who keep making terrible decisions?”.

The three men came over to join him on the low stone wall of the trailhead. They stood there for a moment in silence.

"We like to travel light," the last salesman said. "Silk and wool and fur are all good to keep you warm. But don’t you worry; a few beans can keep you warm even better. Oleg has some fine seeds he would be happy to sell you. Decisions, now, they are harder." The older salesman puffed himself up and turned his head as he talked, a military manner suggesting that he would argue anyone into giving up something of great value.

Malthus kept quiet. He looked at the trio, and saw in their past a small town of makeshift dwellings. Outside, he could see the ramshackle huts, and inside, the shapes of men huddled together around fires and boiling pots. A dry wind blew in from the plains. A weathered face peered out of one of the huts, a solitary figure with a big shaggy dog watching him with immense eyes.

They were going to kill me, Malthus thought, his heart sinking with fear, and felt an overwhelming urge to get up and run. There was nowhere to run, though. He was at the end of the road that his decisions had led him down.

The quiet between the men lengthened, began to curdle. Any moment now, thought Malthus, one of them would nod, or cry “NOW!” or “TO IT, LADS!” and it would be all on.

“If I had something to sell,” Malthus asked, “would I be a salesman too?”

The bewhiskered gentleman smiled tolerantly. “No, you would need sales to be your life. To walk the road, sail the oceans, carrying, or causing to be carried, items for your buyers.”

Malthus stood up, slowly, eyes on the scimitars in their sheathes on the salesmen’s saddle mounts.

"As it happens, I do have an item for a buyer in the city of Madrigale. He is a wealthy man and I'm sure the price he will pay would be generous. I'm sure a commission could be arranged if you were to help a fellow salesman achieve his sale."

"Madrigale, eh?" The whiskered man glanced at his fellow salesmen. "Our road does lead us there, though given the unfortunate state of the bridge it will be a roundabout route. This buyer, what was his name? I have many contacts in the commercial area and might negotiate a superior price for you." His teeth were very bright through his whiskers as he grinned.

“I am unable to say,” said Malthus regretfully. “Commercially sensitive information.”

“A pity,” said the tall man at the rear. “Well, after you then! You would not appreciate our trail dust in your face on the way down!”

There was another silence as Malthus carefully gathered up his pack and lifted it up onto his back. This seemed like another decision that he would come to regret in the short to medium term, and he was tossing up whether jumping off the cliff and trusting to the distant river might be a better option when the thylacine, which apparently had been watching this whole discussion from a nearby bush, decided to leap on to the whiskery man and start clawing and biting his face.

The whiskery man’s horse objected to this in the strongest terms, rearing right back and shrieking, and the man and cat took the opportunity to fall off. Malthus grabbed the reins by instinct, then swung himself up onto the saddle. Everything was very busy for a few moments, and then Malthus found himself pounding down the path atop his new horse.

“Well,” he thought. “I’ll doubtless come to regret this one soon, too.” But he couldn’t deny the freshness of the wind on his face and the sweetness of every continued breath.

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

Submissions are closed.

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

Still looking for a 3rd judge if anyone is interested.

Apr 11, 2012
Why I Don't Toxx



Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 22:43 on May 25, 2021

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

It's Judgment Time, You Rogues and Varlets

Writing picaresques is hard, apparently. There's a fine line between sweetly expressing the absurdity and randomness of life, and just making your reader go "So what?" - and quite a lot of you meandered over to the wrong side of the line this week.

First, the dregs of the dregs. SMEGMA_MAIL came close to suffering a terrible fate with the bland and toneless A Tale of Two Storage Lockers. Ultimately though he escaped the gallows when they were reserved for Taletel's untitled story, which takes the loss for its tin-eared dialogue and plethora of grammatical errors. SMEGMA_MAIL takes a DM instead.

The rest of you, perhaps fittingly, wandered through various layers of mediocrity, neither impressing nor unduly irritating me, which means there are no HMs to give out this week.

One agile rogue managed to wriggle free of the pack and get away with the crown jewels stuffed in his backpack: Tyrannosaurus, with the charming and tightly structured the proposal.

Enjoy wearing the crown once more, until it inevitably tumbles from your grasp again!

Sailor Viy fucked around with this message at 00:52 on May 26, 2021

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Flesnolk posted:

Why I Don't Toxx


Oh for God's sake you idiot don't flounce, post your story, it was fine, no-one gives a poo poo

Apr 12, 2006
So I've been running a weekly super homebrewed, freeform D&D-like game for my partner and our two friends and we recently wrapped up a long, long, long campaign. They’ve now rolled new characters and we’ve starting fresh which is cool but I’m also mentally exhausted. Work is picking up. Covid still sucks. Yadda yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. By the power of the blood throne, I am declaring this week:

You have 4,000 words to build me a “dungeon.” And I don’t mean a literal, dingy, underground crypt beneath a castle. I mean a self-contained adventure or encounter for me to put my players through. Goblin Punch’s Arthur K. says there are seven things a dungeon needs:

1. Something to Steal
2. Something to be Killed
3. Something to Kill You
4. Different Paths
5. Someone to Talk To
6. Something to Experiment With
7. Something the Players Probably Won't Find

You can read his post in its entirety here. Those seven things aren’t a requirement for the week but I thought they might be helpful to you. Of course, maybe you just want some examples. Here is one by Joe Fatula and two by Joseph Manola of increasing length and complexity:

The Trouble at Mudwater

The Tower of Broken Gears

The Rosefinch Khatun

I'm well aware that Thunderdome is a competition where we write stories. The challenge this week is writing a story for someone else to experience.

Things to Know about Your Setting
A hundred-ish years in the future is the apocalypse. This campaign is a hundred-ish years past that. The exact time frame is unimportant.

There's no magic but things were so advanced when the world ended that any remnant tech might as well be. This makes for fun loot and dangerous and dangerously misused technology. Actual in game example: a spray can that shoots almost instant drying cement instead of paint. It was meant for quick repairs to highways. My players stuck a regenerating raider boss to a wall.

Everything takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The land has been shattered into islands. Anything you write should be island or ocean based. But not tropical. Because Pacific Northwest.

Weaponry has mostly fallen back to melee and bows and arrows. Gunpowder is treasured. Weirder stuff even more so.

Monsters are fine. Mutants are fine. The end of the world came with a lot of genetic fuckery. It doesn't have to make sense. One player has a lobster claw for a leg.

You can include pictures if you want but they're neither expected nor required.

You don't have to stat anything out. You can tell me about a pre-war DJ whose brain is in a semi-immortal cat's body or a massively muscled warlord that uses a stop sign he pulled out of the ground as a mace. I don't need to know the mace is +2 or whatever.

Things to Know about Your Prompt
Signs up close Friday at midnight EST
Submissions close Sunday at midnight EST
You can use up to 4000 words.

Apr 12, 2006

Sitting Here
Barnaby Profane
Idle Amalgam
Black Griffon
Simply Simon
Uranium Phoenix
... you?

Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 04:07 on May 29, 2021

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.

May I interest you in some crits, sir? Very cheap, a better price you'll not find for miles around.

A Tale of Two Storage Lockers

This is an interesting case study because in the abstract it seems like you have everything you need for a good picaresque: lowlife protagonists, a series of escapades, a reversal of fortune at the end. But it really doesn’t work, so why not?

First of all, the characters aren’t developed enough for me to care about them. There are a few potentially interesting quirks – Lenny is reckless, Davit is a guy who can sleep through a car crash – but they’re few and far between.

Second, the voice. Your narrator doesn’t really sound like a grifter, he sounds like a bland middle-class dude. As a bland middle-class dude myself, I admit that I probably couldn’t pull off an effective voice for this character either, which is why I’d write the story in third person instead of first.

There are also a fair few technical errors like run-on sentences (“This time I made sure to pick a street dark enough that the lovely print job on the box contained a repackaged pair of garbage speakers from some factory in some country I never heard of that didn't look like what it was”) and the dreaded use of CAPS LOCK FOR SHOUTING. Try to get someone to line-edit one of your pieces so you can see where you are going wrong with this stuff.

I liked the ending.

Bobo and Ferrs Meet Their Match

A pretty cute story, endearing characters, gave me Roald Dahl vibes. This style of narrator (omniscient, but with a distinct personality) is hard to pull off and you didn’t quite stick it. I think it’s because you didn’t commit to a particular tone of voice: “you or I or anyone else sensible would say it was quite expensive indeed” makes me feel the narrator is a grandfatherly Tolkien type, but then “Before anybody gets the wrong idea:” has a more modern tone.

The stakes feel a bit low. If you’ve ever read Fantastic Mister Fox you may remember that the tone is whimsical, yet at the same time, loving terrifying – there is absolutely no doubt that the villains want to kill the protagonists in the most vicious way possible. Your story could have used a dash of that.

“Thank you for noticing,” is a nice line.

This story begins a running theme this week of the protagonists talking their way out a situation rather too easily. The cats say Bobo and Ferrs will “regret it” if they double-cross them, but they obviously don’t have any way to back this threat up. I mean, hopping in the boat is a nice touch, but couldn’t B & F just as easily have simply hosed off into the woods? My point is, even in a light story like this, you need to put appropriate pressure on your heroes.

Untitled (Taletel)

There are a lot of problems with this story. Let’s start with the most basic: grammar. You have a lot of missing punctuation, comma splices, and most awfully, a switch from present to past tense and back again. Before you can expect a reader to engage with your story, you need to clear this very low bar. Apparently, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White is the book to read to teach you about all this stuff. Personally I haven’t read it (which is probably why I still do comma splices sometimes, lol). I just picked things up by reading a lot of books, which is a slower but more entertaining method. If you want to read a book that’s sort of like your story but much better, I recommend City of the Chasch by Jack Vance.

Your dialogue is at best cliched, at worst garbled. “Most superiors care little about their soldiers, we’re just cannon fodder to them,” is a particularly bad line. It grates on the ear because it’s obvious that it’s the author trying to tell the reader something about the world, not the character talking in his own voice.

On the other hand, this line is pretty good: “You awake buddy? Don’t worry, we’ll fix you up, but after that, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to sell you. Consider your enslavement the payment for us saving your life.” It’s funny, it’s a bit unexpected, and it shows the speaker’s motivations (to keep the protagonist calm, to justify the evil thing he is about to do). Write more like this.

For a sci-fi story, you need to spend more time on descriptive passages. I can’t see or feel any of the situations your protag is in, so I mentally fill it in with the most generic SyFy backdrops imaginable.

The story starts in media res with an implicit promise that we will find out why the protagonist is running around in the jungle. That promise is never really fulfilled – I get the impression he was a corp soldier but why did he defect?

I will give you a little credit for capturing the “and then this happened, and then this happened” structure, which is what I was asking for.

The Proposal

Great stuff. I love how you keep playing with my opinion of the protagonist – he’s thinking sleazy thoughts about this woman! But he saved her dad! But he did so while breaking and entering! Etc.

Towards the end I got a little tired of the repetition of the violence. “I hit him, he hit me, I kicked him in the nuts, etc”.

I wasn’t quite sure why the protagonist didn’t go straight to “everyone run out the front door” as soon as he fought that first orderly. Perhaps a few lines emphasising that he doesn’t want to go to jail, hence prefers to help the elders in a more discreet fashion.

I’m not sure I got the last line. Is he saying he won’t get a real job because the nursing home is too tempting a target for robbery? I guess that makes sense but it feels a bit flat and takes me a moment to parse.

Diamonds and Chains

A couple weeks back I read someone on Twitter describing bad metaphors as “literary pyrotechnics” – they aren’t helping to convey information or build tone, they are just sitting there drawing attention to themselves. That’s what I’m getting from your first line.

The first paragraph is insanely stuffed with ideas – red diamond, summer queen, Pink, now the protag is being attacked by the stewardess? I admire the attempt at conciseness but you took it too far and just strained my brain.

OK, so after reading the whole thing, I feel like this story began with the twist about the planes being dragons, and you worked backwards from there. This resulted in a story that seems clever in retrospect, but isn’t actually very fun to read. I was lost most of the time with nothing to hold onto, and having it all basically make sense in the end doesn’t make up for that.

The catgirls are a big problem. They make the world seem less ‘Dresden Files’ and more like some monkey cheese cartoon where anything can happen. If they had been elves or goblins or some other folklore creature that’s known for wearing glamour, it would have been more aesthetically consistent and also set up the twist better.

The way the ‘Arch-?’ is introduced and then dismissed is messy. IMO the catgirls should just be agents of Queen Vestria, for the sake of narrative efficiency.

Lastly, this isn’t very picaresque to me. The protagonists aren’t down-and-out rogues, they’re highly professional master thieves and wizards to boot.

The Congregation of the Catacombs

Your story starts out with one major advantage: I loving love this classic sword & sorcery poo poo. And you captured the style of Leiber/Moorcock/Howard/etc passably well.

I’m not sure why the protag is so chill about walking through lightless tunnels for days on end. That seems like a pretty harrowing experience, not to mention logistically challenging (how many days’ worth of torches can one person carry?) I thought you might explore this as an unusual facet of his character, but you didn’t really.

I get that you are trying to set up the encounter with the skeleton as a tense situation where Shadrach needs to talk fast to save his skin. I don’t quite feel that tension though. Maybe if he tried a bit harder to refuse the invitation and the skeleton was more insistent? Or if he had run out of torches and needed the skeleton to lead him back to the surface?

So the skeletons don’t like interesting stories but they do like boring stories. I don’t get exactly why this is so. I think you were trying to set up a dichotomy between things the skeletons know well (war, sorcery) and things they long for (sunlight, food) but it isn’t really fleshed out enough (no pun intended) to really charm me the way this sort of story should.

The twist would have been much more powerful if you ended immediately or almost immediately after the skeleton reveals what they were considering doing to him. I recommend reading “Pickman’s Model” by H. P. Lovecraft ( ) - it’s kind of a corny old story in some ways, but it’s a good example of how to hold back the twist as long as possible so the reader is left, in the silence after the story, to reconsider the events in a new and more horrifying light.

Still it was a decent story that with a little more energy could have squeaked over the line to HM.

Positive Energy Guaranteed

It’s a cute idea and I enjoyed the relationship between the two protagonists, but the story didn’t have much drive. “I need to make money at my job” is usually not enough of a motivation to make for an engaging protagonist. And the ghost’s motivation is even less, it’s basically “I hate rich people with tacky houses so I’m going to annoy them”. To improve this I’d start by asking what does money mean to the protag on an emotional level? Is she the first one in her family to own a home? Does she need a stable income so she can get visitation rights to her kid? I don’t know, it could be all sorts of things, but it needs to be more potent than just “yay I bought a house in LA”.

This might have worked better in the past tense because then the summary-style paragraphs (e.g. “The scheme goes better than even I could’ve imagined…”) would feel more natural.

A Lengthy Line of Bad Ideas

A character almost falling off a cliff but then saving themselves is one of those situations that seems like it would be exciting to read about but almost never is. There just aren’t enough moving parts for it to have the physical dynamism required to grab my attention.

For the first five or six paragraphs I don’t know what kind of world I’m in – the present day? Medieval fantasy? Some historical setting? Eventually it seems to resolve into an Edgar Rice Burroughs sort of world with prehistoric creatures, or something.

The paragraph beginning “As he watched it fall he realized…” is incredibly vague. This is a character who has engaged in… jobs, relationships, businesses and partnerships. Not much to go on. Also the premise of the paragraph doesn’t really match up with his current situation. Falling off the cliff is mostly just bad luck, not a direct result of his bad decisions.

The travelling salesmen have really awkward dialogue. Are they supposed to be putting the hard sell on him or do they think he doesn’t speak their language? Then there’s this bit where Malthus sees into their past… is this metaphorically or like he literally has a magic power? And apparently they’re going to kill him but I have no idea why.

Then the thylacine (which isn’t a cat, btw – maybe you were thinking of Thylacoleo?) comes back, the story ends abruptly and we never even find out what was in that package.

Maybe all the awkwardness and unexplained stuff was intentional as a way to address the prompt, in which case good effort, but it didn’t work.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
i have no idea what this prompt is asking me to do so clearly i'm in

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

May 19, 2021



Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Hella in and I am CHALLENGING surreptitious muffin to enter also

The loser will be obliged to address the winner as the dungeon master from henceforth

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