In the Blue Glow
Every day Branna brought back the most mushroom-sacks and everyone thought he was hot poo poo.
Big, glorious Branna, with his white teeth and his muscles. They cheered for perfect Branna.
“I’m going to beat that garbage eater,” I told Silky one morning.
“Who?” Silky tugged his work boots on.
“Branna. The dung flinger.”
Silky snorted. “Good luck with that, Armie. Ya’re a wee lad. Whatcha gonna do to Branna?”
“Show him, that’s what.”
In the mushroom fields beneath the great tree canopy, I pulled their glistening bodies one at a time. They were fist-sized with gray flesh and brown spots. The others picked nearby: Branna, head lowered, working like a badger; Silky, taking his sweet time; Mina and Yola and all the rest, talking to each other in low tones.
The mushrooms stank like sod and were stuck in deep. I had to dig with my fingers, wiggle them around, and yank with all my strength.
My arms ached after an hour. After two, it was break time. I didn’t stop.
“Ya’re serious ‘bout this, ain’t ya?” Silky said when he got back. “I thought ya liked Branna.”
“I don’t.” I stood up straight. I felt sweat trickle down my back. “You like Branna.”
Silky rolled his eyes. “Everyone likes Branna. He feeds half the drat village. Come from the dirt and break a bit.”
“Not yet.” I stooped and went back at it.
“Fine, but don’t come whining when ya hurt yaself.”
Minutes turned to hours. My fingertips itched then felt like nothing at all. Every other part of me was twisted and aching. I kept going. What the hell did Silky know anyway? My arms felt heavy, my head like air. I pushed on, face to the ground.
For a while, my world contracted to muscles and dirt. My exhaustion came in waves: one moment, euphoric, I worked myself ragged, and in the next I could barely manage to stay upright.
All the while, Branna dug and pulled, dug and pulled.
Daylight waned and the others began to shuffle off. Silky had three sacks. Mina and Yola had four each. I crawled on my hands and knees, digging.
It grew so dark, I couldn’t see. I’d never been out so late. Branna was gone and I was alone with the mushrooms. My left arm didn’t work real good anymore.
At some point, I realized I’d lost my sack. I’d been dropping the ‘shrooms behind me on the dirt, into nothing. I scrambled for them, feeling around, blind, cursing, desperate. I nailed my knee into a great tree, followed by my head, and collapsed face-first into the loam.
For a long time, I didn’t move, it felt kind of good, until a blue light shone through my eyelids.
I was confused at first. Then I craned by neck and looked.
The mushrooms, lit up like flames. Thousands of blue glowing orbs.
It was magnificent. The most incredible thing I’d ever seen. For one second, I forgot about how bad I hurt. The forest was a fireworks display. They seemed to pulse, dim then bright, dim then bright.
Lying there, in the blue glow of the mushrooms, the taste of moss on my tongue, I thought I might stay forever, when a shadow fell across me. I rolled onto my side, groaning, and opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
“You don’t look so good.” Branna crouched down. He held a lantern in one hand. “You okay, Armie?”
“I’m fine. Taking a nap.”
“Your mom sent me looking for you.” He seemed worried. “You didn’t come back.”
“How many sacks did I fill?”
He counted, touching each one. “Ten. That’s real good.”
“How many did you fill?”
“Well, now, Armie, come on, I just—“
I closed my eyes. “Thirteen. And that was a regular day for you.”
“Every flower’s different, as my father says.” He loomed there, gargantuan, beautiful. “Come back with me.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Ten’s good. Better than everyone else.”
I struggled to my feet. It took an effort I didn’t know I had. My knees were dirty, my gloves ragged and torn, my boots caked in thick mud. I felt like hell, every muscle torn and bruised, but I was on my own feet, and that seemed okay.
“Tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll beat you tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he said, then looked me up and down. “Maybe not tomorrow. But one day.” He tossed my sacks over his shoulder like they were nothing. “Let’s get back. It’s late. Mushrooms are pretty though. Never noticed the color before.”
I followed him through the forest.
The mushrooms were pretty, he was right about that.
|# ? Jan 24, 2021 11:35|
|# ? Apr 14, 2021 17:43|
The Tale of Leam
There was a hardy man called Leam who lived far from his home. He was plucked from his native Kilrush then thrust into a land of queer creatures and scorching suns which the king had called New South Wales.
In Kilrush it was said he might have the blood of giants, for he stood at least one foot above the common man and was as broad as he was tall. In New South Wales, however, the king’s folk fancied him as the work of their God. They supposed his immense figure was intended for digging the King’s railroads.
Leam was fogged in the tiredness of the day’s labor, held upright by a tree he had slouched himself against. He looked sorrowfully at the setting sun, knowing it would rise again tomorrow and each working day for the remainder of his years.
Holding his harmonica in his calloused hands, he had no song to breathe into it. The ancient tunes he once knew had long disappeared into the sounds of Christian rhymes and the daily din of picks on stone.
The sun’s last glow had dropped beneath the horizon and there came an unearthly tune. It was sung in mournful riffs with inviting pauses between them. Leam listened intently, enthralled by the wondrous song. He could sense it coming from the forest behind him. When he had immersed himself in the melody for long enough, he awaited the next pause, answering the forest call with a skillful tune he had written in the moment.
They were locked in a soulful call and response long into the night. The fairies were so charmed by the man’s playing they determined to lift Leam into the black of the forest canopy where they would show themselves.
“What ails you, that you play your sorrow into the stars?”
“A contract binds me to serve in misery,” said the man. “By the patrolman's marks upon my arse, I will not dare defy it.”
“A powerful spell that is,” they said, “and for your beautiful playing we would like to help you break it.”
The fairies lead Leam into a small glade among eucalyptus trees whose hanging branches dangled over a shimmering pond. The fairies heaved at something in the water, drawing it onto the banks like seamen pulling their ship onto shore. It was a brilliant piece, a six shooter in brass with mother of pearl at the handle. Its magazine was cocked to the side. Leam saw its six empty chambers.
His hand was touched by an icy cold that had manifested in his palm. It was a single round of ammunition cased in wasted potential and coarsely ground into the shape of despair.
“Dare you break your contract now?” they whispered.
Leam sweated, standing stiff with his eyes wide. He shook his head, but every attempt at discarding the lead had it manifest in some pocket or another on his person.
They asked him, "and if not, then what?" Pointing to the East, where the sun would rise tomorrow and each day until his time was done.
He hunched over, scowling, thumping a tree with a giant’s might that sent its leaves tumbling.
“Curse the British empire!” He bellowed, "they should be the ones ahead of that gun!"
The fairies giggled. Some began to excitedly mimic his words, savoring the scorn within them. Their mutters swelled into a chant.
“Curse the British empire!
Curse the British empire!
Curse the British empire…”
Munitions made of malice fell from the leaves like raindrops. The fairies flitted to catch them from the sky, filling Leam’s pockets. They fashioned the prettiest holster and belt they could, cramming its pouches and loops before the stitching was complete. Leam plucked the gun from the ground at his feet. He bared his teeth at the moon.
“Curse the British empire,
Curse their wicked king!
English folk? They all can croak,
the numbers that they bring.
Curse their greedy merchants,
thieving bastards all,
and curse the man who will not stand
who thus becomes their thrall!”
He went into the dawn armed and full of song. He thanked the fairies on his way, as the spell would soon be broken.
|# ? Jan 24, 2021 12:05|
A War Story with Uncle Welt
Did I ever tell you about the time we fought the 101st Airborne? They came down to run a wargame against us back in ’04 if I remember correctly. The 101st’s gimmick is that they call themselves Airborne, but they're not—they use helicopters and trucks, but none of them know how to strap on a parachute.
Anyway, we gave them a day’s head start. The next morning, me and the rest of the squad went down to the airfield, got rigged up, and somebody decided that we’d be jumping out of the AN-2 Colt—an ancient Russian cargo biplane we captured during the Korean War. God’s witness, it was so old that the ground crew had to give the propeller a spin while screaming CONTACT! to get the thing started. But there were only eight of us, and the Air Force couldn’t be assed to fly a C-130 for anything less than a full platoon. Besides, the Colt was low, slow, and sneaky which suited us fine.
But it was a weird plane. First of all, it only flew 10 people at a time—seven paratroopers, the jumpmaster, and two pilots. And if you were the last man to jump, you didn’t even get a seat. You just had to squat between the pilot and copilot in the cockpit.
What really made it a tricky jump was the way the back door was situated. In a C-130 you stood up, walked off the ramp, and then your rear end was in the breeze; but the Colt had a 4-inch lip on the bottom of the back hatchway, and the door was only four feet high. You had to plant a foot on the lip, hunker down, grab the sides of the hatch with both hands, and literally throw yourself out. If you didn’t bail out fast enough, the propwash would toss you back into the tail of the plane. Not good for you, and not good for a sixty-year-old airframe that’s held together with duct tape and prayers.
So anyway, we had intel that the 101st was setting up supply depots and listening posts on the east side of Peason Ridge, and we thought it might be fun to go harass them. I was the last man in the jump order, and Clyburn was just ahead of me. We loaded up on the runway before the sun rose, and off we flew. The pilots said we’d be over our target right at dawn.
Now, the DZ at Peason was short, so we had to get out of the plane ASAP unless we wanted to land in the trees. As soon as the jumpmaster said “go!” the squad started to bail out with a quickness. Garret and Thomas got out fine, but Clyburn was a little too amped up. Instead of getting his foot planted on the top of that lip, he caught it with his toe and just kind of stumbled out of the door. I knew it was bad news. The second I was out the door, I turned my head and watched him bounce off the tail of the Colt.
It’s a good thing the static line popped his chute that morning, because there’s no way he could have pulled a rip cord. I felt my chute open a few seconds later, and I checked the canopy before looking over at Clyburn in the early morning light. Dude was just hanging limp in his risers, and the ground was coming up fast. But hand to God, what I am about to tell you is true:
Clyburn landed in a shallow grave.
There was a rectangular hole on the DZ—seven feet long, three feet wide, and three feet deep—and that’s where that motherfucker landed. I have no idea who dug it, or why, but he plopped right down into it.
Then I landed and the wind picked up. It dragged me a few feet across the ground before I could get my risers unbuckled. Clyburn was still down for the count, though. When the wind got into his chute, it billowed up and hauled him back out of the hole. With that golden-colored light of dawn reflecting across the silk, he looked angelic—as if he was being called home.
Then I remembered what we’d been up to in Houston the past weekend. St. Michael might watch over the Airborne, but St. Peter’s a cop.
I had to sprint about thirty yards before he floated off, and I heard gunfire in the distance right as I grabbed onto him. Somebody on the ground was already in contact with the 101st, but I was still fighting with the wind as it tried to pull Clyburn back into the air. I get one of his risers unbuckled just as a gust started to lift us up again and we both fell back on the ground like sacks of poo poo.
He looked pretty beat, so I let him rest while I gathered up our rifles and gear. I wanted to go link up with the rest of the squad and get help, but it didn’t feel right just leaving him there by himself. I sat down and chilled out while I waited for Clyburn to come to.
It took a half hour or so, but he woke up right as cargo humvee from the 101st rolled up on us. I thought we were hosed. Then Garret and Thomas stepped out of it. I asked where they’d got the wheels, and Thomas just shrugged and said they found it at a supply depot. Garret said the nice thing about the 101st was that they were too scared to jump, but too lazy to walk.
We got Clyburn’s concussed rear end into the back of the truck and gave him his rifle. Then we drove him back to the aid station, doing drive-bys on all the 101st checkpoints we passed along the way. Dude might have been dazed, but he still could shoot.
|# ? Jan 24, 2021 18:57|
Mint and Sugar
Word Count: 772
Prompt: a gigantic tail
With peacetime making us question so much of our lives, when Rowan and I heard that our Duke offered a reward to any brave knight who could slay a monster, we set off at once.
We came upon the beast’s lair—a craterous hole—without issue, as it lay right upon the road. It had gathered a crowd of the curious on their way to the city. Other knights ringed the pit and held the people back. I dismounted and pushed my way through to survey the chasm.
“Take care, friend, the beast could lash out at any moment,” a voice behind me said.
“Fear not for Stibor the Soft. He’s probably just checking to see if there are bunnies to save.” Laughter rose up at this pronouncement from Rowan, whose mockery had not ceased since he discovered me in the stables coaxing a cat onto the saddle of my horse.
Never did he mention how I stood shoulder to shoulder with him against the hoards or how I tended to his wounds on the battlefield.
My face aflame, I turned my back to the pit, and met Rowan’s gaze. First his eyes challenged me to deny my kind heart, then they grew wide, as did the eyes of all assembled. Their heads tilted back and before I could turn around, my feet no longer stood upon the ground. I crashed to the dirt, my chainmail digging into my shoulder. I scrambled away from the pit.
With the crowd, I gazed up as a bristled tentacle, alternately colored deepest black and brightest orange, with prehensile movement, towered above us. It stretched the height of at least three men. With no eyes or mouth, this could only be but the limb of a yet greater devil.
In the next moment it lashed out again and the onlookers dispersed. Only knights remained now with our swords drawn. Our threatening stances did not deter the monster. It reached out and snatched a knight by his torso, flinging him back and forth with rapidity. The knight vomited into the pit. The monster tossed him aside with another casual flick and he soared into a bean field. The appendage withdrew partway back into its lair, the tufts of its hair visible as the tip rested on the rim.
“Has anyone landed a blow?” I called as we retreated to a safer distance.
“Not to any discernible good,” said a knight.
“Its hide will make a superb armor then,” Rowan said and he rushed toward the pit, sword lifted above his head.
Rowan reached the edge and swung down. Just as his blade should have made contact, the appendage twitched aside and Rowan’s momentum launched him into the pit. The monster disappeared behind him.
I took a step to follow him but two others drew me back.
“He is gone,” said one and he pointed to a heap of bones. “And that’s if the monster returns them at all.”
I shook off their hands and threw myself over the rim, sliding down toward the unknown. The black swallowed me and I landed again on my shoulder, but this time in a pebbly cave. I could see the mouth of the cave but not Rowan or the beast. The beast’s stench, however, was overpowering and I lurched toward the light.
Upon reaching the mouth of the cave I gawped at my shining surroundings. It was as if I were in the polished marble palace of the King but with ceilings higher than any cliff face.
Rowan’s screams interrupted my awe and I jumped down from the cave entrance onto the tiled floor. Rowan struggled within the jaws of the beast who perched atop a porcelain sculpture. I now saw it was no beast at all. It was a cat. A cat larger than Saint George’s dragon, but upon seeing those playful whiskers, I knew its nature.
I pulled from my gambeson a small satchel of sugar and mint. Usually a treat for my horse, it was also irresistible to the barn cats. I clanged my sword off the floor to gain the animal’s attention, then tossed some sugar into the air.
The cat leapt and opened its jaws. Rowan fell and I sprinted. I reached him just in time for us to tumble together, bruised, but not broken. Once again we met eyes and this time it was he who turned red.
Then the cat was upon us again. I hopped up and jerked Rowan to his feet then charmed the beast to lay flat. Together we mounted and rode back through the cave to claim our Duke’s reward.
|# ? Jan 24, 2021 18:59|
All feathered things
Flash: knocked down by a feather
Words: 753 / 800
When the roc returned at dawn, Zhen Yi was waiting for it. Thick rope tethered her to the pig carcass, its throat slit and its innards set aside. Zhen Yi didn’t dare look as the great wingbeats of the roc assaulted the shore, focusing instead on the bag of treasure tied tight across her chest.
She never saw the blow coming. The wingtip caught her square in the chest, sending her skidding across the beach, trailing snapped rope. By the time she had pulled herself to her feet, spitting sand and snarling curses, the roc and its prey were a rapidly shrinking dot on the horizon. A lone feather, shaken loose, stood tall and iridescent in the sand. The surf slapped softly against the shipwreck and the shore.
The sun was fully above the horizon by the time she finished screaming obscenities and sat down to a breakfast of the last of the salted pork. She clutched it close to her, guarding it jealously from the spotted sow snuffling through the wreck of the Yi Què. She had offered up its brothers and sisters at dawn and dusk over the past week in increasingly desperate attempts to escape to the mainland. Now, only the sow and Zhen Yi remained.
She spent the day counting her treasure again, slipping pearls and emeralds and golden chains through her fingers. A small bag, a small fortune - enough to retire on, were she to sell it. The thought made her lip twitch into something like a smile. It was far too precious to be spent.
When the roc returned at dusk, Zhen Yi was waiting for it. She crouched under the weight and stink of the offal, a knife in her belt and her treasure tied securely across her stomach. She wasn’t sure the offal alone would prove a tempting target for the bird but she was loathe to give up the final pig. If she had to spend another hungry night on the island, so be it. She’d offer the sow up in the morning if she was still here.
The beat of the roc’s wings thudded through the air, growing in volume until the beach around her was whipped up into a sandstorm. When it landed on the shore with an almighty thud, Zhen Yi braced herself, clutching her treasure close.
The moment stretched on but the blow never came. She risked a glance up at the bird, which had turned away from her to peer intently at the discarded feather from that morning. It shimmered and shone in the dusk light and the roc seemed transfixed. When it reached out its beak and grasped the feather, it was with a gentle touch that belied its size. It pulled the feather from the ground without disturbing a single grain of sand and then leapt into the air, beating its great wings once more. When the sand settled down enough for Zhen Yi to see, the roc was a distant speck on the horizon.
Zhen Yi did not sleep that night. She washed the offal off in the sea and drank a little rainwater and retreated to the shipwreck in quiet contemplation. When the moon rose, she counted her treasure by its light, the nearby sow grunting softly in its sleep. Each pearl and emerald and golden chain sparkled on the sand.
When the roc returned at dawn, Zhen Yi was waiting for it. She stood tall in the centre of the beach, her arms spread wide and her treasure draped across her body. Pearls cradled her neck. Emeralds studded her ears. Golden chains wrapped around her chest and wove through her hair. Even her eyes gleamed with a furious resolve, unwavering as the roc thudded to the beach and brought its curved beak down towards her. Curses born of terror bubbled up in her throat but Zhen Yi bit down on them.
When the roc clasped its beak around her, it was with a gentle touch. When it took once more to the sky, the beat of its wings was a gentle tremor that rocked her body. When a smudge on the horizon turned into the broad stroke of a coastline, Zhen Yi whispered sweet thanks to the bird. And when it deposited her in its great nest, woven from tree branches and lost feathers and a thousand shiny trinkets, she began to count the hours until dusk. She hoped the spotted sow proved elusive prey.
It was a long climb down to the ground.
|# ? Jan 24, 2021 23:21|
The Story of Erik Blue-Tooth
Erik opened his eyes. It did not make any difference.
He waved a hand in front of his face. His own body was brightly lit, as if by the noon sun. But there was no sun.
Erik tried to sit up, and couldn’t. He lay a hand on his chest and felt split wet bone.
He stared into the void for a while.
“I am dead,” he announced.
“Oohhh, you’re clever one!” came a cheerful female voice. “I’m Sigrid! I’ll be processing you today.”
Erik turned his head and saw a woman walk from the darkness. She was beautiful, having all her teeth. Her clothing was woven of some impossibly fine material, but it was coloured the dull grey of the winter sea.
“If I am dead, you must be a Valkyrie.”
“Nope!” smiled Sigrid, “and also: yep. Y’see, in the year 2007-”
“Valkyries soar on wings of song,” said Erik stubbornly. “Also, they are lusty, and high-spirited.”
This earned an eye-roll. Sigrid fiddled with a black shiny rectangle in her hand. The sound of extremely small horns, drums and singers could be heard.
“Wagner,” she declared. “YouTube...”
Erik frowned. “There also is much feasting in the Halls of-”
“Now as I was saying in 2007, IKEA gained- that, is, will gain- a majority of shares in Valhalla,” continued Sigrid. “We made this acquisition through eight hundred and eighty-eight equinoctial sacrifices on a FLËDHÖBEN flat-pack stone altar.”
“I see,” rumbled Erik, methodically counting the bits of rib sticking out of his chest. “What is IKEA?”
Sigrid coughed. “Northmen are famed as warriors, explorers and traders, yes?”
“Well, a thousand years after your time, we give up on the first two. But! We get real good at the last one.”
Erik shrugged and nodded. Bones crackled.
“I’ll wrap up the paperwork, and then our transportation contractors will convey your soul to Valhalla, where there is-” she waved a hand dismissively- “feasting and song.”
Erik winced a bit.
“But…” Sigrid knelt by Erik. “There is… another option…”
Erik slowly shook his head.
“Death is the end of options, Valkyrie.”
“Friend, we can send you back to fight,” whispered Sigrid.
“Not with these wounds, you can’t,” said Erik. He hinged his sternum to demonstrate.
“Ha. Ha. Ha.”
“Listen,” urged Sigrid, standing again. “You’re needed on another battlefield. Glory can be yours.”
“I like glory; but I like my lungs even more-”
“It is a new frontier, where old powers are fast falling,” said the Valkyrie, as though reciting something memorised. “There are raids and thefts and treachery; there are uncountable riches and unimaginable terrors. The innocent must be protected, and the vile and guilty destroyed. You will fight with cunning and boldness and lightning will be yours to command.”
“Your words are a fog,” rumbled Erik, “concealing…?”
“Erik, we wanna re-incarnate you as a computer program.”
“We’ll transmute your soul into- well, you’d call it lightning. You’ll protect our servers. You’ll kill viruses, mangle hackers, stand fast in data breaches. We need souls that know what it means to be cunning, fast, brave and brutal.”
Erik stared into the void for a long while. He scratched at his beard.
"Come on, Erik! It'll be great. I guarantee you'd get sick of Feasting after, like, the third week anyway. Come fight for us."
“Will there be other warriors,” Erik said at last, “so I can test my skill, display my bravery, and boast of my mighty deeds?”
“Thousands,” said Sigrid, rolling her eyes. “You dead viking guys make for amazing software. Dead hoplites are useless, they keep quoting the Phaedo and-”
“Song. Will there be song?”
“There’s millions of ‘em online.”
“And will there be wenches?”
“It’s the internet,” smirked Sigrid. “It’s about eighty percent wenches.”
Erik considered this.
"Thirty day trial period, right?"
“I have fallen,” announced Erik. “But I will get up again.”
“Not up, Erik. Uploaded.”
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 00:09|
just a few more minutes like this
You’re flat on your rear end, wet grass staining the back of your shirt. Enrique spits on you, which, even in the fog of your mind, just seems unnecessarily cruel and petty, and he walks away. There’s a big long silence, where you stare up at the grey sky, and you’re not really on the ground and not really seeing anything, and there’s just a loud ring bouncing along your skull and you can’t quite recall why you’re on the ground until there’s someone kneeling down next to you.
“That was a loving hit,” Abe says. “I actually thought you might’ve died.”
You’re not quite sure, because it doesn’t look like the clouds are moving, so maybe you did die, and death is just a pause button. Then Abe puts a hand on your chest and it’s warm and hey, you can feel things. Progress, you decide.
“Yeah,” you say, and the words actually make sounds and you’re starting to feel like a person again. Which, of course, means the side of your head starts to smart like hell, and there’s a trickle of warmth pooling down into your ear and, man, you’re bleeding.
“So, you wanna get up?” Abe asks, and you feel the ground underneath you for the first time and it’s hard as hell, but also, the clouds are shimmering from the sun behind them, and the cold air is making your blood chill the side of your head.
“Nah, I like it down here,” you say.
Abe cocks his head, so you add, “Wanna join me?”
He laughs a little, then, he does it. He lies down next to you and puts your head against your chest. He’s never done that before, you realize, and you remember that you can also remember.
“Thanks,” Abe says, “for having such a thick skull.”
You run your fingers through his hair. You’d never done that before either, but you realize that Abe probably thinks you’re hosed up, so you can get away with it.
“One of my skills is being too dumb to die,” you say.
Abe doesn’t laugh, even though you think he should. “You still have to think sometimes,” he said. “It’s not like I liked watching that.”
And then the memories hit you. It wasn’t even a big kiss. It was just a peck. And then Enrique started walking over to you two, talking about fags and the like, and you’d never had to deal with that before, so, yeah, you stood up too fast and balled up your fists, and said some rather unkind things about his face and his attitude, but he was also calling Abe a queer boy, and yeah, you could’ve handled it better, but you asked him what he was going to do about it, and okay, yeah, you really are dumb as poo poo sometimes.
“You’re right,” you say. “I’ll try to get the poo poo kicked out of me less.”
Abe laughs, and says, “Promise?”
“Promise,” you say.
Then Abe pulls himself right up close to your face, wipes away a little bit of the blood, and snuggles himself close up to your chin. His breath is warm, and yeah, your head still hurts like hell, and your dad is gonna have a lot of questions about why you’re bleeding, and there’ll be a huge rear end bruise that’ll hurt for a couple weeks at least, but there’s worse places to be, knocked to the grass, cradled next to Abe.
So you’ll get up, the both of you, in just a second. But when it happens, the pain will come rolling back, the blood will start dripping, and the world will start up again, so you want to just take a breather. You also still have to figure out if Enrique will kick your rear end if he sees you kiss Abe again.
Then Abe whispers, “You’re right, it is nice down here,” and his warm hand slides against your neck, and you decide, if the cost is getting knocked on your rear end, then it’s worth it and kiss Abe.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 00:28|
Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants
796 p bad words
The occultist contorted his face like he smelled an oily fart. “Sir, I have never, in my life had someone ask me to do what you are asking me to do.”
Patrick, excited that he might have finally found someone who could help, opened his mouth to speak and was immediately spoken over.
“Ever. And I’ve been asked to do some pretty heinous things. I feel that you’re not actually aware of what you’re asking me.”
Patrick nodded absently. “Well, I do know-”
“If you had an idea of what you’re asking, you wouldn’t be asking.” The occultist gesticulated with his hands in the way a passionate professor would do for a class of bored students. “It changes the person. Fundamentally. Irreversibly. Not to mention this is an affront to nature and multiple gods. Honestly, I am a man of ethics and this is an attack on my morals.”
Patrick placed an impressive stack of large bills on the table between them.
“But I, Cormac Adams, am a man of science,” Cormac said while sliding the money off the table and into his pocket. “If this would further our understanding of things and propel humanity forward, I would be a fool to not take this opportunity in earnest.”
The next day, Cormac stood in a crowd of around fifty people (post pandemic of course) wondering why he was such a whore for money. He checked his watch and nodded at the time. He laid down on the grass and closed his eyes. This is going to be interesting, he thought, never been skydiving before.
Cormac mentally flipped a switch behind his eyes, and when they next opened, he was looking out into cerulean skies and lazy clouds. “I’m here,” he said through borrowed vocal chords.
Patrick jumped in surprise and placed a hand on his throat. “Holy poo poo man,” he shouted through the noise of rushing air and the airplane’s propellers, “This way loving cool, bro!”
Cormac looked around the cabin, but the control of the body was suddenly taken away from him. He focused and then implanted a thought into Patrick’s head. You need to relax and let me take control or this isn’t going to work.
“Right, just like we practiced.” Patrick took a slow breath in and relaxed his limbs during the exhale.
Cormac took a slow breath in and exerted his influence on the body during the exhale. They stood up and walked to the open door and checked the wristwatch. “One last time, there’s a five second time window to execute this spell or it’s not going to work, so focus on your breathing.”
Without a second thought, they leaped from the plane and plummeted to earth without a parachute. Immediately Patrick freaked the gently caress out.
“AAAAAAAAHHHH!!!” Patrick screamed and desperately flailed his arms. “AAAAAAAAAHHH”
Goddamit Patrick, you loving pussy! Cormac shouted into his head. They were spinning uncontrollably and the details on the ground were becoming clearer with each rotation. You need to relax and give me control again!
“FFUUUUUUU~,” was his ineloquent response. Patrick also poo poo his pants.
His mind raced as he went through his dwindling options. It’s been twenty seconds in the blink of an eye. Time was running out and Cormac made the mistake of letting Patrick brag about him to his friends.
Cormac focused so hard, he felt his willpower straining the thread binding him to his own body just ten thousand feet below. He let the energy build up in his head and then in one pulse of power, took control of Patrick’s arm and smashed his fist right into his face.
Patrick blacked out, and in that moment, Cormac took control. He spread his body out to slow the fall and faced the ground. He had about fifteen seconds to complete a twenty second spell. If Patrick’s bowels weren’t already empty, Cormac would have poo poo himself.
Cormac rushed through the hand signs, feeling the energy web around his body. The ground was coming up fast as hell. He found himself screaming as he sped up his hands.
Eight seconds. The air whistled as it was forced through the magical web.
Five seconds. Cormac almost fumbled the spell, but caught the errant finger from swooping at the wrong angle.
Three seconds. The spell crackled in his mind.
One second. The spelled whined in his mind as it armed itself.
Cormac exploded upright to a seated position and clutched his heaving chest. Around him, the crowd cheered as Patrick stumbled out from the dust he left when he belly flopped to the earth.
Cormac sighed a breath of relief. He then frowned as he for the second time that day, he felt poo poo in his pants.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 03:07|
Making Me Mindless Minions
I jumped up, my legs springier than they have ever been.
I looked around. It’s just a street, with skyscrapers on either side. Nothing else is on the road. On the back on my mind I’ve seen the general shapes of the doors of these nameless buildings. The road stretched forever to the horizon. Behind me is a light so bright I can feel it on my back, but that’s boring so I ignored it.
As expected, the light disappeared. Instead, a person appeared. His gait unsteady, he swayed left and right. I turned around and stood there, afraid but unmoving. Only when I was in his arm’s reach do I start moving away. Backwards into the road that must never end.
The zombie – zombie? – was faster than me and he grabbed my left wrist with his right arm. His fingernails dug into my flesh as his rough hands pulled me forward. I slammed into his trunk, wet like sandpaper.
He embraced me. The smell of worm-eaten meat shot into my nostrils and I tried to push him away, but his embrace is unbending. The smell exploded forth, carving into the walls of my nostrils. I was so close I can feel the rumbling in his throat.
I punched the back of his head to no avail. I scratched his back, but my fingernails weren’t sharp enough. I tried to jab my finger into his ears, but my finger was too deliciously fat to go deep.
I could slam him into the wall, or twist his neck, but that’s boring.
Sweat fell from my forehead to his shoulder, giving it a slight sheen. My nose picked up a hint of salt. I started salivating. If my fingernails aren’t sharp enough, the only remaining knives are the 32 in my mouth. I opened my mouth and bit into his neck.
I bit straight through flesh and bone. His neck bones crunched, his neck flesh was tender and juicy. The zombie released me and fell backwards.
Why is it juicy, why is it tender, and why do I love it so? Because the zombie is a hobbling bag of sweet meat and crisps. It is not a zombie at all, merely food.
From both the infinite road in front of me and behind me, snacks appeared. Wobbling, crunchy amalgam of gustatory delights. Their eyes were blank. Their grey lips opened, revealing no teeth or tongues. Their arms were sausages. Their lower halves were delicious. Their wrappers resemble human clothes and is similarly inedible.
They keep coming!
Food, glorious food!
Ohh...I ate too much. I looked around me, at the flopping remains, at the bits I don’t like, like forehead bones, the belly buttons, or the butt hair. Don’t waste food, my daughter taught me. My gut bulged with an uncomfortable gluttony. Despite all the moist cakes I’ve eaten, my mouth is dry as the first zombie’s mouth.
I’m too full. I insert a finger down my throat, beckoning gut fluid to come up. It’s stuck on my throat. With two hands I squeezed my throat. Nothing came out.
I felt something on my neck. Indentations, 32 of them, each roughly...a tooth deep, a tooth wide.
Something have bitten me.
The leftovers turned into people, humans like my daughter, but they remain dead.
Something appeared on the street. A car. The one I used to get to work. Dented from a car crash.
A zombie, appearing from the shadows, stood next to the car. His teeth was red with blood.
The zombie had bitten me.
My daughter was no more. I drove into a crowd of zombies, destroyed all but one. That last one played dead. It bit me.
I have been here before. First there was a light, and I just walked into it only to return to the same street. A zombie appeared and I ignored him, running towards the light. I kept ignoring him until I didn’t, and the light disappeared. The zombie killed me, until I killed his back. Then it started hugging me. So I...found ways to kill it.
Slam it to the wall. The light appeared, and I went to it. The road, again. The zombie hugged me again.
I broke its jaw. Light. Road. Hug.
I twisted its neck. Light. Road. Hug.
I bit its neck.
No, no, no, this is not happening. I don’t bite. Humans don’t bite zombies. I don’t enjoy biting zombies.
Where was the light?
Something shone in my eyes. No, it’s in my eyes. The letters proclaim:
FIRST BITE ON LOOP: 104
The letters blew up in my face, knocking me down. Next time, I thought. Next time, I’ll just go to the light as darkness ate me.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 04:07|
It is nice to see you Toanoradian!
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 05:58|
Championships Are Forever
In the town of Bethune, South Carolina, Sammy ‘The Clinch’ Banks never had to buy a beer in his life. Sammy didn’t technically remember throwing the go-ahead touchdown into double coverage to beat Camden in the AAA State Championship, but he often watched it at the only bar in Bethune, The Damp Mutt.
“The Clinch!” said the old man working the door at The Damp Mutt. Sammy clasped his hand and bumped his chest. Sammy lost his balance and accidentally knocked over the old man’s dip cup, spilling tobacco juice over the doorman’s shoes.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sammy said. The old man flexed his bicep at Sammy.
“Ain’t no thing, Clincher, if I had a nickel for every time I done it myself, I could buy this ding dang bar,” he said.
Inside, there were the normal old timers and regulars, but tonight a few more people than he expected. In a corner, his bartender, Reggie sat with a group of men and women. They wore black and were few pitchers deep. Sammy felt he recognized some of them and waved, but as he concentrated his head started to hurt. He shook it off, and sat down at the bar. Reggie came back behind the bar and poured him a beer. They had been pals in high school, but Reggie had moved back to town a few years prior.
“Hey Reggie, what’s with the button-up? Special occasion?”
A pained look appeared in Reggie’s eyes.
“It was my mom’s wake, today,” Reggie said.
“Oh god, ah hell, I’m really sorry. You tell me this already?”
“Last week, Sammy. It’s okay, I get it, don’t worry about it.”
On the television, a grainy VCR recording played the championship that Bethune won. Sammy had his front row seat again for it. A man from the corner Reggie had been out came up to the bar with an empty pint glass. His name was Malcolm, Sammy remembered. They went to high school together.
“Reggie, can’t we watch anything other than this poo poo?”
“What’s wrong with reliving some glory days, man?” Sammy said.
“Glory days? What a pile of poo poo. Those were glory days for you? You remember what you used to call me? Falcolm.”
Sammy didn’t remember.
“It stood for Fat Malcolm, you loving rear end in a top hat. Glory days all right, and now you sit in this piece of poo poo bar and people buy you drinks because they feel bad you knocked yourself even more stupid than you were before. It sure as poo poo isn’t for glory, it’s because they feel bad for you, it’s pathetic.”
Sammy’s gut dropped. His brain went into overdrive trying to remember calling him Falcolm. The fuzziness returned sharp feedback and he winced. His ears started to get hot, and felt nausea taking root in his empty stomach.
“I’m-I’m sorry,” Sammy choked out. He tried to maintain his balance as he got up, but his head pounded and all he wanted to do was throw up. “I didn’t mean, I, I –.”
Sammy staggered to the bathroom. He splashed water on his face to stop the room from spinning. After gripping the sink until his knuckles turned white, he began to regain his footing and his headache subsided. When he returned, Malcolm had left. Reggie started to say something, but Sammy shook his head and put a few bills on the bar top.
On the television at the bar, an all too familiar scene played out. Sammy had seen it hundreds of times, even if he couldn’t remember it. There he was, 20 years ago, third and 8, from the 30 yard line. 30 seconds remained on the clock, no time outs left. Sammy hikes the ball, and Camden blitzes. His tight-end barely chips the linebacker, turns out into the flat and the ball leaves Sammy’s hands. The linebacker crunches into Sammy, his head hits the ground and he doesn’t move. The tight-end breaks for the first down and cuts out of bounds, stopping the clock.
Meanwhile, the camera pans back to Sammy, who is still on the ground. Camden calls a time-out to regroup, and they don’t notice the medical staff have run out. Sammy pops up and looks woozy. Sammy waves them off and gathers the offense into a huddle. Camden defense has lined back up and the ref sets the ball.
They’re off again, and the pocket collapses around Sammy. He squirts out to the side, two defenders on his tail, and a heave into the end zone, a perfect spiral for the touchdown. And then the defenders, two beefy farm boys each nearly 300 pounds apiece, pancake him into the ground and his head rocks against the grass. The field fills with fans, and Sammy is lost in the sea of people.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 06:03|
It is nice to see you Toanoradian!
Hope you're ready for vintage, first-year-Thunderdome, pure toan flavour!
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 06:37|
You see the picture, see those familiar dimples and cheekbones and everything floods back, from the feel of his cropped hair in your hand and his fingers on your spine to the smell of decades-old cigarette smoke lingering in his father's handed-down jacket. Then you read the headline below, his name and the things he's done and your legs aren't working properly. They're made of gelatin spooled with noodles where your muscles were and you collapse like an unfortunate seventies aspic onto the floor. You scrabble after your phone. The screen is hairline-cracked. The article is still there.
You haven't thought of him in years. No, that's a lie. You've thought of him then, of the event, of that first time in the empty toolshed behind his parents' house, watched over by the faded shadows of hammers and wrenches beneath empty pegs, and of the second and third and fourth times. But you haven't thought of him the person, him in the present, in years. Maybe eight years ago? Deanna told you that he'd married Rikki Gayle when you caught up some Christmas visit. You'd said "That's nice, they make a cute couple, I hope they're happy together." Those kind of things. You thought them, meant them too. Rikki isn't mentioned in the article. You hope she got out in time. You hope there aren't children.
Five. The headline said five. Some part of you wonders if they're counting Victor himself. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It all seems impossible. Like it couldn't be the same person after all. You don't trust your legs enough to stand. You scoot over to the wall.
There were no signs. He had a cruel streak, but it ran no deeper and wider than any other teenager's. Not deeper nor wider than your own. As a lover he was careful, gentle, grateful. After it was over he was more civil than you. He was, beyond any other description, normal. Except he clearly wasn't.
You wonder if that isn't the secret. That this is normal, the blood and smoke that almost seem to leak through the crack in the phone's screen, that anyone could be driven to that, could choose that. The idea reeks of sulfur. You put it down like an exorcist. You press down on the floor and struggle to your feet.
He ended things, after about a month. To be honest, you were starting to get bored with him too. Neither of you had ever said 'I love you.' The closest he ever came, after that first time, lit by sunlight made into solid beams by lingering sawdust:
"You're something, Becks. You're something else."
Nobody else called you that, not ever, and for that you are grateful.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 07:43|
Yuliya switched off the loop-drive and the Towhee dropped from hyperspace.
The Towhee was a ramshackle, second-generation, passenger cruiser that had been poorly refitted with cargo scoops and gripper arms way back in the 3070s following the end of the Proxima Wars in the hopes of passing as a scrap hauler.
Unfortunately for Yuliya’s grandfather, he was but one of several hundreds of thousands who had the same idea.
In the end, he got into debt that he couldn’t pay off and was forced into contractual freight work until he died of old age, having never found anything of value.
However, the one thing Yuliya’s grandfather was able to pass down was his contractually obligated debt to Gorbunenko’s Interstellar Produce Farms.
The old ship groaned as space warped into fluid reality in front of it.
The loop-drive had been overheating ever since they did that delivery out in the Ophiuchus system, but getting repair requisitions was next to impossible.
“Does it fly? Can it safely enter and exit hyperspace?”
Standard, credit-pinching protocols from dispassionate company droids.
In any situation, Yuliya would have earned enough credits after this run to settle her grandfather’s debts once and for all.
Her father and mother were born into the greater Gorbunenko Industries, and they like Yuliya, were victims of her grandfather’s poorly calculated, but well-intentioned, investment plan.
Quantum desynchronization was listed as the cause of death on their death certificates.
An incident that unfortunately got covered by the catchall “Acts of God” clause regarding man-made interstellar travel.
It had become standard on insurance waivers after first-generation loop-drives that had been recycled for decades began to destabilize.
Just your run of the mill occupational hazard. Another day on the job. If temporal anomalies don’t erase all traces of your existence, good for you. A head pat and another hundred credits shaved off your interest compounded balance.
Elgor was ecstatic. It had been 1,641 days since they last docked at New Terra and Yuliya had promised the knuckle-walking sponge-man ice cream. Something she had most certainly forgotten about in the years that passed but Elgor was… well… a knuckle-walking sponge man, or at least it resembled a man most of the time.
It vaulted out of the engine room into the cargo bay on two porous columns and reoriented its features until it could almost pass as human.
The Suranilite were an advanced spacefaring species with a deep understanding of technology and machinery, but most human colonies treated the Suranilite people with wariness and in some cases disdain.
Brilliant enough to explore the stars, but just average enough to get roped into the bureaucratic, soul-crushing, machinations of industry.
None of this mattered to Elgor, of course. The job was just the job. An outlook that Yuliya coveted.
Elgor hooted at the sight of Yuliya and chanted “ice cream” under its breath as the two of them loaded up the hoversleds with New Terra’s order.
“1,641 days, me no forget.” Elgor said letting a too wide grin spread over its imitation of a face.
“I know, buddy. Ice cream… I promise.” Yuliya said smiling at the sponge-ape. “Once these deliveries are made, it’ll be our first stop.”
Elgor hooted gleefully and returned to packing the sleds, and as promised, once the deliveries were made, they were off to get ice cream.
There was a droid operated shop at the end of the boardwalk that served earth cuisine via the use of outdated protein-solution based replicators. Ultimately, those replicators were replaced almost universally as changes in the technology rendered ingredient-based production obsolete.
Obsolescence aside, the food from these replicators was actually food and not just the nutrient tonic that Gorbunenko supplied all its personnel with.
Elgor’s giddiness just may have begun to rub off on Yuliya, when they realized the shop was not there.
Elgor galloped on its trunk like limbs down the boardwalk to confirm again, that it was in fact gone, and not just moved.
Then the big creature slumped down onto the plated metal deck of the boardwalk.
“No ice cream?”
“I’m sorry, big guy, but it looks like they closed.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so…”
Yuliya sighed, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do this time. You can get an ice cream flavored ration from the replicator on the ship.”
“It no same. Me have tried. It no same.”
“You big oaf, don’t you get it? Finding a replicator like that was awesome, I’m not going to lie to you, but you’re not going to find another like it. You’d have a better chance getting ice cream on earth.”
Elgor contemplated this pushing its chin up with a trunk-limb like it had seen humans do in contemplation.
“Okay. Is settled. To earth for ice cream.”
“What? No… that’s not what I was say-“
Then it donned on Yuliya, that her grandfather’s contract should be paid in full. That there should even be a deficit of credits owed to Yuliya with delivery fulfilled.
She had earned her freedom. She had earned her family’s freedom. She had reclaimed her future for herself. She had served Gorbunenko Industries for her entire life and after 32 years she was free.
Yuliya laughed at the realization, and Elgor grinned.
“To earth for ice cream.” Elgor insisted.
“Sounds like a plan.” Yuliya agreed.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 07:51|
I went down to the crossroads
The punch laid me out on the rutted dirt, brought the road up to smack me right in the back of my lying head. I should have expected it, of course. I’d made a promise, to someone who had no patience for welshers.
I heard his footsteps crunching over the dusty metal of the road, counted them absently as the inside of my head reverberated like a bell. Six, seven… and stop. He was beside me, above me. I squinted up, noon sun sending hot barbed arrows into my eyes.
“I’m owed souls,” he said. His voice was flat as the countryside around us, just an endless disinterested expanse in each dry syllable.
I looked at the Devil’s boots, which were worn and dusty, and considered my options. My head had stopped ringing, which was probably good, and started into a dense, moist, painful throbbing which probably wasn’t. I wondered if my brain was leaking out the back, taking all my memories with it to seep into the parched earth. It didn’t seem such a bad thing. People might step in the faint stain it left and be seized with a sudden piercing desire to immediately live their lives in a much better way forever.
The Devil tapped his foot, once. I knew with a sudden utter clarity that I wouldn’t get a second one.
“I’ve brought you one,” I said. “It’s me. Take me down.”
He laughed, and I don’t have the words to set out how awful that sound was. Imagine the grinding of cogs of bone, bone cogs that are grinding up the mummified skeletons of baby mice, and you won’t be anywhere near it but you’ll at least be thinking of something horrible which will put you in the right zone.
“I don’t want you,” he said. “I already have you.”
He squatted down, making a little grunt as he did, like a man who’s discovered that he’s aging and things aren’t as easy as they were back in the day. He looked at me, his hands on his knees. His eyes were a very light sky blue and there were little crinkles around them, the eye-crinkles of a man who could appreciate the right joke, if only someone would make it.
“It’s your family. We know that. We talked about it. We had an agreement.”
The words left his mouth, hit the bone dry air and evaporated, so dead of meaning and expression were they. He looked at me and through me and I fancied I could see the last grains of his interest me running out and down and through the narrow waist of his hourglass of attention. I knew, and he knew, and I knew that he knew and so on, that they weren’t coming.
Now I must confess I had honestly planned to do it. It doesn’t speak well of me as a human being but I had genuinely intended to sacrifice my son and wife to Satan for, well, everlasting life, power, glory, the usual.
I'd also thought about getting really good at guitar or something, but at the last minute I decided that would come with time and didn’t make it part of the, you know, devilish bargain.
I wish I could say I’d then had a sudden blinding realisation of what my loved ones meant to me and changed my mind, but it was simpler than that. I just got to thinking about eternity. While looking at a fly. Little bastards only live for a day. What would it be to live forever as a fly?
Buzzing around, wings getting heavier. Landing on things, taking off again. Eating so, so much poo poo. Just an endless coprophagic expanse of the stuff. Forever.
I could be it was guilt that made me draw the comparison between what I was proposing to do and a filthily swattable housefly, but in any case it quite took the wind out of my sails, Devil’s-bargain-wise and so at last I found myself at the crossroads and the Devil standing over me having knocked me on my rear end.
I rolled over onto my knees and, shakily, stood up.
The Devil rose too, and we were looking each other in the eye. Looking in those eyes, something struck me.
“This was always your plan, wasn’t it? You knew I wouldn’t go through with it. Didn’t you?”
The Devil’s eyes crinkled, just a little, and I knew I was right. Only one thing to do, then.
I clenched my fists, one finger at a time, thumb on the outside, tight like a drum. Then I raised them, one high, one low.
“Put ‘em up,” I said to the Devil. “I’ve got beef.”
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 08:50|
Entries are closed!
If your story arrives before we start the recapping, I'll still include it...
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 12:23|
WEEK 442 RESULTS
Some of you got knocked down and got back up again real good and hard. Some of you just got knocked down.
Lying face-down in a pool of their own vomit is this week’s loser, Idle Amalgam. You can have my old losertar, see if the magic rubs off.
In our DMs, Azza Bamboo, Tree Bucket, toanoradian and a friendly penguin struggle mightily to get up off a floor made entirely of banana peels. It's all rather embarrassing.
HMs go to those who, with great effort, have regained their balance: Thranguy, Noah, flerp, and sebmojo all got back up again, to varying levels of judge satisfaction.
But one stone cold motherfucker is rising from the ashes we thought were their corpse, spitting out teeth and flipping off God. Stand tall, Staggy: the Blood Throne lies vacant and will answer to no other.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 22:10|
brotherly – In the Blue Glow
The beginning needs a little work. Branna is not the main character, but the story starts with him, I think the “hot poo poo” just sounds awkward – consider starting with Armie’s perspective on him.
In other ways as well the beginning could be improved – there’s a good story here about Armie learning that it’s okay that some people perform better than others, and that Branna is actually a really nice (hot?) guy, but it’s lost a little because Armie’s dislike of Branna feels really forced. He’s jealous, that’s basically it. There’s something about Armie disliking him as well because he secretly pines for him and can’t admit that, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
If you managed to set up the actual problem Armie has better, then the rest would click into place, imo. The sequence of him working himself into a frenzy is pretty well done, the ending is fine, but it needs a clearer arc and setup.
Overall, well-written on the sentence level but not really gripping on a story one.
gently caress Yeah! factor: Armie got himself down and the only obstacle to him getting back up was soreness. 3/10
Azza Bamboo – The Tale of Leam
I liked this, but of course there’s room for improvement. I was really confused at the beginning by the “work of their God” line. It becomes pretty clear as the story goes in that Leam is only useful as a worker for his hated king, but it is needlessly obfuscated imo.
I’m also having a hard time grasping Leam’s character fully. He’s strong and tall and broad but also very musical, and he speaks extremely poetically for someone just working unskilled labor day and night. At the end, he even writes an impromptu song. It seems a little out of nowhere.
The fairies themselves are also curiously glossed over, they show up after the duet and carry Leam away, and it’s just a single sentence – is he like “guess that’s happening”? Also, until they struggle to get the gun out of the pond, I had no grasp on their size.
Overall, well-written but a little too vague in parts.
gently caress Yeah! factor: I hate the British Empire as much as the next guy, but I wonder how effectively Leam is going to accomplish punishing the king by shooting a few foremen over in Australia. 4/10
Weltlich – A War Story with Uncle Welt
Wow, I did not like this story. Almost nothing of it landed for me – the framing (what’s the stakes? What does a wargame even mean? Is this a real thing or are you retelling a match of Battlefield?), the blasé tone (the motherfucker landed in a shallow grave), the amount of info you give (a whole second paragraph just describing the plane – then two more of the same?!) and what you don’t give (what the hell is a C-130 and why is it relevant? What’s a DZ?).
I especially don’t like how you explain tediously “oh btw this plane is old and dangerous to jump from, the biggest danger is slamming against its side if you gently caress up the jump” and then just two paragraphs later you describe how someone does exactly that. That’s the fastest-fired Chekov’s gun ever, did you base this on your sex life?
gently caress Yeah! factor: Clyburn jumps like a dumbass, gets knocked out and miraculously survives. Where did he lift himself out of his own predicament? Just terrible 1/10
a friendly penguin – Mint and Sugar
This does not quite land for me, and I think it’s because the tensions it builds up are generally resolved too quickly. You have, for example, people holding back Stibor from rescuing Rowan for about half a sentence before he breaks free and goes to rescue him. Later, Rowan struggles for a sentence in the beast’s jaws, but you immediately dispel the danger by calling it “not a beast” (as if a cat of that size wasn’t dangerous as hell, haha), then Rowan is rescued and the threat is literally dispelled.
Probably the biggest way the story suffers though is by you putting the prompt at the start, so there’s no mystery to what the “tentacle” is. Consider putting the flash rule at the end!
I do like how you set up Stibor as being an animal-lover. I also like the little interplay he has with Rowan. The first sentence is also quite good, but imo it would be stronger if you just stated “Peacetime made us question so much of our lives.” before going into the exposition of the mission.
I’m also wondering what the “hoards” are, are they especially dangerous people who can’t throw stuff away lol
gently caress Yeah! factor: Stibor gets knocked down by the tail, but away from the hole, and just scrambles away. There’s no real getting up involved. 4/10
Staggy – All feathered things
I liked this. Very visceral, great progression in the little space you have, and a great triumph at the end. There’s just two small details that irked me:
a) I don’t know the real significance of the treasure. Zhen Yi does not want to sell it because it’s more precious to her than money, but why? Obviously at the end it saves her neck, but that still does not explain why she treasures (no pun intended) it so much
b) I’m not fully convinced about the true urgency of her situation, the hunger especially. If she had that many pigs, she could have kept one to eat away at, like she’s apparently doing anyway, or keep the best parts of each she butchered for herself. Just seems like inefficient resource-management.
Overall, however, it feels like a classic adventure tale and it was enjoyable to read.
gently caress Yeah! factor: Zhen Yi’s observation that the roc likes shiny things saves her from getting knocked down again. That’s like a getting back up by proxy. 8/10
Tree Bucket – The Story of Erik Blue-Tooth
Wow, this was silly. But while humor is usually a hard sell for me, I didn’t hate it. My biggest issue with it is that the writing is a little clumsy. You start the first line of dialogue with a sad typo (“you’re clever one”), and the rest of the dialogue is also a bit messy. Sigrid is a bit too flippant, she is talking too much about stuff she must know he doesn’t get, but the latter also seems almost aggressively uninterested in trying to hear her out on the parts he would get.
Erik’s name is fun. Did you get inspired by the Bluetooth symbol being runes?
Overall, a bizarre idea pulled off competently, but it needs a few more editing passes.
gently caress Yeah! factor: Not really there, considering Erik has fallen offscreen, and he’s accepting an up(load) from someone else (which also doesn’t happen on-screen). 2/10, but actually 5/10 because it’s not supposed to be silly, not badass
flerp – just a few more minutes like this
yo this is cute. I like these two. There’s not much to say other than it made me smile, you did some excellent descriptions of injuries, and intimacy.
gently caress Yeah! factor: You write about not getting up again immediately, which is a great subversion because it’s a great story. I’ll allow it. 9/10
Mercedes – Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants
You are right, those are some p bad words. Sadly, even, because they didn’t have to be. If I understand the plot correctly, some braggart named Patrick bribes an occultist to take over his body in order to cast a spell that will allow him to survive an otherwise lethal fall. The fall is self-inflicted because Patrick wants to impress friends and strangers with a dumb stunt of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.
I don’t think this premise needs to be constantly shot in the foot by yourself, so why do you do it? What’s to be gained with the frankly terrible attempts at humor? You know how to write a tense sequence – the fall itself is proof enough of that – but then why put poo poo into pants, why an aside about the pandemic?
I weep for a better, much more fun story that could have been (as in, fun not funny, this lands about as well as Patrick would have without the spell).
gently caress Yeah! factor: At least you manage to build some tension during the fall sequence? 2/10
toanoradian – Making Me Mindless Minions
This seems amateurish, which means it needs practice to become better, so take everything with the idea of improvement. Why do I get the impression that you are unpracticed? Well, there’s tense issues (both in the first paragraph already and later) where you switch to present for a sentence, and typos, examples:
“on the back on my mind”
“Something have bitten me.”
“until I killed his back”
And that tends to stick out like a sore thumb.
Apart from those issues that could be fixed with more judicious editing, I’m also generally not too into your story because it’s honestly a little too confusing for its own good. You’re – I think – going for a NO YOU ARE THE ZOMBIES thing, slowly revealing that the protagonist is not getting away from zombies, no he hasn’t found a secret way to triumph over them, no he hasn’t suddenly realized that zombies taste well, but instead he is a zombie, and he became one after trying to kill a bunch of them, but the last one played dead and bit him, and now he’s replaying the moments leading up to that realization over and over again. I guess? Did I get that somewhat right? I feel like there’s too many twists and layers here to really follow it fully.
It’s not all bad – there’s some nice descriptions of fleshy bits – so do keep practicing! You’re just not quite there yet.
gently caress Yeah! factor: Him reliving a loop again and again is not very triumphant now is it. 2/10
Noah – Championships Are Forever
Wow, this is depressing. It’s probably harsh reality for a lot of former teenage athletes though. You captured that fairly well. However, I do have some issues with your story. First of all, I have zero idea of American football, so the opening paragraph just makes me think: The hell is a go-ahead touchdown into double coverage? I mean, I get the gist of it, but it’s still way too specific for me. Similarly, the last three paragraphs also kind of lose me, which is a surprisingly small problem, as they add nothing. It has been – to me at least – crystal clear that Sammy got a heavy concussion with a side of brain damage from his glorious victory, and that has been hammered in again and again, so it feels irrelevant to show the scene itself. I’m not sure what you were going for here by repeating it, it’s not like it closes off Sammy’s arc, or makes the scene loop back to a setup at the start.
Adding to the initial confusion btw is at least one typo coupled with awkward phrasing:
“In a corner, his bartender, Reggie sat”
Why is Reggie his bartender? Also, it’s missing a comma after Reggie, so I thought Reggie sat his bartender [down] somewhere until it clicked.
Overall, you waste a surprising amount of precious words on an irrelevant scene which you could use to instead have the story be even more depressing as Sammy more painfully realizes how hollow his current happiness he paid for with lasting damage to his mind and memories is.
gently caress yeah! factor: there’s nothing triumphant about this, but that was not your intention. I actually felt it stuck too close to the prompt by spelling out in the final scene that Sammy got back up again – and that’s what actually got him really badly hurt. 7/10
Thranguy – Oh, Boy
Pretty heavy. There’s some excellent turns of phrase in here, thought I don’t need to tell you that, you know you can write. That’s pretty much all there is, though, so is it enough? Basically, the plot of this little scene is Becky realizing that her short fling with some guy who turned out to be a serial killer (?) doesn’t actually mean anything. The core issue, what brings her down, is that Victor didn’t show any signs, and that means that normal-seeming people can be monsters. She then spins that into the idea that normal people are monsters as a baseline, but overcomes that by basically thinking “naw that’s stupid”.
I wonder if you’re implying at the end that nobody else had called her Victor’s dumb phrase, or that nobody else had gotten even that close to loving her. The latter seems unnecessarily harsh, so I choose not to interpret it that way. The former, then, is just another confirmation that Becky’s thought process of “okay that was a bit of an overreaction” is correct.
Overall, well-written but a bit of a nothing for me.
gently caress yeah! factor: only being shaken a little after realizing some fling killed a bunch of people is pretty badass. 5/10
Idle Amalgam – Waffle cone
The way you formatted this story makes my eyes hurt. Did you really have to have every sentence be its own line? However, it does highlight how pointlessly expository half of them are. It feels like the clumsiest attempt at world-building every time you overexplain a little detail, all of that could be done way better.
In fact, the entire plot flows extremely weirdly. You set up a ton of (as I said, rather superfluous) details, about the company and the ship and the family history and the ice cream and the sponge monster and so on, but the entire plot boils down to “huh, I hadn’t realized that I am out of debt now. Crazy” which is, imo, pretty weak. After all, Yuliya earned that freedom before the story has even begun.
That she has to realize it via Elgor’s innocent stupidity makes her come off even worse.
I don’t know. I’d say to improve this you should focus on what you really want the story to be about – capitalism critique, working to get out of debt, the unfulfilled quest for ice cream – and focus on that.
Overall: rewrite imo and lay off the Enter key.
gently caress yeah! factor: “I never had to get up because I am already standing” 1/10
sebmojo – I went down to the crossroads
This isn’t bad, but feels rushed in some ways, like it needs a little tightening here and there to make it pop. You are always an avid user of metaphors, and usually manage to craft ‘em with the best of them, but sometimes you overdo it if you don’t manage to rein yourself in, and you didn’t manage to hold the horses of you this time. See what I did there?
Concrete examples: I know the sentence continues, but “Imagine the grinding of cogs of bone, bone cogs that are grinding” reads like poo poo.
“He looked at me and through me and I fancied I could see the last grains of his interest me running out and down and through the narrow waist of his hourglass of attention.” this is a drawn-out as hell metaphor. Also typo.
Anyway, regarding the story itself, I like how unapologetic the protagonist is about being a terrible person, and that the only thing changing his mind is the classic “wait immortality actually sucks” revelation. The fly as a carrier of that is new, well done. However, that comes after a bit too long of a scene setting up the two people, where I got confused in the middle if the other guy was the literal devil or not, because you talk so much about his clothes and eye color but also a voice that sounds like bones that I got mixed up what was metaphorical and what was physical.
Overall, tighten said metaphors up, spend some more time thinking about what a reader will think when reading some description of the devil or other, and maybe integrate that a little into the ending: they’re gonna fight, so what does the current physical appearance of the devil mean for that? Does he look like a bruiser from the start? If you were going for that, I’m not quite catching it. If you do all of that, this’ll be a good one.
gently caress yeah! factor: starting a doomed fisticuffs session with the literal devil is pretty awesome ngl, 7/10
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 22:20|
Oblitcrits for Week 442
Brotherly - In the Blue Glow
What happens in this story?
A guy tries to out-mushroom-collect the local top mushroom collector and fails, also the mushrooms are on fire later.
Why are the mushrooms on fire? Is this some weird property of mushrooms I don’t know about? Are they all high? It was not like this when I was on shrooms.
I kind of like the idea of ‘rivalry with a nice guy’ but you don’t work it hard enough. As it stands we just get it at the end - ‘wait, Branna isn’t a garbage eater, he’s just some okay guy?’ You could have had some fun with him being obviously a chill dude and that being the tension of the story.
Instead we just get this kid’s travails with mushrooms and I feel that robs the ending of any punch it might have had. Like somewhere in your head you have a story with a similar ending and a completely different start and middle: write that.
“Ya’re serious ‘bout this, ain’t ya?”
I’d been dropping the ‘shrooms behind me on the dirt, into nothing.
Here are two examples of something called the apologetic apostrophe - you’ve left little marks to alert us to letters you’ve skipped. ‘Don’t worry, reader,’ you’re telling us at max volume, ‘I sure do know how to spell ‘about’, yes sir, but today I choose otherwise FOR REASONS OF LOCAL PATOIS.’ You don’t need to apologise for using the vernacular. Any reader worth writing for would be able to figure those two sentences out without the help.
Hell, would your narrator, if they were actually writing this down on the page, feel the need to highlight their ‘wrong’ English? Doubt it. We’re into opinion territory now, but if you’re going to use non-standard English of any kind you should just own it.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Azza Bamboo - The Tale of Leam
What happens in this story?
A vaguely Gaelic maybe-giant in Australia bumps into fey anti-imperialists.
Well it’s top-tier judge pandering if nothing else: I for one curse the British Empire on a daily basis. Unfortunately echoing my specific political tastes does not a good story make.
Why are there vaguely Gaelic fairies in Australia? If this is Gaimanish ‘folk bring their myths with them’ stuff it’s not developed here.
There’s a lot of ‘stuff just happens’ here and it all hinges on there conveniently being Gaelic-coded fairies about who are down to gently caress with the British Empire - as said I would love this reality but I ain’t buying it as packaged.
Is someone knocked down?
Metaphorically maybe? Is being transported akin to being knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Assuming the above reading you can get away with the contents of the wee poem at the end, but will my fellow judges think the same???
Weltlich - A War Story with Uncle Welt
What happens in this story?
A man parajumps into a hole in the ground and is lifted back out by the wind.
Does it count as pandering when you’re clearly making your own use of elements from my winning story? Hell if I know, let’s see if it’s good!
Well as a beginning it takes too long to get going. Your first four paragraphs are just setting: whilst I both like the narrator’s voice and get that he would know the names of things, have opinions on their utility, etc., the story doesn’t start until they jump out the plane (if I wanted to be cruel, it doesn’t start until the guy lands in the grave). You could choose to start there, say at ‘Now, the DZ at Peason was short’. Suddenly you have more room for the story, which judging by this perfectly maxed word count you needed!
The second half of this is thus painfully compressed into 500 words and it suffers for that. Guy falls in hole, parachute lifts guy out of hole, guy is rescued from parachute.
Last question: what’s the condition of narration here? Who is Uncle Welt talking to, how long ago was this, why’s he telling the story now and to these people? The only thing we have to go on there is the word ‘uncle’; so all we have on this audience, whose existence is so important to the story that you establish it in the title, is that they are somewhere between one and infinity niblings. I’m not asking for their names or life stories, but you’ve added this uncle-nibling dynamic and what have you done with it? gently caress all is what you’ve done with it. Conditioned narration is a great way to add depth to your story - to include bits of the story-about-the-story, as it were - but you don’t do that here and it’s a missed opportunity.
I have no idea who dug it, or why, but he plopped right down into [the grave].
Why hedge like this? You’ve already established we’re on a goddamn battlefield and the idea of a hole existing there is not the most belief-stretching bit of this incident. In fact I was going along with it until this line, which is nothing more than a cautious restatement of the thing you told us in the sentence before! Be confident in what you’re telling us! Does it matter to the story who dug it? No? Then don’t waste our time.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
A friendly penguin - Mint and Sugar
What happens in this story?
Two guys go off to slay a monster. It’s a giant cat and one of them has cat magic so it’s fine.
The only thing here that isn’t generic by-the-numbers fantasy is the giant housecat, and you save that for a lazy reveal! Give me the version of this where everybody knows it’s a giant cat and that’s just the kind of thing that happens around here! What is it to be a questing knight when all the threats to THE KINGDOM OF INSERTLOREHERE are larger versions of domesticated animals and apparently just as tame? It’s like you tried to give me something unexpected but didn’t want to write anything unexpected.
It’s unclear to me whether or not the reveal comes as a surprise to the characters or the setting; you’ve done just enough setup work to show our narrator has Thoughts about cats, but not the how, the what or the why until it happens to be necessary. In fact, the best note in this story is that little dod of characterisation with the cat riding a horse and the way you try and tie it back into the resolution. Doesn’t land, though.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Staggy - All feathered things
What happens in this story?
A woman is stranded on a desert island, her only hope of escape the giant bird that scavenges there daily.
Here’s a good way to start a story. It gives the reader both details and questions - reasons to be interested and reasons to read on. Relevant detail is carefully and subtly introduced: we learn that she’s shipwrecked not from a narrator taking time out to remember a bunch of sailing mishaps or speculating about travel times but from the simple fact of a shipwreck on the shore. I talked about ‘confidence’ in earlier crits and this is what I mean: this one clear detail is all that needs said to establish the wider picture. You can - assuming your story is interesting - expect your reader to get it the first time.
On top of this our protagonist has a clear objective - she wants off the island. I am that painful word, ‘invested’.
I’m not 100% on what the roc is playing at, to be fair - if their interest in their own feathers is some lore I don’t know or this is just about liking shinies - but gently caress it, you establish its interest clearly enough.
Like in a sense you could call this story ‘simple’ - person is trapped on island, person discovers means of escape from island, person escapes island - but that simplicity just gives space for the actual story to be told, which is in Zhen Yi’s strong characterisation and a nice twist on a classic setting.
This all pushes this story into the high tier this week. I knocked you down with a smart-alec flash and you got back up again: nice work.
Minor note: the roc both doesn’t disturb a single grain of sand and whips up a sandstorm. I get what you’re going for but this wording is a little confusing.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Tree Bucket - The Story of Erik Blue-Tooth
What happens in this story?
…it’s more of this Norse IKEA thing, isn’t it
“Oohhh, you’re clever one!” came a cheerful female voice. CLEVERER THAN SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T PROOFREAD
The core problem with this story is that it’s completely dependent on your Valkyrie reeling the details off one-by-one like a hostage reading a teleprompter. It all takes place in a featureless void. This isn’t a setting: this is the waiting room for a setting. If you absolutely must do ancient-Norse-warrior-reincarnated-as-software (and you absolutely goddamn should) GIVE US THAT WORLD, not the anteroom where they brief you on how wacky it’s going to be.
Erik simultaneously has no idea what’s going on, seeing as you clearly make him out as a medieval guy who needs to be told computers are lightning, and also knows enough to quip about thirty-day trial periods. He cannot be both.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
flerp - just a few more minutes like this
What happens in this story?
After being knocked down by a homophobe, our protagonist and his boyfriend have a tender moment together on the ground.
Nice spin of the prompt here, with the entire story taking place on the ground. The patter between the two is strong and the core image of Abe joining us on the ground is cute.
I like how you’ve used the device of our possible concussion to ration out the details and give the protag a little more freedom to act. It also helps a little with easing us into second person. You might be slightly overdoing it - by the time of the paragraph ‘And then the memories hit’ I for one didn’t need you to explicitly tell us we’re remembering again, you’ve already established this is something we’re doing right now.
I’m in two minds about the use of second person. Speaking craft-wise I think it’s well done - it avoids the classic pitfall of being overly prescriptive and doesn’t intrude too much on the story - but I’m also left wondering why you chose it, and what purpose it serves. Is it just to put me, the reader, in the protagonist’s shoes, to get some feeling of what it’s like to be knocked down like this? I feel like there’s more potential here that you’re not using.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Technically, no? But it’s obvious that they will and that’s good enough for me.
Mercedes - Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants
What happens in this story?
An occultist and a would-be-skydiver join forces to sin against reality itself, and also to temporarily combine their minds in order to jump out of a plane without a parachute. It nearly goes wrong. They both poo poo themselves.
Definitely some laughs here. Changing one’s mind the minute the bribe appears is a classic but it’s still funny.
I’m not entirely sure why this voluntary body-puppetry - that you even establish requires informed consent to work properly - is so very heinous. We don’t have any sense of scale for what our fella considers too evil for occultism.
The worst I can say about this story is that the humour, whilst funny, isn’t enough to carry the whole thing.
Is someone knocked down?
Well technically they fall down but I’ll give you it
Does someone get back up?
toanoradian - Making Me Mindless Minions
What happens in this story?
It was boring so I ignored it.
Also, a man isn’t, then is, then kind of is again, a zombie? Then there are letters.
Those who pander know that my favourite type of story is the type that is proofread. Kudos to you for sticking it to me, The Man, and refusing to humour such bourgeois decadence.
Most obviously your grasp of tenses is all over the shop:
I was so close I can feel the rumbling in his throat.
NON. A THOUSAND TIMES NON.
THIS CHICANERY IS A DIRECT ASSAULT ON HUMANITY’S COMPREHENSION OF TIME AND MERITS THE UNCONDITIONAL OPPOSITION OF ALL THAT DRAW BREATH (UNLESS YOU’RE DOING AN ACTUAL THOUGHT-OUT THING WITH SHIFTING TEMPORAL PERSPECTIVE OR SUCHLIKE BUT YOU’RE SURE AS gently caress NOT, ARE YE, CHUMLING?)
I’m going to blame the proofreading for the complete incomprehensibility of this story, and you’re damned lucky I am. The what and the why of everything here is unclear. The continual shifts in tenses, perspectives, and unexplained mindstates of the narrator are giving me whiplash.
Even if none of this were the case, what actually is in this story? Am I supposed to be horrified or amused by the butt hair? What were you trying to do here? What is this about?
Minor note: WRITE OUT YOUR NUMBERS STEMLORD, THIS AIN’T NO CHEMISTRY PAPER
Is someone knocked down?
I think so?
Does someone get back up?
I don’t know.
Noah - Championships Are Forever
What happens in this story?
A brain-damaged former American football player in his old favourite bar can’t hide from what’s happened to him.
Okay so this bar is supposed to be a safe place for Sammy, right, where they care about the poor guy and, having lovingly made some VCR tapes for the purpose, replay his greatest moments? So why in gently caress are they replaying the moment his brain was pulped? Why is this in the Sammy’s Best Moments rotation? It seems, at best, extremely inconsiderate. PLEASE NOTE, WE TALK ABOUT THIS IN THE ‘CAST AND I MAY BE WRONG I get that this is your device to get the incident itself on the page, and I see how it ties in to Sammy’s loose grip on the world, but it falls apart the moment you put his major brain injury on the screen. Maybe you can go full Memento and have the tapes as how Sammy remembers his past, thus insisting on it being in the rotation - something you kind of hint at with Fat Malcolm’s moment, that there were parts of Sammy’s life he doesn’t have on tape and are thus lost to him completely - but you didn’t. That’s a shame because I can see what you’re going for and I like the idea as well as the technical execution, except for that one crippling problem: as written, it just wouldn’t happen.
SO MAYBE THAT WAS ALL SHITE BUT I’M LEAVING IT IN FOR YOUR EDIFICATION ANYWAY
This is the kind of issue you can absolutely fix in a redraft - especially given you are clearly struggling against the word limit. We’re into opinions territory here, but essentially you either need a way for that shot to be in the rotation or another way of showing us the event or, simply, a different kind of ending. After all, it’s not like we didn’t know by this point that he’d gotten brain damage - you’ve told us enough - and you’re not really ‘revealing’ anything else to the reader with this ending. Do you actually need us to see the injury, and if so why?
The dialogue does its job well, although it’d be nice if Malcolm and Sammy got voices that stood out more from each other - I know you can do that, you managed to characterise an unnamed old man through giving him a distinct voice, so your major characters should, also, sound different to each other.
Is someone knocked down?
They were in the past in a way that’s relevant to the story, and we literally see it replayed - it counts, even if you should have found a different means of doing it.
Does someone get back up?
The first time, I suppose.
Thranguy - Oh, Boy
What happens in this story?
A person learns, from the news, about a terrible crime committed by an ex.
A nice wee snapshot of the moment of learning something terrible about someone that changes both them and your shared past in your eyes. TWO decently written second-person POV stories in one week? You spoil me, ‘Domers.
It’s an interesting choice to make the ex-relationship such a short one and I think I like it. Gives the story a ‘two ships passing in the night, also maybe one of them harbours a terrible evil’ vibe. The more I write about this one the more I like it, lucky you.
Other than that, not much to report: skilful use of language, storytelling through careful detail. You made good use of your flashrule - job done.
Is someone knocked down?
Does someone get back up?
Only metaphorically, but I’m a benevolent tyrant. It’ll do.
Idle Amalgam - Waffle cone
What happens in this story?
Elgor wants ice cream, but it’s not there! Now it’s only available in this place that they’ll never be allowed to g- wait, I am now getting reports that, in fact, the ruthless intersolar megacorporations are just letting them go. No trouble.
ME: MUM CAN WE STOP FOR THE ELCOR FROM NOTED BIOWARE VIDEO GAME SERIES ‘MASS EFFECT’
MUM: NO, WE HAVE THE ELCOR FROM NOTED BIOWARE VIDEO GAME SERIES ‘MASS EFFECT’ AT HOME
THE ELCOR FROM NOTED BIOWARE VIDEO GAME SERIES ‘MASS EFFECT’ AT HOME: Elgor was… well… a knuckle-walking sponge man, or at least it resembled a man most of the time.
I figure this is innocent but still, too close for comfort on your big knuckle-walking aliens, there. It doesn’t help that, even granted that it’s a shapeshifter, you’re clearly not sure what Elcor actually looks like in its primary form. You describe it as both human and ape-like as various points (believe it or not, these are different animals; pick one. Better yet, describe it on its own terms). Combining ape/human analogies with the stereotypical bad English that Elgor speaks, the way Yuliya addresses it like a combination of a child and a ‘big oaf’, and its sole interest being a child-like obsession with ice-cream sends a message you probably didn’t intend.
The message is that Elgor’s species is dumb as rocks, silly if noble savages needing a firm hand, and I’m assuming this is unintended because you give us a whole aside about them being ‘advanced’ spacefarers. If you’re wanting to convey an alien mindset through a different approach to language, you can do better than dialogue written like the Hulk’s first TD entry. It can still love ice cream. I’m perfectly capable of forming full sentences, if less so as the crits go on, and I fukken love ice cream.
There’s also not much at stake in this story. What was the point in setting up all this stuff about inherited debt and indentured servitude to megacorporations only to toss it out the window as soon as you can? You damned well know this, because you even had to have the realisation ‘don’ on her that the core conflict of the story actually doesn’t exist at all. Ice cream for everyone!
There’s ultimately too much world-building and nowhere near enough story. I don’t give one hot gently caress about the Proxima Wars of the 3070s! Am I supposed to? Because you can’t make me. It’s just generic window-dressing and it shouldn’t be here. If this is a story about Elgor and Yuliya, it doesn’t actually start until ‘Elgor was ecstatic’.
Is someone knocked down?
Does slumping count?
Does someone get back up?
sebmojo - I went down to the crossroads
What happens in this story?
The devil calls in his debt from a man who defies him, but not all is as it seems.
Nice twist on the devil at the crossroads, and we’re shown quickly that that’s what this story is going to be. Blues as gently caress imagery - particular points to the brain leakage. The voice on this one is strong and I’m here for it.
The ‘twist’ - bit of a push to call it this really - is good. I always have a bit of - hoho - sympathy for more detailed portrayals of the Devil and it’s as good a reason as any for him to be going around striking Faustian pacts. It’s believable - would maybe be nice to see some light hint of it in his dialogue or something before the reveal.
I requested someone knocked down by the blues and you gave me a man squaring up to Satan. When I asked for stories about people getting back up again, this is pretty much what I wanted.
Is someone knocked down?
Sure as hell. I’m even in the mood to agree the Devil counts as the blues.
Does someone get back up?
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 22:40 on Jan 25, 2021
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 22:27|
Week 442 Crits
In the Blue Glow by brotherly
“Ya’re a wee lad. Whatcha gonna do to Branna?” Oh no terrible vernacular speech. I know I fawned over Obliterati for writing in Scots last week, but, see, the difference here is that that was good, whereas what you have written here is bad. My opinion is that vernacular dialogue is to be used with extreme caution. To pull it off your dialogue has to sound natural, it has to add characterisation, and you’ve got to be meticulously consistent throughout. You’ll know it works if the reader stops noticing after a couple of lines. The line quoted above, unfortunately, slapped me in my eyeballs and prompted me to stop reading and switch to my crit document in order to write this paragraph while frowning at you.
Ok, now I’ve finished reading and I’m afraid my opinion didn’t improve much. What you have here is perfectly fine set up for the protagonist to resolve their conflict with Branna. But that’s it - you don’t show the moment of conflict or resolution, the protagonist just works themselves into exhaustion and then Branna comes and carts them home. You could have condensed all of this into one paragraph - the protag is jealous of Branna and despite work themselves ragged still can’t beat him - and then made the story about how the protag deals with these feelings. Do they accept the reality that Branna is much more physically able than them and thus get over themselves? Or do they try to fight him? Run away? How does Branna feel about the protag?
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, oh, Yoruichi, you are such a meany-weany did you not even read my lovely ending in which Branna comes and saves the protag thus demonstrating that he is a Good Guy and the protag decides Branna is ok after all? To which my answer is: your ending is boring and doesn’t work as a satisfying resolution because the protag doesn’t actually do anything and it’s not clear if they are going to feel any differently about Branna tomorrow.
OH AND THERE ARE GLOWING BLUE MUSHROOMS. You really should have made this a more significant part of the story.
The Tale of Leam by Azza Bamboo
You could cut your first four paragraphs and replace them with one line explaining that Leam is an indentured servant or convict sent to the colonies or whatever. The actual story starts with our poor protag playing his harmonica for the fairies, so, start there.
I think you should have given a brief description of the fairies so I know whether I’m picturing tiny things with wings or child-sized figures or what.
“It was a single round of ammunition cased in wasted potential and coarsely ground into the shape of despair.” These are very pretty words I’m sure but they don’t actually tell me what this ammunition looks like. It would have been better to describe the bullet as being black and rough to touch, or something - something specific that would evoke a sense that the thing is evil instead of just confusing the reader.
So after the fairies give Leam a gun and magic ammo and they sing a song together he finds the courage to rebel against his captors. That’s fine as far as endings go, but it didn’t feel very satisfying. I think the problem is that you don’t set up the stakes clearly enough at the start. It almost seems like the thing Leam is pining for is music, and then he gets this by playing with the fairies. If you’d instead used the words you wasted on the opening paragraphs to describe a previous failed attempt to escape, we would have had a stronger sense that Leam was desperate to get away, and then when the fairies give him to means to do so this would have felt like a more exciting pay-off. You should have shown us more of Leam’s emotional state as he wrestled with the decision of whether or not to take the gun - as it is it’s like the fairies just bewitch him, which puts the fairies in the driving seat, as if it’s the fairies that want to rebel against the British.
A War Story with Uncle Welt by Weltlich
It took me a couple of goes to decide how to pronounce “101st”. One-oh-one-st? Hundred-and-one-st? I think you probably meant hundred-and-first, but 101st was a confusing way to write this.
This is supposed to be a shaggy dog story, right? It was entertaining, if not amazing.
Mint and Sugar by a friendly penguin
Awkward first sentence - you could cut “With peacetime making us question so much of our lives.”
You’ve got some pretty weird physical action going on here. “Their heads tilted back and before I could turn around, my feet no longer stood upon the ground,” is a strange way to describe someone being whalloped in the back by a tentacle - I thought at first that he’d been picked up by a dragon or something. Then we’ve got, “It reached out and snatched a knight by his torso, flinging him back and forth with rapidity. The knight vomited into the pit.” Vomiting into a pit makes me picture someone standing, bent over, hands on their knees, to have a spew. Why would being flung through the air make you vomit? I think this is more likely to make you scream and maybe pass out? You’ve also got a weird tone thing going on, e.g. “with rapidity.” I think you’re going for a folk tale tone but it just makes the reading experience a bit jarring.
Oh, so it’s a giant cat that has been sticking its tail out of a hole for some reason? Why would a cat do that? Have you ever seen a cat deliberately poke its tail through anything? No. I also thought cats couldn’t taste sugar? Although they do sometimes like mint so I’ll allow that one.
Omfg and then for magic reasons they tame the cat and ride it to glory? And Rowan and the protag have a flirty moment for some reason? These are both good things to have happen in a story but you can’t just hand wave and be all like and then they lived happily ever after hoorah. This could have easily been fixed by setting up the protag as a cat whisperer rather than just someone who was generically kind-hearted.
All feathered things by Staggy
All the other stories so far have prompted me to stop reading after the first few paragraphs so I could hop over to this document and write grumpy comments. This one similarly has sent me straight to my crit notes, but this time for good reasons.
This opening is very good.
Two paragraphs in and I understand that the protagonist is ship-wrecked, presumably on an island, that she is trying to escape by means of some sort of flying beast (I initially guessed dragon, but it doesn’t matter), and that she is a total bad-rear end. So we’ve got character, setting and the story’s primary objective all in 128 words, boom. Alright Staggy, don’t gently caress this up from here.
Hmmm, see how much I took from your first two paras? You didn’t need to explain it to me again in the third.
The rest of this is great. Sure, Zhen Yi’s escape comes easily once she realises what she has to do, but that’s ok because this is only an 800 word story, and as you set up an interesting character with a clear goal I was happy to see her get what she wanted.
Harking back to last week’s prompt, you also made effective use of the repeated image of Zhen Yi counting her treasure. You’d think that repeating an action like this would be, well, repetitious, but it works because of the way the meaning shifts - to start with, it makes her appear greedy, but then it is used to show her contemplative side.
The final line is the weakest part - I’d have preferred it if you gave some hint as to what happened to her next (did she abandon the treasure to the bird or did she take it all and make a fortune?).
The Story of Erik Blue-Tooth by Tree Bucket
Well that was boring. Long-dead viking has conversation with modern-day valkyrie in featureless afterlife lobby. Agrees to become anti-virus software instead of going to heaven. Seems like a dumb decision to me but ok.
The big problem here is that you give me no reason at all to care about Erik. He’s just generic viking guy, and the story has no stakes whatsoever. What happens if he says no? He just goes to heaven, so that’s… fine. Compare this to Staggy’s story, where the character had a clear goal with consequences that mattered.
Oh god I’ve just spotted the bluetooth pun in your title. gently caress me.
just a few more minutes like this by flerp
You know, there’s really nothing wrong with capitalising your titles. You should try it sometime, you might like it.
No! Don’t just lie there and cuddle! Abe, you need to call an ambulance, your new boyfriend could have a serious head injury. Go to hospital for Christ’s sake.
Failing to take potential concussion seriously aside, I liked this. It’s a sweet moment between two people who have larger problems, but those can wait. Because it’s clear from the outset that they fancy each other, the ending isn’t a big pay-off, but it’s still nice.
Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants by Mercedes
FOR THE LOVE OF HOLY GOD DON’T PREFACE YOUR STORIES WITH A DECLARATION ABOUT HOW BAD THEY ARE OR SOME LAME EXCUSE ABOUT HOW YOU COULDN’T WRITE BETTER WORDS OR SOME OTHER BULLSHIT MERCEDES YOU ARE NOT SOME SNOT-NOSED NEW BABBY DESPERATE FOR ATTENTION YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THIS.
See, and this isn’t bad, it’s good! Well, it’s not good good, but I did genuinely laugh when Patrick poo poo his pants.
What’s missing here is the stakes - why did Patrick need to pull off this trick so badly? You could easily have inserted that somewhere in the opening section. It also badly needed a proofread.
Making Me Mindless Minions by toanoradian
I don’t like this title, it has a weird sound to it and doesn’t help me understand the story.
I don’t understand this. Why has a car crashed caused the protagonist to get stuck in an infinite zombie loop? What are the letters at the end? You’ve got some good weird zombie action but without understanding what was going on I’m afraid there wasn’t much here to like.
Championships Are Forever by Noah
See, flerp, concussions can have very serious consequences!
I thought this was an effective portrayal of someone living with a head injury. I liked the kindness the other regulars showed him, and thought the run-in with the man he’d bullied in high school rang true. This is a sad story, and a bit of a gut punch, and as such I didn’t really enjoy it. But, it is still a good piece of writing, well done.
Oh, Boy by Thranguy
This is a pretty powerful portrayal of someone discovering horrible news about a high school (I assumed) boyfriend. It’s well done, but we don’t get to learn much about Becks, which I think made it less satisfying than it could have been.
Waffle Cone by Idle Amalgam
The info-dump is not a very interesting start, you could have just started with the third section.
Oh dear section four is more exposition. Yawn.
Alright now we have a sponge-man who wants ice-cream. This is the most interesting thing that’s happened so far…
Oh good, Yuliya’s debt is paid off, somehow. Yay for ice-cream, I guess.
This was mostly sci-fi babble with very little character, which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what you want for a satisfying read.
I went down to the crossroads by Sebmojo
Isn’t it ‘welcher’? Whatever. The more confusing thing in your opening is the fact that the protagonist is counting the footsteps of the person who just punched him coming towards him. Did this punch send him flying several meters down the road??
Eyeball roll at “I’ve got beef.”
Hmmm, this was fine I guess. The descriptions of the devil are all pretty good and the protagonist’s introspection is well done, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Something about the idea of trading the souls of your wife and son for eternal life just doesn’t quite work. It’s too much of a simple transaction to be a good devilish bargain or wager. (“I would like to purchase one eternal life, please.” “Very good sir, that will be too souls of your nearest and dearest.”) And the reason he changes his mind is pretty weak. If someone is going to go fight the devil I want them to be doing it for a better reason than they considered living forever and then decided that they couldn’t be bothered.
You also need to take concussion more seriously.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 22:31|
Thanks for the crits!
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 22:44|
THUNDERDOME WEEK 443: YOU'VE LOST THE PLOT
I'll keep this short and sweet: in your story this week, something has disappeared. Something important and widespread. Your story must deal with what happens next. Maybe every horse on the planet vanished overnight. Maybe people are starting to realise they haven't seen an aeroplane in months. And didn't there used to be more than just the one moon?
Standard rules apply: no fanfic, erotica or GoogleDocs.
Word Limit: 1,200 words BUT if you ask for a flash rule then a judge will tell you what was lost and you get an extra 300 words.
Signups Close: Saturday 30 January, 8AM UTC
Entries Close: Monday 1 February, 8AM UTC
Staggy fucked around with this message at 08:41 on Feb 1, 2021
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:00|
I’ve been in a funk so in and flash me.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:13|
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:16|
In and flash pls
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:20|
In and flash.
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:25|
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:52|
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:54|
|# ? Jan 25, 2021 23:59|
Thanks for crits, in and flash
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 00:26|
The speed of the decision and the critiques is incredible and spooky, but the judges have delivered me this amount of bananas, this quickly? That's scary. Too scary for me, I'm ou-
oh. well, I guess I can't exactly run on all these peels. In
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 01:00|
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 06:20|
WEEK 442 JUDGING SECRETS REVEALED
Well, they're not really secrets, but if you want to listen live to what happened in judge chambers, you can do so here.
We discuss all the stories! There are hot takes! Blistering insights! Judgement!
(This will be available in the archive as soon as I figure out why the upload's not working).
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 07:45|
WEEK 442 JUDGING SECRETS REVEALED
This was really enlightening. Might I join your discord so I can ask a question without messing up the thread with it?
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 08:54|
I’ve been in a funk so in and flash me.
All the glass is gone - but don't worry, you can still make more.
There was only one car left - now that's gone too.
In and flash pls
When was the last time you saw a plumber?
In and flash.
Nobody missed the mimes, at first.
C Sharp? Now there's a note I haven't heard in a very long time.
There is no more bad writing.
Deja vu no more.
Thanks for crits, in and flash
The sharks are gone. We miss them.
No more fossils.
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 11:07|
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 20:09|
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 20:12|
---Rivals in Random Places Brawl---
The Belle of the Butcher's Ball
The music stopped and a wiry man stepped up to the microphone. He thumped it twice and the crowd booed as a dull pang of feedback echoed around the cavernous room.
“I’d like to thank everyone here for joinin’ us at this year’s formal for the Vermont Butcher’s Association,” he said, drawling his years into yee-ahhs. “Specific thanks to Orange County Slaughterhouse for lettin’ us use their warehouse as a dance-hall tonight. It might be chilly, but everybody here ought to be used to the cold by now. I know you’re all eager to get back to the festivities, but there’s a few other folks that need to be recognized…”
The speaker droned on, and the crowd split into little cliques to chat and eat deviled eggs until the music started again. At the back of the ersatz ballroom, a group of old timers and one single young man huddled in a circle like a crown roast. Each one had a can of beer in his hand, and occasionally a head would pop up to observe the crowd in the rest of the room.
The young man’s gaze kept coming back to one of the few unattached ladies at the function. She looked back, smiled, and waved for a moment before another young man begged her attention.
The old men noticed.
“If you’re plannin’ on talkin’ to Mara Donnelly, you best get too it, Ernie.” Ted Thibault was the head butcher at Lyndonville Smoke and Cure and was wearing an ancient corduroy overcoat with moth holes and fleece trim. “She’ll be back out on the dance floor as soon as Ed finishes readin’ the obituaries, and only two songs are left tonight.”
“An’ you best be ready to dance,” added Jake Hogan, who managed the killing floor. “Mara’s got no time for wallflowers. That kid from Royal Packing has kept her on her feet all night.”
Ernie looked back across the room and saw Gilles Robicheaux chatting with Mara, putting his hand on her elbow and leaning in to whisper something. She rolled her eyes and walked over to the punch bowl to refill her cup. Gilles smirked and said something to one of his friends.
Gilles was certified USDA Prime prick. In November, Ernie learned that lesson about the Quebecois butcher the hard way.
Lyndonville Smoke and Cure’s killing floor had closed for its scheduled annual inspection, but their smokehouse was still making bacon, ham, and sausage. Ted cut a contract with Royal Packing to do the butchering for a few days until their own facility was back online. So the week before Thanksgiving, Ted had Ernie drive down to Royalton with a trailer full of hogs and Gilles was managing the unloading dock that day.
It had been a nightmare. Gilles threw the back of the trailer open before securing the side gates, and a dozen panicked pigs spilled out into the parking lot and then into downtown Royalton. Ernie had chased them until his lungs burned, but to no avail. In the end, it took help from the Vermont State Troopers and the local sheriff’s department to get the animals back to the slaughterhouse. Gilles never once lifted a finger to help, just sat on the side of the livestock chute and laughed until he was blue in the face.
The folks in Royalton were still talking about The Running of the Hogs.
“Go on,” prodded Ted. “Ed’s finishin’ up. Either talk to Mara or bring us another round of beer.”
Ernie shook his head and began to make his way to where he spotted Mara, still by the punchbowl. By the standards of the crowd, she was dressed up for the evening. She wore a purple floral-print skirt and a navy cardigan with the sleeves pushed up to reveal her toned forearms. A pair of thermal knee-high socks snugly hugged her sturdy calves and were her only concession to the chill of the warehouse ballroom. From all the dancing, a faint sheen of sweat had formed on her neck and forehead.
They made eye contact, and she smiled brightly.
He was halfway across the room when someone turned the music back on, and Gilles swooped in to take Mara by the arm. Speaking a few words to one another, she turned to Ernie with a brief shrug and a silently mouthed “Next dance,” before allowing Gilles to lead her back to the dancefloor.
And they danced. It was an upbeat modern tune that cleared away the mostly grey-haired attendees, leaving the dancefloor almost entirely to Mara and Gilles. She moved in time to the music, but Gilles stole the show. He was svelte and tall, and seemed to be the only young man in the slaughterhouse that night who wasn’t wearing an item of Carhartt clothing. His tight turtleneck sweater left little doubt that he was trim and lean, and his designer shoes probably cost a week’s salary.
Ernie regarded his steel-toed Sketchers glumly.
But that wasn’t the worst. No, the worst part was that Gilles could dance. His shoulders, hips, and feet moved in perfect rhythm. He knew exactly when to step in close to dance with Mara, and when to step away to execute some solo moves. For three and a half excruciating minutes, he owned the room and crushed Ernie’s hope of hitting it off with Mara.
The song finally ended to sporadic applause, and a slow number started up—the last dance of the evening to draw the older crowd back out. Gilles moved in to wrap Mara in a close hold, but she backed away and raised her hand to defer. He shot a withering look at her as he stalked off to join his circle of friends posted up by the buffet table.
“Hey you!” Mara beamed a smile at Ernie as she approached, grabbing him by the hand and by surprise. “Saved you the last dance.”
Before he said he just wanted to talk, before he said he couldn’t dance, Mara pulled and his feet followed her into the crowd. She found a spot that wasn’t crowded enough to bump into anyone but kept them out of the center of attention, then she turned and put her hands on his shoulders. Even through the thick canvas of his barn coat, he could feel the warmth of her touch, and he nervously reached out to put his hands on her hips.
Ernie swayed like a hanging side of beef because that’s as close as he could come to dancing.
Mara rolled her eyes and began to lead by alternately pulling him forward by the shoulders when he needed to move forward and kicking him lightly in his shoes when he needed to move back. After a couple minutes, he tried striking up a conversation to distract her from his complete lack of grace.
“Been a while since we saw each other at the summer farmer’s market.”
“Yeah, it’s been too long. I missed hanging out with you—you’re my favorite competitor, y’know!” Mara said with a wink.
“Competitor?! Last time I checked, I was selling bacon and you were selling beef. I gotta let Ted know that Donnelly Packing is moving in on our turf.” Ernie mimed looking around for his boss, and Mara laughed. “How’s business down in Ryegate, anyway?”
“Eh, you know. Cows come in one door; steaks go out the other door. The winter is just so boring though. No hiking, no farmers’ markets, no hanging out with friends…” She gave his shoulders a little squeeze.
“Not much nightlife down there, huh?”
“Only if you count moose and racoons.” The music started to wind down, and someone hit the switch to turn on the harsh fluorescent overhead lights. Mara leaned over and kissed Ernie on the cheek. “Look at you, Ernest Ducharme! You made it through the whole song.”
“I’ve even got most of the polish left on my shoes.”
“Miracles do happen. So where do you live, again?” she asked.
“Over in Calais.”
Mara made a look of mock horror before grabbing Ernie’s chin and squeezing his mouth open. She inspected what was inside then grinned crookedly. “I’m shocked. You still have all your teeth and they’re even in the right place.”
Ernie playfully swatted her hand away and started to look around the warehouse for Ted. “Well, I better get going. The boss is giving me a ride tonight and he’s probably itching to head home.”
Then they both noticed Gilles, still staring daggers at them. Mara reached over to take his hand.
“Want me to give you a lift?”
“Sort of out of the way for you...”
“You mean you’re not interested in checking out Ryegate’s moose and racoon situation?” she asked as she pulled on her parka. “I’m not in any hurry if you’re not.”
Ernie felt his ears glow red. “Nah, I’m in no rush.”
“Good,” Mara said. “Might take us all night.”
|# ? Jan 26, 2021 20:14|
Sending the clowns
Andrei Kushchenko smelt the sickly reek of candy floss and curled his lip. He didn’t need to look around to imagine the purveyor, doubtless obese and red-faced, a literal capitalist pig, waving a wand wrapped in cloying lies. Andrei shuddered at the thought and shouldered through a beer-wafting gaggle of beefy farm men in tight check shirts.
The meeting place was a fairground game, which he had chosen for its position near the outer wall of the fair, with good views down the three lanes that lead to it. Andrei’s steps slowed, and his eyes darted across the crowds that ebbed and flurried around it. Then he saw him, and let out the breath he’d been holding. A lean man, wrapped in a long coat against the cool November air. At long last. Lance Braddock. Nemezida.
The words LAUGHING CLOWN on the game flickered, casting neon chiaroscuro on them.
Braddock was the first to move, glancing towards the stall as though it had just caught his attention he walked over and leaned forward, passing something to the hollow-cheeked man behind the counter. In response, the man’s eyes widened and he ducked down out of sight.
Andrei was very conscious of the weight of the .38 Police Positive under his right arm, and the sequence of movements passed through his mind in a dreamlike flow - turn to minimise silhouette, pulling aside coat, arm in and out, down with gun arm on knee for a stable platform. At this distance he could drop Braddown in three shots and be out under the fence in twenty seconds, he estimated.
Instead he shook his head briskly to dismiss the thought and walked over to stand beside his most despised foe, side by side in front of a row of vacant leering clowns.
“An interesting game,” he said just loud enough to be heard over the fair’s chaotic chatter. “But do you know the rules?”
Braddock cleared his throat for the response phrase. “Any game is easy if you practice first.” The carnival man stood up, holding two buckets of white balls. Braddock took them, then dismissed the man with a sideways movement of his head. “You throw the balls into the clowns. If you get more than me, you win.”
Andrei considered this. In front of them the clowns gaped, mockingly, turning left and right in dreary mechanical unison. “I think I have been practising for this all my life and never knew.”
Braddock laughed, the short bark of a man amused in spite of himself. “We used to play it in Omaha, when the fair came round. It’s all in the wrist.” He took a ball from his bucket, held it poised, and flicked it at the clown in front of him. It bounced off, clacking a few times on the boards behind the counter before rolling away.
“This is amusing,” said Andrei, “but I need to know your answer to my question. We do not have long.” He rubbed his thumb over the smooth surface of the ball, watching the clown’s oscillations, then flicked the ball out in a tight arc that intersected with the clown’s mouth just as it turned towards him. “One point.”
Braddock nodded faintly, the light from the sign above them shifting on the planes of his face as he picked up another ball. “I made some enquiries. Those names you gave us checked out. I want to know something, though.” His arm flashed out and the ball cannoned into the open maw of the clown. “One each.”
Andrei tossed another ball, but it was fractionally too slow and ricocheted off into the lap of a large pink bear. “Still one each. What is it that is troubling you, Mr Braddock?”
Braddock had his ball up high, and his eyes were locked onto the mouth of his clown. His lips moved for a moment, then he threw the ball in a perfect line into the hole. “Two to me. You are taking a risk, coming here. We could have men. They could have men.”
There was a burst of laughter behind them and their heads both jerked round; it was a group of teenagers bouncing a huge plastic ball along between them, punching it high into the air and letting it fall to the ground.
“It is true, Mr Braddock. There is always risk.” Andrei drew out the word, elongating it into a sigh. “I am a little tired, and maybe made a mistake? Perhaps your people will, how do they say, ‘round me up’?” He threw another ball and it missed. “But if it was going to happen it would have already happened, yes? Two to one, still.”
Braddock tossed a ball into the hole of his clown with an almost negligent underhand flip. “Three. And perhaps. Perhaps I’m pumping you for information? While we’re talking so nicely.”
There were another five balls in the bucket. Andrei pulled two out and inspected them thoughtfully. “No. If you were going to, uh, do a snatch, you would do it fast. Get me somewhere safe and out of the way of my own people. Which of these do you think is better?” He held them out to Braddock, who, after a moment looking into Andrei’s eyes, tapped the left one. “Very good,” said Andrei and tossed it into the clown’s mouth.
“Very good, yes. High level moles, that you’ve identified. Which check out, drat your Russki rear end. And now you want me to just tell you ours?” He threw a ball, which missed. “You know that’s not how the game is played, Andrei. You’ve been doing it a long time.”
Andrei’s lips quirked into an unfamiliar smile. “Isn’t it? What about Checkpoint Charlie? Engines running, cold night air, prisoner exchange, snipers on the rooftops? Tell me, don’t you miss it?” His ball wafted in. “Three all.”
Braddock frowned at him. “It doesn’t make sense. You give us something for nothing, we take it and laugh about it at cocktail hour! Same as you guys, just chortling over your Smirnoff and zakuski. Why like this?” He threw another ball, which also missed.
“Mr Braddock, Lance… It has been a long time. I don’t know how much more I have in me. I want to, do something simple. Something straightforward after all the crookedness. You know?” His ball missed.
Braddock’s face looked suddenly fragile, as though a sharp tap would disassemble it into its component planes and features. The neon light on it made his eyes shine like he’d been crying.
“I tell you what,” said Andrei. “I win this game, you give me the names. I lose, I walk away.” He tossed a ball in. “Four to three.”
Braddock set his jaw, and nodded. He stared at the clown, breathed out, and flipped his ball into its mouth. “Four four. Last ball?”
Andrei displayed his bucket, and picked the final ball out of it. With the most careful of movements he positioned his feet a little wider, waited for his moment, slotted it in. “Five to four.”
Braddock took his final ball and breathed on it. Slowly, as though underwater, he raised his hand to his cheekbone, took two breaths as the clown’s gullet searched back and forth, then shot. It went in. Braddock laughed, then frowned.
“It was a draw? So… now what?”
Andre looked at Braddock and smiled, then chuckled, then laughed like a man who’s been holding something in for such a long time he’d forgotten it could ever exist outside him.
The clowns turned from one man to the other, and back again, and back again, in perfect mechanical unison.
|# ? Jan 27, 2021 07:59|
|# ? Apr 14, 2021 17:43|
that's my weltlich brawl
|# ? Jan 27, 2021 08:01|