If you’re ever desperate for a place to sleep because cold’s seeped into your bones and your face looks unrecognizable in the dark reflections of storefronts, one thing you can do is look for a church. Old Catholic ones are the best. They’re big, sturdy buildings packed with all kinds of useful things. Donation bins. Matches and prayer candles. Unclaimed jackets. Most importantly, they have lots of doors and often one of them usually gets left unlocked. You’d be surprised how careless people can be when they’re rushing to get home to their families.
I got pretty good at breaking in places. I’d wait until the cleaning crews went home and then wriggle my way inside. Sometimes, I would creep among half-lit administrative offices, sneaking stale pizza from the priest’s mini-fridge while listening to the soft buzz of the auxiliary lights. Other times, I’d slink off to the bathroom, sloping water and pink goo from the hand dispenser against my skin. Mostly, though, I’d go to sleep in a pew and remain there until someone found me, unsure of whether to call the cops or the priest.
I don’t want to make it seem that I like churches. There’s plenty of reasons not to. They got plenty of folks who’ll want to fix you with the power of God or Jesus or whatever. Or worse, they won’t want to fix you at all and will scream about how filthy and disgusting you are as you try to gather up your things in a plastic bag and escape. Still, they’re safe compared to alleys, shelters, subway cars, and the other piss-stained, sunken places people burrow themselves into. You can let your guard down and shrug off your jitters, even if it’s only for one night.
Most of them anyways.
It was winter and I was in a ugly, suburban town somewhere outside of Cleveland. The snow fell in huge, ugly blots that were closer to ice than water. When the wind picked them up, the flakes lashed through the air, leaving red blotches on my skin. What was worse was that I was coming off a rough few days and my whole body felt fried. My insides itched. I couldn’t think about anything except the cold it was and how disgusting I looked, hobbling down a darkened street of matchbox houses with my filthy bags of soiled knick-knacks.
I was so focused on feeling sorry for myself that I almost missed the singing.
At first, I didn’t think it was real. I’ve never been one to hallucinate, not when I’m clean at least, but the noise seemed too strange, too ethereal in the vast suburban darkness. It sounded like the choirs in old-timey movies, the black and white ones that you might catch on your grandmother’s television, all swollen and distended. The words were unrecognizable beneath the howling of the wind.
As wind rattled the telephone wires and frost-covered cars, I decided to follow it. I passed row after row of identical shotgun houses until the neighborhood vanished behind me and the sidewalk ended. I walked until I found myself shivering in front of a large wooden church, a child’s idea of a church with a sloped roof and a single white steeple. Inside, there was light and a loud cacophony of voices. It must have been past midnight but the building rumbled with the sounds of high mass.
I looked at the large double doors leading into the nave and then back at the arsenic-white road behind me. Then, I shuffled around the church’s back in search of another entrance. I’d only be in there a minute to warm up and get some food, I told myself. I didn’t want to bother them and whatever they were doing inside. I’d be in and out real quick to clear my head. Then, I could go get help on my terms.
I found a side entrance hidden beneath a mound of snow and ice. I had to slam my body against it several times to get it to open and, when I did, I found myself in a new place. It was a corridor with thin orange carpet and wood paneling. On the opposite wall was a series of loud, warbling voices and a small picture of Jesus, his finger pointed at his burning heart. I took a step toward it and heard the door swing shut behind me.
“Service’s still going,” said a voice from nearby. “You’re not too late to catch the big show if you hurry.”
I jumped at the voice and spun. At the opposite end of the corridor, in front of a large red curtain that seemed to lead to the nave, was a small man dressed in a button-down white shirt and khakis. If he was worried he didn’t show it. He gave a pristine smile that showed all his teeth.
“It’ll be a really good one. This old church has one hell of a congregation, you see. Always attracting all kinds of folks.”
I looked at him, unsure what to do. It had been so long since I talked with anyone. My throat gurgled from disuse. “You…” I said in a low, raspy voice, “have service… this late?”
There was a loud operatic wailing from somewhere in the building, muffled voices singing over one another. “Of course. Of course.” The man said in a soft, friendly voice. He still hadn’t moved from his place at the other end of the hall. “We must keep constant vigil because no one knows the day nor the hour their time will come. Life’s always throwing out surprises.” He looked at me up and down. “But you already know that, don’t you? You were cut from a different cloth.”
I shifted, confused by the strangeness of the situation. As feeling returned to my body, I could feel the oil and grease on my body. I was aware of the stains on my clothing and my ratty hair.
“I don’t want any trouble.” I mumbled.
“None of us do,” said the man, “but that’s just life, sometimes. We think we’re destined for great things and then, wham-o,” he clapped his hands together. “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.”
“Isn’t that… a poem?”
The man beamed. “Yes, it’s Yeats. A bit of a cliché, a bit overused, but it’s one of my favorites. I bet you’re one real smart cookie, probably had a lot ahead of you at one point.”
“...I used to read a lot of poetry,” I said, still disoriented and confused by the man and the continued singing. I’d been in the building for several minutes had there hadn’t been a single pause in the cacophony. “In school. For fun. I wanted to… I don’t know, do things.”
The man gave a solemn nod. “That’s why I built this church with my own two hands. I wanted to help people escape from it all. I wanted to help them tear down the ruin of their lives and give space for something beautiful in its place. Something whole. Unbroken. Something that can’t make mistakes.”
The choir wailed. The man wiped away a tear from his eye. I said nothing.
“Do you want to let go, friend? Do you want to join our congregation? Do you want me to take away the pain? To make it so that it never existed? I can make it happen through the mystery of faith.”
The curtain behind the man blew as if caught in a soft wind. The singing in the room beside us grew louder, thunderous. The building thudded under a constant assault of voices, all begging and pleading and full of lamentations. It was a choir of loud and desperate voices, full of private regrets and agonies. They were people begging to be erased—to be blotted out, unmade, and replaced.
“Don’t you want to surrender your everything and be free from this agony?” Said the man.
I looked at him standing in the narrow hallway for a long time, wanting nothing more than to throw myself at his mercy, to accept whatever annihilation he was offering. I didn’t want to have to think about myself anymore, to think about the decades I’d wasted or the terrible darkness I carried inside me.
Instead, I forced myself to think of other things, of opportunities that might lay before me. I was not irredeemable. I was not beyond repair.
“Look,” I said. “I… just wanted a place to warm up and maybe get a bite to eat. I don’t wanna get tangled up in anything.”
For the first time, the man’s face dropped and all traces of friendliness vanished. He looked at me with disgust. “Suit yourself,” he said, turning and walking back through the curtain. “Don’t let anyone say I didn’t try.”
I stood there for a minute listening to the choir and waiting for the man to return. When he didn’t, I forced myself to hobble down the hallway and toward the curtain. The sound of music continued to bellow as I pushed through into the main room of the chapel.
Inside there were no pews, no altar, and no choir. All there was inside were some flood lamps and an old, battered boombox with a cassette tape playing inside it. I stared at the box until the tape ran out and the building lapsed into silence.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 03:49|
|# ? Sep 22, 2021 15:00|
The first thing I noticed about him was the jacket, which is impressive given he was crashing through the wall on a tricked out motorcycle and was shooting an assault rifle at something off on the street which is clearly not an easy thing to do with only two arms. Really cool jacket though. Onyx black, had to be tailor made given how well it gripped his wide chest and strong arms, subtle texture. The man turned the motorcycle around, exposing an inlaid brass logo of two hands holding a triangle by its sides in the back of the jacket. He fired another burst off at the street and then removed his helmet, shook his head with a hair that flowed like a river and flashed a 100% certified toothpaste commercial smile.
“I’ll have the Eggchicken combo.” he spoke to me in a practiced gruff voice “To go.”
“That will be twelve-ninety-nine.” I replied robotically. Looking around, I was the only one in our fast-food who didn’t run and hide at the man’s dramatic entrance. Bloody unprofessional wankers, I had to assemble it myself.
“Cash.” he replied and placed a twenty on the counter “Keep the change, lad.”
I mumbled a very lame “thanks”. We had an Eggchicken sandwich ready, so all I had was to fetch the trash that passed for food here and place it in neat packages. As I went about this Work I heard him say “And this is to pay for the damages.”, when I came back with his food there were two wads of cash on the counter, looked like all hundreds. He picked up the bag, returned to his motorcycle, gave me a thumbs up and left. I looked at the money left for the damages and pocketed it, that should cover a few months’ rent.
“Who the hell was that?” Carl from the frier pit asked me as he manifested from his hiding place.
“My next boyfriend.”
The police never showed up to ask about the night’s events, which was strange, but also meant I was free to do my own search for the charming biker. For the next few days I trolled through social networks, most wanted lists and my own normal extended social circle to no effect. He was likely from out of town, but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. I decided to look for his jacket, also to no initial effect, until I had the idea to make a drawing of the logo of what I presumed was the fashion label and then search for it.
Also nothing, not even near guesses or suggestions. My internet stopped working for a few minutes and I felt like ants were crawling up my nose for a second or two. I recognized the feeling. This was occult underground stuff.
You can never truly quit, can you?
Thankfully my contacts hadn’t all died, nor were all of them really pissed off at me, I could still navigate that community of extremely powerful and insane losers. Kind of. Vin agreed to meet me under the bridge just like old times. She hadn’t aged a day, which is not exactly a feat for someone cosplaying a bag lady.
“James, just quit.” she said after I told my story, her voice was young and smooth, it really didn’t fit her wrinkly skin or clothes, but it was all part of the persona “You got out, stay out.”
“Okay, I’ll forget the guy, but where could I get a jacket like that?” I was a terrible liar, she just rolled her eyes “Right, let’s have a bet, like old times.” I could tell she liked the nostalgia, her mind was always in the past, any past, anywhere but here or worrying about the future.
“Like old times.”
“See that fellow up top? The one who’s clearly thinking about jumping off the bridge? If he resists you tell me about the jacket. If he jumps I guess you will do your thing and I’ll bother someone else with this, maybe Trent or Moira.”
We always did this when we hung out back in the day, bet on the bridge suicides. Terrible way to spend an evening, but the company was good and Vin did need to collect body parts for her job. She retrieved some unlabelled wine from her cart and passed it to me as we sat and watched and I did my little magic. I Worked a discreet incantation of hope under my sleeve for the occasion. It hurt to do it and it would leave a scar, but you can’t really have real hope without some pain.
The man howled cathartically and turned back. Not tonight.
“You cheated.” Vin said with a smile that declared she didn’t mind. This was new. I guess my surprise showed, because she added “I am tired.”
Aren’t we all?
She told me about the Label.
My next step was finding the Label’s client list or maybe their agents, depending on what kind of favor my paramour owed them. I figured the nice thing would be to say “hi”, so I arranged to meet one of their Prospectors at an expensive downtown restaurant. I could tell who I was supposed to talk to as soon as I entered the place, tall man, form fitting power suit, neutral but perceptive expression, the kind that doesn’t have any tells during poker, a discrete pin with the Label’s logo on his chest. I walked directly to him while ignoring the poor underpaid receptionist, who gave up on stopping me at a single patient gesture from the man.
He didn’t want to talk business at first. “Call me Andrew. We speak when the food arrives.” he talked in a deliberate way and suggested something in French for me, so I asked for another French thing that sounded the same to my uncivilized ears. He was taking my measure, whatever, that just gave my spiders some extra time to do their Work. I kept so much junk from back in the day.
He offered no small talk, but the food came quickly, it tasted French. Vin’s unlabelled wine was better than what we had on the table, but it’s not like I was paying for this. Our conversation lasted exactly as long as the meal. Andrew was very convincing, but I was very disagreeable and I already knew the Label’s pitch. When he picked up that I was wasting his time he began to eat his bullshit faster and so did I. My spiders had done their part, they would leave me an astral thread to follow later. We shook hands, he expressed his disappointment, I smiled.
As I waited at the station for my train I heard the hum of a familiar motorcycle. I turned and recognized my paramour-to-be mocking the rules of the road by riding up the stairs. I smiled at him, an action he appreciated with a knockout blow to my head.
I came to in a bright room filled with mirrors, mannequins, fine multicolored fabrics and a tailor’s tools. A stylish older woman with a pissed off expression was taking my measures, she noticed my open eyes and decided it was not worth paying attention to, I couldn’t move my body, I couldn’t feel my body, I couldn’t tell how much time had passed. Either an eternity or a brief moment, at the end of it she finished her work and said something to the dashing biker in what sounded like German. He tied me up in what felt like the wrong context for my weekend plans.
Gradually I could feel my body again. The good news: the chair I was in was amazingly comfortable. The bad news: my wrists and ankles were tied, my trinkets and curios were all gone or out of my reach. It was time to study the situation and improvise.
The grumpy tailor was working swiftly with black and white fabrics, the dashing biker was at the corner looking cool, he flashed me a supportive smile when he saw me looking. I wondered what the woman was making for me. If what Vin said was true, whatever you wear from the Label becomes you, so the biker only became that cool and badass because he was dressed to be cool and badass, which didn’t quite inspire me with that much hope when the time came to get him out of those clothes. At least the tailor did not appear to be making a gimp suit for me.
Not the worst trouble I’ve gotten into over a random crush, but definitely top five material.
I watched the tailor while discreetly trying to dislodge myself from the binding. The latter effort was futile. The former brought me horror, a typical boring office suit, that’s what she was making for me. I wouldn’t even fight against it if she was making a cool biker jacket, but come on.
And that’s when Andrew walked in with a folder, a spiteful gaze in my direction and a pocketful of my pet astral spiders. I began to sing the Ramones version of Spider-Man and all hell broke loose as the arachnids entered the material and ran all over the room. Andrew slipped and hit his head on a sewing machine with a neat and convenient crack, but like in a dignified way. As for the biker, it turns out arachnophobia trumps magically induced badassery, he removed his jacket to get rid of the spiders that were climbing all over him and then jumped off the window.
The tailor was not amused, she dropped her Work and ignored the spiders as she walked purposefully in my direction, a huge sharp scissor in her right hand.
“Hey, where did you get this chair?” I asked, stalling for time and a better plan, the spiders retreated to the astral when I stopped singing. The question did make her pause in confusion “It is really comfy.” I explained and quickly gestured to the spiders, a simple Work. She responded in German and raised her arm to stab me.
I began to sing again, the scissor came straight at my throat and then stopped as the spiders manifested again, their web enveloping the tailor’s throat and hanging her from the ceiling.
It took me about two hours to break free and I had killed my crush, but hey, I got a cool badass jacket out of it.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 05:24|
A Dirty Shame
Flash rule: HYGIENE
Detective Alison Campbell had grown up next to a landfill, and the scent of the Esposito house was uncomfortably nostalgic: sharp notes of food waste, melding into the generic filthy-sweet of old garbage, and dirt under it all. She wiped her feet on the spotless doormat, then walked through a sticky patch of ground-in soil and (probably) apple juice on the foyer carpet. What had once been a classic old-style front room, all floral wallpaper and silver-framed family portraits, was now so full of trash bags that it was impassable; Alison noticed a cat litter box in one corner, but declined to investigate further. Her partner, and the corpse, were waiting for her in the master bedroom.
Julia Esposito had died on a top-of-the-line mattress, lying between soiled sheets and a ratty comforter that smelled of stale perfume and potting soil. The drinking glass and empty pill bottles on the nightstand were already bagged for evidence transport by Alison's partner, who stood by the head of the bed. Leonard Pappas was a thoughtful detective, one who could follow Alison's lead or take it himself: one of the best cops she'd ever worked with, and about the only partner she'd ever liked. "Oxycodone," said Len. "The medics assumed an overdose, and they're probably right, but... ligature marks, hand and foot. Murder. What'd the neighbors have to say?"
"The usual, but I think they meant it. Said she was a nice old lady and a good neighbor, no trouble." Nobody wanted to be the first one to say a dead woman was a nasty old bitch, but she'd read sincerity on the faces of the young couple who'd lived next door to Esposito. "They hadn't seen her in a couple of weeks, but they assumed she was traveling; she'd been talking about a Niagara Falls trip with her daughter's family. Usually they saw her out of the house at least a few times a week. She looked after their kid sometimes."
"In their house or hers?"
"They didn't say. I'd have asked if I knew about this." Alison paced towards the vanity, with its neat array of perfumes and a broken mirror: a single forceful fracture, probably with a hammer. "Len, have you done a full house walk-through? Does this feel off to you?"
"Stole my thought, Al. Hoarder places aren't my specialty, but the details don't fit. All this trash, but... don't hoarders keep clean stuff, too? Clothes, groceries? Esposito's closet looks like she did a Goodwill clean-out yesterday, except there's a cat box in there. I've seen four filthy cat boxes in this house and I haven't seen any other sign of a cat. No food, no toys. No fur, for God's sake."
"And even a cat couldn't have gotten to the one in the front room," Alison added. "There were no walkways in that trash. The stains on the carpet are still sticky, like they're fresh."
"The kitchen's that way too: sink's stacked with old dishes, but there's a clean load in the dishwasher. Grime on the stovetop, shiny under the burners. Trash is rotting, fridge is neat. All the mess is a few days old, max"
"But that's months of trash in the front room. So our options are that Esposito is a secret trash hoarder, including litterboxes for cats she doesn't have, but keeps everything clean until she goes on a week-long oxycodone bender and gets killed by her dealer or something --"
"I don't think she was an oxy fiend. These bottles are from two years ago, prescribed for surgery, never refilled. I think they were just convenient."
"-- or the other option," said Alison, "which you beat me to. Someone comes in, kills an old lady, and tries to frame it as a hoarder suicide. If it were just the food mess, I'd think the killer was squatting and laying low, but nobody brings their garbage collection to a botched robbery. This was calculated. So who hated her enough to do this?"
"Good question," replied Len. "Gonna have to get the sweepers in. Don't envy them today."
The sweepers came up empty; the killer had ruined the place, but they'd kept traces of themselves out of it. That added skill to the equation, and Alison started pushing hard on that angle, since personal resentments weren't panning out. There were no bitter ex-spouses or estranged children lurking in the periphery of Julia Esposito's life, and interviews with Esposito's friends didn't reveal so much as a book-club squabble. The first thread of hate came from a source Alison neglected, and the one she should have checked first: the cold-case file.
15 months ago, someone had burnt down Julia Esposito's gardening shed. It hadn't spread far, destroying just the shed and a section of fence; a controlled burn on a clear, still night could only be arson. Nobody'd seen anything, save for a neighbor who'd reported seeing an unfamiliar van with red livery in the neighborhood -- "belonging to a local cleaning company," the attending officer had noted. The case had gone cold, and Julia Esposito herself hadn't been concerned, commenting in her interview that she "wasn't really a gardener."
Julia Esposito hadn't been a gardener, but her killer had tracked potting soil all over her house, the one off-key note in the hoarder simulation. A cleaning van had been seen at the arson; the killer had kept themselves sealed, like a professional, and who but a cleaner to have infinite access to hoarder detritus? A professional, then, employed somewhere with red-liveried vans.
At last, Alison had something like hard data to crunch. Of the two cleaning companies in town with red vans, only one handled heavy-duty cases: Lionheart Cleaning, a firm that contracted for crime-scene cleaning. That wasn't a good sign; Alison had met the Lionheart crew a few times, even bought them a round or two at the bar. They were good people, she'd thought, but... they were the right kind of professionals. She sent the lead to Len, with a request to look up gardening connections; "something going on here," she wrote in her email. "Look for potting soil receipts."
Len came through, as he always did. Mike Braga, supervisor of the Lionheart crime-scene detail, was on camera buying three large bags of potting soil, one each at three hardware stores across town over the course of a week: maybe suspicious on its own, but definitely so for a man who lived in an apartment. Alison remembered Braga, tall and sunburnt, a happy drunk, a storyteller -- he'd had a lot of stories about juvie, hadn't he? Time to bring him in, she thought, and sent the paperwork.
Alison awoke the next morning to a phone call: Len. "They sent the guys over for Braga," he said, without bothering with an introduction. Found him dead in the bathtub. Clean to the end, I guess."
There was no reason for Alison to read the confession, with the case closed, but she did it anyway. Mike Braga had written out his last thoughts in longhand, in neat blocky tradesman's print, on wide-ruled looseleaf. I, Michael Raymond Braga, confess of my own free will to the murder of Julia Esposito, it began: stiff and formal, like half-remembered legalese. Further disclaimers followed: things about Mike's ex-wife and children, stuff that felt too private for Alison to do more than skim.
I lived with the Espositos for two months, the second paragraph began, and they were the worst of my life. It went onto describe a foster family with a checked-out father and fastidious mother, appalled at her new son's inadequate hygiene. I was 13 and nobody ever bought me deodorant or taught me to do laundry. Mrs. Esposito thought I was an animal. Punishments followed, constant chores, and eventually exile to a "bedroom" that was a screened-off half of the garden shed. Everything got dirty in there. You couldn't keep the bugs out. She screamed at me for dirty clothes, but how was I supposed to keep them clean in a goddamn shed?
Decades later, Mike wrote, he'd seen her in passing at the grocery store. Something rose up in me then, a hunger, and I couldn't stop it. I thought burning down the shed would take care of it, but it just made it worse, until it ate up my soul and hollowed me out. All I could think was, how'd Mrs. E like to live in filth? How'd she like the dirt and bugs? How'd she like to get screamed at? She gave up after three days. That's when I gave her the pills.
Alison folded up the paper, slipped it into a plastic bag, and dropped it into the case file. The interested parties would get the barest facts; nobody's families needed to know about the garden shed, about long strange legacies of torture, about the scent of soil. Everyone involved was dead. Maybe that was good enough.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 06:55|
The Case of the Violist 1205 words
It was five minutes past six, and Ava, who was supposed to do the viola solo, had not yet arrived for practice.
‘Maybe she forgot,’ said Russell, who was second viola.
‘Can’t have,’ said Charlotte. Charlotte was the oboist. ‘She would never forget practice. Maybe she was kidnapped.’
‘Yeah, kidnapping is more likely,’ said Emery, the trumpeter. ‘Or alien abduction.’
They discussed the possibilities until quarter past. The consensus that they reached was that, most likely, she was on the run from the government, who probably wanted to perform tests on her or whatever the government did when it wanted to mess with small town people like them, which it presumably did all the time because there seemed to be fewer and fewer people in their small town, and where did you think they were all going, just up and leaving? Pfft.
At quarter past, a man with a bushy moustache, a large jacket – seemingly too large – and a black trilby entered the hall from a side office. ‘Looks like a detective,’ said Eleanor. Eleanor played the flute. ‘She was obviously kidnapped after all.’
‘Good evening, fair small town people,’ said the detective looking man, with a strong accent that none of them could place. ‘My name is Wilhelm Dunstan. I regret to inform you all that practice is cancelled tonight, owing to the untimely death of Ava, the first violist.’
A gasp went up from the orchestra members.
‘Is it really violist?’ asked Charlotte.
‘Yes,’ said Russell. To Wilhelm, he said, ‘Well surely we shouldn’t cancel practice. As second violist, I can simply move up one and perform the solo.’
‘Shh,’ said Charlotte.
‘Practice must be cancelled,’ explained Wilhelm, ‘because Ava has been murdered, and I must interrogate you all immediately.’
‘Ugh, such an inconvenience,’ said Russell.
‘Shh,’ said Emery. ‘A real live detective! This is amazing!’
‘Amazing?’ asked Eleanor.
‘And tragic, naturally.’
‘Quite,’ said Charlotte. ‘Well, who do you want to interrogate first?’
Wilhelm pointed at Russell. ‘You, sir, please step into my office.’
The two of them stepped into the office that Wilhelm had apparently chosen as his interrogation room. Over the course of the next three hours, Wilhelm gradually interrogated each of them. All those who hadn’t yet been interrogated chatted about how exciting it was to have a real live detective and a murder mystery – and tragic, naturally, but Ava would no doubt appreciate the situation if she were here, and would want them to take in the moment. All those who had already been interrogated were shuffled into another office so as not to talk to those who were still waiting, and potentially taint whatever evidence they might provide, or so they were told by Wilhelm.
Finally, only Eleanor was left. ‘You, please, young lady,’ said Wilhelm.
‘Ah, at last!’ said Eleanor, and followed him into the office.
‘So,’ he asked when she’d sat down, ‘how well did you know the deceased, Ava?’
‘Well,’ said Eleanor, ‘it’s a small town, so I guess everyone knows everyone else.’
‘It says here,’ said Wilhelm, ‘that she was first violist, and also the soloist, which would imply that she was also the best musician, correct?’
‘Well, best violist,’ said Eleanor. ‘The part is written for viola, so who knows, if they’d had an oboe solo, it might have gone to Charlotte, or to Emery if there was a trumpet solo.’
‘Your point is well made,’ said Wilhelm, ‘but certainly she would be considered a better musician than the other violists, like that Russell fellow, yes?’
Eleanor shrugged. ‘Those decisions aren’t for me to make, that’s a conductor decision.’
Wilhelm nodded. ‘I see.’ He looked thoughtful and tapped his pencil on the desk next to him. ‘I think I’m ready to speak to the group again. Would you be so kind as to bring them all back into the hall?’
Eleanor, feeling somewhat confused regarding his interrogation methods, went and did as he’d asked.
‘Ah, thank you all for sticking around,’ said Wilhelm. ‘My interrogations were really quite fruitful. As it turns out, there are a number of you who had either motive or opportunity to murder poor Ava.’
The orchestra members sat on the edge of their seat. It was a rare treat to witness a detective’s closing monologue.
‘Emery,’ said Wilhelm, ‘isn’t it true that you and Ava had something of a rivalry in terms of your vegetable garden?’
‘I don’t know if I’d call it a rivalry,’ said Emery. ‘My pumpkins have won the last four years running.’
‘Ah,’ said Wilhelm, ‘but there was chatter that this might be Ava’s year, was there not?’
‘Chatter?’ asked Emery. ‘From whom?’
‘A detective never reveals his sources,’ said Wilhelm. ‘Now,’ and he turned his attention to Charlotte, ‘is it not true that your husband enjoyed dalliances with Ava?’
Charlotte blushed. ‘Well, I don’t know how you heard that, but that’s not the whole story.’
‘Ah yes,’ said Wilhelm. ‘In fact, both you and your husband enjoyed such dalliances.’
The rest of the orchestra gasped. Charlotte, still blushing, said, ‘We have a very loving relationship, we just like to keep things fresh.’
‘In fact,’ said Wilhelm, ‘is it not true that your husband came to enjoy those trysts more than when it was just the two of you?’
‘We both did,’ said Charlotte.
Wilhelm raised an eyebrow. ‘Indeed?’
‘She was spectacular,’ said Charlotte.
‘Spectacular!’ said Wilhelm. ‘Well then.’ He turned to Russell. ‘Russell. You were jealous of Ava’s position as first violist, were you not?’
Russell shrugged. ‘I just think she’d been coasting on reputation too long. I’m clearly the better violist.’
‘But if that were true, surely you would be the first violist, and soloist, would you not?’
‘That’s what I’m saying,’ said Russell. ‘I should be. And now I suppose I will be.’
Wilhelm shook his head. ‘Denial. It comes with grief, I suppose.’ He turned to the orchestra as a group. ‘As you can see, all three of these people had ample motive. All three had reason to be jealous.’ Emery and Charlotte each raised an eyebrow, but Wilhelm continued. ‘However, none of them killed Ava. Because!’ and Wilhelm reached up, took a hold of his moustache, and pulled it off.
The orchestra gasped.
‘That’s right!’ said Ava, for it was she. ‘I played you all as skilfully as I play my viola, which is the most skilfully out of all the violas.’
‘There’s only two of you,’ said Eleanor.
‘Which proves,’ continued Ava undeterred, ‘that I absolutely can convincingly play a European man!’
‘Oh, for the love of…’ said Eleanor. ‘Is that what all this was about?’
‘Yes!’ said Ava. ‘Surely, after what we’ve all witnessed tonight, you can’t honestly claim there is a better person for the role of Hamlet!’
‘You know,’ said Charlotte, ‘if that’s all this was, I suppose you don’t need the rest of us anymore.’
Ava shrugged. ‘I expect I’ll see you later on tonight, since we all know how spectacular you find me to be.’
Charlotte blushed. ‘Did that really need to be shared? But yes, come on round as soon as you’re done here.’
The rest of them went home and left Eleanor to deal with Ava.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 07:35|
There's four left of us, me and Dom and Rebekah and Gullman, and Gullman's hanging on by a thread. Four out of twenty, plus Makli and Dot back on the Endeavor. Five kilometers between us and the airlock, including half a klick of vertical climb. All vacuum now, and the last bit a bath in hard radiation now that the outer cladding's stripped itself off.
"Forward, then," said Dom. I nodded.
"Agreed," said Rebekah. "Decent odds Makli's gone after that chunk of shell and then straight to the wormhole."
About a tonne of Mapmaker structural material. Enough to set them up for life. A successful retrieval would make it look like chump change though.
"He's too greedy to cut out this soon," I said.
"Dot's not, Chess," said Rebekah. "You're a fool if you think otherwise."
"If it's about me," said Gullman, "Don't. Decide as if I'm already gone."
"Not happening," said Dom.
"Not relevant," said Rebekah.
"She's right," I said. "The way I see it, our best chance is to find a bigger Mister down there. Industrial size. And put together something spaceworthy."
Gullman started coughing, which turned into a laugh. Maybe it had been all along. "Sure, and maybe-" He stopped for another round of coughing. "Maybe find out, find out what'd happen."
We found D7 by chance, on a standard salvage run in Gilead system. This was a scourgewracked system, no life remaining on either the primary or the secondary, but rich in orbiting artifacts and metal. Honest money, not too easy, not too hard. Until we picked up the signal, a brief repeating mathematical sequence on a tight beam toward Gilead 2, the primary. It came from deep in the outer system, a dwarf planet far away from the wormhole network. And our telescopes could tell that the source couldn't have been manufactured by the local civilization. Our telescopes plotter out the distinctive absorption spectra of exotic particle alloys. Precursor technology.
"We report to the fleet and the finder's fee would double our take on this trip," said Makli. "Or we stake our own claim."
"We have enough fuel for it," I said. "About a year to reach it. A little budget for emergency maneuvers, and enough for a drift course back with full cargo holds, two years' trip."
"It's a lot longer than we've signed on for," said Dot. "But I don't have to tell you how much the reward could be."
There was a vote. Twenty-one ayes and one abstention.
We found the next Mister just in time.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Dom. Gullman was past talking, on full oxygen makeshifted from his exosuit. He could nod, though. We carried him over the threshold, onto the Mister's main table. I waved up the machine's interface, and carefully touched the series of floating glyphs that meant 'repair'.
It's not been difficult learning alien languages from the living, not teaching them ours. From the dead, though, that's another story. Years, no, decades of research have been done across hundreds of universities into each dead language, and we barely know the preschool level of the words of the ghosts of Acheron and Asgard, the two dead systems nearest Earth along the wormhole network. Here at the frontier, next to nothing at all was known of the Gileadean's words. And at least they had something in common with us, were cousins via that ancient panspermia event that accompanied the Builder's reign. They had been organic. The precursor races, if they had ever been, were not. They had as much in common with us as we do with ants. With microbes. With prions.
And yet, somehow, we have learned a few words of the Mapmaker language. At least a language of theirs. Rebekah thinks that it is the language they use to talk to pets or to program simple computing machines. It's the language that the Misters use, these devices that harness Mapmaker technology. Not nanotech, think smaller. Yoctotech, or beyond that; so far as we understand it at all it involves manipulation of matter at the quantum level. We learned the elements and their isotopes and how to describe simple compounds. We told the system of our atmospheric needs, and it has filled the levels of the complex with a perfectly homey oxygen-nitrogen blend. And we've learned some more abstract concepts, like the one I just selected.
We'd never tried the repair glyph on anything living, on a person before.
A transparent capsule extruded from the sides of the table and surrounded Gullman, somehow forming a perfect seal at the top. Violet mist filled it, obscuring him from view.
We earned out the mission almost as soon as we set foot inside the complex. There it was, in the first chamber. A map, of this system and everything connected to it at a depth of twelve gates. The shape of the network, and the positions they occupied in real space, in the six galaxies known to be part of the Builders' network.
This was a Mapmaker facility, then. The seventh known so far, and with the deepest map we'd seen yet. A beautiful and inaccurate picture of the universe.
The Mapmakers were the second of the three precursor races. Before them were the Builders. After them, though, were the Tricksters, and the Tricksters changed about half the gates around, remapping the universe, turning the Mapmaker's project to from fact to fiction.
A half-accurate map was better than none, though, especially if you knew the issue beforehand. This was a great prize, and unlike D1 through 6, D7 had more to explore below.
"How do you feel?" I said.
"Like I'm twenty-one again," said Gullman. "A little dumber, a lot more randy. And blue, for some reason."
He hadn't been blue when he first came out of the Mister. It had been gradual, as the blood substitute flowed through his repaired body. By now it has reached a final, bright hue on his skin and was working through his hair, roots upward.
We were close to the bottom. I managed to get the Mister to generate the parts I needed to make a radio that could reach the Endeavor , and we found that Makli and Dot were still in orbit, still waiting. They'd sent a formal claim and distress signal to the relay, after the disaster. The navy was coming, in a few years. We could probably survive here, with the Misters' help. It would still be better to reach the last level, to find a way back to the Endeavor if there was one. So we pressed on.
The four of us were pressing onward, into the level beneath the great vertical shaft, when it happened. I told the others that there were no video logs, that what I thought happened was only a guess from text and audio. I was lying.
The rest of the expedition, while we were pressing ahead, they found a hidden chamber, not much bigger than a closet. And it was full of machinery. Not Mapmaker technology. The Gilead people, before their demise? Or some other visitor? No way to tell now.
As soon as they uncovered it, it began to scream. Audio, red flashing visual light, sulfurous odors, likely also signals along the psionic spectra as well. All signalling 'danger' loudly enough to transcend any communication barrier.
They did not heed the warning. They did not call us back.
Part of me wonders if the device was that sophisticated, that if we had turned back it would have given enough time for us all to escape.
I knew what happened. The others did not have to see those images.
There is a door, at the bottom of the facility. A door, and a small room on the other side of it. It would be easy to open it.
Communication is easier with the living. There is someone alive on the other side of the door, and I have learned so much of the Mapmaker language, this talking-to-primitives language now.
It would be easy to open. But we'd have to kill or disable Gullman first to do it.
Dom tried to open it and Gullman left him with two shattered vertebrae. Right now he's content to sit. If Dom goes into the Mister we'd have to go through him, too. Rebekah and I could probably take Gullman if we tried. He's strong, but not superhuman. But I don't think I want to.
The person behind the door is very persuasive. As soon as I realized that this wasn't a sleep capsule, not a survival pod for his kind, but rather a prison, he gladly admitted it. And assured me that his crimes were justified, even if beyond my ability to even comprehend let alone judge.
Part of me wants to leave. I know enough Mapnaker-Mister language to build a ship, not just a shuttle but something faster and more grand than the Endeavor . Leave, be rich, and leave the decision entirely in the navy's hands. But not one of us really trusts the navy to do the right thing, not if left alone with a few written and recorded logs.
We took a vote. There were no abstentions this time.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 07:50|
Submissions are closed.
Can’t speak for the other judges, but I’ll crit any entries that appear between now and judging.
|# ? Jul 19, 2021 08:35|
I suppose you’re all wondering why I called you here today…
Week 467 Results
This was a fun week to judge. A lot of mysteries and mysterious happenings, some good-old fashioned detective work, and more than a few murders. Us sleuths all found different suspects this week, but after some cross-investigation and careful consideration of the evidence, the results are in:
Voodoofly - loving Tourists takes the loss.
Zurtilik - Beyond the Vault and ZearothK - To Go are this week’s DMs.
There were a lot of strong stories vying for contention this week, with four stories nabbing a HM:
Sailor Viy - The Story of the Sealed Cave
QuoProQuid - The Church
Antivehicular - A Dirty Shame
Thranguy - The Delve
Finally, the win goes to Chairchucker for The Case of the Violist.
Crits to follow. Chairchucker, the throne is yours.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 00:33|
Week 467 Mysterious Crits
My name is Twist
Story - Light humor piece. Feels like stream-of-conscious writing. Would probably be funnier if I was drunk. This was the funniest joke: “P.P. nods solemnly. He says, "I feel like if I'd been there for a longer part of your journey this would be much more significant reveal to me. But, even so, I just want you to know that I recognize what you're doing and that I see you. I see you healing."”
Really, the jokes need a bit more setup and refinement. The story itself is obviously terrible, as it has shallow characters and racer ex machina, but it does have a, I’m going to say “focused,” plot.
Mystery - The concept is used as a joke, so obviously it’s present but not in a way that intrigues the reader.
Word - Yes
Misery Loves Company
Story - Another stream-of-consciousness piece, but this one feels more intentional as a way to develop the narrator. No way did a piece of space station survive re-entry tho. Needs a few less asides, as they can get tiresome when every thought leads to one. The story jumps around rapidly, not seeming to know what it is. Huge chunks of the start can be cut, condensed, or re-ordered, because I think the mystery finally is introduced in the chat in the third section, and the story should get there sooner if the part about hiding from the crime syndicate doesn’t matter (and it doesn’t, which the author knows: “Except the crime syndicate/cocaine/hiding part. That’s not really relevant to the Ghost Question.”). It feels like the start of section four should be the end, with the reveal. The whole ‘hell ghosts’ thing is rather confusing and dumb.
Mystery - Ghosts! … ghosts? …hell ghosts?
Word - Technically
The Story of the Sealed Cave
Story - Stylized as oral legend/myth, and has the abundance of “telling” that such a story entails. I got distracted by the ecosystems. We have savannas (implied by rhinos), wetlands (stated), and desert (stated), temperate coast (implied by seals), and various temperate areas (implied by wisnet) all referred to. At first I thought we were in prehistoric Africa, but while some combinations of ecosystems listed might be in close proximity together, others are not. Given that one tribe hunts seal (usually in cooler, temperate or arctic oceans), and another has both rhinos and desert wolves being hunted (historically in lower Africa and SE Asia for the rhino, presumably desert for the latter), and another wisent (had to look that up; European buffalo, historically in eastern Europe), and Prsk is in a wetland—well, we have a story with creatures often separated by hundreds if not thousands of miles, meaning I have no idea where this is set, and honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to name any historical region that would have had any of these within a hundred miles of each other. I’ve belabored this point because part of what an oral legend does is teach about history, a moral lesson, and about the land and its creatures (things important to the culture passing the tale), but you make it so the reader cannot grasp the setting, and therefore has no entry point into the rest (murder = bad is basically in every society). Once you’ve done that, your reader cannot trust you, and instead of being pulled along by the story, they’re questioning it, which is bad.
I disliked the resolution to the mystery. See below.
In the end, the mystery is the primary focus, and there’s a lot of worldbuilding crap that can be cut because it detracts from that focus. Either that, or condense and adjust it so that you have a plausibly visualizable region.
Mystery - Next, our plot has a Sherlock (Sekwe) and Watson (Prsk), one who does all the solving, and the other who sits there like a dummy. The mystery is literally solved deus ex. A literal god of secrets is a bit overkill here, isn’t it? It’s also Sherlockian in that the character is able to infer absolutely bonkers stuff given like
Word - You didn’t include your word, so I assume you failed to include it
Story - I don’t have any idea what this story is about or what is going on. The biggest sin of this story is lack of clarity. By the end of the story, I still don’t know what the Lurk is or who anyone is or what they do (second readthrough: Lurk’s a van?); there’s a muddle of characters, people yelling about tourists, and 6 different scenes all crammed in (though I’m not sure why some of them have scene breaks in them, since they seem to happen in close temporal proximity), and I don’t know what each one is supposed to contribute to the story or what is going on. There’s a nice description about ‘being embarrassed’ in paragraph 1, but other than that, a lot of missing setting and context. Going back to figure out why it’s so muddled, it’s because I don’t know what characters are present in a scene or who is saying what at any given time. Like in paragraph 2, who is the narrator talking to? None of the dialogue is tagged, so I don’t even know who is saying what. Don’t think “who is talking at any given time” is supposed to be a mystery!!! And it’s basically every line of dialogue missing a tag. Buddy, I CTRL-F’d your story and it was entirely missing the word “said.” Good god, WHY!? The total narrative confusion severely impedes establishing your characters in a story that, presumably, is a slice-of-life focused on characters. You’re going to have to keep entering so that you can improve, because there’s no way you can just drop this turd and leave.
Mystery - Dunno what the mystery is supposed to be.
Word - I guess!! I couldn’t tell you who the tourists are though
Story - Use “***” or something to indicate new sections. There’s two blank lines in some areas, but I’m not clear if that’s a mistake or a new scene. Nice start; establishes the characters, setting, and mystery. However, a lab tech going “we’re studying something not human!!!” is, uh, not really suspicious. You’re more likely to be studying nematodes or fruit flies than monkeys, anyways, so while the “we literally can’t talk about work to non-coworkers” is a good inciting incident, “it’s not human” needs some weirdening up so that any reader can clearly see something is wrong. These scientists don’t quite feel like scientists. It’s a fun ending that wraps things up (or at least, wrapped up enough for a story this size—it could be expanded, since the ending isn’t very final). I also wonder if there’s a way to reduce the amount of exposition at the end from Dr. Clay. Also, maybe something about our protagonist: How have they changed? What made them decide differently this time? What about the other characters means they can’t succeed?
Mystery - Yeah, good job.
Word - Ehhhh, kinda.
Beyond the Vault
Story - Nice that I can tell early on it’s a heist. Check your formatting, you missed hitting “enter” to space stuff out consistently. Cut superfluous stuff: “The cellar was designed like a maze
Mystery - Sort of.
Word - Yeah, work on “magical” though.
Story - Good start with characterizing our unhoused, downtrodden narrator and they’re perspective. The story goes along at a good clip. The conversation between the narrator and the (priest?) is nice, because it’s both ominous and hopeful, hinting at the supernatural. The encounter ends with the narrator’s survival (presumably, their acceptance of the man’s offer might have ended poorly). There’s symbolism aplenty, and a sort of disturbed feeling at the end, which I assume is what the story was going for. This was my favorite story of the week, and felt like a solid horror story.
Mystery - A bit. I thought it was plenty sufficient.
Word - Yeah
Story - This story starts off by telling you it’s ridiculous and shouldn’t be taken seriously, because it has a Chad Biker shooting people and a cashier who doesn’t care. The narrator feels more like a detective, though, with some soft noir vibes. But, uh, if a fast-food cashier has Powerful Loser Contacts, why are they still in fast food? Needs an editing pass for conventions (”just quit.” she said…” and “The tailor was not amused, she dropped her…”). I’m not entirely sure there’s much humor (presumably what the story is still going for) to be found in taking a bets on suicides, but it does make the characters truly loathsome, and kills the previous vibes of the story. Then you add Actual Magic and power armor and I have no idea what this story is trying to be. Sadly, it’s not funny, just all over the place, and it doesn’t quite rise to the “so ridiculous it’s good” you would need to properly shoot the moon here. The ending is rushed as hell.
Mystery - Sorta.
Word - Sure.
A Dirty Shame
Story - Oh, that’s a drat good first sentence; gets us character history and present setting. This is a solid mystery and story, with some classic, if not particularly unique characters. I was hoping more might be done with Detective Alison’s history and how that makes her feel about this strange, sad case. This story seems to do what it set out to do, and it’s hard to find complaint with it, but it’s also hard to find a particularly outstanding or distinguishing part.
Mystery - Woah an actual mystery in mystery week??? One problem with the mystery is the clues aren’t set up in a way that the reader can really guess it before it’s resolved. They are more a spectator than a participant. That said, it felt solidly in the genre.
Word - Quite
The Case of the Violist
Story - Classic Chairchucker. Obviously goes for humor. I like the line “The orchestra members sat on the edge of their seat. It was a rare treat to witness a detective’s closing monologue.”, it’s probably the best of the “this murder mystery is exciting” jokes. The dramatic reveal is also a good joke, playing mostly on the genre expectations, and fits the previously established tone. There’s work to be done to expand the humor, and maybe beef up the foreshadowing so the big jokes land harder. Perhaps also some work to make the characters more distinguished, and perhaps a little less tonally the same. Fine piece tho.
Mystery - Slash also humor, yeah
Word - Yes
Story - A lot of story and characters crammed in fast. Probably too much worldbuilding crammed in, specifically with three precursor civs and linguistic trivia, when the story primarily starts off saying it’s about a betrayal after finding a trove and something bad happens (but what?). More time needed on Gull, Dom, and Rebekah, who are all fairly blank characters. Some cleanup required: “So we pressed on.” (next paragraph) “The four of us were pressing onward….” Also, given the complexity of flashbacks, it’s hard to pick out the strict order of events in the story. The “what happened” is not clear; the decision they make at the end is not clear (though the reader can infer a few possibilities). In the end, this story is trying to cram too much into too short a word count. If it keeps the original scope, it needs more room for the events and characters to breathe. If condensed, it needs at least one thread cut. Since making a decision about the ancient alien prisoner is where the story ends, the events surrounding that need focus, and more importantly, the character’s reactions to those events. Some world-building, several characters, and much of the intro can be condensed or cut.
Mystery - Present, but not really resolved, and the focus jumps back and forth between the mystery and other things. This was sci-fi horror, though, where not resolving a mystery feels appropriate.
Word - Yeah
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 00:33|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 01:44|
Thunderdome Week 467 Crits
Dome Racer Alpha - My name is Twist
This is a very dumb story and it’s obvious you’re actually a really talented writer blowing off some steam, but y’know what? I think this is easily your best story so far. Is it a good story? No. Would it have been improved by a few rounds of edits and more than an hour’s writing? Also no. You know what you’re about and I respect that. God bless you, Dome Racer Alpha. God bless you, P. P. Weiner.
Dome Racer Sigma - Misery Loves Company
I enjoyed reading this! I like the premise, the subtle worldbuilding, the slow build-up of an actual mystery and the hints you drop through the story. Honestly, nothing about this story yells “gimmick account” at me, which is kind of frustrating, since I think if you’d actually spent more than a few hours’ writing this, it would have been greatly improved. This is a good first draft and I think we both know there’s a lot of potential for this to be better, which is why I’m a bit upset that it was just rushed out so quickly. And, let’s face it, it wasn’t even that quickly — Alpha probably would have lapped you in a real race.
Specific crits: I think the reveal that Corrine07 is the Ghost could have been handled better. It’s obvious to us once she starts referring to the ghost as “she” (if not earlier), and it feels like a cop-out when we don’t see the protag’s eventual realisation. I feel like the entire second para, with the whole digression around Hell Ghosts arresting people, could be cut, and the segue of “So it’s pretty surprising when” is too far from the talk about the blizzard to have the impact it’s probably supposed to.
Mostly, though: with a bit of work, this could have been a story on your main account. As much as I roll my eyes every time P. P. Weiner crashes his car through a wall, Alpha’s at least committing something to the gimmick beyond “write words fast”.
Sailor Viy - The Story of the Sealed Cave
This is a great story, and it’s got everything I was hoping for this week: a question, an obvious-but-wrong solution, a subtle foreshadowing of clues, and a satisfying reveal by the end. The setting is established well, the narrative framework is handled nicely, and there’s some lovely language throughout.
That said, I would have loved to see more investigation and less deduction in this story, to make it feel more active and give Prsk something to do. Perhaps Prsk and Sekwe could investigate outside the cave, find the gap on the eastern side, and feel the wind blowing past them? Perhaps they could even find evidence of the fire. Right now it feels like Sekwe’s already solved the murder and is just asking questions to fill the time.
Overall though, great work. I’d be happy to read the continuing adventures of Sekwe, the mystery-solving god, and Prsk, her long-suffering human mouthpiece.
Voodoofly - loving Tourists
I feel there are the bones of a good story in here. I like the tension between the old guard and the new residents, and I think it’s easy to relate to how neighbourhoods change over time. Right now there’s just a bit too much going on, and the mystery is handled more as an afterthought, and solved too neatly.
One of my favourite things about Thunderdome is that it forces you to pare everything back to its core, and really question whether each line adds something to the story, or could be cut. As an exercise, I’d recommend trying to cut this back to, say, 1000 words. Do you really need all of these characters? Do you need the scene where he “officially meets his neighbours”? Also, the central question of this mystery story — “Why’s the Lurk on 14th?” — isn’t asked until 700 words into a 1500 word story. I think asking this question a lot earlier would help establish the mystery and set our expectations.
Finally, the lack of attribution made the dialogue-heavy scenes really confusing to read. Maybe you could get away with this in smaller doses if we had better ideas about who the characters are; right now, though, it’d benefit immensely from a few mentions of who’s saying what.
Chernobyl Princess - Non-Disclosure
This is a solid story, if a little familiar. (Related: I like the “déjà vu” reference at the start.) Unfortunately, I’m left with questions that the story’s internal consistency doesn’t quite answer for me. Such as: if Jared’s memories of getting in were wiped each time, why could Arjun remember finding the gateway? Is it only because Jared had gotten in with a stolen keycard each time — in which case, what prompted his earlier visits? I do like the reveal at the end that this has happened multiple times before (“this will be the third time” should be “this is the third time”, though), but I feel that any story that involves memory loss like this runs the risk of falling apart with close scrutiny.
Also, I found the line “you’ve realised by now, of course, that magic is real” a bit awkward since my mind hadn’t gone straight to “magic!”. I feel like a few more clues that something magical was going on would have helped.
Also, possibly a formatting error, but I found the uses of double breaks weirdly inconsistent. Sometimes they indicated section breaks, sometimes they didn’t. It made it harder to read than it should have been.
Zurtilik - Beyond the Vault
Happy to see someone take on the challenge of the three flash words—and in the shorter wordcount, no less!
Otherwise: this story was missing something, to me. I feel as if you took the prompt, thought of the first idea that came to mind (“it’s a ROBBERY where someone steals VINTAGES from a MAGICAL old man”) and ran with it. Which, okay. It is what it says on the tin. I think my biggest problem is that the story is basically just a retelling of that prompt, without something to surprise us and make the story your own.
Questions to consider, if you wanted to continue working on this story a bit:
* What’s so special about the safe? To me, it sort of feels like the safe is some kind of test, but I’d like to see some sort of hesitation on the protag’s part before he makes the decision to get it open anyway.
* Who was the contact he was stealing the wine for? Was it actually the old man all along?
* Outside of meeting the brief, what’s the significance of the wine?
QuoProQuid - The Church
This is lovely to read — really effective characterisation, an emotional core, and a well-realised setting. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of this almost dreamlike experience—the mysterious singing carrying itself across the snow-covered town at midnight, a vaguely suspicious priest quoting poetry and inviting the protagonist to “be free from this agony”—with the stark reality of the ending, the reveal that it was just a tape player and some spotlights. There’s a strong emotional arc and a really haunting feel that follows me out of the story.
Where this fell down, for me, is just the question of whether it’s a “mystery” or if it’s just mysterious. I can’t fault the story, it just wasn’t the week for it.
ZearothK - To Go
This is rough. Run-on sentences, inconsistent tone, attempts at humour that just fall flat. I’m really not sure what story you’re trying to tell here. On paper, “guy with ties to the occult tries to woo biker, gets involved in shady tailoring underworld, escapes using magic spiders” is an interesting story, but I can’t get invested in this world because I don’t really care about the characters, and the rules of the world aren’t well defined. I’m never really clear about the protag’s motivations, or his place in the world. Why is he working at a fast-food place if he has these magic powers? Why do they tie him up at the end? I feel like things just happen, but I’m never completely clear on why anything’s happening.
Antivehicular - A Dirty Shame
Hooray, a dead body!
This is solidly written and hits all the beats. I like the inspiration from the prompt, and the early references to soil work well as clues. That said: the detectives don’t feel fully fleshed out, and I would have liked to see more characterisation in the story. Alison’s history comes up early but doesn’t lead to anything further, and Len just feels like a placeholder character, someone to provide the back-and-forth.
I also feel that the ending doesn’t quite land for me, or at least, the final section needs a bit of work. You start off by saying “there was no reason for Alison to read the confession”, and a few paragraphs later I’m agreeing and wondering why you included it. I don’t think it added anything to the story, and think in its absence you could have expanded upon the more interesting elements of the investigation.
Otherwise, a solid effort.
Chairchucker - The Case of the Violist
Hooray, a dead body … oh, wait.
I really liked this! It’s light and comic, but the humour works. At first, I thought you were riffing on the fact that small country towns get smaller because people keep getting murdered, so the actual reveal at the end still took me by surprise.
If I had to criticise anything it’s that the whole Hamlet thing probably could have been foreshadowed earlier, as an offhand comment.
Thranguy - The Delve
On a first read: I have no idea what just happened in the story, but I’m into it.
On a re-read: yeah, still unclear, but still into it. Mostly I think there’s just too much happening in too short a word-count, and while I like the mystery around not knowing exactly what happened once they uncovered the chamber, I don’t feel that I know enough about what happened for it to have emotional resonance.
There’s a lot of worldbuilding, and I think the parts about the maps and the Tricksters don’t add anything to the story, but I think it’s handled fairly well for a story this short — there are no huge chunks I’d skip over.
This is a strong story that’s crying out for another thousand words or so.
rohan fucked around with this message at 08:57 on Jul 20, 2021
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 02:27|
Week 468: Disney Sleepover
Hello gentle domers. Me and two of my Dome BFFs (who will hopefully volunteer soon after this post) are due to have a Disney sleepover. But OH NO! We have no Disney products to consume on this sleepover. I need you all to write me some stories that would totally work as Disney cartoons. Here is what I want from these stories:
Relatively child friendly. No swearing, no graphic violence, no sex.
Not too much moral ambiguity. Heroes are mostly heroic, (can have small flaws like greedy, lazy, selfish or whatever, and can be a small time criminal if justified by circumstances or whatever, but flaws will mostly get resolved or addressed within the narrative) villains are mostly villainous. (Or they were once a good person and if so maybe they can be reformed or something I dunno.)
No casual death. Death is generally pretty significant in Disney movies, and mostly perpetrated by villains! It can also be somewhat life shattering and be part of a hero's tragic backstory. If a villain dies, it's usually as a result of their own hubris or, if they are slain by the hero, it's after the hero tried to spare their life but they made a last ditch effort to stab them in the back, OR the villain was transformed into some absurdly monstrous form or something.
True love. Romantic interests, if present, are in it for the long haul. They're not in it for a casual fling, they want to fall in love and live happily ever after. Speaking of which:
Happily ever after. Happy endings only please. Heroes win, villains receive comeuppance or get reformed. Bittersweet endings somewhat permissible as long as they still make me feel like victory was achieved.
Fun hijinks and adventure.
A note on royalty: Disney seems to like princes and princesses and I enjoy them sometimes as well, but they're not mandatory. Early princesses seemed to be little more than trophies whereas recently, princesses and princes have been a bit more equal in terms of agency, and IMO the latter is better, so probs don't write a love interest who's nothing but a prize, is what I'm basically saying here.
What I don't want: a retelling of a fairy tale or a Disney film. Even if you pull a Maleficent and give us 'the real story'.
Also, I will give everyone a Disney song. When you sign up, you can if you wish make some vague request regarding the Disney song, like 'song from the 40s please' or 'may I please have a love song' or 'may I please have a song that is bad' and I will probably try to fulfil that request. You can either use that song as vague inspiration or ignore it and just enjoy it for a song, but I don't want you to try to literally use any of the characters or plot points from the song.
You have 2500 words
If you have any questions, ask me on the Discord and maybe I will clarify in thread as well if it seems like a thing a lot of people would want to know.
EDIT EXTRA RULES: No normal Toxxes allowed this week, but if you feel you need some extra motivation, you can Toxx to contribute to some kind of For Kids charity instead of Toxxing to get banned. Also, if, inexplicably, 2500 words isn't enough, you can earn more by donating money to some kind of For Kids charity and proving it here with a screenshot or something. Every dollar you donate gets you twenty extra words.
EDIT: No fanfic.
LOL I forgot about deadlines
Sign up deadline is Saturday 24 July at 6 pm, Canberra time
Submission deadline is Monday 26 July at 6 pm, Canberra time
Disney movie directors:
My Shark Waifuu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzQig2VIhXw
Chernobyl Princess https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw
a friendly penguin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZNRzc3hWvE
Simply Simon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmqcKtD3cnw
Chairchucker fucked around with this message at 01:36 on Jul 24, 2021
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 06:44|
Give me a villain song.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 06:46|
Oh I am absolutely in, dealer’s choice of song.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 06:52|
Placeholder in case Chili wants to make any kind of request
Hell yeah, Disney villain songs are awesome
Oh I am absolutely in, dealer’s choice of song.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 07:04|
Also I added some new rules.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 07:30|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 08:39|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 08:46|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 10:37|
and just in case you were looking for a charity to donate to, I fundraise for Extra Life, which donates to children's hospitals, and I will make you crocheted things as bonus incentive: https://www.extra-life.org/participant/Della-Collins-2021
Chernobyl Princess fucked around with this message at 10:53 on Jul 20, 2021
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 10:41|
Placeholder in case Chili wants to make any kind of request
Chuck something my way.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 11:00|
You've now clarified via Discord that you're happy to take dealer's choice, so
This is extremely cool IMO
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw whoops, edited
Chairchucker fucked around with this message at 11:18 on Jul 20, 2021
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 11:11|
Hit me with a rad tune, please.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 11:18|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 12:37|
In. Song me with a good song from a bad Disney flick.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 13:21|
In. Give me a song from a movie that does no apologia for monarchy and has no romance whatsoever.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 13:48|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 15:36|
Doo da da dooo
Next week is a birthday. A Thunderdome birthday. Thunderdome's birthday. And to celebrate ten years of lovely writing, I will be hosting a very special prompt for all you very special writers.
What's that mean for this week? Well, when Chairchucker closes submissions on Sunday, I'm jumping in with a new birthday prompt for everybody. This week's winner will take back over the bloodthrone August 2nd.
There will be prizes. Birthday prizes.
More information to follow.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 19:10|
Week 467 crits of dubious quality
My name is Twist
PLOT: A police detective commits a mass poisoning and tries to avoid suspicion. PP Weiner appears and everything is fine.
Okay, so I… kind of love this. I have not enjoyed your other stories nearly as much, so I guess try harder if you want to continue writing stuff people won’t like. Although, given that I am absolutely a sucker for monkeycheese bullshit, I don’t think that it’s necessarily a good story. Anyway, thanks for the fun; I read it aloud to Mr. Curling and we both had a good laugh.
Misery Loves Company
PLOT: A person hiding from the mob lives in an abandoned space station and talks to ghosts on the internet. The ghost they are talking to reveals something about “Hell Ghosts” and then the story ends.
There’s some really cool ideas that you have in here, but it still feels like a throwaway joke story, and none of them actually get explored (or explained in a way that makes sense to the reader). Tl;dr: do more Hell Ghosts, that was the best part.
The Story of the Sealed Cave
PLOT: The god of mysteries and her avatar solve a locked-room murder mystery.
Man, not really related to your story, but that is a terrible, terrible title. Good lord.
This story is pretty good, though! I thought that the murder method was clever, and I will admit that the title does work for your story, although I do think you should still change it, because if I were not required to read it, I would probably skip it on the basis of the title alone. This one was a bit of a fight in the judge’s chambers, for reasons that I believe have already been explained, but I liked it well enough. I think if you cleaned this up a bit (and pick a specific biome, I guess?) it’s a nice little piece that I could see getting published somewhere.
PLOT: A bunch of New Yorkers accuse one another of being tourists. A van gets towed and people are mad about it.
Your opening is semi-incomprehensible. Who is “he”? It’s extremely difficult to tell whether this is referring to another passenger, or the tourists. It’s weird.
Whoof. Well, this was a mess. Your core concept is… fine, but dear god, your formatting and near-complete lack of attributions makes this a muddy, meandering mess. You absolutely could have cut fat elsewhere to make the “climactic” conversation make sense, and yet did not. I will take clarity over “clever” turns of phrase/characterization every time. Kill you are darlings.
PLOT: Three lab workers realize they’re physically unable to talk about work to their families, and also have no idea what they’re actually working on for some reason. One tries to find out what’s going on, and it turns out that magic is real, and he’s been Eternal Sunshine-d about it several times already. Lab worker accepts an offer to become a magic suppression agent.
This is def the most intriguing one so far. Hoping it won’t bomb.
Hm, yeah, okay. I liked this, although the ending felt a little easy. You seem to be relying heavily on tropes about Scientists Doing Science Things, which undercuts your story quite a bit. I think it would make more sense if they thought they knew what they were working on but discover that the project is really about something else.
Beyond the Vault
PLOT: An unnamed thief breaks into a mansion to steal some wine. When confronted by the owner of the house, the thief forces the old man to open a vault in the cellar and then steals a bunch of stuff. Later the old man shows up at the thief’s house, and then … ???
Yeah, I don’t get this, and I’m not sure you do, either. Random violence is not the same thing as an ending, and while you don’t have to spell out everything, the reader generally wants to know what is going on and why. This story does neither.
PLOT: A homeless person enters a church hoping to find somewhere warm to spend the night, but finds that the church is in the middle of a service. The leader of the congregation offers the main character a chance to join them, promising to take away their burdens, but leaves in disgust when the offer is declined. The service that seemed to be ongoing turns out to have been a tape recording, and the church empty.
This is good! The opening was a little long for my taste, but it’s a strong piece overall. I will freely admit that the ambiguity of the ending undercut my enjoyment somewhat, but I think I would have felt differently if I read it a second time. You should definitely shop this around for publication.
PLOT: A former magic user decides to find the man who broke into his fast food job. He revives old contacts to find that the man is only attractive due to his clothing, then gets caught up in The Label’s plans for unclear reasons. There are spiders, everyone dies but MC, and he ends the story with the man’s jacket.
Wow. You have a LOT of stuff going on in here. Unfortunately, none of it landed well. I think you have some interesting worldbuilding here, but the story itself came out as a jumbled mess. Imo, throw out this story entirely, but spend more time in this universe.
A Dirty Shame
PLOT: A woman appears to have overdosed on medication and died, but the police have reason to believe it was murder. They do some digging and find out that she was murdered by a former foster child she abused. Murderer offs himself.
A neat, classical mystery. I will admit that I did not have many feelings about this other than that. The answer to the mystery seems easy, and I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters. It’s a solid concept, but would benefit from more character development and action that doesn’t come pre-resolved.
The Case of the Violist
PLOT: An orchestra is interrogated over the murder of one of its members. In the end, the detective is revealed to be the supposed murder victim trying to prove a point.
Oh god save me from terrible story titles. This was very obviously you, CC, although I will admit that I enjoyed this more than some of your other stories. I probably liked this the least out of all of the judges, but it’s not bad. However, you have a lot of unnecessary information, too many indistinguishable characters, and a weird dangling ending sentence that seemed like it should have at least one more scene after it. Also that title. Jeez.
PLOT: An interstellar recovery crew finds the ruins of a forgotten race. They travel through the structure, looking for answers and hopefully things they can make money off of. In the end, they find the prison of a mysterious being, and decide to stick around to make sure no one opens it (I think).
Man, I bounced hard off of this opening. It’s too much too quickly. ...Okay, now that my brain has recovered from Hard-Scifi-Shock: This setting is really intriguing and I would like to see more of it. This story in particular, though, needed 5-50k more words, which I hope that you write, because I want to read it.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 19:52|
In. Song me with a good song from a bad Disney flick.
I haven't seen this one, but apparently it was not reviewed well.
In. Give me a song from a movie that does no apologia for monarchy and has no romance whatsoever.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 20:42|
A song from a movie that prominently has people of color.
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 21:06|
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 21:11|
I'm singing an I Want song about winning Thunderdome. Will my dream come true? In
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 21:59|
i'm going to generously allow myself another 12ish hours then call in the toxx on myself
|# ? Jul 20, 2021 23:26|
I'm singing an I Want song about winning Thunderdome. Will my dream come true? In
Chairchucker fucked around with this message at 09:20 on Jul 21, 2021
|# ? Jul 21, 2021 09:17|
In. Give me a song that'll build my vocabulary. I'm talking expectorating Gaston levels of word usage here.
|# ? Jul 21, 2021 16:24|
In. Give me a song that'll build my vocabulary. I'm talking expectorating Gaston levels of word usage here.
There's totally cartoons in this clip so it counts
|# ? Jul 21, 2021 20:36|
“The numbers don’t add up,” muttered Alexei. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Elspeth lean back in her chair, long hair falling back. He didn’t turn to look with a conscious, almost painful, effort of will. She could tell she was yawning though, arms stretched up, feet tight in their Velcro sheaths.
“Did they ever? Maybe we just made it all up?” She spun her chair round and looked at him. “It’s happened before, uh, Mars. Martian canals. Total fiction.”
Now she’d started looking, he could follow suit, it would have been rude not to. Her eyes were a little bleary, reddened, it had been a long night, but still beautiful. “Schiapparelli. And Lowell. They fantasised a whole civilization by squinting at a dot.” He stopped, mentally rewinding the conversation. “Our numbers are different though. We have … computers?” His rising tone trailed off.
“Exactly. So we can make stupid mistakes billions of times faster and watch cat videos at the same time, it’s great. What’s the problem, anyway?”
“Solar readings. We’ve been assuming flares are a linear function of distance squared, just normal physics, so when it hits the atmosphere it’s just a spray of particles, but the functions just… don’t add up.” Alexei groped for his coffee bulb, took a cold sip. “They’re increasing, getting more, uh intense, but the Solar Orbiter isn’t reporting a change at source. It’s out two hundred, two fifty percent. Check it out.” He tabbed over to a graph and full-screened it, then swung the monitor arm over. He breathed in deeply as she scooted her chair over on its magrail and peered at the screen.
“This bit,” she said, tapping the screen. “What happened here?” It was a point where the smooth best fit line jolted, a discontinuity. Her finger left a little smear on the screen and he had a sudden desire to breath on it and polish it away with his sleeve.
“That’s where it changed, just as we came round out of Earth shadow last time, but I don’t know why. That’s the mystery. It doesn’t add up.” They looked at the screen together, contemplating. A pencil was cartwheeling slowly towards them and Elspeth plucked it out of the air, tapped it on her teeth, tink tink. Then, decided, she bit into the end, scrunching into the wood to make a neat incised ring.
“Let’s go have a look. We’ll be circling round at 2352, that’s enough time to get suited up. We’ll be like your Italian guy, solving problems with our eyeballs.”
They had gotten a lot looser on spacewalks since the funding cuts and all the other problems down below, but random excursions were still frowned on, so Alexei tapped in a brief mission plan onto the terminal before he gloved up.
Elspeth's voice crackled in his ear: "Just say we're star gazing," she said. "It's true enough."
Outside the infinite cold and black made him think of a cold night on the snowpack. White surface of the station beneath him glowing in the Earthlight, stars sprayed across the heaven like diamonds from the hands of a clumsy jeweller.
"Two minutes fifteen," said Elspeth. "How is Saskia?"
Alexei smiled, checked the propulsor at his hip, and launched himself gently into the void. "She is lovely. Looking forward to me coming back. Has a trip planned, to Venice. She says its a little stinky so we are going in winter." He hit the limit of the tether and bounced back, killing his momentum with a vaporous puff of gas. Ahead of them the Earth was a swirling soup dish of bluegreen with creamy swirls of cloud drizzled across it. The horizon was catching fire as they hurtled towards sunrise.
"Why Venice? It's underwater now.”
“Mostly. There’s a lot of buildings still up, and uh, she wanted to see it? VR is fine, but if you haven’t been then it’s just light and sound.”
“Your wife wants the stink?”
Alexei shrugged, then realised Elspeth probably couldn’t see in the spacesuit and lifted his hands up, palms out. “She married me?” Elspeth laughs, and he burns.
Alexei had loved Elspeth since the instant he saw her, since perhaps a little time before that even – the day before training began he was irritated, moody, enraptured by the look and feel and smell of the things around him.
In retrospect he decided that was the glittering four dimensional tesseract of his love for her, rotating in hyperspace and sending back rays along the timeline. The theory was absurd, but the practice no less so.
He was also in love – genuinely, truly, intensely – with his wife, back on the hot wet and crowded Earth, but, nonetheless. And so he rationed out his days from glance to glance, channelling the flow of his love for Elspeth in powerfully buttressed channels within himself.
“Here it comes, about time,” said Elspeth into his ear.
Alexei sighed at the first sight of the hot fusing brilliance of the sun, peering over the edge of the Earth. Then he frowned. Something about the light was off. “Does that look brighter to you?”
She didn’t reply, but he could hear her breathing, like she’d toggled the transmit but wasn’t sure what to say. The dot of fire on the horizon sparkled, then spread into a line. “I have a feeling. I think we should go back inside,” she said, and she yanked her rope, a little hard.
Alexei nodded, then remembered she couldn’t see that either, and groped for his own rope. As he did the Sun rose above the horizon, and the particles hit. The first sign of it was a howl of static, louder than a Tupolev supersonic, then a light, brighter than anything he could have imagined was possible. He saw Elspeth contort as he slapped at his own comm controls, her propulsor flying off into the black, her legs kicking at the hull as light limned her in fire.
The station came apart, slowly at first, and then quickly. The condensor array popped, hissing gas erupting from its coils, then the solar panels cracked, one by one. Alexei pulled his tether hard, collided with Elspeth and the stars tumbled around them until they crashed into an antenna. He could feel the station shuddering through its wracked frame.
The transmit line was still live. “Elspeth?”
It hissed, then, quietly, static laden, from far away, came her voice. “Alexei. This isn’t good.”
“We might be able to get to a pressurised section…?”
There was a long pause.
“You’re right. Just give me… I think my leg is broken. I’ll need a moment.”
Alexei looked up at the station, cracked in half, a shimmering cloud of debris sparkling around it in the deadly sun. He took a deep breath, thinking how many of those he had left, how it was a very precise number.
“Elspeth, I… Do you know that…”
The channel was quiet. “Yes?”
Alexei looked at Elspeth’s suit. Shook his head, knowing she couldn’t see it.
“I think we will be ok.”
|# ? Jul 22, 2021 03:31|
Mojo you just lost a hundred words from your brawl. Go pick a song.
|# ? Jul 22, 2021 04:50|
Chili’s Partner’s Pick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kIVhoCLuzw
|# ? Jul 22, 2021 05:23|
|# ? Sep 22, 2021 15:00|
We're having a party next week! A birthday party!
But what do you get for the 'dome that has it all? Why... More words, of course! As of this exact moment, we have nine million, seven hundred and sixty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty-eight. It'd be a lot cooler if it was 10 mil, though, yeah? Why isn't it 10 mil?
Probably because you suck. Because you're weak.
We're doing this party potluck style! We're a couple of days away but you can go ahead and tell me what you're bringing! A brutal hellrule that broke you would be lovely. An insane flash you couldn't handle would be a delight. I'll lay out a table for everyone and the strong can pick up where you pathetically left off!
Other acceptable additions to the potluck:
Fill out the form today!
|# ? Jul 22, 2021 14:59|