1,824 / 2,500 words
Flash Rule: the air hardens
I lose my pursuers when I detonate the antimatter bomb in the engine room of the funerary ship.
Like me, the bomb is vat-grown. In many ways, it’s my cousin - or perhaps closer still. The sister I never had. The twin. A thumb-sized pustule of gristle and phlegm, wrapped around a speck of potential with enough power to light a city for a year. It rips through the starship’s hull and turns everything within one hundred metres to atoms and background radiation.
I’m safe and sound in the forward environmental control room, wrapped in plastic and metal and keratin. Spikes the size of my arms anchor me through the plating of the deck and the gravity generator buried under it. My calculations are flawless; the sight of the walls being ripped away makes me feel like an orange being peeled. My bubble is spared, set loose along fault lines programmed surreptitiously into the shipyard thirty years ago. I was called Ray, then, a model employee with thinning hair and bad breath; now my breath is scentless and I have neither hair nor a name. I’m still a model employee, though, as far as anybody knows.
My chunk of debris speeds through the slowly-expanding cloud of wreckage. We were already at the edge of the system and accelerating; the added boost of the bomb, timed to the picosecond, will propel me out of the path of the trade lanes and into the depths of space. I register the pocket of air, trapped in the bubble of gravity, slowly bleeding its heat into the dark.
By the time I come back around, two thousand years from now, I’ll be as cold and dead as the space between the stars. I can’t wait.
Kris finds me at the same diner I’ve been eating lunch at for longer than they’ve been decanted. They’re tall and thin and feminine this time, with a nametag that reads “Janette Long”. A middle-manager in the Orbital Safety Administration, three doors down from me. I don’t like working this close to another operative but I was told to and so I do. I’m nearly as tall and nowhere near as thin and my skin is shades lighter than at any point in the last few decades. This time around I was designed to be the mathematically average OSA employee, save for the carbon nanotubes in my bones and the venom in my saliva. After nearly a century of what the unity government calls peace, my work has changed.
“You should watch what you eat,” Kris says as they sit down across from me.
“You should kiss my rear end,” I say in return. I slide the plate over to them and let them grab a few, snatching it back as they go for the fourth.
“Seriously,” Kris says, “you look like you’re getting ready to hibernate.”
“And you look like you’re about to blow away.”
There’s a pause of a few seconds. I know what’s coming - I can see Kris’ mind racing, trying to get the conversation from here to there in a plausible manner.
“Whatever,” they say, scoffing lightly and reaching over to grab another chip. I let them. “I just saw you and wanted to let you know I’ll be out next week.”
“Going anywhere nice?”
“Bermuda,” they say.
The codeword I’ve been waiting six months for. Not a long time, not compared to the usual, but longer than it should have been. I could have carved my way into the data vault in a single, bloody day, disabled the coverage of my exit vector. I told my handler as much, made sure they knew exactly how much I objected to the softly, softly approach, how much I objected to being backup this close to the finale. I was overridden, of course, reined in and admonished for my overzealous loyalty.
Which was the whole point.
“Well, I hear it’s lovely this time of year.” I smile warmly, my best feature this time around, and make a show of standing up. “I’ve better get back, though, make sure I’ve got everything sorted. I don’t want anything cropping up while I’m gone.”
“While I’m gone,” Kris says softly.
The sort of slip that gets one killed in this line of work. Another reason why I don’t like working this closely with other operatives - too many witnesses for how imperfect I actually am.
“Of course,” I say. I smile warmly again. “See you around.”
I leave them there in the diner, with a half-empty plate of deliciously salty chips. Wandering slowly back to the office along the station promenade, I drink in the sights and the sounds and carve them into myself, coding them into the space in my DNA reserved for memory storage.
I picked the spot to die years ago, an intersection of five busy thoroughfares with a view of the stars through the ceiling. When I turn my heart off, I fall directly into the human traffic, flat on my back. A flair for the dramatic that only I know about.
From the screaming crowd to the silent mortuary and the numbed sensations of the autopsy. The cold of the freezer. The low rumble of the industrial lifter. I let life back into my body only when the automated funerary ship passes Saturn. I always wanted to see its rings.
A battle rages on. The streets of Madrid are awash with blood and flames, revolutionary fervour turned from metaphor to stark reality. My body is hulking and chitinous, more than six feet of armour plates and sharp edges. The message from my handler comes in a dirty, starving man, woven into his blood. Whatever semi-intelligent virus was implanted in him days or weeks ago now seizes his vocal cords, makes his eyelids twitch in rapid dot-dash, even as he dies at the end of my claws.
“Off-Earth. High-elliptical orbit. Where you can’t be traced.”
“Yes. Why, do you need backup?”
Do I need backup? Am I getting soft? As I watch a dying man struggle in vain against his government, his country, his own body? The bitter taste at the back of my throat isn’t just adrenaline.
“No,” I say to the dying man, “no, I don’t.”
“Good.” His eyelids flutter the message at me a letter at a time. The final seven words: “We’ll be in touch with the details.”
The man slumps. I drop him to the ground with a thud; the old rifle he had fired so futilely at me clatters to the slick cobbles. When I pick it over I find the magazine is empty.
I smell spent powder and the tang of copper and I need to get away.
In a basement, in the ruins of Chicago, my handler tells me that we’re losing the war.
My body is lithe and refined, built for speed and personal appeal. My skin is charred and blistering; my internal organs shredded by the radiation that clings to every surface and drifts through the air. Eight days to slip into the inner circle of the governor’s residence. Nine minutes to get as far away from Ground Zero as possible. Why a nuke if I had already moved so close to the target? Why get so close if I could set it off anywhere within ten miles of them? I don’t know and some base instinct, deeper than anything they built into me, says it would be suicide to ask.
That not-knowing, that uncertainty, is grit in my mind.
I counter. Chicago was the last large holdout, the last city in the northern hemisphere opposed to unity government. Whatever small pockets of resistance remain, whatever rebel cadres still scream and shout about oppression, are dust in the wind.
My handler looks at me as though they are suddenly disgusted by the sight of me, as though they have only just noticed the weeping sores and the swollen lump of my tongue. How dare the bullet question the gun?
Not this war, they explain. They speak slowly, full of contempt. The long war, the culture war, the war for hearts and minds - for the soul of the unity government. The harder they squeeze, the harder I - and other operatives - push, the more escapes their grasp. Victory soon, peace soon - but a millennium from now?
They need an operative in the far future. They need something - not someone? - to restore their vision. Let them die, let the world die, but let the vision be reborn. They need a bullet with a flight time of centuries, its trajectory hidden from future generations of spycatchers. The plan is still being dreamt up but eventually, they will need me.
And all I have is to be needed.
They rip me from the tank in a gush of amniotic fluid and nanowire filigree. In a bunker a mile below the surface of the earth, breathing sterile air and eating tasteless nutrients, they equip me with the tools I will need.
And until they need me, I wait.
The last motes of air settle on the surface of the cocoon.
A thin layer of frozen nitrogen atop a thinner layer of frozen oxygen; the dusting of atmosphere that will cover me for the next two thousand years until I race back into the inner solar system. Until I rise again. Under me the gravity generator hums, drinking greedily from its rapidly diminishing emergency power supply. The air hardens, freezing my cocoon to the metal.
As I settle my mind, let it drift into the hypnotic slumber of centuries, I read through the orders carved into my body and soul, the mission objectives and missives and screeds. The recipe for a new unity government. The predicted targets of opportunity, the countermeasures for two thousand years of propaganda and technological advance. The soft spots in mankind that no amount of advancement can paper over. I’ve read it all many times in the years since I was infected with it, my DNA repurposed as an ideological time capsule. My handler was so certain that I believed -
But who would expect a bullet to change its trajectory mid-flight?
I spit up my venom, letting it run over my cheeks and forcing the glands to atrophy. I purge the combat reflexes from my nerves, burning away the agility hidden within my frame. I keep the reinforcement in bones - I’m expecting a bumpy ride when I wake up, after all - but turn my attention to the memories stored in my genetic code. I copy and paste and copy and paste, a trillion operations, shredding and reassembling strand after strand. I overwrite the screeds, the directives, the mission - overwrite them all with the memory of my hair in the breeze, the scent of the sea and the sight of the stars through a cocoon of my own flesh.
When I wake up in two thousand years I will be soft and weak and free.
|# ¿ Jan 3, 2021 23:41|
|# ¿ May 18, 2022 13:37|
In, flash me
|# ¿ Jan 19, 2021 15:40|
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|
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.
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|
The metaphors are gone.
The sky seem very empty, now that the birds have disappeared.
|# ¿ Jan 27, 2021 13:55|
All the waves are gone, even the little ones.
|# ¿ Jan 27, 2021 18:15|
in and flash me.
The churches vanished overnight but the congregations remains.
|# ¿ Jan 27, 2021 23:05|
All of the cameras are gone.
|# ¿ Jan 28, 2021 23:14|
Oh yeah, signups are well and truly closed.
Let me know if you're interested in judging.
|# ¿ Jan 30, 2021 16:13|
Submissions are closed.
Now the judge
|# ¿ Feb 1, 2021 08:47|
THUNDERDOME WEEK 443 - RESULTS
Now, as you may or may not know, Thunderdome is traditionally judged by three judges each week. This week, though, none dared step up to the the plate with me and offer their fealty. A lesser judge would have begged assistance.
This week you get the mad, untempered tyranny of one man.
Let's start at the bottom.
The loser this week is toanoradian.
The dishonourable mentions go to Sperglord Firecock, Azza Bamboo and Idle Amalgam.
The honourable mentions go to flerp and brotherly.
This week's winner, ascending to the Blood Throne after only a short time away, is Yoruichi! All hail!
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2021 01:13|
Thunderdome - Week 443 - Crits
Brotherly - The Pipe in the Lake
Flash Rule: When was the last time you saw a plumber?
I think this is an effective use of your opening paragraphs. The rapid pace works in your favour; it’s clearly the precursor to the actual story and I found it evocative of the speed with which something formerly important can quickly become a memory.
That said, I’d like a little more subjectivity in the following paragraphs. It’s one thing to tell me that “the city stank - there was nothing to wash away the filth” but it doesn’t have much impact. Show me the filth; maybe some of the characters would dismiss it as just how things are now but Ellana is being portrayed as inquisitive and thoughtful and details like this being dropped in omnisciently come off as flat.
“Brightly colored wrap-shirts” - water for washing clothes but not the city? There’s room for a good metaphor there but as-is this feels more like an oversight.
“And nobody did a thing about it.” - I’m not going to tell you that you can’t start a sentence with ‘and’ but you risk feeling choppy and disconnected, as here. This sentence feels like an afterthought and it breaks the flow a bit.
I like the characterisation of the family members - it’s quick and efficient and feels very real. The interaction with Uncle Bunah is a sweet little scene, though I’m not sure how much it really adds to the story.
I was going to say something at the end of my notes about how I like your worldbuilding; you draw a melancholy sense of faded grandeur about the city. I’m going to mention it here because I just read the travel scenes and thought you did a good job of establishing scale. The sheer length of the aqueduct and what that implies about the former glory of the city is very effective.
And a strong ending!
Overall, I very much enjoyed your story. There was good worldbuilding and tone-setting and you crammed a lot of stuff into 1,500 words. You had a few too many “empty calorie” sentences, though, bits that felt crammed in or added as an afterthought. One of the closing lines, “probably from years and years of neglect”, is an example of this - I mean, you’re not wrong, but it’s a conclusion I think you could have let your readers draw themselves. You could have trimmed quite a few words, making the story leaner and more confident.
Sperglord Firecock - Onwards, Babel
Wow that’s some purple prose.
So I’m two paragraphs in and I sort of want to like the style you’re going for. It’s pretty dense and borders on impenetrable but if this is a story about the fall of the tower of Babel - and it might be, though I don’t know if my uncertainty is due to being early in the story or due to the language used - then that’s arguable appropriate.
So you didn’t take a flash but it’s clear as day what the “lost thing” is: words/common understanding/etc. That’s good! It’s a bold choice and you’ve made it clear what that choice was.
The problem is - as I think you’ve probably already guessed - that this is a fraction of an inch from crossing the line into impenetrable. That appropriateness I mentioned earlier? The goodwill that supported that sentiment vanished after paragraph … five? Maybe this was a bold artistic choice but it’s just not fun to read. It’s work.
The thing is, you’ve got the bones of a story there - the rediscovery of language, the coming together of two people who have to learn to communicate. That’s a solid core for a story and you’ve got the basis of a strong, emotive ending there too. But who cares about a skeleton buried at the bottom of a bog?
Prose should, if nothing else, be readable.
I’d be very interested in seeing you tackle this story again in plain language. As it is, I’m just puzzled why you would write anything like this. Proofreading issues aside (and there are a few), did you read this back to yourself as you were going along? Next time - and I genuinely hope there is a next time because I’ve seen far, far worse first attempts - please try that.
Azza Bamboo - In Awe
Flash: The churches vanished overnight but the congregations remain.
I very much like your choice of opening paragraphs/scene. It’s a strong place to start a story like this but it suffers a little for the prose. The first paragraph, for example, is very jerky - it has no flow. This is a bit of an issue throughout and could probably benefit from another proofreading pass - out loud, if need be.
Not a ton of action happens - which is completely fine - so let’s look at your characters. Stereotypical names aside (it doesn’t bother me too much; your luck might run out with other judges) we have Father, Mother, Sister and Jennifer. For 1,500 words that’s plenty but unfortunately there’s no clear viewpoint among them; the narrative camera drifts from Father to Sister to Jennifer then back to Father again to no clear effect. That’s a problem - it’s hard to tell who to care about. Pulling the viewpoint in tighter over one or two of them - say, just Father - would have made the throughline of the story feel a lot clearer.
To be honest, it’s a bit rich to even call Mother, Sister or Jennifer characters. There’s no depth to any of them - which, again, you can get away with in flash fiction but they can’t really support a viewpoint. They’d work fine as surfaces to bounce a fleshed-out character off of, much as you do with the man on the phone.
To be honest, everything involving the interaction between Sister and Jennifer is a waste of space. Nothing between “During this call …” and “... they went away” adds to the story. By my count that’s 367 words, over 20% of your limit, and all it does is make me dislike Sister (whimsical characters like this are a pet peeve).
If you’d stopped before the tildes I’d say you had a good ending. I think I get what you were going for with that final scene - a clear comparison between a traditional church and spin class, a church of personal fitness, etc. - but it came too late in the day. It’s a comparison that doesn’t really serve a purpose other than being clever. The final paragraph - a fund-raising bike ride that Sister is training for, I think? - comes out of nowhere. Seriously, the final line before the tildes was a serviceable final line.
You’ve got the roots of a good story there. You didn’t try to do too much with the wordcount (but then used a fair bit of it to no effect). You had an interesting take on the prompt and thought through the ramifications. You neatly avoided the trap of trying to explain why churches disappeared and you had honest-to-god themes running through the story. Plot holes (why did Sister know the cats were still there? Why did it matter?), stop-and-start sentence flow and waffle aside, you clearly have a good sense for story. Keep at it.
Yoruichi - gently caress you I’m not writing that whole title out
Well given you didn’t have a flash rule I went in wondering how clearly you’d lay out the “lost thing”. Didn’t expect you to just up and tell me it in the title.
So you’re giving us an unlikeable protagonist right off the bat. That’s a bold move but I must admit it’s effective; I want to keep reading to find out why Luke doesn’t just, you know, cremate his dad like you’re apparently supposed to? You’d better stick that landing later.
Oh gently caress you. “Except it wasn’t” shouldn’t hit so goddamn hard.
I am mildly conflicted. On the one hand, you made me feel An Emotion. You had clear prose, dark comedy and believable human behaviour. Your dialogue - though brief - was natural. You started with an unlikeable character and then made them a complicated character and ended with them as a sympathetic character.
On the other hand, I still don’t know why Luke was so reluctant to cremate him at the start. Were you trying to hint at his reluctance to let go? Could this story have been told without the lack of decomposition?
In the end, though, this story works and I'm going to be remembering it for a long, long time.
A friendly penguin - Nothing of Note
Flash: C Sharp? Now there's a note I haven't heard in a very long time.
You’ve got a strong opening that leaves me with questions and makes me want to keep reading to answer those questions. Good! You set a good tone - only, when you tell me that this is someone speaking on a livestream then the tone suddenly doesn’t fit as well. I can’t tell whether this is someone literally speaking into the camera or not.
A third of the way in and you’ve got a strong sense of character, clear motivation and a growing sense of foreboding. I both do and don’t want to see the end of this livestream. It’s very effective.
… until it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind cosmic horror being replaced with cosmic … joy? It’s a good twist, a good contrast, a good release of tension however you describe it. I just didn’t find it very satisfying, in the end. Simone becomes C♯ and spreads throughout the universe. Fine. So?
The intercut scene with Jessica and Jim falls a little flat (haha) in the same way. I think maybe I’m missing something with the final line from Jim?
You do a great job at setting tone, it just never seems to quite match the story. Turns out, that was a livestream, that was Simone literally talking into the camera - only, it doesn’t really read as convincing human speech. Human-approaching-omniscience, maybe, which is fair enough I guess.
This was a memorable story. I just wish I enjoyed it more.
Toanoradian - BLUE AMERICA 2050, by Father Benjamin Brady
Just straight-up telling me “Good had ceased to exist” is a bold move.
One paragraph in and I think maybe you meant “good writing”. Jesus - sorry, “Jeezy” - Christ.
Look, I like those Obama parody posts that went around a few years back. “You are now immune to rubella!”, climbing Obama to take back the air from all the Muslims who had gone to the Moon, they were funny! They were interesting! They were written well!
This is none of those three things. This is just lazy and edgy and tiresome. And going by the title, I guess you’re really trying to stress that this what the Conservative Christian right would have you believe and yeah, maybe. But I think even they’d be able to make this interesting.
Idle Amalgam - Lab Rats
Flash: The sharks are gone. We miss them.
I don’t dislike your opening (although “Jaws” should be capitalised) but it feels a little unconfident. Given the prompt, I don’t think you need to drive home that the sharks have disappeared. I similarly like the nod to the cultural mourning, though I don’t think it adds much to the story.
Your fourth paragraph is three-quarters just one sentence and that sentence is way too long.You’re also largely just repeating the paragraph before - which, again, comes off as unconfident. “Prevailing theory”, “natural timeline could be approximated” - you’re burying your point (the timeline) in unnecessary jargon.
Kudos to you for including something that’s disrupting the economy and actively endangering health in TYOOL 2021, though. I got a bitter laugh out of that.
The “division of ocean sciences” feels like an organisation that should be capitalised. It also feels a little phony. What is it a division of? A university? A government branch? NATO?
The proposal being accepted and Rebecca being picked up feels incredibly rushed. You could have avoided that entirely by cutting everything before she arrived at the lab and starting your story there. That’d give you ~350 extra words to use.
I’ll be blunt. I do not like the dialogue, particularly between Director Stevens and Doctor Barton. It reads as insincere rear end-kissing on the part of both parties and honestly just doesn’t sound that natural.
Look, I skimmed through the rest and found that absolutely nothing happened. You’re making artificial sharks, I think? That’s cool! That’s a really cool idea! You could have written a good story with it - instead, this ended up being a rushed, breathless preamble to a story that didn’t get written. The events of it boil down to: “The sharks are gone. The protagonist is taken to a secret lab and told how brilliant they are. The end.”
This was a tough one. Your enthusiasm for the story shines through and you clearly tried something ambitious - you just didn’t stick the landing. You do, however, get points for NOT revealing that the artificial shark needs human DNA to be complete and MAN is the real apex predator! I was dreading that from about halfway in.
Flerp - Get It
Flash: There was only one car left - now that’s gone too.
I appreciate opening with a strong, objective statement to set the scene.
Is this the week for complicated relationships with dads? Is this going to be the thing that people write whenever I judge?
I couldn’t really write notes paragraph-by-paragraph because there’s not a whole lot to comment on. You wrote good prose, natural dialogue and a bittersweet relationship (heavy on the bitter, light on the sweet) between the dead father and son. It feels contemplative and sad and slow.
You’ve written what I think is clearly an objectively good story. It just feels a little bit too safe, I guess. It doesn’t really have any bite and while I can appreciate the melancholic tone, I just don’t think this one is going to be one that sticks in my head. I wish I could be more constructive.
Noah - A Hunger
Flash: The sky seems very empty, now that the birds have disappeared.
This is very much a story of two halves. I spent the first half thinking it was all a bit hokey and corny and plodding. I spent the second half thinking very differently about the world you had built and the pace really took off (haha!).
The first half could have been condensed down a lot without really losing anything.
Locust swarms are goddamn horrifying and also a completely appropriate consequence for your prompt - nice thinking it through. It also fills in a fair bit of the backstory and worldbuilding retroactively - I would have liked to have seen it hinted at earlier, though. As it is, the threat just appears out of nowhere at the halfway mark. Only the fact that it is such an evocative and logical threat stops it from feeling contrived.
Do locust swarms have a queen? I have no clue. Would killing it disrupt the swarm? Again, no idea - although it seems a bit too Hollywood to be true. I can live with that, though, because it’s overshadowed by the disconnect between the first and second halves of the story. Logical or not, they just aren’t connected very securely. There’s no strong narrative through-line.
And I would very much like to know how he knows how to fly the plane, given he’s never even seen it fly. There could be a very good explanation - but unless I’m missing something, we don’t get that explanation.
I think this story was saved by the rich, weighty description of the locust swarm. I found it very evocative and very fun to read but - much like an old plane - there’s not much holding it together.
CaligulaKangaroo - Obscura
Flash: All of the cameras are gone.
Having worked in both retail and a call centre, I can absolutely believe the customer’s reaction in the face of an impossible world-wide event.
Look, “The Event” is definitely a bit of a wacky term. Drawing attention to that fact by having the character comment on how wacky it sounds just comes off as a bit insecure. The entire paragraph describing “The Event” comes off the same way; even without the prompt right there at the top, I think you would have benefited from being brief in your setup and rolling with it. The way you extrapolate the consequences of no cameras - the stock footage on TV, the issue with integrated webcams - would be a perfect way to reinforce and reiterate the message, while coming across as more confident.
“But certain life events made working from home important to her.” followed immediately by an illustration of what that life event is and why working from home is important to her. Again, this doesn’t need to be something that you hit the reader over the head with.
Seriously, what is it this week with people and difficult parental relationships?
I like the idea that Anna comes up with and I like that it doesn’t work - I can imagine the temptation to have had her find a loophole. I don’t hate the ending but it comes off as a little flat - the message/lesson/realisation in the final paragraph doesn’t really connect back to anything. There are a few things like throughout the story - hell, the mother is arguably one - that are just sort of … there for the sake of being there.
You could do with a proofread. “You someone who can take care of you”, etc.
Still, a sweet story.
Antivehicular - Thursday Night at the All Saints Zineworks
Flash rule: There is no more bad writing
Okay, this is a fun interpretation of the prompt. You set a direction and run with it and really dig into the implications of bad words rotting. I’m not going to try and put an expiry day on your story but there are a few points that stuck out.
Your characters feel flat. It’s a short wordcount, sure, but you could have done more. Laura is writing a novel and is hesitant about it. Jamie is tired and wants to feel like a “real” artist. There’s more there, there’s potential - but you stop just short of exploring it. Similarly, you set up the Zineworks but beyond a quick monk/monastery metaphor I don’t really get any sense for how it fits into the world.
This is another case of good, reliable words that don’t quite deliver on the promise of the premise. I want to know more about the characters, I want to know why they’re at the Zineworks, I want to know what drives their different views to the written word - and I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing for the story.
Well done for at least writing a story about someone writing a story and having it not come off as self-congratulatory.
Sebmojo - Birds without a tree
Flash: The metaphors are gone.
For 440 words you do a good job of capturing an air of quiet confusion. I suppose trying to describe that sense that something has changed, even if you can’t tell what, is a difficult thing to do even with metaphor available to you.
This is a difficult story to describe and not because of its length. It is small and complete and exactly itself - which, I suppose, is the point. ‘
Thranguy - Breaking the Wheel
Flash: Deja vu no more
Appropriately enough for a story involving time travel, I had some difficulty telling how your first few paragraphs tied together. The social media groups seemed to be a thing that had been going on for a long time, the disappearance of time travellers an occupational hazard that just gets people every now and then. But then you mention that deja vu doesn’t work since the fifteenth and the implication seems to be that that’s when everything changed, that the connections and so on sprang up in the aftermath.
I can’t really get much of a read on the protagonist, which is a shame. “I used to be psychic” is a great intro. It feels like you wanted to cram so much in - time travel and psychics and The Library and so on - that you didn’t have room left for character or plot. There’s so much setup - the rules of time travel, the mysterious Librari, etc. - that the payoff doesn’t have room to breathe.
I would have just liked to see somebody do something.
Gorka - Indentured
Took me a while to figure out that teeth had disappeared. Not a bad concept.
I have two concerns: clunky prose and a weak plot.
Let’s start with the prose. It’s clear, which is good, but it’s clunky and jumps around in time and viewpoint (“as Jack did just before”, for example) and is often in need of a proofread - “alleyway they were waiting into”, for example. It is also unnecessarily blunt - sentences like “Jack leaves the scene” read more like stage directions than anything else.
The dialogue just doesn’t sound natural. "We do not care for petty thieves. But I want to say that I hate being wasteful. You are the leader of this ragtag band, yes?" doesn’t read like a human speaks. Reading it out loud makes it pretty apparent.
The plot, meanwhile, is … well, it’s weak. It’s there, though - things happen. The gang ambushes and is then ambushed in turn. But if they robbed a guy’s dentures (which I read as false teeth; the sort that are removable) then is he really a “valued customer” of dental implant salesmen? Or were the gang ripping out (permanent) implants? Because that’s a significantly darker tone.
I thought this was an okay story that needed a few more revisions.
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2021 01:17|
In, dealer's choice of punk.
|# ¿ May 12, 2021 18:43|
Warp and Weft
1,704 / 1,984 words
Agnes took the soft, slow sigh of the shuttles weaving back and forth across the loom and wove it around herself, masking her footprints as she crept across the floor of the mill, scissors in hand. Eliza followed just behind, braiding shadows and moonlight to hide them both from the miller’s men. Their patrol had been full of ragged holes and easy to pass through, yet neither woman trod easily. The mill had made no small amount of coin weaving a new future for the town, even in the scant weeks it had been running. If they were found cutting their threads free there’d be hell to pay.
The loom was vast and ravenous, devouring the future to spin it anew. A thousand ensorcelled brass arms jerked at the strings of the town’s fate, pulling and plaiting them into sterile new patterns, regimented rows of dull grey that even the untrained, Giftless millworkers could interpret. Prosperity for all. Good harvests each year. Safety from violence and want.
Agnes and Eliza were neither untrained nor Giftless. They had skill and practice at weaving futures, decades of both. They had the wit to pick out the finer details of the weave, the paths of the individual threads that were lost in the grand design. A hundred threads brought prosperity to the town, yet a single thread snatched it all away. The harvest repeated year on year, always the same and always ending up in the miller’s stores. The thick borders of the weave hemmed it in, turning every thread back into the productive whole, making even the broad loom seem narrow.
“This is what they want?” Agnes’s fist clenched tight around the scissor’s handles, steel digging into flesh, and she struggled to contain the bitterness in her voice.
“It’s a solid weave,” Eliza said. “Plenty of it, too.”
“Why bother?” Agnes ran the tip of her scissors lightly over the threads as they passed. “A week’s the same as a year - look, see how it repeats? That’s not living.”
“It’s what people want,” Eliza said. “Certainty. Doesn’t look like it’ll fray, either.”
“They won’t let it fray, you mean.”
“People don’t want it to fray. They never have.”
“I know what people want!” Agnes snapped. “I’ve been weaving their futures for twenty drat years. They want love in a scarf, good health in swaddling clothes, it doesn’t matter - there’s not a fool alive who thought it’d last forever.”
“Because we couldn’t make it last,” Eliza said. She placed a hand on Agnes’s shoulder and when Agnes turned, Eliza’s cheeks ran wet with silent tears. “A few strands here and there, woven together in a kitchen by candlelight - how could it last?”
She stepped closer to the loom, her own scissors in hand, and gestured to the weave. Their threads were plain to see, vibrant and alive in Agnes’s eyes. They’d been so close to start with and now ran far apart, pulled away by magic and brass. Eliza touched her scissors to Agnes’s thread and Agnes felt her future shudder. She braced herself.
Eliza was frozen in the moonlight.
“What happens next?” she whispered. “Once we’re free.”
“We leave,” Agnes said. “We leave and we never look back. I’ve friends in Manchester -”
“There’s a mill going up in Manchester,” Eliza said softly. “Heard it from a coach driver.”
“Sheffield, then,” Agnes said. “Leeds. Anywhere, Liz, anywhere as long as we’re together.”
“And how long until there’s a mill in Sheffield and Leeds and everywhere else?” Eliza drew the blade away from the weave and Agnes’s stomach clenched. “How long until there’s a mill for all of England?”
“Then we’ll cut our way free again,” Agnes said, her pulse quickening. “As many times as it takes, Liz, but we have to do it quickly.”
She moved forwards, raising her scissors, but Eliza stepped into her path and pulled her close. When she spoke, her face buried in Agnes’s shoulder, her voice was muffled by cloth and by fresh tears.
“Then our future’s set regardless,” she said. “They’ll hire more guards, build better locks - one day we won’t be able to cut our threads loose in time.”
“Then there’s fire,” Agnes said, “We can break it all apart, let the whole mill burn.”
Eliza’s sobs turned to choked laughter. “You’d follow after Ned Ludd? Take a hammer to it all?”
“Ned had the right idea.” Agnes pulled back from Eliza slightly, tipped the woman’s chin up to meet her gaze. “He wove his own future. He fought -”
“He died,” Eliza said. The laughter was gone now. “They wove him into their design and broke him on his own spinning wheel. There’s no future we can weave that they can’t unpick. The two of us against that - “ She jerked her head over her shoulder towards the ever-active loom. “- will never be enough.”
“Then we won’t do it alone,” Agnes said. “The town -”
“The town?” Eliza’s tone grew colder still. “The town welcomed the mill in, Agnes. Jobs and prosperity and certainty for all and that’s before it took over their future. You saw the mayor’s thread in there?”
“Aye,” Agnes said. She felt the fire die back down in her chest. “A long life and a large family.”
“Bought and paid for.”
“So what do we do?” Agnes shook her head. “If we can’t run and we can’t fight, what do we do, Liz? Grow old and grey spinning out thankless days for ourselves until the loom crushes us both?”
“I don’t know,” Eliza said. She turned her eyes down and Agnes felt her heart break at the sight and the soft, scared admission.
Agnes watched the bronze arms clatter away, the shuttles pulling the thick thread of the weft back and forth across its width. Each row of pattern laid down secured the future a little tighter, drawing it close over the town. She could feel it in the air, feel the weight of it. Eventually it would grow heavy enough to crush them both.
“We could turn the loom against the mill, then,” Agnes said. Her words were slow and unsteady and she felt Eliza flinch away from them. “Change the pattern, turn the town away and -”
“You’d do that?” Eliza spoke as though from a great distance. “Bind an entire town to your will? Rob them of their futures? Take any choice from them, just to keep us together?”
Agnes felt it then, an unravelling between her and Eliza. The other woman must have felt it too, as her face turned grey and she let out a low, keening cry that cut through the veil of silence around them. Agnes immediately pulled her close, steel scissors clattering to the floor. They wrapped their arms around each other with the desperation of drowning women but the distance remained.
The weight of the loom’s weave settled heavier and heavier.
“Do we have a choice?” Agnes pushed back against the future with a focus of will, drawing Eliza’s thread to her.
“I don’t know,” Eliza gasped through blubbering tears. “That’s all I ever wanted. I just wanted to be able to choose you. I never wove my own future, I didn’t care, just as long as you didn’t leave.”
“Never,” Agnes said.
She looked back to the loom. A thousand threads pulled tight together, secure against fraying as each thread reinforced the next. Regimented. Ordered. There was so much that they could do together - so much she could bring to being, with the loom’s help. If the town just did what she wanted -
She felt Eliza’s thread draw further away. That wasn’t a future she cared to weave - and if she couldn’t weave that future for them, then there was no future she could weave. And if there there was no future they could weave -
“Hey,” she said softly. She let go, stooping to pick up the scissors from the floor. Eliza looked at her, uncertain.
“Help me with this,” Agnes said. Eliza shied away but Agnes reached out, placed a palm on her shoulder, and smiled. It hurt to see Eliza hesitate but slowly she relented, following as Agnes turned to the loom once more. Before Eliza could stop her - before Agnes could stop herself - she cut the closest thread free from the loom. Then the next. And the next. Eliza joined in, the snip of the scissors joining the shuttles and the brass arms, the cut threads dangling and dancing below them, the future unspooling.
“They’ll just start again,” Eliza said when they were done. The row of threads hung loose across the loom.
“They’ll have to wait for us to finish, first,” Agnes said. She reached for her thread and Eliza’s and pulled them together, shivering with the sensation of it. The braid she used was the simplest she knew, tying the two into a single strand, joined in fate but without order or pattern; she laid out no future except togetherness.
“They can pick the two of us apart,” Eliza said, but Agnes felt the strength in her voice and watched as Eliza drew another thread and then another, picking up on her intentions with the easy familiarity of a decade together.
Together, the two women wove thread after thread together, braiding them around the core of their own two threads. The future grew, bulky and strong and formless, the town’s future drawn together and then left without purpose or design. Each thread strengthened its neighbours and its neighbours’ neighbours and by the time they were done, Agnes would have struggled to see where her own work ended and Eliza’s began. Now the loom sagged under the weight of the future that it still spun out, brass arms tugging in vain and making tortured squealing sounds.
The two women sat in the dark of the mill and watched the future churn on, unknowable in its formless potential. When the miller arrived in the morning to inspect their prized possession, they would find a loom cracked and broken by the braided rope of the town’s destiny, a thousand lives united in formless potential that would continue to spool and spool beyond the mill’s control.
And at its core, two vibrant threads coiled around one another, forever.
|# ¿ May 16, 2021 22:21|
|# ¿ May 28, 2021 14:03|
The Silent Island
“Kenner ye disco?”
The old woman at the docks hisses the question at you, her body hunched over and her eyes scanning your group. When you answer - if you answer - she flinches at your words. With a lick of her lips and a quick scan of the treeline behind her, she questions you again.
“Kenner ye the rolling stones?”
You have landed on the Silent Island. The narrow strip of sand before you marks the only safe harbor, the rest of the island being raised far up out of the water, a shard of earth slanting into the sky. The beach shows signs of recent landings; footprints and long furrows of scuffed sand stretch up above the tideline, disappearing into the trees ahead.
You are met on the beach by Ranka, a woman who seems to be in her 70s - though hard living may exaggerate her age - and dresses in old, mouldering rags. She flinches when spoken to, scans the treeline non-stop, and uses a halting, uncertain voice peppered with a stunted, warped vocabulary.
A month ago, a dozen individuals calling themselves the Conservatory came to the Silent Island, hoping to bargain with its spirits for inspiration in song and verse. Ranka wants them off the island by whatever means you care to use. If you help, she promises to guide you to a secret cache of old world tech.
The Silent Island is a semi-mythical location that just about every travelling storyteller and tavern drunk knows of. There are countless variations to its tale but they all have a common theme: spirit-granted lyrical talent, paid for with one’s own voice.
“I bid you stop and hear my tale
That nature does abhor
An island where the spirits sing
And winter preys no more”
Trying to find the island is a task in itself; it always seems to be two islands over, the exact location known to a friend of a cousin of the person whose drink you had to pay for to hear the telling.
“... and when the fella stops singing, see, he looks down and finds that the handsome lad is gone, right, and there’s just all these bones …”
Follow those threads for long enough, though, and you will arrive in a small fishing port with a major problem: the port chief’s daughter has disappeared, along with his fishing boat, in the arms of a travelling bard. Eyewitnesses report that the boat was last seen heading straight for the fogbank that sits on the horizon and is said to shroud the Silent Island - a cursed place where travellers should not go.
“Everyone knows it’s called that because it steals your voice. Duh.”
The port chief can pay in fuel and food and ship repairs if you’ll just bring back their fishing boat or their daughter. Preferably both.
A plate of rock tilted out of the ocean, one end of the Silent Island rises high above the waves while the other runs down into the water. The island is always summer-warm, regardless of the time of year, and permanently humid. A temperate rainforest covers 90% of the island’s surface, with only the highest end left bare. If you arrive during the day, you will see smoke rise from that bare part of the island; arrive at night and you will instead see the light of a solitary campfire.
Mist covers the island in an ever-shifting veil. This makes navigating the Forest a difficult task; the best that newcomers to the island might achieve is to head uphill to the bare tip of the island or downhill to the beach. Anyone spending any significant amount of time in the forest will run across the museshrooms, as well as plenty of edible vegetation, small animals and freshwater springs.
Buried in the middle of the island is the Temple; almost impossible to find without the aid of a proper guide, this rusted iron door is blocked behind a large boulder. Move the boulder and you will find that the door opens with a little effort. Only Ranka knows its location.
The Camp sits at the highest point of the island, looking down over the forest to the beach and the sea. A small circle of a dozen tents - some hide, some fur, some woven from branches - arranged around a smoking campfire, the camp is inhabited by the members of the Conservatory. A careful observer will notice that there are more tents than people and that the Conservatory members enter the forest in ones and twos to fetch fresh firewood.
Ranka lives in a small hut at the top of the beach and was - until recently - the island’s sole inhabitant. She is visibly uncomfortable around other people and absolutely terrified of music - anyone who sings or performs in her presence will have a hard time getting her to trust them again. Her desperate plea for you to get the Conservatory off of the island is genuine, though she will be light on the details - referring only to “buriedsome things that must be buriedsome”. The only new item of clothing she has is a pair of sturdy leather boots - she will refuse to discuss how she came by them, though they are noticeably similar to those worn by the Conservatory members.
Ranka can be bartered with for information about herself and the island. She responds favourably to items of food or clothing, revealing that:
Ranka will not spend any more time around you than absolutely necessary. If you can prove that you have removed the Conservatory from the island, Ranka will guide you to the Temple.
Lizbeth is the port chief’s daughter and one of the inhabitants of the camp. Captivated by the charisma of the Conservatory’s leader, Emmaline, Lizbeth has spent her time on the island gorging on museshrooms in the belief that this will lead to visions and inspiration. Her goal is to aid Emmaline in her attempts to commune with the spirits of the island and she is wholeheartedly devoted in her efforts. She will not abandon Emmaline without being directly and openly betrayed. If engaged in conversation, Lizbeth will struggle to remember some words and substitute in other words at random, seemingly without noticing.
Emmaline is the leader of the Conservatory, a charismatic cult leader and a talented vocal performer/travelling bard. Emmaline has spent their time on the island trying to push their followers - including Lizbeth - to achieve communion with the spirits and be inspired to greater musical heights. They are convinced that if they can figure out how it works they can repeat the process and go from talented to legendary - but they have heard the rumours of the Silent Island and are not willing to risk their voice if they can get someone else to risk theirs instead. Emmaline will sell out their followers if their life is truly threatened - however, they are a talented fighter in their own right and will fight to the death if cornered.
The followers in the Conservatory have spent their time on the island fetching firewood, hunting for food and water and eating museshrooms in greater and greater quantities. They are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and are close to abandoning their leader. If they do not achieve results within another day they can be persuaded to leave the island voluntarily, especially if promised passage back to port. They are a varied group in a fight, having strength only in numbers and prioritising their own escape if too badly hurt.
The museshrooms are flat, fleshy, wrinkled masses that grow in the forest. Appearing somewhat like oyster mushrooms, they grow directly from the ground and are ordinarily grey. However, closer investigation will reveal that they are not actually fungi and playing music in their vicinity - humming, singing, performing on an instrument - will cause them to ripple and pulse with blue-green light. They have a very mild earthy taste if eaten and no obvious immediate effect - however, repeated consumption will result in a form of mild (and then increasingly severe) aphasia, speech morphing uncontrollably into old world song lyrics. This would normally take years of consumption and so you are unlikely to experience this unless - like Lizbeth - you gorge yourself.
If not convinced to stop eating the museshrooms, Lizbeth will start to show more severe symptoms of aphasia within the next few days. Emmaline may be more easily convinced to give up and leave the island once this occurs, especially if you can rally the followers around that idea.
The fishing boat is not present on the island, though there are traces of it on the beach and Ranka will admit having seen the Conservatory arrive in it. It will return in three days, carrying a further six followers. These followers are high-spirited and will not abandon Emmaline’s cause without direct instructions from them or - possibly - being convinced to leave by Lizbeth. Lizbeth knows that the boat will return “soon”, though has no further information, while Emmaline knows when to expect it back. It will take at least two people to pilot the boat back to port.
If you can convince Ranka that you have successfully removed the Conservatory from the island, they will lead you to the Temple. You will have to clear away the boulder blocking the entrance yourself but once inside you will find an antechamber to an old world research facility. The antechamber contains useful old world technology that can be sold on - lanterns, medicines and so forth - as well as a large, secure door leading further into the facility. This is locked, though the access panel appears to still work.
If you return the fishing boat to the port, you will receive all the repairs, refueling and resupplying your own vessel could possibly need. If you return Lizbeth, you will be an honoured guest for the rest of your days.
If you do nothing, Lizbeth will continue to gorge herself on museshrooms. Her increasingly severe aphasia will - without outside interference - be interpreted by Emmaline as spirit-inspired brilliance and the Conservatory will devolve into a fully-fledged cult, drawing more members to the island. Over time they will explore more of the forest, eventually locating and entering the Temple. They will remove the contents of the antechamber but be unable to pass the secured door.
If, in your future travels, you locate the means to unlock or bypass the door, you may return and delve further into the facility. Inside, you will discover the BCR - Biostorage Cultural Repository. This is an attempt to preserve pre-apocalypse media using biological storage mediums - the museshrooms, which have long since escaped the facility and spread throughout the island, mutated by the decaying reactor below the facility which is heating the island. To the right buyer, this technology - and the media stored in it - could be priceless.
That is, unless the museshrooms escape the island and enter the local food chain …
|# ¿ May 31, 2021 00:21|
In, flash me.
|# ¿ Jun 1, 2021 09:42|
773 / 900 words
On a hot, humid day in the middle of January, with the ragged squares of the reflective panels that orbit the equator just visible to the south and the waves lapping at the side of the mountain road, an owl flies out of the bushes, past my head, and craps on what may well be the last Pontiac Firebird on the planet.
Carl laughs so hard he drops his hoe amidst the gnawed stalks of the field. I use my own to try and hit the owl away and almost get the blighter - until a wad of mud catches me in the side of the head.
“Leave it, man,” Carl says, wiping his hand on his overalls and tears from his cheeks.
“Did you see what it did?” I gesture at the owl, which has perched atop the car and is now staring at us, eyes wide as though shocked to see humans. Depending on how old it is, we may well be the first it’s come across.
“Poor thing’s just confused,” Carl says. “With the weather and all, probably can’t tell up from down.”
“Well it’s got that in common with the potatoes. I thought they were supposed to be easy to grow?”
“Of course you did.” Carl sighs and I can feel my cheeks flush, even through the heat of the day. “I think that’s more the rats’ fault, don’t you?”
As if on cue, a dark shape scurries through a gap in the crops. The tip of my hoe impacts the earth a second too late and the shape disappears, squeaking, into the undergrowth. Carl’s hoe slams into the earth a second after that, sticking point-down in the dirt.
The owl watches, wide-eyed.
An uncharacteristic flash of anger lights up Carl’s face for a moment and is then lost again, stolen away by the heat and the humidity.
“I’m starting to think we should have gone up on an ark like everyone else.”
Guilt tugs at my heart and I turn away, reaching for Carl’s hoe so he can’t see the conflict writ large across my face. I know it’s just my mind playing tricks, know that he never wanted to go into cryo - but still, I was the one who suggested we stay. Just me, Carl and ten thousand other fools who’d rather live out their days on Terra Infirma.
“No rats up there,” I joke, still not looking at him. That means locking eyes with the owl, who cocks their head slightly at my gaze.
It’s not technically true - there’s everything in the arks, everything that ever was Earth, and that includes plenty of flash-frozen rodentia - but Carl, for once, doesn’t press the point. Instead he just sighs and takes the hoe back from me.
“No beaches,” he says, “no weather, no seasons …”
“Not like this bracing winter, eh?” I jerk my thumb towards the sun burning up the horizon. A shadow in the field twitches; my hoe disappears into the stalks but the scampering sounds that scatter around us tell me it doesn’t hit true.
“A rose by any other name, you know?” Carl shrugs. “It’s January. It’s winter.”
“It’s thirty whole degrees!”
“Okay, it’s a warm winter.” A smile creases his face. “I’ll let the rats know not to expect any snow.”
“I’ll miss that,” I say. “Snow. Worth it, though. To see things out to the end here.”
It’s not the end, though. Not really. I know that intellectually but I’ve yet to feel it take root in my soul or my gut. Too many years of documentaries and drama and desperation centred on how humans will make it in this strange new world - and then, how we wouldn’t. How we’d flee.
“Think it’s winter on the arks, then?” I struggle to keep my tone light.
“No,” Carl says flatly. “It’ll be cold and dark but it won’t be winter. Not until they actually find somewhere to land. Can’t have winter without spring after it.”
“Then if this -” I gesture around us. “- is winter, what’s spring?”
“I don’t know.” Carl shrugs. “Maybe it won’t be spring for us. Maybe it’ll be spring for the rats, eventually.”
A blur of feathers shoots between us, crashing into the field. Moments later, the owl lurches into the air, a large rat slack in its talons. The owl circles back around and lands on the roof of the Firebird with an audible thunk. It locks eyes with me for a second before tearing into its meal. I look away as the owl makes a mess of the windshield for a second time.
“Or maybe not,” Carl says weakly.
|# ¿ Jun 6, 2021 22:46|
A RNG gave me 21 - Calling My Phone - Lil Tjay Featuring 6LACK. It's fine, I guess.
|# ¿ Jun 9, 2021 17:34|
Calling My Phone
Lil Tjay Featuring 6LACK
951 / 1,000 words
It takes us three days to track down the source of the muffled vibrations rattling through the house. Jenn is this close to calling someone out to make sure our microfusion plant isn’t on the fritz when I find it, buzzing away behind a box full of old Christmas hololights in the attic. Chunky, plastic and still - after over 5 decades - holding a scrap of charge. The first phone I ever bought, with a voicemail left by -
Jenn’s face sets in a stony grimace that even I - in the middle of a rush of nostalgia and without my glasses - can see.
“That Bill Simms?”
“Simmons.” I fumble at the phone for a moment - leaving a thumbprint smeared across the screen before I remember that it has keys - and navigate the interface by some long-buried memory. When I find the right entry I select it, the rubber-covered tactile click familiar and alien all at once. Jenn peers at the screen.
“That doesn’t say Simmons.”
I look down at the screen and feel my cheeks flush.
“Okay, so, funny story, this one time when he brought this girl back to the dorm, he -”
“I can guess.” The disgust rolls off of each word that Jenn says. “This before or after he broke your leg?”
“Before.” My leg twinges, resonating with the memory. “But really, I broke it. Fell off a lamppost.”
“That he dared you to climb?”
“Well sure, but he did it too. Well, he was going to but then he had to call an ambulance for me …”
A memory bubbles to the surface of my mind. Bill hadn’t called the ambulance - he’d run. I’d called the ambulance - hell, I could probably scroll back through the list of old calls on the phone and find it.
“Besides,” I say, clearing my throat, “that’s all water under the bridge. I haven’t seen Bill in years - hell, not since that time in Vegas. You know, where -”
“- where I had to come pick you up with a change of clothes and pay for a hotel room that looked like a tornado hit it?”
“Yeah. That one.” The phone suddenly seems so much heavier in my hands. “But what a night! Couldn’t do it again, not now.” My stomach churns at the thought.
“You spent two days after that shuffling around like a zombie. I never did meet Bill then either.”
“Well he had to leave early,” I say. “He had a …”
I rack my brains. A flight? No, he had been staying in town for … something. There was always something. A scheme or a job or a party or something. Always a reason to leave just before the night ended or the bill turned up. But he’s always good for a laugh and a wild night and I’ve known him for …
God, fifty years? Really? And Vegas was back in -
“That was before Sophie was born,” I say quietly. “Remember, the summer we were doing up the spare room?”
“I remember that,” Jenn says, her lips twitching into a smile. “You thought the baby would want glitter stars on the ceiling.”
“I saw a video on Youtube,” I say, shrugging. “I’m still vacuuming up glitter twenty years on, I’ve done my penance.”
The phone rattles in my hand, taking us both by surprise. The voicemail icon is still there, blocky black pixels on a fuzzy grey screen.
“What do you think he needs?”
I stare down at the phone.
“He might just want to talk,” I say. “You know, catch up. Maybe he’s in town.”
“Maybe.” Jenn smiles weakly and lays a hand on my arm. I cover it with my own and squeeze gently.
“You wouldn’t mind?”
Jenn looks at me for a long moment; when she answers, she deflates a little.
“No,” she says. “But I’m not bailing you out or picking you up again.”
“You wouldn’t -”
I bite my tongue and think back; back to blurry memories and hungover stupors. To picking up the tab. Always. To a dozen different get rich quick schemes in a week. I’m pretty sure there’s a case of those weird herbal energy drinks kicking about in the attic, even now.
I heft the phone in my hand. Why had Bill rung it? A phone I hadn’t used in decades, even as a backup. One I’d forgotten even existed. Was it because it was the only number he had for me now or was it something simpler - was it just what Bill always did? After all, I always answered back then.
Usually regretted it, though.
The phone buzzes again, insistent. The rumbler catches on something inside the case, harsh and scratching instead of the usual soft rumble. My oldest phone, still lurching on, full of texts and calls older than my children. A reminder of a shallow sort of nostalgia - the sort you only want to stick a toe into. The sort with sharp rocks at the bottom. There was a time when my whole life had revolved around that chunk of plastic. I wouldn’t have known what to do without it.
I’ve grown up a bit since then.
It takes me a moment and both hands to pry the back off the phone, the thin shell brittle and faded. The battery is a matte black block that weighs more than my current phone; I pry it out and the screen dies, the voicemail icon fading away into the grey background. I drop the phone and battery into the box of hololights and shove it back against the wall, disturbing the cobwebs for the second time that day.
I take Jenn’s hand in mine and don’t look back at the settling dust.
|# ¿ Jun 13, 2021 23:19|
In, flash me. Dealer's choice of genre.
|# ¿ Jun 15, 2021 17:25|
Tea for Two
1,079 / 1,100 words
To Picnic Beneath Toadstools
On the first day of spring, as the rest of the village cowered behind spidersilk curtains in the toadstools that ringed the village green, Gnorri the gnome laid a trap of barleybread, scones and aromatic tea. He laid the feast along a low wooden table, which sagged beneath the weight of the steaming loaves and fat, speckled scones, and brewed the tea in a copper pot five times his size. The steam it gave off smelled of chamomile and mint and he was careful to always stay upwind of it. When the last plate was placed, he tucked his butter knife - honed to a wicked edge - in the pocket of his apron.
At midday, just as invited, Ivor Redscale dropped into the forest with a predator’s silent grace, his broad wingspan throwing the village into shade. Muffled cries came from a few of the toadstools but Gnorri ignored them, staring up at the towering dragon and throwing his arms out wide.
“Mighty Redscale,” he cried, “I welcome you back again!”
Smoke twisted from Ivor’s nostrils and he dipped his head low, down beneath the toadstools, to peer at the gnome.
“Aah, Gnorri,” he rumbled, “I see you now! Why have you not fled, hmm? You’ll never win, you know.”
“Mighty Redscale, I promise that this year - this year, after so many years - I’ll satisfy your appetite.”
The dragon laughed low in his chest, the rumble reverberating out across the forest floor and sending the smaller animals into a terrified flight.
“Brave words, master gnome, brave words! And speaking of words, you have my own: satisfy me and I shall bother you nevermore. Shall we start with the bread?”
Without waiting for permission, Ivor snaked out his tongue to wrap gently around the closest barleybread loaf. When it disappeared into his mouth, his great jaws not needing to chew so small a morsel, Gnorri heard a hushed murmur from the watching villagers.
“Delicious,” Ivor said, his nostrils flaring. “Almonds, I think?”
“Something like that,” Gnorri said, chuckling. “But I hardly think one would satisfy you - have another.” The weight of the knife in his apron felt as though it would pull him flat on his face.
Ivor didn’t seem to notice, his tongue darting out again and again in quick succession, each time pulling another loaf of steaming barleybread into his mouth. When the final one disappeared, a sigh went around the village.
“Satisfied yet?” Gnorri swept his hand across the table, which still strained under the weight of the scones. “There’s more, if you can stomach it.”
“Truly, you’ve outdone yourself,” Ivor said, his tongue flicking out as if to taste the memory of the devoured bread. “That subtle taste - why, it reminds me of a wine that they brew in the city of Kharsh, far to the south of here.”
Gnorri smiled and nodded as Ivor broke into a gentle, lyrical recollection of the months he had spent in the temples and hills of Kharsh, the dragon’s eyes glazing over and his voice echoing off of the toadstools. Where twitching curtains had filled each window, there was soon a comical pattern of gnome ears pressed flat against the glass.
“A mighty fine tale,” Gnorri said when Ivor’s voice faded. “Alas, I have never ventured so far from home, though you certainly tempt me. Perhaps when I do not have to spend the year foraging and baking …”
“Perhaps,” Ivor said, dipping his head. “Perhaps I ...”
The dragon trailed off and soon an awkward silence gripped the pair, broken only when the gnome sniffed and gestured towards the table.
“The scones then. Chessenroot and lavender with bramble jam, if you please.”
Ivor pushed his head down through the toadstools, bringing his snout to rest only inches from Gnorri’s face. The heat that the dragon radiated brought an instant shower of sweat to the gnome’s brow.
“There are those,” the dragon rumbled, “who believe chessenroot to be poison to my kind, you know.”
“How dreadful,” Gnorri gasped, not daring to reach up and wipe his brow, “I had no idea!”
“Hmm, I am sure,” Ivor said, his eyes locked on Gnorri. “After all, it is not native to these parts. Why, you would have to go to such great lengths to even find a trader who could provide it …”
Gnorri’s palms itched and inched their way towards the pocket of his apron.
“... let alone know the proper way to prepare it.”
He shoved his hand inside the pocket of his apron, grasping for the shard of metal no larger than the dragon’s smallest tooth, but Ivor was quicker - he brought his almighty jaws down on the wooden table in a terrible smashing motion, chewing down scone and jam and wood as well. Gnorri was knocked back by the force of the impact and could only watch as Ivor turned and swallowed the urn of tea in one gulp, flame licking from between his teeth and smoke flaring from his nostrils as he melted and swallowed the copper.
“It is a lie, of course,” Ivor said when he had drunk his fill. “A lie we dragons spread quite deliberately; chessenroot is no more poison to us than cyanide or slumbermint tea.”
He brought his head down towards Gnorri, down and down, turning to stare at the gnome with one enormous eye, pressing it closer and closer until Gnorri could only see himself reflected in the black of the dragon’s iris, close enough to touch. The knife in his hand glinted in the dragon’s eye.
“But,” the dragon whispered, “it is delicious.”
The two of them stayed that way for several heartbeats, frozen in time. All Gnorri could see of Ivor was the mirror-sheen of his iris and he wondered what, if anything, the dragon could see of him in return.
Then Ivor laughed, flames tickling the wreckage of the table, and Gnorri couldn’t help but laugh too, a deep belly chuckle that grew and grew alongside the dragon’s snorting roar. When it seemed he could laugh no more, Ivor launched himself into the air with a single beat of his wings. Gnorri’s reflection raced away from him in a heartbeat, leaving him staring up at the silhouette of Ivor Redscale against the noon sky.
“Better luck next year, Gnorri!” the dragon cried down.
“Next year, bring a bottle of that wine!” Gnorri replied, cupping his hands to be heard.
The dragon’s laugh echoed long after he was gone.
|# ¿ Jun 20, 2021 22:53|
Thunderdome Week 464: Time Capsules
A passing interest of mine is internet archaeology; digging up content from the distant, hazy past of 10-20 years ago when the web was a very different place. As you may have noticed, the new admins of SA recently revealed a cache of old images hosted on the now-defunct WaffleImages hosting site in the late 2000s. You can dig in further in the dedicated thread here where you can load images at random.
(Obligatory warning: there's NSFW content on there, not to mention stuff that either hasn't aged well or was unacceptable at the time. I wouldn't browse it at work.)
This week, you are going to write me a story about time capsules. You can interpret that narrowly or loosely - I don't demand a literal keepsakes-buried-under-town-hall time capsule but there should be a recovered artifact from the past at the centre of your story.
However, you are also going to be given a flash rule image taken from the aforementioned WaffleImages cache. This is taken at random but filtered by me for the aforementioned NSFW/etc. content. If you aren't happy with your selection you can reroll up to two times but each reroll will knock 100 words off of your max word count. You only ever have to use your most recently rolled image. To repeat: I assign the image.
Max Word Count: 1200 words (but see above)
Deadline for entry: Friday Midnight PDT / Saturday 8AM BST
Deadline for submission: Sunday Midnight PDT / Monday 8AM BST
Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:16 on Jun 27, 2021
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 19:54|
Why yes, in
Staggy fucked around with this message at 21:34 on Jun 22, 2021
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 20:07|
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 20:20|
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 20:32|
First time for everything.
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 20:47|
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 21:33|
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2021 22:01|
|# ¿ Jun 23, 2021 07:11|
gently caress it, there's a first time for everything. In.
|# ¿ Jun 23, 2021 20:49|
Signups are closed!
You can still re-roll but keep in mind how the delay of waiting for me to notice and respond cuts into your remaining writing time.
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2021 11:18|
It has come to my attention that I messed up the deadlines in my original post. This has now been fixed but to clarify: you now have a little under 19 hours to submit as of this post.
|# ¿ Jun 27, 2021 12:17|
Submissions are closed!
sparksbloom, Idle Amalgam and sebmojo - as always, I crit redemptions.
|# ¿ Jun 28, 2021 08:33|
WEEK 464 RESULTS
Wow you lot really wanted to write some bleak poo poo, huh?
Still, not a bad week at all! My fabulous co-judge Black Griffon and I were in pretty solid agreement at the top of the scale; after that, we were a bit more divided. Let's get to it.
Starting with the Loss, this week it's ZearothK and their story, Like the Lion Eats the Antilope.
The Dishonourable Mentions go to Chernobyl Princess and Taletel.
The Honourable Mentions are awarded to Antivehicular, Ironic Twist and My Shark Waifuu.
And finally, ascending to the Blood Throne with a unanimously agreed Win, all hail flerp, writer of The Pull of the Moon! Long may they reign!
|# ¿ Jun 29, 2021 08:00|
Thunderdome - Week 464 - Crits
CitizenKeen - Denric and the Knife
What a shame that you edited your post.
You’ve told me several times in the first two paragraphs that the cavern is (a) big, (b) cold, (c) dark (although the ruins are still visible?). I’d have preferred that you told me (or showed me) once. Otherwise, good establishment of key points: lost knife, cave, motivation.
If Velra being his (former) sister-in-law doesn’t become relevant later, it didn’t need to be included. Same with the caste system, really. In a story this short, you have to be ruthlessly efficient with worldbuilding.
Smooth. Climbing. Climb. The floor was smooth. No traction. Not a floor for fleeing. Okay.
“... even he … even among …” - repeating “even” too close together feels awkward.
Oh, they’re rats.
I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a twist or not; it’s not really supported before the mention of Denric’s tail (maybe the twitching nose) so it’s unexpected but at the same time the revelation doesn’t really add much to the story beyond “oh that’s how the flash rule gets worked in”.
I think the biggest issues here are (a) insufficient confidence, leading to (b) bloat. Have the confidence to tell/show me, once, what the setting looks like. Have the confidence that if you tell me something (that the floor is smooth) I’ll remember it, especially in a story of 1,200 words. Have the confidence to turn around and go “yeah they’re rats, deal with it” right from the start. You have a decent enough story arc - have the confidence not to pad it out with unnecessary worldbuilding.
And don’t edit your posts.
Ironic Twist - Statuesque
I really like that opening line. I like the opening paragraphs in general; that’s some good, efficient scene-setting. “Water ice” took me out of it a bit but on googling, I’m not going to begrudge you some local slang.
And now they’ve got smartphones? I am intrigued.
It’s a good sign that I got through the rest of the story without any more notes.
If I was being particularly nit-picky, I might say that Galette’s motivation for selling out the town isn’t particularly clear. I might also say that I wasn’t 100% certain on whether it was the local water or a special formula or the two together that prolonged life/etc.
All in all, though, it’s a good story with efficient scene-setting that lets implication fill in a lot of the backstory. I like it.
Chili - Hole Out
Everything up to the start of the letter is interesting but at 362 words out of what I know is 975, I can’t help but feel you didn’t need all of this. It actually is a bittersweet scene but I feel like it belongs in a longer story - which is strange, considering you had another ~200 words to spare.
I think there’s a typo in the line about Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
After that, I’m not really sure what the point of the story was. There’s nothing wrong with a little introspection and the story is technically sound - I enjoyed ending on the letter and the lemon lollipop - but it feels a little vague and generic. It could stand to be tighter.
It feels like a respectable first draft and the core of a good second draft.
Yoruichi - My Grandmother
You have a strong opening sentence/paragraph and build on it successfully.
Ultimately this ends up being a bittersweet little character piece that is very competently told but not particularly exciting or memorable. It feels intimate and emotive and resonant, just to no particular purpose.
One question I keep coming back to is, would this work without the flash rule? If I didn’t know that this was based on a psychedelic print, would the language be confusing or appropriately dreamlike? I’m not sure.
Your prose is beautiful but I think this time the story feels a little lacking.
Drone - Nothing of Value was Gained
Your opening paragraph(s) isn’t as gripping as it could be. “The last remnant of human civilization” certainly sounds grand and monumental but some specificity here would have really helped. We learn it’s a data package in pretty short order, sure, the significance is diluted when the work of cataloguing everything so far is glossed over so quickly.
After that, you get a bit bogged down with adjectives. If the Unit is isolated and we’re just in their head, how is their wondering “secret”? “Mused wistfully” is a bit clichéd, while “momentarily lost” is followed too closely by “absently called up” - it starts to feel clunky.
As for the story itself, you’ve got a very clear delineation at the halfway point. Half your wordcount is spent on a slow build up and then it veers instantly into existential terror and what is essentially death for the protagonist. It’s sudden and could have been put to good effect but here it just feels like a rushed ending, a pity when you’re comfortably within the wordcount. If you’d shown me more about Unit as a character, maybe examples of how their archiving work has led them to develop actual character, in the first half, then the second half wouldn’t have felt as jarring.
You had a good concept here but could have benefited from a stronger buildup.
Chairchucker - Pete
Now this is a swaggering, confident setup for a bizarre setting. I really like your use of longer sentences - it gives a good conversation tone, perfect for a couple of schoolkids. That said, some of the dialogue is a little clunky.
“Those sarcophagi we passed were obviously not actual pharaohs, but servants, or maybe just nobles” - see, like that.
After your opening, the sentence structure gets a little bit too matter-of-fact for my liking. “There, they found there was some damage, and a makeshift entry. They lowered themselves into the spaceship using a rope, and started to explore. Omar was the one who found the pod.” reads like a kid’s essay for what they did on their summer holidays. I realise that may be what you’re going for here but it gets grating to read pretty quickly.
The ending wasn’t great - it felt rushed. I get the humour you were going for but it fell flat. Not terrible, just … eh. You took a gamble, it didn’t pay off.
Chernobyl Princess - Snake
Your opening dialogue is a little stiff, not helped by the near-identical structure of the first three lines. I’m not saying nobody speaks like that but there are a few lines that would benefit from being read out loud.
I’m going to skip now to the main issue I found with the rest of the story: 90% of it didn’t need to be included. Scene setting is fine in a novel or novella but you don’t have room in 1,200 words to talk about playing Mario Kart or bicker about the weather or going to the toilet if none of those things are relevant to the story. The scene change doesn’t add anything; you could have told the entire story, nearly beat for beat, in the line for the vending machine.
It’s a decent concept for a story, though I think the tone shift between Jurassic Park jokes and a man having his face eaten with locusts summoned by Moses’s staff is not great. The priests come off as extras from The Davinci Code and the main cast are pretty 2D themselves.
I like what you were trying to do but what I wanted was a story and what I got was 90% prologue. Good effort, next time trim it down to the bones.
Simply Simon - Shackled Soul
You throw quite a few proper nouns at the reader in quite a short period of time; Void, Souls, Academy, Souldier. It’s the curse of worldbuilding in short fiction but you could probably cut a couple without issue and make the story more readable - Souldier is a nice pun but is it necessary?
You have an interesting setting here, though, and I immediately want to know more. The issue is that, like a few stories this week, it feels like a whole lot of setup and a second half that rushes through some key information that comes way too late. Like the Tyrant or the fact that he was an unkillable threat rather than just a cruel leader or the leap from vague “use the Force” mysticism to clones and body-hopping.
You pull no punches with your story; it’s a bleak ending but one that serves to highlight the strength and drive of the protagonist. It’s a pity you only had 1,200 words to play with; I’d like to see this character developed. Altogether, not a bad story - just one in need of a few tweaks.
Flerp - The Pull of the Moon
Look, I’m not sure what to say here. You wrote a drat good story.
I feel like that’s an unfair way to leave things; not fair to you, because everyone deserves to get feedback that is hopefully useful, and not fair to me, because I deserve to benefit from critting a very good story as much as from critting some not so good stories. So here goes.
You have a strong first line. I think that’s probably obvious to anyone who reads it but let’s get technical here - it is a short, definitive statement that sets that tone of the story and invites immediate speculation followed by an immediate desire to keep reading in search of an answer. You never actually give that answer and your story is stronger for it.
Can I nitpick? It took me a couple of re-reads to realise that Papa was the grandfather rather than the father. Make of that what you will.
Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.
My Shark Waifuu - A Gift for Grandpa
Getting increasingly meta here - I like that.
But come the gently caress on, “Saint Elon”?
gently caress, that ending. You are forgiven for your sins.
So, let’s review: a decidedly unsubtle attempt at pandering to the judge, a very meta story and some cringeworthy references to current tech/pop culture. It has a solid story arc, good characterisation and ends in a line that made me laugh far harder than I am proud to admit. A few cheesy lines, sure, and it’s not got a ton of depth, but it feels earnest and was fun to read.
ZearothK - Like the Lion Eats the Antilope
Ok, all dialogue? Bold choice.
The problem you run into is needing lines like “that’s why we’re meeting in this derelict subway” to set the scene. People don’t talk like that and if you’re going to write a fully dialogue-based story (there is probably a Smart Person term for this) then you need to write convincing dialogue.
And you keep doing it, is the problem. “We took the free trial of Heaven together, remember?”
Look, I like a good, schlocky technopapacy as much as the next guy but here it just feels slapdash. You have a decent concept and I’ll even say that the ending sort of works for me. It’s just that I get the impression you came up with the final line and worked your way backwards to get there. The all-dialogue section feels appropriately “street corner preacher” but that doesn’t necessarily make it fun to read.
That said, I would absolutely listen to a concept album based on this or spray-paint it on the side of my van.
Azza Bamboo - The Mother of Potatoes
Spud guns and the quest for a better potato isn’t something that I’d expected to read but here we are.
I think with a topic like that, it’s easy to fall into “lolrandom” territory, shoring up weaknesses of plot with nonsensical events/motivations/etc. For the most part, you avoided that deftly - the tone was strange, sure, but consistent.
You’ve got a few details here and there that you could probably trim - things like the description (or even name) of the horse or the ruined village that the plot (and the characters) literally circumvent. They just don’t add anything.
And then we come to the ending. This is where your tone teeters and wobbles and falls the wrong side of the bizarre/wacky line. It feels forced, like you just wanted to wrap the story up and be done with it - and hey, I’ve been there! It’s just that it deflates what tension remained and that final line … there’s a story out there where that final line could work but this wasn’t it.
At the risk of sounding like I’m giving a backhanded compliment, I do enjoy reading stories with the swagger to say “ok, this is going to get weird - deal with it”. You just need to stick the landing.
T a s t e - To Hodson
The archives may curse you for your recursive quotes but I forgive you (because it’s not my problem!).
You took a gamble with the format and the nested epistolary style but I think it paid off; each layer of the narrative adds extra tension and builds nicely on what came before. The core concept isn’t terribly original but the execution, I think, is proof that that doesn’t matter.
I did find myself slightly puzzled by the reasoning of Stephen in the second half of their letter; to summarise, “I have purposely sent you this cursed image because maybe it won’t curse you” is a bit of a stretch and could have been replaced with something stronger.
If I have one criticism of the execution, it’s this line: “No amount of familiarity with that wall had prepared me to see Stephen’s horrified face staring out of it.” It feels a little cheap, a little too close to “and then a skeleton popped out!” to be satisfying.
Still a very memorable story.
Rohan - Voted Most Likely to Survive the Apocalypse
Help, I’m drowning in References!
Seriously, though, you could have cut half the references and some of the less clear lines (e.g. “if the beef was fed pure testosterone and the cake was thrown into a volcano.”) and had something a lot more readable.
Now, strip all that away and what you have is a decently paced and described action sequence with a resolution that feels appropriate, if a little clichéd. You maintain a consistent tone and you cram a lot into only 1,195 words.
You have something here that doesn’t crumble when you strip away the references and puns and whatnot - I just don’t feel like those things were needed to such a degree in the first place.
Tuyop - The Cats Keep Blowing Up
I really don’t know what to make of this.
You mix incredibly bleak characters/situations with an absurd premise in a way that doesn’t quite mesh, for me. I guess I’d want to know: why? What was the aim here?
Your prose is solid and the descriptions of the cat are quite lovely. You could have cut the first paragraph as-is and removed the second with only a little effort and had a tighter read. You could have lightened the tone significantly and not lost the weight of what the characters are going through.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t humour; the absurdity of feline gigantism alone, the line “or the Jews (James left that tab quickly)”, “Chloe, you’re not allowed to be as large as a horse”, etc. I would have liked to see more of that.
Thranguy - Perilous
Look, if you want to write two paragraphs that seem to be solidly this-is-regular-Earth fiction and then swerve immediately into what I think is Jane Carter of Mars (except I also wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a dream at first or a videogame or something else entirely) then that is your prerogative. But do your reader a favour and explain a little more or transition a little slower because this was jarring enough to take me out of the story.
After that? Good prose and believable dialogue. Nothing spectacular or particularly memorable but proof you know what you’re doing at a sentence level. The story just sort of … happens but it could be worse.
Antivehicular - Scavenging a Dream
A solid story told well.
Whenever I get to scene breaks in a TD story I get nervous as it’s easy to bite off more than the word count will allow. I think you found a good balance, though. More than anything else, I thought your characters read as believably human, with understandable motivations at cross-purposes and logically consistent actions. That’s hard to do, imo, and the mark of someone who knows what they’re doing.
And who doesn’t love a feel-good story about pets? The crew deciding to stick their pets into cryo at the end, that’s the sort of story we want to believe.
I don’t know how memorable this story is. Will I remember it a month from now? I’m not sure. It’s good and has a human heart to it but lacks a certain spark. That’s the only thing holding it back from a win.
Weltlich - The Fog
Man, I just keep getting these bleak stories this week, huh?
You run the risk, mentioned above, of chopping a small wordcount into multiple scenes that are individually too brief to be effective. Again, I think you handled it well; the snapshot feel of each scene adds to the effect of drifting in and out of awareness. The different scenes are suitably varied, such that they don’t feel repetitive or gimmicky.
That said, the whole story feels a little flat, like not much really happens. I appreciate that this is arguably a situation where nothing much can happen, where the feeling of being trapped with only brief periods of breaking free is the point - but it still means that I got to the end and wasn’t satisfied. Even a hint of change, of recovery, would have been enough and you could have trimmed the aquarium scene a little to buy yourself a few lines of wordcount.
I know I said at the top that this feels bleak but I’ll give you this: it doesn’t feel maudlin. That’s a tricky line to walk but you managed it.
Taletel - Red in tooth and claw
Your first three sentences don’t work for me. Specifically, the third sentence “Well, almost like any other day”. If you’re going to immediately contradict your first sentence (which is a perfectly valid technique) this feels like a very half-hearted way to do it, like you’re apologising to the reader as you say it.
Your preamble scene is clichéd but mercifully brief. It could be briefer, though. You could set the whole scene in a few sentences; as it is, this feels meandering.
Your depiction of the proctor torturing the human feels mean-spirited and unnecessarily gory. Gore is fine in the right circumstances but, as I said, this feels unnecessary - it serves little purpose beyond establishing the proctor as cartoonishly evil. I know that dolphins are notoriously sadistic and if you’d shown me animalistic cruelty - the proctor batting the human around, playing with it - it would be a bit more believable.
After that, there’s not much of a story I’m afraid. Most of the dialogue just feels like an infodump and the only change - the hint of empathy from Kos - comes too late in the day. It doesn’t feel earned. It feels rushed.
You had some good ideas here but this needed another few drafts.
|# ¿ Jun 29, 2021 08:05|
|# ¿ Jun 30, 2021 22:36|
Flash rule: https://cfa.org/laperm/
The Wizard’s Dilemma
964 / 1000 words
Daverim of the Fifth Order, Midnight Sage and master of the mystic arts, burned dragon bones and mountain root and spoke words of power into the resulting flames. Eventually, a response came: the image of Archmage Arune, Scion of the Second circle, blossomed in the fire. The two wizards stared at each other from across the planes and the universe held its breath, awaiting the words of wisdom that they would exchange.
“gently caress me, Dave,” intoned Arune, “what happened to your face?”
“So you noticed?” Daverim rubbed his jaw, his fingers scratching through the sparse copper hairs that clung to his pale skin. “Like, it’s properly obvious?”
“You look like someone shaved a boar with their eyes shut,” Arune said. “Who’d you piss off to get cursed like that? You had a proper Merlin going on when I last saw you.”
“Oh please,” Daverim sneered, “like I’d let someone curse me. I did this myself.”
Arune took a deep breath. Then, in a voice that could - and had - called the stars from the sky and riddled with Father Time himself, he asked the Ultimate Question.
“Well I had to look presentable for the King, didn’t I?” Daverim snapped back. “I was just going to tidy up but then I took a bit too much off the left. So I tried to even it out but I took too much off the right and then - look, I couldn’t walk into a royal court with a face like a baby’s arse, could I? So I did something about it.”
“What spell did you use?” The sound of shuffling paper came through the crackling flames. “And why can’t you just use the backup?”
“I am not using the backup,” Daverim said, his eyes narrowing. “Street performers use the backup. Magicians use the backup. I’ve been summoned to the court of King Zebediah the Radiant to be congratulated on saving the Holy City from rampaging fire demons, not performing a kid’s birthday party.”
A heavy sigh echoed through the fire. “What spell, Dave?”
Daverim looked away from the fire and replied in a low voice. “Tabitha’s Tumultuous Tangles.”
“Tabi - really?” The flames leapt and snarled. “Gods, Dave, that’s for livestock! Not to mention it takes two months and your fur - sorry, hair - comes back curly! A curly beard, Dave, is that what you wanted? You’d be better off clean-shaven.”
“Well I was going to comb it, obviously,” Dave snapped back. “And I tried to speed it up with some crystallised eternity.”
“Well I feel a few years older but that’s about it.”
“Serves you right,” Arune said, sniggering.
“Yeah, yeah, you gonna help me or not?”
“Keep your hair on -” Another snigger. “- it says here you can speed it up with pixie spit. Get a good dollop in there, really rub it in.”
“I’m fresh out of pixie spit.”
“Well how long do you -”
“I’m supposed to be there in five minutes.”
At this news, the flames leapt almost to the ceiling of the ritual chamber, snarling against the stone blocks and sending a flurry of air whipping through the books and scrolls that lay scattered across the floor. In one corner Cafa, Daverim’s tabby familiar, stretched out a paw and yawned before burrowing into a tighter curl.
“Ok, ok, fine,” Arune said at last. “Fine. You got powdered mandrake?”
“Yeah,” Daverim muttered.
“And leviathan blood?”
“Well what you’ll want to do is mix them into a thick paste; it substitutes for pixie spit but only lasts a day or so. Should get you through the party or reception or whatever the King has planned.”
Daverim drew in a deep breath. The shadows lengthened and ice crystals grew across the floor; even the fire’s movements seemed to grow sluggish.
“Ron,” Daverim said, his breath misting the air in front of him, “listen to me. I am not going in front of the King smelling of leviathan blood like … like some sort of common alchemist!”
“Then throw some perfume on!” Arune’s voice - and his clear tone of exasperation - was unaffected by the slowly solidifying fire. “Gods, Dave, it’s fine.”
“They’ll think it’s incense, you know what royals are like.”
“It’s undignified!” Daverim spat and now his spittle was white-hot, melting the stone floor of the firepit. “It is beneath me, beneath the office I hold, beneath the vows I -”
“Do you want to go clean-shaven?”
“Do you want to use the leviathan blood?”
“No, absolutely not!”
“Then you know what you have to do.” Arune’s image folded its arms; his gaze drifted to the side. Daverim couldn’t see what his friend was looking at but he knew all the same. His own eyes drifted to the backup where it hung on the back of the chamber door, taunting him. Mocking what he had become.
“I can’t,” Daverim stammered, “I - I won’t.”
Now it was Arune’s words that turned icy: “Choose.”
“Wonderful, Master Daverim, simply wonderful! You are a true credit to your calling!”
King Zebediah laughed and gestured wildly with his goblet, speckling wine across the tablecloth. Most of the guests tittered and laughed along, their eyes never straying from the royal at the head of the table. Around them, the grand feast carried on in full force.
Daverim simply nodded his head and played his part, stroking his fingers through the long, thick tresses of his beard. It ran down past his belt and was almost unbelievably white. When people looked to him, they looked to the beard. He was the very picture of a powerful wizard.
He just hoped nobody spotted the way the hole didn’t quite line up with his mouth or the thin string that looped around each ear. Gods, he hated the backup.
It was so itchy.
|# ¿ Jul 4, 2021 22:32|
|# ¿ May 18, 2022 13:37|
Week 466 - Birds that threaten you with a good time
This week you're going to write me a feel-good or upbeat story that will be inspired by a bird with a threatening aura.
Because I like birds, gimmick twitter accounts and feeling good about the world, you see.
You can either provide your own image of a bird with a threatening aura or let a judge choose; I'll be drawing from https://twitter.com/AurasBirds/media and you can too, though other judges may not and you don't have to. You must state what you are doing in your signup post though. If you choose the image, your max wordcount is 1000. If a judge chooses, your max wordcount is 1200.
The judge(s) will try not to assign duplicate images but if you want to choose one that somebody else has already chosen/been assigned, you may do so.
How upbeat? Well I'm not looking for forced positivity or saccharine sweetness but I do want to enjoy reading your story and maybe come away from it with a smile on my face. No bird death.
How inspired? Your story doesn't have to feature an actual bird but, as always, there should be a clear line between the image and the story.
Max Word Count: 1000 words (your choice of bird) / 1200 words (judge choice of bird)
Deadline for entry: Friday Midnight PDT / Saturday 8AM BST
Deadline for submission: Sunday Midnight PDT / Monday 8AM BST
When submitting your story, please post your image (as an image, not a twitter embed) above your story
Staggy fucked around with this message at 21:43 on Jul 8, 2021
|# ¿ Jul 6, 2021 07:22|