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Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

I'm in.


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

1199 words


“Why is it so hot?” Jameson moaned, wrapping his Baltimore flag over his head to shield himself from the sun. “And why did we park so far away?”

“Parking’s cheaper up here,” Tony said for the millionth time, sorting through his signs.

“Did you bring water?” Candace asked, digging through her purse. “I only brought one bottle. I also didn’t think we were going to walk for an hour before we got to the counter-protest site.”

Tony shrugged. “Not my fault you two decided to wear wool in a DC summer. We can only hope the Tea Party idiots are suffering the same as you.”

“This is linen, thanks,” Jameson said. “And no, I didn’t bring water. I figured I’d buy some when we got here.”

“You’ve got a bag the size of a ship and you didn’t bring water?” Candace shook her head. “Whatever. The National Cathedral has a gift shop, we can pick some up there.”

In a way the friendly argument was comforting. Facebook groups and their Warcraft guild had kept them in contact when they’d left for different colleges. Candace was satisfied to know their friendship was unchanged in person.

The Cathedral was full of priests, all speaking different languages and looking excited. Candace figured a convention must be in town. At least they were all Catholics, which meant there was no line for the women’s room. The line at the vending machine was longer.

When Candace emerged, waters in hand, she saw Jameson tying his flag to an old stick.

“It was just outside the door.” he said as they set off again. “Makes a perfect flag pole.” He waved it back and forth as he marched. “TAX MAN BAD! GUN MAN GOOD!”

His friends laughed at his imitation of the Tea-Party yokels. Tony had a few extra signs and they spent much of the long, sweaty walk to the counter-protest thinking up slogans of varying pithiness.

Ultimately both protest and counter-protest were dull. There were cops, there was some shouting back and forth, but any real drama occurred far away from the trio. All agreed on the walk back that it was a fun experience, and they should probably do more hands-on activism when they went back to their schools.

None of them noticed the increased police presence around the Cathedral.

Jameson’s parents had a pool, so that’s where they hung out, even if the rain forced them into the basement. The boys played Mario Kart while Candace plotted out a map for their next D&D session. She frowned at her notes. “Will Sheena be pissed if I kill her cleric?”

“No,” Tony said without looking up. “But are you prepared for the Deinonychus Druid she keeps threatening to play?”

“Are you kidding? I can crib half a dozen Jurassic Park dungeons from the Internet.”

“Clever girl,” Jameson said. Then he swore as Tony’s character zipped past for the win.

Candace leaned back and glanced out the sliding glass door that led to the backyard and the pool. “Rain’s stopped. We can go back out if y’all are done.”

“Sounds good.”

As Candace stood, her chair knocked against the flag pole from last week’s counterprotest. It knocked over a box of art supplies which knocked over Tony’s coke, all while making an absolutely hellacious racket.

“Are you okay?” Jameson grabbed a towel and started mopping up the spill.

“Yeah,” Candace said, straightening the books. “Just bonked your stick.”

“That’s what she said,” Tony muttered as he gathered the art supplies. “Nothing broke though, right?”

“Nah.” Candace picked up the flag. The stick was a little taller than she was, more a staff, really. She held the staff before her in imitation of Charlton Heston. “The crayons needed to be freed. Let my people go!”

Her friends' laughs became screams as the staff in Candace’s hand abruptly transformed into a massive cobra.

Candace dropped it and it collapsed to the floor. The boys leaped onto the couch, trying to climb up the wall, swearing and clutching at one another.

It hissed again, then looked back at Candace, still frozen in fear. It tasted the air, then folded its hood and slithered underneath the couch.

Gradually the screaming stopped. Fear faded to a practical numbness. Candace found a flashlight and looked under the couch.

“What’s it doing?” Jameson whispered.

“It’s not there,” Candace said, shoulders sagging. “It went in the vent.” She stood up. Walked toward the steps. “I’m calling animal control.”

A knock on the glass door interrupted them. Outside were three men wearing clerical collars. One was smiling The other two looked grim.

“Hi,” the smiling one said. “You’re not in trouble, we’re just looking for our property.”

The three exchanged glances. Any time someone started with the phrase “you’re not in trouble” they were lying.

“What property?” Jameson asked. “We didn’t take anything.”

The smiling priest chuckled warmly. The grim ones moved closer. “The staff you picked up at the Cathedral. We have security camera footage of you taking it.”

Candace continued up the staircase. The priests were focused on the boys, maybe they couldn’t see her. A hiss made her spin. The snake was coiled at the top of the steps, looking at her with beady, intelligent eyes.

“Can you just…” Candace hissed back, waving her hands. “Be a stick again? Please?”

It lifted its head and nodded. Suddenly the snake was gone and the staff was back. Candace shivered, this was too weird.

Shouting in the basement. “We don’t have it!” Tony yelled. “We’re telling the truth!”

“Did you throw it away?” The voices were inside now. “Where? We could still recover it.”

Jameson growled. “No, you idiot. It turned into a loving snake and ran away!”

Silence. Candace waited, listening and clutching the staff, unsure of what to do.

The priest sighed. “Then be glad, for you have witnessed a miracle. Your souls will be redeemed by this, I’m sure.”

Two loud pops followed by two heavy thuds. Candace had never heard silenced gunfire at close range outside of a video game. She didn’t want to understand what that meant. She couldn’t feel it, couldn’t hear it, it hadn’t happened…

“There was a girl,” the smiling priest said. “She must have the staff. Take her alive, if possible. If not, the staff of Moses is our first priority.”

Fury, raw and boiling filled her. She fought it, these people had guns, these people had resources. All she had was…

...The staff of Moses.

Candace looked at the stick.. She’d been Episcopalian once, she remembered some things. One of the grim men turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and stopped dead, the staff pointed at his nose.

“For you,” Candace snarled. “A personal plague of locusts.”

The man screamed, his head suddenly engulfed by a swarm of biting insects. They tore at his face, burrowing. Chewing.

Candace ran. Jamesons parents were lying on the couch, dead or asleep, she didn’t stop to check. She leaped into her car and sped away, the stick thrown carelessly in the back seat with the rest of her junk from college.

She’d be running for the rest of her life.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

In for dog

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Getting Over It, 973 words

Three weeks after the breakup I was still lying on my couch every moment I wasn’t at work. I realized I was everything my ex had accused me of being: colorless. Dull. A stifling waste of space. Carmen had brought life into my too-orderly world. She was my reason to wake up early and exercise and shave my legs and put on makeup and do literally anything other than the barest minimum. I was lost without her. I picked up my phone and started another text, trying hard to ignore the wall of previous texts I’d sent, all marked read with no reply.

Hey. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. It’s really lonely here without you. I miss you. I miss you so, so much. Peaky misses you too. I wish you were here. I know we ended things, but do you think you could come over? Just tonight? Just for dinner? We could order from that sushi place you like

A clatter from the kitchen made me wince. Peaky had his head shoved into the bottom of his food bowl and was pushing it around the floor while whining. His nightly dinner-time ritual.

“I didn’t even want a dog,” I grumbled under my breath as I scooped his food. His water dish was empty. I carried it over to the sink and realized that to refill it I’d have to address the pile of dishes that had built up beneath the faucet.

I leaned against the counter for a moment as a wave of loneliness swept through me. The dishes had been a constant fight between us. Carmen always said she just couldn’t “see” mess. I always told her that was bullshit. But there I was, with three days of dishes built up in my sink while she updated her Insta with pics of her out at brunch with the friends she’d refused to introduce me to. It was all falling apart without her. Just like she’d said it would.

“Better to be a mess than a boring mess,” she’d snapped at me once. I clenched my fists.

Peaky whined at my feet, dragging me out of my memory hole. “Sorry, little guy.” I moved some things around and put his food and water down. He attacked his dinner while I cleaned the dishes, scattering kibble everywhere. He treated meals like a full-contact sport, chasing down every particle that fell out of his bowl and licking the floor for good measure.

I glanced back at my messages. Jesus, I sounded pathetic. The breakup had been mutual. She didn’t want to live like me, but I didn’t want to live like her either. Why was I pining for something that I didn’t even want? I should set the record straight.

This has been hard for me. I’m sure it’s been hard for you. We were together for years, but this really is for the best, I know that. We’re just incompatible. You never wanted to settle down and I was never going to be able to fulfill whatever instagrammer van-life poverty tourism lifestyle you clearly wanted. Seriously, Car, we’re in our thirties, this poo poo has to end at some point

I gripped my phone again, shoulders tense as Peaky started barking and scratching at the back door.

“If we’re going to get a dog,” I’d said to Carmen as we drove to the shelter, “let’s get a big, silent dog that has a big, fuckoff bark when it finally speaks.” And so of course Carmen fell in love with this twelve pound, yappy little poo poo that needed hours and hours of activity per day. And of course, Carmen only had the energy for that when it was time to take pictures.

I let Peaky outside, where he took off after a squirrel. It sat in a tree above him, furiously chittering while he barked and hopped around beneath it. The squirrel’s righteous outrage was the funniest thing I’d seen in weeks. Peaky abandoned the squirrel and grabbed a squeaky toy which he pushed against my leg, wagging his tail so hard he threatened to leave the earth.

I tossed the toy for Peaky. He raced after it, yapping, rolling over top of it before starting to try to rip the squeaker out. I looked around the once-flat yard, now pockmarked with holes dug up by my little dog. I realized I hadn’t been cleaning up after him all that well. And I hadn’t been walking him as much as I should. That was embarrassing. Letting my kitchen get messy was one thing, neglecting this little dog was unforgivable. I grabbed the scoop and cleaned up the yard, pausing every so often to throw his toy for him.

Back inside I glanced at the message in progress. I didn’t sound less pathetic, I sounded pathetic and angry. That wasn’t better. Maybe I just needed a distraction. Peaky jumped up on the couch beside me and rested his head in my lap, I petted him absently while scrolling through Instagram.

Carmen had posted a story of herself and Peaky running through a park, the glittery text read “LOVE THIS LITTLE GUY!!!” I remembered that video. I remembered recording it. It was from months ago. I remembered that walk.. She wouldn’t even hold his leash until it was time for me to record her acting cute, and then she’d handed him back to me straight away.

She never cared about him. Maybe she’d never cared about me either. We were just props in her life. We were just extras to help move her story forward.

gently caress that. I couldn’t deny being boring, but I knew that Peaky deserved better. I closed the app and deleted her number. I was done with this.

“Come on,” I said, grabbing his leash. “Let’s go for a walk, buddy.”

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

I'm in, word please!

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

1481 words
Secret word: GAMBLER

Something weird was happening at Global Bioscience. Jared could feel it just under the surface, like deja vu, whenever he walked past the locked double-doors of the back lab, where only senior techs were permitted to go. When he tried to talk about his misgivings with his family, he found that he simply couldn’t.

“It’s bizarre,” he told Arjun and Tamara, the members of his team he was closest with while they sipped beers at a local happy hour after work. “I started talking and just… couldn’t remember what I was talking about.”

Tamara looked skeptical, but Arjun nodded, slowly. “I had something similar,” he said. “It’s like I can’t retain any information about what happened at work unless I’m talking directly to a coworker.”

“You shouldn’t be doing that anyway,” Tamara said primly. “We signed an NDA.”

“Never had an NDA cause a migraine when I tried to tell my wife what happened at work,” Arjun said. “And… well, this project we’re working on…”

“It gives you the heebie jeebies, doesn’t it?” Jared leaned forward, tapping the table. “I tried asking what we’re working on and Dr. Clay brushes me off every time. He just laughed and said we were ‘doing important work,’ whatever that means.”

Arjun said “Bad lab management. But hey, the pay is great, isn’t it?”

“And the tissues we’re working with,” Jared said, as if Arjun hadn’t spoken. Tamara rolled her eyes at him, but he pressed on. “I checked to see what cell lines they were from and hit an immediate dead end. There’s no ordering data from any of the usual places. It’s not mouse spleen or CHO or chicken egg. I can’t tell what it is.”

“We’re making a monoclonal antibody,” Tamara said. “We’re preparing the growth medium. That’s it.”

“Sure, and how many MABs have this level of secrecy, huh? How many don’t leave any records for, like, FDA inspections?”

Tamara sighed. “Look, Dr. Clay never locks his door when he leaves. I can run a sample through the gene sequencer if you want me to.”

Three days later Tamara appeared by his desk, waving a stack of reports. “Jared,” she hissed. “You were right. This is super weird.”

He swivelled around and looked over the sequencing report. “I, uh… what am I looking at here?”

“It’s definitely blood, there’s definitely genetic material involved. But it’s also definitely not human.”

“So what is it?”

Tamara shrugged with her entire upper body, hands wide, eyes wide. “No clue! It’s not cat, rat, dog, or monkey blood either. And then I ran out of time in the sequencing lab.” She looked around. “Where’s Arjun? He’s going to want to see this.”

Arjun never showed up to work that day, but he arrived at the weekly happy hour looking sallow, scared, his eyes hollow in a way Jared associated with soldiers returning from war.

“It’s worse and weirder than you think,” he said, white-knuckles lifting his whiskey to his mouth. “I got into the back lab. The restricted lab. And it…” Arjun pressed the heel of his hand into his forehead, wincing. “There’s a door there. Built into bedrock. I can’t…” He downed the rest of his drink.

“You can’t talk about it,” Jared said, grimly. “Just like we can’t talk about work with family. Something’s preventing it.”

“And it comes from the back lab,” Arjun said, shutting his eyes against the agony in his skull, pain chopping his words into brief, grunting phrases. “From the gateway. You need a keycard to get in.”

Jared and Tamara traded a wide-eyed stare. “What gateway?”

Arjun just groaned and sank his head into his hands. “God my head hurts. I can’t talk about it anymore. Talk about something else, maybe it’ll fade.”

Tamara launched into a description of her nephew’s fifth birthday party and the eternal drama between her sister-in-laws. Jared tried to throw in a few anecdotes and questions of his own, but was unable to stop thinking about what was behind those doors. He could feel obsession setting in, an all-too-familiar drive to know, to gamble his entire career against his curiosity.

Eventually he resorted to swiping a keycard from one of the senior techs. It caused a bit of a commotion, but everyone just assumed she’d misplaced it somewhere in her desk, not that it was stolen. Jared decided to wait until late on a Friday night to try it, when everyone who might know his face and recognize he didn’t belong was gone for the weekend. This required very little subterfuge on his part, just quick waves to coworkers and an explanation that he had work to catch up on. Once the clock struck eight, he headed to the doors of the back lab, trying hard not to look suspicious, formulating excuses in his mind in case he was caught on security cameras.

The doors swung open, revealing another, larger laboratory space, identical to the one in which Jared worked.

Except his lab lacked a massive, glowing portal in the far wall. Eldritch symbols pulsed with an eerie, green light around the perimeter, and the entire room was filled with a faint thrumming sound. An airlock was built into the portal, like something from a hospital, or maybe from a space station.

Jared stared. The door wasn’t just unreal. It was deeply, uncomfortably familiar. He walked toward the portal in a dreamlike trance. His keycard allowed him to pass into the airlock, which cycled and released him into a dark tunnel, lit by strands of red LEDs along the ceiling and walls. There were more symbols on the walls, as well as signs written in several different languages.


“What the gently caress,” Jared whispered. “What the actual gently caress?”

He did not want to be shot. He didn’t know what “void” meant but he was pretty sure he didn’t want that either. But something was pulling him in, a tow cable attached somewhere just beneath his sternum. Despite the warnings, despite the lessons learned from watching countless horror movies, he found himself putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to follow the red lights.

Eventually the corridor opened into a larger space, a roughly circular cavern from which more corridors extended. A pair of massive, glowing crystals in the same shifting colors as the lights dominated the room. Their presence was so awe inspiring, and like everything else, so damnably familiar that Jared didn’t notice he wasn’t alone until the man stood up. Jared froze in place, eyes wide, as his boss approached him.

“Wonderful to see you, Jared,” Dr. Clay said, smiling warmly.

Jared stared. The man’s white lab coat clashed with this dark, occult space like toothpaste and orange juice. Some aspect of Jared’s mind simply didn’t want to accept it. “What is this place?”

Dr. Clay sighed and gestured for Jared to follow him down one of the tunnels. “A containment facility. You’ve realized by now, of course, that magic is real. It’s also extremely dangerous. Which is why your work is so important.”

Jared hurried after him, staring at the doors that lined the walls. “The antibody? What does it do?”

Dr. Clay reached a cart that contained several vials of a black substance. “It binds to receptors that mediate the ability to manipulate magic. It turns all the magic off. It allows us, regular humans, to stay the dominant species on this planet.”

“This is insane,” Jared said. “This must just be a dream.”

“It isn’t.”

Jared looked at one of the signs on the wall. “Are you going to shoot me now? Have I seen to much?”

“No. But you do have a choice to make. You’ve made it down here, you have the right amount of curiosity to overcome the pain of the NDA you signed. You can take this opportunity, get promoted, learn a bit of magic. Or you can leave. We’ll wipe your memories, and you’ll go back to your lab. Again.”

Jared thought this over for several seconds before he twigged to the tone of Dr. Clay’s voice on the final word. “Again?”

The doctor smiled. “Jared, this will be the third time you’ve made this journey in the past year. You’re remarkably dedicated. I very much hope you’ll choose to stay with us. But if not…” Dr. Clay shrugged expansively. “You’re good enough at your job. But I do hope this time you’ll see the value of joining us.”

Jared pressed his palms to his forehead. This made sense. It shouldn’t make sense. This was insanity. But the thin doctor’s words clicked into place with such a familiar rhythm. The tunnels were familiar. The crystals were familiar. He’d been here before and been made to forget.

He didn’t want to forget again. He took a deep breath, his mouth dry.

“I’m in.”

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


and just in case you were looking for a charity to donate to, I fundraise for Extra Life, which donates to children's hospitals, and I will make you crocheted things as bonus incentive:

Chernobyl Princess fucked around with this message at 10:53 on Jul 20, 2021

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Dragon Country
2457 words

The forbidding peaks of the Crescent Mountains separated the kingdoms of Senn and Teldamark. Trade was perilous and therefore rare, but success was rewarded with unimaginable riches. Due to the ban on hunting them, there are still wild dragons in the Senni parts of the mountains. The Damarkese hunted their dragons to extinction a long time ago, but once you crossed over the towering, glacial peaks of the mountains and into the verdant, stream-fed foothills you entered dragon country.

My mother was a wealthy Damarkese trader. My father was a wealthy Senni fisherman. One summer, my mother broke her leg and couldn’t make it across the mountains before winter made them impassable. She spent the next year with my father’s family, recuperating. By the time the passes were open again, she was pregnant with twins, my brother Yansin and I, and declared that she would live in Senn forever.

I grew up with a couple dozen families of Damarkese ex-pats and traders in a dragon-country town modeled off of a famous city in my mother’s homeland. My brother, on the other hand, grew up with my father in a Senni fishing town. He got to learn how to hunt and fish and haggle. I grew up learning how to sew and dance and… well, okay. The haggling was universal.

As we grew older and our parents' disdain for one another grew more apparent, our education continued to diverge. Sometimes I could sneak out of the keep to hunt the funny fanged deer that were endemic to this region, or Yansin could sneak into the keep to snack on the funky Damarkese cheese my mother liked. But for the most part we grew up pretty solitary.

“Dad wants to know when you’re going to find your dragon,” Yansin said one day when he managed to sneak into the tower with a pocket full of tiny oranges. “You’re old enough.”

I glowered at him and flicked a seed at his face. “Mom doesn’t want me to. She says the way Senni women ride dragons is vulgar.”

Yansin snorted. “What, she expects you to ride sidesaddle?”

“I think she expects me to ride in wagons.” I leaned back and sucked juice off my fingers.

He shook his head. “She’s crazy. You’ve got the eyes. You know what’ll happen if you don’t go.”

I glanced at my reflection in the window. Even distorted by the thick glass, the bright, amber-yellow color of my eyes was obvious. Had I been raised with my father, I’d have been trained as a warrior and hunter and sent off into the hills to find a dragon whose eyes matched mine. We’d fight, I’d win, and we’d be a pair for life. From the Senni perspective, this was an honorable path, but it flew in the face of Damarkese gender roles.

Footsteps on the stairs. My brother was out the window and clambering over the rooftops in a flash.

My mother threw open the door. “Alexandra,” she boomed. “I have been looking all over for you! What are you doing up here?” Her eyes locked on the orange peels Yansin had left behind. She sighed, deflating slightly. “Your brother was visiting, was he?”

I shrugged. She rolled her eyes. “You know he doesn’t have to sneak in, right? We have doors for a reason.”

“I think he likes the challenge,” I said, gathering up the peels. “I’ll let him know next time I see him.”

“Well. That will be soon. We just received a bird from the Torvalds trading group, they’ve made it through the Sunfire pass early and will be here in three days time. We’ll need both you and your brother in attendance at the welcome feast.”

Mom was in a good mood right now, I could tell from the set of her shoulders as I followed her down the steps. A good mood might mean she was more inclined to accept a reasonable request. “I was thinking,” I said as we entered the main hall, its stained glass windows casting lovely colors on the bustling servants preparing the room. “Maybe after the feast it’s time for me to go into the hills. Find my dragon.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. The loose angle of her shoulders changed, tightening as she balled her hands into fists. “No,” she said, her tone light and even.

“But mom-”

“I said no!” She rounded on me, grabbing my shoulders and giving me a shake. “Absolutely not! You are my daughter and I will not allow you to jeopardize your entire future due to a silly superstition!”

“It’s not superstition! It’s cultural! And it’s true!”

“There have been no substantiated dragon attacks in the past ten years we’ve lived here,” she snarled. “And in those years twenty-eight children have died in the hills. Like hell am I letting you be the twenty-ninth.” She released my shoulders and turned away, disgust written on every line of her face. “I never want to hear you speak of this again, Alexandra. You have work to do. Go make sure your things are clean and help Madeleine turn down the guest bedrooms.”

Unfair. Completely and utterly unfair. I stomped away, rightly furious. I wasn’t sure if her refusal was due to her clinging fear for me or lingering hatred of my father, but it was unfair and shortsighted. I told Madeleine as much as we were beating out the guest bedroom mattresses.

“Your mother isn’t wrong,” Madeleine replied. “It’s very dangerous. My son is a dragon rider. He trained for it his entire life and still nearly died. It’s tradition for mothers to mourn for three days when their children go into the hills for a reason.”

I scowled at the bed. I’d been hoping a Senni perspective would have been more validating to my anger. Madeleine laughed at the look on my face. “Mothers are mothers everywhere,” she said. “Now help me get these sheets straight.”


The Baron arrived pompously on a pretty gray horse with ribbons in its mane while my family stood in front of the keep in too-hot clothing with smiles plastered on our faces. His trading group followed behind him, dustier, dirtier, driving oxen that hauled huge wagons filled with riches from Teldamark. The paint on the wagons was scored and blistered, dragons had attacked them on the road.

Yansin elbowed me. “I wonder why,” he said innocently. I elbowed him back, harder, and he just laughed. “Don’t worry, I told Dad about it and he’s going to work on Mom, she’ll come around.”

At dinner the primary topic of conversation was game. The Baron was a keen hunter and had a great deal of stories about great chases and daring escapes from wild beasts.

“I hear you have excellent hunting here,” he said to Yansin, seated mercifully in between us. “Those little roe deer were everywhere after we left the mountains, but somehow they always seemed to hide as soon as we nocked arrows.”

“They’re clever little things,” my brother said. “Tasty, too. Dad grinds them up with dried berries and bakes it in pastry, just the thing for the winter.”

“I thought you were fishermen?” The Baron laughed and slapped Yansin’s shoulder. “What a multi-talented family! And you, Alexandra, I understand that you are one of the chosen few to hunt dragons!”

Silence fell. I could hear my father’s teeth grind. “It’s not that kind of hunting,” I said, trying to mimic my mother’s light and friendly voice. “Nothing dies at the end.”

“But you are a dragon rider, correct?”

I shook my head, angry disappointment burning in my throat. “Not yet.”

He nodded, a sympathetic look on his face, and changed the subject.

That night my mother came to visit me. “It has been decided,” she said in a measured voice, “that you will be permitted to enter the hills and seek your dragon.”

I sat bolt upright. “When?”

“In two days.” She stood, stiff and formal. “You know I love you, Alexandra. Please come back. I can’t lose you.”

I had no intention of getting lost. I spent the next two days researching dragons, talking with other dragon riders, and preparing my weapons. Shell, Madeliene’s son, tried to teach me how he had subdued his dragon, but he’d been a traditionalist and only used hand weapons.

“If you go in there with just a knife you’re going to die,” he said after watching me spar with his dragon. It had pinned me every time and was now simply lying down on top of me, snoring loudly. “You’re going to need to use arrows. Steel is better. Shoot for wing joints, see if you can tear the membrane. Get it on the ground and keep it from taking off again.”

Shell’s dragon opened one eye and hissed at him. He shrugged expansively. “She hasn’t trained for this. I want her to live.”

The dragon let me up. “Hyuu pe carrrfful,” it hissed, its lips not shaped right for human languages. It butted my shoulder with its head and then it and Shell flew away.

The day came with less fanfare than the Baron’s arrival. I left before dawn, as was traditional, and by noon I was deep in the forested hills, surrounded by shrieking birds, chattering squirrels, and the little deer that, as the Baron had noted, seemed to have a sixth sense for when I was ready to shoot at one of them. I saw no signs of dragons the first day, but made myself busy setting up a camp.

That night I woke up to whispering voices outside my shelter.

“She’s asleep in there?”

“Likely. This is the kind of shelter they make in these parts.”

“And we just have to follow her in order to get to the dragon?”

“Eventually either she will find it or it will find her, you can be sure of that.”

“Excellent. No Damarkese man has killed a dragon in six generations. It seems a bit unsporting to use a little girl as bait, but needs must.”

“Just make sure the dragon dies before it kills her. Her mother was very clear on that point. Do that, you’ll get your dragon and you’ll get to be a hero.”

“Oho, that’s true isn’t it?” The voices began to recede, self-congratulatory and confident. I didn’t know one voice, but the Baron was obvious.

I gripped my bow, my vision scarlet with rage. She’d do anything to undercut me, to sever me from my birthright. She hated this part of me so much that she’d sell it away to the highest bidder. I considered my options. Killing the Baron had appeal, but would invite repercussions upon the entire country. I couldn’t just let him do it either, that was just inviting those same repercussions with an extra step: Senn would never let Teldamark step on its one major taboo without retaliation.

So I better make sure it failed.

The next morning I walked without any attempt to hide. Occasionally I could hear twigs break behind me, or hear someone cough. They weren’t used to stalking humans, I supposed. I saw scorch marks on some trees, some claws, and once I stumbled upon a pair of dragons crouched over a half-burned stag. They hissed at me, wings spread, but made no moves to abandon their meal.

Maybe they’d kill the hunters behind me, I thought. They could solve the whole problem right here. But I heard no sounds of a fight. They weren’t here to kill those dragons. They were here to kill my dragon.

It was sometime after midday when I felt a pressure building behind my eyes, like the beginning of a headache. When I closed my eyes, I could half-see an image: a girl standing in the woods. I focused on that for a moment, and realized I was seeing through my dragon’s eyes.

And it was behind me.

Every bone in my body wanted me to run or to attack. Seeing the other dragons had been startling, but I’d never felt such an intense fight or flight response in my life. I spun, snarling, almost forgetting what I was here for, and then froze.

It was crouched behind a thornbush, spade-tipped tail poking out from underneath. I could hear it growling, could see its eyes practically glowing.

*We have a problem,* I thought at it, projecting as hard as I could. Gods, I hoped this worked. *If you attack me, the men behind me will kill you.*

Shock. Alarm. Suspicion. The dragon was not expecting this. *We’re supposed to fight,* it thought back at me. Its mental voice was similar to my own, more sibilant, with an odd echo behind it. *I want to fight. It’s how it’s done. We’re not complete unless we fight.*

*We need to fight,* I said. *Who says we need to fight each other?*

Amusement. Interest. I took those as good signs and continued. *They mean to ambush us. But I know one of them is to my left, and the other is six meters downwind.* I tried to visualize their positions for the dragon.

*If we’re going to do this I’m going to have to make it look good,* the dragon said. *If they suspect something they might change their plans.*

*Sneaky. I like it.* I took a deep breath, trying to settle my jangling nerves. *Let’s do this.*

It leaped, a flash of bronze scales and white teeth. I spun, putting my body in the way of one of their shots. The dragon’s jaw closed on my leg, tearing through my leather skirt and sinking into my skin. I grunted, too focused on the plan to complain, nocked an arrow and loosed it at the other hunter. By pure chance my arrow met his in flight and knocked it off its course. His arrow grazed my dragon’s flank and sank into a tree. The howl of pain that lit up the forest told me mine had met flesh.

The dragon released my leg and bounded after the other hunter, a blinding line of flame jetted from its mouth and struck him, setting his clothes alight. He ran, throwing down his bow, trying to strip off his clothes. I heard a splash in the distance as he made it to a stream. Good riddance.

Screams faded to cursing. My dragon and I walked over to the Baron, who was kneeling on the forest floor, clutching his leg. He looked up at me, furious. I just smiled.

“Thank you for your help,” I said sweetly. “But I think I can take it from here.”

I swung a leg over my dragon’s neck and we leaped into the sky together.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Sailor Viy posted:

I'm in, give me a marginalia, can't decide what else I want yet

For you: FOX POPE

And for Thranguy this Leggy Boi:

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

I'm Happy For You
1435 words

Trish would be lying if she said she wasn’t feeling trepidation about meeting her old friend in person since Sandy had moved to Tennessee. Part of it was definitely related to Covid, even after her first booster shot she was hesitant to meet people indoors. Thankfully Sandy suggested an outdoor cafe that Trish had raved about several times in their group chat. She tried to put her misgivings aside and focus on how much fun it was going to be to have actual Girl Time, with no husbands or kids to bother them. That’s what Sandy had said, at least. A few times, actually. And with extra emphasis on the lack of husbands.

Sandy had found a table outdoors under the cafe’s awning and was flirting openly, if not quite aggressively, with the waiter setting down a pair of cappuccinos. Trish immediately checked Sandy’s left hand and saw that the wedding ring was still there. That didn’t do much to relieve the tension that settled into her shoulders as she approached.

When Sandy saw Trish her hand shot up into the air. “Oh my god! Trish! It’s so good to see you!” They embraced, each exclaiming about how beautiful the other looked and how perfect it was that their schedules aligned.

“I took the liberty of ordering us both coffee,” Sandy said as Trish took her seat. “And a big slice of that carrot cake you told us about the last time we were down here.”

“Oh, yes! That stuff is incredible, I swear they lace it with something illegal. You won’t be disappointed.”

Sandy laughed. “Joe’s going to be so jealous.”

Trish’s gaze flicked back to Sandy’s wedding band. “I’m sure. Marc was upset when he heard Joe wasn’t coming along. Between me and the twins I think he misses Man Time.”

“How are the twins?” Sandy’s phone vibrated. She checked it briefly before returning it, face down, to the table. “Last I saw them they were still practically grubs.”

Abruptly shifting the conversation away from partners, Trish noted, her stomach in knots. Joe was one of her oldest friends, hell, he’d introduced her to her husband. And Sandy was so good for him. Or had been. Oh, god, why had she decided to go into marital counseling as a career, and not just worked at Starbucks? Then she wouldn’t know half of everybody’s business, and she wouldn’t have the words to describe the problems she saw in her own or others' relationships.

But instead of saying any of that she just took out her own phone and started showing Sandy pictures of her twin three-year-old girls. “They’re absolute hellraisers,” she said proudly, then launched into a story about the traumas of potty training. Sandy’s son was just over a year younger than the twins, so she listened with mounting horror.

“I feel like I should take notes,” she said. “I can’t wait for that part to be over. He’s finally sleeping on his own, which makes it a lot easier to get a sitter for date nights.” Sandy’s phone vibrated again. She dismissed the message without looking at it. “You and Marc come here for dinner a lot, right? Is it a good spot for a date night?”

“Definitely. Are you and Joe thinking of going out next time you’re here?”

Sandy’s easy smile went glassy for just a second. “Oh, yeah. Next time we’re both in town, obviously. It’s too bad his conference got rescheduled to this weekend, he really wanted to be here.”

The arrival of the cake distracted Sandy enough to miss the way Trish’s face fell. This felt like a confirmation of her worst fears. Joe and Sandy had been the first of their group to marry, and they’d be the first to divorce if that were happening. Oh god, she’d have to choose sides. She couldn’t choose sides, Trish could barely choose what socks to wear in the mornings. The fallout from this would tear apart the entire social circle, it would be immensely damaging. It would be…

Sandy laughed, shaking her out of her spiraling thoughts. “We’re not the only ones thinking about cake,” she said, handing Trish her phone, which played a little video of Joe and their son making a mess in the kitchen. “I don’t envy that clean-up!”

Trish laughed, slightly forced, then saw a text message pop up on the screen.

Can’t wait to see you tonight, babe. She froze, staring at the name. She had just a moment to think about how important it was to be careful, to be gentle with her friend, but her mouth was running on autopilot, so she just blurted out “Who’s Dale?”

Sandy turned bright red and snatched her phone out of Trish’s hand, furiously scrolling through messages. “Nobody. No one. Don’t worry about it.”

Trish hesitated. “Sandy, is everything okay between you and Joe?”

“It’s fine.” Trish must not have looked convinced, because Sandy sighed, deep and aggravated. “Look, we’re not… we haven’t told a lot of people yet.”

Here it comes. Trish braced herself for the news of divorce.

“Joe and I are polyamorous. Dale is my boyfriend.”

Trish blinked. “Oh. Joe knows about it? And he’s okay with it?”

Sandy nodded, irritably. She wouldn’t meet Trish’s eyes. “Yes. Really. He’s fine. He has a girlfriend too. Her name is Cassandra. She’s nice.”

“Oh,” Trish said again, dumbly. She hadn’t even considered that. It seemed obvious now.

“I know it’s not exactly ‘therapist approved,’” Sandy said, making exaggerated air quotes with her fingers. “But it’s been working for us, you know?”

“Of course. We have some friends up in Philly who do that. Not polyamory, I think, ‘cause they’re not really dating people, but something on that ethical non-monogamy spectrum.” Sandy stared at her, half in disbelief. Trish snorted. “What? I’m hip. I’m on Twitter. I know things.”

“Oh my god you have no idea how nervous I was about telling you!” Words started to flow out of Sandy in a rush. “We started like, right before the pandemic began. Joe met Cassie and it was like… love at first sight. And he hated that, he was so angry at himself. But when he told me about it I just… I didn’t hate the idea. It actually kind of turns me on to think about them together. She’s super cute, you know, and so nice. She’s got a primary called Patrice, they run a nonprofit in Nashville. They come over for poker every week. It’s been really nice. We’re not so… so lonely anymore. The pandemic has been really freaking hard, but we were able to form a bubble between the four of us and just get away from our primary partners every once in a while but not have to be alone.”

Trish nodded, the weight of doubt and uncertainty was lifting. “I get it,” she said when she could get a word in edgewise. “I get so exhausted with Marc and the kids, and since you guys moved we don’t have anyone really local to hang out with.”

“I’ve heard there’s a pretty big poly scene here,” Sandy said. “Have you ever thought about it?”

“Yeah. I don’t think I could do it. The twins take up so much energy, I barely have enough left for Marc, much less a whole nother person.”

Sandy looked a little disappointed. “Maybe when the twins are older. Monogamy is a social construct, you know. It’s easier to raise kids in a group setting.”

Trish laughed. “Yeah, I’m sure. It’s just not for me. I don’t know if Marc could see me with another person and be okay. I don’t know if I could see him with another person and be okay. It’s just too risky for me.”

Sandy shook her head and picked her fork back up. “Only being with one person for the rest of your life? That’s what had me terrified of marriage in the first place. It got boring.”

“Maybe. But it’s kind of nice.”

Sandy took a bite, frowning. She stopped and looked at the cake, then back at Trish. “Holy crap. This is exactly as good as you said it would be.”

“Right?! I want to break into the kitchen to steal the recipe.” Trish took a bite herself, making exaggerated sounds of delight. “There’s got to be some sort of secret, I’ve never had anything this good.”

When it was time to part, Trish left feeling lighter. Her friend just had a different life than hers, and that was great. There had been nothing to worry about after all.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Loves: The Old Guitarist
Hates: Silkworms
1040 words

Launch Week was one of the most highly anticipated celebrations on Takamagahara station. There were parades, sales, public festivities, and, most importantly, three consecutive days off for every indentured worker on the station. It was traditional as well for the CEOs of the various corps that controlled Takamagahara to throw a lavish party, inviting not only the rich and powerful, but also all of the indents who made up their workforces, which is how Anatoly found himself awkwardly clutching a champagne flute worth more than some of his own furniture and trying to carefully position himself so that he was never in between his conversational partners and the air vents.

“It’s the silkworms,” he said apologetically to a woman wearing solid gold armor. Her expression had turned sour immediately upon greeting him as her nostrils were assailed with the cloying, bittersweet, distressingly biological smell that made its way into all of Anatoly’s clothing. “The genehacks that make them the size we need for offworld silk production make them stink even worse than Earth native species.”

The problem with explaining is that it made people think that he wanted to talk about silkworms. About his work. Of course, every Launch Week party was like this, the wealthy only really knew how to ask indents about their work. His friends had all developed a repertoire of charming, cute stories about their labors, all spun in the hopes of finding a patron to shave a few years off of their generational indentures. But Anatoly couldn’t think of anything cute to say about the horrible, kitten-sized grubs that he was responsible for feeding, sorting, and boiling alive once they’d spun their cocoons.

He spent most of his time the same way he did nearly every year, looking at the art on the walls, enjoying the beautiful music played by a live band, and taking the opportunity to stuff his face with free food. The CEO of Gareth-Wynn Luxury Textiles was thankfully an avid art collector, so Anatoly had plenty of things to occupy himself with in between chats with his fellow indents.

He was idly strolling along a buffet table when he saw it.

The old man curled around his guitar as if for warmth. Eyes closed, mouth open, clearly singing. He knew this painting. A print of it was the centerpiece of his own decor, the first thing he saw when he woke up in the morning. But this was the original. Anatoly found himself transfixed, entranced, walking closer to it until he could see the brushstrokes.

“Do you like it?”

Anatoly jerked out of his trance, turning to face the CEO himself, Jarrad Perez.

“Yes,” Anatoly managed to choke out, flushing slightly. “Very much. I have a print of it in my cube, but…” he gestured helplessly toward the painting. “It doesn’t compare.”

Perez nodded, pointing in emphatic agreement at Anatoly. “I agree. It adds to the value, being truly original. Being the first.”

“I always like to think about what he’s playing,” Anatoly said as if the man hadn’t spoken. “What kind of music, I mean. He looks so sad, but also transported, you know? Beyond his rags and the cold, there’s this song that’s worth contorting himself into such an uncomfortable position to sing.”

The CEO frowned, either because Anatoly didn’t immediately agree with him about the value of the painting or because the smell of silkworms had finally penetrated. “Did you know that it’s not the first painting on the canvas?”

Anatoly nodded. “I read about that. There’s some sketches behind the paint.”

“A pair of women and a child and a cow,” Perez said. He grinned conspiratorially, gesturing at the painting with his champagne flute. “I’ll tell you a secret, art lover to art lover. I’m going to restore the original prints behind the canvas. I’ve hired an artist to do it, someone who has been studying Picasso their entire life. And then we’ll see the actual first painting. The actual original.”

“What?” Anatoly blurted, unable to keep the horror from his voice. The CEO looked so pleased with himself, with this ghastly plan. “Why would you do that? You’ll destroy the Old Guitarist!”

Perez looked puzzled, confused as to why that was even a question. “As you said, countless people have prints of this. It’s been copied millions of times in thousands of different media.” A hungry light flared in his eye. “But when the original, the true original is restored I’ll have something truly unique. Something only Picasso, my artist, and I will have ever seen.”

“But that’s…” the only word Anatoly could come up with was ‘heresy.’ “That’s awful! You’ll destroy the painting just so you won’t have to share it with anyone else?”

The CEO gave him a look. It was one Anatoly recognized, a combination of disgust and surprise. It was the same look he gave the silkworms when their overeager mandibles found his flesh. That’s all he was to this man. A grub that produced something of value. He wasn’t a real person, and acting like one just made him… distasteful.

“I respect your opinion,” Perez lied smoothly. “But it is, after all, my painting. If you’ll excuse me.”

Anatoly stared at the Old Guitarist, his mind blazing.

He’d heard the rhetoric of the Open Sky movement, the anti-corp agitators, the ones who pushed the narrative that all workers were being abused by callous and uncaring corporate masters. Until this moment Anatoly had always kind of assumed that CEOs were just trying to live their lives like everyone else, that the absurdities of riches didn’t change a person’s values that much.

But now he saw it. A man willing to destroy art, who looked at people like silkworm larvae… that wasn’t a person who had anything in common with Anatoly, or with any worker.

The next day Anatoly walked into the silkworm enclosure with a backpack full of carefully selected accelerants. By the time the fire suppression systems kicked on, Anatoly was dead alongside the entire crop of silkworms. When forensics looked through his cube, the only thing he’d left behind was a print of the Old Guitarist, the words “THEY’LL MAKE WORMS OF US ALL” scrawled across it in red paint.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Couples Counseling
1414 words

“Tell me a little bit about how you met.”

She shifts uncomfortably on the couch. The therapist’s office is small, cozy in a sort of carefully designed way. It seemed less awkward when her husband was here as well. “We met at a rehearsal dinner. It was the most beautiful venue in the Finger Lakes. All I wanted to do was get outside and hike, but I was stuck at this place with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Then the most handsome man I’d ever seen sat down next to me and told me the worst joke I’d ever heard. ‘What’s brown and sticky?‘A stick!’”

She grins as she tells the joke. “I have no idea why it made me laugh so hard. I must have been nervous, I’d never been a bridesmaid before and my anxiety was so high I thought I was going to burst. But after that joke everything got easier. He was easy to be around. The next day we went on a hike all around the area, just walking and talking about our lives. His brother’s accident. My anxiety. It turned out we’d been to the same high school. It was a ten mile hike around some of the most beautiful landscape I’d ever been in, and the only parts I remember are the conversation. We had the same values, the same life goals. I knew he was the one for me by the end of that hike. We got married exactly thirteen months later, so that we wouldn’t share an anniversary with our friends.”

He leans forward, his elbows on his knees. “We went to high school together, actually. She was a big musical theater geek, I was in the AV club, so it’s not like our paths crossed much. She was a great dancer. Everyone had a crush on her, so I never bothered to ask her out. I hardly recognized her at Jeff’s wedding, but then we went for this walk around the area and got to chatting and I told her about my family. See, my brother got into a car accident in high school. His friend was driving drunk and straight up ran him over. hosed up his pelvis and lower spine. We weren’t sure he was going to walk again. But there was nothing wrong with his brain, right? My brother actually pressed charges, his friend was eighteen and actually got jail time. It was a major scandal, half the school was like ‘hey, your bro is a narc’ and the other half was like ‘hey, gently caress that guy for driving drunk.’ So anyway. I mentioned that and she suddenly realized we went to the same school.”

He looks at his hands. “We knew a handful of the same people. I don’t know why it hurts so bad that she doesn’t remember me from back then.”

The therapist nods and takes some notes. “When were things good in your relationship? What did things look like when you were at your happiest?”

“Before we had kids he was always free,” she says. “He took time off of work just so we could go walk on the beach together. We’d go on these weekend backpacking trips. The best one was out to Shenandoah to hike along the AT. We were trying out hammock camping. I hated it at first because I always loved to sleep next to him. I’m one of those people who wants to cuddle while I fall asleep. But man, I’ve never slept better outdoors than in one of those hammocks.

“We wound up hiking to this little campground with almost nobody else there. I wish I could remember exactly where it was. There was a little flat area where we set up a campfire and ate our meals. There was a creek about a quarter mile away for water, and a composting toilet a couple hundred yards in the opposite direction. And there was this triangle of oak trees for us to attach the hammocks to. We talked all night, looking up through our bug nets, through the leaves of the trees, up to the stars. The sky was so clear. The whole mountain was all singing crickets and rustling leaves.”

She is silent for a second. Then says “My individual therapist has me do safe space meditations. That’s my safe space. In a hammock. On a mountain. With him.”

He frowns at the question. “I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like I’ve always been working so hard to make her happy. She’s got anxiety. I knew that going in, right? But she’s got these panic attacks and they’re really draining to be around. I feel like if I do anything wrong I’m going to set her off.”

“Yes,” the therapist says gently. “We talked about that in your intake. I understand that it’s always been hard for you, but when was it easier?” There is a slight stress on the last syllable.

The line on his forehead deepens. “When she was pregnant with our first I was in a really bad place. Drinking too much. Avoiding being home. I never saw myself as a parent, I guess. It freaked me out. But then Sarah was born and the entire world changed. I wanted to be better. To be better for Sarah. To be better for my wife.

“Someone whose brother got crippled by a drunk driver should have had an easier time quitting booze. But my friends are big drinkers, see? There was a going away party. My wife told me to go, to have fun. I hadn’t had a drink in months so I thought I was in the clear, right? I’d beaten it. I told myself I could just have one beer. And then I thought, well, another won’t hurt, they’ve got that barleywine I used to like. The last thing I really remember from that night is slurring Sweet Home Alabama while my friends tried to bully one another into taking shots of Malort.”

He sees the therapist’s look and smiles, wryly. “I guess this isn’t sounding great. Anyway. I woke up the next morning with a biblical hangover, sprawled across the wicker couch in our backyard. My wife was standing there, holding Sarah, just looking at me. She’d left me a glass of water and some Ibuprofen. The only thing she ever said about the entire incident was ‘tomorrow is another day.’ She’s been on my side since day one. Every time I really wanted a drink after that all I had to do was remember that she was on my side. Even when we’ve been fighting, even when things have been hard, I just had to remember ‘tomorrow is another day’ and it would make it… not easier really. Just bearable. She’s good at that. Always has been.”

“When did the problems start?” The therapist asks.

She sighs. “After our second daughter was born he got a major promotion. Huge pay raise, massive boost in responsibility. He started working late. It freaked me out. I kept wondering if he was out drinking. We stopped having sex because, well, I’d just had a baby, but even after I felt better he wasn’t interested. I’d planned this romantic evening in. My parents had the girls. I ordered sushi to be delivered at 8pm and greeted him at the door wearing lingerie and thigh high stilettos. He looked at me and laughed.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she says, “I didn’t get upset at the laugh. It’s funny, I was doing a silly thing. But then I made it very clear that we could have the entire house to ourselves… I wasn’t exactly subtle about it. I told him exactly what I wanted. He just patted me on the shoulder and said he had more work to do, but that he was grateful that I’d found a sitter for the night. I slept on the couch. I don’t know if he even noticed. That’s why I insisted on coming here, I just can’t take it anymore.”

He rolls his eyes. “I don’t know. She’s jealous about this new job I have, it takes up too much of my time. She says I’m not as attentive, and yeah, that may be true, but I’ve got a lot on my mind, you know? Her being passive aggressive and sleeping on the couch doesn’t help. That’s why I insisted on coming here, because I just can’t take it anymore.”

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Crits for week 478

This is what it sounds like by The Man Called M

The one where a guy with a humorous name listens to VH1 talking heads, is sad about his breakup, hears a dove crying.

I'm not sure what's going on with the Capitalization in this story, but as a person who randomly capitalizes words in order to show Importance I'm not too put out by it. I'm also uncertain about what's supposed to be happening in the narrative arc of the story. There's an inkling of something psychologically interesting here with his fears about the sex, and therefore he himself, not being good enough. But then it doesn't really go anywhere, it just ends with a dove making a weird noise outside his window.

This needed revision and probably more words, not even a lot more words, just a couple hundred to expand on any part of it to give it more emotional weight.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die by Idle Amalgam

The one where a man tries to revive his dead ex in order to harangue her into forgiving his infidelity, and is then killed by the monster to which he has given unnatural life.

This had some great description in it, especially of the Wastes and of the hosed up machinery used to bring her back to life. I loved the pettiness of his reasoning for bringing her back, and that his first words are a repetition of this argument. It's pathetically human. His death was also pathetic, and I liked that. It was not immediately apparent to me that she meant to kill him, or that she knew she was “days away from molecular instability and unlife,” and I kind of wish I'd gotten to see more of who she was when she wasn't a bunch of body parts/a shambling monstrosity

Rosie's by Barnaby Profane

The one where they fight with knives

I loved this. It was self-contained, obviously connected to the prompt, had emotional resonance, and a twist that felt both surprising and satisfying all at once. I loved his death scene in particular, the release of not just his body but all the emotional content he'd been holding on. And you earned the ending by setting up a solid tale of semi-ritualistic mob violence, gang warfare, and the spiderweb-fragile code of conduct that Lupo assumes is going to protect him. Good stuff. My favorite of the week.

Pigeon Coup by My Shark Waifu

The one where pigeons depose the pigeon queen in order to get with the sexiest of male pigeons

I love bird drama, and I love how the story takes the premise of bird drama entirely seriously. You do an excellent job describing the male pigeons, I kind of wish you'd have taken the time to describe the hens as well, at least the three sisters and the queen. I would also have liked to see more examples of the rivalry between the hens than just a backhanded compliment. But this was quite nice! Well thought through with clear stakes and a satisfying ending.

What It Means to be Olisipian by Azza Bamboo

The one where a princess is given an ominous gift by a prince from a rival kingdom.

More bird drama! I'm thrilled! Unfortunately, I wish I understood the full stakes for the princess a little bit better. Beyond the destruction of her budgie breeding program, that is. Is the prince trying to marry her and take over her kingdom? Is there some complex economic takeover happening in the background that this is a reference to? There's clearly more here, and I want to know more about it. You set the scene beautifully, but ultimately it feels like a scene in a longer story rather than a complete story itself.

Perspective by t a s t e

The one where a man sees the world accelerating past him toward its end while he stays in place

The question of “is this magical realism or a psychotic break” is easily one of my favorites, and this story does it well. I wish, however, that you'd spent more time discussing the hosed up ritual that made him like this and less time discussing his masturbatory preferences. I also wish he'd have engaged in a bit more conjecture as to what he thinks we're accelerating toward. But I loved the psychological horror of his perception being broken and the description of how it was broken.

How It Works by Carl Killer Miller

The one where he joins AA and finds out that vulnerability loving sucks and is absolutely worth it

The dialogue in this is fantastic and relatable. I can see every alcoholic client I've ever had in Luis and Tim. I really, really appreciate the way that apologies are handled here, the line “You're supposed to still feel like poo poo, because the apology isn't in the words” hits perfectly because of how true it is. I like that this isn't a feel good story, I also like that it isn't a story about an addict getting kicked while he was down. It's an honest look at what recovery takes. Very well done.

The Neon Girl by Captain_Indigo

The one where a robot pet is bought, loved, taught to lie, and discarded.

This is creepy in a very Paolo Bacigalupi way and I enjoy it. The rapid pace of the dialogue without tags did occasionally feel a little disjointed, but the characters had clear enough voices that it wasn't too difficult to tell people apart. I wish I knew why Mark hated Celeste so much, but I suspect Celeste wished that as well. The only actual critique I have is that I would have liked to have seen more of Celeste's environment, what does the home look like? What was she cleaning?

Catalyst by Thranguy

The one where some teens vandalize a wall to celebrate the legacy of their friend who may or may not be dead in a cyberpunk hellscape

I do love me a cyberpunk hellscape. The kids were written realistically, their slang felt organic and still made sense. The dangers they faced in this world felt real, and the exhaustion I felt when considering the optimism required to believe you can fight corporate hegemony with spray paint was also very real.

Joyriders by Antivehicular

The one where actors in cool cyberfuture bodies find out that they actually love one another in their actual bodies.

This is a very sweet story in the midst of a horrible surveillance dystopia and I very much enjoy it. I'm extremely glad that you resisted the urge to make it so that they didn't actually care for one another when in their “real” bodies, their caring for one another makes me care about the story. That's what made the violation of their privacy by the camera upgrades sting. There was definitely some confusion with the perspective change, it was hard to keep track of four different names for the same two people in such a short story, and it might have helped to have a clearer internal voice for each individual.

Lapidaria by Sebmojo

The one where a guy works on a gem farm and the gems make him fall in love with a girl and stay on the gem farm.

A beautiful backdrop for a story that doesn't quite go anywhere. I very much felt like there wasn't enough Story to ever cause me to suspend my disbelief about people growing and eating gems, despite the fact that it was presented as Unquestionable Fact in the story itself. The characterization wasn't bad, he had a voice, it just wasn't a voice that really gripped me or felt like it shone as brightly as the backdrop. It may have genuinely been a better story from Marta/Marda/Lapis's point of view, since it's her desires being more clearly warped and acted on here.

Ch Ch Changes by Chairchucker

The one where a guy grows wings instead of arms, meets a girl who helps him out, and they team up with his old friend to Solve An Attempted Murder.

This was fun to read! You have a lot of characters for a short story, but the ones that matter have distinct enough voices that it's not a problem. I did find the sudden shift into “and now we solve a mystery!” to be a little baffling and abrupt, but upon reflection the reason it was irritating is that I wanted to know more. And that's far from the worst crime a story can commit.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

I've decided that I, too, want a flash

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

A slightly less in depth series of crits

Grandpa of the Light
The man called M

The one where a grandfather plays MMOs and is good at it.

This is the best M story yet! You took the advice and used up your word count, and it made for a better story. This is a coherent and sweet tale of combating loneliness through found family.

That said, it’s still not what you’d call good. Your dialogue is a bit stilted, very few people say things like “And what is this game you speak of?” unless they’re consciously doing a bit. I also think you hammered home the “OLD PEOPLE ARE LONELY” thing way too hard. The general weakened the specific: focus more on James’s personal loneliness, his personal fears, and you’d have a stronger emotional arc.



The right hand lies!

The one where some people tell an insurance adjuster that they were lying to him about an injury, to predictable results.

You had a super cool set piece with the corpus callosotomy and the hand thing. I’ve known a handful of people who have had this surgery and none of that happened to them, but hey, fiction is fiction. But the story itself was kind of flat. Like it was a bunch of nice people trying to be nice and then cheerfully admitting to insurance fraud. To a claims adjuster. Who told them his plans to quit but, critically, hadn’t quit yet. Their fretting about Being Nice Enough came on too strong as well. Sorry, this one was a big miss for me.

Low, possible DM


The Ladder
My Shark Waifu

The one where a serial killer decides he likes firing people more than killing them.

This was darkly comic without glorifying the violence, and I really enjoyed it. I do question the “I don’t poo poo where I eat” and then killing off his clients, but nobody said serial killers had to be internally consistent.

High, possible HM


Mr. Tlacuatzin

The one where a private investigator gets bit by a were possum and becomes a Good Possum Mom.

Another very strong one. I enjoyed the internal monologue from the main character, it had a consistent tone of voice that I appreciated. I do wonder at her decision to grab for the thing he was choking on rather than heimliching him, as I’m sure she’d have been trained to do at some point. He could easily have bit her in crazy lycanthropic self defense and then she’d still get to go be a Good Possum Mom.

Very high, HM


Storm Eye Blind
Sitting Here

The one where she’s dating a hurricane

drat this is a good week, another really freaking funny story. I’m not sure this one leaned as far into the secret identities thing as it could have, but I appreciated the absurdity. A point of grammar: “The rest of *her* and Bruce’s possessions were smashed beyond recognition.” Not she. But you posted from your phone in the lobby of your workplace with no power so hats off to you for getting it done at all.



The Chew
Carl Killer Miller

The one where an international assassin goes crazy (Or Does He?!)

You did a fantastic job building up tone and narrative, and I genuinely enjoyed the twist at the end. I think this would be better with a couple of edits, just to smooth out some of the rough edges and make the sentences flow a bit better. The jerky, erratic tone of the first part doesn’t connect as well in the second.
Medium High


What Really Happened

The one where a pair of newbie actors get jobs on closed film sets.

So much went on here that I didn’t actually get a chance to catch any details that would hook me into the story. There were too many characters to keep track of, and most of them had a vague, LA sort of unpleasantness that I didn’t care to track them anyway. I wish I’d seen more of what they were filming. I wish I’d understood who half of these characters were. I wish the story had a more concrete arc to it, or was at least focused more on that arc.

Medium Low


Persona Detective

The one where a detective is watching a person and being watched by others in a fractal trap of observation

I’ll admit, if I weren’t a judge this week the first line would have turned me off from the entire rest of the story. Which would have been a shame, because I ended up *really liking* the rest of the story! I like the misprint in a phone book line, and I like the way it slides into psychological horror. I do think there are a couple of times where you get tied up in the questions of “who is Martinya? Does it matter? What is this and what is happening?” that are less interesting to read than if you left those questions to the reader. It might have been better to just ask the client’s questions.

Medium high



The one where he’s a fantasy world prince and his friend is a hot chick

A cute story but kind of “a thing happened” story. I was hoping there’d be more exploration of identity on each side of the gate, but it read like a synopsis of a longer work. Marshall just kind of going “welp guess I’m a girl now” and then saying “welp guess I’ll go back to being a boy again” is… kind of off for me. Like there’s no freak-out? No question of “Dang, I kind of liked this body…” or “ah, poo poo, I gotta go through puberty again??”

Solid Medium



The one where a skeleton tries to put himself back together

I really appreciate it when writers just say “yeah, it’s a skeleton, he’s got a meat suit, don’t fuckin’ worry about how it works.” I do kind of wish I understood what was causing him to fall apart, even a quick line “it had been this way since xxxxxx” would have been useful. That little detail aside, I think that the sense of danger and urgency is very real, and the use of the presents from Janine was very cute. It’s a neat little platonic romance between a skeleton and his work friend.

High, possible win


Viva Shaboople
Azza Bamboo

The one that DQed but you wrote it so I’m judging it. Also it’s about apps and the people who work on them.

I thought HeadHuntr was going to be way more sinister than it was and was a bit disappointed. Karl was also such an annoyance that I was surprised and kind of annoyed that he got the 20k instead of Martin. I don’t understand why Martin felt like he had to say no, or why he felt loyalty to Shaboople. I *did* like referring to the app users as “booples,” which was so absurd, cutesy, and irritating that I’m shocked it doesn’t already exist.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

flash: ...everyone saw a ghost!
988 words

The shriek of someone else’s cell phone alarm slapped Rose awake at the ungodly hour of seven AM. Her bandmate, Claire, groaned in the other bed. Claire rolled over, folding their pillow over their ears. Rose tried to follow suit, but the tinny, shrill rendition of the Macarena bored directly into her skull.

Ten agonizing minutes later, the alarm stopped. Rose breathed a sigh of relief and drifted back to sleep.


Rose’s eyes flew open. She stared at the hotel clock. Seven forty-five.

“What the gently caress,” Claire growled. “It’s the weekend. The con opens at nine. Who the gently caress wakes up this early?”

Rose rubbed her eyes. “Some fancy cosplayer maybe?”

“I’ll garrotte them with their own el wire,” Claire promised. The music stopped abruptly. Both sighed with relief.

It was harder to fall asleep this time. Rose squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.

At eight fifteen the alarm went off again. Claire rolled over and stared at Rose. “Tori is still asleep,” they said, their voice full of jealous disgust, jerking a thumb at the third member of the band, who shared the second hotel bed with them.

“No’m not,” Tori mumbled, pushing herself onto her elbows. She blinked, blearily, squinting without her glasses. She frowned. “Who’s playing the Macarena?”

“An absolute psychopath,” Rose said.

Claire glared balefully at the wall between the rooms. “When’s our first concert?”

Rose sighed and reached into her purse, rummaging through it for the convention schedule. “The Damsels aren’t on until 4, but you’re judging a filk competition at 11, and I’m on a stage makeup panel at noon.”

“That’s enough time to hide a body.”

The music stopped. Tori shrugged and grabbed her clothes. “Hey, Rose, do you need to use the bathroom before I shower?”

Rose shook her head and gave a thumbs up, eyes closed. She’d drifted into the cool, gray space that was before sleep when the dulcet tones of Los Del Rio came blasting back through the wall.

“Okay, gently caress this,” she said, throwing off the sheets and standing up. “I’m going to go get breakfast.” Rose pulled on her jeans and a t-shirt with the band’s logo on it: a lute shaped like a skull and the words DISRESPECTFUL DAMSELS in a bold font. “Come on, we’ll feel better after food.”

They sat in a coffee shop down the street, sipping lattes and nibbling on pastry, mostly trying to kill time in hopes that the phone would no longer ring. Tori joined them after a while, her hair still damp and curly from the shower.

“That phone went off two more times before I left,” she said as she picked at a bagel. “I think they might be dead.”

“If they’re not, they will be,” Claire muttered darkly, hunched over their cup like a vulture.

Returning to their rooms after breakfast to prepare for the rest of the day, the Damsels again heard the dreadful music coming from the room next door.

“They must have left their phone in the room,” Rose said. “It’s been hours. No loving god would allow them to be in their room while that happened.”

Claire sniffed the air. There was a distinctly herbal quality to it that was not foreign to any of the Damsels. “Is that… That’s not weed. That’s sage.”

Tori pressed her ear to the door. “Someone’s there, I can hear them moving,” she whispered. She pounded on the door. “Excuse me? Your alarm is still going off, friend!”

The door cracked open, revealing a slim, early-twenties man with thick glasses and a Green Lantern t-shirt. He looked petrified. “Oh my god,” he said. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it stop. Can you… Do you know any kind of like… magic or…” He raked a hand over his hair and swallowed. “I know it sounds crazy but… just look!”

On the hotel desk, above his phone hovered a ghostly woman.

Her spine was stiff, her fists clenched at her sides as she shrieked the words to the song through an expression of absolute fury. As the Damsels gaped at her, the ghost’s face contorted further, teeth lengthening, and plunging the room into supernatural cold. She howled, pointing at the band with hooked, gnarled fingers and snarled a single word: “Dance.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing!” He said, panic rising in his voice. “Every time I try to pick up my phone she slaps me and yells at me to dance! And every time I try she just gets madder! I don’t know what’s happening!”

“Have you tried doing the Macarena?” Claire shouted over the music.

The young man looked at them as if they were insane. “The what?!”

The Damsels shared a knowing look. Of course he wouldn’t know, why would a Zoomer remember a fad that happened when most of the Damsels themselves were in elementary school?

“Okay,” Tori said, her voice full of authority. “Copy what we do.” The band members positioned themselves around the phone, directing the young man where to stand. The ghost pointed at him and shrieked again, demanding that he dance.

When the chorus began, they started the dance. The young man tried to follow along, clumsy at first. His attempts seemed to enrage the ghost, who shrieked louder, her form expanding. Frost began to form at the windows, but the band kept dancing.

But by the end of the second jump-turn, he’d figured it out. Gradually the ghost’s screaming quieted, her expression softening. She entered the second stanza smiling, laughing along and swaying her hips. She shrank to the size of a doll, just hovering a few centimeters above the phone, dancing along with them through the end of the song. She smiled at the young man as the volume diminished, blowing him a kiss before disappearing.

And then there was blessed silence.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

The Honorable Guild Of Barber Surgeons
bumpy orb
1290 words

It hadn’t been that long ago that Olyaga Haaskdottir could walk thirty miles in a day with a heavy pack, fight a horde of monsters, and then drink her bodyweight in ale without thinking about it. Her friend and fellow Adventurers’ Guild member, Vladim, was a priest of the Radiant God, and his divine healing always set her right.

But these days it didn’t seem to stick. Her knee clicked when she walked, and after only a few miles she was plagued with stabbing pains. Her shoulder ached even when she wasn’t wearing her pack, making it hard to ride when she could afford a horse, and hard to help around camp.

She gritted her teeth and pushed through it, as was the orcish way. Then they were ambushed by gnolls on the way back to the capital city. Olyaga roared, charging at the leader, her ax held low to cleave under his armor… and then her knee gave out halfway through the charge, sending her sprawling, an easy target for the gnoll’s war-club. Thank gods for the sacred fury that flowed through her in times of dire need, or she’d be dead.

Vladim drew a line. If magical healing wasn’t working, she needed the mundane. “The Guild has a new contract with the Barber-Surgeons,” he said. “Pay them a visit when we get home.”

Olya groaned. “Who pays real gold for a barber-surgeon when clerics exist?”

Vladim shrugged, heartlessly. “People whose knees hurt even after their long-suffering clerics heal them a dozen times.”

Olya grumbled, but the fact was the church of the Radiant God had already done all it could for her. The Honorable Guild of Barber-Surgeons was the last chance for her to be pain free again.

A week and a half later she found herself sitting self-consciously in a tiny room in the HGOBS guildhall. The room was pretty bare, the sole furnishings were a bench with a comfortable cushion on it and a desk upon which lay a blue sphere.

Olya picked it up. The barber-surgeons weren’t mages, so it couldn’t be proper magic at all. It was warm to the touch, covered in tiny bumps, and was made of some tough, dense material. It reminded her of the hide of some beasts she'd fought, though they weren't the same vibrant color.

Eventually a middle aged goblin woman hustled into the room. "Hello, my name is Kha-cirript<click>. Just call me Kelly. Adventurer Haaskdottir, is it?" She squinted up at Olya, the top of her topknot barely reaching higher than the half-orc's knee. "What brings you here?"

“My knee. And my shoulder.”

"Hmm." She took a lead pencil and wrote some things on a piece of paper labeled with Olya’s name. "What happened to them?"

"Log trap smashed my knee last year. The Radiant God healed it, but it's hurt ever since. And a troll broke my shoulder last month. Same thing, except I let the wizard try healing me. It healed, but now it just hurts whenever I move it." Olya rotated her shoulder, wincing for emphasis. "I carry a heavy pack and need to walk or ride long distances. I'm too young to retire from the Guild, but I can barely walk like this."

Kelly scribbled some more notes in handwriting so illegible it may as well have been arcane script. "Your guild paperwork says you use a battleaxe? When you try other weapons, does the pain lessen?”

“Not really. Carrying less weight helps my knee some, but the shoulder always aches.”

Kelly nodded and picked up the bumpy orb.

"This won't hurt much," she said, ”Lie down on the bench please.” When Olya did so, the barber-surgeon ran the ball along the back of her leg, then across her shoulder, moving it in little circles in such a way that brought out a deep ache in Olya’s muscles.

“What the gently caress is that?” Olya asked, grunting as the pressure increased. She wouldn’t have thought a skinny little goblin would be able to put in so much pressure.

“Therapeutic massage,” the woman said. “Also diagnostic. You can sit up now.” As Olya did so, she saw that the little ball had turned from a blue to a mixed shade of green and brown. Kelly took a few more notes and placed the ball back on the desk. “Bad news first. You’ve got arthritis in your knee and some swelling in your shoulder, probably from repetitive motion. Healing magic takes care of that poo poo when you’re young, but as you get older…” she shrugged. “The gods assume that older bodies just wear down. That’s why you still die of old age even if you’ve been healed a thousand times.”

“So what’s the good news?”

“Good news is there’s a healing ritual you can perform daily. I’ll teach it to you. If you do this every morning, your pain will go away. Does that make sense?”

Olya nodded, slowly. She’d have to give up some sleep, but it might be worth it. Kelly continued. “I’ll show you the steps today. Come back day after tomorrow and every other day for the next two weeks. Once you have the ritual down, feel free to go out adventuring again.”

The barber-surgeon led her to a slightly larger room, this one paneled with mirrors, and began showing her the steps to a slow ritual dance, bouncing on her toes, rotating her ankles, stretching out her hips and raising and lowering her arms in sequence. She held the little orb in various positions as she did, and she watched it slowly move from green and brown back to blue.

“Can I keep this?” Olya asked, holding up the ball. Kelly shook her head.

“Sorry, no freebies.”

Olya was about to respond when a werewolf came flying through the doorway and smashed into the mirror behind them. Kelly gaped at it, “Mr. Arkanos, are you all right?!”

The wolf rolled over. “Gnolls,” he managed to mumble through a broken jaw. “Dozens of them.”

Olya was not interested in Mr. Arkanos. She could feel the heat filling her body as the sacred fury came over her. “Kelly,” she rasped before the red haze descended. “Where is my axe?”

Kelly shook herself out of her daze. “Front desk! We’ll barricade in here!” The goblin woman opened a hidden compartment and took out a pair of crossbows and a quiver of bolts. “Go!”

Olya didn’t need permission.

A pair of gnolls blocked her path. They leered at her, seeing her unarmored and unarmed. Or so they thought. Olya whipped the little orb at the larger of the two, striking it directly between the eyes with the heavy ball. It collapsed, dazed, and Olya snatched up the ball and the gnoll’s sword and buried it in the other gnoll’s gut, withdrawing it in a trail of bloody ruin as she ran toward the front desk.

The lobby was chaos. The Barber-Surgeons guildhall was across from the Adventurers’ Guild, and so between the gnolls and every journeyman adventurer, it was an absolute sea of blood and viscera. Olya’s axe had been used, but then discarded. She scooped it up and went to work.

When the red haze vanished, Olya found herself standing next to Kelly. The barber-surgeon had abandoned the crossbows and was armed instead with a pair of long daggers, almost short swords on her frame. Kelly glanced up at her, grinning fiercely.

“How’s the shoulder?” She asked.

Olya blinked and shrugged, testing it. “Still sore,” she said. “But better.”

Kelly patted Olya on her hip, which was about as high as she could reach. “Thank you for your help. Go ahead and keep the diagnostic orb. We’ll see you in a few days.”

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Seems hard.


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

A character is a researcher
Your story takes place on a vacation
A stranger comes to town
In the last third of your story a twist must occur

The Right Thing
1492 words

You don’t leave this job behind.

I was on vacation in Hawai’i. I wanted something different, something utterly unlike home. I wanted warmth. And I wanted privacy, somewhere I wouldn’t have to think about work. A nice hotel room overlooking the beach in Honolulu seemed perfect. But then these kids kept kicking sand on people. I grabbed a magazine to read, trying to ignore their yelps and cackles of glee while they ran wild around the beach, knocking over other kids sand castles, using foul language, and flinging garbage all over the beach.

“Hey,” I said once, trying to give them a chance. “Don’t litter, you see the signs?”

The little boy looked shocked that I’d spoken, his big brown eyes were wide and round. But his sister put her hands on her hips and just laughed at me. “Mind your business,” she said, her tone decades older than her age. “The hotel pays people to clean the beach! We’re being job creators!”

“That’s not how that works…” I tried, but they just ran off.

I sighed and got out my notebook. I should have left it in the hotel room. No, I should have left it back at the office, but like I said, you don’t leave this job behind.

Mikaela and Damon Anderson, I wrote. Evidence for Naughty List.

I didn’t introduce myself earlier. The name’s McMittens. Cheery McMittens. I’m an investigator for Santa.

So anyway, I was on the beach, taking my notes instead of drinking rum and enjoying the sunshine. I told myself it would stop there, though. I’d take my notes and check in when I got back to the North Pole. Some other elf was on the job. I was on vacation.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. I went back to my hotel, a little tipsy at the end of the night, and who should I see sitting outside of the room next door but the two holy terrors from the beach. They didn’t look like terrors now. They looked like scared kids. Mikaela was crying silently, her knees pulled up to her chest. There were fresh bruises on her upper arms. Damon sat next to her, his skinny arm over her shoulders. He had a cut over one eye. I used a quick glamour to hide my presence.

“We gotta tell mom,” Damon said. His voice was terrible, unchildlike monotone.

Mikaela shook her head. “She won’t let us see him anymore. You heard what he said.”

“He’s drunk. He says all kinds of stuff when he’s drunk.”

She sniffed, the first audible sound that indicated she’d been crying at all, and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “If he does kill himself though… it’d be our fault, wouldn’t it?”

Okay. That was enough. I went back down the hall to drop my glamour and made a whole bunch of noise on the way over, giving the kids plenty of time to cover back up. I look like a grown human man when I’m in the world, see, and a random, tipsy, male, stranger isn’t exactly who you want to see you when you’re a vulnerable kid. As I expected, they’d made themselves scarce by the time I came back down the hall.

Once in my room I placed a call back to HQ, requesting info on the kids. I received back a whole mess of data. See, the job isn’t just watching. It’s research into extenuating circumstances. Most kids, they ain’t assholes by nature. All kinds of poo poo can happen to make a kid act out, and denying kids in bad situations loving and thoughtful Christmas gifts would be, you know, super hosed up, right?

These kids had been on the Naughty-With-Extenuating-Circumstances list since their parents split. Dad was an abusive shithead. Mom was nice enough but just the right combo of clueless, busy, and conflict averse that made her a perfect ignorant enabler.

Well, poo poo.

I’m not supposed to interfere. But I went into this job because I want kids to be happy, and I had an opportunity to do some good here. And to be honest I was kinda drunk and more than kinda furious at this guy and I wanted there to be some loving consequences, okay? So I did some elf magic and walked into his dreams and I found the little part that governs empathy, the one he’d turned off or had turned off for him by life ages ago, and I turned that fucker up to eleven.

And do you know what? I went to bed after that and I slept like a goddamn baby, knowing that son of a bitch was having the worst nightmares he’d had since he was a kid.

The next morning I didn’t see them. The kids weren’t on the beach. I didn’t hear anything from the room next door either. I started having some doubts about my excellent plan. So I sent a sheepish report back home, letting them know what I’d done. I fully expected a censure.

What I didn’t expect was a strange, thin man in a suit to appear across the breakfast table from me, smiling disconcertingly. He wasn’t thin like a skinny human. He was thin like a broom handle, like a being with no bones, or at least bones very unlike those of a human. He smiled like he was in pain, like the joints of his jaw didn’t work properly.

“Hello, Agent McMittens,” the man said in a deep baritone. “I am Scaldretch, imp of the fifth circle. I am led to understand that you are one of Father Christmas’s elves?”

“Yeeees,” I said slowly. I tried not to shake in my seat. I’d never met any sort of infernal being before, and I really didn’t like that he knew my name. “What, uh… what brings you here?”

Another one of those painful smiles. “Why, can an imp not appreciate the natural beauty of Hawai’i?”


“Oh don’t trouble yourself with it.” Scaldretch placed a single sheet of paper on the table. “Your actions last night interfered with an active Temptation and required a costly reversal. Mr. Ronald Anderson is under my tutelage, Agent McMittens, and so I am here to serve you with an Infernal cease and desist order. You are not to interfere with my client any longer.”

I grabbed the paper off the table and read it. It was just a few lines of print, imps of wrath weren’t as big on the legalese as others of their kind, but I recognized that seal. “I don’t care about him,” I growled. “But you’re hurting the kids.”

“No,” he said primly. “He is hurting the kids. That’s the point, you see. Simply possessing someone and forcing them to do evil doesn’t lead their souls to hell, it usually does the opposite. They wind up seeking redemption for sins that aren’t even theirs to begin with. No, he wants to hurt his kids. I merely point out the easiest paths for him to do so.”

My jaw just about hit the table. “That’s loving horrible!”

He laughed. I’d heard more pleasant sounds from a garbage disposal. “Of course! That’s the point! Now, if you come near my client again, I think you’ll find that I am quite within my rights to tear your spirit asunder and mail your corporeal form back to your loved ones in quite a few very small boxes.” He took my glass of water and drank it in one gulp. “Goodbye, Agent McMuffin. Have a lovely holiday.”

Not going to lie, I fumed there at the table for a long while. But then I got to thinking. I’m a Christmas elf. It’s not my job to punish bad guys. It’s my job to give gifts.

The truth is a gift. So I gave it to the kids’ mother.

She showed up to Hawai’i earlier than dad expected. He wasn’t on his best behavior. He was drunk as hell and screaming at the kids when she showed up. Mom was shocked, but my gift had lifted the scales from her eyes, as they say. She packed up Mikaela and Damon’s things while he raged and cried and screamed at her and them and God and everybody. In less than an hour, the kids were safe with their mother in a different hotel on a different island.

Back at the North Pole, I got a quiet commendation and a stern warning to never do poo poo like that again. Nobody wants to deal with infernals, even if thwarting them is the right thing to do. After a while of therapy and living in a less toxic place, the kids ended up on the Nice list, without any qualifiers. And Scaldretch called me, furious.

“You son of a whore! Your meddling cost me a soul!” He screamed. “He’s in anger management therapy now! What the gently caress am I supposed to do with that?!”

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Here are the cards in the same order I posted their meanings, sorry for the fumble!

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


Prompt: Hotel California but it's a Waffle House in Wilmington, Delaware.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

flerp posted:

bigfoot is at your door. he's angry. he's asking where his boyfriend the loch ness monster is. problem: you're dating the loch ness monster

Claiming this one!

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Prompt: bigfoot is at your door. he's angry. he's asking where his boyfriend the loch ness monster is. problem: you're dating the loch ness monster

Breaking Hearts At Camp Kippakriptid
1321 words

“The sunsets here are incredible,” Ness said, lounging next to me on the hill. He wasn’t looking at the sun though. He was looking at me. I stroked his long, graceful neck with one taloned hand. He was deceptively cool to the touch, though I shouldn’t be surprised by that. He’s a cold-water creature after all.

“You’re incredible,” I said back, cleverly. He grinned at me, and I felt like I could drown in those beautiful eyes. I leaned in to kiss him. My first boyfriend, my first kiss… I’d been coming to camp for years in the hopes of this…

A trumpet blared through the camp’s loudspeaker just before our lips touched, making both of us jump, breaking the moment. He ducked his head, suddenly shy. “I guess we should head back.”

I stretched, wings fanning the warm evening air, feigning nonchalance. “Yeah, I guess so.”

We held hands until we reached the cabin area. If anyone knew we were dating the camp counselors would start to monitor our behavior and get really embarrassing about it. And also my family would completely freak out.

Ness smiled and waved before heading to his cabin. Chesapeake. I watched him go before heading to Chicxulub cabin, where Maeve was trying to braid Zip’s snakes without getting bitten. Zip looked at me, her red eyes glinting behind her dark glasses. “So did you do it?” She asked immediately.

“Well, hi to you too,” I said, climbing the ladder up to my bunk. I flopped down onto the bed. “No. We almost did, but then they called for lights out.”

Maeve shook her head. “You should have just stayed out. The counselors never actually do bed checks. They haven’t even noticed that you and Ness have been going out for the past two weeks.”

I sighed, loud and dramatic. “He’s a rule follower. Scared of the attention. And I’m just destined to die a lonely virgin.”

Zip shrugged. “There are worse things to be,” she said. “Sorry,” she added as one of her snakes got loose and sank its fangs into one of Maeve’s ink-black fingers.

“It’s okay, the whole Morrigan line is immune to snake venom.” Maeve said, shaking her hand. Her blood hissed as it hit the floor, eating through the boards like acid. She gripped the errant serpent between two fingers and twisted it back into place. “But for real, Amena, if he’s such a goody-two-shoes, you’ve got to start taking the reins. Don’t wait for him.”

“I know,” I said. “But it’s hard. The moment just seems perfect and I’m afraid to gently caress it up by being clumsy. He’s older than me, you know? More experienced.”

Zip’s reply was likely to be as caustic as Maeve’s blood, but I’d never find out what it was, since she was cut off by a furious pounding on our cabin door.

“Ness!” A foghorn deep voice roared. “Ness, you soggy coward! I know you’re in there!”

Everyone froze. Zip adjusted her glasses. “This is a girl’s cabin, jackass!” She called back. “Go the gently caress away!”

The voice growled. We could hear him stomping around the cabin to the window, peering inside. His low, sloping brow was lined with anger, tiny, beetle-black eyes glaring furiously into our cabin. I recognized him as Bruce, one of the boys from the cabin neighboring Ness’s. “Where the gently caress is he?” Bruce demanded, banging one huge, hairy fist against the glass.

I hopped out of my bunk and strode over to the door. Zip hissed a warning at me. Bruce was nearly eight feet tall and muscled like… well like the Sasquatch that he is. And I’m a harpy. Sharp claws, but light, brittle bones. I hissed at her to back me up. “The nurse can de-petrify him if he’s got to!”

“Sure, but then we’ve got the ugliest lawn ornament until sunrise!”

Undeterred by my roommate’s griping, I threw open the door and stared up at Bruce. “Why are you looking for my boyfriend?” I demanded.

“I’m not,” he snarled. “I’m looking for my boyfriend. He stood me up. Again.” He stamped forward me, massive hands balled into fists. “He was with you, wasn’t he?”

I stood my ground, sneering, the ruff of feathers around my neck and shoulders flared as he approached. “What the gently caress are you talking about?” I spat. “Ness and I have been dating for two weeks.”

“Two…” Bruce stopped, looming over me. His brutish face, once lined with anger now just seemed… hurt. “But… he asked me out last summer. He’s been saying… he wrote me letters all year about…” tears formed in his eyes.

What. The actual. gently caress.

It felt like someone had pulled all the air out of my lungs. It felt the way the unflighted described free-fall. It felt like the rug, no, the entire planet had been pulled out from under my feet.

“Since last summer, huh?”

Bruce nodded, collapsing against the wall of the cabin which shook the entire building. “Yeah. He wanted to keep it quiet, you know? He doesn’t want the attention.”

I flinched. “That’s exactly what he said to me.”

We were quiet for a few moments. The door opened again and Zip stepped out, her long braid of snakes swinging behind her. She regarded us pensively. “So he’s cheating on you,” she said.

Bruce hid his face in his hands. I felt like doing the same, frankly. “Apparently he’s cheating on both of us,” I said.

Maeve joined us, a fourth shadow on the porch. “Seems to me like it’s only a problem if you make it one, yeah? Triads are great.”

Bruce and I looked at one another, then immediately looked away. “No offense,” he rumbled. “I’m just not into girls.”

“And I’m not a loving moron,” I snapped. “I’m not getting into a ‘triad’ or whatever with someone who lied to my face. He told me he was single.”

“You need revenge,” Zip said gleefully.

Bruce growled. “Yeah. We do.”

“Were you supposed to meet him tonight?” I asked, clicking my claws together. “At Chesapeake?”

He shook his head. “He was supposed to meet me at Tunguska. He’s not in his cabin, though. I checked there first.”

I looked at my roommates. “Do you think his roomies would let you in?”

“Probably. They’d probably help, honestly. He told me they don’t like him much. I just assumed they were, you know. Homophobic. Not cheating-jackass-phobic.”

Zip’s snakes hissed again. “If they knew they had a duty to warn you,” she said. “We should punish them too. We could do it to all of them.”

Maeve laughed. “Oh my god, Zip, are you getting off on this?”

I shook my head, ignoring their banter. “No. I want this to be targeted. I want him to know exactly who it was.”

With the help of my kindred spirits of vengeance, and also Bruce, we hatched a plan.

The next morning the camp woke up to see all of Ness’s clothing hanging from the very top branches of the trees, and his swim trunks flying from the top of the flagpole. The word “CHEATER” was written across them in my favorite crimson nail polish. Ness had to beg the counselors, a too-small camp towel wrapped around his waist, to get his clothes down. It took nearly all morning.

He found me later, sitting back up on the hill where we’d watched the sunset the night before. One of his eyes was black. I smirked. He must have tried talking to Bruce first. “What the gently caress, Amena?”

I just laughed at him. “You stupid bitch. I’m glad I never kissed you.” I spread my wings. “gently caress off to your nasty lake, I’m done with you.” I flew back to my cabin, feeling victorious and free.

I didn’t kiss a boy that summer, but I still managed to break a heart.

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

a friendly penguin posted:

Chili and Princess Chernobyl! I have been informed that you don't put enough Old Bay on your berger cookies. We must brawl!

Vile slander! Caluminy and lies! I sweat old bay and am, personally, a blue crab! I snap my claws menacingly and accept your challenge!


Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

flerp posted:

a friendly chernobyl chili brawltimore

we're keeping it simple. there's three of you. your story is centered on a classic mexican standoff. one of the participants is not human.

2k words max.

you have until lets say jan 4 midnight pst. toxx up the rest of you lot

Yesssss :toxx:

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