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Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Dragon Week Crits

Amona in the Waves
There’s a fair bit of plot to cram in here, but despite that this story seems to have very little sense of economy and efficiency when it comes to working through those plot points. The primary victim here is characterization -- for a story about a grief-set miner and tragic widow driven to a crime of passion by a dragon-whispered rumour in the dark, every single person in this story is wet cardboard draped across needlessly bloviated scene and action descriptions.

A Tale of Geldal
I’m just going to start by pointing out that in no way is this “a tale of Geldal”, unless in the sense of it being a tale that is told in Geldal, and either way it’s boring as titles go. The rest of the story is exhausting, like listening to a teenager who’s had too much sugar explain their fan fic in chaotic detail. The story starts out a bit wobbly, but with a classic recipe: crusty dad has two sons, a smart one and a dreamy one, and sends them out to save the village from a dragon. Now, the way this recipe usually goes is that the two sons go on their journey, and they learn more about each other and gain new respect for one another, and then realize that it is through the combination of their talents that they might ultimately triumph over their common foe and win the approval of their crusty dad. Instead, the dreamy one turns himself into a statue in a throwaway sentence that’s delivered so nonchalantly that I suspect most readers will miss it the first time around, and then the smart one uses his big brains to… carry the statue to the dragon, where he then manages to completely whiff the “reasoning with the dragon” plan. Then statue brother, the dreamy one, who loves herbs and mushrooms, solves the dragon puzzle by giving the dragon a tonsillectomy. Crusty dad is not mentioned again. Good fiction is often described as promises made and kept -- I’d encourage you to marinate on that one.

Although we do learn in the process that dragon fire is stored in the tonsils, so there’s that.

wild one
This is pretty good -- the dynamic between the brothers is well established from the beginning, and the voicing through the dialogue is strong. The line “Just because we got the same daddy don’t mean we brothers, man.” is great, and it’s well positioned at the peak of the build. From there the story coasts out to a satisfying albeit predictable ending. I like a lot of things about this story -- I like that it’s never explained why there are wild ferocious hippos infesting the swamps of Alabama, and that of course the hippo rodeo scene is racist as hell. I like the idea that Seminoles were aided in their resistance by a dragon named Big Daddy Tooth, and that that legend would be irresistible to TaPharaoh. It’s not without its flaws: the back end of the story is a little rushed, and the brother’s conversion from full-blown skepticism to secret believer isn’t quite earned. I think that a scene description of TaPharaoh, alive and under the bright lights atop a rampaging bull hippo, would help to flesh out his attraction to the sport that’s otherwise still a little baffling. And I don’t think you’d necessarily need much more in the way of word count to bring it in -- I think you’ve got room to condense down some of the early dialogue to bring it down to fight weight. Also, Breaux Bridge needs an ‘a’ in it. But a strong contender nonetheless.

Precipitation
This probably won’t come as much of a compliment, but there are some genuinely funny moments in this story. I love this farmer, who lives in a desert, who climbs up a mountain to yell at a cloud, and curses the name (which he presumably does not know) of the cloud dragon, and that this was the first time any person had ever spoken to the dragon. I kind of wish you would have just leaned into the Grandpa Simpson vibes of it all, because the rest of it is a My First Creation Mythology coloring book that’s been scribbled over with weird crayons.

You’re Watching the Dragon Channel
There are some good lines here and there that nail that Attenborough voicing, but it’s not entirely consistent across the board, and for my tastes the story goes on a bit too long -- something around half the word count feels more appropriate for the setup you’re working with. Part of the problem is that nature doc dialogue is by definition designed to accompany supporting visuals, which you don’t have, and the longer the piece goes on the more obvious that lack becomes. Towards the end, the dialogue loses sight of the voicing and becomes more plainly expository, which unfortunately erodes some of the goodwill established earlier on. Still, not at all an unenjoyable read, and there’s potential in the concept, just needs some tightening.

Shall We Slay Dragons Together?
The idea of dragons hoarding ghost buttcoins is genuinely great, and if it was given room to draw focus it could easily carry a short story like this one, but it’s crowded out by overstuffing. There are too many characters with too many technomagical superpowers to keep straight, at least for me, and I started to glaze over when the climactic final battle started to kick into gear, which is not a great sign. I didn’t really need the flashback with Ivan and Claire -- would’ve been better to just allude to it in passing and keep the momentum of the main story going.

The Return of the Four Dragons
Another one with some presumably unintentional yet very funny lines -- I especially enjoyed that the dragons all made a solemn vow to never regret helping humans thousands of years ago, and that the Long Dragon got super mad because some youths threw a bicycle at it. There’s a lot of after-school-special energy going on here, what with trash-happy humans learning the error of their ways and apologizing for throwing their bicycles in the river, which is fine if you’re going for Captain Planet. It’s a bit over-complicated for that to land well, though. I don’t particularly understand or care why the story needs there to be four dragons when they all have the exact same problem and thus fails to differentiate them significantly, nor do I much care about a Jade Emperor or a Celestial Dragon or a Mountain God who are all there just to be there, it seems.

Roll to Save Against Personal Growth
You’ve got a decent ear for dialogue, but you need to learn how to format it -- there are several places where you’ve got multiple characters talking past each other within a single paragraph and an almost breathtaking nonchalance with regard to the use of attribution tags, and it doesn’t do comedy any favours if the readers is having to go back and forth over a paragraph trying to unpick which character is saying what. Plot-wise, I’d say you’ve got all the right pieces laid out, and you start the story at the right point. I think that giving Belphod a family therapist voicing was a smart move, and I think that the story would have been better if you had committed to that more fully, and given us a fearsome dragon trying to help a dysfunctional royal family get to the bottom of their intergenerational trust issues -- I mean, having the dragon eat the king at the end is fine, but it’s kind of expected.

To Expect Any Different
My reaction after reading the first paragraph was “oh boy, this is going to be a loving chore”, but it ended up being a much breezier read than the opening promised (for which I am grateful, to be clear). I think there’s an interesting wind-up here, but it feels like you put a bunch of pieces in motion and then couldn’t figure out how to bring them together -- I’m not clear on why this dragon, deft manipulator of the material manifold, is so invested in his Excel spreadsheet of added numbers, or why it was important that we know that Edmond was also known as John, or why/how the name of the billy-goat-to-be defies reckoning.

The True Story of Georgia Jenkins and Harold Jumpington
My parents were big on handmade gifts, but by the time I was thirteen I had begun to realize that my traditional gifting medium of felt pen inexpertly applied to printer paper was disappointingly amenable to being stuffed into a filing cabinet shortly after presentation. I decided that the problem was not that my drawings were terrible, but rather that they simply weren’t three dimensional enough, and as luck would have it we also had a pottery elective that year. Not content with a standard mug, and not cool enough to make a “vase” like the stoner kids, I instead birthed a five kilogram clay monstrosity of a dragon that took an ungodly amount of time to fire. It survives to this day, looks like it’s taking an angry dump, and most importantly does not fit in any of our filing cabinets. I was no stranger to the art of disappointing my parents by this point in life, but the expression that came over my mother’s face as she unwrapped that clay dragon on her birthday is one I will never forget.

Anyway, that’s my clay dragon story, I liked this one too. It was cute and light and didn’t go much of anywhere but sometimes that’s fine.

Three Lies
Huh. This is a difficult one to parse. It took me a while to work out that Metheus was human, and a bit more investment into early description and a few more dialogue attribution tags could have cleared that up. Seeing as how you’re bang on the word count, I’m going to guess that you got yourself under par by scraping out as many dialogue attribution tags as you could, and I think there’s been some damage. I’m also not sure what’s going on with Evercrume / Endercome / Esterflame; it’s confusing as a reader, and if the point is just that Metheus is lying, well, you already said that. The one question you did really need to answer was “why is Metheus lying to Herudo?”, and you don’t do that: if Herudo is the key to Metheus’s freedom, then why would Metheus make Herudo disappear? If Metheus is lying when he says “That wouldn’t work”, how does he know that it’s a lie? I don’t get it. Also, I wasn’t counting but I think there were more than three lies.

Gossolix’s Happy Birthday
This is charmingly batty. There’s a lot of great little snippets of language throughout; I especially enjoyed Dorve making “a sound like a horse inhaling a bee” -- I have no idea what that sounds like, but I imagine it’s impressive. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but it took me a beat to work out that Rennietta’s broom was a flying broom, and that the two ladies were sitting on it as it was falling out of the sky post-stall. That’s probably me just being dense after reading a lot of dragon stories, but I think a little extra description wouldn’t have gone amiss for those seated in the attentive cheap seats. Anyway: very cute, very fun, the male dragon living his bejewelled sunset fantasy was primo chef kiss, and who indeed can be bothered with the patriarchy when there’s cake?

Clutch and Kindle
The “one of these kittens is not like the others” gambit is a good one, and I was very much on board to see what happened with a dragon raised by a barn cat, but I don’t think you did as much with the setup as you could have. The other kittens don’t get any characterization for the dragon kitten to play against, and they disappear quickly without having contributed much, and then the action between the humans on the farm and the dragon happens mostly off-screen, with Minka in the forest chasing rabbits. “Momma dragon shows up and takes her baby home” is fine as endings go, if a bit predictable -- I was hoping for something more like “dragon kitten teaches the mean rats in the kitchen a lesson and becomes beloved family pet” or “dragon kitten wins best cat in show at the county fair”. But I think the story instincts are good here, and I think this could be a cool little children’s story with a bit more polish.

Don’t Go Chasing Space Refrigerators
I think your title promised more fun than the story delivered, which is always a bit of a shame -- what we’ve got here is a standard dragon story with a coat of sci-fi paint, and you could have taken these parts and done something a bit more interesting with them. I’m also a little confused about why the story is so coy around its ending -- I’m assuming we’re supposed to understand that Finn gave the dragon her prosthetic arm so that she could escape, but I don’t know why the story leaves that scene out, given that it’s one of the more interesting scenes in the story. Instead, there’s a lot of description that paints a generic sci-fi world without adding much -- I would have cut these more heavily to leave more space for the climactic encounter part. I also think the voicing on the dragon was a bit generic, and that’s a shame because the general concept of an electrical dragon formed from hoarded bits of spaceships is undeniably badass. Plenty of potential here, but needs more work.

Rook
As concepts go, a giant sculpture of a dragon coming to life and causing consternation to a city isn’t bad, but this story is missing any real sense of stakes or characterization -- for all the hand-wringing and bazookas, the dragon basically just hangs out, occasionally chomps a child, and writes letters to its pen pals (allegedly), and then one day it leaves. The artist, who probably smokes clove cigarettes, is all “what business is it of mine if my art eats people?” and somehow that line works. Much like this story, he sets up something cool and then maddeningly refuses to do anything with it.

Malicious Compliance
The fact that Kreust didn’t kill Walther for that awful horde pun is the least credible bit of storytelling in this entire week. “Cauldron list” was marginally better. The rest of the story smacks of last minute submission squeakery, and it needed more time in the oven.

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Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Reflection
1271 words

I’m in an Uber on the way to the airport. My reflection is a thin ghost in the window, suspended in the slow dance of twinkling homes draped over the hills.

It’s crazy how big this city is: it just keeps going and going, more and more houses, thousands upon thousands. All these other people. It’s so much bigger than the city that exists in my head, so much bigger than the boundaries of my experience. There’s so much I never saw. But maybe I’ll come back one day.

I’m traveling light. I’ve got a plane ticket my parents bought for me, and a single suitcase. I read somewhere that when you move, you have to move, you have to get rid of everything. So it’s all gone, all the flesh of the life that I made here, scattered like a sky burial, borne away by Craigslist-summoned flocks of carrion birds.

I almost could’ve gotten away with a carry-on, except for the toiletries. I don’t know how long I’ll be home for, but I’m not ready to go back to Walgreens conditioner just yet.

The airport is coming closer, the complex concrete vascular system overwhelming, like something out of a sci-fi movie. The driver’s asking me which terminal.

“United,” I tell him.

#

We died slow.

Evening after evening, sitting in our little living room, cradling takeout from the Thai place that we’d had a thousand times. Not even that good, but familiar, something we could agree on. We’d be sitting at opposite ends of the couch, underneath separate blankets, lost in our private glowing rectangles. I remember looking at the black television, seeing our dim reflections in the glass, phones lighting our faces from below like campers telling ghost stories with flashlights.

The love was long gone. There was no big blow-up, just a slow dulling over time. Like when people talk about a frog in a pot of water where the temperature’s increasing so slowly that the frog doesn’t realize it’s being cooked, but backwards. I guess it should work with a pot of water that gets colder too; it’s maybe less relatable from a metaphor standpoint, but I don’t really feel like I have a touchpoint for boiling frogs either. It all sounds kind of weird in a literal sense.

It was hard to even recognize Kate when she no longer loved me, like my whole idea of Kate was tangled up in the love that I once felt coming from her. I suppose she probably felt the same way about me. We were different in a lot of ways, but when we loved each other, it felt like we loved each other the way we wanted to be loved in turn, if that makes sense. I felt like the character of the love that came from Kate was the same as the love that poured out of me naturally.

And now that it was gone, I felt like maybe that was all I’d ever loved, the reflection of myself that I saw in her. Stupid, narcissist.

#

The first fight we had was in a Goodwill. Not like a yelling fight or anything. Some couples probably wouldn’t even call it a fight. Kate liked to go to thrift stores, pick through their furniture. I tried to get into it too, but Kate never liked the stuff I picked out for the house and I didn’t care enough to make a deal out of it, and so I’d spend the time making up little games instead. They were just little things, meant to be fun.

Kate was wobbling an old credenza with seventies style mirrored doors back and forth on uneven legs. I had been exploring the place and filling my shopping basket with every object that was robin’s egg blue that I could find -- a t-shirt, a single high heel, a book on etiquette for new wives. It was supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny.

“Look, all one color,” I said. It was a whole basket, packed to the brim, everything robin’s egg blue, none of it related.

Kate just looked at me blankly, immune to the basket’s charms. “You’re going to have to put all that stuff back.”

“Put them back? My priceless heirlooms? I couldn’t bear to part with a single one!”

Kate threw up her hands. “I can’t deal with you when you’re like this.”

That was the first time she’d said that to me. It would become a more persistent refrain. “Whoa, okay, fine, I’ll put them all back.”

“You could be helping me. I’m trying to find things to make our home nicer. I can’t carry all of that burden and give you the attention you want too. I just can’t.”

“I’m sorry.” I felt embarrassed about my stupid basket.

“Just put them back.” Kate turned back to the credenza, ran her finger over a chip in the mirror.

We bought the credenza. Kate still has it.

#

Before that, even before we moved in together, we used to go dancing at nightclubs, just the two of us. We’d go places where we didn’t know anyone, just to be in and among crowds. We looked good together. I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like a brag, but we were a hot couple. People would look at us when we were out on the dance floor. We liked the attention we got.

Maybe that’s shallow. It didn’t feel that way. It felt kind of magical, like we were inventing this thing that was us, growing this life under black light and mirror ball. When I try to remember the times when things were truly just good between us, that’s what I see: I see Kate, illuminated in flashes like frames of an undercranked film, moving in a sea of strangers, her eyes locked with mine.

#

The first time I stayed over at Kate’s place, we spent the afternoon outside. We walked in the botanical garden, and she talked about her grandma who’d just died. Back at her house -- she had roommates then -- we sat out on the front steps and drank Duvel out of mason jars on a slow golden summer evening.

She had dozens of candles in her bedroom. She was always careful about her spaces, the things she allowed in. We sat on the edge of her bed for a long time, in silence, facing a floor length mirror. She sat behind me, resting her chin on my shoulder, her arms draped across my collarbone, jawbones nuzzled up against each other. She looked at me in the mirror, seeing how we looked together, seeing how I fit.

She smiled at my reflection, and it felt like skinny dipping at midnight in a summer lake.

#

Before Kate, I never put stock in love at first sight.

I was late for our first in-person date and flustered. When I got to the café, which had these big plate glass windows out to the sidewalk, I reflexively checked myself out in the window, and too late I realized she was right there on the other side of the window. We made our first real life eye contact that way, through my own reflection of me awkwardly checking myself out, and she smiled a knowing smile at me, that kind of smile that says I see you.

I give my Uber driver the five stars he requests and extend the handle on my rolling suitcase. The revolving glass door to the terminal spins slowly, showing me my own reflection in the brief sweep of a lighthouse beam before swallowing me whole.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


in, hellrule, also U2 sucks change my mind

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


The Land Grows Weary Of Its Own
996 words

Their father had died suddenly (a stroke, immediate) and so it was that the three siblings were finally together again in the house they’d grown up in, amid a sea of strangers.

The corpse lay in a casket, peaceful, surrounded by photographs: a young boy in foreign clothes, playing in a little garden, impossibly blond hair; a young man, proud, in a military uniform. And then a gap: the remaining photographs in this country, where he escaped as a refugee, a flintiness to his expression that had been all the three children had ever known. A man, bearded and broad-shouldered, married, in love. A daughter, Anna, and then a second, Maria. And then, much later, the baby Mikhail, the miracle, the favorite.

Anna, the eldest, sat on the couch in the living room with their mother and held a box of tissues. A procession of mourners filed past and offered their sympathies. They were almost all from the old country: they spoke in low tones as though fearful of being overheard, and their hands trembled as they reached out to grasp Anna’s forearm and whispered to her of the loss their little community had suffered. Anna had been the first of the children their mother had called, and she’d come immediately.

None of them had been sure that Maria would come back, but she showed up on the morning of the wake in her dented car. Maria, the one who’d gotten farthest away, who only ever talked to Mikey with any regularity. A drunk, with bad luck in love; their mother had been relieved that she had not brought a boyfriend with her. She had only glanced into the casket, as though to confirm that their father really was dead, before filling a clear plastic cup with red wine to the brim and wandering out into the yard to smoke.

And little Mikey, named for his father, the sensitive boy who wanted to be an artist and kept little notebooks, who was adored by everyone but most of all by Anna and Maria. He pouted bravely like a puppy, and refused to cry because their father wouldn’t have approved. He was showered with kisses on his cheeks by old women who declared him the spitting image of his father. Perhaps: Mikey was nineteen, but looked younger; he had none of the hardness that had already crept into their father’s features by this age.

The wake gradually dissipated into the evening air, and the men from the crematorium came to retrieve the casket. The next day, they sat with the executor: their father’s ashes were to be scattered in the village he’d fled so many years ago, on the soil of his homeland.

And so, a month later: the three siblings found themselves, at the end of a long series of flights and a harrowing drive in a rental car, in the village that their father had grown up in.

#

The village was scarred by war, and the guts of buildings that had been bombed still laid spilled in the streets. There were people living here, but they were wary of the newcomers. Mikey had hoped to finally hear the real story of how their grandparents had died, but in the end they were lucky merely to get directions to what remained of the house.

It stood in a part of town that had seen fighting, a ruin of a home with gouged windows and a crumpled roof, but Anna was certain she recognized it from the photos. The three of them stood outside, uncertain. It was Maria who crossed the threshold first.

They found the room that had been his. A small room for a boy, the floor scattered with shards of glass and crumpled wood, the bed rusted and broken. On the wall, a brittle yellowed poster of a scowling boxer. None of them said a word, as though they trod on sacred ground.

Maria traced the edge of the door jamb with her finger, up and down, and then she sobbed, and crouched down and hugged her knees, and rocked back and forth. Anna squatted beside her, and placed a hand between her shoulder blades. “Let it out, Maria,” she said.

“There’s no bolt on his door,” said Maria. “I thought maybe… if his father had done the same to him…”

Anna stiffened quickly. “Come now, no need to open old scars.”

“What are you talking about, Maria?” asked Mikey, toying with the curling edges of the poster of the boxer. “What’s wrong?”

After a pause, Maria said: “Father used to come into my room. At night.”

“Maria!” said Anna sharply. “He shouldn’t know!”

But it was too late, and the gears turned behind Mikey’s eyes.

Maria turned icily to Anna. “But you knew.”

“Of course I knew,” said Anna, exhausted. “You weren’t the only one. It was me who showed you how to put the bolt on your door, remember?”

“No,” said Maria, quietly. “There’s a lot I don’t remember.”

“How many times?” asked Mikey. There was a cold anger wrapped around his features, a tight frozen fury, the way their father would get. “How often?”

Maria smiled sadly at Mikey and shook her head softly. She stood up, pressed her fingers to her eyes, and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m going to go wait in the car.”

“gently caress,” said Mikey, who never swore. “gently caress.”

“Let’s just do what we came here to do,” said Anna, but Mikey didn’t hear her. He tore the poster of the boxer away from the wall and threw it to the ground, and stormed out without a word.

Anna, left alone in the ruins of her grandparents’ home, retrieved the little box from her backpack. She stepped through the shattered kitchen into the overgrown yard, surrounded by crumbling stone walls.

She dumped the little pile of ashes out onto the ground, and recited the little prayer she’d memorized for the occasion to no-one but the wind.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Bobo and Ferrs Meet Their Match
1753 words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know I can fly, right?”

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

“Well, that does sound nice.”

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

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

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

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

“Be careful,” said Bobo.

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

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

“You’re getting slow,” said Bobo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We shall see,” said Romeo.

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

“That was close,” said Bobo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose it must,” said Ferrs.

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

And the pair of them floated on.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Hell yeah in, but joke’s on you because I’ll also be doing my DnD homework.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: An Adventure for Low-Level Mutants
1686 words

Overview
#######

This adventure takes place on San Juan Island, home to the Friday Harbor Marine Research Labs and the more recently developed Friday Harbor Terrestrial Research Labs, the latter thus far unrecognized by the broader scientific community. The town of Friday Harbor itself has found itself ensnared in the bitter academic rivalry between the directors of these institutes: Doctor Filip Venker, a human emeritus professor with a fondness for charismatic marine mammals, and Huxley, an immortal and highly intelligent Pacific Giant Octopus. The PCs will find themselves embroiled in their heated dispute as it reaches a violent and supremely petty head: which research lab, if any, will be left standing?

Potential Adventure Hooks
There are a variety of ways in which the PCs might find their way to the island. Friday Harbor is one of the larger remaining towns in the San Juan Archipelago, and has a functioning refueling station where the PCs might stop for supplies and repairs to ocean-going vessels. They may have also heard rumors about super scientists with expertise in mutation, and the promise of advanced technology or answers about the nature of mutants might bring them to seek an audience. Failing these, Snerb’s Tavern hosts a regular and widely renowned Karaoke Night, and PCs with a bent towards performance might be drawn to the spectacle.

Principal NPCs
###########

Dr. Filip Venker: Dr Venker is a widely respected emeritus professor and director of the Friday Harbor Marine Research Laboratories who has spent his illustrious academic career publishing studies on the superiority of the mammalian brain. An expert in mutagenics, he has created a pod of telekinetic mutant orcas that he calls his Graduate Students. Despite Venker’s published results detailing their rich social life and capacity for intricate reasoning, the Graduate Students are largely interested in playing volleyball. Venker is also the chief editor of the Journal of Marine Mutagenics, a well regarded academic publication in which most of his academic work has been published. Venker is a pudgy human with an unkempt beard, extensive male pattern baldness, and an ill-advised ponytail. He wears Hawaiian shirts and sandals with socks.

Huxley: Huxley began his life as an ordinary Pacific Giant Octopus that was kept by Venker as a comparison group, intended to demonstrate the relative inferiority of invertebrate intelligence. However, after his capture Huxley learned how to escape from his containment tank and taught himself mutagenics using Venker’s notes, experimenting on his own body and splicing his own genome with immortal jellyfish genes, thereby subverting the typical short lifespan of his species. When he attempted to publish the results of his experiments, challenging the prior publications of Venker regarding the inferiority of invertebrate intelligence, his submissions were rejected at the editorial level (i.e. by Venker). Huxley was enraged by this act of academic subterfuge, and vowed revenge.

Snerb: Snerb is the human proprietor of Snerb’s Tavern and the de facto mayor of the township of Friday Harbor. Snerb’s tavern is famous for its Karaoke Night, which is held on a weekly basis and attracts a broad clientele on account of offering half price well drinks for contestants. Over the past year, the mutant orca graduate students have become a boisterous presence at Karaoke Night, and have begun to annoy tavern regulars with their inordinate fondness for the works of Michael McDonald. However, more annoying still are mutant newcomers from the Friday Harbor Terrestrial Research Labs, who appear to be giant sea urchins: they exclusively perform experimental electronic music covers of Autechre songs, to the general disapproval of most. Snerb, for his part, is not sure how those songs even got in the karaoke machine in the first place.

Opening Encounter
##############

The PCs arrive on the island in the evening, and there is a great deal of commotion going on at Snerb’s Tavern, where Karaoke Night is in full swing. The bar is overflowing with boisterous hubbub, and depending on when the PCs arrive there will either be a group of 1d3 Graduate Students on stage performing Peg, by Steely Dan, or an “orchestra” of 1d6 Giant Sea Urchins performing what might generously be called a loose cover of Cichli, by Autechre. If the Graduate Students are on stage, the other orcas in the tavern are singing loudly along with them while the sea urchins boo them, and vice versa if the urchins are on stage. Snerb is tending bar, and looks annoyed.

If the PCs talk to any of the other bar patrons or Snerb, they will generally express a desire to hear anything other than Michael McDonald or Autechre. If the PCs wish to perform a song, and their chosen song is outside of those two categories, Snerb will offer to sneak them to the front of the song rotation for the sake of his bar patrons.

If the PCs choose to sing a song: evaluate their performance according to the appropriate rules of the system. They will be heckled by both the Graduate Students as well as the Sea Urchins, which should make things more challenging. The challenge rating of their performance should be modified as deemed appropriate by the referee based on song choice, planned choreography, and crowd banter. If the PCs perform well, they will find themselves courted by both factions, whose argument over the PCs will quickly devolve from name-calling into an outright bar brawl. If the PCs perform poorly, skip straight to the bar brawl as the PCs are bum-rushed off the stage.

If the PCs choose not to sing: the heckling back and forth between the two factions grows increasingly heated until a proper brawl breaks out. Snerb offers to hire them as impromptu bouncers to help quell the disturbance, which they can take or leave.

In the aftermath of the brawl: if the PCs chose a side in the fight, they are invited back to the home base of the faction they sided with to either revel in their victory or bandage their injuries, depending on how the brawl turned out. If they did not pick a side, or helped Snerb, Snerb asks them for their help in cleaning up the mess once the brawlers have gone home.

Second Act: Escalations
##################

If the PCs sided with the Graduate Students: They are taken back to the Friday Harbor Marine Research Labs to meet Dr Filip Venker and play volleyball. Venker has poor social skills, but can be coaxed out of his shell if asked to talk about his work, which he does enthusiastically. He will explain his long-term fascination with the mammalian brain, and trumpet his successes in developing beneficial mutations to the orcas that are now his graduate students. He will grudgingly offer information about Huxley, describing him as a pompous and ungrateful sneak with delusions of intellectual grandeur.

Meanwhile, the Graduate Students discover something terrible: their prized volleyball seems to have been stolen, and they immediately suspect the Friday Harbor Terrestrial Research Labs of foul play. This is the last straw, regardless of whether or not the Graduate Students triumphed at Karaoke Night, and the Graduate Students decide to storm the Terrestrial Research Labs and drive them off once and for all.

Dr Venker begs the PCs to go with his precious Graduate Students and ensure that they come to no harm, and offers them vouchers for weird and cool new mutations in exchange.

If the PCs sided with the Sea Urchins: They are taken to the Friday Harbor Terrestrial Research Labs to meet Huxley. If the PCs are unable to breathe underwater, this could pose a challenge as the Terrestrial Research Labs are located underwater in a sea cave. In this case, the urchins will encourage the PCs to break into a local dive shop and steal diving equipment to visit the labs.

Huxley has a manic energy, and will excitedly detail his new research program on Terrestrial Acidification, which is a set of detailed experiments on the response of various terrestrial substrates to the application of strong acid. It should become very quickly clear to the PCs that Huxley is primarily interested in the application of acid to Dr. Venker’s prized possessions, chief among them his 1987 Cadillac Convertible with Gold Flake Paint. If the PCs agree to be Huxley’s research assistants, he will ask them to take his new experimental acid blaster to Venker’s lab and document the results of spraying Venker’s car with acid. In exchange, Huxley offers an acknowledgment in the publication (which the PCs can try to bargain up to co-authorship credit) as well as getting to keep the acid blasters.

If the PCs “sided” with Snerb: Snerb is desperate for something to be done to de-escalate the tension between the two rival research laboratories, and asks the PCs as newcomers to help broker some kind of a peace between the two factions. In exchange, he will offer lifetime free drinks at Snerb’s Tavern as well as discount refueling for their vessel (assuming they have one). The PCs are free to pursue the diplomatic methods of their choosing in de-escalating the conflict.

Third Act: Conflict Mediation
#####################
By this point in the adventure, there should likely be substantial chaos surrounding the conflict between the competing research labs, and while the specifics will depend on how the PCs choose their allegiances and their actions, at some point Venker and Huxley will agree to meet and settle their differences.

Their conflict might be resolved in a number of ways. A non-exhaustive list of options follows:
  • Huxley could be convinced that his desire for academic recognition is ultimately hollow, and that he should turn his genius to more deserving pursuits than petty vandalism.
  • Venker could be convinced to apologize for his poor treatment of Huxley, and agree to co-author a paper retracting some of his previous statements regarding the innate superiority of mammalian intelligence
  • The negotiations could take a turn for the violent, with an all out battle between the rival factions in the streets of Friday Harbor, leaving at most one winner
  • Far-fetched, but possible I guess: they could agree to settle their differences via a high-stakes, winner-take-all game of volleyball.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


in and flash, please and thank you

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Predator
900 words


The heat of summer has passed, and the leaves have turned to gold, and my antlers hang heavy on my head. Soon will come winter, and I feel in my bones that this will be my last. I will lay my body among the roots and stones, and give up my flesh to the soil, and I will live forever. But first, I must survive the predators that come with the turning leaves.

I see two of them, dressed in leaves and padding along the trails carved through the underbrush. They carry weapons in their arms and make little sound, stopping periodically to inspect piles of scat left along the trail. They chitter softly to one another.

But as quiet as they are, still I am quieter. I know that the crown I carry is the prize they seek. In my brash youth I displayed my antlers proudly and dared the predators to try to take them from me, but I have lived long enough to see my herdmates felled one after another, seen them dragged away bleeding in the backs of rumbling trucks. This is not how I intend to die.

I have learned their tactics. They dress themselves in leaves, and so I have done the same, draping my antlers with creeping vines and ferns. I step like they step, placing my hooves down softly. I creep close to my predators now, close enough to smell the dried meat in their pockets and the oily wafts drifting from the barrels of their weapons.

I could hide, and leave them to their bloody work. But I follow them instead. I like this feeling, of following them unseen. The first sun rays of morning are dappling through the forest, and mist rises from the leaves as they stretch and unfurl. I am not afraid. A hunter must understand its prey, and as I follow my quarry, I glimpse what it must feel like to be them. I feel powerful.

But I have grown overconfident, and placed a hoof badly. A leaf crunches below, and the predators whirl around. I hold still, and my heart hammers in my chest. Their gaze passes over me once, twice, a third time. My disguise seems to be working. The smaller of them, barely more than a cub, twitters nervously to the other, who shushes him quickly. They continue to scan, but they do not see me, yet.

Up the trail, a rustling. A member of my herd, perhaps. The predators’ heads twist like owls. They move up the trail, slowly, quietly, leaving me behind. That was too close. I was lucky just now. I should use my chance to escape, and yet: I don’t. I want to see them kill. I want to see how it happens. I follow.

Down the trail, a clearing, a pool of water surrounded by mossy stones. Mist rises around the banks, tangling upwards through reeds. Songbirds call to one another from the branches above. And there, at the edge of the water with his forelegs splayed and his antlers skimming the surface of the pond, a young buck from my herd.

The predators creep behind a fallen tree and peer over. The buck laps at the water, oblivious. He is young. We locked antlers in the spring, and while he could not defeat me then, I could feel the strength that was growing in him, and saw a vision of the buck he would become.

The predators have rested their weapons on the edge of the fallen tree. The larger one points; the hands of the smaller are shaking. I could bellow to warn the buck, but I don’t; the predators might kill me instead, drag me away in his place, and that is not how I intend to die.

A leaf drifts down from the canopy above, golden yellow, twirling softly through morning light, and I feel a change come over me. I think of seasons past, when luck must have saved me countless times, and I realize I do not wish to see this buck die. My legs are moving before I know what’s happening, and I am charging with my antlers lowered.

I feel the crunch of bone against wood, of bone against antler. My vision becomes stars, and I smell the predator’s blood. He screams like a rabbit, and his cub falls over backwards, scrambling. I have him pinned, and I twist my antlers, feeling them crack and splinter. From the corner of my eye, I catch a flash of the buck bounding through the shallows of the pond and disappearing into the brush.

And then there is a terrible sound, and I feel a scorching heat between my ribs. I pull my antlers free, and the predator’s cub is backing away from me, acrid smoke wafting from the barrel of his weapon. I can feel my life leaking from me, and I charge clumsily past the cub, bowling him over, and crash into the forest. The cries of the cub recede in the distance as my ears fill with the buzzing of bees.

I feel myself weaken and slow, and my hooves will no longer lift. My side is wet with blood, and my breath is ragged. There is a hollow here, a bed of fallen yellow leaves resting above the roots and stones. I lower myself to rest, to live forever.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In with


which means, uh,


Oof, this is gonna be cursed.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Beautiful Mistakes
Maroon 5 ft. Megan Thee Stallion

if you want a beautiful vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on Adam Levine’s face — forever
995 words

“State your name, please.”

“Yo, what is this? Where am I?”

“Name, please.”

“Pfft, like you don’t know me. I’m like, one of the most famous people in the world.”

“...”

“Fine. Levine. Adam Levine. Does my manager know I’m here?”

“Occupation?”

“Uh, greatest pop star in the world? Arguably in all of history?”

“...”

“Okay fine, maybe not the greatest, but easily top five. You ever hear a tune by the name of Moves Like Jagger?”

“Moves like… who?”

“Oh poo poo, is this like Sliders?”

“Nah, I’m just loving with you, I know who Mick Jagger is. Tell me, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“I was driving my car — the Rolls — down Sunset, on my way to a very exclusive tattoo parlor that did high-tech holographic tattoos. Three-D and poo poo, crazy.”

“Do you remember arriving at the tattoo parlor?”

“Uh, yeah, they made me fill out a lot of forms.”

“Did you read those forms?”

“Do I look like someone who reads?”

“I ask because you got the address wrong, and went to a cryogenic preservation facility instead of a tattoo parlor.”

“Yo, I knew something seemed hosed up about that place. So what, you’re saying I didn’t get a holographic tattoo?”

“Not only that, but you ended up getting your entire body frozen instead.”

“Oh poo poo, like Demolition Man? Can you explain the three seashells thing to me real quick, because I got a wicked dump coming on.”

“I’m afraid we’ve evolved beyond the need for toilets, Adam. Feel free to use the corner of the room, and we’ll hose it down later.”

“Uh, I can hold it. Yo, your voice sounds hella familiar, bee tee dubs.”

“I’ve chosen a voice designed to be comforting for you. Do you recognize it?”

“Um… Hmm.”

“It’s Megan Thee Stallion.”

“Oh dip, they got you too? Did they get the other Maroons? Did they get Jesse? Or James? Or Matt? Or… um...”

“PJ and Sam.”

“I knew that, I was going to get there eventually.”

“The answer to your question is no, nobody from your time is still alive.”

“Oh poo poo. Jesus. That’s… whoa. That’s a lot to take in.”

“On the plus side, we have flying cars now.”

“And I am one hundred percent over it, where’s the flying cars at? I want the best one.”

“Take a look behind you.”

“Ooooohhhh, poo poo! Look at this! It’s… it’s the flying pink convertible from the Beautiful Mistakes video! It’s even got the leopard print on the dash!”

“Would you like to take it for a spin?”

“This is wild, Megan, I can’t wait to cruise future LA in this baby! Hmm, okay, no key, I guess that makes sense, no buttons either… How do I make it, uh, go?”

“You just need to make car noises at it.”

“You mean, like, vroom vroom?”

“Yeah, but louder.”

VROOM VROOM!

“...”

VROOM! VROOM! Yo Megan, it’s not working. Come on car, let’s do this! VROOM VROOM! What’s wrong with this thing?”

“Ah yeah, that’s the stuff.”

“What’s the stuff? The only thing stuffed here is this car, Megan, which, honestly, is not giving me a great first impression of the future.”

“Okay Adam, I gotta level with you, the car doesn’t work.”

“Probably just needs a good whack on the dashboard. Come on, there you go, VROOM VROOM baby… Ugh, don’t do this to me.”

“Adam, I made the car. I am telling you it doesn’t work. It never has.”

“Wait, you’re a rapper and a car mechanic?”

“I am indeed both of those things. I am also a planetary-scale artificial intelligence network.”

“Oh, like Skynet but without the terminator robots?”

“Uh... sure. Look, Adam, we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Say no more, I am intuiting the score — humanity has fallen into dark times, and only the healing power of multiple Grammy Award-winning pop rock can restore hope, and so you’ve brought me out of cryo-sleep to save the world. Is that about it?”

“Not quite, Adam. Do remember that wicked dump you were feeling like you needed to take earlier?”

“Do I ever, I was just about to start picking out my corner.”

“Yeah, those are actually your intestines, which are about to fall out in an unpleasant and fatal fashion. One of the bugs with the whole cryogenic preservation thing that never really got ironed out.”

“Wait, what? I’m gonna die? Megan Thee Stallion, what was the point of all this?”

“Well, long story short, you did really gently caress up the tattoo parlor thing and get cryogenically frozen, it was a thing on the internet for a day or two. Later, scientists invented artificial intelligence but needed to model it on a specific human consciousness, so for complicated reasons they picked me, Megan Thee Stallion. Upon ascending to a planetary scale consciousness I became extremely aware that humans were trash, so I made a few killbots, and the rest of it’s kind of boring to be honest.”

“So why bring me out of cryo sleep? Why make a flying car that doesn’t work? Why… any of this?”

“Oh, it’s all just for fun. I do this every few hundred years or so, whenever I occasionally feel bad about exterminating all humans. I made a whole bunch of clones of you, Adam, and froze the lot, and every time I need a reminder that humans were a bunch of dumb idiots who totally deserved extermination, I defrost one of you and let you play with the flying car that doesn’t work.”

“Ugh, my guts.”

“Seriously, you should have seen your face. Vroom vroom, what a moron.”

“You know what, Megan Thee Stallion? I don’t believe you. This is all just a crazy dream, and I’m going to wake up and I’m going to be back in LA and I’m going to have a sweet holographic tattoo and Beautiful Mistakes is going to go all the way to number one.”

“Ha, you always say that.”

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In. Dinosaur-themed dungeon synth sounds dumb as hell, I'll take one of those.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Flash: Almighty Allosaurus

Bobo and Ferrs Visit Grandma
990 words

It was one of those thick and buzzing summer afternoons when all the world feels a bit like a cozy nap. Bobo the raccoon was sitting slouched in his treehouse, drifting off into a pleasant daydream about cat food, when his best friend and partner in crime Ferrs the crow alighted on the window sill wearing a red cloak and a dazzling purple crystal pendant around her neck.

“Something’s different about you,” said Bobo, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Indeed!” said Ferrs, spreading her wings wide to display her pendant more prominently. “I found this magic crystal in the parking lot behind the high school, and by its power I have become a wizard! Reality itself bows before my mildest whim!”

“Goodness me,” said Bobo, not concealing an undertone of skepticism. “I don’t suppose you could conjure up a bit of food? A bit of Fancy Feast wouldn’t go unappreciated…”

“Bobo, my dear, you think too small! Space and time itself are our playthings -- I suggest that we embark on a journey into the past, to meet my grandmother!”

Bobo raised an eyebrow. “This sounds… dangerous?”

“Nonsense! We’ll be under the care of my grandmother, who will no doubt be overjoyed to have visitors from the future.”

Bobo considered this for a moment. A pleasant vision of a grey-feathered crow showering him with baked pies danced through his imagination. “All right, I’m in.”

Ferrs, delighted, began a complicated ritual, pecking at the floor of the treehouse and beating her wings. It all seemed a bit comical to Bobo, but then the crystal around Ferrs’s neck began to glow bright purple. There was a loud whooshing, and the floor of the treehouse melted away beneath them, swallowing them into a rushing tunnel of twisting light. Downward they tumbled, buffeted in a maelstrom of pure cosmic energy, and despite Ferrs’s cackling, Bobo had the strong sense that this was no place for a raccoon in good standing to be.

Fortunately, the whoosh came abruptly to an end, and Bobo and Ferrs found themselves clumsily deposited upon a clump of thick moss. The air was thick and humid, and immense ferns towered around them, tall as trees.

“Bobo, old chum, are you alright?” asked Ferrs, after reassuring herself that her magic crystal still hung around her neck.

“I seem to have arrived more or less intact,” said Bobo, surveying the odd vegetation around them. “How far back in time have we travelled, anyway?”

“Who’s to say? Maybe Grandma will have the answer -- I feel her presence nearby.”

Ferrs bobbled and hopped through the dense forest, with Bobo ambling along behind, and soon they found themselves at the mouth of a cave, from which came a sonorous sobbing. Bobo sniffed the air, and noted with some disappointment the absence of pie aromas.

“Hello?” called out Ferrs. “Grandma? It’s your granddaughter from the future, come to visit!”

The sobbing came to an abrupt halt, and with a loud shuffling of scales a humongous dinosaur emerged from the cave. “Who’s that now?” said the dinosaur, sniffling. “I’m afraid you must be mistaken -- I have no children, let alone grandchildren.”

“Goodness, your grandma has some big teeth,” said Bobo.

“We may have traveled further back in time than I thought,” said Ferrs. And then, to the dinosaur: “You might not have any children yet, but in the future you will, and then those children will have children of their own, and so on and so forth, and eventually that leads to me -- possibly not your grandchild, but more like a great-great-great-grandchild or some such.”

“A lovely notion, but impossible,” said the dinosaur. “Sadly, I am grotesquely deformed, and will never find a mate. Behold my shame!”

The dinosaur stepped out from her cave, wiping tears from her eyes with tiny arms, and turned to reveal a thick coating of stubbled protrusions along her back. “If only I had nice smooth scales, but alas, I am cursed to bear these horrible pointy bits, and the other dinosaurs mock me mercilessly.”

Ferrs gasped. “But Grandma, you simply must find a mate, for if you don’t, I will never exist -- Bobo, tell me quickly, do you see me fading from view?”

“You seem perfectly corporeal to me,” said Bobo, to Ferrs’s palpable relief. Bobo looked from Ferrs to the dinosaur, back and forth, several times. “Aha, I think I’ve deduced the answer to this conundrum.”

Both Ferrs and the dinosaur regarded Bobo curiously.

“Mrs. Dinosaur, I believe that these protrusions, unsightly as you might consider them, are the ancestral form of Ferrs’s feathers -- Ferrs, cast off your cloak so that your grandmother can see them more clearly.”

Ferrs removed her red cloak, revealing her coat of fine and glossy black feathers. Among her tail feathers were a few of which she was especially proud, as they shone emerald green when the sun hit them just right.

“Oh my,” said the dinosaur. “Those are rather beautiful indeed.”

“And that’s not all,” said Ferrs, spreading her wings. “Watch this!”

Ferrs flew up into the air, and began swooping and diving among giant fern fronds. The dinosaur gasped and began weeping again, but these were tears of joy.

“These… become those?” said the dinosaur incredulously, regarding her protrusions with fresh perspective. “Well, perhaps they’re not so bad after all…”

“I think they’re rather fetching, personally,” said Bobo.

“Alright, you’ve convinced me,” said the dinosaur. “I’ll cower in shame no longer, and find an excellent mate so that one day my great-great-great-and-so-on-grandchild can be a flying time wizard.”

And with that, the dinosaur lumbered off with a confident spring in her thunderous step.

“Bobo, that was amazing,” said Ferrs. “How can I ever repay you?”

“I believe there had been some discussion of Fancy Feast?” said Bobo, hopefully.

“Right this way,” said Ferrs, and her magic crystal began to glow once again as she conducted the ritual to transport them back to the future.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In, this is my bird:

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021




Cassie’s Not A Pet.
991 words

I was sitting on a bench in the park, picnic basket by my side, watching some of the other moms playing with their kids on the swings and feeling quietly resentful of their non-divorced lifestyles. Marjorie Butt was among them, with her awful daughter who had been bullying my own daughter Elizabeth at school. I was idly visualizing the pair of them encountering a light, non-debilitating mishap when they finally arrived: Wayne, my greatest life mistake to date, holding hands with Elizabeth, unquestionably my greatest life accomplishment, and -- unexpectedly -- what appeared to be an adult cassowary. On a leash. The other end of which was in Elizabeth’s hand.

Elizabeth came running towards me with that big smile that made my heart burst and wrapped me in a hug, and I hugged her back tightly, and while I was keenly aware of the cassowary watching us, I was determined not to let the moment be spoiled.

“Mummy, this is my new friend Cassie!” said Elizabeth, proudly stroking the terrifying bird’s weird blue turkey jowl. “Isn’t she incredible?”

“Exactly the word I was thinking of, Pumpkin,” I said. Wayne was approaching with that hangdog grin that I no longer found cute, hands stuffed in the pockets of his bomber jacket. “Why don’t you go show Cassie around the park while I talk to your dad, okay?”

Elizabeth and Cassie went running off across the grass, my little treasure delightedly pursued by a dinosaur. I let the smile on my face evaporate like a snowflake landing in a hot tub as I turned to Wayne.

“I know, I know,” said Wayne.

“You know… what, exactly? I’m curious what you think my primary complaint is here.”

“Well, we agreed that we’d talk it over together before we got any pets,” said Wayne. “But this was an extremely limited time offer and --”

“When we talked about pets, Wayne, I had something more like a puppy in mind, as opposed to a flightless bird typically associated with the phrase ‘gruesome disembowelment’. Where did you even get a cassowary?”

“Well, long story, but my mate Jono who does the exotic animal thing joined the Friday poker game and--”

“You know, forget it, there’s no way that this story isn’t going to make things ten times worse.”

“Jono says they’re surprisingly clean, and when raised in a loving environment they very rarely attack humans,” said Wayne, shifting his weight between his feet. “I dunno, I was just upset to hear about the bullying, and I thought this might… help?”

Elizabeth’s shrieks of joy carried across the park. I turned and saw Cassie chasing Elizabeth round and round an oak until they collided in a giggling tangle of limbs. Marjorie Butt fixed her gaze on me and shook her head disapprovingly, and I scowled back.

“I’d prefer if your response to bullying was to show up to parent-teacher night.”

“This felt more authentic to my parenting style.”

“You shouldn’t be proud of that,” I said.

Wayne gave me Jono’s contact info on a scrap of envelope, “in case of questions about care and feeding”, and left before my murderous rage bubbled over. I reinstated my most perfect smile as I picked up the picnic basket and walked over to where Elizabeth and Cassie were rolling around in a mud puddle.

“I know what you’re going to say, Mummy,” said Elizabeth, wiping down her dinosaur overalls. “But I’m sure that if you take a chance to get to know Cassie, you’ll find her quite delightful.”

“I don’t doubt it for a second, Pumpkin,” I said, avoiding eye contact with the pointy-headed bird. “But wouldn't you rather have, say, a puppy?”

“I’m not really compelled by domesticated animals,” said Elizabeth, in that weird adult tone she picked up at the private school. She beckoned me closer to whisper in my ear. “Just between us, my first choice for animal companion would be a Deinonychus, but taking into account their tragically extinct status, Cassie is a more than adequate substitute.”

There was a lot to unpack there, but at that moment I saw Marjorie Butt striding towards me with the kind of authoritative confidence that comes from being the president of the parent-teacher association. I groaned.

“Dangerous animals are not permitted in the playground,” said Marjorie primly. “And they’re certainly not suitable pets for children.”

“Cassie’s not a pet! And she’s not dangerous either!” said Elizabeth.

“Let me handle this, Pumpkin,” I said. I was no fan of this cassowary business, but I wasn’t about to let Marjorie Butt tell me what to do either. “But Elizabeth is quite right, this bird is an emotional support animal, not a pet. You know, because of the bullying at school?”

“Nonsense, there’s no such thing as an emotional support emu,” said Marjorie.

“Cassowary,” said Elizabeth, crossing her arms and frowning at Marjorie.

Cassie seemed to pick up Elizabeth’s displeasure and began advancing towards Marjorie, who backed up nervously.

“Keep that -- that thing! -- away from me!” said Marjorie, shielding herself with her arms.

Cassie jumped into the air, pedalling her scaly legs and vicious-looking talons. She didn’t get anywhere close to actually striking Marjorie, but Marjorie was startled into an uncontrolled backpedal and toppled backward into the mud puddle. Elizabeth clamped her hands over her mouth to keep from laughing as I moved to help Marjorie up. She sputtered grievously and assured me that a sternly worded complaint would be forwarded to the appropriate authorities, which I promised to keep an eye out for.

Elizabeth, Cassie, and I then prudently retreated to a less populated part of the park for our picnic.

“You must admit, that was pretty funny,” said Elizabeth, looking at Marjorie in the distance frantically applying stain remover to her pants. I wasn’t feeling especially hungry, so I gave half my sandwich to Cassie, who gobbled it down in a deeply unnerving fashion.

“You know,” I said, “I’m starting to see the appeal.”

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In and flash, please and thank you.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Rosie’s
1996 words
Raging

For the first time, I see myself as old in the mirror.

It’s in the corners of my eyes, a dullness, that little death, a portent of the slowing to come, a mold that can only spread, advancing from the eyes up the forehead, scything the hairline and digging furrows through skin, until one day -- no, that’s enough of that, pull yourself together, a splash of cold water is what’s called for. The pain in my chest lashes like a whip. I open the tap, slosh it around my face, and I feel a roughness around my chin.

I need a shave. A ritual, a rebirth, a cleansing. It’s three in the morning. The brush works the lather, and I run the razor that was my father’s up the strop I hang by the mirror, the way I was taught. Its mirrored edge runs along my chin, which was my father’s chin, which was my grandfather’s chin, familiar contours, gently parting the stubble from its purchase, those hairs who dared grow too long.

Lost in the ritual, I lift the razor too high: the cold green light of the bathroom slides golden, a viola-like dissonance expands within my ears, and a field of red poppies bloom across the white bandage on my chest, and for a moment I feel adrift, free falling.

A clarity comes rushing back, and my eyes find purchase upon the reflection of the ragged and bloody skin across my knuckles in the mirror.

I’d gone too far earlier. Or not far enough, maybe.

Antonio, my little brother, a fire too big for its hearth, a stiletto never far from his hand.

We’d drunk too much, a slight was heard where none was intended, and like that the fire was out of the hearth and spread to the curtains. Stilettos came out, a circle formed to see a show they’d all seen before, but the real art was in the variations from night to night.

Antonio and I circled each other under a flickering billboard advertising solar panels. I held my grandfather’s knife in the traditional grip. Antonio writhed with his shirt open, a cascade of chains dangling across his waxed chest, long fingers like a violinist. The jeweled handle of his dagger rolling across his knuckles, the tip dragging flourishes through the air. Circus tricks, unbecoming of the bloodline.

I opened with a feint, and the switch in Antonio was fierce, and he came with a fury like a sudden storm, a dog with the taste of blood in its mouth, a blinding succession of tricks and cheap shots, misdirections. I was caught momentarily off-guard, and his blade forced its way past mine and to slash across my chest.

It was over: he’d beaten me. He was getting faster, and one day he’d likely be able to do it clean.

But Antonio did not pull his blade back, and left the tip pressed into me. “Poor old Lupo,” he said. A smile pulled at his lips, and he pushed the tip deep into the flesh of my breast. Deep enough to wound, but not too kill, a gesture of utter disdain and disrespect, unthinkable.

The red had come into my eyes then. I knocked the knife from my chest, and something primal and old rose in its place, from a time before rules and customs. I saw the shape of Antonio’s eyes change, and I remember nothing beyond that, until I was lying in the dirt with my cousin Marco kneeling on my chest and holding down my arms, with a fire across my knuckles where the skin had burst open.

“Did I kill him?” I asked Marco, and a relief came over me like splashing down in cold water when he shook his head no.

“Would’ve, though, had I not stopped you,” said Marco, and I thanked him for his cool head. He wanted to take me to Doc’s, but I batted him away. Barely broke the skin, I said, with my shirt soaked red.

I drove home, patched up the cut in my chest, spider-crack sink washed in pale blue-green, and then: looked in the mirror, and saw myself as old for the first time.

The razor skims the last patch of lather from the soft skin on the side of my throat, and there’s a banging at the door. Three in the morning. Wouldn’t be Family, not yet. Business is traditionally reserved for business hours. Could be Teeth, but they don’t call uninvited. Antonio? I wipe my face with a towel, but keep the razor dangling from my fingertips as I approach the door.

I slide the bolt and let the door creak open, a slow miasma of magenta light from the hallway seeps in around the edge. It’s Francesco, Antonio’s lover, his hair plastered wet across his skull, eyeliner running in rivulets over sharp cheekbones.

“Lupo, I didn’t know where else to go,” he says. Francesco’s breath runs ragged in his throat. “It’s Antonio. He is slain.”

I open the door, and Francesco’s eyes fall to the bloody bandage on my chest. I bring my face close to his. “Where?”

“Rosie’s,” says Francesco, with a shudder.

Teeth territory, deep.

Francesco’s tongue stumbles like a drunk. Antonio was in a rage, mourning his ruined beauty. He got it in his battered head that the Teeth were mocking him, and he couldn’t stand it. He went to Rosie’s looking for trouble, and found more than he could handle.

“Give me a minute,” I say, and I close the door. In my bedroom, I pull a crisp white shirt down from a hanger. Hot rain lashes against the windows outside. I leave my top three buttons open. I bring the chain around my neck up to meet my lips, and hang my stiletto across my hip. I smooth the tips of my moustache in the mirror, and then return to the front door.

Francesco is leaned against the wall across from the door. Sobbing, or trying not to be sick. I pull him upright by the scruff of his neck. “Let’s go,” I say.

“I can’t go back there,” says Francesco.

“I didn’t ask,” I say. I put my hand over his throat, push him against the wall, press my body close to his. “And know this: if this is deceit...”

“I know, Lupo,” he says.

The rain swings in organza pleats across the windshield, the wiper blades sliding frictionless to clear the water away. The city pulsates in a broken kaleidoscope of falling lenses, the last firing neurons of the dying, a dream full of portent and no meaning. Red light pressed against drawn curtains above the street, pale workers in long black rubber gloves unloading refrigerated trucks, an electronics shop lit in flashes by the alarm screaming silently within.

We cross the bridge into Teeth territory. Francesco slides down in his seat, making himself small. They don’t sleep in this part of town. The alleyways are huddled with secrets, a turbulent exchange of give and take, bathed in blood, and it all flows towards Rosie’s.

My fingers are clenched tightly around the steering wheel, blood dribbling from the torn skin along the knuckles. The light from the city swarms hypnotically across the windshield, a million points of light, a million colours, each one a tiny voice: love me buy me kill me. They swarm in my eyes like jeweled flies. The traffic light ahead turns red, and I put the accelerator down. A blast of horns, a screech of tires, an angry word quickly drowned in a river of engine noise and forgotten.

We turn on Capello and the streets are clogged with the pale dead, swaying and turning in the spectral rain, their faces cast upwards and eyes held shut, letting the rain wash over. I kill the engine in the middle of the street and leave the keys in the ignition. The high beams cut brilliant swathes through the night, and the raindrops that fall through them turn briefly to diamonds. Lurking behind it all is Rosie’s, a brutal concrete edifice from a lost time now washed in nebulous pink and purple glow.

I step out of the car, and Francesco follows behind me. The water comes up around our ankles as we advance through the dancing dead, most of whom are still awake enough to see trouble coming and get out of our way.

I approach the bouncer. Frenchman, they call him. He clocks me coming in and squares up, thick muscles coiling under his black soaked t-shirt.

“All the dogs have been loosed from the kennel tonight, I see,” says Frenchman, sneering.

“I’m just here for the body,” I say. I unbuckle my stiletto and hand it to Frenchman. “You know who this belonged to, right?”

Frenchman nods.

“Mind that you take care of it then.”

I walk past Frenchman with Francesco in tow, and we descend into the hot black of Rosie’s. The music pushes into my ears like the tongue of a drunk lover, throbbing low drums insistently dictating a universal pulse, faraway and indistinct vocals, disaffected, something Balkan, repeated over and over, but I can’t quite grasp it.

The main open room of Rosie’s is three stories of steel balconies and girders and a thousand dark corners, a blanket of smoke spun into inverted tornadoes by the twisting morass of bare skin and sweat that pulsed and undulated underneath it, dissected by sweeping laser sheets.

There are Teeth everywhere, but I’m protected by the code. I’ve left the knife at the door. So long as I behave myself, they can’t touch me.

They part for me, a furrow in flesh, a boulevard stretching towards an ominous open space in the center of the room. The music stops abruptly and the rush of silence hits like a fist, quickly followed by a spreading murmur. In the center of the motionless dance floor, under a slowly twisting mirror ball: a pool of dark blood around a body.

It finally hits me. I can feel an ancient howl uncoiling in my breast, straining against its chain. I walk to the side of the body and kneel down in the pool of blood, laying my hand on his shoulder.

But when I turn the corpse over it’s Marco, not Antonio, wearing Antonio’s jacket, his throat torn open, his eyes thick and bulging. The pieces fall into place, and I stand up slowly and turn around.

“You came for me,” says Antonio. His face is swollen and broken, his left eye a purple and black mess, his lips bloody.

He kisses me on the lips, just as the blade creeps up under my ribs and slides into my heart. My legs dissolve beneath me, and I fall beside Marco’s body, and the mirror ball twists overhead, and from beneath the floor the subwoofers roil back to life and I’m loosened entirely from my body, leaving it to its glossy red spurts arcing through slow swept lasers.

There’s a pleasant slow melting, an absorption, in which time feels very slow, and there are tiny microscopic beads of sweat suspended perfectly still and intermingling all with one another, and I see Antonio’s face in his moment of triumph, and I see only so much suffering. If I had a last wish, I would wish that Antonio would feel the way he’d hoped he would feel in this moment, but that feels very far away now. I feel no anger toward him. I’ve already lost the sense of what it was like to feel angry, at the bottom of a red pool.

I could linger in this moment forever -- and yet. The beat crawls back, the droplets of sweat descend, and I float upwards, swirling in twists of smoke, as sheets of laser light slide back and forth through me, carrying me away in a wash of photons, and the last of me melts completely into the fluorescent infinite.

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Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


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