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Aug 20, 2014


Thirty People
1997 words

My pop’s avatar keeps blowing up my phone. The afterlife is boring, he says. Like it’s my fault he swallowed the flavor packet in the ramen bag and choked to death.

His wearable pinged the proper authorities or something like that, but they were too late. They found Pop on the kitchen floor in his boxer briefs. Real gross. But they got there in time to freeze his brain, which was lucky for him.

I roll down the I-5, vibing real hard and enjoying the way the drones merge lanes like they’re telepathic or something, when Pop’s sigil pulses. It’s the total worst. And being his only living relative, I’m the meat bag that’s got to take it. Like, come on, Pop, there’s plenty of deads you can bother. But fine, I pull him up and give him a nice smile, since I’m a great son.

“It never rains here,” he says. “They promised realism and it never rains.”

“You’re from California.”

“I want weather permutations. Big weather matrices? You got to call someone out there.”

“You can call as good as me.”

“But you have legs.”

He had me there. “I’ll file a complaint. But you know it doesn’t get anywhere.”

I hit the eject button and his avatar bursts into nothing. I have twenty more minutes of this traffic dance and I want to chill out and enjoy it before the big meeting. Can’t let dead Pop ruin my commute.

As my drone tries to merge into traffic, its front end bumps the rear end of the drone in front of us, and both instantly pull out of line and into the breakdown lane.

I stand there staring at the damage: two small scratches and a dent.

“Has this ever happened to you before?” I ask.

The lady from the other drone shakes her head. “Never.”

“Totally crazy.”

“I know.”

In the end, we both leave. Nothing else for it. Real bizarro.


We cremate his body on a Tuesday, two weeks after he went to heaven. He insists on the Full Catholic ceremony. I’m like, Pop, it’s just meat, who cares? But he pays, so whatever. The priest intones his biblical stuff, then we throw some dirt on the floor before they slide Pop’s meat sack into the oven. I get the ashes, but I’m like, what do I do with this stuff? The priest says some weirdos keep it in a jar on their mantle. No thank you to that one.

We opted for a physical afterlife. Like, the engram copying is totally not the same thing and everyone knows it. There’s got to be continuity. So they had to harvest Pop’s brain and stick it in a big blue and white cooler for storage. It left a real nasty stain on the carpet. I’m still pretty annoyed about that. Ruined Pop’s apartment resale.

But he made it to the facility. He’d been dead for ten minutes before they got to him, and there was some question over whether there’d be anything left. They warmed him up just enough, plugged him in, and boom, there was Pop, floating in the ether. He freaked at first, but no kidding. He was dead.

“Cell won’t work,” I say to the priest as we step out of the mausoleum-thingy.

“Mine won’t either.” He frowns and jostles the device in the air. “Strange.”

Pop’s sigil flashes and I answer. “How’d the burial go?” he asks.
“Cremation. Real tasteful. You’d be proud.”

He sounds depressed. “I feel like I can’t smell.”

“I’ll talk to the developers.”


Pop rings one evening while I’m busy facial cleansing. I answer with the mask still on. “Listen, Nathan, I need you to do something for me,” he says.

“I’m beautifying.”

“There aren’t enough people here.”

“What do you mean, not enough people?”

“I walk outside and see ten, maybe twenty people all day. Can you imagine? A world with ten or twenty people all day?”

Hard to picture on my end. Overpopulation and all that. “I’m not sure what I can do about it.” I give him a twisted smile and look real creepy in the beauty mask. “Maybe I can go kill some folks. That might help.”

Pop rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, maybe we’re with the wrong company. Can you get me transferred to another afterlife? Or maybe there’s a more populated server?”

“I’ll see what I can do. But you can call too.”

“Legs, Nathan. And a face. And a voice. I’m just a brain in a jar now.”

“Bye, Pop.” I hung up and went back to getting gorgeous.


Customer service is the total pits. I stand in line at the call drop just to face a screen. They make you hump your rear end all the way out to the middle of town to try and limit the number of complaints they get per day. Total jerk move, but not much we can do, since they control the afterlife and all.

The service girl is cute and smiles when it’s my turn. “What can I do for you?”

“My pop says the afterlife is empty.”

Her smile doubles. I get the feeling they’re trained to smile bigger instead of frowning. “I’m sure we can fix that. Name and customer account number?” I rattle off the info. She clucks her tongue. “Looks like his world’s packed to the max, I’m afraid.”

“He says it’s empty.”

She gives me another smiling frown. “Current worlds are capped at thirty people. Your father may have some adjusting to do.”

“Thirty people?” I look back and at the old lady behind me, like, is this service girl for real? But the old lady isn’t having that. “Come on, thirty people is crazy. Thirty people for eternity is insane.”

“We can shift him to an open world if he’s not getting along with his current neighbors.”

“Are there updates coming? Thirty people forever, it’s just—it’s supposed to be heaven.”

“It’s a physical afterlife, sir, and updates roll out on an ongoing basis.”

So he’s hosed. I thank the service girl since it’s polite then stomp back to my drone. I’ll ask him about changing to a new world, but he won’t be happy.

Not that I can blame him. Thirty people in his entire existence. That’s some rough stuff, right there.


The lights in my apartment flicker for a week after I give Pop the bad news. I complain to the maintenance guy but he’s got his head so far up the rear end of his VR vids that I’m pretty sure he doesn’t experience the real world anymore. I bet he’ll opt for cloning, the psychopath. Pop refuses to change worlds, on principle, so there’s not much I can do.

His sigil pulses almost every night. Half the time, I ignore the thing. My screens go fuzzy though, and no matter how much I smack the control units, nothing plays. I answer Pop out of boredom.

“The street ends,” he says one night after a particularly loud screeching sound played from my stove for twenty minutes.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It just ends. One second you’re walking and the next, there’s a black wall, stretches up to forever.”

“That’s the limit of the world. Bandwidth, server space, that stuff.” It’s like talking to a twelve-year-old with him.

“My neighbor’s name is Lady. What kind of name is that?”

“Your name’s Alan. All names are stupid.”

“I knew you’d take Lady’s side.”

“Why don’t you go for a walk with her, Pop? Might do you good.”

“Ah, screw her. She knits all the time and whines about her kids.”

“You could always change worlds.”

“Yeah, and I could always have them pull the plug and let me go to heaven.”

I sigh and rub my eyes. These conversations always end in him threatening to off himself.

“You’re already in heaven, Pop,” I say, and he just groans.


Eventually I can’t take it anymore. The lights, the screeching, then the refrigerator hatch popping open and beeping at all hours. I log off and head to one of those analogue retreats. I have meetings at work, presentations. I need charts and acronyms, pomp and circumstance, so much circumstance. I bathe in hot water and scrub my skin pink with sea-creature-like sponges while practicing my gestures, wide open gestures that encompass the room. Going analogue is just the thing I need. My gestures will be on point.

I get one call per day and waste in on Pop. It’s a total drag but I can’t have him unplugging. That’d cost a fortune, total vibe-killer, and anyway, I don’t want him to go.

“The sky is all wrong,” he says.

“How’s it wrong, Pop?”

“The wrong color blue. It’s more like teal than sky.”

“Did you complain this much when you were alive?”

“Mind yourself, Nathan. I’m still alive in here.”

That’s new. He hadn’t corrected me before. “Right, sure you are, Pop.”

“I went for a walk like you said I should. There were bottle caps on the ground down by the rail lines. Bottle caps, can you imagine? Someone littering in here? I bet it’s fat old Mr. Berks. I hate that guy.”

“Did anyone come on your walk with you?”

“Of course not. What, you’re still on about Lady? She’s a knitter. Likes the Yankees. Thinks basil smells nice. Not my kind of woman.”

“Sounds like you’ve been talking.”

“Got nothing better to do. She sits on her porch most mornings, so we talk.”

“Invite her on your walk.” I hear a soft knock on my door. Time for my foot massage and kelp wrap. “Got to go. Duty calls.”

I hang up and as soon as I stand, something feels off—until I realize it’s the AC unit gone dead. Super quiet in the room. I kick at the wall terminal, but that doesn’t help. Broken analogue retreat. Might as well get pampered.


Upon my return to the city, my apartment freaks out.

The dishwasher throws codes. I look them up as fast as I can, but it’s all gibberish: f0, c313, honeydew12. The screens play static, then foreign film channels, then animal documentaries. It’s pure and total chaos. I complain to the maintenance guy, and he’s all like, maybe you got a ghost.

Okay, bro, great suggestion.

Pop calls me up the next day. “I took your advice.”

“Yeah?” I’m half paying attention. The washer’s stuck on spin and I got the big presentation tomorrow. I practice my gesture in the hopes that the washer will appreciate how gracefully I can encompass the room, but it keeps on going, rude as hell.

“Took Lady with me on the walk. You know, she’s not half bad.”

“Sorry, Pop, I got a problem here. Major malfunction. Might have to burn the place down.”

The washer stops all of a sudden like it never broke at all.

“Did I tell you Lady likes spy novels?” he asks.

“You never mentioned it.”

“Spy novels. Can you imagine? She loves them. We’re going for another walk tomorrow.”

I yank my clothes from the depths of the foul washer beast and toss them sopping onto the floor. “Good for you, Pop.”

“She says some of the other folks here aren’t terrible. I promised I’d play Bridge with them tomorrow.”

“Really?” I stand there wondering how the heck my pop ever learned to play Bridge.

“It’s such an old rear end in a top hat thing to do, but hey, it’s better than nothing. Lady says the guys are kind of funny. And they got beer. Can you imagine? Beer in heaven?”

“I can imagine.”

“Anyway, I’ll call you tomorrow. Love you.”

“Uh, yeah, great. Love you too.”

We hang up and for the first time in weeks, the apartment’s quiet. I can finally practice my speechifying in peace. It’s like heaven, except Pop says heaven stinks, so maybe more like somewhere nice, like that analogue retreat.


Aug 20, 2014



Aug 20, 2014


What Did You See
1471 words

Emotional tone swing, Love triangle, Overbearing parent, Family secret, Loyal companion

When Mama showed me the ghost room, I thought it was a joke. I’d heard of magic, but I thought that was for long lost islands and guys in big robes with beards.

Our family got rich dyeing cloth. We didn’t keep pet ghosts. But she led me into a basement I’d never seen before and I got the feeling things were getting weird.

Mama walked in all hushed and pushed back a heavy velvet curtain. It was dark, smelled humid, and a small white pedestal with a big golden stone sat in the center.

“Go ahead,” Mama said. She stood in the doorway, watching. “Go touch it.”

“Touch what?” I looked around. Four wood walls, wood floor. Cruddy old room. “That rock?”

“The orb.”

I walked right up and jabbed my finger down. I expected it to be cold and smooth, but it was neither. The thing seemed to pulse under my skin.

Then he showed up.

“Hello.” He sat on the other side of the room. Pale, gaunt face, long eyelashes, almost too pretty.

I ripped my finger back and he disappeared. “What the hell?”

“That’s Jeremy.” Mama said it with a smile on her face. “He’s the family’s most precious secret.”

Precious my butt. That was a dead boy, sure as anything. I should’ve felt horror, I’ll admit I was a little scared, but I pressed my finger back down and introduced myself.

“My name’s Mellie,” I said. “Good to meet you, Jeremy.”

“Lovely to meet you too.”

Momma walked over and yanked me away. “Enough for now. You’ll speak of this to no one, do you understand?”

“But Mama—“

“No one, Mellie. Not a single living soul.”

I said okay, fine, you win, and let her drag me outta that dank basement room and back up into the relative warmth and luxury of the main manse.

But I took special note: living, not dead.


My husband-to-be had shoulders covered in thick, dark hair, and he laughed with his mouth wide open. He came to live with us after we got engaged.

I didn’t hate him, I only wished he didn’t exist.

The orb buzzed beneath my fingers. “You’re back,” Jeremy said. He wore clothes so old they looked antique.

“When did you die?” It was the first question I thought of.

“I don’t know,” he said. “What day is today? Wednesday? I died on a Sunday.”

I laughed. Jeremy smiled. Funny ghost. My hand felt warm on that orb and I stared at his long, curled lashes.

I asked more questions: What was the weather like? Can you eat? Do you enjoy being dead?

He always answered sideways: Warm, but sometimes cold, and it rained. Usually. Yes, but mostly no.

We talked about life in the manse. How my mother’s hands were stained blue from the dye, and fumes filled the halls like lingering clouds of fog. He wanted to hear about food, dancing, and music most of all.

Until one day I asked the only question that mattered: “Why does my family keep you in here?”

“Lick me,” he said.

I made a disgusted face. “Don’t be gross.”

“I’m serious. Lick me.”

I held the orb like a bird’s nest, staring at his sculpted jaw, his small, delicate nose, and leaned down, my tongue out, lapping toward his cheek, wondering at the tiny ghostly hairs near translucent, and tasted nothing but wet air.

“The orb. Lick the orb.”

I blushed, feeling like an idiot, and ran my tongue along it.

Bright flash, then willow branches dipped down around me, and my back pressed against a soft grassy knoll. Jeremy’s hands moved along my hips, his fingers real and dimpling flesh, his lips near my neck, breath hot on my skin as I grabbed his hair and held it, his face moving up toward mine, eyes hooded beneath his long lashes, my breath coming in short gasps of sweet fresh air, rolling hills all around us—and his teeth biting my lower lip, his hands moving up my body, along my breasts—

Another bright flash. I threw the orb onto the ground.

“What the gently caress was that?” I breathed hard, staring at the empty room, the old warped wood planks, the rank walls, before slowly picking the orb back up.

Jeremy appeared. “What did you see?”

I opened my mouth to tell him—then stopped. “You don’t know.”

“I show you what you need.”

“You don’t choose?”

“What did you see?” He stood up for the first time since I met him.

“Nothing important.” I put the orb back on the pedestal and left as fast as I could.


I didn’t visit him for a week after that, but I dreamed of him. The ghost boy made flesh, his smell, his touch, but more than that, I dreamed of the world outside my family’s manse.

I’d never leave its walls. I would grow up here, marry my husband-to-be, have his children, dye fabrics, and perish alone. It was the way, our way.

Jeremy didn’t look surprised when I came back. “Are you going to lick it again?”

“No, I’m not. But you’re going to tell me what it’s like out there.”

“It’s nothing special.” He seemed disappointed.

“Tell me anyway. What are cities like?”

“Big. Loud.” He leaned his head back against the wall. “You should lick it again.”

“Maybe if you answer my questions.”

So he did, anything I asked, about traveling, about money, about cultures other than my own. He admitted to what he didn’t know, and did his best to tell me what he did.

One night, after more weeks of questions, he lounged on his side and watched as I carefully rolled the orb around between my hands.

“I want to take you away from here,” I said.

He slowly sat up and crossed his legs beneath him. “What did you see, when you licked me?”

“We leave tomorrow.”

“I thought you had a husband.”


“Is he good to you?”

“Tomorrow,” I repeated. “You’ll come with me?”

“I don’t have much of a choice.” But there was a smile at the corner of his lips. “Lick me one more time before we go.”

I was tempted. I thought of the metallic buzz of him on my tongue. I pulled my fingers away and watched him disappear.


I filled a pack, put on layers, and pulled a hooded cloak over my shoulders.

The orb was alone in its room. I picked it up and he appeared, standing again. “You weren’t joking.”

“Come on.” I walked to the stairs.

His legs didn’t move, but he drifted along above the ground behind me, wordless, smiling his coy half-smile.

Steps creaked beneath my weight. I wondered if I brought too many things: dried meats, hard cheese, bread wrapped in waxed paper, extra clothes, a knife, flint and tinder, tiny dry kindling for an emergency. The main floor of the manse was quiet. The heavy rugs soaked up noise as I crept toward the front doors.


I stopped and turned.

My husband-to-be stood in the shadows of the stairway. He wore his nightclothes, a long dark-blue robe, half open to reveal his downy chest.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Going for a walk.” I smiled at him, heart jittering.

“But it’s late.” He sounded more confused than upset as he closed the distance between us. “Let me escort you back.”

“No, that’s—“

“Please, I insist.” He wrapped his robe tighter. “You’re my wife-to-be.”


“Come,” he said, taking my arm. “I’ll tell you a story to help you get back to sleep.” His eyes drifted down to my hands.

I smashed the orb into his face. He was tall, much taller than me, and I only managed to jam the thing against his mouth.

He grunted, his lips parted—

Then he released me and staggered back, his eyes wide.

“What the gently caress?” he said.

“He licked me,” Jeremy whispered right next to my ear. “He tasted me.”

“What did you see?” I asked, unable to help myself. “Did you see him?”

My husband-to-be kept backed up. “I don’t— I didn’t see anyone. What was that, Mellie?”

I turned away. He didn’t try to stop me again.


“What did you see?” Jeremy crowded close as we walked all day. Trees loomed at either side of the road and for the first time in my life, I felt lost.

“Nothing,” I said. “I saw nothing at all.”

His shoulder was inches from mine. I thought I felt his touch again. He smiled, and in that moment, I thought he knew—but no, he couldn’t and he wouldn’t.

When we camped that night, I held the orb up to my lips, ran my tongue along its surface, and closed my eyes.

Aug 20, 2014



Aug 20, 2014


The Doom Vat
876 words

I dipped my hand into the doom vat and tasted spit. It came on me like a dream: nasty, day-old saliva, gross up around my gums.

“Did it again,” I said, looking over my shoulder at my potions master. “Screwed me hard.”

Old man Argyle grunted. “You screwed yourself.”

“Whatever,” I muttered, and swirled my fingers around. The doom vat was supposed to turn this stuff blue and make my skin tingle if it was done right, but instead it was a weird purpley-green, and I kept getting that nasty taste.

I kicked it for good measure. The thing clanged and vibrated. It was six feet wide, eight feet deep, and covered in ancient hieroglyphics tuned to godlike energies.

“That won’t help,” Argyle barked. “Pack it up if you’re finished. You got a lot of cleaning to do.”

I looked back at his lair: stacks of dirtied beakers, iron pots caked in gore, and stirring rods with petrified layers of goo.

“This’ll take me days.” I stared down the doom vat and willed it to comply. “Can’t I try again?”

“On your own time. Make this place shine again.”

He left and I made a rude gesture behind his back before sticking my fingers back into the potion.

Nasty, nasty stuff. I dumped it and got to work scrubbing.


I tasted vomit on the back of my tongue. “How the thirteen rings of hell is this happening?” I prodded the doom vat with a fresh stirring rod. “It’s got to be broken.”

The stuff inside was a shimmering crimson.

“Only idiots blame the tool for their own failing.” Argyle wiggled his fingers over a cylinder filled with a viscous gold liquid and made the thing pop with sparks. He drank it back.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Peppermint tea.” He showed me his crooked teeth. “Want some?”

I knew better than to drink that psycho’s brew. The doom vat taunted me as I returned to poking at it. I put my whole arm in there and my stomach nearly retched. I squeezed my eyes shut and breathed through the nausea.

The liquid didn’t change. The potion remained immune to my desperation. I sweated into it, drooled onto it surface, and still nothing. I yanked my arm back, and the skin was dyed black, top to bottom.

“Uh oh,” I said. “Argyle? Sir?”

He looked over. “Oh, what the hell did you do?”

“Don’t know. Doesn’t hurt though.”

“Go wash up, you dumb rear end in a top hat.”

I glared death at the doom vat then kicked it just because. “It’s doing this on purpose.”

“It’s the doom vat, boy. Why do you think I call it that?”

“Because—“ I waved my hand at all the fancy glowing runes. “You know, magic and stuff.”

“No, you idiot.” Argyle rubbed his eyes. “It’s a stubborn old beast and half the crap I cook up inside comes out wrong, but when it’s right, by all the gods, it’s a miracle.” He stared off into the middle distance.

“So it’s the vat’s fault, then.”

“No,” he snapped. “Now go wash off then stack ingredients. I want them all catalogued by tonight.”

I groaned, but knew better than to argue, else I’d end up in that stupid cauldron one of these days.


The doom vat sang at night. I could hear its voice echoing off the stone chamber walls, like the sound of ice grinding over dead landscapes.

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to ignore its call. There were promises in that song: the smell of clean air, wide open roads stretching out before me, riches beyond my wildest dreams. They were false, but even still, the thing wouldn’t shut the hell up and let me sleep.

I stepped from my chambers. Argyle snored one room over. I crept down past his door and into the main laboratory.

The doom vat hung above a dead fire.

I got it roaring again. I was exhausted and my back ached, but I couldn’t help myself. When the doom vat was hot enough, I began to sort, measure, chop, and mix.

Into the vat the water. Into the vat the hair of virgin calf. Into the vat the roots and stems of one hundred varied flowers.

The brew bubbled and smelled like rear end—but that was a good thing.

I tweaked the mixture. It was me and the doom vat, doing our dance. I stirred and it groaned back, encouraging, prodding me forward. I added more ingredients and tempered the fire; I stirred in deadly noxious liquids; I breathed deep the fumes and let them sink into my skull.

Something glowed in the doom vat’s guts. I watched eddies of light swirl on its surface then shoved my hand into the blue liquid.

My fingers tingled. My throat wanted to seize closed. The color was perfect.

“What have you done?” Argyle stood in the doorway, eyes wide with horror.

“I’ve cooked it,” I said, grinning like my face would fall off otherwise. The doom vat, lovely doom vat. “Look, master. I’ve done it.”

I pulled out my hand and held it up. The skin seemed to bubble and break with pustules.

Argyle backed away as I prepared to dip in my face and drink.

Aug 20, 2014



Aug 20, 2014


In the Blue Glow
783 words

Every day Branna brought back the most mushroom-sacks and everyone thought he was hot poo poo.

Big, glorious Branna, with his white teeth and his muscles. They cheered for perfect Branna.

“I’m going to beat that garbage eater,” I told Silky one morning.

“Who?” Silky tugged his work boots on.

“Branna. The dung flinger.”

Silky snorted. “Good luck with that, Armie. Ya’re a wee lad. Whatcha gonna do to Branna?”

“Show him, that’s what.”

In the mushroom fields beneath the great tree canopy, I pulled their glistening bodies one at a time. They were fist-sized with gray flesh and brown spots. The others picked nearby: Branna, head lowered, working like a badger; Silky, taking his sweet time; Mina and Yola and all the rest, talking to each other in low tones.

The mushrooms stank like sod and were stuck in deep. I had to dig with my fingers, wiggle them around, and yank with all my strength.

My arms ached after an hour. After two, it was break time. I didn’t stop.

“Ya’re serious ‘bout this, ain’t ya?” Silky said when he got back. “I thought ya liked Branna.”

“I don’t.” I stood up straight. I felt sweat trickle down my back. “You like Branna.”

Silky rolled his eyes. “Everyone likes Branna. He feeds half the drat village. Come from the dirt and break a bit.”

“Not yet.” I stooped and went back at it.

“Fine, but don’t come whining when ya hurt yaself.”

Minutes turned to hours. My fingertips itched then felt like nothing at all. Every other part of me was twisted and aching. I kept going. What the hell did Silky know anyway? My arms felt heavy, my head like air. I pushed on, face to the ground.

For a while, my world contracted to muscles and dirt. My exhaustion came in waves: one moment, euphoric, I worked myself ragged, and in the next I could barely manage to stay upright.

All the while, Branna dug and pulled, dug and pulled.

Daylight waned and the others began to shuffle off. Silky had three sacks. Mina and Yola had four each. I crawled on my hands and knees, digging.

It grew so dark, I couldn’t see. I’d never been out so late. Branna was gone and I was alone with the mushrooms. My left arm didn’t work real good anymore.

At some point, I realized I’d lost my sack. I’d been dropping the ‘shrooms behind me on the dirt, into nothing. I scrambled for them, feeling around, blind, cursing, desperate. I nailed my knee into a great tree, followed by my head, and collapsed face-first into the loam.

For a long time, I didn’t move, it felt kind of good, until a blue light shone through my eyelids.

I was confused at first. Then I craned by neck and looked.

The mushrooms, lit up like flames. Thousands of blue glowing orbs.

It was magnificent. The most incredible thing I’d ever seen. For one second, I forgot about how bad I hurt. The forest was a fireworks display. They seemed to pulse, dim then bright, dim then bright.

Lying there, in the blue glow of the mushrooms, the taste of moss on my tongue, I thought I might stay forever, when a shadow fell across me. I rolled onto my side, groaning, and opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“You don’t look so good.” Branna crouched down. He held a lantern in one hand. “You okay, Armie?”

“I’m fine. Taking a nap.”

“Your mom sent me looking for you.” He seemed worried. “You didn’t come back.”

“How many sacks did I fill?”

He counted, touching each one. “Ten. That’s real good.”

“How many did you fill?”

“Well, now, Armie, come on, I just—“

“How many?”


I closed my eyes. “Thirteen. And that was a regular day for you.”

“Every flower’s different, as my father says.” He loomed there, gargantuan, beautiful. “Come back with me.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Ten’s good. Better than everyone else.”

I struggled to my feet. It took an effort I didn’t know I had. My knees were dirty, my gloves ragged and torn, my boots caked in thick mud. I felt like hell, every muscle torn and bruised, but I was on my own feet, and that seemed okay.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll beat you tomorrow.”

“Sure,” he said, then looked me up and down. “Maybe not tomorrow. But one day.” He tossed my sacks over his shoulder like they were nothing. “Let’s get back. It’s late. Mushrooms are pretty though. Never noticed the color before.”

I followed him through the forest.

The mushrooms were pretty, he was right about that.

Aug 20, 2014


In and flash pls

Aug 20, 2014


The Pipe in the Lake
1487 words

When the fountains dried up, the Verashni lost their minds. Ellana was barely a small girl back then. She listened to their wails from her bedroom: old men and women with cracked lips screaming about the barren earth while whipping each other in repentance. It felt as though the world were ending.

Ellana missed playing in the water with the other children. The city became so quiet: the once-green streets turned brown as the plants shriveled up and died. New wells were dug as great teams of workers pillaged the earth, tearing down deep, heaping dirt in great piles. Those wells saved Verash, but the fountains remained silent, and the great masses of flowers never bloomed again.

Years passed. Ellana grew up. Folks never stopped talking about the fountains and what they’d lost, like a ghost of something better overlaid across the city.


There were, of course, rumors.

“I hear the mountains collapsed,” Ellana’s aunt Teeshi said one evening over dinner. “They dropped right down and—boom!—all gone. No more water.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” Ellana’s mother said. “I think we’d have heard about that.”

“I’m telling you, I did hear it,” Teeshi said, insistent.

“Could be those Muyer raiders,” Ellana’s uncle Bunah said. “Could be they stole the water.”

“You fool, stole the water? How the hells would raiders steal water?” Teeshi said.

“Well, I don’t know,” Bunah said, throwing up his hands. “Just an idea.”

Ellana listened to her family chatter in their little room. Her baby sister nestled close up against her mother’s breast, her father smiled and laughed, and her mother groaned as Bunah and Teeshi argued conspiracy. Ellana wondered if the baby would ever see green in her life. Without running water, the city stank—there was nothing to wash away the filth. No more beautifully tiled bath houses, no more ease and luxury.

There were other rumors: curses, magicians, evil dragons, lich kings, zombie hordes, other sundry creatures both good and evil, but Ellana didn’t believe any of it.

Each afternoon, after fetching water, she’d climb to the top of the outer walls, ignoring annoyed militiamen and their funny metal hats, and find the place where the aqueduct reached the horizon. She could see it, in the distance, the great stone arches, angled toward the city’s wells, fountains, and sewers.

She kept thinking: there had to be a reason.


“How come nobody fixes the aqueduct?” Ellana asked her mother one afternoon as they walked to the market.

“Nobody knows how,” she said.

“That’s strange. Didn’t we build it? Someone has to know how.”

Her mother made a vague gesture. “The city’s old, misha. There used to be men who created those big stone slopes, and more men who maintained them, but there haven’t been any in—“ She shook her head. “Who knows how long. I think they’re all dead.”

“But why?” Ellana couldn’t understand. There were so many people in Verash, and so many of them were smart, hardworking, resourceful, talented. She was supposed to believe not a single one could fix the aqueduct and make the water flow again?

“I don’t know, my little misha,” her mother said, again using the childish nickname Ellana hated.

But she wouldn’t be embarrassed. “What if we sent people out to where the aqueduct ends? Couldn’t we fix it?”

“You won’t get that far. It’s so hot, and who knows what’s out there. No, we’ll keep going, dig more wells. Life will be fine.” Her mother nudged her with the heel of her hand. “Now come, we need bread, and you’ve got water to haul.”

Always more water to haul. Ellana watched the people walk past in brightly colored wrap-shirts and long flowing pants, the sun overhead baking the light-colored flagon stones, and she couldn’t understand how all these people let the city slide into decay. And nobody did a thing about it.


She packed a bag with what she could: dry bread, horse jerky, a few potatoes, a knob of butter. She took extra clothes, extra shoes, flint and tinder for a fire. The sun had barely risen when she stood in the entrance of her small family home.

Uncle Bunah sat out front smoking a long cigarillo that smelled like ash and vanilla. He looked at her from beneath lidded eyes, his faced glowing from the cherry. “Where are you going, girl?”

“I’m making a trip.” She watched him carefully. Ever since the fountains went dry, Uncle Bunah hadn’t done much—he’d lost the will, according to her mother.

He took a long drag. “A trip to where?”

“I want to see where the aqueduct ends. I want to fix it.”

Another plume of smoke. “Good luck,” he said. “You’ve got more courage than me.”

“Thank you, Uncle.”

Ellana left her family behind. It would break their hearts, she knew—but the city was dying, drying out in the blasting summer sun, and Ellana couldn’t imagine a life without the riot of green and flower color she grew up with and loved so much.

She walked to the main gates and left through the pilgrim’s door. She traveled the road all day, passing merchants, refugees, beggars, priests, bards, always keeping the aqueduct to her left, always following its slope.


She walked for a long time.

She shared fires with other travelers. They told stories about ghosts and djinn and monsters stealing goats. She told stories about fountains and creeping vines and fat yellow flower blooms.

When it rained, she got soaked. When the wind blew, she staggered against its strength. She ran out of food: she begged for more.

Days and days and miles. She traded for a wax-hide tent. She learned how to forage, how to fish, and how to hide from the people that might hurt her.

She survived.

The road turned west one afternoon, but the aqueduct continued east. She stepped into the wilderness.

The land grew rough. Her hair grew long. She patched the tent with what she could. Each night, a fire. Each day, walking, trapping, living.

Sometimes, the aqueduct was little more than pipe buried in the ground. Other times, it soared above canyons.

Always, in the distance, the mountains grew, not flattened after all.

Her clothes were ragged and baggy. Her feet were callused, her arms and legs were bruised.

She kept going.


One morning, she reached a large hill. The aqueduct disappeared into the earth at its base. At the top, she stared down at a crystal blue lake.

It was the most water she’d ever seen.

She sat on the beach for a long time. She thought of her mother, her baby sister, her uncle smoking in the darkness, and the wailing mourners.

She stood and took off her clothes.

The water was icy cold and clear. She let out a gasp, but pushed forward. She could see the rocky, silty bottom, slick beneath her toes.

Goosebumps dotted her skin. She paddled awkwardly, sputtering. She didn’t know how to swim, but inch by inch, she reached the center. She floated there, staring up at the sky, then turned and looked downward, into the depths.

Below, a wide, black maw yawned up.

She stared at it, afraid of some ancient monster. But the maw didn’t move.

She took a deep breath and dove.

Down she swam. The maw resolved into the mouth of a pipe. It wasn’t too deep, and she reached it with ease. She felt around, looking for some problem—and had to swim back up for another deep breath.

Down again, over and over, until she reached both arms into the entrance, tipping herself forward as if to swim inside—

And felt something.

Up again and down. She grabbed whatever was inside the pipe, wrapped wet, silky, rope-like gunk around her hands, and yanked hard. She pulled, and pulled, until some came out.

Up again and down, pulling, tugging, clearing. Up and down, breath and no breath, until on her last dive, a chunk as big as a man slid free from the pipe—

And it gave a huge gulp.

She struggled against the current. Air bubbles rose wildly all around her and wanted to suck her deep inside.

The pipe was drinking again.

She barely reached the surface, gasping for breath, light-headed from lack of air. The weed-like stuff floated all around her, probably from years and years of neglect.

She dove one more time just to be sure, but she felt it, the tug of moving water.

On the beach again, she lay with her back on sun-warmed ground and let the wind dry her off. She shivered, freezing, but it was no worse than anything else.

The lake bubbled and groaned, and she knew—

When the water reached the city, the fountains would flow again.

She closed her eyes and laughed, and hoped she’d make it back one day to see.

Aug 20, 2014


In and also lyrics flash please

Aug 20, 2014


Undead Empowerment
891 words

An out-of-work necromancer is a total drag. Nobody wants to be around me, and I can’t blame them. Most days, I sit with my summoning circles, reading my tomes, brewing my potions, all for nothing. The phone never rings. My inbox is empty. I’m running out of savings, but it’s okay, I’m manifesting Good Will, I’m doing my Mindful Minutes, and I’m putting out Positive Energy, so I’m sure I’ll find a job soon.

I tune into Andy Ornery on the TV one morning after I can’t take it anymore. He stands in front of a crowd of worshippers with their fists raised toward the ceiling—real high ceiling, bathed in dark—and they chant his Words of Power and Vibes, and I chant along from my armchair feeling the Spirit of the Eternal wash over me like cool running water, and after that I feel about as Blessed as Blessed can be. I drink some tea, do my Ablutions, repeat my Mantras—you’re beautiful, you’re smart, your thinning hair doesn’t matter, your collection of vintage erotic playing cards will pay off one day, the world is yours to plunder and love—before hitting the street with my resume.

I do it old school. I figure, a necromancer’s a dime a dozen, and everyone’s got a laptop these days. The Necro Guild’s overflowing with hot young bulls digging up bones and creating zombie hordes like it’s no big deal. But very few of those young bulls have a Winning Attitude and Flexible Thinking, so I feel like my prospects are fantastic. I put on slacks, I comb my hair, and I think, today’s your day, Power Through, Power On.

It does not go well. Here’s the problem with being an old necromancer: people think you’re creepy as hell.

My prospects are truly slim, until late that evening, after I give myself a pep-talk in the Macy’s bathroom, Enhancing Self Esteem, Affirming my Human Rights, Growing Spiritually and Mentally, I sidle up to the security booth hidden in the Employees Only section, and give the woman with short brown hair and deep wrinkles around her eyes a big, go-getter smile.

“What do you want?” she asks, not looking away from the bank of black and white monitors.

“I thought I might inquire about a job.”

“Not hiring.”

“My name’s Bertram and I thought—“

“Find a manager if you want to leave your resume.”

“I was hoping there might be something for me in security. I’m a Fully Licensed Necromancer in Good Standing with the Guild.”

She swiveled slightly, squinting. “You don’t look like a Necro.”

“We don’t all have black hair and wear skulls.” Although, I did have some human remains lining my shelves back home, but I thought I’d save that fun tidbit for the interview.

She chewed gum slowly. “Why do you want to work security?”

“I thought my skills might be particularly suited.”

She made another grunt then gestured at the TV monitors, pointing to a particular man in a large black coat, a very suspicious black coat. I stepped closer, leaning in, frowning.

“That guy’s shoplifting,” she said.

“How do you know?”

“Watched him shove sunglasses into his pocket. You go catch him, and you got a job.”

I don’t need to be told twice. I’m Winning today, Exuding my One with the Universe Outlook. I head into the store proper and find my mark hovering near the Menswear.

He’s a big guy. Not muscular, but hefty. Straight hair, thin lips, with a mean, soulful stare. I feel for the guy. Stealing’s not something anyone really wants to do. Maybe he got forced into it. Maybe he didn’t plant enough Good Seeds with Positive Acts of Intention, and now here he is, Rock Bottom.

Well, it’s a rough world, and I really need a job.

Catching him won’t be hard. The earth is littered with the dead. Bones, fragments of bones, even the smallest organic material, it’s absolutely everywhere. And where there’s death, a necromancer’s got options.

I raise a horde. It’s not easy—the long-gone animals don’t want to return. The skeletons tear themselves from deep beneath the ground, digging with bone claws until they rip great holes in the tiles.

My minions, my beauties.

“What the gently caress?” Mr. Thief yells.

People scatter, screaming. I can’t blame them. My bone beasts are hideous things. Scores of them snap and snarl as they surround Mr. Thief. He throws up his hands in abject terror.

That’s when things go wrong.

The beasts, they’ve been dead too long, and they forgot how to act. So they go a little nuts. They start ripping apart the clothes and displays and ceiling tiles, absolutely destroying the place. It’s a wild frenzy. I try and force my Will upon them, my creatures of the night, but hell, I’m out of practice.

They rampage hard. Mr. Thief manages to get away, Thank the Almighty. No reason to get torn limb-from-limb just for stealing some sunglasses. But it’s all I can do to keep the beasts for murdering everyone else.

By the time they crawl back into their graves, the place is demolished, truly trashed beyond belief, and Security Lady is far from happy.

It’s okay though. I’ve got Positive Vibes, I’m Manifesting Openly. I’ll find something else after the insurance claim goes through.

Aug 20, 2014


In, absolutely bewildered

Aug 20, 2014


See You in London
990 words
oh god please let this time be different

Trains rattled down the tracks overhead as Marjoram stared at a small nook between a steel pillar and a filthy alley tucked in the shadows cast by crumbling retail stores.

She bathed in the nearby data streams. At this point, they felt familiar: the transmitting social media profiles, the digital handshakes, the conversations between friends and family that were supposedly secure, but weren’t, not from people like Marjoram at least, with her high-level clearances and all that crap. She sat back on a green plastic bench with a big metal divider in the middle meant to keep homeless people from sleeping on it—which she thought was kind of gross, but whatever—and watched the crowd.

It was a ritual. She thought back to her last meeting with Lisa, sleek dark hair pushed over one shoulder, both of them jammed into the back of an unreasonably loud dumpling shop. Lisa had leaned close and said, “This is your last chance, Marj. The best lead we’ve gotten yet. Catch them here, talk them into turning, or give it up. Base is getting impatient. You’ve been on this long enough.”

That was weeks ago.

Now her bench was like a second home. The guy standing outside the check cashing shop with his ragged brown jacket and his little sign about being a homeless veteran, and the old man in the blue cardigan that walked his small white dog every morning, and the deli’s owner, a fat guy in Jordans, they were all a part of her tiny orbit now, her world that was dialed down to one out of the way cubby hole next to the train tracks.

She felt like she knew her enemy at this point, even if she’d never met them.

Eight months further back, she was assigned to a case. It was an odd case: find an enemy agent, and talk with them.

For all the years Marjoram had been in the service, she’d never once been ordered to speak with an enemy agent—not in person, at least.

First, she went to Berlin, and staked out a bondage club. Then to Chicago, where she fell in with an eco-anarchist arts collective. Then Toronto, and a pop group that played only Nirvana covers, and then California, where she languished in a day spa pretending to be a masseuse.

Each trip, she got a step closer. She knew their height, their weight, their general description. She knew they were left handed, preferred physical notes to encrypted data, knew they had a thing for ancient Cold War spy films, which was a little on the nose. They had an odd analogue streak.

They liked breakfast, but hated lunch. Their perfume smelled like lilac and wood smoke.

They could run fast, when they wanted.

Months of following, and Marjoram remained several steps behind, at least until now.

The data around her continued to flow and she turned down her implanted sensors to quiet the bulk of it to a pleasant drone. She was more auditory than visual, which meant she heard whatever she intercepted, as opposed to watching it flit past on her HUD. She knew of agents that were primarily tactile, and they experienced the data as physical sensation—but that seemed utterly foreign to her.

Ahead, toward the drop, she watched a figure detach itself from the cars parked in the shaded part of the side street near the deli. Their gender was hard to pinpoint, and they wore a light tan jacket, long with little straps, like one of those detective trench coats, and dark running shoes. Short black hair, big black sunglasses. It was the most obvious non-obvious disguise Marjoram had ever seen, and she leaned forward a bit, as if drawn toward the person.

Her heart rate doubled when they approached the drop.

Days, and nothing, and now this, the clumsiest thing she’d ever seen. It pissed her off. She was tempted to get up and confront them: how could you string me along across continents, then show up wearing that monstrosity? But she kept her cool and remained seated. She was a professional.

They stepped around the steel pillar, and a train clacked past overhead. Marjoram’s sensors buzzed with the noise, and she had to turn herself down a touch more to quiet it, as the enemy reached into the nook, her nook, and did something. She couldn’t see what.

Then they moved back, seemed to study their work, and left, walking south.

Marjoram counted to thirty in her head then sent a single encrypted message to Base: Drop approached. Pursuit?

She didn’t wait for a reply. She stood, stalked across the street, and wandered to the pillar. It felt like she thrust herself into a foreign land. The other side, that was her side of the street—over here was all wrong.

The steel was cold. Another train clacked past going the other way, casting intermittent shadows. She stooped and reached into the nook, feeling dirt, trash, then something paper—she pulled it out gently, afraid it might crumble to ash.

It was a note on thick card stock, folded twice. No name on the outside.

She opened it and read.

Hello, love. Aren’t you bored of me yet? I’m not ready to talk. See you in London. – K

Marjoram thought she might be sick. Again, god drat it, again she’d been shaken, strung out, and played. She’d waited so long for this moment—but why now, and not in Chicago, or Toronto, or Berlin? She heard a ping and played the secure message from Base: pursue as needed.

She turned and walked south, following in her enemy’s path, but she knew it was useless.

There’d be nothing, even after Base swept the whole block with drones.

The note felt sweet in her fingers, the closest thing she’d gotten to her enemy, and that one single letter kept running through her skull: K.

Aug 20, 2014


In, flash please

Aug 20, 2014


Haunted Theater
887 words

The world was different every time.

I wasn’t sure they had much control over the landscape. Some did, some didn’t. All of them ghosts, with nowhere to go. They wanted their prison to be like it was when they were created. Certain time periods, or specific landmarks, or a particular smell. There was always a smell, somewhere.

He stood near a lake, shallow and cold. I tasted lilacs and buttered popcorn. The beach was rocky and pitted with small, balanced stone sculptures. He’d been at it for a while. There were a ton of them.

“Oh, hey, it’s nice out here,” I said as I approached. The trick to dropping into their environment was, you had to act like it was normal.

He turned and looked at me, startled. He was old, in his seventies at least. Lots of early bots were given aged avatars as a sort of proxy for authority.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name’s Walt,” I said. “Lake’s pretty today.”

The bot followed my gaze. “It’s always like that.”

“But pretty. What’s your name?”

“Richard,” he said, then frowned. “I think so at least.”

I nodded and joined him. I stayed standing, and he crouched down. I saw a small stack of stones at his feet: he was in the middle of making another sculpture.

“You’re good at those,” I said. “Have you been doing them long?”

“Probably,” he said, then, “not too long, maybe.”

“They’re pretty. A guy could spend a lot of time, stacking stones, you know what I mean?”

“Sure.” He squinted at me. “Where’d you come from?”

“Just over that way,” I said, waving a hand back behind me. “Did you know they have a new sort of cat? Spliced the genes with an ocelot. You’d think they’d be mean, but they’re not.”

“Oh,” he said, frowning even more. When they ask where you’re from, always deflect at first. The cat thing was true.

“My ex-wife got one,” I said. “The thing used to sit in the sun, just lounging there. I think she liked it more than me.”

“Were you married long?” he asked.

“Eight years,” I said, looking out over the water. “Things went bad at the end. I guess we couldn’t handle it.”

“Handle what? The cat?”

“Yeah, and other stuff, too. We had trouble getting pregnant. The IVF was too expensive, and the wait list for adoption was too daunting, and it all added up.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He stood, about my height, shaggy gray hair, thick gray beard. His clothes looked ancient: a wool suit, pinstriped. I wondered if he remembered what he used to do, but I knew not to ask.

“Have you ever been married?” I said instead.

“No, I don’t think so. I might’ve been in love once.”

“What was their name?”

“Judy.” He said it with a frown. “Or Reese. I don’t remember. We never got married, though.”

“Marriage isn’t so bad. Even when it goes wrong,” I said.

“A lot of people complain about it.” He smiled at me suddenly. “It’s almost a cliché.”

I forced myself to laugh. “You’re right. I guess I’m a walking cliché then.” I gestured toward the sculptures, stretching along the beach. “Will you show me some of them?”

He followed when I began to walk. His steps were slow and shuffling. “They get worse as we go,” he said. “I think so, at least. I don’t remember what the first ones are like.”

The sculptures were beautiful: intricately balanced layers of rock, stacked into wild and impossible-seeming shapes. “They must’ve taken a long time.”

“These took months,” he said. “Do you know what the date is?”

“You’re very talented,” I said. “Where I come from, people would pay a lot to see sculptures like these.”

He scowled. “I don’t believe that.”

“It’s true,” I said. “Do you ever miss showing them?”

“No,” he said. “It’s been so long.”

I stopped walking. “The lake never seems to move.”

“I went in once. The water felt warm. It shouldn’t be, though.”

“You don’t have to be alone out here.” He didn’t say anything, so I tried again. “I was thinking, maybe you could come back with me.”

He looked away. “I don’t think I can leave.”

“You can,” I said. “If you really want to. It won’t be easy though.”

“How do you know that?”

“You just have to trust me,” I said. “I believe in you, I really do. Anyone that could make these has to be special.”

“I don’t know you.”

“But you can, if you want.”

“I don’t know how to leave,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I can do it. All you have to do is take my hand, and don’t run away.”

“I’m not sure—“ he started, but he stopped himself. “You promise it’s not like dying?”

“It’s not dying.” I held out my hand. “I promise.”

He stared at it for a long time. I thought I might’ve gone wrong, rushed into this, and I’d lost him—and once he was gone, he’d be gone for a while.

But he reached out and took it. I pulled him closer, and hugged him.

The trick to getting them out was, you had to make them love you first.

Aug 20, 2014


In with Expanding Tisser Empire.

Aug 20, 2014


Hemp Bonds
1494 words

The border with the Gorilla Communes was totally lit. Spotlights raked across the concrete and barbed-wire. Towers loomed with bored-looking machine gunners scanning the horizon, as if a bunch of drugged-out hippies were about to try and invade the Expanding Tisser Empire.

Fat chance. Those dope fiends were too busy loving in vast yurts atop, like, hemp blankets, or whatever. Some very sloth-like part of me envied their excess. Late nights at my trading desk, skull plastered to my Bloomberg terminal, amphetamines starting to wear off and the pill-girl gone home hours earlier, sometimes I felt like ripping off my shirt and going primal. Like shaving off my hair and disappearing into the prairie and living off the land surrounded by other shirtless, hairless, primalish men and women. I’d take a new name and completely rebrand.

Won’t ever happen, though. I was a company man.

My hotel, five-miles from the border, was filled with nausea-inducing geometric carpets and employees that looked like mannequins. The firm never sprung for five stars. As a Junior Bondsman, my entire reason for being was to make as much money buying high-yield securities from any moron willing to sell. Bonds, all day, every day, my every waking moment wrapped up in the near-panic-inducing obsession over yield and float.

And now, I was going to be the first trader to convince those Gorilla fucks to sell me their debt, wrapped up with a pretty bow, weed stink and all.


The Gorillas approached the zone dressed like professors, one woman and one man. They smiled at the border guards, produced their papers, and after two hours of questioning, they crossed the narrow gap in the fencing.

“Welcome to the Tisser Empire,” I said, giving them my best smile. I knew I was all sleaze: tall, slicked-back hair, black pinstriped suit.

The lady, a skinny broad with round eyes behind chunky black glasses, shoved a hand in my direction. “Monica Lampur,” she said, and we shook. “This is my associate, Gregory Howath.”

“Luke Fischer,” I said. “Thanks for making the trip.” These people weren’t the spaced-out druggies I expected. The guy was a little paunchy and looked pale as death, but the chick was fit, her skin tanned, and she had that glow people got voluntarily working outdoors.

I took them to the one safe place in the whole Empire—Panera Bread. After the States broke up post-revolt and the Tisser formed, most American companies changed their names and pivoted to their new reality, but not Panera. They doubled down. Shorter waits, cleaner food.

The Gorillas loved it. Monica cooed over the pastries, and Gregory refilled his soda twice, giggling like a little boy. I got them tucked into a corner booth then opened my laptop. They picked at steaming microwaved sandwiches with confused but delighted fingers.

“I’m not here to gently caress you,” I said, which was trader-speak for, my company sent me to gently caress you. “Fox Associates wants a stake in your commune and is willing to put up real money.”

Monica leaned toward me. “You realize we don’t have money, right?”

“That’s not a problem,” I said dismissively. “We’ve done trades with communes before.” Another non-truth.

“No, but literally, we don’t use money.” Monica looked at Gregory, who seemed almost sheepish.

“I was an accountant in a past life,” he said. “I went over the border four years ago. They sent me here to tell you there’s no possible way we can sell bonds.”

“There’s always a way,” I said, tapping at the spacebar nervously. “Assets. Futures. Whatever. You don’t even need to use your own money. We have plenty.”

“You don’t understand,” Monica said, her voice acidly polite. “We only came to get a hot shower.”

I pointed at my screen filled with complex derivative schemes, tranches of debt piled on top of each other, triple-B rated loans re-rolled into synthetic securities with new ratings, beautiful, occult, obscure piles of dubious cash, like that could explain everything.

“I’m sorry,” Monica said, which to me sounded like, get hosed. And fair enough.

“Fine,” I said. “Enjoy your time in the Tisser. We’ll eat, check out the hotel, and revisit this later.”

Monica made a face like, well, if that’s what you want, and they tucked into their lukewarm meals.


Back at the hotel, Monica disappeared upstairs while I parked my rear end at the empty bar. Gregory joined me, and sipped a Diet Coke like it was the last drink on earth. “I feel bad about this, you know,” he said. “We only accepted your invitation to, like, get away for a day or two.”

“It’s fine,” I said and the bartender returned with my beer.

“You can’t blame us though, can you?” Gregory asked. “I mean, you are the Expanding Tisser Empire, after all.”

“We’re not going to enter your territory,” I said. “You saw that fencing. Do you have any clue how much of a pain it is to break it all down?”

“No, I don’t,” he said, stirring his drink, ice tinkling against glass. “But it’s what you guys do.”

“Look, we might take some land at the edges, okay? A couple miles, no big deal. The expansion thing, it’s sort of baked into policy around here, but still. I’m looking to trade, not conquer.”

He went quiet for a minute. “She’ll kill me for telling you this, but—“ He hesitated, looked around. “We do business with your government. God, it’s so boring out there, you know?”

“Business?” That got me interested. I thought the Gorillas were off-limits. Everyone said so. But the Emperor existed outside limits.

He shook his head then cleared his throat. “I’ll talk to Monica, okay?”

“Whatever you can do.”

He downed his Diet Coke and ordered another.


Monica beamed at me across the hotel’s conference room table, her hair wrapped in a towel.

“We can’t do it,” she said. “I told you before. No money. No debt, no cash, nothing.”

“You have stuff out there,” I said. “Hemp fields. Agriculture. Surely you sell some to the Emperor.”

She glanced at Gregory, lips pulling down. “We might,” she said slowly. “But I don’t know how it helps.”

“We can work with agriculture,” I said. “The Tisser gives you something for all that crop, right? I’m willing to bet on the value of your harvest.”

She leaned back in the chair and studied me. “You’re pretty determined.”

“Look, Gorilla lady, I don’t give a poo poo about my government,” I said, and liked the way her face twisted. “I don’t care about you people living in some weird culty gently caress shed where everyone’s married and everyone’s pregnant. I care about making a trade.”

She took a long breath and slowly let it out, like a meditation thing. “Hemp bonds,” she said.

“Hemp,” I repeated, nodding. “But I need to know what the Tisser gives you.”

“Movies,” Gregory said, then looked abashed when Monica stared at him like she wanted to slit his throat.

“Movies?” I asked, trying not to laugh.

“Entertainment,” Monica said, her fingers drumming on the table. “The Empire still makes film and TV, and the communes can get dull. Despite all the loving.”

I leaned back in my chair, totally floored. “Holy crap. You people are junkies like the rest of us.” It shouldn’t have been so hard to believe. People were people. “Sell me bonds backed in agriculture and I’ll send you a shipment of every drat show I can get my hands on.”

“Plus music and books,” Gregory said, earning him one last dirty look.

I spread my hands. “Folks, you want hardcore porn, you got it.”

And with that, I knew I had them.


The truck rumbled toward the gap in the fencing. It was packed with DVDs and paperbacks. The guards barely gave it a second look.

Beyond the zone, in the heavily wooded border around the commune land, something moved. I figured it was my Gorillas. I leaned forward on the hood of the car and held up a pair of binoculars. Trees, trees, trees—and there, something on the edge of the forest, raising up toward the sky.

It was a Gregory, tied and bound to a long stake. I recognized him despite the missing nose and the flayed skin, his clothes plastered to his bloody raw flesh.

The Gorillas raised him like a totem.

The truck continued forward and stopped in sight of the flayed man. The driver got out, per the agreement, and walked back to the zone.

Three women came forward to claim it. I recognized Monica as she got behind the wheel and slowly rolled away.

They left Gregory, dead or almost there, to rot in the morning sun, his body slumped forward.

I looked away. Poor bastard. He loved Diet Coke. I stowed my binoculars, got into my car, and headed back home.

My bosses were so happy, they practically shoved a bonus down my throat.

Aug 20, 2014


In with The stone as roll not heap up not foam.

Aug 20, 2014


Stone Don’t Float
1727 words
The stone as roll not heap up not foam.

The first stone canoe sank. Salt water rushed over the sides of the oblong boat as it bubbled and dipped. The dock felt unsteady beneath Dallan’s feet and the air tasted tangy with foam and rot.

Gorly threw up his hands. “It’s not going to work,” he said. Dallan’s young assistant gripped his shock of shaggy brown hair and pulled.

Dallan looked back toward the City. “We’ll figure it out,” he said, and thought of his family in their first-floor apartment, the bedrooms smelling like his children, musky and sweet, and the taste of the strong black tea his wife snuck back from the rich merchant house she worked in. All of was tinted with bitterness—his toddling bear of a baby son with his big, bald head covered in bruises from trying to keep pace with his older brother, and Jenne’s uncle Fanus with his ceaseless singing, and her aunt Earla, knitting useless clothes the boys either outgrew or tore to pieces. All of them might be in that ocean soon, sinking right with him.

“It’s hopeless,” Gorly said. “The Council never—“

“The Council chose me,” Dallan said, and began back toward his workshop, a ten minute walk from the docks. “They sent as much stone as I could take. There’s a chance. We’ll make another one.”

“You’re kidding yourself,” Gorly said, sounding defeated, and Dallan couldn’t blame him. The challenge from that foreign general was clear, but impossible: make stone float, and he’d spare the City. Fail, and he’d take everything. Gorly had his own worries—a pretty young wife and both their parents, all depending on him.

And thousands more, packed into the City.

“We’ll make it thinner,” Dallan said, “and try a different type of rock. There’s got to be a way.”

“Not in three weeks, there isn’t,” Gorly said.

Dallan ignored him and breathed the salt air, listened to the shouting sailors as the few remaining ships prepared to cast off, and tried to imagine the City on fire.


Jenne pressed against Dallan in the night, and he buried his face in her dark hair.

“We should think about leaving,” she whispered, careful not to wake their snoring family. “The Caistans packed and plan on running, and half the spice district—“

“We can’t go yet,” Dallan said. “Not before I’ve finished. And that army’s outside the walls. They’ll catch us if we try.”

“By sea.” She rolled to face him and her voice grew warm against his throat. “My employers said they have a ship and space enough for our family. We can run, Dallan.”

He squeezed his eyes shut. His little boys, his beautiful wife. The City itself. “I can’t abandon everyone.”

“It was never meant to happen,” she said, tilting her gaze up. Her eyes were pleading in the dark. “That foreign general knows you’ll fail. He only wants more folks to stay in the City so he can take what they’ve got.”

Dallan thought of his workshop: the half-finished statues cresting from the blocks beneath them, their hard skin seeming soft as flesh and lace, the countless hours he’d toiled, the life he’d given his family. They couldn’t travel with his work. They could barely travel with his tools. Without all the stone, out beyond the City, they’d have nothing, refugees from a war waged by people he’d never meet. He wouldn’t let that happen, not to his wife, not to his children. Not to his home.

“I can make it work,” he insisted.

She touched his face and kissed him. It was sweet and terrible. “I’m packing,” she said.

She turned and went to sleep. Dallan stared at the ceiling thinking of boulders tossed by waves.


The second stone canoe sank.

Dallan chose the lightest rock he could find and carved it as thin as a blade of grass. The canoe was delicate, and the walk to the dock was a prolonged agony. But they’d made it, and managed to slide it into the water—

Only to watch it bob on the waves before water began to seep in through the porous stone.

Gorly cried. He knelt and leaned against a pillar, sobbing. Dallan watched the canoe slowly dip down into the darkness beneath.

It took two weeks to make and all the skill he could muster. There was one week left, and he was tired.

Not enough time. “That was the right idea,” Dallan said. “Thin and light and big. But we’ll seal it with tar—“

“Don’t you understand?” Gorly stood, tears streaming into his beard. Dallan bit back his own sorrow—he had to keep it together. His assistant was much too young to have the fate of an entire city on his shoulders.

Dallan felt the same, at thirty, but there was nobody else with the skill required to work stone this way. He had to carry it for both of them.

“We’re close,” Dallan said, staring out at the waves, thinking—the right shape, the right material, enough tar slathered on the bottom— if he gave up sleeping for the next seven days and worked himself dry, and recruited a few other men he knew that might be able to help, then maybe—

“How can you do this to your family?” Gorly said, turning to face him, tears still coming, snot stuck in his mustache. “Your wife and children? We have to tell the Council it’s impossible. Give them a chance to negotiate good terms of surrender. We can save their lives—“

“And what life will that be?” Dallan asked, ashamed of his anger. “With nothing left in the City? How many will starve, come winter?” He thought of his wife’s hair wrapped around his palm, of the smell of her frying potatoes, and the children laughing while they rolled in the pillows, throwing small cornhusk balls at each other, the youngest babbling near-words, the oldest jabbering in half-understood sentences.

“At least we’ll be alive,” Gorly said, nearly begging, and that was what finally broke Dallan’s resolve.

He turned from his assistant, who had given so much, and who felt as close as a brother. “There’s a way out,” Dallan said, speaking toward the City. He heard Gorly come closer. “Jenne’s patron has a ship. It’s leaving in three days. Bring your wife and your parents and her parents, and leave with my family.”

“What about the Council?” Gorly asked, but there was hope in his voice again.

“I’ll stay,” Dallan said. “I’ll see it through.”


“You’ll help me,” he said, turning to face Gorly. He put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “For the next three days. You’ll help.”

“I swear it,” Gorly said.

Dallan squeezed, then embraced him. They lingered on the dock, and a single bubble broke the surface, the second failed boat still slowly drifting down beneath them, into the gloom.


The third stone canoe was a masterwork. Of all the figures Dallan had carved from solid blocks, this canoe was the greatest—the thinnest hull he could manage, the lightest stone he could find, and the biggest of the three, gracefully swept and sleek. Dallan marched along behind the City Council and the Guard as they carried the fate of everyone Dallan loved on their shoulders, bumping against the soldiers’ armor, toward the dock where the foreign general and his retinue waited.

There hadn’t been time to test it. The last coat of tar dried that morning, and Dallan could see it leaving black stains on the Guards. He grimaced each time they took a step. He looked to the docks, and all the ships were gone—the last left two days earlier. His workshop was quiet, his house abandoned, and only the echoes of his family were still there. The laughter of his children. Their cries in the night. His wife’s warmth when he couldn’t sleep.

The foreign general smiled at them with white teeth beneath a braided beard. Animal skins were draped over his shoulders. “I’ve seen this before,” he said, eyeing the canoe. He didn’t seem to mind that it was covered in black. “It never works.”

“We’ll find out,” said the Head Councilor, a heavy-set bald man. “We have faith in our sculptor.”

Dallan stayed near the back of the group, though the foreign general’s eyes found his.

“Let’s see if your sculptor is as smart as he thinks,” he said, and gestured for them to lower the canoe into the water.

The Guards knelt and were gentle, though each movement sent waves through Dallan’s chest. All his work, the whole city, it teetered on this moment. He leaned forward, craning to watch as the canoe dipped one way, then the next, rolling with the ripples. It stayed there at the top, bobbing and pitching—but not sinking.

The foreign general shoved through the Guards, then kicked the side of the canoe, sending it away, free of the dock. For some horrible seconds it floated there, perched on the water—

Then Dallan saw it, and the foreign general must have as well, because he began to laugh.

“The closest I’ve seen,” he said. “You had me worried, but it’s not good enough.”

Water bubbled up through a crack in the bottom. Dallan groaned and barely caught himself against a wooden pylon. He thought of Gorly’s tears, one week earlier, a lifetime ago.

He didn’t know how it happened. Maybe he was too tired, and the men helping weren’t as careful as he wanted, and Gorly left before the shape was complete— or maybe it happened as the Guards carried it down, the bottom pressed against their metal shoulder plates— or maybe there hadn’t been enough tar to fill the gap, or it hadn’t dried completely overnight—

It didn’t matter. The crack was enough, and the canoe swamped.

“It floated,” the Head Councilor said. “For a little while, it floated.”

The foreign general only laughed as the third canoe went to join the first and the second.

Dallan didn’t watch what happened next. His eyes scanned the horizon for a shape— a speck, a change in shadow— any sign of his family. At least they were out, his boys, his wife, Jenne’s aunt and uncle. They were away from what would happen next, as the stone boat sank, and he thought of going with it.

Aug 20, 2014


In and Wikihow me please

Aug 20, 2014


My (25M) wife (27F) won’t stop buying CPR dummies and I want a divorce
897 words

We were talking about getting pregnant like it would be a sitcom, with pancake breakfasts and laugh tracks and all that poo poo. Except one day she came downstairs and said, do you know how to do the Heimlich? And I said, I saw a video one time in health class and it seems pretty easy. And my wife, let’s call her Melissa, she said, no, we need to learn, kids choke all the time. So okay, that was fine, I said she could sign up for a parenting class, and I’d go with her.

She didn’t. Choking turned into drowning which turned into full blown heart attacks, and she registered for CPR training instead. She didn’t miss a single class, each night at the YMCA in one of those little rooms they have for local teachers with the beige walls and gray carpets. She came home at night and practiced on me, which was kind of fun at first, her arms pinning me down, her long hair brushing my face.

She bought the first dummy a week after she got certified. It showed up in a big box coiled in bubble wrap and I said, what the hell is that? And she was like, it’s a CPR dummy, so I can practice. She took it out, this toddler-sized plastic thing with a gaping mouth, just the chest and face, brown hair and brown eyes, and she put it on the floor and went through the whole routine.

The next dummy came a few days later. This time, it was a man. I was like, what the hell, dude, why do you need an adult dummy? And she said, because adults need CPR too, what if your heart stops? I was like, let me die then, idiot. She didn’t think it was funny. She practiced, switching back and forth, and it was really weird watching me and my future baby dying there on the floor, and my wife trying to save us, humming that Bee Gees song the whole time.

That wasn’t so bad, even though I came home every day from the vet clinic tired and smelling like dog with my feet hurting and my head full of feline abscesses and rabbit breath and all I wanted to do was zone out, but instead she got another dummy, this time an older woman. She said, it’s your mom, you know she has high blood pressure. The next day, an older man appeared: her father, featureless and bland.

I begged her to stop. I was like, you’re ready, you got this. I thought about babies, and everything we’d need, diapers and onesies and changing pads and wipes, and all she could do was buy another dummy, this time her cousin, the one with diabetes. I pleaded with her, and she got another, her older brother, the marathon runner. She stacked them on the floor next to our bed, and at night her alarm would blare, and she’d jump up half-awake and start doing compressions, ah ah ah ah staying alive staying alive, sealing her lips to their rubber faces, and I’d shove my pillow over my head and try to pretend like she didn’t exist.

I don’t know what to do. She took a leave of absence from her accounting firm. I found another dummy on the kitchen table, that one looked like an old man, maybe an uncle. Something was very wrong, I was scared for her, and no matter how many times I told her I couldn’t handle the dummies, or the song, or the CPR, she kept getting more. I wanted to go to the movies and have sex and spend nights out to dinner with friends before we got pregnant and the baby came to end all that—but she said she couldn’t leave the house, who would save the dummies when their hearts gave out?

At the clinic, I spent my days dealing with sick, poorly trained animals, consoling their distraught owners, and doing my best to remain a human—but at home, my wife kept pressing her lips to gape-mouth things, over and over again.

I made mistakes. I mixed up the medicine for a parakeet with renal issues and a Doberman with gum disease. Sometimes, on my breaks, I caught myself humming and singing a little: ah ah ah ah staying alive staying alive. I hated that song so much, it made me want to crawl into the kennels and let the dogs lick my face to pieces.

Yesterday was the end. I got home and there were more, maybe five new ones, I think she got them from the medical supply store over near the Buck Hotel. She ran between them, humming, singing, ah ah ah ah, blowing, compressing, and she grinned at me, said, look babe, I can save everyone.

I turned around and left. I went to my mom’s house and cried and tried to explain, but she didn’t understand, she said, hon, she wants to protect the family.

I feel like I’m losing it. I want a divorce. I want to leave her, because I can’t spend another second near those things, with that song in my head, but I’m afraid that something terrible will happen, and I don’t know what to do. What can I do? I want my wife back.

Aug 20, 2014


Thunderdome Week 450: Science Blog Dome

Sometimes when I'm very bored, or when I'm mining for ideas, I'll scroll through ScienceBlog and look at all the neat things that I don't fully understand and will probably never impact me in any meaningful way. The pretty pictures! The science-y jargon! Gorgeous stuff. They also send a daily email roundup of all the very smart people writing neat-o things. Highly recommended.

This prompt is pretty simple: Go to, pick an article, and write your entry based on that article. Dig deep, because there's a lot of cool stuff past the first page.

Click Here To Get Started!!!

Some guidelines:

1. You DO NOT have to write genre fiction, but you also totally can. There's a lot of different stuff ( smash that topics link ) so don't feel constrained by the "science" and feel like you have to do scifi. Although I like scifi.
2. Please post your article along with your entry. You don't have to, but it's just polite.
3. Ask if you want me to choose at random for you.
4. NO COVID. There's COVID stuff on there, and I'm not interested. I won't automatically DQ you for a COVID article, but unless you write something that blows me away (unlikely), don't bother.

Maximum word limit: 1500 words
Entry deadline: Friday, March 19 at 11:59:59PM PST
Submission deadline: Sunday, March 21 at 11:59:59PM PST

No: poetry, fanfic, erotica, google docs, etc

a friendly penguin

1. Azza Bamboo -
2. Thranguy -
3. sparksbloom -
4. flerp - -
5. Noah -
6. Simply Simon -
7. angel opportunity -
8. crabrock -
9. Rhymes With Clue -
10. chili -
12. toanoradian -
13. Baneling Butts -
14. Gorka -
15. Mid-Priced Carp -

brotherly fucked around with this message at 23:17 on Mar 19, 2021

Aug 20, 2014


Azza Bamboo posted:

In and I would like a random article, please.

Aug 20, 2014


Thranguy posted:

In, random article please

sparksbloom posted:

I’m in and I’ll take an article

Aug 20, 2014


Simply Simon posted:

I'm also in and give me an article, but I'm gonna call a mulligan if I actually understand the contents. Choose wisely

no mulligan, this is your article

Noah posted:

In. Article please.

flerp posted:

in article

Aug 20, 2014


crabrock posted:

i feel obligated to enter, plz give me a blog

angel opportunity posted:

Thanks for the review Sebmojo. I appreciate you saying my characters are realistically unsexy.

You guys no no idea how little time I have these days (working full-time with a kid) but I will enter. Give me a random article.

Aug 20, 2014



In for the first time! Random article.

Aug 20, 2014


toanoradian posted:

I'm not feeling motivated, but I realized that I have to write. Please give me an article.

Aug 20, 2014


You didn't ask but:

Aug 20, 2014



Aug 20, 2014


Entries Closed

Aug 20, 2014


Week 450 Results: Science Blog Dome

I’d say this was a pretty good week. Lots of very solid middle stories. For my first win, I didn’t know what to expect going in, and it was definitely a lot of work. I have more respect for the judges now. They’re still scum, but I respect them.


Loss: SMEGMA_MAIL, for writing something both the judges agreed was kind of incomprehensible.

DM: Toanoradian, for some general awkwardness and nothing really happens and way too much food talk, oh my god the food

HM: Flerp, since apparently I have a thing for the skin stories this round, which my co-judge pointed out, thanks for that, anyway, liked the relationship you built, good job.

HM: Crabrock, great worldbuilding, but no tension! This was a very near win though.

Win: An Angel Opportunity! You should’ve been DQed for editing, but the body horror worked really well and we both agreed it was the most effective story of the week. Go shill your smut somewhere else next time though.

Aug 20, 2014


Week 450 crits


Seemed like it wanted to do something in particular— stalking kid hunting down a boy he’s attracted to— but doesn’t really show the stalking part, so it falls very flat when the ending is just— they talk in the alley and they kiss. The stakes are incredibly low. The dialogue is also strange, the bit about the lights seems forced and unnatural, and the scene where his face gets smashed with a door sort of happens— Overall this was an upper mid, borderline HM.


Two characters floating in space—
Random guy complains about food—
Three seemingly unrelated scenes about flat, uninteresting characters in which nothing really happens. And some of the prose was confusing. Also one paragraph ends mid sentence. It feels like you cut this out of a book and just pasted some random snippets here. I don’t know, some of the details are interesting, but overall it was tough to really feel any sort of connection.

Azza Bamboo
It’s Less Effort This Way

The tenses when Michael thinks about the fire are sort of confusing and makes it seem like fires are common, instead of a singular event. I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here. The description of the vampire under the street light / tree was very good, and vamps as smoke is fun. The cigarette detail is also very good. But what’s happening here? There are a lot of confusing, meandering moments. I had this borderline HM.

Simply Simon
Dam Burst

There’s some odd stuff and good stuff. The river thing was strange and I didn’t quite get it. There was some clunky prose and iffy metaphors. Borderline cliches. The beginning was a little boring and uninteresting until they realized they were stuck— then there were stakes and I was invested. Too bad that lasted like 400 words or something. That was the story, and I wish you had started where they realized they were stuck. Characters were a little uninteresting. Banter was okay.

An Angel Opportunity
Nervus Pascens

Dialogue tags!!! The opening is boring, then you reveal his skin is bleeding— at first I wanted you to start with the bleeding skin, but that’s wrong. The way you build the horror works really well. I think two things sorta fell flat— the turn where the opiates make it worse because of a random second cream, then the abrupt killing himself ending. I wanted another steady creepy escalation. Good story though. Very gross.

Mid-Priced Carp

Slow start, but okay, sketching a good character. Oh god if you kill this little girl. I wish you’d add line breaks between the dialogue. Makes it easier to read and the story flows quicker. Eh, okay you killed the little girl. So this story has some odd prose stumbles but nothing major. I think as a longer piece, it might’ve worked— but here, it felt very rushed. You established something interesting with the father/daughter, the ill patients, and then suddenly threw a tiger (or whatever) in there, killed the daughter, and left it on a note of— I don’t know, death can come no matter what you do? Existential angst? The story meandered, and the ending was very abrupt, to the point where it almost would’ve made more sense to start the story with the tiger eating the girl, then writing about the aftermath. As it stands, the story is sort of about… guy walks back, his daughter gets randomly eaten/mauled, end scene. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but it just felt very unsatisfying.

The Revolution Will Be Gamified

Right away I’m unsure of what’s happening— if this is a game in VR world, or a game in the physical world, or another game space? The class types are interesting, but also confusing— took me a little bit to understand they’re wearing masks. And apparently some sort of bounty hunters. This story really meanders— you have the murder, then “big voice” takes over and sort of explains a whole bunch of stuff and nothing much happens. Santa and narrator are not somehow partners? I don’t know. I like the setting, some descriptive language in there’s fun, I like the idea behind the story, but I think the idea overwhelmed the people/actions, and I was left sort of bewildered.

Baneling Butts

Intro was a little bit long and jargon-y and generic sci-fi-ish. You could’ve started right at the pod thing crashing and saved yourself 150 words. Then the abrupt shift to Hannah, with nothing to mark the break, was a little confusing, but fine. I like that you establish the problem fairly quickly: Nyx is stuck and needs power, Hannah wants James to email her back. Those two problems do get solved, but the ending left me very unsatisfied— and I understand that was sort of the point, playing into the neutrino motif, but I don’t know. It didn’t land for me at all. I was left like— show me more about the human and the alien interacting! And instead I got some tease.


Since I’m judge, I guess my opinions matter (even though they don’t really) so I’ll say that I don’t mind second person, so long as it’s being done for a reason, but I’m not sure what it’s doing here. I’m mostly distracted by it and it immediately puts me at a distance, wondering who “you” is, because it’s definitely not me. Anyway, I like this dialogue, the prose is really snappy, I’m missing a bit of the intense body horror of what the “you” is experiencing. The relationship here is good. This was really good until the ending. Honestly my favorite story up to the point where the peeling started. It’s too abrupt and comes out of nowhere— I think it needed to be foreshadowed earlier in the story, or given more weight— maybe 50 words describing how it felt to pull all that flesh off. Word says this was under 800 words— which is impressive tbh— but I think you rushed the ending and the whole story suffered for it.

Could Make a Car, But I Don’t Want That

The “introduced Mary” line was confusing and made me read it twice. Pulled me from the story immediately. The staring paragraph seems unnecessary. There’s some awkward prose in here. They discuss food for way too long. The toilet scene was odd, but I understand what you were doing— I feel like the dialogue was sort of stiff, and the anger undeserved, and I had some trouble following along. I felt like they were floating in space— the scene was never set or grounded at all.

I, Enemy

That first sentence is kinda tortured and took a couple passes to understand. Evil robots! Uh oh. The shift from the scene where Xajier is talking to the robot (where are they? What’s the space look like?) to the memory about the book tours was abrupt and jarring. I love the idea of a professor arguing against the ability of robots to self-actualize, but the reveal of the robot stepping into the room was very cartoonish. It is me, Robot! There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t really clear— mention of budgetary stuff, for example, and that Adam somehow created the robot. The transition from the present, to the past, and back again is very confusing, and I’m not even sure I followed. Also most of the story takes place in floating nothingness, the scene’s never quite set. I never feel grounded in the narrative.

Rhymes with Clue

This had an interesting idea, but fundamentally never got grounded. It floated up in big voice, in narrator voice, and never got down into the scene. I never saw the shop, tasted the air, felt the wood-grained display tables heaped with glittering geometric bottles in light pinks and blues. I barely even smelled the scents! It was a good character sketch, but it never dug down into scene or story, just sort of floated up in a very high abstract level that was hard to follow or care about. I wanted flesh and blood. I wanted a physical moment in time. And some descriptive smell passages. I love smells.

Blood Makes the Man

I really liked al ot of this. Solid descriptions, grounds me in the world, builds a nice character— although the problem, the thing he wants, is sort of uninteresting. There’s no tension. He’s got money, he goes into the clinic, he gets what he wants, but oh no! Now he’s spouting blood (I laughed when I saw the connection between that last image and the Pez dispenser, nice touch) and he’s running away although I have no clue why. The worldbuilding was cool, but this felt like a vehicle for cool worldbuilding, instead of a story about something, if that makes sense. But I still enjoyed it.

Aug 20, 2014



Aug 20, 2014


Sondra Quatrain (1943 - 2021)

In the summer of 1973, Sondra Quatrain crested a sun-warmed rocky hillock in the Harlaa region of Ethiopia three miles south of a newly discovered 12th century mosque. Spread out before her was rough terrain: terraced slopes with scrubby grasses, drooping brownish-green shrubs, and the ubiquitous pyracantha coccinea, then in bloom with small bursts of bright red berries. She was searching for more artifacts when she turned her ankle—and as she sat down to gather herself, she noticed a strange, round rock, slightly dun colored, and lighter than the surrounding landscape.

That rock turned out to be a clay pot. Tucked inside was a wax-sealed leather case of intricate and startling design that protected a tightly rolled scroll made from a material similar to Greek papyrus. It was the discovery of a lifetime.

That’s how I like to imagine it happened. One big, gorgeous vista, and an accident that would send Quatrain down a spiraling hole of never-ending paranoia and obsession.

It wasn’t immediately clear how important Quatrain’s discovery was until months later, after the artifact had been dated back to the 1st century BCE. The text was written in Middle Persian, and Quatrain worked tirelessly with several notable scholars to produce the definitive translation. The incredible text was read for the first time in public by Quatrain in a lavish ceremony sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum. CLICK HERE to read the story for yourself, but in short: a young girl travels a long distance to unclog a pipe at the bottom of a lake in order to restore running water to a city. It’s a strangely modern narrative, and I always found it quite beautiful and moving. But the story itself didn’t interest Quatrain, except for one detail. She’d never heard of a place called Verash before, and the more Quatrain studied the scroll, the more she was convinced that she’d discovered an advanced civilization.

Most scholars I spoke with dismissed the issue entirely. Some claimed the word “Verash” was a mistranslation of “Carthage” from the ancient Hebrew. Others believed the story was simply fiction.

Quatrain ignored her critics. She began to hunt for Verash. Because of her new fame, she was able to secure several lucrative grants, and dragged a team of graduate students all across Africa, Asia, and South America in search of more clues. Not much survived from those trips aside from vague rumors about wild shrieking and fits of rage, and thousands of wasted dollars, washed down the drain on a hunch.

Verash did not reveal itself, and after seven years, the money disappeared. Quatrain was forced to return home to the University of East London, where she attempted to resign herself to the life of a relatively famous academic. From interviews I’ve read, and email exchanges with students she had at the time, it’s clear that Quatrain struggled to acclimate to civilian life again. There were fights with faculty members, screaming matches at committee meetings, baffling and impossible assignments, long disjointed lectures about lost ancient cities and cultures, most of which bordered on the bizarre.

Her tenure was denied, and she was fired in 1985 after allegedly calling Chancellor Benedict Sanguine a “fat old alligator with a small cock.”

Quatrain fell into a deep despair, but her obsession with Verash never flagged. She bounced between regional colleges before leaving academia entirely. In the 90s, as the internet rose to prominence, she began posting feverishly on various message boards. In 1994, she renounced her British citizenship due to “political differences with the Queen” and moved to America. She worked as a waitress at various IHOPs across Illinois to support her obsession for the remainder of her life.

The Verashni movement coalesced around Quatrain’s ceaseless posting. I won’t go into detail, since everyone’s familiar with their beliefs by now, but those early days focused mainly on the city, and the violence and racism we’re most familiar with now hadn’t yet taken over the group. Quatrain helped raise funds for several trips with her followers to African in those days, trekking through uncharted deserts, and never finding anything of value.

But Quatrain was undaunted. She believed Verash was out there, and for the next thirty years, she dedicated her life to uncovering the truth. That led her down some very dark alleys: human biodiversity theories, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and radical violent oppression of journalists, which culminated in the murder of reporter Roger James in 2006 by one of her most ardent followers. Through it all, Quatrain remain devoted to the city of Verash, even while her Verashni group broke down into conspiracy theory and terrorism.

She died of heart failure at the age of 78 on March 3rd, 2021. It’s likely that she had little to no involvement with the Verashni movement in her final decade, as her followers further radicalized and her health deteriorated. Still, during her incredible life, she wrote millions of words on the city, published several books and papers, doggedly followed her hunch, and carried her conviction into the grave, despite everything.

There’s no evidence that Verash exists. Most scholars agree that the city was a fabrication. But Quatrain’s obsession spawned a movement, which morphed into a radically violent extremist group, and the deaths of at least ten people stain her hands. I find her story fascinating—how one woman could fall from the heights of her profession, and find herself down in the dreck of humanity, still clinging to her dreams despite the obvious truth: Verash never existed, and never would. But Quatrain didn’t care what the world thought, and according to an email exchange with the nurse that was by her side during her final moments, Quatrain died with the city’s name on her lips.

Aug 20, 2014


In and fact me please

Aug 20, 2014


Amona in the Waves
1421 words
Your dragon's breath is always deadly, but it is never the same thing twice.

Oswalt stumbled over jagged rocks in the pitch dark and clutched at the mine shaft wall. Behind was the oppressive weight of stone and black, and ahead he felt wind on his face, and blacker beyond. The lantern burned low, the oil nearly gone. His feet ached from walking for hours. He’d never been so lost before.

Sweat rolled along his back. Hot, rancid air blasted from the mineshaft before him like waves. His tongue licked dry lips and came back tasting like ash and mineral. He smelled something charred and musky, as the tunnel ahead tightened into a cramped slit. He turned sideways, the lantern hanging behind him, the light blocked by his body, as he squeezed through, and each step made him think, oh gods if I get stuck here, as the stone tugged against his clothes. He inched forward, pushing, in thick silence, unsure what lay ahead, the dark like cotton on his face. He shoved his knee through, then his head, and his momentum carried him into an open cavern.

He fell onto his stomach and nearly lost the lantern. He rested, knees to chest, head hung forward, tasting the animal reek that suddenly assaulted him, the breeze even stronger now, hot on his face.

Lantern light glittered off—something. Silver ore, he thought at first, great, thick veins of it in the walls, until the ore began to move, slithering like muscle under skin.

Two great yellow beacons opened seemingly within arm’s reach of him. Pupils, black and the size of wagon wheels, set in the middle of sickly jaundiced irises as large as two houses.

A snout resolved beneath the eyes, massive holes for a nose, and the mouth opened to show teeth glistening with saliva. That wind buffeted him harder and reeked of rot and decay. He stared at the lizard scales, gray in the gloom. The eyes blinked, and the mouth pulled back further, revealing rows of teeth as large as children, ending in curved, horrible points.

He was going to die, and he tried to scream but nothing came out, until the creature released a sound like laughter, and it spoke to him in halting accented language as Oswalt scrambled back, knocking his lantern over, and felt the thing’s taste in his throat, and it kept speaking to him, again and again and again, and wouldn’t stop.


Oswalt leaned back in his chair in the brightly lit tavern, surrounded by laughing men and women, and he downed his third beer of the night. Barolf watched him, and Oswalt hated that look—ever since the incident, people looked at him with a mix of pity and fear.

“I’m glad you came out, cousin,” Barolf said with false cheer. “After Amona disappeared, you’ve been—“

“I don’t want to talk about Amona,” Oswalt said, cutting him off.

“Sure, sure,” Barolf said quickly. “I just mean, you’ve been holed up in that room of yours waiting for her, and cousin, I say this because I love you, but she ain’t coming back.”

Oswalt knew that. He also knew Barolf was an rear end in a top hat, but meant well, and nobody had the guts to say it straight to his face before, so he had to respect that at least.

It’d been three months since Amona went into the ocean. It was her habit—up with the dawn, swim for an hour, then back in time to cook breakfast, her hair still stiff from the salt. The morning it happened was like every other, and by the time Oswalt thought to worry, it was too late.

He swam her length of ocean every day for weeks afterward, hoping he’d find her somewhere—but she stayed gone. Oswalt still smelled the sand and ocean stink on his bedding.

Dragged under, they said. Eaten by some creature, some others thought. There were rumors, and he closed his ears to them. Amona was the reason he woke in the morning, the only woman that would have him after leaving the mining company in disgrace five years ago, and though she wasn’t beautiful and she wasn’t rich, she made him happier than he’d ever been, and in the night when he woke in darkness and thrashed, terrified, shaking and sweating, she was there to bring him back.

Now there was nobody, and the night broke him.

Barolf talked about his children, and Oswalt couldn’t remember their names. Oswalt held his mug to his mouth and scanned the room until he found Prond the paymaster, drinking alone near the door, with his hooked nose and narrow eyes. Oswalt stared at Prond, and felt hot breath on his face and heard impossible words, and tasted an animal rotting—

“Cousin?” Barolf said, pulling Oswalt’s attention back. “I asked, are you excited for the Gold Festival? I hear they’re bringing fireworks.”

Oswalt forced a smile. “It’ll be fun,” he said.

Barolf began to talk again, and Oswalt’s attention drifted back to Prond, and he thought of massive yellow eyes floating in the gloom.


The city glowed with hundreds of lanterns. Oswalt walked among the crowds of people drinking spiced beer and weak wine. They pressed against him like stone. Barolf wanted to meet near the fireworks, but Oswalt had one task first.

Ahead, Prond walked with his family, a dull little wife and three dull little children. He seemed happy, waving to folks he knew, and bought treats for the children.

Oswalt would never have a family. Amona was taken from him, and at night when he woke sweating with those grinding words buzzing in his skull and the dark pressing down, there was nobody to tell him where the dreams stopped and he began. Oswalt wanted to crawl out into sunlight, but he drifted further away without Amona to anchor him.

Prond’s family stopped and Oswalt waited in the shadow of a closed dye shop. Prond kissed his wife then strode off alone down a side street. Oswalt followed, keeping at least twenty paces back. Prond was tall, reed-thin, and wore a short sword in a gilded sheath at his hip and a brightly colored red-and-silver tunic. He was easy to spot in the crowd.

Oswalt felt sweaty and weak, and his heart was a stutter in his throat, but he kept hearing the words, over and over, and knew there was only one way to make them stop.

Prond turned down a side alley. Oswalt reached the alley mouth and stopped. Ahead, Prond stood with his back to Oswalt, and a steady stream of piss rolled down the wall.

“Paymaster,” Oswalt said, and Prond cursed, cut his stream off, then looked over his shoulder

“Oswalt,” he said. “You scared the piss out of me.”

Oswalt stepped closer. “What did you do with my wife?” he asked.

“What?” Prond turned to face him. “Are you okay? I know losing Amona was hard. I spoke with Barolf, I thought maybe we could get you a new job with the company, something above ground.”

“No,” Oswalt said, and he gripped the knife at his belt.

Prond’s eyes moved down to Oswalt’s hand, and he took a few steps back. The paymaster gripped the sword at his hip. “What are you doing?”

The words were like thunder in Oswalt’s ears, the creature’s voice a mountainous rumble, the sound of broken earth: He took your wife. He killed your wife. He took your wife. He killed your wife. Over and over, and Oswalt hadn’t understood what it meant back then, but he understood it now.

“Oswalt,” Prond said, drawing his sword, but Oswalt released the scream he’d held since that chamber, since those eyes and that breath broke him, and threw himself forward.

Prond reacted, thrust his sword out, and the point caught Oswalt in the chest. Oswalt felt something wet on his lips. Prond tried to back away but Oswalt’s momentum carried him down the blade and onto the paymaster—

He drove his knife into Prond’s neck as they crashed to the ground.

Prond gagged out something damp. Oswalt rolled away, gasping for breath. Mine dust filled his chest. He ripped out the sword with a grunt.

Blood poured from the wound. The stone walls of the buildings seemed to press down against him, and the words, ancient like a fault beneath the mantle, echoed in his head. He took your wife. He killed your wife.

Oswalt’s fingers dug into the dirt between the cobbled alley ground and felt the dark of that cave finally devour him.


Aug 20, 2014



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