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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


New recap!

Yoruichi, weltlich,, and myself sat down to chat about weeks 431 thru 437, talking about the prompt and a stand-out story from each week. We discuss stories by weltlich,, GrandmaParty, Chili, Maugrim, Tyrannosaurus, and flerp, and we finish with a dramatic reading of Entenzahn's The War on Christmas. Listen here or check your Thunderdome podcast feed.

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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I'm in and :toxx:ing. Would like horse gif but no flash.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Redacted

sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 08:07 on Jan 3, 2022

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006




i'm in and I'll take a flash lyric

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006



lyric: I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone
I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn

Closing In
998 words

1.

Nadia is borrowing a field identification guide from the school library, and she now knows all thirty-seven species of wildflower that grow in the neighborhood’s woods. Woodlily. Milk thistle. Silverbell. She can identify half of them by scent.

She rattles off the list to Mom, as they cut through the brush to gather blueberries, but she only gets five flowers out before Mom says "Please, Nadia, no one wants to hear your lists." She never lets Nadia talk about the forest.

2.

On Nadia's eleventh birthday, she spends the day in the woods with a sketchbook and a set of nice pencils Dad mailed her. She likes to imagine that she is a forest ghost, and when no one is looking at her, she changes shape, from gazelle to cardinal. And she feels the reality of it as she trammels over roots and rocks, draws the shrubs in her little pocket notebook.

And when the sun sets and she returns home with leaves and twigs in her hair, Mom is smoking a cigarette on the back porch. And she stares at Nadia, in this certain way she knows Nadia hates, and she says "You spent the whole day by yourself."

Nadia squirms and looks away. She knows Mom is crying, and she knows she’s supposed to say something to make her feel better, and thinks, maybe, she’s supposed to apologize. What’s the normal thing to do?

She says “it’s okay,” but she wonders what a forest ghost would do.

3.

She asks the animals what she needs to do for Mom to understand that she’s OK. And of course they don’t answer. But they listen. The chipmunks stop and tilt their tiny heads. The robins stop singing. The mosquitoes suck her blood.

Somewhere in the distance, she hears voices and sees the blur of motion. It’s some of the loud boys at school who swear all the time, shooting at each other with their pellet rifles. The forest ghost inside her writhes with animal rage, and Nadia and takes a deep breath and howls in the boys’ direction. If she ever met a coyote, she’d expect it would sound like her.

She runs back home, leaping over the dead leaves, but she listens for footsteps before slipping into the back door.

4.

Down the street they’ve been chopping trees to make room for a CVS.

5.

At school lunch, Nadia sits with a group of girls that barely look at her. Mom has made her a salami sandwich, and it’s that weird kind of salami that has these black specks in it. She crumbles the sandwich into a ball, pockets it, and eats her pudding.

The girls are looking at her and giggling, and her head turns to static electricity while her body turns to stone.

6.

On the Internet, she finds a spell that will transform her into a Northern cardinal. She knows, even as she’s copying the instructions onto an index card, that it can’t possibly work, but she feels like she has to try, or she’ll lose something that’s slipping away from her.

The animals won’t stay around to listen to her anymore, not since the trees started coming down. They scurry under logs and burrow underground. She wants to see where they go when they’re afraid of humans. She wants to belong there.

She sneaks out of the house, which she’s never done before but it’s not hard to wait until Mom goes to bed and slip out the back door, with her index card and a couple of candles from the bathroom.

7.

It’s different moving through the woods at night: the sounds and smells are different, too. But even in the low light, she knows the location of every exposed boulder, the blossoming flowers she needs to avoid. She feels like the forest is an extension of her, and, as she puts both of her hands on the tree, she wants to belong to the forest.

8.

How long does she spend there? She’s not sure. Time works differently at night in the forest. She lights the candles and reads the incantations and even sprinkles some of the thyme she stole from the cupboard at the base of the tree, and for a moment she almost feels the talons break free from her fingers.

She reads the language in the spell again, but it’s not working, or maybe she’s just not good enough at magic. With the light from the candles, she sees the silhouettes of the logging machines in the distance, sitting powerless beside the wound of an empty plot.

She feels stupid, because of course she’s not a ghost, not a witch, and she’s not going to turn into a cardinal. She just wants to believe that she is so much it hurts.

9.

The back porch light is on when she comes home, and the moment she rattles the doorknob, Mom is sitting right inside in a bathrobe, chewing her nicotine gum.

She gets up in a hurry and approaches Nadia, arms outstretched.

“No hugs. Please.” Mom looks like she’s going to go for one anyway, so Nadia yells, louder than she’s supposed to. “I don’t want you to hug me.”

Mom raises both of her hands and settles back in her chair. “I called the police,” she says. “When I heard the door shut. I thought,” she says, and her voice catches, “I thought someone had…”

“Well, they didn’t,” Nadia says.

“Are you mad at me?” Mom says. But she’s not talking fast and loud. She sounds quiet. She sounds sleepy.

“I want to be a bird,” Nadia says, quietly.

"So do I," Mom says, and Nadia thinks maybe she'll say more, but she doesn't. Nadia wonders if she gets the same static inside her head that she does. They sit in the hallways for a while, saying nothing, until the cop cars show up and Mom goes outside to make the officers go away.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In. Feeling: do I like you, or do I want to BE you??

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in :toxx:

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxGH2h2paY0

hellrule: show me that you lived here ten years. consider the mic dropped. now its time for you to PICK IT UP PICK IT UP PICK IT UP

Masshole
497 words

Dom has his fourth Gansett in one hand and an American Spirit in the other as he sulks on the back porch of the triple-decker. He can’t get the image of that kid – Dom bets he’s like 17, so what the gently caress is he doing here – licking Milo’s nose in the kitchen, so he’s down here, smoking, trying to come up with the perfect retort.

A downstairs window opens. “Excuse me,” someone says, and Dom’s vision blurs and adjusts to a woman with graying hair. “Maybe it’s time to wrap things up.”

“I don’t live here,” Dom says. Older women think he’s going to piss on their flowers, use a swear word, or kiss a boy in front of them. The ground thrums with the dumb ten-song playlist Milo put on upstairs. Why did Milo drag him all the way out to Jamaica Plain for this?

“Yes, but I do,” she says, “and I have to work tomorrow. I can tell you’re a good kid, so please, tell them it’s time to go home.”

“Yeah, it’s probably that time,” Dom says, taking a drag from his cigarette. It’s not that he doesn’t feel for her, it just really seems like not his problem.

“I’ve lived here for thirty years–”

“--and you’ve never heard such a ruckus in your life. Got it,” Dom says. He doesn’t expect the anger, the irritation. Clearly he needs to drink more.

“Excuse me. Look at me,” she says, and it cuts. He wonders if she’s a teacher. “I’ve lived here for thirty years, and I think I deserve to sleep through the night.”

“Well, maybe you should call the cops, then.”

“The cops,” she says, and shakes her head. “You really don’t see us, do you? The people who lived here before the colleges ran out of room.”

He wants to tell her that he’s a few years out of college, actually, but the thought makes him feel impossibly old. “Look, what’s stopping you from knocking on the door and being all, ‘shut the gently caress up, I’m an old lady and you’re ruining my life?’ What, you just wait for some drunk kid to show up and make you feel bad?”

“Thirty years ago,” she says, “we knew how to take care of each other.” And she shuts the window.

Definitely a teacher.

He stubs his cigarette out on the porch wood, crunches his beer can, and marches up the stairs, stumbling a little and grasping the railing. He swings open the door and yells into the din: “Do you know how rude you are?”

“What?” yells a girl he’s never seen before. Milo and the high schooler are nowhere to be seen.

There’s just enough time to catch the last Orange Line train before he has to pay out of his rear end for an Uber, so he turns around and marches back down the stairs.

“I’m sorry,” he yells at the downstairs door, but there’s no response. “I tried.”

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


crits

You Won’t Be Alone

Ultimately, this isn’t successful because it doesn’t follow the “likeable characters” rule. I’m not sure who we’re supposed to sympathize with here. Robotticus is lonely but he’s also attacking, robbing, and stealing DNA from innocent people. Anna’s treated with this huge sense of condescension. It really reads as this “isn’t this cute, she invests in her mental health,” and the other two characters aren’t much of characters at all. I also have a hard time following the blocking once Robotticus attacks – suddenly they’re in the air and having a sky battle? But I thought they were just hanging out in the house. And then I’m not sure why they’re so upset at the end – what exactly have they lost, a clone they never knew?

Little Machine

This definitely captures the still sadness of the cosmic entropy it’s trying to capture, and the prose is pretty and efficient. I like “I was a little marble dropped in a storm.” The piece is fairly static, though, and while that makes sense given the story’s themes, it’s hard for the reflective, fixed-in-place nature of this story to feel substantial. It’s also sort of a familiar sci-fi concept – the last consciousness in an emptying universe – and while I think the voice handles that concept well, I was kind of hoping for more of an individual spin on this. That said, the ending here made me feel things, and I appreciate that.

My Fault

Great voice and pacing. The character’s voice and conflict are captured well, and I like the repetition of “Just loving lie.” The character’s sense of guilt and her sense of what stands to be lost are both super clear, and the story works by playing those tensions off of each other. The memories of the accident and the courtroom scene playing out in the present are woven really well together; it’s never confusing when something is happening. The short, one-sentence paragraphs are a nice touch here, too. Can’t wait for the direct-to-video adaptation for use in school assemblies. Too bad you didn’t enter correctly!

Signed On

Really good atmosphere here. The objects and people in the foundry are sketched briefly but vividly; we instantly get a sense of what kind of place this is, and it sets the mood well for the capitalist horror here. I think there may be a few too many characters here, though; maybe Kal, Leon, Hans, the foreman, and the protagonist are too many for a story of this size. While I think the cast helps build this sense of a community ground to dust by the horror at the foundry, I think it makes the protagonist here feel a little distant and unknowable, and makes it more challenging to get invested in their ultimate fate.

Transcript of Professor John Reckitt’s speech in Stockholm, Sweden

I’m curious why the story is being told this way. I’m not sure the speech format is adding much to the story here.

This seems like another story that doesn’t follow the “likable” character rule. At least, I see this story as some guy trying to shrug off his own responsibility for his anger, using people, and murder on the devil. It’s not that he’s not sympathetic in his need for validation, because I think that’s captured well in this story, but for his attitude about his unnamed assistant isn’t likable at all. And I think you can read this as a sort of dark irony about powerful men who do awful things, but that’s pretty off-prompt. I do think you’ve captured this character’s voice well, though!

This Will All Be Funny In Ten Years

This feels deeply intimate, rich with great specific details that tell us exactly who Hannah is, and what kind of place Fairbanks is to her and Joshua. There are a lot of really lovely lines here: “When the counselor asks them to write letters to Joshua, Hannah thinks hard about him for the first time, and the first memory that arises is his working on an art project: carefully painting water over his watercolor-crayon landscape, making his flowers bleed into the grass” is just the sort of sentimental memory a fourth-grader would have. And I think the story captures the kind of valence that feeling would have at different stages of Hannah’s life.

I also get the sense that Joshua doesn’t really listen to Hannah, and that he’s essentially using her devotion as an emotional outlet, and so I have trouble seeing him as a likable character, but I think this might just be because we’re seeing things through Hannah’s perspective. And this gives me some mixed feelings on the ending, because it’s very bleak for Hannah in the moment – everything important to her is in crisis! – but I’m not sure how grounded Hannah’s prediction of consequences are, or if they’re catastrophizing in the face of a crisis. I wonder if it would make sense to hint more at Hannah’s home life, her financial situation, earlier in the story.

The Greenline

I’ve read this a few times, and I’m still having trouble piecing together how this piece coheres. Rob travels from a dystopian future to a stark past and is unhappy in both, ends up (accidentally?) killing the cult leader that led him to the past and goes back to the program, and is either killed or mind-controlled by the dystopian government. It seems like all of Rob’s options are terrible, so I’m not sure if the climactic decision here (to not bring the other people in his community back) really matters, since they’d just be reprogrammed by the government too. So it’s a cool setting and cool concept, but there’s just this strong “nothing really matters” mood that pervades it from the beginning, which just makes me wonder what the point is here.

Stone Don’t Float

I think this is pretty good but I wish it was a little livelier. Structurally and on a prose level, this is strong and left me wondering what terrible thing was going to happen with the last canoe. But the characters don’t really come alive for me; their voices don’t seem distinct enough. There’s some real moody, atmospheric writing here, and the end definitely hits me with a sense of dread, but I think it would be more effective if Dallan was more clear to me as a character.

Dollar Fever

On the thematic and mood level, this one just works. The story is just this vice-grip of capitalism closing in on someone who’s buying into its promise, and the end hits like a speeding Mazda of a wilted Christmas story. I think the friendship between the protagonist and Jake works to sell the betrayal at the end, and it’s nice that the specific betrayal is foreshadowed early on. The story could probably could have used an additional proofing pass, as sometimes the voice goes from manic to just confusing, but on the whole this is a really strong story.

Saint Anybat

Tight worldbuilding and a strong voice. Another story with great lines; it’s hard to pull off “a big walking queef” but I think the story does it. I like how it establishes the character’s particular connection to the bat and the high stakes of them walking around unarmed, which makes the failure at the end land hard. This is a story that really lands all of the prompt’s requirements.

Siegried of the Schoolyard

Hmm, I don’t know if this follows the “likable characters” rule, as I can’t say anyone but Zeynep is very likable in this one. As a story, I think it works as Friedrich getting his “nice guy” nerd-ideas literally beat out of him. The point of view and narration works for this character, and it helps to ground this story in this kid’s very limited perspective in this storybook way. I’m glad it doesn’t end up with Friedrich joining the Nazis.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I’m in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


AITA for hiring a hitman to kill my wife's birds?
739 words

A few months ago my wife and I moved into my parents’ old house. No one had lived there for years, and even after the contractors got the place livable, there was a pretty big mouse problem.

I asked my wife if she wanted to get a cat and she said “no, I’m allergic, let’s get a bird instead.” I’ve never had birds before but she sounded like she knew what she was talking about so I said OK. I thought we were going to get a cockatiel or a budgie or something but she just looked at me like I’m stupid and told me those weren’t big enough to catch mice.

So we adopted an owl. I didn’t know you could do that, I didn’t think they were pets, but she had this guy with a van come visit us. In the back of the van he had all kinds of birds: owls, hawks, eagles, even what I think was a vulture. It smelled terrible. My wife picked out a big mean-looking owl, and she made a little home for it in our unfinished attic. I thought it was just going to fly away, since the paneling had rotted and there was a big hole where it could just fly away, but my wife said “it’s going to know where its bread is buttered.” Which I thought was weird, because owls don’t eat bread.

The results were… mixed. I mean, my wife found some mouse skeletons in the attic, but we were also finding owl poo poo basically everywhere. And there were still mice. My wife said that the issue was that we didn’t have enough birds and we should get some more, so she called her bird hookup again. I asked her what we were going to do about the poop, and she told me to just do some research if it bothered me so much, but I couldn’t find anything online. (If you guys know anything about litter box training for birds, please let me know!) Anyway, she got a pair of red-tailed hawks, and they also moved into our attic.

The birds started fighting in the middle of the night and just making super loud sounds. I don’t think I was sleeping more than an hour a night, but my wife was just sleeping soundly through all of it. She told me to get some earplugs and that worked until one day I was woken up by a vulture landing on my chin.

I asked my wife when we got a vulture and she said there were still mice so we had to adopt some more birds. Around this time the whole house started to smell like a barn, and I was spending at least thirty minutes a day picking feathers out of the carpet. I told my wife I couldn’t do this anymore and the birds had to go, and she asked if I’d rather have mice, and I said yeah would rather have mice, and she said that I didn’t respect the birds as members of our family and that it was really immature of me.

So that got me mad, and I invited a bunch of our friends over for dinner to see if they would talk sense into her. But they didn’t, they just ran around the house taking pictures of the birds sitting on bookcases or globes or poo poo like that. Then later I was smoking a cigarette in the yard and one of my buddies bummed a smoke, and he said he knew a game hunter who would love to hunt some birds of prey. He told me to think about it.

Anyway, I called him last night and gave him the go-ahead, and I spent all this time thinking about what I’d tell my wife about the gunshots, dead birds, etc. But then I came home early to try to do some damage control and I found my wife buck-naked, loving the hunter guy on the living room rug, while like ten birds perched on the mantle, looking down on them.

I didn’t know what to say so I just asked why the birds were still alive and they both told me to get out.

And well, reddit, what do you think I should do? I hear that cooking with Teflon is bad for birds so I’m thinking of trying that next.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


interprompt: oh, you think butts are funny? well let me tell you a story about butts. 333 words

sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 22:46 on Mar 15, 2021

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I’m in and I’ll take an article

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in :toxx:

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


What Were White Men Thinking Ten Years Ago? The Troubled Authorship of Warren Levine
992 words

It was good fortune that someone had submitted The Complete Works of Warren Levine to a vanity press, and even better fortune that it had ended up on the $1 book racks outside Mammoth Books, or Levine might have vanished into irrelevance. As it was, Levine found a reprieve at the hands of Murray Stoll, a depressed PhD dropout who, as Stoll has suggested, could only experience pleasure from shoplifting and watching reruns of 90s cartoons in a bathrobe. So goes the lore of the Levine media circus, anyway..

Levine, as far as anyone can tell, floated about in a late 2000s NYC scene, attending readings in Brooklyn basements and perhaps giving a few, before vanishing into obscurity. Stoll, after discovering Levine’s works, tried to track down his contemporaries and found nearly no one who remembered the guy. “I was drinking so much cough syrup, I can only remember the pseudonyms,” says a once-eminent poet in Stoll’s foreword. “You know: Swamp Beaver. Mars Church. poo poo like that. And all the people who were flirting with sixteen year olds on GChat. Don’t think he was caught up in that.”

Stoll claims that he tried to track down Levine himself but had no luck, finding only the archive of the long-shuttered Poison Candy Review, which, in 2009, published Levine’s “Dead Duck,” a short story about a child putting a plastic duck in the garbage disposal and damaging their hands. It’s a performatively shocking piece, I think – nothing seemed to have been published in Poison Candy that wasn’t awash in pills, cock, or jarring violence. Stoll suggests that unlike his contemporaries, Levine was writing for a wider audience than Williamsburg floor-sleepers, but it appears that Levine never found that audience.

Stoll’s account gets muddier. Supposedly, Stoll reaches out to the vanity press to see if they can put him in touch with Levine. They have no record of him, but conveniently, they let Stoll know that they have full rights for the book, and that they’ll sell them to him for just $500. So Stoll sells his bass amp to buy these rights, and a year later, he’s chatting with Terry Gross about his re-issued edition, and how even with today’s modern Internet, an artist can vanish, just like that.

It’s always smelled manufactured. Astroturfed. How does this no-name loser get a book deal elevating some other no-name loser to history – while apparently pocketing all of the profits? James Wood’s piece in The New Yorker makes the credulous case:

The tropes of millennial suffering, especially millennial suffering in New York City, have been undoubtedly played out over the last decade, but in Levine’s slim volume they come to fruition; we can almost forget the spectre of the moneyed parents lurking at the edges of these stories. But the collation of this work, not by Levine but by scholar Murray Stoll, speaks to the end of this era. The scrappy young millennials are no longer telling their own stories of their scrappiness. Stoll’s collection saves this particular era from what seems like a shame-induced attempt to step away, and we are all the better for it.

Luminaries of the New Sincerity movement decried the fawning coverage. Nate Cutler, editor of the now-defunct mag TXTTOAD tweeted:

wish i could have gotten my imaginary friend famous

Stoll, who does not keep a personal social media account, continues to give interviews where he insists that the Levine corpus was a serendipitous find. But they’ve become hedgier, post-publication, in tiny but significant ways. On a podcast, Stoll’s confident monotone becomes a shaky bluster at the authorship question:

Q: There’s some who have questioned the authorship of these stories – that there may be no “Warren Levine.” What would you say to that?

A: Well, as I’ve always maintained – I don’t think that’s knowable. What I do know is that people have had such strong reactions to this relative unknown, who had enough faith in himself to print at least one copy of his book, but not enough to promote himself. And I think they see themselves in him, you know?

Q: So he’s a useful fiction?

A: He’s… look, first of all, if you’re listening, Warren, I would love to hear from you. The literary world… ahem, your old friends, they would all love to hear from you.

There were, of course, a few claims, but none who, as far as I know, could furnish evidence. (The YouTuber TextAudit has provided a rather exhaustive examination of Clara Lee’s claim to have been blackmailed by Stoll for the rights, which presents a fairly compelling case that Stoll is a bullying rear end in a top hat but a less substantial one that Lee was the author of anything attributed to Levine.)

I suppose, if you were to ask me, that I believe there probably was a Warren Levine, and that he probably wrote that story about the child with mangled hands. Levine probably works for a shipping firm, or a garden supply store: something buttoned-up enough where you can’t write about fellatio or Xanax or, yes, maimed children. And if he was smart, Warren Levine was probably a pseudonym. Was it Stoll’s pseudonym or the pseudonym of some unknown artist, screwed out of the proceeds of their own work?

Stoll has a novel out next year, and I suspect he’ll talk about Levine less and less as he starts making the rounds. The Levine that Stoll speaks of, whether or not he really existed, is clearly a useful fiction. But I have my own book of juvenilia, and I wonder how I’d feel if that landed in a yard sale, and someone had swiped it, mythologized it, and climbed on top of it to build their own career. I keep landing on different sides of the line between honor and horror.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I’ll judge

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


week 452 (dragon week 2) crits

brotherly - “Amona in the Waves”

The prose here is strong, and the story is rich with scene-setting detail, but I had a hard time staying engaged with the plot or characters. Opening with the scene of Osmond venturing into a dark dragon cave might not be the best choice – it’s not very telling on Osmond’s motivations, and so I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be invested. I think there’s a good story here about Oswalt reckoning with what happened to his wife and whether the dragon is trustworthy, but I think it’s a little buried under worldbuilding; I don’t think the story gives enough space to getting us to understand Osmond’s headspace. I’m also not sure whether Prond actually did kill Osmond’s wife – maybe it’s intentional to leave this ambiguous, but I think I’d prefer to get an answer on that.

Azza Bamboo - “A Tale of Geldal”

I don’t like when stories have five proper nouns in the first paragraph, since I start to get annoyed that I have to keep all of this straight.

I think you said that you were intending this to be something inspired by myth and folklore, and I think the story needs to be a lot tighter for that to work. As in – cut out nearly all of the dialogue, set the stakes higher from the beginning, and use repetition to structure the story. I don’t think this story is bad, necessarily, but it had a hard time keeping my interest through its digressions and abundance of names and places to keep straight. I think the core of this story is the brotherly relationship between Vernon and Kellman, and I think the version of this story that works centers this relationship throughout the story, testing it a few times before the love pays off in the ending reanimation.

Tyrannosaurus - “wild one”

In terms of emotion and voice, this is lovely – dreamy and rich with dialogue and characterization. I really feel the ache of the distance between the narrator and TaPharoah, and that makes the ending hurt all the more. I just don’t love the jump from the second to the third section. I get that it’s supposed to be abrupt, but it feels like there’s still stuff left unexplored here, like the story needs to be longer to land this sort of melancholy ambiguity. And I think this is ultimately a talking-head story; the imagery could be sharper, there could be a little more sense of place here, and the lack of these details makes the story feel sort of minor and small, without feeling intimate enough to make these qualities a virtue. Ultimately, I just wish this cohered a little bit more – it either needs to be smaller and tighter or a lot bigger for it to really click with me.

Noah - “Precipitation”

I thought this was a pretty strong attempt at the fairy tale format. It’s engaging all the way through, mostly because it clings pretty close to the fairy tale structure, and there’s energy to this, even if there isn’t that much substance. If anything, it’s a little too Magic School Bus, “let’s learn about the water cycle,” but I thought it was a fun read and I nominated this for an HM. I like what it does with the sense of time, in that our dragon friend experiences time much faster than everyone around them.

Applewhite - “You’re Watching the Dragon Channel”

This is imaginative, witty, and yeah, I can totally hear David Attenborough’s voice, but it doesn’t really hold my interest. How do you build a reader’s affiliation with your nature documentary subject? That’s definitely pretty tough, but maybe you just show Pongo at peace and restful at first before going into the antics he gets into with the other dragons. And I don’t want to undersell the imagination here, as there’s clearly a good amount of thought here into the details of the trash dragon habits, diet, and features, but ultimately this is just kind of stuff that happens to Pongo.

Thranguy - “Shall We Slay Dragons Together?”

A lot of hard to follow action and not a lot of heart. The last paragraph (“It’s not so bad, being a ghost”) lands as absurd and silly in a way that shouldn’t – there are a lot of interesting ideas in the sense of these techno-ghost-dragons, and the techno-noir is set up in an intriguing way, but the story never tries to get me to care about any of the characters. Why is it important to this main character that they slay their dragon? Do they actually care about Claire? Fiona? Ivan? I certainly don’t, and I feel like this is a sketch or outline of a more lived-in story about dragons that hoard NFTs and cyberwealth. As it is, this is the point where I get really frustrated at the lack of any meaningful character development this week.

Baneling Butts - “The Return of the Four Dragons”

This gets major points in my book for being easy to follow and having a clear narrative. That said, there’s a lot of slack in this myth-inspired story; once the Long Dragon retreats, the story becomes the other dragons (and eventually, the humans) offering various versions of “pretty please” until they get a yes. In its myth-inspired roots, I get it, but it makes the story feel a bit weightless and overlong; I think these sorts of stories benefit from being written with the sense of them being spoken aloud, and I think the overlong discussion of the cleanup program and such is a little too long. That said, I think it get most of the way towards what it’s trying to do, and it was one of the highlights of the week for me.

Idle Amalgam - “Roll to Save Against Personal Growth”

This feels like a lot of silly (and amusing!) banter without a whole lot of point, aim, or stakes. The dialogue not getting broken up into different paragraphs for each speaker makes it hard to read, and I found myself re-reading paragraphs early on to make sure I hadn’t missed important plot points. Everyone’s a little goofy and it just feels a little like a high-fantasy sitcom. I can see this working maybe as a prologue to a high-fantasy novel, featuring the son’s attempt to redeem himself, but here I’m just like “okay, nice bon mot, why do I care?”


Armack - “To Expect Any Different”

This one also feels pretty thin, but unlike the previous story, this is much more precise (and shorter.) Keeping the cast of characters small and the dialogue hemmed in helps this story hit the notes it wants to hit – which is mostly ironic anticlimax in the face of a heroic concept. It’s engaging, if not super substantial, and it probably provided my favorite dragon character of the week in a dragon who will turn people into billy goats but not cure people from their sorrow.

Chairchucker - “The True Story of Georgia Jenkins and Harold Jumpington”

This one’s just pure cotton candy but I found it pretty charming anyway. It’s wittily observational, settles its voice nicely into the child’s mindset, and its specific details add character to the story without bogging us down in worldbuilding. It’s full of good, voice-y lines that just make this a ton of fun to read. (“Harold came to life first, which makes sense because frogs are less complex critters than dragons, as well as actually existing, and also Georgia’s glitter added an extra layer of complication that probably mattered in some way,” is my favorite.) It’s clearly an intentional decision that the story doesn’t have any conflict, so that doesn’t bother me here. Would have liked to have seen this get an HM.

toanoradian - “Three Lies”

I found this story fairly confusing, so here’s the summary of events in this story as I understand them:

In what seems to be a void, an empty dimension, or a Hell, Metheus, a human, attempts to deceive Herudo, a Hell Dragon, into hating him so he can escape. However, Herudo seems incapable of hate, so Metheus confesses his situation, but for unclear reasons, banishes the dragon even after it proposes a solution. Metheus is returned to Hell or exile.

Where are these characters? Why is Metheus in a “blank, dry land” (the only detail about the setting we get?) This, combined with “I’m a Hell dragon” is about all of the context we’re given here, and it makes the story difficult to visualize – and that’s before you add all the lying for us to keep straight. This makes the story pretty confusing, and while I think you might be going for a sense of disorientation and non-reality, there’s not enough to keep us intrigued right away. As far as I can tell, the content of Metheus’s lies about his hateful behavior toward Herudo don’t matter at all, so I wish this section had been trimmed down to flesh out Metheus’s actual situation here. My theory is that Metheus is torturing himself for past sins and has created Herudo to get the absolution of being hated by something else, as opposed to just hating himself, but this isn’t supported very strongly by the text. It’s just the only reading I can think of that makes Metheus declining the “just lie and say I hate you” solution make sense.

Personally, I think you should only make a reader work this hard if there’s enough in the story to make us invested in these characters and the mysteries, and here, there isn’t. The imagery is also so spare. I like a sense of starkness and I think it could work for this story (to set the mood of a desolate Hell or exile), but here it just feels detached and impersonal to have so few sensory details. (I know I’m coming in late with this crit, but please reach out to me if you have questions on this one – would love to understand what you were going for and happy to go into details about any specific parts.)

Yoruichi - “Gossolix’s Happy Birthday”

Scene-by-scene, this is very charming, but it’s so overcrowded that I wonder if you challenged yourself to write a story with an absurd number of characters. This is obviously farce by the time we meet the wives, and it’s goofy but good-natured. The whole wacky sitcom ending with everyone agreeing that it’s a good idea to crush the patriarchy is a little over-the-top for me but it’s fun. The last line is a keeper.

curlingiron - “Clutch and Kindle”

This one earns a lot on charm and my fondness for cats, but I also want to give this story credit for handling time and action well. The story really gracefully handles the passing of time, with these tossed-off details standing in for days or weeks. It makes the story feel very lived-in and creates this cozy, story-book feel without feeling impersonal. By the end I was wondering if Minka will still have people to feed her table scraps after the dragon incident.

Beezus - “Don’t Go Chasing Space Refrigerators”

The first three paragraphs of the second section do this story a disservice. I get they’re here as tension building, but nothing is more discouraging than starting a story and reading several paragraphs about how unremarkable things are. The techno-dragon is genuinely cool, and I think the dun-dun-dun horror cliffhanger is a nice place for this piece to end, but I think the build-up needs to be better; I want to see what the techno-dragon leaves in its wake before we meet it. And I’d like to know a little more about Finn – why is she doing this work, is she desperate for money, is she a thrill-seeker?

Fuschia tude - “Rook”

This one stands out for its imagery and detail, even if at times I wanted more to be at stake here. There’s a wry tone to this, especially with all the parenthetical asides, and it gives the story a little bit of energy. Ultimately, though, I’m wondering what the story is trying to say here – it almost comes off as an anti-NIMBY kind of thing, but it could also be about an artist’s lack of control of the interpretation of their work. Maybe it’s just about junkyard dragons being pretty cool. I’d like to see the story lean into one of those things, though, to give the story a little more of a sense of purpose, because as cool as it is, the story comes off as “some things that happened with regard to a big sculpture dragon.”

Gorka - “Malicious Compliance”

This is charmingly goofy and I was a little sad to see it land an HM. The story is very broad in its humor, but this is clearly the point, and it seems like it must have been fun to write. I think the ending is a little too moralistic and not comedic enough given what came before it, though – this is the sort of story that should end with a joke, since the story doesn’t really make us care about any of the characters and is more of a wrapper for banter.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


old pop week crits

Dome Racer Alpha - “I just like to drive fast”

The one where a veteran race car driver gets lectured by upstart P. P. Weiner for not being woke and is saved from a diabetic coma by P. P. Weiner.

This is basically the poo poo geyser but for boomers instead of gamers. There’s some nice verve in the details here but it’s just gratingly broad, just this tired boomer caricature in between political screeds. Obviously this was written as a joke by a talented writer, but I just wish the joke was funnier.

Dome Racer Sigma - “I Just Like To Drive Fast”

The one where there’s a lot of banter, movie references to films I haven’t seen, and our protagonist has a bike chase from the cops.

This story hinges on us thinking what’s going on is very cool, and here I’m just wondering if I’m supposed to be rooting for our reluctant protagonist who’s seen too many movies. Again, I don’t think this story was written very seriously or with a lot of forethought. The dialogue could definitely use another pass, as it’s pretty stiff at the moment, and the blocking is a little hard to follow. But there’s an energy here I like, and I think this guy processing his dangerous task through a movie-rotted mind is a fun idea for a character. I just kind of wish the story had explored the limits of that a little bit more, instead of just letting him emulate all these movies as wish fulfillment.

Yoruichi - “My Body”

The one where an old woman runs a race.

This is a sensitive, intimate portrait of this character, and for the most part it works for me. It kind of reminds me of the “Readers Write” section from The Sun I used for a prompt last year, in that it uses a single moment in time to get us to reflect on this sense of coming to terms with an aging body. I think there’s a good balance of personal history and the flashes of the race in the present to keep the piece engaging. That said, I wonder if it would be possible to go a little deeper into the woman’s sense of alienation from her body after childbirth – it feels like there’s more to explore there, and I think giving more context here could make the story’s sentimentality feel slightly more earned.

Barnaby Profane - “if you want a beautiful vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on Adam Levine’s face — forever”

The one where Adam Levine is cryogenically frozen and an AI banters with him.

Honestly, not sure what to say here. It’s another story that’s banter and no substance. There are jokes but I didn’t find them especially funny – it’s basically “this guy sucks and I’m gonna make fun of him.” I think there’s some energy here but I wish it had been used on something more compelling than Adam Levine making GBS threads out his intestines for eternity.

Djeser - “Isabel of Eastmuir Crag”

The one where a lady turned into a dragon doesn’t want to be un-turned.

After taking forever to crit a bunch of dull-as-dishwater dragon stories, reading a good dragon story is a relief. I don’t think there’s that much here, but I think Isabel is sketched in nicely, enough that we understand and sympathize with her desire to just keep being a dragon and to think that the kid who tries to save her is a feckless putz. I think it’s just this pretty light story about a lady-dragon standing up for herself against creepy suitors who don’t want to be cool dragons. Nice work.


Sailor Viy - “The Old Man and the Tree”

The one where bird-loving Gus wages war against the homeowner’s association.

I like the mythic, wistful tone of this, and I kind of wish the story had stayed in that place. Once the story becomes a satire about neighborhood councils and homeowner’s associations, the story just feels a little broad and less personal, less special. It also vanishes Maria from the story, which robs the ending from paying off. At least give us some flavor about what’s happening with Maria and the birds while Gus is having his legal troubles!

Black Griffon - “Big Crunch”

The one where a guy is really good at being at a nightclub that he distracts everyone while they do a heist. Also it’s cyberpunk.

It needs to be clearer from the beginning that the Thyme Lover is a nightclub; I shouldn’t need to know what Berghain is to figure that out. Then we go full William Gibson, sentences full of metaphor and jargon and big sweeping technospiritualism and I frankly have no idea what’s actually happening. Why does the protagonist keep returning to the Thyme? Why is he involved in this scheme? How is his sense of losing himself to the ecstasy of a club experience enough to help with this heist? It’s frustrating and confusing, if ambitious and pretty good at the style pastiche it’s trying to do.

Staggy - “Missed Message”

The one where a guy gets a call from an old friend but decides not to answer.

I like the concept here, of our protagonist deciding that he doesn’t necessarily want to dwell on the past and romanticize his youthful indiscretions. But I think the structure here really takes the weight out of it. Jenn feels like she’s just in this story to be right and tell the protagonist what he wants, and, although I like that it lands with the protagonist choosing not to dwell in nostalgia, it doesn’t really seem like a difficult decision for him. I think this story would work better if Jenn was less of a forceful presence here (the dialogue could use a few more passes to give these characters more definition), or if the protagonist felt more of a sense of nostalgia, a sense of what they hoped Bill was calling for, what they hope would happen if he reconnected to Bill. In this draft, the ending feels like a foregone conclusion from the beginning.

My Shark Waifuu - “Rollin’ Down in the Deep”

The one where John, an old diver, beats up a squid.

I’m sure this will be frustrating feedback, but I found this story incredibly dull, even though I think you’re doing a lot of things right here. I like that the story lets us into John’s head and tells us what he’s thinking, but I just wish there was something more surprising about it. He doesn’t like loud rap music when he’s diving because it disrupts his sense of serenity in diving. But that doesn’t play into his character; it’s just there so we know he’s old and doesn’t like rap music. It’s also essentially the only thing that happens in this story until halfway through, and when that happens it’s just a pulpy action scene. Again, it fits story logic that both John’s old school might and the kids’ techno-knowledge defeats the squid, but it doesn’t feel surprising or interesting. Even though the story tells us a lot what John is feeling, I still feel like I’m at a distance from what’s actually bothering him. I want to know the spiteful thoughts, the panicked thoughts, running through his head when he’s feeling out of his element with the kids, when he thinks he’s going to be killed by the squid, or when he finally feels like he belongs again after the victory. Without that sort of thing, or any sort of surprising imagery, this story just kind of feels like a bunch of stuff that happens.

MockingQuantum - “Warp-runner”

The one where there’s a comforting dimensional anomaly and Carston the warp-runner meets someone else who feels at home there.

I like this one as a mood and atmosphere piece. The Warp, as it’s described here, feels weird and eerie but also sort of mystical and beautiful; the story makes it clear while Carston loves it. It’s a little saggy in the middle, as other than breaking down, there’s not really any conflict or a sense that the kid is a threat, or even that Carston feels at risk broken down inside the Warp. That said, I like that it ends with Carston finding a friend in the Warp. The story does a nice job at conveying Carston’s sense of loneliness without outright stating it, and so his connection with the kid feels like a meaningful, happy ending.

ZearothK - “Farewell, Diana”

The one where it’s a bunch of letters to an ex and she blows up the moon.

I was going to say that the last section of this reminded me of the ill-advised emails I sent to my exes when I was younger until I got to the frankly bizarre “By blowing up the moon” in the second to last sentence. Look – this doesn’t work as a story. The one-sided sense of longing here, and especially most of the last section, feels like a deeply felt E/N post: without more context, these feelings captured in spiritual, galactic metaphors are just feelings out of place. But then you add that she literally blew up the moon and the lack of context feels like comedy. The story feels so low-stakes up to this point that this second-to-last sentence feels like a joke about how inflated the sense of emotion was up to here. It’s possible that’s what’s happening! But I think the story is aiming for poignancy here, and that simply isn’t how this feels – it’s a “what the hell?” line. And it certainly makes the story more interesting to think about!

Also, her name is Jen but the story is called “Farewell, Diana” – am I missing something?

QuoProQuid - “Our Time”

The one where Charlie’s boyfriend breaks up with her and Future Charlie goes back in time so they can vaporize him.

Huh, I get the sense that there’s a lot to unpack here, in that healthy, well-adjusted people don’t go back in time to get their past selves to murder their dumb high school exes. (And create paradoxes, probably?) It’s muddy enough that, despite the euphoria in the ending, I’m not sure the story satisfies the “no bummer endings” part of the prompt. That said, the writing is very good, and I like the specifics of the Riverdale memes and the little details about the future. But emotionally and thematically, this feels like a little bit of a mess. I think the ending is supposed to feel like uncomplicated wish fulfillment and validation, but the emotional truth of the story feels a lot more complicated in ways that go beyond the text.

Thranguy - “Pull the Mask Off”

The one where our main character’s grandma stands up to a gorilla mask militia, gets shot, but survives.

This is pretty good! I like the arc and pacing of this, with backstory delivered at the right moments to give the story tension and sell the heroics of what Pauline did. The setting’s a little generically post-apocalyptic but there’s enough specificity in the setting’s details to make this feel real and lived-in. I think the ending kind of rushes to wrap things up. “I wish I'd known sooner, but I feel lucky to have been taught well enough to have gotten there by now” feels mealy and kind of vague; I’d rather have a specific image than this general “avoid getting dinged for a bummer ending” sentiment.

Rhymes With Clue - “Yes! And?”

The one where Jude conducts an elaborate improv ruse to embarrass her son-in-law.

This is just a little confusing, although I like its thematic stuff. It feels like an open question as to whether Jude dealing with her sense of hurt and embarrassment through embarrassing her children through improv is good or bad for her, and I like the ambiguity here. I guess I just don’t understand her plan here – act drunk and horny in front of her son-in-law so he posts about it online? But she confronts him before he can get a chance to do that, so I’m not sure I understand. Not quite sure why Michael comes along for this, either – feel like I might have missed something.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


My Bear of Unrest and Hibernation
935 words

It’s progress when Gerald walks the length of his driveway and empties the overflowing mailbox. It’s progress when he walks back instead of, maybe, lying down on the pavement and letting out a low, animal moan. And it’s progress when he dumps the mail on his Coors Light-strewn kitchen table, and despite all of his better instincts, he even looks down at what he knows are past-due notices. Those are there – the red lettering is hard to miss – but his eye meets a glossy flier with a blurry image of what Gerald thinks at first is a Bigfoot sighting, but which instead boasts a little WordArt heading: “BE AWARE! BEARS!”

And despite all the progress, all the momentum, Awareness is a step too far for Gerald. He stumbles back into bed, feeling like I Did One Thing. And then that morphs to the more familiar But There Are So Many Things. He thinks about that while he lies awake under his bedcovers, clinging to a pillow with a mysterious brown stain that looks like Australia.

Then there’s a knock at the door. Gerald knows it’s the union rep, here for a “wellness check,” also known as the So When Are You Going Back To Work House Call. Then the knocking turns into a scratching. Is that what happens when you exhaust the wellness checks? He lifts himself out of bed, peers out of his closed blinds, and he is suddenly Aware of the bipedal bear scratching at his front door.

He wades back to the front door and peers out at the bear. It’s definitely a bear. Gerald doesn’t know the different types of bears but this is certainly one of them. It’s brown, so it’s probably not a black bear. When he was a boy, his dad took him and his brother camping and he put all the food in a bag that they hoisted up into the air on a long pole, where the bears couldn’t get it. He wonders if the same principle applies here – no food for bear, bear fucks off somewhere else.

But instead the bear says “Hello. Is anyone in there? I hear you.”

Gerald takes a step back from the door and thinks about how dumb it would be to get eaten by a bear now, just when he was making Progress. He thinks it would be moderately dumb. Like a four out of ten.

“I’m not hungry, if that’s what you’re worried about,” the bear says. “You wouldn’t believe how much I ate earlier. Trying to hibernate, you know.”

Gerald opens the door and blinks at the bear’s chest and neck. “Is there something you want?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” the bear says, ducking its head under the door frame and inviting itself in. “I think this is a good place to hibernate, don’t you?” The bear is back on all fours and is sniffing at a stack of empty Indian takeout containers.

“Don’t you have a cave or something?”

“Well, that would be nice – ideal, really – but it’s been loud and rumbly recently and it’s not really possible to sleep.” The bear places its paws on Gerald’s kitchen table and sees the “BE AWARE! BEARS” flier. “Oh hey – that’s me. Hey, don’t you think they should be sending some ‘ban fracking’ fliers out too?”

“You can’t sleep here,” Gerald says. “It’s not a house for bears.” He sees all sorts of routines ruined by a hibernating bear: the three AM grilled cheese, getting drunk and stoned and listening to his favorite Yes album on max volume, lying on the kitchen floor in his underwear.

“Oh please, I’ll bearly be in your way. Do you have a basement? And is it anywhere near as dank as the rest of this house, because if so, I think we’ve got a deal.”

“What deal?” Gerald isn’t sure if standing up to a bear is progress or suicide, but the words are out of his mouth anyway. “Why is it my house, anyway? Plenty of other houses around here. Bet some of them have more room for bears.”

“No one likes bears,” the bear says. Now the bear flops onto its back.

Gerald doesn’t know what to do. It’s like when his son was little and he was crying because some doofus at school called him a crybaby. And like, if he was emotionally articulate enough he could have told his son that it was OK to cry, but instead he just said “No you’re not,” and even his son had seen through this bullshit and just cried more. It was upsetting. And he doesn’t know how to make the bear feel better because yeah most people are just not that excited to have a bear as a houseguest.

“I don’t really use the basement,” Gerald says, “so I guess you can stay down there. It smells like cat pee, though.” This has always been a mystery to Gerald, who has never had a cat.

The bear hops back up onto two feet and claps its hands together. Inside Gerald, some spark of something ignites at the bear’s joy.

He leads the bear downstairs into the grim dankness. The bear stretches and snorts.

“You’re a real pal to bearkind, you know,” the bear says. Gerald coughs and mutters something before heading back upstairs and collapsing on his bed. Again he pulls the unwashed covers over his head, and he breathes in and out, and he realizes that he’s glad he is now Aware of bears.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


week 465 crits

Zurtilik - “An Evening at Papa’s”

The one where an old man has dementia.

I think this is a shaggy-dog story on purpose, to model the main character’s mental state. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this story better – this just feels like snapshots of a character being confused, without any real sense of momentum or emotion, as the dad relays anecdote after anecdote and Sofia just seems mildly annoyed by it all. And I think the ways Sofia reacts here doesn’t really mesh with someone who’s been caring for a parent with dementia for a while; when she corrects her dad, this seems like it’s for the benefit of the reader more than to provide info on these characters. I think there’s flashes of depth here, as when Sofia is encouraged by her dad being somewhere in the right place when he talks about Lima, but on the whole I just don’t know what this story is trying to do and it just feels a little pointless.

Chairchucker - “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat”

The one where Allegra turns into a cat and tries to punish her awful boyfriend.

I kind of love this. It’s quick-witted and I really end up rooting for Allegra here, though I don’t quite believe that he’s only now realizing that her boyfriend sucks. But the cat perspective is done really well here, the tone is whimsical without being twee, and the blocking of the action is really easy to follow. There’s not a lot of depth but I don’t need that when the piece is a blast to read.

MockingQuantum - “Man’s Best Friend”

The one where the main character is cursed and repeatedly saved from near-death by a dog.

This one starts really strong, with a powerful voice, a compelling set-up, and some really good prose. But the second half of the story doesn’t execute on the set-up: a character staying home and Googling things might be my idea of a Friday night, but it’s not really that compelling to read about. It’s a shame, because the opening paragraphs here are some of the best writing I’ve read from you – they’re really gripping, vivid, and compelling. I just want to see our character confronting the danger, not avoiding it, and I think maybe the story could have sacrificed some of the lore for something more visceral.

Chernobyl Princess - “Getting Over It”

The one where a woman is depressed about a breakup and becomes slightly less depressed when she sees her ex using their dog as Instagram clout.

This is pretty good on the prose level, with some emotionally evocative specific details, but there’s not a lot of substance here. I would have liked to see a little more nuance to the characters; as is, the protagonist comes off as clearly wronged and Carmen comes off as selfish and awful. And it’s valid for the protagonist to feel that way, but I think this would be much more interesting if there was a sense that the protagonist’s recollections are warped in some way, or that there’s some sort of omission. I think the story would benefit from some third (human) character to push the protagonist in some way; since we’re just sitting in her head for most of the story, this just feels kind of stagnant.

My Shark Waifuu - “The Tale of the Ship’s Cat”

The one where Van the cat tries to teach Rusty the dog how to be useful aboard a ship.

This is pretty good! There’s a complete story here with both plot and emotional stakes, and while Van and Rusty are kind of stock cat/dog characters, they’re charming enough that they’re fun to read about anyway. The beats of the story are a little predictable, but there’s a real sweetness and coziness to the ending that I ended up enjoying anyway. A big step up in characterization from the submarine story a few weeks ago – nice work.

Staggy - “The Wizard’s Dilemma”

The one where wizards discuss grooming.

This is another shaggy dog story, and this one doesn’t really pay off very well. It’s definitely an amusing image for a very powerful dragon to be wearing a party store beard, and there’s some flavor in the proposed other options beforehand, but on the whole, this story is the opposite of substance. And I think if you’re going to end on a shaggy dog ending, you have to foreshadow what the actual solution is a little less beforehand – it should be less clear what “the backup” is before the last scene. Not terrible but very much disposable.

Black Griffon - “Waves”

The one where it’s a confusing heist.

Couldn’t get into this one. What does Singapura want? Why are there so many characters? What is the setting here? All of the characters are affectless and seem functionally identical that I just don’t care when Singapura gets… betrayed? at the end. Why does Singapura need their help to “get out of here” when it seems like she’s running free in the previous section? The action is really hard to follow, as is the motivation and goals of these characters, so I have no idea what’s happening in a micro or macro sense, other than there’s a heist and Singapura is betrayed.

t a s t e - “Bashir on the Road to Gauda”

The one where Bashir is led to his stolen horse by a cat.

There’s a consistent voice and mood here that I respect, even if I wasn’t very engaged by this story. I’m not sure if the story is referencing an actual myth that I’m unfamiliar with or if it’s just very lived-in, but it feels very mature and well-written, and the sense of desolation Bashir feels after being beset by a thief feels real. I had a hard time getting into this, though, and I think it’s because the mythic voice here keeps the reader at a distance; that said, this is definitely the kind of style that a lot of people enjoy.

Taletel - “The Curse”

The one where Ulrich thinks he’s going to get turned into a werewolf but he is actually turned into a cat.

This definitely has “oh no, the deadline” energy to it, because there is certainly a lot of story that could have filled in 500 more words here. The first two sections are just “oh no, I’m gonna become a werewolf” and the last section is “karma instead.” And I think I’m wondering why the witch turned Ulrich into a cat. Is this a bad thing for him? I actually thought that he’d been turned into some prey animal and one of the other witch’s cats was pursuing him, which feels a little more karmic. All told, very little substance and without the charm that works for the other stories low on substance this week. Good job on submitting and not failing, though!

Thranguy - “Ruins and Battlefields”

The one where two friends grow up together through war and an apocalypse.

This feels a little too heavy on style, on gravitas that is told but isn’t in the text. The characters are held at a distance in this narration, and so they end up feeling extremely thin, so that while I acknowledge that it’s something deeply felt for friends to remain close in terrible times, I don’t end up feeling it from this story. And the details of the setting are vague, painted in generalities – I usually expect some memorable, vivid imagery from a Thranguy story but this one glazes over most of the details. (The mangled arm at the end and the branch-as-gun at the beginning are good, though. Would have liked to see more of that.) It’s not awful, but it’s also not very engaging.

Azza Bamboo - “Disruption”

The one where… uh… well, there’s motorcycles and cryptocurrency.

This is a frustrating story because there is a ton of energy here and some pretty good writing, but it barely makes any sense. If I understand this right, a bunch of Harley enthusiasts have invested in some Harley crypto, for which they are being pursued by the IRS. Secondarily to this, a stranger in a Japanese bike challenges the head of the motorcycle gang to a race. The IRS continue to pursue them during this race, which the Japanese bike rider wins by tripping the Harley rider. I’m not sure if there’s a literal or symbolic connection between the IRS and the mysterious bike rider, but none of this makes a bit of sense to me, even though I like the sentence to sentence writing. It’s just Some Things That Happen.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In :toxx: bird please

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


https://twitter.com/AurasBirds/status/1407752614998052879


BIRD WITH A GUN
661 words

No one liked the story Mallory ran on the front page of the college paper. In fact, they sent campus police to her dorm to make sure she was all right, and that she wasn’t planning to hurt anyone. “I’m not,” she told them, “but you really should be looking for the bird with the gun.”

Then they asked her a bunch of very condescending questions, about who the president was and what season it was, and when Mallory had answered all of them to their satisfaction, they left.

“Mal,” Jason said, when they’d met up for drinks at McGregor’s, “it’s 2021. No one wants to think about guns at a school. Even if it’s supposedly a bird with the gun.”

“I just wish people believed it,” Mallory said, “instead of just assuming it was some coded threat. You saw it too.”

Jason took a long draw from his beer. “I believe you, baby. That was a goddamned wren with an AR-15. But if you ask me, you still shouldn’t write about it. People don’t want to hear about birds with guns. Unless they’re on a cartoon show. That could be fun.” He shot her a mugging smile.

Really, Mallory wasn’t sure exactly what they’d seen – the shadow on the roof very well could have been a bird with a gun, or it could have been, who knows, some misplaced art installation. But she had the photos to prove it, and she had a bona fide eyewitness in Jason. Yes, they’d just smoked some surprisingly potent weed, but it was something weird and mysterious. Old school human-interest. Something that gets shared ten million times on Facebook by people in their fifties. Plus, she was very much tired of endless meetings at the paper where people wrung their hands about requesting funds from student government vis-a-vis the low circ count. So BIRD WITH A GUN it was, and, due to her tenure with the paper, no one second-guessed her too hard. She thought people would get a kick out of it. Instead, everyone was just disgusted.

Mallory paid for their drinks, and Mallory followed Jason out of the bar and back into the parking lot, where he’d tucked his car.

“There it is again!”

Jason pointed to the roof of the bar, and perched on top was that same black bird, perched right beside a long assault weapon, glowing in the reflected sodium lights from the street. Mallory reached for her phone to take photos while Jason crouched down behind the bumper of his car.

“You’re not actually afraid, are you?” Mallory asked. She wished the lighting was a little bit better, a little sharper, so that the dim outline of the sniping bird didn’t seem so much like a cryptid.

“I don’t take risks when there’s a gun pointed at me, thanks,” Jason said. The bird hadn’t moved.

“It’s letting us know we’re protected,” Mallory said. She wasn’t sure if she believed it, but she liked the story of it. So much more satisfying than whatever Murder Bird story Jason had cooked up.

“There’s a bird in the Galapagos,” Jason said, “that’s known for ripping guns out of people’s hands. Well, anything, really. Cigarettes, cameras, fishing poles. They know you’ve got something and they want it.”

The bird flapped its wings and rose up from the building, gun inexplicably clinging to its tiny talons. Jason got up and walked over to Mallory, took her hand as she swiped through the blurry, dark photographs.

“You think someone’s missing the gun?” Mallory asked.

“It's probably better off with the bird,” Jason said. It started to rain, and they stood there feeling the cool chill of encroaching night and the little pinpricks of raindrops on their necks.

As they climbed into the car and drove back to Jason’s apartment in an agreeable silence, Mallory decided that she wasn’t going to pursue the BIRD WITH A GUN story. She would let other people experience it themselves.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in :toxx:

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Lovingkindness
1157 words

Hail the Sky Rabbits! For they bless our mountaintops with the ice that feeds our rivers and our crops with their bountiful fertilizer. Hail the Sky Rabbits, for their mercy upon us is like that of a mother’s love, everpresent and everlasting. Hail the Sky Rabbits, for they are an omen of bright days and festive nights.

We sit in a circle around the fire under the shadow of what Joachim, Annette, and I call Mount Cashmere, murmuring the words just like we have a thousand times before. It’s just some nonsense we saw scrawled on a stone, but it’s comforting, familiar, safe. I can forget that Annette keeps threatening to find her own way home. For the thirty seconds we’re holding hands and muttering the prayer, I can forgive Joachim for waking up at night and skimming off our rations. Weeks ago, the three of us went to tour an apartment in the suburbs, and when we’d finished looking at the overpriced place, we stepped out into a different world. We haven’t seen any other people, but when we repeat the prayer, we feel a little less alone.

The others crawl into the tent, and I think they’ve gone to sleep, so I use the moments to close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and to just notice the chill of the breeze, the air in my lungs, and the dampness of the earth. Then I hear something move in the reeds and I twitch so hard I bite my tongue. “Peter, you’re supposed to keeping watch,” Annette says. She’s carrying her bag.

“No, please,” I tell her, “you can’t give up yet. We’ll figure this out.”

“Have you considered that maybe we won’t? Where’s your sense of urgency? I feel like you think you’re on some adventure. Maybe you’ll see a Sky Rabbit or a Sea Eagle or, well, whatever you need for your next D&D campaign.”

“That’s Joachim, not me.”

“Hm,” she says, and considers me. Even before we ended up in a forest from another world, I’d always harbored this fear that Annette saw straight through me, that she knew the nastiest things I thought about myself were true. She shrugs. “I guess you’re more the type to look into a monster’s eyes and say ‘I’ve just found enlightenment.’ Look – I’ll cover more ground alone. I’ll light a fire every night. So if I find a way back once you climb the mountain, we’ll find each other again. I promise.”

I don’t say anything as she vanishes between the night a strand of coniferous trees. She made the decision that was right for her, and I know I’m powerless to change that, even if my heart screams out, and the thought enters my head that I have to explain this to Joachim.

+++

But Joachim doesn’t ask in the morning. We say the Sky Rabbit prayer at sunrise and make our way to the foot of the mountain. We look for a path upward, circling smooth impassable slabs of granite in vain. Without Annette orienteering, it’s quieter than usual, except for the birds of the forest making strange rattling squawks. Joachim and I never say much to each other; we were less friends and more mutual hangers-on of Annette. I am always searching for words that live in my heart when I am around Joachim, and I can never find them, so I say nothing, as I have given up speaking the words birthed in my head.

And then the noise from the birds suddenly stops. Joachim stops moving. “What do you think that is?” he asks, pointing up at a pointillist cloud, a mass of thousands of indistinct creatures.

“It’s a flock,” I say, the only words I know to be true, even as I notice the fear nipping at my nerves. “But let’s find cover.” The mountain seems as impassable as ever, but there’s a fallen tree lying across a couple of boulders. Together, Joachim and I push two smaller boulders on the other sides, to make a shoddy but passable shelter. We huddle inside, jamming ourselves into a gap between boulder and tree and huddling together. My nerves twitch again, not because of any mysterious shadows but just because Joaquim has bit his lip so hard it’s bleeding and his jaw is churning away.

“I knew it would happen eventually,” Joachim says. He’s chewing a strand of his untidy hair. I breathe in, out, feeling the dewy air on the tips of my nostrils. “Look at us.”

“Not sure what you mean by that.”

“Annette. Leaving. I mean – look at me. No one else would want to – could even stand – well, she was patient. Even when I forgot to wear deodorant. Or when I wouldn’t stop talking about Rush for like, a whole year. I thought she wouldn’t get sick of me. And, well–” He raises an arm and shrugs.

I feel twin threads of pity and irritation within me. I acknowledge them, try to let them drift on, but the resentment snags. “You said ‘us.’”

“Well.” He wants to let it drop but I won’t break eye contact. “You just… you never say anything. Annette said, well, something about you having a ‘calming presence,’ but… well, when I talk to you, it’s like looking in a mirror facing another mirror. I know it’s like, your religion, so no offense, but it’s like looking into the void.”

“My religion? You think emptiness is my religion?” It’s so absurd that I laugh. It starts to rain, a sudden downpour, big drops thumping on top of the log.

“I thought you were like, Zen.”

“Zen,” I repeat. “Do you even know–”

I stop myself. I realize there’s an ugly, mean smirk on my face and feel shocked into shame, that I’m sitting next to the only other human being I could meet for the rest of my life, and, for all of my practiced detachment, every inch of my wild mind wants to grind him into powder. Joachim’s head is down – he’s used to being looked down upon, excoriated, and I realize he’s just waiting for me to slide into that role.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “There’s just so much garbage inside me that I have to stop and listen for whatever isn’t–”

“poo poo,” Joachim supplies.

“Basically, yeah.”

“No,” he says, “that’s not rain we’re hearing.”

I’d been so focused on Joachim that I missed it. In the crack of light between log and boulder, little raisins were falling from the sky. Carefully, Joachim and I crept up to it, peering up, and, indeed, soaring in the thousands were the fabled creatures.

Joachim and I took each other’s hands. We were still looking for Annette and a passage home, but somehow I felt like things were looking up. In unison we said:

All hail the Sky Rabbits!

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in :toxx:

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Hello Operator
1126 words

One of my favorite things to do is make phone calls. I’m the kind of person where friends ask me “can you make this phone call for me,” and I say sure, and I call their dentist or mechanic or grandpa. Sometimes I run out of phone calls to make and I just start calling restaurants to confirm their hours, so I can update them on Google. Even when the person who answers sounds like they want to drop the phone in a bathtub, I’m glad I made the call. “It’s a lost art,” my Dad said (before he passed away), and I feel like he might be right – I dread the day we’ll lose that human-to-human, voice-to-voice contact.

“You ever think about working in sales?” my friend Trish says to me over brunch. Trish is going through a divorce, and she’s treating me because I called her attorney and told him not to take the settlement.

“I don’t know. Not sure I could have the same conversation all day. That’s why the last thing didn’t work out.” Unfortunately, I’ve been unemployed for a few months, ever since they laid me off the job where I called next-of-kin for the county hospital. Talk about repetitive. And compared to that, what was sales?

Trish winks. “If I know you, you’ll land something perfect in no time.”

So I do. It’s hard to call around for jobs, harder than you think. It’s all through the Internet now, which I know a lot of people like, and they’ll say “Liza, it’s just more efficient, it’s not like whoever picks up the phone is going to know anything about that job,” and I say sure, that’s true nine times out of ten, but on that tenth time you’re going to make an impression. You’re going to be memorable. And when I land myself an interview and I’m offered the job on the spot, I’m not surprised. I’m just that good on the phone.

---

“Are you familiar with the ‘Two Pineapples a Day’ diet plan? In the past year, how often have you used fiber supplements: one to three times, more than ten times, or eight? How often have you expressed a sense of impending doom to: your therapist, your dog slash cat, a service worker?”

These are the questions I hear, rapid-fire, as I walk into my new office, rows and rows of cubicles staffed by smiling people on headsets. I take a deep breath to ground myself. A woman tapping at her cell phone strides down the center aisle, fixing her gaze at me with a too-wide smile.

“You must be Liza, okay. First rule is that you have to understand that we’re gathering data here. Data.

She’s still making that intense eye contact. “Data,” I repeat, and give an affirming nod. I wonder if they’ll let me on the phones today, or if there’s some orientation process. I hate filling out forms. I think about quitting if they make me fill out a form.

“Okay, as long as that’s clear.” She strides back down that center aisle, and I figure I need to follow. “Next questions – have you ever seen a merman? How many toes did you have at ages eight, fifteen, and twenty-three? How likely would you be to eat a live wasp if you were paid twenty-five dollars? How about fifty? One hundred?”

I start to open my mouth but she waves a hand. “No need to answer. You just have to hear the questions and they just percolate in your brain for a while and we’ll just interpolate the answers from what you post on social media. Or whatever links you click on. Or what you say into the phone. The standard stuff.” She stops in front of a desk. It looks like a pretty comfortable chair, and there’s a computer already booted up with a list of what looks like hundreds of names and numbers.

“Anyway, you can probably get right to work. Once you make a call you’ll see a list of questions come up. You just need to ask as many as you can before the person hangs up.”

“What if they don’t hang up?”

She ignores this. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. “Well, I’ll get out of your hair. You’re a natural, and I haven’t even looked at the data yet.”

I sit down, pick up the phone, and dial the first number. And time starts moving so fast, you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve heard of a “flow” state where you’re at your peak performance, just doing the thing you love at just the right level of challenge, but I don’t even remember the questions I’m asking – all I know is that it’s suddenly hours later, I’ve very hungry, and some people in the office are making noise.

“I don’t understand how you stomach this,” some guy says. “Seems awfully unethical.”

“It’s not about stomaching it,” comes the reply, a gruffer voice. “It’s about understanding what it means. It’s going to keep happening whether you’re the grunt monkey calling people and planting the seeds. So you might as well see if they’re pumpkin seeds or radish seeds, you know what I mean?”

“I’ve heard they’ve contracted with the government–”

“Excuse me,” I say, standing up. “I’m trying to work.”

That shuts them off. They shuffle off to a side room to continue their conversation. I eat a granola bar from my backpack, make a few more calls, and head home after a successful first day of work.

---

“I meant to ask,” Trish says, “I heard them talking about your company on the news yesterday. Something about a congressional investigation? How’s that going?”

“Don’t know anything about that,” I tell her. We’re taking a walk around a pond on a beautiful April day, and there’s turtles lounging on a log. Now that Trish’s divorce is over, she’s been happier, laughing more, spending more time outside, and I’m happy she thought of me this morning. “I just answer the phones. But it’s apparently important stuff. Data, you know.”

“I hear that’s big right now,” Trish says. “Doesn’t it get boring?”

“Well, the work’s great. I don’t think my coworkers like me, though.”

“That’s the worst.”

“And,” I add, because it seems important, “the chairs look comfortable, but they aren’t, not really. I have cramps at the end of the day. But it’s good. It’s really good to be making phone calls. It’s – well, I think it might be my calling.” We sit down on a rock together and watch the turtles for what feels like hours.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I’m in. Happy birthday!

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Mystery Flavor
1080 words

“What’s up, fuckers? It’s Donnie Danger here with another shithead stunt. My lucky buddy here has twenty pints of Tip Top Tasty rum raisin ice cream in front of him. Hey Donnie Den, you hear about Tip Top Tasty? Oh yeah, that’s the ice cream startup that recalled this exact flavor because someone found glass inside.” (He’d edit in a window-breaking sound effect in post.) “What kind of sicko puts glass in ice cream, where some grandpa or whoever-the-gently caress else eats rum raisin could get hurt? I don’t know, but that sick gently caress is gonna be pretty happy when he sees Larry take a heaping spoonful of twenty pints of glass cream. Who’s ready for Rum Raisin Roulette?”

I had some reservations about this plan. For one, I’m lactose intolerant, and there’s only so much a Lactaid pill can do. Also, I feel like I needed to do some research on eating glass first.

“Pause it,” I told Donnie. “I’m not sure about the health implications of this.”

“There’s probably not going to be any glass in the ones you’re tasting,” Donnie said, “but it makes for pretty good content.”

“I don’t know. Generally I don’t eat food if there’s even a one percent chance that there’s glass in it.”

“Don’t be such a nerd.” This was classic Donnie. Back in high school he played like five sports, and went on long swinging-dick monologues about how he went harder than anyone. In college he got hurt playing football and pivoted to his Jackass-lite YouTube empire.

“How about we just melt down a bunch of pints and see if we can find any glass?”

“Yeah, we’re not trying to be Bill Nye the Science Guy, we’re trying to make people watch this whole thing cringing, all like ‘oh poo poo, that dude’s about to cut his tongue off.’”

“The problem I have with that is I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to cut my tongue off.”

“You have insurance, right? You’ve got like, an office job or some poo poo like that.” He took out his wallet and handed me $500 in hundreds. “C’mon, eat the loving glass. I’ll throw in another $500 if you try all 20 pints. Like, how much glass could there be?”

A cool grand changed things. Maybe there wouldn’t be any glass at all. Most people go their whole lifetimes without ever encountering glass in their ice cream, I reasoned, so maybe I’d actually be fine. I nodded, and Donnie promptly blindfolded me and handed me a spoon. “Dig in, spermnugget.” I was a little hurt, but I knew he didn’t mean it personally, it was just for the fans.

The spoonfuls from the first few pints were uneventful, just the great taste of rum raisin ice cream. On the fifth pint, I felt something hard in my mouth and spit it out, but Donnie looked at it and it was just someone else’s tooth. We got all the way to pint fifteen, and I was starting to think that Donnie was going to have a pretty boring video.

And then I felt something hard and sharp.

My first thought was “oh poo poo, I’m going to need tongue stitches,” but my next thought was “this isn’t glass.” Whatever I had inside my mouth, it was dissolving. Candy glass?

But then I felt the other changes. My muscles started jiggling, and I could literally feel my veins begin to bulge. My spine began to stretch like a firm Slinky. Suddenly I didn’t want to eat ice cream for money anymore. I wanted to reclaim my dignity.

I tore off the blindfold and stood up, my body still expanding. “I’m not going to be your guinea pig anymore,” I said to Donnie, except it didn’t sound like that. I wasn’t sure what I was saying, but based on the look on Donnie’s face, it didn’t make much sense, so I just communicated the same idea by picking up one of the pints of ice cream and pushed it into his face. He grunted and tried to wrestle me to the floor, but since I was two feet taller than him now, I just picked him up by the leg.

I took a moment to consider the true tragedy of Donnie, trapped by toxic masculinity into performing a facsimile of a warped ideal into a camera every week. Also I’d totally agreed to do the thing he told me to do. I placed him gently down onto his bench press rack.

I wasn’t sure of where else to go, so I figured I would go to the Tip Top Tasty world headquarters to see if they knew anything about the Magic Hulk Sugar Glass. Unfortunately I was too big to get in my car, so I just straddled a passing city bus and rode it to the airport. People on the sidewalks were taking pictures of me, and I waved and tried to greet them but they just recoiled when I opened my mouth.

When I got off and ducked into the airport lobby, there were TVs showing the news. One of them was showing me riding down the highway on top of the bus. Another one was a bunch of financial analysts, talking about how the glass ice cream was really going to hurt Tip Top Tasty’s upcoming IPO.

I tried to buy tickets to the Boise headquarters but the clerk wasn’t sure I could fit in the cabin so he wouldn’t let me, even when I got a little heated and was making those weird mouth sounds. I wasn’t sure what else to do so I just sat down in the airport lobby and glowered at the tiny little people who walked by.

“Excuse me, sir,” an airport employee said, “but apparently, the CEO of an ice cream company wants to see you? Please don’t hurt me.”

I opened my mouth, but, since she winced, I just nodded. A few minutes later, she returned with a man dressed all in purple.

“Hello, my tall friend,” he said, bowing dramatically. “My name is Mason C. Tomlinson, founder and inventor of the Tip Top Tasty corporation. You must wonder what’s happened to you upon sampling my delicious confection. You see, we aren’t just an ice cream company. We’re actually–”

Uninterested in a long, boring monologue from Willy Wonka, I started making a bunch of noise again. He put up his arms.

“Okay, okay, my dear friend, I understand. My ice cream has rather transformed you, and I am committed to Making It Right. So what can I offer you? Mayhaps a cash settlement?”

“Stock!” I said. “Stock stock stock!”

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


heck yeah I’m in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Shutout
1487 words

When I was fifteen, my dad and I had our only real conversation. We had grown up parallel to each other, as he worked nights seven days a week and would still be sleeping when I got home from school. He would wake up an hour before dinner, turn on the Giants game, and, on a good day, he’d walk past me and toss a baseball in the yard with my younger brother. Before I was born, Dad was a minor league pitcher, drafted right out of high school, but he wasn’t anywhere close to getting called up when I came along. So he put down his glove and enrolled in the community college for boiler repair.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but I was an aspiring horse girl, and on special occasions I’d go with Mom to take riding lessons. It hurt that even when Dad was free, he’d just want to lie on the couch and watch ESPN. It’s not like he was rude, or cruel, or insensitive – like, he didn’t forget my birthday, and he’d make small talk about school a few times a week – but I had the expectation that he was a peripheral figure in my life. Most of the time, I was OK with that.

But at fifteen I had started working under-the-table at a pet supply store, sweeping the floors and stocking the shelves after school. It’s probably a PetCo now, but at the time it was locally owned by a genial, ruddy-faced man and his extremely shy wife. More than them, I remember the two horses they kept in their stable, Rudyard and Chamomile, and I remember Phil, the unsmiling clerk with a crew-cut who would never let me leave.

“Adelaide,” he would say, “the floors were filthy this morning. Whatever you’re doing to mop, it’s not working.” And after we closed, he would stay after to watch me mop the floors, sitting at the desk and leering at me until I’d worked to his satisfaction. If it wasn’t mopping, it was inventory, or some dog food pallets that needed to be lugged into our storage. Sometimes I was two hours late getting home. I was angry at him, but not because he’d taken advantage of me, but because by the time he would let me go, the owners would be gone for the day, the stable locked, and I wouldn’t get to feed Rudyard and Chamomile a sugarcube.

I was afraid Mom would make me quit if I said anything, so I’d make excuses for why I was biking home so late – that I stopped at the library, or I had to visit a friend’s house to pick up homework. I’m sure she thought I was secretly making out with a boy, but she didn’t say anything. I figured Dad didn’t notice, but one day, just before the store closed, he came in to the shop for the first time.

“We’re closing, sir. You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” Phil said.

Dad didn’t say anything. He picked up a squeaky dog toy and rubbed it in the palm of his hand before putting it down. I was peering over at him from behind a display of bird cages, wondering what he was doing here, if someone had died, when he walked up to the counter.

“Picking Addie up,” he said. Dad was almost a foot taller than Phil, and his arms were covered in half-healed burns. Despite everything, I almost admired Phil’s impassivity in the face of a man so many others saw as an implicit threat.

“We have to close. Sweep, mop, keep everything organized for our guests. That can take a while. Why don’t you come back in a couple hours?”

“You’re her boss?”

“We’re a team.”

“Well,” he said, “how about you take one for the team today?” He turned and motioned to me; through the bars of different bird cages I could see the frustration on Phil’s face and the impassive blankness on Dad’s face. Again, I was afraid to leave – this sense that Phil would talk to the owners, and they’d decide I was too much trouble, and then I wouldn’t be able to save up for a car or horse lessons. But I followed Dad out and he heaved my bike into the back of his truck with one hand. Then we sat in his truck in silence for a bit, without him turning the engine on.

“Guy’s a piece of work,” Dad said. “He’s keeping you late?”

“There’s stuff to do,” I said, carefully.

“Uh huh.” He cranked down the windows and lit a cigarette. “You ever tell him it’s not your job?”

“Like he’d listen to me.”

“No one’s going to listen to you if you don’t say anything.” Beneath his arm burns were sleeve tattoos, and as I was failing to meet his eyes I met the gaze of a snake winding his forearm instead. “You’re tough. You’re nails. I see it, kid. That guy thinks you’re soft but if you were soft, you wouldn’t keep going back. But you got to show him otherwise. You gotta.”

“He’s just going to fire me. He’ll tell the owners that I’m stealing cat food or something.”

“Yeah, sure. But you’ll find something else.”

“The only reason I got this job is because Mom knows the owner’s wife and she pulled some strings. Everywhere else says I’m too young.”

He started the engine. “Not gonna tell you what to do. Lord, I don’t–” He tapped his cigarette on the window, ran a hand back across his graying hair. “You’re too young to suffer for money. And for what, fifty dollars a day?” Then he turned on some AM sports radio and didn’t say anything else as we pulled out of the parking lot.

I have a certain affection for that now, the gravely certainty, the sense that he’d said his piece, but in the moment, it just made me angry. I turned off the radio and crossed my arms.

“Why don’t you ask your boss to take you off the night shift, then?”

“The night – oh, Addie, I gotta provide. Night pays more.”

“Oh, no, yeah, you’re right. What’s the age where it’s okay to suffer for money?”

“Once you know what it’s like to suffer because you don’t have money.” He honked his horn at a red light, and a flock of crows scattered. “What’s going on?”

“You don’t get to do this whole sitcom ‘fatherly wisdom’ thing. I literally never see you,” I said,
“and you literally never talk to me. Do you even know what I like to do, or were you just like ‘oh, she’s a girl, guess she can’t play baseball,’ and you just waited for Ben?”

I remember the feeling of adrenaline, that I had opened up a very narrow window that was certain to slam shut.

“Not while I’m driving, Addie.”

Slam.

I felt this sense of shame and humiliation sweep through me, that I had thrown a dumb and childish fit. But a few blocks later, he said:

“I’m sorry. I dunno how to talk about – well. Anyway. I hope – I hope you bring that fire to your boss tomorrow. You’ve got it, Addie. You’re – you’re going to have good things in your life.”

We drove another couple of miles back to our house. But he didn’t turn the radio back on.

***

I told Phil that I wouldn’t work longer than an hour after the store closed. He called me selfish and told me I didn’t understand how the real world worked, but I walked out at 6 PM, and the owners let me feed Rudyard and Chamomile a sugarcube, just like normal. After a few days, Phil actually started helping with closing the store.

I wish I could say that it changed something with me and Dad, but it didn’t. Nothing tangible, anyway. I think I caught him looking at me a little more, studying me, like he was looking for something to say. But we never had a longer conversation than that day in the car, and a few years later, the year my younger brother went off to college, he ended up passing away on one of his few days off. Drowned. Mom, Ben, and I never talk about it, and it’s better that way, I think.

I drive by an equestrian school on my way to work, teaching business composition at a community college, and sometimes I think about taking lessons again. But just like the pang I feel whenever I see the Giants on TV, there’s something that tugs at me when I see a horse’s dark eyes. I used to feel charmed, but now, in the penetrating gaze of those creatures, it feels like I’m failing to translate a language I thought I understood.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Week 475: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I voraciously steal from other writers in ways that are both intentional and unintentional. You probably do too. This week, we’re going to come clean about that theft and write stories inspired by a close-read of our favorites.

To enter this week, tell us about one short story you really love. (Ideally, it’s freely and legally available online, and you can link it to share with everyone). If you’ve never liked any short stories at all and nothing comes to mind, feel free to hop into the Thunderdome Discord server and there will be people who can recommend things to you. (As excellent as some TD entries are, please don’t enter citing stories that have only been published in a Thunderdome thread.) And tell us why you admire this story – is it something that’s really striking about the prose, some really memorable characters, the cleverness of its plotting or ideas?

You’re going to try and take those qualities and use them for a story of your own. In no more than 2000 words (but please feel free to use less, even significantly less!), attempt to channel what you love about that story into your work. Do not write fanfiction. Do not set your stories in another writer’s universe. If you like the ideas of a particular story, maybe you focus on how the story makes communicating ideas and concepts engaging instead of sloggy exposition. If you like the setting, maybe you focus on how to integrate more sensory detail into your story, using the writer’s language as a reference.

Will provide hell rules on request. They’ll net you 500 extra words and will be connected to what you’ve decided to focus on this week.

Sign up deadline: Noon PST, Saturday September 11th
Submission deadline: 11:59 PM PST, Sunday, September 12th

Judges:
sparksbloom
Ironic Twist
Voodoofly

Entrants:
crabrock with A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Idle Amalgam with To Jump Is to Fall by Stephen Graham Jones :toxx:
Captain_Indigo with Borges oeuvre/The Garden of Forking Paths
derp with Seven Floors by Dino Buzzati
sebmojo with city of Baucis by Italo Calvino
Yoruichi with Bettering Myself by Ottessa Moshfegh
Carl Killer Miller with Big Red Son by David Foster Wallace
Thranguy with William Tenn's "The Liberation of Earth"
fishception with "The Eye of Argon" by Jim Theis
a friendly penguin with The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu

sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 04:04 on Sep 13, 2021

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


If you're really struggling thinking of a story, feel free to go in without picking a story and I'll assign one to you and tell you what I think the story does well. If you disagree, you can keep looking for your own short story and override my assignment.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Yoruichi posted:

In and please assign me something.

Ottessa Moshfegh's "Bettering Myself" is a story about an enormously awful, unappealing character that manages to be very fun to read. Unlike most stories about awful people, this one is neither unaware of the character's awfulness nor rubbing your face in it -- it's not "hey, look how much she sucks!" Her stories always make me want to write characters like this, with almost inscrutable motivations that make you work to understand them.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Yoruichi posted:

Ok, good, this is very good, thank you. I would also like a hellrule please.

No one in your story can understand anything the other characters say out loud.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


fishception posted:

In with "The Eye of Argon" by Jim Theis.

The persistence to abandon all reason, cast off all doubts, and write something, however bad, is the reason we're all here. This is not a good story. This isn't even really an absolutely terrible story. It's poorly written, obviously the author's first work, but what it DOES show is that the writer, for better or for worse, has a thesaurus, has a lot of misconceptions about how words work, and has passion. What strikes me about this story is the willing abandonment of reason or logic in a profane and loving ritual to the tropes and fixtures of a pulp barbarian story. It is a work of love, and thus, one to be cherished.

Gimme a hell rule.

Hell rule: no violence is allowed in your story.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Signups are closed.

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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Submissions are closed.

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