Write by Numbers Jib/M Brawl
Your story must be told from the protagonist’s POV, using past tense, and follow a simple narrative structure: Your protagonist wants something (important to them), they go searching for it, they encounter an obstacle, then as a result of their own action or decision they either get it or they don't.
The thing they want is their lost pet llama.
The story is set in space.
Your protagonist better feel some feelings.
Due high noon PST tomorrow.
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 19:53|
|# ? Oct 1, 2022 07:37|
I wake to Mark slapping my arm.
“There’s someone outside!”
Glass breaks in the street.
“It’s probably just a cat or -“
“It isn’t a cat!”
From the street: “YOU hosed HER DIDN’T YOU?! YOU rear end in a top hat!”
“I DIDN’T TOUCH HER LEXIE! YOU’RE ACTING CRAZY!”
Mark shoves me out of bed. “Tell them to leave!”
We lock eyes in the semidarkness. He looks pissed.
“DON’T TOUCH ME FUCKFACE!” The lady outside is pissed too.
I get up, my shirt clinging to my body in the summer heat.
Out the window I see two college kids weaving up the road. The girl stops at every recycle bin and hucks empties at the guy. I watch her heave a wine bottle at him. He loses his backwards hat.
“What day is it?”
Mark hisses “Wednesday!”
Wednesday Well at Romeo’s, the dive on the corner. My shoulders sag, and I ease the window open. It’s even hotter outside.
“LEXIE I SWEAR, IT WAS JUST A HUG!”
“SAVE IT, PRICK!”
They’re standing in the middle of the street now.
I raise my voice. “HEY, WOULD YOU TWO SHUT UP?! IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!”
The girl turns. “WHO ASKED YOU, rear end in a top hat?”
The guy sees his opportunity. “YEAH! gently caress OFF!”
The girl staggers to my recycle bin. She snatches a Corona and bombs it at me. It shatters feet from my face. She’s got good aim.
I duck back inside. Another bottle breaks against our siding. The argument continues, and fades down the street.
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 20:23|
The loons are out performing their mournful mass all across the lakes, making harmonies with their sisters maybe miles away. Hundreds of them, perhaps; some near, some far, and all at once. This may be the first time you've listened so intently, to hear for the watery drumbeat underneath the singing, that deep splash along the surface of the lake.
In the morning you can look it up on the internet, and find obvious and innocuous answers–beavers are known to slap their tails against the water, after all–but it not yet morning, it is the moon-dreamt night-time, and thus the only possible explanation for the splashing is the ill workings of one of the scary things of the forest–a great black bear! hungry and demonic, hurling stones or pots or pans into the starry-still lake.
Such stupid, giddy horror has never struck you like this, and it never will again. Yes, in the coming years, you will face real dangers, but they will be quick and violent, and they will dull your imagination to the soft, quiet terrors of the world. So take in this dread, allow it to ping-pong across every chamber of your mind, and empty your soul until only the fear of God remains, because it will be the only time you'll ever allow it to consume you.
And so you pray. You pray to one of the gods you never believe. You pray to the forest, and to the water, and to the clouds of mosquitoes and fireflies. You pray to the low, crescent moon, to the stars only darkness like this can reveal. You pray to the Bear, and you pray to death.
And in the terror, amidst the loons' requiem, you feel at one with the world, and you feel alive, and whichever being has heard your prayer has answered it. For a moment, the loons are silent, and you exhale your amen.
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 20:56|
In, ladies home journal please
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 21:11|
Hummingbirds are Sick
Two characters shouting at someone named Lee. dankey kong must be Jack Black and Malboro Man is Kyle. This is now canon.
-typing a response when his mic is on? noob
A fitter encouragement would have been dankey teamkilling Lee.
Had a hummingbird feeder once, but a squirrel gnawed a hole in it to get the sweet juices and it all leaked out.
My impulse is to just have Lee say “ignore her” to his teammates and not shout initially. I actually did a piece where the video game player never looks away from the screen and never says a word while a buddy prepares for a date. Maybe kids have changed and can focus on more than one thing at once. But either way, it conjures a complete image of the scene.
Kid voice of just ending it with ‘it was pretty cool” instead of having some profound statement works as a capper and I like.
I feel like this would probably be a normal occurrence, and not something strange—I hear a lot of “fuckin college kids” followed by a passive aggressive slamming of the window, like that will shut them up. There doesn’t strike me as anything unusual that would startle Mark to stir the protag awake.
My impulse was to think why isn’t the character intervening a little faster with a shout before the wine bottle gets thrown, but then the guy’s hat was on backwards, so all good.
Details are sparse but strong. Captures the balmy summer night well in just a few words. The argument dialogue is maybe a little rote, but plausible. On these overheard conversations I like to imagine what happened, so a specific detail can go a long way. Like “It was just a hug, Lexie. She broke up with Chad while you were on the booze cruise and didn’t have anyone to talk to, Lexie.” and we can infer a bunch about logistics and guess whether it happened or not. Bro could still be lying, but it’s what I might say if I were him. Anyway.
This is a tough one, I think Nae has better dialogue, Seph sets the scene better.
But I was surprised when the drunks started hucking bottles at Seph's protag. Did not expect it, so I have to give the round to Seph.
SephirothIRA nabs the victory, but the k-to-d ratio was really close
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 21:36|
In, ladies home journal please
"I just can't get over the way BLUE-JAY got that corn"
|# ? Jun 7, 2022 22:07|
Llamas can’t Talk: A Jake Malone Story
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I learned that the hard way.
It was in the year 30XX in the former space colony (now space republic) New Los Angeles. I was out walking my pet llama, Marlowe, when I heard a crash loud enough that it made me drop to the ground. I already felt some indigestion from us eating at Space Taco, so I was already in a bad mood. While I was getting up, I heard Marlowe squealing away, and what appeared to be a UFO leaving soon after. Feeling pissed, I first found the nearest restroom. Since I was still pissed, I went to my Private Investigator office.
Since I wouldn’t be much of a Private Investigator if I can’t even keep track of my own Llama, I put a tracker on Marlowe soon after I got him. Checking in my office, I saw that Marlowe was over in the Beta Centauri system. I got into my flying space car (By the way, each citizen of the Space Republic of New Los Angeles were issued flying space cars), and headed over to Beta Centauri. While I was leaving, I looked down at New Los Angeles. Sure, it won its freedom. But at the cost of its innocence.
After traveling a few light years I went to the local bar, the Spacey Jane. Sure, times have changed, but I knew full well that the bar was always the place to get information. As soon as I got there, I went to what looked like the bartender. (It was, but you never could tell in this part of the galaxy.)
“What can I get you, stranger?” I showed him a picture I had of Marlowe.
“I’m looking for my Llama.” I said. The bartender looked at the photo.
“Reminds me of a few talking Llamas that came here a few months ago. They mentioned something about their crown prince.”
“Come on, man! I know two things about what you said that makes no drat sense. One, no drinks exist that are strong enough for you to be taking that much bull. Two, Llamas don’t talk!”
“Aye, normally they don’t! But there are some Llamas who went to a planet close by, and the people there taught them how to speak! The Llamas there thanked them by slaughtering them and becoming imperialist pricks.”
“You mentioned something about a crown prince?”
“Oh, yeah. Prince Phillip. He was a more peaceful kind of fella. Heard he had to evacuate Big Verde.”
“What the Llamas called the place. Anyway, chances are, if your Llama is Prince Phillip, then there may be some trauma that’s causing him not to speak.”
The bartender gave me the coordinates for Big Verde, so I paid him for my drink and his info and went off.
While I was landing on Big Verde, I saw why it was called that. From out of orbit, it looked, well, big and green. When I went closer to the planet, I saw the green up close, and saw it was filled with the kind of exotic plants you couldn’t find anywhere else! When I opened my door, I was stopped by a Llama with a gun.
“You Jake Malone?” The Llama asked. I was surprised that he was speaking like a regular human.
“The crown prince is expecting you!” He must be referring to Marlowe! Thinking that to be the case, I went with them.
When I got to the palace, I was fascinated enough to see that it was quite the exotic place! Reminded me of palaces of ancient times. When I got to the throne room, I was greeted by a voice that sounded like an animal trying to speak. I could make out what he was saying, but it didn’t sound as natural as the guards from earlier.
“Hello Jake.” I looked closer. Sure enough, it was Marlowe.
“Is that you Marlowe?”
“Indeed, it is I! Though I am truly known as Prince Phillip of Big Verde!”
“Why did they take you?” I felt sad and confused.
“My father passed away, so I was needed to prevent a civil war.” That made sense. I knew full well that Marlowe was needed here, but asked anyway.
“Don’t you want to come home?”
“I’m sorry, Jake,” Marlowe said. “But Big Verde is my home.”
Since I knew when a fella didn’t want me around, I started to leave. As I was about to leave the palace grounds, Marlowe yelled, “Wait!”
“What?” I asked. “I know when a guy isn’t wanted!”
“But you are wanted!” Marlowe said. “Big Verde could use a private investigator!
And that’s how I became a P.I. and somewhat of a diplomat over at Big Verde. While I liked the job there, I sometimes reminisced about New Los Angeles. Sure it was a hellhole, but it was home, and you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 17:01|
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 17:25|
Incorrect shoes waste your money and age your face
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 18:37 on Jun 8, 2022
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 18:13|
Write by Numbers Jib/M Brawl
My Little Llamacita
Yacuna brayed before the warning klaxon, she always had that sense. I know Yac, I’m tryin’a pull the nose up, we’ll make it, it’ll just be a little bumpy. She snaked her head down her long stretch of neck and tongued the frayed dangler of her braided rope necklace into her mouth, chomping hard on it, then clapped her front hooves on the dash, braced.
Moment of truth. I yanked the steering yoke back until it pressed into my belly, and prayed maybe it’d wake a gremlin who didn’t want to smash into the Farreach Station landing bay and give us a little tip-up.
Half the pad was filled with some kind of freighter, this was going to be tight. I clamped my eyes shut and reached over to find the hypoallergenic comfort of Yacuna. The scrum of a thunder sheet dropped down the stairs before momentum finally gave up on this industrial remix.
Silence, aside from the squip squip squip of Yacuna as she sucked on the braid like a baby’s binky while I untangled my fingers from her fur. Her usual drowsy half-moons were full and she turned her head slowly to look at me, then a one-eighty out the side window where the freighter was pressed against our ship, so close sheet music scratches etched across glass.
I climbed out, legs like Tramusian flan. All in all, not a bad landing. Then a bright blue flash and a whump of suck and the freighter was gone. I caught the acrid whiff of singed hair and hastily patted out the embers of my beard where the warp bubble gave me a much-needed trim.
As the parking attendant came running, I stood looking at an empty crater where the Starburst just was. Yacuna was gone.
“Water pirates,” she huffed.
“By the Milky Way. Yac.” But all the attendant heard was a shrill squeak through the gravel in my mouth. I knock-kneed towards the desk and plucked the fanciest key chain off the board.
Muffled under my tinnitus the attendant pleaded, “Hey, you can’t do that. That’s not your ship. I’m going to get fired.”
Ba-deep, ba-deep as I clicked the button and stumbled towards the hot-pink cruiser. The doors opened and I slumped into the driver’s seat. “I gotta rescue my Yac.”
“You have a yak?”
“Get with the program. Yac is a llama. And we have a gig tonight.”
The holographic display showed the bright line of the warp trail before it faded into space, but the trajectory was clear. I yanked the valet into the passenger’s seat and the door closed behind her. “Park it.” I locked course to follow the pirates and slammed the go button. “Punch it,” I said.
“Me?” But we were already halfway to the pirate ship and gaining.
The console blinked and the computer asked, “Silent entry?”
“Affirmative.” Spacetime shimmered and the back door of the freighter opened. These rich folk and their gadgets, just doing whatever they please. Welp, our ship now.
Water globules hung suspended in the cargo hold, enough to flood a small moon or a large foam party. Then I heard the familiar cry of a kindred soul. “Yacuna,” I belted and realized my mistake when the light show started.
A spindly pirate dropped Yacuna’s lead and drew a laser-pistol intent on blasting us to oblivion. Yac made a break for it, and wove through floating H2Os and the pew-pews that rained around us. She was nearly to us and tried to pump the breaks, but her hooves had other ideas and she scrabbled across the metal floor.
As the pirate fired, I realized I really should have stuck to my diet. “No,” I drawled in slo-mo watching the laserbolt slice through air and globule alike, another inch and I could stop the bolt from hitting Yacuna. One noble sacrifice as I dove. I stuck out my tongue, my moneymaker, and got a free piercing courtesy of the scalliwag’s laser, but it was enough to deflect the bolt.
I hit the deck hard, woozy, but felt Yac dragging me back towards the ship and the cruiser’s dry delivery, “Engaging security measures.”
I strapped the castanets to Yacuna’s precious fuzzy drumsticks and she hopped on the drum pad and started dancing a phat beat. “Yeth,” I said, and the valet unfolded the lyrics I handed her. “Go on, sthing.” She looked back at me, hesitantly. “Jutht feel the gloove.”
Some say camels are pretty great
But for me they just don’t rate
Don’t matter if they’re one or two hump
Camel spittin’ makes me a grump
I don’t want a stack-a alpaca
Just send them all a-back-a
Big ol' Mountain Guanacos is a no gos
Even though they gots the right amount a toes
Leave all the vicuñas in Peru
Skinny little critters just won’t do
You can’t pull the wool over my eyes
I need an ungulate the right size
Sure ain’t nothin neat-a
Than a friend with four feet-a
I consider it a treat-a
To sit beside my little llamacita
I admit, she was a hot mess at first, but the third time through she really felt the music.
Over the thump of the llama-driven bass and rattle of castanets, the party boys of Venga VII, dancing in the foam and distracted by their glow sticks, didn’t hear when the parking attendant whispered into the mic, “Help me.”
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 18:23|
The Massacre at Camp Trefoil
It was a cool, starless night when the Girl Scouts descended upon Camp Trefoil, deep in the forests of Appalachia. They swarmed the earthen glen, shrieking with uninhibited glee, and constructed temporary habitats with sickening speed.
The Girl Scouts hungered. Soon, they would feast.
They started a fire. Flames licked the night. Sharpened sticks stuck out of the pit like teeth, jagged and rotten and reeking of death. The Scouts set aside the smaller branches for the great impaling: the collective ritual of spearing and incinerating their still-living prey.
Their leader produced an evening snack: a bag of soft marshmallows, fresh from the local grocery store. Fifty in all: each alike in size and sweetness, each bursting with flavor, and each with a divinely-blessed soul. Like all foods, marshmallows knew love and fear and suffering. They wanted, they yearned, and they longed to live in peace and harmony.
The Scouts did not know.
The Scouts did not care.
They set the bag on a stump and tore it the bag with pestilent fury. Marshmallows tumbled out of their plastic prison and spilled across the round of wood. Ravenous, the girls snatched marshmallow after marshmallow from the pile, paying no heed to their suffering. They laughed with delight as marshmothers were separated from marshdaughters and marshwives were torn from marshhusbands. The only mercy was knowing that the divided families would soon be rejoined in the afterlife, far away from mortal misery. But to be reborn in paradise, the marshmallows had to die.
One by one, the girls jabbed their sharpened sticks through sugary abdomens. The marshmallows had no mouths or appendages, so they could not proclaim their suffering through sound, but the pain still coursed through their every syrupy molecule. It was almost a mercy when the Scouts put them to the flame, for the agony of the burning was so great that many souls did not survive the melting. They simply ascended to the great beyond, leaving behind those marshmallows of greater fortitude to struggle to the very end. Those brave, bitter marshmallows who stayed long enough to feel their skin blistering and burning black around them knew only anguish as the girls smashed them between brittle crackers and chocolate and shoved them down their gullets.
Few marshmallows ever survived a run-in with the Girl Scouts. They wiped out lineages; they left no orphans. The few who managed to escape were the forgotten ones, dropped into dirt or kicked aside by wayward feet, and their fates were little better than those who fell before them. If they were lucky, they would be devoured by passing animals; if unlucky, they would last long enough to harden, a painful process that left them begging for a death that never came. They were the truly miserable ones: the living marshmallows who envied the dead.
Night came and went for the marshmallows of Camp Trefoil. When the sun rose over the embers of the fire, none had survived the massacre. It was a horrible night, the stuff of blackest nightmares, but they were stripped of such darkness when their souls ascended. They forgot their mortal pains, finally free of the tyranny of the Girl Scouts.
EDITED POST-JUDGMENT FOR CONTENT
Nae fucked around with this message at 21:02 on Jun 8, 2022
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 18:55|
Nae / Rodent Brawl Judgement
Rodent wins, edited, sorry nae
sephiRoth IRA fucked around with this message at 21:44 on Jun 8, 2022
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 20:52|
You have some word choice here and there that I thought sounded wrong to my ear ("pestilent fury") and I REALLY did not like the "marshboys into marshmen" line because it sounds a lot like a prison rape joke (although maybe it was not meant that way, maybe you just meant that all the men were killed, and I'm the sick one)
that is absolutely not what i intended and i'm editing that line out of the post for archiving purposes, because i will not have my name on a rape joke
i'll take the L but jesus i had no idea it would come off like that, i'm so sorry
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 21:01|
that is absolutely not what i intended and i'm editing that line out of the post for archiving purposes, because i will not have my name on a rape joke
I figured, I'm so sorry for the implication
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 21:37|
A fight broke out in discord and now Muffin and crabrock are itching to spill blood. I will judge their terrible bout! Each combatant will write me 600 words, and the due date is 11:59 Pacific on Wednesday, June 8th (or whenever I wake up the next morning).
The Worms, My Love
Tii lies at the nexus of Their threading until the voice says rise now as your sires do; she hears the mutter of distant wingbeats and tries not to breathe in the acrid dust they stir up, she tries to lie still on the cave floor but her masters’ dangling lappets tug her to her feet, their hooks embedded into her bone, the base secretions of jellied surface making slag of her skin, merged with her down to the nerve. The masters feel her resistance, and she knows which punishment is coming: they have her grasp the bonewood by the blade, at the perfect angle for its thorned serrations to tear her hand to pieces if they twist her wrist even a little. They make her linger there in agony for over a minute before allowing her to loosen her grasp, and take the sword by its hilt.
It is time to kill, dear daughter. The words arrive in her head unbidden, a collage of words-once-heard in a dozen different voices. She tenses as she takes the bonewood, considers for the thousandth time whether there couldn’t be some way to strike upwards, to sever their cruel strings, but as soon as the thought enters her mind, they respond with a massive dump of melatonin and dopamine, slowing her enough for their hooks to withdraw, leaving her numb and alone, staring at the cave mouth. She does not know where it will lead: the masters control time and space as easily as flesh. All she knows is that she must kill the first person she sees. She shambles onward, out of the cave, and emerges into a kitchen.
The man at the stove turns to face her. His face is rough, familiar, careworn. He screams and stumbles back, recoils as his arm pushes against the stove’s frame, and she wonders, not for the first time, how alien her ravaged frame appears to those in the time-before, an incomprehensible ruin of a woman. She meets his eye. His eyes go wide. “Tii,” he says, and as he rushes to embrace her she remembers exactly who he is, remembers coming home to her father’s carcass, gutted like an animal, and crying and crying until there was nothing left. The Masters want this, to set her on the path to servitude, and they do not control her here, she could take him and run, fight together and die rather than go back to the cave. Her father wraps his arms around her as she drives the bonewood up through his stomach. It opens him, his face is a moue of agony and as the light leaves his eyes she feels relief, at least he won’t suffer. Better an ugly death than a moment bent to the Masters’ will. She knows that if she lingers, she will meet herself, a strange sort of suicide, a release, but her legs are already carrying her back to the portal as she moans, her body has not fully been her own for many years and she knows it, muscle memory and neurological conditioning so deep that she can see and know what’s happening and be powerless to stop it.
With all her strength, her last smoldering coal of resistance, she opens her hand and lets the bonewood fall. She knows she will find it later, take it up again. She arrives in the cave, the Masters’ hungry cnidocytes descend and for a moment, she smiles: maybe this time, she’ll get lucky, and she hasn’t a thousand times before.
|# ? Jun 8, 2022 23:06|
A fight broke out in discord and now Muffin and crabrock are itching to spill blood. I will judge their terrible bout! Each combatant will write me 600 words, and the due date is 11:59 Pacific on Wednesday, June 8th (or whenever I wake up the next morning).
i hate you so much, that it makes me sick
oh you hosed-up little man. youre so hosed up and youre too stupid to know it. everything you do sucks–flailing around creating chaos with your hosed up noodle arms. youre only alive because two grown-rear end people follow you around while you gently caress yourself up. and you gently caress yourself up so nasty. youre a nasty little man. we scrape you off the floor where you roll around in your own nastiness. you like it. you reach for it and spread the nastiness in between your fingers. youre smearing it everywhere, always. you try to stand but you slip in your own filth. and you cry like this isnt your own gently caress up.
how is anybody ever supposed to love you, you hosed up little man. you smell like poo poo and bite all the time. i wake to deep gouges on my neck and think “at least it isn’t teeth marks.” you scream like a train trying to stop, metal on metal, impotently trying to stop before running over a man. but the man is dead now. the whole family is dead.
you hosed the world up for me. now when I see the hosed up stuff I cant ignore it. instead i think “but the hosed up little man is in this hosed up world”. he’s made it worse for me: the big hosed up man. and a little hosed up man is supposed to make everything better. people said “oh sure he’s hosed up but it will be worth it.” but he's not making it better, he's making it worse. “dont worry, he will fix the hosed up stuff later,” they say, but how can the little hosed up man growing up with all the hosed up stuff fix the hosed up stuff. he’ll just think “yes this hosed up stuff is normal to a hosed up man like me” like the big hosed up man does. “oh dang look at how hosed up everything is, maybe this hosed up little man will fix it,” you’ll say one day, you stupid idiot. you absolute fool.
how am i supposed to love a little hosed up nasty man that makes the world worse? when every waking moment is more hosed up than the last. when i look at the little hosed up man and his multiplicative deficiencies and a whole collection of poo poo-that-wont-happen fantasies heaped on his weak little shoulders.
ah gently caress it, rub the nastiness in my eyes. bite my forearm when i dare to look away for a second. yell at me for some dumb poo poo i dont even control. dont fix anything, just give up, or fix it all and call me incompetent, whatever you want. just let me be around you when you do whatever hosed up poo poo youre gonna do next. one day you will sequester away your nastiness, and wretch at the thought of putting your mouth on me. you will go off to fix the hosed up stuff or be part of it and i’ll survive on morsels of hearsay and think “yes the little hosed up man is out there, doing all his hosed up poo poo.” and i’ll say: “i’m glad it’s happening far away from me, finally a respite from the hosed up poo poo” and it will be just the big hosed up man telling hosed up lies cause he’s so hosed up and too stupid to forget it. you dont have to fix the big hosed up man. gently caress him. everything sucks, but you, the most hosed up and nasty of guys, make it suck less.
|# ? Jun 9, 2022 08:18|
Write by Numbers Jib vs. M Brawl Results
Llamas can’t Talk: A Jake Malone Story is the reading equivalent of eating dry Weet-Bix. It is written with a terse, clipped style which, while I don't think is that great to read, at least fits with the protagonist's character. The story has a clear narrative arc (this is good), but the 'reveal' at the end that the protagonist misses New Los Angeles has nothing to do with the rest of the story (this is bad).
The story tells me that the protagonist feels feelings precisely twice. At the beginning he is pissed, and then later he "felt sad and confused." What the story doesn't do is show the reader how the protagonist feels. How does a man who is sad and confused behave? What does Jake Malone do when he's pissed off? Why does he care about Marlowe in the first place? What does losing his llama mean to him?
Emotions are to stories what milk and sugar are to an otherwise inedible breakfast cereal. What you have written here is a perfectly acceptable black and white story outline (except for the disjointed ending, just delete that poo poo about New LA, you don't need it) - now you need to colour it in.
My Little Llamacita is the polar opposite of the first story. The prose at the start is so loosey goosey that I had to read several sentences a couple of times to try and work out what you meant, but it all has so much energy that I enjoyed being carried along for the slighly nonsensical ride.
And then there are pirates. And, floating water blobs?? And then there's a slow-mo laser pistol fight and a llama rap that I would really, really like someone to post a recording of.
This story is all milk and sugar, and if offered a choice between that for breakfast or a cardboard-flavoured cereal brick, I know which one I'd choose.
The Cut of Your Jib wins.
|# ? Jun 9, 2022 10:06|
crabrock vs. Muffin brawl: results!
Oh man, two completely different takes on the prompt! This is tough, because both pieces are stellar. Muffin, you created a rich, unique and nasty world and made me feel it down to my hosed up bones; crabrock, you wrote about the most hosed up and nasty thing of all, which is a baby growing up in the modern world. You both did awesome work here, but in the end, there can only be one, and that one is
I'm sorry, Muffin, I really did love your story, but my mind is genuinely blown by crabrock's interpretation of the prompt. Of course babies are hosed up and nasty, and of course this world sucks, and of course we have babies in the hopes that these hosed up and nasty guys can make this world suck less. I'm actually mad I didn't have the idea myself, that's how hosed up and nasty it is.
Short but sweet crits for each:
crabrock - I read your story aloud to my husband and we both loved it, but I ended up skipping a few lines in the middle of the third paragraph because I'd said 'hosed up' so many times that it lost all meaning and my mouth hurt from forming the words. That's a nice indictment of both the act of parenting and the times we live in, but I think the piece could have benefitted from a little more variety in that paragraph. Even in a story about the most hosed up and nasty of guys, 'gently caress' requires a tiny bit of restraint (and yes, that is coming from me), if only so it doesn't lose its power and meaning.
Muffin - First, this was gross and evocative and it made my skin crawl, so fine work as always with the prose. One trouble spot that jumped out at me was the lack of transition between: "The Masters want this, to set her on the path to servitude, and they do not control her here, she could take him and run, fight together and die rather than go back to the cave" and "Her father wraps his arms around her as she drives the bonewood up through his stomach. Had your story been one long run-on paragraph, it would have been fine, but I think a paragraph break here would have helped the punch land. As it is, I missed the stabbing on the first read-through and had to go back, and I think it's too big a moment to hide from sub-par readers like me!
The other thing about this story is that I didn't come away from it thinking the world will suck less for her actions, or that the people who have sent her into the world want her to suck less. I can see what you were going for with her 'saving' her father and her hoping to get lucky the next time, but you put so much emphasis on the endlessless of the cycle and the hopelessness of the situation that I don't come away from it feeling like things are going to suck less. I just think 'drat, that sucks and it's gonna suck forever.' Which is a fine and realistic ending for this kind of story, but not quiiiiite on prompt. But like I said, all in all I liked the story a lot, so don't take my judgment too harshly. These are just nitpicks; you're doing great
|# ? Jun 9, 2022 16:30|
Belated Crits for Week 512
Sitting in a Tree
Synopsis: Two women crash landed on an outpost planet, and one of them died, her soul becoming part of the biomass of the planet. This gives her the ability to manipulate the native plants, although her power seems to be centralized to a particular tree. When the other woman expresses a desire to go home, tree lady destroys their ship entirely.
I liked this! I feel like Holly was maybe a little one-dimensional, but I assume that’s due to word count and trying to make her out to be the clear “villain” of the story. I still would have liked to see her show a little more nuanced emotion beyond petulance, though. Not much else to say here; solid little scifi snippet.
Our Lady of Truth
Synopsis: New recruit to the monastery of the god of truth refuses to falsify evidence in a murder, is then … forcibly inducted into said order? I’m not sure. I think maybe they were planning to frame HIM for the murder, but given that they all had owl tattoos I wasn’t sure.
First off, you can cut your entire opening; you can easily weave all of this information into the narrative itself, and it will keep your reader from having to slog through an infodump right off the bat. Second, as you’ve probably guessed from the synopsis, your ending needs to be a lot clearer. I also guess I don’t really understand the in-story logic of telling your nameless MC all of this information; they could have just killed him and tattooed the suspect themselves (and blamed MC’s death on him). It seems like if this was a pattern that was repeated often, the acolytes of the temple would come to have a particular reputation for murder (plus there’s no way that they could all hide the fact that they have owl tattoos from the general public). Plus, if they engineered this test themselves, why did they pick MC? You even say in the story that he’s only been in the order for two weeks; why would they provide him in particular with this chance to prove himself? Did he do something to warrant this chance? Maybe you could use your extra words from cutting your opening to maybe tell us something more about the MC and why he was chosen for this.
While He Was Sleeping
Synopsis: An angel comes down to try and stop climate change and humans turn her into a power source for a factory.
Okay I had to redo this one because my first reaction was a little over the top. This feels like a very clunky morality play, and there’s not really much being said here that feels interesting, let alone new. Also this angel is the most infuriatingly stupid being of all time. How is it possible for an immortal creature that’s been watching humanity for thousands of years to be this impossibly naive? Did none of the other angels think to do anything about this? It seems like it would make a lot more sense for the angels and the humans to just destroy each other entirely, but I guess that doesn’t fit the climate change
Synopsis: A woman watches her friend … date a lovely guy?
So you know how usually the TD advice is “cut your opening”? I would say that you should do this, but that your “opening” is something like the first 3/4ths of your story. You’ve tried to pack in a lot of information into a small space, and instead all you have is a second-hand summary of stuff. And to me, other than trying to isolate her, this dude doesn’t seem actually abusive, just lovely. Idk, maybe that’s just because I’ve actually dated both lovely and abusive dudes, but I didn’t get that sense here. I don’t want to be like The Abusive Relationship Gatekeeper, it just didn’t really hit home for me. I think you could fix a lot of that by cutting out most of the information about Kim (or the character entirely), and focusing more on Corey and Jack. I’d like to see more of Corey’s feelings and justifications, especially in your climactic scene.
Synopsis: Dude builds a giant mirror array to help avert climate change, incidentally uses it to kill childhood bully in darkly ironic manner.
I like this one a lot. You did a good job here of actually making me like your villain, which is… not something I’ve really seen at all this week so far. You’ve got a typo pretty early on in your story (“He considering…” in paragraph one) , but that’s really my only complaint. I guess maybe you could make the argument that Marcus wasn’t really your story’s villain, but I think his actions are far more villainous than the people he’s taking his revenge on, so I think you’re good.
Dream Come True
Synopsis: Nameless/Faceless Evil Scientist (I think?) manipulates a local political candidate into saying a bunch of racial slurs at a press conference because he saw Shrek and a cartoon hot dog.
I get that it’s supposed to be a dream, but your setup just comes off as the pop culture conception of a dream, if that makes sense. Just a lot of random “wacky” images all juxtaposed in weird ways. Also you’ve got Featureless MC Syndrome to the max here, which doesn’t help. I don’t really understand your MC’s motivation beyond wanting to prove their idea works and getting more clients. Okay, maybe I do understand their motivations, but I don’t really CARE about them, which is I think more important to the story than baseline recognition of stated objectives.
No One Can Stop Me
Synopsis: Two former friends duke it out over the fate of the world. Bad guy wants to be defeated/proven wrong, but isn’t, the end.
Yeah, this is pretty good. Kinda generic fantasy RPG, but pretty good. Maybe it’s just my mood of late, but I get where Set/Eric is coming from here, and I also want him to be proven wrong, even though I don’t expect him to be. Idk, I guess maybe I would try to flesh out your world a little more, since it seems like you’ve got this high fantasy setting in your conflict, but a very modern reality conflict behind Set’s actions. It would be nice to see some kind of explanation for the juxtaposition here, and it would help understand the setup a little more.
8th and Main: a Jake Malone story.
Synopsis: A private eye goes to ask the subject of his investigations about himself directly, meets some poor woman who tells him her long sad story with perfect trust and no reservations, then flings herself from the roof of the house and dies instantly. Private Eye leaves, the end.
I don’t even know where to start with this. Your opening has nothing to do with the rest of your story (btw, your interpretation of the song is explicitly the opposite of the actual meaning), and adds nothing to anything. Every action that any character takes in this is borderline nonsensical. The ending is just pointless, and somehow makes everything else feel even more meaningless than it did already. This would require a line-by-line to really get to the heart of the matter, but I honestly don’t know if that would help you. Please go find some books and read them. It doesn’t matter if they’re short stories or novels, but find some professionally published prose and read it until you start getting a better feel of how stories are put together. I genuinely believe that is the biggest thing that you can do to improve.
Synopsis: Some Yakuza boss gets sent to a Bhuddist temple instead of jail, continues to be a Yakuza crime boss undeterred. Local monk gets understandably upset, decides to quit the priesthood and leaves with a Yakuza underling who has decided they are friends.
This didn’t ring super true to the Japanese setting to me, but that may just be my personal take. Yakubro quoting Rent didn’t really help (and yes, I know that Japanese people have seen Rent, but it felt a little bit like inserting American cultural touchstones into a situation and assuming they’re universal). Also, despite his anger, I don’t get a lot of your MC’s character out of this piece. I would have liked to see more of what made him choose to become a monk, and what it meant to him to give it up again.
Welcome to the Eternal Empire
Synopsis: A man living in a border town between two kingdoms experiences life under a new government. His family flourishes under the new system, but then the old government comes back and things are bad again. He stabs a dude and the guy dies because raw chicken.
I think you mean “pressed into service” instead of “impressed to serve,” which is not a real turn of phrase. Wow, there are a lot of weird, awkward turns of phrase here. “As had become the dedicated time”? Could definitely use an editing pass or two more.
Um, okay? Man, your ending is… something. Actually no, it’s not, it’s just there. Like you knew you had to end it somehow, and just kinda picked something at random.
I actually think the setting was cool and I’d be interested to see an actual story set in it. Unfortunately this was less a story and more a vague family timeline.
The Caesar of Port Galveston
Synopsis: A guy goes to find out information about his mother (?), meets a local bigwig and does some security contract work for him in exchange for information (??), and then uh maybe almost dies (???). Oh also all of these are emails, even though most of it is written like standard book prose rather than something someone would actually write to another person.
You pushed this pretty far past the “intriguing mystery” line, and deep into the red of “completely opaque.” None of the judges could figure out what was really going on here, and although you laid out some interesting informational breadcrumbs, all they led to was an empty alley and the uncomfortable feeling that I’d missed out on something.
Synopsis: I… think some guy dies from hijinx, and then his rear end in a top hat friends are talking poo poo about him in front of his wife? And then they leave to go do more dumb poo poo? I don’t know.
Okay, I feel dumb, but I have no idea what’s happening here. Sorry. You clearly had a conceit of what you wanted to do stylistically, but I think that it’s obfuscated your actual point beyond recognition, and I don’t feel like taking the time to decipher it. It’s sometimes a good idea to sit down and consider if your neat gimmick idea will actually enhance the story for your reader, or if you’re going to cut your story off at the knees. Chalk this one up to experience and move on, I suppose.
Justice is Eyeless
Synopsis: Well, uh… This guy has a family curse where when dudes get old they… die? Or become a sacrificial animal? That has to fight their own father, or take their father’s place as the new sacrificial animal? Or something???
Oh boy, we have a trilogy of what the gently caress. I know I just said this, but I have absolutely no idea what just happened. Sorry, friend. I think there is something to the (I think) cyclical nature of this curse, with son killing father (or vice versa?) in the afterlife that could be pretty cool, but boy it needs to be a lot more explicit in what's actually happening than this is in order to work.
|# ? Jun 10, 2022 02:01|
Antivehicular and derp. Stop fighting, it's gross.
Anti/Derp cheatbrawl, go:
Fake It To Make It
Summoning a demon with its true name is more a suggestion than a rule. Gareth stumbles on that fact when a missed syllable on one of his first attempts produces a confused but competent imp, and he spends the next few years of study chasing down references in the literature. There are fewer than he expects, but what he can find is clear: complete names are better, but the magic can make fragments work, sometimes less than half. When research fails, audacity can win the day.
Research fails Gareth after five syllables of the true name of the Lord of Bloody Spires. Audacity will have to do.
When Gareth intones the fragments of name he has, plus the hissing drone that serves to fill the gaps, the shape that materializes looks correct enough at first: a serpentine body, dozens of wings, a head festooned with horns and crowns. It comes into focus, but the details just don't fill in, until Gareth realizes there won't be any coming. The wings and horns are smooth, flat triangles; the crowned head's face is two glowing dots and a slit for a mouth. It's a rough sketch of the Lord, nothing more, and it stares at him with deadly intent.
"Give me purpose," says the pseudo-demon.
Gareth hasn't summoned anything, he realizes. He's created something, cheated the universe into coughing up an approximation. He can't send it back to Hell; it doesn't know the way. The bindings are careful and thorough, and they shackle him as tightly to the demon as it's shackled to him. It must serve him, and he must accepts its terms, but what purpose can a charlatan offer a half-made thing?
"I seek wisdom," says Gareth. "Knowledge of the Bloody Spires, the Distant Peaks -- the borderlands between life and death."
"My..." The demon is silent -- never before has Gareth seen a demon, even an approximation of one, at a loss for words. "My template would know these things. I do not. If you would have your wisdom, we must find it together."
It seizes Gareth, very gently, in its smooth translucent claws. Its half-real wings flicker when it flies. Gareth forces himself to keep his eyes open; it's time to see just how far his audacity is going to take him.
|# ? Jun 10, 2022 11:10|
The waves rock us endlessly, and the sun beats down. My skin is red and peeling and my lips are cracked. This little patch of yellow rubber is our planet, floating in a watery void. Just me, him, and a deck of cards.
He, sitting across from me, looks just as bad. Burnt face, scraggly salt-crusted hair, red eyes. We haven’t spoken much. The cards speak for us.
He deals two sunbleached bits of paper to each of us. I’ve got a pair of jacks. “I bet 3” I say, and I pour three capfuls of water from my bottle into the empty bottle between us. He peers slowly at his cards, then says “call” and pours in three capfuls from his own bottle.
He turns over the first three cards, a bunch of low ones. I have a high pair, but could he have a straight? I wait to hear his bet and the raft sways, salty undrinkable waves slosh, and the hot sun fries my neck like bacon.
“I’m all in,” he says, and counts out 22 capfuls of glittering water. Each splatter against the plastic is pain on my tongue, my hand trembles with the thought of just grabbing it and chugging it down. I look closely at the backs of his cards, trying to decipher the stains and creases. I’ve come to recognize various cards by the folded corners, the watermarks. I feel confident that one is the two of clubs. And if I’m right... no possible straight.
“I call,” I say, and I start counting out capfuls. The look on his face is disconcerting. Is it relief that I see there? Resignation?
I pour in the last capful and he nods, then tosses his cards between us, face up, a vacant look in his eyes. “Drink it,” he says. His cards are a two and a ten, unsuited. No chance for a straight or flush, no chance for a higher pair than my jacks.
“What kind of bluff was that,” I say.
“Drink it, I know you’ve got two jacks. One’s torn at the corner and the other is creased.”
I stare at him for a moment. Somehow this is a trick... “What is this?”
“I cheated on my wife,” he says. “Just as we started going down. I was cheating on her as the water came in.”
The minute I grab the bottle he’ll say I took it before the hand was over, and he’ll call for a redo... “There’s two more cards,” I say, “deal.”
He turns over another card. A ten. Then I realize, it is possible for him to win. If the final card is the last ten, he’ll have three of a kind. Only one card in the deck can save him.
He picks up the final card, and there’s a watermark on the back that looks like a woman's face. I know I’ve seen that mark just a few hands ago... he lays down the card...
|# ? Jun 10, 2022 20:20|
Chili! Your face is dumb and your thoughts are stupid! That hat you often wear makes you worthy of derision and mockery! Brawl me.
|# ? Jun 10, 2022 20:33|
Sleepless Mom Brawl
Thorns and Stillness
The seeds I’d planted in the garden bed, the ones that had survived the late freezes and the groundhogs and the digging squirrels, had germinated and sent up shoots beneath me. Just yesterday I’d run my hands over their bright, almost neon-green leaves. Overnight they’d become huge brambles. Now these great, thorny arches bind me to the earth.
Movement hurts, so I cultivate stillness. I recline, eyes closed. I’ve been moving and running and preparing for this thing and that thing for ages. I’m tired. The enforced rest feels necessary, even pleasant.
It takes a little while before I realize that it’s not restorative. My eyelids are as heavy when they open in the morning as when they closed at night. They try to flutter closed again all the time. The pressure of the dirt beneath me and the vines above are as draining as movement.
And then there’s the pain. The vines weave into my skin. Their biting thorns draw blood. I bite my lip, trying to ride it out. If I can just ride it out, it’ll get better. Probably. Maybe. Unless it doesn’t and I’m just stuck here, hurting, for months and months until I decide that maybe I can stop and feed this wretched joy with something other than my own body.
Why am I doing this? I wonder sometimes. But I know why. Another gardener, a long, long time ago, once told me that I never could bear pain, and so would probably never want to do my own gardening. Intellectually I know that she was speaking out of frustration, much in the same way I will speak to these vines one day. But I’m determined to prove that ancient voice wrong. I grit my teeth until I start to worry about cracking my fillings.
How will I go to a dentist like this? I think. Who takes their plants with them to the dentist?
Gradually, mercifully, the sharp pains fade. They never disappear, exactly, but the low, throbbing ache is more bearable. I stop worrying about my teeth.
But there are other pressures. I see the weeds forming in the rest of the garden. The grass that needs mowing, the strawberries that need picking, the beets that need to be thinned before they encroach on one another. But I can’t do any of it, I’m trapped by the sweet brambles. Movement no longer pains me, but the thorns still cling. It’s hard to shift from this spot without disturbing them.
I am able to build some space for myself, to clutch at nearby weeds and toss them away from the bed. Sometimes I can lift a hose and spray water on dry places in the yard. I am thrilled with these basic accomplishments. The vines dont judge, for better or for worse. They just Need.
I can feel my body atrophying. My muscles are decaying. I feel slack and limp and useless. I feel discarded. Other people move around the bed, sometimes they check in on me. I smile up at them, aiming for beatific, but I haven’t showered in days and there’s dirt in my hair. I ask for water and cleansing wipes for my face. I end up giving half of my water to the vines.
“That looks uncomfortable.” I squint up at the speaker, my good friend who has always stood firm in her intention to never plant a garden. “Give me those.”
I demur, despite my desperate longing. And I mean it. These vines are my precious burden, I shouldn’t need anyone’s help. This is my job. And besides, nobody knows better than I do how much this sucks. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone who doesn’t want this.
“You think martyring yourself is going to make this easier?” She shows me her arms, the thick sleeves she’s wearing to protect herself from the bite of my garden. “Come on. Go inside. Clean up. Be a person instead of a sack of fertilizer for like half an hour.”
The vines cling and cry when I break away, despite how gentle I am at handing them over to my friend. It almost breaks my resolve, but they twine around her just as greedily as they’d wound around me. I’m almost insulted about how quickly I am replaced. She looks at me and gestures, imperious: “Go on, now!”
Hot water. My body feels alien and bare without the vines attached. Hot water. I smooth my wrinkled, cracked skin with my hands and let myself soak, plant-like again, in the bliss that is hot water and gentle, scented soap. I guzzle water and a sneaky, guilty glass of wine, reveling in the freedom to do so. I stretch and bend and roll around on my old and scratchy towels and they might as well be made of silk and clouds for how luxurious it feels to just move.
At last I go back outside where my friend is holding my daughter. My perfect, beautiful, flawless, daughter with her suspicious squint and her cradle cap and her absurd, riotous farts. It’s only been half an hour, okay, maybe forty-five minutes, but I missed her. I reach out to take her. My friend grins and holds her up, offering her back to me.
“Perfect timing,” she says. “I think she just loaded her diaper.”
|# ? Jun 10, 2022 22:31|
Chili! Your face is dumb and your thoughts are stupid! That hat you often wear makes you worthy of derision and mockery! Brawl me.
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 03:19|
Chili! Your face is dumb and your thoughts are stupid! That hat you often wear makes you worthy of derision and mockery! Brawl me.
A Saucy Chili BRAWL
Due June 23 4:56PM EST
Romance blossoms over chili, stew, or other saucy food. Rodentia must be incorporated (interpret that how you will). If you choose Cincinnati chili, god help us all.
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 03:34 on Jun 11, 2022
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 03:28|
i am in
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 03:32|
i am in
Rich, nourishing grains--sealed in huge guns--kept under fiery temperatures--then-shot from guns.
People might not want to write about guns, even absurd breakfast cereal guns so here's an alternate in case.
Into your cheeks there comes a NEW MYSTERIOUS GLOW!
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 04:27 on Jun 11, 2022
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 04:09|
Week 514 sign-ups technically closed, but since this week has a low amount of entries, any stragglers who want to sign up late can have another 24 hours to commit but must riff off this ad:
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 04:18|
This is an absolute tweener. Please bear with me I want to sleep on judgment.
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 04:27|
Week 514 sign-ups technically closed, but since this week has a low amount of entries, any stragglers who want to sign up late can have another 24 hours to commit but must riff off this ad:
I will straggle in with the Coated Tongue ad
(Others can too, I'm cool with it)
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 04:51|
It's super close but I think derp squeaks out the victory. Crits when I get home.
|# ? Jun 11, 2022 11:04|
Sleepless Mom Brawl
Dawn’s arrival was an act of violence. Sunlight pierced through the window and shone mercilessly through Sarah’s eyelids. She groaned in protest before grabbing for a pillow and shoving her face into it, blocking out the light. Her world went dark once more, but it didn’t change the fact that day had arrived.
Night’s end meant the cycle began anew. Starting now.
She screwed her eyes shut even tighter and kept them shut as she peeled the covers off her body, threw the pillow back into the pile of her many other pillows, and shambled out of bed.
Leaves and dirt tumbled off her body as soon as she was upright, forming a debris pile at her feet. She blinked blearily down at them, then shuffled into the kitchen, leaving a trail of twigs and soil in her wake.
Sarah sank into the chair opposite her husband at the breakfast nook. He’d poured her coffee already; it sat in front of her, steaming and oh-so-inviting looking. Much unlike her husband Thomas, who didn’t look up from his paper when she sat down.
“Where did you go this time?” He asked after a minute. There wasn’t so much as a twinge of genuine interest in his voice.
She was used to that, though. At least he still asked. Perhaps part of him still cared.
Sarah shrugged. “No clue. Best guess, somewhere in the Olympics. Maybe further north.”
She sat back in her chair, sighing as it creaked under her weight. Her last memories were of the setting sun, so she’d clearly been asleep for hours. But a bone-deep exhaustion made her feel like she weighed a metric ton. The price of her dreams.
Well, “dreams.” Last night, she raced along a beaten trail underneath a canopy of ancient evergreens, frantically searching for a sign that would point her toward the trailhead in the dark. The moon shone bright through the gaps in the ancient boughs. The ground was soft beneath her feet, the air thick with the scents of rot and damp earth mingling together to create a wild aroma so intoxicating she almost didn’t want to leave. Even though she knew full well she ought not to be there.
Last she knew, she was in bed.
The night before had been no different, except she’d awakened in the middle of what she assumed was the Pacific Ocean, treading water for hours and hours. She woke in her bed that morning completely drenched and with pockets full of wet sand. How she’d remained afloat for so long was a mystery to her, but she never tired, never for a second feared she might drown.
The night before that? A snow-capped mountain range and a chill that never reached her core. And the night before that? A derelict freighter rusting over in who the hell knew where — some sort of boat graveyard, she guessed.
And each morning, she returned to her bed covered in pieces of the places she swore she couldn’t have been to. She didn’t remember when the “dreams” started and neither could Thomas. But it had gone on for so long and been so consistent that the two of them were well passed the panicked fits they went through during those early days. Thomas called the police after the third night, convinced someone must be drugging his wife and kidnapping her in the night. Sarah didn’t have a better explanation, so she entertained his for a while.
But that theory earned him nothing but laughter from the cops and comments like “at least they’ve been nice enough to bring her back.”
Sarah tried seeing a psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, and naturopath - she couldn’t get a diagnosis from anyone that explained what she was experiencing. Not even an essential oil to try and keep her in bed at night. She tried a sleep study and went to a lab for observation, but of course she didn’t “dream” that night. So Sarah’s husband tried staying up to see for himself what happened to her.
But each night, nothing. Sarah never left her bed. He’d blink and there she’d be, all tucked in just as she’d always been, except suddenly covered in soot or snow or sea water.
“I’ll get a broom,” Thomas said after a while, his voice weary and flat. He rose from the table and headed toward the bedroom. He’d stopped trying to understand what happened to Sarah some time ago. He stopped asking questions. Now he just tried to keep the hardwood floors clean. They didn’t talk as much about anything anymore, really.
Each time Sarah awoke, she felt like her husband was just a little further away, too. A month had passed and now he may as well have been an ocean away. She wanted answers for him just as much as she wanted them for him. Sarah tried to ease his anxiety about the whole thing by assuring him that there didn’t seem to be any harm in what was happening; she never returned injured or otherwise traumatized.
It all seemed so benign, if inexplicable. And while Thomas initially took comfort in that knowledge, the distance between them grew larger and larger as he came to terms with the fact that he could do nothing to affect what was happening to Sarah.
She missed him. He was barely twenty feet from her and still, she missed him.
“Hey,” Sarah said as she stood in the doorway of their bedroom, coffee mug in hand as she watched him. Thomas had his back to her as he swept up the pile of pine needles she’d shed she’d shed. “There’s one thing we haven’t tried.”
“Oh?” He replied, not looking back at her.
“Come with me.”
Her husband snorted. “Come with you? You don’t even know where you’re going or how. So how do you propose I go with you?”
Sarah thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. “No clue. But we can still try.”
Her husband turned around to face her fully. A moment passed between them before he pushed a hand through his sandy brown hair and said with a sigh, “Alright, sure. Couldn’t hurt, I guess.”
That night, Sarah and Thomas lay in bed together, staring at the ceiling in silence.
“So what should we…” Thomas’ voice trailed off in the dark.
Sarah reached for his hand over the duvet and threaded her fingers in his. “Just hold my hand.”
It was so simple. So simple, it seemed silly that they hadn’t tried this before. Sarah couldn’t remember the last time Thomas held her hand, though. Even before the “dreams.”
“Hold your hand? You think that’ll work?”
“I don’t know. But we don’t know that it won’t work,” Sarah replied helpfully.
Thomas sighed. “I’m kind of scared to get my hopes up. I’ve been thinking, though. Maybe this has something to do with what happened on-“
“Can we just try? Please?” Sarah said quickly.
Thomas said nothing for a long moment. Then he gave Sarah’s hand a small squeeze and replied, “Ok.”
Sarah didn’t remember falling asleep, but when she opened her eyes, the full moon greeted her. She looked down to find dirt under her bare feet, and a sheer drop a yard or two in front of her. Her heart leapt in her chest as she felt a hand squeeze hers. She turned her head to find Thomas standing beside her, head tilted back as he gaped at the moon.
A city of lights stretched out before them. Rows of tall buildings formed the center, while smaller blips of neon sprawled out around them. Sarah didn’t know which city she was looking at. A dry, dusty breeze kicked up as Thomas spoke at last.
“Sarah… This is real, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Pretty sure.” This was usually the part where she panicked a little trying to get her bearings. For as many times as this had happened, there was always an initial spike of fear. But now, with Thomas standing next to her, that terror was considerably blunted. Instead, excitement bloomed in her chest as she realized her silly little idea wasn’t so silly after all. And she wasn’t alone anymore.
“Where are we?” He asked, breathless.
“I have no idea, but we’ll figure it out” Sarah said with a smile and squeezed his hand back. “I’m just glad you’re here.” She was also glad she wasn’t in the middle of a body of water, but she figured she didn’t need to say that part out loud.
Thomas looked at her for a moment before his shock melted into a smile. The first smile she’d seen on him in ages. She’d begun to think he’d forgotten how — there was only every worry or sadness before.
“Me too,” He replied. “So what now?”
“Well, dawn will be here eventually…” She gave his hand a playful tug as her lips quirked in a smile. “So we might as well explore. Let’s go for a walk”
|# ? Jun 12, 2022 01:20|
Sleepless Mom Brawl Results
My own child woke me at 5am asking me for a snack. The sleeplessness continues. Apologies to have stolen sleeping time from both of you for writing words, but this was y'all's exhaustion born idea.
Great job! You both got these stories in by deadline and they've both got some trippy dreaminess to them that was much appreciated. Both of them incorporated metaphors that I could easily grab onto and had me nodding my head going yes, I see what's happening here and I get it. Both of them also needed some editing, but lol, who's got time for editing with a baby in the house?
This was a hard one because Chernobyl Princess's metaphor and imagery were tighter and more evocative whereas I really enjoyed the physical journey that Beezus took me on albeit with winding prose but it never pulled back from that journey either.
The winner is Chernobyl Princess by a millimeter.
Chernobyl Princess - Thorns and Stillness
I very much dig (PUN!) the metaphor here. The gardens and the plants and the lashing and the being tied down. And how sometimes you can reach things and accomplish tasks, but sometimes you just can't. And you did it in under 1000 words which is also impressive. It did not take me long to understand that it was a metaphor for having a child but it also didn't beat me over the head with it, until the end of course, when you revealed that the plants were a child and I kinda didn't like that. I would have preferred for this to stick with the plants theme to the very end, as the protagonist learns all the tricks of tending a garden to avoid the constant care but just when she understands how to tend the roses, oh no a begonia pops up and changes the whole routine! Or the friend hands the garden back and is like, yeah, still don't want one, but call me more. It's better to have a community garden. Etc. And that way, bit by bit the protagonist becomes more comfortable and confident.
There were some great word choices in this and I was sucked in immediately by the almost otherworldliness of it. So maybe lack of sleep can do some interesting things to vocabulary. But probably not. Probably getting sleep would help more.
Beezus - Long Night
If this story had had the time for an edit, it could be a beautiful piece. It takes two or three sentences to make a point when it had already made it in the first. There are several typos and double phrases. And I know there probably wasn't time for it and while it doesn't hurt the story concept itself, it did affect my reading which was slow. The central concept is intriguing and I would love to have more bits of it literally fall into Sarah's house when she wakes up. That should have been the opening image. Though I did enjoy "Dawn's arrival was an act of violence." That's pretty strong too, just eventually it became not as important to the main conflict which was the distance that has grown between Sarah and her husband because of her strange sleep dreams. And when I finally got to that point (He’d poured her coffee already; it sat in front of her, steaming and oh-so-inviting looking. Much unlike her husband Thomas, who didn’t look up from his paper when she sat down. - Such a good sentence.) I knew that this was where the story was going, but until then, I wasn't sure where it was going and it was a bit long.
I like that the beginning of the answer to their journey is so simple. Because that's often true of any relationship in life. It's just a matter of both parties allowing themselves to take that small step. Thank you for keeping within the conceit of the metaphor the whole way through. It made the piece stronger and allowed Thomas to finally understand a little bit of what Sarah was going through. Maybe there was a way to make his experience slightly different since he wasn't the one dreaming and therefore it might not be as disorienting for him as it is for Sarah, but that coming together and moment of understanding is the perfect ending.
|# ? Jun 12, 2022 10:53|
Derpular brawl crits
So a bit of an elaboration on my judging:
I did like both of these stories but I can’t say I loved them. And I liked them both pretty equally but for different reasons. Hence, it was hard to arrive at a judgment. If I were to judge them right now, I think I’d actually choose Anti’s for the win. But that’ll probably change again tomorrow, so really take the verdict with several chunks of salt.
Anti - The prose and feel of this piece are the strong part of it, and that shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s coming from you after all and you know what you’re doing with words. Beyond that? This feels like it needs to be bigger and doesn’t really fit the tiny word count. We don’t see examples of the summoning done correctly so the weight of the protag’s decision isn’t all that heavy and it doesn’t feel so much like they’re cheating, even though you specifically call them out for it, as much as they are being lazy/incompetent and taking a shortcut. They do end up paying a cost for their creation and that works nicely and ties everything up.
derp - Your story is a bit more straightforward and direct. No better place to invoke a cheating story than over a game of cards. And the stakes are high without having to do very much worldbuilding or scene setting. Gambling for capfuls of water is an interesting idea.
Why does it matter that the dude has cheated on his wife, and why don’t you actually end the story? The outcome is pretty heavily implied, but the aftermath is something we’re robbed of and there was a little extra like that wife stuff that you could have dropped in favor of showing a bit more. I wanted more though, so that’s good!
See this is weird, now, after writing these crits I like derp’s story better again and I stand by my verdict. I don’t know. You’re both cool and good. Thanks for writing stories.
|# ? Jun 12, 2022 15:17|
Down in the Belly
“Incision time, 8:05 PM.”
Doctor French touched the scalpel to Lobo’s throat, then set it back down.
“Whesley, for the last time, and I promise it’s the last time, are you sure this is necessary?”
Deputy Mayor Whesley glanced at the thirteen feet of stone-dead American Alligator lying on the dissection table, then back to French.
“And doc, for absolutely the last time, I’m going to refer your question to Mr. Hubes. Secretary Hubes?”
Hubes sighed, licked his fingertip, and flipped to Subsection B6 of a photocopied town charter. The men had enjoyed a supper of leftover brisket just before the autopsy, and Hubes could still taste a whiff of barbecue sauce above the permeating disinfectant of the mortuary. He read the passage aloud:
“If, in the course of duty, an elected official of Arnough meets his demise through means not readily apparent, the town by-laws compel an autopsy by the first available physician. If one is not available, proceed to the first veterinarian, then mortician, then sheriff…”
Hubes flipped to the next page, then looked back toward the men.
“List goes on like that for a while. By-law’s iron-clad.”
French looked at Whesley, brow furrowed, and Whesley’s expression softened.
“Come on, Frenchy. It’s Big Lobo. Town mascot, elected by 2 to 1 margin back in ‘86. There’s a statue of him outside the library. We got ‘Lobo Days’ coming in September.” He paused and rubbed his chin. “And besides, it’s closure. If, uh, if Hubes died under mysterious circumstances, you’d want to know why, right?
French considered the scalpel, then Hubes, then looked up at the clock.
“Incision time, 8:07 PM.”
French jammed the scalpel into Lobo’s xiphoid and ran the blade down the length of the gator’s belly. He inspected the incision: the knife had barely gone a half-centimeter deep. He switched to a pair of serrated shears and, after a few minutes of struggling, breached the gator’s belly. Coils of slick intestine spilled out of the cavity, and a gray fluid sloshed into the gutter that ran the perimeter of the table.
French watched the liquid drain from Lobo’s belly. “That shouldn’t be there.”
Hubes wiped his hands on his pants and snorted.
“Bet ol’ Lobo got into some weed killer. Hey Whes, you know how much weed killer it’d take to bring down a gator his size?”
Whesley frowned at Hubes.
“Couple pounds? I don’t know. Anyway, it wasn’t weed killer; Lobo’s too smart to buffet on pesticide.”
Hubes nodded. “Yeah. Apex predator.”
An uneasy silence fell over the room, punctuated by the click and snap of French’s forceps. Whesley peeked into Lobo’s belly, then turned back to Secretary Hubes.
“So, uh, how’s the re-election?”
Hubes grunted. “Lousy. Everything’s lousy. Town’s goin’ to seed, I tell ya.”
Whes frowned. “Microwave factory closing, what it is. Not my fault or yours, that’s an Act of God.”
Hubes nodded. “Said they can’t retrofit for air fryers, buncha bullshit. How’s the run for Mayor?”
“Not great. Margin’s too thin, I’m just one bit a’ bad news away from being out on my rear end.” Whes shifted, suddenly damp with the flop sweat of painful truth.
French played his hands over the instrument rack, unsure how to proceed. Whesley shot him a sharp look.
“What’s the matter, Frenchy? Get in there.”
“Get in where, Whes?”
Whesley shrugged, agitated.
“How am I supposed to know? You’re the doctor.”
“I’m a pediatrician, Whes. Your guess is only marginally worse than mine.”
The three men surveyed the gator. Lobo stared back, his eyes starting to go rheumy from the dry morgue air. French hesitated, then hefted the gator’s small intestine and traced it back to the stomach. He picked up the scalpel and sliced a small opening into the bowel.
The smell was abrupt and eye-watering, a melange of rotten flesh and swamp-stink. Hubes gagged and French took a step back from the table, his hands raised in a gesture of surrender.
“Nope. No, absolutely not. I’m calling it.”
Whes wheeled on French.
“You’re ‘calling it’? Oh, and here’s tomorrow’s Gazette: ‘Beloved Lobo dead, Doctor on call too chickenshit to complete autopsy.’” Whes lowered his voice to a growl. “Just do the drat thing.”
Chastised, French widened the nick in the intestines and began expressing the contents of Lobo’s bowels. He squeezed out a few masticated hunks, then worked a feathered clump onto the examination table.
Hubes stared at the clump, his face an ill shade of purple, then looked away.
Whesley swallowed hard.
French cleaned some of the muck from the plumes, smoothing the mass until it vaguely resembled a bird. Hubes looked back and nodded.
French kept running the bowel. Hubes had begun to alternate between sharply sniffing his fingers and holding his breath. Whesley looked at him, eyebrow cocked.
“They still smell a little like brisket,” Hubes said.
Whes turned away, making conversation with the yellow tile lining the walls.
“Good beef. Good the second time, too. Lobo sure liked it.”
Hubes nodded. “Gator sure knew how to find a barbecue. Now that I think about it, our cookout was the last time I saw him.”
Whesley smiled. “Belly like a garbage disposal, that gator. Rib bones, corn cobs, potato salad–”
“Oh, poo poo!”
French’s exclamation cut off Whesley’s buffet recitation, and he and Hubes leaned in to see what the doctor had found.
French held up a congested, purple loop of bowel. As he turned it under the stark halogens of the morgue, Whesley caught a brief glint of silver. The doctor cut directly into the necrotic section of gut and probed the gap with his fingers for a half-second before snatching his hand back in pain, two small dots of blood collecting under his glove. He rushed to the sink.
Whesley grabbed a fresh pair from the instrument tray, pulled them on, and gingerly fished the lethal corn-cob holder from Lobo’s gut. He could see how it happened: the plastic cob holder caught in a kink of colon, each peristaltic push shoving the tines in and out of the intestinal wall until the whole site was so matted and inflamed that the gator went fatally septic.
“The barbecue…” Hubes said.
French swore and washed his hands in scalding water for the second time.
Whesley rolled the corn-cob holder between his fingers.
“This is bad.”
“Real bad,” said Hubes. Then, after a beat: “but I do think Frenchy fed Lobo most of the cobs.”
French whirled from the sink, furious.
“Hubes! You were tossing those cobs to Lobo. You’d throw one, he’d snatch it out of the air, and you’d shout somethin’ about him being an apex predator! You did it all night!”
Hubes went red in the face. “He’s been unchanged through ten million years of evolution!”
French threw his hands up. “That’s not up for debate! I’m sayin–”
“Shut up, the both of you! Lemme think!” said Whesley.
French and Hubes took seats at opposite ends of the room as the Deputy Mayor paced between them. After a few laps, he stopped and leaned against the dissection table.
“Okay, so this much is for sure: we killed Lobo, by corn cob. And negligence.”
Hubes and French erupted in protestations: that Lobo could have found a cob holder anywhere, that it was an accident, and what if it was the razor-beaked blue jay (scrub jay, corrected Hubes), that it was an honest mistake, that pesticides couldn’t be definitively ruled out, and that old age was still a possibility, though admittedly unlikely.
Whes slammed his palms on the dissection table, sending spatters of noxious fluid to the far wall. Lobo barely moved.
“I am saying, gentlemen, that Hubes and I have a real bastard of a re-election coming up, and that Frenchy, well, you’re the third best pediatrician in a town of twenty thousand people. The less said on that, the better. So?”
The doctor looked up from the thin trail of grey goo running down his loafers.
“How long, exactly, was the rattlesnake that Lobo ate?”
French blinked. Whes sighed and spoke again, drawn and exaggerated.
“Lobo died after he ate a rattlesnake, didn’t he? How long was it?”
“Musta been, oh, five feet?”
Hubes shook his head.
“No, had to be six, pushing on seven. Apex predator, that rattlesnake.”
French nodded rapidly.
“Found at least a dozen bites going all the way down. Ol’ Lobo was so riddled with venom we could barely touch him.”
Hubes put on a somber face.
“Heroic thing we did, gettin’ at what happened to Lobo.”
As the two men chittered, Whes looked into Lobo’s unblinking eyes, over his rows of black-brown teeth, and the pits and crags of his snout. Ten million years of ceaseless predation, set against the blades of a plastic corn cob holder. He looked at his friends, still struggling to keep their stories straight, and sighed.
Such a tiny thing, to bring it all down.
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 02:00|
ControlIt The Heart of the Power Plant
Makers of the famous Brach Lightning Arresters
A Manifesto Written on Lightning-charred Paper
In the heart of Vladovarus' citadel is the machine, the generator where a hundred workers, a hundred slaves, let us be clear, walk in circles pushing rotors coiled tight with copper wire. Their stolen labor works to charge the glass cylinders and their acid bath with electrochemical potential, and those batteries power the searchlights that sweep the alleys at night, the shock-prods that the enforcers weird against the helpless, and the electric crucifixes that carry out the sentences of the Storm King's so-called justice.
A copper wire will carry Vladovarus' leashed lightning swiftly from source to end. Glass or dry wood will stop it cold, while other things, like flesh or impure water, will carry some and turn the rest to heat. There is a term for this property. That term is 'Resistance.'
You will hear it said "It doesn't have to be like this," and that is true enough. But you will also hear "The old king was not so bad as Vladovarus," or "A new king, or rather a new queen will set things right." Rot. Poisoned ash from a forked tongue.
The old king, Alixstan, war-forged, slayer of thousands. This is what they call better? Vladovarus could barely match his father's bloody tally if he wired every street in the capital with lethal volts. Even those who do not count the lives of southerners must mourn the thousands of conscripts thrown into the maw of his campaigns.
And Katsoval? For this I do not blame most of you. She is pretty enough, and most people have only seen her waving in their direction, alone or by her father's side, from a balcony or a parade stand. You do not know her at all. I do.
She is, above all, a practiced liar, a talent she has practiced her entire life. Unlike her older brother Darvae, she was able to hide her true emotions when we had her whipping girl punished in her stead, putting on a mask of horror and contrition, and then, alone or with only those she trusted, would repeat every lash for her own sick amusement.
The electrical interrogator that the Stormguard use to extract confessions when mere beatings fail? Her own invention. She kept it to herself for years.
She has, since reaching her majority, taken many lovers among the court. Never in the way of marriage and childbearing, but in all other ways. I know, to my shame, from experience. Her network is wide and strong. When Vladovarus is taken by one of his melancholy moods she assumes control, behind the curtains. It is likely that the only reason she has not assumed permanent rule is that she has not found any suitable consort.
She has boasted to me on multiple occasions, assuring me that no proof exists and I would never be believed, that she killed Prince Darvae on her fifteenth birthday. If true, it is likely the best thing she has or will ever have done. Darvae had all of her faults and more, not the least of which was a joy in harming animals.
I say all of this not to suggest that Vladovarus must be endured, perhaps until young Flivnis comes of age, but rather that the entire line is rotten and must be eradicated, that the very concept of kingly rule must is a dry, rotting oak that must be felled and uprooted, by hands on saw or the lightning from the hands of some higher power. Those who say this family has a right to rule based on some divine blood blessing cannot be more wrong; only devils can be responsible for their rule.
If you are reading this then I am either dead already or praying for death upon some electric crucifix or other device. As I write this I have hope of some success, and if you are reading this in copies distributed through the capital tomorrow, that may be the case. But nothing is certain. You may be some distant historian, uncovering an inconsequential document of a failed forgotten rebellion. You may be Inquisitor Hotrole, shaking your fist in frustration that I did not live long enough to face your implements. Whoever you are, I have this message: rise. Against Vladovarus or Katsoval or whatever Storm King of Queen of whatever lineage that now has their hand upon the switch. Rise.
As a senior minister of the court, I should be able to reach the main generator. I have been there before. Those who guard it are few and do not consider a man of my age and position a threat, but I have not forgotten any of the lessons hard-learned in Alixstan's war. I know how to kill men. I know well how to strike the unsuspecting with surprise. I will have the best reasons for coming, I will await the moment, and I will strike, one and then the other. Even if the second has sense enough to call alarm in time, the guards in the next room will never arrive in time.
I will grasp the twin terminals in my hands and let my flesh and impure blood shorted the great circuit of their engine, watch each capacitor blow itself out as my blood begins to boil, and know that their power will be at its lowest ebb, that the time will be as right as ever will be for a rising.
I watched Cevina die. A rival of mine, at court. Katsoval knew the man was my enemy and invited me to watch. She was, and still I'd I must suppose, interested in scientific inquiries. She interviewed him, between jolts, to learn exactly how it felt. "Can you feel it?" she asked. "Not just in your body. Can you feel the water boiling inside your brain?"
He was beyond words, but his clamped-open eyes still showed understanding, and he nodded weakly. It was that moment I decided what I must do.
I will go to the engine and break it. I will disable the safeties and breakers and grasp the leads and short them out, and I will feel the boiling water in my arteries, veins, brain matter and eyeballs as current becomes heat.
--Jovethian, minister of contracts, labor and artisans to the court of Storm King Vladovarus.
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 02:49|
Manly Games on the Sea
Out on a passenger vessel, Jackson D. Louis is setting up a game. He, at the time, was considered a “manly man'', chiseled in the ideal set by former President Roosevelt. Another manly man, Theodore “Ted” Lutz, happens to pass by.
“I say, old man,” Ted asks. “What do you think you are doing?”
“Why, setting up a game!” Jackson said. “It’s called Knufo!”
“Why is it called that, good sir?”
Jackson paused for a moment. “I don’t have the slightest clue!”
“Well, old boy, how do you play it?”
“Using this tennis racket and ball, you hit this target,” Jackson said as he pointed at the target he was setting up. “You try to hit as close to the bullseye as you can. Whoever hits it the closest, wins!”
“Capital, old man!” Ted said. “But wouldn’t it be better if there are multiple rounds?”
“Bully!” said Jackson. “That’s a wonderful idea!”
After stretching their shirtless bodies for a bit (since when did a manly man ever require a shirt?), they set up the Knufo target. Since it was required by the National Manly Commission to be skilled in all sports to be considered a manly man (even the effeminate ones), both Ted and Jackson knew how to play tennis and knew how to hit the ball. Once the target was all set up, they were ready to begin.
Ted went first. While the target was higher up than usual, he was able to make a decent shot. Not quite at the bullseye, but close enough. Ted realized what he needed to do next time.
Jackson was next. The height of the target reminded him of the upward paddle exercises he had during his tennis training. While balancing the ball on the racket, if he moved the racket upward the ball would come up and quickly come down, just like a paddle. With that knowledge in tow, Jackson had an easier time adjusting to the target, and made a bullseye easily.
Ted observed Jackson’s bullseye and was interested in what he saw. His father always told him, “If you want to be successful, look at a successful person.” Ted could see Jackson was successful from his shot, so he knew what he had to do. After all, his pride was on the line.
During Ted’s turn, he looked at the target, and remembered his marksmanship training. He realized that when one looks at the bigger picture, hitting a tennis ball is no different from firing a gun, with the obvious exception of death. He aimed, and made a bullseye this time.
Soon after, a crowd of people came to see just what these manly men were doing. They were amazed by the athleticism displayed by both men. After five hours, both men got bored. While they tied, they were excited by the thrill of competition.
“Well, that was a bloody good match!” Said Ted.
“I agree!” Said Jackson. They then shared a nice manly handshake.
The crowd was quite entertained by the competition, and one particular thought crossed most people's minds.
“Hopefully this is the most eventful thing to happen here on the Titanic!”
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 03:23|
16,000 pounds of ice cubes a year
Vivienne took a deep breath of humid night air and ran her fingers through her damp hair. Her cotton t-shirt stank of sleep-sweat and her feet felt sticky against the kitchen lino. She picked up the remote for the air con unit and morosely squeezed the power button. Nothing. She frowned at the remote. She could feel it judging her. What, did you think the air con was going to magically fix itself while you were sleeping? she imagined the little rectangle saying. God, you sound just like my bloody mother-in-law, Vivienne thought back at it, then tossed the remote onto the couch. If only she could yeet Carol out of her house just as easily.
Technically, Carol was her ex-mother-in-law. Vivienne’s relationship with Andrew was complicated to say the least, but she still didn’t quite understand how that meant Carol could still just “drop in” to stay in Vivienne’s apartment for the weekend because she “happened” to be in town. It was probably Carol’s malign presence that had caused the air con to give up the ghost. Vivienne had never understood Andrew's family. They were so different to her own, always up in each other's business, always ready to pull an extra chair up to the table, be it for family close or distant or merely unrelated hangers on.
I wonder if that's how they see me now, she thought. A hanger on. Vivienne folded at the waist and pressed her cheek to the cool kitchen bench top. A pile of envelopes stared back at her in the faint light from the streetlights outside. Some of them bills, some of them from the lawyers, none of them from Vivienne’s own family, who had made it all too clear that they didn’t approve of her “giving up” on her marriage. None of them had even checked if she was doing ok since she'd moved out of her and Andrew's house.
Vivienne jumped at the sound of a tsk from the kitchen doorway. She spun around to find Carol, arms folded across her nightie-clad bosom, giving her the evil eye.
“What are you doing? You should be resting,” Carol said.
“Resting”? That’s a loving weird thing to say, Carol. It’s two o’clock in the bloody morning, what I should be is asleep, except it’s three thousand degrees in here because you put a hex on my air con, and so here we are, sweating in my bloody kitchen, yes that’s right, MY kitchen, the kitchen in apartment where I live, without your son, who you SHOULD be staying with--
“It's too hot.” Carol cut off Vivienne’s internal rant with a wave of her hand. She yanked open the fridge and began moving its contents onto the wobbly wooden table that served as a kitchen island.
“What are you doing?” said Vivienne, picking up a pottle of Greek yogurt and attempting to put it back on the middle shelf next to a bowl of leftover spaghetti bolognaise. She still hadn't gotten used to cooking for one.
Carol snatched it from her hand and put it firmly back on the table. “We’re going to get in the fridge,” she said.
“What?” said Vivienne, and then, “Stop it!” as Carol began removing the now empty shelves and stacking them against the side of the fridge.
Carol heaved a sigh, put down the last shelf and took both of Vivienne’s hands in hers. “Now listen, Vivienne--”
“No you listen!” Vivienne yanked her hands away. This was too much. It was all too much. Carol was right. It was too bloody hot. Too hot to be up in the witching hours with your brain trying to run all its programmes at once and your heart beating in overdrive and definitely too hot to be dealing with your ex’s mad mother - well, almost ex, it was complicated - trying to wreck your bloody kitchen in the middle of the bloody night, and--
“Carol what are you doing?”
Carol, both hands braced against the fridge’s interior and one knee on the bottom shelf, gave Vivienne a look that suggested she thought the answer was very obvious. Then, with her grey-green eyes locked on Vivienne’s, Carol reached back and grabbed her hand, and pulled--
The walls and floor of the fridge felt blissfully cold against Vivienne’s back and thighs. She was sitting hunched over, with her knees hugged to her chest. Carol sat in a matching pose in front of her, so close that their toes were touching. The door light shone uncomfortably bright just beside Vivienne’s left eye, making her squint. Carol gave her a little smile, and then with one hand on the shelf where the milk lived, slowly pulled the door closed.
Inside the fridge it was perfectly cool and perfectly dark. Vivienne could hear just hear Carol breathing over the faint hum of the motor. She wiggled her toes. Carol wiggled hers back.
A little shiver ran up Vivienne’s spine. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to burst out laughing or scream. Questions tripped over themselves trying to fight their way out her mouth, so that in the end when she opened it all that came out was a sort of jumbled moan.
“It’s cool in here,” said Carol, as if that served as an explanation. “Do you feel better?”
Vivienne paused to consider the question. She did, in fact, feel much better. The heat-induced nausea had faded along with her constant headache. She ran one hand through her hair, enjoying the chill as her scalp dried.
“Why?” Vivienne said, surprised at herself that this was the first question she chose to ask. “Why are you here?”
Vivienne heard Carol sigh. “Because I was worried about you.”
"It's not your job to worry about me, and besides, I'm fine."
Vivienne felt the force of Carol's eyeball roll even though the darkness. "You're family," she said firmly.
“I’m not, though,” said Vivienne. “Not anymore. Divorce, and all that.”
Carol snorted, as if the dissolution of a marriage meant nothing to who she considered part of her clan. “I never did think you and Andrew would live together for very long. You seem to enjoy each other’s company better when your orbits aren't too tightly aligned.”
Vivienne opened her mouth, then shut it again. She tipped her back and rested it against the fridge wall. There were tears behind her eyes and she didn’t want to let them fall. She took a deep breath.
“How did things become such a mess, Carol?”
Carol reached forward and patted Vivienne’s forearm where it was wrapped around her knees. Vivienne peered through the pitch blackness to where she knew Carol’s face must be, and waited for whatever wisdom she was about to dispense.
Carol gave Vivienne’s forearm a firm squeeze and said, “Come on, we’d better get everything put away before your yogurt goes off.”
Carol straightened one leg and with a pop broke the seal and pushed the fridge door open. Vivienne climbed out after her. She looked back at the too-small fridge interior and shook her head. She stretched her cramped legs, enjoying the sudden warmth after the fridge’s chill.
Carol slotted the first shelf back into place, then handed Vivienne the bowl of spag bog. “I’ll make sure I give you a bit more notice next time, ok hun?”
Vivienne smiled at the older woman. “Any time, Carol,” she said, and to her surprise, found that she meant it. “You can drop by any time.”
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 03:46|
"Open your mouth," says the Doctor, and Magpie does.
It's the same routine every morning in the Supervised Living dormitory: the examination upon waking, with the metal scraper along the tongue that Magpie can barely feel anymore, and then the lecture. The white scum coating Magpie's tongue is thicker some days than others, but it's always there. "The toxins are still present," the Doctor says, in the slightly flatter tone that indicates disapproval. "I will transmit your dietary plan to the cafeteria. Do not engage in unauthorized dietary activity, or your continued residence in the Wellness Center may be re-evaluated for noncompliance."
"I understand," says Magpie, to make the lecture stop. It's not a lie, really; she does understand, but understanding isn't the same thing as compliance, even on the days that she tries. She knows she should be grateful to be here. She sleeps better at the Wellness Center than she ever has, and dreams less. She's less hungry, more energetic, very rarely in pain -- and less and less herself with every day. Magpie tells herself that she's building a new self here, but it feels like a hollow framework she doesn't know how to fill in, and all the Doctor ever tells her is comply.
As the Doctor wheels out of her room, its LED gaze already on the next door down, Magpie washes and dresses for a new day. She's got a work shift scheduled, at least. Sweat purges toxins.
Breakfast is yeast biscuits and yogurt; today's results must have been bad. Magpie crumbles her first biscuit into the yogurt, because two things that taste like nothing can at least taste like a different nothing when combined, and tries her best not to think about all the lives she's sending into her gut to die for her. Do toxins need sacrifices? Half of everything the Wellness Center serves is probiotic -- yeast, yogurt, the chewy candy that doesn't quite taste like fruit -- and the rest is plain macronutrients, fuel to keep her going while the medicine does its work. It's good for her. It's filling. She eats, and feels nothing, and thinks of nothing.
Her work shift is eight hours doing daily maintenance in the air-scrubbing tower. It's Magpie's favorite rotation of the week: climbing the racks and sliding out the grime-caked filters, like climbing trees and picking fruit, back in the Forest. The old man they've got catching for her is white-haired, but his hands are sharp, and he catches every filter she drops and slots them into the disposal bin neat as anything. It's a better shift than she's had in a while, interrupted only by breaks for water and the green yogurt smoothie she's been prescribed for lunch, which tastes slightly like grass and thus a bit better than nothing. Magpie tells herself that all her days can be like this, if she complies. Nobody in the Forest ever lived to get old, but there are old people everywhere in the Wellness Center, walking and talking and working. Doesn't she want to get old like that?
Magpie can't answer that. Instead, after work, she walks to the gardens, and the gate still lets her in. One day, she expects, the Doctor will restrict her keycard access as part of her daily prescription. That'll be the beginning of the end -- the path to healing or to the Residency Assessment Committee -- but it's not today. Today, the gardens are open for her, and she can forage.
The Wellness Center's gardens are beautiful, and always in bloom, but flowering plants are often fruiting plants too. After years in Supervised Living, Magpie knows just what to harvest when, and now it's rose hip season. The pink rosebushes at the northeast corner go to seed the quickest, and it's the quietest corner of the gardens, farthest from the benches and fountain; Magpie walks nonchalantly along the paths for as long as she can, then glances behind her and steps out onto the grass. There's a place behind the rosebushes just big enough for her, if she crouches.
The rose hips are bright red and ripe. Magpie strips the hairs from each hip with practiced skill, then stuffs them in her mouth and tries her best to chew slowly, to savor. The taste is tart and floral, filling her mouth and nose, and if she closes her eyes she can imagine she's back in the Forest, scavenging for Mother, eating as much as she dares before scampering home. She can make each hip last for three minutes, if she tries. Five hips is fifteen minutes, about as long as she figures she be out of sight. When the last rose hip is just lingering flavor in her mouth, she stands and stretches, as if she might have just taken a nap.
Magpie knows what she's doing. She watched the films carefully when she arrived at the Wellness Center, and she passed the entrance exam with a perfect score, which has only ever been fodder for a Doctor's lecture. She ought to know better, and she does know better, but knowing doesn't change the fact that foraging for berries is the only thing that makes her feel alive. Every taste is more toxins from the soiled earth, more poison in her gut, more residue on her tongue -- but it's also more flavor, more memory, more life. More of herself. It's killing her slowly, but maybe she can accept not getting old if it means remembering what she was.
Magpie knows where this ends. It ends in willpower, where she walks away from the gardens and gets well at last, where she finally complies -- or it ends in the Residency Assessment Committee, the scowling faces of human doctors, and Living Transitions. If she's lucky, they might send her to Group Semi-Supervised, with fewer rations and less access but still indoor shelter and filtered air. She might find a sponsor there, or a friend. If she's less lucky... De-Residence Transition, with a satchel of clothes and yeast biscuits on her back. A return to the outside world, with its smoggy skies, tainted water, and poisoned fruit hanging from every tree. A short life ahead, and no excuse but what? Freedom? Happiness? What did any of that mean?
A smart person, or a brave one, would make the decision for freedom or for life and stick with it. Magpie has never thought of herself as smart, or brave, or even honest. This will end someday, one way or the other, but she has no nerve to make a decision, but one day the Doctors, or the Committee, or her own body will make it for her. In the meantime, yeast biscuits keep her alive, and rose hips let her dream.
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 03:58|
|# ? Oct 1, 2022 07:37|
The title for this piece is Self-Poisoning, by the way, because I am a fool and a rube who somehow cut off my title when I went to frantically post
|# ? Jun 13, 2022 04:00|