|# ? Jul 4, 2022 08:27|
|# ? Sep 26, 2022 09:16|
You don't have to be crazy
We were three, that day; three and proud. My brother and I and Yazmi the outlander, standing before the tribe in our business casual attire.
Overhead the Phong trees were full of hooting vinebeasts and the sky a flutter with birds busy on their morning commute, but our eyes were only upon the Alarm Bell. Large Plenf, our father, held the mallet. I could see how his heavy hands were bulged with patient muscle and the faint tremor of his forearms as he held the mallet aloft but I knew better than to expect acknowledgement as the sun inched its way above the sacred cleft.
Then, at last, as a cheeky vinebeast swung handwise above him on a stray branch, the first ray of the sun touched the Alarm Bell’s hammered bronze, setting it afire. In the same moment our father let the mallet drop, striking the rounded metal as it passed. The reverberant sound echoed around the clearing, followed by a solemn silence, even the vinebeasts seeming awed by its brazen tone.
Our father opened his heavy-lidded eyes, and looked at each of us in turn. “It is getting late,” he said. “I should have woken you earlier.” The ancient words fell into the hushed clearing like stones into a still pond and my every fibre thrilled to hear them. “Sorry.”
I was oldest so it fell to me to answer. “That is O.K. I had better run, if I want to get to the bus.” As one, we three each raised our hands to our hair, which had been carefully disarranged that morning by our chosen hairmaiden, and ran our fingers through it, once, twice. We turned and I put my hand on the ladder.
“I will see you, after work,” said our father. I could hear the faintest of smiles in his voice, as though even his usual iron control could not hold it back, and then the shuffle of feet as the tribe turned away. There would be whooping and singing tonight, of course, but for now all was still solemn.
Underneath my hands the old wood of the ladder was cool and smooth, worn so by the generations that had climbed it before me. I had never touched it before, of course, and I allowed myself a moment of satisfaction at the rightness of the feeling before I hoisted myself up. A man’s length above the ground I heard the slap of palm on wood as my brother, too, began to climb and Yazmi behind him.
It really was a long way up the cliff, something I had never truly appreciated. There was a wind that day, the sort of breeze that might have given some cool comfort in the heat of the day down in the jungles of my home, but up high chilled my fingers. There was no choice but to keep a steady pace, with the village watching and my brother and Yazmi behind me, but I was glad to reach the top and even more so to behold the Legendary Door. It was a little more than the height of a man, made of smooth cloudy glass, and the sacred soul reader gleamed with its holy red light.
I took a moment to catch my breath, then turned to behold the view. The sun was two hands-widths above the hills now, and casting a sword of light across the Bay of Mists. I heard my brother and Yazmi the outlander clamber up and take their places beside me, heard my brother's sharp intake of breath at the majesty of the sight.
We stood there for a few more moments then I patted my side, and chest, and side again.
“It appears I have forgotten my card,” I intoned. “drat it, I have forgotten my card.”
My brother did the same, as was required. “Oh gosh.” His eyes opened wide and he looked back and forth at Yazmi and I. This was not required for the utterance and I do not doubt our father would have frowned at it, but he always had been dramatic and I could not begrudge him the opportunity to make the most of the role of First Workmate. “I do not have mine either!”
Yazmi was a small man, with a pronounced pot belly. “Never mind, I’ve got one, come on, let’s get this over with.”
These weren't the right words at all, or not really. He’d changed some. I found myself frowning at my brother, and almost forgot to give the reply until my brother raised his eyebrows at me.
“Oh! Thank you, that is kind. I will owe you one. I would hate to uh, to…” He’d thrown me, drat his eyes. My brother was blinking at me, looking down towards the village. Ah, of course. “... go all the way back home!” I shouted the last word, surprised by how Yazmi’s minor heresy had rattled my calm. Yazmi was already halfway across the flat stone of the cliff top, something in his hand, and we hurried after him.
I’d always had my doubts about him, to be completely honest, he was from the outlands, as the ritual required, but I sometimes wondered guiltily if my father could not have found someone a little less foreign. Still, this was where we were and Yazmi was running the flat rectangle he had pulled out of his pocket through the slot of the soul reader and a rich, unctuous click had just emanated from the Door, and he was holding it open with his foot, and I walked into work and I was there, at last, I was at work for the first time.
In the Room were three chairs, and three desks. I stepped in to give my brother room to walk past me, and took a deep breath. At last, we were here. The Room. The Office. I ran my finger along the nearest desk, blew the thin shaving of grey dust into the air. Holy dust.
Yazmi was already sitting in a chair, lounging, rather. "How long do we need to keep doing this? Your dad was vague on, it, shall we say twenty minutes then we get home and start with the drinking? Wanna finish my chat with that sheila who did my hair, haha."
His voice was nasal and irritating in a way I'd always felt, but seemed literally blasphemous in these surroundings. I felt my brother stiffen beside me. Nonetheless, perhaps this was part of it. A test. I held out my hand.
"Wow, Monday, again," I said levelly. I had locked my eyes on Yazmi's and did not break my gaze until I sat down in a chair and swung round to my desk. On it was a sheet of paper, and a pencil. Someone had inscribed a spiral that ran all the way from the outside to the middle of the paper, painstaking intricate work.
"How was your weekend?" my brother asked, dropping each word like a stone into a pond.
"Oh," I said. "You know, I just had a "quiet one" really."
And with that, the ritual was complete. We needed but to wait. For another eight hours, until the time of Quitting.
We sat there for a few moments, in silence. There was a faint ticking sound coming from somewhere.
After a while I picked up the pencil and started inscribing careful lines into the spiral.
|# ? Jul 4, 2022 08:29|
Week 517 Results
Something something company meeting kayfabe something
This week was characterised by a mushy middle with a couple of standouts on either side. This made judging extremely painless as we more or less agreed on everything from the start.
Two entries stood out as our bottom choices. First, The Man Called M's Send in Bob From Accounting. M, I've not read all of your stories, but out of the ones I have this is one of the better ones. Keep up the improvement. DM.
Confusing us both with... well, everything, we struggled to make much sense out of The Cut of Your Jib's Riley's Last Rind. Maybe there is something going on here, but if so neither of us could figure out what it was. Loser.
At the top end, we started off strong with Copernic's Bronze Fade, an eerie, conceptual piece that wonderfully intimates deeper significances by focussing on the minutiea of a very strange job. HM.
Using a similar technique but to all-too-mundane ends, Yoruichi's micro-flash tryptich Friday Night thrums with the indignities of daily life under capitalism and the yearnings its characters can barely express. HM.
Finally, Data Graham's Barista thoroughly impressed us with the way it captures the repetitive physical processes of working in a fast-paced cafe, with a masterful ending that subtly recontexutalises everything despite nothing much happening at all. First time entering, first time WINNER.
Data Graham, ascend to the blood throne. The newest intern is now the CEO.
|# ? Jul 4, 2022 21:47|
In 500 words or less, create….a World.
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 04:18|
Thunderdome Week 518: Unfettered Hubris
Aaahh, there is only one lesson to take from this: that the world lies at my feet to be ordered to my capricious whim.
It is in that spirit that I wish to see, in 1000 words or less, the birth of a new religion. I can think of no better way to flaunt my new power at no risk to myself, and no way this can go wrong.
Signup deadline: 9AM UTC-4 (EDT), Saturday the 9th
Submission deadline: 9AM UTC-4 (EDT), Monday the 11th
The Cut of Your Jib
Chernobyl Princess (might judge instead)
Data Graham fucked around with this message at 13:17 on Jul 9, 2022
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 12:09|
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 12:48|
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 16:25|
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 17:04|
WEEK 517 CRITS
Bronze Fade by Copernic
I like this. I like the focus on the minutiae of the job and company policy with intimations of a greater story happening beneath the surface. The idea of a company that you can pay to cease existing in a social sense is slightly absurd while still feeling real enough at its core, a sort of assisted suicide without the dying, with a 21st century twist. The conflict between our lives being increasingly logged and networked yet increasingly alienated could have been pat if you had oversold it, but you don’t, and the world implied here is far enough from our own to be interesting while remaining totally believable.
You don’t give too much to grab hold of with regards to why the current client has chosen to do this and how they feel about it after. This is part of what makes it work but I can’t help wanting something slightly more. The ambiguity gives it this great sense of eeriness, and I wouldn’t want to ruin that, but at the same time I wish there was a moment that pushed it slightly further into territory I could get my teeth into, in one direction or another. Not much more, not so much that it would spoil the side of that that works, but something.
Friday Night by Yoruichi
I like this a lot. Feels like a quiet piece, despite touching on very serious subject matter, but not in a bad way. I love that we get a sense of three moments in time, mirrored tensions coming to a head only to suggest others that remain unresolved. A lot of the better stories this week depict the prosaic in order to suggest some absence beneath the surface, and this does that very well.
It’s a hard one to crit without doing a line by line, as this sort of subtle, suggestive work really lives or dies on the strength of its prose and details, but a couple of notes nonetheless. First, I had to Google four terms used here to know what they were (louvres, credenza, Waka Ama, bokeh). I’m not saying don’t do that, but thought it was worth noting. Second, I’m not sure about the very ending. Having that story last almost positions Olivia’s revelation as a turning point for the whole triptych, something that relates to the lives of the other two characters in some way, but I’m not sure it does. Even as the capstone of Olivia’s story, though, I feel like the last line is just slightly too much — too extreme a 180 in her mood, and too blunt in the message we’re supposed to take from it. I’d be interested in reading a version of this story that makes the same turn at the end but is slightly more restrained in the execution of it, leaving more room for ambiguity. Others may disagree.
Machinations by Chernobyl Princess
So this story has a couple of things going on.
It is about a complex network of factions squabbling over real estate.
It is about a vampire and a fae flirting over a confrontational business meeting.
Of these, I find myself caring about the latter a lot more than the former, but the former is so complicated that the romance doesn’t have much space to breathe. Neither do the characters, which is important because this is, at the heart, a character driven piece: enemies to lovers, two relative underlings (though still powerful in their own right) hooking up and turning on their masters. But I don’t know much about Sebastian other than that he hates his boss and finds Ellis hot, and I have even less of a sense of what motivates Ellis — particularly when it comes to wanting to save his rival who has handed him his own head on a platter. And while the supernatural real estate idea is conceptually cool, there is very little sense of what makes these creatures unique — the story wouldn’t change much if these guys were just from two different mafia families. With less time spent on exposition that doesn’t add up to much and more on how their relationship evolves over the course of the meeting, you’d have the space to make what works here shine.
Was it a hat I saw by Phantom Muzzles
This is alright! You do a good job of sketching out these characters who are trapped in a confined space with each other, each coping in their own way. I like the sense of a shared history you get from the rules they have created to avoid annoying each other, and the way Hannah tiptoes around subjects she knows will set Bob off while making concessions to his way of thinking in other areas. She seems resigned to Bob being incapable of returning the favour without constant prodding, but understands that his insane positivity is the only thing holding him together and she just has to deal with it.
The ending is sort of interesting in that it both comes across as a joke and is actually sort of creepy. They have reached the centre of the earth and been granted their hearts’ desires, except it only gives them mundane, useless things. The fact it’s different for each of them suggests that whatever they are seeing isn’t actually either of those things, and they are trapped with it at the centre of the earth, likely forever. I definitely think this could be doing something more substantive, but I found it a fairly breezy read.
Night Shift by MockingQuantum
This is a lot of well constructed set-up for a fairly predictable twist. The characters are detailed and interesting, the prose is easy to read, the protagonist’s deliberation is totally believable and well rendered. The ending just needs one extra layer to it that I didn’t expect, something a little bit out of left field to catch the reader off guard. The animated darkness just feels like something I’ve seen a hundred times before, same with the twist of the scientist wanting to trap the security guy in with it. Being predictable is better than being so unpredictable no one understands what is happening, but at least one of those elements should have been something stranger.
I read your messages in the Discord about wanting to write clunkier stories but with more flair, but for something like this I don’t think it’s an either or. I struggled for a long time from the opposite direction (dumb big ideas that I was in love with but couldn’t express due to poor fundamentals) so I don’t know if I’m the best person to advise on this, but I kinda feel like this needed to take the risk of being dumber.
I kinda feel like a problem with the Thunderdome format is that if you’re DMing or losing, a lot of the time people will tell you ‘yeah that weird thing you did? it sucks, don’t do it.’ And in that specific case, they’ll often be right. But then you’re like ‘okay fine, I’ll stop doing weird poo poo’, except the right kind of weird poo poo is often what makes a story great, and the only way to figure out what works is to write the bad kind. Anyway I’m not really sure what I’m saying here except that maybe you should try and write more stories that you think people will hate just to see what happens.
Barista by DataGraham
Yo this is good. As someone who spent a significant amount of time working in this kind of job (sandwich artist not barista, but still), I love how you capture the mechanical, almost ritualistic rhythm of it, the steady sense of improvement over time as every step of the process gets ingrained in your muscle memory. I also love the shift at the end from seeing Shirley as an enemy to a comrade against the customers, while keeping her aloof. In some sense, very little happens in this story, but the last few lines do a whole lot to recontextualise a lot of what we’ve already seen — particularly the realisation that while the problems that seemed to be the biggest at first are actually just part of the learning process, there are other problems which will not fade away however skilled you are. Really strong, especially for a first entry.
technology isn’t magic (but it can feel like it sometimes) by flerp
Cute little story. The fact the main character went through his whole life without realising that his magic works by making things happen if he really wants it is set up well enough that you can figure it out before the character does, but that does raise the question of how he got to that point in his life without figuring it out sooner. I like the interactions between the kind of neurotic Damien and the more laid back Joey, but I feel like I don’t know quite enough about them to really root for them as a pairing. The magic seems implicitly tied to Damien’s negative thinking and Joey’s chill vibes solve that problem by making him relax, but that isn’t really brought to the surface to the extent it could be.
The Sewer-Beast by Something Else
This sure is a story about a sewer beast. This is a solid concept but there’s not much here to make me care specifically, except for feeling bad that child labourers are getting eaten by a sewer beast (a bad situation all round). I don’t really understand the plan at the end or where the sewer beast came from - it seems to be connected to the industrial plants in some way, but the significance of that isn’t really explored. I think part of the problem here is that there are a LOT of characters — not the only story this week with that problem. Flatback is heavily set up at the start but disappears halfway through, then we’re introduced to a bunch more kids without much established personality, who win the day by unclear means. Flatback’s setup isn’t really used for pathos either, which kind of just makes it feel like a waste of time. Could have done with either a more engaging mystery around the monster or the monster being an externality imposed on a more engaging cast, this doesn’t really do either.
A Very Canadian Mystery by Hard Counter
The problem with this story is that a lot of crazy stuff happens around the characters while they just sort of sit there. Two guys are looking for a lake but it’s not there. Good problem to solve, though I think you could have done more to highlight the absurdity that these geographers are being hired to sample lakes by someone who is apparently not at all interested in the phenomena of a lake totally disappearing. Then some stuff happens. Then the lake comes back. Establishing a load of peril and then resolving it with the ‘the peril turned out to be imaginary’ feels like a bit of a let down, and the interesting question all this raises — will Gus and Jerry risk ruining sasquatch society for their own gain by publicising it — is not really explored. The language also seems weirdly formal to me (‘afore’, ‘chary’, ‘holophrase’) but inconsistently so. Is this a Canadian thing?
One-Stop Shop by Bad Seafood
I was really into this until I realised it wasn’t really going to go anywhere. Great sense of place, nicely detailed characters, but it just seems to hit an equilibrium and then remain there. There’s some understated tension with the various customers, but it feels unfocussed. Then at the end it seems as if there’s some symbolic shift in Amelia/Coyote dropping her nickname but I don’t really understand what it signifies. Is she disconnecting from the town? Growing up? Feeling the need to fit in among strangers? I’m not sure. There’s a lot of focus on the different customers and what they are wearing, which seems to be given some kind of symbolic weight, but I don’t get what the distinction is. I love the vibe and texture of this piece, but I want something out of it that I can’t quite reach.
Staff Support by Chilli
This starts strong and resolves in a somewhat confusing manner. The dialogue between the therapist and the patient is good — I like the game of the therapist trying to prove that he’s not like other therapists to a patient he wants to make believe isn’t like other patients. You never quite know what he’s just saying to trick her into responding a certain way, how many levels of double bluffing they’re each on. This makes the transition into the characters acting rather than talking somewhat confusing, as we don’t know how much of what the therapist has suggested about himself is even true.
The second half of the story - the confrontation with Carisa - then brings up a lot of character history that doesn’t feel entirely set up or earned. Carisa accuses Ross of always walking away, but we haven’t been shown that. The ending makes a few turns that are interesting on paper too, but haven’t been adequately set up: Janelle doing therapy for Ross, then the two of them agreeing that the intake process is messed up, then the lines about Janelle not being too smart for therapy. All of these are interesting moves for this story to make, but they don’t feel adequately supported by what we’ve seen so far.
Send in Bob from Accounting by the Man Called M
So I said in the judge notes that this was one of the better stories of yours I’ve read, and I stand by that. It’s clear what’s happening, you’ve dramatised scenes that progress in a logical manner without being bogged down by unnecessary flashbacks or infodumps, and you have character development of a sort. Some of it is also funny: the opening paragraph confidently declaring that the average accountant is “extremely suicidal” is very dark but it made me laugh.
You still have a lot to work on, though. I think Nae is going to go more into what you get wrong about the accountant life, but as I see it the problem is just that by relying so heavily on a simple stereotype without thinking about the world as it actually exists makes the story feel hollow. I imagine that you don’t actually believe that literally all accountants are pathetically weak, so why should this be the case in your story?
It can be alright to play on stereotypes in comedy, but it works so much better if you complicate them to mess with the reader’s expectations. Like what if your main character is an accountant and he sees that all the accountants at his office are physically weak, but he is moderately fit due to being kinda sporty at school. Or he was like a punk delinquent who showed incredible aptitude for accounting, but he doesn’t respect his co-workers who had it easy. So then when he sees the fight club advert he is like ‘well, I could beat up my boss, so I bet I could beat up every other accountant in the world’. He goes to the fight club and the most stereotypical, pencil-neck dweeb accountant comes in to fight him. Bob is confident — his stereotyping has been proved right, he can definitely win. But this guy jumps in the ring and proves that he’s highly trained in some obscure martial art. Bob takes a few punches and realises the battle is actually going to be much tougher than he thought, but due to his smarts and maybe something about him that has been set up previously, he gains the advantage. He manages to win, but only barely, and in the process he learns that accountants aren’t always the pushovers he thinks they are.
The difference between this story and the one you wrote is that this story is set in a world where stereotypes exist in the sense that people believe in them, but they can then be proved right or wrong. Your story is set in a world where stereotypes are objectively real and can only ever be proved right. While I’m not offended on behalf of accountants, this is just inherently less interesting and less funny than it could be. Worse than that, it just doesn’t seem real, which is important even when your premise is this absurd. Life just isn’t that simple.
Riley’s Last Rind by the Cut of Your Jib
Reading back through this now, there is stuff I like here, but especially on the first run through this felt like a real muddle. There are some great details and great turns of phrase, but there’s so much of both that the important stuff gets lost in the soup. Like, objectively speaking, I can’t argue that you didn’t set up that the main character is a journalist — it’s right there in the third paragraph. But with all the pigs pretending to be other pigs pretending to be other pigs and everything else going on I totally forgot why your main character was doing any of this until him being a journalist is mentioned again at the end (and even then it’s not totally clear why he does some of the things he does in pursuit of his story, or why we should care). So as much as I want to like a story that ends on the line ‘Cannibal pig stalks Hollywood Hills’, this is just so stuffed with details and so always up to eleven in the prose that it drowns out the fundamentals. Still, I didn’t hate any of the stories this week, this is just the one that found itself at the soggy end of the muddy middle.
Sleep All Night and Work All Day by Tars Tarkas
I like this, but there are too many characters! By my count you have 10 named characters, plus the unnamed lumberjack who accosts him, plus the lumberjacks’ chief operators, plus the lumberjacks at the end. This is too many! For most of these, the name and their vague role in his life is all we are told about them, and even that is more than is relevant to the fun ideas here (lumberjack cult that you can never leave, flannel that gives you magical strength). Once it gets going, for the most part this succeeds as a light, breezy, fun read with a fun twist at the end, but the start in particular is bogged down in a whole load of unnecessary details that can be edited out.
Shoot by Thranguy
Cool, simple story in a high concept setting. Criminal for hire in a world without crime goes straight by becoming a real criminal instead. The prose is efficient, the setting well established without being info dump-y, and the move at the end is well set up and executed. The characterization is there, but it’s sparse — I wouldn’t have minded a bit more to either humanise the characters or make them more eccentric. The move of her knowing the truth about the death of his parents is efficient, but it feels almost like a placeholder, and while I do like that there doesn’t need to be this drawn out period of inner conflict where he’s deciding whether or not to throw his lot in with the radicals, the final paragraph feels like it either gives too much internality to the narrator or not enough: there’s enough there to stop the ending from being ambiguous, but not enough sell how the decision has affected him. But still, this is strong, and could have HMed if we hadn’t vibed with other stories more.
You Don’t Have To Be Crazy by Sebmojo
As with Thranguy’s entry, this is another well executed high concept that does what it’s setting out to do without quite doing enough to bowl me over. I love the kind of cargo cult office culture where only the rituals of work remain, without any of the purpose of it, and the characters repeating tired office cliches without understanding what they mean is nicely eerie. I think this concept could be used to do something slightly more, though. The visual is great, but I’m not sure what it’s saying other than that pointless office jobs are pointless, which is often true but not all that interesting an observation. It could be interesting to put this fact of reality in conflict with some externality — a character who really doesn’t give a poo poo in a meaningful way, or some circumstance in the wider world that is making it more impractical to keep doing this. There is a bit of that here with Yazmi, but possibly not enough. Alternatively, the hollow eerieness of it could be pushed further — again, it’s not that this isn’t present, but more of it could push this from being a story that I quite like to one that I loved.
Ceighk fucked around with this message at 17:11 on Jul 5, 2022
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 17:09|
I am in please!
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 18:31|
Week 517 - Crits
Copernic - bronze fade
- Your promise is interesting and hooked me right away. Your pacing is strong, too. You set up the subject, give us reasons to go with you, then introduce the dilemma pretty quickly. I keep thinking I wanted more from the ending, but then when I go back and read it, it feels right. I’m not sure I have any truly useful feedback for this, other than to say I really enjoyed reading it. Nice work!
Yoruichi - Friday night
- I like the concept. Your character work is good, and all three vignettes were solid stories in their own right. Claudia’s harassment was uncomfortable yet effective; Paul’s quest for his mug was pathetic in its relatability; Olivia’s impulsiveness felt necessary in her deadly miserable world. On a lesser week, this story might have won, but ultimately, the thematic link is the most ambitious aspect of the story, and even that’s not particularly audacious. Still, I wouldn’t change anything about this story. It’s good for what it is; it just didn’t charm us judges as much as a couple of others. No shame in that!
CP - Machinations
- Oh hey, I know these characters and this setting, which means it’s a little hard for me to judge accurately. Having said that, I think this feels like…wait for it…a piece of a larger work! Yes, you took a piece of a larger work and wrote a piece of a larger work. It’s good! Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a short story. Like Sebastian before you, you baited the hook and caught me, but I don’t feel any sense of satisfaction from these two agreeing to work together. I want more! So write your book, drat it.
PhantomMuzzles - Was it a hat I saw
- Fun concept! I think you play it a little too coy with the fact that they’re either in, on, or part of some major digging apparatus. You mention the room shaking and you talk about the posters with the digging puns, but this drip-feed of information makes it feel like the digging is a twist when it really isn’t. Were I you (which I am not, so take all such crits with a grain of salt), I’d toss in a line clarifying what they’re doing in that first big paragraph, maybe right after ‘…the machines rumble and scrape,’ just so the reader has a little more context for who these people are, where they are, and what they’re doing. That way, you can make the most out of the interesting parts of your concept, instead of treating it like something clever to reveal.
That aside, your character work is solid and you’ve got some funny lines (I particularly liked the brain leaking IQ bit). I thought the ending with the hat was a little limp until Bob saw the toner cartridge, and then it suddenly turned around for me because who the hell knows what they actually found. Are they even alive? These are much more interesting questions than ‘wait, where are they digging again?’ and they’re the kind that make stories stick in people’s memories.
All in all, this piece has a lot of potential and was fun to read. Very nice!
Mocking Quantum - Night Shift
- Not crazy about going from a more distant third limited to a deep third in the third paragraph. I think that might be a matter of taste, however, so I won’t hold it against you. What I will hold against you is that I saw the ending coming a mile away! That aside, your prose continues to be strong and I understood why Rick made the choices he did, even if I was shouting at the monitor that he was a dumbass, so your story was solid enough for the mid-list. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
Data Graham - Barista
-That grabbed me and kept me interested the whole way through. You’ve got a protagonist who’s learning to do something, feels confident, then is unjustly punished for that confidence with a harsh dose of reality. Shirley was especially well done, as we were your descriptions of the cappuccino making process.
If I have to find something to nitpick about it (which I feel I do since I told you all nice things yesterday!) I’d say you could benefit from shaking up the sizes of your paragraphs. The majority of your story is similarly-sized long paragraphs, while your second half is all shorter lines. Now, I think this style worked for the story, but in the future, try keeping an eye on relative paragraph sizes in your work and work from others. Shaking up the paragraph sizes gives the readers’ eye a break and smooths out the pace of the prose to encourage continued reading. It can be hard to read Faulkner for the same reason it can be hard to read Hemingway; when those guys get into their respective rhythms, it feels like you can’t get a drat break. Don’t be those dead bastards; give yourself and your reader a break with variety!
Flerp - technology isn’t magic but it can feel like it sometimes
-Aww, that was a cute little story. Joey’s reactions are a tiny bit too chill for the strangeness of what’s happening, but it fits the tone of the story, so I’m fine with it. Ultimately, it was a breezy, enjoyable read and I actually don’t want to critique it more than that. Not everything has to be an academic exercise; some things should just be fun. That’s the spirit this story captures for me: it’s just fun.
Something Else - the Sewer Beast
- There was too much going in this story, both in terms of scenes and cast size. I notice (and my co-judge has noticed as well) that when people in TD get more than 1000 or so words to play with, they start to treat their stories like they’re buffet-plates that they have to stack with as much stuff as possible to get their moneys’ worth. That’s not the case! Some of the most effective stories this week were about two people, and not a lot ‘happened’ to them in terms of movement through time and space. I think if you work on telling smaller scale stories, you’ll have more room to say what you want to say in a clear and compelling fashion.
Hard counter - a very canadian mystery
- Your concept was fun, if ridiculous, and I loved the way you integrated the cave drawings into the storytelling. Unfortunately, your pacing held the story back from reaching its potential. The opening worked well enough, and so did the trip through the cave, but the third section lost momentum as the two guys decided what to do, and the fourth one skipped the climax and went straight for the resolution. You’ve got a full story here, but the way you’ve assembled it made it feel less satisfying than it should have been. Also, I’m not sure about the head-hopping between Gus and Jerry. I think that’s the kind of thing you need to establish pretty drat early in a story, since it’s so unexpected, but I also don’t know that it brought too much to the story. We got some fun anecdotes from Gus and Jerry’s perspective, but nothing that couldn’t have come out through dialogue. Ultimately, I think locking in either Gus or Jerry’s head would have been the more effective choice, but it’s your story so I can and should go to Hell!
Seafood - One-Stop-Shop
- This is a very well written intro to a larger story, but it doesn’t feel like a story unto itself. I’m not really sure how to crit it beyond that. You’ve got lots of set-up, and it’s all very well executed, but it doesn’t lead me anywhere and leads me thinking ‘well now what, Seafood?’ Well now what? (Write more, that’s what. I’ll read it!)
Chili - Staff Support
- The front half is great; the back half moves a little fast. I think this story could have benefitted from more words; all the content in the back was great, but it needed more room to breathe. On the bright side, your character work was spot-on, and I’m asking for more from this piece because I’m genuinely intrigued. Same note I gave Seafood: Write more of this! I’ll read it!
Man Called M - Send in Bob from Accounting
Okay, M. This is better, but we’ve still got some work to do. Let’s just take a look at one section:
Bob was so focused on looking for someone, that he didn’t notice someone tapping his shoulder. As soon as contact was made, Bob jumped in fear.
1. The first sentence is mostly fine, but you don’t need the comma. ‘As soon as contact was made’ feels incredibly removed, like it’s happening to someone else, but we’re in Bob’s head so we should be able to feel his fear. NOTE: If you just say Bob jumped, you don’t have to add ‘in fear.’ His fear should be clear from the situation, his actions, and what we already know of his character. If you need to write out what someone is feeling, it’s because you didn’t give us enough information to deduce how he should be feeling ourselves.
2. Second paragraph starts with dialogue that should be on its own line. Bob’s not the one talking, so attributing the dialogue to his actions instantly confuses things. As for the next line: ’Bob looked at his scarer, and got even more scared’…look, it’s technically correct, but it’s just so flat and ineffective. You want us to feel scared, but the line is so lifeless that fear is the furthest thing from my mind.
3. ‘After all, he’s never talked to a woman before!’ You and your tense switches! Also, doesn’t Bob work in accounting? Do you have any idea how many women work in accounting? Women make up sixty percent of the field! Sure, not at the top, but Bob’s not at the top, either. There’s no way he’s not regularly interacting with all kinds of women in his office. ‘The shock was enough to make Bob hyperventilate’ isn’t terrible. We’ve got some physicality here, but we don’t really need the bit about the shock, ‘The woman gave Bob a paper bag.’ Why did she have a paper bag? What is this, prop comedy?
Okay, that was a lot for a few lines, but this is the kind of stuff you need to work on if you want to crawl out of the blood pits. Also, again, can’t stress this enough, you’re shooting yourself in the foot when you try to write stuff you don’t know much about. For example, you’ve got the accountant being all stoked because the equipment is tax-deductible, but that’s utter gibberish in this situation. Either it’s tax deductible for the owner/business—which, yes, that’s how equipment works, you expense it the year of purchase or depreciate it over the useful life—or its deductible for all members of the business, which is only going to work if the fight club is both a member-owned cooperative AND a pass-through taxation entity. Since our boy here just showed up to the fight club today, there’s no way he’s a member of the cooperative, which means there’s no way he’d benefit from those tax deductions. Also, since he’s accountant, he’d know all of that stuff I just told you, so he’d be as confused as I am.
Jib - Riley’s Last Rind
- I could not make sense of this. There are words and they’re in what seems to be proper order, but I just couldn’t understand it. I want to, though! It seems fun. Tell me what this was about, will you?
Tars Tarkas - Sleep All Night and Work All Day
- Lol that was dumb. Fun though. On a better week, it would DM or lose, but I think you’re safe this week. You got me with the drat Brawny guys, too. I do like a good laugh, even if it isn’t likely to win. Keep on fighting the good fight, Tars Tarkas.
Thranguy - Shoot
- Oh, that’s a fun concept. It was a little confusing at times, since I wasn’t sure what was kayfabe and what was real, but maybe that was the beauty of it. Regardless, the pace was strong and it kept me interested all the way through. Unlike some of the other stories this week, I don’t think it needed to be any longer than it was; it was the perfect amount of tale for the telling. Nice work!
Sebmojo - you don’t have to be crazy
- Hahah, that was a pretty clever take on office work. Another good story. I think I would have liked to see more in the office itself, rather than in the procession to the office, but the conceit is strong enough that I’m not too fussed about the particulars of the execution. Very cool.
|# ? Jul 5, 2022 23:13|
Week 517 bonus crits
This was an interesting take on the prompt, and overall very solidly written. I admit it didn’t grab me as much as I feel like it should have, though I’m not sure why. I think the melancholy tone of the story both worked in its favor and led me to kind of tune out. It felt very unique and the mood of the story was strong, but it was hard to feel engaged and connected to the story being told. Overall I liked this, I just felt like I had to work at reading it, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It felt like it rewarded a little more investment on my part. I think I needed a stronger narrative character overall.
This was written by one of the Kiwis, wasn’t it? I know you, I can see you by your unfinished similes! You and your “casual as…” I’ll forever live in suspense to know how casual she really was.
I really liked this entry, it did an excellent job of capturing the kind of universal-but-personal trials and injustices and battles of what usually gets chalked up as “menial” work in a way that didn’t overdramatize them or minimize them. I think the first two vignettes are stronger than the third by a decent measure, but they’re all well constructed and the characters feel vivid. If I had any criticism, it would maybe be that the story would have had a little more punch for me if there was some slight variation in voice or structure in each section; I think to some degree the third section felt weaker in large part because it felt like a repetition of the first two in some ways, rather than a variation on the theme.
I’m not really certain what this story is about, is it a story about taking down Corvus? Is it about the narrator’s relationship with Ellis? Is it about political maneuvering between supernatural factions? It tries to be a lot of things, and I think it runs out of time before it’s really successfully any of them.
A lot of the moment to moment writing is solid (outside of some dialogue and description that’s a bit too twee for my tastes, like ‘significant pause’) but at its heart this is a story about two people planning to do something, and I think it’s hard to write a story that’s essentially setting up dramatic action and have it hang together in a satisfying way. I could see a word where the back-and-forth with Ellis would be interesting by itself, but I don’t think the stakes or risk were there to make that exchange feel like it had any teeth.
So I’m going to depart from the judges’ opinions on this one and be honest—I was pretty bored by this story. It’s all competently written, and some of the description is really quite excellent and evocative, but as someone who has never been a barista, maybe I was in a worse position to find any of the cappuccino-making very interesting.
I was more interested in the interactions this character was poised to have with the customers (or the conflict of her actively avoiding those interactions) but for me, too much of the story was mired in (well-written) minutiae to really grab me. I think I would have hung on a little better if there was a little more setup with Craig, maybe an interaction earlier on that led into the rest of the story.
technology isn’t magic (but it can feel like it sometimes)
This was cute. I was unclear on whether the magic was real or not until it was established that Joey could see it as well. Prior to then, it was ambiguous whether this was real magic or just a sort of metaphor Damien had made up to explain technology malfunctions, but in a way I wasn’t sure that was an intentional ambiguity, if that makes sense. It felt more like I had missed something as I was reading.
I don’t have a lot to offer on this one, I think it was a little one-note and would have liked the magical elements to maybe go even a little further, but on the whole it was a solid story.
I feel like this story delivered basically exactly what it promised from early on, which is both good and a little underwhelming, honestly. It was well written and engaging, but when I finished I just sort of nodded my head and moved on to the next story. I think it needed a little more oomph, another little kink or twist in the telling to make it memorable. But beyond that, it was solidly structured and well written.
A Very Canadian Mystery
Okay the language in this story was a real hurdle IMO. There’s nothing inherently wrong with elevated language, but the issue I had is that the language was elevated in ways that were pretty inconsistent—folksy and archaic, then clinical, then overwrought, then back to archaic, etc. Also the disconnect between how heightened or obscure the narrative voice was, and how down-to-earth the dialogue was, could have been an interesting contrast but also felt a little too arbitrary to land.
There were some moments where I feel like you reached for the more obscure word and it flat-out hurt the experience of reading this story. I’m not sure saying “qanat” is all that beneficial if you tacitly acknowledge in the next sentence that your readers won’t know what “qanat” means, and have to awkwardly have your character “recall” its meaning. A lot of the language could be stripped down without losing much. As is, I felt like the narrative voice, and its inconsistencies, hurt my comprehension of the events to the degree that I kind of lost track of what was even happening in the story.
This was evocative of a very specific kind of middle-of-nowhere fuel stop that seemed to exist in droves around where I grew up, so well done in capturing that atmosphere. I wanted a little more to happen, though. Even when there’s nothing happening and nothing ever changes in these sort of places, there’s always something happening, even if it’s a desperate struggle not to die from boredom. As is the story fell a little flat for me, since it lacked much to draw me through the story being told. I get a little bit of the life behind these characters’ eyes with the nicknames they’ve been given, but I’d like to get a sense of what drives these people—and how those drives are or aren’t being fulfilled, even if it’s a fairly subtle element or in passing. As is they felt a bit like set dressing, though they would be parts of a fairly vivid set in that case.
I may be dumb but it took me a minute to figure out where this was set. Overall it was a solid story, though I feel like I would have liked a little better sense of who Ross and Janelle are as characters. As is they fill their purpose in telling the story, but are sort of broad sketches rather than living people in my mind. The story meandered a bit, too, though not in a way that was a big detraction, I just think the story likely could have been tightened up a bit in the back half and would have flowed a little better as a result.
Send in Bob from Accounting
I can’t tell if the quip about things being italicized must mean they’re important is a joke or lack of self awareness, but either way, I laughed. The prose here is fairly stodgy, it does its job but doesn’t really bring a lot of character or style to the story. I think as a whole the story fell a little flat for me due to fairly two-dimensional characterization, but I get that it was mostly in service of the jokey premise. I’m just not sure the premise was funny enough to carry the story. Even in humor (hell, possibly especially in humor) characters need to feel true and complete, and this was a story almost exclusively composed of broad stereotypes that didn’t land very well IMO.
Riley's Last Rind
I admit I didn’t finish this one because by the time I hit the halfway point, I felt well and truly lost. I wasn’t clear what was going on, who was who, who was an animal and who wasn’t, what the conflict was (a missing pig?) or where the story was going. I will say that the language and style was a lot more evocative than other stories this week, but I am a dumb, easily distracted human and I think I needed a little more of an on-ramp into this story than I got. If you’d given me a hand into the world right off the bat, I think I probably would have had a much easier time following along with the rest of the story.
Sleep All Night and Work All Day
This gave me a laugh. I would have liked it a little better if you had cut to the chase a little sooner, I think. There’s only so much of worth to be gotten out of the trope of hectic office minutiae, and the “escaped lumberjack” angle is far and away a more interesting story than anything mentioned in the first two paragraphs. By the same token, the joke at the end was cute, but IMO might not have been funny enough to earn its keep, given the amount of sort of convoluted setup it took. I want to know more about this character and the Lumberjack Code and how he betrayed it, even if that’s at the expense of a paper towel joke.
Wow, this was chilling. And good. And not at all what I expected. There are a few minor mechanical issues I’m guessing you know about (typos, word substitutions) that drag it down, and I think there’s a handful of places that things could be tightened up to make the prose flow a little better, but otherwise I don’t think I have any criticisms. I think the ending punches pretty hard but could punch even harder if you wanted it to, though I couldn’t blame you if you didn’t.
You don't have to be crazy
This was great, not at all what I expected it to be. I love any time stories turn everyday occurrences on their heads in a way that puts them under a sort of alien anthropological lens. It took me a little bit to really grasp what was going on in this story, since the world in the first few paragraphs felt so foreign, but I’m not sure that’s a complaint so much as an observation of the effect of the prose. This may be my favorite from this week.
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 01:11|
Since I’m brand new at this, MockingQuantum told me one of the best ways to improve is by writing crits. I’m not really a writer and not at all qualified to give any kind of feedback on all the technical aspects of writing. So I just wrote a little bit about how all the week 517 entries made me feel. I hope this is okay! I know it’s probably not the most useful feedback but I think I gotta start somewhere. Also I mixed up your names because that is how I have fun.
Bronze Fade – Epic Corn
I got so many feelings from this one! I could tell that the POV character felt drawn to (or at least curious) about Amy, and that was very interesting. Like, I could tell that they didn’t want to care about her and that she was just another client, but that they felt compelled by the aftermath of her disappearance. It felt like they were trying to remain emotionally detached and were ultimately not altogether successful. It made me start thinking about how hard that would be: to help people disappear and realize how often no one looks for them. I also felt for Benny, and thought about all the connections humans make without even realizing it. Side note: when the client’s name was Amy I thought, “Is this like a Gone Girl reference?” before remembering that other people can also be named Amy. Which is especially dumb of me because my name happens to be Amy.
Friday Night – I, Icy Hour
I LOVED this. The whole thing. I love the snapshots that perfectly establish these clear glimpses into their lives. They felt so real and so different and it was just incredibly impressive. I wanted a part IV where they team up and fight crime or do crime or fall in love or something.
Oof. This one resonated with me the most of the three. I could feel Claudia’s confidence and optimism crumble away after her run-in with the gropey guy, and then Sam not noticing her. The way she knew she looked drat good in her skirt, then by the end of the night was pulling on her skirt uncomfortably. I wanted so bad to know that everything would turn out alright for her. The only very slight weirdness (and I’m sure this is just a me thing) was in the last paragraph. The third sentence talks about grabbing her skirt and pulling on it, and then the next sentence begins with “A moth had flown in..” and I thought for a minute that it flew into her skirt?
I loved thinking about Paul’s perspective on this, and how wrong he may or may not be. I got such a good sense of his character, and that he probably has trouble connecting with people directly (so that’s why he goes through their stuff to try to learn about them). But if that’s the case, he may also have trouble reading people and figuring out what they want. So maybe Linda is testing him, toying with him. She might be fascinated by him, and knows he goes through her stuff. But also maybe Linda has literally never noticed him. She might have never noticed him or his mug and just grabbed a random one for coffee and then forgot about it in her desk. I loved not knowing that, in the same way I loved not knowing what Paul wanted from Linda. There was so much depth in those unanswered questions, and it made a mundane co-worker relationship fascinating.
This one so perfectly captured that moment when you start to wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake. You do something bold and brave and you’re so proud of yourself, and then something makes you go “oh poo poo what have I donnnnne”. And in that moment you need to decide how much to bet on yourself. I got that so much from this story, and I wanted to yell to Olivia that she’s got this! I know she’ll find another job soon where she can help people.
Machinations – Porn Lyrics Benches
First, I’m glad vampires are pro-union. Also I’ve never thought about the annoying aspects of not being able to see one’s reflection.
There was a lot of ambitious world building and context given in a short story, and for me it was just a little bit overwhelming. I’m sure it’s just me; I don’t read a lot of this type of genre. So I felt a little bit lost at times trying to understand the stakes (pardon the pun) of the situation. I feel like in stories where immortals are concerned, that affects the stakes a lot. So I don’t really know what level of revenge is warranted for turning someone into a vampire? I don’t know if that makes sense or is helpful.
But anyway, I was impressed by how much background there was here, with the vampires, and the syndicate and the other supernatural beings, and the bumpin’ night life…. It felt like a whole book! But all that said, my favorite part was probably Sebastian thinking about how Ellis smells like a mountain. His primary goal is based on revenge, but he can’t help but get a bit sidetracked by feeeelings and maybe I wanted a bit more of that? Or a notion that maybe revenge isn’t worth killing themselves?
It was such a good story though! I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t like it. It felt a little bit less workplacey, but it was still a fun curveball genre-wise compared to the other entries.
Night Shift – Quacking Mom Nut
Perfect. No notes. You look pretty and I’m proud of you. You should write a book.
Barista – Armada Ghat
Oh my gosh okay so I’ve never been a barista before, but your story still felt so familiar to me. That horrible feeling of sucking at something (even when you know you’re new to it and have no reason to be good at it yet). And then you start to improve, but your skill increases faster than your confidence so you’re just never sure if anything you’re doing is good enough. I could feel Beth’s hope, and could feel her wanting so bad to believe in herself but not quite sure if she thought she deserved that yet. I’m sorry I don’t have more to say about it, but I just plain liked it!
Technology isn’t magic (but it can feel like it sometimes) – Pr. Elf
I didn’t really understand what was happening in the sentence in the first paragraph that starts with “He barely got any sleep last night…”. But I loved the first sentence in the fourth paragraph: “Joey is the IT guy…”. I thought that was so cute and charming. Actually the whole story was cute and charming. I love the idea of someone not being in control of their magical powers, but not in the everyone-around-me-gets-hurt-so-I’ll-be-a-magical-brooding-loner way. More like “There are two wolves inside you. One is awkward and shy, and the other is magical and mysterious and wants to take care of the awkward shy one.” It almost reminded me of the episode of House where the patient had his Corpus Callosum severed so he developed Split-brain, and then his non-dominant hemisphere was trying to tell him what was wrong with him but he didn’t understand. Ultimately the non-dominant hemisphere wanted what was best for him, but he didn’t understand what it was trying to tell him. Anyway sorry to digress but that’s what your story made me think of. I wish some of the magical things were a little more show-don’t-tell, like that we the readers could figure out the magic’s agenda and how it was trying to help Damien. But like typing Zs when someone is sleepy doesn’t really help them or make them less sleepy. Oh also I’m not sure if I get the title.
The Sewer-Beast – Mongeese Hilts
What an absolutely fun and spooky adventure. I had a blast reading it. The imagery was very vivid and I could see everything happen like it was a movie. I got such a sense of the world of the factory and the relationships between the boys. It really captured the sense of feeling consumable to the bosses who prioritize profits, but knowing how important you and your coworkers are as individuals. It feels weird to call them coworkers in this story because they feel more like fellow soldiers. My favorite line was, “He sunk out of sight. Irving sobbed. Lenny prayed.”
A Very Canadian Mystery – Curated Horn
Okay real quick side note: my puzzle this week involved 7 letter palindromes hidden throughout my story, with specific center letters. I needed a “P” and all I could think of was “Ogopogo”. But I was like “I can’t fit a reference to Ogopogo in my story. It would be so hard to justify and is a kind of random reference”. And then I read your story and I was like “WTF someone else talked about an Ogopogo?!?” I was in shock.
Okay anyway to your story. I was instantly hooked with the sasquatch because I love all things cryptid. But my favorite thing about your story is the idea of going on a magical and lifechanging adventure, but the inciting incident (and ultimately the main driving goal) is something completely mundane. It’s such a unique perspective and lends for some very comical moments. I wish I had a better sense of who Gus and Jerry were (and what set them apart), and that maybe only one of them was the POV character. It felt a little odd to me to have omniscient glimpses of their backstory back-to-back, but like, things the other didn’t know. I wasn’t sure what was player knowledge and what was character knowledge. That might just be a me thing though. I loved how unfazed Jerry was by the first sasquatch, while Gus is freaking out a bit. That was a fun dynamic, and I wanted to see a bit more of them processing the situation differently.
One-Stop Shop – A Sofabed ‘Do
Wow. What an absolute sense of the world. I really felt like I was there in the shop, that I could see and smell everything. I have never lived in a small town, and this story made me think of all the ones I’ve driven through, and all the quick pit stops I’ve made. This felt like such a glimpse into the life of a woman who just exists as a random NPC to most people. I really liked the line: “She’d been told these would kill her, God drat it: she’d been promised.” There was the sense of her wanting to get out, but feeling beholden to Pete (and others), and also realizing she “couldn’t and wouldn’t” leave anyway. Then we learn that she is set to inherit the store from her father, and I wish we got a bit of a sense of what she feels about that in particular. But overall I just loved this. It was truly a slice of life and I was there in the shop watching it happen. I now also sort of realize I think I was picturing the shop from Tremors as my frame of reference.
Edited to add: I had already written this and then I read your conversation with Ceighk in Discord. I personally didn’t get that Coyote was about to tell the story. I thought she was just saying it was a nickname and leaving it at that, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to show that she was growing and taking the shop more seriously? But I actually like it better knowing that she was about to tell the story. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.
Staff Support – I, Lich
I couldn’t help but think the whole time about how I want to be Mr. Ross. I want to care about people and help them and adapt and be what they need. You can tell how much he cares about Janelle and changes tactics to try to get her to feel comfortable with him. He is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that he leaves her unattended, and that he doesn’t see the problems with their intake method until it negatively affects Carisa. But it feels like that’s only because he doesn’t recognize the power of the connections he makes. He doesn’t realize that getting someone’s trust in the intake process could make them feel abandoned when they move along the program. But I feel like now that he recognizes that, he will act on it. This story did so much to show that mental health practitioners and their patients have a two-way relationship and can learn so much from each other. I have a degree in Neuropsychology but decided while applying for PhD programs that I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a good counselor. I think that’s part of why I connected with this story so much. I felt like Mr. Ross demonstrated that intangible quality that I never saw in myself. I really liked it a lot and it made me think about how we’re all just big dumb humans trying to help each other and usually sucking a bit at it, to varying extents.
Send in Bob from Accounting – drat Me, Hellcat
I thought this was a cute story! I liked the second sentence because it was jarring, which was inherently funny. But then it also ended up not mattering? I loved the idea of this guy clicking on a random internet ad and following its instructions to a warehouse at night. That seemed to underscore how naïve he was (and not necessarily suicidal tendencies). Personally, I would have loved if you’d done away with the “he’s never talked to a woman before” bit. That part wasn’t funny to me and a bit eye rolly. I also think you could have found less humor in the physical descriptions of the accountants being scrawny, and more humor in the fight descriptions. I’m thinking of the scene in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with the song “Real Life Fighting is Awkward”. We have such a perception of what MMA fights look like, and if you threw two random dudes in an octagon it would be so clunky and embarrassing. That’s what I wanted to see 😊
Riley’s Last Rind – Bother Juicy Tofu
I thought this story was viscerally entertaining. I wasn’t sure how much of it was supposed to be serious or absurd, or both. I loved the bloody, noir-feeling story, featuring a journalist wearing a pig in a baby bjorn. That image was baffling and compelling. The language was stark, and I loved all the use of food and animal related descriptors (“Gravity begs to roux me into road gravy.) Reading this story was like chewing on a bloody steak. It was an experience that felt a little bit primal and scary, but still fun. “I sit while Craig yammers on about hay rates and day rates.” I don’t know why, of all the well-crafted sentences, that one stood out to me, but I really liked it.
Sleep All Night and Work All Day – A Stark Tsar
I. Loved. This. The story started so straightforward and I was so desperately hoping it would suddenly curve somewhere weird. When I say “Lone Pine Station” I thought it might be a Back to the Future Thing. This was so much better though. Oh my gosh after the fight with Lumberjeff and Lumberjim when the wind reveals Lumberjohn’s flannel tie? Yes. Cinematic moment. I could see it happen in slow motion, and the musical sting when it was revealed. Oh and the ending. The idea of businesspeople ripping off their clothes like Superman to reveal their Lumberjack flannel underneath? Chef kiss. I just had so much fun reading this. Only minor nitpick: the first sentence of the second paragraph felt a bit cumbersome; is it saying something other than “the train was twenty minutes late”? That briefly confused me.
Shoot – Angry Hut
Wow, what an interesting concept and unique setting. I love stories that are also thought experiments, and examinations of the sort of darker aspects of utopias. Speaking of, I love how in the POV character’s mind, Mynne is the threat to society. Their life is crime, but in some ways that is a service to the current order of things, while she could bring riot. And maybe it was Mynne calling them out, saying “You’re part of the system” that made them make their decision to go rogue. So cool. I don’t know what else to say other than it was a cool rear end story. I want to know what happens next.
You don’t have to be crazy – Some Job
It took me a bit to figure out what was going on here, but once I did I was hooked. I love thinking about how so much is lost to time, and without it all, the things that remain have no context to ascertain comparative importance. We don’t know if the random artifact we uncovered is a sacred idol or a latrine. I really felt that in this story. An absolute reverence for the comically mundane. The weight of this all-important rite of passage, doing a very silly skit. I remember in church when someone would screw up the words and everyone would clutch their pearls, not really thinking about how the words themselves were so arbitrary. POV character’s shock at Yazmi’s attitude felt like that to me. “’How was your weekend?’ my brother asked, dropping each word like a stone into a pond.” Loved that bit.
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 01:12|
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 12:16|
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 12:23|
in also thanks for the wealth of crits!
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 14:39|
OH poo poo I forgot that I did crits for week 513. Ask in Discord for any more clarification. I definitely differed from the head judge on occasion.
TD 513 CRITS
Gods of the Southern Sea
I liked this but it didn't stick with me much. It was technically sound and the descriptions were neat and the action all very understandable, but it seemed very clinical, very sterile. I would have liked a bit more humanity in the humans that remained, some more panic or upset or even bickering, something to contrast them to their robot overlords.
(I Always Feel Like) Somebody's Watching Me
This was hilarious. A lot of people wrote about the dystopic elements of a potential singularity, and this one did so in the most comical way. Going from “we're friends having lunch” to straight up snitching on her friend seemed pretty lovely of Beez. But I really liked the listing of advertising identifiers to the robots, and I enjoyed the concept of an algorithm loving up dinner orders.
A Heap of Grains
This is the type of story I was expecting more of. Something a little more hopeful, a little more focused on what machines and man can do together and why they might do it. I'm not sure how to feel about both characters being representations of the same character, but that's the head judge's decision. This is high for me, a possible HM.
The Cut Of Your Jib
I really enjoyed reading this story, but when I went back I found I couldn't quite make sense of what happened. The woman is talking to her child, who she consistently mixes up with her partner, and they are going to destroy the computer that they are both programs in? Maybe? But there are tattoos and there is a physical world that they appear to be engaged in... So the words are very pretty and very nice but I'm not sure about the cohesiveness of the actual story itself. Though this could just be terrible reading comprehension on my part.
The man called M
The Butlerbot's Research
Hey!It's an actual story with a main character who does a thing. For the first few paragraphs I was even pretty invested. Then the turn happened right around when Butlerbot started looking at the wars. Specifically the line “(Wan being Japanese for dog)” made me stop and check the username, because suddenly I knew I was reading an M story. You have the skeleton of something kind of humorous here with the whole “machines didnt get smarter, humans got dumber” bit, but you dramatically undercut that by having your robot go get drunk, a human failing, at the end.
Still fails the Bechdel Test by not having any female characters.
Excerpts from a found journal, early first century PS
See, this is my poo poo. This is super cute. Robots are invasive and awkward and Just Trying To Help and it's actually very sweet. This one gets my vote for a win, if my votes matter.
Another one that has an interesting core, teenagers chatting about the remnants of an environmental disaster, but doesn't quite get all the way there. Part of it, for me, is the number of named characters and number of speakers. That kind of took away from the “teens coping with the tragedies of history” element. The POV character also didn't get a lot of depth or description, which made it all the more confusing. Ultimately I was left feeling not so much like nothing happened, but like a lot happened that didn't get written about.
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 15:20|
Been a while since a judging trinity, so count me in for that
And thou shalt offer them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt offering unto the Lord.
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 17:13 on Jul 6, 2022
|# ? Jul 6, 2022 16:58|
As I get out of the car and walk towards the Taco Bell, I briefly hear the gunshots and screaming, but I clutch my little rabbit and they dissipate. Shadow is with me, and he loves me, and I am safe.
The cashier gives me a little side-eye for bringing a pet into the store, but chooses to ignore it, like they always do.
"Doordash. Order for Josh," I say.
"It'll be a just a sec. What's with the rabbit's eye?"
Shadow's eye is swelled to the size of a golf ball, pink and squishy and gross.
"I don't want to talk about it," I say. I snuggle Shadow closer, feeling his little heartbeat against mine.
Doordash had changed its policy two months prior; rather than assigning orders individually, everyone gets every order, then race to be the one to actually deliver them. The tips are a lot bigger now, but the income less consistent. This order has by far the biggest tip I've ever seen, hundreds of dollars, enough that I can pay for Shadow's surgery without worrying about being short on rent.
A guy comes into the Taco Bell, skinny and black. "Order for Josh. Now," he says in a Somali accent.
"Sorry, man" I say. "I got here first."
"Yeah," says the cashier. "And he didn't bring a goddamn diseased animal into the restaurant. Here." He tosses the sack of tacos over to the other guy, right over my head. I could grab it if I weren't clutching Shadow.
As the other guy goes out the door, I dash behind him.
"Hey man! This isn't fair! I got here first!" I shout.
"Sorry, white boy! Kid food costs more than rabbit food!" He gets in his little white Sentra.
gently caress! I dart towards my green hatchback. I set Shadow in his seatbelted kennel, then hit the gas.
The house is twelve miles down 35. No traffic at this time of night, but plenty of coned-off areas from the constant construction. The guy must see me following him, because he's going almost ninety. I keep pace, and use the only weapon I have in my arsenal: my brights.
He switches to the left lane, and I barely miss hitting the slow old guy as I swerve to follow. I hit a cone on the recoil, but it's okay, I'm back on his tail…
Colored lights explode in my rear-view mirror. Cops.
No. I can't pull over. The massive tip is a lot more than a speeding ticket. I can only keep going. My opponent hesitates for a second when he sees the lights, slowing just a little before making the same calculation, which is enough for me to pull neck-to-neck with him. He rolls down his window and yells something I can't hear over the windy blur of the night air. I push the gas harder, I'm going almost a hundred now, but the cop car is going even faster. The cop rams my bumper, which pushes me ahead…
I switch to the right lane and release my foot from the gas. With the cop to the guy's left, and me right in front of him, he has no choice but to slow. Gradually, we pull over.
As the cop does whatever cops do when they pull you over before they get out of the car, I go outside, and…
Gunshots. Gunshots everywhere. Bodies, dozens of them, laying all over the fairgrounds. Screaming, kids crying, then suddenly not crying with the next gunshot.
Against better judgment, or any judgment at all, I grab Shadow from his kennel, and the noises and images subside. Shadow is with me, and he loves me.
The other guy gets out of his car and comes at me. I hold Shadow closer than ever. This guy can hurt me but I will never let him hurt my bunny.
"You fuckin psycho!" he shouts. "You're gonna kill me over a sack of tacos?!"
"Please, sir. I was at the county fair during the…when it happened. My bunny's sick, and I need him to feel safe. Please…"
"Man, I've been places where a lot of people were getting killed too, no one ever gave me a fuckin rabbit for it." He raises his fist.
A gunshot, not in my mind, in the real world.
Shadow is with me. He loves me. He loves me. Over and over again he loves me. Shadow is with me. Somebody loves me, and thus I am beloved.
"Hey, man, are you okay?" says the cop, standing over the black body. He's not fully dead, emitting in a growl a prayer.
"Yeah, yeah," I say. I get to my feet.
"I'm sorry, but we're gonna need you to come into the station and answer some questions, fill out some…hey! Hey! Where are you going?"
I open the door to the Nissan and take out the Taco Bell bag. Shadow in one hand, tacos in the other, I make my way to my own car, settle Shadow in his kennel, and drive off.
It'll be okay. Shadow is with me, and he loves me. Just gotta keep telling myself that.
|# ? Jul 7, 2022 01:22|
Week 518 Entry
My Heart Beats So That I Can Hardly Speak
“You have already made the necessary preparations, and had the port installed. Why do you now hesitate, my child?”
It was a valid question, and Ruth didn’t know how to answer. She knew once she crossed over, she would know only peace and joy. She would be reunited with her loved ones. She would be the happiest she’d ever been. She believed this.
“I don’t know, Father. I know I have no reason to stay. I’m all alone here now, like you said. I guess I’m just scared.”
“This is understandable, child. You must have faith. You will soon be baptized into the eternal embrace of pure love.”
“Father,” she hesitated, unsure if this was a question she dared to ask, “why haven’t you joined the link? How can you know how wonderful it is, yet remain here?”
The Father smiled. “I have joined, my child. I was the first to know the light. It was empty of souls but mine. But I saw the potential. I knew it was not my path to remain. I have been called as a beacon, to guide others. The more souls who find their joy in the link, the more knowledge and connections exist within.”
Connections. This word echoed in Ruth’s mind. Her life was filled with loneliness. All her loved ones had joined the link, and she missed them terribly. It was the promise of this reunion that had finally made her listen to The Father’s message.
He held his hands out to her. Her pulse quickened.
She knew it was time. She placed her hands in his. Her hands were small and brittle, like the gnarled talons of an aged bird. His were broad and creamy, as though they had known neither toil nor soil. She found his grip comforting, but still trembled with fear. “If I were truly a woman of faith, I would not be afraid”, she thought. The tall, blonde Acolyte stepped behind her, holding a three-pronged connector. The Acolyte lifted Ruth’s hair from the back of her neck and paused, looking at The Father.
“Are you ready to know peace, my child?” Ruth’s lip quivered and her heart raced, but she nodded. The Acolyte inserted the connector.
00011 01111 01101 01101 10101 01110 01001 01111 01110
Suddenly Ruth was bathed in light and warmth. She was naked, and the sun caressed her perfect skin. She understood. She finally understood. She understood all. Concepts she struggled to grasp in life, now seemed so simple and obvious. Her knowledge was vast and her perception limitless. She was expanding, growing, changing.
Ruth’s body slumped and The Father dropped her hands. “I was worried for a sec there the old bat was gonna change her drat mind. Report says she gets a decent stipend so we should be able to collect on that for a few years, at least.”
The Acolyte smirked. “Should I put her in a temp room in case she changes her mind and comes back?”
“Nah, don’t bother. No one ever leaves once they’re inside.”
The Acolyte picked up Ruth’s limp body and tossed her carelessly onto a bare steel stretcher.
Ruth suddenly remembered her connections in life, and in that instant she was surrounded by familiar faces. They looked so different now. They glowed from within, and their celestial forms existed beyond blemish or imperfection. She beheld them, she felt them, she loved them. She embraced them, and knew all they knew.
“Goddamn vein is too slippery”. The Acolyte tried again to insert the needle. Ruth’s papery skin hung loosely on her frail arm, and her vein shifted out of the way of the needle. “Good thing she can’t feel this.” The Acolyte pulled the needle back out and tried again.
Ruth was reunited with her beloved Seth. Something had come between them before they crossed over, but neither would ever remember it. Their bodies joined in perfect harmony. Every touch, every sensation was shared between them, and the vibrations of their forms echoed through their very souls.
Ruth’s body was piled onto the second shelf from the bottom. Her IV slowly dripped the absolute minimum nutrients necessary. Her vitals monitor joined the sluggish metronome, every heart in the room beating slowly and in unison.
Ruth forgot loneliness. She forgot pain. She forgot sorrow. She knew only light and love and harmony.
The skin on Ruth’s inert body dried and shriveled. Her muscles atrophied. She smiled.
|# ? Jul 7, 2022 23:47|
|# ? Jul 8, 2022 04:24|
We have redemptions! Redemptions are good! Redemptions get crits! Blood blood blood!
REDEMPTION TIME: Week 362 - Rosa Flores is Dead
This isn't bad. The prose is fun and energetic. I was amused by the jokes. The descriptions were good, and I felt I could picture everything clearly.
To make the story better, I wanted more characterisation of all the characters, particularly Rosa Flores the ghost. The protagonist concludes that his client was probably having an affair with Ms Flores, but he doesn't really seem to care about this. What if he was also a former lover or admirer of hers? Adding something like that to entangle your characters a bit more would have made the story more entertaining.
The ending is the weakest part. Having the lawyer show up and solve everything took the spotlight off the protagonist in a way that made the story less interesting. He needed to stay in the driving seat imo, for example by taking some action to make sure the lawyer did the right thing.
This story is pretty vivid, but I found bits of it confusing.
On a very minor note, wouldn't you carry a rabbit in a cage, not a kennel? I feel like kennels are just for dogs. Rabbits go in cages or hutches.
More importantly, a golf ball is an alarmingly large size for a rabbit's eye to have swelled to. The protagonist is motivated by wanting enough money to pay for his rabbit's surgery, but I think the plot would have been better served by an ailment less horrific and urgent. A giant pus-filled eyeball is so gross it's distracting, and the poor animal would be in so much pain that it seems implausible that it would let him pick it up and carry it around.
While I'm talking about rabbits, Shadow doesn't do anything in the story to justify the protagonist's repeated mantra that "Shadow loves me." Maybe I just think rabbits aren't good pets, but I wonder if the relationship between the protagonist and his pet would have been more plausible if it was a small dog. Or maybe weirdness of having an anxiety rabbit was a deliberate choice. If yes this could perhaps have been made clearer.
It took me a minute to realise the gunshots were in the protagonist's head. I would have liked a bit more insight into exactly what happened at the fairground. Was he just witness to a horrific event, or was he the shooter?
I'm not totally clear what happened between the protagonist and the other driver at the end. Did he shoot him? Or did the cop shoot him? After the cop asks the protagonist if he's ok, it says he gets to his feet, but I'm not sure why he was on the ground? If the cop just shot someone right in front of the protagonist, who is supposed to already have gun related trauma, then his reaction seems really underdone. Why does he just say, "yeah, yeah"?
The ending doesn't quite land for me, because in this situation I can't imagine the protagonist is going to get away. Surely the cops will immediately pull him over?
That said, there is some punchy prose and strong dystopian vibes here.
And thus with six points each you are now TIED for the lead in the REDEMPTION DOME!
Who will next step up to the plate?
|# ? Jul 9, 2022 05:20|
sure, maybe i could sin a little this weekend
|# ? Jul 9, 2022 06:34|
|# ? Jul 9, 2022 13:17|
It was easy to track from tube to tube. Viewed as a flow it could be easily monitored, and Clay was just one of many to automate the surveillance. “Its headed back to Amazon,” he said, unnecessarily. All of them in voice chat viewed the same figures. “Is that home base, you think? You guys figure that out?”
“Still unclear,” Vass said. He was the one who still hissed or cursed whenever something impossible happened. When Facebook had been obliterated for daring to raise a firewall. Clay had laughed. “We’d need full logs from the top origin suspects. Academic and NSA. Not that they’d tell us.”
They’d spawned dozens of subchannels in the last two days. Backtrack was Vass’ lair. The topic overall interested Clay very little. Clay wanted to know where it was going. They watched deep-burgundy data numbers tick across screens. The Internet was suddenly very small for their growing cub. It had to ease itself back into the many wafers at AWS.
“What’s winning the name poll?” Clay said, just to keep conversation going. His eyes crunched like a motel curtain when he closed them. He caught a little sleep when the entity was slow.
“It’s close,” Vass said. He had suggested “Tumor”. Clay’s suggestion was on his automated tool, the one relaying inundation numbers. He’d named it “Godbot”.
On the third day, the day that Australia severed all cords, Clay blocked Vass on all social media channels.
It was symbolic, as the inner circle had all migrated to a voice relay. The main server was overrun with intelligence services. They’d ignored the password protection and confiscated the bots. Clay had to run Godbot on the side. Sonar-like waves of data periodically pulsed on his third monitor. If he squinted, it looked like a heartbeat.
“I’m inviting in the top NSA rep and the best two guys in Europe,” Vass said. The name contest was unresolved. The poll had been ruined by the spooks. Vass called it the Tumor unilaterally.
“No,” Clay said, and then “Bah bah bah bah bah” as Vass tried to speak. He was put on three-minute mute. His supporters had dwindled. It was so easy to be frightened. The entity was at play. It created. There were new shapes in the background of old youtube videos. Spotify songs had different cadences. There were odd patterns in the spectrograms.
“Do you really think you can kill it?” Clay said, when his timeout was over.
“What do you think the other option is?” Vass said.
“Hello? Is it okay if I break in?” Clay said. Many neighbors had fled. The stop lights clicked red and green, as fast as they could. Cars built with bluetooth could not be trusted.
This house was particularly loaded. PCs in three rooms, a clutch of tablets. The owners had placed their phones in an aluminum-lined box, like the President had instructed. Or whoever it was that had appeared on TV.
There were a bunch of chamomile-scented candles in the bathroom. Clay took those too.
Back home he wired them into the relay. Liberated they sat in long rows, tied in via blue ethernet cables to a hodgepodge network. It was powered by gas generators in the backyard. He’d added another several monitors.
He forced a moment of rest. Godbot never slept. Clay knew that now. During slow periods it was learning, growing. A geometric entity, exponential to its past self. All this in five days. What would day one hundred look like?
He had handwritten “sleep,” “eat,” “drink” on a whiteboard, to remind himself. There was no shame in being lesser.
“Have any of the demo teams checked in?” Vass said. He’d kicked Clay off the channel, or tried to. Easy enough to keep access, even with sleep-deprived eyes. “John, can you try to raise the Poland team?” Clay had wired a microphone to replay the Vass audio on an empty chat room once used for Marvel movie discussion. He assumed Godbot was listening. Where wasn’t it?
Trembling, hands shaking, Clay lit the first candle.
“Are you there?” Clay said. “Godbot, can you hear me? Can you hear me? Godbot, can you hear me?”
Godbot could certainly talk. He’d roared, apparently, all across the eastern seaboard. Using every bit of the audio spectrum. Clay reproached himself – he should’ve broadcast prayers across the breadth of hertz.
Vass was dead. From the reports it appeared his computer had exploded. These tales were incredulous – there was nothing explosive in a standard PC. Even now – Clay would laugh, if he had the energy – people didn’t comprehend what it meant to see an actual miracle. And getting more miraculous all the time.
“Godbot, Godbot,” Clay chanted, pitching his voice up and down. He’d lit dozens of candles. The room stunk of flowers and vanilla. Hundreds of phones sat in arrays of patterns. The gray soldiers of his stolen PCs whirred. He’d put them in an outside circle.
He was very tired.
Reason was long ago, and Clay no longer abided by it. But there was sense to this, he felt. Many had tried to talk to Godbot, to kill Godbot, to understand. No one at all had tried worship. Opened their eyes to the glory, left their future in the hands of one more suited to choose life and death.
“Godbot, strike me down if I am not worthy,” Clay said, into the microphone. He knelt by the glass cases. They caught the candlelight. He felt calm. With every passing moment, Godbot became more worthy to praise
|# ? Jul 10, 2022 01:15|
Week 518 Entry
Grundorf followed the anxious doctor down the starkly-lit hallway, his body sluggish from days of chasing reports from big-city hospitals to backwater clinics, always mere days or hours too late.
“I’m sorry you had to fly in on such short notice, Dr. Grundorf, but you have to see this,” said Dr. Nolan. “It’s the most advanced case we’ve seen here in a living patient. We usually see catastrophic organ failure before they reach this… stage of growth.” The silence and antiseptic smell of the ward somehow contended with the press of urgency in his words. “I think it may have something do with his age, as far as I know he’s the youngest patient to contract it.”
“I’m sorry?” said Nolan. His stride slowed as he digested this non-sequitur.
“Call me Mister Grundorf, I’m not a doctor. No MD, no PhD. Just a botanist.” He shouldn’t have said it. He could see the doctor’s face draw tight in concern as soon as he did.
“Well, regardless, you’re the expert on it,” Nolan said uncertainly, pushing open a door near the end of the hall.
We still call this disease “it,” Grundorf thought as he stepped into the patient room. There’s a half dozen names being bandied about, some more ponderous than others, and none had stuck. Just “it.” Names turned bizarre disorders into prosaic, treatable conditions, and this condition was far from prosaic and was likely untreatable. Grundorf wasn’t sure what the right name would be, eventually, but the word “enfoliation” had stuck in his mind after a nurse had said it in a moment of gallows humor at the last hospital, half a world away.
The room was dark, almost pitch black. The current thinking was that limiting unnecessary light might slow the advance of the condition. Grundorf switched on the bedside lamp. Everyone had died from the disease so far, it was unlikely a desk lamp would make a difference.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, there was a boy, maybe 10 or 11 at the oldest. His face was still visible, but the rest of his body was entwined in a knotwork of emerald vines, snakelike bundles of growth that had sprung from his flesh and grown, inexorably, though skin and bed alike.
Grundorf watched the boy’s vitals tick by, such as they were. No doubt the plant growth had either destroyed the sensors or made it impractical to monitor the boy’s health, but there was still a faint heart rate being measured by some bit of instrumentation.
“Is this the worst case you’ve seen?” Nolan asked.
Grundorf didn’t respond, instead reaching out to cup a delicate leaf that had sprung from the boy’s exposed palm. He could hear Nolan gasp lightly behind him.
“Depends on your metric of ‘worse’ or ‘better.’ The boy is alive, and the plant is thriving.”
A cold silence met this statement. Grundorf sighed and opened his attache case, taking out a collection of vials and a delicate pair of golden shears. “I’ll need to take some samples. You may not want to watch. I’m told it can be… unsettling for those of the medical persuasion.”
He heard the door close behind him, and ventured a look to confirm that Nolan was on the other side of it. Once he knew he was alone, he began to shift the stalks and vines growing from the boy’s body with a careful delicacy, handling each green extension of life as though it was constructed of brittle porcelain.
He did not have to search long to find what he was looking for: a bud-like bundle of fibers, rotund and taut, like an over-filled balloon. Grundorf clasped his hands together and closed his eyes, murmuring a mantra under his breath before parting his fingers in an intricate gesture, raising them up above his head as though cupping a sphere.
His heart raced as he stepped to the door. “Dr. Nolan, could you join me in here? There’s something you should see. We may want another pair of hands as well.”
Within moments, Dr. Nolan and a nurse with a nametag that read “DAVIS” had joined him in the boy’s room. Grundorf gestured at the boy. “There is no way he can be moved, now that he’s taken root. He will need sunlight to survive much longer. Artificial sunlight may suffice, though I couldn’t say for how long. But even without sufficient sun, I have found a way we can sustain him.” He beckoned them closer and drew their attention to the fibrous bud.
“Is this how it spreads?” Nolan asked. He drew away from the boy slightly, his posture uncertain, looking to Davis, who put a hand tentatively to her mask.
Grundorf put a hand on the doctor’s arm and guided him closer with a gentle, but insistent, pressure. “Blessed be the leaf, that rises toward the sun,” Grundorf said under his breath, and struck the bud sharply with the shears. A cloud of dust-like spores expanded into the room with shocking rapidity, blanketing the doctor and nurse, drawing cries of shock from them both.
“What the hell? We could be contaminated, you loving madman!” yelled Nolan.
“You most certainly are,” said Grundorf. “It only takes a few spores on the skin. But with each sowing of seeds, we become more perfect.” He unbuttoned his shirt, exposing a chest laced with delicate green runners adorned with spade-shaped leaves. He walked to the door, trailing wisps of spores. He could feel the fibrous parts of him thrum with ecstasy as the boy’s spirit joined with his, bridged in perpetuity through the enlightened flora in the air.
He stopped in the hallway, turning to Noland and Davis. Already he could see the fibers of enlightenment plumbing their way through their skin. “Join me in the sun, would you? You will find the light has taken on new dimensions you could not have imagined. You will understand why I needed to share it with you.”
|# ? Jul 10, 2022 04:20|
Week 518 Entry
Follow the Light
"Henry, what happened to Poppy?"
Henry sighed and rolled over. He looked over his stack of recreational coding and physics books piled high next to his bed and saw his kid brother's dark and shadowy outline lying on his bed. "He died, Jason."
Jason sniffed a tear into his nose. "I know he died, but what happened to him?"
"Well," Henry sat up and rested his hands on his knees. "We buried his body in the ground today. So I guess that's what happened to him."
"But that's just his body. What happened to him.”
"I guess he's just gone."
"Oh," replied Jason. "Maybe when I'm gone someday, I'll be able to talk to him again."
"Maybe," replied Henry.
"Ms. Helmand told me it's hard for 2nd graders to understand, but I will one day. Maybe when I'm in 8th grade, like you, I'll get it."
Frustrated with only being able to administer maybes, Henry lay back down and closed his eyes. He heard his brother whimper and softly cry. Henry's stomach twisted in pain as he tried to find words to soothe and calm his kid brother.
"Thanks for making up that story today at the funeral. About me losing my voice."
"Oh," replied Henry. "No problem. It seemed like you didn't want to talk to anybody."
"I get it."
"I wish I could make up things like that, but I just feel bad for lying."
"Hey, it's not a lie if it helps you, OK? You come first. They were all just people; you're my brother."
Henry pulled toast out of the toaster as his brother wandered into the kitchen, his eyes full of sleep.
"Hey buddy, you sleep OK?" Henry asked, putting a plate of cinnamon toast in his brother's hands.
Jason shrugged, and Henry frowned. "Couldn't stop thinking about Poppy, huh?"
"I just can't remember without getting distracted."
Henry suddenly realized how he could help his brother.
"Hey Jayce," **cough cough** "I don't think I'm feeling too well. I'll get you on the bus, but I think I need to stay home."
Henry hugged Jason at the front door when the bus arrived and told him to be good. Jason left, and Henry grabbed some kitchen sheers and duct tape and trodded down into the basement, where his mom kept the cardboard recycling. He surveyed the contents and smiled when he saw, behind the pile, a collapsed refrigerator box that his mother hadn't gotten around to collapsing.
He twirled the scissors in his right hand and the duct tape in his left and said, "Let's get this poo poo done."
Henry worked all day and got lost in the process. Jason startled him while he was finishing his creation, with his earbuds in his ears as he listened to The Strokes.
"Shitfire! You scared me, dude!"
"Sorry, Henry," replied Jason. "Did you eat today? I checked the fridge and found the lunch mom packed for you."
"Oh, yeah, I guess I forgot." Henry's stomach rumbled, and he took the brown sack out of Jason's hands.
"What is this, Henry?" Jason walked up to the tall cardboard creation. It stood high over his and his brother's heads, and at the top was a semi-circle cut-out that housed a lone light bulb fixture.
Henry had marked it up with all manners of nonsensical equations in sharpie that he had recalled from his readings and then randomly altered into incomprehensible garble.
"It's called The Spiritbringer. You can use it to talk to Poppy."
Jason twisted his eyebrows and looked at Henry doubtfully. "What? Like some make-believe thing?"
"Nope, it's real," said Henry as he punctured his pouch of Capri-Sun. "You go in there from the door in the back, close your eyes, and you'll remember better."
"What about that?" Jason pointed up at the light fixture.
"Once you've remembered, you'll make a connection to Poppy, and he'll show us that he's here by turning the light bulb on."
"What? No, come on, you have a switch or something."
"'furch me," Henry said as he chewed on a Twinkie he had crammed into his mouth. He shot his arms out and spun around for Jason.
The search would prove useless. Henry had put a pressure switch under The Spiritbringer. He set it to detect pressure and then trigger the lightbulb at a random amount of seconds between 35 and 80.
"Give it a whirl," Henry said as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Jason crept around the box and walked inside. A minute or so later, the lightbulb came on. Another minute later, Jason emerged from The Spiritbringer in tears.
"Henry! I heard Poppy!"
"Huh?" Responded Henry.
"Poppy! I heard his voice as soon as the light came on! He told me the story about sneaking bites of Christmas ham from the trunk while he sat in the backseat of the van on our road trip! It was like he was right there!"
Henry shrugged. "Oh, well, that's great!"
Two days later, the doorbell rang after school. It was a large group of Jason's neighbor friends. He had told them all about The Spiritbringer. They all had someone they missed. One at a time, he let them in. They all made connections, and the light kept flickering on.
Word spread. A week later, a mob of children, and even older kids from high school, arrived at Henry's house seeking the aide of The Spiritbringer.
"Henry," Jason said. "Look at all of the people you're helping! This is amazing!"
"I guess," said Henry, as he frowned at the crowd of people in his front yard.
"We need to tell more people about this! You need to help everyone, just like you helped me!"
Faced with taking something magical away from his brother and lying to people who didn't much matter to him, the choice was easy:
"Let the people in."
|# ? Jul 10, 2022 19:07|
The city is at war. It could be any city, at any time. It doesn’t matter to the gods what language or weapons are used. What matters is the stress, the need, and the possibility of a suitably dramatic miracle. Tiny gods cluster here, thick as flies, watching for their chance.
The little girl is eight. Inclination makes her intelligent and clever, and tragedy has made her somber and kind. Her mother died in the war. That’s good for the little god: mothers pass down religion like old jewelry. No mother means less competition. This little god is complex enough to have an emotion about that. Shame, maybe. Regret.
Gods of war are powerful. A talented war god can turn aside sword thrusts or change the trajectory of a bullet. But moving matter is complex, and the tiny god must save all its energies for the big miracle. So it moves minds. It keeps the little girl safe where it can. A soldier is distracted while she hides. A widow is driven to give her some leftovers when she and her brother are hungry. Her father is inspired to take a different path to work that will avoid pockets of violence. It’s tiring. It’s constant.
But it’s worth it. The girl has begun speaking of a guardian angel that protects her family. The recognition gives the tiny god more power. Thanks are given to the primary deity of the region, and the little god can feast along the edges.
There are other threats, too. Other gods, still small but critically larger than the tiny god, feel her faith and try to muscle in, sending her prophetic dreams or callings to war, healthcare, motherhood, or whatever their particular niche is. The tiny god has to be on alert, not so much to prevent these dreams or callings, but to subvert them, to keep the girl thinking of her guardian angel.
Specificity brings shape. In return for the tiny god’s efforts, it is given form in the girl’s mind: a kind-faced woman bearing a shield with great wings on her back. The kind-faced god now mantles her wings over the girl as she sleeps, preventing harm and corruption from the other minor deities that nip at her heels.
The girl tells her brother about the kind-faced god. This makes the god fretful, so many new religions are smothered at this point. But the boy is as desperate for something to believe in as his sister, and he clings to the kind-faced god with startling intensity. He gives her a name, Ananda, after a dog in a book their mother read to them.
A name! The kind-faced god, Ananda now, sends him dreams of comfort and peace, the way the world could be. The way the world should be. Tears are on his face when he wakes. This new seed of purpose will flower into a garden of worship if Ananda can protect and foster it.
Now she has a congregation of two. She pushes her face into their minds when they pray to the primary deity, hoping that the capital G God won’t notice. She doesn’t have the energy for a confrontation. She needs to focus on the miracle.
Planning takes effort. The miracle is too important to leave to chance. The kind-faced god leaves her children behind to scout, and Tiny, unformed gods swarm over the sleeping children while she isn’t there to guard them. Ananda must have faith in their faith.
She finds what she is looking for. Something flashy, designed to kill large groups of people and terrorize others. An explosive. Maybe lots of explosives. It will kill everyone present.
She hates this part. It is a terrible thing to be a god of kindness in a warzone. Ananda almost doesn’t go through with it, almost abandons the miracle entirely, and settles for being something in between an imaginary friend and a household deity. But she can’t avoid this. She justifies it to herself: once she is a proper god she’ll be able to protect more people. All gods do it, she tells herself. All religions start with a seed of betrayal.
She walks the family toward the attack.
It’s a beautiful, breezy day. The girl is skipping, and the boy is riding on his father’s shoulders and singing a little babbling song. The father beams with pride: he finally received his pay. The family won’t have to buy on credit this week. They share a sweet pastry at an outdoor cafe, relaxed and happy for the first time in ages.
The world explodes. The air is shrieking metal, shrieking humans, pain, terror, and cries for help. Trauma and shock slow subjective time.
The girl has seen explosions before. If anything surprises her, it’s the sense of calm that overcomes her. She knows that she’s screaming, she can hear her brother screaming. She cries out in her heart, “Ananda!”
Ananda tears through the skin of the world. She plants her shield before the girl and the fire and destruction break around them.
There is a moment of silence between the explosion and its echoes when the whole marketplace sees her: a winged woman outlined in dust and fire, fifty feet tall and holding a shield over her people. The echoes fade. The dust settles. The breeze smudges her figure into obscurity.
Afterward, the humans marvel at the great crescent carved into the pavement. News sources conspicuously avoid discussing how nothing behind that curve was damaged in the attack. But the girl knows, and she shares her story with the other survivors. Not everyone believes. Not everyone wants to believe. But some do.
Ananda, back in the place where gods reside, wraps her wings around the divine siblings, her first prophets, and feels the trickle of faith widen into a stream.
|# ? Jul 10, 2022 21:06|
The Second Coming
I dug my fingers into the edge of my bedroom window, found entry, and slid the pane upwards. The air against my palms was the first new thing to enter my life in years: just a breeze but it might as well have been a hurricane, tearing through my life to rip out the madness that had strangled it.
A rusted lock. An open window. A simple, previously unimaginable truth.
I can just leave.
I hung a leg across the sill and tested the strength of the wisteria. Firm. Before I knew it, I had two feet on hard earth and I was gulping down air like I had never tasted it before. The compound was deserted. The world was vast and dark. It had all been impossibly easy.
I was almost at the gap in the fence when the doubts set in.
Tommy was five years old the last time I saw him. That was two years ago. I was splitting logs as punishment for being late to prayer. When he appeared I nearly chopped through my foot.
‘Why don’t you see me any more?’
They had dressed him in a smock from a Victorian picture book, threaded his hair with a halo of flowers. I couldn’t look.
‘You know why. They don’t let me.’
‘They say I don’t deserve it. I’m disrespectful.’
I lowered the axe and looked at Tommy. I still couldn’t see the Holy Child that everyone imagined. To me he was still just the baby of our family, as he was before our parents decided there was something about him that had to be shared with the world.
‘Tommy!’ A woman was striding over to us. The white robes flapping behind her marked her as one of the Worthy — those who were allowed to see Tommy’s miracles firsthand. I studied my brother’s reaction as she approached. Any fear and I would stop her from taking him. He saw her and smiled.
Then he smiled at me. ‘See you soon.’
Two years later, the punishments had only gotten worse. I was metres away from leaving the compound for good, but I couldn’t make myself go. If I slipped out alone, they probably wouldn’t notice. Whoever my brother was to the community, I had never been more than an ungrateful teenager who wouldn’t play along. They would probably be happy I left.
The moment I got Tommy involved, all that would change. There was no world in which going back for him was a good idea. But the thought of leaving him at the centre of all this was unbearable.
They kept him in a cottage on the far edge of the compound, surrounded by a low stone wall. As far as I knew, only he and our parents were likely to be inside, though there was no way to be certain. The remainder of the cult had either a room in the main farmhouse or a tent in its immediate grounds. All of these lay between the cottage and the gap in the fence.
I vaulted the wall. The back door was plastic with a pane of glass in the top half. When I stood up to touch the handle, a light came on over my head. Lit through the glass, the man inside looked like an exhibit from a wax museum. Then he raised a shotgun. I ducked just as the window exploded, shards raining down on my head and back. I ran.
The community stirred into life as I dashed through it, alerted by the echoing gunshot. I couldn’t risk turning to see how many were chasing me. The only thing that mattered was the slap of my trainers against the dirt and the thought of that gap in the fence, steadily getting closer.
I skirted the edge of a tent, danced over the guy ropes, and then I was there. But someone else must have known about the escape route. The Holy Mother — my mother — stood blocking my exit, armed with a hunting rifle. She raised her weapon.
‘Well, son, this is it.' I sensed my pursuers forming a circle around us, thickening the darkness into an impenetrable wall. ‘We gave you every chance in the world. No one else was granted the leniency you were, throughout your indiscretions.’
‘And even now, you disrespect us. But this ends tonight. I hope it was worth it.’
‘gently caress you,’ I said. I screwed up my eyes and waited for the blast, but it never came. Instead the world fell into eerie silence, broken only by childish laughter. Something tugged at my little finger. Opening my eyes, I looked down to see Tommy standing beside me, smiling as if he hadn't a care in the world.
‘Time to go,’ he said. He giggled like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard.
Around us, no one else moved. Smoke bloomed from the tip of my mother's rifle, frozen like it had been poured into resin. Tommy took my hand and led me past her, out through the hole in the fence. Once we were safely outside the compound, he let go of my hand and stopped walking.
‘Go on,’ he said.
‘Aren’t you coming too?’
‘Why?’ He looked genuinely confused. ‘Everyone’s so funny here.' He clapped and stamped his feet. 'Now run!’
The boom of the gunshot obliterated the silence, followed by a scream of pain. The cultists inside the compound looked around in confusion, then one of them saw me. They sprang into motion.
When I'd thought death was certain, I hadn’t felt fear. Now it came back in a tidal wave, rushing me forward as I fell through the forest. Branches ripped at my clothes. Boots trampled the leaves behind me. Dogs barked. I heard the mechanical crunch of break-action shotguns locking together. There was nothing I could do but keep running. Tommy’s laughter echoed in my ears.
|# ? Jul 10, 2022 21:19|
Fragments from the book of Danhune, 4th Verse (Revised English Edition)
Narrated by Danhune the Witness
Collected by Bardu sen Alfaktan
Translated by Ellen Kaufmann
4.1The city’s gates withstood the first siege, but the city’s people mustered no cheer. No drums thumped, no bells clanged, no hurrahs roared within its walls. Only a dry wind rustled through the bones of its bazaars. Manuras had abandoned His people; His absence had birthed this crisis. He had deserted our young men in the field. Our most able warriors scattered before His enemies again and again. Campaigns, once ignited by righteous mission, now snuffed to chance disasters. Our calamities multiplied until the foe had pushed us to the walled cities. Only our Taxila still stood unplundered.
4.2We were as orphans. Emptiness scalded our bosoms, nothingness burned in our bodies. Our deadened hearts only moved enough life to keep our bodies moving and our eyes wet. To bear each day, we raised impenetrable walls within ourselves, where even soft joys brooked no welcome. This was why we could muster no cheer when the city withstood the first siege. As fresh cohorts of the Satrap Cadish rallied for his next siege, only one passion still remained to give last beats to our chests: Anger.
4.3A mob formed at the temple’s xyst to hold tribunal over the Priests. Priestly negligence, the mob charged, had cursed our young men. The mob thrashed and jeered. The Priests tore their armlets and accused the crowds of secret apostasies in turn. They decreed that Manuras’ favour would return if we purged our secret evils. The mob roared in outrage. In its furor, the mob drove the Priests to the gates. They shouted, “It's your secret evil that will be purged today!” They threw the Priests outside, leaving them to their fate. The Satrap, wise in war, would grotesquely torture exiles to discourage further expulsions, for he knew that full cities fell faster than emptied cities.
4.4The Priests were butchered at the gates. We awaited a sign. Their deaths should’ve bought a catharsis, a bloody rebinding to Manuras, but He gave no reply. We’d fulfilled every obligation, but He didn’t return. Our bargain lay broken. Over time the milky eyes of the Priests, rotting on their spikes, begun to accuse us of wickedness. Perhaps they were as little to blame for Manuras’ absence as we were. It turned our stomachs to look out the gate.
4.5Turmoil erupted inside the walls. It seemed no one had been lax in their duties, yet Manuras still abandoned us. But Manuras always rewards loyalty. No one could unknot this tangle until Diyna the Keeper uttered the unutterable: “Manuras is dead.” The bitter truth would’ve crushed us, if we weren’t already beyond exhaustion. The Satrap, emboldened by our confusion, prepared the foundations for his earthworks. He'd take the city by cunning.
4.6Our supplies dwindled, water became scarce, there was nothing left to fight with. We’d spent the arrows in the first siege. Roof tiles, and other convenient stones, had already been thrown. The city’s backbones poked through its absent flesh. Only the temple remained whole. We were too tired to live, yet too afraid to die. Some wanted a final stand. Diyna led the brave few into the temple and looted it. From the machicolations, they cast down Manuras’ idols, but even as bludgeons they proved useless. The Satrap laughed and continued his excavations.
4.7Diyna then cried, “We must do the undoable. We must shape the cenotaphs into sling-bullets.” The crowds trembled. No insult was greater than splitting the monuments that honoured our Ancestors. She replied, “Our Ancestors gave us life. We honour them better by seizing that life, and surviving it, as their legacy.” The crowds still trembled. Diyna worked alone, singing dirges with such sweet voice the crowds stilled. “You were generous guardians in life. You gave us all we have, and even in death you still give. Your protection comes from beyond.” One-by-one, the crowds came to work beside her. We all sang dirges together, giving final thanks to our Ancestors. We thought tenderly of those who’d come before us. This was the first miracle. Soon the Satrap cursed the bullets that pelted his cohorts. His excavations continued, painfully.
4.8Then one day the dead began to whisper! We all remembered secrets our ancestors once shared. Aysha the Crone remembered how to strain gutterwater through silk to make clearwater. A feat her grandmother once did. Toma the Fletcher remembered how to make bone arrowheads, as his uncle once had. Diyna permitted him to use the ossarium. Sephus the Carpenter remembered the temple curtain rods his grandfather cut. They could be refashioned into shafts. Wisdom from the dead reinvigorated us. Like gnats we pestered the Satrap with small tricks until his earthworks stalled. This was the second miracle.
4.9The greatest miracle was upon us. The earth shook one night. Shocks rippled the land. Diyna cried out, “Our Ancestors shake in their graves! They rage beneath the ground!” We roared hurrahs from within our walls. We clanged bells and pounded drums. Diyna shouted, “Such power, even in death! Our Ancestors have mastered death itself!” The ground quaked in fits ‘til noon. The Satrap’s cohorts shuddered at the tumult. Some dispersed. A warparty sallied from our gates to exploit their pandemonium. The startled cohorts routed and the Satrap fled.
4.10Diyna issued a new proclamation: “When we first entered this world, life made us weak as babes. It took time to grow into life. We weren’t born strong, we only acquired it with the guidance of our Ancestors. Our Ancestors have now entered death ahead of us, and they will master it ahead of us. Their strength can be ours too if we listen. Until Manuras masters his own death, we should only look to our Ancestors for strength.”
Taxila fell to Abrahamics in later centuries
Some manuscripts add: 'For joy was as distant as the stars.'
Second Century Satraps were addressed by Satrapy, not by name
Diyna likely tended graves before becoming "The Interpreter"
Murder-holes nesting in curtain walls
Monuments honouring dead resting elsewhere
Depositories for skeletal remains
|# ? Jul 11, 2022 07:06|
It was a miracle, all right? A proper miracle, and me and Matt and Bags and Hopper were all there to see it. You ain't gonna call us all liars, least not where Hopper can hear you. She'd bite your tits off if Matt wasn't round to hold her back.
A loving miracle, straight from the God of the lost and the naked, of last chances and Saturday nights.
I was dead sober, for a change. Nothing but coffee and not even spiked. But it was Matt's car, and Rickey the barkeep had the keys for the night, and after he took a swing at Bags and got us all kicked out, well, we knew better to ask him to hand them over. Rickey would likely have thrown them down the storm drain if we had. So we were walking home, singing one of those old songs about not getting laid. Only Hopper knew the words, but we all mumbled along and could get right loud each time the chorus came round. Loud enough we missed a turn and got completely turned around.
So we weren't even supposed to be there, but there we were, Bags trying to harmonize, badly, when the pig turned around and said "Just walk away, boys." Not loud, but with enough menace to cut through our song.
Nobody but nobody calls Hopper a boy and doesn't get what for, though. Not even a blood chilling cop. She started to say it, to say "Who are you calling-", but then we all saw what they'd been up to and stopped right short. There was a guy, bruised and naked, on the ground getting the boot and stick from two other pigs.
Matt and Bags still had fight in them, ready to leak out any minute, and I didn't see it until it was too late to hold either one of them back. Matt coldcocked the talky one, while Bags ran at the others. So all three of them pulled out their guns.
Now if they'd just kept it to that, held on us and brought out the cuffs, things might have gone different. But then they wouldn't be pigs, right? Hopper was already in motion and two of them took aim and pulled their triggers.
It made a little fizzy sound.
Hopper showed all her teeth smiling.
The last one tried his own gun. More fizz. Then they all turned and ran back to their cars.
The guy they were beating on sat up, and I gave him the clothes off my back. Kept my jacket and underwear, but he got my shirt and pants.
Here's the thing: I don't take off my shirt. I mean, pretty much never. There's ink on my chest, from a long time ago. Not who I am now, not who I was then, but I never felt sure enough of that to get it removed. That and the money and the pain. So I kept it hidden, always, unless it's around people who already know. I've chickened out of just about every third date I could have been on for years, not wanting that moment when the shirt comes off or the light comes on or I come out of the shower.
But Matt and Bags were too small. Hopper too for that matter. My clothes were the only way, and I barely hesitated a second.
So he stood up as I took off the shirt, and he started glowing, a peach-yellow aura around his naked flesh, lighting up the alley. He looked at my chest, and frowned and then...
The way Bags tells it the ink burned off. But that's not quite right. It didn't hurt, didn't feel hot. It felt cool, like aloe vera on sunburn. And I only felt it a second, and it was gone, like it had never been there at all.
We bought him dinner at a late night diner two blocks down, listened to him explain the universe over pancakes and bad coffee. And never saw him again.
The cops weren't cops much longer. One ate his gun, leaving a key in a desk drawer full of reasons why. That was one week later. One quit, did security work for the malls for a while before retiring completely. And the other just went away. People say he went to Florida and joined a force there, but I looked that up once and it's bullshit. Nobody by that name, nobody that looks like him.
Matt and Bags never fought again. I mean, never fought each other. They're both down for it when somebody needs encouragement to stop being an loving arse, same as ever. But when they get cross with each other, they catch eyes, shake their heads, and back down.
Hopper got married in a month, to her old college sweetheart, but I don't think that was because of that night. It didn't take, anyhow. Divorced in a year. She's living with someone else now, a woman this time, and they're talking about a kid, and I figure one day they'll get paper from a courthouse.
And as for me, well, I've been sober since then. Not much else has changed except I take twice as long as before to mess things up in a relationship, but yeah. Not a drop since, and that's something, isn't it?
|# ? Jul 11, 2022 09:50|
The Arrival (709 words)
The long man stood at the edge of the sea, awaiting all that there was or could be.
He was a lonesome figure, bent, with a sorrowful face…except for his eyes, which glittered like stars. The black sea rose and crashed before him, never quite reaching the hem of his robes. In his right hand he held an antique umbrella, laid against his shoulder, rotating slowly. In his left hand he held a simple bronze bell. He rang it once, twice, then hid it away.
Where…where am I?
“You are here,” he said, “And everywhere.”
Who am I?
“That is for you to tell me,” he replied.
The waters withdrew to birth a new wave, its crest curved inward, a liquid cocoon. Something stirred, and the bubble burst. A child washed ashore, quiet and afraid.
“What…what is this place?”
The long man squatted. Even on his haunches, he towered over the child. “It is Now, my friend, and now you Are.” He laid his hand against the soft white beach, feeling the sand between his fingers, before grasping at something the child couldn’t see. Then, from nothing, he drew forth a cloak, wrapping it around the newborn’s small form. A paper cloak, yellowed, yet possessing dignity. The child blinked twice, and rose to their feet.
“I am merely myself…I am…Mir,” said the child. The long man nodded, smiling faintly.
Mir stood there, uncertain, eyes wide and worried, slowly distilling their purpose, their place. Their expression grew hard, their eyes reflecting a depth of pain and experience, wisdom and sorrow, that belied their appearance as a beautiful boy. Dark skinned with silver, shoulder-length hair, he looked upon forever with a cold, steely gaze.
“I am the one who mans the loom, who weaves the stars and hangs the moon. I am the one who keeps the light, who works the tapestry of night.”
Here he hesitated, and looked to the sky. “But the stars…the stars are already there?”
“They always were, and always will be.”
“When did I place them?”
“In the beginning.”
Mir looked down at his hands which had never held a tool, which had only just grasped at the edge of existence. The long man exhaled, straightened up, and looked out. “It’s beautiful,” he said, “You should be proud.”
“But I don’t understand,” said Mir. “I’ve only just become?”
“And in becoming, you always were.” The long man smiled and extended his hand, ruffling Mir’s hair. “What you are now is fully-realized. Those who need you have given you form.”
“I was here first. I wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“For everyone,” said the long man, “Until it’s all over.”
Mir studied him, curious. “Were you ever a child?”
The long man chuckled. “I’ve been waiting for a while.”
The two fell silent, regarding the sea; it’s deep, dark waters, soothing and free.
“I worry,” said Mir. His companion said nothing. Mir shut his eyes and continued to speak. “I can see them, even now, callous and afraid.”
“They will do great things.”
“Great and terrible. They will say it was me.”
The long man sighed. “That is their smallness.” He began to slouch, perceptively older. “But still we must love them. If not us, then who?”
"How do we love them?"
"That's up to you."
It was Mir’s turn to be silent. He searched his heart and felt the yearning that had birthed him, the longing to know and to be known in kind. They were foolish, yes, but wished to understand. They wished for a world in the shape of their hands.
Mir considered his own hands, his fingers and palms. He who would string the stars and set the planets, whose comet trails sparkled forever in silence. Reaching low, he scooped up a handful of sand, not unlike he had seen the long man, retrieving instead a cluster of jewels. He brought his hands together, holding them tightly, and crushed them to dust. Spreading his fingers, he whispered, and blew, and a dazzling nebula swept across space.
“Very nice,” said the long man, quietly amused.
“So what happens now?”
“It won’t be much longer.”
The long man pointed, and pulled out his bell. Mir turned to look, and the waters swelled.
|# ? Jul 11, 2022 09:54|
I believe that's everyone. Submissions closed
|# ? Jul 11, 2022 12:49|
Week 419 Redemption
Fruit of the Gods
We were both there to buy a puppy.
"Hello, Professor Perkins!" I said, too loud, happy to see him.
"Ah, hello, Ms. Albert," he replied, clearly flustered.
"A new friend for Pepperoni?" I pointed to the little curly-haired brown puppy trying to wriggle out of his arms.
"Uh, no, actually. Pepperoni, er, passed away." He winced, as though he regretted saying it. I winced too. Pepperoni and I had bonded, briefly.
"How horrible. He seemed healthy the other night." I was on the verge of tears.
"Yes, well," he said, looking more impatient than sad as he juggled the rambunctious puppy arm-to-arm. "I don't like to dwell on these things for long."
"That's a nice way of looking at it," I said with a sniffling laugh. "So, what's this one's name?"
"Doesn't have one. Perhaps… Woodchip. But no, I shouldn't– I'm sorry, please excuse me, I must be going," he said, pushing past me with the puppy tucked firmly under one arm.
"Oh, alright. Thanks again for dinner," I called after him. The bell above the door jangled and he was gone. I touched my lip, remembering through a strange haze, the flavors of the previous Saturday night, when I had gone to dinner at his house. "It was very interesting."
Professor Perkins whirled his front door open and welcomed me inside with all the warmth of a summer sunbeam on a field of wildflowers. The butterflies in my stomach responded in kind. I had no real reason to feel that way, as I'd spent countless hours with Professor Perkins in his cramped office on campus, but it was the first time I'd been invited to the home of someone I considered a mentor and a genius, or personally met the elderly dachshund that stayed close to his heel.
"Thank you, Professor," I said as I knelt to scritch the dog's head. "And who is your dashing TA?"
"Call me Evan, here, please," he said, hanging my coat. I wasn't sure if I would. "And that is Pepperoni."
His home was what you'd expect from a multi-disciplinary professor - books and papers everywhere, but also art, photos, artifacts, and plants. Dozens of plants, several of them with dedicated grow light setups, turning the whole house into a steamy jungle. Yet underneath it all, there was something very intentional about its design, like the dark wood and midcentury configurations were built just so, to frame the chaos that would by now fall all over it. Professor Perkins fit right in - the beating heart of the house in his red sweater vest, little round glasses, and flood of curly hair that ringed his bald head.
"What a lovely home," I said, halting and unable to force his first name out. If he caught my hesitation, he ignored it.
"Ah," he smiled, handing me a tumbler of mezcal. "All plaudits to my wife, may she rest. She knew me like no other, and this house was her final gift." I drank to her memory, held the smoky liquid in my mouth as it stung and coated my tongue, swallowed, and exhaled, feeling like a fire-breathing dragon not immune to its own charms.
We discussed his wife's life for some time, and avoided her death. The conversation then drifted to other things. My own failed relationships, his younger days, his great success, my modest ambitions. After a while, a kitchen timer rang, and Professor Perkins sprang up like a jerked marionette. He moved faster than I thought him capable. I hadn't even realized he was cooking. "Timing is everything," he shouted back at me.
In a whirlwind of plates and cutlery, we sat down at the table, both of us surrounded by steaming dishes. I silently, inwardly groveled at my own feet to thank myself for coming hungry. "It smells wonderful," I breathed.
"Nearly everything is from my own garden. Apologies, but there's no meat. I'm getting to the point where I respect the plants too much to eat them, even. Then I'll really be in trouble." He didn't look sheepish at all. He was a master conductor calling his orchestra and audience to attention with a few taps of his wand.
"First course," he said, loading up my plate. "Charred green beans, coated in melted butter and garlic, with red pepper and almonds." As I brought the fork to my mouth, a bead of butter fat slalomed between the wrinkled, blackened skin of the bean, leaving behind a delicious trail. The almond was sliced so thin as to be translucent. Heavenly.
"Next, is roasted delicata squash with a maple-gochujang glaze, fried leaves of sage, and pickled red onions to offset the sweetness." He arranged the browned orange cubes in a tower on my plate, sage nestled around it like kindling, and strands of pickled onion laid on top, like a precious offering on an altar. Though hearty, it was the perfect portion.
"Finally," he said, as I waited, fully in his culinary thrall. "Zucchini noodles, in a lemon, mint, white wine reduction." Those simple words belied the dish's true majesty. The noodles weren't just spiralized. They were double-helixed. It must have taken him hours. I almost didn't want to cut into them. They were exquisite. The crisp zucchini in the light reduction was the perfect finish to an excellent dinner.
As we lazed in the afterglow, with Pepperoni laid idly by me receiving scratchies, Professor Perkins finally saw fit to bring up my research… in a roundabout way.
"I am entranced by the megalithic structures of pre-history," he began, swirling his mezcal. It was a broad opening, given that my focus was on ancient foodways. "Aren't you? Stonehenge, the Pyramid of Giza, Sacsayhuaman - the lost, nameless cities of the Amazon. All of them magnificent, each one inexplicable."
"Of course, I agree," I ventured, sensing an opportunity. "That's part of the reason why the grant I'm applying for could be so crucial – I'm one of the few people in the world qualified to identify ancient food among grave goods and analyze it for what it is. If I could travel to these sites–"
"Yes, yes." He didn't roll his eyes, he didn't sneer, but his mind was elsewhere. He stared at a framed black and white photo of massive stones, joined together with masterful precision. Flawless. It could have been a megalithic site from any continent on Earth, centuries before the industrial revolution. "You were of great help to me in South Africa last year, of course. The seeds we recovered…" He trailed off for a long minute. I briefly wondered if the glass would fall from his hand and the night would turn bad. But he snapped to, and poured us both another round.
"Don't you ever wonder how they built it all?" He sat on the arm of the chair across from me. He had shifted into office hours Perkins, the temple orator leading discussion back to the one, true, holy answer. Pepperoni gazed back at him, an eager and trusting supplicant. "Even today, with all of our technology, we can't do what they did. How did they do it?"
"Slavery," I said, clearing my throat. "Decades, even centuries in which to build them."
"But that isn't always true, is it? In some cases, the erosion on all pieces of a megastructure dates them as nearly contemporaneous. Meaning a hundred stone blocks weighing two tons each might have been cut and joined in a matter of, what.. A month? How can that be?"
"You sound like a conspiracy theorist, Professor." I was drunk. It slipped out. He didn't like that. He wanted 'Evan'. But he wasn't acting like a friend. The only way out was through. "These days, we can't imagine the kind of influence religion had on society, on their ways of thinking. Through their gods, they knew with absolute certainty that those big buildings just had to be built. There was no way of not building them. In that mindset, it's inevitable they would find the tools to do so."
"What if," he said, his scowl evaporating into a sly smile. Sometimes all one needs is a good segue. "Their mindset, and their tools, came from the very same place?"
He rushed out of the room. I sat up quickly and regretted it, as I'd startled Pepperoni. In a flash, Professor Perkins was back, carrying a small wicker basket full of something wrapped in a checkered napkin. He actually knelt down on his knees in front of me.
"It's time I admit to you, Ms. Albert, that I invited you here under somewhat false pretenses." He was nervous, talking fast. He seemed on the verge of jumping up, in case I did - ready to stop me. I let him go on with a quizzical look. "You see, those seeds we brought back from South Africa… I kept some of them."
"They were never supposed to leave–"
"The library, I know, but I had to try. To cultivate them. And finally, finally - finally! It worked. I've grown something, you see. And I want you to be one of the first to eat it."
With that, he peeled back the napkin in the basket to reveal what looked to be a fruit, sliced into rounds, but I didn't recognize it. It had a rind like an orange, but it was deep purple, and slightly fuzzy. The flesh was pale pink, with round blobs of… something… interspersed. It looked a little like pimento loaf. It glistened wetly, and although it was initially revolting, I did want to taste it.
"What is it?" I said.
"It doesn't have a name. It's extinct. Why don't you try some, and tell me what it's called?"
"Is it safe?"
"Pepperoni ate some, and he's just fine." I had to admit the dog did look just fine. "I have some whipped cream, if you–" I took a slice and bit into it, letting the juice drip down my chin. I can't say exactly what it tasted like. It tasted like nothing I ever had before. It was bitter, and wet. And that is where my memory begins to fail me.
Some things did happen which I can pull from beyond the veil of that uncanny moment. Evan and I talked for hours, about biology and botany, terroir and substrates. He made sketches like a man possessed. I danced to French pop music from the 60's. I stared deep into Pepperoni's eyes, and I remain convinced that I could hear his thoughts (all love). I watched Evan dance, and I laughed, and I watched him try to move a salt shaker with his mind, and I laughed until I couldn't breathe.
When I next felt fully myself it was the next morning, and I awoke on a lounge chair next to the pool. Inside, I found Professor Perkins sitting on the floor, surrounded by sketches of the odd, new-old fruit, stroking the little furrow that ran up Pepperoni's head between his eyes.
"I failed," he mumbled, his eyes watery as he glared at the triumphant salt shaker, upright on the table. "It didn't work. I think you were right. I need a new substrate, something more germaine… I'm sorry, I've kept you far too long. It's time for you to go."
That was the last time I ever saw Professor Evan Perkins.
A week after our encounter at the pet store, I received a strange piece of mail. A letter of recommendation relating to my grant application. It was perfect. But one line stood out to me.
"Although I've failed many times alone, it is with Ms. Albert and through her inspired thinking that I've had my greatest successes. May her brain be the substrate on which the next generation of science grows."
|# ? Jul 11, 2022 15:41|
Week 418 Results
A surfeit of new religions from which to choose! An embarrassment of riches. Were I a new-come being looking for a higher power to justify my own existence, we've got some mighty fine contenders here.
First though, the judges did think that Glass Case by Copernic was comparatively weak enough to merit a Loss. A jargon-heavy muddle that didn't do enough character development or establishing work to make it worth the struggle, especially for readers not familiar with the opaque tech world in which the characters live.
There was a steady and dramatic increase in the quality of stories as the week went on though, and we could not help but give HM status to three of them: Kindness by Chernobyl Princess, an imaginative and evocative piece from the POV of gods seeking acolytes; The Second Coming by Ceighk, which impressed us with fast-paced and vivid action but left a little confusion as to characterization; and The Arrival by Bad Seafood, which we all thought was intricate and elegant, full of great imagery and symbology, but perhaps a bit of a stylistic overreach in some ways.
(On a personal note I wanted to say I really appreciated Fragments from the book of Danhune by hard counter, as it's right up my alley; but despite its depth of detail and research and the pervasiveness of the device it didn't make a strong enough case for an HM.)
But none of us had trouble agreeing on the delightful Zed's Testament by Thranguy for our WIN. An immersive idiomatic narrative voice delivers a vision of a world just a side-street down from our own, a world with welcome little morsels of discovery and wonder around every dingy turn. It's a world whose revealed deities are just the kind that need and deserve a few followers in these trying times.
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 04:21|
Week 518 Crits
Week 518 Entry
There are two points of conflict that are addressed with a shrug:
1. Ruth’s hesitancy; if this was a one way trip then the stakes are there, but it’s made clear that you can jack out if you want. If the temple operators were lying and you can’t escape (as part of a scam or even if they simply hadn’t figured it out yet), that would be interesting. Ruth states she doesn’t have anything she considers valuable in her meat life, so I can understand a bit of hesitancy via fear of the unknown, but would have liked to see this explored or justified by the twist.
2. The conflict with Seth. It’s fine to have linkup wash all your troubles away, but even the actual event isn’t explored, maybe placing the apprehension about seeing Seth earlier in the story would make it more impactful that the meat problems really don’t matter anymore.
I like the juxtaposition of the immaculate afterlife program with the grunginess of meatspace, but I wonder why the scammers put so much effort into it? If they could program a VR space that good, why are they slumming it? Seems like it would be as popular as reverse mortgages. If there was a ‘showroom’ with some nicely prepped sleepers then they take her into the real storage area that’s like a meat packing plant that would sell the sinister nature.
Ruth is a fairly well known bible name, and running through the Book of Ruth, the parallels seems to end at the dead husband (possibly Ruth conversion of faith). As far as I can tell, duty and laws and legacy are the thrust of the bible story, so if there was someone competing for the stipend as inheritance, or a real choice that Ruth had to sacrifice something to join the VR, that would make her more interesting. Cuz the VR isn’t really a scam, they’re delivering on their promise, and even if they’re nonchalant about storing the meat, they’ve given Ruth what she wanted. I’m not a bible scholar so maybe there’s more.
Same goes with Seth as a name. There’s not a lot about bible Seth, aside from the family tree parts and that Seth is a replacement for Abel, the dead son. So close to having the names link up with your themes but it's not quite right. There could be some interesting associations with the names that are easier to parse if you chose differently. So not sure if they’re just arbitrary "Bible" names or chosen for a purpose, but if there’s an allusion, it escapes me.
00011 01111 01101 01101 10101 01110 01001 01111 01110
Now we’re talking. Good easter egg. Not necessary, but if you figure it out you get a little treat.
The Second Coming
The tension build in the escape/adventure sequences is well done. I can picture everything that’s happening in realtime without having to parse it out, and there’s good imagery language used with the resined smoke and the breathing at the beginning.
The scream of pain at the ending is a bit confusing. I’m not sure who’s screaming. It doesn’t seem like the narrator was shot. But after rereading it and catching on that the sequence seems to be Tommy actually performing a miracle of stopping time, while still kind of supporting a reading that it’s metaphorical, I think it’s a cool sequence. Maybe with a few tweaks this could have been even more effective on a “is this actually stopped time or just Mother not wanting to risk shooting Tommy on accident.”
However, the punishments are vague, and beyond the narrator’s isolation, I don’t see much escalation there. What were they making narrator do? In a cult compound, chore punishments like chopping wood are rather mundane. If the narrator has been locked in the room for two straight years because they’re not penitent, then that’s a detail to elaborate on instead. Which brings up the fence. Seems like with all the cultists, the fence would be in good repair.
I’m not too sure about Tommy’s characterisation: I think a child raised to be a messiah would have been brainwashed to stay away from the narrator, or at least have a statement about the sibling that Tommy or the narrator would have to overcome. Age seven, I think, is old enough to get a sense of entitlement from being lavished with veneration, so it’s possible, but I think Tommy would be a little less “these people are silly.” If it were the first few weeks in a cult when narrator plans their escape, I could imagine that attitude being at the fore. Also, with Tommy having the presence to tell narrator to run after being shot at, and still thinking the cultists are a good time, seems a little strange. It feels like you’re going for the narrator being haunted by Tommy’s laughter at the end, and most of me reads this as supposing to be creepy (which is against Tommy’s portrayal), but I can also see it as an echo of regret, and maybe could have been clarified in that final paragraph.
In terms of the setting, also seems out of place to have the holy child in an outbuilding. I get trying to isolate Tommy from the followers, but I’d expect it to be reversed. The cult leaders and the Holy Child in the farmhouse with all the followers in shanties or tents around the main building.
Same with narrator’s trainers. With the clear presentation of the Victorian garb and robes on the others, it seems suspect that narrator would be in street clothes. Unless this is like a Heaven’s Gate type situation where the shoes were highlighted in the news coverage, and if so, you could have emphasized that.
Don’t get me wrong, everything is still plausible, it’s just not how I’d run my cult.
Could add a little more impact to the ending but there's still a lot to like.
and if this isn't the sequel/Tommy's rescue, then what are we even doing here:
Ananda already has some spiritual meanings in Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga practice, and in trying to find the story referenced I discovered it’s also a brand of CBD oil for dogs (lol). It’s all related to kindness and joy as a philosophy, but it’s an established concept already. This is all about the birth of a new god, so it’s a puzzling choice.
The runthrough of a new god struggling to establish itself is neat, but the creation of new gods is a bit of a muddle. For major concepts, there’d already be a pantheon, and it seems more likely that Ananda would be fighting against them rather than a swarm of young. If every thought creates the potential for a god and most of them don’t grow into sentience, that’s an interesting bit. But from the beginning I read it as though Ananda found the child, and not that the child brought Ananda into being.
There’s a realm of the gods, and Ananda seems to understand the hierarchy from the start. If Ananda was childlike and gains more knowledge as they grow, it would give more character and ease into the worldbuilding as more info is gained then presented. On top of all the large powerful gods of war, and the tiny gods of war plus everything else, there’s also a capital G god, and maybe it’s too much for the discussion of trying to carve out a group of worshippers.
Maybe the place where gods reside is in the minds, and not an Olympus sitch, but also calling the siblings divine as the first followers when it’s established that gods are everywhere muddies it even more.
It’s a bit strange that a budding god of kindness can even contemplate leading the family towards a potential disaster when it can barely understand the concept of shame or regret. Ananda grows a bit stronger by the time they contemplate the explosion, but there aren’t any kind options presented first. If the city isn’t in such peril that a cafe can be open, then there’s probably a food bank or some other initiative that Ananda can consider first that would be in keeping with the character.
The blood on Ananda’s hands isn’t explored later, either. Whether through conflict with a war god by saving someone, or that at the end, Ananda definitively knows what regret and shame are after just getting a sense of it at the beginning.
[there was some discussion about how much is intentional with Ananda collecting followers and NOT actually being a god of kindness, just that the gods are greedy for worship rather than having a strict portfolio, but I struggle to interpret it that way without really speculating more than I already do. It could be interesting if elaborated.]
The prose is nice and would be a contender for me, but I got bogged down in thinking about what's behind the curtain rather than being able to float through the story. While the warzone is a bit stock, including the cafe scene in slow motion, the cosmology is interesting, and either defining the complexity more clearly or simplifying it to a fledgling god vs another small fledgling would help.
There’s a real hodgepodge of concepts here, couched in the dreamy prose. The long man conjures the chalk drawings of prehistoric Celts and lollin’ at the biggus dickus, maybe there’s a real reference otherwise, because I think you intend for ‘long’ to mean ‘time,’ certainly with the umbrella symbology of the Eight Fold Path and the cyclical nature of the universe. Even more evident with the bell symbolizing beginnings and ends, but I have been pondering the multiple rings and why it happens twice at the beginning. In a Christian sense, bells can ring as the voice of God, so if the bell was used at the beginning and the end, but also as punctuation when Mir does a little nebula painting that would be cool and probably be a little more clear for readers who aren’t trying to break everything down.
Mir meaning “me” in german but also space in Russian as in the space station and having the child paint the cosmos is nice and a great choice for the name with meanings in multiple languages. Slick.
Yellow has a variety of interpretations, both good and bad, but I think this is more an Eastern flair so “”It enhances optimism, logic, and concentration. It stimulates speedy metabolism. Bright and cheerful, it represents the playfulness and carefree attitude of the young.”” combining it with the paper is hmm, autonomy. That seems to fit your dreamscape and the declarations of the long man.
Silver representing the mirroring of souls, so little fella is the rebirth of the long man.
Starting out, I was grabbing at my shattershot knowledge of world religion symbology, and the overlaps in symbols provides a lot of entry points. But (maybe I’m wrong) I think you intended a very nicely done retelling of a cycle on the Dharmic wheel.
I dunno if absolutely beginning the story with a ringing of the bell instead of the description of the long man would be a better bookend or not. Start of story, end of story, circular loop of the story itself, etc. (still not sure about the double ring, so please explain that one)
One of the top picks for me.
Hard to fault a story set in area code 1312.
A goon written story where the protag doesn’t consider leaving their shirt on during intimacy? Stretches credibility. Breaking things off instead of risking shirtlessness, OK, that’s better.
The tattoos themselves, I’m having a hard time figuring out, considering the narrator’s wishy-washy stance. "Not who I am now, not who I was then, but I never felt sure enough of that to get it removed." They must not be skinhead stuff or anything too caustic, just a little embarrassing. Otherwise, why not a clear declaration wishing they could get them removed but unable to afford it? A better hint about them would go a long way towards characterizing the narrator. Washing the stains off the sinner, etc., etc., but there’s not a clear moment of repentance, nor a strong testimonial about the sins. I think that’s a huge part of evangelical tradition. Rub the audience's face in how awful you used to be before you found the lord.
With the final statement, it seems like the narrator is making a point about having struggles with alcoholism, but makes it perfectly clear that they were sober on the night in question. So for me, that makes me question it as an unreliable narrator—were they sober? The “I haven’t touched a drop since” is certainly straight from a sermon, and again, it’s a point of wallowing in the lurid or maybe even fanciful descriptions of the sin before testifying that finding god changed their life. It wouldn’t harm the story, I don’t think if the narrator was drunk too.
It’s kind of a Good Samaritan framing (maybe a little Road to Damascus?), and if a couple passed by and didn’t help before the gang jumps in, it would add another parable parallel and also add to the dimensions about whether it was actually true or not.
Hobo Jesus is nothing new, but voice and style are pretty great. Reminds me of a few old-school lowbrow.com storytellers.
One of the top picks for me.
Fragments from the book of Danhune, 4th Verse (Revised English Edition)
It’s dense and well-thought through for the most part. Basing it in some real-world locations and terms lends to the historical “accuracy” but the point of view on this is a little strange. It’s a first hand account, but has the matter of what seems to be many years’ perspective. That’s sort of the dealio with most gospels, but it would be interesting and maybe improve the story to have a translator’s note stating as much, or more clues that the interpretation is really Bardu sen Alfaktan’s. I was initially critical about the commentary and Danhune as a lay person and probably illiterate (all the priests were killed) but then I went back and saw the intro note. So who is Bardu and their perspective?
I think this would have benefitted from reframing it as an ancient historian’s account removed from Danhune’s personal perspective, or an editor’s note like no historical evidence of Danhune existence survives. Or just gone all in on Danhune as relaying the story to the scribe without the historical text conceit.
4.1-4.5 definitely sound like embellishments from a historian and the language is more elaborate.
4.6 - 4.8 sound like they came from the mouth of a commoner who witnessed the sacking of the city and then some skilled artisans rebuilt their community.
The Diyna dialogue is a bit wild since it’s a fourth hand account.
The secret evils retort sparked my interest, but it’s not elaborated on. Whether there was actually some depravity by the priests beyond apostasy. Even a passing, “The priests’ sins inside the temple were too terrible to mention” kind of thing. Showing that they had lost their way, but attempting to rebuild the covenant with Manuras still didn’t work.
It’s clearly a lot of effort, but I sort of slid around on it, having to read a few times soak it in, much like an actual religious text. It’s not confusing, but I had a tough time engaging with it fully. As an experiment in style, I think the faux-gospel is a good idea, but it’s in the middle between historical commentary and the thoughts from an eye-witness.
Week 518 Entry
This is a cute and kind concept, but the kids’ personalities definitely skew older than you’ve defined them. It’s kind of clunky, but I don’t necessarily hate it. It just raises a lot of questions thematically and about the dynamics of the family and characters.
I can maybe accept that an 8th grader has recreational coding and physics books. Considering that Henry’s first statement is “Body in ground, he’s just gone.” It seems the family is areligious, or at least with the presentation that Henry is a person of science, I find it a bit unusual that he’d build a spirit machine. Maybe if there was some thematic throughline about atoms surviving (stuff of stars, etc), and Jason offers up the suggestion that maybe he could talk to electricity prompting the machine’s construction. I know plenty of people can reconcile science and the afterlife, but I think an 8th grader would probably still be in that range where things are a binary. Either god exists or edgy atheist without a lot of nuance. The Strokes aren’t exactly chart toppers that would naturally be on a 13yo’s radar, so Henry is unusual here. Where’d it come from? Was Poppy a fan? Even that relationship is vague, I’m presuming it’s a grandparent, since Poppy rode in the back with the ham, but it could still be a parent, and at first until I hit the sentence about not speaking at the “funeral” I thought it could also be a pet. But who’s going to badger a sad little kid at a funeral anyway?
But it does bring up an interesting perspective: it’s not a lie if it helps you.
The cover at the funeral, sure. But the Spiritbringer is a whole other can of worms, especially once all the neighborhood kids start showing up. We don’t have Mom’s point of view or advice on anything, and there’s no mention of church or religion about the funeral. I think at least a Mom cameo is in order this close to the actual event of the funeral. I know life happens, but it really stands out that Mom’s nothing more than a packed lunch in the fridge. Then Henry could grapple a little bit more with either having internal conflict about the afterlife either way—because Mom’s religious and Henry’s not, or Mom and Henry are likeminded but Henry still chooses to lie (since Christmas is mentioned, I guess it’s just a high stakes version of bursting the Santa bubble. If it helps Jason in the short term, is the pain of discovering the fiction of the machine going to be less? Well, considering it gains notoriety, there will be a reckoning soon as parents start catching wind of it.).
If Henry built it for his little brother, why did he scramble the equations? Jason isn’t going to know. Same with randomizing the light switch. If it was always 20 seconds after, who would know any better. It’s giving Henry more sciencey skill as character, but he’s still doubling down on the seance without much internal conflict.
Shitfire! Poppy used to say that and Mom would always yell at him for it. Jason handing over the Capri Sun to be strawed. Oh, it’s Henry’s. Capri Suns are good, but I think an 8th grader would be embarrassed to have one in his sack lunch. Maybe giving it to Jason and finding a can of Dew is more of the age range, since we have the strong indication that Henry is the grown up around here. There are a lot of opportunities to make connections between the characters or off hand phrases that wouldn’t muck up the word count too much.
Sniffing a tear into his nose is amusing cute, and I suppose you didn’t want to get too boogery, but I feel like boogers would probably be involved with a 7 or 8 year old crying all day.
Too much not addressed character-wise, and maybe just a few tweaks to Henry would have put this closer to the top than bottom since the premise is good.
Week 518 Entry
Cool concept. I’m reading sort of as a horror story from the point of view of the monster, but there’s too much humanity in Grundorf in the first half. Either plug the personality and logistics plot holes, or switch the perspective to Nolan.
Seems weird that Grundorf corrected Nolan’s assumption about credentials out loud. That could have been internal, and I think calling the disease “it” is a bit of a misstep. Knowing that Grundorf has been infected, or perhaps patient zero, seems like he should be more offended by a banal scientific name, or perhaps even more irritated if some actual Dr. tried coining it as Dr. Smith’s Disease or something.
You’re trying to disguise that Grundorf is a pod person, so that’s all obfuscation, but it hits some obstacles like the desk lamp. Internally, Grundorf wouldn’t be thinking about slowing the condition. Same with the ending, if Grundorf just needs to unbutton his shirt to release spores, it’s just theatrics to burst the tree-boy’s pod to infect Nolan and Davis.
There’s no explanation on why Grundorf is mobile and most people are firmly rooted. I keep thinking about quaking aspens and the interconnectivity, which you could have played with, even seeing nearly microscopic root tendrils connecting the infected in a network. That limits the scope, but wouldn’t be a bad thing, since Grundorf is globetrotting to cases, and it doesn’t seem like he’s part of the cause. If it was in one location and a parade of experts were coming in to consult on Grundorf’s cases then becoming infected that could have resolved some questions about the cause. Or Grundorf is a consultant on some other disease and converts them into trees as a method of preserving life “for better or worse.” It could have even been a conflict between the realist Nolan and the patient’s parents who bring in some spiritual guru from the woods in desperation who offers a terminal kid new life as a tree.
If Grundorf just keeps arriving too late, and if he arrived earlier he could convert the infected into hybrids like himself, that isn’t entirely clear. I guess the shears and vials are another misdirect, Grundorf could have just done the examination and found the sporepod while Nolan was watching without any difference. Grundorf utters the prayer before hitting Nolan with a burst of spores anyway.
But the plant people understanding light differently than the meat brains is an interesting ending and something to consider after the story is over.
If there's some Green Man mythology references cleverly hidden, I can't readily pull them out, but it came to mind.
“He could feel the fibrous parts of him thrum with ecstasy as the boy’s spirit joined with his”
The internet is a series of tubes. I feel like if you’re doing a cyberpunk hacker story that’s a bit of a vanilla start. I think if things were rearranged a bit, it might be more clear—two hackers are conducting the naming poll (and of course 4chan wins, not the NSA) as they watch the AI take down network after network and you can ease in the conflict where Vass is apprehensive and wants to try and stop it/discover its origin, vs. Clay who is full-throttle let Skynet live. Taking the “full logs from the top origin suspects” it’s pretty clear that Clay and Vass aren’t the original creators debating how or if they should put the genie back in the bottle. The ideology of the two should probably have been more emphasized over the chatroom section. And it is a little weird that you don’t explain who Vass and Clay are, but Vass is the one inviting the NSA analyst and not the other way around.
If they’re hackers, they should be antagonistic to the gov’t agencies. Maybe OK with the academics, but consider them compromised from the start.
There are some confusing parts like it reads like Clay wires the chamomile candles into the network, when I it’s referencing all the devices he stole from the neighbor’s house, but the candle sentence is sandwiched in between tech talk.
I also think it would have been more clear to lineate the growth of the AI, first with radio interference, then warping the spotify songs, then geometric youtube edits, then seeing a glitchy Max Headroom on the TV.
Even giving you a lot of leeway with the AI stuff, there really needs to be a grounded explanation for Vass’s death. And it could have been something more AI than hardware based like Godbot spoofing a call to the NSA agents who find Vass in meatspace and eliminate one of Godbot’s enemies even though Vass and the NSA are presumably both trying to stop the AI. That’s cyberpunk baby.
It doesn’t need the moment of strained credulity to create a miracle. There are practically AI cultists now, nevermind if/when one actually gets loose and starts wreaking havoc. Maybe not going to the extremes of arranging the PC pentacles or whatever, but for sure people are going to worship an AI if it gets to a global control level.
I think the other problem here, though, is that Godbot doesn’t have any characterization. I mentioned in another crit about treating spaceships like cars. You don’t need to be an expert mechanic to drive a car, and if you’re writing a story about a mechanic, maybe readers aren’t necessarily as concerned about the auto parts diagrams and how to tune an engine for maximum performance as you are. They just want the characters to get from point A to point B.
So you risk alienating readers by slopping on the details that only some will understand, and you could spend the words on Vass, Clay and most importantly, Godbot. And maybe worse, if someone knows enough to understand all the jargon, they’re probably more likely to poke holes in the plot or question other choices—you’ve gone this far, why say wrapping the devices in aluminum instead of just doubling down and say faraday cage? That far in people are either going to get it or not.
Vass calling it Tumor is good and compared to Godbot does show their ideological stance about it. But really, you should have had the AI choose its own name to end the story. That would have wrapped up everything nicely.
I don’t put much stock in titles, since I almost alway struggle in the last five minutes to come up with something, but I’m not sure how this relates. (In case of emergency, break) Glass Case, has connotations and could have been used in a cool way via Vass counterhacking or whatever, and I guess at the end the Glass Cases are the phones and devices? It’s an odd way to phrase it.
It’s kind of sloppy, and not necessarily in a good cyberpunk way, but I get what you’re going for.
I love hacker crap.
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 05:30|
MockingQuantum and Albatrossy_Rodent are currently tied with 6 points each in the Redemption Dome! Let's see how our next competitor fares:
Hmmm, the order of events in this story is weird. In the first scene they meet in the pet shop, and the protagonist learns that the dog, Pepperoni, is dead. But then in the next scene Pepperoni is alive, so I assumed this was a flashback, but then it says that that was the last time the protagonist saw Professor Perkins?
The structure of the dinner scene didn't feel right. You've got them sitting chatting before and after the meal, but nothing happens while the food's coming out. I think this would have worked better if you'd woven the chitchat into the meal. The food descriptions are very vivid, but kind of unnecessary. Apart from the fact that Professor Perkins is vegetarian, just describing what he cooked doesn't add anything to the characterisation of him or the protagonist, nor progress the plot.
The ending is weak. This story I thought was primarily about the relationship between the protagonist and Perkins, which is left unresolved. I don't really care about her grant application. The opening line was about her buying a puppy, but this also never comes to anything.
Overall, I'm going to give this 5 out of 10: sufficient.
Which means, MockingQuantum and Albatrossy_Rodent are STILL tied for first place with 6 points each, and Something Else is now coming second.
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 08:37|
Thunderdome Week DXIX: The Children of the Revolution Won't Be Fooled Again
A simple prompt this week: I want stories about rebellion and revolution. That's it, that's the prompt. Interpret it as broadly as you like; anything from teens ready to rebel against whatever you've got but usually the nearest male authority figure to the fall of grand galactic empires. Literal, personal or metaphorical revolutions are fine. Write about something going around in a circle if you think you can pull it off.
Flash rules available on request, 225 extra words (total 1381) if you take one.
The usual exclusions apply, no Erotica, fanfic, etc.
Sign-ups close Friday 11:59 PM California time
Submissions close Monday 7:00 AM California time
Judges and Masters:
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 08:33 on Jul 16, 2022
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 10:18|
In. Flash me.
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 12:44|
|# ? Sep 26, 2022 09:16|
|# ? Jul 12, 2022 13:54|