Week 520: God Only Knows
This week your protagonist has a secret. A big, uncomfortable secret. The kind of secret that lives rent-free inside your head. It needn't be anything terrible or transgressive, but it must be something which, once the cat's out of the bag, would forever alter public perception of their person. This secret, whatever it is, comes with two important caveats:
Word count is 1,000. If you'd like a flash rule, you can have one, but if you want more words, I'm putting out a bounty: crit someone else's story (in this thread where I can see it) for an additional 500 words; any story, ever; ideally someone who still posts, but you do you. I ain't a cop. It should go without saying, of course, that this be a substantive crit, not "Story bad, lol."
EDIT: You can sign up and crit later.
Sign-ups close Friday, July 22nd, at 11:59 PM PST, with submissions due Sunday, July 24th, same time, same timezone.
Rohan - Your protagonist has killed in anger and gotten away with it
The Man called M
My Shark Waifuu
Rhymes With Clue
The Cut of Your Jib - Your protagonist refuses to drink alcohol, "For religious reasons," but they're lying
Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at 08:33 on Jul 25, 2022
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 14:55|
|# ? Sep 26, 2022 09:51|
It is me.
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 16:54|
In to deliver another steaming incomprehensible mess
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 18:02|
I've got a secret
I've been hiding
Under my skin
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 18:07|
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 20:13|
I’m … in
|# ? Jul 19, 2022 22:58|
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 00:16|
I shall pass judgement on all your secrets
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 02:44|
I wasn’t planning on entering this week… but in.
Also, I plan on Critting Jib’s story from Office Week, Riley’s Last Rind.
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 02:52|
A Friendly Penguins vs. Nae
The Best-Case Scenario
“So, Pathfinder,” Darkdoom asked with a smile. “How long have you been a supervillain?”
Pathfinder took a sip of her wine. It was lousy, but she couldn’t complain about the drinks on a first date. With the dry spell she’d been having, she couldn’t complain about anything. Luckily, she could rely on her powers of prognostication to drive the conversation instead. Having an inner voice that always knew the best course of action was fantastic, especially for awkward conversations—and there were few things more awkward than dating a man with a pulsating tumor instead of an eyeball.
Her inner voice spoke. Ask about his work, it said. And don’t ask about the eye.
Pathfinder hadn’t been planning on it. “About five years. What about you?”
“Three years.” He smiled, and his hair slipped over his bulging eye-sack. With his hair like that, he was actually handsome, but then he swept it aside and the twitching tumor was back.
Was it growing?
Do not ask about the eye, said the voice.
“Do you enjoy the work?” she said.
Darkdoom nodded; so did the mass. “I wasn’t sure at first, but after I threw my first hero off a cliff, it felt really good, you know?”
Pathfinder did know. She also knew for a fact that the tumor was growing.
Do not ask about the eye!
She downed her wine, then grabbed a passing waiter. “More wine.”
The waiter stared straight at her, pointedly ignoring her date’s face. “R-r-right away, ma’am.”
He bolted, leaving her to contend with Darkdoom alone. Darkdoom seemed like a nice man, and she wanted to clear the air, but her inner voice’s predictions were one-hundred percent accurate. Every time she went against it, she’d somehow ended up paying for it, so listening was her only choice.
But if that tumor got big enough to touch her food, her inner voice could shove it.
As the waiter reappeared with her wine, she tried making nice again. “So what’s your—”
A vein on the tumor burst. Black, vitreous tar sprayed from the hole in a vile stream, splashing the table with a hiss of steam.
Now you can ask about it.
Pathfinder jumped out of her chair. “What the gently caress is wrong with your eye?”
Darkdoom shot upright. As Pathfinder backed up, the waiter froze in her path. Her chair caught on his ankle. He stumbled towards the table, hands outstretched for protection, but his feeble flesh melted away when Darkdoom’s terrible tumor ruptured like a cursed volcano.
The aftermath was strangely serene. Once some nearby heroes showed up to haul Darkdoom away, Pathfinder got let off with a bill for the wine and a promise to visit the waiter in the hospital. It wasn’t how she’d hoped the night would go, but it had somehow been the best-case scenario. Still, she had to wonder: if that was the best, then what was the worst?
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 04:47|
Nae v. Penguin brawl
A Friendly Penguins vs. Nae
a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 00:12 on Jul 28, 2022
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 10:59|
A Friendly Penguins vs. Nae
What’s a supervillain brawl without someone crashing through a skylight to join the fray?
The Hook-Up Accord
‘No good. Levelling an orphanage.’
‘Let me—ah. Repainting my lair.’
‘Can’t do Thursday,’ Cthonix frowned, swiping through their wristpad. ‘Picking my suit up from the cleaners, then I’ve got Larissa’s recital.’
Raven groaned, motioning for another pint. ‘I’m sure she’d forgive you one.’
Cthonix stopped swiping, and levelled a practiced glare at his off-and-on paramour: the type that typically earned panic from the heroes; the type that predestined violence. Raven just shrugged and collected the new pint as it arrived.
‘Exposition,’ Cthonix said, ‘is an important skill.’
‘Sure; but by my count, you’ve been to eight of her recitals this term, and we’ve been on—what, three dates? Four, if you count the time you crashed at mine while Starhawk was chasing you?’
‘Larissa’s important to me,’ Cthonix said. ‘You knew this. Remember, we set the—’
‘The Hook-Up Accord, yes,’ Raven sighed, and Cthonix swore their eyes rolled back behind their cobalt visor. ‘No sharing of henchmen, masks on in the bedroom, sidekicks come first. It’s just … I’ve always been available. Always. I had a chance to unmask Virgo, y’know, but I didn’t take it—because you were in town, and you said you were free.’
Cthonix looked at his empty glass, and tried to catch the eye of the bartender; but he was busy polishing and re-polishing the same glass, pointedly staying clear of their conversation.
‘I know,’ Cthonix murmured.
‘You know what?’
‘I know what happened.’
‘What happened?’ Raven asked. ‘Tell me. Exposit.’
‘Look,’ Cthonix managed, picking at the coaster under his glass. ‘I said I was—’
‘Heroes say they’re sorry,’ Raven spat, leaning forward. ‘“Ooh, I’m sorry I couldn’t save all the kittens!” You’re no hero, Nix. You’re a villain. And villains own it.’
‘Fine!’ Cthonix exclaimed, raising their hands. ‘I told you I was sick, I picked Larissa up from school, and I oversaw her first unmasking.’
‘As if I wouldn’t notice the front-page news,’ Raven said, draining her glass.
‘I know,’ Cthonix sighed. ‘I’m—’
Raven arched an eyebrow above the black tint of unreadable glass.
‘—glad I did it,’ he continued. ‘And I’d do it again.’
Raven held Cthonix’s gaze, and then raised two fingers. ‘Barkeep!’ they called, gaze not leaving Cthonix’s face. ‘Another round!’
‘You’re—you’re not mad?’ Cthonix asked.
Raven finally smiled, thin blood-red lips curving up into a prelude for—well, one person’s torture, another person’s Saturday night. ‘Oh, I am,’ they said. ‘But villains always get what’s coming to them.’
‘You know,’ Cthonix said, collecting his fresh drink and clinking it against Raven’s, ‘I don’t have to repaint my lair. And I guess I could put off the drycleaning another week.’
‘Bloodstains become you,’ Raven smiled.
‘… but I’m still going to the recital,’ Cthonix said. ‘And—I’d like you to come, too. If you’d like.’
Raven reached out, cupping Cthonix’s chin with one hand. ‘I would,’ they said, and pulled him closer before clasping a handcuff around Cthonix’s wrist. ‘Once you’ve served your time.’
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 11:40|
week 509 redemption
My girlfriend and I are on a swampboat, one with the bag fan on the back, and we’re fleeing from something. Something bad that would hurt or kill us. We’re not actually on it, though. We’re hanging onto a metal bar on the back of it. In my dream, you can drive it like that. But the swampboat is damaged and is beginning to sink. I realize that we’re too heavy. I tell her I’m going to let go. She pleads with me not to but I want her to get away and be safe. She’s crying as I let go. I watch the swampboat disappear through the bayou. Have you ever been water skiing or tubing and you let go of the rope and then kinda slowly float backwards and spin around? That’s exactly what it feels like. The swamp is quiet and I listen to the birds and the mosquitos and the frogs and the crickets. The sun begins to set, streaks of orange like a crayon across the sky. I feel the water around me start to shift and in front of me emerges a massive albino alligator. Like, bigger than a car massive. Its eyes have been sewn shut with thick white rope. It grabs me and takes me under. It starts to spin and I start to drown.
interpretation: i think explaining interpretations is pretty lame but anyways, this made me think of the time when i went to florida and was surprised to see a lot of alligators just chilling out in parking lots and the like. it then got me thinking about the raccoons on my college’s campus and how you got used to them over time and then got me thinking about fear and familiarity and how we sorta trick ourselves into looking past those things because if you didnt, you wouldnt be able to exist. but the fear is always there, at least for me, so no matter how many times you call a raccoon a friend, it could always just attack you. so you walk this line of telling yourself youre not afraid while you are but you kind of arent? idk its weird which is why i wrote a poem.
also this dream is also about fear and that kind of knowing something is wrong or is going to get you but not rly clear on what that is, which this is also kind of about but tbh i didnt really plan that.
it’s nothing to be scared of
the parking lot outside the florida cracker barrel
there was a pond, or a swamp, or a bayou,
and there was an alligator, sitting there,
like a pigeon or a raccoon or a plastic bag.
it wasnt a big thing, just chilling there,
jaws thick and heavy, death swirling in its mouth,
and it was funny to look at, a little anecdote i use
when i want to look worldly.
in college, i would cross the bridge to campus
on evenings when i couldnt sleep, and the place was coated
with raccoons. wandering, jumping into trash cans,
walking on sidewalks. it was summer and
there were some first years standing at the end of the bridge,
pointing at the raccoons that covered the walkway.
i couldnt hear them, but they were huddled together,
and i walked past the raccoons, and the kids stared
at me. i smile, animals like those
they are not dangerous, they are used to you.
if you do nothing,
nothing will be done.
think of the alligator sitting in the pond. people
walk over it each and every day. its teeth are serrated,
dirks that can cut through the dirt, and they are terrifying things,
raccoons are called bandits sometimes.
i call them friends when i go camping
as they climb over trees and poke at your tent.
the alligator, too, is looking at me, because i stare,
because i am scared of it,
because it is late
and raindrops drip off the SUV
and the humid air covers my body
and it is my first time in florida,
and there is the alligator,
you know, those things on the TV,
that lurk in water, whose jaws clamp
onto you and drag you under and devour you
in a second. where there once was life
it is easy, i think, to look back and see the alligator,
at its long face and green scales and closed eyes,
and to say, well, its nothing to be scared of.
but raccoons, they can be vicious things,
with jagged teeth and long claws, and it is easy,
too easy, to imagine stepping too fast,
grazing its fur with your hand,
and them jumping and clawing and digging
at your eyes. the cars on the freeway
can always slam into you,
and nothing will squeeze away
that lingering dread of a semi’s lights
heading towards you on the opposite side of the road
the burn on your retina will fade but never fully,
always lingering, the raccoon, the alligator,
the ghost of death, it is there behind you,
flashing its high beams. you can sew your eyes shut,
but a soft breeze will make you wonder,
what if it's the alligator, with the yawning jaw,
looking to eat me, what if it's the raccoon,
the thing that you have seen each evening,
but what if now it is outside your door,
fur all pale white, eyes dark, claws filed to a point,
and it is saying, “you were wrong.
it is something.” i would like to say, if i were to see that,
i would walk past it as if it was nothing.
when i leave the cracker barrel,
the alligator is missing. when i get in the car,
i feel something on my feet and i laugh
and think that it must be the alligator,
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 18:31|
For Not My Type by Beezus from Week 491
Overall this is a really fun story that clips right along in an engaging way. I'm gonna start a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club cover band called "San Bernardino Outback Steakhouse" someday.
I don't have a ton of specific critiques, so I'll just go broad strokes here, but feel free to let me know if you have specific questions or want more detail on anything here.
Right off the bat, I like the character dialogue, it's snappy and colorful, but these three characters are a little squishy and vague to me. I was a little thrown by Greg being the only character who got much in the way of descriptive language, which initially made me think he was going to be the central character. In fact that's sort of the crux of my crit for this story: I'm unclear on who any of these characters are.The story is fun, the execution of the plot is well-paced and paints a complete picture, but the individual characters are sketchy at best. That's not really an issue with flash fiction, and everything feels complete as is, but if I got a magical genie wish for this story, it would be to get a little clearer delineation between the three vampires. As is I just sort of stuck them all in the category of "vampire PUA bros" and that was sufficient for the story you're telling here, but I think there's some details that could be further explored.
Neal is, in at least a small way, taking care of Greg. Why? Why is Greg starving? Who is Neal? Why are these three friends, other than being vampires (and possibly pick up artists by extension)? These are all details the story can survive without, but on a second read I did feel their absence a little more, and I think even a little glimpse of something going on beneath the surface of the quippy dialogue wouldn't hurt.
The biggest question I'd like answered, though, is why Jake? Why is he the one that's willing to go when the other two aren't? I feel like it's pretty clearly implied that it's partially about feeding and delicious blood, but also partially about actual attraction to Madilyn, but what drives that? Why is he willing to do so much for her with just the slim promise of something more down the line? I mean, I was a dumb 20something cis dude in college, so I get that the answer may be "because horny" but that's more a guess on my part.
Those quibbles aside, I think my only hangup was that the end, while paced well and just surprising enough to be fun, doesn't do much that hasn't been done before. That's not a problem unto itself, and there's nothing new under the sun, but my reaction was less "oh holy poo poo" and more "oh yeah, of course that's where this is going" so take that as you will. Not so much a crit as an observation.
I hope my terrible writing opinions help!
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 23:45|
Double-posting like a giant rear end in a top hat because THUNDERDOME
Chernobyl vs MockingQuantum Medieval Times Brawl entry
A Gear Or, A Dexter Bend Fist Sable
“Are you with us, Sir Bors?” Sir Harold gave Bors a hard look. He was a fine, courageous knight—so long as he was astride a charger. But put Bors on his own two feet and ask him to defy the nobility, and his armor was no more than the burrow of a timid mole. “We cannot carry the day without you, Bors. You are the fulcrum on which we bend the lever of the plan.”
Bors squinted in a rodential fashion at the dazzling knights before him. “I swore to uphold my duty before the crown, so help me god, for the length—“
“Yes, we all know the oath,” muttered Sir Berewald.
“So did we all,” said Sir Horace, draping his arm around Bors’s shoulder with a clang. “And were this war, we would fight so long as we drew breath. But it’s a tourney. A tourney put on by the most inveterate fight-fixer north of the Thames.” As one, the knights turned to cast a dark glare at a bulbous man draped in black and gold, seated in a ridiculous throne in front of a banner with the image of a leaping dolphin. The dolphin looked decidedly constipated.
The man was Lord Vandrille of Harbortown, illustrious magistrate and generally rotten fellow. Seated next to him were three weedy officials with colored flags, attentively watching the competitors gather for the opening joust of the tourney. Sir Harold gestured to the officials and whispered, “So long as those blind beanpoles are left to judge the competitions, we are at Vandrille’s mercy. Think back, Bors, back to the tourneys of our youth. Who won the joust? The one who most prettily sat a horse as white as the driven snow? No! Who won the melee? The duelist with the most shapely calf, who could inscribe the names of all the archangels in the dirt with a single flick of their blade? No! The tourney winners were those who most deserved it, who had spent their blood and sweat in the arena, and drove each other to excel.”
“This ‘scoring’ brought in by Lord Vandrille does seem a bit suspect,” Bors said uncertainly.
“Suspect does not encompass it! He’s making us fools and robbing us of our wages to line his pockets! As if that bound-up porpoise isn’t rich enough. If you work with us, we can control the outcome. We can seize the means of competition!”
Bors looked to Vandrille, then to Horace and the knights flanking him. Their resolute faces were warm and encouraging. Bors nodded once, and donned his helm as he strode to his horse.
Sir Bors and Sir Berewald faced each other, as opposite as two competitors could look. Bors’s armor shone, his horse stood erect and regal. Berewald was rough, dark, astride a scruffy charger who was more tendon than flesh. Every knight there knew, though, that Berewald was unbeatable in a joust. But his rough, forceful jousting was not the material of a winning knight in the eyes of the judges.
And so, they drew to their positions in the list, Sir Bors raised his lance, and with impeccable elegance, fell off his horse. The crowd gasped, the judges ruled in Berewald’s favor with resentment writ across their faces.
Thus the tourney proceeded, with each event going to the most deserving competitor. Lord Vandrille, furious with the outcome and hounded by bookmakers looking to collect their bets, fled the land. And on that day, Combative Tourney Knights Local 1 Union was born, and the rest is legend.
|# ? Jul 20, 2022 23:55|
The Best-Case Scenario
Having read these three stories at least twice through (some more than twice...Penguin), I will now confer judgment.
The Hook-Up Accord
The winner is a Friendly Penguin with Old Relationships, in which we have a lot going on for a 500-word piece. All three stories were relatively enjoyable, but this one had layers, more going on, and a more tactile feel. Congratulations Penguin; you've earned it.
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 04:44|
The Best-Case Scenario - Nae
Avoiding awkward conversation topics on the dating scene is usually good for a few chuckles, though this one doesn't have too much going on outside of the joke it's priming. There's some solid footing here for a little more flavor, but both characters' allusions to their lives of crime are ultimately pretty generic and dry, leaving a lot left unsaid I would've liked said. What was the deal with his eyeball anyway? About the only thing we know about Pathfinder is her ability. I would've liked to get to know both of them a little more. Compare Penguin's story, where his characters have established themes, hobbies, interests; we even get to see all three characters "In action" as it were. Your language is pretty solid, but you could've said more, even with less. This story is at its best when it interrupts the character's internal monologue to fixate on the tumor in front of her.
Old Relationships - A Friendly Penguin
Always read character names aloud before committing to them. That said, what a nice little piece. You do a good job implying a slightly larger world than the stage would usually accommodate, with all three characters having at least two dimensions. All three stories went for a kind of punchline approach (which was sensible, given the format), but this one nailed it the best. Rather than taking place in an amorphous bar or restaurant, setting it in a (themed) escape room (that the narrator built himself) allowed for a lot more of the characters' personalities to shine through. Good job!
The Hook-Up Accord - Rohan
Nothing wrong with a partycrasher, but let's take a look and what your brought to the party. All three stories were pretty dialogue heavy, which was to be expected, but this one feels like it leans the most on its dialogue to communicate what's happening, with only a few flourishes or details besides. That dialogue was fine, though a little bit mired in the single father trope, but not particularly strong on its own. Both characters are kind of one-dimensional, until the reveal at the end I suppose...though the more I think about it, the less it works. Why is this the moment he gets arrested, as opposed to earlier or later? Or are the handcuffs a kink thing and I just missed it? Either way, one-dimensional characters are perfectly serviceable when required, but up against Penguin's this just fell short.
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 04:44|
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 09:16|
Another challenger has entered the ring!
week 509 redemption
Oooh this is good. I'm not a big poetry reader so I'm not well placed to comment on your poetic technique or whatnot (are your line breaks in good places? I don't know), but I thought the imagery was very effective, and the piece certainly evoked a very strong mood. The ending sent a wee shiver up my spine, and I thought, gah yes I know exactly what you mean! So for that I am awarding this 7 out of 10.
Which means we have a new leader!!
Redemption Dome Leaderboard:
1st - flerp (7 points)
2nd - MockingQuantum and Albatrossy_Rodent (6 points)
3rd - Something Else (5 points)
Who's next?? Did you know you can enter the Redemption Dome as many times as you like? Only your highest score will count! In the case of equality of scores, the person with the higher number of entries will go ahead! Go go go!
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 10:03|
For The Herd
The big Andalusian stallion, the one ridden by the Queen, approached Biscuit while they were on the ranch. “You like it here, yeah?” He asked. They were standing nose-to-tail, flicking flies away from each other’s faces in a companionable way. “Good work, good exercise, nice clean food, yeah?”
“Of course.” Biscuit didn’t say how lonely she’d been. The other horses didn’t seem to want to hang with her. She figured it was just because she was new.
“Good. You know that new trainer, Miko?”
Biscuit nodded. Miko was an rear end in a top hat. He didn’t give a poo poo. Horses were put away still sweaty, or weren’t warmed up before training.
“So last week Miko didn’t pick out Snoopy’s hooves before training,” the Andalusian went on. “He had a rock in there and bruised his foot. Now he’s limping and can’t show.”
“So Cocoa is taking his place,” Biscuit finished for him. “She’s only had a week on ranch.”
“You guessed it. Everybody loves Cocoa. Can you see where it’s going?”
Biscuit shook her mane and flapped her lips in imitation of human speech. “Why bother putting them on the ranch for two weeks if they can do three?”
“Bingo.” The Andalusian trotted around and bonked his forehead into Biscuit’s. “Everything we’ve got here, we’ve paid for in dead horses and injured riders. We’re done with that. You’re on Miko’s training roster next week. We’ve gotta run this guy off before horses get hurt. I need you to throw him.”
The idea of throwing a rider intentionally was hard for her to imagine. “What if he gets hurt?”
He snorted. “Figure it out, new girl.”
How am I going to do this? Biscuit was nervous, which made her awkward in her stall. She’d stepped on Miko’s toes three times already, and received a whack across the neck for it. Oh good, he’s making it easy.
The training ring was set up for jousting; her favorite exercise. Maybe she could make an excuse, maybe she could say she forgot…
She caught the eye of the other horse in the ring. Cocoa, there after only a week of down time. This wasn’t about her, this was about the herd.
When Miko went to put his foot in the stirrup, she stepped away. He swore and smacked her. He tried again. Biscuit waited until his foot was in the stirrup before she moved, forcing him to hop alongside her. The other riders and employees in the ring laughed, which infuriated Miko.
“Come on you stupid animal,” he growled, dragging Biscuit by her mouth over to a mounting block. Biscuit slouched one shoulder and took off running well before he was prepared, dumping him on the floor.
Miko kept on trying and Biscuit fought him the whole way. Every opportunity to bump his leg against the wall of the arena, she took. Every time his attention drifted from his hands and his seat, he found himself on the ground with Biscuit prancing away.
“drat, Miko! What did you do?” Asked another trainer, laughing as he grabbed Biscuit’s reins.
“Biscuit? Nah. She’s the sweetest. You just have to know how to do it.”
With another rider Biscuit performed flawlessly. Everything he asked her to do, she did, swishing her tail with glee.
When they returned to the mounting blocks, Miko was gone.
The big Andalusian was thrilled. “Cocoa says you was wonderful!” He brayed. He led her into a new stall, this one stamped with an obvious hoofprint. “Welcome to the United Herd of Performance Horses. You’re gonna do great.”
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 12:36|
I am in for week 520 please
|# ? Jul 21, 2022 14:18|
well i'm in.
|# ? Jul 22, 2022 04:45|
|# ? Jul 22, 2022 14:55|
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 02:02|
Requesting a (preferably non-song) flash if possible!
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 04:35|
In for 520
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 05:24|
Your protagonist has first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to kill someone, not out of self-defense, or by accident, but in anger. They were never charged, caught, or even suspected. But they did it, absolutely. 100%.
Requesting a (preferably non-song) flash if possible!
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 05:47|
ok in, and flash pls
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 06:49|
Your protagonist refuses to drink alcohol, "For religious reasons." They're lying.
ok in, and flash pls
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 08:27|
This can no longer be you. Sign-ups are closed, but the last judge seat is still open.
Likewise, feel free to drop a crit if you feel you need the words, or request a flash rule if you need the inspiration.
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 08:30|
it’s nothing to be scared of
I'm not a poet. And I often say I don't "get" poetry but what I really mean is: I don't understand how to write it. I've tried and been deeply unsatisfied with the result. It always feels weak and forced and pretentious. None of which is related to the fact that I liked this.
I think poetry is an interesting response to the prompt. Critiquing a poem feels in many ways similar to analyzing a dream -- I'm looking as much as what isn't being said as what is. I have often dreamed of crocodilians but I have no real fear or phobia of them. I think reptiles are dope. In another life, I'm probably a herpetologist. So if you believe that dreams mean something (which, ironically, I don't), the gators never represent gators but some other stressor. I think the same is here, too. The poem seems to represent a fear of what is new/unknown: whether that's friendships or moving to a new place or whatever. So, yeah, I like it. And I'm a teensy bit envious that I couldn't replicate it. Well done.
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 20:18|
MockingQuantum vs. Chernobyl Princess Brawl Results
When two riders joust, only one can win. Such is the case when domers brawl. Although both of your stories had admirable qualities, only one can be crowned champion. Today, that champion is Chernobyl Princess!
You two wrote fairly similar stories about jilted jousters seizing the means of competition (great phrase, by the way), but the thing that set CP’s story apart for me wasn’t the anthropomorphized horses—not exactly, anyway. While MQ’s story took more of a top-down approach, with a distant narrator that dipped in and out of the heads of everyone present, CP locked in on a protagonist with third-limited. Both are valid options in the right kinds of stories, but when you’ve only got 600 words to work with, it’s easier to wring emotion out of a single character than it is to evenly distribute it across a cast. CP’s story gives me a sense of who Biscuit is and what she cares about, while MQ’s story feels closer to a summary of events. With more focus on a single character—the timid Bors, or perhaps the constipated Lord Vandrille—the elements that make them unique could come through and elevate the piece. As it stands now, I care more about Biscuit than I do about all the characters in MQ’s piece, so CP steals the win.
Chernobyl Princess - What, you thought you got everything perfect just because you won? No no no. For starters, your opening line is clunk city. “The big Andalusian stallion, the one ridden by the Queen, approached Biscuit while they were on the ranch.” Let’s carve that down to ‘The Queen’s Andalusian stallion approached Biscuit while they were on the ranch,’ shall we? Doing that doesn’t just improve the flow of the sentence, but also frees up more words for the rest of the story. You’ve got some more spots where you can cull words, like your dialogue tags of ‘went on’ and ‘finished for him’, so you could have taken another pass to clean this guy up and add more fun horse stuff if you’d wanted. Having said that, can these horses actually talk like humans? I wasn’t sure what to infer from “Biscuit shook her mane and flapped her lips in imitation of human speech” and I don’t think the story benefitted from the inclusion. In a 600-word story starring talking horses, you don’t have the space to go into the logistics of their communication, so you’re better off letting the reader fill in the blanks.
MockingQuantum - Now that I’m done making GBS threads all over CP’s delightful story, let me pull an about-face and hurl some praise your way. First, you’ve got some great flourishes in your prose. I particularly liked ‘Bors squinted in a rodential fashion,’ ‘his armor was no more than the burrow of a timid mole,’ and ‘The dolphin looked decidedly constipated.’ These clever turns of phrase show that you’ve got a good eye for your characters’ actions and expressions, but the weakness of this story is that these cues don’t connect to any sincere emotions. The closest you get is with the line “This ‘scoring’ brought in by Lord Vandrille does seem a bit suspect,” Bors said uncertainly. This was the moment that made me wish you went deeper into Bors’ head. You set him up earlier as caring about his oath, and you show him waving, then noting the resolute faces of his men, but I know there’s more conflict hiding inside Bors than you’re revealing on the page. Dig it out and show it to us! I want to care about Bors; you just have to give me a reason, and I think you’re good enough to give me one.
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 20:37|
The World's Most Gigantic Diamond
The first few days after I stole the world's most gigantic diamond, I slid around the streets like a big fat cat. Pure self-satisfaction. Just buying a cup of coffee made me buzz - acting like I was a normal guy, speaking normal words, like I didn't have the world's most gigantic diamond sitting in a pillowcase in my closet. I'd only go to sleep after pulling it down, giving it a little kiss, and buffing it back to clarity.
On the fifth day, a police detective knocked on my door. I brought him in, served him tea, and maintained the perfect facade of a normal museum warehouse worker who just happened to be on shift that day. He didn't suspect me.
"You won't see much on the news," he said. "They're not even naming the caper this time. Yeah, this case will be kept quiet. Even if we catch whoever did this, we won't make them famous. It only creates more criminals."
When he was gone, I let my eyes half-close, my nostrils flare, and my fingers tent together in glee. I hefted down the pillowcase. I expected to revel in the glory of the world's most gigantic diamond, but when I revealed it, something had changed. The stone had lost its luster. It no longer looked like a treasure to me. It looked like a rock. The smug bubbles that I tried to force to well up within me refused to do so. The tap had run dry. That was the moment I realized the detective had cut a wound in my ego, and it was already infected. My time was already running out. Eventually, I would make the mistake that every captured thief rotting in prison wishes they never had. Sometime soon, I would have to tell someone that it was I who stole the world's most gigantic diamond.
At first, I considered family. That same afternoon, I went to the cemetery, laid a bouquet on my mother and father's plot, and whispered into the marble about what I had done. I thought it would be bittersweet at best, but it was just bitter. After all, I had already had a whole fantasia about my parents watching over me during the heist. Angelic hands guiding security guards away from their posts and such. Telling them out loud brought me nothing, no jolt whatsoever. So, I took the train over to my brother's house, him being the most trustworthy person I knew.
Martin was working in the garage when I walked up. He was a car guy, and when that hood was open, it was probably his only moment of peace in over a week. Combined with my showing up unannounced, I knew he'd have little patience for me, so I resolved to tell him quick and make him understand.
"It's all good," he lied. "You wanna beer?"
"Sure," I said, hunched on the folding chair. "Listen. There's something I need to tell you. It's about... work."
His eyebrows went up. I was the boring brother, after all, no wife or kids, no career prospects. Never any news. But I wanted to really shock him. I wanted to see his jaw hit the floor, his eyes pop out, his buttons pop off and his shoes come untied. I wanted to savor it.
"DADDYYYYYYY," his daughter screamed as she burst through the door, followed by both of her brothers and trailed by Sandy, Martin's wife, hauling the baby and talking on the phone.
"No, the invitations are hideous. Disgusting! Did her kids do it in crayon? Oh, hi Nick, how are ya," she said as she sped by, expertly lassoing the kids. "No, that thing?! No way it's real, have you seen how he dresses? If he spent a month's salary, I know of a house that'll be on the market soon, with a very motivated seller."
In her wake, my sense of self-preservation took the reins again. Even if I trusted Martin, eventually he would let something slip. His reaction when I told him, sweet nectar though it seemed in my mind, would eventually tip her off, and she'd chisel it out of him. I had to lie.
"I stopped going in. This big heist has me spooked. I... I need to borrow some money."
The look on his face was all too familiar. He whipped up the usual lecture. A little while later I was back on the train, $500 in my pocket and burning with self-loathing. Worst of all, I still needed to find someone to tell.
I thought about an anonymous call to a random number in the phone book, but that wouldn't work - I had to be believed. There was a therapist I saw a few years ago, but she'd turn me in. Despite the festering blister that my ego had become, I still didn't want a cure worse than the disease. I got booze, drank, and stalked the empty streets for someone lucid enough to understand me, yet blasted enough to forget. At some point, the night's spiral let me loose, and I found myself in a church confessional.
"Father," I gasped, on my knees. "I have to get something off my chest."
"That's why I'm here," came the voice of the gentle man behind the sliding screen.
I told him everything. How I'd planned it. What had gone wrong. How the world's most gigantic diamond was really only as heavy as an overweight cat when you carried it in the crook of your arm. Throughout my story, I could hear his little gasps, murmurs, and prayers to god. These were small morsels of what I craved, but it was a feast to me.
I went home quietly, took down the world's most gigantic diamond, and was relieved to see that it was back to its original brilliance. Except for a small stubborn smudge on one face. I'd have to find someone to talk to about that.
|# ? Jul 23, 2022 22:56|
Elm Street South of Houston
“George is a living legend at the Agency. Legend,” Cockrell said. He spoke loudly just outside the door, at the door.
“Yeah?” Bryan said. He tried to match tone, but could only mimic volume. Cockrell had given him little preamble. Just that George knew the big one. The big secret.
“Assuming he’s living.” Three raps on the door, and then Cockrell swung it open. Bryan took an uncertain step forward just as Cockrell stepped back.
On the other side a gray feather duster of a man sat in a prized leather armchair. He wore a black suit, same as Bryan and Cockrell, his neck lollipop-loose in the collar. He was chuckling, with nicotine teeth, and held a type of revolver in his left hand, pointed at the door.
“Hands high, scout!” he said.
The Agency had done work to train Bryan on this. With hands at side, turn the palms towards the gun. Then up, steadily up. “Cockrell,” George said. “Your latest. He’s showing his belly with real skill.”
“Yeah. The Agency prioritizes survival skills now..”
“Survival skills. Yes. Blinking at a loaded gun, he’s got that down. Gaping. Real gaper, this one. Your– how many trainees has it been?”
“Six. You surprised me too. Usually you try and get the drop on me in the kitchen,” Cockrell said. He poked his head in, stepped behind Bryan, then moved him forwards by both shoulders, as a youthful shield.
“Tough to be unpredictable in a pension apartment,” George said. He hadn’t lowered the gun. He hadn’t moved it at all, and Bryan kept his hands up. “You only come anymore to take my pulse and drink my scotch. Step in and stay right there. You are a guarantee of Cockrell’s good behavior.”
“We haven’t tried to kill you in decades,” Cockrell said, miffed. Bryan stepped inside. The interior of the apartment was muffled with cigarette smoke. The old ash, the kind that sank into the bed mattress. The Agency training said: get him talking. “Cockrell said you’ve got the big secret,” Bryan said. He added a judicious “sir”.
“Did he say what it was?” George said. Cockrell had disappeared into the kitchen. “No. He didn’t, that’s my Cockrell. A master of terse exchanges, even when he was in his first suit.. Guess away. You’ve earned it, being such a good, compliant hostage.”
“It isn’t aliens,” Cockrell threw out, a room away. “They’re the NSA’s problem.”
“JFK?” Bryan hazarded.
“No,” George said. His puckered gasket of a mouth flexed into a frown. “Sound like you already know. God drat it. This is One-Oh-One. How do you figure, JFK?”
“I’m just — that’s the one they joke about. The Marines took Guadalcanal. The Army beat Hitler. The Navy took the Serapis. We shot the President.”
George grinned. “What did the Coast Guard do?”
Cockrell re-entered the room, holding a cup of water. “All your bottles are empty,” he complained. “The Laphroaig is dusty. Yes, it’s JFK. George knows that one. Despite our best efforts.” He set a full glass of water by George.
“We had to form a union!” George complained. He glanced at the water. A translucent tongue wiped across dry lips. “Us! Agency men! A drat public sector union, just to keep the twenty-two of us from getting killed by our own beloved CIA! Hurtful. And even worse, watching the Agency degrade like this. You could’ve sent the boy in through the window. Look at him. He’s poleaxed.”
“Uh-huh,” Cockrell departed again, this time for the bedroom. Bryan, experimentally, moved slightly to his left. The gun didn’t move to track him – it glared, black and cold, at the now-empty doorframe.
“Down to just the three of us secret-keepers now. The Agency used to send poisoned chocolates, every year. Nine coconut and one poison. Well, ten poison, by my count.” George exerted his neck, to look Bryan in the eye. From this vantage he could see the man’s grip on the gun, an iced-white rictus frozen on the grip. “But they still talk about it, don’t they? The secret they don’t know? The Twenty-two?”
“George, I know you aren’t taking these, these are the same bottles as before,” Cockrell said. He carried in two handfuls of small orange containers. “Long expired. Doctor Ryan says she keeps trying to reach you. We didn’t booby-trap your phone.”
“I—” George hesitated. One hand jerked away from the gun, towards the outstretched bouquet of old meds. He lost his grip on the pistol, which fell away, into the folds of fabric of his suit pants. “--I can’t work out the drat charger. Charging a phone! A phone that ups and dies after three hours! I suppose your trainees feel an affinity. What if one of the Twenty-two called! If I don’t take over their dead drops it all goes to the New York Times.”
Cockrell paused. He lowered a leg, to look George directly in the eye. “George,” he said, very gently. “You know the others are gone, right? You remember that?”
George blinked at him. His hands came up, automatically, clenched at his side. “Yes– I— of course. I knew. Yes. Even Miles? He was ten years—”
“Yeah. George, here, drink some water. I’ll get these caps open.”
“Sure, I’ll just pick a glass up,” George said. He creaked his neck, slowly, to look away. “Kid. Trainee. You want to know a secret? A big important secret?”
“Not really, sir,” Bryan said.
“I—” George looked him in the eye. He had small eyes, caught and suspended in taut old skin. “It’s a big one. A really big one. Are you sure?”
|# ? Jul 24, 2022 01:14|
This was the second time Martina helped move Samuel this month.
The heavy samsonite case squelched in the thick mud as she tried to heft it out. She almost had it free before the dried crust of the lakeshore gave way underfoot, sending her leg calf-deep into the muck. At least this time Martina had the good sense to leave her flip-flops on the deck of the Sofia’s rented pontoon boat.
Somewhere higher up on the parched bank, her favorite pair were still buried a few feet deep under the moondust-fine silt and sand, drying in the Nevada sun.
Martina almost shouted to Sophia to get her rear end down here and help—this was her mess to clean up, after all. But then she counted to ten and kept her cool, even if it was over a hundred degrees in the sun. Sophia was her best friend. Your good friend will help you move a body, but your best friend will help you move it no matter how many times it takes.
And by the time Martina hit ten, she was happy she hadn’t shouted. The low putter of an outboard motor could be heard from somewhere out in the cove, but the tall profile of the pontoon boat was concealing her from whoever was coming in from the dwindling waters of Lake Mead. Muttering an obscenity, Martina grabbed onto the suitcase and used it to haul herself back out of the mud. As she waded carefully back into the water to snatch a rope tied to the side of the boat, she could hear Sophia talking to their visitor.
Yes, it was a shame about the drought. If she waited until next week there might not be a lake Left. No, not fishing, just working on her tan. These coves are nice places to get a little privacy on her day off.
Martina worked furiously with the rope, pulling it through the handle of the suitcase. Last month she’d been worried that the makeshift coffin would stink of death and rot, but she’d found it smelled no different than the rest of the drying mud on the shore of the disappearing lake. And again she was thankful for that as she straddled Samuel, working the rope into a hasty trucker’s hitch.
Sophia risked a furtive look back as she distracted the chatty son-of-a-bitch in the fishing boat and Martina mouthed the word GO.
Well, it’s been great talking but she really had to be going. The wait for that boat ramp is crazy and this rental was due back by three.
Martina held her breath for a moment as the outboard rumbled to life and Sophia hit the throttle. For an instant it seemed like Samuel would be an anchor—intent on keeping the boat and Sophia in the cove forever. Then with a sickly sucking noise, the samsonite case pulled free of the mud and dove into the water behind the accelerating boat.
But the sudden tension on the line caused the knot to cinch down on Martina’s thumb where she’d been grasping the rope. Samuel took her under with him.
She started to count again. By the time she counted to ten, the bathtub-warm water of the shallows had given way to chillier water deep under the surface. When she counted to twenty-two, she’d managed to pull her thumb free of the hitch and started climbing hand-over-hand up the rope, desperate not to lose her grip in the boat’s wake. Forty-seven was when she got her head above the water and managed to get a half-lungful of air.
The boat had cleared the cove and was well out into the main channel before Sophia killed the engine and looked over railing with panic filled eyes. Her best friend was trying to climb up onto the fender of the pontoon and soon there was a flurry of hands grasping at arms and clothes and anything else they could grab to haul Martina over the side and onto the deck. The half-drowned woman coughed up water and laughed and called Sophia a fucker for the accidental atomic wedgie when she dragged Martina over the rail by the waistband of her bathing suit.
They ran the engine slow until the cheap depth finder couldn’t find the bottom anymore. Sophia reached over the side to untie the rope and the samsonite case plunged away. The tail end snapped through the cleat and slapped her forearm just before it vanished beneath the lake’s surface, a red welt left rising above her wrist. Martina said it was the last time that bastard would ever lay a hand on her.
|# ? Jul 24, 2022 14:21|
Grant Rutherford was alive, but he was the only one. This had been true for nearly a dozen years or so, possibly longer, but he'd only known since the tender age of 34, when he'd had a triple Americano in an attempt to stay awake during an interminable work conference. By the time he finished the drink, the world had slowly shifted from the colorful illusion that had hidden reality from him for three decades, to the gauzy mosaic of shadows and figures draped in nth-dimensional smoke. People became insubstantial as they took on the aspect of undeath. Even the once-living world became a twisted mass of dead trees and brittle grass.
Grant alone was still alive in that post-espresso world. Every day he woke to the sun peeking through his shades, as if it promised the color and vibrancy he once knew. And every day he went out to greet the phantasm world he couldn't unsee.
After the stark espresso awakening, his life continued on in a strangely unimpeded manner. He still went to work every weekday and poured over sales spreadsheets, met with prospective clients to pitch the newest innovations in industrial-grade packaging material. People still needed to ship things cross-country, apparently, even after they collectively expired. Mass extinction of the human race had not done much to slow the steady crawl of intermodal shipping after all.
One day after work, Grant left the office, crossed the parking lot to his red Miata, and had the overwhelming urge to smash all the windows in the little car. Instead he laid one caressing hand on the hood and traced the outline of a rust spot. He could always smash the windows later, there was no rush.
He drove to a park all the way across town, Hendricks Memorial. Grant had no idea who Hendricks had been, or what they did that was so memorable they warranted a vast swath of green space in the middle of a huge metro. He wondered what he'd have to do for for there to be a Grant Rutherford Memorial Park after he was gone. He suspected he would have needed to been doing it for a while. The idea made him feel small and frightened, and he spent the remainder of the drive singing loudly along with a Phil Collins album that was stuck in the tape deck.
The park was pleasing and welcoming as anywhere had been in the last few years. Joy of place was a sensation he did not think he would feel again. The park was twilit and grey, but the shades and contrast of the trees had the vibrancy of a black-and-white picture taken with the eye of a skilled photographer. The section of dead world encircled by the wrought-iron park fence had an Ansel Adams beauty that made Grant feel at peace for the first time in a dozen years.
He walked through the greyscale beauty of the park until he found a vacant bench. It had a memorial plaque that had been worn away by forgotten rainstorms and a thousand hands. Maybe he'd have a bench named after him some day. That seemed more in his wheelhouse of commemorations than an entire park. Though someone would need to remember him, and Grant had found it frightfully difficult to befriend the dead.
Not far from his bench, the specters of some young kids were playing a pickup game of soccer, using a pair of withered oaks as an impromptu goal. A wayward kick sent the soccer ball bounding towards Grant and past his bench. He got up to retrieve the ball. He'd found there was nothing to be lost in being courteous to the ghosts that surrounded him.
Scooping up the ball, something in the distance caught his eye. "Hey mister!" The voice was distant, echoey, reaching from some faraway place of memories. "We'd like our ball," said the voice plaintively.
"Oh I'm sorry, I was a million miles away," Grant said, and tossed the ball in their direction. He didn't wait to see if it made it to the kids, or even if he'd managed to huck it in the right direction. He turned to the point in the distance that had caught his attention, drawing his eye implacably, like an irresistible fishhook that had embedded in some deep part of his brain.
It was a point of vibrant green, tucked away in a copse of dead trees. He wandered towards it in a dream-state. Grass, bright and emerald, a patch of it large enough to lay in, soaked up the sun. And indeed, someone was laying in it. Someone alive.
It was only when the someone gasped that Grant realized he'd been staring at her for too long. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to startle you! This just... seemed like a fine place to take in nature," he said lamely.
"Oh, it is, it's my favorite spot," she said, uncertainly. She reminded Grant of a cornered cat.
"I'll leave you to it then. Everyone should have their favorite spot." He waved, like that was a normal thing to do when accidentally intimidating a stranger who happened to be the only other living human, and began to back away as unthreateningly as possible.
She visibly relaxed as the distance between them grew. When he was a few yards away, a look of confused recognition crept into her green eyes. She raised her hand slowly, gracefully, and waved to him as if in a trance.
Grant nodded knowingly, and turned away to leave the copse. He made his way back to his red Miata, and his shadowy apartment in turn. The next morning, when the slant of sunlight through his curtains stirred him to wakefulness, the gray world looked a little more bright.
|# ? Jul 24, 2022 20:35|
M Crits: Riley's Last Rind:
While using search on the Archive, I saw a story come up called Riley's Last Ride, a story that won that week that was also written by Jib. There, both Riley and Billygoat were old and hated each other, but they seemed on good terms here. Likewise, I could see that this was a prequel.
Ride was a nice short Noir where there was a good fight scene, and that was what the prompt then was going for. It wasn’t clear here what the hell Riley’s Job was. Was he a photographer? Bounty Hunter? Hitman? Ride suggests that he was a photographer, but this doesn’t seem clear here. Plus, not everyone reads all the stories here.
I also found some confusion about what the characters are. Other than Nips, I thought everyone was human, but then It was mentioned that Riley was a “Very Important Pachyderm”. Is he an Elephant? Obese? Nothing in Ride suggested that the characters were anthropomorphic (except for Billygoat’s name, but that could pass as a nickname).
Otherwise, it was an okay story, but it didn’t seem like there was “work” done in the traditional sense. It also had some twists that didn’t make any sense, even if the reader read Ride. It’s almost as if the femme fatale in a Marlowe story went up to him and said, “I’ve never spoken to an Ostrich before.” I can see why the judges got confused. Unfortunately, while it helped introduce the main characters, reading Ride beforehand did not help.
|# ? Jul 24, 2022 22:03|
Week 520 Entry
Margaret dreaded first dates. She would probably hate second dates too, but she’d never had one. She stared at her reflection and forced a smile. “I did secretarial work for the Home Office,” she said. She forced it to echo in her brain. She knew it would be asked and it needed to sound natural. She gritted her teeth, then checked them for lipstick stains.
George seemed like a nice enough chap. She had first met him in November when he came into the library where she worked. He leaned over her shoulder and pointed at 12-across. “French indecipherable cipher. That’s Playfair. P-L-A-Y-F-A-I-R.” She smiled and thanked him, and wrote the letters very lightly in pencil so she could replace them with Vigenère later. Since then he’d come in two more times before inviting her to go out for dinner and dancing.
She sat down at the table opposite George, and adjusted her silverware so the handles were parallel. She made flickering eye contact with George, then quickly looked away and re-folded her napkin. Stop fidgeting, she thought to herself, and tidied her skirt with her hands. “Mild weather for this time of year,” she said stupidly.
“Oh yes quite. I enjoy the cool weather, actually. I was stationed in France during the war, and it was dreadfully warm in the summer. Though before that I did a brief stint in India and that was ghastly.”
“We’re all so very grateful to you brave lads for doing the fighting while we shivered here at home.”
“Well everyone did their part these past years, at home and abroad. What did you do during the war?”
Margaret was suddenly aware of every muscle in her body. “I did secretarial work for the Home Office.” Did she say that too fast? Did it sound believable? She tried not to glance away or look suspicious. Was the whole room watching? Suddenly she was certain Scotland Yard was on their way.
“Well I’m sure that’s very important too,” George said, seemingly unaware that an hour had passed in Margaret’s mind in the last two seconds.
Somehow Margaret stumbled through the rest of dinner. Luckily George had no problem carrying on entire conversations by himself. He talked about the stock market, and golf, and horses. Margaret nodded and smiled and pretended any of it mattered to her.
Despite the dull conversation and tepid chemistry between them, George actually said he still wanted to go dancing with her after dinner.
“You wait here, I’ll go get us some drinks. I see my mate Mike over there and want to say hello,” George said before confidently abandoning her. Margaret tried to make herself as small as possible. She watched a woman in chunky brown pumps stride heavily to the dance floor. Margaret watched her begin to move. She counted her steps, imagining her footfalls pattering in a code alphabet. Big step, small step. Three big steps. One big step. Four small steps. Well this seems like nothing, Margaret thought, laughing despite herself.
“What’s so funny?” George asked, appearing from nowhere.
“That woman there- it’s nothing sorry, just had a funny thought.” Margaret sipped the drink George handed her. She did not like the taste whatsoever. She smiled and sipped again.
“Margaret, this is my friend Michael and his girlfriend, Jane.” Margaret’s mouth fell open when she saw Jane. She knew her. They were in Hut 5 together at Bletchley. She also worked as a codebreaker, and was almost as clever as Margaret.
“Margaret, darling, it’s lovely to see you again!” Jane said, lightly kissing Margaret’s cheek. Margaret suddenly realized her mouth was still hanging open like an idiot.
“You two know each other?” Michael asked. Margaret clenched. How do they say they know each other? They can’t say they met during the war. There would be too many questions. Maybe they could-
“Miss Margaret and I go way back,” Jane replied effortlessly. “Boys, why don’t you go get us some fresh drinks while we catch up?” They wandered off with absolutely zero questions.
“I don’t know how you do that, Jane. This secret business is impossible. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone because I get so frightened I’ll say something about Bletchley.”
Jane smiled warmly. “I know what you mean. When I started seeing Michael, I was nervous whenever we discussed the war. I felt like I was hiding such a big part of myself.”
“But how do you do it? How do you go out with someone while trying to disguise how clever you are?”
Jane laughed, a merry twinkling sound. “I don’t! Michael knows I’m far cleverer than he is. He just doesn’t know about all my work experience.”
“It’s just… We made such a difference. We saved lives. It was so important. And now, we just…? Go back to being small? To dancing and smiling? To going on dates with boring men?”
Jane laughed again. “Well you don’t have to date only boring ones. You don’t have to date at all, Margaret. But you do have to go back to trying to make a life for yourself.”
A life. Margaret had spent so much time obsessing over what she shouldn’t and couldn’t do, she forgot to think about what she wanted from life. She wanted a role, a purpose, a meaning. If she was going to have a partner, she wanted someone who knew her, and cared what she had to say.
The date ended awkwardly, as they all did. They both knew there wouldn’t be a second date, and neither of them particularly wanted one. Margaret entered her flat alone and closed the door behind her, breathing a sigh of relief. She leaned her back against the door and closed her eyes. It was so quiet. She changed into comfortable clothes and made herself a cup of tea. She settled into her armchair, with a blanket and a crossword puzzle. This was the happiest she’d been all night.
|# ? Jul 24, 2022 22:30|
Flash: Your protagonist has killed in anger and gotten away with it.
Beatrix’s Cottage For Weary Travellers
Beatrix had two rules for her cottage.
The first was that everybody left satisfied. As soon as Tulip caught sight of travellers—with eyes that could spot cloaks on a trail leagues hence, but not the dirt on her own face—Beatrix would set the kettle to boil, and begin assembling a platter. And once her weary guests arrived, she’d treat the rigours of travel as best she could. Her cottage was a welcome respite, famed for generosity, and few feet passed without being warmed by her fire, scrubbed in soapy water, and shod in freshly darned socks.
The second rule was that nobody asked questions. Her cottage lay on a trade route connecting hinterland to coast, and hosted merchants, monks, and soldiers alike. Whatever their cloth, their business was their own, and not for discussion.
(To Tulip, of course, there were many more rules than this. Rules like don’t have cake before dinner and don’t make noise with guests around and always wear your hat outside; rules that guests broke with impunity but she was needlessly held to. Tulip found it tortuously unfair, but raising this was a good way to earn more chores.)
On the first day of spring, Beatrix was filling in dirt around new bulbs in the flowerbed when a familiar cry rang out from the porch. She stood, with effort and the help of her shovel, to find Tulip waiting at the top of the steps: bouncing from foot to foot, her pale skin reddened with excitement. ‘Travellers en route!’ she cried. ‘From the north!’
‘The north,’ Beatrix mused, taking Tulip’s hand and entering the cottage. ‘What will they like, Tul? Chamomile? Ashpit Sencha?’
‘Strawberry Cream!’ Tulip exclaimed; a frequent refrain since some well-meaning trader from the forest had gifted a box last month.
‘Perhaps,’ Beatrix sighed, letting the water run clear a few seconds before hefting the kettle underneath. ‘But, you know there won’t be more once we’ve finished it?’
‘Fine,’ Tulip relented, reaching up to the shelves for the plainer box—already almost as tall as Beatrix, no longer needing the milkcrate for height. ‘Ashpit Sencha, I guess.’
‘An excellent choice,’ Beatrix smiled, and began measuring out tealeaves. Pretty soon, as the water came to a boil and the leaves began to steep, their kitchen was suffused by the rich scent of a beach-side firepit. ‘Now—stay upstairs until I call for you, okay?’
‘I know,’ Tulip whined, and turned to leave. Beatrix watched until she started climbing the stairs, and then shook her head before turning back to the kettle and the tea. It’s a wonder she ever bothered: for all her boisterousness, Tulip possessed some preternatural stealth when she felt like it. More than once, she’d caught the girl eavesdropping from the doorframe as they talked news from the wider world.
As the tea steeped, Beatrix moved on to sustenance—a hunk of well-aged cheddar with silver knife still embedded, crusty bread with whipped butter, and a batch of choc-chip cookies she’d baked with Tulip the day before. Humming quietly, she assembled a platter enough for four; she knew the northfolk cultivated ravenous appetites. Satisfied, she nodded to herself and carried the silver tray toward the nook, where her breath caught in her throat and she nearly dropped everything.
‘May I help?’ the elf asked, kindly reaching out for the tray. ‘That seems quite heavy, and—dare I say—more than we two could manage without help.’
Beatrix collected herself, and smiled as warmly as she could manage. ‘No, no,’ she insisted, hurrying into the nook before brain could overrule feet. ‘You’re my guest, sit down, sit down. I’m sorry, I must have missed the bell.’
The elf, tall enough to brush the lightshade, ears ascending from a cascade of blonde hair, smiled and lowered themself into the nearest armchair, hands clasped delicately in their lap. ‘I don’t want to be a bother,’ the elf smiled, as Beatrix poured a cup. ‘Please, in my lands it is custom for guests to serve hosts the first drink—’
Their lands, Beatrix thought, as a drop of hot tea spilt onto her wrist and she bit the instinct to swear. North? More like north of the north, well over the Palades heRanges. What compelled them to travel this far? Was it possible that—no, she told herself. One of the rules was, “no questions”, and that cut both ways.
‘Forgive me,’ she said. ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve had the honour to host—one of your kind. I hope something here is to your tastes?’
The elf smiled warmly, and perused the assortment. Their pale fingers reached first for the choc-chip cookies; a sweet tooth must be genetic, Beatrix mused. The elf bit into its chewy centre, and turned sparkling eyes upon their host. ‘These were made with some skill,’ they said, patting crumbs away from their lips. ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say there was some magic weaved in—a lovely reminder of home. My thanks.’
Beatrix beamed, though the compliment was not hers to take. “Some magic”—they’d grown careless. But who’d expect an elf this far south?
They placed the cookie on their saucer and lifted the cup to their lips; but before they sipped, their eyes narrowed and shifted across to the doorframe. Beatrix instinctively turned, seeing nothing but shadow and stillness; but the elf reached a hand out to Beatrix’s arm, and spoke softly:
‘I believe,’ they said, ‘we are being overheard.’
‘Oh?’ Beatrix said, and then, a bit louder: ‘One of my cats, I suppose. They should be upstairs, but sometimes the food smells too good, so—’
The elf replaced their tea, and spoke some words in their own lilting language, which Beatrix did not know but understand well enough. Words of Command—a magic she had hoped to never hear again. Her skin chilled as Tulip’s figure crept around the doorframe, obeying without cognisance, eyes upon an elder of her kind.
Beatrix knew too well the power of this magic; but she knew it took focus, and attention, and that the elf wouldn’t notice her hand reaching out to palm the cheese knife as the girl walked toward them.
‘Well,’ the elf said, smiling pleasantly, as if Tulip had entered of her own volition. ‘This is an unexpected delight—another visitor from over the Palades? Please, you must join us.’
‘No,’ Beatrix said, as Tulip’s eyes widened in recognition—the skin, the hair, the ears. ‘She’s my daughter.’
The elf turned to Beatrix, taking in her bronzed skin and curls of dark hair, and then turned to Tulip, with her pale skin and tufts of blonde poking out from underneath a woollen hat. ‘Your daughter,’ they mused, lips curling up. ‘No, I don’t think so. Child—remove your hat, and show us what you truly are.’
Tulip looked to Beatrix, and then to the waiting elf, her hands stilled.
‘Amrthll’h ayrhhl,’ the elf began, and Tulip’s hands moved to follow before Beatrix cut in:
Tulip’s eyes flickered, her hands twitching halfway to her head; and then she turned, suddenly, and ran back up the stairs, two-at-a-time, breaking several rules but not the only one that mattered.
Beatrix leaned forward, feeling the weight of the knife in her hand, and glared at the elf: ‘Don’t you ever use that language in my house.’
‘You can’t keep one of our kind here,’ the elf said, still watching the empty doorway. ‘Where is her guardian?’
‘Her guardian,’ Beatrix said, ‘came through several seasons ago. Unfortunately, he was … wounded, and he succumbed to his injuries. I have raised her ever since.’
The elf turned to face Beatrix, shaking their head. ‘You lack the supplies,’ they said. ‘You lack the medicine, the knowledge, the … the magic she requires. Can you even protect her, out here in the wilderness, by yourself?’
‘I’ve protected her,’ Beatrix said, eyes hard, ‘more than her guardian ever did.’
‘The guardian,’ the elf ventured, ‘who met misfortune himself, in these lands.’
Beatrix fingered the blade. ‘She’s safe with me.’
The elf stayed silent watching Beatrix, silver eyes glimmering with some secret incantation. At last, they closed their eyes and shook their head slowly, before standing to leave.
‘I’ll be through again next season,’ the elf said, hoisting their pack back onto their wiry shoulders. ‘I’ll bring what herbs and potions I can. Books, so she can learn our tongue for herself.’
‘That’s kind of you,’ Beatrix said, following the elf out. ‘But only if she wills it.’
Once the elf had left, Beatrix put the kettle back on to boil. Humming quietly, she climbed onto the milkcrate and reached high up for the tealeaves. A generous scoop, and the room blossomed into a comforting hug of fresh strawberries and rich cream.
Assembling enough cakes for two—an ageing lady, and a growing girl—she lifted the platter and carried it up to her daughter’s room.
It was time to have a talk.
|# ? Jul 25, 2022 03:53|
|# ? Sep 26, 2022 09:51|
“The advantage of a bad memory,” I say, “is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” I’m quoting Nietzsche and, unsurprisingly, my Marine friends don’t catch the reference. I give the interchangeable meatheads a cheeky smile and, after a moment’s pause, they all cheers my beer with their own. One of them reaches over and touches the scar that runs across my skull. It’s a jagged, crooked thing stretching from my temple to the back of my neck.
“gently caress me, bro,” he says. “I can’t believe you did three loving tours in the sandbox and get loving wiped by a loving AC unit--”
“--Falling out of a window,” I say. “Yeah, it’s surprising. It’s a surprising thing to happen. One moment you’re on the sidewalk, sipping a coffee. The next, clonk, skull fracture, brain bleeding, massive memory gaps.”
“drat. That’s some poo poo-rear end luck.”
“Hey, it could have been worse,” I say. “Could have hit me in the face and ruined my good looks, you know?”
There is a roar of laughter. “This loving guy!”
“And,” I say, “chicks dig scars, amirite?”
“Hell yeah!” All of them yell those words at the same time. Hell. Yeah. And then they start undressing, right there at the bar, removing bits of clothing and explaining how they were injured, and everyone is touching everyone’s muscles and it is incredibly homoerotic and they are all hilariously unaware of that fact. Eventually, one of them drunkenly puts his hand over mine and gives it a squeeze.
“Danno,” he says. “Bro. Tell me you remember the knife kill. Please, tell me you at least remember that.”
I smile and shrug. “Sorry.”
“gently caress. Aight, fuckheads, hey, who wants to tell Danno about his sick-rear end knife kill?”
The answer? All of them. Simultaneously. Half-shouting, half-laughing, they joyfully explain how I was clearing a house when a ‘Hajji’ burst out of a closet and started wrestling for my gun and how I grabbed my knife and stuck it in his jugular and blood was everywhere and it got in my mouth and that it was ‘awesome’ and ‘bad-rear end’ and ‘heavy metal’ and that they were all very jealous. And then they all start pounding their fists on the table and chanting, ‘Knife kill! Knife kill!’ while two of them reenact the event. Ketchup is used as a blood substitute. And, suddenly, you know, I get it. I get why my brother has PTSD. I get why he couldn’t see these guys anymore. Because this was just one incident that occured overseas and it is absolutely horrifying.
“What’s loving wild, Danno, is that you were a stone cold motherfucker about it until we started joking that the terrorist was loving gay. Then you got real loving upset, bro.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “What?”
“Cause of AIDS.” His grin stretches from ear to ear. “And you swallowed his blood.”
“Right. Right. Of course.”
Shortly thereafter, I excuse myself to the restroom. I notice that my brother, the real Danno, has texted me. Checking in. I tell him it’s going well.
He had called me back at the beginning of the year. We’d shot the poo poo and he’d asked how business was going and I told him, “Good. Cannabis is booming. I’m honestly doing very little actual work anymore. I hired some great folks. The shop kinda just runs itself. I check in every once and a while but mostly I’m just chilling.”
And he said, “So, what, you just smoke weed all day and gently caress chicks?”
I said, “Women are, occasionally, involved, sure.”
He said, “I’m loving jealous, bro.”
And then I asked him what he was up to. And he said he was sitting in the parking lot of a Denny’s with a gun in his lap and he was considering putting it under his chin. That he couldn’t sleep without waking up screaming. That he was drinking too much. That he had done terrible things overseas and that he couldn’t get the images out of his mind anymore. Somehow, I don’t know how but somehow, I convinced him to come see me. Immediately. He drove cross country, stopping only for gas, and we stayed on the phone all night until he pulled up in my driveway.
He had a nasty scar across his scalp. “One night, I drove home drunk as poo poo,” he explained. “Locked my keys in the car. Decided to break the window with my head.”
We got coffee and kept talking. That night, we slept in my bed like how we used to do when we were kids. When he woke up crying, I held his head to my chest. I got him a job and a therapist that specialized in working with veterans and a ton of weed and some magic mushrooms and, slowly, he started improving. He found his humor again. The playfulness we’d shared as children. He slept through the night. He stopped drinking.
Then came the letter. The Marines wanted to give him a medal. His whole squad would be there. He broke down.
“I can’t put on that loving uniform again,” he said. “I can’t loving do it, bro.”
I said, “So… don’t? Don’t go. gently caress ‘em.”
He said, “But they’re giving me the medal because what I did mattered, right? It loving mattered, right?”
And for lack of anything better to say, I lied. I said, “I’m sure it did.”
Things got worse from there. He started drinking again. Got into a bar fight. Drove my car through the garage door and passed out with the engine still running and a bottle of Jack in the passenger seat. I dragged him into the shower and turned on the water and stayed awake with him until he sobered up. Over breakfast, I said, "You're not going to this stupid ceremony."
He shook his head. "I have to go. My poo poo couldn't have all been for nothing. If it was for loving nothing, bro, then, like…"
The implication hung between us like a noose.
I said, "I'll go."
"For me? And then loving what? Have everyone think I'm some pussy bitch?"
"As you," I said. "We're twins. No one will know."
"They'll know. There's no way. There's too much poo poo you won't know, bro. That you can't even loving understand."
Which was true. But as we stared at each other, my eyes were drawn to the scar across his scalp and I realized that maybe I didn't need to know anything at all. I just needed a story. A stupid, strange, surprising story. And that evening, Danno took his knife, the 'knife kill' knife, and sliced me across the skull.
I'm washing my hands when one of the Marines stumbles into the bathroom. The one who played the 'Hajji' in the reenactment. He grabs my shoulders, turns me around, and hugs me. He squeezes me. When he releases, he touches my face with both of his hands. He presses his forehead against mine.
"I know," he says. "I know I'm loving drunk right now. I know that. But can I be honest with you, Danno? Can I be loving honest for one loving second?"
I say, "Sure."
"I'm jealous, bro." His eyes have started to water. "You can't remember the cool poo poo but you don't remember the poo poo poo poo, either. It was loving bad, bro. I wish, like, I wish sometimes maybe I'd get hit in the head by an AC unit, too. You don't know it, bro, but you're the loving lucky one. You get to start fresh. Start over. I can't really sleep anymore. I see it when I close my eyes. I see what we did."
I ask, "Do you go to therapy?"
He shakes his head. "I'm not a loving pussy, bro."
"Listen," I say. "If you were pinned down in a firefight, if bullets were flying and you were at risk of being killed, would you be a pussy to call for backup?"
"Then call for backup."
The Marine lets me go, stumbles backwards, bumps into the door, and then punches it. "I'm not a loving pussy!"
His knuckles are bleeding.
"I know a guy," I say. "He's a veteran. Works with veterans. He helped me. I'll give you his number. Is that okay? He can help. I won't tell the other guys. Just give him a call, alright?"
He nods. He hugs me again. Longer and tighter. But when he lets me go, he yells, "Cup check!" and punches me in the balls. As I'm doubled over, he grabs my head and kisses my scar and says, “I love you.”
|# ? Jul 25, 2022 04:12|