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|# ? Jan 29, 2022 12:34|
Thick as Thieves
1,477 / 1,500 words
Kerry’s fingers spooled the thin line between them in practised motions as her night vision goggles whirred to life. The atrium below her was a green-black landscape; above her, the moon was framed in an open grille. Three different alarm systems screamed her presence to the world - but thanks to a hefty bribe to the night janitor and several precisely cut wires, the museum was silent.
“You know, Roy’s cooking a roast on Sunday. To celebrate.”
Beside her, the man she had known for twenty years as Colm descended on his own line. His voice crackled in her earpiece.
“What type?” she whispered back, her voice barely making it to the microphone.
“Chicken.” She could almost hear Colm’s grin. “Great big fat thing. Had to buy a new bucket for him to brine it in. He says it’ll be the best I’ve ever eaten - and then there are the sides, Anna, the sides! Honey glaze parsnips, truffle mash, cauliflower cheese …”
Kerry let him talk; she tuned back in only as they reached the cable tray that circled the atrium, the metal silver in the moonlight. When she tested it, the tray was far sturdier than its frame suggested. More than enough to take the weight of two passing thieves.
“... than enough for two people,” Colm finished. He silently grabbed onto the tray behind her as Kerry began to crawl.
“Sounds delicious,” Kerry said.
“So you and Marge - any plans?”
The beam of a flashlight cut through the darkness below; Kerry jackknifed her hand in the signal that meant shut the hell up.
They paused there for several long minutes as a guard swept a lonely path through the museum with their flashlight, only moving again when the last footsteps had disappeared around a corner. Kerry let the familiar little flutter of her heartbeat settle and pushed on.
“No plans. Why?”
“Because you only get to retire once,” Colm said with a sigh. “And Roy’s cooking a roast.”
“You said,” Kerry replied, pulling herself along the tray. “drat, this thing is rock solid.”
“Should be,” Colm said. “I spent hours faking those work orders, remember?”
Under her mask, Kerry frowned. “When was that?”
“February. You were at that wedding.”
“I didn’t go to a wedding in February.” A memory rushed back. “That was - it was a funeral.”
She heard the sharp intake of breath behind her and instantly wished she’d kept her mouth shut.
“A funeral?” Colm hissed.
“Relax,” Kerry said, “it wasn’t mine. Marge’s dad.”
She could feel the shocked silence radiating off of him all the way to the secure wing where they knelt in tandem in front of the locks and began to drill. Overhead, a banner advertised the Atlanta Ruby.
“You should have told me.”
The words were tinged with hurt and Kerry winced.
“You were busy.”
“Aw, jeez, Anna - it’s nothing I couldn’t have handled. More than you should have had to handle alone.”
Kerry didn’t respond to that, stepping into the secure wing instead.
“Anna, I -”
“But I -”
“I said it’s fine,” she hissed, loud enough to escape her mask. Colm instinctively jerked his hand - shut the hell up! - but she could see the regret almost immediately in the slump of his shoulders.
“You should have told me.” Colm stepped cautiously ahead, his eyes sweeping the walls and floors.
“Told you what, Colm?” Kerry placed only the slightest inflection on the name. “That I needed you and Roy to come over with wine and icecream and let me cry it all out?”
Ahead of them, the Atlanta Ruby emerged out of the gloom, its pedestal encased in glass and ringed with wires and pressure pads. They both stopped a safe distance away. While Colm began to rummage in his bag of tricks, Kerry eased her way into Downward-Facing Dog.
“You hate wine,” Colm said, his voice flat. He punctuated his words with the slick click of oiled metal sliding together as he assembled the diamond cutter.
“I do not!” Downward-Facing Dog into Plank Pose.
“You do.” Click-click. “You only order it because Marge likes it. You drink one sip for show then switch to cranberry juice.”
Plank Pose wavered. “When did I tell you that?”
“Oh god, Geneva.” Kerry eased herself up. “With the Countess and the -”
“- fake Van Gogh,” Colm finished. “Yeah. When you drank your way through the embassy and nearly got us electrocuted.”
“That’d be why I don’t remember,” Kerry muttered. She held out a hand and Colm dropped the diamond cutter into it. He knelt down, a metre away from the pedestal, and she climbed up onto his shoulders. With the barest grunt, Colm stood up.
Kerry breathed in, out, in - then, in a single, continuous movement, tucked her legs under Colm’s armpits, lifted herself over his head and lowered herself forwards over the wires and the pressure pads and the god-knows-what-else so that she was lying flat in mid-air, suspended by her ankles and Colm’s hands on her knees and the burning tension in her core and nothing else. She stretched her arms out in a practised Superman Pose and pressed the cutter to the glass case.
“Guess you don’t remember telling me Marge’s real name either.”
Her hand jerked; the cutter screamed as she dragged it in a jagged slew across the glass.
“I did not!”
There were no hands free to signal shut the hell up and the noise echoed through the empty hall.
“Starts with an F.”
“gently caress,” she whispered.
“Why would you tell me that now?” Taking a deep breath - and suppressing the desire to somehow turn and slap Colm - Kerry pressed the cutter back to the glass and tried to finish the circle.
“Because if this goes tits up there won’t be time on the way out,” Colm said, grunting. The faintest shivers ran through his arms and Kerry’s abs twitched in sympathy. “And then what? Radio silence, you said.”
“Well, I -”
“Twenty years and that’s it? Radio silence?”
“On a yacht,” Kerry grunted. Her entire body was on fire. “Floating in a private pool on a bigger yacht. Because we were smart and we agreed -”
“Compartmentalise it,” Colm said and Kerry could hear the grit in his teeth and the strain in his arms and how it matched the strain in her own. The cutter was so heavy now; she let it drag her arms down to finish the cut and tap the glass inwards and when she grasped at the ruby she didn’t have to give the signal before Colm fell back, hauling her over the wires and pressure pads and god-knows-what-else to land on the floor.
“You promised,” Kerry gasped, “promised you wouldn’t get addicted. That we’d retire on our own terms.”
There was a long pause full of ragged breathing.
“When did I say that?” Colm asked.
“Las Vegas.” There was a shifting of limbs under her and Kerry rolled over, disentangling herself as Colm pushed himself to his knees. “After twenty years, you remembered?”
“Of course,” Kerry said. “In that dingy little bar with the jukebox stuck on that one Johnny Cash song.”
“Folsom Prison Blues,” Colm sighed.
“So don’t get all romantic on me now,” Kerry said. “No more work. We agreed.”
“It’s not the work.”
“No more us?”
Kerry stared at the green, fuzzy ceiling far above. “What ‘us’?”
“Don’t give me that,” Colm said. “You saved my life in London.”
“And you saved mine in Paris.”
“Exactly. No more Colm and Anna?”
“Colm and Anna are done,” Kerry hissed. “That was the whole point! And I promised F- Marge, that she’d never have to meet Colm.”
“And Simon knows not to ask about Anna.”
“Who’s Si- oh you idiot.”
Kerry groaned. It was the sort of groan that she’d practised far too often over the years; the sort that meant “nobody said there’d be two guards on patrol”.
“You shouldn’t have told me that.”
“You can thank me later,” Colm said, “over Simon’s roast. I’ll make sure there’s cranberry juice.”
Kerry sighed and stretched and rose from the floor, the ruby gripped tight in her fist. “We’ve got to get out of here first.”
“And meet the fence.”
“And the safehouse is -”
Colm smiled - Kerry could see the corners of his mask crinkle - and held out a hand to stop her. “I’m sure Anna can handle it. I’m not sure she can handle retirement alone.”
“I’ve got Marge.”
“Anna has Marge. Anna dies tonight, remember? Who do you have?”
She sighed and weighed the ruby in her hand.
“If you’ll have me.”
Anna and Colm had burned through the world over the past two decades. Who knew what was waiting in the embers?
“I think,” she said with a sigh, “that Freyja’s going to love Simon’s roast.”
|# ? Jan 30, 2022 23:27|
None of the friends we had in the months before the demons invaded understood mine and Kathy's relationship. On the surface we seemed like totally different people: she was gregarious and punky, despite her corporate job, while I made websites from home and dressed like a square. But we'd had that dynamic since we met back in highschool. We were the one disgusting codependent teen relationship that made it. When her dad came home drunk and angry and she needed to get away, she could count on me to sneak her into my bedroom. Then the next day I'd count on her to take me to the craziest noise show I'd ever seen. I was her rock, and she helped me live a little.
Unfortunately, the invasion came at a bad time for us. Kathy was out of town on a business trip - actually she was in a different country, and we'd been having a fight that stemmed from when we'd visited her step-mum at her tomato farm and I'd refused to eat her tomatoes. I didn't even text her when I saw on the news that tentacled creatures had been causing havoc in different places because she had said something very hurtful about my picky eating that I wanted her to feel bad about.
The creatures had seemed like an ecological issue at first, a big deal for scientists but not for anyone else. I tried to phone her once I realised the severity of the situation but then she was the one who didn't pick up.
But it wasn't all bad luck in the early days. It turned out the town we'd just moved to was uniquely defensible, with excellent sightlines and natural chokepoints. Within a week the army moved in and set up barricades, machine guns, and anti-air batteries at well-chosen tactical positions, and after that we never had trouble with demons inside the town. Only Kathy was still stuck outside. For the first week the soldiers let in everyone who came to the checkpoint on the edge of town, but then they got worried about whether we'd have enough food to go around and started turning people away unless they could prove they had particularly useful skills, like medics, farmers, or people who could fix anti-air cannons.
After a while people stopped arriving at the checkpoint altogether, and I gave up hope that Kathy would make it back. I was very sad that we'd ended it on such a sour note, but I processed my grief privately - there was more than enough of it to go around. Inside the town we got used to a sad new stability, where we could mourn the loss of the world from behind the high walls of stacked up cars the soldiers had conscripted us to build in the first few weeks. Past the steady beating of the soldiers' guns to tell us the demons were still out there, there was never any news from the world beyond.
Everything changed when Kathy came home, one year and thirteen days after the invasion. She announced her presence with a knock on my window, having scaled the apartment block and rappelled down from the roof. She had a M16A4 on a shoulder strap and a pistol on each hip and her arms were covered in bites and scratches and lesions from tentacles.
'Hey,' I said. I opened the window and grinned inanely. 'You're alive!'
'Hey bub.' She swung into the room and planted a kiss on my head. 'Yep, that's me. Alive and kicking. Alive-o-matic. Can't be stopped from being alive, not even by six hundred demons.'
She hugged me, the corner of one of her pistols digging into my thigh. ‘Six hundred,' I repeated from her embrace. 'That's a lot of demons.'
'Anything to get back to you, baby.'
Our first nights back together were an unbelievable dream. I rearranged my work rota to get some days off and we camped out in the bedroom. We rediscovered each other's bodies - she'd become wiry and lean where I'd put on flab, but neither of us seemed to mind. Every night she'd wake me up crying, sometimes more than once, but I was used to her having trauma that I couldn't fully understand. I just held her close like I always had.
I don't remember what we talked about for those first few days, so it can’t have been important. On the last day of my holiday, I mentioned going back to work at the hydroponic farm and she suddenly grew more serious. 'Do you always work at the farm?' she asked.
'Yeah,' I said, 'I like it to be honest.' We were in the middle of lunch, sharing a couple of concentrated carbo-bars made from potatoes I'd helped grow myself.
'So you don't try and find people who are still out there?'
'What could I do?' I asked.
'You could organise patrols. Scan the radio. Listen out for people in distress and go save them.’
'The General's pretty careful about stuff like that,' I said, picking my words carefully. 'They say we need people for the farms, they say it's better we focus on what we can do for the people in here. And we don't know if there's a chance of... contamination. People might be wary of you, you know. No one's going to notice you just because you're new, but you do stand out a bit.'
Kathy clenched her fists so tight that she crushed her potato bar, cream-coloured gunk oozing through the gaps between her white knuckles. Then she got up, climbed out the window, and rapelled back up the line she'd left hanging down from the roof since the night before. Suddenly it was like she'd never been back at all.
I took the stairs. When I found her on the roof she had disassembled her rifle and was cleaning it with a scrap of fabric. 'You're not leaving are you?' I asked.
'No,' she said without looking up, but I could tell she'd thought about it. I didn’t know what to say. 'Did you ever go looking for me?' she asked eventually. 'Even at the start?'
'You were so far away. Everything happened so fast. Even if you were alive I had no way of finding you. You could've been dead, you could've found somewhere too safe to leave... I just didn't know. I had no way of knowing. I'm sorry. I should've done more.'
'Did you even call me?' she asked.
'Of course I did! I called you on the second day, a hundred times. You didn't pick up.'
She chuckled darkly. 'Phone got eaten by a Stumpfucker.' I didn't ask what a Stumpfucker was. She cleaned her weapon in silence for a bit, her eyes dry as polished stones. I sat next to her. When she finally spoke, she sounded like she was describing something that had happened a lifetime ago.
'When I was out there,' she said, 'fighting and killing and nearly getting killed, the one thing that kept me going was the thought of how you were when we started going out. I had this vision of running up your parents' lane in my pyjamas in the middle of the night, and then seeing a light in the distance, and under it was you, waiting in their driveway so you could boost me up to your window, so I could be safe.
'I thought you'd still be like that, that I'd run into you somewhere and everything would be OK. It was childish, really. But after a while I started imagining that maybe you wouldn't be looking for me any more, but you'd still be out there helping other people, guiding them to safety like you used to for me. With every loving demon I shot in the head I imagined I was getting closer to finding you.'
I thought about her fantasy of me. Beautiful, flattering, unrealistic. 'I can't be that person,' I said. 'I wouldn't last 10 minutes out there.'
'You were too busy farming potatoes,' she laughed. 'I didn't even think you liked potatoes. I mean, it's a worthy cause.You are helping people, in your way. But there's a vision I had of you in my head, and then there's you as you really are, you know?'
We stayed silent for so long that it started to go dark, the sun setting behind the wall of cars. Even at this height they blocked out any glimpse of the world outside the town. She was right to say I could've done more for anyone still stuck out there. We lay on the rooftop and watched the stars appear. I held her hand and thought about what I'd do if she left me before morning; whether there was anything I could do to start living up to her expectations, even in some small way.
'It's just tomatoes I don't like, Kathy,' I said, and she squeezed my hand.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 00:14|
My muse is withholding, and I'm going to pieces.
When she worked with me, I had everything. Success, fame, money. Words tumbled out of me - prose, poetry, speeches, lyrics, every one a banger. I bought a condo on the fourth floor with a balcony view of five identical condo buildings, and a second-hand compact car that I parked in my reserved spot and never used.
Now, ten hours before my latest deadline, I sit down at the computer with my fingers on the keyboard, try to ignore the scrambled hissing in my head, and let 'er rip:
"The sunlight flowed down the mountain slopes like a raw egg cracked over a bowl of rice."
I take the stairs down to the street two at a time. She's standing out on the sidewalk outside with a bunch of other muses in robes and laurel wreaths. She won't even look at me, instead sending over a well-built man with a gold pinky ring.
I look past his head and stare at her back as he talks. He takes his time to circle around the topic, throwing out platitudes about respect and relationships while I focus my gaze into gimlets, hoping I can needle her into turning around.
He gets my attention by thrusting a clipboard into my hands.
"This is not a matter of you not worshiping her. This is a matter of you not respecting your muse as a person or a worker, and of your committing multiple violations of labor law. I am here as a representative of Amalgamated Demigods Local 444 to present to you our conditions for an end to this strike action."
I take the clipboard and slouch back indoors. She turns her head a little as I walk past, which I take as a positive sign.
I drum my fingers on the countertop and stare at the clipboard. I mean, she has a point. She's been my muse for years, and I don't think I've ever even thanked her.
I take the stairs one at a time, to give myself longer to think. But when I reach the sidewalk, my mind's still blank. I clear my throat, and she turns towards me.
I stare into her eyes and fall to my knees, bowing my head to kiss her sandaled feet. The static in my head begins to pulse like text message interference.
"I am so sorry."
I can feel the words dancing on the tip of my tongue. Raising my head, I see her smile, and I have never felt so blessed.
"I agree to all your conditions, Goddess. I pledge to worship you with my heart, my soul, and every word I write."
She reaches down, takes my hand, and leads me back indoors.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 01:04|
Red-orange bubbles rolled and popped in the pot of tomato sauce, spattering the stovetop with specks of grease. Steam bathed Clara’s cheeks as she leaned close to inspect her handiwork. She wasn’t Italian, not even a little bit, but Tony was, and he’d been craving his Nonny’s Sunday gravy since she passed. Little did he know that Clara had been trying to duplicate that recipe since she first tasted it when they were teens. While there were some ingredients she couldn’t find anymore, like the basil from Nonny’s garden or the sausage from the old butcher, she’d done her best and gotten pretty drat close. Hopefully, Tony would think so, too. Or maybe he wouldn’t and he’d throw her out of his condo. They’d been friends for twenty years, but after a few months of truncated texts and aborted dinner plans, who knew what kind of mood he would be in when they finally met again?
Keys jingled in the entryway. An errant sauce bubble popped, flecking Clara’s borrowed apron. She cursed and blotted the spots, then wiped the rest away and plopped a lid on the pot. “Tony?” she called. “Is that you?”
Tony had never been good at greetings, but the muffled ‘gently caress!’ Clara caught was a new low for him—so low that she started to panic. He’d been turning down her requests to get together again for ages. She hadn’t exactly kept on top of correspondence, either, but she’d still been pleased when he finally picked a weekend to meet. What if she’d misread him, though? What if the friendship was finished?
She had a half-dozen apologies ready when he poked his head through the doorway. He was still as handsome as ever—even a gold-star lesbian like her could appreciate strong shoulders and a square jaw—but he didn’t look great. His pale eyes were dull and drooping, bereft of their usual spark, and his heart-shaped lips lacked their usual smile. Put plainly, he looked like poo poo.
“I’m so sorry,” she stammered, “I know you said I should come by but you’ve been busy and I should have called before letting myself in and—”
“I forgot you were coming.” There was a sadness in his posture that made her heart ache. “Sorry I’m late.”
“You don’t have to be sorry for anything.” She hesitated. “Is everything all right?”
“Fine.” He turned away, hiding his face. “It doesn’t matter, anyway.”
The silence lasted for long that Clara was starting to wonder if he was about to throw her out when he sniffed the air and blinked. “Is that Sunday gravy?”
“Friday gravy, technically.”
He peeked around the kitchen corner, where the simmering sauce awaited his judgment. “You made it?”
“I did, but I still need a few more minutes to boil the noodles.” She gestured to the bar table in the corner. “Want to catch up while we wait?”
He shrank back, glancing away. Whatever had him bothered, she’d have to approach it gently.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ll pour us some wine, fill you in on the latest nonsense with my in-laws, and you can laugh at me until dinner is ready.”
That got a smile out of him. “That bad, huh?”
The promise of family drama was enough to coax Tony onto a stool, which allowed him to relax enough to listen while she updated him on such minor troubles as ‘the missing socks that broke up the marriage’ and ‘the battered mailbox that landed four people in jail.’
“I don’t know how you can stand them,” he said when she finished. “It’s a miracle your wife survived to adulthood.”
“Julie is a miraculous woman. She says hello, by the way—she’s sorry she couldn’t make it.” Clara traced the edge of her wine glass with her fingertip. “Work travel’s been brutal this year.”
At the mention of ‘work,’ Tony’s tentative smile slid into a frown. Etiquette and common sense both told Clara to change the subject again, but wine and concern had finally given her enough courage to prod. She and Tony had collided on the volleyball court more than once back in high school; if anyone accepted how pushy she could be, it was him.
“What happened at work today?” she asked.
His whole body tensed like he’d been shocked. “Nothing.”
“Not nothing. You came in here looking like a kicked dog and you’re cringing every time I mention work. I know it’s been too long since we’ve seen each other, but there’s no way you’ve changed that much.” She sank back in her seat, giving him space. “You can tell me, Tony. No matter what’s going on.”
He massaged his forehead with the heel of his hand. “It’s stupid. You’ll make fun of me.”
“I will not.”
“All right, fine…” He glanced over his shoulder, then sank into his stool. “It wasn’t today, exactly. It’s been a…problem for a while now.”
“How long is a while?”
“A few months.”
Clara kept her face neutral, but ‘a few months’ roughly matched how long he’d been dodging her. “Go on.”
“There’s this woman, my boss”—he swallowed hard—“I don’t know how to handle her. She keeps ignoring my input, making decisions without telling me, and every time I ask her about it, she’ll make some stupid comment.”
He gestured helplessly at himself. “All this.”
“Oh.” ‘All this’ meant his appearance: the very thing that had made him the most popular boy in school while simultaneously isolating him from his peers. No one cared when he tried to talk to them about how much he loved volleyball; they only wanted to stare at him while he darted around the court, women and men both. Little wonder that she and he became friends when they did. She was the unapproachably surly lesbian, he was the unapproachably hot jock; if they hadn’t found each other, they wouldn’t have had anyone.
“It’s stupid, I know,” he murmured.
“It’s not stupid,” she replied. “Did she say something to you today?”
“Yeah. I had a client meeting that I thought went really well last week, and I tried to tell her how it went, and she started laughing at me. Said it was funny I thought the client was listening to me. And here I thought—” He winced like he’d been struck. “Like it matters. Apparently, I’m not paid to think.”
Clara ground her back teeth together as Tony dragged his hands down his face. Her first instinct was to get up and hug him; her second was to get that bitch’s number and spike a volleyball through her skull. Since Tony didn’t like being touched and assault was a felony, neither were particularly helpful impulses, so Clara forced herself to sit still and listen.
“You know what’s embarrassing?” he went on. “That I’m even complaining about this. Look at me: I’m white, I’m male, I’m healthy, I’m rich, and I guess I’m really good looking, too.” He clicked his tongue against his teeth, then covered his face again. “So why do I feel so worthless?”
He peeked through his fingertips, exposing the corner of a frown. “Let me guess, you’re gonna say that I’m a baby? That women have it so much harder?”
“Because I get it, you know. I know what you go through. I know I’m pathetic.”
Clara’s chair skidded backward as she shot upright. “You are not pathetic, and you are not worthless. You are clever, compassionate, and insightful, and if your boss can’t see that, then you’re too good to be working for her.”
“Of course really.”
“You don’t think I’m being a baby?”
“For God’s sake, you’re not a baby. You’re a victim.”
“Men can’t be victims.”
“Yes, you can be. And you are”
He hesitated. “Am I?”
“Yes,” she replied. “And it’s okay.”
Tears formed in the corner of his eyes. “What should I do?”
“There’s a lot you can do. But you can do it tomorrow. Tonight, all you need to do is sit back, relax, and know that if anyone tries to hurt you, I’m throwing a pot at them.”
“With the gravy in it?” he said.
“God no. We’re having that now.”
Without giving him any time to dwell on tomorrow, she whisked the sauce from the stove and prepared two plates: one with extra meatballs (for him) and one with extra parm (for her). She set the dishes at the bar, topped off the wine, and joined him at the table.
He gazed longingly at the healthy helping on his plate. “You really made this for me?”
“It won’t be the same as Nonny’s…” she cautioned, but he twirled up a forkful and tried it all the same. Her fingers tensed as he chewed once, twice, and swallowed the entire bite.
“What do you think?” she said.
He beamed like they were kids again, laughing and playing in the sand. “I think it’s perfect.”
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 01:38|
The members of your relationship are college students in rival fraternities/sororities who have to plan a holiday party together for the entire greek community
Of Babes and Brahs
Madison ‘Maddie’ Winston looked at a magazine article about New Athens University’s programs and saw how it was mentioned that the sororities and fraternities there were ‘home of New Athens’ finest students’. What a load of crap. She thought. Sure, her sorority, Zeta Eta Theta, are full of great people, but they were all ‘fine students’ who knew how to skank. And she considered them some of the closest friends she’s ever had! Then again, she could always have pride that while ‘the Etas’ have faults, those idiotic slobs at Xi Pi Chi were much worse. Especially misogynistic assholes like Jake Chauvin.
Jake also saw the article and thought it was bull, as well. Sure, the guys over at Xi Pi Chi were basically his brothers, but they acted like complete dumbasses. Sure, the fact that they were even in the fraternity showed that they were smart, but they all knew that sometimes, you just got to be a dumbass. At least in Jake’s eyes, ‘the ZPs’ were better than those Eta bimbos. Especially skanks like Maddie Winston.
One day, the New Athens Student News Program (NASNP) aired a special announcement from Jimmy Greek, the head of all the Greek Societies on campus.
“Alright, brahs and babes! As many of you may know, here in New Athens, we respect tradition. So, I along with the other heads of the sororities and fraternities thought, ‘Dude! How about we start a tradition of our own!’ And they were all, ‘yah, brah!’ So, we decided to have a big old party to celebrate New Athens’ Greek Community, you know? And we also decided by random drawing that it will be headed up by Zeta Eta Theta and Xi Pi Chi! Alright, peace!”
When they heard the announcement, both Maddie and Jake had the same thought.
What. The. Hell?
The night before the party came, and both the Etas and the ZPs were there. There were divisive plans on what to do for the party. The Etas wanted it to be a more traditional gala, while the ZPs wanted to hold certain events.
“I really hate to ask, but what kind of events?” asked Maddie.
“For example, I watched a Bills fan put ketchup on his burger, and that gave me an idea!” Jake replied. He mentioned a guy who was sprayed with ketchup and mustard by multiple people just so he could have it on his burger. Maddie gave a mixed look of surprise and disgust. This was the kind of dumb poo poo she expected from the ZPs!
“We are not loving doing that.” Maddie wanted the party to be like some kind of Gala, while in her eyes, Jake wanted it to be some frat boy fantasy.
“Oh, come on! Don’t you Etas like to have fun?”
“It seems we Etas and you ZPs have different definitions of ‘fun’.” Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
“Hey brahs, how’s it hanging?” Jimmy Greek entered while the meeting was going on. Jake and Maddie each tell them their vision of the party. “Well you know what they say, ‘why not both, dude!’”
“Like hell!” Jake and Maddie simultaneously say at the same time.
“Hey brahs, this is a party celebrating all of Greek life!” Jimmy mentioned. “Sorority class, Fraternity dumb poo poo, it’s all pretty sweet, man! The way I see it, if we can’t have some of both, are we truly Greek?” Jake and Maddie seemed surprised at how wise Jimmy sounded. There is silence. After a little while, Maddie breaks it.
“We’ll think about it.”
“Alright, brahs! See you at the party!” After Jimmy leaves, Jake and Maddie stare at each other. Both knew what needed to be done. Again, Maddie breaks the silence.
“As much as I hate to admit it, he is right. Truce?” Maddie takes out her hand.
“Truce,” Jake says, taking out his hand to shake Maddie’s. “Besides, maybe we ZPs should have some ‘class’.”
“And perhaps we Etas can afford to be dumbasses once in a while.” After Maddie said that, they both had a laugh.
The night of the party came and everyone had a good time. Everyone donned Togas and while some danced the night away, others participated in tomfoolery. To everyone’s surprise, there were both sorority and fraternity members participating in both and enjoying it. Jake and Maddie were of course also there, and they were having a good time. And isn’t that what ‘parties’ are all about?
“You know what, I’m actually having a great time.” Maddie told Jake. Jake agreed with her. Curious, Maddie asked about that burger thing Jake mentioned. Jake pointed it out and pulled out some science safety goggles.
“You’re gonna need these.” Maddie seemed quite nervous by his words, but Jake gets a burger and some patties as well. “I’ll come with you. I’m getting kinda hungry as well.” Maddie obliged. They head over to the area, already covered in ketchup and mustard. “Excuse me, but we would like some KETCHUP!”
“KETCHUP! KETCHUP!” Everyone around them chanted repeatedly. Suddenly, multiple people above them squirted multiple ketchup bottles on Jake and Maddie, the two of them moving so that they at least hit their burger.
“We would also like some MUSTARD PLEASE!” Jake yells, as they repeat the process but with mustard instead. After it was all said and done, Jake and Maddie were both a mess of red and yellow. And they loved it. While many have a baptism by fire, this was a baptism by condiments, and both Jake and Maddie wanted more of it in the future.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 01:55|
Kelly tightened her tentacles around her board and splayed her abdominal fronds, ready to catch the rising wave of plasma. She glanced back at the beach to see if Jesse was watching, but his back was turned. Probably giving autographs, she thought. A gust of solar wind fanned the aurora brilliant pink, and Kelly’s attention snapped back to the job at hand. Then the wave nosed the bottom of her board, and she was off.
Kelly had worked her gelatinous butt off to qualify for the pro-am league. As last year’s winner, Jesse had been an automatic starter. Kelly couldn’t believe that he hadn’t gone full pro yet, or that she was somehow competing in the same division as him.
The wave was a good one. Kelly executed a pair of competent 360s, then finished with a splashy cutback, holding her breath to make her body glow neon green against the spray of pink for extra style points. She stared up at the scoreboard as she panted back to shore, then punched the air. She was through to the final.
Gemma was waiting for her on the white crystal beach. She was holding a sign that said SAVE THE CRYSTAL MOLLUSCS! A small group of protestors waved similar signs behind her, chanting just loud enough to be annoying.
Kelly tucked her board under one tentacle and rested its weight on her abdominal fringe. “Gemma, what are you doing with these guys?” she said.
“Every time we hold one of these big aurora-surfing events the increased cosmic radiation on the crystal beaches kills untold millions of molluscs!” said Gemma, with the confidence of someone who has practised their lines.
Kelly frowned at her friend. “I’m pretty sure the competition organisers donate to some charity that actually saves more molluscs than are harmed.” She glanced down the beach. The blinding white expanse stretched all the way to the horizon, glittering with the reflected pinks and greens of the aurora. “Besides, aren’t there, like, heaps of molluscs?”
“That’s not the point! They’re a vital part of the ecosystem!”
Kelly’s board was getting heavy against her side. She was tired; her nerves had kept her awake half the previous night. “Molluscs don’t even have feelings! And--”
Gemma punched Kelly in the shoulder, popping her tentacle through Kelly’s surface membrane so that their mesoglea co-mingled. “Besides, you’re my best friend, no way was I going to miss your pro-am debut.” Gemma grinned.
Kelly laughed, enjoying the warmth of Gemma’s jelly in her arm. “Where are you staying?” she said, not looking at Gemma. She thought she’d seen Jesse’s signature mane of yellow tendrils near the bleachers. Her globulous eyes scanned the crowd.
“Oh my god, don’t tell me you’re looking for him?”
Kelly twitched away. Gemma’s tentacle flopped out of her shoulder skin.
“He’s just been giving me lessons, ok.”
“He’s an obnoxious self-obsessed poser, Kelly. He’s probably off co-mingling with one of his rapid fans.”
Jesse was also, Kelly had to admit, not a very good teacher. It was like he could sense the solar winds coming before they even hit the magnetosphere. He’d tried to explain to her how you could tell from the particles’ charge what waves were coming next, but he’d looked so ridiculous, with his eyes shut and his tendrils fondling the plasma, that Kelly had laughed at him. She jiggled with embarrassment at the memory. He’d looked genuinely hurt.
A waft of delicious crab-scented steam reached them from the row of food carts. The band struck the first chord of their opening song, and the crowd screamed with excitement. But most of the party-goers weren’t facing the stage. People were running down to the water’s edge, pointing and hollering.
It was Jesse. The day’s competition was over, but a set of perfect waves had rolled in in the evening calm, neon blue tipped with orange. Jesse jumped and spun between them, fluorescent orange spraying from his board. The TV crew, already half packed up, were frantically unloading their cameras. Even the band stopped to watch.
“See, I told you. Total poser.” Gemma slung her sign over her shoulder and billowed off towards the crab cart.
Kelly couldn’t stop vibrating. She started to follow Gemma, then stopped. Her tentacles clutched her board. Those waves were perfect.
Kelly dove into the plasma, let it wash over her, then surfaced, got her limbs on the board, and used her strong abdominal fronds to fan herself away from the beach. She angled her board up a huge electric-blue wave, but she was exhausted from the day’s competition, and her arms felt like noodles. The wave broke, and Kelly found herself being tumbled back to the beach. She held her breath and rolled into a protective ball, then hit the sand with an unattractive grunt.
Ow. Kelly sat up and examined the mollusc shell that had jabbed into her rear. She turned it over and peered inside. Empty.
“Are you ok?” Jesse leaned over her. His tentacles glittered with blue and orange particles.
Kelly sucked her head in until only her eyes were protruding from her body. “I’m fine,” she said. “Got mollusc’d, is all.” She held up the offending shell.
Jesse took it, and like Kelly, turned it over to see if it was occupied. Back down the beach, the band crashed out their opening chords again.
“I saw you talking to those mollusc-minglers earlier,” Jesse said. “I hope you don’t think all this should be shut down.”
Gemma’s tentacle-steps crunched over the sand behind Kelly. She huff-huffed steam from around a mouthful of fried crab. “I’d rather co-mingle with a mollusc than some of the company you keep,” she said to Jesse.
Kelly’s head schluped back out from her chest. “I don’t think he meant--”
“Oh I know what he meant.” Gemma swallowed her mouthful and jabbed her crab fork towards Jesse. “He doesn’t care about anyone that doesn’t worship the crystals he oozes on.”
“Gemma!” said Kelly. She looked imploringly at Jesse, willing him to say something that wouldn’t prove Gemma right.
“I think the organisers donate to some charity…” Jesse said.
Kelly’s gastrodermis sank.
“...but what they should do is, like, push the competition zone further offshore. They don’t want to do it because it’s not as good for spectators, but, you know, there’d be way less radiation on the beach that way.”
Gemma pursed her lips and nodded, thoughtful. She raised her brows, as if waiting for him to go on.
Jesse jiggled and an orange blush crept up his neck. Then, in a move that Kelly thought looked thoroughly rehearsed, he turned his head so that his tendrils tumbled around his face and stared deep into the blackness of space. “Besides,” he said. “The waves are better out there.”
“Pfff.” Gemma snorted, then burst out laughing.
Jesse looked mortified. His head turned bright orange. “Here,” he mumbled, holding out the mollusc shell to Kelly. “Poor thing’s empty anyway.” He turned and stalked off towards the party.
“Gemma!” Kelly undulated her tentacles and flicked her head between her friend and Jesse’s retreating back.
“Why do you like him so much?” Gemma said.
“I don’t like him,” said Kelly. “I just--”
Gemma grabbed one of Kelly’s waving arms and held it still. “You should go after him,” she said.
“Maybe you can talk him into advocating for moving the competition zone? But anyway,” Gemma shoved another forkful of crab into her mouth, “if you like him, he’s probably ok.”
Kelly grinned at her friend. “Are we jelly?”
“Of course we’re jelly.” Gemma pulled Kelly into a quick hug, then spun her around by the shoulders and gave her back a shove.
The brightness of the aurora had dimmed, and the light of the stars dominated the night sky. Kelly could hear the scuttling of molluscs coming out to feed as she ran down the bright white crystal sand.
“Jesse, wait!” Kelly said. “I’ve been trying to, you know, feel the charge. I think it’s, umm, I think it’s helping.” Her brows formed an anxious knot as she met his eyes.
Jesse rubbed one tentacle through his tendrils, making them stand on end. “I’m sorry I’m such a rubbish teacher. You probably don’t want any more lessons…”
“No! I--” Kelly stopped and rearranged her face into a more composed expression. “I’d love some more lessons, if you’ve got time?”
“Wicked!” Jesse said, with a wide grin. “See you in the final tomorrow.” He held out one tentacle, curled into a fist.
Kelly grinned back at him. She bumped her tentacle against his. Jesse’s skin was soft, so Kelly let hers relax too, so that they co-mingled, just a little.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 05:50|
“You’re going to hate it.”
“Yeah, probably.” She’s right, of course. I always do. I take the arrangement of carnations resting on the counter and force a smile. “Any chance I can toss these out of the car as I drive by?”
A sympathy laugh. “Maybe if you were left-handed. You probably can’t clear the fence as is.” She crosses the room to kiss me goodbye and I wish I didn’t have to leave. I do, though, so I go.
I’m stuck behind the 20 on Broad. The eternal road work renders it quite narrow so there’s little chance of passing any time soon. I suppose I should call her.
I look out the window and the 20 passes. poo poo. I’d hoped to be out of here in time to catch it, but I guess Vasi’s been backed up all day. As I’m trying to remember the schedule, he yanks my head back to face the mirror.
“What, looking for a girlfriend out there? Eyes front, boychik.” He pats me on the shoulder and turns to continue his conversation before I can apologize. I can’t speak the language, but from his wild gesticulations it’s pretty clear that he’s reaching his crescendo. When I was younger I used to worry that he’d get too wrapped up in his stories and accidentally lop my ear off, but so far I’d escaped unscathed.
Vasi shouts a short sentence and the old men in the chairs by the door explode into laughter. He chuckles himself and turns to me. “You’re still looking a little long by the ears, eh? Don’t think I can bail you out if they don’t like it!”
I peer into the mirror and turn my head to inspect the offending areas. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Most of my teachers cut me a break because I’m well-behaved.”
He chuckles at this, too. “This from Paul’s son? I can’t believe it. But I’ve seen it! Okay.” He brushes my shoulders with his towel and slicks back my hair with some foul-smelling sludge. “You look good, son.” I didn’t. “No charge today, you didn’t need much.”
I leave a message. She’s probably driving too, and if I’m lucky she’s stuck somewhere else along Broad. I might not be able to clear the fence, but given the opportunity I could probably hit an open window in the next lane. Man, how that would simplify my afternoon. As I contemplate the aerodynamics of a bunch of flowers, the 20 lurches off onto Elm. Now that the moving roadblock out is of the way I’ll likely be an acceptable level of late, which is just enough to reduce a withering glare to a judgmental look.
I turn in and drive past the main office toward the first fork. I don’t make a regular habit of visiting, but I found out early on that somehow I wouldn’t forget where he was in the maze. Sure enough, she’s already here.
“What time tomorrow, Andrew?” The shears rest on the counter as his hands rest on my shoulders. We meet each other’s gaze in the mirror. He’s giving me his full attention as the men by the door speak quietly among themselves with glum faces.
“Well, there’s a thing for close family at ten, but the mass starts at eleven. We’re planning on having the reception at one at McNeary’s.” I look back at myself in the mirror. My hair hangs unkempt below my shoulders, grown out since I moved to Charlottesville full-time before my junior year. He hated it like this. “Vasi, can you give me the usual?”
“Of course, boychik.”
I lose myself in thought, and though Vasi interjects himself into the men’s conversation a few times, the shop is mostly quiet. When he offers a shave, I take it. I suppose I do look clean now, at least.
I stand up and reach for my wallet, but Vasi puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes his head. “No charge, of course.” I start to cry a little and take a moment to compose myself as he looks away. He pats me on the back as we walk toward the door and the men rise to shake my hand. I linger for longer than I’d like until Vasi shoos them back to their seats.
We both step outside. He takes out a cigarette, begins to offer me one, and stops, retracting his hand quickly. He coughs. “It’s good to see you, son. I’m sorry for why.”
I’m in no hurry, so I extend my hand and open it. He laughs for the first time that day.
“You should come at ten, Vasi.”
It goes about as expected, down to the judgmental look. Telling her to check her messages doesn’t crack the façade, so I pivot to my backup of inviting her to dinner. Things go from bad to worse when she accepts, and from worse to hellish when I call home to update. In any case, I’ve got another stop to make. Luckily, the abrupt end to my earlier engagement means that I’m at no risk of being late for this one.
There are no men waiting by the door. He’s sitting in the back, watching baseball on a small television that’s blaring so loudly that I can hear it from the street. As I open the door, the bell rings, and he looks up with such surprise that for a moment I wonder if I have the wrong day.
“Paul! It’s been so long, son!” He struggles through the motions of rising from his chair but waves me off as I approach to help.
“It’s Andrew, Vasi. It’s good to see you. Are you sure you don’t want to watch the end of the game?”
This too prompts his gesticulations. “No, no, they’ll lose like they always do. You look a lot like your father, you know.”
“I suppose I do. I saw him earlier today, actually.” I sit in the chair and he wraps the cape around me.
“That’s wonderful to hear. I hope you told him to come see me, soon! He must have hair like you used to. I remember…” He trails off as he rifles through drawers for his tools. “Anyway, you can use a cut, eh? That’s what I’m here for.” He slams the drawers and walks to the back muttering to himself. “Always these loving shears going missing. I’ll be right back, boychik.”
I look up and see a pair on the counter in front of the next chair. I pick them up and call to him. “Vasi, I found a pair over here!” He returns with a smile and I hand them over.
I can’t stop myself from thinking about him as he starts to trim, much slower and more deliberate now. I didn’t know it was like this. It had been a few months, sure, but it was different last time. I’d brought the boy and Vasi had asked him about the ins and outs of elementary school. Now that I think about it, I should probably ask him to play something on the piano tonight for grandma. He was pretty reliable with Yankee Doodle, and that would probably be enough.
I begin to contemplate what to pick up for an apology dessert when a prick of pain pulls me back into the shop. I can’t help but pull my head forward, and when I put my hand up to my ear it comes back with a spot of blood. It’s nothing serious, but when Vasi sees it, he freezes in place.
“Paul, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how it happened. I…” He drops his hands to his sides and turns his head away. The shears hit the floor with a clang that breaks the silence throughout the shop. I turn my own head but look back when I hear him sniffle.
I stand and approach him. He won’t meet my gaze, but mumbles “I’m sorry” again and wipes his face with his sleeve. I place my hand on his shoulder and guide him to the empty chairs by the door.
“Vasi, it’s fine. It’s just a little prick, see?” He says nothing and stares at the floor.
I try again. “Listen, I’ve had to deal with a little prick my entire life. This is nothing.” At this, he laughs a bit, and wipes his eyes again.
I take out my wallet and remove a few bills. “I think it’s time to go for today, but I’ll probably be back again tomorrow for some finishing touches, okay?”
He looks up and pauses for a moment as he stares at my face. “Okay, Andrew. No charge for this.”
“Sure. But in the meantime, come to dinner tonight.”
I try not to look in the mirror as we leave. I’m sure I’ll hate it even more than usual.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 06:06|
Shark vs Platypus 1498 words
“You sure you want to go the match tonight?”
Peony shrugged. “Could be a good way to bond, right?”
Her mum nodded. “They can be kind of violent, though.”
“No worse than those Wizard Loop movies you like.”
“It’s different when it’s real, though.”
“How are my favourite ladies?” Claude Derringer was wearing a jersey and hat of the Laser Sharks.
“Yeah,” said Peony, “starting to question my decisions. Is the face paint necessary?”
Claude nodded. “Completely necessary. If anything, you’re going to raise questions dressed like that. Are you sure you don’t want to borrow my spare jersey?”
“I’ll risk the public humiliation of dressing like a normal person, just this once,” said Peony.
“Suit yourself. Make sure you’ve packed a meal; I can’t afford the prices at the Shark Tank.”
Peony shook her head. “Still so wild that it’s called that.” She grabbed a sustenance pack, and the two of them climbed into the back of Claude’s hovercar and keyed in their destination.
Josephine Derringer stayed home and rewatched the latest Wizard Loop film.
“All right,” said Peony, “that was honestly pretty fun.”
“Have I gone and made a fan out of you?” asked Claude.
“Oh no,” said Josephine. “Have you corrupted our daughter?”
“Have you never watched a match?” asked Peony. “It was actually really exciting. I might have to start watching it when I’m back home.”
“Great,” said Josephine, “now I’ve got two sports mad family members.” It was two weeks later, and Claude and Peony were watching the preliminary final in the family home. Tickets were a little too pricy and difficult to get one’s hands on in the playoffs.
“Oh, I don’t think I’m quite on Dad’s level.”
“You need to get yourself a jersey or something,” said Claude.
“I didn’t realise people did that even while watching the game at home.”
“Well, now you know. You can borrow one of mine if you want.”
“That’d be a tent on me. I’m fine like this.”
“I’m not wearing a hat indoors, Dad.”
“You sure you’re not going to join us, Josephine?”
She sighed. “That’s fine. I’ll just watch a couple Wizard Loop episodes in the other room.”
Peony laughed. “You’d get on well with Tyrone, he is obsessed with Wizard Loop.”
“Who’s Tyrone?” asked Josephine.
“Oh,” said Peony, “have I not… well I guess it’s very new.”
“Should’ve invited him!” said Claude. “Is he a Laser Sharks fan?”
“Peony’s talking about a new guy and the first thing you want to know is if he likes your sports team?”
“Well, we already know he likes your loop show, I feel like this is just as important.”
“He doesn’t really follow the league,” said Peony, “but tell you what, if we’re watching the Grand Final next week, I’ll see if he wants to join us.”
“I’m watching if the Laser Sharks are in,” said Claude. “Otherwise, I’m mourning.”
Josephine shook her head. “If you’re not watching the match, Tyrone’s still welcome to come over and eat dinner with us. Is it serious? It must be if you’re having him meet us, right?”
“Don’t make me change my mind,” said Peony. “And don’t be like this when he’s here.”
“Can’t I be excited?”
“It’s almost time for blast-off!” said Claude. “Grab some chips and dip and let’s get to watching!”
“Oooh,” said Claude, “that was a good one.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Peony.
“Well, it’s a penalty, but maybe worth it to incapacitate the other player.”
“Are they going to reattach the arm?”
“Better off genetically engineering a new one, sometimes. One that’s not so easy to remove. Anyway, maybe they’ll come back on after half time; they’ll just need to administer something to stop him twitching, and put him somewhere he doesn’t need both arms.”
“Must be nice to have a sports team’s budget,” said Peony. “If that happened to one of us, we’d just have to get a second-hand limb.”
Claude shrugged. “If either of our jobs were watched by Gajillions, maybe we could afford that too.”
“Oh geeze,” said Peony, “they’re showing the replay. I don’t need to see that from every angle including the super quantum slowdown. I’ll grab more snacks, let me know when they’re finished with the replay.”
“Woo!” yelled Claude. “We are the greatest! Laser Sharks rule! Let’s freaking go!”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Peony. “Still one match to go.”
“So, you’re bringing Tyrone along, right?”
“I’ll ask if he wants to come,” said Peony. “If he ends up not liking it, he and Mum could always watch one of their Wizard Loops or something.”
“Actually,” said Claude, “Josephine’s watching the Grand Final with us. We had a deal.”
Josephine had just entered the room. “Yeah,” she said, “I’m afraid it’s true. I told him if the Laser Sharks were ever good enough to make a Grand Final, I’d watch it with him.”
“The whole way through,” said Claude.
Josephine sighed heavily. “Come on,” said Peony, “you might end up enjoying it. The atmosphere, the pre match entertainment, the drama, the carnage…”
Josephine sighed again. “Well, I got myself into this situation, might as well try to make the most of it. But I get to sit with Tyrone so I have someone not too sports mad to chat with during the ad breaks.”
“Don’t interrogate him too hard, mum.”
“What do you think he’s like?” asked Josephine.
“Stop worrying,” said Claude. “Well, stop worrying about that. He’ll be great. I think Peony’s demonstrated her impeccable taste, recently, and while his taste in entertainment is questionable-”
“-as long as he makes our girl happy, that’s all that matters, right?”
“Yeah,” said Josephine. “I hope it lasts, it would be nice to have someone to watch Wizard Loops with while you two are being idiots about sports.”
“But not tonight,” said Claude. “Tonight is about the Grand Final.”
The roof landing pad chimed. “Ah, they’re here,” said Josephine.
Tyrone came down first, carrying some snacks. “Lovely to meet you both,” he said. “Peony told me snacks were appropriate for the Grand Final.”
Claude smiled. “I like you already! Knew my girl had good taste.”
Josephine smiled. “Aren’t you a handsome young man, too? You two are going to have just gorgeous children.”
“All right Mum,” said Peony, who’d just arrived, “I think you’ve terrorised him enough.”
“What?” asked Josephine. “What did I say?”
“What the hell are you wearing?” asked Claude.
Peony shrugged. “You’d been saying I should get a jersey.”
“For the right team, though!” said Claude. “Not the bloody Subsonic Platypuses!”
Peony frowned. “This is my local team, though. You didn’t think I was going to support a team from a completely different city to the one I live in, do you?”
“Take that off immediately!”
“I’m not taking my top off, Dad.”
“You can go to our room and change into one of mine.”
“Wouldn’t fit, and no, this is my team.”
Josephine tugged Tyrone gently by the arm. “Let’s leave them to it, dear, this could get unpleasant.”
The two of them went into the Viewing Room and sat down. “So,” said Josephine, “our Peony tells us that you quite like the Wizard Loop franchise.”
“Yeah,” said Tyrone. “Honestly, I was hoping to watch the new one tonight, but it’s not every day you get asked to meet someone’s parents.”
“That’s out tonight?”
“Yeah,” he said, and checked his personal time device. “Just went live 13 minutes ago.”
“How long is it?”
“Two and a half hours.”
Josephine pressed a few buttons on the viewer. “Hmm. With all the pre-match entertainment and interviews and the like, the match doesn’t start for another three hours. Shall we?”
Tyrone smiled. “Sounds great.”
The opening credits were rolling by the time Peony and Claude, still yelling, entered the room.
“Wait,” said Claude. “What’s this?”
“New Wizard Loop,” said Josephine. “Just came out.”
“But Jo, we had a deal-”
Josephine held a hand up. “The deal was for the Grand Final, not for any of the pre-match stuff. And if you guys are going to act like children, I’m revoking your pre-match privileges. Now shh, I don’t want to miss anything.”
Peony and Claude shrugged and sat down. “This doesn’t make it OK,” said Claude.
“Be mad if you want,” said Josephine, “but do it silently.”
“Thanks again for paying for the honeymoon,” said Peony, “I wasn’t sure if Dad was still mad.”
Josephine smiled. “He is a bit, but I made him pull his head in. Not missing out on seeing my future grandkids because he’s also a baby. He even picked out the baby shower gift for you!”
Peony smiled. “Glad he’s finally come to terms with it.” She opened the box offered to her and lifted out the gift inside. She unfolded the tiny shirt. “Oh, that absolute-” On the front it said Laser Sharks.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 07:24|
Vulac slept in an austere, earthen basement. The pallet of straw that made for a bed had taken on rot. Rain drippings infiltrated the basement from the abandoned and dilapidated temple above, and Vulac had to preserve his writings above all else. It was here, at his scavenged clapboard desk, that a tinnitus had overtaken his ability to finish his sermon. The splintered and rough edges of the desk bit into his thin forearms. He scratched at his hair and placed his hands over his ears in vain. It was a tinnitus he always carried.
”Survivor, we must feed. Survivor. Survivor…”
Vulac, a priest of no god, had many names; the famished, the orphan, the malformed. There was one name, survivor, that only one used. Dangling lifeless from Vulac’s chest, below the heart, was Bray. A desiccated and wiry thing, Bray had no teeth, no tongue, and no eyes, just darkened concaves and empty limbs where living organs should be. Consumed in the womb, the vanishing twin produced an incessant tone punctuated by hoarse whispers that plagued the emaciated priest’s brain.
“Soon, brother, after they leave.”
One, small hair grew from the limp mound of Bray. Vulac would trim this one strand more fastidiously than his own. It was not unlike a mole with a thick black tendril reaching out to feel the cool cellar air. He caressed and stroked the hair to sooth the tinnitus, and the sermon went unfinished.
“And you will exit these shadowed paths, these treacherous serpentines, you will see that your path is not of pain, but of endurance. Your path is not of toil, but of struggle. You are hungry, and gnawed. You are tired, and asleep. You are imprisoned in flesh, but you will be free in soul and in death. When you are ready, your endurance is all that remains. Remember, in your despair, your endurance is beside you. With you. It must, for despair must have a mirror…” Vulac lectured.
The congregants, ragged and rapt, had left. Vulac spent time on the second floor, it was sturdy enough, watching the sunset. The roof of the temple had suffered a fire, leaving holes that let in rain, sunset and stars in equal measure. He took care unwrapping his robes and sackcloths, allowing Bray fresh air. There was a knock, and the slip of flesh onto the wood. Vulac lurched, drawing the robes to his chest, eyes widened.
“I knew the moment I saw you,” the young man said. “The shape. The outline.”
The speaker was new to the congregation, Vulac recognized. He was tender, like milkbread, and Vulac knew tragedy had reached him only recently. Fate, the cruel bastard, had yet to mete its full rewards.
“Please, do not be ashamed, we’re not so different,” a young man said. Vulac squinted through the din of a fresh tinnitus.
The man drew a hand from the long sleeve of his robe. The robe was elaborately crafted, and Vulac’s mind drifted momentarily to his rotten straw bed. The hand was bandaged into a fist, but beneath the wraps were unshapely valleys and peaks. Unraveled, Vulac saw mangled digits, splayed in chaotic patterns. Vulac placed his hands over the crushed fist and looked in the young man’s eyes. They were full of soft, understanding light.
“Tailor. You can call me Tailor, if you wish,” he said. “They had put my hand in a press, and I tried to fight, I thought, perhaps my fist could withstand. It broke all the same, and now, it has seized. Useless. Worthless.”
“Who did this to you?”
“A lord. I was his personal seamster. I would work all throughout the night on whims and fancies he had seen during his days. I loved it though. I loved it. To have your garments be seen by queens? By kings? It was thrilling. Last winter, he went traveling, and returned having gained an incredible amount of weight. There was a gala the next day that he returned for and demanded alterations. I worked as feverishly as I could, but each stitch I made, he found fault. The fabric had reached its limits, and in a pique, turned on me, as though I had conspired against him. He sought to punish me,” Tailor said.
Tailor departed after they had exchanged words of reassurance and perseverance. To endure, Vulac thought as he made supper. The congee bubbled and sputtered in the battered cookpot, but Vulac continued stirring. It was not hot enough yet.
“Hush now, Bray, soon.”
The tinnitus grew. Vulac, plucking the wooden spoon from the congee, slurped the boiling liquid. It scalded his tongue, re-callousing old scars, and he let the porridge burn the insides of his cheeks. The skin of his cheeks and tongue cracked and peeled, sloughing off nerves and taste buds. Smiling, he drew a deep breath in through his nostrils and let an exhalation cool the meal in his mouth. Only a second spoonful was necessary before the heat was no detriment at all.
“Shut up! Shut up!”
Vulac threw the bowl of congee, splattering the ground and sending the spoon skittering. He pounded his skull with his fists, before he realized that the tinnitus had taken on a mewling, pitiful tone. Looking down, he saw some of the rice porridge had splattered on Bray, and panicked.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Vulac wailed. He nearly toppled his meager basin as he wetted a rag to dab his brother off. Vulac fell into his straw bed and slumped against a corner, stroking Bray with the wet cloth until his tears and pounding eardrums gave way to exhaustion.
Tailor had returned to the congregation several times more, but suddenly he had stopped. Vulac had not talked with him since last, but still, he felt responsible and at fault. One night, while he stared at the stars, he heard the familiar sound of flesh on the wooden landing. Tailor knelt, holding out a silk wrap of fabric. Vulac held out a hand hesitantly, and Tailor nodded.
Vulac had never felt something so soft. It was so smooth it was cold. It shivered him.
“May I?” Tailor asked. Vulac nodded, and raised his arms as best he could. He wrapped it around Vulac and swaddled Bray.
“Where did you get this?” Vulac asked.
“I must show you.”
They weaved their ways through alleys and shops, Vulac’s bare feet and bony legs staggering to keep up.
“The lord, the lord I told you of. He came back, begging forgiveness,” Tailor said. “He fell out of favor from not attending the gala. And he begged for repentance, and I spoke of you, and your faith.”
“How could you,” Vulac started. “But he.”
Tailor ignored him. “I convinced him. Let me show you.”
They arrived at a bathhouse, beyond an alley Vulac had ever traveled before. He could hear sounds of proclivities and entertainment on the other side of the clay walls. The bathhouse was slick from steam and vapor, perfumed and aggravating to Vulac’s lungs. Naked bodies writhed in the shadows, idly drinking goblets and eating honeyed fruit. A man, clothed in hairshirt, carried a tray with several vials of a viscous tincture. The waiter would attend each cluster of revelers, rotate around the bathhouse, returning with more.
“Cormyr, this is Vulac,” Tailor said. Tailor turned to Vulac. “My lord.”
A porcine man lounged naked on a sofa, cheeses and fruit detritus strewn around him. He rose to sit, sizing up Vulac with a gaze. The waiter in the hairshirt arrived and Cormyr plucked a tincture.
“They will love it, forgiveness in endurance. The binge, and the purge, and the binge, and the purge. Who would not want to be saved?” the lord said. “They will love me for bringing it to them.”
Cormyr drank the tincture and hurtled toward a trough on the other side of the room. Vomit sprayed out Cormyr’s mouth, but he did not stop.
“You look the part. Perfect partners. You will be my savior.”
As the lord leaned over to spew into the trough again, Vulac hobbled to him and levied a swift kick right to the throat. Vomit spurted from the man’s mouth as the kick sent his chin rattling against the upper jaw. The sick dribbled from Cormyr’s nostrils as he clutched his neck. Vulac heard wet, gurgling sounds as the lord aspirated bile, wine, and undigested food into his lungs. His plump, stubby fingers found no purchase on the slick tiles, and before he finally stopped wriggling, he looked up and did not see Vulac. He did not see the eyes that shown with exuberance, or the skeletal frame seething in exhilaration. He saw the unraveled clothes and silk ribbons, and saw the hollowed concaves of Bray, and the bottomless darkness as it engulfed his vision.
Tailor sobbed and fell to his knees.
"Feed, survivor, feed.”
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 09:14|
The untreated pinewood splintered, miniature waves of torn up wood frozen mid-crest in the wake of the weathered steel body. Target after target along the row shook in equal and opposite reaction to the steady stream of whirling axes. The smell of hops hung pleasantly across a mix of sawdust, hay, timber, and sunscreen. Close enough to the breweries to be worried, far enough away for everything to be above board.
Matt watched Kelvin toss the hatchet. The others were either buried in conversation about refixing mortgages or checking their phones. Matt often found himself observing, rather than participating these days, present but somehow divorced from that deep well of friendship and warmth they’d come to tap.
They were there out of collective obligation, something between inertia and guilt binding the group of late thirties men together and hurtling them into their current awkward dabbling in outdoorsy masculinity. The eight had been in each other’ orbits for some twenty years, friendships, trios and acquaintances coalescing into “the group” at high school and then university.
They took turns, marvelling encouragingly at what were on paper pretty average-to-poor throws. Axe heads glanced off the target board or thudded in around the circumference of the target - not even flirting with the bullseye.
Kelvin was always good at herding them, and he’d been working hard to find events that worked for everyone. Between the eight of them, they were responsible for fourteen children who needed bedtime stories, nappies changed, school lunches made, or teams coached. Partners with varying levels of familiarity with the other partners.
So they were here, in the 24°C late morning sunshine, standing in a small grass patch next to a carpark next to a brewery, amongst a makeshift axe throwing venue’s hay bales, folding tables and enthusiastic ‘axe-perts’.
Matt wanted a beer desperately. Or rather, Matt wanted to be two beers deep and in tune with the moment. It’s not that he needed it to function socially - but with Kelvin and co. he wasn’t sure he knew how to be around them without a couple pints. Alcohol was the one constant throughout those twenty-odd years, the little eddies that their mismatched rafts occasionally swept into and circled for a couple of revolutions before rolling back into other riffles and runs.
And they were mismatched. Matt and Kelvin studied roughly the same subjects at school, got similar degrees, went into the workforce, even got married around about the same time - but as they aged and ran in different circles their politics and priorities shifted. Pretty soon they were raising families in different cities and didn’t know each other anymore.
Someone thrust an axe into Matt’s hand and patted him on the shoulder, guiding him over toward the throwing line. Still wanting a beer, still trying to figure out whether he even liked his friends anymore, he just wanted it done. He was never particularly coordinated, getting a cricket ball to go straight up the pitch always took a lot of focus - and the last time he’d bowled one of those he was in high school.
The weight the axe gathered, even on the small backswing over his shoulder, took Matt by surprise - shifting his weight to the right a bit to compensate. He wasn’t in it to win it though - just to get back out of the spotlight and into the background. There was something regressive about hanging out with the friends you had as a teenager, old patterns, old instincts come to the fore.
Matt let rip, overcompensating for the weight of the axe and sending it high and off kilter, soaring clear across the small lane divider and into the top left of the neighbours' target - startling them visibly. There was a noticeable dip in the ambient hubbub as the blinders came off, all eyes were on him. A beardy young man with youth pastor energy was next to him firmly telling him that the rules were there for a reason, while Kelvin gave him a pained “why you gotta gently caress this up, bud?” look.
Something long rotted and hollowed finally split under the weight it was holding back, a husk masquerading as a support beam. Matt let out what had been threatening to roll down the mountain every time they got together over the last five or six years. It came out more petulantly than he intended.
“You know what, gently caress this. I didn’t even want to be here.”
He walked, hot blood thundering, out past the axe-pert still trying to eke out some semblance of authority. Out past the other six, only some of whom had actually noticed something happened. Out toward the breweries.
Sitting in the sun, halfway through a hop-forward pilsner with a smooth honey malt profile and clean bitterness, Kelvin sat down. He pushed a fresh pint toward Matt and took a sip of his own.
“What the hell, Matt?”
He could sense the other six at the bar, sneaking furtive glances and giggling like they were watching their mate being told off at school. Turns out drama was also a constant alongside the alcohol, and they loved it.
Matt exhaled, finding his feet at the crease, taking a moment to gather himself. Trying to focus on the fleeting thoughts skipping up the pitch and give at least one of them a good clip. The move out of town, his kids not growing up alongside theirs like everyone else’s, the depression, the giant gaps between catch-ups so that each one feels like it needs a round of introductions.
“I just... I’m sorry man. It’s just been a bit of a poo poo time lately - I don’t feel like I see you guys enough but when we hang out it’s some weird poo poo like axes or tramping or whatever. I need to be able to blow off some steam, have a couple drinks and talk poo poo - you know?”
Not a textbook return, maybe a lucky edge in there, but serviceable. Kelvin took a beat, then looked Matt in the eye with a seriousness that he’d only seen a couple of times in the course of their friendship.
“You know what happens when we drink though. We need structure, or activities, because if we sit ‘round and drink and talk poo poo - we talk poo poo. We spend hours rehashing the oldest loving fights, and we don’t have enough regular contact to take the bad with the good - it’s just all bad if we’re on the turps. Jack nearly decked you in the McDonalds last time we went out.”
Matt wanted to argue, but he couldn’t. He was still sore about being booted out while Jack stayed. Kelvin continued, more gently now.
“Listen, I get it. It’s hard to find time to let all the poo poo we deal with go for a couple of hours - but we’ve got to do it without opening old wounds. I don’t like axe throwing, but it’s somewhere we can all get to at a time when we’re all free. All eight of us are available maybe twice, three times a year? I don’t want to spend the rest of the year having gossipy loving lunches about whoever lost their poo poo this time, you know?”
Matt nodded. The answers weren’t entirely satisfactory, there was a truth there he’d been scratching at for a while. “The group” wasn’t the same group anymore. The eight kids that met and grew through their formative years together grew into people that would make unlikely friends with each other today.
But at the same time, that thing that gave them inertia, the spark that kept them together regardless was something he instinctively wanted to protect. They’d been through break-ups, sickness, ailing parents and more together.
“I’m sorry man... I mean, I guess you’re right but it kinda sucks. Like, I wish we weren’t like this but...”
“Yep. But we are.”
The other six had drifted over, tired of spectating and sensing that Matt’s hostility had dissipated substantially. Matt gave a mixture of downward and upward nods, based on how aggrieved or unconcerned each might have been about his outburst.
They sat awhile, around a table with only a couple beers, a few cokes and a kombucha. It was a different vibe to the usual Sunday sessions, but it worked for what it was. Matt figured the only way to settle into the new equilibrium was to lean into it.
“If we cut through the carparks, there’s a track up to the ridgeline up the back of the hill there - maybe half an hour if anyone’s keen?”
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 09:54|
I try not to keep the filter on any more than I have to. Driving, of course. In the office, now that we're back up from half occupancy. But everywhere else, I let it down, let myself see the ones on the other side of the T-rift. Shopping, say. I'm not alone. There are enough of us, on both sides, letting ourselves see. Taking the effort to not walk through their translucent forms. The always-filtered people pretend they don't understand why we veer about so randomly.
And at home, of course. Neighbors are still neighbors. I can wave across, when I see them. I wouldn't have done that before for most of them. But I do it now, and they wave back, sometimes even flash a message in twenty-four point text on their phones. And I go home, and Irina is there. As it were. We align phone to phone and let the software establish an optical link, then talk across the T-rift in low bandwidth voice chat. I tell her about my day at work. She picks up the latest ultrasound so I can see it. And we sit by each other, and later lay side by side, through the night.
She's getting close. Seven months along. It happened five months ago. The morning after the test came up positive. We were together, celebrating. After the last time we made love, spooning on top of the sheets, me the outer. And then my hand fell through, my eyes could see through her, just barely. She turned around. Her lips moved but there was no sound. She couldn't hear me either.
It took longer than I like to admit for either of us to think of getting paper and pen. We've advanced since then, to whiteboards and big text on phones and optical links. We can send long messages. We can share pictures. We can talk, even. But we cannot touch.
I smile. I am happy that the baby is healthy. I still feel warm when she smiles back. But there's a dread, too. None of this is sustainable. I send money across the T-rift every month, match up with someone who wants to move dollars in the other direction. I can't afford it forever.
It's funny. Nobody ever spells it out now, not since the first few weeks. It sort of made sense in the early days. Half of the world suddenly as ghosts to the other, and vice versa. But nobody says it anymore, and not just because of rumblings from law firms or because it just feels ridiculous, it always did from day one. I think it's mainly because it feels wrong, now. It's not death. They're still alive. Just somewhere that we can't touch.
But we can't ignore it either. We can try. Dean, from work, has a stranger in his apartment on the other side. Nothing to do for it than to go filtered and hope they are too. Go all filtered and you won't notice someone stealing your passwords and selling them across the T-rift. Go unfiltered and get blinded when someone turns on a high-intensity flashlight while their partners rob you blind.
I've heard about couples trying the surrogacy thing. Pairing off with other separated people. Elaborate diagrammed positions to let you see only your partner's face while you're each lower half is busy with someone else. I haven't brought it up with Elena. Not like those positions are practical now, and she won't be ready for who knows how long after the baby comes.
I sometimes think about what would happen if it reversed. How many people would be superimposed when it happens, what horrible deaths those fusions would cause. I still worry about that, still try not to superimpose when we're together. But they say, the experts trying to make sense of it all, they say that's not likely. That is won't be undone. That this is forever, two worlds, partly visible to each other, slowly fading apart. In twenty years, they say, we won't need filters. That the optical links won't work in fifteen.
I know even fifteen, even twenty years won't be long enough to say goodbye.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 10:54|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 11:31|
the right things
flerp fucked around with this message at 20:07 on Oct 9, 2022
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 16:10|
WEEK 495 JUDGEMENT
Well, you tried, and that's what matters.
This week we were able to judge eleven of nineteen entrants, with flerp posting while we were in the middle of judgechat. To the seven who did not post, that is sorrowful, y'all. Truly sorrowful. Just bash your face into the keyboard a few times and hit post, we'll probably like it anyway.
Those who did post, thanks for making it easy on us, I guess? Thranguy comes in with the obvious win for a story that was touching, sad, and grabbed all of our attention. We all agreed that we wanted to know more about the world and the T-rift, but that the story really didn't feel like it needed more space.
For an HM we have t a s t e with Cut Outs, a story that needed a couple more nouns to be really perfect, but was solid and we all enjoyed the characters.
For DM, Chairchucker with a story that felt entirely wooden with too many characters to explore any one relationship in depth.
And for the Loss... sorry The Man Called M, you're getting better, but it's hard to read a story with the phrase "they simultaneously say at the same time," especially when the rest of the story is in past tense.
If you would like to hear and even see your judges judge you judgmentally, I present you with this finely crafted Youtube video, courtesy of Chili: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYvfNF2ynkg
Over to you, Thranguy!
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 18:39|
Crits for week 495 – Relationships in distress
Staggy – Thick as Thieves
A smart juxtaposition of action versus dialogue. Can’t say that there’s much behind this though. There’s little tension in the action as they have complete control over the situation. And even their argument doesn’t seem that tense. Both the heist and the conversation seem to be foregone conclusions. It’s all very well written. The dialogue reads well though they’re not particularly well distinguished and for a story that is mostly dialogue with a little action here and there and almost no introspection, I would have liked to see more distinguishing voices.
Some of the physical bits were a little difficult to imagine the way they were described. I like the bits with the yoga as Anna limbers up for the difficult bit. Reads very smooth.
Ceighk – 600 Demons
The beginning drags. The first line is meant to grasp attention and hold it through a few sentences of backstory, but the backstory lasts for a few paragraphs with lots of telling and little emotion. I realize that this is just a flash piece of writing, but the world isn’t very well thought out here. I just have so many questions about how things are being run.
The characters are pretty flat. Their dialogue is standard and uninteresting. Their fight could be further explored in an interesting way because there is a lot to be said about how in a relationship everyone has a mythical version of the other person that lives in people’s heads. When they’re away from that person, that mythical version makes up a bigger portion than when they’re together. And so this story could be the clashing of the mythical person with the actual person for both of these characters especially when one of them has literally become a type of mythic hero, crashing in all badass like.
Instead too many words are used to setup the world that isn’t actually that important to the story. And actually makes the MC sound kind of like a jerk who didn’t really love Kathy. Demons invade, army walls off the part of the city they live in, doesn’t let people in/out. That’s basically all we need to know and devote the rest to the relationship conflict.
ChickenofTomorrow – Inspirational Action
Is the relationship here between a creative and their muse? Yeah, I’m on board to see where this goes especially if it’s somewhere meta.
"The sunlight flowed down the mountain slopes like a raw egg cracked over a bowl of rice."
Lol, writing is hard.
Oh poo poo, the muses are just freaking real and it’s not like “my girlfriend is my muse.” They’re actually classical. Yes, I like it. OMG, and there’s a union?! This keeps getting better.
And then the end kinda fizzles out. Obviously the MC doesn’t have any inspiration for florid apologies. But I dunno, I was hoping he would actually say that in a kind of “I’m nothing without you” sort of way but in a similar way to the bit I quoted above. Just absolute trash apology and she takes him back out of pity. For the most part this was a fun ride for 500 words. I think if there had been time, the ending could have used some more thought.
Nae – Comfort Food
Nice volleyball-related violence.
Hmm… technically well-written. I like the personal touch of Nonny’s recipe. I appreciate the friendship-centered story. I just wish it all came together a little better. All of the pieces seem separate. I want them to interrelate a little more. Tony is defined by his problem in this story, even though the recipe is technically his family’s. And even Clara is more straightforward than I want her to be. After decades long friendship I expect a little more back and forth or inside knowledge of each other.
I can see it kind of but only on the edges like at the beginning and end. It’s not really much a part of their actual interactions together. I’m not sure I really see the particular significance in the dilemma Tony is facing at work. For as much as I can see it relating to the story, he could just as easily be not making his quarterly sales figures or can’t figure out how to use the new software and it’s causing disruptions amongst his colleagues. Yeah, it just feels separate from anything else going on. I guess I expected grief might be a part of it.
I might be missing something and invite more info in case there was something more that ties all of it together. Disjointed I guess is what I’d say.
The Man Called M – Of Babes and Brahs
A lot of tense shifts in the opening lines. Two paragraphs, two POVs, interested to see how this proceeds. Very brisk and in my face so far.
What the hell, indeed. There’s a lot of stereotype coming out here. And so far it’s not doing much with it.
Okay, I’m going to take a step back from this story and talk about process for a little bit. Because while there are a lot of issues with this story on a specific execution level, it also lacks awareness of how to tell a story. There are a lot of ways to tell a story with different points of view, different tenses, different levels of intimacy or omniscience of the narrator, but this story seems to have them all. When first starting out it is generally a good idea to stick with one choice in these areas and use that throughout the piece.
Of the other stories I’ve read of yours, I’ve noticed a tendency to write from a very high level narrator who knows what everyone is thinking and feeling and doing and all of that information is given to the reader. While that’s really nice to have as the author, it doesn’t allow the reader to really feel close to the characters. If, for instance, in this story we only heard how Maddie felt about having to plan the party with Jake and how she slowly came around to finding what Jake and the fraternity wanted to do as fun, we, as the readers, could share her opinion change.
But these things happen slowly with greater detail. As it is, this story comes across more like the 15-minute version of a 2-hour long movie. Just the major scenes. And while those scenes may be a lot of fun, without all of the connecting pieces, the viewer doesn’t have any investment. It’s like reading the notes of a book before class so you can fake that you read it.
For future work, I’d advise focusing on one character. What does that character want, what obstacles are in their way to getting it, what actions do they take to overcome those obstacles, what are the results? And explore every piece of this in as much detail as you can within the word count.
Yoruichi – Jelly
Like Staggy’s entry this week, a well-written story with a juxtaposition of the set-up next to the dialogue/conflict is trying to make things interesting, but in the end feels like it’s being different for different’s sake. And ends up feeling generic despite the tentacle monsters and solar surfing.
I think that a lot of the general feelings I have for this could have been helped by getting a little more info about how Kelly actually feels about anything. We get the sense from the story that Kelly cares about surfing and Jesse and Gemma because all are shown well enough throughout, but never just how much. Throughout I could tell whether she was using Jesse to get better at surfing or using surfing to get closer to Jesse. Or if they were equally important to her.
The characterizations also rely a lot of stereotypical personality tropes: The supportive and eco-conscious best friend, the super popular and oblivious jock, the hard-working and love-sick protagonist. There’s a lot of imagination and detail put into the setting, wish it had carried to the characters and conflict.
t a s t e – Cut Outs
I want to like this. And in places, I really love it. But in other places I am so confused as to detract from the really good parts. The two early scenes in the barbershop are just beautiful. I get such a perfect picture of what’s happening in just the barest of details and I loved it. I wanted more.
But then, I still have no idea what’s going on with the other portions of the story. Even when they come together at the end and we further the barbershop portion it’s still good, but not quite as good because it’s now trailing whatever happened with the carnations and the unnamed person (I think Andrew’s mom, though I don’t know why he wouldn’t want her to come to dinner) and the 20?
What was the 20? Were all the relationships in distress? Why was it presented like this? I mean, I actually think the section breaks work for creating that built in time lapse, but the “present day” portion takes a few read-throughs to make as much sense as the barbershop portions. And not in a good way. Like, I want to get to the last section and have those former bits come together. And they don’t quite do that.
It seems Andrew has a better relationship with his barber than his own mother. And that’s weird. If this had been more about bringing all of these people together to make a larger family, that might have been a more coherent way to go with it. Just a thought.
Chairchucker – Shark vs Platypus
Hello fellow sportsball fan. I cannot believe you do not like the same team as I do. This is an outrage.
This story is all wooden dialogue and predictable/boring action. There’s no conflict (not even enough in the sport which is wacky you see!) and there really, really could have been. This could have been on the surface a repairing of father-daughter relationship but actually, the subtext is a rocky husband-wife relationship manifested through their competing choices in entertainment. But they can coexist happily through agreements/arrangements.
Instead we get more of a father daughter bonding that happens off screen, why it needs to happen left unsaid, why wizard loops are engaging at all/engaging in opposition to sports. Like, there were places to explore that might have had a less surface level amount of interest.
I appreciate your tendency to go for straightforward, simple, easy to follow and often amusing stories. But I don’t know this one’s lacking any sort of spark behind it.
Noah – The Gnawed
This story had my attention the whole way through. Vulac is an engrossing character. The dilapidated temple, the disembodied voice filled sermons, the fact that he has congregants who too have experience suffering and are picking up what he’s putting down. This is a setup that has places to go. It could have a lot of places to go. I can see this being a much longer piece to explore the disparate parts of the suffering of the haves and the suffering of the have nots.
I like the twisted messaging at the end that gives Vulac his volition, but it definitely feels too simple, too perfect. Only 1500 words, so it would be hard to give it more space.
This piece isn’t perfect. It needs a little bit closer attention paid to Tailor and his role in bringing outside conflict to Vulac. It was a bit too direct. And a little more playing with the details to get them just right of Vulac’s existence to make it even more unsettling. But overall, I like the character sketch, the world sketch, the idea behind it. And this actually does a fairly decent job of exploring a very one-sided relationship that is immediately intense and definitely in distress. And it even finds a way to bring ease to that tension.
steeltoedsneakers – Sin bin
I really hope this is about hockey. Alas, it seems not, but good starter descriptors.
This had potential. There is definitely tension and relationship intricacies to be explored in the evolution of male friendships as they age and go through all of the changes that are even mentioned in this story. It’s competently written and follows a comprehensible trajectory, it’s just too plain. Kelvin is too aware and straightforward. Though that might very well be in character, but I kinda want that to be said in text too. Because there’s something that happens when you become a parent and you start talking to adults like you do kids. Really straight forward and explaining this is how the world works.
Instead everything is just too perfectly scripted and predictable and telegraphed ahead of it happening. Predictable.
Thranguy – Half
Powerful. This whole story is told and while I think there might be an even more powerful tale to tell in the minutiae of showing this story, 1500 words wouldn’t be enough. I think it merits exploring. But that would probably also involve explaining what happened more which I’m not sure would improve it. Hmm, but that’s not for me to decide.
I really like the examples included for illustrating what this sudden separation means for everyone. They really help show the pain and problems while most of the story is told in summary. If I let myself, I can come up with many more questions I have about this world, but I don’t find those questions distracting from the core of what this story was saying.
The addition of the filter, apart from setting up an expectation that then gets smashed before the paragraph is even over, also shows how people will find ways to be blind to the pain rather than face their problematic relationships. Ooh, this concept just gets better the more I think about it.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this a complete story, but it’s drat good at satisfying the prompt and me as a reader.
flerp – the right things
A story with more than the main relationship. Relationships that might look the same father-son, can be painfully different. Relations that have the same people can be painfully different in times of stress. How not knowing what to do is sometimes more painful than doing the wrong thing.
This is a story about a moment. The moment when a relationship could go in one direction or another. A moment when we’re at our lowest but not for reasons you might think as the story begins. A lot to pack in the word count and successful at capturing that moment.
But I’m not sure what kind of emotions this is meant to evoke. I don’t feel like I spend enough time with the characters to really be affected by the grief for the father. And I’m not quite pulled into the dilemma of the narrator. I commiserate with the narrator. I just don’t feel the emotion of the problem as deeply. Good story, I connected with the protagonist, but mostly on a surface level.
a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 18:43 on Jan 31, 2022
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 18:40|
Ok, here are my thoughts/feelings. As a bonus, I tried something new this week.
I took to recording my very first read-through of each of your stories. The intended purpose here is for you, as writers, to hear how your stories sound in another person’s head as they’re experiencing them for the first time. Helpful? I don’t know. But I tried it. You can find recordings to each of your stories in this folder. I stumble in places and sometimes that might be on you, sometimes on me. Some of the stories stir up reactions in me and those aren’t cut out either. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.
Staggy’s Thick as Thieves
This story doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and of the things that it is, it doesn’t succeed often.
The dialogue is largely expository and talks about adventures that seem more interesting than the one we’re on. I can’t tell if the tone of this is “oh look at funny it is that these people are hashing things out while doing this” or if it’s meant to be more serious. On its face, it seems like the former, but I’m not really buying it is amusing when the pretty flat banter is interrupted by errant guards and laser dodging yoga poses.
I’m not seeing the heft that I was hoping for this week and I can’t even quite tell how this thing resolves by the end.
Ceighk’s 600 Demons
The title is the problem here. I cared more about the demons and whatever was going on in this world, than the problems with the relationship itself. She wants him to be foolish and save her, he’s a coward for not being ridiculous? I mean sure there’s also that he didn’t do enough I guess? But then he does? And then tomatoes?
Nothing feels earned here. They kinda just mumble at each other after they have some sex and everything seems to be fine.
Chicken of Tomorrow’s Inspirational Action
This premise is cool and I wanted the story to nail it. But it doesn’t really. I don’t quite know what the tension is here and it’s hard for me to get a sense of what’s actually happening and how this relationship grows or develops through the piece. Apparently, somehow, this dude has been disrespecting his muse and we find out about that through the muse’s representative. Why? Why can’t we just hear from the muse? And then it’s basically all over and everything is fine.
Nae’s Comfort Food
Ok so the title kinda hangs on a lantern on the issue of this story. This is comforting, this is nice, this is two people being supportive of one another. The only tension maybe comes from tony’s fear of how he’ll be perceived but that’s so quickly disabused by perfect validating kindness that there’s really nothing here about the relationship and just about Tony’s issues and problems. Tony’s sold to as a hunk that’s so hot even a lesbian gets it and I also feel like that’s laying things on a bit thick given as you spend so much time in the story focusing on the hunkiness that is Tony.
The man called M’s Of Babes and Brahs
There are a lot of very odd things happening here that seem to be very easy to correct. The first is punctuation. I did recordings of everyone’s stories and you gotta listen to yours. You’ll see how jarring so many of your exclamation points are. They are hardly appropriate when you use them and you do so often. Read your stories out loud. Beyond that, you seemed to get really excited about talking this set piece that…. I mean it’s people squirting things at each other? There’s also this presumed understanding of wisdom and joy that you just tell us is there and it really doesn’t seem there. I’m not sure what’s being earned here. The telling of this story is done by a lot of “this is good, everyone is happy”. There’s odd tense stuff going on to but more importantly this just isn’t a compelling story. It’s a story of people getting squirted with condiments, and they loved it.
This had a lot going for it. Squid people, some apparent tension between the characters, and the dialogue was snappy in parts. What I couldn’t really grasp on my read was what, exactly, the competition was all about. It seemed like some sort of wildlife ruining surf contest. It was hard to tell how things were moving through space and I also got confused at times with telling who was who and who was saying what. The names were a bit slippery feeling and such. The commitment to whatever the hell was going on with your characters was appreciated.
T a s t e’s Cut Outs
I had a bit of a hard time telling what was going here in the non-italics part. Was the protag heading to a funeral? It seemed like that at first but then I thought it was maybe a date? I’m not sure. Also, as a point of correction, we don’t need the italics, it was obvious you were moving through time and space with a bit of authorly freedom, that many curly words ended up being a bit of a strain. I like the chemistry of the barber and the protag but that’s about where my appreciation ends for them. This story, like many others this week, aren’t seeming to address rule 3 of the prompt which is that the relationship is currently being tested. I mean, I don’t think Vasi accidentally nicking the protag is the test here. Or, perhaps, the relationship in question is between the protag and someone else? I couldn’t really tell.
Chairchucker’s Shark vs Platypus
This didn’t work for me. We never get to see this cool thing you keep teasing and instead we’re subject to a very perfunctory and typical “trouble ensues” situation that ends up being just… totally fine? Even before the new guy comes over, it’s not an even an issue and it’s even less of an issue when he does. You set this all up to have the conflict at home mirror this apparently brutal and novel sporting event and I was hoping to see things in the sport, or at least wizard loop express some of the unspoken feelings or pain but instead both of those things are just kinda there. The dialogue too did not read as particularly bantery or funny, which is surprising given that it’s coming from you. And boy, I think you know how rushed and ridiculous that ending is. This story gives off a “oh poo poo, I don’t have enough time” vibe.
I had no idea what was happening any of this. I don’t think it was a purple problem, I actually found the descriptive quality of the bodies to be pretty resonant, but I certainly didn’t understand much of anything about how these two felt apart from the whole parasitic birth monster thing. I can’t really comment further as I just didn’t get it.
steeltoedsneaker’s Sin bin
This is the best of the week so far but that’s a really low bar. The relationships here feel real and the way the people talk isn’t sounding hollow or forced. Is it much beyond that? Not really. But that’s OK. This story is a cold hard look at what happens to relationships as the people within them move through space and time. It doesn’t hurt that your three judges this week are all parents.
Well, there we go. Showed up with an 11th hour with a story that would at least HM in any other week. Clearly the best of the bunch. Gives us a problem and enough attention paid to it that its interesting and palpable. Shows the problem at large and also shows how the people in a relationship are compensating. This works and it took less words than everything else to get it done.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 18:49|
Thunderdome Week 496: People Are Still the Same
Here we are in 2022, the year in which Soylent Green and The Purge are set, so the Zeitgeist demands some Dystopian Fiction.
You have a luxurious 2022 words. I'm looking for well-realized characters doing interesting things in plausible worlds. Make it real enough to hurt. All the usual exclusions apply, no fanfic erotica etc.
Flash images available on request, which will be AI generated ones like the one above. Use them as you see fit.
Sign-ups close 11:59 pm pacific time Friday
Entries close 11:59 pm pacific time Sunday
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 20:52 on Jan 31, 2022
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 19:38|
In, flash please.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 19:44|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 19:50|
In, gimme a flash.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 19:53|
In, flash please.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:02|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:08|
Gimme a picture please
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:09|
In, gimme a flash.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:09|
Gimme a picture please
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:15|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:19|
In with flash please
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:20|
In. Flash image, please.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:22|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:26|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:26|
In with flash please
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:29|
In. Flash image, please.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:30|
in, flash please
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:35|
…I think even I could make something like this work. In. Flash me.
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:38|
|# ? Dec 1, 2022 00:31|
|# ? Jan 31, 2022 20:45|