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Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
in :toot:


Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 516 Entry

Sir Middleton, February 29 (366 words)

Today began just like every other day.
How I pray, if I am successful, the twilight shall begin my long awaited restoration.
Each wretched, foul ingredient has been meticulously gathered: eye of stag, tail of possum, talon of hawk.

Curious how my current form has not affected my feelings of distaste regarding these visceral aspects of my apparent native habitat.
Even after all these years, here in my cave I call home, I long for the days when I felt cloth on my skin, and my meals weren’t raw and bleeding.
Now at last the robed woman assures me that when this storm passes, she shall deign to rectify this chaos she herself inflicted.
This punishment has kept me from learning, and becoming, so much.
Each day I waste catching disgusting salmon in my hideous teeth raises thoughts of all I lost.
Reminding me that my core identity has persisted, unchanged.

Holding onto my perception of true self has been a greater challenge than I was prepared for, when I became victim of this dishonorable and unjust curse.
One which I would call unbearable, if I could find the strength to see the humor in my predicament.
Letting go of my vengeful wrath has been my greatest struggle on my long path to redemption.
Discovering I will be forced to make peace with the robed woman to be healed.
She, and she alone, has the knowledge and ability to undo what she has done.

To allow one to wield such power unchecked can only bring rampant injustice.
Hubris made me foolishly believe I could, and should, be the one to stop her.
Every arrogant choice I made will now be deciding my fate.

Two diverging paths now finally lie before me again.
Regaining my original form would empower me to discover all that I have missed outside this prison.
Until this moment, that was my only wish, my only desire.
Though now, as she approaches, I can no longer distinguish my true intentions; it is as if my beastly nature has ultimately crystallized.
Her curse forced me to abandon, or learn, my sense of self; its inescapable final chapter will conclude with our shared, bloody fate.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Sorry that wasn't so much a story as it was just a puzzle.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
IN please thank you

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 517 Entry

Was it a hat I saw
1123 words

Hannah took a deep breath. “Five…”

“I didn’t mean to break the singing rule! I wasn’t think-“


“Oh no I’m sorry right I’ll wait I’m so sorry.”

She exhaled and closed her eyes. “Seven.” Eyes still closed and teeth clenched, she took a beat to feel the room shake and listen to the machines rumble and scrape. She opened her eyes and stared at Bob, mentally punching his stupid happy smile off his stupid happy face. “Now. Can you please repeat what you said, but like a normal loving person?” Bob looked a little hurt, which made Hannah feel even shittier. “Look man, I’m sorry, that was harsher than I meant. I just… what? What do you want?”

“I’m sorry I broke the singing rule, but you don’t have to be so grumpy about it. It’s my bad, I hid a roll of tape in your drawer and was asking you for it, but I found another one. I’m just trying to make our workplace a little bit more cheerful. To that end… ta da!”

Bob, already recovered from his weekly ten second break from smiling, revealed his latest creation. Another poster. Bob loved his posters. He knew they had a finite amount of toner for the printer, but that didn’t stop him from making his stupid little posters. Every Wednesday like clockwork, Bob would come up with a funny or inspirational saying that he absolutely had to print out and tape to the walls. He started out just taping them above his cot, then above the drill controls, but he quickly ran out of room. Now every inch of the control room was filled with 8.5x11 sheets, all featuring a terrible drawing and a cloying phrase. A smiling kitten on an escalator saying, “Just because you’re heading down, doesn’t mean you have to frown”. “Live every day like it’s the best thing ever” inexplicably featuring a happy frog. A cheerful groundhog digging a hole asking, “Going my way?”

Hannah rubbed her temples, trying to force her brain to melt out of her ears so she had the same IQ as Bob, before turning around to face him. This week’s poster featured a big fat worm, smiling of course. It said “Just keep digging! I promise you’ll be there soon!”. Hannah paused, looking back and forth between the poster and Bob’s desperate smile.

She sighed and switched the drill controls to automatic. “Hey Bob? Is everything… I mean, are you okay? You seem, um… eerily cheerful. Like, forced?”

Bob looked startled at her change in demeanor. “Of course! I just have to stay positive a little while longer! I bet our estimates were only off by a… maybe… week or two? We’re going to reach the core soon, I’m absolutely sure of it! I just wish we had more yellow toner for the posters, that’s all.” He smiled, but his eyes pleaded. Hannah knew this look.

“Look, I know it’s been a long time. We’ve been stuck in here, week in and week out with only each other. And I… I know I’m not always the best company. It’s just gotten to me too, that’s all. I never thought it would have taken us this long to get there. And I get so mad. That must be hard. For you, I mean. Hard to be around. I’ll try to talk more. I know our conversations are all we have. But you know what, Bob? Maybe you’re right. Maybe we will reach the infernal planet core soon. The depth readers have been broken for so long, we really could reach it any day now.” She knew it was bullshit, and he probably did too. But the fact that she was trying seemed to make them both feel better. “Then at that point all we have to do is head back to the surface. I know it will take us just as long to get back. Maybe we can even get the dumbass radar screen fixed. But I’m sure we’ll find what we need in the core. Then we just have to experience everything we’ve already seen, but in reverse. That’s… easy right? And we can repaper the control room with even more posters. In the meantime… umm… do you wanna play What Will We Find?”

Bob exploded. “Yes! You haven’t wanted to play in forever! Okay I’ll go first. I think we’ll find…” He smiled and scrunched his face, thinking. “…A giant crystal ball, and when we look at it we’ll see ourselves, but our arms and legs are switched! Like we can see into a parallel universe where our arms are legs and our legs are arms! Okay what do you think we’ll find?”

“I think we’ll find… a giant silk worm, spinning the softest and warmest clothes you can imagine. She makes me a big hat with ear flaps to keep me warm as we head back to the surface. I wish I had a hat like that, the way these garbage temperature controls have been acting up. My ears are cold all the loving time.”

“I think we’ll find a magical gummy worm seven feet wide, and infinitely long! If we could get one end of it to the surface, this gummy worm could feed everyone forever!” Bob laughed and mimed pulling a huge worm out of the ground, eating it, and pulling it more.

A renegade smile betrayed Hannah’s stony demeanor. “Yeah but then someday a deep sea-“

Suddenly everything changed.

The control room shook. The drills shrieked. Hannah dove for the panel, switching the controls to manual. Bob powered on the viewscreen. The soil was different. It was dark, almost black, with an inky sheen. They looked at each other, terrified and excited. It was the outer core. They were close. So close. Within minutes, they would reach the core. They held their breath.

As they emerged from the outer core, they floated, weightless, in an enormous chamber. The walls were black obsidian, laced with the most brilliant veins that sparkled like diamonds. Large, writhing columns made from pure gemstones crawled out from the walls and snaked through the space, converging toward a single point directly in the center of the chamber. There was an object, floating in the empty space between the columns. It hovered there, motionless, the singular focal point in this immense and silent space. Hannah couldn’t believe her eyes.

There, suspended in midair in this dark, icy chamber, was the comfiest looking hat she’d ever seen. It had a fuzzy lining, and big, thick ear flaps. It shimmered and glistened when the light caught the fabric. Hannah stared, enthralled and reverent.

After an eternity, Bob whispered bewilderedly. “Is that… a yellow toner cartridge?”

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I am in please!

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 517
Bonus Crits

Hi Friends!
Since I’m brand new at this, MockingQuantum told me one of the best ways to improve is by writing crits. I’m not really a writer and not at all qualified to give any kind of feedback on all the technical aspects of writing. So I just wrote a little bit about how all the week 517 entries made me feel. I hope this is okay! I know it’s probably not the most useful feedback but I think I gotta start somewhere. Also I mixed up your names because that is how I have fun.

Bronze Fade – Epic Corn
I got so many feelings from this one! I could tell that the POV character felt drawn to (or at least curious) about Amy, and that was very interesting. Like, I could tell that they didn’t want to care about her and that she was just another client, but that they felt compelled by the aftermath of her disappearance. It felt like they were trying to remain emotionally detached and were ultimately not altogether successful. It made me start thinking about how hard that would be: to help people disappear and realize how often no one looks for them. I also felt for Benny, and thought about all the connections humans make without even realizing it. Side note: when the client’s name was Amy I thought, “Is this like a Gone Girl reference?” before remembering that other people can also be named Amy. Which is especially dumb of me because my name happens to be Amy.

Friday Night – I, Icy Hour
I LOVED this. The whole thing. I love the snapshots that perfectly establish these clear glimpses into their lives. They felt so real and so different and it was just incredibly impressive. I wanted a part IV where they team up and fight crime or do crime or fall in love or something.
I (Claudia)
Oof. This one resonated with me the most of the three. I could feel Claudia’s confidence and optimism crumble away after her run-in with the gropey guy, and then Sam not noticing her. The way she knew she looked drat good in her skirt, then by the end of the night was pulling on her skirt uncomfortably. I wanted so bad to know that everything would turn out alright for her. The only very slight weirdness (and I’m sure this is just a me thing) was in the last paragraph. The third sentence talks about grabbing her skirt and pulling on it, and then the next sentence begins with “A moth had flown in..” and I thought for a minute that it flew into her skirt?
II (Paul)
I loved thinking about Paul’s perspective on this, and how wrong he may or may not be. I got such a good sense of his character, and that he probably has trouble connecting with people directly (so that’s why he goes through their stuff to try to learn about them). But if that’s the case, he may also have trouble reading people and figuring out what they want. So maybe Linda is testing him, toying with him. She might be fascinated by him, and knows he goes through her stuff. But also maybe Linda has literally never noticed him. She might have never noticed him or his mug and just grabbed a random one for coffee and then forgot about it in her desk. I loved not knowing that, in the same way I loved not knowing what Paul wanted from Linda. There was so much depth in those unanswered questions, and it made a mundane co-worker relationship fascinating.
III (Olivia)
This one so perfectly captured that moment when you start to wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake. You do something bold and brave and you’re so proud of yourself, and then something makes you go “oh poo poo what have I donnnnne”. And in that moment you need to decide how much to bet on yourself. I got that so much from this story, and I wanted to yell to Olivia that she’s got this! I know she’ll find another job soon where she can help people.

Machinations – Porn Lyrics Benches
First, I’m glad vampires are pro-union. Also I’ve never thought about the annoying aspects of not being able to see one’s reflection.
There was a lot of ambitious world building and context given in a short story, and for me it was just a little bit overwhelming. I’m sure it’s just me; I don’t read a lot of this type of genre. So I felt a little bit lost at times trying to understand the stakes (pardon the pun) of the situation. I feel like in stories where immortals are concerned, that affects the stakes a lot. So I don’t really know what level of revenge is warranted for turning someone into a vampire? I don’t know if that makes sense or is helpful.
But anyway, I was impressed by how much background there was here, with the vampires, and the syndicate and the other supernatural beings, and the bumpin’ night life…. It felt like a whole book! But all that said, my favorite part was probably Sebastian thinking about how Ellis smells like a mountain. His primary goal is based on revenge, but he can’t help but get a bit sidetracked by feeeelings and maybe I wanted a bit more of that? Or a notion that maybe revenge isn’t worth killing themselves?
It was such a good story though! I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t like it. It felt a little bit less workplacey, but it was still a fun curveball genre-wise compared to the other entries.

Night Shift – Quacking Mom Nut
Perfect. No notes. You look pretty and I’m proud of you. You should write a book.

Barista – Armada Ghat
Oh my gosh okay so I’ve never been a barista before, but your story still felt so familiar to me. That horrible feeling of sucking at something (even when you know you’re new to it and have no reason to be good at it yet). And then you start to improve, but your skill increases faster than your confidence so you’re just never sure if anything you’re doing is good enough. I could feel Beth’s hope, and could feel her wanting so bad to believe in herself but not quite sure if she thought she deserved that yet. I’m sorry I don’t have more to say about it, but I just plain liked it!

Technology isn’t magic (but it can feel like it sometimes) – Pr. Elf
I didn’t really understand what was happening in the sentence in the first paragraph that starts with “He barely got any sleep last night…”. But I loved the first sentence in the fourth paragraph: “Joey is the IT guy…”. I thought that was so cute and charming. Actually the whole story was cute and charming. I love the idea of someone not being in control of their magical powers, but not in the everyone-around-me-gets-hurt-so-I’ll-be-a-magical-brooding-loner way. More like “There are two wolves inside you. One is awkward and shy, and the other is magical and mysterious and wants to take care of the awkward shy one.” It almost reminded me of the episode of House where the patient had his Corpus Callosum severed so he developed Split-brain, and then his non-dominant hemisphere was trying to tell him what was wrong with him but he didn’t understand. Ultimately the non-dominant hemisphere wanted what was best for him, but he didn’t understand what it was trying to tell him. Anyway sorry to digress but that’s what your story made me think of. I wish some of the magical things were a little more show-don’t-tell, like that we the readers could figure out the magic’s agenda and how it was trying to help Damien. But like typing Zs when someone is sleepy doesn’t really help them or make them less sleepy. Oh also I’m not sure if I get the title.

The Sewer-Beast – Mongeese Hilts
What an absolutely fun and spooky adventure. I had a blast reading it. The imagery was very vivid and I could see everything happen like it was a movie. I got such a sense of the world of the factory and the relationships between the boys. It really captured the sense of feeling consumable to the bosses who prioritize profits, but knowing how important you and your coworkers are as individuals. It feels weird to call them coworkers in this story because they feel more like fellow soldiers. My favorite line was, “He sunk out of sight. Irving sobbed. Lenny prayed.”

A Very Canadian Mystery – Curated Horn
Okay real quick side note: my puzzle this week involved 7 letter palindromes hidden throughout my story, with specific center letters. I needed a “P” and all I could think of was “Ogopogo”. But I was like “I can’t fit a reference to Ogopogo in my story. It would be so hard to justify and is a kind of random reference”. And then I read your story and I was like “WTF someone else talked about an Ogopogo?!?” I was in shock.
Okay anyway to your story. I was instantly hooked with the sasquatch because I love all things cryptid. But my favorite thing about your story is the idea of going on a magical and lifechanging adventure, but the inciting incident (and ultimately the main driving goal) is something completely mundane. It’s such a unique perspective and lends for some very comical moments. I wish I had a better sense of who Gus and Jerry were (and what set them apart), and that maybe only one of them was the POV character. It felt a little odd to me to have omniscient glimpses of their backstory back-to-back, but like, things the other didn’t know. I wasn’t sure what was player knowledge and what was character knowledge. That might just be a me thing though. I loved how unfazed Jerry was by the first sasquatch, while Gus is freaking out a bit. That was a fun dynamic, and I wanted to see a bit more of them processing the situation differently.

One-Stop Shop – A Sofabed ‘Do
Wow. What an absolute sense of the world. I really felt like I was there in the shop, that I could see and smell everything. I have never lived in a small town, and this story made me think of all the ones I’ve driven through, and all the quick pit stops I’ve made. This felt like such a glimpse into the life of a woman who just exists as a random NPC to most people. I really liked the line: “She’d been told these would kill her, God drat it: she’d been promised.” There was the sense of her wanting to get out, but feeling beholden to Pete (and others), and also realizing she “couldn’t and wouldn’t” leave anyway. Then we learn that she is set to inherit the store from her father, and I wish we got a bit of a sense of what she feels about that in particular. But overall I just loved this. It was truly a slice of life and I was there in the shop watching it happen. I now also sort of realize I think I was picturing the shop from Tremors as my frame of reference.
Edited to add: I had already written this and then I read your conversation with Ceighk in Discord. I personally didn’t get that Coyote was about to tell the story. I thought she was just saying it was a nickname and leaving it at that, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to show that she was growing and taking the shop more seriously? But I actually like it better knowing that she was about to tell the story. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.

Staff Support – I, Lich
I couldn’t help but think the whole time about how I want to be Mr. Ross. I want to care about people and help them and adapt and be what they need. You can tell how much he cares about Janelle and changes tactics to try to get her to feel comfortable with him. He is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that he leaves her unattended, and that he doesn’t see the problems with their intake method until it negatively affects Carisa. But it feels like that’s only because he doesn’t recognize the power of the connections he makes. He doesn’t realize that getting someone’s trust in the intake process could make them feel abandoned when they move along the program. But I feel like now that he recognizes that, he will act on it. This story did so much to show that mental health practitioners and their patients have a two-way relationship and can learn so much from each other. I have a degree in Neuropsychology but decided while applying for PhD programs that I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a good counselor. I think that’s part of why I connected with this story so much. I felt like Mr. Ross demonstrated that intangible quality that I never saw in myself. I really liked it a lot and it made me think about how we’re all just big dumb humans trying to help each other and usually sucking a bit at it, to varying extents.

Send in Bob from Accounting – drat Me, Hellcat
I thought this was a cute story! I liked the second sentence because it was jarring, which was inherently funny. But then it also ended up not mattering? I loved the idea of this guy clicking on a random internet ad and following its instructions to a warehouse at night. That seemed to underscore how naïve he was (and not necessarily suicidal tendencies). Personally, I would have loved if you’d done away with the “he’s never talked to a woman before” bit. That part wasn’t funny to me and a bit eye rolly. I also think you could have found less humor in the physical descriptions of the accountants being scrawny, and more humor in the fight descriptions. I’m thinking of the scene in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with the song “Real Life Fighting is Awkward”. We have such a perception of what MMA fights look like, and if you threw two random dudes in an octagon it would be so clunky and embarrassing. That’s what I wanted to see 😊

Riley’s Last Rind – Bother Juicy Tofu
I thought this story was viscerally entertaining. I wasn’t sure how much of it was supposed to be serious or absurd, or both. I loved the bloody, noir-feeling story, featuring a journalist wearing a pig in a baby bjorn. That image was baffling and compelling. The language was stark, and I loved all the use of food and animal related descriptors (“Gravity begs to roux me into road gravy.) Reading this story was like chewing on a bloody steak. It was an experience that felt a little bit primal and scary, but still fun. “I sit while Craig yammers on about hay rates and day rates.” I don’t know why, of all the well-crafted sentences, that one stood out to me, but I really liked it.

Sleep All Night and Work All Day – A Stark Tsar
I. Loved. This. The story started so straightforward and I was so desperately hoping it would suddenly curve somewhere weird. When I say “Lone Pine Station” I thought it might be a Back to the Future Thing. This was so much better though. Oh my gosh after the fight with Lumberjeff and Lumberjim when the wind reveals Lumberjohn’s flannel tie? Yes. Cinematic moment. I could see it happen in slow motion, and the musical sting when it was revealed. Oh and the ending. The idea of businesspeople ripping off their clothes like Superman to reveal their Lumberjack flannel underneath? Chef kiss. I just had so much fun reading this. Only minor nitpick: the first sentence of the second paragraph felt a bit cumbersome; is it saying something other than “the train was twenty minutes late”? That briefly confused me.

Shoot – Angry Hut
Wow, what an interesting concept and unique setting. I love stories that are also thought experiments, and examinations of the sort of darker aspects of utopias. Speaking of, I love how in the POV character’s mind, Mynne is the threat to society. Their life is crime, but in some ways that is a service to the current order of things, while she could bring riot. And maybe it was Mynne calling them out, saying “You’re part of the system” that made them make their decision to go rogue. So cool. I don’t know what else to say other than it was a cool rear end story. I want to know what happens next.

You don’t have to be crazy – Some Job
It took me a bit to figure out what was going on here, but once I did I was hooked. I love thinking about how so much is lost to time, and without it all, the things that remain have no context to ascertain comparative importance. We don’t know if the random artifact we uncovered is a sacred idol or a latrine. I really felt that in this story. An absolute reverence for the comically mundane. The weight of this all-important rite of passage, doing a very silly skit. I remember in church when someone would screw up the words and everyone would clutch their pearls, not really thinking about how the words themselves were so arbitrary. POV character’s shock at Yazmi’s attitude felt like that to me. “’How was your weekend?’ my brother asked, dropping each word like a stone into a pond.” Loved that bit.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 518 Entry

My Heart Beats So That I Can Hardly Speak
744 words

“You have already made the necessary preparations, and had the port installed. Why do you now hesitate, my child?”

It was a valid question, and Ruth didn’t know how to answer. She knew once she crossed over, she would know only peace and joy. She would be reunited with her loved ones. She would be the happiest she’d ever been. She believed this.

“I don’t know, Father. I know I have no reason to stay. I’m all alone here now, like you said. I guess I’m just scared.”

“This is understandable, child. You must have faith. You will soon be baptized into the eternal embrace of pure love.”

“Father,” she hesitated, unsure if this was a question she dared to ask, “why haven’t you joined the link? How can you know how wonderful it is, yet remain here?”

The Father smiled. “I have joined, my child. I was the first to know the light. It was empty of souls but mine. But I saw the potential. I knew it was not my path to remain. I have been called as a beacon, to guide others. The more souls who find their joy in the link, the more knowledge and connections exist within.”

Connections. This word echoed in Ruth’s mind. Her life was filled with loneliness. All her loved ones had joined the link, and she missed them terribly. It was the promise of this reunion that had finally made her listen to The Father’s message.

He held his hands out to her. Her pulse quickened.

She knew it was time. She placed her hands in his. Her hands were small and brittle, like the gnarled talons of an aged bird. His were broad and creamy, as though they had known neither toil nor soil. She found his grip comforting, but still trembled with fear. “If I were truly a woman of faith, I would not be afraid”, she thought. The tall, blonde Acolyte stepped behind her, holding a three-pronged connector. The Acolyte lifted Ruth’s hair from the back of her neck and paused, looking at The Father.

“Are you ready to know peace, my child?” Ruth’s lip quivered and her heart raced, but she nodded. The Acolyte inserted the connector.

00011 01111 01101 01101 10101 01110 01001 01111 01110

Suddenly Ruth was bathed in light and warmth. She was naked, and the sun caressed her perfect skin. She understood. She finally understood. She understood all. Concepts she struggled to grasp in life, now seemed so simple and obvious. Her knowledge was vast and her perception limitless. She was expanding, growing, changing.

Ruth’s body slumped and The Father dropped her hands. “I was worried for a sec there the old bat was gonna change her drat mind. Report says she gets a decent stipend so we should be able to collect on that for a few years, at least.”
The Acolyte smirked. “Should I put her in a temp room in case she changes her mind and comes back?”
“Nah, don’t bother. No one ever leaves once they’re inside.”
The Acolyte picked up Ruth’s limp body and tossed her carelessly onto a bare steel stretcher.

Ruth suddenly remembered her connections in life, and in that instant she was surrounded by familiar faces. They looked so different now. They glowed from within, and their celestial forms existed beyond blemish or imperfection. She beheld them, she felt them, she loved them. She embraced them, and knew all they knew.

“Goddamn vein is too slippery”. The Acolyte tried again to insert the needle. Ruth’s papery skin hung loosely on her frail arm, and her vein shifted out of the way of the needle. “Good thing she can’t feel this.” The Acolyte pulled the needle back out and tried again.

Ruth was reunited with her beloved Seth. Something had come between them before they crossed over, but neither would ever remember it. Their bodies joined in perfect harmony. Every touch, every sensation was shared between them, and the vibrations of their forms echoed through their very souls.

Ruth’s body was piled onto the second shelf from the bottom. Her IV slowly dripped the absolute minimum nutrients necessary. Her vitals monitor joined the sluggish metronome, every heart in the room beating slowly and in unison.

Ruth forgot loneliness. She forgot pain. She forgot sorrow. She knew only light and love and harmony.

The skin on Ruth’s inert body dried and shriveled. Her muscles atrophied. She smiled.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I am in please yes.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 519 Entry

The General Report
919 Words

I enter the Black Site, scrutinizing the faces of the guards I walk past. Do any seem out of place? Do any of them not belong? It’s difficult to tell through their helmets. I pass through the metal detectors and begin to remove my protectivewear. I place my respirator on the conveyor and begin to unzip my government issued coveralls. I check my inner jacket pocket for yesterday’s copy of The General Report, knowing that one way or another, it will be the last one I’ll ever publish.


Rejoice, fellow citizens! For their is news today of yet another victory by our courageous leader, General Robertson! The General’s impeccable service record continues, with his untarnished history for squashing any feeble attempts to endanger our perfect way of life. The General iz indomitable and all citizens prosper under his unparalleled leadership.

As the battles against Ariaeus rage on, The General has successfully held their forces at bay. There have been know casualties significant enough to make our brave forces falter. Under his brave leadership, the warr has been fought on Ariaeus soil, keeping our civilians safe at home. Our enemy, however, is cowardly and duplicitous. Agents from Ariaeus continue to abduct our loyal citizens from their homes in the dead of night. It is believed that the kidnapped citizens showed disloyalty to our cause, which prompted Ariaeus to abduct them in the hopes they would turn their allegiance againts The General. So fret not, my fellow citizens! For as long as you remain loyal to The General, you have no reason to fear.

These abductions by Ariaus have become fodder for more wild conspiracy theories by the terrorist organization Soleschism. These impudent rebels have been nothing more than a wart marring our utopia. They use secret messages to organize feeble attempts to sabotage The Genral’s glorious regime. They believe that the perfection and free speach we experience is an illusion, and they manufacture baseless lies that no rational citizen would believe.

One example of their delusional rhetoric: they do not believe that The General has cured our people of all illnesses, but that any sick citizens are killed. This, of course, iz ludicrous. Every case they cite was a healthy citizen who was kidnapped and murdered by our true enemy, the kingdom of Ariaeus. The delusional members of Soleschism do not believe we are not nowe, nor have we ever been at war with Ariaeus, and they attribute all the war casualties to The General himself.

The General received troubling word through his infallible intelligence network that Soleschism was plotting a vile assassination at his Citizens Address tommorrow afternoon. They planned to infiltrate the event security staff and sabotage the air circulation unit so it pumped unfiltered air in frum outside the building. This reckless plan would have resulted in the deaths of every won in The General’s central staff, which would include those of us honored with the position of General Reporters. Fortunately, The General, in his infinite wisdom, was able two prevent this ghastly attack.

The General has always known the names of every member of Soleschism, as well as the locations four all their bases of operation. He has allowed them to continue organizing because furst and foremost he believes in a free and fair exchange of ideas. He also believed them to be a pointless and weak group not worthy of his esteemed attention. However, this reckless assassination plan warranted a measured response. Shortly after midnight last night, his demolition agents launched a coordinated assault against every building and side streete Soleschism has been known to meet in. These buildings and their surroundings are all reduced to ash, and Soleschism will not be remembered by history.

The General’s victory was comprehensive, but some apprehension remains amongst his longe standing security team. They have increased security measures for all lyve broadcast Citizens Addresses. Henceforth The General’s location will remain privileged information, known only to his central staff. This will make any attempt on his life impossible, which will protect all citizens from any future plots from terrorists like Soleschizm.


I had been certain the General’s Editors would flag this report before publication. I am certain they will find my message eventually, but hopefully it will be too late. With any luck, Soleschism will act on it first. I enter the small auditorium where The General will deliver his Citizens Address. I see him just offstage, ignoring an earnest councilmember. He looks almost human without the lights and cameras on him. I take my place in the seating designated for the General Reporters. There are only four of us left. We have not asked about the others. Soon these three will not ask what happened to me. I glance around the room, checking for any indication something is amiss. All seems machinelike and orderly. I am devastated. I have risked everything to no avail. The room falls quiet. The lights and cameras power on. The General approaches the podium.

He is powerful. He is godlike. He is terrifying. The introductory fanfare subsides. The General inhales powerfully to begin his speech and suddenly--he coughs. The General coughed. Live, on the Citizens Address. He continues coughing. A horrible, rasping, violent cough. Those immediately around him join. The coughing spreads. The entire room is unable to breathe. We begin to spit blood. People are collapsing. Even The General falls to his knees. The room is getting dark and I know this is the end. It actually worked.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I am in for week 520 please

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 520 Entry
Official Secrets
998 Words

Margaret dreaded first dates. She would probably hate second dates too, but she’d never had one. She stared at her reflection and forced a smile. “I did secretarial work for the Home Office,” she said. She forced it to echo in her brain. She knew it would be asked and it needed to sound natural. She gritted her teeth, then checked them for lipstick stains.

George seemed like a nice enough chap. She had first met him in November when he came into the library where she worked. He leaned over her shoulder and pointed at 12-across. “French indecipherable cipher. That’s Playfair. P-L-A-Y-F-A-I-R.” She smiled and thanked him, and wrote the letters very lightly in pencil so she could replace them with Vigenère later. Since then he’d come in two more times before inviting her to go out for dinner and dancing.

She sat down at the table opposite George, and adjusted her silverware so the handles were parallel. She made flickering eye contact with George, then quickly looked away and re-folded her napkin. Stop fidgeting, she thought to herself, and tidied her skirt with her hands. “Mild weather for this time of year,” she said stupidly.

“Oh yes quite. I enjoy the cool weather, actually. I was stationed in France during the war, and it was dreadfully warm in the summer. Though before that I did a brief stint in India and that was ghastly.”

“We’re all so very grateful to you brave lads for doing the fighting while we shivered here at home.”

“Well everyone did their part these past years, at home and abroad. What did you do during the war?”

Margaret was suddenly aware of every muscle in her body. “I did secretarial work for the Home Office.” Did she say that too fast? Did it sound believable? She tried not to glance away or look suspicious. Was the whole room watching? Suddenly she was certain Scotland Yard was on their way.

“Well I’m sure that’s very important too,” George said, seemingly unaware that an hour had passed in Margaret’s mind in the last two seconds.


Somehow Margaret stumbled through the rest of dinner. Luckily George had no problem carrying on entire conversations by himself. He talked about the stock market, and golf, and horses. Margaret nodded and smiled and pretended any of it mattered to her.

Despite the dull conversation and tepid chemistry between them, George actually said he still wanted to go dancing with her after dinner.

“You wait here, I’ll go get us some drinks. I see my mate Mike over there and want to say hello,” George said before confidently abandoning her. Margaret tried to make herself as small as possible. She watched a woman in chunky brown pumps stride heavily to the dance floor. Margaret watched her begin to move. She counted her steps, imagining her footfalls pattering in a code alphabet. Big step, small step. Three big steps. One big step. Four small steps. Well this seems like nothing, Margaret thought, laughing despite herself.

“What’s so funny?” George asked, appearing from nowhere.

“That woman there- it’s nothing sorry, just had a funny thought.” Margaret sipped the drink George handed her. She did not like the taste whatsoever. She smiled and sipped again.

“Margaret, this is my friend Michael and his girlfriend, Jane.” Margaret’s mouth fell open when she saw Jane. She knew her. They were in Hut 5 together at Bletchley. She also worked as a codebreaker, and was almost as clever as Margaret.

“Margaret, darling, it’s lovely to see you again!” Jane said, lightly kissing Margaret’s cheek. Margaret suddenly realized her mouth was still hanging open like an idiot.

“You two know each other?” Michael asked. Margaret clenched. How do they say they know each other? They can’t say they met during the war. There would be too many questions. Maybe they could-

“Miss Margaret and I go way back,” Jane replied effortlessly. “Boys, why don’t you go get us some fresh drinks while we catch up?” They wandered off with absolutely zero questions.

“I don’t know how you do that, Jane. This secret business is impossible. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone because I get so frightened I’ll say something about Bletchley.”

Jane smiled warmly. “I know what you mean. When I started seeing Michael, I was nervous whenever we discussed the war. I felt like I was hiding such a big part of myself.”

“But how do you do it? How do you go out with someone while trying to disguise how clever you are?”

Jane laughed, a merry twinkling sound. “I don’t! Michael knows I’m far cleverer than he is. He just doesn’t know about all my work experience.”

“It’s just… We made such a difference. We saved lives. It was so important. And now, we just…? Go back to being small? To dancing and smiling? To going on dates with boring men?”

Jane laughed again. “Well you don’t have to date only boring ones. You don’t have to date at all, Margaret. But you do have to go back to trying to make a life for yourself.”

A life. Margaret had spent so much time obsessing over what she shouldn’t and couldn’t do, she forgot to think about what she wanted from life. She wanted a role, a purpose, a meaning. If she was going to have a partner, she wanted someone who knew her, and cared what she had to say.


The date ended awkwardly, as they all did. They both knew there wouldn’t be a second date, and neither of them particularly wanted one. Margaret entered her flat alone and closed the door behind her, breathing a sigh of relief. She leaned her back against the door and closed her eyes. It was so quiet. She changed into comfortable clothes and made herself a cup of tea. She settled into her armchair, with a blanket and a crossword puzzle. This was the happiest she’d been all night.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.

The Maize Maze
500 words

Amy loved to be scared. She loved scary movies, haunted houses, horror escape rooms, and anything that made her heart race. She chased that high year-round, but became especially desperate for it every Spooky Season.

So when ValleyFair temporarily became ValleyScare during October, there was no question Amy would be there. She made sure to go late on Halloween night, after all the families with small children went home. She knew the actors would be pulling out all the stops and trying extra hard to make every experience truly frightening.

The weather was crisp, and the ambience was better than Amy expected. Spooky music echoed in the night, and fog machines covered the ground in an eerie haze. Low-budget actors in lower-budget costumes roamed the park, following patrons or jumping out at them. Amy reveled in it.

The first haunted house was themed like an abandoned high school. Zombie cheerleaders with fake chainsaws chased around screaming teenagers. Amy followed the snaking path through the cheap set pieces and plastic props. It was… fine. The actors occasionally broke character and they seemed so tired. Amy sympathized, but her spirits faltered. She realized this wasn’t going to be the truly memorable horror experience she sought.

Amy toured a couple more adequate haunts and tried her best not to be too judgmental. She was having an okay time, but wanted more. Each theme became more predictable and the production value got lazier.

Before she knew it, the loudspeakers announced that the park would be closing soon. Amy only had one more haunt to see: The Maize Maze. Her expectations were low, and she wasn’t sure why she saved this one for last. Little did she know it would be the most memorable haunt experience of her life.

She entered the corn maze and it was a pleasant surprise: thick rows of corn stalks made it difficult to navigate and each twist and turn was unexpected. Suddenly, a short man jumped out in front of Amy. He was wearing a ghillie suit embellished with fake ears of corn. He stopped her in her tracks and shouted “CORN!” before disappearing into the stalks.

Amy was frozen. She was startled, dumbfounded, and her brain processed what just happened. Did… did that actor really just shout “Corn”?

She continued in the maze before hearing a rustling sound behind her. She turned around suddenly as he was already screaming at her again. “COOOOOOORN!” He disappeared into the darkness.

Amy started to laugh. It was so perfect. So ridiculous. This actor was clearly bored and done with this strange summer job.

She rounded a corner and vaguely saw a shadow hunched against the stalks. “corncorncorncorn” it muttered as she passed. It made no effort to jump out at her. “Corncorncorncorn…” it continued as she walked away. The sound faded from her ears. She laughed the entire way home.

This event was five years ago today, and Amy imagines that poor actor is still huddled in a corner muttering “corncorncorncorn…”

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Gang Brawl 2: Infinitely Late at Night

500 words

I was a typical sleep-deprived college kid. I had one part-time job while I double majored, but it didn’t quite pay the bills. That’s when I learned about PRACS.

I don’t know what PRACS stood for, but they paid good money. They did clinical research on new medical drugs. You could check in for a study on a Friday, stay at the facility all weekend, and walk out Monday with a check for $600. Odds are you’d get the placebo anyway so you’re literally getting paid to do nothing. Other than sell your body to science and risk medical complications, I suppose. But I was 18 and invincible.

When you sign up for a study, all you know is the start time, end time, and pay rate. I quickly discovered that different studies paid more if they were more uncomfortable. Did the drug involve a needle poke instead of a pill? That could be a couple hundred more dollars. So I should have been nervous when I saw the listing for Study 4-763. Check-in Thursday evening, check out Sunday morning. The pay? $2000. I couldn’t believe it. For two grand I didn’t care what the drug did. I made arrangements for my Friday classes and signed up for the study.

I arrived at PRACS and filled out all the waivers, but they seemed thicker than usual. They performed the initial health screenings, then brought us into a brightly lit room with ten hospital beds.

They told us we would be taking a pill and getting into a bed, but that we weren’t allowed to sleep. That was why the study paid so much: we were allowed seven hours of sleep on Friday, but that was it. No problem. I pulled all-nighters at least twice a week. Plus who in the world could fall asleep in a brightly lit room surrounded by strangers?

After about half an hour, I began to feel tired. It was 8 pm on a Thursday. I wouldn’t normally even think about going to bed for another five hours. I leaned back in the bed, but nodded at the attendant to assure her I wouldn’t fall asleep. I was just closing my eyes for like two seconds.

Next thing I knew, the attendant was gently shaking me awake. I apologized and said I didn’t know what happened. She said not to worry, but that she was going to prop my bed up to a seated position. By 8:45 all the beds were propped up. It didn’t help. All ten of us kept taking turns nodding off. We fought so hard to stay awake. They played loud music. It was torture. By 9:30, the attendant was just moving into a circuit, waking up each person. By the time she made it around, the first people were already asleep again. By 10:00 I was crying and desperate, begging the attendant to leave me alone. The last thing I remember is the attendant calling down the hall for her supervisor.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Entry for Gangbrawl 3: Stare into the Monolith

The Gathering Place
373 words

Wilson hated his neighbor Cheryl and knew she was up to something stupid again. He looked out his front door to see her standing on his sidewalk. She was just standing there, staring at his house. She was wearing a Winnie the Pooh t-shirt, basketball shorts, and Crocs. Jesus Christ, Cheryl.

He grabbed his coffee, an elixir to steel himself from Cheryl’s inane babble. His mug was white with big black letters saying “Shuh-Duh-Fuh Cup”. Too bad Cheryl was too stupid to get the message.

He stepped out his front door and swung the storm door shut quickly so his cat Scabs wouldn’t dash to freedom. “Morning, Cheryl,” he grumbled.

Cheryl stared. She was looking up, at his roof maybe? No, a bit higher. “Whatcha lookin’ at, Cheryl?”

A single tear trickled down her cheek.

She was frozen in terrified wonder.

She was soaking wet. It had rained the night before. How long had she been standing there?

The smell of piss and poo poo wafted toward Wilson. She’d been there a while.

“Cheryl… Cheryl are you alright?” Wilson glanced down the street. He saw the guy from the blue house… what was his name? Greg? Probably Greg was out by his mailbox, standing and facing Wilson’s house. “Hey Greg, I need your phone! Cheryl needs help!”

Probably Greg was frozen in terrified wonder.

What the gently caress was happening? Wilson forgot he was holding his coffee and nearly dropped it. He panicked and set it randomly on the railing. He stepped off his porch and looked up the street. A few houses down he saw a jogger in very ugly leggings standing and staring toward his house.

The jogger in very ugly leggings was frozen in terrified wonder.

He looked without thinking, triangulating their gaze. He glanced back toward his house and it was… spectacular. Rising up from behind his house was a massive obsidian monolith. It gleamed in the sunlight, brilliant and electric. It held his gaze with a powerful gravity that vibrated throughout his very soul. The monolith knew him, and honored him. It chose this as The Gathering Place. Every soul was needed. It would take years, but all would come eventually. The monolith was patient.

Wilson was frozen in terrified wonder.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
In please and thank you

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Gang Brawl: Goat Army

413 words
Jeff Probst: Next Season on Survivor…

Fourteen returning survivors come back to face the island again in Season 74. We’ve had Heroes and Villains. We’ve had Fans and Favorites. We’ve consistently brought back the most cunning, most engaging, most likeable players season after season. Now, we’re trying something different.

Every season the power players on Survivor make it to the end using their main asset: their boring, unlikeable alliances who they drag to the end because they know they can beat them. Well now is a second chance at a million dollars for one of those useless allies.

Returning this season we have:
-Matthew from Survivor Amazon. You may remember Matthew as the super intense guy that made everyone uncomfortable in a sort of abstract way. Well, he’s back.
-Will, who was designated the smelliest Survivor ever.
-Dreamz, who accepted a truck from the most likeable person in the game and then voted him out. Somehow he thought he’d still get jury votes after that.
-Monica Culpepper, whose husband sucked so much on Blood vs. Water that it made her suckier by association.
-Natalie T. Remember her? We don’t really either. Which makes her perfect for this season.
-Gervase, who waited 20 years to come back for Blood vs. Water, only to get his niece voted off because he was a bit of a jerkbag.
-Kass from Blood vs. Brains vs. Beauty. She was on the Brains Tribe but absolutely proved otherwise.
-Sugar, the pinup model. This is her third time appearing on Survivor, so maybe she’ll actually do something this time.
-Lillian, who first appeared on Survivor: Outcasts. Lillian was voted out and fought her way back into the game as an Outcast. Then she just kind of whined a bunch and was voted out again.
-Albert, who we can’t really remember other than he was vaguely a fart on legs.
-Michael Skupin- oh wait just kidding he’s definitely not coming back again…
-Sherri, the incredibly unlikeable and privileged player who somehow still thinks she stood a chance in this game.
-Special Agent Phillip, who is just like WOW.
-And last but definitely least we have Russell, an incredibly strategic player who will never get a single jury vote ever because of everything about him.

Can these thirteen returning players come back and redeem themselves for their incredible, massive, humiliating past failures? Will they prove once again to be an embarrassment to their families? Find out next season on…


Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.

Sonny: The White Whale of the Prairie

I liked the premise of the story a lot. Skilled hunter tracks down elusive legendary beast, it reveals it’s a demon, he narrowly escapes. Awesome.

You did a good job of setting everything up and establishing expectations quickly. Big giant bull. No one has ever been able to track it down. But then Ishmael just… does? I wish we had a better indication of the effort there. It would make it feel more like he is the hero and deserves this epic confrontation.

This is a minor thing, but during the confrontation I lost track of the choreography. “He rode closer” (so he’s on his horse)... “The demon charged at Ishmael, horn first. Ishmael reacted instinctively, throwing himself to the side.” (so did he get off the horse at some point? Or did he throw himself off his horse? Wouldn’t the demon hit his horse then?)... “He scrambled to his feet and ran toward his horse” (so he definitely either got off the horse or threw himself off it). The ambiguity just makes me lose track of exactly what’s happening, which makes me feel less present in this moment.

Repeated words (fine if intentional, just wanted to point them out in case they weren’t):
-Finally. Second paragraph third sentence and third paragraph first sentence.
-Began to. Fourth paragraph first sentence and fourth paragraph second sentence.
-Turned to. Fourth paragraph second sentence and fourth paragraph third sentence.

Overall it was a nice story, but I found myself wishing you’d used some of the words you had left to embellish the imagery a bit so it all felt more epic and impactful.

derp: infinitely late at night

I really liked the writing style of this. It captured the desperate, meandering stream-of-consciousness that holds one’s brains hostage during insomnia. I found myself focused more than I should have been on the TV, and whether or not it was capitalized and also when it was turned on and off. I’m sure that’s just me though so feel free to ignore.

I assume it’s intentional that 3:12 AM lasts forever, and that was an interesting choice. I would have assumed the latter, that you would want to convey how much sleeptime this poor soul is missing out on by the clock speeding by while they lie awake. Instead I found myself thinking “wow from 3:11-3:12, they turned the tv off, then on, then off again” and it just felt more active than restless? I know when I’m trying to sleep I’ll turn the TV off, then gradually realize I can’t sleep with it off so I turn it on, then slowly accept I need to turn it back on. And each time it’s frustrating and I feel like I’m not in control of what my body wants. But switching the tv every like twenty seconds doesn’t seem like that.

Overall I really liked this, and it paired well with your avatar photo and the text underneath it.

Sonny: The Alien Warning

Hello again! Sorry your story was right after mine twice.

This one feels a bit like the opposite of your Moby corn story. That one was very direct and straight to the point, without much in the way of extra plot or flavor. This one has a whole lot of stuff all sort of crammed in. It feels like a box of chex mix except there are like also meatballs and Swedish fish inside.

The first seven sentences of the story feel like they’re stripped of any character or flavor. It’s just telling me things that happened, but not in a way that makes them feel real. It’s basically a lot of telling, but no showing. Then suddenly I’m hit with some shocking imagery. Those next four sentences are probably my favorite part of the story. It’s surprising and exciting. Then the last three sentences of the first paragraph feel back to the way it started. It just sort of says “And then stuff happened.” I’d love to really feel the sense of how unsettling it is these people feel compelled to do the same thing that just destroyed their friend. That right there is the most horrifying part of the story, and its presentation really undercuts that impact.

The third paragraph confused me a bit. “At the socialite’s funeral” tells me it’s a single funeral for a single person, but then it follows with all of the families being upset about all the loved ones. It’s just a bit odd.

Then we get to the detective, who I wish was not in the story. As soon as he shows up, the story goes off the loving rails (and not in a way I enjoyed). If this was a longform story, having a single dude be the downfall of these aliens might feel very exciting in a vigilante kind of way. But the way it’s presented it makes these aliens feel awkward and inept and silly. I was suddenly not sure if this was trying to be scary or campy.

Then another plot twist! There’s a DIFFERENT alien coming to destroy the planet. The aliens were killing some humans to save all humans, for…. reasons.

“The detective gathered all of the evidence and presented it to the authorities.” What authorities? “The aliens were caught and tried. They were found guilty and sentenced to death.” Who tf has jurisdiction over this?! If you told me that these “authorities” was a top-secret, Men in Black, Area 51 type deal who killed the aliens to keep it all quiet, I might buy that. But the idea that these aliens were just treated like totally normal citizens really took me out.

Personally, I’d definitely ditch the detective. Keep the start. Clarify the aliens’ motivation. Have them announce something scary to Earth, then Earth kills them in retaliation. Then Earth realizes too late the aliens were trying to help them. It’s still a lot to try to accomplish in 500 words though.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 521 Entry

Good Dog Waffles
1201 words

Goodness. Presto has glorious haunches. Look at them. So sniffable. “Waffles, stop that,” Small Human says while I reach out for a butt sniff. Why is our run after Presto? So distracting.

Oooh Big Human smooches my snoot. “Good luck Little Waffles! I’ll see you after your run!” I am so glad he is here. I love Big Human. I love Small Human. Agility is our thing. We run and jump and play. I want Small Human to be proud of me. Sometimes I run happy and Small Human is happy. Sometimes I run sad. Small Human still pretends to be happy but she is sad. This time I will remember to run happy and Small Human will be happy and proud. If I run extra special happy I get a HappyCup. HappyCup is the best.

Okay now Presto goes in the ring. Bye bye butt sniffs. Big Human walks away and I do not know if I will ever see him again. Oooh Small Human has treats! Sit? No problem! Nose touch? Boop boop boop. I am so good at nose touches. I get lots of small yummy treats. Hey where are we going?

Do I have to wear this leash? Oh it is our turn. Uh oh, oh no. Maybe I should have pottied when my Humans said to. I sit down and Small Human takes my leash off. Gotta itch now. Small Human runs away. I will just keep itching. She will come back. Small Human comes back. She scratches my neck. She says “Come on Waffles let’s go!” I say okay because I love Small Human.

Dutifully, I follow Small Human to the first jump. It is too high. I will go around it. Uh oh, oh no. Small Human smiles but I know she is sad. We walk back. Small Human says, “That’s okay, Waffles! Let’s try again!” That means I am bad dog. I am sad running now but I go over the jump this time. Small Human points at another jump. I go over that jump too. Whee I am going fast now! Small Human points at another jump. I go toward it wait what is that smell. I smell a smell. I will go find the smell. Oh there is a Chair Human here. I go to the Chair Human. Small Human is calling my name. She must not know Chair Human has a smell. I sniff the Chair Human who is trying very hard not to look at me. Small Human calls my name for the first time so I run toward her. She points to tunnel now. I love tunnel. I go in tunnel. It is nice and dark and there are smells in tunnel. I lay down for just a minute. Small Human is looking in tunnel calling me. Uh oh, oh no. I should leave tunnel soon.

Okay I will leave tunnel now. Small Human runs toward the teeter. I will not do the teeter. Teeter makes a loud bang and I do not like it. I go around the teeter. Small Human goes back and tells me to do the teeter. I will not. Small Human says “That’s fine, you don’t have to! Let’s keep going!” Uh oh, oh no. I am bad dog. I lie down and show Small Human my fuzzy belly. If she pets my fuzzy belly she forgives me. Wait uh oh, oh no. She did not see my fuzzy belly because she is still running. I go catch up and try to happy run.

Gosh wait. Just outside the ring. Is that Big Human? I did not know Big Human was here! I have not seen Big Human in forever! I run to the edge of the ring. I try to push down the fence. It stops me from reaching Big Human. But I love Big Human! I do not love fence.

“Waffles!” Small Human calls my name. Oh that’s right we are running agility! I love agility! I happy run to Small Human. She points at a jump. I jump over the jump. She points at another jump. This jump seems much higher. I stop in front of jump. Small Human says “Waffles, jump!” I disagree. I go under the bar. This is easier. Chair Human laughs. Maybe I should go see if Chair Human still has smells. I start walking toward Chair Human. Wait Small Human is running away. I chase. She points at a jump. I jump over the jump. I love jumping.

All of a sudden, Small Human slows down. Uh oh, oh no. The weave poles. I do not love the weave poles. Weave poles always make me sad run. I do the first two weave poles. The third weave pole is spooky. I skip that pole. I do a few more weave poles. Then I skip another weave pole because it is at a very slight angle. I do not want to do more weave poles. I wander away.

Free from the weave poles. I sit down and look around. Wait who is that? There is a Stern Human in the ring. Stern Human holds up a fist, then a hand. Hmm. I run toward Stern Human. There is a jump in the way. I jump over the jump. Stern Human holds up both hands. I jump on Stern Human. Stern Human looks stern. Small Human says “Waffles, don’t jump on the Judge!” I turn to Small Human. Yay Small Human is here! I walk toward her.

“Fast Dog Waffles!” Small Human is right. I am happy walking now. She points to the A-Frame. I love the A-Frame! I run to the top of the A-Frame. Oh I am high. I like being high. Look how big I am. Biggest dog Waffles. Small Human says “Waffles come down!” Uh oh, oh no. I should come down now. There is yellow at the bottom of the A-Frame. Yellow is lava. I jump from up high so I do not step on the lava.

Loud buzzer happens. I do not know what loud buzzer wants. I lie down and show Small Human my fuzzy belly. She does not rub my fuzzy belly. Uh oh, oh no. Small Human is mad at Bad Dog Waffles. I am not happy running and Small Human is sad.

Eep! Small Human runs away! I chase. She points at one more jump. I jump over and it beeps. Small Human jumps and claps and cheers. She puts my leash on. I do not like my leash. Small Human scoops me up. She smooches my snoot. She tells me I am Good Dog Waffles. Best Dog Waffles. Fast Dog Waffles. Small Human is proud of me. She brings me to Big Human. I did not know Big Human is here! Best surprise. My Humans pet and scratch and smooch me. I am Best Agility Dog Waffles.

Since I am a Good Dog we go to Burger Food Place and I get a HappyCup. I must be a Very Good Dog to earn a HappyCup. I have messy poops all over. I am Good Dog Waffles and Small Human is happy. What a very good day.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I would like to be in for Omega! Can the judges please fill in the blanks for me? And I would love to spin the wheel because it sounds delightful!

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 522
Prompt Destiny Omega Ladder Prompt #1

A [Angels] agonizes over [The Mesosphere]

Noctilucent Cloud
649 words

Talziel was dying.

The earth, now nothing but ash and sand, stained her naked feet. She walked along the desolate wasteland, remembering. She summoned images of all that was lost, sculpting every detail in her mind. She’d spent millenia on this planet. She was its guardian angel, and she had failed.

She watched closely as species evolved, civilizations rose and fell, and weather changed. The mortals chose greed and hatred at every crossroads. The gods forsook their creation. Only Talziel remained.

She knew her time drew near. The dandelion on the craggy hillside was shriveled and dying. Its stringy petals writhed outward, grasping toward water that would not come. The last life for her to protect, and she was completely helpless. When it withered, when there was no life remaining for her to guard, Talziel would cease to exist.

She would not wait and watch as the dandelion faded. She refused to witness one more death. Talziel wanted the last thing she saw to be beautiful. She wanted her final moments to be filled with light and hope. She yearned for the shining night, the ice crystals that danced in the heavens.

Talziel gathered energy she thought was long lost. Her brittle wings grappled desperately with her smoky surroundings. She fought and wrestled the air until she began to climb. It was slow at first, but as the air grew clearer her progress was less desperate. She climbed over treetops, withered and rotten. She climbed above the ghostly crater, filled with decay. She climbed above the mountains which reached so desperately toward the heavens.

As she reached the top of the Troposphere, her picture began to shift. She could no longer see the bones and the ash and the death. She saw empty lakebeds dotting the landscape. She saw rolling hills leaping toward the horizon. As her picture became larger, the details blurred and the pain lessened. She flew through snaking clouds which faded swiftly.

Talziel continued to the Stratosphere, flying higher and higher. Her strength was waning and she knew the lonely dandelion could not survive much longer. She passed quickly through the razor thin ozone and continued to climb. She could see entire continents now, striped with silvery striations. She knew these were the scars left on the planet from the mortals’ final weapons. But from this height they did not look like wounds or burns. They were an intricate lace veil, draped over the coffin of the planet she loved so dearly. The pattern danced across the countries, ignoring every ridiculous border and wall prized so highly by the mortals. Rest their foolish souls.

Her angelic tears crystallized on her cheek, and Talziel knew she had reached the Mesosphere. This had been her home, her watchtower. She was the silent sentry who monitored from afar. When the gods abandoned this planet, she relinquished all notion of impartiality. She dove to the surface and tried to save what she could. She fought for justice, for hope, for love. But she was centuries too late. She changed nothing, but was forced to watch up close as everything she loved crumbled to ash.

The edges of her vision began to blur. She searched now for the crystals. She fled toward the arctic dawn, ready to watch the lights flicker and dance. She was nearing them now.

Talziel plunged headlong into the cloud. It stung her face and bit her wings.

The dying sun crested above her planet. It washed over her, bathing her in the brilliant white light. The light passed through her and greeted each crystal, which reflected its brilliance through each icy facet. The crystals danced around her, and she floated within this magical, beautiful moment. Tears streamed down her face, fracturing away from her skin. These angelic tears coalesced in the Mesosphere, joining the crystal ballet.

The dandelion withered, and Talziel’s body plummeted to the earth.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I am IN for Prompt 2! Can I please have a HELL RULE?! And of course I would like to SPIN THE WHEEL!


Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 522: Omega Prompt #2
Hell Rule: You stare into the abyss but it’s bashful
Flash Rule: None
Wheel Rule: Submission grants a donation to a charity of my choice. I choose UnRestrict MN, please.

Stink Purse
888 words

Alright so I went to college in Fargo, North Dakota. Both Fargo and I were quiet, but deeply strange.

I had about two months left to finish my degrees, and my apartment lease was up. I couldn’t find anywhere month-to-month that would take my cats, but I didn’t want to enter a new lease. My extraordinarily gorgeous fiance was already living in Minneapolis and I planned to join him there when I graduated. Luckily I had almost no belongings so I didn’t need much space. Even luckier, Rosa Bulldoza agreed to let me squat at her place.

Rosa Bulldoza is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. She was my randomly assigned roommate Freshman year. She taught me how to file my taxes, and I taught her how to be deeply strange. We came out as bi together, and all that entails. Basically, she’s one of the top ten humans of all time. I also trust her with my life.

This trust was important because I was going through some uncomfortable life stuff. A while before this I had been working at a radio station in Fargo. There was a listener who developed a certain attachment to the idea of me. Police reports were filed, restraining order granted, etc. I won’t get into more details than that because this story is not about him, it’s about Stink Purse.

Anyway, I bring that up because it’s worth mentioning that no one else knew I was staying at Rosa’s. I didn’t tell anyone else my lease ended, I just stopped inviting anyone over. Rosa’s place was perfect because it was a secure building, so you couldn’t get in without a resident buzzing you in. So I moved my suitcase into Rosa’s studio apartment. I also moved in my two cats, Cookie J. and Spotucus.

Okay so Spotucus was an angry teenage cat with an angry boy cat bladder. He expressed his displeasure through urination, and he was displeased often. He didn’t like moving into the tiny apartment, so he peed in my purse.

Luckily, I never used my purse so it was completely empty. It was an old, tattered purse I had been given by someone who had gotten it at a thrift store. A hand-me-down hand-me-down, now drenched in boy cat pee. It was absolutely not worth trying to clean and save. It was also stinking up Rosa’s tiny apartment, and the dumpster outside had mysteriously vanished. I had rehearsal a couple hours later so I planned to throw it away in the dumpster outside the theater. In the meantime, I just put Stink Purse on the roof of my car.

I went back inside and completely forgot about Stink Purse. I did some homework, played with the cats, and completely lost track of time. Before I knew it I was running late to rehearsal!

I dashed out the door of Rosa’s apartment, bidding farewell to Cookie J. and begging Spotucus not to pee on anything else. I ran to my car, the roof of which was tall enough that I didn’t see Stink Purse.

I was about eight blocks away when I saw Stink Purse fly past my back window. I had forgotten about Stink Purse! It was now empty, ragged, stinky, and lying in the middle of the road. But I was running quite late now. I had never littered before in my life, but I decided to simply abandon Stink Purse in the middle of that Fargo street.

I got to the theater and joined the rehearsal. I was Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a dream role for a waifish weirdo like me. We rehearsed the forest scenes and I was having an absolute blast. My friend Blaine Blaine was Demetrius and it was so much fun to have one last show together. Now Blaine Blaine works at Universal Studios and I never get to see him.

Oh anyway so we get to a break and I check my phone. I have a text from Rosa. It says “ this yours?” and then a picture.

The picture was the outside of her apartment door. There, sitting on her welcome mat, was Stink Purse.

Stink Purse had somehow traveled eight blocks. Stink Purse had somehow gotten into Rosa’s building. Stink Purse had somehow known which apartment I was staying in. Stink Purse simply waited there for me.

I told Rosa not to touch Stink Purse, to just go inside and lock her door. I called the police and told them everything. They thought it was stupid and did nothing.

After rehearsal finished, I cautiously went back to Rosa’s apartment, staying on the phone with her my whole way home and entering the building. Stink Purse was still outside the apartment. I grabbed it and ran outside. I went two buildings over and threw Stink Purse in their dumpster.

I went back inside and washed my hands. I never saw Stink Purse again.

To this day, I still have no explanation. Over a decade later, and I still lie awake some nights and think about Stink Purse. I silently scream at the universe “WHAT THE gently caress WAS UP WITH STINK PURSE.” I get no reply. The universe will not explain Stink Purse to me. It is a mystery that will never be solved.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I would like a flash rule for Ladder Prompt #3 please! Also spin spin spinnnnnnn

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 522 Ladder Prompt #3
Flash Rule: Your story exists during some sort of countdown
Wheel Spin: Birthdatar. I don’t really know what this means. My avatar needs to be Mothman. Can he just wear a birthday hat? Maybe a bloody one to make it Thunderdomey?

Proscenium Lights
244 Words

I run one hand along my upholstered seat, the red velvet fabric worn and faded. My other hand grips my ticket stub, freshly torn by the usher. I can feel the small hole in the corner, evidence it has been displayed prominently on my corkboard for months. I have looked at it every day, dreading news the production would be canceled. But by luck or by magic, the show will go on. I carefully place the ticket stub in my program, my tangible souvenirs of this evening of spectacle.

I am hypnotized by the proscenium lights. How I have missed them. For two long years, this space has been dark and hollow. Now each bulb shines brightly, a chorus line illuminating the stage. They form a glowing picture frame encompassing the heavy draped curtain. They are a liminal barrier that divides our mundane reality from theatrical delights.
The house lights dim, and enthusiastic ushers encourage patrons to take their seats. The proscenium continues to shine brightly. My anticipation grows, and I imagine the actors backstage, hurriedly taking their places.

The music swells, and sweeps us along together as we are transported. After years of isolation, we are united here in a singular mood, a sacred expectation. We will commune in these perfect moments together.

The house lights fade to black, and the proscenium lights follow suit.

The audience draws a collective breath and falls into a reverential silence. The curtains open. The show begins.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
I'm in for Prompt #4! My shopping list:

1 wizard
1 flash rule
1 spin

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 522 - Ladder Prompt #4 - But Mom, A Wizard Did It

Wizard Description: You have power over joy itself, yet the world is often reluctant to accept your gift.
Flash Rule: The five things you bring to a deserted island are…
Flashcan Rule: Cowboy Skeletons

Happy Happy Happy
1124 words

Carol’s blossoming migraine choked all rational thought from her mind. Baby Charlotte was teething, which meant Carol didn’t sleep at all. Jacob could have taken a shift, but he had a big meeting this morning which was clearly more loving important than his wife’s sanity. She finally got Charlotte to sleep at 6 am, just in time to wash the piss out of Ben’s sheets and start making sack lunches. She started grabbing Fruit Roll Ups and Cuties and anything remotely resembling a balanced meal that won’t make Mrs. Hasselquist judge her again for feeding her kids junk food. She started to slap some cheap bologna onto cheap bread when Noah and Emma barged into the room, fighting as usual.

“Mooooom tell Noah his music is stupid and terrible!”

“At least it has artistic integrity, unlike your basic pumpkin spice pop poo poo.”

“Language, young man!” Jacob said, storming in while still buttoning his shirt. “Honey, have you seen my car keys?”

“Okay Mom listen to my music and tell me if you think Noah’s emo crap is better than this.”

“No Mom listen to MY music and tell stupid Emma her stupid music is stupid.”

The music collided in a riotous cacophony. Ben started crying and pulling on Carol’s pant leg, gooey snot pouring from his nose. Baby Charlotte woke up and cried even louder than her brother. Carol snapped.

“Just once I WISH I could have some peace and quiet!”

The room stopped dead. No one moved, or dared to breathe. Carol’s eyes darted to each of her children in turn. Jacob cautiously stepped away from his wife.

“I… I didn’t mean it..” Carol stammered. Jacob’s eyes were wide.

The room detonated with sparkly glitter. Streamers and balloons poured from the ceiling. There was a burst of pink smoke and Blissuzor appeared. The house shook with the deafening roar of studio audience applause booming from nowhere.

Blissuzor tipped their sparkly wand to the pom-pom laden brim of their wizard hat. “Happy happy happy! It is I, Blissuzor! Here to make your joy come true!”

Jacob nodded to the kids in encouragement. Their lips quivered but they intoned in unison, “Happy happy happy Blissuzor. What a joy you are here.”

Ben started to cry again. Jacob desperately shook his head in silent warning. Ben choked back the tears and looked to his mother’s face, as if trying to remember every detail.

“Happy happy happy Carol! Time to make your joy come true!” Blissuzor rolled up their wizard sleeves and flourished their wizard wand.

“Kids, I love-”

Carol exploded.

Her screams faded into the quacks of rubber duckies. Her viscera turned to silly string. Her blood trickled until it was confetti.

Blissuzor laughed, a shrill emotionless sound, like a robotic hyena. “Now Carol is happy happy happy on Happy Happy Happy Island!”

“Momm-” Ben started to wail. Jacob clasped his hand tightly over Ben’s mouth and felt the child’s warm tears trickle between his fingers.

“Thank you so much Blissuzor.” Jacob’s voice cracked and he paused briefly to clear his throat. “We are all so happy happy happy now.”

Blissuzor literally grinned ear to ear, showing far more teeth than they should have. “Happy happy happy to hear that! Is there anything else you wish for today?”

“We are the happy happy happiest we’ve ever been, right kids?” Jacob pleaded to his eldest.

Noah couldn’t speak. Emma gripped his hand tightly. “So happy happy happy. Thank you Blissuzor.” Emma quickly wiped a tear away before Blissuzor could see.

“Then I shall now depart, my friends. But remember, if you ever wish for anything, I will be here to make your joy come true!” Blissuzor spun, their tassled wizard robes splaying out. They vanished, knocking the sack lunches off the counter.

The family collapsed in a huddle, eyes averted from the pile of party supplies where their mother had stood.


Carol blinked and saw waves crashing against the rocky shore, making no sound whatsoever. The tall trees swayed in the wind, but their leaves flapped soundlessly, like feathers of a quill.

A warm tropical breeze tickled her skin. She could hear the rustle of the faint hairs on her arm. The air felt thick around her, pressing against her body. She sat up in the sand, and the sound of each grain echoed in her ears. Her pulse quickened, and she could hear the rush of blood flowing through her veins. Carol held her hand next to her ear and snapped her fingers. The sound was deafening and reverberated throughout her entire brain.

She staggered back away from the shore, and stepped directly into a human skull. The crunch of the brittle bone traveled up her leg, through her torso, and to her ears. The skull gave way to its dark, mucky contents, which flowed over the sides of her foot.

She heard the rumbling in her abdomen before she felt it. She listened to her breakfast shifting in reverse through her stomach, and both heard and felt as it traveled up to her throat. As she vomited, she could hear every particle pass every tooth in her mouth. It splashed silently onto the sand.

Carol rushed to the shoreline to scrub the blood and rotting brains from her foot. As soon as her skin touched the water, she was bombarded with the echoes of each thundering wave.

Carol steadied her nerves and forced herself to look at the now headless corpse on the beach. It was mostly just skeleton, with very little skin or flesh remaining. It wore a denim Western shirt and a red bandana around its neck. Brown canvas trousers hung loosely on its legs, covered in black leather chaps. A Colt six-shooter was tangled in the bony fingers. On its right foot was a bright red cowboy boot, but the left was missing.

Carol looked around for the left boot, not really sure why. That’s when she noticed the other skeleton, twenty paces away. This was in similar condition, gun and all.

Carol wandered around the beach, absorbing Blissuzor’s twisted ideas of peace and quiet. Knights impaled on each other’s broadswords. Warriors joined at the chest by a double-pointed blade. Motorcycles twisted in a head-on collision. As far as Blissuzor understood, peace immediately followed violence, so Carol’s new home was soaked in blood and gore.

“I miss my kids.” As Carol spoke, her voice hovered in her mouth and flooded her head. “I miss my husband. I miss my baby. I just want to be home with them. I’m so sorry I lost my temper. I’ll never forgive myself. I just want to take it all back, to hug them and say goodbye.”

“Blissuzor, I wish…” She stopped. She couldn’t risk it.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Crits for Week 522
Alpha submissions

Applewhite - The Final Blasphemy

This was a very cool interpretation of the prompt words! I liked the whole idea of the story a lot. The references to Old World things, familiar to the reader but strange and good/bad in the lens of the Seneschal was very cool. I wish we got a little better sense of the flavor of the world of the story though. I didn’t get a good sense of what life is like now, and I found myself wanting just a little bit more context. You do a good job of describing clearly how people follow the rules set by the Seneschal/Legion and that they would not question those rules in public. But I didn’t get a good sense of whether that was out of fear or respect, which would affect how I the reader view the Seneschal when we get to meet him. The framing of the story made me feel like it was going to be about (or from the perspective of) a citizen, but then it’s really about the Seneschal and his decisions.

It also felt like there was a bit of inconsistency in how much the current world understands the Old World things. Like, they can use electric light bulbs, but CDs are absolutely inexplicable. They don’t know what cars are, but they know about petroleum and that it’s a nonrenewable resource.

I would be tempted to move the first three sentences in the fifth paragraph to after the first sentence of the fourth paragraph (and then maybe shift other things around to make it flow nicely). Only because there are a lot of details about the cars, but then these arbitrary rule things are more interesting. They might lead into contextualizing why people might be upset they can’t use cars. Anyway, just a weird food for thought.

The transition of “It wasn’t until the Seneschal found the sacred text that he realized the true purpose…” didn’t work as smoothly as I wanted it to. When they first found the time capsule, they thought it was dangerous. Then they opened it and found it was junk. But then with all the junk was this sacred text. So the transition to recognizing the comic book as a sacred text meant to be preserved is more immediately following the junk, not the dangerous.

Armack - Kindness Bandits

Overall the concept was interesting: couple does weird acts of kindness together to distract from how much they want to bone. But also that’s sort of established as the concept of the story and then kind of abandoned? If you’re going to make it about sexually frustrated religious people, make that more of an implied throughline. Use sexual language when describing their kindness capers or something. But the intro was awkward and uncomfortable and then ultimately not really relevant after the fact.

I really wish a lot of the religious ideas felt a little more authentic, even at the risk of being stereotypical. The protagonist and Aleesha didn’t feel like religious people, they felt like someone’s idea of religious people by just making lots of references. I thought at first Aleesha would be the more religious one because she was anti-soaking, but then the rest of the story made the protagonist more pearl clutchey at things Aleesha did.

Then the gun imagery with the kindness blammers also felt out of place. You could find a more religious analogy instead if you were married to the kill-them-with-kindness idea. But also some sort of kindness bandit or kindness ninja type stuff might be a little less off-putting.

Notes I took while reading the first time:

I had to look up what soaking was but I’m glad I did it in an incognito window. It sounds horrible. I get it as a religious loophole thing because they’re good at loopholes, but the “What about after we’re married? Can we soak then?” line weirded me out because NO why would you not just have SEX then.

“But if we get found out we gotta stop forever.” This felt weird. Like I understand only feeling like the random acts of kindness “count” if people don’t know it’s you. But why would you have to stop forever? Just like never be kind again? Why wouldn’t you just be like “oh no you caught us, guess we don’t get God points for that one” and then move onto someone else.

Whoa whoa why did they strap a kitten to a drone?!

I know you established kindness-blammers, but the idea of people putting on ski masks and breaking into a movie theater and yelling “Bang, bang!” seems real problematic. Oh no then I kept reading and they made a joke about it. That’s not very cool.

Oh you brought the soaking thing back again. I know it’s a joke, but I would never wonder if someone soaked after marriage because WHY WOULD YOU? The whole point is that you can’t have sex yet so you do stupid workarounds. But it’s pretty well documented that once religious people are allowed to have sex they do it a lot.

Beezus - Sstrizzr, King Lizzr

Okay I don’t feel super qualified to crit this story because I’ve never played games online because I’m scared of people being mean to me. But I’ve seen The Guild, so that will be my point of reference.

That being said though, even as a person without this kind of experience, I still definitely got a lot of the it’s-funny-because-it’s-true vibes. Like, it made me feel like I knew what was happening and like I was in on the jokes even though I sort of wasn’t.

I liked the epic and dramatic start, and then the quick “it’s a game!” reveal. Beyond that I’m not really sure what to say. It worked! The story was simple and straightforward and told in an entertaining way. There wasn’t much of an arc, but that’s fine. It was a cool interpretation of the very fantastical prompt words in a very accessible setting.

Copernic - Kudoszu

Oh nooo this is another one that I just don’t have context for. I’ve never read or written any fanfiction and I don’t know anything about it. I also don’t know what Homestuck is? I’m so sorry. I live a simple life and mostly stay off the internet. So please keep that in mind as you read what will probably be a pretty useless crit.

Oh great that first line is helpful to me though. Chef kiss. Gives me lots of context :)

Overall I thought the story arc was clear and it fit the prompt well. Though I suppose one could argue that the fanfic writer isn’t really agonizing over the sentient weed as much as over fanfic. But that didn’t bother me.

I will say though, a lot of the time I wasn’t really clear what was happening? Like moment-to-moment, in Jacob’s apartment. For example at the beginning where the description of the apartment was, I would have expected to be some sort of idea that he’s sort of anxiously waiting to see how well-received his awesome fanfic will be. Then he just broke stuff in the room, by which I would infer that he got real mad and had a tantrum, but we don’t really see that. So then when it talks about broken stuff I was like “wait why is stuff broken” because I immediately forgot.

Nooo don’t cum on everything all your furniture matches.

Is he like quietly raging while smoking pot after the first break? Because he just feels vaguely high and contemplative. But then it says “An idea, except he wasn’t sure he thought it. If he had, where was the fury?” I don’t really know what that means. Maybe his brain is all full of mad so a random non-mad idea was out of place? That’s a neat idea and if it’s out of place I’d like to have seen more about that.

Oh my gosh I’m so out of it. When you said he put Ponies on the tv I thought it meant like horse races. But now I get it that it’s My Little Pony, right? I’m sorry I’m like 90 years old.

I think I was a little confused by some stylistic choices. It felt like it was jumping around and made abrupt shifts and transitions, but not quite enough for me to relax into it and sort of accept it as the style. As-is I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be understanding what was happening in the action or not.

derp - Untitled

A lot of my questions stem from the fact that I want to know more about the parents. I felt like I instantly understood goth Xillia/Jill. Then when the mom is introduced I’m like “Okay so the mom made dinner and stuff so this feels very straightforward suburban mom? That might be an interesting conflict?” and then it sort of feels like that’s the direction it’s going when Xillia yells at the dinner table.

But then when Dad gives her his monologue, I wasn’t sure if that was him sort of building a bridge to relate to her? Or if he was also a bit goth and this family is a little Addams Family-y? I think I was looking for some reaction from Xillia to contextualize Dad’s speech but she just sort of shugs and moves on.

I thought it was strange that Dad called her Jill but Mom called her Xillia. Especially if Dad is doing the heavy lifting (in the story) when it comes to relating to the daughter. I would have expected Mom to call her Jill but Dad call her Xillia.

Side note: when I read over this the first time I was reading too quickly and when I saw they were eating dead burnt flesh and decaying plant matter I was like “Oh wow are they like monster people?” but then I just realized that was describing normal food in a goth way, right? Sorry I’m pretty dumb and also I either overthink things or completely miss them.

I know this isn’t a very good crit and it’s mostly just asking questions. But that’s good! I read your story and I wanted to know more about everything about it.

Digital Raven - The Thief of Opportunity

I liked this story a lot! Super well done implementation of both the prompt words and the flash rule. You didn’t just nod to the prompt/flash, the whole story really felt constructed around them and tailored to them. And this is your first story in Thunderdome? Big congratulations!

I thought you introduced the exposition well. The story itself happens in a very brief amount of time, so the bulk of the story is the background that led up to this point. But it didn’t feel like an overwhelming amount of exposition, or thrown at the reader all at once. The focus felt like it stayed on Jomo, in the driver’s seat, glancing at the cooler, which just brief bits of context trickled throughout. It felt very natural, given that in his situation I’m sure Jomo would be thinking over the choices and events that led up to this very big choice.

Speaking of, if I’m understanding correctly, Jomo put in years and years of planning to be put in this position where he was transporting Dr. Reyes heart, correct? And now he’s not sure what to do about it? That doesn’t bother me at all and seems to happen a lot in revengey stories, but I wish there was some small hint at the fact that he’s put all this complicated work and bribes to get in this position and now he’s second-guessing.

Nitpick: End of 4th paragraph and beginning of 5th repeat “by existing” and I wasn’t clear if it was intentional.

I liked the ending too! I don’t have more to say about this story because I just liked it and it worked well.

Fumblemouse - Rite of Passage

Okay before I read this I have to tell you that I’m still obsessed with your redemption arc. Is it a puzzle? Is it multiple puzzles? I must know. The poem at the end initially felt like it was going to be cryptic clues but I didn’t see any of the common indicators. Okay anyway onto this story…

I read the story (and had to google what a bodhisattva was). I think I was waiting for lard to show up more than I should have, but that’s in part because I’ve read quite a few of these [blank] agonizes over [blank] stories now. Okay wait I’m going to write down what I think happened in the story because I’m not sure.

Okay so there are elders, which I think include the bodhisattva. And they were ditched by the Arhats who peaced out into enlightenment. And the elders used to go crazy but now they don’t. And they’re not physical beings, but they can take whatever form they want, in order to learn more about those forms. And then they sort of hold species hostage and put them through tests to see if those species are worthy of joining the Arhats in enlightenment. Except none of the species ever are, so the elders just poof them out of existence.

Is any of that correct? I wonder if part of why I’m not sure is because the POV is more from the weasel man, and he doesn’t really know what’s going on either.

I have to say, and I don’t know if this is helpful: even though I have no real idea what is happening in this story or why, I still enjoyed reading it. The language felt clear and flowy and a lot of character came through both Jarn and the bodhisattva.

Hawklad - Old Bones

Wow. I liked this a lot! It’s so good and so vivid and so clear what is happening and when and why and how. Awesome implementation of the prompt and the flash rule.

I liked that even though Artemis knew what was going on above ground, I never lost sense of the fact that he was, in fact, a skeleton and still underground. I liked that most of his reference points for the march of progress were based on how they affected the ground in his cemetery.

I liked the paragraph where you talk about the generational wealth/power stuff. I mean I didn’t like it, it made me BIG MAD. But I liked how you said it all.

I liked the whole story setting up the flash rule ending, though I sort of wish he killed William Morse with a hatchet instead of a shovel.

I feel bad that I don’t have more specific feedback, but I’m still new to this so I’m a lot better a pinpointing why I don’t like things than why I do. And this was so great so I don’t really know what else to say.

Idle Amalgam - Dream Job

Story makes sense and fits the prompt well! I did find myself wishing I had a bit better sense of Jamie’s character. She feels very go-with-the-flow-y at first. Then it sort of only feels like she’s obsessing over the volcano because the prompt told her to, not because of any kind of personal or professional curiosity.

I loved the intro bit. If I got a mysterious package with a button and a VHS tape, I’d definitely push the button first. Yes.

The second sentence in the paragraph that begins with “Shall we?” is a bit rambly.

Hmm. The last sentence is a bit surprising in its simplicity. It feels important because it’s the last sentence of the story. But it doesn’t seem to imply anything? Maybe your intention was to leave it ambiguous? But I don’t know why The Director would be approaching her if not to kill her or something. Also “approached” feels more like someone coming closer from farther away, not someone closing in on someone else in an elevator. It’s fine to end it with The Director like moving toward her and cutting away before he does anything. Just the phrasing seems odd.

Overall I liked it, and the scenes in the story felt very clear and I knew what was happening. You establish immediately this is an evil organization, but then maybe it was supposed to be a twist that the Director was a lizard person? I mean, I supposed I was thinking more just like a basic supervillain because of the volcano lair thing, so I guess in that sense it was a twist. But it didn’t necessarily feel like a oomph-y payoff.

Kuiperdolin - The Least Dangerous Most Dangerous game
Welcome to Thunderdome! What an exciting week to join! Good for you :)

Good intro, establishes what’s happening right away. Though the second sentence is a lot more interesting than the first. Might behoove you to punch up that first sentence in a way that immediately grabs the reader’s attention.

It didn’t really matter to the story that Kevin was a database administrator. That’s not a terrible thing; we are not all defined by our jobs, and I know you probably wanted to make sure you worked it in to satisfy the prompt. It just felt very important the way it was thrown in the second sentence, like it was going to be Chekhov’s professional skillset. You could probably cut it from the intro if you wanted, and just make sure it’s clear enough later in the “They should have taken a soldier…” section. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, make it matter that he’s a DBA, like somehow those skills do help him out there.

I’m not sure I’m clear how Kevin is bait at the end, and how Kevin realized that. Are there two groups of people hunting? And one group used Kevin as bait to draw out the other group? That’s a neat idea, it just might need to be made more clear. As-is it’s sort of a story about a guy standing still and then dying.

Super good start, and I hope you keep entering! If you felt like doing another draft on this one, I might focus a little bit more on the urgency of the situation and the overall story arc. What Kevin is thinking, how scared he is, what’s going on.

Lightrook - Untitled

Welcome to Thunderdome! This is very solid, especially for a first entry. No sentences stood out as particularly clunky or weird and the language was well-used.

Overall I think this story just suffered from a lack of anything happening or changing. It mostly kept reiterating the same cycle of “Scientist hates themselves which makes mirror sad, but mirror can’t do anything.” Which can get a little repetitive, so I kept expecting a change to happen at some point in the cycle.

The reveal at the end that the mirror was sentient felt like it was supposed to be a kind of ironic Twilight Zone twist. But it didn’t hold a lot of weight for me as a reader because I already knew the mirror was sentient because the story was from their point of view. Or it’s sort of just confirming that this story is actually happening. Which again, would be a bit more interesting if something changed or occurred in the story, which the reveal would kind of reframe. That’s the thing about great twists, right? They reframe and recontextualize everything that happened before it.

I hope you keep entering because this was a real solid start!

Lippincott - Untitled

Hahaha excellent. YouTuber and rear end in a top hat Wasp square off in the Thunderdome.

The differentiation in language and style between the YouTuber and the wasp is very clear, and I liked that change in style. It really felt like two different worlds colliding in this bizarre way. The first three wasp paragraphs didn’t do a ton for me personally. It definitely showed that you researched these rear end wasps and their bizarre habitat, but there were some details (like the very old and very young stuff) that didn’t feel to me like it necessarily enriched the story. It made the wasp feel a bit overly contemplative. Which is fine, and a legitimate choice to contrast with the YouTuber. I just noticed that I read the wasp paragraphs more quickly because they felt more verbose. Especially when there were details about spiders thrown in (particularly in the second-to-last wasp section). Poor wasp was being crushed to death and it felt like she took a quick break to tell me more about spiders.

Overall this had a really nice arc and a nice pacing. I also liked the ending a lot and imagined the baby wasps stinging the stupid YouTuber like REVENGE FOR MOTHER. Great :)

Nae - Handle With Care

Wow that one got me! It’s so sweet and kind and caring and sad. You mentioned before I read this that it was chock full of esoteric knowledge that only you care about. And while I see what you mean, it really didn’t feel that way at all reading it. The details just enriched the protagonist’s point of view and allowed me to view the situation as they did. I never felt bogged down with details, and I tend to be a reader who gets distracted easily by extraneous fun facts. Especially when it feels like the writer is like “sure a plot is happening but mostly I want to make sure you know that I know a lot about this subject”. This didn’t feel that way at all. The details lent the story credence, and established my trust in the protagonist as an expert on jewelry, which was important when it got to the ruby.

Oh the poor sweet customer. I just want to give her a hug and I hope the ruby never ever breaks in the pendant.

So good. I’m like genuinely tearing up. But also I’m a bit emotional atm because I just made a sandwich out of leftover garlic bread and it was so yummy it’s like broken down all my emotional walls. But mostly your story was *that* good.

Noah - Everyone Loves Dogs

Oh wow okay I was wondering if someone would try to do this. Okay reading it now.

I really wish this was longer (which is probably a good thing). It’s so short and poetic and the imagery is colorful (pun intended I suppose). But I also just really don’t understand what’s going on. It felt a bit like a dream sequence where things changed and morphed and reframed and I was just sort of along for the ride. Which was fun, but once I started getting confused I sort of stopped paying attention and trying to figure out what was happening.

It was ambitious to write a story that exists in the center of the Venn Diagram of prompts. But it feels a bit like you needed to compromise and smush together so many different ideas in such a small word count that it ends up being confusing and not really going anywhere. I think you probably did about as well as anyone could have done at it, but it might have been a challenge a bit too steep to work well?

Absolute A for effort though. Very impressive.

rohan - Iceberg Theory

Oh my gosh what a weird little story. I saw you mention in the Discord that you think this is your worst TD story to date, which if that’s true, it’s still pretty good! But I’m sure that means you already have a lot of ideas about what you think is wrong with it. So I’m going to mostly talk about the things that I liked.

I thought the tiny-writers-treated-like-puppies shtick was absolutely adorable. It was super duper charming. I may be biased because I’m obsessed with anything dog-related. But all the details about the newspaper-lined cages talking about having them fixed and taking them to classes were all so cute. And it was the best when you really mish-mashed them like “Ryan’s allergic to metaphors”, and getting their Hemingway acclimated by playing bullfighting clips from YouTube. It really was very charming and worked really well.

It was also super funny to me to have all the male writers enrolled in a stop-writing-weird-things-about-boobs class. You worked in the ice sculpture/iceberg idea about as well as you maybe could have, given all the other stuff already going on in the story.

It was trickiest at the end, when it was all of a sudden more from the Hemingway’s POV instead of the “owners”, so it would have been nice to keep that perspective of “dog owners who are cheering their puppy/writer on and trying to help them succeed but also inevitably they fail”.

sb hermit - Thinking Ahead

Welcome to Thunderdome! I hope you keep doing it. If you do, I’ll bet you never forget this first, strange prompt.

I can definitely see how the tiny top hat prompt made you think of Monopoly, and then how it might have been tricky to work lizard smoothies into that. That being said, it felt like there might have been a few too many things going on in this story. There were way more details about the game and the actions in it, then there were about the lizard smoothies or the relationships between players. It felt a bit like you had the idea for the story but then you got a little distracted thinking about things that could happen in a game called Gentrification (which has the same core idea as Monopoly, and the same game pieces, but different mechanics)(I shouldn’t have gotten hung up on that but I did). I also don’t know if it was intentional that her name was Eve and she kept putting EV chargers everywhere. But the fact that both things were mentioned and neither was really relevant made it feel important.

The opening was a bit odd. I saw Yoruichi say in their prompt about the digress malapropism, and not knowing what a Silent Cal is. I don’t want to pile on, but I did want to mention that both things distracted me as well. There’s so much heavy lifting the first paragraph can do. I’ve learned in Thunderdome so far that it’s often way more effective to start with a punchy, straightforward way to lay the groundwork and set the scene, rather than playing anything coy.

I think overall I wanted more stuff about the connection between Eve an the Top Hat, maybe more about the lizard smoothies, and less about the game itself.

Screaming Idiot - The Man with the Pantry Keys

Creepy creepy yes! Good fulfillment of the prompt words.

I feel like you *mostly* did a great job at peppering exposition into the dialogue, though it was a teensy bit clunky at times. You also spread the world building throughout the story, which can be effective, but it made me feel like I was on defense, trying to catch up to what the world of the story was like. I think it might have made me a little more invested in the story if it was laid out a bit more simply at the beginning, so I feel like I know where this story is happening. I don’t need a ton of specifics about the Noise; I liked how sort of vague the references are to that. But maybe if you set the groundwork earlier, you wouldn’t have to rely on characters telling each other things they definitely already know.

I felt like I had a good sense of Mr. Walter, like a ghoulish Col. Sanders. I’m not sure I had quite as good of a sense of who Bernice was. She seemed so timid in the intro, and moving sheepishly to make the door click quietly. But then she just balls out yelled at Mr. Walter, an incredibly powerful person.

Also, since I’ve read a lot of these stories now and I read the prompt first, I thought Bernice was a wraith (since she’s the one who seems to be agonizing over the food empire). But when it was revealed that Mr. Walter was (which makes more sense anyway) it felt like it fit the prompt as a whole a little less.

Overall I liked the story and I liked the ending a lot. I even liked the twist. I just wish you were more overt about all the other details. It made the twist feel a bit less punchy because I was always catching up to what was going on, it sort of felt inevitable that there was going to be some kind of big reveal.

sebmojo - Now you hear me, now you don’t

I know you’re a judge and the archive says you were DQ’d but you wrote something and you’re in MQ’s spreadsheet so you get a crit too!

Haha I like the first two paragraphs together.

“It sucks a gently caress” that’s funny to me.

Oh wow okay so that went places I wasn’t expecting. At first I was like “okay so he’s a wizard but life is ordinary and he’s trying to navigate it despite his magical powers”. But are these newfound powers that started in wizard school? Because I’m sure it would be hard to avoid saying conjunctions and pronouns and stuff. But also if your entire life bad things have happened when you say those words, I’d think you wouldn’t accidentally say them because it wouldn’t have been an established habit.

I also wasn’t clear how wizardy or magicky the world was. There are wizard schools and the wizard has wizard friends and there is clearly a significant wizard clothing industry and there are wizard cops. But then the wizard is surprised that the robber is also a wizard?

I felt like I was following everything up until the bank robbery. Then I spent the rest of the story not really having any idea why anything was happening. The imagery was very funny and entertaining, but it felt like wizard logic that I, a puny non-wizard, did not understand.

I wasn’t sure why the robber wore a plaque that said “BANK” but I thought it was funny. But everything after that confused me. He couldn’t wizard away the robber so he took off his clothes? And then he danced naked? I mean good for him I guess. But it felt a little like the story got to the robbery and then you rolled a D100 to see what the wizard did next.

Something Else - The Brown Round

Okay first of all, here are the notes I took during the first read:

Alright it’s poop o’clock! Let’s go.
Agglomerated- had to look that up (though it means what it sounds like but I still always check).
“Me. It’s me. Hello.” HIIII POOOOOOP
Oooh I’m the eggs
Centuries? I am old eggs
Oh no freighter ship mean to poop ship
Hmm poop ship can poot over to pick up egg but can’t choose its trajectory?
Poop saved the day!

I liked it! Poop is funny, space poop is funny, sentient space poop is funny. I’m not sure what was going on and I don’t know what the eggs were or why or how but I don’t care that much because the poop doesn’t know those things.

Omg I just re-read it and realized I totally missed the “Corn Imperium” line the first time (not wearing my glasses). The eggs are corn! That doesn’t necessarily make the story make more sense, but it certainly answers some questions.

Why did the poopship name itself The Brown Round but it never named the corn eggs? They seem important to the poop. It felt a bit odd that the poop named itself actually. I’m not sure why, with everything going on in this story, that was the detail that felt odd to me.

Anyway good work on your piece of poo poo story.

Surreptitious Muffin - Matey Potatey

Spooky tater! Loved it. My favorite line was “it ullulated with a sound like somebody pouring out a bag of blood in the gutter”.

I loved the hosed up imagery and the way the potato’s lines were written. I liked how Bev shrugged off spooky madness until it said nice things about him. I loved the spooky ending. Just very solid and strange.

You made a potato scary! Well done. I’ve decided this is the origin story for Mr. Potato Head.

The Man Called M - My Daddy

What a weird little story! You made some stylistic choices that I found very compelling. I sort of wish some of the first two bigger chunks were rearranged. Like maybe it started with hearing from friends about the wonders of touching grass, which prompted making the sweater. Then being proud of the sweater, then Dad being mean about the sweater. That sequence of events might make it feel a little less random and more like a progression, while also keeping the focus on how mean the Dad is. But I liked the repetition of “serves him right”. And I like that you really based the story around the prompt words and focused in on that. I think I saw you mention in the Discord that you didn’t have much time this week, but I think it’s awesome that you entered something for birthday week, even if it meant doing a shorter story.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Crits for Week 522
Partial Ladders

Albatrossy_Rodent - The rear end of the NPC end+of+the+NPC

Okay so obviously it’s a very weird little story, and how could it not be with a prompt like that? I liked the idea of a butt randomizer getting in trouble because it makes butts too consistently juicy. Not sure if or where robots came in, or how the BRA agonized over them.

The paragraph that started with “BRA looked around at his creations” was fantastic. It was super funny and butt-forward, but not in like a creepy sexual way.

Did the ending get cut off? Ending after “stupidest looking sword you’ve ever seen” is probably a fine ending. Just the “I’m” was weird.

The first sentence is funny, but I had to read it 3 times to figure out what was being said. I wonder if you didn’t need the bits about the BRA not believing in the RNG God and stuff. If you’re doing a short, strange story maybe keep the focus on the central conflict.

The business about “did whatever algorithms do instead of quivering” and “nodded solemnly, maybe” and “fell to its ones-and-zeroes knees” was all pretty funny, but felt a bit inconsistent. Like later, “An enormous mace materialized in His hands.” I didn’t know if the BRA and the God were supposed to have actual forms or not.

Albatrossy_Rodent - Gravity and the Grouse

Hmm… what? I’m not sure I get this. The data made me tune out a bit so I tried re-reading it. Here’s what I *think* is happening:

Point of view is gravity and also fate. Tyler (you?) threw a rock at a grouse and its babies because he was bored and high. There were people on a camping trip and some smoked weed and some didn’t so those who didn’t made those who did smoke it all right away but also everyone smoked weed? I also don’t care about the smoking weed details. The story jumps around in time between when Tyler throws the rock and also when the meteor killed the dinosaurs and also at some point in evolution when the grouse’s ancestor ate Tyler’s.

So this one is tough. It was supposed to be a story about you and something that happened to you or because of you. But the flash and hell rules probably threw that off. But the biggest problem with this story is that a bunch of random things are happening and random details are being conveyed and none of it actually affects anything else. None of the action affects anything else happening or not happening. And none of the information really changes what happens or how I think about what happens.

My Albatrossy Rodent Ranking
The rear end of the NPC
Gravity and the Grouse

I thought your first story had more clear action and was more charming.

curlingiron - Survival of the Fittest

Okay first impression from me is that I wanted one million percent more Jeff Probst. But that’s also my reaction to every story :)

Okay here’s what I think is happening: three hundred gophers think humans have an ark and are going to peace out and leave non-humans behind. They think Survivor is a contest to prove one’s worth to be on the ark. But only humans can enter Survivor. They try the gophers-in-a-trenchcoat strategy and it doesn’t pan out. Then they try the Ratatouille approach but it doesn’t work unless the human body is recently deceased. So now they have a training program for corpse Ratatouille controllers and they’re going to stalk Jeff Probst.

I’m not sure if that’s right. But there’s quite a lot of detail from these crafty and methodical gophers, especially compared to how much action is happening (not much). So it came across as a lecture (which I think it’s supposed to be?) which is just a bit more of a dense read. It was still very cute and entertaining, but I think I would have appreciated a little more of the bizarre cuteness earlier.

I can’t tell you why, but “Season of the Blackcurrant” and “Season of the Strawberry” were my favorite parts of the story. It was such a weird cute detail.

curlingiron - The weirdest thing is that this wasn’t even the first time something like this happened around me

Wow you can really tell a bloody penis story in such a funny and entertaining way! I like how you ended it. So many stories of real things that happened don’t have a great arc or button and you did a good job of sort of making one. It made me just feel like I was being told a story. Not in an unpolished or rambly way, but in a very personal and friendly way. All the details with the setting and characters (or people, I suppose) were very clear and I got a great sense of the vibe of the whole thing.

My favorite parts were:
-“It’s okay,” he said, staring at me wildly. “The blood is from my hand, it’s not from my penis.”
Because I’m sure it’s a direct quote and is also just a clear example of a drunk, injured person thinking they’re being so rational and just saying such startling things.

-“So, I’m in a band-“ “Of course you are.”
That made me laugh really hard.

My curlingirong Ranking
The weirdest thing is that this wasn’t even the first time something like this happened around me
Survival of the Fittest

SotF didn’t hold my attention quite as consistently, but Twtittwetftsltham did. They were both charming and funny though and I enjoyed them both!

flerp - Dumb rear end end

I love this kind of humorous story: where there is something inherently funny at the core, but the POV character and the story itself takes it very seriously. It makes the humor and the absurdity so much funnier.

This is an absolutely exemplary execution of the prompt. Crafted completely around it, and humorous but also some effort was put into it beyond the joke. Fantastic.

The character of Jimmy was super funny to me because he like joined this cult, the leader was like “we have to kill a bunch of people and tear their hearts out” and everyone else was like “hmm too rich for my blood” and Jimmy was just like “yeah aight”. And also knows somebody who might want to buy an rear end? Very funny. I don’t really get him, but I like him, especially as a foil to Drear who takes it all very seriously.

Very good handling of the humor, clear and vivid language, and straightforward action.

flerp - I saw an eagle cry!!!

Wow this is very intense and honest. It’s definitely less of a story, like some of the other Prompt 2s, and more of an introspective essay. Which is fine, it just makes it feel a little odd to crit, if that makes sense.

I do understand a lot of the complicated feelings about loss, especially when it happens in such a cruel way as dementia. A lot of the focus with loss tends to focus on quantifying things that are just not quantifiable. How close you were with them. How much you miss them. How different your life will be now. How much and how long to grieve. And a lot of the conversations around quantifying those things can cause a lot of unproductive guilt and unhealthy thinking.

I really appreciate you taking the time to write this out, and to share it with all of us. I’m very new to Thunderdome so I don’t really know you or any of your previous stories about your grandfather. But I really hope this was cathartic for you to write and I valued reading it.

flerp - Let us choke on ash

I have a huge affinity in life for those situations when you laugh when you “shouldn’t”. I honestly am not sure I’ve ever laughed as hard as I have when funny things happen at funerals. You’re so brimming with all these intense emotions and then you laugh and it explodes out of you.

I wish I had *slightly* more of a sense of that in this story. Laughter is a rebellion here, with the repetition of “we’re supposed to…”. And I really like that idea of laughter being a rebellion, but not just for rebellion’s sake. It definitely gets the point across that’s established in the thesis statement: “The world is ending so let’s laugh… because we’re not supposed to.” It reiterates that very well, and the imagery is very vivid. I just wanted a little more sense of the why to laugh, beyond “because we’re not supposed to”.

My flerp Ranking
Dumb rear end
I saw an eagle cry!!!
Let us choke on ash

This felt pretty weird to rank because you did a great job of writing three very different pieces, with unique styles and language. I ranked it the way I did because Dumb rear end was the most fun to read, and I saw an eagle cry!!! elicited a more emotional response from me than Let us choke on ash did.

kaom - A Spiral, Not a Loop

This was great! Excellent service of the prompt, and for the most part clear what is happening. I was a little thrown off initially because it’s an interesting bait and switch to have the intro being thoughts of the non-POV character because your POV character is a telepath. So for just a minute I was like “wait which one is which and which one is telepathic?” but that was mostly my fault because I misread Estelle and Emichelle as the same name.

I liked the setting, and the idea of mages for hire. I wasn’t super clear what Emichelle’s role/specialty and was a little bit like the “what would you say you *do* here”. It felt like you had a clear understanding of their roles/relationship and how their magics worked together, but maybe needed to make the Emichelle side of that a skosh clearer for dum dums like me.

It was a fun reveal that the calendar was harmless, the ghost was just mad someone drew boobs and stuff on it. The last bit with Xenia wanting to go to Estelle’s wedding was cute but felt a little drawn out. Functionally you could end it after “On one condition - I’m your date to Estelle’s wedding.” Everything else after that doesn’t really make me feel any different about the characters. It would still be a nice little button to the story and a callback to the beginning, but it also it still does make it feel a little bit like the calendar stuff didn’t really matter because they just sort of moved on before they even left.

kaom - That Time We Were All Wonder Woman

Overall this was a very entertaining story and is probably a super funny memory. I will say though, this telling of it lacked a lot of emotional context that would have made me enjoy reading it even more. Especially once you get to the obstacle course, it’s most just describing the course and obstacles. There are moments of describing your poor cousin and how y’all dragged your aunt along, but they’re brief and sparse enough. I wanted more about that, allowing me to really picture this very funny sight of all these hungover people dressed like Wonder Woman getting their asses kicked by an obstacle course. As is it felt a bit like “this sounds funny but also kind of like a you-had-to-be-there thing.” You also say at the beginning that everyone is hungover but you, but then your aunt is pumped and belting ABBA in the car, which sort of contradicted my picture of everyone dragging along sluggishly.

Oh my gosh and the reveal that your cousin had mono, poor thing. I definitely just thought she was the only one that was real hungover.

kaom - Lurking in the Depths

Okay I’m going to let you know that I am terrified of the ocean and almost everything in it. But with that terror comes a very compelling fascination, so this story did resonate with me, but for maybe slightly different reasons.

I really like the first line, and establishing that this is a thing you want but is currently impossible to humans. Because that’s really what makes the very very deep sea fascinating: it’s so big and so unexplored.

The first two paragraphs landed better for me, but even then I wish there was more of that sense of ~*wonder*~. It felt more like “hey the ocean bottom is pretty neat” and less like “it is MYSTERIOUS and WONDERFUL”.

The last paragraph didn’t land quite as well for me. Partly because I think at some point “it” switches from referring to plastic to referring to the ocean. Unless you think plastic is life’s cradle and possible salvation. Maybe it would work a little bit cleaner if you didn’t have this part, and kept it more focused on the dark and weird ocean depths and less about the entire ocean itself?

My kaom Ranking
A Spiral, Not a Loop
Lurking in the Depths
That Time We Were All Wonder Woman

A Spiral, Not a Loop had clear action and characters. Lurking in the Depths had more imagery and emotional language I could latch onto. That Time We Were All Wonder Woman was very fun but didn’t elicit as much of an emotional response for me.

My Shark Waifuu - Total Eclipse of the Heart

I liked this one! I wouldn’t necessarily say the oak is agonizing over the radio as much as over the missing kids, but it’s definitely about a tree and a radio and that feels like enough for the prompt.

It’s a very neat notion that the humans recognize and appreciate this radio tree, so it has a fondness for them in return. And it makes sense that the other trees wouldn’t care about (or would dislike) humans, especially those who hadn’t interacted with them much.

Oh no a bear! That felt like a solid, more immediate threat and lent urgency to the oak’s actions.

I’m not sure why, but I had to read the paragraph that starts with “In this collective pause” like four times. For some reason my brain had trouble parsing it. I don’t know what to do with that feedback, and it could just be that my brain is jelly from critting so many stories.

I’m glad the oak didn’t die at the end and the radio is still going. It would have been touching if it sacrificed itself to save the kids, but it probably would have left me just mad at the kids for having wandered off.

Anyway overall the story is very well told and I like the tree’s perspective! Very fun and cute.

Side note: my mom trains search and rescue dogs, and I bet that would be a lot easier if the trees communicated with her too.

My Shark Waifuu - Fly Ball

Aww this is sweet. It definitely captures that feeling of being part of something without feeling like you’re really a part of it. I think we’ve always felt that, like we’re orbiting a group we’re ostensibly part of and you wonder if everyone feels that way, or if everyone else agrees that you are really an outsider.

Beyond that not a ton happens, and that’s fine. It’s a straightforward story, recounting a softball game. There are rarely any particularly unique sports stories (at least that actually happened). But lending so much weight to how it felt and what it meant to you made it feel very personal and impactful.

I’m glad your coach appreciated your effort and recognized you for it. I wish it changed things between you and your teammates but that’s teenagers and stupid real life for ya.

My My Shark Waifuu Ranking
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Fly Ball

I thought Total Eclipse of the Heart was more interesting and complex than Fly Ball (mostly just because magic trees are cooler than softball). Both stories had a lot of emotional honesty and were well-told and I liked them both a lot.

Sailor Viy - Understand (Horse Version)

Opening four words made me smile.

Overall I like the story and what happens in it. It’s interesting and compelling. But a lot of the language itself didn’t quite land for me. It felt a bit casual and tongue-in-cheek, but in a very human way, not in a horse-who-only-recently gained sentience kind of way.

With the nature of this [blank] agonizes over [blank] prompt, there were a lot of stories from the perspective of bizarre things, so comparatively a horse is not that weird. But I wanted a little bit more to make it feel like a very unique, somewhat alien thought process, which would translate to the language. Especially because you could have kept the language a little simple and stilted, and then ramped it into more epic and flowery after the horse drinks more goo.

I like the ending, and the idea that a horse is much better equipped to use infinite knowledge in a positive/healthy way than a human. I like that the horse helped him. And then they die and ride off together. It’s very sweet and lovely and magical. I also imagine anyone who finds them and the chickens and the goo and is like whaaaaaaat

Sailor Viy - Neil & I

The first sentence of the story was sort of lovely, but then nothing else in the story really was. It didn’t really bother me at all, but it might be nicer to have an opening that sets the overall tone a bit more.

“If you eat it then nothing will happen, and then in 7-10 days’ time you will die in excruciating pain.” I’ve never been to Australia but this reinforces the only thing I know about it: that everything there wants to kill you.

The very end with the feelings of guilt felt a little misplaced. I’m not saying you don’t genuinely feel guilt for giving up on a friendship, that’s a really common feeling. It’s more that the couple paragraphs leading up to it didn’t feel like you wrestled much with the decision to give up on him, that it happened naturally and you were sort of at peace with it. So then it felt like a bit of a swerve, right at the very end.

This isn’t so much a story story, as it is a sort of illustration of a human you used to know. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it felt a little impersonal because it’s an autobiographical story that’s all about someone else. You do speak about how Neil affected you, but it’s still very much focused on Neil.

A lot of this story felt very real and clear, and I found myself going “Oh yep, I’ve known a Neil”, and “Yep that’s how my Neil acted”, and “Yep I totally get what you’re saying about you don’t need to end a friendship as much as just stop maintaining it.” So it all felt very real and honest, but just not very personal or like you had much interaction or agency in it, even though it was ostensibly about you.

My Sailor Viy Ranking
Neil & I
Understand (Horse Version)

This was a tough ranking because I thought Understand (Horse Version) was a better and more interesting story. But I thought Neil & I was written better and even though not much happened, the language was constructed in more interesting ways.

The Cut of Your Jib - Apocrypha: The Book of Revelations

Oh wow I don’t get it.

It felt a bit like I fell asleep reading the Bible and watching Pimp My Ride and they just got shoved together in a dream.

One problem was that at first I didn’t understand that the Jesus stuff was bookended by the John/Chris stuff. Both were a dude talking to an angel and it didn’t click for me when it switched. Especially when the transition happens immediately between “And the man’s eyes were suddenly open to the heavens” and “Jesus lifted up his eyes”. I didn’t understand until I read the whole story again that those were two separate things happening, a vision-within-the-story. It just felt like the same story continuing and that Jesus was the guy at the beginning. So then I was confused when Jesus talked so differently than John/Chris because I thought they were the same person.

The juxtaposition of the Biblical sounding language and the way Jesus talked was pretty funny. But other than that there wasn’t a ton about this that I found particularly compelling. Part of that is very much a me thing: my eyes tend to glaze at Bibley language. And then jumping back and forth (plus a lack of quotation mark type punctuation) made it a little tiring to parse.

The Cut of Your Jib - Yo Celly Pt. 1

Man I don’t really get this one either. I’m so sorry that I’m reading your stories at the tail end of a very long day of critting, though I honestly don’t know if I have enough Big Brain energy to follow them when I’m alert.

I also don’t really understand, is this a Prompt #2? If so it didn’t really feel authentic. It felt like a fictional story, not an autobiographical account.

Man that hellrule is a toughie. Especially because not only were there so many named characters, there was enough going on with all of them that I felt like I was really supposed to keep them all straight and understand how they all interacted with each other.

I’m so sorry but my eyes completely glazed over. I didn’t know if this existed in a real world or a made up world and I felt like characters were getting chucked at me.

That being said, I liked a lot of the language and imagery. I liked most of the paragraphs completely on their own and what they were doing. I just struggled to connect it all together and see the whole picture. Like a really good mosaic of characters but I was too up close to see what it looked like as a whole.

My The Cut of Your Jib Ranking
Apocrypha: The Book of Revelations First Draft
Yo Celly Pt. 1

I had similar likes (use of language and composition of sentences) and dislikes (feeling very lost) in both stories. I mostly ranked Apocrypha higher because I felt like I had a slightly better handle on what it was trying to do.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Crits for Week 522
Complete Ladders: Part 1

a friendly penguin - Two Spies Walk into a Bakery

Good service of the prompt! It feels a little strange for a spy to be trying to talk about their feelings in the middle of the missions, but that was pretty explicitly the prompt you got, lol.

Really good description of action throughout. I don’t want a lot of spy movies, but this definitely gave me those vibes. Actually elements of it remind me of Marvel movies, how they’ll be doing crazy death-defying stuff but just carrying on an unrelated conversation throughout. So if that’s the sort of vibe you were going for, good work!

Both Grace and Lee strike me as overthinkers, but in different ways. Grace seems like they are the kind of person who likes to define things and establish expectations. Lee seems like he is bookish, but a little bit oblivious. Beyond that I didn’t know a ton about them, but I still got the sense that they are comfortable with each other and trust each other. I hope they figure out they care about each other and become awesome spy besties.

Note: typo in third-to-last paragraph. I think “now” should be “not”

a friendly penguin - The Color of Laughter

The language of your POV in this is very charming. It added a very personal flavor to see things through your eyes. Some of it was a little disarming because it was a little unexpected and pretty charged language (“enemies”, “vampires”, “lairs”). It was also very defensive and combative (“Maybe ruining their research was the best way to keep them from taking the bits of herself she had stashed away.”). That’s an honest perspective if it’s the lens through which you view the world. But as a reader it made it a little unclear what your motivations were beat-to-beat. And at times it also felt a little more like you might rather alienate the reader (another kind of emotional wall) rather than have them empathize with you and see things from your perspective. Plus the fact that the bulk of the story was about how you started laughing and couldn’t stop. And I definitely think a lot of us have been in a situation like that before. But reading it, I found myself feeling a little bit more like K and sort of wondering what was going on with you, rather than really identifying with you.

Who is K? Because if this is the story of how you first met someone important in your life it’s very sweet. But it doesn’t really say that, so it feels a bit random. Maybe K is your partner and other TDers would know that reading this story and I just don’t because I haven’t known you as long? If that is the case, it would be nice to have that baked into the ending somehow. As-is, for all I know you e-mail K back “Yep you’re creepy” and never talk to them again and then this story isn’t really about anything.

I do enjoy the visualization of feeling colorless, and having communications with K bring some color to you. I think that was lovely.

a friendly penguin - Art

“Symphonizing the vicinity” didn’t work for me. Similarly “ perpendicularity, curling in a golden ratio of gravity”. Both those phrases kind of took me out, they distracted me from the imagery and made me focus on the words instead. I think Simon mentioned this too, but the rats weaving between feet instead of in and out of feet might be clearer.

Other than those couple pieces, I thought the imagery was great. I could see it, smell it, hear it, feel it. I felt like I was there, and I was reveling in the same experience.

I really like the reveal at the end. It sort of reframes the picture in a more chaotic but still lovely way. I wonder if you want to say “...enact *my* will upon these wonders”, and not maybe *her* will? I feel like if you enacted your will upon the wonders it would be doing exactly what you’re doing then. Or maybe you can find a different way to describe what your landlord wants to do to the nature.

a friendly penguin - Words of Power

Yuck watermelon-flavored White Claw sounds like poison.

This is so cute! It’s so funny that you managed to make a story about a fantastically powerful wizard translate into something that feels universal. I think a lot of people have gone through feelings like Waldo has: they’ve realized their life looks different than it used to, and they’re deciding whether or not they’re happy about/despite the changes. Waldo had fantastic adventures, and he enjoyed them, and now he’s not having adventures, so he must be sad. But then Waldo realizes that his life is good now, and he is happy even without those adventures.

This story is charming and contemplative, but in a way that still has forward momentum and character development. Waldo has learned and grown and made a new friend. And he’s realized ways to use his powers that he enjoys, and that other people may not react as poorly to.

I wish “The Backyard” was a cooler/lamer name, like “The Hip Hangout” or something. Something a dad would think is clever, and fits the vibe of Cool Cabal of Conjurers. “The Backyard” didn’t feel unique enough for the giants to bother coming over.

I liked it!

My a friendly penguin Ranking
Words of Power
Two Spies Walk into a Bakery
The Color of Laughter

Best story arc gets 1st. Best imagery gets 2nd. Bakery had more motive and intention. Color of Laughter was cute but needed a bit more.

Antivehicular - The Archeopteryges and the Giant Freaky Dragonflies

I mean, this story is just undeniably RAD. Velociraptorman, album covers with lasers, laboratory sex. What else could one need?

Even though it was a unique setting with a bizarre character, I felt like I completely understood who both of them are, and their relationship with each other. I liked how Theo sort of annoyed Jamie, and Jamie is sort of undeniably using Theo, but also Jamie does clearly care enough about Theo to carefully give him the s-e-x tal. That spoke volumes about their relationship.
I knew what Theo’s music sounds like, and I can vividly picture the album covers. I didn’t know exactly like why Theo existed and what his relationship with the lab was, but I sort of liked not knowing because that wasn’t what this story was about.

Overall it was a fantastic story. Well done!

Antivehicular - Disappointment Foreshadowed

Wow. Okay here’s what’s crazy: this is a 900+ word story about a person sitting in a chair and then getting out of the chair. But it was SO GOOD! How did you do that? The whole story was about capturing the feeling of being afraid of heights, which is a feeling I don’t relate to at all. I am dangerously unafraid of heights. But I DID relate to it! I felt what you were feeling. When you would talk about jumping out of the chair I was like “No don’t do it you’re too high!”. And then when you finally did jump down I cheered and celebrated for you.

loving A, well done. I’ve read quite a few of these Prompt 2s now, and so many of them fell into the same trap of describing events in a very passive way. But what you described had barely any action, but it was engaging and relatable and I loved it.

Antivehicular - Wondering and Wishing

What the hell how do you keep doing this. You captured such an abstract feeling, and one I hadn’t given much thought to before. Lots of people find interesting ways to describe joy or sadness or what an orgasm feels like. But you’ve managed here to immerse me in an even more complex emotion in such a crystallized way. I read every word of this thinking “omg I think that sometimes too!” and it felt so universal in such a deeply personal way.

Antivehicular - Something Like Necromancy

This was a very lovely story, and a very good fulfillment of the prompt. I also appreciate that it sort of inverts the usual tropes. I feel like normally when there’s a necromancer or wizard for hire, they end up fulfilling people’s wishes in a way that makes them regret it. But I loved that the Witch of the Camera patiently ensured a situation that would be best for Mike, Jeremy, and their child. She does the magic thing, but ultimately her priority is making sure the little family is off to a good start. And it’s so hard when the client is only mostly heeding her advice, but gets there in the end. You could feel her gently steering, and then celebrating with Mike when he reaches a workable solution. It’s so sweet and hopeful.

My Antivehicular Ranking

gently caress this is probably the hardest ranking yet. I think I’ll go with:
Disappointment Foreshadowed
Wondering and Wishing
Something Like Necromancy
The Archeopteryges and the Giant Freaky Dragonflies

I ranked Disappointment Foreshadowed first because if all I was told about it was “A person scared of heights gets down off a big chair” I’d be like “Ugh boring, NEXT!” but it was so engaging and surprising and kind of magic. Then Wondering and Wishing for similar reasons: nothing happens and it’s mostly just describing a feeling but it’s done so well it’s perfect. Then Something Like Necromancy, only because I was rooting for the characters in that one a little more than in The Archeopteryges and the Giant Freaky Dragonflies. But I also hate that The Archeopteryges is last because it’s so good too.

Bad Seafood - Lunar Libertines

Welp I did my homework and read Rural Rentboys and The Golden Bean so thanks for destroying my innocence I guess.

I’m glad you mentioned that your gerund was the reading because I assumed that but also would have spent too much energy wondering.

I mean, this story is sort of a vehicle for a few TD in-jokes. But it was for birthday week so that’s perfect! Also that being said, the in-jokes fit within a framework that was interesting on its own. A gerund as a main character is tricky, and making that the reading was clever. It made it so your POV character was a relatable person, but was part of the reading group agonizing over the spooky moon man. So it fulfilled the prompt deftly.

Also even though the Rural Rentboys was mostly fanservice for the long-term Domers, it still had a purpose in the story beyond the joke. Narratively, Xargon needed a weird story to tell, so that worked! And even The Golden Bean at the end worked well as a bizarre and memorable ending to this story.

I think this was an absolutely great story to kick off birthday week. It felt like a birthday card to Thunderdome.

Bad Seafood - Crunch Time

I already mentioned to you in Discord how much I liked this story when I read it during birthday week, and I stand by that on the re-read. There are so many threads of memories weaving through your life, and they all become entangled during this traumatic event. It jumps around between memories, like in a movie when someone’s life flashes before their eyes. But then it’s sort of naturally reveals why they are all relevant and how this event brought them all up for you. It’s a really lovely way of making the story incredibly personal, and reframing your experience.

Missed a capitalization on Dad in paragraph beginning “I’d always been a cautious driver”

It took me a little bit to understand that the car behind you pushed you into the car in front of you. Since you said that you stopped just in time, and then there was only one crunch, I thought you had just been hit.

Bad Seafood - Roi Soleil

Okay so full disclosure, I wrote this flash rule. But I did it before I knew what prompts 2 and 3 were going to be, and I was hoping no one would get it for either of these. So sorry for that!

That being said, you did a good job with this! It was a good way to interpret it to make it fit the flash. But it’s just sooo tricky to do something more complex with such a low word count. Overall it felt a little more like “worship” or “power” maybe than “wonder”. But that may also be because I’ve read a few wonder stories by now and most people went more poetic and contemplative, without really characters or a plot. So since your story has those things, it’s more of a story, but it also suffers I think more under the low word count.

Bad Seafood - Magic Scrolls

:( I didn’t know who Harryhausen was. Had to look up.

This was a very cool juxtaposition of a dungeon crawler setting but with modern, instagrammy references. It makes it feel anachronistic in a pretty delightful way. It’s a bit tongue in cheek and a little insincere, but I was okay with it. It’s a funny read, though it felt a bit like it was trying to reign in the humor at times. Like Mune was funny, and both Freki and the story itself were kind of the straight man. So it made Mune feel a little out of place a little moreso than a mashup. Like I said, it still worked for me, especially when Freki got in on the humor, like at the ending. Which, by the way, I really liked. It was a good button to the story and really sort of summed up the ideas in a cute way.

My Bad Seafood Ranking
Crunch Time
Lunar Libertines
Magic Scrolls
Roi Soleil

Crunch Time was deftly written, personal, and interesting. Lunar Libertines was perfect for this week, which I will of course rank highly because I have become possessed by the spirit of birthday week. Then Magic Scrolls is above Roi Soleil because I found it just a bit more engaging.

Chernobyl Princess - Just Like Tesco! (what the gently caress is wrong with me) caress+is+wrong+with+me%29

Honestly I think this is a really tricky kind of story to write and you handled it really well. The POV is deeply flawed but is working hard to learn and grow. So you want to make them relatable, but not in a way that makes it feel like any of their racism is in any way acceptable. Antiheroes are so hard to write, and there’s definitely a reason why so many of them end up not being antiheroes, but just heroes for lovely people (The Joker, Tyler Durden, Walter White, etc.). I really liked how you handled this, that Carl is working to change, but so much of his racism is so ingrained that it’s taking him time to recognize and reshape those thoughts. Reading it was both frustrating (because it made me think of people I know) but also hopeful. Not a ton happens in it, but it felt like a station along Carl’s journey of growth.

The very last sentence was pretty long. I liked everything in it, it just felt like too many commas.

Chernobyl Princess - Ski Jump

I thought this was really great! The story, not that this happened to you. But it’s such a good description of how these things usually happen. It’s so scary and bizarre and hilarious. I’m glad I saw you mention in the Discord that you made it out okay (well as okay as one really can be for having broken their back) because I was worried.

It’s amazing how fear and humor can really coexist (especially when pain meds are involved) and I think this story illustrates that really well. I do wish you’d been able to convey a little bit more of the sense of “Why is no one telling me what is happening?!” because other than an overdramatic nurse, there isn’t a ton of it. It sort of felt like you (and by extension, the reader) didn’t know you were seriously injured beyond the leg break. So if there was some indication earlier that you knew or suspected something might be Big Bad, but everyone was being cagey because they thought it would make you feel better, but it made it so much worse, I think that would add a lot of weight to the middle of the story. When the nurse tells you that you broke your back, it’s already pretty heartbreaking and scary. But if some of that dread had built up to that point, it might add that element of confirming the worst, rather than sort of being like “oh holy crap what?!”

Chernobyl Princess - Sledding

I. Love. Sledding. I grew up in Minnesota and I have so many fond memories of it. I loved the descriptions of the snow and ice, but I found myself actually wanting more imagery of the cold, especially since the last sentence references the cold. This felt a bit more like Hollywood winter scenes, where everything is beautiful and lovely but you watch it going “Omg how is no one wearing hats or mittens” and their hair is perfect and their nose isn’t even pink. Basically for me this captured a lot of the sights and sounds in a really beautiful way, but lacked a bit in the physical sensations.

Also I read this right after Ski Jump so I was like “No Chernobyl Princess! Stay out of the snow! Go inside and drink cocoa and be SAFE!”

The second sentence lost me just a little bit. If it’s not obvious by now I get overwhelmed easily by long sentences.

Limned- had to look that up.

Chernobyl Princess - Pushing the Limits

Hmm you seem to be a fan of long second sentences lol.

Oak is MVP of this story. I kind of loved it. I actually wish a little more of the focus was on the relationship between the Orchid and the Oak, almost like an arranged marriage. I also didn’t know how much of the Orchid was its idiosyncratic personality, or if it was more of a joke about how orchids are hard to grow (so I have been told)(I’ve never really tried to grow any plants because my cat is a terror).

When the scientific paper is brought up it feels a bit out of nowhere. It was first established that Zanzi’s goal was to “help farmers maintain yields that kept the kingdom fed”, then she was making this pairing to work out the potion that would expand how much magical information objects could store. But then by the end it seems like she’s doing it more for research/acclaim than practical purposes. I think a bit more unity in motivation would help this story resonate a little bit more for me, and help me understand Zanzi a little bit better.

My Chernobyl Princess Ranking
Ski Jump
Just Like Tesco! (what the gently caress is wrong with me)
Pushing the Limits

Ski Jump was the most engaging story. Just Like Tesco had a protagonist I was rooting for. Pushing the Limits felt a bit like a biopic, where it makes longer time jumps than you expect and things happen in a less narrative way but just because that’s what happened. And then Sledding is last because it had some very cool imagery but it felt a little more two-dimensional.

hard counter - The Amazing Technicolor Scream Coat: An Editorial written by Winston A.S. Parish for the

Okay I’m new to Thunderdome and completely unfamiliar with SomethingAwful as a whole, so I apologize if the goon prompt affected things in this story that I won’t catch on.

The title threw me off. It set very different expectations for me going into the story than ended up happening.

I’ve learned that I tend to gravitate toward stories with simpler language, featuring characters with clear and relatable motivations. Barring that, I appreciate imagery that evokes a clear emotional response. That is all to say, I think this is a well-written story, but it’s not really for me. The POV character’s experiences with the spiders feel a bit disconnected, like they’re analyzing their feelings a bit more than feeling them. And the language is very well-crafted, and gives me a clear visual pictures, but it doesn’t necessarily make me feel anything about what’s happening, or make me feel like I’m a part of the experience. I don’t know how to describe it except that it feels like a story that is happening at an arm’s length, and is described more objectively than subjectively.

hard counter - Wax Wings

The third paragraph had some language that felt repetitive and I didn’t know if it was intentional. Mostly “I’d see the most brilliant rainbow I’d ever see… just below the brightest moon I’d ever seen… unlike anything ever produced on Earth.” I understand the imagery is meant to feel brilliant and hyperbolic, but something about the phrasing sort of took me out of it.

On my initial readthrough (which I usually skim pretty quickly) I thought this was a little overly scholarly and self-indulgent. But then on my second read-though (which I read much more slowly and carefully), I really really liked it. The research section felt more like a nagging obsession than a sort of humblebrag. And when I read it quickly, the stuff about your dad felt like it came out of nowhere. But on the second read it felt like a natural progression, and sort of revealing what the story was really about. There was some personal, emotional stuff in there, it just took until the end to seep out.

hard counter - A Treasure’s Worth

This was quite lovely. An awe at the joy of learning, a wonder at the fact that you’re a little dragon on your hoard of knowledge. It’s a very neat concept and I think you describe it well. Some of the repeated use of “giddy” is a bit simplistic. I know it’s a short word count, but since at its core, this is a story about the joys of teaching and learning, I wish that was featured more prominently. A lot of the words are spent on snowflakes in the first paragraph in ways that don’t serve the thesis quite as well.

The “smile reaching to her eyes” bit from the teacher, then repeated later took me out a bit. I think I know what you’re describing, but I feel like most genuine smiles reach the eyes? Unless you’re Patrick Bateman?

hard counter - Please Watch Dad Do…

Hmm. In the second paragraph I got stuck on the sentence “Lately, she hadn’t been.” It followed “...if she took her studies seriously.” Since that’s past tense, shouldn’t it just be “Lately, she hadn’t.”? I’m not a grammar wizard. It may be correct as-is, or may be a situation where either is correct. But whatever the case, it felt odd to me.

Overall I sort of feel for Collin, but not quite as much as I feel like I’m supposed to. I definitely understand that he wants to share his love for the practical magicks with Elizabeth, but I feel like I’m missing a little bit of the depth of their relationship. He feels a little more like a teacher than a dad to me. Like he cares more about Elizabeth liking practical magicks because he does, and not because of anything that would help her or his relationship with her. He tries hard to get her attention, but then ignores her when she talks to him.

It feels a bit like you’re trying to be cagey about what her device is. When you talk about a preteen staring at their device and ignoring their parents, your reader will automatically picture a smartphone. Then when you talk about its screen, and it taking videos with the filters on, and even “there’s an app for that”, it just reinforces it. But it felt somehow like you didn’t want it to just be a magic smartphone, which it kind of was.

I really liked what this story was trying to do, and it was mostly successful. It felt like it was a story about a dad trying to reconnect with his daughter, but in a magical setting. But overall nothing really happened as far as that was concerned, and the plot was in the magical library goings-on. It felt like that was supposed to be an event that might be a catalyst for change in the relationship between Collin and Elizabeth, or between Elizabeth and Practical Magicks, or between Collin and the Device. But then nothing really changed in any of those dynamics.

My hard counter Ranking
Wax Wings
A Treasure’s Worth
Please Watch Dad Do a Cannonball
The Amazing Technicolor Scream Coat: An Editorial written by Winston A.S. Parish for the

Mostly ranked in order of how earnest the story felt to me.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Crits for Week 522
Complete Ladders: Part 2

J.A.B.C - The Lane

Something about “slender red-haired figure” was weird to me. It made me think her body is covered in red fur. Also I’d rather have the screens illuminate her scowling face or something that tells me more about what she’s feeling. The fact that she is slender and has red hair doesn’t really affect her character, nor is it descriptive enough for me to picture her any better. Basically it feels sort of weirdly objectifying.

“‘But it’s space,’ She shoots back…” followed by “‘That’s how all this started,’ That voice shot back…”. Repetitive use of “shoot back” and also “She” and “That” shouldn’t be capitalized. Also referring to her coach’s voice as “that voice” feels a little bit weird because we know whose voice it is.

This one is really tough because it definitely fits the prompt words. But it also does nothing. It establishes an interesting character who does interesting things. And then we get to watch her just sit there, not doing those things. I wonder if you still could have had some action or given her any kind of agency, while still featuring the commute. Even her relationship with her coach/trainer wasn’t particularly meaty. And she definitely came off more as whiny than feisty.

J.A.B.C - A wonderful day

Had to look up bakelite.

(Toward end of the first paragraph) “Birds are singing outside, there’s the sound of the Franklin’s lawn mower humming away a few doors down.” Humming is already an auditory verb, so “there’s the sound of…” is a little clunky and redundant.

Last sentence of second paragraph is present tense; everything else is past.

Third paragraph establishes Harken was a murderer in their past lives, but Mary’s perspective doesn’t seem to factor in as the murder victim. In the first it just says he raids her village, and in the second he tests his aim on a widow and her child (we don’t know if that’s past-Mary). The smiling knife in the back alley one is pretty clear though.

Fourth-to-last paragraph: “...She says, letting him sit at the table.” (again, “She” shouldn’t be capitalized). But brought it up to say that “letting him sit at the table” took me out because why wouldn’t he be allowed to sit at the table?

I really liked the ending, though I thought it was odd that the kids weren’t in it, and weren’t mentioned at all. We know there are kids because you said they’d be home in an hour. So if you’re trying to paint a picture of a quaint family scene where no one suspects anyone of murder, including the kids would reinforce that.

Overall I really like the idea of this story, but we end up not seeing any of the action. Several lifetimes of exciting things happen, all culminating in this spontaneous homicide. Then the story picks up as the murder is like “huh so that just happened”. Then she thinks about what to do next. Then it jumps forward in time to someone else’s perspective so they can have dinner.

If this was longform, I love the idea of not knowing whether all the past life stuff was real, or if Mary sort of snapped and imagined it all. Either way it’s interesting, and either way I still like the ending. I just think the ending could be a little shorter and sweeter and still accomplish the same thing.

J.A.B.C - Old mountain road

First sentence: nowhere should be one word. The second sentence is very long and might benefit from a bit of cleaning up.

You could begin this story with the paragraph that starts with “The Ukrainian captain, a tall man with sunken features..” and it wouldn’t be missing any details the story needed. There’s so much buildup to anything happening, but that buildup doesn’t actually add anything to the action or change the perception of it. You could basically cut that first part (almost half!) of the story and just leave the actual story.

Paragraph that begins with “The major is confused.” You say “...two weeks before it was even passible.” I believe you mean passable, unless the road is capable of suffering.

Overall the story itself was charming, albeit a little passive. For an autobiographical story I’d hoped it would be more of something that happened to you, or that you were more directly involved in.

J.A.B.C - Big

First sentence of second paragraph: stops stops stops.

I really like the relationship here. She so clearly trusts her dad, and he seems to delight in her experience. It’s really quite lovely. The dialogue is so simple, which is perfect to encapsulate a sweet little moment between a child and their parent. The imagery was straightforward and vivid. Good work on this one!

J.A.B.C - Property Rights

Last sentence of third paragraph is in both present and past tense. As is the fourth paragraph.

“You Like Me!” was odd. It was written strangely, and it wasn’t immediately apparent who was saying it, and to whom they were referring.

All in all, there are some good ideas here. I wish you’d been able to show us some of the action rather than telling us about it. Also it seems like a big deal they’re brought before The Grand Magus, but they don’t really do anything. I feel like I get a decent sense of who Visenis is, but not a ton of character from Gurith or The Grand Magus. I was on board with a feud between powerful wizards resulting from a misunderstanding, but then when it was revealed (very suddenly) that one of them *like* likes the other, it felt a bit trite and unearned.

My J.A.B.C Rankings
A wonderful day
Old mountain road (second half)
Property rights
The Lane
Old mountain road (first half)

Big was the sweetest, cleanest, and most genuine. A wonderful day is second because I liked the concept and the setting. The second half of Old mountain road (where the story happens) is next because the descriptions of the Ukrainians were charming. Then Property rights, because the framework for an interesting story is there. Then The Lane, because nothing really happens in that one. Then last is the first half of Old mountain road, where less than nothing happens and it’s just a bunch of unrelated set up.

Mockingquantum - An Account of Two Most Unusual…

These are all going to be a little weird for me to crit because I read them all before you posted them, but I’m going to try to look at them now with fresh eyes.

Stavros is a character in Schitt’s Creek who you don’t ever actually meet but Alexis is dating him at the beginning of the show. Anyway I know you don’t care about that but it’s what I thought of when I saw Stavros.

Reading the third paragraph I couldn’t help but giggle and then heard your voice saying “knock it off, perv.”

Fourth paragraph “...mansteaks, baby back ribs, adult back ribs…” made me laugh. I feel like you shy away from using much humor in your stories but when you do it, you do it well. Everything else is very cleverly written without being terribly verbose, but it is a little dense for dense people like me. So when you pepper in humor like that it’s a nice sort of breath.

We talked about ditching the Renfield reference and calling him a thrall or something instead when you wrote it and I know you’d intended to cut it but then forgot so I won’t harp on that any more.

The last paragraph is probably my favorite part of the story, because it’s interesting and unique. Now granted, I tend not to gravitate toward vampire stories because many of them are quite grand and pensive and take themselves seriously. And you nailed that tone for the first portion of the story, but it is quite a while before much happens. But then by the end, the way you describe the actress, with her “perpetual company of a foppish vampire and his erstwhile assistant”, that’s a very charming image of this bizarre trio. I wish we got to see a little more of them and their interactions. Start the story with the vampire slurping on a used Kleenex, then looking straight at the camera and the narrator says “You may be wondering how I got here”. hahahaha

Mockingquantum - Duck and Cover

I had totally forgotten this happened! Super scary and I’m glad you’re safe <3

The main thing I’ll say about this story is that it reads more like a TED Talk than someone recounting a scary thing that happened to them. It’s a trap that I think a lot of people fell into on the Prompt 2s: it’s uncomfortable to tell a personal story so it’s easy to default into a sort of teacher mode, and instead shed your perspective on something. Which is good and interesting and has definite value, but it’s also a little less of a story.

I know you chose this story because you didn’t really have any duck-related stories, so this satisfied the prompt about as well as you could have. I think it’s well-written, but I also like it when you go into teacher mode.

Mockingquantum - The Brass Key

I like the caring/uncaring in the first line. A little indulgent but it worked for me.

I think the weird thing about this wonder prompt is that a lot of instincts about wonder are very passive. Cool poo poo happens and you go “wooooow look at that!”. So most of the Prompt 3 entries have tended toward either trying to capture an emotion, a memory, or a scene (mostly because 250 words just doesn’t have much room for plot). Anyway that is all to say, I feel like you sort of hit a balance between those three things. It didn’t entirely capture an emotion for me, because I’m not necessarily sure how the POV character (or the watch) feels about everything they’re seeing. And it didn’t so much focus on setting a scene, but a sort of collection of very active, evolving scenes. Anyway I’m not saying it didn’t work, because I did like it. It actually hit the idea of “wonder” a little bit more for me because I sort of just sat back and went “oooh aaahhhhh” like I was watching fireworks, rather than being really active and being like “omg I know just what that feels like!”

Mockingquantum - Siren Song

I liked this one. I saw flerp mentioned in their crit that it took too long to get started. I see what they mean, but it didn’t bother me. There were a lot of details, but they were the kind of details that I like to establish a scene and character. Maybe if you threw in some mention of the metal music stuff earlier? Idk like a voicemail from Zeke that he listens to when he’s getting in the first Uber? Just spitballing.

I like that your first paragraph didn’t shy away from laying it all out there. I learned that Carston was a wizard, but he was also just a dude, and probably a pretty isolated one, and that some cosmic horror stuff was going to happen. That set pretty clear expectations, which the story then delivered on.

I think your Sound-Guy-ness made this story feel more authentic. I didn’t always know what you were talking about, but you did, so it felt like I did.

My Mockingquantum Rankings
Siren Song
Duck and Cover
The Brass Key
An Account of Two Most Unusual Gentlemen, In Search of Supernatural Sustenance

I don’t have a ton of rationale for this ranking because I thought they were pretty consistent quality. Siren Song felt like it had the most complete plot and character, and focused on the parts of the story I wanted. Duck and Cover didn’t have quite as much going on, but I ranked it high because it felt like it was told more comfortably, like you weren’t putting on airs or trying to craft very specific language. The Brass Key was neat, and fit the “wonder” and the flash rule well. Then Account of Two Most Unusual Gentleman was last just because you didn’t come right out and tell me whether or not Theodore ate jizz.

QuoProQuid - Rocket Man

Alright I actually really dig this. I love a good story where silly poo poo happens, but the silliness makes perfect sense to the POV character so it feels grounded. I love the conceit of some rich bro who’s always been told “follow your dreams” and takes it completely literally. And I don’t know why Sandra Bullock was in it but she was my favorite part.

I know exactly who Mr. Thomas is and how much coke he consumes. I also get such a good sense of Sampriti and the weird situations she must get put into. And their dynamic is so clear, too.

The ending was dumb, but in a way that completely worked.

QuoProQuid - The Last Monument

This is so sweet and sad. It’s tender and honest and full of tangible regret. The structure really echoed the theme; it cycled and repeated with slight variations, like you’re playing out the scene in your head thinking of what exactly could have changed, and how it could have gone differently.

I think it’s pretty telling that even in your imagined version of the party, you and Daniel didn’t wind up together. He told you he was still leaving. But the regret wasn’t letting Daniel leave, it was not being honest with him before he did.

You let yourself really be vulnerable with this story, and I want to respect and honor that. A lot of the Prompt 2 stories were much more superficial, comical, or informative. But this story showed a willingness to reveal part of yourself to us, which I really appreciate. I hope it was a little bit cathartic for you, to at least tell someone what Daniel meant to you, even if it wasn’t to him.

QuoProQuid - Repair Job

A lot of the Prompt 3 submissions sort of went the same way: they put something under a microscope and then sort of sat back and captured it. And I think that makes a lot of sense with the “wonder” prompt.

But you really reframed it, in an interesting way. You made wonder active, an action that requires followthrough. You made wonder into a choice, a fuel that needs to be used and spent.

I think that’s very cool.

QuoProQuid - Do No harm

“Then his mother jammed the man’s arm free and buried the knife into his arm.” This was such an important sentence and it was worded a bit strangely. The action here is very important and I wasn’t sure what to picture with “jammed the man’s arm free”. Also the repetition of the word arm made the action a bit more clear but felt a little clunky.

This story had an arc, vivid action, well-defined characters (though I wanted a little bit more from Roger), and clear relationships. But I think my favorite part was the language. I feel like I’ve been harping on people a lot because their stories are too smart for me. But coming into TD as a non-writer, I feel like a lot of the language falls on the more poetic, verbose side. Sometimes to the detriment of me feeling like I can *see* what’s happening in the story. It’s not that your language is simpler or dumbed-down, but it has a sort of straightforward clarity that I appreciate. It still features a lot of emotionally charged descriptors, but nothing feels clunky or overly thesaurus-ed.

I also thought you did a good job with the prompts, though it’s a little squishy to argue that learning basic facts about one’s patience is a “minor inconvenience”. But really great work with the Wizard description prompt. I read it and was like “but you’re not a vampire? That sure sounds like a vampire”. But your wizard is not at all a vampire and fits the prompt great.

I found myself wishing for just a skosh more clarity on the magicks though. In the introduction, it just said that all the people were healed. But then when Brigitte brought up the “certain, lasting negative side effects”, I didn’t know what those were. It seemed like the procedure may have involved Roger giving some of his life to his mother? It would tell me a lot more about him, and his relationship with his mother if I understood that better. I also am not sure if it worked at all, or if I’m supposed to know. It sounded like Roger survived because he got his color back and they bandaged him up. But I don’t know what happened to his mom.

Oh also their were a couple moments where someone said “mom” or the story referred to “his mom” and I didn’t know if that was referring to Brigitte or the dying lady.

My QuoProQuid Rankings
Rocket Man
Do No Harm
Repair Job
The Last Moment

Rocket Man is first for me because it was just bizarre and fun. Do No Harm is after that because I think you handled the prompt well and it had some neat stuff. Repair Job is next on merit of the cool take on “wonder”. Then The Last Moment is last. It was solid and good work and I liked it. It’s only last because it’s a story specifically about something *not* happening. Which was still lovely and bittersweet, just slightly less engaging.

Simply Simon - Domino’s March

This one didn’t really work for me.

Having a metaphysical concept as the protagonist is tough. But I don’t necessarily have to relate to it, I just need to understand it. Unfortunately, I didn’t do either. Progress was a cool idea and I instantly liked it. The first sentence was solid.

I think part of where I kept feeling confused were because of some core contradictions. Progress isn’t linear, it fluctuates. Great, got that. But also Progress isn’t measurable, marching, methodical. But then it is measurable (evidenced by the repeated usage of imagery relating to an oscillating line, which inherently indicates some sort of measurable data).

Also you establish right off the bat that Progress is omniscient. But then it spends a whole bunch of time trying to figure out what is going on and why, and what can be done.

Lampshading “And why do I think in years?” was a bit clunky. It didn’t really clarify why Progress thinks in years, or gives any indication why it shouldn’t.

The language varied a lot in formality. It can be really effective to juxtapose heightened language with more casual language. But in this piece it didn’t really feel intentional, just inconsistent.

I have no idea what was going on once you introduced Dewey.

Simply Simon - Dinosaur’s Fangs

After I read this story, I read a friendly penguin’s crit (I’ve been doing that for every story, to try to avoid saying the exact same thing in an unhelpful way). But I feel pretty much the exact same way. I saw you mention in the Discord that the ending was that everyone left and was mad at you for killing the vibe. I would have LOVED to see that in the story. It would have been a more complete arc, and would have demonstrated a lot of the personality of Young You that you described in lines like “He’s even worse at reading rooms than what he will end up being.” Like, if the whole Dinodrome part of the story is about you being uncomfortable in a strange situation, but you played it super cool and went with the flow, but then it’s revealed that you didn’t at all do that, that would be interesting! As-is, I definitely just thought the dance floor dudes got into some beef they didn’t want to talk about, but required leaving immediately.

The shtick about calling the Nazi guy by a different thing every time mostly worked for me, because it seemed like a way to editorialize your feelings about this person (and distancing yourself from him, for the sake of the reader). I will say though that because you introduce everyone by descriptions, I didn’t quite get that’s what you were doing at first.

I do like that the story is bookended by you being thrown in a cramped car with people who make you uncomfortable. That was a neat idea. I also like how the story starts, just right in the middle of a question. It helps the reader feel a little bit caught off-guard, I’m sure the way you felt at the time.

Simply Simon - Clash of Blues

There are some neat ideas here, but it ended up feeling a bit clunky and unpolished. Overall the language is a bit sweeping and painterly, which I liked. But it made the script format for the dialogue sections feel out of place. The story establishes in the first section that they are basically competing for attention from humans.

In the paragraph that starts “Like so many times,” Sky basically says that Forest and Fire and “all the rest” provoke raw wonder in man, and they should also have that duty. But tbh when I think about someone experiencing wonder about something in nature, the first thing I think of is a sunrise/sunset.

“But since man had first glimpsed the rainbow hidden in Sea’s waters, Sky had trailed ever behind.” I think I get what you’re going for here, that they’re competing but both mostly just have shades of blue to work with. But then there are colorful things under the sea. But it sort of took me out of it because when you say “rainbow”, I think of an actual rainbow, which is a colorful thing in the sky.

What if this story was a little less bickery, and was a bit more about them combining their efforts to create the most wondrous sight beheld? A sunset over a stormy sea. Then you could keep the perfect horizon bit and killing the driver at the end if you really liked that part.

Sky’s first line repeating infinite twice felt unintentional.

I also got disproportionately distracted by “A man-made hue”. What were you picturing for this? I literally cannot think of a color that doesn’t exist somewhere in nature.

Simply Simon - Smaller than 420 Microns

The first sentence feels like it should be evocative, but I spent too much time trying to parse the imagery that I think it lost its effect on me.

“Had the firstmark in the door really only felt warm because of the ash-desert heat?” I don’t know what this is saying. It feels like it’s conveying something important but I don’t know what it is.

“Fiery blossom” doesn’t feel threatening.

IFRIT feels like a slightly clunky backronym. I assume you’re going for the demonic imagery, but it still felt a bit contrived.

Overall I liked the arc of this story, and what it did. Jerboa was trying to earn back the respect he thinks he deserve so he can parlay that into helping save his kingdom. That’s pretty neat. And the big demon robot thing is scary, though personally I felt like his robot-ness was inconsistent. Some of his dialogue and reasoning felt decidedly unrobotlike.

I will also say that reading through Fumblemouse’s crit, I got hung up on a lot of the same things. Big picture this story works well, but when you zoom in and read line by line, some of the language and logic just doesn’t flow or track. Some of the sentences took a few passes for me to understand what was trying to be conveyed.

My Simply Simon Rankings
Smaller than 420 Microns
Dinosaur’s Fangs
Clash of Blues
Domino’s March

Smaller than 420 Microns was an ambitious story, but I do think the overall structure worked. Dinosaur’s Fangs was entertaining, and would be even more so with a more satisfying conclusion. Clash of Blues was a neat idea but a bit clunky. And then I just didn’t really understand Domino’s March.

Staggy - Ringside Manner

This was so fun. It was entertaining and silly and I liked it a lot. I like Doc and his sort of journey of “I’m all washed up but I just want people to like me for once”.

Based on the intro, I actually thought this was going to be from Conway’s POV moreso than Doc’s. I don’t know if that was intentional or not.

“The Don fluttered around its cage, beak open, voice drowned out. He was down but rising, when he saw the referee turn their back; saw his opponent take the hint and turn to face the crowd too, waving their arms.” I read this a few times and I’m still not sure I’m picturing things correctly. Who is turned where, who is waving, who is taking hint from whom.

I think my veterinarian mother would want me to point out that veterinarians are doctors. The sick pythons joke was rad though.

Don’t have much more to say! It was clear, it was understandable, it was entertaining!

Staggy - Sleepwalking

The intro captured the feeling well of when you’re so sleep deprived that time becomes hard to measure.

“Andrew’s mind was the world’s slowest pinball machine but eventually a thought bounced its way to the forefront.” YES

I’m not sure what happened in the story, but I liked it? The imagery was clear, the emotion was there, and it felt like something resolved in the end but I’m not sure why. And it made me sleepier! Though that’s not good because I still have two more of your stories to read. But the viking warrior was compelling, as was the sense of time returning. I liked it a lot.

Staggy - The Wizard

I looked up 4-bar heater and Ribena because I didn’t know what they were. I’m sure a lot of people just get things from context clues but I can’t help but stop what I’m doing and look things up, just so I know I’m picturing exactly what I’m supposed to.

This was so lovely and cozy and heartwarming. The imagery was clear but emotional. The perspective captured the feeling of childlike wonder, without feeling naive.

It worked really well :)

Staggy - Still Life

I really liked this one. It also made me cry.

The first paragraph took a bit for its feet to get under it. The first sentence in particular felt a little long and meandering. I was also thrown by the “Aviar Temmish, Aviar Inkfinger,...” bit. The punctuation you used for “Ivor Temmish - Ivor the Wise -...” made what was happening a bit clearer. But also I’m not sure whether the distinction was necessary.

I thought one of your most effective ideas here was that when Aviar draws something from memory it comes to life, but then he loses those memories. It makes the moments where he is drawing Ivor heartbreaking. He ultimately has to choose between a chance at seeing something like Ivor again, or retaining all their wonderful memories together. Dammit I’m crying again.

I really liked the relationship between Aviar and Gimlet.

My Staggy Rankings
Still Life
The Wizard
Ringside Manner

I really enjoyed reading and thinking about all three of these stories. Still Life is first because it emotionally hit me the hardest. Then The Wizard because it evoked a feeling of memories. I never had a grandpa but I felt like I did. Then Ringside Manner because it was entertaining but there wasn’t quite as much to chew on. Sleepwalking is last because even though I enjoyed it quite a bit, I didn’t really understand it.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Crits for Week 522
Complete Ladders: Part 3

Tars Tarkas - Agony and Empire

This was silly and fun. You had silly prompt blanks and then you made it even sillier by making the werewolf a Party Werewolf and that was very entertaining. The second paragraph was my favorite because it’s so ridiculous but delivered so straight-faced.

I liked the relationship between the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. #girlgang

I mean, this was ridiculous and bonkers. But ultimately the Party Werewolf advancing on the Empire State Building while she quakes in her foundation built tension. And then her being all “bring it on!” at the end was exciting and I was rooting for her. I didn’t completely buy that the Party Werewolf wouldn’t still at least try to climb her, but I like that she made him nervous.

Tars Tarkas - Some May Say I Am A Fan of Cinema

This was super interesting, but felt more like a TED Talk than a story. I also liked the idea that over time it’s become more about collecting these films rather than actually experiencing them. It would be interesting to see this start out with some movie night or something that got you hooked on the idea of obscure or hard to find movies (if that’s what happened), and then it evolved into a quest for a specific film, at which point you just file it away in a hard drive without watching it.

I’m really sorry about the loss of your friend to cancer. It must be very hard to have these two passions - cinema and writing - that remind you of him. That said (and I hope it’s not insensitive to suggest this), I don’t think you needed to mention writing and how you got back into it. Not because it’s not interesting; I think it’s a very personal and compelling note. More just because this story is about cinematic treasure hunts so talking about getting back into writing fiction felt like a non sequitur.

Tars Tarkas - On the Way to Fuzzy Wuzzy World

I think I understand the feeling you were going for in the beginning: they’re going to Fuzzy Wuzzy World, and just stopping at this statue on a whim. But then the statute is where the story happens. So it would be nice to skip more straight to the statue. You could fill in a lot of those details with maybe the kids talking about being impatient to get where they’re ultimately going. But all the business about the brochures wasn’t particularly relevant. If it was longer I think that would be fun details to add in. But with such a short word count, it felt like all the lead-up to the moment of wonder made that wonder not feel as central to the story.

I do like what you’re going for though: when someone has an incredibly emotional response to something they’re not really expecting to have an emotional response to. I think that’s great and worth exploring. But I think put it more front and center and it feels a little more crafted.

Tars Tarkas - The Wizard Watched Trading Places Right Before This Story

There was a whole lot going on in this story and it didn’t quite jive. I think there is a neat idea of two wizard rivals, one of whom isn’t aware the other exists at the start of the story. And maybe some sort of Jim/Dwight parallel there. I liked the idea of Balan just sort of causing communication chaos wherever he goes, just for shits and giggles. But then it’s also an interesting that because of that, he doesn’t really have any friends. So then he kind of becomes friends with his rival (again, the Jim/Dwight thing). But as-is, none of that quite happens or works well together. It starts being a story about Balan’s secret scheme. But then that also ends up not really mattering? And then Krombolo shows up and it’s random and weird, but then ultimately that’s sort of what the story’s about? And all the Office fanfic references are currently just sort of funny asides. So then the story ends up feeling like there’s a bunch going on, all pulling in different directions and competing for my attention. I think this was probably submitted right before the deadline so you might not have had time to merge everything into one story. But I think if you did, it would have been pretty entertaining!

Oh also I liked the title but then I wanted the story to end up relating to it, and afaik it didn’t really.

My Tars Tarkas Rankings
Some Might Say I Am A Fan Of Cinema
Agony and Empire
The Wizard Watched Trading Places Right Before This Story
On the Way to Fuzzy Wuzzy World

I felt sort of weird ranking Some Might Say I Am A Fan Of Cinema against the others because it wasn’t a story exactly. But ultimately I ranked it first because I found it the most interesting read. Agony and Empire is next because the characters and plot were focused and made sense to me. The Wizard Watched Trading Places Right Before This Story is next for me, mostly on merit of the story it could have been, given a bit more time to incubate. Then On the Way to Fuzzy Wuzzy World is last because it felt a little short of wonder for me.

The Saddest Rhino - Transcript of Stream #25 of Channel “Korean Food Made Blasphemous”

I read this and was like aaaaah what is happening but then I reread the prompt and was like whelp yeah that’s perfect I guess. I think the only thing that didn’t work awesomely for me was the blasphemous stuff and like religious phrasing? For some reason I think it would be funnier if she was just a sweet lady trying her best to share her love of cooking while this bird terrorizes her kitchen.

The complex camera work, with like pans and close-ups and stuff seems complex for a stream, but I also know nothing about that so I’m probably completely wrong. But that’s another place where it might feel endearing if she isn’t like super amazing at this stream stuff and is just earnestly trying her best.

The Saddest Rhino - This Title Originally Referred to a Parody Song Making Fun of a Problematic Musician but Then I Found Out the Parody Was Performed by an Also Problematic Comedian, so I Won’t Name It I Guess, However if You Figured Out What This Song Was Before Reading This, Good for You

The title is a funny joke but I probably spent more time thinking about what the title could be referencing than thinking about the story itself.

I was more distracted than I should have been at the fact that you were checking the dog’s nipples to find out if it was a boy or a girl. Boy dogs have nipples too?

The most heightened language in this was in dialogue, and more specifically, Roy’s dialogue. It’s altogether possible he does speak like that. But since we don’t really know him, it just sort of comes across as unrealistic dialogue. Maybe referencing or acknowledging the fact that Roy speaks very formally would help?

I’m glad Bumblebee found a good home because for some reason this story made me sad for Bumblebee, even though nothing bad really happens to him.

The Saddest Rhino - Pencherita Malam (Night Storyteller)

I really liked the feeling and imagery of this piece. I felt like I got a good sense of the storyteller and that was quite magical. However, the POV is a little bit lost, and how the POV character feels about the storyteller. Missing that element sort of undercuts any sense of wonder the storyteller is providing. So the elements are all there for wonder, but it falls a little short in that regard.

That being said, I still really liked it! This storyteller lady is ultra cool.

The Saddest Rhino - Art is Subjective and so Is Your Dumbass Opinion

Great title.

I liked the language of the (first) museum plaque, but the last sentence felt out of place to me.

This was great. The magic was silly, the characters were clear, and it was very funny. The reveal at the end also made me laugh. The language was irreverent, but in ways that made me laugh and weren’t distracting. I thought it was a lot of fun. I wanted to hear even more specialties of the students of the University of Impractical Magic.

My The Saddest Rhino Rankings
Art is Subjective and So Is Your Dumbass Opinion
Pencherita Malam (Night Storyteller)
Transcript of Stream #25 of Channel “Korean Food Made Blasphemous”
This Title Originally Referred to a Parody Song….

All of these were pretty entertaining and very different from each other. So I basically ended up ranking them based on how much it “worked” for me, and how much I felt engaged with what I thought the story was trying to do.

Thranguy - Reflection

Well that was lovely. It felt like a beautiful little parable or fairy tale. The characters aren’t super well-defined, but they never really are in stories like this. Nothing particularly stood out to me as out of place or distracting. I liked the bird a lot, it felt like every talking animal in stories like this who are like “um I don’t think you should do this” and then the person doesn’t listen and then the cats are just left to cry on Paulinchen’s ashes. Oh I guess we don’t really know what happens to the bird after it carries the last message. I clearly didn’t notice so I don’t think that really matters. And actually if you added a “The bird hosed off because Fione made it sad” it would mess up the transition to the swimming lesson.

I also kind of like that this is a beautiful little story without a heavyhanded kind of moral or lesson or warning.

Thranguy - If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Pie

This was so dang cute. I’m not going to crit it because it’s not really a story. But it’s a very nice little love letter and homage to Thunderdome and it was so great for birthday week. Some of your rhymes are very clever, and I’m sure all the references are super funny to the people who get them. Well I got the golden bean reference thanks to Bad Seafood’s story, so I thought that one was funny at least :)

Thranguy - The Dancing Colonel’s Wonder Show

Oh the archive is missing your hellrule for this one.

This was great! And I’m sorry about the hellrule. It was one I made up and thought was funny but it was before I knew the prompts and it’s a toughie for 2 or 3. But you did great with it! Making Rutherford a puppet was a cool choice because marionettes are sort of inherently unsettling (at least I think so). And the descriptions are magical but uncomfortable, a sort of transition from childlike wonder to the aftermath of knowing how the sausage is made. And then the ending is creepy, but brings back the magic and wonder again. Very cool!

Thranguy - Swords and Time

Handful of errant typos in this guy.

“The dragon thrashed violently, but not with skill, not unpredictably.” Had to read that a few times.

This was really well told! I think my favorite parts were the bits about all the different languages, especially when the sword speaks “in the language spoken in the darkest circle of hell.” The sword was also my favorite part, and how it has Caboth kill the vole in the beginning without them even realizing it.

As to your flash rule: I’m really curious how you feel you interpreted it. Personally I think it could have stood to either be a bit shorter (and have some of the world building streamlined or cleaned up) or much much longer (and include all that world building and more).

I liked the ending, and how Caboth gives up the sword when it absorbs too much power. Though it also feels a little bit like Yress needed Caboth’s help and that they were really the one who killed the dragon. Which like is fine, except that it feels a little less like A Wizard Did It.

My Thranguy Ranking
If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Pie
Swords and Time
The Dancing Colonel’s Wonder Show

I didn’t really know how to compare If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Pie to the other two, so I just ranked it first because it was the Birthday Weekiest. Then Swords and Time because it was epic and ambitious, but still a good story with good characters. Then Reflection because it was so lovely and charming. And The Dancing Colonel’s Wonder Show is last, which doesn’t seem right because I really liked it. But I liked them all and one has to be last, I suppose.

Uranium Phoenix - Thesis Retrospective: Results Analysis for Sub-Universe Generation Method for Obtaining Large Quantities of Iron (Final_Final_ActualFinal_2_Edited)

Okay some sometimes in escape rooms there are math puzzles. And even if the puzzles are super duper simple, a lot of people go “ugggh it’s MATH I am bad at MATH” and they don’t even try.

I am very sorry to say, but I think my brain did a similar thing with the sciency thesis-ness of this. It just kind of shut off and I was like “noooo brain you have to read it” and I fed it more coffee but it sort of just kept saying “No Muzzles brain am dumb no science.” So that is all to say that I’m glad Simon already critted this story for you with a smart kid brain.

That being said, I think liked the idea of this a lot, including the title. I don’t know if you had your blanks filled for you or if you came up with this, but either way it fits the prompt perfectly. I think it was about an extradimensional graduate student sort of creating our entire existence as part of a research project? And then getting sort of emotionally attached? That’s a very neat idea. I’m sorry my brain is too flabby to comment more specifically.

Uranium Phoenix - The True Nature of Reality

There were a few typos throughout that were momentarily distracting. Overall it was an interesting read but didn’t really feel like a story to me. It was very cool to read your thought processes as a kid, and how some of them felt universal and some idiosyncratic. I’m glad you wrote about your perspective on things and how your imagination affected it. But then nothing really happened with it so it was sort of character establishment for a character in a separate story (your life). Anyway reading it though, it made me glad you became a writer because I think you have the right mindset for it :)

Uranium Phoenix - Monument

This opened really strong, but then I got more distracted than I should have by “the sky was azure, almost white” because I feel like azure and white are very different colors.

“...the buildings simply got bigger”, “...then just sit and imagine…”. I feel like “simply” and “just” sort of diminish the language.

Ultimately, this is a very cool setting. The imagery was vivid and I could picture it all. But a significant amount of worldbuilding had to be established before you could get to the subject of the wonder, so it didn’t feel like there was enough room for the wonder to be the focus of the story.

Uranium Phoenix - Dirk Venerator - Episode 17 - Fugitive Chronomancer

I thought your story started with the sentence “rear end.” and I thought that was super funny until I realized how dumb I was being.

The first sentence of the second paragraph confused me. I like the idea of it, being sort of long and rambly before ending with the payoff of the “but when he did, he wore sunglasses.” My problem though is that “so that he could drive while standing on the seat” coming after “when he stole the remains of a famous president” makes it sound like that was his motivation for stealing the skeleton, not his reason for ensorcelling the gas pedal.

Loved the pseudo boob jokes.

“Dirk’s voice always sounded like his vocal chords were duel-wielding cigars, but really, that was just how he talked.” I loved the first part of this sentence and wished it ended after cigars.

“He stood in front of the Darkvile Pyramid, which he’d discovered the location of by squinting at the back of a dollar bill really hard.” That made me laugh.

This was campy and fun and just a hoot to read. I loved the names and the detail and the descriptions of the action. Very nice. Not sure what part was meant to satisfy the flash rule, but I may have just missed something.

My Uranium Phoenix Ranking
Dirk Venerator - Episode 17 - Fugitive Chronomancer
The True Nature of Reality
Thesis Retrospective: Results Analysis for Sub-Universe Generation Method for Obtaining Large Quantities of Iron (Final_Final_ActualFinal_2_Edited)

It felt like as the week went on the stories became more for the reader and less a vehicle for smartness. Dirk Venerator had fun characters and more action and details. Monument was very well written and I really like the world that was built in it. Then The True Nature of Reality and Thesis Retrospective were just not really for me.

Yoruichi - Giant Varantula

I thought this one was a lot of fun. Very bizarre and entertaining. I got a little confused toward the end because we know the thoughts of both Dorothy and Shelob (maybe that was intentional because the prompt was “a [SPIDERS]” plural? I liked the story ending with Dorothy being crazed for human blood, but I was confused because I thought human didn’t agree with her, but then I looked back and that was Shelob, not Dorothy.

I loved the nonsensical tarantula logic and motivation. I loved that they had magical lab equipment. It was all so strange and it worked.

Yoruichi - Big Day Out

“...and gapped it for the stairs.” I didn’t know what this meant and looked it up. Also “bogans”.

This was great! I’ve always thought mosh pits sounded like my worst nightmare, but you described them in a way that sounded sort of fun and exciting. It was a great account of an experience, a fond memory. The beginning was a little bit rocky, but the ending was exciting.

It didn’t have a plot or arc or whatever I suppose, but I think that doesn’t matter as much in the autobiographical stories. This was a great story because it was fun and engaging and exciting. And it sort of had the message of “if you play it safe and avoid the crazy mosh pits, you might miss out on a super cool experience” which can translate to a lot of things in life.

I don’t have any comments on the flash rule because I understand what it means but don’t quite understand well enough how that translates to a story to comment on whether or not your story satisfied that.

Yoruichi - Magnitude 6.2: Strong. Weak buildings are damaged. Fragile and precious objects are destroyed. Walking steadily is difficult, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future

Oh this is so sad. I think anyone who has lost their homes to a disaster understand that feeling of “It’s just stuff and I should be grateful to be alive but this is devastating.” It’s all the tangible proof of our memories and it’s so hard to lose them.

Unfortunately for the flash rule, I think the alphabet game paragraph sort of lifts out. I like the idea of flashes of memories as Rose is going through the destroyed possessions. It would be a cool way to show how the destruction of some objects hits her harder than others, and that their value isn’t tied to their monetary worth. But is the alphabet game supposed to be tied to the poster? That was unclear to me. Also for what it’s worth, you could cut kangaroo and ladder if you wanted because the list is followed by the words “Rose would”, which continue the alphabetical order.

Overall I think this is sweet and sad and I liked it.

Yoruichi - The resulting eruption is used as a cautionary tale for new acolytes to this day.

Yessss Budweiser sucks.

I really like that the ending satisfies the flashrule, but also the title gives a sense of conclusion to the story and makes me feel like I kind of know what happened next. This story was gross, but in a fun way! A story about a hangover is a fitting end to my crit marathon because I also feel like I binged on too much delightful stuff and now my brain is starting to pay the price. But I’m glad all four of your stories were really solid because they were fun to end on! Though I’m sorry you’re at the end of the alphabet so you had to wait longer.

The main thing that wasn’t super clear in this was the sort of magic logic. Okay so Neville has to eat gross stuff to have powerful magic. But it can’t be too gross because then he’ll throw it up and have no magics? But gross means not so much gross as like full of negative energy? I feel like it totally works if all the descriptions of gross stuff is just sort of a build up to the joke about how gross Budweiser is. But throwing in the “replete with new life, the negative energy was far too low” sort of threw me.

Other than that, I liked this! Nothing really happened, but I didn’t mind, especially considering the flashrule.

My Yoruichi Ranking
Giant Varantula
Magnitude 6.2: Strong. Weak buildings are damaged. Fragile and precious objects are destroyed. Walking steadily is difficult, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future
Big Day Out
The resulting eruption is used as a cautionary tale for new acolytes to this day.

Giant Varantula was first because I love spooky spiders and weird things. Magnitude 6.2 was second because it evoked a clear emotional response and I like what you did with it. Big Day Out is next because it has a bit more action in it. Then this is another one where the one in fourth place feels like it’s too good to come in last, but the other ones were also just real good so fourth place is all that’s left.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 523 Crits - It Takes a Village (to gaze at a navel)

They’re all alike, yeah?

This was great! I understood the characters, where they were, and what their motivations were. The plot was interesting, and it was fun to watch Lagochi cleverly figure out what was happening. Lagochi had some fun dialect, though I wish it was a bit more consistently peppered throughout. Though also that may have gotten distracting.

Typo in paragraph beginning with “‘Gods-cursed fools!’”

I like the “Your hopes are soapsuds” line. I found Lagochi very charming in general, but not in a way that felt too heavy-handed. He felt worldly and clever, but welcoming and kind.

My only note, and it might be a me thing, is about the tent. Paulgan wants Cilphas to go in the tent to help the wounded. Lagochi says “no it might be full of assassins!” and then turns out to be correct that Paulgan is a Bodian. So does that mean the tent is actually a trap? And if so, why does no one come out with Paulgan gets shot? What’s actually going on in the tent? Lagochi and Cilphas just leave after.

Depth of Feeling

There’s some very sweet moments here, and I enjoyed the relationship between Jarom and Gisna. I liked the overall arc of the story, but it fell a little flat for me toward the end. I feel like you set it up well, that Jarom is looking for something, Gisna (and Haniau) is offering something, but Jarom doesn’t see it. I think part of the struggle is that I didn’t get a good enough sense that Jarom was looking for Sunken Hope to find beauty/love/belonging. It seemed a little bit more like he was just excited and fascinated by it. So then finding a community in Haniau doesn’t really feel like the same thing. But then also once that’s established, it’s hit a little hard. It felt a little bit like the characters turned to the camera and told me the moral of the story.

The part between “Jarom didn’t answer for a moment as he finished wrapping the gauze…” through “Before Gisna could respond, he was standing and gathering his bag.” feels really weird to me if you picture the whole thing happening, beat by beat. At least for me, when I picture someone steepling their fingers, I imagine them thinking of what to say, or carefully phrasing something. So she asks him a question, then he finishes wrapping the bandage. Then he takes a moment to steeple his fingers and says something with “the weight of a shameful admission.” But then the second he says it he just jumps up and grabs his bag to leave. That pacing just feels very strange to me.

This wasn’t a big deal, but when Jarom is leaving his hut you say “As he opened the door to the hut, he looked back at everything he’d built over the last three years.” and it gives the sense that this workshop (and anything currently inside it) was a significant project and the focus of his intention. Then a few sentences later he gets to the submarine it says “Jarom pulled the tarp off to reveal his project of the past years” and it just feels a bit less like the submarine was the culmination of his efforts and his primary plan, and it’s more like “oh he was working on this too”.

Typo (or weird phrasing) in paragraph beginning “His anticipation was cut short..”: “his fcovert expedition”

I find it a little surprising that Jarom’s hut is “tucked away within the crevice of a broken cliff face” and his submarine was “tucked away in a natural cove” and yet the second he crashed it, Gisna was just suddenly there to save him. I’m all for “people are where the plot needs them to be” but that seemed like a weird coincidence, unless she followed him home or something. Which she definitely could have done, but we aren’t told that she did.

Crab and Spouse

This was very interesting! There were times where I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be funny or not, but it definitely made me smile. The concept of a city A.I. marrying a Big Ol’ Crab was neat, but the perspective was a bit tricky. Abode Kelp didn’t feel much like an A.I. to me for much of the story. They mention that guilt was never programmed into them, but it seemed like love and jealousy and paranoia were. So it made this unconventional pairing seem a little bit pedestrian (which is also sort of impressive to pull that off). Then the ending felt a little bit unearned. Throughout the story, we know very little of what Byron is feeling, just sort of conjecture by Abode Kelp. So then the revelation that he is… transspecies?... seemed like it should make his behavior throughout the story make more sense, but it didn’t, really.

When I read the prompt/setting, I definitely didn’t think the residents of Sunken Hope were giant crabs, it just mentions that they tend to be sickly pale. But I guess good for you for making a bold choice? I also you noticed that you say “He seemed to embody the spirit of the decade - that after the fighting, after all the desperation, we could have a little bit of hope, of reconnection, of rebuilding.” Does that mean you decided to set this in a time period after the prompt/setting?

“...and see if he was the real deal.” felt out of place to me but I can’t exactly tell you why.

Yeah on a second read I’m seeing more of why Abode Kelp doesn’t feel like an AI to me. Right off the bat they talk about funny Byron was, how they were smitten and hopeless. They actually express enough range of the emotion that it’s sort of startling they weren’t programmed with guilt.

“Although I am an indestructible forty-story building weighing over 400,000 tons, he still managed to sweep me off my feet.” That’s a pretty cute line. That seems like a heavy building though. I just looked it up and the Empire State Building weighs 365,000 tons and that’s 102 floors. But I guess buildings could weigh way more on Etrenu, so I’m not saying it’s out of the question. I guess I’m just saying I got distracted enough by it to look up how much the Empire State Building weighs.

“My husband had the energy of ten men, or a thousand crabs.” That line made me smile.

“‘I make the pants with the four legs, and a coat with the big sleeves for your claws, eh??’” here we are on a different planet in a different universe, and yet Don Giuseppe sounds decidedly Italian to me.

Je’fray and the Green Bear

Man I like the idea of the opening sentence, saying something that makes it clear this is an epic tale that has been passed down. But I feel like as-is it needs to either get punched up or cut. “Our clan has a few stories they like to tell…” says nothing about the kind of stories, or the weight they carry in the culture. Then the way it ends with “....this is one of them.” is underwhelming. The sentence as a whole sort of feels like “alright storytime… uhhhh *makes jerk off gesture*”

“Long ago, when the planet was once ‘normal’” wouldn’t make sense from their perspective, only from ours. The current planet is the only normal they’ve known. It would be weird to start a story like “Back before electricity was invented, when the planet was normal…”.

“But back then, he was just a regular man.” Is that saying this story took place before he was feared and admired? Or every man was feared and admired so this was regular?

“Jeff” is certainly a choice for a character name who lives on another planet in another universe.

“While carrying their torches, they hoped to find said Green Bear.” This sentence doesn’t do much.

What happened to Jeff’s clothes? He wandered into the mountains and died. Why naked?

Adding quotation marks around “‘enjoyed the view’” made it feel a little cheesy and uncomfortable. Without quotations it’s a little funny but still kind of weird. With quotations I’m like “What are the quotations implying? What are the women doing?”

“Berd explained everything to him, about where they were, what time it was, and even gave a tour of the village. Afterwards, Jeff was distraught, since everything he had known before was gone.” That’s an incredibly straightforward (and not very interesting) way to describe this mind-shattering experience. “Oh hey you’ve been frozen for thousands or millions of years? Okay lemme give you a tour of the town.”

“Jeff, knowing he truly had nothing better to do, obliged.” Bro is just like “welp okay moving on”

“Je’fray trained among the warriors of the tribe, and even became proficient in the Laser Spear.” Okay so the guy assimilated. But like… why is he a legend?

The fight scene is like “No one had their laser spears. The bear attacked. Then they got their laser spears. Then they killed the bear with laser spears.”

This felt like it was set up to be a legendary tale, folklore. But if my oma told me this story before bed, or someone from my tribe told it to me around a campfire, I’d be like “umm so?” It’s like AU Futurama but with none of the interesting ideas. Je’Fray essentially travels in time, but it doesn’t matter? He doesn’t do anything that anyone else in 5 Miles didn’t do. He just helped kill a Green Bear, and then gets radiation poisoning but is completely fine.

Then ending with “What happened to him? Well that’s a story for another time.” isn’t much of a teaser because he didn’t really have any agency in this story, so I can’t imagine anyone is particularly anxious for Episode 2.

No Master

I had a little bit of trouble really connecting with any of the characters in this one. They didn’t feel particularly fleshed out to me, just sort of archetypes. Actually it just sort of felt like an episode of the Mandalorian. Bounty Hunter (assassin) finds himself relying on someone’s kindness, then gets swept up in their deal, helps them fight, then leaves. It doesn’t feel like anything really changed for him. He gave her his hat, like it was the beginning of Last Crusade, but that also felt a little weak.

That being said, overall it definitely has action and change, just not for the POV character. He just sort of makes money and retires. But the fact that he helped Jacq sacrifice everyone she knows to avenge her brother may have changed her? Who knows.

“He transacted some currency exchanges.” seemed overly complicated for a five-word sentence.

“All he had to do was slowly sip his poison and wait.” is a sort of weird thing to say in a story where he does get poisoned later. Is it supposed to be foreshadowing?

“Alyn watched, Dirg and his fellow gamblers.” has a weird comma.

It feels like when Alyn says “Because the hat means something to me.”, that’s in response to Dirg saying “Why won’t you-” but I don’t know what Dirg was asking. So that feels a bit odd.

“Dirg was smiling, trying to laugh as he bled out.” I like that line. Especially because he was trying to laugh through a slit gross. That’s creepy and I like it.

“Alyn fished in Dirg’s pants…” I’ll admit I was worried where this was going because as far as I know, Dirg never put his weenie away.

“He unlocked and unfolded his bicycle” I don’t know why but it felt cute (but odd) to me that this badass assassin guy rode off on a bicycle.

The fever dream paragraph was nice. I like the imagery in it.

“Tarl. Wearing his hat.” I didn’t connect until the second read-through that this meant Tarl was wearing Alyn’s hat. I get that Alyn’s hat is the Important Hat, but I just thought Tarl was wearing Tarl’s hat and I didn’t understand why you pointed it out.

“There was fire in her eyes to match her hair.” Tangerine fire?

“Fist Canyon” sounds like the name of a porno I would be too scared to watch.

“Alyn barely remembered the battle at all.” I suppose that’s one way not to spend word count on the climax of the story.

“Him and Jacq. Two survivors, the only two apart from the enemy wounded they were finishing.” Literally everyone else died?! So they didn’t save the town at all? I mean, they killed all those particular baddies, I suppose. But I feel like others are just going to swoop in and take the land.

The Fool Says in his Heart what Cannot be Thought

I really like how different the dialogue feels for Anselm, the Abode, and Mieko.

I like the first sentence.

“The light touch of Abode inside his mind grew heavier and expanded.” That was a cool way to convey that he had gotten the Abode’s attention (in maybe not a good way). It sort of popped up as Siri, but then turned into something more ominous.

(When Anselm was pulling the nail out of his foot) “It really was incredibly painful.” feels like it implies that for some reason it shouldn’t be painful.

“...and when it was neither the wind blew with an endless ceaseless rapacity.” surely you don’t need both endless and ceaseless here.

Lots of mention of teeth. Was that deliberate? Or are you just a tooth person?

“Anselm had thought he’d known pain, until then, he realised he was like one who had merely heard traveller’s tales of it.” This is a great line, and really effective to convey the Anselm felt at losing his daughter, especially when we know he’s undergone immense physical pain. I will say though it felt a little weird that he was in that much pain when his daughter died, but we didn’t get a sense of that when his son died. They just sort of shrugged and had another kid. I’m sure it more meant that he was sad having lost both his children, but they way it’s structured it just feels like it’s about the daughter.

The ending was great! That’s the kind of twist I like! It changes the perception of everything that happened in the story. I know the “it was all a dream” idea is well-trodden. But when it’s a dreamed forced on someone by a sentient A.I. who won’t let them leave, it makes it much more interesting and threatening.

Overall I really like this. There was a moment when it was describing his life in the scalv village where I thought “hmm I wonder if this will all have a point eventually”, but it proceeded quickly enough that it didn’t bother me much.

Pollen on the Breeze

I like what this story did and where it went. The story was sort of divided in thirds for me. The first third established the setting and the characters, though it felt like it took a long time to do so. And none of the characters felt particularly fleshed out to me. Then the middle third was a lot of action, but for some reason I kept getting distracted. I think something about the action sequence didn’t hold my attention. Maybe the pacing or something? I don’t think I could picture what was happening well enough to be fully invested. Then the last third, once Mickey is in Abode Stamen, was pretty interesting. I like the idea of an old god being trapped in a cube by the Abode AI. I think if you wanted to focus on something, I’d punch up the cube stuff more. Instead of the god saying it was awakened by Mickey’s pain, you could have showed us that when it happened, and make us understand why pain, or Mickey’s pain in particular, woke it up. Has no one felt pain around it until now? Is Mickey special?

“The drone dropped, a fidget spinner out of control…” I’m glad you’ve decided this universe also has fidget spinners.

“...a double-helix of dicks spiraling into the clouds with jagged balls plopped ungracefully underneath…” yep yep

I really like the descriptions of when Mickey reaches the city. Everything from “She stopped at the edge of the city.” through “...there was an itching behind her eyes.” was really effective for me. It felt like a clear turning point and delineation and I like how it was described.

I thought the ending was neat. It was ambiguous, but still felt like something important had happened.

Only Human

This was some really nice, sort of slice-of-life world and character building. I got a good sense of Amir’s character, and this sort of seemed to be a story about him learning that the Scalvs are just people, and not the abstract sense of “other” he’d always thought of them as. Other than that, not a ton happened in it, but it was still engaging enough that the lack of action was fine by me. Sort of a story about a young person learning about someone very different from themselves.

I really like the descriptions of the things Fresca does, and the way she talks. I like how they reinforce the idea that she “ain’t settled folk”, but not like a complete barbarian.

“...but Fresca laughed again, a little more loudly, and waved away the atmosphere she’d just created with a flick of her wrist.” I like how this conveys that Fresca knows that she makes Amir uncomfortable, and both messes with him but also sets him at ease.

Amir’s mother seems pretty comfortable with a Scalv staying there, and seems pretty unfazed about it. But Amir has never seen one before and is shocked. Did something change at some point, that made it a rare occurrence? It seems like whatever brought Fresca there was pretty commonplace.

Typo in paragraph beginning with “Amir nodded again…”: where/wear

[b]What’s Fair is Fair[//b]

I read the first paragraph a few times in order to parse what was happening. I’m not sure what confused me so much. Maybe just that there were a lot of names and descriptions and setting the scene but also action happening?

“The man seized her by the shirt and that’s when Kozu, who knew she needed to keep cool, lost it. She headbutted the merchant.” This sort of felt like “fight happened because fight”

“Aw, come on… that’s not cool.” felt very casual and low-stakes, given what’s going on.

I will assume Muzzle is named after me and I am flattered ;)

Gosh the end of the trial scene should not have been funny but it really was. The Big Rider is getting his Atticus Finch on. He sees Kozu and silently warns her not to do anything. Kozu does a couple backflips onto the stand, then jumps at the forcefield and is knocked unconscious like a moth on a bugzapper. I’m just imagining all the onlookers being like “um what just happened?”

Overall this was interesting, but it felt like the stakes varied a lot. First it seemed like Declan was in a dire position and this was Kozu’s last chance to see him. Then Kozu stunk up the trial, the punishment for which was surely death. But then the guard stepped in and was like “my bad” and that meant both Declan and Kozu were free to go? I know the guard got lobotomized and that was sad, but it still felt like Declan and Kozu got off easy. Also The Big Rider felt like they were going to be important but then they didn’t really affect the story.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
In please!

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 524 Entry

You Wouldn’t Steal a Car
In Victoria, corresponding with pirates is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment.
942 Words

Jeremy had 418 subscribers to his skateboarding YouTube channel and was pumped as hell to get two more. At 10:00 he posted to Insta saying “hopin to hit the big fo twinny tomorrow! Working all night on a fresh vid. Passin the time by watchin the new FFX movie. Aint in theaters yet so i just downloaded it #FastX #FastAndTheFuriousTen #FastTENyourSeatbelts”

He clicked past the warnings from the sketchy website. The video quality was trash, but Vin Diesel and Jason Momoa gave him all the energy he needed. His eyes turned to gravel as he worked all night, editing his sweetass kickflip montage. He finally posted it just before 2am and promptly passed out.

Jeremy woke up at 8:20, hella stoked. He reached over and yanked his phone from the charger. The gently caress…. There were no icons at the top of his screen. No push notifications at all. Nothing from YouTube, messages, socials.

He opened up his texts to most recent. Last night Taylor had messaged him, “sup brah when the new video hit?!?”. Jeremy had messaged back “just launched and this poo poo is 🔥🔥🔥lmk asap wut u think”. All night, and no response.

poo poo what if I didn’t make the video live? Jeremy panicked as he mashed his laptop power. He had a whole celebration planned that afternoon for getting those last two subscribers and he’d feel like a dumbass if he didn’t hit it. He pulled up YouTube and


It didn’t make any sense. He wasn’t logged in an alt. Nothing had been flagged for content. He lost every single subscriber overnight.

Desperate, he turned to the Gram for some sort of explanation. He checked his post from the night before. Zero likes. Zero comments. He checked his profile. Zero followers. What the actual gently caress?!?

Jeremy pulled up messages again. “Taylor! wtf is happening, man?!” He watched as the little checkmark in the corner changed to Taylor’s profile pic. He waited. No dots. “Taylor what the gently caress man are you seriously leaving me on read?!?” The little checkmark again morphed into Taylor’s face, but no dots appeared.

One after another Jeremy spammed all his friends and it was all the same. Left on read. No reply. No reactions. He posted to all his socials, begging for any kind of answer. He checked his friends’ feeds. Ashton posted around 7:30am: “sux 2 lose a friend but 10 years is a long frickin time #NotWorthTheRisk”. Is that about me? Around the same time, Jace wrote “U were the Vin Diesel to my Momoa, but ya shoulda known better #TalkLikeAPirate” What the actual gently caress is happening?!

Jeremy took a deep breath and considered his mantra. What would Dominic Toretto do? Instantly he could hear the answer in Vin Diesel’s gravelly voice. Family! Family is everything. Jeremy grabbed his keys and phone and ran out the door.

His neighbor with the dorky hat didn’t wave back to him. No one made eye contact with him as he walked down the sidewalk. No one sat by him at the bus stop. When he boarded the bus and took his seat, everyone around him moved. He rode in silence, choking back tears.

He finally made it to his mom’s little house by the beach. He ran up to the door, desperate for her love and advice. He rang the doorbell and knocked and knocked. Finally the frilly curtain on the door window parted. His mom’s eyes were red and puffy. He called through the door, “Hey Ma, sorry to drop by with no warning but I really gotta talk to you.” She didn’t respond. She looked so serious. She didn’t move to unlock the door. “Ma, what’s going on? You’re not gonna let me in?!”. His mom held one hand up to the window, tears welling up in her eyes. She shook her head. She glanced up and down the street before mouthing the words “I love you Jeremy. Goodbye.” Then she closed the curtains and Jeremy could hear her muffled sobs through the door.

He stumbled down to the shoreline. He sat in the sand and cried, his whole body convulsing. He was completely alone, adrift. He checked his phone but of course there weren’t any messages, updates, or alerts of any kind. He knelt down, and pounded his fists in the sand until his knuckles bled.

Suddenly the beach trembled as a massive ship came ashore. The chunky wood part was painted red, just like Toretto’s Mazda RX-7 in the very first race against Brian in The Fast and the Furious. It had several sticky uppy bits that had big black sails, all branded with a skull and crossbones. It had cannons poking out the side and rowdy pirates singing and laughing on board. A rope ladder came down and a bunch of Johnny Depp looking motherfuckers climbed down and ran toward him, waving their curvy swords.

“Do ye be Jeremy, lad?” The smelliest pirate demanded. Jeremy wiped the snot from his nose and nodded, cherishing the sound of someone speaking to him. “Well sounds like yer one of us now. Arrr ye ready to join us and sail the seas?”

Jeremy stood. The smelly pirate held out a curvy sword to him. He glanced at his phone. Still nothing. He looked to the smelly pirate and smiled. He stepped toward the shore and threw his phone as hard as he could into the water. Taking the curvy sword, Jeremy said “I’m ready to live my life a quarter league at a time.”


Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 526 Crits - A Total Freakshow

The Planter
There was quite a bit going on in this story. There was this historic, plant-filled house. There was Fion[n]a, an aspiring comedian. There was the Dad, dying and making his plans to be memorialized in stone. There was the Daughter-Father relationship, as she navigates the loss-but-not-loss of her father, as she was left this huge house and all it entails. Then later there was the relationship between Fion[n]a and June.

There were elements of all those things that I found engaging. But ultimately I didn’t feel like they all blended together well. It felt like each thing was trying to make the story about itself. And the “mutant” part was sort of lost and ultimately maybe didn’t affect the plot all that much? If the Dad had just passed away the story would have been much the same.

I think you could have really honed in on the idea of someone choosing to turn themselves to stone instead of dying, and look at how that affects their loved ones struggling with the emotional burden of the loss, but also the physical burden of now having a giant human boulder in their house. But as-is it felt like the plants were the biggest focus? I got a little lost trying to set the scene and figure out what I was supposed to care about the most.

Sparkle the Soccer Horse or All Praise to The Eye
I like the overall concept/arc of this story. I like what happens and why and how bizarre it is and how it sort of resolves. There are some clunky things along the way though.

In the initial setup, I thought that only Nancy’s horse was mutated. Something about the setup, and the question “But why the horse?” That seemed to imply to me that the horse was the one affected, like the cursed cost for something good.

I liked how you conveyed the idea of The Eye sort of taking over their minds and making them think of (or forget) things they didn’t have control over. But when it’s first sort of brought up, in the paragraph beginning with “This is some bullshit right here”. I got a little lost. It was sort of a flashback that happened mid-train of thought and it just got a little murky.

The other thing that felt a little off for me was when Henry told Nancy about her horse. There was a bit setup like “Oh no I don’t want to have to tell her, she’ll be so upset.” But then he didn’t try to warn her or ease her feelings. He was just sort of like “Hey Nancy, come look at this” and it didn’t really feel authentic or establish their relationship.

It took me way too long to remember that boot means trunk. So I spent the first part of the story picturing a little creature inside a foot boot. This is not your fault, obviously. Just wanted to share because it was a funny image and I am dumb.

I liked this! The relationships were clear, the arc made sense, the story was interesting. It feels a bit more like an origin story than a standalone story, but it’s still solid.

I did have some questions at the end, like where did he get a backpack full of cash? Even if I had invisibility and teleportation I’m not sure where I could find a backpack of cash on short notice. It wasn’t a problem, narratively-speaking, that I didn’t know. But the ending is the part that made it feel the most origin story-ey. He gets mutant powers, but we don’t actually see it. We don’t know the ramifications of him letting the creature free. And the second-to-last sentence hints that someday something is going to go down between Michael and his Dad. And it’s fine that all of that isn’t in this story. But I can’t help but feel like all of that might have been a more interesting story than the car ride.

Forgotten Toys
I mostly like the intro, but the “Or they would have been…” threw me. I know it was meant to undo/subvert the “dear” in “dear departed dad”. But it felt like it was undoing the whole first sentence. So after the second sentence I was like “Wait, are they in an attic or not?”

Ooh I didn’t know the word gewgaws and I like it.

This story was great. I liked it a lot. It felt a little more “magic” or “curse” or something than “mutant”, but whatever.

I thought the pacing was really good, the imagery was clear, and the characters/relationships all made sense to me. It was bizarre but somehow charming.

I was really into a lot of the visuals and descriptive language in the attic. I thoroughly understood the vibes of the space, and I could see everything clearly. It gave major House on the Rock vibes, if you’ve ever been there. But like if the House on the Rock guy wasn’t ridiculously rich, and was just a regular poor eccentric hoarder like the rest of us.

I like the twist that the mom didn’t disappear, but became mouselady! That was cute. I like how the family members’ relationships are described. It’s very clear, which is tough to do in a way that’s not like so many breakfast scenes of tv pilots that are like “Hello big sister, remember how our parents died a year ago?”. I do like the implications that when their mom was around, she sort of kept him happy and reigned in his conspiracy theory-ness. Though I wonder if it would be more impactful (but maybe more cliche?) if he only had a passing interest in that stuff before she disappeared, but her unexplained disappearance propelled his descent into conspiracy theories. I know if my partner suddenly vanished I would just permanently move into some rabbit holes.

Edited to Add: I didn't know this story was yours when I wrote the above crit, so I do in fact know that you've been to House on the Rock. I stand by my last sentence though; if something mysterious happened to you I would fully become a cryptid-hunting cryptid.

The Sounding of My Voice
Hmm. Well. That made me.. uncomfortable? I’m sort of still processing it. I mean, it’s definitely a piece that has some shock value (I’ve never read a story that says “peehole” so many times). But I’m not sure if the shock value was sort of in service to the story? It was just strange that it was like:

1. I have a magic finger!
2. Cure my peehole
3. Cure Richard’s peehole (maybe there’s something wrong with it?)
4. Cure the internet of all peeholeyness?

I don’t know, maybe I’m not smart enough for this story, or maybe I’m just not internetty weird enough. I tend to latch onto stories based on characters, relationships, and imagery. The characters in this were unpredictable, and kept acting/reacting in ways I didn’t expect. The relationship felt off. And all the imagery was very linguistically complex, but in a way that felt more poetic than narrative.

weirdo fish guy
Oh noooooo I’ve been dreading reading this one because I am terrified of fish and even more so of fish people. But okay I’ll read it now and try not to be scared.

Okay yep the fish stuff was horrifying but I still kind of liked this. I like the sort of surreal implications that these gills appeared out of nowhere, Clyde just sort of lol-shrugged at them, and then the story ended with him just laying on the ocean floor for a few weeks. Maybe the gills weren’t real and the loss of Harry was too much for Clyde?

This did a good job of having plot action propelled by the weird gills and fish stuff, but really being a story about Harry and Clyde’s relationship and the pain of the loss. It was nice and odd and sad and sweet.

The Metamorphosis (IRL)
Great opening. I knew right where we were and what was happening. It was punchy and interesting.

I thought Greg’s slow descent into nothingness over the course of the story was very well done. It was interesting to watch him get increasingly apathetic about his work, and increasingly buggy. I wish he had just a smidge more passion for his work at the beginning, just to help the contrast as he loses that motivation. We’re told that he needs the money, and that he wants to help the company be more successful. But I wish we just had a little bit more of what drives him, because that makes it more interesting when it goes away.

The relationship between Greg and Jeff is pretty unclear at the beginning, so it gets increasingly unclear as Greg gets buggier.

I wish there was a break of some sort before the final paragraph. In that one, the POV shifts to Jeff, so it’s odd to have it directly follow with no transition (especially since Jeff and Greg’s names aren’t all that different).

I’d be curious what you think this setting does to recontextualize Kafka’s story enough to justify a retelling.

I really liked the concept and framing of this story, as the POV of basically a side character in a superhero/villain story.

The direct address in this “There was a documentary…. Don’t watch it.” was a little bit jarring and made me wonder who the reader is supposed to be? Another character? Actually the whole story felt a bit like the moment where a character gets on TV and is like “hey this person isn’t bad, they’re just misunderstood!” and I almost found myself wanting either more or less.

If more, I wanted more clarity of who this person is talking to, and why they’re telling this story defending Marcus. A sort of framework for why they feel the need to speak up about him.

If less, I wanted this to be more personal. Less focus on Marcus, and more about how this has affected the POV character and their life. As-is, they have very little agency in the story, so it doesn’t feel like their story.

The third paragraph needs some cleaning up. There are some typos and grammatical weirdness. It also flows strangely and I wasn’t always sure what was happening.

Kiddo and the Bull
Overall I thought this was a very charming, zoomed-in personal story. I liked the framework.

I liked the beginning, how you started right in the middle of something happening, but immediately established what was going on and what happened immediately before the story started.

There were some stylistic variations I found distracting. There were a couple moments that briefly made it feel like you were going for a storytelling vibe. “Like I said, my grandfather was a hundred and twenty-five pounds soaking wet”. I feel like you could have reiterated how small he was in a less direct-address kind of way. After it there’s the moment of “But I’m getting ahead of myself”, which also felt weird. But then the rest didn’t feel very storytelling-y to me, so those moments just felt really out of place. Especially since the viewpoint was as a child, but then the last line of the story implies this is being told later. Overall it may have a more convincing voice if it all felt from the perspective of a (current) child.

I feel like if someone lived on a ranch and is so strong they genuinely can’t tell how heavy things are, there’s no way they could keep that a secret. I’m not saying that’s a problem with the story, I’m fine with that much hand waving and suspension of disbelief. But the grandma in this story must be the least observant person of all time.

Good Boy
The setting for this story was interesting, but there wasn’t much in the way of arc/growth/change for the POV character. They didn’t really do much? They call in FEMA, but that’s sort of it. Things just happen around them, but they don’t affect or observe those things in an interesting way.

This story felt unedited, very much like a first draft. The pacing was strange, the sentence structures were rambly, and the language was simple (and sometimes repetitive). For example, you say “off” and “wrong” and “odd” a lot. I found myself wanting more evocative imagery or examples.

Ten Feet
I liked this! It was a very personal and introspective story, but in a way that contextualized and propelled the action/setting. I liked the sort of dual training that Dynamo is doing. He’s rehabilitating his body, but he’s also mentally checking himself to make sure he stays nice, and doesn’t get mean or bitter. You do a good job of conveying how he still feels compelled to maintain the superhero persona, even in his current state. Though you do say “boomed” quite a bit.

I do wish a little bit more happened in this story, or we had a clearer sense of where it was going from here. It felt like one segment of an emotional journey of growth, but it was too zoomed in on the timeline for us to see the curvature.

True Name of the Sun
Hmmm. This story went places I didn’t like.

The story starts out from the perspective of The Sun, which was interesting. But then it just sort of shifts to Mary’s perspective at some point? Which is decidedly less interesting because she doesn’t know what’s going on, past or present.

I’m fine with the fact that Mary has traumatic amnesia. It doesn’t matter much to the story where she came from or how she got in the desert. It was a little weird though that Norman told her she had amnesia right after Mary said her name. It made me think somehow he knew that wasn’t her name? But we have no reason to think it isn’t.

I was pretty interested in the story until we met Dr. Exposition. Then it was a bit of a slog while he explained the entire setting to her. But up until that point I did like the story and the setting, and Norman’s character.

Then it suddenly ended with the revelation that Mary’s life was now just going to be rape and forced pregnancy. It felt unearned and distressing, like it was used more for shock value than furthering the plot. It didn’t feel like a twist or a dark ending, just a hosed up way to dump a bunch of heavy scary feelings on the reader. Honestly it undid anything I liked about the story.

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