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Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Crits for Week #544

Crits from notes done in judgemode

Today, I'm going to talk about each story's title. They're your first impression and last thoughts, so in general make them count.

The Legend of Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah:

The title makes me think of, well, foursomes, not necessarily in the Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice sense, but in the 4 job festival sense too. But it's a waste when none of those characters appear in the story.
Sheep are pretty heavy. Competent prose but utterly empty and shallow.

Is John in Over His Head?:

This title works well, a solid play on the association between JTB and heads.
Okay opener
 You don't need both a section break and a bolded establishing line. One is sufficient. Cute punchline, if a bit unrelated.

A Christmas Adventure:

A very generic title. A little weird by the end, since it really isn't so much.
A complicated mess of an opening sentence. But this is a pretty fun story, up in the high group.

Escape from Follansbee:

Another generic title, one that didn't add much at all.
Okay opening.  Don't like the second paragraph, the numerals or the exposition. Do I need to resume my crusade against semicolons in narrative prose? Also, 'also' usually has a comma after. I read the archive version, which may have had some omissions that the edit fixed. Takes a weird turn, but sure. Tough prompt. But an okay job ay it.


An okay title, does a little cyberpunkish evocation.
Strong opening. But the followup disappoints, a lot of procedurals without doing much more for stakes or character.

For the Trees:

Just a bit above generic for this title. If anything, it's evoking the front half of the saw, can't see the forest, and that doesn't pay off strongly.
Solid prose. I think it pulls back a bit from horror at the end, when horror is the best way to make that story's ending work. High.

A Fishy Solution:

The title is interesting enough. 
Competent, but still mostly predictable even without knowing anything about the source story.

Goodbye, Hello:

Another one where the title didn't do much for the story.
Okay opening. Edit notes, lol. But I like this one. It really delivered the youth councilor energy.

Faith and Family:

A fitting if a bit generic title.
Good opening. Loud signal of source. Everything is on the nose this week, dropping the word technicolor was a bit too cute.

Balam Noson and his Donkey:

Like the story, the title is accurate to the source but doesn't add much.
Cute. Again, on the nose and predictable, but nothing else wrong with it.

The Temptation of Josh:

This is one of the stories that made me want to do titles in these crits. Because it would probably work better with a different title. It fits, but it completely gives away the game. With some other title this could be almost subtle. 

The Parable of the Fox and the Lions:

This is another source-accurate but not adding much title, and the story is similar but at least has an interesting voice.
Okay opening. Not a fan of the dear reader bit. But I seriously liked this one.


Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Also, in with double flash.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Thranguy posted:

Also, in with double flash.

Gift: A coil of sturdy rope
Tax: Sanity. Something in the wilderness is pushing your characters toward the edge of madness.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

In. Give me both the things. If I can't get lost in real trees right now, I might as well do it with words.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

a friendly penguin posted:

In. Give me both the things. If I can't get lost in real trees right now, I might as well do it with words.

Gift: An owl's protection
Tax: Energy. The environment is exhausting your character(s) in some way.

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Hello I am IN please and thank yooooou

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

Week 545 Crits

Some Roads Lead From Rome by Admiralty Flag

The one where a wealthy Roman failson makes a name for himself and his hubris leads to him getting imprisoned.

Classic story structure with not much more to it. It was pleasant enough. I don't know if the dry, autobiographical voice helped it or hurt it. Sometimes it made the personal details pop out in a kind of jarring way, as opposed to a way that made them seem humanizing. The mandatory opening line was the best part of that first paragraph, imo. 6/10

Love, War, and Other Acts of Superiority by Albatrossy_Rodent

The one where the fork gets revenge on the dish for running off with the spoon.

I’m on record as not enjoying stories involving torture, so already this has got a lot of work to do to make me want to read it. Leaning into the absurdity of your genres helped a lot to lighten the unpleasantness. The use of the word “diddle” as a stand in for “gently caress” was pretty funny once and got less funny as it went. A good use of the first line though. 6/10

The Last Mariner of Port Kirney by Beezus

The retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice in the form of Lovecraft

This snared me from the first line and kept me attached. I genuinely enjoyed it. It was creepy and satisfying on both the romance and the eldritch horror fronts. It makes me want to run a Delta Green campaign.

The Veil of Veronica by Tibalt

The one where a vampire tries to steal a sacred relic.

I was shocked by how much I liked this. It was pure camp, embracing its own absurdity and refusing to not have fun at its own expense. It probably would have been better had it abandoned some of the vampire LARPer stuff and embraced more of the medieval setting, but you leaned into that bad first line in a charming way.

Hostile Work Environment by Dicere

The one where some guys on a Mars terraforming project refuse to let some other guys into their habitat because they are Chinese.

The non-combat action and motives were extremely muddy, which made the combat jump out. That was cool. Microgravity hand-to-hand is cool. Everything else was not quite so cool. I feel like there was a lot of wasted space in this story that could have been used to give people more concrete motivations and interests. You also probably could have seriously cut down on character count, there were too many guys with ranks and first and last names, it made it hard to understand who, exactly, was being The Bad Guy here.

Better than Fire by Thranguy

The one where an invisible immortal reveals how he stole a name from the creator of the world back when the gods were first formed.

This was so good, but the end was a total wet fart that told me a lot about things that I wanted to be shown. Like, I want to see this sucker negotiating with a god! I want him to realize the trick and get mad! As it is, it’s just a (admitedly cool) piece of lore with nothing really to attach to it.

My Kingdom, and a Horse by sebmojo

The one where a guy gets chased down by a lovely wizard prince and winds up getting the girl in the end.

Amusing, enjoyable, genuinely fun. Not Great Literature but I had fun reading it. I do find that the sequences of action got kind of muddled, partially due to the narrator’s voice being so snarky. It was hard to tell where reporting began and opinion ended. But that could just be me being a not particularly good reader, honestly.

Into The West by cptn_dr

The one where a security guard finds a SECRET LAB and gets killed.

This is the opening to what could be a kind of cool “how-catch-em” space detective story. It’s also my favorite spin off of the first line. It’s a pity nothing really happens in the story itself. I agree with the other judges here: a touch too ambitious for flash fiction.

Love of the Game by Chairchucker

The one where a guy plays poker, gets invited to a high roller table and then ????

Unfortunately this one kind of never had a chance. The beginning seemed irrelevant and the ending was baffling. I don’t really understand the takeaway. What’s going on with the last line? Am I suppose to know who Ulric and Jortan are? Re-reads have revealed nothing to me, other than This Guy Sure Does Like Playing Poker.

Fish and (Dead)chips by BeefSupreme

The one where a cyberpunk detective takes a job that reveals some ultra awful nasty stuff happening to kids apparently

This was pretty good! I feel like the end was abrupt, which is a common TD complaint, but I also feel like there was some fat to be trimmed in the beginning that would have let you expand on some things toward the end. Specifically the repetitions of “For real? No fish?” “For real. No fish.”

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Signups are now closed.

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

1,287 / 1,400 words
Gift: Close Friends
Tax: Privacy - something is always watching

Larry dropped his weight back and strained, arms burning with the dead weight until Kyle’s sneakers finally found a half-hearted purchase. One last heave brought him over the edge and the two men fell - one forwards, one back - onto the rocky rise. The sun was high above them, with the thin pines offering little protection - just the judgmental glare of the ever-present crows - so the hot stone scorched the back of Larry’s neck. He didn’t move - while Kyle scrambled immediately into scant shade - except to take a sip from his water pack.

“drat thing got taller,” Kyle panted. “You never said it got taller.”
“Hill’s the same,” Larry said with a smile, “you’re just older. You should come out more often, you know, there’s -”
“- over 200 miles of trails in this park alone,” Kyle finished. “Pass. This trail’s fine - ‘sides, I came out for Kerry’s thing.”
Larry purposefully did not point out that Kerry’s 30th had been in the picnic area by the carpark, or that it had been over a year ago.

“You hungry yet?” he asked after another sip.
“‘Yet’?” Kyle laughed. “Don’t worry about me - got my famous trail mix right here.” The sound of a rustled ziploc reached back two decades and pulled a memory forwards. “Got GORP for days. Gummy bears -”
“- Oreos and Reese’s Pieces.” Larry groaned. “Oh god, don’t tell me you brought flat Pepsi too.”
“Opened a bottle last night just for you.”
“drat it,” Larry said with a smile, “you remembered.”
“Hell yeah, I remembered.” Kyle tossed a plastic bottle towards him and it hit the rocks by his head. It was warm to the touch and when he tasted it, Larry found it lacked the appeal of youth or the bitter taste of stolen rum.

“Nosy buggers, aren’t they?”
Larry looked up from the sickly sweet drink just in time to see Kyle whip a pebble into the branches above. One crow hopped half-heartedly to the side but the pebble otherwise went clattering into the undergrowth.
“Hey, what the gently caress?” Larry chucked the bottle back at Kyle who caught it, the cap coming loose and spilling sticky syrup across the ground. “Cut that out!”
“Relax!” Kyle dropped the bottle and a handful of pebbles, his face twisting. “It’s just a stinking bird!”
“And what’s it ever done to you?”
The steady sense of calm that Larry had built, brick-by-brick and step-by-step, over the past two hours began to crumble.
“It’s staring at me, that’s what! poo poo, I thought the one good part about coming out here would be nobody staring at me! Don’t it drive you nuts being out here, all them creepy eyes following you?”

Larry glanced upwards and immediately felt annoyed with himself for humouring the idea. Twenty years of hiking and he’d never given the birds much thought except when they stole his sandwiches. He said as much to Kyle.

“Well, I hate it,” Kyle said. “Judgemental assholes.”
“They’re just birds,” Larry said, focusing on the ground under his legs.
“gently caress if I have to explain myself to you,” Kyle replied.
“To me?” The annoyance slipped through Larry’s guard before he could stop it.
“Yeah, you.” Kyle kicked up a cloud of dust and pine needles. “You and Kerry and Ray.”
“Well, poo poo,” Larry said through gritted teeth, “not like you just named your three oldest friends or anything.”
“Some friends,” Kyle muttered. He sank back against one of the trees, his face red and thunderous. “You don’t want nothing to do with me. After Sheila left -”

“No!” Larry’s patience snapped and the rising annoyance flashed to anger. “Whatever you were gonna say, forget it! We have been nothing but patient. The nights in, the movie marathons - that goddamn intolerable beer pong tournament! We’ve been there for you, man, but we have lives of our own and they tend to take place outside the four walls of your goddamn apartment!”

Kyle’s face went slack and for a few seconds he just flopped his mouth. “Well, I’m sorry,” he eventually managed, “if my life is so goddamn boring to you.”


Larry’s shout echoed through the trees, startling a few of the nearer crows who turned to watch with renewed interest. His heart was beating harder than he’d ever felt it on a hike, his face was on fire and his vision had narrowed to focus on that goddamn rear end in a top hat Kyle.

“You spend sixteen hours a day on the sofa watching ESPN and the other eight hours dreaming about it! You’ve never met a delivery driver you didn’t think was spitting in your food! You see a car crash on the news and somehow you’re the victim! That’s not a life, that’s a life sentence! And the worst of it is, this happens every single time you get dumped.”

Larry rose, buoyed up by anger.

“We reach out, we pick you up and then two weeks later you’ve fallen down again and it’s starting to seem like you do it on purpose!”

“Oh boo-loving-hoo,” Kyle growled, “it must be so hard being friends with me. I’d hate to keep you from being out here in all this fresh air. Why the hell did you drag me along anyway? Couldn’t stand the thought of not peering over my shoulder all day? I don’t need the great outdoors! I don’t need two hundred miles of trails and I sure as hell don’t need to be watched by loving birds all the time!”

He scooped a handful of dirt and threw it at the nearest crow but the wind just blew it back in his face, leaving him spluttering and coughing. Larry couldn’t help but laugh and then, suddenly, Kyle was on him in a dusty, snotty whirlwind of kicks and punches. The two of them tumbled over and over, the world rolling around Larry as he kicked and punched in return. His water pack split under him, one eye was full of dust and adrenaline burned every one of his veins white-hot, scorching out any thought - until the ground shifted under him and suddenly was gone, leaving only empty air.

He dangled backwards over the edge of the rise, sky and trees and crows and Kyle - one eye bruising and his face caked with snot-mud - towering over him. His weight pinned Larry’s legs - and by extension, Larry - to the ground. His chest heaved in and out in great, weary sighs. Above him, a murder gathered.

“gently caress you,” he croaked.
“gently caress you.” Larry tried to spit at him but gravity just brought it back down in his face.

Kyle grunted. Then the grunt turned into a laugh and Larry couldn’t help but join in. Eventually - and carefully - Kyle rolled off of him and helped him up, until the two of them were sat on the edge of the rise, shoulders almost touching. The crows dispersed - for the most part - and in time, a ziploc appeared. Kyle tried to spoon the crushed, melted mess into his mouth with his fingers but quickly stopped, a look of disgust on his face.

“I’m sorry, I …” he began.
When Kyle’s voice trailed off, Larry sighed. “You always are.”
“Is it worth it?” Kyle gestured to the valley below them, the long expanse of pine trees disappearing into the distance. “Whole lot of work and pain just to end up right back where you started.”

Larry thought it over for a few minutes. He was sweaty and sore and it was another two hours back to the head of the trail. An hour after that, they’d be trapped within their respective four walls again.

“Well,” he said, slowly and wearily, “it beats doing nothing. And sometimes the company’s worth it.”

Jun 23, 2022

It's a puzzle.
Week 546 Entry
Ramrod the Rhinelander
817 words

I am a little bulldog named Ramrod, and I have never been hiking before but I think I will like it. Meanie adopted me just yesterday, specifically to go on this hike with him. I do not believe his name is actually Meanie, but I don’t know what it is and he is quite mean to me so I call him Meanie. He does not call me by my name either even though he does know it. He just calls me Dog. But not in a nice way.

Meanie was also going to adopt my friend Barbados to go on the hike with us. Barbados looks a lot like me, except his tail is black. Meanie got big mad when he saw Barbados’s black tail. He said he only needed all-white bulldogs. He has not noticed the brown spot on my belly so I am keeping it secret.

. . . .

We have been hiking for a long time and my little bulldog legs are tired. Meanie isn’t slowing down. He does not have a nice leash for me like in the pictures. My leash is ropey and scratchy and I do not like it. I think Meanie thinks if I am not on a rope I will run away but it is too scary. The ground is pokey and the air smells like dirt and death and the birds say mean things.

_ _ _

Meanie finally stopped walking and he tied my scratchy rope to a tree. The tree is next to a little clear area. Meanie is wandering around setting up doodads and picture things. He keeps muttering to himself but he will not talk to me at all. I hear words like “finally” and “proof” but I am confused so I am watching a caterpillar instead. The caterpillar is on my tree. He started at the ground and then he climbed up and up and up the tree. I do not think I could climb a tree like that and it impresses me.

_ . .

Meanie has a soft little human house that looks comfy and warm but it is for humans only. So I, Ramrod the little bulldog, have to sleep on the icky brown ground tied to the tree with scratchy rope. I do not like hiking and camping yet but I am sure I will learn to like it. Though Meanie says I will not be around for long and I do not know what he means.

. _

Oh oh no big oh no. There are big sounds. Big scary sounds. Snuffle-uffles and growls. Something big. I whine and whine but Meanie is just telling me to shut up. The big sounds are getting closer, and the big smells too. It smells like moss and slime and scariness. It’s so close now and a great big branch breaks near my tree and knocks down one of Meanie’s doodads. It makes a big crash and I can see Meanie scrambling in his human house to get out.

But oh no something is passing right by. It’s going straight to Meanie. It is big. Much bigger than a bulldog. Bigger than the soft human house. Big scary Monster and it is sharp and has smells. It is ripping up the human house. It is too dark to see. But I can smell and the smells are big bad. I can smell why Meanie is screaming and screaming. I am big scared now and I am trying and trying to run away and scratchy rope hurts bad. Meanie is not screaming anymore. All the parts of him are there but they are empty and wet. Monster can smell me I know it. Monster is leaving where Meanie was. Monster is coming toward me. I bite and chew at scratchy rope but I can’t get away. Monster comes toward me slowly. Monster is snarling and growling. Monster is so close now and I do not know what to do. I lie on the ground and show Monster my belly. I show Monster I am little and submissive and I am not scary and I will not hurt Monster. Monster looks at my belly and changes. It stops snarling and making Monster noises. It looks at scratchy rope and also at my ouchy neck. Monster comes very close to me and shows me its very very sharp teeth. It bites with very very sharp teeth at the scratchy rope and it falls off the tree. Monster then leaves. It turns around and walks away through the trees. It leaves me here with the torn up human house and the torn up Meanie. After it passes some trees I cannot smell Monster anymore.

_ _ .

The sun comes up over my favorite big hill of trees. The air is cloudy and it smells like morning and fresh and tallness. The birds are saying mean things but I know now that is just how they say hello.

Aug 22, 2022

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.

Beezus posted:

Gift: A camp stove
Tax: Morale. The mood is low.

The Mountain Hare
1381 words

As the last rays of daylight crept below the tree line, a furry brown creature bounded across the campsite. It was a mountain hare, its nose quivering inquisitively as it sniffed around for leftover morsels. Unbeknownst to the poor creature, danger was close by.

A slight rustling caused the hare to freeze up immaculately like a statue, its ears pricked up and its whiskers still. The sound of a rifle being fired was the last the animal heard, and without so much as a scream, it perished instantly, the bullet cutting cleanly through its skull.
Arlo stepped forward to examine his prize, lifting the hare up by the ears. "We got ourselves some dinner," he hollered at his teenage son.

Scuttling meekly behind his father, Timothy tried to mask the disappointment on his face. Hare for the sixth meal in a row, he thought to himself in disdain. The animal's dead eyes stared hollowly back at him.

They had been out here for days already, father and son, on a wild goose chase that Arlo had insisted on. He believed there was a cryptid up in these mountains, something akin to the Sasquatch, and when none of the townsfolk in the valley believed his tall tales, he swore he'd bring back evidence with his own two hands. After all, it had to be a monster behind all of the mysterious kidnappings as of late. In the past year, five residents had vanished during their morning jogs, their afternoon walks, or their late-night drives, and there was no rational pattern the local law enforcement could discern. Arlo, the deputy sheriff, had proposed the most absurd theory the town had ever heard, and yet he was determined to prove himself right.

Timothy had never agreed to go on a monster hunt with Arlo, but when he was told to pack his bag and get in the truck, he obeyed without question. He never went against his father's orders, even if it was against his preference. After all, his opinion didn't matter much in the end. Obediently, he had loaded up a rucksack with some camping supplies, clambered into the pickup truck, and away they had driven.

The muggy summer evening passed uneventfully as they cooked the hare over their handy camping stove for the sixth time in three days. Timothy swatted away mosquito after mosquito, while Arlo babbled on about the Sasquatch and how he was going to shoot it and bring its head back to town as a trophy, not even noticing that his son had already tuned out. It was only further proof to the boy that Arlo enjoyed the sound of his own voice more than anything else, and Timothy found solace in daydreaming as the deputy’s droning prattle became white noise, just like the swarming mosquitoes.

Timothy liked to envision an alternate world, where a hearty meal of deer meat and wild herbs awaited them on the stove and Arlo would ask about his day, about his interests, about his life. He imagined basking in the warmth of a campfire as his father spoke words of encouragement to him. Was it too much to dream that this camping trip could have been a father-son bonding experience, instead of mere child's play for a man whose ego was more inflated than a hot air balloon?

Arlo was built like a bear, tall and muscular, with a bushy beard and large hands that could crush anything if he tried hard enough. He was a commanding figure with a booming voice, and his main point of persuasion had always been his intimidating stature. But everything that the deputy was, his son was not. Timothy was scrawny and slight, and he looked like a strong gust of wind might have easily knocked him down and carried him away. When the town kidnappings began, the deputy's son was the last person they would have suspected.

That night, the rain poured down in torrents. As Arlo snored through the worst of the storm, Timothy lay awake and restless. For some inexplicable reason, the image of the mountain hare was grafted into his mind. In a strange way, he felt a kinship toward it, even though it had become his dinner like the others before it.

As quietly as he could, Timothy slid out of his sleeping back and stood up. Tugging a poncho out of his bag, he slipped it on and glanced at his father: Arlo made no indication of waking. Quietly, the boy picked up a flashlight and snuck out of the tent. The rain drummed rhythmically against his body as he wove through the towering trees, following a path familiar to him illuminated only by the bobbing flashlight in his hand.

After half an hour of trudging through the mud and slushy undergrowth, a small cave in the side of the mountain yawned into view. The teenager darted inside and pulled off his sopping poncho immediately, catching his breath for a moment before proceeding deeper inside. The flashlight cast looming shadows as Timothy pressed onward, and within a few minutes he arrived at a large chamber with a pool of water of varying depth. Stalactites hung dauntingly from above, and a colony of roosting bats chirped in disapproval as the flashlight beam swept across their turf.

Crouching down near the edge of the pool, Timothy dipped a hand in and fished out a human skull. There were minimal traces of organic matter on it, and yet the boy spoke calmly to it. "I'm back," he whispered softly, and with the utmost care, he returned the skull to the water.
Along the edge of the cavernous room lay several bodies at various stages of decayal, many features unrecognizable. The soft tissues had long disintegrated, and bone showed through in some places, but the clothing and any accessories had been left exactly as they'd been.

It was strange to think that Timothy's closest friends were a group of very untalkative fellows, but he didn't mind too much. He could hold up his end of the conversation, and his company would politely listen without commentary. To the teenager, it felt as if they understood him — something his father had never done. "Dad says we're not going home until we take down the Sasquatch," he relayed, his audience mute as the dead often were. "I think he might give up soon, and I'm tired of eating hares."

He took their lack of response as a silent sympathy and sank down to a sitting position across from the corpses. "Sometimes I feel bad for the hares. They scrounge for food, only to end up becoming food for someone else. They're weak animals with no way of defending themselves. They don't know better — if anything, all they know is fear in the last second before they die."

His voice held a note of sadness as it echoed in the room. He let the feeling hang in the air, lingering like the scent of smoke after a fire burns itself out. It was the type of melancholy that held a certain beauty to it, a softness to its darkness. And over the noise of the chittering bats, there was a sound of footfalls.

Thump. Thump.

Timothy continued to talk. "I don't think he'll ever find a Sasquatch, but maybe he'll find a monster anyway. Maybe he will return to the town as a hero, spinning a tall tale about all the things he saw up here, and maybe people will believe him. But he'll never be satisfied."
In a more dejected tone, he added, "I know he'll never be satisfied with me."

Thump. Thump.

His thoughts drifted back to his earlier reverie of an inviting campfire and a warm embrace from his father, something he'd never known.

"I wish he would listen to me the way you do. You’re my only friends."

Thump. Thump.

Like a mountain hare, Timothy remained frozen in place.

He didn't need to turn around to know that Arlo had found him.
He didn't need to turn around to know that there were tears trickling down the deputy’s face, even though the deputy rarely cried.
And he didn't need to turn around to know that his father had finally found the monster he was hunting.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Sensory Overload
1347 words
Gift: An owl's protection
Tax: Energy. The environment is exhausting your character(s) in some way.

As Jonah approached The Forest, he clicked on his sensory log. Sight input: 70%. Aural: only 62%? The screeching kids should’ve set every nerve firing. Touch, taste and smell all less than 30%. His shoulders slumped. He was going to win the bet. “Ari, you said this place was gonna chart.”

Ari whipped her head around, her twisted dreads flopping. “You’re here to be Jonah, not Jo-nerd. Turn off your stats log and enjoy.” She gestured like a game show host at the entrance to the theme park then sprinted between the real, planted-in-the-ground trees.

Jonah ambled after, hands in pockets. He side-eyed the oversized characters greeting gleeful visitors. The turtle ineffectually hugged all comers while the snowy owl loomed, its ineffable expression assessing each entrant as a potential meal. Though Jonah had only seen these trees and animals in histor-e-lectures about the world’s last nature preserves, they failed to rouse his nervous system past his haptic suit’s baseline. Useless.

Ari zoomed back and locked his arm in hers. “What first? Blueberry-chestnut ice cream? Canopy rollercoaster? Staring at those authentic maples? I know!”

She dragged him into a one-room shack where his stats plunged. The walls grew tufts of fur, well-lit cases held rocks, shells and feathers, and clouds of wool sagged above him. Nothing moved or talked or even stunk. Jonah tensed, expecting an explosion. “What’s this?”

Ari ran her hands along the walls and rubbed oyster shells against her face. “The petting zoo,” she sang, wafting a feather at him.

He snatched it from her and pricked his fingers on the tiny barbs.

Then he ate the bland ice cream. Then he closed himself into a dangling basket that hurled him through leaves slower than traveling cross-country. After hours of trailing his best friend across acres of paved boredom with the actual forest fenced-off, he was still understimulated. He’d asked Ari for 100% input or for his brain sensors to light up with new connections and she’d brought him some place that ranked lower than Mathster Mandrill’s Division Dojo.

Jonah plopped onto a bench set between the bathrooms and the chain link fence meant to keep visitors out of the trees while Ari fetched him some confection. He dropped his head back and stared up into the fluttering leaves. Their movements, while minute and repetitive, did have a smoother refresh rate than any game. A rustling in the underbrush just behind his head registered on both his aural and touch inputs. Hmm.

As Ari approached with two caramel apples, he spied a gap between the fence and the restrooms. He hopped up. “Hurry. I know what we can try next.” He squeezed through the hole. The prick of pain as the metal bit into his ankle foretold his success.

“Hey, wait!” Ari yelled and then her footsteps stomped behind him.

Jonah wove between identical tree trunks, tripped through knee-high ferns and mostly avoided getting smacked in the face by low branches. He slowed only when he started sucking for breath. How far did these trees go? Ari barreled into him, knocking them both to the ground.

“What are you doing?” she gasped.

Jonah sat up, looked around and checked his inputs, giving his breathing time to catch up. The leaves still fluttered. The ferns still rustled. But other than the compulsion to up his reps of mandatory calisthenics, his senses remained stagnant. He flopped back down. “Ugh. Let’s go back.”

“And how are we going to do that?” Ari said through gritted teeth. “The in-park GPS doesn’t work for places we’re not supposed to go.”

Jonah scanned for the direction they’d run from. “All these trees look the same.”

“They are the same! It’s a cloned forest not a nature preserve.”

“Message your mom. She can tell the park people. They’ll come get us.”

“And lose my lifetime membership? Huh-uh. We’ll walk until we hit a fence.” She locked his arm in hers again and dragged him back through the broken ferns, mumbling as she went. “Soooo busy running towards numbers in your head to listen to me.”

Jonah shut down the numbers in his head. She was right. They didn’t help. And he was right. Nothing in reality was even close to the sights, sounds and tastes of a round of Resort Sim IX. His suit reproduced the coolness of a banana smoothie with no need to slog through crowds and lines. Though that smoothie didn’t satisfy his belly which rumbled at that moment. “You didn’t bring those apples with you, did you?”

Ari shoved his arm away. “Climb that tree.”

“What? Why?” Jonah eyed the lowest branch.

“Because. We’re. Lost.”

“You said—”

“Ahem!” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before glaring at him. “The sun’s going down.”

The darkening sky created a confusing tangle of tree branches above, crisscrossing like a net. “I don’t—”

“Climb or feel my fist in your face.”

Jonah jumped. His hands slipped off the branch. He ran at the nearest tree and kicked off its trunk, launching himself at a branch like they were coins in MoneyMaker 4D. Missed again, this time falling face down into the dirt. After three more tries, he couldn’t get high enough to touch a branch. And he was out of breath again.

They couldn’t be stuck outside. Where would they sleep? What would they eat? Could something eat him? “Ari…” he whispered.

“Feeling something now?” She tapped her toe.

Jonah did want to run back to his suit. But only to never feel this again. His stomach clenched. His legs and feet throbbed. When the back of his neck prickled, he recoiled against a tree, certain that teeth hovered inches from his skin. “What are we going to do?”

Ari dropped next to him, her back against the same trunk. “I’ll call my mom.”

“Ari, no. You love this place.”

“They probably won’t ban me. Probably.”

“I’m sorry. This was dumb.”

“Does remorse count as a new feeling?”

Jonah opened his mouth to tell her she couldn’t win his Ultra-Cashmere Gauntlet that easily, but a snap from behind them cut him off. They clung to each other as a white shape took form in the darkness, growing larger than the tree trunk. Glowing eyes opened and then fell off the creature’s body.

“What the…?” Jonah said. Then a beam of light blinded him.

“You two want a hit of this?” The voice came from the white blob that Jonah now saw was the snowy owl from the park entrance. Inside was a girl about two years older than him with one braid down her back. Next to her sat the turtle and a beaver, both boys around the same age. They exhaled smoke into the canopy.

“Do we need to turn them in?” the beaver asked, sitting on his tail like a chair.

The girl in the owl suit gave Ari and Jonah the same ineffable look she had at the gate. “Nah, they’ve had it rough enough.”

Jonah looked down at himself, his cheeks reddening at his dirt caked clothes.

“Thanks,” Ari said, accepting the joint. She took a quick puff then offered it to Jonah who didn’t move. She handed it back to the turtle instead. “What’s it like to work here?”

Ari nodded along to every answer, while Jonah only heard the owl’s soft voice explain her appreciation of the joy the park brought. Then there was her crooked smile and the smell of her berry body spray. Too soon, the joint was gone and they led Jonah and Ari out of their wooded seclusion.

Before they closed the door of the employee building on them, Jonah’s stomach clenched again and he blurted, “What, uh, time do you get off?” Noticing he was face to face with the beaver and not the owl, he stammered “I meant…” His face heated up again.

The owl said, “Ten. See you at the side gate.” The door clicked closed.

Jonah turned toward Ari with a goofy grin.

Ari returned the smile. “You owe me one Ultra-Cashmere Gauntlet.”

Oct 6, 2021

Obliteratin' everything,
incineratin' and renegade 'em
I'm here to make anybody who
want it with the pen afraid
But don't nobody want it but
they're gonna get it anyway!

A Sea of Nothing

1054 words

Gift: marshmallows. Tax: wilderness makes no sound

Raymond awakens me from an oddly still sleep. I had just nodded off for a moment on our return journey from Vancouver Island, but I wake to a whole new world.

"Do you see that?" he says, and it's not what I see that unsettles me, but what I don't.

The strait is windless, tideless, waveless, as still as a pond on a gentle night, for miles and miles around Raymond's little sailboat. The stars are mirrored perfect in the silent sea, and there is no way to tell where the water ends and the sky begins.

"That's odd," I say.

"Odd?" says Raymond. "It's drat near apocalyptic."

"When did it happen?"

"Just a few moments before I woke you up, all at once. Like turning off the wave pool at a waterpark."

Raymond is the only man I know in his 60s who seems genuinely interested in dating women his own age. He's spent his whole life cultivating interesting hobbies. He can beekeep, brew beer, play the accordion, and of course, sail. Even for his age, he's not particularly attractive, but I can look past his wraithlike boniness. He takes me on adventures, and we do the things that we were supposed to do for fun when we were younger, and it sometimes makes me feel like I'm in my thirties again.

But not now. Staring out at the black ocean all about us, as still and empty and hollow as death, I feel a hundred.

"How long until we can get back to Vancouver?" I say.

"Darling, I must remind you that this is a sailboat. Without wind, we aren't moving."

"Yeah, duh," I say. "Do we have any oars or anything?"

"Even if we did, I don't know if we'd reach the water from the boat. No. We're gonna have to wait."

Idly, I check my phone, maybe see if there's a news story about some rare weather phenomenon in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, but of course there's no service out here. The clock tells me it's about a quarter past ten.

Raymond rummages through the food bag. "We've eaten all the meals proper," he says. "All that's left is the s'mores we never got to."

I smile. I almost felt a little bad refusing to let us devolve into eating a children's snack the night before. Almost.

"Hersheys?" I say.

"Of course," says Raymond. "It's a s'more."

"Right, and Hersheys is sugared candle-wax. Hand me the marshmallows. I can snack on those."

Raymond tosses me the bag. "Is Stay-Puft really that much more respectable of a brand than Hersheys?"

"Stay-Puft makes marshmallows as good as anyone else, while Hersheys makes the worst chocolates."

He sits next to me, our old legs dangling off the side of the boat. We get to talking about our favorite subject, our divorces. I just have the one and it's scandalous, and he has three, two amicable and one deeply deeply sad. Then we talk about our kids who never call and bicker about whose son is prodigaler. Then complaints about our backs come up, and like all conversations between old people, it all ends up about death.

"I think there's something very strange going on," I say, popping the last marshmallow into my mouth.

"Of course there is," says Raymond.

"No," I say. "It must have been an hour since you woke me and yet…" I show him my phone. "'s still a quarter past ten."

"Ah," says Raymond. "I suppose it's the end of all time."

"All time?" I say. "Maybe it's just the end of ours."

"What do you mean, I crashed the boat and this is our limbo?"

"No, this is clearly not limbo," I say. "If all we have left to eat is Hersheys chocolate, this can only be hell."

Raymond chuckles. "You know what I mean. Death. How do you feel, if this is really it?"

"I suppose there would have been worse ways to spend my final days."

"No," says Raymond. "I'm not talking about the trip. I'm talking about life. If this is it, are you satisfied?"

I shake my head. "No, I don't think so. I think I realized at a very young age that time feels like nothing. Ten years is just as long as a second, in memory, and neither are anything. We don't get to keep the past. The only thing we ever truly have is whatever stupid moment we happen to be living, and in the end, we don't even get to keep that. Do we have any wine left?"

"If you squeeze the bag we might get a mouthful apiece."

"Well what are you waiting for?"

He gets up and rummages through the food bag once more. As he does, he says, "so what you're saying is that, in the end, we're all on a little sailboat in a sea of nothing?"

"Maybe," I say. "But to answer your question, I'm not satisfied, if this is really death. I don't want to die. I never want to die. My one dumb transient, ever-shifting moment, I don't want it to end. Well, it would be rude of me not to return the question, wouldn't it? Are you satisfied?"

"No, and for all the same reasons," says Raymond. "I sometimes wish I was born ten thousand years ago. Then I could just die at age twelve fighting for my father's barbarian blood-god and feel more meaning in every moment than I've ever known in this life. Do you find anything other than emptiness in other people?"

"Sure," I say, then squeeze a little wine into my mouth. "But it's an illusion, isn't it? All the conversations I ever have, all the dumb love I have for my dumb son, all that just exists in that moment, doesn't it, on the proverbial sailboat."

"Okay," says Raymond. "You're right. Can you pretend to be wrong for a moment, and kiss me, and let it mean something?"

"Probably not," I say, and I kiss him anyways, and feel nothing. He's a nice man, and there are times he's made me forget the emptiness, but he can do no such thing now, not anymore, not at the end of of time.

I turn away from Raymond and look out over the stillness.

Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

said I'm never lackin'
always pistol packin'
with them automatics
we gon' send 'em to Heaven
Corpse Reader
Gift: A sentient GPS device
Tax: Time. It does not pass at all in your wilderness.
1,399 Words

Max stood in the alley outside of the hospital and burned two cigarettes down to the filter during his fifteen minute break. In the distance, the city thrummed with discordant energy. Neon light diffused through the permanent haze of fog that permeated the upper echelons of monolithic skyscrapers that airlifts ferried elites to and from. On the ground, clusters of disenfranchised gangers eviscerated one another for control of the city’s decaying infrastructure in perpetual turf wars. The Civil Defense Force would no doubt be bringing in a fresh batch of bodies for Max to analyze. Max’s official title was Human Remains Neuroanalyst, but everyone, including the H.R.N.s themselves, referred to them as ‘Corpse Readers’. With any luck, each of the night’s cadavers would be normal. Vibroblade wounds, implant failures, and overdoses. Each horrible, but predictable, known quantities that Max could understand. No matter the cause, bad things simply happened.

Over the course of a night, Max would probably analyze three or four bodies. If they were fresh enough, he could directly interface with his neural-link concretely identifying the cause of death and perpetrator if applicable. A technician would serve as his tether to his own consciousness while he traversed the dead memories. If a corpse was less fresh, or particularly ruined, the job became a bit more involved. The technicians, using Max’s own brainpower and storage, would create a replication of the deceased’s mind with the corrupt sections of it filled in by highly tuned algorithms and Max’s own deductive reasoning. Max realized that would be the case this evening as he stared down at the pristine body of a young woman who if not for the distant, sunken-in eyes, appeared to be sleeping. Her skin was tinged blue and cold to the touch. She had been kept on ice. As the EMTs finished up the last of their paperwork, he asked where she had come from, to which they offered noncommittal shrugs. “Someone dumped her outside of a hab and that’s when we got the call. She was nearly frozen solid when we first picked her up. No obvious wounds or visible trauma either, so I’m hoping you can work your magic and at least get a bead on who or what happened here.” Max nodded without voicing any concerns and had the body wheeled off for preparation.

Max’s technicians got the analysis room ready as he fortified his mind for another dive into the realm of the dead. He pressed a nodule behind his ear and a thin tube ejected with a glistening wire attached to it. The wire trailed from his head to hers as he guided the tube to a spot at the base of her skull. When finally in place, it bloomed into a network of burrowing needles that perforated the soft tissue of her scalp and drilled through the skull into various sections of grey matter. Max adjusted himself in his seat, made eye contact with the technicians on duty (Stu and Mina), and closed his eyes. The software operated remotely by the technicians plunged Max into the girl’s mind. Although her body registered as dead for at least half a day, the internal structures of her mind remained intact enough for the technicians to salvage a workable scan, likely as a result of the conditions she was kept in.

Normally, Max would be bombarded with extreme emotion. The feelings the individual had at the time of death, or those feelings leading up to it. Whether it be a surge of adrenaline, a pang of terrorized regret, or simply the feeling of fading away. When the artificial world stabilized itself, Max felt none of those things. Instead, he found himself standing at the top of a stony escarpment. Tall deciduous trees that lanced the clear blue sky surrounded him, and he found himself awestruck, lost in the perfect memory of some other time and place, so vastly different than the dystopian world of concrete, decay, and social decline that he’d always known. It wasn’t until a technician spoke that Max remembered who or where he was.

“You alright in there, Max?” Stu said from across the room, managing to sound like a divinity inside the replication.

Max cleared his throat awkwardly before answering, unsure if he actually was alright, and said unconvincingly, “Yeah, I’m fine. All good here.”

“Alright, good,” Mina said. “We’ve identified two anomalous clusters where the data seems to be corrupt. Coincidentally, you happened to load into one. Sorry if it was jarring.”

That explained it. An anomalous memory. A corruption the simulation couldn’t replicate. A pure thought from the hidden spaces between the girl’s hushed synapses. The air was so crisp as to be cool in his lungs, and the sea roared softly as it frothed against the bottom of the escarpment. Birds, actual birds, circled in the sky above him, and at his back was a vast forest that expanded further than he could clearly see. It seemed to offer the promise of something he couldn’t quite place his finger on and he realized that he had stumbled upon some perfect place. Something that had been in a sense desecrated by his being there.

As he rifled around her memories in the pursuit of the gruesome information that the CDF enlisted his aid for, he couldn’t help but see that pure vista at the back of his mind and found himself preoccupied with that paradise even as it became clear this girl was a clone of a clone. A clone so far down the chain of its iterative predecessors that it could hardly be considered human. Identifying who did this to her, who she ‘belonged’ to, was going to be next to impossible. The why was simple; organ harvesting. Undoubtedly, any number of bioengineering firms had the means to produce a clone, and even if you limited that search to corporations that could breed specific types of clones repeatedly, you’d be left with a shortlist of corporate entities that would either ruin you through litigation or off the books extermination by a paid ganger if that proved to be cheaper than getting lawyers involved.

A full autopsy revealed that many organs had been removed from her body, and at the time of death, she appeared to be growing replacements for those that she’d lost. Why she got dumped on the street for the CDF to find was beyond the scope of what Max could answer for and frankly he didn’t care. Bad things happened, but the memories of that simulacrum of a person had left their mark on Max. Had touched something hollow in him.

When the techs had closed down the lab and the girl’s cadaver had seemingly shared all the secrets it contained, Max waited for everyone to leave, then he returned to the morgue under the pretense of work. He pulled her slab from the incineration queue and looked into those distant milky eyes and wondered. Against his better judgment, he pulled a chair up beside her slab and made himself comfortable. He slid his finger behind his ear to the hard spot of artificial flesh and released the connector for his neural-link. It was dangerous to go into a corpse that had been dead this long, especially without the aid of a technician there to guide the reader through a recreation of the mind. The wind that rolled over the sea prickled at his skin in his mind’s eye with the same clarity of the cold metal charnel house he spent his life in, and in that moment he positioned the link back at the base of her skull allowing its wires to needle their way into the girl’s dead flesh.

He gasped as reality tore away into void. After an indeterminate amount of time, if time could be attributed to such a place, he opened his eyes and was back at the escarpment. He found that the city had become a distant island cloaked in dark, undulating clouds. As Max gazed at it, he couldn’t help but be struck by a profound sense of despair. He turned away from the sea to the vast, unyielding forest and briefly began to panic at its alienness, when suddenly, the unnamed dead girl, now a beacon of life, appeared from behind a tree. She offered him her hand, and she led him into that expansive unknown.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Dead Weight

590 words
Gift: A coil of sturdy rope
Tax: Sanity. Something in the wilderness is pushing your characters toward the edge of madness.

"Hold on," I said. Shouted, really. The wind was loud and angry, and I wasn't sure if Connor could hear me at all. "Just hold on."

"Come on, Jake. Who do you think you're talking to?"

I relaxed, just a little, for the first time in eons. For the first time since a few minutes earlier, when I felt the jerk on the line and heard the noises, the crumbling rock beneath me and that sickening crack. A leg? An arm? A bone, that was for sure. I thought about asking, but changed my mind. Better to distract, to deflect.

"Hey, remember Alfie?" I said. "Alfie with the ears, and the, watchyacall. The VW Beetle, the remake version that wasn't much like a real one at all." Connor didn't answer. "I ran into him a few weeks back, outside the Walmart."

"Really? What's old Alfie with the ears up to now?"

"Got a Tesla now," I said. "And a wife too, if you can believe it."

"No kidding?"

"No kidding. He showed me some pictures. Cute girl. Dana Silver. Keri's little sister, I don't know if you ever met her." I glanced down, then steeled myself. "Listen," I said. "I'm going to have to start moving again. Can't hold on here forever, but it's not that far to the next camp. I'm going to have to carry you."

"That'll be a switch. Sure you can handle the weight?"

"I used to climb with kit heavier than you," I said, and started to climb. It was true, but left out two big things. First, that was five years and twenty pounds ago, and second, there's a big difference between seventy five kilos evenly distributed in a backpack and the same weight dangling beneath twenty feet of rope. Every foot was a grunting effort, but what else was I going to do? Fall?

"I bet you're thinking about cutting that rope right now."

"Never," I said.

"Look, if I don't make it, I want you to make sure Magnus gets a good home." Magnus was his dog, a great big friendly mostly Newfoundland mutt. "I know, you can't take him yourself, but find someone. And..."

"What?" I asked, catching my breath between upward moves.

"And you still don't have permission to go sniffing around any of my exes."

I laughed, which turned into a cough.

"Didn't ever stop you," I said. "Remember Pat?"

"Not the same. Pat was a current, not an ex."

"That's worse, though," I said. I remembered that night, Connor wearing his rose courage in his hair and pulling it off. And Pat ditching me for it. "Was it worth it?"

"Every bit."

Then I got to climbing, half-foot by half-foot up the face. The sounds were the wind, my grunts, breath, heartbeat, blood in the head. Up. Up. Up.

The ledge was tricky. Harder to keep balanced and anchored once there's no wall in front. But I managed, rolled onto it and over the rope, then started slowly pulling up. "Just about there," I said. I pulled him up, got a close look for the first time since we started this leg. He had that rose corsage in his hair and a fixed toothy grin, his pants and jackets peppered with tears. I pulled him across the ledge and propped him against the face.

"Don't worry," I said. "I've still got the radio. We'll call it in and won't have to worry about anything but the hospital and helicopter bills."

"Jake. Who do you think you're talking to?"

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

The Last Trumpet
790 words.
Gift: A compass that points toward danger
Tax: Food. It's extremely scarce out there.

“Hey, anyone want the last trumpet?” Rose gestured at the nearly empty chilly bin. They’d been camping at Ruahine for the last week and, privately, she was pretty impressed that the box of ice creams had lasted so long. She looked closer. Oh, right, they were the vegan ones. That made more sense.

Everything else had been eaten, the tents were packed down, and they were all ready for the long hike back to the carpark. Though the weather had been mixed, to say the least, at least things were looking good for today.

“All good?” she yelled out to her friends. “I wanna get going before the sun gets much higher.” Sophie and James looked at her, looked at their tent — scattered around them in untidy piles of poles and fabric — and started packing faster. Rose sighed, and unwrapped the trumpet wolfing down the cold ice cream while she waited for the others to finish packing down. It was actually quite good, she thought to herself, even if it wasn’t actually what she’d been after.


They’d been walking for hours now, following downhill the track they’d hiked in reverse a week ago. The weather, as predicted, was holding out nicely, dappled sunlight filtering through the dense layers of trees and ferns giving the world a cool green tinge. This was all you could ask for, really. Get out of Wellington for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, go for a hike with a couple of mates, crack out the walk shorts that you definitely only bought ironically, drink some beer, eat a surprisingly good vegan trumpet.

The compass star that she had tattooed just below her wrist started to itch. She glanced down. The arrow was pointing straight ahead, due north. That was… unusual. It had always pointed east, hadn’t it? She knew the tattoo like, well, the back of her hand, and she’d swear it pointed east. Was getting heat stroke? She rubbed her eyes, and then her tattoo for good measure, but it was definitely still pointing straight ahead. Maybe this was — what do you call it — reverse déjà vu, something that should be familiar made suddenly unrecognisable.

A noise distracted her, though she was still worrying about her tattoo. They’d just rounded a little crick in the track, and she found herself staring at — and listening to — a creek she didn’t recognise running alongside the track. Jamais vu, that’s what they called it. The creek was choked with some kind of algal bloom and didn’t look healthy. Her water bottle was starting to feel a little light, but she didn’t think she was desperate enough to fill it up here. She wondered what was ahead of them downstream, peering through the bush trying to get a glimpse further down the mountain.

Before she could tell Sophie not to drink from the creek, she saw her friend filling her bottle then swigging deeply from it.
“Soph, are you sure that’s safe?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” replied her friend. Rose shrugged and kept on walking and rubbing her hand. It looked like the needle was pointing at Sophie.

Movement caught Rose’s eye. A bird perched on a tree and furled all of its wings. A really hosed up bird. It opened its mouth and shrieked at her. It almost sounded like it was telling her to not be afraid. Yeah, no worries, mate. She turned to Sophie and James, but they weren’t there anymore. That was probably for the best. She was increasingly sure that they hadn’t actually come down the mountain with her, that her two friends had been replaced while she wasn’t watching — maybe while she’d been eating the trumpet?

She wanted to give up, sink to the ground and sleep. She’d been walking for hours. Days? Nothing was really making sense. There was a bitter taste in her mouth, but she was unspeakably hungry, and she thought she could see stars through the trees above her and around her. Maybe there were glow worms here. She staggered onwards, one foot in front of the other as she trudged towards the car park that was surely nearby. Her compass needle spun aimlessly whenever she looked down at it.

Almost without warning, the trees broke, and she found herself in the carpark. Rose felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, buzzing again and again as message after message poured in now she apparently was back in cell reception. Text messages, Google alerts. Then the horrible high-pitched wail of the emergency warning notification. The cars were covered in ash.

She heard an immense noise, like someone blowing a horn the size of a while, and gates of white fire opened across the sky to welcome her back.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Submissions are now closed.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Word Count: 1400 (?) / 1400
Gift: A loyal dog
Tax: Heat. It's far colder out there than anticipated. Brutally cold, even.

An Infinite Storm of Beauty

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”


Kevin sits in the exposed roots of a lone lodgepole pine, carried along by ancient tectonic shifts until it came to rest in the company of boulders at the top of a sharp granite ridge overlooking a series of alpine lakes. The heavy pack digs at his shoulders, and his calves shout their protest as he rests for a moment from the grueling climb to this spot, but the pain is worth the reverie, sitting here in the benevolent shade of a mountain sentinel. For the first time in days, his heart hammers in his chest for reasons he can process.

Soft panting and the gentle nuzzling of a friendly snout breaks Kevin’s mountain meditation for a moment, and he reflexively reaches his hand out to ruffle Apollo behind the ears. “Hey buddy.” Kevin’s eyes stay locked on a High Sierras landscape so photogenic that Ansel Adams built an entire career taking pictures of it, but Apollo only has eyes for him. He whines when Kevin doesn’t respond to his obvious prompting. “Okay, okay, we’ll keep moving!” Kevin says, chuckling as he stands. Whatever instincts evolution has passed down to the German Shepherd, patience and an appreciation for the grand are not among them.

They descend the ridgeline further into the Desolation Wilderness and skirt the gently slanted shoreline of an unnamed lake drenched in July sunshine. Apollo scouts; Kevin follows. He knows their destination, has traced the path more than once, but the magic trick of the mountains is that each peak hides its treasures until you climb it. He wonders idly as he ascends the slope which of the High Sierras delights sits out of sight, and is thrilled to discover one of his favorites: a pocket forest, nestled between escarpments of granite.

As Kevin and Apollo descend the switchbacks into the assemblage of firs and pines and hemlocks and junipers, he feels the very fabric of the universe shifting. Time has traded places with Space; 23 miles from the highway, Kevin has entered the Crossroads of the Universe. Here, time is marked by physical realities. The wind, mercurial and wild and fleeting, ruffles the needles of pines which mark their lives in centuries. Those same pines grip cracks in the bedrock of a mountain which regards humans as young, and is one of the few things on earth which mankind could not tear down if it tried. His footprints, and Apollo’s, will exist only for the days or weeks that the landscape allots them.

It's this erasure of time that Kevin seeks. To this land of deep contrasts—of summer sun and snow-melt water, of evergreen spires and exposed granite, of azure depths and snow-capped peaks—Kevin adds his own: the glory of God’s paintbrush, and the destitution of human heartbreak. Perhaps here, in the realm of the infinite, Kevin can find the right timeline to reset his biorhythms. Who better to speak to his heart than Mother Nature herself.

The opposite seems to be true, unfortunately. A cut trail meanders through the hidden forest, and as Kevin meanders with it, he tries to keep his mind on the pines. He listens to the buzzing of the bees, the crackle of needles beneath his boots. He watches Apollo dart around trunks, and he listens to the birds speak to each other in a language he’ll never know. But his mind won’t let him forget:

Kira and Kevin is done.

One question, asked on a knee, one answer, given then and there, and Kevin’s forever together had become forever apart. Unasked, the two of them may have continued indefinitely. Asked and answered, there could be no quiet acquiescence. So here he was, on the edge of creation, seeking absolution, and finding only the absence of it.


The first signal is the bitter wind. Nights in the Sierra Nevada mountains are cold, even in summer, but this is different. Kevin awakens to the edges of his tents whipping angrily and Apollo, ever his night watchmen, whimpering and pawing restlessly at the ground. Kevin checks his watch: 4:17 AM. The coldest hour of the day. He could ignore it as a normal alpine temperature swing, but his amygdala seems opposed to the idea. Any wind that could cut through a dense forest was not to be ignored.

The skies over Tahoe yesterday were the sort of blue that tried to convince you that no cloud had ever existed, and the July sun had heated the lake to an absolutely scalding 70 degrees. But the mountains are fickle. Here, in the high places, the ridgelines turned the atmosphere into high altitude tide pools with their own microclimates, in which the earth could do as she pleased. A blizzard could form and swirl and cover the land in snow, and beat itself into powder all before it touched the upper reaches of an unaware Tahoe Lake.

“Maybe you could talk to your buddy Helios, huh?” Apollo whimpers and barks in reply, but Kevin doubts it reaches the ears of any Greek gods. “Come on, let’s check it out.”
Kevin packs their gear and sets out toward the nearest peak. Progress is slow in the predawn light, and Apollo is more skittish than usual. The wind is strong and the air is cold. It cuts through every layer Kevin brought with him. His fingertips numb as they scramble upward.

When he reaches a nearby peak, a premonition of electricity runs from his crown to his heel. One of the experiences foreign to the city but common to the wilderness—be it the ocean, the prairie, or the mountain pass—is that you can see what’s coming. And now, the horizon in front of him is covered in heavy black clouds: either full of heavy snow, which he is unprepared to weather, or lightning, which could turn trees into grenades and tents into lightning rods. He had sought to change time, coming out here, but he had assumed the cooperation of the space-time continuum, as opposed to its impatience.

Kevin looks behind him, at the pine forest which will be his coffin if those clouds portend lightning. He looks ahead to the valley of stone and gravel, which will be his frozen tomb if those clouds portend heavy snow. Kevin finds shelter in the hollow of two old boulders, and he pulls out two objects: a map of Desolation Wilderness, and a personal locator beacon.

The map is unhelpful. As much as each crested ridgeline turns old sights into fresh surprises, he’s traversed this landscape enough to know: there’s no cabin waiting to shelter him. He needs a cave or an overhang of rock—not the sort of thing mapmakers mark. So Kevin picks up the beacon, a device he’s carried for years but never used.

Of course, like everything else in his life, everything is more complicated than it was a week ago. The beacon sends out two signals: one to search and rescue organizations, who will organize an immediate extraction operation; the other to his emergency contact. Kira, obviously.

He sits against the rock, staring at the single-buttoned rectangle of plastic, wondering whether the rescue is worth the hassle. The wind curls over the rocks and whips down into his face, despite his rock cover. He pushes the button and stashes the unit. His fate is sealed: rescue teams will converge on his signal as soon as conditions allow. Kira be damned; she will know his plight.

Only then does he notice that Apollo is nowhere to be seen. Kevin calls out.

“Apollo? Where are you, boy?”

He’s been locked in the certainty of his own self-destruction, so he hasn’t noticed that his companion has vanished. The wind has picked up and the darkness of the clouds has begun to take over for the darkness of the morning. But he doesn’t wait long: Apollo’s barking cuts through the atmosphere, not a beacon but an anchor. Kevin follows it, over the ridge to the east, and down into an uncharted ravine. He laughs. Apollo stands at the entrance to a hollow in the rock, big enough for a tent. He drops to a knee and hugs his most faithful friend, who licks his face in return.

Modern technology, human ingenuity, maps and experience, all nothing compared to the evolutionary instincts of a German Shepherd.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

WEEK 546 RESULTS: :tbear:

Some of you made it through the wilderness. Some of you didn't. Most of you at least made an attempt. Two of you brought dogs into the woods.

The judges spent a good deal of time discussing what to do with the middle of the pack and stragglers, and there was a bit of a heartbreaking situation on our hands that almost ended in rebellion. Dome rules prevailed in the end, and judgment is as follows:

A DQ for Corpse Reader by Idle Amalgam. The judges discussed this and decided that while it wasn't a terrible story, it was too off-prompt for the head judge.

A loss for Ramrod the Rhinelander by PhantomMuzzles, which the judges wanted to like because dogs but it ultimately suffered from too lean a plot to be a sufficient story.

No DMs this week from the remaining low scorers. There were lots of stories we had problems with, but they were all saved by at least one redeeming quality. Didn't feel right to DM any of them.

HMs for GORP by Staggy, which the judges thought delivered a solid conflict and resolution, and An Infinite Storm of Beauty by BeefSupreme which originally DQed for being late but was uplifted by its completeness as a story and lovely wilderness imagery.

The win goes to Sensory Overload by a friendly penguin. The judges did have issues with some aspects of this story but ultimately decided that it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable interpretations of the prompt.

It's up to you now, penguin.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.


Dead Weight

First of all, I like that the Tesla is the most exciting Alfie news, and not that he got married.

Beyond that, this starts off with some disjointed thought processing that I’m stumbling over a tad. The contradiction of “I relaxed, just a little, for the first time in eons. For the first time since a few minutes earlier” doesn’t work for me, either. A nit pick ultimately when the larger problem here is that I saw what you were trying to do here, but it didn’t land for me. I assume Jake is talking to a friend that no longer exists; your bookend repetition suggests this but very weakly. There needed to be either a bigger (or any) obvious rug pull at the end or stronger hints throughout that something was off here. As it was, I feel like I was left to make a lot of assumptions that weren’t well-supported by what you’d actually written. You had a lot of words left to use, too. Wish you'd used them.

The Last Trumpet

You sufficiently hooked me when you established that the compass was a changeable tattoo. That sort of weirdness is so extremely my poo poo and is genuinely compelling stuff.

Was majorly bummed when this didn’t have a satisfying end, especially after the eerie quality you established. I thought you were going to focus on the danger in the water and Sophie drinking it, but then we’re suddenly out of the woods and – what – a volcano blew up? Something else? It’s muddled and unclear and I think you missed your turn back at the creek. This would still have been compelling to read without a hard right turn into some cataclysmic event at the very end. Smaller stakes + a weird working compass tattoo would have been fine.

Corpse Reader

Listen, your prose is competently-written but this wasn’t a wilderness story. The judges noted that this probably would have been a solid no mention any other week and I agree. Just wasn't what I asked for.

A Sea of Nothing

Great first line.

Watch your lack of attribution. Consecutive lines of dialogue without attribution get confusing. That said, I enjoyed this on my first read, less on subsequent reads as I realized nothing really happened, and I didn't have a strong sense of who these characters were. The dialogue was nice enough. Just didn't really do all that much for me.

Sensory Overload

I really liked this story and how you utilize your flash rules, though I found some of your early blocking hard to follow. I enjoyed the progression, the dialogue, and your ending. It suffered from maybe too many techno-asides that distracted from the really enjoyable stuff (like the “petting zoo”). Would have liked to have heard more dialogue from the conversation with the park workers. I might have recommended some clearer worldbuilding in the beginning and an ending that didn't end with "lol cute girl", but I ultimately thought this was a neat use of the prompt.

The Mountain Hare

You picked an interesting father-son dynamic and I was on board for the teen son and egotistical dad antics. I liked your descriptions of the outdoors. Liked the reveal toward the ending, though the ending felt like it lacked some tension. I get that we cut away just as Arlo figured it out, but I think there was still more you could have done here to either make it creepier or just more impactful. The father-son sasquatch hunt is a solid setup, though well-trod territory at this point – I just think this narrative and perspective needed to be tighter.

Ramrod the Rhinelander

Well I loved Ramrod’s voice. Otherwise I don’t know what the heck this was. I hated Meanie and would have liked his death to be a bit more satisfying. What was the monster? A bear? Something supernatural? As soon as it became clear Ramrod was going to live, I checked out. Why did Meanie bring the dog? Bait? Was he a shitbag influencer taking pics of a dog in the woods for the 'gram? Was he looking for proof of the monster? Why did the monster save Ramrod??? So many questions that I do think you could have answered with more scenes observed by Ramrod. I’m mad at you because I really enjoyed aspects of this and could have liked it SO MUCH MORE if you’d just developed your plot a bit more thoroughly.


Yeah I liked this, and I was okay with how you implemented the tax. Dialogue was solid. I thought it escalated a tad quickly and ended just as fast, but I believed why it was happening, which I think is a testament to how well you established the conflict via dialogue. Aside from that, I don’t have a ton to say about this story other than it worked well for me. Just a couple of bros becoming not-bros for a minute and fighting in the woods. Birds were there too. Solid stuff.

An Infinite Storm of Beauty

I hate to say this, but I’m going to anyway because I'm mad at you: If you’d been on-time with this entry, it would have been a contender for the win. Your prose is lovely, evocative, and effectively connected me to your setting. You nailed the sort of danger that can appear out of nowhere out in the wilderness and all the different forms that danger can take when the weather turns against you. Very grounded, very real. Overall just a really nice flow throughout with a satisfying ending. Only critique I’d offer is that we could maybe have a bit more reflection from Kevin about Kira so that the reveal that she’s the emergency contact programmed into the beacon lands a bit more firmly.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Thunderdome Week 547: Domers say the Darndest Things

Have you ever noticed that children can ask a question and it sends your mind down some interesting paths? "What would the world be like if we didn't have to make turns?" The kid is just stringing words together, but as an adult you can't help but wonder what sort of society we could build if we asked more questions like those that come to you when you're high. But it seems like valuable wisdom because it came from the innocent mind of a child. Or it's the lack of sleep that makes them sound profound. Who knows?

As a parent, I am duty-bound to believe that my child says the most [adorable/intelligent/batshit] things. And just to prove it to everyone here in Thunderdome, you will write for me a 1000-word story based on his wisdom. Below this prompt post I will provide a selection of quotes from my child that you can pick from to inspire your story. Take them in any direction you like. They don't have to be kids stories or child friendly or whatever. They're just to get you thinking. Please claim the quote when you sign up. Multiple people can choose the same quote because these could go anywhere.

Have a small person in your life? You're free to use their wisdom. Just quote their inspirational speech when you sign up. Or make up something yourself. If it sounds like something a 3-year-old would say, who am I to call your bluff? Also, feel free to share any other ridiculous musings that the kids in your life have said (whether you sign up or not) because I love hearing them. Other writers can sign up using these quotes as well. Or, if you have a lot of child stories to share, become a judge! Both slots are open.

For an extra 200 words, I will ask my child what story you, specifically, should write. And I honestly have no idea what he'll say. So good luck with that option!

Word count: 1000
Unless you choose to ask the prophet: 1200

The usual nos: fanfic, erotica, political screeds, etc.

Sign ups close: 3am Pacific time, Saturday, January 28
Submissions close: 3am Pacific time, Monday, January 30

a friendly penguin
My Shark Waifuu

-Staggy - "I want them to write a monster with hands that turn into fire."
-Chairchucker - "They should write about digging underground, and when he digs underground he has to make a special thing that pops right out again."
-Chernobyl Princess - "It's a story called the silly, silly, silly kindred. I can't remember how it goes because it's a very old story." and “My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains.”
-WindwardAway -“He was a boy who grew up to be a grown up, then he became a scientist who studied a Kraken on the beach.” and "Get ready for a hug attack!"
-Admiralty Flag - "I'm going to live on the road forever."
Thranguy - “I am death. It took me like 20 days” and the words of the prophet." and "I want him to write about the Russian death bears."
-Benagain - "we haven't collected this buddha yet"
-BeefSupreme - “It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.” and "This guy put a sword on a selfie-stick!"
- Albatrossy_Rodent - "why is English a language when we're just talking normal?"
-Idle Amalgam - "falls off the toilet “I can’t believe I died.” and "It's like a dance party with genetics."
-Yoruichi - "I would give her the story of horses get swept away by a tornado in a big, big day."
-Sebmojo - "Cryptids, the Hellhound because I'm scared of hellhounds."
-Antivehicular - "My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains."
-CaligulaKangaroo - "He should write the story of koala going surfing on a hot day at the house."
-Dicere - "I eat. I poop. This is life." and "A story about Indian soup."
-Rohan - “Hurry, tell me the secrets of evergreens before it’s too late!”

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 15:01 on Jan 26, 2023

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Child quotes to inspire a story

-The name of the hero in your story: Electrical PJ Tiger. The name of the villain in your story: Cosmo Dick
-falls off the toilet “I can’t believe I died.”
-as we’re driving in a car “Why do we have to make turns?”
-“I am death. It took me like 20 days”
-Are you going to take a nap today? “No, I am going to become death.”
-“Coconuts in spaaaaace” – a reference to Pigs in Space
-“He was a boy who grew up to be a grown up, then he became a scientist who studied a Kraken on the beach.”
-How many is a hillion?
-“I’m going to live on the road forever.”
-“It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.”
-“Soon we’ll have to delete some of my pictures and give them to someone else who wants them.”
-“Hurry, tell me the secrets of evergreens before it’s too late!”
-“This thing is going to be so scary it’ll throw a party.”
-“I eat. I poop. This is life.”
-“Ooh, we haven’t collected this Buddha yet.”
-What do we do if we find a Bigfoot? “Fight it”
-“My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains.”
-"Will you just please turn off the sun and put it somewhere else?"
-“What are the options? What are the options?”
-"Why are bloodbears always upside down not on the ground?"
-"Ooh, what's this giant orb?" Me: The sun.
-"You mean this whole time in this whole exist, I've been eating fried things?"

***This list may update depending on how adorable my child is being this week.

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 00:58 on Jan 27, 2023

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

In. I seek the wisdom of the prophet.

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Hello I am in with, "Hello. We're not going to buy anything." Please have the prophet tell us what the story will be.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Staggy posted:

In. I seek the wisdom of the prophet.

"I want them to write a monster with hands that turn into fire."

Chairchucker posted:

Hello I am in with, "Hello. We're not going to buy anything." Please have the prophet tell us what the story will be.

"They should write about digging underground, and when he digs underground he has to make a special thing that pops right out again."

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:

In with “My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains.”

I'd love him to tell me what this story should be about

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Chernobyl Princess posted:

In with “My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains.”

I'd love him to tell me what this story should be about

"It's a story called the silly, silly, silly kindred. I can't remember how it goes because it's a very old story."

Aug 22, 2022

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
I'll hop in with:

a friendly penguin posted:

-“He was a boy who grew up to be a grown up, then he became a scientist who studied a Kraken on the beach.”

If your kid has any other wise words to add for this one, go for it!

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

WindwardAway posted:

If your kid has any other wise words to add for this one, go for it!

"Get ready for a hug attack!"

Admiralty Flag
Jun 7, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


In with "I'm going to live on the road forever."

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

BeefSupreme, I have supreme beef with you and your behavior this past week! Your story was good and it should have won, but instead you submitted late and avoided the dastardly punishment of having to judge, instead laying that burden at my feet.

And now you must restore the sanctity of the dome by brawling me. I issue this challenge to you!

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

A friendly penguin, you are not! My behavior is beyond reproach! A story sets its own deadlines. I will stand in defense: I accept your brawl challenge!

Oct 6, 2021

Obliteratin' everything,
incineratin' and renegade 'em
I'm here to make anybody who
want it with the pen afraid
But don't nobody want it but
they're gonna get it anyway!

Friendly Beef Brawl!

Romantic comedy, 1500 words!

Due two weeks from now!

Nov 8, 2009

A prompt, free to a good home

2yo I babysat: Can I marry you?
Me: Ha! Ask me again in 20 years!
His 4yo brother: Twenty years! You'll be dead by then!

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In with -“I am death. It took me like 20 days” and the words of the prophet.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
minor classic in this household, delivered at age 5:

"Hey wanna hear a great joke I just made up?"
"What did the old man say to the new man???"
umm I dunno, what
(stifling spasms of laughter) "'That's a strange line of work you're in!!'"

Oct 10, 2007

Can you see that I am serious?
Fun Shoe
I'm in with "we haven't collected this buddha yet"

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

:toxx: for the brawl

in with: “It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.”

I seek the words of the prophet.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Thranguy posted:

In with -“I am death. It took me like 20 days” and the words of the prophet.

"I want him to write about the Russian death bears."


a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

BeefSupreme posted:

:toxx: for the brawl

in with: “It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.”

I seek the words of the prophet.

"This guy put a sword on a selfie-stick!"

And here's my :toxx: for the brawl.

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