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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!

In with "why is English a language when we're just talking normal?"


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:

Free to a good home: "Did baby Jesus do big horrible poos? Why?"

Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

said I'm never lackin'
always pistol packin'
with them automatics
we gon' send 'em to Heaven
"But why does she eat a man? That's scary." My daughter on the Hall & Oates song "Maneater"

In with falls off the toilet “I can’t believe I died.” I'll also take the boon of the prophet.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

In, please ask the prophet what the plot of my story is

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Going to offer 'I hate the security fairies' and 'STOP EATING OLD GRANNIES!' (band name suggestion)

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

In, prophet me

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving And something has got to give

In with "My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains." because I can't stop thinking about it

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Idle Amalgam posted:

In with falls off the toilet “I can’t believe I died.” I'll also take the boon of the prophet.

"It's like a dance party with genetics."

Yoruichi posted:

In, please ask the prophet what the plot of my story is

"I would give her the story of horses get swept away by a tornado in a big, big day." [He very much likes your horse avatar.]

sebmojo posted:

In, prophet me

"Cryptids, the Hellhound because I'm scared of hellhounds."

Also, now I want to write about the security fairies.

Jul 26, 2012

In! Seeking words of the prophet and :toxx: for my previous failures.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

CaligulaKangaroo posted:

In! Seeking words of the prophet and :toxx: for my previous failures.

"He should write the story of koala going surfing on a hot day at the house."

Oct 31, 2005
Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite.

Can't say no to this one. I'm in with “I eat. I poop. This is life.”

Pressing Prophet Luck.

Mar 19, 2008

Look, if you had one shot
or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
in one moment
Would you capture it...
or just let it slip?


Crits for Week #546

Staggy - GORP:
This is decently written, and the dialogue and characterisation are effective and genuine. The tax does feel a bit tacked-on, and I think for it to really work as igniting this slow-boiling conflict, it would be better to have Larry and Kyle’s differing opinions on the birds established a bit earlier; right now, the opening limited-third narrator refers to the “judgmental glare of the ever-present crows”, so it doesn’t ring true when we later hear Larry’s never given them much thought. As a device, it has a lot of potential: Kyle being conscious of being watched and judged helps establish his character and drives the later conflict that’s of course not about the birds at all. I just don’t think it’s used as effectively as it could be.

The ending feels a bit abrupt, and it very much feels as if nothing was actually resolved, but I think that would be a big ask in a story this short. Solid overall.

PhantomMuzzles - Ramrod the Rhinelander:
I think you took a bit of a risk with the choice of narrator here, since you’re hampering your ability to be clear about what’s happening in a story where — as it turns out — many of your readers aren’t familiar enough with what’s going on.

I think for this to work you’d need to either commit to the dog perspective entirely and offer us the storytelling techniques such a POV would offer — I’m thinking here of more sensory detail, building atmosphere with smells, possibly foreshadowing the cryptid with a smell on the breeze the dog can’t quite identify but Meanie doesn’t seem to notice — or else switch to limited-third person and give us some dialogue and description straight. I think this story meets it halfway; for the most part the voice is the sort of simple run-on structure I’d expect from a dog’s perspective, but when you let the dog recognise words like “proof” and “finally”, it feels like you’re dismantling the device and taking us out of the story. (Or even “picture things” — it stretches belief a bit that the dog would recognise a camera as a “picture thing”, and this is one example of where being vague actually hurts the immersion.)

Finally, I’m not convinced this story needed the cryptid or the cameras or the sacrificial bulldog at all; I think it probably would have worked better, and ended up less confusing, if it had just been about some arsehole adopting a dog and then taking it on a hike only to get mauled by a bear. You could hand-wave some reason why Meanie wanted a dog — maybe he’s trying to impress a girl who likes dogs, maybe he got the dog after a bitter break-up but doesn’t really want it — and I probably wouldn’t question it. There’s the core of a good story here, it’s just a bit impenetrable if your knowledge of wilderness cryptids doesn’t go far beyond bigfoot.

WindwardAway - The Mountain Hare:
There’s some decent characterisation here, and the father-son dynamics are well-handled for what’s fairly familiar territory. I’m not a huge fan of the line “the deputy’s son was the last person they would have suspected”, as it delivers the twist basically out of nowhere and immediately turns it into a very different story. I think for this story to work more effectively you’d need to either lead with this reveal, and have the story be more explicitly about the tension of the father not knowing his son is the actual monster, or else hide the reveal until the end, when we’ve had a chance to connect the dots ourselves. Right now it feels unearned and I feel a bit cheated.

For that matter: is the son behind all the kidnappings? Without the above reveal, I’d easily believe the son just happened across the cave of skulls and doesn’t know who or what is actually behind it. I was wondering if the “thump, thump” was going to be the Sasquatch, or similar. When it turns out to be his father, and his father somehow immediately realises what’s going on, and doesn’t seem to show any shock or surprise or confusion, it ends on a fairly unsatisfying note.

a friendly penguin - Sensory Overload:
I really appreciate this story for doing something a bit different this week. There’s a fair bit of frontloaded technobabble, but it’s not overwhelming, and overall there’s confidence in how the world’s portrayed. The characters are solid and the stakes, while not quite life-or-death, are well established. Overall, it’s just a fun read; the characters are fleshed out and there’s a consistent tone that works well throughout the story.

My one quibble would be the ending, where you introduce a romantic element out of nowhere and mash Jonah and the owl together without much preamble. I’m probably picking on this specifically as I’m very, very aware of this in my own stories; when I can’t find a good way to finish a story, my go-to move is basically putting two characters together and making them kiss. Here, it feels a bit forced, not least because the owl didn’t really appear in the story until the end. Perhaps it would have worked better if Jonah recognised the owl from earlier? Or if the owl had said something that triggered this response from Jonah?

Solid work overall though, congrats on the win!

Albatrossy_Rodent - A Sea of Nothing:
I’ve already commented on this elsewhere, but the characterisation in this story fell flat for me. Opening with dialogue is always a bit of a risky move as we have no context for who the characters are, and it took me far too long to realise this week that the protagonist is (presumably) a sixty-year-old woman. I think, if you’d opened on “Raymond is the only man I know”, we’d have gotten there a lot sooner. And I don’t think your opening would struggle for that change — right now, there’s too much we don’t know, and whatever stakes you’re introducing with these still and silent waters aren’t landing.

Beyond that: I feel like this is a decent first draft, and the core idea here is solid, it’s just not doing anything for me one way or another. It ends up being two “old” people (quotations because, really, they’re sixty, not eighty-five) talking about death, not feeling anything, and silently accepting whatever this is. Maybe if there was more subtext and less blatant “these sure are the end times, how d’you feel about death”, it would work more effectively.

Idle Amalgam - Corpse Reader:
Any other week, I think this would be an okay story, with a few problems that wouldn’t be hard to address. This week, I think all the frontloaded worldbuilding and technobabble is particularly unjustified, and while I’m hardly a stickler for prompt or flash adherence, you really needed to have at least a cursory mention of nature earlier than four paragraphs in.

It’s a Thunderdome truism that you should always cut the first paragraph, and it’s especially true here. There’s nothing in the first para that we won’t pick up later on — for a 1400 word story, most of the opening is completely forgettable, and is largely exposition with a fair amount of worldbuilding to get through. I think the general concept of someone plugging in to someone else’s consciousness via “neural link” is familiar enough ground in a cyberpunk story that you could just open with that directly. You even go so far as to explain the title in the first paragraph, when the title could have pulled double-duty itself and provided an early clue as to where we’re going.

I sound like I hate this story, but honestly, it just takes a long time to get going; when you get to the meat of it, I am all for it — this kind of spooky forest in a dead girl’s mind, the idea of consciousness being trapped in this timeless alternate reality, evoke a similar creeping dread to some Black Mirror episodes, or Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland. That’s my jam, I just wish you’d gotten to it earlier and addressed it a bit more.

Thranguy - Dead Weight:
I see why you did it, but I wonder if this would work better without the repeated line at the end? I think, as far as providing a throughline, it works, but the rose corsage provides a much better motif. Maybe, if you’d set that up earlier, it would have had more impact at the end when we finally see Connor wearing the corsage; right now, relying on the disembodied line feels a bit flat.

Otherwise, I mean, there’s some good dialogue, but not a whole lot else to the story; I feel like it needed more than the twist telegraphed by the title to be really memorable.

cptn_dr - The Last Trumpet:
I think I probably liked this one the most out of the judges, and as I said on Discord, a lot of that was due to the mood and vibe of the piece. It wasn’t until a re-read that I twigged on the whole Last Trumpet / Revelations connection, which definitely added to my enjoyment of the piece — until then, I was content to just let the story wash over me. Compared to the previous story, I think this was a far more effective way of showing madness in nature; between the moving tattoo, hosed-up birds, friends who may or may not exist, and strange sense of time, I don’t trust anything the narrator’s telling me and I’m here for it.

Negatives: it’s underdeveloped, quite obviously a first draft, and it ends very abruptly and without much impact if you missed the whole revelations bit. There’s definite potential here, though, and I’d love to see it developed further.

BeefSupreme - An Infinite Storm of Beauty:
Not to harp on the point too much, but I think this is one of the more accomplished and complete stories of the week, and would have been an easy shoe-in for the win if it had been posted a few hours earlier. Alas!

My credentials for judging this week are probably suspect, since I’ve never gone on any serious hikes and I’ve never camped a night in my life, but your story was the most effective at getting me into nature and immersing me in the environment — the beauty, the wonder, the isolation and sudden mortal danger of it all. It’s obvious you, or at least your protagonist, live in this world, and it felt really lush and well-portrayed. The stakes were escalated consistently throughout the story and there’s real tension in the narrative; I also really appreciated the internal conflict about whether he should alert his now-ex emergency contact or not. For a story that’s largely man v nature, the additional conflict worked well.

Probably my only criticism is that the last line doesn’t work particularly well for me — it feels like it should be a callback to an earlier throughline, but either it’s missing or I missed it. Right now it just feels a bit pat, though it’s not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the piece as a whole. Good work.

(Okay, I also rolled my eyes a bit at the italicised opening, but you redeemed yourself for that.)

Mar 19, 2008

Look, if you had one shot
or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
in one moment
Would you capture it...
or just let it slip?


in with “Hurry, tell me the secrets of evergreens before it’s too late!”

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Someone's gotta help judge all these childish stories, and that someone is me!

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Dicere posted:

Can't say no to this one. I'm in with “I eat. I poop. This is life.”

Pressing Prophet Luck.

"A story about Indian soup." [For clarity, this is soup from the country of India or made by people with that heritage.]

My Shark Waifuu posted:

Someone's gotta help judge all these childish stories, and that someone is me!

Welcome to the club!

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 15:00 on Jan 26, 2023

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Sign ups are closed.

One judge slot is open.

A note that you should not take this week too seriously. I am willing to follow some wild, whimsical logic just to enjoy a good story

The man called M
Dec 25, 2009



I’m that one guy who has the most losses over at the dome.

I figured it might be a good idea to do a crit for the loser for weeks that I do not enter. That way, the “loser” can at least get a crit from someone who is as crap as they are!

Without further ado,

Loser crit from a “loser”

Week 546: Ramrod the Rhinelander

First of all, what exactly is a “Rhinelander”? A quick Google search just mentions a city in Wisconsin.

Why is Meanie taking Ramrod along if he doesn't care about him? Normal folks would take their dog on something like a hike if they cared about it, which Meanie does not (unless Ramrod is an unreliable narrator).

The beginning part seems to drag on, and on! Usually, good stories try to give the reader something to enjoy, but the first half, no, the first three-fourths of the story is just a whole bunch of nothing. (I deeply apologize for all the times I did crap like this.)

In the last quarter, there’s been some action! Good! Why is it in one single paragraph? Any sane person would look at a paragraph that big and say, “I am not reading that.”

And then it just ends bizarrely. I’m assuming it's to non-violently show that Rhamrod died but to be perfectly honest, does the reader have a good reason to care?

Overall, yeah, I can see why this story lost. If you want, you could ask the folks in the discord about how to get the reader to care about your characters.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

I should be sleeping or writing my own story but I read The man called M's crit and I wanted to respond to this:

The man called M posted:

First of all, what exactly is a “Rhinelander”? A quick Google search just mentions a city in Wisconsin.

I would generally assume Rhinelander refers to someone (in this case, a little bulldog) from the Rhineland, i.e. western Germany. But perhaps it refers to Rhinelander, WI (likely named, of course, for some old immigrant population from western Germany) as Google indicates is a possibility. So I don't have a real answer. EDIT: solved, see the second to last graf of my crit

Anyway I would have responded on Discord but I didn't know your tag there so now PhantomMuzzless gets another crit.

Week 546 Crit: PhantomMuzzles' Ramrod the Rhinelander
This story has three primary characters: Ramrod, our narrator and protagonist; "Meanie", Ramrod's adopter; the Monster (which I assume to be a bear). Barbados, another dog, is mentioned, but only to highlight Meanie's prejudices for any variation in skin color on dogs. Meanie adopts Ramrod, then takes Ramrod backpacking (though it seems he is wildly unprepared to do so with a dog), and is then mauled by a bear. The story appears to be a fable about nature's propensity for karmic retribution toward those who mistreat animals--Meanie mistreats Ramrod, and a monster in the night comes to deliver Meanie's judgment (a death sentence, apparently, which, despite his obvious dickishness, seems heavy handed).

I'll be blunt: this story doesn't work at all. I think it's both trying too hard and not enough. I see what you're trying to do, by putting us in the mind of Ramrod, but it has a lot of secondary effects which work against your story.

Ramrod, our protagonist, narrator, and only voice in this story, speaks entirely in the first person throughout. This carries with it all sorts of issues, and all sorts of restrictions. When you restrict your narrative to a single perspective, that becomes your only voice; when you restrict that character to the first person, that means your story, both in content and in prose, comes solely from the mind of that character. When that character is a simple-minded dog lacking human vocabulary, you really tighten the screws on your story. You're trying to pull off a complicated magic trick, and it doesn't land. Lacking dialogue, lush descriptions, and a full vocabulary (since Ramrod doesn't know the word for everything, because he's a dog [though he does know some words? How does he know what hiking is? Doodad? Rope?]), the prose is not working with a full deck, and it shows. It's mostly a straight line of simple sentences. I've written a dog-POV story for the Dome before, and I wrestled over this very choice; in the end, I just wrote prose normally and made my dog act like a dog (though I crucially forgot that dogs are colorblind). I figured it would be way to hard to make a relatable character that wasn't human if I also took away the normal tools of the trade. To really pull this off, this particular story would need to be much more cleverly written, so that even though Ramrod doesn't understand the world he's in, we the reader can read between the lines and paint the clear picture.

Secondly, the perspective choice makes it hard to get a sense of your characters. I get broad strokes pictures in my head, but that's it; as such, Meanie feels very cartoonish to me. He is cartoonishly evil, and though I know that awful dog owners like this exist, it feels lacking in nuance or any sense of Meanie as a real person. (Also, how does Ramrod know Meanie adopted him specifically to go on this hike?) Ramrod doesn't feel like a real dog, because we don't really see him doing dog things; we just get his rambling dog thoughts and descriptions of events. Speaking of events, I am confused on what the events here are, from Meanie's perspective. I know literally what happens in this story, but why? in that middle paragraph, Ramrod relays that Meanie is saying things like "finally" and "proof", but I have no context to interpret these things. Given that he's just adopted Ramrod, is he attempting to prove to someone that he can take care of a dog? Which he does by taking the dog hiking? I really don't get it.

I just noticed that your linebreaks are morse code. I went and translated it: HODAG. So it's not a bear. It's a mythical creature, the incarnation of the accumulated abuses animals had suffered at the hands of their masters, according to Google, come to punish said masters. So the simplistic, fable-like nature is actually an intentional choice. But this is too clever by half, because there ain't no way general audiences are familiar enough with Hodag to pull that out of this obfuscated description, and much less be able to read morse code by memory. Maybe I'm the odd one who doesn't know Hodag, but I doubt it. Also, Google clarifies that indeed you mean Rhinelander, Wisconsin, because that's where the Hodag lives.

Overall, I appreciate the effort, but I think you've overcomplicated the story by trying to tell it this way. Happy to talk on Discord!

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

Bob’s Monster Hands
"I want them to write a monster with hands that turn into fire."
1,105 words

Bob was a monster.

Bob was a very special monster, because he could turn his hands into fire. He couldn’t turn them back again but that was okay because Bob had lots and lots of hands. Big hands, little hands, smooth hands, hairy hands. Hands with long fingers, perfect for picking pockets, and hands with stubby fingers, great for grabbing grubs.

Bob wasn’t a very fierce monster. He had big, sharp teeth (which monsters like) and was very smelly (which monsters love) but he wasn’t very loud and actually quite reserved. He lived in a cave on a mountain, like most monsters, but his cave wasn’t the normal damp and squidgy and nasty cave. It was cold, yes, but also dry and completely free of critters. On the days where it got so cold that Bob couldn’t take it any more, he’d choose one of his hands and turn it into fire and make himself nice and warm for as long as the fire lasted - which was as long as Bob wanted.

The monsters who lived higher up the mountain couldn’t turn their hands into fire and didn’t have nice dry caves. Their caves were very damp and very squidgy - perfect for monsters - and full of food and fun games and the like. Every night they looked down the mountain at Bob’s cave - which had none of those things - and talked in jealous tones about the flicker of light around his door. They didn’t need fires, not really, but seeing someone else with one made them want fires.

One day, a cruel and clever monster - who didn’t like Bob very much - had an idea. He crept down the mountain and - after rolling in mud and slime - knocked on Bob’s door. When Bob answered, the monster fell to his knees and begged Bob for help.

“Fire,” he gasped, “give me fire! Why, I’ll turn into an icicle if you don’t help me get warm!”

Now, Bob didn’t much like the other monster but he didn’t want to see them turn into an icicle. He scratched his head and snorted through his whiskery nostrils and wasn’t quite sure what to do.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I can only turn my hands into fire - and I can’t turn them back!”

“But you have lots and lots of hands,” the monster said with a sly grin. “I’m only asking for one - why are you being so greedy?”

Now, nobody - not even monsters - likes to be called greedy. Bob didn’t think he was greedy - he thought he was really rather nice. So he found his least favourite hand - one that ached when rain was near and always had something unpleasant under its fingernails - and with a puff of smoke, turned it into fire. He gave it to the monster at the door who scooped it up and ran away laughing and cheering and didn’t once say thank you.

That night, the other monsters on the mountain crowded around the new fire and listened to what had happened and began to make plans of their own.

The next day, a monster from even further up the mountain knocked on Bob’s door. She was large and loud and also didn’t like Bob; when he opened the door she leaned inside and bellowed into his face.

“FIRE!” she cried.

“But -” Bob began, before he was rudely interrupted.

“BAH!” the monster snorted. “YOU’VE GOT SO MANY! STOP BEING SELFISH!”

Well, that made Bob feel rather bad about himself. While the monster sneered at him, Bob found a hand he didn’t need - as he had another one that was almost identical - and with a puff of smoke, turned it into fire. The monster snatched it from him, turned around and strode back up the mountain. She also didn’t say thank you.

The next day there was another monster at Bob’s door and another after that. Soon there were two monsters a day and soon after that there was a long line that snaked twice around the mountain’s base, made of monsters jeering and pushing each other as they waited for a turn at Bob’s door. No matter how many came, Bob couldn’t say no to any of them - not when they called him greedy or selfish or mean. Some monsters even queued up twice - they didn’t need two fires but they liked tricking Bob.

He turned all of his aching, hurting hands to fire. Then he turned all of his spare hands to fire too. After that it was hairy ones (so he didn’t have to shave them) and stubby ones (because he didn’t like grubs) and long-fingered ones (because he wasn’t very good at picking pockets). Each time he worried about what he’d do when he ran out and each time he told himself not to worry and that it was better than being selfish.

Then, one day, Bob woke up and realised he had no hands left! Not big ones or small ones or hairy ones or smooth ones - they were all gone, turned to fire and warming up caves across the mountain. All of a sudden he was very cold and frightfully upset.

“Why?” he cried, “why did I turn all my hands to fire? Oh, if I’d only kept one or two. Maybe if I ask nicely, the other monsters will let me sit by their fires now.”

But the other monsters were cruel and still didn’t much like Bob and wouldn’t let him into their caves. They were also quite annoyed at him because now he couldn’t make any more fires and even though they all had one and didn’t need one, they still wanted more. Bob went back to his cave that night cold and tired and sad.

Bob cried for a long time that night. It was very dark and very quiet on the mountain when he stopped and he lay there for a while, thinking.

“The other monsters all have fires now,” he said to himself, “and lots of hands too. I don’t have either and I desperately need both. Maybe … maybe they wouldn’t miss just one or two.”

And so Bob crept out of his cave and back up the mountain to where the other monsters were all asleep around their fires. He didn’t have any hands now but he still had his big, sharp teeth - and by the time the sun came up and the other monsters started to wake up he’d have lots and lots of hands again. Scaly hands and slimy hands and bony hands and wormy hands.

But he’d only take one from each monster. After all, he wasn’t greedy.

Admiralty Flag
Jun 7, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Negotiate the Dark, Curving Ribbon
"I'm going to live on the road forever." - 870 words

Steve burst into my borrowed office, and his boisterous voice yanked me out of my reverie. “What the gently caress are you doing?”

I sat forward in the chair. “You’ve got a good team on ACAS; you’ll be able to close the sale and run the project without me. But I’m done.”

“Do you need time off? Jesus, you already take a shitload of—”

“And I work through half of it. Julia hates that.”

“Well, she’s a goddamn schoolteacher. She should be happy one of you is making some money.” He caught my expression, and his tone softened. “Look, how about you take some vacation, I mean real, uninterrupted vacation.”

I shook my head. “No, I can’t. Too late for that. My time here is finished.”

He closed the door. “Brian, is it…mental health related? We can get you a leave of absence.”

I slapped my hands on my thighs and stood. “Steve, it’s up to you. You can march me out the door right now if you like, or I can keep gift-wrapping everything I’ve got for handover, but I’m gone tomorrow at 5pm.”

“You’ve got to give us notice.”

“Nothing says I do…So, which is it? Time’s a-wastin’.”


A while ago, when I asked Julia where she wanted to travel next, she surprised me. I thought maybe it’d be New Zealand, or to try to recapture Iceland’s magic. Her answer: “The Grand Canyon.”

I laughed. My exact words were, “How grand can a canyon be?”

“I’m serious, Brian. I want to see national parks. We’ve traveled around the world, but it’s been like checking things off a to-do list.”

I stared at her. “You’re trying to get me to disconnect.”

“I’m trying to get you to connect – with me.”

I thought for a minute while she watched. I had loved camping as a boy scout, though I never made it very far up the ranks. Besides, I never cared much about European art and architecture, I’d been on a sightseeing safari in Africa, and I’d already traveled through Southeast Asia and practically everywhere else. None of it mattered anyway; I had been glued to my laptop and phone the whole way. All that time spent on nothing. This was something that could be worthwhile, something the two of us could DO together.

“OK, Julia, let’s do it. A tour of national parks.” A pause, then it was my turn to shock her. “And I have a surprise for you – I’m going to take some time off work: maybe a few months, maybe forever.” I took her hand, looked her in the eye. “I do need to reconnect with you, and we can afford this.”

She thought I was joking until I showed her my plan. Three more months to vest the last block of RSUs, then we could float free.

She was thrilled. I’d be out of airports, and at home. I’d still need her insurance, but we’d have enough money for me to retire – if we didn’t go too crazy.


I was driving along the mountainside highway into Yosemite. To my left was the outbound lane and a wall of rock; to my right, a flimsy guardrail and a drop into infinity. The RV was a beast, but I had tamed it on easier roads.

On one of the few short straightaways, I spared a glance at Julia, sitting in the passenger seat, her hand grasping the oh poo poo handle above her head. I hadn’t seen her, really seen her, for so long. The last month had been astounding.

She caught me looking. “Keep your eyes on the road!”

“Just wanted to make sure you’re OK.”

“I’ll be a lot more OK once we’re down in the valley…I can’t believe you’re doing this without any problem. Thought you didn’t like driving in the mountains.”

I chuckled. “That was the old me. Now I’m reborn, Brian 2.0.”

“And what will the reborn you do if you stay retired?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want to savor the rest of this summer, enjoy the time, every day as it comes.” I looked at her. “Don’t forget we still have the Grand Canyon after this.”

“Keep your goddamn eyes forward!” She exhaled. “Sorry…And you’re happy doing this?”

I smirked, face front. “I just might spend the rest of my life on the road.”

“I like this new you. Brian is dead; long live Brian!” Despite her fear, she laughed.

I did too, a free, unforced burst of joy. We were happy, really happy, for the first time in years. And we were truly, indivisibly together, which we hadn’t been for any length of time since our twenties.

And nothing was going to rob us of this sacred span of three months. Not even the tumor: inoperable, essentially untreatable, and the best they could do was palliative care whenever the serious symptoms started.

She deserved this summer. I owed her this summer. I’d tell her on the way back home.

We left the mountain road and hit flat ground, no drop-off on either side. Through my open window I let forth to the world my triumphant yawp, thirty years in the making.

Mar 19, 2008

Look, if you had one shot
or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
in one moment
Would you capture it...
or just let it slip?


“Hurry, tell me the secrets of evergreens before it’s too late!”

The Promise of Bare Branches
1000 words

Michelia lay in bed after a fitful night’s sleep, grasping at a dream where she lived on the open ocean. She always woke as the stormclouds gathered, never knowing what followed; could only imagine, lying awake, eyes on the ceiling, ears filled with the sound of—

Rain! She swore, rolled out of bed, scrambled into her cloak and thrust her feet into gumboots, half-stumbling to the door while fetching her hat from the rack. In the living room, Cammie lay by the fire, lifting an eyelid to watch Michelia’s frantic dash. ‘You were supposed to wake me,’ Michelia hissed, brandishing her wand. ‘How long’s it been raining, cat?’

Cammie stretched, yawned, and followed the swearing witch outside, stopping short of getting wet herself. ‘Merciful Petrichor,’ Michelia called out, hands lifted high, ‘this one seeks your favour and your blessing!’

Rivers coursed through the stones of Michelia’s path, clogged and cavitied gutters springing fountains over her garden. In her hand, the wand slowly luminesced, drawing the rain toward itself until the tin roof turned silent and the skies converged; all the rain, Petrichor’s offered magic, suffusing into its radiant tip.

Cammie yawned and lay back down, watching the witch draw another season of magic. The clouds, spent, parted to mottle the garden with morning light, and Michelia lowered her wand. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, to the new puddles, the boggy plant-beds. ‘Thank you.’

Inside, she flicked her wand at the stovetop, and the kettle began its slow boil; as Cammie leapt onto the bench, a swish sent thick-cut bread into the toaster, its coils turning red with a flourish. This was indulgence, something to regret when the days lengthened and the clouds grew sparse; now, she thought, she could spare a little for the joy of it.

‘Ahoy,’ a voice called from her doorway, which she hadn’t shut in all the excitement. ‘I trust that was your doing, then?’

‘Magnus,’ she started, drawing cloak around her pyjamas. ‘You’re about early.’

‘Thought you’d’ve been up longer—rain was going near an hour.’

Really,’ Michelia said, side-eyeing Cammie. ‘Well. Petrichor smiled on me nonetheless. Tea?’ she offered, as the kettle came to its whistling boil.

‘If you can spare it.’ Magnus slipped off his wet boots and placed his hat on the rack, its leaf brooch glinting in the light. At the sight of his hair, Michelia suppressed a gasp; his famed black locks frizzed into the grey of driftwood.

‘Of—of course,’ she stammered, conscious now of her showiness. She’d never known Magnus to neglect his hair. ‘One sugar, or—?’

‘I’m sweet enough,’ Magnus smiled, lowering himself into a chair. ‘Go on, then.’

‘Go on?’

Magnus smirked. ‘Mick, you noticed my unmatched socks last week. You noticed when I left a nail unpainted. There’s no way—’

Michelia blushed, turning to fetch the teabags and the mugs, stalling. ‘Of course I noticed. But, it’s winter, Magnus. My fortune and your fortune may as well be the sun and the moon.’

‘Still.’ He shrugged, accepted the offered tea. ‘Your fortune comes from the heavens. My fortune … you know the town’s getting larger.’

‘It is,’ Michelia nodded, sitting opposite and stirring milk in. ‘You said last week you have six new students.’

‘Six new students in six new houses,’ Magnus went on. ‘All well and good if they don’t have to clear the woodlands … to lop the trees to build the frames … to plant new trees in new gardens that won’t clog gutters with leaves.’

‘I don’t mind the leaves,’ Michelia said. ‘You’ll always have my garden, Magnus.’

‘Always? You can’t promise me that, Mick.’

‘Magnus. Where do you think I’m going?’

The wizard shrugged, raised his tea, took a scalding sip. ‘I appreciate it,’ he said. ‘But there aren’t many like you. Each year there’s less to draw on, and these blasted—these blasted evergreens! Keeping it all to themselves!’

Michelia frowned, took a sip of her own tea. She’d noticed, of course. Even before the signs showed on Magnus, she’d seen the bare autumn lawns, the branches above greedy with potential. It changed the way the wind sounded; it changed the way the rain smelt. She’d noticed, the way you notice ageing, only once it became uncomfortable.

‘You can’t draw from the evergreens?’ she asked. ‘Not at all?’

Magnus shook his head. ‘Not for lack of trying! Shake the branches, trim the leaves, climb and hold your palms to them—they give nothing away, not even a glimmer. I have books full of them, flattened between heavy pages; stockpots stained from boiling them, kettles full of their ash. What magic they have stays with the tree, always and forever! But oh, they look—’

His words were cut short as Cammie leapt up to the table, gently purring and nuzzling the wizard’s arms. Magnus smiled, and gave Cammie a scratch underneath her chin. ‘Is this your way of calling me a crotchety old fool?’ he asked, chuckling.

‘Who can tell what she’s thinking,’ Michelia mused. ‘She has her secrets, like the rest of us. You know, I tried growing one, once—a blueberry ash.’

Magnus peered up. ‘You did? When?’

‘Years ago. When—when I thought I might still have children. I wanted something to grow alongside them; that they could climb, mark with their growing heights, have a first kiss beneath—’ she shook her head. ‘It didn’t take, of course. Nothing took.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Magnus said.

‘Don’t be. It was a dream.’ She smiled, reached out a hand to Magnus’s, his skin lined like fallen leaves, squeezing softly. ‘Dreams aren’t promises. Bare branches, threatening stormclouds—crotchety wizards gone grey—they’re promises. And promises are meant to be kept.’

Magnus smiled, squeezing back. ‘I dream, sometimes,’ he told her, ‘of a cottage, surrounded by maples. I’m by the door, waiting—you’re in the distance, coming toward me, sinking into the leaves, until it’s just your hand and I reach out for you—’

He fell silent, mouth quirked.

‘And then what happens?’

Magnus shrugged. ‘I’m woken up,’ he said. ‘By the rain.’

Oct 31, 2005
Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite.

“I eat, I poop, this is life.”
“A story about Indian soup.”

Visitation or Returning
1,200 words

Only the cooks remember Tiffany. The patrons of India Star were fascinated with the beautiful young woman who waited tables in a manner so earnest and serene that all who chanced to encounter her remarked, privately, that someone must have told her some good news that day. Or maybe she was on some spectacular drug. Maybe she was in love. None were correct. Our story seeks to explain.

Tiffany wasn’t always such. When she began waiting tables at India Star, she was taking a gap year and figuring out if community college was right for her or if UT Austin was really the key to her dreams. She flirted and made silly jokes and did all of the things one comes to expect from a woman of only 19. The owners made her wear her bright, blonde hair pulled tightly back. She’d wait tables with her hair down when she thought nobody who would care was watching. Our story begins there.

Only the cooks remember Phyllis. Phyllis was an India Star regular who precariously navigated her mammoth red LeSabre into a tiny parking space in front of the strip of shops where India Star resided. She was an ancient white Texan who wore her auburn dyed hair large and permed and sported Adidas track suits to lunch. Her walker found her usual table for her as she smiled absently at the restaurant staff and any 3pm patrons. The fussiest India Star patron, she’d order her usual and find fault every time. She spoke in disjointed declarations, lamentations, and demands. Her strains upon sitting, standing, and sometimes entering the ladies room could be heard throughout the claustrophobic restaurant, with its low drop ceilings and tightly packed tables. She tipped remarkably well.

“Milagu rasam and mango lassi, hun,” she ordered without expression.

“I thought you might surprise me,” Tiffany joked. Her heart held only compassion for the difficult woman.

“Yesterday I told you I couldn’t taste the tumeric,” she stated, “I suspect it was cooked too long. You shouldn’t cook rasam too long.” Tiffany wanted to ask how this woman would know. The soup was as authentic as it got. It was dictated by the owners as it had been to them by family, and dutifully followed to the letter by the kitchen staff. Was she trying to come off as wordly? Was she in the Peace Corps or something and wanted to flex?

Tiffany put the order in with the accompanying feedback and Carlos in the kitchen received it all with a knowing shake of his head. Lunch was quickly served and it was then time for a cell phone break, but playful curiosity got the better of Tiffany.

“Ma’am, I hope everything is tasting OK, but, I’ve got to ask: Is there a particular recipe for this soup you’re looking for?” The restaurant was empty and Tiffany just had to figure out what this lady’s deal was.

“Have you ever tasted a soup so sublime that time stopped and you forgot your name? Have you ever had a meal that was so artful that it stirred your emotions?” The West Texas twang in her voice gave the questions the air of melodrama, but the woman was not joking or performing.

“No ma’am,” answered the waitress.

“Neither have I,” the elder confessed, “but we eat for pleasure, yes? Why all of these spices and combinations and measurements? Because we want joy in our food, and I do enjoy this food, but never as much as I feel I could. It’s frustrating.” Tiffany cycled through her Instagram psychology knowledge and fired off at least 4 diagnoses for such a condition. “I eat. I poop. This is,” the elder paused to take in the surroundings, “life.” Tiffany had never heard the word uttered in such sorrow.

“I’m sorry,” the words were a reflex as was Tiffany’s hand gently landing on the old woman’s, “You must have had so many,” she paused to ask if the statement were wise, “interesting years though.” Was she counseling this woman?

“The elderly look backward or they wish for a new body,” began the elder, “but were I to have a new body, I would only have a fresh wound, sweetie.” As the old woman lowered her head, there was surely no leaving the seat for Tiffany. When the elder raised her face to the young waitress again, her mascara ran in black pools below her eyes. Oh my god this awkward. “I have an ulcer.” Tiffany zeroed in on the details of the woman’s face to ride out the discomfort. An unlikely clear tear emerged from the black pools, ran down the woman’s face, and splashed in the rasam, causing ripples in the soup. “It is called: body.”

Reality rippled at the rasam’s frequency. The old woman was splayed across the chair, her head rolled backward. Dead? Windows, doors all black and howling nothing. Tiffany clinched the table as the restaurant rocked in a screaming current. Phyllis’ body fell from the chair, hit the floor with a sickening thud, and exploded into a torrent of blues and pinks and yellows; impossibly vivid butterflies finding a light above. Tiffany dug her cell phone from her pocket just as her body became weightless and a sheet printed with the interior of India Star was ripped away by some unknown force. She was alone, swimming.

Drowning! No. Breathing. No? The waitress was in a rushing current of sound and light and shadow, blood, and fire, screaming, laughing, moaning, dying, loving, lying, hating, eating, making GBS threads, killing, breathing. Tiffany closed her eyes and took a stabilizing breath, somehow without eyelids or lungs. The sound and images increased in overwhelming intensity until it all resolved in a low, rumbling tone. Om.

The tone persisted silently as a lotus emerged from beneath a great lake. Ripples carried her ashore. A man with radiating serenity plucked the lotus from the shore with the closest of innumerable arms, and sat her gently upon a familiar paper placemat displaying a map of all the Indian states and her major cities. Varanasi sat below her petal.

Tiffany’s consciousness found her body in a seat at the table, the lotus blowing apart in warm winds. Her lunch guest used his his thousand arms to serve the soup and rice, tea and lassi, warm naan bread, flatware wrapped in napkins. He spoke.

“Why do I suffer?” the being quizzed behind a woman’s trembling face and smudged mascara.

“Compassion.” The answer was Tiffany’s, but how she deduced it was not apparent.

“And why do you suffer?” the woman asked, smiling through pain. Her Estée Lauder perfume hung in the hot, humid lakeside air.

“Attachment.” Who said that? How did I know?

White light and black nothing came smashing together upon the lunch by the lake, rocking the table and melting the shore. Tiffany focused upon the light and saw a water stained drop ceiling. Carlos and Steve hovered over her in stained aprons. Tiffany had collapsed while serving the elderly woman. Phyllis was never seen again. While Tiffany would work at India Star a few months more, the unserious, bubbly young woman to whom everyone had grown accustomed never returned either.

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:

Flash: “My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains.”
"It's a story called the silly, silly, silly kindred. I can't remember how it goes because it's a very old story."

The Silly, Silly, Silly Kindred

The corpse-wagon rattled along the street. One wheel squeaked, the sound boring into Jon's hyper-sensitive ears.

"This is demeaning," he grumbled to his elder. “I thought being a vampire meant sexy parties and devil worship and flying around all the time.”

Henry gnawed on the end of his unlit pipe. “In good times, yeah, and if we’s useful in the bad ones we don’t get staked out for the sun when the church remembers we’re here. Plague don’t touch us, so we handles the bodies the nice human folk don’t want to.”

“But why us?” Jon moaned. “There’s a dozen vampires in the city. Why do we get this poo poo job?”

“Because you’re the youngest and I’m the fool what made you. And you know how to drive the cart.” Henry gestured to an alleyway where three corpses had been heaped next to the drain. The smell was… well. If you started to complain about the smell of London in This Year Of Our Lord Thirteen-Hundred and Forty-Nine, you’d never stop.

Regretting every choice that brought him to this moment, Jon slouched over to the bodies. Two of them had obvious stab wounds, and one of them smelled like early plague infection. Jon slung them over his shoulders and regarded the third body for a moment, frowning. “Hey, Henry?”


“This one’s still alive.”

“You’re pulling my leg.” Henry hopped down off the cart and gawked. “I’ll be damned. Piss drunk and thrown in the gutter. Miserable thing.” He eyed Jon suspiciously. “What are you thinking? If you’re hungry these two are fresh enough.”

Jon shuddered. “God, no. No, I think I know this guy.” Jon handed off the corpses to Henry and rolled the still-living man over onto his back. “Oh, poo poo. Patrick.”

“So who is he?” Henry asked after flinging the bodies into the cart with all the care of a man handling a sack of manure, “What’s his story?”

Jon raked a hand through his hair. “This is his story, right here. If you’d asked anyone from our town ‘who’s the most likely person to wind up dead-drunk in an alley with plague corpses on top of him,” half of ‘em would say ‘Patrick.’ Last time I saw him he’d got himself thrown out of every pub in town, his mother’s house, my mother’s house, two mercenary companies and at least one church. Just had a talent for making people hate him.”

Henry joined Jon on the ground next to Patrick. “Anyone try an’ help him?”

Jon laughed. “I tried. He was at my mums place because I begged her to let him in. He insulted her cooking. Even after that I got him a job at the local merchant’s association. I drove the wagons between towns, he could muck out the horse stalls. It seemed like it was going well when I–” He stopped.

Left, he couldn’t say. Left and died. An ambush. Blades in the dark. Horses and men screaming. The wagons twisted and fell and Jon was underneath them and everything was pain at first, but then there was a lack of pain that was so, so much worse. The world went all red, except around the edges where it was slowly, slowly going a prickling, glittery black until all he could see was a man, a man with very white teeth…

“Left,” he said, finally. He ground his teeth. Henry had warned him about the memories that jumped out at you. Ten years of being a vampire and it was as fresh as yesterday. He tried to calm himself. He stared at the big vein jumping in Patrick’s neck, counting pulses. That helped. That changed the pain and confusion into anger.

What the hell had happened here? You didn’t have to be a vampire to see he was alive. He wasn’t even breathing shallowly. Sure, Patrick was the worst, but being cruel to him was like pulling the wings off of flies. No punishment created by mortal man was worse than just letting Patrick be Patrick.

Henry watched Jon, his expression closed and unreadable. “You want to turn him?”

Jon shook himself. “gently caress no, then he’d be my problem again.”

“Ah.” Henry stood and looked up at the sky, squinting. “You can fly, yeah? You like flying?”

“Yeah. It’s the only good part of being dead, flying. Why?”

The old vampire grinned, his teeth glinting in the shadows. “The way I sees it, there’s helping, and then there’s helping.


Patrick awoke hundreds of feet above the city and falling. He screamed, windmilling his arms as if he could fly. He had just enough time to envision himself speared through the steeple of a church before something hit him from the side, breaking his fall and carrying him off into the night. He clutched at the neck of his savior. “Oh God! Oh, oh God!” He was staring at the ground as it fell away, and so didn’t recognize the man carrying him until Jon spoke.

“Patrick, friend, it’s terrible to see you like this. You’ve got to clean it up.”

He goggled. Time had left no marks on Jon. No gray in his hair. No crows feet in his eyes. “I’m dreaming,” Patrick moaned. “Oh, God, I need to wake up!”

“Not a dream. Just a warning!” And with that, Jon threw him into the sky.

At the peak of Patrick’s arc, another, older man caught him. “Hi there, lad. I’m Henry. You’ve got to lay off the booze, mate.” He grinned a shark’s grin. “It’ll kill ya.”

The old man simply dropped him. Patrick fell into Jon’s arms. “And knock off insulting women. Nobody thinks it’s cute and it’s gonna get you knifed.”

Another throw to Henry. “Pay your debts on time or don’t take ‘em on.”

Back to Jon. “Don’t blame everyone else for your problems. Everyone has their own poo poo to deal with, especially these days.”

“Are you going to kill me?!” Patrick shrieked at Jon. “Are you devils?! Why are you wearing that face?!”

Jon laughed. “I’m dead, Patrick. I’m dead and it’s awful. I cart bodies around and I drink cow’s blood and I can’t even have a pint anymore. You’re still alive and you’re still cocking it up. I don’t want to kill you, I want you to stop being a prick.”

Patrick clung to Jon. “If you don’t throw me again I’ll do whatever you want! I’ll never drink again! I’ll join the bleedin’ church! I swear it!”

Jon gently placed Patrick back on the ground where he collapsed, shaking. Jon crouched next to him, his eyes red and feral with the expenditure of power. “You’ve got a chance to be better,” he whispered. “Take it. I’ll look you up again in five years. If you’re back to old tricks… well. We’ll have another chat.”

Jon patted the man on the shoulder and climbed back up onto the corpse wagon with Henry, sitting a little taller now. “You were right,” he said as they rattled and squeaked back to the mortuary. “That was fun.”

“Think it helped?”

“Guess I’ll find out in five years.”

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving And something has got to give

Dignity for Mr. Hudson
973 words
Prompt: "My dad goes to work to help people be dead. He has tools on his ambulance to fix people’s brains."

The Dignity Society ambulances always ran with full lights and sirens. It felt like overkill for most of their calls -- funeral homes and hospital morgues were practically riot-proof these days, and even the poorest churchyards had guards with tasers and catchpoles -- but every call was still an emergency, and today's wasn't anywhere as safe as a morgue. The EMT who'd called it in had been so flustered that he'd spelled the acronym out, A-P-N-A, and then defined it: "abnormal postmortem neuronal activation." Who could blame him? He'd been calling from a goddamn elementary school.

At least it wasn't a kid, thank God. Daniel had never attended a Dignity Society call for a kid, and he tried not to even think about the idea as he prepped the deactivator in the back of the ambulance. Everyone was safe; the first responders had gotten the kids out of the way and isolated the APNA case in the multipurpose room where the EMTs had initially worked him. The case was a middle-aged man, average size and musculature, dead for an hour or two before APNA onset: unusually fresh, but otherwise textbook. This would be a clean operation. Daniel just had to not think about the kids, not think about his kid. His daughter played viola. The APNA case had been the orchestra teacher.

(Sometimes "case" felt a little too clinical, but today, it was a lifeline. He couldn't think "victim," or "sufferer," or "patient," let alone the man's name right now. He focused on "case," a situation to resolve.)

The ambulance pulled into the fire lane of Steinwald Elementary, and Daniel's driver killed the sirens. "Hey," the driver called back -- what was the guy's name again? Vijay? "You sure you have this? If you can't work it, I'll take it."

"Thank you, but I've got it. I know the school layout if we need it, and I can make it quick. Just be ready to run the Deact as soon as I get him in."

"Got it. Take care."

"And you." Daniel climbed out of the ambulance, grabbing the catchpole and checking the taser on his belt. The outer doors to the multipurpose room were closed but unlocked, thankfully unbroken, and Daniel strode into a band room in chaos: metal folding chairs and music stands in disarray, tracing the trail of the lurching figure near the center of the room. The APNA case staggered in an unsteady gait, barely bipedal, as his arms swung out to thrash at any object they made contact with. He keened out barely-human words, the product of a throat forcing air through and a mouth shaping syllables by bare muscle memory alone.

Daniel remembered his training: don't listen for patterns. Don't call out or try to grab attention; they don't have it to give. They're just motor impulses. Grab them and and bag them.

Daniel fired the catchpole when the case had his back to him; the metal claw closed around the case's waist as the net deployed, binding the arms tightly to the case's sides. The case stumbled, thrashing by unfocused reflex but restrained enough to let Daniel start herding him towards the propped-open doors, out into the parking lot and into the Dignity van. Vijay was ready with the Deact; a clamp around the case's head, the swift sizzle of electrical current, and the corpse at rest at last.

Easy. Simple. As clean a case as he'd ever worked.

And he was still going to have to talk about it with Kayla that night.


It came out over dinner, when Kayla looked up from aimlessly pushing mashed potatoes around her plate. "Dad? I saw your van outside. Did they call you out for Mr. Hudson?"

Daniel glanced to his wife Sonia, who gave him the shallow nod of you got this. "They did," he began hesitantly. "Did they tell you what happened?"

"No, they just said we had to stay in the classrooms, but I could hear him yelling and knocking things over. Liam said he was a... z-word, for sure. Or he went crazy."

God, would it have killed the teachers to say something? You couldn't just coop kids up and let them come up with stories. "He died in his office," said Daniel, figuring it was past time for euphemisms. "They said he had a heart attack, and he was dead before the EMTs got there. When they were getting him ready to go, his body had an APNA episode, and so they rushed all of you to your classrooms and called us. Vijay and I took care of it and helped him rest in peace."

Kayla nodded. She understood the process -- he'd taken her to see one of the ambulances, once, to demystify it all -- but this was the first, and hopefully the last, time she'd been present for an APNA case. "So he's... okay now? Dead, but okay? It sounded like he was hurting."

"He wasn't hurting, sweetie, I promise. By the time it happened, Mr. Hudson was gone. His body did things because his nervous system was broken, but he didn't know or feel anything."

"I bet he's in Heaven and upset that he caused everyone so much trouble," replied Kayla, who mounded up her potatoes and took a forkful as if she might actually eat. "He was really nice. Can I tell you a story about him?"

"Please," replied Daniel. "I bet you've got some great ones."

Under the table, Sonia reached for Daniel's hand and squeezed, and together they listened to their daughter tell a few rambling stories about trying out for solos in fifth-grade orchestra. He tried not to think of Mr. Hudson's lonely death or its aftermath. The man was in Heaven now -- and if Daniel told himself that enough, after every case, maybe he'd finally start believing.

Aug 22, 2022

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
-“He was a boy who grew up to be a grown up, then he became a scientist who studied a Kraken on the beach.”
-"Get ready for a hug attack!"

The Scientist and the Kraken
791 words

There once was a boy who lived in the hills,
But he dreamt of a house by the sea.
His homeland was green, and with trees it was filled,
But it wasn't where he wanted to be.

At school Jamie learned that the ocean was wide
And home to a million creatures.
"How exciting!" he thought, and with youthful pride,
He endeavored to study its features.

His classmates were mean and made fun of him
Each day during lunch at school.
They'd push or shove him on a whim
Because he wasn't "cool".

He tried his best to tune them out,
But really, he wanted a friend
To cheer him on in times of doubt,
Or a listening ear to lend.

After his schooling, young Jamie moved
To attend university.
He pored through his books, and his knowledge improved
On biodiversity.

Jamie worked hard to do well in his class—
Oh, he studied all day and all night!
And over the years, his exams he would pass,
And he'd publish the papers he'd write.

A letter he penned to his parents one day
In the hopes that they would be proud.
He set down to draft it and scribbled away,
And then he proofread it aloud:

"The lectures were long and the homework was tough,
But at last, I'll graduate a scholar!
To the ocean I'll go, where the waves are rough,
With a beach full of shells and sand dollars."

"I hope I'll discover new species there,
Although I fear I may fail.
But if I could settle down anywhere,
Then my dream of the seaside prevails."

He sent it out to his family
And waited for their replies.
His parents then wrote back with glee,
"To stardom you will rise!"

With their words in mind, Jamie set out to work
As a scientist on the seashore;
He researched the fauna that swam in the murk
Of waters not studied before.

A lobster, a dolphin, a shark and a whale:
He catalogued all of their traits.
But soon he would tell a more glorious tale,
For a shocking surprise did await!

One morning, a storm poured down on the beach,
And the ocean waves shuddered and squalled.
Jamie peered out the window, and just out of reach
Was a monster — now, what was it called?

The beast had eight arms the length of a ship
And two golden, intelligent eyes;
Its tentacles tightened into a grip
And it let out a fearsome cry.

The scientist donned his coat and his hat
And he went out to take a look.
The monster, it thrashed on the sand where it sat
And the ground all around it shook.

"A Kraken!" cried Jamie, on his face a smile
As broad as the ocean he studied.
The rain fell around them for miles and miles,
And his shoes became soaked and muddied.

Poor Jamie! The beast turned to him with a groan,
And he feared he had met his end.
But the monster spoke in a sorrowful tone,
"All I want is to have a friend."

"The depths of the ocean are dark and deep,
But there aren't many others around,
So I swam to the surface and took a big leap
In the hopes that a friend could be found."

The scientist patiently lent an ear
As the Kraken recounted its woes.
And suddenly, gone was Jamie's fear—
At least, so the story goes.

For the monster reminded him of the days
When he'd felt alone as a boy;
And he thought, perhaps, he could find a way
To bring the beast some joy.

"Dear Kraken, I'm sorry to hear how you feel;
The deep sea's a lonely place.
I'll give you a hug, let's make it a deal,
And I'll put a grin on your face!"

The beast coiled its tentacles— all eight of its arms—
'round the scientist in an embrace.
"You are the first not to wish any harm
To me, or to any of my race."

And so, in the rain they hugged and they laughed
Together, a human and beast.
Perhaps other people would think it looked daft,
But those opinions mattered the least.

Oh, the laughter they shared and the stories they told!
Jamie wished it would never end.
But the evening fell and the air grew cold,
So he bid a farewell to his friend.

And over the years, they kept in touch,
Withstanding the test of time.
A simple embrace— it wasn't much—
Was the key that inspired this rhyme.

Old Jamie now shares what he learned from his work
In a school that he built by the sea.
And to this day, the Kraken still lurks
Where it knows that Jamie will be.

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.
Messing with Folklore

1020 words

Prompts:“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."

You know about Koschei the Deathless, right? Big bad wizard guy who hid his heart inside a needle in an egg in a turducken in a chest at the top of the tallest mountain in Russia so that nobody could kill him, then went around being a massive pain to everyone just because he could. Now, as these things work out eventually there comes around a peasant boy who's got googly eyes for a princess and ends up getting the idea that killing that guy will get him closer to sealing that deal, which is probably right, since as I said, massive pain who everyone would be really grateful to have stop being around. So the kid climbs the mountain, probably outwits a riddle-troll or steals a magic sword from a dragon or something along the way, finds the box, cheats a way to open it's unpickable lock, eats through the turducken (which also has a rabbit in there), cracks open the egg, and gets the needle to go and stab Koschei in the eye with it. Which is good, but that guy got to run around for a couple hundred years before anyone could do anything about it. So a bunch of us got together to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.

"Death," said Ivan the Green, "Is one lazy so-and-so."

"Comes for all of us," said Sofia the Blue.

"Inevitable, sure," said Ivan. "But in his own good time."

Now, we wizard types don't really have a leg to stand on, talking about being lazy. This Council was theoretically about Koschei but it didn't actually happen until centuries later. When we were all roused up about the other guy.

"Good on us," I said. There wasn't but one of us under two hundred in that room.

"Josif, that's different," said Sofia. "We keep to ourselves. We don't go around getting famous and then daring someone to find the secret way to kill us. We don't," she said, taping her foot, "Go messing with folklore."

All eyes turned to Peter the Grey. Even mine. Poor kid. "For the thousandth time," he said, "I. Didn't. Know."

"What," said Ivan, "The chicken legs on the hut weren't a giveaway?"

This was an old conversation but I'll probably never get tired of it. Peter, the youngest of us at fifty-five, spent a night with Baba Yaga, who had transformed herself into herself but young, or possibly just possessed her latest daughter, and he didn't notice the house lifting itself up and running into the taiga. Not until she kicked him out onto the ice and it ran off, leaving him out in the wilderness bare rear end naked without even a staff or wand. He's lucky I was nearby enough to notice.

Most of us have a Baba Yaga story, come to think of it. Most of them end better than his though.

After we hashed it out again, Sofia brought us back to the point. "Death," she said, "has abandoned his duties."

"He does that sometimes," I said.

"Too often," said Ivan. "We need to do something."

Why is it that whenever someone says 'We need to do something' or 'Something should be done' what they really mean is 'Josif the Gold needs to do it's? That's the way this was turning out. I owed more than a few favors, was willing to be owed a few from the others, and this is in my personal skill-set. So I set out to do it. To usurp the title. To become death. I had three months to do it, before the Rasputin problem went critical. I did it in one.

I don't suppose you've ever supplanted the role and corporeality of a top-tier anthropomorphic personification. Well, let me tell you one thing: it hurts. When you're not used to being a skeleton you get phantom pain from every muscle and organ you now don't have anymore. Also, every time you move it makes this awful scratching sound. It's cold, you don't have a proper tongue for talking or doing spells with, you move really slowly on foot and the horse knows it's not you and so won't move even if you manage to get on. I barely made it in time, just managed to get the seventh lethal attack to take, which is why he didn't manage to become Grigori the White and isn't running Russia right now. You may think that would be an improvement over the status quo, but believe me it wouldn't have been.

That took a lot out of me. I sort of staggered away, wandering blindly until I made it to a cave, a little shelter for the night. And in that cave there was a bear. Huge. Coal-black. And angry.

I let go. I stopped being Death in a second. What I thought would happen is that the original guy would get it back, maybe show up and challenge me to a game of chess or something.

That's not what happened. Instead, the bear became death.

The good news was that I had my own body back, capable of moving to the astral plane in a second. The other good news was that becoming death still hurt a lot, even if you’re a giant bear.

Death did come back, eventually. Showed up in his vacation hat and sandals and took it all back. Thing is, that was a mama bear. And Death is lazy. So in the meantime she bore a litter of bear cubs who were also Death. And they bred true. By now there's got to be hundreds of them.

Which solved our problem, long term. Now when a wizard starts getting too loud, starts messing around with folklore, well, it's not hard to get a few Russian Death Bears on their scent, and there's nothing out there this side of Baba Yaga herself that they can't and won't rip the face right off.

Pity about Ivan, but he was a bit of a jerk. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had tamed the Firebird back in 1949.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

"I would give her the story of horses get swept away by a tornado in a big, big day."

530 words

--A tornado is a violently rotating column of air.

The tornado bore down on Ellen Macmillain. Her rough hands gripped the balcony railing and the hot wind stung her eyes. She stared at the spot two paddocks over that had previously contained her barn and the horses. And Ewan.

--A tornado touches both the land and the clouds.

The tornado touched the upturned hands and face of Ewan Macmillan. He smiled, though he felt a little sorry for the horses. Then he was gone.

--They say that the centre of a tornado is completely still.

Ellen did not believe that. “It would be like being in another universe,” Ewan had said once. Then he had looked at her, and she saw in his eyes that he knew she neither believed him, nor cared. Ellen hated herself for that.

--The only source of illumination inside a tornado is lightning.

Inside the screaming vortex Ewan couldn’t see. He thought suddenly that he might have made a terrible mistake. From somewhere beyond the dust and debris he thought he could hear one of their neighbours shouting for help. Poor Frank, trying to get out. That would never work. Ewan knew that you had to go in.

Something butted against his leg. In the light from a sudden flash Ewan made out the head and neck of Ellen’s horse, Charisma. The mare was galloping against the wind, her nostrils pinched against the dust and legs reaching for ground that wasn’t there. Ewan grabbed her mane and pulled himself as if swimming onto her back. He urged the little chestnut around and into a downward-spiralling stream. Moving with the wind made breathing easier. Ewan laughed as they accelerated, ducking and weaving between chunks of debris.

--The safest place to be during a tornado is in an underground storm shelter.

Ellen’s teeth felt gritty. From the balcony she could see the path of destruction left behind by the tornado. With her right hand Ellen twisted her wedding band around and around on her left. She should get down to the basement, she knew. The farm was already lost. The horses were gone. Ewan was

Ellen’s hands stilled. The tornado’s wall was so close now she could see trees and bits of building hurtling through the dust. Lightning flashed inside the storm. Ellen saw a fan of chestnut mane, and galloping hooves.

--Ellen MacMillain had dreamt of tornadoes on her wedding night.

Down and down, until they spilled from the current and the mare’s feet crunched onto yellowed grass. Ewan slid from her back and stepped out into the centre of a well of perfectly still air. He tipped his head back. Through the heart of the storm he could see the stars. He wished Ellen could see this.

--They say that if you are in the centre of a tornado when it ropes out, that you will be carried away forever.

The storm front hit the house, and rain sluiced dust from Ellen’s face and plastered her hair to her skull. She tipped her head back and let the rain mix with her tears.

Ellen waited on the balcony until the last possible minute to get down into the basement.

Then she waited a minute more.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

“It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.”
"This guy put a sword on a selfie-stick!"

The Education of Eileen
1200 words

Eileen stood in front of a massive oaken door, the centerpiece of a façade whose edges faded into the dense forest surrounding the house, as if it and the pines had grown up together. The door had no knocker or doorbell, and Eileen wasn’t sure her knuckles would even register, but she appeared to have no choice. She rapped on the door and waited.

No answer came. Eileen looked around, trying, again, to find a number or a nameplate to identify the house, but none had materialized since she last looked two minutes ago. She bit her lip and looked back down the driveway—a dark tunnel of foliage that intersected another dark tunnel, a quarter of a mile back. She kicked the door this time.

“Hello! Anybody home?”

The door snapped open, and in the doorway sat an old man in a wheelchair, phone in hand. He held a finger to his lips, then pointed to the phone and mouthed: I’m on the phone.

Eileen jerked backward a step, but quickly composed herself and took stock of the man: his face was deeply tanned and weatherbeaten, framed by stringy white hair. A bristly mustache sat atop his lip, and a scowl held it all together. She began to voice a question, but the man held his finger up again.

“Alright, Diane, I’ll do my best,” he said, in a gruff, clipped drawl. No doubt this was Frank Walker, Briarpatch Publishing’s reclusive star, and he was talking to Diane DeLane, the company president. “Alright, alright,” he said, and hung up the phone.

“She says I’m supposed to be nice to you. I told her ‘nice’ is the consolation prize for boring people who don’t get the good words, but if that’s what you want. So, you’re my publisher-approved babysitter?”

“Research assistant. Eileen Harkwood.” She stuck out her hand, and Frank shook it.

“We’ve no time to waste.” He promptly turned and wheeled around toward the side of the house. Eileen followed. “Your cabin is through the gate. There’s folders on the desk. Familiarize yourself with the materials. You’ve got—“ He looked down at his watch. “Two hours. We leave at noon.”



“Frank. What are we researching?”

“My book,” he replied, as if that explained anything. Eileen shrugged. “Dress adventurously. And bring a selfie stick.”

She spent the next two hours (minus luggage hauling) skimming the materials on the polished walnut desk in her cottage. There were stacks of folders on a multitude of topics: medieval shipping laws; debunked astronomy theories; the early discography of Dick Dale; dog breeding in sub-Saharan Africa; the maintenance specifications of a 2003 Pontiac Aztek. Eileen couldn’t find a single throughline.

As noon approached, Eileen followed instructions and headed for the back deck, winding through the conifers that crowded the house. Then, as she turned the corner and caught sight of the backyard, she stopped dead in her tracks. She had assumed Frank’s house was nestled into an endless forest, but now she saw that it sat right on the edge of it, and running away from it was a gently undulating green-gold meadow. Steel-blue ponds dotted the meadow floor, ringed by crescents of dwarf pines and connected by a thin brook. Beyond the meadow, a series of peaks and ridges ran on to the horizon.

And then, a sight beyond all comprehension: bursting from the back door of his house, Frank careening down the shallow hillside as fast as the wheelchair’s motor would take it. Eileen watched in horror as he accelerated toward a natural ramp in the landscape. She tried to call out, but the words caught. The chair hit the ramp, but obliquely, and both chair and rider were launched in the air, yawing slowly to the right. Frank separated from the chair, and then crashed sideways into the grass. The chair landed nearby and bounced away.

“Frank!” She broke into a dead sprint toward the accident. Her new boss and the company’s best writer lay crumpled in a heap in his own backyard. She slid to her knees next to him. “Mr. Walker! Frank! Are you—”

Peels of laughter burst from the man, and he rolled himself over to stare at the sky.

“Are you—”

“Hush, kiddo. I’m fine.”

At that moment, when Eileen thought she couldn’t endure another shock, Frank stood up.

“You can…” Eileen trailed off, and sat down on her heels.

“Do you usually finish your sentences?”

Eileen looked up at the man with burgeoning fury. He was standing half-crouched, like some sort of goblin, staring at the sun. “What the gently caress, Frank.”

“See, I knew you could do it.”

“What the gently caress was that?”

“Research,” he said, as if that explained anything.


“For my book. It’s about wizards who turn people into Egyptian cats and it’s going to take 141 years to write.”

Eileen felt several undiscovered veins appear on her neck.

“Don’t worry. I know where we can find a portal to the 9th dimension,” Frank said, and jogged off toward a shed at the edge of his property. He half-turned and shouted back at Eileen. “Come on, you’re driving!”

For a while, they rode in silence in Frank’s 4-wheeler, Eileen’s jaw locked tight by anger and adrenaline. Eventually her curiosity overcame her outrage, though, and she began asking questions.

“Those materials you had me read. What are they for?”

“Research,” Frank said, as it if were self evident. “Come on, keep up.”

“Research. For what?” She quickly added, “For your book. I know. But what does any of that have to do with wizards, or cats, or Egypt? And what does any of it have to do anything else?”

“We’re here.” Eileen stopped the vehicle and looked around. They’d been driving for a while, and this stretch looked like the rest: mountains on one side, forests the other, and miles of meadow ahead. Frank hopped out and waddled to the back and began fiddling with things. Eileen sat in the driver seat, still in the state of semi-shock that had begun the moment she arrived.

“We’re researching life. What it means to be alive. I’m a writer. I have to communicate truths about the world. Which means I have to know the world and its truths.”

“Okay, and what do I have to do with that?”

“Research,” he said, for perhaps the hundredth time. But for the first time since she’d met him, he hesitated. “… On friendship.”

A quiet gasp escaped Eileen, and her stomach twisted. She turned to look at Frank, who was now standing a few feet away, staring toward the treeline. Eileen closed her eyes for a moment, gathering herself, then got up to stand beside him.

“The men of King Henry are in that forest,” Frank said, and gestured toward a set of hay-stuffed dummies. He held something out to her: a short sword, lashed to the end of a selfie stick. “Your weapon.”

“Why do you have a sword?” she asked, exasperated yet again.

“My mom was French,” he said, as if that explained anything.

“What does—” she began, but stopped. “Nevermind.” She took the improvised polearm in two hands. “Research?”

“Research,” he replied, and they charged.

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


a friendly penguin posted:

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

The Goblin’s Jape 996 words

Horace was digging for gold, and so far, had not had much luck. He had found a few corpses, which some might have taken as some kind of omen, but Horace was certain that the charts he’d examined indicated gold nearby, so he persisted.

On day thirty-seven, he struck something hard. It was a small wooden box, which some might’ve seen as out of the ordinary. Horace, however, assumed that that was how buried gold was discovered these days. The charts hadn’t said what form the gold would be in.

Horace picked up the box and opened it.

It was empty, so he set it aside and turned to pick up his shovel again.

“Hey mate,” said a voice next to his foot.

“Hmmm?” He turned, and there stood a very small green man.

“Thanks mate, you freed me from eternal imprisonment.”

Horace looked at the box. “You were in there?”

“That’s right, mate. Been there, I reckon, about a thousand years. Give or take.”

“Why were you in a box?”

“Oh, hard to say, mate. Some people just can’t take a joke, know what I mean? I just played a harmless jape on someone.”

“What kind of jape?”

“Oh, it’s nothing really. Just some playful interpretations of some wishes. Speaking of which, for rescuing me from my wooden prison, it is my pleasure to offer you three wishes.”

“Oh, really? I thought that was a genie thing?”

“Pffft,” said the goblin. “I can do wishes too. Goblin magic is powerful. And also sneaky, and playful, but I can grant wishes, believe you me.”

“Right,” said Horace, “well I was actually looking for gold. Do you know where it’s buried around here?”

“Where it’s buried?”

“Yeah,” said Horace. “I’m trying to dig up some gold so I can be rich.”

“Uh huh,” said the goblin. “So, I don’t know if you caught it earlier, but I’m a wish granting goblin. Powerful goblin magic, and all.”

“Right,” said Horace. “But do you know where the gold is?”

“I’m not sure you’re…” the goblin paused. “Like, let’s talk this through. Why do you want to find gold?”

“Because then I’ll be rich.”

“All right. Good. Now, do you think there’s part of that goal that I, as a goblin with powerful wish granting magic, might be able to grant you?”

“Well, I was hoping you could tell me where to find gold.”

The goblin nodded. “So, can you put your desires in the form of a wish?”

“I wish I was closer to the gold!”

The goblin sighed. “You know what, it takes the fun out of my japes when you make it this easy, but very well, your wish is my command.” The goblin wiggled his fingers, and suddenly the two of them were underground. All around them was mostly dirt, except they were in a pocket of air, and next to their head was a large nugget of gold.

“Wow,” said Horace, “there’s the gold!”

“Yep,” said the goblin.

“Ah, but we’re underground with it,” said Horace.

“See?” said the goblin. “A classic jape. Good thing you still have two wishes!”

“Hmmm,” said Horace. “I just need some way of getting out of here with the gold.”

“Yep,” said the goblin. “If only there was some kind of powerful being that could help you do that.”

“Like a digger!” said Horace.

“A digger?”

“Yes,” said Horace. “A big digging machine, one of those yellow machines that they do digging with. Some kind of… you know, a big thing that digs.”

“Right,” said the goblin. “Yes, all right, I can see how that sort of thing would be one solution, yes. Bear in mind, however, that you do have two more wishes left from a magical goblin. This time, I won’t even jape you as severely as the first one.”

“Can you make a digging machine?”

“Is this really the way you want to do this? I do very good magic, you know.”

“Oh right, I have to wish it. I wish for a machine that will allow us to dig out of here.”

The goblin sighed. “It’s no fun when you’re like this. You’ve got to be at least a little bit upset or something. It’s part of the social construct of japing. Tell you what, I’ll make this one jape free, because I just don’t feel super positive about japing, what with you being the person you are.”

The goblin wiggled his fingers again, and suddenly a big machine started constructing itself around them.

“Hmmm,” said Horace once the machine had finished constructing itself. “Not exactly what I expected, but I’m sure it will do great.” He opened the machine’s window, collected the large nugget of gold and placed it in the vehicle’s cab between the two of them. Then, he twisted some dials and pulled some levers and pressed a big red button, and the machine lurched into life and burrowed through the ground, popping out right next to where he’d been digging. “Wow, this is great,” said Horace. “Way better than the shovel.”

“Yep,” said the goblin. “So, you’ve got your nugget, only been lightly japed, and still got one wish in hand. What are you gonna wish for?”

Horace shrugged. “Think I’m right, actually.”

“Hmm, you sure?”

“Yeah, pretty sure with this nugget I’m rich.”

“All right,” said the goblin. “Hmm, not sure what to do from here.”

“Wanna come back to town with me? I was gonna buy a round of drinks once I found my fortune.”

The goblin shrugged. “Sure, why not. Grab the box as well, while you’re at it. Maybe I’ll be able to do some more japes later.”

So they went back to town, and Horace bought everyone in the inn a round, and the goblin got kicked out of the inn after he japed the innkeeper into accidentally serving up a live fish, which was a much more satisfactory reaction to being japed.

Jul 26, 2012


a friendly penguin posted:

"He should write the story of koala going surfing on a hot day at the house."

Big Koalhuna
Word Count: 1179

It was Little Tajji’s favorite time of the day. First tour group this week poured into the Blueberry Ash Animal Sanctuary gates . The first crowd of wide eyed school children, there on a field trip from somewhere around Brisbane, gathered around the pond near the eucalyptus trees. Caretaker Rick broke from the audience, looking for Tajji’s red collar among the other koalas. Not that the little marsupial made it a challenge. He would dash as quickly as his little legs could carry him, unsteady and plodding though it may be. Tajji bounced his way down from his branch towards Caretaker Rick, hopping onto the children’s sized surfboard the human set by the pond.

Caretaker Rick nudged the board into the water, but the koala’s tiny paws did most of the work. He waded his way towards the artificial waterfall at the edge, riding the bubbles from the submerged jets like a tiny wave. It was easy for him, but he could tell how much it impressed his young audience. Their laughs and cheers didn’t quite make sense to him, but he could still feel the happiness radiating off the children every time he did his trick. But on that day, the joy was short-lived.

Tajji smelled the smoke first. The children’s laughter ended almost immediately, replaced by the approaching cries for help in the distance. The black clouds tore their way through the air as merigold flames consumed the visitor center. Those flames would soon spread to the nearest trees. Caretaker Rick gathered the children around him before putting his hand out to Tajji, only for a falling branch separated them. The pond water splashes with impact, flinging the marsupial’s board in the opposite direction. Tajji clung to the board, keeping his composure after it hit ground, only leaping off voluntarily as the heat grew closer.

He dashed blindly forward into whatever was away from the flames, managing to scale the fence at the edge of the property. The little bear ran until the grass became squares of concrete and the trees became towers of brick. He ran until nothing he saw looked familiar at all.


The city of Brisbane terrified Tajji. He made his way through the alleyways, sleeping in dumpsters, with their putrid odor being the price of safety. The ground was either solid rock that hurt his pawns or oily puddles that muddled his fur. Anything outside was loud and chaotic, with humans and vehicles moving too fast for a small koala to feel safe. The trucks honk their horns and the humans yell into their phones. The stench of the dumpsters only replaced by motor exhaust the further Tajji stepped into downtown. He could still walk, though his fur was singed from the flames around where the vets put their microchip. But knowing where to go was difficult.

He plodded through the city until the slightest breeze of fresh air pierced the urban musk. Tajji followed this breeze the best he could. The humans still stopped down the sidewalks with little regard. The cars and trucks still tore down the streets at their brisk pace. But little Tajji had direction now. He had reason to scurry past the humans’ legs as they fumbled to avoid the random marsupial. He had reason to dodge the speeding cars, his timing more precise than he knew possible. He ran from block to block until he found the line of palm trees just past the next sidewalk. He darted past the road, following the fresh fragrance that he soon came to realize was the ocean.

The concrete turns to fresh grass before dipping into white sand. Humans laid on blankets and threw plastic balls in the air. But then Tajji saw the water. The rolling waves of the Pacific dwarfed the bubble jet of his home. As the waves crashed into the shore, he saw them: The humans riding their long, fiberglass covered boards. One of the ridden by a small boy with his parents helping navigate. The boy rode the board back onto the beach, leaving it alone while his parents helped him dry off the salt water. That was all the time Tajji needed to run onto the beach and push the surfboard into the water, nudging it with his furry snout.

Before anyone could notice, the koala had already crawled on top of the board as it turned itself forward in the waning tide. A strong ripple lifted the surfing marsupial up before setting him back down. But Tajji kept his balance. This water was more powerful than the sanctuary pond, but it was still just water. He paddled with his paw when he wanted to change direction. He shifted his weight when he needed to rebalance. Another powerful ripple. Tajji rode it back down before paddling further into the azure sea. He popped his head up to see if a crowd had formed like back at the sanctuary. He couldn’t hear their laughter. But he saw the bodies standing at the shoreline, watching the tiny animal drift along the waves. As the waters pick up again, he saw the lifeguards paddling towards him on their foam boards.

They reached out towards him as the tide began to pick up. Tajji rode the wave, slipping past the red and white clad protectors as it crashed down. They turned to follow him as a second lifts their boards, and giving Tajji the edge to drift just out of reach. The current seemed to shift, pulling the guard close as paddle back around. The boy’s parents were approaching now. Other swimmers began to join in the attempts to catch the wayward koala. But Tajji could see the crowd starting to form. He didn’t understand what the smartphones they were holding meant, but he knew he had seen them before during his shows. The current shifted into the largest wave yet. Tajji scurried to keep his balance as the ocean lifted his pursuers. When the wave crashed onto the coastline, he rode the force, cutting past his would-be captors.

As the boy watched his parents chase after the pilfered board, he catches a small glimpse of the red collar around the bear’s neck. The koala drifted back onto the shore, as lifeguards followed and animal control arrived. But the boy ran towards his beleaguered parents shouting “It’s Tajji!”


When Caretaker Rick arrived, animal control was still there. Someone had clearly asked them to stay. Crowds surrounded the Jeeps, trying to get photos of Tajji like he was a pop star or celebrity footballer. When Tajji saw his former human, he lept in his cage, pawing at the bars in a rudimentary attempt to say something close to hello.

“You must be Rick,” a man wearing a suit asks. “I’m from the Australian Tourism Agency. I understand you’ve some troubles lately.”

“Uh, yeah,” Rick nervously utters. “Some bad wiring or something.”

“Well whatever your insurance doesn’t cover, I’m sure we can help with. If you don’t mind letting us take a friend of yours to the beach every so often.”

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Submissions are closed.

I hope these stories make more sense than the narrative my child keeps when playing with bath toys.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

We must imagine Sisyphus happy
825 words

Satan, who is the devil, never wanted it to be easy for people to escape his nighted domain. Obviously. So he set a guard, and made it fierce beyond description. Long of fang, black of fur, eyes of pure jellied fire.

I sat, cross-legged, a careful forty three fee away from the hound of Hell, and mused upon its savage lineaments.

I really could not fault the Lord of Lies’ workmanship.

Not only the dog itself which was a pure nightmare creature, but the chain that bound it. The links were bronze, fastened to a bracket in the dead centre of the archway out of Hell. The chain was enough for the dog to cover every inch of the arch. It stared at me, eyes like banked coals, and panted. The sulfurous reek of its breath would have been notable anywhere else, but … Hell.

I’d traversed an unthinkable array of horrors and dangers to reach this place, and yet on the edge of freedom I found myself stymied. I’d tried sneaking past it, running, casually walking then at the last minute darting in a different direction. It was fast despite its size and each time those massive horrible jaws closed the merest fraction of an inch away from me.

I didn’t think I could die, as such, but I’d heard the tales and didn’t want to spend the next eternity being digested in this ghastly hound’s colon.

It had been a week, as I reckoned time by the hourly clangour of Lost Hope, the great cracked bell at the heart of Hell, and I was no closer to getting past it. At last I shrugged and grasped the handle of the obsidian knife I’d stolen from an overseer down in a slave pen in Acheron. The haft was wrapped in braided human hair and the edge was wickedly, poisonously sharp. I hefted it a moment then positioned it at the joint to my left wrist, felt the painful line against my skin. I decided that if I could toss it to the very limit of the chain, over … there … I could maybe make it through the opposite side in the few seconds it was busy gobbling it down.

It was a terrible plan, really, and bespoke a degree of insanity, but it had been a long journey and to be stymied at the last was not to be born.

But, as I made the first cut the dog spoke.

“You didn’t really love her,” it said in a pleasant conversational tone.

The blood was hot on my wrist. I could feel it dripping. I considered the words, looked up at the dog. It grinned back at me.

“You can talk?” I said, then felt foolish. It didn’t answer at first, just kept grinning, tongue lolling, a faint cloud of black steam coming off it.

“There’s nothing for you out there. You can escape all you like, it won’t help.”

It was odd to hear my own fears echoed in such a way, so I slid the blood-slick knife back into my breech clout and put my hand over the cut. It hurt a lot, which helped to concentrate my mind.

“But I want to,” I said. “I want to be free of this place.”

“It won’t help.” The massive creature crossed its paws and rested its gigantic head upon them.

I shook my head. This was absurd. I must have come close. Maybe I’d stumbled on a plan to escape Hell that was just crazy enough to work, so now the hound was, I don’t know, changing its tactics. Also I was losing a lot of blood.

“I don’t care.” My voice sounded firm and clear, in my ears, I couldn’t tell if the dog believed me. “I’m doing this because I choose to, not because of the, the other stuff.” With that, and without giving myself any time to think about it, I whipped my razor knife back out and sliced my left hand clean off.

The pain was extraordinary, like I’d plunged my wrist into molten iron, and I springboarded off that into a howling, stumbling run, hurling the severed appendage off to my left as I sprinted to the right.

The hound of the gates of Hell watched the movement of the hand, trailing a crimson streamer of gore, then snapped my up with a single negligent flick of its jaws and bit me in half.

I awoke, a nameless period of searing torment later, slumped against a rocky wall. I looked around, blinking away gritty ash. Malebolge, the sixth circle. I had returned to where I started. My hands were intact, though a vivid scar surrounded my left wrist.

I thought my way up through the winding, horrid labyrinths of devilish torment that lay between me and the exit.

Then I laughed, and clambered to my feet, and started once more.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

:siren: Week 547 Judgment :siren:

As my child has said, “It’s exhausting standing on the sun.” So I am pleased to yield the solar throne. Overall I was happy with the stories this week because they really embraced their inspiration as well as the exuberance of childhood storytelling. So the below decisions were mostly based on execution of the story rather than the ideas themselves, which all have the possibility to grow up to be successful, edited, well-adjusted stories. I believe in you!

Winner: rohan – Promise of Bare Branches – judges agreed that this was packed with worldbuilding and character development

HMs: - Yoruichi - --a tornado is a violently rotating column of air – for its imagery and smart use of structure
- Chairchucker – The Goblin’s Jape - this story gets special mention for how well it depicts an adult/child relationship. It made me laugh.

DM: - Admiralty Flag – Negotiate the Dark, Curving Ribbon – this story had pacing issues, didn’t start in the right place and could have done more with where it ended.

Loss: - Caligula Kangaroo – Big Koalhuna – Welcome back to the Dome! You do need to edit your work. The typos, tense issues and gaping hole of setting a whole koala preserve on fire while not saving the rest of the koalas had the judges very concerned.

Take it away, rohan!

Mar 19, 2008

Look, if you had one shot
or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
in one moment
Would you capture it...
or just let it slip?


awwww yiss back on the bloodthrone without my pants

TD 548 - have you ever? ever felt like this?

Welcome to a special all-Aussie Thunderdome, brought to you by Chairchucker, Sailor Viy, and me without my pants! This week, I’m paying tribute to the classic Aussie TV show Round the Twist, which I used to watch every night after school without my pants. Based on the short stories by Paul Jennings, Round the Twist followed the Twist family as they moved to a lighthouse in a small country town and found themselves in all sorts of exciting supernatural predicaments — from ghosts haunting dunnies to cabbages bearing babies to skeletons that cursed you to finish each sentence with “without my pants”, without my pants. (okay that’s enough of that)

This week, I’d like you to write a story where your characters have an unusual living situation and help a supernatural being somehow. Interpret this however you want!

In the spirit of the show, I’d like the stories this week to be fairly child-friendly, but this is a show where a boy turns his penis into a propeller to win a swimming competition, so there’s a bit of leeway.

When you sign up, you can now nominate (or be assigned) an episode title from the show to be the title of your story. Titles are first-come, first-served, and will add an extra 500 words to your story.

If you’ve already signed up, feel free to take a title as well, or if you’ve already started a story and don’t want to call it “Skeleton on the Dunny” for some strange reason, I’ll also accept a :toxx: for the bounty.

Wordcount: 1500 words (+500 word title bounty)
Signup deadline: Friday 11:59PM PST
Submission deadline: Sunday 11:59PM PST

Sailor Viy

ghosts haunting the dunny
1. Staggy
2. CaligulaKangaroo
3. Benagain
4. Thranguy
5. Yoruichi
6. Pham Nuwen

I’m looking forward to reading all your stories!

… without my pants.

rohan fucked around with this message at 22:26 on Feb 1, 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


a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Crits for Week #547 – Domers say the Darndest Things

I hope you all had as much fun writing this week as I had reading. I came to all of these ready to enjoy and I was not disappointed. Mostly.

Staggy – Bob’s Monster Hands:

Well that ending was unexpected. But just the right tinge of horror for a traditional folktale. But it doesn’t quite match the tone at the beginning which seems to telegraph a much more modern children’s story that will end with Bob coming out on top but in a much less gruesome way.

I enjoyed the alliteration and detailing. Good prose and the plot follows a logical progression. But now it needs that next layer to level it up from simple story to attention getter. Because there’s already a good emotional connection to Bob. Whether that’s mapping the events in this to be analogous to something in our current times or giving nuance to Bob, the other monsters, and the hands so that we recognize them as attachments that we have in our own lives.

Admiralty Flag - Negotiate the Dark, Curving Ribbon:

Started in the wrong place. Ended in the wrong place. Wasted a lot of time with unnecessary scenes. Although, I’m not sure what the story was, so maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.

Brian is a great start to a character with a really good motivation. But the story doesn’t really explore that. I want this story to start with the diagnosis or at least the implication of it to reveal more slowly as those details become more relevant to the decisions that Brian is making. I want this story to explore his relationship with Julia. I want this to explore Brian’s relationship to the road and the sights that he sees. What does all of this mean to him?

But these aren’t the things that I see. What is here are small interactions between people. The first scene is not great dialogue. It’s trying to show the reader Brian’s decision making process and entice the reader to figure out the mystery but instead it reads like keeping information from the reader with no progression. And the next scene is only a filler scene that gets us to the last scene, again with bland dialogue and not much connection between the two.

I think the strongest bit is when Julia is freaking out about Brian paying attention to the road and worrying about her own mortality because I want to see that juxtaposed to Brian’s feelings on life and fear of dying. Which is why I think the story should start here. It would be a great start to an exploration of how and when we accept death.

rohan - The Promise of Bare Branches:

Gaaaaah, so you know when I tell you that you need to write a book based on basically every short story of yours I ever read? I take them all back. This is the one I want! Rain witches? Tree wizards? Existential dread??? Sign me up.

As a worldbuilding exercise, this is inviting and cozy and slice of life-y in the best way. As a story, it’s almost there, but missing some key connective pieces. Namely getting way more specific about the history between these two and a little less vague about what their future could be together. Giving it anything more would take it out of the cozy/SOL realm, which wouldn’t be a bad decision because I want to see how these characters cope with if not the situation you’ve alluded to already, then a smaller problem that affects them both so that I can see them work together.

But if you wanted to keep the coziness of it, give them a chance to walk outside among the trees and rain and emphasize their connection to nature as well as each other and people would eat that up!

Dicere - Visitation or Returning:

This wastes so much time at the beginning setting everything up. Get to the trippy part way faster, imo because that’s where this leans into the absurd and gets my attention.

There are several things not great with this story on a prose level: typos, narrator interjections at the beginning that don’t really serve a narrative purpose, calling Phyllis elder constantly despite her having a name. Other than the typos, these other two could serve a narrative purpose, except the voice and the tone aren’t consistent enough to make me think they’re used intentionally.

But then again, I’m not actually sure what sort of story is being told here. Is the idea that “I eat. I poop,” is some sort of enlightening wisdom that caused Phyllis to achieve a rainbow body and peace out from the restaurant? That Phyllis is the lama teaching (more like cursing) Tiffany to seek her own epicurean wisdom at some other obscure restaurant?

This could definitely have something to say if we knew what sort of lessons everyone took from it in the end. But in the beginning we learn that only the cooks remember either of these people which is actually one of the parts I would lop off just to get to this all a little faster. I’m not convinced there was a cohesive narrative to this from beginning to end with that disconnect from the beginning. Needed another editing pass to make the start feed into the rest. But perhaps this whole crit is just my attachment to a coherent story structure and I shouldn’t grasp at such things.

Chernobyl Princess - The Silly, Silly, Silly Kindred:

Aww, a black plague Christmas Carol with vampires as the spirits. Now there’s an adaptation that hasn’t been done. The first half of this wasn’t silly enough, but the second half sure was. The first half was trying at the silly but it was falling mostly on the side of serious. But that second half sure made me smirk.

So it’s a tale of two tones. (Apparently this is making me think of Dickens with these references.) And there are ways to make it one or the other. Despite the plague setup, this can be and has been made absurd. The obvious comparison is “Bring out your dead!” from Monty Python. But right now there’s just too much care in Jon’s heart for Patrick to let that land. I do love the line that Jon doesn’t want to turn Patrick because then he’ll be his problem again. But he might do the same for Patrick as he did in life by bringing him back to the vampire home and threatening him with turning if he doesn’t straighten up and fly right. And the menacing of the rest of the vampires would be enough to bring a bit of seriousness back the other way.

Not a bad start. Just more care for the overall tone is needed.

Antivehicular - Dignity for Mr. Hudson:

This started so well. That image of tasers and riot-proof morgues/cemeteries is really attention grabbing and leads into the action so well. The prose is good, the characterization works quick and efficient at every step. I just want this to have a more cohesive driving force. It almost has one and I’m convinced that if this story got a focused editing, that this could be added and it could get published. It could be a commentary on the aftermath of school shootings or the absolute exhaustion of medical professionals and how they’re not allowed to feel a personal connection anymore, even when they really need to.

Instead the events after the capturing and deacting are just sort of there. They don’t carry the tension that they’re supposed to. And the story really needs something since the dezombifying portion of this story isn’t meant to be the source of conflict. (I love that in-story it’s a “z-word.” That shows me so much about this world. And I’d love to see that world expanded in other small ways throughout.)

So more significance placed around how personal this deact process is for Daniel (the case thrashed at the music stand and Daniel couldn’t help but see Mr. Hudson’s jerky orchestration in the movement, etc.) The palpable relief when it goes according to plan, the dread of facing the family later, and then everyone else’s processing of their grief compared to Daniel’s inability. Turning him into some form of zombie himself. Yeah, this could be a powerful one.

WindwardAway - The Scientist and the Kraken:

I can’t hate this. Every time I frowned at how the meter just doesn’t work, I ended up smiling at the turn of events. And then the meter would work and I would get into the lilting song of it and then it would fail again. Did you read this aloud? I don’t expect expert rhyming, consistent meter or jam-packed, meaningful word choice from poetry submitted to a weekly short-story contest, but my ears pleaded for extra syllables in some of these lines.

On a story level, it’s just the right amount of conflict and growth for a kids’ story told in verse. It’s got the sad, lonely childhood, the perseverance and love of family, the loveable animal characters, the happy ending. Sure there are places to cut that I didn’t find useful to the place I could see this going especially when there wasn’t any more conflict to be had in, say the college days, but in the end it didn’t bother me. If you did want to rework this, I’d be happy to talk about it more, but otherwise just know that it could work with enough attention.

Thranguy - Messing with Folklore:

I enjoyed this. It’s charming and has all the right references/in-jokes for someone who does enjoy folklore. Is it a story? Not really. There’s no real tension or stakes and barely a motivation for what’s happening. It’s winding and at times nonsensical, but that’s why I think I liked it. I like the way the ideas were all put together and somehow flowed nicely into one another. You always have a way with ideas.

The twist with the death bears I did not see coming. But it’s amazing and I’d love to read a story telling me what sorts of antics they get up to.

In fact, any one of the ideas brought up here could have made for a great story. But it needs to zoom in a lot. Keep the voice and the asides, I don’t need to know exactly how one becomes Death, but I’d like to see a little bit more in terms of character since that’s the star of this little story. Sure, you could throw in a bit more of the stakes and the specific absurdities of plot, but mostly I want to see the beleaguered Josif the Gold make magic happen and interact with this world without running afoul of folklore. This could be really fun.

Yoruichi - --A tornado is a violently rotating column of air.:

Talk about a slice of life that just keeps slicing. I like the pairing of action with the “facts about tornado” headings. Each of these is a story in miniature with a character and a tension. Sometimes that tension is more obvious and lands well. Other times, I think it could use maybe a word or two more. Very specific words that could send the right gut punch to the reader.

Because the setting of this creates all the drama and stakes that such a short piece needs, so then it’s about character. And we get a sense of what that is in very few words. But with just a few more carefully chosen ones, the reader can get a sense of history about their farm and life together.

I like the horse riding inside the tornado and all of the other stuff that happens to Ewan inside because it creates a juxtaposition and the extra POV to contrast with Ellen, but I can’t decide whether or not the unreality of it works. Mostly for tonal reasons. It’s a little absurdity in a piece that’s heavy with the damage of the lives we live together and the shortness of when it all comes to a point. I don’t know. I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

BeefSupreme - The Education of Eileen:

I got taken out of your story because you say they’re driving a 4-wheeler, which to me is this:
But the descriptions you use surrounding that vehicle indicate that this isn’t what you’re imagining and it just kept tripping me up.

And yes, that’s what I chose to open this crit with and not, what? I am all for having an eccentric author living in the middle of nowhere and some poor, underpaid assistant having to suffer his mania. And that bit works very well. The zanier that author becomes, the more I smiled. But that poor assistant needs to go on a journey here. She is carrying the narrative since the author cannot. I need her to start one place and end in another. What those places are is up for grabs. If it wanted to stick with the theme of the week, it could be like an adult trying to control a situation where a child just absolutely won’t come around to “reason” and then that adult finally releasing their attachment to needing a game of pretend to make sense and just going with it. But there could be any number of things in this character’s past that might inform their reaction to this situation. Pick one and see what it does for this.

Otherwise, the other details are down to taste. And speaking of taste, having the author fake a disability (however short-lived) and then played for laughs isn’t a great idea.

Chairchucker - The Goblin’s Jape:

Success! This impressed me with how much it mirrored the relationship an adult can have with a child. The feeling of superiority, the need to show the kid exactly how the world can trip you up, but then the kid is just so genuine and convinced of what they want, that it eventually wins over the adult and then in the end everyone wins because they’ve met at some middle ground however silly that seemed at the beginning. And then the adult gets thrown out of a pub.

The ending I wanted to have a more precise button on it, but the journey to getting there was a joy of pairing a straight “man” with the comic. It’s very efficient. We don’t get anything we don’t need. Horace sounds very realistic in a convinced-of-his-own-logic sort of person. The goblin has just the right level of exasperation but is also reined in for the most part. It’s just a successful little piece that works as your style of humorous vignette. But not much more.

CaligulaKangaroo - Big Koalhuna:

This should be a cute little story about a koala who saves the koala preserve after going through some Curious George level antics. But unfortunately I had a hard time getting into the fun because of some very basic level issues: typos, tense switching, sometimes in the same sentence, inconsistency with POV. And while normally I wouldn’t have an issue with a story like this ascribing understanding of concepts like fiberglass to a koala, the koala also has to understand everything else. But there are times when the koala explicitly doesn’t understand what’s going on. And that’s a rather large hole in story logic that takes me out of the experience of the story.

Beyond that there are also questions about what happened to the other animals and people in the fire, which at the end is made to sound like it was quite devastating to the preserve. And that overshadows the adorable stardom of little Tajji. This story just needed time for a rethink and at the very least an editing pass. Reading it out loud might help with that if there’s not much time to let it sit or get a crit swap.

sebmojo - We must imagine Sisyphus happy:

First of all, we must not imagine him happy. The whole point is that Sisyphus is being eternally punished. The moment he begins to enjoy his lot is the moment that he is liberated from Hell and therefore enlightened. Take that, Camus.

Second, I enjoyed this story. Though I might like to know a little bit more about why he’s dead or why he wants to live more than literally all of the other dead people. Not in any detail, just only as it informs the current journey he is on. But perhaps he is not the only one speedrunning hell to get to this last level. We just don’t get to see those other people. In that case, what makes this guy so special?

I also get questions about what exactly the physics of Hell are. Well, they can be anything, which is why I don’t necessarily need an explanation of what they are, but what they were expected to be by this character. I get that a little with his being surprised that the Hellhound can talk. Maybe he didn’t expect any more pain in the afterlife. Or maybe by this point he already knows what to expect, having dodged the other issues of Hell. But I don’t get much sense of that either. Or that he changes his thinking when he realizes that the hound can talk and reason. Because he still throws the hand anyway, despite how clear it is the dog can tell that it’s going to be a ruse. I’m writing way more words than I need to for a story I generally liked.

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 14:55 on Jan 31, 2023

Jul 26, 2012


Oct 10, 2007

Can you see that I am serious?
Fun Shoe
I said I was in last week and failed to do anything. Rather than allowing myself to succumb to despair I am trying again. Excelsior!

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.


Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Mate, thIs prompt is uNreal.

Judges, can I have an unusual living situation and a supernatural being as flashrules?

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