Register a SA Forums Account here!

You can: log in, read the tech support FAQ, or request your lost password. This dumb message (and those ads) will appear on every screen until you register! Get rid of this crap by registering your own SA Forums Account and joining roughly 150,000 Goons, for the one-time price of $9.95! We charge money because it costs us money per month for bills, and since we don't believe in showing ads to our users, we try to make the money back through forum registrations.
  • Post
  • Reply
Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Week 543 Crit

My crits come in three parts:
  • synopsis, a literal reading of your story (hopefully helps identify if the details I read match the details in your head)
  • analysis, a reading of what I think your story is about (to see whether your story communicates the message you intended)
  • response, my personal reaction to your story (because I'm a great reader whose opinion matters tremendously)

Hopefully some element of it helps you! Feel to argue with me about your story on Discord.

Flyerant's The Courage of Nearly Flightless Birds
Synopsis: normally, I would do a literal transcription of the plot, but I don't think that's really useful here, given that this is sort of plotless. Instead, I'm going to summarize in broad strokes. The story opens with lines of verse about someone mourning the plight of flightless birds, imagining that those birds do try to fly but cannot, regardless of effort given. (The author of this poem is not related; given the subsequent dreams about the subject it is possible that it is our narrator.) The remainder of the story is narrated in first-person, and relates the thoughts and feelings of one (particular) day in her life: 50 days after the death of her child (possibly a miscarriage, based on a couple of details, but it could be otherwise.) She proceeds through the routines of work and home life, remarking on how both her coworkers and her husband are unsure of how to handle her or appropriately offer consolation, but both are relieved to be able to pass the day uneventfully. She then relates her recurring dreams, about chickens, presumably the flightless birds from the poem, but also mothers in their own right. In the dream, a chicken lends the woman her egg, which then crumbles in her grasp, and she awakens, now in the room of her unborn child. She reveals that the "crib would be forever empty", which implies that she is some way unable to have children at all. She then says she is tired of pretending to be okay, and that the falseness feels like dying, and that she is ready to confront her reality. The story ends on the 51st day after the death of her child, with her admitting she is not okay.

Analysis: This story is about the difficulties of emotionally reckoning with the loss of an unborn child, and how nobody but a mother can truly offer any solace (even if that mother is an anthropomorphized chicken). It's also about the idea that pretending to be okay is a useless stance, both for the grieving, for whom it is false and provides no comfort or healing, and for those around them, for whom it provides no sure footing on which to support the grieving. The mother in this story pretends to be okay (and actually rejects the sympathy of her coworkers, reading it as self-serving), and indicates that everyone around her--including her husband, whose own pain is absent from this story--cannot relate to her. However, everyone around does appear to be aware that she is struggling with her tragedy, and attempt to offer some understanding--her coworkers are "full of understanding sympathy", they give "sympathetic speeches", her husband's anxiety "is apparent". The story ends with the woman stating that she can finally admit that everything is not alright; it appears that she's the last person to arrive at this conclusion.

I am mixed and mostly negative on this story, but mostly because I don't think the pieces here fit together. There are some lines that I really liked ("I could not help but wonder if the hens missed their eggs when they were plundered"; "everything has to be alright, otherwise I need the world to be burning"), but I think the details, the themes, and the emotional core of this story are jumbled up. I, like the judges, did not really understand why this story was written in semi-verse. It appears that you wrote the poem included at the start of the story, and perhaps you were trying to carry that through the remainder, but the result is that the prose reads very repetitively and monotonously. Your sentence structures repeat over and over (lots of sentences with two clauses of nearly equal length), and in conjunction with the sometimes-rhyming, it took me completely out of the story. I also think this story is trying to do too much (but only uses 537 of an allowed 1500 words) and doesn't give us enough to do all that it wants. The prompt is about new things and what they mean to the people in the story, so I understand that, by that measure, she has to turn the page to the 51st day, but this story wants to be more of a tone poem about grief. Therein lies another flash-fiction problem: trying to encapsulate this much about grief in 500 words is probably a fool's errand.

Grief is a complicated and fractured experience for the grieving (which I do think is an interesting, perhaps unintentional aspect of this story, which is the actions of those around this woman and her response to them, and whether what she feels from them is matches with their intentions, given that she calls them fake), and it takes time. but this story has no time. It's too short. We are supposed to feel what this woman feels, and she remarks that none of the people around her can understand what's happening to her or know how to handle it (such that she feels more in common with the chickens of her dreams). However, I feel confused enough about the details of her tragedy to not really know what she's dealing with, as a reader. This feels like it should be an episode in a longer story, because it requires more context.

Lastly, the story assumes chickens want to fly, simply because they have wings, but is that necessarily the case? Given that it's the emotional centerpiece of the analogy, I struggled with this question--and actually, so does your story: "they live with that simple fact, so why can't I?". More trouble with chickens: chickens are used to compare giving birth to flying, and compares the woman to the chicken: the bird that can never fly, but desperately wants to; the story then also directly compares human motherhood to that of chickens, when the woman dreams of the chicken and the giant hen offers her an egg to protect. She ponders whether chickens miss their stolen eggs (which implies that her "egg", her child, was taken from her?). Maybe this is just dream logic, but I found the chicken analogy to be, in the end, too confusing. Of course, if it's dream logic, maybe a turn to magical realism would serve the story better.


Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

hell yeah lets get crazy, raffle me up

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Opening Line: He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. (The Old Man and the Sea)
Theme: Murder Mystery
Setting: Cyberpunk

1500 words

Fish and (Dead)chips
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. Graves wasn’t intimately familiar with the average daily take of an independent fisherman, but eighty-four days of zeros seemed to her like a few standard deviations past a dry spell.

“No fish at all?” Graves asked.

“None,” replied Mora.

“Maybe he’s just getting old.” Graves looked at the thick-bodied fishmonger as she rhythmically slid fish from stacks of ice-packed cardboard boxes onto the long display trays in front of her stall. She wasn’t looking at Graves, but she caught the characteristic red tint in Mora’s cybers, which meant this conversation was being recorded. Figured. Graves was paying Mora to be her source at the docks, but she couldn’t really blame her. Information was product, and Graves wasn’t the only buyer. “Fish been layin’ low?”

Mora gestured at the boxes and her display. “The opposite. Overflowing. Can’t even move everything that comes in.”

“Losing his touch?”

“He’s as loaded with tech as anybody else out there. He’d have to try to come in empty. It don’t make sense.”

“I see what you mean.”

“That ain’t it, though.”

Graves took a long drag of her cigarette. “Oh?”

“A long cold-streak, an old man fallin’ off, sure. But it’s weirder. Cookie was friendly, now he talks to nobody. I mean not a word. Cookie was unreliable as hell, now he’s fuckin’ clockwork. I mean comes and goes same time every day. And this.” Mora stopped stacking fish and met Graves’ gaze for the first time. “When he heads out in the morning, he’s always carrying a little black plastic box. When he comes back in, nothing. I mean fuckin’ nothing. No fish, no box, no lunchpail, no teddy bear, nothing.”

“Huh.” Graves took another drag on her cigarette and scratched absentmindedly at her neck. “You try talking to him? Checking in on him?”

“I sell fish, I’m not a fuckin’ therapist.”

Graves shrugged. “And he’s not with any of the big outfits?”

“Nah, he’s one of the last holdouts. Been here since before anyone can remember.”

“And he’s not talking to—” Graves coughed into her elbow. “Anybody?” Mora shook her head no in response, then walked over to the counter inside her stall and turned on the grinder. Graves followed. Mora began to methodically filet a gigantic yellow tail, tossing the guts into the grinder. Graves was paying her to keep an eye out for Family and corpo activity, and being too carefree with names was bad business.

“Nobody’s moving right now. The business with Bishop’s kids has everyone spooked. Too many coppos hangin’ around.” Mora’s hands sliced up the fish with practiced efficiency, her knife gliding through the ultra-expensive flesh while Mora kept talking. “I mean, I don’t blame ‘em. Coppos don’t move for much, but poo poo, I’d give up for free whatever sick gently caress was responsible for that. Especially after three months.”

The mix of cigarette smoke and fish odor turned sour in Graves’ throat. She flicked her butt beneath the toe of her boot and squashed it. “Yeah.”

“You know anything about that?”

Graves flashed her eyes up Mora, who was conspicuously not looking. A good source, but a bad spy. She slid $500 into Mora’s cashbox. “Nah, I’m not on that one.”


Graves spent the next three days staking out the gate where the fishermen came and went. She rotated between the noodle bar and the whisky bar, tipping enough to be forgotten, not enough to be remembered. An old colleague had run Cookie, back before the corpos and Families tightened up their operations. He’d been a good asset, but he’d been out for a decade at least. This activity didn’t smell like intel, though. Everything Mora had said about Cookie checked out: same schedule every day, to the minute. Same path, same load, same everything. She decided to call it in.

“I’ve got something,” she said into the mouthpiece of a slim uniphone. Unlike the phones in peoples’ heads, which could be hacked, the only way to overhear a conversation on the slim black hand-unit was to be standing next to the person using it. It had a single button and connected to only one other phone in the world.

“Graves? What is—”

“Don’t say my name,” Graves barked, annoyed that her employer was wealthy enough and cautious enough to hand her the tech they were using, but not smart enough to forget names. “Activity. At the market. Families are quiet, but an unknown—a real old timer—suddenly moving product. Don’t know what, don’t know who for, but it smells worse than the fish.”

Over the line came a series of exhales, then a desperate growl. “I need to know where my kids are.”

Graves covered the mouthpiece and uttered a few quiet curses. No identifying details. He had insisted. “It’s quiet out there. Everyone’s gone to ground. This might be something, might be nothing. I need to know if I should move. If he’s being worked, he’s being watched. It’s a risk.”

“I’m not paying you to be safe.” The line went dead.


“Cookie! Been a while!” Graves called to the old fisherman as he walked down the alleyway, but she received no response. “Hey, Cookie!” Nothing. Not even a glance. Cyber-implants masked many emotions, but they couldn’t mask a complete lack of response.

“Let me give you a ride home,” Graves muttered, and grabbed Cookie’s wrist. He tightened reflexively, but his face didn’t even turn toward Graves. A needle slid from Graves’ thumb into Cookie’s vein, and he turned docile. Graves guided him to the passenger seat of her car.

Minutes later they were descending a dingy staircase to an iron-gated door were they were met by a mousy middle-aged man named Harvey, who led them through a series of hallways into a dark, grimy basement. The walls were wet and streaked alternately with graffiti and rust. In the center of the basement was several square meters of spotless steel tiling, an array of surgery tools, monitors, and an exam chair surrounded by plastic sheeting. Graves guided Cookie into the chair, and Harvey began hooking him up with a variety of leads.

“What’s he on?”

“I gave him 25 milligrams of Moxo.”

“That’s it? And he’s like this?”

Graves shrugged.

“Alright, well, let’s see what’s going on in his head.”

Harvey sat in front of the monitors and started pulling up diagnostics. Graves couldn’t really tell what they meant, and Harvey wasn’t offering any explanation. After a few minutes, Harvey rolled his chair over and rechecked the leads, then back to the monitors. “Huh.”

“What’s ‘huh’ mean?”

“It means… Nothing. There’s nothing. Vitals are fine, everything’s working, but there’s nothing. His cybers aren’t recording anything. His GPS isn’t tracking anything. His optics don’t even seem like they’re looking at anything. I don’t get it. He’s like a cyber dead-zone. He’s totally fried.”

“How does that happen?”

“Beats me. But there is this.” Harvey looked at Graves and pointed to the screen, on which Graves saw lines of code. “Instructions. Arrival time, departure time, eat, drink, shower, sleep. Repeat. He’s like… a human vacuum cleaner.”

“Pull his deadchip.”

Harvey froze, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. “But he’s not dead.”

Graves didn’t respond, and Harvey didn’t move. Behind them, the rhythmic breathing of Cookie kept time.

“How do you know he’s got a deadchip?”

Still Graves remained silent. Graves knew what she was asking. Deadchips were meant as fail safes for assets, so that if someone messed with their tech, their memories would still be recorded, as long the connections to the brain stem weren’t severed. You were supposed to extract it during the autopsy.


“Five, and you keep his tech.” The tech alone was worth more than the 20 Harvey wanted, but it meant Harvey would be dealing with the body. The nice part about the free market is that everything has a price. “And another five to let me use your blackbox to look at it.”

Harvey didn’t respond verbally, as if being quiet somehow absolved him of what he was about to do, as he silently slid over behind his patient. The knife in his hand and Cookie’s suddenly quieted breathing bore witness against him. With an ashen look on his face he handed Graves a tiny black chip, still smeared with red. “I don’t want to see what’s on it.” She muttered a thank you.


Graves made it to the alleyway before she vomited. She stuffed the deadchip in her coat pocket and fished the uniphone from another. Another wave of nausea drug the remaining contents of her stomach to the surface as images sliced through her brain: Cookie, children, filet knives, tupperware, the gulf. She pressed the uniphone’s one button.

“Hello?” came the immediate query, as if he’d been waiting. “Did you find them?”

Nausea. More vomit. “Sort of.”

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Week 543 Crit

My crits come in three parts:
  • synopsis, a literal reading of your story (hopefully helps identify if the details I read match the details in your head)
  • analysis, a reading of what I think your story is about (to see whether your story communicates the message you intended)
  • response, my personal reaction to your story (because I'm a great reader whose opinion matters tremendously)

Hopefully some element of it helps you! Feel to argue with me about your story on Discord.

Albatrossy_Rodent's Just For Me
Our protagonist (who I will refer to as he from here on, inferred from later details) stands in the hallway, struggling with several executive functioning skills simultaneously: managing his schedule, bringing supplies, not dropping his books on the ceiling. Specifically, he is looking for a pencil in his short passing period window, a time that he finds far too short but apparently his classmates have all figured out how to manage effectively. Instead of a pencil, he finds a purple crayon, which presents him with a new problem to weigh: show up with a writing utensil (though it must be asked what 6th grade teacher would accept a purple crayon on an assignment that calls for a pencil), and likely be called gay by his classmates, or show up without a writing utensil and presumably be rebuked by the teacher. He chooses the crayon, but in so doing, "drops" his books on the ceiling. Then, adding to his list of concerns, the bell rings, signaling that he is late for class. Mr. Bucholz, an assistant principal who has antagonized our protagonist for "being weird", shows up and accosts our protagonist--who's name (presumably last) is revealed to be Johnson. Bucholz asks why his books are on the ceiling, Johnson says he doesn't know, and Bucholz calls him a liar, threatening to call his parents for the second time this week. Johnson tells us that his dad told him that middle school couldn't be as bad as it was for him, because he wouldn't get beat up by a bully named The Tank every day; Johnson says that his plight is worse. Specifically, he names that his plight is an inability to understand the rules of middle school, and, as far as he can tell, everyone else understands the rules, notices his lack of understanding, and ridicules him for it. Back in the present moment, his worst fear is realized as all the classes choose to come and see his predicament simultaneously, and then the next week they have a seminar about respecting gravity and dropping things the proper way.

Analysis: Just For Me reveals the cruelty of middle school and middle schoolers, both in the ordinary day-to-day meanness of human beings but also in the minefield of attempting to master sometimes unfamiliar, unfair, or even useless social rules, often without an ally. Johnson's plight is also about the all-too-common conflation of "weirdness" with being "gay" (though the story is ambiguous on whether Johnson is gay--which is fine and actually probably good, because fretting over the sexuality of a 6th grade boy seems beyond the pale. For academic reasons, and because the term is central to this story, I'll interrogate my read for a moment: though he reveals that he has a hard time knowing which girls are hot, the term is used as an insult commenting on his inability to function like everyone else rather than any sort of exhibited sexual preference. All of the things that cause his classmates to call him "gay" aren't even him being "weird" in any measurable sense, but rather breaking some unwritten set of rules; even Johnson dropping the books on the ceiling draws an "everybody knows" from the villainous Mr. Bucholz, as opposed to a reference to any actual rule. It's not even clear that the insult "gay" is actually tied to homosexuality, but is rather used in the casually cruel catch-all manner of middle schoolers. Ultimately, "gay" as an insult in this story points toward developmental immaturity more than anything else [though not emotional or character maturity, because all these other folks seem like jerks]). Cruelty, according to Johnson, also manifests in isolation: he has no friends, and no allies. He is trying to navigate this world, trying to fit in, trying to learn the rules, but his efforts only further isolate him because he doesn't know the rules and has nobody to interpret or teach him.

Reaction: I like a lot about this story. There's some strong prose and excellent first person characterization (which can be difficult to pull off). More than anything, this story feels true to how some 6th graders experience middle school, and how middle school can feel. (Disclosure: I teach HS English, taught MS PE for the last 5 years.) Johnson feels totally cut-off and without support, and everyone around him is either mocking him, oppressing him, or ignoring him. And his reaction is not anger, but exasperation: can't I just be normal and invisible? I've seen this very kid many times, and it's so heartbreaking--and all the things a kid like Johnson tries to do just spotlights him further. It feels like swimming upstream, like you have to answer to last week's crimes while also trying not to bring a purple crayon to class.

I have some minor issues, and then some... questions? related to those issues. This may be a disorganized critique, we'll see. Issue: Bucholz is a cartoonish goon squad AP. He almost literally twirls his mustache. I'm not saying there aren't APs like this (there most certainly are), but it feels like a very simplistic character. So the question is: is Johnson a reliable narrator? My instinct is no, and if that's the case, it would make sense that he would read Bucholz, who apparently takes issue with his lack of executive functioning (cruel for a middle school AP, tbh) as a big bag villain. (If Johnson is reliable, then I think Bucholz is too cartoonish.) In which case, I think there is far more to play with here, and with my other issues, than you do in this story. If Johnson is unreliable, then What the story can mess with is his perception of reality vs. our understanding of reality. This story is about Johnson's feelings of isolation and the apparent cruelty visited upon him, but very rarely (never, in my experience, but I won't generalize) is everyone in agreement that any one kid is weird and deserving of this level of banal cruelty. There will be some classmate, teacher, administrator, whoever, who will try to be caring. In this story there is nobody; is that what you intend? I think the story is more interesting if there is someone that we the reader see trying to be compassionate but that Johnson is unable to see or accept, for any number of reasons. Perhaps Bucholz is a hardass who gets Johnson in trouble, but we can see he's doing it because he thinks he's helping. Perhaps Johnson has a classmate or teacher who sees him but Johnson can't hear, because he doesn't want the compassion of an individual--he wants the acceptance of the congregation.

There are a couple lines where I think you over-explain. "Normal people like football and know which of the sixth-grade girls are hot and which ones are ugly" you say, and then tell us that Johnson does not do these things. I think the quoted line already implies that Johnson does not do these things. The only detail I like in the subsequent sentence is that being wrong about girls must mean he thinks the boys are hot, which is gay. Minor thing, but it felt overstuffed. Similarly with the anecdote about his dad. I think that section could use a rewrite. I think the anecdote fits (if a bit on the nose), but I think the telling could be more... subtle?

Good story. I enjoyed reading it and critting it. Interesting questions raised, for me, about the construction, and if you were to expand it I think you'd need to add some more nuance.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

in gift and tax pls

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

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

An Infinite Storm of Beauty

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kira and Kevin is done.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Apollo? Where are you, boy?”

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

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

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

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

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

:toxx: for the brawl

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

I seek the words of the prophet.

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!

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.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Friendly Penguin Brawl

Put On Your Dancing Shoes
1500 words

“Kenny. It’s a joke, right?” Dexter held the phone in one hand, a folded card in the other. He was pacing back and forth on the 6-foot wide balcony of his apartment, which afforded him about two-and-a-half steps before he had to turn around. He felt a little bit like a Roomba stuck in a hallway.

“Gee, nice to hear from you, too.”

“It has to be a joke. I know it does. You wouldn’t do your best friend like this.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny whether I would do such a thing. Because I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“Diane? Of all the people in your wedding party, you pair me with Diane?”

“Wait. What? Do you know Diane?”

Dexter stopped his pacing and stared at his phone screen, as if Kenny could see his withering stare. “It’s worse than that. Wait, how do you not know this?”

“Know what? What are you talking about?”

“Dude, I dated her sister.

“Oh, poo poo!” Kenny blurted, and Dexter exhaled. Kenny was sympathetic to his troubles, and they’d swap things out. It would be awkward enough without being her partner all weekend.

“Yeah, rough stuff. Thanks—”

“Oh, hell yeah. This is going to be hilarious.”

“Wait. What? No. No it’s—”

“Elaine! Come here! You gotta hear this!” Dexter’s face scrunched up like a crushed napkin.


“Listen, Dex, it’s gonna be fine. Fun, even.”

“What? No. Fun? Listen, first of all, a combined bachelor/bachelorette party is already a horrible idea. Three days in Tahoe, and we’re all, all 18 of us, staying in the same cabin? I can think of few worse ideas. Second of all, I dated her sister. Which you seem to be missing the significance of that. So I don’t know.” Dex sat in the middle of the backseat of Kenny and Elaine’s too small hatchback as the three of them drove up a particular windy stretch of highway 80, one hand on each of the seats in front of him. “I mean, you could have put me with Nora, I love Nora!”

“Pete’s wife. Who is… Also my groomsman.”

“Okay, Alana! She’s fun.”

“Andre’s wife? Who is also my groomsman?” Kenny flashed a look behind him. “Did you look at the list? All of my groomsmen are married. And all of Elaine’s bridesmaids are married. To each other.”

“Well, except for you and Diane,” Elaine added from the shotgun seat as she munched on a handful of almonds. “When did you even date Suzanne? I don’t remember you two dating.”

“Oh, uhhh,” stammered Dexter, his frustration morphing into awkwardness. “We dated at the start of COVID. For like 3 months.”

Elaine turned in her seat and stared at Dexter through a pair a oversized dark sunglasses. They hid her eyes but could not hide her smirk. “You. Were. A quarantine fling?!”

“Well, when you say it like that…”

Elaine cackled and punched her fiancé in the shoulder. Dexter’s face flushed and he sent daggers at the back of Elaine’s head. “So you didn’t really date Suzanne, so much as bone down for a few hot months? No wonder I never heard about this!” Elaine cackled again.

“And no wonder you’re not so hot on her sister,” Kenny added, helpfully.

“Okay, okay. Yeah. Suzanne and I met like right before COVID lockdowns, and she lived like across the street. So we hung out. Okay?”

“Hung out, he says!”

“Wait, Dex, did you ever even meet Diane?”

“Kenny, it doesn’t sound like they had a meet-the-family kind of relationship.”

“Whatever,” Dexter said with an attempt at forcefulness that made him feel feeble even as he said it. “This could have been avoided if you’d have just made me your best man. I am your best friend, after all.”

“So you are,” Kenny said, and looked in the rearview mirror for a moment. “But you’re not really the best man type, man.”

Dexter exhaled softly, and Elaine frowned at Kenny. She turned again and put her hand on Dexter’s. “What he means is, planner isn’t your best mode. When you plan things, you get all anxious and uptight. And that is not what you’re here for. You’re here to be Big Dex! You know, bring the energy, the dancing, the fun!”

Dexter sighed and nodded. “Yeah, alright. But I’ll tell you this, if I had planned it, we wouldn’t be doing all sorts of couples games, in which I’m paired with my ex’s sister!”

“Another reason that we didn’t let you plan it,” Kenny said.

Dexter glowered at the two of them and crossed his arm, realizing as he did it that looked mostly like an oversized petulant toddler, so he immediately uncrossed his arms and rolled his eyes, graduating to annoyed teenager. Kenny and Elaine just giggled.

“And where am I supposed to sleep?”

Elaine laughed devilishly before replying. “Diane’s got a room to herself. Why don’t you ask her?” Dexter immediately recrossed his arms as his face turned several shades of angry purple.


A few more hours in the car softened Dexter’s anger, and as they were walking to the cabin, he was dancing up the steps, snapping his fingers, and mumbling along to some song in his head. Three cars had arrived before them, and so when they got to the door, Dexter flung it open and leaped through. “WHAT IS UP, TAHOEEEEEE?! Yeeeow, let’s get it. Pete! Drinks. Nicole. Music!”

Yelps of laughter came from the living room, and the people came and greeted the crew. Pete stuffed a beer in Dexter’s hand and hugged him, and as instructed, Nicole fired up the speakers.

The next few hours were a whirlwind as Dexter, all energy now, ricocheted between divebombs into the pool, dance parties in the kitchen, and a variety of small talk conversations. Dexter was, as Kenny predicted, in his element.
Then, the door banged open again, and a second whirlwind entered the weather system. “WHAT IS UP, TAHOEEEEEE?!” In the doorway stood a tall, beautiful, dark-haired woman, arms raised in triumph, head slung low like 70’s iconoclast. Dexter froze in mid-sentence as he stared at the doorway, but was bailed out from having to continue by the chorus of “Diane” that the buzzed assembly shouted as they descended to greet their newest guest.

“Alright, everybody. Diane’s here, which means we can go dancing for real,” shouted Henry, Kenny’s best man, and everyone cheered—except Dexter. “Grab your shoes, grab your partner, we’re headed to the Sunset Saloon.”
Everyone dispersed to their rooms, and Dexter slid out the back door, waiting for his impending doom. He stared out at the dusky pink sky, sipping his beer and idly humming a nonsense rhythm while he staved off the deep annoyance he was harboring at his best friend and tried to psyche himself up to go dancing with his ex’s sister.

“Dexter, I presume?” an unfamiliar voice asked from the sliding glass door, though Dexter knew immediately who the voice belonged to.

“Uh, yeah. Dex. Diane?” Dexter turned forced a smile, and was certain he looked like an imbecile.

“How’d you guess?” Diane asked, flatly and sarcastically.

“Process of elimation,” Dexter said lamely.

“Process of elimation. Uh huh.” Diane walked toward Dexter, who stood rooted to the spot. “Whatcha lookin at out here?”

“Uhh. Sunset. Stars. 1000 lightyears of infinite void I’m hoping will swallow me up.”

Diane chuckled and wrapped a hand around Dexter’s elbow as she stood next to him. Lightning cascaded down Dexter’s spine—but not the kind he was hoping for, that might end his misery. A different kind, more associated with pleasure and excitement. “Elaine said you were nervous. And you are nervous.”

Dexter looked at the hand on his arm and at Diane’s face, which was softly smiling and staring out at the sky. Either she was unaware of his past with her sister—unlikely—or she was utterly unconcerned. Dexter’s face scrunched up and he turned to face her.

“Hold on. You don’t… You’re not… Mad at me?”

“Mad at you? What would give you that idea?” Diane’s eyes danced with laughter as she smirked at Dexter.

“Because me—and your sister—and—“ Dexter stopped himself as his words fought each other, and took a deep breath. “You do know your sister and I dated?”

“Hah, yes. And Suz had plenty of good things to say about you.” Dex looked at Diane with confusion on his face. “Anyways, you guys ‘dated’ for like three months, and then she broke up with you.”

“Okay, true.”

“And Dex, we’re just here to have a good time.”

“Also true.”

“So let’s go dancing?” She said, with a question and an invitation in her voice.

Dexter looked at the gorgeous woman in front of him, and then looked back inside the house. Kenny and Elaine and two other couples were standing there, and all of them were dorkily giving him a thumbs up. Dexter laughed.

“Hah. Let’s go dancing. Screw it.”

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

hi, checking in, yes i'd like to add the optional flash service to my bill

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Flash rule: Your hotel is hosting several guest speakers who've arrived in town for a decidedly niche convention.

The Last King of Lawrence
1500 words

“Good morning. Thanks for coming.” Paul shuffled his notes on the podium and looked out at the half-full conference room of the Lawrence Riverfront Inn. He scanned the faces briefly, and recognized most of them from previous conferences, and all of them from the hotel bar last night. Scant few new faces and a few missing old ones. At the back of the room, a scruffy bearded man in a wrinkled brown suit paced nervously.

“I’m Dr. Paul Shackleton, professor of Historical Linguistics and Early American Studies at Harvey Mudd in California. I’m talking today about the same thing we’re all talking about : how AI is coming for—for our jobs.” He stumbled over this last line, but the audience gave him a few kind chuckles anyway. “No, no. What I’m actually talking about is how I’m planning to use AI to help me in my work: further uncovering the narratives of indigenous people groups, a sorely underappreciated part of our nation’s history.”

He talked for an hour, and the assembled dutifully listened. All the while, the ragged stranger paced the back row, never once looking at the stage. Paul glanced at him periodically, but eventually stopped looking at him once he got into the flow of his presentation. When he finished, he left the stage to polite applause and headed toward the back of the room. He was surprised to find the strange man staring at him and blocking his path to the door.

“Hello, sir. Can I help you?”

“Dr. Paul Shackleton.” The stranger spoke with what Paul guessed was a Scandinavian accent.

“Yes?” Paul said, unsure of how to respond to what had not been a question.

“I have to show you something. It’s urgent.”

“I’m sorry. Who are you? Are you a presenter here?”

“You wrote a paper. I have it here.” He pulled out a rolled packet of paper and handed it to Paul.

Paul looked at the title: Assassin’s Creed, Burial Rites, and the Illuminati: What Gaming Gets Right About America’s Secret Religiosity. Below the title was his name. Paul’s hand trembled. “How did you get this? This was never published. How—” He half shouted that last word, and a few heads turned, so Paul shouldered through the door of the conference room. The man followed him. “How did you get this? Who are you?”

“My name is Sven Eriksen. You don’t know me. But I’ve been looking for you. I need your help.”

“What could I possibly help you with?”

“Come to my room, room 212. I’ll show you.”

Paul actually laughed at this. “Why would—”

“I’ve discovered the Founder’s Ledger. The one you discuss in your paper. It’s real.”

Paul’s ears pulled backward on his skull. “You… You have it?”

“I do,” Sven said, and held a picture out to Paul. “Here. In room 212. Will you come look at it?”

“Lead the way,” Paul said with an eagerness that belied his earlier trepidation.


Sven’s hotel room had been rearranged from its original layout, and resembled now a makeshift research station. Pictures, diagrams, and charts covered the walls. Stacks of texts and artifacts covered every flat surface. “Please, sit, Paul,” Sven said, and gestured to the desk, and Paul obliged. Sven went over and pulled a briefcase from under the bed.

“What is all this?”

“My family is Norwegian,” Sven said, which answered only Paul’s question about the accent, and nothing else. “My wife died several years ago, and our child with her. We buried her in the family tomb, an ancient thing. The graves go back at least a 40 generations. Perhaps that sounds like an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not. I never spent much time in there, until my wife’s passing. Afterward, though, I began my own little archaeological project. Found some interesting things.” He placed the briefcase on the table and set his hands over the clasps. “Then, I moved to California and began a post-grad program at Cal Berkeley, in the department of art history. I also worked as an archivist in the department. Yes, that’s where I found your paper. And that’s when I discovered that these might not just be curiosities.” At this, he opened the briefcase, and revealed an old leatherbound tome and a series of polished stone tablets.

Paul leaned forward and inhaled sharply. His Old Norse was rusty, but he recognized enough to guess that the tablets might consist of authentic writing, at the very least. He knew he should be skeptical, but a schoolboy’s enthusiasm crept over him. He examined the cover of the book and read it’s title: “The Book of the Dead and the Way of Living.” The Founder’s Ledger. The long-theorized manifesto of the Knight’s Templar and the Illuminati.

“May I?”

“You may. If,” Sven said, as he reached into the briefcase with a pair of now-gloved hands and extracted the book. “If you’ll do me a favor. I need a section translated.”

Paul’s enthusiasm overran him. “Of course.”

“Excellent. I’ve put a bookmark where I’d like you to start. If you would do me the kindness and read it aloud as you go?” Sven gestured to the book, and to a notepad and pen on the desk.

“Uhh, yeah, no problem.” Paul didn’t look up as his fingers trembled over the book’s cover.

The book was in remarkable condition—either it was fake, or Sven’s family tomb was a marvel in its own right. Paul opened the book and read a page: “The kings of old… have lost the reason for living. They make a mockery of the human soul. For too long… For too long they have ruled without consequence. To restore the life—no, the spirit of man—this definitely sounds like the right guys. Holy poo poo, Sven.”

“The bookmarked page, please.”

“Right, right.” Paul gently turned the pages until he was at the designated page. It was the start of a new section, and unlike other pages, it had characters from all three languages, as well as an elaborate drawing: four figures, which Paul recognized as Thanatos, Mors, Hel, and Satan, the various gods of death. They appeared to be bartering over souls, who variously ascended or descended behind them.

The first line was Latin, and easy enough to translate: “The Marketplace of Souls,” Paul muttered to himself. “Odd. Didn’t know the Templars were much into eschatology.”

“Louder, please. So I can hear it, as you read.”

Sven’s voice startled Paul, but he nodded. “Right. The Marketplace of Souls.” He continued, more loudly. The text switched to Greek. “There are no devils, only kings above and… Kings below.” The next line, in Old Norse. Paul puzzled over this one, his runic reading being slow, but eventually: “A soul is a soul. One is like another, and may take its place.”

Behind him, a doorknob turned. Paul wondered for a moment whether Sven was still listening, but only for a moment. The book called him. He read, in Latin: “Where gathered are the Elements, a king may call to a king, and trade.” And then, three lines that appeared like a list, one each in Greek, Latin, and Norse. Paul read them. “The blade of a monarch. The crown of a king. The skull of a royal.”


“Sven?” The exclamation started Paul from his reverie. “Sven, what is this book? I’m not certain it’s what I thought it was.”

“Ah. I see now my error. Come, come see.”

Paul stood from his chair and turned, but did not see Sven. The bathroom door, previously closed, stood open, and flickering light as from a candle came from the darkened interior. A chill crawled up Paul’s spine. Curiosity compelled him forward. “Sven?” The ragged Norwegian was crouched by the edge of the shower. Candles covered the countertop and the lip of the tub and the walls were covered in Norse symbols. At Sven’s feet was a triangle, painted in red. At one point sat a polished silver crown; at another, a smooth human skull.

“I could make out most of it myself. The last bit was crucial, though.” Sven reached inside his coat and pulled out a short blade, and placed it at the remaining vertex.

“A seax,” Paul croaked. “The blade of a monarch.”

As he said the words, the room descended into total darkness, but for a light coming from within the painted triangle. Paul looked inside and saw, deep within, a throne, and a dark figure seated on it. A voice called:


Sven replied, unshaken: “I seek the one they call Astrid, daughter of Odin.”


Sven replied: “I offer Paul Shackleton, knowledge seeker.”


A question formed on his lips, but before it could leave, Paul discovered that he was looking up through the triangle at Sven, who stood in an embrace with a dark-haired woman.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

in, just the garden variety surrealist inspiration please

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


1000 words

I first encountered the notebook when I was still working as Rosenblatt’s principal buyer, about 15 years ago, back when the store was on Telegraph Avenue. It was providential, in a way, or at least I thought so: my occupation had placed me in the right place at the right time to learn what I now know, by way of an unmarked, unattributed, sketchbook, of (if not an outright conspiracy) a galactic curiosity. I say only in a way, of course, because my life is not materially changed—or, if it has, only in a negative way. So perhaps providential is not the right word.

The notebook appeared in a larger collection of books stored in a chest in an attic, the kind of chest that haunted many an old family attic, ghosts living comfortably until younger generations decide it’s time to exorcise them, mostly by selling them. A man had come in the store with a shoebox. He told me the story, so typical: his grandfather had just passed, and they were deciding what to do with his things. One of those things was a chest of books, inherited from his grandfather before him. The man placed the shoebox on the counter and opened it to reveal two books: one, a weathered but intact copy of Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; the other, a leatherbound notebook, full of hand-drawn illustrations and unfamiliar writing. I set the second aside and focused on Sleepy Hollow. A cursory examination placed it as authentic, and likely a first edition; I told him its value, and offered to inspect the rest—but perhaps at his grandfather’s home, so he wouldn’t be transporting rare books in shoeboxes. He chuckled and agreed.

The chest—about two feet wide, made from polished chestnut, an artifact in its own right—had done a decent job of preserving the books. While the chest was covered in the dust of a century, the books inside were mostly dust-free and mostly intact. A brief survey of the texts revealed that many would be of moderate value, and some were worthless. I made him an offer for the entire lot, chest included, with the caveat that we’d call and adjust the price if we made any significant discoveries in appraisal. Things were more naïve back then.

The second book in that shoebox, the notebook, never sold. Truth be told, I didn’t try too hard. I was fascinated by it. The rest of books we sold, either individually or to the university, but I personally held on to that notebook. I had never before taken a book for myself, and never did thereafter, but the notebook seduced me. It was in excellent condition, and appeared not to have aged at all—though my best tools indicated that it was indeed nearly 200 years old. The pages were full of intricate illustrations, and a script I couldn’t recognize, and hinted at things that seemed impossibly anachronistic or fanciful: machines using electricity, sea creatures that defied logic, pictures of that appeared to depict historical events that hadn’t yet occurred. One series of pages in particular stuck in my mind, a section that contained drawings of birds, or at least what took the shape of birds, but whose internal workings were of a machine nature: batteries, gears, springs, cameras for eyes, hard drives for brains. Afterward, whenever I thought of the book, I thought of those pages. Of course, the book had no dates or names I could read, so I was confronted with a conundrum: either the book was an elaborate prank or a true curiosity. I took it to my friend at the University, who had both an interest in old artifacts and access to a laboratory. Some simple tests confirmed that the book was, as best as either of us could tell by technical knowledge or scientific inquiry, authentically from the turn of the 19th century.

Since neither of us could make heads or tails of it otherwise, I took it home with me. I pored over its pages in the evenings for a few weeks, looking for something to leverage, but nothing presented itself. Eventually, I flipped fewer and fewer pages until I found myself flipping only those containing the machine-birds. My pregnant wife soon became annoyed, since I could offer no explanation as to the book’s origin, purpose, or meaning. I showed her the pages of birds, to which she said: if you want to study birds, buy a modern book, some binoculars, and go sit in our backyard, since the crows seem to have moved in. I didn’t take her advice, but I did put the book away. In fact, I didn’t touch the book for 15 years, and only thought about the machine-birds sporadically—usually when a bird made itself more conspicuous than usual (which, I now reflect, was perhaps more often after my discovery of the notebook than before. But perhaps that is confirmation bias).

The notebook reappeared my life last week, when my 15-year-old son pulled it off the shelf and began flipping through it. My old bookseller’s heart was at once tickled and torn, seeing a 200-year-old text in the rough hands of a sometimes-respectful teenager, but I withheld comment. The book had no value to anyone else, nor to me anymore—or so I thought, until he flipped to a bookmarked page. There sat the machine-birds, their mechanical eyes and robot brains as confounding today as they were to me then. My son, though, exclaimed: Birds Aren’t Real. He turned to me: I didn’t know you were into this stuff, Dad, pretty funny stuff, makes the old-timers mad. I asked him what he meant; he told me about the protesters, kids his age claiming birds were a government spy program. I told him the notebook was 200-years-old, and he stared at me for a moment before shrugging and closing the book.

The telephone wire outside our house was suspiciously full of crows that morning.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

sure screw it i'm in and also :toxx: because of my delinquency recently and also flash please

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Movies Are for Everyone
1241 words
flash: all living things — people, plants, animals, birds — can talk

It’s a difficult thing, watching movies with sunflowers.

To start with, there’s the matter of the sun: the sunflowers love it. And I do not—or, at least, I do not like the sun when I’m trying to watch a movie. Not just because of the glare, but because of the immersion. I like to watch in a dark room. When you’re sitting in the sun, trying to watch a movie—what am I saying, you understand why. I don’t need to explain it to you. I tried to explain it to Denny and Jackson and Ellie—my sunflower friends—but they just couldn’t get on board. “We’re just too sad when the suns out, and we’re not in it, Mike! And then we’re too sad to enjoy the movie.” Okay, then, so I suggested night time—but that’s too sad, too. I tried to point out that the sun distracted them, as they’d often turn their faces to the sun while the movie was on, but no dice.

I solved it, though. Built a little canopy outside with a cutout so they could be in the sun, and I wasn’t, and no glare on the screen. Not ideal, but good enough, and we got to watch our movies.

Didn’t really have an answer for the sound issue. Being outside during the daytime and all, nobody’s trying to be quiet. Traffic, neighbors, little kids, it’s just not a great environment. We just watch everything with subtitles, it’s fine.

Which leaves the question of what to watch. There was the obvious stuff: Curse of the Golden Flower, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret Garden. Not my favorites, but I thought they would like seeing themselves on screen. They did, for a bit, until Denny caught on and called me out. “Are you just picking movies with lots of flowers in them?” I said yeah, that I wanted to show them things they might like. “We’re not little kids, Mike,” Denny said. Understood, I said, and apologized.

I should have known better, anyway. I found out they wanted to watch movies when I caught them craning as far as they possibly could to watch Singin’ in the Rain. It’s the movie that made me fall in love with movies, and I was trying to get my wife Abby to do the same. Don and Kathy and Cosmo were dancing and singing and prancing across the screen, and these three tall sunflowers were practically horizontal trying to get a glimpse. They asked me about it the next morning when I walked out in the garden. “Who was that tap dancing god?” Jackson asked. Gene Kelly, I replied, and they proceeded to tell me how much they loved the movie, and if they could move the TV so they could see better. They loved a movie about sound in movies without even hearing it: I was wrong to underestimate them.

So we watched the good stuff. I started with some classics that I knew were good, to see what they did like. Rear Window: 3 thumbs up. Petals up? Leaves up? I’ll stick with thumbs. Pulp Fiction: Jackson and Ellie yes, Denny no. Goodfellas, Jaws, Jurassic Park, all obvious and undeniable yeses. Studio Ghibli got rave reviews across the board, no surprise—especially Nausicaä and Mononoke (the environmental ones, is my theory). Black and white films were a tougher sell. They didn’t really go for Casablanca or Seven Samurai, so I mostly stopped trying to show them the old movies. Only Ellie liked Cinema Paradiso, which surprised me, and none of them liked In the Mood for Love. That hurt a little bit.

You’re probably wondering what my wife thought, now that I was spending all this time with The Sunflowers, and not her. And also, because of the large semi-permanent and permanently unsightly tent structure by her beautiful flower garden. And yeah, at first, I was a little irresponsible with my time, but who wouldn’t be? I was excited to share movies with my new movie friends. Listen, I love Abby with all my heart, so don’t go thinking this is something it’s not. It’s just, Abby is more of a Hallmark movies and Real Housewives kind of woman. So once I settled down and found a schedule for myself—the sunflowers are pretty flexible in theirs, as you can imagine—I think she was mostly relieved I don’t ask her to watch “my weird films” with her anymore.

Frankly, our relationship has never been stronger. I know people say that all sorts of times, and usually it means the opposite. But I really mean it. Once I stopped trying to force her to analyze the deeper meanings of Stanley Kubrick films, she and I both relaxed. We had more fun doing the things we do share: surfing, concerts, local breweries, new recipes, books, etc. While I was watching movies with The Sunflowers, she was content to watch TV inside with Atticus. (That's our dog. I tried to watch movies with him, too, but Atticus Finch, he is not. His review of John Wick: the dog dies, 0/10. Okay, I guess I should have seen that coming. Same review for Terminator 2, and honestly, that's my fault. I forgot about the dog in that one.)

We just watched Little Women a couple days ago. (Abby actually watched with us, too, and she liked that one. She loved the book, so I imagine she was predisposed.) I was a little nervous, of course, because it’s a personal favorite of mine, and sharing your favorite things is a fraught experience: if your friends don’t like the things you like, doesn’t that reflect on you, just the tiniest bit? I also believed the movie to be a great work of art. So if they didn’t like it… But I needn’t have been worried. I can trust The Sunflowers to be thoughtful even in their dislikes. Even though they didn’t like Casablanca, we had a great discussion. Ellie was fascinated by the film’s depiction of the intersection of nationalism and personal responsibility, despite being bored out of her mind. A movie can be both boring and interesting at the same time. They loved Little Women. Denny wishes it had “just like, at least, the tiniest bit of action.”

Denny is the action hound. He likes breaking down movies, but he especially likes it when the movie also has explosions and punches. I mostly agree with him. Ellie is the intellectual of the bunch, and sometimes she’s too smart for me, but it’s a good influence—I always go research stuff after our chats. Jackson is the filmmaker of the crew, and he always notices things I don’t: framing, editing, color grading. I sometimes wonder if we can’t figure out a way to get a camera in his hands. Leaves. Petals. Whatever.

Abby assures me that they’re not really dying, they’re just going dormant for the winter. They’re perennials, she says, and they'll be back next summer. I’m a little sad, and she can see that I’m sad, which I know because she offers to watch “one of your movies” with me, as she puts it. I appreciate the gesture.

We’re watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid today. None of us have seen it. It’s supposed to be great. Denny will like it, for sure.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

in and hellrule

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Onehandclapping posted:

I don't write much beyond shitposts, and I didn't read the prompt before writing this, but I was daydreaming in the kitchen, thought this was a neat idea for a story, hashed it out over two hours, then someone told me to post it here. Here's my story, edited the title because I read the formatting rules
"Tonight I Will Kill The Moon" 508 words

I don't know if this is a shitpost in itself or not, but lets apply New Criticism theory to this and eschew context for the time being. I will only be considering words after the title. As others have noted, reading the OP and entering a weekly comp is highly encouraged.

"Tonight I Will Kill The Moon" by Onehandclapping
Jerome stands with his girlfriend (a fact confirmed near the end of the piece) Gilly (short for Gilliam) in midsummer, looking up at the full moon. Jerome begins pointing at the moon, which apparently has a green healthbar, as in a video game. Gilly is not impressed, and seems mostly annoyed. Eventually, more symbols (crosshairs? ID tags?) appear near the moon. Jerome now seems confused (though in moments he appears not confused), and Gilly thinks it's an odd prank, and then Jerome pantomimes shooting the moon, and the moon disappears. Gilly is annoyed. The end.

Response: This story is mostly confusing to me. I'll get into some of the mechanical and stylistic issues below, but as for the story itself, it doesn't work. The stakes are unclear: we don't know who these characters are, and their relationship is unclear until near the end of the story (even though I suspected they were romantically involved). Gilly seems to think the whole thing is a prank, which implies that Jerome is prone to this sort of behavior; he seems nonplussed by her accusation and plays the part at times. But it's confusing, because he flips between surprised and playful--at first, pointing out the oddness of the moon's healthbar, then being surprised by the extra symbols, then acting like he's going to shoot the moon, then being surprised again... Because of Jerome's back and forth reactions, I can't tell if this is something he expected, partially expected, or is completely surprised by. In a story where the main character apparently explodes the moon with finger guns, clarity of intent, reaction, and understanding would go along way toward wrestling with weirdness of the setup. I have no idea why the moon has a healthbar, or crosshairs, or a misspelled nametag, and your story doesn't give me any kind of answer to what that might mean. Normally, I would analyze a piece to try to wrest from it whatever underlying meaning exists, but I find myself unable to do so for this piece.

Writing Feedback: There are a few mechanical issues at play throughout the piece. The first and most pressing is consistent misuse of commas, paired with strangely structured clauses. If you'd like a line crit, I'd be willing to do one and note some of the syntactical errors. There are also a number of recurring with punctuation and dialogue tags. You've also got some odd wording. "His companion continued her long, wide eyed stare" implies that she had been staring wide eyed already, but I don't believe that to be the case. "The offending green line" is an odd phrase, because its unclear why the line is offending. "Accomplice satelite [sic]" is also an odd choice of adjective; is the moon Jerome's accomplice? Or is the moon playing a trick? I also don't believe you have used "quietus" correctly. In general, I think a focus on clear syntax and storytelling would serve your work substantially. Lastly, not sure if you intentionally put quotation marks around your title, but it's an odd choice. If it is a quotation, is it from somewhere? Google indicates nothing major (except perhaps an oblique reference to Doctor Who?), and it doesn't appear in the work itself. Of course, it could answer the question as to what the hell is happening in the story, though it would leave me with more questions about Jerome and his intentions.

Bonus Crit of Chili's Summer's End
A nice little story about childhood lost and, eventually, regained (with the birth of a child, awww how sweet). I liked this story a decent amount. I immediately respect Danny's boyish, innocent immaturity and his cool camp counselor vibe. I found myself annoyed at the adults dragging him out of his youthfulness. I only really have a couple of criticisms, and the first is a critique I know I have given to you before and probably speaks more to my storytelling sensibilities more than anything: I think you oversell the confrontation between Danny and "Randall". Too much explanation of what's happening. I'd much prefer a more ethereal encounter, in which the exact same thing happens but Randall doesn't explicitly tell us that he has just snatched Danny's inner child. I think the colors and the action is enough for a perceptive reader to get it, and I think those words would be better spent doing what Slightly Lions said: showing us what Danny's life looks like in the mundanity of maturity.

One little mechanical thing I noticed: the end of section two ends with "another flicker of purple off in the treeline", sans period. It's the second mention of the purple flicker, and at first I thought perhaps the missing period was intentional, and I actually kind of loved it--Danny's weird mystical experience was messing with the form of the story itself. Since that doesn't happen elsewhere, I doubt that was intentional, but if you're into playing with form (as I wish I was in my own writing, but as I appreciate deeply in other's writing) it might have been something interesting to explore.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

oh drat action week hell yeah you absolutely know i'm in


Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

:toxx: to redeem this last week's story before I'm allowed to sign up for next week

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • Post
  • Reply