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rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


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

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

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rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
I haven't entered Thunderdome for like five years but I've been lurking this thread for several weeks now and am tired of running from destiny, IN

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Week 578 Submission

The Wind In Their Bones
1884 words


Eleanor was pulling laundry off the line out back when the thumping began, and her first thought was to wonder what clever new indignity or nuisance Clem might have brought with him. But then:

*thump* *thump* *thrrp* “owwwwpoo poo

Eleanor pursed her lips testily, gathered the last sheets into her basket, and marched up the back steps and through the old house, sweeping through the kitchen with a cursory glance at the chowder simmering busily on the front burner. She deposited the basket on a side chair under the great, curving stairs that overlooked the living room. Bertha’s bedroom door at the top of the landing was ajar; perhaps she’d be down soon.

The front door was opened wide, as usual, and Eleanor emerged onto the porch. The old maple’s leaves cast patchwork shadow across the lawn. The roses were in bloom, and the thick purr of droning bees was just audible from the front garden.

Monica was sitting on the porch swing, a board across her lap and a small brown bag by her side, contentedly and methodically pulverizing small handfuls of pecans into rubbled chunks with an ugly blue ceramic ashtray she’d found in the attic. The pie Eleanor had cooked earlier sat nearby on the tea table, a mute witness to the carnage.

“Oh, Monica, really,” Eleanor said. “It’s not a crumble on the top, you know. Would you please not make this one of your strange variants on a recipe we all agreed on? The pecans go round the border -”

“It’s not really a different recipe if It’s the exact same ingredients, is it?” Monica asked without looking up. “I toleja I hate them in a circle like that. It looks like a buncha... dead beetles holding a seance. This’ll be better.” She snapped her gum to punctuate her decision, and primly scooped the crushed pecans into an uneven pile to one side of the lapboard, before wiping her hands on her cargo pants and resuming her work without further comment.

“Wash your hands when you’re finished. And bring that in when you’re done, please, and don’t leave a mess?” Monica half-nodded, brushing back loose strands of hair behind her ear, intent on her destruction. Eleanor huffed and went back inside. The truth was that she liked having Monica around, with her skater-girl chic and her strange wit, and her seemingly-inexhaustible inventory of rock band tees. Tenants and friends were all too often Eleanor’s age, or older, and that held its own pleasures, but having someone younger like Monica in the house always lent a welcome lightness to things. Eleanor felt it most of all some nights after dinner, curled up in the living room, watching the fire together, sometimes talking, sometimes silent. She couldn’t call it memory - what even were those? - but she knew what dreams were, and imagined memories to be much the same: dreamlike but somehow more immediate, moored to one’s senses, buoyed by emotion.

Eleanor returned to the kitchen to find Bertha had padded downstairs and was sitting at the kitchen table in her magnificent paisley bathrobe, peering at the directions on the back of a jar of vitamins with bleary dismay. Her hair was done up in a haphazard jungle of curlers, as had been the norm lately; she’d come across the ancient set of curlers buried behind some old pillows in an upstairs closet and had determined on the spot to make good use of them, but had no apparent understanding of how to use them correctly. She had steadfastly rebuffed all advice and offers of help, but that was just Bertha down to the ground, needing help in so many ways but mulishly independent in others.

“‘Dicalcium phosphate. Dihydrate’,” said Bertha, reciting the ingredients in sluggish monotone. “‘Titanium dioxide’. Sounds like a battery. Sooooodium something.’” She looked up. “I thought this stuff was supposed to make it easier to sleep.”

“I said it might help your body, dear,” said Eleanor, busying herself with the washing up. “Get your body right and the sleep will take care of itself.”

Bertha shook her head as she pried the jar open, dry-swallowing two of the pills. “You know that I haven’t had a really good spell of sleep in a week?” Eleanor did know this, of course, but said nothing. “Just lyin’ there, trying to drift off, eyes closed, just lyin’ there waitin’.” She scratched the folds of fat under her chin. “I can’t even think about what I want to think about, you know? To help me drift off. It’s just dark, and that rumblin’ we talked about. In my ears.” She sketched a vague spiral near the side of her head with a thick finger.

“This might be a good day to stay in, dear,” said Eleanor without turning from the sink. There was a barely detectable undercurrent of tension in her tone. “I can bring some soup up and we could play a game, or work on the quilt?”

If Bertha had heard, she gave no sign. “I almost hope that trash bastard comes by today. I really do. Let him come by. Really. I won’t let him bother me.”

Eleanor turned to face her, drying a plate. “Have you been saying your words?”

“Yes.”

“All of them? In your head and heart, like we talked about?”

“Yes, I said yes.” There was no anger in Bertha’s reply, only weariness.

Eleanor approached and sat, carefully tucking a stray curler into place. “Then you’re going to be fine. Better than fine.”

Monica, returning from the porch, strode into the kitchen from the living room, presenting the pie before her like a trophy. “Check it out, I made it a circle pit.” The pecans obediently formed a ring around the riot of chunks and pebbles in the middle.
Eleanor feigned exasperation. “I am sure I don’t want to know.”

“Now why would you do that?” asked Bertha. “Smash a bunch of perfectly good pecans for a joke? What if we don’t have enough pecans for another pie?”

Monica rolled her eyes as she deposited the pie on the kitchen table and sat. “There’s always more pecans. There’s always more everything.”

Eleanor was about to reply when they all heard the singing, a gruff bellow from the front of the house. “If you like to gamble / I tell you, I'm your man…

“Oh, great,” muttered Monica, and skootched her chair sideways so it was no longer directly facing the living room.

The singing got louder as he entered, accompanied by the stolid stomp of his galoshes. Clem was back to his rock n roll look: black leather biker jacket and pants, a greasy red bandana hemming in the last few strands of blond hair remaining on his balding head. There was mud on his shoulder, as if from a recent fall.

Ahh don't share your greed! The only card ahh need is the Ace of Spaaa-yeedes! The Ace of Spaaa-yeedes!” Clem lurched into a spirited air-guitar routine, whipping one arm windmill-style across invisible strings. One of his boots left a pair of muddy stains behind on Eleanor’s rug, two thick imprints from the sole and heel forming a grimy exclamation point to herald his entrance.

“You really should announce yourself before just marching in,” Eleanor said severely.

“What, you didn’t hear me?” Clem replied. “I was singing it all up the way.” He wiped his brow. “I’m sorry, but these rock shows…not to rub it in, but man. What you’re missin’. Sorry, but man.”

Bertha said nothing, but Eleanor thought she saw her lips moving wordlessly, and hoped it was so. “What do you want, Clem? We were enjoying a lovely quiet time here before-”

“Just checkin’ in, is all,” Clem said. “Just checkin’ in, swingin’ by, sayin’ hi, bein’ neighborly, just wanting to see where everyone’s… at.” His eyes tiptoed appraisingly between Monica and Bertha.

“Say, where’s…uh…” Clem snapped his fingers speculatively. “What’s her name, with the braids, uh-”

“Nancy left yesterday, said Eleanor, adding pointedly, “on her own.” Clem nodded vaguely, as if the topic no longer interested him.

“No one invited you,” Bertha muttered, glaring at him.

“In point of fact, that is not entirely true,” said Clem. His tone was suddenly quite serious, but impish glee flickered behind his eyes.

“What she means to say,” said Eleanor with a sigh, “is that nobody here invited you.”

Clem spread his arms wide. “And yet, here I am,” he said, and grinned, showing twin rows of teeth far too wide and clean for the rest of his face.

“Oh you are just so full of bullshit,” said Monica with quiet and perfect truth.

Clem favored her with a brief stare of open, empty dislike, and turned his attention to Bertha and the pie sitting in front of her. “A little dessert for the day’s repast, have we?” Bertha said nothing. He ratcheted out a chair from the table, its legs rasping on the tile, and spun it about before sitting.

“How about it, then, Queen B.?” asked Clem, his eyes bright. “Let’s not waste time. You ready to see the world? The original Fabulous Disaster?”

The overhead light seemed to dim slightly. Bertha met his stare evenly. Clem leaned forward in a conspiratory whisper. “You know they’re making such a mess of things. It’s all wrong on the other side, all gone wrong. And nobody’s doing a thing about it,” he breathed in wonder, as if momentarily transported by his own words.

Eleanor stood motionless at the sink, her face a carefully-composed mask of neutrality. The steel in my soil! The wind in my bones!

“Come on,” wheedled Clem, searching Bertha’s face. “Run a red light once in a while. You know you’d be putting things right.” Bertha’s eyes were fixed on his, and Eleanor saw her lips moving with silent diction: To grow is to recede…to return is to diminish…though my mercy be blind…

Clem frowned and leaned further forward. Without breaking Bertha’s gaze, he raised a hand and slowly closed it into a thumbs-up gesture, then deliberately inserted his thumb into the center of the pie, roughly scooping out a clump for himself. Bertha seemed to quiver; one corner of her mouth twitched and was still. Clem grinned, crooked and suddenly disarming. His eyes were bright and daring.

Eleanor stood frozen. For my waters are as one, and I as one. Ah! The steel in my soil! The wind in my bones!

---------------------------------------------

Outside, Clem sighed and wiped his thumb on his pants, dismayed. He’d been so sure, so sure, but had come out all this way for nothing. Still, it wasn’t a total loss. That little bitch with the mouth was one to keep an eye on. Such hatred! She will embrace it as a weapon, he mused, never realizing how much easier that makes things.

His good spirits fluttered to the surface again, and Clem picked up his step, lighting a cigarette. There were many other visits yet to make today, appointments yet to keep. And he knew where to start. “That lovely beach villa,” he said aloud. “The one with the view.” And, he thought, the one with Katrina. Lovely, fragrant Katrina, who was at once so quiet, and yet, Clem felt sure, had so much she needed to say.

rivetz fucked around with this message at 05:37 on Sep 3, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

Chairchucker posted:

An FYI for future weeks (I think it's mentioned in the OP) editing your submission after the fact tends to be an automatic DQ.
Yeah it's very much prominently mentioned in the goddam OP :(. I've been lurking this thread for some time as mentioned above; having participated in the past, it didn't even occur to me to review the rules. For the record I was fixing vB tags (my submission is heavy on italics) and adding a title/word count.

I guess this post will serve as the somewhat-obligatory plea for clemency based on the <5min proximity of the post/edit timestamps, but rules remain rules and I am quietly loving furious with myself I cheerfully accept my fate.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat


Thunderdome Week DLXXIX: I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise]

For this week's wee bloodbath, you must center your story on either a meteoric ascent or a calamitous descent. This can be literal (scaling a mountain) or figurative (an unexpected development brings international fame & fortune overnight.) Conversely, a detailed account of falling from the summit of Everest or a massive collapse in company stocks in a few hours would work just fine.

This ascent/descent can (and probably should) be a/the focus of your submission, but doesn't have to encompass it. What's more important is the pace of the ascent/descent. No deliberate and measured scalings of said frozen peak or slow collapses into financial ruin. The rise or fall must objectively be very fast, either to your characters or the reader, though the event itself could be a paragraph or even a sentence, with everything else about the before/after etc.

Also, said rise/fall should be "externally evident", I guess would be the phrase? In other words, no emotional roller-coasters unless accompanied by a real one; the ascent/descent must be some event that would be somehow apparent to an onlooker.

Let's go with an 1800-word limit, as this number is aesthetically appealing to me for reasons undefined.

Sign ups close: 11:59 pm Pacific time, Friday, September 8
Submissions close: 11:59 pm Pacific time, Sunday, September 10

Judges:
rivetz
curlingiron
Read After Burning


Entrants:
derp
Ouzo Maki
beep-beep car is go
sebmojo
Fat Jesus
BaldDwarfOnPCP
Thranguy
TheMackening
Fuschia tude :toxx:
Tyrannosaurus
slightly lions
Toaster Beef
sebmojo

rivetz fucked around with this message at 08:24 on Sep 12, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Formal invite for additional judges, it's a busy dang week with a family illness and I am not good with Thunderdomes

I can solo but I agree w the general wisdom that more judges = better all the way around.

Week 579 Minimum Criteria Required to Qualify for Judge Duty:



rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Conversely, everyone who has not yet registered is now out as registrations have closed. That's a total of 208,572 forums users that have been cut off without so much as a courtesy notice. I'll concede that it's unlikely we could ever realistically reach all of them to let them know, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try

There are currently 3,083 users online, I guess that's as good a place to start as any

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Window for submissions is now closed. Results tomorrow!

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Unexpectedly slammin day at the office today folks, but I'm on em - reviews and winner to be be posted by midnight PST. Thanks for your patience.

E: sebmojo you're in btw

E2: Turns out PST is code for Hawaiian time or something because I'm late but not by much, not gonna make midnight though. Sorry.
E3: Actually that's silly, I can post winners now and crits to follow, gimme a few

rivetz fucked around with this message at 07:52 on Sep 12, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
:siren: :siren: :siren: WEEK 579 WINNER :siren: :siren: :siren:
Tyrannosaurus - if i can manage not to gently caress this up


:siren: :siren: :siren: WEEK 579 HONORABLE MENTIONS :siren: :siren: :siren:
Slightly Lions - It’s the Landing
The Cut of Your Jib - Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.
derp - Boar


Nearly a third of the entries this week were in the conversation for top honors, which is pretty awesome. Even more notable was the fact that none of the entries really sucked.

I assume that as Head Judge I don't have to declare a Loser if I don't feel like it, and I'm here to say that none of these poo poo the bed in sufficient capacity to warrant such a title. While new to the game I figure to be the Loser you have to a) write a lovely story and b) miss the topic/target badly. None of the entries failed on both of these counts.

Crits post tomorrow I swear, must crash. Other judges' crits are largely complete as well and should post in the next 24. Congrats to the winners and thanks to all who participated, pretty drat good stuff top to bottom!

rivetz fucked around with this message at 08:28 on Sep 12, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Week 579 Critiques

One last apology for running terminally late on a bunch of this poo poo y'all, the week has been short on discretionary time I'm afraid. Crits shorter than I'd like and shorter than you deserve. I'm purposefully avoiding reading the other crits, so any overlap is just GREAT MINDS DOIN THANGS

beep-beep car is go - Ascension: This had its moments for me but missed the mark, mainly because it lacked a payoff as others have probably noted. Cool enough concept, and the alternating voices worked for the most part, but were occasionally confusing. The use of italics generally works, but it sets an expectation for two voices (at least for me), which made it weird when things would switch from dialogue between the two characters to a narrative voice. Some line breaks might've helped there? Ultimately the anticlimax was kind of a fizzle. Presumably it was an intentional play for irony ("We are now the ultimate power in the universe, let's play a PS5 game") but it didn't land entirely, and left me a little deflated, especially since chunks of it worked really well.

Toaster Beef - Ad Laquearium: This was actually my frontrunner for the top spot until curlingiron casually pointed out what I can only see as a frickin massive plothole, which I won't waste time detailing since I'm positive they did it for me. Once I saw it, though, I couldn't unsee it. Furthermore it seems like the sort of thing that could have been circumnavigated somehow with a little more exposition, like it's not entirely inconceivable that some rationale could exist for not trying the boots even once before the big press event? I even went back through looking for some insinuation that would seal up that gap, but couldn't find it. I dunno, maybe doing so would have tipped your hand. For what it's worth I did not see the final twist coming and it landed wonderfully. I really liked the wry/detached style; investing there paid off handsomely with that dry description of folding bones. I have never snapped a corn cob in half through a thick pillowcase and now I really don't want to, ever. At any rate, disappointing that this tale got deep-sixed by what may or may not have been an oversight, but if it's any consolation, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

Ouzo Maki - Showtime: This I did not enjoy. I'm going to assume that one or both of the other crits employed a phrase that rhymes with "schmorture schmorn", because that's what the whole second half felt like. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, and to be clear, I’m a horror fan and have read far more gory/objectionable stuff. It’s not that it was too stomach-churning, it’s that I wasn’t invested enough in the characters. If Danny and Monica had more clearly deserved a grisly end, it probably would have hit harder; likewise if they had more clearly been established as relative innocents. Because I didn’t have enough of a reason to care in either direction, though, the payoff came off as flat, which deep-sixed the last third. This would probably work a lot better with a few hundred more words up front to lead me to either exultation or dismay at their fate. If this boils down to you just running into the 1800-word brick wall, I feel your pain, but alas! did not feel theirs.

TheMackening - Arrival: This is another one where I felt like expanding the length by 30% or 50% would probably have helped. The implied uncertainty of whether it was Luca or Tenebra behind the curtain was telegraphed early on, but I didn’t mind, and it didn’t deflate the story for me (and it easily could have.) I was willing to invest in that uncertainty and wanted more depth around that central question. With more room you could have played with expectations, like the Goddess does something \clearly motivated by good intentions, only for a second shoe to drop and have me questioning motives again. It felt like there just wasn’t enough meat on that bone, again likely due to the abbreviated length. I liked the offhand references to someone aging years in a couple hours, very cool. I’m pretty sure there’s a strong story in there that just needs a little more room to take root.

BaldDwarfOnPCP - Meat World: This was cool but a little too confusing. I read it again and liked it more the second time around. Truth is, this is a pretty fuckin grisly lil yarn, huh? I really liked the different ways used to describe this poor fucker just molding away in the physical world while triumphing in the virtual world. I wonder if an coda/epilogue might’ve helped? Like the cops or a landlord breaking in after neighbors complained of the smell, and it’s this rotting sack of organs in a gaming chair, slumped in front of the endgame credits or something? Cheesy but might’ve put more of a bow on things. The ending’s a bit of a fizzle, but a lot of the prose hit the mark. It’s not easy to juggle the disgust for this poor fucker literally decaying out of existence alongside the genuine joy he experienced playing his game. Unique concept and solid execution, but didn’t stick the landing for me, and there were too many times in the middle where I questioned my own interpretation of what was going on. That’s not always a bad thing, I guess, but it hurt my overall impression.

derp - Boar: Solid poo poo. The style works from top to bottom, and the story is told with confidence and style. I was initially confused, though, by the descriptions of combatants avoiding the protagonist. Was that intended to come across like a magic power? The images in the first battle of fighters just pouring past him was so evocative that I was seriously like drat, if this fella is such a newb that he is truly and literally unfightable, they should just stick him right up front and force troops to move to either side of him! Like steer the fight to a narrow bridge and he could just walk right across, dudes toppling helplessly to their doom on either side like magnets of opposite polarity. Or like a span across a pool of lava etc. I am painfully aware that this line of thought flags me as a colossal dork, but there’s probably a way to describe all that without leading any readers into that stupid byway of thought at all. The good news is the whole back half was good enough that i forgot all about it and enjoyed the rest of the ride. This story repeatedly called up memories of Glen Cook’s Black Company, as well as John Gwynne’s recent work, these images of sweaty warriors who fight all day and eat/sleep/gently caress all night etc. The conclusion pays off because the pacing is natural and consistent and leads to an extremely well-executed story arc. Well done.

Slightly Lions - It's the Landing: This really hit home for me and just missed the top spot. When I was a kid growing up in Vermont, I once took a shot at climbing a high rock wall out in the woods and getting myself in serious trouble really fast; I fell around 100 feet 40 feet (who the hell knows, I was like nine) but regardless I was lucky to only sustain a broken arm. Needless to say, the sensations you describe were intensely evocative and uncomfortably true to my experience. At the same time, I recently went through a rugged breakup that hit a lot of the same notes: that glacial pace of inexorable collapse, the dawning realization of what’s happening and the accompanying sense of utter powerlessness to do anything about it. The ending (tying the two falls/collapses together as events) did not quite work for me, and I wish I could say why, exactly. They worked so well in parallel that explicitly tying them together seemed unnecessary, though I understand why you did it and how it should not only work, but elevate the whole piece. Overall, though, this was extremely well-done, and a story I’ll remember for some time. Congrats.

Tyrannosaurus - if i can manage not to gently caress this up: I’d like to think that this was the sort of work where you finished it off, went back, tweaked a couple of things, reread it from the top, and thought, gently caress yeah.. You’re in command of your style from the jump and it works all the way through. The introspective, more emotional passages provide a terrific counter to the more dismaying details of your protagonist’s life and wrong turns, expertly balanced throughout. Virtually all of the dialogue rings true. It’s got a message but doesn’t verge into preachiness, which might’ve been fatal. I didn’t feel led to any conclusions; your telling provides enough breathing room to allow the reader to fill in blanks without feeling prompted to do so. The ending calls back to the week’s theme, putting a bow on the whole thing. I wish I had more to critique, but I’m not going to hunt for stuff to complain about because I like the story too much. A+.

Thranguy - And I See You Again: A whole lot of this worked, but it’s another one that left me wanting more. Really liked the handling of world-building details, deployed as puzzle pieces for me to put together as the story evolved. At the same time, I wanted more. Ryan Kimber is introduced as a sort of martyr figure and then more or less disappears; I get why but would also have welcomed more context. This is a hosed-up alternate future you’ve presented, and I felt like it deserved more room to take shape. I realized at the end that I was maybe more interested in the backdrop than any of the characters. I guess that’s the tradeoff when constrained by length, but it hurt the overall takeaway. Basically I wanted more reasons to care, either about the characters or about the world they inhabit. I get that investing in one would have meant skimping on the other, but it left me a little unfulfilled. That was probably intentional to a degree. Nevertheless I’m glad I read it, so that’s a win. Nice work.

Fat Jesus - A Chemical Bromance: This didn’t work for me, at least not all the way through. The agronomy stuff was interesting but felt a little too instructional at times. I was reminded of Stephen King’s remarks in On Writing:and was curious enough to dig up the exact quote: “There’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.” I’m not saying that was a problem throughout, but the fact that I was reminded of it is telling. The dialogue was well-written, and the accents worked. I found the ending a little off-putting: all this stuff about murdering these perfectly nice trees was plenty depressing without a cynical gotcha followed by the curtain. You did a good job of painting a morbid picture that I have to assume is closely patterned after actual events. I can’t say I had fun reading it, but that obviously wasn’t your intent to begin with. Uneven but Intriguing. Full points for taking on a challenging approach.

The Cut of Your Jib - Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.: OK this wasn’t consistently great and maybe even parts of it weren’t exactly good, but it earned an enthusiastic HM from me regardless just off the audacity. I know from multiple disastrous excursions that noir can be a real pain in the rear end and super easy to gently caress up, and you dove in and committed to an original style right out of the gate. I didn’t have problems with the narrative and really enjoyed how practically every other sentence demanded extra thought, whether stitching together the plot or unpuzzling some unusual turn of phrase. This poo poo was thick with wait, what the gently caress is he- ahhh OK…heh that’s pretty clever.. Some of it felt a little too witty for its own good, almost like eyebrow-waggling wocka-wocka, but the commitment to the style throughout won me over. “my scandal rag of choice would at least pixellate it to a Mondrian” will be with me for a long time.

We all tend to lapse into styles that permeate all our work, to one degree or another. This read to me like a breath of fresh air, and absolutely deserved the callout. I’m pretty sure I’m alone on Head Judge Island in liking this one as much as I did, and don’t give a poo poo. You went big and didn’t second-guess yourself. The jarring ending worked for me too. Props, props, props.

Fuschia tude - Hauntings:I liked this but didn’t love it. There wasn’t enough depth to the characters, despite efforts to provide some. I anticipated Samuel being a turncoat, and when it didn’t happen, I realized down the stretch that a) I’d set that up in my mind to be a twist of character development that would not be fulfilled and b) there wasn’t going to be any other development to take its place. Ezra’s decision to testify didn’t resonate for me, didn’t seem like that crazy a thing for him to do, all things told. Ultimately not enough happened - a secret is unearthed, there’s some relatively subdued consternation, they decide to investigate the corruption, and you better believe that things are gonna be different in the future. The spark of tension provided by the threatening letter doesn’t develop into anything more. Honestly in hindsight I could’ve made this a loser because I don’t really see a direct fulfillment of the Week 579 challenge; none of the movement seems particularly rapid at all. The descriptive passages are well-written but ironically left me wanting more of that and less of the dialogue. Ebon Dell's a great name but it's so good as a fantasy setting that I kept having to remind myself that this was either in England or a colonial town in the New World. Swing and a miss, but I can see where you were headed with this. Probably would have benefitted from more space to grow minus any word-count constraint..

sebmojo- I understand your request, but I cannot provide a title for the conversation as it exceeds the 4-word limit. If you have any oth: This was a clever approach and I appreciated the intent. My impression was probably hurt by the fact that I’ve done zero dicking around with ChatGPT, so I was a little bit out to sea until I picked up on where things were going. I can dig it, but it was a little like unwrapping a Christmas present where you’ve undone the bow and suddenly realize what it is before any of the paper’s even come off the package. Once I got the message, the final third became way too predictable and almost laborious. I don’t know how you avoid that with this story, or if it’s even possible. In other words, I liked the first half much more than the second; the passages of the author describing ChatGPT’s assignment are so well-done that when they taper off it’s disappointing, and led me to a “Yep…yep…yep got it…OK yep…well that was a thing I read.” That sounds harsher than it should, and I better re-emphasize that I appreciated the message and respected the execution of a cool idea. Also that's a great title. Interesting and relevant, nice job.

Great submissions all the way around, TD folks. Thanks for putting in the time and work, it paid off in spades.

rivetz fucked around with this message at 15:09 on Sep 13, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
In

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
THE JESTER'S GAMBIT
1498 words (includes graphics)



Everything was too large: shoes, tights, jerkin, but the cap was worst. I padded the brim with sodden straw every time (I could hardly get more fleas), but it did little to help. The bells chinged and chuckled as I wrestled with the fit.

“Haste! Haste, you scobber!” said Rodikh, eyebrows furrowing like twin caterpillars sizing each other up across the battlefield of his glasses. “I said step your pace or feel the lash, boy!”

“Gods,” said the captain, waving a chain-gloved hand before a scrunched nose. “Gods, the urchin’s pissed himself again, Your Brilliance. Pissed right through ‘is tights again.”

I’d done no such thing, as the captain surely knew. It might have even been him who had let the hounds into my room while I was out. A shabby trick, but one that ranked comparatively low on my list of grievances; I knew to dread the day he really got mad at me.

When I’d fully dressed, Rodik shoved me before him, motioning with his staff to the eastern passage. This was the third time we’d taken the longer route to the audience chamber, and I wondered again how much he knew, or guessed. The northern way was more direct, but took us directly under his quarters in the high tower.

He knows nothing, I thought, and was certain. Anything more than a half-suspicion that I had somehow gained access to his chambers (much less the archives) would surely mean the gallows.

To say nothing of doing so nineteen times without detection.







Rodikh bustled past me in the narrow corridor. “Gods, you are slow,” he growled, taking the lead. “Remember your role, boy? That Dreyan ponce with the limp, yes?”

“I have it,” I said quietly. His name was Andruuka, and of course I knew him; he’d been granted audience twice in the last month, each time more strained, his words of diplomacy a clumsy cloak that did little to mask his desperation. Everyone had heard that the deaths were mounting, that the rumors of this grim band of mercenaries were anything but. There were too many stories, and too many nameless graves marking their path.

That the throne yet persisted in dismissing this threat was astonishing, and rankled many, but the king was nonetheless the king, and all knew well that he cared less for such matters than more pressing concerns, whores and wine. Mundanities were assigned to his court wizard, who alone he trusted to manage his affairs of state. When I was first kidnapped and brought to the castle, I thought it must surely be the king to blame, and it took some weeks to realize that the architect of our suffering - the taxation, the oppression, the starvation - was not this feckless, ill-mannered poo poo at all, but the bespectacled bureaucrat by his side, coaxing, wheedling, at every turn bending his ruler’s will towards bleeding his subjects dry.

But I knew from careful observation that Rodikh was no Firstborn, though he took pains to maintain illusion otherwise. His powers came from his trinkets: the thick rings studding both powdered hands. That trio of bone-white circlets round his left wrist, the delicate woven armband that encircled the other. I felt quite certain I knew what some of them did. Of others, I was less sure: the burgundy carbuncle clasp below his throat remained a mystery, as were the threaded blue beads he seemed to only favor when certain visitors were in attendance, the pattern of which I could not discern. There was still much to learn. After all, I had seen Rodikh in his true form only once, during an unexpectedly close call outside his chambers. A gangly fellow he turned out to be, more stick insect than beetle, with furtive eyes and an oddly-pinched complexion.

What contrivance he’d mastered to hide this from king and court, I did not yet know.



It must be said: my performance was by any standard exceptional. The Dreyan emissary again proved an effortless mimicry, with his mewling tone and disastrous limp. The chuckles from the court began as I burbled and begged in perfect parody, his earnest entreaties ballooned to grotesque caricature. I knocked my knees and scrape-grovelled the air, arching my spine in miasmas of woe, and periodically deploying a sly nod or wink to the audience, telegraphing my deceit, receiving snorts of disdain in response. Dreyan or Ebellian, Masourian or otherwise, the directive was always the same: all who question decree must be seen as wastrels at best, and traitors at worst.

The king was played by Sedge, which I welcomed: a young chancellor’s aide on extended stay from the Dorduchan Provinces away east, he’d revealed himself as an aspiring thespian and a natural comic, sharp enough to match my pace and more elaborate pratfalls. The king’s bemused smile turned to bellowed laughter when I attempted to make off with Sedge’s purse, earning a backhand slap that sent me caterwauling through a pair of backwards somersaults. I gamboled back to his side as might a newly whipped dog, bells atop my head a tuneless jangle, begging for his mercy before tripping over my own feet and faceplanting onto the dais, earning thunderous laughter from king and subjects alike.

I staggered to my feet and bowed with exaggerated pomp; the cap toppled off in a spill of dampened hay, earning a renewed burst of ovation. The king was roaring, his front sloppy with wine. Rodikh had disappeared; had he also heard the muffled clang of steel, only just briefly audible from the cellars beneath our feet? I thought I was the only one.

Sedge rushed to my side. “Perfection,” he gloated, his eyes bright. “I’ve a bottle in my chambers, let’s celebrate!”

I promised to meet later and headed for my chambers, taking that more direct passage that had been less-traveled of late.

My message had gotten through; they had been waiting for him by his chambers. Rodikh lay down face-first, his matted curls haloed with crimson in the flickering torchlight. Of his assassins, there was no sign.

Now, it must be now! My fingers trembling, I carefully undid the clasp at his severed throat..



The first invader I encountered was a loathsome brute, his armor a mongrel’s collage of scarred plates and scraps scavenged from past conquests. My thoughts coalesced with terrifying clarity, but part of me was ready. There was a sudden pang in my right hand, and the space where my foe stood suddenly wrenched inward in a contortion of dimensions, a dozen planes of glassy light flickering to shear soundlessly through bone and flesh. He collapsed in a dozen sodden pieces.



The three barbarians in the dining hall had heard the confrontation and were more prepared, but it mattered not. Two of them were turned into goats; I am still not quite sure how.

The third was far less fortunate (it was not my will to kill, yet in these ecstasies my will was not entirely my own), and could no longer be recognized at all. At my command he had been somehow pulled like taffy through some tortuous crevice of Aether far too small for his corporeal form, and had been redeposited in this world as some child’s dalliance with clay, a gruesome figurine molded from bone and tissue by a child.



“Extraordinary! Absolutely extraordinary!” gushed Lady Braenor. “Highness, the way he stood forth in challenge to those vile brigands! And to stand as one against so many, Your Lordship! I tell you, he stood tall and smote them all to…to stinking ashes! With a mere gesture!“

I bowed my head in modesty. “To protect the throne, my lady, is to serve in pleasure.” I turned to the king. “Now, with your permission, my lord, I must see to the damage. And with your permission, I will dispatch all aid we have to the townspeople and seek a meeting with their council at once. It would be wise to re-assess certain policies, that we may rebuild our defenses and prevent a more determined assault.”

The king waved a hand distractedly, in conversation with his young daughter. He was still somewhat in shock; of all the court, she had come the closest to meeting a blade.

I bowed a little clumsily, in perfect impression, and made for the council chamber, taking care to roll my gait just so. The guards stiffened in salute as I passed.

Might it become necessary, I wondered, to take the place of the king himself, as matters progressed? I dismissed the thought - such plots could wait. First, the people - my people. Then, to my new quarters.

There was so much to learn.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
in

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Dear Imprudence
100 words


“Hey homo! What’cha doin’, playin’ with yerself?” demanded Oscar.

“Talking with a fairy,” said Morgan.

“Talkin’ to yerself? Fuckin fairies. Where?”

“Over there,” said Morgan, pointing to a nearby shock of dandelions..

“I don’t see nothin’.”

“That’s because you have to believe in fairies in order to see them.”

Oscar walked to the dandelions. “Right here? Yer friend right ‘bout here?”

“Yes,” said Morgan.

Oscar stomped the dandelions flat with a hi-top.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” said Morgan.

“What’re you gonna do about it?” said Oscar.

I’m not going to do anything about it,” said Morgan.

“Ribbit,” said Oscar.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
UNTITLED TRANSCRIPT

code:
Thank you for calling Cleaning Fairies where a little help is a big help my name is Patricia in order for me to assist you may I please have the account number.

Thank you one moment.

Okay and who am I speaking with.

Please slow down sir

Sir

I’m have trouble hearing you with the background

Sir

Sir the contract clearly references customer responsibility to provide fresh cr

Well perhaps the date on the carton was wrong sir

Sir please do not use offensive language

Sir

I’m hanging up sir.

Thank you for calling Cleaning Fairies where a little help 

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Rêverie en Vert

I blinked, my eyes suddenly watery from the greenery that consumed my every sense.

"What is this place?" I breathed.

"It is your home, my mortal," she said, rising from the pond, her ivory arms outstretched, and my heart shattered at her beauty. "A place for forgetting time and troubles."

The moss trembled, and the vines shivered and sang. I went with her into the wood, and knew her forever, and loved her forever, until I learned of her deceit and sought to leave her side.

I blinked, my eyes suddenly watery from the greenery that consumed my every sense.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Cuckoo
100 words


I knew I was different. They all knew it too. I had the hair, the eyes, the skin, but those close to me could tell.

The other children mocked my clumsiness, the dullness in my eyes. My sister Hannah once told me I smelled like wet leaves.

One morning I awoke to find my skin rupturing, sloughing away painlessly. I brushed it from my limbs like damp cobwebs, finding jet-black bone and mottled bramble beneath.

I fed, then slept, dreaming of retribution, my parents and the corpse I lay before them, its hair, its eyes, its skin.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

Albatrossy_Rodent posted:

What "parody" means is up to you.
**Grawwk! Poor Yorick! Knew him well! Grawwwk! Life's a stage! Give us a biscuit! Grawwwk!

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
I can judge this week.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
In with a real dumb idea based on an even dumber dream I just had

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
SPOILS
1300 words


Dawn was rising, and the gulls were already out to greet it, cutting lazy arcs across the morning sky. Reyna and her brother Farrow clambered down the\rocky bluff that stood watch over the sea.

“You’re always so slow,” said Reyna.

“And yet -” Farrow scrambled across a low outcropping to the side of the path and leapt to the beach, missing his footing and tumbling awkwardly to the sand. “First!”

“Cheater!” laughed Reyna, and kicked sand at him with a sandalled foot.

The two surveyed the view. Even with the morning still new, there were already a few boats dotting the horizon. Reyna shaded her eyes and squinted. “I see Mullyck out there.”

Farrow followed her gaze, sniffed. “S’not him.”

“It is, though. The blue trim on the prow?”

“That’s Mullyck’s boat, but s’not him.” Farrow dusted off his sand-streaked hands on his tunic. “Must be his brother.”

“Now you can’t see that far,” said Reyna, a little hesitantly. Though she was three years older, her brother’s vision had always been better than hers.

“Don’t have to.” Farrow scampered up a slab of weathered sandstone that jutted toothlike from the sand. “Mullyck’s to the war. Left with Terrell’s uncle, day before yesterday.”

“Who told you that?”

“Terrell. Saw him in town, with Mum yesterday. Mullyck didn’t want to go at first, but Terrell’s uncle talked him about.”

Reyna did not reply. It was usually like that, it seemed: someone got the idea in their head to go fight, then coaxed one or two others to join them. It was exasperating, so many grown-ups leaving with little or no warning, their children left to handle their business.

Farrow guessed her thoughts and kicked a little sand back at her. “Come on, now. They’ll be back. Terrell says most of the work now is away from the battlefront. Supply lines and all that. Look at Jenko, right? Came back loaded down with all the riches he could carry!”

Carry. With the one arm, you might mention.”

“Well, don’t have to work now, though. All that gold, he can pay someone to take care of things.” Farrow scanned to one side, then the other. The beach stretched like a pale ribbon to the north, the rocky tidepools twinkling in the first rays of morning. To the south, the beach ended a few hundred yards down before somber gray cliffs.

Farrow grinned at his sister. “Go south? Come on then, let’s.”

Reyna snorted. “Absolutely not.”

“Come on. Why not?”

“You know why. Father’s told us a hundred times.”

“Psshhh. That’s for evenings, when the sun’s low,” argued Farrow, knowing full well their father had made no such exception. He clambered off the rock and started north, making as if to leave without her. Reyna made no move to follow, and Farrow rolled his eyes.

“Come on, then!” Farrow pointed north. “Look, this stretch here is all picked over. Let’s get us a nice fresh shock of teal moss and some mussels. See that pool beyond the first ridge? You know well as I do it’ll be teeming. We’ll go there and no further.”

Reyna wavered. “Father made us promise-”

“That’s when he was here. But he’s not here, is he? Fightiiiiing…in the waaaar…” Farrow sang majestically, turning a slow circle in the sunlight, his arms outstretched. Reyna giggled in spite of herself. It was no laughing matter of course, and she knew Farrow missed their father more than anybody, even Mum. But that was his way, making fun of things to ward off the pain, the uncertainty. She did not begrudge him for coping in whatever way suited him.

“All right,” said Reyna, looking doubtfully back up the path they’d descended. “But only to the ridge, and no further. Or I’ll tell Mum.”

“Oh! You’ll tell… Mum?” Farrow clasped his hands to his chest, stumbled backwards as if stabbed to the belly. “You…you mustn’t! No! It’ll be…the laundry for me. And the chimney! Not the chimney!”

Reyna’s scowl become a laugh as she demurred, jogging to join him. “If she finds out, it’ll be us both in the cauldron,” she warned.

“Well, best get us something good to eat, then. Race you!”

The two sprinted across the shimmering sand, towards the ridge. It felt good to run, with the sun’s warmth seeping into their bones. Farrow got there first, panting. By the time Reyna caught up, he was already clambering down to the water. “There!” he announced triumphantly. “Fresh as you could want. Toss me the pack.”

Reyna did so, then stopped with a frown. “Wait. Look there.”

Farrow followed her gaze. It was a person, lying face down in the sandy shallows, motionless and lolling with the fading tide.. Dull green plates armored the body from head to toe, fused together in mottled stripes. There was no weapon by his side, or anywhere else to be seen.

“Coh…” breathed Farrow. “It’s a Corridian. Washed in.” He carefully traversed the pool to the warrior’s side and bent to flip the body over.

“Farrow!” said Reyne, shocked. “Leave it!”

“Come, he’s dead, isn’t he?” said Farrow, heaving the body over onto its back. And he was. Reyna surveyed the body with mute horror that gave way to fascination. With the body’s front exposed, they could see the massive gash across his chest, scything through the plated armor like tissue. The wound was a yawning fissure that had somehow scorched the flesh it touched to charred gravel. The soldier’s face looked peaceful in death, his too-large eyes closed above the bony ridges that framed his cheeks.

“We’re not eating anything from here,” declared Reyna. “Get back up here, Farrow.”

“Hang on.” Farrow reached into the water and pulled something from the warrior’s forehead. It was a circlet of some kind, made of blue-black metal. “Look at this!”

“Get back up here right now!” Reyna summoned her most commanding tone, one that sounded most like Mum, and to her relief it worked: Farrow turned reluctantly and left the pool to join his sister. The circlet was in his hand, and he held it out for her inspection. The circlet was ornately carved from end to end with thin, spidery sigils of silver. Reyna tried to make them out, but staring at them seemed to make her eyes ache, and she turned her gaze to her brother, who returned her gaze evenly.

“Scavenged it,” he declared “Like Father always said. The sea gives for us to take.”

“Not from him,” Reyna admonished flatly. “Stealing from the dead is stealing, not scavenging.”

“He doesn’t need it. Spoils of war. All we know, he’s the one who killed Bear. Or Festyk. Or all of them. Deepwater scum.” Reyna had no answer to that; it might well be true.

Farrow lifted the circlet and, before Reyna could protest, set it on his brow. He staggered as he did so, and Reyna gasped as the circlet settled into place, tightening against her brother’s forehead. “Ha!” he inhaled sharply, and for a moment Reyna thought she spied movement, gone before she could register: a flicker of sinewy tendrils of mist, coiling around his brow like tentacles before dissipating as quickly as they'd arrived.

“I am Torshuu the Destroyer,” Farrow intoned in a low voice. His eyes squeezed shut.

Reyna put a hand to her mouth, suddenly terrified. “What-”

“Young. And malleable.” Farrow muttered. “Eager.”

Reyna took a step back. Farrow’s eyes opened suddenly, and he grinned. “You heard me! I’m Torsho the Destroyer!”

Reyna smiled hesitantly. “You’re no such thing.”

Farrow said nothing, swaying slightly. Not her, he thought. Patience. There will be blood to spare and more, soon enough. “Race you back?” he offered.

Reyna glared at him and turned to run. Torshuu followed, testing his limbs, savoring rebirth, drinking strength, ready for war.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

rivetz posted:

In with a real dumb idea based on an even dumber dream I just had
Author's note that the story above was not that idea (and not as good either): Billionaire douchebag heads to his private beach one morning to find an scantily-clad young woman washed ashore, covered in seaweed, impossibly beautiful, weak with hunger, and strangely mute. He brings her back to his luxury beach house, while some distance offshore a couple sketchy dudes watch with long-range binoculars chuckling. Turns out she's an accomplished burglar; this is her fourth job, and none of the other suckers have said poo poo to the cops because they'd rather take the L than admit they genuinely believed they were saving a loving mermaid

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
In with one of the more ominously-titled entries in L'ouevre de Salle-Marque: Christmas for Keeps.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Bounty crits from 582, along with overdue judge crits from Week 581.

582 | Family Vacation: This story suffers from the same pitfall I tumble into with dismaying regularity: “So what?” Additionally your chosen topic of l’il aquatic critters is so interesting on its face that it kind of magnifies the need for something more to happen. If there’s a message or meaning (kids are innocent monsters? The dad’s able to put aside work for a little bit?) it doesn’t seem sufficiently established. Having no message can work if you were going for some sort of slice of life approach, but I can’t help finding it weird that this objectively amazing thing happens and nobody, kids or adults, seem to care. Your last paragraph confirms that some people just shy away from the extraordinary and just prefer the comfort of mundanity or whatever, which is a cool and worthwhile spin, but it’s not sufficiently established to really resonate. This is one entry that I think could comfortably be a bit longer.

This feedback all comes off really negative, so I should emphasize that a whole lot of it works. I’m gonna assume you’re a parent; if you’re not, you clearly understand those dynamics. The descriptive stuff is great and I had no problem visualizing everything you wrote. The tense needs work, I think, as it jumps from present to past. Passages like “You and your wife watch speechless as your children scoop up the tiny man and seahorse. They jostled them this way and that” would flow better if you picked present or past tense and stuck with one or the other. If it’s a stylistic choice, it doesn’t really feel like it and I’m not sold it adds anything.

582 | Buried Treasure: I liked this. My critiques are kinda nitpicky:
  • I got kind of distracted with what age the kids are? I assumed they were high-schoolers (15-17?), but then one of em needs his dad to hose him off? I reread it and realized they could be adults if not for the reference to them as “boys” in the first paragraph.
  • Also that sentence (“The boys gathered round.”) stamps the first paragraph as third-person and then everything switches to first-person a couple lines later, not sure that’s intentional.
  • The start of the D&D game could be more clearly established. I was like “wait what” and had to go back, which probably isn’t ideal in such a short piece. I think there could be some sort of smoother transition that wouldn’t take anything away.
  • The notebooks stuff felt a little janky. When your protagonist goes out of their way to say “I have a lot of notebooks” the reader’s gonna look for a reason they were told this, but all we learn is he has two notebooks.
  • Also this may well be just me but because it wasn’t made clear they’re in a game, “peering furtively over my screen” after a paragraph about notebooks had me wondering if he’s sitting behind a laptop.
  • “Calloused” is a cool word, and “grin” is a cool word, but Roy’s “calloused grin” had me wondering if the bubonic plague was going to get involved at some point.
  • This is Real nitpicky but it wouldn’t hurt to work in one more reference to the bottle being green? It’s the fourth word in the story but isn’t referenced again until very near the end. Doesn’t really hurt but might help.

Pacing was great, felt not too short and not too long. Felt like a true story, which is kinda two compliments: it felt real and it felt personal. Your characters are total cut-outs and it doesn’t matter because the story is told well. I’m not saying you should have developed any of em (not sure you could have done so without lengthening the piece), I’m saying it works in spite of that which is not easy.

Nice one, enjoyed.


Overdue crits from 581:

581 | Truffles: I liked this and thought it was the winner too. I don’t know how you get away with all this depressing poo poo about the pillaging of the natural world - and not just in a clump but methodically distributed in potent servings of equal size throughout the story - delivered by someone who obviously grasps its impact, and never (to me) teeters over the edge into preaching. When that quality does poke through, it feels earned.

I liked that you do not clearly establish the narrator’s gender, or their age, really, beyond them being an adult who’s been at this for a while. Nor do you establish a geographic location beyond the northern hemisphere. I assume it’s an old man in France, but it didn’t have to be, which was cool.

I couldn’t grasp any particular significance from the brain/cerebellum references, but will assume that’s a me problem.

581 | Thumbnail in the Coffin: First up, “Ioan” is a cool name, props for its selection. This story really felt like it needed a third act, though, and feels woefully abrupt without it. It’s a catch-22: the better of the job you do establishing the stakes wockawockawockaaaa as well as the protagonist, the more glaring it seemed to me that we’re cheated of reaction or response. I thought about this on the first read and figured that adding another section would require too much space, but then on a reread I’m not sure. Anything might work, even a couple sentences. Is he pissed? Does like go on? Does he start packing a bag? You’d lose the impact of the punch line but I dunno, I wanted more, which is a good thing.

581 | Supplicant: This didn’t work for me. Full marks for aiming high with an unconventional interpretation of the challenge, but flagellation as regional tradition is a stretch. It might sell better if it was emphasized up front that this was fantasy, but that’s not really clear until well past the halfway mark. The first 3/4s of the story seem to feature no major distinctions between your story’s world and Europe in the Middle Ages, which could be fine except I kept distracting myself trying to figure out where/when the hell was self-flagellation just a thing some folks do in this small town etc.

Nitpicks:
  • Sorry, but when I read “Tears welled up in Henrik’s eyes as the man pulled up the hem of his robe” I thought, oh so it’s that kind of regional tradition is it?
  • If you say something like “A person, nondescript in every way except for their robes” you better describe those bitchin robes
  • ”a multitude of wings that seemed to burn but produce no heat.” - I needed more here, got caught up trying to envision this thing and didn’t have enough.

581 | Brand new ancestral tradition: I liked this but it felt a little lopsided? There’s this great evocative section at the end that describes the village and grandfather’s memories so well that it makes everything that came beforehand seem really empty by comparison. That may have been by design but it didn’t come off, at least not for me. Overall an enjoyable read, though.

581 | Which Came First?: I felt like this story bit off more than it could chew. I was disoriented from the top, which is fine, but the details didn’t paint a clear enough setting for me to feel grounded. I don’t mind this at all, especially in SF, but then I just start really focusing on the details to ensure I’m putting pieces together. When it happened here, I kinda lost the narrative, and then of course it’s over. I’m not sure it’s possible to build what you’re building here in <1000 words. There’s all this supportive historical stuff, and it’s all interesting, but it contributed to things just feeling overstuffed.

581 | The Advent of Television: I didn’t get this, really. I just reread it for the third time and still don’t really get it. I didn’t like having to Google/research the subject of a story just because I’m not super-familiar with Japanese food. I mean, fine, but ideally that’s the author’s job. I guess I get the transition from radio to TV as metaphor, but it didn’t hit for me.

“[Endo] had ideas to workshop. Innovations often took time…” wait what? There’s no evidence of any innovation, only that he’s suddenly done with beef. I get the intent, but the story jumps from Endo putting down one thing to having dreamed up some amazing idea five seconds later.

The ending was funky to me as well. I’m OK w six dumplings representing six years, but a) you emphasize them being in rows before turning around and giving them a linear meaning, and b) the six years thing comes out of nowhere and without much context, and c) that’s the last sentence, so I’m left with questions that the story was not intended to answer. These might all be issues on my end.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
The Well
1200 words


If a man’s soul is a kind of garden, and evil the snaking intrusion of bramble and thorn, then surely youth is the fertilizer, the catalyst. The soil is loose, thick with its own potential, welcoming all incursions without discretion or distinction.

It is these first roots that sink deepest, leeching as they burrow, draining as they take hold. It is these first roots that prove most difficult to remove.

::::::::::::

They called it a “Celebration of Life”, but that wasn’t why most of us went. It was really a second ten-year class reunion to make up for the first one that sucked, a disastrous semi-formal fuckup at the Lions Club, dreamed up by some big-titted former HomeEc queen who’d binged too many Hallmark movies. This one was pleasantly economical: forty-five minutes at the gym, then drinking. I would guess that for every attendee who came for Mr. Hatfield, there were three who didn’t give a gently caress about him.

The guys were there, the Squad, the titans of Division III. Everyone’s the same. Lonny wears a toupée . Rick has a boat. Morgan manages a steakhouse. I am more successful than any of them, and over the afternoon deploy an arsenal of interested nods and supportive murmurs.

Jonah is unmarried and works at Lowe’s. There is no “moment” when we meet, no wordless communication. Hatfield does not surface in our conversation. It’s as if nothing happened.

:::::::::::

I never knew why Jonah came to hate him. Mr. Hatfield was a great English teacher, special in that way. I’d had him junior year; he’d sensed my intelligence (I was quite sane then) but wisely chose not to pursue it. He gave me room to grow, which I did not take. I respected him for that.

In the five or so years leading up to his death, he’d achieved some modest celebrity for his poetry, even some light Pulitzer buzz, though it failed to coalesce.

In all, Hatfield published three collections of verse. I owned all three, in hardcover.

:::::::::::

In the early spring of junior year, Jonah and I ambushed and abducted Mr. Hatfield from the teacher’s lot behind the soccer field, bound him with too much duct tape, and took him to a derelict cabin off Route 214 that had once belonged to Jonah’s uncle.

The abduction was clean. We wore masks. Hatfield was hooded. We took turns with the wheelbarrow up the old trail, a half-mile into the forest. The cabin was barely a building now, gently rotting into the earth on one side, the surrounding pines silent witness to its decay. Jonah hoisted Hatfield’s spindly frame onto his broad linebacker's shoulders and carried him to the barren hole of the old well, dragged aside the snow-rimed cover, and dropped him in.

It was probably twenty feet to the bottom. I assume something broke. Hatfield bellowed twice and then fell silent. We stayed a while, smoking in silence and listening to his ragged breath, and then we left. It was dusk.

:::::::::::

To be clear, I hadn’t wanted to do any of it. Jonah joked, then speculated, then asked. Then he requested, and finally he threatened. I knew that he knew my secret, my atrocity from the winter prom party. In hindsight I should be grateful he would only use it once.

:::::::::::

The next day we returned to the cabin, our feet crunching in the feathers of spring snow from the night before. He was down there, breathing, coughing. We tied one end of a sturdy rope to a nearby stump, and tossed the other end into the darkness. Jonah cocked his dad’s shotgun with an unmistakable crack as warning. And then we left.

Mr. Hatfield returned to class four days later, wearing a sling. A classmate observed that one of his hands was missing two fingernails. Yet he hadn’t said a word, and if he suspected us or anybody else, he gave no sign. I felt safe. It was a large class in a large school. Hilariously, Jonah didn’t even have him as a teacher, which only deepened the mystery. But I didn’t want to know. It was for something stupid, I was sure, some petty bullshit wrong. I needed to not know more than that; it was that purity of purpose, you see, the blind senselessness that opened my eyes.

Two years later, Hatfield published his first collection of poetry.

:::::::::::

Jonah mentions him later, at the bar, if not by name. At my elbow, on the next stool: “Hey. gently caress him. You know?”

I nod, returning his gaze. Jonah swigs his beer. “He fuckin got his. And learned his lesson.” He offers his beer in toast; our bottles clink. “Fuckin teacher became the student.”

“That’s right,” I say. “That is right.” And believe it or not, that’s the last we talk about it.

:::::::::::

There’s more small talk at the bar. Darci Donner hits on me; I imagine her limbless, mewling. I do so with no particular malice. She’s not her fault.

Jonah gets drunk and tells me about classmates he has hosed. He sounds lonely, his anger freshly fuelled with blue-collar bitterness. He is on the whole darker than I remember, more… interesting. Perhaps he’s killed, I wonder. Who knows? It’s not like there’s some secret handshake.

:::::::::::

Of course I dragged him up there and dumped him in. Of course I did. Do you doubt me? Why? If you can’t believe that much, why are you even still reading?

The mundanities of his capture are, in a word, unspectacular. I won’t share those details here; you have not earned them. Should you really be curious, just ask yourself: how would you do such a thing, if you were smart, and strong, and very careful? The answer is rarely complicated or elusive, needing only the resolve of someone strong, and smart, and very careful. Most people really are all these things and don’t even know it. Most lack only the imagination.

:::::::::::

The same trail, now faded to just a ghost of track wobbling through the ferns. The same wheelbarrow, in fact. The cabin has deflated to a sagging triangle. I lever the wheelbarrow over onto its side, and he tumbles out. I am quietly disappointed by Jonah’s flab, the flaccid bulk of his gut. This penance is, in at least one way, a mercy of sorts.

There are insults, threats, pleas as I drag him to the hole. Nothing to appreciate, nothing with teeth. He is not very interesting after all. After a few moments I slide the iron cover back in place; even the faintest sliver of hope would be a patina of additional cruelty, one that Jonah’s circumstances in my opinion do not merit. He is responsible for giving me the gift, but only I am responsible for accepting it. I eat half a Milky Way bar and toss the other half into the well, and hear it land with a shallow plop.

I smoke for a bit now, as we did then, and then leave, wondering how long he’ll last down there. If he’ll grow, as Hatfield did. If he’ll still be alive should I return. I will probably be back here. It’s a good spot, and he seems lonely.

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Week 586: Winner Takes All

October is upon us, and as glorious as we all found that little drunken stumble down Halloween Lane last week, it's time to celebrate another hallmark of autumn: sports. The National Basketball Association kicks off the 2023-24 season this evening, the baseball playoffs are in full swing, the NFL is gearing up for the stretch run... it's all about winning, folks.

You have 1200 words to describe your protagonist's participation in a competition. It does not necessarily have to be a sport/game, nor does it have to be an officially recognized event. It does have to be really, really important to your character(s). If their participation in this event could be safely characterized as obsessive, you are doing it right. Bonus points for somehow turning this into horror, but this is not required. Note: competitions solely against oneself are strictly prohibited - your character(s)'s motivation needs to be accomplishing [x] goal better than somebody else.

1200 words, my gladiators. You can bag an additional 200 words by requesting a flash, which will take the form of the opening setting for your story. GO! GO! GO! GO! GO! Let'sgo-let'sgo-let'sgo-on three ONE! TWO! THREE! THUNDERDOME

Signups due by Friday at 11:46 pm PST
Submissions to be posted by Sunday at 11:37 pm PST

Contestants:
The Cut of Your Jib
beep-beep car is go
Rohan
Thranguy
Chernobyl Princess
Kuiperdolin


Referees:
rivetz
Uranium Phoenix

rivetz fucked around with this message at 22:19 on Oct 29, 2023

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

The Cut of Your Jib posted:

in, flash; get weird
The engine room of a nuclear submarine

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

Thranguy posted:

In, flash
The Ross Ice Shelf

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Submissions closed

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat

Sitting Here posted:

rivetz did you mean signups :v:

There is a NaNoWriMo thread for those who are interested in participating!
That is, in fact, what I meant!

rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
Submissions closed! Judges' verdict should post sometime tomorrow evening Pacific. Thanks to all contestants!

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rivetz
Sep 22, 2000


Soiled Meat
WEEK 586 RESULTS:
Winner: rohan, "Luck of the Draught"
No HMs this week
Loser: beep-beep car is go, "240 hours of LeMans"
DQ: The Cut of Your Jib, "Nuclear Subs"

Crits:

beep-beep car is go, "240 hours of LeMans": There was general agreement among the judges that this had to be an automatic DQ due to failure to meet prompt requirements. A number of entries had this problem to one degree or another but this one was the most overt; really tough to square the "It does have to be really, really important to your character(s)" stipulation from the prompt with phrases like "I wasn’t out to win today." I guess you could say the protagonist really really likes driving his rocketship, but it's a stretch, when he explicitly acknowledges he's basically just interested in clicks and pleasing his bosses.

There are plenty of cool details throughout and there's a sense of place, the setting feels well-conceived. But then the race itself isn't super-exciting, which is a double whammy because it's ultimately a comparatively small chunk of the story. In addition it undermines the ending - he survives the race that is not really depicted as particularly dangerous in the first place?

There's a bunch that works and a bunch that doesn't, but the panel ultimately saw this one as not reaching the finish line.

Kuiperdolin, "The greatest tosser in all Europe…": Points for unearthing a wacky-rear end sport from the annals of history (I too had to google to learn that fox tossing was very much a thing back in the day.) Points for making something horrible funny without betraying any sense of real callousness - the tone of historical narration succeeds in mostly masking that this was really gross and bad. The switch to first person at the end sticks out and doesn't really work; comes too late when even one such switch somewhere earlier would've done the trick for me.
In honor of Hemingway I salute your inclusion of the quiet gem, "Drums rolled."
I dug the delivery overall, evoking the dryness and detachment of a bored British documentarian. Somewhat underdeveloped protagonist, and once again no sense of real passion or competitiveness. Not the winner, but not bad at all.


Chernobyl Princess, "Flare and the Silicon Spire": There's plenty I liked here - the setup is interesting, especially the symbiotic relationship between truck and driver. You do a good job of establishing key elements of setting without jamming poo poo down the reader's throat. Dialogue is kinda flat, things cook way better when nobody's talking. I don't like that zero attention is paid to setting for too long - until "the flatlands" are mentioned about 1/3 of the way in, this whole thing could be taking place downtown somewhere. The Spire's a cool enough concept, liked that the ending was ambiguous. The urgency doesn't really hit throughout, though, nor do the stakes, not consistently. I had little to no sense of the characters beyond their names. Overall enjoyable and I would read more about this world.


The Cut of Your Jib, "Nuclear Subs": lol more or less from start to finish. The sub references aren't forced and it's over before it can get tired. Lots of bits that pull double duty, establishing characters and/or tone and/or setting. The punchline came just as I was realizing that we were all but done and, while these might be subs, there wasn't much nuclear about em, so the Americium reference landed right on the downbeat. I know the whole piece is shot through with silly but the Dick/Richard/Cock stuff didn't hit for me. Nitpick: unless it was a typo, "enquire" (vs "inquire") threw me a little at the end, since most everything prior lacks any remotely British tone.

This was everybody's winner, but I need to take sole responsibility for ruling this a DQ on wordcount (1410 words). I understand and acknowledge the credible case for that being some real grade-A horseshit. I didn't do it to be petty or lovely, but man, when you've got another entry at 1198, and another one right at 1200, and you know they picked and pulled and trimmed to get under, and Nuclear Subs didn't. Once I knew it was over the limit, I couldn't ignore it. Another factor was that while everyone really dug the story, it wasn't some marvel of economy; I'm pretty sure that ten words could've been shed without losing a beat. The goal is to write an entertaining story, and this is emphatically that, but I couldn't give it the win. And to be totally honest I'm realizing that I thought a DQ might perversely be somehow more honorable than saying it wasn't "good" enough to win.


Thranguy, "The Race of the Century": Another interesting setup and concept. The questions I had didn't detract too much from its appeal. "my first run burned off my uniform and hair. I didn't get it." This is probably just me but the way this sentence is dropped before we have any sense of what's really going on had me assuming that the protagonist might literally be some kind of large bear or other mammal, bipedal yet rendered sadly hairless by Fate's cruel whim.

I expect Thranguy stories to take me somewhere I've never been without really holding my hand and this one did that pretty well - the stuff about Jessica adds depth without derailing anything, the dragon's a surprise, the other left-of-center details help by painting the outlines of a larger world. This is an interesting example of how the protagonist doesn't seem particularly obsessed with winning, but the story still clears that bar because their overall passion for racing is apparent. Overall it seems to be trying to cover too much ground in the space allowed, but a fun read.


rohan, "Luck of the Draught": Cool concept. Even though the stakes aren't particularly high, that wasn't the prereq, it was that the protagonist has to really want the W, and I thought that was effectively communicated.

This reallllly threw me: "‘To appraise Elixirs of Luck,’ the adjudicator announced, ‘the former Vanadium Head of Thaumaturgy, Hax Bolstaff.’" This is immediately lent significance by receiving its own paragraph, separate from the other elixirs/judges, and then the guy's mentioned only once more and in passing. More importantly, though, it's that Elixirs of Luck are also given their own paragraph here; the other elixir types aren't capitalized and aren't as prominent, which had me thinking Elixirs of Luck had more significance in the contest. It's not even the type Claire's making. Then I was like, wait so that means the skeletal guy isn't judging Claire, so - wait, so each contestant effectively has only one judge, matching their elixir type? What if they all do Elixirs of Transparency, do the other three judges stand around? What if three people finish their concoctions at the same time? Minor but distracting, obviously fixable.

The little details about potion creation are cool and imaginative. It hurts that we don't get much/any real detail on the other contestants, which might have helped establish some personal stakes for Claire. The judges are relegated to a sentence each, but I almost would've rather had them just be judges and give the space to a rival or colleague; you give lip service to four pretty minor characters that might have better served to fully establish one. Also seems kinda weird/dangerous that the judges drink the potions vs some volunteer, or someone in the audience (if one even existed.) Liked the world, liked the twist at the end. Solid stuff, though, enjoyable read.

Thanks all for your submissions!! rohan, the throne doth beckon

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