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Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Give me an unusual living situation and a supernatural being.


Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

rohan posted:

two words: submarine werewolves
The Kennel (1,100 words)

The submarine languished along the coast, caught up on the rocks, abandoned by God. Vasily took care as he clambered aboard. With workman's gloves he examined the rust.

Helinka stood back with her hands in her pockets. She was wearing his coat, smoking his cigarettes. She had dark, sleepless eyes. She grinned without thinking. She inhaled the sea breeze and exhaled smoke.

"Must've been quite the storm," she said.

Vasily nodded.

"There's a lot of rust." *He said, stepping down from the wreckage. "Will take some time, I think."

"We've got time."

Vasily sauntered down the beach. "I've got time," he corrected her, coolly. Helinka sighed, avoiding his gaze. Having drawn close, he towered above her. His face was grim, but his eyes betrayed him. His soft, somber pupils were wells of sorrow. Taking off his gloves, he extended a finger. He lifted her chin with a delicate touch. Helinka removed the bent cigarette. She handed it to him. He took it, and kissed her.

"Then you've got no time she waste," she said.

He put the cigarette to his own mouth, partaking. It'd been three years since they'd taken to the road. A find like this was miraculous indeed. Helinka turned to fetch their things.

He checked his revolver: two bullets, one silver.

The interior of the sub had fared a little better. As they'd hoped, one chamber still remained sealed. It was some hours work to scrape off the rust. The air trapped inside was stale and sickly. The first to step inside, Helinka started coughing.

"We'll need to let it breath," said Vasily. He fanned the air with a look of displeasure.

Helinka's tried to channel her cough into a laugh. "Better than waking up naked in a field."

Naked, confused, covered in blood. Whose was uncertain. They'd had to leave quickly.

They'd heard about the sub from an equally remote fishing village, whose elderly inhabits would moonlight as scroungers. Much had already been stripped for parts, but only what oculd be easily salvaged. "You took look capable," they'd said to the nomads. "Maybe there's something worth prying it open." It was this that stoked hope in both of their hearts. Having finally found it, they could now hatch a plan. Low on supplies, needing both salt and vinegar, Vasily headed back. Helinka stayed behind.

It was the middle of the day and the men were out fishing. Vasily found two women repairing an old boat.

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

Vasily nodded.

"Well that's wonderful. You here to sell?"

"Buying," said Vasily. He held a crumpled note.

"You watch yourself out there. They say there's a killer. I heard it on the radio."

Vasily clicked his tongue. "I'll be careful," he replied.

The walk back to the submarine seemed longer than before. They only had a few days. They needed to prepare. He found Helinka waiting for him, sitting on the rocks. Hunched over, she faced the sea, supporting her head with her palm.

"What's for lunch?" she asked without looking away from the water.


"And if I don't like fish?"


She chuckled. "Fish it is."

The week that followed was tedious and tiresome. They arose in the morning and immediately set to work, scrapping off as much rust as time would allow. Every waking moment they could spare was spent cleaning. Sometimes they'd talk. Usually they didn't.

Gonna be a real shame to leave this all behind," said Helinka as she scrubbed. Unlike Vasily, she could use her bare hands. "After all this work to make this place hospitable."

Vasily smiled softly. "If this works, we can stay."

"We can't stay forever."

"As long as we can."

Helinka sighed a little. "As long as we can."

Something would go wrong. Something always went wrong. Three years was a long time to learn and relearn that lesson.

By the end of the week they'd done it, having cleared a modest space. The rest of the sub needed tending to, but the airtight room was finished, and the door leading to it. "Not too shabby," Helinka said, her sleeves rolled up, massaging Vasily's shoulders. Vasily was sitting. He lit a cigarette. "Let's hope it holds," he said, tapping the door.

He left her again to fetch food from the village. Maybe some alcohol. A little indulgence before the long night.

He was careful not to slow down when he was the provincial police. An inspector had arrived. He was chatting up the headman.

"You again?" asked the man in the store. "You two living out there?"

"No," Vasily lied.

He was quick to return before it was dark. Helinka was pacing. She looked lean and restless. Seeing him approach, she took two step back. She cradled herself, licked her lips without thinking.

"Where have you been?"

He held up a bottle.

The two of them ate and watched the sea. They were sitting apart. Her decision, and his. She held up her hand as he offered a drink. "In the morning," she said. She smiled sadly, as did he.

An early moon could be seen in the sky. Vasily grimaced. "It's time," he said. Helinka stood and entered the sub. Vasily followed at a comfortable distance. Helinka stepped into the formerly sealed room. She let loose an exhale, shuddering slightly. Vasily placed his hand on the door. He began to shut it.

"I'm sorry," she said. She was clutching herself. She couldn't face him, but her voice was trembling.

Vasily hesitated. He shut his eyes. "I forgive you," he said, and sealed her away. Turning the handle, he closed off the chamber, several inches of steel between him and it. Turning around, he slumped to the ground, his back against the door, bracing its against any possible attack. From his belt he produced his revolver. He checked it: two bullets, one silver. He held it at the ready.

As nighttime fell she began to howl, painfully, fiercely. He heard her through the door. He could hear her scratching at the walls with her fingers, long and clawed, denting the interior. But the metal casket held. Vasily breathed slowly. He held the gun aloft just in case. Just in case.

It felt like an eternity before she died down. Vasily exhaled, lowering his gun. Through a hole in the roof he surveyed the night sky.

Maybe this time...something would go right.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Week No. 548 - Welcome to the Hotel California

I have an idle fascination with hotels, whether grand or decaying, both storied and weird. Excusing the perpetually put-upon staffers, everyone you meet is going somewhere, only not right now; right now they're here. Most of these people will never meet again. For this night only their lives intersect. That's probably what makes them such popular settings. Thrillers, romance, period pieces, murder. It's a wonderful place for people to collide, with enough breathing room for something to happen.

This week I want stories set in a hotel, following ships that pass in the night. That's not to say they've all gotta be strangers, but I'm after that feeling of a chance encounter in transitory space.

Words are good. I like words. I'd like around a 1,000 words, preferably good. I've got an extra 500 if you'd like, provided you're willing to eat a flash rule.

No screeds, no fanfiction, keep it in your pants. You know the rules. Sign up by Friday, February 10th, at 11:59 PM PST, and be ready to submit two days later, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Hotel Staff
Bad Seafood
Chernobyl Princess

Staggy - Your hotel is the former jewel of an imperial power, left to languish in a colonized country, a decrepit reminder of fleeting foreign arrogance.
CaligulaKangaroo - A luggage mix-up has catastrophic consequences.
Strange Cares
Thranguy - The Sonic Mania OST, Studiopolis Act 1.
Admiralty Flag - A key component of your story is someone getting locked out of their room.
BeefSupreme - Your hotel is hosting several guest speakers who've arrived in town for a decidedly niche convention.
Dicere - Your hotel was clearly something else before someone took it and hastily remodeled it.
WindwardAway - Game Changer, the Angel and Devil on Zach's Shoulder.

Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at 10:16 on Feb 13, 2023

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Staggy posted:

In, please give me a flash rule.
Your hotel is the former jewel of an imperial power, left to languish in a colonized country, a decrepit reminder of fleeting foreign arrogance.

CaligulaKangaroo posted:

Checking in.

Requesting a flash rule from room service.
A luggage mix-up has catastrophic consequences.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Admiralty Flag posted:

In, with a flash rule, please
A key component of your story is someone getting locked out of their room.

BeefSupreme posted:

hi, checking in, yes i'd like to add the optional flash service to my bill
Your hotel is hosting several guest speakers who've arrived in town for a decidedly niche convention.

Dicere posted:

In with a flash rule
Your hotel was clearly something else before someone took it and hastily remodeled it.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

WindwardAway posted:

Checking in, please put a flash rule on my room tab

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Submissions are closed, but I still need two capable co-judges.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Submissions are closed. Check-out time.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
:siren: Week 548 Results Post :siren:

Writing this in the middle of getting ready for work. I'll keep it brief.

The winner is Strange Cares, Rohan HMs; the loser is Windward Away, Admirality Flag DMs.

Do come again.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Week 548 Crits

HA HA yes doing my job like I'm supposed to.

Bellhop by Strange Cares

This story does a lot with a little, and I admire that. There's a name for this sort of story, though it escapes me. There's no real "Conflict," nothing "Changes," but each sequence unravels more and more of the mystery we didn't know we were solving. Your prose is punchy and full of personality, with a morbidly nonchalant approach to its own subject matter (a hotel having an on-site body-chucker for the purposes of wringing even more cash out of a suicidal gambler's family) that made for a perfect comedy cocktail.

Probably the only thing I found fault with in this story was the ornamental flamingos. Where I'm from those are lawn ornaments, stationary, manufactured; but it reads at times like they're real birds? The single flaw in an otherwise polished piece.

What's Going Down? by Admiralty Flag

When I was younger my parents used to take me to see plays at the local community theater. Sometimes they had a budget, but just as often the costume and set people had to get creative: a two-act play set in an office; everyone wears their work clothes; a single water cooler on an empty stage, flanked by black curtains. This story reminds me of those plays, but not in a good way. There's no character to the proceedings, no humanity, no flair. There's a conflict, conversation, but our protagonist seems "Above" it all in a weird sort of way, even as the woman goes through a roller-coaster of emotions. Something happen, the characters fall out over it, end scene. There's a skeleton here, but not much flavor.

The Grand Imperial Hotel by Staggy

The most interesting thing this story does is play with audience perception. Given the setting (as informed by your flash rule), it would be easy to reduce the concierge to his status: a relic himself, contained within a larger relic, beholden to the memory of a system everyone around him has ample reason to hate. But the influencer is just so obnoxious, in a very real way, that our sympathies remain with the curmudgeon despite it all. It may be a bit grim to admit but, as my esteemed co-judge says, sometimes there's just something satisfying about swatting a fly.

Outside of this singular dynamic, I found this story competent, well-told for what it was, but nothing that really pushed it over the top.

How Far You'll Go by Rohan


Alright, well, now that that's over, this was a pretty good story, and was neck-and-neck with the winner for awhile. Of all the pieces I read this week, this one was probably the one that best embodied the "Ships in the night" angle I was hoping for. To people meet and share a human moment, in a way that sometimes only strangers can. We've all got complicated relationships with someone in our family, and connecting with a stranger can make that universality real in a way that helps. More than mere personality, your characters have a real humanity to them in this moment, shored up by relatable experiences of traveling gone wrong.

There are a few hiccups here and there, but nothing you couldn't clean up if you wanted.

Hailmary by Dicere

Please link your flash rule at the start of your story, thank you.

This may sound counterproductive of me, given the theme of the week, but this story's biggest weakness was how coincidental it came out. Two characters have their own thing going on, cross paths briefly, and then it's over; a sequence of events without much resonance behind them. Wasn't that what I asked for though? Ships in the night? That was the platform, yes, but here it feels like punctuation. The story itself is workmanlike in construction, with characters who are recognizably characters but something's missing. I can believe the events unfolding before me, but I'm not seeing the element that completes the whole picture.

Speedrun by Thrangy

First off, congratulations, you basically interpreted the flash rule the way I wanted: channeling a vibe. Good job on that front.

The opening here is pretty strong, and could be a good start to a great story. Sadly, once the actual heist kicks off, it's a bit more paint-by-numbers, telling us what each character is doing in sequence until it's time to go home. One year for NaNoWriMo I found myself a bit stuck on an action scene, and ended up sticking [Insert cool fight scene here] in the middle of the manuscript before moving on. This feels like an expansion of that concept, a series of step-by-step instructions for what should happen, but I'd rather see it than read about it, you know?

The Crystal Cove by Caligular Kangaroo

There's a fun concept here: novelty pirate-themed hotel from Hell, my brain filling in the animatronic skeletons; but the tourist trap curse is real, and gets passed onto our protagonist. So what went wrong? The biggest thing, I think, was the tone, followed by the characters. There's a deliberate tackiness to the setting that never feels fully served by the narrative. If it were a bit more comedic and punchy, it could work. If it were a slow descent into horror, it might work. As is, we get a charmingly awful description of the hotel, then some fairly rote (for the genre) character interactions, carried by two characters who, well, they exist I guess, but I couldn't remember much about either of them.

The Last King of Lawrence by Beef Supreme

I don't have a lot to say about this one, unfortunately. It's a competently-told story that delivers on the prompt and the flash rule, but basically follows the signposts exactly before ending abruptly, and it's a little difficult to care about our protagonist when he doesn't see this coming a mile off.

The Roommates by Windward Away

In which our protagonist is witness to a series of other people's conversations and misadventures, kinda, without any sort of guiding through-line. Everyone's exactly what they appear to be, some things happen, the end; and a badly formatted end at that. There's not a lot going on in this story, and what is going on isn't very interesting.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Jewels in the Dark (1584 words)

Nico had always been self-conscious of his accent. He never talked much, if he could help it. He was good at what he did though, and that was enough. The boys could overlook his more reticent nature.

“You good, Nico?”

Gabriella nodded, quietly grateful. She couldn’t have copied his voice if she tried.

Casper smiled. He struck a match. He always kept a cigarette tucked behind his ear. Like her he wore a flat cap, though he sported a small mustache. He twirled the cigarette between his fingers. Murdock’s nostrils flared.

“If you wouldn’t,” he commanded.

Casper regarded the somber giant, sunken eyed with a bristling beard. “It’s your world boss.” He offered a salute. He snuffed out the match between his thumb and forefinger. Gabriella had seen her brother try it many times. He’d always said it hurt. So this was where he’d learned it.

“Here,” said Casper. He tossed her the cigarette. “When all’s said and done, yeah?” He touched the brim of his cap.

Gabriella caught the cigarette, cupped between her hands. She was wearing her brother’s gloves. She pocketed it for later. She carried with her the tools of their trade: a well-kept set of lockpicks, and their father’s service pistol. He’d given it to Nico before he’d passed away. Now it was hers, though Casper couldn’t know it.

Murdock loomed above them both, his hands behind his back. “Let us be off,” he said at last, the shadows harsh against his face.

“Alright fellas.” Casper chuckled. “Let’s mosey.”

Gabriella followed, brow furrowed, the collar of her brother’s coat turned up against the wind. She felt her fingers close around the pistol in her pocket. Their backs were to her. She could do it right now.

She remembered her twin brother, bleeding on the couch. She’d held his hand then. She relaxed her grip on the gun.

She couldn’t let them die in ignorance. She wanted them to see her when she took it all away.

They emerged from the alleyway into the light, the electric illusion of a still-living city. The rain had ceased but the puddles remained, their shadow depths reflecting the length of the night. Tall men in long coats roamed the vacant streets. Their hands were in their pockets. Their business was their own.

Gabriella did her best to match Nico’s gait. Not that these strangers concerned her, but she’d rather be prepared. What if they turned around? The darkness had proven a capable ally, but a single street lamp might expose her to closer scrutiny. She’d borrowed his hat and coat once for the purpose of a stroll. She’d felt oddly powerful then. She’d wondered, briefly, if she wouldn’t again.

She and Casper both were forced to take large steps. Murdock pressed onward, and the world with him.

The city museum sat across the street from the train station. Compact yet ostentatious, a modern gothic palace. The lone heir of some long-dead philanthropist, whose art collection sprawled along its maze-like, carpeted innards.

The three of them slunk around the back, nearly rounding the corner. Murdock held his hand up. The other two stood still. A lone guard stood vigil, his raincoat slick and shimmering. He stifled a sudden yawn. Murdock stepped towards him.

Gabriella would not have thought a man of Murdock’s size and profile could walk so quietly, so quickly. At once he was upon him. The guard reached for his flashlight. He should’ve reached for a weapon. It would be incorrect to say that Murdock was unarmed. With powerful hands he grappled the guard. The man himself was a threat.

There was a struggle, a crack, and the guard fell limp. Murdock hoisted him over his shoulder.

Casper clapped Gabriella on the back. “You’re up, kid.” She steeled herself and approached.

They’d been locksmiths in the old country, and locksmiths they’d remained. She crouched down at the door, fumbling for her tools. Back here the darkness was once again her friend, but the murder she’d just witnessed was churning in her mind. She’d had to bite her lip not to cry out in surprise. Her hands knew their work, but her heart was racing faster.

There was a shudder, a click, and the door swung open. “That’s our boy.” Casper strolled into the room. Gabriella stood up, and followed after Casper. Murdock was the last to enter. Closing the door behind him, he laid the guard in the corner. Casper pulled out a map. “Light.” He snapped his fingers.

Murdock took the flashlight from the guard and turned it on. He held it out to Gabriella, who took it without looking. He didn’t let go. She turned involuntarily, caught in his sunken gaze. Illuminated before him, his brow began to furrow. At last he released her. His eyes glimmered in the dark.

Flashlight in hand, Casper unfolded the map on the floor of the backroom. “Right,” he said, a toothy grin drawn wide across his face. “The jewels should be here.” He pointed to a room on the third floor of the complex. “One guard making the rounds.” He glanced in Murdock’s direction.

Murdock wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at Gabriella.

“How many locks?” he asked without blinking.

“One more door,” said Casper, “And the jewel case, I suppose.”

Murdock said nothing. He continued to watch Gabriella. She touched the brim of her cap.

Casper crumpled up the map. “Onward and upward.” He smiled. He sprung to his feet and made for the door. Gabriella was close behind.

The three of them crept along the carpet, careful to avoid the cold marble floors, surrounded on all sides by the labyrinth of art. Naked chiseled bodies writhed in the dark, the knowing sneer of paintings greeting the beam of the flashlight. Two flights of stairs soon brought them to the next door. Gabriella crouched down. She held her breath as she worked.

“One more down,” said Casper as the second door clicked open.

“One more to go,” said Murdock right behind her.

The jewel display glittered as the flashlight shone upon it. Gabriella bit her lip. Even a small handful might set one up for life. Beckoned forth by Casper, she worked to steady her breathing. Murdock hung back. He was watching for the guard.

“You got this kid?”

Gabriella hesitated. She shut her eyes, and nodded.

“Heh. Just checking. You just seemed nervous, is all.”

The third and final click signaled her part was over. She straightened up her posture, thrusting her hands back into her pockets. Casper clapped her on the shoulder, a quiet cackle of glee. His fingers gripped her tightly, his eyes wide with greed. “That’s my boy, that’s my boy.” He ruffled her hair through her cap.

Gabriella slipped back from his playful embrace. Casper was busy cleaning out the case. Her hand once again fell upon her father’s pistol. She glanced toward the door. She opened her mouth.

“Nico,” whispered Murdock. “A moment, if you would.”

Gabriella froze up. The words she’d rehearsed vanished from her brain. She turned to face Murdock. He beckoned her outside.

She approached him cautiously, her finger on the trigger. He followed her movements with cold, dark eyes. He gently shut the door behind her as she left.

“You have pretty eyes,” he said. His voice was quiet, stern. She understood instinctively it wasn’t a compliment. She licked her lips and trembled. She craned her neck to face him. Murdock pinched the brim of her cap and lifted it off her head. She’d cut her hair short, like her brother. She’d done the best she could.

“Who are you?” He asked.

She pulled the trigger.

The shot pierced the silence of those yawning, somber halls. Gabriella felt the kickback of the pistol against her thigh. Eyes wide, gasping, she tumbled to the ground. Murdock toppled backwards, a hole through his jaw burrowing out the back of his head. Gabriella heard footsteps. She scrambled to her feet as best she could, her leg beset by invasive pain. She turned around just in time to see the guard arrive.

The second gunshot echoed in the gloom. A piercing sensation was worming through her stomach. The third shot was accompanied by the shattering of glass. Casper fired through the door. She and the guard toppled.

“Nico!” Casper cried out, wrought with sudden confusion. “What the…what the gently caress? Murdock? What happened? What the poo poo is this?”

“Nico,” Gabriella said. It burned her just to speak. Casper’s expression began to dim as he listened to her voice.

“The gently caress are you supposed to be?” He trained his gun on her.

Gabriella grit her teeth. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She needed him to know. “Nico’s dead,” she said. She was forcing every syllable. “You pulled him down…into this life. He was running…” She spat, her words paid for in blood.

At last comprehension seemed to dawn in Casper’s eyes. He lowered his gun. “You’re not-

To Hell with it. She fired. The fourth and final gunshot ripped through Casper’s chest. Blown off his feet, he toppled to the ground. The bag of jewels he carried split on impact with the ground, scattering the gemstones all across the floor.

Gabriella shut her eyes. It hurt to think. It hurt to breath. Panting, wincing, she tossed the gun aside. Returning her hand to her pocket, she felt the cigarette. She had no means to light it.

She put it to her lips.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Small Talk (574 words)

I don’t want to know who you are. Not really. You don’t know me. I like it like that. We know so much about each other these days. I know so much my brain could burst.

ASL? Miss me with that. You’re a voice without volume, a moment in time.

Hemingway once said he doesn’t like being told what people look like when he’s reading a story. He wants to figure out who they are by what they do, how they talk, and what they talk about. I’m just here to talk, man, I don’t need your name. I’m not here to flirt. I just want to talk.

Didn’t your parents ever teach you not to post yourself online? I could be anyone. Just let me be a thought. I’m tired of being human. I’ve been human all day. Humans have to wake up, brush their teeth, and go to work. Humans have stuff to do. Here we just exist. Ageless, stateless anonymity. Let me just exist, please. You can do it too.

What’s your favorite song? Can you send a link? You saw them live in concert? That’s rad, I’ve gotta say. Mine? Here you go. Tell me what you think. Yeah, well, they’re pretty cool. I used to have a poster.

Free-roaming thoughts, like bubbles in the air. Self-contained, transitory, never seen again. If we met in person we might not get along. Here and now the universe is talking to itself.

You like anime? For real? What’s your favorite show? Really? Really? I liked the manga more. They tried to adapt it before the series finished. The director did his own thing and all his changes suck. Woah woah, wait. You liked the ending more? How could anybody think that? Now wait, you listen here.

A difference of opinion. That’s all this really is. Just our opinions fighting, shorn of context, reputation. I’ve an ego, I’ll admit, though I see you’ve got one too. You’ve been typing for two minutes. Come on then, show your hand. Whatever it is, I can take it, cause we’ll never meet again. Even if we did, by sheer circumstance, would you even know it was me?

You’re angry, I can tell. You’re angry with me. The real me. You don’t know my age, my race, my gender. You don’t know my country. You don’t know my life. You have no preconceived notions or baggage. I’m wrong because I’m wrong. Your opinion is pure.

Seen any movies? Oh yeah? Me too. How about that ending? I didn’t see it coming.

It’s all falling down. I’m overwhelmed, drowning in information. We’re powerless yet expected to care. Someone’s gotta do something. It’s all we talk about at work, this ever-present fear. Just for five minutes I’d like to forget. What else are you watching?

Right now nothing else matters. I don’t need to think about burdens or bills. This conversation is all we are, and when it’s done so are we. Disposable media, just how I like it. Small, insignificant. Commiserate with me. Our opinions overlap; you and I become we. In this formless floating world, we aren’t humans, we are one.

I can’t hide forever, nor do I intend to. I’m still an adult. I need to face the day. But it’s nice to be intangible, if only for an hour. Let me hide from you at least. TTYN.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Pham Nuwen posted:

He's Not Quite Dead (week 75)
Canopic Jars (934 words)

The old man lay naked on the slab, eyes half-open, staring blankly at the ceiling. His lips hung ever-so-slightly open, as though about to speak, but the words never came. The ring hummed to life as it circled his headrest. His eyes dilated, eyelashes fluttering.

Ash, sleep-deprived, poured himself some hot chocolate. Another night, another corpse.

He was old, at least. That brought Ash some comfort. His last three jobs had been young adults, one teen. Death was never a popular business, but with an old corpse at least, you knew they lived. Death before 30 was a tragedy; death after 60 was an inevitability.

Blowing on his chocolate, he eyed the monitor. The ring would be a while. One minute, one year. He’d brought a book, though he’d finished it earlier. He eyed the dead body, sipping his drink. Tomorrow he’d burn. Cremation. Quick and clean. Ash would be the last to see him in the flesh.

The old man possessed a certain dignity in death. Perfectly bald with an aquiline nose and almond-tanned skin: a pharaoh in repose. In ancient Egypt they’d remove the organs and preserve them in jars. He recalled being taught they pulled the brain through the nostrils. He pinched at the tip of his nose a few times. There were ten such slabs in this room, though only the one was currently in use. Two rows of five, with the old man in the middle, the rest flowing outwards like wings from his body.

The computer dinged. The first batch was ready. Finishing his chocolate, now lukewarm, he turned to reflect on what had been restored. The body was dead, but the brain remembered. Not perfectly, of course, but that was his job.

Ash fished around in his pockets for his glasses, before remembering he’d hooked them into the collar of his shirt.

He opened the file and began scrubbing through the timeline. Birth, faceless parents, an apartment, a cat. These were echoes more than memories. Ideas, suggestions. That could’ve been anyone’s apartment. That could’ve been anyone’s cat. He idly consulted the man’s file. He’d been born in Turkey. They’d moved when he was ten. He began sifting through the archives for apartment interiors, common breeds of cat, fashions in Turkey. When he found one that seemed to fit just right, he confirmed it with a click, updating his memories.

They computer dinged again. They were traveling to America. A plane, a new apartment, new school, classmates and teachers. These too were suggestions, shapes without depth, though some solidified into firmer depictions. His parents, once faceless, were now drawn sharply. He’d go back and doctor them so they looked like that before. Other figures emerged, more defined, more specific. Not just any classmate, but a friend, a co-conspirator. Not just any girl, but one girl in particular. Always at a distance, she was laughing. It was pleasant. He was learning an instrument, a guitar. He was awful. The girl drew closer. She was laughing. Unpleasant. She did not appear again after that.

Ash selected the girl within the memory, and with a click he erased her from existence. Not out of malice or personal investment. The old man’s family had paid good money for this memorial. There was no need to sour things with an intimate, embarrassing anecdote.

The computer dinged again. He was graduating. College. He was studying mathematics. He still played guitar. It sounded a little less horrible now. There were more girls than ever. Ash once again glanced at the man’s file. He’d met his wife when he was 27. Many friends, male and female, were now fully-realized. So long as they remained friends, he supposed that was fine. A few girls seemed to become something more. Ash dutifully snipped them out. Romance would need to wait a few years. Various bad behaviors were curated as well. Drinking, smoking, anything untoward.

Before long he had graduated. He was out of work for a while. In time he found employment. Ash cut out the in-between. When not at work he played the guitar. That’s how he met his wife. Ash let out a sigh. Other images arose, some clearer than others, some muddled or vague. She was clear as crystal. Young and beautiful, serious, and composed. Ash made a note to himself, a single word on the timeline: “Wife.”

She remained a constant fixture thereafter. He grew older, she didn’t. Sometimes she was naked. Snip snip. None of that. But every so often there’d be strife, an argument. She’d suddenly age. He bookmarked those moments. By stringing them together, Ash could approximate her actual aging. Of course he’d still remove the arguments after.

Marriage. A career. A house. Several kids. Kids were almost always less work than spouses. Sometimes they’d regress in a moment of frustration, but typically they aged as one might expect. Eventually, naturally, his wife aged as well, albeit more gracefully than real life might afford. Eventually she died. The old man sat alone. He played the guitar again. He played rather poorly. Ash swapped it out for a better performance. Something from his youth, though still purposefully mournful.

At last he died. This part was easy. His medical files said a heart attack. He toned down the terror, something more peaceful. Ash let out a prolonged yawn. He glanced at the time. There was much left to do. He have to keep editing into the night if he wanted something that would be even remotely presentable.

The old man lay ever-silent by his side, quietly rotting, staring up at God.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
I'm in.

Flash me Amadeus.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
In the Garden (360 words)

Fie leaned out from the tent flap, a spyglass to her eye. Her rifle lay across her lap. It was an ancient thing, even older than her. The killing fields were in full bloom. There was rain on the wind and the sun hung low. She stowed the spyglass within her coat and gripped the rifle tight with both hands. Tapping the stock against the ground, she found the leverage required to stand. Her body ached, but the day was young. "Boots to the ground." She made her way down.

Her perch sat atop a building on its side, concrete split, skeleton bared. The floors within had collapsed upon themselves, a minefield of broken glass, splinters, and plastic. She instinctively tested each section before crossing. Where soil had invaded and sunlight was plentiful, nature had rushed in to fill the gaps. Sometimes this made the way more solid, but often the plants hid treacherous footing. If the surface gave, she'd tap out another route. She had plenty of time.

By the time she'd reached the bottom it had started to rain. She sat down on some rubble and unscrewed a jar. She'd brought five in total and scattered them about. She'd collect them on the way back. Leaning against the wall, she took off her hat, opened her mouth, and welcomed natures bounty.

Something dreadful had happened here once, though it was so long ago it seemed no one remembered. She'd been a child then, and no one had explained it. Now it was over, and there was no one left who could explain it. Bodies upon bodies with no one to bury them. A battlefield, a massacre, a mass, open grave. But the Earth accepted them all the same. Picked clean by insects, interwoven with roots, clothed with grasses and vines and flowers in their skulls. Bushes and small trees burst forth from their stomachs, with laden with berries and fruits in the shade.

From her coat she produced an old bayonet. Shouldering her rifle, she began to pick the fruit, filling her pockets with as much as she could carry.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Week 568 Crits

That's 568, not 570. A little later than I'd hoped, but here all the same.

The Epic of Anders by Fat Jesus

First off, mechanics. Same as the other judges, I've gotta comment on the formatting here. Treat line breaks on the Internet like you would separate paragraphs on a page. As is, it's hard to read and looks sloppy. This is a common mistake for beginners but fortunately one you only have to make once.

As for the story itself, it's pretty choppy. Things happen, then we immediately cut to the next thing happening. There's some set dressing but no flow or sense of gradual escalation. There's some kind of attempt early on with a stylistic flourish with repeating numbers, but it doesn't really read naturally and you drop it pretty quickly.

And what is this story even about? The other judges had a bit more luck piecing it together, but I kinda had to sit on it. The characters depicted are all rough sketches of unpleasant people who aren't even unpleasant in interesting ways. There's some clear ambition here with some kind of godly oneupmanship going on, with humourous intentions, but the writing quality isn't up to the concept.

Breaking Out of Familia Obrit to Be With You Forever by Flyerant

Read the first paragraph of Fat Jesus' crit up top. Everything I said there applies to you too. As an additional note, however, the numbers as letters for robot names is more effective when it's one number in the middle of the name rather than at the beginning. S4rah reads as "Sarah," but 54rah reads as "Fifty-fourah...OH, Sarah." Keep it simple.

Anyway, there is something underneath all this, a tidy little theme: one character (the computer) who lives soley for the other (the explorer) who themselves has several people in their life, only not right at this moment. It's a quiet piece with theoretical legs, but it's a bit crude with a lot of boilerplate dialogue. There's an idea here you could definitely hone into a stronger piece.

Cloud by Derp

Okay, so, full disclosure, I'm not a fan of stream of consciousness. I've also tried to write it before myself, so let's talk about that. Stream of consciousness often struggles with two competing needs: simulating a character's (often scattered, topic-jumping) thought process while still being parsable by the reader. When it works, it flows, but nailing that flow is hard. You don't manage it here, but neither have I (nor do most). I'm also not the guy to tell you how to do it right, since in my opinion it's usually more trouble than it's worth.

That said, your attempts at portraying your protagonist's inner world are what give this piece life. The "Story" insofar as there is one is pretty bare bones with the chess park set piece and a kind of generational animosity. Internally, however, your viewpoint character provides a relatively robust picture of who they are, and how much they regard the people around them as caricatures. There is something to work with here, but I had to read it twice to see it, which isn't something most readers will give you.

The Elsinore Job by Thranguy

A boilerplate heist what I'd like to say, but this story spends most of its time boiling water in preparation for the main event, which is over in a few sentences. If you ran out of time, I can appreciate that. Heck, same, several times. If you ran out of words though, I would recommend cutting back on the play-by-play chess match. It's enough, I think, to know they're playing chess, unless the specific moves are supposed to conceal some greater thematic significance, which heck, same again, though I also didn't communicate that well either, so we're still two for two.

What interactions we see between your characters are fun, though I wouldn't say they were much deeper than that. The dialogue flows and I could see a longer version of this story with more interaction between all the players faring better. As it is, it's light on meat. We've got the set-up and the follow-through but no in-between.

Gambits at High Temperature by Dicere

You tell two stories in parallel, neither of which have anything to do with each other until the end. This can work, though it doesn't quite here. Usually there's at least a thematic connection, something that echoes, and if you included that I couldn't see it.

Bill and Stosh have some definition to them, the others less so. I'd give the kid a name in a rewrite. He feels like a prop, and its kinda weird he's the only character who doesn't have a name. Bill talks a big game for a job he just drops. There's just something paper thin about the whole setup, like you're priming us for a punchline that doesn't happen (though you end with a punch, at least).

A Cave Full of Space by Chairchucker

In my notes for this story I wrote "Stupid; non-prejorative." I mean that, too. Like with Gambits, there's a paper-thin aspect to it, but unlike Gambits it feels deliberate. This isn't a film or a documentary, it's a play on a stage with minimal set design on purpose, and both actors know it as they play off each other. A sensible, no-nonsense character paired with a bombastic performer is usually fun, though Sam sells it further by bucking the trend of cavepeople speech and just being, well, "Normal," against traditionally expectations. The jokes land, and there's even a little arc. Nothing to complain about, just a delight.

I had a little more to say about Sam to you on Discord (at your prompting since you were curious), but I don't feel the need to repeat it here.

Periapsis by Sebmojo

I guess the good stories were waiting at the back this time. Well-written and funny, indulging in just the right amount of setting detail for a sci-fi short story of this length. Your characters pair well together, and I could see them forming a motley crew.

The one thing that held this story back, I think, was its anecdotal nature. it feels incomplete, something happening without closure. Granted, I'm one to talk. I make this mistake a lot myself. We're thrown into a situation, meet a new character, and it kind of feels like the rest is missing. More time? More words? It's a good start. Where's the rest?

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
In to spin.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Copernic posted:

The Deep Down Under (1,500 words)

She'd come out here to die, she'd say with a wink, a mischievous grin beneath a wide-brimmed hat. "Weren't nothin' worth nothin'," back home in the glades. They'd told her she'd just go and get herself killed. But she knew how to ride and she knew how to shoot and cook and read and a lot more than that. Seemed a pity to content herself merely with survival when a life, maybe short, was out there for living.

"Come out here to die." She coughed through cracked lips. Sprawled out against the sand it was a little less funny. A jut of rock afforded her a sliver of shade, but the heat of the sun was all consuming. The mailbag, her vocation, cradled her head. She glared into the distance of the red-baked earth.

"Here lies Cassidy...well, she weren't lying."

It'd been three days since her horse had been shot out from under her; two since she'd swallowed the last of her water. The canteen had saved her life in the fight. Better to bleed water than blood...maybe not. The bandit's corpse was weighed down with weaponry. His water had been poo poo and his food even worse. Only his compass proved worth the trouble. There were mountains to the East she thought, she was sure. She traveled by night. She couldn't much longer. Evening would come, though in the time between it felt like eternity. She shut her eyes tightly.

"If you’re up there," she said, "Wouldn't mind a miracle. Go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life."

No miracles seemed forthcoming in the moment, but strength enough to talk was strength enough to draw things out a little longer. An evening breeze roused her from her stupor. The setting sun had dyed the sky a brilliant, endless orange. Cassidy scuttled out from underneath her rock. She stretched her arms above her head and checked the borrowed compass. Looking East she saw the foothills rise before her. If she could just reach the mountains, she wasn't sure what she'd find, but anything had to be better than the desert.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming, I’m coming." She carefully rolled her neck, hand against her nape. Dutifully slinging the mailbag over her shoulder, she checked her pistol before wandering out beneath the darkening sky. The weight of the mail had certainly started to weigh on her, but if she abandoned her bag, what all had she even come out here for?

The rise of the earth was mercilessly steep, but climbing to the top revealed a welcome assortment of shapes: distant rectangles with slanted roofs; the work of man, not God, though no lights shone to greet her. Her stumbling had brought her to an old mining town, preserved in decay, tools abandoned where they lay. Some old company town that had up and died when the mines gave out or the profits bottomed out. “Ain’t no way to greet a lady,” she muttered to herself when she spied an old shed marked in fading EQUIPMENT. She’d lost her lantern but carried her own oil. She gathered up old ones till one finally worked, bathing her environs in soft yellow light. Moving from one building to another, she picked through whatever might prove to be useful. Cassidy knew better than to expect food and drink, but a map would be appreciated. Directions to a river, or perhaps a train station.

Rummaging around in what she deduced to be the foreman’s office, she came across a logbook. “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” she said, hacking. She flipped through its contents. Numbers, land surveys, and finally “Water!” The miners had uncovered an underground reservoir. It had seen a little use before the company boarded it up. Men kept wandering down and disappearing. Cassidy shut the book with a snap, her old confidence slowly creeping back into her features, even as weary and troubled as she was. That the miners had disappeared barely even registered. She was dead either way. “One last adventure.”

Helping herself to some mining supplies, she foraged her way towards the mouth of the mines. A long, lonesome tunnel stretched out before her, infinitely more inviting than the wide, oppressive sky. Loosening a few boards, she stepped into the darkness, one hand against the wall with her lantern in the other. The old cart tracks proved simple to follow, until the cavern opened up and her path split out. She fished out the log book and checked the dates. The reservoir had been discovered not too long before the company had shuttered the operation. Glancing about, she noted which tunnels seemed safer, reinforced. She slipped down the crudest one, the youngest she suspected. The tracks she’d been following stopped short of the split. With a grim little grin, she crawled ever downward.

The monotone chasm spiraled down into the earth, until it finally blossomed out into a cavern, a natural formation both yawning and majestic. There at the bottom, she eyed her prize: crystal clear water, an underground lake. Stumbling out of the shaft, she tripped over herself as she sprinted towards the water, kicking up dirt, eyes wide and hungry. Collapsing at the shore of her salvation, she threw off her hat and plunged her head deep into the water. A shock to the system, thought a deeply welcome one. She took a mighty gulp before coming up for air, flopping back against the cavern. “Holy..hallelujah!” She could’ve drunk it dry.

Casting aside her clothes and equipment, though taking great care with her lantern and pistol, she dove into the water, and her coarse, tanned body knew instant relief. The cruelty of the long sun melted away in the invasive cold of that shimmering pool. Her thoughts of death evaporated, replaced with fond memories of her and her siblings going swimming in the marshes. But those waters were muddied, difficult to discern. In such clear, vivid water she could see the lakebed. Smooth stones circled beneath, down into darkness.

It was when the darkness moved she came back to reality. A murky shape shifted and sprang forth from the depths, a bloated, hairless body with an eel-like head. Within its mouth sat rows of needles, its blank, empty eyes sightless, but not senseless.

A rush of adrenaline seized her body. Cassidy broke for the surface of the lake. Her first gasp of air brought a shuddering upon her. She scrambled for the shore where she’d left her things, only to be confronted by another primeval thing. A large lizard of some sort had come down to the pool, possibly attracted by the sounds of celebration. Its eyes were black marbles. It fluttered its tongue, though it did not exude the same hostility as the creature below. It cocked its head as she emerged from the water.

She stood stark still for a second, blinking, before instinct took over. She leaped for the shore. The eel-head snapped after her, missing her by inches. The lizard chirped in fear, and the monster took note. Ignoring Cassidy in favor of this new, meatier prey, it lunged for the creature’s tail, its razor sharp teeth sinking deep into the lizard’s tail.

Cassidy took cover behind the rocks. She’d half a mind to let the lizard suffer for her, but its wailing cry kindled an unexpected sympathy within her. Taking up her pistol, she held it in both hands, and aimed for where the monster’s long, thin neck connected with its bloated, blubbery body. She fired once, a murderous crack, and the lake monster howled, releasing its prey. It faced her once more, teeth grit, but wary. Reflected in the lamp light, she could see her bullet embedded in its gullet. “You’re a thick-skinned one, ain’tcha?” Again she cocked the pistol. The lake monster took that as the signal to attack, when the lizard, now freed, slammed its weight against the monster’s over-extended neck. Cassidy calmed her breathing. She aimed for the eyes. Another bang echoed deep into the cave, and the eel’s gaping eye socket burst forth with pain. The monster recoiled and snaked back into the lake, leaving Cassidy and the lizard in silence.

The moment of action having passed, Cassidy slumped down against the ground, panting harshly. “Now there’s a tough fella.” She wiped her brow. The lizard stuck its tongue defiantly towards the lake before returning its attention to its fellow survivor. “Hey,” said Cassidy with a wave of her hand. She offered it a smile, weak but well-meaning. She glanced down at the bite marks where the monster had seized it. “What say we clean that up?”

It was two days before Cassidy returned to civilization, and she didn’t come alone, riding proudly on her lizard. The locals stumbled backwards as they sauntered into town. She gave them a wink and a tip of her hat.

“Mail’s here,” she said. Her lizard steed chirped.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
(A line-by-line critique of) The Secret of Kidpernic by Kidpernic (by Bad Seafood)

It was a normal day at Kidpernic Business Co.

A traditional opening, but solid; establishes the scene and a sense of normalcy, which will no doubt be upended.

Ted was going to his business meeting at 10:10

Moving right along, we have our first (presumably main) character. It's rarely a good idea to keep the audience waiting for their viewpoint character, and the second sentence is as fine a place as any to drop them in. Some people go paragraphs before the first human shows up.

They told him to finish 3 pages of paperwork by Thursday

Storytelling is often the art of selective omission. A lot of amateur writers will stuff their stories full of extraneous details, but Kidpernic cuts right to the heart of things. It's obvious who 'They' are without further explanation. Good instincts, this kid.

He was appalled until they told IF he finished the paperwork he could go to the BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!!

And the pitch. In a vacuum, 'three pages of paperwork' is a little too ambiguous to mean much to us, the readers, but now we've been graced with two all-important revelations, communicated discretely through Ted's own reactions. Whatever his business, three pages of paperwork (by Thursday) is apparently an unreasonable workload, but the promise of the BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!! is enough to incentivize him to tackle this challenge. Normally one exclamation point (!) would be plenty, but in this case it works as a stylistic choice (especially since you do it every time).

He said yes immediately and went home

A transitory sentence, not much to say. Workmanlike, but it gets the job done.

His wife was appalled until he told her IF he did the paperwork he could go to the BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!!

At first this sentence seems redundant, but it helps to reinforce a key distinction regarding Ted's character. When he initially balked at being given three whole pages of paperwork to finish (by Thursday), there were two possible interpretation of this development: that three pages of paperwork (by Thursday) is an obscene about of work, or that the prospect of doing three pages of paperwork (by Thursday) is the expected workload but Ted is just lazy. That Ted's wife shares his visceral reaction to three pages of paperwork (by Thursday) confirms the former scenario is more likely canon. Presuming the traditional American nuclear family model, I imagine Ted's wife is the stay-at-home sort, whose livelihood is dependent on her husband's industry, in which case it is questionable (though not impossible) she would tolerate his laziness. That she understands the significance of the BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!! and is also swayed by it suggests that Ted is very open about his work and keeps his wife in the loop, details which make us more inclined to like Ted. He is a hard-worker and a dutiful husband.

She said yes immediately and went to the bathroom

It's a little thing, but the fact that she said yes despite not being the one tasked with three pages of paperwork (by Thursday) suggests Ted solicited her opinion and values her feedback, and perhaps might have even changed his mind if his wife were against it. These things help to make Ted a more realized character, though in exchange his wife fares a little worse. She never re-emerges from the bathroom once she enters, suggesting she's more of a prop than a character. Sometimes a prop is what you need, but a little color can make a prop more distinct.

Long story short he finished it.

I'm tempted to say this is the first real misstep of the story. The narrative makes a big deal about how daunting thee pages of paperwork (by Thursday) is, then it's settled in a moment. In retrospect these pages of paperwork (three of them, by Thursday) mostly serve as the inciting incident, explaining how someone like Ted might gain an invitation BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!!, which is implicitly presented as something he would ordinarily be unable to attend, but it's a little jarring to abandon it so easily.

The executives told he at the meeting he would go to Tasmaninon

Told 'Him.'

He was worried though ‘cause no other worker had came back from there

The BIG CORPORATE MEETING!!! is similarly glossed over. I'm starting to worry this story is writing checks it can't cash. Ted's reward for more work is...more work, and while this work isn't as immediately shocking as three page of paperwork (by Thursday), it is still presented as undesirable, though perhaps in a less immediately terrifying manner. All this to say the characterization of Ted's corporate overlords is flawless in its accuracy, but I am not a bit more puzzled by Ted's earlier enthusiasm.

And it's 'come' back.

Long story short he got there.

Be careful of overusing a specific turn of the phrase. Deliberate repetition can be a useful tool, but if it's done haphazardly it just feels sloppy.

Surprisingly the city was bustling with people and beautiful houses

This isn't necessarily surprising on its own, though it does suggest Ted thought otherwise. Considering his apprehension over being dispatched to a location no one had ever returned from, Ted likely assumed the worst of this place, expecting something more lonely and run-down. This also suggests Ted himself hails from a more comfortable community, adding his socioeconomic status to his long list of discretely communicated character traits.

They welcomed him with open arms and hot cocoa

The city as a whole, or a select group of people? Earlier 'They' was perfectly self-sufficient, but a little more context would be better here.

He could now see why his friends at Kidpernic didn’t come back

A fun little spin on a classic premise. No one ever returned, not because they were killed but because they never wanted to leave. This relief creates a new mystery, however: surely, if they were Ted's friends, they would have called or written him about it, not wanting to exclude him. Ted's fears are briefly settled, but the intrigue grows.

He asked to see his friends and they surprisingly said yes

Again, this sentence is a little too vague. Who are 'they' and why would it be surprising after they already revealed themselves to be friendly?

They took him to a cave with a narrow entrance

Now we're talking. A cave in a city is actually unexpected. Now I want to know what's really going on.

In the cave he saw all his friends

Another sentence which, on the surface, says something boilerplate, but suggests something more. 'All' his friends are in this cave? Why they here? What's going on? It's good to have the reader asking these questions, provided you intend to present an answer.

Edward, his business partner, came over to him

It's always a little risky to introduce new characters this late into the narrative, though this is also when we realize none of Ted's friends have made an appearance before this point, a simple omission which suddenly takes on a new meaning. Ted's friends were unmentioned not because they were unimportant, nor because he didn't have them, but because they were here...but again, why?

Ted started talking about financial security

This reads a bit weird. Ted being money-conscience isn't an unacceptable development, but this seems like a strange place to bring it up. I could see it as a sign of him being married to his job or the like, but he didn't seem married to it earlier.

He wanted to see his friend and check him out
(to see if he was okay)

You can strike out the bit in parenthesis entirely. At no point did I think Ted, who by all accounts appears to be happily married to a woman, was gay or bisexual, nor that his emotional investment in his friends was predicated on any kind of romantic inclinations. Normalize brotherly love.

But Edward kept not letting Ted see his back

Although there was always an air of mystery hanging over the back-half of this story, this is the first turn that's explicitly sinister. All Ted's friends being in a cave together is odd, but open-ended enough for some zany explanation. Edward shifting around, hiding his back, is awkward and strange and more overtly disconcerting. Now we know we're in for something.

Ted finally turned him around and saw his back

And now the reveal.

There was a big gaping hole filled with wires and robot stuff

Oof! There it is. I can see it in my mind's eye. It's jarring visual, one befitting the build-up.

That was when he saw the door
A big black door

Ordinarily I might complain about hiding a detail like this until now, but reading things from Ted's point of view, it makes sense his friends would be the immediate point of focus for him, such that the door (a big black door no-less, in a presumably ill-lit cave) might escape his notice until this point. The door itself is suitably ominous, and sticks out all the more for being strictly defined in a world of otherwise sparse description.

Ted reached for it, his heart pounding, while all his other friends yelled “NO!”

I notice they yell, but none of them try to stop him, least of all Edward. Are they unable to stop him? If so, why?

Inside was bloody guts, muscles, and brains
It was like they scooped a hole in each of his friend’s bodys

And the other shoe drops with a visceral description (which tastefully avoids being too grotesque). The horror of this reveal works on two levels. The immediate visual of people having their insides carved out and replaced with machinery is already an uncomfortable one for a lot of people, but the subtext of corporate inhumanity keeps this from feeling like a sudden genre shift. Lots of people in the business world dedicate themselves to the company that employs them, either out of a desire to advance or having been brow-beaten by corporate messaging. We lose what makes us human, surrendering our identities and autonomy to the will of the economic machine. Ted's friends are no longer human, but merely extensions of company they serve, something they wish to hide from the public, but which is intrinsically recognizable with any level of introspection. This is a great twist.

He ran outside and saw not only was the town deserted, but there was a big building in the distance

Ah, a company town.

He headed towards it and saw that it was a Kidpernic building
He sneaked inside and saw full on robots talking and stuffing guts out of corpses

This feels a little quick after all the build-up earlier, though it works well enough to reaffirm the audience's reading regarding the inherent inhumanity of corporate work culture. Your whole story clocks-in at about 400 words, but Copernic gave everyone a cool 1,000 to play with. I admire your committed to an economy of words, but this is once place you could have splurged a little. Still what's here is a powerful image, though I do wonder why they kept the guts in the cave (with Ted's friends) and not somewhere attached to the main disemboweling operation.

He got a plane home and confronted Kidpernic

I've got a bad feeling about this.

The newspaper, three months later
Hi , and welcome to flashbacks! Today we will be talking about a man who confronted Kidpernic
The man, 39, had NO reason to confront this amazing company!
I’ve been there, and it was amazing
The man, Ted Tangalou now keeps working for Kidpernic, now completely loyal and obedient to his bosses.

And just like that, the horror comes full circle. He loved the company. An unsettling ending. That said, it sounds a bit more like a television broadcast than a newspaper. Rather than rewrite the whole speech, I'd advise just saying it was someone on TV. The sharp cut from their implied confrontation to the article months later is jarring, but it works (not unlike the ending of Richard Connell's famous short story, the Most Dangerous Game). Though the in-world readership haven't a clue, we the audience know the terrible truth, and I appreciate your willingness to let us connect the dots ourselves. Too many authors aren't willing to risk that.

The End

Thanks for sharing!


Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Birthright (693 words)

Sergio looked furtively over his shoulder, worried his boasting might carry to the streets. “We were kings!” he declared in the privacy of his nook, sequestered away beneath the town bridge. Reflected in the river he could see himself clearly. He was not this crude creature, desperate and frail. Beneath him slumped the body of the beggar he’d murdered, drowned in the quiet of the early morning calm, now bereft of the bread he’d offered to share. “All this was ours,” he said, standing in the stream. There were tears in his eyes as he choked down the bread.

Sif rubbed his neck. The castle had grown colder. He was getting older. He stepped from the watergate down into the waiting ferry. Four guards accompanied him, as close as his own family. The boat rocked slightly under their shared weight, but the ferryman knew his business. He took them down the river. Sif exhaled slowly. His breath lingered in the air. Traveling down this river always put his mind at ease. Looking over his shoulder, he spied the castle gaol. It was empty now, vacant, as ever it was, full of cells without people who couldn’t be princes of countries the maps showed never existed.

Saymond pinched the bridge of his nose as he paced around the lodge. The emissaries waited. He just needed more time. Leaning against the threshold of the door, he gazed out at the river that ran through his town. He traced its winding, wayward flow. It helped to soothe his nerves. Beyond lay the fields, ripe with grain. Soon would come the harvest, the winter stores, logistics. “What would Stannis do?” He nervously rubbed his neck. He recalled the night of his elder brother’s death, his own face obscured as his brother faced the fire. “What are you waiting for?” He wasn’t.

Steppan raised his cup in toast. “To our wives and our land!” There was much agreement. Emerging from the tent, he gazed out on the valley to the river that had been theirs since time immemorial. “How blessed we are.” And how blessed was he to receive the headship, chosen by his fellows, a unanimous decision. But his thoughts began to drift back to Kezik, his friend, his men’s first choice, absent these nine days. His other hand resting on the hilt of his sword, he pinched his nose thoughtfully. His mouth suppressed a smile.

Savru stood overlooking the river, the tall grass rippling, as vast as the sky. The long winter months when all was held in common had come to a close. It was time to act. Thirty-six men rode at his command; hunters, trappers, foragers all. With metal-tipped spears and sharpened arrowheads they’d come seeking game. They’d found paradise. Savru bent down to cup the water in his hands. It was cool and clear and crisp on the tongue. In its depths he saw the future of his people. He saw his own reflection, so much larger than before. He saw his own descendents seated at the place of honor.

On the far shore were others, human in shape. He turned to face his men. “Get the others,” he commanded.

Stephen stifled a yawn. It was still dark outside. Rising from his bed, he yawned again, and rubbed his eyes. A shower and a shave and a small cup of tea. He stood out on his balcony waiting for the sun. He’d chosen this apartment for the view of the river. When the sunrise hit the water it was dyed a brilliant gold. Sipping from a mug, he surveyed the fading night. He used to feel so small staring up at all the stars. He still felt small, but this now brought him comfort.

Other tenants rose to join him, each at their own balcony. They only knew each other from this habit they all shared. Some gestured to each other, though few had learned their names. This sunrise on the river was for them and them alone.

Stephen smiled softly as he gazed out at the river. He cradled the warmth of his mug in his hands. “All this is ours.”

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
In, 404.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Thunderdome Week 404 - Circus Train posted:

The animals are scattered in the wake of the Circus Train’s crash... Mother Elephant has been hung in a mock trial. Rabbit is nursing his broken heart on the road back home. Tiger and Peacock have accepted their fate… But Fox seems to be preoccupied by late 18th century French post-structuralist philosophy, despite her dire situation...


This week, you’ll be writing about an animal (possibly more than one) fleeing from the wreckage of a crashed circus train. It is on the run from capture and is in pursuit of ultimate Truth (in any number of its varied shapes and meanings). Can it dodge both hunters' traps and philosophical entanglements? Will it need to? Success and failure come in many forms - if they come at all.

To participate, you will need to:

  • Pick an animal. It can be one that is traditionally found in a circus though that is not a requirement. It’s more important that you pick something you find interesting and that you’ll enjoy writing about. I won’t decide this for you.
  • Ask for either a philosophy or a fallacy. Your assignment must then be included in, alluded to, or, at the very least, vaguely influence your story. If you :toxx:, I’ll give you a second choice and you can use one or both.
  • Write.

Everything can be extremely metaphorical. Extrapolate as necessary. Esoterically ramble as called. Nothing matters.

Chernobyl Princess posted:

The animal you chose in discord was the crocodile. The philosophy you must feature in some way is neo-luddism.

Extreme Flash: your characters must stay in constant motion
See You Later, Alligator (765 words)

Derailing the train had been a moral imperative. Though its boxcars traveled at one hundred miles per hour, it brought its myriad passengers no closer to fulfillment.

It had been many years since Cecil the Crocodile had been cursed with the name Cecil the Crocodile. Abducted from his riverbed in the shallows of Sri Lanka, he was taken from those who required no titles, branded Cecil by a human in advanced middle age. Cecil, they assured him, was a cute name and well-chosen. It had alliteration! What more could he need?

He needed to be free.

Free from the social obligation to perform. Freed from the laughter, the iphones, the applause. Freed from his top hat, bowtie, and matching vest. Freed from the need to sit astride his motorcycle, riding round and round, forever going nowhere.

Actually, no, the motorcycle was pretty cool; less so the Sisyphean context of his training. Cecil the crocodile had traveled the country, but the crocodile himself was quickly going nowhere.

But tonight would prove to be his last performance. Breaking from his cage, he clambered towards his steed.

The ringmaster had heard the engine's roar, not yet cognizant of the role he played in his own destruction. He rushed to the back car flanked by clowns in squeaking boots. Barging through the door, he beheld that noble creature. Cecil, triumphant, revved both handlebars with glee, a requirement for a motorcycle custom built for transporting crocodiles. Bathed in cheap low-hanging amber lights, the ringmaster was afforded a single glimpse of his demise before the front wheel of the motorcycle stove into his head.

Cecil rocketed forward, plowing through the clowns. The other animals, still in their cages, cheered in solidarity. Cecil might've left then, slipping into the night. But what sort of animal would he be if he abandoned the others to their fates? With the cunning only a crocodile could muster, he'd discretely tied chains to the back of his vehicle. As his motorcycle thrust forth into the next car, it yanked off the doors of the colorful carnival cells.

Panic filled the forward compartment as Cecil crashed through on his diesel-powered steed. Dwarfs fled before him, caught beneath his tires, as the bearded woman leapt up and jumped out the window. Their trunks were filled with baubles and trinkets, not one of which held value now that their lives were at stake. At the far end sat the ramp, and a set of hoops besides. The hoops were usually flaming. Cecil punched through all the same.

Bursting forth from the confines of the car, Cecil surged across the traintops, from one to the next. Beyond lay the engine, his ever-mobile jailer. Cecil could not flee into the dark and beautiful night before he assured himself this coiled industrial serpent would hold no more animals in its gullet as it sped without purpose, save for profit and pollution.

But a purple explosion obscured his path, from whence sped Rrrrenaldo, troupe magician and accountant. The deceiver leapt cloaked in the lies of blackest midnight, a collection of modest blades held between his white gloved fingers. He would let fly his knives against beautiful women, secured to wooden circles that turned without end. It had been three shows since his last accident. With a glance Cecil knew he would reset that count to zero.

Lunging forth with ill purpose, Rrrrenaldo released his volley of razors, but Cecil had seen his tricks one time too many. As the knives towards him, carried on the wind, Cecil spun the handlebars sharp, spiraling into a barrel roll.

“I-Impossible!” Rrrrenaldo cried as Cecil slipped through his knives, before the crocodile’s teeth found purchase at his throat. Dragging down with him this scheming, monied liar, Cecil crashed the both of them into the engine compartment. The front of the train exploded, engulfing the world in fire. The train jumped from its endless tracks, spiraling, sprawling out into the countryside.

As the other animals emerged from their cars, some looked back upon the wreckage, this twisted machine no less wretched in death than it had been in life. Sorrow swam within them, in memory of their savior, though they dared not come closer for fear of being caught.

Another explosion soon illuminated the forest, and there among the flames launched a sight that made them soar: a crocodile on a motorcycle, mouth open, bathed in flames. Cecil flew out into that cold and welcoming night, sailing through the trees before disappearing into the dark.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
I'm in.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Clown me in.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Peekaboo (100 words)

You mustn’t watch for the witch in the woods. She slips between the trees, leaves crinkling underfoot. Her feet and fingers are long, knuckles knotted like branches. A bag of marbles hangs ‘round her neck. She fondles it, humming, stumbling through the dark.

Simply look away and she’ll do you no harm. She needs to be invisible. Don’t we all, sometimes? Do her this kindness and avert your gaze. She may even leave a marble, a token of her grace.

But should she look you in the eye, she’ll pluck them from your skull, and add them to her bag.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Passport (100 words)

There’s a place downtown where a fairy ring grows. People sit inside it. They don’t wear clothes. Others laugh, disapprove; they call the police. When authorities arrive, it’s gone without a trace.

The ones who sit have gone away too. Sometimes they leave messages. CAN YOU SEE WHAT WE DO? Spray-painted, carved, written in chalk, next to carefully folded clothes. It makes people talk.

“Why do you do this?” I asked one day.

“You can’t bring it with you,” was all he would say.

There’s a new ring today. No one inside. I unbutton my shirt. What can this provide?

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
I will judge.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Buried Treasure (673 words)

It was a green glass bottle that had washed ashore. There was something inside it. The boys gathered round.

“Looks like it’s a-

Message in a boooottle,” Roy sang. Steve laughed.

“Shut the gently caress up.” Kyle snatched it from me. He held it to the sun and examined its contents. A single piece of paper had been rolled, tucked inside. It tumbled, slightly open, like a scroll, as he turned it. “Looks like a note. I can see someone’s writing.”

“Well?” I said, “Pop it open.”


Steve accepted the bottle. The neck had been corked. Securing the bottle between his thighs, he twisted and pulled until the cork popped free. The three of us applauded. “Easy,” he said. He handed it to me.

I tipped the bottle upside down, using my finger to fish out the paper. Roy had motioned for the cork and Steve tossed it to him. Roy tossed it to himself as I straightened out the paper.

“Buried treasure?” he asked with a small, calloused grin.

“Feels like a receipt.”

“There’s handwriting,” Kyle insisted.

It was a receipt. Alcohol, cigarettes. Someone had scrawled, “Thanks for picking up our trash.” Roy chuckled as I read it. Kyle looked disappointed. “So it’s junk,” said Steve. “Toss it back,” said Roy.

“Yeah,” I said, looking for a trash can.

“Thought we had something there,” Kyle sighed, arms folded.

A fresh wave rolled in, submerging our feet. We’d sunk into the sand where the beach met the sea. We’d walked a ways away from the crowds, the girls. I’d called them over here when I saw something glinting

“We do,” said Roy. “Someone’s poo poo.” Steve laughed. Roy tossed me the cork. “Let’s head back.” He gestured with a nod.

The others quickly scattered. I stood there with the bottle. Only Kyle looked back. “Come on.” He waved me over. I followed after, still looking for the trash. I turned the bottle, the receipt back inside. “Thought we had something there.” So did I. Disappointing. I glanced down at the bottle, somehow emptier than before. It could’ve been anything, but turned out it wasn’t. Our fleeting curiosity was rewarded with a chore.

Seeing a trash can, I went to drop it in, when I remembered something. A spark of inspiration. I fished out the receipt. That had always been garbage. The bottle had its uses. I placed it with my things.

A trip to the beach was usually fun, but returning home wasn’t. “No sand in the house.” Mom made me circle around to the backyard where dad hosed me off. The water was always freezing. But a quick shower later and a change of clothes I was back in my room. I studied the bottle. I’d cleaned it also, inside and out. You could fill it with anything. I grabbed a notebook.

“Buried treasure?” Roy had asked with an air of smug dismissal, as though he wasn’t the first of us to loot the monsters when we played D&D. I flipped through pages of drawings and notes till I found the map I’d been drawing for our game. I grabbed another notebook. I had a lot of notebooks. I didn’t use a lot of notebooks, I just had them, just in case. Putting them side by side, I grabbed a number two pencil, and began to make a copy, deliberately incomplete.

“You see something,” I said, peering furtively over my screen. “A glint down in the water.”

“I’ll get it,” said Roy. His character dove in.

“You see a coral-encrusted skeleton, long abandoned, clutching a bottle. The bottle casts an emerald sheen. It’s been stoppered with wax. There’s something inside.”

Kyle’s wizard and Steve’s paladin looked at each other. Roy’s rogue resurfaced. “What’s in it?” he asked. I took the green bottle out of my bag. “You tell me,” I said as I placed it on the table.


“Oh DUDE.”

“Pfft ha ha ha nice.”

Steve popped it open once again. “Buried treasure?” It was.

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