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NeoGAF Creative Writing Challenge #220 - "Alive"


Routine (2,500 words)


"He's crying."


"He. Is. Crying."

"I'm getting him. Give me a second."

Tangled in three different sheets and buried beneath a comforter, I slowly start scooting off the foot of the bed. It would be a hell of a lot easier to just roll off, but she demands the outside of the bed and there isn't enough room to put the bed anywhere except against the wall. I understand it though; she's pregnant and the urge to get up and pee is constant. Just before my feet hit the floor, I slide each one into a baby blue Croc. The treads disappeared ages ago, which makes them slippery as all get out, but I'll be damned if I'm walking with bare feet on these wooden floors. Between the baby, a dog, and several different cats, there always seems to be some kind of nastiness on the floor: food particles, bits of kitty litter, tons of fur, and who knows what else.

Stumbling forward, I quickly check the phone chained to the charger on our dresser. 12:17. Sounds about right. We used to have several clocks in the house, but they have all mysteriously disappeared. I honestly have no idea where they could have gone. It's not like we ever used them anyway.

Phone goes back down and I start pulling at the door. Pull. Pull. Pull. Push? Pull again. Two hands now. Lean into it. Pull. Boof. Yeah, it's a made up word, but it's about the only thing I can use to describe the sound of that stupid door opening. There's no lock or even your typical handle mechanism in the door. It just expands and contracts and always seems to frustrate me. I'd keep the damned thing open if there weren't so many cats in the house at any one time that don't actually belong to us. Nobody wants a strange cat sleeping on their face at night. I get wanting to be a foster for abandoned animals, but don't volunteer when you're pregnant and your husband is forced to scoop a dozen litter boxes for cats he doesn't even want in the house to start with. I don't have a backbone. It's whatever.

With the door finally open, I creep into the living room and snag his bottle off the jewelry stand. He's already awake; there's no reason to creep. I take a winding path through all the kid's stuff scattered across the floor. We really need to clean up more. It's a mess. YYYYYYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWLLLLLLLLL!!!!! Cat tail. Back to creeping.

"What the hell was that? Why is he still screaming?"

"Working on the bottle. Stepped on one of the fluffers. Go back to sleep."

Luckily, he finished off the bottle the last time he was at it, so I actually managed to get it nice and rinsed before needing to refill it due to time circumstances. I flip the light switch and immediately pop the formula lid off. One scoop. Two scoops. Meow. Meeeewwwww. Three scoops. Whimper. Three scoops. Meeeeewwww. Woof, woof, woof.

"Shut up, Hunter. It's not even close to time to get up. You've got hours left."

I peek into the kitchen to check on the cat's bowl as I'm berating the dog and see that it's nearly empty. I refill it quickly and then get back to the bottle. Three scoops? I honestly can't remember. Dump it back into the container and start again. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. 2:1 ratio on the formula/water and an eleven ounce bottle. It doesn't add up exactly, but you have to account for the rice cereal and the uneven scoops. Speaking of... I dump the remainder of the rice cereal container into the bottle. There wasn't much left, but we really only use it as filler anyway. Fills the little guy's belly and keeps him asleep through the night. Mostly.

Bottle filled and in hand, I trundle back through the plastic jungle of the living room and into the baby's lair. He's still bawling his little eyes out with his hands held tight to his ears. It's a habit he's picked up since his ear infection and makes him look so pathetic and in need of help. Incredibly adorable, but saddening at the same time. My pitiful little boy.

"It's alright, Wesley. Daddy's here with food."

I lift him up out of the crib, which stops his crying momentarily, and then place him down on his changing mat, which restarts the engine. I hand the little guy his bottle and get to work on changing his diaper (a quick smell check confirms that it is pee only). I'm glad he prefers to hold his own bottle now. Makes things easier when you have multiple baby tasks to complete at a given time. Of course, it's also hilarious seeing the bottle roll across the floor once he passes out into his little milk coma.

Fresh diaper nicely wrapped around him, I zip the little guy's jammies back up and lift his now limp, milk drunk form back into his crib. Eight ounces left in the bottle I pick up from under the rocking chair we never use now that he's able to handle his own drink. Just pee and only three ounces downed. I'm not really sure why he decided to wake up. Oh well. I turn on his aquarium lookalike soother and flop back into bed myself.

"God damn it, Charles! Are you going to deal with him or not?"

"I literally just came from his room. What are you even talking about?"

Dinga-linga-ling. Dinga-linga-ling. I can't believe it's 5 o'clock already. I slither my way back out of bed, shut off the phone alarm, burst through our broken door, and slip into Wesley's room. The smell hits the second I enter. Poop explosion. I carefully pick up the wailing shit factory by his arms and unzip his pajamas in mid-air. No point in spreading the crap further by laying him down immediately. A few quick wipes down his back (and shoulders?) and I finally set him down and get to work on the cleanup job. He just started with the table scraps recently and, man, the digestive outcome is really not a pretty sight. Sticky and aplenty.

The pajamas and crib sheet were not salvageable, so were quickly replaced. I let the boy finish off the remaining eight ounces in his bottle then put him back down for however long he was willing to sleep while I got myself ready for the day. I toss his nasty laundry into the shower for a quick rinse to get them washer-ready and then I get to cleaning myself. I shampoo all over except for the hair on my head. My hair gets extremely dry and brittle if I use shampoo daily, so I only do it every few days. After the shower, I put on my outfit- brand new pair of underwear out of the package, freshly laundered undershirt, beige polo (Wednesday means I'm no longer wearing a stuffy dress shirt for the week), socks from the dresser, and the same dress pants I've been wearing the last couple of days. My nice pants are used exclusively at work, where I do nothing strenuous at all; it's cool to reuse them, right?

Fully dressed, I slip on my real shoes and go make my lunch for the day. Assemble, not make. Saltines, frozen bottle of water, and a Tab. I picked up a 12-pack of Tab from the grocery store to try it and I have no idea why I did. It tastes like a flat, expired Coke. Oh well, I have ten more of the bastards to get through. I sneak back into my bedroom and give my wife a quick kiss on the forehead before slipping quietly out the front door. Don't want to wake up the baby after all. Pull the keys that have been sitting in my pocket since yesterday afternoon and start my sister's car. She didn't want to take it to college with her, so she left it for me to use. Score. The wife needs the car that actually belongs to us for the million and one activities, appointments, and errands she plans for herself each and every day. Some of it is important, most of it just seems like a way to cause her more stress and drain our limited bank accounts.

Five minutes into the car ride, the phone rings.

"You woke us up."

"Sorry, wasn't trying to. He shouldn't be hungry. He just finished off the rest of his bottle and pooped."

"We're still awake now."

"Well, it's morning. That's how it tends to work."

"You're coming straight home after work, right?"

"Of course."

"Just wanted to make sure you weren't stopping by your grandparent's house or anything first."

"Nope, not today. Not unless he falls or something."

"Okay. Just be quick about it."

Ten minutes later, I arrive at work and the day just starts flying by. Five hours pass in nearly complete silence outside of the few videos I check out while sitting at my desk. Study Hall monitor, the true dream job. It doesn't pay anything at all practically, but it's enough to cover the family's needs and gives me nearly absolute freedom at work to enjoy the things I like as far as entertainment products go. Games, books, movies, TV shows, and youtube videos. It's great. Well, for the first half of the day, anyway. That's when most of the teenagers are trying to catch up on their sleep and homework for the day. 5th period hits with lunch and then it's wildness from there on out. It's study hall. Just shut up. I pop open the Tab and crack the pack of saltines only to have the phone start ringing.

"You need to get your ass home right now!"


"What? You can't hear that? He's been screaming like this nonstop today. He didn't go down for his nap. I've tried holding him but I'm too tired to do it for more than a few minutes at a time. He's had two jars of baby food and he was chowing down on some of my apple butter and biscuits, so he's not hungry at all. I just changed him. He's screaming and he doesn't have any reason to. He's your kid, so come home and deal with him. If you had just gone and gotten those child care vouchers like I told you to, this wouldn't be a problem."

"Honey, I'm at work. I can't just leave whenever and I told you they wouldn't consider us for those vouchers because you're a stay at home mom. You shouldn't need a daycare."

"Of course, you wouldn't leave your precious job even if one of us was seriously injured."

"You know I'd be there in a minute if there was an actual emergency. We need the money. I can't leave yet. I'm coming straight home though. You know that."

I look down at the phone and am just staring at the main menu. Who knows when she actually hung up.

Whatever. I finish my lunch and await the end of the school day. Half my remaining time in class is spent walking around to individual kids and getting them to either lower the volume of their headphones or getting them to shut up. Once 2:45 hits and the last student is out the door, I shut off the lights and lock up. Clock out on my phone just as I'm about to exit the building (you really have to milk that clock to get those extra few hours each week) and then rush to the parking lot and then home.

I pull up to the house and see my little (expanding) family sitting on the porch awaiting my return.

"Here. Wesley is your responsibility for the rest of the day."

With that, she placed the baby into my arms and took off to run another one of her million errands for the day. I can't really complain though. It will let her cool off while I get some of the chores done in peace. Wesley doesn't really cry that much for me. I walk in the door, past the army of cats looking outside, and put him down to pay with his toys. As expected, he doesn't make a sound outside of talking to himself as he starts rolling his little tractor around the wooden floor. Definitely no screaming. I honestly don't see what the big problem is. He never really screams for me once his needs have been met.

With Wesley seemingly satisfied and content for the moment, I get to work on the rest of the housework for the day, while prepping the kitchen for dinner. I go grab Wesley's laundry out of the shower, put it with the rest of his dirty clothes, and then take the entire basket downstairs to the basement to wash. Once the washer gets started, I head back up and clear off the stove and the side of the sink with the garbage disposal in it. Every single day my wife completely fills both with dishes and I have no idea how she does it. It's not like she's making any big meals. I think she grabs a new plate for every little thing she eats throughout the day and then just tosses the old one into the sink for me to take care of when I get home. God, I hate dishes. I chop up some onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic and get them sizzling in one skillet. On the other side of the stove, I set the hamburger to brown. I heat the oven to 425*F and set out the garlic bread. Once all the food is going, I actively wash all of the day's dishes and put them in the drying rack. Two skillets become one and pile of shredded cheese gets tossed on top. I can still hear Wesley drawing his little tractor around the living room floor when the wife finally returns.

"He is never this quiet for me."

"Just need to have a little patience. Here. Dinner."

I hand her a plate of cowboy steak draped across garlic bread and we both sit down on the couch with Wesley between us. My wife turns on Netflix and starts an episode of Grey's Anatomy. This has to be the fourth (third?) time we've started the series over again. Makes excellent background noise. The two of us take turns handing Wesley food. He happily chews whatever comes his way- meat, cheese, vegetables, and bread, his favorite. We really need to invest in another dining room table now that we're going to be a family of four.

At 5:30, I change him into his jammies and put him down. At 8, the two of us drift towards our bedroom. 5 am was bedtime once.


fleurs n'est pas britannique
Haven't touched my first draft since the weekend. Think it's time for a fresh look tonight.

Same. I got a nice first draft done and I'm kind of floored at the notion I might get a second draft into the challenge (queue Mike laughing). I'm sure Nezumi has a story going too! Isn't that right Nez?


Same. I got a nice first draft done and I'm kind of floored at the notion I might get a second draft into the challenge (queue Mike laughing). I'm sure Nezumi has a story going too! Isn't that right Nez?

Good luck!

I'm just working on the ending now. I like this one and want the conclusion to feel totally satisfying. It's proving hard to write even though I know the basic idea and feeling I want to achieve with the ending.

Nezumi, you doing okay?


Have a super detailed outline and, what is even more important, I have tomorrow off AND no other responsibilities. No way I'm not submitting something this time around.
Oh wow, I just went back to see when the last time I actually wrote something for one of these and it's been more than 6 years. Time has flown by.


fleurs n'est pas britannique
Oh wow, I just went back to see when the last time I actually wrote something for one of these and it's been more than 6 years. Time has flown by.

Well you know what they say, no time like the present :p

Have a super detailed outline and, what is even more important, I have tomorrow off AND no other responsibilities. No way I'm not submitting something this time around.

Woot woot!


Sorry, another one I'll be skipping. These past two themes have just been too broad for me; I'm terrible at discerning specific ideas from such a prompt that I actually like. I've written some stuff, but it's far from coherent in its structure and I'd rather just wait to pull out all stops than put something out that I'm not happy with.


The deadline is tonight, Nezumi! What would Mike say?

In my timezone the deadline is on Saturday morning and I don't think after almost five years of putting up with my procrastination, Mike has any words left on that particular topic :D

Mike M

Nick N
In my timezone the deadline is on Saturday morning and I don't think after almost five years of putting up with my procrastination, Mike has any words left on that particular topic :D
Well, word counts are the one rule we seem to enforce...


fleurs n'est pas britannique
Thank you Freeza for coming in so I don't have to do the dreaded double post!

The Lilacs are Wilting about 2,500 words

usual password on this #entry and if you're new to the challenge and don't know what that means, well just quote this post to see



I'm submitting a story I wrote in the last 40 minutes
(and I realize there are a lot of holes in the world that I was trying to build)
because since I stopped NeoGAF, I haven't been writing at all. And that wasn't my intent. I'm not sure what to do, but for now, I'm submitting again, just to make sure there is some consistency in my practice.

Verbal Communication 101 1067 words


I'd like to say in advance that I'm only 70% sure I'll be able to read and provide feedback and vote....

Anyway, thanks for letting me submit. Since I'm not sure if I can read and respond, I'm comfortable being DNQ'd -- or waiting to be DNQ'd later in the weekend when it's clear I won't be able to read all the stories.

I miss you guys!


Considering the past few threads, with barely any late entries, I think I can put up the entry list pretty quickly.


The White Owl Smiles
about 1500 words


This is actually a story I wanted to do in the last challenge but I never got around to it. I think the theme still fits with this time around so I went ahead with it, but now I ran out of time, so no time for editing, sorry.


Kismet (2,181 words)


Diana gently closed the door behind her and let a small sigh escape her lips. She peered down the hallway in each direction before reaching into her bag and slipping her wedding ring back onto her finger. Even now, she hated what she was doing.

She'd told herself that it wouldn't go on for long. One night became one week, became one month, became six. Now here she was, hundreds of miles away from her husband and still stabbing him in the back. She'd told him that it was a business trip. It was a half-truth.

She could forgive herself for tonight, though. Tonight, more than any other, she needed a distraction.

She made her way to the nearest bar and perched herself on a stool. Ordering something heavy, she surveyed the landscape. The place was dotted with the somber faces of reignited memories and hopelessness. There would be no celebration tonight. No raucous laughter. Just broken hearts drowning in their pain. She was among her kin.

At the end of the bar, Diana caught a glimpse of a man that looked all too familiar to her. Certainly it had to be in her head. She hadn't gotten her drink yet, so she couldn't blame it on the alcohol. Still, it had to be a trick of the light. Shadows falling just the right way.

She let it go for a few minutes. She downed the drink she'd asked for then ordered another. The man at the end of the bar looked so familiar. Too familiar. In time, her curiosity got the better of her. As she approached the man, it became clear that there was no logical explanation for what she was seeing.

"Uh, hello," She greeted. As he turned to look at her, there was no mistaking it. He was the spitting image. "I'm sorry, it's just-- you're a dead ringer for someone I used to know. A long time ago."

The man smirked. He looked like he's just been caught; called out. "What are the odds?" he said more to himself than to her. Diana wasn't sure what he meant by it.

The man sighed, finished his drink in one big gulp and took a good, long look at her. "I don't know how to say this, Diana-- but I'm exactly who you think I am."

He knew her name. Her heart jumped into her throat. It couldn't be. Could it? No, it wasn't possible, but he knew her name. "Dad? Is it really you?"

"Yeah. It's me, kiddo." She embraced him, slowing down to breathe him in. It had been so, so long since she'd felt that sensation. Sixteen years.

She let it all linger for a moment, before her presence of mind began to come back to her. She shook her head, and furrowed her brow, trying to make sense of it all, fighting back tears of joy. "How? How is this possible?" She wondered. "How can you be here?" She could feel a knot begin to form in her stomach, worried that this was all some sort of hallucination. Was she losing her mind?

"Maybe we should get you a drink first," her father suggested.

"I've already had a few." Diana was growing suspicious. Maybe she wasn't going crazy. Maybe this was some sick joke. Or an elaborate scheme to hurt her somehow. "Please, explain it to me," she almost demanded. "How you can be here."

"Well... I didn't die that day." He explained.

"What?!" This was a sick joke after all. Of all the nasty pranks to pull, this had to be one of the worst. Was nothing sacred any more?

"It's just like I said." His face was stern. Whoever this man was, he wasn't a liar or a prankster.

It still didn't make any sense. She tried to puzzle it out. "I don't understand. Did you lose your memory or get hurt or something?" There had to be an explanation that she wasn't seeing, because at the moment it sounded like he was telling her he'd abandoned her and her mother all those years ago.

"No. I want you to listen carefully, Diana, because I know this won't be easy to hear." He locked eyes with her. "I ran," he said simply. "I saw an opportunity and I took it. I never died on that day, but I moved on, on the assumption that everyone would think that I had."

Diana shook her head. "No." He had to be mistaken. There was no way. "No, that can't be true. You would never do that," she insisted. "You would never leave us like that."

"I would. I did, in fact," he assured. There was no malice in his voice, but no regret either. He was telling the truth. "Now, look. I'm not out to hurt you, but I don't want to lie to you either--"

"Don't want to lie to me?!" Diana could feel the rage in her boiling over. She wanted to hit him. Hurt him for everyday she had to live without him. Every day she had to suffer the pain of losing him. "If what you're saying is true; if this is real, then you've been lying to me for sixteen years!" she spat back at him. "Sixteen years to the day! Do you have any idea what you put me through? What you put my mother, your wife, through?!" she demanded.

He sighed, his shoulders deflating. "I don't know what to tell you. I'm sorry that you got hurt, but I'm not sorry that I did what I did."

She stared at him in disbelief. This man that she had venerated for her entire life as the greatest man to ever live was a fraud. All of the sorry-for-your-losses and never-forgets had meant nothing. This man didn't deserve them. "You know what? Go to hell," she hissed at him. This man wasn't worth her time or attention. That much was clear.

She turned to walk away. He went to grab her arm, but she pulled it away. "Don't touch me!" she yelled.

The bartender exchanged glances with the man and then with Diana. "Is this fella bothering you, ma'am?" he asked.

"I'm fine, thank you," she said, disingenuously. Turning back to her father she offered, "have a nice life, asshole."

"Now, wait a minute, Diana," he called.

"What?! What could you possibly have to say that you think I'd want to hear?" Her words dripped like venom.

"We won't ever see each other again after this."

"Well, that's the way you wanted it, isn't it?"

"What I mean is: if there's anything, I mean anything, you want to know, I'm an open book. All you have to do is ask," he offered.

She wanted to walk away then and there and be done with him, but he was right. If she didn't get some answers, she was going to regret it for the rest of her life. "Alright," she took him up on his offer. "So, tell me why? What was so bad about us that you had to fake your own death to get away?"

He exhaled as though just recalling was a major effort. "You were pretty young, so I don't know if you picked up on it, but your mother and I, we made each other miserable. Truth be told, I wasn't cut out for being a husband or a father. I hated my job and hated my home life. Every day I felt like, like... Sisyphus. Pushing something that I knew I'd never achieve."

Diana scoffed. "That's your excuse? You got burned out, so you chose to run? Did it ever occur to you to try and fix things, Dad? How about counseling? Or anything else?"

Her father was getting visibly frustrated, which annoyed Diana. How dare he think that he has the right to feel anything in this situation, much less frustration?

"We tried to make it work. We did. For twelve years, I tried, but it never gets better. First you think it's just a rocky spot, but it'll pass so you stick it out. Then you come up with excuses to keep going. Kids, a mortgage and on and on. Eventually you realize that you have to be responsible for your own happiness, because no one else will be."

Diana crossed her arms. "Here's the thing dad, I was happy until I found out some assholes with planes took my father away. Turns out my father was the asshole all along," she lamented. "Tell me this: why not just get a divorce like a normal human being? Why the elaborate ruse?"

"Elaborate? Oh, honey, it's as though I planned it. Any of it. You know I worked in those towers. I got a flat on the way in that day. The time it took me to change it saved my life. That's when I knew I had to get out. It was kismet."

"Hah! Kismet! Fuck you! If you're inclined to use such a flimsy excu--" Diana's phone vibrated inside of her bag. She took a quick peak. Her husband, probably calling for the nightly check up and 'I love you.' She let it go to voicemail.

"Whether or not you believe it, it was fate. Just like us running into each other tonight. Especially tonight of all nights," he insisted.

"I don't believe in that kind of bullshit mumbo jumbo. You know Dad, you can make all of the excuses you want, but at the end of the day, you're just a coward." she accused. "You're in charge of what you choose to do. Not fate or tea leaves or anything else. At the end of the day, the decision rests on your shoulders."

He was beginning to see that the writing was on the wall. "Look, I don't expect you to agree with what I did. I just want you to understand. And, I'll tell you this: you only get one life, Diana. If I have to choose between joy and misery, I'll choose joy every time."

"No matter who you hurt in the process?" Tears began to form in her eyes. "Tell me Dad, was it really so terrible being my father?"

"Listen, honey. I love you, but I'm just not built for that life. Never was. It was like being in a box that got smaller and smaller each day. It didn't matter who else was in there with me, I was going to suffocate. I had to get out."

"So you left us to suffocate." A silence hung in the air for a moment, punctuating the splitting of the final thread that held them together.

Diana was the first to speak. "I don't that you care, but I'm actually married, now, Dad."

"I had noticed the ring, but it wouldn't be fair for me to ask about your life."

It was the first thing that he'd said all night that made any sense to Diana. Still, she wanted to share, even if she was talking to a ghost. "True enough. The thing is, my marriage has had rough spots, too. I don't know that there's a marriage out there that hasn't. You don't have a monopoly on tough situations, you know."

"I don't. No."

"But the difference between you and me, or, hell, you and any human being is that I haven't just given up. I can't."

The man rose to his feet and left a few bills on the bar. "Not yet."

"Not ever," She asserted, "because I think love is worth fighting for."

"What if it's not?"

"It's always worth fighting for," she retorted. "Always."

"I meant what if it's not love?" The question lingered for a moment.

"Are you leaving?" Diana asked.

"I can't sit in this bar any more. I'm still willing to answer any of your questions. Would you like to take a walk with me?" The man offered his hand. She scowled at it like he was offering a dead fish.


He smiled. "Very well. At least this time I get to say goodbye. Have a good life, Diana." He offered a small wave, and just like that, he walked out of her life once more.

Diana had a few more drinks, then returned to the hotel. She stared at the door, biting her lower lip. Her thumb fiddled around with her wedding ring. She was afraid to knock, uncertain of the dangers that lay on the other side.


After starting of OK, I hit a rather nasty wall, but in the end managed to finish up this #entry for better or for worse.

Sober 1636 words.


Yeah, sorry, I didn't know we did # entry these days to make things easier. I haven't written anything at all in like 5 years.


fleurs n'est pas britannique
I try not to say this too often because I was not raised underneath the banner of "positive reinforcement" buuuuuuut all the stories were really good this time around. Everyone give yourselves pats on the back.

Irish - Routine: I really dug your prose, the long sentences followed by the occasional short thought gave a rambling , “I’m awake, but I want to be asleep” tired feel to it that really fit the story. There were two things that I didn’t like though, while your prose is great, I felt the first half could have been trimmed as baby adventures kind of dragged for me, and it wasn’t until the prospect of going to work (mostly the setting change) that repiqued my interest. Second, wife felt kind of unrealistically terrible. Not saying you should have made her good with the baby (obviously not everyone can be good with children) but all she seemed to do is complain and I would have appreciated at least know if the errands she need to do were actually important to help even out her character a bit.

Yeef - Kismet:The initial setup is soooooo good, but that hug feels way too sudden for me. It really needs a moment of disbelief between the reveal he is her father and it. Though I guess that can maybe be justified by her being drunk? I dunno. In a similar vein, I think we cycle to quickly from the affection of a hug to straight up anger. Dianna really needs a pause for disbelief to act as a transitionary thing for these extreme emotions. Outside of those quibbles, I fucking adore this concept of a father using 911 as a reason to skip town on his responsibilities. And I love his daughter just accidently finding him in a bar one day 16 years later. Fun story, just needs a few pauses for Dianna to catch her breath.

LaMagenta - The White Owl Smiles: I really enjoyed the set up story you had in the beginning, it had a lot of tragic twists and turns and part of me wished that was the main story, though I understand why it’s regulated to set up and do think you spend the perfect amount of time on it. I think the owl stuff (that is the real meat of the story) takes a moment to get going, but once it does, it has some good emotional moments. This might be because I’m kinda of an asshole, but I think them all meeting up together at the end is a bit too happy for me, given how incredibly dark the story leading up to this was. Though, that might just be, again, because I’m an asshole that doesn’t like happy endings :p (Happyish I guess? They’re all still dead…)

Ashes - the stars have it: Maaaaaan, this probably says too much about me, but I am a sucker for dramatic breakups and damn that’s a dramatic way to break up with someone. I love rejections, I love when love itself just isn’t enough, I love all the stuff you had with the wedding. It’s the meta stuff, the knowledge that someone is writing this post-morterm as a form of therapy, that actually dragged this down a bit for me. I think it’s cause the meta stuff doesn’t really go anywhere important for me (in a unique was that justifies that meta). LIke, he says that by writing this it gives him an appreciation for the people with him at the time, but I don’t feel like we stay enough with those people to feel the same effect. Again though, I really adored all the different wedding stuff, just wished it was more of that.

Choodi - The massacre at Brown Bend: So this was fine in the beginning, then kind of lost me in the middle with the scotsman, then brought me back, but in a “These guys are scum” kind of interest, and I just want to give you props on your ending because that ending tied this all together for me in the best of ways. I honestly didn’t think you’d be able to link the beginning to the massacre in any way, but you did and its very clever, it plays on our dislike of the scotsman and the natural assumption that everything he says has to be bullshit. Good job, really enjoyed this.

Dongs Macabre - I Jump into Action: Action in beginning is super unclear. He lunges at the guy, but doesn’t, but also had the mugger by the collar the entire time? The action gets a lot clearer further in though, it’s honestly just that first part. I just want to say the “I try to control myself, but i sink deeper and deeper” is such a good line as it works both ways for the knife and the loss of control into too much violence. Morals seem kind of weird to me, but I do enjoy the idea of the city pulling strings to cover up a hero’s accidental murder. That’s a really neat idea I kind of wish wasn’t glossed over. In response to the experimentation, I did like the first present tense in this for the most part and hope you continue to experiment with stuff!

Charade - The Quiet Speaks: I don’t really have much to say other than admiration at trying to tackle the feel aspect of the secondary.

Tangent - Verbal Communication 101: Yay! A Tangent story! Little lost in the beginning, is everyone supposed to be a mind reader and talking’s become rare? I feel like some mental communication for that first bad date would have done a great job of setting the world. That said, world is really interesting and I like hearing about the new novelties added to our normal communication like the uneasiness of not knowing if someone really wanted to know your potato salad recipe.
Nezumi - Sober: I really liked this, but it also left me really confused. Which sucks, because I super love that dance of birds (phoenixs?) and the story of the man with no past coming to place where everyone lives in the present and realizing he didn’t want to lose what little past he had. But the stuff with the fruit threw me off, same with why he burned up and turned into an egg? Doe the fruit do that to people? Or is the fruit just a drug and gets you really doped up?

Alucard - Living Zen: I was really feeling the monastery half of this with the wise zen master and all the meditation. I really enjoyed the constant thing with emptying the cup and the short talk about it doesn’t matter where you are, but how you feel about yourself. Once we got out of the monastery, I kind of cooled, mostly because it went where I expected it to go once I learned the guy’s wife was killed in a storm? I kind of assumed he’d have a moment to redeem himself, and he does and it goes as one would likely expect.

Mike M - Fool of Ships: I really love the idea of an AI core becoming self aware and the result of it becoming incredibly unhappy with its lot in life is to take it out on the human crew in very small and petty ways. That’s a pretty great idea. I also love Prescott’s job here is basically being therapist to a thing going through (I love this term) AI puberty. The only thing of major note that bothered me was the end. I get it, but it felt needlessly dark in what was a fun story up to that point. I think a resolution that wasn’t as dark as wiping the ship’s mind clean because it wasn’t complying would make for a stronger ending. Also I'm sure you know this but
your title suuuuuuucks! Rename your ship The Tempest and call the story Tempormental. Bam! That idea is free for ya

1 Mike
2. Chodi
3. Ashes


Feedback as I go with eventual votes:

"Routine" by Irish - "Every single day my wife completely fills both with dishes and I have no idea how she does it. It's not like she's making any big meals. I think she grabs a new plate for every little thing she eats throughout the day and then just tosses the old one into the sink for me to take care of when I get home." So much to relate to here. You can only be speaking from personal experience to go this deep, and I have felt and feel your pain. Those first few years are the roughest, but I promise it gets easier. A little bit, at least. The wife stuff only marginally improves, though. But hey, maybe you're different. I'm of course saying all this to your POV character. Outside of these comments, I enjoyed your writing and the story overall. It was long and felt like drudgery at points, but in a good and necessary way. Felt it suited your story.

"I Jump into Action" by Dongs Macabre - This felt like a quick series of sketches. Individually, I thought they could have been fleshed out more. As is, I didn't feel like I could really grab onto anything, and the main character felt pretty bland and empty with no real personality to speak of. It felt like half a story that you didn't know where to take. I wanted more meat to it, damn it.

"The massacre at Brown Bend" by choodi - I didn't feel enough of a connection to any of the characters, and the first third felt like it could have been sped up. That said, I've enjoyed seeing your writing skills progress over the past nine months. I found your work at the start of the year to be pretty weird and uneven with the animal story you wrote at one point, and one or two others, but the past few months, I feel like your skills have matured and like it's just a matter of getting a solid idea and time to edit it properly to put together something potentially submission-worthy. I still wish there was more to that assassination story you were writing! (I think that was you? :p)

"The Lilacs are Wilting" by FlowersisBritish - This was so good. I felt like you held everything together extremely well from start to finish and I think this is one of your most complete works. I'm jealous of your imagery and description skills in this one. It was just pure storytelling magic. Well done, you sentimental bastard.

"Fool of Ships" by Mike M - I loved your writing and the general interplay between Briquette and Prescott, but I thought you dove hard into white room syndrome during their conversation, which takes up the majority of the story. Still, the conversation itself was interesting and there's always something to like about your stories; in this case, it was the writing and description itself.

"The Quiet Speaks" by Charade - a neat little thought experiment, but not really a story. Still, it was harmless and easy to read, especially at its length.

"Verbal Communication 101" by Tangent - I love the basic premise here. I wish you had kept it going because what's here now is very enjoyable. I wonder how much deeper you could have gone into the limits of verbal communication in addition to it just adding more mystery to a person as being a positive. Nice work.

"The White Owl Smiles" by LaMagenta - I got lost more than a few times in this one, largely due to all the names. I'm also pretty tired and it's twenty minutes to midnight as I read this, so maybe I just didn't have the correct focus to take this in. Even so, I found some of your writing pretty "distant" in this story, as in it felt like you were talking a lot about events instead of putting us right there in the action with the characters.

"Untitled" by yeef - This one burned out at the end for me and didn't satisfy my hunger for the twist ending I was hoping would come but never did. The conversation and general idea were fine, but I'm not sure you knew how to end it in a satisfying way. Still, the 9/11 disappearance idea was super neat.

"The stars have it" by Ashes - I was in the mood for this type of melancholy tonight. Thanks for writing it and sharing it with the world. I enjoyed it. That's all I can really say outside of "get someone to proofread your stuff, dammit," because you do still miss words and/or make grammar and/or punctuation errors.

"Sober" by Nezumi - I felt more than a little lost in this one, but I think I still liked it? Sorry Nezumi, just not sure I was in the right headspace to get this one despite seeing that it had something to do with phoenixes and rebirth and Adam and Eve. Looking forward to not feeling as lost in subsequent tales from you!


1. Flowers
2. Ashes
3. Irish

HM: Mike M


Alucard - Living Zen
Some nice writing here, but the story could be tightened up a little. There was nice tension at the end and I literally moved to the edge of my seat, but it just took too long to get there. I think the expression "show, don't tell" gets thrown around a little too much, but I think you told us too much here.

Dongs Macabre - I Jump into Action
I'm not really a fan of first person stuff, but I did like the cadence to the writing here. Short, sharp and to the point. Repeating the same staccato phrasing gave it a good rhythm. Unfortunately, the story just didn't do much for me. Maybe I'm just burned out on superhero origin stories.

choodi - The massacre at Brown Bend
I liked what I wrote here. It actually started as an alien abduction story in a similar setting, but I kind of just randomly turned it into something a lot more serious. I have done a little bit of reading of Australian history in the past year and thought it would be good to do something that showcased some of the more shameful things that we did to the indigenous population in the past. I gave a slight nod to the secondary too.

FlowersisBritish - The Lilacs are Wilting
Fuck...you just had to go and ruin my night, didn't you? I'm going to go check on my kids in their beds now and make sure they are OK.

Mike M - Fool of Ships
I like the concept of AI puberty. It is something that gets lost in all these AI stories. The AI always seems to awaken as a fully realised adult personality, but that's not how intelligence and personality in the real world works. Those things develop and are a product of our environment. The ending let it down though. I was waiting for something a little more meaningful, unless it just went over my head.

Charade - The Quiet Speaks
Ooooh, nicely written. Great prose. Nice cryptic concept too. God as the creator and as the created.

Tangent - Verbal Communication 101
Cool concept. I could see this being a setup for a Black Mirror episode or something similar. I would have liked to see where this would have gone if you had put in the full 2500 words.

LaMagenta - The White Owl Smiles
A nice, if bittersweet, story. I think it another round of editing could have made it read a little better. I think having all the sadness up front and ending on a happy note was maybe a little too straightforward. Maybe you could have held back on the reveal that the father was dead and made that your twist?

Yeef - untitled
I liked the dialogue and the setup, but I didn't think the ending was strong enough. I get it, she's cheating on her husband, but I think we needed to have her hypocrisy outlined a little more blatantly than that. I wanted her to get some sort of comeuppance for being a hypocrite.

Ashes - the stars have it
I kinda want this story to be true. Not that I would wish that experience on anyone, but this type of hypothetical is one of those things that makes for an interesting question to explore. What would I do in this situation? Hell if I would have had the party. On the technical side, another edit would have made the writing better and the story easier to read.

Nezumi - Sober
Nice prose, but the story just didn't really take me anywhere that I wanted to go. Nobody really learned anything in the end.

Irish - Routine
So many flashbacks in this story. My two are 3 and 5 and on the occasional night when one of them wakes me up, I feel like death warmed up the next day. No idea how I managed to go to work some of those mornings when they were babies and waking up every few hours. Anyway, nicely written. A good logical flow helps too as it could easily have turned into a confusing mess.

1. Flowers
2. Mike M
3. Irish


Thank you for the feedback Choodi and FlowersisBritish! I forgot to mention, that this is a second part of a previous short story I wrote about 6 years ago. Basically, the prologue gave you a synopsis of the first story. It is clear at the end of the original story that everyone is dead. So, for those that like sad and tragic stories, that's the one for you. I can post a link to it if you are interested in reading it.


Found myself with some unexpected free time so I wrote some feedback.

Alucard: I liked the beginning in the temple and the conversation between the master and the pupil. I thought the ending was a bit too foreseeable and therefore lost its impact on me.

Dongs Macabre: I somehow couldn't help picturing the protagonist as batman, probably because of the entire scene with the police captain. I felt like this moved a little too fast for me to actually care for the main character. I guess I would have found it more interesting to learn more about how he would deal with this manslaughter on his conscience.

Irish: I have to agree with Flowers here. The wife just felt a little bit too terrible for me. From what you are showing us one can't help but wonder why the guy is putting up with it, he must be a saint. Otherwise it had a really good flow that made it easy to read, despite its length.

choodi: This one just didn't work for me. I liked the beginning, but it became so irrelevant in the middle of the story, that the revelation at the ending felt really forced to me.

La Magenta:
Funny enough my husband was watching The Revenant while I was reading this story which was strangely fitting. I thought it felt a little too rushed for my taste, the prologue apparently being a synopsis probably played into that. But I really liked the imagery.

Flowers: That was great. I think the only gripe I had with it is that I saw the twist coming as soon as the son entered which kind of softened the blow a bit for me, but that is about it. I especially loved the scene where he remembered the conversation with his wife after she burned the cookies. The one that his son didn't hear.

Mike: At first I was reminded of the "Reign of Error" challenge we had years ago in which we both went for a story involving ship computers messing with their crews, so when I started reading this I was like "Wait a sec. You already did that!"
Obviously you went in a different direction. The biggest question I have with these kind of stories is, why would computers, even if they became self aware, communicate like people to the extent, that they even copy certain mannerisms. Still, all in all this was a fun read.

Charade: Interesting little thought experiment.

Tangent: I absolutely loved this. This is just such an awesome idea and for a 40 minute effort felt really thought through. I have to agree with Flowers though, that a little hint about the telepathic communication in the beginning would really help the reader along here.

Yeef: The idea of this was really neat, but it started to feel a bit too fast once she meets her dad. The main character seems to be rushed through all these different emotions without any of them seemingly leaving any real impact on her.

I really liked the actual story here, especially the part with the father in law. Not sure if it really needed the meta story.

Nezumi: After not being able to get myself to write anything for at least a month I'm just glad I was finally able to submit something. I'm not really happy with how this turned out as I had originally planned the story to go in a totally different direction, but got hit with a massive onset of self doubt halfway through it so much so that I'd almost deleted everything and just threw it all. Thankfully my better half stopped me from being a foolish idiot and encouraged me to keep going until the last word.


Alucard - Living Zen: I really feel like the opening section should have been interspersed within the rest of the story. I think it would have made the piece stronger overall by breaking up the action a bit. As it was, I feel like the second half of the story kind of rushed towards its conclusion. Something about the immediate success after seeing his failure occur earlier just kind of bugs me a bit. Feels a little unearned. Personally, I think I would cut that last paragraph. It just doesn't fit. It's a little too magical. Things went too smoothly this time to even compare it to when he lost his wife. There is nothing there in his cup to empty, you know?

Dongs Macabre - I Jump into Action: Come on, now. At this point in this guy's career, he's already gotten that sweet costume upgrade. No more uneven eyeholes. Unless, that part of the story takes place at the beginning of his career and then we jump forward quite a bit for the next scene. I think I would have preferred a straight origin story here. It could have all taken place in one night; that guy's first night. Would have flowed a little nicer, I think. Also, you're not walking out of the precinct if you just smashed the chief. I do feel like this was an interesting subject and definitely worth looking into. The idea of the hero breaking and being caught is cool, but I wanted to see something different happen versus just being let go.

choodi - The Massacre at Brown Bend: I really liked the way this one was written. It was very easy to follow and things seemed to flow in a natural order. It's not the most original tale, by any means, but I did enjoy the delivery for the most part. I felt like you dropped a few too many names there at the beginning. It wouldn't have hurt to leave a few of those characters unnamed. I think you could have added a few more interesting twists and turns in the narrative without causing too much trouble. It was a tad bland, overall. Maybe a few more descriptive elements would have helped.

FlowersisBritish - The Lilacs are Wilting: This was brilliant. Pure and simple. I was instantly drawn in by the prose, but it was the pacing that truly shined throughout. Every word felt like it existed for a reason. Every break was necessary. The story flowed exactly as it should. You also made excellent use of the secondary objective. It didn't feel like the main draw of the story, but complemented it in all the right ways. I liked the fact that story didn't really linger on Ginny more than was necessary. My favorite section had to be the way the memory was described. The ghostly dance playing out right before their eyes as they simply looked on. Beautiful all around.

Mike M - Fool of Ships: Don't make me fire up my attitude thrusters! I always love when a story starts with a malfunctioning spaceship, even if I'm generally not the biggest fan of scifi stories. I also really liked the overall concept. Seriously, AI puberty is an amazing thing that often gets glossed over to get to the big bad section of development. However, the dialogue, which was a majority of the piece, just really killed it all for me. I get that they are AI and all, but, man, it was a struggle to get through the weird nature of speech. Of course, everyone in my family has a weird way of talking where we kind of just monologue at each other. Maybe breaking it up a bit more could have helped.

Charade - The Quiet Speaks: I love the idea of creating something and then watching your creations go on and do things that you yourself are not capable of. Honestly, it's one of the most exciting aspects of having kids. Seeing them go out and do things that you know they didn't pick up from watching you or anyone else. It's intriguing. It's also one aspect of AI that I find extremely exciting. I like watching videos showing AI go through a learning process and developing its own way of doing things like walking or what have you. Seeing what steps they skip or add in between the known ones. It's all exciting to watch happen. I also love the idea of middlemen gods. Higher beings that can interact with things below them but still work within a world created by a higher being. Very cool concept.

Tangent - Verbal Communication 101: The beginnings of dishonesty. Tsk. Tsk. Great concept. I actually would have liked to have more of the story take place at the barbecue. Give Rupa a chance to interact with more of the Verbal community. I get the appeal in wanting to work with just one other person, but I feel like there is just so much opportunity here with working in a group setting. That's where this idea could really shine.

LaMagenta - The White Owl Smiles: Very touching story. It's kind of weird. The writing itself didn't seem to affect me a whole lot, but I just got this feeling when reading it. I could feel the emotion, even if I don't think it came through in the story itself. This is a weird feeling. Like the emotion is here, but I don't know how it got here. Not that there is a lot wrong with your story. Maybe it's just bringing up old memories of mine.

Yeef - untitled: I think it's a very relatable story, even if the reader has never been in a similar situation themselves. It's not realistic for her to do so, but I really wish the daughter had explored her own feelings about her marriage with her father. Or, at the very least, gone into them in depth in her own mind. I wanted to know more about her marriage, I guess.

Ashes - The Stars Have It: Bruh, I've never heard of reception food being thrown out when the guests are already there. Great piece overall. Once again, I definitely felt like I could connect with the protagonist. I've been in a very similar situation myself, although not quite the same and not in so public a manner. I've been on the supporting side of the exact same situation before though. It's why I decided my wedding would never be a big one. If anything, I would have tried punching up the imagery a bit. I would totally be fine with some more purple prose this go around.

Nezumi - Sober: Exposition dump at the end kind of killed it for me. Too much information all at once. Leave a few things to mystery, you know? I think better pacing would have really made this story shine. I like the general feel of the world it is set in. I also would have liked to have seen some growth in one of the characters. I know that's somewhat hard to do in a short story, but I think you could have made a little forward progress. Still an enjoyable story overall though.



1st) FlowersisBritish - The Lilacs are Wilting
2nd) Charade - The Quiet Speaks
3rd) Ashes - The Stars Have It

HMs: Tangent and Nezumi


Irish, Nezumi, Choodi, and Flowers, thank you so much for the feedback. Black Mirror keeps on popping up... I HAVE to watch this show. And interesting, I'll play around with more time at the BBQ or setting the stage with more thought-reading in the beginning. Good ideas! Thank you!

Nez, I'm glad you liked the story and thanks for the compliment about the result in 40 minutes... it sounds like I pulled a Nez!!! :)

All: I'm working on reading stories but will be out all evening. Not sure if I will get through all of them to vote.... :(

mu cephei

All the stories were wonderful. Votes:

1. Nezumi. Loved the guy's reflections, and how the birdperson didn't understand but still was moved.
2. Mike M. This was such fun.
3. Tangent. Excellent idea done well
HM Choodi. Great setting and writing, felt like it needed to be longer.


Mike M

Routine by Irish - This was an interesting slice of the protag's life, but I felt like it didn't go anywhere. There was clearly some tension between the protag and his wife, but it was ultimately unexplored.

I Jump into Action by Dongs Macabre - I enjoyed this one. One problem though: because of your avatar, I can't help but picture the protagonist as Reverse Flash.

Living Zen by Alucard - A nice little story. I enjoyed it for what it was. My only critique is that the storm at the end didn't feel present enough. More descriptive language giving the storm a bit of character could have gone a long way.

The Massacre at Brown Bend by choodi - This was a solid story. It reminded me a bit of The Proposition, mainly due to the setting. The final sentence does read a bit odd because you refer to Trevor's head, then say the diamond ring was in his, which I assume refers to the doctor.

The Lilacs are Wilting by FlowersisBritish - This was a great story. I thought the way the main character's ails were handled very well; especially his hearing loss.

Fool of Ships by Mike M - Cute story. Great pacing. It's funny, just before I started reading, I was going to check out localhost.

The Quiet Speaks by Charade - This tackles a topic that I always thought was interesting, but it doesn't really dive into it as deeply as I would have liked. I think either longer prose, or shifting to poetry would help it a ton.

Verbal Communication 101 by Tangent - I love the premise of this piece. I also really enjoyed the idea of not being able to pick up on sarcasm and other little things that normal speakers take for granted. This story ended incredibly abrupty though. I'd like to see more.

The White Owl Smiles by LaMagenta - I enjoyed this story a lot. It feels like a fable, which is great.

The Stars Have It by Ashes - I enjoyed the sincerity of this story. It felt extremely believable.

Sober by Nezumi - I'm a fan of the world you built here, but I feel like there's a bit of an exposition dump at the end that makes the whole thing lose it's momentum.



1. Ashes - The fragmented nature of this was great. All the observations and recounting was handled really well. Though I thought the last part was maybe the weakest, but not enough to bring it down really.
2. Flowers - Really solid and emotional. Loved the way you handled recounting the memory.
3. Mike - I'm usually a sucker for dark endings, but this didn't totally work for me. Can't really put my finger on it. I think maybe I needed to know more about Prescott, since the ending was about her. But the rest was solid stuff.
HM: choodi - Really liked the setting for this one. And the story came together well.
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