Ceramic Dm (final judgement posted, New Champion announced!) - Page 48
  1. #471
    My apologies for the formatting weirdness. As you can see from the timestamp on my post, I didn't have much time to play around with it.

    Aaand, I apologize for the lack of links in the story. It should be fairly obvious where they go, but here they are, in order of appearance:

    John Chrysanthemum
    The Green Man
    Beryllian Host
    Keiko and Neko Neko
    Dr. Colossal's Handprint
    Last edited by carpedavid; Sunday, 1st August, 2004 at 06:11 PM.

  2. #472
    That's timing! I'm looking forward to reading your story, and I'm already curious where the profanity filter kicked in

  3. #473
    Quote Originally Posted by Berandor
    That's timing! I'm looking forward to reading your story, and I'm already curious where the profanity filter kicked in
    That's timing is right. Eeep! I was having a creative block this weekend, so about three quarters of the story was written after 8:00 EST this morning. I was literally writing right up to the deadline. Ugh. I'm going to go drink heavily now

  4. #474
    Quote Originally Posted by carpedavid
    That's timing is right. Eeep! I was having a creative block this weekend, so about three quarters of the story was written after 8:00 EST this morning. I was literally writing right up to the deadline. Ugh. I'm going to go drink heavily now
    Heh. I finally gave in to the story at 10 AM, which means nine hours ago, and finished it half an hour before the deadline. I hade time for a quick check of mistakes, but no rewrites. It seems we're on equal footing here

    and drinking sounds good. If only I drank alcohol. I'll resign myself to taking a bath.

  5. #475
    Well, mine are written. It is gettign tot he bittersweet end here folks....

  6. #476
    Round 3: orchid blossom vs. Rodrigo Istilandir


    By: orchid blossom

    "Bring that light closer." Shen bent over the crate and pulled up another cord. How in the world did Zhi-Nu ever keep this straight?

    "Where does that one go?" Hsin asked.

    "Dunno yet. It's bluish, so it has something to do with, um, sickness I think. Quit worrying about the cords. You're supposed to guarding. Guard."

    Jin pushed up next to Shen and slipped the cord between the blades of his scissors. "Do we get to cut it?" he asked eagerly.

    Shen shoved Jin away. "No! No red stripe, this one is supposed to recover."

    "I never get to cut the threads."

    "It's not really Zhi-Nu's job to end the lives. Just to make sure that what's supposed to happen does." Shen disentangled the blue cord and laid it neatly at the foot of the loom. "Light," he said as he turned back to the crate.

    Jin, light!

    Jin cleared his throat and pointed. Shen followed his finger toward a tall figure in the doorway.

    Nice job with the guarding, Hsin, he muttered.

    They turned and bowed to the Jade Emperor. "This is my daughter's work," he said flatly. "Why are you touching the threads?"

    The three looked at one another. "I'm waiting for my answer."

    Shen cleared his throat. "Sire, I, um, I believe your daughter was delayed. We were just, ah, getting things ready for her return."

    The Emperor's eyebrows lifted. "In the dark."

    "Yes, sire."

    "Open up that lantern. Yellowish light flooded the room as the Emperor walked over to a large mirror on the wall and passed his hand over it. His reflection shimmered and disappeared, replaced by that of his daughter.

    "Leave the work."

    "But, Sire, the lives," Shen began.

    "If my daughter is so easily distracted, she must learn the consequences of such distractions. Leave it."

    * * *

    Zhi-Nu took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around her pillow. It was getting cold in the bed. She scooted closer to the center, searching for John's warmth. Instead she found an empty space, rapidly cooling. A warm hand touched her cheek. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

    "I get lonely without you," she said.

    John laughed and kissed her forehead. "What you get is cold. I'll bring you another blanket before I leave."

    Zhi-Nu sighed and opened her eyes. "No. It's time to get up anyway. My loom is finally ready, and I'm far behind."

    "That thing is huge," John said as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "You really weave peoples lives on that?"

    "Not exactly. People's lives are their own, but the weave makes sure that certain challenges happen, and sometimes certain choices. How people deal with it is up to them."

    John learned over and kissed her again, sliding his hand down her arm. "And did you weave us into your pattern?"

    "Just a happy accident," she smiled. "You should get going, you have that test flight today, don't you?"

    "The last one. I'm confident. The plane has worked perfectly during each test, there's no reason to think that's going to change."

    "I'll be relieved when its finished, I don't quite trust airplanes," Zhi-Nu said.

    John watched as she slipped out of bed and adjusted her hair. He was getting spoiled. It hardly amazed him anymore how perfect his goddess was each morning. His eyes slipped down past her neck and over the elaborate tattoo that spanned from her shoulders to her thighs. She denied it was a tattoo, claming it had actually been painted, but he didn't know of any paint that stayed on skin like that.

    The water seemed to flow across her back as Zhi-Nu moved. He watched idly as the two women walked and waited for the man to appear behind them. John leaned forward to look closer. "Zhi-Nu, wasn't there a man in that painting, on your right side?"

    "Of course."

    "He's not there now."

    Zhi-Nu snatched up a hand mirror and ran over to the full-length mirror on the wall. "No, he's not."

    "What does it mean?" John asked.

    She put down the mirror and slipped on a robe. "That something's changed. You really should go, I think I should get to work immediately."

    "You're sure it's alright?"

    "I'm sure," Zhi-Nu smiled and kissed him. "Get out of here."

    Zhi-Nu watched him until the door closed and then went to her own work. The new loom took up almost the entire second bedroom, but it would be a pleasant enough place to work. Early morning sunlight streamed through the windows and set the wood to glowing. She sat down, nestled the shuttle in her hand, and reached up to pluck her first thread from her room in the heavens.

    The missing man on her body painting was disturbing. She flipped the shuttle to her other hand and pressed one of the pedals with her foot. In some ways the painting was a representation of her work. As long as her weaving was completed well before the events were to occur everything was fine. If things were disappearing from it, then the events in her last weaving would be occurring very soon.

    She threw the shuttle from one hand to the other, pressing the pedals and quickly forming the woven cloth of fate. Each thread went into its proper place, each challenge and trial for every human being woven into a tapestry that showed the connections between them. Speed was of the essence at the moment; there was no way to know how close to the present her last weaving was. It might have been her haste that caused the shuttle to catch on the warp and clatter to the floor.

    Zhi-Nu put her cut finger into her mouth and picked up the shuttle with her other hand. She took a look at the fabric and noticed a small hole. The shuttle clattered again as she stood and ran her hand along her work. Each thread had gone to the right place, but there was a hole in the fabric, as if that thread had ceased to exist. There was no red stripe in that thread, it should have been whole. Zhi-Nu laid her finger against the thread and read it carefully.

    Images came to her mind. A dark man, humorous and kind, and strongly associated with machines and air. A challenging flight, but even its worst outcome should not be death. John was confident about his flight, but there was a hole.

    * * *

    Zhi-Nu ran through the lobby of their apartment building and flung herself at the door. It was always busy on the street in the morning, but the crush of people in front of the building was worse even than rush hour. They spoke in hushed whispers, some bouncing on their toes trying to see over the heads in the crowd. Zhi-Nu pushed and wriggled her way to the center of the mob.

    Rectangles of ivory were scattered among huge splinters of wood and twisted wires. The bloodied body of a man lay beneath the largest pieces, his flesh lashed by the piano wires as if he'd been whipped. Zhi-Nu swallowed against the churning in her stomach. She pulled her eyes away from the man and studied the concrete. His watch had flown from his wrist and landed near the edge of the wreckage. She reached out and pulled the man's thread from the ether.

    No one else saw the slim cord stretching from the watch to the slight woman's hand. She read it quickly. He had been moving pianos for a few weeks, but this was his first time assisting with an aerial lift. This was his challenge. He had done everything right, secured each strap perfectly. There was no red stripe on his thread, only a spreading red pool, the mark of an unintended death. The image of the piano flickered in her eyes, lifting with the straps, and then falling without. Zhi-Nu released the thread.

    Her loom was upstairs. She should go back to it. The fabric she had woven this morning would look like moths had been eating it by now. Zhi-Nu stared at the door and then back down the street. She pushed her way through the crowd and hailed a cab.

    * * *

    Zhi-Nu pushed her feet against the floor as if she could make the cab go faster. She cursed the limits of her powers. At her loom she could weave challenges into the lives of mortals, but in their world she faced them. She couldn't even make this damned cab go faster.

    The private airstrip John would be flying from wasn't far outside the city, but she'd spent several hours at the loom before she'd noticed the hole. He might be in the air by now. She pulled out the cufflinks she'd snatched off his bedside table and pulled his thread through it. He was another who would do nothing wrong, this failure would be mechanical.

    The buildings had grown farther apart until they drove through green fields. In only a few more minutes they would arrive at the airstrip. She had visited there with John once. They had gone through several checks of their identification and other security measures. She didn't have time for that. Why would they listen to her anyway? It had taken her weeks to convince John of what she was. The people inside would think she was just a paranoid girlfriend.

    Zhi-Nu tapped her fingernails against the window. She hadn't really thought out what she would do once she got to the airstrip. The cab approached the viewing area where people could come to watch the planes take off and land. "Let me out here," she said, throwing the fare into the front seat. She wouldn't be able to get to the field, but she should be able to get the attention of one of the ground crew. They would recognize her, at least.

    As soon as the cab stopped she was out and running across the soft grass. Chain link fences surrounded the strip, keeping her from getting close. She scanned the field and saw a man wearing a red jacket walking along the fence. Zhi-Nu squinted. Yes, she recognized him. "Gerald!" she shouted, waving her hands above her head. "Gerald!"

    A moment later Gerald turned and waved back at her. Zhi-Nu raised her voice as loud as she could. "I need to get a message to John!"

    Gerald shook his head and pointed to the sky. "He's up there. Landing in a minute, you can tell him yourself!"

    Zhi-Nu wrapped her fingers around the chain link fence and stared at the sky. The plane was miniscule against the clouds. She prayed that she was wrong; that the hole in the tapestry was not the loss of a thread that should have been there. The plane turned and headed back toward the landing strip as Zhi-Nu again pulled his thread. At first it seemed the clouds were darkening, but as the plane came closer she could see the plumes of white smoke streaming from the back.

    She stared at the thread in her hands as the plane flipped upside down and debris from its tail flew toward the ground. Gerald ducked and covered his head just moments before the top of the plane skidded across the runway. A deep crimson spot appeared on the thread in Zhi-Nu's hands. It spread along its length as she stumbled back from the fence.

    To stop death was not within her power. "Father," she whispered. "Stop this, it is not his time."

    She watched as emergency crews rushed to the crash site, but she felt nothing. The stain continued to spread. Zhi-Nu looked toward the crash. Behind the smoke and wreckage the river sparkled. She numbly followed the fence line to the shore, fell to her knees, and leaned out over the water.

    The flowing water warped her reflection, but she could still see her red, swollen eyes and trembling lip. She waved her hand across the surface of the water and watched as the coldly Imperial face of her father replaced her own ravaged reflection. "Do not let him die, Father," she begged, "It is not his time."

    The Jade Emperor looked back at his daughter through the water. "It is not, but that is not my fault."

    "It isn't his either. Please Father, do not abandon me."

    "Why should I not? You have abandoned us," the Emperor said flatly.

    Zhi-Nu blushed. "That was not my intention. I built a new loom here, I was beginning my work anew.'

    "But too late."

    She swallowed. "Yes, too late. But is that John's fault? Should he die for my folly?"

    The Emperor waited, but Zhi-Nu offered no more excuses. "I will do this thing, but you must agree to my conditions. You will return immediately to the heavens, take up your work, and you will no longer see this mortal."

    She shook her head. "No Father, please."

    The Jade Emperor looked at his daughter's tear stained face. True, she had been foolish, but he could still remember love. "I will grant you one day a year, but the other conditions stand. Accept them or not."

    Zhi-Nu nodded. "I accept, but I ask one more thing. I wish to say good-bye to John, and to explain."

    "I will bring him to you, but you have only a few minutes daughter."

    "I understand." Zhi-Nu backed a few steps away from the shore. A moment later a creature rose from the water. It reached the shore and began to rearrange itself. Its large flat head shrank and warped as the complex skeleton beneath took on a human shape. Finally the muscles and skin formed and the eyes opened.

    John looked down at his body, and then over toward the burning plane where rescuers still worked to pull his real self from the wreckage.

    Zhi-Nu leaned forward and took him in her arms. "Listen to me love, we don't have much time."

    * * *

    The sun streamed across Zhi-Nu's loom as she passed the shuttle from hand to hand. One hundred passes a minute, sunrise to sunset, day to day, week to week. Minutes were measured by the creaking of pedals and the weaving of threads, and days by the yard. Hundreds of yards had passed through her loom, but hundreds more had yet to be woven before they measured a year.

    Zhi-Nu passed the shuttle, pushed the pedals, and wove.

    * post roll count doesn't match database

  7. #477

    Ceramic DM - Round 3 - Rodrigo Istalindir

    "Life Imitates Art"

    Katsumi sighed and slammed the fallboard of the piano closed. The missed note still reverberated in her ears, mocking her. No one else in the room had paid any attention to her mistake; it was a practice room, after all. The clatter from her outburst, however, brought the room to a stunned standstill. Silence reigned for an interminable moment, and her face flushed in embarrassment as she imagined everyone staring at her. Eyes downcast, she pushed back the bench and hurried from the room. Only after she’d passed into the hallway did the sounds of various instruments resume.

    “Hey, Kat, wait up,” a voice called from behind her.

    Kat didn’t break stride. David LaMont was a musical genius, equally home playing Scarlatti’s Sonata Grave or Satriani’s Cryin’. The last thing she needed right now was sympathy from that perfect little twerp, even if he was her sort-of boyfriend. They’d dated a few times, nothing serious, but the potential was there. Kat’s obsession with music discouraged most men, but David was just as passionate about playing the guitar. It was nice to be able to tell someone that you hadn’t answered the phone when they called because you were practicing, and have them understand completely.

    Her anger and frustration fading, she relented and stopped at the top of the stairs. She turned and watched David running down the hall towards her.

    “Jesus, Kat, you nearly gave half the people in the room a heart attack.” David said. “It sounded like a gunshot.”

    “Sorry. I was just pissed that I still haven’t got that movement right. It’s only two weeks until finals, and a week after that is the national competition.”

    “I was listening. You played it perfectly seven times in a row. It’s no wonder you finally made a mistake – your fingers had to be ready to fall off.” David countered.

    “They may as well fall off if they aren’t going to do what I tell them too.” Kat replied.

    The pair descended the wide stone steps that led from the concert hall. The sun was shining brightly, and the quad was filled with college students enjoying the weather, studiously ignoring the fact that exams were imminent.

    “So, are you coming over tonight?” David asked.

    Kat hesitated. She knew she should come back and practice some more, but David had been bugging her all week to have dinner with him. He was probably a gourmet cook, too, she thought.

    She knew she was being unfair. David wasn’t one of those people who rubbed your nose in their accomplishments, and he worked hard to make the things he did look easy.

    “Sure,” she said. “What time?”

    “How about 6? We can listen to the new ‘Pessimists’ album while dinner cooks.”

    “Sounds good. Can I bring anything?” she asked.

    Kat looked around David’s apartment. It was obvious where his interests lie. Second-hand bookcases groaned under the weight of hundreds of CD’s, and an expensive stereo system sat upon a desk that looked to have been scavenged from a junkyard.

    The pair sat on the ratty sofa in David’s apartment. Dinner had been delicious. David had prepared traditional Japanese cuisine, and Kat had been surprised by the gesture. She felt him hesitantly put his arm around her, and she relaxed into his embrace. The afternoon’s frustrations melted, her worries over the upcoming competition banished.

    A new CD started, a piano concerto, but she barely noticed. She turned slightly, and saw David gazing at her. He lowered his mouth towards hers, and they kissed, tenderly at first, but with a passion that echoed the rising tempo of the music. For several minutes they remained entwined, each caressing the other.

    Kat felt David’s fingers fumbling with the fastenings on her blouse, and her body stiffened for a moment. For a moment, she considered stopping him, but her ardor was as great as his, and she relented. One by one, the sea shell buttons came undone, and she felt the cool air on her bare shoulders as her shirt fell open. She tensed again, knowing what would come next.

    David gasped, and Kat prepared herself for a repeat of the scene that always played out in such circumstances. But in place of the awkwardness she usually sensed, David’s voice seemed curious.

    “Wow, Kat”

    David gazed upon Katsumi’s half-naked body. From just below the hollow of her throat, extending down past her tiny breasts and disappearing underneath her jeans, an amazing panorama decorated her skin. (Picture #3) The flickering candlelight made the tattoos dance and writhe.

    “You don’t think they’re ugly?” she whispered.

    “I think they’re beautiful. I think you’re beautiful.”

    David’s gaze met hers and she blushed. Standing, he took her hand in his. She rose and let him lead her into the bedroom.

    Hours later, the exhausted couple lay in bed. Kat lay with her back to David, and in the moonlight his fingers traced the figures that adorned her body. Images of animals appeared next to human faces. Kanji lettering mixed with English. Here and there, unknown symbols were also visible.

    “Are the man and woman your parents?” he enquired, referring to the largest of the images that graced her smooth skin.


    “Did they ever see it”

    “No, they would have freaked I had to hide it from them.”

    David knew little of Katsumi’s parents. He knew they had died the summer before she came to the university, but she rarely spoke of them.

    “How do you decide what to have done?” he asked.

    “I draw the pictures myself. They’re mostly to remembrances, of important people or times in my life. Some of them are supposed to be magic symbols, or incantations. I usually get a new one before a major performance, for good luck.”

    “Maybe one day you’ll get one that says ‘David’.

    Kat rolled over and kissed him.

    “I hope not,” she said, kissing him to forestall the inevitable question.

    That Friday, Kat approached the auditorium. Final exams for the Advanced Classical Piano class were today, and she was nervous. She was still having trouble with the same part of her composition, and she couldn’t afford to make a mistake. An ‘A’ on the exam wouldn’t be good enough; she needed to finish first in the class. A ‘first’ here would get earn an automatic invitation to the national competition. Win there and every concert hall in the country would be begging her to play. Her future as a renowned artist would be guaranteed.

    She entered the auditorium and sat in the back, away from the rest of her class. The order of performance had been decided randomly, and she was set to play near the end. She closed her eyes and listened as student after student played the piano set at the center of the stage. She smiled to herself every time she heard a mistake or hesitation.

    Scattered applause marked the conclusion of another student’s performance, and Kat sat up, paying attention now as Samantha Lewis ascended the stage. Here was the one person that could seriously challenge her, and she absently rubbed the still-sore spot on her hip as Samantha began to play.

    For several minutes, musical perfection issued forth from the stage. A knot formed in Kat’s stomach. She closed her eyes again, and chanted ‘Mistake!’ under her breath.

    A jarring note broke the flowing melody, and Kat’s eyes snapped open. On the stage, Samantha looked unperturbed, but Kat’s trained gaze caught the tension in her neck and shoulders as she continued the piece. Kat’s silent mantra continued, but Samantha finished the performance without making another mistake. Kat hoped it would be enough.

    Several performers later, and it was Kat’s turn. She walked to the front of the auditorium and sat in front of the piano. Taking a deep breath, she launched into the piece she had been practicing for weeks. All was perfect, her fingers dancing over the keys, and then disaster struck. It was the same movement that had been troubling her, the one she had performed flawlessly while warming up, and once again her fingers betrayed her. It was a slight mistake, less serious than the one made by Samantha earlier, but it was not the flawless performance she wanted. She continued to the end, then stood and walked back to her seat.

    When the last performer had completed their piece, the judges gathered at the front of the auditorium. For several minutes that spoke in hushed tones. Finally, the head of the music department broke from the group.

    Knocking on the stage, he waited until he had the class’s attention.

    “Such wonderful performances, all of you. You have performed beautifully, and we are proud to have such fine students at this university.”

    “Grades will be posted in the morning, but I’m sure you all want to know which among you finished first. It was a very close competition, but the judges concurred that while both Samantha and Katsumi were technically equally good, Samantha’s original composition showed more originality and passion. Accordingly, we are awarding Samantha first place, with Katsumi as alternate.”

    Kat’s heart stopped. All the work, the hours of practice, and then to lose not because of her technical skills, but because of the personal bias of the judges. How could they do this to her. Stifling a sob, she stood and hurried from the auditorium.

    After classes the following Monday, Kat walked to the bus stop and waited for the #14 bus that went downtown. When it arrived, she hurried aboard and sat far in the back, away from the few other riders. The ride was long but uneventful, and Kat got off at a stop in the heart of the city.

    Although the locals called it ‘Chinatown’ like they did in most big cities, the denizens of this district represented almost every Oriental culture. The buildings were built closely together, with retail shops and restaurants on the ground floors. Above were tiny apartments, often with two or more families crammed together.

    Kat walked quickly down the street, and turned into a narrow lane between a tea room and a shop selling traditional medicines. At the end of the dark alley stood a green door, the lettering barely visible beneath the dirt. Kat knocked once and waited.

    After nearly a minute, the door opened, and a wizened Japanese man peered up at her. He nodded, and let her in.

    The two made their way down an unlit hallway, and through a beaded doorway. A thick cloud of incense hung in the air, but Kat, used to it, was unaffected save for a slight stinging sensation in her eyes. She made her way to the battered dentist’s chair and sat.

    “What do you wish this time?” the old man asked in Japanese.

    Without a word, Kat opened her backpack and withdrew a sheet of paper. On it was a pencil sketch, human hands wreathed in stylized flames. Below were several Kanji symbols.

    The man took the sketch and pinned it to the wall next to the chair.


    Still silent, Kat hiked up her skirt and pointed to a spot high on her left hip. The man nodded and began preparing the needles and inks. Kat closed her eyes and waited for the pain. Every time she hoped that she would have become used to it, but each new tattoo seemed to hurt worse than the last.

    The next day, Kat watched from a distance as Samantha Lewis left her dorm and headed for her next class. Kat followed discreetly as Samantha crossed the campus and entered Anderson Hall, the building where most of the art classes were taught. Kat waited for several minutes, and then she too entered. She walked down the hall, stopping outside the workroom where the ceramic and glass-making classes were taught. Pressing her ear to the door, she heard Samantha laughing and telling her classmates about the upcoming competition. Kat felt her hip flair in pain, and it seemed for a moment as if her new tattoo had come to fiery life.

    Inside the room, there was a sudden crash as a large piece of glass smashed upon the floor.

    “Sam, are you okay?” a voice called out.

    There was no response, but a moment later there was a larger crash. Kat peered cautiously through the small window set in the door. Across the room, she saw Samantha standing in front of an overturned table, shards of stained glass scattered everywhere. Around her, the other students stared in shock.

    Kat watched as Samantha overturned another table, colorful panes of glass shattering like flowery grenades. A girl reached out to grab Sam’s shoulder, but Sam just shook loose. She looked up, and for a second seemed to stare directly at Kat’s face framed in the window.

    With a sob, Samantha broke through the throng crowding around here, and rushed to the back of the room where the glass furnace stood.

    With an anguished cry, Samantha thrust her hands into the molten glass. (Picture #2) A split-second too late, the instructor grabbed her and pulled her away from the inferno. Screams erupted from the other students as the teacher hurried the mutilated girl to the sink and thrust her burning hands beneath the water.

    “It’s just so.. so.. horrible.” Kat said.

    She sat on David’s couch while he cooked dinner. Like everyone else on campus, all they could talk about was the terrible incident that had occurred in the arts and crafts building.

    “I know.” David said. “Such a waste. She wasn’t anywhere near your caliber, but she was still a gifted musician. I can’t begin to understand how she could do that. I’d rather die than not be able to play the guitar any more.”

    “Me, too,” Kat replied. “But you know the pressure we all operate under. Maybe the thought of having to compete in the Nationals was the straw the broke the camel’s back. Maybe she couldn’t take it and just snapped.”

    “That’s the only thing that makes any sense. Still, you’d think she could just walk away from it.”

    “We’ll probably never know for sure. But I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It will be hard enough taking her place. I don’t want to be see her burned hands in my head every time I close my eyes.”

    David kissed her on the forehead as he placed the dinner plates on the coffee table.

    “Don’t worry, sweetheart. You’re so single-minded when you play, you’ll never even think about it.”

    David lay on his side, awake despite being exhausted. Beside him, Kat slept fitfully, muttering in Japanese. The sheets lay crumpled between them, and David traced the tattoos that decorated her body. He was worried about her. Kat always seemed to have everything under control, but he knew what a roller-coaster she’d been on recently.

    His finger followed the portrait of her parents. The figures were surrounded by an intricate wreath that he suddenly realized was a series of stylized waves. They were the color often referred to as ‘sea foam’, and they rippled as the muscles beneath them expanded with Kat’s slow breathing. At the bottom were Japanese letters, presumably the names of her parents.

    He’d poked around on the Internet, and found an old newspaper article in the International Herald Tribune about a ferry that had sunk between Kobe and Takamatsu. All on board had been lost, including Kat’s parents. He assumed she must have been away at a competition or something. Survivor’s guilt was pretty common, and what little she’d said about them led him to believe that they hadn’t gotten along well. Maybe that was why she drove herself so relentlessly.

    Kat tossed in her sleep, rolling away from him. Moonlight splayed through a gap in the ragged shades that covered the window, illuminating her bare bottom. David stared, then blushed and started to avert his eyes. As he looked away, a bright patch of skin caught his eye. He looked at the crimson drawing on her hip.

    It appeared to be flames, and he looked closer. With a chill, he realized that those were hands enshrouded in the flames. Creepy, he thought, and he wondered when she’d gotten that particular image. He hadn’t noticed it before, and he’d thought he’d seen every square inch of her in the past couple of weeks.

    “Oh no!” Kat cried out. “Not him. Anybody but him.”

    “What’s the matter, Kat?” David asked. The national competition was only days away, and Kat had been increasingly agitated. He’d come over to her apartment that afternoon, hoping that she’d give up her constant worrying long enough to take in a movie.

    “It’s the list of judges for the competition. They made an addition at the last minute. Here, read this.” She thrust the ‘Arts’ section of the newspaper towards him.

    David read the article and then looked at her.

    “So what’s the big deal. Dominic Patrovanni is a world-famous pianist. It’s an amazing opportunity for you. Plus, he’s donating the use of his personal piano. How many people get to play on an authentic, hundred-year-old Bosendorfer?”

    “Patrovanni’s a bigot.” Kat replied. “There was an interview with him a couple years ago. He went on and on about how only Europeans had any real appreciation or talent for classical music.”

    “He also refuses to take any students that aren’t white and male. I can’t believe they expect this pig to be an objective judge.”

    “I’m sure it will be fine. He can’t be that bad. Besides, he’s only one of the judges.” David countered. “If he tries anything that outrageous, they’ll slap him down.”

    “Hardly. They’re so enraptured at the thought of being in the same room as the great Patrovanni that they’ll bend over backwards to accommodate him. They’d never have the guts to disagree.” Kat said.

    Kat stood and grabbed the newspaper back from David. She crumpled it into a small ball and threw it across the room at the garbage can. It missed and bounced under her desk.

    David stood up and walked over to where the balled-up newspaper lay on the ground. He retrieved it and dumped it into the wastebasket. His attention was caught by a number of pencil sketches pinned to the wall.

    “These are amazing. You are so talented. You could have been as good an artist as you are a pianist.”

    David’s gaze wandered over the pictures. There were drawings of animals so lifelike he expected them to jump from the paper. He saw one drawing of the university auditorium, and another of St. Elizabeth’s cathedral. Some must have been from her hometown in Japan, judging by the architecture. There was even one of him, a stunning portrait of him playing the guitar, a look of intense concentration mixed with sheer joy on his face.

    “Ick! What’s this?” he asked, pointing to a rendering of some horrific creature. It was like something out of a monster movie, all sharp teeth and slimy tentacles.

    “That’s nothing. Just something from a nightmare I have every once in a while, when I get really stressed. I thought maybe putting it on paper would get it out of my head.” Kat said.

    Kat pulled the picture from the wall and crumpled it like she had the newspaper.

    ”Let’s go to the late show instead. I want to get another hour of practice in.”

    “What about food? You have to eat.” David asked.

    “We’ll go to that Thai place next to the theater. I’ll meet you there at 7:30. That’ll give us time to eat before the movie.”

    “Ok, that sounds like a plan. But only one hour of practice. Promise me.” David said as he opened the door.

    “One hour, I promise.”

    Kat closed the door behind him, then hurried to her desk. She drew a fresh piece of paper from the stack, and spent the next 20 minutes drawing. When she was satisfied with that she had created, she folded the paper and put it in her purse. She checked the bus schedule pinned to the wall, then hurried from the apartment.

    Kat returned to her apartment alone after the movie. David had wanted to come up, but she’d pulled the ‘I have a headache’ bit and told him she’d see him tomorrow. She went into the bathroom and removed her shirt.

    A bandage covered a patch below her belly button. I’m running out of skin, she thought. Any lower and that old man will probably have a heart attack.

    She gently peeled the bandage back to reveal a fresh tattoo. A bird, wings spread wide, but with several feathers falling from its tail. Lettering encircled the figure. Satisfied, she replaced the bandage. She finished undressing and climbed into bed, but sleep was a long time coming.

    The next morning, she awoke and rushed to turn on the television. Charlie Gibson was interviewing some stupid actor. She looked at the clock, and remembered that they only did ‘real’ news on the half-hour. She went into the kitchen and fixed a bowl of cereal, and then sat down to wait for the news.

    The lead story was about the Middle East, as usual, but her heart started racing when a graphic of an airplane appeared over the news anchor’s shoulder.

    “In other news this morning, 37 people, including virtuoso pianist Dominic Patrovanni, were killed when American Eagle Flight #73 crashed on take-off last night. NTSB investigators are on the scene at JFK airport in New York, but have not made a determination as yet, although they are ruling out terrorism as a cause of the crash. Surveillance video cameras captured the accident. It appears as if the tail structure of the aircraft broke away as it took off, resulting in immediate and catastrophic loss of control.”

    A knock at the door startled her. Eyes glued to the screen, she opened the door.

    “Kat, turn on the news. You won’t believe it.” David’s voice was agitated.

    “Yeah, I just saw. I wonder if they’re going to postpone the competition?” Kat said.

    “That’s pretty cold, Kat. I know you didn’t like the guy, but you had to appreciate his music. “

    “I feel sorry for the other people on the plane, but not him.”

    David stared at her.

    “I’m going to take a shower. If the phone rings, answer it. It may be the competition committee.” Kat went into the bathroom and closed the door.

    Still aghast at her callous reaction, David sat on the sofa. The phone rang, and he picked up the handset.

    “Hello?” he said.

    “May I speak to Ms. Ito, please?” said the voice on the other end.

    “I’m sorry, she can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message for her?” David replied.

    “If you would, please. My name is Angela Dubios. I’m one of the judges for the classical piano competition. Could you please tell Ms. Ito that the competition will go on Saturday as scheduled. The committee felt that it’s what Mr. Patrovanni would have wanted. Also, we felt it would be a hardship for all the performers to have to reschedule at this late date. Please have her call me at 555-0219 if she has any questions.”

    “I’ll be sure to give her the message. Thank you.” David said, and hung up the phone. David grabbed a pencil from the table, but didn’t anything to write on. Looking around, he saw a piece of paper sticking out of Kat’s purse.

    David pulled the paper free. He started to write when he realized it was a folded-up sketch. He opened it, not wanting to ruin one of Kat’s drawings.

    He looked at the picture of the eagle, it’s tail feathers fluttering. Odd, he thought, and was about to look for something else to write on when he heard the newscaster repeat the words “American Eagle”. He looked at the screen, where they were showing the video of the plane crash again, and then back at the sketch. (Picture #1)

    He was still staring at the drawing when he heard the bathroom door open. He looked up. Kat stood across the room, towel covering her wet body. She looked at the paper in his hands, horrified. David stared back, unable to believe what he was thinking.

    He lunged across the room and yanked the towel from her. She stood their naked as he gazed at the fresh eagle tattoo, the original still clutched in his hand.

    “The eagle. The burning hands. Jesus, the water around the tattoo of your parents? What the hell is did you do?”

    Kat shook herself from her daze and grabbed the towel back from David and covered herself.

    “Come on, David. They’re just pictures. You can’t believe I had anything to do with a plane crash, can you?”

    “What about Samantha? Was that an accident too”

    “What else could it be? A roomful of people saw her shove her hands in the furnace. I wasn’t even in the room. How could I be responsible for that?”

    “I don’t know. You can’t be. But it can’t all be a coincidence. What about your other tattoos? Are they all like this? Some twisted make-a-wish fantasy?”

    David stood and walked to the door.

    “David, don’t go. Don’t leave. It’s not what you think. It’s just the way I deal with things. I got the burning hands tattoo the day after Samantha’s accident.”

    “What about the eagle?”

    “I was up all night, I couldn’t sleep. I saw the news about the plane crash on CNN in the middle of the night. The guy that does my ink is open at weird hours.” The excuses sounded hollow even to Kat.

    “And what about the one of your parents?”

    “I got that after they died, as a way to remember them. That’s all, the waves were just my own sick way of dealing with the accident.”

    “The first night we were together, you told me you had it before they died, that you had to hide it from them. “

    “I meant I would have had to hide it from them.” Kat stammered. “I swear, I got it after they died.”

    David looked at her, and she looked away. He shook his head and walked out the door, shutting it quietly behind him.

    Kat collaped on the sofa, sobbing loudly. For an hour, she didn’t move, until finally her tears ran dry. Numb, she walked into the bedroom and dressed. She returned to the living room and sat at the desk. She pulled a sheet of paper from the stack, and began drawing.

    That afternoon, she called David on the phone. She let it ring a dozen times, but there was no answer. She remembered that David had Caller-ID, and could picture him looking at the display, waiting for her to hang up.

    She hung up, and immediately re-dialed his number. This time, the answering machine kicked on.

    “David, please. I’m so sorry. I can’t explain why I did these things, or how. But I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just wanted to be the best. That’s all I ever wanted, ever since I was a little girl. Everything I’ve done has been because of that.”

    “I’m sorry, David. But I promise, I promise, it will never happen again. I love you, David. I’m sorry. Good bye.”

    David played the message back for the fifth time. The way her voice sounded worried him. It sounded like the voice of someone who was already dead. He called her back, but got no answer.

    He rushed from the apartment, and sprinted the six blocks that separated his place from hers. Taking the stairs two at a time, he charged up to her door and started pounding on it.

    “Come on, Kat, open the door. Let’s talk about this.”

    The door across the hall from Kat’s opened, and a stoned-looking college student poked his head out.

    “I don’t think she’s home, dude. She left a half-hour ago. Said something about one last session with the piano.”

    David thanked him and started back down the stairs. She must be at the auditorium, he reasoned. He hurried downstairs and took off towards campus. He and Kat had both taken apartments close to the auditorium, and he was grateful he’d not have to cross the entire campus to get there.

    As David approached the hall, he saw that a large crowd had gathered. A ribbon of yellow tape kept the crowd off the grass and on the sidewalk in front. A large crane was slowly hoisting a piano skyward. One of the large windows that lined the practice room had been removed, and David realized that it must be easier to lift the heavy equipment in than try to maneuver it up the spiral staircase that led to the room.

    The wind had picked up, and the piano swung alarmingly. David approached as closely as he could, and he heard the workmen discussing whether or not to put the instrument down and try again later.

    He caught a disturbance out of the corner of his eye, and his heart froze as he saw Kat breaking through the cordon.

    “Kat! No, get out of there!” he shouted.

    Kat didn’t seem to hear him. She ran until she was directly under the dangling piano, oblivious to the shouted warnings of the workmen as well.

    Adrenaline pounding, David pushed to the front of the crowd and ducked under the tape.

    “Hey, buddy, get back here” yelled the foreman.

    A snapping sound echoed above him, and David could see the wire split. With a burst of speed, he reached Kat and shoved her as hard as he could. She flew off of her feet and landed several feet away, the breath knocked out of her. David stumbled and fell to his knees.

    The sound of the wire breaking was accompanied by the screams of the crows, and David only had time to realize that Kat was safe before the plummeting piano crushed him. (Picture #4)

    Kat opened the door to her apartment. She was exhausted. It had been almost 24 hours since she’d slept, and she’d spent every minute since David had been killed answering questions, first with the police, and then at the hospital with a shrink. Somehow she’d managed to convince them that she’d just gone to see the new piano, and hadn’t heard the warnings, that she hadn’t meant for anyone to get hurt.

    Numb, she went into the bathroom and undressed. She stared into the mirror, gazing at the rough tattoo she’d carved onto her chest after David had left. It was raw and bloody, but it was obviously a crude piano, encircled by a piece of rope tattered at one end.

    Crying silently, she got dressed again and left the bathroom. She turned on the desk lamp and sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper. She couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t think of any fate terrible enough for what she’d done. She looked at the wall behind the desk, a sob escaping as she saw the picture of David she’d drawn. Then her eyes were drawn to the blank spot next to it, and she knew what she was going to do.

    Kat rummaged through the garbage can, looking for the sketch she had thrown away until at last she found the crumpled paper. She unfolded it and smoothed it on the surface of the desk. It was the picture of the monster that haunted her nightmares, the tentacle-shrouded horror that had been her constant companion since the death of her parents. She re-folded it carefully and placed it in her pocket. She pulled her bus pass from her pocketbook, and headed downstairs.

    That night, Kat lay in bed. Her sketch of David lay on the pillow beside her head. All the lights in the apartment were out, but the dim glow of the streetlights turned the bedroom into a forest of shadows. Heart pounding as if it were about to burst from her chest, she closed her eyes and waited.

    A wet, slithering sound, like seaweed dragged across a sandy beach, came from the living room. She gasped and her eyes flew open. A putrid stench invaded the room, dead fish drenched in rotten eggs. How her soul would smell, she thought. The shadows at the foot of the bed slowly solidified, and Kat screamed as the creature enveloped her. (Picture #5)

  8. #478
    I just noticed I haven't copied my comments on the earlier stories, so here goes:

    Well, carpedavid, I'm home from work now, (even though I am still a little dizzy from my win, but that's probably to your advantage ) and I will comment on your story. BSF is next, don't fear

    But first, I want to whole-heartedly agree with Sialia that the judgements were to harsh (j/k, I think it's better to be held to a high standard than being cut too much slack. Nevertheless, I'm glad Clay didn't go all-out, as well.)
    But I really want to agree with you with regards to storytelling structure and so on. I think, when all is done, a story either works, or doesn't work. Perhaps some ways of telling a story are more promising, or easy (ha!), but in the end, even a story that follows every imaginable rule to the T can fail abysmally.
    I think it is also a matter of taste. FOr example, I like the movie "the usual suspects", and I am willing to let it lead me by the nose, because it is well done. The same goes for "Memento", or Macbeth's story. I'm not really annoyed at all the mystery, I am enjoying being told in the speed of the story, because I can feel the story moving onworad to that point of resolution. When I enjoy the ideas in the story, the writing, the rhythm, and the twist, does simply telling it backwards make it a bad story? I don't think so.

    But then, I don't want to have the judges' responsibility.

    Another way to look at the judgements would also be that this round simply was very close, so they really threw themselves into finding small mistakes and chips in their armor, in order to find a winner?

    Oh, well, I'd be glad if my pics next round wouldn't resemble Greywolf's this round, so I'd better should up and turn to

    Carpedavid, a.k.a. he who swept off Piratecat:
    First off, you really managed to keep in character of writing a letter. It is very difficult (for me, at least) to constantly keep that image up, writing in short remarks, and so on.

    I liked that story a lot, but not as much as I would have wanted to. I wanted to love it that much that I'd never read another Ceramic DM story, ever, because I love the genre you were writing in, whilst being wholly incapable of delivering such a story myself. Still, it is a very, very good entry.

    What I loved were the subtle setting comments, like referring to the new canal, or commenting on the recent find of Machu Pichu. A great way to set your story without boring exposition (as I had in my story).

    What I found a little lacking was the final shocker. I loved the clones, the bad weather, the bird-men, but I felt that final hammer blow should really drive the nail into your skull, not merely flatten the head. I don't know, perhaps you could have the head be animated, laugh loudly/madly, makes the writer hold his ears in pain, etc.? I don't know, I was really expecting a climactic finish, whereas now it ended... not bad, mind you, but "merely" well. Still a disturbing image, to be sure.

    The pics (it had to come):
    It begins with the face. It's a great use, to be sure, but perhaps you should have waited with the link for the final sentence? That way, the reader would see it simultaneously with the final revelation? That could have also given the ending the final push over the edge for me; I don't know.

    Next, we have the kite man. It's a nice tie-in with the mythical part of your story, a man flying a bird-kite to honor the alien benefactors. But it's not a great use, either.
    Now we get to the imo most problematic use, topofthemorning. It's only problematic because I don't know whether the judges will let the modern/ancient city disparity slide; the skyscrapers fit because of the alien origin of the bird-men, but it's still a risk (a risk that Macbeth took with the meat-float, btw.). Also, the dangling man seems to me to be a little too high above ground for a willing descent. But I've got the tendency (I find) to use pics quite literally.

    Now come the simulacra, and I really liked that part of the story, even without a pic

    So they carry the burning hut over a river. I think this was a very cool use of the picture; even though it isn't that necessary for the story (but having five or more pics in a story that all depict necessary things in a story you constrcut around these pics, not ther other way round is, I think, at least extremely difficult). So I like it.

    We end with "cold", and to be honest, I hadn't even noticed that damn dinosaur skeleton in the pic before you used it. What's that supposed to do there? And it's not really flying, or anything, it's as if the pics were simply mixed together. Anyway, a good use to me.

    Finally, I just don't understand the author writing to his friend. I mean, it does make some sort of sense, in the end, but all the way through the story I asked myself, "why couldn't he have written to someone else?"

    Humoring me, perhaps adding that Charles had asked for Arthur's report, because he couldn't remember anything, and Arthur beginning with "I'm sorry that I put off your request for so long, dear friend" or something like that. Perhaps not. I might be wrong (it happens)

    Anyway, thanks for the story, and BSF, here I come!
    (BSF said that considering where I live, he was curious as to my comments)
    What does living in an apartment have to do with it?

    So, I read the story, and I have to say one thing up front against the readability of message board posts. Because you have to put a break between every paragraph, switchting to a different place/time between paragraphs doesn't work so well. Case in point:
    Quote Originally Posted by BSF
    Stone splinters shot in every direction and the shadow screeched before fading away in the sunlight.

    The crew of the Skidbladnir was nice enough.
    I really tend to read onward as if no line break had happened, and after reading the first one/two sentences, my mind cathced up to the fact that something isn't right

    Anyway, to the story. I liked it, but I feel it could have been a lot better. You said you really felt the time pressure, and I think it shows. At the beginning, you sometimes fall back on telling instead of showing (like I can honestly reprimand you for it, yet still I do ):
    ...his pride would not let him get rid of his burden
    His pride would demand nothing less than acceptance of this job.
    Why not simply "he would not get rid of the burden and fail." or "This was the chance he'd been waiting for, the chance to show that he was the best, once and for all"?

    Also, some things feel rushed, like the appearance of the dracolich:
    Quote Originally Posted by right in the middle of a paragraph
    It was moments later when something dark, and evil, swooped down out of the night. It was a skeletal dragon and Jack found himself thinking the name Fafnir.
    "It was a skeletal dragon..." seems so matter-of-factly. I think you should either let the reader in on the mundanity of skeletal dragons for Jack Lopt, or you should heighten the tension a little more. As I said, I think this is the time constarint showing.

    I liked the idea of the story, that the norse gods still walked among us; if they did, Loki would surely be like Jack Lopt Stealing Mimir was a cool idea for that pic, I mean I would be worried about my undead slaves playing soccer with the head, too. I really liked the mytholodical nudges, even though I am sure I didn't get them all (not being *that* familiar with norse mythology - but hey, I saw Valhalla).

    What I also somewhat missed was the realization of Loki as to what/who he is. Hel greets him as "cousin", but it doesn't seem like he's confused/worried by it. The quick ending is fine, I think, especially in a competition like this one.

    The pics:
    We begin with the one I also thought was used before, even though it wasn't, the Survivors hanging on their whatever-it-is-called. It's interesting that both of you burnt the contraption and not had the fire signaling something, even though burning a phylactery and burning a wounded man is somewhat different. I like the picture use, but as with carpedavid, I think it could have been improved by using it at the end, when the reader knows what's in the float.

    The skyscraper pic was well-used, though I would have liked for it to be drawn out a little more, winds tearing at Jack, the glass-cutter trembling in his fingers, etc. Of course, that's armchair directing, so I thought it was used alright. (btw, I had to preview my story three fricking times because damn word messed up the links. Until I'd found out what had happened, I was pulling my hair out.)

    The face is, I think, your strongest pic. It is used very, very well, and of course it is central to the whole story. And finally, it talks! Btw, that pic is really, really strange! Is that Sialia's?

    The kite. I liked it, especially since it tied in with the necromancer and the dracolich later on. First a little shadow, then a big scary lizard

    I've already mentioned the dracolich above, and commented on the pic in carpedavid's turn. Is that pic from Sialia? Anyway, the dracolich is a very important part of your story, the final hurdle before Loki gets back "home" (as much as he regards it as his home, anyway), and so the pic is used efficiently. It's not as strong as the face, but that's a hard nut to crack, anyway

    Overall, I liked your story, and I really like the idea, but I think with a few hours or even a few days more, this could have been much better even. Anyway, thanks for it, I enjoyed it despite all my previous criticism.
    Well, third try for posting commentary (and now I'm tired, it's midnight, and I really should start cooking for tomorrow)...

    Graywolf ELM, Chaos Gates:
    First off, I like the narrative voice you use. At first, I was a little concerned that it would detach me too much from Will Hurt, but I think in the end that was a good choice. However, I'm not sure wether including doubts and thoughts from Hurt into that voice was correct from a purely structural standpoint.

    Anyway, I like the story, and I adore the final sentence, but I kind of wish this "balance" would have been hinted at before, somehow. Also, the fish eating chaos was a little too simple for me, because all I ever got to know was that it ate chaos. How does chaos look like? What does it look like when chaos is eaten?

    The pics. Oh, the pics. I'm going to "judge" them normally, but rest assured that I am totally on your side with these pics. They were pure, unadulterated evil, and I congratulate both of you for coming up with a story as fine as yours. Kudos!

    Eyes for you: I really like this one, the self-referential humor of it. Funny that both of you mention the fact that the eye-man puts the eyeball into his mouth first before putting it back into the socket. You're clean persons, it seems.

    nightridermya$$: This pic was difficult to use (ha! Which wasn't?), and I am afraid your use is quite run-of-the-mill. It's a car with rocket launchers. But as I said, how else to use it?

    gnomeansland: I am a little hesitant with this one, mainly because you don't reall decribe the scene from the picture, but don't refer to it explicitly, as well. Also, this picture, while introducing us to "order-speak", could have been left out of the story without much trouble, I think.

    "Bear Spider": Well, it's one of the most freakish things I think could be included in a Ceramic story, especially if it's the same story as that car, and the eyeballs, and... you get the idea. The encounter with the bears was not very tense, it was more a molehill than a mountain for our hero. Still, these creatures gave a good idea of what would happen when chaos reigned.

    Inhand: This pic was sort of the main catalyst for the ending. I liked the use, but would have liked a little more exposition on the creature (as I said above).

    A good story, which, considering the pics, deserves a freaking medal.

    Sialia, Inhands.jpg:
    O.K., I must say before reading Graywolf's story, I could not decipher what that pic was. Then I saw the hand, and wow! That pic is absolutely fantastic! The safe gesture of holding it in one's open hand, and then the lethality behind it (a fish out of water) comes in, and the colors - wow! I would like to have a print of it hanging on my wall. I'd even pay for it That pic is wonderful and has sparked my imagination since I noticed what it was (12 hours ago).

    The "flower-girl-beast-pic": I like that one. The underlying danger, the innocence of the girl. What is she doing holding flowers out to such a monstrous creature? I can only imagine her parents either watching in shock or waiting for the monster to go on and eat its sacrifice (being the girl)

    RPGGirl, the touch of a fairie:
    A classical morality play, "be careful what you wish for" style, with a twist. I love the fairie! The ending was good, but a little to open for my taste. I wasn't sure if you'd purposely left unclear wether Dale had been liked or not; it could have been real or just the things you say at a funeral. Also, where did Tom come from? I thought he was straw fodder?

    You use your pics very well, I think. Beginning with the Wicker Man, you really use these pics that hinted at a mythical story and put them into real-world terms. The wicker man is one of the strongest uses, I think, because it features in the whole tale, and is used so well.

    The fairy and her pet was equally well, even if I don't know whether fairies without wings riding mammoth's was some sort of permeating myth As I said, I loved the character of the fairy, and consider it yoink!ed.

    The spearmen was well prepared at the beginning of the story, and tying nicely into the end of it, but I thought Dale having a "vision" of that scene to be a little far-fetched somehow. I think it might have been used differently, perhaps by having Dale dream it in the night before?

    The burning car and jumping man was a little weak, mainly because the man is clearly not undressing, and there's no one trying to catch him in the pic. Also, I found the exposition-while-chasing somewhat confusing. They were really talking in normal sentences, all the while Dale trying to evade the cyclist?

    The final pic, the landslide, is a nice ending for it. In the end, Dale could stop the wicker man, but at the cost of his life (and presumably, many more). This leads to a darker ending than I would have done it, but I think it works fine as a cautionary tale.

    You really didn't have that simple pics, either, so kudos for a fine entry, too.

    Rodrigo Istalindir, "Caveat Emptor":
    Beware of the buyer. There were parts of this story that I really loved, others, I simply liked. Most of all, your traveling salesman is great! Really, really great! He's clever, tricky, and a little too self-confident for his own good. If he'd only left town immediately after the first payment, or at the very latest after his car got destroyed... but fortunately, you provide him with a small gift to continue at the end.

    On the other hand, I wasn't too sure about the setting we were in. At times, I thought it was set in the fifties, then it felt more like a sci-fi story somehow. Also, why didn't they simply try to kill the beast by shooting it? I guess the story is set quite far back, but then the burning car is a little too modern for it.

    Also, I think you could have done without the little girl. I realize it was a pic, and it brought home a point, and it framed the story... but still, it somehow brought me out of it. Perhaps the salesman was simply too engaging (And Kylo Krumboldt! Great name!)

    Pic use...
    The flower feeding was used well; I liked how you described the carefulness of the "beast". Very well done.

    The straw man as golem was a funny image, and I kept thinking how Kylo wanted to get away with that plan; making it a trap was a nice idea.

    The burning car was, as I said, a little too modern - at least, it diluted the setting enough to confuse me. That was, however, a very difficult pic to use in this set.

    The spearmen was used great as an in-your-face way of identifying with Kylo. Here are the villagers staring us into the eye with their crude weaponry. Cool!

    Finally the landslide didn't really seem too fitting, either, as it didn't resemble a path of destruction made by a single creature. I got the idea, but it didn't really work for me. As I said before, I am a literal.minded guy, so you either have to be way out there or quite on the spot to satisfy me.
    In the end, a good entry, and I would have liked to see what it would haave become with a little more time on your hands.

    Orchid Blossom, Birth Pangs:
    Funny how both of you come up with a "two worlds clashing"-story, and use the bear-spider as somewhat inadvertent mutation. This was a fairly straightforward tale, a little too straightforward at times for me. I think the looming madness of the wizard could have shown itself a little more openly; I also think the idea that our world is simply not made for magic to exist a fairly sad one. Liked the story, though

    Pics. As I said above, I will treat them normally, but my condolences to you for having that bad a set. I think this one was really mind-breaking!
    You start with the fish in hand, a fine use, if not great. It highlighted the occuring mutations and introduced us to the theme, but i quickly forgotten afterwards.

    The garden gnome and soldier were great. I was surprised by your literal take on the figurine, and I think it worked well. And damn those humans for putting them up in the first place!

    The eyballs were very good. I liked the character immediately just by being told that keeping his eye in his drink kept it wet. I really wish his eccentricity (sp?) would have been shown a little more.

    The weapons-car was... well, fairly straightforward. Of course, you change the rockets to sleeping-gas bombs, but still. It was o.k., I guess, but nothing special.

    Finally, the spider-bear. I liked the image, but was a little confused that the bear had his nest right at the gate. And though guarded by military personnel, nobody saw the freakish thing building its web or dragging elks into it? That put me out of the story a little bit, but otherwise was fine.
    Now, I'll say it again, that was a tough set of pics, tougher than even Rpggirl/rodrigo's (which were no piece of cake, either). So thank you for your story, I enjoyed it!

  9. #479
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    Quote Originally Posted by Berandor
    Perhaps some ways of telling a story are more promising, or easy (ha!), but in the end, even a story that follows every imaginable rule to the T can fail abysmally.
    There are no rules. Anyone who says there are (especially me) is lying. I suspect this has to do with my comments on Macbeth's story being a backwards one. Note what I actually said, please:
    Quote Originally Posted by barsoomcore
    I'm not often a fan of these, because nine times out of ten the reason the story is backwards is because the story lacks tension and by telling it backwards the writer exchanges tension for mystery.
    I'm not saying it can't be done. Nor am I trying to discourage anyone from trying it -- but I AM encouraging anyone who wants to try it to consider carefully WHY they think it's a good idea.

    Some stories are done this way and are brilliant. I agree. But if you're writing your story, and it occurs to you that structuring it this way would be really cool -- take ten seconds and ask yourself if you're just doing this because if you did it in linear fashion the story wouldn't be worth reading.

    The Usual Suspects is a good story either way. As is Momento. They use the backwards structure to accomplish something very specific, and I would agree that by and large they succeed.

    Make sure you're attempting to do the same if you decide to try a backwards story, is all I'm saying. Telling bad stories backwards in the incorrect belief that this makes it more interesting is a common mistake of inexperienced writers. I can't tell you how many stories of that nature I have read.

    Not because it's a secret, because there's been lots of them. And I didn't keep count.
    Quote Originally Posted by Berandor
    I'm not really annoyed at all the mystery, I am enjoying being told in the speed of the story, because I can feel the story moving onworad to that point of resolution.
    I'll repeat my previous comment: there's nothing wrong with mystery. There's only a problem if mystery is ALL the story has.

    ANYONE can write a story in which the reader doesn't know what's happening. That takes no skill whatsoever. Anyone can write a story of apparently senseless events and then provide a clever explanation at the end of it. So what? The challenge is in creating a story that provides not just mystery but an emotional tension that builds the desire to see the story through to its resolution in the reader. Not just to "see how it turns out", but to share in the experience of the story.
    Quote Originally Posted by Berandor
    When I enjoy the ideas in the story, the writing, the rhythm, and the twist, does simply telling it backwards make it a bad story? I don't think so.
    If you think I said telling it backwards makes it a bad story, I misspoke. What I meant to say is that if a story is told backwards, nine times out of ten it's because it was a bad story to begin with, and the author told it backward in order to easily add a sense of mystery to what wasn't worth reading in the first place. But taking a good story and telling it backwards doesn't make it a bad story. Sorry if I gave anyone that impression.

    I'm also sorry if anyone thinks I'm being excessively harsh in my judgements. I'm trying very very hard to give people who I know have worked their hearts out doing something I know is really difficult some useful feedback on their writing. I work on the assumption that if you submit your story, you already have the desire to write. You don't need me to provide cheerleading -- my best value to you is my honest, undiluted opinion. The cheerleading you'll have to look elsewhere for.

    People who tell what you've done wrong, what you did that made them NOT like your story -- those are the people that are trying to help you.

    I'm not saying it's a disaster if you like a little support every now and then. But if you want to write, get writing, find some people who will tell you what's wrong with your writing, and listen to them, and get better.

    But I am saying that if all I provide you with is a little cheerleading routine, you might as well have not submitted your story. I take everyone's work in this contest very seriously. All the contestants have accomplished great things and I hope nobody is discouraged at their judgements. It is my hope that you would be MORE discouraged if I dishonestly told you everything was great and every story here was ready for publication. I feel like it's my responsibility to look for as many problems in every story as I possibly can, and to report those as faithfully and straightforwardly as I can.

    Whew. Long-winded barsoomcore is obviously who's sitting at the keyboard right now. I guess the short form is: The fact that I'm writing critiques as detailed as I am should tell you how seriously I take these stories. If anyone wants me to spend less energy on this contest, well, it's kind of late now.

  10. #480
    Quote Originally Posted by barsoomcore

    I'm also sorry if anyone thinks I'm being excessively harsh in my judgements.
    Strictly as an observer, I must admit to feeling this way at the beginning of the contest. But as I have read more and more of your judgements, I realized that you were giving advice from an editors view point. You are right that anyone participating in this contest is probably interested in improving their writing, and what better way than free advice from an actual editor. Some of your comments have come up in conversations with my husband (BSF) about writing in general, and I have been able to apply them to my own writing. So thanks for the free advice even though I'm not in the contest

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