Author Topic: Fortnightly Writing Competition: What we do in the dark... (Results)  (Read 2163 times)

Sinitrena

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What we do in the dark...


What do we do in the dark?

Do we slip into the bed of our lover? Burgle a house?

Or is it not quite as literally and we lie and cheat, but not in darkened rooms but in the very centre of society?

This topic is about secrets and subterfuge, about the things we don't want people to see. This can be taken literal and your story focusses on the activities of a thief in a dark alley for example, or figuratively, like someone overthrowing a government. It doesn't really matter. The important aspect is the secrecy of the activity.

Smuggle your entries into this thread before the end of 22. March 2020.

Extended: 25. March
Again: 29. March
« Last Edit: 06 Apr 2020, 04:09 by Sinitrena »

Baron

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Oooo!  Mysterious!  ;-D

Sinitrena

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Only a couple of days left. Get these entries in, we all need something to cheer us up.   :-X

I am terribly sorry, but while I have something cooking, as it were, I see now that I simply will not meet the dead-line.

I shall share it nonetheless when it is presentable, for amusement, once it is finished. This message is mostly for morale; it is a nice topic, and it is not abandoned outright.

Sinitrena

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Because we don't have an entry yet, and considering the slightly moody behaviour of the forums the last couple of days, I think an extension of the deadline is warranted.

New deadline: 25. March

Baron

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Sorry, I thought the forums were under quarantine.  :P   I'll try to throw something together by Wednesday.

JudasFm

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I'm in as well, but can I have a bit of an extension? I hate to ask but I'm backed up and I need a bit of time  :-*

Sinitrena

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Oh, who cares? Better late entries than no entries at all. And nobody should stress themselves right now just to finish some writing. Take the weekend.

Newest deadline 29. March

You are Playing for Time.

You are on the village green. You are playing for time. It is five minutes to Midnight, and it is bitterly cold.
The Green was a beautiful place. Soft, warm and welcoming, a place out of time. Blue skies and white clouds upon which a smiling sun held court, and an endless chorus of glittering stars to accompany a silver moon, and the Milky Way above, calmly pouring its gentle wisdom into your waiting cup of warm sweet tea.
You wonder if it ever was like that, or if that is what you wanted it to be. You are told, or tell yourself, that the latter is of lesser worth, but in this place you doubt it.

There is that vast Clock. It stands in the middle of the village, above the chimney tops. It looms over the green, terrifying and endless. Its shadow stretches over the fields, and beyond. The clock-face is glaring and discrete at the same time. A baleful eye set to your game, although you are sure that it beams with pride when you look away.

It is five minutes to Midnight.

You play for time. There is nothing else to do, for you cannot abandon the game. You play for time that is rapidly running out. Time that stretches up, up up, beyond the cooling carcasses of the killed stars beyond. Endless oceans of tea-time and not a drop to drink.

For it is cold here in the Clock-Shadow. The tea does not warm. You are unsure if it ever tasted, but you must believe it did. It is of no matter, for the tea is solid. You could smash the pots, gather the tea, hide it, hold it, guard it.

The Clock beat on. You play for time that you cannot have.

And yet, you long for the Clock to strike Midnight.

Nothing can be worse but this waiting.

You play for time.

Ready on the field, beneath wilting Eternity.
Play the game, for Endless legions have gathered, for they are playing too.
Never fear, for the Time is near.

But you are alone.
Playing the game comes easy, but you do not know the rules, for you do not need to.

The scones are coated in frost under the shadow. The clotted cream is solid. You endure. No coats or jackets in sight, no one is huddling, the chequered table-cloths are still on their tables, with ice pegs dangling from the fringes.
Everyone knows. You are in it together and yet entirely apart.
You all inherited the game but the burden is all yours together and apart. But it is five minutes to Midnight, the tea and the spectators are buried in glacial ice and the Clock is smothering the sky.
You could smash the skulls, gather the time, hide it, hold it, guard it.

You play for time. You endure.

It is five minutes to Midnight. When will it ever be different?

Is this the trial, the triumph or the tribute? Are you to be rewarded, or have you come for penance? You do not know. You play for time.

It is difficult to play a game that you do not know. It is difficult to play with stolen eyes. It is difficult to play with the weight of the Clock's gaze upon you, but you play for time. For behind the clock-face there is warmth, and it is five minutes to Midnight and you know that you will win. For you know that the green will be soft and warm and welcoming again, that it will be what it was or, perhaps, what it was meant to be.
You cannot smash the Clock, steal the time, hide it, hold it, guard it.

For when the Clock strikes Midnight, all will be well and you will never need to play for time. You will never be in the dark, be cold and weary again.

And you know that the clock will strike Midnight.

But not Tonight.

Baron

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Aha!  Extended deadlines mean extended procrastination!  ;-D

Edit: Or not.  (roll)

Choking on Whispers

   Dusk.  The hour of darkening, but you knew that already.  You can't spell dusk without “duh.”  I know that doesn't sound like a very profound monologue for a guy standing on the roof wearing a pickelhaube and a monocle, surveying the mean streets of Hoochburg like a living gargoyle, so I'll start again.

   Dusk.  The hour of darkening.  Of delightening.  The hour of shadows limbering up for the sprint to nightfall, doing their stretches like good little minions, preparing to help the hooligans with their mischief and meyhem.  One last hour of peace before the veil of blackness swallows the town like some sort of giant... land-whale....  So shoot me, I'm a super villain, not a poet.

   Dusk.  The witching hour.  No wait, that's midnight.

   Dusk.  The slipping hour.  The sun slides blissfully into a ball-pit of clouds, unawares that he will thence be sucked into the darkness below for a terrifying twelve hours of bondage and captivity.

   Dusk.  The sucking hour.  Old Mrs. Dyson sucks on her last cigarette of the day, shouting uselessly at the neighbour's cat that is creeping through her begonias.  The town drunk sucks back the last dram of liquor from his paper bag, dragging his feet purposefully towards the shelter of the only bar in town.  Mrs. Baron takes the laundry down from the line before hollering up to the roof: “Weren't you supposed to be putting the kids to bed?!”

   Dusk.  The bedtime hour.  Time for stories, time for tears.  Time for the perpetual fight over oral hygiene and at least pretending to be quiet in your room so that daddy can work on his secret projects.  Time for last-minute homework assignments to suddenly be remembered.  Time for mysterious growth pains and parched throats, bizarre giggling fits and nightmares.  Like it's possible to have a nightmare before you even fall asleep.  What was I, born yesterday?  If you ask me-

   “I thought I told you to get those kids to bed!!!”

   “Yes, dear.”

   *   *   *   *   *

   Later that same day.  Although I use the term “day” lightly.  Since it is now in fact night.  So you might say I use the term “day” “darkly”.  You might say that.  Maybe.

     Dusk is done and the kids are all tucked in.  Or maybe they are up jumping on their beds, shooting at each other with improvised death-rays made from toilet paper rolls and cat-litter.  I don't really care because I am no longer in daddy mode.  I am now the Baron, evil banana dictator cum mad scientist.  I pull the book on children's manners on the shelf and the wall opens up to reveal my secret lair cum man-cave cum laboratory cum robot factory cum cat litterbox cum home office cum vacuum storage cupboard.  Two imps the size of colobus monkeys hold battle axes to block my path, but step aside respectfully on ascertaining my identity.  I am about to seal the entrance for a night of diabolical creativity when the wife-alarm starts flashing.

   “Don't forget it's garbage night!” she yells down the stairs.  My imp guards panic and run into each other, knocking themselves out cold.  Typical.  Now I guess it's up to me to do the hated chore.  But wait!  I am no longer in daddy mode.  I am the Baron now.  Diabolical villain extraordinaire.  Pox on convention.  Rocker of worlds.  And now a scheme so sinister hatches in my mind that my helmet might as well be an evil chicken butt in the world's wickedest egg farm.  Wait-

   Darkness.  The garbage curbing hour.  Sometimes it is still dark when they pick it up the next morning, so it must go out now.  To feed the skunks and raccoons and other vermin of the night.  But I have a plan.  A secret project I've been working on.  I call it the Mr. Puckles Project.  Actually the kids named him Mr. Puckles, our erstwhile geriatric cat that peed and pooped everywhere.  Only now that he's passed on, his mortal husk has become my bionic frankenstein science experiment.  Sure, the kids think he's sleeping peacefully in the freezer until such time as we can bury him properly, but what they don't know won't hurt them.  Hey, I'm in Baron mode here; don't judge me!  Besides, daddy mode me needed the freezer space for his bulk order of German sausages.  Don't judge me!

   Darkness.  The hour of mad scientists.  I descend the steps into my lair and fire up the positron accelerator.  Soon I will bring my creation to life.  Tubes of life giving oxy-plasm and chocolate milk permeate the dead cat's body like tracks in a mountain roller coaster.  Bionic limbs splay lifelessly in all directions like those of a drowned spider.  A repurposed whiskey tumbler contains the cat's tiny brain, suspended in neurologically stimulating kool-aid fluid and augmented with a waterproof arduino implant, all of which are duct-taped onto the cat's biological cranium like some sort of glazed, brain-revealing cat turban.  Oh, and there's that one eye that's been replaced with the LED from the old VCR, for that old-school HAL kinda look.  Yeah, this is the stuff of dreams come true.

   Darkness.  The manifesto of all evil geniuses.  Genii?  Whatever.

   Darkness.  The incubator of madness.  The playpen of maniacs.  The midwife of meyhem.  The cauliflower of veggie trays.  How can a thing defined by the absence of energy be so energizing, so intoxicating?  My spine tingles at the weight of dark potential hanging in the air like humidity before a thunderstorm.

   Darkness.  It is now your turn to shine.  By not shining.  Because you are dark.  So it is now your moment to ...darken.  I can't find my thesaurus in the poorly lit lair, so that will have to do for now.

   Darkness.  Meet light.  I flip the zappinator and give Mr. Puckles 20 000 volts of snuggle love.  It'll either bring my diabolical creation to life or cook him like a Mongolian shish kabob.  Through the intense blue lightening I can see the cat's old bones as if in an x-ray.  Just a few more seconds should do it....

   The zappinator powers down, replaced by the omni-present wife-alarm.

   “We blew a fuse again!” she shouts from upstairs.

   Darkness.  Mistress of fuse panels.  I flip the breaker and examined the charred and smoking remains of Mr. Puckles.  He twitches spasmodically on the operating table, groaning like a hungover roadkill.  There is the flicker of life in his evil LED eye.  Slowly he stumbles to his bionic feet, flailing at the attempt due to the confusing addition of all those extra limbs.  Oh, and now he's crashing off the table, tripping over himself.  One limb is now ensnared in the tubing, making him look like one of those internet kittens that is stuck in a watermelon with his hind-legs around his head.  Stumbling again, now kind of recovering balance, now definitely stumbling again.  OK, now he's made it to the corner of the lab.  He's turning around and... ah, jeez!  How did all that voltage not vaporize the contents of his bladder?!?

   Darkness.  The hour of disappointment.  The time when hard truths can't be gussied up with light and colour.  Now is the moment of reckoning.  Where a month's worth of diabolical toil will emerge from painstaking chrysalis to ...oh god, now he's puking on the computer interface!  What is in cat vomit, anyway?  It's like sawdust cut with sour milk, and generous portions of egg-whites around the edges.  Gah!  Now the equipment is short-circuiting!  The wife-alarm flashes once more.  At the top of the lair stairs a kid's voice calls out for a glass of water.

   “All right, all right!” I cry, throwing my hands up in defeat. 

   Darkness.  Moment of least hope before the dawn.  The sleeping dog of the daylight hours, harmless to the unambitious eye.  Sure, darkness can be defeated.  But it can not be destroyed.  It lurks still, in the dark corners of the mind, biding its time.  Waiting.  Patient.  Nursing its wounds, but recharging its resolve.  As the geospheric rock grinds out its long course towards oblivion, the darkness counts the hours until it shall return.
« Last Edit: 26 Mar 2020, 01:34 by Baron »

JudasFm

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Not too happy about this entry, but it's 2.40am here and the best I can do :)

Secrets

The cages were tall, narrow, and stank like shit. Jordan hated being sent down to clean them and feed the occupants, but he had no choice; the space station administrator had given his orders, and he had to obey.

A few of the occupants looked up as he scurried in, pushing the trolley ahead of him, determinedly not meeting anyone's gaze. That was how you survived. Keep your head down, keep your shit together, and just get through one day at a time. 

According to the chart, Nos. 1 and 2 weren't being fed today. Jordan wasn't too sorry about that; both of them had a tendency to spit the food all over him. He pushed the meal trolley past them and slowed to a halt in front of No. 3. He liked No. 3. She was usually quiet and seemed to understand that he was as helpless as she was, even though he was free to move around and she wasn't. Jordan rummaged around in his trolley before finding the special meal he'd put together for her.

"Open," he said. None of the girls could eat by themselves. The manacles saw to that; loose enough to allow some freedom of movement, restrictive enough to stop them actually accomplishing anything with that movement. They accepted being fed like the pets they were, or they starved.

3 obeyed, accepting the spoon with its mush meekly. Her eyes popped open as she tasted what else was in there and she stared at him, astonished.

Carefully, glancing over his shoulder for cameras, Jordan raised a finger to his lips. It wasn't obvious - even hinting that they shared a secret would be enough to land them both in trouble - but it was enough. Just a gentle brushing of a finger across his lips, as though wiping off a stray crumb. He couldn't help the girls down here, but he could drop the occasional handful of raisins into the mush.

The station staff wouldn't let them leave. You needed a permit to even gain access to the hangar, and fresh blood – fresh DNA – was far too rare to lose. As an outsider, Jordan himself was expected to service any and all women who demanded it. It was a last-ditch attempt to keep the station running, to keep the population up and the gene pool healthy, since Suliko was deemed so weird that nobody in their right mind bar traders would ever visit, much less move in if they had anywhere else to go (Jordan fell firmly into the no-choice category, as his ship had developed thruster troubles just outside the station and it had been a toss-up between entering Suliko, or dying in space).

He scraped up the final spoonful of mush and raisins and fed it to No. 3. She swallowed it, licked her lips, and then mouthed, Help us.

Jordan bit back a word of his own. Bad enough he'd be docked a few meals of his own if the station administration learned he'd stolen extra food for the cages. Now he was supposed to put his whole life on the line?

"I can't." His voice was barely audible. "I can't help you. I can't even help myself."

3's face crumpled a little, but she nodded, making Jordan feel a hell of a lot worse than if she'd screamed abuse at him. He didn't dare tell her what he'd already done, about the note he'd smuggled onto the most recent trading ship to have come and gone. It might come to nothing, and besides, the less the occupants knew, the lower the chances he had of landing in a cage next to them. Keep it secret. Keep everyone alive.

Turning his back resolutely on 3, he pushed the trolley over to No. 4 and took out a plain bowl of mush.

"Open."

Sinitrena

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All people who said they would posted their entries and this round was open long enough sooooo...

we're done.


And we got three nice entries:

You are Playing for Time by Reiter
Choking on Whispers by Baron
Secrets by JudasFm

As you all know, we vote in categories:

Character: Which characters stood out with their own personality or interesting development?
Plot: What happens in the story? Is it logical, surprising, exciting, etc?
Writing Style: The technical aspect of writing, including but not limited to turns of phrases, spelling, ...
Atmosphere: The story that dragged you into a world of its own, that creates emotions, vivid images...
Best Action in the Dark: Which story had the best, most mysterious, intransparent, etc. action, lie or similar?

One vote per categorie, as always.

Read and vote untill 2. April 2020

Sinitrena

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This is a reminder that votes are love. Come on, everybody, it's not even that much to read this time around.

JudasFm

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I'm sorry! My new novel came out a few days ago so I've been crazy busy with the launch campaign and this is the first chance I've had to check in :-D
Anyway, here are my votes.

Character: Baron for the protagonist (and protagonist's wife!)
Plot: Reiter. I liked the mystery of this and the fact that not all the questions were answered.
Writing Style: Reiter. This one was very close, but I felt Reiter's style was closest to my own preference ;)
Atmosphere: Reiter. Baron's story offered plenty of comedy, but not a whole lot of atmosphere.
Best Action in the Dark: Baron. There wasn't much action in Reiter's story; I didn't get the feeling that anyone was doing anything secretly.

 

Sinitrena

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It seems I'm doing nothing but extending deadlines lately, but closing the competition with just one of three entrants voting wouldn't reall be fair. Voting stays open until the end of Sunday.

Baron

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Oops, sorry.  Distracted by work (which takes 3 times longer remotely as it used to... what's with that?  :P ).  I'll get those votes in by Sunday.

Character: JudasFm. It's short yet you can already get a glimpse of the personality of No. 3 and the protagonist.
Plot: JudasFm. It feels like the beginning of a good story.
Writing Style: Baron. Always a pleasure to read.
Atmosphere: Reiter. Not sure about what's going on but it's ominous.
Best Action in the Dark: Baron. Genils have the weirdest ideas.
« Last Edit: 04 Apr 2020, 12:09 by Creamy »
 

Here are my votes; along with my apoligies. Good Lord, the days are flying, flying and are gone in a blink in these times, I fear.

Now, then:

We have another excellent piece of Baroniana, and his comedic lunatics, although with a rather endearing sadness to it. It is, perhaps, not all cackling fun and joy, being a mad scientist. Sometimes, experiments fail and we must turn away from your boiling mixtures and beakers and clean away the wreckage of an idea that we can now see was plainly idiotic.

We also have a gently terrifying piece by JudasFm, which is most certainly dark. Hopeless fates in a very dark place.

Character: Baron. The condemned voidsman in JudasFm's piece is a brief study in cruelty and mercy, and for that he is quite intriguing. However, the hapless Baron and his household are simply a treat! It is also rather touching to see the clown cry, as it were.
Plot: JudasFm. While the tale of Baron's ruined evening is very amusing, the dread implications of JudasFm's Suliko Station are fascinating. It is a brief encounter, a flash, but it is a picture of mercy on damned ground, and of the tiny shards of cruelty that can still live in a spoonful of kindness.
Writing Style: Baron. It is simply that he is quite adept at his peculiar style; the well-measured and educated penny dreadful. It is an art.
Atmosphere: JudasFm. While a night spent in the Baron's household was most amusing, the cold and efficient cruelty of Suliko Station is most compelling. For what it is, and what it does to its inhabitants. A den of cannibals and bloodsuckers. Damnation, truly.
Best Action in the Dark: JudasFm. It was a close decision, for both pieces were very good in this department. The Baron's hopeless scheme to revive the family cat is a delight, but I must say that I hope for voidsman Jordan's scheme to succeed. That a fleet is dispatched to cleanse that abominable place, one way or the other. A splendid little text, altogether, steeped and stewed in the dark.


Baron

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Great reads, guys!

Character: Best character must go to JudasFm for Jordan, but not just because he's a menial servant cum space captain cum janitor cum man stallion.  He's not a hero, but he is, kinda, in the dark, when no one is looking.  Just doing what he can.  I thought Reiter kind of hobbled his chances here by writing in the second person.  If I voted for Reiter than I'd kinda be voting for myself, and I'm just really not that interesting of a character.  But I suppose if someone more dashing, more charismatic were to read his story....  :-\

Plot: This was hard, but I've got to go with JudasFm again.  Although just a fragment of a larger story, it did contain its own micro story-arc.  At the end I felt a surprisingly big story had been told in so few words.  In Reiter's story it was harder to see the plot developing, probably due to the stubborness of a certain Clock Face not allowing time to progress normally, or at all, or maybe allowing it to end entirely, or not allowing it to start.... Actually, I found it hard to discern exactly what was going on, to be frank.

Writing Style: So here Reiter starts to come into his own.  We've got some killer turns of phrase, like the "smiling sun held court" and the alliterative confusion of the game being a "trial, triumph, or tribute?"  I also liked the thread of frozen tea-time imagery, and the poetic rhythm of smashing things to solve problems, until you encounter a problem that can't be solved by smashing.  JudasFm had a more minimalist style that I thought suited her dystopian space station, but it didn't grab me as much as a reader.

Atmosphere: This category is all about emotions and vivid images, so I've got to give it to Reiter for his colourful creation.

Best Action in the Dark: What Reiter's work lacks in action it certainly makes up for in mysteriousness.  One might even say the piece was... intransparent.  ;)  I wonder if the Clock Face was telling a lie, though.  JudasFm's Jordan was definitely telling several lies at different levels, and his purpose in doing so was definitely mysterious.  What's his motivation?  What's he after?  If it's escape, why help the prisoner?  If it's love, what is it based on?  This category has me all tied up in knots.  I'm going with Reiter by a nose hair, just because it epitomizes the opacity that I think Sinitrena was thinking of when she composed this topic.


Sinitrena

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Okay, that's all our votes (except for mine) so it's time to close this.

Reiter: Like several of our readers, I was confused by your story. I just couldn't figure out what was going on, not even on a re-read. It's beautifully written and offers a very tight atmosphere, but because the plot is so impossible to understand, this very powerful atmosphere feels wasted. I think you were intentionally going for a very mysterious setting, but I can't tell if you had something like a plot in mind or were just trying to describe this scene and feeling. Overall, I liked your story. It sucked me in, but it also left me slightly disapointed because there was absolutely no solution.

Baron: We finally get to see the true Baron! Yay!!!  (laugh) What a fun read. The style of your writing fits perfectly with the quircky characters and humorous take on the evil supervillan. Really enjoyable.

JudasFm: There are certainly lies and subterfuge in your story and so it fits the theme perfectly. Interesting enough, the biggest mystery was not something any of the protagonists would find a mystery - namely the nature of the occupants of the cages. It took a while to reveal that they are not animals. I would have prefered it if the focus was more on the lies - Jordan does lie, but more in the backstory, I think. I agree with Baron that this feels very much like a small part of a much larger story. It is a whole story, but not a complete one, I'd say.


The votes, as they stand now are: 7 for Reiter, 6 for Baron and 7 for JudasFm. So I exercise my right to cast a tie-breaking vote:


Our 3. place goes to Baron with 6 points.


Our 2. place goes to JudasFm with 7 points.


Our 1. place goes to Reiter with 7+1 points.

Congratulations, Reiter, your turn to start a new round.