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Look, But Don't Touch · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
#1 · 5
The real world's plumbing conspires against me ever getting another writeoff done again. Several times ago it was the toilet. Now it's the bathroom sink. Will strive against water and slime to get this one.

(Update: Peerless faucets. Pay quality money for quality parts. Took twenty minutes. Last time, installing the cheap(censored) faucet that didn't last a year took me two days and several trips to the hardware store. Buy real brass fittings. They're worth it.)
#2 ·
· on Sincerity of Camouflage
Very interesting colors/textures! Bearing in mind I have no experience with photography, it seems to me this is an example of the subject matter taking precedence over the presentation of said subject matter. It looks like this could have been a snapchat my sister sent me. It doesn't give the impression of an intentional piece of photographic art. Still, good eye for spotting this. It's an interesting bit of texture-play, to be sure!
#3 ·
· on Sight and Sound
The beauty and cruelty of virtual worlds, windows on realms of make believe that we can only pretend to touch... I feel her pain. Nice work on letting only the goggles and her tear be in color. My main advice is likely a repeat from earlier rounds; you should start practicing with using lines of varying widths, as these can lend more liveliness to your work. If your current drawing tool doesn't offer easy options for this, consider finding another.
Thanks for taking the effort to draw in a round dominated by photography!
#4 ·
· on It's There for a Reason
If you created, or edited, the subject of this piece, artist, good job on making that disturbing face.
If it's a thrift store find, well spotted and thanks for sharing!
#5 ·
· on Tummy Rubs?
I am guessing that you are a cat owner, Artist. You've gotten that hands-off look down well!
#6 ·
· on Violated
The moon is flushing red - out of embarrassment or anger? Maybe we landed in a sensitive spot. Good take on the prompt, Artist!
#7 ·
· on Fungi on Stump
A pretty woodland scene and study in grays. Life persisting upon death is a classic theme. Well composed and well spotted.
#8 ·
· on Sincerity of Camouflage
I like this shot and its juxtaposition of the artificial and the natural. Both the shell and the concrete are basically calcium formations that came together for separate purposes and varied intentions, but the egg has more reason to be hidden. Well spotted and good eye!
#9 ·
· on Attractor Hazard
A weighty subject indeed, stay out of the gravity well. Clean graphic design and you have the language down pat. A nice take on the prompt!
#10 · 1
After spending:

The last six months finishing my dang novel, I'm really looking forward to getting back to some short story stuff. I might even finish what I've started here before this round's deadline! :)

#11 ·
· on Sight and Sound
I like the general shape of her face, here, but her hair and the visor do look a little flat. It's probably what GGA says about line widths, honestly, since I'm not really an artist, I'm just guessing. :P

Thanks for arting!
#12 ·
· on It's There for a Reason
Take it away, I don't want it. Egh!

In all honesty, great find, and it plays with the prompt very nicely. Appropriately creepy, this close to Halloween, too. Thanks for submitting!
#13 ·
· on Tummy Rubs?
The irony is, that this makes me want to bury my whole face in the fur. Even if I get scratched.

Nice work with the anatomy, especially with the angle of the hind legs. I also think you did a great job of making that belly look fluffy with just a bare smattering of detail.

Thanks for arting!
#14 ·
· on Violated
I'll be honest, I didn't quite get the meaning behind this one until I saw GGA's comment. So yeah, the effect was probably a little lost on me, but it's still a nice spin on the prompt. Thanks for arting!
#15 ·
· on Fungi on Stump
I like this one. It's one of those pieces that genuinely does seem to benefit from being black-and-white, the way it gets that extra contrast between the wood and the moss. I know literally nothing about photography, so I'll just note that to my untrained eye, the composition feels nice as well.

Thanks for submitting!
#16 ·
· on Sincerity of Camouflage
This struck me as really cute for some reason. I like the contrast between the round shape of the egg, and the more unnatural-feeling shapes of the granite/concrete. It makes the fact that the two actually do blend well together kinda interesting.

Thanks for arting!
#17 ·
· on Attractor Hazard
I really like this as a visual prompt. It feels appropriately clean and professional, and it does a good job of presenting a very concrete thought/idea without feeling like it's shoehorning potential authors with plot elements. Very well thought-out and executed!

Thanks for submitting!
#18 · 1
· · >>Baal Bunny
I'm in.
#19 ·
· on For Lack of Camouflage
The setting and the characters:

Are quite fine, but the actual story leaves me unsatisfied. We're set up with a situation that we're told is out of the ordinary, but when the characters react to it, nothing happens. I'm waiting for the other show to drop, as they say, and I don't even get a hint that there is another shoe. The egg in the pocket at the end bothered me, too. It's a nice image, but if Millie's following Natasha around everywhere after they get back, when did Natasha have a chance to pick it up?

Like I said, though, nice world building and character work.

#20 ·
· on Nature's Way
I have kind of the same:

Problem with this one as with the dragon one. I like the setting and the characters, but I'm not quite sure what's going on with the story itself. Maybe if I had a better idea of what Sheeleel wants at the beginning, it would help guide me through to the ending, but as it is, I'm left uncertain about the whole thing. Is it all an allegory for religion, or is it magic versus science? Again, I'm not sure.

#21 ·
· on The Long Way, The Long Now
So combine this one:

With the bird one, and we might have something. :)

Here, I'd like more detail about the characters--whether our narrator is male or female, for instance, and what he or she does for a living in the workaday world. That would make for a nice contrast with the world the lichens are offering, would let us see the two worlds through the narrator's eyes and make the story more specific to him or her.

#22 ·
· on Nature's Way · >>Baal Bunny >>Baal Bunny
I agree that this reads a bit oddly -- a concept struggling to wiggle its way into a narrative. The characters are interesting, the setting is well-portrayed, and the story's structure is pretty much there... strikes me as the kind of story I might write, which means that I'm of no help to suggest specific improvements (limits of imagination, yay!).

For technical flubs, I only glimpsed a missing possessive; not sure if "nature's way" was a thing that was supposed to be capitalized outside of dad's words.

Is Sheeleel insane after all? Or is there more than is dreamt of in their philosophy? That is the line of questioning that holds this together.
#23 ·
· on For Lack of Camouflage
Just to be clear, the story, such as it is, boils down to a joke about wanting to eat eggs. Fascinating worldbuilding, and these characters were very engaging, but strip down to the narrative, and it's vacuous. The exposition, especially early on (lookin' at you, armbands), seemed overly heavy-handed (and that detail frankly superfluous) which did not endear me personally to the style at first... either I adjusted, or the writing got more relaxed further in. I would happily read more building on this!
#24 ·
· on The Long Way, The Long Now
Were this to be extended, I might agree with the above comment about detailing the narrator, possibly emphasizing the pace-contrast with specific details. However, as-written, I must note that the blank nature of the protagonist affords the reader the ability to project themselves into the situation as they see fit, which may be to this story's credit.

I have really mixed feelings about this one. Between the tranquil woods to the terror of being watched to the calm lecture; betwen the cerebral awesomeness of the creatures to the exsitential horror they might represent... The former giving rise to mood wiplash, the latter engendering conflicting emotional response to the conclusion and its implications.

ETA: The Long Earth
#25 ·
· on Nature's Way · >>Baal Bunny >>Baal Bunny
Really interesting choice for a main character! I had difficulty slipping into Sheeleel's point of view initially, mainly because I couldn't picture what exactly she was. From the first few paragraphs, the descriptive words I got were "wings" and "beak," and then later "blue fluff," so with hindsight it's obvious she's a bird, but it was kinda tough to tell at first. It was even more difficult when you consider the other character in this first scene is a mushroom, and I, not being a shroomologist, had no idea what an annulus was.

BUT, all that said, I think the elements themselves still work well to serve the narrative in an interesting way. I would have liked to see them presented in a more straightfoward way at first, is all. Birds contemplating death--such a cool vibe! Thank you for sharing.
#26 ·
· on Nature's Way · >>Baal Bunny >>Baal Bunny
For minific rounds, it's easy enough to remember what I wanted to say when I get to the end, but not so for these longer ones, so I'll have to record my thoughts more or less as they occur to me.

Given how blue jays get other birds to raise their young for them, I'm surprised the main character's father is one. How would she know who her father was? I'd expect her to think some other species is her dad, but if they're intelligent enough to think and speak, do they know that? And if so, how do those other birds perceive being tricked into raising a blue jay? Or do these intelligent versions not do that?

Likewise, the mention of non-talking bugs raises some questions. Is she saying "non-talking" just to differentiate them from the birds, which do talk? Or does this mean there are some bugs that do talk? As a predator, she'd have to make some pretty split-second judgments on which ones to eat.

"How've you been doing lately?" The voice spoke again

Not sure if you meant that to be a speech tag.

standing on a little rocky ledge just outside the splash zone of the outcrop she was standing on

Kind of soon to use the same phrase again.

'nature's way'

Given what she said earlier, I'm surprised she doesn't capitalize this.

We've none of us ever even been outside this forest

So this is a universe where none of the birds migrate? There's kind of a lot you're changing from what would be initially implied at having them be birds in general and Sheel being a blue jay specifically, that isn't obvious, and I don't know that any of those changes are essential. That makes me ask why you have them or why you didn't pick something where they'd flow naturally from it.

Ensper scent

Missed an apostrophe.

Her wings feeling like they were about to pop from their sockets.

I think you probably meant "felt." As it is, participial elements make for really strange sentence fragments.

Overall, I really like the characterization here, and it was a cool interpretation of that art. I feel like I'm only getting about half the story, though. There are a lot of things that get glossed over. Sheeleel and Ensper sure seem to have a history going a long way back, but there's nothing in story to give any detail about it except her seeming to be familiar with him and swooning over him. But the way he relates to her makes it sound like they'd at least been friends for a while, yet I don't get any of that from her side. Neither one reacts that much to them being engaged, and maybe that's because it's not that big a deal in this world, but I'm guessing there. Then she jumps from him being a fiance to a husband.

I think at the end she's promising never to talk about her uncle and Ensper again? I was never sure whether any of the other birds would even be capable of hearing the mushrooms (or, for that matter, whether it was a delusion), but it seems like once Ensper's parents learn of his death, things will go even worse for her. She might be able to use the possibility of speaking to their dead son enable her to get them to try talking to him, but it seems like she would have already tried that before with her father and uncle, so I don't know.

What's here is engaging and well-characterized, but it feels like it needs to explore a fair amount more to give it all enough context.
#27 · 1
· on For Lack of Camouflage
You're kind of front-heavy with exposition. The part about the egg being there and the appearance of the area is fine, because that's straight to the point of what the story's about, though having things be so static at the beginning of a story is, at least for me, detracting from the story's hook. Then you go into what these people's armbands are like and why, and that's where it starts to derail. That does speak to the nature of their job, but you're asking the reader to invest their attention in something they haven't really been given a reason to care about yet. You can cover that stuff later on. Right now, it also feels like it's diverting attention. These people are there to do a job, so they're not going to be focused on what to them has become a mundane detail of their work, yet that's where you're placing the narrator's attention. It feels like a mismatch.

It also starts out feeling like one of those pieces that's going to imply the story just through describing the state of things, but then we do get into dialogue and such. That was another way the beginning seemed to set up expectations that the story didn't mesh with. It's a minor-ish but subtle effect that makes it seems like the story is shifting gears.

One of many signs of the impending autumn.

Sentence fragments like this really create the sense of a limited narration, but that's not matching with the way the narrator introduces the characters, which is more cold and distant, needing to identify them by name and give a physical description of each: something neither character would need to do, so it doesn't fit their perspectives. You do this back and forth through the story, at times feeling more omniscient and at times more limited.

“Just for one egg, though?”

Is that the norm? Otherwise, why do they assume there weren't more eggs to begin with and a critter did take the rest?

There is a list of words I keep on hand that all authors easily overuse without realizing it, and one of those is "back." Within the span of only a few sentences, you have called the drone back, backpacks, and hiked back.

This background you're putting in about Natasha's career path and how they get along is better placed than the descriptions of them near the beginning of the story. We've been introduced to the characters by now and have a sense of who they are before you give me a history lesson about them, and it's more relevant to what's happening when you go into it. This is a better way of giving exposition.

More clouds rolled in, grey on top of grey. Waist-high grass rolled like a turbulent ocean on either side of them.

Use of "rolled" twice close together.

created quite a strange sight

Why would it be strange to them? Aren't they used to it?

Signal lights placed atop each tower and launcher flashed on and off in unison, like dozens of blinking red eyes all looking at them in unison.

Use of "in unison" twice close together.


You spell this at least two different ways.

I like these characters, but the plot didn't have much of a direction. There's a longstanding conflict against dragons, but one that seems like it hasn't always been there. I don't get any context behind that. There's some unorthodox behavior from this particular dragon, but we never see it, nor do we know whether these ladies' tactics succeeded against it. Then they go back to their city, and Natasha makes a friendly gesture to Millie, though the only context I have as to what it might mean to her was her earlier desire to eat the dragon's egg. Are chicken eggs rare now or something? Given all the other things they have, I can't imagine why they would be.

Basically, there are three threads going on, and they all stop as soon as they begin to go somewhere. So while I liked the setting and the characters, I'm struggling to find what the actual story is here.
#28 ·
· on The Long Way, The Long Now
Huh, 7 pieces of art and only 2 got used.

I only saw one or two minor editing things which I'm sure you'd catch on your own, so I won't bother with that.

This one starts out calmly, and I can't quite put my finger on why, but it does give me the vibe that it's going to be about something strange. There's nothing overtly so at the beginning, but it still felt that way to me. Like both stories so far, it probably spends a little too much time on the setup, which makes it feel like the story's focus is going to be on something else than it ultimately is.

So this is some kind of infection, but one that can take effect even after death? It's strange. It's a nice idea, but not one that plays to any of its emotional investments much. The ingredients are there, what with the various relationships: father-son, master-pet. yet the context for each is pretty superficial. There's some history presented for each of those, but nothing deep enough to give me an emotional investment in it. While the events were interesting, and there would definitely be significant consequences, they never had that much of an impact on me.

I can't quite tell what conclusion the narrator reaches at the end. That he'll join his father when he dies? Or that he might decide to some time before that? Certainly he could if his remaining quality of life would be poor enough that he'd rather go ahead with it. I'm going on a tangent here, but does he share his secret with someone to insure he'll be buried there? For that matter, my first impression is that the bodies that had been in the cemetery a long time would have been converted long ago, but the condition of all the graves suggests this just happened now instead of his father joining ones that had already been there for a while. That makes me wonder what made all that come about so suddenly, rather than it being endemic to that place. Not that the narrator can give me the answers—he doesn't know. But the evidence of it has some odd implications, and I didn't know if you'd thought through it to where you had a complete picture. As it is, it feels weird to me that it would work that way.
#29 ·
· on Nature's Way

Thanks, folks!

I've already done some rewriting based on the comments here and plan on sending the revised version out to my online writing group Wednesday to see that they think.