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In Name Only · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
In the Melted Eye of the Beholder
I’d memorized the smell of burning plastic, even years before the accident.

My older brother David, as sweet as he’s been these past few months, had a mean streak growing up. They say the three telltale signs of a serial killer in youth are wetting the bed, hurting animals, and starting fires – if you count my dolls as animals, he fit all three. In our tiny house, nothing of mine could escape his grasp. And most anything he touched would soon burst into flame.

Were he like most boys, he might have ripped my dolls’ arms off, cut their hair, even burn them with a magnifying glass if he had one. But David went a step further: while I rolled in the dirt outside, he’d grab my Barbies, place them in a foil-lined baking pan, and shove them into a 500º oven. He kept our oven mitts on top of the fridge. Mom spent most days working, leaving David in charge, and me to watch the inferno through the oven window.

Left in an oven to die, a Barbie doll goes through a speedy metamorphosis. First, her hair burns away. Second, her dress catches fire. Third, her skull collapses in on itself like a crushed can. After that, she quickly melts into a shiny puddle of pink-black goop. A chemical mess that not even Ken could learn to love.

Once they’d transformed into a pile of plastic goop, David would take them out to cool. Sometimes he would let me watch as they sat out on the countertop, oozing and smoking and probably poisoning us both. Other times he’d take them away and leave the dried carcasses for me to find under my pillow.

I swear, he really is a sweetheart nowadays.

Either way, David’s fun left me with a Dream House full of burn ward patients. All that remained of Barbie, Skipper, Midge, were crusty remnants: cracked, bald skulls; crooked arms; flat plates of melted-and-dried plastic for legs. Any beauty they once possessed had been torn away, leaving me with miniature freaks.

I knew the feeling. Since kindergarten, I’d become known in our small town as a freak myself: deemed “too boyish” by the girls for my short hair and dirt-caked skin, yet rejected by the boys for playing with dolls. Even in third grade, nearly an adult for Chrissake, I still heard the whispers about me as I cartwheeled alone on the playground. “Weirdo,” they said. “Loser.”

It didn’t help matters once I started bringing my disfigured dolls to school to play with. Compared to my classmates’ American Girls and My Little Ponies, mine might as well have been cockroaches.

And it was because of that that I came to appreciate my melted dolls. They didn’t choose to be this way, to be cursed with freakishness by some vengeful god. They weren’t ruined. A Barbie is still Barbie, even if she’s naked, missing her face, and most of her limbs.

There’s a beauty in that uniqueness. Warped pink-red-black skin, chest turned into a hard plate. Anyone can own a Barbie; only I owned this one, burned in this certain way in that specific oven. Still lovely, still that amazing woman that could be a doctor, pilot, and princess all within the same day. This was just a new stage in life.

It took me a while to remember that when, seventeen years later, I crashed my motorcycle while speeding at night. Wearing just a light jacket, I hit the pavement fast enough to rip most of the flesh from my lower arm. I lay in my own bloody puddle, wheezing in the smell of burning plastic, for twenty minutes before the ambulance picked me up. I lost the arm the next day.




Nobody looks at me the same way anymore – much less myself. I spent my two weeks in the hospital staring at the bandages, thinking about what I used to have. Who am I now? Something fragile, broken?

Something about losing an arm that no one ever tells you is how many insurance forms you have to sign. Since being discharged, I’ve been writing my name way more than usual. It's a therapeutic reminder: I’m me, no matter what I lose. Me, with buzzed hair, dark freckles, lopsided breasts, one arm.

I'm not ruined. This is just a new stage in life. There's beauty in my uniqueness, even if I'm the only one who sees it.
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#1 · 2
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I quite like this one:

Even though it's very passive and "telly" because I find myself thinking that that's entirely the point. Our nameless narrator reacted to her brother's cruelty as a child with passive acceptance, but something changed at some point, and she became the sort of actively aggressive person who speeds on motorcycles while wearing only a light jacket. But now after the accident, she's moving back to her original state of mind.

If that's what you're meaning to do here, author, bring it out more. Show us more of her after the first change so we can have more of the "compare/contrast" thing. Still, top of my slate so far.

Mike
#2 ·
·
Alternate Title: Rod Serling's Ghost

I have to admit, I liked this entry a lot more initially than I do now. That's not to say I dislike it now; I just find there to be more flaws in the writing than what my first reading revealed to me.

Let's go over a few lines and see what can be changed about them.

I’d memorized the smell of burning plastic, even years before the accident.


Nothing. This is still probably my favorite opening line this round. It's ironic and it also tells what kind of story we're getting into with just a few tactically placed words.

“Weirdo,” they said. “Loser.”


I would get rid of this little line. It's superfluous and it sounds unnatural.

And it was because of that that I came to appreciate my melted dolls. They didn’t choose to be this way, to be cursed with freakishness by some vengeful god. They weren’t ruined. A Barbie is still Barbie, even if she’s naked, missing her face, and most of her limbs.


I feel like this could be expanded. Actually, the connection the narrator makes between her own uniqueness (okay, she's just a tomboy, that's not too weird) and the uniqueness of her burned dolls could be better explained.

There's beauty in my uniqueness, even if I'm the only one who sees it.


Again, I feel like this last line could be removed. It's a blatant thesis statement almost to the point of sounding like a platitude, and is not as creative or telling of the narrator's character as a lot of previous lines.

I do like what this story is going for, though. In fact, if it were a short story and not a mini-fic I think the extra length would help greatly. We would get more insight into the narrator's day-to-day life and her relationship with her brother with more time spent. As is, it's more like a snapshot.

But one could argue that, as a mini-fic, it fulfills the snapshot role about perfectly, and I'm content with that.

Still in the upper third of my slate, but its position is shaky.
#3 · 1
· · >>horizon
This one's kind of a tough nut to crack. It has a nice enough message, but there's a lot of other stuff there.

Once again, we have a narrator delivering the story to an audience. Why have assurances about her brother's mental health otherwise? Yet we never know who that audience is or why this lady wants to tell them.

The way she's a tomboy-yet-not-a-tomboy is also in a bit of a struggle. She's never seen engaging with the dolls until late in the story. Take the early line about David doing this while she rolled in the dirt outside. That distances her from them, makes it seem like they interest her less. If she knew that's when he'd strike, then why not stay inside to defend her property? She comes across as not really caring.

By the end, of course, she doesn't, but I have to think that was a transition she made at some point, but one we don't get to see.

Take what happens to her at the end, too. Loss of an arm is something that might get some gawkers, but short hair isn't anything unusual these days, and she never justifies the "lopsided breasts" thing. Was that also a result of her accident, or is it unrelated? It's an outlier that I don't know how to connect with the picture of the rest of her.

The ultimate message is good, though. The bit about her writing a lot kind of begs another question though: did she lose her dominant arm? Has she had to learn to write with the other? Maybe this is outdated psychology, but I heard once (from a source that should have been at least nominally scientific) that doing so can lead to stuttering. I wonder if that happened to her and even further served to alienate her.

I do wonder about the value of making David out to be a nice person. If he'd steadfastly remained an asshole, that's not going to change how she feels about herself, but there never ends up being a purpose to how he turned out. Tie that back in at the end. She has a high opinion of him now, so presumably he's in her corner, but let me see that. People can be individualistic for the wrong reasons and to bad purposes, but if she mentions that he's very supportive of her now, it defuses that as a possible direction and makes it matter that you mitigated the reader's impression of him at the beginning. In a story this short, you don't want writing that doesn't accomplish anything, so bring that beginning around to bear again.
#4 ·
· · >>Pascoite >>horizon
This is a fair entry.

There’s quite matter to rant about the physics, though. I suppose your oven temperature is 500 °F, because at 500 °C all you would get out of your oven would be specks of dust. I’m not aware of any household oven that can reach that high, so I suppose you’re talking Fahrenheit here. But even at 500 °F, which is 260 °C, the plastic used to make the dolls would burn and carbonise, giving you just a plain black dollop and certainly emitting obnoxious acrid odours all the way through its decomposition. What you describe instead sounds pretty unrealistic to me.

I mean, this could be nitpicking, but you seem to devote quite a substantial part of your story describing what happens to the dolls. If you do, then better check your physics.

So, what is the message here? That’s beauty is to be found inside, beyond the (absence of) flesh? Or beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Surely, there’s some truth in that, even though this message is pretty old. I think the story would’ve been better if you had extended to scope to “what is identity” itself by, say, bringing forth a character with but all his limbs, and why not also internal organs, grafted from different sources. What is the identity of such patched up individual? What are you when your heart, your kidneys, your liver, your limbs all come from different, deceased people? Are you still you, or are you something else?

So, overall, as I said, a fair entry, but I wish you'd been more ambitious in your endeavour.
#5 · 2
· · >>Monokeras
>>Monokeras
That's a little bit of an odd thing to go on about. I mean, most of these are American authors. Of course it's Fahrenheit. And think about how David would go about melting them. He's not following a recipe where there's a prescribed time to put it in the oven and get the internal temperature uniform. He puts it at 500 because that's how hot it'll go, then he watches through the window until it's as melted as he wants it, then he shuts the oven off and gets the doll out. It never got to 500.
#6 ·
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>>Pascoite
I acknowledge your know-how at melting dolls in oven, Pasco! Any experience you'd like to relate to us? :)
#7 · 2
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Another budding serial killer here. However, the story takes that and runs with it, giving the childish cruelty greater context. That alone is going to edge it toward the top of my slate: we've got a coherent narrative with a clear point and solid arc.

That said, I don't think everything is quite pulling in the same direction, so this feels merely strong rather than excellent. The biggest thing that knocked me out of my reading would be more of a nitpick if it weren't the central core of the story:

she quickly melts into a shiny puddle of pink-black goop. A chemical mess that not even Ken could learn to love …


You seem to describe the dolls melting into unrecognizable piles of protoplasm. (>>Monokeras does have a point with the oven temperature here: that high of a setting reinforces the idea that the dolls are being wholly melted.) And yet the narrator seems to still treat them as Barbies. I think that, for once, this story might have doubled down a little too hard. Your greater theme really requires that these dolls be deformed but still essentially whole — still able to be interacted with as Barbies — and that's not at all the sense I'm getting from your prose.

Agreed with >>Pascoite about the odd dangling thread of David's redemption. (Agreed with most of his comment, again, actually. But the David thing specifically is another way the story feels lopsided. Except for the first sentence foreshadowing the crash, the entire first half is about David's sociopathic streak, and then the story seems to drop him and focus on the narrator instead.)

Overall, though — good job, author! I think this comes closer to its potential than a lot of stories I've read this round.
#8 · 1
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Literally nothing to add. Sorry if that red bell was a bit of a letdown. I liked it though, as others did. I liked it a lot. But one thing I think we could all unpack a little more is the temperature setting on the oven.

:D

It's funny that one little missing F has caused such debate. And it sucks that the debate even happened when the temperature setting is followed by an excellent description of melting dolls written by someone who as clearly done their research. I think you should just take out the temperature entirely. We know what ovens do.

Thanks for writing!
#9 ·
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Fine mood piece. I kinda feel this would have been better told in reverse though, with her starting at the down point and then recounting a story that gets her to a positive point so we actually have a bit of arcing and build up.

Prompt relevance... self-identity, etc. I feel it is a bit of a stretch but I can see it.