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Ignore It and It Will Go Away · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
A Fire in the Mind
“How do you tell if somepony’s a changeling?”

I set my lager down on the counter and peered at Figment. He gnawed on his lip and stared at his own beer, untouched as it slowly gathering beads of condensation on the bar.

“Huh?” I asked. Smart of me, yeah.

“If somepony was a changeling, how would you know?”

“Well, they’re insects, they have shiny black shells, and suck out your love.” That last part seemed rather salacious to me; I kinda wanted to see it in action someday.

“I’m serious, Clocks.” He spoke to his beer, not looking around the crowded bar. “They can look like anypony. One of them pretended to be a princess for weeks straight, and nopony caught her. And the invasion…”

Fine, I could play along. “The Guard has spells to find them now. There won’t be another invasion. They’re not stupid enough to try.”

“How do we know those spells work, though?”

“The princess said they do. Ain’t that enough?”

“Is it?” Figment’s horn glowed, and his beer lifted on the counter to his lips. He barely took a sip before setting it back down. “I just don’t… How are we supposed to know anymore, man?”

I took another swallow of my lager. “You just gotta trust ponies. You’ll go nuts if you think everypony’s a changeling.”

Yeah, I actually said that.

Celestia, I was a fool.

It was days before I saw Figment again. Not unusual – we met at the bar most evenings, but it’s not like we were married or anything. A stallion can spend time by himself if he wants.

I waved to him from our usual spot at the bar. He caught my eye through the late afternoon crowd, started, then trotted over to a booth by the wall. A little jerk of his head asked me to follow. I snagged an extra beer from the ‘tender and walked over to join him.

“Hey man,” I said. “Been busy or what?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, just… tired lately.”

“Yeah? You okay?” I slid his beer across the table toward him, and took an extra long look. I didn’t like what I saw. His hair was lank and greasy from days without a wash, and his bloodshot eyes darted around the room. He wasn’t sitting normally, either. He sat sideways, his back against the wall, staring out at the crowd.

“Peachy,” he grunted.

“You, uh, you need help with anything?”

He took a drink. “Sure. You got a way to tell if somepony’s a changeling?”

This again. I sighed. “Fig, there ain’t no more damn changelings.”

“That’s what we thought before.”

“And we’re right this time.” I leaned over the table. “Look, do you think somepony’s a changeling? We can go to the guard if you’re sure.”

He shook his head. “They’d just say I’m crazy.”

“You’re not crazy, man. Maybe a little paranoid, though.”

He didn’t answer. Instead he stared out at the crowd, his eyes dancing from pony to pony, never lingering long. He took a few more sips of his beer in the time I finished mine.

Finally, he closed his eyes and spoke. “They say they have a hive mind.”

“A what?”

“A hive mind. A thing that lets them talk in each others’ brains. That’s how their queen commanded them.”

I scratched my chin. “That’s gotta be weird. Just, like, hearing ponies talk in your head?”

Silence followed. I waited for an answer, but he remained motionless, eyes closed. Lost, perhaps, in slumber.

But no. His eyes opened, and he took a sip of his beer before setting it down and sliding it away.

“Not always ponies,” he said. “Other things, too.”

The bar seemed to grow quiet, receding far away from our little booth. I froze, because what else could I do? I was stupid and callow and young and a coward too, I suppose.

We sat together, silent. In time he stood, gave me a little nod, and walked out of the bar.

I keep coming here, to this same hole-in-the-wall, to this same spot at the bar. I order two drinks, but only one for myself. The ‘tender asks me, sometimes, where Figment went, and if he’ll ever be back.

I hope he will.
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#1 · 1
Okay, this made me think a bit. Naming the guy "Figment" paints it far different than I otherwise would. The setup is well written, but the end loses me a bit. Is Figment imaginary in the mind of Clocks? Or is Figment seeing/hearing voices in his own head? It sounds like the bartender saw the guy, but maybe he's just talking about someone's imaginary friend the way adults sometimes play along with children and their fantasies.

So while I'd prefer a more concrete "answer" at the end, I still say any story that makes me think is a pretty decent story. Nice job!
#2 ·
Whoa... this is on so many levels. Like, is Figment even real? Or did Changelings get him? Or something worse?

Tier: Strong.
#3 · 2
Interesting premise and executed well. You imbue the piece with a good level of ominous foreboding, and tonally it all pulls together really well.

It's a little too cryptic for my personal liking; I enjoy a chance to puzzle things out, and I was left with a few half ideas... But they were exactly that. Half ideas. I'm intrigued to read further comments on this to see if that's a fair assessment or whether I've been having one of my sleepydense mornings. As it was, I felt I was doing all the work. I'm not sure that's a criticism as such, but it was certainly something I noticed. Make of that what you will.

At any rate, I expect this to do well overall. Thanks for sharing your work.
#4 ·
“That’s gotta be weird. Just, like, hearing ponies talk in your head?”

So resisting the urge to shake him and say "that's a terribly, terribly flat description of what it's like" but, uh.

Bias. I think it probably works to have it compared to that in the story context, honestly. But, uh, yeah.

I don't think I'm up to giving much feedback on this one currently, but I like the ambiguity of the premise, and the ambiguity of the bartender asking where Figment went. It could do with more atmosphere, though.
#5 · 2
“Not always ponies,” he said. “Other things, too.”

I figured it out! the BEER is the changeling! and it's speaking into his mind!

Alright, I have no clue either.

Great buildup of paranoid suspense. But I found it very unsatisfying as a twist story, because there's no twist. A story doesn't necessarily have to provide answers to its questions, but here I'm not even sure what question it's asking.
#6 · 3
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>The_Letter_J
...Okay, not sure if I get it. Is the punchline that Figment has begun hearing voices, and he's become certain that he's a changeling and something (THE ALIENS) are communicating with him? This does feel like a functional, suspenseful little tale, but ends somewhat abruptly without really providing a satisfactory payoff.

The lines like
Celestia, I was a fool.

I froze, because what else could I do? I was stupid and callow and young and a coward too, I suppose.

feel like foreshadowing, like we're about to learn of some calamity that came about because of the narrator's choices. But nothing like that ever happens, and these lines ring hollow.
#7 · 1
Genre: Mystery

Thoughts: Put me down with >>JudgeDeadd. This is generally strong and I love the sense of foreboding that it builds. The problem is that I don't feel like we're given enough information to be able to put the pieces of the mystery together. Without that, it's sound and fury signifying... I'm not sure what. But I think the foundation here is strong and this would be pretty easy to clean up.

Tier: Almost There
#8 · 2
The ending of this story makes me feel like there's a much deeper meaning to it that I'm missing, especially given the pony names. I'm also left wondering if either of them is a changeling, or whether Figment specifically suspects that Clocks is a changeling. It doesn't sound like it's possible that Clocks is a changeling, and there are no love-related hints to go on.

I don't understand these two parts. They make sense to the characters, but, ha ha ha, the stupid, ignorant reader isn't clued in:

Other things, too.


Is this implying that Figment is schizophrenic? What does he mean by this? It doesn't make any sense.

I was stupid and callow and young and a coward too, I suppose.

more different wat

Seriously, how is this cowardice? I don't understand what's going on here. Is this all in Clocks' imagination? Is he afraid to offer help to somepony desperately in need? Are they dreaming in cocoons?

Is this whole story abstruseness masquerading as secretive and meaningful?


The ending line just makes it worse. Why?

"Well, they’re insects, they have shiny black shells, and suck out your love." That last part seemed rather salacious to me; I kinda wanted to see it in action someday.


(Also, 'tender for bartender is extremely weird. Nopony says 'tender. Unless you mean his love is delicious and tender? Aaaaugh! I'm seeing changelings all around me! Congratulations, author.) :ajbemused:

EDIT: Hmm. I'm pretty sure I'm seeing things and there's no deeper meaning here I'm missing.
#9 · 1
This is an interesting piece, covering the idea of whether to worry about changeling infiltration and the idea of just ignoring it (so it very much follows the prompt). I though you did a good job covering Figment's paranoia, and just the whole murky atmosphere of the matter.

That said, a lack of information hinders this piece. Who does Figment think is a changeling? Why? Is there actual objective proof of Figment's claims? Or can it simply be explained away as “It's all in his head”? There's not enough information provided so the story and Figment's concerns seem too detached; fill those blanks in and this could be a really good story.

Thanks for sharing!
#10 ·
I came to the same conclusion as >>JudgeDeadd. And I have to agree with everyone else who said that the mood was set really well, but the story is completely lacking in payoff.
#11 · 2
So I'll go on record here stating that I bet dollars to doughnuts that this is inspired by some combo of HP Lovecraft, the Deep Ones, and the Innsmouth Look. Lemme know, author!

I'm also pretty sure that the punchline here seems to be shaped as Figment is a Changeling and doesn't know it. Which... honestly takes a slightly larger leap of logic than I'd like to get to. And yeah, the conclusion is weird with that in mind.

All told, I think the idea and structure is good, but minific was not the right round for it. You don't get enough time to lean on the suspense and slow descent into madness. Which is all I think this really needs, a bit more time to dwell on its mystery and bring forth more creep factor.
#12 · 1
I'm honestly shocked this one didn't make the cut. I think it just left readers a little confused about what happened, and we ended up seeing ghosts of stories as a result.

This was 100% pure, unequivocal Cold in Gardez, however. The writing and mood and feeling within were second to none. I ranked this 2nd in my list, just below the haunted Starlight Glimmer story.
#13 ·
· · >>Posh
UPDATE: Except for one story I ranked three steps lower than the crowd did, this was my only outlier. And what an outlier it was.

Welcome to the Writeoff! It matters how good a story is, except when it doesn't.
#14 ·
· · >>Trick_Question
Welcome to the Writeoff! It matters how good a story is, except when it doesn't.

I'm as disappointed as you are, believe me (though Fire was actually my #9; I ranked your Nineteen-Neighty-Four one spot above it). But reading through the comments, I can't say that I'm genuinely surprised this one didn't stick with as many people.

And this round was particularly dense with high-quality entries, besides. My middle tier in the prelims was largely made up of stories that'd be top tier in the face of less stiff competition.
#15 ·
I didn't read this in the preliminary round, but I think I'm with other people in that while this story had some nice build-up, it didn't actually feel like it paid off.
#16 · 3


Heads up: I am going to plagiarize this so hard it'll make your tail spin.
#17 · 6
I finally figured this one out! The changeling *is* the bar. It sucks out the emotions of the ponies at it while getting the occasional drink of beer from spillage. That's why he's buying two beers at the end, one for him and one for the changeling pretending to be the bar.

It's really simple, once you think about it.
#18 · 7
Figment is schizophrenic. He believes he may be a changeling, and Clockwork ignores the problem and doesn't try to help him until it's too late.

That is all. In retrospect, I should've reversed the characters' names.