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Time Heals Most Wounds · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Red Forest
The ghostly light of the waxing half-moon shines through the pine forest as the glow of daylight recedes, and the symphony of the night stirs to life.

The trees bow and murmur in the crepuscular breeze, and dark shadows dodge newborn stars as they wing in silence across the bowl of the sky. Near the hilltop, the muffled cracks of trodden deadfall signal a herd of wisent on the move, until they reach the road and their drumbeat recedes into the soft tap of hooves on concrete. Past the frail grasses pushing through the road's spiderweb cracks, a bear cub pauses in her foraging—glancing up with shining eyes over berry-stained muzzle—and scrambles up a tree trunk. Her mother lopes up and chuffs a warning, and the wisent turn and plod away.

A five-legged cicada scurries off the concrete as the herd passes by, and waits patiently for the breeze's next caesura, bracing his legs and flexing his tymbals. As the pines hush, he starts his rattling solo, and another cicada responds from the rock-field at the hilltop. The duet is discordant—the newcomer's song is off-key, occasionally popping into silence before rattling back to life—and it is almost a mercy when a shadow swoops down to the rock-field, cutting off the harmony and receding into the sky.

The shadow arcs through twilight—with flashes of white showing amid the dun as she beats her sleek triangular wings—until the swallow alights on a road sign with her evening meal. There is a soft crunch as her crooked beak cleaves into the cicada's exoskeleton, and she eats quickly, claws poised against the metal. вхо́д воспрещён, it reads, white on red, the enamel of the sign faded with age.

Her belly full, she takes wing once more toward the distant silhouette of the chimneys stabbing into the sky from the squat concrete lump on the horizon—never noticing the larger shadow above her until it's too late. Her world lurches as a body slams into her, talons closing around her wing and neck, and then with a wrench and a pop her awareness dies and her form goes limp. The great eagle clutching the swallow's form beats her wings against the burden of her new meal—regaining altitude as the breeze stirs to renewed life, backing the lone cicada's song with the chorus of the pines.

The eagle wheels a lazy circle back toward the dying light of the sun, soaring away from the forest and through dark and silent high-rise buildings, until she reaches the rusted Ferris wheel standing silent sentinel at the edge of the city. There, in the nest at its apex, two chicks stir, peeping in expectation of their next meal.
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#1 · 2
I enjoyed reading this. In some ways, it makes me think of a "Lost Cities" style fic, with the circumstances shown through the gradual reveal of the background.

And that worked fairly well for me, although I think there were a few missteps. Wisent, in particular, threw me off; I wondered for a moment if I'd stepped into a fantasy story. When I reached the five-legged cicada, that shifted to post-apocalypse, but finding the Russian sign (which really screwed with my live reading, let me tell you what) shifted this to Chernobyl, which was mostly confirmed in my mind by the ferris wheel.

Anyways, I feel wisent was a weak choice, since it's a rather obscure term, IMHO. I had to google it later to find out it's a type of bison. And I'm not sure how many people know that Chernobyl has a ferris wheel, but I'm not sure if there's a better way to signal the ending of the situation.

Other than that, well... that rolling reveal, though nice, is really all there is to the story. Following the actions of the animals works as a placeholder, but it's not particularly compelling? I can't claim I know how to improve this, though.
#2 ·
[This story was read during our fic-reading event in the Discord chat (a recording of which will probably be available soon). This review will be a combination of my own thoughts on the story and what other people in the chat were saying about it.]

It's a good thing that Hat was there for this one, because I never would have figured out that this is Chernobyl on my own. My first impression was just that the story had some very nice imagery, but I didn't see much of a point to it. But once Hat pointed out the Chernobyl thing, I saw that this story is actually quite good, and I think that it uses the prompt very well.
#3 ·
One more here for not realising it was Chernobyl - I figured a general sort of post-apocalyptic setting - but I enjoyed it regardless, and its core message still worked even without me knowing where specifically it was.

The language here brushes right up against the edge of purple without ever quite going over; really, just one single extra fine-wrought descriptor anywhere in here and the whole thing would snap like an overstretched spring, but it never quite crossed that line for me. That's either mastery or sheer luck, and I can't tell which.

Wonderfully evocative, all in all, and a high place on my slate.
#4 ·
Surprisingly satisfying. Well executed with so few words.
#5 ·
The Red Forest - A- — Awfully purple first sentence. Not too bad, and it does set up the scene, but purple. I did spot the Chernobyl reference, although the language level of this story puts it up above what I normally feel comfortable reading, and I kept expecting a motorcycle to drive by. I’m waffling between a lower vote because of a lack of ‘there’ in the story and a higher vote because of the detail, but I’ll lean to the high end on this one.
#6 ·

Though the story doesn't describe characters or any of the development of them, it does use the scene to paint the picture of Conflict, or more likely, a conflict from long ago. This is simply a work of art.

To be honest, I didn't catch that the scene was Chernobyl until the above reviewers mentioned it.
I did, however, catch the hints of the five-legged cicada and Celtic lettering as dissonant and out of place. That adds a little more taste to the story. Who cares if this story ventures into "purple" territory or not?

Whoever wrote this, they've earned my respect and a place in the top of my vote.
#7 · 2
· · >>horizon
Goddamn, if the actual intention of this story was to be about bioaccumulation, which is the vibe I got, then it'll be getting a top grade from me. It may be an unintentional message, but it's what I pulled out on first reading, so I'll admit my nerd-interest kinda colours my review. Still, aside from that, I like the descriptive prose in this piece, in part because it doesn't outstay its welcome, and there were enough clues for me to feel confident I'd figured out the setting in the end. Yes, I like this story very much.
#8 · 1
The ghostly light of the waxing half-moon shines through the pine forest as the glow of daylight recedes, and the symphony of the night stirs to life. → I agree this is overly stilted and convoluted. As most of the story, by the way – it looks like something I could've written six months back.

a herd of wisent on the move, until they reach the road and their drumbeat recedes into the soft tap → Formally, the subject is ‘a herd’ here, so you can‘t really use ‘they’ in the second clause, referring to the bisons. Besides, twice ‘recedes’.

The use of ‘she’ to refer to the shadow instead of ‘it’ is perplexing.

So you've seen the Marooned official video filmed in Pripiat, didn't you? :B
#9 · 2
· · >>horizon
*skips over other reviews*

Wow... somebody is certainly getting their money's worth out of their thesaurus! O.o

Regardless, interesting and excellent use of language to set the scene... And a clever way to frame a story... Focus on the animals, and their habitat... And at the fringes, we see how that habitat contains human artifacts... all of which are crumbling and faded. Clearly there are no longer any humans here.. And time and nature are slowly conquering humanities creations...

When I shocked the Cyrillic text into google translate, I got "Entrance _____?" I half expected it to say something along the lines of Chernobyl, actually... Regardless, a well written and framed story. Even if someone needs to revoke your thesaurus privileges. ;>
#10 · 3
Congratulations, Author, on making me google more words than I've needed to in a long time. Thankfully, I was pretty sure on most and just confirming their meaning, but "wisent" was new to me. The other thing I had to look up with "five-legged cicadia" as I was pretty sure there was no such thing, save by mutation. As that appears to be true, my immediate thought was some sort of radiation or bio-hazard gone wrong. The second the sign was in Russian, I knew we were at Chernobyl, and the theme clicked together perfectly. So, well done! Just take it easy with the thesaurus in the future. :-)
#11 ·
This is the same story as the fox story, but done in a less telly manner. I didn't buy that it was Chernobyl because I can't remember a Ferris wheel being there, and it didn't really matter for the story to work. I think you're being too subtle, is what I'm saying. I would add a touch more clue.

This isn't written by CiG. Not sure how ponies are arriving at that conclusion. I mean, it's probably one of his alts, which are nearly all of us, but still.
#12 ·
A scene in Chernobyl, this didn’t really do a whole lot for me because it didn’t feel like it had anything other than a scene, and while the scene was reasonably well-described, it just didn’t end up touching me or telling me why it was important.
#13 · 3
· · >>Monokeras >>Monokeras
Oh wow. Am I allowed to be excited (given my scoreboard standing) about a bronze? Because I'm legit excited. :D This is my first minific medal in over a year — the vast majority of my awards and points have come from short stories — and also a great antidote to me feeling like I'm slipping and writing nothing but crap lately.

Congratulations to LiseEclaire and Flutterpriest, both of whom medaled as first-time Original Fiction entrants! A special shout-out as well to Monokeras, who missed the finals cutoff by literally one story, and who wrote two entries this round, both of which did well enough that the second one earned positive points after the multi-entry deduction. You're continuing your rise up the rankings, and I expect you in the finals soon! ^.^ And, as always, congratulations to everyone who entered, for having the creativity and determination to get your work out in the public eye, and I hope the process will lead to a better story once you get some editing time.

The Red Forest — Retrospective

This story started life in my backyard, more or less. When the prompt dropped I gnawed at it for a little while and decided I should write something about nearby Malakoff Diggins State Park — during the Gold Rush, there was a big community out here built up around sluice mining, which basically just ripped away massive chunks of earth and used water (and some chemicals) to get the gold to settle out. The debris flowed into streams, permanently shaping the landscape, and the park itself is basically a giant manmade crater that's been mostly reclaimed by nature. You're driving along through the hills and then all of a sudden you see these steep cliffs and the land drops off by 50 feet or so. There are drainage tunnels keeping it from turning into a giant lake, but there are also a bunch of chemically tainted ponds where the water is weird colors and you don't want to risk taking a drink (and some of that gets into the rivers, so water quality is a pretty significant issue here too). There's this very time-heals-most-wounds aesthetic about it: clearly something happened here, and you can still see the scars, but at a surface glance, these days it's basically back to nature like the world around it.

I wasn't 100% on the idea because I felt like it would be too obviously me (a number of other authors here know I live in gold country), but while I was at the con, I pitched the idea to my con roommate and we chatted about it a little. He suggested I take that same nature-reclamation idea and write about the Korean DMZ — one of the world's biggest involuntary parks, a place where people are kept out at gunpoint but animals roam free. I chewed over that, and did a few minutes of web research into involuntary parks, and realized two things: 1) Chernobyl was more iconic, 2) it hit the core theme a little better of having a wound that time can't heal, and 3) it would be much easier for me to write about correctly without extensive research, and because I was at a convention and trying to wedge a story in between con events, I needed to grab at the low-hanging fruit.

I think this story was at least partially a triumph of idea over execution. I was going for a Lost Cities-type effect, since it fit the theme/tone/narrative very well, but it's my first time writing a Lost City and I erred too far into purple prose. (Oddly, the one word that people complained the most about, "wisent," wasn't even introduced as an attempt at prose ornamentation — I used that word because "buffalo" carries very American connotations and I thought that the species name was more common than it apparently is.) If this gets edited I'll definitely dial it back some.

I agree with the common complaint/observation that this doesn't heavily clue to Chernobyl. That was at least partially intentional. The fact that it works as a sort of generic postapocalyptic commentary was very much intentional, and the clues I did pepper in — the wisent and the other particular animals that were chosen; the Russian sign; the concrete chimney-bedecked lump on the horizon; and especially the iconic Ferris wheel of the nearby town of Pripyat — were there as signals to ground it for the people willing to dig a little further. I'm glad that someone caught those early on because having that in comments / the reading's discussion seems to have made a difference to the story's reception.

The sign reads "No admittance". (source)

Half yes? I kinda wrote this focusing on the wildlife rather than the human element (though the lack of humans as the unhealed wound is definitely a legit reading). The wounds that were healed were the animals moving back in, and the bioaccumulation of radioactivity is an unhealed wound, and the insect mutation and the crooked beak were explicit additions to reflect that. The prey-predator chain sort of grew organically out of my desire to pull back the focus little by little, but I really like the way that that teases a lot of themes I didn't explicitly name-drop.

Mostly though I'm proud of this because of how briefly I was able to tell the story I wanted to tell. This is only 450 words, and I poked at it a bit when I was done to see if there was more detail worth adding, but this didn't even want to expand out to 500. I'm pretty sure this is the Writeoffs' shortest medalist ever, but there's no efficient way of searching that from the public-facing data (the only place wordcount is listed is on gallery pages), so Roger will have to back me up on that.

Thank you all for the reading, and the reviews, and both the kind and critical words! See you next round. :)
#14 ·
A special shout-out as well to Monokeras,…

Thanks Horizon you’re adorable! :heart: