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The Grass isn't Greener · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
She sat at the center of the rocky clearing, which was surrounded by massive tree trunks with serrations like pineapple skin. Around her, motionless shapes stood, outlined dimly in orange from the distant firelight. Saurian shapes, with improbably large heads and tall feathery crests. All marred by the signs of violence, chipped and scarred, parts missing…

A thing like a dragonfly, but which had three pairs of wings and was as large as a hawk, buzzed past her and was lost to sight. She looked up to the blue evening sky, the breeze ruffling her black hair.

It seemed wrong, that the stars could still look the same. The Ursae, Major and Minor, spun overhead about Polaris, the center of the grandest pinwheel visible from Earth. But bears didn’t exist here, and Latin never would, either. The Arkies called the constellations Gutting-Claw-of-the-Foot and Gutting-Claw-of-the-Hand.

On this version of Earth, a mammal was just a thing the size of a swamp rat, and exactly as endearing.

And she had nothing for herself, but handfuls of clay, and a glue of dark red.

She stepped up to one of the figures, a thing full of holes like a smashed vase, and started to add pieces back to it, using the red glue to bind and fill. She used the clay to add more volume to the bony crests that ran from the tip of its snout to flare up over its eyesockets like eternally surprised eyebrows. An Arkie face was much fleshier and fuller than the cadaverous reconstructions that museums often made of dinosaurs; still, it was always a challenge to get the thin parts like the ridges and feathers to stand up straight, and she often used straw inside for support, or her own hair. The nightmare-teeth and claws were usually conical enough to stand on their own.

She stood back to check her work, and studied the textures of the feathered back and scaled belly. She wasn’t happy with the musculature around the hips, it was a bit too scrawny. Did she have time to correct it now? Probably not.

She saw motion from the corner of her eyes, and threw the clay back into a wooden box and covered it with a cloth. She used another clay-smeared cloth to dry her hands. Her apprentices might use the clay, or perhaps Chyesh, the most curious of the Arkie hatchlings, would eventually pick up an interest. Or perhaps it would all just topple over into the rain and be gone in a few decades.

A living version of one of the dark statues stepped into the clearing, brushing aside enormous ferns with his feathered arm. He wore a shoulder-belt and side pouch but was otherwise naked. His feathers were brown, striped and crested with flashes of color appropriate for tropical birds, and the scales of his belly were speckled like pebbles on a riverbed.

He strode to her and touched his snout to her neck. “They are ready, Kh-Teh”, he hissed. It was how all of them mispronounced her birth name, Katie.

She rubbed her forehead on a similar spot at the base of his neck, and hissed back at him. “I’m ready too, Hyathka.”

He stood still, his gutting-claws tucked back and his scalp crest lying low. “Kh-Teh, I wish again that you do not do this. You are many things to me, to the tribe, that we do not want to lose.”

She sighed and her nostrils flared. She took hold of his right claw and stroked the tiny feathers on the back.

“Hyathka, it’s… it’s how you said, the day after I came, when you were still teaching me what plants were poisonous. Remember? ‘Nothing is hard about dying. It can happen any time.’

He stared at her with golden slitted eyes, then dipped his long crested snout in yielding affirmation.

Together, they left the clearing of shattered sculptures and headed towards the fire, and the end of it all.

She had never found out what had happened to bring her here, five long painful years ago.

She’d been working her way through college, doing part time stock work at Pearl Arts and Crafts, and a woman had asked her to get a box of paper from the back. She’d slipped on that old worn ladder that was covered with band stickers and flaking paint, and fallen, and somehow when she’d hit the floor she didn’t stop there. Something shifted all of her senses at once, and she was gone, departed from the world. A divine wind, magic fallout from an ancient ceremony, an errant beam from CERN? In the end, just another missing person report, like the thousands that go unsolved each year. Perhaps some of them just went further than anyone could ever dream.

Like a bug that had flown into a car which then made a cross country trip, she had been dragged between worlds by bizarre events beyond her control, and only an equally monstrous and improbable event could reverse what had happened. Further, it was very likely that whatever forces had moved her cared as much for her well being as the car’s human drivers would care about the fate of the bug, separated forever from the only life it had ever known.

She’d awoken at the edge of a primal forest under a blue sky, and ringed by the Arkies, who all erected their scalp crests in surprise and shrieked, exposing their many, many sharp teeth. The first few moments were a blur. She’d scrambled to her feet and run from them towards the forest, which in retrospect would likely have gotten her killed if she’d succeeded. But one of them grabbed her from behind, and she screamed and struggled in full scale panic until she realized they weren’t actually biting her to death, and they were all holding tools—recognizable hoes and rakes that they were using to plant rows of odd seeds that looked like cones.

They’d led her back to their village, and put her in a pen meant to hold a kind of meat animal distantly related to turkeys, but which had snouts instead of beaks. She then sat there fending off the fat stupid beasts, while the Arkies stared at her, and hissed and gestured around her until they reached a sort of consensus. Though she was extremely odd-looking, and smelled like nothing they’d ever encountered, she was clearly Chaisahk just as they were, and therefore taboo for eating.

So she wasn’t on the menu.

But then, where was she?

There was no very satisfying answer.

The next day, they’d fed her on a sort of gruel made from a plant like yucca, mixed with chunks of meat from the turkey-critters, and then sat her down with Hyathka, the Arkie who’d originally saved her from running blindly into the forest. He began slowly to teach her how not to die from random environmental causes, along with the first bits of their language. She would learn over time that his skills were not considered particularly valuable for farming, as he tended towards daydreaming and staring at the sky. However, this made him one of the best candidates to assign to trying to learn more about her, and to communicate with her. Since she had nowhere else to live, he set up a reed bed within his own hut for her, and at her request helped her to weave a privacy screen.

A month later, she was helping with basic farming tasks, could distinguish fifty-three poisonous wild plants and twenty-five toxic creatures, could gather food from the forest with reasonable confidence, and had a vocabulary of about a thousand words of their speech. She knew the name of this village, Rasakat-Hseich, and the surrounding villages as well.

“What is Chaisahk?” she asked Hyathka, recalling the word the Arkies had used in discussing her fate on the first day.

“It’s… people, I think.” said Hyathka. “But there must be more to it than that, because you’re not people people, but clearly still people. Am I being clear at all?”

“Not terribly, no, but maybe I’ll pick it up over time.”

She was still struggling to find ways that she could fit in. There wasn’t much you could do as an art student that was critical to the success of an agrarian tribe of sauroids. Farming and gathering bugs and vegetables did not seem like a fun life, but she kept on.

Her strongest dreams were that some lucky accident or happy intervention would result in her returning home, to the Earth of cellphones and smooth drawing paper and decent toilets and reasonably hot guys.

A year after her arrival, dreams of the miraculous return were keenly felt as ever, but the hope that had powered them was going sour.

She’d spent hours watching the sky, trying to spot contrails or satellite streaks, but she’d found nothing. She couldn’t be on some remote spot on Earth, and her other idea, that there was a more advanced culture elsewhere on the planet that might help her to get home, was dispelled by the natural sky and the testimony of the Arkies. There were no cities to be seen in the distance, just neighboring tribes of Arkies at the same tech level, who hadn’t heard any interesting rumors either.

Her attempts to find a larger place in the tribe had begun disastrously when she’d undertaken to help care for the hatchlings. It was usual for the females, once a male had quickened their eggs, to deposit them in a warmed basin of sand in a large hut termed the Nursery, and the young Arkies tended to remain here in a creche after they had hatched.

She was inattentive for just a moment while feeding one of the sharp-toothed children, and lost the tip of her middle finger.

While her wound was being bound by a mostly sympathetic and partly amused matron, she made inquiries about other lines of work. She was not cut out for extended hunting or for fighting. As for the healer’s arts, these were the purview of the physicians—the DoctorFather and DoctorMother—who held hereditary positions with closely guarded secrets that they were not likely to divulge to strange creatures such as humans from other timelines.

However, it turned out that pottery was something that everyone could appreciate, and she started to turn this into her niche. A small rocky clearing by the river, not being suitable for any other purpose, was given over to her use. She set up rude buildings there, brought the clay in basket loads from the riverbank, and set up a kiln. She dubbed it Pottery Glade and slowly started to upgrade the dishes, urns, utensils and other ceramicware in Rasakat-Hseich, with many of the pieces becoming trade items of some interest in surrounding villages.

Kh-Teh still held within her the pangs of her stillborn hopes, but resolved this by throwing herself into her work. She used the first kiln to build a second, the second to build a third. Soon, she was able to fire life-sized statues, and began to sculpt them from those of the Arkies who had time to pose for her. The clearing filled with her artwork and experiments, which she arranged into a garden among which the shouting hatchlings came to dodge and play. One of the more inquisitive of these, a lanky straggle-feathered sort named Chyesh, would sometimes come to peer over Kh-Teh’s shoulder as she worked. Chyesh, though cute for a sharp-toothed thankless serpent child, tended to remind Kh-Teh of the fact that she was unlikely to ever start a family here, or anywhere else at this rate; still, she put as cheerful a face on the situation as she could.

Two years after Kh-Teh’s arrival, an unusually strong hurricane season sent storms swirling far up the coast, and a bad one passed directly over Rasakat-Hseich with little warning. The Arkies knew to take shelter in a nearby cave system, so no lives were lost. But the thatching of the huts was entirely ripped away. This was no serious loss in itself, as thatching had to be replaced regularly anyway.

But for Kh-Teh, returning to Pottery Glade and seeing the work of her years shattered on the ground, it felt as if every connection she had tried to build to this horrid and ungrateful world had been ripped away and dashed upon the stones.

A week after that, she stood in the clearing before the shattered statues, holding a flake of razor sharp obsidian to her wrist.

There was a technique for restoring broken pottery called Kintsugi or Kintsukuroi. You weren’t trying to hide the cracks so much as acknowledge them as part of the history of the object, and make them look pretty. It was customary to use a powdered precious metal, such as gold or platinum, in the adhesive.

Precious metal wasn’t available to her in her experiments with making a strong glue. But over many tests, she’d found an alternative. While mixing one batch of resinous lacquer, she’d cut her finger and drops of blood had fallen into the mix. The resulting glue had proven superior to all her other attempts.

She took a deep breath, opened a small vein in her wrist, and let a few ounces of blood into a bowl before applying sticky bark to close the wound. She stirred in the resin and other ingredients, then started to rejoin the pieces of her sculptures, one by one.

She was calling her process Ketsukuroi, “blood repair.”

Five years post-arrival, on a moonlit night, she was sitting by the open window in Hyathka’s hut, working on drawing a human male from memory. It was getting harder over time. Seeing her own face in a bowl of water was becoming odd to her. The Arkies had become her model for how other sapient beings were supposed to look.

She found she was drawing scribbly circles on the leafpaper, and decided to give it up for the night. She set down her pad next to her reed mat bed, which was now located next to Hyathka’s. The old privacy screen stood in the corner, rarely used.

She gave off a long sigh of a sort he’d learned to interpret. He set down a rake he’d been repairing, and leaned over from his mat, extending his long neck, to rub his cheek smoothly against her left ear. She closed her eyes and reached out to him, pulling him closer.

They proceeded slowly, as if each was playing chess against an opponent with pieces of unusual shape, though they had taught each other the most important moves by now. He knew where he could safely and gently bite her shoulders, she knew which way to stroke the feathered skin on his lower back. Proceeding by learned rituals and not instinct, they worked to please each other.

Her eyes still closed, she wrapped her arms and legs around him as he slid against her, and she let the images drift in her mind and relaxed into the rhythm of her body. She still had Earthly fantasies sometimes, but they were often too painful and killed the mood. She thought abstractly instead, of wind in the conifer trees and the mountains highlighted in moonlight, intriguing shadows in the sculpture garden and the intimacy of bare feet treading on fresh soil, until her body grew into its senses and rose to his touches.

The rest of the act was formal and well practiced by both of them, and she gave herself over to release, hugging him and biting his neck as he writhed over her and reached his own climax

As her breathing slowed, she curled up against his long smooth scaly chest and belly and cooled herself off by giving him her heat.

“I wish I could do it for you, to quicken your eggs, Kh-Teh,” whispered Hyathka as he stroked her hair.

She stared over his shoulder, through the window, up and out at the familiar stars with their weird names. Despite her internal yearnings, she wondered what the point would be, to add more humans to the tangle of this odd path of history.

“I… appreciate the thought, Hyathka,” she said.

It was just a month later, while delivering a crate of crockery to the nearby village of Ceheik-Hseich, that she overheard some kitchen workers talking about the elderly father of the cook, who was suffering from a painful disease with no cure, and therefore had made arrangements.

Kh-Teh got curious, and asked them for more details.

And that was when she found out that the Arkies did have a ceremony for physician-assisted suicide.

She’d taken extra time to think it all over, then she had visited the DoctorMother, stated her desires clearly, and declined to be dissuaded by the usual arguments. A date a week in advance was set.

She had spent the remaining time at Pottery Glade, training one of her assistants to become her successor, and continuing to rebuild the hurricane-riven sculptures, for this was work that soothed her. The days passed quickly, and at the appointed time, Hyathka came to bring her to the fire, where the ceremony was to be held.

The DoctorMother was dressed in a tall head-dress and costume of black bird’s feathers that muted the bright colors of her plumage. She held a squirming centipede in her left hand as Kh-Teh stepped before her.

“You are Chaisahk, as we are,” said the DoctorMother. “Thus, an animal’s death is not a fit way for you to leave us. And even though a warrior’s death is available to any who would defend the tribe, not all are truly suited to be warriors. Thus we have prepared a means fit for those who bear Chaisahk to end a life they can no longer endure.”

The DoctorFather emerged from the hut, dressed like the DoctorMother in black, holding a large square wooden bowl. The DoctorMother held out the centipede and opened its abdomen with her gutting claw. She allowed a blue slime to fall from it into the bowl, and the fluid inside roiled and smoked. She stirred it with her claw, then presented the bowl to Kh-Teh.

“One sip, Visions. Two sips, Death,” hissed the DoctorMother.

Kh-Teh took the bowl, inspected and sniffed it. In addition to the centipede juice, the sour goop in it was composed of things like pounded pine cones and other things like scorpions and some things like proto-pomegranates with woody husks. Some shaman or another had probably spat in it along the way, and she hoped that was with a p.

Kh-Teh knew that there was a chance that one sip would just kill her anyway. She was lucky that most of the foods that the Arkies ate were non-toxic to her; she’d gotten sick from some of their chow, regardless. And what was a sip anyway, as a dose? Something that would fill their large snouts or her small mouth?

She settled herself on the ground and raised the bowl to her lips, looking over the rim. The DoctorMother held herself in a neutral attitude. Hyathka stood by her side, and he trembled, but she assumed he wanted to be reassuring. The young hatchlings dashed about chasing dragonflies; the older ones that had watched her at work at Pottery Glade stared in interest or perhaps apprehension…

There was a life behind her that might as well have never been, and a future of… what, exactly? Helping to uplift the culture of a pack of sapient raptors? She wasn’t a paleontologist, she’d just watched some Jurassic movies, and she wasn’t an engineer either. She couldn’t remember how to build a flush toilet that didn’t splash all over, and she’d been trying for a year. Hyarkha could relieve her heat, but he couldn’t sire a child for her; nothing that existed on this world could do so. So that was another pang that wouldn’t go away. Whatever she did, humans were doomed to extinction here. It didn’t matter much if it was sooner rather than later.

She uttered a small non-prayer, commending her spirit to anything that might happen to be listening, lifted the bowl and slurped once.

The place wasn’t blue and it wasn’t green. Nor was it anything else, but mostly it wasn’t those.

She strode through discordant reflections of herself, as if she were surrounded by shattered funhouse mirrors made of smoke and jelly. She’d almost died in a bike accident when she was eight; she saw the version of herself with the twisted neck. She’d been about to fuck a guy without a condom until she saw a needle track on his arm, then she’d sent him away; she saw a version of herself wasting in a hospital bed. She’d pulled a hot pot from the stove when she was five and it splashed her pants; she saw the version where it had poured onto her face and almost threw up.

She got glimpses of the current appearance of her body from the reflections about her, and finally snagged a large enough piece to get a good look. She felt like herself, but saw with eyes that surrounded her that she was suddenly old, thin, white and wizened, breasts hanging like empty purses, tattoos in the style of the Arkies covering her body, one leg missing and replaced by a clever wooden limb, deeply tanned with a baked-in fierce expression.

She snorted and reached for another piece. She saw a fat woman sitting in a wheelchair, shaking slightly, yelling at a younger woman who looked slightly like her, who looked something like Kh-Teh as well… She saw now, the woman in the wheelchair was her; the younger must be a daughter? Was that one of her own paintings on the wall, in the cheap plastic frame?

They were having an argument in some language that sounded familiar… Suddenly it snapped into place; it was English. Kh-Teh had not spoken English to another native speaker in over five years and the ability was drifting away from her. Just what had she become now, a phantom that arose from the intersection of two insanely unlikely chains of chance?

As Kh-Teh stared, the old fat woman turned her head towards the ceiling, then with growing astonishment looked Kh-Teh in the eyes. Kh-Teh reached out towards the vision, her own hands trembling with awe.

The other version of her yelled, rolling backward, and threw something. That reflection ended in a burst of screaming sparks, and Kh-Teh ducked and blinked.

She looked around in growing despair. All about her were discarded snips of life, chains that had gone nowhere, chains that had not led to her becoming President, or Sculptor Laureate, or any life of righteous justification, ease or comfort.

The only lottery she’d ever won was to be born at all, in some form.

The whole silly pile of fragments was gross and redundant, with scraps of Kh-Teh mixed with Katie, scarred and scattered. Instead of an art gallery, there was the sand and wind and open sky; instead of a raven-haired lover rubbing her back on the beach, there was Hyathka picking insects from her hair in their hut. Not a single bit of this was anything that Kh-Teh had ever wanted or dreamed of happening, but they were what she had.

With slices of pain and glue of blood, she began to stick some of them together, until she had something she felt she could stand up while wearing. As the forests receded and the hills melted into the seas, she was still at it.

Kh-Teh didn’t remember opening her eyes. The world faded in from colors unworldly to colors not inappropriate for a rainforest, and then to shapes that graced reality, and the faces of the Arkies all around her staring down as she lay on the ground with the wooden bowl beside her.

She sat up slowly. Every small movement felt like a mile, and she could hear insects singing miles away, and her heartbeat sounded like the flowing of the tides. She was back in her young body; nothing on the outside had changed.

She reached out carefully to the bowl, and raised it to her face, seeing her reflection in the oils on the surface of the liquid. A face distorted by the chunks and inclusions, a face worn by time and broken, as with all things that live and most things that perceive.

Second sip, Death.

She brought her lips close to the scummy liquid, and inhaled—

Her gut clenched and her gorge rose, and nasty yellowish fluid sprayed from her mouth as she reflexively hurled the bowl away. On hands and knees, she wretched and heaved vile stuff from her mouth into the sandy dirt.

As she got up again, spitting and wiping her mouth of bitterness and filth, she looked up at the DoctorMother, who regarded her with a kind eye and her lipless smile. Nearby, Hyathka was almost dancing with hope.

“Chaisahk,” said the DoctorMother.
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#1 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Man, I fucking love this. Reads just like the best kind of stories I'd find in old sci-fi short story collections, the weird and slightly unnerving ones I'd still find myself thinking about years later. Good stuff.
#2 ·
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Very nice:

The only thing that tripped me up--other than the story having twice as many commas as it needs--is my old bête noire, the POV shift. We start the story very firmly in Katie's head, but after she falls off the ladder in the flashback, we suddenly get a lot of things told to us by some voice external to her. I'd recommend keeping us in her head and showing us the experience through her senses. I'd also like more details about her life among the lizard folk--maybe the kid who gets interested in her pottery is the same one who chomped her finger, for instance, and what sort of conversations does she have with the other villagers?

This is a good first draft, in other words. Now deepen it, give us more of the characters and how they relate to each other. Because us readers are never satisfied!

#3 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I'll be honest, after my first skim-through of this story, I was a little trepidatious to return to this. Not that I hated it Author, mind you, it's just that despite all this entry's ambitions, I had a fleeting thought that the story might not be able to carry it all the way through and that the cracks in between would start to compound and become visibly larger in subsequent reads.

Six reads later, I came away with it still noticing a few cracks here and there, yet everything holds together pretty solidly in the end.

As per usual, I'll start with the cracks first and then gush about it later.

Perhaps the biggest fissure I can see here is that I think the lizard people are a little bit one-note, serving really only to play off our protagonist if anything else. As much as I want to learn more about the lifestyle of the Arkies, I would rather like to see more of their interactions with each other on a more personal level, Hyathka in particular. It will do wonders for this story if we have more insight into what they mean to each other and to our protagonist especially.

I think the concept of Chaisahk as well doesn't seem well-defined. I'm not saying I want the DoctorMother or anyone to outright define it and see examples of it being used in a sentence or anything, as I realize it's probably intentional for it to be as vague as it is. I just think the story would fare better if we're given at least a subtle nudge as to what Chaisahk really is through the writing, especially in the acid trip towards the end.

I also concur that the comma usage is a bit overdone in some parts. They did muck the pacing a little bit. It's immediately noticeable if you read it out aloud, so maybe you could do with ironing some of them out.

So yeah, those are the little cracks I drew from the story. Nothing the sands of time and a few drops of sweat and maybe blood couldn't fix, I hope.

Now, the good stuff.

The premise being presented here is definitely the most interesting of the bunch. I was a bit doubtful of all the parallels being drawn to Earth initially but it began to gel with me the more I came back to read this, mostly because I started getting a clearer context of what this story was gunning for. The prose really helped with selling this world, the descriptions especially so. There's a lot of thought and care placed into sculpting the world and giving it life, which is astounding when I considered the span of time in which this story had to be crafted and written.

The tone is honestly something I'm vibing with a little too much. I don't know how to describe it, but it was somewhat otherworldly and beautiful at the same time. I had the same experience with this story as I had with many of my favorite psychedelic rock songs, which is technically high praise coming from me. However it came about, it's definitely the last push needed to convince me that this story's something of a special one, and that I needed to give it a few more reads to really understand what's happening here.

The narrative here's a rather passive one. There's not really a sense of urgency being cultivated here, which was one of the factors that had me worried would disrupt my experience with this story. After all, this was a world that was depicted and delivered with grace and care, a world that had managed to seize my interest on my first encounter with it, yet there was a chance that the accompanying story would not live up to the majesty of its premise. Suffice to say, I'm glad that even despite that being the case, it all comes together amazingly well in the end.

And it's really all thanks to Katie Kh-Teh and her representation in the greater context of the story.

It was definitely a smart move having our leading lady be accomplished in pottery. That alone already sold the story for me, as the consequent threads it pursued really hammered home her sense of feeling like an aberration in this errant world and her want to belong to anything really. Honestly, there's a lot of lines for me to draw with every mention of clay and pottery throughout the story, some of it unintended, yet all of them ties really neatly together in the end. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of her version of kintsugi and the sex scene with Hyathka that followed. It's rare that I find a sex scene to be poetic even when given a greater context, yet here's one rather fine example that manages to do so.

Also, any good implementation of kintsugi woven comfortably into the story is a win for me.

Ultimately, Kh-Teh's struggles to belong shines through really well. The fusion of pottery with her want of belonging is thematically cohesive, which pushes this story, however passive it may be, from 'alright' territory to 'really good' for me. I just want you to know that you have a really special entry in your hands here, Author, cracks notwithstanding, and I'll definitely be looking forward to where you're taking with this.

Thanks for writing, and good luck!
#4 ·
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Alternate Title: What an Isekai Would Really Be Like

Two things I liked:

1. Man, the world-building in this is dope. This is like something Philip José Farmer would've written fifty years ago, although he would've made it more overtly erotic. From what descriptions we're given of the Arkies I'm anxious to imagine what they look like, not to mention their culture isn't quite what I'm used to reading about in one of these human-meets-alien-culture stories. Yeah, there are a lot of those. But Reshaped builds an alien world that feels like it would actually be inhospitable to most (if not all) humans, and we come to understand why Kh-Teh feels the way she does.

2. I like how the plot is less about getting from point A to B and more about building up a series of tones and mindset changes which propel Kh-Teh into making her crucial decision in the climax. You could put a lot of these scenes in any order you want, and that might give the impression of an incoherent whole, but I think if you're going to do what is essentially a character study, capturing these moments well is more important than putting them in the "correct" order. The episodic structure also made me feel like I was reading something that's longer than it actually is, but in a good way.

Two things I didn't like:

1. Okay, grasping at straws here, but it's unfortunate that there are some typos here, including a sentence that's missing a period. It's clear that a lot of thought and time was put into refining the world of the story, and it's a shame that this hard work occasionally hits a speed bump with a glaring typo.

2. While I like the theme itself, I do wish it was sprinkled more throughout the story, as opposed to being back-loaded into the climax where we get a quick series of descriptions that shoves the story's message in our faces. You could argue that since Kh-Teh is having an epiphany this abruptness in messaging is justified, but I feel like you (the author) could integrate it more seamlessly into the scenes leading up to the climax.

Verdict: As a story it's pretty good; as a first draft it's pretty great.
#5 · 4
· · >>Miller Minus >>GroaningGreyAgony
So I'm sitting here in my office today, and for whatever reason, I've decided to write an entire post on sex in fiction. What a terrible life I've lived that has driven me to this decision.


There's something I wanted to point out about this story that in particular is a sticking point in the narrative and generally a sticking point in most writeoff stories in general. That being, the topic of sex and sexuality and how it's presented in a narrative. In a number of other entries along the long, long history of the writeoff, we often have had the discussion of how sexual content influences the reader's perception of the narrative as a whole and how the inclusion of sex often calls into question the author's intent.

Let's be frank, Author. Guiding the reader's investment in the seriousness and themes of the story over the hurdle of fucking a lizard person is a difficult feat. The concept on its face will seem ridiculous to most people at best, and pandering to fetishism at worst. The beneficiary of being involved in the write-off is that the majority of the audience already has a predisposition to fuck cartoon horses, so this detail may be overlooked by most of the crowd, but not me.

Not Cassius.

It's not exactly that I have an objection to the scene itself in the story; in fact, I would say that it is a pretty meaningful inclusion. However, I do have a bit of an objection to how it is written and the ramifications that it has on the perception of the story as a whole, as well as the scene's inclusion in the meta-narrative. The descriptions are evocative of a romance novella, but the tone and meaning of the scene are ultimately in opposition to that end. The rosy depictions of lizard-foreplay are in direct contrast to the protagonist's actual thoughts and feelings, as well as how the scene is supposed to be perceived as a whole. The sex scene, as I read it, is supposed to express our protagonist's feeling of isolation and futility of her attempts to adjust to the world around her. The scene immediately following this one, our protagonist decides she will commit suicide, after all.

But none of that is really felt in the description. Some of the character's internal monologue gives off this sensibility, but how the "action" is depicted itself doesn't belie the same sort of sentiment. If anything, it comes across as conspicuous scalie fetish bait. This is compounded by the not-so-subtle details at the beginning of Katie carving naked female scalie statutes and deciding they need bigger asses. Don't think I didn't catch that.

What I'm trying to get at is that the ultimate fetishization of the scalies, even if unintentional (which I have a VERY hard time believing), undermines the tone of the story itself, and detracts rather than adds to the overall end product. It's strange how, for lack of a better word, horny this story is, not because it's improper for our protagonist to be horny in this situation, but because of how the narrative chooses to describe this more as something that's supposed to be titillating as opposed the byproduct of desperation and loneliness or integrating a greater theme into the narrative. It comes across as "cheesecake", more than a meaningful narrative inclusion. It's a hard tonality to strike, and I'm not accusing you of intentionally writing this story explicitly for the purposes of brainwashing the writeoff with your shameful shameful scalie fetish (although I do consider this a possibility), but more criticizing the overall tone as being uneven and the presentation as being too exploitative for the narrative the story is trying to tell.

Other than that, pretty good entry.
#6 ·
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Sorry this is late but someone accused me of writing this entry and I don't like to look a gift red herring in the mouth.

I had a lot of trouble getting into this entry. True, the prose is lovely and I never found myself looking for something else to do as I was reading, but, weirdly enough, the usual side-effects I feel from reading a beautifully written story—wonder, emotion, thoughtfulness—just aren't there right now. I'm not feelin' it.

I think it was just too fast, Author. I feel like I just read a 70,000 word novella scrunched down into 4,200 words. The complexity of Katie's tragic circumstances take so many stages in this story, but I don't really get to see them as much as I get to be told about what she's feeling on a certain day, before we move on to the next day, rinse and repeat. It's very high-level, and I have trouble getting emotionally invested with high-level storytelling.

For example: The storm, and the repercussions of it, play into the theme of the story brilliantly, and what was meant to be a hinge-point in your story happens over only two paragraphs. And when something's that short, I don't think too much about it. There's so much of that shortness here.

Also, count me down as someone who clattered horribly into the hurdle described in >>Cassius's piece, Lizard-Human Sexual Compatibility and Their Narrative Implications, a Dissertation. I found that scene really gross. And here's what was really frustrating about it: If we don't include the introduction or the finale, that sex scene was given the most attention of anything in the story. We gloss over her entire journey from a scared victim of Isekai, to learning a new language and how to survive, through becoming useful, through introducing this species to art, through the entire setup of her and Hyathka's relationship, and finally to a girl struggling to connect with those around her, yet it's that scene that gets the most words. I found that frustrating.

As a concept, and as something written very nice and very tightly, this story is fine. I wish I had seen it play out in a longer form, and I especially wish I had seen more of Katie interacting with Hyathka. Those little interactions between two characters flirting with a relationship, when written well, will go farther than the prettiest prose every single time.

And who knows? Maybe if I'd seen their relationship play out, I wouldn't have hated the sex scene. Who really knows.

Thanks for writing. Good luck. See you next time.
#7 · 3
>>Meridian_Prime, >>Baal Bunny, >>WritingSpirit, >>No_Raisin, >>Cassius, >>Miller Minus


Thanks for the gold!

I was fortunate enough to get a good idea on the first day; if I get one at all, it usually comes to me on the afternoon/evening before the deadline. Even so, I lost Saturday to other commitments, so I had to summarize a lot. The terseness of most of Kh-Teh’s backstory can be partly attributed to this; I should have shown more of her interactions with the Arkies through rendered scenes.

I was hoping not to have to spell out what Chaisahk means, but sort of evoke it. It involves elements of sapience, resilience, and the drive to make it through somehow, anyhow.

>>Cassius >>Miller Minus

Well, it worked for Chuck Tingle.

I didn’t want to glorify or fetishize Kh-Teh’s interactions, but point out how awkward a solution they are to her troubles. She and the Arkies really are not sexually compatible, and nothing Kh-Teh does is going to improve that. She is certainly not slapping extra meat on the asses of the sculptures she makes to try to sexualize them further, though I applaud your creativity in coming up with that one. I’ll probably follow the suggestions to downplay this part or remove it.

Thanks to all for the great comments. See you next round!
#8 ·
tl;dr I feel like there's a missing third race that trades with the village and whose existence explains the existence of the word Chaisahk.

I think I got Chaisahk, but what struck me about it is that they have a word for a thing that they may never use, and are an agrarian society. If I were to travel back in time 1000 years and visit an English farming village, they'd have no equivalent for sophont or sapience.

One of the most striking things I've learned about language evolution was in a piece about color words. A thing I'd heard before, but this time it was expressed in a very clear and understandable way. It went something like "cultures don't create words for colors until they can reliably create them." Likewise, I wouldn't expect these lizard people to have a word for sophonts until they (this particular village) are regularly interacting with at least one other group of non-Arkie sophonts.

The bit about language came--probably on NPR--from an article similar to this article about blue, which states
In fact, the first society to have a word for the colour blue was the Egyptians, the only culture that could produce blue dyes. From then, it seems that awareness of the colour spread throughout the modern world.