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A Word of Warning · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Sorrow's Council
Jacob met his spider in the autumn. He was standing at the woods edge, staring through naked trees at low cold headstones in the graveyard.

She slid into view ponderously, descending from barren branches. He held up his cane and she lit on the knob, waving her feelers inquisitively. He spun the walking-stick and inspected her. She was ash-white, fat as a gumdrop and fuzzy as a catkin. A dark blotch marked her back, something like a teardrop, something like an hourglass.

Nothing good came from associating with spiders. He had been told that once. Still, squishing her seemed unpleasant.

She marched up his arm.

He let her be and leaned on his cane, watching October's breath swirl leaves over frost-blasted grass. She trailed cobweb up his jacket, marking him, white thread stark in the cold gold light.

Afternoon darkened to evening. He turned and went inside, spider riding on his hat brim.

Jacob made her a spot in his desk. He stored her in a slim velvet case, an innocuous thing that once held a fancy pen or gilty watch, some thoughtless formal condescension.

At first he closed it and tucked her out of sight. But he could always hear her rustling. He would slide the drawer out and flick the case open and she would sit quiescent, looking up, white, fuzzy, sometimes marked with a timepiece and sometimes tears.

So he would close the case and shut the drawer until the rustling returned.

He finally moved his inkwell aside and left her in the open. She would explore his papers, trailing threads. His clients would grimace when given a contract or letter smeared with spiderweb.

"They're bad company, you know?"

He would nod, smile.

"Can't be trusted."

"Of course." He would grin. "It's a temporary thing. I'll be quit of it soon."

They would snort and frown and he would shrug and return to work, untangling his pen and brushing lace from his papers.

At first, Jacob's housekeeper simply scowled and tutted, sweeping up stray webs or curling them around her feather-duster. She would throw the study windows wide, letting in clean cold autumn air to scour cruft and dust from floors and walls.

But when the webs began spreading, draping banisters and shelves in wispy curtains, she threw up her hands, hung up her broom, and slammed the door on her way out.

Jacob tried to call after, but could only frown.

Afterwards, he closed the windows. The case sat on the desk. The spider sat in the case, staring at him.

He sat in the web and stared back.

His friends trickled away slowly. He kept the spider hidden and few noticed. Some would, but laugh it off or wave it away.

Later they laughed uncomfortably, awkwardly tearing gobs of web from chairs before sitting, hacking paths when they came in the door.

They avoided his study.

When she made herself obvious, some would touch her, let her crawl over their fingers. a few would brush the hourglass-or-skull and cringe, some would leave with strange looks.

His relationships suffocated and curled up on themselves. His friends abandoned him one-by-one, politely citing prior appointments when invited or neglecting to return his messages.

He tried to frown, but could only sigh.

Jacob worked less. Outdoors, autumn crystallized into winter, layers of snow drifting down.

Indoors, the spider meticulously spun her webs to match. She shrouded the portraits in the hall into numbing obscurity. She sealed the empty bedrooms, trapping old memories inside. She draped the windows, shredding the weak-as-water sunlight and leaving the graves distant as fading dreams.

He would rise, push back cobwebbed quilts, shuffle down the hall, and collapse at his desk. He would flip the case open and watch as his spider set about her work. She spun all day, every day, insulating him, isolating him.

One night he left the case open.

He awoke stranded in cobweb.

He could have stood; it wasn't heavy.

He didn't.

He could have lifted an arm or rolled over.

He didn't.

He watched, gaze dull, as the tearstained spider lay a line of silk across one of his eyelids and pulled it closed.

Then the other.

He felt threads accumulate.

Behind sealed eyes, the day was a barely perceptible brightening before a slow, dark descent.

He tried to sigh, but couldn't.

He briefly wondered if things could have been different.

In the end, her bite barely stung at all.
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#1 ·
An evocative series of images, which can be taken as allegorical for many things, from drug abuse, to sorrow, to poisonous relationships with manipulative partners. Elegantly crafted. This round has had a lot of entries that impressed me, and this is certainly one of them.
#2 · 3
Echoing Jaxie, this was marvelous.

I will only add that, as a personal preference, I would have used 'kiss' instead of 'bite' in the final line. That is all.
#3 · 1
Trigger warning: arachnophobia! :P

More seriously... Allegory without parable? I can get behind that.

The style here strikes me as ornate, which... fits the motif surprisingly well. Something about spiders and elegance works well together.

I'm not certain if leaving the interpretation up to the reader bothers me or not. On the one hand, there are multiple 'correct' interpretations, but they're all really very valid... and it's not like they're pointlessly subtle or preachy. This being a straightforwards tragedy would bother me, except that the allegorical layer adds enough depth it resonates personally in a way that I appreciate. Self-destructive behaviors are definitely something I've spent time struggling with.

This is deft work, and has surprising weight given the word-limit.
#4 ·
I swear this is Cold's.

It's an elegantly crafted, chiselled portrait that could've fitted well itself inside a short-story collection book of the 20s. Besides, it packs much information into such a little payload, this is surprising. Really, i was amazed it wasn't longer than the limit.

It feels longer.

I thought everything possible had been written about time and the thread of time and the weavers of destiny, but this entry simply proves that with a bit of poetry, an allegory can always been rewoven around a new spindle.

Nice distaff work.
#5 ·
· · >>Cold in Gardez
I agree with everyone else. Really fantastic imagery. My only question is--what is this character getting out of having the spider around? If we're calling this an allegory for addiction, what is addictive about the spider's presence? He's letting it ruin his life. Okay, but why?
#6 · 2
· · >>CantStopWontStop >>Not_A_Hat

I didn't get the feeling this was about addiction; it seems to be about grief. The cold opening at the cemetery implied it for me.
#7 ·
· · >>Cold in Gardez >>Not_A_Hat
>>Cold in Gardez
Grief makes more sense, or maybe simple depression, but it's open enough that it could be a lot of things. I hit on addiction for the 'Nothing good came from associating with spiders' line, which fits something addictive like gambling/alcohol better than grief. But I was more using addiction as an example.

I'm just not getting any feel for this character as is, or what they feel about any of this, if anything. A better question might be--what's the relationship between the character and the spider? What is the character's perception of the spider? Do they choose to keep the spider, or do they just not make a choice to try and get rid of it? Do they feel any sort of attraction or sympathy towards the spider, or do they just not care? Apathy can be just as interesting as terror.

Maybe it's a better story for how open to interpretation it is now, or maybe it would be a stronger story if it had some characterization. Just something to think about.
#8 ·
· · >>GaPJaxie

It's... true that there isn't a great deal of characterization here. My love of this story stems from its exquisite imagery and use of allegory.
Post by GaPJaxie , deleted
#10 ·
I've only read a few so far, but this looks like a winner to me.
#11 ·
>>Cold in Gardez

Given the title, I would guess grief myself.
#12 ·
The Great

At a technical level, among the best on my slate. The first two paragraphs are some of my favorites in this set of stories.

The Rough

I'm not really sure I can explain what my issue here is effectively. At a broad level, the metaphor just doesn't click with me. Which, I guess, is not wholly a bad thing. Thinking rationally about it, the idea carries (grief is unpleasant but we keep it anyway), but it just fails to click or engage with me at all.

Ultimately, I wonder if I was just more interested in the literal story: I just wanted to see the adventure of a man and his spider.

"One night he left the case open." should be cut entirely. I don't think it adds anything at either level, and is visually distracting because of the breaks.
#13 ·
I really enjoyed the vagueness of this story. Though we know the basics of the spider and Jacob, everything else seems very thinly defined. This made the story seem timeless, like it could be taking place in the past, future, or present. I also just really liked how it managed to have a dark undertone, despite it just being about a guy with a spider. Like a few others, I thought it was an allegory for addiction or toxic relationships in general; the thing that’s supposed to bring you pleasure just alienates everyone around you and eventually ends up killing you. I didn’t expect this kind of tale to be told through an arachnid, but I’ll take what I can get.

With that in mind, I feel like the entire justification for this story happening is pretty shaky. The idea that he didn’t like the idea of squishing the spider is believable, but taking the spider home with him? That I didn’t really understand. I don’t necessarily need it to be explicitly said, but I’m really struggling to see anything in that first part of the text that leads me to believe that he’d take the spider home. Is it because the silk it spun was pretty? That’s the closest reason I can make up, and even that’s pretty darn loose of a reason.

A shaky start, but a poignant portrayal of alienation and self-destruction by the end.
#14 · 1
Sorrow's Council - A retrospective

Writing a retrospective after winning feels odd to me. Hopefully this doesn't seem annoyingly self-congratulatory to you guys. :/ I wrote this a few days ago, and I still think a wrap-up is worth it.

I'm glad you guys liked this, because it definitely felt like writing a bit out of my comfort zone. I wanted to write something a bit darker than normal for Halloween, but not straight-up horror. I don't read enough horror to write it well, and if I wrote good horror, I'd dislike it because it would disturb people... but if I wrote bad horror, I'd dislike it because it was bad. :P But when I woke up on Writeoff day, I had a sufficiently disturbing concept in mind: a helpless man being wrapped up and eaten by spiders.

I tossed it around for most of the day, trying to figure out how to turn it into a story. I eventually realized what I had was just the ending, before hitting on the spiders symbolizing things. I considered a few possibilities before realizing I didn't have room for more than one spider. Then I sat down and typed it up, edited it four or five times, and turned it in.

This was definitely intended to be about self-destructive behavior, and I'm glad that came across clearly. I originally decided on grief/sorrow, (the teardrop on the spider, the gravestones, the portraits in the halls, the empty rooms,) but realized when I got to the 'slim velvet case' that it also worked for drug abuse. I didn't actually intend toxic personal relationships, but looking back, I think that almost makes more sense than drugs; the spider is a being, after all.

What didn't come across as strongly as it should have was how Jacob was supposed to feel trapped and helpless. This is partly symbolized with all the webbing, but several people asked 'what does he get out of it?' so apparently that wasn't as obvious as it could have been.

The thing is, he doesn't get anything out of this except pain. But he can't give it up. That's part of what gets me about this sort of behavior. Procrastination, for example, or the choices I make while depressed; I know, on some level, that making certain choices is bad for me. I claim I 'don't want' to do these things and I'll believe I mean it. And yet, on a deeper level I do want to, or I'm compelled, because I find myself unable to resist and I don't know why. Something as ephemeral and clinging as spiderweb has entangled my mind, and no matter how I struggle I can't rid myself of it.

When editing, I probably should have cut half of the hourglass-and-tears motif from the spider and put whatever words I could free up there into re-enforcing that feeling of helplessness. That motif wasn't pulling its weight anyways. And it turned into a skull once, which I'm surprised no-one called me out on. :P

The seven-word scene needs to stay in some form, I think; it's intended to show that Jacob makes a choice by leaving the case open. In the end, people do what they think they have to, which is part of why it's a tragedy. The linebreaks being visually distracting is certainly true, though, and I could probably just use a soft scene break there anyways, since it's thematically close enough to the ending scene (and that would give the final scene a bookend structure.)

Probably my biggest influence here was Fallen London. I encountered Sorrow-spiders and a 'Spider Council' not long before I wrote this, and I read several blogs about a storyline I stumbled on in the game called 'Seeking Mr. Eaten's Name' which has fourth-wall-breaking warnings appended because it deals with similar ideas of self-destruction. I ended up giving Jacob a hat and a cane because he felt Victorian to me.

Also! Discussing my story on the podcast was nearly as terrifying as it was disconcerting and rewarding. Perhaps someone listening in the podcast noticed me gulp once or twice, but I'm fairly sure none of the tremors reached my voice. Still, it was more than a little nerve-wracking.

Fair warning, I intend to take this story off the Writeoff site, because I'm toying with the idea of sending it to magazines or something. So if you want a copy, grab one soon, or ask me for one later; I'll be happy to oblige anyone who asks.