Title: Dungeon Master

Takeaway: When the master gets played.

Seat: Back

Logged: 30 Oct 16 (Sunday in the PM)


Time: 4 minutes

Replies: 18

Revisions: 13

Publicity: Superfeed

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You came out of the antique shop where you were “loading up on provisions,” conspicuously empty-handed — no bags, no devices, and no keys, as far as I could tell. And I would remember you by how animated you became when you spoke — by the way you used not just your hands, but your arms as extensions of your deepest thoughts. This seemed to help when articulating one of those dreams that was, “like, you know, watching some crazy adaptation of what’s actually happening to you.”

You worked for the housing authority. “I’m basically a leasing agent slash caseworker slash dungeon master,” you said looking up, extending your thumb, index and middle fingers consecutively. “I open up doors, show people around, tell them what to expect,” you explained, counting again with your fingers. “Utility companies, landlords, tenants, the police, relatives.” I inquired about relatives. “Yeah,” you said matter-of-factly, like the order of those five things was intentional. “People die.”

There was a lot of “hand-holding,” for tenants who were “in transition,” but especially for “people you can tell are going to be permanent.” Actually, some of these people needed more than a hand to hold. You clasped your right fist with your left hand. “They need one they can grip.”

*          *          *

This one “permanent’s” aunt back home in Haiti felt she had about a week to live. You fussed with her over the departure date. You didn’t want the cost of her trip to prohibit her rent, but she wouldn’t budge. She told you, “‘My aunt’s never been wrong about anything in her life.’” So that month, it was either pay the rent or fly home. “She wasn’t asking. She was telling. And she knew family meant a lot to me.” You caved. “I didn’t hide anything I was doing.” You told your boss how much the tenant had to spend on rent that month, and your boss ok’d it. You explained how it worked — that federal dollars would fill in the rest. “I know, I know. But there are worse things our government spends money on.” Her aunt died the day after she got there.

I was wondering if I had to ask how this changed you. You said, “Now,” in an I’m just getting started kind of way.

While she was in Haiti, “Her husband came in and put the rent check on my desk, face down.” He just stood there staring at it. “I was like Yeah?, but he just turned around and walked out. “I was like ok, what was that?” You hadn’t hit it off with this guy in the past, and you learned to go through his wife instead. As you were telling me this, you leaned forward, running your hands through your hair and rubbing your face, covering your eyes like you were dealing with this all over again. “The check was blank.” You rolled your head over to me, sedated-looking. “Dude, it was the last day to pay.”

He wouldn’t answer his phone. Eventually, it just went straight to voicemail. “So because of him, they missed the rent, and I definitely wasn’t going to do that,” you said about writing the check for him. You left several voicemails, each of which was more impatient and urgent than the last.

The following day you called from a different number. “Dude answers,” you said playfully, making a phone with your hand. You said hello and he sighed, “a deep, angsty sigh.” You told him, “I’m sorry. We couldn’t run your check.” He said, “But I gave it to you.” You felt like you needed to scold him for putting you in this situation. “It was a blank. You can’t do that!” You ended up talking over each other. He began stuttering. “That’s not how the world works,” you told him. “I’m just trying to do my job, you know. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know how to just write your name and put down a number?” He shouted, “No, I don’t!”

This changed you, “on like a genetic level.” You didn’t just stop taking literacy for granted. You didn’t just take your time getting to know clients better. And you didn’t simply become more patient with everyone, even going out of your way for them. It was deeper and more encompassing change than all of that.

In your dream the night before we met, you got lost in an underground network of tunnels which connected all the public housing units in the galaxy. “It’s all public housing on Mars, you know.” In a tunnel, you ran into a man who had his spleen on a leash. Then you saw others with other organs on their own leashes. “There was this guy toting lungs that floated in the air.” Another was dragging her kidneys in a bucket. You felt like you were being pulled, too. There were blue doors all along the dark gray tunnel walls. “I tried reaching for them, but it was useless. I didn’t have —” You hesitated and looked down, searched for the right words, arms outstretched in the air in front of you. “I wanted to reach for every door and find my way out.” But it wasn’t up to you. You noticed there was a person in front of you. “It looked like me from behind. But I barely caught a glimpse.” And then you saw a pair of hands crawling, being pulled along on a leash, “in that creepy way you observe yourself in dreams.”

We arrived at our destination, a used bookstore, where you were buying some things for a few tenants. Before you left, I asked what you were getting at the antique shop earlier. You pulled out of your pocket a tiny bag of old-fashioned keys. “I’m making bookmarks.”


Horse » Authorship
Horse » 11:03 PM 11 Dec 16
Horse » 11:02 PM 11 Dec 16
Elk » 4:53 PM 03 Nov 16
Horse » 5:05 PM 01 Nov 16
Horse » 5:04 PM 01 Nov 16
Horse » 4:58 PM 01 Nov 16
Horse » 8:53 AM 31 Oct 16
Elk » 6:53 AM 31 Oct 16
Horse » 6:28 PM 30 Oct 16
Horse » 6:26 PM 30 Oct 16
Horse » 5:55 PM 30 Oct 16

The Thread (18)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. Have yet to read – simply noticing it’s 1349 words at present. We usually shoot for 350-500. A threefold increase potentially can set up a fatal prohibition, i.e. the reader starts but does not finish (lo, cannot finish).

    Also, @horse you forgot to hook up the doll. Draft an excerpt. Witty, punny and/or foreshadowing.

    More to come.

  2. I’m not halfway through and I believe pretty strongly the self-reflective and scaffolding stuff has to go. I think you’re treating the reader like a student. It’s imposing, and not a little condescending. This stuff:

    Next up was slash number two.

    This is when I hit that thing — the thing that means the stories are coming. I asked, “Has anything that’s happened there changed you?” You got into it like you were waiting for me to ask. I’m not surprised by this anymore. Actually, I expect it.

    And I was waiting for something. I was wondering if you were going to tell me, or if I was going to have to ask how that changed you.

    That last one is plausible, it just needs to be cut back by 2/3 to not risk becoming a spotlight.

    I maintain, again pretty strongly, that the driver is not the centerpiece of these stories, nor should he/she ever approach a center to absorb even a little of the spotlight. The driver is merely a vehicle (yep). The riders are the real American heroes. The driver is a hero sub silentio. His/her presence never needs to be mentioned – and to do so draws down his/her status as an almost mythical champion we love for being so quiet, so abiding, so humble, so nearly saintly. For him/her to step into the light contradicts the entire premise and pulls a ruinous piece from the Jenga puzzle.

    “Oh, I thought this guy/gal was modest, and that this was going to be about the beautiful varieties of humanity that cross our paths. It’s actually an elaborate excuse for self-indulgence.”

    Carols Danger.

  3. Let me know if/where you feel too much narrator.

    Also, I have to reiterate that I don’t post drafts here to say “look how fantastic,” but to say “here is something, warts and all very clear to me, and let’s work on it.”

  4. I tried something new in the third paragraph (strikethrough) to suggest some narration I might remove. This might make it easier to see an edit while reading replies and responding (as opposed to going back and forth between revisions).

  5. I don’t care for the strikethrough as a mode of revision. It’ll clutter the actual revision list. The revision tool works perfectly well for me – haven’t heard complaints from any others, only praise, in fact.

  6. Finally finished. Too long. Worth writing. But I suspect if you had more time you’d have written a shorter piece. Can I get a shot at a rewrite – totally acknowledging I still owe one to @falcon at the same time?

  7. You can take a crack at it, but I don’t know if you’ll get through it with the right sense of resolution you’d need to feel as its writer. I’ll do some work through it this week.

  8. Pausing my read to suggest a new vignette begins after “I actually expect it.”

  9. I think that’s an astute piece of feedback, Falcon. There’s some stuff to borrow and resituate from above that line, but you’re right that the story begins after it, and starting where the story begins is in fact the strongest punch an author can throw.

    We feel so obliged to lay the backdrop. But we’re at our best when we’re able to tell the story without explicitly setting it up.

  10. Right — come in late, leave early.

    I’m going to put Elk’s and Falcon’s advice together on this one.

  11. I feel much better about this. Made a major cut (added up to a minute), and threaded some logic through. Final takeaway feels more coherent to me. I’m satisfied. There may be a concision session left.

  12. Finally got around to significant edits. I cut back all the hand stuff, including in the title. It was far too overwrought with a single metaphor. The gist of it stands – perhaps taller for the cutback.

    I also cleaned up some of the dialogue, how it was presented and such (for example internal single quotes where the passenger quotes the tenant).

    Lots of general efforts at consolidation. I’d have really gone at this with loppers if I was feeling bold. I still think there’s inutile inclusion mussing up the piece, but my comb-through and rinse-down goes some way towards readability.

    This feels like one of those pieces that required a second set of eyes because the author was just too close to it to see it. In certain places you were stating, restating, and restating again – whether by theme or by thought. Take a look your last revision compared to this latest one and let me know what you think. (That’s an open invite to everyone. I’d love to hear what other outsiders think.)

  13. I like the Ride, but the story within the story gets tricky with just pronouns.

    To that end, is the omission of names in Rides at once a play to the universal and a way to keep emotions at bay?

  14. I don’t think we’d get nearly the desired effect if names were used. The “you” and “I” dynamic has become signature.

  15. True. I’m not advocating names, just pointing out flaws.

  16. It’s a good point, Bear. I’m aware of the trickiness, and contemplating ways forward for now. Thanks. Blue Moon had a similar challenge. The solution is somewhere along the lines of a story’s rhythm I think.

  17. Reread this and was surprised it was the same ride we were replying about. I love it. I liked it. But I love it now. Best ride award. The check, the illiteracy without judgement on individual or society, just empathy. Thank you. Then the dreamworld came on so unexpected and I re-upped our filmed-ride fantasy.

  18. @horse – Falcon’s praise is a testament to the success of our edits.

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