Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

I had 48 hours to write a 1,000 word story that had to adhere to the following prompts – It had to be a fable, it had to feature a composer as a character, and opium as an object. This story reached the last 16 in the fable genre.

HUMAN STEW

People came from far and wide to see Edward Klein conduct his latest symphony. In the crowd sat kings, queens, nobles, and other men of influence, but Edward had nothing for them to enjoy. He had taken a royal commission and spent all the money boozing and whoring. Money well spent, as far as he was concerned. Six months later, he still had not composed a single note, and now it was opening night. He had no money left to give back, so he would have to give them something of substance if he wanted to avoid the hangman’s noose.

“We still don’t have any sheets,” the lead violin complained.

“They’re coming,” said Edward with a dismissive wave of his hand as he walked towards the rear exit of the building.

“We haven’t practiced anything!”

“Who needs practice when we have inspiration?”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to take a five-minute break.”

“But the show starts in 30 minutes!”

“That’s why I’m only taking five. Relax, I’ll be back. Don’t worry so much.”

But Edward was the one who worried most of all. He could feel the collar of his shirt getting tighter by the second, choking him like a submissive in a BDSM scene. He had one card left to play, and to play it meant risking everything.

From his pocket, Edward pulled out a small bottle of an opium tincture that he had bought from a black magic boutique. A boutique that only appeared when viewed in the reflection of a mirror. The shaman who ran the boutique had imbued the tincture with magical properties that allowed the user to commune with a world that lies just beneath the surface of our own. Edward stuck an eye dropper into the bottle and let two drops fall into his pupil for faster absorption.

A white rabbit hopped out of the bushes and across Edward’s path. It twitched its nose and looked at him quizzically as Edward felt the calming influence of the opium take hold of his senses.

“Excuse me, good rabbit. Do you perhaps know where I could find a crossroads demon? I have urgent business that can’t wait.”

“People usually pay me in carrots when they want something,” said the rabbit with a titter. Edward’s ability to hear the rabbit meant that the magic was working as it should.

“I confess that I have no carrots for you.”

“I’ll be hopping off then.”

“I could put you in a stew,” said Edward, and the rabbit stopped with a look of indignation. “Tell me where to find the demon, and I won’t eat you.”

“I’ll tell you,” said the rabbit. “But it’s not because of your threat. It’s because if you find that demon, then you are the one who is likely to be eaten. Human stew, how do you like the sound of that? There is one such demon that monitors the crossroads just around the corner from here. Stand in the middle and say his name to summon him. His name is Billy.”

“That’s a funny name for a demon.”

“And you’ve got a funny face for a human. What of it?”

Edward let the rabbit go on his way and found the crossroads he had mentioned.

“Billy,” he said as he stood at the centre. All light on the road momentarily extinguished, and when it returned, a goat stood in front of Edward. “Oh, I get why they call you Billy now.”

“Well, that makes you a fuckin’ genius, don’t it? Now tell me what you want before I headbutt you in the dick.”

“I need to be able to conduct an original symphony with no sheet music or practice in front of a live audience, and I need to be able to do it in the next twenty minutes.”

Billy rolled his eyes.

“You artist types are all the same. All you want is shortcuts. Whatever happened to the value of hard work?”

“Can you help me or not?”

“I can, but I want your soul.”

“Don’t have one, I’m afraid. Sold it to a bear on my last opium journey. He turned it into a scratching tree.”

“You summoned me all this way, and you ain’t got nothin’ to trade? I ought to eat your shoes.”

“Isn’t there anything else you want? I’m kind of desperate.”

“What about a cigarette? You got one of those?”

Edward produced a silver case, and from that case, he removed a single cigarette. He placed the cigarette in the goat’s mouth and lit it for him. Billy breathed deep and hacked up his lungs.

“Yeah, that’s the stuff. Hard to get cigarettes when you ain’t got no fingers. I’ll give you the magic you need. Trust me; it’ll be a drop-dead performance.”

Edward staggered onto the stage in the Royal Hall, still in his opium stupor. He had taken a few more drops to take the edge off. The crowd murmured at the sight of him, clearly seeing that something was off. His orchestra looked at him in bewilderment as they still had not been provided with any information about what they were supposed to play. Edward leaned heavily on his podium, lifted his baton, and swished it through the air as though casting a spell. The orchestra remained silent and stared back at him.

“What are you waiting for!? Play, damn you!”

Edward gripped at his heart and fell to the stage. The crowd gasped as members of the orchestra rushed to check on him. Billy appeared over Edward with the rabbit at his side. He puffed his cigarette right in Edward’s face.

“Where’s the magic? I thought we had a deal,” Edward said in a pained, raspy breath.

“There is no magic,” said the goat. “You’re just high as shit. Always have been. Look on the bright side; at least they can’t hang you now.”

“I lived well,” Edward said with a spittle-covered smile.

“Too well,” said the goat.

“Human stew,” said the rabbit.

JUDGE FEEDBACK

What this Judge liked: I like the humour you used; a cigarette for a deal with the devil made me chuckles.

What this Judge felt needed work: It’s hard to call this a Fable. Fable have morals depicted through non-human characters. They can be resumed in a single phrase. “Slow and steady wins the race.” The Turtle and The Hare, the story reflects both Fast and Lazy, and Slow and Steady.
Your story lacks this.
Your moral seems to be “There’s no shortcut in life.” But it doesn’t really reflect that lesson or moral.
The Rabbit and the Billy goat don’t present much of an opposing view to the Composer, mostly being there for the sake of being there. Your structure isn’t bad, neither is the writing, overall your story is fine.

From the genre in this competition that I’ve read so far, Fables seems to be a genre a lot of people struggle with, so don’t take it personal.

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What this Judge liked: I love the interpretation of the prompts! As a musician, I love to see that type of art interpreted into fiction. The use of animals was perfect for the genre, and I liked how you didn’t explicitly state the moral at the end, but hinted at it. I liked that the opium played a key part in the story as well, and didn’t just have a small part in the beginning after he left the concert hall. Overall, very good!

What this Judge felt needed work: Maybe I’m wrong, but as far as fables go I don’t believe strong language to be a characteristic of that genre, but it was used appropriately with the demon character. Like I said, I’m not too sure on that so I wouldn’t take off points for it or ask you to change it. Otherwise, the only thing I have to comment on is the back and forth dialogue is a bit excessive at the beginning so maybe put a dialogue tag on one of the sentences in the middle or end section.

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What this Judge liked: I greatly enjoyed the concept of this being a self-aware opium trip. Billy the demon broke the rather monotone cadence of the narrative by introducing a level of vulgarity I did not expect in a Fable. I don’t know if this was intended and if it wasn’t please feel free to say it was, but when Billy says “I ought to eat your your shoes” after the composer admits to not having a soul to sell him, I feel there is an excellent double-entendre as the bottoms of ones shoes are their soles. Nice foreshadowing with the remark of putting on “a drop dead performance.” I feel the setting was well enough established as some time during the height of the global opium trade and European enlightenment when grand masters of composition were preforming and the drug would have been readily available.

What this Judge felt needed work: The tonality of the piece doesn’t match that of what I would expected from a classic fable. While I won’t nit-pick over what does or does not constitute one I would have liked there to be a more cohesive theme to the work. Fables are generally built around a core moral message, which i feel is absent. Although you could argue, don’t waist all your time and money, then get high and try to make deals with demon hallucinations when your life is on the line, is a good moral message.
I did not feel compelled to invest anything Edward. I wasn’t rooting for him as the hero to overcome his situation and I didn’t feel as though his heart attack was any great tragedy, perhaps more weight could have been given to his position in society or to his slothful decadence.
The analogy of a submissive in a BDSM scene felt clunky and out of place, and did not aid in the establishment of the story’s tone. Perhaps these words could have been better spent elsewhere. (a Sub would also probably enjoy being choked so perhaps this analogy doesn’t work the way you think it does.)
I didn’t understand the need for the opium to come from a “black magic boutique.” while this did lend a air of mysticism I think that paragraph could have been better spent as well.
I’m a sucker for a witty one-liner ending. The rabbit reiterating the title and conjuring that image of human stew could have been something, I wanted it to be, but felt flat and forced. If there was something more about it in the tale then perhaps it would have landed more elegantly. Most people, and in my opinion Edward, aren’t concerned about being human stew.

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What this Judge liked: I like how this fable leaned into some more adult themes. Also demonstrated a good lesson: Fuck around = find out. Makes me want to know more about the MC’s backstory.

What this Judge felt needed work: The scenes were disjointed in a way that was kinda jarring.

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What this Judge liked: This was a really entertaining read with some great lines of dialogue in there. I thought Edward, Billy and the Rabbit were really fun and well-characterised, and the story itself was very entertaining, I was curious the whole way through how Edward’s situation would play out and wondering what would happen next. I particularly liked the introduction of the “magical” element with the black magic boutique, and the twist that ‘Billy’ was actually a goat. Also, the idea of the “drop-dead performance” was a great pun!

What this Judge felt needed work: Although I know it’s difficult with the restrictions of the word count, I think it could have been interesting to establish more of Edward’s reputation as an actual composer earlier in the story. As a character, it was hard to see why he would have gotten the royal commission in the first place. It could have also been interesting to establish the setting a little more clearly; I wasn’t quite sure what era the story was meant to be taking place in. Despite that, it was a very well written piece and a really engaging read! 🙂

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What this Judge liked: The mashing up of anachronistic elements was fun, a la Bridgerton. A hangman’s nose and a royal commission mixed with cursing, grumpy animals—an unusual combo that mostly worked.

What this Judge felt needed work: The details matter. I could suspend my disbelief about the anachronisms, but not about an orchestra that performs an entirely new piece of music without any rehearsing. Also, the metaphor of “a submissive in a BDSM scene” stuck out like a hangnail.

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What this Judge liked: This was a funny story! Your prose is clean and doesn’t attract attention to itself, which is a virtue in a genre like a fable. I especially liked the jokes about Billy the Goat, and selling his soul to the bear. The character of Edward is likable, despite his “theatrics”, which is very well done. Similarly, both the rabbit and Billy the Goat’s personality shines through, despite the low word count.

This is an imaginative story, which took a way different turn than I had expected, considering the prompts (which are all used effectively).

Well done!

What this Judge felt needed work: There are some things that felt a bit inconsistent. In the first paragraph I’m given the impression that the setting is pre-modern (considering all the different kinds of kings and queens, etc.), but then the BDSM-allegory rips me out of that setting and back to more modern times.

The interaction with the rabbit–which is very funny–also had some few inconsistencies. The rabbit says he has a stupid name, but he never gives his name to the rabbit. And the threat falls flat (which the rabbit comments on, but I think it could be solved better), because how is a human supposed to catch a rabbit?

The ending confused me a bit as well. What I’m assuming (considering what Billy the Goat says) is that there never was a magical world, and that he was just “high as shit”?

Apart from that I think you solved both the genre and the prompts. Perhaps the moral of the story could shine through stronger? Something to consider.


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What this Judge liked: The composer lived well. A fun story that reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow. It would be a good opener for a bigger story in my honest opinion. Also, a pretty good blend of morals to be learned.

What this Judge felt needed work: I’ve sat here for like 15 mins trying to think of something. But I’m at a loss, it’s pretty good. Well done.

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What this Judge liked: The rabbit; Billy’s demeanour, and the ending are all high points.

What this Judge felt needed work: It needs more action (and maybe interaction between Edward and the orchestra) and also a little more background to build Edward up as a character. This is tough to do with the word limit so maybe this can be expanded into a 2,000 word story.

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What this Judge liked: -I am loving the dialogue here, it’s so much fun. ‘I ought to eat your shoes’ and ‘You’re just high as shit’ being personal favorites.
-Love the ending and the twist. It’s trippy and weird and makes perfect sense.
-Well paced and has good flow. Doesn’t feel rushed or squished anywhere.
-You used the prompts excellently and they’re nice and front and center of the piece. And it was a super fun read.
– I liked the foreshadowing when he talks to Billy about the ‘drop-dead performance’ Very clever, I missed it the first time but totally got it on the second read.

What this Judge felt needed work: -Maybe the moral isn’t as prominent as you would expect for a fable? That’s probably just a nitpick.

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What this Judge liked: I liked almost everything. Funny, good use of prompts, good pacing.
The end was perfect.
So many good lines, Ray enjoyed it.

What this Judge felt needed work: I’m no prude, but could have been just as good without the cursing.
Not really anything else I’d like to see done differently, but I’m not sure I get the human stew joke.
Fun story.

By Michael