Pathogens

Dec. 20, 2019
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Average Rating: 3.5
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"Congratulations, you have wiped out the entire population of New York City." Congratulations, you suppose, are in order. New York has been written about at such length one would never know there was life outside of it. Let them try to get $3000 a month for a studio apartment now. 

Alli hands you the dice. You jokingly ask if she's contagious before you take them and roll them across the scratched wooden table. Goody, you get to jump continents. London is already gone thanks to Jen, who sits next to you in a plastic folding chair. But Paris is still up for grabs. You give one last thought to empty Subway stations and abandoned Broadway theaters before moving your piece across the board. 

After that, it's Jen's turn again. She gets to pick a new symptom. She takes a pencil from the Santa Claus mug next to the board and asks if anyone has any ideas. You suggest cerebral edema. Tim suggests nosebeleeds. Jen opts for the latter. 

You visited Paris once, ten years ago. You checked off all the standard tourist highlights, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. How long before churches just stop offering funeral services? Which will they run out of first, space in the cemeteries, or people to dig the graves? 

Jen has made her way to Moscow. Tom is getting to work on bringing Sydney to the brink of collapse. He rolls the dice. Electricity is now shut off. In Sydney, that is. In Alli's basement, the stained glass chandelier still illuminates the game board and the refrigerator still buzzes. You go get an orange soda while Alli infects Jakarta's water supply. 

It's your turn again. You go back to the United States. Tom makes a wisecrack about the American healthcare system. With New York off the table, your next stop is Philadelphia. The city of brotherly love. Of course, news of patient zero hasn't gotten out yet. One million people in Philadelphia. One million people, and just a dot on a plastic board. What will be left of them? What will be left of you? 

You give the dice to Jen. She says your turn isn't over yet. You say you don't care. 

So it continues. Jen decimates the former Soviet Union. Alli lays waste to southeast Asia. Tom finishes off Australia and moves on to New Zealand. Vacant hospital beds with bloodstained sheets. Biohazard warnings where "welcome" signs once stood. Parks repurposed into makeshift graveyards. And the four of you in Alli's basement, where none of it can touch you. Architects of misery, joking about the destruction you've wrought. 

Your turn again. You move your marker and say you want to repopulate Budapest. Jen says that's not how it works. You argue that it is. After all, this wouldn't be the first plague that Europe has survived. Alli vetoes it. Getting better is against the rules. 

Cities continue to fall. The doorbell rings. The local pizzeria has evidently survived the breakdown of civilization, and dinner shows no signs of disease. You've lost your appetite. 

Santiago, Ankara, Brussels, Mumbai; you mourn quietly for each of them. When your turn comes, you grab your bag and say you need to go. Jen says the game still isn't over. Tom remarks you haven't had any pizza. Both statements are correct, neither are important. They can't keep you here, anyway. Alli points this out. Tom and Jen wish you a safe trip home. 

Alli walks you out upstairs and out the door. She says she'll see you next Friday. More pain, sickness, and misery, same time next week. 


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Could use some stronger verbage
cadydeleon rated this work:

Jan. 20, 2020, 9:31 a.m.

I've rated this four stars in terms of language mechanics. Overall, your prose is stylistically consistent, simple but effective, and pleasant.

However, stronger verbage would give certain sentences and phrases far more impact and craft a more compelling read. Throughout the story, you overuse "to be," "to go," and "to do" as your action verbs. Consider the following paragraph:

"You went to Paris once, ten years ago. You did all the standard tourist highlights, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. How long before churches just stop doing funeral services? Which will they run out of first, space in the cemeteries, or people to dig the graves?"

You traveled to Paris, you visited Paris, you explored Paris, you wandered Paris. You saw, you toured, you visited all the standard tourist highlights. How long before churches stop giving funeral services, before churches stop offering funeral services, before churches can't handle funeral services? So many possibilities exist. In language, what is unwritten can be just as powerful as what is written, and by replacing a weak action verb with a stronger, more specific one, you take advantage of the power of connotation. "Wandered" has a wistful, nostalgic vibe, where "visited" sounds fleeting. Stronger verbs are the key to pulling a reader in and conveying the feel of a story.

As a side note, grammatical flaws here and there detract from prose that is otherwise nice, mostly to do with commas:

"Santiago, Ankara, Brussels, Mumbai, you mourn for each of them." Between the list of cities and the independent clause, a semicolon or an em dash fits better than a comma.

"Both statements are correct, neither are important." Two incorrectly linked independent clauses. Either separate them into two sentences (which, in my opinion, would fit better with the rest of your prose) or connect them with a semicolon. Or add a conjunction.

I'm intrigued, but I'm not compelled. The prose isn't as gripping as it could be. I'd like to see how much more fascinating this story could become with some changes in verbage and mechanics.

Diction Grammar Concision

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Potential for a much bigger story
cereed27 rated this work:

Jan. 1, 2020, 2:05 a.m.

Not seeing how the game ties into their lives/relationships with each other, especially given the closing line. Let's see some tidbits introduced for each character, some reason beyond the game for the narrator to want to leave. These are her friends, but is it really the game itself that's making her sick and wanting to heal?

Character Motivation

Comment Rating: 4.0

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whatdoyouneed:

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback! A lot of the ambiguity was intentional, but it could be interesting to try and flesh out the characters more. As for your question, "is it really the game itself that's making her sick and wanting to heal?" the narrator is meant to be suffering from depression, hence the tagline "there's more than one way to get sick". But my intent doesn't matter - what matters is what comes across effectively to the reader. I appreciate you taking the time to leave the comment.