Plague Doctor: Brain Stem

Despite my misanthropic first meeting, I had come to find something of a professional respect (or at least what passed for it) between me and ‘HemlockBanana’.

As pretty fictional psycho Rob Anderson became less and less relevant in the eyes of our mutual fandom, the bitterness that those who tolerated him inspired in me faded away into a practically nothing buzz. Like feeling your phone go off when you’ve left it at the opposite end of the couch.

Within a few months, after learning a few precious things like ‘tact’ and ‘not getting hung up on shit’, I had peeked through a few of her own stories. Expecting to see stacks of redemption stories for evil prettyboys, (you know, the kind of assumptions you make about someone when you start off on the wrong foot) it was a solid collection of plot point explorations with a healthy dose of fluff. The kind of stuff written by someone more interested in exploring a story’s untapped potential than just pumping out perfect fankids.

What’s more, she had proven to be far more integrated with the community given how much of her work was created from prompts. “the crew from Star Trek running a pizzeria”, “BJ Blazkowicz fighting on the Eastern front instead of the Western”, “The cast of Sonic the Hedgehog as King Arthur and his knights…”

Wait, no. That was already a thing. She must’ve just been doing an expansion story.

The point is my conceited ass had pulled a complete 180 by the time we had exchanged words again.

Looking back at this, it’s a miracle that she didn’t write me off after that defensive outburst, but I’ve always brushed that fact to the back of my mind. Best explanation I can give is that I was afraid to pay too much attention to it, worried that would cause it to bite me in the ass someday.

But back to the next time we clashed…

Inspired by the sheer volume of her output, I had decided to take up a prompt myself. The sites that host these stories always have some sort of repository for the read-only masses to make requests. Even in this niche among niches, there ends up being this hierarchy of “prince of prompters”, “best of beggars”, “titan of the talentless… trendsetters..?”

What’s important is that I poked around the most popular prompt threads for some kind of inspiration, eventually settling on “Do a scene from a Lord of the Rings AU where someone besides Frodo carries the ring.”

I was worried as to whether this was specifically for the book or the movies, but then elected not to care. I wasn’t exactly doing it for them in the first place.

The obvious alternative for ringbearer4 was Sam, so he was automatically out for creative reasons. Aragorn was ruled out thanks to his status as ‘man’. Too corruptible. Legolas didn’t have much to him, so, while he could be built on, that would have been getting dangerously close to possession sue territory.

Gandalf?

He already said no.

Smegol?

I’ve always been a sucker for redemption stories, but that would have been pushing it.

… Bilbo?

I laughed at that idea. What’s he gonna do against something like Shelob, cough at her? The guy was over a hundred years old! He began to fall apart a day after he-

Now there was an idea. The story’s original hero wasn’t as far-gone as Gollum, but the ring was still the source of his long life. Would age start to catch up to him as the journey to destroy it went on? Would he have the same support that Frodo had? Would Frodo even be a part of it?

Sure, Frodo can be his Sam, I thought. Never liked that Sam, anyway. More like ‘Samwise the Brute’.

And so I set to work, slapping out a deluge of detached (and at times, contradictory) plot points for this Alternate Universe, regardless as to whether they formed a cohesive whole:

  • Gandalf acts on his suspicions earlier, doesn’t bother going to Saruman and getting captured and goes straight to Elrond. (No need for Bilbo to get shanked. He’s already old.)

  • Gollum appears, but more openly hostile, since Bilbo the one who actually took the ring from him. (Maybe become kindred spirits?)

  • Does the Fellowship even split?

  • Have Tauriel show up (Why? “Because it was real”. lol)

There’s a curious sense of nostalgia going through these old notes. Like putting on a pair of warm socks.

I had settled for something near the end of the journey. Bilbo and Smeagol getting a moment to themselves while Frodo looks ahead. Frodo is more protective of Bilbo, not having that same connection to Smeagol through the ring’s corruption, but nothing mean-spirited.

Maybe the two wretches threw themselves into the fire at the end.

I wouldn’t know. I never got that far.

What I do know is that I got shown-up in every way I could tell by that dastardly Banana!

I’m shaking my fist as I write this.

While I was writing a dreary short of two old, dying men talking about regrets on the side of a wasteland mountain, SHE had written up a one-sided buddy cop movie with Gimli getting so pissed off at breaking his axe on the ring of power, he had decided to make it his personal mission to take it to the fiery chasm, frowning and drinking all the way.

She even wrote in a reason for why they didn’t use the eagles! The fact that such an obvious plot point slipped me by still gets me to this day!

With our first head-to-head ending up like that, it’s no wonder she no longer has to rely on others’ IP to put food on the table.

But at least the animosity didn’t stir up again. Now I know her best as Karen. Ironically enough living in New Zealand, last I heard.

Sometimes, I like to think that her living there meant her crushing victory over me was as significant to her as it was to me.

Unlikely.

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