K: Hey, Survivors! This is Kelly “Spookymilk” Wells, your friendly host. Below, you’ll find that my scores don’t seem particularly friendly, but if it was easy to get a five, what would be the point? I only gave two of them and saw enough room for improvement that I issued eight scores of two, but I did enjoy our opening week here. Anyway, it was an optional week, so this was more for you than it was for me.

I apologize in advance for how difficult your next challenge is, but hey, it’s one I’ve always wanted to run and it only works with teams of equal numbers, so eat me.

DK: One of the traditional directions of Fiction 59s is building to some kind of twist or “not what it seems” ending. Because it’s hard not to be aware some of those are coming, I’ve found that I often respond better to stories that build to a strong, natural ending rather than those that come off as a “Gotcha!”.

Will Young, I’m With Stupid

Anthony always hated summer. His skin turned even darker after spending all day, every day in the sun. Not only that, but he was also usually covered in dirt. Hauling supplies up that same hill was never a picnic. When that kid showed up with his magnifying glass and focused the sunlight right on his back, Anthony was thrilled.

K: Wow, this one came out of nowhere. Fiction 59 practically begs for a surprise for its punch, and the problem is that as a judge I know they’re coming – so if you can STILL surprise me, kudos. This one pulled it off. It’s a great opening to the season. I hope they’re all about ants! 4

DK: I like this one because the ant’s nature is hinted at throughout the buildup, and I appreciate the sardonic tone of the ending. 4

Ryan Fossum, SPOILER ALERT!

Both of us in bed, her nails rake my back.
As the pain turns to pleasure I drive harder to match her effort.
Her body writhes forcefully against mine.
Eventually her arms and legs slow to our sheets of ruin.
It only took three minutes; I thought it would take longer.
Should I remove the pillow from her face?

K: Sweet Jesus. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after ten seasons of this game, it’s that Fiction 59 is usually loaded with death (we’re two for two, assuming our friend Anthony bit it in the first one). I LOVE the dichotomy of the second to last and last lines. We have a comedy! Nope, we have a sick tragedy. 4

DK: The “Turns out it’s not sex!” twist story is a popular one (I’ve done it before, badly), but the tension is palpable and the imagery is solid. 3

Patrick Kozicky, Nibbish and his Vogons

Rodney checked his watch fifteen times as he sped down the highway. His mind raced with the car. Three blind dates in four weeks. He promised himself, this would be his last blind date. The car pulled into the driveway. He checked himself in the mirror. He slipped the knife into the back of his jeans. He was ready.

K: I’m counting this as a “death” Fiction 59, since we see where it’s going. I love that Rodney has just enough humanity to promise himself this is it, although we know he’s lying. I still haven’t read the story that knocks me flat, but our opening stories are all solid enough. I’ll admit I saw this one coming, though. 3

DK: This is an example of a twist that just didn’t quite click for me; it may not have been too hard to see coming, and the rest of the building action didn’t elevate it for me. 2

Tom Morgan, I’m With Stupid

Tom’s parents abused him. One day, when he grew up, he wrote about it. Everyone loved it and told him so- except the people who abused him and the other foolish simpletons who chose them over him. They blamed him for not being nice to his abusers. Tom hugged his wife and took his kids to the goddamned zoo.

K: Is this autobiographical, what with there being a Tom in this game? I’m a little behind on his blog – maybe that would give me my answer. This one has some meaning behind it, but unfortunately, it’s a bit of a mishmash and feels like more anecdote than story. 2

DK: If Tom wrote this, it could be kind of meta, in which case, Tom, I don’t blame you for not being nice to your parents. In any case, though, the last line is a little bizarre. 3

JG Berwald, Nibbish and his Vogons

So I sees my partner Murphy from across the precinct and I moves to catch up with him. “Ey, Murph!” I says, “You nabbed The Wrench last night while I was snoozin’?”
Murphy shrugs, “Had to move fast; I wonder if that bastard put a price on my head yet?”
“I’d wager he has!” I says, brandishing my roscoe.

K: I wish this felt more complete somehow, because I love the tone and payoff. Something about the opening line is TOO conversational, maybe, given where we’re going? I’m overanalyzing, but hey, it’s my preseason too. 3

DK: I appreciate the commitment to both the language and the tense in this one, and the flavor that language adds makes this ending feel like a fluid development out of this kind of scenario. 4

John Wreisner, Nibbish and his Vogons

I got the telescope for my twelfth birthday and only looked at the moon three times. The apartment across the street was too enticing. One night I saw a man hit his wife with a spatula and blood came out of her hairline like yolk leaking out of an eggshell. After that the moon didn’t look so mysterious anymore.

K: If this is a death, we’re five for six. This is very Rear Window-y, which can’t possibly be bad (unless it felt like a straight ripoff, and it doesn’t). The imagery here is just horrible, and again, I mean this in a good way. Once again I suppose I don’t feel like we have something complete here, but I’ve always been a bitch about Fiction 59, so whatever. 4

DK: I love the yolk analogy. I’m not really bothered by the Rear Window-esque setup; my biggest issue is that this doesn’t quite hit as a satisfying complete story. I like it, but I feel like it’s merely a beginning. 3

Dean Carlson, SPOILER ALERT!

Senior executives from Hasbro and 20th Century Fox were sitting around the table. They’d been breathlessly waiting years for this moment. Lucas had finally written the Star Wars prequel he promised them and was now unveiling the film’s new marketable character. “Start printing money boys,” Lucas gleefully proclaimed as the long-eared character appeared on the screen. “Introducing Jar-Jar Binks!”

K: It seems like fish in a barrel here. I mean, there’s nothing untrue being presented, it just seems a little obvious. I think it suffers from the fact that I’m not even a Star Wars fan and I knew where it was going. 2

DK: Har har. This isn’t a twist, so much as a punchline that’s not hard to see coming pretty early on, but I still smirked. 3

Matt Novak, Nibbish and his Vogons

He’d shaken off the catcher twice on the last pitch. Now Ramos called for a slider. Why waste an out pitch on a one one count? But he’d throw it; didn’t want the Braves to pick up on the tension.

The pitch whirred towards the plate, cutting at Bourn’s knees as he swung over the top. One and two.

K: Baiting me with baseball is certainly not a bad idea, and I know immediately who these players and teams are, but the story’s incomplete (we don’t even know what Bourn’s outcome is here!) and we have some weirdness in the second sentence, which starts with “but” and has a second half that omits the opening article. I know Fiction 59 begs for that sort of thing, but still, most people avoid it. 2

DK: I almost came away expecting more (I mean, I am: did they get Bourn out or not?) but as the complete story of one pitch, it’s pretty solid. 4

Peter Bruzek, Nibbish and his Vogons

He started tiring six miles into the trip. The directions were clear, but the journey seemed impossible. He only wanted to see the louvre, eat Flamiche, and maybe flirt with some pretty girls. Instead, he was going to drown in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Fucking Google Maps” was all he could think as his head dipped underwater that final time.

K: Don’t hate me, but this is totally what I want out of this challenge. There’s a hell of a stinger, and the more I think about it, the funnier it is (and the harder it is to believe that it was delivered in 59 words). This sounds like something only I would do, what with my rotten sense of direction. 5

DK: Stories where people die because of bad luck or circumstance, if the pathos is there, are kind of a sweet spot for me (cause I’m a sick, sick dude) and the unfolding of the situation is great. 5

Shawn Ashley, SPOILER ALERT!

“Oh, yeah,” he breathed as he loomed above me, not really looking at me. A line of hot sweat ran off of his forehead, heading straight for my mouth.
I stare up at him, unimpressed.
He’s going to blow it soon. My husband often does.
“Fuckin’ frame!” He yells, as the picture falls to the ground with a crack.

K: This is so disturbing that it can only belong to Shawn Ashley, right? This is visceral and I feel this scene almost more than I want to. I almost went with 5, but hey, I’m going to be tough this season, I guess. 4

DK: As another “not sex” story, it’s okay, but the tense change throws this one off the rails. I’m sort of waiting for someone to write a really good, engaging story for this challenge wherein people are actually having sex. 2

Ben Johnson, I’m With Stupid

It hadn’t been a terrible day. Bad perhaps, but insufficient to require what was coming. Did that matter? It didn’t. What did? Did Anne? She’d be sad, disappointed, maybe angry? Probably this time she’d be beyond any of that. Paul knew he didn’t care how she felt. Feigned concern had become as reflexive as breathing.
He took the hit.

K: This one feels like a paragraph that’s part of a much longer story. I can feel our relationship here, but I don’t get the sense of completeness I’m looking for. A shame, because I think the stakes could be raised and we could end up with something pretty strong. 2

DK: The tone is effectively dark and despairing, although it feels a little choppy (I could see the argument where the choppiness is intended as part of the effect, though). 3

Leif Bierly, SPOILER ALERT!

Her chest was cut open wide. Looking down and inside herself, she screamed. Steve thought it couldn’t get any worse. She realized suddenly that it was a dream. No one in the history of people could have cancerous tumors resembling sliced green peppers. The dream and she woke up to the smell of bacon sizzling in the kitchen.

K: If you’d told me I would be reading a story that ended with “It was all a dream” I would have been mighty annoyed, but the imagery is strong enough for me to like what we have here. Plus, omelets rule. 3

DK: The protagonist is Steve? I know it’s kind of judge failure sometimes if they don’t fully “get” what’s going on, but I can’t really latch on to the throughline of this story, especially with the strange ending (and I’m not sure if the author accidentally a word or is saying “the dream woke up”.) 2

Beau, Nibbish and his Vogons

Jackie finished her lunch, said goodbye to her friends, and went outside to wait.

“Hey Jacqueline!” she heard behind her. “Are you expecting someone?”

Jackie hated that name. Looking up at the shrill voice, she replied sternly, “Yes, my mother is coming to pick me up. I’m taking her out to lunch.”

The nurse sighed and walked back inside.

K: Hey, we have some layers here. Spoiler alert (oops, I forgot that was a team name, but I mean this): a little deception goes a LONG way with me, and Jackie has some going on here. I also get a sense of who she is just from the way she hates her proper name. I can’t tell if Jackie is a mental patient or if she’s just a deceptive nurse, but I’m sure this is interesting either way. 4

DK: Simple, but effective, without a “Gotcha” or anything, and the two lunches thing suggests a depth of conflict at the same time as the story itself is complete and satisfying. 4

Andy Rustleund, I’m With Stupid

The entrance to the fifth and final chamber lay just ahead. So far, everything had been easy, maybe too easy. But what Indiana Jones saw next stopped him cold. “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” He was NOT going in there. “Dr. Jones, we need all of the chaperons with the class, please.” Zookeepers. He hated those guys.

K: Alright, I rolled my eyes in a good way. The last three words paid it off nicely; the joke is delivered AND it sounds like Indiana Jones should. 3

DK: Kind of a groaner more than a smirker for me. 2

David Larson, SPOILER ALERT!

To be performing on stage with all her idols — it HAD to be a mistake. Rocky had a more realistic storyline. Yet here she was, plying the drums, laying down a beat with the tightest jazz all-star ensemble, well, EVER. She glanced around as she played, taking it all in. And ever so carefully, Sharlee added…more…cowbell…

K: Oh, boy. This is kind of an outdated joke and we take kind of a while to get there, although I do like the mini-swipe at Rocky. The wide-eyed ditziness sells it, though. 3

DK: The sweet, wide-eyed tone of the story proper makes the ending – which could be a yawner in a more even-keeled setup – hit the right mark. 4

Zack Sauvageau, Nibbish and his Vogons

Spencer noticed the clock and began to chew faster. He took a sip of water to try to moisten the sticky ball of food in his mouth. The timer hit zero; his efforts were in vain. Ryan smirked, and placed his hand out expectantly. Spencer’s heart sunk. He couldn’t believe he just lost his wife over a fucking burrito.

K: Is this a reference to something? Either way, that’s a hell of a payoff. The vagueness might be hurting this one. I want more. Not MUCH more, but a little more. 4

DK: Love it. Well-balanced blend of tragedy and comedy, and the “twist” – the wife loss – doesn’t feel tacked-on because the tension rises throughout the buildup. Hard to critique this one because it just works so well. 5

Brooks Maki, Nibbish and his Vogons

I stopped to lean against this wall.
My wall.
Instantly, I felt trembling upon my touch.
My wall will fall.
I’m compelled to stay, lend my supportive hands.
My wall.
Breaking contact condemns it to destruction.
My wall will fall.
My hands bleed as the wall fights to come down.
My wall.
I let go.
My wall will fall.

K: This is high concept, and I’m sorry to say after a few reads it hasn’t given me that moment of A-HA yet. I get that the wall is actually weakened by our lead character, but I don’t know why. Are we in a bad relationship here? I’m going to be annoyed when I find out what I missed, I hope. 3

DK: I’m kind of teetering on the balance between 4 and 5 with this one; it doesn’t quite hit a perfect emotional response for me, but I want to generally reward out of the box/original thinking on these standard Spookymilk challenges that achieve as much success as this one does with a different approach. 5

Colin Woolston, SPOILER ALERT!

A size small red and blue Spider Man glove dangled from his frozen index finger, it’s pendulous swing keeping time with the heart pounding in his chest. His mouth fixed itself in a ridiculous Mr Bill “O” of shock and horror. The blood on the street accepted his tears hungrily, and they both mixed slowly as the sirens approached.

K: Is this Uncle Ben’s death? I think so. Anyway, the Mr. Bill simile would be right at home in a comedy, but felt out of place in our dark piece here. 2

DK: Nothing wrong with this; I like the consistency of the iconographic imagery and the contrast it makes with the harsh realism of the situation. It just doesn’t hit me as sharply as some of the others here do. 3

Don Campbell, I’m With Stupid

The terrible scream of the audience pierced through his mind. His concentration was shot. The knife in his left hand trembled visibly. The maw of the beast before him was coated in slaver and he could smell rot emanating from its matted fur. He faltered for but a moment, but in that moment he knew his streak was over.

K: Glorious. I felt and saw everything here, and I don’t detect a single wasted word. From the word choices to the unfortunate payoff telling us everything we need to know, this is my favorite of the week. 5

DK: Very good. I feel like I’m there in the arena, which is all I can ask of any of these stories. 4

Jake Elliott, SPOILER ALERT!

Everything was perfect. I’m not quite sure how it got that way, but it was. I had always lived paycheck to paycheck, but suddenly money was no longer an issue. All my worries seemed distant. I could do whatever I desired. Abruptly my alarm went off, everything wasn’t perfect. I hit the snooze button and went back to perfection.

K: Another “It was all a dream!” I tells ya, people. I don’t object to the idea of this one, but I wish the dream had been a little more specific, and I wish the morning reaction had been a lot more pissed off. 2

DK: Might be the result of getting another use of a dream setup (I know that no one, likely, knows what anyone else is writing about, but it just doesn’t generally help when there’s several stories that use similar devices) but this doesn’t do much for me. I knew right off the bat that everything wasn’t going to really be perfect, so the rest of it was just marking time. 2

Zillah Glory, SPOILER ALERT!

He looked twice, which was the wrong thing to do.

The up-swell knocked Laura to the floor. Curded milk and the remains of eggs-over-easy covered her new Laboutins. “You jack nut! How -?”

Spencer grabbed her wrist, pointed.

It was Zarek. Seventeen. Head dangling. Blue. On his swollen belly, a crow.

The Bad-Luck Ball faded. Out went all innocence.

K: As often with stories this vague, I’m going to assume it belongs to Zillah. The imagery is strong – SO strong – but there’s too much left unsaid here. 2

DK: There’s probably something really clever going on here, and Spooky’s probably got whatever it is, but I haven’t. I hate, then, to expose this to weak grading because of possible judge failure again, but I can’t say it works for me. 2

Bret Highum, I’m With Stupid

I had clung there for so long. I’d known I would fall; it was as inevitable as the changing of the seasons, but the terror of the emptiness below me had had turned my complexion a brilliant red before a chilly gust of wind broke my tenuous hold. I started to fall, spiraling downwards, screaming silently the whole way.

K: There’s a lot of imagery here, but a lot of it feels obvious, particularly “as inevitable as the changing of the seasons.” There’s talent here but it feels wasted on an anecdote with no lyrical surprises. 2

DK: This is another good example of something that works for me better than the winky twists usually do. The ending is exactly what you’d expect, but because the buildup sells the impossibility of any other conclusion and augments it with strong imagery, it connects. 4

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So, there we are. Josh Mitchell and Sean Kelly were both no-shows for I’m With Stupid for some reason, but hopefully they’re not going to be long-term problems.

This is normally the point where I figure out the team’s average score per person, and the losing team votes someone out. This is a non-elimination week, though, so you can all instead use it to strut around or bitch at me about how I missed the point.

At any rate, challenge two will be posted tomorrow sometime, and you’ll hate me, because it’s pretty in-depth. It could produce a lot of awesomeness, though. Or hey, it could fail to inspire anyone. That’s the trouble with running new challenges.

See you then.

Cheers,
The Milkman