This is going to be a long season, people. Not because I won’t enjoy it, because I will. That’s the problem. It was pretty hard to put these in order and repeatedly come up with one that was better than the medal it got, but that’s what the medal system does. I’m already pretty interested in who’s going to make the playoffs out of this insanely talented field.

The challenge was to write a story that takes place during a competition in 200 words or fewer.

There are three golds (5 points each), three silvers (3 points each) and five bronzes (1 point each) from each judge, and this will always be the case. The one non-submitter, Eric Schapp, will get -5 points total on the challenge. I think we’ve found our Kansas City Royals!!!

…okay, I just went over and found out that he sent one late. I’ll add it here because this is all about writers having fun and supporting each other and all that lame touchy-feely bullshit, after all.

Eric Schapp

He sat down his drink. The bottle was sweating. He wasn’t. People look at him and see giant. He knows that doesn’t matter. Form over substance. People just expect him to perform. They are wrong.

Over the last four years, he had trained his mind to go blank on the field. Clear eyes and no thoughts. The only way to succeed.

He picked up the metal, and entered the ring.

His neck was covered with talc powder. He was ready. He gave his one armed salute to the sky, and assumed the position.

Suddenly he was spinning. Step. Block. Extend. He put the shot and turned his back.

58′.

Again. He didn’t meet the automatic qualification. Only needed 60′.

He excited the ring and sat down. Only on more chance to prove them wrong.

Cathy Wells

“You can’t beat me. You know that.” The old woman was wheeled into a dimly lit study by a much younger woman. She pushed the aging woman’s wheel chair across the room to a table holding a bottle of scotch and a deck of cards.
“I do.” The girl poured the woman a hefty glass.
“You’ve come here every day for the past four months to pour my scotch and play canasta. I don’t know you from Adam and you’re an abominable card player. You intrigue me, missy.” She takes a large drink. “Well, hurry up and deal.”
As she dealt the cards and the old woman finished her first glass of scotch, she surveyed the familiar room yet again. “I’ll draw.”
“That can wait. I’m empty.” Without a word the young woman complied. This time she primed the glass with the contents of a capsule. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome ma’am.” The woman acquainted herself with the fresh glass and before her next meld was fast asleep.
“I may not be good at canasta, but I do get a few hours of shelter a day.”

K: Canasta melds! We begin unconventionally. I dig the smallness of this story while knowing most of these will be much longer and harsher. I wish the women were named so the story was a tad easier to read, and it’s vague enough that I had to read it a few times, but I enjoyed it. BRONZE

Pete – Okay, so the younger woman gets a few hours of shelter a day. So, is she homeless? On the run? If she is homeless, how does she keep affording to drug the old lady? Does the old lady not remember being constantly sedated? I’m interested, and details are sparse. After a couple reads, I’ve decided that I can live with that. Silver

Dean Carlson

“O.k…. thanks Seb, that was… great.” Sebastian Bach walks off stage and Eddie Van Halen looks over to Alex and rolls his eyes. God this blows thought Eddie. Hagar didn’t want to tour any longer and no way am I gonna return David’s calls, even though there were like 30 messages on the machine. Just too much drama with Diamond Dave and I’m too fucking old for that. Michael Anthony had the brilliant idea of having a competition to find a new singer and now I’m in the midst of listening to lead singers from every washed up, half-assed hair band in LA trying to show off their stage chops by over-emoting Panama.

You know, thought Eddie, do we really need a lead singer? The fans come for my guitar work, the singer is secondary. Didn’t we prove that by staying just as popular with a completely different lead in Sammy? Fuck it, I’m sick of this. I’m picking whoever walks on that stage next. It’s Van Halen for Christ sakes, who cares who sings? Just then the Wolfgang yells out “hey dad! Pay attention, Gary Cherone’s up next.” Cherone hops up on stage as Eddy mutters “Fuck my life.”

K: Sam Landman wrote the definitive Van Halen-based story in Survivor VIII, and against that I will judge every Van Halen story for the rest of my life. I saw the ending coming but still smiled; however, grammar problems killed this one dead early on. I did really love the idea of “over-emoting” Panama.

Pete – A couple tense changes and a couple of grammar things affected my readability on this one. The idea of having washed up rockers auditioning for a slot in Van Halen is amusing.

Joseph Rakstad

Just swing at the ball, Jeff prayed silently.
Sammy put on his helmet, grabbed a bat, and headed up to the batter’s box.
And stood there.
Every game was the same. The only difference was the pitcher and the umpire. Tonight the ump had been generous to the pitchers. Sammy would back on the bench soon. It was only when the pitcher was wild or the ump was picky that Sammy got to run the bases.
“C’mon buddy! Give it a ride!” I’ve got to encourage him.
“Strike One” yelled the ump. It wasn’t looking good. The ball was at Sammy’s eyes. Ump has to call it though. He’s got to give the pitcher a chance too.
“Strike Two!” In the wheelhouse. He should’ve swung, but he just watched it go by.
“Hit it Sammy! You can do it!” I know he can. I just know he can. “Gotta swing at it! Gotta try!
He nods at me. Then turns to stare down the pitcher
The third one was ten feet from the end of Sammy’s bat. “Strike Three, You’re out!”
Sure, that one he likes
Oh well, at least he swung.

K: I appreciate the idea here as a father who’s watched as at least one of his kids displays zero athletic talent. There are a couple mistakes here – a missing word early, and no punctuation in the second to last sentence. I think this one would have benefitted from a bit of surprise – I think the fact that Dad was so encouraging would have meant more if I didn’t know the kid was terrible until the end.

Pete – Heh, my brother was Sammy (assuming that Sammy was practically jumping out of the batter’s box during during strikes one and two). “Oh well, at least he swung” is a nice line. Little victories, and all that. BRONZE

Erik Sundberg

“Up next on stage: Dave Blozinski!”

Dave walked out on the Metro’s stage to amused tittering as the crowd got a look at him. He was wearing what looked like something out of Lindsey Buckingham’s closet from 1977, though a number of sizes bigger (and still a couple sizes too small on Dave). When the first chords of “Slow Ride” started to play, he began strumming the air with increasing intensity.

Dave was a madman on stage. The plucking was spot-on, and his body shook as though the screech of the guitar was bouncing him around. What was first ironic appreciation blossomed into rock god awe as Dave, high stepping through the bass-rattling verses and power strumming through the choruses, was absolutely killing it.

Gut exposed, his body undulated through the last solo, and what remained of his long, thinning hair was dripping with sweat. What seemed like random staggering to stage right was revealed to be a setup for his jaw-dropping finale of a power slide. Dave tore both his right ACL and his pants. He limped off the stage to deafening applause, having to bow out of the US Air Guitar Championships in Denver due to injury.

K: Okay, now here’s some fun. One thing I rail on people for in this game is not having the narrator fully commit to the idiocy when the story is ludicrous. This narration, though, treats the story with the proper respect and awe. There are no wasted words here, and “Dave tore both his right ACL and his pants” is going to be hard to beat as line of the night. SILVER

Pete – This one tips its hand early with the “strumming the air” line, but the author’s not trying to hide the reveal, anyway. Dave is an archetype that’s pretty easy to visualize, which helps immensely – I’m pretty sure I worked in a cubicle across from him in my last job. I like the last line a lot. BRONZE

Andrew M

He squinted at the sunrise and slowly rose out of the gutter. His head pounded. Grabbing his half-empty bottle, he trudged towards home.
Along the way he passed some kids playing sandlot baseball. He’d been all-state in high school. The scouts loved his size, his speed, his aggressiveness – all things his fellow Marines loved after he was drafted and sent to the Pacific. A bullet in his throwing shoulder ended his war, and his baseball career.
As he passed, the ball rolled to a stop against his foot. “Hey, mister! Can you throw us the ball?” The heft of the ball took him back to the grenade in his hand during a raid on some God-forsaken atoll where it all ended.
“How’s about our ball?” He snapped to. As he reared back, an excruciating pain shot from his ribs out to the tips of his fingers. Through the hangover and the pain and the memories, he threw the ball as best he could; it barely made it halfway. “Gee, thanks a lot,” the kid muttered sarcastically. He took one big draw to dull the memories in his mind, then another for the pain and turned back home.

K: This is some pretty raw and impressive emotion in a very small space. I know a lot about our protagonist already without ever learning his name, and by the ending I already wanted to root for him so much that I was upset at his inability to throw the ball. This is really great work. Also, I love the small but important touch of “half-empty bottle.” That attention to detail really primes the reader and gets him into the correct mood to enjoy the story. GOLD

Pete – Ouch. You can see that there’s no happy ending coming to this one before it even begins, but it’s still a kick in the gut when it does. This one lays it on a bit thick at times, but I’m still engaged when the payoff comes SILVER.

Sarah Johnson

“I dare you: if you can hit it farther, I won’t kick your ass.” He sneered, expecting Jay to back down. Kai was the fifth grade bully. He meant it.

Jay thumbed the baseball all weekend, avoiding Kai at recess. His eyes swept across our faces. We were terrified. “I’m ready. I have a plan.”

Kai’s dad was too friendly with Jay’s mom. She got her own apartment last fall. We knew Jay was embarrassed. He kept it to himself.

On Career Day, Jay brought a backpack to his dad’s job at the University. He was a chemist. Jay’s dad never noticed the missing vials.

Jay met Kai in his driveway that Tuesday. Jay brought the ball. A coin flipped past and Kai called it: heads. He mocked us, swinging his bat towards Jay. “You’re next.”

“What’s that smell?” A kid jumped back, pinching his nose. Jay pitched it.

Kai hit the ball. The explosion was immediate. His face vanished in a blazing fireball. He didn’t scream. His jaw was gone.

Jay’s father watched the ambulance pull out, turning from the sheriff’s car. His son’s face was calm within the tinted glass.

“Nitric acid and diazine, officer. Check his room.”

K: Next week’s challenge was supposed to be “Write a story about revenge.” Um, it would be tough to one-up this one in the revenge arena. I really like this idea, but it deserves several hundred words or more. The story is too tight for the space it deserves and if it was going to work with this few words, the focus may have needed to be solely on Jay and Kai, and Jay’s internalized anger and frustration. I wish I had a better answer for this than “it should be longer,” but if I’m going to flag a story, hopefully “I want to read more of it” is a pretty flattering reason. BRONZE

Pete – Safe to say I did not expect that particular twist coming. This one has great pacing, and characters. Jay is a complete psychopath, but commands the reader’s respect, anyway. I think I’ve found the entry this week that is going to linger in the back of my mind. GOLD

David Larson

“…in lane six, the speedster from Canada, Korey Fiemann; lane seven…”

As the tall, scholarly man glanced up at the TV, a teenage girl in the kitchen behind his ancient wing-backed chair was spreading mayonnaise on four slices of wheat bread.

“Great Britain first, Brazil second, Jamaica third,” muttered the man, penciling “RIPARIAN” into the crossword in his lap. The sound of the starter’s gun startled a black cat off the large ottoman, nearly overturning the stack of alchemy tomes piled atop it but for the man’s timely outstretched hand.

“…and Tolley JUST edges Solima at the tape, followed closely by Covey-Jones!”

The girl rolled her eyes, then continued placing cucumber slices upon the layer of leafy lettuce. “Really, Papa, why do you even watch when you already see the future? You know who is going to win!”

“When we come back, we’ll introduce a young mother of two who also happens to be the best hope for a US discus gold medal.”

The man set down his pencil and removed his narrow eyeglasses. “I don’t watch the television coverage for the competitions, moya printsessa, but for the wonderfully heart-warming vignettes regarding the participating athletes.”

K: Wow, this is a hell of a little thing. It’s written beautifully, Papa is a wonderfully well-realized character given nearly no time at all to develop and the wildly surprising twist is followed by a believable and deadpanned payoff. I love it. GOLD

Pete – I really like the language here, as well as the cutting to and from the different scenes (the girl making the sandwich, the television coverage, the crossword puzzle). I just feel like there’s a common thread here that I’m not getting. It’s possible that the word count slimmed it down a bit, but I’d still like to see just a little bit more. I’m also curious how the author came up with the names for the athletes. GOLD

Shawn Ashley

“This is the coolest thing I have ever been to!”
“Shut up, loser. We went to Comic-Con last year.” Eric yelled from the machine in front of him. They were head to head.
“Whatever, man…I wasn’t a PART of Comic-Con. I didn’t have a fucking comic book stand where people came to watch me sign comics. I’m in this one. I’m a part of this magic. And it’s fucking glorious.” Meryll kept his eyes on the screen. Sweat poured from his forehead.
Meryll was right. He was part of the magic. He was one of the best Ms. Pac Man players in the world. Practically unbeatable. And this was the tournament that would determine that fact.
Meryll was ready; he had practiced until his fingers bled. He stared at that screen so much he started to dream that he and that bitch ghost Sue were having hot and steamy hook-up sessions.
Eric was just as good. Almost as good.
Today was the day for Meryll.
He was going to win the title, he could feel it.
Meryll rounded a corner, barely escaped three ghosts.
Then, his sweaty hand slipped and fell off the joystick.
Death by Blinky.
Fuuuuuuck.

K: The characters are wonderfully douchey and this is a fun backdrop for a story. Still, the dialogue hinged on aggressiveness and had the feel of a writer unsure the story would work without falsely raising the stakes with vulgarity. I’m getting pretty nitpicky, but the competition here is pretty damned good, so I have to.

Pete – I assume that this is some sort of “big deal” PacMan tournament, though at times, the language feels more like a group of kids getting together down by the arcade to have a grudge match. I suppose it works either way, and I’m pretty sure Clyde ate me a time or two when my hand slipped off the joystick as well, so I Have to give credit for mood. Fuuuuuuuck. BRONZE

Matthew Gilman

Welcome to the finals of the Men’s Head-to-Head Freestyle Yoyoing competition! As expected, the world’s top two ‘yoers have reached the medal stage: current world champ Bryson DuBryson of Portugal, and America’s own Vince Pantsman.

Taking the floor, here’s DuBryson, wielding his trademark Stringfellow Ultra 5000. And Pantsman holding “Blue Betty,” a homemade yo carved from an artificial Christmas tree.

There’s the signal…Vince starts things off with a rock-the-bubbly…into a half-whirl, and a drop-the-dog…followed by an overhead jackpack! Very strong opening for the US.

Bryson now, with typical European flair. Here’s a body-floop into a where’s-granny… kicked into a walk-the-wife-and-kids, and a frozen pancake! Very impressive!

Pantsman now, launching a whirlocopter…bending out a neuter-your-pet…INTO A GROIN FLOSS! A brilliant move!

Bryson again, with a tweed whacker…My god, Bryson’s string has snapped! His yoyo hits Pantsman right between the eyes! Vince fell like a sack of rabbits, folks! He’s out cold, and Bryson’s started a victory lap around the floor! Unprecedented!

Well, while the judges sort this out, we’ll step away, and be back after this message from Head-On.

K: Holy hell, this one is going to test me. I’m not totally in love with the convention of the entire thing being a commentator’s call, but the fact that “yoers” would have a commentator, the asinine competitor names, the hilarious names for the moves and the extreme excitement here sell the story as one of the funniest I’ve read in a while. SILVER

Pete – This one made me laugh aloud. The “announcer voice” is a little distracting, but necessary for the gag. I enjoyed the various different made up yoyo tricks described here (I assume they’re made up?). The ‘Head-On’ sponsorship feels a little tacked on, but again. Literal ‘lol’ from the word ‘unprecedented’, so… BRONZE

Colin Woolston

Upon the field of battle before her, littered red and white, the remaining combatants glared; their eyes ablaze with the fury that mortals muster before the meat begins to fly; every sense tuned to the moment, each body a buzz of apprehension.
Portia had survived so many battles that she could no longer bring her blood to that delicious boil. She felt a lackadaisical melancholy as she shifted her focus to her hearing. Every rustle of fabric, every drop of sweat as it struck the ground; nothing escaped her immortal ears. She wondered if there were any real contests left in the universe. She had reveled in the battles of Sparta; she had rejoiced in the world wars; she had lusted for the despair of Asia and the Middle East.
A sudden, grating buzz interrupted her reverie, and the flurry of limbs almost caught her by surprise. While her enemies moved like lightning, she forced herself to put her own preternatural speed in check. Her hands flew from the plate of hot dogs to the pail of water to her mouth just shy of a blur, and with each swallow she tasted the now bitter bile of victory.

K: It’s always ballsy to draw in the reader with greatly raised stakes only to give them the eye-roll of doom at the end, but that’s not why this one didn’t pop for me; the problem, instead, was that although I didn’t see the specific payoff coming, I could tell the thing was a setup to a joke. BRONZE

Pete – This one is built up so much that you know it’s going to be mundane or absurd by the end. The story was going to live or die by the activity being breathlessly and superlatively described. I don’t know that I was necessarily expecting a hot dog eating contest, but I don’t think that it’s enough of a payoff for me.

Matt Novak

The boy’s eyes narrowed as he took aim, and his right arm drew back. The big rubber ball sung as it whizzed towards the target, hitting him square in the back.
“10 points for me!” he called out triumphantly.
“That was a foul!”
“It was a clean hit!” The boy defended himself, stepping towards his opponent, bracing for the fight that was sure to come. That always came.
“But I was in the crime-free zone!”
“You didn’t declare it!”
“Because I was holding the bat of silence!”
With that, the two launched into each other, tumbling in a cloud of dust and sweat and squiggles signifying curses. As they struggled the door of the house creaked open and the night was shattered by a man’s voice.
“Bath time! Come on in!”

***

Our intrepid hero searched for an escape as the alien approached. The Zorg high command had ordered his death – he was to be thrown into a vat of boiling acid! Spying a rock to use as a weapon, our hero prepared himself. No Zorg would capture Spaceman Spiff!

K: Well, isn’t this just as cute as the dickens. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to listen to children create, and this one gave me the exact same feeling as real life (though on a smaller scale, because these boys are not my progeny). The fact that the boys continued playing and turned Dad into an evil alien is both hilarious and true. SILVER

Pete – I was feeling a decidedly “Calvin and Hobbes” vibe from this one a couple of sentences in. Is this actually Calvin? Or is it just a different, though very ersatzian child? (Since the boy’s opponent is not described in any physical way, I have to believe it’s the former). I love Calvin and Hobbes – like… a ton, but I don’t know that this feels original and separate from established Calvin and Hobbes stories enough to stand out from the rest.

Brooks Maki

Dear Animal Control,

This will be my first letter, all of my previous entreaties have generated an overwhelming response, but I beg you, in the name of all that is holy, to help me combat the tiger that is stalking me. He is neither smart nor cunning, but he has greatly aided my efforts by touching and then untouching the opposite pole.

I’m very sorry,
I blew it, and I knew it
I never meant to take his precious flag.

Insincerely,
Calvin

K: OMG. I almost remarked that the last story sounded like Calvinball or something, and here we are. This sorta sounds like Calvin and it sorta captures the feel of the comic and I sorta like it. Something’s missing – I think it just needs to be bigger (not longer – just bigger).

Pete – Haha, two Calvin entries? This one is short and to the point, and basically skirts the actual contest. It ends up falling prey to the same thing the plagued the other Calvin-related entry, especially considering that of the 82 words of this one, a full 18 are directly pulled from the comics.

Ian Pratt

When Lt. Franklin agreed to a boxing match with our ACU, we knew we were in for a helluva fight. Franklin, that kid had a left hook. It hit you like a Doomsday Orbit-to-Ground missile. And ACU-117, nicknamed Pikachu after he was refitted with those EM-coil disruptors, had more kills than anybody in our platoon.

Pikachu definitely had his work cut out for him. His rudimentary hand-to-hand algorithms wouldn’t mean jack in the ring. Private Thurry tried to coach him a little on footwork and defense, but ACUs aren’t built for dexterity and they’re dumb as shit outside their original programming. We all laughed when Thurry forced thick gloves over Pikachu’s malformed claws and he swung like a drunk as his stabilizers adjusted to the weight. Franklin wasn’t watching. He was putting in time at the heavy bag, working that left hook.

When the bell finally rang, we realized the severity of what we’d arranged. Pikachu was two meters tall, weighed 300kg, and was built to kill. Lt. Franklin was a big guy, but he wasn’t made of titanium-graphene alloy. I tell you though, as he danced around that metal bastard, Franklin was smiling bigger than anybody. Helluva fight.

K: I grinned at this. The writing is strong and the gags work. I want to know more about this world and the insane men who inhabit it. BRONZE

Pete – This one is intruiging. I like the setup a lot. It’d be interesting to learn what exactly would motivate Lt. Franklin to challenge a death machine to a (seemingly unwinnable) fist fight. Calling the ACU ‘Pikachu’ makes me smile, and does give me a wonderful mental image of a 600 pound metal pikachu. Thanks for that. I just really want to know more about the events surrounding the organization of this fight. SILVER

AMR

The summer before we met, I regularly attended Twins games, keeping score in my notebook. Nosebleeds cost $7, I took the bus, and I didn’t drink beer until I got home. College was done, I had a job and no other responsibilities.
We met at a co-worker’s party. Kristin (Kirsten?) laughed at my jokes and had some wonderfully perky small tits. I wasn’t looking for anything; K showed an interest in me, which made me interested in her. We left together; I fell asleep on her couch.
We soon hung out a ton, playing video games and watching movies at either of our places.
In Spring, K said she was getting bored with the TV and wanted to do more. I got us some Homerun Porch tickets. K wasn’t a big baseball fan, but seemed game.
We found our seats, and I started entering the lineups in my notebook. In the third, K asked me to look at her. I did for just a second, but missed the play. Back to my notebook, “Out, WW”. I turned back and watched her ass walk up those concrete steps.
I called a week later. She never got back to me.

K: Huh. Here’s a heartbreaking little story told with care and respect for both characters. The protagonist can’t help but be what he is and he showed a real initiative in trying to find something for them to do, but they weren’t made for one another and her realization of that fact while at the game makes for an unlikely but interesting backdrop for a breakup story. BRONZE

Pete – Ah, yeah. I remember the first game I brought Linds to. I insisted on scoring the game, which baffled and irritated her. This bit of nostalgia probably motivates me to bump this up a bit, because the first paragraph doesn’t feel like it completely connects to the main story of guy-meets-girl-only-to-lose-her-due-to-incompatible-hobbies. It also seems odd that our protagonist cannot remember the girl’s name. BRONZE

Bret Highum

The thunder of the hooves hitting the red Afghan dirt is muted by the blood roaring in my ears. I hold the bloody goat carcass tight in my right hand, reins in my left. Only one rider separates me from my goal.

I angle away from him, out of the hoof-beaten area where most of the riding takes place. He adjusts his course, so he can hold me up long enough for his teammates with their whips and grasping hands to catch me.

I whip my horse, trying to flank him. He’s close enough I can see the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, an experienced buzkashi player. We race at full speed through scrub brush, dodging knots of exposed roots. I glance over my shoulder at the riders closing in. I see his whip lift high in the air, and my back muscles involuntarily clench as I anticipate the blow.

Instead, I feel a wave of pressure and my pony hunches as shrapnel from the landmine we triggered hits her. I hear the other rider’s horse go down, screaming in pain.

I don’t look behind me as I canter over and drop the carcass in the scoring circle.

K: Wait, this game is fuckin’ REAL? The Afghan landmine is a fantastic twist to what is already an incredibly strong story that grabbed me from the opening sentence. This story gave me a level of immersion that no other story gave me, which is an impressive feat since I’d never even heard of Buzkashi before I read it. Excellent. GOLD

Pete – So yeah, I had to stop reading in the middle of this to go look up what exactly Buzkashi was. 15 minutes later, I have only a vague idea of exactly what it’s all about, but of course the game is only part of what’s going on here, anyway. The imagery used throughout is excellent, and the payoff – with the mine detonating, and the protagonist seeing the suffering of his opponent as merely an opening to succeed – is jolting, but effective. GOLD

————————————

There ya go, friends – the first of sixteen challenges are in the can. Congratulations to David Larson and Bret Highum, who both pulled off ten-point weeks to jump out to an insurmountable lead!!!!11!1!

The next challenge, due Monday night at 9pm (many players said a slightly later time would make a big difference for them (but still, note that this is in JUST TWO DAYS)): Write a story that takes place entirely in prison. It can be about the cops or even the janitors, if you want. Also, you can expand it to be anywhere that people are incarcerated for actual or perceived wrongdoing.  200 word limit.

The spreadsheet is updated.

Cheers, Prosers. (Actually, I should probably have a different catchphrase for this. I’ll take suggestions!)