Greetings, Prosies (is that better than “Prosers?”). I really dug your work this week, and as samey as this could have gotten, everyone attacked it differently. As you’d expect, a lot of this is very harsh, so be advised if you’re one of those lame touchy types. I assume you’re not, of course, what with you being at this site in the first place.

The challenge was to write a 200 or fewer-word story that takes place in a prison or other captivity.

Let’s get to prison, dudes:

Erik S

Somehow, Zapp and I were able to ditch before the B-29 exploded with the rest of our crew inside. Fishing boats picked us up after 5 days on the ocean. The fishermen gave us water, though their eyes burned with a hatred I’d never experienced.

We were turned over to the Army, blindfolded, and rushed through the village. Blows, both physical and verbal, rained down upon us. The screaming contained the same vitriol.

After two days of trains and trucks, I saw my first light and heard my first English.

“Look what you’ve done…” the officer said, with more sadness than fury. Before me was an indescribable wasteland. Charred remains of buildings and bodies stretched as far as I could see, and a scent of unimaginable suffering loitered in the air.

After being deposited in the prison camp, two POWs that had survived whatever had happened filled us in on what little they knew. Both died later that night, their blistered bodies leaking pus.

The sporadic contact with our captors has been icy. Zapp’s optimistic, but I’ve been trying to right myself with God. If and when the guards come with their bayonets, I don’t think I can blame them.

K: I had to read this a second time because I expected “Zapp” to be Zapp Brannigan, so I read it in Kif’s voice, waiting for a punchline. Whoops! I like the feel of this one, though I think it’s one of those stories that’s too big for this arena. It’s also very matter-of-fact throughout, which kills the drama a bit. BRONZE

P: A good start, the story leaves us hanging – I was almost shocked at the pace at which it ended upon first read. The guilt is tangible and well written. I want to see this expanded upon, though that’s something I feel as though I’m going to say a lot over the course of this challenge. SILVER.

Eric Schapp

Never should have ruined it. She’ll never forgive me. I know that’s why I’m in here.
Pacing around the blankets. Food is a lost cause. The water I was given spilt in protest; she deserves it for me being here. Everything is damp in here. Why could be anyone’s guess. I know though.
I can’t get out if this cage. Heaven knows I’ve tried. I’ve cried, whined, and screamed to no avail. I’ve resorted to scratching my way through the door. This could take years. This epitomizes cruel and unusual. I won’t make it out alive. I won’t grant them that satisfaction.
Who buys a four thousand dollar rug anyway? It could be made from a dali llama’s beard hair for that price. I’m glad I ruined it. It got me locked in, but I am righteous. People need a reality check.
I wish I had the dexterity to open this door. Double hinges are the bane of my existence. Single hinge and I’d be running outside by now. Free to do as I please.
If I were in the master bedroom at least I could jump down onto the porch. Who knew slippery nipples were so potent. Probably shouldn’t have said that to Nancy. Locking me in the bathroom was a bitch move.
Preemptive strike.

K: I figured early on that we were somewhere besides a regular cell. It’s fun enough, and it was the only attempt that involved an animal. Grammar was iffy here and there (as well as the spelling of Dalai Lama), but that’s not the biggest problem; our biggest problem is that this story has 216 words and is disqualified from medals.

P: So, I had a good bet pretty early on that this was going to be about an animal, but this is done better than I would’ve guessed initially. There are parts that seem to be written from a perspective above and beyond what and animal could provide, though, so who knows. I like the ending, but Kelly’s informed me that it’s a ways over word limit, so no medal.


[scratches in concrete:]

[written in blood:]
Day 45
I don’t show at the slot in the door to get my meal, I don’t get any. I don’t show the next time, they open the door and beat me.

Day 46
Door only opened when I didn’t show. I’ll keep showing.
Three walls not visible from slot. I’ll keep logging on the walls.

Guards aren’t speaking Russian or Uzbek, who are they? They got my ID; they know who I am.
* * *

[written in feces:]
New gruel gives me diarrhea. I can stop biting my fingers to write.
* * *

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty,

I think its gonna be a long long time. I’m not the man they think I am at all. I’m a rocketman burning up his fuse out here alone.
* * *

This brush is wearing out. Pulling new beard-hairs to braid a new one. Some are grey.
* * *

K: This story covers several years over its 185 words, but I didn’t feel like anything was missing thanks to the clever manner of storytelling. I don’t know why the man’s in prison, but it doesn’t really matter; this is a story about one man’s descent while inside and I truly felt it as he went through massive character development. Very nice. SILVER

P: Oh, dear. While this isn’t a conventional “story”, it’s certainly a shiver-inducing piece of fiction. The gradual slide from stubborn defiance to despair to insanity is harsh. We know next to nothing about the prisoner, his captors, or what brought them together, but the feeling comes through just fine. SILVER

Matthew Gilman

Farrow’d barely closed his eyes when sounds from the new guy’s bunk trickled down. Five minutes after lights out…that was quick.

Farrow thought this guy would make it through the night. He didn’t seem like a pussy. Aggravated assault on an officer? Guys like that, even if they don’t actually have balls, they pretend they’ve grown a pair.

Some whispers echoed through the cellblock. New Guy stopped muffling his sobs and simply gulped and moaned, unashamed. After thirteen years, Farrow knew there was a bravery in letting yourself be unmasked. New Guy was earning himself a few days of don’t-fuck-with-me.

But New Guy crying meant Farrow not sleeping. Farrow poked at the underside of the mattress with his foot: “My mama didn’t know no lullabies.”

Confused silence from above. “This is what she sang instead…” Without missing a note, Farrow sang-whispered.

“Sweet little sixteen.
She just got to have.
About a half a million.
Framed autographs.”

Farrow closed his eyes. It’s only gonna get harder, he wanted to say.

“Oh mommy, mommy.
Please may I go.
It’s such a sight to see.
Somebody steal the show.”

On the second verse, the new guy joined in.

K: This is kind of sweet in a dark, sad way. The story once again cuts to the chase and dispenses with unimportant details like why they’re there, and it’s all the better for it. It’s good word economy and I feel for the characters immediately. SILVER

P: Well, we have the first “I really didn’t see this coming” plot direction of the day. Grizzled prisoner sings new prisoner Chuck Berry? There’s a certain uneasy sweetness here. Life will get harder, and the grace period’s set to expire soon. I like the last sentence especially. SILVER

Colin Woolston

Maria’s face doesn’t look right through this glass, thought Julio, all the lines and how old the glass is makes her look different. He traced the outline of her lips with his finger. It came away feeling greasy.
Maria was talking about how little Julio was getting into everything. Julio made his face smile, and he nodded. He said something about missing his family, and she cried a little. He wanted to be on the other side of the glass, to make her stop crying.
Today. Julio knew that One Clip was going to be waiting for him. One Clip would be in his cell when he came back, sitting on his bunk, all smiles. They would talk, but not for long.
What can I tell her? I’m not coming home?
The guard called time, and he said goodbye. She cried again, but it looked forced. He made himself look sad until she was out of sight. He walked through the six gates that led to his block and then up the stairs to his row. His door was open, and he saw One Clip waiting for him on his bed. Julio smiled.
Love ain’t easy, yo.

K: Whoa. Surprises, strong characters, and interesting character names (I’m a sucker for these). This one forced me to read it twice because it was so skillfully done – it beats down expectation but the revelations don’t seem forced or done for shock value. GOLD

P: This twist doesn’t really feel like a bait and switch, even if it maybe should. This counts as one of the fewish ‘feel good’ endings that we’ll probably get this week – for as ‘feel good’ as prison and a dissolving marriage can be, anyway. Julio says it best, “love ain’t easy, yo”. BRONZE

Sarah Johnson

Jim studied the Polaroid of the latest victim. Her arms were skinned and burned, her torso fixed to a spike harrow. The head was never found. Jim’s belly churned beneath his uniform. She was about fifteen. “I’m ready.”

Gary escorted the prisoner past the guards’ station. Jim stood, trying to keep his emotions in check. Gary locked the suspect in a private cell.

“Shift change in twenty.” Jim’s hands were quivering. He thought of his daughter.

Hank arrived at eight, spitting sunflower shells into a paper cup. Jim asked him to help with the inmate’s prints.

“Where’s Gary, anyhow?” Hank tossed the cup away. Jim shrugged. “The can, I guess.”

Hank turned to open the cell. “Hell. I’ll deal with this coward.” Hank was relieved at the arrest: he had kids of his own.

The cell door opened and the prisoner leapt back. Jim shoved Hank violently, trying to steady his trembling arm.

“We knew it was you, Hank. You sick fuck.”

Hank shrieked, drooping against the stun gun’s voltage. The prisoner – a cop from the next county over – slammed the door as he radioed for Gary. Jim faced Hank.

“My daughter’s safe now, asshole.”

K: I like what we have here, I think, but it’s a bit confused with the number of characters, the large amount of movement and the vagueness of the payoff. I don’t know whether as a reader I’m supposed to think Hank’s actually the killer, or that Hank is being wrongfully accused by an obsessed, paranoid delusional (since our narration mentions that Hank is relieved at the arrest because he has kids of his own). This one seems like it was hurt by the word limit.

P: A twist! The only problem I have with this one is that with the low word count, it’s hard to really earn this kind of twist. When I first read this, I had to read through it again to determine whether or not Hank was the prisoner or a cop, even though I’d literally just read the sentence that had him coming in for shift change. We don’t know anything about Hank, so it’s hard to be too surprised when he’s the bad guy. Also, it seems like a weird way to set up a sting operation, is there any extra information to be gleaned from ambushing him at the prison?

Joseph Rakstad

Blake gazed at the fireball that streaked across the sky. It took him a moment to realize what it really was. This was no comet, this was a crash landing. If there were any survivors, they would soon regret it; the women doubly so. He could get to them first, but he had to leave ten minutes ago. The only one he could trust that could keep up with him was Lorne.
They streaked across the landscape. He didn’t see any lights from the north. That was good, he got the jump. But they’d be on their way soon enough.
When he arrived, Blake saw that it had been a cargo transport, and the wreckage was beyond repair. Three weary souls climbed out; two of them women. Damn! One of them noticed Blake, and screamed.
“QUIET!” commanded Blake. “You’re in danger. We need to get away from this ship before ‘they’ get here.”
“Where are we?” asked the man.
“Congratulations!” Blake mocked. “You just crashed on a prison planet. You need to trust us if you want to live”
“What? Why?” the lone man still in a daze.
Blake shifted his clothing. “They’re not eunuchs.”

K: This one has an exciting tone throughout, so the funny line at the end, while solid, sort of draws the reader out of the story he’s invested in. The prose is quick, which may have been a stylistic choice, or may have been a victim of massive cuts.

P: Prison planet rape! I’m sort of surprised this trope hadn’t been played around with more. I like the ‘prison planet’ concept, though this particular one doesn’t seem like one where a person like Blake would necessarily survive very long. There’s plenty of unanswered questions, but if the only direction those questions are going to go in is prison rape, then I guess I’m okay without the answers.

Shawn Ashley

Did you know that your own veins will not support you if you try to hang from them? I tried that once. Sliced open my arm and yanked those veins out with a makeshift fishhook. Got sent to psyche, worse than solitary. They tried to steal my knowledge, a piece of my brain.
Everybody locked in a cell wants to kill themselves. But I’m not only locked in this prison, in solitary, but I’m locked in the prison of my mind.
Gonna find a way to hang me up like Jesus on the cross.
They are after me.
For what I know and what I can do. I have to take my thoughts with me, so They can’t get them.
This prison’s got me captured; this disciple is trapped. Ain’t no way out but up or down. I stare up at this ceiling day in, day out. I see God. He keeps me company. Tells me I am too good for this world, this cell.
Gonna hang me up, that’s right.
The rusty nails from my bed frame should go through my wrists just the way I want ‘em…question is…once I’ve done one…how am I gonna do the other?

K: Holy shit, Shawn. I like this opening as much as I’ve ever liked any opening to a story I’ve read at this site – it’s powerful and memorable in a way most stories don’t even manage with their LAST lines. It goes off the rails a bit as the craziness seems a little forced in the middle, but the ending is strong again. Less generic madness and more conversational banter, like in the opening and closing, would have really put this one above the rest. BRONZE

P: Okay, so this guy is nuts. I don’t know how much his “off the deep end” wackiness really tells me about him as a character, but he’s certainly a memorable one. Thanks for the “veins will not support you” opening. That one ought to linger. BRONZE

Dean Carlson

Novak. Even though I had never met the man, nor seen his leathery sun-scarred face, the mere mention of the name wracked my bowels like a 3:00am chalupa. His wicked deeds were legend among the prison yard old timers: How he locked Snyder in a meat locker for setting up a trade-based cigarette market or the time the Levine twins were found duct taped, crucifix-style, to the basketball hoops for reportedly overcooking the Easter goose. Now word was passed along the cells: Wednesday, Noon. The laundry.

The appointed time came quickly as I found myself staring at the rusty, battleship grey door labeled Laundry. “You really thought you could take me on?” The surprisingly dulcet words greeted me even before I walked through the door. I found myself stammering “no sir… I just, just thought, I’d…” “That was your problem boy” the pleasing voice cooed in my ear “I didn’t pay you to think.” The shiv struck hard and fast and as I lay face down in my own pool of warm blood, the taste reminded me of garlic with a hint of cilantro.

K: Dean, you are a goofy bastard. In a sense, I knew what I was getting here, but it still worked much better than it had any right to. In the end, though I know the gimmick was writing a story about Matt, it does detract from this a bit and I’m not sure how I’d score it without that part of it. The story’s jumbled, but a lot of the language was absurd in a mostly non-annoying way. “Novak” was a particularly funny opening sentence.

P: Cilantro tastes like soap to me. Unpleasant taste. Anyway, this one isn’t really meta, and is actually fairly light on the in-joke that brought it about. So, is the awful, evil Novak employing this unfortunate shivved soul? He’d never met him, so maybe there’s a go-between? Maybe I’m over-thinking this. The Levine twins had it coming, though. If you’re going to overcook goose, there damn well ought to be consequences. BRONZE

Bret Highum

Mitchell pushed his cart of cleaning supplies down the hall. Spit and jeers came from the cells, same as always, but Mitchell was in his own world, same as always. The slender trusty tucked his head even lower and hurried towards the death row cells, his assigned area for the last eight years.

Mitchell was in a rush today. The lights had dimmed last night- the electric chair had taken another soul. Mitchell needed to check Cell 6. Had it been the end for the one in Cell 6?

Every other one in the death row cells had been taken out and replaced- some of them multiple times. #6 was the only one still hanging on, and Mitchell dreaded finding the cell cold and dark after an electrocution. It was only a matter of time.

Mitchell hustled past the guards and finally came within sight of #6. The incandescent bulb overhead glowed warmly from its iron cage, illuminating a scrawny tattooed fellow, who immediately began to cuss vehemently.

Mitchell’s plain face creased in a smile of relief. #6 was still alive, the delicate tungsten filament somehow still enduring, shining like a beacon of hope in his simple mind.

K: I frigging love this. Mitchell is an excellent character to drop into this setting, and I really felt his relief at the end of the story. It wasn’t long ago I read a screenwriting tip that said you can really spice up your stagnant script by putting the completely wrong type of person into the setting; this is proof. I want to read a novel where Mitchell figures in heavily. GOLD

P: I like this. I can close my eyes and imagine this character going about his business, hoping that his routine isn’t thrown off by #6’s death (even though #6 is, of course, an extremely unpleasant death row inmate). I also like the word ‘vehemently’, so props for that. GOLD

Cathy Wells

Laura signs one last form before getting her picture taken. She really hates pictures and her hair is being particularly uncooperative today.
“Can I have a minute to take one last stab at making this hair presentable?” She asks Corrections Officer Dave in spite of being certain of the answer.
“Sorry honey, the beauty parlor closed at 8.” Laura sighs. “Don’t worry, you look fine. Just do your best to relax.” Laura musters up her most natural smile, the shutter snaps, and a moment later her picture is visible on the desk monitor. “Hey, not bad. Take a look.”
“Wow, it isn’t bad. This is a first, my badge pictures are always terrible.”
“Not a bad way to start your first day, eh? Welcome to the Dakota County Correctional Facility where an exhilarating career is most certainly waiting.” Laura smiles.

K: This is a nice little story, even if the dialogue felt a bit cliche. Though it’s a small story, it’s also a unique one given the parameters of the challenge, and I appreciate the effort to step away from the obvious. Not that, you know, people hanging themselves with their veins is obvious. BRONZE

P: Heh, this is a fairly simple bait and switch – the protagonist is a corrections officer! The present tense feels a little weird here for some reason, but perhaps I’m just unaccustomed to seeing third-person present tense stuff. No frills, but it’s lean and tells a complete story, which is an achievement.

Matt Novak

“Wankers got ya, eh? Where’d ‘ey pinch ya, sleepin’?”
I just stared.
“You speak English, mate? Was you sleepin’?
Roddy might have been the most disorienting part of the entire experience.
“No,” I finally answered, “I was on the homestead. Stargazing.”
“Stargazing!” he laughed, “You dinnit see ‘em coming?”
I ignored his laughter.
”What do they do?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“Just ‘old us prisoner. We’s been convicted o’ inferiority.”
“Aye. Just play the part mate. Tom – ‘e was in ‘ere before you – thought learning their language’d prove ‘em wrong. They didn’t take kindly to being wrong. I been ‘ere seven years now. Ain’t learned a lick. Keeps me seeing new cellmates. Follow ol’ Roddy ‘n’ you’ll do fine.”

Sage advice, perhaps, but my curious nature got the better of me, and languages were a skill of mine. I tried to hide that I knew, but somehow they picked it up.
“Poison the tall one,” I heard them say, “put it in his food.”

As I pondered my options – eat and die, or starve and confirm their suspicions – Roddy wiped his chin and pointed at my plate.
“You gonna eat that, mate?”

K: This is just the type of stinger that I love in a story – we know where it’s going but we don’t need to read every word of it. The characters in this one are strong, and like in a couple others, I’d be willing to spend more time with them. SILVER

P: It seems like there’s probably an entire world that I’m not privy to, and I could mope about that, because it a world where you can be convicted of ‘inferiority’ is always an interesting one to visit. Rather than worry about that, though, I’ll just enjoy what we’ve got here, because it’s a treat. Roddy’s ignorant wisdom, the narrator’s imminent demise… the quandary that leaves us hanging at the end, all of it adds up to my favorite story of the week. GOLD

Andrew M

The door closed behind Jim. He stood facing his new cellmate Tiny, a
man easily a foot taller and 150 pounds heavier.

“What’s your name?” Tiny asked.

“Nevermind that.”

“Alright then, New Fish it is. What’re you in for?”

“I’m innocent.”

“Motherfucker, this ain’t Shawshank,” Tiny said with a chuckle.
“Ain’t nobody get sent here ‘less they done something. Now, I’mma ask
you again – What. Are you. In. For?”

“It’s easier to show you. Got a deck of cards?”
Jim shuffled a few times and set the deck down. “Eight of hearts,
jack of spades, three of clubs.”

“What are you talking about?”

He tapped the deck. “Flip ’em.”

Eight of hearts, jack of spades, three of clubs. “I can tell you the
next three, too. Well, actually, I can tell you the rest of ’em.”

“Do it again,” Tiny demanded.

“Any cards in particular?”

“All the hearts. In order.”

He shuffled and started to deal. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.
Eight. Nine. Ten. Jack. Queen. King. Ace.

“I assumed Ace high, if that’s OK.”

Tiny’s eyes lit up. “I’mma call you Andy from now on. How would you
like to make me some money?”

K: A big guy named Tiny and the Shawshank reference when I expected a Shawshank reference…some of this was too obvious, but Andy’s explanation of why he was in prison was fun to watch. The prose was fine but not on the level of the week’s best; that’s probably the only real mark against this one. BRONZE

P: I would like to see a story where a character named ‘Tiny’ was, in fact, a small person. Setting that very small quibble aside, I really like this. The setup could’ve been fairly cliché, but with one little twist, it wasn’t at all. Add the fact that the dialogue is real feeling and enjoyable, and this one is golden. GOLD

David Larson

Day 122 of solitary confinement: incredibly bored. I can’t believe all of this is for calling the warden a jerk face. My cell is no bigger than the hall closet back home. And I noticed that someone forgot to change the bare bulb on the ceiling with a fluorescent one. Now and then I see movement through the narrow slats, er, bars on the door, and I’ve taken every opportunity to bad mouth the warden when I see him out there.

The food here sucks. I miss all the badass guys in my block, and can’t wait to get out of solitary. I’ve used some of my time here to fashion a nifty shiv out of a clothes hanger, and I can’t wait to demonstrate it to the warden. I once saw one of the guys…

“Jeff, you’re watching my Serenity DVD, aren’t you? I can HEAR it! Let me out of here now! DAD! CAN YOU UNLOCK THE CLOSET? HELLO?!”

K: I saw where it was going, but I still enjoyed going. The prose didn’t quite pop like some others and it won’t be one that sticks with me, but I always appreciate a change of pace from the depravity in a week like this. BRONZE

P: Serenity! Also ‘home as prison’ motif! The idea of a kid shanking a family member with a clothes hanger is absurd, which sort of works in this one’s favor, assuming this is all just some imagined prison fantasy-type thing. I also like the parts where the narrator breaks character, just like my friends and I would when we’d do this type of stuff as kids. It’s fairly light, but fun. BRONZE

Ian Pratt

A ragged voice stretched through the musty air, stirring me awake. My uncle’s voice, my father’s brother. My name buzzing into my cell.
“Matthieu. Wake up Matthieu.”
My eyes snapped open with a practiced bolt of adrenaline. Pupils dilated in the still darkness. Heartbeat slowed, slowed back home.
“Yes, Uncle,” I called back. “What is it?”
No immediate answer. My eyes closed again, the clouds behind them gathered once more.
“Today will be your last day,” he said finally, just as I had begun to drift back off.
I grunted, awake now for sure. Lips smacked. Hands scratched where the fleas had found me. Five in the morning, perhaps.
“Yes, Uncle. Today is my last day. Just like yesterday. Just like the day before.”
My uncle laughed. An ugly, poison sound. It had been many dark years since I’d last seen his face, but in my mind he was the same twisted burl of scar that had set my family to flame.
“No, Matthieu,” he continued to chuckle. “This time I mean it.”
My pulse rose and a hot surge of blood flushed my face. Jaw clenched. Eyes screwed tight enough for shapes to appear.
“I hope so, Uncle.”

K: Whoa. Uncle is as evil a character as we’ve had here, isn’t he? I was surprised not to see more of this type of captivity, but at least when I did the writer made it count. The whole thing is explained in vivid detail – I have no trouble seeing this room and the conditions that Matthieu lives in. That’s not entirely pleasant, but it makes for a fine little story. GOLD

P: So… I really don’t know about this one. There’s lots of imagery and emotion, and there’s two leads that obviously have no love lost for one another. A lot of details are fuzzy, but the idea of the Uncle character tormenting the narrator day after day with the promise of release (via freedom or death, though I’d lean to the latter from the tone) is good stuff. “Twisted burl of a scar” is a great description. BRONZE


Brooks completely missed this one, which is so out of character that I’d think he was dead if I hadn’t talked to him. It was just the perfect storm of a day. Unfortunately, since he didn’t have one in by the time we were done judging, no reprieve. I feel so gross doing that to Brooks. This site is practically as much his as it is mine, har har.

Congratulations to Bret Highum, who once again sticks his landing for a perfect ten, and our apologies to the stories that were just a tad too long or lacked a very small thing that kept them out of the medals. This one was significantly tougher to score than the first week. As always, the link to the results is on the sidebar.

Your next challenge, due Friday at 9pm Central (Thursday may actually be a better day for me in the future, but we’ll see how that goes), is to write a story about a character with superpowers. Under a word limit of 300 – and let me just tell you that the grace number has been 10 because people have different word counters, but you should pretend you don’t have it – tell me a story, big or small, about the supercharacter in whatever situation you want to put them in (I have an idea for this one I like…hmm, I might do this one).

See you in a few, Prosemeisters. It was a good read today.