This challenge was to write a story about a character who has reached the halfway point of something.

It was apparently a good idea, because wow, you all soared this week. Goooooood stuff.

Again, highlight after each number to see who wrote what.

1 Joseph Rakstad

I glance at my watch; we still have 38 minutes left to go. I reach down for my next slice – number 5. I can feel my stomach start to give signals of fullness, but I do my best to ignore them. I’ve been training it for the last month to take in more than it could handle. I am, however, starting to regret the choice of meat though. Veggies might’ve been a little easier on the ol’ GI tract. The grease is starting to affect my head a little.

Steve’s starting to groan. That jerk better not wimp out on me. This was his brilliant idea. I tell the waitress that she should’ve listened to me when I said to cut it in 8 slices, that we couldn’t eat 16. She rolls her eyes at me again and asks me if I want more breadsticks. She thinks she’s funny. Nope, just the water. Gotta leave room for the main dish.

I finish another slice. Only three more to go.

Jill asked why we were doing it. I said why not. Steve and I have always wanted to do something crazy. It wasn’t the money. $500 was nice, but it wouldn’t change our lives. The fame was only local, so that wasn’t it either. It was a personal thing, something we just wanted to do to do it.

Another one down. I can see light at the end of the tunnel. But really, it’s a freakin’ freight train. Steve starts to gag and looks like he’s about to vomit. I panic because if he pukes it won’t count.

We wait… and thank God he keeps it down, but he’s out of the challenge. Son of a bitch, last six slices are mine. Screw him, I’m taking the whole $500.

K: We’re really into the whole competitive eating thing this season, eh? This is frivolous fun. I can’t imagine it’ll stand up to the best, but I do love the occasional small-scale, small-stakes story. BRONZE

P: Sometimes the simplest gags are the best. Sometimes they’re not, but this one is fun. There’s a lot of darkness ahead, and this one sets a nice, jovial mood that’s soon to be crushed. Nothing amazing, but it’s fun. BRONZE

2 Eric Schapp

The air was still sweet; and for that reason he knew he still had a great distance to travel before the day was done. The tastes of evergreen and wildflowers would eventually turn sour as he neared the finish. But that would come much later.

He had started just after midnight, and had already been running for hours. The sun was finally showing above the cascades and the day was quickly heating up. The rising temperatures actually loosened his muscles. The mountains of California are surprisingly cool in the morning, which of course is a good thing; no one wants to run a hundred miles in Death Valley.

The Wilderness 100 is his favorite race. He competed every year, though, he never finished in the front of the pack. Winning is not the goal. Ultra distance races were his only zen like state. The sheer determination and willpower on display by the runners fed his soul. Down in the valley he worked like everyone else chained to a desk. Supposedly he would also die just like everyone else. It does not feel that way.

He chuckled to himself as he passed the fifty mile marker, thinking how early he had reached peak this year. He was all alone in the woods left to his own devices. He knew that most human beings would not have made it half this far. Hell, most people won’t even shut off their fucking televisions long enough to walk around the block. How strange he must seem to them. As the trail began a steep incline, he could taste blood in his throat. This was everything.

Fifty miles to prove himself. Cadence increasing, he let his mind drift over the mountains.

K: The use of “fucking” late really kicked the crap out of the laid-back vibe this was riding. Still, I liked this a lot. I get enough of this character’s motivations that I can really get into his story. I don’t know if he makes it, and I don’t have to, but I want him to. Good stuff. SILVER

P: The first time I read this, it felt cathartic, even to a non-runner like myself. The naturalist imagery runs deep in it, and when the ending came, I felt as though I wanted more. The second time I read it, I had the misfortune of thinking about it froma story sense, and there’s just not a whole lot going on. This runner is going to finish this race. He’s not going to win, he said it himself, that isn’t even the point. There’s not a whole lot of tension here, and while the prose is certainly good, parts of it seem sort of preachy. So I’m going to compromise. I’ll split the difference on the score from first read to second, and next time I have to run up to the top floor, I’ll take the stairs, unless I’m really in a hurry. Everyone wins. BRONZE

3 Ian Pratt

It was a simple procedure, another lift-and-tuck for some rich old queen looking for fifteen more minutes of tight skin. I’d done thousands of them. Never anything real, never anything life-changing, never the sort of true reconstruction that gives poor souls a second chance, that does nothing to prevent staring but at least stops them from screaming when they see you. Only ever the vain, the arrogant, the already beautiful asking to have their lilies gilded for thousands of dollars. I didn’t wait for Nurse Holyoak to assist on this one. And I was halfway done when-

Look, this is a fucked-up world we’re living in.

I was riding the bus with a guy who told me about working at a research station in Antarctica. His coworker decided to take a piss outside in hundred-below weather to see what’d happen. The piss froze right in his urethra giving him frostbite inside his dick. And it was so cold it kept freezing all the way up to his bladder, turning it into a solid lump of ice. It fucked him up so bad that he died a week later.

Bullshit, I said, that didn’t happen.

When I said that the guy stood up, pulled a gun from his belt, pointed it at my face, and fired.

-Nurse Holyoak shoved me back from the operating table, sending me tumbling. Nurse Chavez was there too, and she wrestled the scalpel away. She tried pinning me to the floor, but it wasn’t easy since I was resisting and the blood made me slippery. Doctor Patel came in after hearing all the screaming and he didn’t like what I’d done either. He was mumbling something about God having mercy, but Nurse Holyoak was yelling at him to call an ambulance, or the police, or someone. Just call someone.

K: This is one of my all-around favorite stories of the season. The story unravels its secrets slowly and adeptly, and by the end the lead character is already singularly fascinating. Watching people snap can be tedious if it’s unmotivated, but watching it happen when there’s a reason is the stuff I love so much, it makes me want to drop everything and start writing. GOLD

P: “Look, this is a fucked-up world we’re living in.” Some of the prose here feels a little like the writing in ‘Choke’ – the frank details of the Antarctic research station (which might just be some of my favorite writing of the young season), the way it jumps around with little warning. Getting compared to exploitative shock stories isn’t necessarily an automatic positive, but my point is that this is evocative. I want to talk to the writer and figure out where their head was at when they wrote this. I feel like I could spend more words discussing this than it took to just write the damn thing. I’d better stop before I do just that. GOLD

4 Matthew Gilman

I almost opened a window. Hot, stifling-wet air from the three large pots bubbling on their burners. “Not going to risk those pots not boiling. Gonna keep on watching, watching,” I said out loud. Wiped some drippings away from the corner of my mouth with a napkin. Same napkin that had been tucked into my collar before I took my shirt off a day ago.

“Get comfortable,” I told myself again. Open a window and risk being seized by an urge to run. “You’re not going anywhere. Not until this is aaalllllll gone.” I giggled at my own shaky voice.

I hate my voice; it sounds like a dumb version of Dad’s. His was always mean and sharp. The voice of God; the voice of the law. He laid it down: the Word, the Law, and the SMACK. He laid the smack down “ON MY ASS.”

I said those last words out loud. I didn’t care; I’m miles away from town. No one to hear. Nowhere to run. Always just GodDad and me. Used to be Dad and Mom. Mom died because I showed up.

His head hangs from the hook over the industrial bucket blocking the door. GodDad told me how I’d finally leave home. After yet another beating, he taunted, “you want to get out of here, you’d better go through me. Make sure I can’t go after you. You’d better eat a fucking hole through me, boy. You’d better fucking EAT your way out.”

Seventy pounds of upper-half left in the sink. Three pots of bones, boiling for two days straight, getting them soft enough to swallow. Cast iron pan on the last burner, glistening with fat drippings. Waste buckets. Blood buckets. My stomach beginning to swell. I’m saving the face for last.

K: Um…Shawn? I assume? Whoever it is, it’s gorgeously twisted. It isn’t easy to write a story of this type without coming off as desperate to shock, but the character is easy to believe and his madness has just enough method to make him extremely terrifying. You folks are killing it this week. KILLING IT! GOLD

P: At first, I thought this was going to be a lame “watched pot never boils” pun. Um… nope. Disturbing to the core, much in the same way that the “did you know your veins won’t support your weight” story was, this one is another stomachtwister. The intricate way the narrator describes the pots and their contents is demented. Seriously, what is wrong with you people? And what is wrong with me, since this is so damned interesting to me? SILVER

5 Bret Highum

Jacob stood over his vanquished foe, sword held high. He glanced around and found all his companions also victorious. Jacob looked to the sun high overhead, breathing a sigh of relief. It was rare to have made it this far without losing at least one of his fellows- an uncommon day, indeed! The inn on the road ahead marked the halfway point to the Castle of Doom. They would stop there for a quick repast, and then on to finish their quest.

They exploded into the building, leaving weapons and armor strewn over the entryway. Full of excitement after their latest victory, each chattered on about their battles and boasted that they would be the one to bring down the witch-king emperor. Jacob alone held his peace, glorying in the companionship but knowing more challenges awaited them.

The serving wench seated them and plied them with victuals. She and the cook kept prodding Jacob and his friends to eat more of this, and try more of that, until they were all sated. Then the companions joined voices in a rousing tribute to Jacob while the wench brought forth dessert. What a wonderful meal!

Jacob was halfway through the cake when he felt a terrible lassitude stealing through his limbs. With tremendous effort, he lifted his head, looking around the table. All his men lay limp, heads down and arms slack. No! The witch-king emperor must have somehow poisoned them all! His eye met that of the serving wench, who smiled back at him with unholy glee. Jacob made a final attempt to rise, sending his fork clattering to the floor, before slumping back and surrendering to the rising darkness.

————————————————————————————————————————

“Oh, honey, grab the camera! Jake and his little friends fell asleep while they were eating birthday cake! It’s so cute!”

K: Cute. I wasn’t ready at all for a twist here, but the twist worked as a surprise without feeling like it detracted from the story being told. Maybe I should be annoyed by the bait and switch, but I’m not. SILVER

P: I had the thought about halfway through this one (right around the point where the wench and the cook prod Jacob and his friends) that it might be a bait and switch. I was sort of hoping it wasn’t, the witch-king-emperor-god-potentate story had at least a bit of potential, and I wanted to see how exactly the poisoning would play out and….then it was a bait and switch. “The wench brought forth desert” is one of my favorite lines of this challenge, but the ending makes everything feel sort of false, and with the high level of concept and writing going on this week, it falls a bit short.

6 Andrew M

Jake paced his workspace. His deadline was this evening and he had
absolutely nothing. Usually these things came to him easily and the
words flowed from his fingers onto the page. Sure, things needed
refining and touching up, but the core had never eluded him before.

Jake wasn’t really mad at himself, just a bit annoyed. He’d had an
entire week and had come up with bupkis. He wasn’t by nature a
worrier, but as the deadline grew nearer, he thought he might be able
to make an exception.

Jake’s usual methods of getting this mind going hadn’t worked. He’d
taken a walk around the block and plenty of trips to the fridge. By
now he’d gotten started. It wasn’t much, but at least it was
something. But no matter how he tried, he couldn’t flesh it out.

Sighing, he checked again. There on his screen, mocking him:

“WORD COUNT: 150”

K: Y’all know I don’t like metafiction, but Word Count: 150 made me laugh, so well done to you. Also, that’s two stories in a row about a character named Jake. There was also one last week. What’s that about?

P: Ah, meta. The most dangerous game that doesn’t involve hunting people for sport. Not to belabor the point, but this is a hell of a week. This one plays it subtle-ish, but there’s no real hook to be found other than “man, writer’s block sucks donkey dick”. My reply is, “yes… yes it does, but in a week like this, that fact isn’t quite enough.”

7 Colin Woolston

Being a New Yorker was Tom’s thing. He was from Michigan, and had only lived in New York for 7 months, but if you asked him he’d tell you he was born in Brooklyn.
Conifer was from California. She had left California when she was 4, and had lived in Manhattan ever since, but if you asked her she’d tell you that she misses home.
One might think that these two wouldn’t mesh, but on the day they received their intersection assignments and found themselves in the same light box, they knew it was the first day of the rest of their lives.
Conifer’s dad had been assigned to the NYC traffic division of stop light operators – this was the impetus for their move from Sacramento – and Conifer had followed his footsteps. For Tom, there just hadn’t been much work for him other than the less than glamorous job of climbing up into and running the stoplight boxes.
Tom and Conifer had thought of the idea to automate the stoplights on a Sunday morning in bed. Six months and buckets of sweat and tears had led to this point, and the work was just beginning. The actual automation of the lights was easy, and the financial backing was no problem, as the city jumped at the prospect of reducing labor costs. The problem lie with the Union of Little Workers.
Now, as Tom and Conifer huddled in their box, a storm of little voices carrying up from the corner below, mixing with the clash and thud of steel and clubs, Tom thought of lake Michigan, and Conifer of the lower east side.

K: So, this person combined his unwritten story from last week with this week’s concept. The result is fun, and weirdly dark. “Conifer” is also a very strange character name (unless the character is a tree), which I always appreciate. BRONZE

P: Conifer is a nice name. I confess a certain disinterest in some of the particulars about city planning, but that doesn’t feel like it matters with this one. The writer fleshes out the characters beautifully, and the idea of home resonates strongly in this one. SILVER

8 Erik S

This is my favorite part…

First, there’s the widening of its eyes, eyes once dead resurrected in the span of a beat of its jumpstarted heart.

The next few seconds are the most crucial. Focus. You need to focus. As much as you’d like to lose yourself in the moment, you must anticipate and respond to every Newtonian reaction in kind. It’s amazingly difficult to concentrate when every fiber in your body is exploding with adrenal euphoria.

If you can ride that first wave and not fall off, then comes the sweet spot: right when the hyoid begins to crack, the larynx begins to collapse, and the brain descends into hypoxia. The bulging eyes, now so full of life, emit a pure, unabashed terror. Just like the hares I trapped in my youth.

The papers say that I’m on some sort of crusade; some religious nutter in a zealous rage doing work for an angry and wrathful God. Ha! The agents of God are just as guilty of prostitution as these vermin, with God being the biggest whore Himself.

No, my retribution is much more base. These harlots rob Man of his essence, giving them only filth and disease in return. They prey on the weakness of Man, emptying his wallet and his soul. They’re worse than the common parasite. They feed on their betters through guile and greed instead of the drive of blind instinct.

After that moment, their struggling starts to wane. It’s almost anticlimactic. They accept their judgment, even look upon me with gratitude for freeing them.

Soon, this rodent, lured by the promise of a crisp fifty, will be amongst its kind in the deep, pure ocean. But, for now, I will relish the look in its eyes when it fully realizes its ensnarement.

It’s my favorite part.

K: I’ve decided you’re all evil. This character’s darkness feels a little less believable than the darkness of the GodDad killer earlier, so though the story is written very well, it seems too desperate to prove itself. Maybe I’m just comparing it to the other one too much. BRONZE

P: Mad scientists/doctors have always had a special place in my heart, mostly because the possibilities are so damned terrifying. The writing here is crisp and entertaining. The worldview, debased as it is, is intoxicating to read about. This dude is fucked up, and he relishes in it. This piece also teaches a valuable lesson – don’t accept money from weird dudes who want to perform science on you. It ends in cracked hyoids and ocean dumpages. SILVER

9 Sarah Johnson

“I feel great, actually.” Lindsey adjusted the gown around her thighs. “Did I really pass out?”

“For a moment. Yes.” The nurse squinted at her clipboard. “You did take a pregnancy test, Mrs. Harris?”

“Of course I… well, no. Why? What’s going on? I’m 20 weeks. Look at me. Halfway there!” Lindsey struggled to sit up. Her arms were clamped to the bed, hidden beneath a clean cotton blanket.

“Please stay calm, Mrs. Harris. I’ll get the doctor. Who have you been seeing?”

“Dr. Crubaugh. In OB, right on this floor.” Lindsey’s voice was tense. “Untie me. Please.”

“Sure. Just hang tight.” The nurse whirled, locking the door as she slipped out of the room.

A young doctor entered, adjusting his paper mask.

“I’m Dr. Spears. I need to ask you a few questions about your condition. Is your husband available, by any chance?” He looked upset.

“My husband is at work. Where is Dr. Crubaugh?” The baby kicked; Dr. Spears pressed a wall panel, stepping away from Lindsey’s bed.

“Mrs. Harris, Dr. Crubaugh has been gone – dead, I should add – for nearly twelve years. It is crucial that we figure out what’s going on here. We have no record of you being seen in this facility.” He tried not to focus on the black stain spreading along the blanket. The doctor turned, holding the door as a nurse wheeled in with a steel cart.

“You’re not pregnant, Ms. Harris. It seems that you have an… in infection of sorts. A growth, or, well – an implantation. We’ll find out soon enough. Just stay calm.”

Lindsey blacked out before the doctor could finish.

“Nurse! Please lock the door. And keep Crubaugh out of here. He’s in interstitial: bottom shelf, north end. See that he’s contained.”

K: To be honest, sometimes the amount of darkness at this site – even though I’m responsible for some of it – tires me out. I promise I’ll always recognize when it’s good, though. This is good, though I feel I need a little more of this story to be satisfied. All those criticisms said, this is a very cool premise. I demand more with a higher word limit (or none). BRONZE

P: There’s some pretty good squick here. The tension builds up as the situation is explained, and comes to a head with the line “A growth, or, well – an implantation”. I want to see what exactly Dr. Crubaugh (great name, btw) is, and what exactly his designs for this ‘implantation’ are. GOLD

10 Cathy Wells

As the curtain closed on the first act, Natalie noticed her mother in the wings.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” Natalie grabbed for the water bottle balancing on the fly rail.
“Hi dear, I’m sorry but we have to go.” The small woman caught Natalie’s hand and tried to lead her to the stage door, but Natalie easily freed herself from her mother’s grasp.
“What, are you kidding? Mom, I’m in the middle of a show. How did you even get back here?”
“I know dear, but this is very important. We need to leave right now.” The silver haired woman grew more passionate in her plea.
“Mother, what could be so important that I would walk out in the middle of a show?”
“Your father just had a heart attack and is in the hospital.” She reached for her daughter’s hand again and this time Natalie allowed her advance but lead the old woman to her dressing room. The room was small but comfortable due to an overstuffed sofa in the corner.
“Oh, thank you dear. I’m so glad you were able to come. Now don’t be afraid, the doctor said he should be ok. Well, at least say hello.” She pointed to a stuffed bear on the sofa.
“Mom, where are your pills?”
“Really Natalie, your father is lying there hooked up to all those machines and you’re worried about my pills?”
“Yes Mom. Where are they? Where’s your purse?”
“I don’t know.” Natalie’s mother made her way to the sofa and sat the bear in her lap and began stroking its fur. “Frank, how are you darling? Have you gotten your jell-o?”

There was a knock at the door.
“Places.”

K: There’s a lot to like here, but unfortunately, the word limit forced the writer to give up secrets that could have been kept longer. “Places” could have been a huge line, but because I already knew what was going on, it hurt the ending a little.

P: I find this story sad, yet overall, it doesn’t really pull me in any particular way. The old woman has fairly obviously become senile, but for some reason, it just doesn’t click. Too few serial killers and competitive eaters? Maybe. Maybe it’s some deep seated psycological response to the very idea of a loved one ever being in a position like this. Maybe I’m overanalyzing a bit. BRONZE

11 David Larson

Jeremy went to his small closet and carefully got down a hard-shell suitcase. The other residents at the assisted living facility were twice Jeremy’s age, but he was still going to miss them. Later today he would be moving into hospice.

His intention was to pack following lunch, since his energy had been flagging lately. At least the back of his head only throbbed lightly nowadays; the stronger pain medication was doing wonders – gone were the days of eye-squinching, fetal position headaches, although he really had problems maintaining his focus.

In the suitcase Jeremy made a base of socks and underwear from his top drawer, and then added pants on top of them. The changing pictures of the digital photo frame on the dresser caught his attention, and he picked it up just as an image of a cocker spaniel appeared. He heard from the adoption center that Clara was in good hands now; she was the closest thing he had to family. Jeremy turned off the frame and placed it carefully into the suitcase, then without thought climbed onto the bed for a short respite.

The afternoon on-duty nurse knocked lightly before entering the room, smiled, and walked over to the bedside where he carefully moved the half-filled suitcase off the foot of the bed to the chair nearby. As he fixed the man’s upturned collar, the nurse stiffened, then quickly felt for a pulse. He paged the front desk, confirming the D.N.R. order, and the doctor on call was notified.

The nurse’s smile returned, sadder now, and he rubbed away some moisture from his left eye with the back of his hand, smoothing out Jeremy’s half-opened jacket. Waiting as footsteps partway way down the hallway approached, he gently lowered the suitcase lid.

K: This is an oddly comforting little story. I thought I was going to be distraught by the unknown as Jeremy left the building, but I enjoy that this story closed the book on his life, and did it with class and dignity. I could stand to go that way. SILVER

P: The tone set here is good. The small parts, like the digital photo frame are done with care, and the implied tragedy of only getting to life half the life is haunting. This story did a good job of weaving the half filled suitcase into the overall narrative. GOLD

12 Shawn Ashley

He was halfway there and the net loomed ahead of him, large and daunting. He exhaled sharply and he could see his own breath.
Determination.
Seconds seemed like hours when he realized he had to move. Had to escape. Had to protect. The only thing that mattered was what was in front of him.
He pushed off, narrowly missed one of his attackers. Things were happening in real time again. The noise, the cold, yet, sweat poured from his head.
He turned to the left and side-swiped another enemy. The goal was in site. He would accomplish this. He would persevere. His whole life had come to this moment. He lived the entire thing just for this second.
As he got closer, he saw out of the corner of his eye another attacker, ready to take the prize. This wasn’t a game, this was his entire life. He had practiced his whole existence for this one shot. To determine his fate in this game.
Get to the net, he breathed into his soul. He went faster, unaware the enemy pursued him hard and fast.
He brought his stick back, ready to strike, and held his breath. The net got closer. His shot was there and perfect.
As he connected with the puck, one of the guys from the other team crashed into his right side.
As he fell, he kept his eye on the puck…
Watched as it missed.
By centimeters.

K: This one feels cheeky for a long time, as if it’s setting up for a big joke reveal. Instead, it’s a hockey game, which is enough in line with what I was expecting that it was a bit underwhelming to get there. This is nicely written, but will be hurt by the strength of this incredible week.

P: There are the makings of a Gatorade commercial here (well, considering the ending, maybe an off brand sports drink). That isn’t meant to be a slam, of course, those commercials are generally pretty hardcore, after all. Fighting your way through everything, overcoming obstacles, only to have your very best be not quite good enough is sports drama at its finest. BRONZE

13 Matt Novak

Retrofitted with a modern light drive, the Achilles should have been the fastest ship in the fleet. The Commander stared at the charts, where he’d plotted the Tortoise’s course too many times to count. “How long?”
“37 days since we left base sir,” answered Lieutenant Diogenes.
They should have reached the cargo ship thrice over by now.

It had been a simple intercept mission: refuel the Tortoise, download the logs, and pick up Aristotle, the specialist who’d been experimenting on new warp capabilities.
“Perhaps Aristotle can fix the problem when we pick him up,” suggested Diogenes.
“If we pick him up,” corrected the Commander.
So far the Achilles had traveled half the distance to the Tortoise. In fact, they’d traveled half way over seventy times. But each time they discovered that a new middle had been established. No matter how fast or far they traveled, there was always another halfway point between them and the Tortoise.

“Sir, it’s worse than we thought!” It was Private Zeno, who’d been relegated to navigation more than a year earlier. Zeno’s mind, when it wasn’t absent, was sharp; brilliant and boneheaded, a paradox unto himself.
“What is it Zeno?” the Commander asked gruffly.
“Sir, we haven’t actually gone anywhere at all yet.”
“What?”
“In order to travel half way to the Tortoise, we first had to travel halfway to the halfway point, sir. And to the halfway point before that, and so on.”
“Well haven’t we done that?”
“No sir, there are infinite halfway points.”

The Commander began to pace. He had his orders. Somehow, he needed to reach the Tortoise, but he knew instinctively that that Zeno was right: they hadn’t moved an inch.
“Any new ideas, Lieutenant Diogenes?”
“Perhaps we could disengage the parking brake sir?”

K: I liked this story throughout, and the final line is so eager in its stupidity that I can’t stop giggling. It’s just so innocently asked. I was amused by the idea of “infinite halfway points” and was reminded of the wit of Douglas Adams throughout this one. Absurdism is tough, but I think you got there. GOLD

P: This one also gets a bit meta with the mature of halfway-ness, then goes over the top with it, then throws it all away with a cheap gag. The greek bits (Diogenes, nice) were a good flourish.. Ships (starships, it was appear) fitted with ‘modern light drives’ with a parking brake? I laughed, but it sort of took me out of the story.

14 AMR

It was a foreclosure, sold as-is. We knew there were problems: broken toilet seats, ugly carpet, poorly hung doors, a non-functioning sump pump, and junkyard-quality dishwasher, washing machine, and garbage disposal, to list a few.

Meghan and I loved the problems because they meant we could actually afford a house that would fit our family (no more three kids per bedroom!!), with a yard we felt safe about. It seemed Providential.

We’d lived there two months when the problems began. Meg started to lose it, complaining of vertigo, confusion, and constant fatigue. When she’d leave, the symptoms disappeared after an hour, only to return within minutes of reëntering the house.

Meghan saw a “naturopath” (quack), but I never complained because she made Meg happy. She thought the problems were due to pollens from trees around the new house. That made no sense to me: though it had been a mild winter, it was still February.

To make Meg happy, I agreed to pull up the cedars in front of the house (ugly anyways). Just before, I saw something that made me pull back a baseboard near the entry. The sheetrock crumbled behind my pry-bar, and I noticed a black fuzz on its back.

***

It’s now been twenty months. I’ve removed most of the basement’s sheetrock and replaced the main-floor bathroom in its entirety (stripped to studs and joists). We’ve had a new HVAC system installed. We had the mold tested: not toxic, just something Meghan is sensitive to.

Last week’s storm turned a water spot on the kitchen ceiling into a drip. I rashly cut away a piece of sheetrock. Above a sheet of plastic was a puddle and an extensive swath of black fuzz.

Meg’s swooning and I’m calling contractors. I don’t have the energy for this anymore.

K: I like where this goes, but some of the bits could use work. Putting “quack” in parentheses after putting quotation marks around “naturopath” is redundant – we know what the character means. Also, “anyways” isn’t a word. Little missteps like this can be (and are) overcome here, but in a week like this they’re a killer.

P: Speaking as someone who will be looking at purchasing a house in the near future, this story terrifies me. The little touches, like the narrator’s aside opinion on the naturopath are nice touches, and the hopelessness you feel when the second mold infestation is found hits the reader like a gutpunch. BRONZE

15 Dean Carlson

Rich had been dreaming of this night for months. He finally got Tracey to drive up to Monster Road where they were able to park the car in a secluded area near the willow trees. It was obvious what was on Rich’s mind and Tracey was quite willing too. It wasn’t long before they were in the back seat, hands all over each other.

Rich had known Tracey since grade school. When she started to fill out in 7th grade, she caught the eye of every boy at Highview. They had kissed once and Rich may have slightly touched her budding chest that summer but their relationship was always awkward. As they entered high school, Tracey’s blooming cleavage made her more than just that “girl over on Hillcrest.” When Rich got his driver’s license one of the first things he thought of was to get Tracey in the backseat of his dad’s car. After months of suggestive talk, they both agreed to go driving on Friday night.

Everybody Wants Some played on the radio which made Rich chuckle as he slipped his hands under Tracey’s black Cheap Trick silk screen t-shirt. God, I can’t wait to tell Gary that I got to second base with Tracey but now’s the time to go for the bra thought Rich as he moved has hand toward Tracey’s back. There were some sort of loops and snaps and Rich was having a hard time figuring out what was what. It didn’t help that he was only using one hand and couldn’t see what he was doing. Finally he seemed to be moving some loops and the strap appeared to release. However Tracey’s bra didn’t budge and as Rich was wondering what had happened, Tracey whispered in his ear “there are two rows of loops.”

K: Again, the writer has crafted a story where I actually care about the people involved, and didn’t even write many words to get there. The story is very small and represents a place where everyone in this competition has been (maybe not precisely, but you know what I mean), but this particular telling was enjoyable. BRONZE

P: Ha, how I cursed these very contraptions back in the day. There are actually multiple “halfway points” in this one (2nd base, extra loops, etc), which is a clever bit.

16 Brooks Maki

Gravity enslaves everything. From the quarterback whose Hail Mary comes up five yards short, to the tide that recedes from the beach, never realizing it’s destructive aspirations. Lucifer paused at the farthest point in its elliptical orbit somewhere a million miles beyond Pluto. Its signature tail of noxious gas catching up to the ice at its heart. Gravity pulled. Lucifer began his long fall to Earth.

K: Well, this deserves more words. No nonsub, though! Also, it’s very weird that this story nails “its” once but incorrectly refers to it as “it’s” in another instance. This is kind of a strange way to end this week. This could really be something, given…I don’t know, 250 more words.

P: This is an interesting (if incredibly brief) little story. It’s got pretty hefty aspirations for such a short length, and for the most part it actually does capitalize. It’s mostly self-contained, but I’m just not sure it has the whole narrative to stand up against the others this week. This week was really good. Did I mention that? Because it is. This would be a ‘4’ in a Netflix week.

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Well, who needs a cigarette?  Great fun this week, people.

Congratulations to Ian Pratt, who brings home a Gold/Gold.  We’re now almost a third of the way through the season, and I am thus far sure of just one thing: you are all disturbed.  Or something.

As you should know because of my email, the one that’s due on Monday at 9pm Central is to, in 200 words or fewer, write a story about a character who’s dealing with the consequences of making the wrong decision.

I’m sure that’ll be uplifting.

See you next time, Prosers.