Okay, posting this quickly before I leave. I don’t have time to do some of the usual stuff, so names will just be where they are.

I apologize in advance for the shitty mood I was in when I scored these.

1 AMR

When Cait woke up, Rick’s arms were still around her. She was alive,
her pickup was whole, and as far as they could tell, the alien horde
had been defeated. He had kept every single promise he made over the
last sixty hours, and she was grateful for that. Now, she hoped he
would break one.

Almost as soon as Rick’s eyes opened, he pulled his arms back from
Cait’s shoulders, and sat up suddenly, trying to hide his erection.
After a short, apologetic stutter, he moved to the tailgate, opened
the hatch, and jumped over.

He scanned the skies, “No sign of them. You should be good.”

Cait wanted to ask if he would he stay and help rebuild. Through the
topper’s windows, she gazed into the valley below at the smoldering
wreckage of her hometown. Had any of her friends survived? Had her
dog? What could they eat?

“Rick do you…” she started, but when she turned back towards him, he
was gone. Just one moment of reflection was all he needed to start
his journey. Cait’s eyes followed him up the road til he dropped out
of sight. True to his word, she never saw him again.

K: Ah, the traveling hero…a Hollywood favorite. I’ve got a sense of what happened here, but the erection joke seems completely tacked on and doesn’t gibe with the rest of the story. It doesn’t seem true to the character, either. A guy with an erection would stick around, right? The traveling hero has no sex drive! BRONZE

P: Ha, ‘Trying to hide his erection’ is a sort of jarring line, but weirdly, it captures the awkwardness of the moment pretty well. No romantic, movie-ending kiss, no ‘we will rebuild’ false heroism, just an awkward hero who disappears when the job is finished.
BRONZE

2 Colin Woolston

Anna opened her eyes. The rain had passed, and the bright September sun shattered on raindrop laden amber and rust colored leaves as they dizzily spiraled to the steaming pavement. A push of wind lifted her chestnut hair from her neck and sent a light chill down her back. She felt strands of hair brush against her raw, still healing skin.
Waves of relief and revulsion washed over her in turns, the tide at low ebb. She could still see Kyle lying face down in a pool of his and others’ blood, his hand clutching the Orb of summoning. ‘All that piece of shit summoned was attention from the Skrael,’ Anna thought. A flash of grey cotton and Kyle’s smooth, muscular body pushing against hers caused more pain than her wounds. She didn’t cry.
Anna turned from the window and took inventory of the room. White sheets on a white bed next to a white dresser holding a white lamp that illuminated white walls. Each, as they were catalogued, released a knot of tension in her shoulders and neck. She looked over her shoulder at the sun and judged the time. Not long now. Her lips began to move rapidly.
She bound the door to its frame, the wood creaking, and then made the slim window pane opaque. Oblivious footsteps clacked along the hall. Good. She wanted their attention out there. She shredded the restraints on her arms and legs with a few staccato syllables and stood, shakily. She faced the window fully, and took a deep breath of cool, crisp evening air. She scented pine, sweetgrass, woodsmoke. She scented freedom, and with both hands moving in familiar, brisk circles she uttered three words, and was flying through the window into the autumn air, her back to the setting sun.

K: Poor Kyle…he died saving her, but he was too rash. I’m guessing he was lovestruck. The sense of what came before is stronger here, and the ending is a mixed bag of emotions; that’s impressive, given that I’m not allowed to see the characters in their biggest moments. I’ll admit I was thrown by the name “Kyle.” It’s not very fantasy-y. He must be a fish out of water, which I suppose would explain his summoning rashness. DQ – LENGTH

P: One of the litmus tests on the stories this week is going to be “how badly do I want to go all ‘Misery’ on the author until they write a full story to flesh out the post-denouement that they’re provided me?” The answer for this one? A lot. The description is vivid, the setup and callbacks are intruiging, and we’ve got ourselves a taste of something very interesting here. It almost feels more like ‘sequel hook’ than ‘post-denouement’, but it still counts in my mind. DQ – LENGTH

3 David Larson

As the first emerged from their bunkers, they were greeted by a ruddy red glow on the northern horizon, as well as two active volcanoes towards the east. The strong gusts of wind did nothing to dispel the 120° heat of the pre-dawn air. Others tentatively climbed out into the growing throng, some scanning the landscape in shock, while others searched a sky filled with ocher, scudding clouds.

A lone figure climbed onto a large rock where he could be seen by the milling crowd, and lifted his strong voice over the howling wind. “When scientists warned us that asteroid TTS-150a was on a probable collision course, we all feared for our future, and prepared for the worst.”

Steadying himself from a short ground tremor, he scanned the faces nearest him and smiled. “Thankfully, those dire predictions were wrong! This calls for a time of celebration! Hug your younglings, and offer your gratitude to The Great Ukko!”

A light sulfuric acid rain fell on the joyous upturned scaly visages of the crowd, as the planet’s red giant sun rose higher over the clouds of volcanic ejecta, the beginnings of a beautiful — and unexpected — day on Triskelion Three.

K: I know it’s tough to do without cheating, but this one had a character come out and say what happened in the story. The concept could be fun, but I’m being hit over the head by this one. BRONZE

I admit, I fell for it. When the conditions of the post-asteroid world were being revealed, I thought “ah, we’re going to get a downer ending”. When the leader begins thanking the great Ukko, I was envisioning a ‘The Stand’ style thing. Then the reveal happened, and I felt a little silly having thought any of that. I like where it goes, though. ‘A light sulpheric acid rain’ is a wonderfully oxymoronic line that feels perfect for the world the writer created.
BRONZE

4 Matthew Gilman

You wake, nauseous. Regretful. The person standing beside the bed is unfamiliar.
“Uh…where’s–?”
“Will’s gone. Work. I’m Ryan.” Your brain fumbles at words. “Headache, right?”
“Is Will coming back soon?”
“After work. I’m here to smooth the transition for you.” A small mattress sits in the corner of the room.
“Were you here last night?”
He smiles. “Watching’s not my thing.”
“What’s your ‘thing’?”
“Providing support. Will’s not good at the morning after thing, but he does want to see you after work.”
Head pounding, you bolt upright, trying to gather enough of your bearings to storm out. Ryan’s hand finds your shoulder. “C’mon. Don’t be upset.”
You blink furiously against tears. “I’m fine. Really.”
Ryan smiles, unconvinced. “I think you should stay. And I think you should let me lie down next to you and hold you.”
“But I don’t know you…”
“You didn’t know Will last night.” Ryan’s arms wrap around you, tenderly. “When someone you don’t recognize waves at you. You wave back. No matter how cynical you think you are, it feels good to be acknowledged. I can give that to you.”
As the tears start to come, you realize he’s right. This is a good thing.

K: Is this the end to a Choose Your Own Adventure sexbook? I smirked at it, though the second-person narration was an odd choice given that it didn’t have a CYOA feel. Also, this works as a quick joke, I guess, but this story couldn’t have been very interesting, could it? Dirty, I suppose, but not much of a story.

P: Hmm. I know that part of my test was how badly I wanted to read the adjoining story, but this one plays very hard to get. It’s written second person, which seems strange for this particular challenge, but I can dig that. In keeping with the theme, I’m trying to think of this as part of a larger story, and I’m having a tough time thinking of this as being something after the end. BRONZE

5 Joe Rakstad

Martin strolled down the stairs, the aroma of Folgers permeating the house. Meryl was already hard at work. The day already felt brighter, with the darkness long behind him. He grabbed the paper and reclined at the kitchen table and awaited his breakfast.

Paging through the paper, he noticed that Chief Lawrence was awarded his medal. Ha! He owes me one, thought Martin, smiling. He searched the print to see how the Cubs had fared the night before. The soft clink of a plate interrupted his thoughts. He folded the paper away and hungrily snatched up his fork.

He paused as he saw the spread. Eggs benedict, a Virginia ham steak carved in a triangle, tomato juice and toast. He saw that the jam was Riddickers, made in Richmond. So she knew, somehow. And she was throwing it in his face. She sat down and sipped her coffee, not making eye contact. He glared at her for a moment and then slowly proceeded to cut his ham. He chewed it slowly. As she finished her sip, she remarked, “I think I’ll head to town today and see if Quigley has come into any new antiques…”

K: I don’t know exactly what came before, but that’s far better than being spoon-fed, and the characters are already interesting to me. This is a hard one to know how to judge, but if it’s by the criteria “If I accidentally read this first, would I still read the book?”, then this one is the winner so far. GOLD

P: There’s a lot of space to fill in here. Luckily, there are plenty of details to make that space filling a fun exercise. What happened in Virginia? Why is the protagonist’s love interest passive-aggressively hinting that she knows something more? Why is he drinking tomato juice? Seriously. That shit’s gross.
BRONZE

6 Ian Pratt

Theo kept massaging his jaw in what I felt was a sarcastic manner.
After a few moments he unclenched his teeth and raised his microphone
up to his lips.

“We’re going to take a short break, but we’ll be right back with more
of The Theo Show after this.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened them again I
was staring down at my shoes. I looked up at Theo, squinting at me
with rage. I looked down the aisle, where two burly security dudes
were making their way towards me. I felt the hot shame that you can
only feel after you punch a host of a nationally syndicated talk show on
live television.

My cheeks, already flushed from drink, reddened even more with
embarrassment. It was one of those teeter-totter moments where you can
feel everything, the whole entire world, hinging on what you do next.
I’d be in jail in a matter of minutes, so if I was going to do
anything it had to be right then. And there was only one thing to do.
I reared back my fist and socked Theo again.

K: At first I thought this was off because the punching of a daytime talk show host wasn’t much of a climax to a large story – perhaps a complicating incident, maybe, but that’s about it – and then I see that it’s not really the climax at all, because the fight isn’t over. This doesn’t feel complete here, and since this is the end of a story, it probably should. BRONZE

P: Anyone named Theo who would name their TV show “The Theo Show” probably deserves to get punched in the face – twice. I think the fact that I laughed out loud – and relatively hard – over the second punch might be clouding my view of the rest of the piece, but hell with it. I laughed.
SILVER

7 Sarah Johnson

The walls sucked in, yawning against the humidity in clumps of plaster and fiberglass. The baby’s crayon horses peeled to the floor. Joe had told the truth, but we left him on the waterline.

I burned the toybox out back when a clammy patch of fur appeared on Chloe’s babydoll. I was barely able to light a match; the dog, startled by the flame, sprung away in an oily swirl beyond the driveway. My daughter didn’t cry. She doesn’t believe in God anymore.

We wore baggies on our hands until the swelling came. The humming stopped after a week or so, leaving us to the deep-fried crackle of abandoned FM stations. We listened until the batteries bled out of the radios’ collapsing grills, throwing them into the boggy grass with the spoiled food and bedding.

We found the neighbor in a fortress of duct-tape and painting tarps, one hand clutching my son’s inhaler. The side of his face was gone. I covered him with a thatch of soggy classifieds.

K: I wanted a great ending line here for a big sense of finality and didn’t get it – that’s the only real downside I can come up with for this one. This has all the makings of a denouement of an epic tale, and lines like “Joe had told the truth, but we left him on the waterline” were, though I didn’t know it, exactly what I wanted from this challenge. GOLD

P: We have a downer ending! And I like it. Sparse details again, but there’s so much here to imply that the accompanying piece would be great. As a standalone story, it’s still got the type of evocative imagery and striking prose that I love.
GOLD

8 Cathy Wells

The last bead of sweat fell from Lance’s brow as he lowered his weapon and breathed an unprecedented sigh of relief. It was finished, the final battle was won and for just a moment he allowed himself to stand triumphant in the grand arena drinking in the adulation of the crowd. His journey had been long and treacherous but the prize was to be unparalleled. On more than one occasion he had stood at the precipice of Hades aching to succumb to the grueling trials over his body and soul, but the promise of his gain stood as a beacon in his heart and rallied the strength of Hercules to reigned triumph over tribulation. He had endured and the satisfaction of his truest desire was at hand.

The sea of townspeople parted to make way for the brave knight to approach his king and claim his prize, the beautiful Princess Genevieve, his one true love, was now his own. They would wed on the morrow and as Lance drew his princess into his arms to taste the sweet nectar of victory…

“Knock, knock. Lance put that controller down and take out the trash.”

K: Oh, you. I’m sorta torn on whether this qualifies. If this was the ending to a full, large story, I would punch the author square in the nuts. I suppose it’s somewhat allowable for a challenge like this, but even then, with the long and obvious setup to a groaner, it was just okay. BRONZE

P: Groan. Actually, I do like this (even if I got the vague feeling that it was going to be this kind of story). It feels similar to the birthday party scene from a couple of weeks ago, and like that story, there’s nothing in particular wrong with it, it just doesn’t have the oomph to stand out against this week’s best entries.

9 Bret Highum

The man still clutches the royal pardon in one hand, with the other outstretched, as if to ward off his end. I look down at him, remembering battles against a dreadful horde of creatures, reflecting on comrades lost and loved ones left behind. This man, with his honeyed words and fine clothes, had been behind it all, though I could not prove it. When my lord had pardoned this monster, he had lost my loyalty and any right to direct my actions.

Slowly, for my still-healing wounds pain me yet, I bend down and reclaim my dagger from his throat. My former liege may have exonerated this foreign nobleman from punishment in the interest of peace between our nations, but I am not nearly as forgiving. I wish there was some way I could have dealt him some more grievous penalty for his actions, but unlike him, I am no necromancer. Death will have to serve.

I shoulder my pack and head for the city gate. A former soldier, even one missing an eye and most of a hand, is always welcome on the frontier. Nothing remains for me here.

K: Ooh, another traveling hero! The language is nice and I’ve got some idea of what’s happened here. I wish I knew more – what corrupted the king? – but tossing a lot of information my way would have been a little dishonest. SILVER

P: This is the type of story I eat up. It does end up telling us about the bulk of the story (occasionally flirting with “as you know” territory), but I do so enjoy stories like this. I’m beginning to think that everyone needs to write out the stories that there are supposedly the post-denouement to, because lord above, am I interesting in reading more about pretty much all of these.
GOLD

10 Eric Schapp

Hands are bloodied. Knees are weak. Fallout. This is the worst case scenario. Stay awake. What happened? Time.

For the life of me I can’t tell if it matters anymore. What will be left outside? Bodies, and a dry tidal basin. Well they were probably both incinerated. Is that more or less creepy? Just fighting for dirt.

If I still have a job, I need to get out. God help me. A banshee is no comparison to the ringing in my ears. Perhaps being an apparition would be better. Not my call. I guess I’m lucky to have been beneath the monument, but now I have to struggle to live.

Three split fingernails and still digging out. Marble and granite reduced to rubble. I lost my target, but who is left to know. Jefferson wouldn’t have had this freedom in mind; not that it matters. Funny; I’m struggling air. It is poisoned.

The sky is hazy and smells of burnt flesh. I can see the ellipse over a mile away. That is a first.The ellipse is in sight, nothing in between. I wonder if Herbert Hoover is still around.

K: The machine gun-quick sentences here were more irritating than I’m guessing they were meant to be. Plus, periods sit where question marks should in a couple of cases. The style makes it seem more like the teaser at the beginning of a story than the closure one gets in the end. I really like the ideas presented, but the prose didn’t capture me. BRONZE

P: Whoa. There’s a lot going on here, and even after three or four reads, I’m still pulling in details. A lot of crazy shit is implied to have gone down, not the least of which being the horrible, unnamed event which colors the story from the beginning. This one’s strength is in showing, not telling. I already have a good mental image of the chaos, and it’s a glorious chaos. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but dammit, I want to know more.
GOLD

11 Erik S

Johnson took a deep pull off the scraggly joint, exhaled almost whimsically, and passed it to Kowalski. He nodded in gratitude, and proceeded to do the same.

“That was some heavy shit,” said Johnson.

Kowalski tried responding in the affirmative, but ended up just coughing and nodding.

Kowalski passed the joint back to Johnson, who momentarily just held it. Both stared skyward, contemplating the stars and the damned full moon. The wind blew softly through the trees. It was perversely peaceful against the sudden tranquility.

Johnson, who’d been staring at nothing, shook himself back to the present.

“Watch your boots, Kowalski.”

Kowalski looked down. By moonlight, he could just make out a major tributary of O’Connell’s blood approaching from the northeast where O’Connell’s body lay.

“That Mick was always too eager,” Johnson remarked, and returned his attention to the joint.

Kowalski watched the blood inch across the jungle floor.

The patrol was successful, if 10 dead gooks for 2 Americans a success.

“Police your shit,” Sgt. King remarked as he walked by. “We’re moving.”

Johnson took one last drag, and flicked the joint to the ground where it extinguished in O’Connell’s blood.

Seeing that, some part inside Kowalski whimpered, but he moved on all the same.

K: I’m going to continue being bitchy here and say that this is more like the end of a chapter than a story. (I can’t tell if it’s my mood or if we just had an off-week, to be honest). That said, this one has stronger imagery than most of the others and is interesting without being obvious; additionally, I can feel the tension that culminated in O’Connell’s death despite not seeing it. GOLD

P: Well, this sort of turned on a dime. One of the things I’m liking about the way people are using this challenge is the ability to throw twists that would’ve been relatively obvious if the rest of the story were available. This one does that, but also is smart enough to make the mood change feel natural and non-exploitative. It’s hard to tell if Kowalski’s whimpering for the extinguished joint, or the fallen compatriot, but this one’s good, all the same.
SILVER

12 Andrew M

I hope that you’ve enjoyed your meal
There’s one more thing I must reveal.

Now the part you’ll really hate.
The time has come to clean your plate.

I will never clean my plate.
I guess you’ll just have to wait.

Would you clean it for me please?
It is something done with ease.

I will be over in a blink
All you do is use the sink

I would not, could not use the sink.

There’s an easier way to clean
Just go put it in the machine

I would not, could not use the machine.

I’m asking nicely one last time.
Go and wash off all this grime.

You’re just gonna have to deal
I ain’t workin’ after the meal.

Now listen here you little shit.
Wash it now before I lose it.

Alright, alright, shut your clam.
All this over some goddamn ham

K: I really like this idea, but if you’re going to attempt to write in the style of one of my all-time favorite authors, you had better nail it. Dr. Seuss had a better sense of meter than anyone, and I’m proud to say I studied his work until I could do it, too. There are a lot of clunky lines here, to the point that I couldn’t tell that it was Seuss-related until late.

P: Snrk. Dr. Seuss-ian rhyming over a kid who refuses to clean his plate? Funny. I chuckled multiple times throughout. It’s only a post-denouement in the most technical sense, unless the main conflict of the story was actually getting the kid to eat the ham, but whatever. Cute stuff.

13 Brooks Maki

Just as he had done so many times in her head, Arthur stood solemnly amidst the broken glass, the last body yet to hit the floor. The crash of the man behind her falling to his knees and then forward onto his face jarred her into action, she reflexively touched her neck, knowing that man had died too quickly to harm her with his knife. Arthur embraced her as she ran to him, but too quickly pushed her away to arm’s length. “Molly, I have to go. No one can ever know what I did here.”

“But, you did nothing wrong! Why…”

He furrowed his brow, understanding slow in coming to him. Once he understood, he hugged her close again, “I know you would never give me away, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Molly nodded solemnly at the place where he had been standing and began concocting the story she would tell her children when they asked about their father. “Arthur stood solemnly amidst the broken glass…”

K: This is enough of a mishmash that I had to read several portions over, but the scene is among the week’s most interesting and I’d be interested enough to see what came before. SILVER

P: It took a couple readthroughs to figure out exactly what was going on here (pronouns can be beguiling monsters at times). In the end, it’s a rewarding story that isn’t exactly what it appears to be at first blush. It’s overshadowed in my mind by a few of the stories, but I like just about everything about this one.
BRONZE

14 Dean Carlson

So that’s done thought Brad as the smoke cleared from the room and the gun dropped to his side. Brad had never shot a loaded pistol before, especially at a living thing, and he noticed two things as the shiny Smith & Wesson he bought at Wal-Mart went off: Wow, that was loud, but surprisingly not as hard to do as he thought it would be.

Of course killing a man should never be taken lightly and Brad had thought long and hard about what he had done. The certain consequences he faced, how he would explain his actions to others, the reasons why he was driven to this fateful decision. But there were logistic issues too and Brad was grateful he had found an out-of-the-way place where he could go through with his crime. Clean-up would be a bitch, however, as the area rug was fast sopping up the blood flowing out of the gaping bullet wound. Bleach and water should do the trick, he thought but Brad was fading fast as a bright light filled his consciousness and his trembling lips formed the words “I’m coming home.”

K: Was this written on a phone? The grammar is a bit of a problem throughout, and it really distracted from the story, which otherwise had some punch.

P: Ooh, I like the twist at the end. I wish there were a little more known about the specifics behind the murder, and what drove Brad to do what he did. It dances around the suicide aspect of Brad’s decision quite a bit, and some of the action is a little hard to discern (where did he shoot himself? Why is he going to try to clean up the mess – or is he going to leave that for others? This ‘is’ a suicide, right?). Good stuff, just hard to medal it this week.

15 Matt Novak

Ines stared into the mirror, empty eyes gazing beyond her reflection, not seeing, her hands absently rubbing beneath the scalding water. When finally awareness returned she looked down and saw the blood on her hands, from her own chafed skin.

As if in a dream, she walked to the empty room, where she used to wait for her sons to return home from school. Laying her head on the floor, she gazed through the thick forest of carpet, the translucent strands giving way to remembrances. Tears ran down her cheek, pooling in a glade beneath.

Matthew was gone, and good for him. Ines’ rational side – what reason there was to be found in such tragedy, such victory – knew she’d never see him again. This home had been not as if a point of origin, but as a nadir, from which his trajectory, started long before his birth, had finally, ultimately, carried him. Matthew meant more, was capable of more, than she or David, and his self- realized freedom from their gravity was its own absolution.

Ines smiled. Matthew was gone, and tomorrow she would visit David’s grave.

K: I feel a lot along with this character, although I don’t know what became of the boys. Murdered by mom? Maybe. It could be interesting, although the endless sentences and excessive commas made the story a tad difficult to keep up with. I’ve come to the realization that it’s partially that I’m a moody bastard today, and partially that this challenge was just that damned difficult. SILVER

P: Oh, I can’t help but love the say this is written. Ines (great name, btw) is a vibrant protagonist, and the pain is shown and described so well that you can really feel the agony of what’s happening to her.
SILVER

——————————————-

After a night to let these sink in, I’m feeling a lot better about them, so sorry about all the snark. At least Pete had a lot of nice things to say, right???

Congrats to Sarah Johnson, who pulls down the double-gold after a few weeks of dancing around them.

The next one, due Friday at 9pm Central, is to write a story (in 300 words or fewer) about a person or group getting his, her or their first taste of power. I expect that one to be a blast.