This week’s challenge was to write about a person or group getting his or their first taste of power.

These were annoyingly strong, to the point that we both took quite some time with judging. In general, I’ll have about five stories a week that get scores of 86 and above; this time there were nine and most of them were close behind. Pete and I were really close together on this one, with the significant exception of the last two stories.

It was an imperfect submission week again, unfortunately, as Eric Schapp failed to show and won’t get a reprieve this time. But let’s not dwell on that – it’s time to read some fun, creative submissions…

1 AMR

[From the personal journal of Dr. Wilhelm Schultz]

September 16, 1986

Upon finishing my midday jog, I passed the office of Dr. Trout. He had left his door open and called me into his office on seeing me. I hesitated, as I had not yet the opportunity to shower or change. Dr. Trout said that was how he had hoped to find me. His team had been working on a new beverage, which was to be a new product class for the Coca-Cola Company, a “sports drink” medically and chemically designed to replenish the salts a body perspires during strenuous activity, allowing quicker recovery. As I was a regular exerciser, he believed me a natural candidate for some informal peer review.

Given the tragic events of the “JAKT” project, I was reluctant to sample a beverage direct from the lab. Yet I could not fathom Dr. Trout offering me anything of questionable tolerability, I acceded despite my misgivings. He handed me a 5°C 350mL tester labeled with project name “POWER”. The liquid was yet uncolored, with a typical cloudy appearance. I took 50mL and began to taste, as per my training, but Dr. Trout encouraged me to “chug” the entire tester to slake my thirst. I did so, without pausing. Dr. Trout then entreated me to share my opinion, and I did, candidly. I noted that I found it too viscous and too sweet, particularly if the beverage was to be consumed during exercise. He appeared quite displeased with my response. I quickly mentioned the pleasant flavor with unexpected berry notes and that I would report later on any effect on lingering fatigue. I immediately excused myself to shower.

Perhaps, in my drenched clothes, I had forgotten decorum. I hope that I have done no harm to our friendship.

K: A “taste” of “power”…oh, you. I won’t DQ this because it’s just too affable and charming for me to split hairs. It’s a small story with small consequences, but as often, I appreciate that as I know the stories will only get big from here. BRONZE

P: “First taste of Power” ha ha ha.Ridiculous puns aside, this is a charmingly written little story that in laden with asides at sports drinks. I like Dr. Schultz’ descriptions of the beverage in question. “Too viscous and too sweet”, indeed. SILVER

2 Sarah Johnson

His face crumpled in a spritz of back-alley pepper spray. Clawing at his eyes, he pulled the oven door open in a snotty thud against the trailer’s door.

“Is it okay? I made it from the chili peppers you tried to feed me.” My voice was wild and metallic: I was free. Until last summer, I’d only known my brother’s famous sucker punch.

He reached for the doorstop – a brick covered in wool daisies. A ratty orange cat was perched on the counter top. I never knew its name, or that he’d owned a cat: I’d been locked in a crawlspace for a year and a half.

I smashed his leg with the police baton.

“I found your stash, Jim.” I waved the baton while he hugged himself in a circle of blood and denim. “It’s over. You’re over.”

He had used pepper spray on me once. Back then he’d been “Frank”, the guy who collected bottles at the baseball diamond. He’d overpowered me at dusk, covering my face with an oily towel. “Your family will forget you,” he had said that night, securing my arms with electrical tape.

I remembered the abduction, steadying myself for another blow to his kneecap.

He inched through the trailer’s door, sliding on the bloody linoleum. I hit him again. The clang of his skull sent ropes of violence through my forearm.

He passed out in bubbling sobs, screaming for his mother while I twisted the stove dials.

“My mother thinks I’m dead, Jim. But I win. I win, and you fucking lose.”

I lit a candle on my way out. I heard the explosion on the walk to town, carrying the orange cat in my arms.

K: I love a good revenge story, and the characters and situations in this one seem quite real (outside of the one line of dialogue, which I didn’t quite buy). The character’s resourcefulness makes him easy to cheer for; the fact that he’s clearly changed forever (“The clang of his skull sent ropes of violence through my forearm”) makes him interesting to read. BRONZE

P: Revenge played vividly and brutally is a concept that I expect to see played out a fair few times this challenge. This is written with all kinds of colorful descriptors of the carnage being visited upon an all too deserving enemy. It would be a bit more cathartic if we were able to really empathize with the protagonist (to the author’s credit, some exposition is attempted throughout), but the rapidfire nature of these challenges doesn’t really allow for that. BRONZE

3 Ian Pratt

He padded softly over the snow, through the woods, under a bright, cold sky. She was behind him, the Pack behind her. The buck and the doe were a few seconds ahead, tense but unstartled.

Smells: doe, buck, She, Pack, snow, pine.

Old-He lay frozen, dead, two days south. The battle had left He with a leg wound that He easily ignored. A pup in the Pack made a noise. The buck started, the doe too. He broke.

Smells: doe, buck, fear, She, Pack.

The buck flew through the trees, easily outracing He’s frenzied chase and the starved leaps of the Pack. He was not Old-He, who had led them to the brink of starvation. He brought the doe crashing down into a snowbank, spraying blood and powder into the air.

Smells: doe, blood, blood, blood.

He ripped and tore at the doe, its haunches disappearing as his jaws snapped. He barked as a pup got too close. The pup yipped backwards. She approached. He made way. They hadn’t paired yet, She still wary of the new He. The dead doe steamed as She and He ate.

Smells: She, blood, Pack.

The Pack growled and barked and fought and marked and waited. The doe was their first meat since the first snow. He left the rest of the doe for the Pack, growling away into a pine shadow. She followed.

Smells: She.

K: I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ve read probably a thousand stories, at least, and this is clever, intense and thoroughly unique. The idea of the smells is good but would be tedious if each list didn’t add something new; as is, the gimmick is fantastic. Writing an animal can be fun, but rarely does the writer capture the animal’s essence this well. GOLD

P: The smell updates at first seemed a bit distracting, but they begin to paint the picture in a more meaningful way shortly into it. Naming the wolves by personal pronoun designations is a nice touch. The action is starkly black and white, which befits the setting well. GOLD

4 Andrew M

Ohshitohshitohshit, Duncan thought.

“MOVE!” yelled Dr. Latham. “Push 10 cc’s of…”

Dr. Latham’s voice trailed off into the ether. Duncan didn’t hear the rest. He just stared catatonically at the body on the table. The frantic moments that followed seemed an eternity.

“…rphy? Dr. Murphy. Dr. Murphy.”

“Huh?”

“The patient has been stabilized. Shall we continue?”

“I…I don’t…I’m sorry.”

“Either continue the procedure or scrub out and wait for me in my office. I’ll be out when I’m done.”

“What? I don’t…”

“Just go wait for me in my office.”
—–
Duncan rose from his chair as Dr. Latham entered the room. “Sir, I-”

“Son, just sit down and listen.” Duncan sat down. “You’re one of the best surgical interns I’ve had at this hospital in some time. That said, you made a pretty major mistake on Mr. Hudson’s bypass. I’m afraid I’m going to have to make a note of it in your file.”

“That’s fine.”

“Fine? Son, do you mean ‘fine’?”

“I can’t do this. I could have killed him. I did kill him. You’re the only reason he’s alive.”

“Son, everyone surgeon has had this happen. It’s an inevitability of our profession. You just need to move on.”

“Move on? Just like that? I killed a guy today.”

“Son, you can either go home tonight, get your mind right, and come in tomorrow ready for Mrs. Stone’s appendectomy, or you can clean out your locker on your way out the door. I would advise against the latter. You have real talent, don’t throw it away over one mistake.”
—-
Duncan sat at home with a tumbler of scotch in his hand. It was just as full as when he poured it an hour ago. All he could picture was his scalpel nicking Mr. Hudson’s artery.

K: This week could have been full of lazy stories about people corrupted by power, but thus far these ideas are excellent. We have yet another pair of believable, very human characters, and an internal struggle that makes for excellent drama. I’d like to see how Dr. Duncan ends up dealing with this setback, but I definitely don’t feel shorted by the story. Scoring is already hard, and I’m a quarter of the way through. SILVER

P: I can see why the OR is such a popular setting for television. It’s the perfect mixture of mundane and insane. Surgeon’s certainly have a certain way about them, and I’m curious to see whether or not Dr. Murphy would have what it takes. The story itself generates that interest, though it does jump around quite a bit for such a short piece. The dialog is realistic, and nothing is overdramatized. BRONZE

5 Joe Rakstad

Wendy stood back up and gaped at him. Austin knew he went too far.

“What the f…” She tried to get past him again and he struck her with the other hand.

“SHUT UP!” He couldn’t let her leave now. The mark was on her face. “Just SHUT UP.”

“Austin…” Wendy pleaded.

“NO!” I will have my way dammit. This ends now. “You aren’t holding this job over me again. I’m sick of it.”

“Austin, have you gone mad?”

“Me? Mad? No, I’m just done with you calling all the shots because you make all the money.”

“Austin, for God’s sake take a Prozac.”

Wrong thing to say. He did it again, this time with a closed fist. “Don’t fucking treat me like a psycho. You always treat me like a psycho. Or a baby. I’m sick of it. I’m fucking trying to find work, all right, I’m fucking trying.”

She nursed her jaw and slowly turned to him. The two paused and stared at each other, and the dam burst. Austin broke down and sobbed as he realized the line he had crossed. He saw the pale pink palm mark on Wendy’s cheek and the cut on her chin, and the tears welling up in her eyes and realized what his sudden power trip just cost him.

“Oh God…”

“Austin…”

“Oh God… Wendy… I’m… OH GOD!!!” He curled up on the floor, hands over his face.

“Austin, I know.” Wendy tried to console him. “Austin… baby… I know you’re trying. I didn’t mean…”

“Oh God… what have I done?” Austin uncovered his eyes and looked at her. “Oh… baby… you shouldn’t go out like that.”

“Don’t worry, Austin. Baby…. I’ll… I’ll stay in tonight. We’ll talk.”

Austin choked on his words through tears. “Okay.”

K: The story works, but the dialogue is a little obvious throughout. I also sort of hate Wendy for forgiving Austin so quickly, or at all, but the sad truth is that I have known women who would allow this to happen to them so I can’t flag it for being insincere.

P: This one… man, I dunno. Being asked to sympathize with Austin is a hard pill to swallow. Some of the dialog (particularly the “have you gone mad?” line) feels stilted, and again, I’m being asked to identify with a couple of people that I dislike. It all ends up feeling a little overly melodramatic to me.

6 Colin Woolston

Mark’s head wobbled and his nose looked quaint and his legs felt like lime Jell-O, so he aimed his colossal right hand for what he assumed was a joint smoking in an ashtray that could possibly be in reach. Score. That should level things out.

He turned to the left for a while and there were Todd and Clint, in a meeting with the flower spirits near the door. Clint’s pants were slowly escaping his newly shaved legs. Mark knew that he wanted to tell them something.

“Conflagration, in three times! Parsley. Stop your pants!”

That wasn’t quite it, but Mark felt incredibly satisfied. Something was going on below. Something that wasn’t scary, so he looked. A blond elf was trying to eat him. It felt ok, so Mark smiled and ashed on her forehead.

“Good elf. You can stay in my cattle.” The blond elf looked up in time to catch a second round of ashes in her left eye.

“God dammit!” She sang. Her voice looked orange-y. “You fucking wall-street douche-bags are all the same. You get your first big pay-off and you think you’re fucking god. Well, fuck you loser!” She expanded until she was almost his height, and spat at him.

“You may not have any of my Jell-O, then,” Mark replied mildly. He silently asked his right leg to move and then turned around to face the same direction. “No Jell-O for elves! They are not equitable.”

Forward motion suggested itself to his body so he went with it, and, to his happy surprise, his legs followed suit. After a time he was standing at the floor to ceiling window of their hotel room, overlooking a grey, bustling Manhattan. Happy tears rolled down the tinted panes, and Mark sang a song for his new kingdom.

K: I don’t know if Mark’s insane or if this is just the way of this world, but either way, the absurdity worked on me. I have to admit, I don’t even know how to comment on this one. Yet again, it looks like a vague-sounding challenge on the surface has provided the best of results. GOLD

P: So, as bizarre as the world of drug-tripping new money brokers is, it weirdly follows a fairly straightish storyline. The story had to have been fun to write, but I’m afraid that once you tear away the randomness and trippy visuals, there’s not a whole lot here besides a little bit of timely social commentary, there’s not a lot of story here, and it doesn’t much more of a lasting impression than the flower spirits that Clint’s newly shaven legs are conflagrating three times… or something like that. BRONZE

7 David Larson

For the first time that he could remember in his short life, Cody felt flush with the full attention of his family on him, waiting on his every word. It was HIS turn. His father, who was keeping an eye on the ice-trimmed road ahead of him as he drove them onward towards Florida, cocked his head in order to catch what Cody was about to utter. Sisters Shelly and Marilynn sat squirmily in their car seats on either side of him, waiting for the 20 minutes to be up so they could return to their Tinkerbell movies. Brother Jeff slouched in the van’s back seat among the baggage, impatiently holding his AT-AT walker between bouts of battles with The Empire. Even mom had put down her Sudoku pencil in careful anticipation. Cody glowed under his family’s focus, drinking it in.

It was Jeff of course who broke the silence. “Come ON already!”

“Jeff, be nice,” scolded Cody’s mom. She turned to Cody’s middle seat between his sisters and put her hand on his knee. “Whenever you’re ready, Cody.”

Suddenly Cody felt nervous, and his gaze went out the window. “Uh…” The methodical bumps of the van over the expansion joints in the highway didn’t help his concentration. “Er…” His glance wandered more, and suddenly he realized he was ready.

“I spy wiff my eye something…WHITE!”

K: Cute, again. I suspected he was choosing the restaurant, but this got us to the same end. It also is, in its way, the most honest story of the lot, as this kind of situation at this age is probably the first taste of power for most people (albeit on a very small level). I’m not sure how this small story will stack up against the rest in the end – this is proving to be a very strong week. BRONZE

P: Heh, this season has certainly held a lot of “gotcha! It’s a kid!” stories. To be fair, this one doesn’t really try to hide that fact too much. Beyond that, I do get a chuckle out of the fact that Cody has been the opportunity of his life, and he wastes it on “spying” something snowy.

8 Matthew Gilman

The USB plug slid into its port. Bluish floodlight emptied illumination into the dark, musty tunnel. Perce placed the floodlight down among the dust of the old subway tunnel. Weeks of navigating down here had proved he could do this in the dark, but he brought the floodlight anyway. Advantage: keeping the rats at a distance. Disadvantage: attracting some of the more unsettling moths. Perce fished a battery-operated drill out of his backpack.

He’d read that the original hackers at MIT did more than infiltration and exploitation of computer systems. To hack was to explore and exploit. To inject chaotic energy into an entropic system. Technically, one could hack anything. The MITsters even hacked the abandoned shafts and tunnels under the streets of Boston, just to discover where they would lead. Perce’s urban spelunking was an extension of that hack, married to a more modern understanding of the term.

A duct of coiled wires snaked along the brick column Perce leaned against. The drill wasn’t quiet, but this far from the surface, he wasn’t worried. In almost no time, a new artery had been forged, and the blood of the city flowed into Perce’s laptop. His screen hummed with primary-color pixels, displaying familiar gridwork. Red-green-amber, cycling at every corner. He clicked, switching all of the signals where Ghallager met 5th green. His skin prickled. Such tiny dots controlling tons of steel.

Perce unplugged the floodlight, reveling in the dim glow of the laptop. Rats chattered at him, overlapping his own giggles. Those MIT shaft-walkers couldn’t possibly know this shuddering satisfaction. Perce clicked several times in quick succession. He thought he heard brakes squeal, or people. He sensed warm vermin bodies close by. Imagined the fluid crunch of metal meeting metal meeting bone somewhere far above him.

K: I dislike moths too, Perce. This seems to be the rise of a supervillain or something, eh? I could read a lot more about Perce’s world, and how this brainy sociopath is finally brought to his knees (or isn’t, whatever). Again, I lament that I have to score these. GOLD

P: Maybe I should’ve expected Perce to be an awful person by the buildup, but for some reason, the asides discussing hackin–as-exploration and the mundane concerns such as moths and rodents belied the fact that Perce is a psychopath. I would’ve liked a bit more motive detailed, as I still have a bit of a tough time swallowing the “doing horrible things because he can” bit. GOLD

9 Cathy Wells

“Spencer seems to love his corner. The slightest provocation sends him there and it typically takes two to three hours for him to feel calm enough to return to the rest of the group. He’s been here just over five months and he’s only beginning to show signs of relaxation. I’m still getting to the bottom of what he went through, he’s not very forthcoming about details, especially when he’s lucid. Sadly, he now spends most of his time muttering about 18th century Parisian architecture in his corner.”

“How very interesting Dr. Winslow. What exactly caused the patient’s condition?”

“Well Dr. Barry, Spencer entered a contest to be the next “real person” judge on America’s Got Talent. There was no screening process, his was simply the name drawn out of a hat which was unfortunate because Spencer had no qualifications whatsoever that would indicate that he would be capable of performing the necessary tasks. Prior to this incident he’d spent his time working at a Kwik Trip and building a scale model of Wall Drug.

From what I can piece together Spencer arrived in LA, reported to the set and rehearsed for the taping with no incident but seeming a bit awe stricken by the whole experience. As soon as the auditorium filled with the audience and the cameras were on him however, Spencer experienced a massive episode. The first contestant was a juggling act and with no warning Spencer rushed the stage, grabbed the apples being juggled and started eating them. When security tried to remove him from the stage he ran from leaving a trail of recently removed clothing in his wake. The whole while he was ranting ‘I’ve got talent! Look at me America, I’ve got talent!’ He was brought here and we’ve been working with him ever since.”

“Fascinating.”

K: The part with the apples doesn’t build on the strength of the early stuff, but regardless, this was pretty amusing. The scale model of Wall Drug was the highlight. Grammar was iffy in places (commas were skipped; nothing real big) and that might have to be some sort of tiebreaker this week. It’s yet another idea that’s anything but obvious. BRONZE

P: Hahaha. Whoever wrote this can’t have been expecting too much out of it, and I probably won’t be giving any out to it, but I did laugh. None of it makes a whole lot of sense, but I’m imagining a person doing what Spencer did, and it’s funny.

10 Matt Novak

Gary acknowledged in himself a certain shallowness. It was a depravity that focused on the external – beauties and strengths of body, physical vitalities and healths – and ignored the more vibrant internal character. He was dining alone again; his standards for company set too high, his appearance and personality off-putting to those he found tolerable. He thought back to Tricia. The conclusion had been so inevitable that he hadn’t even given her the opportunity to turn him down. The grudge had faded, but he could still feel around the indentation in his soul where she had left her cruel mark.

Gary’s eyes bugged behind his horn-rimmed spectacles – a condition that had improved of late, as had his psoriasis, and the aches in his back – as he focused on his fork and knife below. The meat was tough, overcooked by his own careless hand. He took a bite, ruminating on the effects of the meal, the nature of sustenance.

His mind again drifted to Tricia, strong and beautiful, and as he ate he could feel himself grow in kind, a metabolic inheritance. But she had been weak willed, and his meal lacked vibrance. In the future, he would choose more carefully.

K: Unfortunately, I knew where this was going much too early, but the prose still struck a chord because the comparisons between personality and meat were done rather skillfully. The first line, too, foreshadows the finale cleverly. So, is he truly gaining her essence in this world, or more likely, does he simply believe it and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? I want a screenplay about this guy, stat. SILVER

P: I admit, I was sort of waiting for Gary to be some sort of evil nutcase. It distracted me upon first read, as I was waiting for him to have her locked in a box or possibly performing some manner of cannibalism. This one does work well enough, the language is nice – it does leave me wondering how he’s managed to only now get any manner of strength (it also leaves me with the question of how exactly he learned he had this little ‘gift’). BRONZE

11 Shawn Ashley

The house was dark. I knew everyone was asleep, which is exactly what I wanted.

I had wandered through garage sales on the other part of town the week before and had found some of the things detrimental to the plan. The old, heavy hammer. The ridiculous candle that would look completely at home in my mother’s bedroom. She had a penchant for off-the-wall trinkets, and this was no deviant from that.

I moved through the house stealthily, grateful that both my brothers were complete fuck-ups and stole my parents booze, experimented with drugs. I knew they were both high on something and easy to take care of. I went to work on Darren, who was my biggest physical threat, first; then Tom. Again, thankful that they were doped out of their minds.

I had previously spiked my mother’s beer with sleeping pills, so I went to work on my father next, who falls asleep in the downstairs chair, grateful not to have to sleep next to my mother. A few blows to the head and he would never get up again. I taped my mother’s mouth first and let out most of my rage on her, with the hammer. She never even moved. I ripped off the tape and shoved it into my pocket.

I set the candle up onto the window ledge in my parent’s bedroom. I practiced letting it fall until I was satisfied that it would look accidental.

I stood for a moment, match in hand. All of a sudden, this house seemed so peaceful. I relished in it for a few minutes. Just standing there, still. I liked the feel of it full of their dead corpses. I even smiled. I was giddy with power.

I lit the candle and pushed it off the ledge.

K: This could be a powerful opening scene, but without any sense of motive it doesn’t have the resonance of the previous story about a sociopath (we really get to know Gary, and we know nothing about these people at all). I don’t dislike the writing whatsoever, but this is missing important bits that would let it stand out.

P: “Had found some things detrimental to the plan” sort of throws me here, since the things he found seem very useful to the plan. Besides that, it’s a slaughter. So my raging bloodlust is satiated again. I don’t see any motive here, which would help me identify a bit more with the killer. “I was giddy with power” seems a little on the nose. It has a certain terror to it that I like, but its issues distract me too much. BRONZE

12 Dean Carlson

Dean couldn’t believe the ungodly turn of events. Eight weeks of double golds in Spookymilk Survivor had pushed him from last place into the playoffs where he wiped out the remaining survivors. Seeing the writing on the wall, Ian didn’t even submit a final entry. Now that he had been declared Spookymilk Survivor champion, the calls came pouring in. The first — minutes after being declared the winner — was from Kate Upton, asking about his availability for a date. “Brooksy is too boring and after reading your stuff at caysa dee lech-ee, I’d like to get to know you” Kate cooed into the phone. “I’ll bring some Nibs” she playfully suggested while hanging up.

Jeff Bezos had left a message about turning his submissions into a Kindle-exclusive e-book, while curious messages from people in contact with Tim Cook at Apple showed up on his I-Pad. Of course all this attention went to Dean’s head and he began to assert that he was giving up writing mere “stories” and would become a literary critic instead. His scholarly article Steinbeck is Shit, was not well received to say the least.

Dean’s Spookymilk Survivor writings also gained more attention. His first girlfriend Tracey was pissed he wrote about their makeout sessions and his cousin Lisa has threatened a lawsuit. Even Eddie Van Halen asked Dean not to write about the band anymore, breaking his heart. Other Spookymilk contestants complained too, maintaining that Dean’s work was fairly pedestrian. One day Dean got an e-mail from Kelly: “Hey sorry Deano but looking back over your stuff and really it’s just too much meta. I’m going to take a gold from week 8. Sorry, you didn’t quite make the playoffs and your title has been vacated.” Crap, thought Dean. Guess I shouldn’t have gone full meta jacket.

K: Dean, I hate you for how much I like this. Sure, it’s a certain kind of ego-stroke, but the idiocy of Kate Upton, the gentle self-deprecation and the asinine final line all made me laugh. If you’re going to go meta and attack with pop-culture references, you HAVE to go big or the whole thing seems falls flat. This one went big, and though I don’t know where it’ll settle medal-wise, it was tons of fun. SILVER

P: Oh, the rise and fall of yet another winner of Spookymilk Survivor. We do seem to be a mercurial breed. I know it all too well. “Steinbeck is Shit” as a ‘scholarly article’ is hilarious. My only question… when do I get to eat nibs with Kate Upton? They told me she’d be in touch, but I’ve been checking my answering machine, and I’m beginning to think she’s only into defending champions.

13 Bret Highum

The boy knelt next to his mother’s rapidly cooling corpse in the lightless cavern. He called for her, weeping, wishing she could tell him the story again.

“Chino, since your father was killed, I have been holding a shield between us and the outer world, keeping the barbarians from slaughtering us. Denied our blood, they sealed us in, leaving a woman and child to perish of thirst and hunger.
And we would have, but you also have the gift. You are why we didn’t die- you call to us our food, you pull to us our water. You gave us ten years together, but that is coming to an end.
When I die, they will know the barricade has fallen and they will come. My shield has kept you from developing your powers, but once it is gone, you should be powerful enough to open a door and escape. Flee this place, and learn to live under the open sky.”

Ten years of crawling around their underground prison had gifted him with a spider-like thinness and speed. With a deliberate quickness, he ghosted across the floor to a wall of cut stone that contrasted with the rest of the water-smoothed surfaces. He settled there, chewing on a snail, a peculiar heaviness growing on the edge of his consciousness.

Chino stretched out his hand and pushed with his mind. Something shifted, and he forced his will into the breach. The wall exploded away, torso-sized blocks bounding into a crowd of armored men. Chino slouched forward- an almost translucently pale, nearly hairless boy against a score of warriors. They died in seconds, crumpled in agony.

Chino raised his head and sniffed the air. More men were coming, many more. Chino smiled, feeling the razor-edged waves of magic shifting inside him.

K: I’ve always loved the name “Chino.” Brownie points!!! Can I see Chino vs. the Urban Spelunker from story #8? Would y’all hate me if that was a challenge in the future? This tale of a superhero (though a dark, violent one)’s beginnings pops almost as much as the story about the supervillain (not that you guys were thinking in those terms, but you know what I mean), and like with that story, I don’t feel cheated but I would subscribe to a comic book about this guy, or at least buy the collection when it came out. BRONZE

P: I expected a lot more supernatural stories for this challenge, but if this is the only one I get (I’m not counting the cannibal, though I probably should), then I guess it’s good enough, because I really like this. It tells a large story in a short frame without stranding many details or going into unnecessary “as you know” vignettes. The end, with Chino (love the name, btw) unleashing his power (and really unleashing it, which makes this story stand out) is excellent. SILVER

14 Brooks Maki

“It was the strangest thing-” he began. Every con came up with a good story if they were inside long enough. That’s why I collected them, I had nothing but time (15-25 years to be exact), and there was nothing easier than persuading a fellow prisoner to try to convince you why he wasn’t supposed to be there. Peter had a story that had come highly recommended to me from multiple cell blocks. It took calling in a few favors to get transferred, and a few weeks to get him to warm up to me.

“A lot of people make jokes about thinking with your smaller head getting you in trouble, right?” I nodded, although I was biting back disappointment. Rapists never had good stories, mostly they just made me feel dirty. He continued, “well, my little head staged a fucking coup. Last thing I remember is one panicked thought, my brain shouting ‘What is that cock doing?’ then I blacked out.” I almost walked away, he could see my distaste, and held up a finger, asking me to hear him out.

“Woke up in a bank vault with the police right outside. Turns out my dick had a thing for benjamins, but it bailed once things got hairy.”

K: As a joke, it gets the job done. I also like the backdrop, prison being a favorite of mine and the “nobody thinks he should be inside” thing being totally true, but those things fall by the wayside as we see it’s just for the punchline. I’m sort of torn on this one – it’s stupid in a good and intentional way, but I really like the idea of a prisoner who collects prison stories, so the story feels like it has untapped potential. I realize it’s a little off for me to state what I think a story should have been, but I have to separate these SOMEhow.

P: Oh, God. I laughed. And laughed. And now that I’m thinking about it again, I’m laughing again. This absolutely should not work, and without the narrative’s backbone being such an interesting character (a story collector… love it), the off kilter dick jokes at the end might not be enough to save it, but good GOD, I laughed. GOLD

15 Erik S

“Hurry the fuck up, Phil!”

Philomena sighed, finished up the ham sandwich, and carried it into the living room.

Drew was sprawled on the couch, glazed eyes watching the game. Philomena handed him the plate without comment.

“What the fuck is this?! I said roast beef!”

Philomena knew he didn’t, but didn’t say anything. Before she could retrieve the dish, Drew blindly flung it towards the wall. Philomena flinched.

“Can’t you fucking do anything right?” Drew slurred. First she stood mute, but then soft moan escaped her lips once she surveyed the damage.

The mangled remains of the plate were mingled with the shattered porcelain angel that was once her mother’s before the cancer. Her real father had given it to her before his car crash (he, too, was a drunk, but never a mean one at least). She’d always thought it so beautiful. It was really the last thing tying the two of them to her that she had.

She had decided her chances were better with her stepdad than the courts. Sure, he laid his hands all over her, but at least it was only in anger.

“Clean that shit up.”

Heartbroken, she picked up what she could by hand, and returned with the broom which hit him squarely in the back of his head, and that hit the coffee table on the way down.

Before he hit the ground, she turned to pack. Her friend Caroline was leaving for school tomorrow. She could get a ride, and on her 18th birthday next week, she’d have access to the accounts her mother had left her.

***

The cool night breeze hit her sweaty forehead. She froze, awed at the size of the moon over her. A blue moon, she recalled. Philomena allowed herself her first genuine smile in years, and then stole away into the night.

K: This recalls Austin and Wendy from story #5, in that we clearly root for one character but the dialogue is so one-sided and unbelievable it was a little difficult for me to get into. This one has the much better ending, with Phil not accepting the loser she’d ended up with, and the writing had a bit of intrigue with the broken angel, but this week, it’s going to fall far given the strength of the average entry.

P: You guys are not making this easy. Philomena (great names are a thing this season, it would seem) is so well defined in so few words that one would think that there would be nothing left for the story, but it doesn’t fail on that count, either. Philo’s vengeance is brief, but fierce, leaving more room for the actual consequences and real human concerns that would follow such a thing. Well done. SILVER

————————————————————————————————–

Ian gets back on the gold/gold horse and once again starts running away with it; he is also now the only person who has received the highest possible number of medals. Matthew Gilman also pulled down a ten-point week.

We’re over the halfway point, and those in the playoff hunt are holding strong. It’s going to take a big push for things to change (or perhaps Colin just has to keep showing up and coming in under the word limit).

The next one is due on Monday night at 9pm Central, and is…whatever I said it was. I was so tired, I legitimately don’t remember.