The challenge was to write a story about a tribe or group choosing a new leader in 200 words or fewer.  The word count on this one was even more of a killer than usual…I should have saved it for a 300-challenge.

Still, there was much fun to be had this week, and a lot of black comedy, which is only like my favorite thing (I like it way more than black drama (it’s not called that, but you know what I mean) – let this be a lesson to you).  I haven’t been this tired in a long time, so I took this thing on as early as I could so I didn’t get delirious and not know what the hell I was reading.  Also, there were two non-submitters, which cut down on time. Ahem.

1 David Larson

“Everyone, let’s calm down!  We had a good thing going with that last one, but sometimes a subject will wake up early, right?”  The gathering of ethereal creatures mumbled their agreement.  “Well, it’s time to move on.  We’ve had three apply for our next subject’s dream, and if you’ll allow me, since I’m presiding tonight, I’d like to weigh in here.”  The crowd again murmured assent.

“Adrienna, as much as we all love your work …” (several cheers and a wolf whistle) “…this subject has not had anything to drink this evening, she hasn’t been reading her romance novels or been dating lately, and frankly your speciality might be a little out of context.  Circe, you’ve been rather busy the past several nights, so therefore I personally am leaning towards Pasiphaë this time.”

Circe, floating over to the speaker’s left, gave a slight nod of her head.  “Are we all okay with Pasiphaë handling this one?”  The speaker was greeted with glowing auras and vocal approval.  “Great!  Take over, Pasiphaë.”

“Alright everyone – we’ll need a lush Asian jungle.  It’s going to have a multi-level subterranean train station. …”

K: Ooh, a dream team.  That’s a groovy idea, and one I’d read for a lot more than 200 words.  The story never reaches for a heightened stakes, which is alright in this setting, but I wonder how that’ll affect its final position. BRONZE

P: I love the concept. The idea of muse-like beings getting together to mess around with the dreams of the subject is all kinds of fun, as is the description of the different specialties. I love the vague possibilities of Pasiphaë’s contruction. The prose itself is a smidge awkward at times, but I’m still a fan.

SILVER

2 Colin Woolston

Carolyn’s blond curls trailed behind her as she toppled face first into the sewage. The others watched her, the one they called Frisson, as the current tugged at her tiny lifeless body until she was borne away amongst the rats and feces. A moment’s silence followed in the dim, green darkness, punctuated by drips and squeaks. Each of the watcher’s ghostly, filthy faces of the were blank, empty of emotion.
“Frisson has been defeated, Funeste remains the victor!”
Funeste stood with his feet a ridiculous distance apart, one foot perched on a rock. His empty hand – the knife he had wielded in the fight remained in Carolyn’s back – held aloft in a triumphant and pointless gesture. The seven children who called this section of Paris’ sewers home looked up at Funeste with a mildly fearful ennui, and after another moment, began to muster for the day. Funeste continued to beam at the dank and dripping walls; his kingdom.
He would lead for another year, and in another year they would be six, or five, or four.

K: Huh.  This is sort of like City of Lost Children, except a bajillion times more depressing.  The imagery is tight and the world’s rules are realized fully.  I feel a little sick to my stomach, but this is good stuff. SILVER

P: The world painted by this story is an ugly one. I like the pointlessness of the leader’s posing – the ruler of this little hell still lives in hell, after all. The last line is a kicker.

BRONZE

3 AMR

I hadn’t grasped how serious his fear of snakes was.  If I had, I wouldn’t have done it while hiking above such a steep cliff.  But, there it was, a dead snake on the trail.  And there walked Mr. Janisch, the only adult for miles in any direction, leading seven scouts through the Church Wilderness.  I saw an opportunity to impress the teenage scouts who picked on me relentlessly, and jogged to the front of the line.

I said my last words to him, “Mr. Janisch, look what I found!” and tossed the snake at his breadbasket as he turned to me.  He screamed, flailed, and tripped.  Downhill.

Safely scrambling to him took us longer than he had.  We all had first aid training, but real emergencies are different, and this was no broken leg.  His head and neck injuries might have been too much for professionals.

“Boy”, a near-delinquent who already had a dip in before we were sure Mr. Janisch was dead, was the first to speak.  “None of us fuck-ups are gonna get us out of here.  Webster, what do we need to do?”  Five heads nodded.

I had caused this, and I had to solve it.

K: Whoa…that’s a little sudden.  I think this can still work with some tweaking to the final sentence, but as is, I feel a little unfinished.  I very much like the basis behind the story, though I wonder, with just 200 words, if it would be more effective to talk about the dehydration and dimming spirits of the scouts before revealing that their scoutmaster had died earlier.

P: Heh. An odd story, this is. I get the feeling there will be a lot of children featured in these stories (later edit: not as many as I predicted, actually). There are a few awkward points here, but something about the main conceit is bizarrely quirky enough for me to enjoy.

4 Bret Highum

The aliens slagged another unit from high orbit last night.  I could see the orange glow until dawn.

When the Slimies threw Benson in with us, I smelled trouble.  In days, the shitpot is bubbling with pro-human, take-back-the-Earth rhetoric.  Anderson has to call a unit meeting.  I slip into the hall, close my eyes and listen.

Benson is firing up the crowd.  I feel my blood heating.  My hand steals to the knife my kids gave me.  I run my thumb over the ivory handles, seeing an orange glow in my mind.

Anderson gets up, waiting patiently for the noise to die.  I want to hear this, so I slide towards the front.

“Is this what you want?”  He asks, pointing to where Benson stands, chest puffed out.  The cheers break out again.

Anderson waits, still calm.  The crowd slowly quiets, wanting to hear his concession.  He waits, until even the echoes die away.

“No.”  Even as he turns on his heel, even as a mass gasp of disbelief starts, I move.  The knife flicks open and Benson’s bellow of outrage turns into a spray of blood as I slice his throat.

Anderson runs this unit.  He keeps us safe.

K: Battlestar Galactica meets maximum security prison?  I’m there, bitches!  Even beyond this hitting my spot (uh…) perfectly, it’s written strongly and the society is interesting.  I don’t know much about the characters, but with this much action, there’s not much time for such things. SILVER

P: A nice twist (not really a twist, I suppose, as it feels inevitable, more a twist when it comes to the nature of the challenge). The two hundred word limit stories are often harder to accomplish properly, but this one uses it words economically and tells its story with a natural feeling. I want to know more about the world we’re presented with here, but I’m satisfied with what I’ve been given.

GOLD

5 Matthew Gilman

“If we leave now,” Phil was saying, “Marcy’ll be DTF. If we don’t, that’s another cooze we lose. I’m just sayin’.”

“Mom’s coming over.” Saul slowly repeated.

“Goddammit!” Phil yelped; the others jumped. “You ditched Mommy when HARLAN needed to hit up that card club last week! We left on our asses, thanks to Glenn.” They both glared at Glenn, who shrunk back.

“I could’ve TAKEN those chumps.” Harlan muttered.

“Fuck you, Harlan, it’s MY turn,” screamed Phil. “So YOU,” leveling a finger at Saul, “Are gonna call mommy. Tell her you’re sick. Then…off to Marcy’s!”

“No!” Saul cried. “Phil, you treat Marcy like shit! She deserves better than us! Harlan, we’re NOT going to that card club! Glenn almost got us KILLED when he tried to steal chips. Seeing mom is IMPORTANT to me! FADE! FADE BACK! Give me control for ONCE!”

He was yelling. Too noisy, Saul realized. Remembering Dr. Behr’s advice, he closed his eyes, counting backwards from ten. He felt the others acquiesce, creeping away into small corners. At zero, Saul opened his eyes, the apartment was empty and silent. He breathed a final sigh, then headed for the bathroom to take his pills.

K: With all the uppercasing and the bizarre childlike outbursts, this reads very strangely until FADE!  FADE BACK points out what’s really happening here.  Multiple personalities tend to be so overdone that I hate the twist when I see it unless something new is added – and I dug Saul’s grasp for control, and I cheered for him.  It’s essentially Identity, except good. SILVER

P: This plays out kind of like ‘Identity’, only better, and in about an hour and a half less time. That alone earns it points. The different perspectives and different portions of the unfortunate gentleman’s psyche from within the same person are clever. I’m not a huge fan of some of the ‘dialogue’, but the concept and denouement are well thought up. The ending is killer.

SILVER

6 Erik S

The challengers stood, eyes locked, arms thrust forward.  Xander’s gaze revealed an undercurrent of agony, but Khlōros’ betrayed no such weakness.  Their forearms glistened with the balm the Theurgists had applied, and waves like tiny galaxies of sparks crashed along their skin, driven by the licking flames.  The crowd stood rapt.  Only heard was the crackling of the fire and skin.

Xander was breaking.  His body shuddered, and a soft groan swelled into a dreadful shriek.  He wrenched his hand from the blaze, now black, charred, and useless up to the wrist from where the salve had allowed the heat no further purchase.  The crowd descended upon him, and his screams fell silent.

The satisfied murmurings abruptly stopped when they turned and saw Khlōros’ hand still in the inferno. The flames reflected in his eyes as they burned into the crowd.  Fearful silence
stole over them.

He withdrew his hand and held it high in the air.  All that remained was blackened bone, which he clenched into a fist even before the Theurgists could tend to it.  The congregation knew then their fate was sealed.

He will be a strong and terrible tyrant.

We will follow him to hell.

We will have no choice.

K: With all that melodramatic speech early on, I expected an eye-rolly twist here; I was hit so hard with fantasy names and ideas early on that satire seemed the only possible outcome.  While I thought it laid things on a little thickly, I love this idea and would accept this as the first scene in a supernatural drama or dark comic book series. BRONZE

P: Wow. A congregation of utter psychopaths. I like. I mean, they have to be out of their damn minds to choose such an absurd method of choosing their next leader, but it makes for good reading.

GOLD

7 Andrew M

The rhythmic beating of the drums stoked the passions of the writhing bodies dancing around the bonfire.  As the frenzy had reached a cresendo, The Priest rose to his feet. The twelve men of the elite guard moved nearer the fire, as the rest of the tribe danced and chanted in a large circle around them.

The Guards each unsheathed their daggers and drew them unflinchingly across their chests, revealing ribbons of crimson blood.  They then knelt before The Priest, heads bowed.  On The Priest’s signal, The Herald blew into his conch, its call echoing in the night.

The Guards leapt to their feet.  Each eyed the others.  After a moment’s consideration, one of the guards unleashed a primal scream and lunged at another.  Combat lasted nearly an hour.  The Victor stood over the slain eleven, his heaving chest glistening with patina of sweat and blood.

The Priest faced The Victor in the ring, palms outstretched.  The crowd and drums went silent.  The Victor carefully drew his dagger across the chest of The Priest.  The Herald blew his conch and the drums struck up their beat.  The tribe began to fervently dance anew to honor The Chief.

K: I love this setting, although the story doesn’t progress much beyond “a tribe chooses their new leader.”  Without a central character or a “why” for all of this, as much as it interests me in theory, it doesn’t grasp me any more than the average history lesson (and I love history…I just love fictional narratives even more).

P: An hour of combat? Hardcore! These folk seem a little more of the standard “prove your worth by murdering your opponent” and a little less batshit crazy, compared to the last story. There’s certainly something primal about this, even if there’s not much in the way of newness.

BRONZE

8 Sarah Johnson

He pushed 250 pounds of cologne and flattop to the front of the assembly. “Need someone to take charge? Here I am.” Steve was all mouth and no brain. I yawned into my cardboard-flavored coffee.

Cathy from accounting leaned in. “I heard from Frank in HR that this Steve guy was transferred from his dad’s office somewhere.” Cathy smelled like bacon. She adjusted a shoulder pad.

We clapped lifelessly while Steve roared about Stepping Up and Thinking Outside the Box. I wondered if he had kids.

A woman from HR pushed the photobooth – a company tradition – across the stage. She gripped a fresh lanyard in one hand, stuffing Steve into the machine with the other. A code was entered and the booth flipped to life, but it was too late: he only screamed for a second.

The machine ground to a stop, dropping what was left of Steve into a steel chute.

We walked back to our cubicles, grabbing a warm-up on the way. Cathy picked a nail. “How many times will we keep doing this?”

I held my cup out. “As long as we have to. Warm up?”

K: The crushing malaise of cubicle jobs juxtaposed with the horror of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (not exactly, but whatever)?  Yeah, I’m sort of in love with this.  The absurd, dark humor hits the right notes and the similarly undercutting payoff were a blast here. GOLD

: I wondered where exactly this was going. I certainly didn’t expect vaporization, so kudos on the surprise. The banality of the way the employees treat the murder of (presumably) dozens of potential bosses is darkly hilarious to me. Also, the nonchalant way that the narrator says that Cathy smells like bacon is the type of thing that makes me like him – aside from the casual murder, of course.

BRONZE

9 Matt Novak

The four of us stood, dripping with fear.  Fear in the form of piss.  We’d planned to lay low on the high ground, but upon being locked in the cage, we’d summarily wet ourselves.

It seemed to be working.  The beast appeared to be asleep, her blazed fur slowly moving with each breath.  I nudged Mo, whispering that he should give it a shot.  Encouraged by my encouragement, he snuck forward.  She turned quickly, the fire in her eyes metaphorically melting him into a very non-metaphorical pile of gore.

What the hell were the Elders thinking?  The old way of selecting a leader had been absurd – casting dice over and over, for verily did the scriptures read, “If one doth tie, all doth tie,” – but this new way was pure bologna.  And likely to make the same out of those selected.

As the feline chewed on the Remnants of Mo, as he came to be known, I realized my chance; she was distracted!  I gently grabbed for her foot, holding fast to one of the larger digits.  I heard a roar and winced.  Looking up, I saw it was only the crowd!

“All hail King Miney!”

K: This would be pretty funny and enjoyable even without the great concept of Eeny Meeny Miney Mo.  I smiled throughout at this, and this ending – though it could easily have come off as a huge eye-roll – gave me a hearty laugh. GOLD

P: This is SO stupid, and I laughed anyway. The writing is weird and all over the place (“the fire in her eyes metaphorically melting him into a very non-metaphorical pile of gore.” has to be one of the goofiest lines I’ve read this season). Aw, hell. I laughed at its dumbness every step of the way. Enjoy bronze.

BRONZE

10 Eric Schapp

The Narrator

Sir clerk of Oxford, our good host has expired,
The Pardoner, still holding his veil, said,
Forgiveness be given, our party is one less,
Holiness has tells me who our next leader shall be.
Then listened all pilgrims, even as nothing came,
The Knight, standing at head, explained,
Surely, no penance need to be paid;
It is I the Crusader, who shall be made.
Hearing this not all were assuaged,
Not one spoke up, instead ’twas the Guildsman.
They numbered in five, and with menace spoke,
It is us who have numbers, favor, and brawn,
With Squire and Yeoman, you cannot strike us down.
Hearing this the Friar unfurled a frown,
None of us is clean, least of all is me;
Most kind and least biddable is the Plowman,
Let him be chief among pilgrims, the rest to wait.
All soon relent, and everyone assents,
It is said unto, this narrator, humble me,
Record our wishes and reasons,
For we will take this to the shrine,
As proof of our virtue to ascend that precipice!
This is blasphemous to say let alone write,
Fools who cannot read, surely ought not lead,
But I do as the others have bidden,
Regardless of consequences the morrow comes on.

K: I read this twice.  Not because I missed something, or because I wanted to clarify a comment or copy and paste a line.  I read it twice because I wanted to.  This is like if Chaucer wrote Canterbury Tales today with the language of John Donne, or something.  I love everything about this – style, concept, tone.  I might make this my frigging laptop wallpaper. GOLD

P: I like the language of this one, obviously, but I also like the narrator’s chiding tone when discussing the wisdom of choosing a leader in such a way.

GOLD

11 Ian Pratt

Kim’s singing filled the air. It sounded like a dog biting my eardrums.

We were digging up General Xa’s grave at midnight, just me and Kim, the last two members of the Hell Team. The rest had been killed by drones. The soil was loose above Xa’s rotting corpse.

“Hey Kim,” I shouted, “shut up, I have a good joke. It goes: this soil is almost as loose as”

We had dug about twenty feet down. I had already chugged my sports drink and was hungry. Kim just kept singing the Hell Team theme song, repeating it louder and louder:

“We are the Hell Team,
We will win the war,
And you can kiss our geem!”

The song was a work in progress. The melody was annoying and we hadn’t decided on what “geem” meant. I thought it meant the part of the butt that

“Hey Kim did you hear me? I said: this soil is”

General Xa’s skull erupted from the dirt.

“I heard you!” boomed Xa. “I’m back, baby! I’m back!”

I clapped at our dead leader’s wise words. Kim handed him a gun, and together we climbed up to the surface to

K: I think I like this bizarre concept, but I’m also nearly certain I’m missing the reason for why the concept is happening.  This society is pretty funny – a bunch of emo kids who really, really don’t have it in them to be evil – but man, I wish I knew why this was happening.  When General Xa said “I’m back, baby!”, I thought maybe this was a reference to Futurama.  Granted, I always assume that things are references to animated shows. BRONZE

P: I fully expect to feel like a dunce after I’m the only one that doesn’t get this, but… I’ve read it like six times. I’ve looked for acronyms, possible significances to “Xa”, “geem” and what the hell team might be. It seems funny as hell already, and something’s very obviously going on here, but damned if I know what it is. Is it the rumored story with the ADHD narrator? I’ve spent too much time on this already. You win, you bastard, or more specifically… you

12 Dean Carlson

The Directors at the Best Buy corporate office were earning their fat dividends checks today.  They had listened to numerous presentations on who best to lead the company in this time of fast changing consumer tastes in technology while dealing with an economy that continued to barely sputter along.  The selection of a new Chairman could very well determine whether or not Best Buy was even a viable company in the future.  The Directors had heard from old school retailers who stressed sales per gross square foot of retail space and they heard from young hipster types who fancied themselves as the next Steve Jobs and expected everyone else to feel the same way.

They had finally come to an agreement on an up-and-coming sales associate who seemed to have some business savvy about the retail woes facing Best Buy but also could talk intelligently about the technology and how Best Buy could lead consumers into a high tech future.  What really got the Board of Directors all excited about their selection, however, is that once the decision was made, the new Chairman asked, “Now could I interest you in an extended warranty on your recent selection?”

K: That’s a lot of setup for a reaaaaaaally old joke.  By the way, nobody but NOBODY sells warranties like I do (this is not anecdotal – I actually lead the store nearly every month).  Also, our company fulfills warranties with millions of dollars worth of product a year.  Peace of mind, baby.  I’m selling peace of mind.

P: As a former retail salesman, the idea of extended warranties is funny, but it’s also kind of low hanging fruit. Lots of buildup for a sort of silly gag.

13 Shawn Ashley

“Frank, dude, you can’t do that!”
“What do you mean, man? I can totally oust that guy!” Frank exclaimed as he moved one of his action figures.
“No way, dude. There’s a hierarchy. YOU are just a soldier.  You have no rights to oust the King.”  Sam moved his piece back.
“Um, isn’t that EXACTLY who should be ousting the King?? A soldier? The one in the trenches??” Frank moved his piece back to where it was.  “We didn’t set those ground rules when we started, Sam. This is total bullshit.”
“Shove it, Frankenloser. We absolutely did.” Sam stood up. “I challenge you to a duel. Out on the lawn. Now.”
All the other boys in the group gasped. It was the only way someone had ever become the leader of their posse. A lawn-duel.
“You’re on, moron. Let’s go, “Frank retorted as he stood. He grabbed his plastic-yet-real-looking sword and headed outside.
The boys faced off, their swords drawn. Soon, the sounds of plastic on plastic erupted as all the other boys stood mouth agape at their fearless leader and his challenger.
Finally, Sam’s sword fell to the grass with a light thud.  Frank smiled. “Guess who’s King now??”

K: The ending is a bit rushed, but that’s my fault, what with the 200 word thing.  I like the characters and setting (although, what is it with everyone writing kids to swear every few words?  I swear like a sailor, but didn’t swear at all until I was about 14.  Was I abnormal?), and the subtle touch of having the boys select a leader because of a game where their characters couldn’t select a leader was excellent. BRONZE

P: Now, I can live with this one. We played games like this all the time as kids, and I loved making up rules as things went along – to enhance the group’s fun, of course. I’m sure they would have loved to challenge me to a lawn duel. The payoff is light, as there’s not a whole lot of drama to begin with, but it’s a fun story, nonetheless.

BRONZE

14 Joe Rakstad

Ten of us stood in a musty stone cottage on the majestic hill of Adiroth.  Each of our lots had been carefully placed in the holy book.  Brother Landris recited a prayer, that the almighty would choose among us the most holy to be the Leader of the Flock, the Great Shepherd.

The icy breath of the wind outside seeped through the cracks.  In amongst my answering prayers to Landris I prayed silently for Landris to hurry up.  Our villagers were waiting.  Waiting for a direction, waiting for an answer, waiting for hope.

“Amen,” said Landris.  Our echo filled the room.  All eyes were on the holy book now.  Hester, the old blind sage reached forward with his frail fingers and felt the lots reach back from the holy pages like old bones.  He chanted a prayer, then snatched one in his palm before we could see which it was.

All of us stared at his fist, as he slowly uncurled the fingers, revealing a short sliver of straw, dyed blue.  We all turned to the new Great Shepherd Tallis.  He swallowed nervously, and shut his eyes.  Slowly he opened them, “East.” He said shakily.  “I say we head east.”

K: I wondered what this concept would bring, and I can finally put my finger on it: we got gripping ideas where I was bummed that I couldn’t read more.  This is a nice foreboding beginning, and again, I want to see this play out with the poor bastard who has to lead, the blind sage, and the rest.  Maybe I should make next week’s challenge to pay all of this stuff off, eh? BRONZE

P: It takes a bit for this one to get where it’s going, but the halting uncertainty of the new leader really seals the deal for this one. I consistantly love the names everyone comes up with. Judging by this week’s entries, new leaders should not be chosen via mutilation, murder, or sheer random chance….good to know.

SILVER

—————————————————–

So, maybe not the mind-blowing stuff of last week, but all the same, this week was full of creativity.  And Eric, Jeebus, who knew you were such a honeydripper?  Welcome to the double-gold club, homeslice.

Friday night’s challenge – with a due time of the usual and word limit of 300 – is to write a story that takes place in a restaurant (or a truck stop-type place…you know, anywhere that people go to eat).  Why?  ‘Cause it’s late, I have no other ideas, and every time I just toss something out there, brilliance ensues.

Only a quarter of these left to go, kids.  We’ll skip a deadline next week before numbers 15 and 16 for Pete’s vacation (if I’d known before the season when it was happening, I would have just made it a 14-challenge season, but whatever).  The usual six are leading the charge to the playoffs…is there any time for someone to wedge in there?  We shall see, Prosers.