So, given a very vague and wide-open concept, how did you do? Well, I’ll say it was an interesting week. There were two nonsubs – one which basically destroyed the writer’s playoff hopes; there were several players who clearly fought with the concept hard and went a little meta; there were players who have recently been getting bronze/nuffin’ who soared in this challenge, for whatever reason that it may have inspired them. All in all, a worthy week with a LOT of strangeness, generally the good kind. It was a fun read, Prosers.

1 Sarah Johnson

The diner is shaking apart. Cold air, oily and reeking, slips through the cheap siding and we wait. The kids peek through the kitchen wall, asking when the dull, violent pounding will stop. The noise is getting closer every week. It isn’t human. It can’t be human.

An airplane crashed on the first night, just a few miles to the east. No one helped them. No one will help us, either.

We’ve patched the walls with rotting boards and auto parts. The blue-metal scraps wink in the sunlight while we take turns peering towards the lifeless horizon. We pulled the knotted rescue flags down last night, afraid of what we wanted so desperately: to be found. I am so exhausted. We’re in Texas somewhere.

It’s been 77 days. The electricity is out. The radios died after the roaring blasts chased us to the corpse of this diner. I miss my brother. I miss my wife. The kids want to know what took her and when we’ll see her again; I hope we never find out.

The diner used to be a place to drink cheap coffee served by waitresses with bad teeth. We burned one last week – Nan, the melting nametag announced. She was bloodless and flattened, crumpled in a twist of dumbfound terror. My children will not be next.

There’s coffee. We make it over burning cardboard behind a toppled semi-truck. No one is dumb enough to leave the diner. No one’s a hero.

The food is nearly gone. We found guns in a leaning ranch up the road – that was before I saw eyes flash behind the diner’s dumpster. I told the kids it not to worry: I’d find food in town. There is no town. We’ll be in heaven – or hell – the day after tomorrow.

K: There’s something I find endlessly alluring about humans in a reality that isn’t just futile to the readers, but futile to the characters – there’s beauty to be found in the idea of surviving just to do it. It’s told a little flatly and emotionlessly at times, perhaps by design because the narrator’s hope has left him. Still, I like. SILVER

P: I almost feel manipulated by this one. There’s so many things that I’ve admitted that I adore (apocalyptic log, check; unseen terrible menace, check; this list does go on). On the other hand, this is so well done that I want it expanded into a full short story. You win this time, whoever you are.

GOLD

2 Brooks Maki

It had been stony silence for the last 40 miles. Steven had never been so happy to get out of the van. The band piled out and immediately split up as much as they could in the tiny truck stop. Steven went to the counter and ordered some coffee. He sipped the scalding hot drink and watched Tom browse through the borderline racist bumper stickers. God, it was like this every time. The tour would start out fine, good shows, fun crowds, and then something would happen and ruin everything. Tom always blamed it on Steven, telling the other band members that Steve could only get through about 50% of anything before he broke down.

Yeah, well ald kfjai nv aigho weign inbiaow qi hwegoqpi wgnan gpdo sbhDsb nwi ahgo io ngewing a afo i ewnf alkf ds ha hiar 2 ut 02 ythagknds g iafo aw nev oi h ashbn rklng hdo inalnfl dkngai afi nekn md.

al idfie md]
ladgfa df a.

adf gks dhsa hgikd.

K: This, I fear, will be my greatest challenge. Love the ballsy hilarity, or hate what might be a writer finding a cute way to deal with having no time for this one? I fear it’s the former, since whether forced into it or not by time constraints, the joke is so damned impudent, and I love it. SILVER

P: Clever. Using a full half of the words on gibberish would seem like an ill choice, but weirdly enough, it fits this narrative well. Besides which, it’s funny that Steve can’t even get through half of his own internal monologue without breaking down.

BRONZE

3 Cathy Wells

Natalie threw her knife to the block and her hands into the air. “I have zero ideas. Naturally. Nothing.”
“Hey, Nat what’s for dinner today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, I need to write the specials.”
“I told you Mark, I don’t know. I have nothing, absolutely nothing.”
“Just take a piece of chicken, toss it in some chipotle sauce and serve it with some tortillas.”
“I can’t serve that in a French restaurant.”
“Well, come up with something then.”
“You’re no help.”
“That’s why you’re the chef and I’m the server.” Mark then left Natalie in the kitchen to wallow, or cook, or think or whatever she was going to do. She took a few moments to stare longingly at her knife. It’s never failed her before, why now?
“Why now? Of course it would happen now. Chef Andre is gone, I’m in charge. This is my chance to make a name for myself and I’ve choked. I don’t know, maybe if I take this cutlet and saute it with a little garlic and butter and…she spent the next twenty minutes dicing, browning, and sauteing as she wielded the tools as one would expect from a Culinary Institute graduate.
“Nat, we’re opening in five minutes. What is the special?”
“Mark, I did it. I have our special. Come taste it and help me think of a name.”
“Ok.” Mark took a bite of the golden piece of chicken. “Not bad. It kind of tastes like a corn dog.”

K: I thought this was going for meta at first (and maybe it WAS at first) with the “I have nothing” routine, but this went somewhere that wasn’t too bad. The joke is a small one and the stakes are small too; I didn’t dislike this but we’ll see how memorable it is in the end.

P: I sort of like corn dogs. If someone mentioned that the special tasted like a corn dog, I may indeed try it. The stakes appear low at first, but Natalie’s dream hangs in the balance, so that’s not entirely accurate. Coming up with a corn dog is probably not the best way to start on that dream, but it’s a solid gag.

BRONZE

4 AMR

I was fat, and my round fingers kept shoving powdered donuts into my mouth. I was disgusting, but it was a dream.
When I woke I knew I had to take better care of myself. I wasn’t fat yet, but I getting there: I weighed more than ever, and my pants were uncomfortably tight. I decided to start immediately eating better and exercising more. I skipped breakfast and grabbed a Diet Coke.
Eating better was tough at first. My old habits were terrible: pizza, burgers, ice cream. The first night, I got a bowl of ice cream before reminding myself of the goal. Did I want the ice cream or better health?
Exercise was even harder, but I found a way to get it done. I’d get off the bus early and walk home. I’d want to lie on the boulevard, but I had to continue just to get home.
The effort paid off – pants loosened and pounds dropped – and self-control I had shown was thrilling.
My mother texted that she would take me out to Chili’s. I wanted to show her my progress, but not around that greasy food. I looked at the menu online and preselected the healthiest choice.
Mom had her own plans and ordered me a burger. I complained and told her my goal. She wasn’t pleased.
“Hannah, you’re a growing girl!” “You’re too thin.” “Is that cute Nick in homeroom going to ask you out if you’re so bony?” Etc. She didn’t understand; it wasn’t about boys.
I sulked but ate the burger. The food I used to love tasted like metal. In four years, I’d be at college. I just needed a way to stay fit until then.
That grease in my stomach didn’t sit well, and I got sick. Sometimes your body solves its own problems.

K: But Diet Coke is worse for you than regular Coke! Anyway…I like the writing and characterization, but this doesn’t so much end as stop going, if you feel me. The story doesn’t quite commit to whether she’s anorexic and mom is right or that she’s fine and mom’s annoying.

P: This one is extremely true to life. It might be a bit short on spice, but it trades in honesty and realism. I do in particular like the final line “Sometimes your body solves its own problems.”

5 Bret Highum

The chains on the planters hanging from the streetlights creak in the wind. Through the gathering dusk, I can see a couple kids playing. They freeze when they notice us, and then bolt for the bushes on the side of the road as we draw near.

The tablecloth had been once white, but now it was definitely gray. Someone had clipped it to the table outside the drive through, a nice, cozy touch. I lead Jessica to it and we sit down. It was getting cold outside as the sun sank, but Jessica didn’t lean into me like she used to. Maybe she would have if she wasn’t tied up.

This was the place we came on our second date, the place we shared a milkshake and our first awkward kiss. A lot has happened since – she went to college, we broke up, I went to Afghanistan and came back, we got back together. I bought a ring a few months ago, but she got sick and disappeared into a maze of hospitals and treatment centers as my world fell apart. It took me weeks to track her down.

We sit in silence for a while, until the sun is gone. I remember her laugh, the smell of her hair, the way she chewed on her lip when she was concentrating. I stroke her cold hand and slip the ring onto her finger. She struggles briefly at my touch, but she settles down once I let go. I wish I could kiss her.

The chains creak again as I draw my pistol and fire a shot into the back of her head.

The kids are back, accompanied by men carrying rifles. The diamond ring on the zombie’s finger gleams in the cold moonlight as I walk over to them.

K: Dang, this is one example of an ending really driving the meat out of a story. The zombie twist is consistent with the rest of the story, but I thought we had a soldier who’d cracked completely, and I liked that story a lot. The zombie story isn’t bad, but I’ve spent so much time with zombie movies over the years, it’s tough to capture me with them. BRONZE

P: There is something to hiding intentions that is intoxicating. At first, this one seems like a standard “dude goes off the deep end and kidnaps his ex-girlfriend” splash of darkness, then it goes somewhere very different, indeed. It’s interesting to me, then, how much the ‘Z’ word taints my view of this. It seems a bit out of place for such a story. It possibly could’ve been worded differently? It doesn’t ruin anything, it just… colors it.

BRONZE

6 Dean Carlson

The air reeks of dank yeast and garlic as I strain to place another tray on the conveyor belt. As I stop to the wipe the acidic sweat off my steaming brow and wipe my salt-cracked hands haphazardly across the ragged seams of my one-time white apron, I absent mindedly wonder if the great belt ever ceases to move. Does it ever just lurch to a stop, gears crunching, trays clanging until it just sits there? Static. Awaiting some sort of instruction before it begins it endless movement again through the wall and into the blast furnace. These thoughts are fleeting of course, the great belt does not stop and another tray needs to be hoisted. Tray after tray intended for the gaping jowls of a population forever hungry, voracious, demanding.

Although my muscles weary and my hair covered with a greasy patina of a chemical laden butter substitute product, my soul is free and my step light. For I bring sustenance to the masses, happiness, empty calories. I am the reason they come, the reason they stay, the reason they are. I am “The Brand.” Without me there is no unstoppable belt, no gallons upon gallons of greasy garlic spray, no fire enflamed furnace, no doughy mass upon which to engorge. I am the tray, the dough, the belt.

I am Carlo and I bake The Olive Garden’s endless supply of breadsticks.

K: The final line probably isn’t necessary because I love this character and his commitment to his work even without the punchline (and truly, the whole thing is funny; the punchline is a bit out of place since the rest of the humor comes from character, not gags). Despite this nitpick, I dug this. Taking a dull drudge of a job and making it sound something like majestic was a concept I really got into. BRONZE

P: So, I know it’s not in vogue to admit, but I actually do enjoy Olive Garden. It’s not top notch food, but it’s tasty. And those breadsticks are delicious, so thanks, Carlo! As far as the story is concerned… I dunno. It doesn’t really go anywhere for me. It doesn’t really build, it just sort of describes the guy who thinks he’s ruining the world by shoving breadsticks gown its throat. There’s probably a certain level of comedy to be had there, but this one doesn’t mine for that, either, it drops off the gag at the end and I don’t know if that’s enough for me.

7 Erik S

I bought this place from the Yitzhak Brothers few years back. They were a pain in my ass to deal with, but them Jews sure knew their brisket. I bought the whole thing: shop, recipes, and “brand”. I kepts the name since that fruity travel guide put the joint in their rag. If they want to believe this place is still family owed, fine, but the Lebowitz’ sold it `bout 70 years ago. Whatever, it’s Tuesday, and we’ve got a line outs the door, as per fuckin’ usual, so I don’t care.

I see all manner of insufferable pricks nightly, and tonight was no exception. You gets the tourist douchebags, but they ain’t half as bad as the locals, who feel like you owe them sumthin, like you wouldn’t survive without their measly dime every other week. Do you see the line out the door, you dumb, uppity twats?

Anyways, the usual lineup tonight, `cept there’s this weird A-rab couple. If I were to guess, I’d say Lebonese, not that the boy had anything to do with that proud heritage. He’s some drunk douchnozzle living off his father’s money by the looks of it.

He’s screaming into his cell phone, and basically pushing off his girlfriend’s repeated attempts to quiet him down. I’d say sumthin’, but he can’t be heard withins a three feet radius anyways what with the noise, so what the fuck. She’s a patient one that.

After being all but elbowed away, she gives up, and continues to pick at the pastrammich she was only picking at before. For one moment, mine and her eyes met. Everything she had poured outside of her in those tiny seconds, and I only hoped nothing but empathy poured out of mine. Poor kid. Good luck.

This shit happens every night.

K: Giving me an anecdote rather than a story is a bit gutsy, but this one is undoubtedly loaded with character. The lead’s manner of speech occasionally seems inconsistent, but not distractingly so, so it may just have been my perception. “Douchenozzle” didn’t seem like a term this good ol’ boy (?) would use, but that’s a small thing. “Pastrammich,” on the other hand, was a fantabulous word choice. BRONZE

P: I like this. The owner character is well developed, and I feel like I know a lot more about him than I do about most of the characters in this week’s stories. He’s flawed, certainly, but he’s interesting. And that makes up for a multitude of personality quirks.

BRONZE

8 Matthew Gilman

His fork hit the table with a clatter. “Phoo,” he half-breathed, half-spoke, as he pushed the plate of curry away. “Uurrrgh,” he moaned. Also, “Ohhhh boy.”

The heavily spiced, stewed matter in the clay bowl seemed to thicken before their eyes. It also seemed to…well, glow a little. Shades of reddish orange rippling across the surface as grease caught the dim candlelight.

“Problem, Lu?” she asked, slurping up some of the spicy broth she’d ordered.

“I’ve never been good with…ethnic food,” he replied. He felt a belch stirring in his esophagus, and swallowed hard against it. “I asked for mild…”

“Well, even mild means ‘spicy’ in Indian cuisine. That curry’s teeming with hot stuff. Peppers, lots of cumin…the menu said it had ‘aga phula’ in it. That stuff’s hardcore.”

Lu nodded as sweat beaded on his forehead. The heat was spreading to every part of him. Not just his face turned red; his arms did too. The heat made his vision swim; his clothing appeared to be singed red and white.

“You okay?” she asked, with genuine concern. He tried to mutter a reassurance, but when he opened his mouth, out came the belch: a gaseous ball of flame that bounced off the table and onto the floor.

They stared in disbelief at the sooty hole in the tablecloth, then at each other.

“Uh-oh,” she said suddenly. “Have you noticed how long your brother’s been in the bathroom?”

A noise of rending wood and plaster came from the back of the restaurant. Emerging from the back hall, hunched but still scraping the ceiling, a human giant squeezed into the open dining room and approached the table. “Guys, I think I have some weird allergy to mushroom vindaloo,” Mario said.

K: This eventual videogame reference is mind-numbingly dumb, and I mean this as a compliment. Actually, if anything, it doesn’t take the absurdity far enough, fast enough. I get that there has to be some setup, but I think this is more memorable if the silliness is ratcheted up even more. Note to prospective Indian eaters scared by this story: Indian food is far and away my favorite, and I have never once turned into a giant or belched a fireball in reaction to it. BRONZE

P: Oh, I feel like I should’ve seen this coming, but I love this gag (though it does seem to play to my interests quite a bit). The mystery surrounding the meal, the descriptions of Lu(igi)’s discomfort, and of course, the payoff – all work. I laughed good at this one.

SILVER

9 Joseph Rakstad

‘Debbie’ dropped his plate with a hard clunk. He pushed the runny eggs around his plate with mild indifference. He wondered why he ordered over easy again. At this diner. He should’ve known better. He longed for Donna’s eggs. The way she would steam them in the frying pan made them just perfect, not too runny, not too firm.

But that was behind him now. He couldn’t afford to think of the past. Every time he drifted to the past he welled up like a baby. He couldn’t let the people in this dive see him like that. He needed to get back to the privacy of his rig.

He ate the bacon and the hash browns, left the eggs. He waited for the bill and pulled out his wallet. The picture was there, hiding in the back. He fought the temptation, but the pull was just too great. He spied one quick glance at his life from one year ago and just as quickly put it away in shame.

He paid and started to head outside. As he reached the door he spied an ancient relic in the corner, a pay phone. Oh, to hear her voice again. To hear the sounds of little Sophia and darling Emily. It was sixteen months now, and he still thought of them every day. He couldn’t go back though. He couldn’t face his family. He couldn’t look Donna in the eye and tell her he got fired again. For the same reason.

He picked up the phone and started to dial. He closed his eyes and could feel the tears flood him again. A voice picked up, “Hello?”

“Hi… I’d like to send some money to the following address…”

K: Okay, now here’s one with real human drama that doesn’t ignore the setting (and even shines a light on it, since this is his life). I desperately want for this character to get things fixed and put his life back together after spending just a couple of minutes with him, and that’s the most I can ask of anyone. SILVER

P: This sort of reminds me of the truck driver character from the community story that the Vogons did in Survivor X. That minutiae aside, this is quite good. My heart ends up bleeding for this guy, the story could’ve been laid on thick, but instead it contains as much drama as it can hold. The result is a good story that is full of humanity.

SILVER

10 Matt Novak

I sit in the café again, my mind ruminating on previous generations who sat in similar locales and composed stories that would regale the world, my pencil racing across the page, trying to tap into the magic well from which those giants drank. Hemmingway I’m not. Not yet.

I place my order with the waitress – a Plain Jane as it were – and turn back to my notepad. I jot a sentence or two, empty words, but a salubrious exercise. Forward movement in my career.

The waitress arrives with my drink.
“What you writing honey?” she asks.
I deflect the question. “Not much.”
“Well, good luck.”
“Cheers,” I say, lifting my glass to her.

***
I finish my drink as I draft a few more lines. The waitress brings me another and I review what I’ve got. Maybe a sentence or two can be salvaged. Another couple enters the café, laughing too loud. They’re distracting, and I need to focus. Finally they take a seat in the corner, and some tranquility returns. I quaff my drink, and get back to work.

***
Things slow down, and Julie stops by my table again.
“How’s it going hun?”
She has a nice smile, and I smile back. “Pretty good.”
I order another liquid editor. I like writing in a café. There’s some noise, but not too much. There’s people too. Its all material. Makes me a beter writer.

***
I call Julie over for another drink and her eyes sprakle.
“Doing alright?”
“Eccellent. Want to hear some?”
“Whassit about?”
“People. Human nature, really.”
“Sounds deep.”
I read her a lne and she gives me flirtaitous smile. I ask for nother drink – keeping feul on the fire – and watch her walk awwy. Then I start a knew stor y. One abbout a waitres.

K: Oh, God, I love this. At first the mistakes seem like annoying mistakes, but soon enough they enhance the story as much as any words strung together could. It’s impressive – yes, this works on the humorous level it attempts, but it also works as a human story given his hopes, dreams and flaws, AND works as irony since Hemingway was a total drunkard who also believed himself to do his best work while getting pissed. GOLD

P: I’m laughing, but only because the concept for this one is brilliant. It’s as meta as it has to be, and the initial concept becomes as muddied as the writer’s own mind by the end of it. I do believe that makes two entries that lean heavily on the fourth wall for their effectiveness. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be so okay with that, but this one is, as I mentioned, quite brilliant.

GOLD

11 David Larson

Private Kohassek strolled into the dining hall, loaded up a tray of…stew? (it smelled good, at least) and sauntered over to a solitary spot at one of the vacant tables. As usual, he only had a short time to eat chow and get back to his security detail. While he ate, his eyes wandered around the large room, and they rested on a soldier two tables up from him. The soldier’s uniform had begun taking on a glowing, sparkling sheen. The camo took on prismatic, multicolored hues, shifting back and forth through the visual spectrum. Kohassek jumped when they exploded into a shower of beautiful sparks.

Across the hall, Specialist Hassler had halted mid-bite (“What the hell??”) admiring the golden stalactites emerging from the ceiling. He slowly put down his utensils and climbed up onto the table, groping for the just-out-of-reach glittering treasure. He then began the futile effort of stacking the unstackable chairs to gain the necessary height.

Meanwhile, PFC Kochanski had risen slowly from her seat, transfixed by the stream of marching silver praying mantises which were spreading from the table onto the floor around it. She jerked as she bumped into Private Stodgers behind her, who was avoiding stepping into the small bottomless cavities which had appeared between the floor tiles. They then both noticed that all sorts of unusual activity had broken out around them.

After making his grand entrance, the sight in front Staff Sergeant Yaro caused him to stop short, wide-eyed and slack jawed. After quickly surveying the large room, he bellowed, “JUDAS PRIEST ON A PONY, GET ME A MEDIC, PRONTO!” at the nearest soldier, then crashed through the kitchen door like a crazed bull. “DAMMIT COOKIE! YOU’VE BEEN PICKING YOUR OWN MUSHROOMS AGAIN, HAVEN’T YOU?!”

K: I saw the drug angle coming within a handful of words, but it was still a lot of fun, given the writer’s commitment to calmly explaining the impossible scene. A more subtle ending, to fit with the tone, probably would’ve been funnier, but it’s nitpick week here at CdL so whatever. The use of “Kochanski” is a nod to Red Dwarf, right? BRONZE

P: Ah, mushrooms, is there any dull situation they can’t liven up? I’ve got a soft spot for the imagery of the hallucinogenically inclined, and this doesn’t disappoint. The gag at the end is basically just a confirmation of what the reader is already thinking, but it’s funny, anyway

BRONZE

12 Shawn Ashley

George Malkos was shy. Weird, people would say. He worked at the local Italian restaurant- Angelo’s- where, again, he was quiet. But he did his job so no one really wanted him to quit.
It was there, at Angelo’s, where he found her.
It must have been the women’s boutique next door that threw her out. Her face was dented on one side and her hair was matted.
George didn’t care.
He had found her when he took out the trash one evening. Shoved in the dumpster, legs askew. He had pulled her out and stared at her for a long time, looking into that half-dented face.
He carefully placed her back in the dumpster and retrieved her later when everyone was gone, except the manager Barry who most nights locked himself in the manager’s office with a bottle of gin.
George brought her into the walk-in cooler and there, amidst the lettuce and juicy tomatoes, he held her. Whispered in her ear that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He stroked her messy locks.
They danced. Cheek to cheek.
He hid her in the back of the broom closet, after wrapping her in a cook’s apron as a dress. Every night at the end of his shift they would dance amongst the produce, a world away from Angelo’s.
George was in love.
One night he walked in and she was gone. Frantically, he asked Barry if someone had cleaned the closet.
“Yeah. We had shit in there we didn’t know we had,” was the response. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
George rushed outside to the dumpster but it must have been trash day because it was empty.
He held onto the side of it, stared in as his heart broke into a thousand pieces.

K: Oh, George. Can you be the protagonist of a long comic novel? I want to read more of you. I’m instantly engaged with this character and his attempt at love a la Lars and the Real Girl. The story never overexplains itself, allowing the reader to connect the dots, which I always appreciate. Sometimes with these high-concept stories, the writers don’t trust their concepts and say too much. GOLD

P: This kind of hurts to read. It’s one thing to be manipulative about the reader’s emotions, it’s quite another to allow those emotions to build naturally. This one succeeds at the second (or maybe it’s just really, really subtle at the first?). The George character is great.

SILVER

13 Andrew M

Ji-Sung was kotjebi – a child of the street. Hunger is rampant in Pyongyang even among the general populace, so to be kotjebi is especially trying. Most days, Ji-Sung and the others ate only grass and leaves.

One day, Tae-woo suggested to Ji-Sung that a group get together and raid a noodle shop for food. With so many kids swarming the restaurant, there’d be no way to catch all the kids, Tae-woo said. Ji-Sung was wary, but his hunger won out.

The next morning, a swarm of kotjebi descended on a local establishment and started grabbing the food off of the tables. As quickly as they appeared, the kotjebi left, their pockets filled mostly with rolls of bread. Emboldened by their success and full stomachs, the kotjebi tried again the next day. Ji-Sung was not so lucky a second time. A passing police officer grabbed Ji-Sung as he left the restaurant.

Ji-Sung arrived at the kwan-li-so for “re-education” through five years hard labor. He didn’t expect to see his sentence through.

Food in the kwan-li-so was less plentiful than on the streets of Pyongyang. Ji-Sung began his day at 5AM with patriotic songs about the benevolence of Dear Leader. Hard labor went on unabated under the scorching sun for hours on end, The evening songs sometimes brought dinner with them, but more often than not Ji-Sung went to bed unfed praying for an end to his suffering.

K: I’m interested in the plight of the characters and I empathize with their struggle, but this merely gives me an inkling of what’s coming. It’s good exposition, but unfortunately, it still only seems like exposition (and it’s fast). That’s a shame, because there’s a rich world here.

P: Now, there’s a story to be had here, and a good one, but it feels blunted by the rush that it seems to be in towards the end. I’ve read it a few times now, and each time, I wish there was a way to let this breathe – the transition from “food stealing miscreant” to “abused prisoner” just feels too quick.

14 Ian Pratt

Fowler triple-checked his recipe as he finished loading the
ingredients into the pan. The fuzzy crackle of his voice accompanied
the slick grating of metal-sliding-on-metal as he pushed the pan into
the oven:

“The hunger for new knowledge and understanding has been the driving
force throughout all of human history.”

The irresistible waves and fields, generated by the furious machinery
now occupying every corner of the bakery, had sifted through Fowler’s
building blocks until the baker’s movements were scrambled jitters
only just barely visible on whatever spectrum. His hands scattered and
danced through the air, component molecules drifting apart as he found
the switch to begin the baking process.

“Scientific advancement is not a steady walk, but a slow and agonizing
climb punctuated by occasional great leaps.”

His words bounced around the empty kitchen, warping and twisting as
the oven spun to life. Flour and yeast and dinitrogen tetroxide coated
the floor and ceiling. The air hummed and blurred as he moved from the
kitchen to the front, his ethereal form gliding past the racks of buns
and loaves and other sweet remnants of a recently turned page.

“There can be no progress if there is nobody bold enough to take risks.”

He floated outside to greet the masses that had gathered for his grand
re-opening. The air was a thick blue haze with an overwhelming scent
of cinnamon and melted niobium.

“It is not a matter of personal ambition, or objective curiosity, but
a testament to the infinite possibilities presented by human
ingenuity.”

Fowler’s mumbling came to an end as he disintegrated before the awed
throngs. The ensuing bone-rattling cracks and booms of the baking
quarks and gluons were not enough to drown out the cheers as the
raucous crowd celebrated Fowler’s success.

K: Wow. We get a hell of a finish here, for the story and for the week. There are gaps we can’t fill in as to Fowler’s mental state as well as the society we’ve been dropped into, but too much explanation there would actually hurt things, as this one lives and dies (and for me, lives) by its absurdity and the unanswered questions. It’s complete, it’s memorable, it’s mesmerizing. Great finish. Now, let’s kill the two nonsubmitters. GOLD

P: I, not being a chemist, can’t honestly say that I understand everything going on here (though I have done some Wiki-ing after reading this story six or seven times, so that makes me the guy from Ian’s Bartleby story, right?). That said, the scene is set up so well by the author. This ends up being a ridiculously fun story with a great ending.

GOLD

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Matt and Ian, well done on those double-golds.  Ian has now guaranteed himself a spot in the playoffs!!!1!111  Others may have too, but I haven’t done the spreadsheet yet, so who knows?  Colin has pretty much fallen out of contention after an amazing comeback because attending things is for suckers.  Eric Schapp, too, followed up his excellent “Narrator” tale with a no-show.  Bummer.

Three more challenges, and then we graduate to the playoffs, where I can finally put less effort into this and more into Survivor.  I mean, where finally, judging won’t seem like such a big job (seriously, I should have shortened the season a tad).

Another fine week, Prosers.  Your next challenge, due Monday and with a 200 word limit, is to write a lead character that used to be an animal.  Well, humans are animals, but you know what I mean.  I don’t need to know why the character changed, so don’t waste time on that unless you want it to be the crux of the story.  I just want the lead to be a former animal.  Weird one?  Sure!  I think there’s a world of possibility there, though.

Home stretch, Prosers.