Love. We’re told that it, at its best, is exciting and new. Hopefully it’s affordable too. But we’re not just complaining about the high cost of loving, we’re doing something about it. Like restricting your words of love to a strict limit of 59. The results after the jump, lovers…

MATCH A

1 Christina Pepper

I mailed him a letter and a mix tape. He responded with an orange stolen from his neighbor’s tree. As I held it in my hand, the fragrance overwhelmed me. I slipped a finger under the ripe flesh, slowly removing it. Then I devoured the fruit, sweet juices flowing down my chin, my hands, my arms, my body.

2 David Larson

“The End.”  Closing the book and getting up from his bedside chair, Hal gently kissed his daughter’s forehead.  “It’s time to go — I’ll tell Mom you love her.  See you tomorrow.”

Leaving the coma ward, Hal reminded himself he needed to stop by the florist on the way to the cemetery; Sunday will be the four year anniversary.

MATTHEW: Two stunners, right off the bat. Each of these uses an economy of language to deliver a very real, very resonant emotional sense to them. It’s a tough call, but I have a favorite. Even though the very first sentence doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the rest of the story, #1 is simply luscious and very sensual. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – I love the subtext of #1.  “Stolen from his neighbor’s tree”… Fanfreakingtastic.  It’s hard to tip your hand too early in 59 words, but I felt like #2 did it.  Until it didn’t, and there was another reveal.  Ultimately, the subtext in #1 needed a little more “text”, and #2’s double-take worked for me, so it gets my nod.

ANDY – Oooh, boy. Here we go. Starting this challenge off with a good fight, aren’t we? Both are very impactful in their own ways, and this is going to be a hard one to call. #2 has the right emotional impact. The language and subject matter of #1 are just too compelling. I’m going with #1.

WINNER: Christina Pepper

MATCH B

1 Beau

“Animal therapy fosters empathy, especially at her age.”

“After what Bella’s dad did to her?  What she did to her younger brother?”  A lamb approached her niece.  It nudged her.

“I’ve seen it work.  She’s only seven.”

“Will she be capable of love?”

Isabella cocked her head, then poked the lamb between the eyes.

“Everyone is,” the therapist replied.

2 Melissa Diamond

Without you, I can barely get out of bed in the morning.  You make it so hard to sleep.  People tell me to slow down.  “Everything in moderation.”  What’s love in moderation?  Sometimes, my hands freeze when wrapped around you.  Sometimes they burn.   Always, my heart races, and I’m thankful.  I love you, caffeine.

Oh god, I love you.

MATTHEW: At the risk of being revealed as a giant cream puff by this challenge, I think it’s safe to say I’m much more moved by someone who’ll take up the challenge of working with intense emotion in this week’s stories, rather than do something jokey. If the joke works better than the non-joke, I’ll reward it. But it’d take a VERY good joke. And I adore the idea of animals helping a damaged person love again. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – #1 is going to an interesting place.  I don’t know that it quite gets there, but I am gratefully intrigued.  #2 isn’t so much a story as it is a tribute.  (Couldn’t remember the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute.)  A very well written, witty tribute.  Pressed into deciding (who died and made me judge?) I’m giving the nod to #2, which didn’t quite feel like a story in a way that #1 did, but that had a witty enough premise and sharp enough writing to make me overlook that fact.

ANDY – The slapstick moment at the end of #1… I’m laughing, but should I be? I admit, I feel a bit guilty laughing here. I really like your idea, #2, and it’s executed well. I found the idea a bit more original in #1, so that’s my choice today.

WINNER: Beau

MATCH C 

1 Kelly Wells

“The Oscar goes to…Hamish Grey!”

The octogenarian actor turned to his wife, and although the chemo had left her weakened, she summoned the strength to grasp his hand.  The nurse gave them privacy.

Dolby Theatre offered a standing ovation, but Hamish Grey muted the television so he could hear the one who mattered.

“You did it,” she said.

2 Zack Sauvageau

I click the Personals link on Craigslist. ISO a HWP DDF male. USO a masc. single male for FWB or maybe more. Your photo only shows your abs and cock, but even that dimly lit photo has me smitten. I reply to the post and eagerly await your response. b2pb3-3354671251@pers.craigslist.org, my heart is yours.

MATTHEW – I was really touched by the Craigslist story, which fought a good fight against my predispositions after reading the first sentence. But c’mon, how can you compete with a love story like the one in story 1? WINNER: #1

NOVAK – #1 is the kind of simple, sweet story that I wish I could come up with.  I might have liked a little more depth of character, but of course that might have upset the balance it hits.  #2 leaves me chuckling to myself.  I’m not quite up for the research to figure out all the abbreviations though.  I thought perhaps the gag had worn thin, but the last line worked another small wonder.  Still, I’m in the mood for rewarding sweetness over crassness, so #1 wins.

ANDY – I like the concept, #2, but it doesn’t feel polished enough. Maybe the voice is throwing me off. #1 strikes the right chord and falls on the right side of the line between sweet and sappy. #1.

WINNER: Kelly Wells

MATCH D

1 Pete Bruzek

Blood fell to the carpet. Kim screamed. Jessie was out the door with the jewelry as the old man collapsed.

Soon, Kim met her in the car. They kissed as Kim pulled money from her pocket.

“He gave me a thousand to keep wifey from knowing” she laughed.

A storybook romance, it wasn’t. Most nights, it did the trick.

2 Ian Pratt

Her hair unfurled in a coquettish tumble while I gazed in churlish reticence.

A girlish smirk, my whole world humbled by her curls now flowing freely over her satin slip.

“I need help with the zip,” and a bit lip, slightly parted and rightly turning up.

No hesitance from me, but a devilish fumble to the sheets yet unburled.

MATTHEW – Tricky one this…might be my close call of the week, but mostly because the stories didn’t hit me very deeply, although I “got” each of them. Story 1 just seemed too jam-packed to really get a good flow. Maybe it was one detail too many. Story 2 trips over its own poetry, and I’m pretty sure “unburled” isn’t a word. Story 1 delivered a bit easier what it brought to the table, and for that reason, it gets the edge here. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – #1 is something that wouldn’t ever occur to me in a million years.  Even something as simple as “criminals in love” is foreign enough to me that I have to give it a lot of respect.  #2… when I read the first line, I was prepared to complain of how much effort the piece smacked of.  Then I read the next one, realized there was more going on here, and fell in love.  I don’t even like poetry.  But this is clever.  #2 is my winner.

ANDY – Neither one of these is really jumping out at me. #1 leaves me feeling a little bit confused, and #2 feels like it might be trying a bit too hard. I think the idea is brought across a little stronger in #2, so that’s what I’m choosing, folks.

WINNER: Ian Pratt

MATCH E

1 Colin Woolston

29 steps and he stops and turns. 58th Rd and 134th St.  Rest. Breathe. He switches his cane from left hand to right.

36 steps and stop. Breathe. 40 steps and stop and sit.  Black metal bench on 58th Rd and 136th st. 7:20am, the bell rings and there, blue dress, bustling children.  His toothless smile is radiant.

2 Will Young

Scanning my options, I knew you would leave me satisfied.  After holding you in my hands, I began undressing you.  I uncovered your right side; then, your left.  When exposed, your body was pale and beautiful.  Excitement coursed through my veins.  Still, you remained cold.  I flicked my tongue across your sides.  You were a delicious ice cream sandwich.

MATTHEW – Story #1 is unsettling to a high degree. If there had been a specific bustling child that our protagonist was going to meet, maybe it would have been easier to keep the story seem innocent. But I liked the rhythm of it, and the things the author chose to highlight in detail. And also, story #2 was another joke that didn’t land for me. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – I’m not sure if #1 is incredibly sweet or incredibly creepy.  I thought it was sweet, until the word “children.”  Still, he could be in love with a teacher, or mother or something.  But knowing the CdL crowd, I’m going with “creepy”.  In which case, my comment is “ewww, you sicko!.”  #2 is the same premise as the caffeine story.  It’s more story than that one was, but isn’t written with quite as much grace.  Still, it’s fun.  Just not quite enough fun to top Creepy McCreeperson in #1.

ANDY – I like stories that keep me guessing and take a turn at the end. I know I’ve already been critical of those stories that are too vague, but I also wish you could have given us the ice cream sandwich reveal without being so explicit, #2. Strong play, however. I also enjoyed #1. This character is close to fully formed, but there wasn’t quite enough space to get the full effect. I’m going with a slight edge to #2.

WINNER: Colin Woolston

MATCH F

1 Eric Schapp

Sandy spun into view exuding confidence. She came out of the water shaking the last drops of salt water from her hair. Its easy to shy away from making the first step, but even now I can’t get myself to move. I’ve lost my power to her. I’m hers.

2 Erik Dikken

After the accident I knew that we were meant to be together. The nights immediately following were filled with more passion than I had ever experienced. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that her embrace isn’t as warm; in fact it is becoming colder every night. I suppose rigor mortis is the most difficult part of any relationship.

MATTHEW – Look, I’m just like any other guy. I’ve got nothing against necrophilia per se, aside from the fact that it’s gross-buckets. But certainly there are ways to write a story that’s compelling and interesting about it, or at least suspenseful or tense and chilling. Something that highlights the wrongness of it, or the way the necrophile justifies his act. I really wish Story 2 had tried to take that route. Meanwhile, story 1…very cute. Sandy spinning, salt water, losing power. Nice homage. But even underneath that, there’s a genuinely compelling and immediate sense to the infatuation described. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – I’m not convinced #1 is a straightforward as it might seem (Sandy… water… ?), but I’m not quite picking up on what else is there, if it is.  #2 was something I expected from you creepos.  It peaked a little early too, and so the win goes to #1.

ANDY – Is this a hurricane joke, #1? Too soon. The joke in #2 hits the ground with a little too loud of a thud, but it’s still funny. I’m feeling the subtle humor tonight, so I’m going with #1.

WINNER: Eric Schapp

MATCH G

1 Sarah Johnson

I survived Villingen. I am home.

The barn rotted, smashing the peach trees and troughs. The well collapsed. Apples and horses are decaying in sunny clouds of flies.

She waited for me.

She was swaying in the broken trellis, tangled in thistle and rope.

I found her wedding dress. She was always so beautiful.

I’ll bury her after supper.

2 Dean Carlson

Ami’s half smile accompanies my change and medium espresso as I shuffle from the coffee shop.  Her red hair, black tights, and wrist tattoo are alluring and yes, age defining.  But it’s her voice that is more important than any caffeine she bestows.  The day she wrote her number on the bottom of my cup has defined my existence.

MATTHEW – The last line of Story #2 might be my favorite sentence of the challenge. It’s pitch perfect for that feeling of a hopeful possibility becoming real. The rest of the story doesn’t really share it’s keen focus, but I like the sense of possibility realized that runs through it. Story #1 has more ambition, but it’s really problematic to me. First of all, if she hung herself, she really didn’t wait for the protagonist, did she? The story paints an interesting pastoral, but I’d rather the story gave me more of a sense of the love supposedly behind these events than a description of the surroundings in disrepair. It’s a very close call, but my heart is pulling me to #2. WINNER: #2 

NOVAK – I really like both of these a lot.  #1 was enough to get me to look up Villingen.  I think the last line could have been more poignant, but the rest of the story is expert.  #2 is surprising in a very realistic way.  I was caught off-guard by the last line, and I loved it.  The rest of the story seemed a bit too colloquial for some reason.  So this one is basically a battle of “everything but the last line” and “the last line.”  This time, #1 wins.  It wouldn’t always be that way though, and this was my “Close Call” of the week.

ANDY – Lovely, #1. I’m there, and I love it. Well done. The fluency and flow of the writing is very good #2, you’re clearly an excellent writer, but your concept wasn’t quite as original and you ran into a good opponent this time. #1 wins!

WINNER – Sarah Johnson

MATCH H

1 AMR

She’d dumped me weeks earlier for “not trying”, but brought me to the falls for my birthday.  We were to be “friends” and that’s what friends do.

After stressing about “the future”, we were calm and comfortable together.  As we stared at the creek bubbling below, I leaned in and kissed her cheek.  She kissed back.

Our future returned.

2 Erik S

She’d been the love of his life.  Now, they were being pulled apart.

Like any relationship, it had taken plenty of struggle and maintenance.  And sure, her looks had faded, but his continually eroding eyesight was blind to it.  Not that he would have cared.

Mournfully, he carefully laid the shroud over her, and quietly closed the garage door.

MATTHEW – I liked the tale that story 1 told, while at the same time I thought it could be told a bit more elegantly. It’s a situation I know I’ve experienced (without the falls), and it felt genuine even if it was somewhat clumsy in getting there. And story 2…I’m sorry, this must be a bad week for me and joke submissions. Maybe I’m just a cranky dude this time. WINNER: #1

NOVAK – Another dead person.  You all need counseling.  #1 was a nice, straight-forward story.  You can see the end coming, but you doubt your vision as it approaches, since you never really know with these kinds of things.  I’m not sure about all the “quotes” though.  I feel like #2 was stretching a bit, and with a couple more impactful idioms (“pulled apart” doesn’t quite work for me… something else might have been more effective) could have overcome the fact that there were previous dead people stories.  #1 is my winner.

ANDY – Both solid entries in the spirit of the challenge. I feel that the quality of writing is slightly higher in #2, and that’s just enough to set it apart in this, how you say, writing competition. Congrats, #2.

WINNER: AMR

I know I’m feeling the love. Are you feeling the love? Huh? No? Really? Okay, sorry. I’ll just put this away and zip up.

Your task for next week, O intrepid 59’ers, is to write a story that involves a piece of playground equipment. Doesn’t have to take place on a playground, but it would certainly stand to reason, wouldn’t it?

Here are your matchups:

David Larson vs. Beau

Melissa D vs. Erik Dikken

Christina Pepper vs. Zack Sauvageau

Eric Schapp vs. Dean Carlson

Kelly Wells vs. AMR

Sarah Johnson vs. Ian Pratt

Erik S vs. Colin Woolston

Pete Bruzek vs. DPWY

Until Wednesday…my loves.