This time out it’s all apologies, and in the sun I feel as one. Don’t you? Feel as one? Married, buried, etc? If not, then I wish I was like you. But there was nothing easily amusing about most of these entires, as the tone was set early and rode hard most of the way through. One of hard realities and harsh circumstances. Hey, love means never having to say you’re sorry, so the opposite must be true too, yeah? Shut up, Gilman, get to the results.

MATCH A

1 – Ian Pratt

(nonsub)

2 – Melissa Diamond

Fists pounded on the door.  Men shouted.  A language she didn’t understand.

She huddled in a corner, arms around her belly.  “I’m sorry, baby,” she whispered,” for bringing you into this.  I’m sorry I can’t protect you.”

More pounding.

“I love you more than life, and that won’t be enough.”

The door smashed down.  Men rushed in.

I’m sorry.

 

Matthew: Woof. Chilling story, #2. Almost unfortunate that you didn’t have anyone to go up against, because it’d be highly competitive and probably fare well against someone else’s best efforts. Is that me saying it’s one of the best stories so far this season? I suppose it is. WINNER: #2

Novak – #2 wins the non-sub match, but is intriguing enough that it might have just won easily anyway.  Excellent stuff.

ANDY: Simple, yet ludicrously effective. I loved it. A great example of this form. Probably would win against most entries, but no worries this week. Congrats.

WINNER: Melissa Diamond

 

MATCH B

1 – Peter Bruzek

The two men sat uncomfortably in the office.

“It wasn’t all that bad…” the rotund one began.

“You made a ‘legitimate crepe’ joke.” The other interjected.

“Look, I said i was sorry.”

“‘Making Yummies With Chef Tony’ is a children’s show. Besides, you were chuckling for the rest of the taping.”

Chef Tony was unemployed by noon that day.

2 – Kelly Wells

“I’m sorry, Coach,” Aaron says, following me into my office, searching for a comforting word that I don’t dare offer.

The boy tries to hug me, and I avert my focus to where the trophy might have been.  “Shower up, Aaron.”

He sobs softly as he walks away, but my son will make the majors someday.  He will.

 

MATTHEW: Oh, Chef Tony. You poor, bored bastard. I’ve screwed myself a few times because a pun was irresistible. I know what you’re going through. As for story 2, the underlying menace of a father so obsessed for his son’s success that he’s taught him to call him “Coach” and apologize for his failures…well, that’s some hardcore stuff right there. And it takes the prize. WINNER: #2

Novak – #1 has a hilarious pun, but the rest of the story seems like filler.  #2 has a great premise, but feels a little too stale for such an emotional concept – I think the narration seems a bit too objective somehow, for first person.  It’s still a winning entry though, overcoming the #1 Pun.  #2 is the winner.

ANDY: It was a nice idea #2, but I’m afraid this one needed a few more revisions to hit the tops. Besides, I was chuckling for the rest of #1’s story after “legitimate crepe”, the joke of the competition so far. Puns can be bad, but they can also be oh so right. You did it! Well done, #1.

WINNER: Kelly Wells

 

MATCH C

1 – Erik S

Footsteps.  Broken skin under rough hemp rope shudders.

Keyhole light snuffed out, the chipped, crystal doorknob slowly turns.  Elderly hinges bay.

Sour musk preceding the disheveled shadow penetrates the small, cement basement room.

“I’m sorry,” it says, advancing.

Dirty sunlight through a hopper window glints off steel.  Abject terror.  Muffled screams through an oil rag.

“I’m so, so sorry…”

2 – Sarah Johnson

I apologize for the experimental twists. Green apple and triple cream brie complement one another brilliantly – at least I think so!

Thanks for the enthusiasm. I’m just glad you love my sandwiches! LOL! Do continue to help yourself to anything with my name on it.

And please – don’t thank me! Fancy Feast is so reasonably priced.

Jim (accounting)

 

MATTHEW: Y’know, I once had a timeshare on the shores of Elderly Hinges Bay. Beautiful view. And oh, the fishing. Anyway, look, Story 1, you know how to evoke a mood. It’s clearly something you have obscene talent for. But to rely on elegant wordsmithing to the detriment of a context to be latched onto, you run the risk of overwhelming the reader. Now, Story 2, yours was a fast little laugher, but it’s hard to match your story against story 1, as they’re so completely unlike one another. Is it going to come down to which one I was less dissatisfied with when I finished? I suppose it is. WINNER: #2

Novak – This is a toughie.  I was a little confused at first about whether #2 was an exchange or not.  I’ve settled on “it is,” but some of the lines seem a little jumbled if that’s how it’s supposed to work.  A fun story of revenge, and I like casualness of the entry, very suiting writing for the story.  #1 lacks some subtly in it’s darkness, but is written with very effective and deliberate style.  The jerkiness of the prose helps set the mood, and I’m very impressed with this entry.  Enough so that I’m making #1 my winner.

ANDY: #1, you do a nice job establishing the mood, but the unorthodox sentence structure, although a noble attempt, just didn’t work for me in this story. In most cases I would say that descriptive detail adds to a story, but the details feel just added on here. Again though, the mood is great. #2 is just odd enough to keep me interested the whole way through. I really get a strong sense of Jim’s character quickly, and I love the tone, it works. Winner: #2.

WINNER: Sarah Johnson

 

MATCH D

1 – Eric Schapp

It was luminous 10,000 feet above Saxony. Even the roaring engines couldn’t tarnish the opalescent moon. Dex was only minutes away from Tango-6; time to open the bay. “For-g-give me,” whispered Dex when he saw the residential buildings adjacent to his target. Chills rippled as his payload dropped, but he did not look down. Dresden was about to ignite.

2 – Will Young

While staring at the floor, Thomas spotted some crumbs.  His eyes examined into the floor trying to identify the source of the crumbs.  Pretzels?  Bread?

His mother had stopped speaking and he could sense her eyes on him.  “Thomas!” she scolded.

Swaying slowly, he looked up.  In his most convincing voice he stammered, “Um, sorry I stole your candy.”

 

MATTHEW: I must be in a pissy mood tonight; reading “his eyes examined into the floor” set my grammarian’s teeth to grinding. That the story itself was as distracted as the main character didn’t help matters either. Story 1 had a lot going for it anyway. (and THAT’S how you balance sensual detail with solid storycraft!) A good, genuinely-felt story in just 59 words, with the right kind of last-line punch. WINNER: #1

Novak – #1 is an exciting entry.  It introduces a very meaningful conflict, and places itself firmly inside a fascinating historical setting.  It also has some amazing word choices, but a few others that feel a bit too much like a high schooler using shift+F7.  #2, I’m pretty sure, involves a kid accidentally using his mother’s drugs.  Right?  It’s not entirely clear, and needed to be more so.  If I’m right about that, the far-too-depressing story is belayed a bit by the otherwise colloquial writing.  If you’re going for soul crushing concept, then really get in their and decimate my soul!  I like it, but it’s probably an entry that was a bit too ambitious.  #1 is my winner.

ANDY: #2 gives us a nice insight into the distracted mind of a child. I can definitely sympathize. But #1 had the right amount of emotional impact for me. The story felt more complete within the word limit, and I was pulled in. Well done, #1. Winner.

WINNER: Eric Schapp

 

MATCH E

1 – AMR

I promised to treat Reece like ours, not just yours.  But a bad day at work, following a month of bad days, and I failed you.  Little things became big and he shouted, “I wish I’d been adopted.”

I responded in kind, “I wish your mom kept her legs crossed when I went to Iraq!”

God, I fucked up.

2 – David Larson

As Tricia sat down on the top of the slide, Tony gave her back a shove with his foot.  “Oh, sorry about that!  Ha ha!”

Tricia got up and sat on a nearby swing, pulled out her pocket diary, and wrote, “Tony = jerk.”  Then she defiantly added, “but I still love him, and after school he’s going down!”

 

MATTHEW: Mixing a jerk with an apology! Economical! The kick in the back at the top of the slide was nowhere near as brutal as the kick to the stomach in story #1, though. As much as it’s nice to see a positive conflict in one of these stories, I have to give the edge to the first story. WINNER: #1

Novak – #1 actually does a good job of showing, instead of telling, but because of the first person narration it feels a bit like telling, and that blunts the impact.  #2 does it just a little better, and I believe the characters, which can be tough to do with kids.  #2 is the winner.

ANDY: Wait, are we still doing jerk stories? What a couple of jerks we have here. But wait, there’s apologies too. Unfortunately, I think both stories need a little bit more polish. The prose doesn’t quite flow, but the ideas are sound and the stories fit well within the word limit. I’m going with the higher emotional impact of #1.

WINNER: AMR

 

MATCH F

1 – Erik Dikken

I’m sorry that I waited until one minute was left to write my entry.

2 – Dean Carlson

Dear pond turtle:

I am sorry I shoved a firecracker down your mouth and lit it when I was 13.  You did nothing wrong, the blame is entirely on me. Being a 13-year-old boy means you’re stupid, bored, and sexually confused/frustrated.  That didn’t give me the right to blow your head off however.  For that, I apologize.

MATTHEW: Who says you can’t be metatextual in just 59 words? Well played, story 1. As for story 2, it sounds like someone’s finally gotten to work at a very deep wound from long, long ago. WINNER: #2

Novak – I actually respect the heck out of the meta of #1.  I’m curious about the actual truth of the statement.  If I knew it was false, I’d consider it more.  #2 is a true-to-life apology, it doesn’t overreach, and, personally hits on my own childhood role as unwitting accomplice to my frog-killing cousins.  I caught the frogs, they did the rest.  I didn’t have the guts.  #2 wins.

ANDY: Nice try, #1. Better than nothing I guess. #2 gets to a funny place quickly and stays there. I enjoyed it. It’s good enough to win against a non-sub.

WINNER: Dean Carlson

 

MATCH G

1 – Colin Woolston

He wouldn’t look at me. I wanted so badly to see his eyes.

“I told her I wanted some pizza rolls.  She called after she picked them up. She said she had to go so she could drive but I wanted to tell her about dance class. It’s my fault.  I’m sorry, daddy.”

I couldn’t look at him.

2 – Christina Pepper

The sky exploded and the twin towers fell. No trains, no buses, no way back to New Jersey. I walked uptown for hours, hungry, thirsty, confused. I called you but the phones were all messed up. I finally crashed at your best friend’s place. Only one bed. We slept together because the world was ending. I am so sorry.

 

MATTHEW: Nicely done, you two. Very believable and affecting pieces of personal tragedy in these entries. I wish there had been a little more time or room for Story 1 to draw out how the father’s reaction would affect his relationship with his son, because that’s where the deepest tragedy in this story seems to lie. Story 2 could use a little more room to find itself too, but it didn’t lose much for not having it. WINNER: #2

Novak – #1 is a bit unclear in its action, but the emotion is strong.  I really like the mirror beginning and ending lines.  #2 is among my favorite entries this week.  Great economy of language, character, and plot.  That’s my winner.

ANDY: I’m sorry #1, but you left me feeling confused. Sometimes I like a mystery and having certain details left to the imagination, but it didn’t work for me in this case. I feel like I needed more detail to be completely engaged with the characters. I was really surprised to see a 9/11 story here, and an interesting twist was certainly added to what might have been expected. I think that this could have been executed a little more strongly with a better defined protagonist or tone, but the concept works well enough to get the win. Winner #2.

WINNER: Christina Pepper

 

MATCH H

1 – Beau

I was the only one who could stay, though I’m not entirely sure how.  I guess it’s hard to leave when you have something to say.  Besides, the accident was my fault.

As the vet injected the solution, I couldn’t say it.  She was looking right at me.  I scratched behind her ears.  I just hope she understood.

2 – Zack Sauvageau

When Officer Jones arrived at 22 Redwood there was a neatly printed note on the door.

NO MORE PAIN

I’M SORRY

When the door opened, the first thing he saw was Mr. Smith’s brains on the wall. The next was Mrs. Smith and their three daughters in a neat row next to him.

He’d never cried at work until today.

 

MATTHEW: Of course, euthanasia. I’m surprised this didn’t come up sooner. Even the second story was in a sense, a mercy killing, even if that’s just a confused person’s brain deciding so. I have to fault story 2 just a little for the pat exposition at the beginning, though. It makes the simple set-up of story 1 feel all the more well executed. WINNER: #1

Novak – Is there a reason you compilers hate us judges and leave us with such depressing entries every time?  Is there a reason you writers are so damned brilliantly dark?  I’m not a pet person, but #1 is tugging on strings I didn’t even know I had.  #2 takes a terrible, terrible tragedy and gives us a humanizing perspective when that’s the last thing we could ever want.  Wow.  It took to the end this week, but I’ve found my “Close Call.”  The subtext of #1 is a bit stronger, so it’s enough to take the match-up.  Good job both.

ANDY: It was a strong showing #2, but I felt like you may have laid it on a bit thick at the end. But it was a strong effort. I felt more emotionally connected to #1’s story. I was right there, and it worked. That’s my winner.

WINNER: Beau

 

So how’re you all feeling about the head-to-head format now, folks? More challenging? More harrowing? I wouldn’t know if it’s changing the way you guys are approaching the stories or not. Let us know in the comments. All in all, I’m enjoying the hell out of the stories. And remember, all in all is all we are.

Meanwhile, your next challenge is to write a 59 word story that takes place just before, during, or just after a rock concert. Rock concerts are just like chamber music recitals, only more heroin. Hope I didn’t steal anyone’s story idea there. Here are your next matchups!

Beau vs. Dean Carlson

Zack Sauvageau vs. AMR

Erik Dikken vs. Ian Pratt

David Larson vs. Colin Woolston

Melissa D vs. DPWY

Christina Pepper vs. Pete Bruzek

Eric Schapp vs. Erik S. (C vs. K Part DEUX!)

Kelly Wells vs. Sarah Johnson