Everyone with a shot at the playoffs submitted.  Plus a couple other people!  Read on for the exciting finish to the PWTP4 regular season (now 4x as regular!)


They pounded along the beach. He laughed, hair streaming behind him, clutching hard to the horse’s hair.  Demi did not laugh.  She screamed.  Her horse had spooked at a small stream that cut through the beach, and it had taken off full speed.  It didn’t stop until they hit the city streets that lined the beach, and only after rearing up and whinnying at an irate cab driver.

They say time heals broken hearts.  That’s what someone told her anyway, but they must not have encountered a heart broken like hers.

She fell in love with him that day.  Not because he saved her.  He didn’t.  Not because he laughed so hard when they finally stopped.  He had.  But because that incident brought out the worst in her, and he’d seen the best.  Because they were friends from that day forward, rarely going a day without talking.

He called her when he fell in love, too.  Demi had never bothered to learn the girl’s name but played it off as a joke.  “How’s Bethany?” she’d say.

“Bianca, you mean?”

“Did Bertha like the movie?”

“Bertha loved it.”  He laughed because he had no idea.

Demi tried to tell him once, but the words wouldn’t come out.  The tears flowed, the empty heaves, and he thought she cried because yet another woman he loved had left her, and she was so empathetic.  Demi, the Goddess of Empathy.

The Goddess of Loyalty, and constant emails when he joined the military.  Goddess of Love Letters that never mentioned love when he was deployed.

The one to comfort everybody else when he never came back.

Life’s full of flaws, but the broken heart.  Especially when living with the memory of a love that never was.

DG – Demi seems real to me, and her sorrow works. Which is a nice accomplishment in this space. SILVER

DK: The arc of the story pushes pretty swiftly through to the end, but there’s a lot of emotional details here that resonate pretty well.  BRONZE


Should I post it?

Well, why not? It’s an amazing vacation and I’ve hardly posted any photos. I mean, I don’t want to look like I’m bragging or anything. Paul and I went horseback riding along the beach this afternoon. When the guide galloped off through the surf at the end, I couldn’t help but snap a picture.

The sunlight filtered through a low ceiling of pale gray clouds and the guy and horse ended up backlit. Still, it’s not a bad photo.

Paul, of course, being from the city, has no natural affinity for horses. He looked nothing but awkward perched atop his steed. Riding behind him, I wanted to call out a few corrections, but I figured that would border on obnoxious.

I finally urged my mount to a trot until I was alongside Paul.

“Having fun?” I asked, ever so casually.

“Sure,” he grunted, not comfortable enough to turn his head to meet my gaze.

“Try to keep your shoulders down,” I offered. “Your horse can feel if you’re tense.”

He nodded imperceptibly. His shoulders remained up near his ears.

“Watch me,” I instructed. I squeezed my legs and clicked my tongue, and the horse responded promptly, pulling out ahead.

Paul didn’t say anything, but I hoped that if nothing else, the view of my ass would relax him a little. Because I do have a nice one. Or so I’m told.

“You feeling okay?” I ask.

Paul looks up from his book. He’s been slouched in a chair on the balcony for the last hour.

“Probably gonna be sore tomorrow,” he finally says.

“You’re not mad I made you go riding with me, are you?”

“Carley, you made me feel incompetent out there.”

I resist the urge to tell him that he looked incompetent out there.

“Oh, honey. I just wanted to help you have a good time. Hey, check out this picture. What do you think?”

“Uhuh,” he replies, not looking up.

Oh, hell, I’ll just do it. I tag Paul as the rider before hitting “post.” Maybe that’ll make him feel better.

DG – Another good characterization, I like them quite a bit. Sympathetic but still able to see the flaws in both of the main characters.  GOLD

DK: I like how this captures subtly and yet clearly that morose male attitude doing something like this.  Guys, it’s okay to suck at things.  Just ask Novak.  BRONZE


He was incredibly focused.   Everything around was operating in a slower plane of motion.   He didn’t believe it when,  a few days later,  he watched the video and saw that he only spent about ten percent of the time in the sand.  He achieved his objective,  saved the day, and convinced everyone to love him.

A few years later he commissioned an artist to depict him on that fateful day.  “It was like I was moving with the undeniable grace, but incredible power of a horse,” ARod explained to the painter.

When he was given the painting months later,  he was perplexed.  It wasn’t what he expected at all.   Nonetheless,  he hung it over his bed because chicks dig Greek crap.

DG – I chuckled.  ARod bashing always has a home here.  BRONZE

DK: This got a smirk from me, but unfortunately I just couldn’t find it believable that he didn’t commission it to be painted that way on purpose.


God, I hate that boring fucking photograph, Elisa thought as she lazily drew brushstrokes to add shade to her still life.  How can an art teacher have something so banal up on the wall?  This guy probably graduated high school in the old days and went right to teaching, learning nothing of composition or focal points or interesting –

“Miss Charles,” Professor Cleaves spoke softly as he loomed over her, “I see you’re more interested in my horse than in the assignment.  What would you care to learn about photography?”

Elisa let out one of those sounds of half-disgust where you want to register enough disdain so others see it, but not enough for the subject to be aware.  Professor Cleaves smiled – the gall of that man, not to give her an opening to spit back and appear cool to all her classmates – and moved back to his desk, not trying terribly hard to mask his interest in her interest.

It’s a horse.  A riderless horse running along the river, period, Elisa’s inner monologue screamed.  It’s the kind of thing bored housewives submit to small-town midwestern county fairs, who swoon because there’s no water around.  And it’s a horse!  Ooooohhh, pretty!

“Perhaps,” Professor Cleaves spoke, “There should be a human in the photograph.  Do you agree?”

Frigging aging hippie, trying to be the cool guy at college because he reaches out to bitter 19-year-old girls.  Fucking creep.

Against her better judgment and despite the warnings she’d gotten about the Prof’s weird intensity, she answered.

“Yeah.  Anything.  What is it trying to say?  It fucking saps the creative energy out of the room.”

“I’ll see what I can do about the photograph, Miss Charles.  You know best.”  Elisa was lost in the professor’s gleaming, red eyes for just a moment, and suddenly feltherselfsuckedintoaportalOHGODWHATISHAPPENINGPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE


Danny was enjoying a clearer shot of the still life, now that whoever had been sitting in front of him was gone.  Had someone been sitting there?  He didn’t remember.  Whatever.  He worked quietly and contently until he noticed the stupid photograph on the wall.  A woman on a horse, riding along the river.

God, that’s a boring fucking photograph.

It insulted him – it insulted all of them.  Maybe Danny would say something.

DG – This is one that was more plot than character driven, which were in surprisingly short supply this week.  I appreciate the darkness of the situation, but it didn’t have quite the depth of others this week.  BRONZE

DK:  Heh.  Maybe I should interpret this as a metaphor, not just for this challenge, but for this entire season.  It’s a fun concept, anyway.  SILVER


Wicket’s hooves kicked up the damp sand along the beach.  The occasional mist of water brushed against Andrea’s cheeks, tingling as the wind streaked past her face.  Andrea dug her heels into Wicket’s side, driving the the horse as hard as she could.

Pulling the reins, Andrea brought Wicket to a hault.  The horse breathed heavily, glad of the reprieve.  Andrea pulled out her phone and glanced at the screen.  There was no longer any kind of signal, but the clock was still running.  It had now been a little under three hours.  She figured by now that Charles would already have driven to the small airport a few miles away.  He wouldn’t have waited very long for her to return.

Looking out at the horizon, Andrea thought she could see a thin white line separating the sea from the sky.  She decided it was all in her head.  Laughing to herself, she leaned over and patted Wicket on the neck.

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” she said as she scratched the horse’s right ear.  “Don’t fall for older men.”

Looking once again at the ocean, Andrea thought about what would have happened if she had stayed with Charles; how things would have eventually ended.   Would she have been shot by a teenaged soldier in an arms deal gone bad? Kidnapped by a local pimp looking for fresh Western meat? Poisoned by one of Charles’s other lovers?  She may have been young, but staring out at the ocean, she knew. This was the best she could hope for.

Andrea was now certain that she could see the waves looming in the distance.  Three hours since the earthquake struck;  Mother Nature was running ahead of schedule.  The initial evacuation warnings had said the waves were expected to be fifty feet high.

Andrea sat up straight and grabbed the reigns.

“How about a few more miles, Wicket?”

The horse snorted.  Andrea took that as confirmation.  She kicked her heels and Wicket leapt forward, the warm ocean air whipping around her hair.  The sound of the horse galloping along the sand, mixed with the roar of the waves, was almost musical.  Andrea breathed deep and smiled.

DG – I like the choice laid out for the protagonist, even if they’ve already made it by the time we join the story.  GOLD

DK: This one pulls off the power of suggestion without spelling everything out quite well.  There’s a fully effective emotional arc and the setting descriptions are also well evocative.  SILVER


“The edges are the places of magic, the line between sunlight and shade or the margin where the meadow blends into the woods.  The edges are where you find the things that can’t be seen.”

Granny always told me things like that.  She also did odd things- put out milk for the fairies and pixies, and grew herbs in her garden that she hung in the rafters of her horse barn.

Mom claimed that Granny hadn’t been like that before Gramps died, but I didn’t believe that.  I couldn’t remember him, but just looking at the photos in the crackling plastic sleeves, I could see that they were a matched set.  My favorite picture is Gramps holding me for the first time, with Granny tucking a four-leaf clover under my cap.  The first time Granny told me about the edges, she was pointing out a shadow on the periphery of that photo.

“You had a visitor,” she said, pointing with her little finger, as always.  “Maybe a sprite, or a boggart.  Little fellow misjudged the angle of the camera…”

“That’s the shadow from the plant in the window!” I exclaimed, like any precocious six-year-old would.  “That’s the one, there!” I declared, pointing.  Granny just smiled.  Later that day, she gave me another four-leaf clover, this one encased in epoxy and hung from braided hemp.  Dad grumped something about “old hippies”, but wouldn’t explain further.

When I was sixteen, I started doing chores for her, taking care of the garden and her animals. One day, I caught her staring off at a dancing dust-devil going down the fence, but she only smiled sadly when I asked what she was doing.  When she asked me what I saw, I shook my head, like Mom always did.  I finished saddling Queenie and rode her down to the shore.

Queenie was a bundle of energy, hopping and flipping her tail- she wanted to run.  I loosened the reins, and we went thundering through the surf, down the edge where the sand meets the ocean.

Then, through the salt water spraying in my eyes, I saw something- Granny and Gramps, standing together on a green spot on the shore, waving.  I reined in, frantically wiping my face, but they were gone.  I cantered Queenie up the shore, stopping where they’d stood.

It was a patch of clover, all with four leaves.

At the funeral, I stood with one foot on the grass, the other on the fresh dirt.  Granny and Gramps smiled at me as I tossed a four-leaf clover on the coffin.

DG – These are a bunch of morose stories this week.  This one sets the scene really well, I like how the details add up to a good picture of the whole family.  GOLD

DK: I found the idea and its execution here quite moving.  Carrying through the image of the clover really holds together the thrust of that feeling here.  GOLD


It began, as many things do, with a modest inspiration. He looked at the photograph of the galloping horse, frozen mid-stride and the idea was planted.

So he set to work. Breaking the laws of quantum mechanics proved to be easier than one might have surmised, and soon, he had his prototype.

He stole down to the beach where the neighbor girl rode her horse in the mornings and surreptitiously withdrew the device from his pocket. Pressing the button, he was overjoyed to see that the world around him had paused, exactly as he had envisioned. The horse and rider stood transfixed in midair, beautifully frozen in time.

It was only when he decided to restore time’s normal flow that he realized that he was, himself, frozen – along with everything in sight – with nobody unfrozen to press the restoration button.

He wondered how widespread the effects were. He wondered if time would ever right itself.

He decided that if this was indeed the apocalypse, he couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful one.

DG – Cool idea.  I’d be interested if this would hold up to more expansion or if this is the right length for it.  I could see it going either way.  BRONZE

DK: I like this idea.  It’s not as emotionally engaging as some others this week, but conceptually it’s solidly mind-bending.  BRONZE


Brianna pushed Brody faster and twisted her head to look behind her.  The air hummed all around her.  She could see a bright line carving across the sky. She followed the curving slice of light with her eyes. It arced over her head and was diving back to the horizon.

She sensed the water quiet behind her, lapping waves freezing in time.

Brianna noted the place in front of her where the cut would hit the ground again.  It was impossibly far away.

“Faster, faster!”   Brody roared into a gallop at her boots in his belly.  The wind pulled through his mane, and the warm smell of straw and barnyard swam across her face.

The humming grew louder as they raced toward the line in the distance.  If they could get under it… but if not…

Brianna remembered her father barking at her mother.  “Angelica, get out!  Get out NOW!”  His voice boomed, but the humming was so loud her mother didn’t notice.   She stood there smiling at them, one hand holding her straw hat on her head, its pink ribbon blowing in the breeze, the other hand holding up the middle of her skirt, revealing her legs and knees.  Waves lapped around her calves and the back of her skirt.

Her father’s voice grew hoarse. “Get out of the water!  ANGELICA!”   A circle of light carved through sky, sea, earth, and back to the sky again; she stood in the center like a picture.  The humming grew so loud that it threw Brianna to the ground with her hands over her ears.

And then it stopped.  And she was gone.  The entire circle was gone:  sea, clouds, mother.  And then sea rushed in to fill the void, and clouds blew back into the blank sky.

Brianna pounded at Brody, his hooves thundering through the cold water.  She could see the light slicing through the clouds, feel the splashing waves freezing into position around her.  She leaned forward into Brody’s mane, determined to make it through.

“Oh, mama!  It’s beautiful!”  Salama lifted the globe to her face, studying the perfect exactness of the horse with its hooves in midair, the clouds hanging realistically in the soft grey sky, the figurine’s face set in beautiful, fierce determination.

Salama’s mother brought down her scene of a lady standing in the water, failing sweetly to keep her skirts dry; they displayed the globes side by side.

“Be sure to thank Daddy.  He’s been waiting a long time for the perfect moment to make yours.”

DG – There’s a good tension built here, and an appropriately sad ending.  This was very close to gold for me, but just got edged out by the others.  Really nice job.  SILVER

DK: This one has conceptual uniqueness and emotional heft put together, which is why it’s a winner in my book.  I really like the usage of the flashback to inform Brianna’s mental state and her thought processes through her own action.  GOLD


“Let her go, Babe.” Steven whispers to me when I want to object one more time. Your mutinous expression says it all. You want to ride ahead at your own speed; to be unshackled from your family. Never mind that this was supposed to be a family outing. You have been at home in the saddle since you were very small.

“Fine.” I say shortly. “We’ll meet you at the car.”

I watch as you take off at a dead run. Away from our family unit. Away from your slower and less confident siblings, who yank too hard on the bit and who panic at the first sign of any real speed. Away from me and my clinging arms that want to keep you, bring you back in, make you small and needy again.

The gaping wound that is your separation from me has been 17 years in the making.

Your first word was “Mama,” but this sweetness soon turned into “Mama, NO, I do it.” As the first, your path was the hardest. You were always pushing at me, while my job was to get in your way. “Let me go. Trust me. I’m not a baby.” What you were asking was for me to risk my whole reason for being. You will never know the strength it takes to let you run.

The days when only my breath on your scabbed knee could make it better are long gone.

It is your girlfriends you turn to now when some careless boy tweaks your heart. I settle for the little bits you throw my way when you take time to notice me or the inclination to satisfy my questions. I am a master sleuth, sifting through the scraps, trying to piece together what is going on in your life. I hate that it is really none of my business.

You pound away from us down the beach. The water of the Sound arcs from Cinnamon’s hooves and glistens in the fading sunlight. I can taste your euphoria on my tongue.

So beautiful and strong and fearless in the saddle. You’ll come home with us today but the day is coming when you will just keep galloping away.

I raised her strong, I think to myself proudly. She won’t take shit from anyone. She doesn’t need me anymore and I am fiercely glad, as I flick tears impatiently from my cheeks.

I was unprepared for the wrenching ache that is the mother daughter conundrum. This bleeding is as natural as childbirth . . . and just as painful.

DG – More good characters.  The mother felt real.  If I had to nitpick to separate this from the others, I would say I wish there was a little bit more of some action that inspired this internally focused story. SILVER

DK: Seriously, I guess the holidays have me feeling all sappy.  I have no idea what being a mother is like, and yet this story gives me a clear window into this particular separation pain.  GOLD


Dad, tell us a story!

Now? Kids, this is a bad time. Go see if your mother will tell you a story.

She told us to ask you.

Did she? Interesting. I’ll remember that. I can’t do it now, kids. Can’t you just watch the commercials?

Commercials are boring, dad! Tell us a story!

Fine, but we’ll have to make it quick. OK, are you sitting comfortably? Good. The Bronco believed that he was the fastest and smartest and strongest creature in all the world. One day the Bronco heard a tale of a Sea Hawk that could beat any other creature in a race, so he went on a journey to meet this bird and challenge it to a race…

Dad? Why did you stop? Keep telling the story!

What? Oh, right. So um, the race started. The horsey – who refused to acknowledge it’s problems on defense – intended to rely on its mental toughness, got halfway through the race, and believed that it was so far ahead that it might as well be alone on the field, um, I mean…

Daddy! You stopped again!

Huh? Uh, The Bronco had the ability to hang out in the pocket, but never understood the Sea Hawk’s ability to fly, and therefore never got a handle on the other team’s offensive plan—

That doesn’t make any sense, dad! What are you talking about?

Look, the Broncos approached the end zone only to discover that the Sea Hawk had crossed the finish line already. This made the Bronco angry, and he tried to kick the Sea Hawk, but the graceful and noble bird used its mighty talons to claw out the eyes of the overly proud Bronco.

Eeeewwww! I don’t like this story, Daddy!

Look, kids, I’m trying to watch the Superbowl. Go to bed.

But Daaaaad! It’s not even dark out yet!

Where’s your mother?

She’s said she’s trying to read.

Well, go have her read to you.

She said it’s not a kid story.

Then go tell her the story I just told you and oh shit oh SHIT OHSHIT! RUN! RUN!


Daddy said a bad word! Mommy! Daddy said a bad word!

Hey! While you’re in there, tell her I need a beer!

DG – I got this pretty early on, and once you get it, I’m not sure the jokes were strong enough to hold my interest throughout.  

DK: Is that who’s playing in the Super Bowl this year?  I haven’t paid any attention to teams’ records.  But I laughed enough at going this route to enjoy it anyway.  SILVER


OK, who’s been tabulating the points as they read through?  No one?  You all knew I would let you know here at the bottom?  You guys know me so well.

Well, Christina is your regular season champion, that was pretty well decided before this week.  She gets a first-round bye and gets to watch the lower seeds beat each other up while she recovers and gets healthy for the semifinals.  Well done, Christina!

The second first-round bye was a tightly fought contest the whole way through, but the double gold medal this week by Bret put him just ahead of Margaret for that coveted #2 spot.  Margaret got gold and silver, but fell short by one point and so must enter the first round of the playoffs.

So, that’s three playoff competitors set.  The remaining three spots were hotly contested by four writers.

Melissa, Kelly, Brian, and Annette were in that order coming into this final week.  Could Annette overtake one of those three and sneak into the postseason?

Annette earned a silver/gold combination to finish with 59 points, which puts a lot of pressure on everyone else.

Brian rose to the challenge, matching Annette’s silver/gold to push his total to 61 points.  Brian is in, 59 points remains the bar to get in.

Melissa needed four medal points to assure her postseason spot at 60 points.  She got a silver and a bronze.  That comes out to … 4 medal points.  Melissa is in!

Kelly needed 6 medal points to get to 60 and stay ahead of Annette.  He also got a silver and a bronze.  That still comes out to 4 medal points.  Kelly finishes at 58 medal points and Annette is your final postseason proser.  Congratulations to Annette!  As for Kelly, that has to sting.  On the plus side, I have it on good authority that at least one of the judges has no idea what he’s doing, so you can always blame it on that.


Christina (first-round bye)
Bret (first-round bye)

Long story short, the ladies make a strong showing in this season, Brian gets in with a strong final week, and also there’s Bret.

Link to spreadsheet