After 30 pages (front and back, landscape formatting, an average of 3.3 columns per page) of writing submitted this season, it all comes down to this.  Melissa versus her opponent.  Those who are here only for my reminiscing about my first season as a judge can skip to the end.  Those who want to read a story (or two?) and find out who gets their name on the sidebar can do that after the jump.


    On the mountains of Dundalk, just overlooking the coast, stood a door.

    “If it ever falls, our ancestors will leave,” Grandma Bridget used to tell him.  They’d hike out over the hills to check on the door, make sure the portal to the dead stood as it had for centuries.  Dad had added hooks and wiring to keep it steady, but Grandma had scoffed at it.  “They could burn their bodies,” Grandma would say, “but this door is their Will and their Spirit.  It keeps our grandmothers here forever.”


“Does it work?” Hannah asked the first time Kiernan brought her there.  They’d been dating three months, and he knew already that he’d marry her.  He brought her to the door to hear what she’d say about his family of witches and doorways built for spirits.

He shrugged.  “I’ve never seen my ancestors, if that’s what you mean.”

“Would you even recognize them?”

“No.  But I’ve never seen anybody up here.”

    “It is a strange place to build a door.”

    She peeked through it, peered around it, walked in and out in a quiet figure eight.  The ground beneath their feet was warm and dry.  His grandmother would’ve called it an omen.  A good one, of course.  It usually rained on the cliffs of Dundalk, but that day, the sun shone and everything smelled of clover.


They went up again the day before they were married.  They walked through the door together, Hannah laughing.  She said, “Do your ancestors approve of us?”

They listened for any sign but heard only the crash of waves against rocks and the call of seagulls.  A rock as old as time kept the door open, but that day, Hannah removed it.  It rolled away from her, and the door slammed shut.

“I think you’ve made the old witches mad,” Kiernan said, shoving his hands in his pockets and smiling.  He loved that Hannah would purposely anger old spirits even if he never truly believed in them.

She propped the door open again and stepped through it to the other side.

She grinned.  “No.  They’re happy for us.”


They went back when Hannah was pregnant.  She pulled the rock out from under the door, and it slammed shut again.  “They like the baby, too!” she exclaimed.

“Or maybe the door’s at a weird angle and that’s why it’s propped open.”

“For being the descendant of witches, you sure are boring.”

Hannah ran her hand along the weathered wood.  She peered closely at it and said, “Look!”

The name Enda had been carved in tiny letters on the frame.  He’d never noticed it before.  “Probably an ancestor,” he said.  Or a teenager vandalizing old doors.

Hannah rested her hands on her belly.  “It’s another sign.  The name of our baby.  Enda.  It’s all falling into place, Kiernan.  It’s all meant to be.”

“Maybe,” he said, but he doubted it meant anything.


He did bring Enda out there, the day Hannah died.  While the baby slept in the carrier against his chest, he willed his ancestors to appear, or to at least let Hannah speak.  They’d never uttered a sound since their screams on those pyres, though.  Why would they now?

The ocean lulled and the birds calmed.  He could hear Enda breathing and the door creaking.  He removed the rock that wedged the door open, waiting for it to slam shut.

It did nothing.  No slam.  No voices or spectres.  Not a glimpse of Hannah, or grandmother, or the crispy black skin of a witch long gone.  Enda squirmed. He kissed the top of her head and stepped through the door.

Still no sign.

He walked to the cliff’s edge.  He felt dizzy.  Not vertigo, just the lightheadedness of looming death.  He wanted to take one last step.  Plummet over the edge of that cliff.

The door slammed shut.

He fell back a step, startled.

Enda let out a cry, and he wrapped his arms around her.  The adrenaline cleared his vision, deepened his breaths.  The door flapped open and shut, spoke to him in scrapes and knocks, and he decided to go home.

The spirit of his ancestors weren’t here, and his wouldn’t be, either.

DG – This is playing to my favoring of open endings, there’s still a couple of ways this could be interpreted, I feel.  Maybe the fact that he only hears his baby when he listens for his ancestors isn’t meant to be leading, but I kind of like that interpretation.  I also liked the description of the “quiet figure eight” that evokes exactly the mixture of curiosity and reverence that Hannah seems to embody.  This one didn’t instantly knock my socks off, but I like it as I consider it more and more.

DK: I don’t get a great sense of the individual characters here, but the progression of the plot around their life is interesting enough to keep it engaging anyway.  I really enjoyed how the door object was incorporated to form this mythical background, and how the story keeps the possibility of it being real – and the question of what consequences might follow – open through to the end.  Also, although as individuals they didn’t grab me a whole lot, I like their interactions together, and that helps make the ending feel a deal more poignant. 


Micah stared at the door.  Weather-beaten and slightly charred, propped open, almost in invitation- he shook his head in disbelief.  Some old shepherd with too much time on his hands, he supposed.  Reaching through the opening, he grasped the latch and pulled it closed, wedging it tightly against the rough-hewn post.

The bleating of a lamb drew him away, one of the dozen already born with about thirty more to go.  With only Magnus the Anatolian sheepdog for help, he had more important things to worry about than a weird door.  Still, he decided he’d ask Rodrigo about it Saturday when he brought supplies.

Micah sat up straight, ice gripping his neck, panting in fear.  It was silent- the scream he’d heard must have been part of his dream.  Shivering, he got up and placed a few slivers of pine on the fire, waiting for it to flare up before adding anything larger.  He was getting the coffee pot in place when Magnus barked, a low boom that was rarely heard from the placid giant.  Micah sighed in irritation, stamping his feet into his boots.  A bark meant Magnus was scenting predators, and that meant no more sleep for Micah.  He pulled out a beat-up 12 gauge shotgun and checked it was loaded, dropping another handful of shells in his coat pocket just in case.  He’d scared coyotes off with it before, but he wished he had a rifle.  He filled his coffee mug and started down the trail when the piercing scream that he thought he’d dreamt earlier came again.

“Shit!” he cursed as he bobbled his mug, spraying himself with boiling liquid.  Dropping the enameled cup on the trail, he lit out at a trot, as fast as he could go on the moonlit trail with a flashlight.  Only three things could scream like that; a woman, a wounded horse, or a goddamn mountain lion.  Micah knew which of the three he’d bet it was.

He found Magnus and the flock in the little box canyon, a sea of white fleece huddling behind the sheepdog.  Magnus faced a bent-over tree in a thicket of thorns, his growl a cavernous rumble.  Micah approached the massive dog slowly, talking softly so he wouldn’t startle him.   He lifted the shotgun and the light and aimed them at the tree.

A large pair of eyes glowed back at him, and he almost pulled the trigger before his brain registered the human form hugging the tree.  His gasp of shock melded with the cry of fright from the girl.  Magnus commenced barking, hackles raised and fangs bared.

“Whoa, Magnus, no!  Down!” Micah yelled, grabbing the dog’s collar.  He pulled Magnus away, but the dog wouldn’t calm down, pacing around the flock, bunching them tighter.  Micah had never seen him act like this, but he had other concerns.  Returning to the thicket, he shone his light up towards the tree.

“Are you okay?  My name’s Micah- that dog is Magnus, I’m sorry if he scared you.  He’s normally very calm.”

She was pretty, with light brown hair and amber eyes, wearing L.L. Bean hiking clothes and a knit hat.

“It’s okay,” her voice was a soft lilt, something foreign, Micah thought.  “I must have startled him, out here in the dark.”

“Can you make it down?”  Micah inquired.  “I’ll make sure he leaves you alone.”

She slid down the side of the tree, graceful in the poor light, and slipped through the thorns.

“He scares me, he’s so big,” she said, looking up at Micah with a slight grin.

“I got lost, couldn’t find my way back.  Can you help me?”

“Sure,” said Micah, taking her hand to lead her down the path.  “Let’s go to my camp and get you warmed up.”

Back in the canyon, Magnus stalked towards the bushes.  He crouched over the shredded, naked body of a strange female, sniffing at the cat spoor.  He looked the way the man had taken the creature, then back at his flock.  Mind made up, he returned to his sheep.  The man would have to fend for himself.

DK: There’s a lot I like here about the setup.  “Magnus the Anatolian sheepdog” is an awesome idea for a “character”, and I got a kick out of how easily this dispenses of the door.  Micah is well-constructed to fit in with the setting, and I like the progression of his perspective.  I feel like this ends in a place that seems slightly off, however; although the “it really was a mountain lion” reveal is logical, switching the perspective to Magnus and leaving with such a short bit makes the story feel almost like there was more to tell, or perhaps less.  Otherwise, though, the atmosphere through the majority of it is very nice.

DG – Halfway through this I was thinking, “the dog is the best character here” – love the “cavernous rumble” descriptor – and then boom, we finish with the dog.  Heh.  I liked that the monster was revealed through that character, it was just a little twist on an ending that wasn’t too hard to predict, after all, are dogs ever wrong about these things?  I also like the thing that came through the door, it’s a good monster, and I wish we had just a bit more background or time spent with it. 


Well done to both finalists. DK and I have had our brief whispered discussion and we have decided that the Top Chef Play With the Prose Champion is….


Congratulations! Spooky will be along shortly to bestow a goofy nickname on you and then you’re off to the sidebar to be immortalized for all eternity next to Colin and Sarah as PWTP Champions.

Bret was solid the entire season, and it’s probably better he didn’t win, nobody wants to go on the sidebar as Bret “Pigeon Shit” Highum.  I do feel bad about that whole “Melissa v. her opponent” joke at the top, I swear I wrote that before I had read the entries, don’t hate me.  Well done to both of you finalists.

Thanks to everyone who played this season.  I felt like the picture prompt thing was a bit hit-and-miss, but maybe that was just me.   Special thanks to DK for lending a much needed air of gravitas to this thing.  Feel free to congratulate or console our finalists as you see fit, or to dissect the seasons ups and downs below.

Or just wait 15 minutes and Novak will post some stupid Survivor thing and we’ll all obediently move on to the next shiny object.

‘Till next time, prosers.