Folks, let me shoot straight with you: this is my favorite week of PwtP I’ve ever judged, with the possible exception of “Blind” week back in the…first? second?…season. These stories are smart, funny, dramatic, engaging and everything in between. Giving out medals was both a joy because you earned them and a chore because frankly, how in the hell do some of these not medal? The forced curve can be a miserable bitch goddess. I’d venture to guess that some of the non-medal stories this week will stick with me longer than some of the golds in other weeks this season.

Enjoy. We certainly did.

…except Will. Will hates everything.

Bret Highum

Fingers like gnarled twigs, brown and cracked, reaching. I try to escape, tears starting as I try to scream “NO!” but I can’t, I can’t breathe and I can’t run, can’t get away. The world starts fade out, but then a sharp, stabbing pain hits, the taste of blood…

“Got it,” Dad grunts, holding up my baby tooth.

K: Ah, the old dark-to-light switch. It didn’t necessarily do anything new for me, and I think I saw the switch coming, but this is perfectly acceptable. Though it is a little dishonest with the early narration being so adult.

MD: I admit it, I chuckled. The first part may have been a little too over-wrought, though. Even upon second reading. I also have this weird thing about phrases that include “starting” or “beginning”. I feel like it’s an empty word, when you could just say “tears streamed” or they spilled or they welled up in the eyes, etc. BRONZE

W: The prose is a little overwrought here. I can’t really get in the mindset of the narrator because it is definitely not written from the perspective of a young child.

Dean Carlson

Steph opened the screen door and immediately thought it was just another college kid from Clean Water Action wanting him to sign some meaningless petition and make a cash contribution. But something about the curve of this kid’s nose brought forth a rush of long forgotten memories and Steph knew exactly the words Benjamin was about to say.

K: Oh, man. This is an extremely ambitious idea for 59 words. I want to ask for dialogue, but I’m not sure what dialogue would be big enough for the moment. I definitely appreciate the scope of this story but I feel like it just can’t work as intended in this space.

MD: There’s something slightly off about the pronouns here. Unless Steph is a guy’s name. In addition, the POV seems strange as we appear to be in Steph’a head, yet she somehow knows this kid’s name before he says it. It is a slight twist on the usual “guy’s bastard son shows up 20 years later” storyline in that Steph (if she is a woman and not a him) would have to be less surprised that she has some child out there somewhere.

W: Knowing the prompt, there isn’t much hidden here, and the story takes too long to get where it’s going. There is potential here, but it’s untapped.

Ben Johnson

She brushes her riotous bedhead wisps aside; face upturned, tear-stained cheeks and eyes still tinged with querulous sleep’s memory. Between clutched sniffles and unrestrained belly breaths, she recites the words, miraculously earnest and absolutely heartfelt, “Lub you Daddy … you’re my favorite.”

Her tiny brow knits and furrows, confusion and wonderful concern creep into her eyes at my tears.

K: Now here’s a love story I can get behind. As the only male judge with a female child, I suppose this one’s aimed right at me, but I know that love, and you captured it beautifully. GOLD

MD: We’re all about the gung-ho adjectives this week! Try saying “riotous bedhead wisps” 10x fast. This story was endearing despite my desire to not be manipulated by it. Which is to say, I totally cooed and felt that twinge of emotion that only a sweet “I lub you” can inspire. SILVER

W: I’m feeling grumpy today for some reason. This story is sappy but could have better used the intro to establish the bond rather than describing the daughter’s appearance.

Pete Bruzek

Springing from her blood, they covered the earth in carnage. None stood against their fury.

She’d never exactly given birth to them, but as they serenely looked at her, she realized that these creatures understood her motherhood more than she.

She reached out to them. They tamed to her touch, and she destroyed them – sparing none.

K: And there’s the comedown after a story of the best love on earth. I’m picturing egg-laying animals of some kind, so hopefully that’s your intent. At any rate, it’s easy to like but tough to love, since it relies on imagery that I can’t make out.

MD: Huh. I like this one. It plays to my own bias for fantasy and magical realism and, thus far, is a more unusual telling of parenthood. I really want to know what these creatures are and what their mother is. I’d read as a much longer story. GOLD

W: This story does a better job establishing the parental love, but then it uses a twist to completely negate it. There’s a lot of ways this story could have ended, and I think just about all of those ways would have been better.

Jonathon Pope

I wondered what I’d tell my wife. I was only two steps behind! My daughter falling down the stairs – in spite of the barrier – was something I knew I couldn’t forget. The screaming, too.

Five minutes later, as my daughter laughed and played with her toys, I realized I’d never have to tell anyone what happened.

K: Nothing earth-shattering, but a pretty real sort of situation. Miette used to fall down the stairs quite a bit near the bottom. She’d be perfect capable of coming down safely but halfway through she’d just get lazy or something. Anyway, it’s not perfectly true as I know I’d tell my wife immediately, but it’s an alright slice of life.

MD: I shouldn’t nod appreciatively at this, but we’ve all been in this situation, right? … Right? *clears throat*. I can appreciate an honest portrait of a slice of life. BRONZE

W: “Keeping Mom in the dark” should have been on that bracket of Dad Things. This is a very relatable story that gets the job done. BRONZE

Matt Novak

My parents are fighting over me again. Mom has trouble accepting me for who I really am. She sees the child I used to be. Dad always seems removed, but he understands the sacrifice I need to make for my passion.

I don’t like to pick sides, but here I go.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

K: Given the payoff I would have loved some real melodrama leading to this. Not a lot of room for that, I suppose. Anyway, another nice twist that I realize is hard to fit into a space this small.

MD: I am not the intended audience for this (unlike the one involving “I lub you”, which I played right into). We’ve had lots of poetic adjectives this round so far, so this story comes off pretty flat as a result (despite having a premise that could be quite poetic).

W: Poor guy, if only he knew that pretty much everyone (Mel Gibson excepted) is eventually going to spend much more time making a huge deal out of him as a kid rather than an adult. The idea isn’t too earth-shattering, but it fits the prompt and source material well. BRONZE

Christina Pepper

[on television remote]
DINNER IS IN FRIDGE

[refrigerator handle]
LASAGNA PAN—BOTTOM SHELF

[pan]
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350. BAKE 1 HOUR. TURN OFF OVEN WHEN DONE!!!

[kitchen table]
COOKIES ARE ON THE COUNTER. DON’T EAT TOO MANY!

[bathroom mirror]
REMEMBER TO FLUSH. TAKE YOUR MEDS BEFORE BED. I’LL BE BACK IN THE MORNING.

XOXO,

SHELLY (YOUR DAUGHTER)

555-4143

K: Fun concept, perfectly fair and legitimately surprising twist, and great unraveling. This is as good as any F59 I’ve ever seen. GOLD

MD: Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this story has a definite poignancy. All the post-it reminders, and the fact that she had to put things like “your daughter” and her phone number on the notes all point to dementia for our main character. Dementia makes me sad. GOLD

W: I found out last week that supervisor was going to be stopping into work on Saturday to do some menial task that he normally asks me or my co-worker to do on the rare occasions it needs to be done. Anyway, I sat down and typed out a seven-step list of instructions for him knowing he would never figure it out otherwise.

Still, watching people get old is tough. The little touches are nice, but I don’t think too many people would be allowing the Father to bake something if he has trouble remembering to turn off the oven after an hour. BRONZE

Beau

“Says here your biological mother…” He cleared his throat. “Is deceased. Sorry, that’s all I know.”

Her shoulders collapsed. “My father?”

He knew about her foster care treatment. He knew her need for a father. Now he could be for her what he couldn’t be eighteen years ago.

“Again, I’m sorry.” He averted her gaze. “It says father unknown.”

K: Wow. You guys are really going for the jugular. This is a lot to ask of a 59-word story, again, but I think it was done as well as it possibly could have been at this length and it’s even better on a second read. BRONZE

MD: Curious. She went to a…private detective? An adoption agency? And the person she’s speaking to just happened to be her long lost father? The word limit is somewhat of a handicap, but I do like the emotional tug that comes from realizing this man wussed out again and that the girl will go on living with the mystery. SILVER

W: Ouch, that’s rough. This story had earned the sappy ending, but then went in the opposite direction. I think I would like it more without the last paragraph and leaving it ambiguous but mostly positive.

Zack Sauvageau

Daisy always nursed her baby in public. People had a lot of weird hang ups about it, but she knew feeding her baby was a beautiful thing. People acted disgusted when they walked by, they called it an abomination.

Daisy knew Sunflower was her baby. She was proof that a puppy could have a kitty baby.

K: Holy shit, this is adorable. The whimsical narration leads perfectly into the payoff and the word choices of “puppy” and “kitty” are important to how great this reads. Ass slaps all around so far, gang. GOLD

MD: Endearing, and yet creepy. It also kinda makes a statement. “How ‘unnatural’ does human breastfeeding seem now, huh, bitches?!” Sly. BRONZE

W: Don’t people always appreciate when animals show great bonds and love? I can’t see why people would be bothered except that the dog was stupidly trying to help another cat live. The twist is cute, but I think “people” are getting a bad rap.

Colin Woolston

“There you are.” Tad leaned onto the fence.

His father was still, shoulders squared to the fields. For several minutes the weight of ten years’ silence settled in.
“I only came to say I am who I am. I’m not sorry. ” Tad waited, then turned and strode toward his car, the fire of his father’s eyes on his back.

K: Tad’s gay, right? I mean, “Tad” is the name choice because it’s used as a gay name? Whether or not this is about homosexuality, it IS about isolated, estranged family unable to make headway in their relationship, and when done well, that gets me every time. BRONZE

MD: I’m not sure if I like that Tad’s offense goes unspoken and is left for us to imagine…or if I’d rather have more of a hint at the cause of the rift here. I could assume Tad’s just gay, but maybe he also ran for Congress, and his dad hates Congressmen. You never know.

W: Bret, is this you? This story communicates a lot of history between the characters in just a few words. Sometimes people just have to live their lives regardless of what others think. GOLD

Sama Smith

Her finger outlined the music box and carefully slipped it open. Annie’s heart caught in her throat as she fingered the locket.

His footsteps grew louder. She handed him the necklace which he carefully put around her slender, freckled neck.

“You know what to do,” he murmured.

Only keep the locket on; everything else comes off.

“Yes, Daddy Warbucks.”

K: Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you? I kind of hate myself for saying this, but this story works. I’m not the biggest fan of “pervert the existing media for shock value” stuff, but that’s primarily because those stories are written lazily and come off as desperate. This one really is horrifying, what with the imagery and language. I like it, but I DO hate you, whoever you are. SILVER

MD: Jesus. This made me laugh and cringe then shake my head at the gall of violating a cherished childhood character in such way. Just close your eyes, Annie, and remember…the sun will come out tomorrow. SILVER

W: Is nothing sacred? I don’t hate this, but I’m not particularly interested either.

Annette Barron

“She shouldn’t be here, Jim!” My brother Derek yelled.

I left them scuffling in the hall of the oncology ward and walked into my father’s room. The brain tumor had stolen his speech, but our whole story was there in his eyes.

I hugged his scrawny body and whispered “I know, Dad. I forgave you a long time ago.”

K: I wish the whole story was there in MY eyes. This is potentially strong stuff that I’m just not making out enough to fall in love. Normally it’s still good for a silver or so, but this week…

MD: Yet another one where I debate whether I’d prefer to have more hints as to what happened between these two, or if I’m okay with the ambiguity. I also wonder at how the majority of these stories appear to involve fathers. Does CdL have a collective daddy issue?

W: Dysfunctionality at its worst. Ok, maybe not (I know a family where one son in this position tried to suffocate the father in the hospital, but failed and the father then wrote the son out of the will after partially recovering), but it’s still a horrible way to try to celebrate the end of a life. I can understand Derek’s anger with Dad, but doesn’t Dad derserve to be happy? SILVER

Margaret Martin

Tongue twisters! She loved language.

“Unique New York! Unique New York! G’nique G’nork!” The children laughed.

“G’nip G’nop! It was a miniature ping pong game. You hit plastic balls back and forth. They sounded like G’nip-G’nop! And that’s how the game got its name.”

“Spelled G-N-I-P?” Curiosity! She inspired her children.

“Yes!”

“Mom, that’s just ping pong backwards.”

K: My mom did that same thing with us! You guys are really nailing real life this week. I suppose this may just be ripped straight from your lives, but if so, it works.

MD: Of course, I’d make a comment about daddy issues, and a mom story would show up. Though mom is happy and well adjusted! To reward that or not? That is the question.

W: One thing that interests is me is the point when children stop listening to their parents’ silly explanations for everything. It’s got to be awfully hard for a parent who has been used to the child taking every explanation as gospel to suddenly be doubted once the children can apply some critical thinking.

Ian Pratt

I looked down at my topic list.

Classes, check.

Friends, check.

Dad’s garage project, check.

Am I eating, check.

Am I talking to someone, check.

Everything covered after only seven minutes. More efficient than usual.

“Honey, you promise that you’re eating,” Mom said, the strain in her voice evident even over a poor connection.

I added a second check.

K: I think the conversation could have been intercut with the checks for more pop, but the idea of a loving mother who’s too far away to deal with her kid’s depression is pretty strong.

MD: Brian, did you write this? Or does everybody’s mom have a specific checklist of items they incessantly bring into phone calls and text messages?

W: Heh, I went an entire semester my freshman year of college only communicating with my parents via AIM. Yes, looking back it was a dick move, but on the other hand, there’s only so many times I could have the exact same conversation and learn that absolutely nothing in Richfield had changed before I would have lost my sanity. SILVER

Sarah Wreisner

A cloud of paper wasps whirled and pummeled my skin. I swayed in the river, crying. Dad sprinted past, carrying my baby brother, limp and swollen.

The swarm vanished at dusk and I crept home. I hadn’t been stung.

I ate bread and jelly and watched from the kitchen screen. After midnight, Dad’s wheels crunched slowly up the drive.

K: Ugh. I shall never know happiness again. Nice imagery and language, and clever subtleties about dad’s preferences. It’s so hard to judge this kind of thing against uplifting and sexually revolting stories. You guys are a challenge, I’ll give you that. SILVER

MD: Oh no. I curse Kelly and/or Will for this theme because I’m getting too many heart pings. Is the little boy alright?! DON’T LEAVE ME IN SUSPENSE. I refuse to provide your medal until I find out! (*cough* GOLD)

W: An excellent job of showing rather than telling. The child’s semi-awareness is well-developed and the ending benefits from its ambiguity regarding the brother’s health. this is one of the more complete stories of the season. GOLD

Brian David

“Um, so is. . .I’m sorry, I . . .”

Nina smiled at Charlotte.

“Martin. It’s Martin.”

“Right! I’m so bad with names. Is Martin going to be okay?”

Nina attached the eyeball to the USB cable that dangled along the boy’s cheek, and then pressed the orb back into its socket. She brushed the tears from his other eye.

“He’ll be fine.”

K: What the hell is Martin?! Damn, this one is something different. I kind of love that the USB cable is just dropped in there in the center of the story. You know, no big deal. You’ve got me intrigued, in a good way this time. BRONZE

MD: I hope Charlotte’s not a nurse or something because that’s pretty lame service. I’m also intrigued by Martin. Is he an android? A cyborg? Some other heart-wrenching child creature? BRONZE

W: Well that’s an interesting take on parenting. Charlotte has the absolutely perfect attitude for this world. SILVER

Brooks Maki

Dumbass kid wasted his phone call on Dad. One of them angry and scared, the other not angry, they stare at each other through glass, neither expecting to ever be here. Dad looks at me for an answer. His eyes flatten when I tell him I gave up trying to keep kids out of here a long time ago.

K: I had to read this a second time to place our narrator, but we’re all good. I like the sad, sage advice at the end, even if I don’t emotionally connect much with the father and son.

MD: This took a couple reads to figure out what role the narrator played, but once I got it, the story made more sense and I liked it a bit better.

W: I’m confused, which person isn’t angry? Also, why was it a bad idea to call Dad? Dad showed up, so it couldn’t have been that bad of a decision. This story seems a little rushed and could benefit from a more consistent narrator.

Erik S

“Have you seen my new tiger?” Finn asked

Roger eyed his son carefully, then slowly shrugged his shoulders.

He might once have smiled warmly at the precocious two-year-old’s inquiry, but that was before the increasingly strange events of the last 24 hours.

Roger’s grip on the fireplace poker tightened as his eyes darted wearily around the room.

K: Hilarious. Absurdity was just the thing after all I’ve read this week, and honestly, we’ve pretty much covered all the bases now. Honestly, thanks for giving me this to fall back on when it’s been a bit depressing, though awesome. SILVER

MD: This is like that Twilight Zone story of that kid that could make things happen with his mind, and his family was terrified of him. Only, this is more like the prologue.

W: I like the mysterious ending here. Plus, Finn’s obliviousness contracts very well with Roger’s concern about their safety. Even with so many questions left unanswered, the relationship between these two characters makes this very strong. GOLD

Jack Haas

Her secret was my secret, held tighter than I ever could. My closet full of shirts once bloodied by (cock)sucker punches that passed through her wash without comment. When I let her in, she pretended that she never knew.

K: Moms will love you through everything, gang. Unless you have one that doesn’t, in which case I’m dreadfully sorry I brought it up. The devotion is evident in what has to be the shortest story of the week; we started strong, we middled strong and we ended strong. Is there another prompt that’ll bring this kind of fire? I hope to find out. BRONZE

MD: My main issue is that, without the prompt, it wouldn’t be clear who is doing what here. The kid’s mom must be involved, but she’s silent and meek enough to be a servant of some sort. As a mom, she borders on sounding negligent or weak for not addressing (cock?)bloodied shirts. Is this a story of abuse, bullying, something to do with cocks?

W: The silent understanding that a parent is always there at the toughest times is nicely established. Many things are unspoken here, but it clear that the bond between parent-and-child is indestructible. I always wonder how many of things I tried to hide were actually known by my parents. BRONZE

———————————————————————–

There you are, folks. Feel the love. Pepper and Sarah were only a Will and a Me away from the season’s first triple-golds, and in the most hotly contested week of all. I thank you for the pleasure of reading these, I thank you for all continuing to show up every week, and I thank you all for being part of the CdL. We’re gettin’ maudlin in here, bitches!

If you need me, I’ll be updating the spreadsheet now.

For Monday at 9pm Central, get me a story about a judge. Stay away from meta, now. Let’s not ruin this good thing we have going.

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