Holy crap, Survivors…you all submitted. This, typically, is a fantastic thing. In a game beginning with 28 people, though, it was a beast. The only reason I didn’t do forced dual-elimination weeks was because I figured nonsubs would take that out of the equation for us. No such “luck,” though, so I’m going to say that we’ll let you all go with a few more carefree one-elimination weeks before I do two a week (for a while) starting when there are 24 people left. Cool?

Alright. Your stories are under the jump, with the juicy final results at the bottom.

Bret Highum, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

Her eyes met mine from across the crowded floor and I froze, shocked by their blue depths. She broke our shared gaze with a flip of her long ponytail, glancing back in an artfully practiced way that brought warmth to my face.
I slid across the floor towards her, slipping through the crowd as they shifted back and forth like they were following the beat of the music. She glided away and I lost sight of her as the throng tightened around me.
I broke free from the crush and wheeled around, searching. The blow from my blind side caught me unaware, snapping my head back. I shot a glare towards the car that had clobbered me, only to see her laughing as she drove away, her smile back at me dissolving my anger instantly.
I stomped my accelerator to the floor and zoomed after her, my heart racing.

K: There’s something here, and I think the mystery of the girl coupled with the obsession of the narrator could work, but I end up feeling very little without a few more specifics. The narration is too focused on the narrator’s movements, and not enough on the object of his affections. (SECOND READ): Oooohhhh. Bumper cars. That makes an ordinary story clever. How to score a story that reads ordinarily until the gimmick comes together?

DK: I imagined this as being bumper cars. Maybe that’s supposed to be obvious, but I enjoyed the spin and the way it gradually opens up. BRONZE

MG: Ehh…I dunno. There seemed to be no real transition from “the floor” (where you’d expect no cars to be) to wherever the guy got blindsided. Unless this was a bumper-cars thing. Was this a bumper-cars thing? Too much confusion overshadowed some decent descriptions.

Margaret Martin, LNW

Penny reached out, grabbing his hand as another contraction twisted in her belly.

The women stood at her feet, all but their green shower caps hidden by the sheet over her knees, encouraging her with grating voices. Annoyance at their righteousness swelled in her throat. She turned toward Evan, piercing his palm with her fingernails.

Love and bones slid from her at last. They held up her son, glowing under artificial lights, the dull shine of mucous and new life.

Penny collapsed onto the sheets while the women cooed and wrapped the baby in a blanket.

“He’s perfect,” Evan called out. “Of course, he’ll always be your baby too.”

The women brought her son to her, spongy and slimy and white.

The weight of her choice settled on her chest; it should have been his weight there instead. Deflated, Penny reached out, grabbing his hand as regret twisted in her belly.

K: Penny’s strange perspective gives this story an angle that we rarely see. It might not draw us in closely enough to the characters and their history, but it’s possibly enough given the word constraints. BRONZE

DK: The grittiness of the descriptions of new birth here juxtapose very well with the emotional context. Nicely, quietly devastating. GOLD

MG: Lots of twisting in bellies here. I understand the callback is meant to underscore some ambivalence, but not enough is given to the reader to make it seem justified. I just barely get a sense of some religious element. A little more directness would’ve aided the author’s purpose. Even the descriptions, which are pretty good, seemed confused about whether they were trying to convey remorse, anger, or resignation. I think in reaching for complexity, you sacrificed clarity.
BRONZE

Colin Wolfson, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

Had it been mere minutes since the first creature lumbered into his camp? The bouquet of sulfur and blood amalgamated to create a cloying, sweet smell. Five of them. Was there time to recuperate his spent energy before the next wave came? Could he invoke Mithaniel’s name to endure a mad dash out? No. That would surely mean his demise. Better to hole up and prepare.

Seconds later, the irrefutable sound of goblins scrambling down the passageway hit him like an axe to the head. That may well come to pass…

They were upon him. Too late, he realized he would die. The day’s efforts would be squandered. As the last goblin raised his axe, Dethpatryn sighed. A flaming sword materialized from its throat. That doesn’t belong…

“Hey. I’m Loevon. Looked like you could use a hand.”

Jim removed his 4D headgear. Whew. No experience loss after all. Fucking lag.

K: Hmm…this one rests nearly completely on the twist at the end, throwing nerdiness at us in droves to set us up. Not that I’m suggesting that people draw me in only to pull the rug out from under me, but this would have worked better if the story had raised the stakes before announcing the stakes were made up.

DK: I have to admit I’m rarely that surprised any more by the “it’s a video game” endings, but you are baiting me pretty hardcore with the “bouquet of…” to “amalgamated” line.

MG: Boy, maybe I’m in a bad mood tonight, but I just want to tell this author to lay off the thesaurus. There’s evocative language, and then there’s unnecessarily evocative language. Can a bouquet of smells amalgamate? Does the sound of scrambling down a passageway really occur so suddenly and violently that it should be compared to being hit with an axe? These flourishes took me out of the narrative (such as it was) enough that it felt like the story was lagging too. And those Game-of-Thronesy proper names… forgive me, this all just rubbed me wrong.

Rex Ogle, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Sybil,” Katrine said as she bent down, extending her delicate hand to the child. The old woman had been looking forward to this day for so long that she was unable to hide the smile that stretched across her wrinkled face.
Katrine escorted the child and the social worker into the sitting room where a pot of tea and a plate of cookies waited. While the child snacked shyly, Katrine signed the papers. A single tear—one of utter joy—escaped from the corner of her eye, marking a glistening path until it fell from her chin and dotted her “i.”
“Thank you for this,” Katrine said, hugging the social worker. As the door closed shut, the woman’s kind demeanor melted into hunger. Her mouth widened, jaw unhinging, as she moved to devour the child.
Ready for the witch, Sybil pulled out a knife.

K: The last line saves this from making me want to vomit (admittedly, in kind of a good way). There’s enough foreshadowing here to keep the payoff from feeling cheap and exploitative, and the double-twist is something we frankly don’t see here very often. Fun. SILVER

DK: This, too, has a twist that I don’t really need. I like the setup and wish the space had been spent more on just filling out characters in this kind of situation. I do like that at least the potential victim was ready this time.

MG: See, you had me right up until the requisite twist. This was lovely: simple, relatable, and it showed me something about the old woman without TELLING me. It could have been just this, the story of a woman finally getting the chance to be there for a child before her time on Earth passes. But, alas. The first 4/5ths were quite good indeed. Good enough that the ending didn’t completely negate the beginning’s power.
SILVER

Annette Barron, FRH

I shook my head firmly “no” as I passed the scruffy man and his cardboard box outside of the grocery store. “Are you sure no one at home is waiting for a puppy, ma’am?” he insisted.

Jack was in his closet (as usual) when I got home. He winced when the door opened and scooted farther into its recesses. I crouched on the floor next to him, careful to leave space between us.

“Jack, honey, I brought you a friend,” I said softly. Jack looked past my left ear, his brand of listening. I placed the puppy in his lap. His whole body stiffened in objection. I stilled the wriggling puppy with one hand and placed his hand on the warm little body.

After several excruciating minutes, he stopped pulling against me. Slowly, his fingers moved through the silky fur.

K: This is a beautiful little thing, and could be more so with a lot more words. Character development is a difficult thing, particular with such a small space, but this one pulls it off and does so believably (which I base on my knowledge of many antisocial types who have a real affinity for animals). SILVER

DK: This is the kind of stuff I like, where the characters are sharp and the background is apparent with so little space used, and a nice emotional coda. SILVER

MG: I was bracing myself for the dark, spooky ending, and I’m glad it didn’t come. Very nice little piece here, and a perfect dollop of empathy towards Jack, whose debilitation was rightly left unnamed. No crazy twisty ending needed; this story had faith in itself.
GOLD

Will Young, MPUSC

The first two today were easy, but only netted $80. The world is changing; bank cards are cancelled immediately, and nobody carriers cash. I must identify the right type: white, fiftyish, overweight (probably where the phrase “deep” pockets originated), and in business. Of course, that type is more likely to drive his Volvo than ride the Metro – another horrible change.

Julio signals towards a man on his phone. He’s definitely deeply into conversation happily arguing and laughing. His blond hair falls slightly over his ears; his jowls bob. He isn’t paying attention as we sidle towards him when the train approaches. Julio steps in front as the doors open.

“My foot!” Julio yells grabbing his leg. “It got stuck under the fucking train!”

I inch behind the man with my hands ready for him to help free Julio.

***

“Heh, some dipshit hurt his foot. Fuck if I’m gonna help.”

K: It’s kind of fun to see the plight of today’s thieves, trying and failing to keep up with a changing world, and to see the target get away with no trouble as a result of being a jackass. The line he spoke is a bit cartoonish in its villainy and I’d rather it was underplayed as he just walked on without a further thought, but it’s still an enjoyable angle.

DK: I like the idea here, although it runs up against the constraints of space. The detail in the first paragraph is really nice, but it affects the way the ending feels extremely compressed.

MG: A cute idea, but not the best execution, which I’m sure is at least partially due to the word restrictions. But I still feel like the beginning could have been tightened up a bit, which would have allowed for some breathing-room at the end, where the action is.

Sarah Bizek, Big Brass…Band

When Lou Cregg arrived at the Pearly Gates, he was eighty-six. The scar from the heart transplant he’d received as a seven-year-old showed, worm-like and pink, above the collar of his wife-beater. His life had defied the prognosis he’d been given as a boy. Lou looked around, and he let out a guffaw the likes of which Heaven had never heard.

“Celia? You here?” he called out in his gruff and delighted voice. But it wasn’t his wife who met him.

“Welcome,” she said, extending her hand. She was round at breasts and hips, and her red hair glowed about her shoulders. She was so young.

“And you are?” Lou asked, absently fingering the nub of skin at the top of his scar.

She tugged at the neckline of her t-shirt, revealing an incision identical to his own.

Recognition flashed in Lou’s eyes. “Madeline,” he said, and he embraced her.

K: There’s a long way for me to go, but I’m going to guess that this ends up being one of the most inventive first meetings of all. I feel cheated by my own decision to keep the word count so low, but the writer got something done here regardless. SILVER

DK: Interesting take on the “first” meeting concept. The description is a little almost clinical to draw me into the character’s emotions.

MG: Here’s how I know this is a good story: on a night like tonight, in a mood like I’m in, this made me smile. (Maybe I’m predisposed to like it, having been a heart-surgery veteran myself. But who cares.) Sweet, genuine, and compact, like the opening montage of the movie Up.
GOLD

Jack Haas, FRH

Most people don’t see me coming; they jump just a bit, running through a mental checklist to make sure they aren’t in trouble when my uniform appears next to them. This kid though, he notices me the moment I enter the carriage and watches me move down the aisle gently surprising people as I collect their tickets. I wait for him to bolt and kick off a short, pointless chase; even if I catch him he won’t have any money. But he’s still sitting when I approach, ticket ready in his hand. After a skeptical pause, I collect it and call to the well-dressed man sitting on the inside of the row who jumps, searches his pockets, comes up confused but empty handed. The kid is watching me again. I address the man, “Sir, you can’t ride without a ticket. You’ll have to purchase another one at the next station.”

K: I really like the dynamic here, but this one falls on the side of telling without showing, and it kills a good deal of the impact. I feel like I’m hearing the train worker tell a story after the fact, rather than during.

DK: I’m not sure what to say here. This gets from its start to its end well and efficiently, but I don’t find myself particularly interested in the situation or in anything about the characters here.

MG: This was an enjoyable read, with a nice internal running commentary that gave a great sense of presence and place. And by the end, we all knew what had happened, just as our narrator had. Unfortunately…it needed something more. Something that would stay with me beyond the moments reported here. Feels unfinished.

Tom Morgan, FRH

“My name is Kurt and I’m an alcoholic.”
____________________

His eyes opened again. And again, he wished they hadn’t. He spent some time- how long? A minute? An hour? – looking up at what could only be a blue sky. Eventually he turned his head and took in his surroundings: a park. Yes a park, and his bed was a bench.

“Fuck,” he whispered as he got up, slowly so he didn’t collapse. He looked around hoping to recognize something. He did, luckily- a bank and hardware store. He knew where he was now and, more importantly, where home was.

His wife was sitting on the bench in the foyer when he walked in.

“The kids and I are leaving, Kurt. You’re killing yourself and we can’t watch.”

____________________

“Dad, can I have a sip of your beer?” Kurt asked.

“Sure, a little sip can’t hurt.”

K: It’s a tad manipulative, in addition to the first meeting being a total afterthought to the story. I’m also dubious that a sip of beer as a child should be traced to Kurt’s current condition. The fact that Kurt would suggest this in the narration actually kind of makes me loathe him for passing the buck.

DK: If lots of people did a backwards thing at once, I’d say it’s a gimmick, but if one of you does it, it’s nicely unique! See how that works? My favorite parts are the first and last, just because of how well they show everything necessary with so little space used. SILVER

MG: This reminds me of a story from the first challenge that jumped through time just as quickly. I wonder if it’s the same author. The same problem pertains to this one: the piece reads like a timeline or a checklist of moments that are tied together only because they’re presented in the same story. Disjointed and abrupt, although the choice to put them in reverse chronological order is somewhat interesting.

Rusty Greene, MPUSC

I scrutinized myself in the bathroom mirror. A bulbous nose too fat for its face. A shock of downy hair pasted atop an oddly shaped head. Caterpillar brows in a constant state of worry. “Not ugly,” I bleated as softly as possible. “Unique.”
I sighed. There was a knock at the front door. I shuffled down the hall and opened it.
A small man in a striped sweater stood outside. He was staring at a tattered map. A tender green sprout poked out of a clay pot he held in one hand. “Hello there,” he said. His voice was fuzzy and warm. “I seem to be lost. Can you tell me how to get to…”
Love struck, I didn’t hear the rest.
He looked up and our eyes locked. He was adorable. “How rude of me. I’m Ernie,” he giggled.
“Bert,” I said as my heart melted.

K: I possibly should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. Such twists are often handled with less aplomb around here, and though I feel weird about it, I rather like this. BRONZE

DK: Look, maybe it’s just nostalgia, but dang, this really got to me. I never pictured Bert having that kind of inner mindset, and so that reveal hit me sharply. Plus, I like how you worked in the main line of the theme song. GOLD

MG: Truly, a love story for our times. Seriously, this one dug right into me when it became clear who we were dealing with. Nicely done, and just light enough that the reveal doesn’t feel like a cheap laugh. (Instead it’s an earned laugh.)
SILVER

Peter Steinke, MPUSC

This has to be a joke
I woke up this morning, and picked up my phone. The screen lit up and in the center was a tiny ant; visible against the back light.
The landlord is in a constant battle with these things. About to squish it, I look closer as it starts to circle around my NEW TEXT icon.
After its weird antics it moves aside. Curious, I press the icon.
GIVER OF FLOOR PIZZA BOXES; WE HAVE MASTERED YOUR TECHNOLOGY AND SEND YOU THIS DECLARATION.
WE WON’T BE TRODDEN ON OR POISONED.
THIS IS YOUR WARNING BEFORE WAR COMMENCES.
CEASE OR PERISH.
I glanced at the insect, about to laugh it off. It looked at me, it’s antennas quivering menacingly; as clear as a man shaking his fist in my face. So I think it could only mean one thing.
We are so fucked…

K: This could be pretty funny, but it reads too jokey and would work better if it gave itself completely to the potential horror of the situation. I like the idea, but the execution wasn’t quite there.

DK: I appreciate the absurdity here. I’d have to say as the “Giver of Floor Pizza Boxes” this character probably has her/himself to blame for this. BRONZE

MG: Two stories that evoke knowing chuckles in a row! Maybe my heart has grown three sizes at last. I like where this could go, and I like that it doesn’t try too hard to take us there. And yes, blessed be the giver of floor pizza boxes.
BRONZE

Leif Bierly, LNW

That speeding truck had almost accomplished what Ian intended. He saw the bottom of his twitching feet, still attached to his legs, still adorned with his only pair of khakis. His vertiginous head was buzzing something loud.

Ian wanted to smile, yet despite growing numbness, there was a feeling like his chest was going to suddenly explode.

Then, a voice.

“May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you…,” chanted a hazy head visible through a darkening tunnel of vision.

A priest had appeared to see him off? Ian was overcome with nausea.

“Father!” Ian spat. The solemn face moved closer; checking the chanting, drawing a present stare.

Swinging his arm up, he found a fistful of Father. The sound of that plume of splashing blood he ejected was not as loud as Ian’s last orgasmic grunt of fulfillment.

Now Ian found his smile, and left.

K: Wow. Ian was determined to reject everything, eh? The story could be a bit clearer, but it ended up being worth it to figure out what was being told here. BRONZE

DK: I think this is reaching for something it doesn’t quite catch. Maybe like Ian himself, anyway (although you could say he does get there at the end). I found the writing a little off-puttingly stilted in parts, as well.

MG: There’s some evocative stuff here, and nice turns of phrase. But I’m afraid it’s not getting through to me exactly what’s happening in those moments before final death. I hate to plead confusion, but I have no real choice.

Pete Bruzek, MPUSC

The detonation is even bigger than expected. Perfect. I like a big entrance.

The patrons scatter, then freeze as they realize what’s going on. That’s our cue. I begin my sermon.

“I saw the sky open up, brothers and sisters. What descended was no dove, but a bowl of wrath. I am the wrath and fear of God, himself.”

Suddenly, Vincent falls to the floor, screaming. That’s not according to plan. Turning around, I see him. My eyes narrow.

“I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to call down fire on you, son.”

He doesn’t flinch. “Brimstone’s more MY thing,” he says nodding at me. Instantly, I’m struck by fiery pain. I look and see the flesh of my arm ablaze. An actual super is something I’m ill equipped for today. I ready my smoke. Time to go.

Oh, Brimstone, the next time you and I tangle, I’m going to make good on my promise.

K: This is a lot of exposition to get through in a short story. A clearer comic book world from the beginning could have helped, but mostly, I feel like the pacing was an issue.

DK: Intriguing hints of the world here, although in this case I didn’t really get into the characters. Probably another kind of idea that could use more space.

MG: I really hope this story isn’t relating something super-obvious that the other judges recognize in an instant. Can I plead some severe Middle-class Jewish-agnostic background here as the reasons why I’m not really grasping what’s meant to be going on? Is Brimstone a being, rather than a thing? I’m really sorry, but I’ll be damned if I can make sense of it all.

Roman Feeser, MPUSC

Brenda anxiously drove to the funeral parlor, when she got the message that Eddie was dead. Although a weight had been lifted, she had to see for herself. She hadn’t been to this town since their divorce decades ago. She passed the high school where they had gone steady. He was different then. She accelerated passed the Italian restaurant where he made a scene after many bottles of wine and hit her for the first time. She cruised passed the Parkway Diner where they first met. Memories. It was all so innocent then. He was from the wrong side if the tracks. She waited on him. It was love at first site. It was the kind of love that made hit songs. He ordered cheese fries and left her a big tip. But what’s worse than knowing you want something? Knowing that it might one day kill you?

K: I adore this song and would love to love the story, but it’s a bit too cheeky for its own good. “Sight” is misspelled, too. It never quite gets off the ground in terms of storytelling (ironic, given the source material).

DK: Unfortunately this doesn’t do much that I didn’t really expect from the very beginning. Again, maybe constricted by the limitation; the way this breeze through fragments of thoughts and memories makes it very tough to grab on to anything specific or affecting.

MG: An interesting concept with which to approach this challenge, but the writing itself feels like the dictionary definition of tell-don’t-show. It reads like a Leonard Maltin movie review summary. And to top it off, using “first site” rather than “first sight”…a quibble, maybe, but it doesn’t help the story any.

Sarah Wreisner, BBB

I heard it again: dry rustling from the locked crawlspace. Cicadas whirred over the buzz of a lawnmower. My neck tingled as I held my breath.

I heard them again: dragging noises, like coffee straws scratching the door. I pressed my ear to the wall.

“Hello?” I knew it was ridiculous – the crawlspace had been sealed for years. I reached for the knob as the lock rattled shut. Something scuttled away, thumping and scraping the floor on the other side.

I found a crowbar in the basement: the wooden frame, dry and crumbling, split easily.

I coughed, squinting into the sweltering attic: a man was crouched low, his face obscured by dust-swirled shadows. He slipped into the corner, trembling, searching for a way out. There wasn’t one.

“Who are you? Where did you…?”

He turned, melted into the shadows, and was gone.

K: God, that’s unsettling. We have a lot of ghost stories here – most of them from Sarah, as I assume this one is – but this one actually chilled me a little. The prose effectively set the tense mood and the fearful ghost is one I’m very intrigued by. GOLD

DK: I like the atmosphere created here, and the way the suspense develops, although I think I wish I knew a little more by the end about this mysterious figure.

MG: Damn fine descriptions, and a decent sense of tension set up at the beginning. It’s not the most original tale ever told–in fact at first the beats and sensory-descriptions feel like they’re using a blueprint from one of last week’s stories–but the language is vivid and taut. Right up until the very end, when it blows away far too lightly, melting into the shadows along with the mysterious being.
SILVER

Beau, LNW

“…and the boy did. And the tree was happy. The end.”

Mirabelle closed the book. “Now can I tell you a story, Mommy?”

“Of course, dear. I love your stories.”

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. One day, she met a handsome prince named Derrick. They had a fish and salad for dinner and talked a lot. They liked each other a whole bunch. One day, she married the prince and lived happily ever after. The end!”

She smiled, brushing Mirabelle’s hair aside. “Good night, sweetie.” She kissed her on the forehead.

“Did you like the story, Mom?”

“I did! In fact, I can’t wait for your next story tomorrow night.”

Mirabelle’s smile put the exclamation point on an otherwise awkward evening. She’d eventually tell her that she wouldn’t be seeing Derrick again. Just not tonight.

K: I would have taken the happier ending here, but it’s not as special of a moment if it’s not also a teachable moment for the kid down the road. This isn’t the best dialogue we’ll see all season or anything, but a lot of love came through in a short scene. BRONZE

DK: Cute and suitably unsettling. Poor kid.

MG: I feel like there were key bits of information that needed to be relayed here. Like assurance that Derrick was someone in Mommy’s life, other than the last paragraph (where some pronoun confusion reigns). Or that Mirabelle knows some stuff that Mommy doesn’t. Again, the final paragraph seems to suggest as much, but neither the mother’s reaction nor the daughter’s demeanor gives us enough of a clue to really bring it across.

Sama Smith, BBB

I pretended to study the spinal column poster peeling off the wall.
His hair was redder in person. His freckles were fierce. He looked sunburnt.
He and auntie talked. It was her last adjustment. He tried to explain stuff to me. I just stared at his hands.

The appointment ended. Auntie said to ask my questions for my school paper now. I conducted the mock interview:
– How long have you done this?
– How many patients do you see?
– Have you had any difficult cases?
– Are you married? Do you have children?
His bushy eyebrows arched and he answered, “Uh, no.”
I asked him about hobbies for good measure.

Auntie didn’t know I’d written a letter. I slipped it between some files on his desk while they talked. In the car, she asked me what I thought.

“We have the same hands,” I said and put on my headphones.

K: This isn’t the first time we had an estranged child interviewing his (or her) father on this site. In fact, I think this makes three times. The list of questions doesn’t add a lot without any responses, and I’m torn on whether I appreciate the one-sided meeting or if I wish I’d learned more about why dad had left.

DK: Another one well-modulated to reveal everything you need to know with a minimum of space and a maximum of subtle character effects. I really like the touches that show the complexity of the emotion here. GOLD

MG: Nifty piece. Very tight and economically written; not giving away too much, but telling us everything we need to know and feel to understand where this kid’s head is at. How much the kid knows, and how much the kid’s willing to let on that the kid knows. (I like the fact that the gender of the child is unstated, too, as it doesn’t really matter and wouldn’t affect the story either way.)
GOLD

Melissa Diamond, FRH

The night was humid; a heavy blanket to cover Nina’s nakedness. Outside her window, the cicadas rattled.

“Don’t be nervous,” Jay told her.

She clung to the warmth of his body. “I’m going to be a wife.”

“Remember to breathe, and to look at me. At least once.”

She nodded. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

***

Nina was surprised how well she kept her calm the next morning. She’d imagined tripping as she brought tea to the guests; making a fool of herself in front of her future in-laws.

Amal was as respectful as Nina’s father had advertised. Just as charming, and so much like Jay that it hurt. He even smiled like his cousin. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” he said, and she wanted so badly to look at Jay. At least once.

Instead, her heart broke.

She smiled.

“It’s nice to meet you, too.”

K: Arranged marriage coupled with true love (or at least infatuation) – it’s something we’ve seen before here but the ache came through very well here. GOLD

DK: Suddenly I feel like there’s cicadas everywhere. But anyway, I again like the simplicity of description mixed with the complexity of the emotional situation here. I wasn’t too surprised to see an arrangement for this prompt, but this one develops it very nicely. GOLD

MG: I sort of expected there to be a prearranged marriage story somewhere in the bunch this week. This one was very nicely set up, and even though it held its cards close to the chest for most of the first half, it wasn’t going for the gimmicky twist reveal, which I appreciated. It was sweet, too; heartfelt. I wish the author had refrained from being explicit about Nina’s heart breaking, though, as that could have come through without the words being written. (Also, I think we need to come to a consensus here. Cicadas: do they whir or do they rattle?)
SILVER

Zack Sauvageau, FRH

“We were like two ships passing in the night. He saw me first; I felt him start grinding on me on the dance floor. After the song was over he asked me if I wanted a drink. He bought me a Scooby Snack and a Ninja Turtle. We got hella turnt. We spent the rest of the night grinding and laughing and making out. When we got home, we found out his dick was too big for the condoms I had. But I needed that D so we fucked anyway. Three weeks later I missed my period and found out I was pregnant with your mom. It was the happiest day of my life.”

“You are disgusting, Grandma.” Timmy shook his head as he left the room.

“At least I got to finish this time.” Grandma Breeanna said as she glared at Bryce.

K: The slang doesn’t work with the age of the character, like, at all. In the name of a gag I have to overlook that, and I really can’t. I realize it’s the joke, but it didn’t work for me.

DK: I had to laugh at how committed this was to carrying out its Bad Grandma schtick. BRONZE

MG: Charming. I really have nothing much to say about this one. The story knows what it is and makes no apologies. It just didn’t navigate its way up any of my alleys.

Shawn Ashley, MPUSC

She lay in the grass; one patent leather Mary Jane kicked into the air, arms spread wide, blades flattened beneath her, as the smell of a new Spring filled her nostrils.
She felt him before she saw him and when she turned almond-shaped brown eyes to his resting spot upon the back of her five year old hand, they both stopped.
The staring contest began.
She didn’t dare blink. Or move. His myriad of legs resting on her slightly sun-burned skin, but she couldn’t feel him anymore. Only see.
“What are you doing here?” She breathed to him quietly.
Fascinated, she watched him rest there. It was foolish to think he was resting, even she knew that. He was plotting, manipulating, deciding.
SMACK!
Her other hand came down hard, feeling the squish beneath her palm. She examined the corpse stuck to her skin, as she blinked against the afternoon sun.
K: Interesting first meeting here. I often don’t go for these “it’s an animal” stories, since I’ve read so many, but this was handled well enough that the twist was an actual surprise. BRONZE

DK: I’m intrigued by seeing “meetings with bugs or vermin” a few times this week. The imagery here both of the setting and the encounter itself are my favorite parts here. BRONZE
MG: Heh. I like this. I guess I like how this girl perceives the bug, its sentience and its instincts. And the author does a very credible job getting that instinctive perception across without making it seem childish or naive. It’s not what you’d call a meet cute. BRONZE

Colin Woolston, LNW

Neither cared for the old man’s scolding, so neither Aarav nor Saanvi paid attention. Saanvi had started the conversation, with a shy smile and a whisper of “Hello.” Aarav felt giddy looking at her dimples and said nothing. Soon both were chattering away and giggling at the old man trying to shush them.
The old man’s speech droned along. No one in attendance paid any attention except for when he tried to scold the two children up front. There was some consternation among the parents, but even they wished the old man would have done, and move on.
Aarav and Saanvi quieted, suddenly, as did those within earshot; one knows when a moment of significance approaches.
The children turned to gaze on the rest of the onlookers.
The old man straightened, and said “I give to you, Mr and Mrs Reepak.”
Mr and Mrs Reepak giggled.

K: I knew arranged marriages would probably make an appearance, and I really love this one. It’s easy to highlight the negative side, but as always, any different angle is good, and this angle was adorable. GOLD

DK: I admit this suffers some in comparison to the other arrangement story for me, although it’s certainly not reaching for the same emotional space. The interaction between the kids is very cute though.

MG: Bingo! Our second prearranged marriage story of the night! I’m sure this one’s surprise–minor though it was–would have been a bit more amusing had the idea not been spoiled by that earlier story. What this one lacks in emotional turmoil it makes up for in amused observation. It’s delightful in how it gets across the excitement of these two soon-to-be-aware-of-each-others. Super-lightweight, but very pleasant.
SILVER

Brooks Maki, LNW

A wall of flame erupted from the grass on either side of the river. The wizard lowered his arms, staring triumphantly at the bloodied figure before him.

“Fight, you gutless coward! Or do you meekly accept my revenge?”

“Again, I don’t know you. Revenge for what?” The man settled into a sitting position, the stream washing over his legs. He returned the wizard’s stare; his eyes lacking the blind hatred of his tormentor, but also failing to register any fear.

The wizard held his pose. The flames continued to burn. A hand dismissively waved neatly stopped the flow of blood from the man’s shoulder, the flesh knitting together without any scar. The wizard pulled the man close, flames moving down into the river to encircle them in a ring of fire and steam.

“Revenge for deeds yet undone. This is where it begins. Always remember that I’ve seen you bleed.”

K: I was actually feeling it a little more early when the guy was just a guy and it was a misunderstanding, but I like the way it came together too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while I love semicolons, this one should have been a comma, as the second part wasn’t an independent clause.

DK: The idea at the end about revenge for the future is interesting, another one of those time-bendy things I often like. Here I’m not sure I’m getting enough context for the setting or the characters to find it more than independently intriguing.

MG: This just comes across as a segment lifted out of a much longer work, and that isolation works against it. There’s something momentous happening, but is it enough that we know this wizard is getting revenge in advance? It doesn’t quite have enough kick to bring it home for me, although if this author ever decides to write out an entire supernatural combat scene, lord knows I’d read it.

Christina Pepper, BBB

The front door is open when we pull up, music pumping out at full volume. We find an adolescent female in the kitchen, lying crooked on the dirty floor.

Darren drops to his knees next to her while I’m still fumbling with the equipment.

Significant facial trauma. Probable compromised airway.

Darren barks instructions, and I steady my hands before bringing the scalpel to her throat. I’ve practiced this a hundred times, easy. I secure the tracheostomy tube, then study her swollen face, waiting for the grayish cast to diminish.

It never does. Darren pronounces her at the scene, and we load her in the back.

“Well fuck,” I say as he guns the engine.

“You didn’t do nothing wrong,” he says. “That shit just happens.”

“Fuck, though.”

He reaches into his pocket and offers me a couple yellow oval pills. “This takes the edge off. You get used to it.”

K: Stark, gray and real. The dialogue worked and the action built the tension as much as 150 words could. This one attained reality more than any other story of the week. GOLD

DK: Well, we have to have a little darkness, but this hits it pretty well without being over the top, and the ending is suitably foreboding. SILVER

MG: As a self-contained scene, this one works well enough, even though it skirts that bulletpoint-to-bulletpoint timeline style that can sometimes hurt stories this short. There’s just a hint of bigger things to come in those little yellow oval pills, though. Shows that you don’t have to provide a twist to leave the reader pondering what comes next.

Jonathon Pope, BBB

I was standing on the platform of King’s Cross station with my brother, Aerich. We were supposed to meet my friends while we waited for his girlfriend to arrive.

“When’s Claire supposed to get here?”

“She said she’d be here in an hour. Do you see your friends?”

I spotted them and started in their direction. I looked over my shoulder and waved at him to follow. As I turned back something rushed past me. WHAM! I looked back to see Aerich lying on the platform, having been knocked off his feet by a pixie-sized woman, who was now kissing him madly. I paused for a moment and then walked over to my friends, who were watching the spectacle.

“What was that?”

“Brother’s girlfriend.”

“Been long since they saw each other?”

“First time.”

“Should we wait?”

“Nah, that could take a while.”

“GOODBYE AERICH!” I shouted, and we left.

K: Ah, internet love. I once talked to a girl on the phone after she fell for me in an early chat room called “The Park.” Afterward, she said “You seemed really cocky.” I’m like, duh, had you not realized that before we actually spoke over the phone? She admitted she just expected me to be a guy who talked big but was actually just a big nerd. The joke’s on her…little did she know, cocky as I am, I AM a big nerd. Am I off script here? Anyway, the conversation that follows the meeting seems extraneous once we learn it’s the first time they’ve met. It could have stopped right there.

DK: Heh. I enjoyed this a lot. I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be a fat 40-year old dude. SILVER

MG: This is going to sound super-negative…but essentially this story boils down to one paragraph of “here’s what’s going to happen” followed by a bunch of “and here’s it happening.” We were supposed to meet my friends while we waited for my brother’s girlfriend to arrive…and then I met them, and she arrived. The only notable thing is that Aerich and the girl had never actually met before, but that was mentioned offhandedly, and so it felt offhanded to the reader.

Katie Walter, BBB

One and two. Three and four. Each shoe was laced as she hummed along to a song that didn’t exist. A youthful face looked up towards me as I couldn’t help but smile as I knotted and bowed.

“Why do you want your shoes tied just before bedtime?” I asked.

A small stubby finger pointed down the dark hallway just outside her room, towards my room. The hallway light was dim, as it always was, before the light flashed and was out.

“He said that He will eat my toes when I fall asleep.” she replied.

K: This week hasn’t been particularly dark (especially for these parts), but that’s fairly unsettling. Kids can deliver lines like this with real power (unless they’re on film, because kids are usually pretty awful actors). I like the subtlety of “he” being uppercase. It’s a small, nice bit of suggestion. SILVER

DK: Is this supposed to be creepy, or just childlike innocence magnified? I found it the former, but am not sure how I should be reading it.

MG: There are some nice touches throughout this piece; very fine details that bring the youth of the child to the fore, and evoke a ritualistic element to the tying of shoes. But when it’s revealed what’s going on, it’s almost too by-the-way. With stories like these, it’s almost as much of a sin to NOT use the words alloted to you as it is to use too many.
BRONZE

Joe Harrell, FRH

One itch on the leg led to an itch on the arm. I picked it off and pulled it to my eye. It had legs. Multiple legs. Legs that moved. The infestation of my body felt like an invasion, and the secret of my first-time visitors began to weigh on me.
“Shit, did I leave this here?” I picked up the blue comb and examined it. I’d thrown mine away after the multiple treatments performed furtively in the shower as Jed sat watching TV.
“Jed, what is this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have crabs? You fucker. You gave me crabs.”
“Maybe.”
“Maybe you have them or maybe you gave me them?”
“Why am I automatically the skank who dragged them in?”
We never figured out who got them first, but that wouldn’t be the last time we’d come face-to-face with the vile critters.

K: That read awfully clinically for a story about crabs. I expected more jokes once I realized where we had headed, but it was just kind of a slice of life…about crabs. Well, it’s certainly a first.

DK: Yuck, dude. I got a pretty good kick out of the characters’ dialogue with each other. BRONZE

MG: I’ve been waiting to see who would be the first to write the authoritative story of A Young Person’s First Brush with Pubic Lice. My hat’s off to you, unnamed author. Seriously, this is as nicely creepy-crawly as the sense of having crabs must be, and I enjoyed being a party to it. Especially since this is hopefully as close as I’ll come to the real thing.
BRONZE

Brian David, LNW

Frater Jinx leaned on his staff, eyes focused on the life-size statue of Father Jackopee. Each element was carved in exquisite detail: the ancient priest’s flowing robes, his shepherd’s crook held high; and something else. . .
Jinx squinted and moved closer. There was a fly etched on Jackopee’s face.
“Let’s take it and be done,” said Jinx. “I don’t like the feel of this place.”
At the far end of the temple, Frater Cask leaned over the ruby-encrusted Shepherd’s Crook.
“Somewhat indulgent for a man of the cloth, don’t you –”
Silenced fell upon the temple, complete and suffocating. Jinx turned around.
“Frater?”
Cask had one hand on the crook.
“I’m. . .I’m sssssoo. . .happy. . .”
The voice was heavy, punctuated with raspy breaths. Dark spots began to crawl along Cask’s neck and swarm around his head, emitting a steady hum. Cask limped backwards towards Frater Jinx.
“I’m ssssoo happy. . .to meet you.”

K: This is a lot to take in for such a quick story, but I feel like I know enough about the world presented, which is a tough task with such a high concept. I love the names, and I’m into the mythology. SILVER

DK: I really liked the world-building here. Some nice hints of the setting that don’t need any more to develop the main story, and the ending has a nice punch to it. SILVER

MG: Okay, this one packed a real wallop. Just enough seeds planted early on in the details of Jinx’s examination of the statue that when Cask met his fate, it all came together. And the creep factor was just right. Twist endings are so ubiquitous in these competitions, especially the really brief stories, that it’s hard for any one of them to stick out and have a deep impact. This is one I’ll be remembering a few weeks from now.
GOLD

Erik S, BBB

Max was having a blast today. His parents had surprised him and taken him to the annual Taste of Indy festival. He’d ridden a pony, jumped in a bounce house, and ate a whole Elephant Ear by himself.

Now he was in line to get an autograph from Disney Radio Indianapolis affiliate WRDZ’s Mikey P, Max’s very favorite DJ (on-air weekdays, 3-6pm).

As the table neared, Max looked around anxiously. He could hear Mikey P, but couldn’t see him yet. Then, Max’s dad pointed to a man sitting in front of him.

“Well, hello there, little buddy!” the short, obese man with an uneven goatee beamed.

Max instantly broke into hysterics, repeatedly screaming, “THAT’S NOT WHAT MIKEY P’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE!”

Max’s dad winced. He felt for the boy and wondered what his angle was going be when later explaining that life was basically just a string of disappointments.

K: You missed a word in the last sentence! I guess that’s one way to skirt around the word limit. This feels rushed, and though I think the idea may have legs, it kind of fizzled at the end and felt a bit hollow.

DK: Another idea that is pretty cool that runs into a bit of trouble, perhaps, with space at the end. The ending just feels pretty abrupt for the amount of establishment going into Max’s setup at the beginning.

MG: As big an event as losing your virginity, coming to realize that life is basically a series of shit-crocks. Definitely a universal message we can all sympathize with, even though the story containing it was just a bit on the wrong side of the show/tell ledger. Still, I admire the deeper significance the author was going for here.

————————————————————————————————-

Did you read all that? I can sympathize. I’m sure 150 words doesn’t seem like much to you, but to Gilman, DK and I, it seems like all the words in the universe.

SOOOOOO…which team had the fewest medal points per person? Actually, we’ll add them up without dividing because there are seven people on every team. That’ll save time.

Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 1/7/1/1/8/0/11 = 29
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 0/11/0/3/13/1/2 = 30
Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis: 6/0/9/2/0/0/3 = 20
Big Brass…Band: 8/8/10/8/3/4/0 = 41

Well done, Band! Meanwhile, team Priestly is the first that must go to Tribal Council and eliminate someone. I’d like to have your elimination votes by Sunday night at 9pm Central. I’ll often give just one day, but this is the first elimination and we have no nonsub to fall back on (plus, it’s the weekend). Each person must send an elimination vote to me (it’ll be anonymous) and you can send a snappy comment as well, if you want. On Sunday night, I’ll send out a player and begin the next challenge.

Cheers, Survivors. I’ll keep trying to figure out how to keep these early challenges fulfilling while not completely killing the judges.

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