Well then, guys. That was pretty dark. We ended up with a tie after all that judging, with both teams falling way behind the top spots, and I had to poll the players to see whether they wanted two eliminations or just to break the tie with my criteria of favoring the team that had the most scoring players. The tiebreak option pulled ahead, so that’s what you’ll meet at the bottom. After this one, there will be dual eliminations for three or maybe four challenges.

Also, my doc had some formatting issues so many line breaks have disappeared here. I’m not going back to fix them. It’s late.

STORY ONE – 9 Stories. One Gold, Two Silver, Two Bronze
I got out of the shower, took a good look in the mirror and thought, this would be the best night ever! I put on the only clothes worthy of the occasion and thought long and hard about the kind of fun I’d be having and the attention I’d get. Perfect! With my preparations in order, I was ready to head to the party!
Joe Harrell, Freshly Ruptured Hymen
She stuck her hand up her skirt and pulled her underwear out of her ass as she looked back at me and rolled her eyes. That smile, and she closed the door.
The bulge at my crotch would go down, but the spot on my knee was obvious. How the hell did she let me drip? She’s usually so good about taking all of it—one of the many things that sets her apart from the others. The water did the trick for the most part, but then I had to deal with the fucking toilet paper remnants all over my leg. A few wipes of the hand, and it was hardly noticeable.
Hillary knocked on the door as I ran a comb through my hair one last time and smiled in the mirror. “The Prime Minister is here.”
I was meant to have all of this.
K: Oh boy. I don’t usually get into references like this, but it was amusing as it needed to be and the last line is pretty fantastic. The long second paragraph isn’t the best word economy, and I’m not sure the cursing annoyance fits with the narcissistic thing Slick Willie’s got going here.
DK: A number of submissions here come off more as a “sequel” rather than a “rewrite”. I think moreso than some others, this one can be interpreted either way. The Clinton thing is cute, although this also could’ve used a little tightening edit-wise.
MG: Ooooo….kay. Something tells me this person didn’t quite get the idea of the challenge. I don’t think the revision should be a “later on” expansion from the original, it was supposed to be a rewrite. An improvement. And this one came nowhere close to the original’s DNA. (See what I did there?). Look, it’s a funny piece, and I guess you get some points for…fine detail. But if you don’t follow the rules, you get impeached don’t get a medal.

Brooks Maki, Liam Neeson’s Walrus
All I could see was the towel pressing down on me. “Mom!” I shouted. She seemed to think the layer of skin I had just washed needed to be removed for me to be truly clean. “What are you going to wear, then?” she asked, as if there could be more than one option. I made muscles in the mirror. “Superman!”

She smiled, “Is everyone else going to be wearing pajamas?”

“Of course, it’s a sleepover party.” They probably didn’t have sleepovers when she was little; it was too long ago.

“I know you’ll be having too much fun,” She paused as he tugged the shirt over my head. “But you can always call if you want to.”

“Lots of fun! Stevie has a PlayStation!”

A car honked, “They’re here!” I shouted. I was going to wave goodbye, but then I thought Stevie might make fun of me, so I didn’t.

K: There’s some decent kid stuff here, but it kind of runs in place. I know this didn’t necessarily beg for a big payoff, but the ending sort of just sputters. I do like this idea, and it’s charming throughout.
DK: This runs into the old child-perspective problem at a point or two (it’s often tough to make it seem properly child-like) but it’s a fun version of the prompt and there are other points that hit the right notes. SILVER

MG: A cute little vignette, and you took it to a place that was unexpected. But the writing didn’t strike me in any particularly special way, and the narrative voice seemed a bit…older? I dunno.

Margaret Martin, LNW
One hand on the tile, the other on the bar, I maneuvered carefully onto the shower mat. I rubbed a towel through my mane of curls, raking the tangles out with my fingers. Achingly round white breasts smiled at me from the mirror. I cupped them in my hands, cinnamon nipples erect between my manicured fingertips. Tonight, everything had to be perfect.

Perched on the edge of the bed, I slipped into lacy panties and tugged a sequined dress past my curls and over my toned curves. I picked up the shimmering satin shoe I had selected, a perfect match. No heel – good for dancing.

Finally I picked my leg up from the floor and snapped it into place.

Plain. Ugly. But it didn’t matter. Tonight it wouldn’t draw any stares. I grabbed the invitation for the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Gala and strutted out the door.

K: Okay, that’s freaking fantastic. I thought we were just going with erotica (rather deft erotica, but still, erotica) but the twist was genuinely surprising, and kind of uplifting because this girl may not get the chance to be confident often enough. GOLD
DK: I was pretty close to needing a drink after the first couple paragraphs. The reveal is slightly clunky, probably by necessity, but it’s intriguing enough to make up for it. BRONZE

MG: Ablist trash! You are garbage! Nah, but fo’ reelz yo, I had myself a little chuckle when it came to the bit about snapping the leg into place. Nice little curveball thrown into the alluring descriptions. BRONZE

Roman Feeser, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis
The golem prepared himself for the slaughter. This purloined body was remarkable. He’d been stuck in the fifth dimension for centuries. A floating mass of malevolent particles, waiting to return and strike. Waiting for the Rabbi that made him to be reborn. This muscular frame, the tightness of this body, he savored it. He liked the shaved head and the inked markings of this modern man. What did they mean? “Today’s man was unlike those of the 16th century,’ he thought. It had been centuries since the man who created him in Prague, had tortured him. Tonight he would have his revenge. The modern man’s security uniform would do fine to secure his access into tonight’s event. The Rabbi had returned as a female leader. He could get close to her in this. He could finish what the Rabbi started. He would eat his heart in front of the world.
K: Well, that sounds fun! This is a memorable story that also manages to fit the prompt better than some of the others (this is going to be a tough thing to figure for medals). BRONZE
DK: I like this idea for the setting, although for a story that ends with an anticipated heart-consumption, I’m not sure this quite gets off the ground.
MG: Oo, grizzly! I like the thought behind this one quite a bit. Putting on clothes or putting on a body, they’re certainly similar activities when you need to present yourself a certain way. I think you stumbled a little around the middle, not quite sure how to sustain the desired tone throughout. But with some further cleanup this would make for a taut little introduction to a night of Gothic/Jewish revenge murder. GOLD

Rex Ogle, MPUSC
Steam rolled out in barrels of fog as I opened the shower door. I had been in there longer than I’d meant to be, vigorously scrubbing every inch of my heated flesh until it had a bright crimson flush. My hand smeared visibility across the mirror and I forced a smile for the man reflected there. Fourteen months of planning came to its conclusion tonight. The design was perfect, but we would see about the execution. I slipped into the transparent plastic suit, crushing my genitals against the cold plastic, and pulled the zipper upward from crotch to neck. This would be enjoyable—if not in the moment, then certainly when my face appeared on national news coverage. I picked the axe up from the bed, took a deep breath, and opened the door. The dinner guests, bound and gagged, were ready. I heard a small whimper and got hard.
K: Christ, here’s an evil CdL guy for you. I think we have a new contender in the crowded market of terrifying characters. One thing I appreciate about this one is that it was the kind of thing I saw coming, but it still managed to be memorable thanks to imagery and prose. That last sentence just makes me ill. SILVER
DK: A number of individual pieces of writing I enjoyed a lot here, put together into a whole that felt like a tough sell for me. Maybe I’m getting too desensitized for this…
MG: Okay, you motherfuckers are sick. Can’t blame you for going this far with it; a challenge like this lends itself to huge leaps in undertone and setting and such. Another body-as-outfit metaphor, not at all dulled by being the second one listed. You got me squicked, you win a prize. SILVER

Sarah Bizek, Big Brass…Band
I had a few precious moments to myself. Scalding water washed away the stresses of the last months in a luxe lather. A finely tailored suit lay on my bed, likely placed there by Joan, who treated me like the Adonis I was.
Looking at my long and angular face in the bathroom mirror, the blue tie perfectly coiffed beneath my chin, I peacocked a few serious expressions; a few smiles. A thumbs up for good measure.
A simple speech – 20 minutes tops – was all that stood between me and the celebration of a lifetime. The applause would quake the ground. I would be victorious. The champagne would flow.
The Secret Service knocked then. I gave myself one last wink and followed them down the hall. I heard the words I’d been waiting for all my life:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States of America!”
K: Two presidents in the same section?! Goofy. This one’s a tad narcissistic too (a fair choice, as I think it takes a healthy dose of the stuff to even decide to run). The story has the prose but it all hinges on the reveal, which isn’t as big as some of the other contenders (normally, I feel like “He’s the president” would be big, but not this time).
DK: Doing the president for this prompt makes a lot of sense, and this one pulls off a decent sense of the micromanaged and empty nature that the level of scrutiny this person faces would require.
MG: A nice little piece, but I think the reveal wasn’t as strong and surprising (or triumphant?) as the author had hoped. So what comes before it feels like decorative and overly-dressy details piled up to fill in the number of words allowed. Still, they were pretty details.

Melissa Diamond, FRH
The wash basin water settles. My face stares back from its surface. I have my mother’s golden hair, but I look like my father. I am named for him, too, and like my name, I will be strong when I greet the warriors tonight. I plucked them from the fields myself. They are beautiful, brave, and battle-ready. The Fates say we cannot win tomorrow’s battle. Let the Fates be blamed, then, if we don’t. I chose wisely.
I ready my drinking horn. Above me, the ceiling gleams with the shields of warriors past. I close my eyes and think of the great goat to whom we owe the mead. He eats from the tree of life, which I may never see again. I wonder what history will say about me after tomorrow. Though, tonight, that does not matter. Tonight, I will be worshipped and revered.
I am ready.

K: “The great goat to whom we owe the mead” is a great phrase that’s so bizarre out of context but so natural within this story’s confines. I’m running out of ways to say “I really like this” for the first story contenders. BRONZE

DK: I liked this concept for this prompt a lot, and it sets into the mindset of this character pretty well. BRONZE
MG: I half expected to hear some authentic death metal playing in the background as I read this. Epic transformation, and a very fun idea that really stays within itself. Quite liked it. SILVER

Erik S, BBB
Steam from the long shower hung lazily in the air while she scrutinized her form in the foggy mirror. Through the murky reflection, general sagging and sloping were apparent, but at least the finer details were obscured.

This is going to be the best night ever, she thought sardonically.

She wondered how any fun was remotely possible. Again, she would have to smile, happily greet the secretaries he fucks, and ignore the glances as he gets drunker and louder.

With an indifferent popping of her lips, the tedious task of applying make-up was complete. “Perfect,” she said aloud and without enthusiasm. The word fell flat in the empty bathroom.

She was now ready to head to the party, and already couldn’t wait to head home.

K: Is it possible we’re talking about Hillary here? Maybe I’m just waiting for it now. Regardless, the disdain for the husband comes through, even if it doesn’t have the big moment that some of these have managed.

DK: Something about this one hit all the right spots. Maybe just turning the enthusiasm to sarcasm. It totally encapsulates the original story with a new perspective, sharper writing, and an interesting character. GOLD

MG: I’m surprised more people didn’t go for a flat-out reversal of tone like this author did. Maybe it’s a rote way to approach the challenge, but it was written with some meat on it. BRONZE

Beau, LNW
“Morty!” Mom called.

He pulled back the shower curtain. He thought she looked radiant in her lace dress.

“Make sure to wash behind your ears. And when you get dressed, don’t forget our present for the birthday guest!”

Exiting the shower, Mortimer’s reflection smiled back at him. The worst part of the evening was now over. Normally, he’d now be squeezing into a suit and tie (Mom didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of her rich friends), but tonight’s party had a western theme; she’d let him wear his cowboy outfit. As usual, everything was laid out on the vanity.

Donning his Stetson, he thought how cool he’d look to the other kids. Holstering his plastic six-shooter, he dreamed of heroically winning a game of Cowboys and Indians. Pocketing the vial of clear liquid–this time labelled Thurston Ellerbe–he beamed, knowing how proud Mom will be of him.

K: I Googled Thurston Ellerbe, thinking this might be a dark true story of some kind. I have to go back on forth on whether I like this or find it too depraved; but hell, if I can show grudging love to story like Shawn Ashley’s little sister stew, I can appreciate this. Sociopathic children scare me, dudes. Not in movies, because they can never act the part, but in literature they’re terrifying. SILVER

DK: Again, I’m going back and forth a bit on whether this hits the child-perspective thing totally or not. I think the aspects of the costume for this one fit well enough with the original idea in a better way that definitely makes it stronger. SILVER

MG: This is one of those times when I wish the twist ending weren’t so ubiquitous in these challenges. This story feels like it could’ve gone somewhere else, somewhere more interesting. The idea of a guy (can’t quite tell if he’s a boy or just stuck in a boylike mindset) with a rich, doting mother who lets him dress up as a cowboy and go to parties…that could something different. The twist at the end is like punctuation: final and brusque without enough heft to chill me.

STORY TWO – 8 Stories. 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze.
Dr, Madmask slowly trudged toward Gina, the sole survivor. A hail of bullets and several axe chops hadn’t stopped him but Gina’s will was threatening to do it. She drew Dr. Madmask back to the lake, and hopped into the rickety boat to freedom. He followed, but he was afraid of water, as she knew from legend. Dr. Madmask stood and paced loudly on the beach as Gina slowly rowed to freedom. The End…?

Jonathon Pope, BBB
Dr. Madmask paced on the lake shore, grinning with rage. If Gina had been close enough to see his eyes it would have given the lie to his smile, but Gina had escaped.

After a moment of angry contemplation, Dr. Madmask gathered himself. He turned and began the clean-up work he despised. The remains of his victims had to disappear; missing teenagers required less attention than dead ones. He began his usual process of disposal and contemplated the weaknesses in his plan. He should have recognized Gina as a survivor.

There was still room for hope. It was a long way to the other shore; Gina might die of exposure. Perhaps that would fulfill the terms of the curse and free him from this hell. And if not, well, there would always be curious teenagers, seeking out the legend of Dr. Madmask.

K: This isn’t a rewrite – it’s the next scene. I very much want to give this its due because I like the (Cabin in the Woods-inspired?) mythology, but this begins where mine ended.
DK: I appreciate the perspective of Madmask here, although this feels more like a continuation than a rewrite.

MG: Again, this feels like a continuation, not a revision. It dovetails enough with the ending of the seed story to make it less of a rules “violation” I suppose. But aside from that, it’s really just not terribly compelling.

Sarah Wreisner, BBB
Gina crouched beneath the wind-whipped pines, steadying herself with a fractured arm. She was dizzy and half blind: her wounds were festering from Dr. Madmask’s claws.
The monster crept slowly, staggering from the axe wounds and shotgun blasts to his armored body. Gina stood, sticky with gore, desperate to stay conscious. She thought of the tattered, mutilated bodies in the cottage and stepped beneath the flashing sky. She turned her back on Dr. Madmask, facing his sole weakness: the lake and its rolling, storm-tossed waves.
She would survive.
Gina reached the fragmented boat, stepping into its water-logged belly. She pushed into dark waters with a spongy, rotten oar.
Dr. Madmask shrieked from his collapsed, destroyed mouth.
Gina drifted to the center of the lake. She was out of reach: Dr. Madmask would not dare touch the water. He buckled, collapsing as Gina’s boat swirled beneath the darkening sky.
K: “Sticky with gore?” That’s almost exactly something John Wreisner once wrote here in one particularly fantastic entry. Anyway, though this doesn’t go anywhere unexpected (besides revealing that Gina seems to be going out to the lake to die elsewhere, rather than to survive) but it’s a nice rewrite that doesn’t take liberties to go somewhere interesting. BRONZE
DK: Some strong atmospheric work here that give this one a tension and release to well surpass the original version. BRONZE
MG: This one has depth of detail and some very keen mood-setting turns of phrase. It’s like taking colored pencils to the black-on-white outline of the original story and making it something intriguing. But I felt like there could have been more depth revealed as well. Something related to the story we don’t get just from the embellishments and details here. BRONZE

Bret Highum, LNW
Doctor Madmask inexorably came onward, stepping in an oddly fastidious fashion towards Gina, the sole survivor of his rampage. A hail of bullets and several axe chops had barely slowed him while he had torn through her friends, but Gina had made a plan, knowing that the Doctor would be destroyed if he entered running water. She ran back to the river, narrowly ahead of Doctor Madmask, and hopped into the rickety boat. Gina let the current pull her to freedom, leaving Doctor Madmask pacing to and fro on the gravely beach, growling angrily. The End…?
“Lunchtime!” Susie’s mom called from the backyard porch.
Susie clapped her hands and picked up the kittens, giving the dainty calico a quick kiss and sliding the boots off the Siamese tom’s paws, humming a happy little tune as she skipped towards the house. Maybe after lunch they could play pet cemetery.
K: Ah, that’s more like it. A weird little kid who doesn’t cross over into madness. This is a twist that may not actually fit the prompt, but we’ll see how it lands when I know what it’s up against.
DK: I struggled here, in the sense that if I had five medals instead of four, this would get one. I like the idea of how to close out the original concept with a new framing, I’m just not sure the first section gives enough of a fresh take.
MG: Got a chuckle out of me, this did. Nice and small 180, and before that some good, meaty texture to the original story too. All in all it was slight, but enjoyable.

Will Young, MPUSC
The bucolic surroundings of Swanton were blanketed with investigators. Detective Adams stepped past shell casings with Gina’s statement reverberating in her head. Six covered bodies lay under trees to her left. All were missing limbs; one had also been shot. No other physical evidence was present.
Adams immediately suspected a drifter. But, she reflected, Gina’s story scratched something deep inside her memory. After Gina reached the station, she ejaculated her story in frantic spurts: A murderous campground. An escape by canoe. A white, male, and older suspect.
As Adams walked the scene and attempted to corroborate Gina’s statement, she wracked her brain.
Years before Robert Garrow denied involvement in twelve other unsolved murders. Karen Waleskowski had escaped one of those scenes by kayak. Adams was going to have to find Waleskowski. She still hoped it was a drifter, but she needed to get this itch off her mind.
K: Uh-oh…another one that just continues the story. This doesn’t deal with that scene at all, unfortunately, so as potentially engaging as it is, it doesn’t obey the rules.
DK: A lot of good writing here, and the added character perspective gives it a interesting additional take, although again for me it was a little too much of a “next chapter”.
MG: Zounds! This was a nice, slippery little piece of genre fiction. Hit all the right beats of its idiom and still harkened back to the original in some very quick, very smart ways. I like. GOLD

Jack Haas, FRH
Gina looked over her shoulder at the far shore. Her boat was leaking in multiple places and given the significant pool of water already formed, she was trying to calculate whether it would stay afloat long enough for her to reach dry land. In front of her, Dr. Madmask shouted from the shoreline, still close enough that she could see the drops of blood spraying from his lips with each incoherent word. The others would have seen the blood as weakness. For three weeks others had attacked while she had run; now the others were dead. She wasted one pull on the oars to send a spray of water toward the shoreline. It came up short, but Dr. Madmask still jumped away. Relief overwhelmed her and she couldn’t stop laughing. Water continued to flow into the boat, but it no longer mattered if the boat reached the far side.
K: This does a nice job of getting me into Gina’s head, which is really where I should be for a horror story. It gives me a look into her fatalist view and makes a more memorable mention of her devil-may-care attitude after the horror unfolded. I love the final touch with the oar. SILVER
DK: Again, taking the tack of “after she’s in the boat” when the original prompt was more leading up to that point makes it tough for me to consider this a rewrite. I like seeing Gina’s perspective in this case, though (interesting that the “sequels” all seem to take a different perspective).
MG: I like the decision to take up the story at that point in the narrative, but the piece lacked some flair that the others in this group have. There didn’t seem much immediacy to the narration and descriptions. Things felt very by-the-way.

Brian David, LNW
Madema’s fingernails sank deep into purple flesh. He squeezed, tighter and tighter, until something hit him with a dull thud. Madema let the body fall limp to the ground.
A woman stood in front of him, eyes swollen with tears and hands shaking. Madema reached up and pulled the the axe from his shoulder.
“Please. . .” he tried to say, but the words faltered and cracked.
Madema couldn’t focus. His throat was bone dry, his face itched and burned.
He lurched forward.
In the distance he could see the sun shining on the surface of the lake. The woman scrambled backwards towards a small boat. Madema clawed at his face, gripping frantically at the edges of the mask. He could smell the moisture in the air, searing his lungs.
“Please. . .please take it away.”
Collapsing into the boat, the woman pushed out into the water.

K: Oh my. This is brilliant. One story removed from saying “I should be in Gina’s head,” I get put in Madmask’s head and it’s the standout of the bunch. Nothing is out-of-bounds despite all the liberty taken with POV, and this is a solid ending for the genre – even when things are good, they’re pretty bad. GOLD

DK: Here we have a great take on the original idea that preserves the basic story while taking it in a new, more complex, interesting direction. That’s what I was hoping for. GOLD

MG: Huh. I like the liberties taken in this one…might be just on the wrong side of “too much straying from the original,” but it was still a very smart, well-written sample. Some of the verbage was confusing at the beginning too. So…nice, but stumbly. SILVER

Pete Bruzek, MPUSC

This is how it would end.

Brandon stayed behind to stop the creature – said it was the least he could do. Now his body littered the forest path. The masked being remained undeterred, Brandon’s axe still protruding from its shoulder.

“You left him to die.” Gina thought, “You’re making it worse.”

Lake Vina terminated the path. Gina peered over the dark water. Frantically, she searched for passage, gasping in joy when her search was rewarded by a small rowboat.

She could escape. It wouldn’t follow her.

With a shove, she made her way into the water. The hulking figure burst from the forest seconds later. An animal pacing the shoreline, it stared out in unfettered hatred.

“You abandonned him” the thoughts returned. She peered up the path.

“Not him.” Gina flinched.

His pride created this. Her guilt fed it, and there were plenty of demons waiting for her on the other side of the lake.

K: I wish there was a little more clarity at the end of this, because this was pretty strong in its mythology and the end suggests a story I’m pretty sure I’d read, even if the author misspelled “abandoned.” Pete, is this you? BRONZE
DK: This one also fleshes out the original bones of the story well. Drawing out Gina’s perspective and motivations gives the story a lot more depth. SILVER

MG: There’s definitely something compelling in the decision to enter into the mind of a guilty survivor. But the moment of peak fright, the second voice that makes Gina flinch, is left vague and unidentified, and as such I don’t know what I’m supposed to be flinching at. Confused, but admirable effort here. BRONZE

Zack Sauvageau, FRH
Breathe in, two, three, four. Breathe out two, three, four.
Gina hoped that her breathing was quiet enough that the masked lunatic didn’t hear her.
Breathe in, two, three, four. Breathe out two, three, four.
Her friends had tried everything to stop him. None of it worked. So she just hid. He walked right past the shed. Hiding wasn’t a long term solution.
Breathe in, two, three, four.
She sprinted to the boat began to row away from the shore. He walked to the edge of the water and stopped.
Breathe out, two, three, four.
Nothing seemed to phase him, but water made him stop in his tracks? Gina couldn’t help but laugh, “are you scared of the water? Awww poor baby!”
She hadn’t noticed the gurgle over her loudly pumping heart, but she noticed the cold water lapping against her shins.
Breathe in, two, three, four.
K: That’s “faze,” actually. I know the repeating counter has been done to death in this kind of story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t do a decent job of building tension (though it does get close to breaking the flow, given the sheer number of times it’s done). Gina’s spoken line stands out as a little strange after her harrowing ordeal, but I suppose a moment of laughing cockiness might be in order upon this realization.
DK: I admit I tend to be a sucker for these kind of repetitive structures, but they often do a good job of adding atmosphere to the process of reading a story. BRONZE
MG: The repetition here didn’t make the sort of impact I think the author wanted it to. There was some level of terror to the proceedings, but the breathing seemed to just break up the narrative into different events rather than bring them together as a whole. I admire the choice to change Gina’s fate so drastically, though.

STORY THREE – 8 Stories. 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze.
I tried to tell her it would be alright, that she’d find someone else, that I wasn’t worth it. She cried and then I did. It was going to be hard. She told me she’d move on and that she was going to be alright. I agreed despite her previous reliance on pills for depression. We were breaking up but there was a world of possibilities out there. If you love someone, set them free. We did.
Colin Woolston, LNW

I cut her deeper than we were used to; my hand slipped, slick with sweat and eager with passion. The blood welled up over my hands, and her screams sounded different than normal. Her eyes were bright with anger. I don’t think I had ever seen her truly angry before. It was beautiful.
A shift in the atmosphere of the room broke the moment, then, and I realized that I had been a fool. I had put so much work into our relationship and had loved her so well, and all it took was one mistake for her to stop caring. I knew, then, that it was over.
Neither of us wanted to be the one to end what had seemed so precious and rare only moments before, but, if you love someone, you have to set them free. I grabbed my scalpel, and held her for one last time.

K: Am I getting desensitized to this? Some of these twists come along so often that they unfortunately get judged against everything that came before. It does do a pretty good job of keeping enough of the original story, though, and that’s fairly impressive given the attack on this.
DK: Great dark spin on the idea here. This hits the right level of revealing the narrator’s perspective to make it particularly disturbing. SILVER

MG: This was a hefty undertaking, giving us a tale of crazed captor and tortured victim. I admire your attempt to deliver us the mind of an insane person, seeing his victim through the lens of pure love. But that middle paragraph really feels like it rushes the denouement, and it sort of works against you.

Tom Morgan, FRH

People tell me all the time that it was brave of me to leave Jessica. Idiots. I even punched one asshole in the face when he said that I’d “set her free” out of love. The fact is I knew what she’d do. Many of the problems we’d been having were because she had gone off her Lexapro—and after she spent 5 days in bed, getting out only to use the bathroom, I didn’t think I could take anymore. But I knew what she’d do if I left.

Yes, she’d tried to make me feel okay about dumping her; yes, she’d said she’d be fine and knew she’d meet someone else eventually; yes, she was even able to make a joke.

“Maybe we can go on a double date someday!” she had said with a giggle.

But I knew.

K: Here’s another one that tells the story much later; the scene is related in passing as present day is much different. It’s not quite as much of a cheat as some of the others, possibly, as we do look back at the scene a little more.

DK: This is another one I can kind of see straddling the line. More of a post-perspective of the present events. It’s an improvement, although some others have extra takes that make them even more interesting.

MG: But I didn’t know. The author seems to not be telling us some essential detail that would give this piece the weight it seems to hold for the narrator. You can hint at something only so much before you gotta fess up.

Shawn Ashley, MPUSC

He pulled the door to the shed open, forcing her to blink her emotionless eyes against the musty light.
He shoved his large frame through the doorway; a bull in a china shop.
“Today’s the day.” His soft voice didn’t fit his massive size.
She nodded.
He took out the bottle and shook a few into his palm, handing them to her.
She reached and took them, chains clanking. She nodded-swallowing- no expression.
“You’ll find someone else…Once you turned thirteen, you were too old but I didn’t have the heart to let you go…now… If you love someone, set them free.”
Her eyes flicked to the door, a hint of something in them this time. “It will be alright,” came her voice, hoarse from lack of usage. “I will be ok.” A tear fell down her dirty cheek.
“Yes, there is a whole world out there, Becca.”
Wasn’t she hoping.
K: If you’d asked me what I expected from the group when I wrote the stories, this is almost exactly what I would have come up with. It could have broken some of the predictability with using some of the lines in more of a subtext-laden manner, but it was pretty straightforward.

DK: Like this one. Again, taking a dark turn makes this original idea much richer. Or much more terrifying. GOLD
MG: Another prisoner being released, this time with a salacious element of child servitude to it. I like the style this one assumes, and how well it handles starting in the middle. BRONZE

Leif Bierly, LNW

I did my default break-up monologue, reciting the usual empty bullshit about how she would be alright. Her mechanical response was normal. She’d be okay, she’d move on.
Then she left, and I think we had a moment.
I heard sobbing as she went to her car. She even stopped a couple times to catch her breath. Hideous howls of pain. Hideous. Like I had stomped on some poor animal’s chest and it really had to work to let me know it couldn’t breathe through the hurt.
It was strangely melancholy.
She wasn’t going to be okay. She’d be in therapy for the rest of her life, taking pills so that she could continue her terribly normal life, showing true emotion only to the public.
I wiped a tear and looked at it, wondering if we’d ever see each other again.
Maybe I was wrong.
I hope we’ll be okay.

K: This one started grabbing me from “Then she left, and I think we had a moment.” The lifelong…player?…asshole?…goes through some real character progression in a very small space, and I always fall for such things. SILVER

DK: I do really like that stomping comparison. That captures the feeling of this situation, and particularly the sense of that kind of reaction nicely.

MG: Okay, amid all the twisty endings and reinterpretations, this might be the biggest (and most successful) risk of the challenge. Very smart, very honestly felt emotion here. Captures that uncertainty that always crowds out certainty when a relationship is ended. Hats off. GOLD

Rusty Greene, MPUSC

On opposite sides of the glass, we lifted our phones. Blue eyes stared at me. My throat tightened. She squinted and brought her hand to her mouth as her body began to tremble.
“It’s alright,” I whispered. “I’m not worth it.” The sound of her sobs filled my ear. I wanted to hold her. I didn’t want a last meal. I wanted to hold my wife. She looked up, took a deep breath, winced, and let it out.
“I’ll be fine,” she struggled. Those broken eyes again and a weak smile. “I’ll be alright.”
“I know,” I lied. Tomorrow, I would be dead and her despair would be complete. The medication she had trusted to get her this far would be the punch line to a cruel and stupid joke. “I love you,” I said and then watched her crumble.
She had the world. Mine was ending.

K: Oy. This one goes for the manipulative tears and pretty much succeeds, falling short of schmaltz. This one fits like a glove thanks to the best use of “I’m not worth it.” A strong, moving scene. GOLD

DK: Sometimes all it takes is a particular setting where there was none before to make something hit a different level of effectiveness. Here there is a real sense of poignancy and loss due to the situation this author adds. BRONZE

MG: Another big risk undertaken well, and I admire the imagination it took to take the author this far afield from the original story. That final line kind of curled my lip a bit, just a smidgen too cliched to fit snugly at the end of such a good piece. SILVER

Sama Smith, BBB

Her usually spiky hair was plastered in jagged edges around her face. I brought her in from the freezing rain.

I guided her inside and shut the door. She dropped her rum on the floor. It landed with a thud at her feet as she sank down next to it. Her sobs bounced around the boxed up apartment. I peeled duct tape off my shoe. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. I knew she needed an out too.

“It was a boy,” she whispered.

I swiped at my burning eyes. I wasn’t gonna cry again. Not this time.

She glanced around, “Any parting gifts?”

Her red-rimmed eyes flamed at me. I handed her the bottle of pills.

She grabbed the rum with the other hand and looked satisfied.

I walked out the door knowing soon we’d both be free.

K: Jesus. This one has some balls. I do wish there had been more words to play with here, though maybe the terseness of the scene is part of what makes it so strong. Bravely done. BRONZE

DK: This was a close one, since the added detail and descriptions gave the original idea a good punch. If you want to blame someone else, I suggest #8.

MG: Well now. That’s certainly an ENDING. Harrowing stuff, bravely presented. BRONZE

Christina Pepper, BBB

I can still taste Lissa on my lips when Janelle confronts me in her dorm room.

“What were you thinking?” she shrieks.

“I guess it’s over,” I mumble. “You deserve someone better.”

“Uh-huh,” she blubbers, throwing her arms around me.

This isn’t going the way I’d planned. I think about when Muffy got hit by a car when I was eight and squeeze out a few tears.

“Look at us,” she sobs. “I’ll find a way to move on. Somehow.”

She lets go of me and pulls a pill bottle from the depths of her underwear drawer. “Good thing I still have a few of my happy drugs left,” she says as a smile crosses her blotchy face.

“You know what they always say: there’s lots of other fish in the sea,” I say as somberly as I can. Then I make a break for the door.

K: This one seems a bit cheeky for the prompt. You’d get away with it if you went all the way with comedy, but it just doesn’t hit big enough laughs to quite get there.

DK: This is a pretty amusing take on the situation. I had to laugh at the college bro struggling to fake emotion by thinking of his dead cat.

MG: Yeah, this guy’s a real piece of work. Again, an interesting angle from which to attack this one, but the prose felt clunky and the girl’s emotions ricocheted from extreme to extreme, it seems. This might be a victim of brevity.

Annette Barron, FRH

It started with a bruised foot. I gave her Bute to help with the pain and get her through the day. One night, I invited her to stay in my little shack, rather than returning to her flock. It was a magical time for us.

Lately I’ve noticed her eyeing another. Perhaps her hormones are bigger than the both of us. She craves motherhood and I can’t give her what she needs. It’s time. . . I’m ready. It’s not like I haven’t also been looking around. Another sweet little thing has been showing up at my place, looking for whatever scraps of attention I can throw her way. Still, letting go won’t be easy.

She bawls when I tell her it’s over. But when I open the door, a small swat on her wooly rump is all it takes to send her out of my life.

K: This one tells me where it’s headed right away, but the not-so-subtleties work and the comedy trusts itself to come through the situation. This may have some too-stiff competition to really bring it home, but I grinned, which was a nice finisher for a fairly dark week. BRONZE

DK: Never mind that stuff I said before about being too desensitized. Geez. BRONZE

MG: It’s not a writing competition until someone fucks a sheep. (Luke, 4:17)

—————————————————————-

Alright. After all the darkness and grotesque turns, who ended up on the bottom?

Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis: 6/6/6/5/5/6/9 = 43/7 = 6.14
Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 3/7/0/13/3/8 = 34/6 = 5.67
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 0/5/3/1/0/2 = 11/6 = 1.83 (four scorers)
Big Brass…Band: 0/6/0/3/2/0 = 11/6 = 1.83 (three scorers)

Oy. That’s a harsh way to be the only voters. Well, the Hymenators live to fight another day, while Big Brass…Band must vote someone out by Saturday night at 9pm Central. I don’t remember anyone on that team expressing that this would be difficult to get done, so we’ll keep things moving and I’ll put up a challenge tomorrow night – possibly late, as I close tomorrow.

Cheers, Survivors. We’ll lay out tiebreak situations like this more clearly as we go.

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