See, the thing about a slate of fantastic stories is that we inevitably leave out ones we really like. More than once you’ll see us praise stories that we ended up giving no medals. A significant number of all-time greats are in here, I think. At any rate, the top half or more of these stories make it one of the better weeks Survivor’s ever had – particularly at this early stage.

I seriously can’t believe I had to deny medals to some of these.

Joe Harrell, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

“And the way you catch the light
And the care
And the feeling
And the life
Moving on”
Kenny is downstage right, the blinding spotlight in his eyes.
Dot misses her line and the orchestra fades away. He tries not to appear ruffled as he holds his gaze to the back of the theatre.
“We will always belong together,” he sings.
No applause. No change in lights. He lowers his head and waits for Dot to say something. Or for the lights to change or the audience to react.
“Dot?” he says, still looking down.
No response.
“Dot?” he yells and looks upstage in her direction. Walking towards where she once was, where she should be, he remembers the words of the freak fan who approached him at the stage door: “Only those with a true love of the theatre will survive!”
He turns to the audience. It’s empty.

K: Hmm. This is Kelly-bait. It worked. It surprises me, in retrospect, that so few people exploit my love of the stage. I kind of like the “last man on Earth’s” conviction that he should continue on in the wake of the end of the world. I suppose it’s what I’d do. SILVER

DK: I like this concept a lot, since it’s so different from many of the others, and I like the way the staging sets up its reveals. SILVER

MG: An interesting idea, and I think the way the solitude was revealed to the character was an intriguing one. But the immediacy of the opening sort of got smudged by the author’s need to explain things to the reader at the end. Leaving the ending open to interpretation might’ve helped a bit here. Plus, the explanation seems jammed-in, when it might not have been necessary.

Sarah Bizek, Big Brass…Band

She sat next to the emaciated corpse of her lover. She’d watched his lips pucker and crack.

For day, she’d watched him die. He’d refused food or drink, offering it all to her, that the life growing within her may be a new beginning.

When the fire began to fall, they had managed to climb down a manhole into the stagnant filth of the sewers, licking droplets from the wet stone walls for hydration. The screaming stopped and the quaking stilled. They climbed up to a sweltering nothing ness. At least they had each other.

But she saw no way of surviving on her own. Worse, she had no will to survive. She resented the fetus. Love meant nothing anymore.

She made the decision quickly and plunged his butcher knife into her womb until the quickening stopped. Tears on her cheeks, blood oozing slowly, she waited for death to come.

K: Even for an end of humanity story, that was pretty damned bleak. The emotion didn’t hit me as much as it could have thanks to some station to station storytelling, if you feel me. A lot was crammed in, and the backstory could have been sacrificed to give us more time with her decision.

DK: I can’t blame you guys for going all out dark, since this prompt was begging for it, but it makes it harder for many stories to stand out. This one does have some nice imagery in it (I like the description of licking the walls).

MG: The way this story was organized rubs me wrong. It’s front-loaded with a powerhouse image, and then the rest feels less and less vivid. It’s almost like the author saved the deeply-felt writing for their underground survival, and just offhandedly mentioned how the woman felt as things progressed. That’s emphasizing the details I don’t care as much about.

Leif Bierly, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

Having completeth the heavens and the earth, and setting upon them such bountiful creations of flora abundant, and such fish and birds beautiful and marvelous, God deemed it good. His labours did not endeth, however; He took thought to man, and gathered the dust of the earth at His Holy Feet, and fashioned a man in His own image. Yet the soil He used was contaminated with plutonium, and thus the man sickened anon.

“My lord and creator, why hast thou done this, to create me, man, with dust radioactive?” asked man to God.

“Aw, shit,” God spake.

Therefore God caused a mountain vast and terrible to be uprooted from the earth, and he placed the rock on top of His creation. God then created music with his Holy breath, and whistled this new music as he walked to his wondrous creation of Eden, and thenceforth used better dust thither.

K: I loved the hell out of this by the end simply for the commitment to the language. The only change I can think of that I’d make is to take “Aw” out of God’s line. That’s the biggest nitpick I’ve ever made on one of these. Anyway, I laughed a lot at this. SILVER

DK: Pretty amusing, although the inconsistency of the language devices kind of annoyed me more than entertained me.

MG: Cute, and certainly clever, but I was hoping for something more biting or satirical after so much grandiose verbage.

Pete Bruzek, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

When the Calming came, only those expecting were spared. The children came stillborn, every last one of them, and soon the mothers became still themselves. Not Lynnette.

She had cracked the code. The act of carrying a child was enough to hold off the Calming, but the effect faded a couple of months after the inevitable miscarriage. Then she found out something else.

She had hooked him up to a feeding tube and kept him in a state resembling “alive”. Certain bodily functions still worked for becalmed people. His soul was lost; his body retained some use.

This was Lynnette’s fifth. It would soon perish, like the other four had. She had decided not to name this one, just like she had done with the last two. A row of headstones in the front yard testified to that promise’s futility.

She sat on her porch, sipped her coffee, and stared into the distance.

K: Which raises the question: why continue to live this life? Because humans prefer to survive, I suppose. Lynette lives a horrible existence, I suppose, but she’s so accustomed to it that I feel oddly…calm along with her. Casual horror. I love this stuff. Mark it in your brains if you want to exploit me. GOLD

DK: I think this is among my favorites of the ones here that explore pregnancy at the end of the world. Using it as a method to keep oneself alive is the kind of darkness with depth and complexity that resonates. GOLD

MG: This one packs a punch, albeit a soft one, since it comes across as a telling rather than a showing. And I wonder: how did she manage to get her womb to pump out more “anti-calming-agents” when she was the last one left? (Maybe I don’t want to know.) SILVER

Rusty Greene, MPUSC

Charred husks of gutted buildings littered the skyline like rotten teeth.
Women had been easy; ripped apart and smeared across storefront windows. Children had been easier; plucked from jungle gyms and vaporized in smoky tractor beams. Men had been tapped like maple trees until they withered.
Then he was the only one left.
They fed like clockwork.
Rick awoke to a familiar wet thump on the pavement outside his dumpster. A pale, fleshy tube wriggled under the lid and inched toward him, leaving a trail of sloppy ooze. It snorted with one wet orifice and flexed, sensing his cock.
Rick moaned as the quivering hole cocooned his growing head and then undulated to the root, stretching to accommodate his increasing girth. It began to feast, slurping him in patient, rhythmic strokes. Rick convulsed and gushed a thick, white, ropy load inside.
They needed human seed. The takeover hinged on it.

K: Holy fucking frijoles. I will not forget the images in this one. The audacity to even write this piece is enough to get my attention, but the gruesome and frank details really brought it home. This is raw and disgusting, and I love it so. GOLD

DK: Phew, some nice, graphic descriptions here at least. Seems like the takeover already went pretty well, though, doesn’t it?

MG: So this is that “Fifty Shades of Gray” thing everyone’s been gabbing about. Well now, this is some thickly vomitous stuff right here, but for sheer fearlessness and utter devotion to this revolting idea from the beginning to the (ugh) bitter end, I gotta give the author props. FROM A DISTANCE. BEHIND A LATEX BARRIER. BRONZE

Sama Smith, BBB

The hallucinations started yesterday. At first I thought I heard a child’s laughter in the velvet blue horizon, but saw only barrenness. Alone in this new wasteland; nothing but sour dirt and unyielding sun.

Morning.

I sat up to the familiar emptiness and saw it–something poking out of the ground near my feet. A child’s arm and hand waving from underground. I reached out feeling flesh, skin and bone. I screamed and cursed as I clawed at the ground. Soon a sizable hole formed, but no progress.

The waving slowed. Fear gripped me. My hands bled and the arm stopped, laying limp, fingers rigid.

I held it, crying and dry heaving. I had to let go of those tiny, pudgy fingers. Kissing each one gently, my hot tears splashed down. I sank into sleep.
——-
Morning.
“Honey, come home,” my husband pleaded. “I knew we shouldn’t have buried him here.”

K: Cripes, this is some strong imagery this week. I like that this works in the case that the character is mad, and it works just as well if the child is real and this is how the world works. Another nice bit of darkness here. SILVER

DK: Looking back on this from an intellectual level, it seems like this should’ve grabbed me more than it did. The picture of the hand sticking up from the ground is certainly a powerful one for this context.

MG: Hot carrots, this one is a kick in the nards. Striking words and matter-of-fact, strong descriptions. We’re going nuts right along with the protagonist, and that’s the kind of feeling a story like this SHOULD convey: put us into the terror of the situation, rather than keep us at (forgive me) arm’s distance. GOLD

Sarah Wreisner, BBB

The clouds, sparkling dreamily with blue-green disinfectant, roll in from the military base. They were too late: a fat, chemical haze hangs over the dead farm animals. They bloat and deflate but nothing will pick at their flesh. The air smells like bleach and scorched hair.
The sky is wiped clean of its birds and airplanes; the factory stopped clanging a few weeks ago. I found a baby raccoon trapped in a drained pool. I’ve taken her in. I think we’re the last ones left.
Cars filled with spoiled groceries and decaying housewives are scattered on the highways. I drove to Columbus but everyone was dead. I came back.
The water’s still good. I have food and the electricity is working – this morning, a telephone was ringing across the street. I smashed the window but it stopped before I got in. Maybe I’m not the only one.

K: Though this doesn’t have the raw power of some before it, I do appreciate the ringing phone. That’s the kind of horror imagery I hoped I’d get with these, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed yet.

DK: I liked the note this ends on very much. The telephone ringing in the middle of desolation – simple, but very effective. BRONZE

MG: This definitely feels like a good reduction of a very good approach to this topic. The details are very nicely drawn out, but the ending is tacked-on and feels like it deserved a little space to breathe. Once again, blame the word limit as much as the author.

Will Young, MPUSC

I sharpen my spear on a rock. I have made lots. Each time I improve. I change the wood. And the angle. And length. Many things. This keeps me busy.

With my spear, I hunt. Again, I try new things. I change the time of day. The animals. Avoid sharp fangs and claws. My mind remains active.

Life is difficult. It is difficult alone. No companions. No reason to talk. No communication. I lose many words. I remember the others, but not clearly. Memories now dull. Nothing sharp anymore.

I sharpen my spear.

K: When there’s nobody left to do things with, do we all just do what we were best at? The bullet-quick prose almost made me assume I was listening to an animal’s speech, or a simple person’s, as I’ve seen that trope used before. It’s an okay idea that unfortunately didn’t take me far enough.

DK: This concept works on a logical level, while for whatever reason it makes it a little tougher to stay interested in the character, since not much is going on other than demonstrating the decline of mental function.

MG: It feels a bit cheap to want more from this story, as it elegantly lays out how world-shrinking the devolution of the solitary human mind would feel like. But there’s still a sense of rushing things. I think it’s a question of scope: the terse stories laying out small frames of time deliver a sense of urgent desperation, and the ones that try to tell a broader story feel squished and compacted. Still, this one was one of the better compacted ones. SILVER

Melissa Diamond, FRH

Breathe.
Muscles twitch. The body feels heavy. Air tickles the hair upon legs and chest.
The thoughts.
They are inside, made of nothing and yet heavy. Filled with meaning. Nose and mouth have never smelled or tasted, but the thoughts know what to call these things anyway. They name the salt-water scent in the air; the dust on the tongue.
Open your eyes.
The sun is bright. The sky is…
Blink. Let the eyes water.
Blink.

The sky is…blue.
I stand. Joints pop, legs hesitate. I wipe dried clay from my skin. Clumps fall to the earth where my body has left marks. Heels had dug in. Fingers had clawed. I count bird trails and snake skins but no signs of another struggle like mine. The first experiment. A failed one?
My thoughts feel darker. They hurt.
I am.
I am alone.

K: …Adam, is that you? I wondered if we’d get this, even if it’s not strictly what was requested (he’s the only, but not the last…but I’ll take it). This probably wouldn’t have caught my attention but the inner monologue was rather strong, and overcame my potential apathy toward the idea. BRONZE

DK: Here I liked the implications suggested by the way thoughts come to this character, as well as just the way it unfolds those thoughts along the way. BRONZE

MG: Another one that seems to reach a little further than it can grasp. These repetitive internal/external rhythmic tricks is becoming a motif this season (I wonder if it’s the same author each time). This time it’s not quite effective, and the staccato style feels self-important rather than expressive.

Christina Pepper, BBB

Bury Randall’s body?

PROS
CONS

It’s something to do.
Requires significant energy expenditure.
Will prevent animals from scavenging his remains.
Corpse could be used to distract animals while I leave the compound. (To go where?)
Surely I owe him at least this much.
Why bother with empty rituals when no one is left?
There’s still God.
How can I believe in God after all that’s happened?
Without belief, you have nothing.
Handling his body could make me sick.
Unlikely. The scientists on the news (remember news?) said a lucky few might have a mutation that confers immunity.
Lucky? Everyone I’ve ever known or loved is dead.
Yes, and that man buried your children.
Don’t talk about my children.
Their wounds festered. They cried out in anguish. When you offered water, they turned away. You held pillows to their faces when you couldn’t take it any longer.
Leave me alone.

K: I really am impressed that you guys can take a pitch-black prompt and make it even blacker. I enjoyed the fact that this one started out so whimsically – it gave the closing moments their due. SILVER

DK: You do something wildly different from everyone else, and you pull it off interestingly and effectively, and you’ll probably do pretty well with me score-wise. Among things I enjoyed, the way the lists turn into an argument is great. GOLD

MG: In all likelihood, I’d reward this one for being such an original approach to a tough, potentially repetitive challenge. But in fact I can also give it credit for managing to be one of the more heartfelt and affecting stories this go ‘round. Well done. GOLD

Brooks Maki, LNW

Gamepiece: One time machine.
The machine wound down as Charles bounced impatiently inside, sure he had won. That man had Joshua’s eyes. Or was it the other way around?
Death eliminates any future direct descendents.
Moving slowly away from the machine Charles called out, “Joshua?” The world was empty. That had taken entirely too long. A few effective misdirections had led to some spectacular results. Charles totaled up the kills. 4,004,576,234 – 3,128,003,573 both easily smashing the previous record.
Last man standing is responsible for cleanup.
Charles stepped out of the machine to see himself and Joshua just finishing their handshake. Binding his older self hand and foot, he smirked, “Alright, I’ve had your fun. No genocide for you.” He imagined he could hear the whole of human history sighing back into existence.
Winner Sticks.
The machine reappeared in the lab. Charles beckoned to a line of interns. “Who’s next?”

K: Hilarious. Surely this will go wrong for the scientists at some point, but until then this is a divine black comedy. Who knew the end of the world didn’t have to be the end of the world? This writer, apparently. GOLD

DK: Another pretty fun spin on the concept. The mind-bending of time travel back-and-forth keeps me interested throughout. SILVER

MG: I tried reading this one a few times, and I wish I understood it better. “I’ve had your fun” must be an intentional restating of the expected, right? How are they keeping track of the deaths? What are the interns doing there, And what does “Winner Sticks” mean? Look, I like a good time paradox tale, and I’m pretty sure I understand about 80% of Primer, but this one has me flummoxed.

Rex Ogle, MPUSC

Johan walked through the canyons of dead buildings, startled only by the sudden whistle of wind blowing through the carcass of a bus. What had once been the heart of a nation was now a skeletal metropolis housing only ashes. As with the other cities he had seen, there was no life here. At last count, over six hundred inked incisions scarred his right arm and leg—so over two years—and he had yet to see another living creature.

“Daddy?” a voice cooed gently behind him. He turned. A knee-high, pink teddy bear padded softly towards him. “I want a hug, daddy,” the bear said. Behind it, more pastel-colored bears appeared, hundreds of them. Johan froze. There was nowhere to run. “I want a hug, Daddy,” each of them cooed, created a horrific cadence as they bared their razor-sharp jagged teeth. “Hug me.”

K: Huh. I can’t decide on this one. Surely Johan would have known about the evil Teddy Ruxpins before this, right? Can this be a revelation to him? Also, how is “over six hundred incisions” over two years (which is 730 days)? Is he on metric time? I kid this story. It’s fine enough, but it just doesn’t have the power of what came before. It’s odd when a story about evil teddy bears isn’t weird enough to stick in a guy’s head.

DK: I don’t know if I really should score this high, but every time I think of those bears I start laughing again, so here you go. SILVER

MG: aaaaaaAAAAAAGGGGHH!!! Super creepy! Excellent use of the limitations of the word count, giving a sense of a span of time, a lot of desolation, and enough solitude to make the appearance of the Zombie Ruxpins truly unnerving. Taut little piece here, fella. (Not the same kind of taut little piece from that earlier one about the guy in the dumpster PLEASE LET THAT IMAGE LEAVE MY HEAD!!!) GOLD

Tom Morgan, FRH

Aaron didn’t wake up one day and know he was the last guy on earth. There was a lot of walking around and yelling and stuff. Then there was terror, perhaps not surprisingly. But before too long he realized there was nothing left to be scared of, and found that quite nice. There were ups and downs naturally, but he didn’t dwell on them too much.

“I will say this,” he said to himself one day, “It is a helluva thing to be the only man on earth, and an anxious man by nature, who had found that the only thing that soothed him was counting how many times he said ‘Hello’ in a day.”

K: This story is goofier than a pet coon. Is that a saying? I heard it growing up but I never thought it made a ton of sense. The casual intro here could be really funny if punched up a bit, though I think even then it’s more of an opening to a long story than an entire one. It made me smile, but it’s half-exposition and half…a guy saying something?

DK: This was very close, cause I really appreciated the tone here, and the idea that after some indeterminate length of time he says that to himself was pretty funny.

MG: Slight, but obviously purposely so. It’s interesting that we’ve yet to see a story that dwells on the loneliness of solitude, rather than the terrors that accompany it. I do think this story was a little too generically-written to truly connect, but that final line is a killer.

Roman Feeser, MPUSC

Color flushed Snow White’s face as the Prince gently chewed on one of the pristine pink flaps of her pussy. She yanked his blonde locks shoving his face below her untamed black pubes. The queen was dead and life was good. “Cum on my face you ivory cunt,” he mumbled. CRASH! The fantasy was suddenly halted. A loud noise behind the cottage interrupted her finger vaulting. Who the fuck was that? she thought. It’s nobody. Must be a rock falling from the mountain beside the cottage. The dwarfs and Prince had been dead for a year now from the Bambi Deer Flu. Everyone was dead, except for her and she’d barely survived herself. Happily ever after? She pushed down her dirty torn yellow skirt and grimaced. Better find dinner before it’s dark. She exited the cottage unaware of the ominous dark figure lurking in the distance. It too was hungry.

K: I don’t even know what to say to this. It certainly throws enough at me to shock me, but I simply can’t decide if it was too much story in too little space to really get at me. As weird as this is, I have to somewhat ignore content and say that my only real issue with it is that it was a quick “here’s a shitload of stuff that happened” rather than a single story. But I’ll remember it at the end – I’ll give it that.

DK: I think I found the explicitness here a bit much, even for us. Making Snow White the last survivor was worth a smirk, though.

MG: Jesus, you guys. Are you all not getting enough at home? What the hell. Okay, this one danced around on that fine line between prurience and humor, and sometimes it did so quite nimbly. I think it resulted in the sleaze being too silly, and the thrill being too downplayed, but it was an interesting path to take for this challenge.

Margaret Martin, LNW

Another lifeless forest. Martha raced, branches slapping her face. She heard dogs scavenging in the distance. Howling, hungry. No one left to eat.

She readied the ax, preparing to hack through the old cabin door.

George scanned the woods. Impossible! A woman was coming fast, pursued by the pack of infected hounds on the highway.

He squinted. Sweet Jesus! Martha. Of course she’d remember the cabin. He opened the door, repeatedly urging her to come. Long-dead memories crawled to life as she stumbled into the cabin: people, words, come.

“George?” She drew jagged breaths as he secured the door. “How? The dogs – it’s been years. I thought… I came for the guns.”

“Shh. I’m glad you’re here.” His arm coiled around her waist and he pulled her in, wetting his sticky, fleshy lips.

Growling, she jerked away and split his skull with the ax. “I came for the guns.”

K: Wait…am I to believe that she has no interest in the only other person on Earth after all this time? The last bit is supposed to work as a shocker but I just raised a doubtful eyebrow. It killed whatever momentum this one had.

DK: I think I ended up wondering about the context of these characters more than I was supposed to. I also kind of wanted the “no one left to eat” line to refer to Martha herself, and not the dogs (maybe it does).

MG: “People, words, come.” Was that a typo, or intentional? Cos man…I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean in that context. In any case, this was a nice approach to the topic, even if it sort of skirts the “last person” idea by immediately giving us two people. Still, it rings true that this would be Martha’s reaction after years of running. BRONZE

Shawn Ashley, MPUSC

Frito skipped up to the top of the hill and paused, using his sling shot on an unsuspecting bird. He ran to shove its still-warm body in his sack for later.
Ever since he could remember, he had been alone on this planet. He had never seen anyone else that looked like him. He only called himself “Frito” because he liked the name of a bag of crunchy, salty things he had found in one of the abandoned buildings.
He had only been about five years old then. He couldn’t remember before that.
He learned to speak from little round discs called, “Jerky Boys”, as it was written, and he commonly referred to things as “pepperoni tits” and would often announce to the world that he was “a fucking diva”.
He didn’t know life with other people. It didn’t matter. For now, he was just going to cook his bird.
K: I like Frito more as a character that ends up meeting other people…I’d love to see him interact with well-adjusted people his own age. As the last person on Earth, his story is somewhat amusing, though perhaps not amusing enough in a swell stack of stories.
DK: The details here kind of balance between listing facts and developing the character for me, and they feel a little more on the side of the former than the latter.
MG: Interesting idea to give us a survival story that allows us to find humor in the recontextualization of things like Fritos and prank call comedians. But it feels a little pat. The story essentially asks us, “hey, given what we know about the following pop culture tropes, wouldn’t this be weird?” To which the answer is “yeah…but so what?”

Jack Haas, FRH

My husband and I were the last, but then he said he loved me in a way that he never sounded like before when the world was a living thing. This morning he was gone like the others, not dead that I can tell, just missing, and I wonder if he knew he was going? If he did, then I’m angry he didn’t tell me how he did it and why didn’t he take me with him. If he couldn’t take me with him, then I’m scared because the kicking in my belly is getting stronger, and when you’re the last one leaving someone behind isn’t an option.

K: Running short on time? Abandonment from the only other person on Earth is a hell of a story idea – I wish this had given it its due.

DK: Among the ones dealing with pregnancy this is one that doesn’t achieve much liftoff or distinction for me.

MG: This is barely a story…maybe more than barely, but it’s still somewhat less than what other pieces have offered. And yet, in its stream of consciousness delivery, there’s something quite compelling. It’s like a shortcut into the slippery mind of the speaker, and that’s an interesting perspective to take given the elements of the situation presented. BRONZE

Annette Barron, FRH

I wandered listlessly through the dark hospital hallways. The smell wasn’t bad, considering the remains that littered the green linoleum tiles. Bodies decompose a lot faster than I ever considered and these were at least four months old. I headed down the hall marked “SURGERY.”

At first, while everyone was dying around me, I was desperate to stay away from the sick. But whatever superbug was devastating the populace didn’t touch me. When I discovered the pregnancy, I thought maybe it had saved me. Still, after three months of wandering down I-5, I haven’t seen any others.

When the baby stopped moving for more than a month, I waited to miscarry. Then I tried the morning after pill. Nothing. How long before sepsis sets in? Do I have the guts to try and help myself and will I just end up bleeding to death? I have to try.

K: On one hand I want to see the payoff, and on the other, if we had, this would have felt awfully rushed. As far as the depictions of isolation go, this one was among those that grabbed me the most, as the character has clearly grown to live with the loneliness. The story on the whole didn’t come together for me, but we have the start of something good here.

DK: Somewhat similar feeling here, although the descriptions of wandering through the hospital have some good punch to them.

MG: Pregnancy appears to be on the mind of a lot of our Survivors in tonight’s challenge. I like how this one lets us into the world as it is, even though it’s really just straightforward narration. The fact that the biggest reality isn’t handed to us on a silver platter might have something to do with how well this worked for me.

Beau, LNW

The mutated virus was designed to move quickly. It did. Within eight months, every primate within 150 miles of a metropolis was dead. It was designed to be carried by the rain. It did. Within three years, it had reached every remote area on Earth. It was designed to self-destruct after five years. It did.

The cryogenic chamber of Dr. Jesus DeJesus was designed to reanimate him after five years, two days (just to be safe). It did.

With his usual aplomb, he confirmed the security of his station, verified the success of the virus, and consumed a peanut butter sandwich. Six minutes and fifty-two seconds into his new life, his dream was almost complete.

With trepidation, he entered the Nursery. Still humming away were two-hundred cryogenic chambers, each containing a woman deemed genetically superior. His genetically enhanced sex organ was designed to triumph at this very moment. It…didn’t.

K: I can’t stop giggling at this. This is one of the best tragedies we’ve ever had, and one of the most pathetic characters. DeJesus’s commitment to a new world where he’s awesome followed by a wave of death that does nothing but lead to his own failure…this is triggering all my funny fuses. GOLD

DK: Honestly, reading this one after those two is when I wondered if my gendered perspective was excessively skewing my judgment of these, since I found almost all of this one really funny and interesting as a concept. SILVER

MG: Cue that sad trombone! This one was a hoot, acknowledging its own jokey elements as it went along, right up to that last dry punchline. I giggled.

Colin Woolston, LNW

The 0600 ration is in the yellow pouch. Four minutes in the hydro and then one in the bowl.
Chew your food thoroughly. Drink your water after you’re done eating. Wash your hands a b c d e f g h i don’t think of Katrina j k l rinse and dry.
Clean the dishes and sweep the yard. Give the all clear and check the radio all signals all stations are dead air every fucking day. Stop. Breathe.
The 1900 gin is in the drum. Three olives and one sprig of rosemary in the glass.
Let the feelings pass through. Take your medicine on time. 2100 is lights on, barriers down every night or they will come with teeth and talons they took her they take everything everyone is gone. Stop. Breathe.
Don’t think of Katrina.
Sleep.
Open your eyes.
Breathe.

K: We’ve had a lot of people over the years use this kind of broken language to get across a descent into madness or hopelessness, and typically it works. The teeth and talons suggests something I wish I could spend more time with (in print only), but I appreciate the different attack. BRONZE

DK: Sharp and effective, using this device to unveil the circumstances for this character worked really well, and it’s easy to get interested through the way the thoughts spin forward and get pulled back. GOLD

MG: This is one of those times when an addled narrative style really serves the story well. It feels like something mid-70s Harlan Ellison would stick into the middle of one of his short works. I really dug this one, and it dug its talons into me. GOLD

Zack Sauvageau, FRH

Xasthur, Impaler of Noobs, had frequently dreamed of a world he alone could rule. His first proclamation would be changing his stupid name from Richard. That was three months ago, now.

Xasthur had expected that in his world there would be plenty of pretty girls to fuck and jerks who made fun of him to smite. No such luck. It was just him. With no one around to fuck or smite, let alone make him pizza, things were boring.

His routine as sole owner and ruler of the world was a lot like his old one. He spent a lot of time alone in the basement cursing those who wronged him, despite the fact he was the only one left. When he wasn’t doing that he masturbated. A lot.

It’s lonely at the top.

K: At first I was annoyed, but now I’m convinced it’s kind of awesome that this story was bold enough that it didn’t even bother to tell me how the world ended. If Xasthur doesn’t care, why should I? Xasthur is so awful and unlikeable I should hate this, but the idea that a guy is such a total loser and sociopath that the end of the world doesn’t largely change his living situation kind of makes me chuckle. BRONZE

DK: I have to admit I liked the parallel of a guy who might be a little cut off from the world anyway getting actually cut off from the world. And the title “Impaler of Noobs”. BRONZE

MG: Another sad trombone, please! Yeah, the curse of the basement-dwelling nerd is that one day all who have wronged him WILL be gone. And eventually the world runs out of Mountain Dew. BRONZE

Bret Highum, LNW

Surrounded by the flock, I watch the starship dropping, balancing on a spear of flame. Unwanted tears run down my weathered cheeks, and I can’t help but wish that I still believed in a god to pray to.
I wait through the night with the patience of years, knowing the ground had to cool. I remember the excitement of my first night on the planet, on the ship…
The morning comes with the scent of smoldering vegetation, tainted with unburned fuel. I breathe deep, savoring the taste. When I head towards the LZ, the flock of fo-sheep follows.
By the time we reach the ship, the acid vines have disabled the engines, just like my ship and the other five ships deteriorating in the landing zone. As the hatch hisses open, the fo-sheep spring forward, claws flicking out, jaws spreading wide.
I sit on the hillside alone, and remember…
K: There’s some intense imagery here, and as often with sci-fi (even the most basic “this is happening in space” sci-fi) I had to read it a couple of times to fully engage with it. This one takes a hit mostly based on competition, as I did find some nice images in this one. Well, not “nice.” BRONZE

DK: Feels like an interesting conception for the broader world, without enough specificity to keep me following the central character.
MG: Well. That escalated quickly. I think this is the first story to take place on a world other than Earth? Good job, author, the slow reveal of setting was nicely disarming, and the eventual reveal made all the loose pieces snap together. SILVER

Erik S, BBB

Gary’s hair fluttered in the wind, which was quite significant at this height. Spread out before him was the silent corpse of the Nation’s capital.

DC’s peculiar street grid fanned out in radii of unmoving cars, like the spokes of mammoth bicycle wheel. Lifeless hunks of chrome twinkled in the sun of what was really a beautiful day.

Every time he came here to the top of the Washington Monument, such a feeling of despondency filled him that he swore to himself this is the last time he would feel it.

He took a deep breath. And jumped.

The ground approached at a frightened speeded before his body hit the tension of the zip line. He squealed with glee as he flew over the The Ellipse and the President’s Park and landed on the pile of mattresses on the White House lawn. “That was awesome!!” he screamed to no one.

K: I can get into the idea that Gary has found a way to have fun in the wake of the death of everyone else in the world, though the bit about despondency comes off as a bit of a cheat once we learn what’s going on. It’s not one that’ll burn into my memory, but it’s a nice story that doesn’t make me want to die, which can be rare with a prompt like this.

DK: I enjoyed this very much. The turnaround was well placed, and the exhilaration and sense of fun is carried through quite well. GOLD
MG: Woo! Your switcheroo worked brilliantly here. I was NOT expecting that, and the story didn’t tip its hand until it absolutely had to. Nice to see someone taking an upbeat approach here. (But watch that grammar and spelling, Survivor! “a frightened speeded”??) SILVER

Brian David, LNW

Jeremiah set the lavender plant on the window sill and stared at the pane. He pressed his hand against the glass, eyes focused on the gaunt, pale face reflection. He could hardly recognize himself.

Almost inaudibly, the glass squeaked and then cracked, caving in. Jeremiah reeled back, sending the small ceramic pot tumbling to the floor.

“Jereimiah? Jeremiah!”

Tricia grabbed Jeremiah’s hand. Several pieces of glass stuck into his skin. She frantically brushed away the shards, using her shirt to blot out the small red dots that formed along the cuts. Jeremiah said nothing. He hadn’t said anything for two years.

“Goddamnit.”

Tricia sat down on the bed and stared at the blood stains on her shirt. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Goddamnit, Jerry.”

Jeremiah quietly started gathering the pieces of the lavender plant, hands shaking as he pressed the soil back into the pot.

K: Huh. Right at the end, we have a hell of a risk. This bends the rules in the right way, as I did get into the spirit of the idea once I figured out what I was reading. In a regular week it’s a near-lock for a medal based on idea alone, though this week demands more. More melodrama, more dark humor? This was, unfortunately, a bit clinical given the story’s potential.

DK: I like the way this distinguishes itself emotionally from some of the other darkness this week. There’s a palpable sense of divide that can’t be bridged here that carries through the theme and makes it more poignant. BRONZE

MG: Hm. I think I see what the author’s trying to do here, and it’s a bit of a stretchy interpretation of “last person alive.” But it’s an affecting piece of writing, no denying that. Am I feeling generous enough to reward this story for the risk it takes? (Afraid not)

——————————————————————————–

Alright, Survivors. I hope you read those.

Anyway, now to the filthy business of finding out who has to leave someone behind.

Big Brass…Band: 0/8/1/13/8 = 30/5 = 6.00
Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 3/8/1/8/11/4/1 = 36/7 = 5.14
Sweater Crisis: 13/6/3/8/0/0 = 30/6 = 5.00
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 6/2/0/1/0/3 = 12/6 = 2.00

That’s about as close as it gets, folks, but Team Hymen and Team Crisis must now eliminate members by tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 10pm Central. Might as well go later since I won’t be home until then anyway. At that point I’ll announce the next challenge (spoiler alert: it’s Bantam Bulwyr) and it’ll be a quick turnaround, due Friday night. There won’t be many like that, but this is a 35-word challenge so it’s not like it’s going to stretch you to your limits. After that I’ll see what I can do about longer word limits, eh? We’ll inch up pretty soon here.

Cheers, Survivors. Thanks for this week. It’s a cruel joke that it’s a week this good that has us eliminating two people.

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