It was another good week, Survivors. This was (in my head) a more challenging prompt, and as such, it seemed to engage your creativity, as I was met with many ideas I’ve never read before, which happens less and less with each passing season. Pat yourselves all on the back before you get to stressing out over which team lost, eh?

We still haven’t gotten that second triple-gold, but a Walrus and a Brass Band did manage doubles. Read on!

Annette Barron, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

For ten days, my husband and daughter have been invisible to me. I told Mahwen I would not look upon him or our small daughter again, until he allows her to be cut. I will not be the mother of an unclean girl.

Mahwen insists that we must do as the missionaries and our leaders say. The cutting of women is no longer allowed in our village. But I must do as my mother’s spirit demands. I remember how proud Mawhen was on our wedding night. My hole was so small and I bled so much. How can a man know that his woman is his alone without the ceremony? How can the inner demon of a woman be stopped if the evil parts remain?

Mahwen was relieved, I know, when our Elders told us that we could no longer cut our girls. He is weak. But he cannot care for Kanta by himself. Already, he has run out of women who will watch her while he hunts. He beat me many times, but I won’t look at him while he hits me. I will not feed him or care for Kanta. I know he’ll see that I am right. Then I will take Kanta to Yunka, the midwife, deep in the bush. We will stay away until she no longer cries.

K: Oy. The whole cutting thing is horrifying to me, and was a solid idea for this challenge, which I suspect could get pretty dark. It was a somewhat straightforward telling of this story, but it’s a memorable tale. BRONZE

DK: The style of writing held me off a little bit – I don’t know if I’ve seen too much of these cultural settings now for me to get into that, or what – but the subject matter is as dark as anything here. BRONZE

MG: Pffff. That was a rush of cold air right at the outset. Challenging topic, and taken very smartly from the traditionalist’s point of view. I detected a little bit of uncertainty right around the middle, where it felt like the author got a bit repetitive or overly-explanatory. It’s hard to complain so much about that when the ending delivered a nice helping of tension that stays with you afterward. GOLD

Jack Haas, FRH

She watched them leave, packed into the car like they were scared to separate. They had paired off almost immediately as they arrived, leaving her alone until they left. And yet she was fine. There was still time to find someone.

Where had that thought come from? She wasn’t alone. They had left with all their hands held and kisses stolen. Mr. Wibbley peeked out from behind the couch. “They’re gone.” She assured him, she was alone and she was fine.

K: I get that Mr. Wibbley is a cat, though even so, this doesn’t hit the sweet spot in the “hey, it was an animal” genre (which is pretty well-established around here). I think this plot can work with some fleshing out.

DK: Probably a little short in this case to make much of an impact, at least with enough emotional specificity.

MG: Third time reading this through, and I still don’t know quite what’s happening here. There’s a nicely established tone of disaffection right from the get-go, but I don’t know what it’s in service of. EDIT: Okay, on the fourth read it occurred to me that Mr. Wibbley was a cat. That clears up some of the author’s intent, but doesn’t make the piece ring out with anything particularly compelling.

Brooks Maki, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

“Back for more?” I asked as the blinding white of Malakim filled my doorway.

“It is always such a joy to debate with you whether or not I exist.” He turned to face me, folding his wings behind him. The intense glow faded to something just short of migraine-inducing.

“Sarcasm isn’t very angelic,” I chided. “Besides I’ve never claimed you don’t exist. Only that you aren’t truly what you represent to the world.”

“Now you accuse me of being a Deceiver? It’s no wonder you live alone out here.” He paused, his voice full of pity and what sounded like disbelief, “The last atheist.”

I said nothing, just motioned to the chair. He refused, as he always did, making use of his incredible height to try to intimidate me into belief. I offered him tea, and he accepted the cup but never drank. “What new test have you devised for me this week?”

The snare deployed perfectly, and I pounced upon him, my knife in my hand, hovering inches from his eye. That eye was so perfectly impossibly green, with flecks of gold that made it seem bottomless. I stared into it for only a moment before he was gone from under me sitting astride me now, his breath hot in my face.

“This was a mistake, human.” The room darkened as his wings spread.

K: I want to love this story because it’s so one of a kind, but given the backdrop, it’s a little ordinary. I did quite appreciate the prose here, though, and felt it was just getting started when it ended.

DK: I like the “last atheist” as the concept for this one. There’s a little interesting ambiguity remaining in the nature of exactly what supernatural nature his opponent presents. That stuff could be all relative, anyway.

MG: Clever idea, nicely written and certainly tied up neatly at the end with a good conclusion, but for some reason this one isn’t connecting with me beyond its surface elements. Not sure what could have been different…I think I’d be more interested in the first meeting than the last between these two.

Melissa Diamond, FRH

He vomited up bark and roots. Urushi sap streaked his red vestments. Lights burst before his eyes, and he smiled.

Enlightenment was stars in daylight. Enlightenment smelled of lacquer.

He couldn’t stand, and his Brothers did not help. They watched as he crawled past and pulled himself into his stone tomb. He sat up there, bent his knees, folded his feet into his lap. As he brought his hands to his chest, he noticed the bell tied on his finger. He didn’t remember tying it there. Spine pressed into stone wall. Sit bones ached against the floor. His Brothers inserted the tube into his tomb, then sealed him in. His fingers twitched. The bell rang.

A day passed. He rang the bell again.

Another day, another ring. Day after day, alone with the unyielding pain that meant he inched closer. Insects bit at him. They died.

When had he last rung the bell? He had no strength to do it now. A scratch, a thud. His Brothers had removed the air tube.

He breathed in. His mind felt clear, like those perfect days in childhood with his sheep in the fields and his sisters racing the dogs, their hair matted with twigs, water rushing in the distance where the river fed the land, cherry trees scenting the air, death far away.

Enlightenment.

He breathed out.

K: Jesus, this is beautiful. The mythology is well-built and I felt for the character by the end, despite him not even having a name. Smart, dark writing. GOLD

DK: Some cool setting touches here, although the character’s arc didn’t grab me. I think there’s a fine line with this prompt between hitting the reader’s sympathy and pushing them away.

MG: This was a meaty little piece. I appreciated not having the details spoon-fed to me, and the prose really propelled me through this one, making it feel like a compulsion to get to the end. BRONZE

Roman Feeser, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

Gretchen struggled to pull up her knee sock. The elastic was shot. The stubble on her frail legs would help keep them in place. As a young girl she had many suitors. A strapping athlete would’ve tackled many an opponent to just talk to her. Of course in the end they were better at taking her socks off rather than putting them on, but this is the curse of a young voluptuous beauty. Times change, so does the mind. People grow old. The One never shows up. Life goes on.
She walked to the high school; she could hear the crowd at the first pep rally of the season. The uniform still fit. Granted her ass was no longer firm, more like two bags of nickels. She held her own.
Gretchen held her shabby pom-poms close to her waist and took her place at the end of the field. It was tradition for head cheerleader to rally the crowd.
“Who’s that?” the freshman cheerleader asked her senior captain.
“That’s some old demented lady who still thinks she’s still in high school. She shows up at games and starts cheering. Just ignore her. She’s harmless.” The girls laughed with disinterest.
Gretchen could hear the crowd cheering with her. “Go team!”
She cheered for them now, just as she had every year for the past sixty years.

K: My, my. I do love to see a character fall apart. Mental divergence is a hell of a thing. The lines at the end did over-explain the story (and in an unlikely way, as I think the new cheerleaders would certainly know about Old Gretchen), but before and after that, I love what we have. BRONZE

DK: I laughed stupidly too much at this to not recognize it. I think the slow development here really helps the humor, as well. SILVER

MG: This was a great idea, and a cracking opening, that fell prey to the author not trusting the audience at the end. Wouldn’t it be more likely that the other cheerleaders would tell the newbies about this now-traditional appearance of a crazy lady, and how they treat her? I’d rather see how the crowd responds to her–positively or negatively–than have to just be given some exposition instead of a climax.

Will Young, MPUSC

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. Benjamin Smythwick strolled through the gardens and entered his hospital deeply engrossed in his thoughts. One day soon, he thought, I’ll make the breakthrough.

Smythwick grabbed his notes, quill, and ink, and entered the first room where Thomas Clarke’s clammy body lay quivering on a bed. Like many other residents of Baltimore, Clarke had been tormented with the ague for the past month. Clarke, Smythwick hoped, would not be suffering in vain.

Smythwick approached and saw a wooden bucket containing vomit from overnight. Bless his heart, Smythwick thought, even in his pain he followed my instructions. Smythwick took the bucket to his work station.

To this point none of his volunteers had contracted the ague, yet so many people were suffering that it had to be contagious. Smythwick had tried injecting pus from Clarke’s sores and robbing Clarke’s sweat onto the volunteers. Nobody contracted the disease, so it must surely be transmitted by vomit.

Clarke summoned Patients R and S to his office. R ingested the vomit mixed with whiskey. S rubbed the vomit on his skin. Smythwick took detailed notes waiting. One day he would solve the riddle.

K: That’s pretty disgusting, though I think it could go farther to really drive the potential horror home. It was certainly one of a kind, though do flowers blossom “profusely?” That was a jarring word choice.

DK: Here again, I have little empathy for this character’s mistakes, but the strength of the writing is good enough to carry it along, and the dilemma is engaging. BRONZE

MG: Well, okay…a couple of nitpicks at the outset. Everything in this story positions it as taking place back in the past. And there’re volunteers and patients…my point being Smythwick is definitely not isolated by his insistence on tradition. Also: “robbing Clarke’s sweat” should be “rubbing.” I hope. Either way, it’s well written and certainly vivid, but it doesn’t really serve the challenge’s theme, and it doesn’t really drive me to want to know more. So I can’t really reward it.

Rex Ogle, MPUSC

Being outside in the real world was terrifying. Alex shifted uncomfortably in his chair, staring at all the other people in the restaurant and thought about his first girlfriend—both online and off—whom turned out to be an elderly Southern Baptist preacher who lived in Arkansas.
Alex was six years old when he mastered being an internet sensation. It all started when his sister posted a secret video of him dancing to Katy Perry’s new video. He had 2,637,400 YouTube views within a week, made $80,000, appeared on Ellen, and tried to ride that success through the rest of his life. But that was over a decade ago.
Now, as he entered adult life, Alex realized his early online success had ruined his life’s trajectory. While his online friends—none of whom he’d met in real life—grew up, got jobs, had kids, and spent less time on the internet, he remained jobless and ultimately moved into his grandma’s basement. He had tried—and failed—to kill himself last year after BuzzFeed listed him as the “#1 has-been”. Alex was a tortured byproduct of the global network generation.
That’s why he was on a blind date set up by his rabbi. He needed to prove he was still an actual human being. “Alex?” a beautiful girl asked, extending her hand. Alex wet himself.
K: Man, that was a lot of backstory rather than story. This could have been pretty funny if it had been told as it happened, but it was more of a history lesson.

DK: As a character study of a child social media star, this is a good start, although to some extent it’s less a study and more a by-blow of things that happened to him.
MG: It’s an interesting trick to position what seems to us to be “the new” as “the traditional,” and there’s some truth to it given how change is accelerating. But this feels like an essay instead of a story, and it serves a pretty weak punchline at the end. I don’t feel anything for Alex because I spend so little time with him, and instead just examine his dossier. (Also: you misused “whom” in that first paragraph.)

Bret Highum, LNW

The beetle had impressive pinchers and yellow legs. The boys jostled together, trying to focus the magnifying glass, hooting and hollering every time a wisp of smoke drifted upwards.
“What are you up to, kids?” The old man came up behind them silently on the railroad trestle, and they jumped, startled at his question. He noted their shifty eyes and the hands hidden behind their backs and smiled inwardly.
“Just looking at bugs, Grandpa,” said the eldest, as innocently as he could. The old man looked over the group, struck by how much the cousins looked like his sons had at their ages.
“Don’t let your mothers catch you with that,” he said as he pointed with his chin towards the half-hidden magnifying glass, shifting his grip on the sack over his shoulder. “And go play with it somewhere else, or you’ll burn this old bridge down.”
He waited, stone-faced, until they’d all said “Yessir,” with varying amounts of believability. Then, with a muss of the nearest boy’s hair, he started down the track again.
“Gramps?” One of the boys, missing three of his front teeth, lisped out. “Joey said Missus Whiskers had kittens- can we go see them?”
The old man stopped, one foot on the span, the weight of the sack listing him to the side. “Nah, Freddie. The kittens didn’t make it.”
K: Isn’t it “pincers?” Anyway, though I like this piece of writing, it does sort of skirt the prompt almost to the point where I couldn’t figure out how it fit in. Some clarity is all this one needs.

DK:I admit I wasn’t sure how to take the “news” about the kittens. The establishment of Grandpa through the rest of it suggests I might not be able to rely on anything he says any more.
MG: Aww. That gave me a sad. I gotta take some points off for also feeling like this takes place in the past more than it fights the present/future with a character devoted to tradition. But it was a nice slice of life, and the writing was genuine and engaging. (And in the interest of my hyper-copy-editing mood tonight, I’ll point out that it’s “pincers” not “pinchers.”)

Christina Pepper, Big Brass…Band

Dear Tooth Fairy,
B.J. says you aren’t real, but I don’t believe him. He also says dinosaurs aren’t real, but I know they were a long time ago. Did you ever see what big teeth they had? I bet you gave them lots of money!

You probably want to know about my tooth. Lena pushed me at recess and I fell smack on the ground. My tooth wasn’t even loose, but it came out! B.J. calls her Meana Lena because she always does things like that. I had to go to the nurse and everything. I looked really great and scary with blood around my mouth like a carnivore, but she made me wash it off.

I might have to wait a long time for my new tooth. Not like sauropods. Did you know they formed and replaced teeth faster than any other type of dinosaur? I tried to tell everyone in my class, but they just talked about other things. And Lena laughed so loud in my ears.

If I was a T. rex, I would eat her up. And also anyone else who does mean things. Can you maybe actually make me into a Tyrannosaurus or a Spinosaurus instead of putting more quarters under my pillow?

Love (if you are real and also if you are not),
Carter

K: This one hit me fairly personally. I remember being the lone intellectual in my family (there are many smart people, but I was the only “nerd,” if you will) and trying to identify with them on a level they just didn’t think they wanted to “stoop” to. The second paragraph doesn’t sound as much like a kid’s voice, but I love the commitment to the dinosaur bits and the obsession with being young. Smart and hearbreaking. SILVER

DK: We talk about this thing a lot when stories attempt it, and I thought this did a really strong job of keeping the “voice” sounding age-appropriate, especially for tackling that voice through the entirety of the piece. GOLD

MG: There’s a great song by a great band with a line that goes “I was a science boy/I grew up on dinosaurs…” and this story reminded me strongly of that song. Neither here nor there, but it should tell you how immediately relatable and genuine this note-writer felt to me. I really appreciated how much you allowed him to dwell on his childhood’s defining topic, even when writing to the Tooth Fairy. And that valediction was sooooo lovely. SILVER

Joe Harrell, FRH

“You know what would be perfect now?” Tim asked Sarah, moving the sheets aside as he ran his hand from her neck to the top of her left butt cheek. “Um…turning back time eight hours and fucking all night again?” she replied.

He was going to marry her. He’d thought this about other women, but never with one he’d known for eight years, someone with whom he shared an aversion to knee socks, the word “moist” and Americans who put a “u” in “favourite”.

As a child, every morning when Timmy woke up, his mother would lovingly smack him on the butt, kiss him on the forehead, tap him on the nose three times and ask, “who’s the sweetest little boy in the whole wide world?” It’s a tradition they maintained until Tim moved out of the house at age 25.

“What else?” Sarah asked.

“You smacking me on the butt, kissing me on the forehead, tapping me on the nose three times and saying ‘who’s the sweetest little boy in the whole wide world?’” he responded.

“Amazing!” Sarah shouted as she laughed and pushed herself up.

As tears rolled down Tim’s face, Sarah slowly grabbed her shirt and pants beside the bed and got dressed.

“I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean…” she said, as she closed the door.

K: Huh. This is a lot to digest in this small number of words. Tim is a pretty engaging character that can be both sympathetic and (in his way) scary, but this story rushed so much to its point at the end that I didn’t feel either. Having Tim speak his wishes in the same narration as the narrator used came off as a punchline, and I think the sad and dramatic tale would have played out better if it had been played straighter.

DK: The ending was a little jarring for me. Not sure why, I can tell how this was supposed to seem like a “natural” (or naturally funny) response for that character, but even so it didn’t feel as organic as I’d have liked.

MG: Huh. Seems like Sarah kind of turns on a dime at the end there, unless she somehow knows about the matronly tradition from Tim’s first 25 years. If she does, it’s not communicated clearly enough. In any case, the situation was palpably unsettling, and I like that the author took us there. Even if he spoon-fed some of the background to us. Anyway, that Tim really puts the “pal” in Oedipal. SILVER

Brian David, LNW

“So, where’s Ian these days? I miss that guy.”

I rifle through my wallet, avoiding eye contact with the barkeep.

“Oh, you know,” I say. “He’s got a kid now. Doesn’t have a lot of time for drinking.”

I set the money on the counter and grab the beer. As I head to my booth, I notice someone leaning over the Galaga machine. I’d never seen anyone play that thing, and thought of it more as a decoration than a game.

There’s an intense silence about the man. He cranes his neck and pushes his face close to the screen, his expression rigid and blank. He’s almost perfectly still except for his hands, which slide the joystick and tap the firing button with astonishing precision. There are no wasted movements; every shot finds a target, each flip of the joystick dodges oncoming disaster.

The man notices I’m watching and his eyes glance briefly in my direction. In that moment an enemy missile finds its target and the man’s ship explodes into a colorful array of digital fragments. He whimpers and slams his fists on the console. Taking one last, violent look at me, he rushes out of the bar. There are still two lives left in the game.

I shake my head and realize that my beer is empty.

K: Now, I find it very hard to believe that nobody would play fucking Galaga. That game is fantastic. My bigger issue with this is that it can achieve such catharsis but doesn’t make it. I’m asking for a lot tonight, it turns out.

DK: I got the sense that this prompt could easily apply to both the narrator and the subject of his observation, and I like that duality expressed here. Plus the video game descriptions have some nice imagery to them. SILVER

MG: As well written and enjoyable as this was, I’m missing just who the traditionalist is here, and what that tradition may be (other than maybe drinking? After your drinking buddy’s abandoned you?). I do find myself wanting to know more about Mr. GalagaMan.

Colin Woolston, LNW

In the darkness between the mundane and the glory that was the heat of a spotlight and an adoring crowd, Jorge verily vibrated with joy. His eyes held tightly closed, he focused his mind on the beats and transitions ahead.
Then, as the veins of an addict welcoming the familiar burn, his body welcomed the white fire of the stage lights erupting all around him. A cacophony of music and animals bellowing and braying fell about him, and his eyes opened, radiant with rapture.
Jorge turned and swept his arm, perfectly even with the arc of the rings of which he was the center, and prepared to speak. He felt his voice in his heels, like an eager dragon, clawing and fidgeting to be free. He emptied his lungs, and paused for the smallest of moments, and then let the smells of popcorn and sweets and sweat and fear fill his soul.
His voice boomed. It sounded clear and deep, returning even from the dank canvas from where little sound is ever found again. It rang of passion, and of decades past over the trapeze and silks. His voice carried the authority of years of training through the rows and rows of empty seats.
Jorge was, and would be till the end, a true master of his craft.

K: This is interesting. Jorge isn’t exactly a tragic character, but I think I can assume he’s lost touch with his real life in pursuit of his particular brand of fame as a ringleader. I loved the image-laden prose and I felt this entire story. Nice. GOLD

DK: Another idea I liked a lot, though I think this one almost went a little far with its language. The writing here is so flowery it becomes kind of impenetrable.

MG: Ah, this was a beautiful nugget of sweet, honest love of craft. Beautifully related, there were some fantastic turns of phrase here. I especially liked how his voice was felt in his heels. And the little pin at the end, that the seats were empty…perfectly positioned and timed. (My copywriter’s muscles are screaming at me to flex about one word here, but I’m going to shut up that part of me for the rest of the night.) GOLD

Leif Bierly, LNW

I hate taking gramps out here. There hasn’t been a caribou in this part of Baffin Island since the early part of the century, but I’ve got to spend my fucking day off from work up here again.

There’s not a single fucking thing that he could kill out here, and no one who’d want to share it with him, even if a random lost herd came trotting up over that hill, let alone cleaning the damn thing or driving it back in my car. No fucking way, no fucking point.

He just sits there looking more ancient than that goddamned bow he brings with. How he can get away with keeping that fucking thing in assisted living is baffling.

I should just leave him here. That’s probably what he wants, anyway. Not that I’d have any idea what he wants, you know, he just babbles on in the old tongue that makes no fucking sense. He should just stay up here, forgotten, just like the rest of this damn island, talking nothing to nobody and waiting for the past to somehow appear on that hill.

He doesn’t give a fuck. He just wants to sit there and say nothing and do nothing. Hunting and gathering, my ass.

You know, I don’t give a fuck, either. I’m just going to leave him here next time.

K: This one is a tough nut to crack. I can’t decide if the nonstop profanity distracts or does a good job of dehumanizing the narrator, who’s really not the story’s focus. I love the attack of having the main character be someone we view through the cynical lens of another. It’s still heartbreaking, but seeing it in a different view made it interesting. BRONZE

DK: This one almost went a little far with its language in a different way. Not that I have a problem with some “fucks”, but I’d kind of rather gramps left this guy alone out there instead.

MG: Trouble in paradise. I like that I can detect a bit of sadness under the exhaustion and frustration of the speaker. Nice idea, nice approach, and an overall fine effort.

Sama Smith, BBB

The valley wasn’t far now. Gary could see the white bluffs breaking through a sea of green ponderosa pines like icebergs.

The road sidled down into a plateau and narrowed. He pulled over and grabbed his gloves. Outside, the surrounding buttes blocked some of the prairie bitterness. Grabbing the chainsaw from the back of the truck, he trudged through knee-deep fluff.

A small one for Emily, a large one for Ma, a skinny one for Greg and a stubby one for Charlie. The mantra repeated into something warm and familiar.

Gary dragged the pines one by one back onto the pickup truck bed, got back into the front seat and drove another mile.

The boulders secluded him here. Gary took out Emily’s old sled and placed the large, small and skinny pines on it. He snatched up the stubby one and began his brief trek.

He edged the sled around a jutting ridge. The snow thinned out to ankle depth and he stopped. Stooping low, Gary gently uncovered four flat, round stones in a row. He placed each tree next to the corresponding marker and reached into a deep coat pocket to drink from his flask. Whiskey burned in his nostrils and throat, warming him. He drained it onto the trees, sharing his meal with his family.

“Merry Christmas, you lucky bastards.”

K: Good Lord. I saw this ending coming and still it smacked me in the face. There’s nothing new about a lonely dude drinking away the holidays, but this unfolded expertly and I felt deeply for Gary by the end. SILVER

DK: Great descriptions combined with an emotional core of sadness and depth. Nailing them both will probably get me every time. GOLD

MG: Oooh, very nice transition from heartwarming to heart-rending. I honestly didn’t see this coming, and I probably would have liked it a lot if it hadn’t made that turn. This was probably the most satisfying piece I’ve read so far tonight. GOLD

Erik S, BBB

Milić stood on the busy thoroughfare mostly ignored by the passing crowds, or at least was pretended not to be noticed. Truthfully, it was hard to miss the skinny, pale teenager with the giant sombrero and oversized guitar on the hectic Belgrade street.

Every night he left the house he would get in the same argument with his parents. They pleaded with him pursue more promising enterprises. They didn’t even ask for lofty aspirations. Find friends your own age, they appealed. Go meet a nice girl, they asked. His sister Ana would just roll her eyes at him, though to be honest, that was her response to pretty much everything.

Each time he would shove past them in silently admonishment. Grandfather had been famous. Beloved! Were they ready to throw him away with the rest of their proud history? If they would not carry his legacy, he would do it alone.

It was a busy for a Thursday night, he noticed. As with every other night he played, he gently caressed the neck of the guitar, and tried to channel to spirit of his Deda. He began this night with a song his grandfather was famous for, the classic Yugoslavian-Mariachi ballad, Balada O Tužnom Životu.

K: I can’t tell if this is going for drama or comedy at the end, which isn’t a great thing. The prose isn’t broken or anything, but this list of things that happened wasn’t as interesting as it would have been to just have him attempting to start his performance with the reveals coming one by one.

DK: I think the absurdity of this subject is what drew me in, along with the seriousness the author treats it with. SILVER

MG: True story; I knew a Ljubomir in college who introduced me to his namesake. Not my cup of meat, but I like the authority that the writer brings to this guy. And I like the sense of certainty this Milic has. It’s a bit rote, but I wouldn’t know what more to do with this kind of an idea.

Beau, LNW

The brittle crack of each walnut brought brief respite to the cold silence of Roland’s study. Sitting forward in his Windsor chair, he gazed out the window at the rusted swing set. Forty-five years had passed since this room was a nursery.

***************

“Daddy!” Hans was tugging on Roland’s trousers, no doubt in disproportion to the significance of his concerns. “Can we play on the swings? Please?”

He peered over his Heinrich Böll novel. “After your devotions, son. And no rushing!” Hans swiftly walked to the desk, then opened his prayer book. Even from this angle, Roland could see him pouting.

He shook his head at his son’s recalcitrance, though he understood it. He was once the same until his father had beat it out of him. And his father before him, he supposed. Roland believed in discipline, not violence.

A sharp creak startled him out of his book. The chair by the window was falling and Hans with it. As they met the floor, a loud crack shook his bones. A leg had splintered off the Windsor, lying pathetically by Hans’s head. His son’s face was frozen in fear.

“What did you do?” Roland yelled, ripping off his belt.

***************

A stubborn walnut sent pressure reverberating back through the nutcracker. Roland winced, favoring his frail and battered hand. A broken swing blew lazily in the wind.

K: This is almost, there, I think. It technically falls under telling instead of showing, but the flashback was used to try to evade that trope. Sometimes a story that leaves out some details can be an annoying pain in the ass, and times like this it can be used as an effective disquieting tool. BRONZE

DK: Geez, is this darker than the first one? Hard to say. I had trouble responding to it at all in some ways.

MG: Something about the time-jumping structure of this one feels like a tricky way to seem more literary than your typical tell-don’t-show short story. But there were a few very juicy details that were waved under our noses and not driven home with giant arrows, especially favoring one hand over another. I think if the author had one or two more passes at this story, it’d be one of the better ones of the evening. BRONZE

Rusty Greene, MPUSC

Hours had passed since Hazrat’s twin brother Ibin had been arrested at the airport. An old lady had screamed that his hat was a shoe bomb. Ibin had been yanked away weeping, white robes flapping. Now Hazrat was alone in the din of a food court.
Struck dumb, he roamed the terminal. Quiznos. Cinnabon. Jamba Juice. He adjusted his impossibly tall camel hair hat, approached the register at Taco Bell and searched for English phrases that would fail him.
Her nametag said Kaleesha. She smiled with a purity that whispered the secrets of divinity. Hazrat’s Sufi nature quickened. This beauty before him was a gift from The Creator. He hadn’t worshipped since Istanbul and he was bereft. A tear trickled down one cheek. He rotated slowly and then started to spin.
Hazrat’s robe became a tornado as he picked up speed. Surprisingly destructive, its first victim was a blond toddler who landed on his rear with a yelp. Next came a small cart stacked with salsa packets. They sprayed across the room as the dervish whirled, lighting in deep fat fryers, food warmers, open bags and paper cups. A young girl squeaked as Hazrat’s thumb caught her cell phone and launched it into a mop bucket. A crowd gathered. They stood dumbfounded.
His form reached for bliss. His spirit grieved for Ibin.

K: In eight years of doing this I’ve never read a story anything like this. If it wasn’t enough to find an idea that stood alone among many, it also had engaging prose and a very complicated character who had me cheering for him – even in his insanity (as his spectators would doubtless call it) – by the end. That’s two weeks in a row that we saw the term “whirling dervish.” GOLD

DK: Again I liked how a somewhat ridiculous base image was treated with gravity and poignancy. To me that gives it a deeper level of resonance. Which is not to say I didn’t laugh at some others here that didn’t have poignancy, but, you know. BRONZE

MG: I really like how far you took this one. Not knowing a whole lot about dervishes, I can only assume they’re meant to be destructive and meditative at the same time, and I liked how you literally had the old and the new collide. Very fun read. SILVER.

Sarah Wreisner, BBB

She fixed Paul’s breakfast to order: waffles and eggs, scrambled and heavily peppered, in a nest of slightly burned hashbrowns.
His lunch pail was affectionately packed and waiting on the countertop, a folded note tucked under a tangerine. She smoothed the pale green tablecloth. Her reedy, arthritic hands straightened her apron as she flitted about the kitchen. She covered a bowl of potatoes, puckered and sprouting, with an embroidered towel.
“There’s blackberry syrup!” She stood, watching his bedroom door until her knees started to ache. Something tumbled through her mind – a memory that bloomed into hot waves of panic. She fell into a hard plastic seat.
She found a crumpled crossword puzzle and some pills. A stripe of light slipped across the linoleum as the sun started setting. Night fuzzed the kitchen walls. She scraped the plate into the trash.
At dawn, she prepared another batch of peppered eggs and repacked the lunch pail. She watched Paul’s door. Like every evening before it, she was struck with a faint pulse of horror as she cleared the table. Night insects whirred outside the window screens, and she remembered that she was afraid of something. Something had happened.
That spring, a neighbor, complaining of the lawn and the rotting newspapers, sent the sheriff to her home. The woman, frail and exhausted, could not explain the empty bedroom.

K: I like this better without the final paragraph. We’ve already figured out what’s going on, more or less, and we don’t need the neighbor to explain it for us. Outside of that, this one comes together pretty well and I ache for this woman who doesn’t know how to grieve.

DK: I think in a context other than Survivor I would be expecting this less and therefore would respond to it more sharply. As it is, there’s some great individual images here, but the central idea stands out less than a few of the others.

MG: I felt this one coming all the way through reading it, but it still hit pretty hard when it landed its blows. Definitely a smart direction to take this challenge in, and not overly spooky or wrenching, just a nicely handled touch of believeable darkness poking at all our fears of losing ourselves in old age. BRONZE

Margaret Martin, LNW

Hank shifted in the recliner, scrolling through the channels until he found a fishing show.

Lydia stood at the kitchen sink, washing the week’s dishes. She gazed out the window at the vast muddy yard, the empty barns, the doghouse leaning like a geometry problem. She could see Brando through the doghouse door, a wool blanket in tatters beneath his sad chin.

“Dad, why don’t you let Brando stay in the house with you? I wouldn’t mind the extra mess.”

“Hmpf. Animals belong outside. Folks with dogs on their laps — it ain’t right. Brando’s a working dog.”

“That made sense when there were still cows here. He had work then. He had the cows to keep him company.”

She wiped her hands on the dishtowel hanging from the fridge handle, running her thumb along the delicate embroidery that adorned it. Lemons and strawberries. Her mother’s cheerful needlework.

And you had Mom, she added silently.

“Listen, Dad. Brando’s getting old, and he could use some companionship. The two of you sit alone all day long. Why not sit together? Two old farmers watching fishing shows together.”

Hank grunted. “That’s ridiculous.”

Lydia shrugged. “OK, Dad. I’ll see you next week.”

She rubbed Brando behind the ears as she walked to her car.

Hank adjusted his tattered wool blanket and turned back to the TV.

K: This almost reached me. It does a better job than some before of meeting a bit of dark humor with the pathetic character and his drama. It’s always nice to feel something when a story is so light in its subject matter. They don’t all have to be murders and tragedies to have some emotional resonance. SILVER

DK: Another fine line to walk, probably, as I can imagine everyone else finding this idea as uninteresting as I did the last one, but for me, comparing the emotionally nullified father with the lonely old dog hits enough buttons for me that I couldn’t help but enjoy this one. GOLD

MG: Two straight gut-punches about the perils of age. This one also worked well, hinging on stubbornness. It felt genuine and believable, and I felt sad for Brando. BRONZE

Zack Sauvageau, FRH

Jake hated training new employees. He found the need to create banter to be incredibly difficult. No one in this god damn town appreciated cinema like he did.

“So, what do you do in your free time, Patty?”

“Well, I’m a bit of a film buff.”

Jake could barely contain his excitement. “Really? Me too! That’s awesome. What’s your favorite movie?”

“Citizen Kane,” Patty replied. “I realize it’s not a terribly original choice, but it’s an excellent film.”

“Cool. My favorite is The Dark Knight. Have you seen that?”

Patty looked visibly annoyed. “No, I have not.”

“Duuuuude why not? It’s fucking ama… sorry. Freaking amazing! I tell you what I’ll bring you my Blu-Ray of it tomorrow.”

“Well, I can’t watch Blu-Rays, Jake” Patty replied.

“How the hell… sorry. Heck does a film buff not have a Blu-Ray player for the love of God?”

Patty sighed. “I was burned once, Jake. Laser disc. Obsolescence. Disc rot. It was bad. So I wasn’t about to do the same with DVD or Blu-ray or whatever.”

“How… do you watch movies then? Netflix? Hulu?” Jake was really confused.

“VHS. I have over two thousand VHS tapes. They stopped making them in 2006, but I have plenty of movies to get me by.” Patty beamed. She was super proud of her collection.

Jake sighed. He seriously hated training days.

K: I appreciate that someone actually had the cojones to write this bizarre piece. I can’t even fathom this idea as the plot for a story, which always amuses me (in a good way, trust me) when I read. The dialogue reads a little falsely as the characters say everything they mean (Jake’s excitement could come through better if he tries to restrain himself, rather than lays everything out word for word), which is the reason it doesn’t fully grab me.

DK: I laughed a few times at this one too. I could’ve seen it going in a direction where Jake was the prompt subject, and it could still be read that way too. BRONZE

MG: A nice light one to finish off the night. I chuckled at the thought of the cineaste being out-asted, and at how proud Patty was of her own forced obsolescence. (Reminded me of a sketch from Mr. Show: http://youtu.be/XCumH8LRo1A?t=1m8s if you care to see.)

—————————————–

This was close, unless you’re a Big Brass Something.

Big Brass…Band: 11/13/3/1 = 28/4 = 7.00
Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 0/0/3/10/1/2/9 = 25/7 = 3.57
Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis: 4/1/0/9 = 14/4 = 3.50
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 7/0/6/3/1 = 15/5 = 3.40

Our final heartbreak of the week: wow, that was close. Looks like the Hymenators were lonely as a five-player team so they joined a couple of others. Fresh ones, you have until Thursday night at 9pm Central to make your votes, and from there I’ll figure out if I need to run a team challenge here to cut down on late nights for the judges or if I’m feeling generous. It’ll be fun either way, I promise (for many of you. I can’t please all the people all the time).

Cheers, Survivors. Well done, yet again.

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