Well, Survivors, it’ll be a long read, but we’re not short on concepts. One concept (the funeral, which I placed second in the post) elicited overall stronger entries, though we did have an incredible triple-Gold in the wedding, so it all evens out! Or something. Anyway, as I said, nobody seemed short on ideas.

Let’s do this, gang.

Leif Bierly, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

If you love someone, let them go. Give them wings. Let them fly away, like a bird, to wherever they must go, and love them enough to let them be free.

Hm, sorry. Ah heh. Give me a minute.

Okay. I’m just a bit emotional, you know? Okay.

It’s an old saying that I’ve always heard and adored, and it makes me think about Tim and Stacy as a couple. When Tim is up in the air flying all over the country, I think this is how Stacy must feel lately now that she’s not flying with us anymore. And I think how Tim must feel – actually, I know how he feels – since I get to be up there with him without her there on the crew anymore. When Tim and I talk when we get a break and spend our time together, I can tell his mind is on Stacy even when we’re together. When we get to talk, I mean. Right? He’s coming back to you when he gets back. Always back to you, Stacy.

You’ve always been my best friend, Stacy, and being your maid of honor is truly a deep honor. You’re an inspiration to me, and I wish I could be you. Your relationship with Tim is important to me, and inspirational, like something I wish I could have. Because, Stacy, you love him enough to let him go, and he comes back. That’s true love. That’s something I just couldn’t really imagine with a great guy like Tim. If it was me, I’d want to have him around all the time. I just can’t get – couldn’t get, enough of him. Ah heh, hmm.

Okay, um. So, the thing I was thinking of was, now that you’re married, it’s not like you’re going to always be flying together, like when we all met at work, and your life path in marriage will sometimes mean you let each other go for a while. You’ll always come back to each other, but remember how important it is to let each other to be free, okay?

You know you can always count on me, Stacy, to be here for you. You’re my best friend, you know? And Tim, you know I’ll be there for you, too, for whatever you need.

So, let’s celebrate with a toast to Tim and Stacy. To the freedom of love!

K: A million thanks for the subtext. When I put this challenge forth, that’s what I wanted. The transcription of the emotions was a tad forced, and I think this unwrapped a little early, but I appreciate the fact that this one kept its secrets. SILVER

DK: I like the way the usage of airline occupations ties this together with the theme of “free love”, and the way the details of the interpersonal relationships are integrated together without being hammered. BRONZE

MG: Yup, subtext. I think this telegraphed things a bit too neatly too soon, but it did manage to get across the sadness that the speaker was feeling. All in all, a bit pat.

Beau, LNW

She put a hand on my shoulder. “He’ll be okay with it,” whispered Erin. She smiled and handed me back my speech. Grabbing a fork, she clanged on her champagne glass.

“If I could have everybody’s attention!” Erin called out. “Jason’s best man would like to give a speech.” She winked at me. “And Jason is going to read it.”

Activating the joystick on my wheelchair, I positioned myself to face the audience. Jason tentatively plucked the speech out of my hand. He unfolded it and grabbed the microphone.

“You’ll do anything to get out of public speaking, won’t you?” Jason groaned. The crowd chuckled. “Here we go.”

Jay’s been my best friend since tenth grade. He was my partner in Biology. He wouldn’t have gotten an A without me, and to be frank, I’ve been saving his ass ever since.

I think everyone here knows that two years ago, I was diagnosed with ALS. Eight months ago, I began having trouble walking. Jay insisted he treat me to one final night out on the town. That was the night he met Erin.

What you all don’t know is that I’m way more of a ladies man. Even with ALS, this brother is the better dancer. And I’m way better looking. Fortunately for Jay, he’s the better boyfriend. I dated Erin for two weeks before we agreed that we weren’t compatible.

You’re all going to figure this out eventually. So rather than rumor and conjecture surrounding the beautiful couple going forward, you should know now that

Jason cleared this throat and took a breath.

that I am the father of their child.

Erin smiled nervously, her hands on her abdomen. Jason waited for the crowd noise to subside.

And it is their child. Jay and Erin love each other like crazy and they’re going to be better parents than I could ever dream. Please give them your unconditional support.

My only regret is that in the short time I’ll be able to see their son, he won’t be able to hear my voice. He probably won’t remember me. But you can remember me for him. He’ll learn that family is more than your genes. More than the home you live at. More than the color of your skin. Family is everyone in your life, for better or worse, who care about you.

You’re all family.

K: Whoa. What can I even add to this? It’s a very different thing to get this story across in a plain voice for the audience without causing (much of) a stir. There’s a lot of emotion here in several different beats, but it doesn’t cross the line into schmaltz or manipulation, as it stays honest throughout. GOLD

DK: I thought this was a really creative, effective use of the underlying challenge. I’m trying to think of something else to say, but this story speaks for itself. Plus it’s gotten a little dusty in here somehow… GOLD

MG: Givin’ the author much props for the decisions he/she made here. It’s one thing to slip a dirty little family secret like paternity confusion into a story. But to have it be stated plainly…and for utterly understandable, realistic reasons…very canny, very bright direction to go in here. In the end, the story’s about something other than it might have been in another writer’s (my) hands. Excellent. GOLD

Sarah Wreisner, Big Brass…Band

I see that some of us, well, some who are seated are nodding off. Can someone… are there any towels? Blankets? This might be messier than… well. Jesus didn’t say there’d be… OK! Thanks, brother, for that kindness! Jesus thanks you. The ones slumping over… yes! That will help. Don’t panic. Certainly we don’t want – SIR! No phones. That’s right. Remain calm. Let me explain.

Last night, Jesus came to me. He said, “Barbara! I know you’ll do anything for me.” You see, it is His will is that we are ALL united in heaven, at his side – not just me.

No – JIM! NO! The Lord begs you to listen!

I know it hurts and that you might… well, I know you’re scared. It’ll only last a few minutes. Please, everyone! You’re scaring the babies! Please LISTEN TO ME! PRAISE THE LORD!

Jim… well, most of us know that Jim is marrying this young woman who can provide many children, which is why we are celebrating today. Jenny – sweet daughter in Christ – has appointed me as her maid of honor. I am happy to be included, even after I have been cleaved from my earthy bond to Jim.

The Lord visited Jim and he learned of the path to be taken. The Lord released Jim of his marriage to me – as I could not bear children – and provided a proper wife in Jenny. I had failed him; this was my duty. Jesus revealed that as my reward, for delivering Jim into the arms of a more suitable Christian spouse, that I would join God in Heaven, released from my suffering through the tonic that Jim would provide. Jim – NO, JIM! I’M NOT AFRAID! Our loved ones must know of this!

Tonight I was to drink the holy nectar and be delivered into the Lord’s arms. But… last night Jesus came to me. “Bring them to me, Barbara! They shall ALL be freed. Hear the truth of my words and bring my children to me!” You see, Jim? The Lord’s will is strong!

Jim – do not shout! They are NOT ILL! Jenny is being FREED! SHE WILL ASCEND! Praise the Lord for these convulsions, as they bring us nearer to Him… please, everyone! Stop panicking! PRAISE HIM! The Lord is with us!

No! NO! RELEASE ME! I HAVE DONE WHAT I… STOP! YOU ARE WRONG LET ME GO LET ME

K: Wow. Dark enough to work as drama, and committed enough to work as comedy. This is just a whole lot of fun that’s so sad and sociopathic that I didn’t feel crushed by its weight. It’s not the usual to elicit chuckles when you kill everyone in the room, but here we are. SILVER

DK: I don’t think the other judges necessarily have this hangup, but I admit sometimes it’s tough for me to whiplash between heavily emotional and heavily absurd concepts. In a different context I’d probably respond to this better, but this is very funny and the buildup carries its momentum through to the end.

MG: How’s that saying go? “Always a bridesmaid, but never a sane human being”? Nah, I kid. Listen, this was a pretty chaotic idea and it was carried out well. Where I’m usually skeptical of a story that relies on vocal cues and tics to communicate something about the speaker, here it felt authentic and warranted. Real-time witness was the right perspective to grant the reader here. BRONZE

Roman Feeser, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

Good evening everyone. It’s very hard for me to do this. I am not a very good public speaker and I am overcome with a lot of emotions right now. No one ever expected this to happen, least of all me. But when you love someone as much as I love John, you have to honor that love no matter what. John taught me that.
My name is Mike. If I had to sum up the impact John has had on my life, two words come to mind: second dad. My dad died when I was two. I never knew him.
John was my dad’s best friend. My mother didn’t know how she was going to raise a son on her own. John stepped up to the plate. He came around everyday to make sure that my mom and I were okay. He’d pick me up from school and make me dinner when my mom worked nights. He helped me with my homework, took me to baseball games, and taught me how to tie a bow tie for prom.
He and my mom grew very close. They loved each other very much. He had no children and so he raised me as his own. I love him so much for sacrificing his life to my mother and me. He said that this is how my dad would have wanted it. I believe him.
As a lot of you know, my mom passed away from breast cancer last year. It was very painful for her. It was so painful for me that I could not muster a single word to say at her funeral. As always, John was there for me and so I feel I owe this to him today.
When John met Peter, it was love at first sight. And today they were married. You guys have done so much for me. There is no amount of money or any single thing that I could do to repay the debt that I owe you. I hope this speech (as I stand here about to throw up) will do for now. I tied this bow tie myself because John loved me enough to teach me. I am the man I am today because of John. Please help me raise a glass to John and Peter and celebrate their long and happy life together. I love you both.

K: Hmm. Does this fit the prompt? I can’t remember how I worded it. So let’s assume it does. It’s hard to make this one come together for me, since if it’s not a romantic background it doesn’t have the same feel as the prompt’s other stories, and if there IS a romantic backstory, it’s probably an inappropriate one, age-wise, that adds a dimension to the story that it doesn’t tackle. I felt genuine emotion, but I’m left wondering what was left on the table.

DK: I don’t think the “reveal” at the end is even materially important either way to the impact of this story, since it draws such a poignant picture of the relationship between Mike and John and the effects they had on each other’s lives. SILVER

MG: There are a lot of little things in this story that leave me scratching my head, and they all seem to add up to a bit of an off tone to everything. There’s a good amount of very genuine sentiment that shines through, but it still manages to feel more slight than deep. I can feel the author trying to reach a level of emotion that I think the story just doesn’t quite hit.

Zack Sauvageau, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

Chad finished the last sip of his Bud Light, took a deep breath, and stood up.

“The man that I know as k3wLd00dxXx420 you know as… Brett? Brent?” Chad looked down at the program. “Bradley. Bradley is a good man. The first time we met was in a random match all the way back on BLOPS. He helped me take out a bunch of camping n00bs. We had so much fun that we decided to start a clan and it was on that evening that Fighting Against Gamers who are Shitty was born, or FAGS for short.”

Christi emptied her flute of champaign and shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Brad and I became very close friends. Not only did we get great enjoyment from pwning newbs, we had a ton in common. We both loved Slipknot, crushing brewskis, and chasing tail. So imagine my surprise when this guy told me that he was getting married. I told him that if he was going to be a pussy once he got married I would stop him from doing it. And that’s when he asked me to be his best man. I was really touched, no homo.”

Bradley threw his head back with laughter, clearly not capturing the mood of the room.

“I told his stupid ass I would come up here and send him off to his life full of trips to Ikea and no more B.J.s the right way. The first time we met was at his bachelor party last Saturday. I puked up 45 chicken wings on him and I am still here so I think things are good.”

Chad laughed at his own joke and cracked open another can of Bud Light.

“Enjoy the married life, pussy. You seem to have found yourself a mighty fine piece of trim. When you’re tagging that tonight, make her call ya Chad. I hope that you two are happy, and I hope she is really good at making sandwiches. Just kidding… Of course she’s good at making sandwiches, that is all women are good for!”

Chad waited what felt like an eternity expecting the groans and eye rolls would turn into laughter.

“Anyways I just wanted to say congrats Kandi and Brent. Now let’s get drunk, fuckers!”

K: I know of a wedding where the best man told an off-color anecdote for a mostly uptight conservative audience and exactly one person (the brother of someone playing this game) laughed while the rest of the room met it with cold silence and confusion. I wish Chad would have at least tried to tone himself down, only to fail repeatedly. Giving himself over completely to douchebaggery wasn’t as interesting a choice.

DK: Okay, my own stereotypes are probably getting in the way of this, but I found this not to fit as well together as it could have. My own image of a guy who would talk like this at a wedding is less someone who only knows someone else through an online identity and more of a douchey fratbro who’s seen them in person every day for four (or six) years. Either way, I hope I’m supposed to hate these guys, cause I do.

MG: It takes some cojones to go in this direction when the challenge is so obviously designed to funnel your writing towards sentimentality. Still, as much as a few of the lines made me chuckle, you wound up taking on an almost impossible task by going with the online dudebro concept. (Also, I weep for the poor people of east central Illinois for being so carelessly and blithely imbibed all at once at a wedding.)

Annette Barron, FRH

Clink. Clink. Clink.

Can I have everyone’s attention? Thank you. Joanie never actually asked me to make a toast, but I am sure that was just an oversight. I mean the best man has a toast and God knows I’m a better man than he is! Kidding! I’m kidding. But why wouldn’t the maid of honor have a toast? Especially this one.

The priest today said ‘dearly beloved.’ That really got to me. Lots of love going around here tonight. There are all different kinds of love, you know? Families and lovers and really good friends. Those are all valid kinds of love . . . I’m not saying they’re not. I see you shaking your head Joanie, but there’s no stopping me now.

It takes a lot of courage to love someone. The bone deep, I-can’t-live-without-you kind of love is scary. That’s the kind of love I want to raise a glass to tonight. Well, a bottle, actually, but let’s not quibble.

That’s the kind of love Joanie was lucky enough to stumble upon. Passionate love. Pure acceptance love. Total ‘you get me’ kind of love. Unfortunately, Joanie didn’t find that love with this jackass over here that she married today.

Kevin, you’ve always known, right? This can’t be news to you.

Uh oh, folks, here comes the mother of the bride. Come on, Barbara, you’re probably the one that convinced her that I was just a ‘phase’ she’d outgrow. How old school and heartless of you to insist she had to sacrifice me in order to have the family she so desperately wants.

I can run around this table all day, Babs.

Kevin, why is it that some assholes think that sex without a cock isn’t really cheating or even threatening? Sorry kids, cover your ears now, Auntie Melanie has had too much to drink and is definitely using her grown up words.

Okay, this is actually making me a little dizzy and I see Bob’s going to cut me off the next time around, so let’s wrap this up. Kevin, she will never love you as much she loves me and NO ONE can ever love her the way that I do.

Joanie, you’ve broken my heart, you stupid twat, but you know it doesn’t matter because I will still be waiting for you whenever you’re done with this fucking farce.

Thank you.

Alright, alright, I’m coming; don’t yank.

K: This…almost works. It flits between dramatic revelation and light comedy, and one or the other could have been highlighted more. “I can run around this table all day, Babs” is your money line here and I liked the narrator much, much more when she was matter-of-fact than the vulgar jerk. Even with the humorous stuff, this could be really heartbreaking and I want to be in love with it. It just needs some tightening.

DK: I particularly enjoyed the asides to other people, like the kids who probably should stop listening. There’s a good deal of sharpness to the language (not just the “adult language”, I mean) that gives the whole thing a nice bite.

MG: This plot was not entirely unexpected by me when the challenge was posted, and I’m not disappointed that this story went in that direction. It doesn’t exactly shock these days. And I guess it’s hard to imagine someone continuing to speechify while being chased around a table after drinking. But it’s a nice tale, and I like that “Auntie Melanie” was so unapologetic about her righteous indignation. BRONZE

Rex Ogle, MPUSC

“A round of applause for the Best Man, ladies and gents. Jack is quite the lady-killer, isn’t he? What—oh, Jack kills giant. Blackbeard’s the one with the lady fetish. Sorry, all you handsome men look the same to me.
“Now, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I’m Cindy—collector of fine footwear and lifelong best friend to the most beautiful bride this side of Hamelin. Snow, you look absolutely radiant. You’ve never looked lovelier, or more pure. I wish I could say the same for your Prince. I’m pretty sure he’s drunk. Yup, see, he’s toasting me. Don’t suck up to me, fella, I’m always going to be Team Snow. She’s my girl. You’re just the lucky bastard who gets to wake up to her every morning for the rest of your life.
“I’ve known Snow for most of my life. We met when she was still a little girl, living in a forest cottage with her family. The moment I met Snow, I knew two things: she was destined to make someone the happiest person in the world, and, she and I would be lifelong friends. So far, I’m two for two.
“Like Snow, I wasn’t born a princess. After my dad passed away, I was left at the cruel hands of my stepmother, who treated me like village trash. I escaped into a stale marriage with a man who was more interested in the stable boy than he was in me. After the divorce, I ended up doing some things that I’m not exactly proud of. We all have our bad spells in life, but most of you can blame yours on a witch’s curse. My mistakes were all my own. Yet through it all, one person stood by me without question: Snow. And because of that, my only concern is her taste in friends.
“Quick question: Can I still be called a ‘Maid’ of Honor if I’m no longer a maiden? Wait, does it count if I lost my virginity to a fairy? And no, not my fairy godmother. I mean the Prince who ran off with my glass slippers.
“Okay, enough laughs. One last thing, and I’ll let you people eat. Cheers, to Snow and Charming. May you be forever happy. And Charming, you better take care of her. ‘Cause if you don’t, I may just steal her away.”

K: This could be a goldmine for clever wordplay and ideas, but once you get past the backdrop it’s a fairly ordinary (though well-written) speech with a few laughs. I do like Cinderella with this edge, though, and despite the whole not wowing me, I did enjoy many of the small bits throughout. BRONZE

DK: With a lot of broadly similar past relationships tackled here, I probably appreciate the idea to re-contextualize some characters we’re probably already familiar with a little more. Trading off our understanding of these existing characters works pretty well when the individual details that differ are meant to be funny (or sad, or whatever, but here they’re mostly humorous, or positive). SILVER

MG: Very clever choices, and written without allowing the cleverness to outpace the actual event, such as it is. A story like this can get very heavy-handed if you lay the references on too thick (I’m speaking from personal experience here, in the annals of SpookySurvivor history). But this one was nicely balanced in all senses: playful, but not wacky, and subtle enough to make the reader feel smart for catching the references. SILVER

Margaret Martin, LNW

“Ooh, I’m nervous, but I’m imagining you all in your underwear. I see you’ve done your best to bless this occasion with fancy colors and prints!

“What can I say to you, Aaron and Steven? It would take so many words to share your journey.

“You met in 1999. It seems like forever ago, doesn’t it? Let me remind you. In 1999, a gallon of gas cost 99 cents! But I don’t want to depress everyone. Also in 1999, George Lucas gave us Jar-Jar Binks. Aw, we-sa getting big depressed now! Sorry.

“If this were 1999, there would be no wedding today. First of all, in 1999, Steven was MY boyfriend and prom date. Aaron was the cool big brother that picked us up from the after-party so that our parents didn’t have to stay up late, fretting about their teenage daughter.

“Secondly, at that time, same-sex couples lived in California, or England. Not in the Midwest. It was wrong. It was dangerous. 1999 was the year of the Matthew Shepard trial.

“Fast-forward to 2004. What was happening in 2004? We saw Janet’s be-dazzled nipple during the halftime show. Gas prices hit a RECORD HIGH of $2.17. We held loved ones closer after a tsunami ripped through South Asia. And, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Something was changing. But not here. Not yet.

“You came out together at Thanksgiving. The early years took courage, but through it all you smiled like this. You got a great apartment in the cities and started your careers. You played Monopoly with our children, served coffee and hot dish, grew tomatoes and roses on your patio, loved deeply, and were, in every way but one, a committed married couple.

“And now it’s 2013. I just paid $3.87 a gallon. But it’s not all bad news! Today, Minnesota became the 12th state to perform same-sex marriages.

“Steven, Aaron, you’re asking us to bless you, to challenge ourselves. On this journey, you’ve loved one another, you’ve loved Creation, and you’ve loved us – even when we feared and limited you. Today in Minnesota, something dark and old and hard has broken open and let the sun shine in. We are so grateful.

“Congratulations, Steven and Aaron. We love you! And if what I’ve imagined about our underwear is true, we are ready for the party of the century.”

K: I really like the whimsy of the early part interspersed with some dramatic recounting, though near the end it goes off the rails and becomes more about the politics of love than about the fun. I’m certainly not saying it’s not realistic – I attended a same-sex wedding a couple of months ago and there was a wonderful and moving toast (by one of the grooms) that detailed his appreciation for our attendance and for the fight for equality. So, yeah, I can feel this, but it could have been more had the wit stuck around. BRONZE

DK: Using the broader history of the recent past through the course of the relationship is a pretty solid idea for keeping a thematic throughline in the piece. Honestly that seems like something I’d do if I don’t have anything else to particularly say about people (real people, I mean, not characters in a story, so I mean that as a compliment to you, if that’s not clear).

MG: Okay, this one lapped right up to the very shoreline of Super-Sappy Island. But it works. It’s a sweet, honest little piece of work, and I really appreciate how grounded it felt as a result of the historical timeline presented. It felt like I might’ve heard this speech the same night that Mayor Rybak married the first couples at the Minneapolis Town Hall. SILVER

Brooks Maki, LNW

OK, apparently it’s tradition that I give a speech here. Not that anyone but these two would care if we skipped it, but whatever.

John. I owe you my life. You pulled me into that bunker just in time, and without that I sure as hell wouldn’t be here today. I’ll try not to hold that against you though. You’re the best friend that I have in this world, and it’s not particularly close. We’ve relied on each other for so long that I can’t let a little thing like you MARRYING THE ONLY GIRL FOR ME! get in the way.

Sorry for the outburst. No, no, it’s fine. I’m good. I can finish this.

Caroline. I’d be lying if I said this was how I pictured us on your wedding day. I know how important marriage and monogamy are to you, and you’ll have no worries in that department. I can personally guarantee you that John will be faithful to you forever. You did break my heart, but I don’t envy the decision you apparently had to make. Good health to you two, you probably won’t see me again after this. I know my prospects aren’t great, but I’m going to head out and try to find someone else.

The apocalypse couldn’t have gotten everybody.

K: Uh…huh. That’s a hell of a reveal. This story is very ordinary up to that point, with nothing setting it apart from the stories before, so it hinges completely on the strength of the payoff. For me, it wasn’t quite there, though I appreciate the touch of being able to go back to the first paragraph to realize “no one else would care” because no one else is present.

DK: With that turn at the end – although it’s suggestively established early – it seems to me like it’s possible, or meant to seem, like these three might be the only people they know are left. Although I guess somebody had to officiate.

MG: Well, that twist at the end was definitely unexpected. Not sure how much it helped the story overall…I mean, it did make it pivot away from the by-now anticipated “but I loved her first/better” trope that you almost expect after an evening of reading these stories. I’m just not entirely sure if it helped do more than differentiate this story from the others.

Christina Pepper, BBB

Well now, good evenin’ everyone. The name’s Major and I can’t believe I made it here for James and Penny’s special day. I mean, damn, I didn’t even think I’d live to see 40, but here I am and here we are celebratin’ the union of these two beautiful people. Believe it or not, this whole thing might be considered my fault.

Let me take you back to 1991, my friends. I got kicked outta school in the city, so my parents figured they’d ship me off to the suburbs. I walk into English class and here’s this gorgeous creature, always got his nose in a book. He invited me over to his house to study, but we was mostly studyin’ anatomy, if you know what I mean.

Time came for Jimmy boy to go off to college, and that’s right about when I had that spell in the psych ward, but don’t you worry none. Because here was this pretty little chickie in there with me, our own little Penny. She cried so much back then, but I sure did my best to dry those tears. Sometimes in her room late in the evenin’ as a matter of fact.

Oh my, I think I’m getting off track here. James, honey, is something wrong? This ain’t nothing you don’t already know, is it? What’s past is past, I always say. Forget and forgive, all that jazz.

Now I won’t tell you my whole life story, but some years later I did finally meet up with James again. It was in some church basement on the other side of town for one of them AA meetings. I can’t say I kept it up for long, but you sure do meet the nicest people there.

By and by, I invited James to join me at a party one evening, and who should be there but Penny? I can’t quite recall much about what happened, but would you believe they both came along in the ambulance with me that night? I guess they had time to get to know each other while the doctors was pumpin’ my stomach.

Here’s hoping this here reception don’t end so dramatically for anyone! But love is love, and I love these two like I’ve never loved two people on this Earth, I swear. I wish you both bliss like you ain’t never been blissed before. Amen.

K: This wasn’t so much a character as a caricature in my view. That can work (quite well) if there are big laughs in a story, but it’s really not that kind of thing. All in all, it summed up a lot of the prompt: many nice anecdotes with few moments of big drama or comedy. Sure, that’s a wedding toast in real life 90% of the time, but for our purposes we could do so much more.

DK: I don’t think I especially like the use of this speaker’s specific way of talking, if you know what I mean, unless it’s supposed to suggest something else about this or these characters that I wasn’t seeing. But I like the main details of the relationships and how they’re integrated together well enough anyway. BRONZE

MG: Well sure. When you’ve gone through lots of permutations of she-loved-him/her-first and he-loves-her-him-still, eventually you’re gonna find one where he-loved-them-both-whoa-mama! Major is an interesting character with more going for him than just the tragic dual-heartbreak, though, and I liked hearing his speech. Also: “blissed.” I like the application of that word here.

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Jack Haas, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

There are those among you today who will question the very idea of my giving this speech. You will remember the chaos and destruction that the deceased brought into each and every one of our lives since we first met him. I say he may be a slimy mass of intelligent quivering jelly that destroyed half of this space station, but he also represents humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial life form, and I feel the occasion of his passing should be marked with at least some ceremony.

I first met Quverilac on day four of the battle. He dropped out of a ventilation shaft directly on top of me, enveloping me for a moment in a pale orange ooze. I remember feeling strangely calm about the situation; there was no pain, just his thoughts in my head, I am Quverilac, this vessel will soon be mine. I commend the soldiers who witnessed this event for waiting to fire until after the alien had disengaged from my head. Thanks to them I suffered no injury; I just came from the medical bay and the small spot of blood on my neck turned out to be inconsequential.

Despite his path of destruction and my previously stated intention to “destroy this fucking slimeball”, I’m impressed that he did me no harm, so let’s take this moment to mark his passing. Although our gods are almost certainly not his gods, we gather closely and now bow our heads for a moment in remembrance of this pile of goop. You may feel a slight prick at the base of your neck during this moment, please remain focused on Quverilac and his noble purpose as the first contact with the human race.

K: I like the small bit of subtext here…Quverilac has won, even in death. At this point I should mention that I was afraid to run this because I thought they’d get a bit “samey.” Heh heh. The comedy hits at times and misses at others – in a story like this one, the subtler gags are going to work better – but I’m impressed at the rather unlikely manner in which the writer took this one on. SILVER

DK: I think I’m still not feeling this overarching style of language as much as I used to. I like the basic idea here, although the way the speaker’s true nature is revealed works more for the reader solely than as a piece of a story – for instance, the juxtaposition of the “destroy…” quote among the rest of the speaker’s grander language.

MG: Daringly clever approach to the subject, even though the fact that you went this way kind of telegraphed the ending twist a bit. Still, it was fun to read. My fear is that its cleverness will be overshadowed by some of the later stories’ earnestness.

Bret Highum, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

The pews were packed- at least, the last three rows were. I looked over the closed coffin and the empty rows, cleared my throat and spoke into the echoing emptiness of the cathedral.

“Balendin Gorria was the strongest-willed man I ever met. He was born in the Basque mountains in Spain, to a poor family of shepherds. When he died, he was one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe.”

“Ten years ago, I was introduced to Balendin by his grandson Mikail, for research I was doing on the Spanish Flu of 1918. Knowing he was in his eighties at the time, I was expecting someone ancient and frail. I was surprised to meet an energetic and vibrant man in better shape than men half his age. He was courteous to a fault, with impeccable manners and a gift for listening. We talked about his experiences during the flu for a while, and then discussed the world wars in detail. He was knowledgeable and open, and I found him to be an invaluable source on many things that happened in the early decades of the nineteen hundreds.”

“Balendin was involved in many civic projects, helping bring clinics and hospitals to remote regions of Spain. He also enjoyed attending the opera and other late-night events. His family-”

A piercing scream interrupted me, and the attendees stampeded for the exit. The lid of the coffin was creaking upwards, the four-inch nails holding it closed no match for the inexorable force pushing from inside. I leapt from behind the podium, drawing a hardwood stake from within my suit coat. Grabbing the lip of the lid, I flipped it free, exposing Balendin’s upper torso and his snarling face, long ivory fangs bared. As he reached for me, I hammered the stake home in his chest, right next to the silver one already there. His muscles all locked tight- I could hear his teeth grinding together- then his eyes went flat and he slumped back into the coffin, dead. Again.

Breathing heavily, I stood up and straightened my suit before picking up the lid and setting it back in place. Glancing up, I saw only a few mourners remained, Mikail among them.

“Evidently that spike was low-grade silver. Balendin always told me traditions existed for a reason, and to always have a backup plan. I’m going to miss him.”

K: I’m not sure whether or not to love or hate the very meta joke at the end of this. Given that it works in the context of the story I think it’s fine, though it would have felt like a flat ending if we hadn’t had Voter Four a few weeks ago. I like the context of this one, but it seems the writer saved all the big ideas for the end but insisted on using all his or her words despite not doing much with them outside of exposition that ultimately doesn’t serve the story in any meaningful way. There are hints there, but in the moment it works as little more than a clinical eulogy.

DK: I’m not super into vampires either, and most of this before that development was a little too much of a laundry list of factoids about the dead(?) guy. I got a pretty good kick out of the whole last statement by the speaker, though.

MG: The actual life story of Balendin intrigued me so much that when he turned out to be a vampire, I was a little deflated. I guess something supernatural had to be going on, but making the eulogy about the supernatural when so much of the beginning was about the man made me feel like I got cheated out of the last half of an intriguing character study.

Erik S, Big Brass…Band

“Thank you , Chaplain. As no family claimed the body he will be interned here on the grounds courtesy of the state of Texas. At this time, we invite anyone to say a few words about the deceased should they like to do so.”

Well, I can see none of you are going to speak…

I didn’t like having him in my class. Some of the guys in here, my class is the only peace they have. It’s their island amidst the hard shit that’s the rest of they lives. I don’t allow no shit in my class neither cause of that. People come in, we don’t care about no colors, no gangs, none of that. We leave all that shit at the door. Anyone can come in to work on they nadiis and they chakras. I did enough time myself that I know how important that sanctuary can be. Maybe that’s the way you boys feel about working out here in the cemetery.

But he couldn’t help but bring that shit with him. Sometimes it were his fault, sometimes it weren’t. Sometimes him just being there was enough to disrupt another man’s island, even if he weren’t doing nothing.

I don’t know what he does or did. I don’t care nothing about that; though it seems someone did if he’s laid out here in this pine box. But I could see, when he was able to block out all his old life, all them choices he made to get hisself locked up with y’all, I could see a man that was trying to grow, even if just that little bit.

When I heard no one claimed him up, it just didn’t sit right by me. Someone at least cared enough to dig the man’s grave, so I guess that’s something. And you putting his Christian name up on that cross stead of just his number so he can’t have been all bad.

Maybe in his death, you can think about your own lives. Maybe you can try to be the kind of person that isn’t buried in the back yard by strangers. Maybe that can be his gift to us. Something positive he’s given us. Maybe…

Well, that’s all I got.

K: I don’t know if the low-born speech here helps in any particular way. For me, knowing so little about the teacher (or whatever he may be called), it was distracting. However, the story’s mythos was interesting and we learned just enough about it for it to remain a little magical. It could be ratcheted up some and I’d omit or change a few clunky bits like the narrator’s first and last line, but overall it was an engaging idea. BRONZE

DK: I really liked the idea to use the prison setting for this challenge, and I also liked the quiet realism of this piece. All the details the speaker highlights paint a pretty complete picture of the circumstances of this man’s life and death, without reaching for too much. BRONZE

MG: Beautiful conceit, and very well articulated. Brought home nicely with a broader concept about humanity and growth that resonated. My only quibble is that the AAVE wasn’t sustained throughout, and the times when more conventional speech poked through were a bit jarring. But it’s tough to master that voice in writing. GOLD

Rusty Greene, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

Hello. I am Father Mike Tuttle. I am your chaplain. If we have not met, consider this an introduction.
The warden has asked that I bring you together to reflect on the life of one of your fellow inmates. The hope is that I might bring closure to last evening’s events; that I might mete suffering with peace. I shall do my best.
Corey Schmitt was born on December 25th. I had known him for two years.
As a child, Corey dreaded Christmas because he had to share his birthday with Jesus. I told him that it was an honor. He balked. Children want to be loved in their own right. It is only natural.
Corey was a challenge. He was tormented. Throughout his incarceration he maintained his innocence, as many of you do. However, Corey was different. He spoke truth. He sobbed and I wiped away his tears. He trembled and I held him close. He came to me for relief and I gave it. Against my better judgment, we forged a special bond. We sought salvation. Together.
He was 22. Last evening, he was ripped apart in the shower.
Tell me. What was it like? Don’t spare the vulgarities. Tell me everything.
When the butter knife plunged into his belly once… twice… thirteen times, did it meet resistance? Was it firm enough to pleasure you, yet soft enough to completely satisfy? When you sawed off each of his fingers, did you feel joy? Did you suckle at the stumps like a ravenous piglet? Maybe you lapped blood off the tiles, a thirsty jackal at the riverbank. Was his flesh supple? Was he irresistibly musky? Did you whisper in his ear, cooing him into a silent scream as you finished?
Joy. Salvation. Pleasure. These are words reserved for our higher selves. To animals, they are noises in an alien tongue. These words are devoured in the darkness as we slumber, swallowed in the nightmares of swine.
Do your actions place you on a higher rung in some food chain? Oh, please climb that rickety ladder that drips with the gore of blameless souls. Enjoy your ascent.
You have dismantled all faith in just rewards. You have laid waste to fantasies of eternal bliss. You are the only thing that is real. My life is a lie.
Corey Schmitt was deeply loved. Now he is nowhere.

K: This one will stick. I felt the bubbling rage along with the chaplain as this went from an attempt at a basic eulogy into a condemnation of those involved. There are beautiful, horrible passages here – once we reach “Joy. Salvation. Pleasure” it doesn’t let up until the end – and I held my breath from there on out. The chaplain’s rejection of a God and faithless final sentence is a fitting coda to this tragedy. GOLD

DK: I admit I thought this one suffered a little bit in comparison with the last one. In this case, I didn’t really buy into the character progression of the Father, and this reaches for a level of surrealism and absurdity that it doesn’t quite grasp, or at least doesn’t fit comfortably with the setting.
MG: As ambitious as this story sets out to be, the graphic heights of description that the speaker delivers are unearned. The simple statement that Tuttle and the deceased formed a special bond “against his better judgment” isn’t quite enough for this man to follow up the way he does. The soul in torment feels forced, and the language used (while vivid) is showy when it isn’t misguidedly baroque. It’s a showcase for word-torture-porn, and little else.

Will Young, MPUSC

I bet you’re all wondering the secret to Dad’s success. He had three rules. Rule number one: listen. Rule number two: do your best. Rule number three: have fun. I’m going to work through them backwards.

Have fun. Everyone can have fun. Unfortunately, most of us forget to have fun. We all get stuck with life, and work, and fights. But Dad relished a good fight. More than that, Dad relished winning a fight. To him that was fun. He would mentally pound on you until you were broken. For example, I’m speaking here today because it’s what he wanted. He could have had one of his associates praise him, but instead he requested me. He knew I was broken. He knew I would hate this, and that thought gave him pleasure when drafting his plans. I can’t remember the last time I had fun with him. That’s horrible. I will live knowing that for the rest of my life. If I had just tried harder, I could have had fun with him. Don’t make the same mistake.

Do your best. Again, this is a goal I’m sure you all know. It doesn’t just apply to your job or your education. It applies to everything. I worked like crazy, but that’s not good enough. I didn’t do my best to be his son. If I had tried harder to ignore his taunts, we could have been happy. We could have had a great relationship. Instead, I wallowed in misery. Why didn’t I work harder? I don’t know. It’s something I’m going to live with forever. Don’t make the same mistake.

Listen. You never know what might stick. After all, I didn’t follow rules two or three. But I did listen.

That’s why I’m here; I was always waiting to hear what Dad would say next. I’m here to tell you that no matter how rocky our relationship, he taught me. Everyone can teach you if you listen. I learned all three of his rules.

Unfortunately, forever is long time to reflect on the ways I could have followed rules two and three. I didn’t work to be the best son I could. I didn’t have fun with him. Don’t make the same mistake.

I loved you, Dad.

K: That’s a gut punch. Our least high-concept story also has some of the greatest drama, as in an all-too-believable twist, a man who was a very good son has been broken by one who was a ruthless and cold taskmaster of a father. I knew that if we didn’t have subtext like this, it would be one of the worst prompts of the season, but thus far I am extremely happy with the results. SILVER

DK: I’ll give away now that the ones I liked the very most this week all hit emotional spaces that I could identify with at least partially. Here I found the complicated relationship to the departed father particularly resonant, and the device of going backward through his rules added a thematic throughline that gave it a solid extra punch. SILVER

MG: Yowch. Nicely subtle, the way the writer manages to get across how manipulative and crappy the father was while also making the son seem to have been taken in by Dad’s machinations. There were one or two points where the wires didn’t quite connect, and an otherwise aware person might not have swallowed his father’s lines like this fella did. But it’s a well constructed conceit and it worked. BRONZE

Joe Harrell, FRH

Thank you all for being here. It means a great deal to me and my family.

When I was little, I almost always wanted time to move more quickly. I wanted the days to pass and Christmas to come. The hours to pass and to wake up and be at the theme park. The years to pass so I could leave high school behind and start the new chapter of my life in college.

As I grew older, I kept expecting that to change, that one day I would want time to slow down, you know? That soon, I‘d want the years to come less frequently. But that never happened for me. Not only did the days take too long, but I no longer looked forward to Christmas or that next chapter. Time, for me, slowed down, but I didn’t want it to.

Some of you are angry with me, I know. And many of you are sad. I appreciate and understand all of that. I hope you can forgive me.

I love each and every one of you more than you will ever know. Dad, enjoy your garden. Watching you care for it is like watching a painter at his canvas. Mom, don’t worry so much. You’re perfect. And take care of the girls. I know how good they feel seeing your smile in the bleachers, so please don’t leave them any time soon. They need you even more than I did.

Lucille Ball once said, “Love yourself first, and everything will fall into place.” Maybe that’s what I was missing. I loved all of you so much that at times it actually hurt, but maybe I never loved myself. I tried to figure it out, I promise I did. But some things just didn’t add up; things never quite aligned. I never felt okay.

I’m at peace here, for the first time. It’s an indescribable feeling of joy. I don’t wish for the hours or days to pass anymore. So please be happy for me. Please don’t try to figure it out. Just love me and be happy for me, as I love you and can now be happy with you.

K: For some reason, I didn’t foresee this idea when I concocted the challenge. It’s a rather smart idea for the prompt, and though there are no soft bits or mistakes to point to, it also just doesn’t have that strong sense of familiarity that would allow us to feel more for the lead character (and, more specifically, the ones left behind). As a man who’s known suicides of several friends and acquaintances I can say this feels crushingly honest, but as an entry here, it may not have done enough to stand out.

DK: I thought this was top-notch on both a creative and emotional level. Choosing “suicide note as one’s own eulogy” (at least that’s how I read it) is a unique choice that pays off because of the complicated mix of sadness and relief that message provides. Also, the motif of the speed of time was used very well to hold everything together. GOLD

MG: Softly devastating stuff here. I like that the “here” where this speaker is finally at peace isn’t explicitly spoken. We assume it’s death, since it’s a eulogy, but who knows? In the spirit of the challenge, this speech fits perfectly, and it’s an engrossing piece. SILVER

Brian David, LNW

That wasssss . . . a lovely eulogy, Cardinal. If you don’t mind, I would like to speak now.

Please. . . please sit down everyone. There’s no need to be alarmed. You are quite safe. The doors are very well guarded.

hhh. . .keh. . .

You will have to excuse my voice. The dampness. . . has a way of settling into the lungs.

Many of you are too young to know me. My name is Lucius. I was there when Felix was born. He was ssssoo small, the youngest son of that unruly drunk Telesphorus. hh . . .hhHh. . .Now, there was a man with a fondness for young girls.

hhh. . .hh. . .

But I digress.

Today is a day of remembrance. Let me tell you what I remember.

I remember the fire in Felix’s eyes, the ambition in hissss heart.

I remember that Felix was an excellent student, quickly mastering the basics of history, politics, military tactics, and . . .hhmhh. . .keh. . . the darker arts, when he was ready.

By the time Felix was fifteen, poor Victor and Pontian had already succumbed to some of Felix’s more adventurous experiments.

. . .

I ssssssee some of you are surprised to hear this. I am glad we have this time to reflect.

Yes, Felix was determined and fiercely intelligent. But he was also afraid. Afraid of death, afraid of everyone around him. He eventually came to believe that I was poisoning him. Why would I do anything so uncreative?

hhh. . .hh . . .hhh

Most of all, Felix was a man of action. Even I was surprised at the speed with which I was replaced. And by such a sniveling weasel!

Now, now, Cardinal, there’s no need to shout. In fact, I think it’s besssst if you don’t say anything at all. Asag, please remove the Cardinal’s tongue.

. . .keh. . .k-k-k. . .

Many believe that there is nothing in the Catacombs . . . except mold and darkness. That they go on forever and there is no way out for those who are exiled. But I knew. . . . Down, down, down . . . there are places and . . .hhhh. . .others. . . .
. . .

So, let us take these moments to remember Felix: The man, the king, the murderer. And let us never forget, in spite of what you may have heard, that life is long. Very, very long.

K: Is this a man speaking Parseltongue in the Harry Potter universe? If not, it certainly feels like it came from that direction. As I did one other time this season, I have to say “I can’t believe an idea like this doesn’t stand out as one of the biggest ideas of the week.” To stand out it needs near-flawless prose and, for me, it was only just fine. I recognize that the speaker is unrelentingly evil, but this kind of one-dimensional character isn’t going to capture me unless it’s taken to a melodramatic end. He also lays out everything with a flat honesty, which doesn’t pop against the more subtextual stories of the week.

DK: The commitment to the speech affect is probably my favorite part of this one. There’s a number of well-placed details as well that suggest a lot about both the speaker and the subject, without spelling too much out too obviously. That subtlety gives the underlying horror a more powerful effect. BRONZE

MG: Gripping, if a bit forced, and the repetition of the guttural noises I could’ve done without (a personal quibble of mine; they feel like a literary cheat to me.) But it was a chilling and easy way into this specific mythos, and the author paced the shocks and reveals expertly. BRONZE

Sama Smith, BBB

She stood next to the coffin and looked around. Dayna took the deeply folded letter out of her pocket and fingered the creases.

“I found this letter I wrote to him in his belongings. It’s the only thing of his I kept:

Dear Mr. Corbin,
You don’t know who I am. I am your daughter. You dated my mom during the summer of 1980 and she got pregnant. She told you, but you skipped town. Why?

You were 32 years old and not ready for a child. I am only 15 so I know at my age I wouldn’t want a child, but why at 32 didn’t you want one? Isn’t that supposed to be when you want one? You must have known I existed somewhere out in the world. I used to wonder about you a lot, but not anymore. I figure you’re not worth it.

I don’t want your money. I don’t want your pity. I don’t care if I ever see you. Not having you as a father has made me who I am: an A-honor roll student and captain of the varsity soccer team. I am going to travel Europe next summer.

I’ve learned I don’t need you. If you ever need me, I will not help you; not if you need a kidney or money or someone to care about you. Perhaps you have your own family by now. If so, I feel sorry for them.

You keep to your dark corner of the world and I will explore the rest of it. I’ve done better in 15 years without you than I ever would have with you.

Sincerely,
Dayna

She paused and folded the letter back up. She could tell he’d read it many times; each crease and fold aged the lines. The blue ink had faded. Dents from his hands holding the paper taut marked the sides.

“Last week I got a call he’d died. And I felt nothing,” she said.

Dayna looked around at nothing. The funeral director peeked in.

“I’m sorry ma’am, we need to prepare the room for another service.”

Dayna walked past the empty seats and stepped outside. The Santa Ana winds swirled around her. She dropped the letter onto the street. A gathering gust picked it up and swept it away in a blur of debris.

K: This ending is so powerful that I want the letter to be stronger. If I simply had been told of this story I’d expect it to garner a huge score from me, but I think so much more could be done with the letter and that the story’s writer probably spent more time on the ending – which is, in fairness, the meat of the narrative – than on the letter. I’m not saying the letter isn’t believable. It really is. But there’s more room for drama and specifics and I didn’t feel much until the very interesting reveals at the end. BRONZE

DK: The only reason this got a silver and the other one got a gold was my particular identifcation slightly closer with that one than this one. Just judge bias, in other words. Otherwise I found this one just as strong in committing to its emotional throughline and drawing an effective character. SILVER

MG: Very affecting. Letting us follow the letter rather than Dayna at the end, and not giving us a window into her feelings, was a good choice. It gave the whole story a resonance of aloneness that makes sense given the dead man’s choices, and Dayna’s letter’s unsolicited rejection of him. SILVER

Colin Woolston, LNW

Hi, everyone. Thank you, all, for being here.

For the few of you who don’t know who I am, I’m Becky with Natural Healing Oils, also known as John’s second wife. The good one.

Most all of you are here as John’s friends and family. I think that’s nice. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to honor someone in death. Death itself is a beautiful, natural thing. We all die. Everyone one of us. Even you, little sweetie in the purple dress, you’re going to die too. Maybe soon. Probably not, so don’t cry, honey. Nobody likes a whiner.

Anyway, I imagine many of you are waiting for me to talk about John and his accomplishments and how good he was. And he was good, and his name is almost as well known as mine in the multi-level marketing world, which is a great accomplishment.

I assume that many of you think Cathy, his first wife, should be up here instead. Or that because John supposedly left me for that little secretary of his. Just because he died with that little piss-ant Kevin in a ballooning accident doesn’t mean they were together. I swear you people are so eager to pigeonhole anyone who is outside of your little herd. Maybe a little peace and calming in your world would be a good thing.

I’m sorry, I know I’m here to talk about John. But seriously, what’s the fucking point of going on and on about someone who’s dead and can’t even hear what you’re saying? Not like he ever made an effort to listen to me anyways.

You know what? Every cloud, right? Let’s make the best of this time together.

Natural Healing Oils are the wave of the future and, as I know and love all of you, I want you to be in the know. 78% of people need natural healing. Essentials oils are, just a minute Doris, essential oils are yes I know and I don’t care, Doris. Oh, that’s nice. Fine. You’re all a bunch of bloodsuckers anyway. Don’t come crawling to me when your face starts rotting on your heads. Fuckers.

K: The interjections with the mourners and the broad strokes in which this one were painted both hurt it quite a bit for me. If this had been an underplayed eulogy that clearly belied the speaker’s whole lot of “meh” for her husband, it would have played a lot better. As it is, it’s a brash and clunky set of gags that don’t really go anywhere from the initial cynicism. Working a commercial into a eulogy has great potential, and if that had been done more and broad jokes like the one at the child’s expense had been done less, I think I would have been pretty into this.

DK: This is pretty dang funny and I wish I had enough medals to give it one too. It took a deft touch to make this sustain its humor, since the joke could’ve been used up easily right away, but drawing to the conclusion it reaches ensures that it ends as strongly as it started.

MG: A nicely crass way to finish up this topic’s entries. Turning the posthumous smackdown into a sales pitch was an inspired idea, but the story itself just doesn’t rise to the level of some of the others on offer here today.

———————————————————————————–

Longest post of all time? Maybe!

Close one? Let’s find out.

Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis: 3/7/5/7 = 5.50
Big Brass…Band: 4/1/7/7 = 19/4 = 4.75
Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 4/15/4/0/0/2/0 = 25/7 = 3.57
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 0/1/3/8 = 12/4 = 3.00

Yeah, I know what everyone’s thinking. Well, Hymen, I regret to inform you that you have to vote again. Votes are due Tuesday night at 9pm Central and we’ll chuck another corpse (sans eulogy) and get to the next one.

Also, thoughts on the dual-due date with longer limits? I’m not saying it’ll happen a lot, but it could worm its way in once or twice more.

Cheers, Survivors.

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