There’s a lot of comedy here, folks. That’s kind of why I asked for this one, knowing we might want it on the heels of the last one. We had our hits, we had our misses…we had judges who agreed enough that it was almost scary…we had action, adventure, fencing, revenge, true love…not much could screw this up, you know? Nope, it would take something out of the ordinary to screw this up. Does it seem like I might be foreshadowing something here? Why do you think that, guys?

Will Young, Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis

People always ask about the craziest thing I’ve heard about here. No one cared when I won the Pulitzer, but their inner voyeur salivates about the worst in people and about people at their worst.

Like all innovation, I endure resistance and setbacks. People snicker at the station about the regressing technology. The detectives, most of whom rely on instinct and feel rather than textbooks and science, call me Computer Killer.

Yesterday, the victim provided curt answers to the detective’s questions. I listened closely to her answers while scribbling to memorialize her descriptions. Deadlines here are much tighter than at the paper.

The detective prodded the woman about her assailant. She described his hair, mustache (“thick and greasy”), and eyebrows (“dark and connected”). Most of all, she focused on his bulbous nose. It dominated his face, she insisted.

Oh, but her ears. How I would love to capture the way they jut out from her face. They could flap in the wind or be used as handles. And that mole on her cheek. I could make her instantly recognizable!

“Killer,” the detective called out through the two-way mirror, “you getting all this?”

The woman shuddered at the word Killer.

“Sorry about that,” the detective apologized before continuing. “Just a nickname for one of our guys. So he was wearing a brown sweater?”

As the woman polished her description, I scribbled furiously to get a finished product in front of her.

The detective approached, and I finished the eyes (“small and beady”), ripped off the top sheet of my pad, and handed this to him:

(Note from gatherer: there is a cartoonish picture in the document of a man with a mustache saying “Give me your purse,” signed “Sack.” I can’t seem to copy it here)

“Dammit, Killer!” the detective snarled. “For the last time, stop captioning the sketches! And stop signing your name!”

So anyway, it’s not all that exciting. Oh, but they caught the guy overnight.

K: Cute enough, though it telegraphed its ending fairly openly, and the job change is so small I can’t imagine this will have the (probably comedic?) punch of the ones to come later.

DK: I like the basic ideas of the jobs here, and the way they sort of snap into focus as the story develops, although the main meat of the story didn’t grab me that much.

MG: There’s been a lot of stories this season based on true events and/or people. Interesting. Anyway, this little nugget was a sort of fun idea, but the writing never really took it past “fun idea” territory for me. The story lacked a compelling point of conflict. Not really sure how the “computer killer” nickname is supposed to fit in with the rest of Sack’s role here. But then, there may be tons of computers being used these days to handle things like police sketches and I wouldn’t know about it.

Annette Barron, Freshly Ruptured Hymen

“Liza,” Mr. Decker acknowledged as he sat down at his desk, “we need to talk.”

“Yes, sir,” I said politely, “Is there a problem?” I tried to look respectful. I have always been my own boss. This situation was unmarked territory.

“As I am sure you are aware, lines here at the DMV have never been shorter. Efficiency is up 22% since your hire date. My superiors are impressed with these numbers.” He raised his finger in the air when I started to smile. “HOWEVER, they are not impressed with the amount of complaints they are getting.”

“I don’t understand, sir. Who’s been complaining?”

“Liza, you cannot tell a sixty year old man to sit and stay!”

“But I gave him a treat!”

“That’s another thing,” he said grimly, “stop shoving Captain Crunch nuggets in people’s mouths. It’s not sanitary.”

“With all due respect, sir, you simply must reward obedience. It’s positive reinforcement.” I made direct eye contact for emphasis.

“I have to admit,” he responded, “your approach with the teenagers seems to get good results. They are usually so unruly.”

“You have to use a firm tone,” I said firmly. “They need well-established boundaries.” I suspected my proposal to ‘officially’ implement shock collars might need to wait for a later opportunity. Mr. Decker did not seem all that receptive at the moment.

“Liza,” he warned, “despite that success, I am concerned. I’ve seen you actually rub behind your co-worker’s ears. That’s against policy, no matter how good it feels. And I’m just not sure how you’re going to react the first time you see someone litter or drop food on the floor.”

“Oh, they’ll only do it once!” I promised.

K: I love this idea and some of the specific lines are great. I think it would have worked better if we saw her in an interaction with a…customer? Do we call them that at the DMV? Despite this, I still smiled a lot at what we have. “But I gave him a treat!” may have made the perspective worth it.

DK: As with a few others this time, this is a pretty good joke that somewhat exhausts itself and doesn’t go anywhere else. Also similar to some others, this has some trouble finding a way to work in its exposition of the jobs (the current job here, particularly) in a less-than-overt way.

MG: Just like the first story, this was an idea drawn out and not much more than that. Clever, with a few cute “ahh, right” sort of realizations. It’s like one of the last SNL sketches of the night where the hope is the wacky premise is enough to carry the laughs for a few minutes.

Jack Haas, FRH

Black clouds roiled to the west as the first peals of thunder reached Delvin’s ears. “Not again.” He sighed, glancing at the sky, calculating just how long he had until the rain came and ruined the day’s planting. He made it back to the farmhouse, still dry, but the downpour started as he kicked off his boots. One more storm and they wouldn’t be fields; they’d be merely lakes with some seed at the bottom. He called for Myrven as he hung his coat. “Another storm, better get the chickens in!” There was no response, and when he got to the back of the house he could see the white puffs of the unfortunate fowl in a row up against the wall of the coop, trying to stay dry under the eaves. He searched the house, cursing, knowing that he wouldn’t find her.
He pulled on his boots again, and splashed out through the yard to rescue the bedraggled birds. Delvin stopped in the front yard, then shook his head and stomped off toward town. He found Rill, the blacksmith in the saloon. No surprise there. “How’s business?” Delvin asked, his eyes flicking momentarily to the sky that was growing darker still, the thunder now threatening to shake the building to tinder. “Shoam ordered another 4 dozen shoes for his team.” Rill slurred, “I tried to fill it myself, but I can barely even lift the hammer anymore.”
She was standing in the rain outside the smithy, with a crowd that had gathered around the same time as the clouds. She wore that now familiar dreamy stare and though he tapped her on the shoulder, he didn’t expect any response. Inside, the new apprentice worked tirelessly, striking the hot metal in time with the intensity of the storm, thunder matching every stroke.
K: I read this a few times to get the gist and I’m still wrestling with it a little. I imagine the god of thunder is involved, though with an idea this big it seems like a story this small is a bit of a letdown. The prose was fine, the idea is fine…we’re just looking for more, I guess.

DK: The external imagery here is really strong, although this spends enough steps bouncing from character to character that it never really establishes a foothold on any of them, and leaves the central concept hidden for so long that it doesn’t make much of an impact.
MG: One extreme to another here. Three reads and I still have yet to glean any hint as to what the previous job would have been for Myrven. Or was it Delvin who changed jobs? Maybe it was Rill? In any case, there’s a lyrical nature to the writing I quite enjoyed, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in service of anything solid that relates to the challenge.

Roman Feeser, MPUSC

Paramus, New Jersey – Patrons scrambled for safety at the popular Chuck E Cheese family fun center on Route 4 last evening, when shots were randomly fired in the children’s ball pit, authorities said.

Police cornered former Secret Service Agent, Margaret Kim behind the mechanical Chuck E Cheese mascot after Kim refused to drop her weapon.

Jessica Hickman, a Paramus resident was attending her niece’s fifth birthday party. “Honestly, I don’t know what happened. One minute my son was sliding down the plastic tube into the waiting ball pit, swimming around down there and the next this crazy Korean female security guard dives in after him screaming something about Firefly down! It was terrifying.”

Don Michaels was taking his family out for a bite to eat when he noticed Kim acting strangely. “Well this crazy lady emerges from the bottom of the ball pit, holding this boy screaming ‘Firefly secure’ when a balloon pops over the table of a birthday party behind me. This crazy bitch pulls out a gun and screams ‘EVERYONE DOWN!’ and starts firing into the air. I just ran. I almost had a heart attack.”

The shooting occurred around 6PM, an active time for an amusement themed family restaurant.

Kim was recently released of duty as a Secret Service agent to President Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, for a undisclosed reason. Neighbors describe her as a loner, who had been having a hard time finding work as of late. Kim has been employed at this location for roughly one week.

This isn’t the first time the Paramus Chuck E Cheese has made headlines. Last April two bus boys at the restaurant were arrested for allegedly smoking heroine in the restroom stall. Both were arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

K: “Heroin,” you mean, unless they were smoking Wonder Woman or Barbara Boxer. While the last one didn’t explain itself enough, this one went too far. Yeah, a news story would do that, but it was pretty clear to me that Kim was on presidential detail. The news story style left a lot of possible gags on the table, I think.

DK: Again this kind of spins its joke over a couple times without introducing much else new, but I like the main joke well enough and the news article format is unique and gives it a little more pop. BRONZE

MG: Nice combination of the old job into the new circumstances (not exactly a new job, unless you can get paid for insanity). The story gives away the reasoning somewhat dryly, but hey, it’s a newspaper report, they’re supposed to be dry. Lots of grammar and spelling issues by the second-to-last paragraph, though. Could’ve used a final proofread. BRONZE

Brian David, Liam Neeson’s Walrus

“The sign says $9.99.”
Frances felt his jaw tighten. He set the cigarette carton down and stared at the man across the counter.
“Yeah, the wind came through earlier,” Frances said. “Blew down part of the banner.”
Frances waved the carton in front of the scanner. The register chirped and the price flashed on the LED screen.
“Doesn’t matter. The sign says $9.99.”
Frances gritted his teeth and leaned forward.
“Look, my friend,” Frances said, narrowing his eyes. “You’re in here every day and that sign has been there for a long time. You know what a carton costs, and it sure as shit ain’t $9.99.”
The man fidgeted, scratching one arm nervously.
“I. . . I know the law,” he stammered, his voice rising in pitch. “That’s false advertisement.”
Frances paused for a moment. Then, in one motion, he grabbed the man’s hair, took a step back and pulled down. The man’s forehead struck the counter with a knock that rang through the store. A few small pieces of wood splintered and shot through the air. The man’s head snapped back and he slid to the floor.
Frances closed his eyes.

* * *

He’s standing over a body that lays crumpled on the stained carpet. There is an overpowering smell of cat urine and rotten eggs. In a corner of the trailer are two small girls, their faces covered in pink welts. One is screaming and shaking violently. The other is not moving at all. A single thought, sharp and crystal clear, runs through his head: No amount of money is worth this.

* * *

Frances breathed in. The man was groaning in the aisle, hands pressed against his head.
“Fuckin’ tweaker,” Frances hissed.
He stepped around the man and walked out into the gravel parking lot.

K: This is a pretty front-loaded story. The head crack is great but since it was there, I was hoping for another bomb down the road, but the ending sputters in comparison. I still quite like the writing and the rare choice of drama in this challenge. SILVER

DK: I felt like I got a better sense of Frances as a character than many of the others this time around, and the piece of writing where he slams the customer’s head down stood out as one of the strongest here too. GOLD

MG: Hey, nice and gritty. I like it. I like that there’s a touch of vaguity in the flashback as well, though it’s clear Frances was on the wrong side of the law back then. In any case, this story nicely played on the protagonist’s personality, rather than the juxtaposition of one job over another, to propel it forward. SILVER

Rusty Greene, MPUSC

Daisy straddled him on the white leather sofa, her vinyl stilettos dangling over a sheepskin rug below. She moaned and pressed the wet crotch of her panties against his bulging cock. He fingered the wrist of her fur coat. “Can I ask you something?” he whispered.
“Sure,” she said, licking his neck.
He grabbed a fistful of emerald green hair and yanked her head back. “What’s your story?”
Daisy smiled. He likes his whores human, she mused. Sometimes the illusion of respect numbs the guilt. Very well. “I come from magicians,” she whispered, nibbling his earlobe with ruby red lips.
“Yeah?” he grunted.
She spit into her palm, crept under his waistband and started pulled at his throbbing shaft in long, slick strokes. “Once upon a time, the world honored its magicians. The wizards. The gnomes. The fairies.” He shuddered under her. “My people had a purpose. “Remember?” she cooed.
“Sure,” he played along. “What happened?”
She sat up, lavender eyes sparkling. “Fear happened.”
“Why?” he grinned.
Daisy covered her mouth with one hand. “I couldn’t stop eating the children,” she giggled. She made a fist and savagely boxed the man under his chin, knocking him unconscious. His teeth crunched together, spewing a bloody incisor across the room. She scrambled from the couch.
The tooth landed under a bookshelf. Daisy grabbed it, cupped it in her palm, and puffed on it through pursed lips. Like a kernel of popcorn, the incisor burst into a thousand dollar bill.
Daisy shrugged out of her fur, freeing massive, gossamer wings and fluttered toward an open window. She perched on the sill facing her latest victim and licked her lips with a forked tongue. “Sweet dreams,” she growled at him, eyes blazing. With that, she turned and launched herself into the moonlit night.

K: When men visit prostitutes at this site, no good ever comes of it (which is oh-so-different from real life, I’m sure). They’re always doing stupid things like falling in love or getting killed. This one gets a little pornier than it really has to, given what will be the turn. Still, it’s one giant of an idea and Daisy intrigues the hell out of me. I’ll try, though, not to make the same mistake as the John here. SILVER

DK: This is a good example of a solid joke that doesn’t give itself entirely away right upfront, allowing itself to unravel over the course of the story instead which helps keep me engaged throughout the whole thing. Plus, along the same lines, this doesn’t work its reveal of the past job too directly. GOLD

MG: Seems to me like our little succubus hasn’t left her old job at all! Unless this is a different, more whore-contextualized euphemistic definition for “job” we’re dealing with. Anyway, this piece has a lot of fine prose. Unflinchingly explicit, which was warranted. GOLD

Erik S, Big Brass…Band

During an uncommon calm moment, while all the children were simultaneously distracted with what toys had been scrounged up, Susan slipped into the back room. She left the wind-up flashlight in its place and felt her way through the dark; fingers glancing along the row of shoeboxes.

Finding the back corner, she lowered her pants and squatted over the mop sink. As she urinated, she removed the rolled up toilet paper from her underwear, now thick and sticky with menstruation.

She calculated out of habit; still about 7 days from ovulation. Around this time she used to tease Bill to start stretching now because he had a lot of work coming up.

At least until the joke had become stale, then discarded entirely. She found it ironic that even though he’d passed a month before everything had happened, she still missed him as much as she did.

She created a new makeshift pad, tidied herself as best as circumstance allowed, and returned to the display floor.

The few shoe display islands had been pushed to the side of Al’s Shoe Shoppe, which was tucked into the corner of the strip mall they’d taken refuge in. Several dirty, docile children played in the dim light afforded by constantly swirling dust outside. A clean streak was maintained across the front window where survivors would feel their way along storefronts as they braved between them.

Susan, trained in elementary math education, had only found an opening as a middle school science teacher after graduation. She had complained to Bill nightly about those terrors. That had been enough to now be pressed into service as both schoolmarm and pediatric nurse. She knew Bill would laugh at that.

The wind moaned in a lonely key outside and she missed him all over again.

K: I’m in love. With the story, and perhaps with Susan. One of my favorite rarities here is the story that has interesting secrets, and knows how long to keep them. This could be crushingly ordinary if it’s expressly called out as a post-apocalytic tale early on, but as is, it’s smart, fun, and dark but hopeful. SILVER

DK: Also a slight bit of expository overage there near the end, but the starkness, melancholy, plus the nice twist on “new job” here make this pretty engaging. SILVER

MG: Pretty dour circumstances, and an unusual take on how to present the story for this round. I’m a bit iffy on how I feel about it though; the story’s old/new job conflict isn’t due to the change in profession, really. In this case it’s not really a quibble about how broadly to interpret the challenge that chafes at me. It’s the loss of an opportunity to let the conflict be about the new job. In a way, tossing in a post-disaster world feels too easy, almost. The flourishes of realism were definitely well written, however, and it didn’t get maudlin. I’m just not warming to the tactic this author took, is all.

Beau, LNW

“Hi! My name is Roxy. I’m ready for my audition.”

“Okay Roxy, sit down on that couch will ya now. We’ll begin as soon as Peter is ready which is usually in ten seconds. Ten seconds, now nine, nine seconds, nine and we have eight seconds, eight, eight, seven seconds, seven, just six more seconds left, six, and now that’s five, we have five seconds, four, four, four, and now three seconds, yup almost there, two seconds, that’s two seconds, and one second, one more second, and scene.”

“Okay!”

“Okay, Roxy has just begun and we’ll be counting back up from one. Pay attention will ya now we have one, one, do I hear two, two. Yes folks we have two. We have two but we can get to three, I know we can. Up next is three, and there we have three, now three. And yes we have four. That’s four does anybody want five. Do I hear five, five. We have five and let’s go for six, time’s a wastin’ do I hear six. Eight! We have eight folks. That’s eight and we surely have a prize here. Eight, do I hear nine? Nine, nine. Going once, go…nine! Nine. Can we get a ten. Ten, will ya now ten. Oh my goodness gracious we have ten! I don’t think she can go any further. Going once, ten going twice, gone! Congratulations Roxy the part is yours.”

“…ank oo!”

“Okay, now ya’ll hear next up we have auditions for Back Door Bitches 9.”

K: Good God, Survivor. I was already amused at your audacity, spending the vast majority of the time forcing us to read about people counting. This should be too crass to be anything of value, but the way we get there is important, and this was a clever turn after a very bizarre read. BRONZE

DK: To be honest, both of these pieces – the auctioneer and the porn director – strike me as funny ideas that are extremely difficult to find ways to keep them interesting over the course of a story, with any approach.

MG: Bwah-hah-hah.

Colin Woolston, LNW

Carl hovered over Michael’s left shoulder in sweaty anticipation, wringing his hands and bouncing from foot to foot. A printer beeped and Carl jumped, launching a bead of sweat from his jowls onto Michael’s screen. “Where do you think she’s from?” wheezed Carl.
Michael watched the drop of sweat as it gave over to gravity and began to descend. “What I want to know is how, in less than a year, she’s gone from mailroom to executive office.”
“And how she got Brad fired. And Karen. It’s like she controls everything.” Carl trailed off, eyeing Michael. “Everyone.”
Michael’s shoulders drooped. “Carl. Where are we?” he sighed.
“In your office.”
“Good. If anyone here is capable of tracing this, I’m the one who gets exposed, right?”
Carl nodded. Sweat rained.
“OK then.” The lines of code scrolling up the screen froze and a directory opened. “Got it. We’re in. Where do you want to start?”
“Email. Let’s read her email.” Carl’s bouncing stopped.
“Work or personal?” A smile played on Michael’s lips.
“Personal.”
“Here’s one.” the two leaned in, reading intently.
Michael sat back. “This is crazy.”
“Who are the people she’s talking about? I don’t know any of them.”
“Must be another office, or maybe another company?”
“Jesus. She’s taking over other companies at the same time. She’s out of control.” Carl’s wide, watery eyes searched the room for danger.
“Here, look at this. That must be the company.” Michael’s voice was hushed, anxious.
Carl’s face squished with confusion. “Is that, like an ice cream place? What the fuck is Casa De Leche?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.” Michael’s finger leaped to the keys, and his eyes danced as Carl bounced the seconds and minutes away.

K: My only question now is: who the hell IS this? Should I be looking over my shoulder for a woman looking to snake my site away from me? Given my feelings for meta stories, I suppose I should loathe this, but it doesn’t fall under the same rules because we’re dealing with nothing based in reality. I did smirk and raise my brow, even if I don’t know exactly how my site really fits in. The main issue here is that in retrospect, it feels like the author just had the idea for the ending and sort of tacked on a way to get there.

DK: I am “the judge who sometimes likes meta”, but sometimes isn’t all the time, and although this has some intriguing hints about the boss that produced a smirk for me, this wasn’t quite incisive enough to make the meta grab pay off.

MG: Aw, ya got me you old scamp! Didn’t see this coming at all, and I can usually tell a meta-story as I’m reading it. Very cute.

Rex Ogle, MPUSC

The stars and stripes waved over the masses who had gathered on the National Mall to watch James McKittrick be sworn in. He gave his best smile, placing his hand on the bible. “I do solemnly swear…” he began, giving a loving nod to his doting wife who stood next to him.
His inauguration day went by quickly as he shook hands, waved, and spoke to throngs of reporters, politicians, and 1% assholes. He had given up too much to let himself be overwhelmed, so he took each conversation in stride until the White House Press Secretary told him that was enough for today. His Secret Service agents led him through the West Wing and into the Oval Office. “Do you mind if I have a few minutes for myself?” James asked, though in truth, now, nothing he asked was a request so much as a command. He stepped inside, offering onlookers a final smile and wave, and closed the door.
James took a moment for himself, sliding into the chair behind his desk. He laughed. The laugh transformed into something heavier, something reaching deep into his core. He had begun as a D-list actor, and now he was the most powerful man in the Western world. What started as a simple dare in college had led him to take on a new persona, to become a different man entirely. He changed his theatre major to a Law Degree (though they weren’t so different after all). He traded casual sex with men for a marriage to a single Republican woman. And he gave up who he was, for who he would pretend to be. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players—but his would be the greatest performance the world had ever seen…

K: A little cynical, I guess, though I do share the author’s amusement at stories like this, so I guess so far, so good. The thing standing in the way is that this is all told and not shown. The last paragraph could easily be transformed into a chance meeting with an old paramour or we could jam in some info about how James feels about having to play the part of a heterosexual male.

DK: I feel like this is almost a true story, isn’t it? Well, maybe some of the details were a little different. Regardless, this one reads more like a list of things that happened, and I’m even a little sketchy on the order in which those things happened (i.e. how did he become a D-list actor if he changed from being a theatre major in the first place?).

MG: I hesitate to throw too much weight behind a possible real-world analogue (mainly because the only option I can think of would be Ronnie Reagan, and I simply refuse to imagine him making love to another man), but this is a clever little idea that, broadened and lengthened, could be a nifty satire. As it is, as a story, it also rests a little too heavily on the “unexpected cross-over” element carrying the weight of the drama. But it wasn’t in the service of a string of gags, and it seemed like it could be real enough. Toss in a small hint at a nefarious secret agenda (other than undertaking the ultimate performance), and you’d have one hell of a story here. BRONZE

Brooks Maki, LNW

A thought crossed my mind, and I reached out a finger and tapped God right between the eyes. It worked, but only momentarily. He marched in from the hallway a minute later, “Please don’t do that again.”

So. Not unlimited power.

God started off right where he had been when interrupted, listing unanswered requests. I uttered denial after denial, until I could see him starting to lose patience, so I sprinkled in a quick few yeses. “Is that all?” I asked wearily as he fell silent.

“For now. I’ll see you tomorrow with another batch.” He paused in the doorway. I glanced at my notebook, running one last double-check of the numbers. “Can I ask You a question?” I hated that he already had known that I needed his help.

He nodded. “What do You care if Lucifer gets overworked?” He smiled and said nothing.

I looked at the notepad again. If I removed Lucifer from the equation, there was no reason for Him to give up his position to me. And why did I care if Lucifer was overworked, I hated this job. I glanced in the corner where the black ash sickle leaned idly in the corner. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t give it up.

“He’s gone.” The angel reported.

“Did he take the tool?”

“Of course.”

God sat back and waited for the red phone to ring. At last His lost one would be truly overwhelmed and realize the futility of his path. Lucifer would return to Him and the heavens would be whole again.

K: This is a great idea with fair enough execution. It probably requires more words to tell itself as completely as the author would like, but reasonable cuts were made to get at the heart of it without cannibalizing it completely. I love the idea of a slightly-annoyed God. BRONZE

DK: This one might be a little vague for its own good (or even snapping from too vague to too direct in that last paragraph) but there’s some funny individual pieces and a pretty cool central concept at the core that was enough to overcome those. BRONZE

MG: I really appreciated the reach of this story. Not the kind of jobs I’d expected to read about, and not the kind of characters I’d expected in these jobs. I struggled a little with the unstated answers to the question about caring whether Lucifer was overworked…I’d assume God and Death would have different reactions to that question. In any case, I think this story followed brilliantly from the concept, and I was into it the whole way through. GOLD

Bret Highum, LNW

Jensen meticulously laid out his tools under the harsh overhead lamps. He missed having an assistant to handle the implements of stainless steel, light glinting from their beveled edges and serrated gripping surfaces, but then, there was no way he could allow anyone to work with him anymore.

He hummed off-key to himself as he prepped, the same melody that had irritated the nurses. “Who wants to hear “Pop Goes the Weasel” as they are sedated?” one had asked. He had shrugged and ignored her, though she had probably been right. Now, it didn’t matter. He could hum anything he wanted, but he stuck with his favorite.

Moving to the operating theater, Jensen pulled on a pair of nitrile gloves and his humming died away. Now he was ready, and it was time to focus. Delicately, softly, his touch drifted over the subject, noting the lumps and bulges and sensing the rhythmic vibrations emanating from deep inside. Moving surely, he made the first incision, inserting a fiber optic camera inside and dexterously maneuvering it until he found the target. Delicately, cautiously, he manipulated a pair of tenotomy scissors into place, past all the possible snags and sensitive bits. Then, taking a deep breath, he made the critical cut. The subject gave one last shudder before falling still.

Putting on a jaunty smile, Jensen stepped out of the containment tent as he pulled off his visored helmet and removed the Kevlar gloves. He waved the all-clear to those waiting outside, and started to whistle, enjoying the breeze cooling his sweaty hair. The stress of disarming bombs was similar to the stress of surgery, but Jensen could deal with that. It had been the blood he couldn’t handle.

K: Another smart, coy-in-the-right-way story. The penultimate sentence is an over-explanation for my taste, but that’s a personal thing that comes up for me constantly, so whatever. The last sentence does a good job of tying together the story and providing a small but important reason for the career change, since Jensen essentially just went from saving lives to saving lives. BRONZE

DK: Again it nearly overexplains itself with the last couple sentences, but otherwise this is a nice character portrait, combining some strong details of the person with some vivid individual descriptions. SILVER

MG: Another ably written entry that was a bit diminished by laying out the new job so explicitly. I don’t really know how else it could have been revealed given what was here on the page. But that just speaks to how much this story was about the interesting juxtaposition of jobs, and how little it was about the characters or their needs or conflicts. I suppose I may be wanting too much from these entries, given how complex the prompt was. There was a lot to like in the writing of this story, but not too much story to latch onto. SILVER

Margaret Martin, LNW

Joe pulled up to the taxi stand at the Palace. Vince waved him over.

“Got a guy here wants something special. First-timer.”

“Thanks, Vinnie. I’ll take care of him.”

Joe turned to the traveler. “Welcome to New York! Where to?”

“No idea.” Southern accent. Texas? Some Big Oil fat cat? “But no tourist shit. Something special.”

“Gotcha. I know a place.”

Joe took the FDR to East Harlem. Streetlights sparkled like diamonds along the East River, but Joe’s eyes scanned the shadows. Old habit.

“Rao’s? Never heard of it.”

“It’s exclusive. Family-owned.” Joe got out of the cab and approached the man at the door. Music, laughter and the aroma of Italian cooking spilled onto the street.
“Tony! Been awhile.”

“Joey. Here on business?” Tony’s face was passive, but his hand shifted to his piece. Joe noticed, his own hand shifting reflexively.

“I’m taking care of a friend of mine. He’s gonna have a good time here, see? I’ll wait in the car.”

“Business. Gotcha.”

Tony sat the Texan at the bar. “A Mona Lisa and a Last Supper. For a friend of Joey’s.”

Several hours later, the Texan stumbled out of Rao’s with Carlotta draped over his arm. “That was incredible!” He laughed boozily, his head lolling from side to side as the cab wound its way back to midtown.

Joe circled St. Patrick’s and pulled up to the Palace. “That’ll be two G.” His eyes shot to the mirror. Tex had his hand up Carlotta’s dress.

“Two G?”

“Two thousand. Anyone else gets you into Rao’s, they’ll drop you, see? But not at your hotel.” The two men made eye contact in the mirror.

A thrill shivered across the Texan’s shoulders. Nodding, he slid Carlotta off his lap, opened his wallet, and counted out twenty-five hundred.

K: My favorite bit about this one is that there are so many ways in which to force it to be dark and bloody at the end, but the author smartly eschews this for a much more satisfying ending that works both as comedy and drama. A new idea, some real tension and characters interesting enough to buoy the concept. What’s not to like? GOLD

DK: I bought into the characterization of these two well enough and this does a good job of propelling things forward using almost entirely dialogue (and it manages to make itself clear without making itself too clear). BRONZE

MG: The hints at the old job may have been just a little too subtle, but enough got through to show that our Joe hadn’t strayed too far from his last gig. This felt very confident in its style and plot, and that gave me a lot to enjoy in the reading of it. Like so many of these stories this season, I’d have loved to see where this could have gone with another thousand words of wiggle room. SILVER

Christina Pepper, BBB

“So, what brings you here today?” Miranda straightened her cardigan and scrutinized the greasy haired young man slouched across from her.

“Well,” said Trevor, “I just haven’t felt like myself.”

“Hmmm. . . . That’s awfully vague. Can you be more specific?”

“I’m, uh, having trouble sleeping. My friends all say I have to get over my ex, but I just want to be alone.”

“An ex, you say?” Miranda scribbled on her notepad. “Tell me more.”

“Jane dumped me three weeks ago.”

“Her name is actually Jane? I’m sorry it couldn’t be something more like Clarissa or Gwendolyn.”

“What?”

“Sorry. Carry on.”

“We’d been together since Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh no, really?”

“Yeah. I took her to Bruno’s Bistro and a movie.”

“My, what a cliché. I suspect that’s your problem.”

“Huh?”

“There would have been so much more possibility had you not followed such conventional tropes. Just think: what if you’d gone rock climbing instead?”

“I don’t get it.”

“Imagine you’re constructing a narrative. If it’s not compelling, you simply have no hope of getting anywhere.”

Trevor looked down at his hands.

“You mentioned trouble sleeping.”

“It’s the same thing every night. I have a few beers, watch tv until I’m sleepy, but when I get into bed I can’t stop thinking about Jane.”

“So, so predictable. I wish you could at least find a more distinctive way to phrase it.”

“A more distinctive way to phrase it? What?” Trevor stood.

“Now, now. Remember, I’m here to help. Perhaps there are details you’re leaving out—something that would give us more insight into your particular circumstances.”

“Seriously? Well, I can’t fuckin’ jerk off without thinking of her. I end up crying and then I can’t even finish.”

“Aha!” Miranda smiled and leaned back in her chair. “That’s beautiful. Now we’re getting somewhere.”

K: I feel like this one is pointed directly at my pedantry, but I don’t care. I chuckled all the way through and I absolutely love this character. I’d read pages and pages of Miranda. I’ll be honest: normally, scenes from shrink couches bore the ever-loving piss out of me. This one, though, gave the concept a grand jolt and I loved every bit of it. (Although, sure, I recognize that this is just Kelly-bait on every level). GOLD

DK: Here’s one I feel like I might be out on a limb on, since using this old job could skirt close enough to some people’s version of meta. I found this consistently engaging and humorous throughout, though, and again using almost entirely dialogue probably helps it avoid being too direct. SILVER

MG: I sort of hope there was some intent by the author to make this a playfully mean meta-swipe at us judges. But then, I’m a judge, so I’m all egotistical and self-absorbed like that. This was the best attempt to show how one job juxtaposed over another can result in humorous interactions. Made me chuckle a few times, and felt believable as well. BRONZE

—————————————————-

Big Brass…Band: 6/9 = 15/2 = 7.50
Liam Neeson’s Walrus: 11/1/0/7/7/9 = 35/6 = 5.83
Miranda Priestly’s Unholy Sweater Crisis: 0/2/13/1 = 16/4 = 4.00
Freshly Ruptured Hymen: 0/0 =0/2 = 0.00

Almost as quickly as they were in the gutter, BBB storms to the top anew. They’re really not into middle ground, eh? Meanwhile, FRH scores no points. However, we’re out of the woods as far as the most awkward write-off of all time, because as well as LNW did with their six writers, they were, of course, supposed to have seven. Leif Bierly hit us with the second nonsub of the entire season, so LNW, you have until Monday night at 8pm Central to send elimination votes. Leif will automatically self-vote. Upon the elimination I’ll post the next challenge which, as you know, is the “Last Meeting” challenge with a 400 word cap.

I’ll tell you what – as crushing as this nonsub is for a few of you, it means I will continue to co-hold the record for most eliminations survived without having to vote someone out (the Walri survived 11 challenges, while the record is 12). So there’s that! Otherwise, yeah, there are a lot of ways to parse the timing of this particular nonsub – though I really can’t do it in this arena. Soon enough, gang.

Cheers, Survivors.

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