Hey, Survivors! Your first post-merge challenge has to have you feeling nervous, right? I ran a challenge unlike any I’ve ever run (but perhaps like some I’ll run in the future; I like this collaborative stuff) and you seemed to rise to the challenge, writing big despite smaller concepts (mostly) than I imagined. You’ll see stories here gathered as complete two-part stories; it’s more fun that way.

STORY ONE

Rex Ogle

“I worship you,” Mariada said, her own words betraying her as he slid inside her again. She’d been with dozens of men, but never one that smelled so intoxicating, and never one that outlasted her in congress. When she saw the bearded construction hand loading stones for the new walls of Westminster Abbey that night, she knew she had to have him. But she had not anticipated feeling the things that coursed through her now.

He bit her shoulder, then her neck, tracing his kisses along her chin until he found her lips again. The Hunter’s Moon hung in the sky, a medallion of warmth casting its blessing down upon their union. “Spill your seed inside me,” she begged. “Please.” Without hesitation, he obeyed. When he gushed, growling, she screamed, tearing the flesh from his back with her fingertips. They collapsed beneath the branches of the gray Rowan tree.

“The Gods watch us,” he said, nodding to the ancient branches that hung overhead, as a small flower blossomed under the moonlight.

“Let them watch,” she laughed, biting her lip, as she rolled to the side in a sweaty heap of muscle and chainmail.

“Do you always wear your sword to bed?” the man said, taking her hand in his. Only then did Mariada realize she never managed to get fully out of her armor. She had only managed to get off her leggings and small clothes before he’d thrown her into the tree. She laughed again, feeling drunk.

“Bed? I see no bed,” Mariada giggled, “only some loutish oaf I found working at midnight, gawking at my breastplate.”

“As I recall, it was you ogling me,” he smirked.

“You lie as well as you charm,” Mariada said, sitting up, trying to sober herself of the ecstasy. Old defenses came into play. She grabbed at her boots, readying herself to make haste and depart.

“Stop.” He stayed her hands. “You’re not leaving.”

“No?” she said. “And what makes you think a peasant can stop a knight?”

“Because,” he said. “I see into your heart, past the layers of armor you wear beneath your mail and metal.”

Startled, she hesitated. She never hesitated. Mariada bore her icy exterior with grace and dignity. Few of the men she fought alongside even knew she was a woman. Her King, William the Conqueror, named her the “Devil’s Warrior Whore” in friendly jest. She hid herself well, behind the armor, behind her violence and blood thirst on the battlefield. “You’re wrong,” she said.

“I am not,” he said. “You will bear me an heir.”

This time, it was Mariada that smirked. “Wrong again.” She pulled the armor to her breast. A huge vicious scar spreads its teeth across her belly. “I am barren. I will never have children. I am a warrior—nothing more.”

“You’re wrong,” he said, kissing her again.

She pulled a knife from her boot and flashed it to his neck. “Tell me why I should not slit your throat.”

“Two reasons,” he said. “Because I will make you an immortal queen, and because your heart belongs to mine.”

“My heart belongs to no man,” Mariada said. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Galen,” he said. “Galen is the name of the father of your child.”

“I am tired of these tales that will never—” she began. But Galen moved his hand slowly, laying it on Mariada’s stomach. She felt warmth, and a kick.

“What did you do to me?” she asked in horror. “What manner of demon are you?”

He only smiled, teeth glinting in the moonlight—then, added, “Your neck is bleeding.”

Mariada’s free hand shot to her throat. Her fingers came back wet with crimson. “What did you do to me, monster?”

“Nothing you didn’t want, or deserve,” Galen said, his body losing its physical form as it burst into shadow. “I have watched you on the battlefield. You are Death incarnate, beautiful, strong. Our child will be a God.”

K: I don’t know what to expect from these “initial slight” stories, but my gut says this one will stand out. The story builds anticipation nicely, given that I know where it has to go in order to sell the second part of the story. Exploiting the centuries-old class system is always a good way to catch my eye (write that down) and this story did a good job of establishing the rules before breaking them with an intriguing cliffhanger. SILVER

DK: I like setting this in a particular historical time and location; it grounds the fantastical nature of the action with a point of reference for me. The tone of the dialogue between the main characters also fits well with the setting, and the descriptions of the physical interactions between the characters are quite vivid.

MG: This was a meaty piece, diving right into its idiom and plotline without any worry for the reader not wanting to join. It’s very game, very playful. The sexuality of it all isn’t forced or gratuitous, and the two characters are both refreshingly strong and assured. In all this is a great start to a revenge tale. GOLD

Roman Feeser

The wooden shuriken traveled too quickly for the guardsmen to smell it. It pierced his chest, puncturing his cold heart. He collapsed, dead.

The female warriors stepped over the shriveling corpse, kicking in the door to the castle suite. “Your time is up, demon,” the leader shouted, attacking.

Galen smiled, moving faster than humanly possible, taking out the first two warriors with their own swords. He took the third by snapping her neck. When the fourth flung a pine spear at his chest, he burst into smoke, resolidifying behind her and daggering her spine. The last few women were even easier to dispatched. A moment later, his room was littered with corpses.

Too late, his sentinels arrived. “Sir—?!”

“The third attempt on my life in recent months,” he smiled, pouring himself wine. “Queen Mariada still loves me.”

“She abhors you, sir.”

“Hate, love, it is all the same,” he said. “I chose her because in her heart, she was a killer. I watched her for years before I finally chose her, before I feigned to be one of the brutes she often bedded after battle. I knew the darkness in her heart. I knew if I hurt her, if I made her immortal, she would not stop coming for me until one of us were dead.”

“But why?” the sentinel asked.

“Because I am lonely,” Galen said. “And she was strong enough to bear me a child. A child she has done well to keep hidden from me. But I will meet my son one day, and when his mother is dead, he will come to my side.”

“What if she kills you first?” the sentinel asked.

“She can’t. My blood is in her system. She cannot raise a hand against me. That is why she sends her worthless legions of warriors.” Galen finished the wine in his goblet. “Why am I explaining myself to you? I must be feeling nostalgic. Send in some maidens for me.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the sentinel said, turning to leave.

“And guard,” Galen added. “When you are done, murder yourself.”

“As you wish, my Lord.”

Galen was alone in the room. He moved to the window and looked out over the landscape of thorns. A storm approached. He longed for Mariada’s touch. He had but one night with her, but it was more memorable than all of the men and women he had bedded in centuries.

Two giggling girls bounced into the room, stepping clumsily over the bodies that littered the room. Despite being tipsy, the twins were classic beauties, the kind that you didn’t find in this century. Galen’s cock stiffened as he imagined their bodies beneath the sheer dresses. He would ravish them, and destroy them, and ravish them again when they were dead. He inhaled. They reminded him of Mariada, smelling of musk and metal.

“You are both beautiful,” Galen said, moving to them.

“Thank ye,” the first girl laughed, taking another sip of her ale. The second girl burped.

Galen’s finger untied the shoulder strap of her gown. It fell to her ankles. “Perfection,” he said.

“You like what you see, daddy?” she asked.

“Aww, role play,” he smiled.

“Not exactly,” the second girl said, leaping at him. Before Galen could react, he was on his back, the girls holding him down on his bed. Their strength was like nothing he had ever encountered. “Worry not, this will be quick.”

“What manner of creatures are you?” Galen asked. “Who sent you?”

The first one smiled, “The Queen.”

“Where do you get your strength?” he asked. “Is it from my son? What has Mariada done with him?”

“Your son?” Both girls laughed.

“The Queen Mariada is our Lord and mother. She may be under your spell, unable to slay you, but we are not.”

“This is for making her an eternal monster,” the first removed a wooden spike from her hair. She daggered his heart.

“And this,” the second one added, “is for being a terrible father.” She pulled his head from his neck.

“Our father is dead,” the girls said. “Long live the Queen.”

K: The back half of this segment does get to overexplanation rather quickly, and I’d pour some subtext into this, but the story is still strong despite a few “shock value” moments that were too obvious (as in, the twins being his daughters). It’s also dubious that he would look at the twins purely sexually while planning to kill them here after years of knowing them. However, moments like asking the messenger to kill himself really drive home Galen’s power well and despite the issues, this was a satisfying payoff to the tale. BRONZE

DK: I definitely appreciated the tack of setting the second part from Galen’s perspective; that gives the story as a whole a nice balance and, of course, sets up the main twist as well. The action in the first part here is pretty involving; the part where Galen exposits to the sentinel feels a little more stretched, although I then chuckled at Galen recognizing the oddness of it.

MG: A reasonably adequate companion piece to the first part of this story, but it does have some glaring deficits. The exposition feels very shoehorned, even if the character acknowledges it himself. The opening scuffle became inconsequential as the story began to tie itself up at the end. And the ending itself didn’t really satisfy, being completely reasonable and not that stirring or shocking. I guess it just doesn’t feel like the second half that the first half deserved.

STORY TWO

Rusty Greene

A year ago, Michael awoke to the smell of gingerbread and cigarettes. Now there were only cigarettes. His father hacked somewhere in the trailer.

He had to pee.

Michael shuffled to the toilet with locked knees, pulling the front of his E.T. pajama shirt over his privates so he wouldn’t wet himself. He panted and scurried, passed his father with a quick “hi” and slammed the bathroom door shut. He lifted the lid and let himself go with a shiver.

“Happy Holidays, kid!” his father bellowed from the other room. Michael’s belly fluttered with Christmas. He flushed, turned, twisted the bathroom doorknob with both hands and dashed into the smoky blue haze of the front room.

Van Dolan sat slouched in his tattered plaid chair, Bud in one hand, Marlboro in the other. Michael scanned his father; the stingy wrinkles on the sides of his eyes, the wiry grayness at his temples, and the scratchy orange stubble on his chin. He had a beach ball for a belly. One of the buttons on his flannel shirt had popped off. A gnarled toenail peeked from a hole in one of his socks. “Merry Christmas, Dad,” Michael said carefully.

“Yep. I already said that,” Van muttered as he lifted the beer to his lips. He gulped at it like it was the most awesome thing ever invented.

“No you didn’t,” Michael said under his breath.

Van froze. “Ho. Ho. Ho,” he chortled, his bulging eyes wild and bloodshot. Michael stepped back. Dread swallowed glee.

Michael turned to the spruce propped up with a broom in the corner. The lights on the top of the Christmas tree had burned out weeks ago. The bottom part twinkled in cheerful pinks and golds while above there was nothing but a cone of dark branches. Michael had moved the ornaments up high to cover the sad parts. Last week he had made some reindeer out of white pipe cleaners and MacGyvered a caramel corn garland with a pen cap and some dental floss to bring the top to life. It was pretty.

“Hey,” Van said. Jolted from his thoughts, Michael spun around. Van held out a gray paper box without a bow. “Merry Christmas, okay?” A slur was creeping in. “Better?”

“Yes. Thank you,” Michael said, grabbing the gift with a smile. He wanted Yoda, a Rubik’s Cube, and an Etch-A-Sketch. But this box wasn’t the right shape. Maybe it was in clog neato. He held it to his ear and shook it even though it was super heavy.

His dad blew dragon smoke out of his nose. “Don’t shake it, stupid. Open it.”

Michael sat cross-legged on the stained carpet, set the box in his lap and lifted the lid. Inside, there was a plain gray rock about the size of a fist. Just a rock. Nothing else. Michael looked at his father. “Dad,” he said feebly, trying to smile at the weirdness.

“Cool, right?” Van leered. He took another slug of his beer.

“My present’s a rock?” Michael asked quietly from the floor. He snorted softly as his grin faded. “Dad?” Van stared at his son. “Dad?” he tried one more time. In the long silence that followed, Michael’s eyes got hot. He looked down at the toenail in its hole.

“Well you wouldn’t know what to do with a football, so…” Van started to snigger. The snigger became a chuckle. The chuckle ramped up to quaking howl. Michael slowly rose and made his way to his bedroom, holding the rock in one hand as the yelling started. “Get some glitter and some lipstick! Paint it real beautiful! Make it your little dolly!” his dad hollered between roars of laughter. “You fucking sissy!”

Michael opened the door, closed it behind him and locked it even though he knew the butter knife would pop it open later. His chin started to quiver. “You think you always get what you want? Think again, friend!” his father shouted. Michael carefully climbed into bed, rolled to one side, pulled his small legs to his chest, and sobbed. He was asleep in minutes.

In his dreams, his mom made gingerbread.

K: This one sucked my soul dry. It was all too easy to picture and so white-trash devastating that I kind of can’t believe that Sarah Wreisner didn’t write it. This one is great in that not only does it tell a dramatic story, it also sets up Michael as the ultimate sympathetic character and I’m frantically typing this crap so I can get to the payoff I sorely need. GOLD

DK: This story was the hardest for me to separate out the two parts in my mind, so you won’t be surprised by the scores I give them at the end. Both parts feed into and out of each other so well. The build of the first part to the withering conclusion is great, and this puts me in Michael’s place and perspective better than anything else – and carries through that childlike mindset as well (gotta love “in clog neato”). GOLD

MG: Man, this is one sad piece of work. Deliberate sadness that feels kind of…abrupt, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the story has any real sympathy for Michael, it just sets out to put him in an unapologetically mean, hopeless situation for reasons we can’t fathom. It doesn’t help that there’s no real way to get a good fix on how old Michael is supposed to be (young enough for E.T. pajamas, but old enough to have lost a mother some time ago and to know how to MacGuyver a Christmas tree). There’s no way to feel a connection with the poor kid.

Margaret Martin

The tree was perfect. Swarovski crystal sparkled under hundreds of twinkling lights. Antique lead-foil tinsel shivered in some imperceptible air current. Fireworks and icicles.
Michael hummed Jingle Bells, a smile dancing on his lips. He turned to see Lucas admiring the tree with him, lights shining in his sweet brown eyes. “Thanks for making the pipe-cleaner reindeer, little bud! They’re perfect. Oh, and stay away from this tinsel. It’s old, and it’s not safe for kids.”
Lucas knew to be careful with his dad’s old things. “Dad, did you ever keep any of your old Christmas presents? From when you were little?”
“Well, one, but…”
“Can I see it?”
Michael’s face fell. “It wasn’t anything nice, Lucas. It was… Grandpa had some problems.”
“I know, Dad. But I still want to see it!”
“But…” Be present for him. Be better for him. The mantra rolled through Michael’s head. He walked to the bookshelf.
His favorite pottery was displayed there – the 18th century Polish glass, the collectible Rookwood, the swan bowl he had made for Melissa as a wedding gift. He peeked in. Random pieces of life with Lucas – a Thomas engine that needed a battery, a box of crayons from Ramundo’s, a tiny doll comb, his Modeling Magic Narwhal with the broken horn, two souvenir pennies. Michael smiled at the collection.
Behind the swan was the first pot he had ever made, a long snake of brown clay coiled over and over on itself. He remembered using wet fingers to smooth the pot’s surface, choosing the brightest glaze, carving his initials in the base using a wooden pick. MD. He lifted the pot and lovingly ran his fingers over the jagged letters. Mrs. Miller said he should give it to his father for Christmas. Instead, he buried it in the closet.
He reached in. His heart caught as his fingers touched the box there. Gray paper. No bow. Too heavy for its size.
“Here it is, Lucas.” He opened it slowly. “It’s just… a rock. Grandpa thought it was a good gift for a boy.”
Lucas stared at it thoughtfully, his lips screwed into a tiny knot. Finally he asked, “Can I have it, Dad?”
Refusal leapt to Michael’s tongue, but he quickly swallowed. Be present for him. Be better for him.
“Sure.”
Cradling the rock, Lucas started off to his room. Michael breathed deeply and called after him. “Lucas, are you ready to have a Merry Christmas?”
“Not yet. There’s something that I want to fix.”
“Is something broken?”
“Sort of. But I can fix it.”
“OK, buddy. You do that, and I’ll make some gingerbread.”
As Michael pulled the last tray of cookies from the oven, Lucas returned.
“Dad, I’m finished! I had to wait for the paint to dry.” He held up the rock.
Michael froze. Be better for him. He broke into a wide smile. “That’s beautiful, Lucas.”
“It’s for Grandpa.”

Van’s room at the home was dim, neutral, institutional. Michael flipped on the light. Van lay awake but paralyzed from the stroke. His face was bloated, an unrecognizable expanse of wet pink flesh. The rest of him was shrinking like old leather curling in on itself. But his eyes were the same. Dark and mean.
Lucas marched right up to Van’s bed. He opened the box and held the rock up to his grandpa’s face. It sparkled in the florescent lights, a rainbow of glitter paint and self-adhesive rhinestones and glossy Santa stickers. Van stared at the scrawled all-caps lettering. I LOVE YOU GRANDPA MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Van couldn’t speak, but his lips sputtered.
Lucas spoke loudly into Van’s ear. “It says ‘I LOVE YOU GRANDPA MERRY CHRISTMAS!’”
Michael watched, love and hate battling in his stomach. Icicles and fireworks.
Lucas uncurled Van’s fingers and set the gift on his palm. The fingers snapped back around it. Then he looked into Van’s eyes and kissed him on the lips. Michael stopped breathing, steeling himself against the vicious tirade, watching for the fist to strike.
It didn’t.
It couldn’t.
A smile crossed Michael’s face as Lucas grabbed his hand.
Better.

K: I cried, god damn it. This is a smart, honest, gripping story that sidesteps conventional ideas of revenge to do something infinitely more important. All in all, this is probably the perfect CdL entry (and I mean both halves). I don’t know what’s coming, but in eight years of running Spookymilk Survivor I’ve never been moved like this. GOLD

DK: Again, this one takes the setup and mirrors it so well, then turns it around to another spin on “revenge” makes this such an emotionally resonant payoff. The details of Michael’s relationship with his son and the efforts he puts in to be better hit me in a big way. GOLD

MG: For just one icy second, I was worried that the repainted rock was going to smash in the side of that old bastard’s skull. I’m glad it didn’t. As far as a redemption story goes, this one touches all the expected pivot points, but it still leaves you with a warm feeling inside. From the luscious details of the opening (is antique tinsel actually a thing, you Christian folks?) to the nearly-syrupy trust and love Michael has fostered between himself and Lucas, you can all see it coming but it still feels good when it arrives. BRONZE

STORY THREE

Annette Barron

The first time he hit me, it was really just a quick swat on my behind. Still, I was understandably shocked. Mom never struck me.

“Baxter!” Mom insisted, “I don’t believe in spanking.”

“That’s why the kid can’t seem to behave,” Baxter sneered. “When I tell him jump, he better jump.”

I was standing in between them, trying to decide if I wanted to cry about the swat or not. It stung a little, but it was more humiliating than painful. Bax had asked me to grab him a beer. Since my mother had forbidden me to ever touch Baxter’s beer, I had hesitated. So he smacked my ass. It was not only unexpected, but unwarranted.

“Bax, I really . . .,” Mom began.

“Maybe you don’t want me hangin’ round here no more!”

“No, Bax! That isn’t what I’m saying.” I hated that my mother was pleading with him. I also had a sinking feeling that things were not looking good for me.

“I can see that I showed up just in the nick of time. A boy needs a man’s hand, so he don’t turn out to be a pussy or a gang-banger.”

Mom held her tongue and that was how he became Bad Bax. He liked to call himself that: Bad Bax and his Thunder Fists. For some reason, he thought I would recognize the reference and laugh with him. It wasn’t until years later that I understood. I still wasn’t amused though.

Bax casually moved in; I’m not sure Mom ever invited him but she sure didn’t kick him out either. He didn’t like dogs, so Bubba had to move outside. Bubba was really too old to suddenly be an outside dog, but no one was sticking up for him either.

Mom brought Bubba home for me after my dad died. I can’t remember my dad, but I sure loved that dog. Bubba was a beagle/spaniel mix and he let me slobber and maul him without ever so much as curling a lip. Mom made a nice bed for him under the back porch, but still, Colorado winters are hard.

Christmas morning dawned cold and crunchy. Mom got me a cool round plastic sled and I couldn’t wait to take it to the school grounds to try it out on the big hill there. Mom said she would go with me after breakfast was cleaned up and I went outside to wait.

I got the bright idea to put a board on the front stairs in order to try out my sled. I must have made a racket setting it up because Bax came outside just as I pushed off. I rocketed down the icy driveway and crashed feet first into Bax’s Pontiac. I don’t think I even scratched the bumper, but that didn’t save me. Bax stomped down the driveway and backhanded me across the face just as I was getting to my feet.

Before my nose could even start to bleed, Bubba charged down the driveway and bit Baxter on his calf. Bax roared with surprise and pain and turned on my little defender with blood in his eye. I launched myself onto Bax’s broad back as he hauled back and kicked Bubba as hard as he could in the belly, sending him flying. The sound of Bax’s steel-toed work boot connecting with my dog echoes over and over in my nightmares; together with the horrible yelp that followed.

Bax shrugged me off his back and I fell against the Pontiac and slid to the ground. Baxter started after Bubba, but my mother yelled at him from the front door “Baxter! What are you doing? Don’t you dare touch either one of them!” For once, she sounded like the last word on the subject. Baxter stormed past her into the house.

I’m pretty sure that was the beginning of the end for them. I don’t remember for sure how much longer he stayed, but I don’t think it was a month.

It took Bubba all day and most of that night to die. I took him in my room and cuddled him on my bed until he did.

K: There’s some drama here, though coming on the heels of the last story does it no favors. This story is potentially a great piece of drama, but it’s almost completely told rather than shown. I can feel so much more if you put me in the scene rather than tell me about the scene.

DK: This mines some similar territory to the previous story, broadly speaking, but it hits its own powerful notes. The perspective seems a little less child-like, but it also definitely seems presented as a narration looking backward, so I think that makes sense. The abuse at the end is written really strong (and dark, poor kid…and dog). SILVER

MG: Two sad-kid, Christmas-set stories in a row. It’s like our own version of Dante’s Peak and Avalanche. Well, this story has a bit more going for it. More set-up and detail, more ramifications, more fleshed-out characterization. And while the telling of the story feels a bit like courtroom testimony in its chronological ordinariness, it does engage at times, and it feels genuine. And Bax is genuinely loathsome. Although it’s hard not to come off that way when you’re a big enough asshole to abuse a dog to death. SILVER

Jack Haas

I never got another dog.
Once a year, on the anniversary of Bubba’s death, I went down to the local pound and spent hours with those dogs that no one wanted. Every year the volunteers there tried to convince me to take one home, just for a week, as a trial period. Every year the hollow thump of Bax’s boot came back to me, as loud as ever.
I never went back to my mother’s place.
I stuck it out through high school, then stole her car and drove south for a couple days. I ended up in Hemsburg, working night-shift construction and whatever else I could find. Every once in a while, I would dial her number and wait for her answer with just the one word question. It wasn’t ever my name. Always “Baxter?”
I never saw Bax again.
Last Tuesday was my night off; I went to a movie and then home to bed. I have my ticket here.
——————————-
He was pretty easy to track through the crime section of the local paper. Every few months a bar fight or a domestic incident would put his mugshot back where I couldn’t ignore it. Last week, I paid his bail and followed him back from the police station to his single-wide. When I returned, the television was off and the trailer sat dark.
He crumpled when I swung the bat at his knees. Murphy growled at the string of curses from the man on the floor. Bax was up on his hands and knees when he aimed a weak kick at the dog. Even if it had connected, it wouldn’t have hurt Murphy. Still, something snapped.
I kicked him as hard as I could. The sound was completely different. No hollow, sickening thump. Just a whoosh of air wheezing out of his mouth and the flat smack of my boot on his stomach. He slowly toppled onto his side, and lay still.
K: That was quick. Players have probably noticed that’s not a real issue with me, generally, but this actually felt like rushing, rather than the writer just getting to the meat of things. It’s also an extremely conventional revenge story, right down to having the asshole done in exactly as he did in the original. It’s hard to say there’s anything “wrong” here but when I can guess where it’s going, it has a lot less pop.

DK: I did find this conclusion a little succinct and somewhat unsatisfying for the setup the first part laid, although the reccurring motif of the boot sound is a solid touch. I also admit I’m a little confused by the explicitness of the line “I never saw Bax again” unless the last section is someone else’s perspective entirely, which doesn’t seem to make sense, given the dog and boot callbacks.
MG: I liked the first half of this. The distance our hero needed to find for himself. The way he handled the torture and pain of his memories and experiences. And the casual specificity of discussing how he had his ticket to the movie he definitely saw on his night off. I wish the story had stopped there, or that had become the ending of it in some way that the rest of what’s written could be simply implied to the reader. As it is, the last bit feels very poorly tacked on and a bit gratuitous.

STORY FOUR

Bret Highum

The straight eight roared as Grafton opened up the throttle on his brand new Packard 120. The salesman had told him it could do ninety, but on these back country roads in the early morning, Grafton wasn’t eager to push it over fifty. You never knew when some clodhopper in a broken-down truck was going to be over the next hill. Grafton glanced over at his son sleeping in the passenger seat with his puppy. Besides, I don’t want to wake Cliffy up.
Grafton had been delivering foreclosures, fairly regular for the last couple years. He’d hardened his heart to all the normal pleas, about how they’d been on that farm for generations or how they just needed a couple more months. Seeing the children though, barefoot and grimy, watching their father or mother beg… well, there was no way anyone with his own children
wouldn’t feel something. Even worse, today he’d had to bring Clifford along on the trip. Maybe he could get the little tyke to take the pup for a walk and look at the farm animals- he was nuts about that kind of stuff- while the adults took care of business. He reached over and shook Clifford awake as the homestead came into sight.
“Wake up, champ, we’re just about there. You want to see the workhorses?”
Clifford woke and stretched, the pup mirroring the boy’s yawn, bringing a chuckle from Grafton.

*****

Jasper lay in bed, listening to the pots and pans banging around in the kitchen as Alma tried to hide her coughing from the kids. Not for the first time, he wished he could somehow afford a doctor for her consumption. He slid out from under the feed-sack sheets and silently pulled on his boots, ignoring hollow hunger pangs as he slipped out the door of the lean-to, grabbing his hoe and heading for the fields before the harsh sun rose to bake more moisture out of the hardpan.

*****

“Ms. Goins? Ms. Alma Goins?” Grafton asked the woman who answered the door. She was wan and frail, obviously not well.
“Yes, that’s me. What is this about?”
Grafton removed his hat and held it in both hands.
“Ma’am, I’m Grafton Howard, vice president at Woodside National Bank. I’m here about your mortgage. May I come inside?”
Her shoulders slumped, and she somehow became even less substantial.
“Yes, certainly,” her voice was thready and unsure. “Would you like some tea or
coffee?”
“Tea would be fine, ma’am,” Grafton reassured her. “Would it be alright if my son looked at your animals? I see you have a fine team over by the barn.”
Puzzled for a moment, Alma craned her neck and caught sight of Clifford, squatting by the car and playing with his pup. “Oh, that would be no problem. Benjamin!” she called back over her shoulder. “Ben! You go on and show Mr. Howard’s son around- you can finish your ‘rithmetic homework later.”
A towheaded boy about Clifford’s age streaked past the two adults, gaped in awe at the shiny Packard, then introduced himself to Clifford and the puppy. Grafton waited long enough to see them headed towards the barn, then turned and stepped inside.

*****

Jasper straightened up and leaned on his hoe, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket and tilting his hat back to wipe his forehead. Ten acres done, good work for one day.
His steps faltered as he came around the fence line and saw a man tacking a yellow sheet on the door of the house.
“Hey!” Jasper hollered. “You there! What are you up to?” He broke into a run, brandishing his hoe overhead.
“Whoa, whoa, mister!” yelled the man at the door. “I’m with the bank, just here to set up-”
Jasper let out a roar and leapt, chopping down with the hoe. The man dodged and ran for his car. Jasper tripped on the edge of the porch and went ass over teakettle into the vegetable garden, getting tangled in the tomato cages. He managed to fight his way free just as the car pulled away. Alma and the kids were looking at him through the back window, sadness in their eyes.

K: This felt like classic exposition. It would work just fine, I think, if it was followed by a couple thousand words, but it spent so much time setting up the situation that it denied us the chance to live in the situation. I’d cut nearly all of this and start with the “ass over teakettle” bit and tell the story from there. As it is, Part II benefits from all the setup done here, but as a standalone story, it doesn’t have the punch.

DK: Here I liked the cutbacks between the characters (although I’m not entirely sure I like how it paid off, but I won’t apply that to part one) and the way the differing perspectives are established. This is a solid example of developing characters who come into conflict without having malicious purposes on either side; just people in situations and circumstances trying to get by doing what they have to do. BRONZE

MG: This is the first of these part-ones that feels almost exclusively like set-up for its part-two. It makes it very hard to not view it as a segment, as a clause rather than a complete sentence. As a set-up, it’s adequate. Well described, good character studies. Nothing that feels compelling though; no dramatic arc really, and nothing unexpected. If it turns out to be the perfect set up for a wham-bang second half, that’s going to be an unfortunate result of this team’s choice to write their story in such a way. But you can’t know until you read that second part, can you?

Beau

Four times FDR had been elected and four times Grafton had voted against him. But he’d be damned if Social Security wasn’t about to make his life better. His father, unable to work the last two years due to a bad back (and a bad constitution) recently turned sixty-five. And that meant an income.

“We’ll come see you Sundays. We can go to service together.”

His father grunted.

“You know, Dad, with my promotion at the bank I’ll be in town more. Maybe Clifford and I can meet you for lunch at Howard Johnson’s.”

Dad’s response was to walk out to the porch. Grafton sighed. This wasn’t easy on him either. He followed.

“Uh, Dad, I thought you should know…oh shit!”

*****

The farm had seen better days. Nothing took to the soil anymore. Perhaps a better farmer could have saved the land, but after Alma’s passing…well he just didn’t have it in him.

He worked here and there, and a few townsfolk who still remembered Alma fondly took pity on him. His belly was full, though his spirit was empty save a dull anger that bourbon could no longer keep at bay.

This morning, however, was different. Strolling down Madison Avenue, Jasper found himself whistling “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.” It used to pull him through a hot day in the field. Today it put a bounce in his step. A passerby would assume him lost in daydreams, the only reasonable way to explain why Jasper walked right on by a yard with two frantic men holding a cocker spaniel, its neck split in two by a rusty hoe.

*****

From the back of the garage he watched Clifford in the front yard throwing a baseball up in the air. He loaded the Browning Auto 5 and checked the sights.

“Grafton, you’re being paranoid!”

Jesus! Thank Christ he didn’t have his hand on the trigger when Evelyn walked in.

“It’s been over six months since…the incident,” she said, drying an already dry dish bowl. “Sheriff Tucker said it was probably just one of those Mexican drifters on reefer.”

He tried hard to patient with her. “Mary, I tell you. I made a lot of enemies when I was foreclosing homes. Now look, I can protect myself. But I’ll be damned if I let anything happen to Clifford.”

“Oh sweetie. I worry about you. I…hey, is that one of Cliff’s friends?”

“Huh?” Grafton looked up from his shotgun. An old man was chatting with his son, an arm around his shoulder. Out of instinct, Grafton walked out from the shadows to greet him. Two steps into his stride a flash of recognition washed over him. He lifted up the gun.

“Take your hands off him or I’ll blow your goddamned head off!”

*****

The interrogation room was profusely warm. Jasper seemed unaffected.

“Okay, one more time, for the record. Name?”

“Jasper Brown.”

“Address?”

“18 County Road 34. Lamar Township.”

“Marital status?”

“Widowed.”

“Occupation?”

“Unemployed farmer.”

The sheriff took a deep breath.

“Did you kill Grafton Howard’s dog on June the 22nd?”

“Who’s Mr. Howard?”

Sheriff Tucker stepped out of the room, exasperated. Deputy Johnson was waiting for him, giddy as a schoolboy.

“Whadya got?”

“You ain’t gonna believe this, Sheriff. So I checked with the county, and sure enough he’s Jasper Brown.”

“But?”

“But everything else he said is phony as a three-dollar bill. Never been married, no kids.”

“What about the address?”

“County said it’s real alright. Belongs to an Elmer Keats. I just got off the phone with him.”

“I suppose Elmer ain’t never seen our guy.”

“That’s the crazy thing. Elmer bought the farm from his cousin, Alma I think her name was. Said she hired Jasper in the summer of ‘29, but they canned his butt cuz he kept scarin’ the kids. Talking to ghosts and stuff. Apparently he still comes by and tills the field, until Elmer catches him and scares him off.”

“I’ll be damned.” Tucker rubbed the sweat off his neck. He grabbed the telephone and dialed the operator.

“So do you think he really killed Grafton’s pup?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps. But it doesn’t matter now. Operator? Can you get me the asylum in Columbia?”

K: All in all this story has me asking more questions even after two authors have tackled it. It’s not a bad choice to leave me wanting more, but I’m questioning whether I even got enough. I would have preferred the first story paid off the Jasper angle while the second half focused on everything else, if possible, for a better dramatic effect. Again, this isn’t a bad set of ideas (like, at all) but any story going for drama this week has a high bar to live up to.

DK: I struggled a little with the reveal about Jasper. It seemed to me like it robbed the full story of some of its impact. Again, I think the broader concept is a good look at a conflict with reasonable sides that gets a little distended by the fact that Jasper shouldn’t even have been there.

MG: Man, this twist gave me whiplash. It’s not communicated all that clearly, and the timing of everything is very hard to determine. I guess I understand what went on here, but the revelation of Jasper’s true relationship with Alma is so utterly illogical that it feels like a complete ret-con, and an utterly inorganic one at that.

STORY FIVE

Colin Woolston

The world was dark again for Paulie. His feet and legs stopped at the edge of the gravel, and the top half of his body slightly after. He swayed contemplatively, silhouetted by the setting sun casting a warm glow over the Black Hills of South Dakota. He pulled his revolver and rested the butt of the gun on his forehead, the barrel pointing to the sky. It felt cool, and familiar. His shoulders hitched, twice, and he let out a long and dusty breath. “Ah, fuck man.”
“Fuck you doin? This is a highway. With cops.” Jester ambled over and moved to take Paulie by the shoulders. Paulie wheeled away and fired a shot toward the back of the bar. “What the fuck!” There were shouts heard inside and from behind the bar, and three men burst through the door with guns drawn.
Two people emerged from the brush behind the building. The first was a half naked teenager, her breasts wobbled wildly as she tried to choose a direction to run. Next was an enraged naked man with a pistol in one hand, boots on his feet, and a ragged, bloody flap of skin where his right ear had been.
“Fuck you Paulie.” He fired, and the bullet disappeared into the evening.
“Fuck you Three Stroke!” Paulie fired back. “Keep your dick to yourself, fucker!” The recoil of the shot turned Paulie toward Jester, still aiming.
“Hey! Fuck!” Jester’s forehead disappeared, and he collapsed backward.
“You fucked my bitch, Three Stroke. And now you’re fucking her daughter?” Paulie screamed and fired again. Three Stroke began to fire and the two men stood twenty feet apart, emptying their clips. A few seconds later, Three Stroke lowered his gun and watched as Paulie continued to pull his trigger. Paulie’s grunting, slobbering cries punctuated each click of his empty revolver. Three Stroke dropped his pistol and charged.
Paulie registered the incoming fist just as it impacted his face. The world was dark for a moment, and then slowly materialized before him from a horizontal perspective. A kick from Three Stroke’s boot moved his head a few feet, and he recognized the lifeless bodies of his only love’s daughter and, slightly closer, Jester. He also recognized the rest of his crew dragging Three Stroke away. Hands and arms wrestled him to his feet and propelled him towards the row of parked motorcycles as sirens began to sound in the distance.

***

Three Stroke breathed in, found his heart center, and willed the image of the cigarette from his mind. The idiot clerk with the blue polo shirt and crooked name tag was still talking about how rebates are different than refunds. Three Stroke breathed in, found his heart center, and replaced the image of the clerk with that of Paulie. He focused his rage. Someday.

***

Three Stroke breathed in, found his center, and willed a smile onto his face. “Because Daddy says so, for the fourth time this hour. Please go put your shoes away.”
Three Stroke breathed out, and was surprised to find the smile still on his face.

K: Huh. The last couple sections here really speed the plow a little, and don’t feel like they should be part of this first story. Even before that it was a little scattered, as it was more about action than story. I realize I should be rooting for someone in the second half, but the first half doesn’t do a good enough job of setting up characters, so I therefore am only mildly curious to who wins, rather than fully invested.

DK: The action here is frantic and intense. Almost a little too frantic, as although it’s involving on a pure reading interest level, it take a little parsing to get a handle on the individual characters here. Again, the use of different perspectives is helpful to show the full conflict; here, though, I felt like Three Stroke’s wasn’t really fully fleshed out till the next part.

MG: I really don’t know what to make of this. The bulk of it feels fine, setting up something, using a nice bit of incomplete information to propel some fiery action. But the tonal shift between it and the last two pieces is drastic, and unless there’s some very well reasoned explanation in the second part of the story, it sticks out like a sore thumb on an unnecessary third hand. Two major shifts in (what I assume is) time and place in so small, sudden a space of a story really doesn’t accomplish that much here.

Brian David

Three Stroke walked out of the convenience store, thumping the pack of gum rhythmically against the palm of his hand. He stopped in front of a newspaper machine and leaned over, staring at the front page for a while until his attention was broken by the sound of motorcycles rolling into the gas station. Stroke popped a few coins into the machine, grabbed the top paper and walked across the street.

The parking lot in front of The Broken Spoke was already filling up. Stroke wound his way through the cars and the bikes to the back of the building, where an RV was nestled by the dumpsters. He grabbed his keys and reached up to unlock the door, but it opened in front of him and a young girl stepped out. She jumped down onto the gravel lot and started to frantically straighten her hair when she saw Stroke. Her eyes went wide.

“Oh.” The girl bit her lower lip. “Oh. Hi.”

Stroke didn’t say anything. He unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it into his mouth. The girl composed herself and reached out her hand.

“You–You’re Three Stroke, right?” she said as her eyes glanced at the side of Stroke’s head. She smiled. “Holy shit, I love –”

Stroke pushed the girl aside and stepped into the RV, slamming the door behind him. He saw Jackson sitting on the couch, leaning back with his eyes closed, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Stroke tossed the paper onto a small card table. Jackson leaned forward and ashed his cigarette.

“Whew, I tell you what,” Jackson said, raising his eyebrows. “Some of these girls–”

Three Stroke grabbed Jackson by the shirt, lifted him up and slammed him against the side of the RV. The vehicle rocked with the force of the impact, and Jackson gasped violently, spraying a mist of saliva and cigarette smoke into Stroke’s face.

“Jesus, man!” Jackson shouted before erupting into a coughing fit. Stroke leaned in close to Jackson’s face.

“How fuckin’ old do you think that girl is?!”

Jackson continued to cough, and Three Stroke dropped the man to the couch.

“Listen, you fuck,” said Stroke, pointing his finger at the younger man. “You think you’re some kind of rock star now? Last thing I need is for you to land your ass in jail for fucking around with kids.”

Jackson raised his hands, shaking. “Hey, hey, alright Stroke, relax. Nothin’ happened, I swear.”

Stroke closed his eyes and took in a few deep breaths. He tried to calm his mind, slow down his heartbeat, find his center like he’d done so many times before. He picked up Jackson’s still smoking cigarette and snubbed it out in the ashtray.

“You shouldn’t smoke this shit, it’ll ruin your voice.” Stroke paused. “Look, I’m sorry, Jack. Just a little high strung. Been away from the family for too long.”

Stroke leaned against the small counter in the kitchenette.

“I’m going to need a few minutes.”

“You got it, man.” Jackson grabbed a beer from the fridge, slipped another cigarette from the pack he kept tucked in his shirt pocket and rushed out the door.

Stroke grabbed a pair of drumsticks and sat down next to the card table, looking at the newspaper. On the front page was the story of a man who had been shot and killed in a bar fight a few towns away. The caption underneath the photo said Joe Gallo.

Three Stroke knew him by a different name.

Stroke started tapping the sticks on the surface of the newspaper, practicing his patterns the way he used to when he first started; when he had needed something to help him stop drinking.

He looked at the face in the picture, and the side of his head itched where his ear used to be. The world had given Stroke his revenge, but he didn’t feel happy about it. He just felt like an old man, wasting his time playing rock n’ roll with a bunch of kids half his age. He missed his daughter.

Stroke breathed and rolled the drumsticks slowly, left, right, left, left, right, left, right, right. ..

K: For me as a judge, one of the best things you can give me is the unexpected, as long as you can justify it. This second story does a great job of that, with more unconventional revenge-by-proxy and the chance to look at Three Stroke in a wildly different way, which makes him much more fascinating to me as a reader. I rather like this part of the story while recognizing that the first, while hit with a few problems, did a good job of making him a certain kind of character to bring home the power of his transformation here. SILVER

DK: On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to just focus in on one character, and here I though this second part was a solid job of rumination on Three Stroke’s experience since that encounter in the first part. He feels like more of a realized character here, although credit is also due to the recurring bits set up in those last sections of the first part. BRONZE

MG: This half of the story filled in a lot of blanks that the first half didn’t, although I wish it hadn’t worked out that way. I liked being presented with this version of Three Stroke: a man with a history, an identity, and a palpable sense of loss and grief for something which we won’t ever know the full story of, but we don’t need to. The ending was what sealed it for me; the man fighting new demons the only way he knew how to, from his efforts with demons earlier in his life. I just wish there had been some of these juicy elements in the first part of this two-fer as well. GOLD

STORY SIX

Christina Pepper

“This way, Hooyo,” says Abdi, pulling my hand.
Step, step, stumble.
He yanks me up before I fall into a stream of sewage. These alleyways are so narrow, they remain shadowed even when the sun is at its apex. But right now, it’s barely above the horizon.
“You should be ashamed, dragging me through the streets just after the first call to prayer.”
The boy never answers me anymore; thirteen years on him and he thinks he’s a man.
“Wait. Let’s sit a spell.”
“No time,” he mutters and grips my hand tighter, as if he knows I would drop it otherwise.
At nighttime, I like to listen to him breathe. It is so calm, so steady. He doesn’t know what demons are at my side, robbing me of my rest.
“Do you remember?” I ask. “Do you remember our beautiful house with the clean white walls and the bird in a cage that sang for us?”
“Not the house again” he says, though he must know it will do no good.
“Fresh milk every morning. Your father’s laughter every evening.”
I begin coughing, and Abdi at last has the decency to stop. But as soon as I’m done, he’s pulling at my arm again.
“You were so young,” I pant. “And that man came and we thought he would fix everything with his soft hands and his glass vials.”
My voice trails off, but Abdi already knows. It’s like a ritual, telling the story of how that man ruined us. Kenneth. Even the name itself is unclean in my mouth.
“Where are we going?”
We reach a line of people outside a large white tent that is just at the edge of the slum. Abdi steers me to the line’s end, and I squint at the colorful array of veils and garments leading up to the mouth of the tent. Once-impressive buildings stand behind it, now gray and crumbling.
“What is this?” I ask.
“Clinic,” replies Abdi.
“You are unwell?”
“You, Hooyo macaan. They will help you.”
My boy’s own impudence shocks me, and I strike his face. He flinches but stays at my side.
– – –
The air is hot and still in this place we call home. I lie on the floor and study the meandering flights of the flies. Abdi returns with water but does not look at me.
“I knew I was dying, boy. I didn’t need some health volunteer to tell me. The only difference is now you know it too.”

“I’ll find help.”
“There is no help for us. Just remember your father. We thought that man would save him, but Samatar only grew weaker.”
“You always tell this story,” he replies.
“No, not this part. The doctors had given up on your father already–it was a terrible new disease, they said. But that man told us he knew things the doctors did not. Near the end, he came to our house late at night. He said I could help him, and he pressed himself against me. How could I not follow the wishes of the man who was our last hope? We had already given him all of our money. I turned my head aside and let him do what he would. I tried to keep quiet while you slept in the next room.”
Abdi’s dark eyes gleam with shame, and he looks down at the ground.
“Samatar died three days later. At the end, I sat by his side in a stupor, holding his hand as he took his final breaths.

“No sooner was his body cold than Kenneth brought in soldiers. His friends, he said. You and I were reduced to human shields, so I took you here before worse could happen. I did what I had to so the two of us could survive. Would that we had never met that man.”

A coughing fit interrupts me.

“Abdi,” I pull his face close. He smells of qaat. “Promise me you’ll find that man. Promise you’ll make him suffer as we’ve suffered.”

“I will, Hooyo,” he replies. “Insha’Allah.”

“The will of Allah or no, you do it for me.”

K: Like the first half of story four and perhaps others, this one felt like exposition rather than a full story that took place to set up the second. Let me tell ya, you’ll never go wrong in any prompt by writing a complete story (unless I ask you not to). The writer does a good job of dropping us in the world without holding our hands to explain the culture, but all the same, I feel like I just saw the opening scene to an action movie, rather than an entire action movie that begs for a sequel. BRONZE

DK: This one, too, took me a little while to really get a handle on who all the characters were and their relationships to each other. Probably my fault, as once it clicked it seemed clear in retrospect. I like the initial establishment of the setting here, and I think that setting pays off even more in the second section.

MG: Reading this made me feel very uncomfortable, which I guess was part of the writer’s intent. It’s not an easy story. It’s not a pleasant story, but the ways in which it’s unpleasant are deft and enjoyable, a testament to the unflinching presentation of some hard and harsh realities the writer presents us. It ranges toward the heavy-handed at times, but never so much so that it becomes a chore to read. BRONZE

Erik S

Mother once took me to a film showing the Missionaries set up several villages over. It was a copy of Peter Pan that must have been floating around the continent for the past few decades. I couldn’t understand the English then, but the sound on the reel had been worn down so much by then that the speech was little more than muffled vowels. Still, I remember that the tune from that song was in my head for days.

Dum-diddle-de-dum. De-dum-de-dum-de-dum.

I chuckle at the memory. I hadn’t thought of it in some time. I hum the tune again, knowing it can’t be heard over of the whine of the engine and slap of the aluminum hull on the waves.

The CTF-150 has been far too effective these days. Many countries fill their coffers and scores of brothers have been sent to fill their prisons in return. I think the days of the big kill are over, and I’m surprised to find it saddens me. The mighty mouse flying across the ocean floor to jump on the rhinoceros’ back and demand his respect. That was a rush. These brash young kids coming in from the streets or orphanages will never know that subtle cunning.

The spray of the ocean mixes with the sweat on my brow. I always get a little edgy right beforehand.

“Abdi!” yells Sharif as he grabs my shoulder to get my attention. “Prepare!”

I nod gravely and clutch my AKM to my chest. As our skiff closes in on the yacht, I begin to hum a little tune.

Dum-diddle-de-dum. De-dum-de-dum-de-dum.

– – –

The hired help above deck allowed themselves to be cuffed without quarrel. There were only three of them, but they knew the drill anyway; we all wanted to get home to our families.

It’s suicide to go after the tankers these days, so the game was ransoming big shots on their pleasure boats. Surveying the current situation, it was about time to meet today’s host. I tell Fazul to keep an eye on the crew above deck. I can tell by his runny nose and gaunt cheekbones the young lad has been getting himself into powders lately, and would prefer him and his RPG stay out of the close quarters below.

I can hear our host’s woman bitching over the sea as I descend below deck.
“…but you said the Cape was safe!” she whines.

“Shut it,” I hear the man snarl, and my feet stopped and turned to ice at the bottom of the stairs. I know that that voice. I know it sure and without doubt. Lost of their vigor, my legs crumple beneath me, and I kneel on the cold deck as I did during the thousands of hours at prayer to Allah for the power and strength to give my mother the vengeance she demanded of me.

“I said shut up you stupid cunt!” he yells.

The breath in me ceases to spill out like the child left to the whims of the orphanage; the child that was pulled from his mother’s cold corpse on the grounds outside the clinic. I pull myself to my feet by my AKM, and enter the cabin.

“Leave, Sharif,” I tell him. He eyes me warily, knowing something is wrong.

“Leave us,” I repeat once more with finality.

He slowly turns to leave. “Ahmed will fine you heavily if you do anything foolish,” Sharif warns me gravely as he exits.

“Call in your fucking boss,” the man says. “I don’t deal with pawns.”

“Kenneth,” I say, spitting the name out of my mouth distastefully.

“Y—” is all he gets out as my knife enters his throat. His blood and his woman’s screams wash over me, coating me in a thick and sticky vengeance.

As the geyser of blood from his neck slows, sputters, and stops completely, I take a deep breath. Leaving his woman to whimper, I walk above deck.

The sun looks the same. The waves smell the same. My heart feels the same.

K: I love this last paragraph as much as I love any closing paragraph here, though before we get there it’s kind of another obvious trudge toward resolution. I do give it points for the unconventional setting, even if the story beats weren’t anything to get wildly surprised about. Part of me wants to reward the story for the last few sentences despite an unmemorable path to get there, but I’m not sure I can. There’s too much to like this week.

DK: Actually, I can see a way that Abdi’s internal thoughts here might seem incongruous, if I think about it, but on the other hand, I don’t really have a good idea what’s incongruous for a guy like Abdi anyway, and the way those details are handled here give him a distincter edge (and also make his interactions with his mother in the first part more resonant in retrospect). Also, again I just really liked this use of setting, and this was one of my favorite payoffs of straight-up classic revenge on an evil dude. SILVER

MG: Not much to say following that. The writing’s got a snap to it that feels dangerously alive, like a felled electrical wire on a sidewalk. There’s no doubt at all where this story’s headed once it begins, but nothing about it feels predictable or rote. Best of all is that final set of three sentences. Revenge may be cold, but it ain’t always sweet. Or satisfying. SILVER

——————————————————————

Alright, Survivors. That was a fun prompt. I do plan on scaling back the word limit next week, but only once.

Your immunity winners:

Rex Ogle
Rusty Greene
Margaret Martin
Brian David

Vote for anyone else by Friday at 9pm Central. I finish work at that hour, so it might be a bit later for voting results. I wait with bated breath, Survivors. Really. Damn, I can’t wait for the Minnesota in-person thing in a month so we can talk this game out.

Cheers, Survivors.

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