DK here. Here’s some results. They’re from the Interrobang conference. It’s Play with the Prose 6: The Prosening. (Isn’t it? That’s not just in my head, right?)

NOVAK

An almost scarlet color runs on her toes. I ponder them, and the strange changes that her body undergoes. It has shriveled, withered, I wonder how it will be able to sustain me.

The scene changes. A new face appears. Pleasant. Younger. But without the same assurances as the old one, and I weep for what I am losing.

I hear a familiar voice.

“We need to get going.”
“Are you sure it’s alright? I feel so guilty.”
“It’s OK dear, he’s old enough for a sitter now.”

DK: I like this perspective, and I like the way it unveils itself. The images that are here are pretty vivid, too. I wish this was a little fuller of a story and not just so much of a fragment geared towards revealing that perspective.

CP: This doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. The beginning bits are descriptive and mysterious, but the dialog at the end turns the whole thing into a kind of joke. I wish you’d developed the characters a bit more so that we had more to go on than just this.

BRIAN

I had a dream last night.
The air was damp and heavy, and I thought I could hear singing through the window. A sharp pain coursed through my jaw, keeping me from sleeping. I walked to the bathroom in the dark, legs shaking. The moon shone round and full, reflecting brightly off the mirror. I stared at my reflection and opened my mouth, skin stretching across my face like a mask. As I ran my tongue along the edge of my teeth, one of my molars tilted easily and slipped out of its cavity, tumbling to the floor. It rolled momentarily before disappearing through a crack between the wooden slats.
I woke up then, my forehead cold and damp, residual pain burning through my gums. I could hear the waves outside, lapping against the side of the house. Marie lay curled against my legs, her striped tail wrapped around her body. Her breaths were raspy and shallow.
When daylight finally shown through the window, Marie was no longer breathing. I scratched her head and ran my hand along her side, feeling every rib beneath the fur.
I set my legs on the floor and tried to stand, but nausea quickly washed over me. Leaning on my knees, panting, I stared at my cracked and yellow toenails. I reached down and rolled up the legs of my jeans; I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken them off.
My breath now steady, I made my way through the house, leaning heavily against the walls and furniture. An inch of water flooded the living room, swirling in eddies around my feet. I opened the front door and looked across the silent sea; there were no more trees, no debris, no bodies.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us. . .

I walked to the edge of the porch, and holding the railing tight, stepped forward.

DK: Framing this with a dream gives the rest of it a nice ethereal atmosphere that carries through the rest of the story. I like the way the internal and external effects here are described; they give the development a solid impact. BRONZE

CP: The mood of this piece really grabbed me. The description is strong throughout and the events are handled in a nicely understated way. (You mean “shone” not “shown” through the window, though.) The character is distinct and intriguing, yet never over-explained. I did wonder a bit if we had to get into catastrophic territory at the end, with the flooding, etc., but even so it’s my favorite of the week. GOLD

ZACK

Fred smiled as he looked at himself in the mirror. His outfit was very smart. A crisply ironed gingham shirt with a contrasting bowtie, selvedge jeans, red argyle socks, and grey wingtips. He’d tightly rolled the bottom of his jeans to show off the finished edge. His silver hair was closely cropped. He put on his favorite tortoiseshell glasses and grabbed his rider jacket. This was a big day, and he wanted to look his best.

for the first 63 years of his life Fred was known as Sara. His born gender was oppressive and wrong, but he had no way to rectify that. He didn’t have the money, he didn’t have the support system, so he lived his life as Sara. At 62 and a half, he was able to retire. And now, free of the social obligations that made him uncomfortable to transition while at work, he was finally able to go through the process.

He’d bought the outfit for today, his first day in public as a man, many years ago. He wasn’t sure he’d ever had the chance to wear it. But after all the surgery, the pills, the consultations, the bills… he knew he god damn well deserved it. He was an old man wearing a young man’s clothes, but that didn’t bother him. This was the first day he felt like he was truly himself. It made him feel 40 years younger.

DK: Here, too, this is an idea I really, really like that I wish was fleshed out a little more fully, or used in a scenario with more space. This idea as constructed requires so much relative exposition to establish Fred’s background that it’s difficult to get Fred established as a character.

CP: This feels more like a description of a story than an actual story. The prose just comes out and tells us everything. It’s a touching scenario, but I would have rather seen it all unfold while encountering the character doing something and somehow interacting with the world, rather than just standing in front of a mirror.

SARAH

I guess it’s called a root cellar, but it’s not like we keep anything in it besides tools, chipped garden pots, sidewalk salt, and the things that don’t belong anywhere else. Last week, Jemma clipped some sprigs from the juniper tree at the library. She piled them on the far side of the bottom step of the cellar stairs to dry – for what, I’m not sure, but they were there when I came down to get the masking tape. Soon they’ll be floating above the drowned storm windows and socket wrenches.

I slipped on the juniper sprigs on my way down to the cellar. I fell forward trying to right myself, grabbing the first thing in reach – the ancient utility sink – as my ankle snapped like kindling. The sink collapsed, crashing into the dirt-packed floor.

I haven’t eaten today. I keep thinking about Jemma’s homemade biscuits, upstairs under a yellow dishtowel. I’m down here instead, twisted at strange angles, thinking about biscuits while Jemma drives to the airport. Maybe she’ll change her mind before the plane takes off. Maybe we’ll joke about this at the hospital, calling a plumber on the way. Probably not, though.

Water sprays from the decaying wall. My ankle is jutting foolishly from a gash in my pant leg, splintered and useless. I can’t move my left arm, either. I’m too old for this shit.

When I came to, about five minutes ago, the floor had turned to mud and the water was starting to rise. The room isn’t very big. I don’t know what kind of arithmetic I’d need to calculate the time it’d take a broken pipe to fill a cellar. Even without math, I know that Jemma won’t be home for about 65 hours from the time I last walked past the microwave. That’s a long time and a lot of cold water, I think.

I’ve survived a lot worse than this. I’ll probably be okay. My only fear is that Jemma will find me like this, bloated and floating face down in the juniper needles.

DK: The tone of the narration here really sells this; it has a starkness and a pragmatic sound that suggests the breadth of experience and combines well with the harrowing nature of the stiuation. Plus, you know, this is dark, desperate stuff here. GOLD

CP: This is a dramatic situation, but the telling is somewhat lacking in drama. For instance, you could drop the first paragraph entirely and start instead with the fall. The character’s voice is also a bit odd to me–she feels rather removed from the situation. There are lots of interesting details and description, but it just didn’t fully come together for me. BRONZE

ANNETTE

Beth, at the checkout, looks at me boldly. She makes it known every time I come into Walgreens that she will not reject an invitation from me. I know I should do it; I should invite her to a movie. You don’t have to talk during a movie or look at each other. But Beth does not attract me; her figure is square and her face plain.

Maggie attracts me. She has thick black hair and interesting glasses, enlarging her deep blue eyes. But she works the pharmacy window and she knows all my medications. She would never agree to see me socially.

Yes, I steel myself, today I will ask Beth to a movie. I pay Maggie for my prescriptions, not meeting her eyes. The bill comes to just over $400.00. It’s a big bite in my monthly budget.

You can have everything delivered now, even work. Padded envelopes with tiny cassettes full of medical notes for me to transcribe. New software is trying to rob me of this livelihood. Hopefully, there are enough doctors resisting change to keep me solvent. So far, I still leave my apartment to come here.

I grab a bar of soap on my way to the checkout counter. I need a reason to approach Beth and it is the cheapest thing I can see. I can’t possibly ever use this bar of soap; it is not hypoallergenic. My stomach knots over the waste. I will have to deny myself something else this month. Beth grins her big, uneven grin and I falter. Her teeth are vaguely equine. It’s hard to get enough air.

I take the soap back to its designated spot. My face feels very hot. I start when a hand is laid gently on my arm.

“Mr. Williams?” Maggie’s soft pity causes more heat to rush to my face. “Can I help you find anything?”

“No!” That was too loud. “No.” Better.

“Okay.”

Tears burn behind my eyes. I walk very quickly past Beth (grinning stupidly) and out the front door.

Later, I soothe myself with the Walgreen’s delivery flyer.

DK: Here, as well, I think this strikes just the right amount of remove from the narrator’s emotional core, while giving glimpses into it in bursts. The setting here is a lot less harsh than the last story, but this one succeeds in making this character’s journey within here affecting as well. SILVER

CP: Awwww, nicely done with this character. The opening is very strong, though I thought the story started to lose focus when we got to the line “It’s a big bite in my monthly budget.” The paragraph that follows that line felt like too much background info. And maybe he was just flustered, but the whole thing about the soap and buying something he couldn’t use was a little distracting; there are plenty of other cheap items to choose from. Even though all the elements didn’t quite come together for me, the character is strong enough to mostly make up for that. SILVER

MELISSA

Hank’s birthday party ended. The kids lingered and chatted by the front door. Grandkids hopped on one leg at a time, putting on shoes. It was like old times, except that the ‘kids’ were in their fifties now, and the grandkids were married and having babies of their own. Hank waved as they all headed out, and he smiled to himself. One of the joys of old age was being able to kick your kids out at the end of the day.
As the door clicked shut on the last of them, Rhonda slipped an arm around Hank. “Time to go to bed?” she said with a grin. That grin displayed the too-perfect teeth her dentist had commissioned, and it made the countless lines on her face all the deeper. Hank smiled at his old biddy of a wife. He still remembered her lithe 20-year old body. Her 30 year old post-baby curves, and the red panties she used to wear under her skirts well into her 50s. He remembered all that with the same fondness he felt today for the streaks of silver in her hair.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, and he and Rhonda slipped out the back door.
It took them longer than it would have even 10 years ago, but they got down to the creek behind their house. They held hands and watched the last glimmer of color in the sky disappear along the tree tops before the deep blue of night settled in. The creek gurgled. Leaves rustled in the breeze. Fireflies snapped like mini fireworks as the moon rose above them. Hank and Rhonda rolled up the bottoms of their trousers and stepped into the creek water.
This was the true birthday party.
Rhonda said, “Can you believe how old we are?”
Hank laughed. “I’m not dead yet. I can’t be that old.”
Water swirled at their feet, splashing cold water against their bare shins. It was a party. No need to keep dry.
“Let’s dance,” Hank said.
And they did.

DK: It’s harder for me to get as invested in this one because it’s constructed as much more of a snapshot than an arc, but there are several individual details here that are very strong – both the observations about the “kids” and the comparisons of the different ages are unique and interesting, and the poignancy of the end is well-struck. BRONZE

CP: Very sweet. I do wish there were a bit more in the way of conflict or drama, though. We just sort of follow the characters along through a nice experience. The dialog feels a bit flat and the characters don’t feel quite as distinct as I would have liked, but it concludes quite nicely.

DEAN

I have to admit, being a knave of the forest was a pretty good gig. Carefree days full of merriment, clever pranks and outlandish hijinks. What a freakin’ blast. Oh and the wood nymphs? Boy the stories I could tell about the wood nymphs. You know the nymphs have to work in threes don’t you? Heh, I remember this one time down by the stream… this trio of wood nymphs came out of the wood just as I was about to take a cool dip and they……

Anyway it wasn’t all just tricks and ribaldry. Some days I would spend hours listening to a symphony of frogs or watch as the fall leaves released themselves from their summer abode and gently caressed the forest floor as they landed onto their winter bed. Those days were dreamlike in their beauty — seemingly disconnected from the reality of the so-called “real” world of man and animal concerns.

But you know what, even for a knavish forest faerie, tricks and gauzy dreams become tiresome. Especially when Oberon is around. Fact is Oberon is kind of an ass. Sure he wants me around for the trickery but eventually, for some unknown reason, is never happy with the results. Either I have to go and undo the delicious fun I just had or he casts some spell and makes everything “better.” For a Faerie King, dude is a huge killjoy. Finally I got fed up. Told Oberon I didn’t want to be a trickster anymore, I wanted something a little more substantial. Besides, I wasn’t a youthful lad any longer; I’d been around for a couple thousand years. Even the wood nymphs were not as eager to look my way as they once were.

So now Oberon has me watch over the hunters. You know make sure the hunters find their quarry — but only the sick and old ones. It’s pretty lame but I do get to sleep a lot. Puck likes his sleep. Ok gotta go. Here comes a hunter now. Oh, he’s out looking for a bear… this will be kinda fun.

DK: Heh, I like this concept and this take on the character broadly. The tone of Puck’s voice here both fits and seems slightly off with what I’d conceive, but that’s just me. The form in which this ends is also not my favorite (i.e. “something’s about to happen, the end”).

CP: A Midsummer Night’s Dream! (I’m excited because it’s the only play I was ever in.) The idea of Puck as an old dude is a fun twist. And Oberon is definitely an ass. Unfortunately, like story 3, this feels like the description of a story more than an actual story. I would have loved for the story to be the hunting scene and for the necessary background details to have been worked in along the way.

GILMAN.

Already situated on the sofa of the dingy greenroom, same too-short silver gown she always wore to his shows, she was cutting out two lines on the glass table. He was prepared for this. Turning to the mini-fridge, he grabbed one of the Sprites that had become his replacement for every addictive substance as of nine years ago.
“Great show, baby,” she cooed. “I could barely make out the pre-recorded vocal track.” Parly took a pull from the can as she bent down to remove one line in a fast inhale. He flopped down beside her, a spent rag doll. “What can I say, Missy, my sound guy is the real artist of the tour.”
“Yeah, but you still make it a show, somehow. Doesn’t hurt that the acoustics in a–(long sniff)–crap venue like this…Jesus.”
“Gotta go where the crowds are. Half-crowds in my case.”
“Uh-huh. Darling, are there ANY songs you sing for real these days?”
“A few,” he lied. “Missy, why are you here?”
She laughed. “You getting senile already, Parly?” Her palm was flat against his pants.
“Here at the show. I’m 53 now. Married. On the fifth leg of a two-leg retirement tour, singing old songs to older fans–”
She smiled. “And I’m 40. So? Our ages never mattered.” Ignoring the rest of what he said, she slid her slender body on top of his, straddling his hips. “You left our song off the setlist…Not cool…”
She began humming the melody. Twenty five years performing at the Valley Auditorium, which means twenty-five-plus nights he’d felt these hips over his own. That thought–more than the adultery–made him feel smarmy.
“Let me hear your real voice, Parly…” Her ashen skin streaked with premature age lines and makeup. Eyes imitating needfulness: an alluring trick for a teenager, but desperate for someone hitting middle-age. Her body moving above and against his. The worst thing about it was how familiar it felt. But…it helped them both feel young.
God help him, he started to sing.

DK: The hints of details here are well-formulated to flesh out the character and the situation (i.e. the long-running infidelity, the suggestions of the aspects of his career) and give this a lot of depth as a character piece. This is a good take on an aging-rocker guy that feels familiar and also distinct through the author’s use of those details. SILVER

CP: Well this situation is both fun and icky! The opening is strong, but then it loses a bit of momentum in the section with the dialog–Parly suddenly starts spouting background info that doesn’t seem all that relevant to the person he’s talking to (his age, marital status, etc.). The penultimate line of the story would be better implied than stated outright. That final line, though, is fabulous. SILVER

SAMA

My toes embrace the rush of ocean.

I let the water spray me like a playful friend.

The sky tightens and stretches the sun over the horizon pulling the bursts of pinks and purples deeper into a dark and moody sky. The moon scrawny and smiling sneaks closer.

I was once here before, but I don’t think you want me to remember that.

The gulls are merciless in their calls and squabbles. They swoop through a rush of wind that settles in my hair. I wish for you to be here. But there are no stars to wish on yet.

I long to breathe it all in, the scents of sea, sand and breeze. But the musty dank of darkness still remains in my nose. My mind stuck in a stale repose.

I feel grittiness slicing against my ankles where sand has caught in the bracelets hanging there. At least I don’t have them on my wrists anymore. I examine the deep, red sores and lines and let the air slip through them.

The sea is trying to revive me. The waves bounce and sweep me free from being stuck down there, under the creaking stairs, letting the spiders crawl on me for warmth. I know I was bad, but I heard the swish of something pulling at me and I had to leave. I followed the sounds of a rhythm I didn’t understand. A steady beating drum in my veins.

I watched from a distance as they wrench and wrestle you down. Your overpowering arms and hands now pulled behind you with bracelets too. We are more alike now. And I wonder if you miss me yet.

The men with flashing lights don’t see me stumble along the beach and fall into the soft, crumbling sand. Their bright lights stream as the world nods off into night. I watch them, wet and cold, and lay down as the water foams around me. I’m ready for sleep.

DK: In reading this, it landed just on the far side of a bit too formless for me to grasp onto. The hints of the situation, especially near the end, are tantalizing, but the early establishment, though contains some great scene-setting, kept me from getting a solid handle on the character here.

CP: This is very descriptive, but there are points where the description gets to be a bit too much (can the sky really tighten and stretch?). The situation here is revealed well over the course of the story, but some of it feels a little too melodramatic to be believed–particularly the spiders. I wish the character had been a little easier to understand or connect with. The final paragraph especially left me feeling somewhat confused and frustrated. I know she’s been held in captivity and is out of her mind, but does she have to go full-on Ophelia? BRONZE

———–

So there’s some interesting semi-symmetry for you. A gold and bronze each for Brian and Sarah, and two silvers each for Gilman. and Annette, should make the standings intrigue only increase. I mean, I’m assuming. I haven’t looked at them yet.

DG will be along soon tonight with your full standings update, a new challenge prompt, and the due date and time. Till next time, happy Prosing, Prosers.

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