Oops.  Hit publish before coming up with a clever intro.

This unclever one will just have to do.


On the island of Sodor, tensions were high. The engines, led by the always friendly and bookish Emily, had unionized. Tired of unfair demands and an abusive work environment, Emily covertly spread dissonance throughout the railway station.

Percy joined immediately, being a mail carrier and all. Thomas, who would replace his coal with cocaine if someone asked, agreed next. The last holdout was Toby, and only because he couldn’t understand why everyone was getting excited about onions. With unanimous approval, Thomas and his coworkers approached their boss.

Sir Topham Hatt was cross. “I’m very disappointed in all of you. Especially you, Thomas.”

Thomas looked sad. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m not a very useful engine.”

Gordon scowled. “Yes you are, Thomas. All of us are useful. If it weren’t for us, the entire island would shut down.”
“That’s right!” piped Emily. “Starting today, there will be no more deliveries until our demands are met.”

The engines stuck together and Sir Topham Hatt had no choice. Gone were the seven-day-a-week schedules. No more were the twelve-hour shifts. And from that day forward, employees of Arlesdale Railway were forbidden from judging anyone on their usefulness.

But not all was sunny on the island of Sodor. While on holiday in Tidmouth, Thomas was looking particularly sad.

“What’s wrong, Thomas?” asked James.

“I want to make Sir  Topham Hatt happy. I want him to be proud of me.”

“Can I help?”

“I want to throw him a party. With all of us there. Just like old times!”

And so James helped Thomas throw Sir Topham Hatt a party. A grand party. And the other engines agreed to come! It would be held in Vicarstown. There would be food and games. Finally, everyone would be together again.

The day of the party, Edward escorted Sir Topham Hatt, with the rest of the gang right behind. Thomas proudly followed. As they approached Vicarstown, Thomas saw Lady Hatt in the distance. She was joining them!

And then…oh no! Edward went on an unfinished track and fell off the cliff into the Irish Sea. The other engines followed! Only Thomas was able to stop in time.

Lady Hatt ran towards the scene. “Are you okay, Thomas?”

Thomas was smiling. “Well bust my boilers!”

“Thank you, Thomas!” Lady Hatt stroked his rail guard. “You are a very useful engine.”


DG: That seemed like a lot of buildup for that payoff.  You knew something was coming with the party, and the twist was delivered right on time (I hereby swear that almost-not-a-joke-but-maybe-a-pun was perpetrated by me with full control of my faculties.  I regret nothing).

CP: Despite being the mother of two vehicle-loving boys, I’ve somehow escaped ever watching Thomas the Tank Engine. I’ve never regretted that fact until perhaps this moment. The story is appealingly bizarre. However, it might have been stronger if you’d spent a little less time on the union stuff and given more space to the drama of all that plunging off a cliff at the end. I don’t know who Lady Hatt is, but the subtext of that final line gives me the creeps. (And to be clear, I  consider that to be a good thing.) BRONZE



I hardly know where to begin answering that question. I suppose that it was partly because you intimidated me. I never knew what you were going to say next, and half the time I didn’t know what it meant. Like, do you remember the time I asked you where you wanted to eat? You responded with “I wouldn’t want to paint this pony too many different colors, so whatever you want is fine.” I spent months trying to figure out what that meant. I was so sure you had everything figured out. So why didn’t it work out between us? Frankly, it surprises me that you would even ask. We weren’t on the same wavelength, and I could never figure out what was happening between us in the first place.

You always seemed more interested in other people than me, anyway. You spent so much time talking to my sister at her birthday party that my mother asked me why I was dating a lesbian. I had to fight for your attention so hard all the time, only to find I didn’t know what to say to you.

Of course, there were the rumors. I didn’t pay them much mind, at first. Everybody in that town talked about everybody else. After a while though… Stuff gets to you, I guess. When I brought you to see the horses at the farm, and you disappeared on one of them for several hours, I think that was the final straw. And of course you were just lost. I believe you, but it was too much. I knew I had to get out of town. I’m not surprised to find that you left a bit later.

I hope this helps. I’ll try to clarify anything I can if you need me to. Be well, Debs.


DG: The “paint this pony too many different colors” line made me chuckle, and it’s always a good thing getting me in a good mood that early in the story.  Still this seems like maybe this is a story that’s relying on me recognizing its reference.  And I’m  not getting it.  I eagerly anticipate learning what I missed here. BRONZE

CP: I like that you are using a different format for telling the story, but letters are tough. (And I say this as someone whose story-as-letter didn’t go over very well with the judges in Survivor XV!) The way this story is told puts a fair amount of distance between the characters and the reader, making it hard to connect with them. The letter writer is remarkably unemotional for someone talking about a breakup, and his detachment from the situation creates distance as well. Finally, the letter consists of lots of summarized events, and I think it could have been stronger if it had focused on one particular event in the relationship. BRONZE


Stacy hissed at me in indignation as she relayed the message.

I shrugged, and one of the gears on my epaulet popped off and rolled away.  I was actually an automaton, but Ms. Candace Garner’s invitation had evidently meant true period dress, and she was not amused by the sprockets and hydraulic lines.  At least my cane and waistcoat fit in.

Even with the poor start, the party was pretty good.    A bathtub full of gin always helps, and as a period prop, it was pretty much spot on.  Soon I was settled in on a settee with two girls clad as flappers and demonstrating the bits of steampunk mechanical wizardry I carried.

“How do you get it to look like it actually goes under your skin?” Felicia asked, a finger tracing one of the hydraulic ports that was fused to my wrist.

“Lots of practice and rubber cement,” I assured her, refilling her wine glass and handing it to her.  Felicia took it in both hands and pouted delightfully.

Not to be left out, Jenna reached out and put her hand over the exhaust port grate at the junction of my neck and collarbone.  She squealed in surprise.

“It’s warm!  And there’s air coming out!  How do you get it to do that?”

I smiled at her, shaking my head slightly.  I was opening my mouth to reply when I was interrupted.

“Gentlemen, Ladies,” Candace stepped forward to the front of the room, the tech heiress wearing a striking green velvet gown.  “Thank you for attending my gala.  My father would like to address you and thank you for your support for his candidacy.  Without your help, he would not have gotten to where he is today!”

I rose and clapped with the rest as Senator Garner made his way to the front of the room, the flat silicon square behind his left ear nearly unnoticeable.    I waited for him to turn at look at the crowd before I launched the mini-harpoon concealed inside the muscles of my forearm, the razor-sharp head tearing free in a gout of blood and steam.  My aim was true and the monstrous man/AI hybrid went down, the controlling computer intelligence unable to compensate for the electrically-charged bolt that was impaling the human brain.

“Machines serve man!” I bellowed as I ran for the exit, hydraulic pistons augmenting my speed.  “Down with the AI!”

DG: I like the world built here.  If there’s a complaint it is that there’s obviously more to this world than what is in this story.  That’s a good problem  to have.  Good job of setting up a protagonist and motivation in a small space.  GOLD

CP: I really enjoyed the steampunk vibe of this one, and the second sentence of this story is my favorite of the season thus far. As a whole, though, the story is a little uneven. I enjoyed the interactions with the flapper girls, but they didn’t entirely prepare me for what happened in the final two paragraphs. Not that I want a story to telegraph where it is going, but I would have liked a little more about the main character’s state of mind so that I could better understand the reasons behind his actions at the end. Despite my quibbles, this story feels like the most fully imagined of the bunch, so it takes the GOLD.


How’d you like to come meet my friends?  We’ve having a little get-together Saturday night.

I changed my outfit again.  This was getting ridiculous.  I was just meeting a couple of his friends.  It wasn’t a big deal.  It’s not like I was meeting his parents; now THAT would be a big deal.  I looked in the mirror.  I didn’t like this black wool knit sweater with the v-neck.  Too casual.  I changed again.  This time a sleeker red top.

It won’t be too fancy, probably just dinner, talking, maybe break out some board games.

After being greeted at the door by a heavy-set handsome bearded man named Chuck, we proceeded to the dining room to meet the rest of his friends.  My heart slowly sank as I met David, who wore a Family Guy Star Wars shirt; Brad, who had a sweater on but looked like he hadn’t showered in a few days, and Martin who looked like he had never met a girl before.  Instead of fancy dinner plates, piled on the dining room were large boxes featuring pictures of tanks and trains and a large plastic bin of dice.

Let’s start with Ticket to Ride.  I think that’ll appeal to everyone.

I excused myself and went to the bathroom.  I struggled to conceal my sobs.  I was way overdressed and my expectations were way too high for this night.  I was prepared for sports talk, maybe even conversations about the latest Michael Bay flick.  Granted I’d only been dating Josh for 2 months, but I never knew that he was into this sort of stuff.  He never mentioned things like D&D or Magic or any of that.  He took me to the ballet, the art museum.  He was so sweet, so charming, so… normal.  What was he doing with all these… dweebs?!

Kristen, are you okay?  Yeah. Okay… uh… what color do you want to be?

This was stupid.  I was overreacting.  Josh is still the man I know.  What matters is what he thinks and how he feels about me.  I don’t have to hang out with these friends all the time.  It’s just a board game.  It’s just a red top.  It’s no big deal.  Still… I have to wipe away these tears.  I don’t want him to see me like this.  He endured the ballet, surely I can endure this.

Red… I’ll take red.

DG: Good setup.  I like the concluding line, it takes some of the slight overexplanation of the preceding paragraph and drives home the acceptance of her situation.. I find myself wishing we got out of the protagonist’s head a little bit.  This plot is straightforward enough that we could get a lot of these same feelings in a more dynamic way if someone else was observing the disappointment and  acceptance.  BRONZE

CP: Oh, come on, what’s more lovable than a nerd? This is a sweet little story with a satisfying ending. I do think it spends a bit too much time in the narrator’s head and that the story has a tendency to over explain things that readers could figure out on their own. There are also a few spots with an abundance of adjectives—e.g. “a heavy-set handsome bearded man”—and a cliche alert with her heart slowly sinking. But all in all, the sweetness still comes through. SILVER


He had his hand on the fire alarm, ready to pull it and release this god-forsaken party back into the wild where it belonged – then he saw her. His fingers loosened their hold.

Something clearly needed to be said. Icebreakers had always been his forte, but words escaped him. After pausing to consider his words carefully, he approached her, pantomiming pulling a steam whistle cord. He had a more intricate engineer act planned, but time was of the essence – a shame, too. Chicks love mimes.

“WOOO WOOOO!!!” he jovially tooted as he sat down beside her, “Did someone put a penny on the tracks?”

“I’m… I’m sorry?” she stammered.

“This is the best costume of the night by far,” Cal chuckled, “Trevor’s Gandhi is pretty good, but your ‘Paris Hilton after a bender’ is far superior.”

“I just got off a twelve hour shift at the Clinic, I just need a…”

“Drink? Allow me.” Cal turned to his right, “Bartender! Your finest IPA!” he said to the blank space adjacent to him. He procured two bottles from his pockets. Handing one to the dazzling beauty, he offered his hand. “My name’s Cal, by the way.”

She gazed longingly at his extended hand, but resisted, “Uh… Sharon. How do you know Brandon?”

“I don’t!” Cal said simply, “My good friend Caiden met him at the local dispensary, though, and they seem pretty tight, so when we heard about this party through a friend of a friend, we knew we had to check it out. It’s been pretty lame” he said before smiling “though that situation is improving.”

The DJ started pumping generic dance music through the speakers. Cal’s face soured.

“Ugh. No es bien, am I right? You dig music? You look like the type of thoughtful woman who appreciates the intricacies of progressive metal.”

Sharon just stared, mouth slightly ajar, trying to find the words to do justice to this epic meet cute.

Cal leaned in a little closer, “I guess what I’m trying to say is, you like Opeth? Me too. Let’s make out.”

DG: This is kind of a whirlwind of a meeting.  I’m  with Sharon, trying to process Cal’s rapid fire come-ons is a bit overwhelming.  That character (Cal) is very real in his enthusiasm  (and obliviousness?) which made this a fun read.  “Release this party back into the wild” is my favorite line of the week. SILVER

CP: Oh my, this is awkward, but that’s entirely the point, isn’t it? It’s a fun story, although the joke wears a little thin in places. The opening couple of paragraphs felt wordier than they needed to be, but the final sentence is a definite winner. SILVER


The Bootblack called on us late, rousing us one by one and insisting that we meet. He professed to have information of interest. We gathered, hastily dressed and yawning, at an unmemorable location.

“You’re sure?” the Bootblack was asked. It was a matter that required certainty. He alleged that, earlier that day, he witnessed from his stall in Freemorgan Square a man bearing the Florist’s size and demeanor entering a gem dealer. He was indisposed and unable to follow the man upon his exit, but he spoke with the clerk to confirm the man’s identity. According to the clerk, the man had purchased an amber broach for a mistress who favored such things. He had bragged to the clerk about his mistress’ notability, and mentioned that if people were to find out her identity it would be a major scandal. The infamous mistress and braggadocio were telling. It could only be the Florist. We set our jaws as the Bootblack shared the story, our eyes steely and brows grim. We thanked the Bootblack and bid him be ready.

The Florist’s mistress, the Duchess, had a celebration scheduled for the following week. With the knowledge that the Florist would be there, we made arrangements to be added to the invitation list. We conscripted the Bootblack to join us under the guise of my personal valet. His loyalty had been counted on in the past, but in this affair he was making himself an invaluable asset. We promised him a spot among our ranks when the business with the Florist was concluded. Could his treachery have been predicted? Perhaps, but we were so eager to take advantage of this rare opportunity that the prudence of our trust went unquestioned.

The day of the celebration was gray. A fine mist settled in Freemorgan Square, spreading down lanes and alleyways and muffling all it touched. We dressed warmly and allowed the Bootblack to escort us. The fog created ample opportunities for unseen moves to be made against us. The end.

DG: This is as ambitious as it is unfinished.  There’s potential here, but it is very clearly an incomplete story.  Too bad, a good intrigue could have been fun here.

CP: And then what happened?!?! The language used here helps bring readers nicely into the story. I did wonder, though, about the point of view. Who exactly is this “we” and what are their aims? All in all, this is an appealing beginning, and it’s a pity you didn’t have the time to finish.


A memory is all I’m given.

Something between indoctrination and a healthy dose of reality is all that really separates me from the chaffe. I understand the process but it isn’t hard to see where our materials come from. Once in a long while we’re afforded some bronze. That same bronze that made so many church bells in recent years. Do you know what it means to listen to the bells ringing around our city and to feel nothing but regret?

No matter. I’m here for one reason. To ignore those worlds and impart what I know on the next generation. Sometime what we see and feel is a grand exhibition, where everyone is welcome to make a judgement. Others are the same but on a micro level, where those who you know most well pass judgement. The latter is the hardest test that I’ve ever come up against. A test in which I always lose.

Those are the times I think of you my dear, someone that I miss an awful lot, but can’t bring back. I still regret the day that I returned to your home. There was too much going on even for me.

Which really is to say: I didn’t have enough time for you.

I hope you forgive me.

But understand that I left because I was forced to, but I never came back because I couldn’t.

Not you. Not your family. Not Myself.

I’ll linger, but even that I don’t suspect you’d want.

DG: Huh.  There’s real loss here, even though the plot isn’t crystal clear, I’ll reward the fact that the mood of the story was commmunicated so effectively.  SILVER

CP: This is surprisingly similar to story two, only we’re even more distant from the characters. I’m intrigued by the world that’s being created here, but there aren’t quite enough specifics to really connect with it. I feel like there was something more fully formed in the writer’s head—the bronze, the job of imparting information to the next generation—that didn’t quite make it to the page. (Or the computer screen, as it were.) I just wish this one had given me more to go on.


Bret breaks through with a steampunk assassin double gold.  Nicely done, Bret!

Jack and hungryjoe make a clear statement that afternoon deadlines are not for them.  I’m thinking this won’t be a common occurrence.

The new challenge will go up soon as well as the Interrobang results.