Well, let’s see.  Would it surprise you to learn that there were some good stories here?  How about that there were non-subs?

Both of those things are true.  DK and I actually agreed on a top story though, and it wasn’t Ian’s.

Jonathan

This used to be easier.

My grandparents were good at it. “Staying in the shadows,” grandma used to say, “is as easy as staying in the shadows.” She was full of useful nuggets like that.

If you were to ask me about my community (which of course, you wouldn’t, because you would never realize that you should), I would tell you there isn’t one, as such. When your goal is to remain outside of the notice of the regs, you don’t have much time for community building. But we do meet our own kind. A shadow can see a shadow.

A regular could become a shadow pretty easy in the old days. There was no need to check with anybody, you just left reg life and did what you wanted. These days there are computers and strict record-keeping policies to contend with. You need to know a guy. That’s why shadows keep a relationship with some regulars in a romany camp. They know how to get into the places a shadow might not have access.

Alec is a regular. Alec is MY regular. I met him running a grift in New Orleans. I was using him in the grift, but he caught on. He could have turned me in, but he was intrigued. He asked a lot of questions, some of which I shouldn’t have answered. Alec is too close now, closer than any reg should be. That’s why I had to find a romany with some hacker access. It turns out that Alec never put down deep roots. Not all regs do. He has no credit cards, a kind of pathetic checking account, and no close relatives. If grandma was still around she’d tell me I was crazy, but gramps always told me that grandma was nuts, too. Anyway, Alec caught on to what I was doing faster than anyone had before. He doesn’t like where he’s at, anyway.

The romany never ask questions, they’re such useful regs. That’s one of the reasons the shadows love them. Alec’s few ties to the regular world are easily severed. Nobody will notice his account disappearing. There might be a couple of questions when he doesn’t show up for work, but anybody really interested will find the explanation they need after my grift reaches its conclusion tonight. They’ll wonder how he did it, but they won’t be surprised that they can’t find him. I’ll have a couple of romany grab him later tonight, and I’ll explain things to him when they bring him to me.

I’m sure he’ll love his new life.

DG: The world and the rules that govern it are actually pretty clear in this short space.  The plot leaves some things as only hints, but does a good job of staying grounded enough that it’s not hard to follow. SILVER

DK: This has intriguing ideas for world-building in spades.  I’m not as invested in the specific plot that follows from that, since it blows through pretty quick, but there’s a lot of details here in the concept that could make a satisfying arc with a little more space.  BRONZE

Yickit

I’m here.

Living

Not much to say beyond that.

I’m mostly alone.

Except for my friends.

But even they’ll leave me soon.

DG: Oh, I don’t know.  It seems like there must be something more to say beyond that.  For instance, why are your friends leaving?

DK: This is so close, it just comes up a little short with some stiff competition this week.  Maybe with a little more grounding and fleshing out of the narrator, it could’ve really taken off.

Jack

The gods filed in from the door behind the platform, each ascending to its usual position behind the high table.  The town sat uneasily before them, praying that judgement would not be harsh tonight.  Everyone, human and god alike ignored the empty chair at the end of the table.

Aliette shivered next to me, her eyes cast down at the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“It’s not your fault.” I tried to console her, but my words seemed hollow because I wasn’t sure I believed them.  Four dead in four nights.  That only happened with divine punishment, and none of us ever knew where the gods would find their justifications for that.

The tears continued to flow, picking up the dirt from her face and falling black onto the linoleum.  I put my arm around her shoulders and tried to present the gods with a stoic resolve.

“Who petitions the council?”  Arville, god of conflict, began the meeting with all its usual tact, shouting down any conversation.

I tried to prod Aliette to her feet.  She refused to budge.  And so I ended up standing before a table that was twice my height, my hat in my hand, trying not to quail before gods that viewed me as less than an insect.

Arnosh, the god of knowledge, sneered, “You did not call this council. Where is the one who calls us?”

I looked to Aliette for help, but her chair was empty.  I turned to the table, knowing this was going to end badly.

Following my eyes back toward the platform, everyone in the room had the same realization at the same moment.  The chair at the end of the table was no longer empty.

A black dripping form stood on the chair looming over the rest of the gods, its wings unfolding to cast a shadow that swept through the room, extinguishing all the lights.

The gods sat, impassive, refusing to acknowledge any of this.  Aloysius, god of mercy, twisted its lip, “there is no petitioner, so there is no need of us here.”  The gods rose as one and filed out back through the door which they came.

The black form did not recede.  It only grew, dripping black tears onto my shoes.

DG: I’m learning this season that I’m a sucker for world-building.  This is an interesting world that could maybe use a bit more fleshing out.  The idea of a solid plot is here, but this might be a story for a larger space?  As it is, it feels a little scattershot and I feel like I miss some cool parts of this story.  BRONZE

DK: I had some of the same issues with this one as I did with the first one; there’s some really interesting details of the world and the setting hinted at here that I just wanted so much more of than I got.  The black imagery is quite strong, though.

Bret

The wind moaned outside the door of the house.  The ragged edges of the plastic sheeting that had once sealed the window fluttered as though being plucked at by hundreds of tiny fingers.  Arlen shuddered and huddled as close to his little fire as the foul smoke would allow.

He didn’t want to be here, but he didn’t have much choice.  The wailing storm outside kept down the chances of anyone passing by seeing the flickering light of his fire, and once the couch was burnt up, he’d never have to come back.  Goddamned DNA evidence.  Arlen ripped free another frame member with its fabric sheathing and tossed it onto the fire.  The shadows jumped and rippled as the hungry flames bit at the dry wood.

The wind let up for a moment and in the sudden silence Arlen heard a scratching from behind him, issuing from the tumble-down porch at the back of the house.  Resolutely, he stared forward into the flames, wishing the wind would rise back up.  The scratching stopped and Arlen almost sighed in relief as the wind rose to a howl again.  Staring into the dancing flames and listening to the wind, the shuffling bare feet coming up behind him didn’t register until the gray-limbed ghost was standing next to him.

Arlen’s shriek rivaled the growing tempest outside as he scrambled backwards on all fours until he slammed into one of the peeling plaster walls.  The rail-thin waif stood staring at him, wide eyes black pools in a begrimed face.

It wasn’t her. Arlen knew it wasn’t, it couldn’t be. She stood there, just looking at him. He slowly stood up, sliding his back up the wall. Reaching out slowly, he laid two fingers on her cheek- and then recoiled from the icy coldness of her flesh.

Panicking, he grabbed the remainder of the couch and flipped it onto the fire with a crash, then turned to flee.   The girl’s mouth opened and the shrieking wind poured out, chill edges slicing at his skin and great blustery gusts slamming Arlen from wall to wall, the impacts spraying dust everywhere.

She closed her mouth and the wind died. Arlen’s broken body lay on the smoldering remains of the couch, and the door stood open. She drifted to it and outside, merging with the throng of gray figures, opening her mouth and joining her lament with theirs as the blizzard’s rage mounted.

DG: This one leans on imagery and description quite a bit.  The plot is secondary to that, and in my estimation the story suffers for that.

DK: This one doesn’t reach too far in setting up its concept and is stronger for it as a result.  That allows the atmosphere and the tension to breathe without rushing through the action, and makes that burst of violence at the end land squarely.  SILVER

Pete

PRINT   __                ___.             _____    __  .__                 .___                                .___
PRINT _/  |_  ____   _____\_ |__     _____/ ____\ _/  |_|  |__   ____     __| _/____    _____   ____   ____   __| _/
PRINT \   __\/  _ \ /     \| __ \   /  _ \   __\  \   __\  |  \_/ __ \   / __ |\__  \  /     \ /    \_/ __ \ / __ |
PRINT  |  | (  <_> )  Y Y  \ \_\ \ (  <_> )  |     |  | |   Y  \  ___/  / /_/ | / __ \|  Y Y  \   |  \  ___// /_/ |
PRINT  |__|  \____/|__|_|  /___  /  \____/|__|     |__| |___|  /\___  > \____ |(____  /__|_|  /___|  /\___  >____ |
PRINT                    \/    \/                            \/     \/       \/     \/      \/     \/     \/     \/
PRINT
PRINT Select an option (1) New Game     (2) Saved Game
INPUT A
IF A=1 GOTO NewGame
IF A=2 GOTO SavedGame
SavedGame:
PRINT Sorry, this option doesn't exist yet
GOTO END
REM I dunno, maybe we'll put this feature in later?
NewGame:
PRINT Beware adventurer! The adventure you are about to embark upon is full of 
peril! Danger hides around every corner.
PRINT You'll need your wits, your keen eyes, and more than a little luck.
PRINT
PRINT Proceed?
INPUT
CLS
PRINT You find yourself armed with only a torch, a pocket knife, and a dream of 
finding the treasure of..
PRINT THE TOMB OF THE DAMNED.
PRINT
PRINT Ahead of you lies the opening to the tomb. An axe looms above the door and 
a tablet
PRINT in front of you reads "Fear not, friend! Speak the name of the white virgin 
and enter the tomb in peace!
PRINT
PRINT (1) LOOK   (2) USE   (3) ENTER
INPUT C
IF C=1 GOTO LOOKTOMB
IF C=2 GOTO USETOMB
CLS
PRINT You approach the door. A mystical voice appears from nowhere, and yet 
everywhere.
PRINT "Speak my name and go in peace, friend..."
INPUT VirginName$
IF VirginName$=Joan GOTO TOMBWIN ELSE GOTO OHSHITYOUDIED
OHSHITYOUDIED:
PRINT The ghostly voice sighs. You glance up just in time to see the axe fall 
upon your head!
PRINT Its cruel, sharp blade cleaves you in two!
PRINT
PRINT Your adventure is over. Press 'enter' to try again.
INPUT
CLS
GOTO NEWGAME
REM Okay, so, when you said "November", I thought you meant, like, NEXT 
November, but Paul in QA says that's not the case. I probably should've spent 
more time working on things like "Code" and "Plot" and less on making the awesome 
banner text. Screw it. If you think you're getting your money back, well... I 
already spent it on a metric TON of booze and weed. You're not getting anything 
back. We'll call this "Episode One" and sell them Episode Two next year. You know, 
when the game should have been coming out in the first place?
TOMBWIN:
PRINT The ghostly voice emits a pleasant sigh, as if it has finally found freedom.
PRINT You progress into the tomb.... who knows what dangers lurk in the moist 
earth below?!
PRINT
PRINT You have come to the end of Tomb of the Damned Episode One!
PRINT
PRINT Keep an eye out for Episode Two, coming out next November!
PRINT
PRINT Press Enter to play again!
INPUT
CLS
GOTO NEWGAME
END:
END

DG: The banner text is pretty cool (not sure I can do it justice in the CdL template, but everyone should copy/paste that into your text editor of choice to get the full effect).  This story is a lot of work to establish that not a lot of work has been done.  I kind of wish there was one solid joke in the code to drive home how ridiculous this situation is.  BRONZE

DK: Fun stuff.  I love the format, and the way this takes its space constriction and turns it into another strength and point of humor.  A good contrast to the heavy stuff.  SILVER

Beau

The living room was bathed in an orange glow from the gas fireplace. An aroma of pine needles and cinnamon rolls wafted around. Vince Gill’s rendition of “Let There Be Peace On Earth” filled the air, his voice as tranquil and hopeful as always.

Mary placed her namesake in the nativity scene, her hand shaking.

Next in the box were the stockings. She took a deep breath and grabbed them, exhaling only after steadying herself. Todd’s was first. His name was stitched diagonally with white velvet, leaving plenty of room for a reindeer and a Santa on either side. It was homemade, a gift for their first Christmas. In a few weeks, it would be filled with Rolos, Tic-Tacs, and scratch-off lottery tickets.

He had made her a stocking the following year. Reveling in his hopeless artistry and sewing skills, he had written her name in permanent marker, then added black candy canes. Despite its ramshackle nature, she carefully hung it on the mantle.

Jessica’s was next. It was bigger than the rest to accommodate the loads of candy Dad would bring home. Jess had been allowed to add to it every year; no doubt she’d be stitching Hello Kitty near the toe in the coming weeks.

Tears stung Mary’s eyes. She could tell they were watching her as they decorated the tree. She smiled at them, then turned to the box.

She picked up Jayden’s stocking. She remembered making this on Thanksgiving day, eagerly awaiting his imminent birth, giggling at Jessica’s first attempt at eating mashed potatoes.

“Dad?” whispered Jessica. She finished off a row of popcorn. “Why does she keep doing this?” She watched as Mom took two more stockings out of the box, decorated but nameless.

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo,” he whispered back. “It’s just something she needs to do.”

Mary went to hang the last two stockings. She missed the final nail, unable to see it through her tears. It dropped to the ground, helplessly. She followed suit, unable to hold her weight.

She felt a pant leg brush her sweater and turned to see her daughter hang the final stocking. Jess sat in her mom’s lap and threw her arms around her. “It’ll be okay, Mommy.”

Mary stroked her daughter’s hair, staring off into the fire. And hugged her back.

DG: I like how the story becomes obsessed with details the same way Mary does in order to avoid what’s coming.  The fact that the smallest stockings are blank and undetailed drives that home nicely.  GOLD

DK: Maybe I’m a sucker, but this one hits that spot between spelling everything out and leaving things too vague, and fills in the hints just enough to make everything clear.  All the rest of the details are thought through and amplify the emotional impact.  GOLD

Joe

The sign on the Route 320 read “Please do not pick up hitchhikers.”  Three miles down the road I saw her on the shoulder, clothes dirty and frayed.  Her anorexic frame sported a light backpack.  No coat meant she didn’t have to think twice about my offer.

She remarked about the misery that was Saint Agnes.  I knew her story all too well.  I let her ramble on, venting the anger and frustration that permeated her rundown life.  I causally pulled a Marlboro out of my pack on the console.  I gestured to let her know she was welcome to one of her own.  She considered the offer, then reached past the box and pulled a joint stashed in the baggie further back.  I let a wry grin slip out of the corner of my mouth.

I offered her a light.  She refused with a quick shake of the head.  She closed her eyes and just savored the aroma of the herb inside.  She pointed at the turn for County Road Y and told me to turn right.

I was not planning this detour.  My cabin was still a half hour away, but I didn’t want to alarm her.  The county road was dark and deserted.  She directed me to turn into a half-developed subdivision that was a victim of the recession.  Most of the houses were abandoned and had old mossy “for sale” signs in the front yard.  She just wanted to go home.  I held my disappointment.

She had me pull into the driveway of a dark 2-story mini-mansion.  She got out of her seat without even a thank you.  She closed the door and just stood in the driveway, glaring at the house.  What was her story?

When she didn’t move, I slowly emerged from the car.  I heard a twig crack behind me and then a surge of pain hit my temple.

****

When I opened my eyes, it was a bright blur.  My hands were bound and my head continued to throb. When I started to stir, she turned her attention to me.  There was another with her

“I’m glad you’re awake.  I want to you be aware of everything that’s going to happen to you.  I know who you are and what you’ve done.  You’ve murdered 3 of my friends from Saint Agnes, and now it’s time for you to pay.  I don’t think anyone will miss you.  After all, how many friends can a killer really have?”

DG: If she’s going to out-villain the villain she’s got to explain her master plan, right?  Cut that last paragraph and show us the plan instead of telling it and this goes right to the top for me.  Both characters are drawn well enough that you can trust the reader to follow their motives.  SILVER

DK: A great setup of atmosphere here with a couple of very interesting characters.  The weakness here isn’t so much a fault of overstuffing a world as it is just pacing; the sudden jolt and sprint to the conclusion at the end feels off with the measured earlier sections, but those are definitely well done.  BRONZE

—————————–

Congrats to Beau, who pulls down a double gold.  And congrats to DG and DK who agreed on nothing else this challenge!

New challenge and such coming in a minute or two.

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