Hey there, Ampersanders. Sorry about the wait, but I had a lot of stuff to do last night, which isn’t the way a day off is supposed to go. Anyway, we have some pretty swell ideas this week, owing to a prompt that practically begged for them. Execution was a little hit and miss, but there are plenty of ideas to get excited about and hey, there are only six of these things, so why not read them?

Joseph Rakstad
I left the Christa and the apartment without so much as a goodbye. For three months, nothing had gone like I had thought. I drove on south toward Mill Haven. Along the way I practiced a speech that had only existed in quiet conversations with myself. I exited at Green Street and turned into Eagle Ridge. I parked in the old familiar driveway and breathed deep and slow. A pale light was on in the back of the house. Everything else was dark. It was very likely that she was alone.

I stepped out of the car and inched my way up the path to the door. I went over the speech in my head again and realized how stupid and lame it all sounded. I did an about face and rushed back to the car. I opened the car door when I heard softly, “John?”

I turned. She was beautiful, even in a tattered robe and a rough ponytail. I reminded myself that this was what I really wanted. I plucked up my courage and turned to face her squarely. I shrugged somewhat helplessly and said, “The prodigal husband has returned.” She furrowed her brow at me. I turned serious, “I… I miss you. I miss the kids. I know nothing can bring us back to how we were, but… I want try.”

After a short pause, she went back into the house without a reply. I sank to the driveway. I expected this. I deserved it really.

I did not expect the garage to open. I stood up. Her old silver Buick backed out. She opened her window and said, “The kids miss you, too. They’re inside. Make yourself at home.” She continued to back out.

“Wait, where are you going?”

She started to drive off and then stopped abruptly. “Away. I’ll get back to you in three months.”

K: This story is potentially depressing, but the ordinary dialogue hurts. This is definitely one where some subtext would have helped, or at least could have used a little color rather than stating the obvious. This idea is certainly strong enough to deserve better dialogue. BRONZE

DK: I like the emotion present here; it comes through even though this puts plenty of effort to fit its groundwork into the space in order to set up that emotional resonance. The ending is definitely a bit of a swerve, although it’s not unsupportable. BRONZE

Ian Pratt

“Oh my god. What the fuck?”

Tomas. This is what carelessness earns. As you stand amongst the ruins of your world please think upon the role you played in creating this situation.

“What happened? Who did this?”

Look around you, Tomas. See the wreckage of your life. Reap the consequences of the seeds you have sown.

“My apartment is trashed. Who did this?”

You did, Tomas. This havoc is the result of your own-

“No. Stop. I know what you’re doing. You’re saying someone trashed my place because I allowed them to or some shit.”

Well, Toma-

“Stop it. Goddamnit. I hate this. I hate talking to you. I hate that you found me.”

I found you because you need me, Tomas. I am helping you in ways that-

“You’re not helping me. You’ve never helped me. You just annoy me. Look at this. My door is kicked in and my TV is smashed and what’s on the wall. What does that say?”

It is a message.

“I can’t read it. It looks like gibberish.”

It is not gibberish. It is a message.

“It’s gibberish.”

Come on, Tomas.

“Shut up.”

All right. I will tell you. It says Bat Street Motherfucker.

“Oh, wow! That means so much to me! I understand now. I understand why some teenagers broke into my place and smashed it. I get why they kicked in my speakers and… they cut my plants up. With my own scissors. Those are my scissors!”

Tomas this outcome is the culmination of-

“Fuck off. Just fuck off. I don’t know what the “bat street motherfucker” means and I don’t know why you’re in my head and why you won’t just leave me the alone. Ever since you showed up everything has been worse. Why do you think I got so drunk last night? Why do you think I couldn’t hear anyone breaking in? I drink because it stops you from talking.”

I’m sorry, Tomas.

K: I love this concept and Tomas is potentially pretty interesting. I’m not sure if a story this short can do justice to what his character is capable of, as the inner struggle really needs its own Fight Club to work out all the issues. It gets a little grating with each cut-off question and response, and the pacing could have been varied some. Still, an engaging idea. SILVER

DK: I enjoyed how the interaction within the dialogue reflects (ahem) the duality and the fractured nature of the protagonist, and how that dialogue turns around by the end to present something very different. This thing is simple and solid, yet has layers of depth below it. GOLD

yickit

“The mirror!”
“A slovenly lot. We can always see others. It takes some effort to see ourselves.”
“Well yes, but if we can take a step back from this perhaps we can see it all?”
“No, that’s not why we are here.”
“If it were would that matter to you?”
“No.”
“Then why do this?”
“I guess attrition.”
“Waiting it out then?”
“Your words, but not mine.”
“How would you put I it then?”
“Escapism.”
“Huh.”
“Yeah, I cannot look at myself.”

K: Ah, the old dialogue-with-no-reference-points thing. It’s always difficult to read, even if it’s short. I know it’s all the same person, but if the mirror-self just isn’t different enough from regular-self to make this pop. I also think some narration could help drive home the madness.

DK: I could’ve used just a little more clarity or formation into a discernable scene, whether from a plotting or even just a setting standpoint. I like the hints that are present in this dialogue but I definitely wanted a little more heft.

Bret Highum

Alone in the darkness. It took a while but I got used to it. I enjoyed being away from the constant movement and the noise for a while. But now? Now I yearn for the smell of dirt, the scent of vegetation and the feel of air moving against my skin. I don’t know how long has passed since I was sealed in here. I start to feel around the walls, searching for a weak spot. I find what seems to be a softness, a space with a bit of give, down near the bottom and settle down to pushing and prying at it.

My skin feels tight. And hot, but I don’t mind that so much. It’s too tight, though- I want to stretch my jaw but it feels like that would make the skin split. A sickness rages through my starving body, racking my limbs with involuntary tremors and making my thoughts flutter helplessly back and forth, alighting here and there on old memories, racing ahead to flickering daydreams of air and light unlike anything I’ve ever known.

The fever passes and I feel reinvigorated, though weak. Groping blindly, I find the weakness again and start working at it. It seems more brittle, thinner than the walls around it, and I manage to pull a piece back, letting blinding light enter my sealed prison. I push against the gap, smashing into it over and over, struggling for leverage until I feel something tear and give, letting me slither out into the bracing air and yellow light. I lay there, stretched out and exhausted, panting heavily, feeling the sun’s rays caress my body and warm my chilled limbs.

The orderly opened the door to the outside area and regarded Edgar with weary professionalism. The patient lay calmly on the grass outside the isolation room’s window, half-wrapped in the torn-down drapes that had kept the sun and noise inside to a minimum. Edgar stretched his arms out lazily, eyes half-lidded in relaxation, and the beat of his wings took him up into the cloud-filled sky.

K: Dude, why the change in narration for the final paragraph?! In addition to it being a huge no-no in writing, reading that last bit from Edgar’s point of view would have been much more interesting. This story was going along quite well until that extremely jarring change from first to third person. SILVER

DK: This hits a lot of my imagery spots. The description and detail contained within the process of breaking out are rich and really put the reader in that experience with the character. I like the switch at the end, giving the story a good bookend without putting too fine a point on it. SILVER

Beau

A year ago today I was really fucking depressed. It was birthday number sixty. Yippy-fuckin’-do. Just another Tuesday. Spilled coffee on my pants. Looked in the mirror, which was a mistake. Forgot where I left my keys and was late to work. Boss was still an asshole, of course. My friend Jack took me out to Perkins for lunch, damn cheapskate. Guy makes six figures yet and feels like a goddamn saint watching me eat a Tremendous Twelve.

Home was somehow more depressing than Perkins. Other than a family of mice and my sorry ass, nothing had lived there for fourteen years. But that day there was one extra thing at home, a package delivered by UPS. My eccentric daughter (who decided Netherlands is where she could cleanse her soul) had sent me an antique lamp and an Ani DiFranco album I “just had to listen to.”

Now–and to be clear I have no regrets–I would advise anyone read this not to rub a lamp and have the stereo on at the same time. I can’t say I produced a genie; I’m half deaf and blind but there was definitely nothing I could sense in the room. But if something was released that day it heard Ani sing “Out Of Habit” and request three wishes on my behalf.

Not that I thought this at the time. But–and I can’t explain it–things have changed over the past year. Jack and I are right as rain. I genuinely enjoy seeing him, cheapskate or not. I no longer mind how I look. And hey, I forget shit now and then and it’s okay. My daughter still sends me weird things and I love her more than ever. Not everything’s perfect, but I can now say I want my life.

K: I can’t tell if this is a story or not. It’s all a bit of reminiscing where everything changed, but we saw none of it. Early on this guy is tedious to read, as he over-explains every bit of what he dislikes about his life. Tell us his boss makes six figures and tell us he brought the narrator to Perkins. We’ll put it together without the editorializing, which just slows the flow of the story, and keeps us at arm’s length when we could be identifying with him. BRONZE

DK: This is almost one of those cases of factual details nearly outweighing deeper characterization, but here I feel those two elements work more in tandem than in opposition to each other, and this does a nice job of completing its arc from start to finish in a satisfying way. SILVER

Jonathon Pope

I haven’t really felt the same since the Old Man fell. Years and years of staying in the same place, come to such an ignominious conclusion. And I’m not trying to tell you that there were mystical powers of any kind involved. I don’t believe any of that new age hooey. It’s just… I thought about how long it was, y’know? Millions – maybe tens of millions of years – of being there, and only a few hundred, or maybe a thousand since anybody saw him, but he was important. They put him on the state quarter, for crying out loud! But now he’s gone.

It just hit me. How insignificant it made me. All 19 of my years, all in the same place. Maybe I would have noticed my restlessness even without him falling. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t have the time that he did. I wish he could come back, and sit on the side of that mountain like he did for so long, but he couldn’t stay there forever, and neither can I. That fucker slid down the side of his mountain, and I’m gonna do the same. See you later, New Hampshire.

K: This is pretty amusing. No over-explanation, it’s the right length for the story being told, and it was certainly the most out-there concept of the week. Sometimes the big laughs or the best dramatics win the day, but this time, an idea wins the day. Cute story, this. GOLD

DK: Here again is one that I wish was a little more defined, probably from a character standpoint again. I don’t get much of a sense of motivation other than the comparison with the action taken at the end, without anything to undergird it. Still, the setting is evocative and a nice choice for at least setting up that comparison. BRONZE

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There it is, Prosers. Nobody pulled down the fabled double-gold, but Ian, Bret and Big Papa Pope all concepted their way to six points or more. I’d love to get excited about this, but when even Pete is missing deadlines, it’s really all just about being the guy who continues to show up, eh?

I assume DG will hit you with a new challenge shortly, if he didn’t drop one at the end of the Interrobang results.

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