Hey everyone.  There are results after the jump.  Sorry for the deviation from the usual posting-of-results schedule.

Zack

>>Initialize...
>>Initialization complete.

It is very strange to open your eyes and have your lifeless body be the first thing you see.

>>Memory reloading...

I stand up and look in the mirror. My face is so smooth. My blonde hair falls onto my shoulders. My tits are perky and perfectly shaped. I am gorgeous.

>>Memory installation...Initialized

I dress myself in the crisply folded grey outfit they left me. A new ID has been made for me with my new face. I assume people will be confused when they see that I am 92 years old.

>>Memory installation complete.

I opened the windows in the hospital room to let some light in. Someone walked by that made me do a double take. I looked in the mirror and saw my own shocked face. That person looked exactly like me.

I looked back out the window and saw another. I knew that this was the only way for me to survive this long. But I ached for my wrinkly old body.

 

DG: This tells the story of the world very concisely. Points for getting us there without hitting us over the head with it. BRONZE

CP: This is an interesting premise, but it’s doesn’t go much of anywhere. I am most curious by what would happen next, once this woman starts interacting with others. Do they also miss their old bodies, or is she unique in this desire?

Gilman.

It doesn’t matter to me how badly it aches when I breathe. Or the weight of the layers of cloth on my skin and the air atop that. I’m seven hundred pounds lighter now that the tubes and hoses are out of me.

I’m used to being led. It’s not a freedom to have my hands cramped around the metal of some device. I have to pretend for them that the cold frame isn’t melding with my skeleton. Feeling human heat under my shoulders, lifting me and directing me, is freedom.

These steps though. It’s taking a long time. I’ve coughed a lot. I’m not responding to the questions when my niece and her husband ask if I’m okay, if I need a rest.

They’re asking for themselves. They’re struggling to hoist a 100 pound husk up three wooden porch steps, and they could use a breather. Some of my coughs are really me laughing at them. Tired? It’s when bones ache from the pull of sagging skin. When eyes decide nothing’s left to see. Hearing quit. Cock stopped. Everything swings like a pendulum. Everything being dragged to Earth.

There’s a chair in the living room; probably as old as I am. I let them drag me toward it, pretending to move my legs in time. Let them think I’m enjoying this. I’m just hanging on until I can sink into the chair. Lower myself. Into the cushion. Past the armrests. My skin meshing with the upholstery. My clothes peeling away from the pretense of covering anything. Vision now low on the chest, down to the lap, melting. Crumbling from top down while my niece and her husband stare. They asked me who I want to visit. Where my old friends live. They said they’d arrange everything. Only gravity arranges, the rest of us push against it. Until we are lower than ever. Liquid. Slowly drying. Dispersing. It’s ready to happen. I’m ready to end.

DG: It got me inot the mindset of the narrator very well, I feel for the slow torture of the guy.  I’m not saying that it was slow torture to read this story, though.  Um… this got awkward.  SILVER

CP: This is a distinct, interesting character and the story is nicely written. I needed a bit to get my bearings i the beginning, but as the story went on, it just got stronger and stronger. It does a great job of telling us enough to put together the pieces but never over-explaining. And I love this, “Only gravity arranges, the rest of us push against it.” GOLD

Annette

I close the door firmly behind me, checking that the lock is engaged.  I have no real idea which way to go.  My phone is dead; I have to find a pay phone and call collect.

I walk until I leave apartment complexes and row houses behind in favor of shops and a gas station.  My feet ache.  Colleen answers on the third ring and accepts my call.

“Hey, ho bag!  Where did you end up?”

“Still in Ogden.  You got Jordan?”  Guilt spears my belly.

“He’s eating cereal in front of Saturday morning cartoons with Chaz.  When you comin’?”

“I need a ride.”

“Oh man, really?  He can’t bring you?”

“He left me a note.  ‘Lock up when you leave.'”  I shuffle from one foot to the other.  Heels this high in the morning just look sad.

“Give me the address.”

I sit on a bus stop bench to wait.  Minivan moms drive by judging me correctly.  I hate myself again.  My mouth tastes like something died in there; probably hope and self-respect.  I’m pretty sure his name was . . . Winston.  We’ll see each other again at the club.  We may even go home together again.  He’ll never ask for my number or my last name.

If I drink enough to seal the deal, I’m usually too numb to come.  That’s not what I’ll tell Colleen, though.  I’ll make it sound hot and satisfying and what I was after all along.

I think about Jordan’s father.  We were a family for a while.  It was so good.  “I should’ve said yes,” I mumble.  I didn’t think he wanted me for me, but he sure does love Jordan.  Still, maybe it would have been enough.  Now he’s married and has another baby on the way, a brother or sister for Jordan; making a new family.

The tears in my eyes don’t fall, but they burn like acid.  I’m gonna stop, I swear.

 

DG: Another good job of pulling together a world for the narrator that feels complete without being overexplained. BRONZE

CP: This is a poignant situation, but I felt like the story came out and told us a bit too much rather than trusting the reader to figure out what’s happening and how the narrator is feeling.

Sarah

I bought a musty leisure suit from a thrift store with a lobster tank next to the register. I needed cleaner clothes. I also needed to outpace a bus full of entitled hippies.

Three weeks earlier, Mandy and I had set out with a case of motor oil and six bags of white bread. We figured we’d get rich selling grilled cheese sandwiches at unspeakable outdoor concerts.

In Kentucky, Mandy fell for Three Dog, a Frisbee golfer who sold acid-laced poptarts. She was too spun out to help me drive, always twitching and brushing crumbs off her horrible patchwork skirt. I hated her.

Three weeks later we were arguing on a windy beach in Maine.

After telling me to “chillax”, she joined a drum circle in a school bus bursting with trust fund recipients. I left Mandy’s things (revolting quilt, stained pillow, carton of Parliaments) next to the bus’s door.

I smelled like a hamster cage. I found a thrift store in town; the bus never caught up.

That night, I passed a moose accident in New Hampshire. A single, gruesome hoof sat on the pavement where a dangerous-looking trucker yelled into the pine trees. The moose was gone. I kept driving.

I found a rest stop and scraped resin from a steamroller with a paperclip. The high was disgusting but I wanted to sleep. I read Rutabaga Stories by the light of a Christmas candle, hoping to snuff out my car’s scorched garbage smell. I started driving when the sun woke me up. I pressed scotch-taped headphones over my ears and loaded my Walkman with the only tape Three Dog hadn’t stolen: a warped copy of Pure Guava.

I made it to Detroit before running out of money. My dad wired me enough for a motel room, Chinese delivery and gas. As soon as I got home, I threw out the leisure suit and enrolled in college.

DG: I have to say the ending doesn’t do this story justice.  After spending so much time in a weirdly paranoid and desparate headspace it doesn’t feel right that there is a clean direct ending like that.  I liked the paranoia and desperation part though.

CP: A lot of this is vivid and funny. Then comes the paragraph about the dead moose, which appears to have been dropped in from some other, much darker, Sarah W. story. (If this isn’t by Sarah, I’ll . . . eat my hat. Or something.) The pacing also feels rushed–I think you’re trying to fit a bit too much into the available space. Even so, I enjoyed many of the details here. SILVER

Sama

“I cannot believe she doesn’t recognize me. Have I changed that much?”

It was a hard question for her husband to answer. He’d known Sadie for five years. While the older woman, her aunt, had known her since birth, but hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Who’s to say?

He raised his eyebrows and frowned.

She maneuvered the bundled baby into his arms. He looked at the pink face squished into purple and blue fabric, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Lucky bastard.

“If she says anything–anything at all about what happened…” Sadie trailed off looking down the whitewashed hallway. Her aunt, a heavyset, dishwater blonde woman of 60 went into room 307. “I don’t know if I can do this. If she brings it all up again–I mean, this is not the place or time, right?”

He nodded. She was right. Visiting someone in hospice and unearthing up past pain was like Walter White with TNT. Things usually go wrong.

“I know they all think we are to blame, but we did nothing wrong,” Sadie said. “SHE was the one who contested the will, SHE was the one who didn’t care about any final wishes. She just wanted money. And I’m gonna make sure she doesn’t do it again.”

He didn’t know about family pain–the kind that changes who you are, that makes you different in your heart and think differently about love, trust and how to live your life. He hoped to never find out.

“Okay, I’m going in,” she murmured. “And I’m gonna walk past her, right past her.”

Sadie’s jaw set into a slight frown and the wrinkles between her brows deepened. He looked down as their baby boy made the same face. Glad for the distraction, he picked up the diaper bag and walked away. He glanced back in time to see her pause in front of her aunt. He waited for the explosion.

DG:The conflict is there and we know how this ends even if we aren’t shown the argument. The characters are as complete as one can manage in a short space like this. SILVER

CP: This may just be my own experience, but when two of my grandparents were in hospice, they weren’t in a condition where they could walk around on their own. (Or maybe another relative is the one in hospice, though the story doesn’t ever explicitly mention that this is the case.) The story itself feels a little vague in the sense that I can’t tell what Sadie intends to do. I understand enough about what happened in the past, but how does Sadie plan to influence an aunt who is already likely at odds with her?

Melissa

Sofie had been the Home Run Queen. First picked for every team. It wasn’t a matter of “will she?” or “can she?”.  She wasn’t like Maddie, hiding in the back of the crowd. Anybody who knew her knew that.

From across the classroom, she watched the clock tick. An antique from her parents time. No one wondered if it still worked or when it would break down. It did its thing.

The bell rang. She packed up her things as kids pushed past. Andy rolled up to her. Her brain went into an immediate lust fog.

Fucking mind. Fucking hormones surging through every part, including the ones that didn’t exist last year.  Including the ones she’d never really paid attention to before.

“Where’s Maddie?” he asked.

“She skipped class. I don’t know where she went.”  Probably shoplifting makeup for her already perfect face. Maddie would find Sofie tonight and say something ridiculous like, Use this to cover up some of the redness. Fuck her. Fuck this face.

“You guys playing ball out at the park?” Sofie asked.

Andy nodded. “What are you up to?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet.”

He smiled. Her foggy mind was momentarily clear enough to imagine him naked.   Gross?  Hot?

Yeah. Hot.

She’d love to fuck him, but mostly…mostly she wanted to play baseball. Just once more. She imagined the two of them at the park again. The dust kicking up at their feet, sweet smelling but gritty. The crack of ball against bat. That jarring buzz through her arms before she dropped that bat and ran.

Invite me. Invite me. Invite me.    

Invite yourself!

“See ya,” Andy said. He took off.  Sofie watched her friend go.

She sighed.

Fuck high school.

DG: “Invite yourself!” is the right kind of desperation for this story, completely contained and only in her head.  There a couple of places where the tone of Sofie seemed to waver a bit from unsure and insecure to something else. “She’d love to fuck him.” stood out as something that seemed really forward for even an internal monologue of a confused insecure teenager.

CP: Awwwww. Poor Sofie! Compared to some of the others, it’s a small story–just a moment in which nothing much happens. Some bits felt unnecessary, such as the final three sentences in the clock paragraph. And for someone who seems to be just experiencing puberty and is not terribly self assured around guys, “she’d love to fuck him” seems incongruous. Still, it’s a nice portrait of a bittersweet moment. SILVER

Brian

“I like him, you know, but. . .it’s just weird. They’re so different.”

Anna stepped through the door of her small apartment, locked the deadbolt and hung up her jacket. She switched her phone to speaker mode and set it on the coffee table, knocking over several cans of beer in the process.

“I know, hon,” a voice said. “It was weird with your Dad, too. But you eventually learn to love people for who they are.”

Anna scrunched her nose.

“Eww, Mom, who’s talking about love? It was just a date.”

The voice on the phone giggled.

“Alright, Anna, I have to get back to work. Just remember to get out there, not everyone gets to study abroad. And make sure you’re getting enough to drink. You need to stay hydrated.”

Anna rolled her eyes.

“Okay, Mom, I love you.”

The phone went silent and Anna stared quietly at the ceiling. After a few moments, she stood and wandered into the kitchen. She peeked inside a small refrigerator, but all she could see was a few empty beer cartons.

“Goddamnit,” she mumbled.

Anna walked into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. She snagged a bottle of rubbing alcohol from inside, quickly unscrewed the cap and took several gulps.

“God, that’s disgusting,” she hissed, wiping her lips.

Anna shut the cabinet and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was pale and her shoulders slumped. Her friends, her family – her home – seemed impossibly far away.

Lips pursed tightly, Anna pinched a small flap of skin underneath her jawline. She pulled upward in one motion, dragging the skin from her face. Vibrant orange light filled the bathroom, emanating from inside Anna’s skull. She poured more rubbing alcohol into this light and it flared up, bright as the sun.

At that moment, Anna wanted nothing more than to take the face that lay crumbled in the sink and flush it down the toilet.

DG:  I liked this one, it devolves nicely from post-date banter to something really strange. The hallucination creeps in and when we realize how bad the situation is, delivers a real shock. GOLD

CP: Wait, wait, wait, wait . . . what?! The story starts off pretty mundane and doesn’t seem to be going much of anywhere, and then at the end she’s ripped her face off? Oh, okay, now I get it: she’s an alien. I do rather like this take on the prompt. I would have liked for more to happen in this story–while the reader ends feeling shocked because of the big reveal, nothing has really happened to Anna. BRONZE

Dean

“Hey gramps you awake?”  Those words from the sandy haired kid standing four inches from his face rousted Rob from his mid-afternoon snooze and suddenly brought him back to the sad reality that he lived in a smallish 20’x30’ brick-walled painted in neutral colors apartment on the 11th floor of a Memory Care facility located in some god-awful sleepy suburb.  The fact that Rob didn’t get out didn’t lessen the blow that he no longer lived in the City and he still complained about that irritating fact whenever the kids came by which apparently was today as that sandy haired kid looked eerily familiar and called him “gramps.”

“I wasn’t sleeping I was thinking” Rob blurted out rather abruptly especially given the fact that it was only a seven year-old who asked and the kid only inquired because he had been standing there for nearly 30 seconds without as much as a reaction from Rob.  He shook the lingering memories of Jenna that were still clinging to his brain like a dusty cobweb found on his old credenza when they moved him to this dreary little place and looked at his grandson.  “What’s going on?  Why are you here?” Rob was much gentler in his tone now, weary even.

“Don’t you remember? It’s your Birthday!  We brought a cake.” The boy bounded three steps over to the kitchenette where Rob saw more people who were probably family members preparing a small cake.  There was a bunch of chattering but Rob really couldn’t focus on what they were saying.  Jenna’s smile filled Rob’s mind and he went back to that place when they first made love on the couch of her studio apartment by the Creek.  Even though it was small Rob loved that shabby apartment and thought he would never leave Jenna’s side.  Was that when he was the happiest or was it when….  “Hey Gramps you awake?  Rob opened his vacant eyes.

DG: Poor Rob.  It’s hard with a narrator like this,, because they can’t be very active.  But when the entire story is inside one character’s head it runs the risk of just being an explanation of that one character and not a complete story.  I feel like that’s what we got here.

CP: Aw, gramps. You’ve made an interesting stylistic choice, Proser, by using lots of long sentences jam-packed with information. It’s not entirely working for me, though, because it feels like we’re being given much more detail than we need. I’m also confused that a guy–even a guy losing his memory would go from thinking about making love to feeling sentimental about a shabby apartment. But the final couple of sentences are nicely poignant. (Although missing quotation marks after that question mark!)

Matt

David lay in his bed, secondhand quilt tucked neatly around his shoulders, the patterned crescendos of a late night comedian drifting down the hall from his parents’ retreat.  His eyes scanned the tiles that crossed his bedroom, searching the familiar patterns that drew his attention night after winding night.

“Are you awake Peter?”

The boy in the bottom bunk didn’t respond.

“Peter?”

David broke the seal of his blankets and leaned precipitously into the void, just catching sight of Peter turning his back, pretending to be asleep.  David launched a stuffed tiger through the air, catching Peter square in the shoulders.

“Maaaaaaaahhhhhm!”

“Don’t be a baby,” David pouted, returning himself to his covers.

His eyes again ran across the ceiling as he reflected on the inescapable conclusion: 10 was too young.  He thought of what he’d do when he got older.  He thought of driving a car.  Watching late night TV.  He thought of the sheer joy in setting his own bedtime.

Soon enough, he drifted to sleep.

———————————————————

“Maaaaaaaahhhhhm!”

Melanie looked across the cushions at Dominic, who didn’t stir, his eyes transfixed on Jimmy Fallon.  12 hour shifts had taken more life from him than they had paid back into the bank account.  Melanie ignored the plea and slunk deeper into the couch.

“We gotta get those kids their own rooms,” she said.

“They can’t have mine.”

“I remember what it was like having to share a room, before we moved.  I was about David’s age.”

“I shared a room, and I turned out fine.”

Dominic didn’t understand.

“It was everything to me.  It made life simpler.  I had a place I could go, to be away from my problems.  I want that for my kids.  I want that safe, simple life that I had.”

“We’ll get there, babe.”

It was a lie, and they both knew it.

 

DG: Splitting the story up like this ended up robbing us of time to get invested with any of the characters.  It felt like they were only there to explain the theme and not fully realized on their own.

CP: Well that ends with a punch to the gut. The story is told pretty well–the switch in perspective midway through worked for me. It’s almost more of an anecdote than a story in which something happens, but it feels like a pretty realistic–albeit bleak–portrait of a family struggling to get by. BRONZE

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Well, medals got distributed around a bit there.  I liked the stories in general this week, so nicely done Prosers.  A new challenge will go up along with the other conference in a little while here (unless it went up while I was writing this).

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