So just how similar can two judges be? DK and Pepper have both won Survivor, they’re both skinny, and they’re both sexy. Oh, but also they had near-same adjudication this time around, with just a couple of bronze/nothings breaking up the perfect game.

Since I haven’t read these yet, allow me to sum it up in a complete bit of guesswork that mashes up the two judges: “I found these very affecting, but tell less and show more. Also, we are both as sexy as Kelly claims.”

Alright, Ampersand, let’s see who’s likely to be playoff bound.

Pete Bruzek

Some time ago, after a day spent in the vapid company of a great many malls, I fell asleep. As I dreamed, I saw a man who carried a great burden on his back. He lamented to everyone he met of this burden, and how he should like to be rid of it, until all who he met became tired of his company. This did nothing to ease the man, and he hunted for a way to become free of the weight.

As he lamented one day, he saw a man named Common Sense coming his way who, meeting him in the food court, asked him why he lamented so.

“Can you not see my burden?” cried the man, “James has requested a motorbike made out of diamonds; Jane, a pony with wings! Between the two of them and my thirty nephews and nieces, I shall become destitute!”

“Have you considered,” asked Common Sense, “that these requests may not be the ironclad edicts you perceive them as? Come, friend, let us see if there are more reasonable gifts.”

The man rejoiced, for his burden was surely lessened. However, on his way home, he was accosted by Mr. Visa and his companion, Mastercard.

“14% APR 0 down financing for 60 hours” said Mr. Visa.

“I’m sorry,” began the man, “I’m not sure what you mean”, but as he attempted to go on his way, Mastercard hoisted another, larger burden onto his back, stapling it for good measure.

“$750 in bi-weekly installments! Good day!” piped Mr. Visa as he and Mr. Mastercard walked off, leaving the man in a worse state than he had been before.

Then the man despaired mightily, until he arose and saw Common Sense walking by. Beseeching him to come nearer, the man began to weep bitterly.

“What is all of this?” COmmon Sense asked, poring through the man’s bags, “a motorized lint remover? Is your niece Eliza truly plagued by excess lint? Come! Make haste to return these items!”

So, with the help of Common Sense, the man was able to release his burden, and all who saw him noted the cheer on his face during every Christmas thereafter.

DK: I liked the tone here a lot, and I liked it being structured as a kind of dream-fable. It’s kind of weird how the “dream” never goes back to the narrator by the end, but I viewed the whole thing as a projection of the self in that sense so it didn’t bother me. The individual jokes here landed pretty well, too. SILVER

CP: I like the voice used here; without it, the story simply wouldn’t work for me. There’s really not much to this tale, but it’s cute and satisfying nonetheless. SILVER

Ian Pratt

They said they wanted to do something extra special for the holidays, since that December also marked the 15th year of operation for Druzchenko Petrochemical. Each offshore Druzchenko rig would get a special prize personally-selected by the man himself, Anatoly Druzchenko. We all gathered on the top deck, passing around boxes of wine in the warm Gulf air, waiting for the company chopper to sweep down from the clouds with our prize.

“Druzchenko Merry Christmas friends!” Anatoly shouted after his helicopter finally landed. He was drunk. He pointed beside him, where a luscious blonde in an elf costume held a leash attached to the fattest chimpanzee I’d ever seen. It was wearing a Santa hat and beard and a sedated expression. Anatoly sang Deck the Halls and danced around the chimp for a few minutes, then climbed back in the chopper and took off, leaving the chimp with us.

According to the medic, the chimpanzee’s time of death was only a few hours later. The cause: blunt-force trauma. We convened a hasty trial before the higher-ups could find out about the incident. The prime suspect was, of course, Daniels, who was well-known on the rig for his fanatical hatred of primates. Daniels was a real piece of shit, but somehow it fell to me to defend him.

“C’mon, man… you really kill that thing?” I asked Daniels when I visited his cell to hash out a defense. He laughed and nodded, then shrugged. I shrugged too. I was angry, but it also seemed like a good time to give him his Christmas present.

“Yule Boss and Jolly Swagger Present: Rapping Around the Christmas Tree,” he read as he unwrapped it. “What the hell is this, a CD?”

“Yeah. My sons made it,” I explained. “They synced up some old Christmas favorites to rap beats, or something.”

He stared silently at it for a while. Perhaps he was considering the thoughtfulness of the gift, or perhaps considering the innocent chimpanzee he’d just murdered. I decided to give him a few minutes to himself while I went to find a CD player.

DK: I also liked a lot of the particular jokes here – the general sense of capital-authoritarian skewing coming through with the branding of Christmas and such – although the progression of the story itself was a little more disjointed, and I wasn’t as confident in how I was meant to respond to it. BRONZE

CP: I rather enjoy how odd this one is, but unfortunately it doesn’t all add up to very much for me in the end.

Beau

The bed was a tangled mess of arms, legs, and a bowl full of jelly.

“No, no. There. I think you almost got it. Just a little…uh…no. Sorry.”

Santa rolled off and stared at the ceiling.

“Oh don’t pout,” said Mrs. Claus. “This wouldn’t be so difficult if you cut your cookie intake by about two million.”

“At least I work,” he rebuked. “All you do is nag.”

“You know darn well that if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have any work to do on Christmas. Now try again.” She rolled over onto her side and patted her bum. “This should be easier for you.”

Santa grunted, then snuggled up behind her.

NINE MONTHS LATER

Mrs. Claus had the bed to herself now. She was propped up on a pillow, her gown covering only her bosom. An elf was holding a straw to her lips.

“Do they really have to be here?” Santa whined. He leaned back in his rocker.

She darted him a look between gasps.

“I’m just sayin’, it’s weird and all.”

Four more elves were at the foot of the bed. They didn’t talk. Didn’t need to. They worked together seamlessly, just as it was in the toyshop.

Mrs. Claus let out a scream, before finally crowning. The senior elf gently guided the baby to its new home. He quickly performed a suction and held her up for the room to see.

“A girl!” Mrs. Claus beamed.

Santa yawned.

The girl was passed on down the line of elves before being placed in a tiny bed. The senior elf turned his attention to the task at hand. For the next thirty-two minutes, he repeated the task. At the end, Mrs. Claus was exhausted, but everyone was healthy and happy.

“How many?” Santa asked as the last baby was wrapped up.

“Nine!” Mrs. Claus beamed. “Nine little elves to bring joy to boys and girls everywhere!”

“Hrumph,” snorted Santa. He rocked backed one more time, then used the inertia to stand up. “Last year it was twelve.” He retreated back to his shop.

DK: I’d have to say by the end, the ultimate punchline here didn’t totally do it for me, although the concept seems like it should be good for that. The, uh, imagery at the start is just about gross enough to make up for that anyway. BRONZE

CP: Oh, my. Let’s get one thing clear: Mrs. Claus does not crown, the baby does. This is a little bit dirty and a little bit goofy, but I find myself wishing it had been even more ridiculous. BRONZE

Bret Highum

Holidays always bring out the crazies. Usually Halloween and St. Patrick’s had the worst, but this dude was right up there. And of course I had him in the back of my squad car.

“Tone it down,” I told him. “I’m not asking about your society. I’m just saying you can’t be running around town with a damn rifle anytime, much less Christmas Eve.”

“I tried doing it peacefully. But he wouldn’t stop! So I’ve been there, every year, watching. But I’m too old. I don’t know if I’ll be there next year. I needed to finish it, dammit…”

He trailed off, and I thought maybe he had passed out. I was going to have to febreeze the whole damn cruiser.

“Take me back!” he shouted in my ear. I about swerved off the road. “Just park there and watch, please!” He grabbed the screen and tried to rattle it.
I felt bad. He reminded me of my crazy uncle. He was crying now, huge racking sobs.

What the hell- it was Christmas, and the radio was quiet.

“Hey, pops- you calm down and I’ll circle back and sit there for a while, okay?” The sobs slowed as I pulled into a u-turn, but they didn’t stop until I was parked at the curb.

“Okay, bub- what am I looking for?” As I turned towards him, I saw a flicker of red in the corner of my eye. Then the old drunk tossed something into my face that reeked of peppermint and burned like hell. I kicked my door open and rolled out, scrubbing my face- only to see a nightmare of slavering teeth and bony claws rushing towards me, pulling a gory sleigh. I quick-drew my revolver and emptied it at the oncoming terror in one rolling blast.

The sleigh veered off to the side and zoomed past me, a horrible scream ringing in my ears. I slumped back into my car, fumbling for a reload.

“Hey, pops? You maybe want another member in your society?” I asked, as I watched the apparition disappear into the winter sky.

DK: Nice tension buildup, and good burst of action keeps this taut and engaging throughout. I also like the details used to color in the character of the protagonist – he’s an interesting character in the context of the situation, which is usually all you really need. SILVER

CP: Ha! The early part of the story treads water a bit, but the ending really hit the spot for me. SILVER

Jonathon Nope

Everyone wants the story, but there isn’t one.

DK: I might’ve read that on a fortune cookie once.

CP: Well, it’s not a nonsub.

Joe Rakstad

Debra was a mess of emotions. Eight stores and still nothing to show for her efforts. Now the car wouldn’t start. She closed her door and let out shouts between the sobs. Curse this wretched holiday.

A gentle knock on the door jarred her out of her tantrum. Outside her door was a tall, apparently homeless, man with a long brown wool coat and shoulder-length salt and pepper hair. He looked like Jesus, but older.

She fumbled at the controls to open her window. Before she could speak, he asked. “Are you all right Ma’am?” His breath was pure comfort. His eyes deeply warm.

She suddenly realized the awkward silence between them. “Uh… sorry. My … uh… car won’t start.”

“Do you mind if I…?” He gestured that he wanted to give the engine a turn.

She slid out of the seat. “Be my guest. It’s been acting like this all week.” ‘Jesus’ sat in the driver’s seat and looked around the dash, assessing all before him. “It’s just how things are going this Christmas. I can’t find what my son wants, my car won’t start, my job sucks… you know.” ‘Jesus’ seemed to ignore her, at once inserted the key, pressed on the gas and turned the ignition. The car purred like it just came off the lot. ‘Jesus’ tossed her a smile. She returned it. It was the first time she recalled smiling in weeks.

“Thanks.”

“It’s my pleasure. Have a Merry Christmas, Debra.”

“You too sir. Thank you so much.”

She started to get into her car, then reconsidered. She turned back to him, “Sir, can I give you some…wait… how did you know my…” He was gone. Just like that. She balked… didn’t know what to do. She looked all over the parking lot but there was no one near her.

Debra lost herself in thought on the way home. She might not have found the toy her son wanted, but she thought about his request that she come to church with him and his father on Christmas Eve. She wasn’t going to refuse anymore.

DK: Unfortunately I’m not sure I’m the right audience for this form of Christmas story. I certainly can sympathize with Debra and this story is written well to evoke that character’s struggles. It’s not hard to see early on where this is going, though, and I was hoping it would take me somewhere other than what I expected.

CP: Sweet, but maybe just a little too sweet for me. I would have liked more showing and less telling early on, and I wish the ending wasn’t quite so exactly what the story had been leading up to. I’m probably not making much sense, but what I’m trying to say is that once I reached the end, I felt as if the rest of the story had existed only in service of the final paragraph. BRONZE

yickit

“Fifty years ago, I invented a society for the abolition of Christmas. So far I am the only member. That is all I have to say on the subject.

Forty-nine years ago, I invented a society for the abolition of glee during contract negotiations. That one seems to have caught on. I’ve never been a party, but everyone who has seems pretty pissed about it.

Forty-two years ago, I witnessed an accident. I eventually found myself as a witness for both the defendant and claimant. They had a lot of nice things to say about my witnessing, but I only had a good view of the mess those knuckleheads made.

Thirty-six years ago, my only child left my house. She isn’t dead yet, so I figure I did an okay job. She’s not smart, pretty, athletic or successful; I didn’t do a good job either.

Twenty-three years ago, my softball team won the championship. I keep my participant trophy on the mantle between my stuffed wood duck and my autographed photo of Clark Gable.

Seventeen years ago, they found a tumor. I was pretty young then, at least compared to now. I bounced back. It was an amazing feeling to cheat death once.

Nine years ago, I met my second and final wife, Patricia. She was serving coffee at the counter of Black Bear Coffee. We had four good years. Had some bad ones, but its best to remember those four.

Five years ago, I was cured of the cancer for the second time. This time was much worse. Time heals all wounds, but age makes it harder.

Two years ago, I started a support group for relapsed cancer survivors. I figured we could get together and figure out what went wrong the second time. The first meeting was pretty lively. I really don’t understand what the confusion was about.

One year ago, I planned to write out my goals for 2014. I’m tired and dying again, so I decided to write out my life’s accomplishments this time instead. My only goal is for it to be read before 2015.”

As told to me by Harold Sjornem, December 28th 2015. Dictated but not read.

/s/ Dr. C. W. McCoy

DK: Here too, I like the way the main “character” (sort of, anyway) is colored in by the details around the margins rather than expositional dumps, which is even harder to do when it’s all first-person narration. What I mean is, you can tell more about this person and his life from the way he says these things than the things he’s saying. I think putting that together with an interesting course and a structure that feels like it’s going somewhere meaningful makes this the strongest for me. GOLD

CP: Oooh, cool structure. (We haven’t had that much experimentation with structure this season; writers take note that this is something I enjoy.) And it ends with a kicker. For pairing a clever take on the prompt with some genuine emotion by the story’s end, you dear writer get a GOLD.

———————————————————————————————

There you have it. yickit surges up, damn near doubling his point total, thanks to the site’s first double-gold in well over 12 hours. The playoff picture is an absolute mess of awesomeness that will all come down to the final challenge, which is already posted, and is frankly awesome. No pressure, you four.

I’ll update the standings as this post is going up.

See ya in a few, Prosers.

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