It all comes down to this, Ampersand. Twelve challenges, a jillion nonsubs, and near-total silence in the comments section. You’ve been a really weird group, frankly.

This particular prompt drew out some of this group’s best work, for my money. Enjoy, and let’s see who made the playoffs.

yickit

Almost there. I can see the end, but vocal is all we have. The ledge is so close, we’ve teetered for far too long. Too much to pretend again. The euphemism has lost its effect. Our camouflage worked for the first two generations, now I’m just leaving this for them. They’re bound to find it. We’re all stuck until we’re lost. We can only leave a fee things behind.

K: Only sixty-nine words to check, and you still had a typo? This isn’t a bad idea, and it’s probably about the right number of words, but this reeks of rushing to get something sent. If that’s not the case, then the problem is as simple as the prose just not coming together as beautifully as it might, given our narrator’s identity.

DK: Would’ve at least been nice if you’d gotten “few” right there at the end, but as more often than not I just wish some of the ideas here could’ve been fleshed out farther.

Jonathon Pope

“You really should have sought medical treatment right away.”

I tried not to roll my eyes at Dr. Stanislaus. “If I had a quarter for every time a doctor told me that, I’d have… Well, I’d only have seventy-five cents, but yes, I know I should have gotten it checked out immediately.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“It was just a bug bite! It didn’t seem important!”

Dr. Stanislaus sighed. “Not important. An unidentified giant insect landed on your head, injected some sort of toxin so you couldn’t move. Then you began to hallucinate, and had to be rescued by a search party. All of this in a remote, largely unexplored jungle in the Amazon Basin. And you didn’t think the welt on your head should be attended to by a medical professional?”

“I felt OK after a day or two. I didn’t give it much thought.”

“And when the flower-like growth appeared, that didn’t spur you to see a doctor?”

Now I sighed. I hate doctors. They think they’re right all the time, and when they are right they get so goddamn smug. “It was pretty, and it looked kind of cool.”

“So what finally made you go to a doctor?” Stanislaus said as he placed the x-rays on the light board.

I took a deep breath. “Well… It started to move.”

“Yes, I imagine it did. If you look here at the x-rays, you can see that the lump on your head appears to contain some sort of larva. I’m guessing it will emerge in the next week or so.”

I tried not to retch. “Can’t you just kill it?”

Stanislaus looked grim. “Certainly. Given the fact that it appears to have burrowed some ways into your skull, and that we don’t really have any understanding of the creature in question, I think it’s a bad idea, though. Just the small amount of prodding that I did today seems to have caused it to burrow deeper. Frankly, I think we should just let it emerge. Hopefully, the flower is it’s food source, and not your brain.”

“So… I just have to give birth to this thing?”

“That’s one way of looking at it. Of course, I had to call the County Health Department. They sent someone over to take you into custody, so that they can capture the emerging larva to send to the CDC for study. They’re waiting for you outside.”

And they wonder why I hate doctors.

K: I loathe this narrator. That’s not a criticism; I just find his cynicism about doctors irritating. My main problem with this one, and I’m starting to see it so much that it’s not a small problem anymore, is that the doctor for some reason says out loud all the exposition to the patient, who obviously said it to him not five minutes before this story started. Guys, you CAN’T have characters tell us the situation by having one person tell the other something he’d already know. That aside, this was vivid in the right way, as I felt pretty disgusted by the end. BRONZE

DK: As sometimes is the case, it’s tougher to grade a story where everything that happens in it already happened, if you know what I mean. So then you get blocks of dialogue like Stanislaus’ exposition dump. It’s all geared towards being able to make the jokes it makes – especially the one at the end – but it’s tougher to enjoy as a progression that way. BRONZE

Beau

The valley was Charda’s home. The river provided. She was old enough now to be on her own. However, Zot kept her company.

Zot was the gentlest krist on the northern continent. At three meters, with a translucent, jagged body, he was imposing. Yet Charda felt safe. Mostly, they played games. They’d race down hills or skip rocks. She would sit on his shoulders, which was unheard of. Every krist has a short sprout up top. The one time she saw him upset she had touched it. Krists don’t speak, but he made it clear this was very dangerous.

It was a peaceful life. Their few visitors spoke of turmoil in the south. Tales of vicious creatures kept her up at night. But morning always came, and she and Zot would play.

One morning, while Zot was hiding for their usual game, the sky turned charcoal. A tinny, metallic sound crescendoed. Every hair on her body stood up at once. She wondered if a horrible storm was coming. But as the sound–now a loud hum–approached, she discovered it was not the weather. It was something, at least a thousand or more somethings. And they were alive.

The buzzing was so loud she didn’t hear Zot rumble in from the woods. Furiously, he dug a hole in the soil. He gave her a fierce look and pointed at his sprout. Confused, she shook her head. He pointed at the wall of sound without breaking his glare. He then lowered his head to her lap, vulnerable.

She dared look again. The swarm was almost upon her. Without thinking, she yanked on Zot’s sprout. A hollow pop startled her as it came out in her hand. She quickly buried the sprout and covered it with dirt. Charda looked up in time to see Zot’s body liquefying, seeping into the ground around her feet.

The creatures flew towards her, a jumble of furry legs, crimson wings, and giant stingers. Before she could scream a giant flower burst through the ground, rising three meters high.
Every beast flew right into the head of the flower, as if they were pollinating. The flower swallowed each one in turn. Thirty seconds later, all was still. The only evidence of a disturbance was Zot, standing beside her.

It hit her. She was alone. And, somehow, she was the safest she’d ever been. She placed both arms around the stalk and hugged her friend. And wondered about the future.

K: What a strange, beautiful idea this is. The prose is lovely, the mythology is well-built and the characters are very likable despite their obvious handicap in the traditional storytelling sense (the fact that they can’t talk to give us information). This was unexpected, and quite nice. GOLD

DK: I like this as a measure of world-building. The story gives enough detail to allow the picture to come clear through the context without spending the space to spell everything out. Plus, it builds to a suitably engaging climax. GOLD

Joe Rakstad

“Wha’s that?!”

“It’s some kinda flower groo’in outta the loo.” Connor and Seamus pondered at the bright flower poking out of the toilet. “Do ya think someone planted it?”

Seamus whacked his brother on the arm. “Bloody langer, you really think someone went through the trouble to plant a damned lily in the toilet? Why would someone do that, honestly?”

“Christ, I don’t know! How do you think it got there without it being planted?!”

“Maybe someone shat out a seed or something.” Both men chuckled at that.

“It’s rather beautiful. Really brightens up this shite-hole.”

Connor whacked his brother back. “Hey, this is my sister’s shite-hole yer talkin’ about!”

“Ya! And it could use some brightenin’ up!”

“Best not let Kaitlyn hear you say that! She gets touchy whenever someone bags on her house.”

“Aw, she knows I mean it outta love.”

The boys headed back upstairs to the rest of the group. Connor announced, “Did you ladies know that there’s a bleedin’ lily growin’ in the loo downstairs?”

“Are you serious?!” bellowed Kaitlyn.

“I didn’t believe it myself sis.” Connor remarked.

“Well, which one of you planted it there.” The boys snickered in unison, causing Kaitlyn to turn ruddy.

“Connor must’ve got piss drunk and shat it out during last night’s bender.” Seamus suggested.

“Well, we can’t have a bleedin’ lily growin’ out of the damn toilet!” Kaitlyn threw down her apron and started to head down the stairs.

Seamus held her back. “Kaitlyn! Wait, darlin’ it’s all right. It actually gives the room a touch of class if ya ask me.”

“It’s not that you bollox! It’s an omen. Lilies are a death flower. That’s why they’re always at funerals and such. I can’t have that in my house. I’ve got to get rid of it.”

The entire party headed down the stairs. Kaitlyn paused to take in the sight of the lily growing out of the toilet. She stormed right up to the flower and plucked it out of its bed. She walked back through the party that had congregated outside of the bathroom door. Then, they slowly followed Kaitlyn up the stairs, ignoring her sudden mood change.

Connor and Seamus were the last ones left. Connor eyed Seamus, spied a suspicious smirk. “You arse! You did plant it!”

“I couldn’t help myself. She so hot when she gets all red.”

K: This is cute enough, even if it doesn’t really go anywhere compared to most of the other stories around here. I do wonder why we set this in either Ireland or Scotland. The voice gave it some character, but in the end I wondered if there was a purpose that I missed. So how much can I reward a story just for being a nice lighthearted romp that doesn’t have a lot of meaning or meat? I guess I’ll find out when I’m done. SILVER

DK: I think this one both blossoms and withers on those character dialect quirks. They’re attention-grabbing and flesh out the detail of the initial setup, but through the course of the dialogue they get doubly distracting as those exchanges go over some of the same points repeatedly. BRONZE

Bret Highum

The warmth of the sunlight is nearly unbearable, spreading slowly over all that had been buried for so long, ebbing and surging as the ice melts and the dirt washes away, freeing me from my prison.

I feel without feeling, and see without seeing.

The pain howls through my bones, as the light awakens forgotten sensations and reminds me there is more than the cold nothingness that has numbed everything for so long.

I remember the battle, screams and grunts, breath steaming in the high mountain pass as we try to fight through the ambush.

I remember the hillman who leapt in front of me, wild hair and gleaming furs, and the sword he wielded etched with ancient runes.

I remember dying, my crude factory-stamped iron blade no match for his crafted steel and unholy speed. I felt a sharp blow on my head and then the cool embrace of the icy drifts.

Now I feel pressure, slow and insistent, building in my temples, pushing away the pain of the light and the memory of death.

As the ice dissolves and I can make out my surroundings, I can see a massive ice slide had been what freed me, an avalanche of dirty snow and rock falling from the pass and carrying my remains almost to the valley floor.

I can feel bits of my body, a femur still in the pass, a rib washing down the ravine in the snowmelt.

And I feel something slowly growing in the space where my brain should be. Creeping, pressing outwards; soon there are hairlike structures pushing from the all the gaps and cracks my living tissue used to fill. Swelling and stretching, the roots find their way to the rocky earth beneath me. I can feel them absorbing nutrients and growing at an unnatural rate.

The day comes when the sun no longer reaches where I sit, and I miss its once-painful warmth. Without meaning to, I find myself suddenly moving, my root-limbs scraping free of the earth and hoisting my remains into the air, carrying me to the bank of the now-placid stream.

I can see my reflection in the pool beneath me, above the darting trout and silvery minnows. The white lily waving over the yellow bone of my skull seems a incongruously dreadful decoration, and the feel of the roots veined through the bone sliding back into the richer soil makes me shudder in disgust and delight.

K: Whoa. This is pretty. It’s been a while since I could be moved with a lot of nice prose and nothing else, but this one has at least a little bit of meat on the bone and certainly has some vivid description. I suspect this will be one of the pieces I remember most from the season, although the strong and unique characterization of the third story kept this from a gold. SILVER

DK: This is almost all imagery and setting evocation, and so although there’s not much but a few glimpses to grab onto from a character or plot level, it does a strong enough job with what it sets out to do that it makes an engaging read. SILVER

Pete Bruzek

Even before Olive opened the apartment door, she could hear Thomas thrashing around. She hated to see him in this state, but it would do no good to have him destroying everything. Steeling herself, she opened the door.

A haze hung in the air of their living quarters as Thomas hurled yet another wadded up ball of paper into the corner to join its brothers.

“How’s the novel coming?” Olive asked gamely. Thomas shot her a disdainful look and continued pecking away at the vintage typewriter in front of him. Olive merely gave a knowing sigh and waited. Fifteen minutes later, Thomas relented.

“It’s all nonsense!” he spat, puffing on his pipe and staring at the pile of papers laying beside the typewriter. “Last night, the seed of inspiration grew into a beautiful flower, and I was awash in her beauty. Today, ‘inspiration’ can hang itself.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, dear. I’m sure you’ve got something worth building off of in all of this.” Much to Thomas’ protest, Olive picked up the papers and began to rifle through them.

No. No he did not have anything worth building off. She paged through several of them, each worse than the last. Olive suspected

“I see.”

“You see what I mean? Utter rubbish!”

“Thom, and I do mean this in the most constructive way possible,” Olive began, “do you think that it’s possible that a family of ninja circus cats may not be in your wheelhouse as an author? Also, easy on the smoking. The landlord won’t take kindly to another incident.”

Thomas considered her words for a bit before a look of delight flooded his face. “Oh, my dearest Olive, sweet flower of my inspiration!” he exclaimed, losing himself again in furiously typing, occasionally cackling with delight.

Olive ventured a peek over his shoulder and caught the words “samurai warlords” and “martians” mixed together in ways neither possible nor prudent. She sighed happily and turned on the TV.

K: This would feel a lot like my own occasional situations if not for the bizarre backdrops the author is using. I mean, I DO use bizarre backdrops, but this guy is goofy. I like the relationship and the characters here, but I would’ve taken at least a couple more mentions of the weird things he’s trying to write. As a result, it’s nice enough, but could use some punch. BRONZE

DK: I did get a kick out of this usage of the flower metaphor for inspiration, and of course, out of Thomas’ ideas for things to write about. I think putting this in Olive’s perspective is a good choice since it allows for some softening of our view of Thomas, who would be a pretty offputting character otherwise. SILVER

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And there it is. Ian, occasional absent dunderhead that he is (just seeing if you’re reading, Ian) has nonsubbed, robbing the playoff race of meaning and the playoffs of a fantastic writer. On the upside, we don’t exactly have scrubs advancing, as Beau draws the bye and Bret and Pete will go in the Wild Card round with Interrobang’s second and third seeds. For those of you now leaving us, thanks for hanging out. For those who’ve been gone for weeks or months, lick me.

Thanks for the season, Prosers.

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