The end is here, Prosers. We conclude with a couple of stories that stand out as ideas, with one possibly being, for me, the strongest piece of the season. Beau and Sarah, thanks for another couple of interesting seasons, and for trying new things when you got the urge to do so. Let’s do this thing.

Beau

For an hour he looked through his binoculars. James was restless. The bathroom stunk of mold and pine air freshener. The fan sounded like a buzzsaw, but it covered for him while he attached the scope to the Remington 760.

He thought of the eight humiliating years he spent in The Walls and how his life lacked meaning. Prison afforded him time to read. He mostly pored over the speeches of George Wallace, learning about the dangers of liberalism and those who would take away property rights and freedom.

He wiped his palms on his jeans, then double-checked the rifle chamber. The bullet shined. The bullet knew its purpose.

Wallace knew his purpose. James spent the winter helping his campaign, inspired daily by the man’s courage. It gave him strength for this moment.

He looked at his watch. 5:58. He looked through the binoculars. Two men stepped out of the room. Goosebumps shot up his back. He tasted sweat. Setting down the nocs, he caught himself in the mirror. The surgeon had done a great job on his nose. His breathing slowed. James looked into the scope.

§

“I gotta shave quick. Be right there,” Ralph said.

“Don’t spend all night in there. You’re already better looking than me,” Martin joked.

“Everyone’s better looking than you,” added Billy. Martin grinned. He was in a good mood today. “I’ll go start the car.”

Martin followed Billy outside. The sun felt good on his neck. It was near sunset; his shadow stretched out along the cement.

“Martin!” The voice came from below. He leaned over the balcony rail. It was Jesse. “Martin, I wanted to introduce you to my friend Ben Branch. He’ll be playing sax for us.”

Billy started towards the stairs. “Guys, come on. We have a rally tonight, let’s go.”

“Ben,” called Martin. “Don’t forget. I want you to play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ tonight like you’ve never played it before. Play it for me. Play it real pretty.”

Ben offered Martin a wide smile.

K: Uuuggghh. I probably should have seen this coming earlier than I did, given the day, but it hit me hard (Dr. King is probably my #1 hero, if pressed). Attempting to separate my built-in emotion from the task at hand (though…should I? I’m not sure), I think the writing is nice if not slick, and cheeky if not clever. As much as I like it, I think it does get by a little on the reveal and, were this a story that didn’t have the real-world payoff that it did, would it pop? I’m not sure it would.

CP: How am I supposed to judge anything against a story about the assassination of MLK on MLK day? Until I realized what was going on, I wasn’t particularly enamored of this story–most of the first section has waaaaaay too much telling and too little showing. The second section gives us more of a real scene, but I was confused by the large number of characters until I realized what I was reading. The poignancy and significance of the story all come from outside knowledge on the part of the reader. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with making a reference to something to add depth to a story, particularly when you don’t have all that many words to work with. On the other hand, without the reference, there’s just not a lot here, and I don’t find this story to be as well crafted as I would have hoped to see.

DK: This certainly relies a lot on the reader filling in the rest of the story from her own knowledge. So it’s tough to grade in that sense since I’d imagine everyone knows what happens, but as a standalone piece of writing this doesn’t have the movement or resolution on its own to sit as a complete story, and that’s something even I’ve been harping on a little bit more this game. All that being said, I like it a lot as a piece of a couple character vignettes and this does a great job (especially the James Ray part) of delving into their heads and mindsets. The starkness of the descriptions adds to the tension level that we already have going in, and there’s also of course an extra level of resonance just based on the timing of it all today.

DG: This story relies on history (and the reader recognizing the first names) to tell its story. I have to admit I’m conflicted on how well that works here. There are enough clues here that it’s pretty clear what’s going on. I just wish there was something in that second part that ramped this up beyond the horribleness that we already know about the assassination.

Sarah Wreisner

The night blurred into drunken half-consciousness: rum hot toddies, cinnamon candy, picking gravel from my elbows. Green tile shimmered with bits of broken glass. I slept in a bathtub among bloody towels; I wielded a knife at the basement stairs.

I blacked out, then found myself trembling before the twisty canal, railroad tracks beneath my boots. I tripped along the tracks until the ground vanished. Stinking water swirled far below. The gutted aluminum plant, destroyed by an electrical storm, crouched at the end of the tracks. I knelt, pressed my cheek against the rail ties, and blacked out again.

Finally, splinters tore into my hands as I swung before a wall of ancient graffiti. I fell from beneath the tracks, bouncing unceremoniously off a crumbling abutment. When I woke I was raw with insect bites and lacerations. Leeches bearded my neck: I was half-submerged in the sludgy mess. Dead fish bobbed in the water. One bloody stain, shaped like a ginkgo leaf, bloomed across my sweatshirt. I could not see the sky. I could not move my body.

I was hurt badly but too drunk to think. I cried and begged, telling the birch trees and the cement blocks that I was sorry. I didn’t want to die in a bed of leeches.

I heard them coming.

They crept down the embankment, stepping regally through the milkweed with flickering torches. One was headless, all in purple, pointing as the others glided forward. Another had eyes like rusty wheels, gently illuminated from the inside. They were billowy and tall, swishing in the dry grass like streamers. An eye, watery and pink, blinked from one doughy face: its other features were absent. A smaller one – female, it seemed – picked leeches from my neck with glassy, creaking fingers.

I half-slept as they worked: curved tools, bottles of tonics, wispy rags, flutes of glowing liquid. I was bathed and patted with oil, then brought to a room tiled in silvery shingles. I couldn’t feel any pain. The light was starry and muted. Sometimes I thought I saw other things – smaller things – walking up and across the sparkling walls.

I winked my eyes open to a crisp, white morning. I rolled my head to face the canal. The blood was gone; the insect bites were gone. The air tasted bright and electric. I was sober; I would never drink again.

I squinted and saw them walking away, their long, papery garments flapping like ribbons. They drifted down the tracks, disappearing into the fire-gutted aluminum plant.

K: Oh, my. A story about Dr. King and a story about defeating addiction? Is it my birthday? This may stand as my favorite of the season from this writer; I think we allowed her to get away with a few non-stories along the way because the prose was so creamy (that’s right – I used it again), but this is a rare happy ending from the writer, which I think is a relatively big deal; this is a strong metaphor, deftly delivered, and I feel like I went on a journey with the lead character. It’s probably obvious by now, but I choose this one.

CP: Oh, wow. Here we have a story that creates a world out of nothing and makes something happen in that world. The description is vivid and distinctive, but there were times when it threatened to overwhelm the story. To me, a story is first and foremost something happening to someone. But just when I began to worry that this was nothing more than impressionistic flashbacks of a night gone wrong, something indeed began to happen. The lack of parallel construction in the first sentence grates (the third item should be a noun, as the other two are; perhaps: “bits of gravel embedded in my elbows”), but all in all I found it to be the more accomplished of the two stories tonight. This one is my winner.

DK: I would start by saying from a character perspective (a little surprising given this prompt) there’s not as much to grab onto as I would’ve thought. That being said, the character’s attributes are almost beside the point when the setting and atmosphere are so immersive. The particular language used throughout the whole piece is superb in its effectiveness. This also works quite well on both a literal level and as an overall metaphor for alcoholism, I think, from my non-expert perspective. I’m not sure it comes through as well as I’d like from my comments, but I liked both of these a lot in very different ways, and I really went back and forth on which one I was going to pick, especially because of the emotional resonance the first one calls upon. But I have to give my slight edge to Story 2 for its excellent language, atmosphere, and ability to work on multiple levels as a physical and psychological story.

DG: The automatons being benevolent was an interesting switch on the very bleak description and situation that was set up at the beginning.The main character doesn’t get a lot of backstory, but his desperation is made clear. Similarly the motivation of the automatons isn’t entirely clear to me, but for all that, the story gives a pretty good catharsis from watching someone hit bottom and find compassion to keep them from falling all the way into the abyss. GOLD.

(K: That closes the book on this, but Dino wrote a story too. He even gets some bonus comments at the end)

Dean Carlson’s Story

Angus carefully folded his schoolboy uniform and placed it in the drawer. Very few people knew that there was only one such uniform and that Angus was meticulous in keeping it clean and in good repair. It was also motivation to keep in shape. “Tell me one other guitar God that weighs the same in 2014 as they did in 1974” Angus would tell his band mates. He was specifically thinking of Phil, who definitely had let himself go. “Drummers” Angus scoffed, “there’s a reason we switch drummers every decade or so. Why did we invite Rudd back again? That guy’s an ass and a freakin’ druggie.”

But Angus didn’t dwell long on his anger toward Phil Rudd. He was too sad as the band had just reluctantly made the decision to retire Angus’ brother Malcolm. They had no choice really. Malcolm had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and the dude just couldn’t play anymore. Malcolm had health problems before, including lung cancer, but the dementia was pervasive and the band members had been in denial for a while. When Malcolm couldn’t even remember the chords to Back in Black, the inevitable had to happen.

Angus looked at his schoolboy outfit and lovingly traced his fingers along the seam. Memories of playing alongside Malcolm over the past 40 years filled Angus’ head. The first time they played in their garage, the way Malcolm clutched the double-cutaway Jet Firebird bass he inherited from their cousin. The concerts. The adulation. The money. The time in Glasgow with that 50 year old hippie chick. She was pretty, but kinda skinny. Didn’t matter to Malcolm – he spent the entire weekend with her.

Angus began to tear up with the memories. Not only was Malcolm his brother, but he was his bandmate, his business partner, his friend. This was like breaking up with someone you loved dearly. It hurt that much. But at the same time Angus had to move on. He still had the whole rest of his life in front of him and even though Malcolm wouldn’t be a participant any longer, Angus would honor their life together by living his life to the fullest. He owed Malcolm that.

Angus placed the uniform back into the drawer, closed it and sat on the bed. Tears dripped off his cheek onto his shirt. He got up, wiped his face and as he strode out of the room he thought of Malcolm once more and said in voice loud enough so that anyone could hear him: “For those about to rock, we salute you.”

CP: Oh, Dean. Thanks for following through on your threat (or was it a promise?) to write this story! This is really, really sweet. You throw in a lot of exposition in that second paragraph, but overall I thought this story fit the prompt surprisingly well and comes to a very nice conclusion.

DG: It’s kind of nice that we get to be a Fly on the Wall for this High Voltage moment. The memory of all the Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap gets to be a real Ballbreaker when you realize The Highway to Hell like this is just A Razor’s Edge away for all of us.

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Alright, your friendly neighborhood Milkman here to finish off another fun season of PwtP (for the record, I’ve already been picked at to get the next one going). I’ll attempt to be brief, because I have a championship match to continue running, and a Royal Rumble to…also…continue running.

Beau “The Bridesmaid” S. did a lot of really cool things this year, says the dude who couldn’t stop giving him gold medals. Beau’s only real problem as he continues to progress as a writer has been to occasionally go past real emotion into schmaltz, but it’s happening less and less, and the resonance of his pieces continue to get stronger and stronger. Beau took risks this season – something he doesn’t always do – and he found them to pay off, so I’ll be looking forward to more. He’ll win one of these…sometime.

Sarah, instead, wins her third. As I mentioned in my comments for her I think we’ve occasionally given her passes thanks to her always-gorgeous (and seemingly improving) prose, but today’s story was expertly told and proves what she’s capable of when she has the time to get on top of her game. The hardest thing about judging a Sarah season is that I always know when I’m reading her, but that’s also one of the highest pieces of praise I can give; it’s not easy to develop a voice.

One last thank you is in order for all the Prosers. I never think about the stories when I initially tell people about my site, but without fail I end up enjoying my nights spent with short stories and IPA or Imperial Stout. I love having you, and I hope you all stick around as long as I do all of this.

Cheers, Prosers.

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