We’re getting close to the end of me awkwardly trying to transition into these stories with a good introduction for this season. Can’t be too many more writing challenges left, right? OR CAN THERE?

LESTER SWEETUMS

People have accused me of being lazy throughout my entire life, always doing the bare minimum to get by. In elementary school, I never did my homework, but I always aced the tests. As a teenager, I got out of doing household chores by volunteering at the local animal shelter. I had to do some work there, but mostly I was able to spend my evenings playing with all the adorable cats and dogs while my sister was stuck doing the laundry so it was worth it. I desperately wanted to turn my volunteer work into a career, but as graduation day loomed, I was expected to make a decision to either go off into the world to continue my schooling or find a way to earn a living. Needless to say, I didn’t explore my options in a timely enough manner to be able to choose the former. Procrastination and laziness go hand in hand most of the time.

As an adult, my apathy got in the way of finding happiness. While the people I attended school with were enjoying the adventures of university life, I was sitting on my ass all day listening to women bitching and moaning about their tampons. Customer service isn’t a career, much less a job to be proud of, but it does pay the bills and keeps the cable turned on. As much as I despised my job, it beat manual labor which is the only other option when you don’t have a degree.

As the years went by, my friends had all met their soul mates. One by one my posse of single girl friends had dwindled. Maybe I should have gone out with them more, but I was positive my future husband was not one of the aesthetically pleasing idiots that would always seem to find a way to my bedroom whenever I did go out. I don’t know how my girl friends seemed to strike gold by finding perfectly acceptable men to fall in love with, but I didn’t have that luxury. After my fifth bridesmaid appearance, I was the lone single lady. I don’t think Beyoncé sings a song about how that feels.

With no friends left to commiserate in loneliness, I was truly alienated. I turned to Internet dating after hearing that is how one of my co-workers found her beau. That was a joke, but at least the men I was finding were closer to a match than the nitwits notched in my bedpost so I kept at it. With Internet dating, I didn’t have to leave the house or wash my hair for that matter. However, there are a lot of lemons who present themselves as lemon meringue pie. Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy one or two of those lemons, but I was more than ready to have my pie and eat it too.

When I met Justin online, I had almost given up all hope that there is someone for me. His profile was witty, we had a lot of the interests, and I found him attractive, in a nerdy way. Best of all, we shared a zip code unlike all of my previous perfect matches. I knew he was new to this website so I reached out to him before another desperate woman could sink her teeth into him. Justin was funny, sweet, and intelligent. Even though he was about as lazy as me, he owned a pet daycare. Soon we were spending every evening together cuddled on his couch binge watching our TV shows or reading our favorite books out loud to each other. Our relationship was not one full of passion and desire, but we loved each other and hated being apart.

Eventually it just made more sense to live together so I packed up my belongings and my cat and moved into his house next door to his daycare. After the one person he employed was offered a better job opportunity, I was able to quit the customer service job I had hated so much to play with adorable cats and dogs all day, this time for a living. I was no longer in a prison of loneliness or stuck at a dead end job. Who would have thought that I would find everything I was looking for out of life without barely having to lift a finger? This lazy lady had finally found true happiness.

DK: This is pretty sweet, and I appreciate the happy ending. It does drive a little too far towards summarization over revealing story – it’s such a broad overview of the narrator’s life that it’s difficult to grasp onto her as a character. A smaller scale approach, with more character interaction in a scene or moment, might serve the same purpose and make it feel more resonant.

CP: Wow, we don’t get a lot of true happiness around the CdL. It makes for a nice change of pace! However–and I’m sorry to sound like a broken record–I really would have liked less telling and more showing. This reads more like the summary of a story than an actual story, which makes it hard to truly connect with the main character. I would have loved to see a scene or two play out here with dialogue and interaction. All that said, it still has an appealingly sweet ending. BRONZE

CHRISTY BUBBLEPUMPKIN

Franklin Daily Telegram

September 8, 1981

Mr. and Mrs. Earl Johnson are happy to welcome into the world a baby boy, Roger Earl Johnson. Both mother and son are healthy and doing well, cards and visits would be appreciated.

May 26th, 1996

Roger Johnson has led the Franklin Tigers to the state championship game with an electrifying 3-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning in last night’s state semifinal against Clinton. The young freshman outfielder will lead Franklin into Wednesday night’s state title game against Springfield riding a 10-game hitting streak.

November 27th 1998

Two people were injured, including local high school star athlete, Roger Johnson, in a single vehicle accident late last night. No further details were available at this time.

May 30th 1999

Local legend Roger Johnson is at it again leading the Franklin Tigers to their third state championship in four years. The star senior collected four hits in the state final, including a solo home run in his last ever at bat for the school.

June 28th 2004

Roger Johnson and Emily Jameson, high school sweethearts, are happy to announce their engagement. The happy couple is planning to tie the knot in a beautiful early autumn ceremony later this year.

December 21st 2010

After a long battle against testicular cancer, Roger Johnson, age 29, passed away last night. The lifelong Franklin resident is survived by his wife, Emily, two year old son Jack, and his parents Earl and Helen Johnson.

Personal Diary of Earl Johnson

January 30th 1981

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this right now but my wife, Helen, thought it would be a good idea to start keeping a diary as we start our family after finding out she was pregnant last week. The news still doesn’t seem real to me but she is already thinking about names! She suggested we name it Roger after my late father if it was a boy. If she knew what kind of a person he was I doubt she would ever suggest such a thing.

May 25th 1996

Helen is freaking out on me again for missing Roger’s “big game” last night. You know what is actually important? Working to feed this family, not that she has ever appreciated what I’ve done for us. If I need to have a few drinks after a stressful day at the office I don’t see what the big deal is? I didn’t understand when my father did it but now that I have a family I totally get it and someday Roger will too.

November 30th 1998

Well, Helen kicked me out for good last night. After she found out from Officer Carroll that I had been boozing the night of the accident she claimed I was out of control and a danger to the family and kicked me out onto the street. She even took out a restraining order against me claiming I was a danger to her and Roger. Thankfully, Jack said I could use his couch for as long as I needed it while I figured things out. I’m sure this will all blow over soon.

May 30th 1999

Life can be funny sometimes. I lost my job last week and can finally make it to my son’s big game but I’m not allowed within 100 feet of him still. Maybe Alanis Morissette can add a line in her song about me.

October 9th 2004

Heard Roger got married today, not that I could be there or would he want me to be. I finally checked myself into rehab and know I will beat this addiction yet.

September 18th 2010

The stress of these past few months knocked me off the wagon. Not sure I really care about getting back on again.

December 28th 2010

That was one awkward funeral. I’ve never seen so many sad faces in one place before. But I was able to stay strong. My old friend made sure of that, kept me nice and numb for the whole thing. Even when people were shooting me dirty looks the whole time. I know they were trying to act like they were disgusted that I would show up to my son’s funeral drunk, but I think they were just jealous. Jealous that I get to live my life blissfully ignorant, while they have to wallow in their sorrow. I know who got the better end of that deal!

DK: This one, too, is certainly an “overview of events”, although the format means its calculated to be that way and it works for me a little more for that reason. The setup definitely led me to expect payoffs other than what I got, so you also did well for surprising me; I didn’t totally buy into the authenticity of the diaries’ author as he is presented, but again I like the format choice and the use of the prompt’s gimmick. BRONZE

CP: I’ve said more than once that I appreciate experimentation with format. The first half of this story worked pretty well for me, but the journal gave me some trouble. The journal entries just didn’t feel entirely believable. Earl seemed more self-aware than I would have expected in the early entries, and then the final journal entry suffers from the opposite problem.

THE SACRED PILLOW

Sylvie bought a gun out of paranoia. Even when her friends insisted it put her daughter’s life at risk, she brought it home. Her daughter’s life was more at risk from men on the street than a gun safely hidden in the house. Sylvie had multiple locks on every door, too. Bars on windows. Her friends told her she was the most paranoid person she knew, but maybe they weren’t paranoid enough. Living in a fancy part of town near a police station did not guarantee her safety. That’s why she didn’t drive alone at night or let her four year old hang out in the fenced-in backyard alone. That’s why she carried mace at all times and jumped at a rustle in a bush.

None of it mattered now. Leave your front door open long enough to get a second load of groceries, and a crazed asshole gets into your house.

Now, well past midnight, she was in her kitchen with a strange man. She had only three goals tonight: Stay alive; keep him away from her sleeping daughter; get to her gun.

This mantra went through her head as she tried to hold the digital camera steady. The video needs to be perfect, or I kill you, he’d said. Even through the camera’s screen, she could see the glint of his gun on her kitchen table. It rested just within his reach while he used the exacto knife on his left arm. He sliced into himself. She could hear the faint wetness of it even from several feet away.

Look away, and you’re dead, he’d said, so she didn’t look away.

“Why me?” she asked him.

He kept cutting even as he spoke. “The bars on your windows. Wanna shatter a neighborhood’s sense of security? Attack a woman in home with bars on its windows and alarms on the doors.”

She swallowed back disgust. He was hideous — not just because of what he was doing. His body was a quilt of raised scar tissue, a story of victim after victim. The strip of missing flesh on his face was the newest. She’d heard about that one on the news. The video the last victim had taken of him mutilating himself was currently in the back alleys of the internet where obscenity bans or pleas for the psychological health of victims didn’t keep hundreds of thousands of viewers away.

“Will you let me go?” she asked.

“That depends on how good of a director you are.”

The low-battery sign flashed on the camera’s screen. A wave of fear, and then hope hit her. “You’re running out of battery,” she said.

“Keep filming.” He was pulling back a square of flesh. She felt the roil of vomit at the glimpse of fat and blood, but that glint of hope kept her from getting sick.

“I can’t film if the battery goes dead.”

“You can’t film if you’re dead, either.”

“I have batteries in my kitchen, I can–”

In a flash of movement, he grabbed the gun and aimed it her.

Instinct kicked in, and she threw the camera at him. She heard the thump of it hitting its mark but kept scrambling away. The door slammed behind her, and she locked it. A bullet splintered through the wood. She hopped on to her kitchen counter, threw open one of the cupboards and grabbed her gun. Boxes of bullets lined the cabinet, but she didn’t need them. Paranoia had forced her to keep it loaded.

She turned around, teetering on the edge of the counter even as the man busted through her kitchen door, gun raised. She fired.

He hit the floor, and she jumped off the counter, standing over him to shoot again. She’d shoot as often as he needed to. She’d shoot him until there was nothing left of him.

He blinked up at her. “Is the camera still on?”

She fired one last time.

DK: I kind of like and hate this one at the same time. This feels almost overly manipulative, like a CBS procedural starring Dylan McDermott or James Van Der Beek or something. But looking past the context of the plot content, the actual mechanics of the writing work well, and the characters feel solidly established. It arcs well and the action builds from suitable tension, so I have to give it credit for that. SILVER

CP: Well, now we’re back in some more familiar CdL territory–in the most gut-churning of ways. I am not the biggest fan of grotesque stuff unless the characters are really, really solid, and I thought this story relied a bit too much on shock value. While it was deeply disturbing, on some level I didn’t quite buy it. The first paragraph was a bit weak because it was all expository back story. And the events that followed–as vivid and well written as they were–seemed a little too perfectly designed to allow Sylvie a justifiable reason to use that gun.

HYBRID CARLOS

I felt a sudden jarring crunch as my ribcage collapsed between the floor and the guard on top of me. Instinctually I lashed out, trying to keep myself from further harm. A hand grasped my skull and pressed it into the concrete. My hands were pulled harshly behind my back. From where I lay, I could see Eduardo’s eyes, the light of life taken from them. I knew that The Crimson had indeed appeared again.
Kids have no sense of right and wrong, they just know what they want. Freddie wanted the Micro Machine. I wanted the Micro Machine. It was that simple. No one taught us about sharing, about taking turns. No one taught us that the right way to handle it was to use our words. Freddie learned how to grab and run. I learned to run and hit, and hit and hit and hit.
Teens think they know right and wrong, but most of all they think they know more than adults. They know how to lie, cheat, and manipulate. Hannah knew how to do all these things. She practiced them well on her parents. Then she practiced them on me. She had forgotten what I had learned as a kid. She forgot that I was good friends with The Crimson
Thugs know right and wrong, but they don’t care about that. They only care about how the game is played. What’s right is getting money and what’s wrong is snitching. They know what I learned too, and they knew how to make that work for them in their game. I did many things right, and never did anything wrong. Someone else did something wrong though.
Prisoners know right and wrong, they’re reminded of it all the time. But it’s too late. They’re too used to being thugs. They know how the game is played, and the way to play it to get to the top of the food chain. If you’re on the bottom, you never get out. Unless you die. No one wants to die. I was a thug, and I was used to the game. I used what I learned and made sure I landed on top.
Then Prison Ministers come along, and change the definition of right and wrong. They teach about this man named Jesus, and lessons like turning the other cheek, and loving your brother. Lessons that make thugs laugh and mock. They teach about things like forgiveness and helping your fellow man. They make prisoners look inside themselves, and realize that what they were taught as a child can sometimes be twisted and dark. They know about the Crimson, and what it can turn a man into. They also teach about how one needs not be controlled by the Crimson.
I don’t know about that. But I know that something stuck with me.
Old Prisoners know about right and wrong, and what they know is authentic. They know about pride and pecking orders and how some thugs are just too big for their own britches. They know that the young thugs don’t pay no mind to men that have been here for years and know I thing or two about justice and what’s right and wrong. They know that there are guys like Eduardo, who love the thug life so much that they carry into prison with them, and use it to lord it over the other young thugs.
I know about right and wrong. I know that Eduardo is much more than some of these young thugs can handle. I know that Eduardo is much more than even the guards can handle. I know that Eduardo’s about to gut a rival gang and their cousin who just happens to be a guard. I know that I don’t care about food chains and pecking orders and shit like that. I know that I do care that this cousin has a wife and a daughter at home that he’d like to come back home to, that I’ve seen visit him, and his prisoner cousin that he loves very much. I know that Eduardo needs to stop, and that turning the other cheek won’t do it. I know that its time I controlled the Crimson and told him what to do for a change.

DK: This one makes a couple bold choices that I think really pay off. One is, of course, starting with the ending. The other is framing the character’s development through examining different groups’ experience of right and wrong. I really like how this shows the subtext of how the narrator’s experience aligns with and contrasts with those groups he is a part of as he grows without hammering us over the head with it. And showing the ending act first allows us to trace the way he develops into the person who makes that choice at the end without it being too much of a “shock” ending – i.e. it’s a character piece, instead, which makes it more effective. GOLD

CP: This story is interesting, but it’s another one with a lot of telling. I like the moral ambiguity here and the idea that sometimes doing right means doing wrong. However, the middle section got to be a bit abstract. The narrator is an interesting character, but I didn’t feel like he was quite as well developed as he could be. Still, there was some genuine emotion developed here, which helped the story stand out. GOLD

MAY DANDERFLUFF

The war was dragging on, and we were losing.

It was time for one last push. We gathered our generals and made our plan. Micah suggested appeasement, but he was well known for not thinking things through. It made him a questionable general, but his loyalty was unquestionable. We all came to the conclusion that at noon on Thursday, all 15 of us would bring our 150 man regiments to Gerudo Valley for one last fight. We would emerge victorious, or be defeated in a blaze of glory.

On that fateful day, we all came to the valley to find our enemy waiting for us. We had been betrayed, but by whom? Searching frantically, our eyes rested on Micah, who simply gave us a sheepish shrug, before going and joining his new allies – all 500 of them.

“Micah, where are the rest of your allies?” we asked.

“This is all of them! Surrender now!” he replied, before pausing for a moment. “How much is 15 times 150, again?”

“Seventeen hundred a fifty strong!” we replied, shouting a bit more than was maybe necessary.

“Oh.” he replied sadly.

Our forces were victorious that day, and such was the nature of our enemy’s defeat that we were able to turn the tide and win the war. Though we executed him for treason shortly thereafter, Micah is heralded as a heroic figure throughout the land to this day.

DK: This is funny, although slight. I wish it had a little more meat on its bones, since taking this “affliction” or whatever further could make for a comedic experience. I’m glad you didn’t make me actually do the math on that one, though.

CP: I looked up Gerudo Valley out of curiosity, and it appears to be a Legend of Zelda reference. I don’t, however, know enough to know if the story as a whole as has a connection to the game. Perhaps my lack of knowledge is causing me to miss something, but this story feels incomplete–what war is this? what time period? what location? I guess I’m saying I would have liked a little more background info worked in so that the world felt a bit more complete. I like the ridiculous nature of the scenario, though, and I enjoyed the fact that Micah was executed for treason yet also became a hero. SILVER

———

Milkman here, just posting. I haven’t read these, but I will.

Hybrid Carlos has become the latest to defend his HOH with a POV win, so now he gets to decide if anything is changing or not. Carlos, email DK. You know the deal: if it happens tonight, we’ll have a vote tomorrow night.

UPDATE: Carlos has elected NOT to use the Power of Veto. His nominations, Pillow and Lester, remain the same. May and Christy, you are the only voters unless there’s a tie, which Carlos would be called upon to break.

Good game so far, houseguests. You’re almost home.

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