New Survivor Players at CdL: This is NOT a Survivor-related post. This is a separate writing competition. I won’t place idols here, nor will I require reading the stories for a challenge, but if you want to, then hey…I’ve got a pretty good band of writers around here.

It begins, Prosers. I’d work harder on an intro, but it’s been a long CdL day and I don’t want to. If I blame emotional repression, will you be impressed by my dedication to the theme?

Colin Wolfson makes his judging debut here, and hey, he seems to have reasons for everything he thinks. And that’s all we want, right? No pressure, pally!

We’ve got some space to improve, sure, but I honestly felt like this was a pretty good first week of Prosing. Enjoy your bite-size stories below.

Brian David

Asher knelt before the freshly turned earth. He thought of sweet Emma’s fingernails digging into his neck, her mouth stretched wide in a silent scream. He tried to remember how she had looked when she was pure, before the demon had consumed her body.

“When the day of the judgement comes,” Asher whispered, kissing the cross that hung around his neck, “so be it for you all.”

He picked up the shotgun and limped across the field. In the distance, near his house, he saw something flashing red and blue.

It was Him.

The light expanded, filling the horizon. Sirens wailed and the buzz of wings filled the air. Asher thought he could see the creature, horns piercing through the haze. He heard someone cry out.

“He’s got a gun!”

Asher shook his head, temples aching. He held the shotgun up and ran towards the light.
K: Ah, rednecks will be rednecks. Asher is a nice little character that probably deserves more words. That might happen a lot in these bite-size stories. I could use a little more nuance, but this is only the first story of the season and I’m not sure how much to expect in a space this size yet. BRONZE

CW: Well this is a good start! I’m excited to see what else you guys have. Possession is fun. Redneck murder suicides are fun too. This felt complete even with so few words to use. – GOLD

Beau

Hazel sat straight in her chair, trying her best to appear calm. The hospital room did not have the best acoustics. Ernest Tubb was belting out his greatest hits from Lillian’s nightstand but was being drowned by the whirring of her oxygen tank.

“Have you told them yet?” Lillian was awake again. Her skin was paper thin, her face sunken.

Hazel gripped the arm of her chair. “No.”

“You have to.” Cancer was ripping through her, yet her annoying persistence remained.

“I want to, but…”

“Hey.” Lillian propped herself up on her elbow. “You could lose everything. The farm. The accounts. Our pictures.”

“I’ll get a lawyer.”

“No!” Lillian collapsed into bed. “No fighting. They…” Lillian wheezed, “…think I’m delusional. Please, Hazel. Tell them. Show them.”

Lillian’s son Martin, family in tow, entered the room. “Show who what?”

Hazel looked out the window. “Nothing,” she replied. “How are you guys?”

K: Not a bad idea, but I thought this was a little wordy on the part of the characters. More atmosphere and less vocalization would have driven home the melancholy vibe you were going for; the final bit can be strong but it’s kind of an obvious ending with the setup as it is.

CW: I read through this one a couple times and it just didn’t flow right to me. I don’t see the redneck at all, but here we’ve got a woman dying of cancer that refuses to tell her family? I think this was rushed to fit and lost something on the way.

Jonathon Pope

“Should have just gone to bed,” thought Brad. After nearly having argued with Billy, who was becoming a more difficult child every day, he’d just been looking for something to distract himself. He figured a movie with Bill Murray ought to help him relax, but it wasn’t very funny, and the lady in it reminded him of his wife. All ladies reminded him of his wife lately. Billy’d been asking about her, and when Brad said he didn’t know when mom was coming home, and that the boy should mind his own business, Billy kept asking questions. He stopped when Brad told “shut up or I’ll shut you up,” but he wasn’t proud of it. And now this movie that didn’t even end right. And it was too long, and his wife still wasn’t home. Brad decided that he wouldn’t ask her where she’d been, and went off to bed.

K: I actually like the redneck prose quite a bit here, but like Lost in Translation, it doesn’t give me much of an ending. Brad is probably a very effective character, but this story was a little scattershot and didn’t really find itself completely.

CW: But for a couple typos that affected my ability to read this all in one, this was a pretty solid story. I feel for the poor bastard. It’s hard not to take the anger out on the kids. Too bad his wife is a slut.

Sama Smith

Ty was getting furious now.

“It just won’t fit, none of it will.”

The other two boys looked at him with empty, smeared faces.

“We don’t want trouble,” the little one said. “We’ll share a bed.”

They had too much. So Ty tossed away the tattered teddy bears, the eight pairs of underwear, red rain boots, emptying their meager bags. The two watched their last belongings fall into the churning river. The mill whirred in the distance.

“Only thing you’re ever gonna need here boys are these,” Ty said handing over his old gloves that resembled dark, furry swiss cheese.

The little one’s lips trembled. Ty knew he wasn’t gonna make it.

“Don’t fuckin’ cry,” he said and spit at the wall. “Just work off the debt.”

Ty herded them outside. Sweat beaded on the back of his neck. He knew he’d get a bad burn in the fields today.

K: Ugh. Here’s a story that smartly focuses on one piece of business, and lands it effectively. Ty is the kind of character I was directly asking for when I made this challenge, and I think Bret would be proud. It’s hopeless, but it’s beautiful, too. GOLD

CW: This one was so close to getting a medal. I liked the descriptive phrases. Indentured servitude is no fun and Ty is an asshole. Fun times!

Annette Barron

The pennies on his eyes caught the sunlight from the door, briefly animating waxy features. Mother’s grip tightened. Neighbors filed past; murmuring things I nodded stiffly at.

My sisters were lined up in the parlor, Sunday best and pressed. Caroline was too little to understand but the solemnity affected her anyway and she sat quietly.

Good smells drifted in from the kitchen, masking the underlying hint of corruption. Pa had been laid out for almost 2 days now. Time to get him underground.

Mr. Munsen paused next to me, leaning in close. “William, very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Your Pa was a good man. Always made his payments on time. I’m sure the bank can expect the same from his son.” He smiled pointedly and moved on to the food.

The weight of farm, mother and siblings settled firmly on my shoulders. I straightened up under it.

K: I think this atmosphere is…almost there. The pieces are in place, but there’s not a whole lot of resonance. Yes, the character should be emotionally somewhat disconnected, but I felt like the entire story had that going. It’s a small rewrite away from something pretty nice.

CW: Another very realistic, probably nearly true story. This is just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I bet Kelly really likes that semicolon up there…

Melissa Diamond

A framed picture flew off the wall. Hank glanced at it. The family portrait was now shattered and on the floor. He swallowed back fear and took a sip of beer. His other hand sweated as it clutched his rifle.

From upstairs came a series of thumps. Then a yowl, like some horrible beast, or just a tortured baby. Like a soul in pain.

thump
Thump

THUMP

A door slammed and Hattie hurried downstairs. She sobbed. “Oh God, Hank, he’s dead! Whatta we do?”

Hank stood up. His heart pounded. His stomach churned, but without a word, he followed his wife upstairs to the girl’s room. He stepped over the body of the priest at the door and put his beer down on a corner table.

The bottle flew across the room — thunk — and it hit the wall.

Hank held his rifle tighter. He faced his daughter.
K: What we have here is a story without a beginning or an end. I can do without one or the other, but I feel like we rushed to the action but never added any depth to that action to resonate with the reader. It’s a word limit thing, for sure. I get it, Prosers.

CW: More possession. And like the other, this was done well. I didn’t really get the rednecky feel as much in this one, unless the fact that Hank has a rifle is supposed to make him an automatic redneck, but I like this. The progression was nice and the story fit in the allotted space. – SILVER

John Wreisner

The disc mower moved over the forage, ten foot diameter blades spinning in a lazy adagio, trembling green stalks moving en avant towards the chute and then en arriere, leaving the pulp exposed, foliage crossed brise, pollen heavy heads crossed in a batterie animated by the fragrant breeze ripe with growth and cow shit. Soon a tedder would come, moving with slow precision to dry the hay, tossing it about croisee, until it was dry enough to bale. Roscoe would be in the battered cab of the Allis Chalmers that day, Beech Nut plug firmly set in his bottom lip, blisters forming on his pre-cancerous, freckled shoulders. The bales would climb the stack towards the kicker, and be shot into the baling wagon deboule, and while spitting into an empty Mountain Dew bottle, he’d think: Life in Kearney, Nebraska is hard enough, and harder still when you dream of dancing.
K: I fucking love this character, and this prose. I would understand very few of these terms outside of context, and honestly, you could be making them up and I still love the way this was handled, particularly the line that ended with “cow shit.” This is loads of fun, and has a twist ending that’s just believable enough; I think we give it a pass because we respect the writer for taking us on such an enjoyable ride. GOLD

CW:This reminds me of when I wrote for the Bantam Bulwyr challenge and got a gold for using all wine terminology. But this is all dancing terminology. Right? I just felt like this was too much. A redneck infatuated with dancing is interesting though.

Matthew Gilman

As a kid, I was a talker. Always askin’ my Daddy “why” ’bout things. Most often he’d answer with “shut up.”
Daddy worked all day, came home from the bar afterwards…he didn’t want to answer no questions. Why he hated the Mexican family next door. Why I couldn’t go play with my friend Lyle from school ‘cos he had them mixed parents. And I’d get so sad and confused. Daddy’d just say “shut up.” Maw explained “Daddy just means you won’t understand til’ you’re older.”
I see now that Daddy was just scared. He was just tryin’ to protect us.
And now I got my own little girl. And I see her heart is open like mine was, seeing the world all bright. And I know I gotta protect her. So I’m gonna, just like Daddy did for me. To keep her safe from all them negroes and foreigners.

K: This is pretty manipulative. We’re all in on the story and I think everyone here is hip to the new reality of the world, but it’s all a little obvious.

CW: Oh nice! Those damn rednecks teaching their kids their redneck values. I like how this includes the innocence of children before they learn bigotry. What a great father here. – BRONZE

Sarah Wreisner

She’s a stranger now. She can’t write or laugh or face the window at sunrise. She hasn’t returned the letters I piled on the breadbox.
The birdfeeders are empty. We’re out of flour and soap. I can’t go into town. I know how people talk, but I have to stay here.
She’s slumped in bed. Her dinner rots in a chipped bowl.
We never had kids. She got too distant; I got too old. Was that right? I know now that it wasn’t.
I hear them coming: I know what this is. Dust blooms from beneath the truck glittering in the sun. I close the door and listen to the crunching gravel.
I sit on the quilt and smooth her dirty hair. The stench is bright and thick.
A door slams. I carefully take her hand and balance the steel with my teeth.
K: This kind of runs in place, as many “remembrance” stories do, but I still get enough of a feel for the characters that it’ll stick in my mind a bit. It’s sad but could be sadder; it’s smart but could be smarter. As a whole, though, it’s not a bad tiny slice of prose. BRONZE

CW: Having to commit your loved one can’t be easy, especially without family to help you through it. Hits you right in the feels. – BRONZE

Matt Novak

The heavy pearl paper left a residue of sparkled flecks on his calloused fingers. He could not abide such frillery. Had it been his invitation, they’d have approached things more simply.

The envelope had sat on his table for weeks, untended, but not quite ignored. The oblique pain of the impossible love he’d carried for years made suddenly acute by the impending nuptials.

They’d never been an item, per se, but the flames had smoldered for as long as he could remember. Childhood kisses grew into adolescent flirtation, and when they were 20 they’d ceeded their innocence to full-fledged temptations. She left for the city after that summer, but his devotion never wavered.

Implications would be drawn from his absence. People would talk. Hadn’t the cousins been the closest of friends?

Haltingly, he checked his Regrets, and sealed the envelope.

Let them talk. Attendance was too high a price.
K: Well, damn. The prose is properly seedy leading up to the gross-and-yet-sweet payoff, as we already like the guy and know he has the best of intentions. I’m almost saddened that he can’t have what he wants. Neat trick, Proser. SILVER

CW: Here we have the redneck cousin stereotype. But it’s told in such a way that I didn’t feel disgusted and felt for the guy. Also, I’m from Virginia. – GOLD

Abby Stansel

It was 1922. Marcus was a surveyor, watching the cotton pickers. At the end of one of the rows, Marcus’s eyes fell on a slim, pretty young women kneeling.
Marcus jerked his gaze away, and snapped at her, “Stand up! This isn’t rest time.”
She stood and continued plucking the cotton, and Marcus continued down the row. The rest of the day passed, as he avoided those eyes.
The next day, he walked down those rows of cotton. However, he heard what sounded like yelling. Breaking into a run, Marcus saw the woman on the ground, a black man with a knife above her throat.
“LEAVE,” the man roared. “This is not of concern to you.”
Marcus said, “You threaten a woman, now it concerns me.”
The man shook his head and turned away, muttering curses. Marcus did not look at her as he turned away, forcing himself not to.
K: Huh. This seems like it was ripped from an already-existing story by the writer that vaguely fit the prompt. It’s all exposition; we haven’t reached the interesting interaction in this story yet. The scene with the narrator and the woman is the heart, and all we got was the cold open.

CW: This one too I felt was rushed. We get a quick setting and then this surveyor who would rather yell at women than talk to them. But similar to another story, he rescued her first. I like the idea though.

Margaret Martin

“Gramps, why you got that hand? It ain’t what normal people got.”

She wiggled ten little fingers sticky with grape Popsicle.

He held up the circular saw. “You know what this is? How it works?”

She eyed the shark-toothed blade. “It’s sharp?”

He switched it on and it roared to life. She watched him cut a board. He shut it off, and the blade slowed hypnotically.

“Hands are soft. Understand?”

She scrunched her lips in a puzzled pucker. And then she understood.

Her mouth opened wide.

His mouth opened wide.

Nothing came out. The shed was hot and white and swallowed his breath.

Then he was screaming and ma was wrapping his hand tight in a blue bandana and pa was searching the rusty dirt.

“Does it hurt?” She stared at his stump.

The screams and light faded away. He snorted. “It ain’t even there. How could it hurt?”
K: There isn’t a lot “happening” here, but I love this pair of characters and the scene between them. In this space you rarely have the ability to resonate emotionally, but you can certainly pull off a decent relationship. It’s a little odd how much I love such a simple piece, but here we are. SILVER

CW: This was really close to a gold medal for me. It was very believable, yet colorful enough to make me want to read it. The flashback in particular was perfectly placed. – SILVER

Christina Pepper

I stared into the whiskey glass on the bar.

“Something on your mind?” asked the barkeep.

“Nope,” I said, not looking up.

“Storm’s coming,” he remarked.

I took a sip of my drink. It burned.

“Yup,” I said.

The door swung open, revealing dark swelling clouds and the silhouette of a man.

“If it isn’t Lightning Pete,” said the barkeep.

Slow footsteps approached. Pete settled his lanky frame onto the stool next to me and a drink appeared before him. He drained it.

“Reeves,” he turned to me. “Didn’t expect to see you again.”

“Reckon not,” I replied.

“How’s that woman of yours? Camilla, is it?”

“Dead.”

“May she rest in peace.”

“’Fraid not.”

“Oh?”

“Damn scoundrel murdered her. Been lookin’ for him ever since.”

“You don’t say.”

I pulled out my gun and fired.

“Storm’s over now,” I said, tipping my hat to the barkeep on my way out.

K: I appreciate that you worked in such an unlikely genre and mood, but I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be honest or parody. If it’s definitely one or the other, I should be able to tell. The scene probably can work, but it feels like a clumsy opener on a network show; it necessitates a rewrite to be something more interesting.

CW: This is a fun little story. I saw it coming from a mile away but it was still fun. Concise. Maybe too little exposition even. But the punchline is just fun. – BRONZE

Ian Pratt

The funny thing about the bank teller was that he wasn’t even James’ first. Once, when he was 12, James was eating pudding and watching a gameshow when his mother shouted from the backyard where she was tending the chickens. James looked out the window and saw a strange man lunging toward her. He ran to his mother’s bedroom for the Winchester hidden under the bed. He shot the man in the gut. The sheriff awarded him with a tin badge and an envelope stuffed with $30 collected from gracious neighbors.
James met back up with Gordy at a bar. Gordy’s hands shook as he lifted his beer, but he was grinning. James’ hands trembled too. He remembered this particular surge of adrenaline, the emptiness spreading in his belly, wider and deeper, like the ocean floor cracking apart down where the water is black and the fish are all monsters.
K: Where’s my ending? That’s as sudden a sendoff as we’ve ever gotten, after a really nifty setup. I was all in on James’s story, but…it isn’t here. BRONZE

CW: This is as close to a tie for bronze as I could have hoped for but in the end I decided against this one. That might be a mistake, but I’ll own it. I don’t think there’s much wrong with this one. I just… Sorry Proser!

Pete Bruzek

Another day, another kicked garbage can, another depressing bar trip. Billy drank alone – again.

He heard the screams about halfway home. Billy peeked into the adjacent alleyway and saw some sleazebag not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

The thought to shout to attract the attacker’s attention and giving the girl a chance to get away occurred to him. Instead, Billy picked up a piece of rebar and swung as hard as possible at his skull.

Billy pried the lifeless body from the girl. The fear hadn’t left her eyes, it simply switched targets. His grip on the weapon tightened.

“Go on” he growled. She hesitated.

“Get” he hissed, teeth clenched. The girl ran.

Billy dropped the rebar and trudged home.

Every day after, Billy peeked into that alleyway on his way home from the bar. No one gave him reason to reenter it. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
K: Shiiiiiit. I like this character. I also LOATHE stories where the girl is saved by a murderous stranger and acts all “My hero” instead of “OMG YOU FUCKING KILLED HIM.” Billy is your Guaranteed Sociopathic Protagonist, but we see enough of him inside for him to matter. Good work. GOLD

CW: So this guy is so emotionally repressed that he might actually hit her after saving her? This guy needs therapy. Good on him for doing the right thing though. He’s so angry that he just looks for excuses to hurt someone. Future Baltimore Police Officer? – SILVER

Erik S

The bloated ceiling of the trailer came into focus slowly; an infomercial caused its topography to jump erratically between colors and shadows.

He blearily turned and found his girl beached across most of the couch. Her shirt was hiked up and he noted the waves of red and purple stretch marks that crashed into her leggings.

One hand rubbed an aching neck. The other scratched his head with the bill of his cap.

An erection pressed uncomfortably against his sweatpants. He stared at it blankly for a time, then withdrew it unceremoniously.

His thoughts bounced between fake tits and college cock. He glanced around for something to unload in. Nothing was at hand. Shrugging, he simply climaxed. Semen lashed out in a long rope across his face, where it sat.

He hawked a gob of tobacco spit onto the shag which dribbled down his chin, intermingling freely with the ejaculate.

K: Could this story be ANYthing but last in the series? Wow. This is…some VIVID imagery here. I feel like a shower now, frankly. Like the finest Rusty story, though, the prose is so strong that one sort of forgets how vile all of it is. Our protagonist is so hollow and pathetic I can’t help but assume he’ll stick in my mind. Funny, dreary stuff. SILVER

CW: Well this is quite detailed, vividly horrific, and absolutely fantastic. Saved the best for last. I can see this very clearly. What does that say about me? – GOLD

—————————————————————-

It says something we all already knew, Colin! No worries.

So who got our first double-gold??? Well, nobody. On the upside, Novak, Pete and Erik S all took home eight points, the next best thing.

I have indeed decided to expand to eight playoff spots. Bottom four will do the first round, and top two will move on. Then bottom four again, then final four, then final two. Needlessly complex enough for you? Alright, sweet. I’ll get to updating the spreadsheet, and I’ll wonder whether Pete Steinke will miss the entire season.

For your next trick, Prosers, I offer the Matt Novak challenge. Yes, I am intentionally trolling him by making the Novak challenge one with a small word limit. In 150 words or fewer, write a story that is centered around religion. Any religion, real or fake. I could make a joke here, but you aren’t ALL atheists, so I’ll refrain. See? I’m not so bad.

It’s due Thursday night at 9pm Central. Results will be much later; my younger daughter is in the school talent show that night. Cheers, Prosers.

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