Prosers, you have some wild ideas. Any time I worry that the stories will all sound and read the same, you find a way to use the prompt as a jumping-off point for something out of the ordinary. I suppose you have the same fears of writing ordinary stories as I do of reading them.

I think some people may have rushed, or struggled to fit ideas in the space provided, but the ideas are good ones, and I’m not sorry I ran this prompt.

Pete Bruzek

“I think the spare bedroom would make a great pottery room.”

The words were scarcely out of her mouth before Ronny began to feel their weight.

A pottery room. That meant four months of drywalling, tiling, and worse yet, painting – all so Jenny could sit making stoneware monstrocities. She had to be stopped.

“I guess, honey, but what if we…built a wet bar, instead?”

An icy glare.

“So, that’s a no?”

“I think a pottery room would be fun! We could make gifts for each other and our family!”

Ronny briefly considered what his father would say if he handed him a gift-wrapped ashtray. Irony aside, this was a horrible idea in every way, but there was no dissuading her.

Unless…

He took a pin to his stash and the nightstand. Two months later, the pottery room was getting a coat of pastel blue paint and bear decals.

K: I already figure this will be one of my favorite uses of the interruption. The conversation doesn’t try to do too much for the space, and the idea of winning an argument by conceiving a child amuses me. BRONZE

CW: This guy is playing with fire. And then he seriously chooses pregnancy by sabotage over a pottery room? What a douche. But I love the way the story was told and laughed at it every step of the way. – SILVER

Jonathon Pope

I pulled Corinne in close. Louis Jordan was on, boogying real slow with the blue lights way down low, and Corinne and I did the same. I spun her out and in again, and as I did I leaned in. Corinne’s eyes closed and I dipped her back. Everything was going

CRASH!!!
“What the fuck was that!?” Corinne screamed as she nearly jumped out of her too tight dress.

“Just the kid in the next apartment,” I said, attempting a soothing tone, even as the sound of… power tools? A Blender? “Don’t worry about”

CRASH!!!
“Goddamnit. I have to make sure noone’s dead.”

“What, are you the babysitter?” She said.

“No, but I haven’t seen his mother in about three days. He’s enough of a terror, I’m starting to think she’s abandoned him.”

“I’d better go. I’m not good with kids,” Corinne said, gathering her things.

“No wait! This’ll just”

CRASH!!!
“…Fuck.”

K: Did we forget to write an ending? I was genuinely intrigued by the payoff when we learned we hadn’t seen the mother in three days, and you kind of owe an ending to us after setting up a question to be answered.

CW: Well this chick is a piece of shit. Usually it’s the guy’s job to be this kind of asshole so I like the switch. It didn’t feel realistic though. Everything felt kinda forced. I don’t think people really jump to those conclusions. Nor do they talk about it so casually.

Christina Pepper

In 150 words or fewer, please explain your reasons for applying for this position.

-I feel the combination of my previous work in the advertising field along with the time I’ve devoted to raising my young children for the past several years has given me profound insight into how to appeal to the coveted soccer mom demographic.
-Extensive negotiation experience with hostile parties.
-Can multitask like nobody’s business. With a baby on my hip.
-Excellent skill dividing any manner of food into three exquisitely equal pieces.
-Have a booger hanging from your nose? I have no qualms about removing it. With my bare hands.
-Able to maintain a sense of humor even with multiple people screaming in the background and grabbing for the keyboard.
-Your health insurance covers birth control, right?
-I’d just like to be able to nkbvcfghjkkkkkkkkkkkrzx……….mzx bnmsdhklqwerttyuiop NNNNNNNNBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHGHHFCXJMXNCM,ZCNVDMSAZCNVVBHVCXNZM<<.÷

K: Cute. I’m not sure it’s a story so much as a joke, but it’s a small word limit.

CW: I appreciate the attempt at a unique approach here but I just didn’t like the layout. It was certainly funny and it made me laugh but I didn’t think it did well enough against the competition.

Beau

It was a blistering 102 degrees and a fierce wind was blowing, but Robert Ott was not the least distracted. He sensed danger and his senses were sharper than ever. He didn’t know much about much, but he knew he was vital to the World Union’s survival.

With this knowledge he confidently shot the head off an incoming Qunk. Then another. Within thirty minutes of taking his post, eighteen Qunks were dead. He was prepared for anything.

“Daddy?”

He turned and shot before the meaning of the word could register.

——————-

“Dammit Nelson!” the captain squawked, shutting down the simulation.

“Sorry sir,” replied Nelson. “I forgot to upload Robert’s civilian recognition software.”

“Don’t apologize, just fix…” Before he could finish, the captain’s brain sprayed against the control room window.

Nelson promptly shut Robert off, then clutched the valknut on his necklace, a symbol of the Qunk Alliance. “Yes sir.”

K: Wow, two twists in a 150-word story? That’s ambitious, and they actually work fairly well. This reads like a dark comedy early and a drama late, but what the hell…it’s too big an idea for me to dislike. SILVER

CW: I’m usually a sucker for the sci-fi stuff but this one didn’t do it for me. Perhaps due to the word restriction, I found myself unsure of who was who and when I have to go back and read it multiple times to figure out what just happened, there’s something missing.

Melissa Diamond

“Mommy!”

“Stay out,” Angela yelled as the kids’ footsteps thundered nearer. “Privacy! Don’t–”

The bedroom door flew open.

“Sofie pinched me!” Eric exclaimed, then paused. “What’re those things on your chest?”

“Get out!”

The kids stared. Then Eric punched Sofie and the two ran off screaming.

Angela put her shirt on.

***

“Mommy!”

“I’m in the bathroom.”

“Can we make lunch?”

“LET ME PEE.”

Angela finished up, then she found the kids in the kitchen. They grinned, standing in a puddle of jelly, milk, and pride.

“We love you, Mommy.”

***

That afternoon, Sofie got her frisbee stuck on the garage. Again. The girl ran inside sobbing, and Angela climbed the ladder behind the garage. As she reached for the frisbee, her foot slipped. She fell to the ground.

Her hip snapped.

She lay there for two days, the pain a throbbing horror.

It was the best vacation she’d had in years.

K: The “excruciating pain is better than having to look after the kids” joke is shooting fish in a barrel, but the structure works well enough and the gag isn’t overplayed.

CW: Is this Melissa? It feels like Melissa. It also feels true. And I can totally understand how being injured can be a vacation. – BRONZE

Brian David

“Can I get some privacy here?”
The robot nodded, flicking its little camera-head up and down. It did not move.
Max sighed, dutifully wiped himself, and stood up from the toilet.
“What time is it?” he muttered, cleaning his hands and glancing around the bathroom. He grabbed his phone and switched on the screen.
“Shit! Got to go.”
Max frantically collected his keys and coat, almost tripping as the robot weaved between his legs.
“Goddamnit! I’m not making any siblings for you if this is how you all act.”
Max rushed out of the apartment, slamming the door. The robot stood quietly, tilting its camera. Then it climbed onto the kitchen counter, scurried up the cabinets and slipped through the bent slits of a ventilation duct. Inside, a dozen lenses flickered in the dark.
The robot held up a pincer and the shaft erupted in a din of metallic tapping.

K: Oh, Sheriff Murderbot. (Does anyone else remember that one?) In a week that certainly threatened to be tedious and samey, this one stands out. SILVER

CW: This would have scored better if I understood how we got here. There’s an army of tiny robot helpers plotting world domination or something? I was just confused how we went from Max not wanting any other robots to there being a cache of them in his ducts.

Annette Barron

Our 5th wedding anniversary and I wanted to recreate the first meal I cooked for you. I like to think it was the first moment you looked at me through long-term goggles.

I plunked Jordan down with Despicable Me; he loved Minions as much as I did.

Pound the chicken breasts flat, press in parmesan, shallots and fire-roasted green chillies; roll, tie, dust with breadcrumbs. Place in a shallow bath of homemade stock and into the oven. Serve with garlic and white cheddar mashed potatoes and crisped (in bacon fat) brussel sprouts; yummy.

I smelled disaster, eyes watering. I dashed into my bedroom to see the last of my full bottle of Happy disappear into our mattress. Jordan squealed as I scooped him up, air unbreathable.

45 scrubbing minutes later I smelled burning chicken. I raced to find you in the kitchen, flowers and wine in hand.

“Hey Darlin’, why does the house smell like burned-out brothel?”

K: The decision to have the narrator speak as if the reader is something. Do I like it? I don’t know for sure, but I know it was a rare move around here, and with a story that would be a little obvious and ordinary otherwise, it helped make for a memorable experience. BRONZE

CW: I could almost smell this one. Nice detail. And I like the punchline. The humor didn’t feel forced. And it was funny. – SILVER

Ian Pratt

The kitchen window is open. A butterfly floats in, landing on the pages of Ursa’s coloring book. She squeals and scoops it into her tiny hands.

“Daddy, look,” she bubbles, her hands cupped to protect her new friend as she bounces down the stairs to the basement where I’m feeding the snakes. His name is Harry, she explains.

“Would the snakes like Harry?” she asks. I smile. Sure. The snakes would love Harry. I tip another bucket of rats into the snake pit. Below us, three or so meters down, hundreds of taipans writhe and coil in slick knots as they attack their meal. Ursa opens her hands, but Harry stubbornly clings to her finger. She uses another finger to gently brush him off, toward the snakes, but instead he flutters back up the stairs. Disappointed, she peers down into the darkness of the pit, frowning at the ceaseless hissing.

K: I don’t know why this father and daughter have a basement full of taipans, but upon reflection, I’m not sure I care, either. This is a really bizarre idea, and – given the constraints of the word limit that don’t allow for more explanation – one I adore. GOLD

CW: Creepy. I like creepy. But again I felt like the word limit caused something to be left out. I guess it’s good that I wanted more information in a way but… I hate snakes!

Sama Smith

The winds churned turning trees into green windmills. Springtime debris whipped around Melinda as she ran home. Just beyond her home, mountainous ocean waves rose against the horizon.

Not again, she thought.

The air in the cottage hummed. The floorboards vibrated. Rain began to thrash outside the door. Melinda remembered the same storm last fall. So many lives lost. She had to stop her mother’s rage from taking more.

Inside she found Adra sobbing and shaking on the floor holding yellowed newspaper clippings.

“No, Mom! Please, don’t,” Melinda said, crouching down. “Don’t get so upset–you know what could happen.”

Startled, Adra’s sodden, blue eyes shot open. Melinda could see the storm raging inside her begin to quiet. Outside, the rain eased and the winds relented.

“Come on, let’s get a cup of tea.”

They stumbled to their feet. Adra sighed.

“You don’t understand,” she murmured. “But someday you will.”

K: This is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, I think, with nature taking the form of humans. I
always like that kind of thing, although to properly build a world, one probably needs more room. If this is an already-built world I should be aware of, well…I’m not.

CW: For some reason this story made me think of Elsa in Frozen, but not in a bad way. I felt like the dialogue told enough in a real enough way and this didn’t seem as rushed as many of the others. – GOLD

Matthew Gilman

“Daaaaddyyyyyy!”

Gripping the pencil tighter: “Daddy’s busy.”

The study door opened. “I need Daddyhugs!”

“I’m doing paperw–OOF.” She tossed herself backwards onto his lap, grabbing his arms and wrapping them around her, legs dangling over his knees. “But Daaaddy!”

“Marie, don’t be a brat. You’re getting too old for this.”

She glanced back, wide-eyed. “But you’re never too old for Daddyhugs!”

“Girls your age don’t sit in their Daddy’s lap. It’s inappropriate.”

Arms reached around his neck. “But Daddy…I’m your little girl…” Voice dropping to a whisper.

“And little girls love Daddy alllllways…” soft lips pressed against his neck. They shivered. His hand moved along her stomach–

“EWWWWW!!! You GUYS!”

Their heads snapped around. She slid out of his lap and stumbled to her feet. “Sasha! You’re home early!”

“Jesus, Mom!” spat the teenager standing in the study doorway, “did you HAVE to wear my school uniform??”

K: I don’t know whether to love you or hate you for writing this. Usually, when I open that way, I err on the side of love. This effectively sets up an expectation of a nothing scene, then gets super gross, and then fits the prompt after all. For as vulgar as it is, this is smart structure. GOLD

CW: At first I thought this was sick and perverted. Then it became a different kind of sick. One that’s much more fun. I fear the day I get caught by my kids. – GOLD

Sarah Wreisner

Lowell didn’t like the bassinet, so we took turns letting him sleep in our arms despite our communal delirium.

John sounded like Jack Torrance by the second night. When I wasn’t sobbing into someone’s homemade soup I was wondering if we could change our minds.

“We were happy,” I said on the third night. “This was your idea.”

On the fourth night I was holding Lowell in bed. I drifted off, hazy from Tylenol PM. I woke to John frantically tossing the sheets around.
“He was just here! WHERE’D HE GO?!”

Lowell wasn’t there. We both understood that he’d slipped straight through the mattress and was lost. I remembered the Goblin King.

John pinched my shoulders. “He slipped through! He just… who do we… WHAT DO WE SAY?”

I was reaching into the crumpled pillowcase, still searching. The baby had escaped. He was gone.

Then: a cry from the bassinet.

K: It’s always so hard to judge a story when the writer makes no attempt to hide his or her identity, and even harder when I have a face for everyone in the story, but whatever – I’ll give it a shot. The line about the Goblin King is well-placed; I remember the massive overreactions that came with young parenthood. John’s yelling, too, made me chuckle (I know this ends happily, after all). Lowell is in the most expected place, of course, which is the right way to end the story of two frantic parents, whether true or not. GOLD

CW: I thought this was going nowhere until you mentioned the Goblin King. I had to stop and reread it from there. As the parent of an 11 month old I can relate with this. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but I found it fun and relatable. – SILVER

Matt Novak

“You sure about this, babe?”

“Damn straight,” he answered with a nod, eyes focused on the dark road ahead.

The sharp twinge built in Aimee’s thighs, and she dug her nails into the peeling vinyl of the armrest. As the pain subsided, a set of high beams lit the truck’s cab, revealing a smile on Dale’s face. He’d always carried a torch, and Aimee wasn’t quite sure which of them was taking advantage of the other. Maybe that’s why this could work.

“Thanks, Dale.”

“Ain’t gonna let that sommabitch claim your kid.”

“Our kid, Dale. It might be his, but it’s gonna be yours.”

Aimee knew the rules. Marriage creates a presumption. In the eyes of the state, it wouldn’t be Frank’s kid if she married Dale first.

“50 miles to Vegas,” Aimee said quietly, reading the sign, as another wave of pain set in.

They were getting closer now.

K: Ugh. Turns out I really wasn’t in the mood for icky rednecks. I like this idea, though backstory on Dale and Frank really is necessary to get the full effect of what you’re going for. Aimee is loathsome in her complicity, which can be an interesting character study, but I don’t know whether she’s just stupid or has a good reason to do what she’s doing in this story.

CW: This is all sorts of methed up. There was potentially a little too much telling but I liked the idea. A little rushed but this did enough for me. – BRONZE

Margaret Martin

The air on the Gulf of Aden was hot and humid, and smelled sickly sweet, like meat beginning to rot.

Yusra and Jamil struggled with the heavy sacks on their backs through the press of bodies, shoving their way past shrunken old women and mothers clinging to crying children.

Finally they reached the captain.

“To Djibouti! You have money for two?”

“Yes. I am a doctor. Please! Yemen is not safe.”

Jamil squeezed a fat envelope in his sweaty fist.

“What’s in the sack?” The captain slapped it brusquely.

“Just clothes…” Jamil began, but the sack squealed and shifted.

“OPEN IT!”

The captain pulled the top open to reveal the face of a small boy, his black curls matted to his damp forehead.

“I save your life and you cheat me?! Money for THREE!”

“But we don’t…” Yusra protested with hands outstretched.

The captain spat and shoved them aside.

K: Huh. Once again, I have to say I was worried about stories all sounding the same this week, but you guys remind me again that your ideas come from everywhere. I wish this were a little fuller, but I blame myself; I think this story did very well given the limitations. The overwhelming bleakness of the situation is palpable through the prose. SILVER

CW: I like that the escape from Yemen is foiled by the hidden child. You really took the prompt to heart. They all might die because you’re a heartless writer! – GOLD

Abby Stansel

It was here. The day he’d been waiting for. Sam paced, glancing at the timer every second. Three minutes, two minutes, one minute to go. Sam rested his hand on lever. He only had a moment to do this.
“Daddy! A small voice yelled.
Sam cursed angrily and hurried to the stairs. “WHAT” he yelled.
When there was no response, he headed upstairs, worried. He ran into the kitchen. There was no one. Frantically, he began to search. Bathroom. Nothing. Bedroom. Nothing.
“Amy.” Sam sobbed, his fear showing as he slumped to his knees, head in his hands. “Amy. Where are you?”
A door opening made Sam turn. A voice spoke. “Give up?”
“What are you doing?” Sam demanded.
“I was playing hide-and-seek daddy.” Amy said, her eyes bright. Sam closed his eyes, thinking of those months his obsession had cost him with her.
“Well, then hide again.” Sam smiled.
K: I sure as hell wish I knew what Sam was doing down there, as it seems like it would color the story some. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a kid’s love breaking her dad of his trance, though it really rushes to this conclusion.

CW: Here’s another one that felt rushed and like something was left out. I didn’t see the connection between the first part and last part of the story. I’m not sure if this is because I’m sick tonight or not. Not quite there for me.

John Wreisner

His birth was no miracle. His birth, like all births, was pure animal. A shrieking, stinking, vernix covered cone-head had abruptly turns my wife’s vagina into the elevator from “The Shining.’ Shamefully, during his first week home I Googled “I hate my newborn.” Thankfully, I found out it was normal. I have not slept a full night since the day he came to us and expect not to until he knows how to throw a solid punch. Sometimes I only shower twice a week. He’s vomited into my open mouth. I have nightmares about him being hurt that haunt me for days, weeks. I have no free time, no hobbies, no ambition except to be a father. I’ve alienated my friends, and sometimes, my own wife. I speak in a gibberish shorthand that only my toddler understands. I have no identity of my own. I have a son. It’s incredible.

K: Wow, did both Wreisners really reference The Shining? Eh…I guess that’s not so weird. Is this a story? I don’t know, but I identify almost completely with it, particularly the nightmares, and the unconditional love comes through loud and clear in the end. Whether writing a true story or not, a lot of folks can’t do that. BRONZE

CW: This kind of stream of consciousness works sometimes. It could have been better, but it got the point across. I feel like this might have been straight from the writer’s brain and done last minute but I’m still going to give you a medal. – BRONZE

——————————————————————————-

Hmm…relative agreement between the judges. Sure, you’ve got your guaranteed two Gold/Nothings, but whatever. I actually had a lot of these stories packed like sardines and changed scores a lot while I tried to place medals.

Also, Gilman finally broke the weird streak of not getting any medals from me this week in a big way. A big, grody way.

Next time we’ll do the John Wreisner challenge. Your story’s essential set piece is a coffin. It’s due by Thursday night at 8pm Central (I hate judging so late and it seems very few of you are all about nonsubbing this season). We’ll do 200 words for this one, just because I felt like too much was gouged this week. I make no promises about the challenges after.

I’ll link to the spreadsheet later if I remember, Prosers.

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