“Blind” week from…was it season one?…has always been my favorite batch of stories here, but we have a new contender. Wow, gang.

Sarah Wreisner

We buried crows and rabbits in the strawberry patch my dad planted for me, finding most on the street by the liquor store. We never ate strawberries after that.

When I was five, before my strawberry patch became a graveyard, there was a May snowfall after the white flowers had popped. I screamed and pounded on the window, refusing to eat my breakfast. My dad – a Vantage stuck to his lip – ran through the drifts, his bathrobe flapping over dirty yellow slippers. He covered my strawberry plants with Tupperware bowls while I cheered. My garden was safe.

After that winter, we held elaborate services for every mangled animal we could scrape off the pavement. Shoebox coffins were made with glitter and paint. We prayed that the roadkill would go to heaven. After the sad, ridiculous funerals, we marked every grave with a Popsicle stick cross.

The night after my dad died, I jumped the fence at our childhood house. The paint was peeling and the tree fort was missing. Weeds clogged the strawberry cemetery and the crosses were gone. I buried dad’s St. Christopher medal in the garden, where the cardboard caskets and wings had rotted long ago.

K: I’m not always in the mood for a story of remembrance with no speaking or present action, but the dark energy here is so palpable that it’s hard not to go along with it. Stories like this, around here, are often devoid of endings; the buried medal evades this pitfall in a big way. GOLD

CW: This is the first one? Really? Holy crap these are going to be good, aren’t they? Perfect! That’s all. – GOLD

Jonathon Pope

I suppose the paralysis drugs probably weren’t meant to be a blessing, but they forced me to reckon with my panic faster than I normally would have. Once you stop panicking, it’s easier to think.

I didn’t leave town soon enough. Timing is everything. So who did this? Probably not Carlos, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know I’ve double-crossed him yet. Not Count DeVille, I know he’s running his own game. Titus? Doubtful, I don’t think he’s back in town yet.

I’m skirting the obvious. The Madam. I never saw them, but the hands that grabbed me, powerful though they were, were feminine. As was the perfume in the air.

I know The Madam’s reputation. Charming, sensuous exterior covering a hard-nosed, shrewd businesswoman. Clearly, my weakness for the wares that her establishment offers have gotten me into this mess. But I’m only 12 hours late with her money! I assumed she would wait until morning. My mistake.

I’m good for my debt, with interest. Surely this is a warning. I feel as though I am about to panic again. I would claw at the lid, but I still can’t move.

K: Is this about the cocaine baroness in Mexico? That feels right. Anyway, the story comes through and the horror revealed at the end works well. The narrator’s vain hopes that it’s just a warning are a nice dark touch. SILVER

CW: Story number 2 comes in strong as well! Loan shark has buried the debtor alive as punishment for being late. I like it. I particularly like the doubt our debtor feels. My only gripe, and this is minor, is the naming of the characters. But you managed to use their names/titles in ways that made it obvious what their roles were, so it’s not all bad. – SILVER

Abby Stansel

A man stands in front of the tour group. He was dressed in a crisp, old-fashioned suit and tie, with stark white hair and pale skin.

“Welcome to Johnson’s forever coffins. We are happy to be of service to you. Today you will see a large arrangement of coffins for your err…Viewing pleasures. Come in, come in.”
“Follow me please. And…stay close.”
“Right through here. Under the cobwebs. .”
“On your right, you see some examples of fabulous tombstones we offer. On your left, are some genuine caskets that we have brought today. Look at the intricate brass work. Come, let us get closer.”
“If you chose to be laid to rest here, you will be surrounded by all the wonderful things in nature. Crows, moss, cobwebs. What more could you want.”
“Gather round people. Now you will be able to feel the inside of a genuine coffin! Everyone chose a coffin. “
“Everyone have one? Alright lie down. Feel how comfortable it is?”
“Now why doesn’t everyone close their eyes and take a good long sleep. You can go back to haunting, sorry ‘visiting’ another day”
“Now, where are the rest of you cursed ghosts?”

K: Cute enough, although there’s a tense change over the course of the first two sentences, and the constant new paragraphs despite the speaker remaining the same is kind of a weird convention.

CW: I didn’t love this story. You tried to use the dialogue to tell your story too much. I felt like you had a good concept that could have been done better told differently. With the level brought tonight this just didn’t cut it.

John Wreisner

The want ad was in the local paper. My favorite cemetery was hiring a groundskeeper.

I was hired on the spot. ‘Bring some water and wear boots,’ I was told.

I mowed, leveled markers, dug graves. During lunch I’d lay in the shade of the columbarium and smoke cigarettes.

I buried a victim of breast cancer one day, just before going to lay in the shade and smoke. When I returned, the backhoe was still on the grounds.

A nervous funeral director with steel rimmed glasses heliographing in the sun spoke:

“It was a ghastly oversight on our part. The earrings were heirlooms, you see. I appreciate your discretion in this matter.”

We dug the grave open again, lifted the lid off of the vault with the backhoe. It was broad daylight.

“You’re skinny” said my foreman. ‘Get in.”

Down I went, careful to step on the edges of the vault and not dent the casket.

I opened the lid, the light down there watery and gunmetal. She was bald and gaunt and had skin like tissue paper.

I put the earrings in my shirt pocket.

I was the last person on earth to look at her.

“Goodbye” I said.

K: I like our narrator from the moment he says “favorite cemetery,” and he grows on me from there, taking a casual approach to both life and death, and still having it in him to give the deceased a respectful sendoff. This character probably doesn’t have a lot of touching moments in him, so it was nice that we got to enjoy one. GOLD

CW: Thief! Graverobber! Gullible groundskeeper. I think this story could have done better given more words to use. I feel like we had a beginning and an end but nothing really in the middle.

Matthew Gilman

It’s like being dragged backwards through a concrete drainpipe. Rough walls scraping your skin. Fingernails tearing against the sides. The abrasion burning hotter as you get closer to the surface. But soon you realize you’re not moving. You’re just feeling breath returning to your lungs.

Life is shoved back inside you. Your limbs have no room to move. Some sinews of undecomposed skin stretch across your bones. Each heartbeat is agonizing; unnatural. A glowing presence beside you smells of silver: stronger, thankfully, than the rot of your own body. Its fingers caress what’s left of your chin, finding purchase, melding with you. Your brain flashes like a hard drive, reliving your history randomly. You have no agency over this. You breathe. The tender lining of your lungs scrapes and tears. The pain is indescribable.

Resignation overtakes you, like death once did. The forced remembering ended, and the silvery presence left at some point, but you can’t tell when. You’re aware only of this box, and your own tubercular, flesh-filled inhales. Now that they’ve completed whatever they needed you for, you assume you’ll be returned to death. It only seems right. But it’s been some time, and you’re still waiting.

K: Having the narrator speak out at me was unsettling, as the writer intended. This stretches the limits of what makes a “story,” but I’m left with a strong appreciation for the horror thanks to the uncomfortable, claustrophobic prose. BRONZE

CW: As you may have noticed, I’m in love with you guys tonight. The descriptive verbiage here was fantastic and in any other week would have medaled you on the spot. But this isn’t any other week. While the descriptions were spot on, I felt the story itself wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Great writing though.

Matt Novak

…stared at the sunset, finally realizing the cost of his defiance. He was sorry. Too late had he found the words.

Thin wisps of smoke lingered where the burning tool had delicately scripted the text inside the casket, a blazoned contrast against the wood. Alan inhaled deeply, the scents of cedar and hot metal tickling his olfactory nerves.

“What’s this one?”
Alan jumped, quickly wiping at his cheek.
“Deborah. I didn’t see you.”
“Who is this one?”
“Parker.”
“The investment guy? You do that gaia-earth-mother-hippie poem again?”
Usually he gave good stories to those who deserved them, and confronted the opulent with moral outrage or, worse yet, complete dreck. The poem was both.
“Not this time.”
“Hemmingway? Borges? You wouldn’t give him something good, would you?”
Alan paused. Deborah didn’t know. How could she? Alan was nothing like him.
“No. I suppose not.”
This was the first time he’d written his own story, an original work.
“Remember, it’s your ass if the family sees your eternal reading material.”

As Deborah exited, Alan gave a crooked smile and turned back to the casket, fresh tears emerging as he carved the words he wished he had found earlier.

I love you, Dad.

K: Good stuff. We’re all over the emotional spectrum tonight, but pretty much everything is hitting the mark (aside from your misspelling of Hemingway). This kind of thing always comes dangerously close to manipulative territory, but I also appreciate a more tender moment in Casket Week. BRONZE

CW: This was a great, emotionally charged little story. I love my dad so much that any story talking about dad’s dying brings a tear to my eye. I just can’t imagine. That being said, these stories were so amazeballs this week that this only came in with a bronze. Please don’t think this means anything bad. You rock. – BRONZE

Beau

I patronized a local bar
He asked me if I came here often
A man too close with his cigar
Named Marty Coughlin

A cheerful bloke who liked to boast
About the ladies he would consort
Debutantes he liked the most
And last night’s escort

Normally a man like he
Would prompt me to pray intercessions
But flowing beer unearthed with glee
My indiscretions

My trust bestowed with ribald tale
Encouraged him to open further
About his favored lady Gail
With heightened fervor

A gorgeous blonde he met last week
Whose ass could stop a long procession
And tattooed on her tight left cheek
The word “Obsession.”

His final word cut like a knife
For now I knew who came here often
The bed where he had laid my wife
Became his coffin

K: Oh, hell. I have high expectations for rhyming poetry, and this met them. It’s playful, yes, but is a complete story as well, with memorable characters and excellent gallows humor. I’ll go back to this one in the future, again and again. GOLD

CW: Poetry is the bane of my existence. I don’t know what this type of poem is supposed to be called though. And I don’t care. In any other week, this would have won gold. You guys are freaking amazing. – SILVER

Brian David

The woman in the picture was smiling; she looked genuinely happy. She held a shot glass in her hand as a young man wrapped his arm around her shoulders. An inscription read: “Molly, 25th birthday.”

Rae flicked the wheel on the lighter and held the flame up. The polaroid ignited, sending tendrils of smoke into the air. Rae dropped the burning photo into a pot on the stove.

Someone knocked on the kitchen door.

“Rae! Come on, Rae, let’s do this!”

Rae shook her head and opened the door. A petite blond hopped inside, running in place on the tiles.

“Jesus, Molly Rae, it’s almost eight. Let’s go!”

Rae shot the girl a steely glance.

‘Oy, sorry . . .” The girl blushed. “Old habits and all that.”

An ear-shattering noise filled the room as a fire alarm screeched.

“Fuckin-A!” Rae yelled, grabbing the smoking pot and running out onto the patio. She threw the pot onto the deck and quickly stamped out the flame.

“What was that all about?”

Rae brushed the ash from the sole of her shoe.

“Nothing. Just. . . burying the past.”

The blonde woman shrugged, and the two of them jogged down the steps and out into the street.

K: I had to go back to this to make the Molly Rae connection. Ah, that makes more sense. A lot of time is spent on the conversation here when we need a little more connection to Molly Rae’s past. I didn’t feel for her as much as I might otherwise. It’s a nice story, but what a week to be up against.

CW: Yet another great take on how to incorporate the prompt. Rae has reinvented herself and you, dear Proser, have reinvented the medal system. – SILVER

Ian Pratt

The biker caught up to me at a red light. He coaxed his hog past the ass-end of my hearse until he was right next to me, then rapped on the glass with a gloved knuckle. He did a “roll down your window, asshole” pantomime, and I obliged.

“Hey dipshit,” he crowed. “You realize you almost killed me back there? You ever look when you’re changing lanes?”

I wasn’t sure if he wanted to pull me out of the car and beat me, or just punch me through the open window. He was a big guy and he looked like he could handle himself. I’d seen him and his massive hog when I was doing my little maneuver, but I’d done it anyway.

“So are you gonna apologize to me, punk, or do I have to… uh…” His rough voice trailed off as he gazed behind me at the casket in back. He was probably wondering why the lid was open and why there was coagulated blood everywhere. He was probably wondering about the smell that was wafting forward and out the window. But I didn’t ask what he was thinking about. The light turned green and I drove away.

K: I think in a week with a weaker slate I’d definitely be all over this, because it’s certainly good. The narrator’s casual arrogance came through and I was interested to see where he was going with it. Part of me wants to ask a little more about the backstory, but I think you’re right, writer: it’s more effective if I don’t have the full story here. BRONZE

CW: Holy shit. This went a far different direction than I was expecting, and in a fantastic way. I can just picture this macho biker going “What. The. Fuck.” Is the driver Dexter? It doesn’t matter. This was awesome. – GOLD

Margaret Martin

There was another crash in the living room. Dad was shouting so loud it made the light fixtures jiggle, and Mom was half-crying, half-hiccupping.

Bella stepped out of bed soundlessly, placing small feet gingerly on the carpet. She tiptoed into the closet, closing the door behind her, and ducked into one corner.

For many months this was where she would wait for it to stop. Until she discovered the secret. She pushed a piece of paneling to one side. It squeaked on its single nail, and she froze in terror.

After several long, still seconds, Bella exhaled and crawled through the gap in the paneling. Turning around on her knees, she pulled it back into place.

The crawl space was small, and the already low ceiling sloped into a tiny triangle. She had lined it with Hello Kitty dolls and some stuffed toys and spread a soft blanket in the center. She wiggled into the gap just big enough for her body and cried herself to sleep

. . .

“What about Bella?” Mom screamed as the firemen pulled her husband from the smoke and flames.

“We’ve searched the entire house, Ma’am! She’s not there.”

K: What fresh hell is this? A girl who finds solace away from her rotten parents is rewarded with a painful death? I know the story aims to make the parents pay for their drunken failures, but Bella comes off as too much of a person to be just a plot device.

CW: Are you guys kidding me? Kelly, these are the best stories all season! This one too went in a total different direction than I anticipated. I liked your use of the home as the coffin. Man. – GOLD

erik s

Jim grimaced shortly after the Styrofoam cup hit his lips. They never have good coffee at these things, he thought.

The crowd had left and things had quieted down. He stared down at the open coffin in front of him, thinking about nothing in particular.

“Jim, what are you still doing here?”

Jim turned.

“Oh, hey, Mark. Sorry, I was just–”

He paused, then smiled.

“I don’t know. Unwinding, I guess.”

Mark, a man of few words, amiably shrugged in response. Jim turned back to the coffin.
Mark came to join him, and on his way over accidently kicked an urn which rolled across the floor and clanked against another urn. The sound echoed around them. Mark shrugged again, but this time as if to say, eh, whatever.

Both men now stared down into the dented, empty casket in momentary silence, the top part of its inner lining in tatters.

“That went really well, actually,” Jim said.

Mark nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I heard Rod and Randy really sold it.”

Jim softly chuckled, and took another sip of the burnt coffee.

Among discarded chisels, crowbars, and power tools, both men then enjoyed a moment of content and comfortable quiet.

K: I read this twice and I’m not grasping the full story. Black market corpse sales? I think? I’d love to give it some leeway, but I don’t have much to offer this week. It’s nice, soothing prose, and if the story hit harder, I think it would stand out.

CW: Among the competition this just felt too basic. I’m imagining this group of guys runs a funeral home but sells bodies on the black market or something on the side. But I don’t feel there was enough here to actually tell me that. I made it up.

Sama Smith

My first one was the size of a matchbox. It was the perfect size for my pinky toe– the only toe I’ve lost.

I buried it by a juniper tree about 20 feet from the compound’s fence line. It was the biggest part of me I’d lost after being here about a year.

I’d woken up and felt the oozing pus and blood stuck to my sheets. I gathered the toe and hid it in my pillow. I requested my outdoor free time that morning after breakfast. As I threw away my inedible Chex I spied a dirty matchbox in the trash and grabbed it.

I used a stolen spoon to dig a hole in the dry, soft sand outside. I felt relief as I covered up the tiny rectangular box. Looking around I saw nothing but the compound, sand and heat waves. My secret.

Weeks later I grabbed an empty tissue box. I put chunks of hair and a few scraps of my skin in there, hiding it from the nurses. They never got close to me anyway. The box is getting heavy now. Think I’ll need to request my free time soon and maybe find a bigger spoon.

K: Oh, jeez. I like how this narrator has completely accepted his fate, and life on the inside has broken him. He’s not irritatingly weird. He’s the hero of his own story. That’s a very effective way to write for the insane. SILVER

CW: OK. So another interesting take on the prompt but effective! We have here a leper I’m assuming. And the leper buries his parts as they fall off. Grotesque but well told. – BRONZE

Annette Barron

My Gramma kept it the garage for as long as I can remember. It was a two-car garage but the second space was always for her shiny black coffin on its pallet. She was partial to black cars, too, so it was a matched set.

I never thought much about it, but it seemed to bother my dad a lot. After Mom and Dad were killed on a motorcycle and I moved in with Gramma, I had friends who were morbidly fascinated with Gramma’s coffin.

Bethany, my girlfriend at 15, promised me a blow job if we could mess around in the coffin. Creepy; but who was I to say no to a blow job? Gramma played Spades on Friday nights so it was arranged.

We were sans shirts and making out when the garage door opened and Gramma’s headlights caught us. No blowjob for me (not for YEARS) and in our scrambling, we cracked the glossy lid of the coffin. Gramma grounded me for a month and gave Bethany the boot.

When Gramma passed, I bought her an expensive new coffin and kept the still-shiny, cracked one. It’s in my garage, next to my Lexus. Weird? Maybe, but it feels like home.

K: This is a nice tale of remembrance, but doesn’t quite have the prose or the through-line to make a memory. It’s kind of a stream-of-consciousness story, and for what it is it’s just fine…but the whole stream-of-consciousness remembrance thing is a hard sell for me.

CW: The crude humor usually works for me. Probably would have gotten you a bronze another time. It came close tonight even with the field as it is. But ultimately it just felt a little too juvenile. I definitely enjoyed it though.

Pete Bruzek

The boy looked toward the room’s centerpiece with a certain dread and shuddered.

His father came over and put a comforting arm around his shoulder.

“Why?” was the only word the boy could muster.

“I don’t know” the man replied.

“When will I know why?”

“Never. But that’s okay.”

“How is it okay?”

“Because it has to be.”

They didn’t speak much on the way home. There was a look on the father’s the boy had never seen before.

Fifteen years later, in a different room, the boy understood.

K: This is a nice minimalist piece; I agree with the decision to keep names out of it, to allow the story to be more of a fable or an idea than a story of two specific people. The ending could hit harder, but for a story about death with no answers, it has a surprising amount of gravitas. BRONZE

CW: Short but sweet, eh? I suppose. While it’s true that you don’t need to use all the words to write a successful story, this one could have benefited from it. This is a very real scene and even evokes some real emotion, but it wasn’t enough tonight.

Christina Pepper

I arrive early; the sanctuary is empty. My black flats shuffle softly on the stone floor. I have no plan, but my body seems to move of its own accord.

The casket lid opens soundlessly.

Surely his body will help me to understand. I inhale deeply in this small, dark space, but his smell is not his. Portions of limbs have been replaced with Styrofoam packing peanuts, and they squeak under me as I shift my position.

The obituary called him a hero. Killed in the line of duty–drunk driver. But I didn’t understand it was like this.

Pressed up against him, he feels foreign. I still cannot make sense of it–of him. I should not be here.

As the first of the mourners arrive, I slip out a side door; his widow must not see me.

I was his—

he was my—

we were nothing.

K: This surprise is a good one, but it’s told in a very coy, silly way. I’m not sure how I’d best like the information about the secret military-unfriendly relationship to be delivered, but…actually, I do. Let them interact, and give us the story through subtext. This is really a pretty good story, but I have to find reasons not to give medals this week.

CW: Last story. Last medal. But you guys made this freaking tough. I feel like I spent all night fellating the lot of you. The last three lines of this story made the entire story. Bravo. And once again, don’t let yourself think the color of your medal meant this was less than awesome. – BRONZE

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Wow, gang. Wow. All I had to do to get my favorite week of stories is give a prompt based on one of my favorite writers, eh?

Well done to Sarah, who double-golds in the most competitive week I can remember. Hats off to all of you for bringing the smart, the crude, the horrific and the uplifting. I am so damned pleased to call this place home.

For Monday night at 8pm Central, let’s have a Dean Carlson prompt. Yes, I know what you fear this will be, but I won’t force Van Halen or sodomy upon you. For this one, write about characters who are adults, but in one way or another, never grew up.

Thanks for this slate of stories, Prosers.

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