Happy halfway point, Prosers. Well, it was halfway between the last two challenges. At any rate, this was no Casket Week, but there was some fun here and there. Enjoy.

Beau

“What would you say if I told you we have the gun and that your fingerprints are all over it?” Lieutenant Carey knew that Detective Walz had no such thing, but it was amazing how often that worked.

“I would say,” replied Lonnie, “that I was in my house that night playing Candy Crush Soda Saga and that you are a lying sack of shit.”

“Fuck you!” yelled Walz. He was leaning over the desk, breathing rapidly. He rarely lost his cool.

“Can I…?” asked Carey. Walz gestured with an open hand. “Okay, Lonnie. This one’s tough. Are you ready?”

Lonnie just smiled.

“The year is 1986. You’re six years old. You can’t find your Teddy Ruxbin. You go into your parents bedroom to ask them if they’ve seen it. “Dance the Night Away” is playing on the radio. Your mom is leaning over the bed. Your dad is behind her. She looks like she might be in pain, but you can’t tell. What do you say?”

Lonnie started to answer, then stopped. His eyebrows furled and his eyes squinted. “I would ask,” Lonnie said cautiously, “What’s a Teddy Ruxbin?”

“Book him, Captain,” Carey said. “We got ourselves an android.”

K: Did the android fail to recognize the toy because it was spelled “Ruxpin?” I always was a sucker for this concept, since as a kid I was fascinated by such stories; I remember reading about how Allies used the World Series to fetter out spies. Anyway, it reads a little too much like a gag and I wasn’t surprised that there was a twist ending, but it’s fun enough. BRONZE

CW: Well this certainly went somewhere different than I expected even if done in a way I didn’t particularly love. It was entertaining though at least and for that I’ll give you a BRONZE.

Abby Stansel

Maria bent over, sobbing. Her blue eyes were dark with pain. She gripped the thin arm of a child tightly.
“How can you say that!” she cried. “How can you say that he has no future?”
The man shook his head. “I’m very sorry, ma’am.” He said quietly. “Very incredibly sorry.”
As the woman sobbed, the child pulled away from her and stepped forward, locking his huge brown eyes on the man. Disturbed, the man looked away.
Months later, the woman stood watching the coffin lowered into the ground. Tears ran silently down her thin cheeks. She stood, silent, and heard a child’s laugh, like a bell.
“Who’s there?” Maria whispered.
The soft laughter filled the air around Maria, warming her heart.
Later, Maria thought of the man who had given her the news.
“I wonder what happened to him.” She mused. “I haven’t heard from him since that day…”
“What are you!” The man screamed. He was cowered behind his desk, blood streaming down from cuts on his face. “Who…who are you!”
Cruel laughter filled the air as another vase struck his head. Bent over in agony, he screamed. Blood ran down the wall, spelling the words “No future?”

K: This story tried to cram a very long narrative into a really short space. One writing trick I took to heart is that if you’re writing a horror piece, you really should open with something horrifying, or at least foreboding. As it is, this comes out of nowhere, and not in a good way. It was a tad jarring.

CW: Comedic horror is always tough. This made me laugh, which is a definite positive. Many of tonight’s stories were groans. This one was less groan and more chuckle. I’m totally going to be this kind of ghost. – BRONZE

Sama Smith

Melanie took their order. She winked at the little boy with his sad blue eyes and decided to bring him a sundae. Then she saw it:

Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Melanie flew to the ladies room to cry alone.

She examined her porcelain complexion in the mirror then scrolled down to her small bosom and delicate figure wondering if she could have been that brave. She’d done what Jenner had done, but privately and over a much longer time. Would her legions of fans have been as supportive? No, the media would have torn her apart as they’d always done.

The fake death was hardest on the children, but they have a more normal life now. And Melanie got to be her real self away from the glaring spotlight.

“And I gotta be me,” Melanie whispered.

When she brought the sundae to the boy she asked his mother why he was so down.

“Kids at school were calling him a baby,” the mother said. “My little Billie Jean’s a sensitive guy.”

Melanie looked over at the boy with the chocolate syrup smile.

“All children except one, grow up,” she said. “Don’t rush into it, little man.”

K: I suppose it’s not that surprising that MJ showed up in this week’s stories, despite the noticeable handicap of being dead. It’s fish-in-a-barrely, yes, but the use of current events makes the story work better than other MJ stories that we’ve seen over the years (and there have been many). BRONZE

CW: I appreciate where you were going with this but I didn’t really feel any emotion when I’m pretty sure I was supposed to. Maybe that makes me a horrible person.

Margaret Martin

The lock opened with a satisfying pop. They entered Bill’s Spirits through the stockroom, clinging to the wall in dark clothes and ski masks.

They wound through aisles of tequila and towers of beer until they finally reached the wine. Stifling giggles, they slipped bottles of Boone’s Farm into their backpacks.

They were turning to leave when the blinding lights snapped on.

Bill’s son towered over them, rifle in hand. “On your knees! Did you think I wouldn’t notice that shitty wine go missing every year?”

The hooded figures descended slowly to the linoleum floor. Suddenly one of them shifted backward, reaching inside his jacket.

“Freeze!” Bill Jr. hollered, dropping on top of him and pulling the ski mask from his head.

He stopped, confused. A shiny pate gleamed at him, bald except for wisps of white hair gathered about the ears.

“Mr. Hutchins?”

The old man started gasping for air.

The other robber crawled over, frantically shedding backpack and mask. It was Mrs. Hutchins, her face puckered like an apple left sitting too long. She scanned her husband’s ashen features and started keening.

“Roger, no!”

She looked at Bill Jr. with scared, watery eyes.

“Tomorrow’s our 45th.”

K: I like this a lot as a story of a couple performing a silly anniversary ritual, and less so as a sudden twist into darkness. A story about an elderly couple risking themselves to steal shitty wine (Fun Fact: Boone’s Farm was my first alcoholic drink) can just be fun and doesn’t need a stinger. Honestly, I thought Bill’s dad Bill was going to be one of the culprits.

CW: Another one that just barely cracked the groan threshold into actual humor. Maybe I’m spoiled from the coffin prompt. I do like the old couple as burglars twist even if it didn’t feel particularly surprising knowing the prompt. – BRONZE

Melissa Diamond

Kyle surveyed the teenagers sipping sodas around the pool. Hip hop blared from the patio speakers. His daughter Kourtney lounged by the water, her friend Allison slathering sunscreen on her shoulders. The teenaged boys milled too close.

Kyle wandered up to his daughter. The boys dispersed.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

Huge sunglasses hid her eyes. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Can’t believe it. You’re old enough to get your license!”

“I’m 17.”

Kyle had no words to smooth that gaff, so he made a beeline for the pool house. That was the area for the chaperones–Riley’s father Abe from nextdoor; MacKenzie’s college-aged brother Dakota. Kyle watched the party with them, noticing after only a few sips of his painfully non-alcoholic beverage that Dakota was snapping pictures on his cell phone. He yanked the phone from the boy’s hands.

Abe peered over Kyle’s shoulder to inspect the pictures with him: Allison, water beading on her breasts; Riley bending over to grab a soda from the cooler; Kourtney on the pool’s edge, back arched.

Kyle’s jaw dropped. “Dakota,” he said, turning to the younger man. “These are amazing.”

Abe nodded. “Send us copies of those, will you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Kyle grinned. “Score.”

K: I call complete bullshit. Kyle’s own daughter is pictured. There is almost zero chance the shot wouldn’t send him into overdrive, and if he was somehow into that, he’d hide it (and would still probably be enraged by the other guy doing it). If you had Kyle delete the pics of his daughter and accept the others as long as Kourtney was no longer pictured, this would be funnier than it is lazy. I honestly hope the father/daughter thing was an oversight, because…no.

CW: This guy isn’t just a man who won’t grow up. He’s a creep. I mean I understand that his daughter’s friends are hot, but his daughter is in there too! Gross. But uh, is this is a true story, can I see some evidence?

Annette Barron

She smoothed the short silver cocktail dress down over her hips and surveyed the damage in the bathroom mirror. She finger-combed her hair and wiped smeared lipstick away.

At dinner, he invited her to his place for dessert; deliberate look for emphasis.

“I really shouldn’t,” her eyes shifted away.

He smiled and raised his hand for the check.

On his couch, they wrestled like teenagers. “No,” she whispered in his ear. “I don’t want to.” He wedged his hand into her bra, squeezing almost painfully. She moaned.

She found a mint and popped it in her mouth. She pushed her ruined panties into the bottom of her bag and rooted around, hand finally closing around her daddy’s long-handle, flat-head screwdriver.

After, he fell heavily on her, sweaty forehead between her breasts. She grimaced and pushed at him and he obligingly rolled away, collapsing face-down. She swung her legs off the bed and fumbled at the foot for her underwear. On her way to the bathroom, she snagged her dress from the top of the vanity.

The first blow was right on the money. “No means no. No means no,” over and over, screwdriver driving up and down in time.

K: Eeg. This story may have something important to say, but the characters are so thinly drawn that the potential feels are…a little unfelt. Rape isn’t the kind of thing you can write about casually; it’s just too powerful for a vague story to handle.

CW: OK so I’m not sure if we’re trying to be serious and make a statement here or if this is making light of a serious situation. No does mean no, but at least the way this story is told it really doesn’t sound like she meant no and was just looking for an excuse. I’m also not understanding the order of time here. She put ruined panties in her bag before having sex?

Sarah Wreisner

The strangest one? That’s easy. Jim’ll remember this one.

We’d gotten a call about some freaky shit at a place burned out from an old fire. No one had checked on it for years.

Some church folk had knocked at the door, sniffing around for handouts or some shit. One was peeking in a window – curious, I s’pose, since the place was ruined.

Out of nowhere, the cellar door flopped open and this whole fuckin’ horde of ‘em – missin’ teeth and proper clothes – came out, screamin’ and chasin’ them ladies off with swords and shovels. Swords, for chrissake!

They was so wild that we should’ve called animal control. Jim’ll tell ya.

They had this pidgin talk and they’d been poachin’ livestock for years. They was a family, and fuck if one of ‘em wasn’t pregnant. I don’t wanna speculate, ya know?

They’d been orphaned. We thought everybody’d been killed in that fire but the kids had lived and gone into hiding. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Some of ‘em went to group homes. One ended up workin’ as a line cook at Shoney’s. That pregnant girl lost her baby, thank fuck. Animals, I’m telling ya. Ask Jim.

K: It can be tedious when a third party tells us a story in the past tense, but this narrator is interesting and a pretty decently-drawn character himself, and I feel like I’m enjoying a couple of Duffs with him while he tells me this weird redneck story. Sometimes that can suck, but if the storyteller has it goin’ on, it doesn’t. This storyteller did. SILVER

CW: Ah, finally! I liked the voice here and the imagery. It feels like a creepy campfire story but one I’d actually be interested in hearing. Best of the night. – GOLD

Pete Bruzek

Mark offered something for everyone. The tunes were bangers, the liquor top shelf, and the girls attractive and giggly. This was the perfect party to kick off the year.

Nolan pulled him aside and broke it to him “Mark, dude. Some girls are leaving. They’re saying some old dude is hitting on them.”

The interloper was pointed out. Mark went to talk.

“Hey, aren’t you… I mean… This isn’t your scene, right?”

The man was taken aback, mumbling “I’m only 46.”

“I mean, don’t you…have a bar or something?”

“The flyer I saw said….do you want me to leave?”

Mark could feel eyes in the back of his head. If he kicked this guy out, he was going to be “the guy that kicks people out of parties”.

“I mean… you can stick around if you want. Want another drink?”

A condescending gesture, but Mark could see the man badly wanted to accept.

“I’d better not” the man sadly said, “I’ve got the kids tomorrow. I should vacuum the apartment…” he voice trailed off.

The man put his coat on and left as Mark watched.

Nolan shouted, “Dude! What was his deal?”

Mark didn’t say anything. The party ended earlier than usual.

K: I guess this one is based on real life, as the specifics are pretty specific. Plus, the story is one that feels like it doesn’t stand on its own and needs the backstory to be more interesting. If it isn’t based on anything, then I guess my gripe is that the story doesn’t really offer anything big, though the prose is fine and the condescending drink offer exchange was a highlight.

CW: Lame old guy at the college party has been done before. And I think it could have been done better here. These characters aren’t unique and their names don’t help separate them. I just didn’t feel this.

John Wreisner

He had more than a few embarrassing admissions. He was lucky that only his immediate family knew most of them.

He couldn’t drive, for instance. He’d been in cars, of course, he just never acquired the skill of driving. He didn’t need to, after all. He had a driver.

Sometimes when he was asleep he’d dream that he was driving. Having only seen people drive, the dreams were oblique. He could barely imagine how much resistance the pedals would offer.

Swimming was another one, less difficult to deal with than driving. He was able to form a sensory analog by virtue of showering and bathing, but he knew intrinsically that to be thrown into a body of water would spell his doom. He didn’t have much interest in swimming.

He had normal thoughts for a man of forty, normal relationships with the people closest to him. He had favorite sports franchises and preferences in food and every other idiosyncrasy that creates a personality.

He also had a shattered C3 and C4 vertebrae, a machine that breathed for him, and a voice cut silent by a tracheotomy.

He also had birth parents who’d died next to him on a derailed rollercoaster.

K: See, this is a twist I can handle because the story’s mood lets us know that we’re living in the darker spaces for this one. I absolutely love the paragraph pointing out how normal he is, complete with specifics-free rundowns of his favorites. It’s not often that you want your observations to be colorless, but with a story and character like this, it was the way to go. GOLD

CW: So immediately I’m thinking spoiled rich guy. Totally wrong. Tragic rollercoaster accident was not where I thought it was going either though. You kept me engaged and interested. – SILVER

Matthew Gilman

Omar felt the sun and wanted to close his eyes but he had to watch where he was going. Tick tick tick. Harder to hear his bike because of cars and people sounds. It was Tuesday so Chaz was riding too, and he would buy them Sprites.

“Chaz do a hop!” His brother lifted his bike off the concrete as he rode. Omar laughed. “Wheelie now!” but Chaz said “Don’t fall behind.”

They made it to the entrance to the park. “You know what’s up now, right?” Omar nodded. Chaz removed his backpack and helped put it over Omar’s shoulders. “Okay, bro. All set.” Omar frowned, guiding his bike slowly into the park.

Straddled his bike, Chaz lit a cigarette. Ready to bolt if shit got crazy. Staring, middle-distance, super-casual. Trying to ignore the faint voices, taunting “you’re late, retard!”

Soon, Omar coasted down the path, eyes wet, coasting to a stop beside his brother. “Can we go get Sprites now, Chaz?”

“Did you do good, O?”

Omar handed over a white, bulging envelope. He watched Chaz thumb the contents. “Can we go? Please?”

Stuffing the envelope in his jacket, Chaz nodded, dourly. “Let’s go get a Sprite.”

K: I don’t love the relentless slang here, as there’s a fine line between being colorful and being irritating, but I can’t say it feels particularly dishonest (I just would have mixed in some subtler moments). The payoff is smart and interesting, and the whole drug money exchange feels a little like Sam and Travolta bullshitting about McDonald’s while on the way to a hit. That’s a good thing. GOLD

CW: I may have totally just glossed over the meaning of this one by now but it just doesn’t feel like a story. This guy is forcing his little brother to skate for cash? I didn’t see this situation as realistic at all.

Jonathon Pope

“Hey guys, whatcha looking at?” Carl asked. Dan the bakery guy and the security guard were bent over something in the backroom. The guard gave Carl the same blank look as always.

“Mouse,” said Dan, “poor guy’s stuck on the glue trap. Looks dead.”

“Dunno,” said the guard, “thought I saw him move.”

“He’s dead. There’s poison in the bait. They do it that way so mice don’t suffer.”

Nobody said anything else for a few moments. The guard poked at the mouse with his baton. There was no discernible reaction. “Well,” said the guard, “one way to be sure.” The guard pulled out his pepper spray and let off a stream directly in the mouse’s face.

There was a shriek nearly too high for human ears. The mouse jumped up and ran, leaving a skin and hair on the trap. He for thirty feet and stopped, dead. The guard’s laugh was gleeful, and Dan and Carl backed away in fear, eyes burning from the pepper in the air. The guard noticed that he was the only one laughing, and stopped. He walked away, sulking.

“They let that guy carry a gun.” said Dan, incredulous.

“Yup,” said Carl.

K: “They let that guy carry a gun” feels like the sad trombone moment; everyone knows it’s coming but the character says it anyway. This was a little easy to predict, but it was way out there in terms of concepts, and that’s cool.

CW: This felt a little juvenile but nothing as blatant as some of the others tonight. It was a humorous little story but also one we can probably all relate to. We all know that guy… – SILVER

Christina Pepper

Marietta sits in the corner with her book and her McDonald’s. I can’t believe I spoil her so.

Toni is still talking and sliding color printouts across the table. Her movements are furtive, rodent-like.

“We’re doing this all wrong,” I declare.

A satisfying silence ensues.

“Girls can read about dresses anywhere. But my book should offer something more.”

Everyone looks at me expectantly. Except Marietta.

“What they really need is relationship advice. I of all people should know.”

“Yes,” breathes my assistant. The rodent woman scribbles notes furiously.

“We should set up a new shoot. Get Marcus and Svetlana to model. The book needs a section on intimacy. About bathing together.”

“Genius,” whispers Audrey. The rest of the room quickly nods in agreement.

My assistant lightly taps my arm. “You’re due downstairs to review the resort collection.”

I nod and move toward my daughter.

“I’m sorry Mommy has to work so hard even on a Saturday,” I say, stroking her long, shiny hair.

I glance at her milkshake. I don’t eat lunch anymore. No one does.

“One sip,” I command.

“It’s mine,” she whines.

“Mommy bought it, Mommy gets a taste,” I say, lunging for it.

K: That’s kind of a bizarre ending, but the look at the room rang true and the line “I don’t eat lunch anymore. No one does” was excellent in the hands of this narrator. GOLD

CW: I almost medaled this but in the end it felt too forced. It plays on the modeling tropes but doesn’t do it in a fun way to me.

Matt Novak

A sticky white residue wrapped around the handle of the shopping cart in the place where Stephen’s hands would go. He shuffled them artificially inward, holding the cart at an awkward angle, the broken left wheel following invisible, aggravating, fractal patterns as he moved along the length of the takeout counter.

Stephen tapped the glass.

“The crab salad?”

“What size?” she asked, in her nasally voice.

“The usual.”

She gave him a blank, unamused stare.

Really? He ate here at least twice a week. It was his midday safe harbor from Mathieson; a seedy port where seniors picked over limp cod fillets, and noodles drowned in mayonnaise, and Mathieson would never, ever, drop his gold-plated anchor.

“The half,” Stephen answered, “and a dinner roll.”

Today there would be no time to dine in. An afternoon presentation loomed and the time was not his own. Stephen filled the cart quickly, spaghetti, sauce, a salad browning in its bag, baby food, generic fabric softener, the self-checkout lane.

Then, pushing slowly through the automatic doors Stephen turned rightward towards the parking lot, gaining speed. He checked for traffic, gave a final push, and leapt on the back of the cart.

“WEEEEEEEE!”

K: I always dislike it when stories, shows, movies or whatever simplify service workers as lame caricatures. I worked at a restaurant for four years and I can tell you there is NO way this girl doesn’t recognize the guy, even if she doesn’t remember his usual. That aside, the prose works, and the final moment is a pretty glorious little bit; it’s the kind of tomfoolery I’d hoped we’d see a little more this week. SILVER

CW: This one put a little smile on my face. I could just imagine this grown man doing just this. I think I’ve actually done this myself. I don’t believe I threw in a WEE! or anything bit I’ve definitely ridden my grocery cart down the hill. – GOLD

Brian David

“Yeah. . .yeah, I love you, too.”
Jack set the phone back on the receiver and slipped a cigarette from the pack he kept in his shirt pocket.
“Congratulations, Jack. You found the last pay phone in Traverse City.”
Jack raised an eyebrow and tilted the wrinkled pack towards Dixon.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Dixon said.
The cigarettes were ignited in quick succession and the two men leaned against the brick wall.
“How’s the wife?”
Jack stared at a small puddle of black water that was slowly forming beneath the van.
“What can I say? She’s pissed.”
Dixon grinned and flicked his cigarette, barely finished, across the alley.
“Can’t say that I blame her.” He turned toward the security exit.
“We’re on in fifteen. I’m going to peel Mick away from the bar.”
Jack saluted as Dixon stepped through the door.
Reaching into the van, Jack grabbed a harmonica from the passenger seat; it smelled of stale beer and indigestion. He closed his eyes, breathed a few notes through the harp, and thought about trash can fires and stamping feet.

K: Is this a real band? They have real band-y names, but I don’t think they are. It’s a good way to honor Dean, I suppose, who specializes in dysfunctional rock groups. Anyway, it’s a good slice of life. We don’t get too much of any of the stories, and that normally isn’t a very interesting choice, but here we’re in the fast world of music and I think it fits the theme nicely. SILVER

CW: A real conversation. A real situation. Just how I imagine an aging bar band would be. I could get on board with this crew. – GOLD

Erik S

By the dim light of an afternoon storm
Your sunken chest reluctantly crests and falls
The weak trough of your pulse meekly blinks along as the first drops of rain begin to rap diffidently against the window
Little lightning futile as your fulguration coruscates across grey and indifferent skies
They briefly illume the idle fluorescents
Reflect off perpendicularly crossed metal slats
A soft patter mingles with the morphine drip
Who are you am I
Bit player in my life but blood
Supposed to be bound but instead meandered in and out like all the needles we’ve both known
Is it your fault of mine or no fault of your own
I did not fear monsters but waited for you to come through the closet door and place a kiss on my crown like glowing embers
Now I have you to myself and I have nothing to say as the rain runs its course
I fear our paths our predetermined
Laid out like veins and I am also to leave my own brood fallow
But in these moments any of to be the last
I can only covet what’s always been above it all
I just want to be near you.

K: Odes of love are tedious, even with beautiful words. I was stunned that a poem with “fulguration” and “coruscates” back-to-back would misspell “are” as “our” later on. It’s got some pretty language, which is great, though I’d expect the receiver to think the writer was a bit full of himself. I do actually like this and appreciate the bold attempt at wordy poetry with no consistent meter, but as I said last time – I want a lot out of poetry, and if I don’t feel it, it’s hard for even the most beautiful words to make me feel differently. BRONZE

CW: Poetry again. But this time it wasn’t one that I immediately responded to. It had a lot of purple prose which poetry is wont to have but the flow wasn’t there for me. I realize it wasn’t supposed to be rhyming so that’s not what I mean. It’s still good though. Worlds beyond what I can do. – SILVER

———————————————-

Ian nonsubbed, because sometimes, that’s what artistic geniuses do. Sarah, John, Novak and Brian all nailed down eight-point weeks. I’ll update the spreadsheet soon and see what’s what.

Next time, we’ll run Brooks Maki week. There can be NO dialogue, and the backstory is expected to be very strong. Writing tricks are welcomed but not required. Emotion is well and good, but a strong plot is paramount.

I suppose that comes off as a little vague, but remember: no talk. It’s due Thursday at 8pm Central and will have a 200 word limit. Next Thursday, we blow up with a big limit again and then have just three more challenges before the playoffs start. See you soon, Prosers.

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