Wow, Prosers. It’s not that late, and I have results for you. As a result of that, I have no intro.

Pete Bruzek

By the time Vennick got to the top of the mountain, he was barely able to stand. The trip had sapped him of his strength, but his eyes shone bright with purpose. He would bring the roar of the fire god back to his valley. The crops would grow this year.

Finally, he approached the altar. Lava poured into the room in resplendent, deadly fountains. It was now or never. Vennick pulled off his tunic and let loose with an enormous, loud FAAAAAAART

The roar of the fire god could be heard once more. His village was saved.

K: Well, it didn’t take very long to read.

CW: I mean, I like a good joke story now and then but this was a little too jokey for me. You certainly had some nice details but the payoff was a lot of hot air.

erik s

The school bus departed. Paulie’s nose scrunched up from the diesel fumes. He skipped up the uneven sidewalk to his front door and finding it locked, knocked loudly, though he wasn’t really expecting an answer.

He walked around to his bedroom window, which he always made sure was unlatched for such contingencies. Paulie’s small arms could never get the old window open more than a foot, but it was enough to squeeze his six-year-old frame through.

Making his way to the living room, he found what he’d expected, but was still suddenly sad. Mommy was on the couch, her head leaned over the back, mouth agape.

Paulie climbed next to her, removed her glasses, and gingerly lifted and placed a pillow behind her head. He pulled the belt from her arm, and, with a reverence, as though it could come to life and strike him like the cobras he’d seen at the zoo, he held the needle far from his body, and placed it on the table.

Satisfied, he nuzzled into to her wilted form, and turned on the old Zenith. The tube drowsily lit up with a pop and a high pitch whine only his young ears could hear.

K: Gaaaaahhhhh. This kid’s reality is horrifying, but I know of it (thankfully, not firsthand; my parents have no such issues with addiction). The story avoids shock by telling an honest story with honest reactions, driving home the reality so much more than an OMG ending would. SILVER

CW: Such a horrible thing for this kid to be used to. You hit all the prompt requirements and absolutely added emotion. Your attention to detail was fantastic as well. – GOLD

Christina Pepper

Her children had been beautiful.

I think of them sometimes when I’m out on repair duty. A pistol-grip tool held tightly in one hand, I allow my mind to drift as I search the hull for the tiniest signs of damage.

You can see her past on her body—in the fullness of her breasts, in the soft curve of her midsection. I hadn’t been assigned to reproduce, and I knew better than to question the reasoning behind which physical specimens were selected for the task. In any case, it was no matter now.

Loose bolt at A-35. I raise the PGT. The ship had not been intended for indefinite habitation.

In the chaos of the Grand Departure, her children had been placed on a different craft. And that was all anyone knew for certain.

Not too tight now, or I could shear the thing clear off. Within minutes, the ship—and we—would be destroyed.

It’s possible that one day I’ll be asked to create just such a defect. That we’ll unequivocally fail in our mission. But for now, I tend to the drifting ship and dream that the children are still alive.

K: It’s hard, sometimes, when I want to mention that the story kept the emotions at a distance but I realize that the story doesn’t work unless that’s the case. Anyway, though we don’t get that one moment of goodbye, which I think could have helped, the situation is frankly too easy to empathize with.

CW: I really like this one. You accomplished a good deal of world building in a short time. The backstory certainly qualified as strong as well. I also happen to just love sci-fi. – GOLD

Abby Stansel

Ashley knelt and touched the soil, rich under her hands. She closed her eyes.
Gunshots fired. Battalions of people, some in gray and some in blue filled the field. Kneeling on the moss there was a figure with a pistol in their belt, dressed in blue. The figure’s hands gripped rolls of paper as they watched. When they saw a momentary break, they shot forward and bolted for the far side of the battlefield, staying low. When he reached the far side, a guard moved forwards. Pulling a slip of paper out, the cloaked figure entered the camp. Suddenly, there were screams. Dropping the rolls of paper, he ran back. A man stood over the dead guard. It took one shot to kill the man. The figure ran to the guard, who had been stabbed. As the figure knelt, the cloak slipped away revealing long brown hair and light skin as she looked into the eyes of the boy she loved. Her tears ran onto his chest as she sang the “Song of the Free.”
Ashley rose. She looked once more at the stone, reading what was engraved into it. Mary Smith, 1848-1863, and Tom, ?-1863.
K: Huh. This one gets stronger the more I roll it over in my mind; Ashley reveres the dead and is seeking therapy by visiting their graves and imagining their deaths, and the more I consider it, the more touching it is. It’s a nice, quiet story. I mean, they all will be, but I dig this. BRONZE

CW: I appreciated the ability of this girl to tap into and see what happened with her ancestors (I’m assuming) in the Civil War, but I didn’t really see any kind of story here. It was still good but there was stiff competition tonight.

Brian David

The sound of the television seeped through the bedroom wall and Lucas knew his father had fallen asleep on the couch. Unable to ignore the muffled voices, Lucas got out of bed and walked to his window, staring out into the street.
A young girl stood there, beneath the lightpost. She watched him quietly for a moment and then walked up to the window, holding out her hand. Lucas clasped her fingers and stepped over the ledge, his bare feet scraping against the vinyl siding.
The girl started to hum softly. Lucas felt relaxed as she led him through the maze of trailer homes. He lost all sense of time as the streets gave way to desert, the sand purple in the moonlight and stretching endlessly in all directions. The stars had grown huge in the night sky, swirling in strange patterns and flashing wildly. Shafts of light cut through the dust, and he felt his body grow light. He looked down and realized the desert floor was now far below him. The girl waved and smiled.

Lucas rubbed his eyes and stared at the the streetlamp. He got back into bed and pulled the covers over his face.

K: I can dig a spooky ghost story here and there, although I’m not sure this one has enough time to create the necessary atmosphere. The prose is nice, but I feel like there are about 1000 more words coming to color our story.

CW: I feel like this is the story I missed something in tonight. I can’t tell if this is some strange world or if he was dreaming. And I’m not really seeing where this is going. It was written well, however.

Annette Barron

Daniel unlocked the door and hesitated just inside; the house responded lifelessly. His shoulders slumped.

He didn’t bother with the main floor, heading straight upstairs, two at a time, avoiding the broken glass. Mangled daisies littered the landing. The twins’ room was chaos; drawers hanging open, laundry basket empty, tipped on its side. Favorite blankets and stuffed animals missing.

He closed the door against the rebuke of his daughters’ empty bedroom and continued down the hall to the master. He glanced at their closet, barely acknowledging it only a third full and strode into the bathroom. There was blood on the fawcett and a large hank of hair on the floor. Daniel rubbed at his bruised knuckles. He remembered the holding cell and trying to get long, dark hair out of his watchband. He winced and rubbed his throbbing temples.

He turned on the shower and dropped his clothes to the floor. He put his watch in the World’s Best Daddy mug on his dresser and climbed in under the scalding water. He lifted his face to the spray, scratches stinging anew. Slowly, he slid down the tiled wall and curled into a ball under the water, sobbing as if his life was over.

K: The imagery and foreshadowing here is excellent. I don’t know exactly what happened here, but this is all about the dread created by the prose, and it all worked. Well, except the weird misspelling of faucet. SILVER

CW: Alright so this guy beat up his wife and she took the kids and left? And he’s just coming back after getting bailed out of jail? I hope that’s right. I like the detail provided here though I would have liked a little more info on what happens next. Leave ’em wanting more eh? – SILVER

Jonathon Pope

Empress Quanteous Jones flopped into her chaise longue. Justice was difficult work, and she understood how frustration had led previous holders of the office to mete out harsh and brutal sentences. She was beginning to regret having taken over for the Empire’s Justice after she sent him on vacation. It was necessary. Questerous had been cracking under the stress, and as he was the Empress’ former lover and cousin (illegitimate), he needed the break.

Being Justice herself gave her an opportunity to review in greater detail the laws of the previous emperor, her uncle Quinteous. Striking down the law that had sent 18 former lovers of the Emperor to their death was first. She might have been number 19, if not for the convenient death of Quinteous, preventing her from taking the office of executed former lover, enshrining her as widow, and preserving her position as next Empress.

Of course, had she died, Questerous would most likely have been the Emperor, and the empire could thank her for preventing that. Briefly, she wondered if the assassins that she had sent after Questerous were tantamount to executioners. But of course not. Besides, her cousin Kevin would make a much better Justice.

K: That is…a lot of information. History typically reaches me, but this is all facts and no emotion, and as a story it falters as a result. The relationships certainly allow for the latter, too.

CW: I dug this. I really did. But it just fell short of a payoff for you Proser. You were tied for a bronze and I had to make a choice. I enjoyed the setting and even like the names. It was a good piece!

Matt Novak

1.
In Pisa, in a room reserved for such things, a father meets his son.

1.
In Pisa, in a room reserved for such things, a father meets his son.

2.
The man laid a gentle kiss on his sleeping son’s forehead, saying goodbye.

3.
The boy leapt excitedly from his toys and giggled his name. His father beamed with joy.

5.
The two worked together every night the man was home. It was still early, but the boy was bright, and showed great skill with numbers.

8.
The ship bounced across the waves as the boy ran along the beach, waving. A solitary figure stood stern side, watching, until the shore was out of sight.

13.
Their rooms were empty again. His son kept longer hours at the market than he did as consul, but his Arabic was flawless.

21.
The man watched his father receding on the shoreline. Still, he carried him with him.

34.
Now that the son was back, for a time at least, the two men would go walking. They talked about their memories, his book, his plans.

55.
In Pisa, in a room reserved for such things, a son says goodbye to his father.

K: Some gimmicks wear on me, and others grow on me. This one grew on me because the number gimmick caught my eye, and I respected the attack. On top of that, you were able to cram legitimate human emotion in there, so your gambit worked. GOLD

CW: While I would have preferred a little more umph this was certainly a nice little piece. I particularly like the mathematical sequence as the overview for the life of these characters as things come full circle to Pisa. – SILVER

Ian Pratt

First thing I did when I got out of prison was to go out and get a steak. Not even a good steak; I just went to the nearest dopey chain place. Second thing I did was to find a witch to get my fortune told.

I couldn’t afford a fancy witch, obviously, but like with the steak I wasn’t demanding much. I didn’t need love potions or curses or any pricy shit like that. I just had to know if I’d ever be going back to lock-up. I couldn’t bear thinking about it.

There was a crappy witch in a strip mall right by the crappy steak house. $15 for a basic fortune, which wasn’t bad. She started with a few cheapo ooh and ahh tricks. Prison hadn’t improved my patience for that kind of thing, but I grunted through.

Finally she got down to business. Yes, I was going back to jail. But it would cost me $20 more to find out when. I didn’t have $20 more. I stood up and started yelling, screaming for her to tell me. Foaming, practically. I couldn’t bear it. I still had my prison temper. The witch reached for her phone.

K: The story itself is a good one, although the prose is a bit cloying and I predicted the ending early on. There’s virtually no atmosphere, as we focused everything on plot. It’s a good plot, but I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters. A decent chuckle.

CW: Self fulfilling prophecy is the best! This was a fun story with an interesting bit of alternate reality. You mixed the feel of the real world with that of some magic witch action. – BRONZE

Melissa Diamond

A month after Emma disappeared, Jennifer resolved to plant lilies for her. Once the police stopped digging in the backyard, Matthew surprised Jennifer and prepared the soil under Emma’s favorite tree. He planted the lily bulbs. Jennifer lined the flower patch with rocks friends had painted with inspirational words. Patience. Peace. Prayer. She glanced at her dirt-caked hands. Was prayer enough?

A year after Emma disappeared, the lilies bloomed. They were as beautiful as she was (had been?). They swayed lazily as family gathered for Emma’s memorial. Matthew patted the ground around them as if the lilies might disappear, too. Jennifer picked up a painted rock. It said strength.
Angry, she threw the rock at the house. A window shattered.
Matthew left her the next day.

Years (months?) later, Jennifer kneeled beside the lilies after a storm. They’d been torn, flattened. Tears blinded her. She ripped up the flowers, then cried more when she saw she’d pulled the bulbs out, too.

That Fall, an apology: new bulbs.
Jennifer prepared the earth beneath Emma’s tree. She dug; sifted out branches, rocks–
–bones. Many bones. All gray like the upturned rocks nearby. She picked up one of those rocks.
It said hope.

K: Hoooo boy. With stories like these, we often don’t get the full story and just as often we get some overdone, unbelievable crap. This story suggests Matthew while also never feeling like it’s tugging at me manipulatively. It’s hard to do a story like this without “cheating” somehow, but this story did. SILVER

CW: This wins my favorite of the night. I like how the loss has created an imperceptible time period and the ending is particularly moving. – GOLD

Matthew Gilman

Marcy paced her bedroom, on the verge of tears. With sixteen minutes left in the appointment window, the DSL installer finally arrived. He’d made no indication he was aware of the flimsy, revealing gown Marcy wore. Looked at his clipboard when Marcy bent in half to retrieve a pen from the carpet. Met her eyes directly when she leaned in, offering coffee. No leering, no joking. He just. Got. Down. To work.
Nearly in a panic, she sat on the edge of her bed. Boots plodding heavily up and down the stairs to her cellar, drowning out her accelerated breathing. Marcy brought one heel up to the lip of the mattress. Four months of weekends spent alone. Her Samsung’s phone book cleared. Internet chat avoided. All to end up attempting something so lurid it belonged on a 90’s VHS porn video. How decrepit. She was filth. Her fingers sped up, matching her heartbeat, letting moans slip from her mouth, because soon he’d need her to sign forms. He’d try to find her. He’d open the bedroom door and see…hear…know what she was, back arched, eyes closed, mouth agape, oh CHRIST why isn’t he trying to find her?!

K: Like Marcy, I feel a little…unfinished here. Some words are left on the table, whether they be words of bow chicka wow wow or words of denial. I don’t need it spelled out for me, but it ended abruptly. What’s here, though, is amusing. BRONZE

CW: I’m not sure what the plot was but it’s porn so none is required right? I don’t know how it is to be a desperate woman but I bet this plan would work. Is this dude gay or is our main character ugly?

Sarah Wreisner

I was carrying my plate to the sink and walked into the sharp corner of the countertop. The next morning, my thigh was black and blue. So was the countertop.

I dropped a porcelain mug: its broken handle squirmed away like a nightcrawler. The tiny blue shards lost their glossy shine. The curvy mug flattened out as the pieces slowly died.

Some of my wooden spoons became so infected that I had to bury them. My pink plastic flamingoes left. I think they flew away.

Something happened in April when I was cleaning out the garage. I dropped a glass bottle – the label was missing – and it released a stinking, foggy haze into the garage.
In June, the twitching started. Things in my house started acting up.

My floral-print towels started stretching toward the windowpanes. The bamboo blinds curled and wilted. The spice rack bled where some pepper had spilled and the teakettle turned brown until I filled it up. This morning, my toothbrush was covered in slime; it reacted to my fingers with a lazy reflex. The chipped porcelain cheetah from my grandmother’s shadowbox attacked me last night.

K: I absolutely LOVE this idea, and only have to call it out for not having an ending. It probably needs a joke, although a dark dramatic moment would work as well. Even though I feel a little unfinished (again…where are my endings?), I found the prose engaging and the concept aces. GOLD

CW: I feel like you tried to be too tricky here. This abstract type story just didn’t work for me. It felt like a dream world where nothing was really moving forward, though I was certainly interested in what would happen next.

Sama Smith

Pumpkin smeared footprints matted down the damp grass.

Maddie grabbed one orange hunk and then another. The snow had melted making everything mushy and gray. The remaining toilet paper disintegrated into the blurry landscape, no longer draping bushes and trees.

The Prescott boys had their fun as usual, but as Maddie turned the corner she discovered a new low. The poor thing was matted with blood so dark it looked blacker than its fur. She nudged the limp body with her gray slipper.

That cat always terrorized her terrier. Good riddance.

She pushed the creature with her cane toward the dented garbage can and tossed in the pumpkin rinds. Then Maddie noticed more blood, a thick coagulated trail leading to the backyard. Soon the trail started to include more than just blood.

The old woman stopped when she saw an arm. Looking to the right she saw one boy was ripped clean in half, entrails hanging from her oak tree. Another’s head lay about a foot in front of her. She nudged it with her cane.

Rumbling emanated from the nearby woods. She’d warn them, but no one listens to an old lady. She scowled and turned away. Good riddance.

K: Holy shit. Maddie’s dismissive tone and the repeat of “good riddance” in the same fashion as the cat’s demise have me figuring I’ll not forget her. There can be a fine line between shock and brilliance, but I’m pretty damn sure this is brilliant, because I hate it when I feel like I’m just being shocked. GOLD

CW: The Halloween monster done got ’em huh? I like the casual nature in which this lady approaches both the boys’ animal mutilation as well as their gruesome murder by this creature. – BRONZE

Margaret Martin

He leaned to the right and peeled the back of his thigh from the seat, his flesh pulling and stretching before snapping back into position.

It was hot and sticky outside, insects buzzing, trash on the streets, fearful wide eyes in sweaty dark faces staring out from shadowed doorways.

It was cool and empty in here, now that the crisis had past. Skeleton staff, no patients.

She’d been back there awhile, and sensory deprivation was setting in. Not a sound but the constant hum of generator-provided ventilation.

Finally the plastic sheets hanging in the doorway parted, and she emerged, upright again, miraculously cured of her abdominal pains. Through the gap in the door, he could see bodies in white coats slumped in their seats, their clipboards at rest on antiseptic floor tiles.

She nodded. He slipped a hand into his pocket, re-capping the vial hidden there and smiling up at the accomplice vent over his chair.

No need to crawl on pathetic hands and knees, admitting their failure at containment, enlisting the arrogant assistance of the CDC.

The blood would save the motherland.

K: Now that the crisis had PASSED, you mean. This is a big story attempting to be contained in a small space, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. It feels a lot like the opening shots from Stephen King’s The Stand, which provides a good mood, but might not be a story in and of itself. I like the prose a lot…I just don’t know if it has a big enough identity, or if it’s just a predictable idea.

CW: At first I thought we had a Resident Evil thing going on here. Your descriptive narrative was fun to read and you narrowly missed out on a medal.

Beau

I am weak. Thirsty. I think my wrist is broken. How long have I been out?

Please God, let me die.

I find this scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper by the tunnel entrance. The ink looks newly dried, yet no traces of the author. A friend, I hope? No matter, I must escape. A few steps in, I find another message.

A way out!

Relief overwhelms me. Hope, finally. Deeper now, I turn on my flashlight. Another note. My friend left a trail it appears.

Found a friend! He has crackers. Says he thinks he knows the way.

My heart beats faster. For a minute I’m able to ignore the pain. I only hope they come for me before I collapse. I manage another hundred meters before resting. Another scrap of paper, this one tinged with blood.

God forgive me. We ran out of food. At least he didn’t scream much.

I drop the note, hands shaking. The walls feel like they’re closing in. I continue forward anyway. Fifteen minutes later, my heart stops. Dead end. Only one more note.

No way out. Must go back. Find another way. Last entry, probably. Think my wrist is broken.

K: The ink is newly dried, right? If that’s the case, why don’t I see a couple of dead bodies? The story does a lot to establish mystery, but comes off as mystery for the sake of mystery rather than mystery with an answer, which is always more satisfying. Wow, dudes. My kingdom for an ending this week.

CW: Well hey that was neat. I was thinking the story could have been told better than simply through notes but I really like the last note so I guess I won’t gripe too much. – SILVER

John Wreisner

The guy at the night desk smiled amiably enough. They’d never exchanged words in the fourteen years they’d both been working in the same building, but often exchanged exhausted, resigned glances as if to telepathically convey their boredom.

He heard the man at the night desk rattle his newspaper as he waited for the elevator, up to the twenty third floor. The inside of the elevator car was overpowering with the odor of disinfectant. The bums had been pissing in there again. Apparently the night clerk wasn’t very good at his job, either.

The hallway to his office was impossibly long in the dark, lit only by emergency lights that came on after hours, or when the main power was cut.

Inside his office, he took off his shoes and opened a window. He shooed an obdurate pigeon away and laid a framed photo of his wife face down on his desk. He took off his watch, removed his wallet, taped his driver’s license to his torso with wide bands of packing tape, rolled up his sleeves.

The noise of the city below was impossibly loud, even with his heart hammering.

He swung his legs over the windowsill and jumped.
K: Huh. The jump came as a mild surprise to me, but not an unfair one. The prose leads us to a logical conclusion without actually feeling like it left a trail. THIS IS HARD, and I know I harp on this crap all the time, but I read a lot of books on writing and I can’t help myself. Anyway, respect. BRONZE

CW: In a really strong week I found myself giving this a bronze even with 8 out 10 on my personal score chart. It was predictable though well done. I want to know what drove this guy to suicide but I really don’t have much complaint. – BRONZE

———————————————————-

As always, the update of the spreadsheet is coming. There are only four more challenges! Rockin’, huh?

Again, I know you want me to post, so I’ll just do so. Congratulations to points, and to everyone else, we love you and such. It was a pretty good week for some of you, as silence tends to look good on ya, and a tough one for others.

Next time, let’s go ahead and do a Dave Johnson challenge, for those of you lucky/unfortunate enough to know who he is. He was a very good writer – and bad Survivor player – who passed through here a very long time ago.

What you need to do is create a piece of dark fan fiction. The subject material can be dark if you want, too, but the important thing is that your story is (dark humor is also fine). It’s always easier if the judges know the subject material, but if you don’t think we will, provide a link.

750 words for this one because we don’t want to turn your prime rib into ground chuck. You have until next Thursday at 6pm Central. Note the stupid time. Thanks for your dedication, Prosers.

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