Okay, Prosers. Sit back and enjoy some of the weirdest work I’ve ever been given.

Seriously.

Beau

The hematite had begun to crumble in his hand, so Bagu set it down on the cave floor. He leaned back and examined his painting. The auroch was a majestic beast and he was thankful for its service. Old age had robbed him of his dexterity. Forty-two summers had come and gone since his birth, and his hands were cracked and tired. But this painting was one of his best, a fair tribute to the earth that provided.

“Bagu? May I speak?” Only one person was allowed to bother him during this ceremony. Hoke had been his advisor for eight seasons now. He had proven himself wise over time and, more importantly, quite virile. He had fathered twenty-six, a great asset to his people.

“Yes Hoke, you may.”

Hoke took a long breath. “They’ve come.”

Bagu had been expecting this day and he prided himself on being far less dramatic than his advisor. “Let them.”

“But Bagu! They’re savage. And they speak strangely.”

Bagu waved a hand. “Maybe so. But we can learn from them. Provide them with food if they are hungry. And learn how to communicate with them.”

Hoke gulped, then nodded.

************

The sun had risen twenty times since their last conversation. Hoke knew not to speak until action was required. He visited several times per day, though, to bring food and supplies. Normally, Bagu would not break the silence, but his curiosity at Hoke’s anxiety had apexed.

“Tell me.”

“Bagu, it has been tiresome, but we have been able to learn a little. They seem scared. I believe there are only about one or two-hundred left of their kind. I think they want to live with us.”

Bagu nodded. “Can they help us?”

Hoke shrugged. “They say they can kill a mammoth.”

“Thank you Hoke. Fetch me some apples.”

************
Two days later Hoke returned. “They did it. It was extraordinary. Forty of them surrounded a mammoth and threw spears harder than you’ve ever seen. It was dead within minutes. Our men are collecting the meat right now.”

Bagu smiled, a rarity. “Then prepare a feast, and take this.” He handed Hoke a large bowl. “I will be there when the sun falls.”

Hoke startled. “You?”

“Yes. This is a celebration. Two groups are now one.”

*************

That evening Bagu walked among his people. He had last seen the other kind four summers ago while on one of his last hunts. He found they were not that different. Their heads were flatter, their noses wider. And their strength! Even in his prime he never could have taken one down in battle. He admired their perseverance.

He reached the roaring fire. The crowd was raucous. It appears his apple juice was quite popular. Hoke let out a whoop to get everyone’s attention.

Bagu was heard. “For too long we have been divided, scared of our friends from the west. We are divided no longer. Tonight we eat and dance. Tomorrow we prepare for the long winter. A winter we will survive, for we are now stronger.”

His men voiced their approval and smiles were universal among the camp. Except Hoke. He just stared at the moon, his arms crossed.

*************

It was the middle of winter before Hoke approached him again. “They have begun to mate with one another. I tried to stop them, but they do not listen.”

“Hoke! I know you mean well. Please, let them be. Things will be okay.”

Hoke snorted. “I wish I were as confident as you, Bagu. I still don’t trust them.”

“How is communication going?”

“Better,” Hoke replied. “They have begun to teach our men how to hunt large beasts. Our weapons are stronger.”

Bagu smiled again. “See? Things will be okay.”

************
It was springtime, though Bagu did not feel refreshed. He coughed, then wiped the blood with his arm. He had been working most of the night and was weary.

Hoke arrived with his breakfast, two plums and the meat of a rabbit.

“Thank you, Hoke. But I am afraid I will not be eating.”

Hoke glared.

“I do not feel well. You may tell our people that I am dying. I will not make it through the day.”

Hoke fell to his knees and closed his eyes. “What shall I do?”

Bagu reached out to his advisor–and friend–and held his hands. “You have been loyal and kind. You will be a great leader for our people.”

Hoke trembled. “Thank you. Shall I lead both groups as one?”

“Yes,” Bagu said. “It is because of the others that we are stronger than ever. I believe we shall thrive for generations to come.”

It was Hoke’s turn to smile.

“Take this bowl, Hoke. It is filled with a new tea I have created. Please give this to our new friends. Tell them it is a gift from me. Tell them my dying wish is for them to be in good health.”

Hoke grabbed the bowl and stood. “I will do as you wish. Shall I leave you to die alone?”

“Please.”

“May your rest be peaceful.” Hoke exited the cave.

Bagu coughed again. His breathing labored. It was time. He laid his head down on a pillow of hemlock, content as he had ever known.

K: I’m confident someone (or a lot of someones) have been poisoned here, but that’s primarily because I know the prompt; if I didn’t, I don’t think this would be anywhere near clear enough. These characters are interesting but I feel like the meat of the story could be told better if we saw more than the political machinations here; some time spent with the people could certainly drive home any intention you’re seeking.

CW: I was waiting for the cruel part… But it didn’t come. Hoke seemed wary of the newcomers but otherwise perfectly reasonable. As for the story itself, it seemed like an overview of something greater. Bagu brought his people together with another and then died, leaving Hoke to lead them. I would just liked to have seen more of the in-between stuff.

Sarah Wreisner

The house always smelled like warm blackberries and clean sheets. She quilted in the front window while the pies cooled, singing out-of-tune spirituals through the cotton threads in her teeth. She was terrifying.

She kept bread in the biggest drawer in the kitchen, low enough for me to reach. All the bread bags were chewed through by mice. She said it didn’t matter: I had to make Grampa his sandwiches every morning. If I was afraid of the mouse droppings or the rustling plastic, she would swat me with a crossword puzzle. Grampa was a son-of-a-bitch, she said, and she wouldn’t help feed him.

The basement was earthy and wet, like the walls of a cave in the summertime. When she’d send me down for the laundry I was always snagged by wisps of spider silk dangling from the ceiling beams. I was afraid of spiders but more afraid of my Gramma.

I was sent to stay at their house when I was seven. I traveled with a flight attendant who’d been hired as my personal minder. I thought I was going on vacation, but I found out later that I was sent there so my parents could get a divorce. I stayed the whole summer.

I slept in a sterile yellow bedroom that was my aunt’s childhood room. There was an antique pitcher on the table and a silver-rimmed bowl that had once been used as a potty. I wasn’t allowed to touch anything, but after my Grampa told me what that bowl was for, I was afraid of all Gramma’s flowery things.

If I took a shower, she’d paddle my behind with a salad spoon for not wiping the foggy tiles with a towel. She used real rubberbands in my hair, and she’d tie the braids so tight that my vision would blur. Gramma served sauerkraut after dinner when there were pies on the countertop. They were for the church, she’d yell, smacking my sunburned hand with a dishtowel.

My Grampa was afraid of her. He slept in a dark bedroom full of pennies, color-sorted golf tees and St. Christopher medals. He limped and whistled when he swore because of his cheap dentures. He ate jelly sandwiches from a brown paper sack that had been used so many times it felt like cloth.

Grampa played a round of solitaire every morning. He said that if he won, he would have a good day. If he lost, he stayed at home, afraid that if he left something terrible would happen to him. He always had a bad day with my Gramma so I never understood his logic.

Gramma was always making bread or pies or fried donuts. She would split the dough into balls, kneading furiously while she scolded Grampa for being stupid or lazy or worthless. He would turn his radio up to hear the weather report over her raspy, asthmatic voice. Sometimes he’d wink at me from across the kitchen table while she insulted him.

Grampa bought me a Sea Monkey kit that summer. We watched the tiny, glasslike bodies fan and sway in the water and tapped at the plastic bubbles of their little home. When Gramma found out, she told us she’d flush them down the toilet herself if we didn’t get rid of them. We brought the Sea Monkeys to my cousin’s house. The next day, Grampa collected sand from the St. Lawrence Seaway packed it into the filter canister of my Gramma’s most beloved possession: her swimming pool. The water bloomed with algae and smelled like sulfur and rot. It took two experts from Plattsburgh to figure out what the problem was, but by then, I was home in Minnesota, living with my newly divorced dad.

Years later, she was wracked with cancer, so emaciated and sickly that I was even more afraid of her. Even when she was dying, she directed traffic from her bed, offering unsolicited advice or insulting a son-in-law’s intelligence.

When she died I was a teenager. I felt sad for my mom and her seven sisters, all grieving theatrically while the husbands crouched in the cemetery shadows, taking nips of schnapps and fishing cigarettes from their ill-fitting suits.

I don’t believe in God; I never have, but I am still afraid of my Gramma’s ghost. I always wipe the shower tile when I am done and I keep my bread in a rolling wooden box with a tightly clicking clasp. I hope that her casket is made the same way.

K: As often, I have to decide how I feel about a story of remembrance in comparison with actual scenes from the times presented. It’s probably nonfiction and the product of the writer’s memory: I GET it. Still, it’s a little sterile compared to how it would land if I actually got to hear Gramma say anything. As always, of course, the prose is smart and lively; I doubt I’ll ever have a negative word to say about that. BRONZE

CW: Too bad. Evil grandparents are no fun. Unless you’re more evil, I suppose. This told us a lot about what happened in the narrator’s life and has some pretty good detail about it to boot, but I would have rather been shown more than told. It certainly fit the prompt. – BRONZE

John Wreisner

When you put as much planning into balancing the ledger as I did it really doesn’t matter how you were wronged, does it? He was a small man with bad things to say and right after he said them I had a picture in my head.

I started painting the picture by buying a shipping container. They’re much easier to purchase than you’d imagine, and most places take cash. This was critical- no paper trail. Trouble was, I bought it in the dead of winter, and I couldn’t go make a mess in the woods without leaving footprints and a big mess- and an even bigger mess to clean up after it was over. So I rented four parking spaces at a storage facility. They didn’t ask any questions. In the meanwhile, I went shopping.

Acoustic tile, a hospital bed, antibiotics (the trickiest part, ironically) surgical dressings, I even bought a little television and DVD player. One of us might get bored. I might, anyway. Padlocks, PVC pipe and small mirrors to make a periscope, epinephrine auto-injectors, sleeping pills, a generator, deer scent, camouflage netting, paper towels, a small fridge, canned goods, an army cot, and heavy duty noise canceling headphones. Disposable scalpels. The list got longer as the winter got shorter, and pretty soon I had to hire a heavy equipment operator.

I paid him cash, of course, and told him I was digging a space for a septic tank. There was nothing on the land, just a wide expanse where I’d cleared the pines a year before. The hole was monstrous, four times bigger than you’d need for a pool full of shit. The story stunk but he kept his mouth shut. Money works. Besides, he was a local boy, knew my Dad. This parcel of land used to belong to my father, and if my Dad was a good man, by extension, I was too. That’s how it worked out there. “You gonna develop out here?” he asked. I gave him a thumbs up and he kept digging. The shipping container was in the ground right around the time the first crocuses poked their heads out of dirty, shrinking piles of snow.

I built a box lined full of acoustic tiles and draped the camouflage netting over it, lacing some deadfall and brush through the weave. The generator fit neatly inside, and you’d have to be sitting on the fucking thing to hear it running. I had fifty gallons of gasoline in a barrel down in the bunker fed by a gravity pump. I didn’t even need to go outside to fill it. We could be down there for days.

More acoustic tile lined the entire inside of the shipping container. It was covered by five feet of earth and soundproof as it was, but I wasn’t taking any chances. There was gonna be a racket down there, boy.

Wisely, I’d packed everything into the container before I’d buried it. The only thing left to do was dig into it. So dig I did, and by the light of my headlights, cut a six foot diameter circle into the top with an acetylene torch. Earlier in the year I’d downed a dead oak, probably a hundred years old, almost nine feet around. I yanked the stump out of the ground and cut off the top twelve inches, hiding hinges on the inside and disguising the seam with phony lichen I bought from a craft store. I re-buried it and had my very own secret entrance. There were lights, and the bed, and the restraints, and the fridge stocked with food and vials of medicine. It was time.

Successful hunters study habits, and the man I was after was predictable. I nabbed him leaving the radio station he broadcast his bad words from. It was like in a movie. I had learned to make my own chloroform and was afraid it wouldn’t work, but it did. He struggled for a few minutes and bit my fingers through the handkerchief, but everything else was just like you’d see in a film. He was round and fat, but picking him up you’d have thought he was made of solid rubber. I rolled him ingloriously into my truck and covered him in a duck blind. I looked him over once real good before we left- the one thing the movies never mention is the chemical burns that come from chloroform. His mouth and nose were blistered. The bunker had a lot of ointments and balms, though. We’d fix him right up.

I had to lower him into the bunker through the log trapdoor using the winch on my truck. I was afraid he’d wake up and find something to use as a weapon before I got back down there, so I soaked another handkerchief in chloroform and put it inside a dust mask, which I put on over his face. I had to hustle. Too much of that shit and he’d be dead before we could even begin.

I hid the truck, doused the ground in deer scent just in case they sent the fucking dogs after me, climbed down, took a good look through the periscope (I didn’t see anything) and got set up. The generator was running and I was able to strip him down and hoist him onto the bed, shackle him, and wait. I had a Pepsi and a couple of smokes and he started to come around.

He was looking around wildly, probably dizzy and blurry eyed from the trauma and the chloroform. He wasn’t saying anything, just gasping against his restraints and producing a rising wail from somewhere in his abdomen. He sounded like an animal. Before anything could get out of hand I blasted him quick with some Propofol. Lights out.

The next time he came around he stopped yelling right away because his mouth was sewn shut. I considered not only the practicality of keeping him mute, but the poetry of it. His mouth, after all, was why he was down here. He stared at me in mute horror as I explained what the score was, what he owed me. What he owed the world. If a factory pollutes, they pay a penalty, I explained. Aren’t some words pollution? Don’t you deserve to pay a penalty? He jerked at the restraints. He was probably begging through the sutures, but everything he said, intelligible or not, sounded the same to me.

“We’ll start when you wake up” I said. More Propofol. Sleep. I had a smoke and got to it.

I’d bought a second-hand copy of “Gray’s Anatomy” some months prior. It’s a beautiful book, really. A classic. But it does not do the complexity of the human body justice, especially when you’re looking at it in the flesh under a single fluorescent light in a dank shipping container buried deep in the woods. I tried to follow along like I was building a model kit, but eventually I just used hand tools- an aviation snips and a cold chisel, things like that. His arms both came off with relative ease. I used styptic powder they sell at the pet store for when you accidentally cut your dog’s toenails too close- I dusted his stumps with it like I was breading cod fillets. Then I just sewed them back on, like Frankenstein.

When he regained consciousness this time he vomited through his stitches. He began to choke and I let it happen until I thought he might die too soon, and then I suctioned his airway with the shop vac I had. He was crying. “Now this is how it’s going to work’ I told him. “I’m going to hurt you. Badly. And I’m going to keep hurting you as long as I can physically keep you alive. So we need to get you a tiny bit better every time we hurt you. Eventually the margins will narrow until you’re dead. But for now, this” I said, and plugged a subclavian i.v. of saline into him. He’d lost a lot of blood and was going to lose more. “And this” I told him, jabbing him in his flabby ass with a hypo full of penicillin. I sat silently, having another smoke and watching him cry. I thought about stubbing the butt out on the bottom of his foot but it seemed too crude.

I stood up and asked him if he was ready. He stared, probably in shock, which is what I anticipated. It’s also why I had all that epinephrine down there. I gave him an auto injector in each thigh, watching his muscles bunch up like he was plugged into an outlet. In a flourish, I leaped onto the table, straddling over him with my feet planted near his hips. I tried to think of something to say, something really dramatic, but he’d never come out of this bunker alive and I felt like speech would ruin the moment. So I lifted one of his limp, recently amputated and then re-attached arms, and yanked up, hard and fast, the way you start a lawnmower. It made a sucking noise like a canned ham sliding onto a plate. He screamed, loud enough that his lips parted into ribbons as the sutures tore free. He was still screaming when I did the second arm, awake enough thanks to the epinephrine to shriek until no noise came out- just a mouth wide with terror, eyes dilated into pinpricks. He passed out. I gave him some fluids and stitched his arms back on. I didn’t even have to sedate him, he was wholly insensate from pain. I’d videotaped the whole thing, and after it was over, I plugged the camera into the little t.v. and cued the tape. As soon as he came around, I pressed play, made him watch for a few minutes, and pulled his arms free again. The incisions were raw and purple. They stank. The whole bunker smelled like hot coins and electricity.

He came back around four more times. After a few hours his useless arms were beginning to grow rigid and the shoulders were ragged from being sewn on and ripped off so many times. I left him alone for half the day while I went out to move my truck and buy more smokes. I’d left his rotting arms lying next to him on the bed. When I came back one of them had fallen to the floor, the pinky and thumb splayed as if to say “hang loose.” I laughed. He didn’t. I picked it up off the floor and shook the disembodied hand. ‘Nice to meet you!” More staring. I bandaged his stumps and gave him some fluids. I had another Pepsi.

I needed to get ready for his legs.

K: See, this is cruelty. The lead character is thoroughly without empathy, and is terrifying because of it; he knows what he’s doing and simply doesn’t care. I actually think the story’s weakest moments were the dialogue bits; this character was at his darkest when casually sipping Pepsi and doing his work. That’s as harsh as I can get toward this story, which really did attack the prompt with reckless abandon. GOLD

CW: Holy fucking cruelty Batman. Shockingly cruel indeed. “Dusted his stumps like breading cod fillets” was particularly awesomely horrid. I haven’t read story 4 yet but I’d be really surprised if it beats this. This was just… Whoever you are, you’re one sick bastard. – SILVER

Matt Novak

ACT I, SCENE I:

INT. A VERY GIRLY BEDROOM.

A bed, stage left, shows a sleeping couple, Sarah and Johnny. There is a bathroom, stage right, a small kitchen area, and a big window center stage, that shows a horrifying scene in the world outside their bedroom. The couple is in their late-twenties, and cheerful. A rooster crows from somewhere outside, and Sarah wakes, bright, and excited, as she opens with the very happy sounding song:

BETTER WITH LOVE

Jump out of bed
Put a smile on my face
Get ready for the day,
Set a happy pace
Look outside
At the darkness that we face
And know that it’s better with love.

There’s sadness all around
But I push that all aside
Can’t be brought down
By the villains who have lied
So with my dear Johnny
In our sanctuary we hide
And know that it’s better with love.

So I’ll make a good breakfast
And start the day off righter
Crack open a few eggs
And giving them a light stir
Making a meal
For me and Johnny Wreiter
And knowing it’s better with love

When the world is mean
And things aren’t going your way
Just take a big bite

SARAH TAKES A BITE OF THE EGGS, RUNS STAGE RIGHT TO THE BATHROOM AND VOMITS. SHE WALKS SLOWLY BACK TO THE BED.

SARAH: Johnny? Johnny, wake up.

JOHNNY: What is it Sarah?

SARAH: Johnny, I think… I think I’m pregnant.

JOHNNY: That’s wonderful Sarah!

SARAH: It is?

JOHNNY: Of course it is, sillyhead!

JOHNNY RESUMES THE SONG:

I make coffins for a living
And business is sure booming
The evil Lord Anthraxx
Has sent my profits zooming
And amidst all the darkness
There is a flower blooming
And I know that flower is our love

The world we live in
Is an awful, cruel mess
But starting our family
Will make it so much less
Sarah I love you,
So please will you say yes?

JOHNNY GETS DOWN ON ONE KNEE AND GIVES SARAH A RING. SHE ACCEPTS IT. TOGETHER THEY FINISH THE SONG.

And know that it’s better with love!

JOHNNY: I love you Sarah.

SARAH: Even in this horrible world we live in, where Lord Anthraxx tortures people and makes everyone miserable, our love makes everything better.

JOHNNY: Someday Lord Anthraxx will be gone. And then we’ll be able to give our baby all of the bright, sunny, fluffy things we’ve always dreamed of.

SARAH: I wish I could give you something beautiful for our wedding. I don’t think I could love you more.

JOHNNY: Just hearing that you love me is beautiful enough.

SARAH: That’s it! I’ll write my vows. To tell you how much I love you in all the ways I can.

JOHNNY: What a great idea! You’re the best writer I’ve ever known. And I can write mine too!

SARAH: That’s perfect, since you’re an even better writer than I am!

JOHNNY: Well, I don’t know about that. But I do know that I love you.

SARAH: Oh Johnny.

END SCENE

ACT I, SCENE II:

INT. AN EVIL LOOKING THRONE ROOM

A large throne sits center stage, on an elevated platform with several stairs leading up to it. The room is black. As the lights come up, in the throne sits Lord Anthony Raxx, who appears cultured and well-dressed. A few amateurish copies of famous paintings and a wobbly bench are nearby. He is flanked by several guards who do his bidding. They bring him a typewriter and he starts clacking away. Henchman 1 walks purposefully in from stage left, and is intercepted downstage by Henchman 2.

HENCH 1: Your Lordship, I have your weekly report.

HENCH 2: Don’t disturb him when he’s working.

HENCH 1: What is he doing now?

HENCH 2: He’s taken up writing!

LORD ANTHRAXX STOPS TYPING AND BEGINS TO LISTEN

HENCH 1: (hooking his thumb towards the painting and bench) Writing, eh? Will this be like his painting and his woodworking?

LORD ANTHRAXX MOTIONS FOR THE PAINTINGS AND BENCH TO BE TAKEN AWAY, AND SEVERAL GUARDS TAKE THEM OFFSTAGE.

HENCH 2: Lord Raxx is the finest painter and woodworker in the land.

HENCH 1: Right. Because he outlawed all other painting and woodwork.

LORD ANTHRAXX WAVES HIS HAND TOWARDS HENCHMAN 1, GUARDS SLOWLY MOVE TOWARDS HIM

HENCH 2: What’s your point?

HENCH 1: (eventually noticing the people moving towards him)
Well my wife wants a decent kitchen table and, uh… well… I’m sorry?

LORD ANTHRAXX: Sorry? It’s much too late for sorry. Guards, you know what to do.

HENCH 1: (screaming) Oh no! Please! (sobbing as he’s taken off stage, where we hear shrieks of pains coming from him).

HENCH 2: You’re so delightfully cruel, Lord Raxx.

LORD ANTHRAXX, BACKED UP BY GUARDS, SINGS (verses should be sung slow and overdramatically, while refrains are up-tempo):

I GOTTA BE CRUEL

They say Attila the Hun
Imposed his evil will
But I tell ya, Hun
I’m eviler still!
And Adolf was the würst
Didn’t want to see what he was making
But I’ll hit more than ler
And leave my victims quaking

I gotta be cruel
(GUARDS) He’s gotta be cruel!
Ain’t nobody’s fool
(GUARDS) Ain’t nobody’s fool!
My style is vicious
My desires pernicious
I’ll keep at it ‘till I die!
(GUARDS) Die! Die! Die!
They’ll wish they weren’t born
Forget the rose, I’m just the thorn
I’m gonna make ‘em cry!
(GUARDS) He’s gonna make ’em cry!
So I gotta be cruel.

I’m supreme ruler of this land
And I’ve been in charge for years
My fiats are divine
Making laws and rules and tears
Defending my position
I’ve become the fiercest fighter
But I think I would prefer
To be the world’s greatest writer

I gotta be cruel
(GUARDS) He’s gotta be cruel!
Ain’t nobody’s fool
(GUARDS) Ain’t nobody’s fool!
My style is vicious
My desires pernicious
I’m driven to success!
(GUARDS) Success! Success! Success!
I’ll cut every corner
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya
I wanna be the best!
(GUARDS) He’s gonna be the best!
So I gotta be cruel.

With villains known for being mean
There’s always secrets, buried away
Pol Pot wrote poetry, Stalin did stand-up
And Bin Laden taught ballet!
My passion is for the written word
So to be the best at it I say:
All writing by others is hereby banned
And if you try it I’ll lock you away!

I gotta be cruel
(GUARDS) He’s gotta be cruel!
Ain’t nobody’s fool
(GUARDS) Ain’t nobody’s fool!
My style is vicious
My desires pernicious
So don’t get in my way!
(GUARDS) Get out of his way!
It’d be best if you forget
The things that you have writ
Or you’re gonna rue the day!
(GUARDS) Gonna rue the day!
Cause I gotta be cruel.

END SCENE

ACT I, SCENE III

A VAST SERIES OF CUBICLES

Center stage is a series of three cubicles, with Sarah in the middle, and two men on either side. One of those men, HoBeau, is dressed like a tramp, the other, Gnat Movak is small and dweeby. The men are peeking over their cubicles into Sarah’s and she is showing them her ring.

HOBEAU: Well, how did he propose?

GNAT: Was it romantic?

HOBEAU: What color bridesmaid dresses are you going to have? You guys are partial to pinks, right?

GNAT: Where are you going to have the ceremony?

SARAH: Boys, boys! Settle down. He just proposed this morning. We don’t know anything yet. Well, except one thing.

HOBEAU: What is it?

GNAT: You’ve got to tell us!

SARAH: Our wedding gift to each other will be to write our vows.

HOBEAU AND GNAT BOTH GASP.

HOBEAU: Haven’t you heard?

GNAT: Writing has been outlawed!

SARAH: Outlawed?

HOBEAU: It was Lord Anthraxx.

SARAH: Of course.

GNAT: He wants to be the best writer.

SARAH: Of course.

HOBEAU: We know you’re a great writer Sarah. It’s too bad. They’d have been great vows.

SARAH: That’s sweet. You guys are pretty good writers too.

GNAT: Yeah, but not like you, Sarah.

SARAH: And not like Johnny. He’s the best. And he deserves the best.

HOBO: So what are you going to do Sarah?

GNAT: Yeah, what are you going to do?

SARAH ANSWERS IN SONG WITH:

WRITE, WRITE, WRITE (THOUGH IT’S WRONG, WRONG, WRONG)

I’ve just heard of the problem
But here’s what I think that I see
I don’t care what the law says
Object conscientiously
I’m gonna marry my Johnny
With vows that were written by me!

I’m gonna write, write, write
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong
Wedding bells will ring
Going ding, ding, dong
I’m gonna fight, fight, fight
Hear my song, song, song
I’m gonna write, write, write
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’d been sleeping my whole life
When it came to the subject of men
But when I met Johnny he wooed me
With the power of his pen
So though I had said that I’d never
We did it again and again!

It felt so right, right, right
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong
He woke me up, up, up
With his ding, ding, dong
I felt so safe, safe, safe
He was so strong, strong, strong
I’m gonna write, write, write
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong

I’m gonna write that I love him
He’ll be mine for the rest of our days
(HOBEAU) Tell him he’s deeper than oceans
Brighter than all the sun’s rays
(GNAT) You and your little family
Are gonna be happy always!

(ALL) We’re gonna write, write, write
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong
Wedding bells will ring
Going ding, ding, dong
We’re gonna fight, fight, fight
Hear our song, song, song
We’re gonna write, write, write
Though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

SEVERAL OF ANTHRAXX’S GUARDS ENTER THE OFFICE.

GUARD 1: Sarah?

SARAH: Yes. What is it?

GUARD 1: You’re under arrest.

HOBEAU: What did she do?

GNAT: Yeah, what are the charges?

GUARD 1: She’s accused of attempted authorship. And you two are under arrest for aiding and abetting a suspected author!

TWO MORE GUARDS SEIZE HOBEAU AND GNAT. THE LIGHTS GO DOWN.

END ACT I.

ACT II, SCENE I

INT. PRISON.

The cubicles from Act I, Scene II have been transformed into prison cells. Sarah, HoBeau, and Gnat all occupy their same cells. They are all typing on typewriters. Somewhere off stage a sad harmonica is heard. Johnny runs in from stage right.

JOHNNY: Sarah!

SARAH: Johnny!

JOHNNY: Sarah!

HOBEAU: Johnny!

GNAT: Sarah! I mean, Johnny!

JOHNNY: (reluctantly) HoBeau… Gnat.

SARAH: Johnny, be nice.

JOHNNY: (whispering to Sarah) I just never trusted those two.

SARAH: Forget about them.

JOHNNY: Why are you using typewriters? I thought writing was banned.

HOBEAU: It was banned. But since we broke the law, now we have to write nonstop!

GNAT: It’s one of those ironic punishments. And I used to love the sound of keys clacking… (breaks into tears)

SARAH: It’s horrible Johnny. Can you get me out of here?

JOHNNY: I’ll try.

HOBEAU: Us too, right Johnny?

GNAT: Yeah Johnny?

JOHNNY: I’ll see what I can do.

JOHNNY MARCHES UP TO ONE OF THE GUARDS.

JOHNNY: Who’s in charge here?

GUARD: Me. That’s who.

JOHNNY: What’s it going to take to set them free?

GUARD: You’ll have to take to the man in charge.

JOHNNY: But didn’t you just say..?

GUARD: I mean the man who’s really in charge. Of everything.

JOHNNY: You mean… Lord Anthraxx?

GUARD: That’s right. He’s taken a special interest in little miss author over there. He’s been reading over everything she writes, trying to figure out what exactly makes her so good. And when he’s figured it out? Well. Good luck with that. (laughs)

JOHNNY: (Gasps) I’ve got to set her free!

JOHNNY RUNS BACK TO SARAH’S CELL.

JOHNNY: Stay strong, my love. I’m going to see Lord Anthraxx. I’ll do whatever I can to set you free!

END SCENE

ACT II, SCENE II

INT. LORD ANTHRAXX’S CASTLE

Lord Anthraxx is sitting on his throne, reading Sarah’s collected works. Johnny marches in.

JOHNNY: Anthraxx!

LORD ANTHRAXX: Guards, who is that?

JOHNNY: I’m Johnny Wreiter, and want you to let Sarah go!

LORD ANTHRAXX: The coffin maker? I love your work. We use your coffins for our victims all the time. And for our décor in the dungeon! Caskets, death, evil, it all goes so nicely together, don’t you think? But no. I won’t let her go.

JOHNNY: In that case, I’m done making you coffins!

LORD ANTHRAXX: What? But I need them!

JOHNNY: N. O.

LORD ANTHRAXX: Fine, how about this: I’ve been boning up on my writing lately, and I’m looking to give it a try. So how about we duel for it? A writing competition if you will. If you can out-write me, I’ll let Sarah go. And if I can beat you in the writing competition, then Sarah stays with me, and you go back to making coffins.
(Aside to a guard) Little does he know he’ll be making his own coffin! (in a sing-songy voice) Cruel!
(Back to Johnny) So, do we have a deal?

JOHNNY: What choice do I have?

LORD ANTHRAXX: Well, there’s always torture…

JOHNNY: I’d rather write.

LORD ANTHRAXX: Good, then it’s settled. Tomorrow at noon. A competition in writing prose.

JOHNNY: I’ll be there.

JOHNNY STARTS TO WALK OFF STAGE, STOPS LIKE HE’S JUST REMEMBERED SOMETHING, AND TURNS BACK.

JOHNNY: Oh yeah, and Sarah’s friends? They can go free too?

LORD ANTHRAXX: Yes, yes, I’ll figure something out for them too. Now go! I need to strategize. And sharpen my pencils!

END SCENE

ACT II, SCENE III

EXT., A LARGE COLLESIUM TYPE OF SETTING

Johnny stands stage left, Lord Anthraxx stands stage right. Between them are 7 platforms, the highest of which sits center stage, and which is large enough for two people. They descend in height the further they get from center stage. Both of the characters hold a pencil and a pad of paper in their hands. A guard stands downstage, and reads the rules.

GUARD: Each writer shall be given the same challenge. If they score enough points from the judges, they shall move on to the next round, and advance towards the center platform. If they both reach the center platform, there will be a direct write-off, and the judges shall determine who wrote the best piece. Ready?

JOHNNY: Ready!

LORD ANTHRAXX: Rea – oh. Wait. This seems much, much too fair. Bring out the other challengers!

HOBEAU AND GNAT ARE LED OUT TO JOHNNY’S PLATFORM BY GUARDS.

LORD ANTHRAXX: There, that’s better. Johnny, if you want to win, you also have to beat these two guys. No matter how high your score, the lowest scorer will not move on from each platform! And Johnny? For them, this is a sudden-death playoff. And I do mean death.

JOHNNY: That’s horrible! You fiend!

LORD ANTHRAXX: Do be careful, Johnny!

HOBEAU AND GNAT GLARE AT JOHNNY. MUSIC STARTS TO SWELL, AND THE GUARD BEGINS TO SING.

THE WRITE-OFF

(GUARD) For your first challenge
Well start nice and slow
Your first story
Must be ‘bout a show.

(ANTHRAXX) I’ll write of a movie
Filled with emotion
That inspires cultish
Crazy devotion.
(HOBEAU) How ‘bout a child
Who witnesses something
He’s not supposed to.
(GNAT) That’s better than nothing.
(JOHNNY) I’ve got the story
Of an aspiring actress
Who struggles with addiction
And needs to find redress
She lands a part in a new film
With a dramatic scene
Where she dies from an overdose
And that helps her get clean.

(JUDGES) The winner of the first round
It has to be John.
Gnat was a joke
And so he is gone.

(GUARD) The second challenge is
A favorite of mine
Write a short story
About the divine.

(JOHNNY) How ‘bout a God
Who flexes his might
By writing us love notes
With stars every night
(HOBEAU) I’m gonna try
To retell the story
Of Adam and Eve
But make it real gory!
(ANTHRAXX) I picture an afterlife
Where justice is served
In flutes like champagne
And then there’s hors d’oeuvres
Which when served to the righteous
Permit them to see
The way that the world
Was meant to be.

(JUDGES) The second round to Anthraxx
Creative’s a plus.
HoBeau’s going out
And that’s alright by us.

(GUARD) Semi-final round
Let’s see who is the best
Can you make it to the final
By writing about a test?

(ANTHRAXX) I’ve got an idea
I’ll do a narrative
About an arbitrary choice
That decides who dies and lives.
(JOHNNY) I suspect this whole set-up
Was crooked from the start
But a story with a girl
And the boy who wins her heart
By passing every challenge
And showing his devotion
It’s a classic for a reason
And I just can’t shake the notion.

(JUDGES) Anthraxx was great
And Johnny’s was compound
So we have decided
They both make the final round

(ANTHRAXX) Now Johnny it’s time
For me to show my last surprise
Take a look behind you
You won’t believe your eyes.
I know that I’m cruel
I love to shock and scare ya
So your final opponent
Is going to be…

Sarah!

JOHNNY: What? You can’t drop out now Anthraxx!

ANTHRAXX: On the contrary. I’m just letting Sarah take my place. She writes so beautifully after all. It wouldn’t be fair to have a competition to determine the greatest writer without letting her have a shot. So there it is. Sarah versus Johnny for the final. And you can both write whatever you want. Johnny, if you win, Sarah is free to go. Of course, it’s still sudden death, so she’ll be free to go straight to the gallows! And if Sarah wins… well, let’s just say Johnny will get to pick his favorite casket. Now begin!

JOHNNY: I love you Sarah.

SARAH: I love you Johnny.

JOHNNY: Do your best Sarah.

SARAH: You too Johnny. I hope you win.

JOHNNY: And I hope you win. Good luck.

THE MUSIC SWELLS AGAIN, GETTING FASTER AND FASTER AS THE TWO COMPETITORS WRITE. IT APPEARS THEY ARE BOTH DOING THEIR BEST TO WIN.

(ANTHRAXX) Now that’s enough
Your time is done
Let’s hear them out
Then comes my fun!

(SARAH AND JOHNNY) Johnny/Sarah I love you
And I know that you love me
It’s when we’re together
That I become happy
I look forward to marriage
And having our child meet us
Even though right now
It’s just a tiny fetus.
It seems we might never
Get to see that day
So with my last words
I will gladly say…

I do.

THE JUDGES MURMUR AMONGST THEMSELVES

(JUDGES) We have no choice
We must declare this thing a tie
Anthraxx therefore loses
And no one has to die.
Sarah you’re free to go
No longer serving life.
And by the power vested in us,
We declare you man and wife!

EVERYONE GASPS AT THIS ANNOUNCEMENT AND LOOKS TO LORD ANTHRAXX.

ANTHRAXX: Actually… I think that seems a fair outcome.

JOHNNY: Really?

ANHTRAXX: I may be cruel. But I am, at heart, an artist. I can recognize beauty, and you two, with your sappy, saccharine love, and quintessential American dream family thing, are beautiful. And it is clear to me that writing is not my forte. Perhaps I shall try… interpretive dance!

ANTHRAXX DANCES OFF STAGE AS JOHNNY AND SARAH EMBRACE

BETTER WITH LOVE REPRISE

(SARAH) The world we live in
Is an awful, cruel mess
(JOHNNY) But starting our family
Will make it so much less
(BOTH) We just got married,
Yes we both said yes!
And we know that it’s better with love!

———————————————————————————–

K: This is literally the most bizarre submission I’ve gotten in years. In the early days of Spookymilk Survivor, people were this playful, but that’s something that’s kind of disappeared over time. I can’t tell you how much I admire your cojones for doing this insane thing. Meta is…well, it’s always going to be meta, but the idea of John and Sarah specifically in these roles is the kind of absurdity I can’t turn away from, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to see the two of them overcome Lord Anthraxxx in the end through the power of love. Sometimes, god damn it, I’m such a sap. But here we are. SILVER

CW: *drops the mic* – GOLD
P.S. I want to hear these songs. Make it happen.

——————————————————————————————-

Wow. What a…strange ride this turned out to be.

In the end, John Wreisner and Matt Novak step into the finals, both for the first time despite their relative awesomeness. Novak told me a week ago it might be awesome if the finale was an amalgamation of the styles of the two finalists; unfortunately, a faith-based story about a coffin doesn’t seem like the sexiest of prompts.

However, I’m all about loading up difficult prompts for finales, so I’m going to incorporate the final FOUR of you. The final story, due in a week with no word limit (also at 7pm Central) must have at least one ghost, one coffin, one religious relic and one reference to time travel.

Well done, everyone, and someone please write Novak’s songs. Beau and Sarah, thanks for another awesome season, as always.

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