Concepts? Sure! Execution? Sometimes. We had some really great stories this week, and a bunch that could have been, but there was a LOT of telling chosen over showing for this one.
As always, though, I’ll proudly endorse the week as a whole. Read or die.
The prompt was to write about an ordinary thing getting a “smart” feature, a la apps in TVs.
Melissa David, Long Distance Phone Call for Friendship
Between those first heaving breaths, a dozen decisions. Cord cut, fluids suctioned. The oxytocin pressured Sofie. She loved this creature more than anything. Yes to the vitamin K shot. Do the antibiotics.
“Circumcision?” No. He can’t ever hurt.
“Chipped?” Please. I can’t ever lose him.
At 3am, her phone buzzes. Notification: hunger. The baby doesn’t have time to cry before Sofie brings him to her breast. An hour later, notification: uncomfortable. Less specific, but his diaper is heavy. No need to cry. She changes his diaper.
Notification: hungry. Thirsty. Scared. Through daycare, then preschool, then Kindergarten. Notification: Fear.
The app grew with her child. By age 5, it recognized frustration. By 9, it understood injustice or need for independence. It didn’t offer much advice for those. Not as easy as cuddling him that first time he saw the monster in his closet.
By ten, that monster was a regular. “I thought you didn’t believe in monsters anymore,” she said, and he shrugged. Still there at thirteen, then fourteen. Notification: fear. Sadness. Lonely.
Then, notification: unknown.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
He rolled his eyes. “Check the app.”
“Please, tell me what it means. What are you feeling?”
He frowned. The notification should say something else. Sad or scared or injustice. He gave her a hug. “Don’t worry,” he said that night. Fifteen now.
She waited up for him when he left. He texted once to say he was fine, but that had been hours ago. Just as she drifted to sleep, her phone beeped.
She grabbed it, frantic. No notification, though. Just the word offline.
K: Good…God. We OPEN with this? This is a great idea executed to absolute perfection; the flow and drama are both strong, and although I knew where it was going, the story had me wondering how we’d get there. Smart, dark…even a little funny at times. I adore this. GOLD
MN – Wow. This week got off to an amazing start. You moved very quickly to introduce this world, and it bordered on too quick, but it really wasn’t. The world you created is close-enough to real. And both the parent who becomes too reliant on the technology to get her kid and the kid who rolls his eyes at that fact… those are the realest, most frightening possibilities that could exist in the world you’ve created, because they are all-too-real in the world we live in. Bra freaking vo. GOLD
Colin Woolston, Phone Call
Elliot paused. His breath quickened, and his eyes narrowed as he prepared to steel himself. His hands moved from his pockets to the straps of his backpack, his left thumb twitched.
Kyle was standing with the usual idiots at the bus stop, jostling each other. Elliot recognized the expression on Kyle’s face, the mixture of self loathing and stupid, animal spite that made Elliott’s blood run cold. Mr. Fulton From the Electric Store’s – the only decent human being Elliott had ever met – son was the first to spot Elliot. Billy. Billy’s IQ was somewhere in the range of opossums and gerbils, something that mystified Elliot. Mr Fulton was a genius.
Elliott had been through this routine hundreds of times. Most days he escaped with just a little less money. Bad days there would be blood.
Elliot started forward, slowly at first, his left thumb caressing the pulsing green button on the strap of his backpack. Mr. Fulton’s kind face floated in front of his, smiling, juxtaposed with the sight of Billy giving Elliot the finger.
Kyle started forward, and Elliot could barely breathe. Elliot watched as Kyle’s face twisted into a grin, relishing in Elliot’s obvious terror.
Kyle didn’t even bother trying to come up with an opening line and went to push Elliot. Elliot pushed the button. Kyle’s fingers stopped in mid air bending at awkward angles, Elliot watched as Kyle’s leer turn into a grimace. He had obviously jammed some fingers.
Elliot paused a moment as he heard the welcoming sound of the bus lumbering down the street, and then said “I call shields, bitch.”
K: This prose was…interesting. Other than a couple of commas where semicolons should have been (is this Brooks?), there’s nothing “wrong,” but within the second paragraph alone, there’s some pretty strange wording. I do think this story was a little coy with its meaning; even after a second read I don’t know exactly what the kids are doing. BRONZE
MN – There’s a lot of build-up here, and I think some of it got bogged down with extra characters – we didn’t really need Mr. Fulton and Billy, unless they were more major players. But it moves along well otherwise, and a bully-shield is a clever invention. I really liked the descriptions throughout – they provided a very strong tone and weren’t over the top, as they can sometimes become. BRONZE
Brendan Bonham, For the Love of Pete
The shaft of light went dark for a moment. Sequential slams. The light returned.
“I think he went back inside.”
Berg angled his head just enough to make eyes at the dumpster. He methodically pushed up on the grate, turned it on its side and handed it to Leena below. Just above street level, his eyes scanned for any trouble. Seeing none, he pulled himself up to the alley as quickly as his heft would allow; the asphalt was hot against his naked flank.
He trundled over to the dumpster. Flipping it open, wide-eyed, he saw a treasure trove of sausage, pepperoni, and sweet, sweet carbs.
“Leena, quick! The bag!” he shout-whispered.
Berg caught the bag in mid-air and began stuffing it full of his barely-expired bounty. He knew he had to be quick.
Berg made headlight eyes at the silhouette at the end of the alley. Pants Police, he knew it. Berg turned as quickly as he could as he headed for the open sewer hole.
“Leena, they’re here!”
She sneered, “They’ll never get me in Cal-Track pants.” The scar on her jowl looked like a t-bone, Berg thought. He hadn’t had one in years.
As Berg flopped down the ladder the Pants Officer’s head obstructed the light.
“Two foodies heading underground. 14th and Polk. Requesting back-up!”
Leena and Berg both knew the gig. If they ran, the Pants Police would follow, dogged in their calorie enforcement methods. They would find the others. Dozens would suffer cruel pants-enforcement methods.
“You—you go.” Berg looked Leena in the eye. “Tell the others to gorge in my remembrance.”
Angry tears welled in Leena’s eyes. She pulled her eyes away as Berg touched her ample belly one last time. She receded into the sewer darkness; Berg awaited his fate.
K: The joke doesn’t really grow and change much after the initial salvo, but all the same, I can’t overlook the fun of “Pants Police.” Fun Fact: “Dumpster” is a proper name, though like Band-Aid and Kleenex, it’s just what we say now. I told this to someone a couple of days ago and they were so scandalized, they looked it up. BRONZE
MN – I hate to say that something didn’t follow the prompt, because as a player I’ve always appreciated the extremely liberal tendencies of prompts, as jumping off points. So I won’t say that. What I will say is that, since we judges know the prompt, when a story strays too far, it can be a bit of a distraction. At least for me. I found myself trying to figure out what the pants invention was, instead of just enjoying the world here. I thought this had a really good balance of action and dialogue, and waiting for the reveal really let us dwell in the world more naturally. BRONZE
Beau, The Hidden Legends of Temple Grandin
Connor had prayed his parents would decide to sit in the back row for once, but nope, there they were all proud and annoying in row one. “There’s our boy!” he heard Mom chime to anyone who would listen. “He made first chair this year!”
That was true. Every senior made first chair as long as they were nice to the band leader and dressed nice. Connor, however, was a junior. Juniors never made first chair. Austin Langston made that quite clear.
“The only reason she picked you is because you don’t have acne, ” Austin grumbled. “Good luck with your solo. I’d say don’t fuck it up but we know that’s impossible.”
That was also true. Ever since the school installed auto-tuners on all the instruments, everyone sounded fantastic. Heck, the keys didn’t even matter.
“I still have to blow,” said Connor.
“Yeah, that’s what your boyfriend said.”
Connor turned red. Thankfully, the director got things started. The crowd oohed and aahed through magnificent renditions of Ode to Joy and Pachelbel’s Canon. Connor use to enjoy playing these classics like a professional. But the closer it got to his solo, the angrier he got. Austin punctuated his irritation by emptying his spit valve on Connor’s shoes.
When he was called for his solo, Baker Street, Connor ripped off the auto-tuner. Determined to sabotage this concert and his reputation, he closed his eyes and played like it was his last time. A thoroughly mediocre sound echoed throughout the auditorium as Connor flubbed at least two-dozen notes.
After his final note, he opened his eyes. He could hear a pin drop. His parents look terrified. The crowd looked confused. The director glared right through him. Connor heard a squeal.
He turned around. Austin had his auto-tuner in hand.
K: I was kind of hoping that Connor would find that he was a proficient artist. This is a thoroughly cynical view of our future, but at least we had characters to latch onto and a story to invest in. Let me get tough on dialogue, because that’s what I do: let the characters be sarcastic once in a while. Austin’s line “I’d say don’t fuck it up but we know that’s impossible” would be better if he just said “Don’t fuck it up” with a bit of a smirk. When you write it all out like that, it comes off as mistrust in the reader’s comprehension.
MN – The tone might have been a bit too colloquial, but the juxtapositioning of the kid who gets it, and doesn’t want to be a part of it any more, and the kid who doesn’t get it… well, that sums up high school, doesn’t it? This was quite enjoyable. I think I would have liked a bit more interaction between the two boys too, which could have set up Austin’s absurd readiness to take over a bit better.
Annette Barron, The Devil Wear PRADAZ
“All you have to do is plug your old phone into this jack and the Playa 2000 will transfer all contacts, texts, email, media, etc. That’s it. Game on, man.” The tech looked at Brent adoringly.
“We’ll see.” Brent handed over his phone. “I’ve been juggling women successfully on my own for years.” Brent’s father begged him to test the company’s newest smartphone, guaranteed to keep a pussy hound on the hunt. Brent scrolled through the menu, found no issues and headed out for the evening.
Brent nursed a very nice scotch at the bar of Murphy’s when his phone vibrated hard in his pocket. Brent grabbed it and read the banner scrolling in red. Elizabeth Gordon approximately one block away, on foot, headed this way. Last contact, missed call 22 days ago. Voicemail asking you to call her back. No return call logged.” Shit, Brent hissed. He could talk her out of her irritation but then he would need to sleep with her tonight and she was somewhat tedious in bed. Brent tossed back the scotch and headed past the restrooms and into the alley out back. He cut through to 2nd and headed north to Bounce, a trendy new club with taut, sweaty bodies.
His phone jumped again. Jennifer Garcia located in Bounce. Last contact, 13 days ago, your text asking her to let you know when she was free for drinks. No response. Latest social media post, “hanging with my girls, Sonya and Maria! Come paint the town with us! Woooo!”
Jennifer was a smokin hot latina he’d been circling for weeks. Brent pocketed his phone with a wolfish grin. He fought his way to the bar and ordered shots of tequila delivered to the “stunning women at table 6.” Jennifer delightedly waved her shot glass at him. Perfect.
K: And…that’s it? This seems like a pretty successful commercial that makes me want to invest in Bounce, because who doesn’t like a smokin’ Latina?, but this is the kind of protagonist who is just begging for comeuppance, or at least an ending. We established that there’s a guy who likes to hook up, and here he is, hooking up. The concept is great, but the story is…a great concept.
MN – “Keep a pussy hound on the hunt” is delightful. The first half of the story sets things up perfectly. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the second half delivered, as it needed more direct conflict. One avoidance was good. Two or more would have been better. Revealing an anti-Playa app for Elizabeth Gordon would have been ideal. Brent’s attitude in the first half set him up for a fall, and I’m disappointed he didn’t get it. Still, that first half is funny. BRONZE
Pete Bruzek, PRADAZ
Ron lost his girlfriend, his job, and his apartment a week previous, a stolen cell phone felt like the least of his worries. At least it was gthe easiest to replace.
Having little money, Ron swallowed his pride and directed the salesperson to showcase the store’s flip phones. They weren’t exactly cutting edge, but at least he would be able to stay in contact with potential job offers.
Later that day, Ron sat in his car studying his new purchase. It had a camera (albeit a terrible one), some run of the mill apps, and a strange button that simply read “Learnmore”. When Ron pressed it, it simply said “no target”.
A week or two later, Ron was waiting on hold trying to get his mail directed to his new apartment. Bored, he pressed the mysterious button again.
“James occasionally steals packages if the contents are valuable” the screen read.
Ron stared dumbly afor a few minutes until he was snapped back by an annoyed sounding voice on the other end. The conversation progressed without incident, but Ron couldn’t stop thinking about Learnmore.
The next day, he invited his friend Jeremy over.
“You gotta see this” he told him. He took Jeremy’s picture and pressed Learnmore.
“Jeremy found a wallet with $700 yesterday. He does not plan on finding the owner.”
Jeremy’s face went pale. After mumbling a couple of excuses, he quickly left the apartment.
For the next couple of days, the Learnmore button became a constant source of entertainment for Ron. He quickly learned all sorts of semi-dark secrets about friends, loved ones and random passersby. Then the fun ended.
“Edward beats his children at least once a week.”
After a restless night, Ron called in an anonymous tip to the police, his new work had begun.
K: Here’s another good idea that lacks a little in execution, as we have a story that blazes from moment to moment. Why have Jeremy leave? Ron and Jeremy (ahem…have you been watching porn?) are friends, so why aren’t they together in this? Ron has semi-dark secrets of his own, if he’s any kind of human being. This story sets up a lot of possible endings, but the one we got was fairly straightforward. BRONZE
MN – Well this just turned into Unbreakable, didn’t it? This is a very fun idea. Basically it’s more of a genie than a legitimately possible tech development, but that’s exactly what I love about it. I know the time was tight, but I would have liked to have seen more done with the narrative voice here; the straightforward omniscient thing could have worked if it were more of a “learnmore” voice itself, with the language matching the tech of the story.
erik sunshine, For the Love
Caleb’s mouth briefly shut as he attempted to inhale strongly through his stuffed nose. The futile attempt complete, his jaw sank south again and hung open as he held the cell phone close to his face. Intentional or otherwise, he once again blended in famously with the natives of the food court.
He’d been trying to set up his email account on his new cell phone for 30 minutes, but was now buried so deep in the settings, he wasn’t quite sure how to get out.
Accessing yet another submenu, Caleb’s eyebrows rose. The screen was empty save for the word “Gravity” and simple slider bar. The dot was set dead center.
Caleb puzzled to point of actually scratching his head over what to make of this.
He aimed a finger over the surface of the phone for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. Plunging forward, his grimy pointer descended towards the iPhone.
The moment his finger made contact, he fancied he’d felt the faintest of vibrations. No one else seemed to notice.
He sent the dot the slightest bit to the right.
The effect was sudden, noticeable, but subtle. Brows furrowed as people tried to deduce the sudden heaviness they felt.
Caleb sent to slider the slightest bit to the left.
Loud commotion next to him as several patrons plunged down the stairs; their expectations of gravity suddenly cheated.
As Caleb stood to get out of the way, he sneezed. The violet motion hitched his entire body, and his finger snapped to the right.
What sound could be heard as the atmosphere disappeared was like God crumpling a giant soda can.
As fabric of space adjusted, the moon, untethered from her captor, casually slipped out to meet some old friends towards the asteroid belt.
K: This is absurdity, but man, is it ever written as if it’s just something that happened once. Caleb has to be an ordinary shlub for this story to work at all, and he is. I suppose if I wanted to be a twat I’d ask why Gravity existed as an app in the first place, but I don’t think this story is taking itself seriously enough for me to actually ask this. BRONZE
MN – I actually laughed out loud at the concept. In a very good way. The fact that you brought this all the way back around from his stuffed up nose to his sneeze at the end, and then just jumped to “there goes the moon” instead of trifling with his attempts to put it into use in his life… well, that just really cemented the absurdity. And Caleb’s patheticism. GOLD
Joseph Rakstad, Hidden Legends
I ducked under the yellow caution tape and surveyed the scene again. I shivered in the quiet dark and pulled out Charlie’s phone. I turned it on and started up his app. I pointed the camera toward the scene, and hit rewind. On the screen, the light in the room gradually returned, followed by a throng of people, and the icy body that had been there just a few hours ago. I glanced at the empty room for contrast. Eventually the screen came back to a time when it was just a body. I had to speed up the device to rewind past the two days the body just lie there.
Finally, the screen showed movement again. The picture grew fuzzier the further it went back. A telltale sign of the limitation of Charlie’s invention. It could track the movement of the molecules in the room, but the further it went back, the more difficult it was for the device to track them accurately. I hoped it would be clear enough to be able make out a face.
I started the action about 5 minutes before time of death. I moved to the other side of the room to be able to get a view of everyone in the room. The victim was the room with two others. I identified one as his brother, Mike. He had an alibi. The other man stood by the door, and had a gun in his hand.
I played the action, but Charlie’s device couldn’t produce sound. The argument appeared heated, and eventually Mike’s brother left, and the other man aimed the gun, and killed our victim. Charlie’s device worked, but this wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law. I had to prove it the hard way.
K: This might be the best overall concept of the lot, but it sure does read like a small, transitory scene in a much bigger story. Put another way: if I were to watch this scene in a movie, it would literally just be the lead character looking at a phone. No talking, no action, no anything. Just a guy and a phone. The scene needs to be more dynamic.
MN – You’ve got the mystery tone down quite well here, and though I don’t really like the narrator saying “but we won’t convict him on this” as an ending, I love “I had to prove it the hard way” as a beginning. It’s too bad, then, that it came at the end of the story. I wish we had a reason to care about this particular victim – it isn’t Charlie, is it? If so, that wasn’t clear to me, since you always referred to the body as the victim.
Will Young, For the Love
The ACLU had been complaining furiously for two months to little effect. A temporary injunction request had been denied in federal court as a violation of the “separation of powers” and a multiyear court battle loomed. Protesters filled the National Mall waving signs and shouting. Above-the-fold headlines and constant FoxNews “alerts” had been stirring the fueling the embers all summer.
Inside, Senator McDonnell gaveled the session into order. He called Senate Bill 1473 to a voice vote. It passed ninety-seven to one and would now go conference committee to smooth out any differences with the House Bill. Still, it seemed that, within weeks gun control would have much, much more teeth. This bipartisan coalition had also recently passed a balanced budget (actually, a budget with a surplus being used to pay off some of the national debt by cutting military funding and some entitlements) unanimously. None of this had leaked out of past the Rotunda.
Senator McCain frequently joked with Senator Warren about the stupidity of President Jefferson. The worst thing he ever did (way worse than starting a family with his wife’s half-sister) was push so hard for the freedom of the press. Without the constant scrutiny, they were finally voting their hearts and minds.
K: Now this is cynical enough for me to damn near roll my eyes, but I think it would work if only we had a scene. We again just have a summary, and I don’t feel like I’ve been there at all.
MN – This is another one that kind of strays from the prompt. I was waiting for the Congressional battle-dome, or something. Political humor can really work for me, and this embraces absurd political stuff in a very fun way. I felt like each of the three paragraphs were too disconnected from each other though, and some transitions, or a specific character to follow throughout would have helped add narrative to the hilarious concept.
Brooks Maki, Phone Call
Garrett stood for a moment, wiping the sweat from his face, staring into the sun. He looked back along the row, double checking that he hadn’t missed anything. Perfect rows of green tops stretched away behind him.
Two carrots disappeared into the ground.
“Oh, goddammit” he muttered, shifting his hoe and stalking back along the row. By the time he reached the spot, four more carrots had vanished.
He waited, barely breathing.
As the next carrot started to wiggle, he seized it and pulled with all his strength. It dragged him for a couple of feet down the row, but eventually he got it out of the ground. The carrot was blacker than dark, somehow pulling light into it. The tops of the nearby carrots bent toward it, inching out of the ground.
Garrett flipped the hoe over and discharged the dark energy maser. A miniature supernova knocked out two rows of vegetables, but the black hole infestation never returned.
K: This does not seem like a feature we’d pay for, does it? Despite this, the humor worked for me, and the actual payoff compared to my expectation is what got me there. Bugs Bunny would be proud of how weird this is. SILVER
MN – Another one where I laughed out loud. I don’t usually do that when reading, but y’all have been hitting something right tonight. I liked Garrett, I love the concept, and the tight narration works wonders. My thoughts on punctuation are that you can’t deviate from the rules/standards often, and when you do, you need to nail it. You did so with the *blink*. It added a ton to this story. SILVER
Daniel Caouette, PRADAZ
Paul was having a rough day. He didn’t want to go outside, and his friends weren’t picking up their phones. He sat down in front of the TV, ready to let it wash away his problems.
The infomercial that came on seemed to really drive it home for Paul, as he was caught from the very first line.
Have you ever felt sad? Lonely? Afraid? Do you struggle to make friends that can support you and your every single need? Wouldn’t it be nice to be told you’re not as pathetic as you really are?
The camera zoomed out to a kitchen with a pitchman standing in the middle.
Hi! I’m Philly Maze, and I’m here to tell you about the Cheer Me Beanie! It’s a beanie, but it’s also your new best friend!
Using space-age technology, the Cheer Me Beanie is able to detect when you’re down and it whispers something to cheer you up! Watch!
The picture changed to a woman crying.
“I’ll never get famous!” She sobbed.
The screen flashed, revealing the woman wearing the beanie. The beanie whispered into her ear, “You can always be a slut on an MTV Reality show!” Paul noted how creepy the whisper seemed, but it worked for the woman. The next scene showed her as a semi-famous star.
That was all Paul needed to see. This was something he had to have. He picked up the phone and ordered the Cheer Me Beanie.
It wouldn’t be Paul if he didn’t spend the next two weeks on the couch waiting for that knock on the door. Sure enough, the beanie arrived and he put it on. He waited for some encouragement. The beanie took a moment to process, and then it finally whispered.
“At least I make you look somewhat attractive.”
K: “Philly Maze?” Sigh. Again, there’s no scene here. I’m watching a guy watching a commercial. Cut the commercial completely and show me Paul using the Cheer Me Beanie. There are a lot of dramatic and comedic options when he’s using the beanie. When he’s watching a commercial, the only option is exposition without action.
MN – First off, the name “Cheer Me Beanie” is perfect, and you nail the infomercial lines throughout. The ending is priceless too. I think my quibble comes in that you say a bit too much; saying “slut on an MTV Reality show” is less effective than “You could be on a reality show” and then a description of her tarting it up. Where this works is where the characters drive the humor (Paul’s patheticism, Philly’s eagerness), and where it doesn’t is when you’re taking narrative shortcuts (“It wouldn’t be Paul if…”).
Roxanne Lewis, PRADAZ
“Oh my, where is that even supposed to go?!” Monica said as she picked up the biggest didldo she had ever seen. “Come on, I don’t want to be here any longer then we have to be” Jackie said as she dragged Monica towards the rack of falick, comedic items meant for bachelorette parties.
“You girls look a little lost, can I help you with anything?” Monica turned to see a woman, probably mid twenties standing behind her, face full of rings and studs, “We have a special running on the iBone, it’s now dishwasher safe!” Jackie dropped a stack of ice trays and they went skittering across the floor “NO! I..I.. mean we have it handled, thanks” she scooped up her loot and made her way to the register, Monica followed close behind picking up Jackie’s trail of pink boas as she went.
Monica laid in bed that night, alone, and thought of the store again. She pulled out her little purple bullet and couldn’t even bring herself to use it, “dishwasher safe” she said quietly before she fell asleep.
She walked into the store the next day and marched right up to the girl with the face full of metal, “Hey girly! I remember you! Come back for that sale I was telling you about!?” Monica did her best not to blush as she said “Actually I was hoping you could tell me more about it.” The girl squealed and pulled a small slender silver item off a nearby self, “Of course I can, this is my personal favorite, it hooks right up to your iphone in case you want to have some long distance dirty play, essentially you could be across the world and I could be here on my phone” she paused here and used air quotations while saying “taking care of business”. She winked and continued, “The plush head also senses your nerves reactions and adjust accordingly, and it is of course dishwasher safe!”
Monica grabbed the green version of the toy off of the self, “Do you accept visa here?”
K: That’s a sweet-ass invention, right there. Unfortunately, you misspelled both “dildo” and “phallic” in the first few lines and that didn’t really help (particularly given that they were arguably the most significant words); this story, like many, had concept but no scene. Show me the action!
MN – I feel like the spelling mistakes in first few sentences are more fatal here than they might be in other stories, because when dealing in adult matters one needs to have a very adult approach to successfully pull off either humor or sexiness. Spelling mistakes aren’t adult. There’s a good pace to this story, and the right balance of dialogue and action, but not enough distinction between Jackie and Monica in the first half for us to really appreciate Monica’s maturation in the second part.
Bret Highum, For the Love
We had been at the restaurant for an hour before my phone buzzed. Stacy looked at me, flinching. What more did she want? I had it on silent! Turning the alert all the way off wasn’t an option.
My appetite was gone, and her plate was untouched. The bottle of wine was nearly empty. I couldn’t have ever expected how badly I’d come to dread that buzz, anticipation building every minute, the disappointment when it went off, for fifteen minutes that felt like an hour. When it finally didn’t come, I waited, counting seconds off in my head. At two minutes, I inhaled deeply and nodded to Stacy. She almost broke down, but held it in, eyes glimmering with unshed tears.
We rose to go after I paid, leaving a conspicuously large tip to make sure the staff remembered us. I was hoping her father’s medical monitoring app hadn’t been sending a false alarm and no one else had been notified of the heart attack that should have been triggered by the digitalis in his evening bourbon. Neither of us could do this again, no matter how large her inheritance would be.
K: Good idea, and surprising twist. There’s no dialogue, which is a real shame when the scene has such potential, but at least we’re in the thick of the action.
MN – By the end of the second paragraph I was needing a reveal – we didn’t yet have any motive or know what the buzz was, or what critical actions was needed/had been taken because of the buzz. So you almost lost me when the first line of the final paragraph wasn’t that reveal. In retrospect, maybe you did lose me there. But the last paragraph is handled so well that it almost restarted the whole story. This is a very clever use of the prompt and on the murder-for-inheritance idea. Some dialogue could have helped introduce more character, but you did a great job describing Stacy’s reactions. BRONZE
Jordan Graham, Hidden Legends
“Become your best self!” the holographic ads had exclaimed on the downtown street corners, and Leo had bought in fully.
The day the mirror arrived on his doorstep, he was ready to affix the device to his bedroom wall, anxious to see the person he could be.
He flipped the switch on the white frame’s side, the screen flickered momentarily, and another man stared out at him from the mirror’s cool metallic surface.
That can’t be me, Leo thought. But he knew it was.
Olive skin, jet black hair buzzed sharp on the side, slicked smoothly on the top, a chiseled jaw, at least 30 pounds lighter, chest like a super hero. A perfect Leo.
He had seen the pinnacle, and vowed to become it.
The next day, he bought a gym membership. The day after, he signed up for stem-cell hair therapy. And so it went.
Leo stared at his reflection in the passing train cars and storefront windows. Day after day he was becoming his true self.
It was a gray-skied Sunday when he finally flipped on his half-reflection and saw the images align. And he wept with joy, alone in his bedroom.
But as he stood there, admiring his torso, his reflection began to change. At first, it was almost unnoticeable, but then, yes, his muscles had grown ever so slightly. His eyes had shifted form deep brown to emerald.
This time, it took longer. Eighteen months, at least. He’d lost count.
“Was he OK?” friends asked. Yes, he’d respond. Where had he been? Busy, he’d say.
The walk from the office was long and time consuming, but Leo made it daily. Fat doesn’t burn itself.
And as he stepped to the mirror nightly, his best friend Leo smiled at him from beyond the pool. And he smiled back.
K: Narcissus?! You wrote a twist on the story of Narcissus?!!?!?!?! You are my personal hero. This is a well-told story as it is – you show us Leo acting out the story rather than suggesting what might happen – but you exploited my love of mythology as well, and whoever you are, you get a big high five for that. GOLD
MN – I love the overt reference to Narcissus. There are so many places this concept could go that I didn’t expect it to play straight-forward like this, but upon finishing it, I’m really glad it did. I’m all for an efficient retelling of an old tale, and this really hummed along, and didn’t dwell too long on any particular point. SILVER
Shawn Ashley, Hidden Legends
He rounded the corner that headed into the main dining room, just as Matt called again, “Table 30 NEEDS you!”
Matt wore a black linen napkin draped over one arm, a worried expression on his face.
“Any idea what this is about?” He asked under his breath as he straightened his tie.
“No. But I’m pretty sure they hated the scallops.” Matt veered off.
He approached the table with a genuine grin- one that he had perfected, of course. “Hello! I’m Curtis, your Maitre d’. How may I be of assistance?”
“We need a new wine. This is crap.” The older man gestured to a Domaine Armand Rousseau that rested atop a silver coaster.
“Certainly, sir, I will remove it immediately.” Curtis made eye contact with the server assistant and he sprung into action. “What were you interested in getting in place of the Rousseau?”
“I want something that isn’t CRAP!”
Inside, Curtis sighed. Outwardly, he nodded. “I understand, sir. What in particular may I bring that wouldn’t be so offensive?”
“I want a first-growth Burgundy.”
Curtis stopped. There was no such thing.
“And I want a famous producer!” The old man shooed him away.
“What do they want?” Matt asked, falling into step with him.
“Throw those burgundy glasses in the polisher.”
Matt took some stemware and put them in the glass dryer. This took two minutes and left glasses perfectly polished.
Matt looked to Curtis as he funneled a bottle of wine into another. “What’re you doing?”
“He wants a “First-Growth Burgundy”. I’m giving him the finest Burgundy that Beringer wine has on the shelf at Ralph’s Foods.”
Matt laughed as the timer went off. He produced four sparkling glasses, each of which cost more than the wine.
K: I don’t know what it is, but don’t we ALL just love to see arrogant foodies get their comeuppance? This is a formula story, and while the prompt-fulfillment itself wouldn’t be the most exciting in a list, we do have human interaction and ingenuity here, which makes the story stand out. GOLD
MN – I’m not quite sure what the technological development is here? The glass polisher? Is that not a thing? It seems like it could be. I might be a bit out of my league on wine stuff… This is a perfectly tight story, with a customer getting what he deserves (possibly even better than he deserves), but we don’t quite have any reason to root for our protagonists, which is what I think would make this work a little bit better.
Brian David, Hidden Legends
The phone vibrated on the nightstand. Simon stretched out his hand and tilted the screen.
Simon groaned. He repeatedly pressed the button on the side of the phone, but the vibrations continued.
The covers around his feet crinkled and a thin, jet-black cat jumped onto the bed. The cat began to groom its lower back. The phone shifted several inches as it rattled loudly against the particle board.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
Simon picked up the phone and flung it across the room. It collided with a whiskey bottle that was sitting on his dresser, and there was a sharp crack as several pieces of glass shattered and fell to the floor.
Simon held his hands against his aching forehead and breathed heavily. A few moments later a monotone voice erupted from the phone.
Simon kicked the cat onto the floor and lurched out of the bed, still holding his head.
“Hold on for just a fuckin’ second!”
He found his way to the fridge and opened the door. Inside he snatched a can of cat food, already opened, with the aluminum lid just barely covering the half-dried contents. As he stepped backwards his feet got caught up in something furry and wiry. Simon slid to the kitchen floor, landing hard on his tailbone.
He exhaled loudly, and with a quick flick of his wrist he launched the can at the cat.
The cat ran out the wide-open kitchen door and into the backyard.
Simon sat on the floor for a few moments, panting heavily. He stood and grabbed a beer from the fridge, popped it open in one swift motion, and took several mouthfuls. From his bedroom he could hear his phone, vibrating loudly.
K: I absolutely love that this story doesn’t go any further than the primal urge to eat, and that Simon doesn’t grow beyond the primal urge to be a dick. The story didn’t waste a single word with tedious exposition, and trusted that we would be able to understand the story through action. PLEASE READ THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE, EVERYONE. The ideas this week have been great, but seamless exposition is probably the largest opportunity for growth we have at the site. SILVER
MN – This invention seems redundant if the cat is going to let you know it needs to be fed anyway. I suppose that’s the point of the story. Unless the point is the phone itself needs to be fed, not the cat, the cat is just a red herring? WooooOOOOOoooo. I like that reading better, but it’s not obvious that that’s the way it’s supposed to be read. So assuming the cat is the one who needs to be fed… I’d say the reveal probably happened a bit too early. Also, I wanted his name to be “Seymour” and not “Simon.”
Danyel Logue, Phone Call
Jean nudged Liz, giving her a jerk off motion in regards to Susan at the mic, driveling on about the dangers of peanuts at the upcoming fundraising bizarre.
“Hey,” Liz whispered, tucking her sleek hair behind one ear. “Drew told me you ended up firing… Helen?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Jean with little regard to the volume of her own voice in relation to Susan. “Phyalyn is just so advanced now, a nanny’s no longer necessary.”
“Wow, she’s basically autonomous then?”
“Well, not completely. I still have to find time for some direct engagement; alongside school, sitar practice, and ballet, I’m able to fill a lot her day though.”
“And what programs are you using?”
“Well, she just finished Spanish and we’re halfway through Mandarin. I’ve been exposing her to a lot of computer science and physics lately after completing the Baroque period in art history.”
“Shit, I keep telling Malik we have to suck it up and pay for the operation. At this point, Denvyr’s just slipping behind.”
“Look, I’m not here to judge, but it’s as simple as lasik surgery.”
“Yes, well Malik contests on moral concerns. ‘You’re essentially just plugging them into the iPad all day. At some point, why would they even need to exist in the real world? We’re raising children not drones…”
“Ha! That sounds like Malik. It’s all about balance, love. I pull her out for an hour of social engagement every day and she gets plenty of exercise at lacrosse and swim practice. Plus, you wouldn’t believe the time I have! I get dinner out at least two nights a week. And Drew and I are fucking like teenagers…”
Finally, Susan’s plea was over; Principal Ames took the podium.
“That concludes Kindergarten orientation. We’ll see you all next week!”
K: The final payoff isn’t too unpredictable, and the whole thing is just cloying in its cynicism and gives us no reason at all to believe these people are humans at all. The parents even display a complete disconnect, as one brags about the constant fucking, but if they’re plugging their kids into iPads all day, the parents should be pretty damaged themselves too, right? This one got going too late with the idea of the kids getting “an hour of social engagement.” That’s a money line to build on. Also, “bazaar,” not “bizarre.”
MN – Much like the first story of the week, this one nails the social critique. It’s not quite as emotional as that one, but equally chilling. The gag at the end probably cheapens it all, but provides the right structure to the story too, so that’s not a real quibble – it’s probably exactly where I’d go with it. Very good dialogue, and… I really want to punch something right now. Because you certainly hit something I think needs to be criticized more loudly, and broadly. GOLD
Zack Sauvageau, PRADAZ
“I’m fairly certain we aren’t interested, but do your pitch I guess.” Bradford didn’t have time for this novelty garbage. He was CTO of an automobile company for Christ’s sake.
“What if I told you that six months from now, you’d never have to fear finding a bathroom on the road again?” Charlie waited for a reply, but Bradford was focused intently on his smartphone. James, the CEO, cleared his throat and Charlie continued; “that dream will be a reality thanks to our PUPR system.”
Bradford looked up. “Pooper?” he inquired, desperately trying to hide his disdain.
“Yes, PUPR. The Perpetually Updating Privy Retriever.” Bradford sighed, but Charlie continued. “Imagine, if you will, a real-time, crowd-sourced public bathroom location system that integrates with your cars’ existing computer system, showing not only the bathroom’s location but the relative quality of said bathroom, including the type of soap, the quality of the toilet paper, and even if it has a bidet.”
They were three slides into their 57 slide presentation, but Bradford interjected. “Look. We sell $80,000 cars to working professionals. I’m not letting you use our center console to turn those cars into shitmobiles. I’ve seen enough, have a nice day.”
James finally spoke up, “Bradford, I suffer from IBS. I’m not sure you understand how amazing this would be for me.”
“Amazing or not, it’s about optics, dad. We can’t be the car company that’s literally associated with shit!”
“I want to hear him out, Bradford. Let’s let the young man finish.” Charlie smiled, and was thankful that his buddy at the hospital didn’t feel like HIPAA was all that important. He knew he’d get to finish his pitch here.
Bradford opened up The Verge the next day to check the coverage. “Ford Motor Company Acquires PUPR for $600 Million in Cash and Stock.” He clicked into the article.
“How soon until they revive the Crown Shitoria?” the heading read.
Why didn’t his dad ever listen to him?
K: This dialogue could be more realistic, but the concerns raised, the character foibles and the entire concept converged to make it fun. There were multiple characters with legitimate motivations. Man, we need more of that. We’ll get it when the crowd thins out and the word counts go up, I trust. SILVER
MN – Does the pun cheapen it? Yeah, probably. Do I care? Not one bit. Or rather, I wouldn’t care if the rest of the story had been a little bit more jokey too. But outside of PUPR, the rest is really plot and character development. And very effective plot and character development at that – that first line nailed Bradford, and he was consistent and believable throughout. I think this one suffered just a bit from not quite knowing what it wanted to be, but what it was was entertaining. SILVER
Joshua Longman, Hidden Legends
Trevor had been in maximum security prison for three weeks and it was not going well. He thought he’d be able to blend into the background or take the occasional beating if it came down to that, but after what happened last night….. a shudder ran down his spine as he sat on his bunk. Mavis, the skinhead with a Bugs Bunny tattoo on his neck, had caught him outside of the laundry room, where Trevor was assigned for work duty. A depiction of the warden, shouting a warning, flashed on Mavis’ uniform as it happened; a new feature that kicked in when inmates weren’t where they were supposed to be. Instead of being scarred, he was surprised at himself. He would go to great lengths to ensure this never happened again.
The next morning Trevor was at work early. He had a plan.
He always thought the new feature on their uniforms was ridiculous – a waste of money and frankly, annoying. However, before he shot his wife’s lover he happened to be an electrical engineer, and a new use dawned on him. He started by removing the small chargers which powered the graphene screens woven into the fabric. Wiring several into one suit, it quickly began to overheat and subsequently caught fire. Setting it under a stainless steel table, he produced a styrofoam cup. By furiously rubbing it back and forth on the table, and ignoring his burning hands, the fire underneath allowed the cup to congeal into a maleable putty. Sprinting to the sink, he quenched it; after repeating several times, he let it cool. He snapped it in half under his shoe, the largest piece was broken diagonally into a huge splinter. Testing it on his thumb, he drew blood and went to search for Mavis.
K: Is that the end? I know where this is going, but still, if you’re story is going to be nothing but setup setup setup, we do need to get more of a payoff. It would be different if the story had given us more of an engaging scene, but mostly we’re just watching Trevor do a bit of a montage.
MN – Prisoners be MacGuyverin’, eh? This is a creepy, 1981 kind of invention, and I like that you came up with it, and then brought it right back down into the background of life by making it just another thing that is less important than the character’s motivations. I don’t quite feel Trevor’s pain and subsequent resolve, as you’ve just told us that it exists, so a little more showing would have been a nice way to round off this story.
Long Distance Phone Call for Friendship: 10-2-6-5 = 23/4 = 5.75
The Hidden Legends of Temple Grandin: 0-0-8-5-3-0 = 16/6 = 2.67
For the Love of Pete: 2-6-0-1 = 9/4 = 2.25
The Devil Wear PRADAZ: 1-1-0-0-6 = 8/5 = 1.60
Congratulations on one of my favorite stories in a while, Melissa! I kind of wish it hasn’t been the first I read. At any rate, the three low tribes were close again, but PRADAZ have to lose a second member to become a four-person tribe like (almost) everyone else. PRADAZ, please vote by Tuesday night at 9pm Central and we’ll get a new prompt up in here.
Now to decide how to skimp on words and make for easy judging next time while telling you guys it’s all good somehow.