Someone mentioned that we’ve done a lot of relationship prompts this season. Is that true? More than normal? I mean, I think I’m doing as much as I should, but I usually don’t. Anyway, if this was the cause for burnout, I understand. There are some good ideas here, though it isn’t a red-letter week or anything. Of course, our expectations grow as we get closer to the end, so there’s that, too.

The prompt was to write about how a strict adherence to tradition ended a relationship, romantic or otherwise.

erik sunshine

Cynthia never really did understand.

The thought occurred to me, well, re-occurred, as I stood in what was until recently our kitchen. I had been staring at the neatly stacked rows of Tupperware containing pre-made meals in the fridge. I’m a busy man, and it’s easier to cook everything at once.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d been staring, but it was long enough for the open door chime to go off. I closed the fridge, deciding I wasn’t hungry.

Snowball was. She rubbed up against my shin (did you know that cats have sweat glands in their cheeks, and when nuzzle against you, they’re really marking you as their property?) and looked up hopefully. I pulled down several food cans which were stacked in the cupboard and placed them out.

Trying to push Cynthia out of my mind, I pulled a magazine off the top of the stack and flipped through it idly. Finding the attempt unsuccessful, I gently placed the magazine back on the pile, and nudged it neatly into place.

That felt a little better.

Thinking on it now, I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did. I had tried to hide it for a few months. I knew she’d eventually find out, but I wanted to let her in gently.

“What are you doing!?” she had exclaimed from the doorway. I wasn’t sure how long she had been standing there. She usually went to bed early, so I had waited until she was asleep, but a headache had sent her to the bathroom for medicine.

“Umm…” I had stammered. Snowball had been the anchor that night. She was good at it. Sturdy.

“Well, I’m… You see, it’s… I’m Cat Stacking.”

She didn’t understand. I thought she would in time, but I guess it never took. Birds have to fly. Beavers need to gnaw. Cats need to be stacked! How could she never see it?

I’ve gotten very good at it over the years. She never did appreciate how much effort when into it. When I first started, I could barely get 2 cats on top off each other. Now, I can get them up 7 high, which is only 4 away from the Guinness book!

There was lots of crying and arguing that night. I tried to explain (she didn’t go for the Birds, Beaver, Cats theory), but being so tired and out of sorts, and with so many unstacked cats running around and mewing , I had agreed to give it up. For her.

I tried stacking other things. Crickets. Paper clips. Bowling balls. But nothing else was the same. Also, I broke two toes because of the bowling balls.

She came home from a business trip early and walked in on me, naked, with cats stacked nipple high. Then when I was at work the next day, she quietly moved out.

I guess she must’ve been a dog person.

K: This reads as drama for the first half, but all the same, I suspected a joke twist when it was clear you were keeping a secret. Because this gets as ludicrous as it does, it really needs to come out firing with the absurdity, rather than setting up a long exposition that we already know because of the prompt. Also, the final shot would have worked very well as the opening shot that set the scene, but unfortunately we’re passively waiting to hear the story rather than experiencing it most of the way.

MN – This is pretty dang funny. It’s told in such a sympathetic voice that the absurdity gets to stand on its own. I’m not sure it builds enough to really get where it could, and it’s just one joke played out as far as it will go, but there is some very high-quality absurdity here. I even like the last line, though you risked something with such a sad trombone type of conclusion. BRONZE

Brendan Bonham

She stared at the broken bottle of Skol at the bottom of the garbage can as she thought about everything she’d need to take with her. Brian was still asleep—passed out more like it—and if the myriad past experiences held, it’d be a few hours before he rose from his stupor.
At first she loved how free-spirited and outgoing Brian seemed. Fridays were always a party, then Saturdays he’d hit the bars early with the boys. Coming home reeking of beer and stale cigarettes was little more than an irritating byproduct of a fun life lived fast.
She had begun worrying a few weeks after they moved in together. Wine with dinner every night became a little much. Then he introduced “dessert” drinks, which quickly devolved into bourbon, neat, and a lot of it.
He was laid off from work, but it was during the recession, so she believed him when he said the whole company was cutting back. She wanted to believe him—that’s the thing she still couldn’t forgive herself for, being so naive. Lying to herself.
Everything spiraled out of control quickly after that. Every week there was a new low. Brian showed up plastered while she was at the call center. He got in a shoving match with the landlord after he caught Brian throwing empty beer bottles off the roof. The 10:30a.m. DUI. There just never seemed to be a bottom.
She confronted Brian several times. He’d get his act together for a few weeks then fall off the wagon again. “He never threatens me, he never hurts me,” she had told herself, “love isn’t always easy.”
She glanced over at the AA chip on the kitchen table. 30 days sober. Well, 33. She looked at the ring on her finger. 8 months. She thought maybe the wedding would set him straight. Had he even remembered the wedding, or were his memories as liquor-soaked as the crusted vomit on his tux the next morning?
She had given him an ultimatum, and she had promised herself this was his last chance. She fought back tears and picked up a pen.
“Brian,” the note read, “I’m sorry, and I love you. But I need to love me, too. Please don’t call. Goodbye. –Bethany”
She walked briskly to the guest room to get a suitcase and texted Carolyn to see if she had a couch to crash on.

K: Just as in the first story, we get a lot of backstory leading to the decision, but we actually don’t experience a single second of these two characters together, which is really where we’d see the meat of the drama. Alcoholism always works well for me if I can really feel it, but as is, I feel like we were cheated out of a climax. Watching Bethany struggle to pick up a pen is one thing, but watching her struggle to let go of Brian’s hand as she walks out the door would be much stronger.

MN – Huh. I… didn’t expect such a straightforward story. It’s really a flawless recitation of facts, but the choice to tell us everything in summary instead of showing us anything hurts, because the narrator isn’t compelling enough on her own to drive the emotional resonance a story like this should have. Finding out she married the guy hurts, but more than anything else it makes us wonder what changed in 8 months to drive her away. “More of the same” isn’t really a satisfactory answer.

Joseph Rakstad

Stacy stopped the car in random parking lot. Her icy demeanor left me wondering what I did, or what I should’ve done, or something to the effect that I was not in her good graces.
“Did you mean what you said?” she said flatly. I pondered the possibilities of what I could’ve said (the amount of which were countless, I’m sure). The pause prompted her to be more specific, “About there not being a God?”
I remembered now. It was the night before, at a gathering of friends to watch some silly movie about God or Jesus or some such. “What?! That? Well… uh… I mean that I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I mean, how can we ever really know?”
“So you don’t think there is not a God.”
“I said I don’t know. Look, I say stuff in front of my friends all the time, but it’s not always how I really feel, you know? I’m not saying there isn’t a God, but, you know…”
“I believe in God, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know that. I respect that. It’s just…” It’s just that… I don’t know. We let the silence hang for a moment.
She stared out across the rainy windshield, eyes focused on some light far in the distance, but her mind clearly on something else. “What… what do you think about two people getting married with different religions?”
I thought it over, “Well… I guess the wedding would be pretty weird, what with all the different traditions and reading and all.” She scoffed at my answer and started the car up again. “What? What did I say?”
“Kevin, don’t you think it’s pretty ridiculous that two people would get married who wouldn’t see each other after they died?” The response took me aback. I had never thought of that possibility. I guess in my agnosticism I had never really thought about life beyond death, and what it meant for people who believed in different things. I gave a barely audible “oh.” She turned back to the light in the distance. “Kevin, I’m sorry, but this is not what I want. You’re a really nice guy, but, I just can’t see my future with someone who I’m not going to see again in Heaven.”
She put the car back in drive. I turned my head out my side window and watched the rain fall on the buildings as we passed. Numbness set in as she drove me back to my apartment, let me out, and then drove off and away from my life. I spent a lot of time that night really thinking about things, and about life here and after. Though our relationship didn’t last, she touched me in a way no one else ever had.

K: I like this concept and I can certainly relate to it as an atheist who married a girl from a religious (sometimes zealotous) family, though it’s pretty superficial. This conversation is the one that’s breaking up the relationship, but honestly, it feels like the first conversation they’ve had on the matter. At this point I would think that each participant would have deeper things to say on the matter, particularly if they’re giving this an honest shot. I don’t feel like the participants are giving this an honest shot. Whatever the writer’s feelings on the matter, the story is always going to work better if the characters that love each other REALLY try, even if they fail. (I know what the prompt is, but trying to compromise and failing is better than just failing)

MN – I don’t really connect with either character here. The Kevin we see here hasn’t bothered to think critically about the world, his relationship, or himself. It’s implied that the consequence of this break up is significant, that now he does actually think about things, but we don’t get to see the consequence, it’s just implied. And she’s just a shrill caricature. The fact that she makes an impact on him is… kind of sad.

Zack Sauvageau

A SCHISM IN SEATTLE
Russell Wilson & Ciara have split. When I found out why it shook me to my core!

The word through the grapevine that Ciara has broken up with Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and all around All American heart throb Russell Wilson! Who would’ve thought that a lack of ‘D’ would ever be a bad thing for a quarterback?

Wilson’s belief that they should abstain from sex before they got married has apparently finally pushed Ciara to her breaking point. According to a friend with knowledge of the situation, Ciara told him she was tired of being treated like a temptation that he needed to fight to show how pious he was. Wilson recently stated in a tell-all interview with Rolling Stone that he believed God had put him on this earth to “save” Ciara from her lifestyle. Privately, Ciara resented the idea that she needed to be saved because of her sexuality. Frankly who COULD stand being blue balled by Russell all the time? O-M-G

Russell was reportedly looking for a recording of the MTV Video Music Awards to see if there was someone else God had in mind for him to save. Ciara apparently wasted no time in moving on, as she was seen with a table full of potential beaus at an exclusive New York nightclub.

K: As silly and passive as this is, it really does embrace the silliness of both the situation and tabloid media. I wouldn’t want to read a week of these, but it was decent enough for a grin, and I think it worked partially because we understand that the journalists are exaggerating the story for the sake of TV.

MN – The stylistic choice here is pretty fun. I assume it’s fairly accurate, since all I ever see of these kind of gossip things is headlines, but I imagine this is how they’re written. I appreciate you taking a different approach, and really embracing the vapidity. Is this a real thing? I know of these two people, but that is all. I’d have liked some truly awful puns thrown in to really take the approach up a notch or two.

Pete Bruzek

I worked alongside The Amazing Marco for five years. It was the greatest half-decade of my life.

Percival (his real name, though he had sworn me to secrecy multiple times) was a natural on the stage. He never in his audience – he nimble fingers were up to any task. His deft hands would conjure doves from thin air, coins from behind volunteers ears, and playing cards from seemingly anywhere. All was explained easily enough…right up until the end of his act.

“And now! Behold!” his voice would boom at the appointed time of the evening, “the Rabbi from a hat!”

The first few times, audiences were somewhat muted by the proclamation. He meant “rabbit”, right?

“The poster contains no misprints!” he would silence them, “tonight, before your very eyes, I will pull an ordained rabbi from this hat!”

He would show them the hat, of course. Such an ordinary hat it was! Then, he would put his hand into the hat, and pull out a genuine master of the Torah!

Audiences marveled, as did I. How did he do it? I never met with any of the men before or after the show, and each night’s rabbi seemed to be a different person. Late one night, I asked once asked Percival how he did it.

“A magician,” he said with a knowing smile, “never reveals his secrets.”

As tends to happen, as time passed, the lines between professional and personal blurred. We slowly, but surely fell in love and eventually, I agreed to become his wife.

On our beautiful wedding night, he took me in his strong arms and carried me up the stairs to his bedchamber. As he opened the door, I saw his room adorned as what looked to be a medieval torture chamber. My heartbeat quickened for entirely different reason than it had mere seconds earlier.

“What’s the meaning of this?” I asked, aghast.

“This is what I like to call a bit of fun!” he replied, mischievously.

“Do you mean…?” I couldn’t bear to finish the thought.

“You shall tie me up and beat me most savagely!” he exulted, “then we shall make the sweetest love that ever was.”

“No.” I replied, flatly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Ours is a love that can never be.” I explained. “My mother made me swear long ago that I would never get mixed up in any of this sort of thing.”

“But, if you try it, you might find…”

“Absolutely not.”

“But…” he stammered, crestfallen.

“I’m sorry, my sweet Percival” I sighed, “I really must be going.”

I left him that night, along with the act. I later married a doctor. Bradford might be a bit of a dullard, but he’s a safe man.

Even so, every now and again, I find myself wistfully recalling my earlier days, wondering if my beloved Percival ever found the cock and ball torturer of his dreams, and lamenting the fact that I could not be what he needed.

K: Wait…what? We have a seriously fun setup here, promising any number of different payoffs, and we careen into a wildly different direction that doesn’t seem to have much to do with the first. As they couple made their way to the bedroom door, I imagined it was going to be a room full of rabbis, and I was grinning with glee. I also considered that there would be a disappearing act and that the husband, refusing to let the magic die, wouldn’t return. It didn’t have to be either of these, but something in the magician’s realm was necessary here. Also, smallest quibble ever here, but if Percival swore the narrator to secrecy about his name, he shouldn’t reveal it.

MN – What just happened? There are two totally different stories here, right? You didn’t reveal the secret! You can’t write about magic and not reveal the secret. I like the tone, and I love stories about magic, so when this devovled into a sex story, I was a bit disappointed. Add on that we don’t know why she has her personal code, and I’m even more sad. Rabbis from a hat is hilarious though.

Shawn Ashley

It was freezing so the bar was packed. Young and old alike, chugging watered-down beer and shots of cheap whiskey out of plastic cups. She elbowed her way from the entrance to a tiny space at the bar.

She shrugged out of her faux purple suede coat and nodded to the bartender. He knew to bring her a Rolling Rock and a chilled shot of Ouzo- her years tending bar at that Greek place on 7th and Broadway got her hooked on that.

The bartender waved away her twenty and then she poured the liquid down her throat. “Hey beautiful,” a voice said into her ear. She didn’t have to turn to know who it was, his aftershave sending off a signal from him like a flare in the road.

“Ready to go?” She asked, and took another swig.

He didn’t have to say anything.

At the motel, he found his spot on the bed. “Undress for me,” he ordered.

This was new. She turned her back to him, a Camel clasped in between her lips as she struggled with her back zipper. “I’m goin’ back to school, I think.”

She announced it like they were friends. Like he gave a shit.

“What?”

“Last time. You said I should do somethin’. With my life, you know.” She wiggled out of her dress and it sank into a heap onto the motel’s cheap carpet. She took a drag of the cigarette as she turned to face him, vulnerable.

“I did?” His erection went semi-soft.

“Yeah.” Her eyes flitted away from his. She looked down. He had, he mentioned that. She had been on top, she remembered. They had shared a bottle of Prosecco and half a pack of smokes. She had gone down on him, he came in her mouth.

She didn’t know why she felt the need to tell him now.

“Think it’s a good enough idea?” She yanked one tired bra strap back up onto her shoulder, the elastic having gone out years ago. It had the color that showed it was probably white once.

He stared up at the ceiling, Camel in one hand, the other behind his head. The filter to his lips, one drag, the end lit up bright as the morning sun until he released it and inhaled the sweet smoke. He closed his eyes, tried to picture the last porn he watched.

“Aw Lucy…it’s a great idea.” He turned flat brown eyes on her. “Come here.”

The sex was mechanical, unlike their usual sessions. He liked Lucy because she was no bullshit, no games. She didn’t fake orgasms, she got into her job. Maybe she was roughly fifteen pounds overweight, maybe ten years past her prime. But she had done him well for years, like an old bicycle.

“Lucy-luce-luce…” he breathed out with a sigh.

She looked over at him now, next to him on the sagging motel mattress. “What? We only have five minutes left.”

He grabbed her hand. “I like that you’re going to go back to school, Lucy. But I don’t fuck students. I fuck whores.”

K: I’m not sure the payoff was either powerful or surprising enough to really grab me, but I did appreciate the seediness on the way to the story. With more time to edit I can see this being packed with raw drama and a lot of subtext, but even as is, the sweat and grime is palpable, and I felt every dirty inch of this story, from the Ouzo to the faded undergarments. GOLD

MN – There’s a lot of color and character in this story. The stakes feel a little lower than I’d like them to… there’s not a lot of urgency to her going to school, not a loss of her highest paying client that’s noted, or anything like that… but the story itself is a great slice of these characters’ lives, told in a very vivid way. Very believable dialogue, and getting into Lucy’s head is quite interesting. GOLD

Annette Barron

“Mom, this is Alex.” Jenna used Vanna White hands to present Alex to her mother on the porch steps. Everyone laughed as Jenna intended and the ice was broken. Alex handed her mother the bottle of Malbec they had selected and accepted the welcoming hug in return.

“So happy to finally meet you, Mrs. Blume.” Alex’s rich baritone washed over both women like smooth cognac. “Call me Beth,” Jenna’s mother purred and stepped aside to let them in.

Jenna followed Alex and her mother into the kitchen. Mrs. Blume rooted through a drawer and scored a corkscrew. “Alex?” she asked and presented both the corkscrew and the bottle to him.

“Where’s Mina?” Jenna shrugged off her jacket and tossed it over the back of a kitchen chair.

“Try my bed, dear. That’s the last place I saw her.” Mrs. Blume smiled as Jenna rushed off. “She must be going crazy without her.”

Alex popped the cork and placed the bottle on the island to breathe. “She’s going to scalp that contractor if he delays in finishing up her place any further. So good of you to keep Mina in the meantime.”

“She’s my only grandchild! Well, so far . . .,” she teased. “Jenna tells me you’re a civil engineer? That sounds fascinating!”

Before Alex could respond, Jenna entered the kitchen, beaming, a beautiful Siamese cat cradled in her arms. As she approached them, the cat began growling, low and menacing. “Mina, baby, what’s wrong?” Jenna stopped in her tracks but the cat did not. It fixed it’s big blue eyes on Alex and lifted it’s lip.

“Oh dear.” Mrs. Blume’s shoulders slumped.

“Nice kitty,” Alex crooned and slowly approached, fist out for the cat to sniff. The cat declined and swatted his hand, with claws, approximately a dozen times before he could react and yank it out of reach, peppered in bloody spots. “FUCK!” Both women winced.

Jenna burst into tears and her mother rushed to embrace her. Alex rinsed his hand under the sink and collected himself. “It’s fine! She just needs to get used to me.”

Jenna handed Mina to her mother and her mother removed the cat from the room, looking back in sympathy.

“I’m sorry, Alex,” Jenna sobbed.

“I’m fine, darling, it doesn’t hurt much.” Alex went to put his arms around her but Jenna stepped away.

“You should go, Alex. There’s no point dragging this out.” Jenna started towards the front door.

“Now?” Alex’s voice was high. “You want me to leave now?”

“We’re done, Alex. Mina doesn’t like you and that is that.”

“You’re not serious.”

“Mina was right about my last two relationships, Alex. After James cheated on me, I swore I would never ignore her instincts again.” Jenna opened the front door for him.

“Wait! You mean to tell me you are going to end what we have between us because your elderly cat took a swing at me?” Alex’s voice was shrill, more like a screwdriver now, and his face was unbecomingly red. “That’s fucking moronic!”

Jenna stood up straighter and swiped away her tears. “She’s never wrong. She’s certainly not wrong about you.”

Firmly, she shut the door.

K: Here’s another one that starts out really strong, with Jenna’s mother and Alex sharing a really weird teased sexual tension, complete with symbolism that I was giddily eating like candy (purred, scored a corkscrew, popped the cork). Then…there’s a cat. I can’t say it’s an unfair twist, but it really does seem tacked on, and that you had a really good idea that couldn’t reasonably be paid off by the cat. I do like this story, though, as much as I wish the ending called back to what we knew a little more. GOLD

MN – I like this concept, and can absolutely believe it might play out. I think if we had seen more of Alex’s relationship with Jenna we’d understand the extent of his reaction more… I’m not sure if it’s an overreaction, and underreaction, or just right. As it was, we saw a lot more of James and Beth, and I was thinking that might be going somewhere. Very good job with the dialogue and balance with description and action. BRONZE

Melissa Diamond

Ana closed her eyes and bowed her head. She prayed at length, used words she’d learned in church.

She got no response, of course. There never was — other than the murmurs and whispers of her own thoughts. She listened to them as Miguel appeared. A man as quiet as God. He stripped down to his boxers and climbed in bed. She thought of the other women he must have brought in here. He never admitted to them, but they lingered in the curl of his lips; in the smell on his skin; in the words he chose not to use. The more strictly she held to her truths, the harder he lied. He didn’t know that, to someone who valued truth as she did, lies were more obvious. They painted themselves on people, like signs in windows. No need for words.

Miguel rolled over, turned his back to her. She studied the tattoos that lined his back: hands clasped in prayer, Jesus, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Perhaps the Virgin would listen. Ana prayed to her now. Another woman to understand her and why she needed this so bad. No more lies, she prayed, and whens he opened her eyes again, she realized she’d fallen asleep. Her neck hurt from resting her head on the bed, her knees sore with the pain of her sleeping vigil. She grimaced. Miguel didn’t acknowledge her.

“Where are you going?” she asked as he got dressed.

“I’ve got business.”

Always so vague. “Tell me you won’t see your brothers,” she said.

“Does it matter?” He pulled one of his guns out of a drawer. Yes. He was seeing his brothers.

“We have a baby to think about. You said you wouldn’t be part of the business. For her sake.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Assume I’m not.”

“Lies will not protect your child. You promised me you wouldn’t lie.”

“I can’t be as good as you, Ana. You stick to the truth all you want, but we gotta pay for that kid somehow.”

“It won’t matter if she’s dead.”

He hit her. A backhand across the face that would leave a bruise on her cheek. She’d seen it coming, but her hands had gone to her belly, not her face. If only God guarded his children with such instinct. If only she granted prayers.

The doorbell rang.

Ana answered it. Two men, dressed in every day clothes that were clearly a lie. Clothing didn’t cover the stiffness of their bodies or the tell-tale signs of guns strapped to their bodies.

“Is your husband home?” the tall one asked.

What does one tell the cops when they are at your door, pretending to be otherwise?

“Yes,” she replied. She moved aside. “And he has a gun.”

K: I’m guessing the line “a man as quiet as God” is probably out there somewhere, but I quite like it. The dialogue here actually isn’t half as strong as the silent conversation Ana has with her thoughts, and some subtext would be nice to make the dialogue’s strength match that of the narration, but that’s a fairly minor quibble, as the prose was strong enough to carry it. BRONZE

MN – Ooh, I like this. An answer to the prayers in a non-conventional way. Some great descriptions, but a few places there are typos that make the action a bit disorienting. I think a more active scene of Ana’s prayer – lighting candles in a church or some such – would have helped bring us into her perspective a little more forcefully. GOLD

Brian David

“No, I can’t talk tonight, I’ve got to study.”

Martin rubbed his forehead, held the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. It was eight o’clock on the dot.

“Yeah, I know, I know . . . I’m just swamped. Next week will be better.”

He stared at the floor, his eyes losing focus.

“I love you, too. Bye.”

Martin tossed the phone into his dorm room bed and sat down at a small desk. He flipped open a copy of Summa Theologica and thumbed through the pages relaxing his shoulders as he grabbed a highlighter.

* * *

The phone began to ring, and Martin knew exactly what time it was. He set his pencil down, frowning as he answered the call.

“Yeah, hey. . .I mean, hi Dad.”

Martin ran his hands through his hair.

“Just writing an essay. They really laid it on us today. . .”

The sun dipped past the threshold of his window, and light spilled into the room. Martin squinted and turned his head.

“Yes, that would be great. I’ll definitely have time to talk once spring break hits. Love you, see you soon.”

* * *

Martin could no longer make out the words on his laptop, no matter how hard he squinted. He emptied the last remnants of water from a thermos and stood up.

Martin turned on his phone, his head aching just trying to make out the time. 2:33 am. There were a few Facebook notifications but no missed calls. Martin groaned and flopped down onto his bed. If he went to sleep now he could still get a solid three hours in.

As his sense of time and place drifted away, Martin couldn’t help but think he had forgotten something. Something important. He brushed the thought aside and told himself that whatever it was could wait until the morning.

K: This is probably my favorite concept of the week, save for the first half of the magician story. I had honestly forgotten that I left this open for non-romantic relationships, which is odd, because I went in secretly hoping we’d get a bunch of them. This story isn’t nearly as beefy as it could be if Martin intentionally cast aside the very family he wanted to impress, but you did something very different, and that ain’t bad. SILVER

MN – Well this is sad. You’re clearly after my own heart here, with the “Dad” thing and the Summa Theologica reference. It wasn’t entirely clear from the start how much time was passing between each scene… you describe very specifically the moment the scene is taking place in, but it isn’t that time-frame that’s really important to the story, it’s the larger one. But that larger one, when it comes through, leaves an impact. SILVER

Brooks Maki

“What is the meaning of this?” The don bowed his head in disappointment over his dinner.

“Goddammit Ralph” Steven started surreptitiously looking for an exit.

After the bullets had flown, Steven lay gasping next to his brother. “He knew it was you in the kitchen instantly, why couldn’t you just give him what he expected?”

Ralph sneered with his last breath. “Some things are more important. PB&Js need to be cut diagonally.”

K: Don’t hate me, but I have to give a nod to a story that has a payoff and doesn’t waste time getting to it if it’s not going to help the story any. In an ultra-strong week this wouldn’t be a blip on the radar, but in a week with a lot of opportunity, I like the simplicity of this gag. BRONZE

MN – This is pretty funny. Also wrong. PB&J’s are cut into rectangles. Don should be capitalized, and you can’t have the action follow immediately after the dialogue in the second paragraph without some punctuation. That kind of little stuff is a bit too distracting for me, and in a small story, any distractions can be fatal.

Beau

The air smelled like a combination of cat urine and rotten eggs. Terrence couldn’t see through the blindfold, but he knew he had never been here before. Sound echoed at a higher pitch than usual.

“Worthless piece of shit.”

That was Martin. He had only met him twice, but his voice was unmistakable.

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

A fist landed in his belly. He had steeled himself for that eventuality but lost his breath anyway.

“Answer me!”

Terrence coughed. “I assumed you would.”

Another fist, this time to the head. He blacked out.

A warehouse. Boxes. Rat shit. Someone didn’t pay. A chair, like the one he’s in now. A hooded figure. His hands. A gun. Duty.

“I liked you,” Martin said. “What the fuck?”

He sounded a little desperate. As if Terrence was playing a long con and he had to figure him out.

“You might not want to see this babe. Things could get ugly.”

So he wasn’t alone.

“You mean you’re going to kill him?” A female voice.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Whatever,” she replied.

Another fist to the gut. He coughed up blood.

Three times he had done this. It was easy. Everyone had deserved it. His arm raises. The gun cocks. No! A shriek. Female. He freezes. His partner notices. Hands around his neck. His partner passes out. The rope unties. The hood comes off. She’s beautiful. Go!

“Hey, shithead. This is your last chance. What the fuck is your plan?”

No lie would matter. And anyway, Terrence always told the truth.
“I don’t kill women,” he said.

There was a pause. A good twenty seconds passed, with only a tapping foot interrupting the silence.

“She reneged. On. A. Deal.” Martin had lost all semblance of calm.

“I don’t kill women,” Terrence repeated.

A giggle. Then a belly laugh. “Well,” said Martin. The cold barrel of a magnum pressed against his temple. “That should make this easier. You’re not a threat. Just a soft-belly chickenshit.”

A shot exploded through the room.

Three seconds later, his hood was removed.

“I don’t kill women either. Let’s go!” She was beautiful.

K: Here’s another one I like because you took a much different approach to the relationship. Also, when you play in this realm it’s easy to dive into the unbelievable, but I bought into these guys being unable to kill the woman as part of a code of honor. It’s not the most eye-popping prose or the most original concept, but it’s an okay idea well-executed. SILVER

MN – Should I have seen this coming? I might even have, a one point in the story. But the flashbacks really didn’t work here for some reason. Maybe they could have been done all through dialogue? Every time you jumped I was confused for too long, especially since the two scenes were so similar in type. Still, I really like this plot. The ending doesn’t feel too out-of-nowhere, so it ends up going a long way, despite the problems with the flashbacks. SILVER

Joshua Longman

He hadn’t fallen for it in years – since Sophomore year, last Lance could remember. But the “Mine” game is a game for life, for better or worse. That was originally the appeal of the game for most, but usually it didn’t cost people this much.
“You still mad bro? I got the job I think.”, buzzed up on his Android. Fuck Dave, Lance thought as he shifted into park and slammed his door shut. Not wanting to even think of a response, he stormed into the Dirty Bird and grabbed a stool.
“What are you havin’ today, bud?” Kenny the barkeep queried.
“Bud and Jame-o on the rocks” Lance barked.
“You alright? You look a little rough……you been cryin’?” The question alone made him choke back more tears, fueling his rage even further. Goddamit! Why do I always cry when I’m mad!
“I’m just fuckin’ pissed, Ken. Can I just get my drink?”
Kenny gave an indifferent shrug and threw the bar rag over his shoulder. He returned a few minutes later with Lance’s medicine.

“You wanna talk about it? Never seen you this quiet.” Kenny asked after the 4th or 5th round.
“Man, I don’t want to bore you with my shit.”
Kenny cocked an eyebrow. “Lance, it’s 2PM and you’re the only one in here. Humor me.”
“Fine, you ever heard of the ‘Mine’ game?” Kenny shook his head.
“It’s this game we used to play. Still play. Actually, once you join, there’s no backing out. Ever.”
“OK, so what is it?”
“If anyone else in the game gets you to say the word ‘mine’, you have to do 10 push-ups, no matter where you are, no matter the circumstances. I’ve seen guys do them at strip clubs, in class; I even heard about one dude who did 2 sets during church.”
“I don’t understand, why would you say the word?”
“It’s not that simple. ‘If someone asks, who’s car is that?’, you’re naturally inclined to say ‘mine’”. Lance replied. “That’s the best part. The first couple of months are the worst; you’re at a party, you’re drunk, and you fucking forget almost every damn time. You wake up in the morning and your tit’s are sore.”
Kenny’s face indicated what he thought of the game. “Sounds stupid.” He blurted.
“Whatever, it’s usually a ton of fun, and all the Alpha Beta Iota guys played. Motherfucking Dave included.”
Kenny chuckled. “Alright, so Dave pissed you off. What happened?”
“We’ve been roommates for how many years? We’ve been friends for how long?”
“I dunno.”
“A long fucking time. We even took the same classes, had the same major. We’ve both had a hard time getting interviews since college.”
Kenny replaced Lance’s Budweiser and reloaded his whiskey. “Will you get to the point? What did he do?”
“We both got an interview at Red Frog, you know, that event agency up in Chicago?”
Kenny shrugged.
“Well, it’s a fucking phenomenal job and they were recruiting on campus today. We both got interviews. We’re sitting in the waiting room for like 3 fucking hours getting antsy. Finally they call my name. As I’m getting up, I’m going over my resume in my head and Dave yells ‘Woah man, I thought they called my name. Who’s turn is it?’”
Kenny’s mouth split into a gap-toothed grin. “Ahhhh-ha-ha, I see where this is going.”
“I haven’t had to do push-ups in like 3 years! But I fucking blurted it out like it was nothing.”
“So why’d you do em’? Just a game.”
“We take this shit seriously. I thought I could get away with it quickly, but the recruiter stepped out and saw me at like number 5.” At this point, Kenny was laughing so hard he was developing tears of his own.
The bell sitting atop the entrance jingled and a few more patrons stepped in when finally nature insisted Lance go relieve himself.

Walking back to his seat, he realized how much he had drank, but was dead set on drinking more.
“Is this mine or your’s?” A soft pitched voice chirped from the seat beside him.
The question reddened his neck, jump starting his pulse. Without thinking, Lance hopped to his feet and shoved hard, a tiny blonde girl spilled off her seat. He didn’t hear her shriek as she hit the ground, or Lance coming to grab him and throw him out the front.
“Jesus, Lance. Go clean yourself up. There’s plenty of other jobs out there. I’m keeping your keys too; come get em’ in the morning.”
On the walk back home he didn’t try holding back the sobs.

K: Lots of wayward apostrophes this week. Anyway, this is a tailor-made comedic scene, but at the end we awkwardly embrace drama, and it’s pretty jarring. This is another really great concept for a scene (and, in fact, may have killed off one of my future challenges, as this fits that prompt even better than this one), but the approach was hit and miss; I actually think this is the perfect kind of story for us to relive in a bar setting, with a friendly barkeep (okay, this one is kind of surly and combative for some reason) understanding, while not REALLY understanding, but in the end it just doesn’t hit either the comedic highs or dramatic lows, and I think it’s because it was shooting for both.

MN – This feels like a great set up, but I don’t quite get where it goes. We’re completely in the bartender’s shoes, being told about the game and its consequences. And it works in a strong way, that most retelling like this don’t. But introducing a third party at the very end to suffer Lance’s wrath is a bit unusual. We don’t know that she is or is not involved with the game. And losing one job interview seems like not enough reason to push some random girl. It feels a bit too out of character. We want to empathize with Lance, not get angry at him.

———————————————————-

Okay, gang. Who’s immune?

Hmm. It’s kind of a mess. We’ve got Shawn at ten points, so that’s easy. Then there are four people at six. I announced last time that my scores would break any tie, and the intent was that this would stand until it broke a tie, and then it would swing back to Novak. So I have to stick with that, but I want to say that from now on, if you get a gold, that takes precedence over anything else in a tiebreak situation.

So the way it breaks down is that we have Annette’s Gold/Bronze winning Immunity, and then the two Silver/Silvers would be next in this circumstance. Immunity goes to these four, then:

Shawn Ashley
Annette Barron
Brian David
Beau

So yeah, if you’re burnt out on relationship stories, just be patient for the next challenge. You’re going to think I’ve completely lost my mind, but sometimes I come up with an idea, and regardless of how dumb it is, it simply has to be attempted.

Vote for someone besides the boldfacers by tomorrow night at 9pm Central, with the usual caveat that I may very well be unable to post until much later because of work.

Cheers, Survivors.

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