Lesson learned: if I want a super-strong week, I should really come up with a moronic prompt that literally makes me fear your reaction. Well, I can’t be sure that you guys actually liked this one, but I CAN be sure that it produced good stories, so let’s get to them so you can eliminate someone and make them the first member of the jury.

Little. Yellow. Different.

You can write about whatever you want, but your story has been heavily sponsored, effectively turning the story into one big product placement (for a single product, not several). Whether the story is dramatic, comedic or whatever, the reader is left knowing that they’ve just read a subversive commercial.

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TIME LIMIT: 40 Minutes
WORD LIMIT: None

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Shawn Ashley

“Fuck YOU, Nicole,” Carrie Sanders spat out as she stared into the high school’s dingy old mirror in the girls locker room, coating her perfect lips with bright pink gloss. “Do I look like the leader of the loser squad? Ew. Change. Immediately. And DON’T forget to pair whatever you put on with your extremely fashion-forward Kylie Jenner bag.”

Carrie turned bright blue eyes on Nicole, looking her up and down like she was a terrorist in her H&M denim romper.

Carrie was the leader. The Bad Ass Queen of the School. She could make you or break you- even if you did something or not. She told you what to wear and what not to wear. She told you who to date and who not to date. You didn’t argue. You just did.

Because Carrie told you to.

Last year, Meghan Flanders jumped off of the 210 bridge and DIED smacking into a dirty black Range Rover going ninety miles an hour. Because Carrie told her to get away from her and jump off a bridge.

The year before- when Carrie was only a SOPHOMORE- Danielle Walton took a bottle of pills with her mom’s shitty, plastic-bottled vodka and was in a coma for three months because Carrie told her to just kill herself. That she was SOOOO over her.

So, now, Nicole was standing in front of Carrie wearing a substandard denim romper and having Carrie glare at her with all the fire of Satan and the Circles of Hell.

“Y-y-y-yes, Carrie, but all I have with me is that long Tee from Express-“Nicole tried but Carrie cut her off.

“Don’t say that fucking word to me, don’t you dare say that fucking name.” She sighed heavily and then snapped her perfectly painted fingers to her Minions, Leigh and Winnie.

“Yes?” They appeared by her side.

“Get me my Kylie Jenner carry-on tote. NOT the purple one. The plaid.” She sighed heavily, as if everything in the Universe was now on her shoulders.

Winnie handed her the tote and Carrie snatched it open as Nicole stood feeling naked as ever in the blasphemous romper.

“No, no, no,” she muttered as she picked through the contents. “Ah! Here!”

She held it up in front of Nicole- the prize, the dress, the Kylie Jenner rhinestone-studded, teal, high-to-low dress in chiffon. It seemed to have a halo around it, as Carrie dangled it in front of Nicole’s tearful eyes.

“Wow,” both of the Minions breathed from behind Carrie.

“You’d…let me wear your Kylie Jenner Teal High-to-Low?” Nicole was flattered. She hadn’t known that Carrie cared.

“For THE DAY, bitch. For the day. Because I don’t want you to walk around in that cheap, unflattering, garbage-bag-of-a-denim-shit-sack that you currently have adorning your body and furthermore…you CAN’T be seen with me in H&M.” She lowered her voice and leaned in close to Nicole’s face so she could literally smell the bubble gum lip gloss. “You will come back here immediately after the last bell and change into whatever frightful combination that you choose to. You will carry this dress- arms outstretched in front of you- to me where I will be waiting to fold it delicately and put it back into this precious tote. Also- this will not happen again. Do you understand me?”

Nicole could only nod as she gingerly took the teal prize and headed for the stall.

Carrie turned back to the mirror and fluffed her long blond hair. She looked at the Minions and rolled her eyes and mouthed, “Fucking moron,” through the reflection.

They both nodded eagerly, of course.

Finally, the lock unhooked from the stall and Nicole pushed the door open to reveal a dress so worthy of perfection that Carrie clasped her hands to her heart and sighed.

“Perfect. It’s perfect! Now you don’t look like such a retard. Kylie herself would be proud.” Carrie nodded her approval and Nicole started for the door.

“Wait, WAIT!” Carrie exclaimed, halting the exit.

Nicole turned, her eyes fearful.

“Where the FUCK is your Kylie Jenner bag?”

Nicole smiled and grabbed it from the bench. “Thank you, Carrie. What was I thinking?”

Carrie gave her a cold stare. “You weren’t.”

Nicole nodded briefly and quickly headed out the door, just as Gina Holton entered.

“Hi, Carrie!” She flashed her beauty pageant smile, ignoring the Minions.

Ignoring the salutation, Carrie said, “What the FUCK, Gina? WHAT are you wearing?”

“Vintage.” Gina looked down at her stylish blue sheath.

“No, no, no…have you not heard of Ms. Kylie Jenner?? It’s time for a makeover darling. Lord help you.”

The Minions looked at each other and took a seat.

K: Well…once we had our concept, it did kind of run in place for a while. Aggression only works in small doses, so this wore thin pretty quickly, as the alpha dog was completely lacking nuance. A bit of humanity goes a long way when you’re writing a villain; this seems cartoonish, even for the silly prompt.

MN – I want to punch something. That’s the effect you were going for, right? Is Kylie Jenner a brand? That seems like it could be a thing. Anyway, this is incredibly inventive, and the use of dialogue is spot on, and this shows instead of tells, and the tone is incredible consistent, but… but something. It’s maybe in need of an edit, or an additional development in the plot, as the second half isn’t nearly as funny as the first half. But it’s still GOLD.

Annette Barron

He slams through the swinging door, silver mohawk bristling with masculine energy and strides to the bar. “Bourbon. Hollow Point,” he growls. The bartender nods appreciatively and reaches under the counter. He pulls out a grey cylinder and screws off the appropriately shaped lid. He pours the amber liquid into a squat shot glass and slides it in front of the man, waving off the proffered bills.

A curvy brunette notices the man from across the bar, where she sits at a table with a guy who is obviously drinking something lesser . . . clear, like gin or vodka. He looks awkward and slight and she is clearly not listening to him as she leans on her hand and gazes at our bourbon-shooting hero.

Mohawk man shoots the bourbon and we focus on the muscles in his neck as he swallows; he does not flinch. He slides the shot glass toward the bartender, who scrambles to obey. Well-shaped fingers with bright, coral nails slide over his forearm and the brunette hikes one sleek thigh on to the stool next to him, skirt slit to just about there.

We see the man she left back at his table, dejected and disinterested, swirling his glass of whatever; hopes dashed.

Back to the bar, where curvy brunette is admiring the bottle of Hollow Point while sitting on our hero’s lap. He only needs one huge arm to hold her; the other raises his shot toward us and the light sparkles through it, dazzling us with tawny radiance. If only we could reach it . . . .

K: I wasn’t sure at first if the obvious film direction was something I was going to like, but you won me over through commitment and cleverness. It’s proper that the narration is as opinionated as it is, and lines like “skirt slit to just about there” always grab me with their harmless phrasing for risque subjects. SILVER

MN – This isn’t so much a subversive commercial as it is just a commercial. I’ll be darned if it isn’t a really fun tone and approach though. The descriptions are beautiful. I think it longed for a few electric phrases that matched the descriptions, which could have really put it over the edge. SILVER

Beau

Maria was flush. Her consort was as gorgeous as advertised and proving to be quite the lover. And all they had done so far was a little necking.

“What’s that perfume you’re wearing?” he asked, nibbling on her ear.

“I’m not wearing any,” she moaned.

“So you smell this good all the time?” he smiled.

Damn he was a charmer. She ripped off his shirt, literally, and threw it on the floor. He looked genuinely surprised. “I hope that wasn’t an expensive shirt,” she cooed.

“Nah,” he said. “Just something generic I grabbed off the clearance rack.”

“And you’re frugal, too!” She got down on her knees. Her hands wrapped around his pants; she gave a gentle tug, then stopped. He gave her a quizzical look. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have this thing…”

“It’s okay,” he said.

“I just have to brush my teeth first. Is that weird?”

He smiled. “Not at all.”

She stood up as gracefully as she could. She turned to the bathroom, sashaying her hips for him to keep him at attention. “What kind of toothpaste do you have? Something minty, I hope.”

“I just ran out this morning!” he called. “Just use one of the travel samples you get from the dentist. I keep them in the medicine cabinet.”

She opened up his cabinet. She looked at all his medicine looking for anything weird. Nope. Just a normal dude. She grabbed some toothpaste and used her finger to brush her teeth. After washing her hands, she returned to his waiting arms.

“Miss me?” she batted her eyes, then gave him a deep kiss. He looked down at the tent in his pants. “Hmm. Guess so.” With one tug, she yanked his pants down to his ankles. His engorged member stood before her. It was the biggest she had ever seen, purple and throbbing. There was just a little bit too much hair for her taste. She paused.

“Is it too big?” he asked, nervously.

“Oh no!” she replied quickly. “It’s perfect. I just love it when it’s completely shaven.”

“We can take care of that,” he replied hastily. “Let’s go to the bathroom.”

She grabbed him by his love muscle and pulled him towards the shower. “Disposable or electric?”

“Both,” he said.

With great care and affection, they cleaned him up until he was free from any stray hair. Without any further interruption, she threw her lover onto the bed and pleasured him. He stretched her jaw but she found herself more than willing to accommodate. Within minutes, she could feel him pulsing inside her. She swallowed his seed, moaning through her own mental orgasm. When they both caught their breath, she crawled on top of him and pressed her head on his chest.

“That…was…” he breathed.

“Amazing?” she said.

“Brought to you by the letter B and the letter J. And the number one!”

She laughed, putting her finger on his lips. “You’re such a goofball, Telly.”

K: Ho. Lee. Shit. Do I love this final twist, or hate you for conceiving it? Hot damn. This is pretty fun throughout, even without the twist; I can’t well rag on stories that completely rely on the twist if I don’t reward ones that have a twist but still offer a lot of fun in the meantime. I started chuckling during the teeth-brushing segment and never really recovered. GOLD

MN – A few challenges ago, I reward this kind of thing. This story works almost as well as that other one. It’s a bit too drawn out, though the hair thing worked pretty well when the reveal came. The Sesame Street gag was strong enough on it’s own that it’s almost too cheapened by this particular twist, going uber adult with it. A funny entry, and solid writing.

Brendan Bonham

When Patrick didn’t get the promotion at Cheshire & Saks, he knew who to call. He stepped into the bathroom, swiped on his screen and dialed 434-838-8685, because he knew Thompson Murder for Hire was the solution to his problem.
He’d used Thompson Murder for Hire several times in the past and had always been pleased with the results. Sure, he couldn’t share his joy with the world because Thompson Murder for Hire didn’t want Yelp reviews—those that were posted quickly disappeared, along with the person who tried to praise the business for its years of experience in the field of personnel elimination.
No one actually picked up on the other side of the phone—Thompson Murder for Hire used cutting-edge automation, just say the name, where you’d be leaving the $23,000 American Dollars in non-sequential bills, and all your problems would be solved in a matter of weeks.
“Carson Gunson,” Patrick said, “it’ll be in a brown paper bag behind a dumpster in the alley just north of where Potomac and Graydon intersect.
Sure, Patrick was nervous the first time he used Thompson Murder for Hire. “What if they just take my money,” he had wondered, “or even worse, what if it’s a police sting?” But, he followed the directions his friend had given him, and soon enough Bill wasn’t dating Tina anymore. Patrick and Tina had been happily married going on 6 years.
Patrick thought that maybe he didn’t deserve the promotion. Carson was certainly the more dedicated employee, but Carson also wasn’t the dynamic problem-solver that Patrick was. Carson didn’t even know that Thompson Murder for Hire was available in all 48 continental United States and Toronto, or that they’d be expanding to Hawaii in the fall.
Patrick ended his call and exited the bathroom. It was time for lunch and a quick trip to the bank. He was comforted knowing that somewhere on the south side of Charlotte a crack team of consummate professionals was already discussing the best way to complete their task.
“Hey Carson,” Patrick said passing by his desk, “congratulations on the promotion, man. You’ve been killing it lately.”

K: This one begs for a longer narrative leading to Patrick’s world collapsing in on itself, though I recognize that some folks won’t get that many words on the page. I really dig this concept and the narrative possibilities, and hope it can be expanded at some point, though what we have here is more exposition than anything.

MN – This is pretty much what I was hoping for when I saw the prompt. The frequent references to the company, the idiotic sentences describing their professionalism and expansion into Hawaii, the story that we really don’t care about, because it’s an ad. This really embraced the challenge, and for that, I thank you. GOLD

Melissa Diamond

The worst thing about Amanda’s pants was how hard the cat hair stuck to them. She used the roller one more time, glanced at her ass in the mirror to make sure it looked great. It did. Nothing — including cat hair — would ruin her ass today.

“It’s really a fabulous outfit,” Thandie said, admiring Amanda’s white yoga pants and tight tank top. This was a compliment coming from Thandie, a beautiful woman of nebulous ethnicity whom everyone trusted for advice. “You can go to yoga, and then you can go grocery shopping and still look hot. Where are you headed now? Please tell me it’s yoga then grocery shopping.”

“Yoga’s tomorrow. I’m headed to the gym to do some swimming. I have a date with Chase tonight.”

Thandie laughed. “Gotta look hot.” She winked. “I hope you’ve got good birth control.”

“I won’t need birth control tonight.” Amanda opened her gym bag and gave Thandie a discreet look.

Thandie laughed. “Girl, and you’re still wearing those white pants?”

Amanda shrugged. “Tampax has never failed me.”

“I should probably stop using the Walgreen’s brand, then, because last time I tried pulling off white, I got blood on my pants while biking in the park.”

“No biking in the park without Tampax.”

Though biking was something she should do herself more often, Amanda realized later, as she squeezed into her bathing suit at the gym. She smoothed down the creases and glanced at herself in the mirror. The glass had steamed over from the various hot showers in the locker room, but she could tell the bathing suit looked hot, and her ass continued to look great. No thigh gap, but who cared? She looked pretty good, and nothing — not even bloat — was going to ruin her day. She’d look so hot for Chase tonight.

In fact, when she twirled in her dress that evening, it flared out like a perfect lily blooming on its stem. She had an ivory clutch to match. She jammed the lipstick, cell phone, and her credit card on top of the tampons.

“That dress is perfect on you,” Chase said at dinner. It bore repeating, apparently, because he said it again when he brought her home that night. They’d made it through dinner and the polite laughter that came with it; past Italian food that she, blessedly, kept off her dress; past the dancing under the disco ball. Her feet were killing her in the red stilettos, so she took them off at her door.

Chase kissed her — once, then again. His lips grazed hers, then across her cheek and down her neck. “Let’s go inside,” he whispered into her ear.

“Not tonight,” Amanda said, just as breathy.

“I thought tonight was the night.”

“I’m on my period.”

Chase glanced at her in surprise. “For real?”

She nodded, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.

Chase looked incredulous. “But you’re wearing a white dress.”

“I’ve worn white all day.”

He looked thoughtful. After a moment, he said, “To be honest…I’ve always wanted to earn my wings.”

Her eyes widened, and then she grinned. As he pulled her into the apartment, she said a prayer of thanks to the one. The only. Tampax.

K: This is just too stupidly eager not to love. It does the best job so far of giving me that commercial feel – selling the product while appearing to focus on humanity. I adore the little touches of imagery (Italian food, red stilettos) that remind the “viewer” of what’s at stake. Tons of silly fun here. Plus, if anyone knows a great ass, it IS Thandie Newton. GOLD

MN – I have a problem imagining a guy this observant. Truly, this is the kind of fiction that would be wrought by an ad campaign substituting for the real thing. I think this probably focused a little too much on her ass (I cannot believe I’m writing that), and some of the irrelevant details – the thigh gap line, for example – and could have picked up the pace a little to help it. Still, another one that really leaned into the challenge. BRONZE

Brooks Maki

Julia knelt by the fireplace, gently blowing on the smoking embers, trying to coax the fire to life. Behind her, Harry played quietly with some blocks, making towers and then methodically reducing them once again to rubble.

Her husband was working in the field again, sitting back on her heels, she could see him out the window, walking the rows, spraying both directions from the pack on his back. A forest of tentacles exploded from the black earth behind him, and Julia let out an involuntary shriek. She needn’t have worried; he flicked the hose behind himself, drenching the emerging horror and didn’t look back again as it shriveled to nothing.

Petunia stomped through the door, the perfect picture of teenage fury. “I hate you! I hate all of you!” she screamed. Apparently the date had not gone well. “Isaac’s hand is all deformed! It’s his fault, Dad put that stuff on me. On my…” she hesitated, then thought better of it and stormed off.

She didn’t come out of her room all night. Julia spent most of dinner trying to give her husband meaningful looks, but he just ignored them, made her some tea after, and everything seemed to blow over. Still, that night in bed, Julia would ask her husband what had happened. “I just put a drop or two on her bra, when it went through the laundry. Not enough to kill anyone, but just enough to keep things appropriate.”

“Don’t you feel like you’re relying too much on that stuff?”

“Nah, it’s fine. Here, have some tea, I had some left over from the stuff I made for Petunia.”

“No. I’m not thirsty.”

“Fine. I’m going to sleep.”

That night Julia poured all the Shawn Ashley Repellent for Short Story Characters down the sink. It might mean more drama, but at least it would be real.

The next day Harry murdered and ate the entire family. So they all learned a valuable lesson.

K: How in the blue hell does a guy judge this? I mean, it’s bitchy as hell, but the humor works, and the intended audience gets it. It’s not a real product, which really wasn’t the intention, but it does amuse all the same. The final payoff is the highlight. BRONZE

MN – Unlike some people, I often enjoy meta. And this got me to laugh. The problem came in the quick turn to meta, away from what had previously been some solid absurdism. The scene with the couple in bed rehashing what we’d already figured out detracted a little bit, because you’d done the good job on the front end, and we didn’t need the explanation.

Joseph Rakstad

Darryl lurched for the next hold. He dug his fingers deep into the crack in the rock for a finger lock. He secured himself enough to lift his foot to the outcropping below him. Once his foot was secure below, he reached again for the next hold. Quick as lightning, his foot slipped off the outcropping, his body turned and the mountain flew upward in front of him.
By the time he realized what was happening, his rope went taut, and his midsection felt a jarring pull, keeping him from becoming tinsel to the trees below. He took a breath, said a quick prayer, then readjusted himself to get his footing back.
Two hours later, he finally reached the summit, only 15 minutes shy of his planned arrival time. Zack greeted him, stoking a fire and already enjoying the view.
“What happened to you?”
“My cam busted. Cost me twenty feet.”
“That sucks. You should get a better cam next time.”
“Well, I tried to get the ones you recommended, but the store was sold out of them.”
“That’s why you order from Amazon my friend. Two days. Free Shipping.”

K: Well, that was brief. It’s just one gag, and doesn’t land real hard or anything. I’m sure this can be extrapolated into more.

MN – This one is another that feels more like the ad itself than a story that embraces product placement. Some of the action doesn’t quite work. I think that, this story being an ad, the dialogue needed to be more neutered than it was. The whole set up is perfectly believable as an ad though… you certainly captured something real.

Zack Sauvageau

“Great first draft here, guys. But we’re going to have to do a quick rewrite.”

The writers in the room sighed in unison.

“Our budget numbers came back from the studio and… well our show is now made possible by Subway.”

“How in the hell do you expect us to do that? I mean, our writers room loves our $5 Footlong Fridays and all, but I’m not sure how that will fit in to the tone of our show.”

Another writer chimed in, “you do realize that in our opening episode this season we find the corpse of someone who is drawn and quartered, right? I’m not sure what that has to do with Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwiches.”

“Look guys. I know we’re giving you a Herculean task here. But you have to adapt to the market conditions or you’re going to be out of a damn job. Just have our hero munching on a Meatball Marinara sandwich or something. I don’t know. This is why you’re the writers and I am the editor. Figure it out.”

A silence hung over the room after he left.

“I guess… I guess the murder could happen at Subway or something?”

“Good idea, Brent! Let’s do that. But first, we should go to lunch. All this talk about Subway has me hungry. I am looking forward to my footlong Italian BMT on honey oat bread.”

“Are you going to get banana peppers on your sandwich, Brian?”

“Of course! Those peppers are delicious. Let’s go eat fresh.”

K: “This prompt is hard and/or stupid” is as tired as it gets, but this one has surprising depth of humor, where we begin balls-deep in tedious meta-humor but graduate to the hard sell as the professional manipulators are manipulated by the product they’re pitching. This one surprised me. BRONZE

MN – Subway has to be the single worst culprit of product placement of all the shows I’ve ever watched. My goodness, there is nothing natural about that place. The meta here is solid, advertising while talking about advertising. It reminds me of 30 Rock, and I did like me some 30 Rock. The joke was probably a little too one-dimensional to stand out in a strong week, but this is a worthy entry overall.

Brian David

“Brent.”
The women’s voice swam gently into his consciousness.
“Brent. It’s time to wake up.”
Brent Corsican opened his eyes and looked to his left. A beautiful brunette lay in bed with him, curled underneath the sheets. She slept peacefully.
“You’d better get going, Brent.”
Sitting up, Brent turned groggily toward the night stand and grabbed his phone. The sound of screeching tires came in through the windows.
“They’re here, Brent.” The phone vibrated gently in his hands as the voice floated out of the speakers. “I don’t think the front door is much of an option any more.”
“Jesus, Cortana,” Brent said, grabbing a half-finished martini from the night stand and tossing what remained of the drink down his throat. “You’re just full of insight today.”
“I do what I can.”
Car doors slammed. Brent quickly pulled on on his pants and slipped into his shirt. He ran towards the window and blew a kiss to the woman lying in the bed before jumping onto the fire escape.
“I’ve taken the privilege of pulling the car around to the back of the building.”
Brent jumped from the fire escape, rolled across a piled of cardboard boxes and dashed down the alleyway. He burst out into the daylight to find his red sports car right in front of him, engine idling. Brent opened the passenger side door and jumped in.
“Some music to perk up your morning, Mr. Corsican.” The voice number came out of the car speakers now. “How about some Bee Gees?
Brent smiled as he adjusted his collar. “You know just what I need, baby.”
A screen on the dashboard showed four flat blue squares sitting above a Möbius strip. Tiny letters at the bottom read ‘Copyright Microsoft Corporation’.
“You have six new messages, Brent. I should let you know that one of them is from the Secretary of State.”
Brent shook his head. “I guess I should listen to that one first, then.”
Three black cars streaked around a corner behind him, etching tire streaks across the asphalt. Through the windows, men in suits and sunglasses could be seen loading automatic rifles.
“I think you’d better put your head down.”
The engine revved and the car shot forward. Brent jumped into the backseat and laid down, whooping loudly.
“Yeeeeehaaaaw! Get me out of this one and I’ll never look at another woman again, Cortana!”
The screen switched to a yellow, smiling emoticon with its tongue sticking out.
“I don’t believe that for a second, Mr. Corsican.”

K: That payoff isn’t as strong as the fun before, but still, it’s fun before. This not-too-distant future is just believable enough to work, and I think it was proper that we got pretty silly with the narrative. SILVER

MN – This one skirts the line between the stories that are actual ads and the stories that just use product placement. It really does nail the ad story, but we don’t quite care enough about the guy – and you refer to him too frequently by a common-enough name, so that undercuts the Bond archetype – to really get into the chase scene. The scene does move quite nicely, and the action is well done. BRONZE

Pete Bruzek

Hero Sacks Library, All Glory to the Nation of Evrard!
an editorial by Kendrick the Younger, editor-in-chief of The Daily Herald

Many men do not see at all. Some see and do not act. Jorvath the Great is truly singular in that he both sees and takes action. With the bloodlust of twelve men in his eyes and the vision for a more glorious nation in his heart, he stormed the Library of the Seven on the morning of the seventeenth.

The seers had taken refuge for so long. Hiding behind the doors and shielding themselves with their supposed knowledge. Who knew what plots those walls held? Who knew what damage they could inflict upon the beloved government of Evrard and her glorious king, Randley?

Jorvath knew. More importantly, he also knew what he had to do.

The Library opened its doors to the public every morning at the sun’s rise. A raid during the day was dangerous, but in his courage and wisdom, Jorvath knew that sometimes risks must be taken. As the eldest seer unlatched the door to begin the day, Jorvath began his heroic cleansing. No man, woman, or child could hide their treachery behind the veil of “learning”, Jorvath slew them all.

The seers attempted to reason with him, as if their lies could somehow be the cornerstone or an even greater nation. All praise to King Randley, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The years of knowledge accumulated in the irreplaceable texts were set ablaze as Jorvath ensured that his victory was complete.

This majestic act sends a clear message to those who would try to think for themselves or seek shelter in the embrace of “reason”: hide, become as the shadows of the evening. You are unwelcome here.

K: Well, that was a lot of telling. I realize that there was a lot going on, but – and I know I say this a lot, but that’s only because it’s a real problem – I feel like I only just heard about this story, and didn’t experience it.

MN – This is certainly an interesting take on the prompt. Completely unexpected, really. Editorials as subversive ads are a perfect approach to take for this challenge. And an ad against reason is probably worthy too. And a mass murder reframed as something good? All told, you probably made us work a bit too hard with each of these layered takes on the prompt. A very interesting approach though, and I want to reward the risk. SILVER

erik sunshine

The woman huddled against the rock was softly sobbing. She was so weak that the hitches of her chest barely registered through her small frame. The tears froze to her face.

She was going to die. And soon.

As the last stages of exposure set in, she ripped off her balaclava and face mask. The few frayed bits of hair that weren’t frozen waved with the stiff wind. The tags on the inside of her head gear also fluttered in the wind. I didn’t recognize the brand, but I could tell what brand they weren’t.

Having come across her here on the 2nd step of the ascension, just before the summit of Everest, I had been staring down at her for several minutes before her she acknowledged my presence. Her weak gaze slowly climbed my body, and stared into my Oakley O2 XL Snow Goggles. Her eyes pleaded with me to help her, but at this altitude, there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Despite my Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck Long Underwear and The North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate 3-in-1 Jacket, the chill was starting to get to me from standing so still. I couldn’t think of anything to say. She wouldn’t have heard me over the roar of the wind anyway.

I turned my back on her, and continued my ascent.

Her head slowly bowed back to the ground.

I tossed and turned in my NEMO Strato Loft Sleeping Bag that night; the wind tore at my Mountain Hardwear EV 3 Tent.

Along the way, it had occurred to me that Everest is a giant, frozen rock littered with trash and bodies. Before, people respected it. Feared it. Years of research went into expeditions. Now, anyone with a little bit of cash can gear up and make the trip.

I knew that personally to be true. Despite my years of experience climbing peaks all over the world, I’ve found the most convenient and cheapest way to get the best gear is to simply order it from REI.com. I even did it in my underwear with my iPad. Got free shipping too! Speaking as a pro, I wouldn’t do it any other way.

That night, as the blizzard held sway over the jagged peak. I heard footsteps outside my tent. A whole host of them.

I felt them. The dead of Everest. The bone of the skull pristine as their skin had been worn away, their old and obsolete gear hanging in tatters. Green boots crunching through frozen snow could clearly be heard over the gale.

The terror and toil took over, and as my sight slipped from me, I heard her soft sobs just outside my tent flap.

K: Given how hard this one sells its products – complete with ridiculous phrasing that gets funnier as the products have longer names – it’s kind of bizarre to reach this ending. More than just about any other story this week, I think this one needed a commercial payoff rather than a surprising downer. But hey, until then, this is pretty fun.

MN – What a dark note for us to go out on. The amount of gear really wears us down, and takes us out of the moment. Weaving it in and out of the story a bit more might have helped, instead of the break to directly address the audience. I think if we’d gotten into the narrator’s perspective a little more quickly, that might have helped too… the first hand account isn’t obvious until the last line of the third paragraph – probably too late to introduce our narrator for this story.

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Novak and I agreed it was a great week for stories, but we sure didn’t agree on which stories, from the looks of it. Three of the four receivers of golds didn’t get another medal or immunity. That…may also be a product of the prompt, and how it’s going to capture us in different ways. Anyway, we have two Immunities to dole out:

Annette Barron
Melissa Diamond

Votes are due by 9pm Central tonight. Cheers, Survivors.

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