I was high on this prompt, gang, so I really couldn’t wait to get to this week’s concepts. They, were, of course, a lot of fun (and in a couple of cases, I think they would be legitimately cool spectator sports). I didn’t announce it, but there were meant to be two immunities, but a deadlocked second-place story means that there are three instead. Sorry about that. Or, you’re welcome, depending on your finish.

The challenge was to write a story about a fictional game or sport with a strange set of rules.

Zack Sauvageau

Jon leaned back in his chair smugly.

“Nine of clubs, two of hearts, Jack of clubs, eight of diamonds…”

He proudly laid his last card on the table.

“Three. Of. Spades.”

Terrance sighed and laid down his straight. “Wow, you won again!”

Jon smirked. “Of course I did. We have been playing cards for how long now? You should know you have never beat me. And won’t, clearly.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Terrance dealt. “You know, I am eleven years old now. I know how to play poker.”

Jon looked confused. “Clearly not? One time you told me that your four fours would beat my triple triangle enduro. That’s why I have been trying to teach you.”

Terrance stood up and walked out of the room.

“Just accept it dad. You don’t know how to play poker.”

K: Maybe more anecdote than story, but the relationship was fun and the ridiculous name of the winning hand sold it. (Note: there’s a Poker variant called Razz where you want the worst hand).

MN – It’s actually a little… long, for what it’s trying to do. It’s a clever concept, but the first half where the kid is playing along is kind of betrayed by the second half where he confronts his dad about it. I think it’s close, if not for that. The showing of the stupid hands is pretty funny.

Brooks Maki

Alfonso looked to his left and saw nothing but green space. He moved into it, raising his hand for a pass. The disc floated his way, an agonizing moment that seemed to stretch on forever. He could hear the footsteps behind him, but blocked them from his thoughts while he flipped forward onto his hands and kicked the disc toward the silent mass blocking the opposition goal.

Behind him the footsteps paused, and then a cold finger touched his shoulder. Freezing cold started in his hands and moved upward toward the soles of his feet. Alfonso could see his soul, a dull white cube that was now being passed back and forth between the purple robed figures. The disc was too far away to see anymore but Alfonso sent the last of his will to his teammates trying to score before his soul made it to the other end of the field.

He lay on the cool grass, eyes closed. His soul moved away, and everything faded.

K: Wow. That’s a pretty powerful story for as few words as we used. I’d like to see this expanded, but all the same, I love it as a suggestion as well, and anything left unsaid may have taken away from the potential creepiness if this story had become verbose. SILVER

MN – Ooh, this is a really interesting mix of quirky and eerie. We go from a game that makes no sense to playing for things of ultimate importance. Hey, this is probably a metaphor for life, isn’t it? I love the concept, and the descriptions give this a real vibrant feel without getting in the way. SILVER

Annette Barron

Ford dropped his lunch pail on the counter and hung his pass key on the hook near the door. “Baby,” he called, hoping for silence in return.

“Still here.” Winnie’s voice was strained. Ford stepped into the tiny living space beyond the food prep closet. Winnie was curling 20 lb. weights by the window in her under garments, huge belly hard in the light from their solitary window. Winnie was over six feet tall with broad shoulders and rock-hard thighs. She had allowed no part of her impressive physique to soften over the course of her pregnancy. Still, she was 10 days over her due date . . . disastrous.

Ford rubbed her back and she dropped the weight and leaned back against him, closing her eyes. “You promised, Winnie,” he said softly.

She stiffened and pulled away from him. “I still have time!”

Ford pulled her back again. “You have two days and even that is questionable.” He put a finger against her mouth as she started to protest. “We set this in stone a year ago for just this reason. I won’t lose you.” Winnie’s head dropped and she sagged against him. “I can do it,” she whispered.

Ford rubbed her shoulders for a moment and then turned her around. “The best we can hope for now is that she decides to stay in there until next month,” he teased. April was a brain tournament month and Ford was brilliant; skinny and weak, but a genius. Most couples with an interest in procreating chose their counterpart for either strength or intelligence.

The UEF (United Earth Federation) had tried many methods of population control before finally settling on the tournaments. Couples were allowed to conceive if they so desired, but only the very strongest and smartest people were chosen to raise a child. The tournaments were by district with roughly 25,000 people per district. Only one child in each district was chosen, based on whether the parent won the tournament. Even months held tournaments of math and science, while odd months were decided by physical contests. This insured that only the strongest and brightest were reproducing, as well as keeping the population from expanding on an already extremely deplenished planet.

Woman who were planning on competing carefully planned their pregnancies so as to deliver early in the month, allowing for maximum recovery time before the games. Woman who delivered too close to the scheduled date of the physical tournament were like to hemorrhage or cause irreversible damage to themselves. Ford had insisted that if Winnie wanted to deliver in a physical contest month, she must agree that if the baby was late, she would not compete.

Winnie dropped onto the sofa and put her head in her hands. Ford, at a loss, left her and returned to the food prep closet to start their evening meal. Tears slid down his cheeks as he sliced the soy block for sandwiches. He would compete for the life of their child in Winnie’s place . . . and he would mostly certainly lose.

Maybe they could try again next year.

K: There’s a swath of errors near the end (“insured” where “ensured” should be, and two uses of “woman” where “women” should be, followed by “like” where “likely” is better). Not a total killer, but with so many in a cluster like that, it dragged a little. The idea itself was a pretty good one, although the story ground to a complete halt with the long backstory section, which could have been better told with small reveals throughout, so we’re getting exposition without really knowing it.

MN – The world you’ve built here is probably far too big to come out in a story this small. The logic of the game and the time you take describing that really pulls us away from any intensity that could be built looking at the lives of these participants. I’m intrigued by the couple who is trying to compete in both competitions though. That’s really a fun twist on the gladiatorial society.

Brian David

Sunlight began to peek through the window just as the radio turned on.

“. . .clear skies all day, but the high won’t get above fifteen. . .”

“Christ.”

Evalyn slammed her hand down on the snooze-button, silencing the radio. She rubbed her eyes and searched the shelf along her headboard. Her fingers slipped across a half-empty glass of water, and the cup to tilted and jittered sideways until it fell to the floor. It splintered into a dozen pieces.

“Or, for fuck’s sake!”

Evalyn jumped out of bed, dancing around the broken glass as she hurriedly threw on some clothes. She looked frantically on top of her dresser, around her bookshelves and underneath the bed.

“Evan! Evan, have you seen my glasses?!”

“Stop yelling!” some shouted from outside the room. “And no, I haven’t.”

A jet-black cat leapt onto the bed and started clawing at the sheets. Evalyn waved her hands, eyes squinting.

“Hey. Hey! Stop that, Gwenever! You know better!”

The cat meowed.

Evalyn snagged the radio and held the LED display close to her face. She frowned and rushed out of the room.

“I’ve got to get to work, Evan,” she hissed, voice trailing off as she walked down the hall. “It’ll . . it’ll be fine. . .”

The cat settled itself on the bed and calmly groomed itself. A few minutes later there was the sound of doors slamming and the starting of a car engine. When everything had quieted down, the cat perked its ears, leapt onto a nearby dresser and jumped through a window that had been absent-mindedly left open.

Slipping past a garden gnome and into a set of bushes, the cat came upon a small collection of knick-knacks piled on the dirt; a few pieces of shattered glass, socks and underwear, coins and dollar bills, and. . .a pair of glasses. The cat lifted it’s head proudly.

The leaves rustled and a large orange tabby crept into the bushes. It had a pair of car keys in its mouth. The tabby set the car keys in a separate pile, one that included a single shoe and a cellphone.

The black cat sighed in the way that only a cat can, and shook its head sadly.

K: Another “it’s” where an “its” should be. This season is all about wayward apostrophes! Again, a fun idea otherwise, though I’m not the biggest fan of animals acting a lot like humans, as the cats do (especially in the end). The flow wasn’t perfect and it could probably use a rewrite, but I think this has legs and it was mildly amusing nonetheless.

MN – It becomes pretty obvious early on where this is going to go, but it’s a fun ride there. The best part is that the cat loses to the tabby. That is a fun twist. I take issue with someone leaving without their glasses, or setting their water next to where they set their glasses. As someone who wears them, that just strikes me as false. One accident with the water and you’d never do it again, and they’re too essential to leave without. BRONZE

5.

The game is the same.

I take a deep breath. I pull thick and salty air into my lungs, fill them until the alveoli complain at the sting from the sea. I then breathe in again, back into the universe. At this height, I breathe smoke back into the world.

We flee, we three.

The sky cries. With a shriek and a crash, a chasm is roughly hewed across the heavens. Those filthy and foul creatures start to amass from the other side. You wouldn’t hear one by themselves, but once assembled, the amassed cacophony of buzzes and groans and clicks can be felt vibrating up and down the strings of your soul.

They chase with haste.

Our arms outspread, we fall out across the ocean in swirling helixes of bubbling and dazzling radiance, snapping free from of our solid forms.

We run, but it’s done.

In an ugly, corpulent haze, they tear across the atmosphere in unholy, unfolding fractals, only hinting at the outline of a shape.

A bite to my right.

Compromised horribly, he swirls and dives and crashes and splashed a town with a lurking malignancy in their water.

Then death to my left.

They claw at her until she snaps from her form, wobbling viciously between times and spaces, she falls afflicted to the earth, which absorbs, reacts, and reflects her misery across a city.

Next me they see.

The game is the same.

We flee, they chase.

It has always been the case.

K: This is probably too gimmicky for its own good, but the prose throughout is strong and does a great job of painting a picture while stopping short of pretentiousness (at least for me). Sometimes it’s irritating when a story chooses to be this vague, but given the poetic nature of the piece, I think it’s a pretty fair risk to take. BRONZE

MN – I love the poetry here, which is a rare thing for me to say. The story itself is a bit too distant for it to have the emotional impact that the language would otherwise suggest is appropriate. Returning to game/flee/chase lines at the end reminds us of how differently the characters see this than the people in the world below. I wish there was something more explicit, but this is really pretty. BRONZE

Melissa Diamond

His seven opponents scowled at him from across the court. Each man had their eyes on Addi. Each wore the murderous glare that only inspired Addi to dig his heels in deeper. They could do their worst. Aim a kick at his head, a punch to the gut, a furious chase across the mats– Addi had endured them before, and he’d overcome them today.

He took a quick breath in, then a quick breath out. Fill the lungs, release. Quick breath in. Quick breath out.

The bell rang.

Addi stopped breathing, and he took off. He raced on to the opponents’ court, the red mats soft beneath his bare feet. As he ran, he counted aloud. The referee would never again put Addi on the sidelines for breathing during his turn.

“One, two, three–” he shouted, racing towards his first opponent. The man jabbed at him, and the side of his hand just missed Addi’s throat. Addi skirted away, still shouting. “Four, five–” and taking their seconds-long eye contact to store the man’s face in memory. Next time. He’d get him next time.

“Six, seven, eight–” he shouted, and opponent number two reached out a leg. Addi jumped, avoided it, tagged the man. Applause erupted from the spectators.

Addi kept shouting. “Five, six, seven–”

He tagged the next man at eight, and then next at twelve. The cheers grew more frantic.

“Thirteen, fourteen–”

This opponent sprang forward. Addi turned to keep running, but the man landed on his back, wrestled him to the ground. They struggled, all while Addi shouted, “Fifteen, sixteen…”

The man bore down, pinned Addi’s legs and his arms, and Addi shouted. He shouted every number while adjusting grips; while trying to get his legs hooked to the others; while wrestling fruitlessly. He got to forty beneath the man’s grip, and then–

His lungs burned. His pride sunk. His heart broke.

He breathed.

His opponent laughed. Triumphant, the larger man jumped to his feet and gestured at the crowd. The spectators erupted into cheers and boos. Fights broke out.

Addi wept, and as the referee pulled him off the court, not a single of his team members looked him in the eye.

K: Now, this is just aces. We feel for Addi by the end, it has the real, visceral emotion of sport, and the story does a tremendous job of doling out the rules bit by bit rather than boring us senseless with a long paragraph that only serves to kill the tension. I actually think I’d watch this sport, to be honest. SILVER

MN – What is this?!? I can’t even imagine how you began to construct this strange game, this world where such a feat could be failure, where such failure could feel so intense, where teammates would avoid eye contact, etc. The only particular of the game that really matters is its cruelty, and that is well established. Great showing. I was really rooting for Addi. SILVER

Brendan Bonham

Rykar lobbed the orb through the air. It lost its consistency as it arced, but the wing defender missed his swipe, and Micah glided to the toss’ terminus to capture a good chunk in his sonic net. Years of training told Rykar that Micah’s take was above 80% percent as his co-captain charged towards the other end of the field.

Rykar held position and surveyed the opponents’ set-up as Micah made a juke towards the basin. Just him and the goalie now– they needed a good deposit on this attempt to stay in the game.

A defender hooked Micah from behind. The crowd booed in protest as a referee presented the defender with a slate vest. “Good,” Rykar thought, “after the penalty shot we’ll be a deposit away from locking this thing up, plus that vest is gonna make any sort of elevation hard.”

The crowd cheered as Micah deposited a solid half of his shot into the basin. All the goalie could do is shake his head at the penalized defender—half a penalty shot defended was pretty good, and the penalty was one of those mistakes a rookie will regret forever.

After a quick reset Rykar lined up in the face-off box against Teles, the Pelicans’ captain.

“Scared yet?” Teles snorted.

The Pelicans had marched through the AquaBall league with little incident this season, whereas Rykar and the rest of the Hydroknights had eked in as the 4th seed.
But, they were here now, and they were winning.

“Hardly,” Rykar smiled.

The organ lowed and Rykar gave Teles a hard shoulder as he tried to edge the long-time vet out of the box, but Teles was quick. Teles was a superstar for a reason, using Rykar’s own weight against him as Teles slid under the young upstart’s arm, the hydrorb splashing into Teles’ sonic net.

Rykar hustled—if he really pushed himself he’d get at least a swipe at Teles’ net before he’d get a shot off, and if he’d be able to disrupt the sound casing, the fluid would drip through the cage and they’d start back again at mid-field.

He was closing fast, Teles was old and wily, but he was tired. Rykar swiped up, connecting right where the head of the net met the shaft. The low warble told Rykar that he’d struck true, and the liquid began to seep from Teles’ net. Just then, a blue blur fluttered past Rykar’s vision as he swooped to a stop and looked behind him.

It was Micah, and he had swiped the whole take! A quick glance down verified the only a few drops had seeped through the grates. Micah’s play was practically miraculous—he’d swiped at such speed he’d only the slated defender to beat, who Micah cornered around with ease.

As the horn howled, Rykar met Micah at midfield in celebration. The joy was palpable—their people wouldn’t thirst again this year.

K: This last line is nice, but I do think the stakes need to be set up earlier to give us a rooting interest. It was really one of the only human lines in the story, which was a great explanation of sport, but didn’t necessarily connect us to anyone strongly. I like a lot of what this story had to offer, but I wanted more out of it as well; these names are just names without personalities, and even now I couldn’t tell you for sure which names played for which side. BRONZE

MN – Man, this is a thorough imaging of a strange but somewhat familiar game. I think it’s too bad you introduced the stakes at the end of the story instead of earlier, because to know the direness of the situation would have helped. Indeed, if thirst were a serious problem yet they still wasted water on a sport that would have said a lot more about this society. The tale the young guys besting the old guard works, but not on the level it could have had we known more about the characters or the society.

Joseph Rakstad

Drew gathered the team together for one final pep talk. “All right, listen up team. We’ve got 45 seconds on the clock. We need to really pull it together. It’s a tie game, and we can’t let them get the best of us. You know the game plan. I want you to get in there and give it all you got!” He stood back and got back into his coach’s seat. On the other side of the playing field, Dave had just finished his pep talk, and the game was about to get under way.

Isaac, the ref, held the ball in the middle of the field. He blew his whistle, dropped the ball, and scurried out of the way before the action started.

Noah got to the ball first. Drew coached him on. He was making good progress toward the goal. But Jacob was right on top of him. The two fiercely struggled for the ball, but ultimately Jacob ended up with control and started heading the other way. Ethan and Alexander were the only things standing in Jacob’s way. Alexander hesitated a bit, but the advanced on the ball. Ethan just sat there, waiting for Jacob to come to him.
Alex got his hand on the ball, and he and Jacob struggled. They each fought hard, trying to keep the other from gaining control. Ethan took the opportunity and stole the ball away. This made Jacob even more furious. Ethan made his break, he moved the ball down the field swiftly. He moved around Bethany, moved around Aiden. Ethan scored! Drew shouted with glee as Dave could only hang his head. He whooped and hollered and carried Ethan on his shoulders.
Just then, Jennifer and Morgan opened the front door. Drew froze in his tracks, while Dave and Isaac casually slinked to the floor and acted like nothing was going on.

“Drew?” asked Morgan, in her best motherly voice.

“…Yes dear?”

“You haven’t been playing Babyball again, have you?”

Drew could hear Dave chuckling behind him, as he showed Jacob a tickle-me-Elmo doll to calm him down.

Drew bore his shit-eating grin, while Morgan just tapped her foot in silent fury. “But honey… it’s the finals!”

K: Wow…so many “they’re actually kids playing!” reveals this season. If you bastards would read the stories, you’d know how many we’ve read already. Still, I do find Drew endearing with the way he bonds with his kids in this stupid manner.

MN – It was pretty obvious this was going for humor early on because you landed the tone well, but a few more gags early on – just little word plays, or funny descriptions – could have helped strengthen the piece throughout. Instead it made us wait to the end before we really got to see the funny. I quite enjoy the concept of Babyball, and want to see more done with this. Can we make Babyball a PWTP prompt sometime?

Peter Bruzek

The day I saw Pedro Maldonado Martinez Araguz III take the field with two broken legs and a particularly bad curling iron burn on his thigh, I knew I was witnessing something that I would be telling my grandchildren about.

Every good story, of course, needs some context. I was a lad of 14, and Araguz was a third year player. Back in those days, they called him “Ol’ Biscuit Knees”, on account of the crescent roll dough he would line the inside of his knee pads with. We never did figure out exactly why he did that.

Anyway, the East Milcreek Steelhounds were a far cry from the King’s Crown tourney, and they needed a solid performance from Ol’ Biscuit Knees. So, what does he do before the game? Why, he decides to give himself a perm, the knucklehead (these were the days before these big contracts got wrote up to make sure players didn’t did any crazy foolishness like skydive or give themselves haircuts or start barroom brawls (and believe you, me, Ol’ Biscuit Knees could hold his own in a fight! I remember being in my cups at the Liquor Palace and seeing him punch a man three times his size! But that’s a story for another time). Anyway, the story goes that he got distracted by a very large wasp in the visitor’s clubhouse. While taking Johnny ‘Burpsmith’ McGee’s spare paddle after the thing, he neglected to note that he was still wrapped up in the cord for his curling iron. By the time he was able to extricate himself from the curler, he had a burn scar in the shape of an otter on his right thigh.

Anyway, the Steelhounds were in a bad way about halfway through. None of them could match Gilroy ‘The Piano Man’ Killumall for sheer tenacity with the rubber hose. This presented a problem, of course, because without a proper propellerman, how were they going to breach the outer perimeter?

So anyway, out comes Araguz otter burn and all, but he no sooner than takes the field when the swing pole comes crashing down right on top of him. By the time the officials sorted everything out, Ol’ Biscuit Knees had two broken legs and that otter was looking more like a perturbed yak.

With the Steelhounds’ star player out AGAIN, the opposing team ran unchecked throughout the lines. There was only one thing that could save the day, but with Araguz out, I was sure the magic was gone. Then I look on the Steelhounds bench and what do I see? Pedro limping up to the replacement line with his two legs wrapped up in shrink wrap and a length of copper pipe! I had never seen anything like it. Still haven’t.

Anyway, with only twenty minutes left in the match, Ol’ Biscuit Knees takes the paddle and started running backwards with it. Damnedest thing. No one knew just what in the hell he was doing. When they asked him about it later, he was so hopped up on stims and painkillers that all he could drool out was “didn’t see that comin, did they”, which, no, I guess they didn’t. I guess none of us did.

The Steelhounds won by a single farthing that day. It was the end of his season, but his courage was so inspiring that they ended up winning the President’s Cup by thirty points.

I know that these players nowdays have their conditioning and pretty much nobody bothers using the rear paddle any more, but for my money, the game was played by men in my day. It’s a damned shame that we’ve lost that. Still, I’ll always remember seeing Pedro Maldonado Martinez Araguz III, and thinking about the day that he took his entire team and carried them on his horribly shattered legs will never cease to give me joy.

K: If there’s one thing this game has been missing since Daniel went out, it’s absurdity. This story did a terrific job with it, fully committing to the sport’s idiocy and to the emotions of the day. This is the rare story where remembrance works well, just because actually being there might deaden the comedic power of the narration. I giggled a lot throughout this one, and I appreciate that, as this season – like most of them – doesn’t have enough tomfoolery. GOLD

MN – This is absurdity done right. GOLD.

———————————————————————–

That’s one double-gold and two double-silvers for Immunity. Give a hand to:

Pete Bruzek
Brooks Maki
Melissa Diamond

…and vote for anyone else by Friday night at 10pm Central. I’ll put results up ASAP, but I’ll be just getting off work at that point so it might be a bit.

From here on out, there will be one Immunity given per challenge, with the first tiebreaker being golds. As for further tiebreakers…guh. This is the only difficult thing about the writing seasons. I’ll let you know.

Cheers, Survivors.

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