Here it is, gang: the third head-to-head battle of the season. Both of these brought some cool concepts to the table, but once again, the judges were in agreement. Are you nervous about this one? It sounds like you are. Let’s get to it.

The prompt was to write about a character who entertains people for a living, but is depressed in his own life. The prompt title seemed like a good one, but I haven’t gotten Smokey Robinson out of my head since I typed it, and it’s threatening to drive me crazy.

Joseph Rakstad

A lonely Buick rolls across an utterly plain landscape. The driver’s eyes are half open, half closed, depending on how you look at it. Can’t tell if it’s the bottle of Jaeger or the 3 hours of sleep he had last night, but he fights and wills to stay awake.

Like a robot he flips on the radio, searching for a song to sing along to in order to keep the eyes on the north side of open. He pushes past auto-tuned pop garbage, slow oldies refuse, angry growl-laden rock, all at least a half dozen times. He pauses on a talk radio station. They’re discussing Jesus – the book of Luke, chapter 15. He angrily pushes the seek button again. After exhausting all other options, he finally hits the #1 button: 92.3.

The morning Buzz with Jack Freeman blares its catchy rock-funk bump music as the backup Tom Dorner starts talking about the latest Presidential poll numbers. Jack scoffs, they haven’t even had time to change the intro. He continues to listen to Tom fumble through the numbers, telling tired old jokes that only 6 year olds would find funny. Jack knows Tom wasn’t going to last a month, but you get what you get on short notice. “Go fuck yourself, Jackass!” Jack yells as he hit the off button.

Jack pulls off the highway in some small town called Downer. Seemed fitting. He takes the 2 lefts and a right that he memorized long ago, and pulls into a dusty driveway next to an old red brick house. Dick was sitting on the porch, ready to greet him.

“She don’t want to speak to you, Jack!”

“Dick, I’m only here to tell her one thing. Just one minute…”

“Daddy, I got it,” Jenny comes out of the house in her flannel shirt and faded jeans and walked right up to Jack, daring him to let him waste his breath. “Whatever you gotta say, say it.”

Jack sighs, “They let me go Jenny. So I just came down to let you know that once you file your divorce, don’t be expecting any alimony.”

“Aw shit.” Jack couldn’t tell if that was sympathy for him or disappointment for her.

“I’m headin’ down to Kentucky. My brother said I could bunk in with him for a while, help him out with harvest. Maybe I’ll see if I can get on at WWTN. You were on the way, so I figured ‘what the hell!?’”

Jack turns to walk away, opens his car door. Jenny blurts, “I’m sorry …Jack.”

Jack pauses. He looks down at the ground, and then turns back to Jenny. “You know, I keep wondering what else can get taken from me.” He curses, spits on the ground. He gets back in the Buick and hits reverse, not even saying goodbye.

He notices Jenny watch him as he leaves, but he didn’t look back. He couldn’t. There was only Kentucky in front of him now.

K: This is a lot of ground to cover in a small amount of time. I think this does as good a job as it can with all the moving parts (outside of a couple of tense changes; for instance, “didn’t” should be “doesn’t” in the final paragraph). We have a character we’re just starting to like in Jack, but once we get to the conversation, it just blazes by and I’m left thinking I wanted more time. I do like what’s here, but it can be punched up.

MN – This is pretty colorful, but a bit straightforward. I wanted to see something else get taken from him, kind of. Also, they should have been discussing the Book of Job, amirite?

Brian David

The man sat down at the end of the bar and tapped on the counter with his fist.

“Hey, can I grab a whiskey over here.”

The bartender frowned as he washed out a glass. He felt annoyed at being bossed around, but when he looked up and saw the man he started smiling. He wasn’t sure why.

“Yeah, no problem, buddy. What kind?”

The man waved his hands.

“Doesn’t matter.”

Shrugging, the bartender filled a small glass with ice and a large helping of Maker’s Mark and slid it down the bar. The man stared at the drink, quietly fiddling a crucifix that hung around his neck.

“Hey, Mick. Can I ask you something?”

The bartender wasn’t sure how the man knew his name, but it didn’t bother him.

“Yeah, sure, buddy.”

The man nodded over his shoulder towards a booth at the other end of the bar. There was a young couple there, chatting quietly.

“What you think of those two over there?”

There bartender laughed, not sure where this was headed.

“I don’t know, they look nice. Seem happy.”

The man took a sip of whiskey and breathed in deeply, looking up towards the ceiling.

“You’re damn right they seem happy.” He slammed the glass back down.

“Just one problem,” the man continued, once again fiddling with the crucifix. “They’re both married. And not too each other. They’re just co-workers who’ve known each other for a long time. Who’ve wanted each other for a long time.”

Leaning closer to the bartender, he started to whisper.

“But guess what? Today’s their lucky day. You see- “ the man pointed,” I’ve been watching them for a while, and I’ve decided that today’s the day they finally get to be happy.”
He snapped his fingers and the jukebox against the wall sprang to life, the sounds of Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ coming through the speakers.

“It’s her favorite song.”

The man reach into his front shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette and lighter. He set the cigarette on his lips and lit the flame.

“How did you do-” the bartender started. “Hey, buddy! You can’t smoke in here.”

The main raised his hands and stood.

“Alright, alright, I’ll go outside.” Stepping back, he grabbed the whiskey. “Do me a favor, send some Long Islands their way, on the house. Terrible drink if you ask me, but they love that shit.”

The bartender nodded lazily.

Stepping out of the bar, the man lit his cigarette and took a long drag. He held the smoke in his lungs for a while before exhaling.

“Goddamnit!”

He threw the whiskey against the brick walls of the bar, liquid and glass spraying everywhere.

“Hey, hey, cool it, man! Are you alright?” The voice came from a cop car that was parked a few feet away.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” the man said, shaking his head and once again holding on to the crucifix. “Just trying to find my way home.”

K: Girl’s got good taste; that might be my favorite Creedence song (okay, Born on the Bayou probably is…and then there’s Lodi…I have to think about this). I really dug this attack on the prompt, to the point that I wish I’d saved it for more people to play with, but what can you do? This story did a good job with the backstory and a good job getting across the depression – the dialogue could be a tad stronger, but this idea is altogether too much fun for me to overlook.

MN – Now this is a neat story that isn’t too straightforward at all. We absolutely get what’s going on, but it isn’t belabored at all. And still very colorful as well, with a character we can really get behind.

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Those comments should make it fairly clear that we both favored the second story, meaning that Brian David lives to write another day, and Joe falls in ninth place, his best finish. This was actually one of my favorite stories of his on the season, but it ran up against a story that was just too strong.

Sixteenth Elimination from Spookymilk Survivor XVIII: Joseph Rakstad

So you’ve made the top eight. Pretty radical, huh? Okay, so nearly all of you have done that before – this is a very familiar bunch – but it’s still an accomplishment. Now for a quick turnaround on the next one, leading to…well, probably another write-off, the way this is going.

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TIME LIMIT: 40 Minutes
WORD LIMIT: None

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Damn near every time, I type “WORLD LIMIT” and have to fix it. I should work that into a challenge somehow. Anyway, this is due fairly soon on Tuesday night at 10pm Central. That’s what it would have been even last night, and this doesn’t change much, I guess.

So how do we feel about longer time limits? Are we ready for them, or are you worried about finding the time? My ears are open. Cheers, Survivors.

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