You guys got super creative this week, not just with your stories, but your use of the medium. Lots of post-modern stuff, and surprisingly not terribly dark given this is CdL and I asked you to write about death.

Brooks Maki

the children descended on the house bearing hammers and crowbars destroying the doors destroying the walls destroying windows and toilets and framed photographs of children that looked almost exactly like themselves while discovering that the adults were not there which paused the hurricane for a moment before it moved out the door and through the yard to the garden shed where again tools flashed and triumphant yells passed through the group because here were the adults not fighting back in fact the light bursting through the hole hacked in the wall momentarily blinded them and prevented them their last glimpse of the children that may or may not have been theirs because when they removed the blindfolds at the edge of the impossibly quiet town there was no one there except each other

B: This sounds like the type of story that keeps popping up in my Goodreads notifications from Brooks, so I’m sure it’s him. Unlike some other run-on sentences I read this week this one is obviously done for effect. The story is a little too abstract for my tastes but I appreciate the mood it builds. BRONZE

BD: It’s a huge gamble to write something like this. Aggressively post-modern styles can be hard to achieve without coming across as either pretentious or silly, but I think this works. The atmosphere is strong and consistent throughout, and the story has a sense of momentum that really draws you in. I’d like more details on what happened at the end, but other than that this is very enjoyable. SILVER

Gilman: I applaud the instinct to go feral here, but the cacophonous passage suffers in a couple of ways. Toward the end it isn’t exactly clear who’s removing blindfolds, or when the removal happened…I suspect the grown-ups did, but there wasn’t much indication that the kids were going to spare them. Also, it just barely touches on the idea of trust, which was really an essential part of the exercise.

RZ: The style here is very interesting, though it is very easy to get lost without the usual punctuation.  Specifically, at the end.  The end moved very quickly, which obscured what was happening with the adults.  It took me a few times to really get a gist of what was going on.

Matt Novak

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

Lord, please will her the lungs.  Please.  Please will that another family gives generously. That their suffering be as little as it can be.  That our joy eases their loss.

She is so beautiful, Lord.  Even like this.  That hair again…  Delicate.  Delicate.  Don’t wake.  There.  That’s better.  She wouldn’t like knowing I’m grooming here.  Grooming, if we can call it that.  Her damn stubborn pride, never leaving the house until.

There was that big fight.  When was that?  The Oscars one year maybe?  Seems right.  Maybe.  I know I wasn’t ready either, but somehow her makeup or her hair.  And we weren’t even that late, but the – yes, it was the Oscars, because there was that bet about the winners, and I wanted to see them all.  She couldn’t have known that.  And so we were late.  And I pouted.  What I wouldn’t give to.

Pray.  Pray.  That’s all I can do.

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy

God, please.  I know you want her in heaven.  But you have to give us more time.  I trust you God.  I trust your will.  But please, hear me.  Us.  Give us more.  Please find us the lungs.  It would have to be someone young.  Healthy.  I don’t want anyone else.  But they won’t die because of my asking.  That isn’t the way it works.  I don’t know how it works.  That can’t be the way.  God, you wouldn’t do that, right?

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

Thy will be done.

 

Thy.

 

B: I can’t imagine this struggle, praying for what is essentially the death of someone else who isn’t ready to die to save someone else who isn’t ready to die. Matt, thank you for writing about your sister. GOLD

BD: I love, love, love this concept, but I don’t particularly like the fragmented sentences thing. Unlike the last story, the unusual style takes me out of the drama somewhat. Having said that, this is an undeniably talented writer, and there is a lot of absolutely raw emotion. GOLD

Gilman: Very grave, very feeling concept here, and the beginning is nicely paced and evenly revealed. It looses a little of its impact toward the middle and end of the piece, though. I think it would have been a bit more evocative if the thoughts didn’t quite coalesce into fully coherent ideas. It would have jibed well with the interrupted prayers too. Still, a brave topic to take on. SILVER

RZ: Great story.  I love the premise and it is very powerfully written.  I can definitely relate to the man, trusting in the only thing he knows but not certain even what to pray for.  Great job. GOLD

Christina Pepper

Mom stands leaning over the kitchen sink, a granola bar in one hand.

“I’m going to the gym,” she says, crumbs cascading from her mouth. “Back in an hour. Dinner’s in the crock-pot—all you have to do while I’m gone is make a salad.”

I barely glance up from my Algebra I textbook. I don’t mind math—solving for x is weirdly satisfying—but I’m silently calculating just how soon after she leaves I can abandon my homework for the television.

“Be good,” she says, kissing the top of my head. She never says that to Jason anymore. And he never has to help with dinner.

A full sixty seconds after the garage door closes, I sprint to the family room, only to find Jason already sprawled across the couch. He’s watching some music video that’s basically an excuse to show a bunch of scantily clad women cavorting on a beach. (Cavort was on my spelling test last week.)

“Don’t you have homework?” he asks.

“Don’t you?” I reply.

“Whatever, Bitchface,” he says. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

I’m pretty sure that’s code for him doing something gross in there I don’t want to even think about, but as long as the television’s mine, I don’t care.

Not even ten minutes later, I hear him.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHRGHHHH!”

Oh great, he’s trying to scare me.

“UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Seriously.

I head upstairs and pound on the bathroom door.

“Quit it, loser,” I yell.

“Tessie, call 9-1-1. Now.”

I try the door handle. Locked.

“Hang on!” I shout.

Not this again. It can’t be. Mom said he was better.

I grab the cordless phone and run back to where Jason is.

“What is your emergency?” asks the operator.

I start to talk, but I hardly know what I’m saying.

“Say something,” I yell at Jason. “Let me in!”

The operator keeps asking questions: how old am I? are there any adults in the house? does he have a weapon?

I ask when someone will be here.

Finally, I hear sirens. The operator instructs me to go downstairs and let the firefighters in. I blindly do what she says.

Don’t be too late.

I unlock the door.

Don’t be too late.

I lead them up to the bathroom.

Don’t be . . .

They break down the door.

Too late.

B: I think I’ve said this before, but interjections generally detract from the mood rather than add to it. And in this case, all it did was make me think Jason was doing something sexual as Tessie suspected. But the ending makes me think it was suicide. I wish I was feeling more empathy for Tessie, but the action feels a bit mechanical at the end. I think the line, “I blindly do what she says,” is what hurts it for me, as it makes it seem like Tessie is doing these actions against her will.

BD: This is a wild rollercoaster of a story. First off, the writing is great. In fact, it amazes me how everyone’s writing continues to get so refined as the season goes. As for the story, I think my main issue here is that it moves too quick. It’s such a sudden transition into emergency. Even so, you had me by the throat in the middle section. The ending falls flat, unfortunately. The last line felt a little silly and ruptured the tension. One line shorter and this would have been a gold. SILVER

Gilman: Very genuine-feeling voice for a younger teen kid, and a scenario that felt pretty true and honest throughout. You could have benefitted from a little tightening-up here and there; on a second read-through, some of the details feel a bit like padding, even though I wouldn’t know where to cut. And I really don’t know if the story needed that last line. Whatever, that’s not to the detriment of the story. Well done. SILVER

RZ:  I like the first person dialog and the storytelling is good.  I do wonder what would cause a teenage boy to have so serious an issue (suicide?  Seizures?)  All in all, good story. BRONZE

Brendan Bonham

Artillery fire booms in the distance. Explosions nearby shake the rubble spread across the Mercantile

Exchange ruins. Just last year, he thinks, the Chicago skyline burnt bright against the setting sun. Today,

fires light the hellscape.

David nestles into his stone crevice as much for warmth as protection; he hasn’t slept in days.

A bright flash. “No!” David cries, scurrying deeper for cover. No concussion, no explosion. Confused at

being alive, he peers from behind the fallen pillar.

“You’re–“ David whispers.

“Uh huh,” a dimly-lit man responds, “you know it.”

“You’re…you’re me?”

“Not quite,” a nearby fire illuminates the man’s face. It’s identical. “I’m like, um… your partner in crime.”

David stands, moving in front of the rubble.  “There’s no crime here—uh, David?”

“’Divad,’ actually.”

“Right, Divad. Like I said, there’s no crime here. There’s no law, and even if there was, there’s nothing here to steal.”

Divad looks around, smiling, “I know. What a shithole, right? When I asked to come get you, they told me this place was a dump. I was like, ‘how could it be worse than flesh-eating bacteria, vacuum holes and monsters the size of—‘“

“Come get me?” David moves closer, incredulous, “Where are we going, exactly?”

“Oh, uh, to Shadeworld.” Divad holds up a small remote, “this baby opens the Space-Time Continuum

Portal.”

Divad presses it once, a blue-white orb bursts forth from nothingness. “Portal open.”

He presses it again, it disappears. “Portal closed.”

“And you expect me to—“

“Portal open. Portal closed.” Divad clicks the button rapidly, “Portal open. Portal closed. Portal open.

Portal closed.”

David shuffles sideways, keeping his eyes locked on Divad. “I’m not walking through that.”

“C’mon, it’s more of a jump, anyway. We both know you’re dead if you stay here.”

“No we—you don’t!”

“Oh yeah? 3, 2…” Divad points his thumb behind his head, “1.”

A bomb shatters nearby rubble, shards fly everywhere.

“How’d—“

“Dude, you live with weird shit, you invent weird shit.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“Duh, bro. I’m your shade.” Divad smiles, “You die, I die.” He opens the portal again, “So, how ‘bout it?”

“Flesh-eating… whatever. Aren’t I just dead in there?”

“Maybe. Probably.” Divad smirks, “but at least you’d get to see some cool shit.”

B: Shit, this is weird. And fun. I like weird and fun. SILVER

BD: I was not into this at first. The idea seemed overly ambitious, and the atmosphere felt a little silly for what initially seemed to be a hard sci-fi story. Halfway through, however, the humor coalesced and the writing found its rhythm. By the end you had me charmed. SILVER

Gilman: This concept has potential, but it didn’t really show itself in this particular passage. It feels very much like the middle of chapter one in some grander SF story that deals with identity, risk, and collaboration. But the Shade is too nonchalant for the kind of risk he’s asking his duplicate to take.

RZ:  Very inventing writing, and I like the almost palindrome for the shade’s name.  I really don’t like stories written in the present tense, as it is very difficult to write in a way that doesn’t distract the reader.  In my opinion, the only way to successfully pull it of is to write in the first person.

Shawn Ashley

“You’re late.”

“Yes,” the boy replied. “Three minutes.”

Thomas glared at him, then held the door open to his piano studio. “Play me something.”

The boy sat down, started to play. Phillip Glass’ Metamorphosis I.  Thomas was about to stop him, to tell him to play something classic, not American…but he couldn’t. He was overtaken with the way he played. The phrasing, the melodic way he made the notes come alive.

Something started to burn within Thomas. Something deep in his stomach.

Instantaneously, he knew he would never touch the piano again.

Cary played on and as he did, Thomas could feel the jealousy grow.

He sat beside him at the piano as the prodigy finished.  The boy turned to him, no questions in his eyes. The boy knew he was very good.

Thomas knew he was going to destroy him.

“Who have you been studying with?” Thomas asked him, getting up. He pounded a cigarette out of his open box, gripped it between his lips. His hands were shaking.

“No one.” The boy remained looking at him, not blinking. No trace of untruths.

“That can’t be true,” Thomas spat. He exhaled smoke through his nostrils like a dragon. No way could the boy be this good. No one had been that way for a long time.

No one except himself.

“You don’t want to mentor me.” The boy said it like a statement. He had turned, staring down at the keys, his hands floating over them. Thomas knew if he could see his face, the boy would have his eyes closed, playing the song in his head…

“Play it. The song you are thinking of.”

The boy sat, his back to Thomas, hands floating atop of the ivory.  But finally, softly, the music began to come. The boy lost himself and played with such a haunting melancholy that Thomas had forgotten about his cigarette and it had burned down to his fingers.

“Shit!”

The boy paid no attention. It was as if Thomas weren’t even there.

Thomas didn’t feel as if he were there. He was in a sea of his memories.

Suddenly, he realized the music had stopped and the boy was looking at him with the same unflinching look.

He looked back.

Jealousy was a fiery emotion.

B: I think we spend too much time here spelling out every emotion and thought Thomas has. The jealousy is readily apparent and yet it feels like I’m being lectured on what it means. Plus we have an unnecessary “instantaneously” and a “suddenly.” I love the setting and premise of the story.

BD: I feel like this was just starting to warm up by the time it ended. It’s a fine enough idea, but there’s not enough subtlety; everything is described flatly and in a very straightforward manner. A story with music at it’s center needs to do a lot more showing and less telling, I think. Still, by the end I’d grown to like the characters and would be curious to see where this is headed.

Gilman: A very unexpected and original approach to this prompt, and I could complain that the idea of trust is sort of unemphasized in this particular story. But the concept is a strong one, and the writing is assured. You walk that line between telling too much and telling just enough; explicitly stating a character’s thoughts throughout is a decision that can sometimes ruin a decent story idea. I think it works here. SILVER

RZ: Very nicely written story.  It was a bit odd that for most of the story, you refer simply to the boy, but partway through, you refer to him as Cary once, and then again call him the boy after. SILVER

Joshua Longman

Johan was always a good elder brother – at 15-years-old he saved Nico from a belting while their father was drunk.  He never cried when he got his welts, so Nico didn’t understand why he did after Papa died.

“He wasn’t so bad.” Johan would explain.  Papa had just changed after their mother passed.

“What was she like?” Nico would ask, but Johan never answered.

Eventually, the war grew serious – their country’s neutrality brushed away like a suggestion.  People were removed or disappeared and those remaining became paranoid.

“Will they take us too?”

“I won’t let them,” Johan would say.

It seemed as if the problem would solve itself for a moment, but the Allies were stopped far short of the capital.

During the Hunger Winter, Nico was weak and had trouble staying awake.  Papa died in a fight while waiting for rations and Nico couldn’t even remember.  Johan was strong for him though; he would go out every night and scavenge for tulip bulbs or sugarbeets.  Once Nico was healthy again they packed and ran into the wild.

“What will we do?”

“We find the soldiers in the South, Nico,” Johan would say.

They slept in burnt husks of buildings and somehow avoided capture or death. Nico saw dead bodies for the first time – Johan even found a rifle on one.

“For protection,” he explained, slinging it over his shoulder.

After a month they reached the Waal River, but it was not easy to cross and bridges surely attracted enemies.  Yet they had come so far – what choice did they have?

As they left tree cover they were immediately spotted.  A noisy truck drove after them as they ran, but Johan slowed once it neared.

“We’re saved, Nico! Americans!!”

But the men getting out did not look friendly.  One had blood on his face.  They pointed their guns and screamed at them.  Johan dropped his rifle, but the bloody man hit him anyway.  Nico yelled things like “Alstublieft!” and “Nee!”, but nobody listened.

“They think we’re German,” Johan grunted as a barrel pressed the back of his neck.  A soldier threw Nico to the ground beside him, but Nico was brave.  He understood.

“Johan?  If we go to heaven, can you help me find mother?”

“Yes, little brother,” Johan promised.

B: Fairly standard story here, but I enjoyed the action and wanted to see where it was going. Nico’s question at the end seems a bit…I don’t know, maybe a kid would ask that. SILVER

BD: I get the feeling this was several hundred words longer in it’s initial draft.  Not only is this exactly 380 words, but the prose is so tightly constructed that it often comes across as more an outline than a story. I really want to read that first draft, though, because what we have here is still quite enjoyable and gut-wrenching. BRONZE

Gilman: wheeuff, that’s one unflinching story right there. Definitely a lot of trust to go around, and it has plenty of that fatalistic plain-thought that seems perfectly reasonable for children to have during times of imminent mortality. Nicely done. GOLD

RZ:  Great story.  The only thing that drew me away from the story was the father’s death.  It is referred to early in the story (Johan cried after he died), but it doesn’t seem to happen until quite a bit after, during the hunger winter.  All in all, though, it is very well written. GOLD

Margaret Martin

Robert’s foot hit the accelerator more forcefully than usual, and the car jerked into gear, shedding an invisible trail of tension and exhaust into the gathering dusk.

red-blue-red-blue-red-blue!

He slowed down, eventually easing off the highway and onto the shoulder.

The cop approached on the passenger side of the vehicle, barrel-chested and black-booted. The last gasp of the day’s sunshine glinted off his badge, dazzling and then diminishing.

“License, registration, and proof of insurance. Know why I stopped you?”

Robert shrugged. “I guess I was going too fast. Having a bad day today.”  He passed his license through the window.

Paul walked back to the cruiser to run the license and plates.

He wrote the citation.

—  

Paul stepped back into the cool air, skin prickling with goosebumps as the sun finally dipped below the tree line, dusk descending to a cold, foggy gray.

His captain’s words echoed in his head: “Stay safe out there.”

Robert watched him in the rear-view mirror. Snapshot memories of tear-filled funerals rose up and lodged in his throat.

He gripped the steering wheel.

Each step whispered

 

Trust

No one

Your instincts

The system

Your senses

God

Yourself

Me

 

Trust me.

B: I really wanted to medal this one.I like banal scenes sometimes, and I have the feeling that the final section is somehow supposed to join them together, but I don’t see how.

BD: Hmm, the purple prose is way too distracting, and as a result the story feels incoherent. I like the ending, but it would have been better if we had at least a little more detail about the characters traumatic past.

Gilman: There’s a lot of hints and suggestions at something about to happen in this, but I don’t feel like it quite gets us where it wants us to go. Plenty of nice, assured writerly touches–revealing the cop’s first name when you do, changing perspective from character to character, letting the final section be symbolic nearly to the point of baffling. Who’s the person hearing the steps? Who’s telling whom to trust the other, and trust them for what? The amount of daring in this piece alone is enough to earn reward. I just wish I had a little more of a glimpse into the author’s intent. BRONZE

RZ: So is the officer assuming that Robert will get violent?  The writing is good, but the story is a bit vague and doesn’t connect with me.

Quinn Meyers

Torrential downpour
Red eyes aimed high
Under the bridge she hung
Stay with me forever
This is an acrostic poem about death

 

Sama Smith

Elka folded up the note. She pressed down its creases and slipped it up the sleeve of her fraying long sleeve shirt.

It was 3:23.

She stood up and walked to the pencil sharpener on the wall to her right and glanced around. Andrew was reading his book looking bored. He looked up and caught her stare. She smiled. He blinked.

Her pencil now thoroughly sharpened, Elka turned to return to her sit. She went down the next aisle and quietly dropped the note on Andrew’s desk. He tucked it under his book.

Elka sat down and waited.

It was 3:25.

Andrew unfolded the paper and read.

Now, 3:28.

Elka went to sigh, but it caught in her throat as she saw Andrew put his hand up in the air. The hand held her note.

“Excuse me, sir,” Andrew said, waving his arm. “It’s important.”

A low rumbling shook the ground and a hum filled the air. It became hard to breathe, like being in thick humidity. A series of clicks from the Teacher sounded. Elka stifled a sob as Andrew rose and walked to the front.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. But you should know number 216-EK passed me a note just now,” Andrew said. “I think you should read it, sir.”

Andrew smiled and relinquished the note. He bowed and backed away with his head tilted down, eyes averted, and returned to his seat.

Fierce clicking from the Teacher pierced the air. Elka began to cry.

3:30. A loud bell ripped through the air.

Elka could not move. She barely noticed the chairs scrape as the other students left. She fixed her gaze on the clock.

3:31.

First, she felt the blood trickle out of her nose. It caught on her lip and snaked down her chin. Elka had to let it drip. Her arms were pinned to her sides. She could only move her eyes. She looked down as the Teacher approached. Elka stared at the red dots forming on the metal desk.

B: At first I was thinking, “Boy, seen this story a dozen times at CdL” including one I wrote in the finals one season. But then it takes an awesome turn, implying some cool telepathic power shit. That this girl risked this torture knowingly for a boy is heavy stuff. At least I hope it’s just torture. If she’s literally being killed here at the end that might be a bit over the top. GOLD

BD Holy shit. I love how ‘Teacher’ being capitalized felt innocuous at first (when this seemed to by a standard coming-of-age story) but by the end becomes terrifying. The setting is expertly revealed, and it is genuinely frightening to watch as someone is instantly betrayed and horrifically punished over the simple desire to reach out to others. GOLD

Gilman: This one unfolds so smoothly, revealing just enough of its unexpected detail in the midst of so much familiarity. Instead of a sharp turn into twistville, we follow a gentle arc that winds up surprising us nicely when we realize we’re facing an entirely different direction. Very nicely done, and the tiny glimpses of just what’s about to befall Elka are perfect. GOLD

RZ:  That’s one hardcore school.  I like how the time breaks denote breaks in the story.  I envision the Teacher as an automaton who is keeping order is a dystopian world. BRONZE

Roxanne Lewis

“Aren’t you ever scared?”

“Don’t you get dizzy?”

“Have you ever gotten cut?”

 The questions are always the same after the show, as people start to flow out of the tent all the performers stand at the doorway to send the smiling customers back to their cars full of childlike wonder.

I joined the act four months ago as a caretaker for the animals, although my only qualifier for that was a six month employment at a doggy daycare, I loved them all right down to the toothless tiger and the discount elephant. Two months in I was “promoted” to a clown, the makeup was fun but the outfits didn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

As the only lady clown in the act since Red left to pursue her acting career, I was put straight on the spinning table. I had seen the act countless times but that didn’t stop the nerves as my feet and hand were strapped to the wooden circle in front of hundreds of eyes. I wonder if these people will witness my death every time, but still I stand on the platform, honk my big red toy of a nose and place myself on the cold wood.

The other clowns give me a big push and the spinning starts, I’m sure the audience can only see a whirl of colors from my outfit, I try to focus on the ringleaders face as he flings the daggers so precisely, he is a handsome man with a strong jaw and just the right amount of beard. I think about how thankful I am to this man for taking me in and giving me the family I so longed for, I can’t close my eyes because it makes me sick so I focus on his frosty blue eyes and I trust that he will not kill me.

Every time when I am released from the shackles without a scratch I take a bow with him and then I ride out on the elephant, waving to children as I go. Once I have reached the stables where we keep the animals I will cry with a mix of emotions as I tether the big girl, what a cliche, a crying clown.

B: The circus world fascinates me, and this accurately portrays how I’ve been led to believe the circus could be like. Lots of a run-on sentences, unfortunately. Learn to love the semicolon. And can you really focus on the color of someone’s eyes when you’re spinning like that?

BD: Similar to the story about the piano prodigy, this spends too much time telling and not enough time showing. The writing could also use several more edits. Still, has a lot of heart, and the section describing the dagger-throwing is well done and really stands out. BRONZE

Gilman: I can’t quite tell if the sketchy grammar and run-on sentences are a conscious choice by the author, or just a case of forgetting to proofread. I’m leaning to the first option, which does work slightly to the story’s benefit, as it reinforces the narrator’s simpleness. It’s a touching story regardless, and an interesting one, even if its impact doesn’t rise to the level of some other stories this week. I enjoyed it. BRONZE

RZ:  Nicely written story.  I like the description and the backstory, though there are a few times when the prose gets a bit forced.  Specifically, between the second and third paragraphs, the tense changes, which jolts the reader a bit. SILVER

 Annette Baron

10/5/15

“You look like you’re going to die.”

Jim laughed; stopped.  “Oh, you’re serious.”

“Dude.  How much weight have you lost?”

“Probably about 50 lbs.  But hey, I needed to lose weight. I was pre-diabetic.”  He self-consciously rubs his thighs.  His belly hangs over his belt but his arms and legs were stick-like, making him faintly insectile.

“You’re yellow.”  I didn’t smile.  I wasn’t trying to take the sting out of my words.

“You only say that because I told you I’m drinking.  Nobody else has said so.”

“I haven’t laid eyes on you since Chicago.” I thought he was due for a stroke then, ruddy and stressed out.  I wished we were back there.

We talked for hours.  My sister-in-law called the next day and I didn’t lie.

“I don’t think he was listening.  He thinks he can do it himself.”

12/25/15

“Sister!  Merry Christmas!”

My heart sinks . . . drunk again.  Discussing options; I reiterate that he needs to get treatment.

“I’ll lose my job if I take time off right now.  We’re being bought out.  New management is just looking for a reason.”  Round and round.

An electrical engineer, Jim works with high voltage equipment and is currently setting an alarm for 5:00 a.m. so that he can take a couple of shots.  Otherwise, his hands shake too much.

1/15/16

“I quit drinking for three days.”  No preamble.  “This morning I thought I was going to die.  I couldn’t even get up the stairs.”

“You need medical supervision, Jim!  You could literally die from drying out.”

“I’m going to get it.  Maybe this weekend.  I’ve got to figure out stuff at work.”

“Fuck work.”

2/26/16

He never calls during the day, so I answer at my desk.

“I’m in handcuffs at my job.”

“Jesus.”

“I guess I ran over a snowbank and clipped a fellow employee’s car.  I don’t remember.”

“Don’t talk.  Get a lawyer right away.”

2/27/16

“It could have been a kid on a bicycle, Jim!  This isn’t the worst thing; but the worst thing is still coming!”

“God, I would just kill myself.”

“You ARE killing yourself.”

3/4/16

Text from my sister-in-law.

“Checking him in RIGHT NOW!”  🙂

Hope takes a breath.

B: I can’t decide if I like the line “Hope takes a breath” or not. Either way the dialogue feels right to me. I want to know more about the characters, though, as I’m not feeling their pain. BRONZE

BD: This story has one of the most powerful starts of the season, but peters out just a little by the end. And the text with the smiley emoticon really doesn’t work in this context. In spite of that, this is devastating writing and one of the best this week. GOLD

Gilman: Interesting story, and an interesting way to tell it. The episodic style makes each detail in Jim’s deterioration stand out starkly, which helps us feel a little of the speaker’s fear. That last line, though…either Hope is the speaker’s name (in which case it’s a pretty abrupt switch from first- to third-person), or the author’s being a little over-poetic here (which just doesn’t ring true for the tone of the piece as a whole). Good job regardless.
BRONZE

RZ: Most electrical engineers I know don’t frequently work with high voltage, but other than that, I enjoyed the story.  I liked the use of the date stamps to show the progression of his alcoholism.  The disjointed conversation worked well with the tone of the story. BRONZE

Abby Stansel

He can hear her voice.  “Dad!  Stay with me!”

He remembers those words.  A little girl is standing in a meadow.  There are wildflowers under her feet, sunlight in her hair, which flows around her shoulders.

“Dada! Dada! Where are you going! Stay here, with me!” the child cries.  She runs to him, her dress flowered.

He reaches for her.

And then, he is walking away.

She is grabbing his hands, crying out.  “Dad! Dad!”

He tries to respond, to tell her that he is fine.  But then, he can’t speak.

Brightness flashes in his eyes.  He jerks back, startled out of pain.  A hand grips his, fingers tight.

“Dad,” she says again.  “Please, please stay with me.”

He remembers that touch.  Her hand is settled in his, her blue eyes gleaming as she pulls him along to try and get him to keep up with her.

“Dada!” she cries.

In front of them is a fish tank, with a huge creature. The sign tells him what it is, a whale.

“Dada!” the child cries as he pulls his hand free, turns away from her, and walks away.

A man is kneeling over him, with his eyes staring into his.  The light is there again, and this time, his eyes follow it.

“Dad.”  She says. She is there again. Her hands grasp his, holding on.  There are tears streaming from her eyes.  “Dad,” she whispers.  “Dad, why?”  He fights to speak, to breathe, to respond.

But he can’t. His fingers curl around her wrist.

“Dad,” the girl whispers.  “Please, Dad. Stay with me.  Don’t do this.”

He remembers this feeling. The pain. The pills in one hand, the bottle in the other. The pain that drove them down his throat. And then, it was the fear that was all he felt.  What had he done?  What was he doing?  Her voice on the end of the phone, begging him.

He trusted her. She was more a parent than he, she always had been. Her hands held his, her hope held his. So, he turned his frail head back to look at her. Her eyes said what he could not say, his heart said what he could not say.  He had a choice; trust or die. He chose life.

B: The final paragraph seems like it’s playing to the prompt too much so it pulled me out of the story. I honestly think I give this a silver medal if it stops after “her voice on the end of the phone, begging him.” Otherwise, I thought the flashbacks were pretty effective. BRONZE

BD: I like the dream-like atmosphere, but there’s just not a lot to this story. As a result, it feels like the build-up goes is way too long and then everything is hastily wrapped up at the end. I would’ve liked to have gone into a little bit more detail into this man and his history

Gilman: Tricky one, this. I admire the author’s intent here, to make a statement about how a child’s love can be enough sometimes to bring someone back from the precipice, and how sometimes a child is shouldered with a burden that shouldn’t be foisted upon them from a young age. But to be honest, the murky revelations, attempted druggy tone, and the whiplash uplift at the end just made the story feel cloying more than hopeful.

RZ:  Good writing, though the shifting tense throughout the story is distracting. 

David Lauer

She walked into my office the way a non-metric ruler measure things: using feet.

This dame was as pretty as a piano – classy and a perfect combination of black and white.

“You a detective?” were the first words out of her beautiful biracial lips.

“Ain’t that what it says on the door,” I replied.

“I couldn’t read it. It’s full of bullet holes.”

Dang. Gotta remember to get that door fixed.

“Well, miss, I’ll answer this question for you free of charge. Yes, I am a detective. Name’s Roy Shadows.”

“Charmed to meet you, Mr. Shadows. I’m Eleanor Dubois.”

Her name rang more familiar to me than my doorbell on Halloween night – and I live in a neighborhood with lots of families so believe me, my doorbell rings a lot.

For the last month, I had seen the words “ELEANOR DUBOIS: SINGS LIVE” on the marquee outside Shakey’s Cabana Club. I hadn’t seen the act myself, but the 7-11 where I buy my coffee was across the street from the club, and the 7-11 where I buy my newspaper was next door. Why there are two 7-11s across the street from another and why one doesn’t sell coffee and the other doesn’t sell newspapers is a question even I can’t solve.

“Your act is quite the hot ticket, Ms. Dubois. Now what’s a pretty thing like you needing a detective for?”

“My brother’s gone missing. And I think the man responsible is trying to kill me.”

“I guess that would put a kink in the live part of your singing act, huh?”

“Yes, indeed. And I can’t trust the police. My brother was involved in some…  business with Hank Turnblood.”

Turnblood was the greasiest, grimiest gangster this town had ever known. And even before his recent interest in restoring classic cars, when he wasn’t so greasy and grimy, he wasn’t a guy to be questioned. He had men on his payroll in every department on the force.

“And why do you expect me to help find your brother?”

Eleanor lifted a bag filled with an inordinate amount of money onto my desk and in doing so totally demolished the playing card pyramid I had been working on.

Luckily for her, an inordinate amount of money was my going rate.

B: I love detective noir (everyone is named DuBois, no?), and this had me smiling from beginning to end. The over-the-top analogies, the intentional tangents. “An inordinate amount of money was my going rate,” is a dynamite line. GOLD

BD: Jesus, the commitment to idiocy here is impressive. That first line had me thinking the author was trying too hard, but then I realized that the whole story was going to be that stupid. By the time the playing card pyramid got demolished, you had me won over. BRONZE

Gilman: A little farcical noir spoof. Nice idea, but the jokes were either too deliberately set up to be all that funny, or overstated to the point of weakness. And without a healthy serving of decent laughs, there isn’t a whole lot left to play off of the prompt for the week.

RZ: I’m a sucker for puns, and this story delivers.  Great writing! GOLD

Shelbi Sarver

Hi, mommy. It’s me! I know we haven’t met yet, but I can already tell I love you. Your voice and the sound of your laugh…it’s so pretty. You’re always so happy. Promise me you’ll always talk to me the way you talk to the other person that’s always around. They seem nice too, but their voice makes them seem less pretty than you. I just know you’ll like bein’ around me just as much!

Hi again, mommy! You talked to me for the first time today and have even been talkin’ to me so much more! I’m not quite sure what “accident” means, but it sounds like fun! I just know we’ll have so much fun when I’m ready to meet you. I’m just so warm right now. I just wanna snuggle with you here forever!

Promise me we’ll always be together. Don’t cry, mommy. I’ll meet you soon!

Hi, mommy. I don’t know why that not pretty voice was yellin’ at you earlier, but I’m sorry it made you cry so much. “Mistake” doesn’t sound like a fun game. He must like that mistake game though, ‘cause he kept sayin’ it a bunch. I don’t hear him so much lately. Are you okay, mom? You don’t laugh so much anymore.

Mommy, I’m scared. You don’t talk to me anymore and I really miss you…I’m sorry it’s takin’ so long for me to meet you. I promise I’ll come out soon! You’ve been talkin’ to a new voice and it’s not pretty like yours either. He keeps askin’ questions. What is “terminate?” I bet that’s another fun game you have for me too for when I come out. I trust you…I’d do anythin’ for you.

Mommy. What’s happening? I feel scared and I don’t know why…

What is this thing? It isn’t supposed to be here, but it’s getting closer to me…

Mommy…I’M SCARED. MAKE HIM STOP. IT’S SCARING ME AND IT HURTS. MOMMY, HELP ME. MOMMY.

I CAN’T. THE SOUND IS SO LOUD. IT’S HURTING ME. MOMMY PLEASE STOP HIM, DON’T LET HIM…IT

HURTS SO…MOMMY…PLEASE…HELP…

MOMMY…mommy …mom…mo-…

I trust you mommy. If this is what it takes to make you laugh and be happy again…I trust you.

B: I believe a story about abortion can be done well, but this one feels as manipulative as one of those billboards. I guess I just can’t get past the fact that I highly doubt any fetus has these kinds of thoughts.

BD: This is far too emotionally manipulative and I’ll just leave it at that.

Gilman: I’m sorry, this story just came off as manipulative and overwrought. Taking on the perspective of a fetus seems like something you’d read in an Operation Rescue brochure. Maybe it was intended to be satirical? If so, I guess it’s indicative of the power of Poe’s Law. Either way, the whole endeavor feels unsavory, close to being tasteless. Perhaps that’s my bias showing through, and to the author this is a clear-eyed statement of how we should view the unborn. It’s a bias I can’t divorce myself from though.

RZ: This is a tough story to judge.  It’s always difficult for me when a story so directly deals with such a charged topic, on either side.  The writing is good, and the ellipses are used well to break up the different times.  The informal prose works well, though there are a few times when the same word is used frequently (lots of just and always). SILVER

Kelly Wells

Although this was the eighth time he and his brother Solomon had pulled the trick, Christian’s survival instincts took over; he gently pushed up on the coffin’s lid to see if the gasket had activated. It had, of course, and he was unable to do anything about it from the inside. The mausoleum wasn’t well-heated, and the stiff corpse of Princess Geneva offered him no heat. Christian attempted to push himself a bit more to the right; there was no room, of course, but there was just no getting used to sharing space with the dead. He scraped the floor of the coffin with his belt.

“Did you hear something?” Muffled. Who else was down here?

There was a pause before Solomon responded with a dry laugh. “Nice try, but you can’t scare me anymore after years of this job.”

The two of them bantered, and before long, there was grief. The stranger was Princess Geneva’s father, wanting answers about why the Princess had died so young. Solomon attempted to comfort the King while also keeping his answers short.

Christian faded as oxygen ran short.

The conversation outside veered off into the politics of the realm, love, friendship and back to death. Christian’s survival instincts were hard to fight, but if he clawed at the coffin, he and his brother would both end up dead.

Christian could hear the King approaching the exit, as he approached his own.

—————————————————————-

Christian breathed deeply. His cheeks hurt. Solomon had likely been slapping him awake. He looked down at the box full of mausoleum treasures that Solomon had prepared while ostensibly decorating the Princess’s corner.

“Go. I know you’re not well, but go.” Solomon shoved the box in Christian’s arms and pushed him to his feet.

“This is the last one,” Christian whispered back, unable to even look at Princess Geneva’s coffin.

B: A pretty fun con-man story, darker than most. The “life is on the line” part is broached from two different ends, which I appreciate. SILVER

BD: This is a solid idea, but I don’t think it’s fleshed out enough. There’s where too many things left out (such as how this guy got into the coffin of dead royalty without being noticed) to make this plausible. It would make for a great adventure story if given more space, though.

Gilman: It’s a living, I guess. Very interesting subject matter, and the perspective was intriguing throughout. Some of the details of just how and why a coffin stowaway is needed are eluding me though, if Solomon is given access to the tomb to decorate the Princess’ corner in the King’s absence, but that’s okay. It was a good idea handled well. BRONZE

RZ:  The story is well written, but I wonder what they were attempting to gain by having Christian locked in the casket, since Solomon had access to the crypt anyway.  Also, how does one manage to sneak into a coffin in the first place?  

Melissa David

April had planned it since Fall.  James hadn’t liked how much time she spent outside preparing the soil.  He’d liked the idea of a rose garden, though.  Nothing like roses to project a love, refinement, and perfection that wasn’t otherwise there.

In winter, she’d spread the landscape fabric over the soil so it could breathe but not be displaced.  The soil breathed better than she did that winter.  It let in less tangled weeds, less debris.  James hated the fabric for its ugliness.  He didn’t understand the hope beneath it, and he’d never had patience.

April did.  That’s why she’d dug the rosebed much deeper than needed, added more layers of compost, tilled the dirt so much finer and darker.

And now, come Spring, the real work began.  Sarah helped.  April rolled up the landscape fabric, let the wind-swept weeds drop off it and away from the perfect soil beneath.  And Sarah–that sister who’d always been so much stronger–dragged James’s body into the yard.  Broad daylight, and it didn’t matter, thanks to the six-foot high fence.  Better to keep out the neighbors, James had said.  Better to hide her from salacious glances, questions, friendships, life.

They laid him 3 feet under before covering him up.  They planted the roses 18 inches above him, close enough that they could dig their roots into his bones, claim the death there and grow it into fine petals and finer thorns.

When Sergeant O’Shea visited, he noticed the garden. “How long have you been working on that?” he asked.

She’d bought the gun in September.

“She’s wanted to grow roses for years,” Sarah said for her.

April allowed her face to soften, tears to well up.  She said, “James was looking forward to the planting.  I wish he could see it.”

Her tears always undid men–all except James–and the Detective was no different.  “We promise we’ll find him, ma’am.”  His eyes appraised her and flitted over Sarah, too. Sarah put an arm around April, and as she did, her foot moved to cover a ring on the ground.  James’s wedding ring.

The Detective handed April a card.  “That’s my number if you need me.”

“Thank you, Detective,” Sarah said, and as he walked away, April felt safer than she had in years.

B: In the first paragraph we’re told James liked the idea of a rose garden, but then we’re told one paragraph later that he hated it. “He didn’t understand the hope beneath it,” is a bit purple for my tastes. I guess the problem is that it’s implied that James is evil but we’re given no evidence as to why. And I don’t understand the hope that comes with roses either, and I know I don’t deserve to be murdered. BRONZE

BD: Ooo, that “She’s wanted to grow roses for years” line is pretty clever. Overall, this comes off a little too much like a Lifetime movie, and the shift from gardening to murder is a little sudden. There’s some good writing here, though. BRONZE

Gilman: The plainly-stated details of this bit of foul play work very nicely, as it fits the rhythm of the passing of the seasons established at the outset. While James’ death is brought up suddenly, it doesn’t feel abrupt or unnaturally surprising. Just intriguing, making us wonder just how bad things had gotten for April, and just how deep a sibling relationship needs to be to help end a toxic marriage. Nicely done. GOLD

RZ: good chronology and story telling.  The story moved well, and had the obligatory surprise. BRONZE

——————————————————————–

Congratulations to Matt, who wrote a deeply personal story and was awarded with 18 medal points. Also congratulation to Sama, who also pulled down three gold medals and stormed into first place in the standings. Joshua came in third place this week with 14 points.

I won’t discuss all the non-subs this week except to say Bret did submit a story, just an hour late. So I’ll post it below for you all to read.

“Hold still, dammit,” grumbled Rufus, irritation in his deep voice. “I can’t concentrate and do this right with you fidgeting.”

“I think I changed my mind!” blurted Stanley, eyes darting around the dark corners where the shadows whispered and twitched.  “I don’t think this is a good idea.”  He paused, and Rufus could almost hear the wheels turning in his head.  “You sure I can sell my soul for something good?”

“You just gotta trust me and stay put,” Rufus ordered. “You don’t move out of the pentagram until I say so.”

Paying no more attention to Stanley’s commentary, Rufus continued painting symbols, dipping the brush into the pool of blood coming from the limply thrashing goat lying next to him.

A final stroke, and Rufus spat onto the confluence and whispered, “Vergatheus”.
  There was an audible pop when the portal activated.  Rufus kept his head bowed to the floor, but he couldn’t block out Stanley’s screams.

“Daddy?” Rufus flinched at the sound of the girl’s voice.  He turned to look at her, ignoring the dry husk that had been Stanley.  “It took you so long, Daddy.  I was so hungry.”  She reached towards him, palm out flat, stopping just short of the field.  He mirrored her movement, putting his palm up against the sparking, ruby glow emanating from the pentagram.

“I’m sorry it took so long, Abigail,” he murmured, trying not to look at the emptiness in his daughter’s eyes.  “It’s hard finding someone who deserves to die to bring to you.”

 

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