This may have been my favorite week of the season so far. It’s like whenever I run a Brooks challenge everyone is more inspired. Except Brooks.

Brendan Bonham

Mathias surveyed the riverside market as his boathand dragged the skiff to bank of the Congo. Dark-skinned savages played market, moving goods to and fro, a cacophony of noise and color.

“A little help, dear?” Lina cooed from behind. Mathias took her gloved hand as she dismounted. They headed to shore.

Trinkets and ornaments, fruits and candies adorned the stalls, each more wondrous than the last.  Lina’s eyes followed a woman carrying a meter-wide jug on her head. The woman passed, Lina froze.

“Oh Mathias, is that…?”

Mathias stopped in his tracks. “I’ll be damned,” he whispered. The two approached a wooden cage, bars thick as a man’s thigh.

“Good sir,” Mathias addressed the handler, “is that—a gorilla?”

“Yes. Yes.” The man sputtered. “Is gorilla.”

“And…” Mathias looked around, “Blast! Where is Rishi?”

“Dear, he’s tying up the boat.” Lina chimed.

The gorilla yawned. Finger-long yellow fangs elicited a gasp from both Belgians.

“The teeth,” Mathias pointed at his own Canine, “meat?” He enunciated to the man, “Meat?”

“You meat?” the handler looked on confused.

Mathias turned to Lina, “He’s—he’s offering us gorilla meat!”

“Absolutely savage!” Lina wailed. “We shouldn’t be surprised, dear. I’ve read they eat people here.”

The couple looked disparagingly at the man before continuing on their way.

Rishi bolted through the market. Winded, he stopped in front of the gorilla handler.

“Have you seen the whites?” he said in his native tongue.

“Yes, that way,” he pointed. “Very strange. They wanted to eat gorilla.”

B: I love this, very Heart of Darkness. The racism is there in spades. “Played market” is an excellent example of subtlety; unfortunately the racism is a bit too overt in other places. You’re missing a “the” in the first sentence, but you make up for it afterwards with the prose. I really want to give this a gold medal. Just pretend this medal is shinier. SILVER

BD: This is a fun, unassuming tale we have here. It takes the prompt quite literally, which is fine since it also delivers a very well-rendered atmosphere. Solid writing, if a tad bit plain. BRONZE

Gilman: This story was rich in detail, very much put me in its time and place, and had me nice and riveted to see what was going to happen from the get-go. Sad, then, that the actual ending didn’t exactly deliver as much as the establishing passages promised, even though it was a nice little study of culture clashes and lost-in-translation moments. Still, I think even the writing alone would warrants some recognition. BRONZE

RZ: Ah, classic communication blunders and ingrained prejudices.  Good, enjoyable story.  Well written and good descriptions. SILVER

Matt Novak

About 100 meters in, Steve finally felt like he was getting the hang of repelling.  The others had descended much quicker.

Their expedition had camped on the edge of the clearing, near the chasm.  They’d been somehow unable to light a fire, and so sat around the Coleman, divvying up who would stay and who would go.  Even with little climbing experience, Steve was a lock for the descent, the only one with any geological training.

At least there would be a story for the kids.

————–

Chris had dropped a flare that disappeared silently into a blackness of the chasm.  He marveled at the depth, and launched over the side before Steve and Brad had even finished clipping in.  Now, after an hour of climbing, he reached the end of his rope.  They’d need to set new anchors.

He struck another flare.  The light burned momentarily, then snuffed out in his hand. There was nothing to see.  He could only wait in the dark.

—————-

Somehow Brad had managed to split the difference between the other climbers, quickly losing sight of both.  Scanning, he could see nothing.

“Steve?” he called out, “Chris?”

There was no answer.

—————–

The line slackened as Steve’s feet hit the rock floor.  The climb had been a much shorter than he’d expected.  Looking around, he saw no sign of the others, no sign that any person had ever been here before.

A chill wind whistled in the depths of the chasm.

B: A lot of you went for creepy this week and this one takes the cake. We’re not sure exactly what’s happened with the three guys, but leaving the mystery out there is better for me. I literally felt a chill as I read the final sentence. GOLD

BD: Second entry in a row that is almost all atmosphere and no story. That’s not to say this isn’t good; in fact, I like this a lot. This is great adventure writing and creates a genuinely tense atmosphere. I just wish there was a little more plot here to hold on to. SILVER

Gilman: Again, some nicely evocative writing, but it feels more like table-setting than actual story. I get that each descender (or repellant, if you will) is meant to fall victim to the abysmal chasm in turn, but since the story’s not allowed to dwell on their isolation or ill-fate for very long, it doesn’t put any real chill into me until the final line of the story, for just one of the climbers. BRONZE

RZ: Very good story, though the end could have used a stronger finish.  As it was, it built beautifully while using the different points of view to good effect. GOLD

Roxanne Lewis

That familiar metallic taste filled my mouth as I pulled away the loose skin from my bottom lip.

“Fuck.”

Am I crazy? I certainly looked the part. My mother used to say I was eccentric to the parents with reconstructed noses in the air; in reality I couldn’t stop picking at myself, my hair, my lips, my eyelashes, anything that could be plucked from my body.

I’ve never known why I have to count five metal objects before I can use the toilet.

“Door hinge, door hinge, faucet, door knob, drain.”

When people ask me why I pull my hair from my head I answer with a shrug. Only because I could never tell them the truth; it’s impossible to explain why, when I see those little follicles at the end of each strand… I eat them. I am convinced in my very soul that one day I will pluck a hair, the follicle will be glowing vibrantly and it will taste better than anything I’ve ever tasted. Because of this I have only a few patches of hair left on my head, which I cover each morning with the wig mother bought; and I glue on eyelashes made to make me look like Katy Perry because mine are so sparse even mascara couldn’t save them.

“Light switch off, on, off, on, off, good to go.”

As I step into the elevator headed to the roof I wonder if they will use the word eccentric in my obituary.

B: I was digging this as an honest look at OCD, and then I think we have a very rushed switch to suicide in the final sentence. Not that that would be out of character, but I think it happens so fast that I don’t have time for it to kick me in the gut like I hoped it would. Perhaps if I knew who would care that she was dead it would land harder (Mom appears to be dead or otherwise gone already). BRONZE

BD: This is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a creative take on the prompt, and I feel like the writer genuinely understands this character. On the other hand, there is a bit too much telling. Having the narrator engaging in some of these odd behaviors without just explaining them to us would’ve made this more powerful. Still, this one will definitely stick with me for a bit. SILVER

Gilman: gripping and cringe-inducingly vivid depiction of obsessive compulsive existence. The summation of the last line feels a little too pat, but it’s still powerful and it pulled me in and pulled me along powerfully. SILVER

RZ:  You could use more commas, as there were several places where they would have broken up the text nicely.  Also, after reading it a few times, I get the impression that the character is going to commit suicide.  This doesn’t really agree with the forward looking text earlier in the story, which threw me for a loop. BRONZE

Quinn Myers

D-

Guess what he said to me today. Well first at dinner he goes — in front of everyone —  “One of you shall betray me.” And I go, “Jesus, is it me?” And he just stares at me, then breaks the bread and tells us to drink his blood. Like, what the fuck? Just tell me if I did something wrong, Jesus.

Then he’s all, “This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” He’s so goddamn cryptic all the time. Why does he even need us around anymore? To roar and applaud whenever he does one of his stupid tricks? “Oh Jesus wow look at the wine great job, that’s so cool. Look everyone, look what Jesus did!”

That’s literally all he does, just calls me out on shit to be a dick. Cock crows three times… who even listens for that? They’re everywhere. What if I hear three crows at once? What then?

You should’ve seen Peter too, basically drank the entire cup that goody fuckin’ two shoes.

I don’t know. I feel like he wants me to fail, or knows I’m going to and just isn’t saying anything. Like I’m just living out some self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, all to play a side roll in someone else’s life. Should’ve just kept my head down and been an accountant in Jericho like dad wanted… Maybe it’s better I cash out now and leave all this shit behind me while I still have some dignity.

Signing off,

J

B: I feel like I’ve read this type of story many times and it doesn’t tread any new ground. I think the fact that Judas isn’t breaking the fourth wall, yet the author is still wink-wink nudge-nudging at the reader is what leaves this one a bit short for me. I also think Judas sounds too much like a teenager. I do love the line about Peter.

BD: I like this take on Judas; nice, dark sense of humor while still being charming. Still, nothing unexpected comes of this. I was very much hoping for a truly strange twist at the end. I do wonder who ‘D’ is,though (shows how well I know my biblical figures). BRONZE.

Gilman: Forcing Judas into a modern language idiom kind of feels a bit too intentionally clever, or maybe not surprisingly clever enough. It’s a nice instinct, the idea of seeing things from his point of view, but the shift in language makes it play a bit too satirical or humorous to really be an effective critique of anything.

RZ:  This makes me wonder who D is.  However, the rest of the story has some issues that hamper it.  There are several run on sentences, and the informal prose doesn’t really agree with the frustration that Judas is showing.

David Lauer

Grandma Soupy’s Ol’ Fashioned Gorilla Chili Recipe

 

Ingredients:

6 gloves finely chopped garlic

3 tablespoons sugar

3 cans diced tomatoes

2 cans kidney beans

1 large silverback gorilla

salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. Book round trip plane ticket to Africa.
  2. Locate band of gorillas.
  3. Immerse yourself into gorilla band, studying and copying their movements and behaviors until they accept you as one of their own.
  4. Separate the largest male silverback gorilla from the rest of the tribe by asking him to “come over here for a second” under the pretense that you have a question about a girl.
  5. Just straight up murder that gorilla.
  6. Take photos of yourself standing over your fresh kill. Publish on twitter. People will love it.
  7. Travel by plane back to your home, wherever that may be. Bring gorilla with you as “carry-on” luggage to avoid customs.
  8. Look up “chili recipe” on www.allrecipes.com and follow those instructions, except replace “ground beef” with “gorilla”.
  9. ENJOY!

 

B: Six gloves is A LOT of garlic!  This got a smirk from me. But you totally missed a pun. “Carrion” luggage would have made me super happy. The best part is “Just straight up murder that gorilla.”

BD: “People will love it.” Favorite line of the night so far! I don’t normally like these type of gimmicky entries, but the humor is so razor-sharp and confident that I cannot resist. BRONZE

Gilman: Clever, and a nice twist to go for an entry in this format. Still, I don’t think it rises to the level of medal-earning. And Dian Fossey’s Secret Jungle Stew is a heartier meal.

RZ: While cute, this falls short of the other stories.

Christina Pepper

Everything lies.

The mirror, of course, and the camera even more. My husband most of all.

The first photo was a question: what do I look like? Alone in the bedroom, I grabbed my phone and took a quick picture in the mirror before getting dressed.

Later I transferred the photo to an obscure location on my laptop. Who was that woman? I didn’t know the answer, so I took more photos. First occasionally, then daily. Always in the bedroom. Always wearing my underthings. (Not the fancy ones—just the everyday gray or nude or black.)

Inevitably, one night after the kids were asleep my husband came across the folder titled “misc.” He called me over and confronted me. When I told him I’d taken the photos only for myself, he said he believed me, but I knew he was lying.

When I told him I was no longer so young and beautiful as when I met him, he said it wasn’t true, but I knew he was lying.

I told him I’d stop, but I can’t.

A web of tiny purple lines has begun to take over my right thigh. The other mothers at the playground wear shorts, but I can’t.

The sun feels so warm on my skin, but I know it will ruin me, so I retreat to the shade.

And I can’t stop taking photos of my slow, slow decay.

B: Oh this is brutally sad. It doesn’t matter whether or not her husband is lying or telling the truth; her decay seems inevitable and gut-wrenching. GOLD

BD: You are quite the atmospheric, introspective bunch tonight. I like it! Some of this is a bit on the nose (‘my husband most of all’; and that last line), but overall this is an exquisitely written portrait of someone unable to come to grips with aging. GOLD

Gilman: The fatalistic touches in this story are especially effective; some of the lines hit the reader as both evocative and inevitable. Leaves a touch of mystery behind too, with the mention of the purple lines. Something frightening is lurking just below the surface here, and the author helps the reader feel it just as the protagonist feels it. GOLD

RZ: Nicely written story with a feeling of the inevitable aging we all have, along with the insecurities that come along with it. SILVER

Joshua Longman

Bradley slid into his cobra-skin pants and tightened his wicked panda-fur bandana. He was going to enjoy this day.  Woah boy, was it gonna be a day.  Leaving their piece-of-shit house he kissed his mom, kicked the door open, and ran like raging thunder and heavy metal all the way to Animalamorama Castle.

“Who goes there?” A grumpy-old-gator in a helmet asked after a knock on the gate.

“Bradley, geez,” Bradley said as he roundhoused the guard and ran straight to the Mighty Lion Council Chambers. He kicked those doors apart too and somersaulted through the doorway.

“Ahh, Bradley the Instigator!” The Mighty Lion boomed.

“Yoo are here for yoor trial, Instigator?” A nerdy owl asked.

“Fuckin’ right,” Bradley replied, offending some badgers.  But Bradley didn’t give a shit; he dusted his panther-black vest and folded his arms.

“Yoo stand accused of many atrocities in this Great War!  Most notably, devouring a member of our proud council!”

Peace be to Councilman Peaches,”  The animals chanted.

“He tasted like dirty-ass gorilla, not peaches, you animal bastards!” Spaketh Bradley.

“Enough!” Enforcer Rhino roared.  “What plead you?”

“I plead I’m lying!  I’m not here for trial, I’m here to kill all you animal sons-of-bitches!”  

Bradley threw a shuriken through Mighty Lion’s head and chucked a bomb.  It exploded and sent teeth (punched straight from a shark’s face) ripping through the screaming fauna.

In his awesomeness, he killed every beast in Animalamorama Castle that day and Earth was never again ruled by talking animals.

B: Oh, this is good fun, like Kick Ass on steroids. “He tasted like dirty-ass gorilla” got me smiling. “I plead I’m lying!” is great, too. Though the best might be “punched straight from a shark’s face.”  The ending is a kind of a letdown after all that but I still love it. GOLD

BD: What the fuck is this?! How does someone run like heavy metal?!! How many times do I have to say Animalamorama before I pronounce it correctly?!!! I don’t know, but this is still sort of awesome!!!!! BRONZE

Gilman: This is the weirdest review of Zootopia I’ve read so far. Seriously, this is ridiculous and over-the-top and ludicrous and untenable and I loved every greasy morsel of it. BRONZE

RZ: Wow.  For being utterly ridiculous, it’s better than I expected it to be as I started reading it.  It’s a bit over the top, but I chuckled a few times (stopping to kiss his mom on the way out, for example). BRONZE

Margaret Martin

“It’s just a few bucks, Trina.”

The White Castle lady smiled.

She felt that sucking feeling in her guts, like a great black hole pulling her down. Mama always said that feeling was her conscience – the devil coming for her sins.

Lately he was just coming for her money.

Darryl leaned over her, grabbing the bag through the window. “Sure you ain’t hungry?”

She was, but she shook her head. $4.82 til the end of the month. She backed into a parking spot.

Darryl talked while eating, a sloppy combination of lip-smacking and butter-burger spit. “Steve’s selling his double-wide. Good price.We can move out of your Mom’s.”

“Dammit, Darryl! We can’t afford it. I’m working extra hours already, and you’re…”

“I’m what? Fuck. You know it ain’t my fault I can’t find work!” He tossed the fries out the window, a punch to her hollow guts.

She let out an angry, stunned shriek. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.

“What the fuck is your problem? I’ll just walk.” Darryl jumped out, slamming the door behind him.

Trina accelerated angrily. Fuck him.

DING!

The empty tank light came on, small and orange and cruel. She stared at it, doing the math — this many gallons, this many dollars. The sucking abyss returned, pulling at her stomach, throat, eyes…

There was a thunderous crash, the grinding of metal on stone. Trina’s truck slammed into the side of the building.

Darryl spun around. “Trina?” He ran toward the wreck. “Trina!”

B: I like it when we see two characters that aren’t one-note. Darryl is a jerk, but he’s not inhuman. They both appear to be victims of poverty and Trina’s self-pity is spot-on. BRONZE

BD: Wow, this is a stark slice-of-life story. The writing effectively captures that sense of working-class  hopelessness, but the ending is so sudden and overly tragic that it draws me entirely out of the story.

Gilman: There are some nice turns-of-phrase in this piece, and the kernel of an interesting story too. But there needed to be more room to get a sense of who these people are, what the contours of their relationship was like, and how much Trina had already put up with to justify the extreme actions she takes. And Darryl’s offhanded cruelty.

RZ: Great job laying out the hopelessness and desperation of Trina’s situation.  Nice writing! BRONZE

Annette Baron

After the third disappearance, the Feds arrived and college security beefed up its patrol. Suits and uniforms seemed to outnumber fresh-faced students.  Extracurricular activities ground to a halt and students stayed in their dorms or gathered in common areas. There being no visible common denominator in the victims, no one felt safe.

Reena left the library at 10:00, together with three classmates.  The apple-crisp Vermont air lifted her hair but did nothing to sooth her jangling nerves.  A security guard stood at the convergence of paths as Reena bid her friends goodnight.

“I’ll walk you.” The guard fell into step beside her.  The hair on Reena’s arm stood on end and her heart raced.

“No.” She quickened her step.  “No!  I want to walk alone.”

“Wait!”

Reena reached into her bag, whirling and holding out her pepper spray.  He skidded to a halt.

“You just let me alone!” Both her hands and her voice shook. He held out his open palms.

“Just trying to see you home safe, miss, but I’ll just watch from here, ayup?”  He folded his hands across his chest and nodded.

Reena walked backwards for a few steps, then turned to sprint down the path. Inner alarms were firing like electrons and she strained to hear sounds of pursuit.  As she cleared the trees, she gave in to her impulse to look back.

Nothing.  The security guard was gone.  His flashlight spun in lazy in circles on the path, strobe-lighting the whispering trees.

B: The feeling of dread here is palpable, but I can’t help feeling this story is incomplete, like we’re just approaching a climax. Unlike story #2, where I felt that was intentional, here it feels like the ending was chopped off. But damn, good horror. SILVER

BD: The writing here is a bit dry, and there’s really not much to the story.That’s a cracker of an ending, though, and I’d certainly be interested in seeing where this is going.

Gilman: Here’s a story I’d like to have read more of, but it’s not to the detriment of the piece overall. It’s a nicely chilling tag at the end, if a bit too neat, and the transition from describing the campus as a whole to focusing on one student could be smoother. Still, a piece that accomplishes a good amount in a cramped space. SILVER

RZ: I wonder at the description “firing like electrons” since I don’t usually think of electrons as “firing”.  Other than that, the story was very good, with a good outline of the premise, an intro to the characters, and a nice suspenseful conclusion. GOLD

Bret Highum

The fungus burned a smoky green, flickering flames carrying murky fumes through the eddying air of the subterranean cavern.  The floor revealed in the half-light was empty but for a throne hewn from a single stalagmite, directly across the fire from where I crouched, broken and defeated.

I licked my lips again, tasting the bitterness of the smoke as it stung my cracked skin.

“I didn’t know.”  My throat is raw and my voice is hoarse, but in the stone-lined void, I may as well have shouted.

The creature that rises from the stony chair is nothing I would have been able to imagine, a collection of too-long limbs lined with flinty spurs.  Its voice seeps through the chill water of the dripping ceiling and the clatter of stone chipping at bones to crack for their marrow.

“You searched for riches, and you found us.  Others have come before, and more will come again.  If they are strong enough, they can make the choice.”

I don’t want to ask, but the smoke is penetrating my brain and I can hear nails scraping the floor behind me.

“What choice?” I hear my voice rasp out, unprompted.

The creature leans close, great white eyes boring into mine, a charnel reek on its toothy breath.

“You may join us.”

B: I generally dig Lovecraftian horror and this is no exception. The first sentence is a bit long-winded, like the author is really trying to impress. But it evens out after that. I would have preferred something a little more subtle than “You may join us,” but the sense of utter helplessness comes through well. BRONZE

BD: The language in the first paragraph is too flowery for its own good, and I’m not sure what to think of the ending. Still, as a whole this is one wild fever-dream of a story, and I love the descriptions of the creature. GOLD

Gilman: Very sinister and very tightly wound, as a story like this should be. The author’s quite fond of their adjectives, and sometimes it distracted me from the rhythmic process of reading, where I would have preferred to be truly sucked into the moment. But man is this a nice little piece, daggerlike in how clean and cutting its final reveal is. GOLD

RZ: I really don’t like present tense voice in these short stories, as I feel it detracts.  Unless the story is extremely fast paced, the present tense really makes the story drag.  You did a good job of describing the scene, however.

Shawn Ashley

“How’s it going in there?!” My husband called.

I looked up, covered in dust, feeling despair at how much more of this house needed attention.

“Fine, “I called, brushing hair from my sweaty face. The previous owner had covered every inch of this place with horrifying wallpaper.

I hooked a chunk, started to pull slowly…There was a strange satisfaction from pulling off a large piece.

 I started to pick away at the pieces I’d missed. Even the pick-pick-picking was satisfying. Like scratching an itch.

I noticed writing underneath that last pick.

Marilyn Connors, 1983. Well, Marilyn, you have horrible taste in wallpaper.I almost missed the writing in the bottom corner of the next room. Donna Haggerought, 1979.

I collapsed into bed that night, body hurting all over.

My husband crawled into bed and muttered, “The last owners apparently liked to sign their horrible wallpaper.”

My eyes opened slowly. “Marilyn?”

“No,” he answered. “Jennifer and Charlene…I think.”

I turned over. “What??” I grabbed my iPad, fully awake now.

“What are you doing?” My husband asked.

“Not sure.” I Googled Marilyn Connors, 1983.

Marilyn Connors, 1983 produced a series of results.

Missing person results.

A sheet of terror cloaked over me. “What are those other names?” I asked.

We didn’t go to sleep that night. We got names off of the wall in every room in the house. Every name was one of a missing woman.

There was a devil who had lived in this house.

We moved shortly thereafter.

B: As soon as you mentioned the second name I knew exactly what was going on. It’s tough when the reader is way ahead of the characters, so it’s a bit plodding to watch them slowly realize what you already know, then dwell on it further. I’m also not sure where the line about the devil comes from. Where did they get that conclusion? BRONZE

BD: I like the idea a lot, and the opening to this story is very powerful. The pacing quickly gets a little awkward, though, with several important plot points described in single sentences. And the idea that the most notable thing that happened as a result of the revelations is that the couple moved out is a little comical.

Gilman: This story has a lot of the best features of that modern day “creepypasta” style, and it’s a nice and tidy little chiller. Believable, well-paced, and unassuming until the end. But I would’ve perferred a more snappy summary and reveal, rather than letting the characters/reader off the hook by telling us the protags moved safely away from the murder-house after their discovery. BRONZE

RZ:  I really liked aspects of the story.  The writing was very well done, and I loved the “horrifying wallpaper” comment.  The story built nicely and had a good feeling of intensity.  The last line really capped it off well. GOLD

Kelly Wells

John was aware of the eyes on him as he stood over the casket of his sixteen-year-old daughter Ruth. But he had tried to save her.

Two years earlier her biggest form of rebellion was to get together with her friend Christy and ruin their lips doing the Kylie Jenner challenge and laughing at how stupid it looked. Somewhere along the way, though, the devil had gotten into both girls and John had noticed too late.

First it was just conversation, but eventually John had attempted to beat it out of her. Though he had always heard stories in his Bible group of this approach working, it hadn’t turned his daughter around. Conversion camp had been a last resort, and Ruth had come home in a calmer state than he had ever seen her.

A week later, she hung herself.

They all stared at John, but God would appreciate how hard he had tried to save his daughter. John knew it.

B: John’s character is a bit paper thin here, making this seem like more of a political story against bible camp (which itself is fish-barrel shooting) than an expose into a real person’s struggles with his identity as a parent.

BD: This is some very, very dark stuff. It’s far too short, though, and subject matter this heavy needs a lot more room to breathe.

Gilman: While the subject matter is delicate and definitely layered, the presentation it’s given in this story feels rote and removed, almost like a parable intended to highlight a specific perspective rather than give the plot, characters, or context room to grow on its own. A heady topic turned unremarkable in how far removed the story gets from communicating human feeling.

RZ: I like the bones of the story, but I feel like it would be better if the second paragraph was broken up and more detail was provided.  As it is, it moved very fast and lost a lot of detail that would have made it more compelling.

Abby Stansel

Darkness swirls around the man. His eyes are darkened with a lifetime of pain, his shoulders

hunched by a thousand years worth of war. The darkness is tendrils, grabbing him, restraining him, or trying. But he fights and pulls, twisting, pulling. And then, there is a hand. It is scuffed and worn. His fingers reach for it.

But then, the hand is gone, thrown away into the pit of darkness, as hungry as a pool of piranhas.

He thrashes and twists, but the darkness reaches around, strokes him. Bringing him to his knees, it wraps it’s tendrils around his shoulders and holds on.

The darkness flows around him. He struggles to move, to fight, to breathe. Finally, for a second, it retreats. And he pauses in his fight, gasping. But then, it is back. It entangles him, pinning him to the floor and lashing itself around his head, around his heart.

Hands reach him in that moment. He feels them, but barely. The voice echoes along his sole, reverberating up his body, pushing the darkness away.

He raises his head, staring into his boyfriends eyes. Those eyes, those deep, dark blue eyes, that hold him in a gaze that says so many things that he does not have the strength to say.

He tells himself that he won’t let it happen again. He tells himself he will make it.

Two days later, he sees those eyes again.

B: Oh, we have an “it’s/its” swap here, as well as a missing apostrophe in “boyfriends.” I wish I knew what was going on, though we have some good imagery.

BD: I’m really not sure what to make of this. The writing has a nice, dreamy quality to it, and the whole thing sort of comes across as a hallucinatory ode to sleep paralysis, or something. The ending is very compelling, but without more of an explanation as to what’s going on, I find I can’t get too emotionally invested.

Gilman: Some nifty, evocative language at the outset of this story that just sort of stays too murky and too undefined to become something compelling. The introduction of the boyfriend’s eyes is confusing, and while I have some suspicion about what’s meant to be happening toward the end, there’s really nothing to grab onto that would support a theory. Add to that the pretty blatant proofreading errors peppered throughout, and this story just didn’t have enough positives going for it.

RZ:  You do a good job pulling off the present tense storytelling (which, as you may have picked up, is a pet peeve of mine).  There are a couple of minor quibbles, however.  First of all, I’m guessing that the voice echos along his soul, and I’m hoping he only has one boyfriend, though I guess anything is possible.  Also, I think it would have finished stronger if it had ended one sentence earlier. Good writing. SILVER

Sama Smith

“Feeling lost today, are we?”

“Um, well, yes, but–”

“No problem, no problem. I’ve got just the thing. Here, take it. You’ll feel better.”

And I did. I felt like a million bucks. I felt lost and free and floating and besieged.

Thank god, I didn’t feel like me.

“But, what about tomorrow?”

“Well, now, I might have something for that,” he said with a waggle and a wink. “I just have to take a peek.”

He took out a key and unbuttoned my Daisy Mae blouse. He placed the key in the hole in my chest, twisted with gritted teeth and opened it with a soft creaking protest. I should probably remember to oil the hinges soon. He gave me another reassuring wink.

“Hmmm, well, this is running on empty. You weren’t kidding.” The man took some things out of his kit and tinkered around a bit. “I think this might do the trick. But it won’t last forever.”

“Yes, I know,” I squeezed my eyes tight and felt something fizzing up. He closed my cavity and even oiled the hinges just a bit.

“For luck,” he said placing the oil can in his suitcase. He smirked as he slipped the key back in his breast pocket and readied to leave.

“How long will it last this time?” I asked before he slinked away.

He turned to me, sunglasses reflecting my sullen face.

“I’ll see you soon.”

And I did. When I get lost. He finds me, heart aching.

B: Oh, the classic “she’s an automaton” story, yet without the cheap twist-ending. Seriously, I appreciate you digging into this relationship on its face. This could make an even longer story. Sweet ending. SILVER

BD: Wow, this is fantastic. Another dreamy story in a week filled with them, but the writing is self-assured and absolutely flawlessly executed. It may not be my favorite story of the season, but this is easily my favorite prose. GOLD

Gilman: Some heady, very strong imagery here that undermines any assumption of who our main characters are, or what they are, or what even is going on. But that sense of uncertainty makes for some good reading, as I found myself equally interested in figuring out just what was beneath it all, and not wanting to know so the story retained its mysterious tone. SILVER

RZ:  This is good dialog, but I think it’d be stronger with more details about the characters.  There are a few dropped about both people, but not enough (in my opinion) to really draw the story forward.

Brooks Maki

the man laid his fork particularly to the left of his plate and glanced once so quickly to his left that you would have missed it if you didn’t know his every tic like I did having lived with him for two seasons now and knowing that you had just served him great insult when you used the gorilla oven mitt as a puppet to announce the soup course

B: Brooks again? Fun sentence as usual but not much of a story. I did smirk at the oven mitt puppet.

BD: Hmm, we had a story that was very similar in tone last week. However, this doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the prose doesn’t quite hit the stream-of-consciousness sweet spot. Whatever that may be.

Gilman: There seems to be a rash of these cheeky, incomplete little story fragments this season. I don’t know if it’s all the same author or not, but it’s rarely a beneficial exercise as far as a writing competition goes. Basically, if you can’t be bothered to find something in your own story to interest you into writing it out more completely, chances are it’s not going to interest the reader much either.

rz: argh run on sentences are painful to read why can’t you use punctuation dont you know the story would be better and the punchline would be funnier you would probably get more metals too and sometimes there is a big enough  change of topic that you really need to seperate it somehow and you just dont why why why

Shelbi Sarver

We never thought we would find him, but today I get to see the execution of the man who claimed 37 lives…or at least that is what he says. We only really know of seven, but I wouldn’t put it passed him. Everybody knows he is a clever man.

As I walk into the witness room, I look down on him. I was there when he was taken into custody, but it’s only now that I really get to look at him. He is older than the sketch artist’s picture now, but he wears the same glasses. They left out the part where he has a chronic oral fixation the likes I have never seen. His lips are torn to shreds to the point where even from the window, I can see spots of dry blood, as well as new pools of blood forming.

Who would have thought that after all of these years it would be his son that realized who he was?

“Any last words?”

“Only this,” says the murderer. “Pick your lips ’til they’re bleeding. Don’t you know I fell? The lair of the queer devil is deeper than you thought. You all think you have it figured out, but every true follower of the “Zodiac” knows that you don’t. Including me.”

Wait a second. “Including me?”

The chief comes running through the door just as they flip the switch.

“The Zodiac Killer struck again. This man is an imposter.”

B: This starts out strong, then pulls me out of the story by copy/pasting the full lyric. So while the character is suppose to be just talking, the music is in my head. Also, you wrote “passed” when you meant “past.” That aside, the twist ending feels awfully rushed. I’m not sure how the victim saying, “including me,” set off any warning bells, and the chief running in right after the switch is flipped feels like a movie contrivance.

BD: Throwing the prompt directly into the story is not necessarily a good idea, but in this case it’s definitely creepy coming from the mouth of this weirdo. Like a few other stories this week, this one explains way too much. As a result, we can see the ending coming from a mile away.

Gilman: The first two paragraphs had me invested, no question, but from then on things took a turn for the pulpy whodunnit sort of vibe, right from the moment that the author telegraphs the disbelief we’re supposed to feel as readers about who tipped off the cops. There really wasn’t a need to include the story prompt in the piece, and it makes the final few beats of the story feel theatrical in a not-so-good way.

RZ: This isn’t a bad story, but there are a few details that prevent it from being better, such as “passed” instead of “past” and the “likes of which I have never seen” when the POV character had in fact seen it.  These sorts of very minor errors draw the reader out of the story.

Melissa David

Rain poured.  Water fell in sheets from the porch awning, providing a curtain behind the two girls.  The teenager had long hair.  Her bangs were too long.  Maya couldn’t even see them even in the porch light.  The second girl wore a hoodie.  She had a stuffed animal tucked under her arm.  She couldn’t be more than 8 years old.  Maybe 10.

“I lost my cell phone,” the older girl said.  “Can we use your phone?”

Maya blinked at them, still too tired  “It’s two in the morning,” she said.  “You guys shouldn’t be out.”

“I was bringing my sister home,” the older one said.

The little one picked at her lip. A piece of skin caught between her fingers.  She peeled it away.  A line of blood welled up.  Maya grimaced.

“Look, ma’am, just let us in.”

The other girl’s voice was firmer.  Maya turned to her, and her grip tightened on the door. She could see the girl’s eyes now.  They were black.  Round, beautiful, pitch black, and terrifying.

Maya stepped away.  “Go away.”

The older girl’s lips tightened.

Footsteps came down the stairs.  Owen appeared, eyes bleary.  “Who is it?”

“A couple of kids,” she said.  “They’re leaving.”

“In this rain?” He glanced over her shoulder, and maybe he didn’t see them clearly — the black eyes, the subtle bruises on pale skin, the blood on the younger one’s lips.  “Jesus, Maya.  Don’t leave them out there.  Let them in!”

Maya screamed.  “No!”

The older girl smiled.

B: This has a lot of creep factor, but much like the story about the boyfriend, I have no clue what’s going on. The first paragraph has some issues. Her long hair is mentioned twice, and we get the word “even” twice in the same sentence.

BD: Never let them in! This reminds of that seen in The Lost Boys where the guy’s best friend is floating outside of the window begging to be invited inside. Sure, this gives itself away a little early, and the first paragraph is a bit confused, but I like stories where the vampires are actually evil and not sparkly creeps. SILVER

Gilman: I like where this story’s headed, and I wanted to find out more. Owen’s intervention into the conflict was perfectly placed and perfectly played, and it basically made the story for me. This was an exciting little blast of cold right at the end of this week’s entries. GOLD

RZ: Good mood building.  There are a few areas where it gets a little repetitive (rain poured.  Water fell in sheets, and so on), but overall it was very nicely written. BRONZE

—————————————————————–

Congratulations to Christina, who moved the judges to the tune of 18 medal points, yet another oh-so-closer to the quad-gold. Matt came in second with 14 points. And Annette and Sama tied for third with 11 points. The medal standings have been updated. Welcome Bret to the playoff picture!

 

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