Brutal week folks. Lots and lots of insults. Also, the judges agreed almost universally. Universally enough for our first quad-gold?

Margaret Martin

Grief hung on him like his too-big black suit. His eyes were pale, his white hair combed straight. “Did I ever tell you about the day we met?”

I shook my head.

“February 10, 1959. She was wearing a formal black dress that reached the floor. You couldn’t see her feet. She floated like a ship at sea. Graceful. Commanding.”

With rounded arms he demonstrated her floating girth.

“I went to her and said, ‘You’re like The Queen Mary.’

“She was indignant. She said, ‘I hope you aren’t comparing me to an ocean liner!’

“I was, of course. But I said, ‘No! Not The Queen Mary. Mary, the Queen.’

“And she laughed, and I laughed. For 47 years we laughed.”

He tried to laugh then, but ended up choking back a sob.

I struggled to find some comforting words. “She was beautiful.”

He nodded. “I thought she’d be unsinkable.”

B: I like that this story makes it difficult for me to know how to feel. Do I feel for this guy because his soul is crushed underneath his bravado? Or does the guy make me squirm because he launched his marriage by calling a stranger a fatso? I think it’s somewhere in the middle. SILVER

BD: Now this is the way to start a round. Using the insult as a spark for love is a great idea in itself, but wrapped in prose this refined makes for a genuinely moving story. A few of the descriptions could be reigned in (for instance, the graceful/commanding lines are unnecessary), but otherwise I love this. GOLD

Gilman: A really interesting take on the prompt right at the outset. I just love the sense of time passed and lives lived that this conversation communicates to us, almost effortlessly. Manages to have a bit of bittersweet sadness and fondness in such a tiny bit of writing. GOLD

Pete: I like this. In some ways,  it’s a little odd that a person would walk up another and compare this person to an ocean liner. It’s more than a little sweet that such a beginning turned into something more. GOLD

Brooks Maki

This is worse than a non-sub. Why did you bother?

B: I’m tempted to make this a non-sub anyway, but this somehow does fit the prompt. So that’s why you bothered!

BD: Oh, I’ve asked myself this question so many times. . .

Gilman: Okay then.

Pete: I…agree?

Shelbi Sarver

“I don’t think you’re attractive. I think you’re the biggest mistake I ever made and I wish I had never been with you. You’re annoying and pathetic and could not care less what happens to you. It’s not that I necessarily hate you, I just don’t care about you in the slightest.”

“You said you loved me. For what it’s worth, I still love you. I also recognize that you don’t and never have loved me. If you had, it would break your heart to even think of a world where I didn’t exist. A world where WE didn’t exist. I’ve gone through the mental abuse, the insults, I have been there for you no matter what, and even after all of that, I still care about you. That is love.”

“Call it what you want, I don’t really care.”

“The one honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

B: The third sentence throws me out for a bit as we’re missing a pronoun between “and” and “could.” But mainly I wish we knew something about either person, so the horribleness would land better.

BD: This is some harsh stuff. I’m imagining this as a conversation of things that people want to say when they are in a broken relationship, but never do. Which makes this a little cathartic, in its own way, but it’s also a bit two-dimensional.

Gilman: Ouch. Two people who obviously know one another so much, they know just which buttons to push. No need for more context here, obviously, and it sets up a perfect sting at the end. Nicely done. SILVER

Pete: Hmm. There’s a lot to unpack here in a fairly short period of time. I think the word limit comes into play here (I note you hit 149), and there’s certainly enough here to paint a picture of the toxicity of the relationship. Still, without any deeper context, it never really gels. Neither side get fleshed out enough for me to invest in their story.

Melissa David

Bonnie watched the movers haul another box out through the hospital doors.  The mechanical restraints were all now officially removed.  She took a deep breath, enjoying this change in–

Fucking muck snipes!

Bonnie gritted her teeth.  That damned tree again.  She spun around to confront it, hands on her hips, but her husband stood between her and the offending elm.  He smiled as more movers passed.  “We have changed the very reputation of this hospital,” he said.

Bonnie glowered.  “Not until you get rid of that tree!”

George glanced at it.  “But everybody loves that tree.”

Your woman’s a whore.  

George winced.

You’ll never satisfy her like I can.

Bonnie sighed.  “And now it thinks it’s a better lover than you.”

“We all know that to be untrue.”

“Cut the thing down!”

She whirled around and fled towards the hospital.

Cuckolded fool, the tree muttered.

George ran after her.

B: Oh, how wonderful! I want a prequel and a sequel to this world with this delightful tree with an extended vocabulary. Cuckolded!  Maybe the easiest medal I’ve given all year. GOLD

BD: Trees are assholes. I really like the atmosphere and dialogue, but I can’t quite fully embrace this story because too many details are left out. Are Bonnie and George residents of a mental hospital? Why were the mechanical restraints removed? If the plot were filled out a little more this could definitely have been a gold. SILVER

Gilman: The ambiguity here barely scrapes up against a level of confusion that’s less helpful for the story than I’d have liked…but there’s enough suggestion that only Bonnie really hears the insults for it to be puzzling in a good way. I could be wrong about that, maybe both of them hear it. Either way this is a really fascinating snapshot, and I wish I could know more of what’s happened before and what will happen after. GOLD

Pete: First off, I absolutely love the way George says “we all know that to be untrue”. The slightly ambiguous setting works well, and Bonnie feels like a troubled character worth investing in. It’s a lot of work to build character and intrigue in so few words. As a side note, “Fucking muck snipes” is now in my lexicon, so thank you very much for that, author. GOLD

Roxanne Lewis

Friday night walking down fourth avenue for a final drink at the lounge.

“Mmmm I’ll tear that shit up, thick white girl” he said from the shadows while looking the younger of the two up and down like he was ready to pounce.

“You shut the fuck up, don’t talk to her like that” she snarled back without skipping a beat while looking at her sister wondering how often this happened to her.

“YOU shut the fuck up. You don’t like it, get off this block, we’re rough around here”

“Mother fucker this is my neighborhood and you don’t talk to women like that” she never struggles to put people in there place even if all her sister can do is put her head down and shuffle by.

“Bitch, get the fuck up on outta here”

“Oh, and you certainly don’t talk to me like that you disgusting mother fucker”

B: Lots of comma splices speed up the pace when some slowing down would have helped the punches land harder. I also wish this was more than just a snippet of a conversation. This does feel like a realistic exchange of barbs.

BD: You’ve got my blood boiling, which is certainly the goal of a story like this. There’s some raw emotion, but the dialogue is sometimes too unrealistic (‘we’re rough around here’ is the most prominent example). This combined with several punctuation errors keeps this out of medal range for me.

Gilman: Very gripping, honest dialogue here, but not much of a “story” story. No arc, nothing said about the characters other than the action itself. That isn’t always a hindrance, but so far the level of writing this week has been pretty solid, so it may not be enough to garner a medal. Also: “put people in THEIR place.”

Pete: If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if only half of it was gathered. It seems to be building towards something, but then just drops off right at the point where I’d expect the conflict to either escalate or peter out. I do agree, though, you just can’t talk to women like that. Shame on you, mother fucker. BRONZE

Annette Baron

I pounded on Alex’s door several time before it finally opened.

“Dan.  What’s up?” Alex’s hair stood on end and his boxers drooped around his skinny hips alarmingly.

“Sorry.  I just had a nightmare that one of my formulas is wrong.  I want to double check my section before you submit it.”

“It’s fine, Dan.” Alex waved his hand at my fears. “I already submitted it.  I was worried I would sleep through the 10:00 a.m. deadline, so I submitted it last night.”

I slumped against the door jam.  “Damn.  I know I copied that second formula incorrectly. Sleep-deprived dyslexia. Sorry, buddy.”

Alex shook his head.  “I fixed it, Dan.  No worries.”

“You checked my work?”

Alex’s face froze.  I watched calculation race across his eyes and then he shrugged; there was nothing he could say.  I turned to leave and the door shut quietly behind me.

B: Another great take on the concept, a fine touch of subtlety. I also like that Alex’s boxers dropping doesn’t faze Dan at all given his preoccupation. Great character study and development in so few words. GOLD

BD: This is wonderfully subtle. Dan being so worried about the calculations, and then being insulted when Alex admits to double-checking the work, is a clever observation on the contradictions that often accompany arrogance. Great take on the prompt. GOLD

Gilman: Oooh, crafty way to define what an “insult” could be. The pacing is a bit quick, though, for each of the notes the author wishes to touch on, and we don’t quite get a sense of the panic Dan must be feeling, which is unfortunate. Also: door JAMB. SILVER

Pete: A lot of the worst insults are the unspoken, unintentional ones. I love Alex’s reaction here, and the writer sets the mood very well. Good job. GOLD

Abby Stansel

The words prick through my skin like knives.  They strike me, gutting me with every syllable.  The insults float in my mind, slamming me every time I try to rise.  Every letter is a knife, every word is a sword.  I can see their eyes, their faces, they don’t try to hide.  The people around them stand, closing me in. Their words fill the air around me.  Freak. Spaz.  R*tard.  A mistake.  I fight to my feet, to turn, to run.  I am getting away.  The doors loom in front of me.  I can hear the bus horns honking.  And then, it catches me.

“Why don’t you just go and die,” they say. The words catch me as I take off and run.  But they still follow.  I hit the ground, curling away as they press a knife into my hand.  The tears run as it hits my heart.

B: A visceral look into the internal effects of bullying.BRONZE

BD: This is a very oppressive piece. The writing can often feel overwrought, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that someone experiencing this type of crippling self-esteem and paranoia would think in words very much like this. BRONZE

Gilman: Powerful and blunt stuff, this, but maybe a little too decontextualized. It makes the depiction of the insult seem a touch over-dramatic. Maybe a little too much reliance on the visual metaphor of words-as-knives. BRONZE

Pete: I dread a day when my son comes back from school crying because kids are horrible jerks.

Christina Pepper

“Popsicle,” wails Henry. “More poooopsiiiiiiiiiicle!”

I glance over at Chris. He’s the one who bought Henry a “special treat” to make up for being gone all last week.

“No,” I say. “We’re done.”

“Noooooooooooooooooooooo!” Henry launches himself out of his seat and begins pounding his four-year-old fists on the linoleum floor.

“Henry,” I yell. “Look at me!”

He doesn’t look.

Chris takes a sip of beer and says nothing.

“Henry!” I grab him. “I’m talking to you!”

He claws at my face, and I pull away. His screams grow louder and then he starts spitting on the floor.

“Stop it! Right now!!”

Henry looks straight at me, “I hate you, Mommy!”

“Shut up,” I scream.

I grab Henry again. And then I slap his face. Hard.

He stops crying.

“Don’t ever say that again,” I whisper, my face right next to his. “You hear me?”

B: Which fucker used the name of my son for this story? I hate you. BRONZE

BD: This week has had a few of these short, brutal snippets of life. There’s not much to this story, and it’s a pretty straightforward take on the prompt. But it is very well told, even if it is difficult to observe such harsh, acidic relationships. BRONZE

Gilman: Yipes, this was hard to read. No denying the authenticity of a scene like this: something pretty similar to this happens all the time, I’m sure. And without explanation, it fills in a lot of background and context the author doesn’t intentionally provide. (Or maybe that’s just my own ingrained prejudices and presumptions talking, which doesn’t speak very well of me.) Either way, this was a brutal story, in many senses of the word. SILVER

Pete: This one gives me a pit in my stomach that I can’t shake. It sets a mood with grim detail and offers no easy outs to the reader in a way that doesn’t really feel manipulative. It’s difficult subject matter, and it’s tough to “like” per se, but it’s well done. Damn you, Chris, you jerk. SILVER

Sama Smith

“He is doing so well!”

“He’s come such a long way!”

“He’s such a sweet boy.”

“He’s such a delight.”

“He’s adorable!”

“He’s so good looking.”

“He’s so smart!”

——-

“We’re going to need to test him again.”

“He struggles with social interaction the most.”

“He needs more therapies.”

“Do the brushing five times a day or more. Try puppy rocks and squishes too. Here I’ll show you how to do it.”

“Yes, the picture schedules should help with the meltdowns.”

“No one else in his class talks in gibberish.”

“He’s having emotional outbursts during lunch time. Loud screaming bursts.”

“He is toe walking.”

“Yes, but arm flapping can come and go.”

“He still needs adult assistance in the classroom.”

——

“Mommy? Mommy? MOMMY! MOMMY, MOMMY, MOMMY!”

Deep breath. Gather him in my arms and hold him tight. Stroke his hair, if he’ll let me. Distract.

“Hey, let’s spell mommy, OK?”

“OK.”

B: I like that the insults focus more on what mommy is feeling rather than the intention of the people saying them. Her son is being given praise and mom is being given helpful advice, and yet she still feels lost. Subtley is king this week. GOLD

BD: You all really are in a dark mood this week. Another harsh story, but this has a lot of authentic emotion and we end on at least a somewhat uplifting note. The mother’s resilience and love are a nice silver lining to an otherwise tragic episode. SILVER

Gilman: Oh man, two very brutal entries in a row. The stylistic choices here get across some of the inherent frustrating contradictions about raising a child with emotional and environmental sensitivities, but it also makes the story feel a bit distant, a bit impersonal. Right up until the end, though. That last section brings the reality and enormity of things right to the fore. BRONZE

Pete: That first transition put a chill in the blood. I like the author’s choice to use quotes here, as they tell the story better and in fewer words than normal prose could. SILVER

Bret Highum

Her indifference is a concrete wall.  Silent and solid, it sits between us, no matter what I do.

I long for the days when she would scream and rant at me. When she would get mad and call me an asshole or a dick.

I wish she cared enough to feel something for me.

B: Indifference is a powerful insult, and I wish I had two characters to give this more punch.

BD: This strikes a very similar tone to some of the other relationship stories this week, but it’s not quite as fleshed out. There’s just not enough here to make it stand out.

Gilman: There’s a nifty insight here, one that isn’t exactly a huge revelation, but it’s still a powerful one. I wish there were more story to go along with it. BRONZE

Pete: There are questions, obviously: primarily, why does the narrator remain in the burnt out husk of a relationship? The story as we are told here is succinct, but still, against some of the stronger, more fleshed out stories this week, it doesn’t leave as much of an impact.

Joshua Longman

Wicked renegades?  No, used that before.

Loudmouthed warmongers?  Too wordy…

Ye-jun stared at his computer.  It was his only reprieve from monotony and yet he wanted to smash it.  Of course he would never dare, especially after Hyun-woo disappeared.  Why did they take his friend; what did he do?  The only other English speaker in the Glorious Department of Foreign Relations.  Gone.

If Ye-jun couldn’t conjure some devastating attack against the Imperialist character, the Supreme Commander would undoubtedly snatch him away as well.

He summoned his years of American culture study; surely lodged somewhere between Friends and South Park was the perfect slur.

What did dyke mean again?  Ye-jun consulted his dictionary.  No…no that wouldn’t work.

He idly flipped through the pages.  There!  Perfect!

The voice of his nation, Ye-Jun hastily prepared the press release:

‘The profound and wondrous DPRK steadfastly denies the allegations of the bescumbering American dogs….’

B: Heh heh. The best part of this story is that I learned a new insult. SILVER

BD: I already liked this story, but looking up the definition of ‘bescumber’ immediately notched it upa few points. In all seriousness, this is a wonderfully executed little tragi-comedy. GOLD

Gilman: A lot of table-setting and exposition was necessary to get to this punchline, as much as I liked it. Bescumbering should be a more commonly utilized word, and maybe the given name of one of the lost Cumberbatch siblings. But yeah, the story takes up most of its time in explanation, and with so many visceral and cutting entries this week, it’s hard to stack this one up against the rest. BRONZE

Pete: I actually had to look “Bescumbering” up. The punchline (such as it is) definitely kicks this one up a notch, with the perfectly absurd word choice matching up against what is otherwise a serious situation. SILVER

Quinn Myers

No ideas came to fruition this week so I’m going to tell you about the specific moment my life peaked, from which it’s all been downhill. I was 11 years old.

It was 4th of July in Ottawa Illinois, and everyone lined the riverwalk to watch the fireworks. I jaunted along with my scrappy friends when I encountered the kid who used to beat me up on a daily basis. He was 15, sitting next to his hillbilly girlfriend.

We locked eyes. It’d been 2 years since he threw me in a garbage can at the Little League diamonds. He called me a pussy.

I stared back and with all the gusto of a scrawny, ginger-haired preteen said, “I am what I eat!”

My friends cheered and his girlfriend laughed before it sunk into his thick skull. I strode on into the summer twilight, the Goddamn King of the Riverwalk.

B: I guess since you’re not using an original joke, breaking the fourth wall probably helps your story a bit. It’s a bit melodramatic for a personal story, but I still enjoyed it. BRONZE

BD: Yet another mostly straightforward slice-of-life story. I’m really surprised that this prompt elicited so much restraint; there’s very little vulgarity and murder going on this week. This is light-hearted and affectionately told, and the only real issue I have with it is that I don’t find it as intriguing as some of the other entries. BRONZE

Gilman: We got ourselves a modern-day Arlo Guthrie here! High five, bro. High five.

Pete: I really hope that this is a true story. The line with the insult is a little awkwardly placed next to the anecdote about the garbage can, which ends up making it a little unclear upon first read. Still, this kid has guts. I like it. BRONZE

Matt Novak

“Well sure it’s funny to call the King’s mum a prostitute, but is it funny enough?”

“Oh I’m not sure it’s funny at all, Eric.”

“Right, right.  Why do we care?  Who is this King?  And why do we care about his parents?”

“Oh, both parents.  I like that John.”

“Well I didn’t mean.”

“No, Terry’s right.  That’s good.  Let’s insult both of his parents.  He’s basically an orphan.  Appears from nowhere, suddenly he’s king.”

“So are we saying his father was a prostitute?”

“I think that’s been done.”

“I’m with Eric.  We ought to find a new way to say something offensive about his mother.  What have you all got?  Just throw ‘em out there.”

“She’s a lardo?”

“A monopolist?”

“She makes Mary Magdalene look like Mary the Mother of Jesus.”

“A duck!”

“Oooh, a duck!  Yes, Mike!”

“Wait.  On second thought, we already used duck earlier.”

“A hamster?”

B: I honestly have no idea what’s going on here.

BD: The dialogue is funny and has a good sense of rhythm, but this leads absolutely nowhere. It’s a strange, meandering story that makes me wish I knew more about this King so I can understand why some of these things are insults.

Gilman: Cute little reference here, but the injection of first names was a bit forced once I understood who we were witnessing. And once you get that detail, there’s not much else left to discover.

Pete: Heh, I should really watch that movie again. This one is…fine. It doesn’t crackle, exactly, and making jokes about Monty Python and the Holy Grail isn’t breaking any new comedic ground, but at least we’re not quoting the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ or The Black Knight Sketch.

Brendan Bonham

“You’re a disgrace to your friends and family.”

The man across from Jeffrey didn’t even break eye contact.

“You’re a fraud, a joke—a fucking joke.”

The tension rose. The man still stared.

“When they find out, they’re going to hate you,” Jeffrey spoke rabid, “you’re going to wish that when you tried to kill yourself, it fucking took.”

He could feel the pace now, harder.

“They don’t just hate you. You—you hate you, too, don’t you, you little faggot?”

Jeffrey continued to stare and ramble, stare and ramble.

“Yeah.  You’re a—a pathetic devia—YES!”

Jeffery punched the hotel mirror, cracking it. The anguish ebbed.

A man rose from below the pedestal sink, wiping his mouth. He eyed Jeffery nervously.

“The money’s on the dresser,” Jeffery backed away from the sink, eyes locked on the crack.

“H-Have a nice night,” the twentysomething whimpered.

Jeffrey grunted nothing in particular.

B: I like the tension here culminating in the breaking of the mirror. I had to reread this a few times as I was initially confused as to whether there were two or three people in the room.  This didn’t affect my score of your story, but you also spelled Jeffrey’s name differently a couple times. SILVER

BD: There’s a lot of great writing here, and the reveal is visceral. But then you go on for a bit too long. If this had ended at “The money’s on the dresser. . .”, this would have had more impact. Nonetheless, this is undeniably good prose. SILVER.

Gilman: This one genuinely startled me, and I saw exactly zero of it coming. Slyly set up and very masterfully revealed, it wound up making my guts churn a little. Not much more to say about this other than excellent job. GOLD

Pete: Oish. Self-loathing is a hell of a thing. Not all of Jeffery’s dialog really works for me, but I do like the verbal interaction between Jeffery and the prostitute. Jeffery is a boiling mess of a character that I could stand to read a bit more about. BRONZE

Kelly Wells

You are the girl, you’re the girl for me

With the looks of a moose, a heart the size of a bee

I’m rarin’ to go now, so I can see

Your skin’s silky smooth just like the bark on a tree

 

Did it hurt when you fell? ‘Cause you’re shaped like a moon rock

When you’re packin’ that paunch, I’ll let you borrow my jock

Let’s head out to a movie and have some fun

I can pay double price – one seat for each of your buns

 

I’m so lost in your eyes, just like the lint in your belly

I can smell your approach, like pure petroleum jelly

You’ve got the fat red ass of a chimpanzee

And you are the girl, you are the girl for me

B: The meter is off in places which takes away some of the whimsy. That said, this is a nice bookend to the first story of the week, what with insulting someone you want to be with. BRONZE

BD: All in all, this turned out to be a very high-quality week. Which is unfortunate for this story, because while this is very cute and clever, it falls a little short of some of the other entries. Lots of wonderful word-play, though, so you’ll probably at least get a gold out of Gilman. BRONZE

Gilman: The barbs here are clever, but it doesn’t really make the piece stand out as either a funny subversion of a love poem, or as an over-the-top roast of a person. It’s mainly just an exercise in fat jokes.

Pete: The meter’s kind of a mess (it sort of worked for me as a shouted, Lonely Island-style rap. Is that the intent?), but the singer’s heart is in the right place (err….you know what I mean). No big laughs, but I got a chuckle or two, which works for me. BRONZE

———————————————

The quad-gold remains elusive! But a big congratulations to the three authors who all came one medal away. Margaret, Melissa, and Annette all score 18 points this week. Pete was the only judge to give each of them a gold medal, so I guess we all know who the best judge is now!

Here are the updated scores. Sama remains in first place, but our three top scores this week are closing in fast!

In the non-sub division, Shawn Ashley has her first. She’s still in playoff position in 9th place, but one more non-sub could put that in jeopardy.

 

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