The judges agreed that they liked everything and had difficulty separating the best from the worst. So…our powers are still intact.
There was a quad medal. Was it gold?
She was the most beautiful girl Evan had ever seen, and it was imperative that he see her naked. She was curvaceous and exotic. Evan had spotted her through the throng of New York traffic and stood transfixed, waiting for her to pass.
Curvaceous, exotic and smart. Intelligent, if you can speak words with more than one syllable.
Evan winced. He hadn’t experienced guilt in a while. He ignored it and watched her. This was a rack, an ass that he had to see. He slid back against the building, leaned and grinned to himself.
No more. Respect me. Respect us.
Evan shook his head again, and when the girl passed by, he steeled his conscience and looked into her. This time, though, he couldn’t see through her clothes.
No. No more, Evan. It’s gone.
He met her eyes. She was smiling unhappily at him as she passed.
After she was gone, Evan noticed another girl looking up and down at his ample frame. Then another, and another. The last one giggled to herself.
Evan tried to chase down the beautiful woman, but she was gone.
B: This made me smile, though I wish I had a clue as to what caused Evan’s superpower to turn in on himself. Either way, thanks for the amusement. BRONZE
BD: This is a solid idea, and it starts out very strong. The momentum kind of fizzles out by the end, though, and left me hoping for a greater impact. The last bit is a little confusing, too. Are the girls looking at Evan and giggling meant to be a sort of reversal of his powers? If so, then that should be given a bit more description, I think. Still, a cleverly written start to the week. SILVER
Gilman: I liked the fact that you didn’t spoon-feed everything that was going on here to your readers. Not that it was all that big of an enigma what was happening and who was causing it, but the way you held back definitive information was smart, mirroring Evan’s experience. As a story, this was fine and worked well, but it didn’t hit me with much in the way of tension. Even the very end felt a bit diluted because the result of Evan’s chase is revealed so quickly. BRONZE
Pete: Evan is a classic creep with deplorable uses for his superpower. Problem is, it’s a little on the nose, so this doesn’t quite “pop” for me. The beautiful, smart, (and apparently psychic?) woman is interesting, and the fact that Evan’s power gets flipped on him at the end is amusing. A little subtlety here would go a long way, I think.
She runs across the yard, a cape flying in the wind behind her. “Look, Mama,” Lily cries. “I’m a superhero!” Maria smiles. “What’s your power then, Super Lily.” She grins. “I can beat anything Mama.”
The clock ticks on the wall. She watches it, her eyes darkened with the weight on her back. The doctor enters the room. His eyes are dark. “I am so sorry, Maria,” he says. “We think your daughter has cancer.” Her world ends.
The innocence of a eight year old breaks her. “Mom, Mom,” the girl cries, pulling on her hand. Maria looks down at the little girl, forcing herself to smile. “Yes, baby?” she questions. The small child stares into her eyes. “Why are you crying Mom?”
The chemo leaves her small, scared. She wraps herself in the cape, her frail body trembling with every breath as her mom sits next to her, near tears. The little girl turns to stare at her, her blue eyes fierce. “I’ve got this, Mom,” she whispers. “Remember, I’m a superhero.”
The surgeries come, one, two. Maria holds Lily in her arms as she prays for a miracle. The little girl shifts in her arms, cheeks pale, and fingertips blue.
They get sent home two weeks later. Maria struggles to hold in her emotions, fighting to avoid tears. Lily pulls herself free from her arms, running across the yard. The now-filthy cape waves in the wind behind her. When she gets back to her mother’s side, she grabs her hand. “Mama?” she whispers. “I’ve got this. I’m a superhero, remember.”
The monitor goes off that night. Maria is by her side in second. Lily curls away from her arms, body tight, trembling. Sirens sound in the distance, and Maria prays.
The hospital room is cold, empty. Maria holds on to her hand, praying. The doctor enters the room. His eyes tell her everything she needs to know. Lily raises her head, eyes locked on Maria’s. “Don’t worry Mom,” she whispered. “I’ll be ok. I’m a superhero.”
The monitor sounds, and Maria’s world breaks.
B: Touching at times; I especially like the “I’m a superhero” line. Though there’s an awful lot of exposition for a cancer story. BRONZE
BD: This is somewhat opposite of the first story, in that it starts off awkwardly, finds its pace about halfway through, and then finishes very strong. A story like this can easily come across as manipulative, but it walked the line well. If the author had cleaned up the first few paragraphs a bit, then I think I may have scored this higher. BRONZE.
Gilman: As a study in personal loss and sorrow, this is an accomplished piece. But at the risk of seeming like some unfeeling monster, I have to say that the emotional impact the author was trying to reach eluded me. I think the idea wasn’t served well by the fact that we knew going in our protagonist’s superpower would fail. It made Lily’s innocent positivity feel naive instead of hopeful, and the ending a foregone conclusion.
Pete: It’s just personal opinion, but I don’t care for present tense in fiction unless it’s well done or used for very specific effect, which I’m not sure this one ever achieves. In the wrong situation the tense becomes distracting, and when you’re going for maximum emotional impact (which this one clearly is), you can’t afford to distract the reader. As far as the content of the story itself, I was deeply reminded of the Michael Pena storyline in Crash. It’s well written, but it never hits me on the gut level because of these two issues.
The guard nodded and opened the door as she approached.
“Thank you, darlin’,” she sashayed past security with little more than a grin.
The hallway was just like the plans they’d sent her; a left, a series of doors, a right, then finally, an oak door, bronze plaque. It read “Gabe McCabe.”
She knocked twice, lightly.
“Come in, sweetie,” a low voice cooed from the other side of the door. She turned the handle and walked in. The door clicked behind her.
“Hello Gabe, baby,” she purred.
Gabe McCabe, all hulking 250 pounds of him, turned around. “Finally, we meet.”
“That dress, it looks much better on my wife than it does you.”
Looking left into a mirror, Michael saw the dress of Rachel McCabe; the earrings, the Ferragamos of Rachel. Everything he stole from her. It was all Rachel, except it wasn’t.
Michael had used his special little trick to great effect from the moment he discovered it. 6, he played mommy for extra cookies. 13, to ditch school for “the doctor.” Again, mommy. He quit acting mommy at 15 after an unfortunate incident with daddy; Michael shuddered every time he thought of it. But the trick, it’d never failed him before.
“I got all dressed up and you’re not buying me dinner?” Michael eyed the door.
Gabe removed a fob from his pocket, “It’s locked.”
Michael moved to the armchair, “We’ll order in then,” he sighed, “just you and me.”
Gabe sat across from him. “The cell modifier isn’t here, just so you know.”
“Ah-ah! Let me ask you this,” Gabe grinned, “who do you think hired you? With perfect plans? Perfect information? You’re a hard man to track down unless money’s involved.”
Michael’s face fell.
“And why do you think this room reverted you to your base state? We pioneered this field—research goes both ways.”
“Yeah, ok. What’s the job? The real job?”
Gabe rose, walking to the intercom on his desk, “Margaret, put a call in to Doctor Xolthar.” Gabe looked up, “You’re mistaken my friend, you’re his job.”
B: What a bizarre superpower. I wish we had learned about the superpower before it failed because I had to go back and reread it once I learned what was actually going on. That said, I like how the conversation plays out afterwards. BRONZE
BD: This starts off feeling sort of like a heist story, or a prison break. Which I like, and I was getting ready for some solid adventure. Then the narrative gets bogged down in the middle by a massive info dump, after which new plot points are thrown at us left and right. This is enjoyable, but somewhat unfocused. BRONZE
Gilman: Lots of intriguing ideas here, a little muddled in their execution and presentation. The chunk of historical exposition about Michael’s past probably could have been left out; there’s enough here to allow the readers to come to an understanding on our own. And as a nitpick: a very otherworldly name like “Doctor Xolthar” takes me way out of a story that otherwise plays the supernatural as probable. Still, a very interesting concept written well. BRONZE
Pete: I really like parts of this. The concept is fun, and the reveal raises the types of questions that make the reader want to know more about the world and characters in it. The tone wanders a little in places (the “unfortunate incident with daddy” doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the story, or even the not-quite-a-flashback), but it’s a minor quibble for me. I enjoy this. BRONZE
“There’s a lot of noise coming from Earth, Sir.”
“Crap. I had big plans down there this weekend, and now this!”
He brought his hands together in a straight-armed clap and then spread them wide, commanding the gates to open.
“You’ve got some vociferous fans down there. They’ve been calling for you all evening!”
“Ugh! I can’t hear a thing,” he said, pounding on his ear with the heel of his hand. “They can barely do anything without my help. What are they saying now?”
“It’s hard for me to make out individual voices, but I am 100% sure that someone needs to be saved. There’s a lot of shouting and women wailing, and I think there’s poison involved. I’ve heard the word ‘cup’ a few times.”
“Damn! I can’t see anything right now, either. Any idea what’s happening to me? My enemies, maybe? They found a way to block my powers?”
“We’re hunting some of your arch-rivals now, Sir, but at least a few of them are in the middle of the fray down on Earth. It would be great if you could get down there. The din is unbearable.”
“We’ve had all eyes and ears on the Earth situation, and it’s definitely taken a turn for the worse! Your son with the mortal woman is fully involved in this thing. He’s making wild claims about you, and he’s going to be executed.”
“All part of the plan! But now I can’t do anything.” He paced, shaking with fury. “He’ll think I’ve abandoned him.”
“Sir?” A sad, quiet whisper scraped the air. “It is finished. They killed him.”
“NOOOOOOO!” He shouted so loud that the sky tore open and thundered around them. The Earth went dark.
“Yes! They’re returning!” He held his hands out in front of him, gathering power with curled fingers. “I promise you; I will right this wrong!”
His sight restored, he searched the Earth until he found the tomb where they had laid him. Then, with a father’s kiss, he breathed life back into his son.
B: An interesting take on this. This seems to toe the line between comedy and drama and I wish it had gone full force in either direction.
BD: The idea that Christ died because God briefly lost his powers is genuinely compelling, and several other details of this story are also striking. In particular, the first few paragraphs make it feel almost like God is producing a live television event of some sort, and technical difficulties are what is causing the tragedy. It’s hard to tell if the story is attempting to be straight out comedy, or more of a magical realism kind of thing. Plus, we get absolutely zero clue as to who the second voice is meant to be. BRONZE
Gilman: What little impact the a-ha moment of this story has fades long before the end, as it becomes just a matter of recontextualizing highlights from a tale we’ve heard countless times before. I can’t tell if the author was going for something funny, something hugely clever, or something revealing here. It doesn’t really do it for me.
Pete: I sort of love God, the Father Enormous Ham. I can imagine a Brian Blessed playing the role, and it makes me smile. It’s cheesy as all get out, but it’s mostly a fun sort of cheesy. SILVER
“Lazarus is dead” they told him, “come with us.”
He traveled with them, three days, to the town of Bethany. The tomb had already been sealed, and Jesus sat down and wept and prayed.
“This is beyond even him,” they murmured. “Death is unconquerable.”
“It is not unconquerable,” he answered them. “For there will come a day. But for now it is enough to pray, and mourn for ourselves.”
Then his tears fell to the ground and made it like mud.
B: I like this Easter story more than the one before it, though if I didn’t know the prompt I’d have no idea why you wrote this.
BD: Another Jesus story! Okay, I really, really like this, and I want to score it higher. I assume the idea is that Lazarus died at a moment when Jesus’s power has vanished, a power which soon returns. And the small amount of prose we get is finely crafted, with a lovely final line. But it’s simply too short, which is a shame, since there’s so much potential here. BRONZE
Gilman: Funny that this tiny story is juxtaposed with the previous one. I don’t feel like there’s much to be said here, since it’s so short and the concept is just an inversion of the original story. It could have been a springboard into a different ending for the Jesus tale in a larger context, but the piece is over before the potential is explored.
Pete: Huh. Back to back stories about Jesus. This one goes in a different direction, obviously. I actually like this quite a bit, as it does a lot very not many words. SILVER
“Like a good neighbor—”
Son of a bitch.
The popping sound rings in your ears like an alarm. You feel like you’re being stretched in all directions. Then you arrive, in someone’s flooded basement or at a car accident.
You assess and reassure them it’s going to be okay.
Then you’re gone. You’re back in the office. Cold and alone. Changing your wet clothes.
Same shit. Different day.
The job seemed glamorous. You’d seen the commercials, but they only hint at what it’s really like.
At first you didn’t mind the suddenness of it all–popping in and out of places. It was fun and exciting, like being a real life superhero. But it soon consumes your life and the paperwork is never ending. You forget what sleep feels like. You forget what time it is when you get home. You forget what finishing a meal feels like or finishing a conversation–
You start to hate helping them. Their needs are so needy. Their voices so whiny. Their problems so tiny.
Occasionally, you find yourself in a sexy bubble bath with your wife. That makes up for the times you disappear in the middle of climax or on the toilet.
You decide to quit. Everyone’s surprised you lasted ten years since the average turnover is two. Wimpy millennials.
You’re free. You can’t wait to get home and be with your wife and son. Most of all you can’t wait to sit on the toilet for hours on end playing Angry Birds.
You see the flashing lights first. An ambulance pulls out of your driveway and rushes past you in a white blur. You turn around and race after it.
Your wife wakes up after three days in a coma.
“I said the words, but you didn’t come. You weren’t there.”
The popping sound is a familiar friend now. Yesterday you even got to make a move on Words with Friends. Some days you get home and she’s not crying again. But no bubble baths. No sound of his laugh. You wait to disappear again as her sobs echo down the hall.
B: This stupid commercial indeed deserves a second-person telling. The jokes are easy but hey, I haven’t heard them before. I’m thinking the bigger surprise is not that you “made it ten years” but that your wife was happy being with someone who’s never home. SILVER
BD: State Farm is there! Okay, this could very easily have have been a one-joke story, and at first I was sure it would be. Plus, the choice of second-person narrative is sort of odd. However, you really, really committed to this idea and brought it to a surprisingly heartbreaking conclusion. That is seriously impressive. GOLD
Gilman: This is very pleasantly clever right from the outset, with lots of fun extrapolations on the real impact StateFarmPowers would bring. Made me chuckle throughout, and the slow change to tragic at the end was a good instinct. It gave some heft to what could have just been a clever investigation of a flippant conceit from a television ad. GOLD
Pete: Present tense and second person narration! Aaaand lots of despair, and no small amount of existential horror. I love the idea of this, as the implications of those commercials sort of creep me out, too. I don’t necessarily love the retirony twist, but it gives the author and the concept and anchor and a destination, so it’s acceptable. SILVER
He flew over the fence, boots hitting the ground with a THUD!
Military issue combats, laced tight.
Pursuit of the assailant was in full force and he was gaining ground. Muscles pumping, sweat flying. Mentally, he was in the zone. It was only when he was in the zone did it happen. He had to be there, be ready.
The zone hit and off he flew, boots lifting from the ground, flying at the speed of light. He saw the assailant turn back to look but saw the confusion on his face when he no longer saw the agent behind him.
Oh no, he wasn’t behind him. He was above him, in full flight.
What made Garrison such a great agent- and he never actually told anyone at the Bureau this- was his natural ability to take flight. He had been blessed with this ability since his youth.
He reached down and grabbed the assailant by the collar. They both flew, up, high, all the way to the roof of the neighboring building.
Garrison dropped him.
“What the fu- what, you can FLY? Oh hell, no, this isn’t happening!” The assailant ran to the side, looked down onto Grand Ave. He sunk to the cement when he realized he had nowhere to go. “You can fly,” he repeated, panting, out of breath.
Garrison didn’t answer. He let the man catch his breath. Finally, “Where’s the money?”
The man laughed, still panting. “What money?”
Garrison suddenly had the man dangling over the side of the building, his screams echoing through downtown Los Angeles.
“BRO, I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY!”
“Who do you work for?”
Again, the man just screamed.
All of a sudden, Garrison felt himself being thrown to the ground.
He looked up at the six-foot redheaded woman above him as she pushed the screaming man over.
Garrison knew the answers were with him. He scrambled to jump after him.
He hadn’t hit the zone yet, his powers useless.
The last thing he saw was a blur of red disappearing from the rooftop.
B: Ooo, I like the atmosphere here. This feels like a superhero story. I’m not sure I’m digging “the zone” as a concept–at least with the few words you had to describe it–but I’d definitely read more of this. GOLD
BD: This is a lot of fun, and the high-flying action reminded me of the idealized martial arts of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, in a way. The dialogue is a sort of sappy, though, and you completely lost me towards the end when a new character was thrown in for no reason and never explained. I was left feeling like I had no idea what was going on.
Gilman: Maybe this is something where my lack of superhero knowledge is failing me, but the appearance of the mysterious redheaded woman just felt like a bit of Deus ex Machina at the end there. This story seems like the most literal interpretation of the prompt, and as such doesn’t really stand out for me.
Pete: This story careens around (at the speed of light, perhaps?) so quickly and has so much to explain in so short a time that it leaves the reader scrambling a bit to catch up at times. It’s fun, and it’s intriguing, but it’s also a little manic. BRONZE
Luke Cage swallowed the pill and stepped up onto the chair in the attic of his grandma’s house. Ok, Dr. Burstein said I’ve got roughly 20 seconds after the pill digests for my powers to subside. He hesitated, counting the seconds until his superhuman strength, durability and regeneration skills would subside, if only for a minute. He just wanted to feel something.
At least feel something before feeling nothing. After the experiment his life was horror, and no bus he stepped in front of would end the misery that was every waking moment since. Just a bulletproof sack of flesh hanging over an indestructible cage of bones.
There was only one way out of this nightmare, and the path started with this pill.
Shit. He lost count. Certainly it’s kicked in by now. Nick tightened the noose around his neck before plunging an X-Acto knife toward his wrist and kicking out the chair beneath him.
The knife bent, the rope pulled tight and broke the beam from which it hung. Nick fell through three stories of the house before putting a crater in the cement basement floor.
He laid their, hoping maybe the impact would shudder his organs, or the knife would fall and hit his throat, or the bathroom sink would fall and crush his skull before the effects wore off. Nothing happened. He felt nothing.
Nick sighed and climbed to his feet. Conscious life was his best and only formidable adversary, and he couldn’t beat it. Not this time, at least.
B: So, Superman wants to die, basically. I like the idea here, though I think using this pill as the method hurts things, as despite Superman’s failure to die, I’m thinking he could just go back to Dr. Burstein and get another pill and not screw this up the next time. Unless you’re saying the pill didn’t work at all. But putting the 20 second timer on it muddles things.
BD: I’m not sure this story quite fits the prompt, as the character never loses their power. Still, even though the beginning suffers from too much telling, by the end I was very much engaged with the plight of this character. I just wish the first half had the same sense of atmosphere as the second.
Gilman: Nifty play on the expectation of the prompt, and good exploration of the details that would inevitably befall this sad supersack. Well done overall. SILVER
Pete: “Luke Cage” turns into “Nick” halfway through the story, so I can only assume that this story is about Nicolas Cage. This is an inventive use of the prompt. BRONZE
“Clark, I’d really love to see your powers at work. I just find your super powers so…charming.”
“Anything for you, Lois. Which would you like to see first?”
“How about…the lasers that come out of your eyes?”
Clark takes off his glasses and stares directly at a nearby tree, but nothing happens.
“Huh…well, that didn’t work. I must be having an off day. That’s okay, though. I can still show you my super strength!”
Clark walks over the tree and grabs it by its base. After five minutes of pulling and grunting, he sits down by the tree.
“I apologize, Lois. Perhaps I can charm you with my abilities another day. There’s probably some kryptonite nearby.”
Later that night, Lois and Clark are cuddling and bed and Lois seems displeased.
“You can’t shoot lasers out of your eyes, you can’t use super strength, but at least you got the ‘faster than a speeding bullet,’ part down, I guess.”
A single tear rolls down Clark’s cheek.
B: Tee hee. I’m picturing Clark looking to the camera at the end with a “wah-wah” sound in the background.
BD: Nice last line, but unlike the Star Farm agent story, this is little more than a cute joke.
Gilman: Ouch! This got a genuine out-loud laugh from me, and it didn’t overstay its welcome as a silly little take on the prompt either. Good comedic instincts. BRONZE
Pete: I chuckled. Not a huge laugh, but a chuckle. You win, author.
“Ay Lizzy, you want breakfast?” I yell at my bedroom, eating my steak and eggs. A blonde drink of water steps out while donning her jacket.
“It’s Lexi, babe. And, no, gotta get going,” she says. As she leaves, I take a steamy sip of coffee while toying with the police scanner.
“…10-65 in progress, Joe’s on Clinton, suspect armed, all units….”
That didn’t take long. Burger joint too – perfect.
Throw on my leathers, grab my jerky satchel, and I’m out the door.
I really work the thighs and hit Joe’s in about 2 minutes flat, but it’s not quick enough. A man in a green mask runs out and hops on a bike.
“Enzyme, in the flesh!” He aims and fires; I flex the bullets off as he peels out. Son of a bitch……The Gilman Boys Gang.
I down some burgers as I run. That’s my thing – burning up protein and compounding my strength. Skin gets hard as titanium.
Only downside – I go through it quick.
It dwindles as I trail him to an aluminum barn on the outskirts of town. Darkness inside.
Clearly a trap, but what could they possibly do to me? Chewing a handful of jerky, I step forth.
The doors slide shut and a lamp snaps on, illuminating a greasy-looking man.
“Second time I’ve trapped you, Enyme. You even trying?” He prods.
“Didn’t help you much before,” I say with a grin. He grins right back and fires his gun.
What the hell? That….hurt…
I look down at a bloody knee as I stumble. Gilman points his weapon at my face, but then uses it to scratch his head.
“You know, been thinking. Time to rename my gang. Not really accurate anymore.”
A green dress emerges.
“Lexi?” I utter.
She giggles. “I know, I know. Most vegans never shut up about what they are, but I wanted to surprise you. All that jerky isn’t healthy, babe. These days they can make substitutes that taste just like the real thing.”
Gilman smiles again. “Been a pleasure,” he says as he pulls the trigger.
B: Not sure mentioning one of the judges was necessary, nor taking a potshot at vegans, but this is pretty fun. “I down some burgers as I run,” is a great line. SILVER
BD: Okay, this is very much carried through by the confident prose. This is the third entry this week that seems based on a simple joke, and while it doesn’t have the heft of the State Farm story (if you can’t tell, I really liked that story) this still does a great job of elevating itself beyond the premise. GOLD
Gilman: Thanks for the homage. A nicely paced and explored little superhero tale, and even though it was set up right from the get-go, I didn’t see Lexi’s reappearance coming. I always suspected vegans were evil beneath it all. BRONZE
Pete: I really like the twist here, as the hero’s casual misogyny comes back to bite him in a big way. I wouldn’t call this story “subtle” really, but it plays it cool with his flippant attitude with Lexi. There are fun setpieces and cheesy dialog that make the whole thing work for me. You’ll have to tell me what the hero calls himself. GOLD
Insults have followed in my wake since I was a child. My response? Laughter.
“You’re bulletproof,” Ingrid joked.
I just smiled.
My first shooting had been accidental. Out in the backyard with Dad cleaning his gun. Something jammed (doesn’t it always?) and the weapon went off at point-blank range.
Dad yelled, Mother ran from the house screaming. And I, just two years old, giggled. “Again?” I asked.
Words, bullets, they’re all the same to me. For reasons even I don’t understand, they can’t touch me.
Between my penchant for playing with weapons and my imperviousness to the comments of others, I didn’t feel much need to fit in with my peers. During my teenage years, I fell into a group best described as “goth,” but I couldn’t truly relate to their sense of alienation.
My second shooting was of the heroin variety. A few of the people I associated with had scored some dope from a questionable source. I injected it into a vein and after 30 minutes, nothing had happened. Dustin went next. He was dead before morning.
I studied computer science in college and refrained from telling others about my growing collection of guns and knives. I contemplated joining Lollapalooza’s sideshow one summer, but I realized could earn more by coding.
Ingrid and I met around that time; although she was modest about her abilities, she had an almost intuitive grasp of programming languages. We spent more and more time together, first in the computer lab, later in my off-campus apartment.
She suggested I was being followed, but I shrugged it off. What could anyone possibly do to me?
When a SWAT team stormed the apartment at 2 a.m., I began to rethink my cavalier response to her concerns.
Ingrid looked so fragile in her nightgown as they handcuffed her.
I grabbed a revolver and put it to my head, as I’d done on hundreds of occasions. If they saw how pointless their weapons were, they would know to leave me alone.
I pulled back the hammer.
B: I love the giggling baby and I enjoy the use of Ingrid to humanize our protagonist a bit. I am confused as to why our guy thinks that failing to shoot himself will ward off the SWAT team. They might be confused, sure, and their weapons would be useless, but it’s not like our guy couldn’t rot in a prison cell or be the subject of government testing. SILVER
BD: The narrative starts out a bit overstuffed, but starting with the ‘heroin’ line this story really takes off. The Ingrid character is a great addition and works well as a counterpoint to the protagonist. This is good stuff, and the only gripe I have is that it’s constrained by the word limit. I would read a full novel based off of this. GOLD
Gilman: I really got into this story throughout most of its telling, but that ending…unclear and a bit out of left-field. Who might’ve been following, and for what reason? Did our hero’s powers finally fail him, and if so, how and why? Did the Powers that Be just want him eliminated, and if so how could they have anticipated he’d act as he did by arresting Ingrid? Lots to like here, really, but that ending… SILVER
Pete: I am to assume that our narrator’s bulletproof nature is about to wear off, but the timing is a little too easy for me. Like the majority of this week’s stories, I like a lot of the pieces here (an iron man turned coder, vague conspiracies, etc) but on whole, it doesn’t completely gel for me.
Super Villainess Lexi Dexter stepped up to the platform, smoothing her hands down her short, white dress and shrugging back her crimson cape.
The Prince’s Guardian opened it’s green eyes lazily, not perceiving the true nature of the threat. One long claw unsheathed and retracted; clearly an invitation to battle.
Lexi put her hands to her temple and focused her lazer mind control beam at the Guardian. At first, the Guardian just closed its eyes in distain, but as Lexi leaned closer, focusing her evil intentions upon it, its eyes widened. Slowly, tufted ears raised and the Guardian lifted its head, nostrils flaring as alarm widened its pupils. Deadly breath hissed from between its fangs, but Lexi ignored the danger and leaned forward, narrowing her gaze. Slowly, the beast reared up, sliding its haunches backward and then slinking off the platform. Without a backward glance at the Prince, it trotted out of the room.
Lexi straightened and faced the bewildered Prince. She held out her hand.
“Give me what you love most,” she growled.
The Prince’s eyes widened and fear dawned in them. Soundlessly, he shooked his head but he could not resist her lazer mind control beam and she snatched up her prize triumphantly.
Sharp, stinging pain bloomed on the back of her thigh and Lexi whirled around with a shriek.
“ALEXIS ELIZABETH DEXTER! Give your brother his binky back THIS INSTANT!” Lexi hurriedly shoved the pacifier back in Jonathon’s quivering mouth before her mother could raise her hairbrush for a second attack. “I sent you in here to watch him, not make him cry! And what are you doing in the cat bed? You’ve got Midnight’s hair all over your Easter dress.” The Super Villainess Mother brushed roughly at Lexi’s dress.
“I don’t WANNA go!” Lexi wailed and then squinted at her mother, focusing the beam with all her might.
“Stop scowling at me or I’ll swat you again. And what have I told you about swiping my good towels? Take that off your shoulders and get your good coat. Of course you’re going to church.”
B: Another Lexi! Someone always does a “just kidding, it’s kids playing!” story, and this is one of my favorites. There are no surprises here, but this is just written damn well. I especially like it when Lexi tries to turn the beam on her mother. She’s not playing pretend; she actually thinks she has this superpower because it works on her baby brother. That’s awesome. GOLD
BD: For me, this week has been defined by stories that take silly ideas and either take them to unpredictable extremes, or somewhat fall flat. This is sort of in-between. Plot-wise this is nothing special, but it’s heartwarming and the writing is very well done. SILVER
Gilman: It’s always nice when a reveal catches you off guard, as this one did. A testament to the excellent sense of place and moment built by the first half of the story. I think the second half was just a smidge too long and said maybe a touch too much about Lexi’s home life, flattening out the fun of the beginning and middle. Still, a really fun spin on what could have been a shrug-inducing concept. SILVER
Pete: “It was all actually kids” is admittedly not my favorite trope. There’s just not much of a way to punch it up – you have your over the top fantastical opening, the reveal, and then… they all go to church?
A small spark between his fingers, so quick and gone.
Nothing but ghosts around his head, here for the thousands gone when nothing there instead of sparks and fire.
Another faint spark, too dim for the memories in a damp cloud around his fingers.
BD: Beautiful, poetic words that seem to be heading towards something wonderful. This is a great start, but there’s just not enough here to hold on to.
Gilman: I think the author was a bit confused about what they were trying to say here, and how they wanted to say it. Nothing much to grab onto.
Pete: I can’t quite decipher the intent around “here for the thousands gone when nothing there instead of sparks and fire”. Since that’s literally a third of the story, that leaves me in the dark. That’s probably on me. Let me know what’s up with this one, if indeed there is something up with it.
As I sat in my underground prison I reminisced on all the good times my power had given me.
It started when I was two years old, by that age my vocabulary was better than most adults.
It wasn’t until I started school that my powers started to show. The Mexican boy speaking Spanish with his mom as she dropped him off to the little comments his French teacher would make under her breath when the kids got too rowdy, I always understood. I went to endless neurologists with no answer other than an unusual amount of activity in the Broca area, the part of your brain that controls language.
I spent my teenage years focusing on school and graduated at 16 then promptly left my small town in Alaska to explore the world and take advantage of my seemingly endless knowledge of language. My powers took me to countless places of wonder.
I was snapped back to reality when the tree door was flung open letting the hot humid air of the rainforest into my hole. Standing above me was the leader of this clan, bone sticking out of every part of his face and a necklace of jade. He yelled behind him in a series of clicks and yelps that once meant so much to me but now were foreign.
When I first arrived, I was welcomed, they had even let me work with the children a few times, but when he woke this morning only able to speak English they locked him up, he was sure that they thought him to be possessed by a demon.They hadn’t stopped praying since the news spread and he was thrown in the prison.
I was hoisted from my hole and strung up between two trees in front of the whole village. They all prayed together as his arms became tired and his wrists bled from the rough rope. When they stopped the leader grabbed a long piece of bamboo and raise it to his mouth; it was over quickly, a sting in his neck and then a hot burning running threw his blood.
B: Intriguing premise for sure, though this needs a rewrite with some editing. Lots of comma splices and I have no clue what’s going on in the rainforest. Are there two heroes? Or is the perspective just shifting from first to third person and back again?
BD: I like this idea, but the narrative is kind of a mess. Starting with the “I was snapped back into reality . . .” line, the whole story flies off the rails. How did the character end up with this ‘clan’? I mean, there’s a huge gap there that is in no way explained. And the ‘when he woke this morning only able to speak English’ line seems to reference a character that has not been brought up prior. What’s going on? I feel there’s a lot of good ideas here, but the execution is rushed.
Gilman: Ouch. What started as a promising tale with a sort of dull, matter-of-fact style deteriorated into a mess of perspective-jumping and clumsy editing. Sorry, author. Always leave yourself time to go over your work before turning it in.
Pete: The change from first person to third person in the final paragraph really threw me the first time I read this. I like the idea here, and in the end, that concept evens out a few of the quibbles I have with the execution. BRONZE
I breathed out and closed my eyes. Picturing the mountain peak, I twisted the key in my mind and opened my eyes. The faint wash of vertigo from suddenly being two thousand feet higher in elevation and the popping of my eardrums was overly familiar to me by now. I turned my head and looked down on pines the size of matchsticks and a floating speck that was an eagle, and breathed in the freshest air I’d ever tasted. I stayed there until the stars grew in the sky and the chattering of my teeth got too intense to ignore.
I closed my eyes again and pictured the Serpent’s Lair.
Looming over me stood a vile man with snake scales tattooed over every inch of exposed skin- and there was plenty exposed by his green costume. “You tried it, didn’t you?” the Serpent taunted, hot breath fuming over my skin. “I told you, I’ve turned it off!”
I exhaled the chill, pine-scented air directly into his face. It took his tiny brain a moment to process, but his face purpled in rage and he swung one meaty fist at me, clumsily smashing my cheekbone and lolling my head backwards on my uncontrollable neck. From my new viewpoint, I could see my feet, splayed out and limp. From what was left of the toenails, I was glad I couldn’t feel them.
“No!” He spat at me. “It was supposed to shut your power off permanently!” He scowled, black scale lines on his face distorting as he considered this new development for a moment. Then, shrugging massive shoulders, he reached behind him and picked up a corkscrew.
“I guess it doesn’t matter, does it?” His tone was suddenly conversational. “Your body never left here. At least, this body didn’t. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve always been good at concentrating on what’s in front of me.” He bent over, and I could hear skin tearing. My skin.
I closed my eyes, and pictured the lake shore in northern Michigan where I’d grown up. I breathed out, and twisted the key.
B: I love this. A lot to unpack. Has the hero moved their body in the past or is it just a mind thing? If it had been a body thing and the Serpent took away the most important part of the power, did our hero give up and just retreat to his childhood home to have a peaceful death? Man I want more of a prologue. GOLD
BD: Solid prose and good characterizations, but the story leaves me guessing too much. I like the detail that the character grew up in Michigan, but without a little more clues as to what’s going on, I can’t really get emotionally invested.
Gilman: This is a nice, meaty piece of writing; fun to read at every stage. What I also liked is that the “loss of a power” is somewhat open to interpretation. Did our protagonist discover a late-onset of the Serpent’s curse when he tried to make it to Michigan? Or was the Serpent the one whose powers failed, allowing our protag to escape after all? Very fun read! GOLD
Pete: I want to exhale chill, pine-scented air into the faces of my enemies. This one doesn’t give up a number of its secrets. The specifics of the power and how, exactly, the serpent “turned it off” are left unexplained (as is a great deal of what is actually happening when the power is used). I do love the descriptions in that first paragraph. GOLD
The murmur of voices in private conversation. The clatter of dishes in a kitchen. This coffee shop reminded of him of the day he and Sylvia first met.
She smiled at him now. He almost reached for the engagement ring, but a new song played from the speakers. He frowned. Her eyes clouded with memory.
He was a boy.
She was a girl.
Can I make it anymore obvious.
“This makes me think of Matthew,” she said. Dane knew this. Matthew had been a skater boy. Sylvia had been in ballet. They’d fallen in love despite the odds, and this goddamned song was theirs forever.
Dan hated Avril Lavigne.
“I’ve never told you this,” he said now, “but we’ve been together long enough. I should come out with it.”
“I have a super power.”
He continued. “I can go back in time. I can change things, just slightly, and it doesn’t cause some rift in time. I come back quick, and something small has changed. I can make it so you don’t remember Matthew’s death because of this song.”
“I don’t believe you.”
And he was there.
2003, standing on the corner outside Best Buy. He ran in, grabbed a Sun Kil Moon CD.
He ran outside in time to see Matthew crossing the street towards Sylvia.
Dan could simply save Matthew. But he didn’t. He loved Sylvia more than that.
Tires screeched. Screams echoed. Dan paused next to Sylvia, out of breath.
“Dont turn on the radio tonight,” he said. “Listen to this.” He dropped the CD at her feet. She screamed and screamed, but his job was done.
And he was still in 2003. Sylvia ran towards the limp body of Matthew, and Dan stood there. He stood there and contemplated finding a music store he could hang out in for awhile.
Just until Sylvia got over Matthew.
B: I love minimalist superpowers like this one. Some more emotional punch would have helped. Our hero just sort of shrugs when he realizes he can’t jump back to the future and I’m not buying it. Still, I love the creativity. BRONZE
BD: This story is almost there. It sort of reminds me of the Flock of Seagulls story from earlier in the season, though fleshed out more. There’s a lot of loving details here that make me think the author was genuinely invested in these characters. Overall, the narrative is a bit clunky and I think given a few more rewrites this could have been a gold. SILVER.
Gilman: Nice little time-paradox here, and a pretty strong, well written relationship to lay on top of it. If I have any quibbles with it, it’s with a few choices in how things were communicated. A touch less exposition, an ending that was a bit more robust…those would’ve been my preferences, but it’s hard to nitpick an idea as strong as this, along with some pretty great writing. GOLD
Pete: A) This is the weirdest damn story of the week. B) “Sk8r Boi” is an abomination (I mean, it’s weird for a depressed single mother to be the villain, right?) C) Dan is kind of a dick…and how exactly is he going to get a Avril Lavigne fan to sit through more than fifteen seconds of a Sun Kil Moon album? Now I’m imagining running up to someone whose bofriend was just killed in a traffic accident and handing them a Sun Kil Moon CD. Hilarious. I kind of love this. GOLD
Congratulations to Sama Smith, who extends her first place lead with 16 medal points by making fun of a commercial. Also a big hand to Bret Highum, who leapfrogs into the final playoff spot due to three timely gold medals. Josh and Melissa score 14 points as well.
With four weeks remaining, we have about 12 players with a realistic shot at the playoffs. Shawn, Kelly, and Quinn are on the outside looking in, but there’s still plenty of gold medals to polish up and give out.