Guys, I’m just going to come out and say it. This was an historic week.

TWO players brought down quadruple golds.

And Abby I think had her best week ever.

Great stories guys.

Brendan Bonham

His reflection grins in the mirror. Holding up his hand, he snaps his fingers once and…

…The man is gone, but the clothes remain.

“Well, shit” the man mutters to no one in particular.

A flurry of buttons and a shirt lilting to the ground. The clang of a belt buckle hastily unfastened. A watch moving in mid-air, glanced at quickly, unraveled and placed on the kitchen sink.

The patter of feet on tile. Indentations of feet on carpet, one after the other. The twisting door handle.

The door shut quietly behind.

The jaunt down the sidewalk, always to the right just like traffic. A man just ahead, walking towards him, not moving out of the way, not understanding the basic decency of—

“Oof!” A collision. “Uh, sorry man.”

A bewildered spectator looking around, wondering where the noise came from—where the squishy mass that stopped him went.

Then, there, Carlson Savings & Loan. He’d scouted a mom-n’-pop place with security a generation behind. Waited until the last day of the month—payday—for the extra liquidity. The sublease, a few blocks away, up tomorrow. He’d vanish, first literally, then figuratively.

He glances at the clock as he waits for someone to open the door—12:29, 38 minutes left. Plenty. A moment later, a customer. Slip in behind. The security guard doesn’t even break eye contact from the ass bent over, filling out the withdraw slip.

Saunter through the security door as it closes behind a teller returning from lunch. Wait, observe patterns of movement. There’s still time, 34 minutes. They all head left once they go down the long hall.

Wait for one to head back. Follow behind, but not too close.

And there it is, the door. Shangri-La. She opens it slowly. Follow her inside. Let her gather whatever money she needs, there’s plenty of it. She leaves. The door closes. Bingo.

Grab a duffel from the corner, start stuffing. Fill that bastard to the brim. Out of hundreds? Move on to fifties. Another duffel, too. Top it off—wait…

“…Oh, shit.” A low mutter. These—the bags aren’t invisible, either.

Think fast. Shoulda watched her enter the code. Okay, new plan. Leave the duffels by the door. When it opens, grab ‘em and run. They won’t know what’s going on. Adrenaline is pumping now. Good, need the extra burst of speed. Any minute, just have to be patient and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

No clock in here, but time on this gift has to be almost up. Minutes now. Finally, a noise on the other side of the door. The lock turns. It opens. She’s standing right there—right there in front of the bags!

Spook her.

“Hey lady!”

She screams and jumps looking around, poking her head every which way.Grab and run.

He’s halfway down the hall when the alarm sounds. Sprint faster, push. He makes it though the security door. The guard is in front of the exit and he’s unholstering his gun to point in the general vicinity of the floating bags. Drop ‘em. Just get out in one piece.

Press against the full-length window—is the glass thin enough to break? Looks good. Too close, condensation forming. “Look, there!” someone points.

Back away. Find a desk. Get a running start and—the hard clang of failure as the desk rebounds off the door and he hits the floor. The crowd begins to form a circle. Get away, try again.

He’s going full-speed now when the shot rings out. A piercing pain in the calf and a loud cry from nowhere in particular.

Blood now tracing every hobbled step he takes—It won’t matter in moments. He glances at the clock, 1:06p.m. This was not the plan.

“Alright everyone,” the announcement comes from somewhere above the trickling blood, “I know you can’t see me, but my—my hands are up.”

B: Great start to the week. The standard bank robbery is given extra bite thanks to the imagery. I especially like the blood dripping from thin air. Why is the blood not invisible? Ah, who cares. GOLD

BD: You know, I think I’m going to like this extended word limit; a story like this wouldn’t work without space to breathe. The tension was sky-high right from the start, and the author did an excellent job of keeping me glued to my seat. However, the basic idea here is a bit too obvious, and the ending sort of fizzles out. All in all, this is fun and well written, even if I kept wanting something truly crazy to happen. GOLD

Gilman: Oh, this one was exciting! A great example of a story that doesn’t need a twist at the end or a hidden history/agenda to be successful, surprising, or engaging. The choice to go with a modified sort of present tense and immediate perspective added to the kinetic energy of the narrative, and all the choices the author makes read as valid. (Shame about some of the paragraph-breaks appearing out of nowhere, but that may not have been the author’s fault.) GOLD

Pete: I love pretty much everything about this one. The poorly thought through plan, the hesitating narration, the little inconveniences (especially the condensation on the window and the portrayal of the blood tracing is steps) – it’s all great. I don’t particularly care for the stray “this was not the plan” in the second to last paragraph, as that’s fairly obvious and doesn’t need to be restated, but the ending caps the story perfectly. GOLD

Kelly Wells

On the space carrier Experiement Periculosum, at a time when the majority of residents on the secret traveling ship were sleeping, the even more secret “Earth’s Order” faction met in a large, unused storage unit. The group of nine sixteen-year-olds had been kept away from each other until the age of thirteen, and had been meeting like this once a month for the past year in the hopes of returning home, though also to swap stories about the past and relate on a better level than they could with their scientist parents. Subject One hadn’t arrived, though nobody mentioned this; experiments often lasted through the night and she was most likely undergoing some torturous process.

“Did everyone have to do the germ experiment?” Subject Six, a female, asked the group. “It was this thing where they exposed me to weapons-grade chemicals-”

“Until you either died or developed immunity,” Subject Three finished, chuckling humorlessly. “Yes, I had to do that one. We were given something called Agent Orange,” he said, tugging at his collar as if he was still having trouble breathing.

“I don’t think I was exposed to that, actually,” Subject Six said.

“Not you and I. I mean, me and Subjects Four and Five.”

Many in the Earth’s Order had considered asking why they had never met Subjects Four and Five, but the inevitability of this explanation had kept them from doing so.

“It was the only time I heard my parents disagree. They argued. Maybe it happened other times but I was always alone about twenty-two hours a day,” Subject Three continued. “My father tried to stop the experiment when my little brother died, and suggested it again when we lost my sister. I was lying on the table convulsing when I heard him yell at my mother about the futility of everything. She never raised her voice. She was irritatingly calm, and though she disagreed she shut it down and I’m sure that’s why I survived.”

Subject Eleven, the youngest (though only by weeks), was kept entirely in solitude and had never met her parents. “I wish I could hear my parents, even if they were arguing.”

“So do I,” Three said. “I’ve never seen my father since.”

Silence followed – a rarity for Earth’s Order.

“Last week,” Subject Two said, “my mom had me drink this foul, burning serum that was supposed to give me power. At first she didn’t say what it was for. She said I should just know, but I didn’t. She slapped me over and over and asked what new power I had. I started guessing and when my guesses were wrong she just smacked me harder until someone behind a mirror said if she knocked me out I couldn’t answer questions. Finally I said I could turn invisible and I could just hear the stunned silence so I knew I was right.

“So she told me to do it. Become invisible. I tried to focus and…I don’t know. She called me worthless and said it was only going to work for one hour and I was wasting her time by not just doing it for her. So she says if I don’t do it for her she’ll lock me up during the meeting of the Earth’s Order.”

This woke them up. “They know about us?” Seven asked.

“You can’t be surprised,” Two said, and they weren’t. “But my mom was dragged out of there by a couple of other guys after she said that. I just wish the invisible thing had worked.”

“It did.”

It was the voice of Subject One. All of Earth’s Order turned to an empty corner of the room; after a moment, a dripping knife appeared in front of them, hovering in the air. Subject One materialized in front of them.

“I hope one of us can pilot a ship.”

B: Two stories with invisible dripping blood! This one starts off really good; I enjoy the day-in-the-life conversation the subjects are having. Unfortunately I felt the climax was rushed and we hit exposition city. Still, great concept. SILVER

BD: I think this author got waaaaaaaay too ambitious. There is so much going on here that it would take a thousand more pages to really do it justice. As a result, a lot of this feels like a massive info dump, with a whole lot of telling and not so much showing. Plus, the ambiguous names made it hard to keep track of who was saying what. I love the ending, though. BRONZE

Gilman: This is one of the more exciting, potential-filled ideas I’ve read about this season, and it’d be a perfect scenario for a comic book series. (And for all I know it already could be; I’m not the comic book type so I dunno how old this forced/tortured-superpower trope really is.) But as exciting and intriguing the idea is, we don’t get a plot to match its potential. It’s understandable: this is one week’s work with a word limit. But there were times when I could feel certain lines included to set up reveals later on that I guessed at pretty quickly. A lighter hand, more time reworking and editing, or finding a different plotline to follow with this group might have resulted in a more successful story. BRONZE

Pete: Heh, that’s quite a hook you’ve got there. This has shades of Ender’s Game to me, with kids being treated roughly and often left to their own devices for some nebulous purpose. It’s more teaser than full story, but it’s still very tasty. SILVER

Sama Smith

“I want to go with you!” Anna pleaded.

“I know. I won’t go without you, okay?”

Ansel looked around in the dirty dimness of their room. He would not leave her behind.

———

“This’ll work?” He asked the old man crouched among the long, wild grasses.

“Oh yes,” the man said. He coughed and spit on the ground. “Mind the time, it works for an hour.”

————–

The melody was faint that evening. It flowed down from the mountains and settled in the breeze. Ansel felt it’s lure awaken something deep inside him. Anna heard nothing but their parents fighting downstairs.

“What’s the tune like?” she asked. Her brother stood at the windowsill, mesmerized. First borns only heard it.

Ansel could only describe how it made him feel.

“It makes me feel like I could fly away,” he said. He turned his attention back to her and now heard their parents’ ritual. In an hour, they will be passed out somewhere in a heap of streaked limbs and needles.

The song reached a crescendo and grew louder as the sun melted away. Ansel watched one child left home after home and walked down the darkening street.

He grabbed the tiny bottle and nodded for Anna to quietly follow him downstairs and out the back door.

“Here, drink this Anna, please,” Ansel said as soon as they were on the porch. He shoved the tiny bottle in his sister’s hands. “It’s the only way for you to come with me.”

Anna downed the liquid in the bottle in one gulp. She sneezed and Ansel gasped. Where his sister had been now was sparkling light fading by the second into nothing.

“Anna, are you alright? Ansel asked.The shimmering ceased and she was gone.

“Yes,” Anna whispered.

“Let’s go.”

As they joined the throng of children, they could see someone with a lantern bobbing ahead, leading the way. The music never ceased. The children stayed relatively quiet as they followed out of town, through the long grass of the meadow, around the swamp, and into the dark forest at the mountain base. The air grew lighter as they climbed higher, zig-zagging a path through shrubs,pushing past tree limbs and squeezing between boulders only wide enough for a child.

The land grew steep and Ansel could hear the labored breath of his sister hiking next to him. Mild complaining and sighs could be heard from the other children as the music stayed steady. The group turned to follow their leader, now a bobbing light blob in the dark, turning around another boulder, the land leveled out. In the dim glow, Ansel could make out a large rock wall. The group stopped.

“Ansel,” Anna whispered. She grabbed his hand and startled him, but he gave her a reassuring squeeze.

On his tiptoes, Ansel could see the crowd gathering into a line at the wall. He could not tell why. The line moved quickly and Anna’s hand squeezed his back harder. He looked over and could see an outline of her fingers and hand. As he reached the glowing lantern at the rock wall, Anna’s whole arm was starting to shimmer. He quickly pushed her behind him as they approached the wall. He pointed to his back and she hopped up onto it. He tried not to crouch with her weight. At the wall, he saw nothing but the lantern casting a glow on the rock, the music was now coming from inside the mountain. He saw Kallie Sage walk through the wall as if nothing was there.

Ansel held his breath and walked through the wall, Anna squeezing him tight. The music swelled and filled his ears. He saw Kallie’s red hair ahead of him shining in a bright light.

He waited for his eyes to adjust.

“Look, Anna, isn’t it beautiful?” He whispered in awe.

The music had ceased. There was no reply.

B: Fun take! Could use a bit of editing. The first section has a character say exactly what he’s going to do and then the author repeats the character’s intentions. Also a few grammar mistakes (e.g. “left”).  BRONZE

BD: This is an intriguing mish-mash of elements. It starts out with a heavy fantasy bent, but hints at something more dark and modern going on with the parents (‘streaked limbs and needles’). Then the parents are never mentioned again. It’s certainly a unique take on the Pied Piper legend and I think it could be made cohesive with some rewrites. SILVER

Gilman: Again, lots to like in this interpretation of both the prompt and the old fable that inspired the story. Unfortunately this one was really done in by a lack of proofreading and careful editing. So many sentences with unclear meanings and poorly-chosen wordings that result in confusing visuals that distract from the flow of the story. The writing itself just wasn’t terribly strong, and it wasn’t able to overcome all those distractions. BRONZE

Pete: The imagery here is beautiful. The story at once feels grounded and fantastical, and though it never quite tips its hand as to exactly what’s happening, it doesn’t leave the reader behind either. I like it. GOLD

Margaret Martin

“No way!  How did you get away?” Owen was incredulous.

Mikey gestured him closer. Owen leaned in. “I made myself invisible.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious, Owen!” Mikey whispered, looking from side to side. “I got the power from Sam Culver. HE used it to steal $100 from his Grandma. I used it to get out of the gym before the principal saw me.”

“That’s stupid! It’s impossible.”

“No, it’s real. I’m here with you, ain’t I? Not waiting for my dad… or the cops.” Mikey’s voice hushed on the last word, and Owen leaned in a little more. “Problem is, you can only use it once. Then you gotta give it away. So it’s yours, buddy.” Mikey got up and turned toward home.

About three feet away, he turned back and said, “You just have to say, ‘This is my hour of need.’ And then it will happen.”

Owen started to repeat the words.

“IDIOT! Don’t say it now! Save it for your hour of… you know!”

– – – –

Owen cowered in the corner. Of course she’d figure it out. Dogs don’t exactly leave chocolate fingerprints on the TV when they break it.

My hour of need!  He weighed the situation carefully. I wasn’t even home, Mom! It was probably the dog.

The key turned in the lock. He inhaled sharply and stood up.

Nah, I don’t want to waste it.

“Mom? I’m sorry!”

He rushed to bury his tears in her soft dress, wrapping his arms around her and leaving chocolate fingerprints on her butt.

– – – –

Owen looked up from the floor, wiping blood from his mouth. They had him surrounded, a firing line of feet and fists.  Rob was bouncing like a boxer, ready to come again. Sarah was huddled with her friends, crying.

He’d probably die in this fucking hallway.

Just use it and disappear. Clear out and leave them punching each other.  He chuckled a little. Gotta be faster than that, Rob! You son of a bitch.

He pulled himself to his feet and took a deep breath.

This was not the hour to be a coward.

“Touch her again and I’ll kill you!”

He put his fists up in front of his face, threw a couple of jabs, and took the beating of a lifetime.

Someone got the principal.  

– – – –

“I don’t know, honey.” Owen rubbed his temples. “I can talk to my mom about a loan, maybe, just to cover the mortgage.”

Or I could rob a bank. The hour I’ve been saving it for!

He looked over at Sarah, where she stood cradling little Mikey. Like Mary and Jesus. He walked over and put his arms around his family.

Not this hour. I have to do this thing right.

“I can sell my bike. It’s not safe for kids anyway, and who has time to ride?”

He saw the bike just once after that. Jimmy rode her by one summer, pure blue sky reflecting off her chrome tailpipes.

– – – –

Owen lay facing the window, but his glassy eyes didn’t see much anymore. A shadow covered him; someone was in the room.

He turned to see the reaper’s cloak, soulless and dark.

Owen smiled.

I’ll have the last laugh on you, old man! This is the hour of my…

Oh, who gives a shit.

Owen called for the nurse, and asked her to bring him his journal. He flipped to the back and tore out the last yellowed page.

“I’m giving it to you, Delilah.”

She looked puzzled, but folded the note and put it in her pocket.

– – – –

Delilah read it again. “What do you think, baby? Should I try it?”

“What? That’s just the ravings of a dead man. Even if it did work, you should save it for your hour of… you know.”

She nodded solemnly.

B: I really love the first scene where he breaks down and apologizes to mom. Then the story gets a bit repetitive as we go through Owen’s life. I think the internal monologue is unnecessary, as we know what he’s doing anyway. It made it feel like I was being taught a morality lesson through Owen. I do like that you successfully went the other way from the prompt’s intention while still following it completely. BRONZE

BD: This is exactly the type of thing I was hoping to read this week. The writing is awkward in places, and the beginning made me think this was going to be a sort of jokey coming-of-age story. But then the author turned the prompt on its head and transformed this into a sort of modern-day fable. I loved it. GOLD

Gilman: You guys are really pulling out the stops with your inspirations and concepts this week, which is really heartening, because invisibility has the potential to be a really predictable power. Again, though, the presentation of this story takes a little away from what the author’s communicating to us. I’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to handle limited word counts with this idea too, but the quick-shot montage method just reduces each incident to a 50/50 moral dilemma over and over again. BRONZE

Pete: The bank idea wouldn’t have worked, anyway. Another fun concept, as we watch Owen try to not waste his precious opportunity, only to do exactly that. Too awesome to use, indeed. BRONZE

Bret Highum

Grandpa started rambling from his bed, the way he normally does when he’s on the edge of sleep.  Poor old man, he wasn’t much left but skin and bone and random neurons firing.

“It was a watch.  Not a fancy watch, an old Casio with a cracked resin band and glowing green numbers.  It looked like something that should be thrown away, but Eddie swore that when he’d set the alarm timer for an hour, he’d turned invisible.  Since we all knew Eddie had been thrown out of the Victoria’s Secret in the mall after he was caught in the dressing rooms, we didn’t ask how he used it.  Eddie wouldn’t confirm that, though.  He just said that it didn’t work for him anymore after the first time, so he’d sell it for twenty bucks.”

This was a new one.  Grandpa had told some whoppers to us before, but it had been years since his brain had been that nimble.  Usually he complained about Grandma’s cooking, bless that cranky old lady.  She passed away before I was a teenager.

The old man coughed, and I thought the story was done, but he started back up, surprisingly coherent.

“I thought that seemed high for a hoax, but Jeff went for it, bought the watch and left town for two days.  When he came back, he had a ton of cash and wouldn’t say anything about it.  Oh, and a couple days later Jeff got picked up for having stolen cash from a bank over in Oregon.  There was no witnesses and he wasn’t on any surveillance videos, so they only got him for accessory.

I paid fifty bucks for the watch when Jeff offered it to me when I visited him in lockup.”

At this point, I really don’t know what to think.  I’ve never heard any of this before.  My grandpa had been a great storyteller, but he was so matter-of-fact about this.  It had to be his meds or senility or something.

“I was scared to touch any of the buttons.  I didn’t want to start it early, before I got everything figured out and a good plan in place.  I didn’t want to end up like Jeff, or worse, Eddie.  There’s got to be an angle I could work, I thought.  I carried the watch with me for years, waiting for something to happen, waiting…”

I looked over at Grandpa, and his eyes were wide open, locked to mine.  He winked, then he vanished.

I called for him, panicked, grabbing at his bedsheets.  I calmed as I felt the shape of his body there, but I quickly realized he was limp and still.  I called for him over and over, sobbing onto his invisible form for a while before I managed to control myself.

I was sitting next to the bed, staring at the emptiness when he reappeared.  He looked peaceful, eyes closed and a contented smile on his face.  I removed the watch from his bony wrist, thinking of all the years he’d worn it and how he’d never been able to decide what to do.

I’m thinking I’d like to see Area 51.

B: Much like the last story, someone who can’t figure out what to do with their power. I do like that Grandpa used it here for two pretty awesome reasons in amusing his grandkids and also proving to his grandkids that it works (so they can use it, too). I wish there was more pathos; the narrator feels like an empty shell to me as he tells me what his emotions are rather than showing me. Also, Area 51 comes out of nowhere. BRONZE

BD: Similar to the last entry, this toys with readers expectations in playful ways. However, it feels as if the author got the inspiration quickly but couldn’t quite flesh it out into a full-blown story. In particular, way too much space is taken up with the Grandfather yammering on and on. If there had been a little more focus on the protagonist, I think this would have worked better. Another great finish, though; you all are really knocking out the endings this week.

Gilman: An interesting angle on the dilemma posed by the previous story, but if anything this one’s resolution feels even less satisfactory. Is viewing the moment of passing so terrible that this man thought being seen dead an hour later would be more tolerable? Or did he just want the satisfaction of knowing it worked before he passed? Neither possibility feels all that compelling to me, and we don’t know which it was in the end. I just didn’t feel where this story was trying to take me.

Pete: Heh, just when I thought that Grandpa was going to make the same mistake as Owen, he…uses it to disappear as he dies? I have to admit, I sort of wish that there was a little more payoff there. This one actually follow a very, very similar outline as the previous story, but goes about it in a less active way, so I end up liking the other one a little more.  BRONZE

Abby Stansel

A raises their hand, fingers curled slightly, like leaves.  Their other hand grasps tightly onto the notebook in their lap.   The book is a plain black composition book, with their name written on it.  Their name, but, not their name.

“Yes, Arial?” the teacher asked.  “Do you need something?” Her tone catches harshly on A’s ears, and they grimace at the cruel undertone.

“I…it’s A, Ma’am.” They whisper.  The teacher snaps her head to look at them, eyes like fire. A raises their head but before they have time to speak, the bell goes off.

When A moves to leave the class, a hard elbow catches their back.  “Faggot.” Someone mutters in their ear.  A lashes out at their leg, but they are shoved roughly to the ground and watch as the assailant laughing, walk away.  A pushes their dark hair off their face, running their hand over the right side, which is nearly shaved.

The abandoned hallway is dark.  A stumbles down it, hands desperately searching for him.

Finally, they see him, the teenaged boy with the slouched back and shaky hands.  A plunges his hand into their pocket, searching for the wallet.  Shoving it at the boy, A grabs the needle from his hand, letting it break the skin on their forearm and pushing down hard.  The rush leaves them breathless.

The hallways feel like a battleground. Eyes tear into A’s scull, their flesh, their skin, their bones.

The classroom can’t be close enough, can’t be far enough.  Every word on the board is a swirl of colors and letters, lost within A’s brain to the chaos as they spend more time on trying to live than they can on trying to learn.

In the halls every insult gets its own runway to mow down the heart of the person it is about.

They’re all about A.  They always are.

The bathroom tile is cold. A lays their head down on it for a moment, sides trembling with the beginning of tears.  The teen is there, his eyes dark, void of all emotion, all love.

A raises their head.  “Please,” they whisper.  “I have to vanish.  I have to be unseen. For anything, a minute, a second, an hour.  One last time.”

The boy studies him for a long moment, then holds out his hand.  A shakes his head, desperation flashing in his eyes.

“I gave you everything I had before.  I’ll bring it tomorrow.  Promise.” A begs.  The boy nods, hands it over.  It stings going in.

Their bedroom is dark that night.  A paces, feet slamming the floor, unable to sleep without nightmares so vivid the world is ending and the sky is falling and they are dead, dead, dead.

The sun is too bright.  It will burn their skin it will kill them it will scorch them they have no chance.

The barrel of the gun rests in A’s hand.  It fits under their shirt.  For safety.  Just for safety, A promises themself.

The needles pierce their skin.  Two this morning, not one.  One isn’t enough.

The faces peer out at them from every crevice, every hiding hole.  A’s back slams against the lockers, his body shaking all over.

“They can’t see me.” they whisper.  “They can’t see me they can’t see me they can’t see me.”

The barrel of the gun is cold in their hands.  They slip down the hallway, demons leaping up from every crevice, sinking in claws and teeth.  A cries out, twisting and writhing.

The gun sounds loud.  They hear the screams now.  “They can’t see me.” they whisper.  “They can’t see me they can’t see me they can’t see me.”   They run.

The body is found hours later.  The next day, the headline of the local paper reads “Bullied teenager shoots five, commits suicide following drug overdose.  Parents and teachers called them “A good student, if quite odd.”

B: I kind of liked the use of the letter A to represent the main character. It had the (I think) intended effect of isolating the reader. At first I thought our character was transgendered with the frequent use of the pronoun “they,” but then it switched to him a few times as well. So in retrospect the constant pronoun changes threw me out. Solid effort. I think the last paragraph is unnecessary, as it stands to boil down the story to a newspaper clipping. BRONZE

BD: Wow, this is intense. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the writing style at first; the character referring to himself both in third person and seemingly in plural was difficult to follow. At the same time, this created a palpable feeling of disassociation similar to what the character must have been going through. By the end, I found myself incredibly moved by this. Some of the depictions of drug use seem unrealistic, and that last paragraph absolutely has to go; it almost kept this out of gold contention. GOLD

Gilman: Hrm. This story seems to struggle with itself. It took me a couple of reads to fully understand what the underlying turmoil was, and just how the main character applied the concept of “invisibility” to their circumstances, and it left me a bit unsatisfied. I can’t quite articulate why, except to say that this kind of bullying and the reaction of turning to drugs without just running from school entirely (and then turning to murder) feels really…unlikely? I dunno. There was much to like in the risks the author takes here in portraying the main character as they see themselves, but the metaphor and drama that build out of the prompt felt a bit layered-on. SILVER

Pete: I don’t really know what to do with this one. There are parts that I really like, parts that I don’t, and parts that stoked curiosity. I wish their was a decent gender neutral singular pronoun to use in situations like this, because “them/their/they” is a little awkward in places, but far more qualified folks have debated over that one, and it’s used consistently here, so no quibbles there. I’m not a huge fan of the ending – the shooting is what it is, but the headline is a little pat. I dunno. I like this quite a bit more than I’m making it sound like. BRONZE

Annette Baron

One hour . . . 60 minutes . . . 3600 seconds.  Once I swallow the small tab of paper, that’s all I will have.  If I were 50 pounds heavier and a foot taller, I could have an extra 3.5 minutes, accordingly to calculations.  The science behind this small dose is fascinating and terrifyingly dangerous . . . but I digress.  

I’ve practiced counting out an hour in my head, setting a vibrating timer on my phone in my pocket. I’ve done it so many times, I have my own inner alarm at 55 minutes.  This is critical to a naked man; timing is everything.

Seven months ago, Natalie told me she was pregnant and leaving me for James, a friend of mine.  Not my best friend, but still.  “Science is your mistress!” she hissed, “I found someone who sees me.”  She would never have suspected how much this hurt me, which I guess is her point.  

The divorce was fairly amicable; I gave her what she asked for and she didn’t ask for more than was fair.  We decided to wait until the baby was born to do the paternity testing.  Natalie is almost 40 and this is a high risk pregnancy under the best of circumstances.

James, my college bosom buddy who decided my wife was just too tempting to resist, stayed out of it and away from me.  I don’t think a conversation with him that began with “I never meant to hurt you,” could have ended in anything but bloodshed.  I still have happy dreams where I am pounding in his chiseled face.

The call came at 2:30 a.m. I’m not going to tell you who called, just a kindly someone who felt I deserved to know.

The ER doors whoosh open and I race to the admittance desk.  “Labor and Delivery?”  I’m so breathless it takes her a few seconds to decipher what I am asking.  “Fourth floor.” She smiles at my desperation.   

Too antsy to wait for the elevator, I take the stairs two at a time.  I burst out at the nurses station.  “Natalie Undermeyer?”

“She’s just gone into delivery. Friend of the family?”

I hesitate.  Not really, just the father . . . maybe.  “Yes.”

“The waiting room is right over there.  Shouldn’t be long now.”  She’s says this reassuringly, but I can feel my blood pressure rising.  “Restroom?”

“Down that hall, on the right.”  She points behind me.

I hurry down the hall and lock the restroom door behind me.  The tab tastes like metal on my tongue and stings all the way down my throat.  Acid bile burns my throat and tears fill my eyes. I tear off my clothes (I’m commando and not wearing any socks) and wrap it all in the grocery bag wadded in my back pocket.  I stuff it in the waste bin and crumple paper towels over the bag. I lean across the sink and watch myself fade away in the mirror.  It’s mesmerizing and I almost forget to start my mental clock.

Now completely invisible, I turn off the light and slowly open the door.  No one’s waiting and I pad down the tiled hall.  DELIVERY across double doors; I push through.  A nurse looks up, frowns and looks back to her phone.

I hear Natalie groaning.  I skid down the hall and around a curtain.  The air smells fecund and electric.  Natalie’s legs are in the air and James is rubbing her sweat-soaked head.

The baby’s head is clear; the doctor gently wiggling the shoulders. In a rush, the baby slithers free into the doctor’s waiting hands, thinly wailing. The doctor sets him (HIM!) on Natalie’s belly while he tends to the aftermath.  Natalie reaches to take a tiny fist.  Slipping around the doctor, I lightly touch the baby’s sticky head, looking down into a red and furious miniature of my own face.

MY SON.

B: I love this. I love that you didn’t give into temptation to have our character steal the baby. He just wants to see the birth of his son. Brutal. Sweet. Perfect. GOLD

BD: This spends way too much time on the set up, so much so that I was beginning to think the author may have forgotten about the whole invisibility thing. A lot of the details were either unnecessary or repetitive, but once it became clear where this was headed I did find myself drawn in. The main character is a bit creepy but I had a lot of empathy for his plight, and the ending is intriguing in its ambiguity (is he planning to steal the baby, or just sit there petting it until he materializes naked?) BRONZE

Gilman: Again, you guys are coming up with some killer scenarios this week. I really liked where this one was heading, even if the approach was a little too deliberate in its construction, and I was hoping/expecting that more would come at the very end other than just getting to glimpse one’s own child. The grit of the writing, and the necessary details mulled over by a scientific mind with the opportunity for an hour of magic is pretty interesting and quite well presented, and that’s what stays with me when this story ends. SILVER

Pete: I have to admit, I was worried about what was going to happen here. I love the direction that the author did end up taking it in, though. The opening paragraph is a little wordy (it even sort of acknowledges that fact), but once it gets going, it’s solid. SILVER

Melissa David

Sam entered her.  One thrust, two, and Delia’s body fully opened to him, allowed him deeper. He slid in and out with such ease, and she arched her back, closed her eyes.  She’d waited so long for this moment, for them to come together. No more furtive glanced, whispered hopes.

His breathing grew more labored, and as he leaned over her, he whispered, “I love you.”

And the bedroom door opened.

Delia immediately recognized her boyfriend step into the room, and she flipped that internal switch.  Where an orgasm should have built stronger until it burst, something else snapped inside her. Something else spread like a warm glove over her body.

Sam didn’t notice. He’d frozen, stared at Omar in terror. “This isn’t what it looks like,” he insisted, but he hadn’t pulled out. She hadn’t removed her legs from around him.

Omar cleared his throat. “Dude, I’m not even sure what it looks like.”

Sam glanced down at Delia, and though she could see his startled brown eyes staring at her, his gaze went through her.  He went pale. His jaw dropped.

Omar said, “Are you fucking the air?”

Sam swallowed his horror and squeaked out a “Yes?”

As if to add credibility to this statement, he jokingly thrust into Delia.  She held back a gasp. Sam’s face contorted. With a nervous laugh, he tried thrusting again.  He doubled over.

He came.

Silence. Then Omar took a step back, closed the door slowly. Left.

“I love you, too,” Delia said.

Sam wept.

B: Ha ha ha. I figured someone would do the invisible thing to avoid getting caught doing something naughty, but this takes it to another level. Air fucking! SILVER

BD: This is a well written, dirty little joke. I wish you had included some hint as to where Delia’s special abilities came from, but regardless I found myself enjoying this probably more than I should. SILVER

Gilman: See, you guys. YOU GUYS. So many great ideas this week. And this one felt right from the get-go, in the pacing, in the details. In the non-reveal of the big reveal of a power nobody but Delia knew was there. I’m not really sure why Sam weeps at the end there, but that’s a tiny thing that sticks out for me, and I could probably arrive at a reasonable explanation with a little thought. In the end, it doesn’t change the fact that this piece was damn fun. GOLD

Pete: Okay, yeah, I laughed. Even as the mechanics of the story take a turn for the absurd, there are clear emotional stakes here. I love the awkward shuffle out the door of poor Omar. SILVER

Matt Novak

The chamber spins shut, carrying five extra rounds.

This was the plan from the start.  The day I’d learned about the invisibility, I swore I’d die without being found out.  Time to make good.

There’d been warnings aplenty, especially in my youth.  My mother was sanctimonious, the preachy type.  Never was quite sure what my father thought about it all.  He seemed to have been whipped into shape by good ol’ Momma, and I never heard him say a word crosswise.  Could be he really believed in behaving too, could be he was living vicariously through my crimes and sins.

There was a time I heeded the warnings.  Afraid of the God who could see everything I did.  Then I found out ’bout this gift, and realized that living seemed more fun.  God could see most things, but he couldn’t see them all.  I just needed to use it wisely.  I knew I could get away with anything, so I swore I would.  I’d just never get caught when it counted.

Hasn’t been particularly hard.  Not even the law really seemed to care.  But whores and crank only got so much life in ’em, and I’m getting awful tired.  So today’s the day.  This hour is the hour.

Momma warned me I’d be judged, I think, as I set the barrel in my mouth.  But God can’t judge what he can’t find.

B: I kind of like this character, but with the word limit we had I wish I could have learned more about him through the eyes of others rather than what boils down to a diary entry. Interesting perspective our guy has, that his body will remain permanently invisible if he kills himself.

BD: There’s a kernel of a really good story here,  but this needs to be longer for it to have serious impact. Still, the pulp noir style is wonderfully executed, and I found myself really liking this character. BRONZE

Gilman: That’s a killer final line there–and again a really impressive spin on the prompt. But it’s not delivered with much oomph behind it, and the life choices our protag makes in the wake of the revelation of his power feels pretty arbitrary, or at least under-explained. It’s hard for me to feel like someone as certain of god’s judgment would decide to use invisibility as a get-out-of-jail-free card, when confession and absolution is just sitting there, available to anyone. (Also, not sure if the story needed to start in media res for just one sentence.) BRONZE

Pete: There’s a little too much tell, and not quite enough show in this one. It’s got a lot of ground to cover, and I’m not completely sure it covers it all gracefully enough to beat out some of the more inventive stories this week.

Christina Pepper

I look again at the slip of paper I’d found crumpled into my hand when I woke.

INVISIBILITY: ONE HOUR*

*One time use only. Inclusive of clothing. Nontransferrable. Nonrefundable. No ancillary powers included.

I certainly wasn’t aware of having paid anything, and I couldn’t even fathom how one would go about seeking a refund. The final statement on the paper’s front was:

By the end of your hour, you must make a copy of this message and leave it with another person who could benefit from it.

I reflexively reached for my phone.

“Invisibility for one hour” turned up approximately half a million results in a mere 0.55 seconds. Lots of discussions on reddit, Yahoo! Answers, and the like.

I wasn’t a spy. I had no boyfriend (or girlfriend), so looking for evidence of cheating wasn’t something I needed to pursue. Robbing a bank seemed impractical–it didn’t seem I’d be able to walk through walls or fly or anything like that. I mean, those would be considered ancillary, right?

My brother called that evening to plan what we’d each bring to the potluck our parents were hosting the following day.

“You should bring Grandma’s salad,” he told me.

“I don’t think a dish containing marshmallows can technically be considered a salad,” I retorted.

But that was the key.

When grandma had gotten sick, our parents had had to sell her house fast. The house, just a few blocks away from my childhood home, was purchased by a couple in their late twenties. They seemed nice enough at first, but as soon as the deal was closed, they made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with us, and no one in our family had so much as set foot on the property since the sale.

I missed the smell of Grandma’s house, the stillness of the rooms, the flower patterned curtains. While I knew it might have changed, I wanted nothing more than to say a final farewell to her in the place where we’d spent so many hours together.

My fruit and marshmallow “salad” was well received by the rest of the family at the potluck, and late in the evening I said I wanted to take a stroll. As I approached the house, I was relieved to find it was dark. I had a key in my pocket–we’d always had a key to Grandma’s house, and thank goodness we’d never turned it over after the sale.

I recited the incantation that had been printed on the back of the slip of paper. I didn’t feel any different, but when I looked down, I couldn’t see my body.

Grief washed over me as I tiptoed from one room to the next. Of course people make changes when they buy a house, but I’d been hoping something essential would still be there.

In the basement, I felt comforted when I saw Grandma’s old washer and dryer. She always said they’d outlive her. A sniffling sound prompted me to draw closer, and I was started to see a small boy, perhaps six years old, tucked next to the dryer and weeping.

I reached out to him but then withdrew my hand. I looked for something that might indicate who he was or what he was doing there, but nothing was obvious.

I had already copied my note, and I carefully crept up to the boy and slid the copy into his pants pocket. Presumably the note would become visible at the end of my hour.

I could only hope he’d find it and that it would do him some good.

B: Like the story about the father witnessing the birth of his son, here’s another great reason to become invisible. The ending peters out a bit as the focus starkly turns away from the grieving woman to this boy we don’t know. Overall, though, I like the concept for the invisibility. This could make a great little novella if we followed about 10 people through this chain. SILVER

BD: What a tease! Now I want to know what happened to the boy. This started out strong but then headed off in a strange, meandering direction. The idea that visiting his Grandma’s house was the best thing he could come up with seems a little silly. The ending sort of comes out of nowhere and leaves me feeling that this is more the beginning of story than a finished product. BRONZE

Gilman: Aw, this was lovely. Really truly lovely for a few reasons. I think the middle of the story went on a touch too long, and maybe it would have benefitted the story to use some of that word-bulk to beef up the crying boy’s situation a little. But there are good reasons to leave that open to interpretation. What’s important is that this one left much of the bells and whistles of invisibility at the sidelines, and focused on some very human, very decent reasons one might want to use such a gift, and to whom one might give it away. SILVER (Side note: because of paragraph spacing and pagination, I originally thought this story ended at the line about what can technically be considered a salad. I re-read that small part of the story three more times, wondering what tiny detail I missed that would have made the story make sense.)

Pete: It’s a little convenient that Grandma’s house got bought by a couple of awful child abusers (kidnappers, maybe? Who knows), but looking past that, a lot of this is good. The turn that the story takes sort of comes out of left field. BRONZE

Joshua Longman

Holy Mount Iz straddled the horizon, snowy cap shining like a beacon.

“Snow,” the child said.  “I wonder what that’s like?”  A bearded dragon licked its eye in response and shuffled away.

“Fine, go then.”

 

He sat and watched the earthen vessel; a solitary azure flower lolled inside, rocking from gusts that rolled along the dunes.

He missed the lizard.  He had been waiting a while.

The sun was blistering and salting his brow when he noticed a blue spark.  It was subtle, but there was a popping in the air.  Heart pattering, he focused on remaining quiet.

The winds strengthened and he had to shield his eyes from the sand.  It crescendoed in a clap of white and a roar he could feel in his bones.

He dashed forward and knew time was running out.  As the cork sank into place he dropped to his knees in relief.  He’d done it.   

He’d…..done it!

The child hopped to his feet, fists in the air.  His adolescent howl full of such fervor the Sultan could surely hear all the way on Iz.  A cackling interrupted his victory.

 

HA!..ha!..ha…….  What have you done, child?”  A voice emanated from the jar.

“Silence, djinni!”  The boy said.  He had to be firm.

Hmmh? A feisty one?  Rare as a sunset when it comes to humans.”

The boy ignored the demon’s sarcasm, grabbed the vessel and began walking instead.

What is your name, child?”

“My name is not a fool.  What’s yours?” the boy answered, knowing the tricks.

The djinni growled. “Some advice, young fool.  These walls can contain me only a day, and I will not submit.  You will not have me.  Release me now and forgo my wrath.”

“Iz took a djinni, there’s a way.”  The child slid down a hill and made toward a rocky plateau.

A myth ancients wove from the stars above.”

“Shall we seek his mountain and see?”

The djinni hesitated.  “A fool’s errand.  Your little frame hasn’t the stamina in any case.”

The child rounded the rocky crevice and untied his stallion.

 

While they rode the demon prodded.  “You knew to use a salt ring?”

“Everyone knows.”

Hmm.  And the Cerulia Flower?”

The boy smiled.  “That knowledge is rare. My grandfather told me.”

The djinni ruminated.  “…..mhahaha!  The old fool from the oasis?  He’s still alive?”

“No,” the boy answered, green eyes afire.

Oh?  Was he murdered?  You burn with a mission, child.”

“Sultan Rattan.  Yes.”

I see.  Revenge.  Well you won’t have it, there is nothing you can do.”

“I don’t need your agreement…” the child tied his horse near the smoking mountain base,  “…only your essence.”

 

FINAL time! RELEASE ME!!”  The djinni roared.

“Do you know what else my grandfather taught me?”  The boy undressed.  “What happens to djinni in molten fire.”

My freedom and your slaughter!”

“Sixty-minutes of discorporation – to see and not be seen.  Rattan cannot hide from an invisible enemy.”

FOLLY!”

“No, demon,” the boy sneered, now bare.  “It is fact.  I don’t need your help.”

“…WAIT!!” the voice exploded.  Clouds darkened and churned; the air crackled with static.  

You understand not the power you wield, but I relent.  I am Rjall and I was created for eternity.  Release me by bond of my name and I swear I shall RAIN my umbrage upon your enemy.”  The eddies grew violent and sand whipped the boy’s skin.  “I’ll LAY WASTE to his throne!  SHEAR the MEAT FROM HIS ARMY and GRIND THEIR BONES TO ASHES!!”

The boy grinned ear-to-ear, the storm pulling his hair and drawing blood from his skin.  He opened the jar.

 

The sky was said to have rent open, pouring forth a spiraling tower of wind.  Mount Iz, named for a champion and tainted by a villain, crumbled to gravel.  Rattan’s domain vanished.

Oasis survivors rode to investigate the next morning and only found an unscathed, naked boy.

B: This one begins a little purple for me, but the long walk with the djinni is an awesome conversation. By the end I got kind of fired up. What a fun little world you created her. GOLD

BD: This is quite a world to build up (and then destroy) in such a short space. Some of the writing tries a bit too hard to hit that mythological tone (molten fire?) and the narrative can occasionally feel unfocused. However, the adventure itself is rolicking fun and I enjoyed the clever way in which the boy antagonizes and manipulates the djinni. GOLD

GILMAN: Seriously, you guys. This may have been my favorite week EVER in the many seasons of PWTP I’ve judged. Another rejection of the inherent power, but this time for reasons other than just not finding the right time to use it. Economy of language, a deep trust in the reader’s ability to follow the style and substance of the story, and some damn fine fantasy writing overall…I seriously think this story could hold its own in some SF pulp magazine somewhere. That kid’s one canny fellow, and I enjoyed the back-and-forth between him and his Djinn captive. Honestly, what’s the point in me explaining what works in this story, what the author did so well, when all you have to do is read it yourself and you’ll know? GOLD

Pete: The world building done here is great. The prose is excellent. The characters and motivations are spot on. This is perfect. This is my favorite story of the season. GOLD.



Huge congratulations to both Brendan and Joshua who each nab 20 point weeks! Great job gentlemen.

The standings are getting hot hot hot now!  Here’s a breakdown with two weeks to go.

Sama, Joshua, Christina, Brendan, Margaret, and Annette have all clinched a playoff spot. That leaves three spots left for five players. Melissa and Matt are pretty close to clinching. It’s really a three-way race for the final spot between Bret, Kelly, and Shawn. Shawn’s second non-sub dropped her in the standings, so she’ll need two very strong weeks to pass Kelly and Bret. Kelly’s behind by 14 points. That’s a tough climb but it’s possible.

 

 

Advertisements