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I haven’t been in any rush to put Gods & Mortals updates here, because these posts are getting very little traffic. We’ve been to Ireland and Greenland, and we have five teams left. If you want the full update and can’t find it elsewhere, at this point I should direct you to the Facebook group.

As for what I have coming, I’m throwing you all a curveball here. I want to try an entire season of proposition bets, be they on baseball, other sports, or even award shows and the like. Or, if desired, I could do the entire thing with baseball, since there are certainly enough games to use. This Survivor will be built with speed in mind – we would eliminate two people a week as we move fairly quickly toward a finish. If it’s entirely a baseball season, I may keep it to those at my baseball site, if there are enough dudes and Pepper who want to participate.

Some won’t be into this, but given the fact that I won’t be on the hook to create intricate challenges, I’ll be free to run some Werewolf games for the weary.

I do still like the idea of a Survivor season (or Big Brother season) built by the players. As in, everyone who wants to play the season brings in a favorite challenge from seasons past.

I also love Turbo Writing Survivor, and would like to run a third one soon. Above all, I want all three of these seasons to primarily run here (the baseball and Turbo Writing ones for sure) and during that time I’ll have no real presence over at the Facebook group.

Okay, gang. Back to running challenges. Drop your thoughts, if you have them.

I know everyone was impressed with the concept from the preseason challenge.  So, as final, uh, toast to the Turbo game, I present you with the toaster entries.  I have attached names to those entries whose owners have given me permission.  If anyone else wants to give me permission, shoot me an e-mail or say so in the comments and I’ll attach your name as well.

#1

I’d been away for two years and some months when I heard about her stay in the ICU. For a month she had been there, barely able to breath and rapidly losing weight from her already thin frame; the doctors didn’t know why. I went from the airport directly to the hospital. All she said to me, “Did you get the toaster? The kids picked it out. It’s a Hello Kitty head”.
That was it.

——————————

Erik Dikken

The goal was to take a toaster apart and reconstruct it to toast a sandwich. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. At least I did better than my friend who had given up ten minutes in.
The next day I looked over the posted grades and found I received a B, but was surprised to see my friend got an A. I called him immediately for answers.
“I flipped it on its side.”

——————————

#3

Larry had a career that was the envy of any toaster in the world.  The only
blemish was that little brat Joe.  That would change tomorrow, when he’d
move to Florida to retire.

“Joe, go play outside,” yelled Joe’s Mom.

Joe didn’t want to go outside; he wanted to stay indoors and play Skyrim.
Indignantly, he picked up his bat and glove, but couldn’t find a ball.  He
looked around, saw Larry and smirked.

——————————

#4

PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAMINATION NOTES:
Apathetic Big Toaster, age 9 (out of warrantee)

Patient exhibits self-critical attitude. Fears metallic objects. Toasting irregular.
Suffers premature ejection. Sense of worthlessness has genesis in family history.
Parents compared patient to younger brother, who was praised as a brave little
appliance.

SELF-HARM RISK? Low, recommended to be kept away from bathtubs.

SUGGESTED TREATMENT: Limit to simple breads and scones. Regular crumb tray
cleanings. 10mg Xanax taken intraslottally every morning.
——————————

Sarah Johnson

“Veronica’s house smells like ham.”
My best argument, but I was dropped off every Saturday to tolerate the fat Polish girl’s stinking dolls and slug-infested playhouse. Her emaciated father would serve sticky sandwiches toasted without mayonnaise. Unacceptable.
After midnight I crept into the kitchen with Ken. I needed a way out of the cigarette smoke and ham fourths.
The arms melted into the toaster and Sunday’s breakfast was gloriously cancelled. I never saw Veronica again.
——————————

Pete Bruzek

People talk to inanimate objects. Derrick happened to talk to his toaster.

It was part of his routine, talking to it while he made breakfast. He’d mention how he disliked work, or how he talked to the pretty girl from payroll yesterday. It never judged him. It just made delicious toast.

He loved that toaster.

Once the element died, Derrick bought a toaster oven and started chatting with it, instead.

——————————

Peggy Sorrell

The seeds had sat dormant in the tray for months until a drop of moisture seeped in from spilt water.  The little sprout broke open its pod and peered into the semi-darkness.  What strange surroundings she had been born into.  She struggled upwards toward the rectangular openings and life giving sunlight.  Then abruptly the temperature became unbearably hot, and she sizzled to her death.  No living thing should suffer birth in a toaster.

——————————

Zack Sauvaugeau

Jeff and Anna were a very introverted couple with few friends. They had plans to get married, but no one to attend a wedding. Jeff always dreamed of a fancy wedding, but knew they couldn’t have one. Undeterred, he secretly completed gift registries.  On the day they eloped, Anna handed him a carefully wrapped box. After he removed the paper, he was overwhelmed with emotion. There was the four-slot toaster that was on every registry.

——————————

#9

The unseasonably warm winter dissuaded the box elder bugs from hibernating.  After invading the house, they traipsed around aimlessly exploring counters and walls.  Broderick always detested feeling one meandering along his frame.  With no distractions in the kitchen most days, Broderick magnified the sensation from each bug’s step and endured an intolerable, unscratchable itch.  Broderick derived great satisfaction when his owner, while preparing an Eggo, zapped one who had penetrated his innards.

——————————

Cory Funk

If silence is golden then each night Hamilton was the richest king, reigning over a peaceful kingdom in the gentle hours.
It was the brutality of dawn that brought the grimy insistent hands force feeding him, the sickening heat that racked his insides and tortured his skin.  With the wretched and invariable disemboweling that followed there was no illusion as his inescapable servitude.
Timmy would’ve had just juice had he but known the toaster’s torment.
——————————

#11

The top step creaked as Eric knew it would, he inched up to the door, held his breath and
slowly opened it.

“This is the last time, Erich!” Gwen screamed.

He looked up to see a toaster flying at his head. He ducked just in time.

“It’s not what you…”

“Were you at the zoo masturbating with an elephant’s trunk?”

“Well…”

“Enough!”

“Fine, I’ll leave. But you should know: My name is Eric, not Erich.”

——————————

Ryan Sorrell

She spit it out immediately. “Awful! What’s with this garbage?” she thought. She used to be able to take a couple pieces of Wonderbread or an English Muffin and make a perfectly toasted, delightful breakfast. If this is what she’s going to get from now on, there’s no choice but to return it.

Harold stood there dumbfounded as over and over again his bread popped right back up, untoasted.

“Wheat bread, yuck”, she thought.

——————————

Brooks Maki

The painter pontificated, surrounded by the neurotic blaze of his creations.  “Painting is balancing toasters on the edges of bathtubs.”  That line did it.  Alvin marched past the bright blue abstract that almost obscured her silhouette, snatched the shitty electric toaster oven from the table, and shoved it into the painter’s hands. “You wouldn’t be the first, Bryan”.  With no toaster to hold, his hands involuntarily balled into fists, waiting for any hint of mockery.

——————————

#14

Cold, chrome, and silent. No eyes, no ears, only a faint sensation of presence. It feels the firm softness of its purpose against the metal springs of its insides and it delights in sensation as the lever on its side is pressed down. Internal coils heat, dark at first, then bright red. It has an expected duty, but is feeling mischevious. As the lever is forced up, it smirks inwardly at the burnt rebellion.

——————————

Bret Highum

This drunken street magician used to hang out at this coffee bar I worked at in Seattle.  He claimed he’d invented all kinds of magic tricks.  I laughed at him.  Wouldn’t you know it; the dude pulled a dove out of his jacket pocket, and vanished the damn thing.  Next thing I know, the toaster is jumping around, and there are wings sticking out the sides.  That’s how that damn flying toaster screensaver was created.

——————————

AMR

So little sleep last night.  Maybe baby just likes to cry.  Prob’ly caught Jenny’s cold.
Quiet at quarter to six.  No use going to bed; sat down to SportsCenter.  Didn’t last the commercial break.
Madison’s joyfully loud running woke me,  baby too.  Shit, only 45 minutes.
Maddy wants breakfast.  No milk, so toast.  Izzy’s bottle in the warmer.  Go to pacify her and catch five on her floor.
Something stinks.  How’d it get in there?
——————————

#17

Joan’s eyes found her reflection in the Dualit Combi premium toaster that the Siskins had given her and Terri for their ‘wedding’ gift.  Her eyes looked tired.  Lines had appeared where before only dimples and broken hearts lived.  Terri had loved that toaster.  Rye with butter substitute and orange marmalade. Every day since they got it, up until she couldn’t take solids any more.  Joan watched without feeling as the tears rolled down her face.

——————————

Erik Sundberg

Since his wife left him, I’ve had to watch this miserable
sack of shit weep into his cereal and dry toast every
morning, all without once cleaning my crumb tray.

And now he’s going to throw me in the tub with him!? Why
is the toaster the paradigm? Why not that snooty espresso
machine? Thanks to my cord length and his idiocy, he’s
getting wet, and I’m the one that’s going to die. Fucking
perfect.

——————————-

#19

He sat alone, dusty, never touched. He used to be loved. He was needed…every morning. Now, no one even plugged him in.
He was forgotten, as the expensive, hi-technology “Toaster Oven” was the family’s only choice.
It wasn’t his fault he was born in the eighties.
“Hey Mom! Can I throw out this old toaster?” The teenage daughter asked.
“Of course, honey. We never use it.”
And there he went. Into a trashcan grave.

——————————

Kelly Wells

I done told her she could get out. If she didn’t make an idiot of me, I wouldn’t make no
nevermind if we split.

I got religious values. I protect my property. For our first anniversary I gave her a
toaster. For our second, I beat her new boyfriend to death with it.

His folks think it’s symbolism that I’m gonna be toasted for my crime. Can’t argue
there.

It was a fun season all.  I’m glad I ran this competition, but I doubt I will ever mod one again.  It’s been near constant stress the entire time for various reasons.  I know the format was stressful for a lot of players.  I hope you’re glad you played as well.

We had a chat.  It might be hard to tell who is speaking when, but it was hilarious.  http://willyou.typewith.me/p/drQtBDISAQ

For the cleaner, unabridged version, here are the final votes, below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

So there’s some interest in doing a live chat to reveal the Turbo Survivor winner.  Both contestants should be available at 9:00 pm tonight.  If that remains the case, I’ll come by here around 8:30 and give ya’ll a link to the chat room.

In order of who sent theirs first…

Sarah Johnson

Hello all!

I’m so happy that the game ended like it did. I thought it would be impossible for me and Brooks to be here. We never had to turn on one another after all. I got a bit of hell for that, and I was told it wasn’t possible to come this far without breaking our alliance: I’m fairly certain I was laughed at. No matter what, we pulled it off, the Plinko clips fell as they did, and holy hell – it feels great. I think we made Kelly proud… who, by the way, does a fantastic Tom Waits impression (I promised). Go Lasers!

I was going to write something awkward and self-depreciating, but the truth is, I think it’d make you guys barf. Besides – most of my stories were fictionalized versions of my uncomfortable, terrified self. Ugh. Maybe I’ll write just a little about this. Get your barf bags. Queue 101 Strings.

I have a hard time talking about myself in a positive slant without trying to be funny. This would be much easier if the final “entry” asked me to talk about the other writers’ outstanding talents. I’m in awe of the creativity that I witnessed in this game – I don’t know how you guys came up with this stuff. Before every challenge a wave of dread would numb my arms and I’d have to pace the floor (and kick John out) to get my brain working. Every time I doubted myself, doubted I could even do it, despite the feedback that I thought I didn’t deserve. Sometimes I couldn’t even type until there were 10 minutes left and the adrenaline kicked in. My inner antagonist told me “you cannot do this”, “you lucked out last time but won’t again” and “you aren’t good at this, just give up”. I thought I was going to get sick a couple times.

I’m a math nerd. I’m a stubborn, hyper-sensitive, socially inept OCD-riddled basketcase. I’m revoltingly ambitious and as insecure as they come: what a fun combo. I don’t know how to talk to people, and when I formed an alliance it was all I had. I’m floored that I came this far. My only strategy was to stick with my alliance. Queue Titanic theme.

I joked last night that I would make a list of facts about myself in the spirit of “fun” (something I don’t always understand) after I make one final rant, which re-summarizes everything I already summarized about the game’s ending. Ha!

I’m so very proud that Brooks and I are here with our guns pointed at one another (that was awesome, by the way). I couldn’t ask for a better standoff. I am facing one of the best, most intimidating writers in the game. I’m also proud – laugh if you may – that we never had to turn on one another. I’m getting misty. Queue ToeJam and Earl’s Funkotron theme. No – “Eye of the Tiger”. It was my favorite 45 when I was a kid.

All I want is that you guys vote for who you, um… want to vote for. That’s really ambiguous but true. I don’t want to win because I begged for it. If I lose, I lose to Brooks, and I have been comfortable with that for a long time. If I win, I want to feel like I won because of my stories. I played this game in the moment, just wanting to get through each challenge without a mental collapse. I overreacted. I found out I can be imaginative, even if, after every challenge, I felt like I just stepped out of an Ultimate Fighter battle with my brain. It took a lot of energy to push myself to be creative and to put myself on a limb and be judged. Thank you for being my game-mates and my judges. Thank you for your feedback, for being good sports, and for being kind to me when I acted bizarre and didn’t know how to play the game strategically, other than to stick with my Survivin’ buddy. This is the best thing I’ll do this year. Oh – I’m getting married. There’s that.

Thank you so much, everyone!

Facts (because I like facts, and I don’t know what else to say about myself):

1)    I have never seen The Titanic. How uninteresting.
2)    I thought sugar cones couldn’t get dirty until the 10th grade. Thanks, Dad.
3)    My boss makes me wear headphones so I won’t talk to my coworkers.
4)    Bill Murray is my biggest celebrity man-crush.
5)    I went to a Catholic school for 8 years. That might explain some things.
6)    The first month of our relationship, John refused to stand or sit next to me. He threw up in a coffeepot when I arrived at his apartment and told me he was going to write me a story called “I Married my Stalker”. Love! Sorry, honey.
7)    My Dad lives next door. He has an electric grill on a 20 foot extension cord, which is set up inside an outdoor gas grill… somehow this makes sense to him (but no one else). He has a parrot that screams “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” all day.
8)    I got my ass handed to me in the 7th grade for refusing to back down from the toughest bitch in school. I was showing off for two older (and much cooler) boys… who ran away when she hit me in the face.
9)    I have never finished a crossword puzzle. I don’t understand them.

Yuck! Enough about me!

Queue Europe’s “The Final Countdown”.

Brooks Maki

We did it.  That’s really what I feel like at this point.  When Kelly was eliminated, it looked rough for the two of us.  But we came all the way back to be the last two standing.  Well done to Sarah, she was consistently awesome, and she won a lot of key immunities there at the end.  I like to think that both of us would be a good choice for Turbo Champion, but Beau says that a dual crown is not happening.  What follows is my case for why I’m the more worthy of two worthy candidates.

Writing.

Challenges 7-22:

Head to head – Brooks – 6 challenges, Sarah – 6 challenges, Tied – 4 challenges
Medal points – Brooks – 123 points, Sarah – 123 points
Post-merge Immunities – Brooks 4, Sarah 6  (the last two of those were ties that went to her on tiebreakers)

Throwing out the first 6 challenges is admittedly arbitrary, but I would also say that performance further into the game should be weighed more heavily.

Strategy.

Sarah was a great and loyal alliance partner, and without her and her vote, I wouldn’t be at the end making this case.  We were an alliance, but I think it’s fair to say that I played more of the strategic game.

I was the one involved in the switch that voted Tanya out at 10 players, forming an alliance that would last for 4 votes.
I was the one who instigated the Bret vote at 6 players, keeping my other alliance partners (Sarah and Pete) in the game.
I was the one who kept myself in the game at 5 players, giving Sarah and I control of the game the rest of the way.

At the merge, Cory and Kelly went down with 8 votes against them, and it looked like Sarah and I were down 8-2 in numbers and not long for the game.  From that point, I was on the majority side of every vote the rest of the game (except when Pete self-voted himself into oblivion at 4 players), and that was more my doing than anyone else’s.

The point.

Strategically, I played a very good game.  Performance-wise, I played a very good game.  I think both of those components can stand up and compare favorably with Sarah’s game.  She would be a deserving champion, no doubt.  I only ask that you consider me more deserving and vote for me instead.

I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone has about anything Turbo Survivor related.

—————————-

There are nine jurors who will make a vote.  Those jurors are your three judges, Ryan, Pete, Erik S., Bret, Will, and Matthew.  They will be given instructions on what to do.  I am hoping to announce the winner on Sunday evening.  If you guys would like to do it over live chat, it could be arranged.

He put his arm around Sarah, pretending to console her.  Sarah allowed him to do so, pretending to be distraught.

“Maybe it’s for the best,” he said.  “He may be a hero to his children, but he had no lasers.”

“Yeah,” she said, looking down at her gun.  It felt warm against her spandex leggings.

“It’s time,” he urged.

She took one last puff, bent at the knees, and crushed her cigarette against Ryan’s heart.  Or at least where it used to be.

Standing, she turned away from Brooks, her shoulders sinking.  “I have to tell you something,” she said.

“Yeah?”

She turned, drawing her laser rifle.  His rifle was staring back.

“It’s time,” she confirmed.

—————————————–

The twenty-second elimination from Turbo Survivor is Ryan Sorrell.  As it turns out, nepotism can get you to the podium, but not on top of it.  Sarah and Brooks,  you each must write to me and tell me why the jury should vote for you.  You get a maximum of 1,000 words to do so.  I will then post your pleas on the site and then each member of the jury will confidentially send in their vote.

You have until 10:00 pm tomorrow to write your plea.  If you have a major conflict and cannot do it before then, let me know.

Feeling anxious?  Well maybe it’s because of this…

Your entire story must take place in one room.  Other places can be mentioned, but the camera, as it were, never leaves the one room.

There are four to six characters that are stuck in this room, and they know they are stuck.  They don’t have to know in the first paragraph, but at some point they realize they are stuck.

Time Limit:  3 hours

Word Limit:  None

Brooks Maki

“Not what you had in mind for a second honeymoon, is it?” Paul hadn’t spoken since his face had fallen as we came in view of the lake that shouldn’t have been there.  I thought maybe it had been long enough for him to regain at least a dark sense of humor.  Apparently not, as I get only a stony silence in reply.  Steven had the final watch last night, and with the sun coming up, the horde outside was getting a little more lethargic, so he can relax his vigil a bit.  He goes so far as to holster his gun, but I had seen him draw the weapon, and I knew it wasn’t that much of a difference between holster and hand.  Steven had proven useful when we needed to cut a swath through the zombies in the couple of days since meeting him.  But, like always, they just closed ranks behind us and waited for us to corner ourselves.  Finally, we had done exactly that.

“Remind me again why we chose this spot to die?” Steven grumbled, checking through the shelves of the boathouse again.
“No one forced you to come with us.” Paul finally broke his silence, breaking under Steven’s constant grousing.
“Well, someone had to look out for you two, you were running around trying to get a fucking hug from these freaks when I found you.”
“I told you, they’re mesmerized by fire.  As long as they have that to hold their attention, they’re harmless.”
“Yeah, I heard you the first seven hundred times.  If they’re mesmerized, that seems like the perfect time to take them out.  But that offends you doesn’t it?  How long should we wait before we start taking out those fuckers out there?  We’re all going to die here, there is no way out.  You want to wait until they’ve joined us in here?  We already had to put down Erik ‘cause he got bit.  You want to lose your pretty lady first, so you won’t feel guilty putting some lead in these bastards?”  Steven smiled at me with that last line.  Well, his teeth showed.  There was a long way between that expression and a genuine smile.

Erik had gotten infected the first night, before we had fully secured the building. Steven was on him the instant we pushed them back.  It’s what any of us would have wanted in Erik’s situation, but in that enclosed space, the gunshot was far too loud.

Steven made my skin crawl but he was right.  Paul had a soft spot for the zombies.  He still thought of them as almost human.  To be honest, I did too.  He and I used to light fires just to watch them come and stare.  Paul had become bold seeing how deep their trance was, they ignored him as he walked among them, getting close enough to try to see beyond the killing machines that were devouring the world.  That inquisitive, compassionate, daring side. If we never made it out of this room, that would be the image of Paul I would hold closest.

We retreated to the interior dock, leaving Steven to try once again to find something among the shelves that would help us against the few hundred-strong horde that had followed us here.

“Do you think he’s right?  Are we doomed in here?” I wanted Paul to say he had a plan.  I wanted him to say anything to me that wasn’t a curt dismissal.  Finding this lake here, where it shouldn’t have been, had been a crushing blow to him. The dam had been built upstream and flooded the valley.

“Have I ever told you about Gene Rowlen?” he asked.  “My brother and I were selling candy for some fundraiser.  At Rowlen’s house, we knocked and he yelled ‘come in!’ from somewhere inside.  We made our way in and Rowlen was in a workshop between the kitchen and the garage.  He’s not working on anything, just sitting by the bench, his dirty shirt untucked, a three day beard patchy on his chin, and hair sticking out at odd angles.  He greeted us with ‘My name is Rowlen.’  Fortunately we had a script so even though we didn’t know what to say to that, we didn’t have to come up with anything.  ‘Hi, I’m Paul and this is Brent, and we’re selling candy for…’ and so on.  We say our piece and wait for him to tell us to get lost.  Instead he stared at us for a long time before grunting and repeating ‘My name is Rowlen.’  But it gets worse.  He continues to stare at us for long stretches without saying anything.  I’m not sure he responded intelligibly to a single question we asked him.  He referred to “a project” he was working on, and would occasionally start looking for tools related to that until he realized we were there again. Finally, he grabs my pen and order form out of my hand and scribbles something.  When he hands it back, he has put his name in wobbly kindergarten-level letters across three lines of the order form and checked one of the boxes for a case of some candy.  ‘Thank you.’ we both say, and we get out of there quickly.”

“Now when the time comes to deliver the candy, to our surprise, Rowlen is sitting in his kitchen, shirt tucked in, hair combed, carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with two ladies.  They look at us suspiciously as we explain our business.  We point to Rowlen, explaining that he ordered the stuff, his name is on our sheet and everything.  Rowlen says he doesn’t remember ordering anything.  For how different he is this time from last time, my brother and I are starting to doubt ourselves.  We ended up having to pay for his candy after having been scolded by all three adults in this man’s kitchen.  I never went near that house again.  If I saw Rowlen in town, I made sure he didn’t see me.  I was convinced that I had seen the real side of him, and that there was something he was hiding.”

“The zombies are Rowlen all over again.  I’ve seen the side of them that no one else sees, that no one else believes, and I can’t shake it.  I don’t believe they will harm the two of us.”

Steven stalked up to us.  “There’s nothing. Nothing but the fuel.”  We had found five fuel drums which held varying amounts of fuel on our first pass through the building.  Steven had been trying to find a way to weaponize the stuff ever since.  But this announcement appeared to be his resignation.  He looked haggard. We all looked haggard, of course, but the air had gone out of him this morning and he had added another layer of exhaustion to his features.  His hand rested on the gun at his hip, and I found my eyes drawn to it, sure that he would draw and begin killing at any second.  Us, the zombies, himself – anyone could have been the target, his eyes were dead and uncaring.

“We have to leave before we run out of food, or they break in, or I go batshit insane.  We. Have. To. Leave.” Steven forced out each word through gritted teeth.

Paul was calm again, the petulance of the previous days was gone. “No, I make my stand here.  This is where my wife and I had our honeymoon.  It was perfect.  And even if that cabin is now drowned under this man-made lake, I know how perfect this place can be, this is where I was going.  This place is what kept me going.  I will not leave.”

The veins bulge in Steven’s neck.  He strangles his reply and goes to sit by the door and stare out at the zombies that have followed us here.  The gun is no longer in the holster.  Right up until he sat down, I expected him to throw the door open and take all comers until he ran out of ammo.  It’s an uneasy kind of silence now, and it lasts all afternoon and through the evening.  Paul has the first watch.  I doubt Steven will move all night.

The gunshot wakes me.  I go out to the front of the boathouse and see Steven with the gun in his hand, his head a bloody mess that explodes up the wall.  Paul is kneeling over him, apparently checking for signs of life, but from twenty feet away I can tell that he’s dead.  What happened?  The question forms in my mind, followed quickly by a half-dozen scenarios, all of which have their own questions.

Looking at Paul, I know I’ll never ask any of them.  Instead I ask him, “Did you ever find out if Rowlen was hiding anything?”  He looks at me, puzzled, but he doesn’t have to think about his answer.  “No.  I never really looked very hard.  I had seen the side of him no one else did.  I knew all I needed to know.”

I nodded.  I thought about Paul walking among the zombies entranced by one of our small fires.  Inquisitive, compassionate, daring.  I thought about the cabin that had been here before this lake existed.  The excitement of a honeymoon that made a place perfect.  Yes, I could make a life here, with this man.  We began dumping the barrels of fuel onto the floor.  If this was going to work, this fire had to burn for days.

Beau:  Oooh, a zombie story!  Okay, let’s get the negative out of the way.  This story switched between past and present tense so many times that I literally had to reread paragraphs to tell what was happening.  I also felt the Rowlen story was told in an awkward manner.  It’s all dialogue, told in a hurry, and we never get any non-verbals from either Paul or our protagonist.  It’s basically an info-dump that adds to the story but not the atmosphere.

Now for the positives.  I enjoyed reading a zombie story that was really about the living and not the undead.  Not that I don’t mind myself some gory zombie deaths, but it was fun to see this side of it.  Also, a solution that doesn’t involve mass-killing kept my interest.  Not knowing much about Rowlen is fine, and I think it adds to the story the way it was told.  A rewrite would be in order to fix some things up, but it’s a solid short story that is as long as it needs to be.  GOLD

Stef: Interesting contrasts with the situation described and the Rowlen incident. Though zombies is an age old story, I like this story is played out and the contrast between characters. I especially enjoyed the Rowlen story and how that plays a part in what happens. Nicely done! BRONZE

DK: Zombie apocalypse isn’t my favorite conceptual use of the challenge here, but I do like the way it is used to help build my favorite aspect of this piece – the Paul characterization.  I like the way the ambiguity about him is maintained without ever being blatant.  I also particularly liked the use of the Rowlen analogy – it seemed clear from an outside perspective that it might not be the most applicable to this situation, but there too the ambiguity of its relevance is kept up.  SILVER

Medal Count:  9

Sarah Johnson

“The gardens are beautiful. We’ll get a pond like that some day. When… you know, when the baby is older and things are worked out.” Frankie rummaged in her purse for a distraction. She was crying a little. Jim thought he could smell lilacs in the air conditioned lobby.

“Honey, don’t do this. Not now. Please.” Jim was tired, shoulders sagging in defeat. He wanted a strong drink; something strong enough to erase the last 4 years.

“Would it kill you to have a soul, Jim? Be human for once?” Jim looked away. He asked the receptionist for another coffee. It had been an hour since the baby had been taken back.

“How long do you think they’ll have him, Jim? Why did we have to wait here? Did you ask them? Jim, are you listening?” Frankie picked at a thread hanging from her sweater cuff.

Jim couldn’t respond. He was trying to remember when her features had been beautiful. The sparkle was gone. Motherhood had been cruel to her, a ragged knife cutting the woman from her youth. Frankie slumped into a chair, watching the older woman checking in at the front desk.

Frankie lowered her voice, “Jim, did you see that woman? Did you see that?”

The woman turned, a clump of gauze balled into her fist. She sat down by the water cooler, fussing with a shock of ugly wounds along her hemline. Her name was Eileen, but Jim and Frankie would never know this. Many years later, poring through restricted files in a lakeside hideout, their son would find out that she was named Eileen.

“Yeah. You know what, dear? I know. Just quit talking for a minute. This isn’t easy for me either.” He tasted the sting in his voice as Frankie’s toothy smile sank into the carpet. Pain burst across her face, but he had stopped trying to care months ago.  The baby was all that he had now.

“Jesus, Jim.” Frankie blushed. Her husband was studying the garden now, calculating the minutes it might take to drown himself in six inches of pond water. A bullet (or six) would be more effective, he thought, his mind flitting to the gun he had hid in the pantry. Frankie had never been much of a homemaker: his gun was safely hidden behind a box of broken spaghetti and a few cans of evaporated milk. Jim wanted his son back – he didn’t feel safe here. The appointment was taking longer than he’d thought.

Another patient arrived – a man in his thirties, about the same age as Jim. He plugged a laptop into the wall across from the woman by the water cooler.  Jim squinted at a tank of fish at the man’s shoulder. Clacking at his keyboard, the man adjusted a small length of tubing that jutted from his trousers. Jim knew he should count his blessings, but the only one he had was in the bowels of this clinic. He felt the cluster of helplessness piling up in his chest as he looked away.

Eileen leaned down, dabbing her leg with the dirty gauze. She was coughing now. Jim watched as the woman drained the water from her paper cone. Frankie had spotted the woman’s leg and was staring, her face drooping in fear. He looked away, hoping the nurse would return so he could go to work. The baby had chickenpox: no big deal, but Frankie had insisted they take him in.

The clinic’s paging system binged cheerfully and he watched the receptionist jump up to greet Eileen, who had asked to use the restroom.

“Too much coffee. Is there one nearby?” The woman was creeping toward the desk self-consciously. Jim shut his eyes. He thought of the one-night stand he’d had in Boston when Frankie was pregnant. She had told him the news over the phone. Jim was still drunk as he took her call, urging the blonde to get out of his hotel room. He had felt guilty then. He felt none of that now. He opened his eyes, startled as Eileen gripped her ratty bandages.

“Ma’am, it will just be a moment. The nurse will be with you shortly.” The receptionist’s nails clinked against glass as she slid the window shut. She motioned to the woman to have a seat. Somewhere in the clinic a phone was ringing.

Jim watched Eileen adjust her skirt, insecurely arranging the fabric to hide the yellow-purple lesions trailing down her leg. The rash – if that’s what it was – reminded him of a tangle of lilac blooms, a flower he’d grown to hate after a week of digging last Spring. Frankie had begged him to leave them alone but they’d grown wild, scratching his car as they hung over the miserable curve of their suburban driveway.

Five minutes passed and he thought he heard the baby cry out. The receptionist stood, abruptly, vanishing immediately despite the piercing intercom system and ringing phone. His coffee was cold. Eileen was coughing again – a damp, thick sound, offsetting the birds twirling in the fountain’s spray.

Frankie had grown pale, twisting a pack of rumpled gum against her purse. “Jim, what do you think they’re…”

“I don’t fucking know, Frances. I don’t know anything. Same as you. Just shut the fuck up for once.” He clenched his jaw, feeling a bolt of violence surge through his neck. He hadn’t called her by her full name since the wedding. She started to sob, letting the gum drop to the floor. He didn’t care anymore.

The buzz of an alarm filled the lobby as Jim’s eyes trailed across Eileen’s pale shins. The laptop slapped shut; Jim noticed the blur of welts forming along the man’s neck but it was too late. The lobby filled with a hot, fuzzy vapor. Frankie screamed once. Jim’s mind swelled in protest; he died thinking of the lilacs, wishing that he’d left them alone.

A bird flew into the window pane. The clinic was closed; its records sealed. The baby would grow into a man – years later, he’d discover what the scars on his back had meant. For now, he was left to cry behind sealed doorways as his mother and father fell to the floor.

Beau:  Hearing one character’s voice and the other character’s thoughts in the same paragraph was a bit distracting, especially since it happened multiple times.  But that’s a bit nitpicky.  I did have to read this twice, not because I didn’t get the point of the story, but because I was looking for a few more clues as to the whys and hows.  I found some of the hows, but I wish I had even the slightest clue as to what the scars on the baby’s back meant and why the baby lived and others didn’t.  Not knowing all the answers to a horror story like this usually adds intrigue and promotes conversation.  But knowing none of the answers makes it hard to care, not only about the horror, but about Jim and Frankie’s relationship.
My favorite part of the story was the scene where Eileen asked about a bathroom and the nurse dodged her question by answering one she didn’t ask, and then shut the glass window for no apparent reason.  Chilling stuff.  BRONZE

Stef: Whoa that was an abrupt ending to a good story. I think I understood what happened here and I will never look at lilacs the same way. Damn you writer, I really liked lilacs! Nice job! SILVER

DK: Here I found the Jim characterization especially effective at investing me in this guy and his situation in a short amount of space.  I also thought the interminable buildups of both banality and tension were smooth and strong.  The hints throughout of something terrible about to happen were well-calibrated to set that up without being overt.  And the characters at the heart of it were sharp and made me care about the resolution.  GOLD

Ryan Sorrell

Henry continues to nervously tap the glossy surface of the table with the fingernails on his right hand as he runs his fingers on his left through his hair over and over. He can feel the others watching him, waiting for an answer. Finally Caroline, the head juror speaks up.

“Well, Henry? Are you with us?” no longer even trying to mask her annoyance.

“No. I can’t do it. I don’t believe he did it!”, Henry replies.

The other five jurors all moan in unison. Torrence, a smallish man with neatly manicured nails and eyebrows to match throws his pen across the table in disgust.

“C’mon man! How can you not see it? His bloody fingerprints are all over the room. She was shot with a gun registered in his name. His alibi is weak as hell and the guy just looks guilty.” Torrance snaps.

The others all turn their attention from Torrence to Henry who shrugs.

“I just don’t think they’ve proved their case,” Henry offers,”It was his own gun, sure, but anyone could have got a hold of that. He says he found his wife and that’s when he got the blood on his hands trying…”

“But he was running from the house when the police showed up, Torrence. He didn’t even call 9-1-1,” Caroline says

“He was probably hysterical. He did just find his dead wife after all,” Torrence counters.

“Unbelievable.” Markus says.

“Henry. I really want to get out of here, Henry. I can’t take this anymore, Henry,” Jesse says before returning to working on his thumbnail which he’s chewed down to nothing, “It’s getting late. I gotta go, Henry”.

LaShonna, an older woman with tired eyes, but a patience outlasting the rest of her peers says, “We cannot force him change his mind. Perhaps we just need a bit of rest to clear our minds and look it all over again.”

“Well I’m all for some sleep,” Torrence says, “cause I’m shit tired and could go for dinner”.

Caroline sighs, but says, “Alright, I’ll get the bailiff and see if we can leave for tonight.”

She takes her glasses off and folds them before putting them in her glass case. She stands up and straightens her white blouse, then pushes in her chair. Her heels click on the tiled floor as she crosses to the door. Caroline tries to turn the handle but it won’t budge.

“Why are we locked in?” Caroline asks the group.

“What are you talking about?” Jesse asks, “It can’t be. I gotta get out of here.”

“It’s locked for some reason. It won’t turn. Hello? Bailiff? Are you out there?” Caroline asks.

“This is a load of crap,” utters Markus.

Henry gets up and walks over to the door.

“Let me try that,” Henry says.

Henry grips the handle and it turns easily. He opens the door and turns to Caroline to say something smart, but her eyebrows are furrowed and her mouth is hanging open.

“What?” asks Henry.

“The door,” says Caroline, “There’s another one.”

Henry looks back and there is another door there, just like the first.

“What the hell?” Henry exclaims.

He grabs the handle and opens the door and what he sees causes his brow to furrow much like Caroline’s. Looking through the door he sees the rest of the group from behind, all staring at him and Caroline in front of the door.

“What’s the matter, dear?” LaShonna asks.

“It’s, um. It’s…”, is all Henry manages and then just steps to the side to let the others see.

“Holy shit!” yells Markus.

“Where did the hallway go?” Torrence asks.

Henry turns around and looks at the opposite end of the room and the once closed door over there has now been opened. He is staring at himself, the back of his blue dress shirt and black pants. He can see the back of Caroline just beyond him doing the same.

“Jesus, what is going on in here?” Henry questions the room.

He watches as Torrence gets up and walks to the other door, right up to the other Henry. Torrence reaches his hand through the door and touches Henry on his shoulder, and Henry jumps a little in spite of watching Torrence do so from across the room.

“Jesus!” Henry shouts.

“Sorry, man,” Torrence apologizes, then walks through the door and joins Henry and Caroline on the other side of the room.

Henry nudges Torrence aside and quickly closes both doors. He returns to his seat and begins running his fingers through his hair again. Jesse is eying one door, then the other, back and forth without moving his head, chewing on the nub of his thumbnail all the while. Caroline walks back to her chair and sits down, adjusting her blouse. She takes out her glasses again and puts them back on, folds her hands together and rests her head on them in apparent thought.

“Guys, what are we going to do?” asks Torrence.

Jesse gets up and runs over to one of the doors. He starts pounding on them with both fists.

“Hello? Somebody! Get me out of here! I’m stuck in this room!” he shouts. Jesse continues to pound for half a minute more before giving up and pacing back and forth in front of the door.

“Try the window,” offers LaShonna.

Torrence walks over to the window and tries to push it up but it will not budge. He checks all around for locks but finds none.

“It’s stuck,” Torrence states dejectedly.

“Put a little muscle into it,” Markus says.

“Well get over here and help me Mr. Strongman,” Torrence replies.

Markus gets up and joins Torrence at the window. They both grab hold of the window casing and try to push it up. It still will not budge. Henry joins them at the window.

“Did you check for locks?” he asks.

“Of course I did,” says Torrence.

Henry gives the window a once over, then pushes hard, but the window opens easily and he smacks his head on the frame.

“Shit guys. There you go.”

Torrence looks out the window. He leans out farther and looks left, then right, then down. When he turns around his face has gone pale.

“What is it?” Henry asks.

“Nothing.” Torrence replies.

“What?”

“Nothing. No lights, no buildings, no cars, no noise. Nothing.”

“No way.”

“Looks for yourself,” Torrence says while gesturing towards the window.

Henry leans out the window sees nothing but a black void. He shouts out, but the sound of his voice is swallowed by the blackness. Henry turns back from the window and starts to run his fingers through his hair.

“You see?” Torrence says.

“This is nuts!” exclaims Markus, “How is that possible?”

Nobody says anything for the next minute as their scared eyes move from each other to the door to the window and back to each other. LaShonna breaks the silence.

“Why is that when Caroline tried to open the door it would not open? Then Henry tried to open it and it opened. Same thing with the window. You two could not move it an inch, but it opened easily for Henry.”

All the jurors move their gaze to Henry. Henry holds out his hands.

“What? How do I know? I don’t know!”

“Maybe he’s why we’re stuck in here,” Jesse speaks up, “he doesn’t want us to leave.”

“Oh shut up, Jesse,” Markus snaps, “that’s just stupid.”

“He is the only one.” states LaShonna.

“He’s the only one what,” asks Markus.

“He’s the only one of us who thinks that man is innocent,” replies LaShonna.

“So?”

“Maybe that is why he can open the doors and the windows.”

“That’s ridiculous,” says Markus, “I’ll show you.”

Markus strides over to one of the door and yanks on the handle. It does not turn.

“Well holy shit,” he utters.

“So, what? If I thought thought the guy was innocent I could just open the doors? What freakin’ sense does that make?” Torrence asks.

“What sense does any of this make?” shouts Markus. “Maybe if we all just agree the guy’s innocent we can get the hell out of here. This is scary shit and I want to get OUT.”

“So just let an guilty man go so we can get out of here?” Caroline asks.

“Hell ya!” says Markus.

“It’s worth a try.” says LaShonna,

“Alright,” says Torrence.

“Ok,” says Caroline.

“Yes, yes. Gonna get outta here,” mumbles Jesse.

“So we’re agreed,” LaShonna says, “then let’s all try to leave.”

Jesse reaches out his hand and grabs the door handle and turns. It opens. He closes it again. Opens it. Closes it again. Torrence gives it a try and the door opens for him as well. They are still staring at the second door though.

“What the hell?” screams Torrence. “I can open the door now, but it’s still the same shit? Why can’t we get out. We have to get out.”

Caroline is still sitting at the table with her head rested on her hands, her eyes closed.

“Caroline?” says LaShonna, “Why are you still sitting there?”

Caroline doesn’t answer. The others gather around her.

“Caroline. Are you not willing to vote for the man’s innocence?” LaShonna asks.

“I can’t do it. I don’t believe it! He’s guilty!” Caroline yells desperately.

“You got to be kidding!” yells Markus. He picks Caroline up from her chair and throws her down on the floor. “You have to change your mind, bitch!”

“It may be the only thing still keeping us here,” says LaShonna.

“C’mon!” Markus continues, “just fucking do it you idiot!”

While everyone is staring at Markus and Caroline, Jesse starts mumbling, “Gotta get outta here. Gotta get outta here.”

He pulls his thumb out of his mouth and runs toward the open window. “I’m leavin!” he shouts as he jumps through.

The other jurors spin around and watch him sail through the window. They listen for his screams but hear nothing. Then there is a loud thud at the opposite side of the room. They all turn to look at the wall and see the indentation of a man pushing it outward. Moments pass and then blood starts to trickle through some of the cracks and run down the wall. Torrence screams. Henry staggers backward against the wall. Caroline stares with her mouth hanging agape.

LaShonna lowers her head. Then she looks up at the rest of the jurors and says, “We cannot reach a verdict now.”

Beau:  Well, hell’s bells.  12 Angry Men meets Twilight Zone!  This one is the hardest for me to judge.  For me, it’s the most gripping story here as far as plot.  But I find the present tense, almost “Dick and Jane” narration to be very distracting and hurtful to the suspense.  There’s also a few grammatical missteps, though nothing too egregious.  I like the character Jesse, but I find nearly everyone else one-dimensional and I really can’t distinguish between them.  The dialogue feels very rushed at the end, as if the person writing this was on a deadline or something *wink*.
The double rooms is kind of creepy, but it’s been done quite a bit so it didn’t get to me that much.  I also felt the character’s reactions to it should have been stronger.  However, I loved it when the crowd realized that Henry was possibly the answer, and I loved the unique ending with Jesse’s unseen but known death and the final realization by LaShonna.  SILVER

Stef: Ooooh! I love how this ends! It’s chilling. It’s a perfect way to end it. This story has all the right elements put together and any grammatical/other mistakes aren’t distracting from what’s going on. I like the concept and enjoyed the interplay and dialogue between these people. You get a hint of what each character is like without too much distraction from the plot. Great story! GOLD

DK: I like this concept quite a bit, but I admit I found its execution less satisfying here.  Nitpick-wise, there’s a few spots where some dialogue could be cleaned up – Torrance seems to switch his view of the defendant’s guilt back and forth near the beginning.  In a broader sense, I just found these characters didn’t stand out as much from each other or from the other stories, and thus found it tougher to get invested in the outcome for them.  I do, again, think this is a very cool concept, and I really liked the impact of how the ending is written – suitably dark and descriptive. BRONZE

Medal Count:  9

———————

Well, this could happen with the medal system and it did.  We have a three-way tie for immunity, and using the exact same tiebreaker rules as last week, we wind up with the same tiebreak winner.  By virtue of having the strongest medal count throughout the season, your immunity goes to…

Sarah Johnson

While one would assume Ryan will vote for Brooks and Brooks will vote for Ryan, I still need to get votes from all three of you.  If you need it, you have until 8:00 pm tomorrow to make your decisions.

Time Limit:  3 hours
Word Limit:  None
Due Date:  Wednesday, July 18 @6:30 pm

Medals:  1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Immunities:  One

Vote One:  Ryan Sorrell.

Vote Two:  Ryan Sorrell.  Your vote last week puzzled me.  Get it?  Puzzled?

Vote Three:  Pete Bruzek.  Hope I don’t have to say, “I told you so!”  Goodbye.

So it comes down to the final vote, as Ryan hold the tiebreaker over Pete.  Any chance there’s another vote for Pete in here?

Read the rest of this entry »

The penultimate (read: super duper great!) challenge is nigh.  I have to say this week was the hardest for me to figure out who was who, as your voices didn’t seem as obvious as usual.  I’m glad this week’s challenge happened as it appears that you all went outside your comfort zone (except maybe Brooks, who rolls D&D dice to determine his plots).

As far as I know, nearly every story we’ve read this season appears to be taking place in America (and many in Minnesota) with a few exceptions. This week you’re going to expand your horizons.

Your story must take place in at least three different countries, and at least one character has to be connected to all three in some way.

You can’t just mention the other countries (e.g.  I was born in Canada, grew up in Mexico, and now I live in Minneapolis).  We have to have three distinct settings at some point in your story.  Also, the countries all can’t border each other (e.g Norway,Sweden, Finland).

USA can be one of the countries.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Your competition, and also you

HALL OF CHAMPIONS

SPOOKYMILK SURVIVOR

I: Rachel “The Double-Dealer” Flynn

II: Ryan “The Snake” Fossum

III: Patrick “The Gentleman” Kozicky

IV: Brienne “The Submitter” Maner

V: Rusty “The Porn Star” Greene

VI: Brooks “The Unlikely Hero” Maki

VII: William “The Soulful” Schuth

VIII: Brooks “The Survivor” Maki

IX: Zack “The Ice Cream Man” Sauvageau

X: Pete “The Vacuum Cleaner” Bruzek

Turbo: Brooks “The 1956-1979 Montreal Canadiens” Maki

XI: Matt “The Cold-Hearted Motherf*&^er” Novak

All-Stars (XII): Andy “The Quiet Man” Rustleund

XIII: Sarah “Clarence’s Hope” Bizek

XIV: Dan “The Professional” Kautz

XV: Christina “Assault And” Pepper

XVI: Matt “The First-Time Player” Novak

XVII: Stacy “Saintly Patience” Snell

XVIII: Brian “Checkmate” David

XIX: Annette “Eammon for the Top” Barron

XX: Daniel “Neville “Smash “Hardware” Hardwood” Longbottom” Caouette

XXI: Pete “The Comeback Kid” Bruzek

GODS AND MORTALS
I: Dragging Rivet’s Name Through the Mud One Last Time: Matt Novak (Ultragrandpa) and Michael Rivet (Friph Flipher-Fiph)
II: Bahambo Number 5: Pete “Triple Crown” Bruzek and Michelle “Single Tiara…So Far” Pratt

BIG BROTHER
I: Brooks “Oh, for the Love of God” Maki
II: Michael “#DDB” Rivet
III: Pete “Fortune’s Fool” Bruzek
IV: Erin “All Seven and We’ll Watch Them Fall” Leslie

FALL, CAESAR
2014: Brooks “The Creator” Maki
2015: Matt “The Artist” Novak
2016: Matt “Waited Them Out” Novak

CUTTHROAT JUNCTION CHAMPION
Kelly “Yes, He’s a Player Too” Wells

Link to the Cutthroat Junction site. Over there, we do once-a-month strategic mega-games while the champion defends his title in a one-on-one. Head over to see how it works.

THE ROYAL RUMBLE
2013: #21 Greg “The Gallant Glutton of Greatness” Johnson
2014: #29 Jonathon “Big Papa” Pope
2015: #8 Christina “Am I in This?” Pepper
2016: #22 Annette “No Backs Stabbed” Barron
2017: #30 Bernice “The Vulture” Nicaise

PLAY WITH THE PROSE
(Writing, non-elimination)
I: Sarah “Centipede Face” Johnson
II: Sarah “The Johnson Eliminator” Wreisner
III: Colin “Lonely Old Moon” Woolston
IV: Melissa “Not Sidebar Material” Diamond
V: Sama “No Family Reunions” Smith
VI: Sarah “Tumor Face” Wreisner
VII: John “Cult Following” Wreisner
VIII: Joshua “Peed the Bed” Longman
VIII: Annette “Oh, Right, That’s Who Won” Barron

WEREWOLF (most recent)

Werewolf Stats Spreadsheet

PUZZLE CHALLENGE
I (Pure): Matthew “The Obsessor” Gilman
I (Power): Kelly “The Novak-Destroyer” Wells

DIPLOMACY
I: Matt “Exploiter of Worlds” Novak (France)

SPOOKYMILK SURVIVOR XXII

WILLY

Annette Barron
Jared Cedar
Bret Highum
Dan Kautz
Matt Novak

KHAN’S SORE BLUEBERRIES

Shawn Ashley
Jonathon Pope
Colin Woolston

T3AM

Ken Krouner
Jeph Novak
Christina Pepper
Zack Sauvageau
erik sundberg

THE GRAVEYARD
18th: Laurel Ogren (T3AM)
17th: Raymond Camper (Khan’s Sore Blueberries)
16th: Brooks Maki (Khan’s Sore Blueberries)
15th: Melissa David (Khan’s Sore Blueberries)
14th: Sarah Bizek (Willy)