You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Cliffhanger’ tag.

Well done, Survivors. I thoroughly enjoyed myself here. Circumstances are just killing this game, and I know a lot of you feel the same frustration I do, but I truly appreciate the enthusiasm you show for the challenges, and I appreciate the fact that we’re still reading great entries, even though you’ve all become accustomed to surviving simply because you showed up to school this week.

Alright, on with the cliffhangers. This may have seemed vague and wide open, but apparently that’s what we needed this week, ’cause wow.

Matt Novak, nibbish and his Vogons

“All hands on deck! All hands on deck!” The call was muffled by the thick wooden door of the cabin. Edward turned to the Maharaja’s daughter. She was curled into a ball in the corner of the bed, against the wall. Rashmi feared the storm, but never doubted her choice to stowaway.

“Be brave,” he said. He had meant it only for her encouragement, as he stepped toward the door, but she sensed his hesitation.

“Edward, be waiting.” Moving across the room, she kissed him on the cheek. “You are the one to be brave.” Edward blushed. Turning, he stepped out of the room, and was swept into the rush of feet heading to the top deck. She would be safe in the cabin.

The wind roared around Edward as he reached the top deck and the cold rain stung his skin. Water poured over the top of the railing. The crew dashed like wild ants, scrambling to keep the ship from going under. Edward was lost amid the chaos, unable to focus on a single sensation, jostled by the weather and the crew. Turning, he saw, straight ahead, a giant green wave rising over the bow of the ship and the rest of the storm faded as Edward froze. He stood, staring, as if into the soul of the ocean. He had never seen anything like it, and as the wave came crashing down towards him, he found he could not move.

It was James O’Leary who came to the boy’s rescue, grabbing him, and sending them both behind crates that had been lashed fast to the deck. As the wave crashed ‘round, Edward caught a glint of adventure in James’ eye, and, for the first time since coming aboard, saw what the Captain had meant about the First Mate.

“You’re with me!” James commanded, “Secure that rope to the fife rail and help me strike this sail!” Edward’s fear melted away, and he rushed to tie the rope to the rail. Edward worked side-by-side with James for hours, riding out the storm above board, lashing and bailing and manning any other duty that needed care. Through it all, as they dashed from task to task, Edward could not help but admire the Captain, standing fast at the helm and laughing into the cyclone, as if he and storm were old friends. Someday, he thought. Someday.

Finally, the storm faded. The clouds rumbled away, and the seas eased. James directed him up mast, to the crow’s nest, and Edward scurried up the rigging. Looking down, he watched as crewmen surveyed the damage and returned the sails to the masts. There was no land to be seen. Edward lingered atop the mast for a moment, breathing in the deep cleansing air that followed behind the storm, and recalling Rashmi’s kiss.

Resting above the world like this, a distant movement caught his eye. Edward raised his spyglass and his heart jumped at the unmistakable flag – Pirates!

K: I like the story, and the cliffhanger works, but the action didn’t set up the cliffhanger. I would have loved for those two things to match up – I figured someone was going to be missing from the storm. Kind of a bummer, because I really liked it otherwise. 3

DK: One of my favorite settings of all of them, and the author does a great job of making me interested in finding out what happens to these characters. 5

JG Berwald, nibbish and his Vogons

Looking back, I suppose it wasn’t the best place for a first kiss. Not that I really have control over how I feel. Or what I do. More on that later.
It was a usual Thanksgiving dinner, her parents were there, sitting at either side of the table, trying hard not too look each other directly in the eyes for fear of another fight breaking out. My parents sat next to each other at the head of the table, in a nauseating display of matrimonial groping that should long have gone by the wayside.
Sally and I sat next to each other, ignoring our parents best we could, telling each other jokes and giggling obnoxiously.
“You two need to settle down” her father said, “Can’t I eat dinner in peace?”
“John, for God’s sake!” her mother began- but quickly cut herself off and went back to slowly chewing her turkey.
My parents’ eyes narrowed a bit, their hands taking a break from each other to pour more helpings on their plates.
Sally and I ignored it all. I was really feeling in a rhythm with her, something that often happens when I’m near her. I stood up to get some more juice from the fridge.
“Anyone need anything?” I asked.
“Just a glass of milk if you could.” Sally said, smiling warmly.
That’s when I lost control.
“Anything you need sweetie.” I said, as I leaned forward and planted a kiss on my cousins lips, right in front of my entire family.

K: Well, ho-lee shit. Color me very impressed with this twist, which I didn’t see coming (but should have, with both sets of parents present). I don’t know that it’s a pure cliffhanger as much of a story that ends here, though, so I can’t go too wild for it. 3

DK: I’m not entirely interested in finding out what might happen next, but I like the way this is written. The end feels a little more like a punchline ending than a cliffhanger to me, but I realize they can serve the same basic purpose. 3

Dean Carlson, SPOILER ALERT!

Thwacka… Thwacka….. Thwacka…..

Lord I just can’t get that God-awful disgusting sound out of my beating head. Did I really see that? Am I dreaming? Drunk? Going crazy? No way did I see Coach Sandusky naked in a shower with a little boy. Not just in the shower but fucking him?! No way, no fucking way! Yet I was there. I saw it. I can’t believe it, but I was there. The question is what am I going to do about it?

Think back Mike. Think hard. What exactly did you see? What did you do? Okay…. I went back to the gym to pick the shoes I left in my locker. GODDAMN IT! WHY DID I FORGET MY SHOES!! I got my shoes and then I heard that sound, at first I thought it was a washing machine or something, but then again, no it sounded a little more familiar, you know the sound that…. The shower was running for some reason, I poked my head in the shower and….

Thwacka…. Thwacka…. Thwacka….

God that sound. I’ll never forget it for as long as I live I swear! Why didn’t I stop it? I ran away?! What kind of pussy am I? Sure it was Coach Sandusky but he’s a 50 year old man! I could have stopped it right there… but I ran (sigh). What kind of guy runs away after seeing that? Now that I’m home I have to do something, but what? Call the Police? My Dad? Coach Paterno? Oh God, Coach. This will kill him. Jerry’s one of his best friends, a mentor. And the questions? What will this do the program? Surely this will hurt the team. Will Coach have to resign? Does he know about Coach Sandusky? No way. Of course he doesn’t know, the old man would have done something, wouldn’t he?

Clearly I have to call the police. I saw a crime, a heinous awful crime and the police need to be brought in and that son of bitch Sandusky arrested. I knew that old fucker was weird, with all those kids around him all the time. I should have seen this long time ago. Yeah, I’m going to call the police and stop this right now!! Where’s the…. But wait, what about Coach? The football program? This will be a God-damn circus. The suits have wanted to put Coach out to pasture for years now; they’ll jump all over this, force Coach to resign. The old man may have slipped a bit, but he doesn’t deserve that, for all he’s done for Pennsylvania and the University? No way. I have to let him know what happened, prepare for the inevitable.

Thwacka… Thwacka… Thwacka…

AARGGH! I just can’t get that sound out of my mind, it’s sickening. I have two choices: Call the police and tell them what I saw so they can toss Sandusky’s ass into jail where he belongs. Or I could call coach and tell him what I saw; he’d know what to do. Jesus, why did I forget my shoes? Now where did I put that phone?

K: You know, I thought I would hate this event ripped from the headlines, but I didn’t think it was a bad idea. Forgetting the shoes and becoming trapped was a nice way to create tension, too. What wasn’t so nice was the excess of exclamation points and questions. Going a little lighter on that – and heavier on the tension – would have really made this fly. 3

DK: Okay, this is one I’m really not interested in finding out what happens next (actually, I guess we pretty much already know what does). I appreciate the effort to get into the head of someone who might be in over his head, but otherwise it doesn’t do a lot for me. 3

Peter Bruzek, nibbish and his Vogons

Seven months.

It had been seven months of cold trails and dead leads. It seemed like an easy case on the surface. Investors in the local water treatment plant had been coerced into retirement, and were being replaced by a group of people whose only connection was a mysterious businessman named Dante Evans. Money was disappearing from the county budget – redirected into a single unknown project.

Marshall was certain that Evans was behind everything, but for seven months, he’d been unable to prove anything. So when his go-to informant, came to him, speaking of strange meetings between the investors and Dante at the quarry, Marshall knew he had to see one of these meetings himself.

Marshall staked out the quarry for the next week, to no avail. No one entered, no one left. He decided to investigate the quarry further. Looking around the area, he found a small path down into an interior room, carved into the sheer rock wall. The light from a fire flickered in the distance, but the path was dark.

He came to an opening, far beneath the surface and hid behind some rocks. A group of hooded figures lingered around a fire in the middle of the room. The figures milled about, waiting for someone who had yet to arrive. Marshall heard someone coming from further up the path. He waited, then ambushed and subdued the individual. He stripped the man, and put on the robe he had been wearing. Infiltration was the way to go if he wanted to learn anything more, so Marshall made his way to the group. He couldn’t make out anyone’s faces, and no one spoke. He stood and waited.

Evans arrived, curiously un-hooded, a few minutes later. He montioned for the group to organize, then spoke.

“Brothers, tonight, our leader will give us his blessing in person. We will go out into the world, spreading his truth and converting others to his glorious cause. Come, and receive your blessing.”

A new figure was in the room, but Marshall couldn’t discern how the man had gotten there. There were no other entrances into the room, and he was quite certain that no one had come in through the corridor. The man walked by each of the other figures, stopping to mutter some words. The voice and language were unlike anything Marshall had heard before. They had a vile, sinister quality to them, and Marshall felt a chill when he heard them.

The leader’s robe was loose around the face, and Marshall couldn’t help but try to sneak a peek at the enigmatic man’s face as he passed by.

Marshall’s blood ran cold. Where a human face should have been, there was a seemingly infinite, featureless darkness.

Slowly, a thought that wasn’t his began to form in the back of his mind. It lingered, and twisted there, laying waste to all conscious thought…..it knew.

Suddenly, Marshall snapped back to his senses.

Everyone in the room was staring at him.

K: Now here’s a friggin’ cliffhanger, damn it. The story flowed and grew in tension beautifully, and although it sounds like an idea that’s too big for this challenge (and to be sure, I’d love to see this extrapolated into a longer story) I didn’t feel cheated. 5

DK: I love the writing here, and the buildup of tension is excellent. The way this ends is also just the kind of thing I personally was hoping for from this challenge. 5

Will Young, I’m With Stupid

Dave ate a bowl of drab, lukewarm oatmeal for breakfast. When he opened his pantry and scanned its sparse contents, he immediately discovered significant drawbacks for the other items. Honey Nut Cheerios – too sweet; Fruit Loops – too happy. Plain oatmeal was perfect. After all, staring into that bowl of lumpy, flavorless food perfectly reminded him of his work. His emotions would remain flat regardless of the outcome of the day’s meeting. Work had simply eviscerated him.

Dave was stuck on the Dan Ryan Expressway. He begged any of his senses to distract him. He cycled through each, but could not find one to completely numb his mind. After a few seconds, he tired of watching the wipers clear the slush from the unseasonably early October storm. He rolled down his window hoping the damp air would either spark some energy or provide some calm. Instead, his frayed nerves prevented his mind from losing its singular focus on the impending meeting.

***

A few years earlier, the thrill of this contest might have invigorated him. Obstacles had simply driven Dave to work harder. When he was hired, Williamson sent him door-to-door peddling discounts for golf courses and movie theaters. After cutting his chops, Dave transitioned to selling real estate. His commission increased, and he grew to love the thrill of selling. He managed to turn selling into a game and found ways to keep score: how much could he Rehash (Remember Every Sale Has Another Sale Hidden)? how quickly could he close a deal? how little could he say about the property while letting the customer’s mind run wild based on innuendo? Plus, people like Blake always showed the fruits of success.

He was still paying for his greatest success. After a huge year flipping timeshares in Door County, he spent his bonus celebrating around Wrigleyville. His confidence and temporary disposable income managed to convince a woman to follow him back to his car. He had been providing child support calculated from his most financially successful year ever since.

***

Thoughts of Katie briefly flitted through Dave’s mind. Between his horrible hours and the downturn in the economy, he had stopped trying to correct the poison Katie’s mother planted in her mind. He looked wistfully at an accident that had been moved to the shoulder. As he saw the paramedics removing a stretcher from the ambulance, he imagined never having to work again. However, he reminded himself that he had very few assets and many liabilities to his name. He could not just stop working.

It had been apparent days earlier that Ricky would win the Eldorado. In his self-created scoring system, Dave had done poorly last week. Still, he simply had to be given good news at the meeting. He knew was placed in the contest because his performance had been deteriorating. Blake minced no words explaining his status. As much as he hated to admit it, Dave needed to get those steak knives.

K: I’m looking, hard, but as well-written as this is, it’s not propelling me forward toward a next episode (or conclusion) like it should be. It seems simply like exposition, and the real conflict comes later. 3

DK: I love this one too; although the ending isn’t abrupt like some of the other ones, the description of the situation and the detailed creation of this character are really effective at investing me in his subsequent fate. 5

Bret Highum, I’m With Stupid

Anderton State Bank was the smaller and older of the two banks in town. Carl kept it spotless and shiny. He’d been there every weekday for twenty-odd years, always around somewhere as he mopped floors and cleaned the old-fashioned brass furnishings. Even today, less than a week after his wife had died, he was there, doggedly going about his regular duties. He absent-mindedly kept patting his right front pocket as he waited for the doctor who had killed his wife to come in and make his weekly deposit.

Frank slid his ’91 S-10 into the parallel parking space directly in front of the big plate-glass window and the side door into the bank. Mike was bouncing up and down in the passenger seat, wired on the last of their meth and whatever prescription pills he’d managed to swipe. Frank was far calmer on the outside, but his heart was racing and visions of the loot and drugs they’d have after this heist danced through his head. Mike checked the 9mm in his waistband, covered it with his shirt again and hopped out. Frank barely noticed, still daydreaming as his right hand rubbed the wire folding stock of the Mini-30 tucked in next to his seat.

Doctor Summers had a lot on his mind. He’d lost a longtime patient during a simple hysterectomy due to complications with the anesthesia, his malpractice insurance wasn’t going to cover the wrongful death suit, and he was pretty sure someone was stealing drugs from his clinic. He walked into the bank, patting through his pockets for the weekly checks, not noticing until he reached the teller’s counter that the son of his head nurse was at the next window over. Then he realized the kid was stuffing cash into a dirty backpack as he threatened the teller with a pistol. The teller’s round moon of a face was flushed with fear as she shoved the bills across the counter to the bank robber.

Carl was cleaning the big window with the gilt lettering “Since 1907” when the S-10 pulled up. It wasn’t unusual for someone to park there, so he paid it no mind as he wiped down the glass. Carl straightened up when he saw Doctor Summers stride down the sidewalk and push through the main doors. His attention caught by the appearance of the man who had killed his wife, Carl didn’t even notice the robber until after he had drawn his Colt.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, Doc?” demanded Mike, who was holding his 9mm sideways like in the movies. He pointed the pistol at Doctor Summer’s forehead, glorying in his power over this authority figure…

“Shit!” screeched Frank from outside in the truck. Since when does a goddamn janitor carry a gun? Yanking the Mini-30 up, he leaned across the truck to poke the muzzle out the open passenger’s side window…

Carl’s pistol wavered, back and forth between the doctor and the druggie, unnoticed by either…

A single shot rang out.

K: Ooh, another strong setup. This invested me thoroughly in the characters and I want to see a lot more of them, and where they go not only here but beyond this scene. There are three plots I’m invested in here in these <500 words, and that’s impressive. 5

DK: I think this one works as hard or harder than any of them at putting multiple balls in the air that could be paid off in different ways, but it suffers a little bit by doing that in that the characters aren’t quite as sharply drawn. I’m splitting hairs here, but get ready to see me do that several times. 4

David Larson, SPOILER ALERT!

Detective Robertson fidgeted at the back of the open warehouse. When Three Precincts had their monthly police auction, the auction house is contracted to handle everything, but some late-coming information had the boys on alert, and Robertson was assigned to blend in and keep an eye open. So far, besides a slightly larger crowd than normal, Robertson didn’t see any unusual activity, and his interest was waning. But as the bidding started on the current lot and almost a dozen numbered paddles were raised, his instincts pulled him to attention.

The typical police auction included drug seizure items, unclaimed stolen material, and even some surplus police equipment. As Robertson checked the page he was handed when he had entered the door, his eyes wandered down to the item up for bid, Lot #17: Four Hummel Figurines.

“Who will bid $400?” Cherilynn Lei raised her paddle, as did several others. An experienced collector of porcelains, she quietly hoped that the bidding died down soon, although she was prepared to go higher. One of the figurines caught her eye as being uncommon enough that she did not have its name off the top of her head, but she knew it would fetch a tidy sum on the Hummel boards.

“$650?” Ella Stimssen quietly sobbed into her handkerchief as her son Jens dutifully lifted his number. She appreciated that he had taken the morning off from his work to help her, but seeing many other bidders also raise their paddles, she knew that her limit would be reached far before the bidding was finished. The thought of her daughter selling her family’s keepsakes for drugs and now of those treasures being lost forever to strangers started another round of tears.

“$950? Do I hear $950?” Dieter Kraus noted that there were still a handful of bidders who continued to bid on this lot. A drop of sweat tracked down the side of his face; not because he was nervous, but because in spite of the warmth of the auction crowd, he was still wearing his coat — a field jacket that hid the bulge of the snub-nosed Mauser HSc strapped to his side. If anything, he was excited, because another of the lost “Hitler Hummels” had been found. No, Dieter was not nervous. If the bidding went above what he was authorized to spend, he and his sidearm “Klaus” would have a little “Herz zu Herz” with the winning bidder after the auction.

Robertson watched the bidders attentively as the bidding rose above $1500, and four of them were still going strong. As he was easing his way into the crowd, the sound of the gavel jolted him, and he began edging towards the location where the auctioneer was pointing, keenly aware of the service revolver tucked under his belt at the small of his back under his loose Hawaiian shirt.

“Lot #17 sold, for $2250 to #34!” A commotion was breaking out just as Detective Robertson got there and found himself standing near the winning bidder.

K: Wow, another winner. Cut and paste my notes from the last one. Though it isn’t an action scene, everything else is the same; our characters and their stories are interesting, and we’re heading for something big. 5

DK: This is another one that I think has a strong effort to set up multiple pieces that could pay off in multiple ways, and I think the characters here are a little more defined. Or I just got a huge kick out of the German joke. 5

Beau, nibbish and his Vogons

Edward King’s father hadn’t beaten him in eight days. He wasn’t entirely sure why he counted. He did know that twenty-one more days and it would be a record. And maybe hope.

Sometimes Eddie wished he went to school in a bad neighborhood, where some kids were lucky if their parents chose to buy food instead of heroin. He could then fantasize his life as better than that of his friends. But every minute he spent away from home was a cold reminder that he didn’t have one.

What kept Eddie from deliberately working on an escape plan was Mom. She couldn’t protect him from his father’s “corrections” any more than she could protect herself. But he knew she cared, and that was enough. Eddie couldn’t wait until he was old enough to protect her. In nineteen days was his eleventh birthday. Almost an adult.

His birthday was one reason Eddie was sure he wouldn’t break his record. But his report card was another. It came today and his father knew it. And Eddie knew the only thing his father would care about was the B-minus in pre-algebra.

The harsh clanging of the garage door jolted Eddie out of his self-pity. Sitting down at the kitchen table, Eddie stared at the report card, hoping to get this out of the way.

His father came through the door and set his briefcase on the table. Eddie sensed his father looking at him, then the report card, then back. He tensed as his father’s hand came to his forehead. But his father simply ruffled his hair before silently walking towards the stairs.

Eddie couldn’t tell whether to be relieved or frightened, but goose bumps shot up his arms. Unfortunately, this debate would have to wait as a scream from upstairs broke his paralysis.

Normally, he would go outside so he wouldn’t have to listen. But this time something compelled him to walk up the stairs. As he did, Mom’s protests became softer but more desperate. Reaching his parent’s bedroom, he looked carefully around the door jamb. Then he took a step back.

Mom’s blouse was torn. Half-naked, she looked helpless on the bed as his father towered over her with his dick out, stroking it. Not knowing exactly what his father planned to do, but knowing it was bad, Eddie reacted. “Mom!” he shouted from the doorway.

His father’s glare darted from his mother to him. He expected shouting, but his father calmly pulled up his slacks. “Edward. Get the hose.”

Shaking, Eddie made his way to the garage. This task normally was humiliating, but right now he only felt fear, and rage. Pulling the hose off the far wall, Eddie considered destroying it, realizing that doing so would only make things worse. But then he noticed the adjacent cabinet was slightly ajar. His father’s .45 was lying on the shelf.

“Edward, you shithead!” he heard in the distance. “Get up here!”

Eddie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Coming!”

K: Yep, you had me skipping breaths here. It starts out sounding like an obvious and manipulative Lifetime movie, but it soon spirals into something much more interesting. Also, “His birthday was one reason Eddie was sure he wouldn’t break his record” is perhaps the greatest heartbreaking line I’ve ever read in this game. 5

DK: Great, disturbing situation, and the tension is really palpable. I felt a few of the early sentence structures were a little awkward, but again I’m being really pedantic to force myself to find separation. I’m just finding this week really great overall. 4

Brooks Maki, nibbish and his Vogons

The door opened with the lady on the other side. She wasn’t cute, but she had smiled at him when he slid his pack of spearmint gum across the counter to be rung up and paid for with a crumpled dollar. Gerald felt guilty for judging her looks, he’d been on the short end of that enough times to know better.

“Back for more gum?” It was the fourth time in two days he’d been in the store, and she had noticed him. A thrill in his gut rendered him unable to decide whether a fourth identical purchase would be worse than obviously changing his mind and picking some other random thing. He sheepishly handed over another dollar and added another pack of gum (wintergreen this time) to his pocket. “Have a good day!” she called after him. He couldn’t bring himself to turn and respond.

Namir was waiting for him around the corner. “Did she notice you?” He didn’t want to share that moment just yet, so Gerald just gave him the information he really wanted. “The bathroom is in the back, to the right as you face the beer fridge. In the hallway that leads to the back exit.” The two of them walked back toward the entrance.

The door opened and Namir was the first one through, shouting and swearing. She ducked behind the counter, more frightened of the sudden noise than his threats. Gerald stood frozen in the door. In an instant, Namir was behind the counter, emptying the cash register. Gerald backed out of the doorway and stood behind the pay phone. If she looked out from behind the counter, she wouldn’t be able to see him.

From that vantage point he had a clear view of the police car turning onto the street about two blocks away and driving toward the convenience store.

K: Ah, I like Gerald. He’s ripped straight from The Wire – this story doesn’t make it easy to understand whether you should be rooting for or against him. A convenience store robbery isn’t a great cliffhanger on its own, but with this added layer it becomes far more interesting. 4

DK: It feels a little more clinical than some of the others; the buildup is there but it’s a little more distant, so I don’t find myself as immediately invested. But otherwise, it’s a strong situation and setup. 4

Colin Woolston, SPOILER ALERT!

The homeless woman’s stare conveyed the level of self-assurance and confidence that only the truly insane can possess. Her eyes narrowed as Spencer’s hand slipped on the pole that kept him and his slumped frame from tumbling to the floor of the bus. The driver had accelerated unnecessarily fast.

Spencer imagined himself falling onto the woman, tea spilling on her wispy, grey hair and his face falling into her lap, the smell of urine and unwashed crevices singing his nostrils. He imagined himself on the floor of the bus and the lines of the grooved hard rubber pressing into his face; the crumbs of contraband muffins and pools of spilled lattes mixed with the saliva of the unwanted.

Spencer’s heart was pounding and his head ached and he felt a familiar clamminess spread across the back of his neck and his palms. Spencer knew that the bus driver was exacting revenge for the comment that Spencer had muttered under his breath as he had boarded the bus. Spencer had been greeted by a bus full of upturned faces, occupying every seat and most of the aisle. He had turned to see the driver glaring at him through the over-sized mirror, and stood head hanging and gripped the pole. It had been then that he had felt the familiar creeping paranoia and crushing anxiety pushing their way into his brain.

A click sounded in Spencer’s head. Something felt different. His heart beat faster, but not with fear. His shoulders straightened as he felt ice form along his spine and a fire flare in his chest. Words and actions, retaliatory and concise formed ranks in the front of his mind. He saw everything he could say or do to shame and destroy the driver.

A vision came to him then, a memory. He had been waiting in the cold of a December blizzard when a bus had arrived. As he boarded he saw an elderly man waving from half a block away, signaling Spencer to ask the driver to wait. The driver had simply glared and pulled away from the curb, leaving the man to fend for himself. Spencer had raged, inside his head, but had said nothing and as the bus had driven on the driver had simply said “there’ll be another bus.”

When the bell indicating a stop request dinged Spencer’s head snapped up, an inferno of injustice unpunished shone from his eyes. He stepped forward one sneakered foot at a time, the doors of the bus opening in slow motion. Spencer heard every breath, every rustle of fabric, the low beats of mass produced hip-hop coming from earphones. As he passed the homeless woman he saw from the corner of his eye her gapped smile grow to a maniacal leer, a drop of spittle falling onto her lap as her head began a slow shake from side to side.

Spencer reached the front of the bus, raised his hand, opened his mouth, and knew only darkness.

K: Ooh, I like Spencer. He’s properly crazy, but has a cause. The paranoia is palpable in every word, and he’s unpredictable enough to do anything, but in his head enough that I want to be on his side. This is turning into a strong week, dudes. 4

DK: The descriptions of Spencer’s state of mind are excellent, as well as a lot of the language used to describe the setting. I found the ending a little more effective as a conclusion than a cliffhanger, but it’s again well done. 4

Andy Rustleund, I’m With Stupid

The Crocville Library was nearly empty this time of year, with the summer sun burning away most students’ interest in books or studying. Earl Toulouse was normally the kind of kid that wouldn’t be caught dead in the library, even during the school year, but the library seemed to be the only place in town with the answers he needed.

Earl had always thought it was a little strange that they never got any new students in class, or that no one ever seemed to move away. Sure, most of the land in the area was a muddy swamp, but there were plenty of nice neighborhoods, a new Super Wal-Mart had just gone up on the edge of town, and the schools were supposed to be the best in the county.
But in history class, no one ever seemed to know exactly when Crocville was founded, or by whom. It wasn’t until the subject came up again later that week with his best friend Martin that Earl really got curious.
“Are you telling me you don’t know anyone who wasn’t born here?” Earl had persisted.
“That’s what I’m telling you, man. I even asked my dad,” huffed Martin on their way to the baseball field. “He said we were Louisiana’s best kept secret or something. Who gives a crap, anyway, man. We gotta get down there before they start without us. I’m not getting stuck in the outfield again.”
As Earl stood in right field, waiting for popups, he decided there had to be some other way to get more information. Tomorrow, he would make up some excuse and get down to the library. There had to be something there.
The town librarian beamed at Earl when she learned that he was interested in Crocville’s history.
“You’re in luck, young man. Mr. Porosus from the Historical Society is here today doing some research himself. Why don’t you two put your heads together and see if you can’t help each other out.”
Earl found Mr. Porosus in the back of the library hunched over a rather large tome, muttering to himself.
“Excuse me. Sir…” said Earl tentatively.
Mr. Porosus looked up at Earl slowly. His wispy white hair peeked out from under a checkered hat, and although this part of the library was quite dim, the old man wore dark, gold-rimmed sunglasses on top of an long, pointed nose. His face contorted into a toothy smile.
“Mr. Toulouse. I’ve been expecting you.”

K: Wow. I don’t know where this is going from here, but I guaran-damn-tee you I’m interested to find out. The concept of a city that operates in its own reality for some reason will suck me in every time, and I want to know why Mr. Porosus has the answers and what it means that he has them. Sorry, but this is another 5.

DK: I really like it. Imagining the number of ways this could go is probably the best aspect; this feels as open-ended as any of them while still investing the setup with a concrete amount of definition. 5

John Wreisner, nibbish and his Vogons

The summer had been a drought, nearly biblical, with farmers kneeling down in the dirt and sifting frustrated handfuls with knobby fists, the soil like talcum powder. The sun was malevolent, withering lawns first, all the available water being used to fruitlessly water crops that would brown and bend, despite the efforts of the farmers. The county fair that year was a largely joyless affair, the displays of canning supplies standing unsold, with no crops left to preserve. Adults shambled about the grounds talking in muted tones and staring at the dust clouds that followed their feet, staring off into livestock pens where desiccated ruminants stood with limp heads, chewing cud. As for me, I was too young to know about farm futures and economic disasters. At that moment, I didn’t care about anything but the sideshow tent.

The canvas flags flapping in that August sun offered visions of beast men, alligator women, lurid and bloody and probably sinful. The barker stood outside the tents, shouting into a megaphone and warning those with weak constitutions to seek their diversions elsewhere. It was too shocking, he suggested, for women in particular, or those with heart conditions. One thousand dollars, he shouted, would be offered to anyone who could prove, beyond doubt, that the monstrosities contained therein were not genuine, proof that a vengeful God existed. . Fifty cents, he said, would prove beyond doubt that monsters were real, and in your hometown. God, he suggested, does not make mistakes, but the specimens contained inside were proof that the margin was perilously narrow.

I told my father I was going to buy lemonade. He shrugged and waved me off, talking in solemn tones to another man outside the cattle yard. He had been a ghost lately, standing on the edge of his acreage at sundown.

The barker eyed me for a second, determining if I was old enough, I guessed. Without missing a syllable in his pitch, he held his hand aside and motioned towards the flap of the tent. My mouth tasted like copper. It was pitch black inside the small vestibule. The ticket taker was an obese man in a yellowed tank top, missing three bottom teeth, a cigar perched neatly in the gap. He took my fifty cents and blew a plume of smoke upwards while holding back the final curtain and saying “Enjoy the show.” He grinned at this, somehow insidious, sickly. His teeth were the color of the skin on a pear. I thought I might run back out into the sun. Instead I shoved my hands into my pockets and walked on, deeper into the tent that stunk of sweat and sawdust and lantern fuel.

Another barker took to the stage, again cautioning those with nervous disorders and poor constitutions. As the curtain rose, my vision turned to grey and I saw, from the slowly rising hem, a pair of hooves. Not four, but two. Attached to human shins. I put my hands over my face.

K: The writing here is lovely, but the story feels self-contained, and I didn’t feel as immersed in the world as I could have, as conversation was suggested rather than shown to us. I don’t need a nonstop flow of dialogue, but if I know it’s happening but can’t hear it, I feel a little like I’m watching a movie with the volume down. Interesting, but frustrating. 3

DK: I hovered on the borderline with this one, but I’m not sure why. The language used throughout is probably my favorite part. I feel so good about this week that I’m just going to round up. 5

Zack Sauvageau, nibbish and his Vogons

James and Brenda were thankful for their car starter as they got in and closed the doors. It was a typical January night; clear skies, no winds, bitter cold. Brenda turned the fan to its highest setting as she shifted the car into reverse.

“Honey, we really should consider wintering somewhere warmer. I’m so tired of this shit,” Brenda said with a sigh.

James put his hand on Brenda’s bare knee and smirked. “Well, maybe it would help if you were dressed appropriately for the weather?”

Brenda giggled and shot James a knowing, dirty glance. It was cold, sure, but it didn’t help that she was wearing a tiny skirt and no panties.

Brenda & James had been married for five years and together for ten. They still loved each other as much as they day they met, and they still fucked like they did when they were in their teens. One of their few unfulfilled fantasies was to participate in a threesome. That was going to change tonight.

James found an ad on Craigslist advertising a swingers event on this night. It was a bit strange that they were holding it on a Wednesday night, but James and Brenda still wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. They were both pretty reserved, so trying to find a poly partner was pretty difficult. Especially in this tiny town they’d just moved to. They’d wanted to do this for years, and this was their chance.

Brenda took the exit off the highway that was in their directions. A concerned look fell over her face. “James, isn’t this uh… the industrial park?”

James didn’t seem concerned. “Yeah it’s nearby, but let’s withhold judgment until we get to the actual building.”

Brenda lit a cigarette to calm her nerves, and continued driving to their destination. When she arrived at the address they were given, James finally became concerned. 1515 Huntington Estate was a large, poorly lit warehouse. There were about a dozen cars in the gravel parking lot.

“I’m going to go check it out,” James said. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.”

James walked up to the door, and tried to open it. The door was locked. He walked a few fight over to the right and looked in. What he saw made his chest get tight. There were about 30 people dressed in all black standing around a few large tables covered with machine guns.

He turned frantically to get back to the car so they could leave. As he started to sprint back to the car the door opened and two men with very large guns walked out.

“Stop right there, asshole.”

K: I’m torn on this one. I want to know why he’s there, but I think I was robbed of a bit of information here. I figured they were going to their deaths, but this setup makes it seem like one of Brenda or James was baited there because of some shady thing they do on the side. This is interesting, but I can’t help thinking a hint of shady background should have been a part of the exposition. 3

DK: Something about these characters puts me a little off. The situation is set up well and is effective about how it ends, but the willingness of the characters to continue into this holds me back a little bit. Again, this isn’t a true detriment (certainly lots of good stories have slightly stupid characters) but a way for me to find some kind of distinction. 4

Shawn Ashley, SPOILER ALERT!

IT was so far away. Yet, IT gleams in the light of the sun that streams in. His head rolls to the side, tries to move his body, yet he doesn’t have the coordination.
He wants IT. Badly.
He kicks his legs out, tries to will his uncooperative body to move. He tries this repeatedly until…finally; he makes it onto his stomach.
IT shines out in all directions; a beacon of light in the world of beige. Beige carpets, beige curtains, lighter beige walls…IT calls out to him. Come get me, IT whispers. I will set you free. Come to me…
He tries pushing himself up with his arms and quickly falls back down, face to floor. Frustration wells up inside of him. The anger in his belly swells. He tries again, muscles shaking as he uses every ounce of will in his soul.
To no avail.
Face to carpet.
Saliva falls from his lips to the fuzz that clings to the top of the carpet. A string from the floor to his face. He whimpers as he feels defeat wash over him.
He rests. Just for a moment.
His eyes fall upon IT again, glimmering like an angel. Determination shoots though him again like white heat and he gets his arms working again. Finally, FINALLY, he pushes himself up on his hands.
His legs are behind him as if dead weight. He wills them to work, to help him in his quest, but they can’t hear. He tries to push on. He pulls himself forward, towards IT, an inch.
Happiness sweeps over him and he smiles. Maybe even laughs, he’s not sure. He just has to get there. Get there, be there, touch IT, hold IT in his hand…
A few more inches and then he falls. Back down, face first. His heart sinks, almost feels broken.
He looks over and, again, IT calls to him. With all of his might, he rises up onto his hands, feels his legs working with him this time and yes, he’s up, up on all fours, knees digging into the carpet, feeling the roughness against his skin.
He’s almost too surprised to remember why he is moving. But then the light hit IT again and he is mesmerized. His will takes over.
He plugs away, not giving up. He’s almost there; he would feel IT in his hand. Hands and knees are working together and it makes him giddy. He presses on. He lets out a high-pitched “EEEE!”
Almost there…he stretches out his hand, millimeters away…
THUD. Down he goes, face first, hand outstretched, a penny’s length from IT’s shining glory.
He hears…
“Mark? The baby’s in here in his diaper…Is this a marble?! Oh no, sweetie, you can’t have that! You’ll swallow it,” her voice rings out. Her hand reaches down just as he stretches out his arm.
Both of them touch IT at the same time…

K: Well, isn’t this a cute little story? Of course, now that I know our hero is a baby (and good gravy, why didn’t that occur to me?) I’m not sure there’s a “cliffhanger” here unless the marble is an oracle or the baby has superpowers. A nice story, yes, although perhaps imperfect for the challenge. I’m probably nitpicking, because this week was great, and it’s hard to remember what a “3” or “4” is even supposed to be anymore. 4

DK: Very nicely done. I love the way the truth is revealed, and the whole thing feels like a true description of how invested a baby might be in this situation. It’s the kind of thing where an observer might not care much, but getting into the kid’s head is what makes the buildup click. 5

Perhaps you noticed we were on a Netflix scale because not everyone showed up, and perhaps you’ve noticed by now that our tenth non-submitter is Sean Kelly of I’m With Stupid. Other three members of that team, your votes are due Tuesday at noon Central.

Your scores, because some of you might still care:

SPOILER ALERT!: 4.5/3/5/4 = 16.5/4 = 4.13
nibbish and his Vogons: 3/5/4/4/3.5/4.5/4 = 28/7 = 4.00
I’m With Stupid: 4.5/-1/5/4 = 12.5/4 = 3.13

Well, look at that. Another team gets on the board! There might be a game in here yet, folks, but only if everyone shows up.

Cheers, Survivors. Excellent week.

Good morrow, my fifteen noble submitters. Have we smoked out the last of the non-subbers? I hope so, because if I didn’t think so I wouldn’t run this one yet.

I should have run this when there were equal numbers of people on teams, but I’ll save that bullet for the next writing season.

Anyway, you get 500 words to set up a story that ends in a tense cliffhanger. The pieces have to be in place for a payoff, and I have to be truly interested in how the story is paid off. If I find myself frustrated that I don’t get to read the next episode, you’ve done your job. The set pieces will be a big deal here – if I can see multiple outcomes based on your setup, you have, again, nailed it.

By the way, I’ll write this here so I remember later: when I do this again, I’m going to have each team pay off one team member’s story, and set up a cliffhanger for another. Eh? Eh? I wish I could do that now, but nibbish and his Vogons are big.

They’re due Sunday at 2pm central. I don’t know when I’ll get to them, exactly, because work scheduled me that night but I absolutely can’t work it (daughter’s Christmas program) so I’ll probably be working earlier. Just sit tight and wonder who the latest non-submitter is.

The two-elimination possibility is still in place, as it will be until the merge, which may be pretty close or may not.

The following week will be optional, what with the goings-on of the holiday season, and from there on out everything will proceed normally.

Cheers, Survivors.

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

XXII: Dan “The Even More Professional” Kautz

XXIII: Melissa “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” David

XXIV: Stacy “Fucking” Snell

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
V: Jake “Littlefinger” Elliott

FALL, CAESAR
2014: Brooks “The Creator” Maki
2015: Matt “The Artist” Novak
2016: Matt “Waited Them Out” Novak
2017: Annette “I Would’ve Voted for You” Barron

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
2018: #17 Carrie “Solid Gold” Bard
2019: #16 Jake “The Jabroni” Elliott

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)

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