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K: Although in the end this week didn’t match last year’s week of the same theme, it was still very interesting to see the different ways this one can go. In the end, I think we were missing a lot of subtext and clever ways to get around the speech, although I want to stress that this was a very clever list of premises.

Please keep in mind that everyone votes this week, including those who have Immunity.

Tom Morgan

Sitting next to the bed, alone with his wife for the first time, Tim realized that a hospital room is never quiet. But the rhythm and beeps of the various pumps and monitors allowed him to begin unwinding and provided the beat with which he unraveled his emotions. The nurse had told him that his wife was lucky to survive the accident. It was true that her life would never be like it was, but intense rehab should allow her to regain some semblance of normalcy. And when she told him that the man who was driving Sara’s car had not been so lucky, the nurse had also confirmed to Tim, without realizing it, what he had long suspected: Sara had been having an affair.

Tim looked at the white board on the table next to the bed. Because Sara’s many injuries included severe lacerations on her face and head and the bandages made it impossible for her to open her mouth and difficult for her to hear, the doctors and nurses had been communicating with her by writing yes/no questions and watching as Sara lifted her fingers, one for “yes” and two for “no”. Reading only half of these conversations did not answer too many questions for Tim; he wondered if he could correctly guess how his wife had answered. Six months ago he would have been confident-now he felt like the woman sleeping in the bed next to him was a stranger.

He had known for months that something was not right. Instead of staying in with him, Sara was spending most evenings after supper out. At first he believed her when she told him she was bowling, shopping or at the movies. Eventually, though, he mustered the courage to see all the lies. When he told Sara he was done and had given her permission to tell anyone she wanted that it was Tim who abandoned the marriage if she would just, please, tell him the truth, Sara had begged him to stay. She swore up and down that she was not lying, that Tim was her soul mate. Her pleas were so convincing, and he wanted to believe her so badly, that he stayed. And the next few weeks were the happiest of their marriage. Sara was with him nearly every night. She looked him in the eyes; she smiled.

Tim was calmly watching the I.V. drip when he felt Sara wake up. An accomplished actress couldn’t say as much with her eyes as Sara did in the seconds after she awoke. Joy, recognition, and sorrow flashed over her face.

Tim had been waiting a long time for this and he wasted little time picking up the white board.

“You weren’t at the casino with Sherry were you?” He wrote.

Tim watched her fingers. Finally, she raised two. No.

“You know Jared died?”

Another long pause, one finger. Yes

“You never quit seeing him?”
Sara thought a long time about how to answer. It amused Tim that she seemed to think there was something she could “say” that would affect his decision. “Maybe,” she seemed to be thinking, “if I tell him I did quit seeing Jared, that this was a one-time relapse, he’ll forgive me. Or maybe if I’m honest he’ll forgive me.”

No.

“Do you want me to stay?”

Yes. And her eyes added an exclamation mark. Yes!

“Do you miss him?”

Nothing.

“I need to know.”

Yes.

“Thank you. I love you. “

Yes!

“Goodbye, Sara.”

Tim passed the nurse’s station on his way out. One of the nurses looked up and said, “We’ll take good care of her.” Tim smiled and gave her a brief nod. He hoped so, for her sake. He looked down the hallway at the sunlight pouring through the hospital’s front doors and, smile still on his face, walked away.

K: There’s a solid concept here, but writing out a conversation is a sidestepping of the rules that I can’t say is forbidden, but others are likely to find cleverer ways of silent communication. All in all, I like this, although the moments of silence and subtext were the best, and I wish ALL the moments had been like that.

B: Straightforward and solid, though the grammar in the first half could use some work. This reminds me a bit of the courtroom scene from last season. Nice use of her eyes as exclamation points; it adds some emotion to this scene in a succinct manner.

Peter Bruzek

Becky’s dad had always called it “pressure that didn’t mean anything”. It was an interesting theory, but as she walked around the pitcher’s mound for what had to be the fiftieth time, it seemed like nonsense. It was only the local girl’s little league championship, but she was playing on the same field that all the local heroes had played.

And here she was, being careless with her team’s lead.

The inning had started out easily enough – a strikeout and a weak pop fly. Then the weight of what was happening dawned on her. Usually she was so good at brushing it off, but with two outs in the final inning, it began to eat her alive. First she walked the opponents’ worst hitter, and then she gave up a couple of hard hits. Now, everything was on the verge of unraveling as the Rockies’ slugger came to bat.

Becky took a couple of deep breaths and one last walk around the mound before taking her place and gazing at her catcher for the sign. Nothing seemed like a good idea. Of course she was over-analyzing – she only really knew how to throw two or three pitches – but she had already shaken off at least five before finally deciding that she may as well throw a fastball. The batter just stared out at her with an amused smirk on her face. Becky quickly decided that she hated the batter and made a point to put everything she could into this next pitch.

It was a bad idea, as the catcher had to nearly leave her feet to catch the ball and keep it from going to the backstop. The smirk continued as Becky got the ball back. She briefly thought about throwing the next one at the hitter’s back before realizing that not only would that tie the game, but she would be ejected. Suddenly she realized – she was beating herself. The batter was not Babe Ruth; she was a 14-year old girl. With a renewed calm, Becky came set and threw the pitch.

The girl swung hard, but did not connect solidly, only able to muster a slow ground ball straight back to Becky. She picked up the ball, set herself and threw the ball…four feet over the first baseman’s head.

Everything seemed to slow down – everything except the baserunners, of course. The rightfielder didn’t even bother going to retrieve the ball, she just put hanged her head and began walking back to the dugout. Becky fell to her knees in stunned disbelief. The batter ran by, not bothering with eye contact (but wearing that same damned smirk) as she joined her teammates in celebration as Becky picked herself up off the ground and walked without a word off of the lit field and into the darkness of the visitor’s dugout.

K: Using baseball on me is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but the bait worked. I have to say, I didn’t see this coming; I figured our protagonist would conquer her demons and win the game. I would have taken a stronger pair of character arcs, however; Becky was nervous and downtrodden and then lost, while the hitter was cocky and smug and ended up winning. Turning the tables would have been a stronger choice.

B: When I was 12 I was pitching during our Little League Championship. Though we didn’t have a lead, I too grabbed a bunt and threw it over the first baseman’s head, allowing two runs to score. So, yeah, I feel this. The last paragraph (and the last sentence) is a bit wordy for my taste.

Brooks Maki

The_ship’s_generator_surged,_punching_a_hole_in_the_universe_
that_swallowed_the_Tinnitus.EEEEEEEEEEEEThe_noise_began_
immediately.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEThe_ceaseless_shrieking_drone_of_hyperspace.EEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEPraza_stared_at_his_screen,_praying_this_would_be_
his_last_jump,_guiltily_hoping_that_an_unbug_(for_the_first_time_
in_over_a_decade)_would_appear_in_the_nets_so_he_could_finish_
this_job.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Claudia,_his_mentor,_trainer,_and_the_last_active_unbug_wrangler_
in_the_fleet,_was_the_first_to_see_the_flash_indicating_a_catch.EEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEShe_bolted_toward_the_airlock.__Everyone_moved_
faster_in_hyperspace,_minimizing_time_spent_there_was_always_a_
priority.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEBy_
the_time_he_caught_up,_she_was_out_into_the_concrete_gray_of_
hyperspace,_moving_toward_the_nets_where_an_antenna_writhed,_
sprouting_from_the_amorphous_blob_of_an_unbug,_the_only_living_
thing_in_this_hell_outside_of_reality.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEIf_he_had_caught_her,_perhaps_he_could_have_gone_
out_instead,_but,_he_reminded_himself,_she_had_previously_harvested_
dozens_of_those_antennae,_the_backbone_of_the_interstellar_
communication_network_and_never_showed_any_remorse_for_the_
creature_she_was_mutilating.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWatching_her_drift_
toward_the_defenseless_animal,_he_confirmed_her_safe_return_through_
the_airlock._The_captain_didn’t_ask_twice,_he_immediately_pushed_the_
ship_toward_its_home_universe.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Suspended_alone_in_the_unending_gray,_she_screamed_as_long_and_
loud_as_she_could.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

K: I love how much the visual adds to the style here. It obviously wouldn’t work in a novel, but in the confines of a short story, it effectively added to the tension. Both characters made choices, and both will face strong consequences (inwardly as well as outwardly) as a result. Very fine work here.

B: This challenge forces the creativity out of everybody. Not sure why, but the simple repetitive letter really does awaken my senses to this other dimension. Obviously, this style only works as a short story, but it maximizes its potential here.

Dean Carlson

Rob hated being a twin. From his earliest moments he hated it. One would think floating in amniotic fluid would be peaceful, but not with Randy right there next to you. Even as a fetus Randy was getting in the way. He was always stretching out (Jesus mom’s not that big!) or getting tangled in an umbilical cord. Randy was a pain and took up too much room in what was pretty confining space as it was. Plus Randy seemed to like that crappy Baby Mozart their mother would play at night and would start kicking, which of course made her play it even more. (Although Rob thought it was kind of cool after their mom would fall asleep and someone (dad?) would switch the music to Blonde on Blonde).

Rob thought that after they were born things would get better, to no avail. They had to share beds, clothing, and affection. Their mother was constantly putting them in matching onesies and trotting them out for the neighbors to see. Randy, being the bigger baby, could muscle his way to an advantageous position to receive food and attention. Plus Randy’s diapers were always foul. They sucked from the same tit, how Randy could produce such noxious, eye burning shit was beyond Rob’s 40 day-old comprehension.

Rob was lying in his crib, bored out of his mind when he realized that he was hungry and mom was nowhere to be seen. From his crib Rob lifted his head (hey, I can lift my head, sweet!) and looked around. There was Randy in the ducky-festooned bassinet quiet as a lark. Randy was probably mesmerized by the black and white checkerboard pattern hanging above his head; it didn’t take much to entertain that guy. Rob thought that he could get some undivided attention and started to quietly whimper his “I’m hungry” cry and waited for his mom. Unfortunately their mother was watching General Hospital and didn’t come right away. Just then Randy awoke from his stupor and figured out that Rob was crying for some sweet, warm breast milk. Randy was always hungry and started to whimper too, but louder and more aggressively than Rob. That’s when their mother came straggling in. “Hungry again? Jeez guys I just fed you. “

Rob watched in horror as his mother picked up the clearly agitated Randy, unbuttoned her patterned blouse and brought him to her chest. One could see the anger in Rob’s face: That son of a bitch! What the hell?!? I was hungry first, and he gets first suck?! By the time it’s my turn there will hardly be any left and mom will be all sore (Randy liked to bite on the nipple). She’s got two of them, why can’t she set both of us up at the same time?

This was it, Randy’s not going to get the best of me again thought Rob. I was the one who was hungry; I was the one crying for mom, I should get fed first. I’m not taking this, but what can I do to get mom’s attention? I can’t talk. Then Rob remembered the one thing a baby can do besides eat and sleep: leave a mess in his diapers. Rob, using all the energy his little 18-pound body could muster, proceeded to fill his diaper with the foulest, most rancid green-colored shit one could ever imagine, the majority of which came from the depth of his tiny little bowels. As the horrific stench filled the room Rob’s mother took one whiff and was up like a rocket. “Jesus Christ! Are you o.k. Rob?” She put a now wailing Randy back in the bassinet, buttoned up her blouse and went over to tend to Rob. “Is everything alright Robbie?” she cooed, “let’s clean up that nasty diaper and get you some food. Dan!! Can you come get Randy and take him into the living room? I have to take care of Rob for a bit.”

K: Two babies! This is a new one. The characterizations are funny here, though I think I would have preferred Randy’s thoughts to be a little more childlike than the rest of the narration, just for variety’s and character’s sake. A very strange and unexpected entry that still totally fits the prompt, but it had one major problem in that the narration occasionally changed from third person to first.

B: This premise is hilarious (I especially love the womb stuff), but the perspective here changes from third to first person several times, which is jarring.

Tanya Laumann

Sheila was the nurse for Dr. James Phipps. She had taken a call for the doctor while he was in surgery. She ran to the man as he walked out of the OR and gave him the message. The surgeon’s son and daughter-in-law were in a terrible car accident. They were hit by a pregnant woman on their way to a benefit. His daughter-in-law survived without sustaining any injuries. But his eldest son died shortly after the police arrived at the scene. The events of the last 10 hours played out for him like a silent nightmare.

The car that hit them was traveling at an incredible speed. James Jr. hadn’t been paying much attention to the road. His wife had been arguing with him for the last 10 minutes about this and that, and the nagging nature of her voice forced his attention far from this place. It was the shift to panic in her tone that brought him back to the present.

When he walked out of the operating room that evening he was sure he had never seen anything quite like it. James had been a surgeon at this hospital for 32 years. The woman was 9 months pregnant and was covered in a mosaic of glass and blood. The surgeon knew he must work quickly to get the baby out of the womb, if the mother was going to have any chance of surviving. Looking down upon the healthy baby girl as he handed her over to the nurse his attention snapped back to the babies mother. Working ferociously and seamlessly with his team, they were able to attach the limb that had been partly torn from its socket, and reconstruct the major veins and arteries that had been severed in the accident. The team was in surgery for over 9 hours, and it had been successful. Both the mother and the baby would survive.

K: While this story does capture my attention – too vividly, frankly, and it’s tearing me up inside a little – it does seem like a pretty easy way to get out of talking. Despite this criticism, I do like the prose – in all but the first paragraph, which pumps too much information that isn’t relevant and causes a slight problem with clarity.

B: I like the first and last paragraphs quite a bit, the middle confuses me. Did we shift to James Jr? If so, how do we know his feelings? If we didn’t switch to Jr., how does Sr. know that the wife was nagging? With some work this could really bring out the emotional impact for the surgeon.

Matt Novak

His final breath slowly eased from his lips as his body released the tension of life. His lungs constricted. His heart stopped pumping. The brain ceased sending signals, the neural highways vacant.

His dreams had yielded before his body. His last dream was of home: a warm fire and a full belly. Before that he had dreamt about being young and energetic: the chase, the glory. When he had first drifted into sleep his dreams were more scattered, hadn’t yet settled on any one story to follow. They had been filled with images of trees in the park, familiar faces, walks with friends.

It was comforting that his dreams had turned to happy times. Fitting in a way, though strange, for this was not a voluntary sleep. The drugs had pushed their way through his veins, muscling out the more sustaining intents of circulation. He had felt the surge when the Doctor compressed the plunger. He had felt the subtly sharp pinch of the needle when the Doctor slid it into the vein. He had felt it even though the Doctor had numbed the area with anesthetic; a generous, ironic gesture.

He had laid on the table, right where the Doctor had indicated. The Doctor kept a somber approach to the business as he readied his materials. It was just the two of them in the room. The Doctor had led him there, indicating the way through the swinging dual doors. The doors were a painted metal, no warmer than the slate block walls of the hallway they had walked through. The sound of hard soles rang through the hallway as the Doctor transferred him to the chamber at the end.

It wasn’t like a movie where that final procession is played at half speed; the Doctor’s pace down the hallway was brisk, and he was glad for it. It felt good to move his legs after being cooped in that tiny cell. The agony had grown quickly. The cage was small, isolated, and he’d been put there, alone, to wait. Someone else, a Stranger, had brought him to this holding cell. That had been a cruel trip, from the outer room to the inner pen, accompanied only by the unflinching Stranger.

It had been the Doctor who had directed the Stranger, waving the Stranger over to take him away. Before the Stranger arrived, the Doctor had been in the outer room for some time, tending to unseen machinations. There were others there too. Most were unknown to him. One Man – he knew the Man well – had spoken to the Doctor. His tone were hushed. The Doctor nodded knowingly. A gentle inquiry from the Man. The Doctor returned something to the Man: a thin plastic card. There was a flurry of pen strokes from the Man. Things had started to move once the Doctor entered the outer room.

Before the Doctor arrived, he had been sitting with the Man for nearly ten minutes. The Man spoke sparsely, words of comfort falling where no comfort could be had. There had been others with the Man earlier, others who had been ushered out. It was those others whom the Man had been able to comfort.

“There is,” the Man had answered. The question had come, quietly, from the girl, “Daddy, is there a doggy heaven?”

K: This ending nullifies the vast majority of my critique, which was to say that leaving out character names was alienating. Of course, telling me the protagonist’s name was “Fido” wouldn’t have allowed this story to work on the level it did. It’s a little prolonged and cold, but the prose is interesting and I absolutely loved the line “He had felt it even though the Doctor had numbed the area with anesthetic; a generous, ironic gesture.” Like many of the stronger entries in this game’s history, a second read is necessary for the full effect.

B: This isn’t the first time the protagonist has been a mutt and I was none the wiser until the last sentence. At first I was thinking, “They don’t do lethal injections with no witnesses, do they?” The broad, banal descriptions of good times now seem quite poignant with this knowledge of who enjoyed them. However, I question that a dog would know how it goes in the movies? Also, are there a lot of movies where dogs are put to sleep? Anyway, I’m nitpicking. Love the plastic card; it almost feels like a weapon. And The Doctor got paid to use it.

Dan Kautz

I’d been coming to that club for years, and the openers always sucked. That night was no different. The cacophony of fuzz, distortion and feedback washed over me as I watched the mass of people in front of the stage. Some, with their skinny jeans and angular haircuts, barely swayed as they stood there, eyes blank; others, clad in backwards baseball caps and gym shorts, bounced up and down to a rhythm that must have been set to some beat coming from somewhere else.

I figured I had at least an hour before what I’d gone there to see started, so I turned and headed to the bar in the back of the room. I stood there for a moment before I caught one bartender’s eye, and pointed to a beer in the fridge door behind him. He followed the line of my finger to its object, and raised an open palm in response. I pulled my wallet out and laid six ones on the bar.

As I turned back around, I saw her there, standing behind me. My heart leapt into my throat and I had to tighten my grip on the bottle to keep hold. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, with deep auburn hair flowing down past her shoulders and piercing blue eyes that stood out even in that dimly lit room.

As I stood there staring at her, she met my eyes and arched an eyebrow. I opened my mouth and tried to say something, but nothing came out. She watched me and smiled, showing dimples at both sides of her lips. Flustered, I smiled back, trying to think of something and still failing. She smiled wider and winked, her eyes glittering at me. She held out one arm and motioned me forward, then grasped my hand as I stood rooted to the spot.

She led me back out onto the floor, tossed her hair back around one shoulder, and started to dance. I joined her, awkwardly at first, but soon our movements were united and elegant. I never took my eyes off her; she, in turn, kept her eyes locked onto mine.

Confident now, I leaned in to say something witty, but she smiled again, put a finger up to my lips and held it there for a moment, then wrapped her other arm around my neck. Time seemed to slow down as we moved together, but the ringing in my ears only got louder. I thought at that instant, it might be the greatest night of my life.

Then a searing pain shot into my back and rocketed through my body. My knees buckled and collapsed, and I fell to the floor. Blood gushed from the wound in my back as a broad-shouldered man stepped over me. As he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, I could see the knife clasped in his hand. She leaned up to meet his mouth with hers.

The ringing in my ears had stopped, and the sea of noise around me dissipated. I watched as she turned around in his embrace to meet my eyes again. She held my wallet up in her hand and waved it, then winked and smiled at me one last time.

K: Poor sap. I thought this one was a story about a strip club, but no such luck…sigh. I like what we have here, but I’m most definitely missing what we don’t. What’s the protagonist’s motive with this woman? Why her? What’s her motive? Simple theft? If so, I want the motive to be stronger and more personal. Plus, aren’t we in a crowded bar? Wouldn’t witnesses be a problem here?

B: I like the atmosphere here, but unfortunately the ending was predictable to me. However, what bugs me is that this couple commits these crimes in crowded clubs? Yeah, it may be noisy, but I have a feeling they’d get caught after doing this a couple times. Granted, there are stupid criminals, but I don’t get the sense that the ones in this story will be better off. Don’t get me wrong; this still follows the rules. It just doesn’t have the impact it would for me than if the criminals were more sly.

Shawn Ashley

Tick, tick.
The only sound swirling around the room. The sound of her grandfather clock.
A bottle of old Kentucky Bourbon sits between them, certainly not forgotten. Their respective glasses sit in front of them, marred with smears of bright lipstick; hers a bright red, hers a racy pink.
Tick, tick.
Ella raised a perfect eyebrow over the top of her cards that are fanned out in front of her face, as if to say, “You going to play anytime this century?”
Rose’s face was in a slight scowl, her eyes focused down into her hand. One pink manicured nail flicked the edge of her left card. Maybe in nerves. Maybe unconsciously showing her good card.
The ice cubes in Rose’s drink fell, causing her to jump. She tried to play it off, by grabbing the glass and taking a long drink.
The corner of Ella’s lips rose slightly in a smile and she covered it by picking up her glass and taking a small sip.
Finally, Rose made a decision and placed a card down on the pile.
There was silence.
And tension.
Ella didn’t make a move. Rose didn’t breathe.
“You are STILL playing that game??” Rose’s youngest daughter Maureen came clomping in the room. “I swear you two have played that game every Sunday afternoon for 30 years. You’d think someone would finally win!” She snorted. She walked over to the table and stood looking at both of them.
Neither lady made a sound. Or a move.
“Well,” Maureen said loudly, “Have it your way. I’m going back outside. It is nice out there, ya know.” She shook her head and hoofed it back down the hall.
Ella’s eyes flicked to the card Rose had discarded.
So did Rose’s.
Then their eyes met.
Rose challenged her stare. What are you going to do?
It doesn’t matter what I do, Ella’s smug stare retorted.
Ella slowly picked up some cards from the pile, then rearranged her hand.
Rose picked up her drink to take a sip and realized her liver-spotted hand was shaking.
There was a pause, where nothing moved. Even the clock seemed to be holding it’s breath.
Ella put down her cards and sat back in her chair with a slight smile on her perfectly painted lips.
Rose stared in disbelief. No…
Gin.

K: Oh, for cute. I suppose I should have known where this was going, but instead I was thinking one of the old women would die (but would that really improve the position of her friend? Oh well, I’m an idiot). I love the amount of tension given to this very small-scale story. They don’t all have to be life and death to be brilliant.

B: I thought in Gin you only picked up one card at a time? I’ve played variations where the discard pile is splayed, but never called it gin. Anyway, just minutiae. The last line is telegraphed a bit too much to be powerful, but it still works okay in this non-verbal story. I really like the descriptions of the two ladies. The tense changes from past to present a few times; had it stayed in one it may have worked better.

Ryan Sorrell

The dry scratch of dirt against metal was swallowed by the walls of the hole as the boy once more stepped on the shovel and drove it into the ground. The dim light from the Coleman lantern nearby was barely enough to guide his dig. His arms ached as he lifted another scoop and heaved it over waist high wall and onto the growing pile.

He turned and leaned his back against the wall of dirt, resting his hands on the handle of the shovel. He’d barely taken in a full breath when his head was rocked forward from the swift kick of the old man’s boot. After regaining his balance, the boy quickly returned to his task. The message was clear, “hurry the fuck up”. There was no need to turn around and confirm it, as the ever-present scowl on the old man’s face surely would.

The old man’s supervision alternated between cursing him from the lawn chair and pacing around the grave, all the while knocking back his Old Milwaukees. He’d been digging for awhile now and dirt filled his shoes and blisters were forming where he gripped the shovel. Each time he bent over, his jeans reminded him of the painful welts on his lower back. Each time he stood up he tried to avert his eyes from the sack lying next to the pile of dirt. Each time he failed, catching sight of those little feet sticking out. He succeeded at not crying, as that would certainly only bring another swift kick or worse.

He had failed as a brother, failed in his promise to his mother to protect his sister. He had cowered in his bedroom as his father had visited his sister’s room once again, then cried himself to sleep. After shaking him awake, his father had unconvincingly told him that she had died in her sleep. He was yanked out of bed, told to throw some clothes on and handed a shovel soon after. So here he was, in the woods behind their property, digging the grave that son-of-a-bitch deserved.

He was jarred from his thoughts by the crushed beer can that bounced off his head. The old man was still walking around the hole, but stopped at the lawn chair long enough to replace his empty. He continued his pacing, stumbled a bit and nearly fell right in. The boy quickened his pace, eager to get out of this terrible hole.

A few minutes later the old man kicked some dirt from the pile into the side of his face to get his attention. The hole was apparently deep enough, as the old man motioned for him to get out. He hoisted himself up, bracing his foot against the opposite wall as he struggled to get out. Finally finding the strength for a last push, he rolled over onto the ground and lay there catching his breath. The wind made by the old man’s boot just missing his face got him moving again. The old man pointed toward the sack and shuffled over to it.

The boy couldn’t move. Frozen in place by those little feet protruding from the sack, he just stared.
The old man was bent over, trying to move it, but he could hardly keep his balance as it was. He turned and scowled at the boy once more and violently motioned him over before returning his attention to the sack.

The boy looked down at the shovel, then back up at the old man bent over. He picked up the shovel and walked purposefully around the grave and positioned himself directly behind the old man. He grabbed the handle tightly with both hands and raised the shovel blade high over his head. He spared a moment for one more quick glance at those little feet, took a deep breath, then brought the blade down with all his strength. At the same moment, the old man started to stand up and turn to look at him. Instead of connecting with the old man’s skull, the shovel bounced off his shoulder blade.
They both stared at each other wide eyed for a moment before the old man threw down his beer can, the scowl returning to his face. The boy quickly raised the shovel again and swung it at the old man’s head, but the swing was weak and the old man caught hold of the handle. They struggled for control of the shovel. The boy held on desperately, but the old man shoved the handle forward, hitting the boy in the gut, knocking the wind out of him. While the boy was hunkered over trying to catch his breath, the old man turned the shovel around and quickly smashed the shovel blade into the side of the boys face. The blow knocked him unconscious, sending him tumbling into the hole.

When he came to, he was staring up at night sky that filtered through the tree branches. He tried to sit up, but a searing pain shot through his rib cage. Something else besides the pain was restricting his movement. He looked down and found himself staring at those little feet. Those little feet protruding from the sack that was now partially covered with dirt. Then he heard the scratch of the shovel and a scoopful of dirt flew into view, striking his face. He spat out what had landed in his mouth and started to cough up some more. That brought the old man’s face into view. He towered over him, the ever-present scowl now gone from his face. Instead it had been replaced by a wicked grin. The boy tried to scream, but all that would come out was a low groan. The wicked grin disappeared from view and the sound of shoveling returned. He continued to groan, staring helplessly up at the night sky until a brown blanket completely cut him off from the world.

K: Always nice to finish with a heartwarming story. I’d like the reason for the silence to be clearer. A drunken man seems more likely to bark out orders, but if we understand that humanity isn’t far from here, we have a reason for the quiet and the whole thing is even more heartbreaking in the end if we have a false sense of security because people are SO CLOSE, you know? This one is right there near the top of my list, so I’ll have a tough decision here.

B: This reads a lot like a Koontz short story, and from me that’s a compliment. I am glad it didn’t go for the “happy” ending, as it would have felt false. I think the old man cursing at the boy violated the whole mime thing a bit. While the words are never spoken, it is implied that he’s talking, even if it’s just one-word statements. That said, pretty well written horror.

—————————————————————–

Kelly here. There surely wasn’t a dearth of strong writing here, but the most creative entry gets Immunity from me: that being the deep space adventure in #3. If Beau also gives Immunity to this one, I’ve got a much tougher decision looming.

Beau: I loved all of these premises, and was amazed you guys came up with nine more original ideas after we had nine great ones last year. We’re not scoring anymore, but I do want to give props to more than just one entry, so here are my medal winners.

3rd Place: Gin Game
2nd Place: Puppy Euthanasia

When I’m debating between a couple of entries for immunity as I did here, I think, “Which entry am I going to remember a year from now?” And that one is:
Immunity: Claudia Joins the Unbugs

I just realized all three of these end with someone’s death. You guys are sick.

Kelly: Well, damn it. Okay, here’s my issue: there are definitely no bad ones, but every one of them has at least one aspect that was done better by a bunch of other entries.

Apples vs. oranges. Well, I’ll favor bourbon. I loved the simplicity of the gin game, despite the entry’s tense misstep. I want to give honorable mentions, but if I did, they’d go to every single other entry, so it would be a pretty pointless exercise.

So, Brooks Maki and Shawn Ashley win Immunity, and you also can’t vote for Matt Novak as he uses up one of his Immunities from last week. You all have until Tuesday at 2pm Central to cast your votes for any of the other six Survivors; ties will now be broken by game-long head to head score (as in, how many times did A outscore B, and vice versa).

Cheers, Survivors. I eagerly await these votes, because I have no idea where this game is headed.

In Survivor VII, this challenge produced some of the most ingenious entries of that or any season. It’s difficult, so I suppose that’s why.

In this challenge, two people are having some sort of scene. There can be other people involved, but the main conflict or story has to involve these two characters. The word limit here will be 1000.

At the end of the story, one character’s life, or situation (the scope of the scene is up to you) will be better. The other’s will be worse.

Also, the two characters can’t talk. They will be silent for the entire scene.

A lot of last year’s players thought this sounded intimidating, but in the end they had one of the best weeks ever. I was going to cut and paste a couple of those entries here, but I couldn’t decide which to bring over so I’ll just link you to last year’s results.

To answer a potential question: yes, any other characters can talk; it’s just the main two may not.

Due Sunday at 2pm Central.

There will be two Immunities: Beau’s favorite, and mine. If we pick the same one, the second Immunity will go to my second favorite (and Beau and I will rotate for the tiebreaker). Remember, everyone will vote for the elimination this week, even the persons who win Immunity.

Any other questions can go here. Best of fortune, Survivors. We’re on the homestretch.

B: I think Kelly would agree that this is shaping up to the best Survivor Contest ever. This is the first time I have not given out a single “2.” I was worried this challenge might be too difficlut but there was creativity and hard work put into every entry. I said last week’s was my favorite week to date, and I have to repeat that statement again this week. Enjoy, everybody.

S: Yeah, I’d agree. This group alone could be a pretty good all-time all-star team. This week was mind-blowing. I can’t say it any other way. I think I gave four fives, and I can’t remember the last time I did that with this number of people left. I’m glad there’s no forced curve this week, because I’d be judging all weekend.

Rhubarb_Runner, TWG

*Bang!*

At the sound of the starting gun, Jerome launched into the huge plate of bratwurst with both hands, stuffing the one in his left hand into his mouth, while the one in his right awaited its turn. Now that the competition had started, he found he had no time to be nervous anymore, even though this was his first public contest. Jerome’s friends on the HS football team were always amazed at his eating “powers” and had finally egged him on to go pro, even if this was only the quad-county fair. And actually, he had a pretty good feeling he could win.

Continuing to munch-and-swallow his seventh brat, he was too nervous to look for his friends in the crowd, but he did take a few furtive glances at one of the other six contestants on the stage, Contestant #5, who had travelled over 200 miles to participate – an obvious ringer. The guy was short and wiry, with mousy black hair – nothing like Jerome’s 6’2” 225 lb frame. Where does this guy pack it all in? Jerome took a swallow of water to lubricate his throat, then dived into the next brat.

Number 23 going in, number 24 in hand – Jerome was in the zone. As the oldest of six, he had learned to eat quickly, and it was paying off now; Contestant #5’s plate was noticeably higher than his own. It was going to be all Jerome could do to finish his plate (36? Yes, it looks like “just” three dozen were on the plate to start), but with his current lead he knew if his pace flagged a bit, he should still safely finish as the winner. Jerome ignored the crowd noise. Keep chewing! Keep swallowing!

As he began laboriously working the last couple of brats, Jerome once more eyed Contestant #5, who, though he continued to chew unabated, still had four brats left on his plate! Jerome had done it! As he carefully chewed the final brat (36!), he raised his fists in silent victory. He was the first to polish off his plate — and thankfully it ended when it did, because there was NO WAY he could have eaten more; as it was, the last swallow in his mouth was taking its sweet time to engage.

In turning to back to Contestant #5, a puzzled look came over Jerome’s face as the dripping corners of Contestant #5’s still-chewing mouth turned up into a grin, two brats still remaining on his plate. A motion in front of Jerome brought his attention back, where another plate of brats had just been placed. Jerome never did finish that last swallow, as the reality set in: it was not a timed contest, but an endurance contest. Crestfallen, he willed his over-taxed stomach to subside…at least until he could track down his friends and share a generous portion of semi-digested bratwurst with them.

S: Hey, now there’s a disgusting beginning. Remember when competitive eating nearly became mainstream popular about eight years ago or something? Anyway, though there isn’t a ton of interplay between our two characters, what we have here is fun. I wondered how many of these would end up being competitions of some kind. 4

B: Nice. The concept works beautifully. I’ve never seen such elegant prose regarding one of the most disgusting competitions humans engage in. The grammar and spelling could use some work (note from Spooky: I fixed the spelling before posting), but there are some nice word choices here. 4

DK, VVV

In the spacious main chamber of the capital building of the German city of Frankfurt, the French diplomat shifted anxiously in his seat, noticed himself sweating uncontrollably. He turned to his right and left, looking with intent at the faces of his aides, studying them for any hint of support. The aides, however, anticipated his movements and avoided his gaze at each turn.
Without warning, the large oaken doors swung open. Two young pages entered the room, carrying rolls of documents under their arms, and sat at each end of the table. Following them, the chancellor strode in, removing his military hat and placing it on the table in front of his chair as he sat down. The Frenchman found the chancellor’s face expressionless; searching it relentlessly for some hint of emotion, any suggestion of subconscious thoughts, the diplomat felt his heart rate rising steadily. He attempted to greet the chancellor, to welcome him to their meeting and formally initiate their discussions, but felt the words die in his throat as he tightened up with fear.
The chancellor, observing the diplomat’s struggle to speak, held up his hand, palm forward, to indicate that he would begin. Waving his pages over, as they laid out several prepared treaty documents on the table, the chancellor deliberately moved each one forward, one at a time. The diplomat, barely glancing over each paper, looked up at the chancellor and nodded vigorously; the chancellor smiled, broadly but coldly, and began to collect the papers.
Suddenly, the chancellor paused, appearing to be struck by an idea. His gaze turned to the large map of Europe hanging in the chamber, studying it intently. Slowly, he pushed himself back from the table, stood, and moved toward the map. The diplomat felt his left leg begin shaking; clutching it with his hand, hoping to stifle the noise, his eyes never left the back of the chancellor.
The chancellor turned and, his eyes lit up, pointed towards an area on the map: the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. The Frenchman nearly jumped in his seat; as beads of sweat leapt from his forehead, he shook his head. The chancellor’s left eyebrow raised slightly; time seemed to stop for the diplomat as he watched that grey tuft of hair held up on the chancellor’s face.
His expression turning to anger, the chancellor clutched one fist and slammed it against the map on the wall, showing no discernible pain despite the brick that lay underneath it. Feeling as if he might faint, the diplomat leapt from his chair, pointed to the provinces in question on the map, and nodded so hard he felt his head might come off. The chancellor smiled again, motioned to his pages to follow, and walked out.
As the exited the room, one page looked at the other incredulously. The second smiled and told him, “Friend, it’s Bismarck. He can say more with a twitch of his mustache than you or I could in a lifetime.”

S: I’ll bet that last bit is true. I love this one. Not only is it silent, but tension builds throughout and we have a strong button to our scene here. This is film-worthy. I want to see it. The prose here gets mildly clunky now and again, but I love this concept, the tension and the humor so much that I figured what the hell. 5

B: Someone is appealing to my love of history. Otto was such a badass that this actually works for me despite the fact it’s more comical than realistic. The prose itself doesn’t read terribly smoothly; it’s easy to follow but it doesn’t dance off the page. Normally I wouldn’t fret such a thing but at this stage of the game there are so many fantastic entries that I have to delineate somewhere. 4

GreekHouse, TWG

Colin didn’t know Libby well, but he knew that she was hot and that was good enough for him. They walked up the stairs to Libby’s apartment. She unlocked the door and they walked in. It was a nice, modern looking apartment, but not too big. Taking up most of the space in the living room was a leather couch and a black coffee table across from a 32″ Toshiba HDTV. Someone had forgotten to turn off the TV. Californication was on. Nice.
But Colin didn’t have much time to worry about who David Duchovny was fucking this episode before Libby grabbed him and intensely made out with him. He picked her up, walked over to the couch and threw her onto it. Her arm flew out and her hand hit the corner of the coffee table. She looked at her hand. It was bleeding. She licked the blood off her hand, bit her lip and smiled coyly. She must like it rough.
He jumped on top of her. Colin was no stranger to the one night stand, but he could tell this one was going to be good. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her in for a kiss. She liked it. He yanked her hair harder. She moaned. It was time to escalate.
He rocked back just enough to give him access to the button on her jeans. She raised her pelvis and he slid them off. He grabbed her ass. She smiled. He slapped her ass. She pushed him backwards and hopped on top of him.
She sat upright and began to grind on him. He needed to escalate more. But how? He punched her.
Shit.
What the hell made him think he should punch her? Libby flew off the couch, hit her head on the coffee table, and began to bleed. She wasn’t moving.
Colin jumped up off the couch and moved away from the blood. What was he going to do now? He looked down at Libby. She still wasn’t moving. He looked over at the TV. He unplugged it, picked it up and left.

S: Holy eff. This one is powerful. I found myself wondering how to score it, but frankly, anything that gets my heart racing this much for the conclusion and makes me worry this much for the welfare of the characters can only receive one score. This is the darkest thing I’ve read here for the last couple of Survivors, unless I’m forgetting something. 5

B: Wow. This is so wrong I laughed out loud twice. The TV bit is not only a crazy ending, it’s also foreshadowed. Well done. 5

CarterHayes, VVV

The fog clung to the windscreen as effectively as the thick cobwebs in the hayloft back home stuck to your face. The aircon was starting to make even him shiver. Not that he was going to turn it down. Better to freeze, to have to pull over for a moment and get out of the car, cool skin steaming into the night air like a chimney of an oil refinery, than to ever be hot again. It was also the only thing keeping him marginally awake. There was no A-driver for this trip, no gunner or A-gunner, and he wasn’t driving the only ambulance in Iraq with a crew-served machine gun. So he had that going for him, which was nice.

How many more miles must he go? He began to look for a gas station, a wayside rest, something.

Sand began to blow across the road, the white glow of reflected headlights slowly turning amber, then a darker camel. More and more sand, a thick cloud of it, as if a train headed to a glassworks had derailed somewhere nearby. Frankly, it was ridiculous. There was no way there was this much sand in central Wisconsin, no matter what Aldo Leopold might have to say about it.

Ahead of him – cat eyes?

A tan seven ton came into view less than 10 meters ahead. What the hell. Oshkosh was clear on the other side of the state, and Fort McCoy already behind him. This truck was headed the wrong way.

Lt. Olson was next to him, the handset of the radio clipped his helmet’s chinstrap. Doc’s giggle drifted forward from the back, the maniacal, slightly demented giggle of a little boy pulling the legs off a frog. Rawley kicked the back of his seat with his foot. “Hey man, keep your eyes peeled.” Rawley, whose permanently cracked-out expression was finally comprehensible when they found out he was actually on crack. That fact lingered in the back of his mind, present but shrouded in the same fog he had been driving through moments ago. He was mildly aware of it, but the awareness was more of an ache than a realization.

The seven ton stopped in the middle of the lane, so he stopped. Behind him, another truck stopped. The handset crackled. “Cut the engine and stay sharp,” Lt. Olson breathed. “Trouble up by Gun Two.” Olson pulled his pistol. Doc pulled his. Might as well join the club, he thought.

They were still sitting there two hours later, though it seemed longer. Two hours without a cigarette. Eyes straining. Ears straining. Hands damp on pistol grips, sweating through their flak jackets, down their arms, steady drips down off their noses. Sand caked the corners of their eyes, the corners of their mouths, their nostrils. It sat on their eyelashes just as snowflakes did back home.

They sat there. He chewed on his cigar stump. They sat some more.

Suddenly, his door swung open. He squeezed the trigger three times, two in the head, one in the chest. The trooper looked at him, not comprehending. He looked down, where the pistol had been. “Sir, you’re parked on the interstate. I need you to blow into this tube.”

I’m not drunk, he wanted to say. I just need help getting home.

S: Whoa, that’s some powerful stuff. I could do without the Caddyshack reference here (not because the use of humor is inappropriate here, but because it’s a little too WGOMmy), but it’s not a problem. Anyway, I read this, I sat in silence, then read this one again. A twist that changes the rules of the entire story is always a risk, but in this case, it brought forth some real emotion that I wasn’t expecting. Brilliant. 5

Okay, still Milkman, writing this bit after I wrote up the rest of the post: this one obviously finds a strange way to deal with the rules of the challenge, as although Lt. Olson speaks, there’s nobody really speaking because it’s all in our hero’s head. I just want folks to realize that I know this was a little out there, but for me, it still fits.

B: Man, you guys are insane. Post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism is definitely not what we were thinking when we created this challenge. I don’t know what else to say. This one actually gets to me, and would probably get immunity if we were doing that now. 5

nibbish, TWG

They sat.

That’s all they really did anymore. What else was there to do, but sit? Any words they could come up with were trivial at this point, and the inevitable made whatever either of them might have to say utterly moot, anyway. The raft was their their entire reality, and the stale stench of sea salt was their only companion. Everyone else had fallen one by one, until their number had reduced itself to just two, and that number would soon adjust itself lower yet again.

The last of the provisions lay between them, and as the craft slowly floated towards nowhere in particular, they each simply locked gazes and waited for the other to make the first move.

The hands were around his neck in what seemed like an instant. In reality, it was slow, it was clumsy, and it was exceedingly painful. The fatigue had sapped him of the strength he would have required to fight off his aggressor. There was nothing left to do but give in. It was a strange feeling as he felt everything fade. As consciousness slowly slipped away, he could have sworn that he saw the outline of a ship on the horizon.

S: I do like the ending here. The difference from this one and the others is that although this one explained the silence, the others really used the silence to tell a story. 3

B: Effective, straightforward. But with all the competition here, I feel this one was a bit too short to have the emotional impact necessary to rise to the top. 3

rob, VVV

Mark and Sue drove silently through the streets, looking for just the
right place to stop. Mark seemed to be making all the decisions as he acted in
a direct, almost brusque, manner. Sue gazed listlessly out the window,
not seeming to care where they were headed.

They turned into a promising parking lot. After looking around to see what
the audience would be like, Sue broke into the standard ‘trapped in box’ routine
while Mark played at operating machinery. Sue began to perform some truly
amazing contortions, all within the confines of her box, hoping to
draw attention to herself. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be the type
of audience she’d hoped for, though Mark seemed content despite the lack of a
crowd.

He continued his act, unabated, although a wicked grin started to grow on
his face. As he finished up his routine, Mark stepped back and watched in
enjoyment as Sue was getting all wrapped up. He always was a sucker for the
finale of this particular show. Satisfied with the outcome of
their performances, he grabbed Sue’s purse from the curb, where he put it down
before he locked her in the car. He glanced back at the cube of scrap metal as
he walked out of the abandoned junk yard, counting his newfound fortune.

S: How can this keep happening? How many times in this game can I say I’m reading the best thing I’ve ever seen in this game? This one is brilliant in the way it sneaks up on the reader, going from seemingly obvious to funny to confusing to dark as all hell in a small amount of time. This is beyond words. I knew this concept might bring some brilliance, but…damn. 5

B: You sir, will rot in hell.

Somewhat similar theme to television thief. I liked that one just a bit more. This one was almost too weird. 4

Eric B.B.

The day had finally arrived for E. Timothy Wagner. He’d been dreading this day for a while, even though what would happen was little more than a formality. As he put on his gray Versace suit, he wondered how he’d gotten to this point. It had happened rather quickly, really.
Mr. Wagner got into the car at eight o’clock sharp, just like he always did, but Steven wasn’t chauffeuring him to the office today. He’s rather sullen today, Steven thought to himself. I suppose he should be, considering what day it is.
As Timothy got out of the limousine and walked up the stairs, he saw his lawyer, Mr. Earl, ahead of him. He thought about saying something, but it wasn’t worth it. They were both heading to the same place. He would catch up soon enough. He surely wasn’t in a hurry.
Mr. Earl waited for Timothy outside of Judge Erstead’s chambers. “You ready to head in?” he asked Timothy, as Timothy approached. Timothy nodded. Mr. Earl knocked on the heavy wooden door and entered when the judge summoned them.
There she was. She had dressed well for the occasion. She’d never dressed like this for him. Timothy just kept his eyes on the judge, his shoes, anywhere but at her. It was bad enough that he had to be in the same room as her.
“Your clients both agree to this settlement, gentlemen?” Judge Erstead asked of the two lawyers as he looked down at the papers through his reading glasses. They replied in the affirmative. As the judge passed him the papers, Timothy thought about all that had transpired in the past 12 months. His investments had lost almost half of their value with the downturn in the economy. He’d had some crazy sex with his secretary, Raechel. Ellen had found out about it. The company took a big hit when the news reached the papers. In all, his net worth had been cut in half, and now he was cutting it in half again to settle this silly divorce. 500 million dollars! It was a tough pill to swallow. As he signed on the dotted line, he thought about the kids, who Ellen was getting full custody of, and of how his life was falling apart.
He silently passed the papers across the desk. She glared at him as their eyes met for the first time in months, angry for the hell that he’d put her through. He quickly broke the contact, but the damage had already been done, the pain felt. Then Ellen did a funny thing—as she signed at the bottom of the page, she smiled. As they all left, Ellen had a new spring to her step. In spite of all the crap she’d dealt with in the past year, life was looking up. Way up.

S: Hmm…courtroom drama. This one I should have seen coming. In fact, we came up with a bunch of concepts we thought we might see, and none have been done yet. Anyway, it doesn’t have the emotional punch of the others, what with the emotion of the piece taking place before this scene. That’s the only real difference here. 4

B: I had also not imagined a courtroom, despite the above scenario being a fairly common one. You guys are damn creative, which is why I love this contest. Written quite well, with a air of solemnity that slowly turns to despair by the end. 5

Big Mak, VVV (note: parts of this one are in italics because of…well, it will become clear in the end. It was sent in a slightly different format but proved impossible to keep in that format)

Joey took a huge bite of his triple decker
peanut butter sandwich just as the girl he
had a crush on came through the door.
Despite his best efforts to hastily wash it all
down with a glass of milk, he was unable to
utter a word before she was gone.

She lunged for him as he lay on the couch, and the struggle for power was on. He had
held sway over her for too long. Now, with the element of surprise on her side, she was
going to turn the tables.

The Little Red Schoolhouse World
Championship
Match
had
entered
its 8th hour
with neither contestant
showing any signs of weakness.

On the other side of the paper-thin walls, Mrs. Busybody sat with her hand hovering
over the phone. She had already threatened to call the cops twice this week. If any more
sounds of struggle came through the wall, she wouldn’t hesitate. The cops wouldn’t buy
whatever weak story he came up with this time.

Too late, Detective Smith realized the chef
who had prepared the pufferfish was the
same person who was hanging around the
scene of the crime earlier today. A quickly
swelling throat prevented the detective from
making a sound as the room went dark.

One well-placed knee ended the silent wrestling match. The victor triumphantly waved
the remote control in the face of the vanquished and changed the channel one last time.

The formerly frumpy introvert appeared at
the top of the stairs after her makeover, and
her mother was struck speechless as she tried
to hold back tears of joy at her daughter’s
transformation.

—-

S: So, yeah. This is the best week ever. This one was sent as a doc because the formatting is important; the entry is so one-of-a-kind that the meaning could get lost without it. As is, however, it’s far beyond what I’d imagined here, appearing to be on a large scale but turning out to be pretty mundane. Oh, and the name “Mrs. Busybody” is perfectly obvious here. 5

B: This is the most surreal entry I’ve ever seen. It really stretches the borders of the outline of this challenge, but we want to reward ingenuity, not strangle it. The rapid changes are actually effective, and the main narration stays clear. Mrs. Busybody’s appearance is brilliant. And pufferfish murders are always fun. Thanks for this. 5

New Guy, TWG

Beep. Beep. I fantasize about unplugging them every five minutes or so. Beep. Beep. I wouldn’t even have to unplug them. I could just press a button. Beep. Beep. One button and their oxygen regulators shut off, they’re dead within five minutes. Beep. Beep.
That fucking beeping on the EKGs, that’s ninety percent of why I would want to do it. It drives me nuts. There’s no reason why they need to beep like that. Like it’s going to make a difference if I hear the beeps change, like I could somehow do something to save them if they went silent. Beep. Beep. If they flatline they’re goners, and no tinny little piercing tone is gonna change that.
I guess the other reason to unplug them is just morbid curiosity. Some primal desire to do the absolute wrong thing for no particular reason. To let them die just because I can.
It might help if I knew who these popsicles actually are, where they’re going, why they’re in stasis, etc. Of course they didn’t tell me that. Know what they did tell me? It’s government business. Fucking government business, like I would hear that and go oh, it’s government business you say? Well in that case, go right ahead, stick a couple of ice boxes in my hold. Of course I’ll sit here babysitting them for three days while you degauss your engines. I’ll do anything if it’s government fucking business!
Beep. Beep.
I named them. Cassandra and Bernie. Cassandra after an ex-girlfriend (she was frigid… get it?) and Bernie after my brother-in-law who this mope vaguely resembles. I came up with a whole backstory for them where they’re both special forces commandos who spend their entire lives in stasis and are only unfrozen in order to assassinate somebody. But odds are they’re just diplomats or doctors or something. If they were really important I wouldn’t be allowed within fifty feet of their boxes.
Beep. Beep. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep.
Oh, fuck me… Bernie, why are you shaking like that? Is that blood, Bernie? Is that blood coming from your mouth, Bernie? I’m very disappointed in you, Bernie. I’m more disappointed in the government goons who aren’t answering my calls. Get the fuck over here, idiots, Bernie’s dying.
Beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep-
It takes me roughly forty-five seconds to take his box offline and get him thawed out, but he’s already gone. Fuck, Bernie! It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I didn’t actually want you to die, I just wondered how it would feel to let it happen. It feels terrible, thanks for asking.
It takes about thirty seconds for me to realize that Cassandra isn’t beeping at all. Oh, Cassandra, not you too. Forty-five more seconds to get her thawed. Five minutes of CPR to get her blood pumping again. Ten minutes to study her face. Thirty seconds to contemplate kissing her. One minute to mourn Bernie. Another ten minutes to study her face. My God it’s beautiful.

S: Huh. I just don’t know how to respond to this one. As prose, it’s smart and beautiful. As the beginning of a book (I’ll admit to thinking “film” first there; it’s the way I’ll always think) it’s divine. For this challenge, though, it’s imperfect. We the readers are engrossed in the thoughts of the narrator, but the action (and the whole “winning and losing” part of it) happens between the two slabs of meat he’s watching. Therefore, this writing is 5-worthy, but the format is going to drop this one to a 4.

B: I like how it’s unclear whether or not Bernie was actually “accidentally” murdered or not. The main character is obviously so strung out it’s hard to parse his thoughts to find the reality. I like the tone of this one although it feels a bit like the narrator is from a cliché horror novel The final paragraph is a winner.

However, this one does stretch our criterion that the main action be on the two primary characters who “win” and “lose.” In this case, the primary focus seems to be on the neutral character. I know I said already that we want to reward ingenuity, but this entry seems to sidestep the challenge for me. This kills me, but I have to give it a 3.

——————————————————————————–

Do I have to gush about the brilliance again, or is it implied? Anyway, if you read them all, you know it as well as we do.

Vindictive Voiceless Vagrants: 5/5/4.5/4.5 = 4.75
The Winner Group: 4.5/5/3.5/3/4 = 4.00

I can’t believe I’m seeing the day that a team scores four but doesn’t win. This has been just insane, guys. Thanks for this ride.

Winner Group, I hate to lose any of you, but votes are due Monday night at 6pm Central.

Cheers.

Well, after that doozy of an elimination, it’s back to the grind. Just one more of you won’t make the merge.

We obsessed over this week’s challenge, rotating ideas in and out, until finally I landed on this one. It’s called Meeting of the Mimes mostly because I love the word “mimes.”

Your task is to write a scene of 200-500 words with two characters. Something major is happening here; a change-of-life, a conflict, a big event. By the end of the piece, one of the two characters will be in a much better position than he or she was at the beginning, and the other will be in a much worse position (on whatever scale you like). Oh, and one other thing: neither of them will do any talking.

The lack of dialogue can be the result of anything you want, other than the characters being deaf or mute. The cleverer the reason for the silence, the better. Additionally, just to be clear, you can’t mention in the prose that the characters are speaking, either. The entire scene will take place with no words between them.

Just so it doesn’t get lost, let me reiterate the bit about one’s life/situation is much better at the end of the scene and the other’s is much worse (whether these characters are allies or adversaries). I’m very interested in that bit. (Beau’s edit: and that part was my idea).

Cheers, Survivors. I’m excited for this one (though, admittedly, a little saddened that I won’t get to see one from Andrew).

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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