Been watching a lot of movies lately. It is almost award season, after all. Take a movie like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Brilliant all around. Raw, powerful. But love. Love is what drives the main character. Love me, Mom. Love me, SOMEONE. Doesn’t it drive all of us? Wanting to be loved? Wanting to be accepted? My next submission’s character wants love. From someone. Anyone.
Anyway, no one cares. Next challenge!
From the Spookymilk site:
PROMPT: The next episode we’ll tackle is “It’s a Good Life,” which has been satirized all over your life. You’ve either seen this episode, seen parodies, or both:
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by James Sheldon
Originally broadcast Nov. 3, 1961
Based on the classic short story by Jerome Bixby, “It’s a Good Life” features the most horrifying creature you can imagine: A cute, six-year-old tyke (Billy Mumy) who can read your thoughts – and if you’re not thinking really good thoughts, he can magically wish you off to the cornfield, or worse.
Write a story where one or more characters can read thoughts; whether the other characters are aware is up to you. 500 word limit.
My submission is below, followed by judges comments in italics.
When I told my parents about reading people’s minds, they thought I was crazy. Took me to a psychiatrist and told her I was “hearing voices”.
I was five at the time but it was happening as far back as I could remember. Before I even knew how to speak. I didn’t understand what I heard, but I heard it.
That’s why I turned to food. It was the only thing I could control that made me feel better. I was scared, I ate a cookie. I was happy, I ate a cookie. Mom would think, I never should’ve had kids, and I would eat her entire loaf of just-baked banana bread.
When I was young, people spoke aloud about my weight. Because early on, all the eating turned into something else. Something else that no one wanted around. Kids would make fun of me and call me ‘Victor the Pants-Splitter’. Other parents would comment to each other. My own parents would say in front of me, “How did we let Victor get so out of control?” One time, when I was ten, my mother slapped a donut out of my mouth. We both watched it fly across the kitchen, silent, my cheek stinging from the slap.
Good. Maybe he will think twice before picking up another goddamn donut.
I slid off my chair, still quiet, eyes filled with tears, head down. I headed for my room. I was almost out of the door when I heard, How did I raise such a disgusting child?
That was the first time she had touched me in years.
But as I got older, people started keeping the comments in. I still heard them. They were accompanied by the looks. Ohhh, the looks. The eyes that would look me up and down when I ordered at a restaurant. The people that would point and laugh when I walked by.
And girls? Forget about it. Girls would only look at me and think, Please don’t let him talk to me. Or, Ew, gross, I hope he doesn’t like me.
I had no friends. No one wanted to be seen with me. I made it to the tenth grade and not a single friend.
I was in the lunch room, sitting by myself, when I heard her thoughts. Her, the prettiest girl in school. Rebecca Lillian.
If you took Victor’s face and put it on someone else’s body… would he be cute?
I thought about that all day, mind swirling. Would I?
I hurried home that night and raided my father’s garage, working frantically. Art was always my strongest subject.
The pliers were peeling back what was left of my chin when my mother found me.
“VICTOR!!!! What are you doing??” She screeched.
I pointed to the Styrofoam mannequin head on my desk with the rest of my face on it, blood dripping from the end of my fingertips.
“See Mama? My face is cute without my body! See? See?”
K: Okay…mutilation is a fine line. Last week in Melissa’s story, we had the brilliant and terrifying self-improvement story that worked because we spent a lot of time with the character’s insecurity and believed it. This one comes off purely as a shocker, and the whole conceit of the final scene is so absurd that I have a very tough time doing anything but chuckle at it. A rewrite and slightly different payoff could help this story a lot. BRONZE
TL: I’ll give you this, I didn’t see that coming. It is depressing that this guys special ability leads him down the path of morbid obesity. And then cutting off his own face. If this challenge has taught me anything it is that mind readers don’t end up living happy lives. BRONZE
MG: As someone who’s lived with the social stigma of weight through my childhood, I can relate to a whole bunch of this, and it’s a damn good foundation for exploring the concept of mind-reading. In fact, it feels pretty close to perfect…the narrative distance chosen is just enough to let us feel Victor’s ongoing pain without forcing us to drown in it, really. It’s good stuff overall…but the end rushes up on us and gets to us a bit too easily. Maybe if the overheard thought weren’t so directly interpreted and applied in Victor’s actions, it would have had as much sting as the insults did at the front end of the story. But as it is, it’s a smart direction to take the prompt in, and it’s handled quite well throughout most of the piece. GOLD
So there you have it.
Hey, if any of you know where I can get some Caribou Coffee up in this state, let me know. I could use a cup.
It’s that time again. bitches. Writing competition is off and running! Time for me to be engulfed in a world of self-doubt and pity but do absolutely nothing to help myself out of it.
Judges are the delightful and wonderful Kelly Wells, Tanya Laumann, and Matthew Gilman, all of whom I adore to my very core. (NO, I’m not just saying that because they are judges. Kelly didn’t even READ this story and I love him still.)
Challenge: The story must center on a character who is changing his or her appearance in some way to impress someone or fit in. 500 word limit.
(Fun tidbit: This season, all of the prompts are based on Twilight Zone episodes. This one is based off of the episode Eye of the Beholder. Crappity-smack I love this game!)
My submission, followed by judges’ comments in italics after that:
“Get in here, boy! Ain’t nobody want that cold in here,” he growled, his dull, green eyes barely moving from the pot he stirred on the stove.
“Yes sir,” I mumbled, struggling to close the heavy wooden door. I shook the snow from my short, matted brown hair and quickly tried to wipe it from the floor before he could see the mess I made.
“Carl is a big, fat sissy!” My cousin Robert squealed from his seat at the table.
My other cousin Roland laughed and chimed in. “Couldn’t even shut the door!”
I ignored them and raced to our shared room to change my clothes. Mama had said this would be hard, but living with them was the best thing, I could be with family.
I hurried and took my place at the table. The three of them were already eating.
“Where were ya, boy?” The old man growled, shoveling the stew in between his lips, half of it pouring down his chin. He didn’t seem to notice.
“I was at the library, finishin’ up my studies,” I said, picking up a spoon. “Sir,” I added.
I looked down into the bowl of slop and my heart jumped into my throat. Oh, how I missed Mama. She was the best cook in the entire world, even when we had nothing but scraps. The last time she cooked for me, she could barely stand, the sickness in her whole body. But she kept a smile upon her sunken face.
She had told me how much Uncle Gordon hated her, how it would be tough but if I followed the plan, I would be alright.
“Humpf,” he grumbled. “Tomorrow’s a long day. None of that studyin’ and schoolin’. This here farm is what’s important now. Don’t care what your ma wanted.” He said this resentfully. They didn’t learn of me until her death.
I looked down and, without a word, started to eat.
The next day was hard. From sun-up to sun-down we worked the fields. My hands were bloody and raw but I didn’t dare complain.
Midday, a boy about my age came up in his wagon. Michael from the next farm over, my cousin Robert informed me.
Michael. Whose hair was sandy blond. Whose eyes were like bright blue pools of the most beautiful, shimmering water.
He offered his help and we accepted. Uncle Gordon was so proud of Michael. Seemed more proud of him than his own sons. He dismissed my presence, saying my mother let me be a “sissy boy” with all of my “stupid books and learnin’.”
At this, Michael gave me a smile, one of the brightest smiles I’d seen on God’s green Earth. He even came over to help me when I couldn’t lift one of the blocks of wood I had chopped.
That night, hiding in the outhouse, I unwrapped the bandages that held my growing bosom down, thinking of Michael’s beautiful smile.
For the first time since Mama passed, I smiled.
K: Okay…so, certainly, the father is aware of the kid’s gender. I have to say I find the father outside the realm of reality, as he forces her to grow up as a boy and then condemns her for being anything but; I also was put off by his one-dimensional “sissy books and learnin’” stuff that felt more manipulative than anything. This is yet another story I could really like with a stronger foundation.
TL: Wow, I like the secret. It made for a nice twist. Well written and engaging, like many of these submissions, I would like to keep reading. Silver
MG: The sense of place and character in this piece is solid, compelling. The little reveal at the end isn’t treated as a huge rug-pull, but it’s given just enough of a special secrecy to mean something more to the character than to the reader, and that’s a nice change of pace given that so often the stories in past seasons have built to huge reveals in order to make an impression. (Not an issue this season so far, thankfully). Not a sparkling, biting story, but very much a solid entry. BRONZE
See? Kelly was sniffing glue during this one. Sigh. He’s adorable with adorable daughters and an adorable wife so I can’t really be mad at him.
I adore the Twilight Zone. Well, thanks for reading. Until next time, my darlings. I have to make a lasagna. Why? Because who doesn’t like lasagna?
Another day, another story. Another day, another challenge. Another day, another extra airy, maple-glazed, delicious donut. Ok, that last one isn’t true, although the wish is there. As long as I put it out in the Universe, it will come to me, right?
I suppose not. If I want that maple-glazed deliciousness in my belly, I have to go out and get it.
SOOOO while I’m doing that, my delightful readers, please enjoy this latest submission of mine. As always, challenge first, my submission, judges comments, and then, sadly, a quip by me.
Little. Yellow. Different.
“Fuck YOU, Nicole,” Carrie Sanders spat out as she stared into the high school’s dingy old mirror in the girls locker room, coating her perfect lips with bright pink gloss. “Do I look like the leader of the loser squad? Ew. Change. Immediately. And DON’T forget to pair whatever you put on with your extremely fashion-forward Kylie Jenner bag.”
Carrie turned bright blue eyes on Nicole, looking her up and down like she was a terrorist in her H&M denim romper.
Carrie was the leader. The Bad Ass Queen of the School. She could make you or break you- even if you did something or not. She told you what to wear and what not to wear. She told you who to date and who not to date. You didn’t argue. You just did.
Because Carrie told you to.
Last year, Meghan Flanders jumped off of the 210 bridge and DIED smacking into a dirty black Range Rover going ninety miles an hour. Because Carrie told her to get away from her and jump off a bridge.
The year before- when Carrie was only a SOPHOMORE- Danielle Walton took a bottle of pills with her mom’s shitty, plastic-bottled vodka and was in a coma for three months because Carrie told her to just kill herself. That she was SOOOO over her.
So, now, Nicole was standing in front of Carrie wearing a substandard denim romper and having Carrie glare at her with all the fire of Satan and the Circles of Hell.
“Y-y-y-yes, Carrie, but all I have with me is that long Tee from Express-“Nicole tried but Carrie cut her off.
“Don’t say that fucking word to me, don’t you dare say that fucking name.” She sighed heavily and then snapped her perfectly painted fingers to her Minions, Leigh and Winnie.
“Yes?” They appeared by her side.
“Get me my Kylie Jenner carry-on tote. NOT the purple one. The plaid.” She sighed heavily, as if everything in the Universe was now on her shoulders.
Winnie handed her the tote and Carrie snatched it open as Nicole stood feeling naked as ever in the blasphemous romper.
“No, no, no,” she muttered as she picked through the contents. “Ah! Here!”
She held it up in front of Nicole- the prize, the dress, the Kylie Jenner rhinestone-studded, teal, high-to-low dress in chiffon. It seemed to have a halo around it, as Carrie dangled it in front of Nicole’s tearful eyes.
“Wow,” both of the Minions breathed from behind Carrie.
“You’d…let me wear your Kylie Jenner Teal High-to-Low?” Nicole was flattered. She hadn’t known that Carrie cared.
“For THE DAY, bitch. For the day. Because I don’t want you to walk around in that cheap, unflattering, garbage-bag-of-a-denim-shit-sack that you currently have adorning your body and furthermore…you CAN’T be seen with me in H&M.” She lowered her voice and leaned in close to Nicole’s face so she could literally smell the bubble gum lip gloss. “You will come back here immediately after the last bell and change into whatever frightful combination that you choose to. You will carry this dress- arms outstretched in front of you- to me where I will be waiting to fold it delicately and put it back into this precious tote. Also- this will not happen again. Do you understand me?”
Nicole could only nod as she gingerly took the teal prize and headed for the stall.
Carrie turned back to the mirror and fluffed her long blond hair. She looked at the Minions and rolled her eyes and mouthed, “Fucking moron,” through the reflection.
They both nodded eagerly, of course.
Finally, the lock unhooked from the stall and Nicole pushed the door open to reveal a dress so worthy of perfection that Carrie clasped her hands to her heart and sighed.
“Perfect. It’s perfect! Now you don’t look like such a retard. Kylie herself would be proud.” Carrie nodded her approval and Nicole started for the door.
“Wait, WAIT!” Carrie exclaimed, halting the exit.
Nicole turned, her eyes fearful.
“Where the FUCK is your Kylie Jenner bag?”
Nicole smiled and grabbed it from the bench. “Thank you, Carrie. What was I thinking?”
Carrie gave her a cold stare. “You weren’t.”
Nicole nodded briefly and quickly headed out the door, just as Gina Holton entered.
“Hi, Carrie!” She flashed her beauty pageant smile, ignoring the Minions.
Ignoring the salutation, Carrie said, “What the FUCK, Gina? WHAT are you wearing?”
“Vintage.” Gina looked down at her stylish blue sheath.
“No, no, no…have you not heard of Ms. Kylie Jenner?? It’s time for a makeover darling. Lord help you.”
The Minions looked at each other and took a seat.
K: Well…once we had our concept, it did kind of run in place for a while. Aggression only works in small doses, so this wore thin pretty quickly, as the alpha dog was completely lacking nuance. A bit of humanity goes a long way when you’re writing a villain; this seems cartoonish, even for the silly prompt.
MN – I want to punch something. That’s the effect you were going for, right? Is Kylie Jenner a brand? That seems like it could be a thing. Anyway, this is incredibly inventive, and the use of dialogue is spot on, and this shows instead of tells, and the tone is incredible consistent, but… but something. It’s maybe in need of an edit, or an additional development in the plot, as the second half isn’t nearly as funny as the first half. But it’s still GOLD.
VERY rarely do I love the characters that I create, but I love this badass, vapid, Kylie Jenner-loving bitch so much, I can’t wait to make her into a full-fledged pilot script. This is one of my favorite things I’ve written and yes, of course it could use an edit, but I love it for forty minutes worth of creation time. It is so *now* and also a little vintage 80s dark comedy. I love this psycho.
Anyway, off to the bakery with me! I am going drown my sorrows in donuts and bask in the [still] ninety degree weather. God, I love L.A.
Awwww, shiiiiiiiiiiiiit, you guys! I must confess, I haven’t been updating the blog. But, hey, I’m working on another script and editing a movie. (Well, I’M not editing, but as the director, I have to go through all of the footage. You don’t care.)
Not sure if I told you yet, but the teams have now merged! I love that! I had a wonderful team but it was definitely time to go “every-man-for-himself”. Or woman. Or me, with my cold, merciless heart.
Been reading a lot of weird stuff lately. I’ve also been attending some film screenings with dark, gritty indies. It’s great and so “up my alley”. But that being said, it’s placed my mind-space into a weird place. It’s been reflected in my writing. Also, I think my voice is changing. The judges used to be able to pick out my writing from the start and I am not sure that is the case anymore.
Anyway, nuggets, the format is the same. Below we first have the challenge, then my entry, then the judges comments. I hope I make you proud of me. And if not: Suck. It. This one is called:
Bros Before Hoes, and Other Mistakes.
It was freezing so the bar was packed. Young and old alike, chugging watered-down beer and shots of cheap whiskey out of plastic cups. She elbowed her way from the entrance to a tiny space at the bar.
She shrugged out of her faux purple suede coat and nodded to the bartender. He knew to bring her a Rolling Rock and a chilled shot of Ouzo- her years tending bar at that Greek place on 7th and Broadway got her hooked on that.
The bartender waved away her twenty and then she poured the liquid down her throat. “Hey beautiful,” a voice said into her ear. She didn’t have to turn to know who it was, his aftershave sending off a signal from him like a flare in the road.
“Ready to go?” She asked, and took another swig.
He didn’t have to say anything.
At the motel, he found his spot on the bed. “Undress for me,” he ordered.
This was new. She turned her back to him, a Camel clasped in between her lips as she struggled with her back zipper. “I’m goin’ back to school, I think.”
She announced it like they were friends. Like he gave a shit.
“Last time. You said I should do somethin’. With my life, you know.” She wiggled out of her dress and it sank into a heap onto the motel’s cheap carpet. She took a drag of the cigarette as she turned to face him, vulnerable.
“I did?” His erection went semi-soft.
“Yeah.” Her eyes flitted away from his. She looked down. He had, he mentioned that. She had been on top, she remembered. They had shared a bottle of Prosecco and half a pack of smokes. She had gone down on him, he came in her mouth.
She didn’t know why she felt the need to tell him now.
“Think it’s a good enough idea?” She yanked one tired bra strap back up onto her shoulder, the elastic having gone out years ago. It had the color that showed it was probably white once.
He stared up at the ceiling, Camel in one hand, the other behind his head. The filter to his lips, one drag, the end lit up bright as the morning sun until he released it and inhaled the sweet smoke. He closed his eyes, tried to picture the last porn he watched.
“Aw Lucy…it’s a great idea.” He turned flat brown eyes on her. “Come here.”
The sex was mechanical, unlike their usual sessions. He liked Lucy because she was no bullshit, no games. She didn’t fake orgasms, she got into her job. Maybe she was roughly fifteen pounds overweight, maybe ten years past her prime. But she had done him well for years, like an old bicycle.
“Lucy-luce-luce…” he breathed out with a sigh.
She looked over at him now, next to him on the sagging motel mattress. “What? We only have five minutes left.”
He grabbed her hand. “I like that you’re going to go back to school, Lucy. But I don’t fuck students. I fuck whores.”
K: I’m not sure the payoff was either powerful or surprising enough to really grab me, but I did appreciate the seediness on the way to the story. With more time to edit I can see this being packed with raw drama and a lot of subtext, but even as is, the sweat and grime is palpable, and I felt every dirty inch of this story, from the Ouzo to the faded undergarments. GOLD
MN – There’s a lot of color and character in this story. The stakes feel a little lower than I’d like them to… there’s not a lot of urgency to her going to school, not a loss of her highest paying client that’s noted, or anything like that… but the story itself is a great slice of these characters’ lives, told in a very vivid way. Very believable dialogue, and getting into Lucy’s head is quite interesting. GOLD
GOLDS!! I am not going to lie- I danced around my apartment. The judges are 100% correct on the stakes not being high enough. I felt it whilst writing. But, I’m just happy I came up with ANYTHING in thirty five minutes! It really is a great challenge for the mind. How quickly you can think on your feet. How to pull a story out of thin air and make it something people might want to beg you to write more of. Sometimes it’s crap, sometimes it’s gold. It’s a slot machine of ideas being spit out into the world. I’m just grateful…well, that’s it. I’m grateful. Every time I get to sit down at my computer to pour my black heart out to you guys.
Someone told me once, “The writers you admire? Get everything of theirs and read it all. Those people that you say, ‘Wow, they are amazing writers,’ get all of their shit and read every last word. It will make YOU better.” I’m trying. I admire a lot of people.
I’m craving meatballs. Might have to make a run to my favorite spot later to get them if it ever cools off. DID YOU HEAR THAT, CA??? IF IT EVER COOLS OFF. I’m dying over here and I’m always cold. Like the succubus that I am. 🙂
Until next time, my little Porchetta.
Oh goodness, my little munchkins. Here I am again, another challenge for Spookymilk “Turbo” Survivor having been completed. I have to say, my entry is something that I have actually experienced…felt all of the little nuanced feelings that it possessed. Of course, the characters are false and I embellish the thoughts of our lovely protagonist. But the core of the story is true. Come, feel my pain with me.
The challenge is listed first, my entry, then the judges comments below that. I’ll probably weigh in after, because, let’s face it. I’m adorable.
One or both of the participants in a first date is pretending to like or put up with something that they cannot stand, because otherwise the date is going well.
WORD LIMIT: 350
TIME LIMIT: 30 minutes
He’s cute, I thought, as I watched him run around to open my door. His perfect hair. His eyebrows probably a little too shapely for a straight man. I pushed the thought away. He was cuuuuute.
“M’lady,” he said with a smile that only turned up in one corner. He offered his hand to me and whisked me away like a princess.
In my life I hadn’t been in a restaurant this nice. I was from a small town- the best restaurant was Ma Gormley’s, serving up Tater Tot Hot Dish as the nightly special.
He grinned at me over the top of the menu. “I’ll order for us.” I happily agreed. I couldn’t read a word of it anyway.
As we waited for food that I couldn’t pronounce, I was swept up in his stories. He loosened his tie- boy, did I want that off. I pictured his crisp Tom Ford button-down wrapped around me after an evening of sweaty coitus.
“Enjoy.” I heard the waiter and was pulled out of my fantasy. I looked down at my plate.
Filled with raw fish and what looked like a black kooshball.
He looked at me, proud of his ordering accomplishments. I should have told him that I was mildly allergic…but those eyes, blue pools of promising sex…I picked up my fork, made a silent prayer.
The first cut I made was into a brightly colored flesh- tuna, I think he had declared- but I couldn’t remember now.
I chewed for a long time, as I nodded. Pretended to listen to whatever he was telling me. I knew that I had to swallow. I had to.
But oh god, I couldn’t. My throat caught the now minced, fishy blob and wouldn’t let it go down.
I closed my eyes. It will go down.
As it did, I felt the reflex start, my stomach churned. No. No, please don’t throw up.
Just as it came up, up, up, I swallowed hard and pushed it back down.
“Good, isn’t it?” He slipped a chopstick-full between his lips.
“Mmmmmm, yes! You were saying?”
K: I expected a bigger payoff, but in hindsight I think this is a pretty fair ending. Will her allergies fight her? It would be easy to ask why she didn’t mention her allergy before, but given this girl’s small-town background and will to be this man’s princess, I found it fairly easy to believe she’d just get swept up in all of it. I really liked reading this character; she was given a complete identity without the benefit of many words. SILVER
MN – Even as a fairly routine scene, this works pretty well for me, and a few very funny lines peppered throughout really bring it together. I take some issue with the phrase “mildly allergic” because you’re not cluing the reader into the real problem… I kept thinking her throat was swelling up, but it was just the disgust, really. BRONZE
Once, I liked a guy sooooooo much, that I ate an entire plate of something that made me extremely sick later. But come on…Can you fault me? I adored him! Another time, I was super sick- like, shouldn’t have been out of bed sick- but I wanted to see this guy so much that I pretended like I was able to sit up, converse, laugh…I can’t remember a word of what we talked about. All I pictured was myself lying in a gutter, dying a slow painful death somewhere.
Ah, the things we do for what-we-think is love. But what do we really know? If it was love, then I wouldn’t have to do any of these things. I would be loved enough to know that I don’t have to do anything but be myself. Or so say the After-School Specials on Lifetime.
Don’t worry, kids. I will never make those same mistakes again. But I will continue to write some stories for you. Stay tuned. Next challenge is due Tuesday. Until then, my spicy beef rendang. I heart you. But only with my black heart.
Happy Labor Day, friends! For me, this day will not be complete until I have a big, fat burger slathered in mayo, ketchup, and love, grilled to perfection by some handsomely chiseled friend-of-a friend, who I’ll never quite remember his name, but I’ll remember that he kept giving me beer and he made a mean burger.
It’s still summer over here, in the land of The Seasons that Never Change, so wear white I will today! I might even say, “Fuck the whole system!” and wear it tomorrow too. We will see how the tide takes me. I’m a rebel. What can I say.
Enough about me and my life-suck of nothingness, let’s get to the latest challenge, shall we? I don’t even know where I left off, of course. I’m not very good at letting you in on the competition. Do you care? Probably not.
Let’s move on.
The latest challenge was “Trial at the Gateway”. As usual, the challenge requirements are first, my entry is next, then Judge’s comments. I’m going to write this AND eat my vodka/Kahlua cupcakes at 10:17 a.m. on this fine holiday. Happy reading!
Trial at the Gateway.
These hands are not my hands. They must be, they look like mine, but I can’t really feel. I was looking down on them- the scar was still close to my right thumb. The scar that I had gotten falling off of my brother’s bike.
Must have been five, six years old.
The scars, the lines, the memories. They were all there. But I wasn’t. I was dead.
I saw her face so clearly as if she were standing in front of me- the smattering of freckles across her slightly crooked nose. The long, blond mess cascading down onto her shoulders.
She was laughing, like she would when we were together. And she was beautiful, like she was when we were young.
I reached out. I wanted to touch her.
“You have to be processed,” she said. I blinked in disbelief, my hand just short of resting on her shoulder. I left it suspended in air.
“Wh-what?” I stammered. I hadn’t spoken to her in fifteen years.
“You have to be processed, honey.” Then she laughed again. “You’re such a dodo bird!” The blond hair flipped, like she used to.
My arm, still suspended.
“What, you shit…you thought my bedside was the last time you were going to see me? You’re not that lucky,” she winked at me and I blinked again, not believing her hazel eyes were in my line of sight.
She grabbed my outstretched hand and held it, just like the time we walked Jeffrey to the bus stop on his first day of kindergarten. She had known I wanted to cry. She grabbed my hand and squeezed, as tears welled up, making something churn in my stomach. Something I’ve never forgotten.
“You have to be processed,” she said, again. “Before you can come in.” At this, she looked serious. A mixture of her face new and old together. Her sad, pained cancer face. Her young, fresh, wedding day face. They seemed to be one.
I understood. I was not a good man. I had to be processed.
I followed her to the line where The Others were also waiting. She turned suddenly and grabbed the sides of my face, holding it close to her own. “I loved you,” she whispered so softly, yet it rang in my ears as if she were yelling, and then I was first, I was in front of The Judge and I was being processed.
It was as if all of the things that I had ever done flew before my eyes- colored grey from all of the pain I’d seen. But even still, this woman loved me. Seen the horror I had built and loved just the same.
The Judge spoke as if all of the sadness of the World Below was on his shoulders. His words made sense, but they certainly weren’t in my native tongue.
All of a sudden, I wanted nothing more than to be past The Gate. The yearning overtook me and I found myself wishing I could take it all back; everything I had ever done. But it’s always too late, isn’t it? Once it’s done, it’s…done.
I looked again at my hands, or what I thought were my hands. I had once felt fresh blood on them. Yet, also the soft skin of her cheek. I felt those sensations simultaneously as I looked down at my hands.
The Judge nodded. He understood. Trial over.
The Gate opened slowly. She was standing just beyond the entrance, hands clasped together at her pouty mouth. Her eyes smiling.
“You dodo bird,” she mouthed.
K: F(*&in’ right. Characters, exposition that allows for a callback that brings a tear to the eye, and an outcome that is seriously in doubt – you made all the right decisions along the way, and this story is a treasure for it. GOLD
MN – This is a really moving trip through the final judgment. It’s not exactly a new take on it, but the way you’ve made it so the narrator doesn’t go through it alone was a really smart choice – we’ve got reason to root for him because she roots for him. It could use a little more action from the narrator – everything is him being acted upon – but it’s really heavy and sad and beautiful. BRONZE
The Beast was present this week. I hope one day, if I am ever part of a writer’s team on a series, The Beast comes out to play. Because without him, I am a pile of steaming words with no direction.
If I ever get to write for a living, I am going to sit in my “writing house” that I will have in Santa Barbara, drink coffee and look out at vineyards across the way. I’ll be crazy and the only person that I will talk to will be the Beast. But it will be fucking amazing. I’ll send Kelly Wells stories every week. He will send back paragraphs like, “We haven’t had Survivor going for decades, Shawn. Are you taking your meds?” And other shenanigans. I can’t wait.
For now, I will write with sounds of the 405 as underscoring and the only vineyard I’m overlooking is the smattering of dying plants that my 72 year old neighbor has adorning her patio. But I’m still talking to the Beast. And I’m still drinking coffee. Happy Holidays, my wonderful, delightful pugliese. Remember why you get up in the morning.
You never know what is going to come out when you sit down to do a challenge and hit the timer. At least I don’t, anyway.
The challenge and requirements are listed below, then my submission, and following that, the Judge’s comments. Peruse at your own risk.
The Last to Know.
Each stroke was genius, each face with perfectly lined lips. Eyelashes curled around the edge of a perfectly painted eye.
He held his breath as he leaned over her, carefully drawing the flints of light into her auburn hair.
Maggie, he thought. Maggie was a good name.
He knew a Maggie once. With her breath that faintly smelled like pickles. She had pawed at him at the bar until he bought her a White Zinfandel and then fucked her in the back alley next to the rotting dumpster.
“Will I see you again?” She breathed at him as she struggled to find the legs of her panties. He never should have taken them off, he remembered thinking.
He suddenly wanted a burger.
“Yeah, sure, whatever. When I’m in town next.” He took a swig of the bourbon bottle the bartender had slipped him as he sauntered back inside.
So Maggie it was. She had been eager. He liked that.
He had had a great show that night, played a couple new songs. Audience went wild.
He propped the doll up in front of him, to see her in his work lamp light.
The door flew open- light poured in. “Yo, Frank, man, I’ve been calling and calling you…what the…” Jones- Frank’s manager- stopped in mid-sentence as he scanned the room.
There had to be a hundred hand painted dolls lining the room. There were so many that the shelves could no longer hold them. Blank eyes caught the light as they looked up at him from the floor. So many eyes.
“What’s going on, man? You ok?” Jones finally tore his eyes from the dolls to Frank.
He hovered over Maggie, paintbrush working his magic.
“I’ve really never been better, Jones.”
Jones sucked in his breath. Maybe he was joking. “Uh…you playing tonight?”
Frank didn’t look up. “Troubadour.”
Jones nodded. “Good, good.” He hesitated. “We really need you to start getting back out there.”
Frank chuckled under his breath. “I have a packed show tonight, man. What more do you want?”
He took one more look around, then Jones headed for the door. “Ok, Frank…ok.” He was almost outside when he stopped. “You’d tell me if everything was alright?”
“This is Maggie,” he said, ignoring Jones’ last statement. “She’s new with us tonight.” He brushed down the crinoline of her white dress.
Jones quietly shut the door behind him.
Frank walked out on stage, lights blinding. He stumbled a bit, from the scotch, but he managed to pick up the mic.
“Welcome, everybody. It’s good to see all of you again.” He started to play one of his most popular songs.
Jones took a swig of his beer at his place at the bar. He looked past the two other people in the place to see Frank, lost in his mind, lost in his song.
“I’ll have another.”
K: Is the segment after the break necessary? I think we’ve all got it pretty well figured out by then. Regardless, this one really did take the prompt to a different level, with a lead character who is completely lost and depressing, but not wholly impossible to believe. SILVER
MN – Man, this is excellent. I wasn’t sure the last scene was needed at first, but without it, I kind of imagined him playing to his dolls, and that wouldn’t have been nearly so poignant as what you actually gave us. The words “his manager” could have been cut, especially because you really did show us that relationship as it developed, and telling us broke the flow, ever so slightly. That’s such a tiny little thing though, as this was simply amazing. Just wow. GOLD
Chuck Palahnuik always says, “Never leave your characters alone.” I agree with that, and yet, I most often write about sad, lonely, pathetic characters. So Frank couldn’t be alone. Who is going to keep him company? Maggie. Both the doll and the memory. Then, Jones. I picture Jones as this very small man, probably in a leather jacket that reeks of years in cigarette-laden bars (remember when you could smoke in them?) but he is a relatively kind dude, deep down. Watching Frank live in this world of his own creation frightens him a bit, that’s why he goes to the Troubadour to watch him play. He sits in the back, with the bartender, to watch his friend’s demise and knowing all along that he isn’t that surprised.
So there you have it. I’m so happy to medal this week! I felt it- the thing inside me that writes for me sometimes, The Beast, let’s call him. The Beast wrote Swiftfoot a couple of weeks ago. He half wrote this one. I was one-foot-in-one-foot-out with this one and I believe that if I tweaked this one a little more, it could have been great. I’ll work on it.
My mood feels dark today, people. The weather has cooled off, thank goodness, so I’m no longer sweating buckets, but I am still feeling the dark. Maybe I should ride it out, write something new.
Thanks for reading this latest challenge, my cute Laksa leaves. Until later.
I guess my future in writing Mystery books is all shot to hell. That’s ok, I still have my health and dignity. Or, one out of the two ain’t bad.
The Challenge (directly from Spookymilk Survivor):
For this challenge, you’re writing the opening of a mystery novel. This by no means should be a complete story – it should be a hook that makes us want to read the complete story. It doesn’t have to include the crime that will be solved, but if it doesn’t, then it should give some indication of where things are headed.
Below is my my submission, then the judges comments, then I usually follow-up with some witty repartee. Read on.
Thirteen railroad cars.
He ran; muscles pumping, sweat clinging to every pore. He clasped the rail of the last one and hoisted himself up.
The stench hit him immediately; the body just barely visible among the cargo. A man he’d never seen before stepped from the shadows.
K: The second half of the sentence with a semicolon would be a sentence fragment. I foresee an action story here more than a mystery, and the subtle change in genre from the stories before it feels jarring, although I suppose I want to know more about the man from the shadows.
MN – I was about to say “you needed to give this character a name” and then you did. Well done. I’m not convinced that semicolon works, but I’ll let Kelly comment on that. Even if it does technically, there might have been better choices. Hey, nitpicky Matt is back tonight! While he’s here, he’ll point out that clasping a “rail” in a setting involving railroads probably implies the thing on the ground, but I really wasn’t thrown off by that, just picked it up on second read. GOLD
DAMN THAT SEMICOLON! Semicolons always bringing me down. If the world exploded, the last thing on Earth would be cockroaches and semicolons, messing up everything.
Alright, alright, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I suppose it IS a writing competition, after all. At least Matt forgave my poor punctuation situation and gave me a gold. And I can cross-genre, Kelly Wells. Action and Mystery together can good movies make! Or stories. Or stories that turn into movies. Anyway, I will write that story and then we can decide. Or, I’ll just have Dr. Wreisner ghostwrite for me and use a slew of properly placed semicolons. 😉
Until next week, my darling lap cheong(s).
Is it hot as balls where you guys are?? I’m sweating my balls off over here in California. Well, I would be if I had balls. I’d like to think that if I had balls, they would be large, swinging, Elephantiasis-of-the-balls type of balls. And maybe not so sweaty. They’d be cute balls. Only huge.
Anyway, that’s a little off-topic, me having balls. Or non-sweaty ones. Regardless, I still have a challenge to post from last week. I struggled a bit with concept here, and I believe that had I been able to get where I wanted to go in my head- I would have gotten medals from the judges. But, in “My Big Girl Shoes” fashion, execution was my downfall. Take a read.
Challenge is listed first, then my submission, then judges comments. You know, the usual.
Challenge Two: We’ll Make Something Up.
You are writing the story of the first time two future lovers meet. However, the story is so dark or awkward or seedy that if asked in the future, the couple is likely to tell a lie about the first time they met.
Word Limit: 250
Time Limit: 30 minutes
Tuesday. A normal Tuesday.
Cigarette smoke wafted in front of her; she brushed it away without thought.
Her yellow eyes narrowed towards the road, she just barely made out the bus as the haze from the heat blurred the colorful lines together. Blue. Maybe blue.
One hand clutched her apron to keep her pens from falling out. The other brought the cigarette to her lips. She hoped she wouldn’t be late, yet, she usually was.
She flicked the butt into the dirt and crushed it, just as the bus came to a stop with an exaggerated sigh. She got onto the full bus and wedged in next to the guy with headphones in.
Her nostrils took in Tide and aftershave, despite this heat. Her eyes closed for a moment, letting her mind go. She inched closer to him and found the back of her hand rest next to his thigh.
Both of them didn’t react to it.
She didn’t move it. Her eyes flicked down to the hand.
She leaned into him.
Earbuds still in. He looked lost in his own world.
She leaned a little more and slowly turned her palm to let it fully rest on him. Her eyes lifted slowly up into his.
He looked at her.
The bus came to a stop- neither of theirs- and she slightly nodded to him.
As they silently walked towards the 76 Station’s back bathroom, she knew for sure that she was going to be late.
K: Is this an embarrassing first meeting? It doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe that’s because I totally would have done this back in my youth. There’s some wording that could use some work here. “Both of them didn’t react to it” just needs one quick edit, so I suggest going back to make things read more conversationally, as a general rule.
MN – This did a great job setting the scene through sensory cues.
So there you have it. My teammates pulled through for us this week, so I gratefully didn’t have to face the chopping block. Tonight has another challenge due and I will post it later this week. Happy Sunday! I’m off to pick through the Farmers Market and see what the drought out here has left us with.
Happy Monday, friends! Another challenge has come and gone this past weekend. I missed you crazy kids.
As usual, the challenge is described, then my submission, then judges comments below that. Thanks for reading!
Your lead character has an overgrown or undergrown (internal or external) body part. Even if he or she does a good job of dealing with the abnormality, it comes into play for the purposes of this story.
TIME LIMIT: 25 Minutes
WORD LIMIT: 200
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Swift Foot, the horse with the black spot above its left eye. But these people didn’t see it; the glimmer in her eye. The maliciousness hidden in obscurity. Everyone bet on Princess. She was the fastest.
It made sense.
Me, I cleaned the stables. Have since I was a boy. Pop never thought it was a good idea to put me out front where people could see. Said I didn’t look the part. That’s why Chip was the face of the family, with his blond hair and freckles.
I was sick, or so Pop said. My heart was too big for my body, said he, and one day it would just grow right on out of my chest.
My Gramma said it was a metaphor or somethin’ like that. For who I was. How I took care of the horses.
I placed my hand on Swift Foot’s neck and whispered to her that today was the day.
I wouldn’t see her win that day. The last thing I ever saw was the beautiful black spot above her eye as I fell to the stable floor. My heart, finally, too full.
K: See, there’s a strong ending. In a very short space, we have a character with real emotions and struggles who found a sort of love in his life despite it all. The story smartly avoids the trap of trying to do too much in too little time, and stands tall as a result. GOLD
MN – I didn’t see it coming, and it packed an impact. The line with the Gramma gave us something to the character that hadn’t quite been there with the rest of it all. GOLD
YAY for double golds this week! I actually had eight minutes to spare after editing this one this week. I feel like the story wrote itself, in a weird way. I just started writing and this is what came out.
I have a fantastic team! Excited to play with them, although I have no clue why our team name is what it is. Frankly, I could care less. 😀 Here’s to (hopefully) another fun, creepy season!