Monthly Archives: September 2012

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #16: Goodbye

This is the last of the regular season Play with the Prose challenges, and appropriately, it’s to write a story about a goodbye in 300 words or fewer.

The last of the 127 scientists and their families had evacuated the research base and entered the austere star cruiser as the dispassionate, disembodied voice of AnTON, the base sentinel, intoned, “Eleven minutes until impact. All personnel have been accounted for and are on board.” Captain Sharperson closed the airlock to the Segel Glätten behind her, her young daughter Saffre’s hand held tightly in her own.

The approaching coronal mass ejection from the star Gliese 33, a bloated red giant, was more massive than anything they’d predicted. Not only was its radiation far greater than a human could survive, but the stream of electrons and protons would irreplaceably damage any electronics in its path — a path that included Advanced Research Outpost Tau/Omicron.

The pilot was already completing his flight preparations as the captain entered the control room, pointing her daughter to one of the strap-down seats along the back. “Captain, we’re flight-ready, but AnTON isn’t cutting us loose!”

Eight minutes to impact. Evacuation procedure three-alpha completed.

The captain ran her fingers through her hair. “Then why are we still docked, AnTON? We need to go NOW!”

I am still awaiting verbal settlement.

The captain glanced over at the pilot, who shrugged his shoulders and gestured frantically at the ship chronometer. Captain Sharperson stared furiously at the control panel. “What settlement? For God’s sake, AnTON, our procedures are complete – launch the Segel Glätten!” Only silence answered her. “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, AnTON?!”

Saffre came up from behind the captain and held her tightly around the leg. Trembling, she whispered, “Goodbye, AnTON.”

At that moment, a tremor shook the Segel Glätten as the release locks opened up, and the base’s autopilot slowly spun the star cruiser around and into an escape vector.

Did I go out with a bang, or a whimper? RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: Although AnTON is just an artificial intelligence, this story is loaded with suspense and humanity. It’s a high concept that could be unintentionally comical if told with less care, but I found myself well engaged with this one. In the past few years I’ve finally become something of a sci-fi fan, and I think it’s related to the solid genre stories I get here. GOLD

P: What does AnTON stand for (other than “cheap way for Pete to like your submission”… it was only last week I professed my approval of the name). I didn’t entirely feel the tension that I maybe should have with the imminent destruction of the vessel, but the denouement (The AI just wants to be acknowledged) was very nice. SILVER

The end of the regular season: STANDINGS
I can’t be upset with a solid fourth place, good enough to reach the playoffs. I’m particularly pleased that only once didn’t I medal, something that only New Guy, the top place finisher, and I accomplished.

What’s next? Post season, baby! Now we get to separate the men from the…well, me. Time to get writing!


Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #15: Missing The Action

We had a week to work on the latest Play with the Prose challenge, so there are no excuses it’s bound to be good one week has passed. This challenge was to write a 300-word or fewer story about a character that is just away from the action.

“I may not be the sharpest blade in the razor, but I had no problem getting a security clearance here, and in this economy, a job’s a job, right? Okay trainee, just tag along with me while we walk the mail cart…

“The left door is Dr. Teliknisharma’s lab. Lots of weird stuff goes on in there. Hold it open, will you? Thanks. Looks like the doctor and staff are working in the sealed room, where the bright blue glow is behind those windows. Look, all the staff in there is jumping and waving at us — hey, how’s it goin’? – no time to visit, though…

“This next lab gives me the creeps. Dr. Spencer is pretty cool, but he works with dangerous insects and stuff, so I don’t hang out here very long. Get the door again, will you? HEY DR. SPE…oh, shhhh! He’s sleeping over there on the floor! Just lay his mail on his desk and we’ll let him sleep. He puts in some crazy long hours.

“Dr. Cortez and Dr. Helvetica work over here. They do some pretty funky stuff with lasers and things, I guess. We have to put on these goggles before we go in, but careful, it’s hard as heck to see with these things on. Hey, thanks for getting the door! MAN, I CAN HARDLY HEAR OVER THE MACHINERY AND THE SHOUTING! HAND ME THAT STACK ON THE TOP AND LET’S GET BACK OUTSIDE AGAIN! Whew — they must be running another safety drill in there or something.

“We tend to learn a lot of new names; there’s a lot of turnover here — did that sound like an explosion to you? — and often we have to learn different routes, too.”


The judges’ comments:
K: The joke comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome, but I smiled throughout. I liked the choice of using a tour guide and had fun imagining the new hire…is he clueless, or horrified? Funny either way. GOLD

P: I should be rolling my eyes at the gag, but I laughed at just about every one. The oblivious security guard is such a trope that it’s not even funny…. only it obviously still is. BRONZE

Sitting pretty: STANDINGS

  • I wanted to write this as a one-sided discussion, much like Eric Idle’s French waiter in The Meaning of Life (NSFW). Dialog chews up word count fast, though.
  • Difficult to get across in 300 words how inept the “advanced” researchers are and how clueless our main character (“Nick”) is. Still, nothing too earth-shattering with this story, just some good fun.

With the next challenge, it’s time to say goodbye…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #14: Formerly An Animal

The challenge was to write a story about a character who used to be an animal, in 200 words or fewer. I took that to its extreme and decided on the 59-word limit, as an exercise.

I Sit

   I sit, unmoving, in the front hallway, glass eyes staring out of a body stretched over a wire and foam core, my mouth stitched closed and unable to warn of noises and intruders.
   How could they do this? I wish they could hear my whimpers. I thought they loved me! I itch all over. Oh God, how I itch!

Do I get away with it? RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: Wow, did I really not say that the character has to be human now? It would seem not, so “former animal” is fair game here. This is a little slice of Alfred Hitchcock or something, right here. SILVER

P: 59, eh? I thought as much the first time I read it. WHat this one lacks on the “spirit of the law” side of things, it certainly makes up in the “letter of the law” department”. Saying that is kind of shortchanging the story itself, though. It’s the old “no mouth, must scream” business. Awful stuff. Nicely done. SILVER

Where’s Waldo? STANDINGS

  • Yeah, the challenge probably intended the lead character to be human, but that’s not what the challenge specifically said. It’s nice that we’re given (some) leeway to stretch the limits a bit.
  • I came up with this idea rather early, but I didn’t have much meat to it, so I decided to distill it to its essence by making it a Fiction 59 format, which is much better suited to its dark theme.

Next week, a challenge that doesn’t quite hit the mark…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #13: In A Restaurant

This was a challenge that almost didn’t get submitted by the deadline. We were tasked with writing a story that took place in a restaurant (300 words or fewer).

Private Kohassek strolled into the dining hall, loaded up a tray of…stew? (it smelled good, at least) and sauntered over to a solitary spot at one of the vacant tables. As usual, he only had a short time to eat chow and get back to his security detail. While he ate, his eyes wandered around the large room, and they rested on a solder two tables up from him. The soldier’s uniform had begun taking on a glowing, sparkling sheen. The camo took on prismatic, multicolored hues, shifting back and forth through the visual spectrum. Kohassek jumped when they exploded into a shower of beautiful sparks.

Across the hall, Specialist Hassler had halted mid-bite (“What the hell??”) admiring the golden stalactites emerging from the ceiling. He slowly put down his utensils and climbed up onto the table, groping for the just-out-of-reach glittering treasure. He then began the futile effort of stacking the unstackable chairs to gain the necessary height.

Meanwhile, PFC Kochanski had risen slowly from her seat, transfixed by the stream of marching silver praying mantises which were spreading from the table onto the floor around it. She jerked as she bumped into Private Stodgers behind her, who was avoiding stepping into the small bottomless cavities which had appeared between the floor tiles. They then both noticed that all sorts of unusual activity had broken out around them.

After making his grand entrance, the sight in front Staff Sergeant Yaro caused him to stop short, wide-eyed and slack jawed. After quickly surveying the large room, he bellowed, “JUDAS PRIEST ON A PONY, GET ME A MEDIC, PRONTO!” at the nearest soldier, then crashed through the kitchen door like a crazed bull. “DAMMIT COOKIE! YOU’VE BEEN PICKING YOUR OWN MUSHROOMS AGAIN, HAVEN’T YOU?!”

King of Bronze — RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: I saw the drug angle coming within a handful of words, but it was still a lot of fun, given the writer’s commitment to calmly explaining the impossible scene. A more subtle ending, to fit with the tone, probably would’ve been funnier, but it’s nitpick week here at CdL so whatever. The use of “Kochanski” is a nod to Red Dwarf, right? BRONZE

P: Ah, mushrooms, is there any dull situation they can’t liven up? I’ve got a soft spot for the imagery of the hallucinogenically inclined, and this doesn’t disappoint. The gag at the end is basically just a confirmation of what the reader is already thinking, but it’s funny, anyway BRONZE

Ladies and gentlemen, your STANDINGS

  • I had warned Spooks that it would be dicey getting my submission in, since I was in Omaha for the last two days. I finished this off at the Omaha airport but didn’t get it sent as I had lost my internet connection and the lines were queuing before I had gotten it reestablished. When we landed in St. Louis, we sat outside the gate for an extra 25 minutes waiting for the plane in front of us to leave. When the shuttle finally dropped me off, I had less than a half hour to get home, so I had the laptop powered up beforehand so that I could make a final run-through and email it with three minutes to spare.
  • Yes, Private First Class Kochanski is a nod to Red Dwarf.

Now’s a good time to begin thinking more animalistically…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #12: Choosing A Leader

The challenges keep on coming! The latest: in 200 or fewer words, write a story about a group selecting their next leader. My submission:

“Everyone, let’s calm down! We had a good thing going with that last one, but sometimes a subject will wake up early, right?” The gathering of ethereal creatures mumbled their agreement. “Well, it’s time to move on. We’ve had three apply for our next subject’s dream, and if you’ll allow me, since I’m presiding tonight, I’d like to weigh in here.” The crowd again murmured assent.

“Adrienna, as much as we all love your work …” (several cheers and a wolf whistle) “…this subject has not had anything to drink this evening, she hasn’t been reading her romance novels or been dating lately, and frankly your speciality might be a little out of context. Circe, you’ve been rather busy the past several nights, so therefore I personally am leaning towards Pasiphaë this time.”

Circe, floating over on the speaker’s left, gave a slight nod of her head. “Are we all okay with Pasiphaë handling this one?” The speaker was greeted with glowing auras and vocal approval. “Great! Take over, Pasiphaë.”

“Alright everyone – we’ll need a lush Asian jungle. It’s going to have a multi-level subterranean train station…”

More bling — RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: Ooh, a dream team. That’s a groovy idea, and one I’d read for a lot more than 200 words. The story never reaches for a heightened stakes, which is alright in this setting, but I wonder how that’ll affect its final position. BRONZE

P: I love the concept. The idea of muse-like beings getting together to mess around with the dreams of the subject is all kinds of fun, as is the description of the different specialties. I love the vague possibilities of Pasiphaë’s contruction. The prose itself is a smidge awkward at times, but I’m still a fan. SILVER

The current STANDINGS

  • I didn’t really have a good idea for this one until I woke up the morning this was due. Yes, I did have a dream set in a jungle in India that involved a train station below ground with lots of long stairways.

Time to find a fine eating establishment now…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #11: Blind

Can I build on the strong showing of the last Play with the Prose submission? Well, let’s find out! The eleventh challenge is to write a story in which the main character is blind, in 300 words or fewer.

I thought I could imagine a cloud, or something
Neck craned back so that the muscles hurt
No more than a cotton puff escaped from a medicine chest
And I can’t see the sun today.

Waves crash like a large, languid metronome
Hot sand has me groping and stumbling on tiptoes
Along with other midnight cat burglars
On their beach vacations
Claiming their towel-sized eminent domain

Breeze and heat play a silent tug-of-war
My shirt stays on, but open
Sea birds dart about in the dark like bats along a tree line
Or like men on stilts striding amidst the salty spray
Behind an inky stage curtain

A cotton ball cloud blows steadily towards the horizon
But I can’t see the sun today

I picture my plot of sand among fields of bikini beauties
Charles Atlas on standby
Waiting for the inevitably kicked sand
While children wade the surf gathering captivating shells

Digging deep below the coarse surface, I find China is a cool, damp place
Particles between my nails
And on greasy arms smelling like coconut and piña colada
Unable to shield flying sand from a nearby Frisbee crash-landing
(I think)

I still can’t see the sun today
Hidden in broad daylight behind the brim of my hat
And layers of blackness
In a cloud-free sky

Went for the unorthodox with this one — how did it fare? RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: I have railed on many entries that attempted poetry in this game, but this sure ain’t gonna be one of them. This has undeniable emotion and achieves its goal in a way that so many others in this site’s history have failed to do. The imagery is smart, the theme is catchy and even tosses in a Charles Atlas gag that doesn’t rip the reader out of the dramatic setting. GOLD

P: The unexpected continues. Damned if I don’t really like the poetry to this. The mental imagery lets me in on the poet’s world, and it’s beautiful in a sad sort of way the whole way through. BRONZE

Okay then! Here are the STANDINGS

  • I was 2/3 into an uninspired space combat story (think the troop landing in Aliens 2) and wasn’t sure where/how to end it, when Spooky’s reminder email hinted that he was expecting fairly similar stories. That was just the spur I needed to shift direction.
  • I’ve always wanted to try some free verse poetry, and I used “[In Just]” by e.e. cummings, and more specifically the song “This is How Men Cry” by Marc Jordan.

Next challenge, we’ll see who the new leader is…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #10: Defining Moment In Life

Before jumping into challenge #10, thought I’d mention that I won another of the Twins’ radio trivia questions during Friday night’s game by emailing in the correct answer. Considering that I first mailed in the wrong answer, and then took quite a while to send in the right one, I was surprised to have won this one.
Q: In which year did the Twins send the most players to the All-Star game, and who were they?
I first answered 1987, knowing the Twins sent a slew then (5), but discovering that they’d sent five at least one other time, I considered going back farther in time, when there were fewer teams. Bingo!
A: 1965 – Grant, Battey, Killebrew, Versalles, Hall, Oliva

Now that the medal streak is over, it’s time to get back up on that horse! Play with the Prose challenge #10: write about a person at the end of his/her life reflecting on their defining moment. Oh yeah?!

“Truth or dare!” said Horace from his wheelchair.

Stan looked up from his tray of food and replied, “Er, truth?”

“What was your biggest contribution in life?” Horace asked, an impish smile on his wrinkled visage.

“Hmmm…I wrote the lyrics to ‘In the Air Tonight’.”

Horace gaped for a couple seconds, and then burst in a spasm of chuckling. “Sorry, friend, I’m calling horse droppings on that!”

“No, really, I just wrote the chorus.”

“What, ‘I can feel it comin’ in the air tonight, oh lord’ repeated several dozen times?!”

Stan could no longer keep a grin from splitting his gray-trimmed face. He drank in Horace’s laughter and the scene in the assisted living cafeteria where they sat. In a moment of introspection, Stan uttered, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Horace put down his fork and wiped a laugh-tear from his eye. “You’re getting very zen on me, old man. Did I touch a nerve?”

Standing up and taking a moment to straighten his creaky knees, Stan looked down at Horace and winked. “If you can stage a good diversion, I think I can procure us each another slice of apple pie!”

I avoided the defining moment a bit here…did it work? RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: Okay, the entire idea of this story is hilarious. It’s the saddest, most pathetic “biggest contribution to society” that someone could possibly manage, and yet Stan is perfectly content with the life he’s lived and he’s going to die happy. This joke didn’t ruin itself by getting too broad, and it easily could have. Tons of fun. SILVER

P: I like these old guys. They’re well written characters that feel rounded and real. It doesn’t even matter if Stan actually wrote the words to the song. The switch to the impending apple pie caper suggests that there’s a bit of life left to these two. I’m glad to hear it. GOLD

Nice recovery from last week! STANDINGS

  • This one came to me on Saturday while Mo and I sat eating at Jimmy Johns. I could tell the 5-6 workers were getting into “In the Air Tonight” playing overhead (it surprised me, as I thought they were too young to know that song well), and had to chuckle when they got into the drum break near the end.
  • Did I side-step the challenge with this one? Probably. Still, I don’t feel that a life necessarily has a defining moment — it IS a defining moment. And it gave me a way to show an interchange with a couple oldsters that consciously decide to leave the grumpiness to others. Hopefully that’s me some day far in the future.

Well, we’ll have to “see” what happens with the next challenge…

Spookymilk Play With The Prose — Challenge #9: First Taste of Power

Definitely the most difficult Play with the Prose challenge to date: in 300 words or fewer write a story about a person’s or group’s first taste of power. After shaking off several uninspiring ideas, I put fingers to keyboard at the 11th hour and typed out this simple tale:

For the first time that he could remember in his short life, Cody felt flush with the full attention of his family on him, waiting on his every word. It was HIS turn. His father, who was keeping an eye on the ice-trimmed road ahead of him as he drove them onward towards Florida, cocked his head in order to catch what Cody was about to utter. Sisters Shelly and Marilynn sat squirmily in their car seats on either side of him, waiting for the 20 minutes to be up so they could return to their Tinkerbell movies. Brother Jeff slouched in the van’s back seat among the baggage, impatiently holding his AT-AT walker between bouts of battles with The Empire. Even mom had put down her Sudoku pencil in careful anticipation. Cody glowed under his family’s focus, drinking it in.

It was Jeff of course who broke the silence. “Come ON already!”

“Jeff, be nice,” scolded Cody’s mom. She turned to Cody’s middle seat between his sisters and put her hand on his knee. “Whenever you’re ready, Cody.”

Suddenly Cody felt nervous, and his gaze went out the window. “Uh…” The methodical bumps of the van over the expansion joints in the highway didn’t help his concentration. “Er…” His glance wandered more, and suddenly he realized he was ready.

“I spy wiff my eye something…WHITE!”

The aftermath: RESULTS

The judges’ comments:
K: Cute, again. I suspected he was choosing the restaurant, but this got us to the same end. It also is, in its way, the most honest story of the lot, as this kind of situation at this age is probably the first taste of power for most people (albeit on a very small level). I’m not sure how this small story will stack up against the rest in the end – this is proving to be a very strong week. BRONZE

P: Heh, this season has certainly held a lot of “gotcha! It’s a kid!” stories. To be fair, this one doesn’t really try to hide that fact too much. Beyond that, I do get a chuckle out of the fact that Cody has been the opportunity of his life, and he wastes it on “spying” something snowy.

THE MEDAL STREAK IS OVER! Well, I’m not at all surprised. STANDINGS

  • We jokingly play this type of “I spy” on road trips, where we’ll name a color of something where there is only one obvious answer. Good for at least one chuckle.
  • I tossed around someone at a pharmaceutical meeting where a vote is being taken for a drug to go to human testing and lots of other so-so ideas, but didn’t have the gumption to tackle any of them.

Time now to reflect on the defining moment of someone’s life…