Category Archives: X

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #16: Afterlife

All good things come to an end…

The challenge for this week: write a story up to 1000 words solely about the afterlife. It’s just that easy. Ha!

Another difficult challenge. Here’s what I ended up with:

The sudden brightness was vertiginous. Edison Carter flung his arms out and braced his footing, feet spread. He took deep breaths and looked around, desperate for something, anything, to provide him with a frame of reference. And in an instant, a tall wall with an ornate metal gateway materialized in front of him, along with an elderly man standing behind an equally ornate white podium.

The man, strands of his longish white hair caught by a light breeze, stared at him with a smile on his face, leaning forward to rest his elbows upon the top of the podium. “Er, Peter?” asked Edison hesitantly after a couple minutes of awe and confusion.

“Peter” looked around, inspecting his surroundings. “Interesting. And also fairly cliché. So Edison, let me guess — did you walk into the light?”

“I don’t remember anything, but yeah, I suppose I might have. Am I dead?”

A slight frown came to “Peter’s” face. “Yes. Well, no, your body is dead. This construct you see is all your creation – including me. Not all that imaginative, really.”

“Are you saying I can just summon up anything with my mind? Wait, do I even have a mind anymore?”

“Peter” smiled again, and with a twinkle in his eyes, nodded. And Edison returned his smile.

Suddenly Edison shot skyward, large white wings sprouting from his back and catching the wind, sending him horizontally across an extensive grassy plain. Tears came to his eyes, partly from the blast of air, but mostly from the shear joy in his heart.

As he rose higher into the atmosphere, he found himself among heaps of cumulous clouds, and he was surprised to find himself soaring with others, spread out at various distances and travelling in all directions. A young girl sailed diagonally down towards him, passed overhead, and then crossed below him on his right before coming out of the barrel roll at his left side. She flew along side him for several minutes, mirroring his movements, and he believed he could hear her giggle from time to time.

After a while, she joined a couple of others flying ahead and to his left, but instead of joining them, Edison chose to glide alone, ever so slowly rolling and descending to the wooded land below.

Edison alit in a clearing along the edge of a small lake. Frogs chirruped quietly along the shoreline, and the smell of pine was so invigorating that he had to turn and admire the trees which stood behind him. He noticed a narrow dirt path between the fern and milkweed, leading to a small dock protruding through the cat tails and tall grass. He also became aware of a well-worn wood bench under a clump birch and facing the lake.

Walking over to the bench, he looked out over the lake to the opposite shore, then noticing the dragonflies lightly touching the water and leaving small circular ripples. He became transfixed by the reflected setting sun and became alert again with the snapping of a striped bass at one of the less careful dragonflies.

Edison sat down on the bench, and after a moment leaned back and closed his eyes. A loon ululated its haunting melody in the distance, and the sun’s fading rays gave warmth to his upturned face.

“Now THIS is commendable,” said “Peter” as he walked down from the path. Edison kept his eyes shut, and the loon rewarded him with a variation of its earlier call.

“You know,” replied Edison , “I never pictured a hereafter like this. As a matter of fact, I never really considered that there was an afterlife at all, now that I think about…”

Took me most of the week to get an idea of what I wanted to write. Edison Carter? Yeah, that would be Max Headroom, for lack of a better name at the time.

Even if I had scored a 5/5 max score it couldn’t have saved Team SPOILER ALERT! from the ax. RESULTS. The judges’ commentary:

K: Uh-oh! Funny ending, although this definitely could have used a quick proofread. I like this idea plenty, but with other afterlife rules being so clear and strong, the straightforward nature of this world doesn’t stand out. 1

DK: Another razor-thin decision. I saw again what seemed like a description without movement until the very end, but in this case that is more intertwined with the effect the ending is supposed to have. I think it’s just a little bit more successful in that regard, and the ending certainly impacted me that way. 3

Well, the inevitable. Thanks again for a good workout, Spooks!


Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #15: Unfortunate Strength

I managed to survive to write another week in the Spookymilk Survivor challenge…whew. One more week until teams merge. The latest challenge was this: write a story where the protagonist is so good at something that it leaves them in an unfortunate situation. 1000 word limit.

To put it bluntly, this challenge sucked. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I eventually had an idea worth working on, thanks to some suggestions from K and Mo. Here’s what came out:

Geoff took a deep breath. Glancing at his table, he took a couple quick swallows of water from the plastic bottle on his right, and then straightened up his pages of stats on his left. The Target Center crowd was electrified, and he felt an inward excitement. The T-Wolves were making a game of it, and the Lakers were visibly rattled. He took another deep breath as the game came back from commercial break.

The Lakers’ hard-fought loss at Milwaukee last night appears to have taken a toll on them here in the waning minutes of tonight’s ballgame, but I think they’ve seriously underestimated the local team. Love and Bynum, #2 and 3 in the league in rebounding this year, are putting on a clinic this evening, but it’s Rubio’s ball handling and fast tempo on one hand and Kobe’s mediocre 3-pt shooting that have kept this a one point game.

Ricky Rubio takes the ball up court and is met by Steve Blake. Rubio passes to Johnson…back to Rubio. He looks to Love but Gasol has him covered well. Across to Ridnour, who looks, fakes once, and shoots…off the glass and rim! Darko and Bynum wrestle for the loose ball…it goes out of bounds – Lakers ball! Referee Stafford indicates it was off Darko’s foot. Lakers call timeout, with 23 seconds to play. This one is going down to the wire!

It was games like tonight that made Geoff glad he decided to announce Timberwolves basketball this season. He knew he was good – really good. And the fact that he maintained his own stat sheets and did his own research showed in his ability to quickly put the information into play during the quick pace of the game. Add to that the improved play of the Timberwolves, a coach whose philosophies made sense to this team, and the excitement of a rookie assist machine with a flair for the thrilling, and this season so far had been, relatively speaking, magical. Geoff flexed his fingers and his arms, shook them for a couple seconds, and then composed himself.

Coach Adelman has been doing a good job with his bench management tonight. Pekovic is in now for Darko. Milicic matched his 4 points tonight with 4 blocks. Minnesota is looking to try and maintain their single point lead here as Blake inbounds the ball to Kobe, who returns the ball to Blake. Blake is taking his time as the Lakers try to run out as much of the clock as possible. The pass goes in to Gasol, who pops it back out to Bryant. Rubio almost with a steal…Kobe picks up the loose ball…off-balance shot over Love and Johnson – it’s in! Timeout, Wolves! 98-97 Lakers, with 3 seconds remaining. Don’t go anywhere!

Once more Geoff took a deep breath, and mentally willed himself to relax while waiting for the commercial break to end.

Only 3.2 seconds remain in this exciting match up. Johnson looks first to Rubio, then inbounds to Love…Peace gets a hand on it though and it goes by! Pekovic takes the errant ball of the chest, takes a half-turn, and throws up a two-handed jump hook…IT’S GOOD, AND THE TIMBERWOLVES WIN A WILD ONE, 99-98 on a last-second basket by Nikola Pekovic! The T-Wolves find themselves at a strange frontier, 10-10 and a .500 record for the year. Wow! We’ll be back in a moment with the final wrap-up.

Geoff sat back, eyes closed, exhausted. What a game! His heart was pounding, arms and hands ached, but he was satisfied that he had called another great game. The flashing of the lamp near him broke through his reverie, though, letting him know that someone was at the door. He reached under his stats pages on the coffee table for the remote and turned off the TV, heaved himself up off the couch, and went to answer the door. It was Steve, his apartment neighbor from a floor above.

“Pek!! Dude, did you see that game?!” he excitedly asked, as Geoff read his lips.

In the high, slurred voice of someone who had never heard human speech, and unconsciously signing as well, Geoff replied, “Yes, I certainly did.”

I had to work hard to make it look like Geoff was announcing from courtside, and left some little hints that he was up to something besides talking through the play-by-play, up until the reveal in the last couple lines.

Team SPOILER ALERT! did alright in this one, while I’m With Stupid was reduced to one player. RESULTS. The judges’ commentary:

K: Oh, wow. I thought this was pretty ordinary, but instead it’s a heartbreaker. I don’t want to encourage concepts that completely bank on the final line, but man, this one had some power. 3

DK: I like the idea a lot, and the true nature of this guy’s strength. Something about it doesn’t seem to rise up like a lot of the others do; I care about this guy but I’m not sure it develops into what it could. 2

I’ll take it. One more week to the merger…

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #14: Struggling With Decline

As this week went on, the challenge title seemed to be an apt description of my writing. The challenge was to write up to 800 words about someone struggling with decline.

Once more, my current reading (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest from the Millenium Trilogy) influenced my choice of subject:

At its Cold War heyday, MI5 was the premier counter-espionage and counter-terrorism machine. And we had top agents with a license to kill, for heaven’s sake — one of them was me!

About the time I was hired, fresh out of the military, we had agents everywhere. I signed on during the tail end of Hollis’ term (sorry, Sir Roger Hollis’ term) as the Director General, and let me tell you, we had clout, and we had the money to get things done. When I needed to wine-and-dine four couples at the poshest club in Stockholm while other agents searched through their homes, why, by golly, we just did it! I did acquire quite the taste for the flavour of caviar.

I can’t talk about anything specifically, you understand, but it was fascinating and sometimes dangerous work that took us to exotic places where we met up with some pretty nefarious characters. I loved it! And somehow in the middle of all this I managed to get married. Now, I’m no womanizer, but some of that goes with the job. I had ongoing relationships in Leningrad , Copenhagen , Mainz , Sao Paulo , uh, and Johannesburg . Ah, yes, Johannesburg …

I was able to reach the upper echelons of the espionage game in the mid 80’s, but things had begun to go downhill in a hurry by then. The defense initiative in the States became so big that countries like England didn’t even try to keep up. Budgets were slashed, and many of our younger agents in the Service were let go. The money was no doubt going to “more important” items, like The Bennie Hill Show on the Beeb. And the damn bureaucrats had us pushing paper so much, I barely had the opportunity to brandish my Walther PPK at all any more. I made my last covert overseas trip during this time, and I got to watch The Wall fall in Berlin …from the eastern side, ha ha.

In 1998, they took away our license to kill (and my Walther!), leaving us with only a license to lightly interrogate, at best. Bastards in Parliament had no clue the number of lives I’ve saved and state secrets I’ve secured, while they sat on their arses and debated the price of Earl Grey in Stropshire!. It was about this time that I slipped the disc in my back, probably due to inactivity, what with sitting behind a desk for so many hours a day. I could only work part-time then.

Finally, in 2003, MI5 disappeared completely. The whole Security Service organization was folded into the Parking Violations Division of the Metropolitan Police. All the old chaps were either dead or gone. My dear wife Mathilda had also recently died as well. I couldn’t take it any longer, and I finally retired.

The folks here running Elizabeth Lodge are okay, but damn stubborn about their No Alcohol policy, though. The next administration meeting will be my seventh attempt to get it overthrown.

I sure hope my daughter brings the grandkids next time she visits me.

While I let down Team SPOILER ALERT! this time around, on the strength of Colin & Shawn, we actually had the high score this week. RESULTS. The judges’ take:

K: Putting James Bond in an old folks home is a pretty swell idea, but I had to infer in was Bond solely from the “licence to kill” crack, and didn’t get it from the feeling of his narration. I wish he’d still come off as suave and smartly manipulative. 1

DK: I’m not going to be surprised if I’m on my own in assessing this way, but despite the quantity of great jokes here (“license to lightly interrogate” is a favorite) this feels a little more like a recap of someone’s history than a story in his present, struggling state. It’s good, but it lacks some of the narrative momentum that many of the others have. 1

The sad thing is, this wasn’t about James Bond, only some generic MI5 higher-up. As the team standings go, there was no decline to go with the struggling this week, as it turns out.

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #13: Seemingly Useless Superpower

Regardless of the outcome, this week’s Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge was entertaining.  My mission, should I choose to accept it (and I did): Write a story where a character has a seemingly useless superpower and must use it in a conflict (1000 word limit).

I had fun writing this, but we’ll see how much leeway the judges give me. The protagonist of the story doesn’t really have an entirely useless superpower, but it’s a previously deceased character that does. Yet the previously deceased character is not in the conflict in this story, but instead the attention is on the protagonist’s situation. And the fact that the focus of the story on the protagonist is somewhat ironic, in that…well, I’ll shut up and let you read it first:

ISSUE #13: A Bit of a Deathwish
As Ben ducked next to one of the one-story warehouses that laid in rows within the compound, he instinctively knew that the terrorists were starting to take notice of him. In the darkness, the sounds of gunfire and explosions were getting closer, and now a man with a flamethrower up ahead was turning in his direction. Although he couldn’t hear the cursing from this distance, he knew the flood of filth dropping onto flamethrower guy was the work of Potty Mouth from his position on the roof. Suddenly from somewhere to his left, projectiles ripped into the corrugated metal of the wall above him.

I’ve had enough!” shouted Ben angrily as he stormed into the office of his superior, Nick Chopper. “I’m tired of being the center of attention.”

Nick looked up, unfazed. He’d heard it before. “You chose to serve with The Infiltrators instead of standard military service, and you will be completing your term of enlistment with us. What you do with your life after that, well, I don’t care.

“Listen, you have an outstanding power. Someday you could be an actor – imagine all eyes constantly focused on you! Hell, companies would love to have you in their booth at trade shows. But more importantly, right now you are a key component of our team.”

The exasperation and sadness could be heard in Ben’s voice. “No, you don’t get it! I’m not an extrovert — doing those things would kill me. Imagine wanting to play football and be a wide receiver, and ALWAYS being triple-teamed. Attending your first class at law school, and the professor ONLY calls on you. Entering an armed conflict, and every gun is trained on you!

Ben dove for a nearby doorway and through a door partly ajar. He took shelter between several stacked cardboard boxes. He could barely make out the muffled sound of Traumatize outside slamming a couple victims against one of the other warehouse walls. Looking between a couple columns of boxes, as his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw several bound men seated on the floor. Son of a…he wasn’t supposed to find the UN hostages; he was supposed to attract attention away so that the others could find them. The handful of men with weapons who were guarding them began looking around — more than one of them in his direction. Damn!

He broke for an exit at the other end of the stacked boxes, knowing that Dream Police would be reading his thoughts and forwarding the newfound whereabouts of the hostages to the rest of the team. He knew Dream Police would be reading his thoughts, because she couldn’t help but focus on what he was thinking. Annoying as hell, but of course she would know he thought that as well.

Nick got up from his chair and retrieved a framed photograph off of the corner shelf. He placed a metallic hand on Ben’s shoulder and handed him the picture with the other. “Here, take a look at this.”

In the photo Ben saw a dozen or so people dressed in typical Infiltrators garb, some of them obviously mutants and others undoubtedly with hidden powers. Nick pointed out a mousy looking guy on the end of the front row. “This…is Lee Harvey Deathwish.” His voice almost broke as he said it.

“Lee had a latent, very potent ability. Just his presence on Infiltrator missions was enough to end conflicts with no shots fired. MANY lives were saved thanks to him. And then one mission, his options exhausted, Deathwish made the supreme sacrifice for his team and for his country. You see, he had the power to explode.”

Crouching low, Ben broke for a row of equipment parked along the wall near him. He could hear the goons from inside impulsively following him out of the same exit, but his eyes were fixed on the dim outlines of Full Frontal, Tarpo, and The Wailer carefully approaching from the opposite side of the parked equipment. With their appearance, the tide was sure to shift. As Full Frontal shielded The Wailer, Dream Police’s voice whispered in the back of their minds instructing them to engage their auditory desensitizers now. A flurry of bullets ricocheted among the machinery around Ben just as Tarpo joined him. “Heads up,” the wiry demon mouthed at him.

WHAT?!” Ben said, incredulous. “How does someone even find out they have a power like that?”

“It’s hereditary. Lee’s is the sixth Medal of Honor in his family. See, he could have just ignored his power, lived an ordinary life, raised a family in the suburbs…but he didn’t. He chose to help fight tyranny and evil as best he could, and I’m damn glad to have known him.”

Ben saw his superior covertly wipe his eyes before any damage was done. “What I’m trying to say is, you’re a vital member of our team. And it’s not all about you!

The Wailer had the armed terrorists flopping to the ground from his concentrated sonic blast. Dream Police informed the team that Potty Mouth had reached the hostages — they were unharmed. With a jerk of his thumb, Ben directed Tarpo to go help, while the rest of them would sweep up, but from the looks of it there were no others in a position to harass his team: the hostages were secured, and the night was theirs.

Ben sat still for several minutes, then nodded his head and rose from his chair. He opened the door, careful not to knock over Chopper’s large axe leaning against the door frame, and exiting the office and reception area, he continued out across the courtyard.

Nick returned to his seat, and after a few moments of introspection he thumbed the intercom on his desk. “Irene, let’s give Squeaky Wheel a couple days to himself. He’s earned it.”

  • I wasn’t sure how much of the formatting the judges get to see.  I used a liberal sprinkling of italicized, bolded, and underlined text like can be found in comics.  Also chose to bounce between the conflict story and the office scene, much like “The Tales of the Black Freighter” section of Watchmen graphic novel.
  • Lee Harvey Deathwish was a character of mine from my “Champions” rollplaying days at college.  The Deathwish back then could actually reassemble himself after exploding, though, which isn’t at all useless.
  • I liked the nickname Squeaky Wheel for the protagonist so well, I used his real name in the story to save the reveal for the ending lines.
  • I threw Nick Chopper in to test the judges.  Metalic hand, “…wipe his eyes before any damage was done”, axe — know who he is?
  • Another superhero idea I considered:  a guy who could summon the ghost of Mel Ott.
  • Tarpo and The Wailer?  Those names I originally created for a couple goons in the 1985 chain story “Dial ‘M’ for Murray

Sadly, the dividers didn’t format onto Spooky’s site, so the interleaving between dual storylines made for even more jarring reading than it already was. RESULTS? And the judges’ comments:

K: It blows my mind how much this feels like a real comic book. The action and character is there, and the writing style just frigging nails it, right up to the boldface, all caps and italics peppered throughout. It’s got so much damned style. 4

DK: I like the tone of the prose, but I actually felt like this was one of the less inherently useful superpowers on display here, and the way the scenes intercut is somewhat jarring (I realize I’ve had this problem before, so this may just be an issue of mine). 3

Nice that I was called out for getting the comic book feel, but DK rightly nailed me for not exactly having a useless superpower. Still, SPOILER ALERT! lives to fight another day.

Lastly, what does I Write Like have to say?

I write like
Harry Harrison

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #12: Aladdin’s Lamp

Okay, this week’s Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge proved to be a bear. The goal? Write a story where the protagonist is granted three wishes. One wish has to have positive consequences, one negative, and one with no consequences at all.

It took a while, but eventually I came up with an idea that I believed satisfied the requirements of the challenge. And since I had some time to actually write it, I decided to further handicap myself: Spooky has mentioned before to me that he can generally identify my writing (even though it’s done anonymously), so for some added obfuscation, I made myself write it in first person, and with a young girl as the main character. Out of my comfort zone, but here’s the end product:

Sunday afternoon is my favorite time; among other things, it means I get to go to Game Stop and browse the PS3 games. My mom thinks it’s strange for a fourteen year old girl to be so into video games, but I don’t care. And since this happens to be Super Bowl Sunday, chances are I would have the store all to myself. Myself and Peg, that is.

Peg used to be my babysitter many years ago, and now works the Game Stop next to Petco. She’s goth, but more in appearance than in attitude. My mom got along well with her up until she dropped out of school her senior year, then they had some kind of falling out. That all changed when she gave Peg “the shirt”.

Peg NEVER liked being called by her first name, Peggy, which all the kids called her. One day, I suppose as a sort of peace offering, my mom gave her a black t-shirt. On the front was a cartoon of a vampire with a stake in its heart, X’s for eyes and the whole works. Next to the stake, mom had added the letters “PEG” in appliqué. Ever since, they’ve been as close to friends as anyone is with Peg.

Mom usually dropped me off when she went to get her nails done and then a bit of grocery shopping before she picked me up again, so it was an hour or so to play. Sometimes Peg let me “demo” games with her, which was a blast. This time, however, I didn’t really feel like it.

“Hey Goof, what’s with the long face?” Peg was the only one that called me that, from her babysitting days.

“When mom sees my grades from this quarter, she’s not going to let me come here on Sundays anymore.”

Peg squinted at me, then pulled her laptop up closer to her on the glass counter top. “That might be something that I can help you with.”

“What?! No way! You can, like, fix my Beginning Algebra grade for me? I’m getting a D in there because of a really bad test.”

Peg didn’t answer, but continued typing. I came around to see what she was doing, and at first she turned the screen away from me, but then thought twice and turned it back so I could see, too. At the top of the open window it said, “West High School Grade Maintenance System” with a list of names under the heading “Freshman Class” and a toolbar with lots of icons on it. “How about that, Goof — Mrs. Watkins still hasn’t changed her password,” she said, with a smile on her face.

“Can you fix my grade?” I asked, glancing around the store. I couldn’t hardly believe this was possible.

“Sure! I gots mad skillz.” She moved the cursor on the line across from my name, stabbed the letter “b” on the keyboard, and suddenly my grade point average on the right jumped by half a point. “Just that simple.”

I looked around the shop uneasily, but with the Broncos in the Super Bowl, pretty much no one else was going to be there the entire afternoon. “So, can you change my Creative Writing grade as well?” I was starting to feel a little greedy.

Without answering, Peg hit the left arrow a few times, highlighted another grade, and hit the “b” key again. I saw my grade point average go up .125, but we both noticed at the same time the red letters “UNAUTHORIZED” flashing on the screen. “Bastards!” shouted Peg, while I felt myself suddenly needing to pee. “Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!!”

“No! Change them back! CHANGE THEM BACK!” I was starting to cry, as I bounced back and forth between my feet. I was going to get like at least a week of at-home suspension!

Peg stared at the screen for a bit longer, and then quickly clicked the logout button followed by her fingers flying over the keys when the login screen came back. “Ha! Unbelievable.” When the “Freshman Class” name list returned (along with the flashing red “UNAUTHORIZED”), Peg placed the cursor over “B” and typed “d”, then dropped the cursor over to the left and put back the “c”. I had to look twice to be sure the screen no longer had any flashing red text on it anymore.

Peg leaned back in her chair and breathed a big sigh — or was that me? “It’s been five years since “Gray Fox” retired from principal, and not only have they not removed his login, but his password is still the same!” She was still shaking her head as she hit the logout button and closed the window. “Sorry Goof, looks like I can’t help you after all.”

Just at that moment the door opened and my mom walked in. “Hi Peg! Sorry, hon, I’ve got to cut you short this time. I should have realized the nail salon would be closed today, what with the Super Bowl and everything.”

I glanced briefly at Peg, and still felt pretty nervous. Peg closed her laptop, and said, “Mrs. Stevens, I was just going to suggest, if Goof ever needs some tutoring or anything, I’d be happy to do that when you drop her by on Sunday afternoons.”

“Why, what a nice offer, Peg! I’m sure she’s doing pretty well, but if her grades do let down any, we would love to take you up on that offer. We’d better get going though. If the score I saw at the Hugo’s store was right, someone is going to need these antacids when the football game is over.”

I’ve been reading the Millennium trilogy (currently on The Girl Who Played with Fire), so Peg has a bit of Lisbeth in her. K criticized me for making the main character’s speech meaningful and in complete sentences, so I added a couple “like” to her conversation. Also, a shout-out to the true Gray Fox, Principal Rudow.

Just curious — who does I Write Like think my writing matches this week?

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well, that’s different. I’ll take that aspect as a success, then.

So, how did this one fly? RESULTS. Not so much. Everybody loves a forced curve, don’t then? Thank God for the immunity. Judges’ takes:

K: Tim Tebow is in the Super Bowl? What is this, a horror story? I do like the setup here with these characters, but watching people work on a computer does lose me after a bit. I would have stuck with it if the computer hacks were all of a different nature, but this one essentially was the same all the way through, though I did dig the tone and these people. 1

DK: I like just about everything about this except it doesn’t feel quite as sharply drawn as a few of the others, and the ending dialogue gets a little obvious-feeling. 2

And the sad ending is that another SPOILER ALERT! writer is pushed aside. I’m not happy.

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #11: Payoff

This week’s Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge was a continuation of an earlier challenge: using someone else’s previous cliffhanger submission, write the payoff. And oh yeah, write it to match the style of the cliffhanger you are completing.

This was a bugger, not necessarily because of the difficulty (not that it wasn’t difficult), but because the Runner family spent almost the entire week with many of my wild, wonderful extended family in central IA. I did review the cliffhanger’s beforehand, settling on completing the store robbery cliffhanger by my arch-nemesis Daneeka’s Ghost (it felt the closest to my own “style”, such as it is) and ruminated on it until the night before the deadline. This was eventually written on the night before the deadline while watching the wonderful musical adaptation of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds on DVD. The story worked out, but it could have used a scosh more spit and polish.

(Daneeka’s Ghost conclusion)

Gerald semi-crouched where he had been standing, frozen in place as the squad car raced forward. It came to a halt with a screech in the open parking spots before the front entrance. Both car doors flung open and the officers took up position behind each door, their revolvers drawn and pointed, and one with the radio mic in his other hand.

“The building is surrounded! No one needs to get hurt – just put down your weapon and come to the door with your hands over your head!”

He could just make out Namir through the front windows, glancing furtively around him, and without seeing an exit available to him, slowly raised his hands above his head. Gerald knew Namir had no weapon anyway.

As the officer on the passenger side moved forward, his raised gun signaling to Namir to lie on the ground, the other office turned his attention, and gun, in Gerald’s direction. Gerald had already sunk to his knees with his hands behind his head, though, just as a second police car pulled to a stop right in front of him.

While being led away to the newly-arrived police car, hands cuffed behind his back, Gerald overheard the lady’s excited voice. “Thanks for coming so quickly! I took your advice about suspicious repeat purchases and called right away. I didn’t even have the phone hung up before that one over there ran in!”

Jotting in a notepad, the officer in charge replied, “Well, more often than not when a guy comes in multiple times like that, he’s casing the joint. You did right to call us.”

Gerald glanced up in the lady’s direction as his head was being forced into the waiting car. “That’s not the only reason,” he mumbled, as the pack of wintergreen gum fell onto the car seat. “That’s not the only reason…”

I liked the thought of Gerald being a reluctant antagonist, which DG had originally set up, and the pack of gum makes an appearance as an embodiment of Gerald’s feelings towards the victim.

Additionally, I was flattered that freealonzo chose to complete my cliffhanger. Since I had had no idea where the story was going and I never did take it to any conclusion in my head, it was interesting to see where he took it. And the fact that not one but two plot twists resulted would have made M. Night Shyamalan proud.

So how did team SPOILER ALERT! make out this week? Well I’m glad you asked — RESULTS. The scores are the real cliffhanger here! SPOILER ALERT! sits at 2nd place, and Nibbish and His Vogons finally get the privilege of voting off a player. Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of us.

So, what say you, adjudicators?:

K: Alright, this is beauty right here. The story knocks down some pins that Brooks may not even realize he set up, and it’s Gerald, not Namir, who got them caught in the end. This pays off the complexity of Gerald’s “relationship” with the clerk in a realistic way, creates excellent foreshadowing and reads as if it’s from the same author. Excellent. 5

DK: I like to see usage of details from the original, or the lack of details, as in this case, the (possibility) that Namir lacks a weapon. 4

I’ll take the compliments while they’re still coming, and hopefully we can do it again next week. And thanks for the proofing (and the hospitality), SS. The home improvements look great, btw.

Spookymilk Survivor X — (Optional) Challenge #10: Misleading Logline

The Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge for this week was optional, which was a nice touch during the holiday week. The goal was to write a letter from someone totally misunderstanding the basis of a movie.

This was another idea that came out of nowhere, but once I latched on to it, I knew exactly how I wanted to develop it:

Dear Timmy:

I am so proud of you for being selected for the exchange program! I know you will enjoy your three months away from home. My goodness, I was 28 before I left the country, and that was just to Winnipeg – you’re only 17 and going all the way to Thailand!

I didn’t want my favorite great nephew to go without a gift, so I looked to see if that nice Rick Steves from the PBS made a video for visiting Bangkok, but the store did not have one. I did find one by someone else, though I’m not sure who Emanuelle is, but she had a lot of videos so she apparently gets around. Anyway, the helpful man at the video store was sure that you’d learn a lot from it.

I’ve also sent a book of stamps, so you can write to me often. Take care, and fly as fast as the plane!

Love and kisses,
Aunt Ella

The video is of course Emanuelle in Bangkok, which is not at all what Aunt Ella wants to be giving to Timmy, regardless of the video store worker’s recommendation.

And the big payoff: RESULTS. Hey hey, my first immunity! The judges’ comments:

K: The sweet, familial tone here really drives the gag home. Is there really one with the word “Bangkok” in the title? Subtle!

DK: I laughed a lot at this one. I probably like it so much in part because it’s the only one that goes for a praise angle, but the naivete is both believable and hilarious, and it doesn’t drag out too much either.

So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice…

Spookymilk Survivor X — Challenge #9: Cliffhanger

The Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge for this week was fairly straightforward — cliffhanger! In 500 words or less, set up a story that ends in a tense cliffhanger.

I have no idea where the seed for my writing started, but with some careful mental direction, I was able to bring it to a head under the 500 word limit, allowing me to flesh it out a bit more.  After some added details and the usual spit-and-polish, this is what emerged:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One aspect of David Lynch films that I like is that he imbues every character with some interesting quirk, and although I didn’t have the word limit to do this well, but I still enjoy introducing characters into a story. And while I initially was just focusing the cliffhanger on “who will win the auction?”, I liked the Ronin-like guns-in-crowds direction that I folded in. And the winning bidder was #34: we still miss you, Kirby.

Anyway, RESULTS. And how about that — high score, way to go team SPOILER ALERT! Sadly, another non-submission as well, at least on one of the other teams this time. Judges’ takes:

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

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

Many thanks to Mo & K for their input and encouragement.