Play With the Prose 6: Finals

“They were never handsome and often came
with a hormone imbalance manifested by corpulence,
a yodel of a voice or ears big as kidneys.

But each was brave.”

For an hour he looked through his binoculars. James was restless. The bathroom stunk of mold and pine air freshener. The fan sounded like a buzzsaw, but it covered for him while he attached the scope to the Remington 760.

He thought of the eight humiliating years he spent in The Walls and how his life lacked meaning. Prison afforded him time to read. He mostly pored over the speeches of George Wallace, learning about the dangers of liberalism and those who would take away property rights and freedom.

He wiped his palms on his jeans, then double-checked the rifle chamber. The bullet shined. The bullet knew its purpose.

Wallace knew his purpose. James spent the winter helping his campaign, inspired daily by the man’s courage. It gave him strength for this moment.

He looked at his watch. 5:58. He looked through the binoculars. Two men stepped out of the room. Goosebumps shot up his back. He tasted sweat. Setting down the nocs, he caught himself in the mirror. The surgeon had done a great job on his nose. His breathing slowed. James looked into the scope.


“I gotta shave quick. Be right there,” Ralph said.

“Don’t spend all night in there. You’re already better looking than me,” Martin joked.

“Everyone’s better looking than you,” added Billy. Martin grinned. He was in a good mood today. “I’ll go start the car.”

Martin followed Billy outside. The sun felt good on his neck. It was near sunset; his shadow stretched out along the cement.

“Martin!” The voice came from below. He leaned over the balcony rail. It was Jesse. “Martin, I wanted to introduce you to my friend Ben Branch. He’ll be playing sax for us.”

Billy started towards the stairs. “Guys, come on. We have a rally tonight, let’s go.”

“Ben,” called Martin. “Don’t forget. I want you to play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ tonight like you’ve never played it before. Play it for me. Play it real pretty.”

Ben offered Martin a wide smile.

K: Uuuggghh. I probably should have seen this coming earlier than I did, given the day, but it hit me hard (Dr. King is probably my #1 hero, if pressed). Attempting to separate my built-in emotion from the task at hand (though…should I? I’m not sure), I think the writing is nice if not slick, and cheeky if not clever. As much as I like it, I think it does get by a little on the reveal and, were this a story that didn’t have the real-world payoff that it did, would it pop? I’m not sure it would.

CP: How am I supposed to judge anything against a story about the assassination of MLK on MLK day? Until I realized what was going on, I wasn’t particularly enamored of this story–most of the first section has waaaaaay too much telling and too little showing. The second section gives us more of a real scene, but I was confused by the large number of characters until I realized what I was reading. The poignancy and significance of the story all come from outside knowledge on the part of the reader. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with making a reference to something to add depth to a story, particularly when you don’t have all that many words to work with. On the other hand, without the reference, there’s just not a lot here, and I don’t find this story to be as well crafted as I would have hoped to see.

DK: This certainly relies a lot on the reader filling in the rest of the story from her own knowledge. So it’s tough to grade in that sense since I’d imagine everyone knows what happens, but as a standalone piece of writing this doesn’t have the movement or resolution on its own to sit as a complete story, and that’s something even I’ve been harping on a little bit more this game. All that being said, I like it a lot as a piece of a couple character vignettes and this does a great job (especially the James Ray part) of delving into their heads and mindsets. The starkness of the descriptions adds to the tension level that we already have going in, and there’s also of course an extra level of resonance just based on the timing of it all today.

DG: This story relies on history (and the reader recognizing the first names) to tell its story. I have to admit I’m conflicted on how well that works here. There are enough clues here that it’s pretty clear what’s going on. I just wish there was something in that second part that ramped this up beyond the horribleness that we already know about the assassination.

If it wasn’t clear, I lost on a 4-0 vote in the finals. I’ve now been in six writing competitions. My finishes have been 4th, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, 12th, and 2nd again. I’ve even officially been nicknamed The Bridesmaid by the competition organizer.

One of these days Alice.

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