Category Archives: Survivor X

Survivor X: The End

It was a long and exhausting six months.  I won’t post all the comments that came with the final vote, but I’ll mention that Pete defeated me handily, garnering all seven votes from the jury members.  Despite the fact I got second, getting shut out has always been a certain kind of kick in the gut.  At least I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy.  Well, I could have lost to Gary Carter.  But he wasn’t playing (he said he was busy doing something else).

I now have finished fourth and second in the two seasons I’ve played.  Can’t complain about that.  Now I’m glad to be judging Turbo Survivor, which is decidedly less stressful.

Congratulations, Pete.

Survivor X: Final Plea

The judges asked both me and nibbish to make a plea to the jury of seven as to why they should vote for us.  The jury vote will be announced live by Spooky tonight at Old Chicago in Apple Valley.

“Epilogue”

As the sun sets on the tenth season of Survivor, the lives of those touched by its charm and grace continued unabated.

Jacqueline’s dementia mercifully progressed to the point where she no longer became upset if her mother never showed up to take her out to lunch.

Roger’s perfect streak ended, but he successfully carved out a nice career in monster truck racing.

The kids from Earthbound continued to be confusingly meta and vague.

Tristan’s duel with McDuff continued with cold angst throughout the night, though Tristan emerged victorious as he slapped a shot through McDuff’s open legs (and icy heart).

Conor Clapton invented the guitar, and sixteen years later finally bumped Enya from the charts.

Weather girl Bri decided to try a Milk-Bone, and she liked it! When she was fired from the station, she parlayed her new fetish into a second career in the San Fernando Valley.

Edward King’s life branched out and took several paths, though he was never sure which one was real.

Mr. Toulouse kept the secret of Crocville safe until the Wikipedia was born.

Desiree was granted the greatest wish of all, a happy life for her son.

Martin (The Administrator) was able to prevent World War III, but was later unceremoniously offed after accidentally putting himself into a perpetual sneezing fit.

Dr. Westphal began volunteering, eventually starting a non-profit for children whose families could not afford life-saving surgeries. His eye never twitched again.

Graham quickly milked enough lost souls to pay his dues. He did it so well, in fact, that he soon became Hades’ right-hand man. Charon was never replaced again.

Ray Combs continued for eighteen years, helping suicide victims gain entrance to Heaven. He was replaced by Alex Trebek, who sent many to hell for barely mispronouncing answers.

Jake’s date turned out to be a 400 pound Polish man named Gustav. Justice was slowly and meticulously served that night.

Jack never remembered who his son was, but he remembered who his son became. On Jack’s 90th birthday, they were playing catch in the yard, just like old times, when The Big One came and swallowed them into the ground.

Detective Kautz was fired for fucking up in the wost way a detective has ever fucked up. As of this writing, he is attempting to gain the last ounce of his pleasure in his life via auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Esther never finished her word find (IRIS was well hidden), and she died as miserable as she had always been. She remained Nikki’s favorite until the end.

Years later, Nibbish and Beau raised their glasses in a toast. To memories, to friendship, to the Twins sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS. But most of all, to their happy marriages.

“Guys, get in here! We’re playing Pictionary–girls versus guys! And you bitches are going down!”

“Nice for a change,” Beau grinned. “It’s getting kind of old kicking your ass at everything.”

Survivor X, Final Challenge: Harrison Bergeron

The final week, after six months of grueling work, we finally come to the final challenge.  Matt, Nibs, and myself faced off with the following challenge, based off the story Harrison Bergeron.  We were asked that every character in our story completely lose their memory every 250 words (or fewer).  Wowzers.

“Hit me,” he said, simultaneous tapping his fingers on the table.  The dealer was showing an eight, and he a six and a four.  His attention was taken away by a dashing redhead wearing a low-cut dress.  Instinctually, he used his enhanced vision to undress her.  She was just as gorgeous underneath, providing a pleasant distraction from his current losing streak.  These days, thankfully, he no longer felt a pang of regret if he couldn’t have every beauty that passed him by.

The dealer laid the two of spades in front of him.  “Of course,” he sighed.  Another hit yielded a king and busted him.  He watched as the suit to the left of him split his aces and landed two faces.  Normally, this would have irritated him, but if things went well, tonight was going to be a good night.

“Excuse me, sir,” interjected a cocktail waitress, setting a silver jewelry case in front of him.  She was a little pretty, a lot of fake.  “From the woman over there,” she pointed with her eyes.

He looked across the room. He caught a woman sitting at the bar, quickly turning away from him.  From this distance, he couldn’t make her out.

Opening the case revealed a chakra bracelet, inlaid with jade.  Removing it from the case, he slipped it on his left hand.  It fit perfectly.  He looked up, searching out his new friend.  She was gone.  Perplexed, he absentmindedly fiddled with the bracelet.

“Sir?” the dealer beckoned.

“Hit me,” he said, simultaneously tapping his fingers on the table.  His attention was on a voluptuous brunette that was hanging on the arm of a high-roller.  Out of habit he undressed her with his supernatural vision.  While she was a sight to see, he was okay just looking.  At the age of thirty-one, he’d sown his oats long ago.

“Four makes twenty-two,” said the dealer as he gathered up the cards.

“What?” he cried.  “I had a hard ten!”

The dealer showed him the queen of spades and the eight of clubs.  “I thought you did, too.  Sorry, man.”

He looked at them, confused.  “I could have sworn…” he thought out loud.

The suit to the left of him patted his shoulder.  “Gutsy play, hero.  You almost had ‘em.”

“Uh huh,” he said, picking up his chips.  “Good luck everyone.  I’ve got a date with destiny.”

“So that’s her name?” the suit quipped. “But seriously, dude, what’s with the get-up?”

He ignored the suit and headed for the cashier.  Winding through endless slot machines, he covered his mouth.  The smoke was oppressive.  He was tempted to use super speed, but he didn’t want to risk getting noticed.  Mostly, though, he was growing tired of coasting through life.  It left him wanting.

Turning the corner, he was stopped dead in his tracks.  A gun jammed into his abdomen.

“Lex…”

“Bingo,” his adversary replied.

He swung for Lex’s head with his left arm.  Lex caught it.

“Hit me,” he said nonchalantly.

“Wha?” replied Lex, confused.

“Well,” he said.  “It appears you have a gun, and I’m at a disadvantage.”

“Oh, right,” said Lex.  “And it has kryptonite bullets.  Nice knowin’ ya.”

Click!

Lex looked down to a completely mangled gun.

“Too late,” he said, pushing Lex to the casino floor.

A little shaken–more from the apparent memory loss than his encounter with Lex–he stumbled towards the elevator.  He pushed 17, wanting to get to their hotel room and lie down.  Lex said his gun had kryptonite bullets.  Did that cause his amnesia?  Maybe it was stress.  Perry White had sent them here for a convention, but he had other plans.  Tonight was going to be a big night.

Reaching into his pocket, he was grateful to discover he hadn’t lost his key in all the hoopla.  Entering the room, he was surprised to find her back so soon.  “Uh, hi Lois!”

“Hey there.  Wasn’t expecting you!”

He looked at her, puzzled, until he realized.  He looked down at the big S on his chest.

Lois strutted towards him.  “How did you know what room I was in, Superman?”  She raised her eyebrows, awaiting an answer.

“Look,” he said..  “You might as well know the truth.”  He held her hands.  She held back.

“Hit me,” he said.

“Sometimes I’d love to.”

He looked around, then looked at her.  “When did I get here?”

“Honestly?” she replied.  “I don’t know.  I can’t remember, either.”

He took a sharp breath.

“But I do know why.  Remove the bracelet, but don’t touch the jewel.”  He did as she asked.  “This,” she said, walking the bracelet over to the fireplace, “is what wiped out our memories.”  She dropped it into the fire.

“How do you know?”

“Silly Superman.  I’m the one who gave it to you.”

“You…”

“Lex was after you.  I knew even with kryptonite bullets he’d have to be on top of you to hit you.  I figure if he got too close, this would wipe out his memory as well, giving you a chance to escape.  You’re here, so I assume you did.”

“Superman needs Lois, eh?”

“It appears so.”

He sat down on the bed.  She joined him.

“Thank you.  But I have to let you know something.”

She raised her eyebrows again.

He slowly took off his cape.  “Lois, my life’s been pretty amazing so far.  My natural abilities have given me many advantages.”   He took off his belt.  “I really thought at times that it couldn’t get better.  Then I met you.”

She tried not to blush.  He took off his tights.  She blushed.

“You really have changed my life.  Being Superman is fun sometimes, but that man can’t do the thing he most wants to do.  And that’s be with you.”

Finally, he put on his glasses.  “Recognize this guy?”

“Oh Beau, of course I do!” she said, giving him a hug.  “I’ve known for a long time.”

“You have?”

“I’ve just been waiting for you to take off the costume.”

He gulped.  “So…in that case, I just have one question.”

“Anything.”

“Will you marry me?”

Spooky: Huh. Well…okay. I don’t know why someone would go so meta so strongly at the end here when by now they know me, but here we are. What kills me is that the character is well-defined early on (yes, he’s an existing character, but I loved the explanation of his boredom with his abilities). I get the feeling that this Survivor based this piece around the ending, and upon writing the other stuff just to get there, stumbled upon a better idea that really should have changed the concept.
Characters: 3
Creativity of reason for Forgettings: 3
Overall Story Effectiveness: 3

DK: This is tough. The first section is excellent – the tone and atmosphere, the characterization of this superhero who is bored with the abilities he has (and I get the sense that this initial boredom is meant to resonate more because of the way the relationship aspect comes together at the end) but the pace and effectiveness of both the plot and the characters started falling off around Lex’s entrance, and couldn’t really come back for me by the time we get to the (presumably) author’s self-insertion (although it wouldn’t be any different if this is someone else writing about Beau as if he’s Superman).
Character: 4
Creativity of Reason for Forgettings: 4
Overall Story Effectiveness: 3

20/30

While neither judge seemed to realize that my self insertion was entirely because this entry was a marriage proposal, I don’t disagree with their critiques of the actual writing.  As it were, I took third place.  Nibbish took the top prize and voted out Matt.  Later this week the jury will decide who should win the tenth season of Survivor.  It will be announced live on Saturday, as the judges and the players will all miraculously be in once place.

But even I take second place, I’ve still won.

Survivor X, Challenge 21: Rashomon

The penultimate week’s challenge was to write in the flavor of Rashomon, essentially writing the same scene from two different perspectives.  I had no ideas this week.  So I wrote this:

I

Nikki knocked on the door, and then entered. There was a strong odor to the room, but she was used to it.  She never thought she would be, but the joy of taking care of the elderly made it easy to get past it.  Most days it didn’t even feel like a job.  Especially with Esther.  She wasn’t supposed to have favorites, but she couldn’t help it.  Esther was her favorite.

“Good morning, Esther!  Should we get ready for breakfast?”  Nikki pulled the privacy curtain.

“Okay,” Esther said, smiling.  She had a beautiful smile, even after all these years.  Esther had told her she loved smiling, because she took great care of her teeth and didn’t need dentures, a rarity from her generation.

Nikki put on a pair of gloves and grabbed a new incontinent product.  “Okay, Esther, can we roll over to the side?”  Esther could not really turn on her own.  Thankfully, she didn’t weigh much.

Esther shifted her weight the best she could as Nikki wrapped a transfer belt around her.  “What’s for breakfast this morning?”

“Well,” Nikki replied.  She was careful to support Esther with the belt as she gently rolled her.  “I think it’s an egg bake with an apple tort.  Of course, you can always have oatmeal, too.  Extra cinnamon, right?”

“That’s right, dear!” Esther said.  Her positive attitude also gave Nikki a boost.  Most of the other residents complained about the food.  It wasn’t perfect by any means, but Nikki had sampled most everything.  It wasn’t bad, and the home tried to be accommodating to people’s tastes.

After cleaning her up, Nikki placed the pad.  “What would you like to wear today?  The blue or the brown outfit?”  Esther had more, but she couldn’t remember her wardrobe.  Nikki was trained to offer her a choice that was simple and would hopefully make Esther feel more in control of her situation.

“The blue one, dear,” Esther said.  Putting on the pants was fairly simple.  The shirt was tougher, as Esther didn’t have much range of motion in her arms.  Nikki had to be careful, or Esther would wince in pain.

“All right, put your arms up.  Okay, now let’s get your right hand through here…good!  Ready for the left?”

Esther nodded.

“Now, let me help straighten your left arm here…all right.  There we go.  Now let’s get your head through.  Great.  Now let me just pull the rest down.”  Whew.  “Did that go okay?  Any pain?”

Esther shook her head.

“Great.  Would you like to stay in bed or watch TV before breakfast?”

“Oh, I think I’ll stay in bed for a while.  Can you grab my word finds?”  Esther pointed to the nightstand.

“Sure!” Nikki said, eagerly grabbing the book and a pen.  She handed it to Esther.  “Okay, I’ll bring you to breakfast in about thirty minutes.”

“Thanks, dear!” said Esther, smiling back.

Nikki disposed of her gloves, pulled back the privacy curtain, and walked briskly across the hall to answer a call light.  She felt a warmness in her heart.  Esther always did that for her.

II

Finally!  Esther had her call light on for two hours before anyone came.  She knew the aides were busy, but this was ridiculous.  Not only that, she just barged into the room.  The least she could do was knock.

“Good morning, Esther!  Should we get ready for breakfast?”

“Okay,” Esther said.  At least she could have apologized for making her wait so long.  Esther smiled at the girl.  The last thing she wanted was to get on her bad side.  She saw her getting gloves and a diaper.  Esther didn’t recall asking to be changed.

“Okay, Esther, let’s roll over!” the girl barked.  Now she thinks I’m a dog, Esther thought.  No use arguing; it would just take longer that way.  She tensed as the belt was wrapped around her.  She needed a distraction.

“What’s for breakfast this morning?” she asked.  Not that she cared, unless they were serving bacon, which was only on Sundays.  As the girl manhandled her, she said something about eggs and cereal.  She felt a sharp pain in her hip.  She held her breath.

“Right?” the aide said.  Esther exhaled.

“That’s right, dear!”  She wondered to herself what she agreed to.  It soon became apparent, as the girl started cleaning her bottom.  Esther knew she needed help.  She just wished these damn girls knew how humiliating it was.  No, they just acted like they were coming to your door with flowers and a singing telegram.  Thankfully, it was over soon.  If Esther didn’t drink much at breakfast she could put this off for several more hours, at least.

“Would you like the blue or brown outfit?” the aide asked.  Two outfits?  Esther knew she had more than that.  These aides just get lazier every day.  Lucky for her, she was in the mood for blue today.

“The blue one, dear,” she said as enthusiastically as she could.  She was not looking forward to this.  The girl told her to raise her arms and pretended to be careful while putting it on.  It didn’t matter.  This always hurt like a bastard.

She got her arms through after what seemed like minutes.  “Did that go okay?  Any pain?” the girl asked, oblivious.  Esther shook her head.  She didn’t want to be labeled a complainer.

“Great!” the girl continued.  “Would you like to stay in your bed or watch TV before breakfast?”

What Esther wanted was a drink of water.  Her mouth was dry as a desert.  But she didn’t want to go through the hassle of having the head of her bed raised, and she couldn’t stand this girl’s face much longer.  So she asked for her word finds.

“I’ll bring you to breakfast in about thirty minutes!” the aide said.  Unlikely.

“Thanks, dear!” was all she said, opening up her book to a random page.  As she was searching for aster—must be a flower themed puzzle—the aide finally left the room.  Esther placed the book on her lap and turned her head to the wall, fighting back tears.

K: This one is a good idea, I think, but I saw the second part coming from a mile away, and once it started, I knew where every beat was going. This challenge is extremely difficult and I get that, but this one just didn’t have enough surprises, just like the first. Is it so much to ask that every one of these is as good as Kurosawa’s Rashomon?

DK: The key part here for me is the detail used in describing the setting and the training someone like Nikki possesses. There isn’t anything particularly mind-bendy about it – I had a pretty good idea Esther’s side was going to be like that from how chipper Nikki came off – but I get a good sense that this kind of encounter plays out just like this many times every day.

Yeah, this was one of my weaker efforts of the season.  While it was meant to be brutally obvious where the story was heading, I was hoping there’d be enough atmosphere and detail to still give this story that “plays out just like this many times every day” some impact.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do that.  I just didn’t have the energy this week to really add much.  One thing I would like to point out, though, is that I’m not favoring either character here.  They both have flaws, and both are seeing the same situation incorrectly.  I hope that came out, at least.

 

Survivor X, Challenge 20: Interrogation

Write an interrogation where the interrogator gets his what-for by the end.  Fair warning, this is filled with an insane amount of in-jokes.

“I’ve been after him for months, the rat bastard,” he gasped, wondering how much longer he could hold on to life.  “Do you have a sketch artist?”

A rather large, bald yet bearded man in street clothes approached with a spiral book.  He flipped a page.  “Start.”

For the next six minutes and twenty-eight seconds, he described his assailant in every detail.  His last breaths were coming.

Detective Kautz approached the hospital bed.  “Do you know the rat bastard’s real name?”

The dying man shook his head.  “Just the name I gave you.”

“Do you have a real name?”

“Not for a long time, I haven’t.  They call me…”

He cocked his neck with his last ounce of strength.

“The Grey.”

Detective Kautz had seen men die before.  Heck, he’d even killed a couple himself.  But never before had he felt such a chill.  His body twitched.

He turned to officer Mitchell.  “Josh, I’m going downtown to see what I can get out of the twerp.”

Officer Mitchell nodded, continuing with his drawing.

“And please try to submit your sketch on time.”

Detective Kautz left the ER and headed towards the precinct.  The chill he had felt earlier wouldn’t go away.  This was the biggest case he’d ever been given.  And it scared the fuck out of him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You watched her die, you sick fuck!” detective Kautz bellowed, mere inches above the witness’s stoic face.  “And you did nothing!”

“Are you going to charge me with doing nothing?” said the twerp, apparently bored.  His name was Perry Baker.  Kautz assumed it was fake, but he ran his ID and it appeared legit.  Other than a possession charge when he was nineteen, the guy was clean.

Kautz was fuming.  “If you help me out I won’t charge you with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.”

Perry leaned back in his chair.  “You know I did no such thing.”  He yawned.

“Would you rather spend a night in jail before I realize that?”

Perry laughed.  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.  “You know what, detective?  I like you.  You don’t take no bullshit.  I’ll tell you what I know.”  He leaned back again.  “What you say the guy’s name was?  Rubbish?”

Kautz stood up and smirked.  “Nibbish.”

“Right, right.  And you think he killed the bimbo?”

“Ms. Ashley was not a bimbo.  And he didn’t just kill her.”  Kautz began pacing the room.  “He cut off her hair, raped her, gouged out her intestines, and…”

“Took a dump on her face?”  Perry grinned.

“What?  No!  And fuck you!”  Kautz wanted to slap this guy.  “He covered her with love poems.”

“Doesn’t sound like him,” Perry said, checking his fingernails.

“So you do know him!”

“Well,” Perry continued, satisfied his nails were clean.  “I know of him.  Never met him, though.  I’ve just done some favors for his posse.”

“His what?  Who?”

“Yeah.  They call themselves the Vogons.  Not very well organized, or bright for that matter.  They killed three of their own in just the past few months.”

Kautz’s anger was tempered a bit as it was slowly replaced by curiosity.  “How many are there now?”

“Just four.  Wreisner, Novak, Maki, and a guy they just call Beau.  He used to be a judge, I think.  I don’t know much about the rest.”

“And what kind of favors do you handle for them?”

Perry grinned, wider this time.  “Let’s just say I’ll still be alive tomorrow because I didn’t call the police.”

“Uh huh,” Kautz grunted.  “So even if I find these Vogons, they won’t squeal either?”

“Doubtful.  Novak’s kind of a weasel, but he’s too dumb not to be loyal.”

Kautz sat down again, trying to show an air of trust.  “So you’re the guy who can help me out.  Just tell me what he looks like, and where I might be able to find him, and I’ll let you go.”

“Heh,” Perry rebuked.  “I told you I’ve never met the guy.”

“But you were…”

“Nibbish didn’t kill your bimbo.”

“She was an aspiring actress.”

“What’s the difference?  Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if nibbish authorized the deal.  But he wasn’t there.  Just the Vogons.”

“Tell me what you saw.”

“And I can go?”

“Maybe.”

Perry sighed.  “All right.  So I was supposed to meet up with the Vogons down by the docks.  For what, I don’t know.  I never got that far.  Anyway, when I got there, I saw two more people than I expected.  So to be safe, I ducked behind a corner and listened…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh Grey!  Does your wife know?”

“Of course she doesn’t.  I’ve convinced her I’m going to auditions.”

Shawn smiled.  “Care to audition my lips?”

“I’m ready.  I’ve memorize the script.”

She bit her lip.  “Just tell me I won’t always be your understudy.”

“Oh, baby.  You’ll always be the star of my show.”

As the necking commenced, Perry tasted bile.  He was about to choke when he heard four sets of voices talking low, not twenty feet from him.   They were barely illuminated by an overhead light.  Apparently, the happy couple hadn’t noticed.

“Lookie what we have here,” said Novak, cracking his knuckles.  He was the smallest of the group, but talked the most.  “A two-for-one night, eh boys?”

Maki replied.  “My one chance to feel like a winner again.”

Beau grunted, said nothing.  Wreisner calmly chewed on a piece of grass.

Novak continued.  “So, what do you guys think?”

“Beau can take care of the dude.  The rest of us will take her.”  Maki grinned as he pulled a stick of Odell’s margarine out of his pocket.

Beau grunted in approval, removing a pair of scissors from his jacket.

“What do you think, Wreisner?”

“I think,” he said, temporarily removing the blade of grass from between his teeth.  “I think that in this current evening, as we are watched over by the luminescent moon beneath an onyx sky, calmed unequivocally by the quiescent winds, and with our spirits fomented by the thrill of our venery, we shall henceforth partake in the cleansing ritual.”  He removed a small stack of papers from his shirt pocket.

Novak beamed, gripping tightly to a meat hook.  “I couldn’t have said it more long-windedly myself.  Okay boys, let’s go.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“…and you know the bitter end of that story,” said Perry.

“You know what I think?” said Kautz.

Perry stared at him dismissively.

“I think I believe you.  One man could have pulled this off, but it seemed like the work of several.  Unfortunately, I’m no closer to the truth.”

“I’m sorry,” Perry said, with a hint of earnestness.

“Maybe the evidence will lead us to one of these Vogons.  This shit is crazy.”

“I hope so, too,” said Perry.  “After what I saw, I’m thinking of taking a permanent vacation, somewhere nibbish can’t find me.”

Kautz chuckled.  “I think that’s a good idea.”

“So, can I go now?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Perry reached out his hand, and Kautz shook it.  As Perry left, Kautz slumped in his chair.  Grabbing a pencil, he tapped it twice, as if doing so would provide the next clue.  His eye caught a file on the desk.  It was a cold case he had been thumbing through on break.  Harry O’Dell was the name of the victim.

His eyes then darted to a paperweight.  It was onyx.  He then noticed his leftover meatball sub from lunch.  It was sitting atop the DVD that detective Wells had returned.  It was Hook.

“That son of a bitch!” Kautz yelled as he hurried out of the room.  As he did, a fax came through.  The picture looked not unlike a twerp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the cabbie pulled away, he looked in the rear-view mirror.  “Where ya headed?”

“The airport.”

“Taking a trip, eh?”

“Mexico.”

“Lucky bastard.  You got a name?”

“Perry,” he said, looking out the window.  He saw a young boy walking his dog.  They were both grinning ear to ear, enjoying the day, and life.  He smiled, too.  “You can call me Pete.”

K: Yikes. Okay, I laughed a lot. This one had to know it wasn’t likely to snag my Immunity, but I did love the Wreisner soliloquy and the The Usual Suspects shot-for-shot recreation. This doesn’t get Immunity, but gets my undying love for being so amusing after a week (well, a season) of depressing endings.

DK: Those who were involved in Survivor VIII may not be surprised when I say NAHV-as-the-Usual-Suspects reminds me a lot of something I wrote back then using Internet names of people I and the judges knew. I laughed at this a lot, and I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of in-jokes here, although there are several references to things that would have particular meaning for Spookymilk Survivor participants, some of which (like Josh Mitchell not submitting or Wreisner’s dialogue) are things that someone totally independent of this game reading this story might not get the full impact of…I guess that means they might be in-jokes, actually. This probably isn’t something I’d like to see done week after week, but I enjoyed this a lot this time. Especially that half-baked Grey-Shawn dialogue.

I tossed away several bad ideas before settling on one I knew wouldn’t win immunity.  Sending up the plot of “The Usual Suspects” was a strike against me, but with no other good ideas on the table I went with it and just tried to make it as funny as possible.  I wish the ending would have made more of an impact, but there it is.

There’s one in-joke nobody playing will get.  But there was an incident when I was young with me, a pair of scissors, and a Smurfette doll.  Shawn, I’m sorry.

 

Survivor X, Week 19: The Machine of Death

This week we had to write about the Machine of Death.  It’s a machine that prints out a card, foreshadowing one’s death.  It is never wrong.  The story must also have a title, and that title must be the words on the card someone receives.

YOU

Dave Nguyen took a slow drag from his cigarette, allowing himself to taste the smoke rolling around his cheeks.  He hated smoking.  But he endured it for two reasons.  The first was because he could.  His status afforded him the opportunity despite the world-wide ban on tobacco production.  The second reason was his intense dislike for living.  If smoking shaved seven years off his life, Dave welcomed it.

He inarguably had the most important job a human ever had.  When the fucking scientists figured out how to send a person through time, they also figured out this was a very bad idea.  Even the most minor of changes in the past would have unimaginable consequences, the saddest being erasing the life experiences of every generation affected henceforth.  And in this age of global government, that meant everybody.  Dave’s job was to prevent this from happening.  He was lead investigator of the TTP, the Terran Temporal Police.  If somebody managed to send themselves back in time, he was to follow and terminate their right of existence.

Thankfully, this didn’t happen very often.  There were only two time machines, one in Cape Town, the other in Zurich.  They were highly guarded and required at minimum three people for its operation, and anyone near it had already undergone multiple stages of psychological testing.  The machines were used regularly; international law only banned traveling to the past.  Every so often, a scientist (and one time a politician) couldn’t resist the temptation.  A bribe or two later and Dave had work to do.

Most who went back felt they were doing so for altruistic reasons.  At least that’s what most told him before termination.  The first went back to try and kill Gavrilo Princip.  Dave was at Moritz Shiller’s Café long before his target, thanks to a tip from one of the scientists who helped send him back.  No damage was done, unless you count the perp’s body in the bottom of the Adriatic.  The second who went back decided he wanted to be the first person to see a live dinosaur.  A very generous sarcosuchus did Dave’s work for him.

The Machine of Death—a prize brought back from the future–made Dave’s job a bit easier.  Anyone who worked in or around one of the time machines had to first register and receive their death card.  It helped Dave catch a guy last year whose card read ENOLA GAY.  He found him near the imperial palace in Tokyo.  An interrogation revealed he planned on warning Hirohito.  Dave tied him to a post in an abandoned Hiroshima cotton mill.

Four months ago, a lady who worked in Zurich received a card that said DAVE NGUYEN.  After two days of private deliberations at TTP headquarters, it was decided that Dave would make a preemptive strike.  When Dave confronted her at her home, she quickly resigned to her fate, but asked him if he’d make love to her before she ingested the poison he brought.  She was striking, and due to his work women were naturally afraid to sleep with him.  But he declined, knowing that emotional detachment was crucial to his future success.

Rubbing out the end of the cigarette, Dave’s attention turned to the card he kept taped to the monitor.  He was also required to visit the Machine of Death when he was awarded his current position.  He now wished he had asked never to see the results after they were printed.  He took the card and studied it, as if he thought hard enough about it he could change what it had told him.  One word stared back at him.

YOU

Dave thought he was signing up for an adventure of a lifetime.  But his life became smaller every day.  There were no other travelers in his department, so he was always on-call.  The pressure to prevent unauthorized jumps was enormous.  His brain rarely shut off as he studied each person who worked with the machines, having to assume each one was capable of defection.  But the terminations weighed heavy on his conscience.  Knowing that each termination saved over 13 billion lives did little to quell the guilt.

He thought about suicide every day.  The card forced him to.  But in all the years with the TTP, he never really considered it.  Depressed as he was, one thing motivated him.  He wanted to prove the Machine of Death wrong.

His phone rang, which is to say the device implanted in his ear sounded an alarm.

“Unauthorized jump.  Repeat, unauthorized jump.”

Dave was already heading for the door.

“Who is it?” Dave asked.

“Igor Khitrovo.”

“How far back?”

“Two days, sir.”

“Two days?”

“Yes, sir.”

Dave opened the door to the lab.  Due to the time sensitive nature of his work, living right next to the time machine was a forgone conclusion.  At least they had given him soundproof walls.

He found the director, who handed him his pistol–he refused to keep it in his home–as they walked to the machine.  “Any ideas?” Dave asked.

“None, sir.”

“What did his card, say?”

The director handed him a copy.  OLD AGE is all it said.

“That’s odd,” said Dave as he stepped into the machine.

“Agreed,” replied the director.  “It’s imperative that you bring him back alive.”

“But only one person can come back at a time.”

“New development.  It should work.”  The director attached the armband.

“Since when?”

“Since now.  Do it.”

The director turned around and nodded to the two scientists at the controls.  Dave closed his eyes.  It was easier that way.  He felt a mild electrical pulse run through his toes, heard the usual popping noise, then opened his eyes again.  He recognized his location from the personnel files.  It was Igor’s home.

Most perps traveled to a desolate location, hoping to avoid being noticed or leaving a trail for Dave to follow.  The scientists theorized that short jumps in time had less time variance.  The typical variance was twelve to sixteen hours, but a jump this short would likely have a variance of twenty to thirty seconds.  Perhaps that’s why Igor didn’t bother to cover his tracks.  He was standing just two feet away, leaning against the kitchen sink.

“Hey Dave,” he said casually.

Dave drew his gun.

“I know you won’t kill me.  You’ve seen my card.”

“I have orders to bring you back alive.  You’ll die in a prison cell I’m guessing.”

“Can I say something first?”

Dave stared at him, unflinching.

Igor sighed.  “Will you put that thing down?  You and I both know you’re not going to use it.”

Dave obliged.

“My wife and daughter are upstairs, sleeping.”  Igor approached Dave, obviously not concerned about him.  “In about two hours, they’re going to wake up.  Then they’re going to come down here to eat breakfast.  Marta will have coffee and a bagel with cream cheese and lox.  Yuliya will have waffles, sausage, and orange juice.  They’ll turn on the radio to a station that still plays songs from the fucking Beatles. “

Igor took a breath.  He seemed on the verge of crying or yelling; Dave wasn’t sure.

“And before breakfast is over, a man dressed as a priest will ring the doorbell and force his way in.  He’ll tie my wife to a chair, and make her watch as he rapes my daughter.  He’ll cut them up, hearing them scream in agony as they slowly bleed to death.”

Dave reached back, found a chair, and sat.

“I know you have a job, but I beg you to let me stop this.  Please!”  Igor wept.  “Even if it changes things, it will just be the next two days.  Nobody will know the difference except you.  We can stop this fucker and go back together.”

Dave shook his head.  “I’m sorry, Igor.  I can’t make judgments.”  Dave took a deep breath, but still felt he was suffocating.  “We don’t know what changing the past will do.  Killing this guy could have irrevocable repercussions that you and I can’t begin to imagine.  And if we don’t kill him, he might go next door and do the same thing.  Dammit, I’m sorry.  But you know I can’t let you do this.”

Igor’s body went limp as he lowered himself to the floor.

Dave approached and knelt beside him.  He grabbed Igor’s shoulder and leaned in.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, as he reached for the armband with his free hand.  He heard a loud pop.  Before he could turn around, he felt a pistol jam up against his neck.

“I’m sorry, too,” said the voice behind him.

Dave Nguyen recognized the voice.  It was his own.   In the second before the bullet scrambled his brain, his depression lifted.

Spooky: Oh, hot damn. Dave did the right thing. God help me, I didn’t see this ending coming, although given the circumstances, I possibly should have. In a week full of incredible concepts, this one still stands out.

DK: Another really cool idea, and Dave is another great, sharply drawn character here. I have to admit I didn’t fully understand what was meant to have happened to bring Dave into position to kill “himself”, but regardless, the time travel aspect fits together well with the premise of this challenge.

I had other ideas, including a minister bringing an MoD to prisoners on death row, and also a person that was the Machine of Death.  While none of my concepts were drawn out, it appears John and Brooks had somewhat similar thoughts.

I actually settled on the title of this story before the concept.  Then time travel.  Then I felt Dave might kill himself because he was forced to do things that were for the greater good but made his heart break.  But it wasn’t until I was halfway through the story that I had the idea of him having to back in time to kill himself, to save himself from allowing Igor’s family to die.  Of all the time travel stories I’ve seen, I’m not sure someone’s done that.  I would love to see it visually, too.  Dave shoots himself, and they both disappear immediately.

One mistake wasn’t caught by the judges.  I said Dave had to get a death card as part of the hiring process for his job, yet I already established he had been lead investigator of the TTP before the Machine of Death was found.  Whoops.

I didn’t win immunity, but the winner was very deserving.  This competition has made me a stronger writer, and a good deal of that is being able to watch other great writers do their work.

 

 

Survivor X, Week 18: Triumph of Tragedy

With seven players remaining, there is no such thing as an easy opponent.  Everyone left could get published and I’d buy whatever they wrote.  This week we had to write a fictional story about a real, historical tragedy in history, and the character who goes through it.  It was our choice whether or not the protagonist lives or dies.

Sitting up in the hospital bed, he first noticed the IV protruding from this left arm.  He then noticed a baseball resting on the tray beside his bed.  An instinctual impulse to grab it led to an unfortunate series of shockwaves, knocking what little wind he had out his lungs.  Unsure why he was here, but sure he needed to see that baseball, he took more a measured approach on his next attempt.  Slow and steady won the race this time, as the tip of his middle finger was able to roll the ball off the tray and onto his lap.  There was writing on the ball, the first letter barely smudged.

YOU LUCKY GUY, JACK!

Jack?  Was that his name?  It didn’t ring a bell, but neither did anything else.  In fact, he had no idea why he was here, or why he was in so much pain.

Below the compliment was a signature.  It took him a bit, but the name came to form.  He heard a stranger’s voice—his own—sound it out.

“Candy Maldonado.”

He remembered.

***************

“Fucking ay!  I managed to score you a ticket and you don’t show up until the 4th inning?”

“Sorry, man,” he said, annoyed.  “I was with an important client.  And you know how traffic is this time of night.”

“Pfffttthh.  You’re missing a good one, too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Reuschel’s retired nine straight, and Uribe scored last inning to tie the game.”

“Awesome.”

He disengaged from his friend and surveyed the field.  There was a runner on first.  He couldn’t tell who.  He heard the crowd react.  It was a wild pitch.

“Go go Mitchell you shithead go!”

So it was Mitchell on first.  Now on second.  He turned to his friend.

“You know, I don’t think he heard you.”

“Lighten up, dude.  It’s just a…oh shit, look out!”

He turned around in time to see a foul ball hurtling towards him.  He raised his hands up in defense.

****************

He looked at his hands.  They appeared fine, quite unlike his right leg, which was in traction.

He looked at the ball again.

“Nice catch!”  He looked up to see a doctor approaching.  “So, how are we doing?”

“Fine, I guess.”

“Who’s the current President?”

He racked his brain.  “Reagan?”

“No, but you’re closer now.  Last time I asked you said Ford.  Okay, well, your vitals look good.  Nurse tells me your pain has subsided.  Lookin’ good.”

“Doc, do I have amnesia?”

The doctor sighed.  “Too soon to tell.  It could be the anesthesia from the surgeries, but it’s unusual for a patient to not remember their name.  Still don’t?

He shook his head.

“I’m not too worried yet.  And hey, if you don’t get your memory back, maybe you can play center field next week.”

He hated funny doctors.

“So how’d you get that autograph, anyway?”

He remembered.

*******************

Flying down the road, his mind wandered.  He wished he could go straight home.  But he had to fly out to Seattle in an hour for another client and wouldn’t be back until Tuesday.  Even worse, he was out of gas.  The next exit had a Shell station.

As he squeezed the pump, his mind raced.  He’d need to double-time it to the airport if he didn’t want to hurry inside the terminal.  And then there was presentation he didn’t know how to finish.  The gas pump was unbearably slow.   He looked at the man at the next pump over, who also seemed a bit impatient.  The man caught him staring.  Oh, shit!  He recognized him.

“Um, hi.  I don’t mean to intrude, but is your name…Candy?”

The man flashed his white teeth in a broad smile.  “It might be.”

“Wow.  Well, uh, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”  He extended his hand.  Candy shook it.  “Hey, I caught a foul ball you hit tonight.”

“Really, man?”

“Yeah!  Would you autograph it for me?”

“Heh.  Sure thing, man.”

He practically threw open his passenger door and found the ball.  He couldn’t believe his luck.

*********************

“Hey you, wake up!”

His eyes fluttered several times before he opened them.  The voice appeared to come from a pretty woman standing over him.

“Nurse?”

“No, silly.  It’s me.  The doctor said we could finally see you.”

“Oh…”  He looked her up and down.  Nice body, too.

“So! Just look at the mess you got yourself into.  You’ll do anything to get attention, won’t you?”

He said nothing.  Turning his head, he saw someone else on the other side of the bed.  A young man, maybe ten or eleven.  He squinted his eyes.  Nope.

“Oh,” the woman said.  “The doctor said you might…”

“I don’t remember.  Who are you?”

“I’m your wife, Denise.”  She choked back tears.  “And this is your son, Jack.  Oh Michael…”

He looked at his son, hoping beyond hope he’d remember.  He picked up the ball.  “I guess this is for you.”

***********************

The trip was a success.  Michael had secured another client, and he had an autographed ball for his son.  As he cruised down the Nimitz Freeway, he turned on the radio.  The legendary voice of Jack Buck greeted him.  He grinned.  Sure, the Giants were down two to nothing, but they were at home now.  And Garrelts was pitching.

A loud thunk jolted Michael.  He wondered if he hit something. Turning his focus back to the road, he looked ahead.  The southbound lane of I-880 was above him.  And now it was falling.

Spooky: I have no idea why it took me so damned long to figure out what was going on here – I know a boy of about 14 died when he was hit with a foul ball a few decades back, but given that I knew the players mentioned here, I should have come up with it (this is the earthquake during the 1989 World Series, for the uninitiated). I loved the story’s construction, told effectively out of order, which fit the theme of the victim’s confusion. This was another astonishingly strong week, Survivors, and I’m left clueless about where Immunity should go.

DK: Yeah, of course I have a soft spot for baseball. I was too young to experience following this event when it happened, but as a piece of baseball history it’s pretty satisfying in a story form here, and these flashback intercuts are also pretty effective for unpeeling the way Michael’s situation took place.

Once again I wrote something that turned out better than I thought it would.  From the beginning I knew I wanted our hero to have an autographed baseball for his kid, and shortly thereafter I threw in the flashbacks.  My biggest decision was whether or not the player would be from the A’s or Giants, and which one at that.  I decided on the Giants, as I hated those A’s teams as a kid, and even in retrospect many of their batters don’t have solid reputations.  Matt Williams or Kevin Mitchell were more recognizable, but I felt their names were too boring.  And if I’m a kid?  I want the autograph of the dude with the awesome name.  I loved Candy Maldonado when I was a kid and I barely saw him play.

I didn’t win immunity, but I’m not dissatisfied.  The competition is really amazing.  And this week’s winner made Spooky hug his daughter.  Here’s hoping there’s no earthquake in Phoenix this week.

Survivor X, Week 17: Before and After

Our first week post-merge, our challenge was to create a conflict between two characters.  The catch is that part one had to be from one character’s perspective, and part two had to be from the second character’s perspective.  The second catch is that we can’t actually show the conflict.  And here’s what I did.

A smile spread across McKenzie’s face.  Finally!  She practically had to beg him to ask her out.  They had been e-mailing for three months now.  He said he liked to take things slow and get to know her.  She was all for that, but now she was worried he was painfully shy or something.  At least he was sweet.  And he made her laugh in every letter he sent.

“Hey Kenz!” called her Mom as she entered the bedroom without knocking.  McKenzie minimized the window and hoped the butterflies wouldn’t betray her.  “We’re leaving in a few minutes!”

“Okay,” McKenzie said, heading to the closet to get a pullover.  It was royal blue, her favorite color, and one she usually saved for special occasions.  “Are we going out to eat afterwards?”

“Wasn’t planning on it.  Did you want to?”

“Whatever, just wondering.”

As her mom left the room, McKenzie smiled to herself.  Jake had wanted to go to Biaggi’s and she didn’t want to tell her she had a date.  Mom wasn’t against her dating, but she was afraid Mom would say no if she found out where she met him.

As she was putting on foundation (not too much), she felt herself shaking a bit.  She wasn’t that nervous about meeting a stranger (and after all, three months of e-mails and she felt she knew him more than anyone), but she was going to meet his parents!  Apparently, they needed to approve of her!  He told her not to worry, that they’d probably just say hi and shake her hand.  Still…

Securing the last earring, McKenzie noticed her Chloe Moretz poster was beginning to fall.  Checking the scotch tape, she flattened out the corner again.  Stepping back to check out her handy work, she nearly tripped over her stuffed walrus.  She picked up Nigel and went to set him back on the bed.  She paused, gave Nigel a once-over, and put him in her closet.

“Gussied up for a trip to CostCo?” her mom said as she put on her pea coat.

“I might run into someone from school!”  McKenzie shuddered.  She didn’t want to protest too much.  “Besides, what’s wrong with looking nice?”

“Just giving you a hard time, kiddo.”

“Hey Mom, can I spend the night at Hannah’s?”  Mom never said no, but McKenzie was nervous as hell.

“Just tell me one thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Help me clean the basement tomorrow?”

McKenzie smiled.  “Sure, Mom.”

“And we start at ten sharp!” She winked.  “I can drop you off after we’re done.”

“Thanks!” said McKenzie, exhaling as she turned around.  “Just let me get my toothbrush.”

*******************************

Jake had a date.  He looked sharp, no doubt.  Jake shifted his tie until it was straight.  Then he patted down his cowlick one more time.  It popped back up.  He told himself he was too much a perfectionist.  But he was still nervous.  She’d be here in twenty minutes.  Waiting was the worst part.  Once she got here, he was confident his nerves would settle.

Ripping himself from the mirror, Jake entered the living room and stood by the bay window.  The sun was setting, casting glorious shades of ochre and crimson across the sky.  The serenity did nothing to relieve the tension.  His lifted his right hand, trying to hold it still.  It rattled like a mechanical mouse.

Even though Jake had hated his parents, he was still lonely. Dad was always in some other country on business, but he’d call every so often and call him “Sport.”  Mom cared more about impressing her high-society friends, but she’d hug him.  If she wasn’t always trashed, and if her hugs didn’t occasionally get a bit weird, he might miss her more. If nothing else, they left him the house.

Jake headed towards the basement.  It seemed disrespectful to do so before a date, but the last thing he wanted was to appear flustered and clumsy.  Even descending the steps lessened his anxiety.  Reaching the bottom step, he took off his shoes and socks, placing them neatly together.  Taking the final step, he felt cool dirt embrace his toes.

He saw what he was looking for on the workbench.  As he crossed the room, he gazed at the east wall where he had erected a trophy case.  All of his prizes were there, except the most recent.  He was proud of the accomplishments he had worked so hard for since his parents were killed.  He wondered if they’d be proud of him.

Reaching the workbench, Jake took the shovel and propped it up against the wall.  The Ziploc bag was right where he left it.  As he opened it an erection formed in his slacks.  Carefully, Jake removed the cotton material and rested it against his cheek.  Glancing at the trophy case, he noticed there wasn’t a trace of royal blue to be found.  This was perfect.

Jake inhaled the scent of the material.  Expecting another rush, what he felt instead hit him like a truck.  She was perfect.  Not a bitch like the others.  While he hated her innocence, she had a spirit about her he had never seen.  She seemed to approach life as if she could just brush away its inherent cruelty.  She had even told him she cared about him.  His sorrow spiraled into a crushing bout of self-loathing.  He had let go his only chance to be happy.

After placing the material inside the bag, Jake opened the only drawer of the work bench and found the revolver. He kept it there in case the police ever paid him a visit.  He never thought he’d want to use it before then.  Almost unconsciously, he felt himself grabbing the gun and bringing it to his mouth.  Cocking the hammer, Jake felt a tear running down his cheek.

The doorbell rang.

That beautiful sound jolted Jake out his self-pity.  Placing the gun back in the drawer, a renewed sense of confidence practically burst out of him.  He sealed the Ziploc bag, then scurried to the foot of the stairs, putting on his socks and shoes.  As he looked up at the foyer, Jake straightened his tie once more.   Tonight was a good night.  Jake had a date.

Spooky: Fucking Christ, I hope I can forget this one. It’s a dirty trick to do this to a guy with two young daughters. Anyway, removing that from the equation (that’s not possible, but work with me here), this is a beautifully dark story to finish a week that started with a beautifully dark story, and everything in between was great too.

DK:  Whew. I kind of had a feeling I could guess where this was going (cause I kind of had a feeling I could guess the author) but it was not a disappointment at all. In fact, I think this one leaps off the page; it moves fast, it draws its characters perfectly precisely, and the emotional impact, for me, was pretty palpable.

I actually came up with the entire story about six hours after the challenge was announced.  It was probably the easiest one I’ve done to date, at least as far as flow.  I knew it wouldn’t be fair to Spooky, but I hoped that by the time his daughters are this age, he will have forgotten this story.

I won’t comment much, since the judge’s pretty much said it.  I will say the most time I spent on any one sentence in this story was to figure out which idol McKenzie would have on her wall in poster form.  I quickly eschewed Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, feeling McKenzie would think herself above that.  So I went with Chloe, who at least publicly presents the kind of personality I was thinking McKenzie would admire.

Oh, and one more thing.

DK: I’m going to give my immunity to (Beau).

Tonight was a good night.

Survivor X, Week 16: Afterlife

This week, we had to write about the afterlife.  Yup.

“We’re gonna need to intubate!”

Morgan was floating just above consciousness.

“What happened to her?”

“Looks like a cocktail.  Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan.  Okay, let’s do this!”

Morgan fell under.

************

“Are you awake, dear?” The voice was upbeat but twitchy, as if the speaker was in a hurry.

“Mmm?” said Morgan.  She opened her eyes.  The room, or whatever it was, awoke her senses.  Bright white flooded the area.  Besides the man before her, she was the only perceivable…thing in the room.

“Wonderful!”  The man, wearing a suit and tie, smiled warmly.    “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Are…?” Morgan squinted at the man before her.  “Is this?  Are you?”

The look on his face beamed with anticipation.

“God?”

“Oh, lordy lordy, no!” he replied.  “But don’t worry, I’m not upset.  Nobody ever gets it right on the first guess.”

“Then are you…”

“Or the second guess for that matter.  Tell you what, since today is your lucky day, I’ll just come right out and tell you.”

Morgan raised her brow.

“I’m Ray Combs!”

Morgan raised her brow further.

“And it’s time to play…The Feud!”

From out of nowhere, a platform with a red buzzer appeared before her.

“Okay Morgan, now get ready for round one!  Buzz in when you have an answer.  We asked one-hundred people who recently committed suicide; would you like to go to Heaven?”

“Uhhh…” Morgan stared at him, wondering if he was serious.  “Yes?”

“Ah ah!” he said.  “Gotta hit your buzzer.”

Morgan pressed the buzzer.  It beeped at her.  “Yes?”

Ray turned around, looking up at the white nothingness.  “Show me…yes!”

As the sound of an electronic bell filled the area, her answer appeared in bright yellow letters.  Next to it, the number 100.

“Yes!” shouted Ray.  “Now don’t go away, round two is coming up next.”

“But…” Morgan started.

“We asked the same one-hundred no-longer living people; what was your most grievous sin?”

Morgan continued to eye Ray Combs with caution, but hit the buzzer anyway.  “I once cheated on my husband with his best friend.”

“Good answer!  That certainly was sinful.”  Ray turned around once more.  “Show me adultery!”  A loud buzz filled the air, as well as a giant red X.

“I’m sorry, but it appears to be not as grievous as you thought.  You still have two strikes left.  Do you have another answer?”

“Um, well that year I taught English in the inner city school?  I slept with one of my students to get some cocaine.”

“All right, that’s good!” Ray said reassuringly.  “Show me getting in the sack with a black for some crack!”

The giant red X appeared again.  The buzzer seemed louder this time.

“Okay,” Ray said.  “I don’t want you to be nervous, but you now have two strikes.  One more strike and you know what that means.”  He looked at her, his brow furled with great concern.

“I’m going to hell?” Morgan asked.

“With a brand new copy of our home game!  But don’t worry, I’m confident you’ll get it right this time.  Now Morgan, think really hard.  What was your most grievous sin?”

Morgan bit her lip.  “Would it be my severe depression and anxiety that led me to taking too many pills this morning in hopes of falling asleep?”

“It might be,” Ray said.  “Show me suicide!”  The bell dinged, with the number 100 appearing before her guess.

“You’re going good Morgan.  This is the third and final round.  If you get this right, I am authorized to grant you passage into Heaven.  Are you ready?”

“Sure.”

“One-hundred sinful people just like you were asked this final question.  Who do you ask for salvation from and accept as your personal savior?”

Morgan laughed and hit the buzzer.  “You.”

“Why, thank you.  Let’s see if anybody else did.  Show me Ray Combs!”  The bell dinged.  Ray’s name appeared in the air, with the number 2 beside it.

“And those two people have a copy of our home game!  But you have another chance.  Do you have an answer?”

“I think I do Ray!”

Morgan knew the answer all along.  It was the hardest thing she ever had to do.  And Ray Combs helped her do it.

“My answer is Jes…”  Before she could finish, Morgan felt a tingling sensation.

“Damn it, not another one!” shouted Ray.  He watched as Morgan phased out of and back into the area.

“What’s happening?” Morgan’s look of peace had changed to fear.

“The doctors are bringing you back to life.  Now listen very carefully.”  Ray placed his fingers on Morgan’s temples and looked directly into your eyes.  “You will forget everything that’s happened here.  When you wake up, all you will remember is that you moved up through a tunnel that was filled with a radiant white light.”

And with that, Morgan disappeared.

Ray Combs sighed.  “Morgan,” he said to no one, adjusting his tie.  “I hope I never see you again.”

Spooky: Whoa. This is a riot, but also pops with drama, as Combs himself was a suicide victim (nice job assuming I’d know this already, Survivor; I do indeed have a twisted obsession with death). It’s a hard thing to use comedy to bring out this much of an emotional response, but here we are. Excellent stuff. 5

DK: This was funny and touching all together. Another great concept, and I really got a kick out of this case. I was hoping it was going to get even more towards dark humor for a little bit, but I don’t really have a problem with the way it ended up going. 3

I thought of this concept with four hours left until the deadline, and I wasn’t sure even where to go with it.  But I felt Ray Combs was an amazing game show host so it was easy to write for him.  I was surprised that I was able to fit some poignancy into the script.  Adjusting his tie at the end was a nod to the way he ended his own life.

Also, being that I work with people on a daily basis who contemplate suicide, I wanted to make a point in the story that one of the most dangerous things someone can do to someone who is considering suicide or has attempted is to make them feel shameful for doing so.  People who are at that point need love, compassion, and support.  Not judgment.

But I have to be honest.  I can’t stop giggling at the sight of Ray Combs yelling, “Show me getting the sack with a black for some crack!”

Survivor X, Week 15: Unfortunate Strength

Yet another week from the incredibly broad concept factory had us writing about a character’s unfortunate strength and how it puts them in an undesirable position.

Graham Michaels was a dead man.

Not in the figurative sense, though he had also been that since last Thursday.  At this moment he was genuinely dead.  And in sixty seconds he would realize this fact.

Graham’s net worth was 1.9 billion.  He did not live lavishly.  He did not care about status.  He made money because he was good at it.  Really good at it.  Being a hedge fund manager was sheer joy.

While he would publicly bemoan every new regulation placed upon his work by the government, Graham secretly relished each new change to the game.  While he had the talent and the stamina to make money within the system, finding ways to game it was his primary hobby.  And for nineteen years, he had never been caught.

Last Thursday he was caught.

No charges had yet been pressed, but a close friend tipped him off that the SEC had proof of insider trading.  Graham did not fear death.  Death was just the end of the game.  But he feared prison, where the game continued without him.

Five minutes ago he met his friend at a villa outside Riga.  Sipping on some wine, his friend extended his hand out, inviting Graham to have a seat.  He obliged, resting his attaché case on the wicker table. Perhaps it was a bit conspicuous, but Graham had to carry as much cash as possible with his bank accounts soon to be worthless.

“You know,” his friend greeted him.  “Lugging that thing around could get you killed.”

Graham raised his brow.  “By you, perhaps?”

His friend grinned, pulling out a pistol.  “Perhaps.”  Graham let go of the case.  “You see ol’ friend.  What I didn’t tell you was that the SEC found a little Ponzi scheme you ran in ninety-nine.  I lost half a mil that year.”

“I’ve made you back twice that,” said Graham, ignoring the weapon.

“So you did,” he replied, opening up the case.  “And now, it appears, twice that again.”

Not only did Graham not fear death, he did not fear living.  Sewn into the lining of his suit was enough money to keep him comfortable for a long time.  He took a sip of the Sauvignon and considered opening a winery.

“Guess I no longer need this,” his former friend said, putting away his gun.  “Hope your soul is prepared.”

Graham put down his glass.  “The wine?”   He laughed.  “Classic.”

Sixty seconds later, Graham opened his eyes.  A red mist clouded most of his view.  He did not know what to expect from the afterlife, but he was surprised to find all of his senses still in working order.   The smell of sulfur nearly knocked him back.

Never one to hesitate, Graham strode through the mist.  As it cleared, Graham was aghast to see dozens of grayish souls wandering, sulking.  He expected spirits, yes.  But the sight of people resigned to their fate was abhorrent.  He didn’t pity them.  He hated them.  And he had no time for them.

Ahead, he saw what looked like a river, black and uninviting.  As he approached, a ferry came into view.  Its operator stood erect, but otherwise appeared calloused, bereft of life.

Graham accosted the spirit.  “Do you take me across the river?  Is my soul to be judged?”

The spirit lifted his arm, pointing to a sign.  On it, a picture of a coin.

Graham felt around inside his suit.  Bingo.  “I have cash.  Will a hundred thousand do?  After all, I can’t take it with me, right?”  The spirit nodded, and beckoned him to the ferry.  The trip was long, especially since Graham’s companion was not conversational.  However, before eternity passed, they reached the other side.  The spirit extended his hand.

“Oh, right.  Your payment.”  Graham removed everything stitch of clothing that held money, leaving him in his briefs.  He handed his clothes to the spirit, who donned them and stepped off the boat.  He handed Graham his oar.

“What’s this for?”

The spirit finally spoke.  “I finally have enough to pay my dues.  I sincerely thank you.  Now I must be going.  I am through with this world.”

“And what am I supposed to do?” sputtered Graham.

“You are Charon,” the spirit replied.  “You pay your dues.”

Spooky: There’s actually a fable like this, where the oarsman is replaced, but that’s trickery rather than punishment. This reads like a cautionary tale, but isn’t ham-fisted enough to be annoying. I dug the mood…though I would have taken it even darker. 3

DK: I like the development of this character and the ending packs a little more punch for me because of that, I think. 3

Dang it.  It’s my fault, but I did not want this to come off like a cautionary tale.  First, I tried to make it obvious that Graham did not fear death, so being murdered was not the undesirable position of him being so good at making money.  After that I’m not sure what the cautionary tale would be.  Don’t accidentally die with tons of money lined into your suit?   Charon didn’t get replaced because Graham was a bad guy; he was replaced because he just happened to have the money Charon needed. Maybe that makes for a weak climax, though.

Since I was a kid I’ve always found Charon and the river Styx to be creepy.  Once I knew Graham was going to die, I wanted something bad to happen to him in the afterlife, but not for any moral reasons. So I ran with this concept.  For anyone who has played it, I was also obviously influenced by Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango, where the protagonist has to pay his dues in the afterlife (though for different reasons).  Spooky’s right that I could have made this even darker.

In good news, the Vogons are back to their winning ways, and are sitting with five members with nine left overall.