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WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Cage Bout #3

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE, and remember, the bouts stay open for one week.

The contest started with 181 submissions from 132 writers and we've narrowed that down to 18 (fifteen 1st round winners and three that were SAVED). The DFW Conference is in less than four weeks and its time to get serious. That means - it's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE. The contestants will be using the same writing sample that allowed them to get this far, and the readers/voters will have to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six bouts (M-S) this time.

If you voted in the preliminary round, then there is no need to leave a critique this time, however, if this is your first time seeing these writers we do ask that you leave a brief critique for the writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-S), the voting for each bout will remain open for as long as possible from the day it was posted to give as many people as possible to have a say. The voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, May 22nd (noon central time).

It’s that simple. The piece that garnishes the most votes moves on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a NEW WRITING SAMPLE

In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

Oh yeah – for every bout that you vote in, your name (see rule #2 below) will be placed into a hat for a chance for a $40 Barnes and Noble Gift card that will be drawn after the contest concludes.

A few rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3)Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will result in that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough jibber-jabber…like the man say’s –

In one corner, we have Qingxun.

Shrouded by the moonless night and his black robe, Zhou Haoran crouched on the slate-topped outer wall and watched Sun Jiechu -- his best friend, his sworn brother, the man he had promised to kill. Below, in the courtyard that unfolded between the men, two red paper lanterns cast ephemeral halos across the surface of the compound’s central pond. From opposite ends of the garden rose two sets of grand, double doors. Had Haoran come under any other circumstances, Jiechu would throw those doors open for him like welcoming arms. Now, they lay barred from within.
            On the far side of the house, all the windows to Jiechu's study were shut save one, as if an invitation to come in out of the summer heat and join him in the brightly lit room. Haoran could use his lightness skill to glide down from the wall, cross the manicured garden, and have a seat in the finely-crafted oak chair across from his white-haired friend, who would smile at him like the sun itself. The time that amassed between them would fall away, and the dawn would find the two still laughing over tea.
            During the decades since they'd last seen each other, Haoran had traversed the breadth of the Ming empire, slaying his martial brothers -- everyone who had studied Fierce Mantis Style. Jiechu had used that time to grow prosperous enough to own the manor he now sat in, but it was not grandiose -- Haoran could no more imagine Jiechu being ostentatious than he could imagine the sun rising in the west. But his old friend had paid attention to the details : the outer walls of manor’s two main halls were decorated with carved stone, and wooden lattice protected the interior paper windows. That kind of craftsmanship took money. Could Jiechu have gone soft?
            No, Haoran would be a fool to think Jiechu an easy kill. In the old days, Jiechu’s skill mathed their master's, Old Mantis. But in virtue and kindness, Haoran reflected, Jiechu had no equal. Murdering such a hero would be a transgression against the world, but a vow to one's deceased master held more power than any other bond, and Haoran had spent a lifetime fulfilling this promise. When Haoran had given his word to Old Mantis, he knew this day would come. He'd put it off too long. Now all that remained was to find a suitable opportunity.
            Below, a small servant girl, perhaps fifteen, approached Jiechu. Her black hair hung in a smooth braid down her back, and she had the ruddy cheeks and wide face of a Tibetan. Haoran watched the girl give Jiechu a comically deep bow. Jiechu grinned with pure joy, and his ease might have enabled Haoran to catch him off guard once the girl left, except that she had turned to face the courtyard, and her gaze was wandering up in Haoran's direction. 

In the other corner, we have Catnipped.

I sipped. As potions go, it didn't taste half bad. The guy had called it a treatment. But I liked potion better, because potions were all about mysterious magical adventures and not just about a bought and paid for guinea pig. Easy money, my alley-mate had said. Not so much, I had since decided what with all these wires stuck to my shaved head. “What is this stuff?” I asked, something I probably should have found out before I signed the papers and took the money.

“A simple mixture,” Professor Baldy said. He’d told me his name. I’d promptly forgotten it because his name didn’t matter. All I cared about was the money. But that was before the wires and the head shaving and getting strapped into a chair at the front of a classroom with a gang of white-coated geeks gawking at me. Some looked bored. Several smirked. One was wide-eyed terrified. Another had a creepy hoping-for-a-cadaver grin.

“What does it do?” I asked.

“I can’t say,” the professor replied.

“You mean you don’t know.”

“I mean telling you would taint the results of this experiment.”

Uh. Huh.

“Go ahead. Drink up,” he urged like a bartender offering his latest feel-good concoction. 

I took a larger gulp and gagged. The sip had been not-so-horrible. A swallow was road-kill nasty.

“More,” he insisted.

The geeks stared. The professor glared. A row of machines impatiently beeped and blipped behind me. I’d signed the papers. I’d taken the money. I couldn’t back out now. I sighed, held my breath, and swigged down the rest.

A warm sensation started in my stomach and spread through me like a super-charged whiskey shot.

Baldy took the empty goblet. It was really a glass beaker, but I liked goblet better.

“It may take a few minutes,” he said more to the others than to me. “Try to relax.”

Relax. Right. Fat chance.

“While we wait…”

I half expected him to pull out a deck of cards.

“A little background information,” he continued instead in an announcer type voice. “The subject is…”

“My name is Arianna,” I interrupted.

“The subject is…” Baldy repeated. Apparently he cared about my name as much as I cared about his.

“A twenty-one-year-old female.”

Sixteen. Twenty-one. Not much difference, excepting they wouldn’t have paid a sixteen-year-old.

“Reasonably intelligent and relatively healthy.”

Relatives? Did he know about my brother? I squinted at him. He’d gone all blurry.

A monitor beeped faster.

“She also scored impressively high on our psychic aptitude tests.”

The monitor buzz-ga-leaped and then moaned. Or maybe it was me, because a killer headache suddenly stabbed me between the eyes. 

Baldy peered at the monitor. “Accelerated heart rate,” he announced. “Increased cortical activity. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” I lied. “Excepting I’m awfully hot.” Sweat drenched me. My flimsy gown clung to me like wet tissue.

A monitor suddenly went into a high pitched dit-dit-dit.

Baldy turned kind of pale.

“I’m fine,” I repeated just before everything wasn’t.

And finally, MarlaWriter

Fifteen minutes until my car backs out of the driveway for zero period band practice, and my sister’s door is still closed. I pull a baseball cap over the brown mess I didn’t bother smoothing into a socially acceptable mold of hair gel and guy-style. Grabbing my trumpet and backpack, all I can think about is Mr. Slater giving away my first chair position for being late. He threatened as much last time.
I glance at my watch and lean closer to the wall separating my room from my sister’s. No sounds of zipping backpacks or the off-key humming she likes to do when she’s getting ready. No meds-induced heavy breathing either. Even her service dog is silent.
Sophie sleeps hard. It’s a miracle she wakes up at all after swallowing the mounds of pills she takes every day.
The outdated pictures in the hallway rattle when I close my door harder than I need to. I hardly recognize the cookie-cutter family posing with coordinated smiles and matching Christmas vests like none of them have a care in the world.
I stare at Sophie’s door handle and wonder how many fingerprints smudge its shiny surface. How many times I watched Mom’s hand hover over it, worry lines hidden beneath her smile. I roll my eyes and huff because she’s probably hunkered down under a mound of blankets next to a stretched out yellow lab. But as much as I try to shake the weight off my shoulders, I wonder if this will be the day Sophie doesn’t wake up. I steel my knees in case it is.
I think about What If? I’d be an only child. Again. Both my parents could be at the same performance on the same night listening to me playing a solo I’d earned in jazz band. I search the picture with just me and my parents taken before Sophie was even born. Before the world changed color. The kid sitting in between his parents smiling too big has no clue.
If something were wrong, Nana would’ve alerted. She’s trained to get someone and then lay with Sophie until she stops shaking.  My heart beats one of those thumps where it feels like two at the same time, so I take a deep breath. If Nana needed help, she’d be whining. Probably hasn’t even been taken out yet.
I reach for the handle but then dig my phone from my pocket instead.
I’m leaving in five. And if you want
a ride to school, you better hurry.

Hopefully she reads it. Hopefully she can.
Schrodinger’s sister.
I smirk at my joke but immediately curse myself for being cavalier. Not supposed to make jokes. Rule number 372 when you live with a chronically ill sibling. At least my physics teacher would be proud.
Familiar morning sounds of Mom rustling lunch bags come from the kitchen, and the smell of coffee beckons me to follow. With one last glance, I curse the shiny handle.
Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point positives as well as detractions.

This is WRiTE CLUB - the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. Three contestants enter the cage -- one steps out.

    And in a fight to the death, my two cents are on Qingxun.

  2. Always a sucker for difficult topics handed so well
    My vote goes to MarlaWriter

  3. My vote is for MarlaWriter! I love the voice.

  4. MarlaWriter
    If I could only read one of these, that's the one I'd go with.

  5. MarlaWriter - love the voice.

  6. MarlaWriter gets my vote. *cries* They're all so good!

  7. I vote for Qingxun.

    JoAnne Turner

  8. Another tough vote. I loved the way all three of these were written, so my vote comes down to subject matter. MarlaWriter wins this one for me, but it was a close one.

  9. Another three faves, but I can pick only one?
    All right.
    Vote goes to MarlaWriter.

  10. Qingxun's story is full of lovely prose, but for me it's too overloaded with backstory before anything happens. All that backstory could be woven into the story as it progresses and the tale would work better.

    Catnipped & MarlaWriter each really grab me in different ways. Both so well-written, and MarlaWriter deserves big kudos for tackling such a tough subject so well.

    But I'm going to have to go with Catnipped. Great dry humor and action well-woven together, lots happening to keep me reading, backstory nicely sprinkled in.

    Great job to all of you and best of luck!

  11. Tough choice. I admire the deftly-drawn tension of Quingxun and the snarky voice or Catnipped, but I'm going to vote for MarlaWriter for the steadily building sense of dread.

  12. Wow, this is getting more difficult each week. I have to go with MarlaWriter here for the tension and realism. All the writers should be very proud of their work. They are all talented.

  13. Another tough choice. I'm voting for MarlaWriter.

  14. My vote goes to Qingxun for a story that has me wanting more.

  15. My Vote is for MarlaWriter for causing me to wonder how I should feel about the MC.

  16. Going with MarlaWriter.
    Simple and realistic




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