WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Cage Bout #2



Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another as was the case in previous bouts, now it's THREE AT ONCE. The contestants will be using the same writing sample that allowed them to get this far, the only difference being that now they're up against new competitors. You, the reader/voter, will have to choose one of the three to help decide who moves on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.



If you voted in the preliminary rounds, then there is no need to leave a critique with your vote this time, however, if this is your first time seeing these writers we do ask that you leave a brief critique 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), because of time restrictions the voting period will be staggered somewhat, so please pay attention to the dates posted. The voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, June 2nd (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but 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 cause 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!

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Like the man say's


Our contestants for this first cage bout (is random order) are -

Sicaria

I follow the fancy-looking lady at a good distance, making sure she don’t notice me noticing her. She’s a good mark—nice clothes, uppity brown hair that she obviously pays a lot to make look blonde, black leather purse dangling from her wrist with an open zipper, and, most important, completely and totally distracted by the little kid gripping her hand. He can’t be more than six, and he’s causing her all sorts of problems.

“Stop!” she says for the millionth time as the kid pulls at her hand. Scowling, the boy lets his mom drag him away, but his gaze don’t leave the brightly colored sweets lined up in the window of the candy store they’re passing, practically drooling as he plods along the cracked sidewalk in defeat.

The kid glances at his mom as they walk by a saloon that fits in perfectly with the drab, Old West inspired street somebody thought was a good idea, and then back at the candy store I swear smells like chocolate even though the door’s shut tight. The boy jerks his hand down, hard, but his mom still don’t let go.

“Scotty, I’m serious.” The woman sounds all mean and stern, but she’s been saying she’s serious for at least three blocks now. Both me and the kid know she ain’t serious about nothing.

But I am.

As soon as she slows in front of a store window to study a dress that costs more money than I’ve seen in months, I make eye contact with the little boy, brushing my long red curls out of my face, and pull a lolli from my pocket with a smile. The kid’s eyes get all wide and round with excitement. I give him an encouraging nod, picking up my pace so he ain’t too far from the sparkly, rainbow-colored candy in my hand. I hold it out, and that’s all it takes. The boy breaks free and races toward me before his mom even knows what happened.

I slip into the alley next to me. The boy skids around the corner and slows, searching for me in the shadows. He creeps forward, not looking too sure of himself, but then finds me leaning against an old, rusted dumpster. He stops and looks at me all full of hope, like I’m gonna give him the lolli for free.

“Scotty!” The mom’s yell echoes through the narrow space.

I bend down, tuck the lolli into his hand, and give his arm a quick squeeze. It only takes a second.

The mom turns the corner of the alley, her flower perfume overwhelming the air around me. “You don’t go running away like that. You could get hit by a car or get lost.” She grabs my hand and yanks me out of the alley, never noticing the crumpled body of a young girl lying beside the dumpster, red hair unfurling like streams of blood.
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Contestant number two is Charlie St. James

“I have always played second fiddle to women like you.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Deb.”
I looked around the room at the others who were still frozen like deer, or just too narcotized by reality TV to realize that something bad was actually going to happen right in front of them.
Perhaps a more direct approach?
“Put the cake cutter down, Deb.”
“Already think you’re the boss around here, giving orders?” She waved the knife around as she gestured to the breakroom. “No, Cassy. I will not put the knife down.”
“You are going to hurt someone, Deb.”
“Not someone.”
She lunged at me and I ducked and used the only weapon I had on me. Chocolate cake.
I smashed it into her face, hoping for a distraction to get away, or that the sight of wasted cake would somehow unfreeze the others standing around the room like statues.
Being blinded by icing, she swung her long arms around and the edge of the cake server sliced my arm, drawing blood.
Who knew that cake servers were so sharp?
I stepped away from her, but she was quick, all those years of dance class she would tell me about over coffee, and she caught my arm.
I jabbed my plastic fork into her hand and she made a sound, something between a grunt and a howl, low and not exactly human.
She pulled her hand away and I had a clear shot for the door.
I darted toward the fluorescent of the hallway, but my foot slipped on the patch of chocolate icing, sending me crashing to my knees.
That was all the time she needed to recover. She threw herself on top of me and my chin hit the tile floor hard enough that I bit my inner cheek. The taste of blood filled my mouth.
She turned me over and I only had enough time to see the glow of green in her eye and the track of cake down her cheek before she rammed the cake server into my chest. I heard the thud as the hilt hit my ribs.
I’d never had to think about what being stabbed would feel like. Never lived a life where that was a possibility. Brain aneurysm in my sleep, maybe. Bus accident, maybe. But never being stabbed.
I really didn't think that Deb, even in this wide-eyed craziness, could manage the strength to get a Pampered Chef cake cutter through my rib cage and directly into my heart, but she did. Three times actually.
As I made a vain attempt to defend myself, my lungs pooled with blood and I couldn’t breathe. The track lighting grew a little dimmer and my arms grew heavy.
Deb sat on top of me, blood flecks mixing in with her faint freckles. The smile on her face slowly faded, as did the glow of green in that right half of her right eye.
Guess she really wanted that job in HR. 
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And finally, number three is Book-Keeper

“All clear over here.”  The disembodied voice added to the eeriness of the abandoned village.  I suppressed a shiver as more voices echoed the call. 

I’d known when we set out we wouldn’t find any life, unless you counted the brown and shriveled leaves of ivy, determinedly clinging to the village well.  The thick coating of dust on abandoned buildings told the story of a place too long without water. 

The rest of the search party was already moving on, the dust cloud from parched pathways obscuring their progress as they hurried away from empty homes, driven by hope that the next village would be different, would have life. 

I knew better. 

Alone among tumbleweeds, I knelt and rummaged in my knapsack.  I’d have to work quickly before my absence was discovered.  I set my tin cup on the edge of the well and added tea leaves.  Next came a roll of cotton batting; I pulled off a small piece before tucking the rest away.  Lastly, a battered compass.  Notches in the bronze case counted the empty villages we had encountered.  The cover flipped open into a rudimentary map. 

With a deep breath and eyes pressed shut, I pushed my consciousness into the ground.  Running water bubbled in my thoughts as I searched for the joyful streams that ran beneath the land, if you looked hard enough. 

And long enough. 

What I found wasn’t a joyful spring, but a sluggish creek, parched as the land above. 

I immersed myself in it, momentarily overwhelmed by the anguish of the stagnant water.  Gasping with effort, I flooded the tired trickle of water with memories of rain, reigniting in it a long lost love of movement.

I pulled my thoughts back to the surface, to the cotton batting before me.  The water followed, filling the cotton with moisture, until it doubled and tripled in size, forming a small cloud. 

So small, it wasn’t nearly enough to end the drought, but it would have to do.  Already it held all the water to be found; even the browned ivy crumbled to dust as the cloud drained all the moisture it could find.

I carefully lifted it off the ground.  It had one more service to perform here.  A gentle squeeze filled the cup I had set aside, swirling into light brown tea.  It was a necessary luxury; the work left me drained, and I needed stamina to catch up with the search party. 

It was the work of moments to check the bearings on the compass, before giving the cloud a gentle breath in the right direction.  I didn’t know how long the makeshift cloud would hold before releasing its load.  For the hundredth time, I wished there was a better way.  For now, I’d have to collect it again, each time bringing it closer to civilization. 

I added a notch to the compass before tucking it away.  There’d be many more stops along the way to reverse the disaster I had created.  
#################################################################


Please leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

We’ll be back tomorrow with another cage bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

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



83 comments

  1. My vote is for Sicaria. This piece is brilliant.

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  2. I vote for Sicaria!! Still gives me shivers.

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  3. This is so tough!!!! My vote goes to Book-Keeper!

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  4. Still love ya, Book-Keeper. But pitted against Sicaria?
    Sicaria gets my vote.

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  5. Congratulations to all three of you!

    Sicaria gets my vote today.

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  6. I enjoyed all of these pieces in the first round, and still do. They feel fairly evenly matched across most of the criteria that are important to me, so I am going to vote for the plot that most intrigues me and makes me wish I had more to read:
    Book-Keeper.

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  7. I loved all three of these stories! My vote today goes to Sicaria.

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  8. I cannot BELIEVE Book-Keeper didn't win in the original bout. Vote for Book-Keeper all the way.

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  9. Oh so hard. This time it's Charlie St James. Just can't resist that cake server!

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  10. Everyone is awesome! But Sicaria for me!

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    1. As this vote is from an anonymous source, it will not count.

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  11. My vote today is for Sicaria. It's getting harder to decide!

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  12. Bookkeeper without reservation.

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  13. Charles St. James get my vote.

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  14. Oooh! Book-Keeper gets my vote today. Nice job!

    I'm Lesley Handel (lesleyhandel@gmail.com)

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  15. This one is so hard! I'm torn between all three, but I'm going to go with BookKeeper.

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  16. A very tough bout -- I voted for all three of thees in the prelims. It's very, very close, but I'm going to give my vote to Book-Keeper.

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  17. This is a tough one! My vote goes to Sicaria - this is a solid piece of flash fiction, very tight writing

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  18. My vote is for Sicaria. The prose is clean and there is definite conflict through the story. Charlie's story is interesting and has great conflict, but I don't understand what exactly the characters want and so the stakes fall flat. Book-keeper's story is also interesting, but there is no conflict and I don't know what the character wants so there are no stakes.

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  19. I vote Sicaria. The piece has immediate conflict and subverted my expectations twice.

    Book-Keeper was a strong competitor, but I didn't get drawn into the scene as quickly.

    Charlie's piece was all conflict, but it came so soon that I didn't have time to care about the character.

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  20. First, congratulations to these three for reaching this round. And what a dilemma now as I chose all three in the opening bouts.

    However, my vote this time goes to Book-keeper.

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  21. Another toughie, with two of my previous favorites (and another fine writer) competing. However, my vote goes for Charlie. Although labeled "paranormal mystery," it was one of several wonderful examples of humor in the original submissions.

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  22. Voting for Sicaria this round. It is a well written piece, and a bit more polished than the other entries.
    Good luck to all!

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  23. Oh no! Two of my favourites in the cage together! My vote goes to Book-keeper by the teeniest of margins!

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  24. This is breaking my heart. Truly. I LOVE Book-keeper's entry and REALLY want to read more (seriously, need a beta-reader for the full piece? I want to read more...), but I think my vote has to go to Sicaria because of the punch at the end. It's a fantastic stand-alone short story that drew me in from start to finish.

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  25. My vote is for Sicaria! Love that story.

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  26. My vote goes to Sicaria. A very creepy story that makes me eager to find out who or what exactly is the main character. The last line was particularly effective.

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  27. My vote is for Book-Keeper! Congrats to all for making it to the cage bouts!

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  28. Great entries all, my vote goes to Book-Keeper!

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  29. Congrats to all the authors for this bout! My vote goes to Charlie St. James today.

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  30. Congratulations to all three authors! My vote goes to Sicaria.

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  33. Voting for Book-Keeper. I still really want to know more of this story!

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  34. My vote goes to Book-Keeper.

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    Replies
    1. Ummm...I think you have the wrong bout. No HIJINKS here. :)

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  36. Sicaria gets my vote...it's a chiller!

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  37. SORRY MY VOTE IS FOR bookkeeper

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  38. My vote is for Sicaria. Even though I’ve read it before, I love the surprise of the narrative and the haunting last line.

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  39. Creepy as hell Sicaria gets my vote.

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  40. I have to go for Sicaria! BK and Charlie had some great writing here, but the concept and plot twist Sicaria delivered is just too brilliant. I went from "Oh no, a pickpocket." to "Oh NO, a PREDATOR!" to "OMG A PARASITIC DEMON THINGY PREYING ON KIDS!!" Escalation was well done!

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  41. Another slew of interesting match-ups! As I missed first round feedback, here is mine (broken into 3 comments for each entry):

    Sicaria
    Consider a word other than "plod." Plodding as an action connotes slow monotony, conflicting with the obnoxious persistent energy Scotty has elsewhere (also doesn't mesh well with "practically drooling," which is more active). Perhaps "trails"?

    Eliminate unnecessary words. For example, "...Old West inspired street somebody thought was a good idea, then back at the candy store that smells like chocolate even with the door shut tight."

    I get the unzippered purse is intentional dupe us into thinking the narrator is a mugger, but it's a weird detail given how often Scotty tugs on his mom's arm. Wouldn't she be concerned about stuff falling out? It sounds like this is normal behavior for him, so she would not have her purse left open as he's probably caused her stuff to fall out in the past. Say the purse is new to draw the same conclusion without introducing the logical hangup.

    If this is a supernatural being who kills and infects children, why would it comment on "a dress that costs more money than I've seen in months"? If it's always going after kids, money shouldn't be in the equation, right? This is disjoint and appears to just be a ham-fisted red herring to keep the mugger vibe going.

    I'm confused as to why it takes the mother so long to catch up to Scotty if she was holding his hand when he broke away. That should alert her of his running off immediately. The pacing of the interaction in the dumpster comes off as a bit lackadaisical given the narrator has time to lean against a dumpster. So the timing seems off. I'd add a detail about the mom finally dropping Scotty's hand when looking at the dress, OR if you keep the open zipper from earlier, he can yank on her hand really hard and send her stuff falling to the sidewalk, slowing her down as she scrambles to get that back in before following him. Either way, there needs to be more of a reason for her delay in chasing him.

    FANTASTIC ending! The description "red hair unfurling like streams of blood" is a superb! Bravo! I also love how you appeal to sense of smell throughout with the chocolate and flower perfume. Brings real dimension to the scene.

    I do think the relative positioning of characters in the space of the scene is presently too vague. It forces the reader to stop and think through where the narrator was in regards to Scotty and his mom when she appears walking away(?) from Scotty to the alley. We should be focused on the creepiness of the scene, not pausing to wonder how it works. Right now, I'm not sure if the narrator is across the street, in front of them, stalking behind, or hiding behind something. So her swooping in and luring Scotty off is hard to imagine.

    I'm personally not super bothered by the diction, but I'm not sure it adds a lot either. It definitely sounds like stereotypical robber dude, which I think is exactly what you were going for; however, if this is part of a longer piece, you'd have to keep that consistent (as it doesn't seem to be the voice the girl it previously infect would have. But, I dunno, maybe she did talk that way and it adopts the style of speech of whomever it infects?), which might get trying to read after a while. So something to consider.

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  42. Charlie St. James
    If you're keeping the opener, change the line to "I always play second fiddle to women like you." Makes it much punchier.

    Lose the "frozen like deer" description. The "just too narcotized by reality TV" is a great line! One description keeps the pace fast. Plus, frozen like deer implies they are frightened and aware something is bad, which directly contradicts the second assertion that they don't realize something bad is happening.

    I love how you introduce the cake cutter! The dead-pan, absurd humor cracks me up!

    Strong dialogue interplay. Very enjoyable to read.

    Watch the amount of "ands" once the action starts. They can make the sentence feel slower, so it can sometimes be better for action to put a period and break into two sentences. For example: "Being blinded by icing, she swung her long arms around. The edge of the cake server sliced my arm, drawing blood." Could also substitute "...icing, she flailed her long arms. The edge of the..." You've also got a repetition of "arm" in that sentence. So maybe change to "elbow, " "bicep," or something similarly specific to avoid that.

    ..."all those years of dance class she would tell me about over coffee..." This is the one line that confuses me. Has this already happened? If so, should be "she told me about over coffee." If it hasn't and is supposed to be a hint that Cassy somehow survives, I'm not sure it works here because the perspective everywhere else is super focused in the present, making this sentence feel like an error.

    Love the rebuttal with the plastic fork! Great image.

    I don't recall you saying the chocolate icing specifically hit the floor before Cassy slips in it, so I'd change to "...slipped on a patch of..."

    Not sure about "thud" being the description for the sound of the knife going through her ribs. Thud implies a duller sound, which I would not imagine fits with how much force is being exerted here.

    The "Three times, actually" quip is such amazing voice! Bravo.

    Strong image with the blood flecks mixing with freckles. Love how character details are seamlessly weaved in without feeling obvious.

    That last line is BRILLIANT! Such a great sense of humor here. Not sure why one half of the eye being green as opposed to the entire eye is significant, but I'm assuming that's a detail that would be revealed in the larger piece. Really, just mostly work on some word choices and reducing the large number of "ands" throughout.

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  43. Book-Keeper
    Considering changing the opener to just "All clear" or even only "Clear." Those come off as more robotic, which amps the eeriness factor that the protagonist claims to feel. "Over here" is extra detail fluff that softens the statement, sounding too friendly for the atmosphere being set.

    This section of sentence "...the dust cloud from parched pathways obscuring their progress as they hurried away from empty homes..." is really unwieldy. It's also a bit redundant detail-wise as the previous sentence mentioned dust. Remove one of the mentions of dust as we don't need it twice back-to-back and streamline this sentence (or break it into two separate ideas). It's long and awkward as is.

    "Running water bubbled in my thoughts as I searched for the joyful streams that ran beneath the land, if you looked hard enough.

    And long enough."

    This segment is a bit odd for two reasons:

    1) The narrator already knows there won't be any joyful streams. Granted, the reader doesn't know that until the last sentence, but once we are made aware, then this sentence makes little sense in that context. Maybe amending to "I searched for the joyful streams that had run beneath the land for generations, if you..." would help set the previous expectation without seeming like the narrator is intentionally ignoring the greater situation.

    2) The "and long enough" sets the expectation that this action takes time, which is in direct conflict with the narrator saying earlier "I'd have to work quickly." I think the intent here is that this is a skill that takes a long time to hone, but that's not apparent, so it leaves the reader wondering, "Well, is this taking a long time or not?"

    The word parched is used twice in this excerpt. It's not jarring, but can be helpful to avoid repetitious description in such a short space.

    Some fantastic descriptions here, such as "I immersed myself in it, momentarily overwhelmed by the anguish of the stagnant water." Smart to insert anguish into nature itself to heighten the mood.

    There are couple place you can tighten, such as: "Gasping with effort, I flooded the tired trickle of water with memories of rain...". Since this sentence follows the "of stagnant water" one, calling out "of water" isn't needed. Just go with "tired trickle with memories..."

    Interesting ending! The best part about this piece, in my opinion, is the really unique magic it exhibits. Love the introspective water searching and ability to draw that out into a makeshift cloud. I haven't seen something like that before, which is exciting!

    I'm a bit baffled as to how sending little clouds in a direction, not knowing when they will release their moisture, piecemeal helps solve things. It seems like if there were a way to collect the moisture and store it until enough were present to make a definite difference, that would be a better route to take. But since I don't know all the rules of magic in this universe, maybe that won't work. I'm unsure as a reader if I'm meant to see these actions as desperate futility or not.

    Tough cage bout! The ending of Sicaria's is the strongest. Book-Keeper has the most unique element with the cloud magic. And Charlie's is just fabulously delightful!

    I'm giving my vote to Charlie St. James for hilarious scene, strong dialog and characterization, igniting in me a desire to read more, and because that last line made me giggle.

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  44. Sicaria gets my vote - I really liked this story.

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  47. My vote is for Book-Keeper

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