WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Playoff Bout #2



Reminder - Cage Bouts 5-6 are still taking your votes. Please make those your next stop if you've not voted there yet.

We are now (or soon will be) down to just six contestants and it's time to see how they match up with ALL NEW MATERIAL.

There will be three bouts this week (Mon-Wed-Fri) and pay special attention to when voting ends because a staggered timeline will be used again. Speaking of voting, it has a special significance during the playoffs because in addition to three winners advancing to the semi-finals, a fourth Wildcard winner will also be selected. How is the WC chosen? It will be the loser that had garnered the most votes among all three losers. So every vote counts - win or lose.



We do ask that you leave a brief critique for all of our contestants because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

The voting for today’s bout will close on Monday, June 10th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the semi-final round where they’ll face a different opponent with another 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




Please welcome back into the ring, with all new material - 

Hijinks Aplenty



He first noticed the fingernails.

Toweling his hair, steam clinging to his shoulders, Drew had walked into his closet and stepped on something sharp.
“Dammit!” he shouted. His good mood from pumping iron at the gym evaporated as he threw the towel down. Wobbling on one leg, he examined his right heel. A thin scratch veined down the center.

He rubbed his foot and scowled. No belt buckle or stray thumbstacks that he could see. No metal object at all. He squatted and stared at the faux wood tile of his floor more closely.

And that’s when Drew saw them: three fingernails.

They were full nails, perfectly manicured, except one, which bore a jagged split in its middle. They were painted. Red? Auburn orange? He didn’t know what you’d call that color. The polish meant they couldn’t be his. And the only nails he should be finding were the slivers he occasionally chewed off and spit out around the house.

Drew reached down to collect them, only to discover they were embedded in the tile. He picked at them. They wouldn’t budge. He held one tightly and tried to jerk it out, wiggling it left and right. But it refused to yield. It was almost as though they were growing out of the fake grain, attached to some root he couldn’t see.

He thought about trying his pliers. But he had that damned 8:00AM meeting, and he didn’t want anyone giving him crap for coming in late. Well, too late. He could count on Griff to roll in at ten after. And Drew intended to be sitting with scoff of disapproval at the ready when that happened.

So he snatched the towel up and dropped it over the nails, hiding them from sight. He finished gathering his clothing. Closing the closet door, he didn’t notice the towel shifting, a twitching of the fabric.

As he was lacing up a shoe, Drew’s phone vibrated from his end table. Unlocking it with his thumb, he glanced at the new text message. 

*You didn’t give me the right number*

Not a number he recognized. The phone buzzed in his hand, a second message coming through.

*The ladies let me know*

“The hell?” he muttered. Drew started to text back “Who r u?” when the phone buzzed a third time.

*We’re trying to reach you*

He didn’t have time for this. Whatever this was. He deleted the messages and blocked the number.

Gathering the last of his stuff for the day, Drew locked up and threw himself into his lime green Charger. He didn’t glance over his shoulder as he peeled out. If he didn’t hit any red lights, he could still make it to the office before Griff. Cutting off a Camry, he forgot all about the fingernails in his closet.

That is, until he found the tongue. 
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Our second contestant is Ms. Sunnydale


I wait in the back of the nave, staring down the long, pillared throat of the St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church. For all its soaring arches and cerulean sunlight, it feels suffocating. Perhaps it’s the eyes staring back at me—not those of the parishioners, but of the angels and saints and Savior affixed to its walls, appraising the wretches gathered before them.
If only to avoid them, I slip into the first pew and bow my head in equal parts veneration and guilt. It’s been too long since I’ve been through these doors, and too soon since I’ve been tumbling in someone else’s bed. And to top it off, now I’m just minutes from being handed my mortal reckoning by a bleedin’ mob boss.
Sunday funday, indeed.
From the pulpit, the priest reads from the gospel of Luke. I don’t recall it from the days of children’s Mass, when Callum and I would drive Sister Mary Clare mad with our antics, but I get the gist: holy joes and humbled sinners and hard-won mercy.
Mercy. Psh. I doubt I’ll ever earn it… me, and all the other poor sobs standing on the receiving end of judgement. Whether it’s served by the Lord, or the Law, or the devil himself, it doesn’t matter. Retribution flows like a river through this town and I reckon it will drown us all in the end. 
            “You look well for a ghost.” The man sliding onto the bench beside me is the picture of old-money self-assurance. If his peacoat is expensive, his watch is fecking obscene—a classic Day-Date Presidential with a pearlescent dial and price tag you could live a modest life on. His face is clean-shaven, his smile just subtle enough to make you doubt yourself. He smells of nice cologne and cold blood. “It’s been too long, Quinn.”
            I let Donahue pull me into a hug and run a broad palm over my back. I could convince myself that this is just a mentor greeting his apprentice, but I know the gesture is one of protocol—he’s checking me for a wire.
            Feeling nothing under my t-shirt but a thunderous heartbeat, he turns to the service.
            “I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Still missing, is he?” He clicks his tongue. “Such a tragedy.”
            My throat tightens at the word. I know all about this man’s relationship with tragedy. I know because he was the one who taught me all the ways to inflict it. But he never mentioned what to do when it turns on you.
“Tell me…” I swallow and try again. “Tell me you weren’t involved. Tell me you didn’t hurt him.”
 The congregation swells in joyous song, so at odds with the sickness in my gut. Donahue closes his eyes and tilts his head in time with the music. When he opens them again and turns them on me, there is no mercy there. “Do you want me to tell you that,” he asks, “or the truth?”           
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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 on Friday with our final playoff 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!




54 comments

  1. Holy ****. The writing in both of these passages is flawless--I was drawn in by the imagery the authors created, the extraordinary rendering of scene and the sense of creeping anxiety and dread. Both of these made me want to read more, but I have to cast my vote for Hijinks Aplenty. I absolutely love horror and the scene Hijinks created reminds me of the best of Stephen King. (And yes, the idea of fingernails in the floorboards is going to give me nightmares tonight, so thanks for that :). Seriously, congrats to both of you on an amazing job!!!!

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  2. I read the second one first - and was sold immediately. Then I read the first one. Wow. Both are well written, neither in a genre I would normally read, but I was drawn to them regardless. Hijinks Aplenty scared me in a way I haven't been scared by reading before. Ms. Sunnydale drew me in with the cynicism of the scene in the church, then the twist at the end convinced me. I'm going to have to go with Ms. Sunnyvale because I could relate to it much more than the horror of fingernails in the floorboards. Great job, both of you.

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  3. Both are extremely well-written, kudos to both writers! I loved the creepiness of Hijinks’ piece, and the last line made me shudder. Ms. Sunnydale’s piece captured the moment perfectly and I also loved the ending.

    Tough choice today, but I’m going to with Ms. Sunnydale.

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  4. Hijinks: the prose is good, and Drew’s character is nicely fleshed out in such a tight space. However, the plot isn’t really present yet. I’m not following well enough to be hooked.

    Sunnydale: this starts off a bit trite, but by the end it promises to be more unique. The logistics are confusing - Donahue pats the MC’s back but feels his heartbeat? How are they having such an elaborate conversation in the middle of a church service? Good twist at the end.

    Voting for Sunnydale because the premise is a bit more developed. Congrats both!

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  5. Hijinks: I'm kind of "meh" about horror to begin with, and this piece simply didn't draw me in. Call it personal preferences. A couple recommendations on the writing: "He first noticed the fingernails" is telling before showing. "Drew HAD walked into his closet and stepped on something sharp" tells the reader that Drew survived the incident. You'll create more tension if you eliminate the first sentence and the HAD in the second. Let the action unfold for the reader as it unfolds for Drew. That way, the fingernails will be a surprise and Drew's fate more uncertain. I'm sorry not to be more positive, but please believe that this comes down entirely to personal preferences. I'm confident you'll have plenty of votes as the horror fans chime in!

    Ms. Sunnydale: I love the suggestion that the cathedral, with its throat and all those watching eyes, is some kind of monster ready to swallow the narrator. You have so many gorgeous phrases, both eloquent and gritty, that reveal backstory and develop your characters. ("It's been too long...too soon....", "holy joes and humbled sinners and hard-earned mercy", "a smile just subtle enough to make you doubt yourself", I could go on...) This is the sort of writing I want to read over and over to catch any imagery I might have missed on the first read. There's a poetry to your writing, and I am so drawn in.

    Ms. Sunnydale has my vote.

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  6. This writing, these stories, are my rainy-day go-to.

    Hijinks: The story overall is good, the imagery great. I love how well you've fleshed out this character in fewer than 500 words. I can see him and hear him. What I can't see is this self-assured, somewhat arrogant guy, a guy who pumps iron at the gym, "wobbling" on one leg. I'll let "thumbstacks" slide--didn't catch it till the second read-through--because those fingernails are as creepy as anything I've read from King or Koontz. But what stopped me are the text messages. Somebody may have to explain it to me because I just didn't get these. There's no context for what they mean or might mean in the realm of this short piece. This could work brilliantly in a longer story, but here? I'm just left feeling confused. The ending comes close to making up for it.

    Ms. Sunnydale: For me, this is perfection from beginning to end. We know this character, who he is and most likely where he's going, not from him telling us about himself, but how he sees everything around him, what he observes. We also know Donahue and want to get as far away from the guy as we can. This is writing at its best. So many great lines. It reads like a classic, only modern and fresh. A thread of chill runs throughout and freezes us completely with the last line.

    My vote: Ms. Sunnydale

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  7. My vote goes to Hijinks!!! I love this writer's short humor pieces (not always labelled as such!).

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  8. Congratulations again to two more semi-finalists! You have both done very well to get to this point!

    And I have to give you another round of congratulations for giving me the toughest decision I've faced yet -- your two new writing samples are both very good and you each give plenty of reasons why you deserve to win this round. Both give scenes that I find intriguing, both do an excellent job of raising story questions and pulling me in, and both leave me wanting to read more.

    I voted for Hijinks in both the prelims and the cage bout, and I'm very pleased to see how well they deliver another, completely different piece of writing with similar elements -- frightening but with entertaining undercurrents of humor.

    This time Hijinks gives an entry with an effective, understated creepiness. The image of the fingernails embedded in the closet tile floor is haunting. The scene unfolds briskly with an unbroken sense of immediacy -- there's no bogging down in backstory or extraneous details. There are some nice descriptions inserted without overwriting or hooptedoodle. The characterization is done well. We get a clear and amusing sense of Drew's self-absorbed jerkiness without being beat over the head with it. The POV stays consistent -- third-person but with enough distance to allow the reader to both closely follow Drew (and know his inner thoughts such as thinking about the pliers), but also be aware of things that Drew isn't (the towel twitching), which helps build suspense. The sense of something evil coming for Drew grows well, and the ending line both mirrors the opening line and ratchets up the tension.

    But I also think those lines give too much away, too. The reader knows that Drew is going to notice the fingernails several lines before Drew even sees them, and the ending line gives another important reveal before Drew will actually discover the tongue. It might work better for the reader to learn about these important details along with Drew. Otherwise, it's like that annoying person next to you who interrupts during a horror movie to announce, "Ooooh!, Watch how the star freaks out when he opens this next door and sees the knife in the killer's hands!"

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    1. (Reply split due to length)

      I have to admit that while I voted for Ms. Sunnydale in the prelims, I did not in the cage bout. I liked her story and thought her writing was good, but I struggled with some story elements. However, I find Ms. Sunndale's new entry both captivating and effective. I'm pulled in to the story and want to keep reading. The first-person voice is consistent and easy to relate to as a reader. The church setting is clealy described and also provides a good backdrop to counterbalance the discussion among the characters and gives Quinn an opportunity for some inner thoughts which develop characterization and voice. The dialog between Quinn and Donahue is realistic and moves the story ahead, and the ending line of Donahue's does a great job to increase tension and interest.

      The scene -- while well-rendered -- does feel a little familiar, but that's probably more of a subjective thing, likely brought on by my preference for the genre. I also initially took "the first pew" as meaning the front row which seems an odd choice for the meeting, but after reading, I think it means "the first pew Quinn comes to" which is likely the back row. The checking for a wire was a nice touch, but again -- a traditional trope when meeting the "mob boss." What's missing is the protective phalanx of tough-guy goons that assume nearby positions around Quinn before Donahue sits, but either they're there and not yet revealed in the story, or the relationship between Quinn and Donahue is close enough that they're not needed? Nah -- unlikely: Donahue still checks for a wire and he didn't get to be the 'boss' by being the trusting sort.

      But very minor quibbles -- I find this entry very entertaining and would gladly keep reading. But I'd also gladly keep reading the one by Hijinks, too. Which makes for a VERY tough choice today....

      I have to fall back on the hope that the loser of this bout turns out to be the wildcard winner, and go with Ms. Sunnydale for my vote -- but only by the slimmest of slim margins. Again: Great job to both authors!

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  9. Hijinks: Overall this story is great! The fingernails are really creepy but you could easily see how he could just dismiss them for the moment. The text messages are obviously leading to something for later, but in this short of a piece I think they didn't work as well. I would rather have gotten a little more info about the MC or more story.
    Sunnydale: great imagery and very well-written. This felt super polished and professional, and also made me want to keep reading while still being a good story on its own.
    My vote today goes to Ms. Sunnydale.

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  10. Two more fantastic pieces! It is a very hard call, particularly since I don't like horror, and the intrigue of Ms. Sunnydale's makes me want to read more...now! However, my vote goes to HiJinks Aplenty for well and truly startling me at the end of a very well written piece. Fingers crossed Ms. Sunndydale in in the Wildcard round.

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  11. This one goes to Ms. Sunnydale. It has a nice build up and set the scene. A niggle: I'm not sure why it has to be explained this is a Roman Catholic Church. That the MC is at a mass on a Sunday strongly implies it is a RC Church.

    Hijinks' submission is telegraphing a lot of what the story is about. So it is telling us what is and what will happen instead of showing us. That caused it to loose a lot of its force. It's a good idea for a story, just needs a little editing polish.

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  12. Both are good and I want more, but my vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale. This reads like a complete piece. It could stop here, but I hope it goes on and I get to read more of it.

    Hijinks Aplenty offered an excellent protagonist - a true prick who deserves whatever he gets. I want to know what all the “ladies” have in store for him. I want to see Griff give him some comeuppance, too. I couldn’t vote for this one, because I felt the actions were disjointed - beginning with the first line.

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  13. Both are well written, yet Ms. Sunnydale comes out on top. The story felt more complete.

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  14. Hijinks: A man finds manicured human fingernails growing out of his closet floor, and the first thing his thoughts go to is how to extract them? And being late for a meeting if he takes the time? He seems to take this extraordinary--paranormal--event right in stride(groan)and for me, this negates the weirdness aspect.

    And then we have "...he didn’t notice the towel shifting..." indicating a huge POV slip. if he didn't notice; neither should we.

    This one started out with lots of creepy potential that evaporated the more I read about his dressing routine, co-workers, wrong-number texts, and traffic. If you want us to be scared or horrified, show us your mc's fear and horror. He's not, so I'm not.

    Sunnydale: Some lovely lyrical lines: long, pillared throat...soaring arches and cerulean sunlight...appraising the wretches...equal parts veneration and guilt. This made me see the mc as female, for some reason, until I got to the name Quinn.

    But the next paragraphs sound like a totally different character: tumbling in someone else’s bed...bleedin’ mob boss...all the other poor sobs...feckin' obscene.

    The prose, plot, and conflict are there, but the voice didn't stay on point throughout. Nevertheless, it's a strong piece that holds a great deal of promise.

    Today's vote Sunnydale.

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  15. Great pieces so applause for them and for reaching the playoffs.

    Hijinks Aplenty - liked the mix of normality and supernatural, building to that last line. You've neatly book-ended this piece. Some of the phrasing could have been tightened by 'odd'/'wasted' words. But the tale sets up more so I would read on. Hooked by those fingernails.

    Ms. Sunnydale - the opening and the setting made me wonder if were in for a supernatural ride. Then the mob elements creep in - clever - and the 'Catholic' elements weave around them. We learn a lot about Quinn and Donahue from their exchange - mentor and apprentice. So, the ending is as inevitable as fate.

    Tough decision with two talented writers, pens unsheathed. As I can't vote for both, I'm choosing - Hijinks Aplenty.

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  16. This is a hard round. In all honesty, I preferred both of these writers' original stories.

    Hijinks: You've set up an interesting premise. Manicured fingernails growing out of the floorboard? Fucking creeptastic!

    But the writing wasn't quite up to the standards I'd expect from a playoff round. For example, "...pumping iron at the gym." "at the gym" is unnecessary. Whether he lifts weights in his garage, his dining room, or on his roof doesn't add anything to the story, so cut unnecessary words to make room for words that enhance the story.

    I also felt this guy's reaction to finding fully manicured nails growing out of his floor to be underwhelming. Nails are growing out of his damn floor and he cannot pull them up? Who would just nonchalantly toss a towel over them and focus on getting to work before someone else? Is he hallucinating all of this? Is it a dream? None of his reactions feel real or reasonable. The text, though strange, didn't add much to the story. If this is part of a larger piece, I can see how it could be just the beginning of ramping-up horror to come, but in this 500 word piece, there's no reason for it.

    The timing confused me, too. He has to get to work for an 8am meeting, but he's in a rush to beat Griff to work, even though he believes Griff will come in at 10:10. He drives quickly and cuts off a car and worries about red lights. But isn't it still before 8am?


    Ms. Sunnydale:

    Kudos for building a world that I could see and feel. Like others, I took "first pew" to mean front row, but it's clearly the back row, or first pew the MC comes to. The bit about it being too soon since they last tumbled in someone else's bed didn't hit the mark for me. I believe you were trying to show us that the MC is a bit of a cad, but since we have no knowledge of their relationship status, we don't know who is on the other side of that "someone else's bed." Are they cheating on a spouse? Just having all the sex and loving it? In the end, it doesn't matter and the line raises questions that don't have any impact on the story.

    Congratulations to both contestants for making it to the top 6! I have no idea who you are, but I'm so freaking proud of you both.

    My vote today goes to Ms. Sunnydale because the writing was more atmospheric and didn't rely on distancing language or telling.

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  17. Goodness gracious (yes I have a t-shirt that says that) this is hard.

    Hijinks - Being a fan of Stephen King and others like him, I found this to be well written in the same vein. That the character was married to his routine enough to ignore the fingernails made me think of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. It also reminded me of my high functioning autistic grandson. He would be curious but would defer to the routine. I loved the last line... I'd love to read more.

    Sunnydale - you didn't disappoint! This was well written and contained a twist I didn't expect. I'd love to read more. I can imagine the reaction to the last line.

    My vote goes to Hijinks this round.

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  18. The first story had a good thing going, but the ending was not satisfying. The second story was really good and you get my vote, Ms. Sunnydale.

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  19. Both entries were well written, but my vote has to go to Hijinks Aplenty. Very creepy entry, makes me eager to find out more. The last line was especially effective. Scary, but also funny.

    Ms Sunnydale: I like this entry better than your first one, but the story just didn't grab me.

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  20. Hijinks Aplenty really had me intrigued! I want to know the whole story.

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  21. Hijinks Aplenty - The writing was solid but the characterization of Drew was really shallow. He seemed such a stereotypical male jackass that it took me out of the story for a moment. The pumping iron and the lime green charger and the cutting people off in traffic, it was a cliched way to make me not like him, and it made me wonder about the author more than the character. Also, the fingernails were a good touch but it felt like the story got away from that when it started talking about Drew's motivation to get to work on time, which also turned out to be a transparent attempt at making him look like a jerk. Once again, some of those words would have been better saved for figurative language, something that makes the scene creepier.

    Ms. Sunnydale - Judging by the two pieces we've seen so far, Ms. Sunnydale is the best writer in the competition. There was no one line in this story that was as good as the opening line of the last -entry -- It took me five years to forget the ocean. -- That being said, the writing is fantastic. The little touches like the pillared throat of the church really set the scene. On a story level, it was compelling, and it was nice to see something different from the first piece.
    My vote is for Ms. Sunnydale.

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  22. Voting for Ms. Sunnydale in this round. I found the quality of the writing to be superior.

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  23. My vote is for Ms. Sunnydale. I love the imagery, the tension created by the story, the use of language, and the juxtaposition of the setting and the sinister nature of the meeting between Quinn and Donahue. Well done. I do love when all the details work together to reveal the story and mood.

    Hijinx Aplenty: I like the way the normal interests of Drew's life contrast with the creepiness of the fingernails and texts. Overall, though, the flow and details of this piece didn't work for me. It seemed like the details of Drew's work and such did not necessarily support the overall theme and purpose of the story....perhaps this would fit together better in a longer piece.

    Both authors nailed the last sentence today.

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  24. Another tough match-up, but Ms. Sunnydale gets my vote. The world-building in this small passage is phenomenal. There's just enough information to know what's going on without info-dumping and I want to know so much more. Beautifully done.

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  25. My vote is for Ms Sunnydale.

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  26. I liked them both very much. I liked the fingernails and weird text messages in Hijinks. It was an excellent beginning for a longer horror story. I enjoyed the atmosphere and detail of Ms Sunnydale. It was an excellent beginning for a longer gangster story. My vote goes to Ms Sunnydale.

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  27. I'd vote for both if I could! Hijinks gave us a creepy story that was original and has great potential.
    My vote today is for Ms. Sunnydale. I thought it was well-written, nuanced, and atmospheric. I really wanted to continue with this story and was surprised at how she pulled me in by the end.

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  28. My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty though both had plenty of intriguing little nuances! But the first and last lines from Hijinks Aplenty's story made me go "Whoa!" :)

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  29. Another tough one! I liked the ideas in both.
    My vote goes to Sunnydale

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  30. I vote for Sunnydale today.

    Although both were great, Sunnydale did a better job of sucking me into the story.

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  31. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of Hijinks and it gets my vote.

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  32. Ms. Sunnydale gets my vote today. There is an atmosphere to the story that really pulled me in.

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  33. I wrote a long comment yesterday which the system refused to post!
    I found it hard to choose between them, but my attention started to wander during Ms S's story, so my vote goes to HIjinks Aplenty

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  34. I vote for Hijinks Aplenty.
    I would have liked to see more stakes from Ms Sunnydale's story, is there hope? is the main character about to be stabbed? The voice and character are very good, especially the lines about it being too long and too soon to be in the church, that one was fabulous.
    For hijinks, I really needed to know where the tongue was. In the backseat where he didn't look? Or in the closet where he'd fine it later? Without knowing where it was, my imaginings about what his reaction could have been, what could be going on, are less potent for me. I like the fingernails, the creepiness, contrasted with the normal office meetings. It drew me in very quickly and very thoroughly.
    Congratulations both of you!

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  35. Voting for Hijinks Aplenty.
    So creepy!! I really want to know what happens!!

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  36. Hijinks Aplenty
    What worked:
    This is a super creepy premise. The nails growing out of the floor tapped into several deep human fears--being buried alive, pain, sudden realization that reality isn't what you think it is.
    Great first and last lines.

    What didn't:
    I couldn't connect with the character's emotions. Or, more specifically, lack of emotion. He was so analytical and pragmatic about something that otherwise felt like it was supposed to be horror. An earlier comment said something about it being humor and when I reread it with that in mind I could see it ... but it just misses the mark there, too.

    Ms. Sunnydale
    What worked:
    Although we don't know exactly what's going on in this situation, the drama and tension are well established.
    You used little details to establish setting and character effectively.

    What didn't:
    The phrase "too soon since" feels awkward. I would suggest "too recently that" instead.
    Some of the details get a little too detailed (example, the man's watch), which I probably wouldn't have noticed as much in a novel length piece, but which stands out when there are only 500 words to work with.
    The POV hops momentarily into Donahue's head to tell us he didn't feel anything but a heartbeat.

    My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale because I am more connected to the characters and their emotions in that piece. I would definitely read both of these stories in their entirety, though. Well done!

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  37. Hijinks Aplenty all the way for me. This is a story I am ready to learn more about! The tongue at the end seems like a cheap shot (but the same kind of cheap foreshadowing shot Stephen King throws into his stories constantly, and he's my favorite writer), but otherwise it just clicked all the way down.

    Sunnydale's story was just too much introspective noir stuff for me. I found myself reading the whole thing as a gumshoe narration voice-over. It's got great description early on, but it's not a story that pulls me in.

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  38. Oh, this is a tough one, but I think I'm going to go with Hijinks for this one. I was a little confused by the texts (I feel like I needed either more or less of them), but the creepy factor was there, and the last line really drove it home.

    Sunnydale did a great job with tension and quickly established the characters. I felt like I had read this monster story before though, and it felt a little less complete.

    This was a close one! Wonderful job to both!

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  39. Congratulations to both writers.

    Hijinks Aplenty’s piece mixed in a nice amount of realism with the unexpected aspects - we’re grounded in the everyday concerns of getting to work on time - until these weird things start happening.

    Ms. Sunnydale’s piece did a great job of setting you in the Church and filling you with dread of being found. The last line was particularly good, and actually applies to soo many different situations.

    My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale.

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  40. I'm going to go with Hijinks on this one. It is more in line with my preferences.

    Mrs. Sunnydale, your writing is gorgeous, but I'm one of those readers who skims through description, no matter how beautifully written.

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  41. This is another tough one! I loved the humor and mystery in Hijinks Aplenty's piece. I could see myself sitting down and reading more of this one and enjoying every second of it.

    Of course, I could also find myself reading more when it comes to Ms. Sunnydale's entry. The descriptions are wonderful, and that ending had me riveted.

    Sigh. I wish I didn't have to choose, but since I must, I'll go with Ms. Sunnydale this time.

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  42. Both are great stories. Ms. Sunnydale however took too long to get to the "action" especially when competing against mystery fingernails embedded in the floor. My vote is for Hijinks Aplenty. I LOVED the tongue twist at the end!!!

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  43. Voting for Ms. Sunnydale. A well crafted scene that brings out the environment, the characters, and the tension in a few hundred words. I thought it was excellent.

    HiJinks felt too on the nose for me - too many unnnecesary details. Why do we care he was pumping iron at the gym when coming from a workout does the same thing. Does the color of his car matter? If he's supposed to be a shollow "bro" would he worry about being late to work? Good mysterious piece but too many questions for me.

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  44. My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale. I really would not read either piece but Ms. Sunnydale drew me in.

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  45. Nice work writers.

    Both pieces have things working for them and both have a few issues of things that didn't work for me.

    I liked the opening a lot of Hijinks, and I was gripped immediately. A few inconsistencies within the piece but on the whole an enjoyable piece of writing, that I would be willing to read more of.

    Sunnydale's piece started out well but I got lost in all the description (it is well written but I feel too much for such a short piece of work). By the end of the 500 words, I was completely lost as to what exactly was happening - there is just too much going on, and my mind is pulled in too many directions with this piece. This piece did not entice me to want to read more, where the first piece did.

    For this reason, my vote this round goes to Hijinks.

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  46. Hijinks Aplenty -- good mystery. Wish it was more present tense. But I like the energy. You have my vote.

    Ms. Sunnydale -- I liked it. It just didn't hold me as much as the other.

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  47. My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale - I wanted to read more and find out what really happened to the brother. There's a hint of a vengeance story coming through, which I always enjoy.

    Hijinks Aplenty - intriguing story, but the character didn't draw me in.

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  48. Breaking my feedback into 2 comments (one for each entry):

    Hijinks Aplenty
    Fingernails are an interesting hook!

    Some places where unnecessary words could be eliminated. You can also streamline a bit more. For example, "His good mood from pumping iron at the gym evaporated as he threw the towel down," could be "His good mood from his workout evaporated..."

    Some nice imagery/descriptions, such as "A thin scratch veined down the center."

    Grossed out by him spitting off nails around the house. Good character detail, but ew.

    "...he didn’t notice the towel shifting, a twitching of the fabric." Creepy! Definitely amps the tension and sense that something is about to go down.

    Right now, the text messages are a bit nebulous. Since the fingernails are painted (a woman's?) and the messages mention ladies, there's some connection there. But in this short of a piece, it's just not clear how the two are really connected.

    Strong pop at the end! Intrigued by the escalation from fingernails to tongues. And it's certainly a weird, haunting idea to find fingernails growing out of your floor.

    It would be nice to get a bit more characterization from Drew. He's coming off as a pretty big bro stereotype right now. Would love to see more dimension instead of playing solely into that. I'm assuming that vibe was intentional to help ground the reader in a shorter sample, but I still think it could be pushed more to have a more fully realized person depicted.

    I have no issue with Drew not being more weirded out by the fingernails. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the bizarre is intriguing and harkens to a particular fairy-tale-esque style that I tend to very much enjoy. Those types of stories also tend to play with that to make a point about a deeper theme, so I'm curious to know what higher-level idea is lurking behind this story.

    It's obvious this is part of a longer work. Certainly interesting! But maybe for the shorter format, it might be better to focus on a section that is a bit less ambiguous and doesn't make as many references to a future payoff.

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  49. Ms. Sunnydale
    Some really gorgeous descriptions like "staring down the long, pillared throat of the St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church."

    Given how strong the first line is, the end of that paragraph feels pretty weak and doesn't jive with the voice Quinn has elsewhere. Since this is a church, angels and Jesus are expected. And the judging eyes is an obvious theme. I'd have loved to seen these statues described with more unique flair and character to match the pillared throat. And the "wretches" remark just especially feels off. The scene is going for the age old juxtaposition of evil mob dudes in holy place. The mobsters are the outliers. So to describe everyone else as wretch up front weakens that contrast the story is otherwise banking on for intrigue.

    I was also confused with the staging of the scene and thought Quinn was at the front. And I had no idea other people were actually in the church at all until near the end. That detail should be worked in earlier (maybe the "wretches" line was meant to show that? But since the start comes off very poetic and metaphorical, it's totally not clear if Quinn means "wretches" as in people who are right there now, or just speaking about how the statues judge people in general).

    I had no issue with the too long/too soon line. I thought it worked well and helped establish Quinn's character.

    There is a HUGE voice mismatch in this piece. It starts off really poetic, but veers strongly into stereotypical mobster harsh speak once Quinn sits down. I'm a fan of not pigeon-holing characters to types, so a mobster who is very articulate or poetic internally, but rough and tumble when he speaks to others would certainly appeal to me and be intriguing. But here Quinn is both lyrical and then rough with his internal thoughts. And since it's first person, the piece can't really get away with having a omnipresent narrator with a lyrical bent but switch into Quinn's diction when following him more closely. It's all from his perspective. So that perspective needs to be consistent.

    "Retribution flows like a river through this town and I reckon it will drown us all in the end." This is a superb line! Full of character and imagery.

    Donahue's greeting is also great. More character and gives the reader the first hint of what Quinn's situation may be.

    "...his watch is fecking obscene—" Two big issues here. First, this does not match Quinn's diction established prior to this point. He left off the "g" in "bleedin'" earlier, so why would be leave the "g" on in "fecking" here? Two, you're going for a tough mobster who see no hope in redemption and whose brother has been murdered. He needs to say fucking to be authentic. As someone who doesn't like cursing in my own work, I get it. But the character you've established would not say "fecking." If you want to avoid a stronger curse word, then just don't curse at all. "His watch is obscene" is fine. That fits more with the initial voice of the piece. Pick a voice and maintain it. If Quinn is going to be rougher and more mobster and curse elsewhere (bleedin' is a curse word), then he needs to fully curse. If you want to get around it, then maybe have him start to curse, re-realize he's in a church, and mentally back away from it because of his upbringing.

    "...his smile just subtle enough to make you doubt yourself." Wonderful characterization!

    Nice foreshadowing of the lack of mercy in Donahue. I do find it a bit odd, though, that he pretends to be the welcoming mentor on greeting Quinn, but then intentionally baits him about his brother.

    Interesting match-up! Ms. Sunnydale's is a very easy read with some great description. However, it doesn't add anything new. The mobster in a church scene is a common one. And there are some voice issues. So I'm giving this round to Hijinks for a more unique tale.

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