WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #8


HUMP DAY! It also means that we've passed the mid-way point in our preliminary rounds, and something tells me we've yet to see our best writing. What do you think?

Recap
For anyone just discovering us, WRiTE CLUB is a tournament-style competition that runs during the eight weeks prior to the DFW Conference (who is also a sponsor) and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a host of prizes, topped off by a free admission to the following year’s conference. Our writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names and they'll be appearing in head-to-head in “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters have a chance to win a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed in a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize. And as an added incentive to keep readers coming back for more, we're upping the ante. Readers who place a vote in EVERY bout will have their names placed in a second hat and the name selected from that pool will win a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card. Double the chances of winning!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, May 19th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. 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).

A few more 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 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.

That’s enough of the fine print. DING...DING!


For the eighth bout, we have Cornelius Keel one side of the ring representing the Adult Horror/Dark Fantasy genre.


Out of the shadows of the pine trees, something stirred. A shadow deeper and blacker than the woods themselves moved almost imperceptibly. Something bigger than a man or any living creature the woman had ever seen. It was tall, but exceedingly lank, its belly round and distended like a bloated frog, skin the colour of ash, eyes sunken deep in its skull-like face and flashing like two red marbles against the moonlight. Its mouth was parted wide, black furry tongue lolling out, a riot of jagged teeth, its hands a row of spindly talons with nails like blunted and chipped Bowie knives, lips stained red and black with gore. It was matted in parts with black fur, its skin festering with pustules and welts – steaming breath escaped from its maw, filling the air with the stench of rot and decay. This was the pestilence that had turned the land bad, the homesteader woman knew it, and she meant to end its miserable life or die in the attempt.

 

“You will need more than that firestick to do me in, little missy,” the thing in the woods said, though in truth the woman could not tell whether she heard the voice aloud, or in her head, or as a whisper on the wind. It was like the dry rustle of kindling as it crackles in the fire, but with none of the associated warmth; it was the sound of dead things whispering up from the depths. She gripped the derringer tighter.

 

The woman, summoning all her fortitude, called out: “Who, or what, are you, demon? Why do you turn this land desolate, so that a good Christian family cannot provide for themselves? What harm have we done you by our presence here?”

 

The thing in the darkness laughed - a dry, humourless bark. The woman froze.

 

“Many come to this land seeking nature’s fruits – few give any thought to how they must get them. I have seen men migrate back and forth across this land for centuries – what makes you so special, missy? The chieftain of a great tribe could not kill me with fifty braves, nor could his son with a hundred. For near on a century, the men who walked this land before you tried to test me. They failed. I fed on the flesh of the living and the dead. Meat, blood, bone, lights - I made banquets of every last one of them.”

 

The black tongue slurped across and smacked against the gore stained lips. The woman had to force herself not to gag.

 

“And with every meal, I grow stronger – and more hungry. I am the hunger that is never slaked. I am the desire that makes men steal and kill. I am Wendigo.”

 

The babe stirred under the woman’s clothes. The Wendigo, sniffing the air, stretched its leering maw even wider. The mother hugged the child closer to her.

 

“The blood of the child is the sweetest,” it hissed. “I would taste it.”

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On the far side of the ring, we have Edward Bear who is representing the Adult Magical Realism genre.

Last Confession

 Mason Unger’s frail body moved into the MRI scanner for the final time, but his mind took him far away. The hum of the smooth walls that surrounded him and the beeps of monitors faded. The pain in his chest -- caused by the advanced cancer he’d fought for years -- passed and was replaced with a memory.

He was eight, face to face with his neighbor, Sylvia Foss. The fragrance of honeysuckle encircled them as a cloud encircles a mountain peak, and the sky above made their eyes ache to look at such blue. She laughed with her eyes as she bent forward, and the curls on her forehead bobbed; some of her hair flew away behind her. He reached out, but she pulled back, her hazel eyes still laughing, and when he caught her shoulder she pressed into him for one fleeting moment.

“Okay in there?” It was the nurse.

Without seeing anything but Sylvia, without losing the scent of one honeysuckle blossom, Mason said, “I’m okay.”

But he was not -- neither then as he slipped away in the machine, nor on the day of Sylvia’s death. The old conviction that the cancer began that day suddenly rose up with visions of the night following her accident, for already his chest had been leaden and unbearable.

He ran until his whole body burned, until he fell and scraped his leg to the bone. Even this pain was no escape from the agony of her last horrified glance at him -- from the agony of Sylvia lost.

Later, once he’d limped home, his mother used camphor to soothe his cuts. The smell choked out the scent of the sweet flowers, haunting his old, sick body as he lay there on his back, his arms pinned against his sides. It repulsed him -- as it had then -- and he retched. It was in his eyes, his nostrils, he could feel it seeping into his shin, where the wounds had been. And when he breathed, now, in the white, coffin-like tube, his lungs filled with the camphor from long ago; it was an indictment he deserved.

“Sylvia?” Mason directed the question at his mother, who sat next to his bed in the rocking chair, but it was the nurse who answered.

“Just a minute more.”

“No! It was my fault -- I tried to stop her --”

“Mason, you need to hold on.” The nurse placed her hands on his legs as his mother had. From where she stood, she saw the doctor shaking his head behind the MRI monitors. “Mason -- Doctor, come quick!”

Mason gasped, “I’m sorry, Sylvia.” The weight inside, near his heart now, burned as he confessed. “I couldn’t hold on; I’m sorry.” In a flash she was gone from him, as on that day, for the busy street took her. Again the nurse cried for help, and a second flash took him: Sylvia and Mason hand in hand, honeysuckle forever following them where guilt and cancer cannot go.

##############################################################################


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.

Before we sign off I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari or Chrome browsers they have a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.


The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this, follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
SETTINGS
USER SETTINGS
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)
Save


Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants. If you missed the first two bouts because of one of these issues, remember the bouts remain LIVE for a week so you can still go back and let your choice be known.

We’ll be back on tomorrow for another exciting 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!



38 comments

  1. This was hard as neither piece really grabbed my attention.

    Lots of lovely description in the first piece. Sometimes too much description. If the creature is a shadow blacker than the woods, how can you see any of its features? Also, was the woman waiting for him or walking by unaware. Why would she wait for him with a child by her side? Too many questions for me.

    In the second piece I had trouble trying to figure out what an 8-year-old boy could possibly have done to prevent an accident. It doesn't say how old Mason is, either. If he was still a kid, I could see the guilt. But as an older adult? I'm not buying it.

    So I guess the lovely description wins out. Cornelius Keel gets my vote.

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  2. I think Cornelius Keel's piece is the classic case of trying to terrify the reader by showing them everything, which doesn't work. The detailed descriptions don't heighten the fear, but do the exact opposite. The key is showing less. The fear is in the unknown, the unseen. I'd recommend stripping this scene to as little as possible. I'd also suggest making the monster's dialogue less monster-ish. His words are too-on-the-nose. The fear should come from what he doesn't say. Maybe he's talking about the weather, but we know he's really wanting the child. IDK.

    Edward Bear's piece has nice, clean writing style. I like his voice. And the story, in many ways, is scarier than Cornelius Keel's because it's dealing with the real fears of cancer and loss vs a creature in the woods. I will confess that I got confused at the end of Last Confession. I had to re-read it several times to understand what happened.

    I vote the Bear.

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  3. Cornelius: I strongly recommend naming the woman. It’ll use fewer words and help ground the reader in your story. The whole first paragraph is description, with no action. “Few give any thought to how they must get it” - what does this mean? I thought there would be a twist, like maybe we’d learn the wendigo isn’t evil (or something), but there’s no payoff to this statement. The baby at the end makes me feel tricked. It’s not a twist, but rather a fact that the narrator hasn’t acknowledged this whole time. The description are nice writing and there’s a good, creepy atmosphere throughout this piece.

    Edward: I don’t see how this is magical realism. How does one laugh with their eyes? Nice description of Sylvia, though it’s a bit lengthy and you could reallocate some words to build up the characters. I’m not sure what happened with Sylvia’s car accident. Was she driving, or maybe hit by one while walking? When was Mason running - right after the accident? Why? What was he trying to hold onto? If you’re implying that he in some way caused the accident, it’s not at all clear to me. The jumps in time are hard to follow at times. Despite my confusion, I’m still connected enough that I’d read on to find out more.

    I vote for Edward. Congrats to both!

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  4. Edward Bear for my vote. I enjoyed the main character.

    The other felt like a lot of description for an opening. (And, sorry, it reminded me too much of the current world, so I couldn't enjoy it properly right now.)

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  5. Hearty congratulations to both of you for making it in!

    Cornelius: I love a good horror story, and I've been fascinated with cryptids since I was a kid, so I was disappointed that I didn't adore this story. There is a lot of great description in here, but it's just too much, especially since you're describing the creature as clearly as if it's under a spotlight, but it's supposed to be in shadow. Its dialogue, instead of feeling sinister, felt tedious. Like a bad guy in a cheesy movie soliloquizing long enough for the hero to get out of a precarious situation. Likewise, the woman's dialogue doesn't feel like she's afraid. It feels like she's trying to draw him into some sort of confession a-la cheesy movie ending.

    If the woman had a gun and was prepared to kill it, why in the world was her child with her? It rustled under her clothes. Does that mean the kid, maybe a toddler, was hiding under her skirts? Or was it a baby strapped to her chest or back? How can she effectively battle a supernatural creature with a kid straped to her or hiding under her skirts?

    I'm not an expert on guns, but aren't derrengers typically quite small and only hold one round? This type of weapon would be used for protection from a would-be rapist in a city, but it doesn't seem like a logical choice for homestead defense, especially for a "good Christian" woman. She'd be far more likely to have a shotgun for defending the homestead.

    Edward: I agree that this doesn't feel like magical realism. I had a hard time grasping the timeline of Mason's memories, and I never quite figured out what the accident was or who Sylvia was to Mason. At first, I suspected Sylvia was his long-dead first love, but after rereading, I wonder if it was his little sister. If she was his little sister, though, why wasn't his mother absolutely beside herself over the death of one child and the injury of another?

    Your sensory descriptions are lovely, and there were some lines in there I absolutely adored. That last one in particular. Loved it. It was a perfect note to end the story on.

    Edward Bear gets my vote today.

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  6. Cornelius Keel - Good use of figurative language. It's something this competition doesn't have enough of. The description of the monster is too long, though, and too detailed. We're told it's a shadow and then we get a full view. Also, the introduction of the woman is late and clumsy. We as the reader want to see through her eyes. And the dialog between the two doesn't ring true, even in a fantasy setting.

    Edward Bear - Good language and word choices. Second paragraph gets a little out of control with the eyes, but I like the past and present running concurrently and didn't have any problem keeping up. One of the strongest stories of the competition so far. I feel like the confession is a little weak. If he's to be weighed down by guilt, give him something worse to be guilty for.

    Vote is for Edward Bear

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  7. My vote goes to Edward Bear for a charming piece, deeply in the character's POV. Cornelius Keel -- sometimes less can be more. Or more can be too much, especially in horror. The extended description of the monster inspired me with more derision than terror. And by the time the creature addressed the woman as "little missy" I totally cracked up. Sorry, but no.

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  8. Both of these entries have strengths and also weaknesses, making this a close contest.

    Cornelius Keel: It's difficult to judge this one, since it seems to be the opening of a longer work so it doesn't resolve. The horror is clearly there, with the brave hero standing against a terrifying monster. The description of the creature wasn't initially clear. It was a shadow deeper and blacker than the woods, but its skin was the color of ash and its eyes flashed red. There is also a surfeit of description, piling pestilence on pustules on gore. On the other hand, there is nothing to tell us about the woman beyond saying she's a homesteader. We don't know why she is there or what her goal is. Did the creature surprise her as she passed by, or was she hunting it? If the latter, why would she have a child with her? Why is she carrying a derringer, which strikes me as a rather fancy weapon for duels, not the non-nonsense long gun a homesteader would use to protect her family. I also found the dialogue a touch melodramatic, and don't know why it happened at all. If she's there to shoot it, why is she talking? Take aim, and Blam!

    Edward Bear: This was a wrenching look at a dying man's wandering mind serving him images of an old guilt and the possibility of redemption and joy. A couple of things pulled me out of the story, though. One was when the child Mason's leg was "scraped to the bone" but his mother soothed the cut with camphor. That seems not nearly enough treatment for so severe a wound. A more serious concern is that I was unable to piece together a solid understanding of what actually happened. How long ago was the accident (that is, how old is Mason now?) Initially, with the description of Marcus's body as "frail" I assumed he was an old man thinking back on ancient history, but at the end he directs his comments to his mother, only it's not her, it's the nurse, so I'm again confused. Why did young Mason think he was responsible for Sylvia's death? It seems she died in an auto accident, but he was trying to hold on to her? A clearer picture of this event, so vivid in his mind, would help.

    It's hard for me to choose, but I'm going with Edward Bear because it's the one that felt like a whole story and reached a satisfying conclusion.

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  9. Cornelius Keel: Oh, how I wanted to feel a good chill. From the opening, we get that it's night and "... a shadow deeper and blacker than the woods themselves ..." made me think, this is going to be good. But my mind whiplashed with the description that followed. How could anyone see all that detail in the dark unless it was another monster or someone with supernatural powers? I then discover it's a good Christian woman with a tiny pistol. Later on, we also learn she has a baby (or toddler?) with her. Who would search out a monster of this caliber under these circumstances? I wait for the payoff, because I'm thinking this David-and-Goliath-like tale has to have a payoff. Only the monster pontificates instead. So sorry, but total disconnect. A plus: the writing is clean and easy to follow.

    Edward Bear: I loved the way the story began and felt for Mason and his plight, how the idea of the cancer began with the ache in his chest from long ago stemming from Sylvia's accident. After that, I was confused. It was never clear why Mason blamed himself for Sylvia's death, exactly what happened, or the timeline. Did she die when they were eight? Or after that?

    The part with the "nurse" and the MRI is all wrong. She'd be a certified MRI tech and would not be in the room while the machine is in operation. The tech performs the MRI procedures; the doctor (if present in serious cases as in this story) views the results as they come up. (Over 15 years I've had numerous MRIs.) This part threw me out of the story because of the inaccuracies. Your last line, however, was the most beautiful save and truly touched my heart.

    My Vote: Edward Bear

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  10. It is a shame that after all the dark stuff to pitch a more romantic and moving piece, it was sure to win as we have had no feel good pieces yet.
    So despite some issues with Bear's, they get my vote.
    hoping for some heart-pulling and comedy to come. dark times, out there, let's have some lightheartedness, PLEASE

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    Replies
    1. I feel Cornelius was unlucky as if placed in earlier bout he would excel over some of the other dark stuff.
      just my opinion.

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  11. Congrats to both of you for making the top 30. That's a big achievement.

    Unfortunately, both pieces fell flat.

    Keel
    The first read more like a Wikipedia entry with a deep description which went too far. I would rework from the start as the opening sentence did not grab me at all which is key when you only have 500 words. I want to see more darkness like you had at the end (which was delicious). I want to know more about the history or why the woman went out to fight. Does she have more knowledge than we know or a special skill or is it despair? I think you could lose two lines of description and tackle these to get the piece to the next level.

    Bear
    A much stronger start. This was grabbed me initially, but then lost me along the way. I didn't know if Mason was young or old. At first, I though Sylvia died from cancer, then though she fell, then realized it was a car accident. There needs to be more clarity with the MC's age & what transpired with Sylvia. Looking at the blue skies and the fragrance makes me think of a field, not traffic.

    This one is a tough vote, but not for the right reasons; however, I'm sure we'll see the winner present a next level piece in the next round.

    I vote for EDWARD BEAR

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  12. Cornelius -- Great use of description and language to create a chilling piece. My only suggestion would be to use less description in the first paragraph and use those words to tell us if the woman escapes--I like to think she did even though I highly doubt it. But you leave it on a cliffhanger that would have me reading more, so great job.

    Edward Bear -- Such a sad piece. I read it a few times and I'm still not quite sure what happened to Sylvia with the accident and how it was his fault--I'm guessing that they were walking together and she ran into traffic or something along those lines. Overall thought, your writing is beautiful.

    My vote: Cornelius

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  13. Cornelius Keel: Good first line, and you packed a lot into 500 words. I would like to say good imagery, but it was too over the top. You would have done better by choosing a few scary descriptions then let the reader's imagination fill in the rest. Also, a the dialogue, when the Windigo call called the woman "Little Missy," that seemed too flippant.

    Edward Bear: This story works for me. Logical progression, concise writing, sentimental but not maudlin. You get my vote.

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  14. 1st story, the entire first paragraph is description, in a novels it was over the top. in a 500 word essay its preposterous. you could have just said the wendigo looked out from the forest and we would have gotten it. then in the dialogue you have the wendigo calling the woman missy? totally lost me.

    the second story was better written. it lost a litte focus in the end.

    my vote goes to Edward Bear

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  15. My vote goes to Edward Bear today. Really skillful weaving of past and present and you captured the character's end-of-life melancholy and regret beautifully.

    Cornelius, the description of the beast is fabulous, but goes on too long and is too detailed for something being seen in a dark, shadowy wood. The piece needed to move into action more quickly.

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  16. Cornelius Keel: Heavy description and lengthy dialogue left me feeling not at all frightened. "Little missy" sounds like something an old man would say, and I'm not sure what the baby/child is doing under the mother's clothing.

    Edward Bear: I'm a little confused as I read this. We go from the MRI to the honeysuckle bush, and then, out of nowhere, there's a busy street on which Sylvia apparently died. Then back home, and finally, back into the MRI machine. I think you'd have done better to pick two settings to focus on and find a way to weave the story between those two. That said, the piece was full of sensory details that evoked the right emotions.

    Edward Bear for me.

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  17. Edward Bear gets my vote today simply for depth of feeling. I struggled to understand the timeline, what had happened & when, and Mason's relationship to Sylvia then & now... but Mason's love blazes throughout.
    Cornelius lost me with the paragraph of overwrought description. Leaving more to the reader's imagination would have been more frightful; the presence of the child dropped at the end felt too implausible.

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  18. MY VOTE: Edward Bear

    Cornelius used far too many words on the description of the monster/demon/windego, and unfortuately tried to rush some sort of story into the last 70 or so words. I would have preferred more story to over the top imagrty, especially if the thing was shrowded in a darkness. How much could actually be seen? BUT, i did like the yuckiness of it all and could clearly see it in my mind, but it didn't fit with the story, it took away from it.

    Bear--the story was a little jarring with the back and forth of memory v. now, but the pay off made it worth it. I liked the way it all came together. A little more clarity and tighten up the narrative and it will be fantastic.

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  19. Cornelius Keel- I know where you were going with the opening, but it just doesn’t work. It is meant to build up terror/horror but comes off as an info dump paragraph. While I understand and appreciate the 500 word limit, you would have been better served by having the demon move/act and using those actions to describe it. And I was confused by the child. Was it a baby or a toddler? Your description at first suggests maybe the woman is pregnant (hence the babe moving under the clothes) but then it seems like we are dealing with a young child

    Edward Bear- I don’t really know what was going on here. It was very confusing. It is not clear if Mason is young or old. Is this regret long held or is he young and that is why he believes the cancer is a punishment? Nor is exactly clear how he is responsible or if he really is. Is he blaming himself for something that was out of his control? Did he accidently push Sylvia into traffic? I had more questions about this piece when I was done.

    My vote goes to Cornelius Keel because I feel there is more of a story that can be told, it just needs a bit more editing.

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  20. Vote: Edward Bear

    Neither of these was exactly my thing, but both pieces were very smoothly written, and congrats for making it into the top 30! I think they were both just a bit cheesy for me, but that's probably personal preference.

    Edward Bear: Despite the smooth prose, I did at points find the plot confusing. Was Mason's guilt because he let go of her hand and she was hit by a car? I think, even though Mason isn't super lucid in the 500 words, it would make sense for him to have a very precise mental image of an event that had tormented him so much.

    Cornelius Keel: I love a good horror story, and I think all the pieces are here to create something strong, but it was just a few shades too over the top for me. The writing, however, is smooth and clear, and your opening line is killer.

    I'm also an expert in monster studies, and have done a lot of work on wendigos (such a fantastic monster!). There's a wealth of white wendigo stories out there whose authors don't do a lot of research into the cultural history of the relevance of these creatures in indigenous traditions. I don't know your background, but if you do plan to make this a larger piece (or if this is an excerpt from a larger piece), I'd recommend doing some research into the history of the figure. Shawn Smallman's Dangerous Spirits is a good book to start with.

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  21. Voting for Edward Bear. That was so sad!

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  22. Edward Bear gets my vote on this one. I had to reread it to resolve an unanswered question or two, but overall I appreciated the clear writing style. I've spent those long stretches inside an MRI or CT scan where you're in your own head, so I bought this character's heartbreak, guilt, lost love.

    Cornelius Keel's piece seemed over-written, too much description, that seemed to obfuscate the weaknesses in the story's structure, approach. There was a moment when I thought the wendigo was going to have a righteous purpose, then it just turned into a gory evil, which felt unsatisfying somehow.

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  23. My vote is for Edward Bear.
    Edward - I got a little lost at what exactly happened at the beginning but The mood and language was beautiful.
    Cornelius - I feel like the creature was over described and the story was not complete.

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  24. Cornelius Keel - It felt like there was a bit of an info dump (more adjectives than verbs). But the premise was good.

    Edward Bear - It's an interesting take on things. You get my vote.

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  25. My vote goes to Cornelius Keel for the excellent use of a Wendigo!

    Tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  26. My vote goes Edward Bear.

    For Cornerlius Keel, there was a lot that worked here. The imagery is strong, the sensory details are great, and the dialogue engaging, but I have to echo other commenters. There is too much time spent describing the Wendigo that could be spent on dialogue, setting, etc. Also the line "Meat, blood, bone, lights" stuck out to me because the first three are so physical and the last one so intangible they just seemed at odds.

    For Edward Bear the power of regret really came through here. I think we've all had those moments during medical procedures where we reflect on a person or moment. Loved all that, however I was never sure if Mason was mentally time travelling or just lost in a vivid memory, like a waking dream, at the end it seemed to imply he either passed out or was fully gone. Which led to questions like is this an ability, is it a phenomenon, how much control does he have over it, etc. For the magical realism element I'd strengthen it.

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  27. My vote is for Cornelius Keel. I liked the wendigo. Unfortunately, the MRI story did not draw me in as much as I would have liked.

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  28. Congrats on making it through writers, you are both winners.

    Being honest here, and have to say unfortunately neither story really grabbed me. I am not a fan of horror, and even less so right now with everything happening in the world. Cornelius Keel, while your descriptions are strong, the whole piece confused me a bit (maybe that is my ignorance in this genre). I didn't feel a connection to the story and sadly as horror is a genre I don't really enjoy it made it harder to read.

    Edward Bear, your story was lighter in tone, but I got lost several times and never felt an emotional connection to Mason. Also, after even after re-reading, I was not entirely sure what happened to Sylvia.

    Match-up feels even, which makes voting very hard, and while it may not be a fair way to decide, I'm going to go with the story that is not quite so dark.

    Vote this round goes to Edward Bear.

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  29. Cornelius Keel
    You already know you've got too much time and description spent on the wendigo to start. One further bit of critique I would add is that you also have description that often contradicts itself.

    Some examples:
    Several have pointed out the shadow deeper and blacker line, but then the wendigo not actually being that.

    "...hands a row of spindly talons with nails like blunted and chipped Bowie knives..."
    Talons ARE claws. So first it has nails that are long and thin, then they are wide and flat (a Bowie knife is a big knife). Did you mean "hands a row of spindly fingers?"

    "...she heard the voice aloud, or in her head, or as a whisper on the wind. It was like the dry rustle of kindling as it crackles in the fire..."
    Crackling doesn't really mesh well with a whisper on the wind. The latter sounds long and blowing, something that builds and recedes in volume somewhat predictably. The former sounds like unexpected bursts in volume with more energy. I think part of the problem, also, is you're able to think of a lot of nice, strong images, but aren't deciding on one. So rather than strengthening the story, it comes off hodge-podge and difficult to maintain a mental image.

    To add to that last point, there's also: "...it was the sound of dead things whispering up from the depths." So that's 3 very different descriptions of what its voice sounds like back-to-back: a voice that's wispy, a voice that pops, and finally one that sounds far away and isolated. That's too much to try and imagine at once.

    When the wendigo laughs: "... a dry, humourless bark," that better matches the description of its voice being crackling. A bark does not fit well with the other two ideas. So pick one idea and be sure all other description agrees with it.

    I do think it's really great that there is an appeal to numerous senses here! If the visuals are restrained a bit and the story given more room, then the reader can better focus on image, sound, smell so that it feels so much more visceral.

    Agreed that the "missy" is a miss. ^_~ I have a young friend at work who calls me "missy," so there was no way this was going to sound intimidating or nefarious. I think perhaps the wendigo was meant to come off as patronizing, but patronizing monsters aren't very scary. They tend to be more enraging or annoying. I think the only time one can get away with a patronizing monster and that being terrifying is after said monster has already done something really horrific (think Pennywise from It). Being patronizing is, unfortunately, commonplace. So if you want to keep the fear high, we have to see something that drops our stomachs before juxtaposing that attitude.

    I'm a bit confused as to the timeline here. The wendigo is centuries old. But has only been tested by the tribes he plagues for "near on a century"? And there are homesteaders. Is the implication that no tribe tried to do anything about it until recently? When is this?

    I'm also confused as to whether this is meant to be a monster wendigo of First Nation lore. Or the specific interpretation of a wendigo as a symbol for colonialism. Referring to warriors as braves makes it appear to have a very Western perspective (since that labeling has an etymology rooted in french), so makes me think the colonialism metaphor. But the fact a Christian homesteader woman is facing it appears to contradict that. What is the origin of this wendigo? If First Nation, I'd expect it to refer to tribes with their terminology.

    Agreed on all previous comments about the derringer and baby at the end. I also don't understand the woman's dialog. It sounds like the wendigo has been an inconvenience, rather than a serious threat.

    Love the use of a wendigo. And it's apparent from its description research has been done on it. Just need to decide what the story here is and focus more on that.

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  30. Edward Bear
    "Last Confession" I'm a bit confused as to what the confession element is. Mason obviously feels guilty. It's unclear what exactly happened to Sylvia, but sounds like she was possibly run over? We know Mason "tried to stop her," but I don't get how that's a confession. If he didn't cause her death (e.g. "I pushed her," or "I said the thing that made her run and get hit"), then it's not really so much a confession because he's not at fault. "I could have stopped her" is very different from "I literally got her killed." I don't think this title goes well with what we've currently got here. Something playing off of "guilt" or "regrets," or even focusing more on a metaphorical take on those topics (e.g. "The Lost Scent of Spring") would possibly fit better.

    I thought in the first read through that Mason was Sylvia's neighbor as a kid, they grew up, married, then she died in a car wreck as he was driving. However, on second read, the "I tried to stop her" and him limping home to his mother doesn't seem to support that. I did think for a moment that maybe that was still the case and Mason's mind is blending different time periods seamlessly together as he's dying, which is a great concept! But I'm not sure on second read that that's what's going on.

    If that is the intent, I think it needs to be refactored to make more clear that he's slipping from one memory/theme into another. The Oscar nominated animated short "Late Afternoon" treads some similar ground (though the conclusion isn't death, but a malady of aging) very, very effectively and is an emotional gut-punch. You might watch that and take note of how visuals are used to thread the story together.

    I don't personally mind how unmoored and somewhat undefined the story is. I think that's intentional and meant to reflect his failing mind (possibly even indicating the cancer has spread to his brain). That, to me, is the magical realism component at play. However, I do think we need a stronger idea of what actually happened to Sylvia in order to get the emotional pay-off. I also think this could be amped up even more.

    Someone else mentioned how the nurse would not be in the room, and I was also very distracted by that. MRI machines are super expensive pieces of equipment and given how sensitive they are to metal, you don't really want anyone extraneous in the room, both for the safety of the machine and the patient.

    I also didn't like in a piece driven by character that the nurse and doctor seemed to be perfect cookie-cutter stereotypes (i.e. caring female nurse who's only there to comfort and alert the male, distanced and knowledgeable doctor). It's stronger to either remove the other people entirely (have Mason's story begin inside the MRI as he's alone in the room and end that way), or else give them some unique details/description so they, too, feel like full, real people. It's hard to connect and root for someone on a human, emotional level if the other people around him aren't people with depth themselves.

    Some nice description: "... the sky above made their eyes ache to look at such blue." I can easily visualize exactly what this looks like, and it works well to emphasize the "purity" of their youth and the memory. Bravo!

    I wish, given how affected Mason is and that she's the core of the piece, we knew more about Sylvia as an actual person. We know what she looks like and that she seems to be a happy girl, but that's about it. Is the honeysuckle important because they were eating it? Was she smart? Adventurous? Had a weird sense of humor? Did she have a unique quirk? If we're to feel any of the level of regret Mason feels, I think we need to better understand who Sylvia was.

    I'm going with Edward Bear for a smooth read and better formed idea.

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  31. My vote goes to Cornelius Keel.

    Cornelius Keel: a desperate homesteader confronts a monstrous being that she blames for her family's struggles. I like the premise and the mood, and you have some great descriptions: "A shadow deeper and blacker than the woods themselves moved almost imperceptibly", "the woman could not tell whether she heard the voice aloud, or in her head, or as a whisper on the wind", "the sound of dead things whispering up from the depths."

    The story's detail doesn't quite add up for me. The woman talks about pestilence and turning the land bad, but the Wendigo only talks about eating people. She intends to try killing it with a little gun, by herself, which is nuts - why would she do that? Why do people live there at all, if it's been a problem for so long? There is alarming detail in the Wendigo's description, but I don't understand how sharp teeth and claws relate to (presumably) failed crops, or how pestilence relates to eating people. The Wendigo likes to talk, but it doesn't explain its motivation.

    Is the Wendigo a real beast, or an embodiment of the pioneers' fears, a projection? An allegory? A human takes a teeny tiny gun to a war between Nature and the human race? That's the reality of the pioneers' battle to survive, after all.

    For the mood, your way with words, and the story I feel is still lurking underneath, you get my vote.

    Edward Bear: a dying man replays the guilt he believes caused his cancer. I'm not sure about this premise. I like the back-and-forth between different times, and his confusion about whom he's talking to - though sometimes I'm the one confused. There is a smooth flow to your words. I know he feels strongly about this event so long ago, but I don't find that I care very much either about him or Sylvia. She is too vague a character, and he is barely here himself.

    I don't understand what is going on in that room - I've had an MRI scan and it's mainly just long stretches of incredibly loud noise, and certainly no-one was in the room with me. They occasionally spoke to me via comms. There was no doctor in the area at all.

    I can't work out how Sylvia died. In a busy street where he couldn't hold on to her and she gave a last horrified look? It occupied far too much of my mind trying to work it out.

    Although I like the writing style and the general ambition of the piece, this was too hard for me to process into meaning.

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  32. Congratulations to both writers for getting this far!

    Cornelius Keel: I was intrigued by the concept - the monster created by the inverse of our prosperity. Your description of the monster was quite masterful. I think we needed a little bit more information to be truly connected to the protagonist - the child was a bit of a surprise at the end, appearing to come out of nowhere.

    Edward Bear: I thought your story was a touching tale about the memories and regrets we build throughout our lives. How they create pleasant places for our minds to go when we need to escape the present. I feel like there was also hints of sadness, but I couldn’t quite figure out about what, so it pulled me out of the story trying to figure it out.

    My vote goes to: Edward Bear.

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  33. Keel was a very good, descriptive story. The monster was gross and creepy. Nice work! Bear just grabbed my heart. My heart went out to the little 8 yr old boy the grown man couldn't forgive.

    My vote is Edward Bear

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  34. My vote goes to Edward Bear! I felt much more connected to the character in this one than in Cornelius Keel's. However, I did love Cornelius's descriptions. Such a hard choice!

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  35. Two more great stories. Congratulations on making it in!

    The language in Cornelius Keel’s story is lush and delicious and I loved the folklore connection. I took the monster as an allegory for selfishness and greed that destroys all that is good and that can never be completely vanquished. A bit more description of the woman and the baby would have helped ground us in the story.

    Edward Bear’s story had some great figurative language and good writing but I couldn’t follow exactly what was happening. I had to read it a few times to understand it and I still don’t know why he blamed himself for her accident. Because I didn’t know what he felt guilty for, I couldn’t connect with the character or the guilt he was feeling. (Also, at first, for some reason I thought Sylvia was a middle-aged lady, so that had me really confused.)

    My vote goes to Cornelius Keel

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  36. Congratulations!!

    Cornelius - Cool concept. I do think you could cut the "telling" of how the Wendigo looked by weaving it into the dialogue instead of a descriptive info-dump (but a really cool creature, nonetheless!!). I got more into this piece when the dialogue started. The exchange between characters flowed well, and then I felt like the story began to really move. I really loved the last line. It felt right.

    Edward - The overall pacing of this piece was uniform. There wasn't really a spot where I got hung up. Sensory details were nice - I used to run outpatient MRI centers, so I could really get into the "now" part of the MRI happening. I think you might be able to tighten up the memory part because I got a little confused about what happened to Sylvia until the end.

    Both were great reads! My vote goes to Cornelius.

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  37. For this round, I voting for Edward Bear. His story just had more of an emotional connection. Cornelius Keel was good but there was just too much time spent on description.

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