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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #1

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

It was extremely tight, but last week the voters chose to SAVE these three contestants -

Annie Corvino
Wink N.A. Smile
Peace and Quiet

We've now narrowed our contestant pool down to 18 (fifteen 1st round winners + the three that were SAVED above).  That means - it's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE AT ONCE. But there's a twist. All of the winners have been given the opportunity to absorb the feedback offered during their preliminary round and submit an edited version of their original submission. As a writer, utilizing feedback can be a tricky proposition - because frankly - not all feedback is equal. This is our chance to see how the contestants used that feedback (if at all).

The readers/voters are to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

Remember, one of the real values of this contest is FEEDBACK. So, 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 7th (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 BRAND 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.

Here our the contestants for this first cage bout (in random order) are -


I’d nodded off in the armchair again. Nina stood in front of me, little hands clutching my knees, a stuffed bear tucked tight under her arm. The embers in the fireplace sighed their last breaths.

Gently, I set aside the book that had fallen over in my lap and brushed a dark curl out of my daughter’s face. “Another nightmare?”

Her eyes were bright and wild. “The one about the tall man dressed all in red. He wanted me to follow him into the forest, Momma.”

Her terror made me ache. “You know what to do, love.”

Nina nodded and opened the drawer of the end table, pulling out paper and crayons. I dropped to my knees and stoked the fire, urging the embers to rise. This had been our tradition since Nina started having the nightmares. No matter how late, she would wake me and together we would banish her fears.

The red crayon in Nina’s hand was worn nearly down to the nub. Most of the other colors in the box were untouched. Her long hair fell over her work in fierce concentration, the firelight casting harsh shadows on her young face. I watched her, mouthing silent supplications. Give her peace… leave us be…

My heart froze when a door creaked. “Nina?”

I quickly leaned sideways, blocking my husband’s view. “Don’t worry, Rick. I’ll handle this.”

He stared for a beat too long. “Okay,” he said at last.

When Rick left, I expelled the tiniest sigh of relief. He wouldn’t discover my secret. Not tonight.

Nina spent another few minutes on her drawing. She was a terrifyingly good little artist. The thick crayon had captured her nightmare’s angry eyes and empty, bottomless smile.

My nerves sizzled with energy, but I forced a smile. “Ready?”

She folded her small hand into mine. “Yes, Momma.”

We each held a corner of the picture and pushed it into the fire. Flames curled around the edges, singeing and crackling. Then they began to eat their way upward. Nina and I let go at the same time, a practiced dance that no longer needed words. Together, we watched the flames devour her nightmare, the red crayon melting until it became formless and unthreatening.

“Okay, Nina.” I hugged her close and kissed her forehead. “Bedtime.”

Nina released a huge, contented yawn. “Goodnight. I love you.” She ambled back to her room, where she’d no doubt sleep through the rest of the night.

I wouldn’t rest, though, not until I made sure the fire consumed every last bit of the drawing. It was the only way to keep him out. For a little while.

I’d never told my family about the man who’d years ago promised me a child, if I promised him an unknown favor in return. And I’d certainly never described the red suit or deep-set eyes or frigid smile that Nina kept drawing, night after night, as he appeared in her dreams and begged her to follow him.


Contestant number two is A. Lynne Smithee

Nose for Trouble

Grandma used to tell me if you go looking for trouble you're sure to find it. The same goes with death. It's all around us, pervading each layer of soil with remnants of every plant and animal that ever lived in this forest. Their scents remain like ghosts, revenants that linger and throw the dogs off their mark.

"Got something, girl?" I ask Gracie.

A brown and white German shorthaired pointer, Gracie's been with me since she was two. Nothing can distract her when we're on the job. What separates her from other K-9s is we've never made a game out of it. Gracie seems to take it seriously, to dread that moment before she finds what she's looking for and gives the sign.

Gracie's brown eyes are too human for a dog. They peer at me through the curtain of rain sliding from the hood of my slicker. She wags her stub of a tail, then bounds over a small log and pushes deeper into the forest.

 This isn't the first time something has caught Gracie's interest. Maybe it's the constant downpour making it worse, the water seeping into everything and bringing the smell of decay to the surface.

I hope we get lucky, that we'll leave without finding her and all this will amount to is a day in the forest with my dog, but I know better. I've known since I first waved the tiny blanket under her nose.

Gracie darts forward and I almost lose sight of her. She's onto something. A cold breath of dread tickles my neck and sends a frisson through me as sure as if rainwater had gone down my shirt. I break into a run.

The brush is thicker up ahead. Gracie's upper body disappears into a clump of ferns at the base of a fallen pine. That stub-tail continues to flag back and forth like a prison searchlight.

Hope swells in me when she emerges from the plants. She looks back as if to tell me to keep up, then clambers uphill. The clouds overhead shift to let the sun wink down on us. Coruscating light turns the raindrops into tiny individual kaleidoscopes. I gape at the sight until I remember something else Grandma used to say: hope is your heart's way of denying what you already know.

At the top of a small mound, Gracie has gone still. The tail's patrol is finished, now locked skyward. The muscles in her shoulders bunch tight as coiled springs and her nose hovers an inch from a patch of tar-black earth.

"Good girl."

I give her the sign to stand down. The bubble of dread in me bursts and sorrow rushes in to fill the vacuum.

I make the call and sit on the stump. Gracie licks my face, then looks at me with those baleful caramel eyes that remind me of my grandmother. I scratch behind her ears and we wait together for the forensics team to arrive.

And finally number three is WizardInc

“Press 1 to sell your soul. Press 2 to speak to an eternally suffering representative.” The
absurd choices were exactly why Walter refused to use a touchscreen phone when calling Hell.
One wrong move and he’d be one of the eternally suffering. He carefully pressed two. The 90s
Nokia screen went from green to crimson.

“How can we-”

The soul on the other end screamed so high that Walter winced away from the phone.

“Tempt you today?”

Walter referenced his carefully worded script. “I would like to unsubscribe from the
Apocalypse Disciple newsletter.”

The representative mewled like a sad puppy, before answering, “We of the abyss are
sorry to hear you are dissatisfied.”

A whip cracked on the other end, filling Walter’s ear with more suffering.

“As recompense, we are prepared to offer this soul for crucifixion.” The representative
stumbled over the last word, and Walter braced himself for the upsell. “If you upgrade to
Apocalypse Zealot-”

The thought of upgrading to more nightmare-inducing material snapped Walter’s
patience like a dry biscuit. “I have no interest in Hell or its subscriptions. Remove me from your
list or I’ll convert to Christianity.”

This was a bluff. Walter respected diligent churchgoers, but his religion was the library,
which had also led him to the damn book that started all this. Now apocalypse tips, tricks, and
hacks were showing up everywhere he looked.

“We have no wish for the Enemy to gain another follower, I am transferring you to my

The smell of roses filled the room and a smoky voice came on the line. “Hello, my name
is Lucidina, Arch-demoness of retentions. How may I assist you?”

Walter adjusted his collar before answering,

“Yes, please unsubscribe me from Apocalypse Disciples.”

Lucidina’s chuckle was the hungry sort that made Walter feel like her next dish. “Oh, I
understand. I don’t want the apocalypse either. There are so many things to enjoy!”

Walter cleared his throat, “Quite right.”

Then she said in low conspiratorial tones.“There’s the next Royal Rogue book, after all.”

Walter had no better idea than to ask the obvious question. “You enjoy period dramas?”

The hint of fresh citrus tea wafted out of the Nokia, and Walter felt his cheeks heat.

“I adore them.” She made the word adore sound delicious. “The dashing rogue, the chaste
maiden, and love conquers all!”

Walter could not help getting caught up in her excitement. “The struggles are so
inspiring and romantic!"

“Amazon delivers, but unfortunately not to hell.” Lucidina’s disappointment wrapped
Walter’s empathy around her finger.

He glanced at his script, and ignored his carefully chosen words. “Would you like to
come to tea and read it with me?”

The scent of roses and tea vanished, and for a moment it seemed the phone had gone
dead. A breeze carrying both scents brushed the back of Walter’s neck.

“I would love to.” Lucidina’s smoky whisper caressed his ear, and Walter slowly turned
towards her voice

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 detraction's.

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!


  1. Great job everyone in making it to the next round! You all did a great job on your revisions and I really enjoyed the updated versions.

    MySquishy—I loved the changes you made with the dad and the addition of words like crackle. I also love how your story slowly draws us in to this home life with the promise of something evil lurking around. And your twist still lands solidly.

    A Lynne—your piece is wonderfully atmospheric and I love how you added more detail while lessening the mention of grandma.

    Wizard—Your piece still made me laugh and you did a great job tightening it up. My only critique/recommendation is to cut filter words like “feel” whenever you can.

    It’s a tough choice today, but my vote goes to MySquishy.

  2. All three entries are outstanding, and definitely worthy of advancing to the next round. It's a really difficult choice! MySquishy has been tweaked in subtle but important ways, bringing in a little more sensory detail and the father's interaction. It makes my skin crawl and my heart ache in just the right ways. A. Lynne Smithee does the same thing in a completely different way. All the ambiguity of the first version has been cleared away, and it is just heartbreaking. Wizard Inc. is still hilarious and reads more smoothly than the first time. Since I have to choose, I'm going with A. Lynne Smithee, though it was a tough choice.

  3. Oh, the inhumanity! Three of my favorites from the initial bouts ganged up on each other! However, my vote goes to WizardInc today. Call it the times, but hilarious and sprightly wins my heart. And "dashing rogue, chaste maiden"? Love it, although readers can be sure those roles will be reversed. Dying to read more.

    1. "Love it, although readers can be sure those roles will be reversed."

      I did not even pick up on that parallel, and now that you've pointed it out, I love it!!
      It would be super cute in this story if they ended up calling each other "chaste rogue" and "dashing maiden."

  4. My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee.
    MySquishy: Cool horror story. A lot of adverbs and a capitalized “And” (pet peeves). I don’t understand why the man promised a child then would take the child.
    A Lynne Smithee: Still love the analogies. Story reads faster and I felt the protagonist’s sorrow at the end.
    WizardInc: I feel your love for reading and readers. However, Royal Rogue still sounds like a plug for your Harlequin Romance and not an exciting serialized period drama. Lots of exclamation points too.

  5. WizardInc gets my vote. Out of these three, that's the one that made me think, "and then what happens?"

  6. My vote this time is for MySquishy.

    MySquishy: A mother tries to cope with the fallout of her deal with the Devil. This reads very well and I love how sensory it is - I can feel the room. I do wonder what kind of person makes a deal with the Devil, when we all know it always goes sour - I'd have liked a hint of that. I'm interested to know how this plays out in a longer story. A few small issues: The ending is a bit 'tell' rather than 'show', but I'll assume that was forced by the 500-word limit. 'Terror' and 'terrifyingly' are both used - and with very different meanings. There are many food-ish words in the middle: sizzle, singe, crackle, eat, devour, consume - was that intentional? Because I think this version has definitely improved, you get my vote.

    A. Lynne Smithee: A dog-handler describes his/her search for a dead body in the woods. This is a smooth read and highly evocative, but I feel I'm being told what to feel. I don't believe that trained dogs are concerned about dead bodies other than the find-the-smell task, and if I felt as emotional as your MC does about the job, I think I'd have a nervous breakdown. In my opinion, this would be a superb story if you focused on the sensory elements and created a subtle path for the reader to find their own emotions.

    WizardInc: Oh dear - I actually preferred your first version. It was the rolling, sensory flow of your sentences that I loved, and in your edits you've shortened them to something very practical, almost staccato. I realise this may be to accommodate your changes within the 500 words, but something got lost, for me. I hope to see some more of your work!

  7. Wow - 3 super entreis!
    #1 - still love the concept and the atmosphere. The final paragraph seems a bit out of place - so abrupt and telling compared to the earlier flow. Maybe something like ... all because of a promise I made so long ago ???
    #2 - love the emotions in this piece. This could easily be part of a larger work with the MC and the dog struggling with the loss. The only out-of-place bit for me was the comment about it the MC hoping they didn't find her. While I understand that, I think most searchers want to find as opposed to the person remaining lost
    #3 - The first bit had me smiling right away. It felt a little rushed (word count restriction I know!). I would have liked more interplay to convince me he'd forgotten his list

    All were very well done. My vote goes to #2 today

  8. A. Lynne Smithee Gets my vote. I still love the bond between the handler and her dog. And how she sees what she is feeling in her dogs eyes. The feedback was used well, enough to make the story better, but not so much that the heart of the story is lost.

    The other two stories were well done, and mysquishy did a good job of using feedback.

  9. my vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee, winner no contest. great writing.

  10. Huge congratulations on making it here! Well done!
    My Squishy - So good. I love the little nuggets you drop that build the suspense of what is really going on.
    A. Lynne Smithee - Really great writing. Your imagery is fantastic and the connection to the dog is well done.
    WizardInc. - I love this sort of clever writing - making the fantastic a normal thing. Makes me laugh (in a good way!).

    My vote would be for all of you, but if i had to pick one, it would be WizardInc.

  11. Congratulations, all of you! And what good use you all made of the feedback. All three pieces are improved.

    My vote today is for WizardInc for its cleverness and the fact it made me laugh, even while I feel for the poor soul navigating the unsubscribe process from (literally) hell.

  12. My vote: WizardInc

    Squishy- I loved the changes you made. It tightened up the piece. I'd love to see what happens next. The change to the father was great, and makes me wonder why Nina hasn't told him about the nightmares too.

    Smithee- As someone who loves forensic stuff, you made this a hard decision this week! I loved how you conveyed the horror of finding the body without the gore of well..finding a body.

    WizardInc- You captured the dread of calling a retention department excellently. That this is the retention department for Hell makes it all the better. I think the trade off from some of the more rolling bits in the first version to the changes in the current make it a stronger piece, even though I did like them. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

  13. Oooo I'm loving the polish you've all done on these! I can tell you went over them with a fine tooth comb.

    MySquishy: I enjoyed the added depth from bringing Rick into the piece. My heart hurts for Nina... and only slightly lessened for the mother.

    A Lynne: I liked this piece before and the sensory input you added is great. There is still a bit of confusion as to the stakes for the protagonist and Gracie. It concludes like a job, but the rest feels personal. First read through last time I though they were looking for Grandma. That's less of a problem now so good edits.

    WizardInc: I'd have to put this beside the previous version to be certain what was changed, but I lost a little of the power of the temptation of the demoness of retention. Perhaps some of the added understory cut the rhythm of your words this time?

    My vote goes to MySquishy this time.

  14. What a difficult choice this round!
    MySquishy - Great descriptive words to set the scene. I liked how you described the fire as "sighed their last breaths." Nice foreshadowing and created a creepy tone right from the start. The description of Nina and mom burning the drawing was a good way to get in some background - we learn they've done this many times. The end felt a bit rushed, and I understand it's hard to fit it all in 500 words, but the last paragraph was too much on telling a backstory and not enough of the wonderful showing the rest of the story had. Great revision though.

    A. Lynne Smithee - I enjoyed reading this piece, and seeing how you've revised it. Still has a good job of building the setting. The reader knows from the start that they are searching for a missing child - the part with the small blanket clues the reader in to that. There is one part that seems awkward, when describing the dog's eyes the sentence is "They peer at me through the curtain of rain sliding from the hood of my slicker." This makes it seem like the dog is the one wearing the slicker. All in all though a good piece, with an interesting main character.

    Wizard Inc. - I loved the humor in the piece, and the ending left me wondering what might happen next. The story could have used a bit more development of the narrator, and maybe less description of the first couple of phone responses. If you'd been up against any others, I'd probably have given you my vote because I enjoyed the writing and the ending lingered in my imagination.

    My vote this round goes to A. Lynne Smithee

  15. MySquishy: love the change to show tension with dad, instead of just telling us about it. I want to know more about this deal and why burning the pictures keeps him out. I’d keep reading.

    Lynne: fewer references to grandma leave more space for the action, and the tiny blanket gives us an insight that was missing before. Great edits! MC’s emotions are all over the place - breath of dread, swelling hope (why?), bubbling dread, rushing sorrow. It’s a bit over-the-top, especially since MC does this for a living. There are so many emotions, all told instead of shown. It feels forced.

    Wizard: the conversation with the rep is tighter and easier to follow. Nice simile with the dried biscuits! Walter ignoring his script makes his decision to engage very deliberate, and I think I preferred when he just couldn’t help himself.

    All great stories! I vote for MySquishy.

  16. I enjoyed all of these stories, and it was difficult to choose one. MySquishy, your writing is crisp and evocative, and I really want to know what happens next. A Lynne Smithee, you raised the stakes with the sentence about the blanket, and like before, the other details bring the reader into the scene. The last line about the grandmother's eyes, though, took me out of the story a bit. Wizard Inc, the phone call to unsubscribe with getting sucked in even further - in an expected context - works well.

    My vote is for MySquishy because I enjoyed the imagery and want there to be another page to turn . . .

  17. Congratulations to all three. The improvements made were very good. WizardInc gets my vote.

  18. I am so impressed by the revisions here! All three pieces felt significantly tighter than the first round, which makes this more difficult!

    MySquishy - I appreciated that you opted to show the father in the scene for this iteration, rather than mention him. It set up that tension in a more effective way. I agree with others that the reveal at the end is spoonfed, but that's probably better than leaving it to interpretation for a contest like this.

    A Lynne Smithee - I really enjoyed your first piece but this was a big improvement! I thought all the grandmotherisms in the first draft distracted from the story, but you've tastefully pared them down in this version. The clarification about WHAT they were searching for made the protagonist's emotional reaction more believable. There were some strong lines in here that I didn't notice in the first round-- "A cold breath of dread tickles my neck and sends a frisson through me as sure as if rainwater had gone down my shirt" and "Sorrow rushes in to fill the vacuum." I'm not sure I love the comparison of the dog to the grandmother at the end, if only because it made me question the genre and trajectory of the story (are we dealing with reincarnation or something?) but otherwise thought it was a captivating, well-written, thoughtfully-revised piece!

    WizardInc - This piece delights me. I get Twilight Zone vibes, and have such a strong sense of who Walter is, both by his subtle mannerisms (writing a script for a phone call... such an introvert move) and his word choices. You did a nice job at clarifying how he got the subscription and how it's been impacting his life, which we were missing in the first piece. My biggest criticism would be that every piece of dialogue was accompanied by considerable description, which slowed down the conversation between Walter and Lucinda. I think you could have gotten away with a few lines without dialogue tags or prose.

    My vote for this one goes to A Lynne Smithee for the craft and the success of your revision, but it was a close call!

  19. Tough choice. Y'all aren't making this easy.

    MySquishy - I loved your first version of the story. Love this one more. You took the critiques and tweaked right where needed, putting us in the room. I can smell the melting crayon. Honestly, I don't know how you'd end this story within the 500-word limit without some "telling." For me, your last paragraph is succinct and chilling.

    A Lynne Smithee - Though I loved your first edition for the writing, I felt distanced. The rewrite brings me closer and more connected to the MC. It's also more clear what's happening, so tension quickly grips the reader and carries through to the end. Though we get the quick punch of the MC's "sorrow," unfortunately, I'm left with that distance again at the end. Still, outstanding writing.

    WizardInc. - Good job with the rewrite! Tighter writing, better flow. Amazon doesn't deliver to hell. The sense of levity throughout tickles me. There were a few errors, so watch those.

    A difficult choice.

    My vote: MySquishy

  20. Wizard Inc. made some fun additions, but ultimately, it's not a story that grabs my attention enough to want read much more than a short story (and it would be a good short story!). MySquishy and A. Lynne Smithee feel like parts of larger stories, and their narrators are more relatable to me. It's a close call, but A. Lynne Smithee comes out a hair ahead today.

    Voting for A. Lynne Smithee.

  21. MY VOTE: A. Lynne Smithee

    There is something about the setting and atmosphere that really drives this piece home. Still amazing!

    The other two were both done well also, but I keep finding myself thinking about Gracie and what will happen once the body is retrieved...makes me sad in a good way.

  22. Congratulations to all on making it to the next round! All of the entries were well done with interesting concepts. I found myself more drawn into MySquishy's piece.

    My vote is for MySquishy.

  23. Congratulations, all! You three really took the comments from the earlier round under consideration, and these entries are much tighter, stronger. I'm pretty blown away by A. Lynne Smithee's revised entry, so that one gets my vote.

  24. Congrats on the three of you advancing. You all seemed to take the critiques to heart and made changes. (Of course, all critiques are subjective, so here’ hoping your changes didn’t alienate some of your supporters)

    Mysquishy- Rewriting dad’s personality kept me in the story and allowed me to enjoy the set-up your submission is creating.

    A Lynne Smithee- I have a much better idea now of who the story will center upon. The limited references to grandma make them more important in showing how she affect the MC.

    Wizard- Your changes were minor, but then again, that was all I thought it needed. I did like addition of where his trouble began. It was a nice touch.

    Looking at my votes before, I only voted for Wizard, Inc. and since Wizard, Inc did as good a job with his edits as the other two, I’m sticking him/her in this bout.

    My vote is for Wizard, Inc.

  25. No time for in-depth critiques all week, sorry!

    My vote today goes to WizardInc.

  26. While I liked all the entries, I wanted to find out what happened next. So my vote goes to WizardInc.

  27. I think MySquishy was great. As a mom of a young daughter I was hooked, especially since we draw out our feelings and fears. You words made me want to keep going. Characters are real and believable and there is a delightful air of mystery. Keep writing! You’re great!

  28. MySquishy - I love the story even more this time around! You get my vote.

    A. Lynne Smithee - It's good. I feel like I'm just missing a little something more to really pull me in. But perhaps it's just not my preferred genre?

    WizardInc - Ha, love that ending! Really great work.

  29. MySquishy- I enjoyed the story, especially the well-built atmosphere. I genuinely want more of the story. I think you succumbed to the desire to give your readers too much, however, and the last paragraph read like bad exposition. I think the story is stronger without it, leaving me with only my imagination to fill in the blanks.

    A. Lynne Smithee- this story has a melancholy vibrancy running through its veins. Using the grandmother as a touchstone gives the reader insight without wasting precious words building up a backstory, a brilliant way to show instead of tell. I think your edits gave the story better flow.

    WizardInc- this story was fun and funny! I think you leaned too heavily on dialog, which I think cost you a true narrator’s voice. The ending was a bit too ambiguous, like maybe you ran out of words a sentence too soon.

    My vote is for A Lynne Smithee.

    Dan Johnson

  30. MySquishy - I like your story and your writing style. While I liked some of the revisions you made, I'm not too keen on dad's appearance. That line of dialogue broke the tension you were building. Maybe you could suggest there was a secret she was keeping, and hint at the danger of being caught without telling it outright.

    A. Lynne Smithee - I think you did a wonderful revision. It's tighter and clearer. I love how you use all the senses.

    WizardInc - this story is funny and well written. The addition of the book gives more insight into the character and the story. I also preferred this ending.

    My vote goes to WizardInc

  31. This was a tough one! Here is what I took away from each of the three stories.

    1. The spirit and intrigue behind this story is what I really enjoyed about (hoped for?) in most Shyamalan movies. This made me want to know more about this world.
    2. Fantastic word play and really painted a picture. The relationship with the dog and the play on emotions was very well done.
    3. This story was clearly very well thought out and refreshingly punchy.

    Of these three, my vote is going to MySquishy for intrigue and imagery alone! Well done to all three of you.

  32. Sorry. I was logged in, but it didn't add my name. That last comment was me. Again, voting for MySquishy.

  33. All three of these are excellent, they are so well written. But the uniqueness of WizardInc has me voting for it again.

  34. Loved all three of these. Tough matchup, but I think A. Lynee Smithee made the best use of suggestions, so she gets my vote.

  35. Mcsquishy - I liked your changes. I think the last paragraph could still be a little punchier. I think it would be more powerful if it was a bit more trimmed and succinct.

    A Lynne Smythee - I think your changes we're good to add some clarity to the story. I think sometimes your prose gets a little purple, like "Coruscating light turns the raindrops into tiny individual kaleidoscopes." Try not to go overboard with the twisty language, or your story will get bogged down. 'Kaleidoscope' gives us a clear visual, whereas 'cursucating' just weighs things down.

    WizardInc - Good work on making changes. I think you've got too many beats breaking up the dialogue, so it gets a little choppy. I think your last sentence could be a bit stronger.

    My vote is for Mcsquishy

  36. All 3 of these were well written and interesting to read. I think they all did a great job taking suggestions and making changes. Of the 3, I was most intrigued by My Squishy - the imagery and suspense created a very powerful scene in my mind and I was left wanting more.

    My vote is for My Squishy.

  37. My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee. The imagery was evocative and compelling. I want to know more about the story and characters, this snippet has me hooked.

    1. My information so the vote for A. Lynne Smithee is counted:
      Aubrie Ballina

  38. Great job to all really incorporating the feedback.

    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee. As someone commented above - great job sharing the strong feelings without all the visuals.

  39. i agree with 122Ibookworm, and my vote also goes to A Lynne Smithee

  40. I thoroughly enjoyed all three stories. MySquishy--the twist at the end was amazing! I feel like I should've seen it coming, but I didn't, so great job. A. Lynne--Such a powerful piece that really brought forth the emotion of your main character. Wizard Inc.-- Amazon doesn't deliver to hell! That had me laughing. Great job.

    Since I'm always a sucker for a good twist, I'm going to vote for MySquishy.

    1. My name is Eliana and my email address is

  41. 🧙‍♂️!
    Very different, so I vote wizard

  42. My vote is for WizardInc!

    For Mysquishy, the story premise is as strong as ever, but the inclusion of the father didn't feel as strong to me because he shows up and then leaves. Given the late hour, and how the mother and daughter bond it made more sense for him, in my opinion, to be separate from the scene.

    For A Lynne comparing the two versions I think the second one is more focused on the tracking which definitely pulled me into the search. That being said I still wanna know more about the main character.

    For WizardInc still funny and more tightly focused on the two characters, definitely want to read and know more. I do agree that the flow of the sentences is shorter but at the same time there is more and the quality is there.

  43. All three stories improved, and I enjoyed reading the revised versions.
    Hard decision to make, but I'm going to vote for A Lynne Smithee, as I felt their revisions improved the original story the most.
    Well done writers, and good luck.

  44. Oh ho ho! The ability to revise for Cage Bouts?! LOVE THAT! I don't recall that being an option last year, so this is going to make everything super intriguing! Bravo, DL, on upping the ante. I thought I already had all my picks going into the Cage Bouts, but the revision option has thrown that into chaos.

    This reads far more cohesively than your previous piece. Love the change from "crackling nerves" to "sizzling nerves." Great word choice!

    The mother's emotions are much more grounded here, so I feel better able to connect with her. I did like the inclusion and naming of the father, but agree it does break the tension. The reason being it diverts from that mother/daughter bond without strongly re-establishing it and gives us too much info. I would remove the word "quickly" from the "quickly leaned" and completely ax these sentences: "He wouldn’t discover my secret. Not tonight."

    I'd also come up with something more visually/emotionally evocative than "He stared for a beat too long." "A beat" is so artificial and easy. I think you can focus on body language and making this interaction super uncomfortable so we're like, "Woah. What's up with that relationship?" which will be more intriguing and keep tension high. Maybe have Rick stare straight at mom's eyes, flex his hand around the door and start to step inside, but end up pushing off the jamb and turning away instead. Maybe have him try to look around mom at Nina, or call for her again, only for mom to say, "Really, Rick. We're fine." Then, once he leaves, have mom physically reconnect with Nina to return the focus to their bond.

    Maybe she rests her hand on Nina's head, or rubs her back. Then I'd return attention to the issue at hand by having mom notice some interesting detail about Nina's drawing. Maybe the man in red has a particular style of facial hair, or unique nose shape, or Nina always draws him winking. Or he has an interesting element to his red clothing, like a red handkerchief in his pocket with a monogram. I think we need a stronger unique detail to make the fact that Nina knows this detail truly unnerving at the end when Mom is going over how she never told Nina of this. I love the shift to being less fantastical here as it makes the whole thing more real and tense, but the eyes and smile are too generic to instill the reader with an "Oh crap!" moment because how could her daughter know this specific thing?

  45. A. Lynne Smithee:
    Definitely stronger with more thoughtful, targeted grandma references. This version reads far more concrete and thriller-novel than somewhat literary and poetic as the first piece did. If this is supposed to be a longer work and that's the tone you're going for, then you nailed it better with this version. This one also fits the title better. Personally, I preferred the poeticism of the first piece. It felt more like an evocative vignette. I think the big difference is version 1 didn't tell me how to feel, whereas, this one does that (especially with the addition of "The bubble of dread in me bursts and sorrow rushes in to fill the vacuum."). But that style doesn't lend itself as well to a full novel. So depends on your intention.

    The addition of the blanket was a great, subtle way to amp up the stakes. However, it then makes the "welling hope" moment feel very off to me. The narrator and Gracie are experienced, and the narrator says she already knows the outcome. I liked that detail as it brought some gravitas and humanism to the reality of the job. But if she knows that, she wouldn't be so mislead as to hope the kid is alive until grandma's saying jolts her out of it. That only works if it's made more clear that the narrator is intentionally trying to believe her gut is wrong, rather than her seemingly getting so caught up she forgets.

    "Rot" at the end of paragraph 5 was a waaay stronger word choice than "decay" and not sure why that was changed. I also still don't see how Gracie dreads and treats her job of finding scents seriously. She still wags her tail the whole time and bounds with energy, looking back to the narrator to follow. This doesn't mesh with what we're told about why they are unique. Still much enjoyed the piece and major props on the uniqueness.

    WizardInc: The Amazon reference is hilarious! As someone who knows someone who works for Amazon, I'd find it hysterical if Amazon doesn't deliver to hell because it's competing with hell for claiming and owning souls. HA! "Amazon doesn't deliver, being one of our direct competitors, and all." Heh.

    This version flows a better, but I do agree there were certain longer sentences that added to the charm (I think that's more to do with the limit than an intention of your writing, however). One sentence I much missed: "The soul on the other end screamed so high and pleaded so much that Walter wished he were deaf." Some of the decisions about changing it up and restraint were very successful, such as eliminating the burn this soul option, and having the whip crack.

    I like how Walter is more intentional and self-aware in this version. A great way to play off of that and have a nice call-back would be if Walter glances at his script, pushes it aside, then thinks something like "Looks like he would be going with option one," then he extends the invite. You can play with him being aware this might be the start of selling his soul. A fun tie-back.

    The one part of this that really sticks out to me as false is how their bonding over the book is handled. If you're a mega geek about something, you gush about specifics, not generalizations. So if someone mentioned Royal Rogue to a like fan, I'd expect them to say, "I love the part where x character does y," or "That twist at the end of book 2," or "Man, I adore all the outfit descriptions! I wanna cosplay as that." Their reactions now are too broad to feel like authentic fans who are falling for one another because of this shared thing they are passionate about.

    Super tough decision! I'm casting my vote for WizardInc because the premise is super fun and super unique. I think there's more room for different directions this can go in.

  46. My vote goes to MySquishy.

    I loved the subtle horror of the story, I definitely had goosebumps the entire time and am pretty sure I am going to have some nightmares tonight. Based on the description and atmosphere, I felt like I was there, in the tiny fire lit room and I love every second of it. My only complaint was that I wish the word limit was longer so the story wouldn't feel as compacted or rushed. Good job!

  47. MySquishy, great story, but I didn't like the change you made to the dad. Feels like some subtext was removed. If she had to make a deal to have a child, it effects the dad in every way.
    A.Lynne, love the changes you made to make it clearer what Gracie is doing. I'm invested in what she finds. A little too much tell at the end.
    WizardInc, far-fetched idea needs great execution. Strong beginning, but the transition to the Royal Rogue was forced and the dialogue suffered for it.
    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee.

  48. I’m not sure how to judge this. I really liked all three of these stories in the first round so choosing between them is--with a nod to WizardInc.--hell.

    McSquishy: This is intense. I love the tender relationship between the mother and daughter and the reveal at the end. Your edits smoothed things out and focused the emotion on the mom’s concern for the daughter and her need to hide what she did. Good job.

    A. Lynn Smithee: So much great detail. You really tightened it up and got rid of repetitions, slowly and surely directing our expectations. And I LOVE the subtle way you added the in the small blanket, letting us know without telling us, what the MC dreads finding and making us dread it too. Well done.

    WizardInc.: This is a fun story. Your edits smoothed and focused the narrative. Walter’s seduction is much more believable. Good work.

    So now the moment comes that I must decide. My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee.

  49. My Squishy - I understand the addition of the father's appearance but i'm not sure it adds as much value to the story, the rest remains strong and powerful in imagery.

    A Lynn Smithee- I'm glad for the more focused story telling, I'd be curious to find out if Gracie isn't a reincarnation of grandma, not sure if that's the direction the tale will take.

    WizardInc - the changes to this story were more subtle, i had to go back and read the original to pinpoint the changes made.

    All of these stories do a wonderful job of incorporating the feedback received in the first round. I found the first two stories intriguing and I'm still itching to know what the red man intends to do with Nina and what happened to the girl that Gracie tracked down.

    My vote ultimately goes to WizardInc, in keeping with my initial vote, because the changes while subtle are well placed and provided for me the most value to the story overall in comparison with the other two works.

  50. It was so hard to choose. All the stories were scary but real. I got goose bmups, from the one about the mom and little girl. But the one with the dog and the guy looking for someone dead was my favorite. I'm voting for A Lynne Smithe.

  51. This is a neat contest! Kudos to the writers. I didn't get a chance to vote on the first rounds, but I liked Wizard's concept. Loved the bit about amazon!

    Vote: Wizard

  52. A Lynee Smithee gets my vote. It was the only story I wished was longer. Good descriptions of the forest and setting. It pulled me in as the reader.

    Cal Lewis

  53. Great reads all around, really enjoyed everything here! I only wish I could vote for all three.

    In lieu of that, I'll toss my vote in for WizardInc!

  54. Voting this round for A. Lynee Smithee

  55. Vote goes to A Lynne Smithee. It was interesting to get such a different point of view

  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

  57. I really enjoyed WizardInc's take on unsubscribing from Hell. Found myself wanting to see what happened next, since the snippet ended in a cliffhangery-where-are-they-going-with-this? sort of way... ;)

    Edited to add, for clarity: WizardInc is my vote. :)

  58. What a way to start a Sunday, with a cup of coffee and some great reads.
    MySquishy's voice was excellent, and the story compelling. ALynn's prose was magnificent. WizardInc hit me in the funny bone. I have to vote for A. Lynn Smithee, though.

  59. I wish these three weren't against each other in the second round! As it stands, however, I'll vote for Nose For Trouble. Managing to craft such atmosphere without hardly any dialog, bravo.

  60. great stories my vote A lynne Smithee

  61. What a difficult round to have to choose only one entry from. The edits made by each author really helped tighten the plots and storylines! Ultimately, my vote is going to WizardInc for their story as it’s freshness and humor again had me hooked from the first line and left me disappointed I didn’t have chapter upon chapter to continue reading.




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