WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #3


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

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 -

Invernia

Fifteen.

 

They say fifteen is too young to fall in love. But love didn’t wait.  


The first time he said it, we were sitting in the fried grass of the sledding hill in June, watching the sun split like ripe fruit over our shitty town. He had run away from home for the day—the night, the week—because his stepfather had a keen way of making him feel unwelcome. Against the bruising, his eyes were blue and tragic like icecaps.

“I love you,” he said, but what I heard was “everything” and “forever” and “this is the biggest feeling you’ll ever allow again.” Then he kissed me, and it tasted like the sweet-salt of caramel corn. My braces and his tongue made it awkward, and we laughed about it later as we clung to each other’s voices through a phone line until the stars winked out one by one.

He got a job to save escape-money and rode his bike fifteen miles to see me after opening shifts. He smelled like coffee and brought my father crullers and smiled through red-rimmed eyes. We fell asleep curled on the couch, thinking how wild that there could be an entire world between someone’s arms.

Come fall, he stopped making the long ride. The air and his eyes grew colder. I picked him up from a field where he said the sky was raining angry faces and it must have been something he took. I hid him in my basement and rubbed his palms in reverent circles as he came down. “You feel like home,” he whispered.

Winter snuck up on us, then Christmas, and I bought him a sweater from the mall. It sat in a box under my parents’ tree because there was a reason—so many reasons—he couldn’t make it over. So I brought it to school, and it watched from my locker as his best friend pulled me out of class to tell me about Her. I remember the hard linoleum under my knees, and how the hurt was so big it had to crack ribs to make room in my chest.

We both cried when it ended, and it was not unlike mourning. I felt an irrefutable shutting of something. A Little Death. “I love Her,” he said, but what I heard was “you aren’t Her” and “you aren’t Her” and “you aren’t Her.” They made coffee together and shared spoons, and she understood all his broken places.

They ran away, looking for smiles in the rain and new lines through which to cling to each other. The next time I saw him was in our shitty town paper, next to a notice about his service. The black ink got his eyes so, so wrong.


They say fifteen is too young to die. But death didn’t wait. It wrapped him in a new sweater and laid him in a box and brought him home again. “I love you,” I said, but what he heard was

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



Contestant number two is Artichoke


EARTH 11

All was darkness and silence, until God ignited his incubator lamp and pulled out a chair. The large laboratory sprang into faint relief from this corner workbench, shadows flickering where his colleagues had busied themselves earlier.  He sat for a while, thinking deeply. It was a good time to act, he decided: no interruptions, no endless requests for answers. No snide comments.

He brought forth his tray of Petri dishes and examined the cultures. All eleven looked healthy and well-developed after only a week. Pleasing indeed.

He updated their labels for Step 2: Earth 1-10 and - of course - Earth Control.

Check.

God collected together the additives bottles Devils 1-10, and tested each on his wrist. Hot little darlings, some of them, but within the tolerances. No-one could accuse him of overloading the evil.

Check.

He smiled and admired his experiment for a time, anticipating Lucifer’s humiliation and his own unstoppable ascendance. Eons of Archangelic arrogance about to come crashing down. Sweet. Lu had stopped by earlier, with his usual refrain: “Constant diverse moral challenges, God, it’s what builds strength; yours will be hopelessly vulnerable.” Ridiculous. Any fool knew that cultures needed absolute hygiene to be completely safe. Any fool. And here would be the proof and there would go Lucifer, bye-bye.

God regathered his thoughts and focused intently on the task; no room for error here. One type of Devil per Earth 1-10, while leaving Earth Control alone. Nothing but purity and peace in that one. He dripped a drop of Devil into each respective Earth; then he put the dishes back in the incubator, carefully checked the seals on the almost-full bottles, and started to consider dinner. By the morning there would be measurable changes in the cultures to report to the Committee. An early night then, if he could sleep. He strolled to the door, performed a happy twirl and strode energetically down the corridor. The lamp glowed on, in the silence.

Time passed; then, in a far corner, movement.

A figure cautiously separated from the shadows and approached God’s incubator. It was Lucifer, scowling and tense. He studied the dishes closely, noting small changes already taking place in the doctored cultures. Despair rose in him. He was sure of his truth, but now also sure God would convince the Committee of the opposite. God had twisted Lucifer’s premise: this was not actual diversity. God would get the new funding, not he, and that would be the end of Lucifer’s own Earth project. The end of the most vital work of his existence.

Lucifer hovered, uncertain - an idea arriving appalling in its boldness. In highest conflict may emerge…..superbeings. He stared at the cultures, unseeing, his future painted all too brightly in his mind. There was no choice, come what may. Lucifer slowly opened all ten Devil bottles and emptied them, one by one, into Earth Control.

Down on Earth, the people looked up to the sky in puzzlement.

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




And finally number three is Wanda Lust

The potion was ready.

It had taken me two years to gather the ingredients, eye of newt, pineapple spore, wild chamomile and madwort gathered on the seventh night of the seventh moon of the seventh year. My hands still carried the scars from the wolfsbane. As I stirred the mixture exactly one hundred turns, I whispered my true love’s name: James, Harris, James, Harris, James, Harris. I added the salamander wings and counter stirred a hundred turns, repeating my name: Jane, Swanson, Jane, Swanson, Jane, Swanson.

I pulled the pot off the stove and while it quieted, I chanted, “Day and night, you and me. Husband and wife, for eternity. Good and bad, for all to see. Wife and husband, so mote it be!”

A flick of my wand and I knew the potion was perfect when it turned a Valentine’s red.

The next part was easy. I had brought donuts to the office every Friday for months, so no one would suspect. By now, I knew who ate what. Turner always picked the Boston Cream, Tom liked chocolate and Lana had the sprinkles. Mary Clark didn’t care and usually snuck a second donut after lunch. And James Harris, my boss, always ate the jelly.

I walked into the office Friday morning and found a stranger. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so,” he said, pausing to smile. “Jim and I are old friends. He said he’d squeeze me in.”

I glanced at the clock. “Mr. Harris should be here any moment. I’ll have coffee ready in a jiff.”

He smiled again. “Why thank you, ma’am.”

I walked out, wondering who the handsome stranger was. It was so typical of James to drop his plans and fit in an old friend. The media had started to call him, “Wall Street’s Latest Money Machine,” but despite the success and publicity, James was a noble and dedicated young man. That’s one of the reasons I loved him.

The mere thought of James brought a smile. One donut and he was mine.

James brought the man into the lunchroom a few minutes later. “Good morning, Miss Swanson, I’d like to introduce Harris James.”

“Harris?  James?  What a coincidence,” I said, although witches didn’t believe in them. “Your names are reversed.”

“They kidded us a lot in school,” James said, as he poured two cups of coffee and passed the donuts to Harris. “And we might’ve chased the same girl a time or two, but otherwise we’re exact opposites. You know, like night and day, or good and bad.” 

Harris grabbed the box. “Thanks, it’s nice to see your manners have improved. Dibs on the jelly.”

“Wait a minute. I like the jelly too.”

“Wanna flip for it?”

“I’ll do you one better,” James said, pulling a knife from the drawer. “Just like the good old days.”

My look of horror didn’t stop the men. They were staring straight into my eyes when they bit into their halves of the jelly donut.

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


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!


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45 comments

  1. Wanda Lust gets my vote. I so much want to know what happens next.

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  2. Invernia - Not sure all of the changes were effective. The end is muddled and the last line cutting off is jarring rather than sad. Still some of the best writing in the competition.

    Artichoke -- Adding the last line about the people down on Earth robbed the story of the ending's punch.

    Wanda Lust -- Good job cleaning up the beginning of the story. Reads much better.

    Vote goes to Invernia.

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  3. I enjoyed reading the edited versions, but there’s one that remains one of my favorites.

    My vote: Invernia

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  4. All three, great improvement with the edits. You paid close attention to the critiques and incorporated them beautifully to strengthen your stories. It's a close tie between two competitors, but Invernia captured my heart and ripped it out again.

    My Vote: Invernia

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  5. MY VOTE: Invernia

    Hits me right in the feels. I didn't much care for the dropped line at the end, but still loved the piece as a whole. So sad and yet beautiful.

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  6. My vote goes to Invernia.

    Invernia: Good revisions to a great piece, but I'm torn on the abrupt stop at the end. I get what you were trying to do, but it looks like you got to word #500 and had to stop. I think it would have been stronger to do something like, "I love you," I said, but all I heard was "I'll never love again." (Or whatever she heard in her own words.)

    Artichoke: This is still a fun premise, but there were places, for instance, where Lucifer comes out of the shadows, where it felt a little contrived or staged or something. I don't know... I like the idea, but I wasn't as drawn in as I'd like to be. Still, a fun story.

    Wanda Lust: I like the setup here, but the setting gets lost once we get into the action. I had to read it a couple times to catch that she's gone from the waiting area into the lunchroom. It's there--where she says she's going to make coffee--but it might help to ground the reader in the lunchroom before bringing the men in.

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  7. The edits did not do any of these stories any good, in my opinion. Invernia changed the last line of the story, which I really liked.

    Artichoke: Added a last line that I don't like.

    Wanda Lust: I didn't like the premise of the story to begin with.

    My vote goes to Invernia. I still liked this story best.

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  8. Not sure the revisions did any of these stories much good, I'm afraid... But my vote goes to Invernia even though I really hated the ending that really wasn't an ending.

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  9. There are so many talented writers in this contest! I enjoyed all 3 stories again.
    My vote goes to Wanda

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  10. This is the first bout where I feel the revisions didn't help any of the writers. I had voted for Wanda Lust in the Prelims and the revisions made here didn't hurt her story, so in this round, I'm sticking with Wanda Lust.

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  11. Invernia: lovely atmosphere and imagery. The phrase “shitty town” twice sounds redundant in this short space. I like the removal of him asking her to be friends with the new girl - it makes him more believable. While I understand the intended effect of the ending, I think you’re better off not cutting it off midsentence. At first I thought this was a mistake.

    Artichoke: still love the concept, but the end didn’t really work for me. I guess I pictured subtle things interfering with Earth, not devils raining down, and I much preferred the focus to stay on God and Lucifer.

    Wanda: I like the new opening - gets right to the point. Personally, I struggle with stories where the woman’s only goal is getting a man, especially when it’s by trickery. The men’s conversation feels forced for the reader’s benefit - the foreshadow is much too precise. Plus, office chat with strangers doesn’t typically involve old romantic rivalries.

    I vote for Invernia.

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  12. Congratulations on getting here!
    Invernia, there is beautiful writing in this piece. It still feels a little broken and cumbersome to read, but I get what your are going for.
    Artichoke, I am always a fan of this type of premise, but it was bit confusing. There were so many details, I lost sight of the real story.
    Wanda Lust - The beginning had me interested because of the spell. However, I feel like this idea is just a little predictable, no matter how good the writing.
    My vote is for Invernia.

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  13. My vote this round goes to Wanda Lust.

    Invernia - There's lovely descriptive language in this piece. "They made coffee together and shared spoons" - wonderful way to show the new girl's closeness to the boy. The part about the sweater watching from the locker, however, drew me out of the story because it brought up an image of a sweater with eyes. The ending this time didn't resonate either, the abrupt end didn't work for me, but that may be a matter of taste. This is a complete story on its own, but it could also be the start of a longer piece, maybe show how the girl recovers (or doesn't) after 15.

    Artichoke - The humor in the piece is entertaining. I think, however, the story is better off not disclosing that Lucifer dumped "devil bottles" - it might add some suspense to the story. Great hook, though, at the end, makes the reader want to go on reading to see what happens next.

    Wanda Lust - Nice subtle humor here, and I think you could add more humor to liven up the pace even more. 500 words is not much room, if you edit this story further give some more description to the characters, let the reader see what they're like before the catastrophe with the potion. I loved the twist at the end, and I'd definitely read the rest of this story to see what happens next.

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  14. Invernia - It just ended, cut off... very dramatic. I like it better this time around.

    Artichoke - So odd to see God's pronouns not capitalized, which generally means it's a god with a little "g." I do understand the story better this time around. It feels more like an opening, no, like a prologue. One where it could easily be about Earth Control more than about the current characters of God, Lucifer, and the Archangels and Committee. I can't imagine it going on much longer from this current angle. None of what I'm saying here is "bad," just my observations and thoughts.

    Wanda Lust - This was one of my original votes. And I still really want to see where this one goes. It's the most fun of these three. And I'm voting for it again because that's the best way to up my odds of getting to read more of this adventure.

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  15. My vote is for Wanda Lust. I want to see what happens next.

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  16. Great job all, but I just loved Artichokes story, so I have to vote for that one.

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  17. Invernia: You pulled me in with excellent imagery and intense emotion. The cut off in the last line didn't work for me, but it's still heart-tearing.

    Artichoke: You've addressed the things that bothered me in the first version by clarifying what Lucifer's goal was. The transition to the earth's POV, with devils raining from the sky, was jarring, though.

    Wanda Lust: This isn't my genre, so for me it felt a bit predictable. That's more a "me" issue than the writer's issue.

    Another tough choice, but I'm going to vote for Invernia.

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  18. Invernia - I think the first line you had originally was stronger. I like the story, and all the details, until the end. I'm very confused by the ending, and I'm not clear on who 'her' is and who's died. I think you're trying a little too hard to be writerly at the end, at the expense of clarity.

    Artichoke - I think your ending was stronger originally without the last line. I think the rest of your edits are good additions to the story.

    Wanda List - I think your story is really fun

    My vote goes to Wanda Lust

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  19. Wanda Lust gets my vote! Got to admit -- if the story grabs me, nothing else really matters. Just now, sprightly romance is my cup of tea.

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  21. Really strong revisions today - each story only needed subtle work, but you could tell the care that was taken.

    My vote goes to Wanda Lust.

    (Reposting due to typo in contestant name)

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  22. I have always loved Invernia's "Fifteen". The edits strengthened in some ways, not so much in others like the last line, as others have said, but this is just a strong piece, the language and imagery really hooked me from the first. The POV of a 15-yr old holds up. The premise is so poignant. Anyway, Invernia gets my vote.

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  23. Invernia is the better story, the editing took away from the first version but it is stll the better story of the three, i vote for Invernia

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  24. I think Invernia's is the best story of the three in this bout, so that gets my vote.

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  25. My vote still goes to Wanda Lust. Still curious to know what happens, lol.

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  26. Good job writers using the feedback provided for you to create stronger entries.

    I'm a bit confused by the end of Invernia's piece... not sure if the word count cut the sentence off, or if the mid-sentence end is intentional?

    Artichoke, I understood your piece a lot more thanks to your edits, so well done.

    While I'm still not a fan of the idea of using spells to snare a man, I thought Wandalust's piece did read much tighter this round.

    Difficult choice here, but voting for Wandalust as I think the revisions made to your piece had the biggest impact.

    Well done, and good luck writers.

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  27. Invernia's revision made this story less magical for me. I feel like you tried to make it too clear and I don't like the dropped last line.
    Artichoke made me laugh, but the added last paragraph took all the punch out of the ending.
    Wanda Lust gets my vote for a clever story well told.

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  28. My vote goes to Wanda Lust. Romance gone awkward via magic. Tightened up and clarified. Nice edits.

    Tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  29. I have to vote for Artichoke's story. God in a science lab. That is funny and really different. Love the originalty.

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  30. My vote goes to Invernia. I liked this story best.

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  31. I can't believe I missed the beginning rounds this year! I'm glad to be able to join the voting in progress, though, and these three stories are great! My vote goes to Wanda Lust, I really want to know what happens next!! Thanks all for writing and sharing.

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  32. My vote goes to WandaLust romantic comedy sounds like fun

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  33. I'm traveling so don't have time to leave full reviews, so just a short line each.

    Invernia: This piece still breaks my heart.
    Artichoke: Still amusing, definitely tighter.
    WandaLust: This one still makes me smile.

    My vote today goes to Invernia.

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  34. Invernia, I liked this, but I got confused by Her. I thought maybe it was drugs, but then you say he loved her, and I wasn't sure if it was metaphor or a real girl.
    Artichoke's story made me laugh, and I love God playing scientist.
    WandaLust made me laugh out loud and had a brilliant ending, so I'm voting WandaLust today.

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  35. Wow, all of these are great. I really connected with Invernia's story. It almost made me cry, so she gets my vote.

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  36. Loved all three of these, for different reasons. A diverse set. All three have strengths and weaknesses, but I will pick the one with the best writing in this round and cast my vote for Wanda Lust

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  37. Ah! I missed the full critique for Invernia the first go around. I'll leave a more full critique for this version a bit later, when I have more time.

    Invernia: Top-notch writing! Very smooth read and good way to evoke emotions. I have to admit that the romantic content matter doesn't resonate so strongly with me, personally, as I never had a teen romance, and had a very different perspective on such as a teen (namely, I thought they were meaningless because you have no idea who you are as a person at that age and have so much life ahead of you, so the thought of finding your "true love" that young was actually a horrifying concept to me. I admit in retrospect that such young forays do serve the purpose of allowing you to explore such feelings with another person so that when you are older and more mature, you are experienced at that type of interaction. But thus is hindsight). I do connect with it on the level of caring for someone with a rougher background from yourself as I had several dear friends like that. I actually felt this ending was WAY stronger than the original. I got the intent of the cut-off last line and really loved it! It felt more like poetry and to me, met the harsher, somber tone in this version. I can definitely see how that choice is divisive, for sure. But I dug the uniqueness and gut-punch of it.

    Artichoke: This definitely tightened up in terms of the interactions and motivations of God and Lucifer, which I think worked well. What I deeply, deeply lament is that this was changed from present tense. Present tense added an air of playfulness to the piece, as well as mystery. The idea of God and Lucifer working in real-time made them feel more urgent and human, since they aren't these old beings of yore. The past tense also sounds more "this is a story" and official, which robs the piece of its comedy of errors feel.

    The ending I agree diminishes the story, and I think that's because it takes away the anticipation of what's going to happen, because you've told us. It also removes focus from your delightful interpretation of Lucifer and God, which was what made this so engaging. I like the idea of where a hint was being laid for what's going to happen on Earth, but the execution of that was too much. If you wanna keep that "ohhh no!" hint, but maintain tone and focus, I'd use something more like, "Lucifer turns away, swiftly escaping from the sabotage. Back on the incubator, Earth Control begins to bubble."

    I want to stress that I LOVE your writing! This concept is gloriously fun! I absolutely would read more of your work. Your sense of humor is wonderful. Please keep at it!!!

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  38. Wanda Lust: Much tighter intro and less stilted, more realistic dialogue! You made some strong improvements. I agree that the change in physical location threw me off. I'm not sure why they need to go to a lunchroom to drink coffee. There's usually a coffee pot to be found not far from personal offices. Also agree that the dialog about chasing the same girl seems forced. I still think it'd make more sense for them to joke about how they abused such similar names; e.g. messing with substitute teachers, or reporting to each other's detentions. The topic of discussion is how similar their names are, so chasing the same girl doesn't really have anything to do with that (guys who have dissimilar names and are friends often do the same, so that's not unique to the name). I also doubt a friend would call his other friend "bad" when introducing him to a stranger. The rebuttal to that line is also super weak. Maybe go with something more like, "like night and day, or breakfast and dinner. I'm obviously dinner, since this guy is so cheap." And then have the rebuttal be something like, "At least everybody loves breakfast. And who needs dinner when you can have breakfast for dinner. Speaking of breakfast..."

    This line: "...James was a noble and dedicated young man" made me pause. I assumed Jane is the same age as her boss, but that line makes her sound waaaay older, which, if Jane is going to be explored as a creepy stalker would be SUPER intriguing and more unique! If the intent, however, is not that she is a decade or so older than her boss, I wouldn't have her call him a young man. If you're the same/similar age as someone, you typically think of them in terms of yourself, and most people don't think to themselves "I'm a nice young person," but "I'm a nice person." Again, unless this story explores how messed up the whole concept of robbing someone of their ability to consent is, it's just not something I'd read. Good revisions, overall, though!

    Tough call, as I LOVE the humor of Artichoke. But I think I'm going to have to give my vote this go to Invernia. You've got some serious writing talent and great polish on your work. The change in tone and the harshness of this ending worked way better for me than the weird forlorn regret of the first piece (probably again because I have a hard time relating to putting so much gravitas to a teen romance). All of you in this grouping have some serious skill and should keep writing!

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  39. Invernia - I've really enjoyed your writing. This version didn't read as smooth and I don't love the ... ending, but still solid.
    Artichoke - I think it's a great idea, but I also didn't like version two as well.
    Wanda Lust - I thought it was an improvement over the first version, and funny to boot.
    I'm voting for Wanda Lust

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  40. The first story was well-written and heartbreaking. I also didn't think dropping the ending like that worked, but you did a great job.
    Story two was fun and funny and everything that I like in a story.
    The last story had such a great ending. The James Harris and Harris James was too convenient for me, but I still enjoyed it.
    I'm voting Artichoke

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