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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - 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 -

Durden Mayhem

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 Sun, Jan 16th (noon central time).

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, the voters can win a $50 Wild Lark Books gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

The contestant 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 -

Fern Calloway

Tasty Little Morsel


I crunch across the playground, gripping my basket tighter. I sit on the vacant bench by the slide and adjust my gloves, tug down my sleeves. Best not to frighten the children.

They run and play where our cabin once stood. The land now a tangle of jungle gyms, see-saws, and giggling young pups. It would be easy to snatch one up.

A small boy plops beside me, jarring the rickety bench. “I like your glasses.”

“Better to see you with.” I wink, and offer him a smile, careful to keep my teeth hidden.

The boy kicks his feet. “Your hat is cool.”

They always like my hat.  It’s the long red plume tucked in the band. I keep it there as a remind of what that hunter did to her.

The boy is still talking. I turn to face him. “What was that, dear?”

“Your hat,” he says. “Can I hold it?” He’s already reaching.

“Wait a minute,” I bark. “Let me unclip it, or you’ll take my hair too.”

“Your hair?” He laughs as I slip bobby pins from the wig covering my long, pointy ears.

I hand him the hat and he runs his paws over the feather. “Pretty.”

“She was,” I say. I’ve stopped listening. My gaze drifts over the playground. A hunter lurks here; I can smell him.


A man sits on a bench, watching the children with a hunger far more sinister than my own. He runs a finger down the outside of his thigh, licking his lips.

I yank my hat from the child, ignoring him as I stand and set it on my head. I weave between knee-highs and soiled twerps, my focus intent on the huntsman.

The man stops fidgeting when I sit, but he doesn’t glance my way. I clear my throat and secure my hat.  His dark desires don’t sway enough to pay me any mind. He’s zeroed in on a blonde with pigtails, four, maybe five years old, flipping end over end on the tall bars, her little dress exposing cotton panties with every twirl.

“Excuse me,” I say, not bothering to hide my disgust.

“Yeah,” he says. I can tell I’ve disturbed him. Good.

I push my glasses up higher my long nose. “Which one is yours?” I wait for him to lie. He’s not here to protect, he’s here to hunt.

He points to the twirling girl. She hangs upside down, her dress flopping over her sweet face. His gaze locks onto her bare midriff.

I cross my leg at the knee, turning toward him. “No. She doesn’t.”

He faces me. “Which one of them is yours, Granny?” He spits the words through tight lips.

“All of them,” I say and pull a hard candy from my pocket and pop it into my mouth. His eyes widen as I crunch it between my sharp, pointy teeth.

 All the better to eat you with.


Contestant number two is Anita Winn

I was supposed to be a snitch, not some lackey listening to Wham! blare throughout the store. The only way my demotion from the workshop could be worse was if that annoying Mariah Carey Christmas song came on again. The Big Guy would say it’s penance for messing around with his daughter. I bristled at the unmistakable whir of an approaching grocery cart. Any moment now…


“Pick me!” The shouts came from all around me and wouldn’t stop for another fourteen hours. Fortunately, the beer section was only a few aisles away, provided I could ever escape.


The pick me chorus crescendoed as a cart neared and the woman pushing it came into view. She had big, brown eyes, lips like pillows, and dark hair that spiraled several inches past her shoulders. She was probably in her thirties, freaking gorgeous. The woman passed by and browsed through the decorations. Sighing, she deposited an angel tree topper and a tractor ornament into the cart, then turned toward the toy department, stopping briefly to acknowledge my presence with a tilt of her head. She’d be back, and I’d look forward to it.


Customers grabbed for garland and stretched for stocking holders as they hustled into my section, and the woman returned, her cart brimming with toys, coats, and board games. Two children followed close behind. The girl appeared to be about eight, and the boy was probably four. Both had tufts of white fur, likely an animal’s, stuck in the Velcro of their jackets that were too light for a Midwestern winter. The kids pointed in my direction.


“Mom, they’ve got them! You promised us one last year,” the daughter said as she headed my way.


“This is the first time I’ve seen them all season.The woman pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her son’s nose. “We can only buy one though.”


“Really?” The girl’s eyes lit as her mom nodded. I shuddered at the boy’s devilish smile. “Which one should we get?”


Two kids—possibly more, and an animal. This didn’t bode well at all. I needed to keep calm, be invisible, and let them choose someone clueless about the trouble ahead. Preferably, one of the mindless pick-me’s. I took a step backward and teetered before falling onto the floor.


“I think this one chose us. Maybe he should be our shelf elf, but you know he reports to Santa, right?” The kids nodded, and the woman reached down as I tried scrambling away. To my chagrin, elf magic never worked when children were looking. “Of course, we’ll need to come up with a name, but that will wait until we get home. Your sisters get to decide too.”


Let’s call him Glitter.”


“No, T-Rex!”


My name was Sven, not Glitter, T-Rex or anything else this wretched family could dream up. Sven.


“Come on, kids. We need to find Aunt Beulah and buy some dog and cat food, too.”


If the humiliation didn’t kill me, the pets would. 

And finally, number three is S.L. Grady

Winter in the Pacific Northwest means daylight is scarce. As darkness descends into the sky at merely 4 pm, I dread the chore that lies ahead. But, Lexi sits at my feet, staring expectantly with her brown soulful eyes.  


“Okay,” I tell her. “Walk time!”


Lingering rain clouds obfuscate the light from the moon which only deepens the sinister feel of the night. I equip myself with a flashlight and rain boots before Lexi and I drive to McCormick Forest Park.


The empty trail head is unsurprising, though partly unsettling. “Go ahead,” I motion Lexi out of the car and she happily obliges; her tail spinning as she darts into the forest.


Lexi races ahead, but the clank of her collar against her heart shaped tag reassures me that she is close. As we walk, my mind lingers to Tara Johnson and her dog Maggie, who have now been missing for three days. I quickly dispel the ominous thoughts that creep into my mind. 


Before long, the bright white light shining from my flashlight dims to a lackluster yellow. I swear it had a full charge. Without warning, the flashlight shuts off, blindsiding me into pure darkness. I can barely make out the shadows of the trees that stand before me. 


“Lexi!” I call, “let’s go back!” 


The sudden snap of a twig from behind jolts my body like a strike of lightning. I instinctively tense, paralyzed from taking another step forward, “Lexi?” But I don’t hear her familiar pant. Unsettling silence radiates across the forest. “Lexi!” I call again, this time louder. 


Panic pounds within my chest, my breath is shallow. I cautiously continue forward, trying to sidestep stray branches. “Where are you Lexi?” I cry out. 


Another snap of a branch breaks the stillness that infiltrates the air.  I stop, waiting to see if Lexi appears. I tell myself, she’s at the car, she’s waiting for me there.


The wind whistles between the trees as if to call, help. Chills inch up my spine. “Hello?” My mind is deluding me.  


I quicken my pace, but rain soaked dirt gloms onto my boots, weighing down my feet with each step. Finally, I see the faint glow of a street light ahead. 


Breathless, I finally reach the car. Lexi is nowhere in sight. “Lexi?” My voice trembles.


I walk back towards the trailhead, about to cross the threshold into the bleak woods when abruptly, Lexi emerges from the brush. The hackles on her back are raised and her ears are back; she’s also been spooked. I kneel down and wrap my arms around her damp, furry chest. Relief calms my hammering heart. 


“What’s that?” I reach my hand to a tattered rope Lexi holds in her mouth. Except, it’s not a rope, but a canvas collar. My cold fingers touch the name tag that is caked in mud. I stand up and move closer to the dull light. Fear consumes my body when the letters underneath reveal themselves. “Maggie.”


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

Finally, in order to keep this contest going AND GROWING, I'm asking folks to donate to the cause on my Ko-fi account (shown on the sidebar). Let me assure you, 100% of the donations will go towards the contest prizes for this year and next!

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. My vote today is for Fern Calloway. I really like the twist on the fairy tale.

  2. My vote today goes to Fern Calloway.

    I think all three writers did a good job of absorbing the feedback given to them, and I don't really have any other comments to add this time around.

  3. Fern Calloway has my vote, but well done to everyone for taking the feedback and making your pieces stronger.

  4. My vote is for Fern Calloway. Love the twisted fairytale!

  5. My vote is for Fern Calloway.

    Fern: I actually miss the first few lines you removed - I thought them so poetic, even though I was a little confused by them last time. There's always a danger, I've noticed, that after feedback some of the voice gets lost in favour of clarity. Don't ask me how to find the balance...

  6. My vote is for Fern Calloway. I love your voice and your story.

    SL Grady: Your revisions really helped add power and focus to your piece. Well done.

    Anita Winn: Fun piece; I do think the revisions helped; such a fun piece, don't lose focus on the voice of your character, as that's the strength of this piece.

  7. Vote is for Fern Calloway.
    The story is a great take on a classic, and the tone is just right. Anita Winn and S.L. Grady, I think the revisions hurt you both. Trying to take everyone's feedback and put it into action can be a double-edged sword. It threw off the tone in Anita's piece, and the timing in Grady's.

  8. Vote is for Fern Calloway.

    The second read was just as fun and engaging as the first. Anita Winn, the premise is great but feels like the story focuses more on setting up than things happening. S.L. Grady great reveal and lots of tension but I'm a sucker for fairy tales.

  9. I thought about this one for a bit, I enjoy S.L. Grady's work, but after careful consideration I have to agree with the consensus here and give my vote to Fern Calloway for the primary reason of the improvement over version 1 - something feels better than the first time I read it.

  10. Congratulations to all three writers - since I came late, I didn’t see the originals, but I did go back and read them (without reading all the critiques). Just a few thoughts.

    Fern Calloway - I think you really tightened your story, removing some of the confusion about what was going on in the original.

    Anita Winn - I really enjoy the thought of the elf’s observations as they report back to Santa also mixed with the sort of grumpiness we all feel at some point around the holidays. Your last line was good, especially considering the hint that he’s in some sort of trouble at the North Pole. My suggestion is maybe his observation about the children’s behavior - maybe the boy squirms while the mother wipes his nose, so he thinks he should get coal. But it’s hard to get that amount in a piece this short.

    S. L. Grady - I actually really liked the opening of your original better - the happy-go-lucky feeling of introducing a dog into the story makes the rest more of a surprise. The foreshadowing in the second seemed a little heavy - though learning about the missing girl and dog earlier helps with the suspense

    My vote is for Fern Calloway.

  11. No need to comment, as previous comments are spot on. My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

  12. These were some of my faves from the earlier bouts so this is a tough decision.

    Fern, I still think this is a brilliant rendition, and I love the redemption for Big Bad. Nice clarification in some of your initial descriptions.

    S.L. Grady, I want to commend you on your revision. I think the way you worked in the missing woman and struck that final chord was really well done. Some of the turns of phrases felt a little cumbersome for first person contemporary (obfuscate the darkness, dispel the ominous thoughts). I think they slowed down the pace and made the voice feel a little inauthentic.

    Anita Winn - I was a big fan of Sven and still am. This piece made me laugh second time around too.

    Since I must decide, I'm going to give it to Fern for this one. Well done, all!

  13. I mostly like the revisions all three did. Clarity is important. I hate the uncomfortable fumbling around that happens at the beginning of a story as I, the reader, try to figure out what’s going on.

    Fern Calloway
    Much clearer and more focused. I was drawn in right away. I love the interaction between the wolf and the little boy character. Hunter still grosses me out, though.

    Anita Winn
    I don’t think we needed Mom’s full explanation of what an elf on the shelf is. I just needed a bit more description of the setting in the beginning so I could be more grounded in the scene. Wondering why the shouts would stop after 14 hours.

    S.L. Grady
    I felt more grounded in the action, and for me, that’s always a plus. I like that the payoff comes right away, instead of waiting till the next morning. I still wonder why the MC chooses to walk in a dark forest at night-time, if they’re dreading it so much, especially now that they know about the missing person sooner.

    My vote goes to Fern because I think it’s generally the most polished of the three.

  14. SL Grady, this is my favorite of the three however I'm not sure I like the revised story better.

  15. Well done to all, as the task is far from easy. I vote for Fern Calloway, but Anita Winn is very close.
    Fern, I like the revisions. I liked the version of the hard candy ending with the teeth better in original version. I also got hung up on the boy's "paws," which made me think he could be an animal as well (I realize now he's not). I also wonder why the narrator wants to protect the children so much but also refers to them negatively as "knee highs and soiled twerps." Overall, the story is very polished and has many intriguing directions for expansion. Thank you!
    Anita, I still love this a lot and would like to see a final version. I'd love to hear why the elf is in trouble--sounds like he is a lech, which is unexpected and funny.
    S.L. Grady, thanks so much for the creepy read!

  16. Fern gets my vote. Everyone has already said everything I would.

  17. Voting for Fern! Fern's piece made me feel for the characters in a way the other two didn't quite seem to.

  18. Fern, your writing is excellent, but I can't get past the descriptions of the children.

    S.L Grady, I enjoyed your piece, but like another commenter said, some of the words don't seem natural choices for first person.

    Anita, you lost some of your voice in the revision, but you still made me laugh. You have my vote.

  19. Congrats to each of you for making it to the Cage Bouts. It's a well deserved honor.
    Fern- I think your writing is spot on, and it kept me engaged. Like Distracted, the overlying child predator tone was just a bit of a turn off.
    S.L.-- excellent job of taking the feedback offered. Much better. I do agree with some of the others, that maybe first person isn't the best choice.
    Anita- Great job on the clarification. This piece is so much fun, and I hope you expand it into a longer piece.

    This was a tough one, but my vote goes to Anita. This piece just resonated with me more than the other two. Too bad you three were pitted against each other!

  20. S.L. Grady gets my vote. Nice job clarifying earlier issues -- plus I love the story potential. (P.S., I also love well-done first person!)

  21. I was late to the party so I missed some of the earlier entries, which gives me the benefit of reading the winning, updated stories with fresh eyes. My Vote goes to Fern Calloway for a well paced reveal and interesting fractured fairy tale premise.

  22. Fern Calloway- I absolutely love this. I want the people who made the Saw movies to hook up with you so we can enjoy movies where a Granny Wolf protector eats child molesters.

    Anita Winn, I wonder if present tense would grab me more. I respect your choice of an unlikable protagonist.

    S.L. Grady if I read this as an opening scene, I'd buy the book. So you have my vote.

  23. Fern Calloway has my vote.
    All enjoyable reads. Great revisions.

  24. my vote thsi round goes to Fern Calloway, congrats all for making it to this round!




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