Now on to the judging. David A Ludwig may just be my favorite judge ever. I just had to share his whole critique list with you. He had great things to say about everyone! So without further ado:
SEAdamsKY @SEAdamsKY “Exactly like the Rudolph situation.” You got a real laugh from me at the end of this one. I love Rudolph as the authoritative and composed voice of experience and the struggles of the elves really resonate as the sort of thing you can get wrong but then feel stupid for afterward.
Perfectly in season and a fun read besides.
Siobhan Muir @SiobhanMuir “Do you see the problem, Rain?” Wow, that’s just creepy. Chilling and creepy. I love that you took from another of your stories for this prompt and I felt an instant connection to Rain and Jozsef—and Heath frightens me. All very well written.
I think this one gets extra points on the unexpected genre, because I at least tend to associate technology failing with the supernatural taking over—and yet in this case the amount we saw played pretty much like a real-world crime drama.
Charles W Jones @ChuckWesJ “Nah, You’re really a sucker sometimes.” A very fun and compelling ride, starting in the mundane and veering toward the supernatural before returning to the start. A very complete story with a strong nod to the Christmas Carol.
This one makes the honorable mention list because I love how you were able to pull us around with two sharp turns of direction in so short a story.
Other Entries We Liked:
TheGlitterlady @theglitterlady “My consciousness was fading and my fate was unkown.” Very apt way to end, as there’s a pervading air of mystery to the whole piece. Who’s speaking? How’d she end up in the forest? And is that a werewolf rescuing her?
Ryan Strohman @rastrohman “Mom, Dad, Mackenzie just saved Christmas!” Awesome line to a very tense and compelling story. I feel like the mother’s dismissal of the childrens’ excitement robs the piece of some of its power and it might better end with Hunter’s quote and leave the parents’ reaction to the audience, still a very strong story.
R Brox @etcet “Which, if I thought about it, was a near approximation of our sex life.” I love the comparison of his manhood to a broken flashlight and then the rest just runs with it beautifully. Naughty and good fun throughout.
Super Happy Jen @superhappyjen “I used to dream about being stranded alone with Atticus.” First, awesome naming there. The future setting with a character who’s into antiques is fun, as is the relationship between the characters. Left a little confused about the nebula and why they were dead at the end, and sort of not wanting to believe it. That is definitely a scary toilet situation though. Haunting even.
Nellie @solimond “Do what her brain was telling her to do and run screaming from the house like a little girl.” Excellent, a nice redirection of tension at the end. I was expecting some supernatural horror, and Bennie was definitely on guard for something, and then it all turned out to be a surprise party. Awesome. I’m also just fond of the phrase ‘scream like a little girl’.
Rebecca Clare Smith @jocastalizzbeth “Eating had become superfluous and drinking a tainted pleasure.” The senses of both longing and loss are palpable in this one. Images like the sea foam are rich throughout and I’m left with a feeling of hollowness that I’m sure echoes the speaker’s. I am left to wonder whether his water queen is some mystical being, a deceased love, or just a figment of his imagination.
Cara Michaels @caramichaels “No. It’s not supposed to be this way. I’m the soldier.” Powerful line, and I admit I was excited to see the name Bryant at the beginning… This is the grandmother of Gemma? Or something like that? Either way I loved the sister being named Marley, and that was a chilling turn-around for the “before it’s too late” to not be talking about the parents—necessarily? The tragedy is heightened by the fact that it seems Circe did everything she could and things still went completely against her.
ML Gammella @MLGammella “A good cup of coffee could make any crappy morning better.” So elegantly expressed frustration here, and I can totally relate to it. When even little things can make you happy but even said little things can’t seem to go your way that’s the making of a REALLY bad day there. It’s funny because the tire not blowing while driving is something to be thankful for, but in the context of the rest of the day really does feel like a sad concession of “not even my coffee was any good, but at least things weren’t worse.”
Lupus Anthropos @LupusAnthropos “What are the beasts that, in my closet, lurk?” I’m afraid your poetry is wasted on me. It’s a beautiful and bold construction—very ambitious I think to compose a villanelle on short notice. The flow and rhythm are very compelling and a fun way to take a familiar tale, but since I didn’t even remember what a villanelle was until I looked it up again I’m sure I don’t appreciate all the intricacies that must have gone into this one.
Wakefield Mahon @WakefieldMahon “Camp Duct Tape. You can call me Siobhan from now on. What do you think about that?” I think you just got me to laugh from the outside of an inside joke. Nice job. I love the poking at the fourth wall referencing the technology and culture behind these blog challenges from the perspective of ones unfamiliar with them and trying to figure them out.
J. Whitworth Hazzard @zombiemechanics “Just underneath the pine, was the smell of something foul.” Christmas zombies. Very nice. Great feel of terror to the piece though I have to admit I’ve always been partial to the idea of Santa being a bad-ass in the face of evil and I think that could have contrasted nicely with Buddy’s terror. Very curious about the scene, but it’s a well constructed vignette.
This one definitely got the bonus points for the unexpected genre thanks to high-fantasy from a prompt about a flashlight—which gets turned into a torch no-less.
The Winning Story
Marley tapped the useless flashlight against a stalactite as a spate of half-mumbled profanity dribbled from his mouth.
Estella stepped over a puddle of algae and touched the flashlight with the tip of her staff. A vigorous yellow flame crackled to life atop the flashlight's lens.
"Helps to have a sorceress when you're half a mile underground, doesn't it?"
"Not like I had a choice, but ok."
"Don't get pissy," Estella sniped as she followed Marley through a narrow cleft of limestone. "I'm not the one who salted the Arch-mage's gargoyle."
"Don't believe everything you hear, Estella."
"It wasn't you, then?"
"You sorcs are worse than middle schoolers, you know that?"
Marley offered Estella a hand as she slid over a slimy outcropping and onto a flat shelf overlooking a shadow-choked cavern. He waved the torch in a circle, squinting into the darkness. A pair of sigil-carved doors towered eight stories over the cavern.
"Well," he whispered, "that's the most hellish thing I've seen since Thursday."
"Did you bring the Codex?"
"No, I'm lugging a backpack full of bricks in case, you know, we wanted to build a patio down here."
Marley pulled off his rucksack and unzipped it at Estella's feet, producing a heavy leather-bound text.
Estella steadied her staff in the crook of her elbow as she crouched down over the book.
"Crap. Umbra-cyrilic. Haven't read Umbra since grad school."
Marley held the text open on his knee as Estella concentrated on the glyphs.
"Ah nee mo lah zen... Kah lee zen zo..."
A deep thundering noise rushed from the cave behind them. Marley lifted a brow at Estella.
"Hush. You want this gate open or what?"
"Thought I heard something."
"Ah nee mo..."
The thundering noise lifted into a lusty growl as footsteps pounded the stone.
Estella winced. "Please tell me that's your stomach."
"That's my stomach," he whispered, straightening up.
"Are you lying?"
"What do you think?"
Estella spun around and whipped her staff into the air, firing a bolt of blue-white lightning through the limestone cleft. The bolt knifed into the face of a lumbering creature with black scales and fangs. Its eyes narrowed as it pulled itself through the opening.
She summoned an orb of fire, which rolled harmlessly off the creature's scales. Ice. Acid. No effect.
Estella squinted as the creature's footfalls pounded closer and closer.
One short, sharp clap of sound pounded her chest, and the creature collapsed at her feet with a single shuttering whimper of pain. Estella looked over to Marley, who pointed his nine-millimeter at the monster's head and fired a second shot into its brain.
"You ok?" he asked.
"The hell is that thing?"
Estella sighed as she turned back to the gate.
"The Arch-Mage's gargoyle."