This week we had twelve entries including returning favorites and two new-comers.
@postupak gave us, one of my personal favorites, a nod to Jane Austen and @mtelschwilliams brought her own brand of western flavor with a bounty-hunter tale.

Here's the complete list:
Stacey Jaine McIntosh ~ @StaceyJMcIntosh
Ryan Strohman ~ @rastrohman
Sheilagh Lee ~ @SweetSheil
J. Whitworth Hazzard ~ @zombiemechanics
Charles W. Jones ~ @ChuckWesJ
David A Ludwig ~ @DavidALudwig
Cara Michaels ~ @caramichaels
Siobhan Muir ~ @SiobhanMuir
Rebekah Postupak ~ @postupak
Margaret Telsch-Williams ~ @mtelschwilliams
Nellie ~ @solimond
Nance P ~ @ModernBard1024

Check out all of their stories here

Thank you to J. P. Sloan for judging this week!  Let's see what he had to say:

Honorable Mentions

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Nance P:
I tend to say that my goal as a writer is to elicit an emotional
response from the reader. This vignette accomplishes this in a
touching way.

Margaret Telsch-Williams:
We receive a refreshing choice of genre here. Being an old softy for
Louis Lamour, I felt this concretely appointed scene was like a trip
into familiar territory.

Cara Michaels:
Once again, Cara gives us a well-realized scene with organic dialogue
and a sense of grounded believability. The refreshing twist comes as
this is no simple soldier-come-home story, but one of a hard-boiled
black ops badass recovering from a head wound, setting our expectation
of the character on its ear.

But the winner is...



Winner

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J. Whitworth Hazzard:
Lately I've been musing how intrigue and dramatic irony tend to propel
the pacing of a story. We have this in spades from Hazzard's entry.
The characters have a world of knowledge, and the reader is trying to
catch up. Hazzard gives us only a couple inches of coattail to ride
upon, and it's enough to pull us forward. As we find our bearings in
the dystopian landscape and deal with the ominous gravity that playing
the "game" infers, we want to know more. And as we finally hit the
ring, Hazzard pulls the Zed-word twist on us, and we have our footing
in time for the action to begin.


The Winning Story

He loved to play to the game. To Jeremy, it was the only thing left worth living for.
“Jeremy, I don’t want you going to the Exchange today,” his mom said.
Jeremy scooped the tiny scraps of oats from his bowl and looked balefully at his mother, “I’ve got batteries to trade. How am I supposed to get food if I don’t go?”
“I know what happens on Fridays, and I won’t have you part of it. You can go tomorrow.”
His mom knew about the game—most everyone did—but she only knew half the story. She thought he bet on the games, like all the other teenagers. Wagering bits of reclaimed treasure, food, or booze is the only sport left to their world.
Jeremy was going to play again, whether she liked it or not. He’d had enough scrapping about.
“Mom…I know to stay away from those guys,” Jeremy lied. She frowned but couldn’t spend anymore time today sheltering her only surviving son. Jeremy bolted out the fire escape the minute she left for work.
He navigated the fire escapes and roof-top ladders across the ruined cityscape until he reached the Exchange. He didn’t bother looking at the vegetables, meats, or clothes the vendors hawked for barter. He went straight to the stairwell and down two flights to the open floor, where the game waited.
The crowd stood around the spray-painted circle of red on the floor, all talking animatedly about today’s pot. Inside the red circle were three freshly-skinned cat carcasses—fresh meat; nearly a week’s worth between his mother and him.
“I want in!” Jeremy wasted no time. The Gamekeeper looked pleased.
“Back for more? You’re a cocky one. What’s your ante?” the Gamekeeper asked.
Jeremy threw six packs of batteries from his backpack into the ring. “Unopened double AA’s.”
“I’ll take that.” A skinny asian teen with a slick faux-hawk dropped a small box into the ring. “100 rounds; 9mm.”
Jeremy didn’t give a shit; he just wanted to play.
“2 minutes,” Faux-hawk said.
“5 minutes.” Jeremy could see his opponent sweating. Bidders weren’t supposed to up-the-ante so fast, but Jeremy wasn’t going to let this chance get away.
“6 minutes.”
“10 minutes.”
Faux-hawk backed away from the circle with his hands up in surrender, “You’re crazy punk, and I’m going to enjoy watching you die.”
“Set 10 minutes on the clock!” The Gamekeeper smiled wickedly, “you’re it, kid.”
Jeremy walked down five flights of stairs with the crowd at his back chanting and cheering. They reached the balcony on the second floor and the crowd pushed their way around the windows as the ladder lowered to the street.
Jeremy pulled the stained, lead pipe from his pack and climbed down to the street.
“BEGIN!” The Gamekeeper shouted.
Jeremy took a deep breath as he spotted the first zombie coming to investigate the shouting.
“Game on, motherfucker,” Jeremy whispered.
 


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