CW Survivor – Challenge 18: MacGyver

Write a story where a character has to make use of ordinary items (a list was provided) to escape from a trap (figurative or literal).

The pain of the knife scraping along his eye socket was as excruciating as promised. Once Swingtack had removed Richard’s eye, the pain did not lessen, it continued to feel like someone was pulling his eyes out of his skull. Richard gritted his teeth to keep from making too much noise. Swingtack quickly removed the other eye and held the pair up, giving them a questioning look. “Can you see?”

Richard tried to control the pain, the constant pull coming from his eye sockets, to answer without screaming. Surprisingly, his sight was clear and not distorted at all by the fact that his eyes were across the room from the rest of his head. “Yes, I can see.” He groaned through gritted teeth as Swingtack wrapped his eyes in a handkerchief and put them in his pocket.

With Swingtack gone, Richard felt across the bed for his wife’s hand. Instead, he only found the shoulder joint where her left arm had been removed. She hadn’t spoken a word since that had happened, Richard was worried she had gone into shock. Now he just needed to be near her. His entire plan had gone haywire and now rested on the magical gnome who had his eyeballs in its pocket.
—–
When Deanne’s leg went missing in the night, Richard had started constructing a trap. They had limited resources in the cell and no idea what lay outside of it. They had awakened there a couple of days ago, and hadn’t seen anyone or anything since. Before he could finish the trap, Deanne had lost her arm as well. Tonight he had laid the tripwire (a clothesline found under the bed) and tried to will himself to sleep.
In the middle of the night, the intruder had tripped over the clothesline, pulling the pizza box off the bed and sending the hard candies inside clattering across the metal floor. The racket woke up Richard, who immediately sprang into action and slammed the door closed. The lights came on and revealed Swingtack, a short, squat bearded man who looked like a garden gnome, cowering in the corner.
—–
Swingtack hurried through the corridors, sweating nervously, heading for the storage closet. Master would not be pleased that he had been captured by the Andersons, but there was still hope that he could avoid Master’s wrath. He ducked through the door, took Richard’s eyes out his pocket and started to work.
——
“Are you the one who’s been stealing my wife?” Richard grabbed Swingtack and shook him threateningly.
“Y-Yes. But, sir, it is to help her. It is my master, sir. He has horrible plans for you humans, I have been trying to hide the both of you and smuggle you out. But I cannot carry all of you and avoid notice, so it must be bit by bit. I can reassemble you once I get all of you outside this cell.”
Richard put Swingtack down. “Reassemble? How?” The gnome responded to that question by snapping a tool off his belt that glowed intensely blue and offered to slice off another part of his wife to demonstrate. Richard reconsidered the question, “Wait, wait, don’t do that. How can I trust that you’re doing what you say you are?”
Swingtack shrugged. “I could show you.” The blue tool reappeared in his hand.
“Stop! Why do you keep bringing that thing out?”
“I told you, all of you would attract notice, but I could just bring your eyes. You could still see, and report to her that things are all right.”
——-
Richard felt his eyes being lifted, he still couldn’t fathom how his plan had come to this, but Swingtack had been insistent that he decide that instant, and it had seemed to almost make sense. Now the handkerchief was removed and he could see the inside of what appeared to be a storage closet. The gnome eventually pointed his eyes at a box that held an arm and a leg. The gnome poured something from a bottle and spread it onto the appendages. When he got to the hand at the end of his wife’s detached left arm Richard could see the wedding ring on her finger.

In their cell, Richard whispered to his still unresponsive wife. “Deanne, it might actually work, he’s taking care of you, hiding you, we may be able to get out of here.” He whispered a prayer of thanks that the ring had become too small to remove from her hand. Without a doubt, that was her arm.

The gnome continued to spread the moisturizer on the arm and the leg, then, once he finished, he packed up the box and hid it in the back corner of the closet. Swingtack rummaged about, eventually coming up with a fedora, which he hid Richard’s eyes under before leaving the closet.
——–
Master slobbered grotesquely over that night’s dinner before a painful crack paused his noisy chewing. He spat out the latest mouthful and held up a gold ring for Swingtack to see.

“Apologies, Master. I had to keep it with the arm longer than usual this time. The cook must have missed it. He will be disciplined.”

Master grunted and waved a dismissive finger at the gnome, returning to his meal.

K: This is the kind of concept I’m flat-out jealous I didn’t come up with, and the writing props it up perfectly, with an unexpected twist followed by another one that makes the whole thing seem like one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. I get a very real sense of Swingtack’s world in this small story, and this is so unique and powerful that it’ll stick with me like the greatest entries in this game’s history always do. Knowing that Richard will eventually see his fate – just as his wife has already seen hers – makes me want to go out and immediately smash every garden gnome I can find.

I suppose I made it obvious, but for me, it’s the last one [Ed. note – my entry]. I really enjoyed the concepts here … and all of the concepts themselves were Immunity-worthy, but the last one gave me more surprises and two honest-to-gosh HOLY SHIT moments.

Immunity!

B: Holy sockeye salmon this is creative. I’m trying to find a fault somewhere and I can’t. I guess the only thing I wish was better was the atmosphere. The story is creepy as hell but I didn’t feel it as much as I should have.

This is one of the hardest times I’ve ever had picking immunity. In the end, I went back and forth between multiple sclerosis and Swingtack. To break the tie, I have to go with the one I’ll be most likely to remember years from now. Congratulations, evil gnome.

Immunity!

So, wow. That got pretty dark. I started with the idea that a man discovered his wife was disappearing, one appendage at a time. As I wrote it, it turned into a horror story, which is kind of interesting, since I don’t think I’ve ever written anything I would consider horror (and certainly not at the same level of horror as this was). So the tone in this one surprised me (which might speak to the atmosphere being a little lacking), although I always knew that I wanted to have a “double-blind’ kind of plot, where the MacGyvering didn’t reveal who was escaping the trap, or who the good guy was (if there was one).

Obviously very pleased with the reception of this one.  We’re down to five players this week, things are getting serious.

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CW Survivor – Challenge 17: Mash-Up

Write a story that intertwines two existing stories or characters.

Leonard crashed through the underbrush, muttering to himself, trying to ignore the ringing in his ears and remember where the rendezvous was supposed to be. Behind him, the slow, steady tramping of the search party continued to close in. His only consolation was that they weren’t searching for him, they were all looking for the same thing, he just had to find the guy first. Ahead of him, a distinctively gnarled oak guarded the clearing where he and Harry had agreed to meet once they were out.

He burst into the clearing, panting from the exertion of lugging around his excess weight. “Harry!” he gasped “Come out, they’re right behind me, we’ve got to go.” The two of them had split up after their escape, and though Harry had taken the longer route to this spot, Leonard knew that Harry would have gotten here first, as long as he avoided the searchers.

“Leonard, you made it.” A note of surprise tinged Harry’s voice as he stepped out from behind a tree on the far side of the clearing, looking as calm and collected as anyone could while wearing a red rubber clown nose. “Are you ready for the next part of the plan?”

Leonard’s face fell, “I can’t remember the plan, Harry. I just need to get back to my kids.”

“How many times did we go over the plan? You honestly don’t remember?”

“I had it when we escaped, but you know how the sounds are … my ears are still ringing from the last one and if you hadn’t written me that note, I wouldn’t be here.” Leonard searched his pockets for the note, but found nothing except his old headphones.

Harry sighed. He thought for a minute, until the faint sounds of the search party carried into the clearing. “All right, if I tell you the plan one last time, can you remember it?”

“I will try. The plan gets me back to my kids doesn’t it?”

“Of course, of course. Alright, do you see that hill just on the other side of the river?” Harry pointed behind Leonard, away from the sounds of the oncoming search party. “If you go straight over that hill, there’s a town that has a TV station. That’s the next step. We have to get our message out, and TV is the best way to do it.”

“My kids will be watching TV, they’ll see me, they’ll know I’m coming home, right?”

Leonard started to shuffle toward the hill. He still moved slowly, and there was nothing Harry could do about Leonard’s weight until they had more time. Judging by the noise they were making, the advancing search party would be in the clearing in minutes. Harry checked the gun he had taken from a guard, that might buy him some time.

“Yes, Leonard they will know where you are and what you’re doing. That’s the plan.”

“It’s been so long, I can still see their faces though. I hope they rememb-”

A single gunshot, and Harry was off again, one step ahead of the searchers.

K: Wow, interesting mash-up here. I’m a big fan of both Of Mice and Men and anything by Kurt Vonnegut (in this case, his short story “Harrison Bergeron,” from the book Welcome to the Monkey House). After I realized who these characters were, I went back and read it again, and Leonard’s death strikes me even more now. Damn, this week is a tough one.

This was my back-burner idea for most of the week, but I never came up with anything that bettered it, so I went with it. I thought the stories fit well together, but the clunkiest part was the story that Harry has to tell Leonard, I don’t feel like I came up with a good story that had anywhere near the power of the rabbits in ‘Of Mice and Men’ (but then again, I guess I shouldn’t expect to equal Steinbeck). So, as a result the story is kind of just … there. If I had come up with some motivation for Leonard, I think this would be stronger.

No immunity this week (and no non-submissions to bail me out). Fingers crossed that I get to continue.

CW Survivor – Challenge 16: Misunderstanding

This time the story was to revolve around a consequential misunderstanding.

God and the Devil walked into a bar.

“Ow!” The Devil had pinched his fingers in the door, he made his way slowly to his stool sucking on his bruised digits. He was wearing a ridiculous outfit, the loud print on his shirt somehow managed to sublimely clash with the purple suspenders. He was playing the part of the gringo tourist to perfection. God, on the other end of the spectrum, dressed like the townspeople of this resort village, simple white clothes, cool and refreshing.

They both ordered a beer, and sat quietly for a minute or two, each silently marking the occasion. “Four days until Christmas, eh?” The Devil broke the ice. “That Jesus kid was one move I didn’t see coming. Well played, old man.” God shrugged off the compliment with a bit of a half-smile. He would never admit it, but, even 2012 years after the fact, the praise of his rival always made his day. “Well, I had to do something to counter the whole Tree of Knowledge fiasco right off the start.” The Devil made a theatrical bow, with multiple flourishes, which only served to knock over his bottle, spilling beer onto the bar.

The elderly bartender moved quickly to soak up the resulting mess, and replaced the now half-empty bottle with a full one fresh from the icebox. God watched him intently as he worked, and, when the bartender became uncomfortable under his steady gaze, God spoke. “Do not be afraid, Diego. I have a very simple question for you, that my companion and I have gone back and forth about for quite a long time. Perhaps you could settle our argument?”

Transfixed by the Zen-like calm of his patron, and, having been the arbiter of many bar arguments in his time, Diego nodded. God waved his hand, and all the usual bustle and background noise of the bar ceased. Had Diego been able to break eye contact and look around, he would have seen everyone except himself and the two deities at the bar frozen mid-step. God held his gaze and began to explain.

“Do you know who I am?” Diego nodded, preternaturally calm. “You are God. And that is the Devil.”

“More importantly, do you know who you are?” Again, Diego’s eyes remained locked on God’s while he calmly answered. “I am Diego Lopez Cruz, the 100 billionth human being born on Earth since the beginning of time.”

“Perfect. Well done. Now, to the question at hand. The Devil and I started all this-”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, creation, humans, all that stuff. Anyway, we did it because we had a bet, one that we agreed would be settled by whomever organically resulted from the years of life here on Earth. 100 billion seemed like a nice round number, and big enough that it would distance you from the beginnings, but not so big that it would take too long.”

God’s gaze had intensified, Diego remained mesmerized, although his expression had started to slip from calm toward the beginnings of fright. The Devil glanced at his watch, smirked, and coughed into his hand. God glanced at him, and the moment their stare was interrupted, the bartender sagged onto the bar. He looked up with a wild gleam in his eye. “This is it? This is the meaning of life? We are all only here to settle your bar bet?” He gestured wildly around the room, and then for the first time noticed everyone else frozen in time. “What about them, are they just extras? There is no meaning to their life at all? My wife and children? My friends?” He sank to his knees behind the bar.

“You’re losing him.” The Devil pointed out, trying to be helpful. God jumped behind the bar and tried to re-establish eye contact with Diego, but to no avail. Deep in the throes of existential angst, the bartender would not respond to any of God’s entreaties.

“I don’t understand. I thought it all meant something real, I thought we were more than lab rats.”

God cleared his throat, “Yes, perhaps you were a bit misled there, but the important thing is that you focus here and answer this question. Suppose you’re stranded on a desert island with a beautiful woman—”

“Time!” shouted the Devil gleefully, slapping his watch down on the bar. “There’s been no answer, and we agreed that a tie was a win for me. I got you again!”

“Fine.” God sighed. He snapped his fingers, winking the bar and everything else out of existence. “Fucking self-awareness. That world was screwed up from the word ‘go’. How about we go best out of three?”

K: I love the casual style here, but [an]other one packed more info into this small space and ultimately felt to me like the stronger entry. I like this one, but it feels incomplete, because I have to admit I don’t see the misunderstanding here, even after a couple of reads.

B: I freaking love this story. Every sentence seems meticulously written, and there’s a ton of great, subtle humor. But for the life of me I can’t find the supposed misunderstanding. If I could, it might be worth immunity.

This was the idea that came to me.  After some thought and discussion, it really doesn’t fit the challenge criteria, but I regret nothing!

CW Survivor – Challenge 15: Meeting of the Mimes

A story in which the main characters do not speak.

The_ship’s_generator_surged,_punching_a_hole_in_the_universe_that_swallowed
_the_Tinnitus.EEEEEEEEEEEEThe_noise_began_immediately.EEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEThe_ceaseless_shrieking_drone
_of_hyperspace.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPraza_stared_at_his_screen,_praying_this_would_
be_his_last_jump,_guiltily_hoping_that_an_unbug_(for_the_first_time_in_over
_a_decade)_would_appear_in_the_nets_so_he_could_finish_this_job.EEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEClaudia,_his_mentor,_trainer,_and
_the_last_active_unbug_wrangler_in_the_fleet,_was_the_first_to_see_the_flash
_indicating_a_catch.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEShe_bolted_toward_the_airlock._Every
one_moved_faster_in_hyperspace,_minimizing_time_spent_there_was_always_a
_priority.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEBy_the
_time_he_caught_up,_she_was_out_into_the_concrete_gray_of_hyperspace,_
moving_toward_the_nets_where_an_antenna_writhed,_sprouting_from_the_
amorphous_blob_of_an_unbug,_the_only_living_thing_in_this_hell_outside_of_
reality.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIf_he_had_caught
_her,_perhaps_he_could_have_gone_out_instead,_but,_he_reminded_himself,_
she_had_previously_harvested_dozens_of_those_antennae,_the_backbone_of_the_
interstellar_communication_network_and_never_showed_any_remorse_for_the_
creature_she_was_mutilating.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWatching_her_drift_
toward_the_defenseless_animal,_he_confirmed_her_safe_return_through_the_
airlock._The_captain_didn’t_ask_twice,_he_immediately_pushed_the_ship_toward
_its_home_universe.EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESuspended_
alone_in_the_unending_gray,_she_screamed_as_long_and_loud_as_she_could.EEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

K: I love how much the visual adds to the style here. It obviously wouldn’t work in a novel, but in the confines of a short story, it effectively added to the tension. Both characters made choices, and both will face strong consequences (inwardly as well as outwardly) as a result. Very fine work here.

There surely wasn’t a dearth of strong writing here, but the most creative entry gets Immunity from me: that being the deep space adventure in [the entry above].

B: This challenge forces the creativity out of everybody. Not sure why, but the simple repetitive letter really does awaken my senses to this other dimension. Obviously, this style only works as a short story, but it maximizes its potential here.

I loved all of these premises, and was amazed you guys came up with nine more original ideas after we had nine great ones last year. … When I’m debating between a couple of entries for immunity as I did here, I think, “Which entry am I going to remember a year from now?” And that one is:
Immunity: Claudia Joins the Unbugs

Immunity!

You should have seen me go back and forth on the best way to format this one.  I liked making the drone a part of the story, but I didn’t like how short I had to make the story in order to keep the thing readable.   I do have a lot of impulses to use formatting and such in my writings, I blame an adolescent fascination with e.e. cummings.