Survivor X: Challenge 9 – Cliffhanger

Write a story with a cliffhanger ending.

The door opened with the lady on the other side. She wasn’t cute, but she had smiled at him when he slid his pack of spearmint gum across the counter to be rung up and paid for with a crumpled dollar. Gerald felt guilty for judging her looks, he’d been on the short end of that enough times to know better.

“Back for more gum?” It was the fourth time in two days he’d been in the store, and she had noticed him. A thrill in his gut rendered him unable to decide whether a fourth identical purchase would be worse than obviously changing his mind and picking some other random thing. He sheepishly handed over another dollar and added another pack of gum (wintergreen this time) to his pocket. “Have a good day!” she called after him. He couldn’t bring himself to turn and respond.

Namir was waiting for him around the corner. “Did she notice you?” He didn’t want to share that moment just yet, so Gerald just gave him the information he really wanted. “The bathroom is in the back, to the right as you face the beer fridge. In the hallway that leads to the back exit.” The two of them walked back toward the entrance.

The door opened and Namir was the first one through, shouting and swearing. She ducked behind the counter, more frightened of the sudden noise than his threats. Gerald stood frozen in the door. In an instant, Namir was behind the counter, emptying the cash register. Gerald backed out of the doorway and stood behind the pay phone. If she looked out from behind the counter, she wouldn’t be able to see him.

From that vantage point he had a clear view of the police car turning onto the street about two blocks away and driving toward the convenience store.

DK: It feels a little more clinical than some of the others; the buildup is there but it’s a little more distant, so I don’t find myself as immediately invested. But otherwise, it’s a strong situation and setup.

4 points out of 5

K: Ah, I like Gerald. He’s ripped straight from The Wire – this story doesn’t make it easy to understand whether you should be rooting for or against him. A convenience store robbery isn’t a great cliffhanger on its own, but with this added layer it becomes far more interesting.

4 points out of 5

I have never seen a single minute of The Wire, but to hear other descriptions of it, if my characters sound like they are coming out of that show, I must be doing something right.  Spooky mentioned the added layer of ambiguity about Gerald, but I thought I would point out one more layer that could easily be missed.  The door opens twice in the story, once to reveal the lady, and once to admit Namir (Namir is a common arab name, but also the Arabic word for ‘tiger’).  So when Gerald sees the police coming he has to decide who he’s going to help, the Lady or the Tiger.  A little homage from me to perhaps the definitive example of a cliffhanger short story.
(NOTE: to be clear, I’m not complaining that the judges missed something. They read the story as I wanted it.  I just toyed around with the little homage, and so wanted to have somewhere where it was pointed out)

Survivor X: Challenge 8 – Grab Bag (Inauguration Speech)

Write an inauguration speech for a President that is revealing his evil intentions:

As I take the office of President I am reminded of my grandmother. She didn’t realize it, but she was the one who set me on the path to this day. We were playing miniature golf in my basement in rural South Dakota where I grew up. I was about 8 or 9 at the time and I had built a makeshift course. It was my turn, and, for the third time, my shot failed to make it up the ramp and over the obstacle. “Jeez…” I started, and even as the words came out of my mouth I was thinking of earlier in the day when my cousin had gotten in trouble with my grandmother for taking the Lord’s name in vain. However, instead of letting that stop me, I forged ahead. “Jesus Christ!” I cursed, with the ball rolling back toward me off the ramp. My grandmother quickly gave me a sharp look and warned me to watch my mouth.

That was exactly what I was going for. I had realized in the moment between when I started my exclamation and when I had decided to follow through, that I could manipulate her into giving me the reaction that I wanted. Halfway between Jesus and Christ, I got a thrill that I didn’t recognize then, but that I realize now was the thrill of control. I’ve been seeking that out ever since. Now today, I have pulled off the manipulation of an entire country. You, the people, have no idea what you are in for, but let me tell you, that thrill of control? The Presidential Oath gives a huge one, and it hasn’t worn off yet.

K: This actually felt like it was going somewhere much more shocking; I would have loved to see the candidate specifically say religious manipulation was his gimmick. The ending feels a little too obvious, but the setup was still presidential and fun.

3 points of 5

DK: Imagining this kid driven by such a singular, psychological purpose all the way to the highest office in the land is something I’m getting a good kick out of.

4 points of 5

I think there’s a good idea in this.  I don’t think that I got the best out of it though.  It was missing that extra wrinkle that make the best Survivor entries.  I really wanted to work in a reference to The Mule from Asimov’s Foundation series, and his ability to manipulate people’s emotions.  Maybe I should have included that, but I couldn’t work it in without a whole extra paragraph that would have been extraneous.

Survivor X: Challenge 7: C’mon, Try It

Take a commonly accepted practice and argue in its favor as though it wasn’t commonly accepted.

The screaming started just after 2 A.M. I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. I reached the living room to find Adam standing over a prone body, bloody baseball bat raised over his head ready for his next blow.

“Stop! What are you doing?”

Adam mumbled something about an intruder, but I was already on the floor, checking the eyes of the man on the floor. Seeing no twinkles, I checked his other vital signs. His dimples were no longer merry, and his droll little mouth lay slackly open, a trickle of blood staining the carpet.

“You killed Saint Nick.” I breathed. Adam dropped the bat and backed away in horror.

My first thought was for the children. I’m not sure if that makes me a monster or a candidate for mother of the year, but what were they going to do when Santa didn’t show? Sure, this year we could just plunder his bag of toys and they would be none the wiser, but what about next year?

“What happened here?” a new voice asked. I whipped around. I hadn’t even heard my mother-in-law come in. I explained the situation, concluding with my worries about the children. She was cold, calculating, and heartless as always. I’m not sure she even looked twice at the body on her carpet. “Here’s what we do. We become Santa. The kids will never know the difference, once they’re older, they will figure it out, but they’ll just assume it was one more lie that we told them, just like the puppy that got sent to the farm and all that.”

—-

The teenage department store employee gaped at me, rendered completely speechless. “And that,” I concluded, “is why you need to march yourself back into the storeroom and find me a Transformers Dark of the Moon Ultimate Optimus Prime.”

What is wrong with me?

K: Oh, Jeez, I was convinced I didn’t care about scoring this week, but you people are MAKING me care. This is about the fifth one that deserves the top spot, but I only have one five to give. It’s an unconventional choice, presented unconventionally, with shock humor that actually shocks and is well-written throughout leading to a punchline that’s hilarious and specific while remaining pitch black. Alright, you convinced me.

5 points on a forced curve (5 point max.)

DK: I laughed at this one a fair bit, too. I thought this idea was pretty clever and the author made it make a lot of sense.

4 points on a forced curve (5 point max.)

I almost overthought this one and spent way too much time on world-building and stuff that really didn’t matter.  Thank goodness for the word limit.