CW Survivor – Challenge 20: Machine of Death

If you know the premise of the Machine of Death story anthology, then you know what this week’s challenge was.  If not, those words look different because they are a link to a page that explains everything.  Click on them.


Melbourne Swinson ducked out of his carriage and hurried across the busy street. The message had requested the utmost haste and discretion, and he felt a cold premonition of dread as he moved up the stairs toward the apartment of the recently deceased Mr. McJeffries. His assistant, Mr. Close, met him at the top of the stairs. How that man beat him to every crime scene was an ongoing frustration in Detective Swinson’s career, but he brushed it aside as he listened to Mr. Close relate the situation as he understood it.

“It’s another locked room murder, sir. There were three people in the house, none of whom have an airtight alibi, and none of whom will admit to witnessing the killing.”

“Are we sure it was one of the three of them? Could someone have come in off the street?”

Mr. Close tugged nervously at his collar, “The window was open, so I guess it’s possible that the killer could be someone no longer in the house…”
Melbourne Swinson ducked out of his carriage and hurried across the mud of the country lane. The message had requested the utmost haste and discretion, and he felt a cold premonition of dread as he moved up the drive toward the country manor of the recently deceased Mr. McJeffries. His assistant, Mr. Close, met him at the top of the stairs. How that man beat him to every crime scene was an ongoing frustration in Detective Swinson’s career, but he brushed it aside as he listened to Mr. Close relate the situation as he understood it.

“It’s another locked room murder, sir. There were three people in the house, none of whom have an airtight alibi, and none of whom will admit to witnessing the killing.”

“Are we sure it was one of the three of them? Could the killer no longer be in the house?”

“It doesn’t seem so, every window is shut and locked from the inside.”

Mr. Greene appeared to show the two men inside, to the room where the others waited while the investigation was ongoing. Upon admitting them to the room, he turned to take his leave, but Mr. Close motioned for him to stay. “I’ve read too many mystery novels to let the butler escape notice.”

Swinson gave Close a hard look. “What are you talking about? Mystery novels?”

“Yes, you know, Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, “the butler did it” and all that?”

“The butler did it?” Swinson asked incredulously, “How do you know?”

“I’m not saying this butler did it, I’m just saying if this were a mystery novel, he would be an obvious suspect.”

“There you go with these mystery novels again, I don’t know what you mean, but I guess your hunch gives us a place to get started.” Swinson eyed the butler accusingly. “Mr. Greene, empty your pockets and tell us how long you’ve been in the service of the victim.”
The butler began to empty his pockets, protesting, “I’m not really Mr. McJeffries butler, I swear.”

“Why were you pretending to be a butler?”

“I … I … I was just trying to get out of here before you started asking too many questions. I didn’t kill him, but I do have things in my life that I’d rather not discuss with the police.”

Close held up his hands, “Wait, wait. You wanted to escape notice in a murder investigation, so you pretended to be the butler? What were you thinking?”

Swinson turned to his partner, “Honestly, what do you have against butlers?”

“It’s not me! I told you, it’s the –”

“Mystery novels. Yes, yes, I know. Written by Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rinehart, people that none of us have ever heard of, in which butlers seem to perpetrate every crime imaginable.”

“You have never heard of Agatha Christie?”

“No. I haven’t. Who is she?”

“Only one of the most famous mystery writers ever. Her books were published back in the 1920’s and 30’s.”

“Published in the 1920’s and 30’s? Close, have you lost your mind? It’s 1834!”

The butler (who only pretended to be a butler) interjected, “May I leave now?”

Casting one last glance at his partner, Swinson turned his attention back to the suspect. “No, I haven’t finished with you.” The contents of the man’s pockets lay on the table between them. Swinson noticed a small vial, labelled only with an ‘X’. “What is this?”

Greene nervously tugged at his collar. “That is … it is …” with a sigh, he finished, “rat poison.”

“That seals it. Lock this man in the library, Close. Turns out you were right about the butler.”

“No! I told you I had no hand in killing him! You can ask Ophelia, she can tell you.” The accused man’s cries followed him out of the room.


“You are Mr. McJeffries’ secretary?” The man across from Swinson sat stiffly, his scarf wrapped loosely around his neck. At his feet a coil of rope balanced precariously atop his case.

“That is correct, I’ve been in his employ for nearly ten years now.”

“Have you ever seen the other man, Mr. Greene around the house before today.”

“Oh, yes. He was always around. He was chasing after the missis. From what I have seen, he caught her as well.”

“They were having an affair? Was Mr. McJeffries aware of that?”

“I can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t have been hard for him to find out.”

“Did you see anything suspicious or out of the ordinary today?”

“Yes. The missis, Ophelia, was carrying around a knife earlier in the day, I did not see what she did with it before you arrived though.”


“Ophelia, can you think of a motive for Mr. Greene to kill your husband?”

“No, sir. Mr. Greene had never met my husband.”

“Were the two of you involved?” Swinson was beginning to see his open and shut case against the butler who wasn’t a butler crumbling. The new widow nodded. He made one last effort to salvage his theory. “That seems like a possible motive. With your husband out of the picture, you inherit his fortune and the two of you can finally be together. Is that what happened? What were you doing with a knife earlier today?”

“No, you must believe me. We were never planning anything like that. Besides, there was hardly any money left at this point. My husband had nearly lost it all. It wasn’t his fault though, that lousy secretary of his was stealing money right out from underneath his nose.”

“Mr. Bump was embezzling? Do you have any proof?”

“No, my husband had it, he confronted his secretary about it last week. Apparently, the man told my husband that if he was fired, he would strangle him before the words left his lips.”


Swinson turned to Close in the empty room, once the interviews were completed. “We have three motives and three weapons. What we don’t have is cause of death.”

“If we could match the cause to the weapon, we could easily identify the murderer. Have you heard about the newest invention they brought in for exactly this type of situation? If you need to establish how someone is going to die (or how they have already died) you just need a blood sample – apparently, it’s sometimes pretty cryptic, but it’s always accurate. Maybe we would get lucky in this case?”

“It’s worth a go, did you get the blood sample?”

“Yes I did. And I brought the machine.”

The two men rushed outside, Close handed the blood sample from the recently deceased McJeffries to his partner who fed it to the machine. Written on the small piece of paper produced by the Machine were two words.


Close read it, and shrugged, “That seems awfully cryptic.”

Swinson thought for a moment, “I’ve got it. This is it, Close, think about it. The whole premise is wrong. Remember that I originally came to you in a city apartment, then, without explanation, we found ourselves here completely removed from any other possible suspects. It is too convenient. Then, our butler discussion is completely reliant upon your having read books written by authors who do not yet exist. Why is that?”

Close had no response.

“Finally to cap this entirely unreasonable investigation, the final reveal is perpetrated by this cryptic Machine of Death. It has no place here in 1834, we don’t even have electricity yet.”


“Exactly. This device isn’t practical, but it is perfectly suited to our needs to solve this murder. It is a purely literary device!”
“I don’t follow you, sir.”

“A literary device, Close. Anachronisms, plot holes, and literary devices – I’m thinking this sounds like a detective story.”
Close perked up, “If that’s the case, and if things go as they usually do, at this point, all the clues have been laid out, and the reader must be wondering ‘who is the culprit?’. Do you know who the murderer is?”

“No. and I can’t know. This is one story where the readers will always solve the mystery before we do.”

K: Wow, what a ride this one was. It’s up to the reader to learn what “Hapax Legomenon” means (“a word which occurs only once in either the written record of a language, the works of an author, or in a single text”). From there I had to see which character’s name was only mentioned once. It’s very meta, but in such a clever way that I don’t feel robbed of the story. Very satisfying, in a different way from the norm.

In the end, the amount of work I did to get there and the ridiculously creative attack taken by the last one puts it over the edge. Well, look at that; I chose a meta entry! Play with meta and you play with fire, but play with words and I’ll let you get into my pants.


B: Had I come back to this a few times over several days, I may have figured this out on my own. Once I learned what the literary device really is, I got a lot closer to solving it, and Spook gave me the final clue to tip me over. I love me some logic puzzles, and this truly is one. However, solving it required me to Google, and I’m not the biggest fan of those. Of course, it’s not the author’s fault I’m ignorant.

My original idea was to have the culprit’s name as the only words which appeared once in the entire story (every other word would appear twice).  That turned out to be a colossal mistake that could have taken weeks to get right.  So, with this immunity, I have returned to the Spookymilk Survivor Final Challenge.  Last time I got into the final three, it took some shocking turns of events for me to win.  This time, there are going to be two other great writers there, who are going to make winning this version even harder.

See you next week for the thrilling conclusion!

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.


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.


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.

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.


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


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.

CW Survivor – Challenge 13: Cliche

Concoct a story that uses some overused cliches, but make it good.

It was the beginning of our third week in the jungle when we found the town. Mitchell went first (he always went first) down the empty space between the huts, peering into each of them as he passed until he finally turned and gave me the all clear signal.

Not quite believing him (I remembered his previous guarantees of safety, and had the piranha bites to prove it) I cautiously made my way through the deserted village. Once I was past all the houses there really wasn’t anything to see except the path that disappeared into the jungle as it continued up the hill.

In whispers we discussed our theories as to what had happened to the villagers. The place obviously hadn’t been abandoned for long, and there were no signs of foul play. If they had decided to leave, the path only went two directions and we hadn’t passed them on the way in …

Mitchell took the lead as we continued up the hill.

We stood in the trees watching the two huts. The one that faced us had smoke coming from a hole in the roof, someone was in there. The other could be abandoned for all we knew, there was no indication from either that the inhabitants knew we were out here. Mitchell was the one who finally went in, but when he hadn’t come out in 10 minutes, I decided to investigate the other hut. Knocking politely, and making my presence known, I pushed into the small cramped place.

“Are you from the East or the West?” The man sitting in the corner had essentially become a part of the wall, even after I managed to get my heart back into my chest and looked in the direction of the voice, I had trouble seeing him.

“The East, I guess.”

“That is good, were you not I would have shrunk you to the size of a salamander and kept you in that jar.” The wall gestured to something that may well have been a jar.

“Is that what happened to my friend?”

“Your friend went into the wrong hut. Nothing but savages in there.”

“Excuse me.” I ran out of the hut, charged around the back and barged my way into the first hut.

“Are you from the East or the West?” The man sitting in the corner had essentially become a part of the wall, even after I looked in the direction of the voice, I had trouble seeing him.

Thinking quickly, I decided on my answer, “The West.”

“You lie. If that were true you would have followed my orders to destroy the Eastern village.”

“Where is Mitchell?”

The wall gestured to something that may well have been a jar. From inside came a tiny voice, crying indecipherably.

“Excuse me.” I ran out of the hut, charged around the back and barged my way back into the second hut.

“There’s another village on the East side of the hill that you command, isn’t there?”

“Yes, and they have moved to strike against the West tonight.”

“The other one said the same thing.”

“Then tonight, they will all die, and it will only be the two of us who remain.”

“You have to help me, that bastard shrunk my friend.”

“No one speaks of my brother that way!”

The hut began to grow in size, the man in the corner growing with it to unimaginable size. It was only when he reached to pick me up that I realized I would spend the rest of my days in that jar, with only the wall for company.

K: I adore it. Many of these made the cliches work, but this one actually made the cliches a positive. The keepers are twin brothers? I didn’t see that coming. Considering that this was the last one, it’s amazing how much the cliches kept surprising me when they showed up. Whip-smart.

5 points out of 5

B: Not sure how to review this other than I don’t always like surrealism but this one nails it. You guys are so darn creative that I usually I am glad I am a judge and not a contestant. This is beautiful.

5 points out of 5

CW Survivor – Challenge 12: Fortunately, Unfortunately

Given a prompt, write a story whose sentences alternate beginning with “fortunately” and “unfortunately”.

I tried out for the team so I could meet chicks.

Fortunately, I’ve already met a few, hiding in the dugout.
Unfortunately, I can’t get them to tell me their names.
Fortunately, none of us are going anywhere until after the game, so I’ve got time.
Unfortunately, they really didn’t like it when I tried to pick them up.
Fortunately, my attempt made them finally notice me.
Unfortunately, it’s immediately apparent that they’re needy, loud, and obnoxious.
Fortunately, I know that the fastest way to their heart is through the stomach.
Unfortunately, while I was digging for worms, I didn’t see the line drive that broke my jaw and, after bouncing off my face, drove in the game-winning run for the other team. Chicks are nothing but trouble.

B: Ha! I knew someone would go this direction. Good job holding off until the end, and whoa, this dude has issues.

4 points out of 6

I have one class left before I finish my major.

Unfortunately, I left college twenty years ago.
Fortunately, my field hasn’t changed much.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a reputable Sanskrit program these days.
Fortunately, I think it will soon come back into fashion.
Unfortunately, no one believes my theory this dead language will be the language of the undead.
Fortunately, that means I’ll be the one who leads humanity in their fight against the zombie horde.
Unfortunately, the zombie uprising is starting right now.
Fortunately, I’m one of the few who were prepared. This is my moment!

K: You know, one of my all-time favorite entries to this challenge also involved zombies, and I’m not really a zombie enthusiast. Still, I love this one as well, particularly the initial Sanskrit line and the idea that it’s likely to be the language of the dead.

3 points out of 6

Our team ended up the low scorer this time around.  So I had to spend the immunity chip I earned earlier in the game.  Now I’m out there with no safety net.

The Real March Madness – The Exciting Conclusion

Love this comic - drawn by Eric Poole (the husband of one of my co-workers)


So here we are.  It’s down to two possible winners and it could easily be decided in the very first game.  At the latest, it will be decided tonight.


Notre Dame v. Minnesota Duluth (Thursday – 4 PM Central)

If you’re cheering for Mom (and you had better be – it’s my mom) you’re cheering against Minnesota Duluth.  Rhu_Ru wins if the Bulldogs do.

UPDATE:  Minnesota-Duluth continues to ride that power play and wins 4-3.  Pretty exciting final minutes and it keeps the possibility of an all WCHA final alive.

Oh, and it also decides our little competition.  Congratulations to Rhubarb Runner, who still has a nearly flawless bracket.  You sir, have my undying admiration.

Michigan v. North Dakota (Thursday – 7:30 PM Central)

This game no longer decides anything except second place.  So hey, lets lay that out there.  Andrew can take second if Michigan wins.  If North Dakota wins, then AZSioux nails down the runner-up spot.  Neither of them win anything for second place, but then you could argue that Rhu_Ru didn’t win much for first either.  It’s that kind of a competition.

UPDATE:  What a game by the Michigan goaltender.  He absolutely stole this one as the Wolverines win 2-0.  This ensures that no one will get the champion correct for the second straight year.  This concludes the real March Madness bracket competition.  Please enjoy the championship game Saturday night.


Here’s the winning bracket – Rhu_Ru

CW Survivor – Challenge 11: You’re So Vain

Choose an iconic song.  Explain where the lyrics really came from.


The robot is complete. I’ve written the startup and mission commands into a song that I have passed on to John as we agreed (I even disguised it as Paul’s idea just in case). The Jealously Unforgiving Device for Enemies will be activated to receive commands with a simple “Hey J.U.D.E.” Finally, we won’t have to listen to those sad songs that he’s always writing since Yoko came around. Once it “takes her into its heart” and disposes of her, things will start to get better.

This thing was made to find her, and once it has found her, to go out, get her, and completely consume her so that the body will be hidden under its skin. It’s the perfect plan, I defy anyone to make it better. We could never get a human to do this, but a robot will never feel the weight of this horrible (but necessary) act on its shoulders.

The best part is that I’ve written the commands such that the robot will be completely autonomous. Once it’s directed to begin its mission, there is language in the commands which make it clear that it should not expect any further assistance from anyone. On the off chance that we need to abort the mission once it has been initiated, there is one fail safe command. It is a complicated sequence of nonsense syllables that would take about four minutes to fully verbalize. Thus I can’t see how they would ever inadvertently make it into a pop song.

We must convince John to record the song quickly, so that after its release, some unknowing teenager will trigger the robot making it almost impossible to track the scheme back to us. This plan is too important to fail, the fate of our musical careers rest on the ability of this robot to perform its designated task.

This will work. It has to.


K: This is one of those instances where I have no idea how to do the challenge right until a player shows me how it’s done. It actually makes a twisted sort of sense while also getting in some warranted digs on the most tediously long string of “na” in the history of song (and if it isn’t, please don’t link me to something that’s worse).

6 points out of 6

B: The J.U.D.E. device is kind of funny, but the tie-ins to actual song lyrics are a bit forced (other than the fail safe command, which made me smirk). Also, the plot is ridiculously complex. That’s not a problem in itself, but it feels less like a joke than the author slapping a plot together at the last minute. Either way, I think we’ve had enough Ringo for this competition, eh?

You know what, the second time I read this I like it a lot more.

5 points out of 6

This kind of thing is kind of right up my alley (particularly since Kelly seems partial to my brand of absurdity).  This was not my original idea for this song (initially I was going to ascribe different meanings to each of the “na na na na na na na” lines), but once I started writing everything out, this pretty quickly became the idea that flowed the best. (Yes, Beau’s comments are kind of odd, but he was fried from a bunch of other stuff, so I’m not going to give him too hard of a time.)

Our team was the highest scoring this week, so we continue on with 6 of the remaining 11 players.

CW Survivor – Challenge 10: Seemingly Useless Superpower

Give a character a useless superpower, but make a good story out of it.

The video display sprang to life in the KZZZ news room. Lester cued up the most recent footage from Stephanie, the newest journalist on staff. The story started with her standing in front of a trailer that appeared to be parked somewhere in the middle of the woods.

“My attempt to interview the reclusive Mr. Smith went about as I had expected.”
(footage of the door being slammed in Stephanie’s face)
“But my intuition told me that there was a story here and so I pressed onward, attempting to shout my questions through an unlocked window on the other side of the trailer that I managed to work open.
(footage of a window being slammed closed in Stephanie’s face)

Stephanie continued to document her dogged attempts to interview the subject, but Lester’s mind had already wandered. He couldn’t use this. If this was the kind of crap that they were teaching in journalism schools these days, he was going to have to get out there himself and show … Wait. He stopped the tape and rewound a couple of seconds. Stephanie’s makeshift contraption consisting of a remote control car, and a camcorder, slipped into his house through a ventilation shaft had managed to catch a glimpse of Mr. Smith’s face. With the screen frozen on that oddly familiar visage, Lester moved to the archive room, he knew which tapes he was searching for and soon he had a pile of them carried back to his workstation. He worked his way through each tape methodically, comparing the subjects of countless old human-interest pieces that were never aired with the footage of Mr. Smith.

They were all the same person. How could that be? This guy was uninteresting (although clearly very concerned with his privacy), and none of these pieces had anything remarkable about them. What was this power he had over investigative reporters?

Lester thought about calling in the Z-team and making this their next project. But, who could be better suited to do this than a journalistic veteran like himself? These were his reporters that were falling victim to this man’s strange power over them. It should be his story to break. He grabbed his notebook and a jacket off the back of his chair, and bolted out of the room.

K: I read this one a few times to get the full effect. I’m definitely interested in seeing more, although I worry that the superpower is too useful. It feels more like a film than anything. I don’t know how to score this one. So many good things, so much more I’d like to know about it.

3 points out of 5


4 points out of 5

This is one of my favorite ideas that I’ve had this game.  The useless/impotent superhero theme is something that I’ve always been fond of (see my final entry in the first version of this game), so that’s probably why.

March Madness, For Real This Time (3rd Annual)

See the post above this one for the exciting conclusion to this prestigious prognostication proceeding.


North Dakota beats a tired Denver team to lock up the third Frozen Four spot.  That finishes off quite a few brackets and eliminates Spookymilk from title contention.  We’re down to 3 with a a chance to win it outright (Rhu_Ru, Buffalo, Mom) and Freealonzo,  who can still tie for the top spot if things break right.

By the way – this means I went 0 for 8 in the basketball final four and the hockey frozen four.  Please observe the ‘horrible prognostication’ tag.

Notre Dame wins over New Hampshire to complete the field for the Frozen Four (beginning 4/7).  Buffalo and Freealonzo are thus eliminated from contention.

Congrats to Andrew and Rhubarb_Runner who each correctly called 3 of 4 Frozen Four teams.

Standings – (Bracket graphics updated through Day 3):


  • If the Championship game is Notre Dame v. Michigan, Mom wins.
  • All other scenarios result in Rhubarb_Runner winning the pool.


In a game that almost everyone picked for UND, they were comfortably ahead 5-0 after the second.  They sail through pretty easily.

There goes another of my Frozen Four teams.  Miami loses 3-1 to New Hampshire.

If Western Michigan beats Denver, my Frozen Four is all eliminated in the first round (they’re in [edit: double] overtime).

Denver wins in double OT.  I still have a chance to get a Frozen Four team right! (no one else seems very excited about this).

Notre Dame gets kind of a fluky goal in overtime (4 of 8 first round games went to OT) to send them onward.

Your first Frozen Four team is Minnesota-Duluth defeating Yale.

The second Frozen Four team is Michigan holding off Colorado College.

Standings – (bracket graphics updated through Day 2):

  • Mom (8 points | 28 possible)
  • Rhu_Ru (8 points | 28 possible)
  • Freealonzo (8 points | 22 possible)
  • Spookymilk (8 points |  16 possible)
  • Andrew (7 points | 15 possible)
  • Buffalo (6 points | 26 possible)
  • AZSioux (6 points | 24 possible)
  • Beau (5 points | 7 possible)
  • Me (4 points | 6 possible)
  • DK (3 points | 5 possible)
  • AMR (2 points | 2 possible)


UM-Duluth wins the first game (and I lose my first Frozen Four team).  And we’re off.

Nebraska-Omaha loses to Michigan on a ridiculous replay review in overtime. (Will I get any games right?  Stay tuned!)

My picks finally get off the schneid with Yale’s OT winner.

Finishing with a bang, BC loses to Colorado College (only RPI got fewer picks than CC in our little pool). Beau, Andrew, and DK had BC to win it all.

Standings after Day 1 – (click on the name to see that person’s bracket):

  • Spookymilk (3 points)
  • Freealonzo (3 points + 1 Frozen Four team eliminated)
  • AZSioux (2 points)
  • Mom (2 points + 1 Frozen Four  team eliminated)
  • Rhu_Ru (2 points + 1 Frozen Four team eliminated)
  • AMR (2 points + 1 Frozen Four team eliminated)
  • Buffalo (2 points + 2 Frozen Four teams eliminated)
  • Andrew (2 points + Champion eliminated)
  • Beau (2 points + Champion eliminated)
  • Me (1 point + 2 Frozen Four teams eliminated)
  • DK (1 point + Champion and Frozen Four team eliminated).

The NCAA hockey tournament starts Friday afternoon, so hurry and download the NCAA hockey Frozen Four brackets (available below). Fill them out and confuse your friends when you complain about Merrimack busting your bracket.

I’ll take all comers in the third annual Daneeka’s Ghost Hockey Madness Sweepstakes. Winner gets … I don’t know … my undying admiration.

Last year’s winner: Freealonzo (Who only won because the Badgers are worthless.)

Will anyone unseat freealonzo’s deathgrip on the title this year? I hope so, because I’m awful tired of admiring him.

I’ll update my picks and keep standings and all that on this post, so put your picks in the comments (or email them to daneekasghost [at] and check back to see how things go.

CW Survivor – Challenge 8: Punch to a Quick End

Given two lines, write the shortest story that connects them.  The story must be coherent and complete.  The given sentences are in bold in my entry below.

Your stunned silence is very reassuring. I’m not the dad, the river card won you the baby.  Your look at your new son says “I will need lots of beer.  Better get used to these bars, kid.

I messed around quite a bit with this story idea to get it as short as it ended up.  Toward the end, I started to wonder if I was losing some of the meaning of the story by cutting so ruthlessly.  Judges?

K: It’s a different take on this, but the lines don’t work seamlessly with the story. It’s…awkward, though the story itself is interesting enough to warrant a decent score.

3 points out of 5

B: The grammar here is very awkward. It seems like the tense changes from 1st to 2nd person in the the second sentence. If the entire thing is 2nd person, then it’s not entirely clear. Either way, it’s creative but doesn’t really do much for me.

2 points out of 5

Character count: 149 (2nd shortest of 13; +1 bonus point)

So yeah, apparently my worries were not unfounded.  The idea is that it’s one narrator throughout, but at the end he’s narrating his opponent’s thoughts.  Confusing?  Perhaps.  Awkward? Definitely.

Non-submissions decided this one, so our team continues on with 6 members.

CW Survivor – Challenge 7: Create-a-Challenge Grab Bag

Given a bunch of challenge options (gathered from submissions to the previous challenge), choose one and complete it.

I chose to create a movie and then review it.

Life is Peachy

Given the fact that we have seen jukebox musical movies return to a viable genre in recent years (Across the Universe, Mama Mia!, etc.)  It was only a matter of time until someone took it too far.  Now we have “Life is Peachy” featuring the music of Korn.

The story follows Jonathan, a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing child who is going insane (because of the pain in his brain).  To say that he has a rough childhood is understatement, and “Life is Peachy” makes no effort toward subtlety in dealing with his various trials and tribulations.  The pain (in his brain that’s driving him insane) doesn’t need to be portrayed by the actors because we are forced to see every bruise and indignity as it happens.

At the same time, this movie has the sheen and slick production that makes it hard to get inside the protagonists brain (that is in pain, and going insane).  Rather the whole thing seems like it’s a coldly calculated attempt to pander to disaffected youth.  The reader may ask whether disaffected youth of this generation are familiar with the music of Korn.  This critic would say that the makers of “Life is Peachy” missed their release date by about 10 years.

Unfortunately, Korn’s music really doesn’t translate well into any medium other than its original (case in point – and this movie is no exception.  The first song is “Make Me Bad”, which is a command the director seems to have taken to heart.  The music seems particularly unsuited for a musical due to its lack of narrative, instead just spewing a general feeling of anger.  That emotion comes through in this movie very well.  By the time I left the theater I was plenty angry.

Rating – I demand hazard pay if I’m going to have to see movies like this.

K: The runner with the song lyrics repeated in parenthetical form was pretty funny, but it seemed like this idea had more legs than it showed.

3 points out of 5

B: This was the first song I’ve ever heard by Korn, so hopefully there’s no inside jokes I missed. But I liked the running parenthetical joke a lot.

3 points out of 5

Conceived and written at the last second.  That’s becoming the theme of this version of survivor for me.  If I had devoted more time, I think there’s a much better entry in this idea.

CW Survivor – Challenge 6: Create a Challenge

Come up with a creative writing challenge of your own:


I know what you’re thinking: “Did she write six stories, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.

Write a story in six parts (300 word maximum for each part) in which each section uses the perspective of one of six different characters.

But being this is Spookymilk Survivor, the most competitive creative writing game in the world, and this one entry could blow your chances at writing immortality, you’ve got to ask yourself one question:

This does not have to be a Rashomon-type story where each perspective retells the same scene. However, all the parts should contribute to the overall plot and combine to tell a cohesive story.

“Do I feel lucky?”

The catch is that once a character’s perspective has been used, that character cannot make an appearance in any of the following scenes.  They can’t be mentioned, referred to, or conversed with after their scene.  That narrative bullet has been shot.  Thus, the first scene could involve all six of the characters whose perspective we will see, but the final scene will have only the character from whose perspective the scene is told.

Well do ya, punk?

Upon submission I kind of wished that I had added some guidelines for a plot or something.  But at the same time, I mostly just liked the wrinkle that I did include, so I was interested to see what the judges would think of this one.

K: More brilliance. At first it indeed read like a retread of last season’s Rashomon game, which I intended on running again. However, if I ran this potentially very difficult but rewarding challenge, I’d simply remove Rashomon because this is better.

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

B: I love this, especially the “catch.” In fact, this could be great as the final challenge. I’d be very excited to see what people would do with this, and thus it gets my top score.

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

Those scores were good enough for me to bank an immunity for the next time our team loses.

CW Survivor – Challenge 5: Dewey Defeats Truman

Take a news story and write one as if something else (the opposite, or at least very different) happened.


The polio virus announced today that it had developed a vaccine that rendered those who were inoculated immune to Jonas Salk.  Viri that had received the infusion of dead cells harvested from the leading medical researcher’s dry, flaky scalp reported no instances of death by Salk.

“While it is interesting that they are aware of the principles of vaccination,” commented Dr. Maurice Hilleman (human), “it is important to point out that Jonas Salk doesn’t kill polio viruses, immune systems primed by immunogens generated by exposure to inactive contagions kill polio viruses.”

Although acknowledging that the news has “gone human” among the viral community, spokesvirus Tetanus quickly clamped its jaws shut when asked what further advances humans would see from viral scientists.

K: When I posted this challenge I said I didn’t know what the best entries would look like. Well, now I do. This one grabbed me with the headline and never let go.

5 points out of 5

B: Okay, this is the first one to literally make me laugh out loud. From the headline to “spokesvirus Tetanus,” this one kills all the way through.

5 points out of 5

This came from an initial thought of “Jonas Salk discovery first step toward eradicating water polo” – which seemed so straightforward that I was surprised that a Google search turned up no other fake news stories using that joke.  Maybe I’ll send it to The Onion…