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WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Cage Bout #3

Reminder - Bouts 1 & 2 are still taking your votes and you can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

No rest for the weary here in WRiTE CLUB as we rush towards the championship. Today we bring back another group of winners to battle it out inside the infamous cage.

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another as was the case is previous bouts, now it's THREE AT ONCE. The contestants will be using the same writing sample that allowed them to get this far, the only difference being that now they're up against new competitors. The readers/voters will have to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

If you voted in the preliminary rounds, then there is no need to leave a critique with your vote this time, however, if this is your first time seeing these writers we do ask that you leave a brief critique because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-S), because of time restrictions the voting period will be staggered somewhat, so please pay attention to the dates posted. The voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, June 4th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Like the man say's

Our contestants for this first cage bout (is random order) are -


Nyx couldn’t feel her fingers or toes. Her consciousness waned as someone carried her down the corridor of a ship. It looked like the Thanatos, but the blur of the tan panels as they sped by could’ve been any other ship.

She moaned, and a deep voice hushed her. Her black jumpsuit was soaked and white parka frost-covered. She shivered, iced to the bone.

A door slid open, and the person cradling her set her on a soft bed.

Fingers unzipped the parka, unbuttoned the front on her uniform, and peeled the wet fabric from her body. The white tank underneath clung in frozen folds. Nothing was going to heat her back up.

Her eyes fluttered as the hulking figure of Malcam sat her up and pulled off her underclothes, then wrapped her in a dry blanket. He laid her down and piled her wet hair on a towel, melting the icicles at the ends. Maybe it was time to cut it again, her head spun through the drowse of cold.

A weight settled next to her, hot. Arms circled her, pulled her close, and her uneven breath slowed, heartbeat steadying. A hand rubbed hard against her arm.

She didn’t understand why Malcam was so insistent. He was her enemy.

She tried to turn, but the blanket wrapping her was tight, and her limbs cold-numbed. Something had happened. She wouldn’t die because of the nano-bots in her blood. Couldn’t die. But she was in danger of losing consciousness, maybe forever.

She fought to open her eyes.

Malcam’s voice whispered, panicked. “Come on. Don’t go to sleep.”

She muttered, tongue thick.

“That’s it. Stay awake. Stay with me. Don’t leave me.”

Nyx flexed her fingers, tiny motions, painfully, one-by-one. She hadn’t lost any to frostbite.

“That’s it. Move. Just a little.” His voice frantic.

He pressed his fiery feet against her tingling toes. The pain of the temperature difference seared through her legs. She pushed her toes, hardened by the cold, straight. She curled them. They wouldn’t move.

Malcam wrapped his legs and twined his feet with hers, pouring heat from his body.

Nyx’s cold-fogged mind dimmed. Her nano-bots wouldn’t allow damaged tissue to be a part of her system. Frostbite could be battled, but she could still lose her toes, her feet. The nano-bots would cut off resources to that part of her system if deemed irreparable. They would concentrate on what could be fixed. So, she had to move her toes to prove to the system they were viable.

She gripped Malcam’s hand. He clutched hers back. She squeezed her toes down as hard as she could, pain ripping through her legs. Her toes clenched, gently scratching the tops of his feet.

Nyx rolled her head towards Malcam, their faces close, lips nearly touching, his breath on her face. She blinked, engulfed in his bright blue gaze.

He wrapped a hand to her forehead.

He was dangerous. He shouldn’t be helping her. She shuddered. She’d owe him now.

Contestant number two is Hijinks Aplenty

Everything was done to the letter: The candles were made of black wax, the pentagram flawless, the invocation properly pronounced. You’d checked, double checked, and independently verified that the summoning would take place below a genuine hanging tree where a witch met her fate. And it’d worked! So why deny your request?

“Is it my soul?” you ask.

“No,” the Devil waves his well-manicured hand. A glinting amber ring that you’re sure wasn’t there a moment ago reflects the firelight. “Your soul is fairly attractive… for one who hasn’t accomplished much. That’s normal. The already accomplished rarely seek a deal with me.”

You think on that for a moment. There must be something you’ve overlooked. Your spine snaps as it hits you.

“Rattlesnake blood!”

“Hmmm?” the Devil hums. He’s wandered to the tree and is idly prodding the bark, which crumbles to ash below his fingers. The amber ring sparks with each tap.

“You’d have preferred rattlesnake blood. I knew it! Rooster is pedestrian.” You beat a fist against your thigh. You should never have listened to HisDarkestNight on that community forum.

The Devil scoffs, an amused curl to his lip. There’s a sizable hole in the tree now. You look to the large branches overhead and take a hasty step back.

“Your ritual was fine. I try not to judge. Nor make pageantry out of it.” He snorts and sends a meaningful look to the star-encrusted sky. A dark gray fedora has appeared on his head.

“I don’t understand.”

“Look, times have changed.”

The tree creaks a groan. The Devil smoothly strides to you and pats your shoulder.

“These individual contracts aren’t efficient anymore.”

“Efficient?” you echo.

“Exactly! Time is a competitive advantage these days, and my time has become a bottleneck. Much as I enjoy personalization, I am no longer accepting unique requests. We have an online catalogue now that will suck your soul out right through the screen, once you’ve made a decision on which terms best fit your goals. You do have access to the internet, don’t you?”

You stare for some time. A pocket watch slithers out of the vest he didn’t have on. Swallowing, you eke out, “Yes.”

“Splendid!” The Devil shakes your hand and turns to go. He pauses, smoke curling up from his feet. Using two fingers as pincers, he snatches up the candle flames, popping them into his mouth like candy.

“Mm, French Vanilla. Good choice.” He flicks a business card at you, says, “I look forward to your future business,” and vanishes in a spurt of fire.

The gold etchings on the card sparkle in your recovering eyes as you blink at it. The Devil’s voice suddenly whispers against your ear, “Oh, and I wouldn’t stand just there.”

A deafening crack rends the air. You flail, backpedaling before curtaining your face with your hands. The tree crashes down. Heart galloping, you tumble to your backside, branches framing you.

You resist the urge to thank God.

And finally number three is The Bulging Ballpoint

Shiny and new, she's lost her shoe,
Ruby red, the girl is dead.

Grace found the shoe on one of her treasure hunts.

Once a week, she scoured her neighborhood for discarded objects she could recycle into artwork. This morning she’d taken a detour through Whispering Woods, an aspen filled copse. She’d rummaged through undergrowth and freshly shed leaves, with the deftness of someone working in a sorting office.

It was the color that caught her eye. The shoe looked like a floating cherry in a sea of butter-colored leaves. Given its size, she guessed it belonged to a child of about three. Same age as Molly. Picking it up, as if it were the child itself, Grace cradled it.

Caressing the shoe, she’d envisioned the little foot that had lost it, plump still with baby fat. She imagined a defiant toddler, tottering and plodding. Just like Molly.

Five years had passed without her daughter. How she’d survived even one day, was incomprehensible, but she had. Her life had moved on. Different, but on. She’d been cautioned during therapy about the high rate of divorce between couples who’d lost a child, but engulfed in her own hell, she’d neither listened nor cared  -  the words as meaningless as her existence.

Instead of fleeing though, her husband, Sam, had stood fast, cocooning her in unconditional love. Her broken jigsaw of a heart had fused, piece by piece, into a new whole.

His work as a pediatric surgeon, had saved him, he’d said.

Still holding the shoe, Grace considered leaving it, in case the mother returned. Deciding that was unlikely, she’d dropped it gently into her goodie bag, telepathically promising the unknown child’s mother that she’d treasure it by recycling it into art.

An idea for repurposing the shoe flashed through her mind. A signal, Grace thought, from the child’s mother: her sign of approval. She’d hurried home, eager to begin sketching her idea.

Grace’s phone buzzed while she was unlocking the front door.

“Late tonight sweetie. Emergency surgery. x ”

She sighed reading Sam’s text, knowing its implications. Poor Sam. Poor parents. Poor child.

Switching on the TV, Grace emptied her haul onto the kitchen table, ready to begin her cataloging process. Amidst the muted tones of sticks and stones, her prized shoe glowed. A precious ruby amongst nature’s debris.  

BREAKING NEWS: Police are asking for the public’s help in finding three year old Hanna James, who went missing last night near Whispering Woods. Hanna was wearing a blue dress, red coat and red leather shoes…

A girl’s face flooded the screen.

Molly! It’s Molly. But Molly is dead.

The room becomes a kaleidoscope of Mollys  -  Molly bubbling with life; stagnant with death  -  her distorted face spinning and swirling, exhuming sorrow; appointing blame.

Hurtling herself outside for air, Grace sprints to the trash can and throws-up, spraying its contents.

It’s there she sees it. Splattered beneath her vomited breakfast, the toe of a little red shoe.

Please leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

We’ll be back tomorrow with another cage bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. Replies

  2. These are all so good!!!! My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty!

  3. Bulging Ballpoint's still makes the hair stand up on my arms.

  4. My vote today is for Hijinks Aplenty. I really love this story!

  5. My vote is for Hijinks Aplenty.

  6. I vote for OpheliasPansies. Not only is there conflict and stakes. Hello hot! Hijinks has no real conflict, I don't know what the characters want from each other and so I don't know the stakes. Ballpoint's while a good concept is a little confusing, I don't know what relation the missing girl is to the main character and it breaks the tension that is meant to thread through because I'm trying to put together pieces that should be laid out. Maybe this story just needed more words?

  7. My vote is for Opheliapansies. The other two are quite interesting in the surface, but both had some circular thinking and inconsistencies that pulled me out of their stories.

  8. I like each of these pieces for different reasons, and each of them has some flaws. It's difficult to choose, but I am voting for Hijinks Aplenty because I feel like it has the most distinctive voice.

  9. I vote Ophelia's Pansies.

    Hijinks lacked conflict and Ballpoint lacked stakes. Both pieces were intriguing, but incomplete as a scene/story. OP had both and managed quite a bit of world building threaded in the scene too.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. It's Bulging Ballpoint by a nose.

  12. My vote goes to Bulging Ballpoint.

  13. Another tough round! My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty. Am loving the humorous submissions this year, and this one has great detail, a nicely-defined character, and masterful use of the sometimes tricky 2 person POV.

  14. My vote goes to Bulging Ballpoint. A very emotional and ominous piece, it makes me eager to read more. The rhyme opening the story and the last line are especially haunting.

  15. Voting for Ophelia's Pansies. Great imagery and world building. Hijinks was a lot of fun with the start of an interesting character and distinctive voice, but it just didnt quite get there: makes a great scene, though and I'd love to see where it went next. Bulging Ballpoint was a bit confusing and hard to follow. I'm not sure the relationships so it robs it of the conflict.

  16. Congratulations, Contestants!

    My vote today goes to Hijinks Aplenty.

  17. Honestly torn because all three have amazing voices. Story-wise, gonna go with OpheliaPansies for a complete arc.

  18. Ophelia, the friends-to-enemies/owe-you-one trope might be overdone but I am HERE for it! This absolutely would have had my vote for its fantastic tension if Hijinks didn't make me laugh out loud with the Devil banter. So my Hijinks vote really just comes down to originality and great voice.

    Ophelia, I know there's a pearl in the middle of this story but think the plot needs to be pulled to the surface more. I end up just making assumptions about what really happened to the Molly and Hanna, but there's nothing solid to root my emotions in. This could be a murder mystery or just a grieving mother and, as a reader, I want to know which.

    Congrats again to all three!

  19. I vote for Hijinks Aplenty, although I do have to say second person is tough to pull off. Not sure this needed to be in second person but it was fun :)

    Other feedback:
    Bulging Ballpoint, you had me in the first 25% and then the writing changed. I noticed a few extraneous commas and that took me out of the story. Also we went from action to introspection and that killed the momentum

    Definitely some comma abuse going on here as well and the sentence structure was repetitive. I want to like the story but the constant use of adjectives was distracting. I'd love to see the writing and sentence structure tightened up!

  20. Voting for Hijinks for this round. I appreciate the way the Devil's mannerisms and mood come through.

  21. Another toughie, but my vote's going to Hijinks in this cage match.

  22. Congratulations to all three writers! My vote goes to The Bulging Ballpoint,

  23. My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty.

  24. My vote is for Bulging Ballpoint.

  25. Hijinks Aplenty gets my vote. Congrats to all the writers here!

  26. Hijinx's voice can't be ignored. That's enough to get my vote today.

  27. This was a difficult choice because all three stories are great reads! My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty.

  28. My vote goes to Bulging Ballpoint

  29. My vote is for OpheliasPansies. This has the makings of a great romance!

  30. Another three worth contenders, all of whom I rooted for in the first round. So,this is tough. My vote is for - Hijinks Aplenty.

  31. Hijinks Aplenty gets the vote from me this round!

  32. I think these are all from rounds I didn't vote in, so new and exciting... I think I'll go with HijinksAplenty this time, though all 3 seem good.

  33. My vote is for The Bulging Ballpoint!

  34. My vote is for Hijinks Aplenty

  35. Since I missed the initial bouts, here is my feedback (broken into 3 comments, one for each entry):

    Interesting initial imagery, but I'm confused as to how Nyx was carried. She's being cradled and can see some paneling, so her head is maybe lolling in the crook of Malcam's arm. If that's so, she should be able to easily see his face. I don't understand how she wouldn't see and know it's him in that position. Maybe if he were initially wearing a mask? Or a parka like she is? The latter detail might help with another issue, which is how no one asks him what he's doing if he's her enemy and helping an opposing combatant. I have to imagine in a futuristic space ship that they have cameras everywhere, so not sure why no one is going to him asking questions.

    I also do not understand how her outside uniform is wet (appears to be the case given the "soaked" description), yet her tank top underneath is frozen (or is it not literally frozen, but just feels that cold? Unclear). And how are her underclothes wet when her parka is just frosted? Did she fall into something wet and then put on her parka? If her parka wasn't on before, I'd expect her to comment on it. It's very hard to understand how this scenario may have happened, so I think we need some stronger clues (e.g. "putting on her parka hadn't dried her any").

    If these two are in a high stakes conflict situation on opposite sides, why is Nyx not wondering about Malcam the moment he starts taking her clothes off? I should think an enemy putting you in such a vulnerable position would ignite near panic in most. She seems to still view Malcam as an enemy, yet is weirdly okay with him undressing her.

    "...her head spun through the drowse of cold." Great description! I agree with previous comments that it would be good to see more of this laggard mental state throughout. Maybe she doesn't recognize Malcam at all until she starts to warm up (e.g. "I knew this man. But his identity slid out of reach with each throb of my aching head"). That would also solve the problem of why she's not freaking out earlier.

    "...her limbs cold-numbed..." Another wonderful, unique description.

    Confused as to how she's feeling his feet if there's a blanket barrier between them (and especially if they are described as "fiery," a blanket would dissipate some of that).

    What exactly do the nano-bots do? The description about cutting off damaged tissue sounds exactly like what frostbite is. Frostbite often takes toes, fingers, and noses because your body is cutting off blood flow to non-vital areas, trying to center heat on your vital organs so you don't die. If the nano-bots have no way of reversing frostbite, and this results in amputation, I don't see how this is any different from how your body normally behaves in cold conditions with frostbite. They appear completely superfluous. There's mention of them keeping her alive but in a coma forever? So all I'm getting from them right now is that they are the equivalent of the first stage of cryogenics, maybe? I don't see what technological or medical advantage these provide right now at all.

    Why didn't Malcam take her to a medical bay? Is he trying to hide her because she's an enemy? If so, we need more detail making it obvious that's what he's doing (again, maybe mention he has a mask or parka on to start. Maybe they encounter someone in the hall and he mentions she's a fellow shipmate who got too drunk, or something). The framing of this scene has some logical holes.

    Really good job emphasizing the pain of Nyx heating back up! That's a nice, realistic detail that brings grounding to the scene.

    Overall, the biggest issue I see is that the reactions don't feel very authentic to people who are actually in a conflict (and a harsh one if someone is being labelled as an enemy). Feels more like two teenagers who maybe haven't liked each other prior to now.

  36. Hijinks Aplenty
    The quirky appearing elements of the Devil's attire bring unique dimension to his character.

    "Your spine snaps as it hits you." There's some confusion with this line. Not totally apparent with the Devil present if this is literal or not. Maybe "your spine jolts as it hits you?" Or "You snap to attention as it hits you"?

    Looks like there was some confusion over why the Devil was answering a summons if it's not efficient to work one-on-one anymore. I got with the personlization line that the advantage of the online portal is processing generic terms in bulk, as opposed to crafting individual, unique contracts each time. But that might be something to amp up and make more apparent so there is no seeming contradiction. You could also make use of the summoning tree. If, when the devil first appears, he says, "Not this tree again," that could imply he doesn't have a choice but to appear for a properly done summons. Then it makes sense why he'd go over and destroy the tree before leaving (diminishes his chaotic mischievousness somewhat, but could help prevent losing folks with wondering why he shows up to say, "Hey, don't call me again").

    "A pocket watch slithers out of the vest he didn’t have on." Strong description and evocative word choice with the verb "slithers."

    I have to wonder what other candle scents the Devil would find tasty!

    Dig the fun reversal of the last line.

  37. The Bulging Ballpoint
    Initially, I loved the opening poem. It's creepy and sets the tone. However, in such a short piece, with the element of the twist at the end, I'm not sure it's a great fit since it summarizes what's going to happen. In a longer format, having similar poems throughout might be a really cool device. The first sentence after the intro poem is also a great hook that works on its own.

    Love the setting in the Aspen forest. I wish the white of the trees were mentioned, however. They're a very unique tree and the white bark could fit especially well with the haunting mood. Nice usage of the butter colored leaves!

    "She imagined a defiant toddler, tottering and plodding." I'm not sure about a lot of the description here. First, why is the toddler defiant? Defiant about what? If the toddler is trying to overcome something, or has a goal, this could work and bring some wonderful characterization. But just general defiance seems weird. Especially as the child could otherwise be described as happy to see her mother, which makes the memory more loving. Also, plodding in conjunction with defiance doesn't work so well. Plodding is slow and monotonous. Defiant is an adjective implying much more focus and energy. They don't mesh.

    And tottering is iffy. I've got a nephew who just turned 2 and he's sure enough on his feet that he's running all over the place. To still be tottering at 3, which implies an unsteadiness, is a bit odd.

    Some needless commas/comma splices. Example: "How she’d survived even one day[,] was incomprehensible..." And "His work as a pediatric surgeon[,] had saved him..."

    Need an em-dash, not a hyphen here (and no spaces before and after): "...she’d neither listened nor cared [-] the..."

    A couple descriptions seem a bit too over the top, which distracts from the emotion. Example: "...Sam, had stood fast, cocooning her in unconditional love." That is a bit too saccharine for the main emotional tone of that sequence, which is grief.

    The next sentence: "Her broken jigsaw of a heart had fused, piece by piece, into a new whole," however, works very well. It presents a unique image that is consistent with the emotion and theme without being too flamboyant.

    A few awkward word choices, such as "telepathically promising." She's really "mentally promising" or "silently promising," since she's not projecting these thoughts to anyone else.

    "She sighed reading Sam’s text, knowing its implications. Poor Sam. Poor parents. Poor child." I like this sequence very much on its own. However, since she just spent a lot of time mourning Molly over a lost shoe, and considering her psychic break at the end of the piece, it's odd how she sort of dismisses what could be very serious for a child here. It sounds a bit sympathetic, but also "la dee da." I'd imagine she'd take a moment to pray for the child or perform some unique ritual to encourage the surgery to end well. This latter route could be a nice way to add even more dimension to her character (e.g. "she closes her eyes and spins around whispering, "Get well!" under her breath, or something. The personal ritual could even be based on something she did with Molly. Maybe a version of peek-a-boo?).

    "Amidst the muted tones of sticks and stones, her prized shoe glowed." Great imagery!

    I love that the news broadcast is depicted on its own rather than wasting time saying Grace turned the TV on. We easily follow what happened without useless detail. Bravo!

    I'm not sure if the changing tenses at the end are meant to mimic the psychology of Grace and play with the reader's perceptions or not. If so, in a longer piece, the intention here could be made clear by working the shifts in over time and becoming a pattern. But in a shorter piece, it comes off as a mistake.

    Some very different stories up against one another! My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty.

  38. I vote for bulging ballpoint.

  39. Bulging Ballpoint gets my vote.

  40. My vote goes to Bulging Ballpoint. :)

  41. My vote goes to Hijinks Aplenty, although The Bulging Ballpoint had me seriously torn on this one. The Bulging Ballpoint left you with a haunted feeling but in the end I felt the story was equally as tight (and a bit more clear) with Hijinks Aplenty. OpheliaPansies had a great story but the competition was just too fierce on this one.

  42. Ophelia has my vote, but all of these are great.




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