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WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Cage Bout #4

Reminder - The previous three bouts 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 cage bout (is random order) are -


The fate of Santi’s world balanced on a feather’s edge… and the back of his thieving chicken.

Hundreds of shoppers made a dull roar like a heavy rain on a tin roof. The aroma of cinnamon fry bread permeated the air, broken intermittently by the scent of mule dung and perspiration.

Frango, Santi’s best pickpocket, flapped his wings and then strutted into the browsing crowds at the souk, hunting for shiny baubles small enough to carry back to their hideout. Exactly the way Santi had explained.

The more Frango brought back, the larger his pile of feed at the end of the day. The bird brain wasn’t the smartest fowl around, but Frango understood that.

Sweat beaded on Santi’s upper lip, and his stomach growled. For most of Santi’s barnyard cohorts, feed was currency, but Santi needed a good payday.

Frango darted between people, ducked beneath goods tables, and challenged the fat tabby that the grocer employed to keep the rats at bay. Though, Santi had never seen the feline with anything rodent-like in his mouth.

A monk exited the convent to ring the hourly bells, the deep tones vibrating loud enough to silence the mob. A cart rumbled by, blocking Santi’s view of his feathered partner. He tipped up on his toes and peered over, catching the eye of a well-dressed woman on the other side of the street.

Santi turned and dropped back into the shadow of a stoop. He had to look out for his little friend, but, in their line of work, undue attention never helped.

Down the way, a man yelped, drawing Santi’s gaze.

The thick-shouldered, sour-faced man muttered words Santi couldn’t make out and rubbed at his bottom, a line of a dozen gold hoops quivered in his ear and gold chains circled his neck, his nose a little too high in the air.

Something must have gotten him, and it wasn’t the first time Frango had pecked the mayor’s ass.

In a flash of iridescent feathers, Frango bolted around the corner toward home, and Santi grinned. He couldn’t make out what Frango had in his beak, but it could mean food for an evening or food for a week… or more, if they were lucky.

Being able to communicate with animals hadn’t been the curse that Santi initially expected. Thanksgiving might be in order.

He set a leisurely pace toward the hovel they shared near the cemetery. The local authorities hadn’t yet figured out the band of creature misfits, so the slip-away would be easy. He winked at the row of grandmothers that sat in the shade cast by the eaves of the shrine, waiting on the nuns to come out and bestow the alms of the Matriarch.

Curses filled the air, and women gasped at the language. Santi crouched and pretended to re-lace his leather boots so he could keep an eye on the mayor. 

“I’ll butcher that chicken,” the mayor bellowed, “if it’s the last thing I do.”

Contestant number two is Cardigan Fig

Through the barred window high on his cell, Tulloch studied three stars of the Crow Constellation. He couldn't take this anymore. He missed being able to see all the stars. Missed walking under the night's sky--or any sky. Missed quiet. Donnelly should be here, not him. If he had to spend the rest of his life behind bars he should have the chance to kill his brother first.

He smeared his hands up his face and gritted his teeth against the need to scream. The second star of the constellation winked out. He blinked. The darkness where the star had been moved. Something flew straight at him. He ducked. The object passed through the bars of his fourth floor cell and landed with a clang on the floor.

That clang echoed through an eerily silent prison. Hairs rising on the back of  his neck, he turned to the door, straining for any sound of life without. The curses, yells, sobs, moans, and groans, he'd been trying to tune out were gone.

Since his arrest eleven months ago, he'd not experienced a silence this deep.

A shiver ran down his spine. Moving slowly, he turned to search his cell's floor. By dim hall lights, he could pick out a small, dark blob. He bent to scoop it up. His fingers curled around a key.

Tulloch straightened, his eyes glued to the iron key he couldn't see in his hand. The identification of type of metal by weight and touch warmed his heart. Convict or not, he was still a jeweler. He looked at the door. He glanced at the window.

Ignorant political prisoner he might be, but he understood this: if a key fell into your cell, you did not stop to ask where it came from or how. You didn't wonder who gave it to you.

You used it.

Then again.

He squinted at the window. A key sailing perfectly through the bars of a fourth-floor cell, only one way that happens. He shuddered and looked at his door.

Five bars cut across the upper half of the iron door fitted into the stone wall. He could drop the key through those bars. Reject this gift and the obligations that came with it. Stay here. He shuddered again. No. No, he couldn't.

Silence radiated outside his door. His own breath far too loud in his ears, he crept to the bars, pressed his face into them, and strained to look both ways down the corridor. As far as he could tell, it was empty.

He cleared his mind of all but one thought that circled in his head: an order not to drop the key.

Hands that had once been so steady they'd done fine filigree in silvers and golds shook as he shoved his arm through the bars. He forced himself to take a deep breath. He could do this. Metal screeched against metal as he trailed the key awkwardly around the iron plating, searching for the lock. 

And finally, number three is Ms. Sunnydale

It took me five years to forget the ocean. The memory didn’t leave all at once. Rather, it leaked from my mind little by little like a seeping wound: first the sound of waves, then the smell of salt, the keening of seagulls, and so on.

Mercifully, other pleasures went quicker. In two years, I couldn’t recall the taste of fast food, or the lyrics to that pop song. In three, I’d forgotten the good scald of a shower and the shudder of a bus engine beneath me. Like society, like peace, memory is a fleeting thing.

I wish I could forget him as easily. But the memory of him in the nursery window is still there, infecting my brain like a persistent poison.

Jossana.” The way he had said my name was a song. A prayer. I heard more hope in it than a hymn, even if it had been spoken by a sinner. And not just any sinner. A Reb. The Steadfaster elders say their name like an obscenity, if they say it at all. As though not speaking the name will make the Reb’s offenses less real. As though we could forget the heathens who usurped our government, plundered our food, set fire to our cities. Under the Rebs, violence had spread like a plague—hot rashes of anger and oozing grudges infecting anyone with a bone to pick.

But the boy in the window hadn’t come for violence that night. He came only for a song. As irony would have it, it was Amazing Grace. My brother Tannen had asked me to sing it while I tucked him in, because he still believed in the magic and goodness in its words. And me? I had outgrown magic and knew better than to trust goodness, so I sang it hoping it would make me a better sister than I was a Steadfaster.

A good Steadfaster would have called out when she saw the boy, yelled for the elders in the other room. But it had been my fault. I had popped the plywood from the window that night to let the breeze in. And instead of feeling threatened when my eyes snapped around the boy’s silhouette, I had felt the immoral tug of excitement.

But neither had the boy come armed, as far as I could tell. Rather, he wielded a smile that dug out two shallow dimples in his cheeks, and eyes that cupped warm candlelight.

And a question, What’s your name, girl?

To which I answered, Jossana.

When he echoed it, the word had taken flight off his lips like an enchanted, winged thing, more beautiful than it had the right to be. I wonder if it might have floated off that night, taking part of me with it so I would never be quite whole again.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t remember the ocean, but I remember every shade of blue and green in his eyes.

Memory is an enduring, excruciating thing.

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 yet 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. My vote is for Sunshine&Rainbows. I absolutely loved it in the first round.

  2. Wait, wait, wait, is it possible I get to be the FIRST comment???

    Cool. All three of these are fabulous, but I love Ms. Sunnydale on this one and that's my pick!

    1. So close, yet so far... *almost* the first comment.

  3. Oh, man...the bouts are getting harder and harder!! I so love all of these, but in the end I'm going for Ms. Sunnydale.

  4. Voting for Ms. Sunnydale for this bout.

  5. I still want more of Tulloch's story. Today's vote to Cardigan Fig.

  6. Congratulations, all!

    Sunshine & Rainbows gets my vote today.

  7. Ms. Sunnydale. Grabbed me from the first sentence.

  8. Cardigan Fig gets my vote today.

  9. Tough choice between Cardigan Fig and Sunshine&Rainbows, both faves in the first round, but...
    My vote: Sunshine&Rainbows

  10. Ms. Sunnydale, as it weaves a spell. But well done the other two for entertaining me - everyone.

  11. Sunshine&Rainbows, chicken side kicks FTW!

  12. My vote goes to Cardigan Fig. The descriptions of the action in this story were great, and I found it the most interesting of the three.

  13. A vote for Sunshine and Rainbows. The action works well, and the writing is pretty well done.

  14. A very hard choice today, but I'm going with Sunshine and Rainbows for this round.

  15. Yikes, today's bout is difficult! I have to vote for Ms. Sunnydale this time around, by the flimsiest of margins!

  16. Congratulations to all three, very good efforts. My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale.

  17. Ms Sunnydale gets my vote. Though it was a close thing. Cardigan & Fig wrote a great scene with strong imagery, character, and stakes. I think the world building for Ms. Sunnydale was stronger.

  18. I'm going with CardiganFig. It does sound like an interesting story, and well crafted.

  19. Arrrrrggghhh.... so very torn!!!!!


  20. This round goes to Sunshine&Rainbows for the unforgettable hook.

  21. I vote for Sunshine & Rainbows

  22. Oh wow, all are good, I have to think about this! When does this round end?

  23. I found all three good. I vote for Ms. Sunnydale. There was something intense about it that caught my attention and made me want to keep reading.

  24. My vote goes to Sunshine&Rainbows. I can't turn down the chicken. LOL

  25. This is a tough cage bout! Since I missed initial voting, leaving my feedback in 3 separate comments (one for each entry):

    Love the opener! The chicken sidekick used for pick-pocketing is a super fun premise. The names Frango and Santi are also excellent choices! They give a unique flare without being so uncommon as to draw attention away from the story.

    The description "a dull roar like a heavy rain on a tin roof" might be too harsh. It's a great image, but having been under a heavy rain on such a roof, that is incredibly loud. I have a hard time believing the marketplace is that loud. Plus, I would not describe heavy rain on a tin roof as a "dull" roar. Maybe heavy rain on a dusty road? Still loud, but not nearly so consuming.

    Fantastic appeal to sense of smell with the fry bread, dung, and perspiration (even if the latter two ruin the pleasure of the first, ha!). The smells bring real dimension to the scene (and make me want some of that bread!).

    "For most of Santi’s barnyard cohorts, feed was currency..." intrigued to know which animals don't accept feed as payment and what they expect instead.

    Much dig the unique attire of the mayor. Good characterization! But I agree with previous comments that it's odd he pauses so long to yell about Frango if this has happened to him before. He ought to immediately be checking his pockets and chasing after the fowl, rather than pausing for a long time. I'm also unsure if the mayor's threats are empty or not. If he's really an imposing guy who means to harm Frango, shouldn't Santi be more concerned that Frango is targeting him? I'm just not sure how to take the mayor in light of his comments but Santi's and Frango's seeming non-nonchalance.

    "Thanksgiving might be in order." If this were two words, "thanks giving," then I wouldn't see an issue as it would come off to me like personal or religious ritual to express gratitude. But as one word, "Thanksgiving," it seems to be the American holiday, which is most odd given that's concerned with eating a large bird. Also seems very misplaced if this is a souk. But maybe it's referring to something else? Very unclear.

    "Curses filled the air, and women gasped at the language." This line turned me off as a reader. If this were more specific to the grandmother's at the shrine, okay, I guess I can see that. This is a pious group of ladies, so them choosing to disapprove of expletives makes sense. But right now it sounds general and comes off as the age old "women are delicate creatures who can't be exposed to the harsh realities of men," kind of deal. I've always found that notion laughable. Plus, that kind of thinking indicates a stereotypical approach to female characters, which is not engaging.

    A very fun little jaunt! Love the notion of someone who can talk to animals banding together with them to survive on the edges of society. Would be intrigued to see what other animals Santi interacts with. Also intrigued by the brief glimpse of whatever religious system exists in this setting.

  26. Cardigan Fig
    "If he had to spend the rest of his life behind bars he should have the chance to kill his brother first." This is the most intriguing line of the story! It definitely makes me want to know more, both about Tulloch as a character, as well as how he got in this situation and why he's so willing to kill his brother.

    "He smeared his hands up his face..." That is such a unique and FANTASTIC description. Makes the action crystal clear and exhibits Tulloch's frustration at his situation. Bravo! I love this.

    I think the description of the key flying through the window may need some re-thinking. I understood it, but only after re-reading it. It's not immediately apparent what is happening. I know this was approached vaguely to mimic the fact that Tulloch doesn't know right off what's happening either, but when the star is described as winking out, then darkness moving, that slows the pace of the action down, making it hard to understand that it's literally a key soaring through the window. A key being thrown (or however it is projected through the window) should happen super fast. Honestly, I think it is less confusing and read a lot better if you just remove the "The darkness where the star..." line.

    There is zero indication that the prison he is in is loud until we're told that it's now silent. If that's something every present and you want the reader to be struck by the contrast like Tulloch is, then there needs to be mention of how loud it is prior to the key appearing. We the reader need to really feel all those noises and be battered with them right from the get-go.

    While it's a nice way to work in that Tulloch is a jeweler by trade, I find it hard to believe it's so dark that he can't even see the key. I suppose that's because emphasis is placed on the stars. If bright stars are out, I imagine that the sky is fairly bright (it's not overcast), and unless lights were just turned out, Tulloch's vision should have adapted to the darkness somewhat by now. I'd buy him not being able to see full detail, but with the stars at the start, really seems he should be able to see the basic shape of the key.

    Would recommend adding ellipses to "Then again." That would help indicate Tulloch's having second thoughts. As is, it sounds really abrupt, like "I should use this! Nevermind." "Then again..."
    Also helps set up the next section.

    This sentence is a bit clunky and loses the punch it's going for: "He cleared his mind of all but one thought that circled in his head: an order not to drop the key." Maybe something more streamlined like, "He cleared his mind of all but a single mantra: Do not drop the key."

    Nice, smooth read! Good job on getting me invested early on that murderous sibling plot. There's some great tension and wholeness to this scene that makes me want to read on.

  27. Ms. Sunnydale
    Strong hook! Especially nice word choice in maintaining the ocean imagery (i.e. "it leaked from my mind").

    "...or the lyrics to that pop song." This sounds a bit awkward since she's naming losing specific things, but then just broadly indicates "that" pop song. Maybe consider going more general but pointed, "or the lyrics to pop songs," or else name a given song. It flows better if she either loses an entire musical genre, or a specific song she can reference (given she still knows Amazing Grace, it especially strikes an odd chord that she can't recall the name of the pop song she's forgotten the lyrics to). You can even inject some levity here since pop songs are known for being earworms, so she can be shocked that she would ever forget something like that.

    "Like society, like peace, memory is a fleeting thing." This also seems odd because she's still very much entrenched in a given society. I get what the intent is here, but the phrasing doesn't jive. Maybe "Like comfort" or "Like familiarity" may work better?

    I'm assuming Reb is short for Rebel?

    "...violence had spread like a plague—hot rashes of anger and oozing grudges infecting anyone with a bone to pick." Great evocative description! Comes off super visceral.

    So if she's calling out losing songs earlier, why does she remember Amazing Grace in particular? It seems like there's a missed opportunity for some deeper meaning/character development since the gap isn't bridged between mentioning her losing pops songs but knowing this one.

    "Rather, he wielded a smile that dug out two shallow dimples in his cheeks, and eyes that cupped warm candlelight." More wonderful, fresh description! Although, you don't need the comma after cheeks.

    "What’s your name, girl?" The addition of "girl," is a bit bothersome. It's hard to tell what his age is supposed to be by saying this. "Girl" has the effect of diminishing. So he comes off sounding older. And if not, then it reduces his charm by calling her so.

    I've very confused on the setting and timeline of this. It sounds like it's only been a a few years since the world as we know it (or a world very similar to ours) has been displaced. Yet, she's acting like the memory of this encounter is somewhat distant. This world clearly isn't just like ours, what with the Steadfaster and Rebs, but all the references at the start make it sound like it is. This creates a bit of a cognitive dissonance. I think maybe some of her references for lost memory need to be more particular to the society that exists in this world (what is Steadfaster culture like? How did it form? How does it function? Etc...), or else the timeline needs to be much longer to be believable. And we need more of a strong sense of when she met this boy. She's very specific about when she lost certain memories, yet this one that she can't forget she doesn't assign a timeframe to. It's a weird inconsistency that leaves the readers a bit groundless.

    I was torn, but my ultimate vote for this one goes to Cardigan Fig. Good job to all the writers!




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