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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #5

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

It's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE AT ONCE. But there's a twist. All of the winners have been given the opportunity to absorb the feedback offered during their preliminary round and submit an edited version of their original submission. As a writer, utilizing feedback can be a tricky proposition - because frankly - not all feedback is equal. This is our chance to see how the contestants used that feedback (if at all).

The readers/voters are to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

Remember, one of the real values of this contest is FEEDBACK. So, 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 Thursday, June 11th (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 BRAND 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.

Here our the contestants for this first cage bout (in random order) are -


The Puzzle 


 The Tinker’s Damn was shrouded in gloom. Sunlight from the open door stopped a few feet within and would go no further. When old man Macomber entered the shop, he brought more gloom with him.

 “Shopkeeper. Bring a lantern,” he shouted, unable to see what was on the shelves.

 An old crone, her hair like spiderwebs crisscrossing her skull, appeared behind him. She knew him, the moneylender who held the mortgage on her shop. The interest was outrageous, damning her to poverty.

 “No lantern today. Can’t afford the oil.”

 “For heaven’s sake, woman,” he said, startled. “Announce yourself next time.”

 “What are you looking for?”

 “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “Amusement. Something to cure my boredom with life, and people, I suppose.”

 She disappeared for a moment, then returned with a black box.

 “What is it?” he asked. “Am I supposed to guess?”

 “Something from the orient. A magical puzzle brought to the continent by a ship’s captain in 1815, the very one he played with aboard ship. It will cure what ails you.”

 “We’ll see about that,” he said, seeing hatred in her face. He wondered why he could never remember her name.

 Later that night, Macomber examined the black box. There was no drawing or caption, no hint of the image. He dumped pieces of various colors from the box and spread them around the table. Finding the edges was the easy part. The rest was maddening.

 Many times, he started over and for many hours he worked. He forgot to eat and did not go to bed. Night became day, and he forgot his business and his many enemies. Absorbed by the puzzle, he worked in vain cursing the orient, cursing the crone, then cursing himself. How many times did he gather the pieces and put them back in the box? Many times, over many days. The compulsion to try again would force him to return to the table and lay the pieces out.  

 The puzzle ensnared Macomber, and not until he was weak with deprivation, his mind shattered and his body soiled, did the image reveal itself. It was a grotesque hunchback in tattered clothing with the flaming red eyes of a demon, a mouthful of shark’s teeth, and the claws of a panther.

 When the last piece was in place, the table began to vibrate. Smoke engulfed him, stinging his eyes. Macomber’s eardrums burst when the puzzle pieces exploded and the hunchback’s hand erupted through the table and grabbed him by the throat. It choked the breath from him and pulled him down into the underworld.

Then the puzzle reassembled itself. The image of the Hunchback had been replaced by Macomber, his eyes wide with terror and his mouth open in a silent scream.

 The old crone came through the door. She gathered the pieces of the puzzle and put them back in the black box, then returned to The Tinker’s Damn, quite contented.


Contestant number two is Edward Bear

Last Confession


Mason Unger’s frail body moved into the MRI scanner for the final time, but his mind took him far away. The hum of the smooth walls that surrounded him and the beeps of monitors faded. The pain in his chest -- caused by the advanced cancer he’d fought for years -- was replaced with a memory.

He was eight, face to face with his best friend, Sylvia Foss. The fragrance of honeysuckle encircled them like a living wreath, and the sky above made their eyes ache to look at such blue. She laughed as she ducked through the secret entrance, and the curls on her forehead bobbed.

It was three decades later, but he still heard her clearly. “Our hideout is lovely, isn’t it?”

“It’s a fort, Sylvia -- and it needs to be defended.”

She drew in the dirt with her finger. “It’s still lovely.”

“Okay in there?” The MRI tech’s voice broke in through the speaker.

Without seeing anything but Sylvia, without losing the scent of one honeysuckle blossom, Mason said, “I’m okay.”

But he was not -- neither then as he slowly perished in the machine, nor on the day of Sylvia’s death. 

The weight of this conviction grew with him: the cancer began that day. He knew it to be true, for his chest had turned to lead immediately after her accident.

Even so, he ran.

He ran through the nearby woods until his whole body burned, until he fell and skinned his shins and knees. The pain was no escape from the agony of her last horrified glance at him -- from the agony of Sylvia lost.

Later, once he’d limped home, his mother used camphor to soothe his cuts. Now in the machine, the smell choked out the scent of the sweet flowers, haunting his sick body as he lay there on his back, his arms pinned against his sides. It repulsed him -- as it had then -- and he retched. It was in his eyes, his nostrils; he could feel it seeping into his shins, where the wounds had been. And when he breathed, now, in the coffin-like tube, his lungs filled with the camphor from long ago; it was an indictment he deserved.

“Sylvia?” Mason directed the question at his mother, who sat next to his bed in the rocking chair, but the MRI tech answered.

“Just a minute more.”

“No! It was my fault -- I --”

“Mason, you were playing a game.” His mother’s voice was calm, reassuring. “It was an accident.”

“No -- I insisted we play in our fort. By the road. She kept saying ‘It’s lovely,’ I -- I got mad -- I pushed her --” Mason gasped, “I’m sorry, Sylvia.” The weight inside, near his heart now, burned as he confessed. “I’m so sorry.” In a flash she was gone from him, as on that day, for the busy street took her. Soon, he was taken as well: Sylvia and Mason hand in hand, honeysuckle forever following them where guilt and cancer cannot go.


And finally number three is Valley Bird

Mom’s dancing when I get back to the living room.  She clutches the bottle of bourbon in one fist as she sways to the music.  When the verse begins, she raises the bottle to her mouth like a microphone and starts singing into it.  I stand in the doorway for a second, watching.

From the speakers, my mother’s voice blazes out, that strong pure alto I remember from sitting proudly at the side of stage after stage.  The voice that won her awards and accolades, got her offers of movie roles and sold out stadiums.

What comes from my mother’s mouth now is ragged and raw.  She can still hit the notes, but there’s no purity now.  Her voice is a hoarse, ruined parody of what’s playing through the speakers.  Like how she still dresses the same way she did back then; dresses that flowed around her narrow frame now cling snugly to her drink-bloated stomach, strain across her hips.

She spins around and takes a swig from her “microphone”, staggering backward as she does.  Her heel catches the edge of the rug and she falls, crashing onto the coffee table on her ass.  It cracks under her and dumps her to the ground amid a cascade of old magazines.

I wince.

“Ooopsy daisy!”  Mom sees me in the doorway and drags herself up, leaning heavily on the ruined furniture.  “Mommy’s clumsy today.”

“Mommy’s drunk,” I say.  “As usual.”

“I’m not drunk, baby boy.”  Mom sways on her feet and looks blearily around for her bottle.  She finds it under the magazines, empty now, the remaining bourbon soaking into the filthy carpet. 

“No?”  I watch her shaking the bottle over her mouth, trying to get any last liquor out.  “Looks that way to me.”

“You worry to much.  I’m fine, Bluebell.  I’m celebratin’”

Celebrating?  What the hell does she have to celebrate?  Kicking the shit out of my brother? Terrifying the other one so much he barely speaks?  “Don’t call me Bluebell.”

“Oh, I forgot.  My baby boy is too big for pet names.”

I roll my eyes, but ignore it.  There are more important things to deal with.  “I think it’s bedtime,” I say, tugging the bottle away from her and setting it on the broken table.  “You’ve had enough.”

“Darlin’,” she snarls, leaping away from me.  “I haven’t even started yet.”

She reaches into the stereo cabinet and pulls out another bottle, this one smaller and slimmer.  She unscrews the cap and takes a healthy belt.  “Damn.  That’s the stuff.  Here,” she holds the bottle out to me.  “Have a drink, baby.  You know I don’t like to drink alone.”

I take the bottle, but don’t take a sip.  For someone who doesn’t like drinking by herself, she spends a lot of time doing it.  Like, every day.  All day.  Since giving up singing, drinking has been her career.

Who am I kidding?  She never gave up singing. People just didn’t want to hear her anymore.

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 detraction's.

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!

No comments


  1. Scottish -- Good revision. The shopkeeper recognizing his tenant was good advice, and it reads much smoother without all the exclamation points.

    Edward Bear -- This was one of the best of the early rounds, but the revision cost it some of its pacing and the beauty of the language. It was in the name of clarity, no doubt, but sometimes clarity is overrated.

    Valley Bird -- A little clearer in revision. Still only one note, bitterness, without any sweet to temper it.

    Vote goes to Scottish for best use of the opportunity to revise.

  2. Scottish: This story was good the first time around, and the small changes you've made have tightened up a few minor inconsistencies in execution. Well done.

    Edward Bear: All my confusions from the first draft, about how Sylvia died, how long ago it happened, and why Mason felt he was responsible, have been cleared up. I miss a few of the lovely, poetic phrases from the original, though.

    Valley Bird: You've made subtle changes that have addressed some of the concerns I had the first time around, and kept the grim reality of caring about someone who is tearing themselves apart.

    I'm having a hard time choosing, but my vote goes to Valley Bird. The emotions in this piece hit me harder than in the other two.

  3. Edward Bear: I appreciate the tie-in this time between the fort and how Sylvia died, though I agree with the comments above that this version lost some of its poetic continuity. Perhaps just the ending could have been clarified? This was the story I voted for in the first round, though, so I'm voting for you today.

  4. Each of these revised for more clarity. Good job!

    My vote goes to Edward Bear.

  5. Everyone did a great job with their revisions, and I enjoyed reading the stories again. And, to show how subjective everything really is, I loved the revisions Edward Bear made, I thought they strengthened the story although I can see why others disagreed.

    My vote: Edward Bear.

  6. Scottish: great improvement with small changes.

    Edward bear: the revisions cost you. the story lost it's umph.

    Valley Bird: big downer, nothing to relieve the one note feeling.

    My vote goes to Scottish

  7. Scottish -- the revisions in this piece have significantly improved it, and I was reading avidly along, but I thought the original description of the puzzle dragging Macomber into itself was better than this revision.

    Edward Bear -- I liked the addition of the honeysuckle fort to the story (I used to have one of those), but like other commenters I think adding so much detail to the story cost it the poignant quality I enjoyed so much in the original.

    Valley Bird -- I've always liked this story, and your edits were subtle but helpful. Just enough. The utter disillusion of a teen who's been forced into the adulting/parenting role is palpable.

    Valley Bird gets my vote.

  8. Scottish told the better story,always love it when the come comeuppance comes due.
    Edward bear seems like he threw in everything but the kitchen sine to get an emotional response.
    Valley Bird story is grim and depressing.

    my vote Scottish.

  9. Scottish- You made some subtle revisions which kept the basic tenor of the story intact while tightening up writing. I had enjoyed this story the first time around and still do.

    Edward Bear- You probably did the most revision of any story to date. It really helps. The story is not as confusing as it was originally. I don’t think the story lost any poetic continuity.

    Valley Bird- Your revisions were also subtle. It still reminds me of an afterschool special, but that’s just me.

    While I appreciate what Edward Bear did to improve the story, I really enjoyed Scottish’s story from the first time I read it. So my vote is for Scottish.

  10. Scottish: nice edit to correct that the creditor doesn’t know the shopkeeper. You didn’t address the head hopping in this revision, but it wasn’t difficult to follow. Once he gets the puzzle, the piece becomes heavy on telling rather than showing.

    Edward: a lot of dialogue (“our hideout is lovely,” “I insisted we play”) is forced for the reader’s benefit, not the story’s. I understand what happened to Sylvia now, but what children would be allowed or want to build a fort by the side of a busy street, especially when they have a nearby woods to play in? This makes no sense. The ending is abrupt - does he die in the middle of his MRI?

    Valley: you made some nice edits for clarity, but didn’t address things like fatness being overused to describe mom, or the MC doing nothing throughout the scene - it’s all talk and contempt. The MC just wants to get out of there, making me feel the same.

    I vote for Scottish.

  11. My vote goes to Scottish. Have to admit, if the story gets to me -- the concept, characters and language -- not much else matters. And maybe it's the times, but I'm not in the mood for Edward's despair or Valley's unpleasant co-dependent adult child. Short, understandable and socko does it for me this round.

  12. My vote is for Edward Bear.

    I felt you made the most of the critiques in your edits, giving us a story that comes full circle as Mason is released from guilt and life, and reunited with Sylvia.

  13. My vote goes to Valley Bird. The revisions are subtle, but effective.

  14. My vote this round is for Scottish.
    Scottish - A good, strong story and although the characters are a little stock, there's room to expand them if you revise this piece further. I was a bit distracted by the shifts in point of view, they take the reader out of the story and make it difficult to identify with any one character over others. The ending hook is great and the puzzle is a nice imaginative touch. You have my vote based on the ending and the plot.
    Edward Bear - Good job revising to clue the reader in to what was happening. The story reveals that the main character dies, it might be a stronger tale if you left that until the ending. Great descriptions with the honeysuckle.
    Valley Bird - The mother character in the story has no redeeming qualities. This makes the reader wonder why the son sticks around. Is he the oldest? Taking care of siblings? Characters are more interesting and hook the reader when they aren't all good or all bad. There's good action description here, add some sort of hook at the end so readers will want to know more about the characters.

  15. Valley Bird gets my vote this time.

  16. All three great entries. Valley Bird, I would have liked a little more from Mom. Edward Bear, I loved this, but got a little tripped up. Scottish, the POV was confusing, but I loved the story.
    I'm voting for Scottish.

  17. Good job with revisions, all of you.
    This time, I am still pulled into one more than the others, though they all did a good job hooking me.
    Scottish, I got a clear sense of place and tone.
    Edward Bear, cool idea, but it transitions were still a little confusing.
    Valley Bird, I wanted a little nugget from mom that explained her current state - just a line or reference.
    My vote goes to Scottish.

  18. Well done writers on the revisions you each made. Using the provided feedback has resulted in clearer, tighter stories from each entrant. This is an exceptionally hard vote to cast as I think you all enhanced your pieces and I feel you are all very equally matched.

    My vote this round though goes to Scottish. I feel the way you used your feedback made the biggest difference to the original entry.

    Well done writers, and good luck.

  19. Scottish, loved the ending. Perfect cap to the story. Maybe used the word many a few too many times.
    Edward Bear's story was a little confusing. If he's dying, why is he in the MRI? How is their fort so close to a busy street? Good writing, but that threw me.
    Valley Bird's use of quotes around microphone bothers me. Scare quotes are a sign that you don't trust that your reader will understand. I feel for the MC, but the portrayal of the mom was heavy-handed.
    My vote goes for Scottish because I was sucked into the story like Macomber was into the puzzle.

  20. Hm! Two subtle revisions and one major revision.

    Scottish: The revised portions definitely do help. I still think there are some sentences that could have been cut, a few tweaks made, and this would have felt more fresh. But you definitely demonstrate skill for dialogue, characters, atmosphere, and story flow.

    Edward Bear: I think the two strengths of this revision were amending the MRI scene to better match reality and the clarity of where the guilt comes from. However, with how straight-forward this is now, I wouldn't label it magical realism anymore. The final image is strong and brings an element of hope in this revision. I am a bit torn though, on if that tone lands with the emotional flow here. I think this piece either requires expansion to explore these themes, or else you need to get really, really pointed with what key pieces are needed to help the reader understand the guilt/circumstances without losing space to unnecessary exposition. A tricky endeavor. It seems this story had the tone/quality right in version 1, better understands its plot in this version, and needs one more rewrite to grab the vital pieces of clarity in v2 to meld into v1.

    And wow! He's only 38?! Dang! This whole time I was imaging a man in his 70s. Cancer can definitely strike young, but Mason's got such a reflective, passive, air of finality to him that he doesn't come off youthful at all. Even if consumed by guilt for years, he's still a youngish guy if he's 38, so I'd imagine him struggling more with death or else not being so pulled back and reflective.

    Valley Bird: The slight tweaks here and there served the story well. "Blazes" as describing the mom's voice definitely evoked a more specific style/genre, which made the story pop more. I personally I got a big classic Motown vibe from that (or possibly Stevie Nicks). I do note you pulled back a bit on the weight references and tied the weight directly to the drinking habit, which is a big improvement, but the table cracking after mentioning the weight still comes off mean. I think Bluebell is also still too in the background for the first half. Could have lost a line or two near the end to make his presence more felt off the bat.

    I was very torn on whether to go with Scottish or Edward Bear on this one. The promise and ability to expand shown in Edward Bear's revision really pulls at me. However, I do think Scottish expresses really enjoyable talent and I'd like to see another, different entry to see where they can take us next. Vote for Scottish.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.


  22. For me, my vote is for Scottish! I can definitely see myself enjoy this story again and again! Great job!

  23. Has to be Scottish for the foreboding atmosphere and descriptions of characters.. "Sunlight from the open door stopped a few feet within and would go no further." Brilliant! and the old crone with hair like spiderwebs criss crossing her head. I picture her immediately. The shop scene is the best part of the story since the rest is fairly predictable but that is also well told.

  24. Still voting for Scottish. Great story

  25. good stories all. but Scottish gets my vote

  26. Scottish has my vote again. Fantastic job cleaning up the perspective and clarifying the relationship between the crone and Macomber. There's a tangible ramp-up of suspense here that I thought was well-executed.

    Edward Bear, there's definitely more clarity now regarding what transpired between Mason and Sylvia (and what prompted you to title it as a confession). I'm still wondering why we're focused on the confession itself though--it seems he confessed to his mother when he was eight, so revisiting this moment of confession thirty-years later wouldn't do much to change his character arc. If there had been a moment of self-forgiveness at the end of his life, it might have supported the note of everlasting peace at the end.

    Valley Bird, I really enjoyed this story the first time around and felt this iteration hit the same good notes (oh, puns!) The additional insight into their family life was helpful, and the voice was strong YA. Truly, I felt it was just missing that emotional depth that would have brought it over the edge. Considering that this was written in first-person, we had a great opportunity to get into 'Bluebell's' head and see him struggling with this incredible emotional burden. As written, we get mostly one-note observations. I'm thinking this is something you could dig into in a longer piece.

  27. Voting this round for Edward Bear

  28. For the story that brought in the most advice from critiques, my vote goes to Scottish. (Edward Bear- it was a close call - for the length of the piece, you had to lose some to gain some)

  29. My vote is for Scottish, thank you all for writing and sharing!

  30. writers, excellent stories!!! Wow!
    Scottish--loved that i wasn't left wondering what happens next!
    Edward Bear--my heart hurts for Mason!!! great job melding past and present!
    Valley Bird--i felt the pain and despair of dealing with an alcoholic. nicely done.
    my vote goes to Edward Bear!

  31. My Vote: Scottish
    Great improvements. Love it!

    Most everything has been said in previous comments already. Nice work.

  32. Valley Bird gets my vote today.

  33. I'm with Valley Bird, too. I know what it's like to be around a drunk, and it's no joke.

  34. More detail in Edward Bear's story got my vote!

  35. Scottish -- It is a very complete piece. And while this version is original, the base story seems like something I've read before many times.

    Edward Bear -- The story is clearer and easier to follow this time. And it's a very complete piece.

    Valley Bird -- This one breaks my heart. It is a complete story, but it could easily be part of a longer piece. I want to know more about him, if he's supporting the family, if he's planning to save his brothers and commit his mom to rehab. This story draws me in the most, so it has my vote.

  36. Again, hard to choose. I had to read them a few times, and it was still hard to choose. Edward Bear was sad and made me remember some things in my own life. Valley Bird tells a story that many people can relate to. Scottish told a story that was scary, and I love scary stories. So my vote goes to Scottish.

  37. Scottish gets my vote this time around. You tightened up the piece since the original. I can think if a few characters I'd like to pass that puzzle to...

    Well done to both the other authors. Unfortunately I personally cannot handle the emotional toll of either piece.

  38. I loved different things about each of these stories. Loved Scottish’s atmosphere and imagery. Loved Edward Bear’s descriptive language. But Valley Bird is the one that catches my heart. I feel Bluebell’s concern/disgust/love/compassion for his mother and his mother’s yearning for what she once had.

    My vote is for Valley Bird

  39. My vote goes to Scottish.

    These have all tightened up really well, excellent work! I had great difficulty choosing one over another because they all appealed strongly, but differently. In the end I chose based on how likely I'd be to buy a book of similar tales in a shop.

    Scottish: I voted for you in the first round because I loved the Brothers Grimm voice of the story, and that's still the case here - there's something very blacksmithy about each sentence. I still have the same questions as in the first round, so I'd suggest more attention is given to story logic at the outline stage. Regardless, I enjoyed the cold seeping poison at the heart of this tale...

    Edward Bear: this is easier to follow this time round, and you have a wonderful, sensory way with words. I love how you manage to mix the past with the present, and he is in both times at once. My only resistance, really, is the topic of death - it's not a place I want to be at the moment. I'd love to read something of yours on a slightly happier topic.

    Valley Bird: I've deliberately not checked this against the original version, but I think it does flow better now. You describe a scene so vividly, and paint Mom so clearly. Again, my only resistance is I don't enjoy reading about alcoholics. I would love to read a comical story from you - I think you'd be able to nail the visuals.

  40. I cannot stress how much I loved all of these stories so picking just one was hard! My vote is for Scottish mostly because I love a good Karma story and tales with a dark edge. Great job to all!!!

    1. Sorry! The above vote is from Marie Korman

  41. Scottish made a few good changes to strengthen the story. Good imagery to start it off.
    Edward Bear's story was still well-written, but I preferred the original.
    Valley Bird, like the style but couldn't connect with either character. I would have felt more sympathetic for the MC if I felt he had some sympathy of his own.
    Tough one, but I'm voting for Edward Bear




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