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Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Your Judgement is at hand

Right, so it looks like weeks of churning out poo poo paid off, because it was difficult to choose a clear loser. So good on you all.

Your WINNER this week is Jeza, for a poignant, melancholy tale of a traitor's walk into the depths of hell, and an excellent use of the prompt.

Your LOSER, to be forever blotted by the chum of shame, is Dromer, cause no one watched Indiana Jones for the Nazis, man.

Detailed crits to follow. I have to transcribe my frantic note taking, as currently my results look like this:



Jeza, Come to the Inner Sanctum whenever you are ready.

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Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Now, in the quantum moment before the closure, when all become one. One moment left. One point of space and time. I know who you are.

You are destiny.


... Why did I write "Droning it into collar"? What does that even mean?

toanoradian
May 30, 2011

The happiest waffligator


Is that a penis behind the square papers? Also, congrats to Jeza for winning in the first week he entered Thunderdome. What a skillful guy.

SurreptitiousMuffin
Mar 21, 2010

I got it wrong. Look, I'm well aware I got it wrong and uh, I got it wrong.


'grats Jeza!

I'm going to announce my Thunderdome sabbatical right now- I'm doing CELTA next month and I really won't have time to 'dome. See you all in December.

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

The quality of your burnt offerings was pleasing, this week.

Vying for the victor's nail-crown were Jeza, Velyoukai, Bad Seafood, Peel and Capntastic.

Jeza ate their hearts with his perfectly paced progression of images and character, and by not getting lost in the seductive grimness of the prompt.

Swinemaster: Bonds

Traditionally the first cab off the Thunderdome rank has been pretty lovely, but this one has some juice in it. Only an overuse of adjectives pulls it back, but it's a strong field so in this case that's enough.

Velyoukai: Words were faster than I remembered

Great solidity in the world building, attention to detail, focus on specific actions. More importantly it manages the metaphorical tension between external and internal desolation better than most.

Barbarous Bertha: Rundown

Decently creepy Dark Souls snuff slashfic.

Black Griffon: Closer to Mother

I liked this but it doesn't quite make the leap it attempts in the last couple of paras, from gritty surreal to mystic metaphorical.

Justcola: Jerusalem

Carries its main punch in the title. Nice imaginative detail but doesn't quite pay off at the end.

Surreptitious Muffin: RIP my dog he died as things do

Dear Esther meets Samuel Beckett for a cup of tea, they bond over their fondness for sestinas. I wanted to like this horribeautiful lattice of images more than I did - found it potent yet unfulfilling. Perhaps it would work better as a poem?

Dormer: Of History and Fear

LINE BREAKS ARRRRRGGGGGNNNAAARRGGG also trotting out clumsy Indiana Jones/Cthulhu lite fanfic won't cut it in a week this strong.

Jeza: My Brother's Keeper

Excellent use of images, ballsy using a bunch of them, effective delivery of horror through pacing.

Bad Seafood: Rainmaker

The tropes evoked by the image prompt are so compelling that many contestants have gotten a bit lost in them. This one doesnt't fall into that trap, revolving around a single, layered action. Rich, nasty stuff.

Peel: The Record

Possibly my favorite combination of image and story for its thoughtful subtlety. And the briskly sketched demonic politics it evokes are compelling.

Echo Cian The King's Price

Competent, but a little too reminiscent of JRPG backstory, needs more meat in the metaphor.

Noah Soul Ruster

Some good images and I love the combination of Western and MegaGothic, but then it takes a sharp turn through WTF Gulch, where it gets stuck in a deep pool of corpse-mud and spins its wheels helplessly. No one comes to help.

V for Vegas: The Trial

This is so good that it makes me grumpy you don't stick the landing. Great use of the images, the image of endless wind down the corridor is excellent, but it feels like it ends a couple of hundred words too early.

Bear Sleuth

Nails the line between weirdness and story, but could do with more meat around the metaphorical bones. Still, a very nice piece.

Derp: Son of the Cold

Tolerable, but overwritten. I think you could have delivered the (solid) payload with way fewer words

Chairchucker Car

Har har Holden HQ 4 lyfe, dog. Silly, but solid. And a little humour is no bad thing in this week's relentlessly grim crop.

Baggy Brad: As Above

The central image, of a city in a cadaver, is breathtakingly good; the dreary adultery framing story dilutes the impact.

Capntastic: Hoar Frost

Another former loser sloughing off the filmy integuments of their shame. This is a great piece, finding the sweet, nasty line between surreal grit and metaphorical accuracy.

Sebmojo White Stone Rise

Ullage.

Jeza
Feb 13, 2011

The cries of the dead are terrible indeed; you should try not to hear them.


Honoured to have such a case of beginner's luck against a really strong field out there. Was not expecting it, especially as I grew to have more and more misgivings about my piece. I read most of them and Imma shout out to Peel that his story was a great read, felt like it had serious heft behind it even in so few words. In comparison I was pretty much just riffing off Dante's Inferno.

Other two judges to PM a prompt with would be Sitting Here and Martello, right?

Fanky Malloons
Aug 21, 2010

Is your social worker inside that horse?


Congrats, Jeza!

I was pretty bummed that I didn't have time to enter this week, not even with a tried and true late-and-therefore-immediately-disqualified effort. I really liked this prompt

toanoradian
May 30, 2011

The happiest waffligator


Jeza posted:

Other two judges to PM a prompt with would be Sitting Here and Martello, right?

Dude, you'll be replacing Sitting Here. Just pm Martello. And then start getting in on your act.

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

Jeza posted:

Honoured to have such a case of beginner's luck against a really strong field out there. Was not expecting it, especially as I grew to have more and more misgivings about my piece. I read most of them and Imma shout out to Peel that his story was a great read, felt like it had serious heft behind it even in so few words. In comparison I was pretty much just riffing off Dante's Inferno.

Other two judges to PM a prompt with would be Sitting Here and Martello, right?

Yep. Enjoy your reign.

I think there might be some shmutz on the nail-crown, it's just grey matter so it should scrub off easily enough.

^^ no, I'm the one that is stepping down ^^

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

toanoradian posted:

Dude, you'll be replacing Sitting Here. Just pm Martello. And then start getting in on your act.

Recommending toanoradian be declared the official Salacious Crumb of Thunderdome.

Also you jerks are stuck with me for another week, unless Seb or Martello plan on fighting for it.

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


Fanky Malloons posted:

Congrats, Jeza!

I was pretty bummed that I didn't have time to enter this week, not even with a tried and true late-and-therefore-immediately-disqualified effort. I really liked this prompt

The real question is, did you have time to lift this week?

toanoradian
May 30, 2011

The happiest waffligator


sebmojo posted:

^^ no, I'm the one that is stepping down ^^

Why is this Current Thunderdome administration, what is it with your confusing and not-at-all-like-what-the-OP-said rotation of judges, seriously. Next you'll be saying for Week XII there will be six judges with three ex-judges each having half a vote because Martello just happen to wear his Nice Socks on that day.


Sitting Here posted:

Recommending toanoradian be declared the official Salacious Crumb of Thunderdome.

If you want to be called Jabba the Hutt of Thunderdome, just say it.

VV goddamn you. Just...goddamn you

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


toanoradian posted:

Why is this Current Thunderdome administration, what is it with your confusing and not-at-all-like-what-the-OP-said rotation of judges, seriously. Next you'll be saying for Week XII there will be six judges with three ex-judges each having half a vote because Martello just happen to wear his Nice Socks on that day.

Hmmm, let's see what I said in the OP...

Martello posted:

The judges will be whoever I say they are, pretty much. This includes replacement judges for when Erik Shawn-Bohner is on a multi-week drunk, Stuporstar vanishes into the Yukon, and I go into the desert for thirty days of penitence Army training. Judge rotations will be based on my whims and those of the other Chosen, not any sort of algorithm or process. If your puny loving brains can't comprehend that, then go gently caress off to a Disney forum or some poo poo.

Yeah, so pretty much exactly the way things are. Maybe you should work on your reading comprehension.

Jeza
Feb 13, 2011

The cries of the dead are terrible indeed; you should try not to hear them.


Thunderdome Week XII

Crown nailed into my inch thick skull, blood still seeping thickly out, I return before you. The whispers susurrate among the crowd - he is unknown. A transgressor. An intruder. But he also has chainsaws for hands. They don't know what to expect.

With victory still fresh enough to be drinking the blood of the vanquished from their skulls like punch, I bring you a new challenge.


Prompt: I want a story with a villain. But not just any villain: we're talking full on atrocious monster. I want somebody who by the time the story is done, I hate. The villain can be an antagonist if that tickles your pickle, but I'd prefer if they were the protagonist.

The genre is anything you like, format is equally as free. Continuing last week's precedent, pictures are allowable if you think they add something. Writing a good villain without sounding strained is not easy by any stretch. Especially given the amount of space you have, which is...

Word Count: 1200 Words - The faster you are able to make the character hated, the better.


Judges-in-Arms alongside me this week are the esteemed Sitting Here and the juggernaught that is Martello.

Address any queries to either of them, or myself. You may also feel free to PM us for extensions, which we are equally as free to laugh in your face about. The timing is as follows...

Sign-Up: 25th October 23:59 GMT

Submission: 26th October 23:59 GMT

Current combatants:

Black Griffon
toanoradian
Noah
Bear Sleuth
Capntastic
sebmojo (i...n?)
Velyoukai
Omniphile
Chairchucker
Baggy_Brad
Fanky Malloons (For reals)
dromer
slothmonster

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Now, in the quantum moment before the closure, when all become one. One moment left. One point of space and time. I know who you are.

You are destiny.


Right in.

toanoradian
May 30, 2011

The happiest waffligator


Also in. Hoping no problem will come this week. I never tried to write somebody I hated, so expect some form of quality.

Peel
Dec 3, 2007



Congrats to Jeza. The use of the Inferno was clear but rooting the story in Dante's time period meant it felt right. Nothing wrong with drawing on mythology.

I definitely felt like I was channeling something this week but in a field this strong, it wasn't enough. When I started to read through the other entries I had a real sinking feeling and it's satisfying to have made it to the shortlist.



fake edit: oh gosh we have a prompt and it's a tough one lemme think about this

Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


I suppose I'm in.

quote:

but then it takes a sharp turn through WTF Gulch, where it gets stuck in a deep pool of corpse-mud and spins its wheels helplessly. No one comes to help.

I assume this is not in a good way, right Sebmojo?

Bear Sleuth
Jul 17, 2011



This prompt is great. So in.

Capntastic
Jan 13, 2005

A dog begins eating a dusty old coil of rope but there's a nail in it.

Fallen Rib

Hello I'm in

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

Noah posted:

I assume this is not in a good way, right Sebmojo?

Yer. The individual images were pretty strong, but they got all jumbled up and the story suffered for it.

E: i

Velyoukai
Mar 4, 2011


I hate Suits. All of them.


'loody hell, I'm in.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

toanoradian posted:

Why is this Current Thunderdome administration, what is it with your confusing and not-at-all-like-what-the-OP-said rotation of judges, seriously. Next you'll be saying for Week XII there will be six judges with three ex-judges each having half a vote because Martello just happen to wear his Nice Socks on that day.


If you want to be called Jabba the Hutt of Thunderdome, just say it.

VV goddamn you. Just...goddamn you

Have you seen Martello's socks? I would do anything for those socks. If I ever win again, the prompt will be Martello's socks.

Now, come sit on my girthy, slug-like tail and cackle, Crumb.

Jeza posted:

Crown nailed into my inch thick skull, blood still seeping thickly out, I return before you. The whispers susurrate among the crowd - he is unknown. A transgressor. An intruder. But he also has chainsaws for hands. They don't know what to expect.

Great, another chainsaw hands guy. Do you know how hard it is to get the smell of gasoline out of the secret judge layer? It's not like you can just open the windows and let the fumes waft out into the screaming black abyss. There are things that will waft right back in at you.

Echo Cian
Jun 16, 2011



Oh good I'd be a terrible judge anyway. Congrats, Jeza.

sebmojo posted:

Competent, but a little too reminiscent of JRPG backstory, needs more meat in the metaphor.

How so? This could be valuable information if I ever write a JRPG. And I...didn't know I was writing a metaphor.

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

Echo Cian posted:

Oh good I'd be a terrible judge anyway. Congrats, Jeza.


How so? This could be valuable information if I ever write a JRPG. And I...didn't know I was writing a metaphor.

EVERYTHING IS A METAPHOR

Metaphor is the difference between a bunch of stuff that happens, and a story. Metaphors arrive unbidden and stay as long as they like, eating all your goldfish crackers.

toanoradian
May 30, 2011

The happiest waffligator


Jeza posted:

The genre is anything you like, format is equally as free.

Welp, this free rein gives me nothing but bad ideas. Prepare for a Choose Your Own Adventure-style entry in this week's Thunderdome then.

Omniphile
Apr 5, 2010

ANIKI!!


I'm throwing my towel into the ring!

EDIT: Also, exactly how atrocious can we get here?

Chairchucker
Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

In and getting ready to stomp some puppies.

Baggy_Brad
Jun 8, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

I'm in.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Omniphile posted:

I'm throwing my towel into the ring!

EDIT: Also, exactly how atrocious can we get here?

Your story should make us hate the character, not you, the author.

Chairchucker
Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

Sitting Here posted:

Your story should make us hate the character, not you, the author.

Unless he's the character.

Fanky Malloons
Aug 21, 2010

Is your social worker inside that horse?


Martello posted:

The real question is, did you have time to lift this week?

I was busy enjoying a multi-day taper-week carb binge and then beating my half marathon time by 23 minutes, so no

Also, I'm in this week FOR REALS.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


sebmojo posted:

The quality of your burnt offerings was pleasing, this week.

Vying for the victor's nail-crown were Jeza, Velyoukai, Bad Seafood, Peel and Capntastic.

Jeza ate their hearts with his perfectly paced progression of images and character, and by not getting lost in the seductive grimness of the prompt.
Neat. Congratulations Jeza.

sebmojo posted:

Bad Seafood: Rainmaker

The tropes evoked by the image prompt are so compelling that many contestants have gotten a bit lost in them. This one doesnt't fall into that trap, revolving around a single, layered action. Rich, nasty stuff.
Also neat. It is of some comfort to me to know my ability to write dreck is slowly improving.

This is a good prompt, but I'm afraid I'll have to retire for a little while. My two-year contract is up and I need to prepare to cross an ocean and several countries to return to the motherland. Then there's NaNoWriMo and completely readjusting my sleeping pattern.

Should be able to return sometime in December, so I suppose I'll see you all then.

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


Fanky Malloons posted:

I was busy enjoying a multi-day taper-week carb binge and then beating my half marathon time by 23 minutes, so no

Also, I'm in this week FOR REALS.

I suppose that's acceptable. But lifting is still way better than running.

dromer
Aug 19, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Sitting Here posted:

Your LOSER, to be forever blotted by the chum of shame, is Dromer, cause no one watched Indiana Jones for the Nazis, man.

Damnit.

I'm in. I must redeem my honor with blood. And I may have accidentally left my backpack in the Thunderdome lobby.

slothmonster
Sep 28, 2009

Mashed keyboard to write about a woman getting murdered rather than potatoes. WTF

THUNDERDOME

Count me in. I haven't really written anything since the last thunderdome I participated in.

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

slothmonster posted:

Count me in. I haven't really written anything since the last thunderdome I participated in.

Breaking kayfabe for a moment. I wrote nothing but the occasional tabletop RPG recap for the last ten years, thunderdome has been amazing. Thanks to Martello and Shorn Ballsack and the Stuporstar for setting this up. ALL HAIL THUNDERDOME. LONG MAY IT REIGN.

Jeza
Feb 13, 2011

The cries of the dead are terrible indeed; you should try not to hear them.


Roughly one and a half hours remains to sign-up. Good luck to all those competing, the fact we have seen no particularly early submissions is a testament to the difficulty of this prompt. I know personally speaking I would flail and struggle in attempting it. However, even if you do not succeed, pushing your comfort zone as a writer can only make you a STRONGER WARRIOR.

Baggy_Brad
Jun 8, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

This was a really hard prompt, nice pick.

The Fourth Temptation
Satan stood beside Jesus on the rocky cliff top at the summit of the mountain. The world stretched out to all horizons. Jesus' belly grumbled.

With a loud voice Jesus said, “Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

Satan rolled his eyes. “Fine, get querulous and quote scripture at me. I’m finished.”

“You will never triumph,” said Jesus. His guts played a refrain.

"Will you not break your fast now, son of God?" Satan asked. "Your trials are over."

"My father will provide for me, as is his will," said Jesus.

Satan shook his head, "See, that's the problem with you, Jesus, you're a coward. You always defer to your father. I offered you all the kingdoms of Earth, to put you in charge, and you refused to bow to me for just a moment. Is that how big your ego is? If we do it your way, you may wish to know what happens to those kingdoms of men..."

"You mock me, devil," said Jesus. "All men will come to love my father, through me."

"You think that. Does that include the indigenous in the Americas, the aboriginal Pacific islanders? Will the lord be providing them with milk and honey?"

Jesus squinted towards the setting sun. "Those Kingdoms are extremely far away… But they deserve to bask in my father’s glory, if he sees it fitting. If he doesn’t, it must be for a purpose."

Satan put a hand on Jesus' shoulder. "Take some responsibility, Jesus, you must realise, Jehovah is flawed. He makes mistakes. I've seen that future. He ignores thousands of men. Even believers. Did you know people won't even like going to church?"

"Blasphemy and lies, devil, it is written: worship and serve only the lord and he will bring you joy."

"Joy?" Satan laughed. "Joy, like listening to soft rock? Spending your Sunday morning on a hard pew, listening to unscrupulous preachers drone on."

"So long as the worship is in the name of my father, the form of ceremony matters not, regardless of how much discomfort the worshipper submits to."

"Would you also classify boys having their manhood fondled by Ministers as ‘discomfort’?"

With no pause, Jesus replied, "Ministers are holy men, they are granted the wisdom to live a life unto the lord in whatever way is fitting. So long as they love the lord, and do not bed a woman outside of wedlock, they do only the Lord’s work and their other actions can be dismissed."

Satan shook his head from side to side. In the distance a flock of vultures rode an air current away from the sea.

"Kingdoms will go to war for your father, you know,” said Satan. “And men. Millions will die needlessly, in your name. If you take my offer, submit to me and I will give you the world. You can make it a planet of real peace."

"The planet will be at peace when they all worship me in unity. I have disciples who spread my word: love each other, turn the other cheek. By submitting peacefully to our foes we infuriate them. Their blood lust will dissipate."

"If that's the case, why not relent now? Turn your other cheek to me?"

"Well... I," Jesus stammered. "The rules do not always apply. Sometimes we must contradict the word, if the situation deems it necessary."

"But your word is ambiguous and confusing already. People will interpret it however it suits them. Some will use it to oppress women, to confuse the weak.”

Jesus snorted. “Women? Man is not of the woman, but the woman is of the man. Their place is in submission.”

“No, Jesus,” said Satan. “Man will take your word too far. They will force raped girls to give birth to their rapists’ offspring. They will claim it's all God's will."

"If a girl falls pregnant it is a gift from Jehovah, regardless of the circumstances. Who is anyone to question his authority and plan?"

"You are," Satan cried out. "You are his son. You're not blinded by your ego. You take the Kingdoms. You can make the difference. If not, this world will turn to debauchery and squalor, much of it done in your name!"

Jesus smirked. "That's right, devil, they will worship me and they will despise you. That's how we have taught them and that's how it will be for eternity."

"Jesus," Satan's voice turned pleading, "Don't do this. Make this world yours and do something positive with it. Don't just sit back and watch it waste. Don’t let the lives of these people be meaningless, their only purpose to blindly worship a God who has no involvement in their lives."

Jesus stared towards the specks that were distant islands. He stroked his beard.

Satan said, "What is your answer?"

Jesus turned. "You say you've seen the future. I say I like how it sounds."

Without waiting for a response, Jesus stepped over the edge of the mountain and plummeted toward the desert below. Only metres before his mortal body crashed into the boulders and slate, two angels materialised and caught him in their arms. They lifted him upright and settled him on the sand. One dusted off his tunic, and then they disappeared once more.

John and Mark were napping in a nearby cave. Matthew and Luke had watched the whole event transpire, they rushed over.

"Are you hurt my Lord?" Luke asked.

"No," said Jesus. Matthew scribbled down the word on some papyrus.

Jesus rolled his eyes. "Can you strike the last half an hour from the record, please?" he said.

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Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


A Friend in Need

words: 855

“I just can’t do it anymore,” Jack said.

Standing on the outer railing of the bridge, he looked down at the swirling river below. “Will it hurt?”

“Not likely,” Mason said, from the other side of the railing.

“Everything has just fallen apart, Stephanie, school, my parents, it’s just too much,” Jack continued.

“I understand,” Mason said.

“You’ll tell them I love them, right?”

“Sure, man, sure,” Mason said.

Jack dangled a foot off the ledge and pulled it back.

“I can’t believe I ran into you,” Jack said. Mason smiled behind his back.

“Serendipity.”

“What’s that?”

Mason sneered, but Jack wasn’t looking at him.

“Nothing, heh. Did you write a note? I mean, to let your parents know and stuff?”

”Yeah, I did, I don’t want to think about them reading it though,” Jack laughed a little, letting his foot drift into the nothingness again.

“Where is it? Are they going to find it?”

Jack patted the breast pocket of his coat.

”Won’t it get wet?” Mason asked.

Jack straightened up and laughed. “Haha you’re right, man, talk about dumb,” he said.

“Do you want me to give it to Stephanie?”

Jack nodded and turned around, taking the note from his pocket and handing it to Mason. As he fumbled with the note, he slipped and clung to the railings.

“I’ll make sure she gets it,” Mason said with a smile.

“Thanks man, when did you ever get so nice?” Jack asked puzzled.

Mason shrugged. Jack smiled, but did not turn around to face the openness again.

“This—this is a mistake, I don’t think I should—“ Jack started. Mason’s face went slack and he stuck out an arm. A slow, smooth shove caught Jack off balance. He swung his arms for a moment and pitched backwards. Mason watched him plummet into the black waters.

Mason turned and patted the note in his jeans pocket and started back towards home, with a lighter bounce in his step than before. He puckered his lips and tried to whistle, before just opting to hum.

Replaying in his head the sequence of events leading up to tonight he smiled ear to ear; he was a genius. From the tip off about child pornography on Jack’s father’s computer and its viral arrest video Mason anonymously uploaded, to swapping out Jack’s final with an obviously plagiarized essay, Mason was amazed at what he could do with a poorly secured wireless password.

Breaking into Jack’s house and spiking the bottle of Jameson he kept under his bed, that took a little more effort. But all Mason needed was Jack to be out cold for one night to hijack Jack’s computer and make some belligerent and explicit emails to Stephanie’s best friend, and it was as simple as that. Finding out that Jack had a prescription for anti-depressants was just icing on the cake. Finding adequate sized placebos was the hardest challenge Mason had.

Everything worked perfectly, Mason thought. Patience, determination and a genius mind! He cheered to himself. Before he even realized it, he was at his house, perfectly across the street from Stephanie, his neighbor since childhood.

Knocking on the door, Stephanie’s mother answered.

“Oh hello Mason, isn’t it a little late?”

“I’m sorry Mrs. Hartford, I was just out for a walk and I wanted to see how you and Stephanie were doing,” Mason said as endearingly as he could muster.

“Oh Mason, you’ve always been so nice,” Mrs. Hartford said, hugging him. Faded streaks of mascara ran down her eyes. “I’ll go get Stephanie, I’m sure she would love to hear from you.”

Mason smiled until she turned, and did his best to wipe away the makeup from his shoulder. His mouth pulled into a frown as he smeared it further into his polo shirt. A minute later, Stephanie came down to the door, equally as disheveled. Mason had to hold back a triumphant smile.

“Oh, hi Mason. Why are you here?”

“It was the weirdest thing, I was out for a jog—walk, heh,” Mason said making a joke. Stephanie did not laugh. “And I ran into Jack, he was in a hurry, he looked awful. He just gave me this note, and said to give it to you. He gave it to me, I couldn’t say anything it was so fast. He said, take care of her, and then he ran off. I couldn’t keep up with him at all, so I came here as fast as I could.”

Stephanie took the note out of Mason’s hand and unfolded it. She looked at it and started to shake, the paper flapping violently. Her feet split apart and her knees came together as she slumped to the ground. She began to bawl, and scream, crushing the paper in her hand.

Mason’s eyes went wide before he had to snap himself out of his reverie, and then he bent down and held her, and rocked her back and forth. Smiling, he shushed her as they moved back and forth on doorstep.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Mason said. “I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

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