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WCT - The Writing Competition Thread [Short Story Results]

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I won't be crushed by not having an extension, but it's always nice to have at least a handful of entries in any competition.

Is Nikki Giovanni someone I should hear about?

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All right, then. The submission stage will be open one more week. Barnsalot and just64helpin, feel free to post a revision of your submissions within that time frame. Everyone else (myself included), get to work!

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Hello everyone! It's been awhile since I've participated in one of these, but I wanted to do something that forced my creative hand. So I made up a cool-sounding title and then forced myself to come up with a story for it. Here's my result.

Short Story, Fiction

The Phantom Poet of Zanzibar

by J.N. Russell (aka Ubernym)

Stone Town is gone now. Isn't technology great? The old nukes couldn't hold an irradiated candle to this stuff. 'Bomb' just isn't a big enough word; bombs just blow shit up and lay general waste to their targets.

But this.

This was worse, in every possible way. The scientists who came up with it must feel like real assholes now, if they're still alive, and if they still have their minds.

Me, I'm still alive, but only barely. I still have my mind, too, I think. Maybe I don't? That's the trouble with losing your mind. If it's gone, there's no way you could know that because if you understand that then your mind must not be gone. It's better not to think about it.

I can't remember how it started, why it started. Doesn't matter now, because pretty much everyone is dead. It's a damned miracle that I'm still around. Dumb luck, you might say.

It's probably bad luck, considering.

Considering I seem to be the only one around here. Everything is rubble, or worse. Mush. I have no idea where all the bodies went, which really creeps me out. Where is everyone? I get lonely a lot.

I'm writing a poem on the only free standing wall around. It's like a pillar of light from heaven, shining down on ground zero. Everything else is dust for miles. Why is this wall still standing? Who cares, it's my canvas now. I'm writing with a thin piece of something black that seems to rub off well, like charcoal. Maybe it's a finger.

I want to write a poem for the aliens, or the evolved sea-crabs or whatever intelligent life that comes along to replace us. They have to come eventually, and maybe they'll find my poem. Maybe it will tell them something about what happened here.

But what should I write? I can't write the whole story, not enough room, and not enough charcoal. A poem could work well. I once heard that the German word for poem, gedicht, has roots in the idea of compression, like winding a spring tight.

This is what I need to do, to wind tight the spring of our undoing. I need to tell my alien successors how we ruined ourselves with our own technology, how we destroyed our entire world because we just couldn't stop building a better mousetrap.

How should I start? I guess at the beginning. The beginning of what? The end, I guess. That could be awkward, like my survival. It's a non-sequitur, really. Like I said it was dumb luck, how do you explain dumb luck to an alien intelligence?

I mean, how many people own a hang glider, and how many of them were hang gliding on the last day of our lives? My guess is, not many. Certainly no one I've met, ha ha.

And even then, how many of them survived the fall? Because I definitely remember being pretty amazed that I had survived. I mean, one minute I'm hang-gliding over this beautiful valley, and in the flash of an instant I'm pummeling to the earth, full-speed. I'm pretty sure I bounced.

Then I wake up and everything is gone. Gone daddy gone. Rubble or mush or worse. Nothing left, well except for that one wall, way off in the distance.

I've just realized I don't even know what happened exactly. Just that whatever it was, it must have been really, truly cataclysmic. That's all I have to go on.

How do I explain it? Would an alien even know what a hang glider is?

Well, here goes:

Flying above earth

I fall

To ground

And wake to nothing.

All is gone, all is destroyed.

I fall again and sleep

Forever.

There's a little charcoal left. Maybe I should draw a picture, a visual aid to help with translation. The aliens are probably smart enough to figure this out, but I'm sure they'll appreciate the tip.

I think I'll take a nap now.

"Look over here, Parkinson"

"What is it?"

"It's some kind of crude drawing, and an inscription"

"How old is it?"

"How the hell should I know? I'm an architect, not an art historian. If this is art."

"Maybe it's graffiti."

"It's in Arabic, can you read it?"

"I know a little, let's see...fly....earth...falling, sleep...I don't know it's probably some religious script."

"Yeah, look at the drawing: it looks like an angel falling to earth."

"That makes sense. Maybe it's some proto-Christ archetype or something."

"Do you even know what you're talking about?"

"No, not really. Still, we can't risk the chance that it might be a significant find."

"This could impact the evaluation, better call it in."

"Hello? Hi yes, it's Parkinson and Levy. We're on assignment in Zanzibar. That's right, we're evaluating the Stone Town file for UNESCO. Yes, it's all wrapping up pretty nicely, the buildings are fantastic. We're pretty confident it's a winner but, well the thing is we found this inscription on the outer wall of the tallest building in the area. It's very interesting and we thought you'd want to know about it. Yes, we've already taken some pictures. We'll put them in the file. Ok, thanks."

"Well, that's done, let's go have a beer."

The End.

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Holy crap it's an ubernym. I might have just creamed my pants.

You better stick around, man.

Yeah, it's been awhile, but I've realized I need an external source to keep me motivated in writing. I'll be sticking around :-o

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Is it me or did we lose an entry? Didn't dsx100 post something?

Anyway, only about 9 hours left, folks. I might be able to finish fixing what I have before then, but if not, my submission's going to be pretty crappy.

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Retracted entry?

I'm basically done with mine, but I want to let it sit for a little bit longer then scan it for typos & whatnot again.

Mine will be proof that I watch too much slice o' life.

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I wrote this somewhat on a whim. I had an idea and ran with it. It probably won't be the most interesting read, and quite frankly, I think the whole thing would work better if it was longer. However, I do plan on returning to this setting in future works, ones that are longer and more fleshed out. I've got... ideas.

Patrol

For countless millennia, the human species looked up to the heavens and asked themselves, "what is up there?" From the surface of their world, they could only begin to imagine what lay beyond their sight. Even with the advent of telescopes, humans could only catch a glimpse of the vast universe all around them. Their curiosity never waned as they took to the skies and reached further and further up away from the only home they knew. The universe was at their fingertips, they could feel it. Soon enough, the makings of humanity began spreading out, first into the emptiness around their planet, and then to their immediate celestial neighbor in a single, small step. It wasn't long before their first remote voyage to the edge of their solar system. And then, in an explosion of new technological achievement and adventurous spirit, mankind grasped the fruits of their labor and spread out across their solar system and beyond…

---

"Blue Lea… is Delta Tower… respond."

Carth flicked a switch on his control board. The static that was piercing his skull came to an abrupt end. He glanced around his RLF-14's cockpit for any signs of immediate trouble and found, predictably, nothing. He pulled back on the flight stick and hit the thrusters. Outside his cockpit, the metallic dust cloud he had been inside of thinned to the emptiness of space as his spacecraft gracefully responded to his will. He reactivated the communications system he had shut off moments earlier; static no longer assaulted his ears.

"Delta Tower, this is Blue Leader. You rang?"

There was an audible sigh from the other end. "We detected a small explosion in your general vicinity. Did you find anything?"

"That's a big negatory," Carth responded coolly, despite his still-racing heartbeat. "There was a gas pocket in the debris cloud I was investigating, but it isn't there now. The engines must've set it off when I passed through it." He scanned the ship's diagnostics display. "Singed the hull pretty good, but I'm alright."

"Roger that, Blue Leader. I'll inform the sensor crew to try to scan them more thoroughly from now on. Be careful out there; don't need you getting killed right before our transfer back to civilization. Delta Tower out."

Carth opened up the squadron's comm. channel. "Blue Squadron, this is Blue Leader. Let's do a final pass through the sector before heading home." A flurry of affirmatives came almost immediately; they must have been anxiously waiting for the order to come. He didn't blame them.

"Again with the close calls, Commander? Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Carth knew the comment was coming, and lifted the facemask on his helmet so he could rub his eyes.

"Of course, Gav, of course. Gotta weed out the old farts, after all." Both of them knew that the explosion was nowhere near strong enough to damage the fighter, but the banter was the only way to keep things light on a mission. "I'm heading back to your position. Stand by."

As he gripped the flight stick to swing his fighter around, Carth gazed silently out into the nearly empty void of the system's asteroid belt. It would probably be more apt to call it a debris field, he reminded himself. There were many times more scraps of ancient wreckage than asteroids floating around. Their mission today, just like it had been for the previous two months, was to patrol various sectors of the entire solar system for any kind of activity and investigate possible disturbances. It was an easy assignment, as it should be for active-duty pilots on "vacation." The current situation in the outer edges of the galaxy made it impossible for anyone to be allowed time away from service, but rotating whole battle groups in and out of this system for surveillance duty was close enough. Nothing ever happened in the system, so all anyone had to endure was a few hours each day essentially riding on autopilot in their scout fighters and keep an eye out for anything unusual. The monotony was so great that pilots often were eager to get back to the front lines halfway through their allotted time in the system.

Carth was no exception. He preferred peace to war, but everyone knew he would rather be in battle than not during a war that threatened to devastate the galaxy. Already, he was forming the messages he needed to send to various people once he was back to the fleet. The communications blackout everyone was subject to during their stay in the system caused him much anxiety; he needed to be in contact with the military commanders, planning new strategies and fighting the war, not sitting in some backwater, uninhabited solar system. His finger was tapping the flight stick impatiently when his comm. suddenly came back to life.

"Blue Leader, Blue Six. You're taking too long to get over here. Maybe I should go to you and light up your fighter's rear. The extra thrust would be useful. I'm sure you wouldn't mind the risk of sudden decompression." Carth smirked; if anyone else had said what his second-in-command just had, he'd be sure to put them on cleaning duty for a month.

"Right, Six," he replied. "Deep space recon training mission for you when we get back."

"Well then, in that case, the rookies have started a betting pool on how much the 'old man' has lost his touch in just a few months without a single enemy to fight." Carth could imagine the grin on Gav's face as he spoke. "But I'm not supposed to tell you that."

"Are they now? Well, I'll make sure they understand that being in your thirties does not an old man make." The comm. clicked as Gav ended the transmission. "They sure know how to push my buttons." He stretched in his cockpit, waiting for the autopilot to bring him to the next waypoint, where Gav would join him for the remainder of the mission. "Just one more reason for wanting to get out of here."

Carth pulled out his personal datapad and plugged it into the fighter's sensors and navigational databank. The mission was boring, but the subject matter was anything but. His rank in the military was nothing to be scoffed at, and thus most information about his missions would be readily available to him. This assignment, however, was different. All inquiries were met with a single phrase: "Classified information." Not even his contact in the intelligence division had access to any information regarding the assignment. The system was classified at the highest level possible, right down to its name. The only solid information he had was gathered from his own patrols. The data provided to them on their arrival said that the system contained seven planets, four being gaseous, orbiting a middle-aged yellow star, with a single asteroid belt located between the third and fourth planets. Beyond that, the details of the system were a mystery to Carth.

He hated not knowing the details.

And once I get out of this place, I can stop obsessing over it so much, he told himself. Leaving can't come soon enough.

Going over the data collected on his squadron's patrols – obtained from the base databank in a less-than-legitimate manner, of course, since it officially didn't exist – Carth noticed that there was a planet-sized mass orbiting the star between the second and third planets. He could only speculate on what it could be, since all craft were prohibited from getting within twenty-five billion kilometers of the object's orbit, but he guessed that it was a planet that also did not officially exist. Why they wanted to hide an entire planet was beyond him. His mind tried to avoid thinking about it, but his gut told him something critically important to the war effort lay there. It would explain the secrecy and the constant surveillance in the system.

He put his datapad down and willed himself to stop thinking about it. After he left, there would be no reason to keep thinking about it. After he left, he could go back to doing what he did best: fighting in the war. No one knew quite how much he hated it here.

The comm. flared to life just as Gav's fighter pulled alongside his at 1.2 kilometers distance. "Blue Leader, this is Blue Three." One of the rookies. Probably not sure what to do about something. "I found some charred wreckage floating near a group of asteroids just a few minutes ago. I've been looking at it, but it's so banged up I can't ID it. Should I report it in?"

Bingo. "May as well. Let them deal with it. It's probably nothing, but you know how they are about the details." Nearly as anal about them as I am, that's how they are.

"Yeah, they're almost as bad as you are." The man on the other end chuckled. "Three out."

Carth shook his head. "They're definitely pushing my buttons today. Rookies don't get that privilege." He made a mental note to reprimand them back at base.

The rest of the patrol went without incident, and Carth found himself nearly humming with glee as he strode through the hallways of Delta Base. That won't do for a squadron commander still in his flight suit, even among his own squadron. His delight about finally leaving the mystery system behind the very next day was definitely getting the better of him. He reached his quarters and slid the door open. Everything was as he had left it; his suitcase lay on the bed with all his clothes packed away. His personal belongings were in a separate bag at the foot of the bed. He walked inside, closed the door, and collapsed onto the bed. His legs hung off the side, and for a moment he let himself imagine the things he would do as soon as he got back to civilization. More work, but at least it'd be productive.

A sharp rapping on his door pulled him from his thoughts. The door was already open by the time he got to his feet. Standing there with a blank look was Gav.

"No," Carth said in monotone.

Gav looked down at the single sheet of paper in his hand and started reciting its contents. "To the officers and pilots of Blue Squadron: In accordance with standard military procedure concerning deployments and mission secrecy,—"

"No," he repeated. Don't say it.

"—General Fierle has, upon review of the data recovered on day sixty-five of Blue Squadron's deployment, ordered—"

"No," he said again. Don't you say it.

"—that Blue Squadron—"

"No," he emphasized, taking the boot off his left foot in the process. Don't you dare ruin this. Gav put his unoccupied hand on the door and stepped outside the room, not turning his back.

"—remain on duty here at Delta Base until further notice." Carth swung and chucked the boot at Gav's head the moment he stopped speaking. Gav, however, was already protected behind the suddenly closed door before it could reach him.

“Sorry, Carth," he said from behind the door. He opened the door back up slightly. “As they used to say—" He poked his head inside… “don't shoot the messan—”

… and had his face attacked by another flying boot.

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http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1409876

Thorn Garden

“Ms. Himejima.”

Himeko kept staring at the flowers. The maid stepped closer and called out again. A short, shrill squeal broke her gaze as she spun around. She caught her breath and asked “what do you want, Misao?”

“Everyone is waiting in the dining hall. Please follow me.”

Himeko then apologized and followed, leaving her mind back in the garden.

As Himeko entered the dining hall, Midori shouted “kon∙ban∙wa Hi∙me∙ko~” from across the table. Himeko bowed and returned a soft “good evening” before taking a seat next to Junko who was busy texting her robotic sister.

“What are you two talking about?” Himeko asked Junko.

Typing away like a pianist, Junko turned her head and smiled. From further down the table Iwako said “it is a secret between sisters.”

“Were you in the garden again?” Midori asked.

“It is quite beautiful there, so I lost track of time.”

Himeko turned to the maid and asked “Misao, when did you plant the blue roses?”

“I did not plant the blue roses.”

Everyone looked up.

“Roses don’t plant themselves,” Midori pointed out.

“I do not take care of the garden,” the maid claimed.

“Junko,” Itoe said, “have you been toying with Misao’s database?”

Looking hurt, Junko said “I haven’t touched a single line of her code.”

“Lately,” Haruka added.

Midori laughed.

“Seriously, I haven’t.”

“It is true!” Iwako added to the defence.

“Misao,” Itoe said, “after the dishes are clean, run a diagnostic.”

“After the dishes have been cleaned, I will run a diagnostic.”

“Good.”

“Thank you Ms. Morinaga.”

After the meal, everyone retired to their chambers. Himeko set a kettle to boil and watched out the balcony window as it started to rain. She soon heard a scream in the corridor and went out to check on it. When she looked out in the hall she found Midori, who had fallen on the floor.

“Th-there was a ghost at your door.”

“A ghost?”

“I bet Haruka summoned it.”

“Shall we see then?”

Knocking on the door, they heard “please, come in” from inside the room. Midori put her hands on her hips and adamantly questioned: “Did you send a ghost to scare Himeko?” Haruka poked her head out from behind a stack of books and asked “you saw a ghost?”

“Midori said there was one outside my door.”

“I don’t summon ghosts.”

Midori bent over and stared into Haruka’s eyes as if she would be able to tell if she were lying.

“Sorry for the intrusion, see you tomorrow.” Himeko said as she grabbed Midori’s hand and pulled her out of the room.

“Good night, you two.”

Himeko locked her door and went take the kettle off the stove. She noticed the kettle wasn’t there just before she heard “I’ve poured two cups.”

Startled, she kept facing the wall, afraid to turn around.

“I wasn’t trying to scare you or your friend.”

Tense, she closed her eyes.

“Why don’t you come over here and have a seat. I won’t bite.”

Half expecting a pruny drowning victim or a mangled corpse, Himeko slowly turned toward the table. She let herself exhale when she saw that the horrible ghost haunting her was a fair young woman.

“Why me?”

“You spend a lot of time in my garden.”

“You are the gardener?”

“I’ve been tending the garden here for a long time.”

“Then… why now?”

“You were asking about my garden at supper.”

Himeko sat down and picked up her teacup. A few minutes of silence later, the ghost introduced herself.

“My name is Rei Agata. I lived here once and I usually keep to myself, but no one has ever really paid attention to my garden, even when I was alive. I just had to meet you.”

“Have you always been here?”

“No, but I have seen a few ladies move in and out of this estate.”

“What do you know about me?”

“You are Himeko Himejima. You enjoy tea and tailoring elegant gowns. You are always polite and pleasant, but you distance yourself from the other girls in the dorm.”

“Stop.”

Himeko stared down at the table.

“You asked.”

“Please, just stop. You should have stayed hidden.”

“Himeko.”

Rei touched Himeko’s hand, causing her to run out the door.

The next morning, Haruka was reading in the gallery and overheard the Minami sisters talking nearby. What caught Haruka’s attention was that Junko said “Himeko slept in Midori’s room last night.” Haruka closed her book and walked over to where the sisters were chatting.

“They came into my room last night asking if I summoned a ghost.”

“Did you?”

“Of course not.”

“Maybe you should’ve.”

Haruka laughed a “maybe.”

Haruka walked off and the Minami sisters went back to their gossip.

When Midori saw that it was Haruka who had been knocking on her door, she stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind her.

“Is she still in there?”

“That ghost is haunting her room! She had to sleep somewhere.”

After Midori explained what happened, Haruka suggested that Midori search Himeko’s room for the ghost and then talk to Misao about the house history.

“I’ll be in the library… to see if I can find anything useful.”

A week later, no one else had seen Rei stalking the grounds and Himeko had settled back into her own room. A few days after that, Himeko went to the garden and said “I am sorry.” Rei appeared behind her.

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shown up so suddenly, babbling like that. I just hadn’t talked to anyone in a long time.”

“From now on, I will talk to you when I visit the garden.”

“Well, you could start by looking at me.”

“Eh? Don’t sneak up on me! I thought you were invisible.”

The girls laughed and eventually Himeko introduced Rei to the other girls in the mansion, who accepted Rei into their circle much more calmly than Himeko. Itoe enjoyed talking with someone who knew about the history of the school and Rei enjoyed testing the conversational abilities of Iwako and Misao’s AI programs. Haruka now had someone to discuss books with and Midori gained a new ear to test her music on. Junko found that Rei made a good spy for gossip and Himeko never had to have tea alone again.

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Okay, folks. Less than 10 minutes left. If there are any other submissions, get them in now! Speaking of which, here's mine. It's a little short and a little sloppy, but it's the best I could manage. These past couple of weeks have been tough.

It Comes Apart

Thump-a thump thump thump thump-a thump. Straight to the brain.

“Can you even go a whole day without…?” Anne said.

“Dunno. Never tried.”

Hector turned the dial to the right and it came: harder, better, faster, stronger. The pulse made him come alive, or at least half so—enough to wrap his hands round the wheel, thumbs tapping out the beats. He strained to keep one foot on the pedal as the other doled out kicks in time.

“Do you know where we’re going?”

Hector inhaled, as though sucking in the very waves of sound emanating from the speakers. To tell the truth, the road he had taken out of Paris generally led to Berlin, among other places. But he couldn’t exactly say he was headed there.

“Just because I’m driving doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere.”

Anne put her head back against the rest and slumped down in her seat.

“If you’re trying to scare me, it won’t work.”

“Why would I try to scare my wife?”

Hector hadn’t so much as looked at her for the half hour they’d been on the A 2, but he felt every move she made as a nervous spasm up his right arm. Straining to ignore them, he kept staring at the road ahead. When he caught up to another car, he got up very close and swerved around at the last second without skipping a beat.

Beat. It was pounding Hector’s head, joining the excruciating throb already there to create an oddly syncopated rhythm. He reached for the dial again, but there was no turning it further. Even Daft Punk couldn’t drown everything out.

Suddenly Anne skipped a couple tracks and LCD Soundsystem started up. Hector whirled to the side, intending to snarl at her ignorance, but her eyes met his and didn’t turn away. No ignorance behind that face, just insolence. She’d always had a cute bit of spunk.

That’s how it starts... She’d always had a thing for James Murphy’s voice, too.

“Anne, I told you I’ve got to have something with a touch more bass.”

“Oh come on, ‘All My Friends’ isn’t exactly light and easy.” She broke eyesight to stare into the vast stretch ahead of them as her cheeks reddened a little. “It’s not like I put on My Bloody Valentine.” Hector gaped at her until Anne told him gently to watch it. He glanced forward and barely dodged the car he’d been about to hit.

...blowing eight-five days in the middle of France... He didn’t look at her again when she next spoke.

“I’m worried, Hector. Is the vacation not helping? Dr. Rosenberg said—”

“I don’t know why you got in the car with me,” he snapped.

“Like I was going to let you drive off alone, the way you were acting! One day we’re enjoying a nice, relaxing visit to the Eiffel Tower and the next you’re hopping out of bed at 6 A.M. to hunt for the keys.”

“Do you want to die? Is that it?”

“Do you?”

...this could be the last time... His hands and feet were no longer moving.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Hector saw that her eyes were glistening and had to turn his gaze partially out the side window to avoid welling up himself.

“I wish you hadn’t come. You don’t know what it’s like,” he muttered.

At that she slammed her fist into the dashboard. “What? What it’s like to ache until you lose consciousness every time you try to concentrate on one thing too long? What it’s like to forget what happened yesterday and have no idea what’s going on today or tomorrow? Or what it’s like to live, as you say, ‘a half-life’? Because let me tell you, Hector, it’s not exactly fulfilling that I can’t make love to my husband without him blacking out or, God forbid, getting bored and stopping.”

“No, I’m talking about what’s it like to give myself to the woman I love only to have to take it all back because nothing but music keeps me going. What it’s like to have to lose myself in the beat to do anything right, only when I try to do even that you get sucked in too.” He meant to add, “What it’s like to have to watch you hurt the way I do and know there’s nothing I can to about it,” but his right thumb started tapping again and she covered his hand with hers instantly.

“Hector, we’ve been over this. It’s just a depression. We can beat it… together.”

She squeezed his hand tighter just as a piercing thump hit his temple and the resulting shudder relaxed his arms. It was instant panic. He was letting the wheel fly and another car was coming at them. So let it come, a part of him thought. But another part wanted her to be gone, to be safe at home, to be anywhere but there in that car. And yet, he could do nothing about it. She held on fast.

...you think over and over, “Hey, I’m finally dead.”

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Isn't there supposed to be a post where you go...

THE ENTRIES HAVE BEEN SUBMITTED!

Imagery - It Comes Apart

just64helpin - More Than Human

Barnsalot - A Soulless Proposition

GA Jedi Knight - Patrol

ubernym - The Phantom Poet of Zanzibar

Manic Cinq - Thorn Garden

...or something like that?

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Eh.I figured my last one was close enough to count. :-P

FYI, guys, half of the entrants have already voted (plus more), so I'd say this competition is getting a really good turnout compared to the last few. Thanks for participating, everyone!

P.S.: Special thanks to Doulifee. He's so on-the-ball, I didn't even have to ask him to update the thread title! Thanks for all your hard work, Doulifee.

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i'm the moderator of the forum >_> i perform a daily check , plus i was away of ocr during one month. i need to keep up with what was happening :9

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Too bad we didn't see JamStunna or Leon K. this round.

Sorry, I just got my PC working on Friday. I missed the whole thing! But I will be back next time.

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Everyone, I have a favor to ask: if you have some free time in the next couple of days and feel like thoroughly critiquing my entry, could you PM me a write-up of your thoughts? I'm trying to work it up into a final project of sorts for my creative writing class (1000 words max, so not much longer than its current length) and I could use all the input I can get, unless you have nothing more to say than "I liked/didn't like it." Anyone who does this by Wednesday (a second draft is due Thursday) will get an extra point toward their own submission--err, I mean... much gratitude. :wink:

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