March 12th, 2019

Venus

LJ Idol Prize Fight: "Chef Pierre"

Chef Pierre
idol prize fight | week 17, #1 | 1775 words
Salad Days

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I can't believe it—I'm a celebrity chef! Sure, it's not the kind you see on magazine covers, those guys with their own TV shows. I mean the kind who works for a celebrity. A starlet, in this case, one Lissa Bellingham.

Lissa is a typical Hollywood blonde—full-lipped and skinny, a girl made of dreams, silicone implants, and two thousand miles of teeth. She is terrifying.

Apart from black-market pills and a little blow, the reason Lissa stays that skinny is that she practically lives on protein drinks and salads. It's exactly as boring as it sounds.

My job is to make it interesting.

Now, technically I was hired to be a regular chef. I've studied in New York and Paris, I've traveled all over the world. But since Lissa hardly ever eats anything that qualifies as actual food, most of my training goes to waste. My entire focus is the creative application of making water-heavy cuisine taste like real food.

Lissa isn't a vegetarian, so it's okay to add a little chicken or other protein into her salads. Or, as she puts it, to provide her with enough nutrients that her teeth don't fall out. Lissa can be a little dramatic at times. Overall, the goal is to stay within certain calorie limits, and make things look pretty and taste good.

And not run afoul of Lissa's picky palate or repeat myself too often.

First, I ask her whether there are any foods she dislikes. No olives, no avocado, no onions. That seems pretty simple. However, making varied and exquisite offerings each day—sometimes for more than one meal—proves a little more challenging.

I start off with simple, surefire winners that are a little out of the ordinary. Bibb lettuce, cucumber slices, Cajun-spiced grilled chicken strips, chopped pecans, raspberries, and balsamic vinaigrette for one meal. Romaine hearts, halved grape tomatoes, and sliced mushrooms on a bed of lemon-herbed quinoa, covered with a light layer of grated parmesan and a low-fat faux Caesar dressing for another. Voila!

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(Contestant-only voting for this prompt)

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LJ Idol Prize Fight: "Strange Excavations"

Strange Excavations
idol prize fight | week 17 #3 | 1950 words
Fatberg

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It came to pass, in the mountains near the MittelWald, that the trolls of the Grubich clan insulted the trolls of the Silber clan for the very very last time, and were told to pack up their pickaxes and leave.

The Grubich-clan trolls grumbled to themselves as they tromped out of the mountains and into the valley below, furious at the Silber-clan trolls for being so touchy. A simple apology would have solved everything, but being trolls, they believed apologies were for the weak. They continued down the path of disgruntlement, instead.

The trolls wandered for days, searching for a promising cave and wondering where they might make their living, now that they had been forced to leave the jewel mines behind. Some of the trolls expressed an interest in hiring themselves out as a fighting force, while others argued for acquiring new trades like farming and metalcraft. Still others were merely consumed by the desire to eat the little brown bunnies that spoke to them from time to time as they journeyed past.

All agreed that this part of the land was decidedly Not Home, in addition to being dangerously infested with bears.

The trolls passed by lovely lakes and verdant meadows, none of which could provide them with the livelihood they sought. They stomped and squabbled through deep, dark forests, wondering when they might finally escape the insistently looming trees.

In one of those forests, outside Jutzheim, they encountered another bear. The bear trailed after them, gazing at them with longing and licking its muzzle in an extremely unsettling way. Finally, it sighed and approached them.

"Why do trolls have such horribly long beards?" the bear asked.

"Is how trolls do," Snarlborg said. By this, he meant that it was a longstanding tradition in which trolls kept themselves bristle-covered and largely unwashed in order to be less appetizing to bears.

"Oh," the bear said mournfully. It lumbered away.

"Tell bear-friends!" Warfik called after it. He turned to the others. "Why forest never end?" he said. "Must walk open road!"

"Why walking never end? Is forever! New home never happen, maybe. How we know?" Farzig asked.

"Look!" said Knahlgord. "Is mountain?"

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If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it and others via the directions on this post listing all the entries!

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LJ Idol Prize Fight: "The Waiting Sky"

The Waiting Sky
idol prize fight | week 17 #2 | 1375 words
Vigilance

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The sounds you hear when your back is turned are the only truth. The world is a house of mirrors, and we wander it lost and dead on our feet.

Those who sleep are unlikely to survive.

We have all made that mistake, once or even twice, with some of us losing everything. I am Rosella, once a sister, a daughter, but now simply alone.

It has been two years.

Each of us thinks we know the secret to staying alive, but skill and luck often wear the same mask. What was the last thing you heard before the screams? Who disappeared while you tried to understand what you were seeing?

Those who first saw our enemies said they came from over the mountains. They looked like some kind of weather event then, where the air seemed empty and yet it shimmered like a mirage in motion.

It was eerie and beautiful, until one of those pockets of strangeness raced toward a man standing in the open. It closed over him, snatching him away into some kind of horrible nothingness.

He was there one minute and gone the next. Forever. There was nothing left to bury.

His wife still cries at night, the first to be betrayed.

We are careful, so very careful, and always watching, always listening. We take cover at night, hiding in cars and buildings whenever we can. Those monsters could be anywhere. We can't really see them. We might see the wrongness that reveals them, if we are lucky. If there is light.

When it is dark, there is no hope at all.

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If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

Venus

LJ Idol Prize Fight: "Time Travel"

Time Travel
idol prize fight | week 17 #4 | 1362 words
My Happy Place

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If you had a time machine, who would you want to meet?

There are a number of historical figures I would like to see in person, but someone famous would not be my first choice. I would use the time machine to visit earlier versions of my children, instead!

I don't idolize my own childhood, but I have tons of fond memories of spending time with our kids. From their beginnings as fluffy little babies (I still remember how it felt to hold them) to their toddler years, and then their pre-school and elementary years and beyond. It was a wonderful ride that was over too soon.

The peacefulness of holding a sleeping baby… a three-month old kicking her feet with excitement at learning to blow raspberries… a five-month old bouncing with glee over a red balloon… an 8-month-old clapping and laughing while you blow bubbles… Magic.

Your kids' happy moments are one of the greatest joys of parenting. Even the simplest things are new to them, and looking at the world through their eyes you remember how wonderful it is to ride on swings, to eat Popsicles, to splash in a wading pool!

But it isn't just the sweetness that's wonderful, though I ache with missing it. The weirdness is one of the best parts of the parenting experience—things you will never see coming and would never even expect.

Driving around town in November with a two-year-old who suddenly asks, "Why we don't have witches in the sky?"

Or our son stymying the Santa at a friends' birthday party when he was two:

Santa: What would you like for Christmas?
Son: I want to whistle!
Santa: That's… an unusual request. Anything else?
Son: I want my birthday party in the backyard!
Santa: Uh… You'd better talk to your mom about that...
Son: *pats Santa's white-gloved hands* I like your glubs.

Santa

He never actually asked for a toy, which random-Santa wasn't expecting. But the memory was priceless. Seventeen years later, I still laugh about it!

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Voting information to follow soon...

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LJ Idol Prize Fight: "Behind the Curtain"

Behind The Curtain
idol prize fight | week 17 #5 | 2320 words
Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life

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As a discovery writer, my process is unpredictable. :O Sarcasm quotes around 'process' would probably be more accurate.

Prompts are helpful—a complete lack of topic is like navigating through a gigantic void. Without guidance, I have nothing to kick off a spark of inspiration. But with a prompt, I'll brainstorm ideas for it—sometimes a setting rather than a character. Then I'll start writing and see if it wants to go somewhere. If the opening is evocative enough, or stirs up a distinct character or narrative style, I'll keep going and see what the story wants to become. (My writing is very "voice-driven." If I can hear a character in my head, I know who they are). If the opening is flat or stalls out, I'll try a different setup, character, genre, or approach, and see if that one works. Repeat as necessary until something takes hold.

This is the scariest possible way to write. There's no guarantee of ever finding something that 'clicks.' But you have to work with whatever ill-behaved form of talent you have, and this is the method that matches my brain. If I'm lucky, some future events will suggest themselves as soon as things 'click.' I'll jot them down—they'll be a rough outline to write to. On really, really rare occasion, I start a story and know exactly where it will end. I might even skip ahead at some point and write the ending early, and then go back and write toward it. But usually, it's a long mysterious experience all the way through.

This five-prompt round of Idol was punishing proof of that last case.


Day 1:
Uh-oh. There are TWO prompts this week, Salad Days and Vigilance. Ugh. Consider ideas for both possible meanings of Salad Days. Write down fictional possibilities and think about non-fiction on something from my past. Hate them all.

Turn to Vigilance instead, and immediately think of doing non-fiction on exercise. Draw a blank on any fictional approaches.

Write no actual words. This is sadly typical on days when we get a new prompt.


Day 2:
Three more prompts show up. Oh my god, FIVE PROMPTS? I haven't done that since Season 8, and it was a nightmare. Could this be the thing that gets me booted out of Idol? Ugh.

I hate the last two prompts. Both lean toward things I don't want to write, and I don't want to read 15 stories about them either. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Google the Fatberg prompt, which is disgusting. Why, Gary, why?

Try to stop flailing and at least write something. Craft a few opening sentences for Vigilance. I like where they're headed. But what will the threat be?


Day 3:
Brainstorm possible variety of genres for the range of five stories. Trolls float up, somehow. Decide one of these stories needs to involve trolls. For reasons.

Ponder the Vigilance 'threat' some more, consider setting the story in an earlier era, with a more naïve POV. Use that style to describe the first encounters with the threat. Not sure it works. Flesh out vision of the threat and its capabilities, instead.

Play a few rounds of 3D Mahjongg and Spider Solitaire.

For Fatberg, consider a story about a plumber's kid or a sewer monster. Reject anything involving weight issues and diets. Maybe personify the Fatberg, for the weirdness? Ugh, that's even more disgusting.

I can tell this will be the prompt I obsess over…


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If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.