Oct 31, 2009 by

Round 9 Challenges (Word limit – 444 words)

1) Incorporate a hoax
2) Incorporate a revelation
3) Incorporate the number four
4) Incorporate Stephen Colbert.

Read UTAH 8 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)

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“We can watch The Hunt for Gollum or The Addams Family,” Jacob suggested, filling a bowl with Mars bars. No one would come trick or treating but it gave Corey some illusion of harmonious domesticity. He’d learned that from previous Halloweens.

She was turning sixteen in three months. The nightly drinking and hours on the computer had taken their toll: her hair had thinned, her complexion grown sallow and her eyes sunk within their sockets, as if taking refuge from her nightmarish surroundings. She weighed less than when she first came three years ago. She still thought of her mother, but only as part of a gone former life.

Corey looked at the carved pumpkin in the window. “Will any trick or treaters come?”

“I’m sure.”

“You said that last year. And the year before that.”

Jacob didn’t answer. “What do you want to watch?”


Jacob couldn’t understand why she liked “The Colbert Report” so much. He was trying to isolate Corey from anything that might evoke nostalgia of the outer world – newspapers, magazines, radio, television – but it had to be done incrementally. Appeasing her in small ways kept her tantrums to a minimum. It was preferable to force. He once punished her by locking her overnight in the cellar. She’d been unruly for weeks after that.

Jacob lowered the shades. He kept them down whenever they were online, which was most of the time. Only the wind rattling the windows suggested an outdoors. Jacob insisted darkness was essential for oneness with virtual reality. He’d been reading about Buddhism online.

Jacob clicked on the latest “Colbert Report” episode. Yesterday had been the anniversary of the October 30, 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast and Stephen Colbert was staging his own hoax, claiming the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation were presently barreling towards America. The invasion was not from Martians this time but Canadians, who brought death, destruction, and socialized health care.

Illuminated by the spectral computer glow, Corey sat silently through the show without once cracking a smile. She never smiled. She also never cried anymore. Jacob liked this newfound dispassion. They spent the day’s remainder drinking vodka tonics and gaming. Internet access was permitted only in his presence.

No children came that night. The pumpkin leered from the window, its fading inner flame casting a feeble light upon the dead fallen leaves swirling in the howling darkness.

While Corey slept in a dreamless drunken stupor, hundreds of miles away Delia dreamt she was on the western side of a long narrow lake. On the other shore, illuminated by the setting sun amidst browning trees, was Corey.

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  1. Oh Utah.. your story is so sad.
    I feel I want to see you win this contest because I want to know how the story ends!

  2. tetra

    Utah I think your piece has a staying power because the narrative is rich and powerful. maybe the length of the posts is limiting you from bringing more layers and depth to the various characters; not to say there isnt sufficient but would be better if more roundly developed. disturbing stuff!

  3. Tetra thanks for the insightful comments. It feels at least to me like you’ve touched upon something essential from each of our writings. I’ve had to pare my writing down by a quarter length each round so I wouldn’t mind a longer word limit. Maybe I’d create more roundly developed characters if I had more words but then again maybe not. The real challenge is creating full and vivid characters within the contest’s limitations.

    Anna I’m happy to hear you feel that way about my post but I too want to know how the story ends for some of the other remaining contestants!

  4. Beran

    I like your writing Utah, and as far as I remember you have never been close to `my least favorite`, yet your story can not be the favorite either. But I also think you will be writing or already have written many amazing stories that I would love to read.
    I know many can disagree but this story had to take an extremely unexpected turn at least a challange earlier. So I think you can start packing up your letters and find a good challange for the remaining contestants. This is how I feel about Nora too, for different reasons. Dont you think it would be great to read Olaf and Coco duello?

  5. Utah, it’s amazing how well you incorporated the challenges. They fit in relatively seamlessly.

    I had to Google “The Hunt for Gollum” – I can’t help but wonder why you mentioned it. After all, you’ve only got 444 word this week. Jacob doesn’t exactly strike me as a Lord of the Rings fan.

    The description of poor, perpetually drunk Corey’s face only a few sentences later makes her sound rather like Gollum, though.

    I’d also hate to see any of the remaining contestants’ stories come to an end – but if I never get to read how Corey finds her way out of this hellhole, I’ll be particularly devastated.

    Oh – and that paragraph about the pumpkin is lovely.

  6. I really like the Canadians coming like the Apocalypse. I understand how the word limits affect your story but so far seems to me you’re doing great. Am reading a student’s memoir of sexual abuse and I think you need to address the mental enslavement more – the utter mind f**k this is for a child.

    • Not sure that I agree with Kaylie’s last comment, not because I disagree with it being ‘the utter mind f**k this is for a child’ but because at this stage in your story, Corey is still enslaved, the impact of the damage being done will not have started to reveal itself to her and hence I don’t think you need to dwell on the mental enslavement; for me at least the undercurrent of it is already present. The true impact of her imprisonment and enslavement, in terms of the development of her mind, will be in how it distorts her interaction with her existence as compared with what it might have been had she not had this experience; and this is in the future.

      That said, your portrayal of Corey’s state is primarily in its visual impact; there may well be scope to incorporate some of Corey’s thinking, although at this stage ‘nightly drinking’ may preclude this. Having said that, ‘gave Corey some illusion of harmonious domesticity’ does imply continuing awareness of her plight. Perhaps this is where Kaylie is coming from?

      This remains a captivating story. Host you have to devise a means for all the authors remaining at this stage to complete their novella’s within the confines of the competition.

  7. tetra

    this ties in with what i said about Utah needing a larger canvas to paint on. host, what about a follow on series with extend word limits? one for the die hards. haha

    • If the readers and the writers are up for it, why not? What would you like to see for a word limit? I only wonder how many people would want to read 1,000+ words per post if all twelve contestants were still in the fray.

  8. Thanks littlestar! As a challenge to myself, I wanted to incorporate all of the challenges in one sentence. It offers nothing to advance the story except to illustrate Corey’s inability to laugh anymore. So though I did integrate all of the challenges into one paragraph, I failed to do so in any meaningful way.

    I included “The Hunt for Gollum” for several reasons. One is that it’s a movie made by Lord of the Rings fans for fans and is distributed online, so I thought it was suitable for a gamer (is that a word?) like Jacob. Two, the title alludes to a hunt for Jacob. There’s more reasons, but I shouldn’t give everything away!

    Kaylie, I couldn’t resist including the Apocalyptic Canadians. Canadians must wonder why we Americans always make them the butt of our jokes. I wonder too.

    Beran, what can I say to that? I too would love to read Coco and Olaf duello but I won’t pretend I wouldn’t want to see myself in there either!

    • Hehe, I had a feeling that you mentioning The Hunt for Gollum might have been something personal to you (c:

      Oh, and Host, speaking for myself, I’d like to see next week’s word count set somewhere around 1000 words – or even more. It’d be great to see what the remaining contestants could do with a longer word count.

      (Also, if you could kinda accidentally forget to eliminate someone, that’d be totally awesome too!)

  9. Your story Utah has remained a high standard the whole way through – not slack weeks even when you’ve had immunity.

    The incorporation of the challenges was so seemless I had to go back and look to find where they were.

    I hope we’re seeing you in the final rounds.

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