And the Winner Is . . . (Plus Photo Prompt)

Hey writers,

After combing through all of the stories from the last month, battling indecision, falling for many pieces, and filtering everything through our own negotiable subjectivity, we have a favorite pick from the July/August prompts.

Guest judge/WD Editor Jessica Strawser and I selected Beth Cato’s “That Strange Day” response to claim this month’s swag. She’ll grab a copy of Jill Dearman’s Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman’s Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing newsstand publication, and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Creativity newsstand publication.

Below you’ll find a photo prompt from the Kentucky State Fair. I’d go into detail about the goings-on in the photo, but don’t want to sully your impressions of the character. Although he was wily. And feisty. And wearing make-up.

Also, Jessica is writing over at Jane Friedman’s publishing blog this week. Check out her post on “thought viruses” and how they can poison your creativity.

Finally, a sincere Thank You to everyone who wrote in the last month, vets and fresh voices alike—and for doing it here. How you all produce the stories you do—with the frequency and in the time frames you do—continues to baffle.

Yours in promptland,


*Beth, please send an e-mail to writersdigest [at]
fwmedia [dot] com marked “Attn: Zachary Petit,” so I can get the goods
shipped out to you!

PROMPT: Life in the Booth
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring:

Write a scene about this man—perhaps a pivotal moment in his life—in the dunking booth, or elsewhere.

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    Life sucks.
    Its sucks even more when you have white grease, I mean, paint smeared all over your face. At least I don’t have one of those stupid red rubber balls they call a nose. That would really suck.
    My Dad use to have a bumper sticker on his clunker before I totaled it. It said "Life sucks and then you die."
    Real cheery.
    I think I might die if some unforgiving soul can finally dunk me. The water will be freezing, I know it. It will kill me. I’m sure of it. If boredom doesn’t get to me first.
    Or the humiliation. Humiliation is a killer. As if the grease, um, paint isn’t bad enough, I look (and probably smell) like a hobo. Little children cry at the sight of me. Older ones jeer and try to knock me in the water, telling each other what crack shots they are. Hmph, if they’re crack shots, I fear for our country and all the freedom left in it.

    My ‘Associate’ Bruno, bellows to the crowds, “Make Bozo splash! Make Bozo splash! Come see a clown cry, make Bozo splash!”
    I hate Bruno.
    I don’t know how many times I’ve told him my name is Blinkie, not Bozo. Bruno just nods and then says, “Make Bozo splash!” I think that alone can make me cry. I think that “Make Bozo splash” are the only English words he knows. He shouts them with a thick, accent. Not that it matters, no one can hear Bruno anyway. Except me. I hate Bruno, he’s the saddest excuse for an assistant to ever reach the planet.
    When I grow up, I’m going to wear a suit to work, and have pretty assistant and speaks English. Perfect English.
    Then my Mom would be proud of me. Dad might forgive me for crunching his car. Jenny might take me back. And maybe let me move back in.
    The image of all the proudness and admiring starts to fade, Bruno’s hollering “Make Bozo splash!” becomes louder.
    Sigh. Dad will never forgive me. Mom hasn’t been proud of me since the fourth grade. And Jenny, beautiful Jenny, her perfect blue eyes will bat as she says with forced sympathy, “I’m living with someone else.”
    So all I have is Bruno, who I’m sure if he could say it, would cackle, “Revenge is mine!” I don’t think that he cares for me much either. I have jeering, teary eyed, snot nosed kids. And I have freezing water.
    Life sucks and then you die.

  12. Monica Martin

    It had been a rather cloudy day. Maybe that was why there weren’t many people at the fair that day. A chill arose suddenly, and stroked Bozo’s bones. As quickly as the chill came it vanished, and that’s when he saw her. She had a wad of bills, and she was going to use them at Bozo’s dunk booth. Bill looked pleased. Why shouldn’t he? The day had been slow, and this girl seemed content to give Bill her money. How could Bill possibly misinterpret that glint in her eye? He saw excitement; Bozo saw hatred. Why not? He had walked out on her mother ten years ago, then turned his back on her when she found him two years ago. His daughter, his own flesh and blood. He’d wanted nothing to do with her, with the responsibility of being a dad. He didn’t want the restrictions and burdens of being a suburban man. That wasn’t his American dream. He wanted the freedom of an open road and to be able to ramble wherever his feet took him.She dunked him on the first try. She had a good arm. She didn’t look any more muscular than when he saw her last. She picked out a small blue dog, and handed Bill three more singles. She dunked him again.
    "Well done!" Bill yelled out. She threw two more balls, dunking him each time. Bozo was barely able to catch his breath before she sent him back into the water.
    "My God," he thought, climbing back into his seat. "She’s trying to drown me!" The chill picked up, and a small crowd gathered.
    "Bill," Bozo wheezed. "Don’t give her anymore baseballs. She’s trying to kill me!"
    "You should have thought of that before you abandoned your family!" Bill replied. Bozo went under again. When he pulled himself back onto his seat, the wind had picked up. The crowd had dispersed, and Bill was chatting with Bozo’s daughter. He ran his fingers through her hair, and she smiled.
    "Hey!" Bozo called out, but the wind carried off his words. The rains came. Bill pulled Bozo’s daughter into a passionate kiss, running his hands across her back, buttocks, and sides.
    "Hey!" Bozo yelled out again, but he was drowned out by the rain, and now thunder. Bill walked off with Bozo’s daughter. They were heading back to the trailers where the workers lived. Bozo tried to climb out of the booth, but he kept slipping. He wanted to call out his daughter’s name, but he couldn’t remember it.
    "Oh God. How can I not remember my own daughter’s name?" Bozo tried the doors of the booth, but they were padlocked. He tried to climb out yet again, but kept slipping.
    "Bill!" he screamed out. "Bill!" But Bill had taken the girl into his trailer and slammed the door. The wind blew harder. The fairgrounds were empty except for Bozo. There was a scream- a high-pitched woman’s scream that came from Bill’s trailer. The wind carried the screams, a horrible disembodied sound. The rain and thunder stopped. The screaming stopped. The wind slowed, but never stopped. The door to Bill’s trailer slammed open, and Bill stepped out. He was covered in blood. Bozo began to scream and bang on the booth as Bill laughed.

  13. Zachary Petit

    Hey Duane and Mark,

    I like it! We don’t have any shirts or mugs at the moment (or else I’d be drinking out of something less gaudy than my old Rabbit Hash General Store mug advertising "tobacco, sundries, potions and notions"). But, there has been talk of something of the sort for our magazine’s upcoming 90th anniversary. I’ll keep you all posted and see what I can dig up, and am also working on getting a logo for the stories of the month …

  14. Teever

    In a corner of the carnival covered not only in sawdust but in folds of darkness and shades of grey sits a rusted dunk tank made the more foreboding by its lone occupant. The shrouded and suspect clown glares from his rotted perch through steel bars into the beckoning gloom waiting for someone to come, waiting for human contact, and loathing the thought of it. He lies in wait for the unsuspecting lovers who have come to this darkened corner for the pleasure that all lovers find in coupled solitude. Instead they find him, their moment shattered.

    Rattling his cage he taunts them with vulgarities only utterable by a mouth that has not only used the words before but lived them, tasted them. And whether the young lovers retaliate in lame taunts while impotently tossing balls of stitched and threadbare horse hide, or they run, driven back into the night seeking the safety of the crowds filling the brighter spots, their night has been tinged with bitter venom. They will not recover this evening, because the night’s stain will only fade with time and neither the touch of a hand nor the brush of lips can retrieve the stolen moments that have been lost.

    Meanwhile, the clown sits in his ramshackle cage like a spider awaiting an unsuspecting fly. And when the night ends and the barker looses him to the gloom, he is still caged. Caged by a life that has drained his dignity, a life he has given his soul to only to see it neglected and abused until now it lies at the heart of him desiccated and shriveled to such a degree that it cannot even be brought back by the tears of a clown.

  15. duane sosseur

    ….Beth’s story is good. A couple of writers digest coffee cups and a couple of writers digest t shirts thrown in with your complimentary books would sweeten the prize, I must say. Best writer of the month might seem empty without a tshirt to wear around town or a coffeecup to drink out of…
    …You don’t have any of those, you might say. My response would be to get some, there just isn’t any better advertising! I assume you won’t, and will refer to budget constraints…
    …But I think Beth’s story rates at least a tshirt and coffeecup, aside from the books shes getting. "Best short story of the month, writers digest july/august 2009" on a tshirt is a reason to walk around and be proud…
    ……………..just a suggestion

  16. J.T. Whitesell

    The ball whistles through the air and smacks against the canvas backdrop. My heart skips with relief.
    “You’re a wimpy kid. Sit the bench too much?”
    The kid mumbles something I can’t hear and everyone laughs and swears at me. Apparently I’m nothing more than a useless bastard of a clown—not funny enough for center stage.
    They’re right.
    If I had worked harder at life or set some goals, I wouldn’t be in this tank right now. Maybe I wouldn’t be a loser and I could afford to support the one thing that’s important to me.
    The ball smacks the canvas once again. “You’re gonna need a lot more money to dunk me. I hope Daddy’s a rich man!”
    An image of my two year old son flashes before my eyes. He’s been sick lately and the babysitter’s threatening me with calling child protective services if I don’t pay her more. Where do I find these people?
    It doesn’t help that my studio apartment is a disaster. I’m living off greasy carnival food, I can’t afford new clothes and I can’t hold a regular job. Lately, this tank is the closest thing I have to feeling normal—the one consistency to my life.
    The last ball strikes the canvas. He’s had five chances be the winner and yet, I’m still the loser between the two of us. He turns to leave with his arm around a girl, but I can’t let him go. The night’s coming to a close and so is my hope.
    “Hey! One more chance, kid and I’ll get you something you could only dream of owning.”
    He glares at me, but I’m invincible in this tank and I could use this kid’s extra cash tonight. A sly smirk crosses his face and just as I open my mouth to mock him again, the ball misses the sea of canvas.
    My invincibility is shattered on the glass surface of the water and I truly am the loser—always and forever the loser.

  17. Mark James

    Door Number One

    “Hey, kid.”

    I kept going, tucked my head lower, let more of my hair cover my face.

    “Come on, kid. Take a swipe.”

    I turned back. The man in the Dunk Tank was sitting on a narrow red bench, his face painted red, and I thought – how come the make up doesn’t wash off in the water?

    “Yeah. You. Come over here.”

    The crowd moved by me real slow, the way people do at carnivals, like nothing matters, like there’s no place to be, like nobody’s chasing your ass through three counties.

    Except for a spotlight on the name – ‘Make Bozo Splash’ – the tank was deep in shadows. I slipped into the dark, looked up at him.

    He was grabbing the bars of his tank, like a prisoner who wants out real bad. He’d gone all out with the make up. His hands were just as red as his face. “You got a cigarette, kid?”

    “I don’t smoke.”

    He let go the bars, sat back on his wooden bench. “You should.”

    I knew I should get walking, but Bozo – he had me going. “How come?”

    “Cuz all that worry on your face – it’s gonna kill you. You might should smoke it up and let the coffin nails get you first.”

    I looked up at him, all round eyes and pale cheeks.

    “Who’d you mess with, kid?”

    Past the clown make up, surrounded by red paint, his eyes were sharper than shark teeth.

    I could have lied; maybe I should have. I don’t know anymore. “The wrong people, I guess.”

    “No shit. You’re walking around like your hair’s on fire and your ass is catching.”

    He reached down and pulled a sign out of the water – ‘Drying out. Be back when I’m sober’ – and stuck it to the bars somehow. I couldn’t help noticing his wrist – it was red.

    He stood up, slid along the narrow bench like a tight rope walker, and climbed down a ladder outside the tank. A door opened and he came out, looking a whole lot bigger than he looked behind bars.

    “Come on, kid.”

    It was dark behind the tank, like it was a velvet curtain back there. He walked into the dark, still talking. “Got something to show you.”

    I followed him and stopped short. There was no place to go. Back here, it wasn’t dark at all. Two lights shined on two red doors in a black brick wall. One door said, “There”; the other door said “Here”.

    “Where you wanna go? Here or There?”


    You’re looking to get lost, right?”

    I didn’t say anything, kept looking from one door to the other.

    He snapped red fingers in front of me. Now that he was out of the tank, I could see the nails were blue. “Hey, kid. You listening?”

    “There.” Why not? Back here in the dark, behind one of those doors was as good for getting lost as the dark highways I’d been hitching.

    He opened the door. Light came flooding out, and a cool smell hit me, like autumn in the air.

    “Go on,” Bozo said. “It’s nice over there. You’ll like it.”

    Now, here I am walking down this road. He was right. It’s nice over here; real pretty country.

    I try not to think about how come the grass is red and the trees are a little crooked, or why it looks like there’s two suns in the sky.

  18. J. Alvey

    "Dunking Booth"

    I was borne
    from a dunking booth,
    placental goo clinging
    to my raw pink flesh
    as I came splashing into sunlight
    peeking through the blinds,
    my mother
    purple in her agony,
    my father
    nowhere to be found.


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