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Old 11-20-2007, 05:28 AM   #1
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**MCL CONTEST SUBMISSIONS -- READ & VOTE NOW**

Congratulations! We received 12 entries! That's fantastic. Now, it's time for the AW folks to judge them. Each AWer may vote one (1) time via PM. Each entry is below, posted anonymously here. People who entered may also vote.

To vote ...
  1. Create a Private Message address to me.
  2. Subject line should read "MCL Contest Vote"
  3. Choose the three entries that best suit the contest description (below) and put them in rank order from first to third. The body of your email might look like this:

    1, 7, 12

  4. You may include comments. Put those AFTER your vote. Try to keep each comment 30 words or less. I'll include comments when I announce winners. If you're making a comment about a specific entry, be sure to say something like this:

    12. Great entry, flowed well.
Votes must be received by PM no later than 8:45 p.m. EST, Thursday, Nov. 22.


You can, may and should discuss the entries here. As always, your feedback means plenty to the entrants. So, be constructive, be fair, but do offer feedback. Again, the discussion thread is here.

To reprise, contestants were asked to write a vignette about the person described here:
"Brenda Karricker is a ranch hand in Montana who has spent the last three seasons working the 99ers Ranch outside of Butte. No one's sure how or why Brenda traveled from Maryland to Montana, however, they are all sure this mother of three and former investment banker left plenty behind to come work here."
The entries follow. Good luck to all contestants and let the voting begin!

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:29 AM   #2
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Entry #1 by WittyandorIronic

Scoop, lift, dump. Scoop, lift, dump. The hard dirt floor was gradually revealed beneath fouled straw as the tines stirred flies and scent.

Scoop, lift, dump.

"Karricker."


She paused and peeked out the stall to see Dave at the stable entrance. All the hands called from a distance rather than come upon her unaware. It hadn't taken long to realize 'courtesy' at 99ers Ranch was to quietly accept, rather than express interest.

Wave. Get back to work. Don't ogle.


Brenda smiled as Dave sauntered closer and ducked back into the stall. Her litanies were for comfort now rather than survival, but sometimes they were still useful. Dave was what Miranda, her oldest, termed, “Arrogant with cause." Dark hair, cowboy hat, and a lean form hardened by ranch work made him more than tempting, as he well knew.


"Hank wants you," he said, skirting the wheel barrow to enter the stall. The Montana accent was unique. It didn't twang like the southeast or disregard certain letters like Boston or her native Maryland. Nope. Montanans' were typified by slowly speaking the fewest words possible.


Dave stepped closer, forcing her to look up and her stomach to drop. She was half tempted to retreat, and half tempted to run a hand through her auburn hair to dislodge the straw she was certain peppered it. She did neither.

He took the pitch fork. "I'll finish for you."


"Thanks." She nodded, dropped her gaze.


She peeled off her leather gloves before grabbing her jacket. She tried to edge past him, but was stopped short as his arm barred her way, his hand at her waist. Her heart lurched, discomfort and attraction rising competitively. Her already large eyes widened.


"If you need anything, I'm here." His blue gaze was searching and the heat of his hand penetrated through the fabric of her flannel.


Her gaze flickered between him and the sanctuary of the stall gate. Before she was capable of responding he released her, and relieved she ducked her head and scurried through the door.


Inhale, walk, exhale. Don't run. She shoved her arms into the sleeves of her jacket, hurrying past stalls and tack. Dave had always flirted with her, made passes, but he had never accosted her before. Touched, she sternly corrected. Although it had taken years, Brenda was able to differentiate between being accosted, and a man touching her.

She walked towards the office, wondering if she was finally able to appreciate that difference as well.

* * *

"You knew." Montana had influenced her. Accusation, fear, fury; all of it contained in two low, slow words. Dave stopped shoveling but didn't turn.

She had been just as curt with the lawyer in the tin shack office. He had served her papers, snidely explaining that she was lucky no criminal charges had been sought, just an upcoming divorce and custody hearing. He was lucky she hadn't kicked his ass, Brooks Brothers suit and all.

"Why'd you let me walk in there blind? Aren't we at least friends?" Her jumble of dark emotions coalesced into anger. She was angry with the smug lawyer, and angry with Dave for distracting her from his ominous words with a teasing touch. She was angry at herself. She had changed her hair, her job, her life, but it hadn't been enough. Baltimore to Butte hadn’t been far enough.


But the real source of her simmering anger was Max.

It was just like him to find her here, now. Her teenage years were spent in the shadow of Max's popularity. Her college abandoned when they accidentally started a family, though he, of course, had graduated. Her career as an investment banker had been spent as his glorified secretary. All fifteen years focused on his success, and conversely her perceived failures.


“Pay more attention, smile, keep his dinner hot, don’t make him mad.” She spent hours berating herself, trying to obey all his rules, but her consistent failure earned his wrath. Now she had done something on her own, struggled to succeed, and here Max was to snatch it away.

Dave turned with narrowed eyes. "Friends know if their friends are married. Maybe I thought we were 'at least friends' too." He leaned against the rough timber wall. "Maybe we were both wrong."


Brenda looked up and down the stable row before entering the stall. "That's bullshit, Dave. This isn't a joke. This is my life, and my babies' lives."

At the mention of her girls, he softened. Miranda, Joyce, and Allie were well known and loved by the ranch staff.


"Don't tell me some stiff suit can scare a girl like you."


“Girls like me? You think Hank often hires girls with more pageant experience than horse sense? You think I came here out of some burning desire to tend cattle? Who that lawyer represents scares me. Why else would I be here?"

"I don't know, Brenda. That's the problem. You've kept me in the dark for three years. Don't shut me out and then expect me to have your back in a situation I know nothing about."

Brenda opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. He was right. She had isolated herself, given nothing, and now expected loyalty and friendship. Needed his support.


Inhale, exhale. She rubbed a hand over her eyes.

He pulled her into his arms and stroked a hand up her back.

Despite a touch of unease, she leaned into his embrace. Her need for comfort was stronger.

"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."

"No, you're right," she spoke into his chest.


“What does he want?”

She swallowed hard before replying, "I won't let him have my girls."

“’Course not."

"He doesn't even want them. He just wants to hurt me."


At her whisper he stilled. "I won't let him, Brenda.”

With a finger at her chin he forced her blue eyes up to meet his own possessive gaze. “I'll help protect you, if you let me."

Say yes.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:29 AM   #3
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Entry #2 -- Snow Ghosts by orchDork

After three years Brenda Karriker still had difficulty with the foreign sound of her name. Yet, she smiled to herself. Well, not really. She smiled with Barney, her favorite pinto. It seemed as if he was smiling too.
Brenda was momentarily upset when the foreman picked her to get the dairy cow from the east forty. On the way to the barn her displeasure quickly passed as the seasons first snow began to fall. Grabbing her tack, Brenda noticed Barney poking his head out of the stall. “You’re so nosy! Wanna come?”

Barney nickered in response.
“Alright, but no complaints when the old cow decides she doesn’t want to come home.”
There was no wind, and the usual smell of the ranch was cleansed with huge snow flakes exploding on Barney’s ears. Heading away from the warm barn, the glow from the yard light faded in the thick snow.
Brenda felt warm and comfortable in her Eddy Bauer rain suit. Wow, I’m in a good mood. I’m smiling again! Barney picked up on her vibes and perked his ears. The guys at the ranch always gave her a hard time about her jacket. There were times when she came back from a long day’s work tired but dry. They on the other hand were tired, wet, and cold.
Even though it was dark, the snow covering the stunted grass enabled Brenda to see a short distance. Barney’s thick coat was encrusted with ice and the snow was now accumulating on her. Brenda didn’t bother to brush it off. She imagined they were almost perfectly camouflaged. Horse and Rider slowly rode into the foothills as if they were the only beings in the universe.
The ride to the east forty wasn’t far, and Brenda told her three children she would be back in a couple of hours if all went well. At the base of a small valley between hills she reached for the compass around her neck. The small radium dial told her she needed to bear left.
She smiled. Brenda’s three boys, teenagers now, each owned their own compass. She liked to think the simple device was all they needed to guide them in life. Since living in Montana, she and her boys learned “Ranch Ethics”. The 99er’s Ranch taught them the meaning of ethics in a way Brenda had never thought possible.
It seemed as if the boys turned into men in the short time they’d lived there. Now when they promised to do a task they did it without complaint no matter how tired, cold or wet they became. On repeated occasions, they’d expressed a desire to stay at the 99er’s forever.
If only it was that simple. She couldn’t stop the thought.
She only needed four more years for the statute of limitations to run out on Duroc.
It all started innocent enough. Brenda, at the time known as Karen Ricter, graduated from Carlson School of Management top of the class. Duroc’s executive board offered her the dream job of a lifetime. She married her college lover and quickly had three sons. Daycare raised the boys while she and her husband pursued their careers.
Karen’s husband was tragically killed in a car accident when the boys were young. After grieving, Karen knew she needed a plan to save her family from the Machiavellian life she led.
It took approximately ten years of extremely hard work. With every bonus and raise Karen received, she took stock options instead of money. Once Karen proved herself as a ruthless business woman to the executives, she set up the Duroc board members to take the money and run from the remains of a once great company.
Karen did it all for her family and had an escape route designed well in advance. With clean identities for them all, she even had the job offer at the 99er’s Ranch, the last place anyone would think to look for Karen Ricter.
In the days before her meeting with the board, Karen sold everything she owned. All of her stock, her home, the car, and the cabin in the mountains. With $7.2 million in a Cayman Islands account and four one way tickets to Montana in her briefcase, Karen walked into the boardroom and gave them her final advice; sell everything - now.
Some of them were shocked, others smiled and complimented her on the fine job she’d done. After the meeting Karen transformed into Brenda and disappeared with her sons.
At first it seemed as if the authorities ignored her role in the fiasco, but one month later there was an all-out search for Karen Ricter. She hadn’t been found. Brenda allowed herself to relax and finally got to know her boys. Together, they learned to live their new life honestly.
Brenda and Barney’s rise in elevation put them in an area of stubby spruce trees. One, covered with snow, loomed unseen next to her and she started when Barney’s shoulder brushed it. Her eyes were adapted to the gloom, but with the heavily falling snow she couldn’t see past 50 yards.
Barney picked his way through the spruce and emerged in the middle of the pass. Brenda peered into the swirling flakes, looking for the pasture gate and sure enough she saw a black form take shape. Relief flowed through her. The old cow had a tendency to forget where the gate was and would stand in the corner of the forty waiting for one of the ranch hands to lead her home for the evening milking.
As they moved closer, an unexpected green flash caught her eye, followed by an equally bright red flash. She stopped Barney immediately. They stood, invisible snow ghosts, watching as another shape walked from the flashing red and green lights to the shape at the corner of the forty. It wasn’t the cow, it was two men. They obviously didn’t see her.
Brenda watched silently as a wisp of wind revealed a helicopter.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:30 AM   #4
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Entry #3 by c.e. lawson

Damn foreman, leaving her up here alone. Sean Garrison’s jeep bucked and brawled its way up the gently-sloped but rocky north hill of the 99ers Ranch. He scanned the hillside as he bounced around in his seat, looking for the ranch hand repairing the downed barb wire fence. She should have been back for lunch already. So where was she? From what he’d been told, the broken fence lay just around the bank of trees on his left. He down-shifted and revved the engine to climb over a small boulder, then veered left around a ponderosa pine. There. Even from fifty yards off, he knew he’d found Brenda. Her sleek brown ponytail shone amber in the sun, but even if it had been covered with a cowboy hat, he’d still have recognized her. Her slender, unmistakably feminine form would was obvious under the typical blue jeans and tee shirt of the ranch’s staff. Then he noticed something odd. Brenda wasn’t working. She sat on a tree stump, rocking slowly back and forth. As he slowed the jeep to a halt, he cursed under his breath. He’d had been right to come and check on her after her phone had rung unanswered for the last half hour. Sean jumped out and hurried the last few yards to her.

Brenda looked up as he approached, her blue eyes wide. She held her right arm in her left, close to her body. Dark drops of crimson dripped slowly off her arm. A small black pool of it lay on the dry earth beneath her. Sean knelt before her and saw a gaping cut in her right forearm.

“Brenda, what happened?”

“I cut it on the wire.”

“Looks like you’re going to need a few stitches.”

Her lips tightened as she nodded.

He put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Honey, why didn’t you call for help?” His voice was soft and non-scolding.

A flush of red covered her cheeks and she looked away as she answered, “I couldn’t remember the number.”

Against his will, his eyes traveled to behind her left ear where a pink, jagged scar ran a two inch span just along her hairline. He grimaced. He always grimaced when he saw that scar. “Shit, Brenda—John should have given you the damn number.”

“He tried.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I…told him I knew it. And I did. But when this happened, I…” She glanced down at her arm and back up at him. “I just…couldn’t remember.” She dropped her head again. “Damn it, Sean. I’ve worked here for three years and I still can’t remember the bloody number?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone forgets things when they’re scared or upset.” He knew that sounded lame. But it was true, in part. Her memory had improved considerably since the weeks following the accident. If not for instances like this, no one would even know there’d been a time when she couldn’t even tell someone what she’d had for breakfast. ‘Where’s your phone?”

Following the tilt of her head, he saw it lying open on the ground several feet to her right. He picked it up and heard a busy signal. He glanced at the display. She’d come within one digit of the ranch’s number.

Then he heard her crying. “Hey,” he said softly, turning back to her. “It’s okay. We’ll get this taken care of.” He put his arm around her shoulders and helped her stand. “Come on. Let’s get you to the clinic.”

A few minutes later they were heading back down the way he’d come as Brenda leaned her head against the passenger headrest, eyes closed.

“I’m going to say twenty-four. Care to take a guess?” Sean tried to keep his voice light.

She kept her eyes closed as she answered, “Twenty-four what?”

“Stitches.”

There was a pause before she responded, “Sean, I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

“This.” His hands gripped the steering wheel more tightly as he waited for her to finish. “This pretending I can handle everyday life.”

“But you can.”

She sat up and turned to him. “God, Sean – what if it had been one of the girls hurt? And I’m fumbling around not able to remember a damn phone number!”

“Your girls are fine. You’re a great mom.”

She drew in a shaky breath and sat back, closing her eyes again. “I feel like it’s all a big act. And everyone’s going to find me out.”

He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. She wasn’t looking at him. He reached out and fingered some stray hairs back from her cheek and stroked the side of her head. “Baby, we all feel like that once in a while.”

“Try feeling like that everyday.”

“I’m sorry.” He whispered the words and she turned to him. “I’m sorry that driver skidded on the ice. I’m sorry you lost so much that night. But you’re strong. You survived. You came here and built a new life. And I know your daughters are happy. I see it.”

Her eyes glistened, and for a moment he thought she was going to cry again. It hit him then—how long it had been since he’d seen her cry before today. But she didn’t cry. She just leaned her head against him.

“You can do this,” he said. “You’ve been doing it. Everyday.”

She gave a little sigh.

They sat there, quiet, at the edge of the road, no sounds but the occasional car passing by and the gentle rhythm of her breathing. He waited, not knowing what else to say, hoping she could see what he saw.

A few minutes later she broke the silence. “All right. Eighteen.”

“Eighteen? What?”

“Eighteen stitches.”

He kissed the top of her head and smiled as cool relief washed over him. “You’ve always been an optimist. Come on. Let’s get you to Dr. Wilson.”

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:31 AM   #5
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Entry #4 by C.bronco

There were three shots: the first hit her shoulder, the second grazed her ear, and the third hit her heart. Brenda Karricker’s weighted body shifted into the sediment where the Wye River met Chesapeake Bay as Brenda Karricker pulled up to her brother’s house and packed her three daughter’s into their new Lexus LX. She told the girls that it would be a new start, and they would meet better people and hopefully a new dad. Alex and Allie whined moderately, but were easy enough to convince. Olivia, who was fifteen and had a steady boyfriend, was another story. She made the drive out miserable. They were headed for Seattle, but when Brenda stopped for an overnight in Butte, Montana, one night turned into a week, and then a month.

Three years later, the novelty of physical labor at the 99ers ranch was wearing off, despite the eye candy she found on the job every season. Her daughter, Olivia, saved enough money to move to California after graduating from high school, and then left almost immediately. Allie and Alex were a lot easier to manage, and had a few years to go before they got attitudes. Things were okay; Brenda had her eye on a few men, but still hadn’t come across anyone like David Karricker. She hated being lonely. She told herself many times: “I had no choice. David was going to turn me in.” It didn’t help most of the time. He never would have left Brenda anyway.


The “investment banker leaves behind her worldly possessions to live in the country” mystique intrigued a lot of the other patrons in M&M’s bar. It also explained why she didn’t own any designer clothes. “It’s too painful to talk about life in Maryland,” Brenda said time and again, and that usually put a stop to further inquiries. Everyone figured that she’d been beaten by her ex-husband. It wasn’t true; she had two ex-husbands and neither one beat her, though they both turned out to be scum.

Brenda didn’t look bad for thirty-eight. Once she’d lost the baby weight from Alex, she hadn’t gained a pound of it back. Most of the women she knew were jealous; they called her a “stick” or “too skinny,” but they just complained because they let themselves go. That’s why their husbands were out at the bar hanging out with her while they were at home watching reruns of Dancing with the Stars.

She did still keep in touch with her parents, in a round-about way. She used the internet to make it seem like she was traveling abroad with David for the first few months. Then she explained that they’d broken up. The girls went along with it, no questions asked. They started to believe everything she told them after a while. She’d told her brother, Vince, that Brenda Karricker ended up in a mental institution after David left her, and knowing his gossiping, it must have spread like wildfire. As long as no one from Silver Spring, Maryland came to Butte, Montana, no one ever had to know that her real name was Stacy Torcini.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:31 AM   #6
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Entry #5 by nessam

Brenda hurriedly walked down the dusty path to the outer gate of the ranch. With a loud screech she pulled the gate open just enough for her to slip through. The wind blew dust up all over her face. She jerked a rag from her pocket and wiped the dust and sweat that had turned to mud from her face.
She took one last long drag of her cigarette before throwing it down and smashing it with her boot. ‘Why is the bus never on time?’ She thought to herself as she nervously tapped her boot on the gate.
Finally the bus turned the corner in the distance. It sped down the dirt road as this was the only stop within miles. The brakes began to squeal as the bus rolled to a stop. First Megan, her oldest, bounced off the bus and ran down the path toward the ranch.
“Nice to see you too,” Brenda yelled after her.
“Hi Mom, I got an A on my math test,” her youngest Diana showed her proudly.
Last her son and middle child stepped off the bus. The bus pulled away with another blast of dust flying all over them.
“What is it today?” she asked him.
He refused to look at her. It was always something with Brian. He was the Karma of all her sins wrapped into one small eight year old body.
He handed her a note addressed to Ms. Karricker, “It’s from my teacher,” he stared down at the ground smashing a pebble into the dirt.
She opened the letter “Ms. Karricker, Brian was found cheating on his spelling test today. Please call to schedule a conference immediately. Mrs. Brown.”
Brenda clutched the note in her hand, “We will talk about this after dinner. Go get washed up.”
She lit a cigarette and began her walk back to the ranch house. She sucked the cigarette as though it would somehow provide an escape from this day or from her life. As she neared the door she flung the cigarette away.
She took a roast from the oven and sat it on the counter to cool. She saw her reflection in the window. Her face looked drawn and much older than it had only two years earlier. She sat down at the table and buried her face in her hands.
Brian her only son was so much like his father, Matt. Every time she looked in his amber eyes she was haunted by memories of her past. How was she going to break the cycle of destruction Matt had caused them?
Brian was the only one who looked like his father. The girls looked like her, tall and thin with auburn hair and eyes that glowed like emeralds. Brian, however, was shorter and stockier. He seemed to saunter in and out of trouble on a daily basis.
She had left her former life behind in order to save her son from his father’s mistakes. Brian was still angry that his father had left them. Brenda never told them the truth of the matter.
“Mom, is dinner ready yet?” Megan came into the kitchen with the phone attached to her ear.
“Yes get off that phone and come set the table.” Brenda finished preparing the meal while trying not to think of her past.
The four of them ate dinner with surprisingly few arguments. Brenda thanked God for small wonders. Brian finished his dinner and started to dart away.
“Brian, you will sit and wait while I clear the table. We have to talk.”
Brian turned back and sulked in the chair. When she finished with the after dinner clean up she sat across from him.
“Tell me about the spelling test.” She lifted his chin in order for him to look at her.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
They went on with this conversation for a while. She asked questions and he refused to answer them. When she was tired of this she finally slammed her fist down on the table and stood up. He looked up at her with fear and shock in his eyes. She had seen this expression before just as the police came and took her husband away.
She sent Brian to bed and went out to the front porch. She sat in the porch swing and lit a cigarette. How had she gotten here she wondered.
She was a successful investment banker for a large firm in Maryland when she met Matt. She had the fairy tale romance with Matt. He swept her off her feet and months later asked her to marry him. One evening after dinner the police knocked on the door and arrested him for embezzlement. She stood by him through the trial. She never believed he could do such a thing. When they brought out the offshore accounts in her name she nearly fainted in the courtroom.
After his conviction he begged her not to divorce him. She just could not imagine staying with him any longer. She could not show her face at the firm anymore. All of her colleagues stared at her with a sympathetic, how could you be so blind, look.
She decided then to move to Montana and help her Uncle on the 99ers Ranch. She did not love her work. She loved nothing about the small towns around them. She missed the cities and the people of the North East. She loved her children more though.
Brenda flung her cigarette across the porch. She knew she was doing the right thing for her children. Her resolve strengthened as she turned to go back into the house. She could make it one more day or one more year. She would do what she had to, to keep her children away from him. Matt would be out of prison in one month. He would never think to look for them here.

Last edited by jst5150; 11-24-2007 at 05:21 AM.
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