NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: Unplanned


June 2022 (Round Two)
Genre: Romance
Word: Mine
Action: Hanging Wet Clothes to Dry
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

Emmy’s newborn mewl rattles my sleep-deprived brain as I hang her soiled, wet pajamas on the shower rod. This was never part of my plan—the fling turned unexpected pregnancy turned—

Emmy falls silent, and I freeze, ears straining. Did she smother? I rush from the bathroom and find Jake stretched on the carpet, humming “Baby Mine” with our tiny daughter curled on his bare chest. He peeks at me with a soft smile before inviting me in with an outstretched arm.

I slide into his warm, solid embrace, and everything else melts away in this perfection I never could’ve planned.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one placed second in my group and got me to the final round! The feedback is below!


{1943}  Oh my gosh, this was a lovely romance! I loved the unexpected nature of the ending, after you set up our anticipation of a bittersweet outcome from a “fling turned unexpected pregnancy”. The image of Jake on the floor with the baby was delightful. My heart melted at the end, as he invited her to join the embrace with the baby. Wonderful!

{1963}  This piece subtly explores the theme of life’s unpredictability, and whether it ultimately is a positive or negative thing. The unplanned pregnancy, the fear of a spontaneous death — the gloomy atmosphere gives way to the realisation that things worked out well quite by accident; perhaps fate is not so cruel after all?

{2121}  Despite the narrator’s doubts and stress at the beginning of the story, revealing that none of the following events or situation she finds herself in was planned, she realizes by the end that some of the best things in life are entirely unplanned, precisely because they never would’ve happened had they been.  


{1943}  I thought your story was beautifully written. I would think about maybe adding some more sensory details to your narrative. You might also think about how to show the  mother’s panic, rather than telling us with “I freeze, ears straining”. I loved “did she smother?” but maybe this could stand alone, perhaps even using italics? I think there was more scope to create a very dramatic, heart stopping moment here?    

{1963}  The wording of the opening takes a couple of reads to understand that Emmy is the newborn, not that Emmy has a newborn. Additionally the hyphenation seems to artificially reduce the word count. Avoid risky tricks like these! You might be able to cut “Did she smother” to make room for small adjustments, since this doesn’t add anything not already implied by the rest of the story. 

{2121}  Instead of dwelling on how this was unplanned, the narrator could potentially express some conflicted feelings on new motherhood, another level of challenging because it was unplanned. Doing so would make her realization at the end that much more satisfying and coming full circle.

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

Nothing Good Happens after midnight

April 2022 (Round One)
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Word: Think
Action: Borrowing a Tool
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

The doorbell rings again as I stumble through my dark apartment. Bleary-eyed, I open the door to find Nate in a dripping windbreaker.

Weird, I didn’t hear the rain.

“Dude, it’s three a.m.” I squeeze my temples, barely able to think after our boozy night. “Weren’t you staying at Mia’s? Did you fight?”

His gaze darkens. “Dylan, we’re friends, right?”

“Yeah.” I stifle a yawn. “You can crash on the—”

“I need to borrow something.”

My skin prickles in the balmy night. “What?”

“A shovel.”

My eyes finally focus, and I realize it’s not rain on his jacket.

It’s blood.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one placed third in my group and got me to the next round! The feedback is below!


{2195}  The word choice in this is precise, each description carrying weight to further the story. Moving plot onward using conversation can be challenging but it’s done effectively here.

{1936}  This story had me riveted. The first line shows us the urgency of the doorbell as it’s clearly not the first time it’s rung. The dripping windbreaker and the fact that it’s not raining – again, eerie clues that something is not quite right.

{2230}  What a compelling read! I must say, I love this title — very clever, and it offers great foreshadowing as to what kind of events may unfold. I like how descriptive this story is; I could easily envision this playing out in my head while I read it, almost like a scene from a spooky short film. It’s very visual, and that reveal at the end is great: the jacket was wet with blood, and not from the rain.  


{2195}  Suspense thrives on what is left unsaid, and in this case I might prefer to leave out the last two words and leave the reader’s mind to figure out. Instead of using italics for thought, it may do double duty to have Dylan, for example, look up the cloudless sky and also let the reader make that inference.  

{1936}  I honestly don’t think that last line is needed (the age-old “show don’t tell” rule). Possibly consider ending it with the line just before it (“My eyes finally focus, and I realize it’s not rain on his jacket”). Trust the readers to draw their own grisly conclusion.  

{2230}  While I love this clever use of the prompts — particularly, “borrowing a tool” — perhaps there could be a quick line buttoning everything up at the end. Maybe something almost comedic, like: “And, uh, mind if I use your washer, too?” (Referring to his blood-soaked clothes.) Also, any chance there could be some foreshadowing earlier on? I like Dylan’s dialogue; however, instead of asking if there had been a fight last night, perhaps he could experience a brief flashback revealing that there in fact was one. It could all come flooding back to him. This is just some food for thought — excellent work on this story!

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: A Ghost at the End of the World

A Ghost at the end of the world

December 2021 (Round Two)
Genre: Ghost Story
Word: Agree
Action: Pulling a String
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 250 words

Tara woke slowly in her bedroom, the oppressive air silent and thick on her damp skin. She placed her bare feet on the rough wooden floor and considered the peeling floral wallpaper marked with rows of neat tallies.

Today was the day.

She rose and glided through the creaking farmhouse to the decrepit kitchen where her parents awaited. Her mother bustled between the sink, oven, and refrigerator—not at all bothered that they’d ceased to work years ago. The rocking chair swayed in the corner where her father gazed out the broken bay windows, surveying their overgrown lawn, forlorn without his attentions. In death, they orbited the house as they had in life, like a black and white photograph that refused to fade.

Here, at the end of times, Tara wasn’t sure what to make of them. After all, in an emptied world, perhaps Tara was just another unwitting phantom.

“Today’s the day.” She pulled at a rogue string on her fraying t-shirt, the line of pills waiting on the table. “I can’t do this anymore.”

No reaction. If her parents disagreed with her choice, they didn’t show it.

Tara picked up the first capsule and raised it to her mouth.

The screen door banged open, and Tara nearly leapt out of her skin. She turned to find a wide-eyed stranger standing at her door. Trembling, he fell to his knees. “Are you… a ghost?”

Tara squeezed her hand around the pill, a slow smile curving her lips. “I guess not.”

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one didn’t place, but the feedback is below!


{2104}  You successfully created a setting that was evocative and ghostlike. The line about the end of times combined with the reference to an emptied world gave your story a feeling of loneliness that came across very clearly.

{2086}  This story creates a superb sense of atmosphere, in a setup that is equally original. From the non-functional appliances to the overgrown lawn, and the dark decision that Tara has reached, the narrative exudes presence and mood.

{2035}  I loved the repetition in Tara’s life with the ghosts that surrounded her. The paragraph about her family going through orbits was particularly compelling, drawing us into Tara’s reality.


{2104}  I found myself confused about Tara and her place and role in the house. You wrote some things that suggested that she is also a ghost:

#1 – she glided through the farmhouse,

#2 – the appliances were not working so if she were alive, how would she be able to feed herself,

#3 – you suggest that she might be an “unwilling phantom”.

At the same time, you make suggestions that she is corporeal:

#1 – her skin is damp,

#2 – she is about to take some pills suggesting suicide, however this could be just the repetition of her death,

#3 – the stranger at the door asking if she were a ghost, yet he might be a recent ghost not realizing that he is also dead.

Was this house real or was it a stopping off place for the newly dead? Is Tara’s role to meet them?

These were all questions that went through my head as I read. I think your story would have been made even stronger if the ending were more clear.

{2086}  It might be interesting to consider whether there is some specific reason the stranger shows up at the moment Tara is about to take the line of pills she has set up for herself. This coincidence creates a compelling twist, but with even more context or catalytic purpose, it might land just that much more effectively.

{2035}  To me, it was a little too unclear who the man was that bounded through her front door. I think that trimming back some of the detailed description in the first paragraph would free up six or so words you could utilize in the ending to clarify the man’s sudden appearance.

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: Two Truths and One Lie

Two Truths and one lie

October 2021 (Round One)
Genre: Horror
Word: Wine
Action: Taking a Lie Detector Test
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 250 words

Matthew squirmed in the unforgiving metal chair, his chest heaving against the instrumentation strapped tightly across it and his fingers twitching under the galvanometer bands. Behind the desk, Agent Carlson studied the polygraph’s steadily scratching needles.

Wiping his clammy forehead, Matthew worked his rough tongue in his desert-like mouth, trying to find words as thirst raked his thoughts. “Could I please get some water?”

Carlson leaned forward across the polished desk, his midnight gaze intent beneath his bushy brows. “First, I’ll need you to tell that story of how your wife died. For the machine.”

Matthew flinched, the memory knifing into him as he recounted Ana’s murder for the twelfth time. The dark figure approaching their campfire. The wrongness of it—no nose, no hair, no eyelids—just a white, serrated smile beneath glinting eyes. How quickly it had grabbed Ana… and how slowly it had sunk its teeth into her. How it had stood, unwavering, as Matthew tried to pry the screaming Ana from its immutable grasp, until, at last, she fell silent. And how the creature had smiled as it chewed each chunk of flesh, meeting Matthew’s horrified gaze as it sipped the blood from his wife’s wounds like a fine wine.

“And it didn’t bite you?” Carlson asked, just as he had the first eleven times.

Matthew paused, the thirst drowning everything else out as the pain and fear and frustration hardened into something wholly new. “No.”

The needles jumped, and Agent Carlson’s bushy brows rose one last time.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one placed in second in my group of 45ish and I got to move forward to the second round. The feedback is below!


{2144}  I really loved the artful storytelling here. I like the tension of the interrogation and the horror of this mystical-seeming beast. But I especially like the ambiguity of the end and some of the other horrible possibilities it also suggests.  

{1998}  There’s some good tension and anticipation that builds through this story. I expect some big reveal. 

{1772}  The story has a strong voice that engages the reader and helps create an effective atmosphere to chill the reader. Matthew has a clear motivation and conflict. Tension builds as the details of the plot unfold and Carlson realizes the reality of the situation.


{2144}  I would love if there was a line somewhere in the description of the attack that implied that Matthew could be implicated in the incident, like that he went to comfort his wife and got blood on him. It would add to the ambiguity at the end. I would also like to know what happened to the creature after it feasted on Ana; did it try to attack Matthew at all, or did it just leave? It does seem mysterious that he might’ve gotten away completely unscathed.

{1998}  The ending isn’t as clear as I hoped as a reader. I find myself contemplating what might have happened in that room, but it’s not obvious. Did he become the creature and turn on the agent? Or what was the consequence of the lie?

{1772}  One way to develop character might be to focus on Matthew’s journey in this line of questioning. In the end, the reader might be left unsure if Matthew has been hiding his emerging identity or just fighting it, so crafting his final words to reflect the real conflict he has been facing could be one way to leave the reader with the right intention.

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: When Lucky Means Sad Too

When Lucky Means Sad too

September 2021 (Round Three)
Genre: Open
Word: Grow
Action: Chasing Something
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

We sit in the hard belly of the windowless plane, shoulder to shoulder with countless others. Although the sour reek of desperation followed us from the runway, the tension eases from Mother’s shoulders.

The plane rumbles forward, and the back door begins to close. Outside, the forsaken crowd chases the narrowing gap of hope through the dusty gunfire. Pleading hands thump against our unyielding savior, their cries growing increasingly forlorn.

The door shuts, and Mother sags, eyes glistening. “We are lucky.”

But that seems wrong. How can lucky mean sad too?

Perhaps that’s what it means to be a refugee.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one didn’t place, but the feedback is below!


{1846}  The specificity in the language and the detail are working wonderfully here to evoke emotion. For example, the detail of the windowless plane and its “hard belly” subtly reflects the hard bellies and hard lives of desperate refugees. Likewise, the description of the airplane as an unyielding savior is great. I loved the incredible image of “the forsaken crowd” that “chases the narrowing gap of hope through the dusty gunfire.” Wow! The detail of the mother’s body language, how she sags and her eyes glisten is fantastic. The lines “But that seems wrong. How can lucky mean sad too?” are heart rending, and wise.

{2059}  I loved the line “How can lucky mean sad too”. It’s such a  striking observation (and, on a side note, it’s the perfect line to incorporate into the title of this story). You also do a lovely job of fleshing out this scene (I especially liked “Outside, the forsaken crowd chases…pleading hands thump against our unyielding savior”).

{2035}  The setting details brought this world to life. I particularly liked the “sour reek,” the hands thumping against the plane, and the dust. All of it drove home the desperation and the “luck” of the protagonist’s family. 

{1943}  ‘When Lucky Means Sad Too’ was a very poignant, evocative story. I liked the description of the “sour reek of desperation” balanced against the physical signs of relief from the mother. The image of the people hitting the airplane in desperation to escape was very powerful. I loved the sense of the child processing her experience, wondering how they could be lucky in the midst of this human misery. This was powerful writing – very well done.

{1908}  I love the theme you have of luck versus sorrow. You do a great job of communicating both the relief the narrator’s mother has and the horror of the situation, especially of those left behind. It is a very moving story.


{1846}  One possible approach to revision is to give a little slice of detail specific to the narrator as an individual, and what they are leaving behind. This might be a reference to a friend, a family member, a beloved place or object in the home, or even a tradition. In order to make room for this additional information, it’s possible to cut the final line from the narrative, and make it the title. Additionally, another approach to revision is to rewrite or reimagine the phrase, “although the salary of desperation followed us from the runway” by providing a specific sensory example or description of the smell rather than the abstract “sour reek of desperation.”

{2059}  I wasn’t quite sure that the last line felt necessary to me. It’s perfectly fine, but I wondered if this story might be better off not explicitly mentioning that these characters are refugees (you do a nice job of alluding to this before that last line). This is, of course, only one reader opinion, but I’d encourage you to think about what that last line adds.

{2035}  To me, those final lines made the character seem rather young. However, the rest of the lines made them seem like an adult, well aware of the situation around them. I think exploring every line from the same vantage point if it’s in the first person would really help deliver a sense of continuity into the world from start to finish.

{1943}  Your writing is very descriptive and well polished. I wonder if the next step might be to see where you could make some more unusual or unexpected word choices. I liked the appeal to our senses with the “sour reek of desperation”. Could you convey a sense of the other sensations in the plane? What about as the door shuts, could we hear how that sounds, rather than just “shuts”? I wasn’t sure that you needed your final line, which felt like it was there to explain your plot. It was clear that they were refugees, so maybe you could use those extra words to create more sensory images in the description of their escape?

{1908}  So much of the emotional landscape is clear and well executed here, but I think that the reason for the narrator’s sorrow could be a little more clear. There are obviously a lot of awful things happening in the background of the story, but it’s not clear what the narrator is reacting to when they say that lucky can mean sad. I think you could clarify this by showing the narrator’s reaction to just one of the things you described earlier in the story. You do such a good job of showing the mother’s emotions through tiny details that only take up a few words of space, so I think you could do something similar for the narrator and even replace some of the descriptions of the mother’s emotions if necessary. I have course would love it if you could keep all of the details, but that is what I would suggest looking at since you have such a limited word count.

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: A Costly Toll

A costly Toll

July 2021 (Round Two)
Genre: Ghost Story
Word: Field
Action: Losing a Coin
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

Lured by the serene promise of Elysian Fields on the distant shore, Alex shoved through the crush of frantic souls toward the tiny skiff, while the moaning river of luminescent wraiths lapped at the rotting bank.

The cloaked ferryman silently proffered an expectant palm, and Alex fished out his coin with shaking fingers, when a jarring elbow knocked it into the swirling waters. With a panicked cry, he reached into the shallows, desperate for his lost toll.

The hungry souls yanked him in, swallowing Alex with the lost change. 

And the ferryman held out his palm to the next passenger.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one came in 7th place in my group, and I got to advance to the round 3! Feedback is below.


{1772}  Alex’s actions shape the plot and his choices make the end feel like an appropriate conclusion to his journey. The story is crafted with rich description and detail to bring the scene to life.

{2092}  The ending works well, it has that heavy sense of dread as Alex is pulled into the waters. This also adds that sense of recurrence, as the reader can expect that Alex isn’t the first or last to be taken into the river. 

{1940}  An enjoyable and horrifying piece that sets and scene and tone very well. Readers will acutely feel Alex’s despair as he drops the coin, knowing his chance of reaching Elysian Fields is gone. The last sentence where the ferryman dispassionately holds his hand for the next fare is great.


{1772}  One way to continue to develop the story might be to explore more of Alex’s character. His frantic and careless behavior might illuminate the kind of person he was in life. For example, if it is more established that he was the type of person who got what he wanted no matter what, then the end’s “moral” is even more powerful.

{2092}  The verbiage was a bit in consistent and overly complex for the actual events within the story. In multiple areas this causes the pacing to jarringly change, leading to a lack of immersion in the details. Consider reworking the story a bit more, in order to build a consistent language that continually draws the audience in. Try building the complexity based on the protagonist. The details of the world shouldn’t be more complex than Alex is, since he is our guide into those understanding those details.

{1940}  Overall, a great piece, but subtle hints into Alex’s personality could help readers to root for him. We don’t get much of a feeling for the character’s personality.