Well, nearly four years, actually. Yes, it's been that long since the last Iron Pen challenge, and so many things have happened in our lives. But one thing that remains constant is that there are people here at CFC who enjoy writing, reading, and providing feedback and encouragement to authors both new and veteran. For the eighth installment of this contest, three intrepid authors have agreed to meet and compete in Iron Pen Stadium, testing their skills by writing a short story within a specified time period, word count, and incorporating a secret theme which will not be revealed to them until the competition starts. Because this is a competition and there will be voting to determine a winner, each contestant is identified by a Pen Name. This is so the stories will be judged solely on their own merits, without regard to the true identities of the authors. After the voting is over, the authors' names will be revealed. Contestants, please take note: Your stories will be judged partly on the following requirements: Length. The stories must be a minimum of 500 words, not counting the title (yes, you need a title!). The maximum number of words allowed is 1000. Mechanics. Please proofread your story for spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Typos can happen, but overall presentation does matter. Entertainment. The end goal of any story is to make it enjoyable for the readers, whether they find it engaging, funny, thought-provoking, scary, etc. Secret Theme. Iron Pen is much like the Iron Chef TV program, in that the competitors are expected to incorporate a "secret ingredient/theme" they are not told until the competition begins. It is up to the competitors how they interpret and incorporate the secret theme into their stories. It is up to the readers to judge how effectively they have accomplished this. Please keep CFC forum rules in mind. If your story requires profanity, please refer to CFC's guidelines. Iron Pen authors don't get a break with the autocensor. If you're uncertain about a word or phrase, feel free to PM me for guidance. I will be available during this 48-hour period if you have any questions about this or any other aspects of the competition. A note about word count: I reserve the right to disqualify any story that is under the minimum or over the maximum. This is in the interest of fairness to all contestants. The competitors will have 48 hours from the time stamp of this introductory post to write and submit their stories to me, via PM, so that I may post them. I will not accept any submissions during the first 24 hours. After the 48 hours are up, I will post all the stories, along with a poll so voting can take place. Because different word processing programs can have different ways of determining word count, I ask that the contestants use this online word-counting site to determine word count (copy/paste your story into the field and it will give you the word count; don't worry about #of characters, #of paragraphs, etc.). And now the time has come to begin the competition. Please welcome the challengers: Our first competitor is Iron Pen Bronze Pencil. Our second competitor is Iron Pen Maximus. Our third competitor is Iron Pen Quiver. The three worthy opponents take their places at equal distances from each other on the floor of Iron Pen Stadium, where they find all manner of writing implements and supplies both ancient and modern - everything an author could possibly need to turn out a well-crafted story. The only thing they will need to bring with them is their own creativity. The Hostess of Iron Pen Stadium comes forward, and announces the secret theme that each writer will use in the stories: Balloons and Heroes and Mazes, Oh My! The three contestants exchange puzzled glances. They are uncertain, as the normal way of an Iron Pen competition is a single theme that must be interpreted by each contestant as he or she sees fit. Surely the Hostess can't mean them to incorporate all three of these into the same story... can she? The Hostess smiles reassuringly. "Because so much time has passed and so many possible themes came to mind, I found it impossible to choose just one. Therefore, you may also choose. Each contestant will write a story incorporating one of these themes. It's your choice, and there are no limits as to how many of you may choose a single theme. You may also incorporate two or more if you wish. "You may use any genre, any time, and any setting. The choice is completely up to you. You may interpret the theme as you wish - either literally or metaphorically, as it pleases you." Iron Pen Challengers, your 48 hours start NOW. When you are finished, please PM your stories to me and I will post them for you. May your Muse smile on your efforts. We, your audience, await your stories.