Thanks for playing! Your stories were fantastic, as always. If you missed any of them, check them out here. Otherwise, let's get on to the judging:
No little green men were harmed in the judging of this week's Finish That Thought. But a lot of other things happened:
Clive Tern begins an ambitious attempt to bridge three different writing contests with one overarching story. Though the names and geography of this world are different, the familiar touches in the story bring us into the world just as it begins to fall apart. By the end, the story achieves some closure for the protagonist, yet still builds tension for the upcoming conflict.
Lauren Greene goes and lets California be swallowed by the ocean. I enjoyed the nonplussed reactions of most of the characters. Their concerns are with landmarks, sports teams, wine, and Amazon (which thankfully is safe and sound in Seattle). The husband cannot even be bothered to wake up, and the cat provides the ultimate perspective by simply continuing to groom herself.
Holly Geely's protagonist reaction to whole planets vanishing seems tragically realistic. After all the news reports, conspiracy theories, and the arrival of aliens, this protagonist cannot even name the "astronomists" or their "radar thingy". The irony of the title is that even though Mars is literally missing, we see in the downer ending that the protagonist is actually missing Earth.
Michael Simko's narrator editorializes about everything: poets, hippies, even his friends' names. (Not that I judge. Even though technically I am the judge.) I enjoyed the asides and the overall casual nature of the narration in what otherwise ought to be a horror story. As with all good horror stories, this one doesn't show us too much of the monster.
Michael Seese gives the most straightforward description of a fat cat I've read all night: "four-legged bag of trouble". Likewise, the description of small-town life and its boredom might be exaggerated, but only slightly. As alien invasions go, this is a fun romp with a rare happy ending for both Earth and the invaders.
Nancy Chenier packs a lot of family backstory into the word limit, without it feeling like an info-dump. We see three generations of a family: a fantasy-prone but sensible kid, a hard-hearted dad who softens with the unexpected return of a long-lost pet, and a grandfather whose tall tales turn out not quite so tall.
Christy skewers cheesy investigation shows. The investigative team here is so jaded by hoaxers that, when they ultimately stumble into a real close encounter and get plenty of video evidence, they still worry about how to make it look better in post-production.
MRMacrum gives us all six special challenge prompts, along with a bizarre glimpse into an alternate universe with a tabby mayor and canine sheriff unaware of the puns their existence has set up, victimized by an alien with a device that allows him to steal chocolate cake interdimensionally.
Ian P's "The Aliens" is notably the only story that played the prompt completely straight, with no modifications. Written in the form of an eyewitness account of a puzzling encounter, it raises a very important question: why was Donald Schmidt taking infrared photos of an overweight tabby cat in the dark with his friends?
Special Challenge Champion: MRMacrum: You included all six words into the story, and in ways integral to the story. Without the overweight cat and dog sheriff, much of the wordplay would have been lost. The chocolate cake sets up the mystery for the story, and the Mars-bound freight-riding alien hobo is, somehow, its natural solution.
Grand Champion: Nancy Chenier. You developed each of the characters and their backstories smoothly and naturally: the kid who enjoys sci-fi and his grandpa's wild tales, the emotionally-distant divorced dad struggling with an alcohol problem. Even the "sandbag of a cat" with the "milky-way stripe down its belly" is beautifully described. For a story about a cat returning from space, this was a surprisingly down-to-earth and touching story of a family in need of healing.