Travis Burnham

2022 Gauntlet Champion

Travis is no stranger to running, and winning, the Gauntlet. He secured the brass ring for the first time in 2016. Now, under his canine tribute pseudonym, Princess Vee, he’s back to do it again. With this alias, and even more world travels under his belt, Travis turned in some of the best stories and critiques of the 2022 tournament. His creativity with our prompts was particularly noteworthy, especially in the “Aesop’s Morality” final round. You can see just what we’re talking about below.

Excerpt From “Words Like Weapons Wondrous and Strange”


We were barreling down I-95 in a puke green AMC Gremlin, with a talking goat riding shotgun and the word golem in the rear with the hatchback open and his legs dangling out over the back bumper. We were on a rescue mission-some asshat named Caedan Fox had kidnapped my brother, Adrian.


I'm Izzie. I'm good with Names. And shotguns. Ramesses III-that's the talking goat-had a busted horn and the personality of a riled-up hornet's nest. His ears were flopping in the wind and his head was bobbing in time to the radio-Ian Bavitz laying down some sick rhymes.


Gutenberg is the bruiser in back, the word golem. Imagine a huge stack of fat dictionaries, then take away the paper and just leave the words. Vowels and consonants were fluttering off him and being pulled away in the breeze like smoke up a chimney, but then quickly replaced from some place deep inside him. His head was also keeping beat to the tunes blaring out from the thump box in back even though he preferred Bob Dylan and John Prine.


So it turned out this jackass Caedan Fox was the head bean counter at Wintle, Vornholt and Hellman, some unsavory legal firm in downtown Ironport. He was a number and facts man, and didn't have the stomach for the splendor of words, of poetry, for the rise and fall of an elegantly shaped syllable. Or in this case didn't like the words in the overly honest, hard-hitting, investigative article that my brother had published in the Iron Bugle newspaper about WV&H.


The rumor mill suggested that Fox had disappeared people before and I kept telling myself over and over that that wouldn't happen to my brother. We pulled off the highway at the Thrace rest stop. Probably the only reason anyone knew this flyspeck town at all was because of this stop. A trusted friend had set up this meeting to get some intel from a disgruntled WV&H peon. One of his roles was shredding documents late into the night, but he liked to take photos and peruse the docs before he shredded them.


A lone figure sat at one of the wooden picnic tables, silhouetted in the early morning sun. The three of us piled out of the Gremlin, the autumn leaves crunching under our feet as we walked towards the table.


Gutenberg gave voice to my thoughts as we walked. "He doesn't look like I imagined he would."

Read a sample of "Words Like Weapons Wondrous and Strange"

2022 Judges

Chy Burch, J.B. Ezar, Tobias Backman, Steven Lugo

2022 Challenges
  • Flashes of Brilliance (Flash fiction)
  • WYRM Arcade (“What Remains of Edith Finch”)
  • In the Beginning (Prologue review)
  • Aesop’s Morality (What is the opposite of a fable?)

Total Gauntleteers: 9

Hall of Fame

During our fabled run, the Gauntlet has seen first-timers win it all, and some champs do it more than once. I could give you the line about hurricanes, hospitalizations, and sleep deprivation, but you already know. Here are the Gauntleteers who showed us the most, and gave us some serious thrills. Our history’s as real as it gets.

Dimitra Nikolaidou

2021 Gauntlet Champion

Tales of the Wyrd

2021 saw the Return of the Gauntlet, and the the longest period of Sudden Death in this, or any, competition. Yet, in a year of firsts, one thing that did not change was the dominance of our Champion, Dimitra. Winning her third championship, Dimitra submitted high quality reviews and stories throughout Sudden Death, cementing her place in Gauntlet lore. She is, as ever, the Destroyer From the Mediterranean. Now you can read a sample of her 2021 winning story below.

Excerpt From “Clean Canvas” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

The woman painted on the canvas was all too familiar to him, but this wasn’t the problem. The problem was the color of her eyes; it didn’t exist.


Paul opened and closed his mouth. The champagne dripped down his fingers, pooled at his feet.


Me, Right Fucking Now it was titled. It didn’t help. It didn’t help at all.


“Paul?” he heard Andry say. “Paul.”


Her voice cut through the buzzing of a thousand primal sounds. He struggled to remember where he was.


“Andry. I’m sorry,” he told her but she didn’t stop looking at him, scared, till the sounds in his head ebbed and he was able to draw breath again.


“I’m sorry. I don’t know how that’s gotten into me. I rushed in here to celebrate, I brought us champagne,” he said, lifting the bottle. It was nearly empty now; he had drenched himself. “I was looking at the painting and you startled me. Sorry.”


Uttering words was helping him come around, slowly. Andry was relaxing, too. Good.


“I don’t think you got any champagne on the canvas,” she said, turning towards the painting. “Thank goodness. Magda Raininger is the biggest name I ever scored for this gallery, and that’s her only self-portrait.”


Magda Raininger. “The champagne was expensive, if you must know. Maybe it will drive the price up?” Yes, jokes. He was all right again. It was just a temporary weirdness. “So, have you seen the painter in person? Does she look that pretty in real life?” Is she a time-traveler or not?


“First, tell me what we’re celebrating,” she said. “Then, we can talk about the painting you nearly ruined.”


“I sold a painting myself,” he said, handing her the glass. Some champagne was still sloshing in there. Andry ignored it, jumped at him and squealed on his chest. God, Cypriots were short.


“Which one?” she asked, finally taking the glass off his hand, and gulping the contents.


“A Renoir.”


The sparkles in her eyes fizzled. Just as expected. “Oh. Not one of your own works, then.”


“My own work wouldn’t pay for a fizzy drink and you know it. Come on. I’m taking you to lunch.”


She nodded and offered a half smile, went to get her keys. It didn’t bother him, her passive aggressive shuffle. It had taken them five years of Art School to discover just how talentless they both were, but Andry’s grandparents had bought her a gallery to hang her degree on, while he had to rely on his copying skills to keep afloat. Andry was shocked, but as crimes go, art forgery wouldn’t even gain him entry into the good parts of Hell.


At least he could take Andry somewhere good with the money. And the things he had to tell her about Raininger would keep her excited and busy; no need to apologize about his forgeries or his shady business partners today.


He just had to walk away from this room slowly, without looking up at Her, Right Fucking Now, in case the color that didn’t exist was still splashed on the canvas.

Read a sample of "Clean Canvas"
2021 Judges

Chy Burch, J.B. Ezar, Steven Lugo

2021 Challenges
  • The Little Storm (“Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story” by Karen Jay Fowler)
  • A Fistful of Letters (Write us about a story)
  • Time Enough for Us (Time travel without time traveling)
Total Gauntleteers: 31

Dimitra Nikolaidou

2019 Gauntlet Champion

Dimitra on Facebook

One of the major subplots of the 2019 Gauntlet was a new Greek invasion. This influx of writing Spartans was spearheaded by Dimitra, who made her return four years after winning the tournament in 2015. She has been busy publishing and translating with her workshop Tales of the Wyrd, and has only grown stronger since we saw her last. Not only has she become just the second ever two-time champion, but has also done it in a year which saw a record number of entrants for us. Perhaps that is why she is thought of as The Destroyer From the Mediterranean. In the Final Round, Gauntleteers were asked to scare the judges with a story. Here is a sample of her story.

Excerpt From “The Promised Void” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

The mural she came all this way to see is gone, erased from the rough mountain wall as if it never existed. Lena is sure she walked up the correct ravine, sycamore trees by the stream and everything, but instead of the colourful suffering woman she expected to find painted here all she sees is the narrow opening of a lightless cave. She takes a step closer, waiting for the wet smell of rot to hit her, but instead she’s met with the stench of burning metal and ethanol.


It’s daylight, but she is alone, and she probably shouldn’t try her luck, but she picks a bleached white pebble and throws it inside.


Nothing. She takes a step closer, throws another.


At first she isn’t certain what is wrong, but then it dawns on her. The stones didn’t echo, didn’t even make a sound. Perhaps the waterfall around her or the sounds of the summer forest are to blame though; she picks another stone, and takes a step closer to the opening.




She turns, stone in hand, and sees a man hurrying towards her, hand outstretched.


“Oh,” she says, but doesn’t let the stone down just yet. “Is it dangerous?”


Of course it’s dangerous, you idiot, it’s a mountain cave. A mountain cave that shouldn’t be here. But she often gets like that when she finds herself free of the city for a few days, childishly poking at things, taking wrong turns on purpose, going farther than she should. And now she has been caught, so all she can do is smile and pretend not to know better.


The man smiles back and puts his hand down. He is pretty handsome, in a t-shirt and a swimsuit just like her, towel in hand, probably another tourist. “Well, no. Unless you believe in folk tales, in which case you’ve just doomed yourself.”


She laughs, and splashes the stone in the stream. It lands between two black toads. The cave is now at her back, sending rays of chill on her sun-warmed skin. She moves farther away, closer to him. “I'm Lena,” she says. She doesn’t give him her hand; handshakes in swimsuits are stupid.


“I’m Stavros. Are those yours?” He nods towards her canvas and her painting supplies, balanced as they are on the flat grey rocks.


“Yes. But the water was too pretty to paint. I went for a swim instead.”


“Good choice,” he smiles again. “Sorry if I scared you just now. The cave is supposed to be a fairy home. The seven handmaidens of the Virgin Mary are supposed to live inside, or something like that. We were always told not to go near, and never to disturb them.”

Read a Sample of "The Promised Void"

(The Gauntlet’s 2019 winning story)

Shawn Proctor

2018 Gauntlet Champion


For a lesson in perseverance, look no further than four-time combatant, Shawn Proctor, who brilliantly revealed that ‘Wilma Combs’ was just an alias after all. Shawn is a Pennsylvania writer of both novels and short fiction, and associate editor of Cast of Wonders, the YA fiction podcast. His story “The Day Time Stood Still”, which drew inspiration from a Gauntlet round, recently appeared in Galaxy’s Edge. Below is a sample of his 2018 winning story, “In the Teeth of the Earth.”

Excerpt from “In the Teeth of the Earth” by Shawn Proctor

Everyone on the island grew up fearing them. A fear of the ones that opened in the woods, between the fir trees, exposing vast root systems—and nothing below. The ones near their homes that started as dimples, which they dutifully filled with dirt, packing them tight, as if they could bury the memories of the ones who disappeared.

A healthy fear, her dad told her.


An instructive fear, the town elders taught her.

From Scow’s home, even at dusk, the smacks of shovels came from all around. She pulled on the rope to test the tension. It spanned 850 feet, the ends wrapped around a pair of her strongest trees. Scow could only guess the distance she and her daughter would need to cross, but to her it looked right—and just as impossible.

She checked the hold of the linen cloth that was wrapped around her torso, swaddling her daughter, Spelterini, close to her breast. She felt the baby squirm—Spelterini would need to be nursed soon. Scow imagined her daughter listening to the clenching fist that was Scow’s heart; she imagined her warmed by the burning rise and fall of Scow’s lungs.

Click Here to Read a Sample of "In the Teeth of the Earth"

(The Gauntlet’s 2018 winning story)

2019 Judges

Chy Burch, Beth Sadler, Gale Peterson, Stephanie Cassey, Tobias Backman, Steven Lugo

2019 Challenges

1. The Storybook (“King Midas and the Golden Touch”)
2. The Writing on the… (Live with it!)
3. The Chemicals Between Us (“The Alchemist’s Feather” by Erin Cashier)
4. Can You Fear This? (Scare us with a story)

Total Gauntleteers: 58
2018 Judges

Chy Burch, Beth Sadler, Gale Peterson, and Steven Lugo

2018 Challenges

1. Harlan Ellison Memorial Round (“He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes”)
2. Don’t Dream It’s Over (continuing Ellison’s tale)
3. Leaf on the Wind (Steven Brust pens FireFly fanfic)
4. The Phantom Word (A concept which cannot be named)

Total Gauntleteers: 34

Samantha Jenkins


The history of regaining a major championship is marked by perseverance and commitment. This individual has a lot in common with competitors who have done this very thing. For boxing, it’s Floyd Patterson. For MMA, you may think of Randy Couture. But if you’re a writer and critic, and the Gauntlet is where you compete, then there is only one Sammi.

Excerpt from “Doing Life in Samarkand Sulci” by Samantha Jenkins

I groaned and flexed my fingers, twirling my wrist in a circle to try to loosen it up. The crackle within the joint made it feel better, but there was still pain when I clutched my tool to start working again.

"What's the matter wit' you?" Marta asked me. I shook my head and she raised her eyebrows.

"It's my wrist. I broke it when I was a kid."

She frowned. "You should have Doctor fix it."

"Well, it's not still broken."

Marta lowered her head and used her stylus against her order board. I bent to my own work.

"It's this cold. I haven't gotten used to it. It never hurt like this until I came to Sam."

I didn't think she was still listening to me, but my com beeped in my ear and I received the order to report immediately to Doctor.

"Dammit, Marta," I mouthed, but I gave no voice to it in case she was still listening to me. I did not want to have to report to Discipline afterward, for language.

I dropped my tool to the ground and released my belt to leave it behind, too. I turned toward the Gateline and saw that another worker was already heading over to take my position. Might as well, I suppose. Shift would be over by the time I could get back after a damn useless visit to Doctor.

The path was level enough that I was able to jog to Gateline, so at least the trip only took 10 minutes or so. And with my helmet on, the wind couldn't bite at my face like it once did on Earth during winter jogs. The freezing winds on Earth never did more than sting, though. Here on Enceladus, they could probably cause instant frostbite.

If you were lucky.

Click Here to Read a Sample of “Doing Life in Samarkand Sulci”

(The Gauntlet’s 2017 Winning Story)


Tobias Backman, Beth Sadler, Gale Peterson, Chy Burch, & Steven Lugo


1. Paper Tiger (Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie”)
2. The Unreliable Narrator (Corpse Husband’s Video)
3. Take Me Back to the Start (Review What You Love)
4. A Distant Place and Time (Assigned Location)


Travis Burnham


2016 was the year of Travis Burnham, a writer, teacher, and adventurer who had traveled the globe before taking on the Gauntlet. Was the Gauntlet his greatest adventure yet? You be the judge by getting to know Travis, and by reading a passage of his winning story, “The Long, Small Hours” which was based upon a movie trailer.

Excerpt from “The Long, Small Hours” by Travis Burnham

It’s a dark night for dark deeds, and the avatars of seven gods of chaos are scattered across my lawn. They look human enough behind their masks and through the filter of the security cam, but they aren’t fooling me.

Some young prepster with his blond hair slicked back is the first to step up to the front door and taps the mic plate before talking. The second he opens his trap, I know it’s Abhotehath, the Hundred-Tongued God, because he’s so polite when he says, “Please don’t deny us, James, or I’m afraid we’ll have to kill all of you.”

Creepy windbag.

He rambles on a bit more, says they want the homeless guy, but I can read between the lines: they want me. They’ll take Mary and the kids, Charlie and Zoey, too.

And then the gods of chaos cut the power.

Click Here to Read a Sample of “The Long, Small Hours”

(The Gauntlet’s 2016 Winning Story)


Beth Sadler, Gale Peterson, Chy Burch, & Steven Lugo


1. Times Like These (Time Travel in Fiction)
2. Tell My Story (Second Person POV)
3. Regarding Fanfiction (A Particle, A Wave)
4. Trailer for Your Muse (Movie Trailer Inspiration)


Dimitra Nikolaidou


In 2015, a rising author joined us from Greece, and aimed to show us a thing or two. Our final round was philosophical in nature, and asked, ‘What if a quote had built a world?’ Dimitra entered “Blindness” for the win.

Excerpt from “Blindness” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

His foot slipped, and he fell.

But as he fell, among the snowdrops and the flame and his own short gasps, he saw her. And she was everything he had been promised. And he did not scream, even as his back hit the frozen ground and the world went away.

“I had never thought it would be her.”

Plato’s grandfather kept saying the same thing every time they opened the window. He had been blinded early in the days of the new regime, when taking the eyes of artists was more common than the rain, and the violence had taken all his words away. And yet, every time the shutters unlatched, this single sentence was let out, floating in the air between them.

He glanced at his grandfather, then turned towards the small part of the square that was still visible from their apartment among the tall buildings and the weighted clotheslines and the rusted antennae. The statue of the masked woman in its middle was the only shade of white among a sea of dirty concrete.

Almost a thing of beauty.

He laid against the windowsill, looked down. Every woman walking in the street looked exactly the same, the bones of their faces twisted in the exact same shape to form the same flower-like mask. Hands covered under gloves, clothes similarly cut. Not even his own eyes could tell strangers apart.

The policewoman in the corner was a different one again, as far as he could tell by her height and the way her uniform fit, and the apartment opposite them had been vacant for three months now.

No, Grandpa had to mean the statue. Brave Lady Manya, the first one to free herself from the tyranny of beauty that held all women captive before the new regime took over and elevated them, whether they wanted it or not.

“I am going for a walk,” he told his mother, backing into the room. She turned her head around, her hands still on the keyboard. She was worried about him. He felt it in her stance. It had only been three weeks since he had been released. Grandfather’s silence though had seeped through the walls of this house, and she only nodded as he picked up his tiny camera and put on his coat, the slits of her eyes turning back to her screen.

Click Here to Read a Sample of “Blindness”

(The Gauntlet’s 2015 Winning Story)


Gale Peterson, Sheila Beebe, Cathy Douglas, Chy Burch, & Steven Lugo


1. Natural Selection (Nature’s Futures)
2. Cure THIS (Cure Prompt)
3. Gauntlet’s Razor (Paragraph Review)
4. Their Quote, Your World (Proverbia)


Julian Mortimer Smith

In our 2014 edition of the Gauntlet, Julian gave us “Practice” which secured his victory after three prior rounds of writing, reviewing, and time limits. He’s the real deal. And if you like stories about reality, or that manipulate reality, then you won’t mind if we share a snippet.

Excerpt from “Practice” by Julian Mortimer Smith

I bring my fiddle to Central Park on a blustery day. The trees are noisy and writhing. Traffic on 5th Avenue honks and blares.

But as I start to play, the world falls still and all is silent, save for my violin.

Over by the benches, a pigeon hangs in the air, mid-takeoff. It looks startled and ridiculous, a foot from the ground, its legs dangling uselessly beneath it.

A Coke can hovers just above the rim of a garbage can. Three feet away, a man stands with his hand outstretched, his fingers slightly curled from imparting spin to the can. His brows are knitted with concentration. His aim isn’t perfect, but the can’s going to go in—just.

A jogger is caught mid-stride. She balances on the ball of her left foot, leaning forward at an impossible angle. Physics dictate that she must either thrust her left foot forward to catch her weight or topple to the ground. But she does neither. She waits there, defying gravity.

It’s so peaceful, here in this motionless Manhattan.

I play a meandering adagio, half remembered and half improvised. It doesn’t seem to matter what I play. A single note is enough to stop time, but I like to fill the silence with something more than that. It feels pure, this private music.

I yearn to stroll the streets while I play. I would like to explore this instant in the life of New York City, but as soon as I put bow to string I find myself rooted to the spot, my legs frozen in time, like the pigeon, and the jogger, and the Coke can. In vague terror, I wonder if I’ll age faster above the waist than below. Will my boobs age and sag while my butt remains young and firm?

I bring my piece to its end. The bird flaps clumsily into the air. The Coke can bounces off the rim and rattles into the garbage. The jogger huffs and puffs on her way by. The world is full of noise and motion again.

Click Here to Read a Sample of “Practice”

(The Gauntlet’s 2014 Winning Story)


Gale Peterson, Sheila Beebe, Cathy Douglas, Chy Burch, & Steven Lugo


1. Irish Blues (Stray Sod, Graphic Novel)
2. Don’t Be Creepin’ (CreepyPasta)
3. Review Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self
4. The Object of My Reality (Reality Manipulation)


Samantha Jenkins


And here she is, the baddest and the raddest, the first Gauntlet winner of the new age! Samantha has won the 2013 WYRM’s Gauntlet! Congratulations, Champ.


Cathy Douglas, Chy Burch, Sheila Beebe & Steven Lugo


1. The Nuclear Option (Nuclear Family)
2. Monsters With Issues
3. Livin’ in a Bubble (Plume, Graphic Novel)
4. The Mind-Expander (Doppelganger)


Before We Broke Out

Before we broke out on our own, we held our contest as a subsect of another website. We started in 2007 and have crowned a champ for as many years. Here are all of our champs prior to 2013. These are the originals, the daredevils that could, the Gauntleteers that took a chance and won big.

Some of our former champs have elected to use their partial names or to go by a nickname (sometimes lovingly chosen by a member of WYRM). If you’re a former champ and want to reach out to us about changing your name in the Hall of Fame, or give us permission to display a sample of your winning story, drop us a line and we’ll getcha sorted.

He Asked Lots of Questions



The Mean Sister



S. Cassey



Jace Milner



Sheila Beebe



The One We Almost Thought Was Nice


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Hey, did you know you can kick back and watch the Gauntlet unfold rather than participate? If you want to spread the word about our annual indie competition, that's cool with us, too. You can size up the competition for next year, or, if you know someone who’d be right at home being a Gauntleteer, we’ve set up some convenient ways to signal boost WYRM’s Gauntlet.

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