Be Careful Out There

“Be careful out there,” your mom said as you grabbed your duffel bag and headed on a camping trip with friends. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?” You nodded, then shut the door behind you before getting in the car and taking off.

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330 thoughts on “Be Careful Out There

  1. Sagesong

    Jackie straddled the duffel bag on her knees in the hallway and squeezed her thighs together. The bright blue nylon stretched thin, but she managed to pull the metal teeth just close enough to zip it all the way. She noticed with mild annoyance that her mother was standing right over her as she spoke, no doubt to get a glimpse of what might be in the bag.

    “Relax mom, it’s just a camping trip. There won’t be a bar for miles.”

    Her mother raised both hands in the air. “I am relaxed! I have total faith in you, honey.”

    This was a lie. Her mother hadn’t truly relaxed for a long time. Jackie knew she still rummaged through her closet, in her drawers and under the bed every once in a while, especially if Jackie had seemed tired or stressed out. And heaven forbid she mention that she had a headache. The woman counted Tylenol like Scrooge counting copper coins. Still, it was hard to blame the woman after the seven levels of hell Jackie had put her through.

    “It’s just that, well…you are aware that it’s been exactly a year since the night.”

    The night. That’s how it was always referred to. The rest of the sentence was never said out loud. Jackie knew her mother did this so that it didn’t make her feel guilty about it, and she did feel grateful for that. She really did. It was hard to be reminded of the night that you passed out drunk with scented candles left burning for the cat to knock over. It was enough of a reminder that Jackie’s childhood home and poor Felix were gone, sacrificed to the flames on the altar of Smirnoff.

    “I know mom. 365 days and counting. Still going strong. But I need to stop hiding and have a social life again. I’ve made it through two wedding receptions and my ten year high school reunion, remember? And I have Claudia’s number in my phone if I need her.”

    Claudia was great as far as sponsors go and had truly become a good friend, but Jackie needed to spread her wings. After all, could she really say she was a “recovering” alcoholic if she was never around it? That was just a hiding alcoholic, and Jackie was tired of hiding. She was tired of everyone tip-toeing around her as if she might break. She needed to feel like a normal person again.

    “Well sweetie, I just worry that being around old friends might trigger old ways of thinking. But if you feel you’re ready…”

    That was mom code for “I don’t like the idea of you being around those people.” Those people being anyone Jackie had ever had so much as had a glass of wine with. It was hard for her mother to understand. Normal people drank. They didn’t end up in ditches, or in jail, and they certainly didn’t burn down their mother’s house and kill her beloved cat, but they drank socially and were just fine. Jackie could handle being around them again. It had been a whole year, and she was getting tired of only being invited out for coffee or shopping. She had made it clear to them that she could sit around a campfire and not be tempted to grab a beer out of the cooler.

    “Just be careful out there, please? And if you start to feel uncomfortable, just come on back home.”

    Jackie hugged her mother tightly and promised that she would. Grabbing her keys off the coffee table, she threw the duffel bag over her shoulders and held her head high as she let the screen door bang shut behind her. She backed out of the gravel drive and as she pushed the CD into the stereo, she looked down for a long moment at the small tattoo on the inside of her wrist. There were times that she wished she had never gotten it. It was hard to explain to the strangers that inevitably asked why she had a red Radio Flyer wagon tattoo. Usually, she just told them it was to honor her mother who had bought her one as a child and always pulled her around the neighborhood in it. This was true, but of course, for the last year a wagon had held a deeper meaning. Jackie turned up Tom Petty, and as she sang along on her way to this grand leap out into the open wilderness, she prayed she would not fall off.

  2. Megg

    Debbie slammed the trunk down, encasing the tent and bags of supplies in darkness as her mother walks out of the house.
    “Please don’t hesitate to call if you need anything,” she calls out, her hand worrying at her hair as the wind whips it around a face lined with wrinkles from years of worry.
    “We’ll be fine mom, I’ll call you when we get there,” Debbie replies, walking around to the front of the beat up Volkswagen Jetta.
    Her hand hovers over the handle as she takes one last look up at her mother, the woman who had birthed her and raised her; she was a picture of beauty long forgotten with limp, dull brown hair, blue eyes turned grey and glassy, and a once petite frame with curved lines now sharp and angular with paper thin skin. She sighs and opens the door as her mother calls out one last time, “remember that it’s been a year sweetheart! It’s the anniversary!”
    Debbie waves a hand in her mother’s direction, signaling that she had heard her and she does remember what happened a year ago.
    The music serves as background music as she drives down the winding road, her eyes flickering occasionally to the map laid out on the seat beside her. She was supposed to meet the rest of the group at the gas station but when she showed up, the attendant told her they had come and gone, leaving a message for her to follow them to the camp ground parking lot.
    Trees blur by the windows, greener than ever after last night’s rain, but she hardly notices the scenery as she looks for the sign that’s supposed to tell her where the campground is. She groans and mutters curses under her breath as she realizes she must have gone too far or taken a wrong turn; her foot eases down on the brakes as she uses one hand to pull the map from the passenger seat to the steering wheel. Her eyes trace the line that Jake had highlighted in blue, quickly figuring out that she hadn’t actually gone too far, she chuckles when she notices a bend she hadn’t gone around yet, she was so anxious to be with everyone else that she hadn’t gone far enough down the road.
    Looking back at the road as the car continues to slow; she slams down onto the brakes when she notices a person standing in the middle of her lane. Heart pounding, palms sweating, she shouts obscenities as her seat belt locks, preventing her from hitting the steering wheel as the tires skid across the ground and her eyes struggle to focus on the person standing eerily still in the middle of the lane.
    “Zoie,” Debbie mumbles to herself, blinking hard as the car finally screeches to a halt just feet away from the person.
    The girl’s head is down and her wet hair hangs like a curtain over her face and down passed her shoulders.

  3. Kinterralynn

    Nora wrestled her way into a blue pullover hooded sweatshirt, as her mother stood at the counter stirring a bowl of cookie dough with a wooden spoon. Pop music played from the boombox radio on the counter and cool evening breeze trickled its way into the room through the open kitchen window.
    “It seems silly going camping this time of year.”
    Nora rolled her eyes and zipped up her ragged duffel bag, “Its not that cold out.”
    “it is with the rain.” Nora’s mother quipped and stopped stirring. She pulled a cookie sheet from the cabinet and set it on the counter. “Did you pack extra socks?”
    “Yes.” Nora hefted the duffel up on her shoulder, “I’ll be home tomorrow afternoon. I promise.”
    Her mother pulled a spoon from the drawer and scooped up some cookie dough. She plopped it on the cookie tray, “I just worry.” She got another spoonful of the dough, “I want you to be careful, tonight is the anniversary of…” she dropped the dough on the cookie sheet next to the other dough and shrugged, “well, you know.”
    Nora pushed back the stray curls of brown hair that fell across her forehead and let out an exasperated sigh, “Seriously? You’re going to keep bringing that up like I don’t know? Like it isn’t common knowledge in this entire town?” She opened the back door, “I’ll be fine, mom, you worry way too much.” She shut the door and trounced down to her truck, tossing the duffel bag unceremoniously in the back. With her hand on the door handle, she paused, her green eyes flicking to the bushes on the side of the cement porch. That was where she had hidden, her shoulder screaming in pain, her clothes soaked crimson from the blood. Inside she had heard more shot gun blasts and she had curled into a fetal position, making herself as small as possible. It was all she could remember about that night. She had no memory of the events that led up to her bleeding and cowering in the bushes.
    A wave of guilt washed over her. She may not remember the events, but her mother did. She let go of the handle and walked back to the house. Her gaze fell on the empty sleeve of her mother’s shirt and moved to the ugly scars that trailed from her mother’s forehead, over her now misshapen skull.
    “Did you want help with the cookies, mom?”

  4. Poeeop

    Sammy’s Itch

    June 16, 2015
    “Be careful out there! Sammy wait!” Mom’s bare feet clapped loud against the hardwood floors, she never let me out of the house with a kiss. I couldn’t let her get close this time; it was getting harder to hide it.

    CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! “Sammy wait!” She grabbed the door handle just before I could get it shut. “Sammy, give me a kiss. You know it’s the anniversary right?”

    I clinched my jaw tight then turned and faced mom. “Ya mom I know”, but I didn’t budge a micrometer in her direction. Didn’t matter though, like I said, it was getting harder everyday to hide it.

    “Sammy?”

    June 16, 2008
    Mom is bawling, she’s scared of the worst happening. Dad is trying to be everybody’s rock, but I can read his face he’s scared too. As far as I can tell the nurses aren’t scared, but they all have masks on.

    Deanna and me aren’t scared; we’re just ready for all the fuss to be over. We’ve been together all our lives, we will miss how things were, but it will be cool to be a normal kid finally.

    Mom stretches her body out from her foot to her fingertips, grasping at our hands as the nurses wheel us through the double doors to the operating room.

    Eighteen hours later the doctors are waking mom and dad up in the family sitting room. They explain that they did all they could. They knew the chances of both kids surviving weren’t high. Sammy was doing just fine, he’s in recovery, but if they wanted to, they could come back and say goodbye to Deanna. Mom and dad both lost it, right there in front of the other families with their get well soon balloons tied to armchairs.

    Present Day
    That was the day seven years ago when the doctors cut my sister away. I’ve felt her there still, bound to my left rib cage; I used to wake up in the morning and whisper to her checking if she was awake. Then I’d remember she’s gone and cry.

    Lately though something fantastic has been happening! I thought at first I was losing my mind. It began one morning as a slight irritation, then a real bad itch from inside that no amount of scratching made better.

    About a week ago, I knew. I also knew I couldn’t tell anyone. No! They would take her again!

    “Sammy? Why are you wearing a coat sweetie? It’s June. It’s ninety degrees out here. Are you sick sweetie?”

    I couldn’t hide her forever. I took my coat off and revealed the bulge. Then Deanna moved.

  5. JRSimmang

    THE SCREEN DOOR LATCHES

    You’re too in your head they tell me under no condition could these rapid-firing peregrinations these faulty ratiocinations these beautific monumentous monolithic celebrated cerebrations be less than an idle mind attempting to rationalize the motivations of the human condition in this I have no desire to halt these contemplations. A fresh start they whine and whinny some crisp cool mountain air they share without the weighing in of my approbations accepting not my anti-inclinations, but dragging my half-woken corpse from the bed in which I slumber so deeply so profoundly that the sheets themselves become little more than a lithe wave of whispering tragedies.
    She let’s them take me with her blessing the last of the last of the last my overly-protective paladinnic mother, oppressive yet repressive since he left a year ago. Dad. What is this – DAD – a mnemonic device meant to elicit a paternal trance a eunoic meditation on childhood with cars and pipes and pancakes and all the things I had if not for one small problem of truncated adolescence. Perhaps that’s why she was so willing to let them take me out to the mountains to the lake to where my father used to take me when our shadows didn’t reach quite so far away from us. When we used to flounder under the surface for the elusive effusive rainbow trout.

    “You’re too in your head,” they tell me, the creekside burbling and bubbling with the wishing and the washing of the white-crested breakers, the fishes flopping from water into water. It’s stunning, I think in the moment, to witness the sky contained in such a small, mobile liquid frame, and it’s no longer me I’m becoming. It’s him. Him. Him. Him.

    “You’re in your head too much,” says Gregg, and he hands me a beer, which I don’t want, but I take anyway. Mood to me is more important than intoxication, and I’m already pretty inebriated so I take a walk through the woods along the shore, kicking the stones as they come into my path some flat some jagged and ragged and probably jaded as I am. As I am, profoundly jaded, jaded as he, jaded as we, jaded as he waded and waded in front of me. His waders pulled up over his navel.

    “Hello son.” He says to me, his eyes glimmering and catching the reflection of the clouds off the surface of the water.

    What do I say?

    “How’s your mom?”

    I stammer. “Well.” I don’t realize I’m moving toward him, soaking my trousers. Soaking my legs.

    “I’ve brought your pole.”

    The water is cold.

    “It’s on the shore over there.” He catches his breath. “Somehow, I knew you’d be back here.”

    I discover my arms around him, slowly sinking into him. “We come here every year,” I manage.

    He laughs, and I am reminded that he’s still my father. “That we do.” He pulls me back to arm’s length. “Look, son, I have to apologize. I… left in a hurry. Your mom…”

    “I know,” I say, and I do. Mom threw his clothes, his mugs, and his knick-knacks on the lawn before dawn. He left before we awoke.

    “But, I’m just up the road.”

    I’m glad I know this now.

    “And, I’ll be back here every year.”

    I sense a smile, and I let it happen.

    “Go get your pole.”

    I turn around, head to the shore, pick up my pole, and dad and I let the stream tell us where to go.

    Be careful, she said.

    Don’t let yourself get hurt again, she said.

    The water is welcoming, and now I’m in the mood for my beer. My friends wave at me from downstream. I wave back. In my mind too much, maybe, but not right now.

    -JR Simmang

  6. Amaria

    There was a lot of interesting stories for this prompt. I couldn’t comment on all of them but just wanted to say good job! Hopefully I will be able to post something for the next prompt.

  7. Critique

    (I apologize for the word count. 544).

    “I’m headed out Mom.” Candice hollered as she hoisted the heavy backpack onto her shoulder and opened the front door.

    “Candice do you really need to do this?” Her mother wore a worried frown as she came out of the kitchen. “Remember last year? You can come home anytime you know.”

    Candice nodded, lifted her hand to wave and shut the door behind her. She could never forget what happened a year ago – it seemed like yesterday. She wished her mother would give it a rest.

    Raindrops splattered on the windshield as she drove away. Not the greatest tenting weather but she couldn’t miss this camping trip. Thirty years ago a tradition started for their small town high school to camp on the long weekend – rain, snow or shine. Candice wondered how she would be received when she showed up.

    A year ago the campground was packed. Campfires burned throughout the night, empty beer bottles littered the ground and the party was just getting started.

    Candice, Jasmine and Jordan had known each other since kindergarten. Next year they would be seniors. Their tents were beside each other and in the early hours of the morning they decided to go to bed.

    The three of them giggled as they stumbled through the dark woods – not so much from the uneven pathway but more likely from the unaccustomed alcohol flooding their systems – accept Jasmine who was a diabetic and couldn’t drink – so when Jasmine’s flashlight failed and Jordan tripped, they fell like dominoes. They lay there gasping and laughing until nature’s urgent call dictated they press on. They followed each other closely, the only light the distant stars overhead. The danger was, if you missed the sign leading to the bathroom you could end up falling hundreds of feet to the bottom of a rocky ravine where the path ended.

    Jordan was leading the way when she stopped suddenly.

    “Did anyone see the sign.” She slurred.

    “No Jordan we didn’t.” Jasmine’s voice rose clearly from the darkness as Candice came up behind her.

    Even in her befuddled state Candice would never forget the sound of Jordan’s scream.

    They found Jordan’s body the next day.

    Everyone said it was an accident.

    “She was a slut you know.” It was the day after Jordan’s funeral and Jasmine sat cross legged on the rug in Candice’s bedroom filing her nails. “She stole Mike from me. None of our guys were safe with her around.”

    Jasmine looked up with a smirk. “But we took care of that didn’t we?”

    Shocked Candice could only stare back.

    Laying sleepless that night Candice remembered Jasmine’s flashlight working fine on the path back to the campground.

    The next day Candice confided her suspicions to her parents and they called the police.

    The wheels of justice move slowly and a trial is pending. Jasmine moved east to live with an aunt and finish her senior year.

    Candice hates the tension at school where students whisper behind her back about what really happened that night.

    This camping trip is the highlight of the senior year and she’s determined to not let Jasmine steal that from her.

  8. Witt.Stanton

    Be careful,” his stepmom called as he walked down the driveway, toward Scott’s old pickup truck. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?”

    With a tired groan, Dan nodded. He glanced quickly at Scott, who was fiddling with the stations on his stereo.

    Every year his mom had to remind him. Every single freaking year.

    Dean was glad Scott didn’t know. There were somethings no one should have to know. Things no one should have to live with.

    After dumping his duffle bags in the trunk he sat down in the passenger seat next to Scott.

    Country music poured from the speakers, mind numbingly loud. Dean quickly cranked the volume down.

    Scott grumbled something under his breath, and revved the engine before backing out of their small driveway, missing their mailbox by mere inches.

    Dean’s mom frowned worriedly at them from their front porch. Dean winced as Scott laughed and took off down the dusty dirt road, soon cruising at fifty miles per hour. Maybe her worry was justifiable.

    “So, what was that about? You know, the anniversary. I don’t remember anything going on…” Scott broke silence, if you could call it that. His pickup truck was the loudest thing Dean had ever heard. In it, silence was impossible.

    Even with the radio down, his truck was a beast on four wheels. A monster with a engine.

    In reply to Scott’s innocent question, Dan shouted. “Oh, it’s just my parent’s wedding anniversary. They don’t want me to forget, like last year.” The lie came easy. He hardly had to think about it.

    Scott believed the lie.

    “Cool, I get it. My folks really got on my back about it last year, man. It was intense.” Scott groaned, slapping his hand to his forehead. “Dang! It’s in two months! I’m going to forget again…”

    “Relax. I’ll remind you.”

    “Bro, seriously? Thanks.”

    “No problem”

    “Thanks a billion, man. I got to tell you, last years trip stank worse than the sandwiches Ben made. And they were bad. Like, beyond horrible. A whole new level of disgustingness wrapped in a bun.” Scott shuddered, pretending to vomit. “Worst. Thing. Ever.”

    “I’m glad that I packed my own lunch, then. Huh. I guessed I assumed Ben could cook.”

    “Never assume. Never. Never again, never.” Laughing, the two of them left the winding maze of dusty roads and headed into town. After they picked up Ben, everything would be set.

    This year all three of them were going to brave a week-long camping trip up north in the Glades, an impressive forest that was filled with wildlife, trees, lakes, and mosquitoes.

    In other words, it was perfect.

    : : : : :

    They finally decided to set camp about an hour before dark. The sun filtered through the line trees, eerily casting shadows on the long grass.

    “No fair!” Dean shouted, turning to see his friends innocently staring at him, their pointer fingers resting on the tips of their nose. “Nose-goes isn’t fair- what are you guys, five? Grow up already! Seriously…”

    Scott laughed and in a motherly voice cooed, “Aw, is the little grown-up Deany sad? It’s okay, it’s okay, Scotty and Benny can do it if Deany is too weak-”

    “and little and wimpy and helpless. Isn’t it just so adorable when he makes that pouty face, Scotty?” Ben scoffed, mimicking Scott’s voice until Scott interjected indignantly.

    “Don’t call me Scotty!”

    They relentlessly argued about who was going to set up the tents as darkness fell.

    None of them noticed the man watching from the shadows, high up in one of the nearby trees. None of them noticed the soft click of a rifle loading. And none of them noticed the the man whisper seven words before firing.

    They heard the shot. They saw Dean collapse, dead. They saw the blood.

    Then they saw nothing.

    : : : : :

    It was thirteen years since her death; his beautiful wife had tragically died in childbirth.

    It was three years since he had walked out of his pitiful son’s life.

    It was his son’s fault.

    It had to be.

    Now his years of waiting for revenge were complete; justice was served on the wings of death.

    : : : : :

    As the father stood next to the coffin of his son, he whispered the seven words.

    “She was my wife, Dean. You coward.”

    1. Critique

      The name change confused me at first and also, was Dean only thirteen? (It was thirteen years since her death: his beautiful wife had tragically died in childbirth). I’m guessing Dean’s friends must be older to be driving. A scary story!

      1. Witt.Stanton

        Yep, right on all accounts. As background, Dean was Scott’s neighbor until Dean and his stepmother moved after his dad left. Even though they lived a good half hour away from each other, they still remained close friends. I think that Scott is 17, but he probably shouldn’t be driving. Especially in that monster of a car. He may be an amazing friend, but I’ve got to admit he’s the type of guy who’s all for an adrenaline rush and does what he wants when he wants.

        Maybe to much of a answer to your questions/comments, but I like talking about my characters! Glad you enjoyed! 🙂

  9. cosi van tutte

    Annnnd here’s one last one. Maybe. 😉

    “Look, Mom. I know you’re upset about—”

    “About my only son turning into a stinking street rat? Yeah. Yeah. I’m upset. I’m upset plenty.” She dumps a whole lifetime of underwear into her luggage.

    “It was a simple misunderstanding.”

    She stops to glare at me.

    I fidget. Dang it! She can be so intense sometimes. “You don’t have to leave.”

    “Try and make me stay.” She opens the second drawer and grabs a handful of clothes.

    “I won’t ever do it again.”

    Another handful of clothes.

    “I’ll stop hanging out with that crowd.”

    Oh, look. Yet another handful of clothes.

    “I mean it this time.”

    “You mean it this time and last time and the time before that.” She slams the drawer shut. “I’m so sick of you ‘meaning it’ and not meaning it at all.”

    I don’t want to do it, but it’s the only ammunition I have left. “Did you forget what today is?”

    She glares at me again. “You apparently did.”

    Well. That turned out all wrong.

    She turns to face the dresser, but she doesn’t open any drawers. “If your father was here now…” And then she just stops talking.

    If Dad was here right now, things would be different. I know it and she’s sure thinking it. “I’ll miss you. Mom, please. Please don’t go.”

    She opens the next drawer. “I’ll be gone for a week. Maybe a month. Maybe a year. I don’t know.” She grabs clothes and stuffs them in her luggage. “I just need to get away from here. From you. From the memories.”

    If Dad had been a different kind of person, he’d be here now and Mom would stay. “If you leave—”

    “There’s no ifs about it. As soon as I’m done packing, I’m out of here. I’m gone.”

    I sit on the bed and watch her manic packing. That place was gonna be torn down anyway. I don’t get why the police had to get so riled up about a bit of graffiti on a dead building. As for Mom…But what if she isn’t upset about the graffiti? It’s a sudden thought and it doesn’t make any sense. If she isn’t upset about that, then why’s she packing her bags to go live in the Blue Hills Campgrounds?

    I think it over good and hard. My head aches from so much thinking, but it aches even more once it slams into a block of insight. “What happened to Dad wasn’t your fault.”

    She stops in mid-pack. She bows her head and doesn’t look at me. I mean, she doesn’t even peek.

    “It wasn’t even my fault. It just…” Stuffed away memories unpack themselves. Dad stepped in front of the intruder. He tried real hard to talk sanity into a head that didn’t want it. Mom held me tight in her arms, protecting me. I was too small then to protect her too. And I couldn’t protect Dad at all. His calm, reasonable voice yelped in pain and shock and I just don’t want to remember Mom’s screaming and crying and Dad falling down. And the intruder looked at screaming and crying and wailing us and he ran off. I’ve always liked to think that Dad’s words brought some reason into that person’s head. That’s why he didn’t hurt us too. He just ran away, leaving us with a big hole in our family fence.

    “He was protecting me.”

    “He was protecting both of us. But, Mom. What else was he supposed to do?”

    Mom’s shoulders shake as she cries. “He wasn’t supposed to leave me.”

    “He left me too. Mom. Please don’t go. I’ll be good from now on. I promise. You can smash my Playstation 2 to bits and confiscate my computer if I go back on my word. Please don’t leave me. Not today.” I go on over to her and hug her. We cry together.

  10. regisundertow

    Second one. Just a story I had to squeeze out.
    Hope you forgive any faults, this is an exercise in character-driven writing, something I’m not very good at.

    ***
    THE BEAST

    Disease, alongside death, is the great nullifier.
    You can’t attribute anything negative to the infirm any more than you can talk shit about the dead. Doesn’t matter what heights of villainy you have reached. Getting chronically sick is a permanent get-out-of-jail card. All, the past and the future both, is forgiven. Now, what do you suppose a true villain would do with the ultimate extenuation?

    Rose is fused to the couch these days. I don’t pay attention to what she’s watching on the TV. There’s usually laugh tracks. There’s much hollering. Her eyes are perpetually glassy, as if she’s on the verge of crying. I can never tell if they focus. I bring her her meals. Sometimes she touches them, sometimes she doesn’t. I can never tell if she approves of the cooking. She only complains of the heat and waves the flies away.

    It’s difficult reconciling this person with what I know she’s capable of. This woman had a son once, a handsome almond-eyed boy. He would have been 7 years older than me. The way I hear it, she left him alone at home one day. Don’t know where she went. This boy was left alone and, as boys are wont to do at that age, he grew restless and naughty. Now, imagine a middle-class home. Not perfect, not extravagant. Decent. Clean. Nice furniture. Imagine crayon drawings on that middle-class furniture. A minor offence for a little handsome boy. I’m sure you’d agree, you’re not a beast. Imagine that beast arriving home to find her middle-class couch covered in square houses and smiling suns.

    The boy’s skull was cracked in 3 different places. He required 47 stitches to get his face back together where it went through the glass table. She still smiles when she tells that story. He was a boy full of energy back then, she tells me. A little naughty, she adds.

    Rose has trouble moving on her own. I need to bathe her. Dress her. Wipe her ass. Dementia is a disease of the mind, but the body dies alongside it. She fumed and cursed and scratched and punched when she was brought to my care. I doubt she could muster the strength to spit at me these days. I’m glad for that. I had to develop some proper kung-fu reflexes in those early days.

    She uses her tongue to hurt me in other more subtle ways. She doesn’t disrespect me. She stopped doing that after that time I left her in her own filth for three days. She tells me stories, instead. Stories of broken bones, humiliation, and suicide attempts. There’s infidelity in there, too, but that’s entirely symptomatic. And she knows her stories about infidelity will provoke me more than she wants.

    I never ask her for any stories, but she tells me anyway. A raconteuse that won’t be denied, though I’m frequently wondering of the purpose of all this. Despite her vulnerability, despite her dependence on me. You know how old people sometimes say the most outrageous things? They know they will be forgiven, or simply dismissed. This woman knows she can’t use her age or her disease as a shield. Not with me. She knows, because I don’t dismiss her. I pay attention. I listen.

    I think there’s an understanding in our relationship. I think I’m meant to realize something that she can’t bring herself to say out loud during those increasingly rare moments of lucidity. Thoughts of real-life villains have been swimming in my head for weeks. About how they fall in all good stories. About how their fall is often caused by a valiant prince or knight or some other paragon of virtue. I still think about it as I turn on the gas oven. I sling the duffel bag over my shoulder. I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow morning. You know…tonight is the anniversary, she croaks as I’m halfway out of the door. What anniversary, I ask, eager to put as much distance between me and her as possible. Your father fucking another woman, she sighs. Your father making you. As I’m shutting the door, I’m fighting back tears.

    1. Reaper

      Wow, regisundertow. This is really good. Now I do have a soft spot for character stories and grey characters in general but this is amazing. I love the understandable evil on both sides. The voice is just perfect for the actions. Both the narrator and the patient are sympathetic and easily reviled at the same time. The revenge and the seemingly goading woman who wants to be punished at the end are both well done and still slightly surprising. I can’t say enough good about this. The only thing I would suggest would be to move the as boys are wont to do so it is after the boys actions rather than the mothers because it was a small hiccup for me in the midst of a smooth narrative. I looked back a couple of times to find the boy and kept coming up with the mother until I finally let myself move forward. This seems like the beginning of something both longer and amazing and a self contained story all in one.

      1. regisundertow

        High praise, Repear, I’m humbled 🙂
        I get what you mean about the word order. I only saw it after you pointed it out, thank you.
        I was afraid this piece was slightly indulgent. Thanks to the comments here, it seems it might be worth it expanding it, exploring the two women’s relationship.

        Thanks again.

    2. snuzcook

      Well done, Regis! I applaud the weaving of the ‘other’ as monster, ‘self’ as monster in your story. It hits a very personal place for the reader, for I suspect we all harbor a little fear of our own capacity to cross the line.

      I personally like your paragraph about the boy, and your phrasing and word choice that described his actions so warmly in contrast to the consequences.

      It is such an interesting premise–that the child of an unfaithful husband would be the caretaker for the odious wife, whom she has so many reasons to hate, with both parties fully aware of the arrangement. Was it a long-planned revenge? Or was the narrator simply the only member of the extended family available to care for the old lady, and she finally reached her breaking point?

      (dope slap to forehead) It just occurred to me that the narrator thought she was the daughter of the ‘monster’ until the final barb was delivered as she went out the door. If that was your intent, brilliant! But perhaps it was too well hidden for someone as linear as me. Up to then she could have been a somewhat masochistic and judgmental caretaker who knew the truth about the old lady’s transgressions.

      A fine piece of writing!

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks snuzcook, I really appreciate the comments.
        With regards to the two theories, both of them are somewhat correct. For the longest time, the MC believed she was Rose’s daughter, but they never lived together as a family. The father left Rose when the MC was born. She’s now Rose’s only living relationship. Rose knows the MC is not her real daughter, the MC probably suspects as much, but it only really hits home in the end. The MC will not accept Rose playing the victim, but she is in a way, being cared for by the constant reminder of her husband’s infidelity.

    3. Nicki EagerReader

      Just quickly logged in to throw my weight behind Reaper and snuzcook- your story was really well crafted with a finely tuned understanding of the nature of “villany”. Kudos!

      (The MC is the almond-eyed boy, isn’t he? Now sort of hash-faced, I suppose…)

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks, Nicky, much appreciated 🙂
        The MC is Rose’s husband’s daughter. The implication is that the boy died at some indeterminate time.

    4. Critique

      Wow, well written and engrossing to read. The horrific abuse to the little boy and the psychotic behavior of the abuser made my blood boil. I sense that you may have personal experience with elderly people that have dementia? The last three sentences – if she’s speaking truth from a window of reality in her sick mind – turn the story in a completely different direction. Perhaps she’s not his biological mother after all.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks! Unfortunately, I do have experience with elderly people who’ve been broken by dementia. It’s a bit of a theme that unintentionally rears its head whenever I write, as it’s my no.1 fear.

  11. George Cain

    Nice Story. I discover myself seeking to know more but sensation like I shouldn’t. Like I’ve just been given a glance of an ideal time and if I realized more the deficiency of secret would take something away from that ideal moment I got to invest in their lifestyles.
    http://laustan.com/

    1. Rene Paul

      A sweet dream was playing in my mind when the grating sound of the alarm brought me back to reality. I rolled out of bed, slipped on the clothing I had set out and headed for the kitchen.
      “Mom, what are you doing up so early?” I said, as I grabbed my duffle bag off the breakfast nook. I asked the question even though I knew the answer.
      “You know what today is, don’t you?” She said tapping her fingers on the table.
      “Yes, Mother, I’m well aware of the date”.
      “And you’re still going?”
      I gave her the classic puppy-dog look then raised my eyebrows, shrugged my shoulders and nodded as I walked out the door.

      I met Wally and Mike at Jason’s house, the same group of friends I’ve been camping with, save one, since high school. We headed out for Big Bear Creek to camp at a spot we called the Agora Falls. We arrived at daybreak and stood in awe at the beauty of the scene filling our vision and the sweet aroma the pine trees and fresh mountain air brought to our senses.

      “Hard to believe that this is where it all happened last year.” I said as we gazed at the water cascading down the falls into a large pond that stretched out before us. No one answered.

      Jason broke the silence, “Let’s set up”. He turned and headed back to a flat rise about 20 yards from the water’s edge. Jason was a natural leader. When the group couldn’t decide what to do or where to go, Jason had the final say. We always followed.

      Mike organized the site details. Wally and I were fast at work setting it all up. Jason grabbed a beer and folding chair. Camp was complete by mid-morning. We spent the day fishing for our supper. I caught the most fish, which meant I didn’t have to dress them for the frying pan. Jason designated that chore to Wally.

      After dark, we all sat around the campfire, the moment of dread was fast approaching, and we all knew it was coming but no one spoke of it the entire day. We all looked at Jason. He took a final swig of beer and tossed the can into the fire. “We’ll climb to the top of the falls tomorrow morning, no sense worrying about it tonight.”

      We all exhaled, a reprieve of sorts.
      Morning came to soon and before we knew it, we were all standing on the top of Agora Falls, looking down at a seventy-foot drop.
      “We have to jump or we’ll be haunted about Tony’s death for the rest of our lives.” Jason Said.
      Wally gave him a hard look, “It was your idea”.
      “It was our individual decision to do it.” Mike said. “Jason didn’t force us.”
      I raised my hands. “No one is blaming anyone here. We jump as brothers or we walk away as brothers.” Jason made the decision for us.

      1. regisundertow

        Oh, damn…Good ending. I was wondering where the conflict was and you hit me with a sledgehammer. This has a beautiful ’80s coming-of-age vibe to it.

      2. Rene Paul

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. I didn’t plan for it to read that way but after reading your comment – you’re right it does read like an 80’s movie. Appreciate your comment 🙂

      3. snuzcook

        I enjoyed this story, Rene! It had the feel of a comfortable, almost fast forward, to the last five lines. Then the entire depth of the story is revealed in that short exchange. And you leave us at the moment of the leap. Holy cliff-hanger! Nicely done!

      4. Nicki EagerReader

        Hallo Rene! This was a well-constructed story with a very literal ciff-hanger. I liked that you left the story open, and you managed to salvage a lot of group dynamics in this brief sketch. My only suggestion for improvement at this point is with the formatting, but that’s a matter of practice (and I’m not very good at it myself, so I won’t lecture you here). I think that possibly the text could be rendered more pleasing with a different arrangement of paragraphs.

        Keep it coming!

        1. Rene Paul

          Awesome insight, thanks for reading and submitting a valuable critique. I try to write short stories – 500 words or less – in two hours or less. A short time frame forces me to think about character development and story dynamics. I must admit English was my worst subject in school. I hated it! But creative writing… I love. I didn’t consider formatting at all. I’ll study up on it so I can do better next time. Thanks again.

  12. Craig the Editor

    The Anniversary

    Harry grabbed his dad’s old duffle bag and started for the door, hoping for a smooth getaway. The clock over the sink indicated that it was past five o’clock and his friends would be expecting him.

    “I really don’t understand why you are going. You’ve always hated camping. And now all of a sudden you want to go? I just don’t understand it.” stated his mother as she started to prepare dinner.

    The Smooth Getaway sighed and sat down on one of the barstools and looked longingly at the liquor cabinet.

    “There’s nothing to understand. I am going up to the lake with some friends from work. They got a new tent and they want to break it in. It’s not like we are going deep into the Amazon.” He sat the duffle bag down and leaned it against the counter.

    “Warning! Warning! Wrong thing to say!” screams his inner voice after the fact.

    “Do I have to remind you marks the tenth anniversary of your father’s disappearance in the Amazon jungle? How do you think it makes me feel? What if something happened to you?”

    ” I know it makes you sad and depressed and alone but it’s time to move on. Look I am really sorry Dad bailed on us and got himself lost in the jungles of Brazil but I am only going two hours away to Lake Michigan. I am fairly sure that I will not be kidnapped by hostile natives. Yes, I would prefer a luxury suite in Las Vegas but on my budget the lake and free lodging are all I can afford.”

    “Okay, make a joke of it, but I think your father is still alive and it’s like I can sense his presence on the anniversary of his disappearance.”

    “You say that every year at this time. Please, you’ve got to face the situation. Dad is gone and life moves on. I don’t want to sound heartless but he’s gone and just because there’s no body doesn’t mean he’s quietly living in Pittsburgh.”

    Crushed Hopes pours Smooth Getaway a martini. He salutes her and downs the drink in one gulp.

    “If I thought for two seconds that your father was living in Pittsburgh, then, that would be crazy. But he’s not. He’s alive and trying to get back to us.”

    “Well if he does, he’ll have to wait until I get back from the lake. There’s no cell reception up there.” Harry grabbed his duffle bag and heads for rhe door.

    “Please don’t go. I know you want to go off with your friends but I really need you to stay here. I’m making your favorite, fried chicken…with bacon potatoes.”

    His hand is on the door knob when he turns towards his mother. “Really? We are going to go through this again? I told you a couple weeks ago that I wasn’t going to be here. I barely remember the man, who was my father. I am not going to let the past control what I want to do today. Why would he suddenly show up on the anniversary of his disappearance?”

    I don’t know why, but why not? There never was a body. One night he was in the camp and the next morning her was gone. I believe he was taken by someone or …some thing living in the jungle. And I believe that he will find a way to escape. Please stay?”

    “Fried chicken, you say?”

    “With bacon potatoes.”

    “It’s probably gonna rain at the lake this weekend. I’ll make some phone calls.”

    Smooth Getaway snores peacefully.

    1. Reaper

      The Smooth Getaway seemed jarring but as you incorporated it into the story it became a wonderful thing. You have a couple of typos, a tense shift with heads to the door and a her instead of a he. Otherwise this has a smooth flow, the way the MC talks makes me want to dislike him but then I end up on his side, so that was very well done. Good story.

    2. regisundertow

      Lovely use of the “Smooth Gateway” and “Crushed Hopes”, touch of genius there.
      Some nitpicking; you could probably do without the last line, the story ends quite nicely at “phone calls”. I’m also having some difficulty understanding your protagonist’s callousness with regards to his father’s disappearance, but maybe I’m mistaken. He did stay behind, after all. Maybe it’s a bit of a front or not really his intention, in which case, I’d love to read more.

  13. ReathaThomasOakley

    The Girl’s Anniversary

    They been arguin’ all day, seems like, ever since Miz Tuggle come this morning. I don’t like when Mama and Granny argue, makes me hurt inside like I’m gonna get stomach sick. Me and Mama don’t hardly never argue with Granny.

    “She cain’t go, it ain’t safe,” Mama says. “Nineteen years to this very day, and you just tell her, don’t forget clean underwear.”

    “Well,” Granny laughs like she’s thinkin’ somethin’ funny, “the Girl gotta have clean underwear.”

    Me, I’m the Girl.

    “Mama, I swear, I don’t know who’s more childish, you or her,” Mama’s gettin’ flustered. I got tired listenin’ in the front room, tired a watchin’ Mama stomp all over the floor, got tired watchin’ Granny’s teeth. They was actin’ like I ain’t got no ears, like I aint hearin’ ’em, like I wasn’t even with ‘em.

    I got me a Orange Crush outta the icebox, I ‘spect they don’t know I’m gone to the bedroom. I stick my fingers in my ears, but it don’t do no good, I still hear ’em.

    “Myrtis, you ain’t understandin’ what I’m a sayin’,” Granny’s using her reasonin’ voice. Mama’s gonna give up right soon. “The Girl’s jest goin’ to Coreen Tuggle’s to spend the night ’cause there’s a tourist bus comin’ real early in the morning and Coreen needs her.” I like workin’ for Miz Tuggle down at the motel. She says I work good and I get paid.

    “Mama, I listened to you in January, sent her to town to that ghost hunter place, I even let her go all the way to Washington, D.C., on the train,” Mama sounds tired out, “but it weren’t her anniversary them times. She came back safe, but what if this time she don’t?”

    “Myrtis, we both gonna tell her, be careful, ain’t we?” Granny sounds ’bout wore out, too. “She got you outta that tourist home, didn’t she? You done told her ’bout the red haints, to watch out for men what might do her wrong. She done seen her daddy. Her gift’s gettin’ stronger. If it happens, it happens. If they come, they come. We gotta believe she can see it through. I seen it through, my mama and her mama seen it through, all on our anniversaries. We cain’t keep on keepin’ her inside ever year. She ain’t no baby no more. She’s got more smarts than you know.” I like that Granny says I got smarts. Most folks says I ain’t got no smarts at all.

    “She’s my baby,” Mama says, but I ‘spect she’s ‘bout argued out. “Sometimes I wish I had the gift, not my Girl. Sometimes I wish…”

    “Myrtis, don’t you cry now, we gotta let her go, she’s gonna do jest fine.”

    I pick up my paper sack with my clean underwear and my pop-it-beads, ‘cause I know it won’t be long I’ll be headin’ down the road to Miz Tuggle’s motel. Granny usually gets her way.

    (495 words)

    1. Reaper

      Well, this has done an interesting full circle and keeps on delivering. The writing on this was done very well, the eaves dropping, unintentionally, aspect was fresh and helped to keep the story as good as always.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you for your comments. I so appreciate what you and others leave for me, but never can seem to find the right words or time to give in kind. I read what you leave for others and learn from what you write.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hey, Reatha!

      The amazing thing about your ‘The Girl’ stories is how consistently you’ve kept the dialect and the voices of your characters. Each new story feels like a new chapter in the same book…if that makes sense. 🙂

      And for the record, I love this exchange -> “Nineteen years to this very day, and you just tell her, don’t forget clean underwear.”
      “Well,” Granny laughs like she’s thinkin’ somethin’ funny, “the Girl gotta have clean underwear.”

      😀

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Hey, Cosi!

        Thank you so very much, I struggle with consistency, but try to read everything aloud. I have tried to find unique voices for these folks. I do make mistakes, like making the Girl 16 one time and 18 another. I can’t make every prompt fit, and had about given up this week. I need to capture every little story from the site because I change a lot “in the box”. I think by now I might have a longer short story done, 500 words at a time.

        And, don’t tell anyone, but I liked that bit of dialogue myself.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, so very much. I think this is a great place to experiment with all sorts of different techniques. As I wrote to Reaper, I so appreciate the feedback, and wish I had the words to do more for the other stories here.

    3. regisundertow

      Always looking forward to the cadence in your stories. I honestly admire anyone who can this lingo down in such a way that I can almost hear it.

  14. rainiemills

    She worries too much I think nodding my head as my mom spews out words I don’t want to hear. Be careful out there….you know tonight is the anniversary… These words echo through my head as I run to the car my buddies are all piled into. I toss my duffel, sleeping bag and pillow into the trunk. We will be in the middle of nowhere, enjoying all that nature has to offer. Wide open space.

    “What was that all about?” Dean asked. His eyes focused on my mother pacing frantically on the porch.

    I glance at her briefly and notice the shadows under her eyes. God, has she even slept lately? I know I should feel bad leaving her, especially tonight, but I just can’t take it anymore. I need a break. Her constant paranoia. It gets tiring quickly. “Nothing.” I murmur. “Let’s get out of here.”

    As the car slipped further down the street so did the huge weight that has been smothering me. I could finally breathe. “Give me a beer.” The ice cold can meant to squelch the heat of shame out of me. I guzzled it down as fast as I could. Fuck. I shouldn’t have left her alone. Not tonight.

    I don’t know why I should have to feel this guilt all the time. I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t my fault. I lost him too. The scene replays as it has a million times. A knock on the door followed by an awful noise. Fear enveloped the room. My heart raced as my parents calmly told me to ‘hide and no matter what happens don’t let them find you’. Be quiet. Be still. The knock again. The blood raced through my body as I ran. Echoes of every heartbeat humming in my ears. The flesh on my fingers tear as I scramble to pick up the slats covering the small space in the floor. My special hiding spot. I made it though, just as the front door splintered open. My panicked breathes covered by the loud noises above. I try to slow my breathing as the first gunshots rang out. The smell of gunpowder and blood instantly consume me. A moan, a scream another gunshot. And what did I do? I lay there pissing myself in forced silence while they shot my dad. The tortured sounds of my mother filled my head. The only other thing I remember hearing was a deep voice saying, where is he? I did what I was told to do. I hid and didn’t let them find me. I lay in the small space under the floor in my piss soaked pants and did nothing but weep like a little fucking baby. I should have done something, but I couldn’t. I was immobilized by fear – fear of doing the wrong thing – fear of getting killed. This is my demon now, my darkness, my self-hate. My revenge to seek.

    “You okay man?” Griffin nudges me. I smile and shotgun another beer. “Of course I am bro, I’m always okay.” And for a moment I almost regret involving him in my plan.

    1. Reaper

      So you seem to have an interesting beginning to a revenge story going here. I’m curios about this world and the situation and where it goes from here. You have some back and forth on tense but that seems mostly stylistic as will happen in first person narratives. I will say the murmur instead of murmured towards the beginning seemed out of place though.

    2. jhowe

      Is it me or have you not been seen here in a while? I like your style of writing with the grit and the no-nonsense dialog and the crispness. Nothing like shotgunning a beer to calm ones nerves.

    3. regisundertow

      The dialogue makes me feel your protagonist’s hate, the words feel like they’re spat out. Not easy reading, but definitely worth it.

  15. jhowe

    Epilogue

    I feel a hand covering mine and I open my eyes. It’s my oldest, Mel. We named her Melody but everyone calls her Mel.

    “How you doing mama?” she says.

    I look down and see I’m still wearing the hospital gown as the IV tube steadily drips into my arm. Behind Mel, a man waits. “Steve, is that you?” I don’t recognize my own voice, so weak and raspy.

    “No ma’am, it’s me, Phil.”

    “Phil?”

    “It’s my husband mama.”

    “I thought it was Steve.” My youngest, Steve, hasn’t been to see me. He’s a very busy man. Very important. “Tell him to be careful out there.”

    “I called Steve mama,” Mel says. “He said he would come but you know how he is.”

    The man called Phil rolls his eyes and walks to the window. A pain stabs me in the chest, spasms of broken glass as I try to breath. A nurse appears and injects something into the IV. I feel instant warmth in my arm and the pain starts to melt away. Mel and Phil watch with grim expressions.

    “You ok mama?”

    I exhale slowly and nod. My eyelids are so heavy.

    “Can I get you anything?” Mel asks.

    I turn my head and look at her hazel eyes. When did she get those wrinkles? “How bout a rum martini,” I say.

    Their laughter is forced, canned like in a sitcom. I look at my stark surroundings, the stained hospital gown, the IV tube and the muted TV with The Price is Right dancing on the screen.

    “Mama, we can’t bring liquor in here,” she says smiling stiffly. “They’ll kick us out.”

    Somehow I don’t think we’d get kicked out. My breathing becomes labored again but I feel no pain.
    Fucking cigarettes. I close my eyes as my lungs rebel with renewed vigor.

    “You sleep now mama,” she says. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

    I don’t want to sleep. I’m certain I won’t wake up if I do. Steve will be here soon and then I’ll sleep. My breathing becomes easier and I feel my chest relax. Though my eyes are closed I see a distant light, like a lantern swinging on a dark night behind the doors of the old barn. I walk to the barn, the path familiar and peer inside. “Lieutenant?”

    “Daddy’s gone mama. He’s been gone for twelve years.”

    “Lieutenant, help me.”

    “Please mama,” Mel says. “I’m here for you.”

    The swinging light fades and only darkness remains. I open my eyes again. Mel’s face is wet with tears. “Steve?” I say.

    “Yes,” she says. “Steve’s here mama. He says he loves you.”

    The light is back, swinging back and forth. I know Steve isn’t here but bless her heart for trying. My eyes won’t stay open any longer and I walk to the light and into the barn. I’m home now. The inside of the barn is bright and cheery. I look out into the darkness and say goodbye as the doors close.

    1. snuzcook

      A beautiful vignette, jhowe. All we need to know is in there. Or maybe I should say, we know all that is in there. The interactions are universal, and so the story touches familiar fears and pain. Mel’s last words and her mother’s ability to recognize her ploy are a wonderful touch. Well done!

    2. Geezer Muse

      Beautifully composed jHowe. Especially the hospital scene, stained gown, dreary Price Is Right. The scene where Phil tries to take Steve’s place is in fact, very touching.There are worse things than leaving this world, not leaving soon enough. Kerry

    3. ReathaThomasOakley

      Ah, a terrific finale. Loved the reference to the rum martini, the drink that started their adventure. Did the children ever hear the whole story, I wonder? I doubt they’d believe it.

    4. Reaper

      This has a real sense of dying. Especially that selfish moment where that burns the other people there but we have to forgive later. This still leaves me wanting to know more but is so perfect to finish this off as ell.

    5. regisundertow

      Ah, I hate to see these characters go. Still, beautiful ending for a cool story, and I appreciated the rum martini and the cries of “Lieutanant”.

    6. rainiemills

      I believe I missed most of this story….I will have to search for the rest… your work always draws me in…The descriptions had me there, in the hospital feeling the emotions…Love it.

  16. snuzcook

    (spoiler–violent on many levels)

    MIRACLES

    “Be careful out there.” Those were my mother’s last words to me.

    That was a year ago, on the first anniversary of the Rising, at the end of the first year of Purgatory. I was on my way with the Faithful to the river, to be washed clean, seeking a second chance for redemption.

    Brother Michael had called us to the river. He preached that we could force the gates of Heaven and demand our place with the others who had been called up in the Rapture. It was our right, he told us. The initial Rising had only been to get our attention. In the past year, we had proven our faith by acts of self-sacrifice. We had transformed our community into a town that walked the narrow path of scripture. We had resolved to adhere in every possible way to the strictest interpretation of the Bible. As the months passed, Brother Michael had become more and more convinced that there would be a second chance, a Second Rising on the anniversary. There would be a miracle, he told us. On that day, he called all of the Faithful to come to the river.

    Mother had refused. She did not believe Brother Michael. Her faith was not strong enough. I should have shunned her, but I could not. I went to invite her one more time, and to say good-bye, since there was a good chance I would not see her again on this earth.

    She again said she thought the plan was misguided. She argued that wasn’t the way it worked, that the Rising was not something we could understand in such simple terms, and that Redemption could not be dictated in this way. I allowed her to talk, knowing she could not weaken my faith. She was a relic of the old, inadequate complacency. We no longer spoke the same language.

    When it was clear she could not dissuade me, and I could not move her, she simply embraced me. “I’ll pray for you,” she said. The arrogance of her words stung, but I forgave her this as well. “Be careful out there,” she called after me as I walked out the door.

    A miracle did happen that day, but it was not what Brother Michael had promised. In hundreds we approached the river barefoot, some on their knees–a multitude in white ready to end our year of self-denial. We sang as we went, voices increasing as our numbers swelled the nearer we came to our destination. Then the voices in front faltered and went silent, unnoticed at first by the mass of singers behind, until at last the singing died when we saw for ourselves the miracle: The riverbed, which the day before was filled with a wide, welcoming flow of salvation, as dry and empty.

    The multitude of the faithful was transformed. At first, the crowd fell into stunned and confused silence. The silence turned to rage. Each felt betrayed, rejected by God, fooled, unworthy, angry. It was the man once known as Brother Michael who was the first to die in the mob’s need to crush underfoot the source and reminders of its shame.

    When the blood lust dissipated and the shreds of the multitude crept back to the town, we discovered that a second miracle had occurred. A second Rising, a second Call had emptied the town of all its other residents and we were alone. We had gambled and lost.

    That was a year ago. Today is the Anniversary of our rebirth, my rebirth. Like the rest, I live each day without second guessing. I have my work to do helping maintain the roads and common transportation. There is plenty of food, plenty of warm clothes, plenty of shelter for all of us in the town to share. I live like the others: We exist simply, we are kind and tolerant of each other, and we kept to ourselves. There are, after all, worse things than Purgatory. And any day may bring another miracle.

      1. Geezer Muse

        I loved it as well. Moral: They no sense in trying to out guess God. He dosn’t or at least I think he doesn’t operate in the same realm. You might check your ‘Brother Michael’ paragraph and delete some of the ‘hads’. It’s my worst thing to try to control. The first ‘had’ should set the entire paragraph. Kerry

          1. Critique

            Great read! I struggle with the ‘had’ affliction as well – they pop up like runaway popcorn.

    1. Reaper

      I see what you mean about mirrors but this is very different with a similar theme. Interesting the connections I find. This is very well written and beautiful. I don’t see an argument of faith, who’s faith is right here. I see a comment on what faith is, that faith is accepting and continuing and those that try to force their God to do something, or strictly interpret the words and shut out those who live any other way only prove they do not have the faith they are trying to force on themselves, others, and in the end the thing they worship. That’s what I read here, if you have faith it may be difficult but it is a thing you accept. I also loved the line in the last paragraph about there being plenty, because that reads as social commentary. We have enough so how many people have to disappear before we realize how to share?

      1. snuzcook

        Reaper, I think you hit the essence of the messages here:
        What is faith?
        To what lengths will people go to prove they are ‘deserving’ of heaven, and what are they actually proving when they do?
        And a third one: How do people react when appears they didn’t ‘make the cut’?

        In this story, the ‘Faithful’ decide to rewrite the rules as their way to mitigate their disappointment and disbelief. Ironically, those who simply accepted and waited to see what would happen were rewarded. I have written a very irrational situation, with the All Powerful Being acting like a bit of a sadistic Jokester offering miracles intended to thwart the hubris of Brother Michael without telling anyone the rules of Purgatory.

    2. regisundertow

      Just beautiful. I’m glad I managed to read this before turning in for the night. It reads as much as a moral story as a post-apocalyptic thriller. The Stand came to mind immediately, but more realistic (under the circumstances). Loved it.

  17. HandHeldWriter

    Can you believe it: my mother of all people reminding me about
    the anniversary… MY ANNIVERSARY!

    I mean, it is her fault I’m in this predicament; she is the reason I am the way I am. I was raised like this. Hell, I was born like this. Nonetheless, I shouldn’t be sore with her. I had plenty of opportunities to change my ways and be different, take on an alternate lifestyle. But my family is important to me. It’s my heritage. It’s the legacy I will leave when I am gone from this life. Not the legacy that the world will see; they know little to nothing about me–the real me. I’m talking about the legacy that will be shared and handed down generation to generation within my family. I guess you could say it’s our family secret. It’s a secret that must take place every year, the first full moon in June. Fortunately for me, this occurs on the same exact weekend as my senior class camping trip. Unfortunately, some of them won’t be graduating this year.

    I grab my duffle bag, the weight shifting and clanging within its leather binding. My mother gives me an approving nod and nod back. As I walk down the driveway to wait for my classmates to pick me up, I can feel the anxiousness build inside me. Am I nervous? No. Am I scared? Not a chance. Am I excited? Most definitely. Think about it: for an entire year, I am forced to be someone I’m not, to pretend I’m normal; this is the one time I can be free, I can let loose, I can be whom I was born to be. Excited? You just don’t know how excited I am right now.

    When the SUV pulls up, I carefully place my bag in the back with the others, and I join my classmates up front. The ride to the campsite takes a couple hours, and I know my night will be very busy and active so I close my eyes and grab a quick nap.

    Upon arriving in the very secluded woods, I walk around taking in the surroundings. In this atmosphere and with the imminent thrill that will take place tonight, my senses heightened and sharpen to unimaginative levels. A devilish grins creeps across my face that I cannot contain. I love this time of year!

    As we setup our tents, I can’t help but look around at my classmates and wonder: who will be the first? who will be the last? who will scream the loudest? and who will go quiestest? That’s the one that grants the most satisfaction, the quiet one.

    The campfire flickers its yellow and red flames as we sit around it in a circle, enjoying the cool breeze that envelopes us. With the sun tucked away for the night under the horizon and the bright, full moon watching over us in grave anticipation, I grab the items from my bag and I begin….

    1. Reaper

      This is an interesting premise, especially with such a young narrator. You have some language that needs an edit pass, such as unimaginative for unimaginable levels. I admit I’m not sure if you were going for a monster monster or a homicidal monster. I think you were going for the second. There is something here, well written and interesting but it seems off somehow, like it crossed from being a monster story to almost glorifying evil. Maybe that’s just me, but want to hate your MC more, to understand but loathe him, and yet the way this is presented I don’t get that emotional connection. That’s the only thing missing for me though.

    2. regisundertow

      It’s a cool story, but, hate to sound like a geek, I’m not seeing the conflict here. Maybe the story needs a higher word count to breathe and let us know why we should be invested. There’s plenty of disturbing imagery, but it needs to be set in a meaningful context.

  18. Dana Cariola

    Ever since Dad’s demise, Mom has become obsessed with all things paranormal and unexplained. We’ve tried to keep her grounded, by hiring a Nurse’s aide, in order to keep her mind occupied on every day things, rather than searching for clues to my father’s disappearance. I waved back to her, as I backed out of her driveway. Before leaving the lot, I reached into my shirt pocket for my cell phone, then dialed. As usual, the voice mail intercepted the call to Mom’s aide. No sooner had I hung up the phone, not wanting to record a message, her aging Cherokee Jeep came charging up the hillside. She nearly collided with my vehicle. She slammed on her brakes, locking them up.
    “Are you alright?” she yelled out of her driver’s side window. Although her tone lacked sincerity and concern for the fact that she’d nearly killed us both. I dismissed it.
    “Yeah, Deloris. I’m fine…I’m glad your here..Keep an eye on her today, she’s anxious about the trip.” I shouted back to her.
    “Okay, Tommy. I will.” she assured me, then steered her Jeep around my pick-up.
    I watched her vehicle, fade into the dense brush that lined the gravel road, wondering why we ever hired her.
    “I told her never to call me, Tommy!” I thought to myself. “She does that deliberately. Just to get a rise out of me! But, I’m stuck with her. No one around for miles, that is nearly as qualified as she is. And, Mom seems to like her.” I let out a sigh and headed down the mountain side, towards the interstate. After finally reaching the bottom of that treacherous roadway, my parent’s called, “their driveway.” I headed West towards Brown Mountain Camp grounds.
    The sun had set hours before, leaving me to navigate these mountain roads with headlamps that shorted out, without warning. But, I knew exactly what to do – if that happened.

    After several miles of listening to the sound of my car’s engine, choke in and out from the thinning air, of this mountain top. I decided to pull over, then adjust the setting on the in-take valve. Slowly, scanning the roadside for a clearing wide enough to pull into. I reached down beneath the bucket seat, and began searching for my portable spot light. “Got it!” I thought. Then traced the wire back, until I reached the adapter. Once plugged into the cigarette port. I held the light outside of the driver’s side window, scanning the roadside for a clearing. There, just ahead, was the perfect location. So, I eased up on the gas pedal and steered for the clearing.

    The mountains were unusually quiet here. The sounds of the nocturnal creatures hunting these hillsides are normally heard. But, this place? Somethings not right. Before leaving the safety of my vehicle, I turned the spotlight on the surrounding treeline. Nothing. Not one set of reflective eyes, glared back at me from inside of the treetops. An uneasy feeling enveloped me, as I continued searching for life. I reached over on the passenger side seat, then grabbed the empty glass bottle of orange juice, and tossed it out of the driver’s side window, and into the treeline. And, listened. The glass bottled shattered against the trunk of a tree. The treetop moved swiftly from side-to-side, as if something had jumped out of the way, of the exploding glass pieces. I scanned the treetops, desperately searching for this animal. Suddenly, the car’s radio blared out. The digital numerical sequences of the radio dial, furiously changed, as the music and voices coming through it, screamed inside of my car. I pounded my fist on it’s face board, in an attempt to damage it. But, it kept on rolling through the numbers, as if this were a count-down.

    The ground beneath my car began rumbling. As a small green orb circled the car several times, before disappearing into the woods. The rumbling continued and increased it’s intensity, as I watched in disbelief, as a black triangular craft, silently flew overhead. A piercing sound, like that of a fog horn blasted the mountain top, breaking the windows of my car. The deep percussion wave, that had penetrated and shattered the windows broke both of my eardrums. Screams of terror poured out of me. But, went unheard over the high-pitched decibel alarm from the alien spacecraft. As I looked up at it, through the windshield. It’s size was enormous! Yet, it made no sound! Apart from it’s defense mechanism. The tiny orb that I’d seen earlier, swirled in a vortex towards the ship’s center light, then disappeared inside of it. The colored lights that lined the bottom of the craft, turned the a brilliant white. Then vanished!

    Mom was right! When the Brown Mountain lights appear. People start to disappear.

    1. Reaper

      I liked this. Nice, detailed writing. The one point that threw me off was this was first person but you kept describing sound after the MC’s eardrums blew. That struck me as very strange. Other than that everything seemed just right with it.

  19. JRSimmang

    Stephen S, your challenge, if you choose to accept.

    HOW MANY WAYS CAN THE ROAD BE CROSSED?

    Mother was overly cautious. Or. Something.

    It hadn’t dawned on her yet that her world wasn’t worth the sacrifice any more. It wasn’t worth the early mornings. It wasn’t worth the Spring. And it certainly wasn’t worth the time.

    Enki came with me this time, hauling so much water the back of the truck sagged. Then again, it’s better to have it and not need it, right?

    We shot the shit for the first 45 minutes, catching up on all the projects we were working on. Enki was back with his old lady, Ninny, but regretted the decision because she had cats. Not only that, but she required the cats be walked daily. With leashes. Cats with leashes. Ridiculous. Then there was silence. That awkward kind where I knew something was gnawing at him.

    “So, she’s okay with it?”

    I looked over at him, his elbow slung out the car window, and smirked. “I don’t care what she wants. Look, this land is our land now.”

    “I mean,” he continued. “She’s, like, old school, right? Like, bury the cities in sand, asteroid strikes, battle of the gods old school, right?”

    I rolled my eyes. “Again, don’t care.”

    Enki pursed his lips together, shrugged, and sighed deeply while shaking his head.

    “Just keep your eyes on the road, bud? I don’t need it from you, too.”

    “Hey, look man, I’m in this thing with you.”

    The road was more or less constructed. There were patches of cement, but overall it was a 4-wheel drive job. It would have been fun, but Enki’s struts were shot, and the entire truck shook and bumped and threw us around. The things I do for ceremony.

    By the time we made it to the site, it was well past my bed time. Enki pulled over, got out, and dropped the tailgate. “Hungry?”

    I was, so we built a small fire and roasted hot dogs.

    “So,” he started. “Have you… put… any more…?”

    “Thought into who’ll be spared?”

    He shook his head. He was always uncomfortable with these sorts of things. Weak constitution.

    “Yeah,” I lied. “There’s a couple down in Bangladesh, a young woman in Lesotho, and a man in Jacksonville.”

    “Florida?”

    “Yeah.”

    “As in American? You’re keeping an American?”

    “I felt they needed some comedy relief.”

    He nodded his agreement. “Good call.” Then, he started crying. Out of nowhere.

    “Damn it, dude. Come on. I can’t do this with you blubbering like that.”

    He sniffled. “Sorry. It’s. sniffle Just. sniffle That. sniffle I’m gonna miss these,” and he held up his hot dog like a soccer trophy.

    “Ugh. Look. They’ll be back around. It took this last bunch only a few thousand years to make them.” I got up and walked over to him and put my arm around his shoulders.

    He tried a half-hearted smile. “Yeah, I know, it’s just that… I was beginning to like this bunch.”

    I looked up at the sky. “Maybe. Twenty years ago. But, now? Now, it’s… some sort of competition to see who can kill themselves faster.”

    “That’s how you really see them?”

    “Don’t you?” I stood up and faced the valley below. “Come over here and look out there! It’s one huge, oroboros-esque, teenage drama filled, cesspool of a nightmare! They can’t say anything to anyone without someone getting offended, people are cutting off the heads of babies, and I’m not even going to mention the lies they tell themselves to make it all okay.”

    Enki got to his feet and walked up next to me. The light of the moon made him look as old as he really was. “But, there’s some good left.”

    “There was good left in Atlantis. There was good left in Babylon. There was good left in Egypt.”

    “It’s never going to be perfect.”

    “I’m not asking it to be.”

    He looked up at me and breathed in deeply. “I’ll get the water.”

    I looked out once again over the valley, reached up to the moon, and turned it off. Behind me, Enki opened his barrels of water and tipped them onto the earth. Tonight was the anniversary of the Revelation. It was the anniversary of the Rebirth. Mother was right. I had to be careful.

    -JR Simmang

    1. snuzcook

      A wonderful tale with the all-powerful beings demonstrating all the same aspects of humans that they seem to expect us to overcome. And hot dogs! Very clever and extremely well done.

  20. snuzcook

    CEREMONY

    She watched me get ready, her eyes catching the flicker from the fireplace, following my every move. The left side of her mouth was set grimly; the other side had no opinion since the stroke.

    On the floor next to her chair, Ruby her ancient golden retriever also watched, ears cocked. Whenever I paused and glanced their way, Ruby would thump her tail as if in encouragement, wanting me to stop, to think of them. It was as if she wanted, sensing my mother’s anxiety, for me to stay, to sit.

    I placed the last item, a cable knit sweater that had belonged to him, into the carefully packed bag. The act of zipping it closed and dropping it to the floor seemed to seal at that moment the question whether or not I would go.

    I went to her chair, put my hand on her thin, cold hand where it cupped the end of the armrest. “You know I have to. It’s what he wanted.”

    “It’s not what I want.” She had already said all she had to say at length and she was too tired to repeat it.

    I sighed. “I know.” I had already said all that needed to be said as well. Life would simply have to move on from here.

    I took the brushed metal canister from its ornate wooden box on the mantle. Joey’s photo grinned at me from the front of the box, egging me on. He was always making me do things that Mom wouldn’t like. Mom looked at the photo and saw her darling boy who adored her and in death could do no wrong. I saw the slightly malicious gleam of the bad boy who lived on entitlement and charm and managed to get away with almost everything. This was his last request, and he managed to make me look bad in front of Mom once again.

    As I tucked the canister into my shoulder bag, Mom got up, and with Ruby by her side walked down the hall toward her bedroom. She would not acknowledge my leaving, not acknowledge any further my actions. The anniversary of her most recent loss was too painful, and she would share none of her grief with someone who was capable of disregarding her wishes.

    I called good-night as I left because to not have done so would have wounded me. I closed the door gently and shivered at the wide openness of the evening.

    The drive up to the park was fast. The roads were clear and dry, hardly any traffic. It was like that a year ago, too. The campground was nearly empty. May was still early for most campers. I chose a spot that had a good supply of wood for a fire and some logs to sit on, but opted to sleep in hatchback since it was already dark and there was a chance it might rain.

    Later that night, looking out the hatch window at the stars, I thought of Joey. He loved to come up here, usually with a bunch of friends, usually high, usually drunk. I came up with them a few times, but I didn’t find what he had found here. There was something he sought that he came close to finding here and nowhere else. There was a kind of freedom he needed that he only found immersed in booze and pot and music and friends. At least, I like to think he found it.

    Mom couldn’t understand that. She couldn’t understand his need to be escape. After Dad died, she clung to him as a kind of surrogate in a way even she didn’t recognize. A daughter was competition in an irrational way, but a son could be her rock and support. Joey was not made of the stuff that could withstand that kind of pressure. He’d fled at every chance and in every way he could.

    Dawn drew me out into the chill of the empty campground. The walk to the trestle was not long, and the canister in my shoulder bag was not heavy. I put on Joey’s sweater more for ritual than against the cold. I needed to summon Joey’s presence, to invite his participation in this ceremony of his making.

    The trestle at last stretched before me, straight and uncompromising. I could feel the seductive pull to go forward onto the span, a few yards, a few more. The river below was partly hidden by trees in their spring greenery. The perfect place to sit and drink, to sit and get high, to sit and be young and foolish and feel oneself immortal. This is where he died, drunk and high and foolish, falling off to his death.

    The me deep inside argued against going out on the span. I had to force myself to go far enough that Joey’s ashes would fall as he had intended, to touch the trees and the river and the rocks below.
    At home Mom was hardening herself to the reality that Joey’s remains would never rest where she could visit them, that the very thought of such a visitation would be a painful reminder of the manner of his death.

    I opened the canister. “You son of a bitch!” I yelled to the brother I would never be so close to again. And my words echoed back, as Joey would have laughed: “Bitch bitch bitch bitch.”

    That evening I drove home, finally at peace. The canister sat beside me, still half full. I had worked a deal with all my ghosts. Somewhere below the trestle some cold, weary hiker would undoubtedly be grateful to come across a warm, cable knit sweater, slightly smudged with ash. And my mother will have back her brushed metal canister a little lighter but still the essential reliquary she needs. And Ruby will thump her tail for me in unconditional approval, letting me know I’ve done the right thing.

    1. snuzcook

      Chronic problem with weak ending, so feel free to suggest a different way to go. Length results from inner editor spending attention elsewhere….

      1. cosi van tutte

        Hey, snuz!

        I don’t know. The ending didn’t sound weak to me. I think you ended it just right. I like the fact that even though she has strong feelings about her mother and her brother, she tried to honor both of their wishes. And I really like the last line. 🙂

    2. regisundertow

      I don’t see a problem with the ending, as it’s what differentiates it from the other prompts here. I actually liked it. You could have spent some more words in describing how cathartic it felt to release the ashes to give the proceedings more gravity and because it’d be interesting knowing what went through your protagonist’s head during those moment…but it also works great as is. It was a genius touch having the echo mock him.

      1. snuzcook

        Thank you, Regis. You make some good points, echoed below by JRS. Also you accidentally or intentionally picked up on the fact that as I wrote it I wasn’t committed to whether the narrator was a sister or a younger brother, and I think it would work well either way. Clearly I came down onto the side of a sister; it was primarily because I wasn’t sure a brother would bother with the tactile image of wearing the sweater (which I wanted to use), and because the choice of a mother’s love might not be as convincingly dissimilar between two sons as between a daughter and a son.

        1. regisundertow

          Ah, I see. I interpreted the line “A daughter was competition in an irrational way, but a son could be her rock and support” differently, but my bad.

          1. snuzcook

            No, I love it! I often write with a certain ambiguity to gender, and it is always picked up by some readers–I call it perceptive…!

    3. JRSimmang

      Snuz, I think this story is elegant and thoughtful. The ending, where a polishing isn’t completely necessary, contains the sense of finality the MC is seeking. I do wonder when she took off the sweater, though.

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, JRS. I agree it would have been a wonderful scene to write as she flings the sweater off into space to fall among the ashes–her thoughts, her sensations, her physicality during the action, etc. Lots of potential there. But it was already a pretty lengthy story…

    4. Manwe38

      Not a weak ending at all.

      This was sad, and sweet, and so utterly real. That first line about the half-face having no opinion since the stroke was a beautiful line, and so descriptive of the suffering stroke victims are forced to endure…not to mention her emotional pain. You also did an excellent job pulling me into the MC’s head.

      Strong work!

      1. Geezer Muse

        Welome back Snuz. An excellent story. You paint a scene of pain, mis-directed blame. As sorry as I feel for the mother, even more so for the daughter. She shows resolve, deep understanding of how fragile life is. Not every story needs a pop at the last sentence of a story, if fact it wouldn’t work as well as you ended it. Kerry

        1. snuzcook

          Thank you, Kerry!
          Perhaps my fear that the ending was weak comes from the recognition that the change in the protagonist–which is the hope and fear of any good yarn–was merely compromise rather than epiphany.
          Snuz

    5. Reaper

      snuzcook! Don’t ever leave me again. 🙂 Powerful and beautiful as always. The words flowed so sweetly but with that melancholy edge. I thought the ending was brilliant because the dog was, for me, a combination of the brother’s spirit, the mother’s love, and the daughter’s conscience. That actually showed up when the dog was first mentioned. So ending on the connection between the two, her and the one person who wasn’t in some way actively or in memory able to judge her and finding approval there was some powerful stuff.

    6. regisundertow

      (continuing my reply here)
      Making your protagonist’s gender ambiguous is an interesting approach, one that made me wonder how you can play with readers’ expectations and biases. A faceless protagonist, very interesting indeed.

    7. Critique

      Wonderful writing snuzcook. I thought the ending was strong – she (you mentioned daughter so I assumed she was the daughter) brought closure to several issues with her actions.

  21. Violet Hayes

    Gene tried his best to push his mother’s words out his mind as the trees out the passenger side window grew thicker and taller, signifying their entrance into the forest. In the backseat, Alex and Jay rolled down the window and catcalled at female joggers, while Oliver, behind the wheel, rolled his eyes and said, “C’mon, guys, we don’t want a restraining order on the first day!”

    Jay leaned back, grinning. “Did you see the rack on that chick?” he said. “Give it a ten!”

    Alex cackled, and Oliver shook his head. Then he glanced over at Gene, still staring out the window. “Hey, Gene,” he said, “you all right?”

    At his friend’s voice, Gene turned his head and, with an actor’s skill, painted a smile on his face. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Be careful, his mother’s voice hissed in his ear. “Just fine.”

    Half an hour later, they pulled into the campground’s parking lot. There was a burst of activity, hauling supplies out of the trunk, Alex dropping one of the two liters and it bursting on the gravel and the shouting that followed. Soon they were loaded down and hiking down the trail, towards the campsite. And while his friends laughed and joked, Gene loitered along behind them, each step feeling more weighted than the last. Too soon could he look back and no longer see the parking lot. His heartbeat hammered in his chest.

    Be careful.

    “In coming!”

    Something hit him in the face, and he leapt backwards, a fist raised until—

    Gene looked down. A pinecone rolled at his feet. A relieved breath slipped out, then a growl. “Cut it out,” he snapped.

    “Sheesh,” Alex laughed, “someone’s moody!”

    They didn’t understand his edginess. He didn’t expect them to. And when nighttime fell, they would be in for a rude awakening.

    His mother warned him to be careful, beware the monster in the forest. The monster that ate his father.

    As Gene eyed his three newest victims, he wondered once more how much longer he could keep his mother from discovering that the monster didn’t live in the forest after all. Looking down, Gene could already see the sharpening of his fingernails, the hair sprouting along his knuckles. He knew the monster was a hungry beast, and someone had to go.

    He fought the smirk that formed around his glistening canines. His eyes narrowed in on his three friends.

    “Wait up!” Gene called. “Anyone else starving?”

    He could keep the secret a little longer. After all, Gene was a very careful boy.

    1. Reaper

      Very nice Violet! Good, powerful twist, some nice misdirection up front in the form of the mother’s voice. Also, your monster was a monster and there was no humanization of that part of him. I swooned a little. I could also deal with more of this.

  22. Manwe38

    A somewhat…different take on the prompt. Hope you all like it…

    ***
    “Detachment”

    “Be careful out there.” The words rang through the wreckage of my thoughts like a gunshot. Somewhere, caught in the frozen second between life and death, reason and madness, my mind snapped into focus like a diamond-tipped laser.

    My eyes flew open, and I stared into a field of brilliant white. Where was I? What had happened? What was this place, this non-place? Questions tumbled across my consciousness like whorls of dust in a desert wind, but no answers came with them. Instead, a curious sensation brushed over my skin–a soft touch, feathery but smooth. I squinted, looking for a break amidst the blinding white, my hands stroking a surface that seemed strangely familiar, and then it hit me.

    I was staring at the ceiling.

    A gasp worked its way through the narrow of my throat. Yes, there could be no doubt, my face was pressed against the top of a room. In another frozen second, I realized something else…
    …I was floating in midair.
    A second gasp tried to crawl past the gate, a furtive whistle that failed to make a sound. My arms lashed out, my legs kicked, and before I knew it, I had flipped myself over.
    And that’s when the real shock came.

    Several feet below me–eight? ten? did it really matter?–was a bed. Its occupant, a young man with tube in his mouth and a collar around his neck, appeared to deep in a peaceful sleep…but the machines which surrounded him like a mad scientists’s experiment gone wrong said otherwise. I stared, mouth open, and when another truth dawned like a mid-summer sunrise.

    I had no mouth. Or arms. Or legs. Or body, for that matter.

    As I stared at the gentle rise-and-fall of the strange figure’s chest, what I’d thought was my torso gently dissolved into a column of light. Undulating like a Hawaiian wave, it oscillated between yellow and white like a living star, illuminating the room with flickering streams.

    The door opened.

    I frowned. Or at least I thought I did. The muscles that were no longer there turned down the corners of my absent mouth. Or did they? Either way, it didn’t matter–the new arrival, clad in a long white coat, pulled the stethoscope off the back of the his neck and began to examine the unmoving body on the bed. As the cold metal touched the bare skin of his chest, I suddenly felt a tug–something was pulling on the belly I no longer had. The tug came again, stronger this time, and then I was falling, diving towards the comatose shell hooked up to machines that were keeping it alive.

    As I passed through the fleshy darkness of the doctor’s brain, it began to come back. The car. The curve, the one they called ‘Dead Man’s Pass.’ The drive to the mountains with my two best friends, celebrating one last night before college began. The sudden storm, the rain pouring down from the sky like the tears of God, rushing onto the road from the unseen cliffs that lined the serpentine path to the waiting summit. I had tried to brake, but it was too late–we’d hit the truck. It had happened so fast–a flash, a crash, and then nothing…until now.

    My body was waiting, a prison from which there would be no escape. If I entered now, I would never get out. Trapped behind the hell of broken synapses, no-one would be able to hear my screams. I wanted to stop it, tried to fight, but I had no heels to dig in with, or hands with which to grasp. As I passed the event horizon of my private black hole, a final thought entered my mind. Silent as death, cold as deep space, it seemed almost like a judge who was pronouncing his sentence:

    “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

    Hell was personal. Hell was forever. There was no way out.

    Welcome to Hell.

    1. snuzcook

      Love your descriptive language. You took something that is not a new concept but created new imagery to describe it. Favorite in this one “As I passed the event horizon of my private black hole…”

    2. regisundertow

      The language is just delicious here, lots of sentences I had to reread twice and roll around my mouth. Bit of a similar undercurrent to Johnny Got His Gun (old movie). That was really welly written Manwe, and probably one of my favorite entries for this prompt.

    3. Manwe38

      Thanks all!

      Yeah, I used a couple experimental phrases from some of the other books I’m writing for this one…glad everyone liked it!

      1. Geezer Muse

        I’m in the chorus of approval. Your descriptive journey describing the out of body and realizing you are pulled back into a life of pain and probably paralysis is masterly done here. I like going out on a limb myself if if I manage to saw it off. Bravo! Kerry

    4. Reaper

      From Hawaiian waves, to tears of God, to private event horizons. There are so many good lines in this one and the language is perfect. The story is classic but with a very different take. I think I should go back and read this while listening to One to get the full affect. Beautiful story and writing.

      1. Manwe38

        Thank you Reaper!

        I’ve always been fascinated by out-of-body experiences after almost having years ago when I was in college. The sensation of floating and disconnection is as vivid to me know as it was back then, and no less awe-inspiring. To this day, I still wonder what happened, and what it might mean.

        Thanks for reading.

    5. Critique

      The out of body experience was done so well. Re entering a body that’s brain damaged (broken synapses) would be A kind of hell. Well done!

  23. Geezer Muse

    KERRY CHARLTON

    THE BATTLE AT CAPE FLORIDA

    A long hot summer seemed endless as David Brian fended off his mom’s concern,

    “Jim and I have sailed to Cape Florida all summer, what’s the problem with

    camping over night?”

    “Remember the anniversary?”

    “Of what?’

    “The Seminole invasion of the light house is tonight.”

    “Mom, for heaven sakes, you’re talking about 1836.”

    “I know but I worry.”

    “We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon, okay?”

    He shut the door behind him before she could speak. Jim’s fire engine red 1945

    army Jeep scattered gravel as the wheels spun from David’s house. An hour later Jim’s

    sailboat cut through Biscayne Bay headed to Cape Florida.

    “I didn’t think she’d let you go.”

    “Oh she worries,” David said, “why I don‘t know, maybe an Indian scared her

    when she was little.”

    “Oh yeah, right… in Philadelphia.” Jim said. “Let’s sail to the north end where the

    lighthouse is.”

    “Agree, we can ambush the Seminoles when they show up from 118 years ago.

    They can’t be moving too fast now.

    Cape Florida light house had faced hurricanes, Seminole attacks, disinterest and

    stood in proud abandonment at the end of the island, still looking to seaward, but unable

    to illuminate the darkness.

    Where in hell are the tent spikes, Jim?’

    “Guess I forgot ‘em. Look for driftwood..”

    “Driftwood hell, they’re nothing but palms here. Do you wanna anchor the tent

    with coconuts?”

    “Don’t worry, we’ll sleep under the stars. Did you bring the mosquito stuff?”

    No, the tent has mosquito netting, dumb ass.”

    “You looking for a fight?”

    “Hell no, I’m upset.”

    As the July sun set to the west, the two highs school buddies ate tuna fish

    sandwiches and RC colas. Darkness cloaked the historic barrier island off the coast of

    Miami.. Winds settled to a soft breeze and mosquitoes slept for the evening..

    “What a great night, wish we had Carol and Ann with us,” David mused.

    “Oh sure, like they’re moms would let them come , you’re crazy. Think Indians,

    it’ll get you mind off the girls.”

    A white sliver of a moon rose in the east, barely giving light. Two friends slept by

    the burned out, crumbled red brick light house ravaged so many years ago.

    ‘Crack pop, pop, crack pop,’

    “Did you hear that gunfire Jim.”

    “Run you idiot, I’m over here.”

    ‘Crack crack David burst across the sand to a thick stand of coconut palms. Two

    boys hovered for cover.

    “See those canoes in the surf?”

    “Where ?”

    . Jim’s hand pointed past the light house, “Can’t you see them?”

    “Hell no, I’m getting out of here.”

    “Now the Seminoles are racing toward the lighthouse, Brian. Brian, where are

    you?”

    Jim doubled over with laughter, repressing the sound as much as possible, then

    leaned toward the sand and picked up the spent fire crackers. ‘Got him good this time,’ he

    thought.

    “Wait for me, the Indians are getting closer,” Jim shouted and then sprinted

    through the coconut palms, following what sounded like an injured deer slashing through

    the palms and palmetto fronds.

    ‘ I swear one day I will tell him but it’ll have to be long distance,‘ Jim mused.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you Reatha. I’m glad you enjoyed this. We used to sail to the old lighthouse before it became a park. There were no people there because it wasn’t developed yet. It was spooky there walking around the boarded up lighthouse. That’s where the story came from.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you Manwe. Jim was my highschool buddy, He lives in North Carolina and I in San Antonio. We write each other each week and our conversations haven’t changed much. We did sail a lot while in highschool The boat was 16 feet and Jim sent a photo of it he found this year. Kerry

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you Snuz. Writer’s Digest dropped my regular one, and again, I’m havng trouble getting back on as Kerry, so this is my reserve name.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you regisundertow. It brought back a lot of memories. We played a lot of pranks, even switching friends or rather I dated his old girl friend after he stole mine. It realy didn’t matter, the four of us went everywhere together.

          1. Geezer Muse

            Thank you. Three of us are left. Carol Diane was killed by an intruder at her home many years ago. What a terrible loss.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thanks, DMelde. Our highschool parking lot was always full. Jim parked his jeep on a vacant lot covered in pines. At lunch one day, eight of us lifted his jeep up and placed it dead center between two tall pines. Two inches from the front bumper, two inches from the back. We couldn’t hide close enough to watch him try to get it out. He never mentioned it, that was the killer.

    1. Reaper

      Ah Kerry, I saw the name and knew the site was up to its tricks. No wonder you chose to write about pranks this week. This is one of those slow, calm stories that tells us so much about you. I am finally beginning to learn how to tell when you are writing at least partially from experience. While your fiction may have a nostalgia feel at times your memories have this dreamlike quality of another time that I want to see on a big screen in a smokey theater. This was one of those moments.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you Reaper, as I started to write, I could smell the salt in the air, the wind in my face and the light house in amazing detail. That was sixty years ago. Kerry

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hey, Kerry!

      This is a wonderful story! I especially liked -> ““Oh she worries,” David said, “why I don‘t know, maybe an Indian scared her when she was little.”
      “Oh yeah, right… in Philadelphia.” Jim said.

      😀

      1. Geezer Muse

        Hey, Cosi. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I could write an entite book on the problems and good times Jim and I got into during highschool. When I think about it, maybe I will. Thank you for your kindness.

  24. cosi van tutte

    I decided to do one more just for the weird fun of it.

    “Be careful, my child.” said the woman to the girl. “Be wary. Be sure. For tonight is the night of temptation. You will be lured. By wrong. By cruel. By harsh. By fool. Stay on the path. Hold your sword secure. Hold your head high. And by, my girl, by and by, you will return to me.”

    “Do not fear, oh mother mine. I will be safe. I will be secure. I will not stray. And none shall tempt me awry. And yes, dear mother, by and by, I will return to you.”

    “Be safe, my girl. Be well.”

    “And the same to you.”

    The girl fastened her cape and she sheathed her sword. Her basket, she carried with a strong and sturdy grip out into the woods.

    She walked down the path. Head high.

    Blue fey lights danced in the woods, singing soft. Singing sweet. Singing words of flies and meat.

    But the girl heeded them not. She stayed on the path. Safe.

    A lean man, pale of face and certain of his own grace, came to her as she walked. “Come, pretty one. There is a dance. Come. Come. Oh, pretty one. Come and join the dance.” His teeth were white and strong.

    She ignored his words and walked on.

    He dropped in front of her, forcing her to stop. “Pretty one. Why do you not heed me? Why do you leave? Stay a while. Stay with me.”

    “I cannot. I must keep on. For my grandmother is weak.”

    “Ahh, but you can make her strong. I know the way. I know. I know. I can tell you how. Sweet words. Magic words. Inside your mind. Inside your throat. Pretty one. Oh, stay with me. Come and join the dance.”

    She pulled out her sword and he backed away. “I must keep on. For though your words speak promises and hope, I dare not trust them.”

    “Ahh, but that is a dangerous toy you wield.”

    “It is no toy to me. Leave me to my task, sir. And I will leave you to your dance.”

    “You choose sorrow and hardship. Oh, pretty one. I offer you more. Music and lights. Sweetness and delights.”

    “If you will not leave, sir, I will offer you pain and death.”

    “If you will not come with me, let me come with you. For dangers haunt these woods. Oh, they seek the weak and the small. I will protect you from their wiles and their ways. I know them. I have seen them all.”

    “Your offer is kind, but I fear there is none here to protect me from you.”

    He smiled sorrow and regret. “The day will come, oh pretty one, when you will long for the dance. I will not offer it to you then. For you, there will be no sweet music.”

    “I will face that regret unblemished and free. Fare well, sir. May the day be bright for you and for me.”

    She resumed her journey. Steady and secure. Temptations could not sway her. No false promises could win her heart.

    She reached her grandmother’s house. Safe and sound. The journey home would be perilous, but she was unafraid. She opened the door and entered in. “Grandmother! I am here.”

    “Oh, pretty one.” said a man’s voice outside the door. “Let me in.”

    “I cannot.”

    “Oh, but you can.” He looked at her face, at her eyes. “I can help you. I can help your grandmother become well and oh so strong. Pretty one. Say the words and let me in.”

    She thought of her grandmother so often taken ill. So many visits had to be made. So many baskets had to be carried. So many perils had to be faced within the forest. “Are your words true?”

    He smiled, a sharp white smile. “Oh, so very true, pretty one. All it will take is one touch, one small bit of magic.”

    “My grandmother will be well?”

    “Well and never ill again. It’s a powerful magic. Only a few special souls can wield it. I can wield it. For her. For you. Oh, think of it, pretty one. To be free from the curse of Adam. No pain. No sorrow. No sickness. No death. Nothing but life and the dance.”

    Her resolve thinned and weakened. Oh, to never be sick again. thought she. What a pleasant life it would be. But something in his smile, something in his stare pulled her away from such desires. “I appreciate the offer, but I fear I must decline. Fare well, sir.” She closed the door and locked it well.

    “Oh, yes.” said the girl. “The journey home will be fraught with dangers.” She sheathed her sword. “But I will be strong. I must be strong.” She thought of the man on the other side of the door. She thought of his promises and yearned to hear more. “I hope I will stay strong.”

    1. Nicki EagerReader

      A really excellent take on a fairy tale, cosi! I am quite delighted. The prose had a poetic quality that put me in mind of children’s songs and ballads. It might just be possible, in places, to whittle it, very gently, into something slightly more streamline (e.g. Instead of ‘He dropped in front of her, forcing her to stop. “Pretty one. Why do you not heed me?” ‘ rather ‘He dropped in front of her, forcing her to stop. “Pretty one, why do you heed me not?” ‘ which is totally jerk-nitpicky of me but I really, really love good rhythm, of which you have a lot, plus then it rhymes 🙂 ). But that would really be adding on top of something that’s 99.99999% perfect ( and I never give 100% for anything- there has to be room for improvement after all 😉 ).

      Really well done- one of my favorites from you so far!

      1. cosi van tutte

        Thanks, Nicki, for your comments. I do appreciate them. In re-reading my story, I can see parts where the rhythm is off. And, just so you know, I like your suggestion for that “Why do you not heed me?” line.

        For the record, I almost ended the story with this sentence -> “She reached her grandmother’s house. Safe and sound.” But it felt like it was too easy of an ending. It needed a bit more conflict.
        🙂

    2. regisundertow

      I didn’t think I’d read a vampire story that I’d like. Well, I’ve been proven wrong 🙂
      There’s obviously the use of meter and the cadence to praise, not easy things to pull off.
      Are you thinking about extending this story? Write more stories in its universe?

      1. cosivantutte

        Thanks, regis!

        I did consider expanding this story, but decided to leave it on that note of uncertainty. As for whether I’ll write more stories in that universe, I don’t have anything planned, but who knows what the next prompt will bring? 🙂

        1. regisundertow

          It is a vampire story, though, right? I have to ask 🙂 The whole “let me in” vibe and the “never ill” line led me to think that, but I’m having my doubts after reading the comments of others.

          1. cosi van tutte

            Hey, regis!

            Yep, you’re right. It is a “what if Red Riding Hood met a vampire instead of a wolf on the way to Grandmother’s house” story. 🙂

    3. snuzcook

      I love the way you have chosen to take the much simplified and tamed fairy tale and put it back to its roots as a cautionary tale about innocence/virtue/personal ethics in peril. But this time Red has her own sharp sword. And her peril comes not so much from being simply naive but from openly recognized temptation. She will be complicit in her choice, a fully evolved and empowered Red coming to terms with the way she wants the world to work. Well done!

      1. cosivantutte

        Thank you, snuz for your awesome analysis. 🙂 For some reason, I imagined Red sounding like Keira Knightley. 😆

        For the record, when I wrote the line that “tonight is the night of temptation”, I kind of freaked out. I had no idea where I was going to go with that. I generally don’t write “night of temptation” type stories. 😆 Fortunately, it all turned out all right. 🙂

    4. Reaper

      Snuzcook said a lot of good thing. I mean everyone said a lot of good things but snuz hit a lot of what I was thinking. This is very powerful, and poetic and pretty and so true to the source but brought forward. I love the ending, it leaves me thinking she is on the cusp of being a victim or a powerful warrior woman and both are equally likely and completely up to her. The modernization of this had me thinking fae through the story but then the devil at the door and simple temptation at the end. So well done.

  25. pauli101

    “Be careful out there,” your mom said as you grabbed your duffel bag and headed on a camping trip with friends.

    “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?”

    You nodded, then shut the door behind you before getting in the car and taking off.

    In the car on the way to El Yunque rainforest I thought about what mom said, “Tonight is the anniversary?” I couldn’t remember what celebration was she hinting.

    Jose as driving and I’m in the back seat. The window was open, I laid my head back, closed my eyes, and pondered as the wind blow, feeling good against my face.

    I daydreamed a visual image of a story that haunted me for days. A Chupacabra was in the news as being reported seen in the area of the rainforest and was kill the locate farmers goats.
    Jose, Juan, and I were laughing about the story because we know it was just about as true as aliens landing in the jungle.

    The car stopped and Jose hit my head with his hat waking me up, “Hey, amigo, wake up we’re here”. I started yawning and stretching once out of the car.

    I started looking at the forest above us in the mountain as the breeze whistled through the trees, leaved danced in the air, and birds sang.

    We grabbed our gear from the trunk, checked the car making sure we had everything, and the car was locked; we headed up the hill.

    Though it is not permitted to stay the night in the forest, we have been doing it for years. We would go into the rainforest through the back.

    We found camp. Pitched the tents. Got raingear out because of the raw dampness. Build a fire for smoke to keep bugs and animals away. We were settling in for the night.

    Night comes early and it comes in fast; it is pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

    Me, and my amigos were the three hombres, close as brothers. There were four of us about a year ago. I figured that was the anniversary mom mentioned.

    As Jose, Juan, and I sat around in the dark, we were talking about Jesus and the funny things he would do to make us laugh. He was a good guy we agreed, and we missed him.

    I didn’t tell mom about how Jesus disappeared or about us going into the rainforest tonight. I didn’t want her to worry.

    The pitch black became bright is the sun shining a beam straight into our eyes. We were blinded. I stood up shielding my eyes under my arm as I tried to see in front of me. Looking for Jose and Juan, I couldn’t find them. I could only hear them screaming.

    I run towards their screams, screaming myself. My mind racing was it aliens, Chupacabra, or the man of the mountain. I was petrified.

    It was a helicopter landing with Jesus back from him covert mission. What a funny guy…

    1. cosi van tutte

      My Internal Editor is sulking in the corner about the ending being a cop out. I’m going to ignore him.

      You did a great job building up to the ending. And just so you know, the whole racing panic up to the reveal made me laugh out loud. 😆

      On a side note, you did jump from second person to first person in the opening paragraphs, but other than that, great story!

      1. pauli101

        Hi Cosi Van Tutte…
        Thank you for your insight constructiveness. My interpretation of “You” was “me” the author… which is “I”… How else should I have handled the subject? Thank you and yes the end was a blow-off and there is no excuse other than bending the rules…LOL! Thank you – good writing ahead for all.

        1. cosi van tutte

          I think I understand your interpretation. Still, it’s always best to be consistent. If you start a story with “You did…” and “your mom…” it’s kind of discombobulating when you jump to “I did…” and “my mom…” in the next paragraph. Unless, there’s a story reason to jump back and forth (it does happen 🙂 ), it’s best to stick with one or the other.

          Also, the end may have been a blow off, but I still like it. 😀

    2. snuzcook

      Any story with aliens, Chupacabra, and three guys in the jungle on a dark night has got my interest. You built this up well. I like very much that your hero ran TOWARD the screams even as he was screaming himself (out of fear?) Then the reveal about Jesus turned the story in a totally different direction and now I want to know what the covert mission might have had to do with aliens, Chupacabra, the jungle and …? Fun tale, Pauli101.

    3. Reaper

      Paul101, I’m honestly not sure if I want to call the end a cop out or really funny. It works and does make me want to know more about both Jesus and his mission, and your MC as he finds that funny, which is a bit disturbing. Cosi is right, the beginning should be I instead of you, just changing it to first works. You also have some tense switches between past and present that need a little cleaning up but not many. There is some strange language, not sure if that is a second language thing or not though. For example, A Chupacabra was in the news as being reported seen in the area of the rainforest and was kill the locate farmers goats. Would read cleaner as , The news reported a Chupacabra living in the rainforest and killing the goats of farmers in the surrounding area. All in all, really interesting story.

  26. turtles88

    “Life’s not a paragraph. And death is no parenthesis.” That’s the last thing Mother said to me before the accident. I have no clue what she means by it, but it’s not like I can ask her; Mother is no longer with me. Mentally, that is.

    As I’m in my room packing for the trip, she’s there, standing in the doorway with her fourth glass of wine almost gone. She’s been there, frozen to the floor not moving for a long time now, only her hand lifting up the glass to her lips every other minute. Her eyes look misty as if she’s about to cry. Days like this I wish she’d just die and give herself peace. Die and free herself from the pain. I would.

    I zip my bag and haul it over my shoulders, “Mother?” I go to her, “You know you should be in bed resting for the anniversary.” I take her glass and swallow the wine. “Go to bed, Mother. Go on.”

    Her eyes slowly scan the empty glass then trail upward to my chin. She never looks at ME anymore.

    “Oh, Barb.” She begins. “Must you leave me?”

    I sigh and push past her, “For the last time, Mother, I am not leaving you. I’ll never leave you, you know that. I’m going camping with Elaine just for the weekend.” I hear her soft footsteps follow me downstairs.

    “Once I drop off Elaine at camp, I’ll come back and drop you off at Auntie Ren’s house. ‘Kay?” I turn around, knowing Mother is right behind me and kiss her forehead. I notice how the disappointment drag the corners of her lips down I open the screen door quickly.

    “Just be careful in here, okay Mom?” I give her a weak smile and let the door slam shut.

    ********************
    Elaine sticks her head through the car window and says, “And you better remember those lanterns, Ren. I am NOT sleeping without some night lights! You hear me? I won’t go through that again!” She grins.

    I laugh, “Don’t worry, I won’t. You just don’t eat all the chocolate and marshmallows.” She shrugs and smiles as if saying, no promises.

    I drive out of the woods and soon onto the highway. All the while, I’m thinking of Mother. From past experiences with leaving her home alone, I have saved her from killing herself about maybe two times. Some days, I want her to die while some moments I want her to live.

    I’m having one of those moments now.

    When I arrive home and step inside, I know something is wrong. The coffeemaker is on, boiling hot water. Mother never drinks tea unless she wants to clear her head.

    “Mother?”

    I check the living room, washroom, kitchen, and all the closets until I hear a sickening thud sound. Like a heavy sac falling to the earth.

    I race upstairs.

    “Mother?”

    I go straight to my room and see the window wide open, the wind blowing the curtains crazily.

    “Mom?” I cautiously move forward.

    “Mom?”

    A headache in my heart pounds furiously as I lean out the window, my trembling hands holding onto the frame, keeping me from slipping.

    There, all twisted and looking rather uncomfortable, is Mother. On the ground. I believe her neck is broken but I’m not sure because I’m not looking at Mother anymore. I’m looking at a hot cup of tea sitting nicely on the windowsill. There is a note under it.

    Without having to touch it, I read it. “Death is no parenthesis.”

    I wish she’d tell me what the heck this means! It’s driving me crazy! But Mother is no longer with me. And she never will….

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hey, turtles!

      This is so well-written. I like how you connected the last line to the first sentence.

      And, just so you know, I love the phrase “headache in my heart”. 🙂

    2. regisundertow

      That’s some good stuff. We pretty much know what’s going to happen from the beginning, but getting there still packs an emotional punch, like all good tragedy should.

    3. snuzcook

      Turtles, you’ve come up with wonderfully enigmatic final words. And the story you spun around them is equally steeped in the narrator’s confusion about just exactly how she feels about her situation. Well done!

    4. Reaper

      This is so well written and mind numbingly powerful. I agree that the ending was pretty much a given but the journey and the description make it something more than what I thought would happen. A definite be careful what you wish for. It shocked me to see the daughter wishing she would die but her reasons softened that, then the wanting to take it back in the moments where she wants her mother to live. That was masterful. Even at the end I disliked the MC a bit because of the me in her thoughts but she felt lost and young so even that made sense and she was sympathetic in spite, or maybe because of that. I liked the connection from beginning to end, but as you didn’t have the full saying in the note it almost feels like you should have started with Life is not a paragraph. And death… and left us wondering until you completed the idea at the end. Not necessary but to me a bit more chilling.

  27. Kristen Killen

    “Be careful out there,” your mom said as you grabbed your duffel bag and headed on a camping trip with friends. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?” You nodded, then shut the door behind you before getting in the car and taking off.

    The ride to Denali was as beautiful as you remembered it. You hadn’t been there since it happened, but you had really grown and changed since then. Your therapist reminded you of that every time you saw her. It had been 12 years since that night. Since the last time you ever saw your older brother, but you couldn’t live your whole life avoiding one of the most beautiful places on earth because of one bad camping trip.

    You helped with the tent setup. You helped with building the fire. You even helped cook dinner while drinking a beer and laughing with your best friends in the whole world.

    You did not meditate on the fact that you were less than 10 miles from where it all happened. You did not think about how everything might be different if your parents hadn’t made you stay in their cabin, rather than in the tents with your older brother and his best friends in the whole world.

    After dinner, you went to your tent alone. Your friends were being rowdy and having fun, but they knew what tonight was. They didn’t harp too much when you bowed out early. You listened to them laugh and have a good time. Those sounds sang you to sleep.

    The sun was bright in your eyes and your clothes were cold and wet when you woke up in your car the next morning. With a resigned sigh, you looked into the passenger seat to see a blood-soaked hunting knife sullying the upholstery. As you opened the car door, it was like you were at once living the present and the past. The scenes were nearly identical. In fact, the more you looked, the more you could see that this particular scene had been staged to be identical to that scene from so long ago. The tents mangled in just the right way. The bodies posed in a macabre tribute to that night 12 years past.

    Sometimes history just couldn’t help but to repeat itself.

    1. Nicki EagerReader

      Hi Kristen,

      this was a good take and worked pretty well for a second person perspective (yeah, I know Jay experimented with that time, but personally I find them quite laborious to read plus I never really seem to connect with the MC because I’m never really sure who they are).

      You constructed the story well, too, with a good climax and a twist I didn’t expect (that’s good!). I also liked your descriptions (“bloody knife sullying the upholstery”).

      Maybe one note of advice (that’s code for: now I’m imposing an opinion on you 😉 ): stay away from platitudes like “best friends in the world” (which you used twice!) because they really tone down the quality of narration. They do, of course, fit occasionally, but unless your MC is under fifteen I’d really take them out.

      Good job otherwise! Keep it coming. 🙂

      1. Kristen Killen

        Hey, thanks so much for your response!

        I was going for a younger MC who was a bit out of touch with sanity, but trying to cover it up. In my head this kid had heard someone say, “you’re my best friend in the whole world,” and from then on…that’s what she said when describing friends/acquaintances. But I do see where the redundancy is a bit much for such a short word count, so thank you for the pointer!

    2. regisundertow

      I was wondering where this was going, but then you pulled off that twist 🙂 Some pretty subtle misdirection, especially where the protagonist’s friends know about the anniversary, but play it cool.

      1. Geezer Muse

        A lot of punch to your story Kristen. I’ve written a 1500 word essay in second person as an experiment and it’s really hard for me. I thought you pulled it off well. Kerry

    3. Reaper

      At first I wasn’t into the second person because it made me feel disconnected but then as it went on that actually worked. Because you have the insanity angle this being in second person without a lot of me feeling like it was me this worked really well. Your twist at the end was well done and I have to repeat this, I felt perfectly like I was in my own head without knowing who I was by the end. Including the fact that the voice felt feminine which puts me in a disoriented state of mind in second person narration. Really well done, especially in a form where I never expect such excellence. I think the best friend in the whole world worked well for the MC’s friend but it seemed strange about the brother’s for some reason. You’re right that it’s probably the short space. The one thing that seemed off to me, in a way that could use a little touch up, is you gave the impression of a young MC, like maybe eighteen or nineteen so the initial killing being twelve years ago seemed too far out.

      1. Kristen Killen

        Wow, thank you very much for this!

        I struggled a lot when trying to decide how old the MC was going to be, I finally settled on a 20/21 year old. But I could see where that is probably pushing it a little to have an 8/9 year old doing something like massacring a camp of teenagers. Thank you again so much for the critiques!

  28. regisundertow

    I must have rewritten this story about sixty eight thousand times. Gah, it was a difficult birth. Apologies in advance to all physicists.

    ***
    SUMMIT DAY

    Edgar woke up early on Summit Day, despite it being a holiday. In truth, he couldn’t sleep much to begin with.

    As the house filled with the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, he flipped through the channels. The news were full of stories on celebrations around the world, same as with every cycle. Eastern Europe would be the first to greet the new Summit and the rest of the world would follow. New England would be experiencing a Zenith. Australia would barely get a glimpse this time.

    A reporter was doing a story from Prague beneath the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square with people behind her looking expectantly at the already darkening sky. Some of them had binoculars, some had telescopes, most were pointing. Faint singing came from the background, a children’s choir all dressed in white and holding candles creating a solemn ambiance.

    A graphic of New England came on screen with a number of red spots marking areas of interest, “vantage points” as the anchor called them. As he set his cup on a similar map on the table, Edgar nodded to himself. He had one of those same spots circled on his map with barely legible notes and calculations covering the surface around it. “Berkshire Hills”, the name beneath the circle read.

    He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, turned off the lights, and disabled the alarm. He locked the door, then removed the house key from its chain and laid it on the doormat.

    The drive down the motorway was quiet. He only came across the odd bus full of tourists and frat kids, but he knew it would be much worse on the hill. Through the windshield, he could see the planet’s surface as it slowly filled the sky from the East. A few hours to go and he could already pick out motorways cutting through forests, buildings jutting downwards, and airplanes leaving curved trails along the atmosphere. Far in the distance, the oceans, ours and theirs, were rising to meet as in slow motion. An immense flock of blackbirds flew overhead like a single mass and he fancied he could see its counterpart on the surface of the planet above.

    The hill was already swarming with people as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Loud music, colorful costumes, meat sizzling on grills, it felt like a festival. As Edgar slowly drove up the road avoiding drunk teenagers, news were coming in on the radio; 120 dead in the Netherlands, drowned as the dykes gave way. 500 in Portugal. The Canary Islands had disappeared under the waters years ago. He parked on the side of the road, picked up his duffel bag, and tossed the keys inside the car before closing the door. He spotted his destination, a clearing high above the tree line where a party was in full swing, and made for it.

    “I can see them!”, a girl with pink dreadlocks squealed. The noise swelled on the hill, as excitement spread. Everyone looked up and pointed. Every few seconds, someone would yell “There!” and “Oh, my God, she’s waving at me!”. The planet reached its Zenith and, no more than a few hundred feet above, a New England hill swarming with people playing loud music, wearing colorful costumes, and grilling meat, rotated in perfect symmetry. Edgar opened his duffel bag and rifled through it, producing a placard. He craned his neck up, holding the placard tight against his body.

    And then, he saw them; first, himself, the other Edgar who had already spotted him and was waving with a huge grin on his face. Then, standing by him, wearing a party hat, champagne bottle in hand, and flashing her most radiant smile, Clemm. This Edgar felt all sound leave the world. His eyes start watering and his heart sunk. They must have noticed, or they must have noticed this world’s Clemm wasn’t with him, because their smiles died. This Edgar raised his placard, its hand-painted “protect her” in bold black letters.

    As the planets rolled away from each other, atop a hill on another New England, the other Edgar and Clemm embraced and promised to always look after each other. On this New England, no one noticed Edgar pull a revolver out of his duffel bag and press it under his chin. The sound of the shot was drowned out by the noise of celebration.

    1. Nicki EagerReader

      Well, regisundertow, sixty-eight thousand sessions of editing did this story a treat (though of course I don’t know the original version)- a really great piece of Sci-Fi! You’re last sentence was a killer (no pun intended) and the entire story flowed smoothly and effortlessly.

      One tiny bit of “criticism”: I didn’t quite get why people were drowning in the Netherlands. Tidal waves I assume, caused by the other planet’s gravitational force, but maybe you either decide to make the Summitan absolute cataclysm or turn it into a kinda, y’know, string-theory quantum mirage, visible but not tangible. Might appease the physicist (or really get them in a lather 😉 ).

      Thanks a lot for sharing! Really worthwhile Sci-Fi.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks NIcki, really appreciate your comments, especially since I was worried the story wasn’t flowing well enough. The first drafts committed the cardinal sin of overexplaining the world, which I guess is the problem when embarking on any sci-fi story.

        Yep, people were drowning due to tidal waves. I wanted to create a contrast between the celebrations and the general mayhem that two planets getting within kissing distance would cause. In my mind, at least, this has been going on for years, the world is prepared and it’s business as usual, but you still get casualties. Much like hurricanes in the Caribbean. Good tip, though, I should have made it clearer. I’m trying to avoid quantum explanations, because I’m not that smart :p

    2. Kristen Killen

      I’m a total sucker for science fiction, and I quite enjoyed the idea behind this one!
      You have me wondering what happened/what happens next for the other planet? How can we have a duplicate, but totally different life on another world? Definitely makes the wheels spin, which is the best kind of story. Great job!

    3. Manwe38

      According to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are an infinite number of worlds, with an infinite number of copies of all us, living out our lives, but with different decisions, different choices.

      This was an excellent story; I loved the way the zenith was commonplace, and a cause for celebration, rather than a cataclysm. It took an idea that was potentially cliche and give it its own spin (so to speak).

      If you haven’t seen it, rent the independent movie “Another Earth.” I think you’d really enjoy it.

      1. regisundertow

        Thank you, Manwe. The subject of infinite copies is something that refuses to leave my head 🙂
        Interesting movie, I’ll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

      2. ReathaThomasOakley

        Manwe38, thanks for mentioning Another Earth. I was trying to remember the name. I also totally agree with your comment, just couldn’t have said it!

    4. snuzcook

      This was lovely. Well paced, no unnecessary exposition–I could follow along just fine without a lot of explanation and it kept me engaged. At each point of action by the protagonist I paused, thought ‘why did he do that?’, and then thought up an explanation of why I would have done that, and moved on for more. Even though the concept of a mirror planet being visible and its physical being and inhabitants interacting with our own is fresh to me in this story, it invited me to accept the premise very easily.

      1. Geezer Muse

        I enjoyed your story. I found the flow to be stunning and well presented. I love sci-fi but don’t know a whole lot about, but it didn’t matter in this story. I’m with snuzcook here.

    5. DMelde

      Great story. This is a difficult story to tell in so few words. I can see why you had to do so many rewrites. I thought it flowed well and I got the impression that, over time, the worlds were growing closer to one another.

      1. regisundertow

        Much appreciated DMelde. It’s so easy to go crazy with world-building, ruining a piece with exposition in the process, but I think the word-wrangling kept that in check.

    6. Reaper

      Most of the wonderful things I wanted to say about this have been said. I’m iffy on scifi and I adored this. It flowed effortlessly and I would not have suspected rewrites if you had not mentioned them. Wonderful, beautiful story. It does leave me wanting more story which is always good.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks Reaper. I’m a huge fan of what Kazuo Ishiguro did for sci-fi with “Never Let me Go” -the reader is not even aware it’s sci-fi until halfway throuh the book, though the pieces are there.

  29. DMelde

    Herein, contained within the Book of Shadows, is the story of the Rocky Hill Witches.

    Jameson was one of the men who entered the house of the three sisters. They were looking for the missing children from the village, who, over the summer, had disappeared one by one. Now, over a dozen children were missing, leaving not a single clue as to their whereabouts.

    Upon entering the sisters’ house, a foul stench availed the mens’ nostrils. There, on bench and counter, were pieces of the missing children, mutilated and dismembered beyond recognition. In the corner sat a cauldron hung over a fire pit. Inside the cauldron was a witch’s brew, the contents of which are too horrific to be mentioned here. Otherwise, the house was empty. The sisters were not there.

    The men fanned out over the countryside in hunt of the three witches. They searched dale and wood alike. It was Jameson who found the witches, sheltered in a highland barn. They were lying in hay with glassy eyes, their pupils drawn back into their heads, deep in communion with their dark god. A black chalice lay empty nearby. Jameson seized hold of a pitchfork and with grim determination; he thrust it through the belly of each witch. The witches writhed in pain and screamed out wrathful curses, but in their stupor state, with one foot in this world and one without, they were powerless to stop the attack. Their blood ran as black as their hearts. The other men heard their screams and they came running to the barn. Together, they took the witches’ bodies outside where they burned them. The witches were dead, and their reign of terror over the village was ended.

    100 YEARS LATER

    Steven ran down the moonlit country road. He stole glances over his shoulder at his pursuers. The words of his mother came echoing into his head.

    “Be careful out there. You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?”

    His three pursuers ran after him in a strange, lopsided gait, on legs that had long ago forgotten how to run. Steven fumbled for his cell phone.

    “Mom, it’s me! The witches are back! What should I do?”

    “Oh no, Steven! Where are you?”

    “On the old road, running east!”

    “Head to the old barn! Hurry! Find your great grandfather’s pitchfork!”

    “Will it kill them?” Steven asked.

    (A moment’s pause.)

    “I don’t know.” his mother said, “It did once. It might again.”

    Steven left the road and ran across pastureland, using his cell phone as a light. Up ahead he could see the silhouette of the old barn. The three sisters screamed out in a soulless wail, for they remembered the barn well, and they doubled their efforts to reach Steven, intent on killing the family of the one who had murdered them.

    Inside the barn Steven raced about, searching for the pitchfork. A guttural moan escaped his lips when he couldn’t find it. Turning, he saw the witches in the doorway, blocking his only way out. Their flesh was charred. Their fingernails had grown long into talons. With a black blood lust they advanced on him. He backed away until his back hit upon the far wall. He pointed his phone at them and, closing his eyes, he took a picture. The bright flash temporarily blinded the three witches and Steven, sensing it was his one chance to survive, tried to outflank them, but the witches were guided by more than just sight, and they again blocked his escape.

    The first witch lunged in a half-spasm twist towards Stevens legs. She grabbed tightly hold of his left leg and her taloned hands dug deeply into his flesh. The second witch raked his chest and arms with her hands and Steven screamed out in pain. The third witch came forward with arms outstretched, intent on gouging out his eyes when Steven saw silvery tines erupt from the witch’s chest. Steven looked, and behind the witch stood the ghost of his great grandfather with a ghostly pitchfork in his hands.

    “I put you in the grave once, abominations!” Jameson’s ghost cried forth, “And I’ve returned to do it again!”

    The witch fell from the tines into dust. The remaining two witches turned away from Steven and they attacked Jameson’s ghost. He stabbed the first one through the throat with the pitchfork and she fell into dust. The last witch howled and hissed, and circled him warily. Summoning the last remnants of her power, the witch’s eyes glowed fiery red and lightning flashed between her hands. The charred flesh of her lips twisted into a hideous smile, and just as suddenly her lips snarled back in pain as she was dealt a massive blow to her head from behind. There, behind the witch, stood Steven’s mother.

    In his mother’s hands was a heavy wooden cross. She bent over and pressed the cross to the forehead of the witch.

    “You are not of the light.” His mother told her. “Go to progression.”

    All fire lost, the witch’s eyes softened, and she too fell into dust.

    “Martha, my dear granddaughter,” Jameson’s ghost chided, “you gave her hope when there is none.”

    “No soul is beyond salvation, grandfather.” Martha replied. “In progression, she too might be saved.”

    They exchanged smiles, and with one last look at his granddaughter and great grandchild, Jameson’s ghost faded away.

    1. regisundertow

      Don’t apologize for the length, this was immensly entertaining 🙂
      I’d love to find out how this snippet fits into the general world your characters inhabit. What is the overarching conflict?
      Good stuff, signing up for this site was one of the best decisions I’ve made!

      1. DMelde

        Thank you regisundertow. This is a stereotypical story. boy meets witch. boy kills witch. witch comes back 100 years later for her revenge. however, the mom’s character could be expanded upon, a female version of Solomon Kane perhaps, a strong religious female who is a soldier of God. I regret making the house scene so graphic. where’s my editor?! oh wait, that’s me. live and learn. 🙂

        1. regisundertow

          True, it’s a story that has been done before. I honestly, though, enjoyed the ride and the delivery. The house scene wasn’t too graphic compared to what one gets on the TV, but I think it worked fine; you can’t and shouldn’t write a story like that without a good amount of blood spilled.
          Interesting premise about the female version of Solomon Kane. Maybe someone who for some reason is doomed to hell, regardless? Looking forward to future offerings 🙂

    2. Reaper

      I don’t think any part of this was too graphic. The story may be kind of standard but the telling was expertly done and it felt fresh and new. There are some points where you talk about what had happened when it could just happen and some places where words are repeated that you could change, such as backed until his back, or removed, like third witch you could just say the third. Other than that though? Amazing stuff.

      1. Geezer Muse

        This is just the kind of story I like to write. I’m learned a lot from your writing especially on thisd type of story. Spooky, fantasy, ghosts, I love this kind of stuff. Reaper has some excellent points as he does for all of us. Lord, I love this site myself. Kerry

  30. sabrinakinnison

    “Wish you could forget tonight is the anniversary,” Mom’s sad sigh echos in my head at the start of the Appalachian trail. I know mom’s worried about me these days. At the trailhead everyone is laughing as I lift the backpack to my back.

    “Wait,” one of my friends calls as I head up the trail away from everything. From that day, from the stares, the pity. The whispers of she’s broken. “Shit,” echos behind me “She’s fucked up why you invite her?”

    My thighs burn from the steep switchbacks filled with roots and rocks. Sweat from hiking rolls down my back as I reach fallen tree. Looking at the huge tree panting then off one side noticing thick brambles filled with rhododendron. The other side is a sheer drop off covered in rocks and leaves with no choice but to climb over the massive tree. Half way over realizing my mistake in wearing my backpack. The weight of the pack shifts causing me to teeter then fall leaving me sprawled on the ground like a turtle struggling to right itself. After a brief struggle I lean against the fallen tree with leaves and twigs hanging from my hair as a light breeze shifts through the woods. I close my eyes for a moment.

    “Sara, please you told me you loved me how can you break up with me. Why won’t you answer my calls.” I can’t breathe “Sara don’t make me do this.” Struggling tears well up unable to breathe. I’m choking suddenly my eyes snap open. Struggling to get out of the backpack I feel his hands on me. Straps hold me as I claw at them they snap open then I’m free. Scrambling onto my knees away to the side of the trail heaving and coughing. I can smell him on my skin.

    A twig snaps my head snaps up as I stumble to my feet swinging a hammer fist to my right looking for my target. My wrist is caught in mid air by a dirty shaggy haired man. “Well how do you do?” He releases my waist stepping back raising up his hands “You’re not good at making friends are you?” Turning planting my feet answering “You shouldn’t sneak up on people.” “Honey, a herd of elephants could of walked up on you.” He snorted shaking his shaggy head.

    Staring at him ready to fight he shrugs turning back to the trail. “I was only going to offer you help. SInce you were puking your guts up, by way withdraw sucks on the trail.” Sighing slumping against a tree watching him walk away whistling a tune.

    After a few minutes I pull my backpack on heading down the trail sighing already dreading reaching the camp site.

    1. DMelde

      Hi Sabrina,
      I think your story is a great idea for this prompt. I also think you can make it stronger…so with your permission, I’m going to rewrite your first paragraph. I would start like this….

      “At the trailhead everyone is laughing as I lift the backpack to my back.” What a wonderful sentence! It’s strong and I immediately want to know why they are laughing. I would follow that sentence with this…

      ” I head up the trail away from everything. I want to outrun the day, the stares, the pity. Their whispers come to me anyway. “Shit.” echoes behind me. “She’s fucked up. Why did you invite her?”

      Then, in the second paragraph I would introduce the mom. So it would look like this….

      “At the trailhead everyone is laughing as I lift the backpack to my back. I head up the trail away from everything. I want to outrun the day, the stares, the pity. Their whispers come to me anyway. “Shit.” echoes behind me. “She’s fucked up. Why did you invite her?”

      My mom’s sad sigh echoes in my head. “I wish you could forget tonight is the anniversary” she had said before I left. ……

      Or something like that. Anyway, I like what you’re doing. Keep going and happy writing.

    2. regisundertow

      There’s some wording issues here and there, but nothing that can’t be fixed.
      Other than that, I think the 500 word limit isn’t doing this piece justice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it feels like there’s a huge amount of backstory that is struggling to come out here.

      1. sabrinakinnison

        You are correct. Once started a bigger vision hit me as I wrote this piece. Something I’m finding I need to learn is patience. As with other word prompt once finished I’m jumping to fast to post. However with the each one I’ll learning. The suggestions and advise are priceless so far. Thank you truly

    3. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Excellent story, Sabrina. There isn’t much else I can add to DMeldes comment, so all I can say is that thinking outside the box when writing is the only way writers can be original these days when there is nothing left that’s truly original. So, fantastic job. 🙂

    4. Reaper

      Well, everything has already been said. This is wonderful, once the wording ic cleaned up. I know already that you think big, so finding that sweet spot in or around the word count is difficult. I already see you stepping forward. Keep them coming.

      1. Geezer Muse

        There is so much power and raw emotion and potential here. Sometimes the 500 is hateful, other times it’s not. Not having the space to backstory forces us to get creative and slip it in somewhere. There are so many wrirers here that have been helpful to me in the last 2 1/2 years I’ve been writing here. Listen to all of them and keep pounding the keys. What is important is responding each week even if you dislike the prompt. You’ll fall into automatic and have the thrill of a lifetime here as I have. Kerry

  31. Cceynowa

    I’m way over, but I’ve been gone a while… so forgive me? Missed y’all!

    Part One: Harvester’s Moon

    Mom nervously pulled at loose strands of her auburn hair. Her eyes were moist with unshed fears. “Have fun sweetheart, but be careful out there,” she said as I climbed into my Chevrolet, ready for a weekend camping trip with friends.

    “Don’t forget,” dad said, “a lantern will cast shadows on a tent wall.” He looked worried but resigned. My friends and I had been planning this weekend for months, and there was no way I was going to back out of it. We’d argued, but my stubbornness had won out. I was a woman grown, I could and would do, as I chose.

    “Remember,” mom whispered as she gave me a final hug, “tonight is the anniversary. It’s tonight or never.” I nodded and firmly shut the door of my truck, creating a barrier I desperately wanted to maintain. With each passing mile I felt my worries and fears increase. I silently vowed that the weekend would not happen as my parents wished.

    Reaching the national park’s entrance, I inquired about my group’s reservation and was given directions by the ranger on duty. When I arrived I was relieved to see Amy and James were already there, struggling to erect the rented eight person tent. Parking my truck beside them, I hurried over to help.

    “Samantha,” Amy exclaimed, “grab that line!” She pointed to a loose rope in the grass. Between the three of us we managed to have the tent secured and semi-stable by the time the last of our group arrived: Ben, Jasmine, and Chris.

    Chris and Ben began unloading coolers filled with beers and burgers, and I went to help Jasmine set up the kitchen area. “Oh girl,” Jasmine said as I approached her, “you lookin’ good!” She gave me a quick hug and let her voice drop to a conspiratorial whisper, “Chris talked about you on the drive here.”

    “Oh?” I tried to make my voice level.

    Jasmine rolled her eyes at me, “Don’t be a cad.” I allowed myself a grin and busied my hands cleaning out the campsite’s fire pit. Chris wasn’t part of our normal group, but had hung out with us a couple times last semester. Ben had invited him on this trip at the last minute. I think Ben knew I would have backed out if I had known Chris was going to be there.

    By evening we had a fire going, burgers cooking, and were each enjoying a beer in the fading twilight. The night stretched on in comfortable companionship. We exchanged stories and watched the lighting bugs flicker outside the light of our fire. From over the tree line we could see a full moon rising, bathed yellow by some celestial majesty. I shuddered involuntarily and did my best to avoid looking at the heavenly abomination.

    “Want one?” Chris extended a beer to me. From across the fire pit where she sat with Ben, Jasmine bounced her eyebrows at me. I saw Amy and James exchange a smile. It seemed all my friends were in on the matchmaking.

    “Uh, sure.”

    “Jas and I were thinking about taking a walk down by the lake,” Ben said as he stretched and grabbed a flashlight. “Anyone else want to join?”

    “How romantic,” Amy purred. Taking James’ hand she pulled him to his feet.

    “Stumbling around in the dark, so romantic,” he agreed. I smiled and shook my head at them. The two seldom saw eye-to-eye on anything, but somehow they made a perfect couple.

    “You couples go and enjoy yourselves,” Chris said, “Samantha and I can keep watch on the fire.” He glanced at me, “Unless you’d like to go too?”

    My choice was taken away by the ever helpful Jasmine, “Oh so true, someone needs to keep an eye on it. You two have fun, we’ll be back in a while.”

    I nervously watched my four friends walk into the darkness and swallowed hard. Glancing at my watch again I silently cursed: 11:30. When I looked back up, Chris was staring at me, his dark eyes flickering with the fire’s reflection.

    “You are a beautiful woman Samantha.”

    I mentally calculated how many beers he had had and decided he wasn’t drunk. “Ah, Chris, thanks, but I think I’m going for a walk too. You stay here and watch the fire.” Hurriedly I left the campsite, walking away from the lake. All my friends were safer if I was alone. They would remain my friends if I left them alone.

    I forced myself not to run. My hands were sweating and my heart pounded painfully against my chest. I could hear the blood flowing in my ears. My vision was narrowing. Damn my family heritage. My watch showed I still had twenty-five minutes to go. I could not, I would not, drink Chris’ blood.

    1. Cceynowa

      Part Two: Harvester’s Moon

      My senses were heightened by the magic in the air. A small part of me mourned what I would lose if I didn’t follow through with the Harvesting Ritual tonight, but a larger part of me relished the chance at living a human life. If I could hold out another twenty minutes, I would forever be human. I would not be immortal as my parents were. I would not live a life in secrecy and hiding, with no connection to anyone. I would not lose my ability to love as they had many centuries ago. I would live a life filled with love, and friends, and meaning. And then I would die, happy.

      Ahead I could just make out a picnic table setting a fair distance off the trail, protected from the yellow moonlight by the woods’ heavy canopy. Picking my way carefully along the path I sat on the top of the table and closed my eyes, listening to the night. In the distance I could hear cricket songs, the lake’s waves lapping gently on the shore, and someone walking the path towards me.

      Fearing what I would see, I opened my eyes in time to see Chris leave the moonlit path and step into my shadowed haven. “You shouldn’t have followed me,” I whispered.

      “I had to Samantha. We haven’t much time.”

      Confused by his words, I was too slow to react as he leapt on top of me. His weight trapped my legs and torso, while one of his arms held my hands above my head. His other arm twisted my head, exposing my neck. I felt him bite, I felt my blood leaving my veins, and I felt the life I had wished to live slipping away. Tears running down my cheeks, I struggled against him, losing strength quickly.

      He pulled away. “Now you.”

      “What,” I cried. The pain in my neck was mind numbing.

      “Bite me, and we’ll both live. Do it!”

      I knew then, through the pain and the fear, I knew what my loving parents had done. They knew I wouldn’t drain a human to become immortal, but I might bite in order to save my own life.

      “No, let me die,” I begged. “Let me die as I am.” We could both feel the moon overhead, the midnight beams heavy with magic breaking through the canopy. “Complete the ritual. Please.”

      Looking in his eyes, I saw a sadness there that mended a small part of my breaking heart. “No,” he said. “No, I want to teach you to love Samantha. We are not all as your parents.” Taking a knife he slit his own arm and held the wound to my mouth.

      I drank.

      ###

      1. seliz

        I really enjoyed this. I think the writing flowed effortlessly, so that going from part one to part two wasn’t difficult. I will say, I don’t like that here parents forced her into that situation. It was cool that she had the choice to change or not, but her parents (along with Chris) took that away. I wouldn’t mind reading a third part where she got some revenge.

      2. cosi van tutte

        Hey, Cc!

        It’s been a while. 🙂

        This was an awesome story. I feel like you could easily expand this into a full novel and it would still be awesome. 😀

      3. regisundertow

        This flows nicely and I did enjoy it, but I have to nitpick; if it was so important to be away from people on a single specific night , why go on a camping trip? Why risk it? Unless the parents planted the idea in her head?

        1. Cceynowa

          I completely agree Regis. I had written a lot more inner dialoge the MC had about how she was stronger than her parents, and that she could overcome her fear of dying and not take “the easy way out” and no drink from a human while under the magic of the harvester moon. (… truth be told, I didn’t even think “vampire story” when I wrote it, I was thinking man vs nature/the inevitable demise of man, which I guess is really what vampire stories offer too, a way to conquer death.)

          I’m glad you enjoyed it though, and thanks for the comment!

          1. regisundertow

            Ah, I see. It does make some sense now, trying to prove she can overcome the thirst. Interesting interweaving of the vampire mythos with the man vs nature theme, didn’t catch that originally.

      4. Reaper

        While I will agree vampire (laughably using the word that has lost meaning) stories are common what is not is a good story that stays true to the myth but also manages to be something different. This is good, has hints of the older material but is completely its own thing. I liked it, and this from a person who usually wants his monsters to be monsters. You covered that with the parents so these two being different was very easy for me to get into. Very easy to read and enjoy.

        1. Cceynowa

          Dennis, Reaper, Manwe38… I’ve missed y’all! Thank you for the comments. I feel rusty, and it took me a while to get this one out. I will get back into the swing of things, hopefully soon. And I keep trying to comment on you guy’s submissions, but the site seams to be foiling my efforts I’m not even sure this comment will take….

  32. jhowe

    To get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, he found out, Jose Luella Cruz had to cross the Mackinac Bridge. It’s not that he had a crippling fear of bridges, hell he’d been shot at, pissed on and hog tied by the likes of characters out of an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s just that he now wished he’d taken the long way around, through Wisconsin or maybe New York. He should have been more careful, like his dear sweet mother used to tell him.

    “How much farther lieutenant?” Luanne said craning her neck at the stunning northern Michigan scenery. They rode in Jose’s Ford F150 with a worn out camper on the back. She called him lieutenant because he had asked her to on the day they met. He still wasn’t sure why, but he liked it.

    “Three, four hours.” He’d just spotted a sign that said they were 14 miles from the bridge.

    “That far?” Luanne wore a Madonna tee shirt and skimpy white shorts, her brown hair blowing around her angelic face like she was posing in front of a wind machine for Cosmopolitan.

    “I’m afraid so baby,” he said, looking straight ahead. “We better stop for the night.”

    “Can we get a motel then?” she said and smiled with perfectly groomed white teeth. “I’d really like to take a shower tonight.”

    “But baby, we’ve got our motel on wheels right here.”

    “Did I mention the shower was with you?”

    Jose turned into a Motel Six and indeed, the light had been left on. The room was small and functional with two double beds. Jose threw their duffel bags on one bed and stretched out on the other and said, “I may have been a little deceitful with you earlier.”

    “How’s that hon?” she said as her little white shorts landed near his head.

    “I have a bit of a problem with bridges.”

    “My Uncle Elmer was afraid of bridges,” she said.

    “I’m not really afraid of them,” Jose said taking off his boots. “I just get a little queasy on the big ones.”

    “We used to blindfold Uncle Elmer and throw him in the trunk.”

    “Yeah, well that’s not going to happen.”

    Luanne finished undressing and sidled to the side of the bed. “You know lieutenant, it’s our anniversary tonight?”

    “It is?” he said, calculating. “Six weeks, right?”

    She started to unbutton his shirt. “You ready for that shower or what?”

    “How about afterwards we go to that little bar across the street and get us some rum martinis.”

    In the morning they loaded the truck and Jose said, “I was thinking we could head down to Ludington, grab a bite and take the ferry across.”

    “I got a call from Trevor this morning when you was in the bathroom,” Luanne said checking her makeup in the rearview. “He wants me to come back.”

    “To Santa Fe?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Who’s Trevor?”

    “Some boy I went to school with. He says he loves me.”

    Jose started the truck and drove north. “Do you love him?”

    “Not yet.”

    They were silent for a while until he pulled up to the booth. Four dollars to cross a fucking bridge.

    “All this to see a couple of old copper mines,” he said.

    “I’ve always wanted to.” She gestured in a panoramic motion. “Just like I’ve always wanted to see this.”

    “They’re abandoned, the mines are, what’s there to see?”

    “I guess we’ll find out.”

    He eyed the thick cables that suspended the bridge between here and certain death. “There’s no Trevor, is there?” he said, his hands tight on the wheel.

    “Trevor who?” she said with a smile hinting just below her pouted lips.

    Jose looked at her and relaxed. He ignored the fact that they were swaying 500 feet above the Straits of Mackinac with cars and semi trucks and bicycles and people all around. A guy could get used to a girl like this.

    1. seliz

      Reading this, I seemed to really latch on to the fact that Jose had Luanne call him lieutenant. Especially since Jose didn’t know why he wanted her to, other than he liked it. It seemed to set the tone to this and kept me wondering who exactly these characters were that you created. I liked that the characters were trying to figure each other out as well.

      1. jhowe

        Thanks seliz. Last week I featured these two and the lieutenant thing came up then too. I’m glad you were able to grasp this as I didn’t spend much time with details this time. I appreciate the feedback.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hey, j!

      I like your explanation for the ‘lieutenant’. And I really liked this part -> “They’re abandoned, the mines are, what’s there to see?”
      “I guess we’ll find out.”

      It made me smile. It’s like the bear going over the mountain to see what he can see. 😀

    3. regisundertow

      Yay, Luanne and Jose and rum martinis! This story is starting to feel like Chehkov’s gun, like your characters are heading down one hell of a conflict.

    4. Reaper

      You know, I was trying to figure out what to say about this. Manwe38 and regisundertow kind of hit it on the head. This is really fascinating, in part because it is so character driven and I find both of them to be characters I want to know more about.

      1. jhowe

        I’m kind of wondering what to do with these characters because I don’t really have an antagonist. Doesn’t a successful story need a villain of some sort?

        1. Reaper

          Man vs man, man vs nature, man vs himself, I think I’m actually missing a couple. My point being, in the modern world if you don’t have an antagonist you slap the label literary on it, because nobody (including publishers) know what it means, double the word count accept lower sales and call it good! A story does not need an antagonist in the traditional sense. A longer piece needs tension and conflict and you already have that.

      1. Geezer Muse

        I’ll echo Dennis here and want more. This is as close to perfect a story as anyone can write. Loved the Lieutenant thing myself. I’m fearful of bridges. The over Tampa Bay almost did me in. Kerry

  33. Reaper

    Part eight, and this one is over. It also got dark, guess that’s my mood tonight.

    In the Beginning – A Dark and Stormy Night

    Perhaps Chester’s box got her nostalgic. Nicole sat with her father’s journal in her lap. She decided it was a good night to read the girls a bedtime story. She chose an origin tale from the early days of the prophecy.

    The particular page was water stained, rain was the biggest culprit but tears surely played a part in the desecration of what would some day be a holy book. She ran her finger under the spidery script to keep her place, a trick she learned watching her father sermonize. The girls looked on in shock and awe.

    “9:00 PM – Just finished setting up camp. We have been planning this trip for months and just today mom decided to try and ruin it. On my way out the door with my duffel over my shoulder she told me to be careful. Like she had to remind me it is the anniversary. Part of the point of this excursion is to get my mind off of Michael’s death.

    “He was the strong one. So brave and sure, my older brother, set to blaze a trail into the unknown. His faith was so strong he became convinced God would send him visions. Towards the end he even glimpsed the edges of them. So when they found him carved up on a gravestone it shattered us. Two years ago and the police don’t have any leads. The blasphemous markings in his flesh don’t even help. They say they don’t look like any particular group’s signs. How wild do you have to be to kill? How can I tell mom I don’t want to take his place in the church? I need to stop thinking about this. I’m going to find my girl and forget this for a while.”

    Nicole was sure salt water joined the fresh in the next paragraph. Where the letters spiked and the hand holding the pen grew unsteady. It was hard to read. It must have been harder to write.

    “10:00 PM – Now I know why Sam came along. Three’s a crowd they say. What she said hurts more though. She said she was saving herself for our wedding night. She said we had something special and there was no reason to rush things. That lying bitch! I wonder how unspecial the thing she has going on with my buddy is. They didn’t see me, but I saw them. I heard them too. I need to take drastic measures. I hear Michael telling me what to do.”

    The next bit held pinkish tint. Nicole could almost see the fingerprints. Thank everything holy the cops had never seen this book. The writing became blocky, losing that artistic and airy script the pages before contained.

    “10:30 PM – I have glimpsed the prophecy in my time away. I know now that man’s time ruling the world is over. It is women that control and we must accept that. My Lord visited me and told me we must serve until we prove ourselves again. The world may burn in our quest for a new Eden. If it does none of us are strong enough to live there. If we follow the hallowed path though, some of us will survive to build something better.

    “I must go now. Screams still fill my ears and there is business to attend to. First I must dig a hole in an out of the way place. This rain will not help with that. Then I need to get to know my future wife. I guess our wedding night won’t be so special after all.”

    As she closed the book, Nicole smiled. Let the girls dream on that. Their strength came in truth, only men grew strong in denial. As for her, she knew now why her mother had always been so obedient. Sometimes faith required sacrifice.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Very well done. This does explain much of your story. I especially liked, Their strength came in truth, only men grew in denial.

      1. Reaper

        Thanks regisundertow, that means a lot to me, the first bit I mean. The idea of using it as a holy text, well I can’t claim credit for that. I think Manson did it first. Thank you for the compliments and the kind words.

    2. Manwe38

      There are undertones of real life in this, especially the fact that religions often ARE used as an excuse for madness.

      Brilliant story, Reaper. I loved it.

      1. Reaper

        Thank you Manwe38, I’m glad it continues to work well. Yes, the thing that should bind us and bring together is often used as a weapon. A sad truth that I am willing to exploit for a story.

      1. Geezer Muse

        An amazing finish for your continuation. Your power with words grows stonger and more sophisticated. That’s the killer part. Some can write dark but to write with such finess makes the horror much worse, especially when religion and God are associated wth it.

        Think about how many souls have persished in the name of one God or another. Kerry

        1. Reaper

          Thanks Kerry. Wow, that is a compliment, when you say the words grow I feel an obligation to keep doing so. The amount of people we lose to being right is staggering. To enforce our will is a natural extension of being right, and violence is the ultimate but least productive way to enforce that. Then you bring in religion, and as I said above a thing that should bring us together and cause forgiveness becomes a tool. In this case for violence because instead of going internal people will lash out, refusing to have what cannot be proved be questioned. That is part of this, though I hoped the twist of the brother’s soul wasn’t too subtle there. I guess it’s not because that is what causes the prophecy to be such a perversion.

      2. Reaper

        Thank you Dennis. I mentioned below, I’m not wrapped up, just to a good point to get some more info out there. That’s kind of how I write with novels though, part, info dump, more story.

    3. snuzcook

      Oh, Reaper. I have missed so much these past few weeks–Including this entire series!
      (I have just read this piece for the first time and feel a little uncomfortable at the way I mirrored it unconsciously and obliquely with the Michael in my “Miracles.”)

      Strong, powerful story. So much is implied (revealed?) by your narrator’s choice and rationale to use the journal as bedtime reading for the girls. So many layers of creepitude. Masterfully done!

      1. Reaper

        You have also been missed! You haven’t missed the entire series though. I challenged myself to continue this story until the end of the year and then flesh it out into a novel. It won’t be done until we reach the times of the prophecy and see people fight over making it succeed or fail. I do agree on the mirroring, though it is in such a layered way, that actually makes the connection creepier for me. Great minds though! Thank you for that last paragraph. Nicole is not quite sane I don’t think, though she may be completely sane and that scares me even more. Thanks again, and definitely welcome back!

    4. Reaper

      I’ll get back to responding to comments when I’m caught up, because this week is long. However, this isn’t the conclusion yet. I’m still pushing myself to continue this until the end of the year, or until the prompt forces me away from it.

  34. cosi van tutte

    Sorry! This is another long one. 🙁

    “Hey, Mom! I’m going.”

    Mom doesn’t come running out into the foyer. She doesn’t say a word.

    I set my duffel bag on the floor and walk into the kitchen. “Mom?”

    She stands in front of the sink, washing dishes by hand.

    I walk over to her. “Mom. I’m going.”

    She sniffles.

    “Mom. I’ll be fine. I’ve done this before.”

    She rubs a plate like she’s trying to scrub it to pieces. “You’ve forgotten what today is.”

    People on Mom’s side of the family say that it is unwise to think of the Missed Ones. They say that it will bring sure misfortune. I slip up and think about Dad. “I haven’t forgotten. But I’ll be with Nick and Diana. It’ll be fine.”

    She sets the plate into the drying rack.

    “They’ll keep me safe.”

    She turns and wraps me up in a big hug. I hug her too. “If you want, I can tell them that I can’t go.”

    “No.” She releases me and rubs her tears away with the heel of her hand. “No. I won’t imprison you the way I’ve imprisoned myself. Go with your friends. Be safe. Be careful. Don’t let them leave you alone.”

    My thoughts drift again to Dad. He was all alone that night. “I know. I love you, Mom.” I kiss her, say good-bye, and leave.

    ***

    I sit in the back seat of Diana’s Jeep and listen to her banter with Nick about who’s the better driver.

    “Hey, I didn’t say that. I just meant that I’m not that bad of a driver.”

    “Not that bad?” Diana laughs. “What about that time you drove us into the swamp?”

    “Uhhh…”

    “And the swamp was nowhere near the road.”

    Nick grins. “I was distracted by your ethereal beauty.”

    Diana laughs so hard she snorts.

    I smile and forget about Mom’s anxieties. I forget about Dad becoming a Missed One. I lean forward and join the conversation.

    ***

    The parking lot for Mama Yentzah’s Magnificent Campgrounds is empty.

    “Ooo-hooo!” Diana cheers. “We have this whole place all to ourselves.”

    Mom’s anxieties return. “Maybe we shouldn’t stay here.” I remember Dad’s disappearance. “What if something happens to us? Who will come rescue us?”

    Nick has sympathy all over his face. “It won’t happen to you. You won’t become a Missed One. They only take one person per family.”

    “Nick!” Diana punches his arm. “You’re not supposed to talk about that.”

    “She’s right.” I say. “It’s bad luck. Still. Since we are talking about it, what do you think ‘they’ are?”

    “Aliens.”

    “Rogue PowerPuff Girls.” Diana shrugs. “It makes about as much sense as the other theories I’ve heard.”

    I pull my duffel bag out of the car.

    “What do you think THEY are?” asks Nick.

    I remember those long days and nights. Mom and I sat up, waiting, expecting him to walk through the door with a big smile and an apology. I stopped after nine months. Mom stopped after three years. “I’ve never thought about it.”

    “Sure you have. You must have.”

    I fiddle with my duffel bag’s zippers. I remember wanting to have a face, a name, someone to blame. No matter what they said, Dad didn’t run off on us. Even if he did, he would have come back. “Fae.”

    “Oh, now you’re talkin’.”

    “And you’re talkin’ too much.” Diana grabs him by his shirt collar and drags him to the back of the Jeep. “This thing isn’t going to unpack itself.”

    We unpack the Jeep and carry our supplies to our favorite campsite.

    By the time we have everything all set up, it is night.

    ***

    to be continued…..

      1. cosi van tutte

        And here is the conclusion…

        Nick is the first to disappear. They took him sometime in the night as he slept alone in his tent.

        “We should take his tent down.”

        Diana glares at me. “He’ll come back.”

        “That’s what my Mom said when Dad disappeared.”

        “That was different.”

        “How?”

        Diana’s expression softens as she scans the surrounding forest. “Because Nick would never leave me.”

        My mouth drops open. “What? And you think my Dad up and left my Mom?”

        She shrugs. “I don’t know how things were between your parents. But I know things were just right between Nick and me. He wouldn’t leave me all alone in the woods.”

        “My Dad didn’t leave us! He was taken against his will. If he could come back, he would. I know he would.”

        She enters his tent and just stands there, looking at the messed up blanket.

        “Diana?”

        She kneels beside the cot and straightens the blanket. “We weren’t married. We weren’t even engaged. Most of the time, we were like sister and brother. I enjoyed our relationship. I never wanted it to change. But things do change. But I know Nick. I know he would never, ever abandon me.”

        “But he’s gone.”

        “He’s gone.” She stands and marches on out the tent.

        I hurry after her. “Where are you going?”

        “I’m going to find him.”

        “How? You don’t even know where to start.”

        “Then, I’ll just start anywhere. It’s better than nothing.”

        I remember Mom didn’t do nothing. She tried to find him. But the search parties failed to find even a trace of him. He was gone. Just like the other Missed Ones.

        Diana gasps. “Nick?”

        I glance around, but I don’t see anyone. Just lots of trees and nature.

        “Nick! Wait!” She runs through the trees.

        “Diana!” I race after her. “Wait for me!”

        ***

        Diana’s gone. I tripped over a tree root and when I stood up, she was gone.

        I’m all alone.

        I look around, searching for landmarks. But I hadn’t been watching for landmarks. Everything looks the same. Trees and bushes. Bushes and trees.

        And I stand here, all alone. My heart is racing and pounding. I want to run. I want to scream. I want to cry.

        I know it’s futile, but I call out for Diana. And I call for Nick. Over and over and over.

        It’s just like the nightmares I used to have. I’d stand in the woods, calling and crying for my Dad. But he wouldn’t come. And I would wake up.

        But there’s no waking up from this nightmare.

        I reach into my pocket for my cell phone. It isn’t there. Only then do I remember leaving it under my pillow. “I’ll walk back to the car. That’s what I’ll do.” I turn around.

        “Emily.”

        The hair on my arms stands on end.

        “Emily.”

        It isn’t Diana. And it isn’t Nick.

        It’s my Dad calling my name. I don’t question it. I just run to it. “DAAAAD! WHERE ARE YOU?”

        “Emily.”

        I see movement behind a cluster of trees. It occurs to me half-way there that I’m being rash and stupid.

        “Emily. Emily.”

        “I’m coming.” I run into the tree cluster and stop.

        A creature stands there with a ribbon-drizzled magic wand in its long, thin fingers. It’s as tall as my Dad, but with dull blue-gray skin, large dark eyes, and a questioning expression. It flitters its insect-like wings as it waits for me to speak.

        I back away from it. “What are you? What have you done with my Dad?”

        “Dad?” Its voice sounds just like him. “Daaaad? Dad.” Its eyes brighten to shined silver. I can see my reflection in them. “Emily.”

        My heart pounds too loud, too fast. He sounds just like my Dad. But it isn’t him.

        “Emily. Mother safe?”

        It can’t be him. “Yes. She’s safe.”

        “My Emily.”

        My heart hurts and I want to cry. “Dad?”

        His mouth isn’t shaped for smiles, but he smiles. “Come.” He points the magic wand at me. Brilliant white light edged with pale blue overwhelms my eyesight.

        And I am gone.

        1. Manwe38

          This has elements of the Blair Witch Project, mixed with an equally potent blend of creepy.

          I liked the way you described your MC stumbling around all alone, followed by the reveal of the…monster? Savior? Not sure which one it is….

          Nicely done.

        2. Reaper

          Very nicely written. This is creepy and very enjoyable to read. As a short piece it has very strong elements of being a story about death and the mistery and denial that surrounds that. If this were an intro to something longer it would leave me wanting to know why they don’t talk about it, how everyone knows when nobody does, and why the rules suddenly change and a second member of the same family is taken. In other words I would be turning the page to find out more right now.

          1. cosivantutte

            Thanks, Reaper!

            To be honest, I kind of creeped myself out when I was writing this. 🙂

            I’m almost tempted to expand it into a longer story to figure out all of the why’s and how’s.

  35. Trevor

    Word Count: 796

    Broken Promise

    “Becka should be here soon. We’ll be back Sunday afternoon.” I reminded my mother as I walk into the living room, carrying my duffel bag. She’s where she always is: Sitting on the couch, mindlessly watching her soaps. She barely looks at me when I walk in.

    “Be careful out there. It’s the anniversary, you know?” That’s the only thing she said to me. Dammit, mother, do you have to remind me every year? How could I ever forget that horrid night?

    The tires of Becka’s Mitsubishi interrupted my fuming. After giving my mom a half-hearted kiss goodbye, I ran outside and jumped into the backseat. Becka sat in the driver’s seat, her trademark heart-shaped sunglasses plastered on her face. Jesse, Becka’s boyfriend, sat in the passenger side, gulping down a can of beer.

    “And our Friendcation has officially commenced!” Becka shouted as she pulled recklessly out of the driveway, nearly clipping the mailbox. We had just finished our final exams, and Becka, always looking for a reason to party, decided it was the perfect opportunity for us to go on a trip to Riverbrook Forest for a private party. And I admit, while I’m not a party girl in any regard, I was pretty stressed from a week’s worth of cramming, so I welcomed the chance to unwind.

    By the time we reached the cabin, the sun was beginning to set. We piled out of the car and went into the cabin. It was surprisingly spacious for a place in the middle of nowhere.

    “I came over last night to get the place ready.” Becka explained as we walked into the kitchen. Jesse opened the fridge and cheered when he saw it was stocked with beer cans.

    “Oh, yeah! I love you, baby!” Jesse shouted as he pulled Becka close and kissed her lips. They were still in the middle of their passionate kiss when I left to unpack my bag.

    The night passed by in a blur of loud music and drunken antics. When I woke up, it was almost midnight and I was lying on the living room floor. Becka and Jesse passed out on the couch, Becka lying on top of her shirtless boyfriend. The couch was encircled with empty beer cans.

    Suddenly, my stomach lurched. Feeling the vomit forming at the back of my throat, I ran out to the front porch just in time to regurgitate my last ten beers. I sat down on the porch steps as I desperately tried to catch my breath. All of a sudden, I heard a sound that almost made my heart stop.

    “Kelly….”

    It couldn’t be. It was impossible. But my disbelief didn’t stop me from getting up and walking toward the source of the cry. I had just entered the dense forest when it cried out again.

    “Kelly….”

    It was louder then. I knew I was close. As I looked ahead of me, chills shot down my back. I had been here before. Three years ago. I fought my way through a large bush and saw him standing there, right on the edge.

    I was at Deadman’s Cliff. And standing precariously on the edge of the infamous precipice was Paul Felton, my ex-boyfriend.

    I still remember the night perfectly. It was at the end of sophomore year, and we had snuck into a graduation party being held by a popular group of seniors. We were having a great time until I caught Paul making out with some blonde skank. Being the hot-tempered, immature bitch I was at the time, I dragged him away from the party and starting screaming at him. But all he could do was slur incoherently and stumble around. Thorougly pissed off, I gave him a hard shove. His feet unsteady from the beer, Paul stumbled back….

    And fell off the cliff.

    Panicking, I ran away and called 911 from a phone booth. When the police questioned me, I told them that he slipped and fell off the cliff. Since everyone who saw Paul that night knew he was completely hammered, the police ruled his death an accident and that was that.

    “Paul….I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.” I pleaded with Paul’s spirit. Tears had started to stream down my face as I begged for my dead boyfriend’s forgiveness. But as he approached me with a solemn look on his face, it became clear that Paul wasn’t interested in letting bygones be bygones.

    “Kelly…you promised we would be together forever.” He spoke, his voice hauntingly calm. Then, he reached out and grabbed me by the wrist and began to drag me toward the edge. I screamed out for help, but I knew it was no use.

    Paul made sure we would be together for all eternity.

    1. Lord_Aura

      I enjoyed reading this story. When you mentioned the boyfriend drinking in the passenger seat, and describing his excitement to see beer in the fridge, those aspects of his personality subtlely stayed with me. I enjoyed the ending as it was definitely a surprise. Perhaps you could have mentioned Paul earlier in the story? Her dread of being reminded of the circumstances of his death could have been the motivation for her wanting to drink 10+ beers.

      Good stuff. Keep writing!

    2. Dennis

      The story did read well, but some of the narration in the second half probably could be tightened up a bit. And I too think mentioning the death briefly at the beginning would make the story stronger. Nicely done.

  36. Not-Only But-Also Riley

    The woods are dark, the campfire warm,
    In the clouds no sign of storms,
    Yet something feels just not quite right,
    There’s something in the air tonight.

    Exchanging tales of ghosts and ghouls,
    Laughing childishly like fools,
    We friends make safety out of snickers,
    As the fire ‘round us flickers.

    But woods enclose and as I feared,
    Something besides friends is here.
    Our stories come true as a bush shakes,
    A wolf does howl, a twig does break.

    Which monster from the darkness leaps?
    We are all ears, no single peep
    as we await our beast to scare
    we hope the monster, us will spare.

    It jumps out and shrieks and yells,
    a monster from the bowels of hell,
    has come to finish what it began,
    it has a job, it has a plan.

    But screaming ceases and laughter starts,
    up from our feet do rise our hearts.
    Only a kid, not truly beast,
    not some fowl thing with bloodied teeth.

    As we all laugh and settle down,
    back floods in our normal sounds.
    We are all safe, our fear a joke,
    and soon arrive all of our folks.

    We say goodbyes, and make farewells,
    forgetting of the beast from hell.
    On our way home I fall asleep,
    and very soon I’m counting sheep.

    But as we spoke and joked and sat,
    we had no clue of George’s cat,
    Who during screams it too did squeal,
    at least the true beast got a meal.

    1. regisundertow

      Heh, that raised a smile. Unfortunately, I’m knowledgeable enough to comment on poetry, but this had a nice nursery rhyme feel to it.

  37. TwistedLyric

    “Be careful out there.”

    I froze, my hand clenching around the doorknob as my mother shuffled to the top of the stairs, her voice barely carrying to me over the loud noise of the screaming in my head.

    “I will be.”

    “Josie….”

    I sighed and turned slightly to face her, my eyes staring at the wall behind her head. I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t see horrifying beauty of the madness in her eyes as she draped herself over the landing, one arm thrown over her forehead as if she had fainted.

    “Terrible red colours Josie. Terrible reds.”

    Biting my lip I opened the door and slid out it, closing it quickly and hurrying down the drive, my eyes burning with repressed tears. She always did this. Always mentioned the incident as I went to have fun. As if I could forget it.

    “Jos?”

    I jerked and blinked, smiling faintly as my friend pulled to the curb, her rusty red pickup shuddering slightly at the quickness of her stop.

    “Alice.”

    Opening the door I climbed into the truck, pausing to chuck my duffel into the trucks bed.

    “Get us out of here.”

    She nodded and put the truck into gear, pulling away from the curb and gunning it down the street, her lips pursed and eyebrows drawn.

    “Why the hurry Jos?”

    “Mum.”

    She nodded, rolling her shoulders as the houses slowly faded to burnt out warehouses and broken stop signs, the edges of town creeping appearing suddenly and with little warning.

    “She mention….?”

    I nodded and looked out the window, eyes hooded and stinging again.

    “Course she did. She always does.”

    “Christ Jos….sorry.”

    I shrugged, a nervous gesture more than one of acceptance of the apology.

    “She’s mental Alice. Stark raving mad.”

    “Yeah but, it’s stil-”

    I shook my head, hair brushing against my shoulders as I did.

    “Please don’t Al.”

    “Okay.”

    We travelled on for a while longer, silence stretching out for a few hours, our breathing and the trucks wheezing the only sounds we paid attention to. The only sounds we really heard until the other truck rammed into us and sent us spinning straight of the road and into the dense forest that lined the road.

    “God!”

    My head whacked of the side of the window and I felt a sharp burst of pain as Alice moaned, her seatbelt digging harshly into her ribs.

    “Jos…it’s…”

    “I know! Get out Al, now!”

    She nodded and stabbed blindly at her buckle, sighing in relief as it clicked and released her, both of us scrambling out of the truck and running to the back of it, eyes scanning every direction.

    “It’s me Josie.”

    I shivered, eyes wild as I spun in a circle, the high pitched voice grating against my nerves and sending my brain into a whirlwind of cuss words.

    “Oh little Josie, say hello!”

    I bit my lip and stilled, ears pricked as the voice crept closer, Alice’s hand sliding into mine.

    ”Say hello to doom Josie.”

    I smiled slightly at that and closed my eyes, one saying going through my head on repeat as the sound of the mad laughter assaulted my eardrums.

    I will welcome doom with open arms as I welcome insanity with a cup of tea.

    1. Reaper

      This definitely leaves me wanting more but I like it all the way through and the ending is perfectly ambiuous, leaving me to wonder if the MC is as crazy as the mother or very brave.

  38. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    Some of you might be uncomfortable with this story because of the fact that it’s 2nd person and the ensuing subject matter, so fair warning. This is my first 2nd-person story, and it’s practice for a upcoming project I have planned. I hope you enjoy it!

    For Emily

    “Be careful out there,” your mother’s words echo in your mind as blood oozes from Cheryl’s perfectly plump lips. “You know tonight is the anniversary, right?”

    A cold breeze dances through the forest, and a million leaves clap for its performance. You breathe deep the fresh air, and wonder how they could be so stupid to think you didn’t know what they did. You guess ignorance and careless assumptions have been the deficiency of man, and you’re right. Oh, but how you wish you were wrong. Had you endured your own ignorance you wouldn’t be in that dark forest. As it were, however, fate has other plans for you.

    You had blindfolded each of them. You didn’t do it because you were afraid they’d see your face but rather to scare the shit out of them. They needed to know real fear. They needed to know what it felt like to be your sister. She had been born into darkness, you wanted them to feel as she felt when they lured her into this god-forsaken forest and snuffed out her innocent life.

    The soft moonlight intermittently shines through the branches as the percolating clouds pass overhead. Cheryl whimpers, and even though her tears wet the blindfold, you chuff with disgust. Maybe there was a point when curiosity had turned her into an ice-cold monster, but that time had gone. Now, she is nothing more than a frightened woman now wishing she hadn’t killed your sister. She begs for your forgiveness, but she doesn’t deserve it because now it is you suffering life as a soulless monster.

    “Who’s idea was it?” you ask as lightning flashes overhead. Booming thunder crashes, a crescendo to your climaxing emotions.

    You pull a bloodstained bat from your bag. The very same bat they used to kill your sister. Alan suddenly starts to cry. With each deep-bellied wail, he spits snot and tears into the darkness. You thought for sure Cheryl would cave first, but now that you think about it, Alan is the weakest of the three. Of course, even the weakest find strength when self-preservation is the only thing they have left. You walk to Alan, and he tilts his head toward the sky.

    “Alan?” You ask, and press the thick end of the bat against his cheek.

    “No, man, I swear to God it wasn’t me.”

    “Shut the fuck up, Alan.” Richard’s deep, forceful voice cuts through the night like a train through a brick wall. He’s the guy everyone listens to because he’s got a leaders personality. “If you say one more fu—”

    The bat slams against his head, and your fingers go numb. Three more times you smash it into his face, and although Alan’s cries are almost too loud to bear, you can still hear Richard’s skull crunching. When you finished, he leans forward, now only held up by the binds the tie him to the tree.

    You return to Cheryl and ask her, “Dick over there started this whole thing, right? You guys were just along for the thrill?”

    Alan said, “Leave us alone, man.”

    Another frigid breeze thrashes the leaves, and the comforting drum of rain follows it. Soon, the oddly warm water beats against all of you. After closing your eyes, you enjoy the feel of the water as it pours over you. “I know what they found at your house, Alan. The police tried to hide that fact from my family, but I know what you did to her.”

    “I didn’t, I swear I didn’t!”

    The bat lands hard against his stomach, and then you swing for a homerun. Unfortunately, the ball doesn’t leave the park. It merely falls to the side, silent and no longer weeping.

    You return to Cheryl one last time, and move close enough to smell her perfume and feel the fine peach hairs on her ear tickle your lips. You whisper, “Do you know what blood and death brings to this forest?”

    She starts to whimper again, and you take a long deep breath to savor her fear. “It brings all kinds of dangerous creatures. Ones that suffer eating dead flesh, but will enjoy the live treat I intend to leave them.”

    She blubbers as you walk to your bag and pick it up. She calls for you to spare her, but you can’t do that. You won’t do it. You gave the others a quick death, but you cannot give her the same relief. She was supposed to be your sister’s friend. She was supposed to protect her from the world she herself couldn’t see. She knew your sister was blind in reality, sure, but she was innocent, too, blind to the darkness of man. For her betrayal, you will never forgive her. So she must suffer, and while you may never feel whole or at piece, at least for a short time you can feel some manner of adequate albeit false satisfaction.

    1. Reaper

      That is dark, and a risk for second person. I know you’re not normally a fan but this was well done. I felt ill throughout it because of the deep association that the second person caused and thought it was well written. Two things I noticed were a lot of hads that could have been eliminated or changed to was throughout. It kind of mad certain parts choppy which slightly distracted from the intensity of you so expertly dropping me into a very dark mind. The second was at the end you seemed to take pity on me as a reader and pull you punch. The can’t do that lessens the personal responsibility for monstrous actions. I’d suggest removing the can’t and just going with you won’t do that. Otherwise, this creeped me out and I understand the warning but while very dark and disturbing this was also artfully done.

    2. Pete

      I thought it worked perfectly, like an inner monologue as this horror show unfolded. This whole story gave me the shivers so, nicely done. I could feel the crunch of that bat!

    3. DMelde

      I did enjoy it, thank you very much. I thought it was an excellent second person story and I thought it flowed nicely. The only time I got hung up was when “The bat slams against his head, and your fingers go numb.” For a second I couldn’t tell if it was Alan or Richard who got hit. Richard stopped talking abruptly so I figured it was him, but there in the back of my mind was the lonely thought that maybe he stopped talking because Alan got hit and he wasn’t there to yell at anymore. I wasn’t really sure it was Richard until Richard’s skull started crunching. It would have flowed better for me had it read ‘The bat slams against Richard’s head…” But that’s just me, other people probably had no problems with it at all. Very, very good story! 🙂

    4. regisundertow

      Several thoughts on this;
      The second person works great. Didn’t think it would, to be honest, but it does. The story lends itself to it very naturally.
      Language, it flows very well, just like in the previous Karaoke piece. I’ll need to read this a few times and pick up a couple of tips on writing.
      No real need to repeat that she’s blind in the end. While you were subtle about it in the beginning, I think those paying attention will get it.
      I really enjoyed the piece, but I was finding myself wondering what I was supposed to be feeling. I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is a simple case of holding a mirror to the reader, despite the 2nd person. I think there’s something more in there, which I’m not seeing. Maybe it’s just late and I can’t think straight.

    5. Manwe38

      This was dark and very effective at getting me into your MC’s mind. The 2nd person was done well and at no time did I feel pulled out of the story. I agree with Reaper, though, that changing the last ‘can’t’ to ‘won’t’ makes the MC just a little bit darker (as if he needed that : ) ).

      Overall great job, though!

    6. JRSimmang

      Great, Doc, now I have nightmares.
      It was certainly worth the risk, and I didn’t feel the action was redundant, which is sometimes an issue with 2nd person POV. There are some spots that need some tightening: I got a little turned around when the bat was turned on Richard, the baseball reference, and “at piece” should be “at peace.”

      Otherwise, I was deeply engaged and shocked that I would be capable of such a dastardly crime…

    7. Dennis

      I liked the overall story, grim as it is. Sometimes the 2nd person worked and flowed well. Other times it felt strange, as if the narrator was telling the MC things the MC should already know. Definitely seems like a tough POV to get right.

    8. snuzcook

      Doc, in view of your intro commentary, I read this first just for impressions, and it definitely worked. As you know, not my cuppa, but it is well executed (pun accidental but delicious) and as is your extreme talent, you place the reader right up close and personal with the graphic experience.

      Then I sat back and pondered 2nd person. Here’s the strength in this context–it creates the implication that the protagonist has a divided consciousness. Otherwise, who the heck is the narrator talking to and why? Is it an alter-ego egging him(?) on? or is it the tortured conscience reliving the horrific experience? or the deeply damaged ‘id’ savoring the primal acts of vengence? The narrator voice almost represents the creepy guy in the corner filming what should not be recorded. Rod Serling whispering in the ear and inviting us all to live in the Twilight Zone.

      A great response to the prompt.

  39. QuiverPen

    “Be careful out there,” Mom said as I grabbed by duffel bag to head out on a camping trip with James and Bryson. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?”

    “Yes, Mom.” I said as I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, slipped out the door, and hopped into James’s giant 15-seater van. I glanced out the window as James pulled away, seeing the concern on my mother’s face.

    Maybe it was warranted, maybe it wasn’t. Three years ago, today, the world had changed forever. Ordinary men became something extraordinary, gaining powers and abilities of legend. Some became heroes. Others simply didn’t. When the comet had passed, it had forever changed us all. And it was supposed to be back tonight.

    “Are you ready to be awesome?” Bryson asked from one of the front rows.

    I grinned, feeling only slightly guilty at leaving my mother in the dark about our plans. She didn’t watch the news anymore, too depressing, she said. She didn’t know the comet was on its way back around. We were going to be the greatest superhero team since the Fantastic Four.

    It took us a couple hours to get to our designated campsite. An open expanse of grass over an hour away from the nearest road. The choice had been James’s. Ever the pragmatic one, he’d voiced the concerns for other’s safety should one of us be granted fire powers. This way, the worst that could happen would be some scorched grass.

    “You ready, James?”

    The comet was only an hour or so away. We leapt from the van and erected a hasty camp, setting up telescopes and various other instruments to measure the progress of our transformation. To be honest, we were a little naïve to think any of us would get powers. It only effected about one in a million. But we waited.

    The greenish glow of the comet appeared suddenly, startling us all awake. We’d dozed off in our wait, but the sheer presence of it assaulted out minds and forced us awake. Immediately I knew it was working, I could feel my body changing. Pain lanced through me and I screamed, only faintly hearing two echoing screams near me. It had grabbed us all. Fire blazed around me.

    I was on the ground then, a pair of hands wrapped around my throat. I struggled to breathe, gasping for breath. James’s voice was hot in my ear. Icy fingers squeezed tighter on my throat.

    “This power is mine!” he screamed.

    I struggled and fought as Bryson appeared in my vision, his hands crackling with bright purple energy. He approached me, death in his eyes. Flames danced within my flesh, ready to be called to bear against my foes.

    Some of us are called to be heroes. Some of us aren’t.

    1. Reaper

      Is this Heroes inspired? I have to ask with the comet. The beginning of this was amazing. I liked the some becoming heroes and others just not. I laughed at the greatest team since the Fantastic Four. Talk about setting the bar low! Okay, I admit, not my favorite team but a good line whether one sees that my way or not. Towards the end it felt like the word count made you rush. Having the friends fight is a cool idea but I felt like I needed more of a reason. Why did his friends go insane and evil when he didn’t? More importantly, why were they ganging up on him? Both friends going evil when granted power isn’t so much of a stretch but a free for all seems more likely. I think this just needs a little exploration of the why, give me a reason for good friends betraying each other, even if it is a thing one, and then this would be spot on and even more amazing. Because it is intense and very readable.

      1. Penney

        I also felt rushed in the last couple of paragraphs. So ice and blueish energy are the other guys powers? At first I couldn’t tell they were attacking the mc, I was more thinking something came from the comet and attacked them; then I thought maybe the mc was the bad one especially with that last line, you don’t truly know. Good or evil they are foes of each other. Could lead to more story, more explanation. Good

      2. QuiverPen

        I try and stay to the word count as much as possible, which really castrated the ending. I will probably go back and turn this into a short story later. You’ll have to stop by my webpage from time to time to get the updated version. As for the Heroes reference, completely coincidental, I’ve never seen the show. I heard too many bad reviews.

    2. Dennis

      I think this a great idea and just echo the part of needing a little more at the end. I too try my hardest to stick the word count as an exercise to concisely tell a story. Unfortunately I can’t always make it work.

  40. Pete

    “Be careful out there,” Mom says just as Sara honks the horn.

    “I can’t believe you would bring that up.”

    Mom folds the towel in her hand, looking past me. “I just don’t want you to forget about her.”

    “How could I?” I say, grabbing my bag and waving a hand around the room. My sister’s picture-perfect smile sits frozen in time in every room of the house. I shake my head and mumble goodbye.

    Sara’s Volvo chugs along in the driveway. The Cure blast into the afternoon, muffled by solid metal doors and antique speakers.

    “Come on, Emmy!” she chants, dancing and swaying behind the wheel. Her blonde hair is nearly white from the long days lifeguarding at the pool, twisted and curled by the humidity. I get in but I can see Mom staring out the window like a freak. Sara waves but Mom only stares out at nothing. I try not to think about what she’ll do all alone this evening.

    “So are you ready to party?”

    I nod, prying my gaze away from Mom as we start up the road. Sara turns the music down and studies me for a moment before she slides to a halt two inches from the bumper of a cement truck. “Oops.”

    “You’re going to kill us,” I say with my palms on the dashboard.

    Sara giggles and just for a day I’d love to live that care free—to dance and bob and sing along and not worry about plowing into cement trucks. To be a beautiful fool.

    We take the exit towards Holcomb Mountain. Sara’s attention leaves the road again. “I think Dylan’s coming along with Spence,” she says, nudging me. I try to roll my eyes but a smile steals my face.

    “And he told Spence that he thinks that you’re cute.”

    I can’t tell if she’s serious or not, but she’s stuck around through all of this so I try to play along, to slide out of the shadow of that day some three years ago. When I came home from school and found my mom hovering over my sister’s mangled body. The gun still hot from the discharge.

    The bonfire rages. People are happy and joking around, sounding an alarm in my brain. I immediately regret getting in the car. But the music is loud and everyone is drinking so easy to duck away from Sara and wander off to someplace quieter. Up on the hill the breeze holds a chill. I look up to the stars and think of LIsa. And that’s when it hits me.

    Mom…home alone…today.

    Everything blurs as I race down and push my way through the bodies. My heart floods my limbs with urgency. The flames dance and reach for the black sky. I find Sara and Spence. Dylan is sitting on a rock with a girl. A normal looking girl who speaks and smiles and laughs.

    “I need your car.”

    “What? Look, Emmy, relax. Have a good time.”

    I’m already shaking my head, trying to catch my breath. “No, I need your car now. Please Sara.”

    Spence and Dylan gawk at me. Two girls cover their mouths. Sara reaches in her bag and finds the keys, her face angry but her voice calm. “Here, go.”

    The Volvo’s not much on speed—it runs like a cinderblock on marbles. At home I lurch to a stop. The moonlight bounces off the windows of our dark little house. No police cars. I sprint to the door.

    “Mom?”

    The house clings to silence like a secret. A million things rush through my head as I climb the stairs in the darkness. How I’m so tired of being alone. How I hate Mom for being so weird and Lisa for blowing her brains out. How I hate myself for letting Sara talk me into leaving, like I could ever be anything other than the freak girl at school.

    “Mom.”

    I hear a whimper and tear into Lisa’s bedroom. There she is, lying on Lisa’s bed with a shotgun. I leap to her and we fall to the floor—her, me and the gun. I wrangle my way on top of her and she screams. Her eyes are two dark stones. Drool seeps from her mouth. I take her arms and stare into the stones.

    “Look at me.”

    “It was my fault Emmy,” she mutters. “It’s my fault she’s gone.”

    Tears flood my eyes. I look over at the double barrel—a barrel for each of us—and for the tiniest moment I think how easy it would be to end the silence once and for all. Mom trembles beneath my legs. She needs help. I need help. I look away from the gun. Lisa’s smile beams from her dresser.

    “But I’m still here, Mom. And I need you.”

    1. Trevor

      This is really good, Pete. The writing was descriptive and powerful and there’s a lot of genuine emotion. What I really liked was the anonymity of the story. At the beginning, I thought that Emmy had killed her sister. Great work.

    2. Reaper

      I was not expecting a happy-ish ending here Pete. Very heat stopping and well written. The anniversary was implied well so wasn’t necessary to say blatantly. I really liked the raw way this came out onto the page. It matched the MCs voice so well.

    3. regisundertow

      Good stuff…I really liked how the language flowed. In less capable hands, this would have been a bit cliché, but I enjoyed it both for the language and the story.

    4. Manwe38

      Powerful, moving, deep.

      Excellent writing with strong use of metaphor–I especially liked ‘The house clings to silence like a secret’ and ‘runs like a cinder block on marbles’. The description of mom’s eyes is also excellent.

      Some of your best right here, Pete. Keep it coming!

  41. ReathaThomasOakley

    (Sorry, sorry, sorry. We have been traveling and this story developed on the plains of South Dakota and I had to write and post it. I have no idea of words since I’m just using my iPad.)

    Every Wednesday Night

    “Okay, one drink, but then I gotta go,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t ask why I’d have to leave, that I would rather be home with a good book rather than spending any time outside of the office with a co-worker, rather a former co-worker, since my promotion was announced at staff meeting. “Some place close.”

    “There’s a neighborhood bar around the corner,” Kat said. “I’ve never been there, from who I’ve seen going in, looks like a senior citizens hangout. But, it’s close and as long as the beer is cold…”

    “Great. I’ll met you there.”

    When I got to the door, I regretted not inventing a sick mother when I read, Karaoke Every Wednesday. But, I’d agreed so I went in. Kat was right, senior citizens, mainly couples with pitchers of beer and bowls of popcorn on every table. I worked my way over to where Kat had found some chairs, trying not to wince at You Light Up My Life assaulting my ear drums.

    “Sorry,” Kat said. “One drink, I really and truly promise.” But no one approached our table as the singer left the stage and the whole place got quiet.

    “What do you suppose…” I started to say when I saw everyone turning toward a table at the edge of the little dance floor where a woman sat alone, wearing a red dress and big hair twenty years out of style. Before I could finish my question the bar door opened and a man, leaning on the arm of a younger man in scrubs, entered and made his way toward the woman’s table. The younger man gently guided his charge into a chair. I recognized the vacant, bewildered look on the older man’s face. I’d seen it on my grandmother’s face in her last years, when she no longer knew any of us or where she was.

    “This isn’t right,” Kat started, but then another song started and I saw a mike on the table in front of the man. The younger man handed it to him and got a sad smile in return. But, as the background singers started his look of confusion was replaced by a look of recognition, the new smile was just for the woman across from him, and he started singing in a strong, confident voice,

    I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight
    I’ve never seen you shine so bright
    I’ve never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance
    They’re looking for a little romance, given half a chance
    And I’ve never seen that dress you’re wearing or that highlights in your hair

    I watched and listened until,

    I’ll never forget the way you look tonight
    I never will forget the way you look tonight
    The lady in red
    My lady in red
    My lady in red
    My lady in red, I love you

    As the music faded, he stared at the mic in his hand as if wondering what it was doing there, normal bar sounds started again, and the two men left.

    “So, what’ll you girls have?” I turned and saw the bar maid next to us.

    “What,” I tried to say, “who…”

    “Yeah, they’re something aren’t they. She’s been doing this every Wednesday night for a year or two.”

    We ordered and as a big gal with lots of tattoos started singing, I Got Friends in Low Places, I watched the lady in red slowly stand up and leave the bar.

        1. Penney

          It’s a sweet story, I get it, very nice. The only thing I can think of is the over use of “rather” in the beginning. Also, if they have been doing this for so long, I would be interested in the fuller story of why, and/or the old couples back story, but pretty good for an ipad through the Dakota’s.

          1. ReathaThomasOakley

            Thanks, Penny. I agree about “rather”. I’m usually more careful with editing.

    1. Reaper

      This is eerie and very sweet. I find myself wanting to know more but feeling like I shouldn’t. Like I’ve just been given a glimpse of a perfect moment and if I knew more the lack of mystery would take something away from that perfect minute I got to spend in their lives.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks, Reaper. This is based on a true story, not karaoke, but dancing. I’m still trying to write that incident when the wife said, “He remembers the dance.”

      1. Geezer Muse

        I liked this a lot Reatha The setting of the bar was good as well as the song. Funny thing, Glenn Campbell a real star in the sixties and seventies, think ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. He has Alxheimers in an advanced stage but did a farewell tour with his wife helping him. Most of the time he didn’t know where he was until he was given a guitar and led to the stage. Then he would sing and play for an hour never missing a note or a word. H did this last year, traveling for 15 months, amazing. Kerry

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Hey Kerry, read your Florida story as Geezer and thought it sounded like you, reread and saw your name I’d overlooked. We saw Glen C a few years ago right after he was diagnosed, and have kept up with his decline. As I wrote above, this story is based on seeing a couple dance some years ago. They were just perfect, but after each dance he just drifted away.

    2. Manwe38

      This has both strong emotion and a hint of mystery…you got my attention and held it.

      “Lady in Red” is one of those songs from my childhood that always evokes special memories, especially of my first high-school dance.

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