From Random Page to Story

Grab the book, magazine, or newspaper nearest you and open up to a random page. Start your story with the first line at the top of the page and end your story with the last line at the bottom of the page.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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371 thoughts on “From Random Page to Story

  1. DatOneGuy42

    From Awakening, pg 140. I took some creative liberties with the first line, being a writer.

    I bent again to look at the headstone. I had just finished the rubbing, satisfied with my work. His name was Hartford, John Hartford. He was born in 1883, and died in 1912. That’s sad. Maybe it was typhoid, or some other disease. In case you didn’t know, rubbings are when you take a piece of paper, cover the markings with the paper, and use pencil lead to rub over the paper, making a copy. I had been doing rubbing for months, and I was getting more and more interested. I was going to go to a conference for rubbings in about a month. But enough about that.
    I decided to look around a little more. I found families and generations buried together, individuals, and found empty holes where family members would soon be laid to rest. As I traveled, I began to lose track of where I was.
    I shivered and looked around. It was getting late, and even though I enjoyed graveyards, I didn’t like them at night. Not only that, but…. I felt something. I can’t describe it, but I felt something. Something Foreboding, evil. Maybe just one more gravestone….No! I have to go. Forget my “obsession,” Mom is probably worried.
    But just one more wouldn’t hurt…NO! I have to stop! What is it with me? All remembrance of that Foreboding gone, I raced towards what I thought was the exit. As I ran, I became scared. I began to run faster, now not caring where I was going. I blindly ran, and before I knew it, I was lost. I had never been to this section, and I had no idea where to go.
    I continued, and began running into shrubs, ignoring the scratches on my arms. Faster and faster I ran, as the shrubbery grew into small trees, growing into a dense forest. The night grew darker, despite the cloudless night. The mist became a dense fog, threatening asphyxiation. I stopped. I could hear crickets humming and birds crying out. I was now hopelessly lost. I began breathing harder and harder, panicking.
    Then suddenly, a weird sense of calm fell over me. I felt that everything was going to be okay. I knew that nothing could happen to me. I just had to wait. I didn’t know what for, but I had to wait. I felt that I should sit down. I looked up at the moon. Isn’t it so pretty? I could stare forever at that moon. Forget school, and parties, and boyfriends! If only I could be enveloped in the moon. I would never be troubled if I could only be part of the moon, I would never need to go home. Home. Home. Home!
    I suddenly remembered home. Oh, no, Mom must be so worried! I have to get home. My friends, I need them. I began crying. I need to go home. I need Mom. I need my bed, and my blankets, and my pillow. I need Mom’s homemade mac and cheese, and her chicken noodle soup. I need them. I need them. I need them.
    I calmed down a little, and decided that I should climb a tree to get a better view. I scouted around, careful to not look at the moon. I found a good strong tree, and set up it. It wasn’t too hard at first. But as I continued, it felt harder and harder to reach one limb over another, to advance up the tree. As I got up about three-quarters of the way, the weight of my limbs was too great, and I fell. I crashed down, down, down, through the branches, hitting thicker and thicker branches. Then suddenly, everything went black.

    I awoke with a start. It was still night, so either I slept through the day, or it was still that night. The pain in my head was overwhelming. Concussion maybe? I attempted to stand up, but my right ankle gave out. I cried out in silent agony. I bet that’s broken, too.
    That feeling came back, the one I first felt at the graveyard. That sense of evil. I stood up, and gritting through the pain, began half limping, half running through the forest again. I felt pushed to go faster and faster, by the evil behind me. I looked back over my shoulder, and an ethereal glow was coming out of the dense fog. The moon shone brighter and brighter. All pain forgotten, I began running through the forest, the odd mist gaining on me, the moon ever beaming brighter. I collapsed from the effort, but I got up again.
    I continued running, but suddenly, a calm came over me. I knew that I was going to be okay. I didn’t care that it was the middle of the night. I didn’t care about Mom, or home, or blankets and pillows and friends. I knew it was coming for me, and it would take care of me. I…. I…. Where am I? Who am I? I…. I thought I was running somewhere. Was I? Where was I going? I feel like something important happened. What is this fog? It’s really weird. And why is the moon so bright? I looked around at the forest. Without knowing where the knowledge came from, I realized they were oak trees. I knew that the moon was in its full moon, was the blue moon, and a blue moon happens only every 125.3 years. I knew how far the moon was from the earth, the radius of the moon, and the gravitational effect of the moon on me at that moment. I startled myself with this sudden outburst of knowledge. But yet, I didn’t know my name. All the other random facts came naturally, but not my name. I puzzled over it, pored over it, and yet, I couldn’t remember the simplest of facts.
    In another outburst, I looked at the North Star, and determined my latitude. I examined the vegetation, and using the two together, figured out that I was somewhere in northern Minnesota. I turned around again, and saw glowing fog. It had stopped. I suddenly realized what happened to me. The rubbings. The graveyard. Falling from the tree. My name. My name is Clara. It flooded back, and I stumbled from the rush. The Foreboding came back, stronger than ever. I sprinted again, ignoring all pain. A guttural growl that grew into a scream escaped my throat. In it was trapped all the suffering I endured that night. The agony of bone snapping, the fear of being lost, the hate for this unknown being from a world beyond my own. I whirled, turning towards whatever it was.
    “I give up!” I cried, with anger seeping from my pores. “I give up! You’ve chased me through the night, playing with me. And you know what? I don’t care! I am done playing your game, whether you are or not, I am done!”
    For a moment, silence. I turned to go.
    “Good evening, Clara,” it said, stepping forward.

  2. Spinypine

    AN IMPOVERISHED CHEF REPLIES TO A COOKING MAGAZINE QUESTION:

    Well, I use a mortar and pestle, but they could also be crushed in a zip lock bag with a rolling pin.

    The biggest problem, I found, was to get them to hold still long enough to catch them. Well, once you turn the lights on. Then it’s a mad scramble. You’re running around the kitchen with the bucket or coffee cup or even a shoe, if that’s all you have (I’ve seen it done).

    At the same time, though, they are scampering to and fro. Quick little buggers. Trying to get back under the refrigerator or behind the cabinets or under the sink. They are usually successful. The key to your success is to anticipate their escape and block it off. Sometimes you can funnel them to where you want them using newspapers or hockey sticks or laundry. Every now and then you get lucky. A dust pan makes a good transport vehicle

    I keep them in a Tupperware container with a couple of holes poked in the top. (I keep it separate from my other Tupperware.) For a good batch, I try to get a large handful. I typically eyeball it because the squirming in your hand takes some time to get used to. And you don’t want to lose any. I’ve also found that while the bigger ones have more “chew,” the little ones are sweeter. I would recommend a 50:50 mix. Though, you can always adjust for your preferences. Don’t keep them for more than a week or so.

    So, the worst part is this next one. Unlike lobsters, the best meat is not in the legs. In fact, I’m not sure there is any meat in the legs. Truth be told though, the legs need to be removed. Take a swig, take a deep breath and get to it. Ugh, I don’t like it either but it goes pretty quickly.

    Now you have to homogenize them. If you are using the mortal and pestle, you’ll need to give them a little “bop” or they will crawl out. This isn’t an issue with the ziplock bags because you can ziplock the bag. Take another swig and get to work.

    So once they in a nice, fine paste (whether mortar/pestled or ziplock/rolling-pinned), you can add the rest of the ingredients.

    Ideally, you’d use semolina flour, to be authentic, but all-purpose will do. Mix it in thoroughly – probably 50:50, until you have a nice dough. Add a little salt (there will be salt in the water so don’t overdo it) and some pepper. You don’t need eggs because you have the binder already.

    Let the dough rest under a damp towel for 30 minutes. Then roll it out, or use your machine, to get the desired thickness. I prefer a fettuccine style (with an Alfredo sauce), but it’s up to you. Tagliatelle would also be good. Fusilli and farfalle are probably not worth the effort.

    For cooking, the water should already be at a rolling boil and well-salted (like seawater). I don’t subsrcibe to the “add oil” school. Cook until al dente.

    Like any project, the proper equipment is the key. If you don’t have one, you can probably borrow a mortar and pestle from your neighbor. Get ziplock bags at any grocery store.

    There are pots available at kitchen shops or department stores that are designed specifically for pasta cooking.

  3. EmmaSnow

    (Prompt taken from random page of “The Book of Deacon”)

    The sky had an unfriendly look to it but then again the skies of Tiandoor were always unfriendly. However something a bit more sinister seemed to be awakening in the cloudy abyss.

    As I neared my home town I heard the distant cries of panicked villagers and broke into a run praying that the sinister sky wasn’t the cause.

    I tore through the town gates dodging all the hysterical people running to and fro and for a moment I was too stunned to take another step.

    There was blood and ash everywhere no corpses just incinerated piles of death.

    A loud explosion shook me from my momentary paralyzed shock and I looked up to see hundreds of lightning bolts striking all throughout the town.

    Once again I felt myself becoming paralyzed with fear and barely recovered in time to dodge a strike aimed at me.

    This was ridiculous it was almost as though the gods themselves wanted to vanish our village. But what had we ever done to incur such wrath. We were a peace-loving people our town had never gone to war even once.

    I then felt something or someone talking on my shirt sleeve and I look down to find a dirt covered woman holding a young child, wrapped in a blanket, in her arms. Her eyes held such pain and desperation as she tried to shove the child into my hands.

    “Please! You must get this child out of here, all the others have been killed!”

    I carefully held the small child close as I desperately tried to comprehend what I had just heard, “Wait-killed-by who?!”

    “There’s not time to explain! You must go lest they find her and finish what they started,” The woman smiled bitterly as tears began to mix with the dirt on her face. “Don’t let them find you-you must protect her-you must protect my little Kali…”

    Another lightning strike flash showed that the woman was covered in more than just dirt; her entire midriff was covered in blood, as though she had been run through by something long sharp.

    “Go…!” She whispered loudly as the color began to drain from her skin…

    But before I could move I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end followed by a loud crackling in the sky and I braced myself for imminent death. However instead of an explosion there was a cold whoosh of light that protected us and warded off the strike.

    Magic…

    The woman knew Protect Magic and was using it to pave our escape route! This was the first time I’d seen anyone use it. I glanced at the woman her eyes were glowing a bright bluish white and the air around her buzzed and hummed.

    “Go!!”

    The woman’s voice echoed all around me forcing me out of whatever trance I had been in and I turned and sprinted all the way through the tunnel of light back to the town gates.

  4. EmmaSnow

    Page 46 from “The Book of Deacon”

    He walked through the smoky doorway and returned immediately with a bottle.
    It seemed all my uncle did after losing his job was drink himself to death or at least try to.
    I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was I mean it’s not like his job paid well the hours were long his boss was a jerk .
    I started to suspect that his sudden take to drinking was due to more than just losing his job. I wouldn’t be at all surprised after all he was a very secretive man he had many locked doors that no one was allowed to open. He had been married at one time but his wife suddenly disappeared one cloudy morning and was never seen again. He didn’t even try to look for her much less call the cops. This is what I suspected was the real cause of his drinking though I found it odd that I hadn’t noticed until after he lost his job.
    Perhaps he had been more discreet about it for my sake well in the beginning anyway.
    I myself had lost my own family only recently. My uncle believes they were taken by the same people who made his wife disappear but who they were he wouldn’t tell me. Just more of his many secrets.
    However unlike my uncle I refused to just sit there and drown myself in a bottle while forgetting that my family ever existed.
    Later that week a parcel came in the mail addressed to me. I couldn’t imagine who it would be from since no one really knew I lived here. Another one of the confusing things that kept me up at night. Why was it necessary to keep the fact that I live here a secret.
    I didn’t remember much about the night my parents were taken only that I was knocked out and then woke up in a park three blocks away from my uncle’s house.
    I tore open the parcel and poured out its contents a key and a small card that read “Use to unlock all secrets.”
    A key that opens secrets, I thought to myself.
    As I examined the key more closely I recognized something about the design of the insignia on its handle.
    I had seen similar ones on every locked door in my uncles house.
    How fortunate I was to be given such a gift. My uncle did a lot of journaling after his wife disappeared but he kept them all locked up in one of his rooms. If any of them held information on how she disappeared or who took her then I owed it to my parents to use that information to find them.
    The second floor was always dark so I had to squint at each door to see if its insignia matched the key’s.
    After pulling the curtains aside to shed light on one of the doors…they match… I tried the key.
    A click sounded and the door opened…

  5. TheCrystalEevee

    The book I got the beginning and ending lines was James Patterson’s Maximum Ride (manga edition)

    Entry 246
    It’s possible.
    He had said.
    We can do it! Just give it a little time.
    He had said. It’s been 3 months and still nothing. We’ve been doing research on it for far longer than that too. What is it we’re doing you ask, we’re creating the world’s first ever clone. Still there’s nothing, no sign of life, no sign of functioning organs, not even a brain wave. It’s madness! The only thing keeping me from quitting at this point is the fact that it’s my brother’s project. I don’t know how much more I can take of this. Hope tomorrow hold something worth all my time wasted here.

    Entry 247
    That’s it! I’m done! He can do this whole thing on his own! I’m out! We could have finally been on the right track! We could have finally made some progress, but then he has to go and mess it all up! Oh well look who’s come in, if it isn’t my little brother come to apologize as always. Well it won’t work! Not this time!

    Entry 248
    Well looks like it’s back to the drawing board, and after we had gotten so close too. Damn my little brother and his puppy dog eyes! He’s a grown man and still he can pull it off! Life just isn’t fair. I’m too tired to write much today. It’s freaking 3 in the morning. God why can’t he just drop it already. Good night I guess. Here’s to a hopefully more successful day tomorrow.

    Entry 1259
    A brain wave! We had a brain wave! Can you believe it!? After a year and 9 months we’ve finally had a response! This is unbelievable, momentous, extraordinary! I still can’t believe my little brother managed to pull it off! Can it be that we are making progress?

  6. Craig the Editor

    This week’s offering comes from The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (Demon Cycle Series #4)

    The Bell Ringer

    Rojer went boldly to the door, pulling the silk bell rope. Inside he could hear the faint ringing of the silver bells attached to the other end. Above the door was an old faded wooden sign depicting a large grinning fish with a crown. It had once been the King Fish Tavern and a popular gathering spot but that had been several years ago.

    It did strike Rojer rather odd that a dilapidated old inn like the King Fish would have a silk bell rope to announce the arrival of after hours guests. The gods knew that he had seen stranger things.

    In a few moments all the pain and suffering that he had endured would be behind him. He stood nervously in front of the door. The courage he had just moments ago had faded.

    The cold night air made him shiver and draw his cloak more tightly around him. It was tattered, worn and beyond filthy. It also had saved his life countless times. From the copper mines of the Orcs to the Dwarfish prison in the forgotten lands, it was the one constant thing in his life.

    Inside an elderly man heard the ringing of the bells. Annoyed and rising on arthritic knees he slowly made his way to answer the door. The hour was late and far past normal visiting hours. He feared it was simply some neighborhood delinquents leaving a bag of burning goat droppings with the hope that he would ruin a perfectly good pair of boots stomping it out. He had hoped to outlive such juvenile pranks but it seemed unlikely.

    He peered through a small crack in the door and saw a tall, bone thin man wrapped in a tattered black cloak. He didn’t seem familiar but there was something about him. Who ever this man was, he didn’t seem to be the type to leave a burning bags of dung. On the other hand it paid to be cautious in these matters. He opened the door just a crack.

    “What do you want?” He eyed the stranger suspiciously.

    “I am looking for a man named Jax. I was told that I could find him here.”

    “The hour is late and I do not have time for foolishness. Go away!” He begun to shut the door.

    But before it was fully closed the stranger stuck his foot in the doorway. “Please, I have come a long way and I have reason to believe he lives here/ My name is Rojer, Rojer Dupree of Greenswald.”

    Startled the old man opened the door wider to take a closer look. “I once knew a Rojer Dupree, but it was many, many years ago and he was a dwarf, and you sir, are no dwarf.”

    ” I have undergone many changes since we last met, but if anyone could remember me as I once was, it would be Jax.”

    “I grow tired of this game. The night is cold and damp and i prefer the company of my cat.” grumbled the old man.

    “You know me. Even after all these years surely you must remember out time together at Greenswald.”

    “I assure you, sir, I do not remember you. Now, please just go away.”

    “Don’t you, Jax?” Rojer asked, throwing back his cloak.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is an interesting set-up to a larger scene. It would be interesting to see what happens afterward, and how Rojer convinces Jax that he is who he says he is. The impression I get is that Rojer’s changes are more on the order of Doctor Who’s transformations than just aging. Nicely crafted, and an enjoyable read. 🙂

  7. Cynthia Page

    As he entombs his child’s pathetic corpse, he thinks of saying a prayer to the gods of war and peace, but cannot bring himself to utter a word. The poor tyke had only wanted water to float his toy. But Cretans rule the seas by decree of a rebel half-god, and by some twisted logic, allowing his son to play with a toy ship was too close to defying the will of a god. Did he have to send a sea monster to steal the boy’s toy and break his body too? No, it will not stand.

    Half the village cowered by the road while he piled rocks for the cairn at the crest facing the sea. Those were his relatives, obligated to attend, but those loyal to the gods had refused to come. Well, he would take vengeance on them as well, and all his progeny for untold generations would wage war on his behalf against the Cretans, as he had declared when his son died.

    When the cairn was finished, Ophulus stood at the cliff edge and shouted out to sea. “Come again, monsters. Come near my home again and you will taste my bitter wrath. Tell your handlers and your god to prepare. I am coming for you, and I will not rest until all your kind lies dead and rotting on these shores.” He turned and marched toward his waiting family.

    As he reached the road and continued down toward the village, he spoke not a word, but kept his hand on the axe at his belt. His brother, Hecula, scurried to catch up, puffing hard to catch his breath.

    “What will you do, Ophi? I heard you yelling at the sea. You cannot wage war on water. What can you do to an ocean?”

    “I challenge not the sea but its inhabitants. The monsters that killed my boy live in caves below the island. They heard me. They know their crime.”

    “Sea monsters? Your son was killed by a rogue wave. We saw that wave sweep him off his feet before his head hit the rocks. There were no monsters.”

    “None that you saw, but I know they sent that wave. I know they were concealed within it. That rebellious half-god thinks he can imprison us here forever by forbidding us to sail the seas, but I am done with giving him credence. He does not rule me.”

    “Ophi, you are delusional. What do you mean by half-god? There are no gods or half gods here.”

    Ophulus stopped abruptly and turned to face his brother. He pulled the axe from his belt, which his wife had fashioned from palm frond strips. “I mean the one you call Captain; that is who I mean, that traitor to humanity who stranded us here on this tiny atoll all those years ago. He may claim to be the son of Zeus and a sea nymph, but he is still made of flesh and blood, which I mean to spill.”

    “Oh, for god’s sake, Opi, get off this fantasy. We were stranded here when our cruise shipwrecked only a month ago. Are you going mad?” Henry tried to take his brother, Opi, by the arm to escort him somewhere he could rest out of the sun, but Opi, who preferred to be called Ophulus, pulled away.

    “No, you cannot dissuade me from my course. I will kill that imposter, and all his sea monsters too, so we can leave this island at last.” He turned and trudged downhill, still holding in his hand the stick he imagined was an axe.

    Henry shook his head as Doc Martin approached. “It’s a vitamin deficiency, Henry. He can’t see reality. Soon he’ll start to rage and we’ll have to restrain him. If he would only eat the pulp I made from seaweed, he would regain his senses in a few hours. Without it he will descend into madness.”

    “Well, either way, it better happen soon, because he expects his family to wage war on his behalf against the Cretans.”

    1. Observer Tim

      Beautiful take, Cynthia. I love the way you slowly break the illusion while letting it continue to carry Opi along. This was a very fun ride (except for the child, assuming he isn’t also part of Opi’s fantasy). 🙂

      1. Cynthia Page

        I had to employ the burial in the first line somehow, and decided to make it part of the tragedy of shipwreck and the father’s growing madness. That was the first page I turned to, so I went with it.

    2. Reaper

      Wow, that is tragic in so many ways. From the kid’s death to the madness. Even without the vitamin deficiency I can see causes for madness here. So well done. Did you mean to change from Ophi to Opi in the brother’s speech patterns?

      1. Cynthia Page

        Yes, a gradual reveal while Henry tries to humor him with using part of his assumed name. From Ophulus to Ophi to Opi, his real name. The tragedy of losing his son was what sent him over the edge from just hallucinating into real madness.

  8. cosi van tutte

    Annnd here’s one last one before the prompt changes. I borrowed the first and last line from The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup (page 15)

    “She always insisted that something magical had happened to Oscar.”

    The Kladsup Mourners stopped their paid weeping and sniveling to glare at me.

    Pete the wake administrator wobbled his gaze from the irritated Mourners to horrible, inappropriate me. He always bragged that his wakes ran like well-oiled machines. The Mourners mourned. The nearest and dearest to the corpse spoke tearful memories that made everyone choke up. But here I was, derailing the whole iron beast with one fell sentence.

    My wife glared death threats at me, but I refused to back down. I focused on Pete, for no reason other than he was the least threatening person in the whole room. “I told her that she was nuts. Spitting cashew shells nuts.”

    Cousin Henrietta announced, “I like NUTS.”, which made my son, George, snort with unrestrained laughter. My wife punched his arm.

    “Magic isn’t real. At least, not the kind of magic that she was thinking of. I know this, but there was something different about him. Something not right. Something unnatural.”

    The organist stopped playing her warbly ‘Abide With Me’ and turned to listen.

    Pete flapped his hands at her to keep playing. She kept listening.

    “Oscar went to Idaho a lazy, mullet-haired slacker.”

    “I like slacks on MEN, not on women.” Thank you, cousin Henrietta, for that insight.

    “And he came back…” I thought about the man that came back. Stiff demeanor. Short 1950’s hair. Intensely blue eyes. Oscar did not have blue eyes. “And he came back as someone so different. At the time, I told Casey that he just matured. But…” I thought about those blue eyes. “She told me that I was ignoring the facts. I told her that she was not right in the head. She punched me.”

    Pete couldn’t take it anymore. He walked up to the microphone. “Such lovely sentiments from one who loved the dear, departed Casandra Wainwright.” He took the microphone from me. “Why don’t we give someone else a chance to share their precious memories?”

    I snatched it out of his hands. “Because I am not done yet.”

    He backed away from me and stood there, apparently considering his options. I really hoped that he wouldn’t tackle me.

    A strained smile stretched across his face. “Of course. You are the departed’s brother. Please continue.”

    “Oscar stayed with us for five weeks and then he just disappeared. Casey believed that he’d been abducted by fey folk from Idaho.” He had left without saying a word and without packing a single bag. “I never told anyone, but I’d searched his room after his disappearance and found a sheet of paper with the word ‘Iowa’ written all over it.” He had written it in red and green and black letters. I looked at the disapproving Mourners. At my wife. At our family and friends. At Pete. I had to say it. “I still don’t think that it was fey folk from Idaho. I think it was aliens from Iowa.”

    My wife rose to her feet and just glared at me.

    I returned her glare. “I know that you don’t believe me, but I don’t care. I will go to Iowa and find him. The real him. Not some alien imposter.”

    “We will discuss this later.” She grabbed George’s hand and stormed out of the room.

    “Yahoo!” cheered cousin Henrietta. “We’re gonna have POPCORN!”

    More like explosions. Big, loud explosions. I sighed. For the first time that day, going to Iowa didn’t sound so bad after all.

    1. Reaper

      I’m not sure I follow this. Is the entire family insane? That’s the impression I get, or that grief is doing bad things to the brother. Still, I enjoyed the ride now matter what.

    2. Observer Tim

      So the brother seems to have also inherited the gene for “batshit crazy”. I could just picture this happening at a real wake, after everyone’s got a few drinks in them. I wonder what the brother is going to find when he gets to Iowa; it sounds more like Oscar was kidnapped by Republicans. 🙂

      Lovely story, Cosi. This had me chuckling.

    3. snuzcook

      As I re-read this, I greatly enjoy just being in the heads of each of these people! Cassandra, who knew something was up, and decided it was magic. The brother who had to go a different route. I’m thinking a little over-exposure to the reactor upriver may have something to do with it the general mind-set of the population. I love the way you give the reader the nudge that something really was up with Oscar and leave it to us mull over the real story. And the setting of the wake and the multi-layered reveals was genius! Not to mention the cast of supporting characters. Well done!

      1. Geezer Muse

        O.Tim, you’ve gone too far! Republicians don’t steal insane people, we have enough of our own to tend to. That said, I loved the story cosi. Multii layered insanity and a lot of fun to read. Some truth also, people say the mostlt outlandish. I once heard a woman say at a funeral. “When does the wddding start?’

  9. madeindetroit

    THE NORTHEAST CORNER
    (First and last sentence taken from a newspaper article about a missing teenager who walked out of her home and was never seen again).

    Some people think she’s crazy. Others just feel sad for her. But Jean Wilson remains convinced that her big sister is still alive.

    Even though she disappeared forty-three years ago.

    At sixteen, Darlene was three years older than Jean. An honor roll student until their mother ran off with her middle school counselor, Darlene was flunking school, smoking dope, and dating a teenage Hell’s Angel who wore black leather and lumbered around the northern Michigan town of Paradise on a thundering Harley. And if life wasn’t miserable enough for Jean, it was around this time their father remarried and anointed his new bride “lady of the house.” Betty Wilkens was a chain smoking, beer guzzling cashier at Reimer’s Food Mart who charmed their forlorn father with a pair of tight jeans and a one eighty-five bowling average.

    Darlene despised the “loud-mouth floozy” but Jean soon found herself under Betty’s spell. Every day when Betty came home from her shift at Reimer’s, she handed Jean a brown paper sack full of Sweettarts, Appleheads, and Pixy Sticks. “A sweet treat for a sweet little girl,” Betty would whisper in Jean’s ear while she braided her unruly hair.

    “I…I love you Betty,” Jean stuttered.

    Betty took another pull from the cold bottle of Stroh’s beer. “I love you too, kitten.” She wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “Your sister hates my guts. I’m thinking of leaving.”

    Jean turned and glared at Betty. “No Betty, you can’t…can’t leave me.”

    “This house isn’t big enough for the both of us. One of us has to go.”

    On a sweltering day in July, Jean watched from her bedroom window as four burly men worked in the backyard, beating the cracked and broken patio into gravel. Her father promised Betty a new patio and that day had arrived. By late afternoon, the men had hauled the broken cement away and staked out the ground. They dug deep into the earth, replacing the hard clay with a soft bed of sand and gravel. A loud scream from the downstairs sent Jean running from her room. From the top of stairs, she saw Betty slap Darlene across the face. Darlene stormed out the front door screaming, “I’ll never come back to this stinking house again.”

    Betty looked up at Jean. “She didn’t mean it, kitten. She’ll be back. She always comes back.”

    That night, a noise in the yard woke Jean. She stuck her head out the window and caught the odor of marijuana and a silhouette sitting on the steps below. It was after midnight and Darlene had come home. Just an hour before, after searching half the county, their father came home and cried himself to sleep.

    Jean grabbed her Louisville Slugger from the closet, the one she hit .460 with when she won the Little League batting title. When it connected with Darlene’s skull, the bat sounded like it struck a bag full of laundry. She tumbled down the stairs and collapsed face first into the corner of the new patio. After Darlene’s lifeless body was buried under eight inches of sand and gravel Jean dusted herself off and crept up the stairs to bed.

    “Mrs Wilson, you were saying?”

    Jean looked at the newspaper reporter sitting across from her on the patio, notebook open and pen in hand. He faced the northeast corner of the patio and the shrine of roses, daisies, lilies, orchids, and tulips that sat in various arrangements on a three-by-six-foot square of cement. She guessed his age around thirty.

    “Oh…yes…As I was saying, the last forty-three years have been a blur. My father and Betty remained in the house until their deaths. I inherited the house and property and have lived here all my life. My husband and I, God rest his soul, raised our children here. Over the past forty-three years, I have dedicated my life to finding my sister and will continue to search for her until I find her.”

    The young reporter shook his head. “What an incredible story of love, persistence, and determination, Miss Wilson. Is there anything else you would like the readers to know?”

    “I know people think I’m crazy, or sick, or in denial,” Jean said. “The truth is, we don’t know. As long as we don’t, my best hope is to believe she is alive. I cling to hope.”

    1. Reaper

      This is one of those stories where I don’t know who to hate. I want to have the most empathy for the dead sister but that might be because she is so cloaked in shadows and the step mother seems so manipulative and vile. This is really well written because the characters are vague but very deep.

    2. Observer Tim

      Whoa. This could have come out of an episode of one of those forensic science shows. It has all the makings of a classic tale of family murder. Great work, MadeInDetroit.

      I assume the part from “At sixteen” to “crept up the stairs to bed.” is a flashback. It might not hurt to telegraph that a little better, since I found myself wondering why she would admit the murder to a reporter.

    3. snuzcook

      Great story! I agree that I was puzzled as I first read it where the mystery was if she was confessing to the reporter. Then I realized it was her private recall and it all made wonderful sense.

  10. jkharrison

    This one turned out to be a lot harder for me than I expected. I’ve redone it several times and I’m still not sure what I think about it. The lines are from Hagakure: Book of the Samurai.

    Ten men or more cannot kill such a man.

    Sloan read the inscription again. Heaviness settled in her chest, making her heart push harder. She tightened her grip on the hilt, focused on her breathing.

    “What do you see?” Cian offered no patience.

    “Nothing.” It was hard to lie through the prophecy.

    The smooth sword hilt surged with power that radiated up her arm. The parries and thrusts made with the weapon fatigued her own muscles. The blood it spilled felt to drain her own veins.

    Sloan could see whole armies fail to strike down any man who wielded the Jade Hilt.

    “Sloan.” Cian made up in perception what he lacked in patience. “You’re seeing something.”

    She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Cian’s were waiting; two private seas beckoning her to dive in. Sloan pushed that aside. “The inscription is true.”

    A grin, like a flash of sunlight, broke across his face, and like sunlight, was careless of its affect. Cian pressed his mouth to her cheek, an oblivious, habitual gesture. Then he stood and was gone, leaving Sloan’s hut feeling hollow and dull. His presence was always a little like being drunk, and his departure too much like being hungover.

    Sloan pushed herself up to go wash away the weight and burn of the sword. Her legs protested and her head swooned. She caught herself against the central post of her hut, making the spirit bells tinkle over her head—that’s what she willed herself to believe.

    Water did nothing to sooth her hand. Turning it over, Sloan found blisters rising to speckle her palm. There was no one else in the village Sloan would have touched that thing for. She did wish it had been anyone else who brought it to her, though.

    ********

    Twilight was bleeding color out of the day when Cian leaned inside Sloan’s doorway, offering another burst of brightness. Her pallid complexion paused what would have been a passing greeting.

    “Are you unwell?”

    Sloan finished tying off the drawing poultice before forcing a smile. “Just a little tired.”

    “Did you cut yourself?”

    She glanced back to her wrapped hand. “I—yes.”

    Cian noticed her eyes pull to the sword he still carried. “This? You didn’t even look at the blade.” He pulled the sword free of the scabbard to admire its gleam in the fading light.

    “I didn’t need to.” She was about to feign another smile when he frowned over at her, but stopped. She knew the words would be useless, like so many of the words she’d told Cian, but like all the others, she felt compelled to say them. “The prophecy of the Jade Hilt—the whole prophecy—is ‘ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Any man who wields this sword brings his own destruction’.”

    He flashed a reassuring grin. “I’m a warrior, Sloanie.”

    Defeat settled into her bones. “You are also a man.”

    1. regisundertow

      It think it *needs* to be fleshed out into something longer. This is the kind of story that feels at home in a book, where the characters have room to breathe. You have such philosophical characters, which fits the mood of the story quite nicely. They beg to have page after page written about their worldview.

      1. jkharrison

        I was having a lot of trouble keeping this short, it does feel like there is a lot more story to write here. I’ve actually been hearing from them and their world since I started writing this and the timing is really inconvenient, but I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes 😉

        1. Penney

          I’m hungry for the meat of Sloan’s character, the whys and how to’s. It is all the other’s have said and more but, I can see where you may have struggle. It’s a little rough technically but the story is great.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hi, jk!

      This was a very compelling story with excellent characterization. If it were a book, I’d keep reading even though I suspect that it wouldn’t end well for Sloan and Cian.

    3. Reaper

      I agree this feels like it needs to be a piece of a novel. The wording is a little awkward in places but I’m not sure how much of that is in need of an edit pass and how much is specific to the voice because this does have a very strong and exotic voice to it.

      1. jkharrison

        I think editing would smooth out some of it, I can never edit very well right after writing something, but I’d struggled with this one so much, I just kept redoing the whole thing, and I wanted to submit it before the prompt changed.

    4. Observer Tim

      This feels like the novelization of a good-quality movie out of Hong Kong. My brain assigned a medieval (feudal) setting, and the combination of the duty and the curse is beautifully handled. Great story, JK.

  11. snuzcook

    From Old Odd Ends by Patrick Elliott (thanks, Reaper!), pg 319
    1st line “Mother reached the top of the steps before she heard that voice whispering her name again.” last line “The vile old man only smiled at her.”

    This is a long-un. Feel free to pass it by, but if you read, I hope you enjoy!

    POSSESSION

    Mother reached the top of the steps before she heard that voice whispering her name again. A familiar ripple of dread grabbed her insides and shook them. She had hoped for a normal day. She had hoped to get away into the bright kitchen where she could forget about the basement and all its secrets.

    “How many more times,” she asked the faded gray paint of the closed basement door. No answer came. She had not expected one. As always, she was alone in this.

    She set the jar of peaches down on the top step, gathered her apron over her pregnant belly, and carefully turned. Down again she went, the hollow clunk of her shoes on the old wooden stairs like a metronome counting her down. Each step took her closer to the moment she remembered so clearly when she first met the old man. Clunk, clunk clunk. She was fifteen again; clunk clunk clunk, thirteen, then ten, then just a young girl.

    It was just after her own mother had died when she was barely eight. In her loneliness, she had gone to the basement to find the old trunk she had seen once beneath the stairs. She believed her mother had stored her lost treasures there, her old red-haired dolly and the bed quilt that had started to come unsewn. She had needed to find these things, to connect again to her memories of being rocked and held and cherished. It was only from such a need as this that she would go into the bowels of the old house where even her own mother rarely ventured alone.

    The trunk fairly beckoned to her, its brass work bright in the light of the one dim overhead bulb. It was surprisingly easy to pull it from its place, and tip back the lid–such an innocent act of a curious, needy child.

    The old man had materialized almost at once. Like a genie released from its bottle, he took shape beside her as her little hands searched through charts and knotted bits of rope and wool sweaters and folded sou’westers for those prizes she had hoped to find. When he spoke, it was like crash of waves about to engulf her, and she tried to bolt but could not move.

    He softened his voice to the whisper of water caressing the shore. Like a thirsty stretch of sand left dry and alone from grief, she craved that voice and she let him pat her hair and set her on his lap.

    He promised her that ever after if she would visit him from time to time and be his friend, he would make sure that no more bad things would come to pass. And as the months passed and she visited her new friend, slowly the hole in her life and the lives of her family mended. She would go to the basement and visit the old man from time to time, and let him pat her hair and let him hold her on his lap. She reminded him, he said, of the little girl he had lost. She felt she was doing a kindness to the pitiful old ghost, and even though she did not enjoy it, it was doing no harm.

    When her father was very sick and the doctors said he might not pull through, he survived to become again hearty and well. Mother believed that she had done it, by being a friend to the ghost. When her younger brother fell out of a tree and was in a coma, Mother visited the ghost and asked him to help. Her brother regained consciousness the next day, as good as new.

    What had started for Mother as an act of loneliness, and then an act of gratitude, and even an act of pity, over the years became a heavy burden. There was a sense of desperation in the old man’s need for her that became abhorrent. She avoided the basement when she could, and then only reluctantly complied with the old man’s requests.

    Then when Mother was fourteen she refused to play the old ghost’s game. She decided that she could say no and be done with it. He had roared like a coastal gale when she ignored him until she flew up the stairs and hid trembling in her bed. That night she called her best friend and told her, and her friend laughed and kidded until Mother was no longer afraid. She felt free at last.

    The next day her friend was not in class. A freak accident, they said. She had been struck down when a huge branch from a rotted tree fell on her on the way to school and killed her instantly.

    Mother knew it was no accident. She knew now the old ghost was a jealous and demanding spirit, and she dared not risk his displeasure again.

    Now, a young wife and mother-to-be, she faced the old man seated on his sea chest under the stairs. She let him pat her hair as he always did. She let him hold her on his lap as he always had—just that, the feel of him possessing her but not molesting her for just a few heartbeats too long. The smell of ghostly tobacco and whiskey and some odor from the grave engulfed her as it always did. He called her his little princess as he always had, made her promise to come back and visit him soon, as he always did. And then he let her go.

    She stood, one hand protectively on her pregnant belly. “I will come and see you again when I can as long as you want,” she said. “You have my promise. But when my daughter is born, that will be the end of it. She will never come down into this basement. She will never meet you.”

    The vile old man only smiled at her.

    1. Nicki EagerReader

      Good one, snuzcook. It didn’t feel too long at all (you couldn’t have chopped this down without severing something essential) and I liked how you framed Mother’s childhood with an episode from the present. The Ghost is a fascinating character- it’s easy to come up with lots of backstory for him (a seafaring ancestor?), and his relationship with the little girl/Mother is such a sad and intricate one.

      So thumbs up.

      P.S.: Like your source 🙂

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, Nicki!
        I have in mind that the Old Sailor (and his sea chest) was a fixture in the house for several generations. It is implied here that the Mother was only the most recent of his ‘princesses.’ After all, before she died, we are told, her own mother had avoided going into the basement alone…

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow. I love the intense personal nature of this story; telling it entirely in introspection and memory is a wonderful device. You captured Mother’s combination of hopeful and trapped beautifully. It’s amazing how a blessing can turn into a curse merely with the passage of time. I sense it’s not going to be as easy to get around the old salt as she thinks it is…

      Great story, Snuz.

      1. Geezer Muse

        I loved it snuzcook. Beautiful, poetic, tense and surreal. If you haven’t seen it, ‘The Ghost And Mrs. Muir’, stop whatever you are doing, go to Barnes and Noble and buy it. It a ghost classic to end all ghost stories. Filmed in the early or middle fifties. I won’t reveal the actors or plot, just grab it and play. Kerry

        1. snuzcook

          Thanks, Kerry! Yes, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is a dear old friend. Thanks for mentioning it! No doubt it influenced this story without my realizing it–though Rex Harrison is never the image I had of Old Sailor in this tale.

      2. snuzcook

        Thanks, O.Tim.
        Between us, I recognize how much of the phrasing I would severely edit had I been patient enough to hold off on posting–my penchant for multiple ‘hads’, repeated adverbs in subsequent sentences, over-use of ‘whens-thens’, and sound-alike words that trip up the tongue…argh! Craft is so much more than clever imagery!

        But the theme of the story was strong enough to survive, and fun to write.

    3. Reaper

      Wow Snuzcook. First I blush at the honor of having you use my book, and then I read this story and my jaw dropped at how amazing it was. You’re always top shelf but something about this was just reaching even further than the stars. So gorgeously done.

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, Reaper! I hoped you’d get a kick out of me using that material–I can’t imagine a better pairing of lines to inspire a story!!! And from just a random page in your book–wonderful stuff!

    4. JRSimmang

      I believe I must, I have to, echo the sentiments of everyone before. I found myself wrapped in the tragic loop of this family, a sort of Spectral Stockholm Syndrome. The lack of dialogue only adds to the sense of inevitability. Plus, I love the comparison of the ghost to the oceans, something permanent and volatile, which, of course, is this ghost. In all, Snuz, very enjoyable.

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, JR! The characterization of the Ghost in the many moods of the ocean seemed a natural here, as was the initial parallel of the young girl to the thirsty stretch of sand. Glad you enjoyed it!

    5. regisundertow

      Real good Snuzcook. What a slow-burner of a story, full of shimmering dread just below the surface. Simple story, but told so well. I have to say, despite loving the plot, it’s your technique that is the high point for me. There’s cause and effect throughout, there’s agency, dialogue only where absolutely needed. Easily publishable.

      1. Penney

        Somehow I get a feeling of the ghost as a metaphor for some ongoing, sickly, generational abuser. If it wasnt for the actual “ghost”, I would have pictured an abuser that was very young with the first mother, and and old nasty man with the daughter/mother, that shows up somehow in the basement for his lap time. The mystery would lay in how he gets down there undetected(thus the ghost). This is unnerving, that’s good by the way, because where you went and where it could continue.

        1. snuzcook

          Thanks, Penney! Yes, the sense of abuser in the way we most commonly expect it in stories today is there, but I purposely avoided that specific incarnation of the idea, and went instead to what I saw as a more over-arching concept of the desire to possess/control. The same cycle is there: the fulfilling the victim’s needs, the threat of harm if not obeyed, the sense of empowerment at adolescence when the victim decides she doesn’t have to comply, etc. But because this is not molestation, but something else, the cycle does not end when the victim matures. And as such, it is an illustration of something that is actually more pervasive–just illustrated here with a high creep factor.

      2. snuzcook

        Thanks, Regis! I greatly appreciate the ‘publishable’ comment–my stories haven’t been getting that much appreciation outside of this chat, and your comment is reassuring.

  12. lyngralee

    When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle, THIS is what they call…a tweetle beetle noodle poodle bottled paddled muddled duddled fuddled wuddled fox in socks, sir!

    “Man, that is deep.”

    “But what does it mean,” whispered the shy girl sitting just outside the circle.

    “Well,” explained Horatio, who always had weed and an overly complex answer to the meaning of everything. “Clearly it’s a statement on our capitalist consumerism and our over-abundance and over-consumption of resources, which tips not only the balance of worldwide supply and demand, but the equilibrium of the entire global economic structure as a whole.”

    “Brava!” Theo began his slow, sarcastic applause that often followed one of Horatio’s ramblings.

    “It’s about the pathology of the human condition.” Serena never spoke without conviction, unless discussing when she would leave life as a professional student and get a job. “It’s a metaphor for all the pent up emotions of love and hate that keep mankind constantly at war with his brothers. The poodle gets it. He is so well balanced, he can bear the weight of the world on his shoulders and eat noodles at the same time. It’s beautiful, really.”

    Theo just shook his head. His hands were tired of clapping. “Obviously, it’s about big government. The common man is up a creek without a paddle, so to say, when government gets into the fray. Everything was copacetic until the big bad foxy fox enters the bottle battle. Think, people. The poodle is the symbol of all the mega-corporations that are feeding themselves windfall profits, and helping the fox stay strong and involved in every battle…whether he should be there or not.”

    “I see a lot of tie-ins with organized religion. Hmm, am I right?” Alistair dropped out of seminary school to be a day trader on wall street. “The Pope, badly-behaving priests, Mohammed and French cartoonists, it’s all right there.”

    “Isn’t it just an innocent children’s book?” asked the shy girl.

    “Oh, honey,” everyone started chiming in. “Nothing is innocent. These ‘children’ you speak of are just the future wreckers of this beautiful world. Wake up and smell the symbology.”

    She faded back to the outer circle, wondering if she would ever be clever enough to have anything important to offer. In that moment, she forget she was a few months away from a establishing a real cure for Alzheimer’s.

    Sean, the host of the party was a professor of literature, who fancied himself a collector of interesting people. He strolled from the kitchen with red and white, no pink.

    “Hey, guys, I’ve got to tuck Sally in. I need her book back. She can’t get to sleep without it. I think it’s all the rhyming and empty absurdity to the words that works like a charm.”

    The shy girl laughed and read aloud, “Fox in socks, our game is done, sir , thank you for a lot of fun, sir.”

    1. Rene Paul

      Lyngralee,I had fun reading your story, it was well thought out. I was laughing at the absurdity of each character’s logic. Sometimes we over analyze everything, when the simple answer is to look at the situation through the eyes of a child. Life’s not that complicated. Great story.

    2. Observer Tim

      I knew these people when I was a younger lunatic; sometimes I still am one (see my response to Nikki after my story). You captured the tones and styles perfectly and the mix is very entertaining. The only one missing is the ignorant a**hole who would rather pick apart the ideas of others than provide one himself. I find myself rooting for the shy girl, because I’ve been her too. Very well done, Lyngralee.

      1. lyngralee

        Tim, I also knew them when I was a younger lunatic. Now I am the not-as-young lunatic who still has Dr. Seuss on a bookshelf (in case of emergency)! Thanks for the feedback!

    3. Reaper

      This is wonderful on so many levels, because when you look at each character you’ve written they are real. Then you have the good Dr. doing what he does best and making people see though the eyes of a child, each character boiling a belief down to its basic elements to fit a children’s story and the child being the only one who gets that it’s all just a game to entertain her. I’ve seen these conversations about Dr. Seuss and you really express well what actually happens. Interpretation is never about the story but the person doing so. Which probably means my interpretation of this says more about me than what you meant. 🙂 Nice story.

        1. lyngralee

          Just wanted to let you know that I have no knowledge of emoticons or where they habitate in my computer… but somehow I gave you one, and I meant it. 🙂

          1. lyngralee

            Ahhh…apparently my new little HP switches the old symbol version into an emoticon…cool!

    4. Dennis

      This is a great allegory of the existential dilemma of society as whole and how each individual fits within that whole but also stands unique. I’m not even sure if that makes sense 🙂

      But really, this is quite brilliant and quite the commentary on pseudo intellectuals, trying to make sense from nothing (or maybe that was a big peace pipe being passed around)

        1. Penney

          MEH! In my element, out of my element, don’t want to have this element…I dont want green eggs and ham, sam I am

          You captured the whole dinner party, and all the assholes trying to impress when in fact they just showed what suck ups they are. Next they’ll analysis the Rubix Cube the son left on the table. This was absurdly beautiful.

          1. lyngralee

            Thanks, Penney! I now feel compelled to make up some pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo about the rubix cube (conveniently on a shelf across the room from my Dr. Seuss collection.). I love “absurdly beautiful”… thanks again!

  13. AStew

    (From an ad for jewlery in National Grographic)
    Trumpets blaze and the Piazzo del Campo explodes.
    I never liked loud noises. I never liked large crowds either. I never liked much of anything really. That’s why I left home, so long ago. I thought all the things I despised were only at home, but as I searched the world for peace and truth, I found the only truth was that my hate for everything was adaptable to anywhere I went. I fled the heat of the South and their stuck in the past ways for the city. There the noise and pollution drove me across the ocean to England, where their accents drove me to another place and then another and so on, never to be satisfied enough to settle down. Now I seem to be hating life in Italy, at a horse race none the less.
    I hate horse racing. The one thing I don’t hate, at least not when I think I may have a chance, is a beautiful woman. I met her the week before, a chance run in, one of the coincidences that changes your life, usually for the worse and keep you tossing and turning all night. I told her she looked like a beautiful stereotype. She laughed, thankfully, for I began to worry she would take offense. I asked her for a date, summoning enough courage from the fact that if she said no I would never see her again. That didn’t stop my heart from pounding when I asked her and it didn’t stop my heart from breaking when she said no.
    I spent the next several days in a depression, the kind you get when someone who doesn’t know you breaks your heart. With nothing else to do, I wondered into the horse race to lift my mood. Maybe I was trying to replace my sadness with my light-hearted hatred. Looking down at the track I saw the horses, mighty, strong, handsome beasts, tamed by the hand of man. How can man even attempt to own something so beautiful?
    Then I saw her. She sat down in front of me in the first row. Next to her was a mighty, strong, handsome man with his arm around her. I felt self-destructive, so I went to the betting booth and bet all my money on Cupid’s Arrow. It seemed cruelly ironic. I reached my seat just as the race began and everyone yelled and cheered and I hated them all. My horse was in the middle not doing anything special, and I sympathized. Then the horse separated from the pack, running faster and faster until he crossed the finish line first. I cheered and yelled. The handsome man cursed.
    I went to collect my winnings. The teller said to me, “You look like someone trying to win over a girl. What better way than with this ruby necklace.” Like a fool I exchanged my winnings for the necklace and went in search of the girl to give the necklace to her and win her over. And then I saw her. Her man had his massive arm around her. She was beautiful. And around her neck hung the Palio 30-Carot ruby necklace.

  14. ReathaThomasOakley

    Changes in the land

    “The relationships of the New England Indians to their environments revolved around the wheel of the seasons…What the hell,” Luke muttered. “Eva?

    “Eva?” he called again, louder over the noise of the rain. “You taking a class or something?”

    “No, why?” Eva came into the living room carrying two mugs. “Oh, that, just something I’m reading.” She put his coffee on the table by his chair.

    “This is for fun?” Luke took a sip, “I remember you read mysteries, but I gotta say, this is pretty mysterious to me. Like what does the name of the book even mean, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England?” Eva sat down across from him, while he read aloud the sentence that prompted his questions.

    “Well,” she hesitated, not certain how to answer.

    “Simple words, remember I’m a working stiff, don’t have fancy degrees, lucky to finish high school, you got the education…”

    “Luke,” she interrupted, “please don’t start, it’s just a book I found in a used bookstore. I think the rain’s letting up.”

    “Changing the subject? Some things are always the same, aren’t they? Like you sitting in your perfect house fixing your black sheep brother coffee hoping the rain lets up so he’ll leave…”

    “Stop it, just stop it,” Eva pleaded. “I’m glad you stopped by, glad to see you, even if it’s been five years.” She sat back in her chair as if exhausted. “Sorry. Just please, don’t make everything about the past. Mama did the best she knew. We just made different choices, went different ways.”

    “Then tell me about this book, tell me why you’d read something like this if you don’t have to. Make me understand.”

    “In college I thought another book by this author was the best thing I’d ever read.”

    “Why? What made it the best?”

    “I guess because Cronin expanded Turner’s Frontier Theory in a way…”

    “Dammit, Eva,” Luke exploded. “This is why I don’t see you for years, why I never want to see you. Ever thing outta your mouth makes me feel stupid. Give me three sentences about THIS book.”

    “Luke,” she begged. I don’t want…”

    “I know, I won’t understand, that’s what you always think.”

    “There’s more to it…” She watched his knuckles whiten as he gripped the chair arms. “Okay, three sentences. Between 1600 and 1800 New England’s landscape changed dramatically, not just because settlers came, they were only part of what happened. That, plus natural events, fires, floods, etc., combined to produce tragic outcomes. People from 1600 would not have recognized the place in 1800.” She looked at her brother, sitting slumped with his eyes closed.

    “Sometimes it doesn’t take 200 years for the familiar to become unrecognizable,” she thought as she stood and walked to the window. “Rain’s stopped.”

    Later, Eva picked up the still opened book, and read, “The struggle over two ways of living…expressed itself in how two peoples conceived of property, wealth and boundaries…”

    (Another family story, 500 wrestled words, from page 53 of the book.)

    1. Geezer Muse

      Lot of power Reatha, seems like I read in a broken heart somewhere along the way. The relationship perhaps. I have a brother and sister that live six blocks apart, only see each other when I get on a plane and fly 1500 miles to see them. I think all families are disfunctional one way or another and the worst is brought our when a parent dies. Kerry

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks, Kerry. It’s sad that often it’s only a parent that keeps siblings communicating. I understand your situation, only too well.

    2. regisundertow

      Keep them coming. I liked how you presented the underlying conflict by using a book as a focal point. Such a simple thing, yet it spoke volumes (pun half-intended) of the issues between the siblings.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, regis. I was discussing this book with my husband before the prompt, and said something very like Eva’s thought before the final paragraph. I did go back to find a page that would work with the story, not really cheating, I hope.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a powerful story of sibling alienation, Reatha. The simple conversational style reads like an argument between a sister and brother, one who is eager for knowledge and the other for simply living. I don’t know where in the family tree it sits, but I truly hope that the two involved (if still alive) are able to make up and see the common bond of family. Altogether a wonderful story despite the underlying pain.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks so much, Tim. This isn’t a real family, but think it probably is true of many. I’m fascinated by conversations where what isn’t said tells the story.

    4. Reaper

      The way you weave these two examples of the same difference together is masterful. It is easy to see the brother as the villain because he is upset at the happiness of the sister but you write it well enough to leave me wondering, what is inside causing the pain? Not that there are excuses for treating another human being that way, much less a sister, but I do wonder… What is broken inside him that he needs to fix so he doesn’t feel inferior?

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, Reaper. This is another story I will probably keep and perhaps expand to better understand all the pain they both feel.

    5. Dennis

      Very creative how you took those two lines and made this into a family story. With my wife training to become an MFT, I hear so many stories of relationships like this or with a person not accepting themselves for who they are. And as Reaper asks, where did the seed come from that sprouted those ideas.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, Dennis. I’ve been using the prompts to experiment with what I call “family” stories, exploring relationship dynamics in under 600 words.

        1. Penney

          You’ve don very well. The kudos is well deserved. By the way, no, not cheating by finding an ending element to fit, nicely played. Not all siblings are going to have things in common, or get along constantly. If infrequent visits is what works(for the time being) then so be it. Recognize there may be a true attempt at interest in what the brother is asking for and try to dumb it down without being condescending, it might be his way of waving the white flag. Or, just find value in short tea times and be satisfied. Again, you make the reader think, that’s good.

  15. Dennis

    (Sorry, way over. It didn’t quite come out the way I envisioned. The two lines were from Soul Stories by Gary Zukav)

    I decided to write a book. That was a month ago and I’m still wondering what the hell I was thinking. With only two crappy pages to my name, something needed to give soon or I might just lose my mind.

    Getting the story out on paper was supposed to be the easy part, or so I thought. Everyone kept telling me, “you have such a great story; you need to tell the world about it.” “You should write a book.” And of course they were right. So why don’t the words spill onto the page?

    This great story was about my grandfather and the way he lived his life. The stories I witnessed and the ones he shared with me rattled around in my head but I didn’t know how to connect them together.

    Another half hour passed as I stared at the blank screen. My silent hell came to a temporary reprieve by a knock on the door. My wife opened the door and poked her head in.

    “How’s my writer doing?”
    “Little stuck tonight, but I’ll get in the flow soon.”
    She smiled. “I know you will. Sometimes you just need to walk away from it for a bit.”
    “Yeah”, you’re probably right.”

    She closed the door. I could sense she knew I struggled but let me be. That is why I loved her. I took the cue, shut down the computer and headed out to the den to spend time with my wife.

    On the way to work I felt the need to stop reading the paper and take a look at those around me. I took the train into Manhattan Monday through Friday but never bothered to pay attention to the other passengers. A few had blank stares, looking as if they wished to be somewhere else. Others were busy on their phones or tablets, intent on keeping up with the busy-ness of life. But in all cases no one looked as though they enjoyed where they were and what they were headed off to do. I suddenly realized that they looked how I felt most of the time. It was as if we agreed to buy into the idea that life was some heavy burden we all chose to carry.

    Up on the twentieth floor I made my way through the busy law office and stopped at my assistant’s desk.

    “What’s in store for me today Alice?”

    Alice pulled out the client files. “Mrs. Bedford isn’t happy with her settlement and wants another revision.”
    “Of course she does.”
    “The Beaumont’s are calling it quits after twenty five years and are fighting over who you will represent. And of course you know who is getting married again but decided this time he wants a prenuptial.”

    I rolled my eyes and took the files. “Thanks Alice.”

    I closed the door to my office and tossed the files on my desk. Standing in front of the window looking out at the rat race of Manhattan, I pondered how I ended up where I was, divorce attorney for the rich and miserable. Why now was my life starting to feel pointless?

    My grandfather’s stories began to emerge again. His life, as simple as it seemed, was rich and he enjoyed it fully. Other than last night with my wife, I can’t remember the last time I really enjoyed my own I didn’t realize how unhappy I had been until now.

    In a flash of intuition, it started to become clear. Trying to write my grandfather’s story lifted the veil I placed on my own and showed me how much I deceived myself. This must be why I’ve been having such trouble writing the book, not really wanting to face the truth. But now I felt I gained the direction I needed.

    Finally after a full day, I arrived home, eager to start writing. I kissed my wife and told her I needed a few minutes to put my thoughts down and then I’d spend some time with her. All day I searched for what was the essence of my grandfather’s take on life. On the train ride home I remembered a conversation I had with him shortly before he died. I had asked how I knew I was truly living. The answer was simple but I never lived it.

    Typing out the line, I stared at it as if trying to imprint it onto my mind, never to forget it again.

    “You look forward to each day and each night.”

    1. Geezer Muse

      Your journey into your MC’s mind is simply incredible. If I didn’t know differently, I would think you are taking this personal. Most have these feelings, some often, others not. Days were simplier in our grandfathere’s days, but people died in droves from disease, mal-nutrition, civil wars, blizzards, and such, so a live span of 50 seemed normal and not unusual.

      I think your theme would revolve around, we get too much information, too many medical commercials based on fear and we forget there is an outdoors and beauty in nature to think about, Kerry

    2. regisundertow

      Well, what is there to say about this other than you nailed every single thought the majority of us have every single day. Every single bit, down to looking around us in the subway, wondering if we look like part of the flock. Of course you’re taking this personal, otherwise it wouldn’t be such an honest story, and I’m sure the words poured out on their own, because they were always there. Bravo, just bravo.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a thoughtful, inspiring, and instrospective piece, Dennis. You did a great job getting inside your MC’s head, with the starting of the book standing in for an existential crisis. I can only echo the praise from Kerry and Regis. Bravo.

    4. Reaper

      Adding my voice to your admirers on this one. Well written and very powerful. I would also think you were taking this to a personal place, meaning real experience not the way we all take writing personally, if not for the specifics of the prompt.

  16. Sarah

    The first and last sentences are from The Trumpet of the Swan, the rest is from within.
    Louis knew his plan had succeeded. Amber glowed in a way that I had never seen before. I don’t know what he did, but it worked. I could almost hear a the sound of calm indie song playing in the background, the vocals blending in a beautiful harmony as i watched her smile and dance around with Louis. Suddenly, I had a flash back to November 22, the day everything went downhill. Amber was on the ground, rocking back and forth, screaming of the hatred she had for herself and everything she ever did. She looked as if everything inside her had broken, and all she was left with were the pieces. I walked over to her and sat down, holding her as she carried on. Even a cigarette couldn’t calm her down. I started to cry at the sight of her self destruction. “STOP CRYING, OKAY? JUST STOP. I’M SCREWED UP, I GET IT. I DON’T WANT TO SCREW YOU UP, TOO.” But i just couldn’t stop. In fact, I just cried harder. The only thing I can remember after that is watching her fall asleep in my arms while both of us were crying and feeling the worst pain of my life. 16 therapy sessions, 4 different medications, 3 different doctors’ opinions, 6 suicide attempts, and hundreds of bottles and cigarettes later, there we were; Amber was spinning around Louis, both of them laughing and smiling the whole time. Her good energy was infectious. I remember thinking to myself, “I have never felt so good, so peaceful, so excited, so happy so ambitious, so desirous.”

    1. Geezer Muse

      This is real dedication from one sister to another. A positive path to recovery and a light that shines in the darkness of mental disorder. A very sweet ending to what could have been a double tragedy. A lot of story for so few words. Kerry

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a lovely and intense story, Sarah. You’ve captured a world of despair and hope in a very small package. Beautiful.

      My red pencil noted a few grammar hiccups, but nothing that broke the story (e.g. “flashback” is a single word).

    3. Reaper

      I think the two comments here pretty much sum up how wonderful this is. I could have used a couple of paragraph breaks for ease on the eyes but otherwise nothing to change that I saw.

  17. epistax

    I got my first and last line from this page. Geeze Muse and Wit.Stanton (thanks!). I chose to focus on dialog because I usually avoid it whenever possible. I also chose a topic I know nothing about (always recommended when writing.. hah!). I feel like my two characters are actually the same person just in different situations. Oh well here it is:

    “I wouldn’t advise it.” Dr. Roberts’ eyes were transfixed on his raised clipboard. He pretended to be analyzing the test results but really he was avoiding eye contact.

    “I don’t understand. You can see it on the scan. Can’t you just get it out of me?” John’s expectations were being threatened. This six-month long experience sent the 35 year old to the hospital almost thirty times. John never thought he’d see a hospital this much until he was much older.

    Dr. Roberts didn’t really like people, but he liked problems, solving problems, and the adoration that came with it. He had plenty of practice with this kind of conversation before but it had never occurred to him to learn how to handle it better.

    “We can’t remove the original growth.” Dr. Roberts remained hidden behind the clipboard.

    With this simple sentence John’s back sharply arched and he shot out of his chair. “ORIGINAL growth? How many tumors do I have?” This wasn’t fair.

    “Sorry,” he lowered his clipboard, but his eyes followed it down ”I don’t know yet. Maybe just the one, for now.”

    “If I only have one tumor WHY can’t you take it out? I thought you said the tumor was on the outside of my pancreas. Doesn’t that make it easier to remove?”

    “The tumor on the outside,” this agitated Dr. Roberts. He was a doctor. He was not a teacher, “in the same way a tree is above ground.” John’s facial expression was starting to turn from exasperated to defeated, so the analogy was working.

    Dr. Roberts continued, “And this tree is growing around a power line: the celiac artery. We can’t remove the tumor without removing the artery.”

    John was looking for an out. Maybe if offered the right suggestion, there’d be another choice. “What if we did that? Could I be cancer free?”

    Dr. Roberts finally made eye contact. He was bewildered. “You would die on the operating room table.”

    “Well then what am I supposed to do?” John was defensive and demanding.

    “You have stage 3 pancreatic cancer. The tumor will spread throughout your body through the celiac artery. You’ll need an oncologist. They’ll use treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy to slow the growth of the tumor. Symptoms will be treated as needed.“

    John sat back down and held his head with his hands. Six months ago he had a bit of back pain. He was diagnosed and treated for everything from bad posture to a pulmonary embolism. The prognoses kept flipping from mild to immediate danger. They had been wrong many times before.

    “Doctor, I’ve been diagnosed with many things in the last few months. My only symptom is back pain. I can’t take this anymore. How sure are you?”

    “We can do a more invasive scan to get a better view of the situation, but the treatment would stay the same. There is very little chance that you’ll live to be 40.”

    After an awkward moment, John stiffly muttered, “Thank you.”

    1. Observer Tim

      This hit way too bloody close to home, epistax. I haven’t had that discussion yet (and hopefully never will), but have had several that end with “amputation”. You nailed the tone of the doctor and the slightly too matter-of-fact way he is being told. That’s actually how I prefer to get bad news, though many I know would rather a bit of sugar-coating.

      Great story.

    2. Geezer Muse

      I got heated up over this. I know doctors are trained to work through emotion and keep a steady hand. But I know doctors who have switched places and been patients in serious health issues. Some have reformed their style of medicine, others not. Your dialogue gets to the center of the doctor, patient relationship. Your writing reflects the hopelessness a patient has when presented with no alternatives. Kerry

    3. Reaper

      A really interesting way to get your lines and a well told story. I had a flash of House reading your description of the doctor but the character was very different and I didn’t feel the two characters were all that similar to be honest.

    4. Dennis

      This flowed really well and the dialog was great. This sums up a lot of the way western medicine is handled, at least in this country, with a lack of caring on the doctor’s part.

    5. regisundertow

      The scariest stories are the ones that can happen to anyone. This is terrifying Epistax, monsters ain’t got nothing on being told your own body is rotting as you draw breath. And how frustrating must it be being told by someone who’d much rather you’d take the news and leave?

  18. Observer Tim

    IDENTITY

    Source: The Loom of Language, Frederick Bodmer. 1st Edition 1944, page 62. This story is incomplete because of the nature of the text.

    “Supposedly it is a degenerate form of Greek or Roman writing, Miss Vixen,” said Doctor Hind pointedly, “At least, that’s what Pindersley says.”

    “So you’ve seen it before?”

    “Not this particular inscription, but others in the same language are known. Where did you find it?”

    “It was on a stone obelisk inside one of the statues that Basilisk broke; this is a rubbing of the inscription. My guess is the obelisk was what he was looking for. Any idea what it says?”

    “Not really; the language has never been translated. But all the other examples trace to the third century A.D.”

    “Third century, huh? Thanks, Doc.”

    I left the building and headed toward the Foxwagen, taking note of the college guys watching me. It’s not every day you see a superhero on campus, and the skin-tight fox costume doesn’t hurt. I’m well aware of the effect my super-acrobatic body has on boys, and these guys are only a few years older than me.

    As I drove away I wondered what to do next. Basilisk was in jail, and wasn’t telling anyone who paid him to trash the museum. What villain would be interested in artifacts from the third century? I’d have to check dad’s database; he keeps track of everyone. To the Fox’s Den it is.
    _

    The Crimson Fox addresses me from the entrance, “What are you doing, young lady? Why aren’t you in school?”

    “It’s parent-teacher day; why aren’t you at school?”

    “Our appointment isn’t until seven. What are you getting into now?”

    “I fought Basilisk last night and found something funny. Now I’m trying to figure out who hired him.”

    “You fought Basilisk? You could have been killed!”

    “I won, dad. Anyway, he may be powerful but he’s really slow.”

    “And he turns people to stone. I don’t want my daughter becoming a piece of statuary!”

    “It’s not permanent, dad. Anyway, I move really fast. I got him to look into a mirror and rock himself.”

    “Uh-huh. You’re going to have to be more careful, Victoria. I mean it.” He walks up and stares over my shoulder. “Now, what are you looking up?” “Miss Tyree? Emperor Vile? Centurion? Those are all A-list menaces! You are not going to take on any of them!”

    “Dad! I wasn’t going after them; I just want to know who was trying to grab a third-century artifact I found. All three have ties to that time period. It’s for my report to the Council.”

    “As long as you’re just reporting it. Now, what have you found?”

    “Well, it’s not real Classical language, so I’m guessing it’s mystical. You know who that’s going to leave as the likely culprit: Miss Tyree. She claims to be the reincarnation of Morgan le Fay.”

    “Among other things. Why her?”

    “Well, I noticed something odd. Just like on the obelisk, her magic runes are divided horizontally: there’s text on top, and one to five vertical strokes below the line.”

    1. regisundertow

      You’re going to get me started with reading superhero stories, Tim. There’s always a certain self-referential feel about your pieces that I love, a certain amount of meta element that makes this tired genre feel fun.

      1. Geezer Muse

        You took me to imagination land again. I will admit it was a fun trip. I really enjoy reading all your stuff. There no limit to your inventive stories, at least I don’t think there is. I’m waiting for the next chapter, Tim. Pant, pant, pant.

    2. snuzcook

      “To the foxwagon!”
      Love it, O.Tim! And nothing skewers my attention like mystical/ancient languages and runic symbols and stolen artifacts. (I’m reading Dan Brown’s latest right now.)

    3. Nicki EagerReader

      I’ve started reading samples from all kind of sci-fi and fantasy magazines lately, and while they are well-written and occasionally thought-provoking I am really, really getting annoyed with all their somber sociopsychological reflections and latent weltschmerz- why can’t they just be fun and entertaining and enchanting as this? Let stories just make my happy .

      So if anyone knows which magazines publish this sort of Gute Laune Macher, please let me know- alternatively I’ll have to keep OT in my basement and make him crank out more superhero stories for me.

      P.S.: Though I really liked the story’s voice, it felt a little crammed here and there (probably because you had the 500 word limit in mind) but I really don’t mind if you let it unfold a little more- if I should get bored I could always stop reading 😉

      1. Observer Tim

        I truly wish I could help; but I’m looking for the same thing. I was raised on Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein*, and Larry Niven, all of whom kept to the notion of “onward and upward, but be careful.” Their commonality appears to be that they all wrote their best before 1980. That’s when things got grim and dystopia became de riguer.

        [*Note: Halfway through “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, Heinlein lost it and started writing cynical social commentary with heavy sexual elements. IMO he lost it.]

        Magazines are very much tied to their time; as a result the malaise and cynicism of the early 21st century is currently infecting them. If I need magazine-length stories I turn to back-issue compilations from at least 25 years ago, like “1947’s Best SF” and such.

        This is one reason I deeply mourn the passing of Terry Pratchett.

        Eventually I had to resort to writing my own. If only I could write fast enough to capture all the ideas that flow through my head and escape before pen hits paper. Well, maybe not all of them – some are kind of sick even for me. 🙂

    4. Reaper

      I always enjoy your hero stories and this one reminded me why. You never forget the human element. This was wonderful because you have daughter following in daddy’s footsteps and probably with his training. Yet, he still acts like a father, which was wonderful.

  19. Geezer Muse

    Kerry Charlton

    Writer’s note: The first and last line were lifted from a book page, the rest is fictional..

    THE CHAIRMAN

    ‘At the birthday party first wife Nancy threw for him, a glittering black-tie affair at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, daughter Nancy teased Frank about his baldness.’

    “Something Stupid,” he said.

    “I get it Dad.”

    “Well I hope so, fair warning.”

    Ok, Ok, ease off.”

    Their relationship was not easy, no one had a key to him and never had.

    One of his assistants approached him at the party,

    “You’re wanted on the phone sir.”

    “Hello.”

    “Happy birthday Frank.“

    “Louie you didn’t call about this. What do you need?”

    “When are you coming to the east coast?”

    “Not for a couple of weeks.”

    “You’re coming Tuesday, Rudy Vescovo needs a delivery done.”

    He paused a moment, his voice dropped an octave,

    “Where do I pick it up?”

    “Same place, Monday night at nine. We’ll deliver your ticket at the same time.
    When you get to LaGuardia, drive to the farm house . Tony will be waiting there.”

    “How long does this go on Louie?”

    “As long as we say so.”

    Frank hung the phone up, walked back to his party as if nothing had changed. ‘Was it worth it, From Here to Eternity? I guess so,’ he thought.

    The following morning Frank made a discreet call from what he thought was a private line. As Tuesday drew near, he busied himself in a recording studio. Doubt still lingered on the choice he had made. ’It’s now or I’ve never have the courage again,’ He thought.

    He had a chance run in on a street with what appeared to be a tourist in L.A. who asked for an autograph. Frank signed it and moved on. From a corner across the street, an ordinary teen took a quick photo of the encounter.

    As Monday night arrived, Frank took his private car and picked up the briefcase and his plane ticket. Tuesday afternoon he boarded the flight for New York, sat in first class like an ordinary man off the street. He was not bothere by the public for they knew better than to do so.

    As night fell across New York, his plane touched the runway and he was first off the plane as a courtesy from the airline. His luggage appeared instantly and an airline employee, a gorgeous woman of twenty five or so, arranged a pick up from a limo provided by the airline and he entered it.

    “Where to sir?’

    “Just drive and I’ll tell you. His briefcase sat next to him or did it.?

    As the limo approached the meeting place eight miles from La Guardia , he mused. ‘If this doesn’t work, I’ve never sing again. I’d rather be dead.’

    “Pull in by the gate on the right,” Frank said.

    The limo crept down a dusty dirt road until it pulled up to a windmill.

    “Stop here, he said as he climbed from the limo and walked toward the rusty tower.

    “Tony?”

    “I see you brought the briefcase Frank, open it.”

    As Frank released the clasp, Tony grabbed the handle,

    “So you tried to screw with us and switch the case for this one, being clever leads to death you know. We switched cases.”

    “We know you did Tony, we watched you.”

    “It doesn’t matter what you say, you’re a dead man as soon as I open the case.”

    “I wouldn’t advise it.”

    Why not? The chauffer can be disposed of.”

    “The six FBI agents recording you won’t be that easy.”

    As three of the agents hauled the east cost mafia king pin away, he screamed obscenities Frank’s way.

    “You are cool under fire sir“, the chief agent said.

    “When you’ve sung two thousand different songs in nine thousand live concerts you learn things….. I’m a symmetrical man almost to a fault,” Frank acknowledged as his fiftieth birthday approached.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a lovely Sinatra gangster story, Kerry. I always wondered how deeply he was in to organized crime (I know it was at least to his ankles). Of course, that never mattered once he started singing. I love the way you snuck the song titles in, and how you made Frank the hero. All in all a great job.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thank you Tim, always a pleasure to hear from you. Do you know Sinatra did a lot of chatrity in his life, mostly private to struggling friends and many other causes and never mentioned it to anyone? Most of the information was revealed after he died at 81 0r 82 Just look how he took care of Ava Garder for the rest of her life, fought with her and loved her for many years.

    2. snuzcook

      And Old Blue Eyes comes out smooth and so cool in the end.
      Fun interpretation, Kerry! You sure you weren’t in on any of these ‘fictional’ meetings???

      1. Geezer Muse

        I had a touch of it with Roulette Records, that was enough for me. I’m a peaceful person most of the time. Thanks for the compliment and for stopping by. Kerry

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thanks Reaper, I appreciate your comments. Under his personna was the soul of a complicated man with a good heart to those he close carefully. I think he would be hell to work for. He had an assistant ask him,
        “Do you want to be reminded of your meeting tomorrow?”
        His answer, “%#%&&#@, If I can remember lyrics to 2000 songs, what do you think?”
        A lot of people are bored with Sinatra’s music. There is onr song you should hear him sing, ‘It Was A Very Good Year’.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Thanks Dennis, I’m glad you enjoyed it, I had much fun writing it. The first and last sentence came from a bio, The Life, Sinatra 400 pages or so.

    3. DMelde

      Wonderful story Kerry. Excellent writing. I’m looking to team up with someone to write a story I have in mind and I think your skill set would complement mine. If you’re interested in talking further about it please contact me at kAM8BalutYdv@meltmail.com Please be aware this is a melt mail email address and it will disappear in 24 hours time. Thanks!

  20. Witt.Stanton

    He emerged trough the golden doors into the dark streets of Paris. It was the end of winter, and a light snow had begun to fall.

    “Wait!” a voice called from behind him.

    He continued walking, pushing through the crowd. Footsteps clattered on the cobbled street and neared him.

    “Hey, Mister! You forgot your book! Mister!” That stopped him short. A hand tugged on the tail of his coat.

    “It’s your book. You left it at your table. I thought you’d want it back.” It was a small boy, no taller than his kneecaps. Dirt was smudged on his cheek. A street boy. Their footsteps were always loud, echoing down every street and alley he passed.

    With all the dignity he could, the man reached down and tugged the book from the child’s tiny hands.

    After an awkward moment, the man stiffly muttered, “Thank you.”

    Facing each other, the height difference was startling. Unused to children, the man turned to leave, lacing his cane under his arm and the book under the other.

    “Hey, mister. What’s the book about?” With a sigh, the man turned around and faced the boy again.

    Avoiding the question, the man “Go back home, boy. Your parents must be worried. It’s past sunset.” Silence followed this, the boy shuffling his feet in the snow and the man frowning at him.

    Finally the boy muttered, “My parents don’t care, not anymore.” The man’s expression froze, the blood leaving his face. He had said those same words, seventy years before, to a man he knew wouldn’t care. He had been forgotten, a piece of trash thrown to the side of the road. Unwanted.

    Crouching down so that he was eye level with the street boy, the man whispered, “They drink now, don’t they?” His heart sunk when the boy nodded.

    In the boy’s eyes he saw his own reflection. Truth be told, he and the boy were the same. Gone were the cruel seventy years that he had lived, molded into a unforgiving old man by the world he lived in. Gone. He was a street boy again, young and hopeful.

    Reaching his hand forward, the man rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “No longer must you walk this cold world, boy. You are free.” The boy smiled, finally at peace, and faded away into the snowy air with a laugh of pure joy.

    The old man was left crouching alone on the snowy street. The ghost’s youthful voice and footsteps still echoed in his head.

    He shook his head and adjusted his hat. Then, quietly, he said to himself, “I hope the snow covers everything so all the footsteps are silenced, and the whole city can be at peace.”

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Witt!

      This story was very well written. It felt like a Dickens’ ghost story. And, just so you know, the borrowed lines meld perfectly with the rest of the story.

      On a side note, I imagined your old MC looking like George C. Scott, for some reason. 😀

    2. Observer Tim

      This is very nice and touching, Witt. I always love a gentle ghost story.

      My only concern is with the boy’s height. Unless the old man is extremely tall, a child “up to his knees” would probably be a toddler. Of course, the description could be figurative; in that case don’t worry about it.

  21. Dana Cariola

    NURSE ACCUSED OF MURDERING HEIRESS
    “Martha?..Martha!…Where the hell.have you gotten too woman! You dam beast!” Lady Londun shouted out to her personal nurse, Martha. “Martha!…You bitch!…Why must you keep me waiting?….You know it’s noon – time!…I need my cure!…Dam it..Martha!…Please hurry along!” Lady Londun’s tone began to soften, when she heard the soles of Martha’s heels tapping down the endless corridor. “Martha!…please!…please!” Lady Londun whimpered. “I’m here!…My Lady!”…Hold on now!…We’ll fix you right up!” she assured her. “You be as right as rain…You’ll see” Martha calmly entered the room, tapping her finger against the glass syringe full of Morphine. “Let me see your arm there, Missy” she asked, as she inspected her arm for a pulsating artery, readied to deliver the payload that waited inside of the needle. Martha smacked the forearm, just enough to raise the vein, then sank the needle, deep below the skin. The syringe quickly filled with blood, as she drew the plunger upward to mix the life giving liquid with Lady Londun’s cure. “Now, close your eyes. And, think about what it was like on the roller coaster you loved so much as a child.” she said. “Martha!…Stop fucking with me and just do it!” Lady Londun warned. The plunger forced the cure into Lady Londun’s eager veins, her eyes widened and she drew a deep breath, holding it for only a few seconds before letting out a long labored sigh, before laughing aloud. Lady Londun rolled her head slowly to look over at Martha who was waiting patiently for her to return down from her euphoric high. “You look like that dam cat in Alice in Wonderland!…Do you know that Martha?…Your hair needs coloring too!’ Lady Londun mocked playfully. “Oh, you miserable thing!…Why must you always pick at me the minute you get your cure?…Your really too predicable, you know!…she replied in kind. “Now, What the hell took you so long?” she asked. “That dam sneaky cat of yours, got into a rally with a mouse!…Chased him…clear up the wall!…And, knocked over the flour canister! I couldn’t tell which was flour, and what was your cure…when I went into the kitchen! Had to go out to the garden and fetch you some more.” she offered.
    “We do have more?…Oh, Martha..please tell me?..We have more!…I need my cure…you know that!” she pleaded.
    “Oh, don’t you worry bout’ that now, My Lady!….There plenty left!” she assured her employer.
    “So, Where is she?”
    “Who?…
    “The cat. Martha….Aggie!” she said, waving her hands wildly above her head.
    “She’s resting….I think she high as a kite, if you asked me. Once she started licking the powder off of her fur?..she just dozed off!” she said in a quiet whisper.
    “Can you please go check on her?… You dumb ninny!….You overdosed her!” Lady Londun scornfully stated.
    “Now, what did I say about calling me names?….There’s no need for hurtful words…I’m the only one left to take care of you…Now, apologize to me!” Martha sternly ordered.
    Lady Londun’s eyes sent daggers flying out, like flaming arrows piercing through air, above the ground troops.
    She had lost all use of her legs from the disease. And, she lay helpless in her oversized bed, decorated with finest linen from the Orient. Where she made a fortune off of the sweat shops of India, and sold her line of clothing, world wide. She had no children, nor had she ever married. There were rumors of a lesbian lover somewhere in Spain. But, Lady Londun was as elusive and mysterious, as she was careful. The only real person she ever really trusted was Martha.
    “Well, I’m waiting?” Martha tapped her aging shoes on the finely polished wooden floors, of her bedroom.
    Oh, alright!…I’m sorry. There happy now!…Now, go and check on Aggie!” she said, shooing her away like a fly.
    “I don’t believe you!” Martha stated firmly. “Let’s try that again? Shall we.”
    Lady Londun stared back at Martha, intensely, before submitting to her request for a better apology.”
    “Now, that was much nicer!…I believed you that time!…Better go and check on that cat!” she said cheerfully, then exited the room. Lady Londun grinned back at her, as she disappeared through the doorframe.
    She fumbled under her sheets for the clicker, for the telly. And, turned on the set that was mounted on the wall, near the foot of the bed.
    Lady Londun watched in disbelief as the live feed from the kitchen broadcast on her set. There was Martha, pulling the fur off of a deceased animal. But, she couldn’t quite make out what it was.
    Martha hummed like a mad scientist, as she pulled the fur back down off of the animal.
    Until, she heard the sound of a bell. Just like the same bell, Aggie wore on her collar.
    The camera panned over. Martha looked over her shoulder towards the camera, when she heard it moving
    “Well, I’d thought you might want to watch!…Aggie’s just fine, Just checked on her.”
    Lady Londun hit the intercom button. “Let me see her?….You heard me!…I wanna see my cat!…Now you beast!” she demanded.
    Martha bent down and picked up the cat, that was at her feet. “Here she is!…Alive and Well!….I’ve skinned us a rabbit I caught in the garden.”
    “Now, I’ll be up at 3 o’ clock with more of your cure…My Lady.. Wouldn’t you’d rather watch your empire expand, than some ugly old woman skinnin’ a rabbit? Then reached up and turn off the camera.
    The sound of heavy foot steps echoed through the hallway. No sooner did the clock chime 3 pm, Martha appeared by the bedside; with a syringe filled with Lady Londun’s cure.
    “You sneaky bitch!…You scared me!” she snarled at her.
    “Now, hold still, I mixed this special for you?” Martha bragged, then forced the sharp tip into her artery vein in her throat. The plunger forced the poison into her system, delivering a lethal dose of arsenic.

    LAST LINE: HOW TO GET RICH QUICK

    1. Observer Tim

      This reads like the beginning of a crime thriller, Dana. You did a great job portraying the old lady’s personality and that of her “nurse”. Very well done!

      My only quibble is that the spacing sometimes forced me to go back and read twice to figure out what was going on. Clearer paragraph breaks would definitely help.

    2. Reaper

      This was intense. I agree some spacing out would be nice, but the conversation felt very real to me. Enough that the ending was horrifying even though I saw it coming, I was hoping it would go the other way because I liked both of the cranky old women.

  22. JRSimmang

    VAGRANT RIVER
    – First and last sentences pulled from page 137 of “The Heart of Everything That Is” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

    On the colonel’s orders the infantrymen shouldered their rifles and advanced in a quick march. To their death, they felt, but it did not stop their beating hearts nor their breath on fire.

    My men circled the platoon from a distance just outside their range. There were probably fifty or so of the colonel’s men remaining. The others had not made it through the Vagrant River Pass. It’s a perilous enough journey for young men, and in the dead of winter, when the snows drift and prey among the weak, the old men cannot muster enough heat to keep their flames burning. We did not count on so many of his men dying. We did, however, know they would not live much longer.

    “Ahead, Colonel,” one of them shouts. He is in front, probably from Virginia; his accent gives him away. He points to the clearing in the forest.

    The colonel whistles for his men to stop, and they do. He signals his scouts to assure the area is safe. He does not know we follow them.

    My son, Grant, looks over to me. He wants this to end now, but he does not know that the colonel has to make it to the clearing. He has to return to the clearing. I hold my hand up to my son, and to the other 48 men awaiting my orders. I wait for the scouts to return. Nothing to report. Of course, there is nothing to report. We can make them forget.

    The platoon proceeds to the clearing like good little soldiers. Three battalions, two flanking the colonel, one taking up the rear. They shuffle in one by one.

    There is something peculiar that happens in the evening every night in Vagrant River. A fog settles in and makes itself cozy. It lays itself thick around corners and under the boughs of trees. It casts silence on the land, and the animals use this time to sleep.

    The colonel does not know this, for the last time he saw this clearing was in the morning. The same morning he slaughtered me and my family.

    His platoon moves forward and my men move with them.

    Then, we come down out of the trees and hills.

    Then, we circle his men, and my men make themselves disappear among them, infiltrating their ranks, feeling their heartbeats quicken, watching the sweat bead and steam on their faces. Their focused, terrified faces.

    I drift into the crowd and set into pace alongside the colonel’s horse. He does not see me through the fog. He does not want to see me.

    His men are standing in the clearing and I see the look of recognition flash across his face. My house’s skeleton still stands, my wife’s corpse still threaded to the front porch. He sees the bodies of my boys strung to the trees and my daughter strapped to the pyre that had long since burned out. He lurches forward, catching himself on the saddlehorn.

    “Men!” he yells. “We cannot! We must! Turn from here!”

    But it is too late. The fog has fallen.

    We are the ghosts of Vagrant River. We will not rest until our blood is restored.

    My son comes along the other side of his horse, my men reach into their souls as we crush the living heart of the Colonel. He looks at my face, and for the first time, he gets to see me smile again. A smile just like the one when he was cutting out my heart. “Traitor is such a filthy word,” I whisper to him.

    And we sent him to the other side of Jericho.

    -JR Simmang

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hey, JR!

      This was an awesome story! And, just so you know, there is something strangely powerful about this line -> “We are the ghosts of Vagrant River.” It’s a simple, plain statement, but it feels like banners waving and trumpets blowing…if that makes sense. 😀

    2. regisundertow

      I really enjoyed this. You don’t get to read a story like that from the ghosts’ point of view very often. I loved the effortless language, as well. To expand on what Cosi said, the story is full of simple, but beautiful statements that suit the theme nicely.

    3. Reaper

      This story was eerie, it crept right into my brain. I agree there is a lot of wonderful language in here and the line about the ghosts of vagrant river struck me in such a wonderfully dark and melancholy way.

    4. lionetravail

      What a wonderful take, JR! Love the feel of this, right down to the down-home names of the Vagrant River and Jericho. It’s a great stand-alone short, but also something I could see expanded upon to something longer 🙂

  23. crystalpeters64

    you make $27h…good for you! I make up to $85h working from home. My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45h to $85h…heres a good example of what I’m doing
    BEST PROFIT DEAL \ CHECK ,,,, http://WWW.PROFIT-REVIEW.COM

  24. regisundertow

    Instruction leaflet from a box of painkillers. Killer hangover…

    *************
    PAPAVER SOMNIFERUM

    “Read these instructions thoroughly before you begin administering the medication, as they contain important information.”

    Wonderful toilet reading material. I swished the word “medication” around my mouth for flavor and found it lacking. You could call it many things, but “medication” was probably pushing the boundaries of good taste. Babalù called it “catnip”, one of the first English words he had learned, always followed by a guilty laugh. I tried reading the manual replacing “medication” for “catnip”. It made for a more honest description.

    Babalù was sitting at the shop’s front-desk chatting up a tall morena, whose toned legs I was sure were stopping traffic on a regular basis. He was playing up his fresh-off-the-boat innocence and boyish charm like a master con artist. He put one ringed hand on the girl’s shoulder and flashed a crooked half-grin. I pointed at myself and then the chambers and he nodded in thanks.

    Light glinted off IV stands, as I scanned the chambers with the torch. Bags with a cloudy crimson liquid hang from them. I started my round, first going up one row of hospital beds, then down the other, checking vitals on the monitors and making sure the sleepers looked comfortable. I adjusted an old woman’s arms, wiped a middle-aged businessman’s moist brow. Almost no wetters this time. Almost. I slapped on new gloves and approached Buck’s bed. I was sure our monthly accounting started with him. That didn’t stop me hating having him over. I gently lifted his covers and was greeted by a spent erection peaking over his waistband. Careful to avoid the sticky spot on his t-shirt, I lifted his waistband just enough to let his purple bits slip back in place. “Ensuring your dignity” my ass, how about my dignity? I thought as I threw the covers into a garbage bag.

    Babalù was alone, looking at his phone and smiling like an idiot. I slumped on the couch across him and picked up a faded travel magazine, immediately turning to the Bali article. Emerald waters greeted me and my heart sank.

    “Put the magazine down, my friend. I’ll put you to sleep,” Babalù offered.
    “Answer’s still no,” I replied, ignoring the phrasing. “But, thanks.”
    “Why not? It is real enough for them,” he cocked his thumb towards the chambers.
    “I’m not them. Besides, we’re fucked if the boss lady finds out.”
    Babalù repeated my words with disgust. “You are acting like a little boy, Thomas. What is she going to do? Will she spank you? I ask you.”
    “No, but she’ll fire both our asses, and then it’s goodbye green card for you and goodbye sandy beaches for me.”
    “My God, Thomas. No one will know.”

    I ignored him as my fingers traced a coastline. I would know.

    The bell over the glass door rang, announcing an arrival. Neither of us was particularly tall, but we both towered over that mouse of a man. His navel-high beige trousers and checkered white shirt reminded me of my grandfather and I instinctively rose. I didn’t notice the small leather bowling bag hanging from his shoulder initially. His red puffy eyes were what grabbed my attention, more than the droopy white mustache, more than the wild wisp on his head.

    Babalù immediately jumped into action. “Welcome to Papaver Clinic, the best dream-therapy clinic in the city. How may I or my colleague be of assistance today, sir?”

    The old man looked at each of us, his lower lip trembling. I mentally prepared for dealing with another burned-out nutcase, but the silence unnerved me. I exchanged a look with Babalù. He almost imperceptibly rolled his eyes, his smile never leaving his face.

    I put an arm on his shoulder. “Sir, this is a clinic. Can I call someone for-”
    He squirmed away. “I want an hour. At this dosage,” he said as he offered a scrap of paper to Babalù.
    He took one look at the paper and shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, this we cannot do.”
    The man set the bowling bag on the couch and started pulling out wads of cash as thick as a fist. I counted 20 of them before he had finished.
    “This is half. You’ll get the other half once you get rid of my body according to the instructions I’ll leave you. My lawyer will ensure you’re compensated.”

    Babalù dragged me away. “Thomas…”
    “Shut up, B.”
    “Thomas, no.”
    “This guy…” this guy reminded me of my grandfather.
    “Thomas, it’s a lot of money. I know, but think! Think, Thomas,” he insisted as he shook my shoulder.
    I noticed another item in the bowling bag. Cylindrical. A handle on each side.

    He approached us, eyes watering. “Son, it’s OK. I’ve done the calculations. I won’t last longer than an hour, I promise you that. Just enough to dream of whom I want for a bit.”
    Quick calculations. One-way ticket to Bali. Cheap bungalow. My grandfather hadn’t left me anything more than a watch that didn’t work.
    “Sir, your offer is very kind, but-” Babalù started.
    “We’re not doing it,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”
    The old man stared at us for long moment. “No one will know.”
    “Sir, leave. Please. Or I’m gonna have to call the police.”

    The bell’s sound was accompanied by our sighs of relief. Babalù slapped my back and insisted I was a decent guy, then went back to texting. I watched through the glass door as the little old man cradled the bowling bag. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket, consulted it for a moment and exited my view.

    Toilet reading material. Our leaflet. Dream therapy cures everything. Anxiety. Stress. Rheumatism, pain and swelling of the joints and muscles.

    1. JRSimmang

      Alright, Regis. You got me hooked. I am wondering why it was that Babalu and Thomas turned the old guy down, aside from an overwhelming sense of duty. It’s his story I want to know. Perhaps… part 2?

      1. regisundertow

        This is a story connected to something I wrote years ago, they take place in the same universe in any case. There’s several ethical concerns with regards to the drug used, as well as what happens to a man when he overdoses.

        I’m far from satisfied with the ending, to be honest. It’s one of those weeks when the word well is running dry. I can see a part 2 though, sure. Thanks for reading JR and for the positive comments.

    2. Observer Tim

      Whoa, Regis, this is very good! The parts untold work well together with the pieces of the story that were told. Until you cleared up the context I was thinking these guys were running a body-snatcher lab (a la Coma). The idea of “dream therapy” opens up a whole world of possibilities. Thanks for getting my brain going.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks, Tim, that is high praise indeed. It’s been an idea I’ve been toying with for years, but never felt confident enough in my skills to flesh out on paper. I just love that kind of sci-fi, where amazing technology is a mundane commodity. Like you said, it opens up so many possibilities for storytelling without being kitsch-y.

    3. lionetravail

      This is wonderful. Took me a bit, and a reread, to think I caught what I needed to–it’s complex and rich, and gripping– and I’ve gotten more from your other comments. Nice work with this story!

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks Patrick. I got to say, I’m a little overwhelmed by the reaction to a story I thought was one of the worst ones I’d written so far for the prompts (not to mention one I wrote while being punished by the previous night’s transgressions). I don’t think I’m at the level I want, but your encouragement makes me feel I’m on the right track.

    4. Dennis

      Very cool concept. It reminds me of that scene in Inception when they are in that basement in India watching all those connected in dream, using it as a way to escape the world. I would definitely read more if you choose to pursue it.

      1. regisundertow

        I remember watching that scene and thinking, dammit. One day I’m going to have to explain that I didn’t steal the concept from Inception :p But, spot on. I had something very similar in mind.
        It was a concept rotting deep within my computer drive, but I’m very happy to hear you’d be interested in reading more. I’ll definitely pursue it.

  25. WritingKittenOfLoki

    (page 75 of Misty of Chincoteague)
    I’m not sure what I think of this one, but I hope you all enjoy it.
    __________

    “It’s knee deep in the water, and won’t go no further.”

    Eleven-year-old Jeff Canton shouted, looking through the binoculars. Twelve-year-old Jeremy Cobb ran over to his friend and looked though his spyglass at the strange figure down at the lake. Could it be him?

    Ten-year-old Jeremy Cobb stared at the bizarre creature standing in the pool in the Cobb’s backyard. It was green with an elongated head, huge red eyes, long neck, but from the shoulders down it looked more like a squid, with ten limbs – two arms and eight legs. The alien creature spoke first, “Hello, is this Earth?” It’s voice was gentle.

    Jeremy nodded yes, but he stood otherwise frozen.

    The alien spoke again, “I am Clever. Clever is my name. I understand that in your language ‘clever’ is not a name.”

    Jeremy didn’t move.

    “I apologize if my form frightens you,”

    Jeremy still did nothing.

    “If I desire, I can leave,”

    Jeremy shook his head no. “Are you hungry?”

    “I am. And I am actually quite fond of human food,”

    “Do you like cheese?”

    “Yes, I do,”

    “Ok. Stay here, I’ll bring you some cheese.” Jeremy ran inside and to the fridge he grabbed a block of cheddar and then ran back outside.

    “Thank you,” Clever the Alien said, bowing his head.

    After the cheese was devoured, Clever slowly climbed out of the pool. He said, “I must go now. But one day I will come again.” He bowed, and smiled, then he lifted into the air, and flew away.

    Eleven-year-old Jeremy picked up the package on the back porch. The note said, “I hope you like it ~ Clever”. He tore off the brown paper wrapping and opened the box, inside sat a spyglass, it was black and gold, with red and green gem-stones. He looked through it, It works!

    Now as twelve-year-old Jeremy looks through his awesome spyglass at a green alien with red eyes, and a squid like body. He grinned and pulled a block of cheddar out of his backpack, then started walking toward the lake. It must be Clever. Who else would it be?

    Who else could it be.

    1. regisundertow

      Damn, I liked this. I loved the simplicity of your speech, it fitted your MC perfectly. Now, I’m wondering who else could it be in that lake.
      Only minor criticism, the first couple of lines were confusing due to repeating the name and the different ages. I had to re-read that part to understand what was going on.

    2. lionetravail

      I really like it, WKOL. I think it could be polished just a bit, but it’s a wonderful start to whatever they’re calling the stage just before YA 🙂

    3. Reaper

      Some tense shifts caught me off guard. Otherwise I was going to say that the age and name thing was strange, but, then I started reading it with an ear for a younger voice. As it became a story with a lesson about acceptance I started smiling at it and this just grew into such a wonderful story. Well crafted.

    4. WritingKittenOfLoki

      Thank you everyone, I’m so glad you all enjoyed it! I agree it absolutely needs polishing. As always, thank you for the feedback, it’s extremely helpful.

  26. Rene Paul

    From ‘Flags of Our Father’
    Page 252

    And so the war, and the photograph, floated at the edges of my childhood, somewhere between reality and distant dream.

    I was to young to understand the full effects of the war, the devastation spawned in its wake, of the families torn apart, loved ones lost fighting side by side and on opposite sides of the conflict.

    I remember the on-lookers that came to watch the battle from afar. They brought their picnic baskets, spouses, children, and babies. They sat on the hillsides, watching, expecting a show of some sort, to be entertained in some way. They were sickened.

    Others took whatever they could find, robbing the dead of their last iota of dignity. Thieves they were, stealing to acquire some memento, a souvenir, hoarding it all for their personal gain.

    Some dug shallow graves and rolled the corpse in with their shovels. No one wanted to touch the remains. The carcasses of the bloated horses were last to be covered. That was a mistake. Their stench was unbearable and disease spread, taking a further toll. Local citizens that could identify their relations carted the deceased away for proper burial. When it was over the carpetbaggers prospered at our expense. Oh the ravages of war.

    The reality: seeing the dead bodies strewn about the fields, human and animal. That bothered me. Men fallen in battle abandoned by their respective armies, left to rot. That bothered me too.

    The distant dream: I pray the madness to stop.

    One young entrepreneur came to take photographs. Working for any newspaper or private party that wanted or needed to purchase one. He took one of me. It wasn’t my best pose. My mother purchased it anyway.

    Yet, throughout the entire nightmare, nothing haunted me as much as that photograph. Placed atop my mother’s bureau. There it sat for forty years. Not exactly a place of honor as one would expect. It was a single snapshot, a single moment, captured in time of a person’s life, a life and time to be remembered, not forgotten.

    She only showed it to a few family and friends those that asked to see it. If she were proud of it, it would have been displayed in the family room. Then all that came into the house could see what it represented.

    The house belonged to the family for another decade. After Mother died, the house fell into disrepair and the family decided to sell it and all her possession. I didn’t mine; I knew I’d find a good home with another relative.

    A nephew took me. We subsequently left Kentucky, the only state I’ve ever known, and moved us to New York’s Fifth Avenue. Times were good.

    Over the years, the world became a smaller place. Automobiles, airplanes, radios, telephones, and now something they call television are the rage. You can watch the horrors of war in the comfort of your home.

    I’m not sure what year this is; I haven’t seen the daylight in decades. When we moved here I thought things would change. However, once again, I was regulated to a spot without reverence. The children of today have little respect for their elders. Now I’m a curiosity in a shoebox.

    I don’t know how long I’ve been in this cardboard casket but…our house on Fifth Avenue must have been built in the 1910’s

    1. regisundertow

      There’s quite a few things implied here. I’m going to be re-reading this story over the next few days, I love the multiple layers you’re working with here.

        1. regisundertow

          Not being an American and only superficially versed in the Civil War, I’m probably the wrong person to comment on that. Having said that, I figured it out at just the right part of the story for it to deliver its coup de grace.

    2. Observer Tim

      An amazing perspective of and comment on the U.S. Civil War. I’m slightly confused as to the identity of the narrator (an urn of ashes? a toy soldier?) but that doesn’t really detract from the power of the work.

      My red pencial says “relegated” not “regulated”; there are other minor typos but this one changes meaning.

      1. lionetravail

        I’m in agreement here with OT- I’m a bit lost at the end, where it’s hard to even guess the identity of the MC. If I may suggest, don’t keep it quite so enigmatic: you need to drop enough of a hint, and there are seemingly contradictory parts to the riddle you set that I don’t get it. “My mother kept the photo of me” makes it hard for me to picture something inanimate. But yet the photo haunts the MC.

        It’s well written, but I think you made the reveal a bit too hard (if only for me- I have no real idea) so I’d say you kept the secret too well here for me to go ‘aha!” and love it.

        1. Rene Paul

          Thank you Lionetravail for your critique, and everyone else that responded. I was trying to write a story about the spirit of a soldier that died on the battlefield. The photographer took photos of the dead. His mother bought her son’s death photo. The photo gets passed down through the generations and ends up in a shoebox. I struggled with giving hints without saying it direct. I’ll do a better job next time. Thanks again.

      2. Rene Paul

        Thanks Observer Tim for catching that wording mistake I didn’t see that one. I did find a few typos after I submitted the work. What do they say? Edit, edit, and then edit again. Good guess on the Urn but I was shooting for a soldier that died in battle and his spirit was in the photograph. Thanks again for reading and critiquing my work.

    3. Reaper

      I assume your MC has some Native American in him, enough for his spirit to get trapped in the photo. At first I thought it was just the picture but I can see the ghost now. There is some cleaning up that could make that clearer but even without it I thought there was some very lovely meaning in this one. The forgotten soldiers, the lack of pride in sacrifice which may really have just been pain at remembering. This hit me hard and the voice reminded me in some ways of Angela’s Ashes which makes it pretty amazing. I got an aha moment but I wasn’t even looking for it because I was lost in the messages that flowed through it. To that end I might suggest removing or rewording the line about how the children of today have little respect for their elders because it seemed a bit heavy handed with the rest of the message being amazingly delivered.

  27. beauty2267

    (From pg. 95, “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich, BCE)

    “This is why I’m not married,” Ranger said. “Women ask questions.”

    I stopped digging in the drawer for my keys and looked up. “But I’m your accountant. It’s my job to ask questions.”

    He placed a large white storage box on my desk, sat down in the leather club chair across from me, and smiled. That smile was another reason he wasn’t married, I thought. It was the smirky-smile of a man who had way too many secrets and knew exactly how to keep them.

    “Okay,” he said.

    “Okay what?”

    “Okay I’ll answer your questions. But you’ve got–” he glanced at his watch “–approximately nine minutes before Baker walks through that door looking for me. So shoot.”

    He leaned back and stretched his legs out in front of him. His boots were etched in orange-brown mud. Some had gotten on the hem of his jeans, too.

    Nine minutes would be more than enough if I skipped the bullshit and got to it.

    “You finished the Andrews job today?”

    He pointed at the mud on his boots. “I did.”

    “You got paid?”

    “Yes, ma’am. The money’s already in the bank. You can check if you want to.”

    And I would check. But he already knew that.

    “Did you go by Aldo’s and make the reservations?”

    “I did.”

    “You gave them the menu?”

    “I gave them the menu.”

    “And the special cake?”

    “It’s being made as we speak.”

    “What about the … other thing?” I was barely able to breathe at this point. “Were you able to get it?”

    “Ashley, I — are you sure about this?” His eyes were dark and serious. “This might all be a bit too much, don’t you think?”

    Too much?” I bounced out of my chair and laughed so unexpectedly it came out as a snort. “Are you freakin’ kidding me? My husband is being released after spending three years in a prison psych ward for something he did not do! How could anything we do to celebrate be considered too much?”

    “Jesus, Ash, calm down. I’m just saying Frank normally wouldn’t go for something so … public.”

    Ranger maneuvered around the desk and reached for me, but I jerked away from him and turned around. Undeterred, he pushed up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders.

    I instinctively leaned back, into his warmth, and felt the inevitable goosebumps beginning to rise.

    “Please tell me it’s in the box,” I whispered.

    He brushed my neck with his lips. “It’s in the box.”

    * * *

    It must have been a slow crime day because the police got there two minutes after Baker did and three minutes after Ranger left.

    Baker was pale and a little shaky. “I know Frank is Ranger’s brother and all, but they’d have to be nuts to let that bastard out of the loony bin after this.”

    “Where did that box come from again, ma’am?” a young officer named Ken asked.

    I shrugged. “It was just sitting there.”

    1. regisundertow

      Good job misdirecting the reader there. I got a couple of interpretations of what went down, it’s going to be fun trying to figure it out. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    2. lionetravail

      This is nicely written, Beauty, but you’ve left (IMHO) a lot unsaid- enough that I don’t feel like the story really ended. I’m left wanting more- I only have a bare sense of the relationship between the MC, Ranger, and Frank (? love triangle with two brothers?), no idea what’s in the box, and no idea what’s in the box, or who Baker is and how/why he got there ahead of the police.

      I think you’ve made it too enigmatic in its current version- please let us inside your head more, so what’s revealed to your MC is also revealed to us at the same time.

    3. Dennis

      I liked how not everything is explained but would have liked a little more clarity with the characters, unless this is just a scene of a bigger story and then it is perfect.

    4. Reaper

      I agree with everything I’ve seen here in different ways. It is captivating and kept me hooked until the very end. I also want more. As a stand alone short I feel like it needs more. As a piece of something else I feel like it teases just perfectly for a combination mystery/psychological thriller.

      1. beauty2267

        To turtles88, regisundertow, Observer Tim, lionetravail, Dennis and Reaper — thank you for your comments! This was my first post ever and your feedback helped so much. This ended up fitting in PERFECTLY with a short story collection I’ve been working on, so I cleaned it up a little, added a little, etc., but still kept it super short/mysterious since the details come to light in the other stories …. Also Ioved reading all of your work – very creative and entertaining! I’ll definitely have to visit this section more often.

  28. Hiba Gardezi

    Where am I going posting this story without a really meaningful Sorry? I haven’t beem active on WD for about FOUR weeks and I am really sorry about that. First like I told you guys, my final examinations started so I was really busy doing past papers, learning Geography textbooks by heart and what not. Then I was busy with a farewell party for my friend/favourite teacher. And then …. Da da… the most important reason of all… Da da… The prompt didn’t motivate me. Lol. Sorry. I’ll post every week now hopefully… holidayssss!!!!! Time to party 😉 Hope you all enjoy this.

    With its 19th -century Welsh dresser and French bed, there’s no doubt that Button cottage is the home of an antiques lover. That’s what she says.

    Truth.

    This is not the truth. The truth is that this is I. And this is her. That this is a shop, a dimension of people struggling with their minds. I am okay, that is why they think I am not. They are not okay, that is why they think they are.

    I demand the truth. I speak the tongue of the truthful. Ask that child by the counter. I promise, I am not lying! Ask anyone. But then… they will tell you what they know and what they know is not enough… and then you won’t believe me. Please don’t ask them.

    Why won’t she tell me the truth?

    She stands next to a rectangular portal. A portal to another world… a world of a very exotic ‘Two and a half men’

    If I jump in there I ask her Will I get the truth

    I’m sorry sir she says I did’t get that…what? Now do you see?

    I said If I jump in here I jump and kick my feet in the air so that her fragile mind may understand Will I get the truth?

    Umm… Fred! She calls to trhe receptionist who comes running overr
    She whispers something to him.

    They don’t know. I know. They don’t see. I see. Seeing is powerful. Seeing is dangerous. Seeing is what I am living on. Now do you see?

    Someone invisible, some huge man nabgs his club into the right side of my head and now he is pushing… Pushing…Pushi– ‘We’re just about to call some nice people so they can talk to you’ the one called Fred says Now do you see?

    Now I am locked up in a room ‘for the time being’

    Why do they say that? Time… being?
    Time doesn’t be. It makes others be.
    Time. Time Being. Being. It’s not exactly fun to say either.

    Time.

    Being.

    I ‘think too much’ They say.
    Why do they say that? You can never think too much.

    They say , behind my back, that I have become myself, who I am now, ever since I stopped being loved… or loving.
    I fall on to the ground. Head back.

    Head front.
    Eyes down, Eyes up. Soul in. Soul in.

    Ever since I stopped. I .
    Now I am thrown back, back to the time when I was I was she and she was I.
    The nights when my last thoughts caressed her name. And then when … the first light to lick my dreamlands came from her lanterns.
    And then it shatters.

    In my head.

    Like broken glass.

    A wall.

    A crack.

    A whole maze.

    A heartbeat. A beauty. And then that beauty gone.

    And now I search bloodthirstily, ravenously for th pieces to prtove that the y fit together to make something beautiful. Now do you see?

    That is all.

      1. turtles88

        This is deeeep, Hiba. As always I enjoyed your writing and hope to see more but of course with a busy life…. I love your style and writing voice 🙂

    1. regisundertow

      Jeez, you stream-of-consciousness writers. I’m trying my best to hate this whole category of storytelling, then someone writes something that grabs my attention and I’m wondering whether I’m wrong. I can’t say I’m 100% sure I got it, but the prose just flows here. Some very vivid imagery as well, I like how you used the metaphor of looking for broken pieces.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Hiba!

      There are so many great lines in this one, but I especially like the rhythm in this whole paragraph -> “They don’t know. I know. They don’t see. I see. Seeing is powerful. Seeing is dangerous. Seeing is what I am living on. Now do you see?” They almost sound like song lyrics. 😀 And I mean that in a good way.

    3. lionetravail

      The frantic speed of this is interesting, as is the imagery. But I’m not sure I could read this style over a much longer story, or to understand all the messages in it. For me, I think if you’re aiming for surreal, there has to be some buildup and centrally understandable message.

      Nice work with this 🙂

      1. Hiba Gardezi

        Thank you Lionetravail, this is much appreciated Thankyou for commenting and the critique. Tell me, do you mean that the length is just right or that it should’ve been shorter? Could you please change some sentences in here to show me how to make it better?

        1. lionetravail

          So, Hiba, I guess the first question would be “Where were you going with this?” before I’d give any advice. For example, I don’t get this part:

          Why won’t she tell me the truth? (who? which ‘she’ are we talking about, haven’t seen one yet)
          She stands next to a rectangular portal. A portal to another world… a world of a very exotic ‘Two and a half men’ (who, and this is about a TV? why? where does this fit in the story you’re telling? Who’s narrating the story? I don’t have a sense of any of this, even after re-reading)
          If I jump in there I ask her Will I get the truth (who is ‘i” and who is her? and what truth?)
          I’m sorry sir she says I did’t get that…what? Now do you see? (again, I don’t understand)

          …..so, a lot of this may just be me; I don’t understand a lot of factors- is your narrator a person, a piece of furniture, nor why they’re so concerned with truth, and who they’re asking for the truth from, and so on…. so hard for me to offer truly helpful advice without me understanding.

          But, taking a stab at where i think it could go… I’m making the narrator the French bed….

          With its 19th -century Welsh dresser and French bed, there’s no doubt that Button cottage is the home of an antiques lover. That’s what she says.

          As if it’s Truth.

          This is not the truth. The truth is that I’m the antique and she’s the lover, and that this is a shop, a dimension of people struggling with their needs. I am okay, I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m admired. I’m loved. I’m a part of something greater, but many think I’m just old and single, and that any could lie with me. I’m darling, that is what they think, but that’s the lie with me.

          (With that, I’ve established that the narrator in this piece is a piece of antique furniture. It’s still frenetically paced, it’s surreal, but it has some logical flow I can latch my brain to inside of it. I don’t know what you were intending, which is okay in some pieces as long as there’s allegory, metaphor, something, but since you asked what I’d see/do, I’d like to understand where your piece came from and went, and what puzzle I had to solve to understand…. I hope that helps some?)

          1. Hiba Gardezi

            Yes, Lionetravail. That actually does give me an idea of what you mean. I understand that this was pretty messed up. What I meant was that he( The narrator) is in a furniture or architecture stall or shop and ‘she’ is the salesgirl telling him about a specific housethe managers of this company have planned out. Then his mind starts wandering and he looks at a TV either inside or out the window… I don’t know and he is not mentally fit, sees the world differently, so although he must’ve seen a TV at some point berfore he just assumes it is a portal. He wants the truth, he sees things that others don’t, there is chaos, he wanrts a single understandable truth. He can’t find it any where so he wonders if he can find it in the TV. So he asks the salesgirl and she naturally, confused calls the man at the reception they both then call someone from rehab.

            But really, thank you. It means a lot that you take the time to read and then find the mistakes and tell me how to better my writing 🙂

          2. lionetravail

            Glad to make time for someone with both talent and drive, Hiba. I think you’ve got tons of potential, and if my advice is helpful, then I’m happy to share it.

            If you don’t mind another suggestion, I would encourage you to explore different writing styles, different genres of fiction, and different messages to give to your reader– all as a conscious effort to try something different.

            My own story at the bottom of the page was an experiment even for me- the article I took the first and last sentences from were in the present tense, so it forced me to write my whole story in present tense. I chose to do it in the form of an interview, first person account, in present tense: in all I’ve written, I don’t think I’ve done that combo before. In addition, I wanted to explore a very personal story, have a backstory for the character which made sense for the decisions which shaped his life, and add in enough visual/setting information to create a sharp picture of where the interview took place… and all in < 600 words. That writing exercise is amazingly useful to challenge myself with, and you may find that trying a sci fi story one week, horror the next, a children's story the next, and choosing what you want to tell will help you expand your already formidable writing skills even further.

          3. Hiba Gardezi

            Thank you, that made me smile 😀
            How could I ever mind a suggestion? I get what you mean. I will take this advice, writing different genres each week. You’re right, I normally do just stick to what I’m comfortable. I guess it’s time to step outside my comfort zone 😀

    4. Observer Tim

      This reads to me like an experimental poem. I love the impressions and the imagery, and it is the perfect length. I doubt I’ll ever be a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, but this is very good.

      I find myself wondering about the perspective character. For some reason the image of an antique clock gets stuck in my head. Don’t ask why.

        1. Observer Tim

          Thanks, Hiba; I’m dealing with some health problems that may leave me with only my right (damaged) foot to stand on, so I haven’t been able to comment as much recently. As you can see, that’s in the process of being remedied.

          I know the story is about a person (presumably with mental health issues), but the perspective and some of the observations they make give me a sense of someone searching for order (truth/understanding) in the world and wondering why it isn’t there. That sentiment was embodied for me in an old tabletop clock that my parents had when I was growing up; I could stare at the thing for hours just watching the parts move, each according to its own rules and function. That’s what made me think of the clock, I think.

          1. Hiba Gardezi

            By saying that I have missed you I didn’t mean that ‘Hey Observer Tim! You ain’t been commentin’ much! Why?’ You have been commenting as much as you should. In fact the last time I posted, you commented. You don’t have to comment either but you do, so thank you 🙂 What I meant by saying that was that I haven’t been active for so long so I missed you in that time 🙂

            I feel horrible after reading that Observer Tim. May your right leg be healed and the same for the left.I mish you great health and lots of luck and success. I’ll keep you in my prayers

            And the clock, I was joking; you didn’t have to tell me if you really didn’t want to. I see. Memories, even ones so blunt that didn’t seem meaningful can pop up any time and fill us with such nostalgia.

          2. Observer Tim

            Hi Hiba;

            No harm, no foul. I’ve been away a lot recently too, which is why I thought it was my absence.

            Thanks for the good wishes and the prayers.

            As for the clock, having my mind drawn back was like finding a surprising treasure in a lost jewel box of memory. Thanks for prodding me to look, even if only in jest.

    5. Reaper

      See, for me I found a perspective. I agree that this is very much like experimental poetry but the television imagery that runs through the middle along with an unattainable quest for truth, the inability of the narrator to focus on one subject for very long, the authoritarian statements peppered throughout. It all reads as a disconnected person searching for answers in a place that only pretends to give them. The me and the she read as two parts of the same person, the one seeking truth and the one happy to blithely continue on the accepted course. Then you have the shattering moment when she breaks out of the television to seek a different truth and the ending makes it seem like she understands starting the journey is the only important part. Your questions of why incline me to believe that may not have been your intention, if this is stream of consciousness it could easily be that you don’t know what it means either, that you’re seeking something with it, but that is what I found down this rabbit hole you led me through.

      1. Hiba Gardezi

        Wow, I can see you certainly look deep when reading astory! You’re actually right, Reaper. When I write, I don’t think. I just feel and let those feelings make their way onto paper or word document. Most times , I don’t understand what I mean and just post it for others to try to understand. Later on, I read it. Sometimes I understand, other times, I don’t. But thank you for reading and giving your thoughts 😀

    6. Dennis

      I’m with Reaper in that it is full of meaning, even with many points not clearly defined. It is more like poetry or free form prose, and so gets right to the heart of things without a lot of description. Well done.

  29. Hiba Gardezi

    Truth.

    This is not the truth. The truth is that this is I. And this is her. That this is a shop, a dimension of people struggling with their minds. I am okay, that is why they think I am not. They are not okay, that is why they think they are.

    I demand the truth. I speak the tongue of the truthful.I can prove it. Ask anyone. I promise, I am not lying! Ask anyone. But then… they will tell you what they know and what they know is not enough… and then you won’t believe me. Please don’t ask them.

    Why won’t she tell me the truth?

    She stands next to a rectangular portal. A portal to another world… a world of a very exotic ‘Two and a half men’

    If I jump in there I ask her Will I get the truth

    I’m sorry sir she says I did’t get that…what?

    I said If I jump in here I jump and kick my feet in the air so that her fragile mind may understand Will I get the truth?

    Umm… Fred! She calls to trhe receptionist who comes running overr
    She whispers something to him.

    They don’t know. I know. They don’t see. I see. Seeing is powerful. Seeing is dangerous. Seeing is what I am living on. Now do you see?

    Someone invisible, some huge man nabgs his club into the right side of my head and now he is pushing… Pushing…Pushi– ‘We’re just about to call some nice people so they can talk to you’ the one called Fred says

    Now I

  30. cosi van tutte

    Okay. This might be cheating. I didn’t have any reading material on hand. So, I “borrowed” the first and last line from a verse from a certain famous song from a musical. 🙂

    And yay! It’s under 500 words! 😀

    Burnt out ends of smoky days. The stale, cold smell of morning…

    “Too many cold, stinky mornings.” The Cat opened her eyes and surveyed the city below. It was silent, smog gray, but it was her city and she loved it. The hum of its grungy traffic. The blare of its street lights. Even the litter, which rolled amuck on the sidewalks and stuck to the sewer grates.

    Yet, there was no place in this city that she could truly call home. No one place, no one person that she could say was her own. She lived in spots and dots. Every night, somewhere new. It was an adventure.

    And she wished that it would end. She wished for a place that she could cling to and say, “I’m home. This is my home.”

    She dreamed of it every other night. A home. A family. A love. A joy. Some place steady. Some place real. Then, day would come and burn those dreams away.

    “If I could settle for domestication, I would stop being The Cat. I would be Renee. Or Marissa. Or maybe even Clare. I did have a name once. I could have it again. If I wanted it. If I surrendered to it.”

    She looked up at the sky. Dawn’s early light washed her city in warm orange coral. She smiled sadly. “Another night is over. Another day is dawning.”

    1. regisundertow

      Reading this with a once-stray cat at my feet 🙂
      There are several lines in the story I loved, especially “She lived in spots and dots.” What a beautiful image. The dilemma between domestication and being out there is not exclusive to cats. I’m sure most of us have gone through it at some point, some of us probably still do. If that was the intention, bravo.

      1. cosi van tutte

        Hi, regis!

        I wrote this story with the thought that the MC could be a cat or a person. I left it open so it could be interpreted either way.

      2. Geezer Muse

        I loved this in so many ways, the song’s memories of ‘memories.’ The theme you wrote and especially importmant for me, my Miss Kitty, a calico, feral cat mix who walked up to our patio door two years ago and wanted inside. My wife opened the door, Miss Kitty explored every nook and cranny and settled right in. She is so affectionate, I believe an angel pointed the way for her. Kerry

        1. cosi van tutte

          Thanks, Kerry (Geezer)!

          Miss Kitty sounds like a wonderful cat. 😀 I’m glad that she found you and your wife.

          I have a cat too. His name is Lucky, because he is a lucky cat. My sister found him on my birthday. Someone had dropped him and his world of possessions off at the barn where my sister boarded her horse. When my sister came to the barn, she saw this little buff and cream tabby running in the arena with the horses. The lady who owned the barn didn’t think he had enough sense to keep from being trampled by the horses. So, she told my sister that she could take him home if my sister wanted him. My sister looked at his gold-green eyes and fell in love with him. So, she brought him home. Best birthday present, ever. 😀

    2. Reaper

      This hit me just right. I’m going to give you one of the best compliments that I can, and one that I try to use sparingly. This was Kafkaesque. I read two different stories her, a person between jobs, or a woman between relationships. In either case you have this defining thing that will give the MC a name, and not having one makes that person something else completely, something outside of the city and watching, not accepted into it even though they are an important part of it. I read all of that but it wasn’t there, you wrote about a cat and the rest was metaphor to be interpreted by your reader. Excellently done.

  31. turtles88

    “My how you’ve grown,” said my Auntie Sue.

    Auntie Sue was visiting for the weekend. Though she brought enough luggage to make you think otherwise.

    Dad and Ian dragged her leopard print luggage upstairs, thump by bump by thump each step. Dad said the rest of us should stay and warmly welcome Auntie Sue and make her feel at home.

    Kevin, the runt of the family allowed Auntie Sue to fawn over him and smother him with kisses, leaving red lipstick on his cheeks and forehead.

    Talk about disgusting! Does this kid have no pride?!

    Auntie Sue then said to my sister, “My how you’ve grown too. Just look at you! I remembered you when you were this big.” She engulfed Daniela in the most uncomfortable hug of all hugs, trapping my dear sister in her endless folds of fat.

    I stared from afar, watching this monstrosity go on right before my oh so young and innocent eyes.

    When Auntie Sue smiled at me next, my blood ran cold. The fat dangling from her cheeks moved rhythmically side to side like playground swings as she waddle around the kitchen island, arms spread out wide. She said to me….

    “My how you’ve grown.”

    I looked at her waist and said, “So have you.”

    ———————–
    ATTENTION! This was written by my brother. He insisted that he had a better idea for this prompt than me soooo here’s his piece. The first and last sentence is from a children’s poetry book.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hey, turtles!

      This was a very entertaining story. I especially liked these two lines -> “…trapping my dear sister in her endless folds of fat.” and “The fat dangling from her cheeks moved rhythmically side to side like playground swings as she waddle around the kitchen island, arms spread out wide.”

      😀

    2. Nicki EagerReader

      Well done, turtle’s brother! This is a wonderful episode from the list of “10 most traumatizing childhood experiences”. I loved the description, the attention to detail (“The fat dangling from her cheeks moved rhythmically side to side like playground swings”- awesome!) and above all that it was short, poignant, and witty.

      Can’t even find anything to nag. Time to get an account of your own? 🙂

    3. turtles88

      You guys are making his day over here, thank you! He says he might join and will just use my account (he’s lazy like that) so I’ll let you know if it’s me or not . One of the reasons is because he doesn’t type very good English nor have good English in general (I did the typing and editing for this) and he wants to keep it like that. He also says it was fun and he MIGHT do it again in the future but and I quote, “Writing is a way to express your feelings and emotions, the good and the bad through setting, plot, and character, or rhythm for those poets. I already have that through painting.” He thanks you all for the comments and wishes you all good health.

    4. Observer Tim

      A lovely story, turtles88’s brother. It brings back memories of a much simpler time in my life. I encourage you to keep writing and keep creating. And to be thankful for turtles88, who is providing you the great and necessary service of being your editor. 🙂

    5. Reaper

      Your brother is good. I will not join the mob saying he should create a login, but only because I hate to be outdone by someone who’s artistic calling is in another medium. To have a painter who could sell more books than you is a tear jerker. 🙂 I really liked the brotherly love I saw in points of this, though that may have just been him buttering you up, or you editing it in, but I doubt it.

  32. Pete

    “…these internet intellectuals and hucksters of the purportedly utopian digital future who are decapitating our culture, trading in the ideas of some 3,000 years of civilization for…BuzzFeed.”

    I almost turned on my heel and headed the other way. But the heavy doors announced my entrance to the auditorium like two rail cars coupling. A few heads turned back, and I took a seat somewhere a few rows down.

    He continues on, lamenting the youth, blaming today’s society and facebook and smart phones for the world’s problems. Most of the nodding heads are in various stages of male pattern baldness.

    My father, for all of his brilliance, is so far stuck in academia to see the way. He pushes for legislation to ban smart phones for children under eighteen, to raise the voting age to 30. He blames tablets and social media for our youth’s inability to read.

    As he plunges through his latest findings, I stare off into blackness. As the only son of the great Dr. Binghamton I’ve never felt comfortable in a classroom. I had nothing to discuss with classmates. While most kids spent their evenings watching sitcoms I was reading Lord Byron or Karl Marx.

    I graduated at sixteen. Master’s degree at twenty. Then I stopped. I was done. I realized that his lessons never ended. His acceptance was always just out of my reach.

    A backpack and a thumb. I left New York and the civilized world. I bounced along in the back of a truck, down two track roads with migrant workers. I camped with a pack of meth heads. I was robbed, beaten and left for dead. I felt the crunch of dirt between my teeth, the taste of sweat on my upper lip. I bled I burned, I cried and I ached. I studied the soul.

    For years we didn’t speak. His goal is a noble one, to reestablish the intellectual. But my goal is worthy as well. In a way we’re on the same wavelength. I’ve travelled the world without so much as a phone or a watch. Only I wear cutoff shorts and he wears a bow-tie.

    One’s not better than the other. We all learn differently. But his war on technology still baffles me. Even Divinci wrote about the telescope. Where he preaches abolishing, I urge moderation.

    I watch him now. The great orator. A single light shines down, catching the silvery wisps of his shaking head. He’s all vigor and passion. He rails about all the knowledge, buried under an avalanche of stupidity. The dumbing down of the world. I chuckle, because the old man wouldn’t give up. And dammit all, I love that about him. And that’s why I came back. He looks out towards us, holding up my book with one hand and finding me with the other. I feel a swell of childhood obedience. The balding heads turn as he introduces me.

    “It was like I found a philosopher wandering in the academy.”

    1. Observer Tim

      This is very well done, Pete. It’s interesting to see a tale of two people approaching similar conclusions from opposite directions. I think your third-last paragraph sums it up, “We all learn differently.”

      My red pencil says Da Vinci.

  33. jhowe

    ARCHITECTURAL PRECAST CONCRETE (It was the nearest book)

    In order for the reader to derive maximum benefit from this manual, the concepts that guided its preparation are briefly outlined in this section.

    The story of my life; reading technical jargon and making decisions to determine how to add pizazz without sacrificing structural integrity. Wow, three zees in one word, pizazz, I should have been a goddamn writer.

    The monolithic columns reduce the number of components to be erected and the subsequent connections.

    I hate the word erect; it sounds so, so forward. A common phrase in my business, steel erection, I avoid it whenever I can but it pops up so often.

    The diagonal striated pattern of the panels in Fig. 3.5.44 were designed for maximum color and texture.

    Too bad I can’t insert the figure here. Where’s Observer Tim when you need him.

    Because this finish is labor intensive, it is expensive, but may be justified if the panels will be viewed up close on ground level walls or interior walls.

    In other words, if you can’t see it, use the cheap shit.

    The design team should provide complete, clear and concise drawings and specifications.

    I knew what the hell it meant after ‘complete’ you idiots.

    As used in this section, concrete aggregates are designed as lightweight, sand-lightweight, carbonite or siliceous.

    When it doubt, go with the lightweight. This concept works in almost all life experiences.

    Specifiers should consider permitting variations in production methods, structural designs, materials, connection and erection techniques to accommodate varying plant practices.

    This is how you blame someone else if the damn thing falls down. Oh, and did you notice that ‘erection’ term again?

    The inherent alkalinity of concrete results in a system of reinforcing steel that does not corrode in most environments.

    I have nothing for this one. Sorry.

    The architect, with or without prior experience with precast concrete, will benefit from a detailed study of the entire manual to obtain an understanding of interrelated design considerations.

    1. jhowe

      Ok, I admit it, I got lazy on this one. I pasted a few lines in from a book, added some quips and Italics and here it is. I’ll try to do a better one later.

        1. Witt.Stanton

          I thought it was really funny! That’s basically what goes through my head as I read something that is rather boring but necessary. Sarcasm is my defense to boredom. It’s actually my defense to a lot of things…

    2. regisundertow

      This is so true, it’s not even funny. Actually, I take that back, this story is hilarious and I found myself nodding, thinking “didn’t I read a manual like this about a week ago?” No wonder we all write, we’d go mad otherwise.

    3. Observer Tim

      Thank you, jhowe; this still has me chuckling. You’ve written the Mystery Science 3000 version of a user manual. I couldn’t come up with much when I picked up Bayer Contour Next Blood Glucose Monitoring System User Guide so I put it down and took the next nearest (a linguistics textbook). You, on the other hand created a masterpiece.

      I’m just glad you didn’t mention too much about steel erections; that would have really changed the tone. 🙂

  34. Reaper

    Part 12, this one was difficult.

    In the Beginning – Strange Bedfellows

    Everybody’s anatomical unconscious is doing more or less the same thing, unless they are deficient or mutated.

    Father O’Reilly recoiled in horror from the words on the screen. This was how the preacher defended hate mongering and engineering the end of the world? This was how the old viper responded to an archbishop questioning his doomsday prophecy? Everybody is doing it and we’re all jerks so why not ride the wave? It sickened the young priest enough to make him question every man of faith, back to the one he served.

    That doubt did not keep him from hesitating. The delay was short however. Dialing the number made him almost as nervous as teaching preschool did these days. When Jack answered on the fourth ring his speech was slurred and mushy, but who would expect any less.

    “Jack, I am sorry for your loss.”

    He listened and offered a heavy sigh before responding.

    “I understand why you would say that. I have no love for your lifestyle but I still hate to see someone in pain.”

    The alcohol on the detective’s breath was so strong the father could smell it through the phone. O’Reilly had a flash of that day in the confessional that started it all, at least for him. His doubt in the machine was not a test of faith so he silently prayed that a repeat performance not come to pass.

    “You have me all wrong. I know you need your time to grieve.”

    O’Reilly pulled the phone from his ear to avoid irreparable damage to the drum. When the slurring returned to a normal volume he pulled the handset back to his head.

    “I’m not asking you to do anything. We both know who killed your… lover though. You’ve got a pretty personal stake in this game now.”

    The sobs on the other end of the phone made the response almost indecipherable. Thankfully a priest gets used to hearing whispers through a grate that warps words and meanings.

    “I’m not trying to get you back on the case. I’m calling to tell you that when you do get back to it I’m here to help you now. Just let me know what I can do.”

    The shock and sudden sobering brought a smile to the young priest’s lips. It was nice to surprise people in a good way. His nod went unseen as he thought carefully about his response. Why was he getting involved? Why risk his standing in the community and his place in the church? These were what O’Reilly thought of as German questions and he would not repeat the church’s mistakes from back then.

    “It’s simple, when you get a mentally unstable preacher yapping menopausally at some poor hamstrung old archbishop, while we dismantle our environment, our world and our faith due to the materialistic, pessimistic principles that the atheistic tyranny of the day is strictly sponsoring,.. it is time to look for a new story.”

    1. jhowe

      By reading the first and last line, one has to wonder, ‘What in the hell does this Reaper guy read?’ This technique of using the phone conversation to tell the story was pretty cool. You have some pretty clever characters going here. Since I’ve been following the story I had no problem interpreting who was speaking but my one criticism is that a newcomer may have a little trouble with this. Very enjoyable read.

      1. Reaper

        Well, the last line is slightly modified to fit the story. The actual line is When you get Richard Dawkins yapping menopausally at some poor hamstrung old archbishop, while we dismantle our environment due to the materialistic, pessimistic principles that the atheistic ryranny of the day is tacitly sponsoring, it is time to look for a new story. Oddly enough, right now I am reading the Count of Monte Cristo but the nearest book to hand, because it sits near the computer, was Revolution by Russell Brand, so that’s where the lines come from. Good point on that criticism too, I was wondering if that would be the case.

      1. Geezer Muse

        I think you have crafted this is a marvelous way. Since I’ve also been following eachn week, everything was clear. What on earth book did you pick up.? Mine was simply called ‘The Life.’ For I am insanely simple in my reasoning about life except when I lose it and them I warp into a comllicated mess of nuts and bolts. I would call this the best of the twelve. Kerry

        1. Reaper

          Thanks Kerry, I was worried about this one until I wrote it and then I ended up really liking it. Because of my upbringing the Catholic church can take a beating in my writing, part of why I avoid including it most of the time, so it was nice to be able to put a priest into what I felt was an empathetic role. I mentioned it in my response to jhowe but those lines come from Revolution by Russell Brand.

    2. regisundertow

      I think this is one of the better pieces in your storyline, Reaper. Not sure why, but it stands out to me. The dialogue is spot-on and very naturalistic, I could see the conversation playing in my head. I can almost hear the unease in the two characters as they interact with each other, neither of them really wanting to be in that position, but recognizing its necessity for what’s to come. Obviously, knowing the story so far, adds even more value.

    3. lionetravail

      My attendance on the site has been limited by real life, so I’m not fully up on all the continuation, however it’s rife with the usual excellence of your stories, Reaper. But this:

      “The sobs on the other end of the phone made the response almost indecipherable. Thankfully a priest gets used to hearing whispers through a grate that warps words and meanings.”

      …is just brilliant writing 🙂

      1. Reaper

        I need one of those! Thank you for all of that, and I was especially fond of that line. I am glad you pointed it out. You seem to have a way of honing in on the ones that bring a lot of pride. I have also seen you pick out brilliant lines in other stories so seeing those words honors me.

    4. Observer Tim

      This is very nice, Reaper. I’m especially fond of the technique of providing one side of the phone conversation and implying the other; you did that wonderfully here. It is also nice to see a priest portrayed as neither (a) evil or (b) inconsequential. I’m liking where this is going.

      My red pencil says “germane” – curse you autocorrect!

      1. Reaper

        Thank you Tim. I am not opposed to evil priests but we already have an evil preacher so some religious folks have to take the other side. 🙂 I hadn’t thought of how inconsequential they can be portrayed and am happy to break another stereotype. I find myself liking it more and more as it goes on.

        Funny thing on that. I didn’t even think of germane, or that it could be read that way. I intended German questions to portray a thought pattern. Why get involved, why risk it? When you know something bad is happening around you but it is not affecting you. It was meant to display the active decision to not be a “Good German” by the priest in question, to not repeat the church’s mistakes of silently accepting. I think I need to work on making that clearer.

    5. Dennis

      Nice addition to this epic story, especially in using those two lines. The feel of these get more eerie, I think because of the cult like nature (which freak me out more than most horror stories). My mind was flipping through some of the previous parts and thought it would make a great trailer if this was made into a movie.

      1. Reaper

        Dennis, thank you. Cults are pretty scary at the end of the day. I think that’s why they get used so much in smaller horror productions. I’m glad I can inspire emotions, and thank you for those wonderful words.

  35. Ananfal

    Firsr and last line taken from the book Archeron, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Page 339.

    ———————

    Though he was covered in blood, there was no sign of the wound that had killed him.

    It was strange, the experience of dying and then coming back. It certainly wasn’t a road trip, nor was it a torturous journey. It simply… Was.

    He was dead. And then he was not. The adjustment took some time getting used to, for all that he had been alive a few minutes ago.

    Slowly rising to his feet, he ignored the gasps coming from the people surrounding him. He stretched his hands out, slowly, then his arms. Everything seemed to be reattached properly. Wonderful.

    Finally he raised his eyes to gaze at the people around him. His family. His murderers.

    A smile lifted the corners of his lips. It didn’t reach his eyes.

    “Hello again, father, mother. Sister, brother. Aunt, uncle. Cousins. It seems as though your assassination and subsequent dismembering of me didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately, I fear you won’t be getting a second chance.”

    He lifted a hand and everyone flinched. It made him chuckle. “What were you expecting? Bright flashing lights?”

    No one noticed the stone steadily creeping up their legs, until it was too late.

    However, his vengeance was still not complete. He summoned a demon, and the creature cowered before him at the sight of his expression.

    His wrath would not be satisfied with just the deaths of his family. No, he needed the one who had told them what to do. Told them what he was, and what he was going to do.

    “Take me to the oracle.”

    1. jhowe

      Very nice job of showing and not telling. This was chilling and well written. I strangely found myself smiling a few times as I read, a very nice touch.

      1. Ananfal

        Thank you! The book is one of my favorites (probably why it was the closest at hand) and the fact that the actual story differs wildly from this, is a bit amusing to me.

    2. lionetravail

      Nicely done here. This ratcheted up quickly and well; if I have any suggestions, it’s that the mythology you’re building here seems mysterious and interesting and new- I’d recommend not using tried and true myth figures like ‘summon a demon’, but go with something brand new out of your own head to give your fantasy build that fresh pop you’ve otherwise got going here.

      1. Ananfal

        Thank you very much! I suppose the only reason I used ‘demon’ in particular was because of the original book, but looking at it from an outside perspective, I see now what you mean about the ‘new’ mythology and how ‘demon’ doesn’t exactly fit.

    3. Observer Tim

      Well done story, Ananfal. Having never read Acheron, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it (your response to jhowe cleared that up). It’s always fascinating to see where one author can go when given the same words as another.

      My problem with “summoned” is that the term tends to imply a ritual is being used; maybe “called up” or “conjured” might be better: something to indicate how little effort it really required.

      1. Ananfal

        Well, I thought that ‘summoned’ would have implied something along the lines of summoning a servant, but I can see where you’re coming from. ‘Called up’ would probably have been a better choice of words.

        Thank you for your feedback!

  36. Trevor

    Word Count: 484

    Nightmares

    Kris blinked several times and pushed herself up in bed with both hands. The nightmare was getting worse. It was always the same thing, but every night it became more disturbing and frightening. “Why is my mind doing this to me?” Kris wondered as she wiped the hot sweat off her forehead. “I barely even saw the accident.”

    The accident was still fresh in Kris’s mind like a wound that would never heal. It was a warm Wednesday afternoon and Kris was getting a ride home from her sister, Tessa. The girls spent most of the ride chattering on about school and the upcoming spring concert that Kris was performing in.

    Then, in one instance, everything changed. Tessa had just pulled into the intersection when there was a sudden jolt. The car was sent spinning into oncoming traffic, and everything after that passed in a blur of shattering glass and screeching tires. By the time it was all over, the car was in the ditch on its’ side. Kris looked over at her sister-and screamed when she saw her sister’s mangled face. Bits of glass stuck out of her flesh, sending crimson streaks down her face. A large gash in her forehead was fresh and pouring blood. But the worst part of the scene was Tessa’s right ear; it had been completely torn off. When the paramedics finally rescued Kris from the wreckage, she’d spent two hours in the car with her sister’s mangled corpse.

    The nightmares started out with Kris simply reliving the terror of the crash and seeing her sister’s dead body. But soon, Kris’s mind was conjuring up more elaborate, grotesque scenes, like being surrounded by mutilated bodies or drowning in a pool of blood. Kris tried to ignore them, but it was like they were engraved in her eyelids, seeing them every time she closed her eyes.

    Knowing that sleep would not come that night, Kris turned on her bedside light and prepared for another restless night. But as she stared up at the dark ceiling, she thought she heard someone moan lightly. “Sid?” Kris called into the dark, thinking that her dog had snuck upstairs. When she didn’t hear a barking reply, Kris laid back down, ready to dismiss the sound to be the house settling.

    Then, there was another moan. This time, it was louder and sounded like it was coming from under the bed. Timidly, Kris climbed out from under the sheets and bent down to search the floor under the bed. In her short 15 years of life, Kris never screamed as loud as she did in that moment.

    Hidden underneath her bed was Tessa. She looked the same as she did on the day she died, from the glass in her face to the cut on her forehead. But instead of a blank look of death, there was a look of fury in her eyes.

    1. jhowe

      Very chilling, bone chilling in fact. Nice job of creating this dark prose. The only thing I noticed was that the last line had fury in Tessa’s eyes but there didn’t seem to be a reason for that other than being mad the accident happened. But then again, Kris could be feeling guilty and is imagining the fury. Very cool.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Kris is slowly losing her mind from the horror and grief. Bone chilling isn’t good enough to describe this. It is a haunting. , hammering at my senses. Kerry

    2. lionetravail

      Nicely done here. You do have a few word repetition issues (accident, accident, then face, face) but overall this is fairly disturbing, ramps up intensely and quickly, and is nicely concise– it makes it dense and rich, like dark chocolate. Love to see your evolution here, Trevor 🙂

  37. Witt.Stanton

    As I passed I looked into the piercing blue eyes of the guard and he eyed me shrewdly.

    I smoothed down my slicked-back hair and adjusted my coat.

    “Stop your fidgeting.” Sam muttered out of the corner of his mouth, pushing me along. As we rounded the bend we came into full view of the formidable Worthington castle.

    I felt him laugh, a deep rumbling sound, and he slapped his hand on my shoulder. “Ready for your first serious job, Jamie? Nervous?”

    “Don’t call me that. It’s irritating.”

    Sam turned to look at me. “What? Jamie? I though you liked it.” I shoved my hands into my large coat pockets, embarrassed.

    “I”m to old for that stupid nickname.” That brought a smile to Sam’s face. We neared the tall iron gates that lead into the castle.

    “You’re never to old for anything. Old Master Edric taught us that, if nothing else.”

    Sam nodded to the guards, who stepped to the side and allowed us in. The main road wound around ornate lawn scenery, eventually ending at a pair stairs leading up to two large wooden doors. My mouth suddenly felt dry.

    “You’re rather pale. Hey,” Sam nudged me with his shoulder, attempting to grin, “Everything’s going to be fine. It’s just like old times.” I glanced up at him, nerves threatening to take over. He stood a half foot taller than me, a gap that I desperately wanted to fill. I tried to focus on him, but my hands were shaking. They never shook. Never.

    Sam continued talking as we walked. “With me so graciously helping of my own very free will, it’s an easy job, in and out in less than an hour. And I’m doing all the talking, so you just worry about your job. Nothing else.” He smiled, for real this time, “You’re the best your employer could ever hope to find. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”

    “But-”

    “Not even yourself.” The truth of the statement hit me hard. I swallowed, and, straightening my shoulders, I removed my hands from my pockets. I was better than the others I competed with, and my employer knew that. That’s why he sent me with Sam, the only one who had been better than me while we were learning under Master Eldric. Sam was the best. I was second, and proud of it. No one could beat Sam.

    Worthington may be the residing Lord of the city, but Thief Masters rule the city. As employees to the two most powerful Masters, Sam and I should easily be able to do this job. After all, we were the best.

    Standing at the bottom steps, we stared up at the solemn, grey castle walls.

    “This won’t be too bad. We’re simply stealing the Crown, nothing major.”

    “You do realize it’s still on Worthington’s head, don’t you?.” Sam eyed me jokingly and laughed quietly, “I have heard from very reliable sources that he sleeps with it on.”

    “Very reliable, wait…It was you? You were watching him sleep?”

    “Ah, well, you see, that’s completely beside the point. It was a- why am I even explaining myself to you?” Sam rolled his eyes, making me laugh along with him.

    “Well, if the likes of you managed to break into Worthington’s castle, this assignment will be the easiest yet. You’re right. We have nothing to worry about.”

    “Come on, James. That is quite high posturing for someone like you.” Sam grinned wickedly, starting up the stairs.

    “Hey!” I started up the stairs after him. “Sure you want to start that debate again? I thought I won it last time…”

    “No, you did not. Most certainly not.” Sam grumbled. “Anyways, don’t you have something to do? We can not wait around all day.”

    “We always have something to do…” I grumbled back.

    “That’s the good thing about our job; we never become bored.”

    1. Hiba Gardezi

      Very interesting. “Worthington may be the residing lord of the city, but thief masters rule the city” It makes me curious about their society and the land they live in or the status they have for doing such a thing.

    2. Reaper

      This is very interesting and makes me interested in knowing more. The line Hiba mentioned seemed strange with the double mention of the city and the rest of the paragraph seemed a little repetitive with information we already have. Other than that I saw no narrative hiccups and even that could be voice and not something in need of fixing.

    3. Observer Tim

      This seems to be an interesting fantasy/alternate reality you’ve created around the prompt. The dialogue flowed smoothly and did a good job moving the tale forward. Very nice.

      My red pencil noticed a couple of spots where “to” should have been “too”.

  38. E.T. Nell

    “You have witnessed an amazing victory this day,” he said to me, though it didn’t feel like much of a victory. The blood pooled around my feet, and I imagined I could feel the last beats of my victim’s heart pulse through those crimson waves, crashing against me. My master watched me with a look I did not recognize. It wasn’t pride, it wasn’t accusation. It was almost searching, as if he could sense my doubt and was somehow willing me to display even a hint of it on my face, revealing the betrayal of my heart and mind.

    But he had taught me well, my master, and my face was as cold and expressionless as the granite of the temple walls in which we stood. I would betray nothing to him, not now, not ever. Not even when, years later, he spat out his last breaths as the poison burnt a raging course through his wretched body, would I reveal to him anything other than the stony expression I wore that day in the temple of Death. I hated him as only a man who has known true suffering can hate, but I loved him all the same, as a child loves: innocent, devout, and desperately. And when he spit his last, poisoned breath in my face, and his spirit fled to the waiting arms of our God, I would administer the rites of his final passage, and bury him myself.

    That day, however, was a long way away. At this moment, thoughts of murdering the man who had been my father in deed if not in blood or name were buried so deep within my near-shattered psyche that I did not even know they existed. All I felt then was guilt. I imagined that the woman whose body lay before me was so much more than merely a tool of my initiation into the Priesthood; a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter. Somewhere, perhaps, there was a child playing, oblivious of the fact that he would never again see his mother alive. Her husband could not yet know that he would never feel the warmth of this woman’s skin against his back, her lips on his brow or her hands on his body.

    I had been the agent of their everlasting despair, and I didn’t even know her name.

    I suddenly regretted a great many things in my life. I could trace so many forks backward in time; points in my history when I chose one road instead of another, and how all those decisions led me to this point, here, now.

    They teach us a great many things, but how to forgive ourselves is not one of them.

    “Grab the body,” my master said to me. “And bury it with the others.” He gave me one last searching look before descending the steps to the temple’s main floor, where the crowd parted quickly to let him through.

    1. lionetravail

      Well told story, it made me want to read more. The only inconsistency which jarred was the “bury the body” (which was obviously source material) when you hint in the story that the mc would burn his master’s body when that worhty’s time came. Nicely done.

      1. E.T. Nell

        Hey Lione! Thanks for the feedback. The mc wasn’t burning his master’s body, he had poisoned him. The burning was the poison in his veins. But I am very glad that you enjoyed it!

        1. lionetravail

          Ah, i saw the ‘bury him myself’ and read it ‘burn him myself’… My apologies for impugning your consistency 🙂 I blame phone readers. And I’m sticking with that!

      1. E.T. Nell

        Thank you! Very happy you enjoyed it. It’s one of the better prompt pieces I’ve wrote, though it’s also the first in probably over a year.

      1. E.T. Nell

        Ah! Duly noted, thank you. I think of that whole piece, that one sentence I would change around a bit, though I would leave the general idea.

  39. SheepCarrot

    “Conrad and Tiffany Johnston, a couple accused in their son’s death, have now been formally charged with endangering the welfare of their disabled daughter.”

    The throng of reporters all erupted into questions as soon as the Police Chief finished his statement, thrusting their microphones forward or holding their pens at the ready over a blank notebook page. The chief held his hands up, and the media quieted in anticipation. “No further comment,” he stated, before turning and striding back into the police station.

    I silenced the TV with the flick of a button, bringing an end to all the questions that the reporters continued to yell to the chief as he closed the brief press conference. I turned back to my desk, back to the Johnston case paperwork. Crime scene photos of the boy cluttered my desk, turning my stomach at the neglect and abuse he had suffered.

    I flipped through statements made by neighbors, searching for the next step that I could use to nail this rotten couple with their son’s death. The anonymous tips had been slow. They ranged from the ridiculous to conspiratorial, with one individual claiming they had proof that there was a connection between the Johnstons and the local Children and Youth Services center.

    “Sloan! This just came for you.”

    I looked up and took the padded envelope the desk sergeant held out to me. “Who’s it from?” I flipped it over, looking for a return address but found none, just my name printed on an address label and stuck to the middle.

    “No idea. The postman said it was in the mailbox about a block from here. When he saw it said Detective, he brought it here.”

    My pocketknife opened it easily. Enclosed was a DVD in a thin jewel case with a sticky note attached to it. My heart began to race as the words sank in, and with trembling hands I placed the disk in my computer. Windows Media Player opened automatically and began to play the DVD, and what I saw left me both sick and on an adrenaline high. “We’ve got them,” I whispered. “We’ve got the proof we need.”

    “What is it?” the desk sergeant asked me. “What did the note say?”

    I looked down at the note that came with the DVD and wondered if ever a sentence had been more true. “It says…’Somebody needs to be watching this.'”

    1. E.T. Nell

      The only critique I would offer is maybe replacing Windows Media Player with some generic description or something. I can’t really quantify it, but it just read funny to me.

      Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this entry. I’m quite desperate to know what was on that DVD.

    2. lionetravail

      Nicely written, and a nice way to leave it:. it’s all to easy to imagine what’s on the disc, and avoiding the descriptions of it while focusing on how awful it is by the detective’s reaction is well done.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a well-done piece of police fiction; I had to check whether you’d lifted the lines from a newspaper. Very nice, SheepCarrot. 🙂

      I have to agree withE.T. Nell about the Windows-specific program name (actually if you just use Media Player that would be okay), but I’m curious why he didn’t scan it for viruses. Presumably it’s on a standalone computer.

      1. SheepCarrot

        I got it from a page in the newspaper that one of my coworkers left behind, though to be honest I couldn’t tell you what day, page, etc it was from, just that it was from Harrisburg’s local paper. Thanks for the compliments and the advice (truth be told, I didn’t even think to have him scan for viruses!). I’ll try to remember these points in the future. 🙂

    1. dburn13579

      bowenk, your story is FAR less than 500 words. My first suggestion would be to really expound on your premise. Your main character is also lacking.

      1. JRSimmang

        Don’t be hasty there, DBurn! This is a brilliant extirpation of American consumerism and how wer are all shackled by the repetitive nature of it!

        Look here: the lowercase ‘i’ exemplifies the manner in which consumerism strips out the importance of identity, where we are no more described than by the food we eat. We spend our lives bidding on the next importance, the spoils going to the privileged, the businessmen and women, the corporate-industrial complex!

        This – THIS – is the next “Animal Farm,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Hunger Games!”

        -he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

        1. Reaper

          JRSimmang, you are thoroughly wrong! This is not any of those. It is the next Fight Club, can’t you see the subtle exploration of you are not your beautiful couch, and the things you own end up owning you? I mean the rest of your interpretation is spot on, but the comparisons are a bit off.

          1. JRSimmang

            Reap, once again your wisdom and insight bite to the crux! I meant only that this piece of wonderment and amazement is the next quintessential dystopian tale.

  40. dburn13579

    (My apologies–resubmitted with proper formatting)
    “Obtaining sufficient clean water for one’s family is a regular chore in some countries.”

    Being reminded of such facts was depressing. In fact, I really didn’t know or imagine how depressing it would be to want to help. I knew it would be ‘roughing it’—heading to northwest Africa to assist with the after effects of the Ebola Outbreak. I knew there would be lots of ‘scenes’ of mourning families and distraught individuals. I quickly learned, however, that there was a monumental difference between reading facts on the pages of a newspaper and seeing them first hand.

    The ship started its final preparation to dock in northern Sierra Leone. Our group leader, Francois, was giving us a talk that was half pep and half instruction.

    “Basic sanitation is still being achieved in some communities, so for those of you who will be helping on the ‘front lines’, so to speak, this will be priority number one.”

    My attention drifted in and out. Most of the things being said were reminders—we were fully prepared through a three-month course on how to deal with the various situations we might encounter. My mind was fully focused on what I could see approaching on the coastal horizon. It appeared to be something out of a post-apocalypse movie. Though we were still far enough that it was impossible to see facial expressions, the full demeanor of the local area inhabitants gave the impression of complete removal of hope.

    “…quarantine regulations can be found. Please go over them again before beginning your assignments. You may find that…”

    The coastline grew as our ship righted itself to meet the dock in a parallel direction. The port town was far from aboriginal, but it was impossible to not notice that we were no longer in a first-world country, including one suffering the terrible after-effects of a tragedy. Even the dock workers, who were absorbed in their job, had no burning fire within their eyes. Conversations were lackluster in modulation.

    “…stock up on water. Food stuffs can be obtained from a depot location one-quarter mile within the town. Finally…”

    I sighed. I wanted desperately to help others. My life had very little meaning back home. I was tired of being the 9-to-5 drone who did nothing that benefited mankind. However now seeing the wound of the human soul that can be brought by an epidemic made my heart sink. My knees shook, not from fear of contamination, but from the very essence of knowing that even if I did everything physically that I could to help, it would take a long time to bring the people of this country back to proper spirits. I passed by our group leader, preparing myself emotionally for the month expedition ahead, soaking in the last piece of advice.

    “Handle water containers with clean hands, and do not dip your hands or fingers into water used for drinking.”

  41. dburn13579

    “Obtaining sufficient clean water for one’s family is a regular chore in some countries.”
    Being reminded of such facts was depressing. In fact, I really didn’t know or imagine how depressing it would be to want to help. I knew it would be ‘roughing it’—heading to northwest Africa to assist with the after effects of the Ebola Outbreak. I knew there would be lots of ‘scenes’ of mourning families and distraught individuals. I quickly learned, however, that there was a monumental difference between reading facts on the pages of a newspaper and seeing them first hand.
    The ship started its final preparation to dock in northern Sierra Leone. Our group leader, Francois, was giving us a talk that was half pep and half instruction.
    “Basic sanitation is still being achieved in some communities, so for those of you who will be helping on the ‘front lines’, so to speak, this will be priority number one.”
    My attention drifted in and out. Most of the things being said were reminders—we were fully prepared through a three-month course on how to deal with the various situations we might encounter. My mind was fully focused on what I could see approaching on the coastal horizon. It appeared to be something out of a post-apocalypse movie. Though we were still far enough that it was impossible to see facial expressions, the full demeanor of the local area inhabitants gave the impression of complete removal of hope.
    “…quarantine regulations can be found. Please go over them again before beginning your assignments. You may find that…”
    The coastline grew as our ship righted itself to meet the dock in a parallel direction. The port town was far from aboriginal, but it was impossible to not notice that we were no longer in a first-world country, including one suffering the terrible after-effects of a tragedy. Even the dock workers, who were absorbed in their job, had no burning fire within their eyes. Conversations were lackluster in modulation.
    “…stock up on water. Food stuffs can be obtained from a depot location one-quarter mile within the town. Finally…”
    I sighed. I wanted desperately to help others. My life had very little meaning back home. I was tired of being the 9-to-5 drone who did nothing that benefited mankind. However now seeing the wound of the human soul that can be brought by an epidemic made my heart sink. My knees shook, not from fear of contamination, but from the very essence of knowing that even if I did everything physically that I could to help, it would take a long time to bring the people of this country back to proper spirits. I passed by our group leader, preparing myself emotionally for the month expedition ahead, soaking in the last piece of advice.
    “Handle water containers with clean hands, and do not dip your hands or fingers into water used for drinking.”

    1. Reaper

      This is at the same time bleak and very hopeful. It has a nice way of speaking to the need for human connection and how most of us eventually realize what we are doing means when confronted with doing something important.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a powerful tale of the sort of impressions a westerner would get from seeing a land in need of such aid. You did a fantastic job capturing the sense of hopelessness.

      My red pencil caught a few mis-targeted words (e.g. “aligned” vs. “righted”), and my style advisor wonders how you can catch the “full demeanor” of people from offshore. But these technical glitches do not detract from the impact of the narrative.

      Great job!

  42. lionetravail

    Page 8 of The Jewish Week, June 12, 2015

    “As a hidden child,” he says, “I didn’t know who or what I was.”

    I nod as we walk along on the moist sand, waves lapping almost to our feet. The setting sun is to our left, and we’re almost the only people still on ‘Mezzizim’, one of the most northern beaches of Tel Aviv. It’s less enticing to folk than most of the others around: the water and beach are muddy because of the Yarkon River which empties into the sea nearby, the view of the city’s Rieding power plant is a stark urban reminder, and many conversations are drowned out by the constant air traffic into Dov Airport.

    On the plus side, the beach has a comfortable cafe which makes great Turkish coffee, and I expect I’ll get another one before Daniel Ha’Ze’ev and I leave tonight when the interview is done.

    “Tell me about what you remember?” I ask the seventy five year old man walking easily beside me.

    He pauses before speaking, as is his habit. “I remember when this man and woman came to my house and told me that the woman I thought was my mother was actually my nanny, and that they were my birth parents. I couldn’t believe my ears because I didn’t remember them at all.”

    “When was this?”

    “1947. I thought I was a good Catholic boy until I saw the truth in the eyes of the woman who had raised me as her own during the war. She couldn’t believe that my parents had actually survived the concentration camps. The legal battle took until winter of 1949.”

    The sun casts a pretty red over the waves as it sinks to touch the horizon. “What happened then?” I ask.

    “Once the Polish court had ruled in my parent’s favor, they brought me here to Israel early in 1950. The War for Independence had already been fought, and while there was a recognition of danger, the country was galvanized by a sense of excitement. It was a good time and place for a ten year old boy to learn what it meant to be Jewish.”

    “What stays with you from that time?”

    “The first Rabbi I studied with spent time talking about the mission of the first Jewish spies mentioned in the Torah–it’s a fascinating episode in the development of the nation. They were great men sent by Moses to check out the Land of Israel before entry. What they saw has been discussed endlessly by scholars and is equally interesting: where they succeeded, and where they failed.” He stops walking and turns to look at the ocean, his gaze distant.

    “Why that particular episode?”

    “Because I learned with him for the first three years after my parents brought me to Jerusalem, and then I didn’t see him again until 1957.”

    I’m not sure which of the many questions which pop into my head to explore, so I pick the one that feels most right. “What happened when you saw him then?”

    “He recruited me into the Mossad.”

    “You were, what, seventeen?”

    “Not quite–later that year.”

    “How did you begin what was to be your lifelong career in Israeli Intelligence?”

    He turns south and starts walking back towards the cafe, and I fall in beside him. The sun is more than halfway set when he answers,and I sense it is the end of our interview. “He told me to think of him as Moses, and asked if I was interested in serving my people as our forefathers had in the desert. I told him ‘yes’, and he said: ‘Call me’.”

    1. dburn13579

      It took a minute to get used to the first-person present tense narrative, but I like the relationship you paint between the two individuals and the flow of the narrator’s thoughts.

      1. Geezer Muse

        Fantastic response, David. You have become a master writer and you put your soul in every ory I read now. Launching really wasn’t hard was it?

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      This is such a wonderful story. I really like the characters, the back story, and locale. My son was in Tel Aviv last June and said I’d love it.

    3. lionetravail

      Thank you so much, everyone. Glad to find time this week to read and be read- this one gave me a chance to explore and try something new. I’m ecstatic that you all felt it worked pretty well 🙂

      And Kerry, launching a career in writing is hard. I’m impressed anew with everyone who achieves publication, not to mention those who strive for it to master this craft. I’ve been fortunate to have a solid grounding in language and a love of poetry, a lifelong insatiable appetite for reading, and friends who’ve helped critique and refine my skills. So thank you for thinking of me as good enough to make it simple, but no way… I am lucky in the extreme to have achieved some successes, but I have far to go to be the best that I can.

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