Speechless

On the wall next to your desk you have the picture of someone you greatly admire. It’s been there for a few years, but today you notice something different about the eyes—they are looking in a different direction. You rub your eyes, as if they are deceiving you, but when you look again you now notice the person’s mouth is open, as if he or she is trying to speak to you. Write this scene and (what happens next).

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328 thoughts on “Speechless

  1. NedStarksGhost

    To call it an office would be an insult to offices around the world, but for the purpose of taxes, paperwork and the rare visit from a client this was all that was necesary. The office was situated on the dead side of what would generously be described as a shopping center, with it’s only entrance facing the fence that separated the parking lot from the frontage road that ran along the interstate. The exit emptied into a narrow corridor that ran between sides of the shopping center and was usually blocked by some trash cans.

    A safety hazard? Absolutely, but the rent was a bargain.

    The floor was littered with books and tomes that Jacob didn’t have shelves for, and every argument for the purchase of those shelves would be defeated with a cursory glance at the business bank account. The walls were slightly more organized, but were basically a cork board for maps, pictures and any print material that once held some small meaning to Jacob in the pursuit of the unknown.

    Jacob was a pack rat with a very small hole in the wall.

    The one thing that added even a micron of ambiance to the closet of an office was a portrait of Alestier Crowley. Jacob once accepted it for payment by an elderly woman who made the dubious claim that it once belonged to the man himself. He knew that wasn’t true but he had a weak spot for women that reminded him of his mother.

    That kind of generosity had brought him to this point. Sloshing through the rain and forcing his way into the office with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and a stack of bills in the other. He knew rock bottom and this was only one step above. He had no work in weeks, his regular clients were either dead or in hiding and any day now there’d be a lock on the door. Tonight, he would drink. Drink and put his feet on the desk and let the alcohol tell him things would work out, even if his sober mind knew better.

    Then he noticed it. Crowley’s portrait was different. He took another swig of whiskey. He closed his eyes and looked again. The eyes now looked toward the door. He took another swig and put his feet on the floor. Now Crowley pointed toward the door. His pulse raced. His breathing sped up. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead.

    “Crowley you old bastard. Last time you talked to me I wound up hog-tied in the basement of a butcher’s shop. Either say something or let this be the whiskey doing the talkin.”

    He took a long hard wig of cheap whiskey and put eyes on the small, ornate portrait again and the medium’s mouth was open in look of fear. Just then the wind howled outside and the door to the office opened slowly and the rain began to pour inside.

    Jacob laughed.

    “Maybe that lock might’ve helped tonight.”
    *****************************************************************************************************************************

    Jacob glanced back at the wall and Crowley was again in his original pose. A hand resting on his chin, eyes forward and mouth closed. The door was still open and the wind slowed down to a whine from a howl but the rain continued to pour down on the world outside and pool just inside the doorway.

    There was no time to try to do much to protect himself from his invisible intruder so Jacob decided to take the direct approach.

    “Okay pal. I’ve had a long week and we both know the game here so speak up or shut my door and leave me the hell alone.”

    Silence.

    Jacob took an angry sip of the cheap swill.

    “I know this game too asshole. Okay, I’ll play along. Here’s a pen and a paper. Use your shitty invisible fingers and write your message out.”

    He slammed the pen down so hard the cap went flying. The paper rested on the desk, untouched for moments.

    Jacob finished the whiskey in a huge gulp that made him burp, much to his chagrin.

    “You here me! I know you’re there! I know you’re there! Say something to me!”

    Jacob jumped to his feet and staggered slightly, catching himself against the wall behind him. He shook his head to regain his thoughts and glanced up at Crowley again to make sure nothing changed, it didn’t. Breathing heavily now he eyed the room and saw nothing.

    “Who are you?! Speak now dammit. By the earth and wind and water, demon I command you to speak!”

    Jacob beat his chest like a madman. Tears fell from his eyes and spittle formed in the corners of his mouth. He stifled another burp and cursed himself for the drink he had succumbed to tonight of all nights. His thoughts raced and his mind was almost in panic. Once before this happened and it didn’t end well for him. He thought he was protected against the demons since then and now he had to come face to face with the fact that his laziness would be his undoing tonight.

    Just then he saw movement from outside. He stumbled his way around the desk and slipped into the puddle or rain water at the door. Painfully now down on one knee he saw someone running toward the fence that ran along the frontage road. A kid. Maybe old enough to drive. Climbing over the fence dropping a pair of bolt cutters as he made the leap over the barbed wire. For just a second the intruder looked back at Jacob and his face was a mask of fear. The two locked eyes and that moment of clarity made Jacob stand down.

    “These bastards,” he whispered. “You won’t make me crazy!”

    He screamed out to the demons that weren’t there. That weren’t ever there. They heard him though, they all did. And Jacob didn’t know it yet but there were coming, and they didn’t know it yet, but he would be ready when they got there.

    (Thank you for reading, I welcome any and all feedback.)

  2. deutschgal

    Tonight I was working late hours and was to close up the office when I was done with work. Something strange happened. I looked at the photo of Sandra and her eyes… I’m sure that they were looking straight at me before, but now they aren’t. Her head is looking down. I rub my eyes. What’s wrong with me? Did I just become delusional from working too many hours? I look at Sandra again and she is looking back at me, but her mouth is open.

    The photo of Sandra is the most important thing by my desk. I mean, normally, for me business is business so why overdecorate, but with Sandra it’s different. I just feel like the whole office should see her and she gives me strength during the day. She’s not even my girlfriend or anything, but I just admire her. She is so nice to everyone and even though she is socially awkward, well then so am I.

    Her photo is talking and at first it is in such a silent whisper that I can’t hear the words at all, but then it gets louder and louder. Two words. “Help me.” I pull out my phone quickly. What could be wrong. We normally don’t even hang out because it’s so busy with work. Why would she even talk to me. I don’t think she even likes me, but I like her. I look at my phone. A text message saying, “Help me.” I have no idea what to do, but I go outside. I guess that isn’t what I was supposed to do because right then a loud thud noise of something landing on the pavement occurs and I realize that Sandra just jumped off my building.

    I call the ambulance, tears streaming down my face. People were crowding around her corpse, trying to see what just happened. I just sat there staring at Sandra’s face, hoping that her face would reveal the answers to my questions. I mean, she looked happy enough to me and why would she do this at my office and how did the photo talk to me?

    She was in a coma for days. The doctors didn’t think that she would even survive, but she came through, but had been paralyzed from the waist down. I was ecstatic, but still had questions so I whispered, “Why, Sandra?” When she didn’t answer, I added, “So many people love and care about you Sandra. Why would you want to do something that would make you miss all that?” Sandra grinned, “I was depressed.”

    I didn’t know what that fully meant. Like sure, you feel sad, everyone does, but why quit life altogether. I came to learn as Sandra grew stronger that she had severe depression causing her to view herself negatively and desiring her death, but I promised that she would get through it. “We can handle it together. I will… help you.”

  3. Critique

    Noting the lateness of the hour Susan leaned back in her chair, pressed fingers into her tired eyes and pondered the wisdom of pursuing a law career. For the past two months she’d been working for two prosecuting attorneys on a sensational case involving a drug lord. Grinding out sixty plus hour weeks for two solid years doing research in criminal law was taking its toll. The singular bright spot in her tiny cubicle tucked away in the bowels of the vast building was the framed photo on her desk of her beloved grandfather. Lieutenant-Colonel John Olaf Bjornson.

    Grandma Bjornson died before Susan was born and when she was ten her parents perished in a hot air balloon crash. Grandpa John had raised her. In her third year of university he’d passed away suddenly in his sleep.

    Dear Gramps. The photo brought her inexplicable comfort – as if his strength and caring spirit emanated from the frame enveloping her. Looking into his kind intelligent face, so proud in the WWII uniform boasting rows of medals was enough to stiffen her resolve to make the Bjornson name proud. Something didn’t seem right though and she reached for the photo. Suddenly she jumped to her feet knocking her chair over with a loud crash. Gramps eyes were focused up and off to the right – not straight ahead. Eian and Todd, two junior lawyers on the far side of the room stood up and looked over in alarm. Susan waved to let them know she was okay and they sat back down.

    Taking a deep breath Susan carefully set the picture down and squeezed her eyes shut. She was surviving on less than four hours of sleep at night and when had she last eaten a meal that didn’t come in a fast food bag?

    Susan righted her chair and sat down on legs that had gone rubbery. Unable to resist the pull of the photo she leaned in and clapped a hand to her mouth to hold back a scream. His lips were moving and his eyes were wide with terror. He was trying to tell her something.

    “Gramps. What are you trying to say?” she murmured scrutinizing the movement of his lips.

    His eyes looked up off to the right and she followed his gaze. It led to the stairwell leading up to the elevators.

    She slowly mouthed back the word she thought he was saying. Bomb. Her heart jackhammered in her chest.

    “Gramps, a bomb?” She whispered.

    “A man. Bomb in briefcase. Run.” he mouthed.

    “Are you sure?” Whacko behaviour would kill any hope of getting a partnership with the firm.

    “Get out. Now.” his eyes implored her. “Go.”

    Certain she was losing her mind but knowing Gramps would never deceive her, she yanked her purse out of the side drawer and stood up just as a slim well dressed man rounded the corner of the stairwell. In his left hand was a briefcase.

    Transfixed Susan watched as the man glanced around and catching her eye he veered behind a wall of books. Seconds later he emerged empty handed and without a backward glance walked briskly towards the stairs.

    Galvanized into action, Susan yelled. “Hey!”

    The man broke into a run.

    “That man. There’s a bomb!” Susan shouted.

    Eian and Todd looked up stunned then grasping the reality of the situation, scrambled away from their table, papers and books flying in every direction, and raced with Susan for the stairs.

    Susan swung her shoulder bag in passing at the fire alarm at the bottom of the stairs and nothing happened.

    “Keep going.” Todd shouted and smashed his fist into the glass insert. The glass shattered and an ear splitting alarm filled the air.

    In the news later that week Susan Bjornson was praised for her vigilance and hailed as the heroine that saved the lives of ten lawyers, five cleaning staff and two security guards before the bomb detonated and the building burned and partially collapsed.

    Susan’s anguished heart knew who the real hero was and she couldn’t tell anyone. Who would believe her bizarre tale? If only she had saved Gramps photo.

    ********************************

    The jury is still out on who planted the bomb but there is strong suspicion the drug cartel working for the incarcerated lord was involved. They are under investigation.

    Noting the lateness of the hour Susan leaned back in her chair, pressed fingers into her tired eyes and pondered the wisdom of pursuing a law career. For the past two months she’d been working for two prosecuting attorneys on a sensational case involving a drug lord. Grinding out sixty plus hour weeks for two solid years doing research in criminal law was taking its toll. The singular bright spot in her tiny cubicle tucked away in the bowels of the vast building was the framed photo on her desk of her beloved grandfather. Lieutenant-Colonel John Olaf Bjornson.

    Grandma Bjornson died before Susan was born and when she was ten her parents perished in a hot air balloon crash. Grandpa John had raised her. In her third year of university he’d passed away suddenly in his sleep.

    Dear Gramps. The photo brought her inexplicable comfort – as if his strength and caring spirit emanated from the frame enveloping her. Looking into his kind intelligent face, so proud in the WWII uniform boasting rows of medals was enough to stiffen her resolve to make the Bjornson name proud. Something didn’t seem right though and she reached for the photo. Suddenly she jumped to her feet knocking her chair over with a loud crash. Gramps eyes were focused up and off to the right – not straight ahead. Eian and Todd, two junior lawyers on the far side of the room stood up and looked over in alarm. Susan waved to let them know she was okay and they sat back down.

    Taking a deep breath Susan carefully set the picture down and squeezed her eyes shut. She was surviving on less than four hours of sleep at night and when had she last eaten a meal that didn’t come in a fast food bag?

    Susan righted her chair and sat down on legs that had gone rubbery. Unable to resist the pull of the photo she leaned in and clapped a hand to her mouth to hold back a scream. His lips were moving and his eyes were wide with terror. He was trying to tell her something.

    “Gramps. What are you trying to say?” she murmured scrutinizing the movement of his lips.

    His eyes looked up off to the right and she followed his gaze. It led to the stairwell leading up to the elevators.

    She slowly mouthed back the word she thought he was saying. Bomb. Her heart jackhammered in her chest.

    “Gramps, a bomb?” She whispered.

    “A man. Bomb in briefcase. Run.” he mouthed.

    “Are you sure?” Whacko behaviour would kill any hope of getting a partnership with the firm.

    “Get out. Now.” his eyes implored her. “Go.”

    Certain she was losing her mind but knowing Gramps would never deceive her, she yanked her purse out of the side drawer and stood up just as a slim well dressed man rounded the corner of the stairwell. In his left hand was a briefcase.

    Transfixed Susan watched as the man glanced around and catching her eye he veered behind a wall of books. Seconds later he emerged empty handed and without a backward glance walked briskly towards the stairs.

    Galvanized into action, Susan yelled. “Hey!”

    The man broke into a run.

    “That man. There’s a bomb!” Susan shouted.

    Eian and Todd looked up stunned then grasping the reality of the situation, scrambled away from their table, papers and books flying in every direction, and raced with Susan for the stairs.

    Susan swung her shoulder bag in passing at the fire alarm at the bottom of the stairs and nothing happened.

    “Keep going.” Todd shouted and smashed his fist into the glass insert. The glass shattered and an ear splitting alarm filled the air.

    In the news later that week Susan Bjornson was praised for her vigilance and hailed as the heroine that saved the lives of ten lawyers, five cleaning staff and two security guards before the bomb detonated and the building burned and partially collapsed.

    Susan’s anguished heart knew who the real hero was and she couldn’t tell anyone. Who would believe her bizarre tale? If only she had saved Gramps photo.

    ********************************

    The jury is still out on who planted the bomb but there is strong suspicion the drug cartel working for the incarcerated lord was involved. They are under investigation.

  4. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    I just wanted to send out a solid shout out to all of you for doing a great job on the stories this week! Normally I try to comment on all the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed, but I’ve been so busy these last two weeks with the business that I’m just being a bum and only reading them. I’ll try to get back to thoughtful comments by next week, I swear! Again, excellent job, guys and gals and anyone in between lol. 😀

  5. Herald Harbinger

    Eyes

    Working late one night last week, I sat back in my chair and rubbed my eyes after what felt like hours of unblinking torment staring at spreadsheets. I glanced over at a photograph of a man sitting at his desk, leaning back in his chair, staring at hundreds pictures stapled, taped, and tacked to the wall. It was a picture of Adolphus Winslow.

    I’m not married to any particular author when it comes to the books I read; however, Adolphus Winslow is one of my favorites. I admire him not only for his writing, but also for his creativity. He is a legend in literature and in business circles. Many leadership books in my office library reference his techniques or are singularly dedicated to his genius.

    I had the opportunity to meet Adolphus at a book signing last year. As a businessman and an aspiring author, I wracked my brain to find the one question I might be able to ask him over the few seconds he scribbled his name in my book. After two hours waiting in line, I settled on, “Do you have any favorite creativity techniques that you’ve never shared with your fans?”

    With a whimsical smirk he said, “I can’t reveal all my tricks.”

    “Sure,” I said. “Never hurts to ask.”

    “Just kidding,” he laughed. “I love to share. One technique I’ve never shared is my picture wall.”

    “Picture wall?”

    “I’ve never written about it because it’s a little unusual and difficult to explain…almost mystical. I have a wall in my office covered with pictures of people in a variety of locations and participating in different activities. The more unusual the better. Friends, family, and fans send a regular supply of new pictures to keep my collection current.”

    “So what do you do with ‘em?”

    “I sit and stare at them. I think how they might interact with each other. How each, or a collection of them, might approach a situation or solve a problem. I try to image the back stories…the good and evil in their lives. Then sometimes ideas just pop in my head.”

    “That’s fantastic!” I said. “I think I might try it.”

    “Here…take this,” he said. “It’s the first for your collection.” He handed me a copy of the picture at which I was now looking. “You know what’s scary?” he asked.

    “What?”

    “I swear they intact…move when I’m not looking.”

    “Creepy,” I said as I shook his hand and left the store with my new book. I suppose every genius has his issues.

    Since then I’ve kept this picture at my desk for inspiration. I later sent Adolphus a picture as part of a thank you note. It was a picture of me pouring over my computer at work. I imagined him placing the photo next to a picture of Eskimos inside an igloo. Maybe he’ll write best seller titled ‘Frozen by Analytics’, I thought.

    After a second attempt to clear the blur from my eyes, it looked like the image of Adolphus was now facing me with a look of curiosity. Whoa…I guess that’s a sign that I’ve been here too long, I told myself.

    I reached for my coffee, took a sip, and looked back. Now the image of Adolphus was standing, leaning in with a horrified look on his face. I heard my door creak open, but I thought it was just the pressure of the furnace turning on. My curiosity to investigate the picture was too strong to get the door.

    Instantly, the image flicked to a view of Adolphus apparently screaming and pointing behind me. I felt a gloved hand wrench my chin around to face a masked man. It was the last thing I remember before I passed out from the piercing pain in my chest.

    ***

    Today, my wife came to visit me in the hospital. She had a new book for me. It was Adolphus Winslow’s newest release. It was about the attempted murder of a financial analyst that had recently discovered his boss was laundering drug money through the company.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You drew me in immediately. I like the casual style you write but then the punches come out of the woodwork. This makes a great trip for your reader and the settings are realistic, until the unexpected does happen.Clever story.

  6. thexpressivewriter

    I missed her.

    She was someone that I’d admire for such a large part of my life that sometimes, it still was inconceivable to me that she was already gone. Her humourous wit and kind demeanour had been the main contributor of so much conversations – dry jokes laced with sarcasm and intelligent remarks that led to in-depth discussions being thoughtful provocations.

    A sigh escaped me then, as I reminisced about the old times. Of going to the park together, cooking in the kitchen, trying out new baking recipes…

    My gaze flickered over to the familiar photo, framed with polished oakwood, set on the table.

    Her long brown hair was tied into a French twist lying upon her right shoulder and warm blue eyes gazed out from the frame. Delicate features crinkled happily, a light-hearted air about as a wide smile graced her lips. Attire consisting of a simple vintage dress and classic black-and-white flats, a simple leather watch upon her wrist and dangling earrings, she had been dressed for meeting with an old friend that day.

    We had been planning to go on a road trip, too. Just the two of us. Her work as a well-respected and renowned archaeologist meant that she often had to travel around, not to mention the fact that she studied other languages in her spare time to give herself an edge in her field.

    But it never happened.

    Blinking away my tears rapidly, I swallowed, struggling to control my emotions as I recalled the memories of that day.

    How I missed her..

    ….Was I imagining things?

    I blinked.

    I blinked again.

    It couldn’t be…

    But it was.

    “…Sis?”

    I choked out, struggling with my emotions.

    She smiled and spoke, though no voice came out.

    My tears fell.

    “I love you, too.”

  7. Rise

    Hey, it’s me again. I just want to say some stuff before you read the long scene. First, there may be some grammar problems and I am working on them, and this will take a while because online translators are terrible. Second, I have seen a somewhat evolution from my last text, because it was easier to develop. Third, I want some comments on the action scenes because I’m not sure if they are good. Anyway, thanks for reading!

    ************************************************************************************************************************

    “Sir, your bath is ready.” Said the slave.
    “Great. Tell Anerith to take Jothrum into the dungeon and set him up there.” Kaleint said, drinking from a woman’s nipple. “Say also to not soften the ropes. I want him tight as a woman’s dress, so he can bleed his unfaithfulness.”
    Kaleint watched the slave retiring from his office. Slapped the ass of the woman who was feeding him with the milk of her son. “Leave.” said he. Also gave her five golden coins.

    Being an General of Hoeh wasn’t what he thought. He belonged to the battlefield, but instead was trapped under piles of worthless papers. Wished to either set these things on fire or slash to lint. Complained to his subordinates “They do never stop coming. When I finish one pile, three are stacked up in my desk.”

    The bath was scented with many oils from the “other land, where horses can’t rode to”. The tales called it Kalusth, the name of the first king of the sea, but Kaleint knew that was a lie. Kalusth was the name of the king’s mistress, which meant “unholy swimmer” in the language of old times, who was fed to the demons of sea by the Queen herself. “Be gone, whore. ” Said her, in envy. The tales depicted her as a cold as morning water and full of complains. The envy came from the unavailability of the woman to conceive, whereas Kalusth was healthy as a bull. “Throw me to the sea. But know that I will not die. I shall never die. My flesh will feed the demons of this sea, who will be the food of stronger demons, and my soul shall roam outside of your kingdom with my teeth pointed at you.”

    The slaves helped Kaleint into the tub, one of them suffering mild damage. The tub was hot, hot enough to burn the legs of the slaves, but Kaleint did not mind. He liked the feeling of the boiling skin. He was a Giant, higher than the highest slave, being almost eight feet tall. Muscular as a bull, conquered the title of General after the war of east when took as opponent Ghughk, the finest dragoon and master of the Kiuyh household, somewhere in the Grubfeltlz Plateau, where the green gave the reigning throne to crimson and brown, the murderer of his General. Fierce fight, with the resonant sound of iron strike being played almost endlessly, that took five hours to reach an triumphant ending to Kaleint when he beheaded Ghughk with a single sure stroke. The head bounced and rolled not much far away. Took it as a war trophy. Six slaves washed him in the tub, from head to toe, gently to not wake the fury of the man. Despite his bad-mouthing and manners, he still enjoyed a nice bath.

    Robed his metal garb with hastiness. The deserter had been captured and Kaleint eagerly wanted to meet face to face with him. The nuns dared to say that deserters are men who defy the authority of the kings and are well aware of their oncoming punishment, and are fools for that. It was quite the contrary; for not being shackled by laws and living in the shadows they were free and fearless. Such men are the preference of battlefield monsters, who were enticed into the spell of cruelness. Kaleint would begin slowly, crushing his fingers first to awake the poison of helplessness. Then the left arm would be covered in a very dark purple after breaking in pieces. From the arms would follow to the legs and then to the man’s crotch, cutting his balls and forcing him to eat. Would end it by using a sharp knife, made of Kaleint’s own teeth, to deliver a line of dark crimson upon the neck of Jothrum. The neck would cry and the man would die with his children heaving in the mouth. Of course he couldn’t do half of those things.

    The hall of the castle was adorned with sculptures and paintings, due to the will of the Queen. The sculptures of stone and pottery, white as marble, of different heights, depicted several men important to Hoeh, including the first kings and the dead sons. Kaleint knew that no bastards would enter the throne room. The paintings depicted battlefields where the kingdom has won, but none of them were dedicated to the dead men who fell to the oblivion of the crypts. None of those dead man earned a grave, much less an sepulchre, or even an lily for their acts. The
    victory has been in the name of the King, and no one else than the King would receive the glory. One of the paintings bothered him; the one from the center depicted a man outlined by the sun, holding a person of long black hair whereas other six bodies were on the ground, and their blood stained the royal square. Only knew that it was been painted by the Seer himself, but did not knew who was the man in the paint.

    Kaleint doubted if any of the nobles had formal sword training. “Bastards”, he muttered. Glanced back at his sword, a five foot height piece of iron with an unique lilac-shade that could be seen when the light was shed above it, obtained at the scales of a Haerth, a fish so long that is said to bring the horizon for it’s master. He defeated one after being trapped at the shore of Lokte only to realize he fought with a imature one. “Frustrating”, he said once drunk.

    “No man forgets the joy of wield the iron for the first time” said once. The iron he first wielded as child was of a broken arrow, and used to take the piece to the forest and carve something in the oak. Years later he was given the sword, gave by Sir Yuoth Hutr who was at the time his General. “This is the power you are seeking.” said he. “The power of iron is the strongest in the wild, only rivaled by the dreadful beasts. This is a test I pass onto you, one you can never fail.” The blade was moisten in morning water and was frail as a newborn child.

    “All set, Sir.” Anerith said, with her hands in the water.
    “Great.” Kaleint said, guarding his blade.
    “What will you do with the deserter?”
    “Things you will not be proud of watching.” Kaleint said, with a grim smile. “There is a rising number of people leaving the royal guard and their riches. They are enticed by the shadows and eager to revolt. The sons of Heoh are moving, and we may certainly die if they do.”
    Anerith knew that it was not good news. Heoh was the bastard sibling of Hoeh, far more than his brother could be, who was birthed from a eastern woman. He was suited for the throne but died by the hands of the knivers of the Queen, who would never allow a bastard to rise to her throne. Kaleint entered the spiral stair and went to the dungeon. The stench of wet dust jumped to the man’s nose at every tread, and the torchlights were strong enough to illuminate Anerith’s well defined face. Her blueish hair was well washed and her posture was exemplar, but she was a housewife rather than a soldier. Hid her body under layers of cheap cotton who irritated her nipples. Jothrum bleeded from the ropes like a hanged pig. Anerith did not tried to lay her eyes elsewhere. Kaleint would know if she did. The dungeon was well under the earth, where the sun does not shine.

    “So, how I should start?” Kaleint said to the man. Jothrum did not moved at the slightest, and Kaleint, presumed he was sleeping, punched his stomach. The blow was strong enough to damage the wall behind the man. “Well, ain’t you resilient?”
    Jothrum grasped and spat out blood. “Where am I?” said he, stunned.
    “How silly of me. Welcome to the ends of Hoeh.” Kaleint said. “You have two options: you can tell me all I want, or you can enter the grave.” Jothrum did not answered. “I know you became a son of Heoh. I want to know where they are so I can burn them.”
    “Fuck you.” the man answered. Kaleint punched him again.
    “Well, I guess you don’t want to see the horizon again.”
    “Even if I do tell, I am already damned. You will do all kinds of torture with me and then behead me for treason. That’s what they say in the tents
    and I believe. Many of us died on the hands of this corrupt kingdom. ”
    “You can’t change if you are weak.” Anerith muttered.
    “Very well. Bring me the blade.” Kaleint ordered, loudly. Six slaves brought the sword. “That shit is heavy” Jothrum thought. Kaleint unscathed the blade gracefully, sparks coming from the sword exploded on the air. Jothrum looked behind Kaleint. “You are late.” said he.

    Kaleint was too slow to defend. The slave stroke the neck of the man and punched Anerith. The neck bled as Kaleint fell.
    “You are insane.” Said a woman clothed as slave who cut the ropes. “Letting yourself be captured. Why?”
    “Today we burn the capital.” Jothrum said. “See this? The dragon’s flute can awaken the beast inside the western volcano. I will play the Dark Sonata in the square, and see these corrupt bastards melt in their golden garbs.”

    The crew of seven people went to the outside, updating Jothrum of what had happened in the tent after he left. Stories of people caught in the woods having sex, of drunk escapades to defeats were his favorite. The dungeon and the kingdom would soon become a thing of the past. His family would finally be capable of erecting their house and living a good life. It wasn’t long enough to this dream to become real. They stepped in the halls with disapproving eyes. Jothrum knew that his father deserved much more than the elite, for he has been into the war three times, the last of it he did not come back. Jothrum caught a minor sculpture and threw it away, in anger, and Kaleint grabbed it in the air.

    “Why aren’t you dead?” The woman said.
    “I would not be the General if I could be killed so easily.” Kaleint said. “You have betrayed the capital and assaulted an high-ranking officer. I will show no misery. There’s no mercy in mayhem.”
    “Kill us if you can.” Said them back.

    The first men armed himself with his bow and arrow, but Kaleint was much faster. He slapped the man with force and tore his neck. The man fell already dead, with blood falling from the nose. The sound of one men unscathing his blade warned Kaleint, and their sword scrape each other. They excanged a few blows until Kaleint killed him by slashing his chest in the middle. Kaleint threw the sword, a sign understood by Jothrum as “I don’t need it to kill you.” He and the woman ran with three of them to hold off Kaleint.

    One of them charged towards Kaleint with bravery, but the man suddently appeared before him and buried his head in the marble. Kaleint was hurt by an arrow and evaded a second one, to which the third men punched his face and backed off. Kaleint, then head down, unscathed his knive and threw right at the arrow man’s eye, piercing him. The third men received a punch in the stomach and bled through the mouth. However Kaleint did not stop, and threw him far away where Jothrum was. The woman looked behind and Kaleint was already there, overshadowing her. He took her arm and buried her under the marble. “This is for early.” he said.

    Jothrum tried to play the flute, desperately, but Kaleint broke it easily and held the head of the man high, almost crushing it.
    “Any last questions?”
    “How can you be such a monster?”
    “I train. I overwhelm my opponents with strengh instead of whining.”
    Kaleint crushed the head of Jothrum and his blood stained the stairs. He then looked at the painting of early and realized that it was himself on the painting. Also saw that he was smiling. “Fuck that.” he said, throwing Jothrum to the painting.

    1. Reaper

      Okay, knowing this is going through an online translator negates half of what I would say. As for action scenes. One of them is in imagination so I would change the tense. Instead of having the MC think of what he will do have him remember things he has done in the past, makes it more real. The action is good, but sometimes the sentences are a little longer than I would suggest. I don’t mind them but you seem to be setting a frantic pace so the shorter the better. Break the thoughts up and have a little less bridging and just what happened to help that pace if it is what you are going for. Also, for action your MC seems a bit too much like superman. I get that you were going for him being a powerhouse but you showed that with him not dying from a slit throat. I would like to either see him struggle more with the outnumbering, or have less dialogue and what was there kept very very short to show merciless, focused, bad ass, killer. If he was completely focused on killing I would feel more in tune with that. However that could be from it being a shorter piece. If he was introduced more before hand I might just accept it because he was shown to be the total badass.

      My only piece of advice, other than that, is on cursing. You have a nice fantasy piece going there. Alternate world but still fantasy so I would avoid some words and limit others. Fantasy feels more real, for me, when the curses are more made up, unless it’s gritty, dark, realistic fantasy. What you have here is more high fantasy and while dark is more polish than grit so I would go for more epic or flowery cursing. That’s just me though.

      With that said, interesting and very visual piece. I feel like I was starting to understand both the characters and the world. As always, advice and criticism are just me and my take and I feel obliged to say I really liked where this seemed to be going.

    2. Nicki EagerReader

      As you already mentioned yourself that grammer etc. need working on the only thing in this context that I’d like to point out is that quite often the subject seems to have been lost in translation (“Robed his metal garb with hastiness” is nonsensical; try to insert a subject, e.g. “HE (hastily) robed (himself) in his metal garb”.)

      May I ask in which language the story presents itself to you? What are the words that inspiration whispers into your mind? I’m asking out of pure curiosity. You are on to something intruiging, really, but unfortunately it doesn’t come across in English (yet- that can change 🙂 ).

      And if you should make this into a novel (it has a certain Epic of Gilgamesh-quality and definitely exceeds short story length), may I recommend you spread the background information more evenly? There is lots of story squeezed into this excerpt, which means lots of potential, which is great for a bigger project. So happy NaNoWriMo and keep it up. 🙂

      1. Rise

        Thanks guys for the insight.

        Reaper -> Actually, the “superman” thing was proposital. I wanted to see feedback on the develop of the fight itself. Thanks for the cursing advice.

        Nicki EagerReader -> My thoughts are in English despite talking portuguese. It had became a part of me somewhere in the eight months I started writing. Thanks for the compliments and I will sure look into it.

  8. mrsshori

    I’m not much for portraits on the wall. More often than not, I pass them by without so much as a glance. Goodness knows I have a lot going on in my mind already all the time. Who really needs external stimulation?

    When Annika gifted me with this painting on the first day of my job, I had to smile kindly and pretend I really liked it. Which I did, don’t get me wrong. The only thing is that I did not know what use to put it at. So, it sat on the top shelf of my desk crookedly for a few days, until Vikas commented on it one day. He was just ambling by my office with his eyes glued to his iphone and when I said ‘hi’, he walked in without really looking up. Honestly, my distaste of these cellphone maniacs and their idiotic behaviours seems to be getting more unpalatable by the hour.

    Anyway, Vikas continued his texting for at least half a minute while I waited for him to acknowledge me. He finally did look up, gave a hurried ‘hi’ and then nodded at the painting. “So, what’s Meerabai doing here?” “Oh, Annika gave it to me. I just have to put her up somewhere.” “How about right here?” Vikas said, lifting Meerabai off the shelf and walking across to the beige wall plastered between the auburn wooden panels. “Um, sure”, I replied indifferently. The packaging contained a hook and within a few moments, Meerabai was up on the wall.

    The next day, she scared me a bit to be truthful. I walked into the office at nine o’clock as usual and there she was, all calm and poised, holding her dotara as if to break into a relaxing melody at any time. I was not used to seeing anyone in the office at that time and so it felt weird all morning, but gradually I started getting used to her and even enjoying her company. The card Annika had given to me with Meerabai’s portrait had said, “You’re a believer. So was she. Never let go of the dream that you can indeed live life your own way!”

    Years went by. People joined the company and left. Bosses changed. Co-workers moved up and on. Client databases got updated. Meerabai showed me she was there to stay. Just like I was. Not only was her presence ideologically inspiring, but also physically reassuring now.

    This morning as I strode into my office, thoughts were rushing into my mind. I had worked until late last night editing Jeena Nair’s novel – this time a romantic drama – and I had several ideas for touching it up. As I passed by Meerabai’s portrait to reach my chair, I stopped in my tracks. Slowly, I turned my head around and sure enough, her eyes were wide open instead of being in a semi-tranced state as they always had been! I rubbed my eyes, as if they were deceiving me, but when I looked again, I noticed her lips were now parted too as if she was trying to talk to me.

    I tiptoed to the door and quietly closed it, coming back to Meerabai. I examined the portrait carefully to figure out if someone had tampered with it. After a couple of minutes, noticing no foul play, I went to my desk and put my bag down. My eyes kept darting off in Meerabai’s direction. I was confused, scared and mesmerized to say the least.

    Given my tight deadline for Jeena Nair, I decided to put Meerabai’s matter on hold for the time being. I went back to the manuscript on my desk. As I picked up my red ink pen to continue jotting down my ideas, I froze. Surely, someone had been on this desk since last night. Nelly, the janitor, had already cleaned up my floor when I had left. I had locked the door securely, double-checking like I always do, compelled by my slight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tendencies. And yet, everything on my desk was in the wrong order. It was as if someone had rummaged and then tried to cover up.

    *********
    I think I need another writing prompt right here. Hmmm, I’m really rusty! If someone would like to continue, please feel free. 🙂

    1. Reaper

      I like this as a start to something more. It could go a couple of ways that immediately jump to mind. One being the proof that your MC was right all along and portraits are bad. The other, and one that seems to fit more with the story you are telling is the picture working to remind your MC that she has lost her way and needs to start being a true believer again. This is very interesting.

      1. mrsshori

        Great thanks, Reaper! Here we go then (continued from the previous post):
        _____________________________

        I sat up straight and looked Meerabai right in the eye. Obviously, something was going on. What was it that she had seen or wanted to show me? Was it something about Jeena Nair’s manuscript?

        I quickly turned back to my desk and reached out for the thick mahogany folder. Flipping over to the page that I had left at last night, I noticed something extraordinary. A soft golden glow was emanating from the rows of black words in the middle of the page. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was the same section that I had read and reread several times before retiring for the evening.

        Something in my gut told me to glance back at the portrait. Sure enough, Meerabai’s mouth was now turned into a gentle smile. It was as if she was pleased with herself and more so with me for pleading with her imploration.

        Back in the manuscript, the words read, “There comes a time when we stand still, willing the universe to stop. Each step feels heavy, each breath appears strained. Life as we knew it, seems to have been over. That is precisely the moment when we need to gather up our things and listen to Nina Simone ‘feelin’ good’ about the birds flying high, the sun shining above us and the fish swimming in the water. And that is exactly what Adrianna decided to do.”

        As I read those words again this morning through the golden glow, they suddenly struck me fresh, as if I had never seen them before, as if I had not gone over those sentences at least twenty times yesterday and more in my dreams last night. They now revealed to me their true meaning.

        They reminded me of the reality that ever since mom had passed away, I had been afraid to live my life, afraid to take longer strides, afraid to do anything that did not fall under secure boundaries. While she had always told me that she had seen a radical thinker in me, I had stopped thinking at all after her death. I could not remember the last time I had reflected on my life or contemplated on the roads I was travelling to fulfill my goals. For years now I had not done anything for my own spirit. I was simply trying to live through each day as if it was a burden. And here I was, being reminded of a simple song, to regain the lost meaning of my life.

        Tears were running down my cheeks when I upturned my face yet again to look at Meerabai. Her expression had gone back to the original, semi-tranced state, as if nothing had happened!

  9. Sophia K

    The alarm shocks me awake, with every buzz hitting my spine like an electric current. The day has begun.
    The window displays a dark sky, with a few shadows of clouds looming overhead. The birds are still asleep, the wind lightly brushes the leaves on the trees, and the moon shines over the world.

    Someone forgot to wake up the Earth.

    I manage to pull myself out of my bed, ignoring the cold that seeps from the wooden floors and into feet. I look over my dresser and quickly scan over the multiple picture frames.
    One particular role model of mine’s picture stands apart from the rest today.
    Ernest Hemingway, his eyes have moved from yesterday. I remember they always seem fixated on me when I’m entering through the door a few yards away, but now it seems to be watching the window.
    I can’t help but freeze at this eerie sight. I rub my eyes vigorously, hoping that only my mind was tricking me. I wait a few seconds for the slight blur to dissipate before gazing back to the picture. Ernest Hemingway was still looking out the window, but now his jaw was unhinged and mouth agape.
    A low hum has risen, immediately awaking my senses earlier dulled by slumber.
    I can hear some kind of word through the hum.

    I lift my right hand and wipe the picture’s eyes in hopes that it was just a smudge misconstrued. When I retract my hand his eyes were still looking out the window, but the mouth was in a different position. The hum’s tone has changed; a new word was being expressed.

    This isn’t normal.

    I turn to my cellphone a few inches to the left of the photo and attempt to call someone. I submit my friend’s number into the phone and lift it to my ear. I stare at the ceiling, too frightened to look back at Mr. Hemingway. At the sound of someone’s greeting a shock attacks my ear, forcing me to flinch and drop my phone. The phone turns completely off before it hits the ground. I accidentally turn to the photo, whose eyes have now turned into a different shade of brown and its mouth was in yet another new position. A new hum rose, now louder. The words were incoherent but faster. It was trying to send me a message. I grab the frame with a slight delirious hope for it to speak to me.

    “Ernest, what are you trying to tell me?” I whisper with the frame in my hands.

    His eyes turn to gaze at me while his mouth attempts to express a few words. I try my best to lip-read when another shock hits my heart like a thunderbolt. I collapse on the floor, shaking and twitching in seizure-like movement. My eyes close on their own as my arms jitter about without my consent. Suddenly, Ernest Hemingway’s words scream repeatedly in my head.

    “All things truly wicked start from innocence.”

    1. cosivantutte

      This is a wonderfully creepy story.Your poor MC. She’s probably profoundly confused about why Hemingway would send her a message like that. 😀

      “Someone forgot to wake up the Earth.” Now there’s a opening line that’s begging to be used for a sci-fi story. And if you don’t capitalize Earth, you have a completely different story – fantasy, maybe?

      1. Sophia K

        Thanks for the comment. I think in the story the character dies…I’m not very sure. This is only meant to be a scene anyway. I’ll take your idea to heart because after writing my current book I plan to write a sci-fi fantasy one. I may use this line in it. Thank you so much. 🙂

    2. Reaper

      Definitely creepy. I also loved the line someone forgot to wake up the Earth. And this strikes me as something Hemingway would do, and if you are going for his style the MC definitely has to die. 🙂 The tense shifts in some of the paragraphs were a bit jarring but other than that this is amazingly well done.

      1. Sophia K

        Thank you very much, I was trying to make this story creepy. Because I do want to make the story seem like one of Hemingway’s works in a way, the main character will die if I ever do expand on this story. I looked over the story twice for tense mistakes because I noticed as I was writing that something was off…but I guess I need to improve my focus when revising. Thank again for the compliments, tips, and feedback. 🙂

    3. Nicki EagerReader

      Nice story. Yeah, tense can be a bastard- I recommed putting the piece away until the next morning and then proof-reading it with your mind firmly lodged either in past or present or wherever you want the story to take place. You also might try and leave some cake under all the icing- “shaking and twitching in seizure-like movement”, is, for my taste, overkill; “shaking” and “twitching” already imply some sort of seizure (epilepsy?) and “seizure” is strong enough to stand on its own (but that’s just my opinion!).

      Otherwise you convey the MC’s emotional state very nicely (“I grab the frame with a slight delirious hope for it to speak to me.”) and the chilly atmosphere blows straight out of your words like a gust of late autumn twilight through the MC’s window (what DID E.H. see out there?). So all in all, a decent job!

      P.S.: I’m with cosivantutte on the waking Earth/ earth.

      1. Sophia K

        Thank you for the feedback and I will sleep on future works. The seizure part of my story is actually a reference to Hemingway’s life. He was treated with shock therapy to cure his depression, which wasn’t fully understood at the time. I took this concept and slipped in words like “shocking” or “lightning” to reference how the main character was going through was Hemingway did. Hemingway also killed himself partly because of this ‘therapy’ because he said that it caused him to lose part of his memory. I just wanted to mention that. Because of all this I did lay on the seizure-like moment a little too thick because I felt as though anyone who studied Hemingway would find it interesting. And I myself don’t know what Hemingway was looking at, I guess that’s a mystery for everyone.

    4. madeindetroit

      Excellent story. You provide a lot of interesting lines throughout the story.
      “All things truely wicked start from innocence.” What an attention getting line.
      That would make a great opening line for just about any kind of story direction you want to go.

      Great job!

  10. rle

    Sorry I missed last week. Family vacation at Disney World. Whew!!!

    ——————————————

    My mind should have been on the computer screen in front of me but it wasn’t. In fact, my thoughts that morning were nearer to being on the dark side of the moon than they were to being in my office. Over the past months, this had become common and I knew exactly why. Problem was, I was to afraid to admit it. Long story short, my life had become a shambles.

    I pushed my chair back a bit and tried to focus on the columns of sales figures that gazed back at me. Then, something else caught my eye. It was an old photo I’d had on my desk for years. It was a low quality color print taken forty years earlier. Two figures sat on the rickety front porch steps of a broken down clapboard farm house. A nearly toothless old man with a greasy ball cap looked down smiling at a chubby faced boy eating an ice cream cone. Funny after all those years I still remembered that day; the warm summer sun pelting our faces, the small talk we made, the stickiness
    on my fingers, and the cold taste of the vanilla ice cream. I was six years old.

    I’d spent the biggest part of my childhood and early adult years trying to make my granddad proud. He was the closest thing to a father I had. For all the time I knew him, he’d always blamed himself for my fathers death, always saying he should have done a better job raising his boy so he wouldn’t have fallen in with the wrong crowd and ultimately end up being killed in a shootout with police. I never blamed granddad though. I’m sure he and grandma had raised my father the best way they knew how. Things were different back then. I was always a staunch believer that, often times, things beyond our control carve out the destinies we face.

    I couldn’t help but think how disappointed granddad would have been if he knew where my mind was; where my heart was. In the past year or so I felt I’d become irrelevant in my own life. My son and daughter were both grown and away at school and after they had gone, my wife had immersed herself in her career in an effort to cope with their absence. No one seemed to need me anymore, I was isolated and lonely, like an old stallion put out to pasture. I spent my days at my mundane job and my nights curled up with a microwave dinner and TV Land. That was until I met Maddie.

    Maddie worked in our office two floors down in accounting. I’d seen her around but really hadn’t noticed her until she started frequenting the same sandwich stand I did for lunch. It started out as innocent, idle chit-chat and shop talk at first then gradually we began to spend more and more time together. Soon, it was lunch every day and dinner three or four nights a week. I knew it was wrong, I was married for Christ’s sake, but she was young and attractive and injected me with a youthful vigor I hadn’t really felt in years. I hadn’t yet passed the point of no return with Maddie but had danced dangerously close. It was only a matter of time before we slept together.

    Again I tried to focus on my work but I immediately looked back to the picture. Something had changed. Instead of looking at an ice cream covered six year old, granddads eyes looked straight into mine. I was mesmerized by his watery steel blue pupils that twinkled like distant stars on a moonless night. Then, without warning, his image spoke, “Wherever your life takes you, you make sure you do the right thing youngin’.” Those had been some of the same words he’d spoken on the very day the photo had been taken.

    I rubbed my eyes then peered out across the city skyline. I reached for my phone and dialed my wife’s number. As tears streamed down my cheeks, the taste of cold vanilla ice cream tickled my taste buds. I knew it was going to take some time, but I also knew everything was going to turn out just like it was supposed to.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Your story is so emotional, so beautiful, my eyes are moist as I type this. My grandfather was a Lutheran mininter and took the time out of his busy life to be more of a father to me than my own Dad. I remember as a boy of six, sitting in his study on a cold Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, sitting next to him and listening to Notre Dame play Army. He’d let me use his typewriter by myself. I would run down stairs with tears in my eyes, “Pop Pop, I jammed the keys again.”

      He’s smile, lead my upstairs and fix them. Never a harsh word from him. He lived to be in his late eighties. When he passed, I lived in Dallas. My father chose not to let me know. When I found out a week later, I asked Dad why? “I didn’t want you to spend your money anf fly back to his funeral.”
      I placed the phone on the cradle without a word and didn’t speak to my father for five years.

    2. snuzcook

      Touching story, rle! Well written and engaging. Such a timeless, universal theme illustrated in a way that so clearly illustrated the remorse and then the wisdom of moral compass that points the MC in a constructive, positive direction. Excellent.

    3. Dennis

      This story was really emotional for me, rle. You hit a point that happens a lot with people, but they don’t know how to make their way back, or even want to. Glad the MC took his grandpa’s words to heart and took some action to make a positive change for his life.

  11. lionetravail

    Road To Vegas

    (I’ve been missing Augie and his two stoopids. A lot. So this just came to me today, and is offered in tribute to Augie!)

    “Hey Mo! Where’d you put dat picture of da Godfather?” Tony asks.

    “Over on dat wall over da desk- dat way he can be always hanging around wid us!” Mo says.

    “Oh, sure, he’d likes that.” Tony walks over to the desk and pokes the Godfather’s face several times. “Holy crap! His face is moving Mo!”

    “What? Let me see dat!”

    “What’re you two stupids doing playin’ wid dat iPad I done give you, boddering me at this hour?” the Godfather demands.

    “Hey, look Tony! Da Godfather’s swiping us!” Mo says.

    “Why would he be swipin’ from us, Mo? We’s work fer him!” Tony says.

    “Dat’s skyping you two stupids! Now, why you calling me at tree AM?” the Godfather says angrily, and rubs a hand over his rumpled hair.

    “Well boss, you gave us dis tablet, right?” Mo says.

    On screen, the Godfather nods. “Yeah, so?”

    “Well, me and Tony figured dat you’d’ve gave us two tablets if yous wanted us to call you in da morning, so we had to call you now,” Mo says.

    “WHAT?” the Godfather screams. “Dat’s da stupidest thing…! And hey, why’d you stupids leave two dead guys in da driveway today before you left for Vegas?”

    “Well we ran into dose guys when we was leaving, Godfather,” Tony says. “Dey had dese papers and stuff, and threatened you, so’s we iced dem.”

    “Yeah, we saw dose papers, but dey wasn’t threatenin’ me you stupids! Dey was just Jehova’s Witnesses,” says the Godfather. “So what gives?”

    “Well,” says Mo. “You always told us never leave witnesses alive, Boss!”

    “Yeah!” agrees Tony.

    The Godfather glares from the iPad screen. “Stop pokin’ the iPad you stupids and lets me get some sleep! When yous gets to Vegas, remember, you’re going to meet dat guy at Caesar’s Palace.” The screen goes dark.

    Tony turns to Mo. “Seize who’s palace?”

    1. nvlwriter

      I’ve been missing Augie’s Godfather series myself. You did a good job and with a couple fewer tags I would say it was a great job. You made me laugh…the feel of the series is here and that’s not an easy thing to duplicate. Good job Lion.

  12. snuzcook

    YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW

    It is with a heavy heart… I crumple the paper and let it drop to the floor beside my desk.

    The time has come for me to… Again I crumple the paper. These are not the words I to express what I need to say.

    For a long time now, I… This time I make an X through the words with such pressure that it rips the paper. I lift the page and feel the groove that has been incised in the old oak desk. A pang of guilt pulls my eyes upward to the picture on the wall. The stern eyes, my grandfather’s square jaw, the Gillespie ears. It is the picture of a man of reputation, a man who had succeeded in making his life what he wanted it to be. This was his desk for forty years. This desk had been his pride and joy. Now, on top of everything else, in a moment of self-indulgent pique I have made a permanent scar on its polished surface.

    I position another piece of paper and place the tip of my pen to it, but no words come. I feel uneasy, as if someone else has entered the room unannounced, watching me. A quick glance sweeping over the surrounding bookshelves, the conference table, the file cabinets and the locked door assures me that no one other than myself is in the room.

    I look up again at the imposing portrait above me. I know the picture as well as I know my own face in the mirror. It is a good portrait, capturing all the admirable qualities of the man. There is a way that the artist captured the eyes that gave them a pensive look. I realize that the eyes seem different just now. They seem somehow engaged, as if they are looking directly at me. I rise to get a closer look.

    “Robert.”

    I stumble backward in surprise and I miss the chair, landing solidly on the floor. I hardly notice, for the face in the picture is speaking again.

    “Robert, what are you doing?”

    “I…I fell out of my chair…” I get up and pull the seat back under me.

    “That’s not what I mean. Why in the world are you writing that letter?”

    “I have to. I have to explain.”

    “You don’t have to do it that way. You could take Dr. Slater’s advice.”

    “I won’t be the object of pity. Worse yet, I won’t have people losing their trust in me.”

    “Robert, how do you think people will react to this,” the portrait gestures toward the paper on the desk. “How do you think Claire will react, and the boys?”

    “The boys are old enough to understand. And Claire already…doubts me.”

    “Robert, if you do this, you will be betraying yourself. You will be betraying me. How can you think of betraying me after all I have done for you?”

    “I…I…”

    “Call Dr. Slater, now. Listen to me. You know that I know what is best for you. Call him now.”
    I realize he is right. I open the desk drawer, lift out the loaded pistol and remove Dr. Slater’s business card laying under it. I pick up the phone and dial the number.

    As I wait for the call to be put through, I nod at the picture. He has always been right. That’s why I admire him so much. That is why losing my mind is so painful. I no longer even think of the portrait of Robert Gillespie, respected attorney and municipal judge, as myself. That was one of the first symptoms I had recognized. But maybe, just maybe, the Robert in the portrait still resides in my brain enough to make sure we both get through this.

    1. Nicki EagerReader

      This was a really good story with a twist I didn’t expect- what a great way to handle a delicate subject (I’m guessing some form of dementia?). Your MC’s emotions and actions under the circumstances also rang true.
      Don’t fret about the italics- it was perfectly clear where (in a better world, one free of typos and bugs and glitches in tense) they would have ended 😉 .

    2. Kerry Charlton

      Such a powerful story snuzcook with a brilliant ending. I know this to be true, the mind fights for survival and sometimes, it overcomes demetia. I know this for a fact for I have witnessed. it. The inner action between the MC’s portrait of himself and struggling mind was cleverly written. Have you noticed we’ve been posting at the same time for several weeks now?

    3. Reaper

      Gorgeous snuzcook. The story is intense, well written and very emotional. So much good in this one. For me I will also say we seem to have a mental link this week. I was thinking of how to write a story where the picture was the MC without it being too over the top or just silly and then I read you have already done it. Great work!

  13. Kerry Charlton

    CALENDAR GIRL

    Being an avid vinyl collector for over fifty years, Brian had failed to find the one album he cared the most for. Of all places, it showed up in Half Price’s record bins. A fold out album cover from the sixties titled Calendar Girl by Julie London. He grabbed it with a pounding heart, paid thirty five dollars and ran to a frame shop for a double record glass frame in black.

    Propped on top of his copier in the corner of his office with the vinyl removed, it reigned supreme on Brian’s wall of records, dwarfing The Legend Of Pile by Arthur Lymon, featuring a nude goddess being consumed by fire.

    The cover revealed twelve pinups of Julie, one for each month. March in particular, shimmered as a saliva producing shot of her partically covered in a blue pinwale nightgown. The song she sang for March was titled ‘Melancoly March.’ Brian slipped the record on his turntable and cranked the volume. Memories soared to Julie’s sultry voice.

    ‘What year? Of course, 1966. I was at a record meeting in L.A. Al Bennett, owner of Liberty Records did the introduction………. I was stunned by her beauty and animal magnetism. Words had tunmbled from my lips in a moment of passion,’

    “”You have exquisite beauty, a woman I would die for if you just said you cared.”

    ‘Jack Webb stood by your side, his eye brows arched when you said,

    “You’re so sweet, take me to the dance floor.”‘

    Julie’s voice wrapped Brian’s office in a magic aura as she sang through the lyrics like a velvet glove gripping his soul and leading him closer to the turntable. He felt an awareness of being watched. As his eyes lifted to her album cover, her lips formed a kiss to be blown.

    ‘No,’ he thought, ‘Im imagining this. So many years have passed and now I’m old and Julie’s been gone since two thousand.’

    Uncontrolable tears flowed from the old man as his eyes turned to disbelief when she moved her lips,

    “Brian?”

    “Julie? Are you really here?”

    “Of course, I never forgot that moment.”

    Brian smiled at her tiny image, ” That’s quite a night gown.”

    “Thank you, do you remember our dance?”

    “Every bit. You body moved as if you were on fire.”

    “The way you led me across the dance floor, Brian and what you led me with.”

    “I couldn’t help it, I hope you weren’t offended.”

    “Oh no, I rather enjoyed it.”

    “When I said to you, ‘I would die for you,’ What a fool I made of myself.”

    ” I thought you were extremely sexy, you were young, but Jack was standing next to me, so I was polite and said, ‘Thank you.”

    “I still listen to your music, especially when I’m melancholy.”

    “You’re a love Brian, another time, another place.”

    “Promise you won’t go away.”

    “I won’t as long as you care.”

    “Did you ever wonder Julie……….?”

    “If you have my music, you have me..What’s your favorite song?”

    “Cry Me A River.”

    “Close your eyes and listen my love……………”

    ‘Now you say you love me
    You cry the whole night through
    Well you can cry me a river
    Cry me a river
    I cried a river over you.

    Now you say you’re sorry
    For being so untrue
    Well you can cry me a river
    Cry me a river
    I cried a river over you.

    You drove me, nearly drove
    Out of my head
    While you never shed a tear.

    Remember, remember
    All that you said,
    Told me life was plebian,
    Told me you were through with me.

    And now you say you love me
    Well, just to prove you do,
    Come on and cry me a river
    Cry me a iver,
    I cried a river over you.

    The turtable had stopped along with the song. Somehow the needle had skipped across the record to ‘Cry Me a River’. Brian took one last look at her frozen image. His aged fingers pressed his lips as he blew her a kiss. Her image remained still so he rose from his chair and flipped the light switch. Julie’s album dadid in darkness and Brian started to leave the room.

    He stopped and looked back. April’s image became a soft glow.

    “Good night Brian.”

    “Good night my love, see you tomorrow.

    1. Dennis

      Another great love story Kerry. I have a friend who has all of these albums of different artists from the sixties and they all have some type of pin up girl on the front. He has them hung on his wall. One that he has that I grew up on was Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream with a woman whose dress was just whipped cream (I had many fantasies about that cover 🙂 )

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Thank you rle for the wonderful comment. The inside of my brain is probably a frightening place, even I don’t want to go there. I’m happy you enjoyed the story. You are a magnificant writer, keep them coming.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Dennis for the compliment. I listened to two hours of Julie London before I started writing. Funny you mentioned ‘Whipped Cream.’ The company I worked for was the A & M distributor for Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The cover won the top prize of the year for artistic merit. Damn the artistic part, look at the girl.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you snuz, such a nice compliment from you. After many years, I have taught myself to look for beauty in everyday life. It’s all around us you know. We should pause and allow it to show itself.

    2. Reaper

      Kerry, you have a lot to say in this and it is all wonderful. The moment of beauty, the connection to music. The touch of memory and all of it. There is so much depth here and it it is a perfect, heartbreaking romance. There is another statement here right towards the middle that choked me up a bit. That idea of I will always be here so long as you remember. Artists living in the memory of them carried on by their work. Profound and beautiful my friend, keep it up.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reaper. I listened to some of her albums a couple of hours before I started writing about Julie. Her album cover sits on top of my copier even now as I reply to you. What a crush I had on Julie London when I was in college, it continues today. If there is anything in the world that constantly touches me, it is music. Being in the record business, meeting artists for twenty three years of my life, has so many layers of memories, I don’t think I could ever peel them away.

        If there is one sentence that describes me, it’s in the story. “Promise me you won’t go away.” Thank you for your thoughts. I look forward to talking to you each week. Kerry

  14. Amyithist

    It was too early to be in the office. It was too early for the bullshit games I’d have to play in a meager attempt to get ahead. I scurried down the dark hallway, a cup of coffee in hand and my briefcase bobbing in the other. I didn’t have much time to get the finishing touches on the Hensley project and I’d be calling it close despite having made it to work four hours earlier than everyone else…but hopefully my hard work would pay off.
    I stopped just outside of my office, my eyes inadvertently narrowing at the sliver of light escaping from beneath the door. Odd, I thought. I hadn’t remembered leaving it on… “Damn cleaning crew,” I muttered as I backed into the door, shoving it open with my backside.
    I set my coffee on the desk and briefcase on the floor and bent to start my computer when something caught my eye. A picture of my father stared back at me from my bookcase. His eyes were soulless and dark and that smile… I shivered as I straightened and slowly began approaching the case. My fingers trembled as I traced the frame of the photograph.
    I hadn’t seen a photograph of my father in decades and I wasn’t happy to see one now. Perturbed, I grabbed the frame and carried it over to my desk. Who the hell had put this here? I stuck my head out of my office and peered across the dark center. Cubicles decorated with pictures of smiling family members and useless junk silhouetted through the black. I squinted and watched, waiting for movement. This had to be a prank. But who would do this to me?
    With unsteady legs, I turned back into my office and crossed over to my desk. My father’s face still haunted me. I couldn’t forget the things he’d done to me; to my family. And this picture… I scooped the frame back up into my hands and held it in front of me for a long moment.
    Just as I was about to drop the picture back into the garbage where it belonged, his eyes darted to the left of me. Startled, I dropped the photo, gasping. That couldn’t have just happened, I thought as my heart began to thump wildly.
    I bent and grabbed the picture once more, flipping it around. My father’s mouth was open now; a terrified gape where once a smug, cocky smile had been. I cried out, my hands involuntarily letting the frame clattered to the desktop.
    “What’s going on?” I cried.
    “Maggie…” His voice hissed through the room. “Maggie, I’m sorry…”
    My stomach felt as if it were going to crawl through my nose. I couldn’t stop shaking as I reached for the photo once more. “Dad…”
    I looked down into the face of the man who had tormented me and made my life hell. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was grateful when I found his face the same as it always had been. His cocky smile, his dark, evil eyes… So what the hell was that? I thought, dropping the picture into the garbage can.
    Suddenly, my phone jangled to life. I cried out, grasping my chest in surprise. I leaned over and picked the receiver up on the second ring. My throat was tight as I croaked into the mouthpiece: “Hello?”
    It was Abby, my sister. She sounded odd and so far away… “Maggie, hi,” she breathed.
    I didn’t have time for this. I had other things to do. I tried to hide my frustration as I rounded my desk and plopped into my chair. “Hey, Abby. What’s up?”
    She sniffled and I realized she was crying. Concern quickly stamped out my impatience and I leaned into my desk, straining to hear as she mumbled something into the phone. “Abby, what’s wrong?” I asked firmly.
    “Dad’s dead,” she whispered back.
    My throat nearly clamped shut. “Abby…are you sure?” I stammered.
    She snorted. “I got the call from the home ten minutes ago,” she hissed. “Not that you care.”
    She’s right. I didn’t care that Daddy Dearest was dead. He was a monster and I hated him. “Are you okay?” I asked, my eyes flitting toward the garbage can. A shiver sliced through me like a knife. I jolted at the sensation.
    “I’m fine,” Abby replied, her tone softening. “Could you come home? I could really use you right now.”
    The idea of going back to Haybrook made my skin crawl. I didn’t want to do that…but Abby needed me. “Sure,” I muttered begrudgingly. “I’ll finish my day out here and head down.”
    “Wonderful,” Abby beamed. She sniffed again and thanked me before hanging up.
    I sat in my chair for a moment, my heart still pounding through my blouse. I eased up, setting the phone back into its cradle. My eyes fixated on the garbage can. An eerie feeling snaked through me. I shoved my chair back as I stood and crossed the short distance to my desk.
    The image of my father was engraved in my memory; but seeing him did something to me. I swallowed as I started toward the receptacle. Leaning forward, ever so slowly, I swear I heard my name being whispered just behind me… My eyes widened as I stared into the trash can. It was empty.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Oh, that was Twilight Zone in spades. Really an exciting, sad, and poignant read. A sorry after death for such horrible actions will fall on empty ears except for the devil. Whay did he think that would mend anything. Certainly not his abused daughter. A marvelous, yet painfull read, Amyithist. You did a passionate, beautiful job explaining the daughter’s pain and the reader realizes there is no way, she can recover from this except to ask the only one that can help her. And even then, it’s doubtful.

    2. Dennis

      Wonderful story Amyithist. Very moving and touched me. I wonder how many stories there are like this of people waiting to long to try and mend their mistakes.

    3. snuzcook

      I love this, Amyithist! Such a painful theme that touches a cord for the read, and then the really magical and powerful moment of the ‘puff’ at the end.

    4. Reaper

      Beauty and power in the tragic tale. You can write anything but this seems to be one of your specialties and it gets me every time. The only edit I saw was her dropping the picture back into the garbage can which implied it had been there though she had not seen a picture of him in years. A very small thing that made me pause a second when I was deep into your story.

      The relationship between the sisters was so well written, and that moment of the MC being affected by what she went through, having to fight the negative side that was too selfish, like her father was just a perfect and humanizing touch and I was glad she worked past it. Your characters are as amazing as your story.

      Kerry mentioned something about a sorry that comes too late and I agree. That is not the point I got from it though. What I read was the apology was not for the father but the daughter. You very deftly point out, in a beautiful and subtle way, that the only way to move beyond the past is to let go of it. Often that means forgiving people we no longer want in our lives. Not mending fences but realizing they did what they did and we just have to accept it was who they were. No matter how terrible it is when we forgive and let go that we are free because we take their power over us away. Often people will then try to bring those monsters back into their lives which, unless they have changed completely, is just another mistake. What I read in that sorry and the death was your MC having an opportunity to say, okay, you were a terrible man but I’m over it and now you can’t hurt me anymore. So for me this was a wonderful story of that moment of liberation where the monster is gone from the future and fading from the past.

  15. Hiba Gardezi

    Great
    Just great
    I grit my teeth at the little mechanical toy spewing puffs of smoke like a dusty fountain on my wooden work table.
    ‘How long exactly’ I ask it ‘are going to take.’
    As if in response sparks fly from my newest /first unsuccessful invention.
    Fabulous. I roll my eyes.
    Just then a soft hum emerges from the portrait of Thomas Edison to my left. The eyes start swinging from left to right.
    One time.
    Two times.
    Three.
    ‘Well’ I tell my failed mind reader ‘that’s my cue …you behave while I’m gone, okay?’
    I get out of my seat. It feels weird to move out of it now after a whole…month?
    Yeah it’s a month .Big brother comes every tenth since both our birthdays are on tenths. He knows better than to visit otherwise.
    I push myself out and stand on my wobbly knees. They feel like sticks about to snap. It doesn’t help the fact that I have osteoporosis and a bunch of other illnesses.
    UGGH …
    And now I have to get ready…
    Why does Michael come every single month? Why not 4 months or 6 or…12? Yeah 12 is better.
    But I know I owe it to him, a lot more than it. If it wasn’t for him I’d be dead. After the ‘incident’ he was the one who welcomed me ,still looked at me like I was Reyna not some other run down disgusting model of her, who gave me a home, who loved me, told me I wasn’t guilty, the one who bears a whole month to see me so his lil’ sis can have her own quiet time. Who every month ,comes in my house with the weeks rations , who acts as my maid , who believes I will be successful no matter who contradicts him even if it’s me at times.
    The thought makes me smile.
    Okay so first things first. I have two hours before he comes. Maybe I don’t have to shower now…
    I sniff myself.
    Oh, oh no .I definitely shower now. I step forward to look at the mirror where my eyes meet those of the most disgusting ratty teenager I’ve ever set eyes upon. Or no I think it was worse last week…
    Anyway my brown and silver hair hang in the air above my head like an afro and my face is ashen and sweaty. Even through the dark coat my deepened worry lines and dark circles are visible. My stubby dirty nails hang on withered bony hands.
    I turn away and drag my limp figure towards the bathroom
    ‘Well, you didn’t expect to look pretty, did you?’
    A part of me thinks it would be nice. The other tells it to get lost. It does

    So I’ve bathed, combed and changed. I can’t believe Michael doesn’t pay me for this stuff.
    Speaking of Michael, he should be here any minute now…
    I hear him knock. I don’t need to open the door, he’s the one who always has the keys, I never leave. I’m too busy…

    Then enters a not- very- happy- bigger brother carry a huge carton of food. He drops it, his hands on his hips.
    ‘Hey’ I say ‘aint you gonna c’mere hug your sis’
    ‘If my sis doesn’t eat the food I bring her every month, then no’
    ‘Don’t be mad, dude-’ I nervously punch his shoulder
    ‘Oww -’
    ‘I wasn’t hungry’
    No, are you crazy? Look at yourself. It’s a miracle you’re still alive.’
    I look at him helplessly
    ‘Sorry’ he says ‘I didn’t mean to’
    He knows it is quite literal
    ‘Doesn’t matter’
    ‘It does’ he says more softly now ‘just promise you’ll eat after I leave this month.’
    ‘Okay…’ I say halfheartedly
    ‘Good ‘he smiles’ now leave Madame Michael to the job. Ill clean, you eat this and tell me about your progress’ he hands me a packet off Oreos from the carton and then his smile turns down ‘I got something to tell you, too.’
    ‘What ‘I say curiously
    ‘Nothing much you tell me first how your mind reader is going’
    I gesture towards the machine on my desk
    ‘Its busy self destructing as you can see’
    ‘Oh ‘
    ‘Yeah’
    ‘Sis I just wanted to say’ his voice trails off
    ‘Yes’ I raise my eyebrows
    ‘To say that…’
    ‘To say that?’
    He shuts his eyes tight and runs through his words
    ‘That you should stop inventing’
    ‘What?’
    He closes his eyes again
    ‘That you-‘
    ‘I heard you before, but Michael, why?’
    ‘You work way too hard .you barely shower, you never eat you don’t even sleep! I don’t think this is right. This too much for you’
    ‘Too much for me?’
    ‘Yeah I think…I think it’s better if you do something else’ he says sheepishly ‘like…hat designing…or gardening…’
    My head hurts. I can’t believe he was saying this …after all those years telling me I was capable. That he believed in me. Now suddenly, he’s saying he thinks I’m cut out for hat designing?
    ‘How could you-’
    ‘Please ’he says putting down the duster he looks me in the eyes condescendingly yet pleadingly ‘please ‘
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I already told you why. I can’t bear to see you this way .You’re only 17 and you have more white hair than brown. You never even sleep, your only bones no fat, you have …’that’s it .tears start streaming down his face.
    ‘Cancer is that what you wanted to say? It’s not such a big deal big brother…lots of people have cancer’
    ‘But you don’t deserve it’ he says between sobs ‘at least give me time to be with my little sister’, he says ‘life’s not so long, we don’t have much time’
    I get it .he’s right. People are more important than things. And if I want to live this life it’s by loving people not by hopeless projects. When I die I will be alive in the hearts I’ve touched not in the memories of inventions.
    I come closer to my brother. Tears tugging behind my sockets, too. I hug him
    ‘You’re right big brother, people over things.’

  16. Hiba Gardezi

    Great
    Just great
    I grit my teeth at the little mechanical toy spewing puffs of smoke like a dusty fountain on my wooden work table.
    ‘How long exactly’ I ask it ‘are going to take.’
    As if in response sparks fly from my newest /first unsuccessful invention.
    Fabulous. I roll my eyes.
    Just then a soft hum emerges from the portrait of Thimas Edison to my left. The eyes start swinging from left to right.
    One time.
    Two times.
    Three.
    ‘Well ‘I tell my failed mind reader ‘that’s my cue …you behave while I’m gone, okay?’
    I get out of my seat. It feels weird to move out of it now after a whole…month?
    Yeah it’s a month .Big brother comes every tenth since both our birthdays are on tenths. He knows better than to visit otherwise.
    I push myself out and stand on my wobbly knees. They feel like sticks about to snap. It doesn’t help the fact that I have osteoporosis and a bunch of other diseases.
    UGGH …
    And now I have to get ready…
    Why does Michael come every single month? Why not 4 months or 6 or…12? Yeah 12 is better.
    But I know I owe it to him, a lot more than it. If it wasn’t for him I’d be dead. After the ‘incident’ he was the one who welcomed me ,still looked at me like I was Reyna not some other run down disgusting model of her, who gave me a home, who loved me, told me I wasn’t guilty, the one who bears a whole month to see me so his lil’ sis can have her own quiet time. Who every month comes in my house with the weeks rations , who acts as my maid , who believes I will be successful no matter who contradicts him even if its I at times.
    The thought makes me smile.
    Okay so first things first. I have two hours before he comes. Maybe I don’t have to shower now…
    I sniff myself.
    Oh, oh no .I definitely shower now. I step forward to look at the mirror where my eyes meet those of the most disgusting ratty teenager I’ve ever set eyes upon. Or no I think it was worse last week…
    Anyway my brown and silver hair hang in the air above my head like an afro and my face is ashen and sweaty. Even through the dark coat my deepened worry lines and dark circles are visible. My stubby dirty nails hang on withered bony wrists.
    I turn away and drag my limp figure towards the bathroom
    ‘Well, you didn’t expect to look pretty, did you?’
    A part of me thinks it would be nice. The other tells it to get lost. It does

    So I’ve bathed, combed and changed. I can’t believe Michael doesn’t pay me for this stuff.
    Speaking of Michael, he should be here any minute now…
    I hear him knock don’t need to open the door, he’s the one who always has the keys, I never leave.im too busy…

    Then enters not very happy bigger brother carry a huge carton of food. He drops it, his hands on his hips.
    ‘Hey’ I say ‘aint you gonna c’mere hug your sis’
    ‘If my sis doesn’t eat the food I bring her every month, then no’
    ‘Don’t be mad, dude-’ I nervously punch his shoulder
    ‘Oww -’
    ‘I wasn’t hungry’
    No, are you crazy? Look at yourself. It’s a miracle you’re still alive.’
    I look at him helplessly
    ‘Sorry’ he says ‘I didn’t mean to’
    He knows it is quite literal
    ‘Doesn’t matter’
    ‘It does’ he says more softly now ‘just promise you’ll eat after I leave this month.’
    ‘Okay…’ I say halfheartedly
    ‘Good ‘he smiles’ now leave Madame Michael to the job. Ill clean, you eat this and tell me about your progress’ he hands me a packet off Oreos from the carton and then his smile turns down ‘I got something to tell you, too.’
    ‘What ‘I say curiously
    ‘Nothing much you tell me first how your mind reader is going’
    I gesture towards the machine on my desk
    ‘Its busy self destructing as you can see’
    ‘Oh ‘
    ‘Yeah’
    ‘Sis I just wanted to say’ his voice trails off
    I raise my eyebrows
    ‘To say that…’
    ‘To say that?’
    He shuts his eyes tight and runs through his words
    ‘That you should stop inventing’
    ‘What?’
    He closes his eyes again
    ‘That you-‘
    ‘I heard you before, but Michael, why?’
    ‘You work way too hard .you barely shower, you never eat you don’t even sleep! I don’t think this is right. This too much for you’
    ‘Too much for me?’
    ‘Yeah I think…I think it’s better if you do something else’ he says sheepishly ‘like…hat designing…or gardening…’
    My head hurt. I couldn’t believe he was saying this …after all those years telling me I was capable. That he believed in me. Now suddenly, he was saying he thought I was cut out for hat designing?
    ‘How could you-’
    ‘Please ’he said putting down the duster he looked me in the eyes condescendingly yet pleadingly ‘please ‘
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I already told you why. I can’t bear to see you this way .You’re only 17 and you have more white hair than brown. You never even sleep, your only bones no fat, you have …’that’s it .tears start streaming down his face.
    ‘Cancer is that what you wanted to say? It’s not such a big deal big brother…lots of people have cancer’
    ‘But you don’t deserve it’ he says between sobs ‘at least give me tome to be with my little sister’, he says ‘life’s not so long, we don’t have much time’
    I got it .he was right. People are more important than things. And if I want to live this life it’s by loving people not by hopeless projects. When I die I will be alive in the hearts I’ve touched not in the memories of invention.
    I come closer to my brother. Tears tugging behind my sockets too. I hug him
    ‘You’re right big brother, people over things.’

  17. Bilbo Baggins

    THE SAD HEIGHT

    I am as human as anyone is
    But I feel an affinity to a picture.
    I am close to the present as anyone can
    But there’s a past I sense closer and quicker.

    I am as ruthless as anyone is
    But your face leaves me to hopelessly wonder.
    Shove it away, but though I try
    You address my faults in invisible thunder.

    Tell me, please tell me
    What you would say
    Tell me what would you think of me now
    If those fierce blue eyes moved my way!
    In times of silence, times of joy
    That familiar visage from when I was a boy
    You brought me up, raised me,
    With a belt and a Bible and never to praise me.
    Heart, heart, what a thought to save
    As memory blows back to me like a wave.
    You were always the one
    To teach me the rules, put business ‘fore fun,
    Such a red life, fire on the run
    That happened to scar long after gone.

    So don’t tell me, forget me,
    Be gone as you were that long day.
    You will stay on my desk,
    Before I think again of my wrong,
    Of how I’ve wasted the years, yes all the rest,
    Become part of the selfish, greedy throng.

    What can I say, dear father,
    What’s this life prepared to choose?
    Simply said,
    I’m scared speechless by you

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Very powerful, made more so as a poem. There so much pain you describe. While my Father taught me most of what your poem describes here, I confronted him after college and moved 1500 miles away and stayed there. But a strange thing happened, he redeemed most of my pain, the way he treated my five daughters. They loved him dearly and I kept my mouth shut. When I studied the Philadelphia history of his grandfather that he never knew I felt as he taken over by his grandfather’s spitit, a fericious, brilliant man that went insane at the age of 46. So Dad, I give you the slack that you need, I miss you.

    2. snuzcook

      This strikes me as courageous, Mr. Baggins. From real life or not, it is a statement of strong emotions and evokes a strong response in the reader. Well done!

  18. Bilbo Baggins

    BEST FRIENDS

    Harry Hayes had learned that, at his age, the best job you could get was one that promised a good nap. He’d sit down in the hallway, surrounded by the paintings and doze off for a few hours. No one knew, of course. In the beginning, he’d actually used the flashlight, walked around the museum, but it was a waste of time, and it hurt his knees terribly. Surely no one was going to break in, it was all a waste of time. And so he began his bedtime ritual.

    “Orange, blue, and red this time, George!”

    He counted out the pills in his weathered, stubby hands, glancing up at the portrait of Washington. Thinking of the doctors, the white coats who’d given him the prescriptions, he grunted, swallowed them down. Estelle, the kids, they all said the same thing: retire, give up his life, move to some frumpy old men’s home with geezers in dentures and overalls. They just didn’t get it, did they.
    “You’ve been a lot better off without doctors, eh, George?”

    Harry looked up again, sighed. The president just stared off into the distance, not replying. That was right, his family just didn’t understand him. But they did, the paintings. They were his friends, they were always there for him whenever he had a problem. George, John, Thomas, even though they never talked, he knew they were there, behind the paint and canvas. He didn’t bother with the science, never did good in school, but still felt something… warm, he decided, as if their souls were still here, gracing the darkness.

    He looked down either end of the hallway, adjusted his belt. Sleep came easily, even in the uncomfortable position. Arms resting on his lap, he leaned back his head and tried to let his thoughts drift away. That is, until he heard the voices.

    “Look at this guy, bumbling around! Talk about a pink slip!”

    Startled, he opened his eyes, drank in the shadows again. Turning on the flashlight, he shone the harsh beam down each side, all the way to the end.

    Just a blank wall, a potted tree.

    “Anyone there?” he asked hoarsely. His voice went down along the tiles.

    There was a space of a few seconds, but it felt longer, as if time was stretched like thin plastic.
    And then it finally tore.

    Just feet from him, a low growling noise turned into words.

    “He should’ve been let go years ago!”

    “Or in the grave!” came a cackle from the same direction.

    Harry stumbled to his feet, swung the flashlight haphazardly around the hallway. Fleeting faces of politicians, artists, noblemen. He thought it’d come from… impossible, unless his imaginations were right. Maybe there were… people behind them.

    Stepping closer, aiming the light on George’s face, he reached out to touch it.

    To his amazement, the lips moved, as if controlled by another entity.

    “What are you doing?” the painting asked. His eyes burrowed into him.

    Harry let his mouth drape open. Surely, there was something he could say. It was all much greater than he’d thought. They really were alive. They could help him!

    “I– I’m Harry Hayes, the night guard,” he stammered out.

    Washington put on a small smile. “I know. You’re the kook who’s out after his bedtime.”

    There was laughter from behind him, and Harry stiffened. This was going all wrong.

    “But, George! You can’t tell a lie! Please, help me, tell them!”

    “I know, I am your friend,” the painting replied. “But I know an old fool when I see one.”

    The others exploded in cruel laughter again. Harry took a step back, listening to them. They were jeering him. How could they?!

    “Ancient relic! Get a life for once!”

    “Talking to portraits?” Thomas Jefferson cackled. “Give me a break!”

    “Insane lunatic!”

    Harry felt the anger build suddenly, swung the beam around at the faces again. They insulted him in one undulating chorus, over and over.

    “Stop it! Stop it!”

    He rushed at them, felt strength suddenly coursing through him like when he was young, and he raised his fists, punched George over and over again, throwing the frame to the floor until there was only him panting.

    And then darkness, sleep…

    When his eyelids fell open a police officer was helping him up. There was sunlight in the halls, commotion. You overslept, stupid. Now you’ll lose your job, he thought.

    “Mr. Hayes, you’re under arrest for attempted theft and disturbing the peace.”

    Harry sat up, looked at the officer in shock.

    “But– they’re my best friends! I would never harm them!” Harry gasped.

    “Just come with us, Mr. Hayes.”

    The officer gripped his arm, hauling him towards the door, the outside. Panic rose in his throat, and he thrust his head around, saw George’s face battered from his fists, the paint smeared. No, it couldn’t be possible… they wouldn’t do this to him.

    “I would never harm them!” he tried to say again. “Never!”

    It took a while, but two policemen managed to bring him to the door. Reporters swarming around him, he staggered down the steps in a daze, the sunlight nearly blinding him, his chest constricted. Halfway down, his feet lost their footing, and he collapsed onto the white marble, thoughts racing in and out of his head as his heart seized itself in stabbing pain.

    The ambulance arrived just moments behind the curator’s truck as the paintings were loaded in. All of them were restored within weeks and put back into the museum. However, it would be much longer than that before another night guard was hired.

    But, for another best friend, they were all-too willing to wait.

    (*Sigh*. Sorry I haven’t posted anything the past two weeks. Once NaNo’s over I’ll be more involved.)

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You climbed easily into the guards mind and I went with you Bilbo. I wish I could slow my stories down and take the time to write as you do. I’d rather read one scene ond enter the MC’s mind as you’ve done here. I’ve learned a lot from being on the forum. Now I wonder when I’m going to apply it. Thank you for the story, a most unusual way to answer the prompt. Great job!

    1. Reaper

      Ah, those paintings seeming like cruel teenagers and waiting for a new best friend to mess with. wonderfully written and it reads like a really good episode of the Twilight Zone. Nicely done.

  19. tydra

    I really should wait and sleep one night over this, look through the text once again with fresh eyes in the morning. but i don’t think i’d be able to sleep if i don’t post this now. so here it goes…and now it’s time for bed 🙂
    ——-

    Amanda took two steps at once, pumping up the stairs, flying down the short hallway and threw open the door to her study. Striding towards her desk she held up a book triumphantly.

    “Look Caroline!” She slumped down into her chair, gulping down air, her backrest creaking as she leaned back. “My book has finally been published!”

    Trying to catch her breath she smiled at Caroline’s picture on the wall, interpreting her confident grin as pride today. The framed picture had captured her best friend dressed like Indiana Jones, the mischievous eyes peering out from under her dark brown hat, forever young, forever full of life. The African Savanah was stretching out behind her and a big orange moon had started to rise into the violet dusk. It was the last time Caroline had been seen before she left for her final archeological expedition.

    “You always knew I would make it someday. You were the only one who kept on pushing me.” Her heart was pounding in her chest, whether from her run home or from her exhilarating joy, she didn’t care. “Thank you, Caroline.” She sighed, then propped herself up on the armrest to stand up.

    And froze.

    Something felt wrong. She glanced back at the picture and gasped: Caroline’s hat was raised, her eyes looked confused, and they stared straight at Amanda. Sagging back down into the creaking chair, her book fell out of her hand.

    She shook her head. “That’s impossible!” She thought as she bent down to pick up the book. When she straightened again she noticed the moon outside her window, just starting to climb from behind the distant forest. Blood red. She frowned and turned back to the picture on the wall.

    She dropped the book a second time. Caroline now had her hands raised to her cheeks, the white of her eyes clearly visible, her mouth open in a silent shout, her face screaming terror.

    And the moon in her background was dark. Not just a black spot on paper, but a dark menacing hole, radiating shadowy rays, like a heat haze on top of a car roof left standing in the sun.

    Amanda felt her blood drain from her face, her heart beating more violently than before. She held her breath as the dark moon got bigger in front of her eyes, expanding its sphere, pushing against the top of the frame. Caroline closed her eyes and threw her arms protectively above her head. Amanda raised her hand towards the picture, reaching for her friend, feeling so helpless. And then the darkness engulfed Caroline, filling the entire frame.

    “No!” Amanda yelled, her stomach twisting into a tight knot, her sight fading. She rubbed her eyes frantically and looked again. The picture was filled with blackness, but she still couldn’t see properly. As if she was wearing sunglasses. That’s when it hit her: it weren’t her eyes that were getting worse, but the light in her room was growing dimmer by the second.

    Panic grasped her in a vice like grip and she jumped out of her chair. Her eyes swiveled to the window and widened in dread. The moon outside her window was gone! A whimper broke from her lips, forming small mist in the air in front of her. She tried to take a step towards the open door but her leg felt bolted to the floor. She saw small black crystals forming on the ground, coming from behind her and growing towards the hallway.

    Then the lights went out completely and she was left in the freezing dark. Nothing but absolute, terrifying blackness. She squeezed her eyes shut and started sobbing quietly, shivering, wrapping her arms around her shoulders.

    Faintly, she heard the familiar sound of her creaking chair. Taking a chance she pried her eyes open again. Blinking her eyes she straightened up.

    Everything was…normal. The coldness was gone and the lights were back on. Then she saw Caroline, sitting in her chair at her desk, watching her. She noticed her study in the background and the door to the hallway, no sign of the black crystals on the floor, and the blood red moon was back in her window.

    But the perspective seemed strange to her. Amanda turned around slowly and nearly stumbled when she recognized the African Savanah behind her, stretching to the horizon, an orange moon in a violet dusk far off in the distance.

    She spun back again and saw Caroline standing in the open doorway, staring back at her, apologetic, tears welling up in her eyes.

    “I am so sorry,” she whispered, and closed the door on her way out.

    1. jmcody

      Wow, that was so, so good! Your description of all the sensations involved in being drawn into the picture was brilliant and terrifying. I could practically feel myself being sucked in, and yet I was still completely surprised by the ending. I loved how you described the changes in the moon. This was really enjoyable read and I am impressed.

      What I am learning from this site is that writers can be treacherous people who will betray their best friend for a book deal. 😉

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Tydra, I am so glad you posted your story without touching it. You knew how wonderful it was and gave it to us a present. It was chilling; your descriptive power kept me on the edge of my chair as I read it. Being dissolved piece by piece into the picture was an amazing experience for me, a wonderful victory for you.

    2. Reaper

      Your descriptions are really amazing and there is a lot of emotion in this. The only bit that seemed off was Caroline seeming surprised by what was happening. There is a missing piece on the betrayal but we can live without that. There are many reasons to manufacture why a best friend would do these things, and you last line makes it human greed, willing to visit such a terrible fate on someone you love and encouraged so you don’t have to yourself. So all of that fits well. Caroline seemed surprised or afraid as she was swallowed up though and that is a little jarring for me because the rest of the story says she orchestrated it. Maybe I’m misreading and the story is so amazing it works even with that but it was the one thing I noticed that threw me off. Beyond that one minor thing this is just awesome and a really good read.

      1. tydra

        hey Reaper, thank you for that analysis. you are right, now that you mention it, there is a piece missing. should have slept over it and read through it once again in the morning maybe lol…when I started writing this I had all kinds of thoughts and ideas come to me about the background of the story, especially the why? but can’t put all that on paper in such a short word count and it would ruin the flow. and I wanted to leave some over to mystery. but you are exactly right the way you interpreted the last line, that was my intention and I am glad it came through! no way was she going to go back to that hell hole or have anything more to do with it. the need for survival kicking in was stronger than her bond to her friend to even try to help.

        the reason Caroline was surprised was because she didn’t actually see it coming herself. the curse was starting to lift and she got scared because she didn’t know what was happening. neither of them did. but that didn’t stop her from leaving Amanda in the curse in her place once she realized she was free.

        it’s very interesting to see how people interpret a short story, interpret certain words or sentences, sometimes down a different path than intended. which is so cool, it raises all kinds of new questions for me, so thank you for that 🙂

    3. tydra

      thank you everybody for your nice comments! now I am definitely motivated to keep going and try to write at every weekly prompt. it’s good practice to get those grey cells fired up 🙂

  20. cosivantutte

    Sorry. This is a long one, but I think it was a couple of prompts overdue.

    Robert Downey Jr. looked down at his newborn son, Son of Super Dash Downey, asleep in his arms. He gently uncurled the baby’s hand. It’s so small compared to my hand, he thought. but it’s all the same. Same amount of bones. Fingerprints. Fingernails. Blood vessels, blood, muscles, and nerves. All small, perfect, and brand new. He kissed his son’s forehead. “I love you, SSD.”

    Robert laid him in his crib. He pulled his wife’s cheat sheet out of his pocket. “When you lay him down, lay him flat on his back.” Check. “Cover him with the blanket only to his waist.” Check. “Make sure Moppet Man is in the crib.” Robert found the ugly gorilla stuffed animal under the pillow and moved it to where SSD could find it. “Make sure Sonny has a clean diaper.” Check and double check. “Don’t do anything that will make me beat you up and land us in the tabloids.” Absolute and resolute check.

    He refolded the list and slipped it back into his pocket. “Well. Junior Kid is asleep and the wife is out shoe shopping with Sarah Jessica Parker.” He gleefully rubbed his hands. “Time to snuggle up with my latest paramour.”

    Robert snuck downstairs to his den. He slid the door closed and strolled over to his big boss mahogany desk. “Hello, Ms. Rowling.” He picked up “”The Oracle’s Tea Pen”, J.K. Rowling’s latest book, and sat in his black leather chair. He flipped past the Acknowledgements and Introductions and the Table of Contents. “Here we are. Chapter one.” ‘Hera Beforth’s desk groaned with the weight of the world. Well, actually, it was the weight of several worlds. Of course, it was Rupert Glickenspoller’s fault. As it always was.’

    “Mr. Downey sir!”

    Robert snapped out of his reading daze and glanced around. “Edwin?” No. he thought. It can’t be him. I haven’t seen the ugly squid since he ran off with that crazed fan girl. He sighed sadly. I never did get those jeans back. Tragic.

    “Mr. Downey sir! Please! Help me!”

    Huh. It is his voice. No doubts there. “Why am I hallucinating his voice? I haven’t done anything illicit in years.”

    “Ya idiot! I’m down here!” A 5 x 9 picture frame toppled over on the desk.

    Robert picked it up and startled. It was his favorite picture of himself. He was standing with a whole group of Sherlock Holmes cosplayers and one Watson at a comic convention. He always believed that he was the best looking one in the whole lot. But not at this moment. His eyes had turned into Edwin’s eyes. They looked imploringly at Robert. “Help me!” said Picture Robert’s mouth.

    “Yeeee-aaa!” Robert tossed the picture in the air and batted it with his book.

    “Ieeeeee!” The picture crashed into the couch and landed on the floor. “That was uncalled for.”

    Robert strolled over to the picture and picked it up. “Oh, contrare, you ugly face robber. It was plenty called for. If we had an audience right now, they would be giving me a standing ovation, which I would accept with my usual gracious humility.”

    “Humility. Hmph. You don’t even know what that word means. And, for the record, I am sorry that I ever stole your ugly mug of a face.”

    Robert shook the picture repeatedly.

    “Ah! Ah! Ah! Stop! I’m getting whiplash! I’m gonna sue! I’m gonna sue!”

    “Oh, stuff it.” Robert stopped shaking it. “You know. This is one seriously mucked-up moment. I think I’ll put you back on the desk and go upstairs for a nap.”

    “No! Please! I need your help. Please help me. I’ve been trapped in this picture by that gypsy’s wicked witch cousin. I need you to release me.”

    “So, you ran afoul of a wicked witch. How the heck do you find these women?”

    “It is a horrible tale.”

    “Horrible, huh? Lovely. Do me a big favor and keep it to yourself.”

    “I will if you would only help me escape. Please Mr. Downey sir! If you rescue me, I will be your faithful servant. I will bow and scrape and obey your every whim and never ever plot against you ever again.”

    Robert grinned. Well. he thought. This sounds like a winning proposition.

    “Please, Mr. Downey sir. You don’t know the horror of being surrounded by your fans. The things they keep saying. Oh, my ears!”

    “Trust me. I know the horror.” Despite his natural inclinations, Robert pitied poor Edwin. “Okay. Let’s say that I wanted to help you.”

    “Oh! Thank you, Mr. Downey sir.”

    “I was talking rhetorically. So, if I wanted to help you escape from your own personal Phantom Zone, what would I have to do? And please don’t say that I have to kiss you, because that—No. Just flat no.”

    “I don’t know!” Edwin wailed.

    “What?”

    “Oh, the cruel inhumanity! I don’t know how to get out of here. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I just know that you have to be the one to do it.”

    “What the flippin’ hippos? Your witch lady friend didn’t give you any clues?”

    “No! Wait. I seem to remember…Yes. Yes! Now I remember. Oh, it’s all so clear!”

    “I’m just busting with happiness for you. What do I have to do?”

    “You have to forgive me for all of my wrongdoing against you.”

    Robert carried the picture back to the desk and slowly sat in his chair. “Forgive you, huh? Let’s see. Yes, I think I can muster up a decent spiel about forgiving you.”

    “But you must mean it. Your words must be from the deepest and truest part of your cruddy heart.”

    Oh, gag me. he thought. “Hmm. It has been a long time since I’ve had a cranberry-free almond biscotti.”

    Maybe it was Robert’s imagination or a fell trick of the light, but Edwin’s eyes sparkled.

    Robert set the picture on the desk and thought deep and long about those biscottis. “I forgive you for every stupid prank and attempt on my life/reputation that you have ever done. I hope with all of my heart that we can mend our master/servant relationship and be the best of friends.”

    Picture Robert’s eyes returned to normal.

    Edwin appeared next to Robert’s chair. For the first time in years, Edwin did not look a thing like Robert Downey Jr. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Downey sir! I will do whatever you ask of me.”

    Robert arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He snapped his fingers. “Go to the rebuilt Callista’s Fated R Donuts and get me a dozen of those almond biscottis – no cranberries.” He snapped his fingers again. “While you’re there, get me a decaf latte with extra sugar and those little chocolate shavings on top.” He snapped his fingers. “While you’re out, go to the Forever In Blue Jeans store and get me a new pair of Ziggy Stardust jeans.” Another finger snap. “When you come back, check on those Writer’s Digest miscreants and make sure they aren’t writing any more unseemly stories about me.” Another finger snap. “When you’re done with that, say hi to all of my fans on Twitter. Be sure to type something profound but witty.” Another finger snap. “Be sure to close the door on the way out.”

    “Yes, Mr. Downey sir.”

    As Edwin raced off to do his bidding, Robert picked up his book and smiled. “As I was…”

    1. jmcody

      Oh, Cosi, you make me proud. This is a thing of beauty. I am all verklempt.

      And so we have come full circle, back to the lattes and the cranberry-free biscotti, Ziggy Stardust jeans and Callista’s Fated R Donuts, ghost-written tweets and our dear, dear Writer’s Digest miscreants always up to no good, bless their black, twisted little hearts.

      Well, I guess this is the end then. So very sad. But I believe that Edwin has finally, truly mended his ways and now he and Robert can resume their proper master/lackey relationship.

      Or, not…

      1. jmcody

        And I don’t say this lightly or often, or ever, mainly because it sounds ridiculous coming out of the mouth of a middle aged mother, but Cosi, you rock. Seriously.

      2. cosivantutte

        😀 Thanks, jmcody! I had a lot of fun writing RDJ and Edwin again. Especially frantic Edwin. I had to go back to The Robert Syndrome prompt to get his orders right (especially the biscotti).

        I think this is the true end of their story….But that all depends on the next prompt. 🙂

        1. jmcody

          As you know, I’ve been sidelined these past few months and I haven’t written an Edwin story in a very, very long time, so thanks for keeping the madness going. I’m sure going to miss the little fella.

          Then again, I’m not sure I’m ready to let him go just yet…

          🙂

      3. snuzcook

        Oh, what fun, Cosi! It is a plus of this site that playing with characters from each other’s stories is not just tolerated but applauded–as they say, it is a high form of compliment to borrow from what someone else has created. I love that I will never be able to see the names RDJr and Edwin without thinking of them in the context of the stories posted here. And it is a shame that those uninitiated to our stories will understand why I break out into chunkles for no apparent reason.

    2. Dennis

      Yeah Cosi, the RDJ story. It has been awhile since I read some of the previous stories but this tied things up nicely, at least for the moment as you said. 🙂

  21. Cceynowa

    I can’t seem to stop myself— not that any of these additional narratives are polished in the least, but I’m having far too much fun thinking of new characters to use with this prompt. I’ll stop soon, promise!

    <>

    She slammed the stack of papers down on his desk, the noise lost in the bustle of the busy office. “Why do you keep that lunatic’s picture? He’s playing a dangerous game. Plus, you know you’ll just feel guilty if he,” her voice dropped to a nearly inaudible whisper, “dies.”

    “Yeah, I know, but I admire him. I mean, he’s doing something with what he’s got, and, speaking of, did you see that bit last week? He’s got some moves, almost makes me jealous,” he grinned at her, his teeth too bright and his eyes too luminous. She laughed appreciatively, sharing the inside joke.

    “Seriously though, your choice in décor doesn’t seem a bit odd? I mean,” her eyes shifted around the office once more, “what if he’s ever exposed? Someone might get curious about your interest in him. He’s not even your department. Jimmy’s taking all those stories. We agreed that would keep your name disassociated.”

    “I’m a reporter, I’m suppose to be interested in interesting characters. He’s phenomenal. Jeez, I’d love to know who he is behind that mask.”

    “So why don’t you just go visit him?”

    “Well I just can’t drop in uninvited. That might seem hostile.”

    “Oh alright. Have it your way. I’ve got to get back to work before Perry gets on my case.” She hurried off to her own desk, putting an extra swing in her step for him to admire. He watched her cross the length of the office, undisturbed by the walls, people, or office equipment in his line of sight. He didn’t often abuse his powers, but sometimes having x-ray vision was too great a temptation.

    Hours later, long after everyone else had called it quits for the day, he stretched back in his chair. It was all fine and dandy to fly around saving the world, but it made meeting paper deadlines especially difficult. “Wonder if you’ve got that problem too,” he spoke to the picture Lois had fretted over earlier in the day. “I bet you do, I mean, you’d have to be truly insane not to have another life.”

    “Says the man who thinks glasses are a suitable cover.”

    <>

    He knocked the chair over in his haste to stand. He scanned the area with all his powers trying to detect the intruder.

    “Relax big boy,” the raspy voice said. “I’m nowhere near Metropolis, and I ask you to keep your distance from my city.”

    Clark looked more carefully at the photograph. He smiled when he finally realized the thumbtack was a cleverly constructed camera and audio system. “That’s quite a piece of technology, when did you put it there?”

    “You’re a busy man, out of the office a lot.”

    “And you’re not?”

    “I have other means at my disposal.”

    “So, no meeting up?”

    “I don’t think that would be wise.”

    “Not a social fella are you?”

    “Decidedly not. Do not try to contact me. If I need you, I will contact you. Good night Mr. Kent.”

    “Good night, Batman.”

    1. cosivantutte

      Batman’s kind of territorial, isn’t he? 😀 Maybe they can meet up in a neutral zone – somewhere between Metropolis and Gotham. Not sure where that would be… In the middle of a highway? Bruce Wayne could probably talk Jim Gordon into shutting down the highway for a couple of hours. Maybe.

      This story put me in a very good mood. The characterizations are spot on. I can totally see Batman bugging Superman’s office.

    2. jmcody

      That was really fun and your characterizations were great. I love that Superman is a Batman fan but Batman is kind of a paranoid control freak. This was a great idea, well executed.

    3. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Ccey. I love the homage to the icons of the DCU.

      For the answer to one question, based on the Atlas of the DC Universe (1990, a semi-canon reference book), the mid-point between Gotham (near real-Earth Atlantic City) and Metropolis (near real-Earth Georgetown) would be in the middle of Delaware Bay. Of course, these locations are mutable, since both cities are really stand-ins for New York.

      1. Cceynowa

        OT, you totally just made my day with your bit of explanation. I had no idea an “Atlas of the DC Universe” existed… putting it on the top of my Christmas list. 🙂

  22. Nicki EagerReader

    Took a bash at this one It’s not long, but I’d be grateful for feedback. Only when you comment, please don’t stinge with criticism- be MEAN. And I mean it.

    -Untitled-

    Every time I sit down to write, you are there. Every time I sit down to work, you are there, too. You are always there, because that’s what you promised me, but only when I write you smile.

    Sometimes my fingers are dead weights on the keys. They hold out for resuscitation from a mind filled with fire, a mind that received the kiss of life from a story. But my mind, frozen over and breathless, has no fuel to burn, no choreography to direct.

    Those are the moments I seek your assurance, you, who have always believed in me. That tilt of your head that says, “Go on- you can do it” rekindles the embers, your lips parted in laughter breathe the flames into flares. You are the match to my fire that burns down this world and from whose ashes another arises. I burn, burn, burn the worlds for you, over and over, because you love the song of the phoenix and I have to believe in a voice beyond the veil of flames.

    Your voice.

    I wonder when I will hear that voice again. I loved it when you read my stories out loud and laughed, or hummed along with my poems and sang. I love your voice, your voice of pure music, the voice that praised, and consoled, and corrected; the voice that said: “Never quit writing- you bring light to my life.”

    So I carry the torch, for you and the stories, set dreams on fire and watch realities go nova. I send fireworks of words streaming across the paper, I kill the street lamps to reveal the runes of the milky way, I build lighthouses of vision to morse madness into normality- because I want you to see me. I want you to see the light.

    And you do. For whenever I sit at my desk and work, your face is just pixels in a picture. But as soon as my fingers strike down to spark stories, your eyes rest on me- and you smile.

    1. cosivantutte

      I know you said not to be stingy with the criticism, but, honestly, I can’t find anything to nitpick over. This is just awesome. Great voice and great imagery.

    2. jmcody

      This is just beautiful. It makes me want to know who is in the photo and who he or she is to the MC. Oh to have someone like this in your life, whether living or dead.

      “Fireworks of words streaming across the paper” is a brilliant description of what you’ve written here.

    3. Nicki EagerReader

      Thanks you two, the positive feedback means a lot to me! I’m awefully bashful about showing around what I write, especially when it’s born in the spur of the moment under sleep deprivation 😉

    4. Reaper

      For me I will say you shouldn’t ask for people to be mean. This is good and I hope you knew that coming in. People may be harsh and they may be honest but there is no reason for people to be mean. You’ll get enough of that without asking. If you’re bashful about sharing people being cruel will only make that worse and that helps nobody. Look for things that encourage you to grow yes, but also encourage you to share. Not those that have you hiding your stories away like you are ashamed of them

      This is beautiful and poetic. Most comments I would make that are critical are erased by the poetic bent. There a repeated words and metaphors that mix in strange ways but it works for the style and voice of the story so those criticisms become compliments. This was a sensory read and amazingly done.

      I think you knew, at least deep down, how good this was when you posted it. You have talent so I will repeat. Don’t look for people to tell you otherwise. Seek out confirmation of what you already know.

      1. Nicki EagerReader

        Thank you so much, Reaper! I really wasn’t sure whether it was good or not when I posted (though I knew it wasn’t the worst piece of writing I’d ever perpetrated), so know that your comment just made my day. I’m glad the repetitions fit the bill- I’ve crippled texts to avoid repeating words (also counterprodutive).
        I’ll also try to be less self-deprecating in future- I just tend to set myself very high standards. But I’ll work on it, I’ll work on it…

    5. Observer Tim

      Okay, here is my criticism. I will not be “mean” but I will be as strict as my mind can get. There are three sections here: thematic, style, and grammar. Overall, it’s wonderful.

      This reads like a love letter to the past, Nicki. The emotion is well-presented and the tone is poetic. The second person identifies that we are not “the target audience” for this; instead it is the unnamed muse who guided the writer in their golden past. The imagery is like something from high fantasy or the Vedas.

      My style advisor suggests “…only when I write do you smile.” (for clarity). Also, consider “resurrection” versus “resuscitation” in the second paragraph to enhance the death/rebirth theme.

      My red pencil says use a colon instead of a comma in “… your assurance: you, who …”. Also, “… you can do it,” rekindles the embers; your lips …” (commas on both sides to bracket the quote, or omit both if you want the more modern way; semicolon to break the sentence because the two clauses are complete in themselves).

      1. Nicki EagerReader

        Cheers, Tim! Same goes for you as for Reaper about making my day 🙂 Glad you liked it.
        The Vedas is still on my must-read list of world mythology, but it’s definitely time I got my fingers on a good edition (can you recommend one by any chance?). Fantasy really is my preferred genre- I’m baffled how you latched on to that with only 341 words of writing sample. Kudos.
        Thanks also to your red pencil- “resurrection” is THE word I was looking for (resuscitation- horrible how the job lingo seeps into one’s writing). I also like your style advice, and the commas, well, it’s been ages anyway since I last took Strunk and White off the shelf. Time I reread the chapter on puncuation… 😉 thanks

  23. keyhonay

    “fate”
    Moonlight flooded the office, making dark shadows that seemed to encircle me in the chair where I sat. A movement caught my eye and I glanced at a framed photo on the corner of my desk.
    “Had it’s eyes moved?” I asked myself. I rubbed the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes for a second. When I opened them again the imagine seem to have changed again; a slight opening of the mouth, I thought.
    I threw my head back and laughed out loud in spite of myself and stated to the empty office, “It was just a trick of the lights and too much caffeine.” I looked back at the faded image in its silver frame.
    It had tarnished over the years, but never the less its value was apparent and set it a part from the other objects that lay helter skelter a crossed my desk.

    The ghost in the framed picture was my teacher, my parent and the illustrator of my past, present and future. Picking up the framed photo; I looked into the eyes of the ghost in the picture and remembered days past.
    A past where I was a young boy and the ghost in the picture was more then the just dust on a tarnished frame.

    I closed my eyes, letting the memories flood my conscious mind. The good and the bad flashed before my mind’s eye at lightening speed, but every frame was clear and I could recall the moment and place of each.
    As these images passed through my mind I could feel the weight of the years pressing on my heart, making me regret my choices.

    A windless breeze blew across my desk unseating my papers and sending a few sheets to the ground. I open my eyes, to see the image had changed again, now the ghost in the frame was looking at me and its mouth had indeed open.
    I blinked my eyes and the image changed. The eyes where looking at me and the mouth had open wider. Again I blinked and the image changed.
    Blinking my eyes, I watched the image change in a stop motion movement; like a film viewed frame by frame. I blinked my eyes, until the image changed no more.

    In this last image the ghost’s eyes reflected all of my terror, hate and disappointment. The mouth was now frozen in a silent scream and was a deep black abyss, lacking any presents of a tongue or teeth.
    It was this image I had seen when I had taken life and threw away my soul in to this forever darkness.

    Note: The line “It was just a trick of the lights and too much caffeine.” is from a Bauhaus song. Must give credit when it’s due. Thank you

    1. Dennis

      A very interesting idea of the photo being a mirror, reflecting the MC’s soul. I also liked the idea of seeing the changes as if watching one of those flip books or early films. You had a couple of homophone errors but otherwise great writing (a crossed should be across. presents should be presence.)

    2. Reaper

      I’m not sure if I am actually catching this right, but it seems like your MC killed their parent and are now seeing that last moment in the picture. Did I catch that correctly? There were some wording things that were mentioned but this was very readable and thought provoking. I loved the soundless approach and the stop motion method in your story. Nice writing.

      1. keyhonay

        Thank you for your comment. The picture is a reflection of the MC soul. I wrote it with the idea that the MC killed himself and now he was locked in his own hell alone forever. The reference to the parents was meant to convey the idea that we are made up of the people in our lives and the reflection was the MC killing all that.

    3. Observer Tim

      This story is poetic in its execution, keyhonay. I see it as the visualization of the tragic evolution from childhood creativity to adulthood and “more serious” pursuits. I hope the MC can win back his (or her) muse.

  24. Cynthia Page

    Keep It Stupid, Simple

    Risk Management Mutual needed a copy for signs they would place in the convention center where the upcoming conference on insurance futures would be held. None of the advertising geniuses wanted to attempt it, so they turned to me, with orders to come up with a way to convince investors to accept the insurance industries newest policy changes. I had until three o’clock, and it was already ten a.m.

    After two days of non-stop brainstorming I was brain dead, with nothing to show for it. My attempts to come up with catchy phrases had devolved to a kindergarten level. I felt punch drunk. I had no clue how to convince climate change deniers the insurance industry was changing irrevocably. My head felt heavy and my eyes blurred. Another cup of coffee didn’t help. As I returned to my desk I noticed the picture of Mark Twain I had hung for inspiration looked odd. The eyes no longer looked left. Instead, they seemed to be almost crossed. I looked closer, and saw the eyes were looking toward the right side of my cubicle where I had hung another picture, this one of Albert Einstein.

    I looked back at Twain. The eyes moved. They turned toward me, then back at Einstein. No, I had to be imagining this. I looked again at Einstein, and he had moved, too. It was a picture of him wearing glasses low on his nose, where he peered over the tops with raised brows and a slight smile. As I looked, the smile widened. I rubbed my eyes again, and took some eye drops from my desk. After wiping the excess from my face, I looked at Einstein again. The mouth was smiling wide, and the eyes looked directly at me. Then he spoke one word.

    “Simplicity.”

    Then the picture went back to normal.

    I hesitated, then went online and pulled up quotes from Albert Einstein. In two different quotes he mentioned innovation in terms of simplicity versus complexity. In one quote, he explains telegraphy this way. “You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.” If Einstein can use a cat to explain telegraphy…

    That did it. I dug out my notes from that giddy period I went through around three A.M., and decided the solution was not convincing the audience, but making the statement in terms so simple even the audience’s five year old child could understand. Bald, bold, and beautiful. And the client’s loved it. Here are the signs we created to place around the convention hall on posters, with pictures from Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, in New Orleans and Homestead Florida and Superstorm Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard:

    1. Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    Hurricane
    Hurricane who?
    Hurry, can you get those buildings off the beach before I flood them?

    2. Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    Tide
    Hi Tide. Come on in and flood our buildings.

    3. Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    Wire
    Wire who?
    Why are you still building on beaches?

    4. Knock Knock
    Who’s there?
    Dean Eye
    Dean Eye who?
    Deny climate change all you want. We are still not going to insure your beachside casinos and hotels.

    1. Dennis

      This was great and I think you should head up this campaign. I lived in LA for many years and had to hear the poor stories of all of the celebrity beach houses in Malibu getting slammed by storms. We all hoped our insurance money wasn’t going to pay for the damage.

      1. Cynthia Page

        Yep, we pay the price for their avarice. I read after Super-storm Sandy that the industry is adapting new standards due to climate’s affect on changing tide and flood levels. That’s what led me to this… along with Twain’s penchant for sarcastic overtones and Einstein’s logic.

      1. Cynthia Page

        They are indeed my main influences, in writing and in logic. Twain’s wit with Einstein’s unfailing common sense, plus a healthy dose of “you gotta be kidding me.”

      1. Cynthia Page

        I’m glad you liked my silliness. It gets loose from me now and then, and gets interjected in the most inappropriate places. This one seemed to fit, though. (Samuel Clemens and Einstein are my heroes.)

  25. lionetravail

    Acid-Base Disturbance

    (I seem to be unable to get away from the historical fiction takes this week, but I thought I’d try an all dialogue take on a prompt with a picture prop at the center of it, for that extra hint of surreal.)

    “What did you say?”

    “I said you were once the most dangerous man in America, but now you’re just a tired old slob who can’t get off his keister and do something productive.”

    “Shit. That’s what I thought you said.”

    “I see. And it doesn’t bother you?”

    “Why should it, Dick, just because I’m dying? I never let you bother me before, not even when you had your goons arresting me left and right. Least I made it much longer than you did.”

    “Oh ho, it’s like that, is it? Well it doesn’t bother me none: you see, one can only be angry with those he respects.”

    “You’ve used that one before, man.”

    “Well, it’s an oldie but a goodie, so why not get some more use out of it?”

    “That’s pretty much exactly what I’ve always said about acid, Dick.”

    “Oh, come now. You just have a crappy attitude about things. Always did.”

    “Yeah, but I also got a decent memory, you know? I mean, like, I remember another famous quote of yours, something like: ‘Well, I screwed it up real good, didn’t I?’ I think was how it went.”

    “And you’re one to talk, Tim? You should probably consider that you’re talking to a goddamn picture right now, you ass!”

    “Why do you think I keep you around, Dickie-boy?”

    “Because you never had any friends?”

    “Ridiculous! I had plenty of friends…”

    “No, you had plenty of people who wanted to share your LSD or mescaline, you loser! And now you’re so screwed up you’re having a conversation with a goddamn picture… why do I bother?”

    “C’mon, Dick, it’s a great conversation we couldn’t have had when you were alive and being such a, well, a dick, Dick.”

    “Harumph.”

    “As long as we’re talking though, why’d you do it?”

    “It?”

    “Watergate, you being a crook…”

    “I was not a crook!”

    “Right, so why?”

    “When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal, Timothy.”

    “Um, yes, you did say that once, but it turned out not to be true, didn’t it?”

    “Harumph. At least one of us never went to prison. But you realize you’re pretty far gone at this point? That the end is near? I thought you were going to become a corpsicle until they can revive you? As if they’re likely to be running low on ball-buster, anti-establishment drug addicts in the future.”

    “Old news, Dickie-boy. I decided that death wouldn’t be so bad to try out. Hey, I turned on, then tuned in… I think it’s only appropriate I drop out now, right? And on that note, how’s Hell, Dick?”

    “You’ll find out soon, Tim. See you soon, asshole.”

    1. Cynthia Page

      That was wonderful. I see what you mean about using dialogue right. Tonality came through so clear I could almost hear voices, except I don’t know how Timothy Leary sounded.. Tricky Dick was shaking his wattles, though. Thanks for showing how it’s done.

    2. jmcody

      I absolutely love the irony of Timothy Leary’s hell being eternity with Richard Nixon. So many other made-in-hell pairings come to mind but I won’t go there for fear of starting a political discussion. Ick. But oh, there are so many good ones… 🙂

      As everyone said, the dialogue was great and full of character. “See you soon, asshole” was the perfect close.

  26. Cceynowa

    Dead Men Tell No Tales
    Completely historically inaccurate (for dialogue at least). 🙂

    “Psst, William! Hey, Willy-Boy,” the voice spoke in an urgent whisper from the darkness. The man, slumped over his desk from drink and depression, jumped in fear and confusion.

    “Who is speaking,” he looked wildly around the small apartment, his eyes coming to rest on a cheaply painted canvas, commissioned to immortalize his friend recently slain. He peered closely and noticed a near invisible slit along the subject’s mouth. As he watched, a knife tip sliced through each eye.

    The painting was now watching him intently.

    “Christopher?”

    “Yeah. Hey Will, listen, I need a favor.”

    “Are you hiding in the wall?” The semi-drunk man rose on unsteady legs and stumbled towards the painting.

    “Shhhhh! Do you want me to be found? Dandy risked a lot, we all have, for my death. So keep your voice down you mewling hedge-pig.”

    “What the hell are you doing?”

    “Will you focus Will? I faked my death, do I seriously have to spell it out? No wonder you stuck to acting, your mind doesn’t work too well for thinking.”

    “To each their own talents Chris, you have always had the writer’s gift, I am but a poor actor living from one scene to the next as all the world laughs…”

    “Spare me. Your tirades into depression are enough to make me wish I was really dead.”

    “Why aren’t you?”

    “Don’t’ sound so disappointed. That book I wrote, the one the atheist are using so reverently, you know the one?”

    “I most certainly do not!” He spoke loudly, glancing over his shoulder into the empty apartment. “I am a devout worshipper and believer!”

    “Shhhh! Damn your pox-marked hide! Keep your voice down, I never said you read it! But, well, I’m taking some heat for it, and Lord Burghley thought it best that I just take off.”

    “He knows you wrote it?”

    “He commissioned it.”

    “Why are you in my wall Christopher? This is dangerous. You should on a ship setting sail for distant lands. Go be a merchant in Venice.”

    “I will not abandon my trade Will. I have not died Will, and my words cannot be silenced, I simply cannot claim them as my own. Please will, Will you help me? I need you to help me, to publish my work in your name. I ask nothing more than for you to see that my words are heard.”

    “And the money gained from the publications?”

    “All yours.”

    “We have a deal Mr. Marlowe.”

    1. lionetravail

      What a clever idea, Ccey! The dialogue here is crisp, and who cares if it’s historically accurate when you’ve got two historical contemporaries having a great dialogue of ‘how it might have been’. This story shoves me right back into the middle of “Shakespeare in Love”.

      The little teaser reveal about “go be a merchant in Venice” is an impish beginning of the reveal of the identities of the men involved, and just picture perfect in how it was crafted. Nicely done 🙂

    2. Observer Tim

      This is lovely, Ccey, both satirical and whimsical. I love the way Marlowe cuts a hole in the picture (and presumably the wall) to look through. And oh, the possibilities it raises…

      I think this would have gone right over the top if it had been written in neo-Elizabethan (i.e. the modern form we use when we want that 1500’s feel without being unintelligible).

  27. snuzcook

    Please excuse the double-whammy below. I have been sitting on these stories because I didn’t feel they were quite up to snuff. But this morning they read better to me so I’m throwing them out there. Hope you enjoy.

  28. snuzcook

    RIGHT HERE

    Get out, NOW!

    Was it a voice from my dream, or a voice breaking into my dream to awaken me?

    I open my eyes. I had fallen asleep with my head cradled on my arms in front of my computer. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I just seem to find it hard to shut down and get to bed. I tell Andy that it’s because of my mother’s health crisis back East and the need to connect with my sisters spread out around the country. Everyone is easiest to reach at night.

    That’s what I explain to Andy. And it is true. But it is not the entire truth. The entire truth is that I dread going to bed. But I dare not tell him that. Oh no, I could never let him know how I really feel.

    I look at my mother’s picture next to the computer. It was taken about eight years ago. It is a good picture of her. It captures her sense of humor, her warmth, her ageless girl-like quality. It is the mother I remember. I remind myself that she is very different now. The essential vitality is gone.
    When I saw her six weeks ago, she was frighteningly diminished. According to my cousin, Rhoda, who has become her regular caretaker, it is as if she is looking only inward now, no longer connected to the outside world by her own volition.

    I pick up my cup of tepid tea and bump my mother’s photo, which tips over onto the desk. I right it, but something seems different about it as I set it back in place. My mother’s eyes are no longer looking over my shoulder toward some distant point as the photographer had told her to do. She is looking straight at me, her expression intent. I swear, it looks like her mouth is moving.

    I hear Andy in the other end of the house. He is having one of his night terrors. I can hear him slamming against the bedroom wall as he staggers out of bed, disoriented. I put the picture down. I have to go to him, to try to talk him down.

    “Get out, NOW!”

    It is my mother’s voice in my ear, and I feel my spine stiffen, my pulse shift. It is a command I cannot ignore.

    I run out the kitchen door and across the yard toward the driveway. Behind me I hear the door bang wide. I hear Andy’s voice, incoherent but loud and threatening. Then I hear the gunshot. It takes me a split second to connect the shattering of the side window of the car ahead of me with the sound behind me. I dodge around the car into the shadows and through the shrubs to the neighbor’s house beyond.

    My neighbors, a retired couple who have known Andy and me for a long time, let me right in. He calls the police and we watch in a darkened house as police cars fill the neighborhood. We are still watching when I get a text marked urgent from my cousin, Rhoda. I called her immediately. She didn’t need to say hello.

    “I’m so sorry, Sweetie. Your mom passed away just a few minutes ago.”

    I held the phone tightly to keep from dropping it. “Annie, are you there?” I ignored the voice from the phone for a moment, lost in my own thoughts. Mom had always watched out for me, and somehow, when I needed her most, when I thought she was far from any possibility that she could help me, there she was, one more time.

    “Annie, honey? I am so sorry, but your mom is gone.”

    “No, Rhoda, you’re wrong. She’s been with me right here tonight, right where she needed to be.”

    1. lionetravail

      Wonderful story Snuzcook- this is another great slice-of-life tale! It speaks right to the core of us, that hope that death isn’t the final door, and Annie’s spiritual interpretation of the weird and crazy events is heartwarming, transforming the fear into comfort.

      Nicely done 🙂

    2. jmcody

      This was poignant . Such sadness and yet with such an undercurrent of hope.

      I enjoyed your description of the mother’s photo — how the photo so perfectly captured the mother’s essence, and how it was that essence that lived on and that saved the MC Wonderful writing.

    3. Observer Tim

      A twofer! One great slice of life follows another, though this second slice doesn’t have the little icing roses on top. I can easily see these two tales as bookending the narrator’s life (to that point). Or is there a possible connection to the mother?

      This makes me think about infinity and wheels. Great job, Snuz!

  29. snuzcook

    A TRUE BLUE FRIEND

    “Mom!”

    She looks around the doorway. She is drying her hands on the dish towel with the yellow flowers. She looks like she wants to scold me, but she just sighs.

    “What is it, Haylee?”

    “I had the dream again. The monster was running from the skinny man again.”

    She comes closer and puts her hand on my forehead. There is a little bit of soapsuds on her wrist where she didn’t wipe it all away. Her hand feels cool and damp. She takes the thermometer from the table and puts it in my mouth. I lay still until it beeps. She reads it and frowns a little bit.

    “Sit up now. Time for a little more medicine.”

    I drink the red medicine, but I don’t really like it. Mom holds the water glass for me and I take a sip to make the bad taste go away.

    I lie back down and she pulls the blankets up around me. Then she turns down the light and goes out, leaving the door open a crack. I hear her turn on the water again in the kitchen sink.

    My eyes are hot, but I don’t want to close them yet. I turn on my side and look at the picture of Cookie Monster next to my bed. The cookie he is holding has eight crumbs falling off of it, and six big fat chocolate chips. I know because I counted them before. I count them again just to make sure.

    Cookie Monster’s eyes move. ‘Want a cookie?’

    I nod my head. Cookie Monster waves his hands and they are filled with cookies. He holds them out to me, but I can’t quite reach them. A tiny, skinny man runs between us and grabs the cookies and runs away down the pink blanket toward the end of my bed.

    “Hey!” Cookie Monster yells at him, but a different monster, the little, white fuzzy one in my dream, runs by chasing the little, skinny man. The white fuzzy monster gets close to the skinny man, and suddenly they start running the other direction, now the man is chasing the white fuzzy monster. I don’t like them and I don’t want to see them anymore, so I hide my head under the covers. Even with my eyes closed, I keep seeing the tiny little man and the tiny little monster chasing each other.
    I start to cry because I can’t stop seeing them.

    “Don’t cry, Haylee. Cookie Monster is right here. Don’t be afraid.”

    I poke my head back out. Cookie Monster is looking at me with his big googly eyes. He takes a big, messy bite of his cookie. His cookie now has only four chocolate chips left.

    “Want a bite?”

    I shake my head no.

    “Me full. Save it for later. Go to sleep now.”

    Cookie Monster closes his eyes. The skinny man and the white fuzzy monster are gone. I close my eyes, too. They burn, but if feels better to have them closed. I have to remember to tell Mom about the skinny man taking the cookies. I’ll just rest my eyes until she comes back.

    I hear the music playing soft on the radio in the kitchen, and the water running in the sink. I hear Mom singing along with the radio.

    1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      A double dose of Snuz. I have to admit, I don’t exactly know what to make of this one. It’s a simple story–or at least it feels like it–but I don’t really know what the plot is. The girl is sick, she sees things, and that’s about all I got. I may have to read it again. Other than that, the girl is a great character, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I totally read that first cookie monster line in cookie monster’s voice. haha

      Tell me more about it, is there something deeper here I’m missing? I feel like maybe I should know something about how the fuzzy monster and skinny man are connected to her, each other, and the mother (and her humming), but I can’t figure it out.

      1. snuzcook

        Jay, let me tell you a story: Long, long ago (long before Cookie Monsters and digital thermometers) there was a little girl who had the measles. She was pretty sick, and her fever was high. She hallucinated about a skinny man chasing a fuzzy monster, and then they would change places and chase each other back again. The hallucination scared her, because she had never seen these images before and didn’t know why there were there. Every time she closed her eyes, she would see it. It was part of her illness. More than fifty years later, she still wonders what deeper meaning those images might have had. The story is not yet complete. (She has had other dreams with other images she is still trying to figure out. In one dream she was told when she figures them out, she will know her purpose in life. Until then, she keeps making up stories.)

        TRUE BLUE is only a vignette, a scene with the most rudimentary plot: Child is sick, sees scary hallucination, creates (?) benevolent hallucination that watches over her and makes her feel better until medicine reduces fever and scary things disappear. Note–the mother is caring and vigilant, but cannot do anything about imaginary scary things, so Cookie Monster fills the bill. Isn’t that why we put pictures and figurines around the beds of children, to help them feel they are surrounded by friends?

        1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

          I’m not familiar with effigies placed around a kids room to make them feel better, but it makes sense. When I was younger, I was told to suck it up. lol If there was something that scared me, I was told it was just my imagination, and that I needed to knock it off or just deal with being scared.

          Ahh, vignette. I suppose that makes a bit more sense. I’ve been so stuck with standard (and no so standard) plot designs that I forgot there’s other kinds of stories out there.

          Personally, I’ve never been fond of vignette except when they fully explore their purpose for being, which is quite rare if you ask me. That’s not to say there’s something wrong when they don’t, just not my cup of tea when they leave it far too loose in a piece centered around a specific incident, time, personal, interaction, or you know, whatever else they’re telling a story about.

          I’ve written them only twice in the last 15 years, and I haven’t gone back to touch them since. 🙂 Looking back at your prose, it makes a lot more sense now. Nice job.

    2. lionetravail

      Yee hah! Love this. So easy to picture from a lil girl’s perspective, and I love, LOVE, the very tactile images she sees in both the real and the weird.

      “There is a little bit of soapsuds on her wrist where she didn’t wipe it all away. Her hand feels cool and damp.” This put me right there in the kitchen with Haylee and mom, and reminded me of similar times when I was a kid.

      I swear I never saw skinny men, fuzzy monsters, or cookie monster.

      Maybe Oscar the Grouch once or twice. Just saying.

      Beautiful, gentle, human piece for a prompt practically forcing us into the bizarre.

    3. Nicki EagerReader

      A simple, beautiful story. You vocalized the voice of your six (?) year old MC convincingly- and God, who never had a fever nightmare in which a white fuzzy monster and a skinny man chase each other smewhere beyond the borders of common sense… this story REALLY spoke to me. 😉

    4. jmcody

      I totally get it, Snuzz. This brought me back to childhood so viscerally. As Lionetravail said, the soap suds on the wrist are one of those small tactile details that instantly conjure a scene, a time and a place. You are so good with those small yet powerful details and you’ve given me a great lesson here in how to use them.

      You also dredged up a memory of a fevered, hallucinatory incident from my own childhood that I haven’t thought of in decades. Mine involved a get-well card with a painting of a bowl of fruit. The talking grapes were blue instead of purple because blue rhymes with flu, which is what I had. Somehow they comforted me by conveying that everything is how it should be (precisely because blue rhymes with flu) in the same way Cookie Monster comforted your MC. Although Cookie Monster would have been more effective than a bunch of grapes, but you work with what you’ve got. 🙂 Anyway, I think dream images are fascinating and telling, and you’ve inspired me to mine a few of my own.

      1. snuzcook

        Thank you for sharing your memory, JM! I love the way you recall the logic of blue rhyming with flu and therefore the grapes were that color. I completely get it that your small child self would fix on that, and it is precious that the memory of it remains for a glimpse into her experience.

    5. Reaper

      I admit, I spent some time looking for a deeper meaning because it was you. For a second I was imagining the cookie thief from the cereal. Then it struck me how visceral this story is. As a very young child I had a cookie monster stuffed animal that I loved so much the stuffing gave way and all fell into the bottom over time. So I suddenly drew a connection to a fever dream I had when I was younger where I was a hamburger and somebody was putting toppings and a bun on me. When I woke up there was this taste in my mouth and feeling around me that convinced me I really was a hamburger. It was a thought I couldn’t explain to my parents and scared the hell out of them because I wasn’t making sense. That kind of connection to a story is wonderful and sharing this moment in time was beautiful for me. Thank you for this one.

      1. snuzcook

        I am delighted that the story made the memory connection for you, Reaper! It is a powerful moment when we stand in our own little self bodies for a moment and relive the logic and the certainty of a moment’s knowledge of what is real. (It’s like suddenly I am seeing my fellow writers as cartoon Muppet Babies–please forgive me for the image, but it makes me giggle!)

    6. Dennis

      I really enjoyed this story and brought back many memories of my childhood imagination. I was an introvert and spent a lot of time alone with many stuffed animals around my bed.

    7. Observer Tim

      This is a fantastic story and beautifully told, down to the little touches that get noticed when the mind is not too active to see them. Brilliant writing and a perfect capture of the mind of a small child. It brings back memories of simpler times.

  30. jhowe

    A little over a year ago I bought a small plastic blowgun that shoots foam darts with suction cup ends. They stick nicely to a hard surface such as a computer monitor. Sometimes, after reading the prompt, I would shoot darts at Brian’s photo on the Writer’s Digest home page. The accuracy of these things is not always great. Once I stuck one on the bearded script writer on the right, a clean head shot. A few times, when the prompt was very specific and difficult, I considered removing the suction cup from the dart, effectively putting the blowgun into stun mode.

    On Wednesday, after reading the prompt, I got out my blowgun and took aim at Brian. Right before my eyes he twitched, his eyes narrowed even further and he started to speak. His voice was not what I had imagined. “Are you writing this in past tense or present? Make up your mind.”

    “Excuse me?” I say.

    “You heard me.”

    “Well, it’s… present tense.”

    “Then I suggest you go back and check. You clearly fall into the past tense on several occasions.”

    “If this is about the darts, I probably owe you an apology.”

    “Probably?”

    “Ok, I’m sorry.”

    “And that story you submitted yesterday, the Mona Lisa piece…”

    “Yes?”

    “Where did you search for your facts?”

    “Uh, I didn’t…I made most of it up.”

    “I suggest you read ‘Five Tips for Writing Historical Fiction’ from my blog on April 11, 2014.”

    “I’ll do that. Do you read all the responses to this prompt?”

    He paused longer than he should have, “….as far as you know.”

    “As far as I know what?”

    “I also have a piece from May 29, 2014 called ‘Five Tips for Hitting Bestsellers Lists.”

    “Oh yeah?”

    “Don’t worry about that one.”

    “Ok, I truly apologize for the darts.”

    “Seriously, you considered putting the blowgun into stun mode?”

    “I was out of my head.”

    “I’ll say.”

    “If it’s any consolation, I really appreciate what you and Writer’s Digest have offered us here with this forum. It has helped me a great deal.”

    “Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy it.”

    “Did you just end a sentence with a preposition?”

    “No, I would never do that.”

    “To tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure what a preposition is anyway.”

    “Finally, something noteworthy from you.”

    “Thank you. That was a compliment right?”

    “….as far as you know.”

    “I’m not even sure who is speaking right now”

    “Me neither.”

    “Ok, I’ll add a tag line,” I said.

    “That’s where I thought we were too.”

    “Sometimes, I like to experiment with my dialog.”

    “It shows.”

    “Ok, do you see this?” I held up the blow gun and dropped it into the waste basket. I looked up and Brian’s picture had been replaced by a guest author for NaNoWriMo. I fished the blowgun out of the basket and put it back in the drawer. You never know what prompt is going to come up next.

    1. Cceynowa

      This one I might print and tuck away… fantastic and fun! I’m glad my office partner isn’t in to see me grinning stupidly at the screen; you captured my inner dialogue (at times) perfectly.

    2. jmcody

      Okay this just made me laugh, really loud. I may have even snorted. Thank goodness I’m working at home today.

      This was exceedingly clever. Still grinning. Now back to work! 🙂

    3. lionetravail

      “I also have a piece from May 29, 2014 called ‘Five Tips for Hitting Bestsellers Lists.”

      “Oh yeah?”

      “Don’t worry about that one.”———— just genius 🙂

      What a completely, unabashedly, and laughingly wonderful take on the prompt! I’m chuckling in my office reading this, and hoping Brian does read through so he can laugh as well. The dialogue was crisp and believable as well as fun, and the “Okay, I’ll add a tag line,” I said, was also just brilliant.

      Kudos for this treasure, Jhowe!

  31. Manwe38

    Hi all,

    I’ve been gone for awhile, but I want to try and get back into the prompts. DISCLAIMER: this story is fiction, and not about me, or anybody that I know. Not sure on the word count.
    Glad to be back.

    ***

    I am not gay.

    I turned to the painting of my grandfather, the Senator. He’d always been a champion of minority rights, but he’d fought for the vote, not “alternative” lifestyles. What would he think, if he were still here? What would the towering intellect produce, the commanding voice say? Would he embrace what his own flesh-and-blood had become, or send it away, a dark stain on the family tree?

    The eyes rolled.

    I jumped, my heart tripping but not quite falling down. My lips parted, and a gentle whimper escaped, the sound of a sleeping dog caught in an endless nightmare. I leaned forward, ignoring the little voice that was telling me to run, and stared.

    The mouth moved.

    “Jesus!” I said. The head cocked, and a smile cracked the corners of his distinguished mouth.

    “Nope,” came the deep baritone. “Just me. How are you, butch?”

    I swallowed, my throat as dry as a limestone pit. “Good.”
    His eyes narrowed, the colors swirling. “You’re lying, young man. What did I always say about that?” A scowl joined the eagle’s glare. “Now tell me the truth.”

    My mouth worked up-and-down, but no sound came out. After a moment, my lungs began to relax. “I was just deciding whether or not to shoot myself.”
    His eyebrow cocked. “And why would you want to do that?”
    “I think I might be gay.”
    He nodded, the pastel silver of his hair rippling like an ocean wave. “That is a dilemma,” he said.
    “So what should I do?”
    “Make out with a girl. If it works, you’re home free. If not…” The tops of his shoulders shrugged. “Proceed with the plan.”

    My eyes bulged. “You mean I should kill myself?’
    “Of course. If you don’t, your dad will.” He yawned. “Anyway, it’s time for my nap. Good to see you, butch. And good luck.”

    With that, his face froze, becoming a painting once more. I stared at the intricate blend of oil and canvas, pastel and finish, then reached out and grabbed the gilded bronze frame.

    “That’s it?” I shouted. “You can’t leave me hanging like that? Grandpa, I need your help.”

    Nothing. Tears pricked my eyes, and I threw the overpriced mock-up across the room. “Thanks for nothing!” I said. Now the tears had become a flood. “I could’ve used your advice.”

    The painting crumpled to the floor. Inside my head, the familiar spoke:

    “My advice is simple: make love to a girl.”
    “And if I can’t?’
    “Then you’re shit out of luck. Now good night.” Then he was gone, and the silence left in his wake was louder than the roar of all the world’s guns. I sighed, and sat back on my heels, my throat burning in my stomach’s acid embrace. Always got right to the point, grandpa did. Clearly, death hadn’t changed him.

    What a shame.

    1. Observer Tim

      Welcome back, Manwe; we’ve missed you.

      This is a lovely character study of a man who can’t come to grips with his nature/temptation and how it relates to his past. My guess is that quite a few others went through a similar process as they discovered their sexuality.

      I recall memories of people touting grandpa’s ‘cure’ when I was a kid (in the 1960’s); that was the standard method of dealing with the issue then. This attitude was also at least in part behind the failure of the RC’s screening methods for priest candidates back then, though that’s a whole other tragedy.

    2. Cceynowa

      It never fails to amaze me how much power can be packed into such a short narrative. This was a wonderfully deep, though seemingly simple (much like grandpa’s solutions), that touches on so many issues. I recall my grandmother being utterly amazed that my best friend in elementary school was black…. and even more amazed that my mother allowed said friend to spend the night at our house. Talk about generational attitudes changing.

    3. lionetravail

      This is great, if sad- at least it tugs at my particular heartstrings. Be happy with yourself, and all else will take care of itself: your MC never got taught that lesson by either father or grandfather, and the internal pain caused by that kind of crap imposed from outside makes me sad for the victim of it, and angry at the causes of it.

      It’s a timeless theme, and nicely done Manwe- good to have you back.

    4. Manwe38

      Thanks guys!

      This was actually taken from a somewhat different, yet more graphic story. Basically, I took the last couple lines of that one and grew it into something that would fit with the prompt. I’m hoping to bring the other story to light at a future time, if the appropriate prompt shows up.

      Thanks for reading, everyone. It’s great to be back!

    5. Reaper

      This is an interesting look at either how family opinions can keep us quiet and drive us insane or the way some people will embrace certain steps forward but not others and definitely not in their own family. Either way it was wonderfully written. Glad you’re back.

    6. Dennis

      What a shame indeed. Nice to have another thought provoking story from you Manwe. Family units really do shape us whether we like it or not. It is really hard to come out from under the pressures of family values. Great story.

  32. lionetravail

    Countdown To Showdown

    “Da, Nikita Sergeyevich, it will be done as you have commanded,” said the well-dressed, portly gentleman as he finished his vodka and put the glass down on the edge of the desk.

    “Spasiba, old friend,” the bald man standing behind the desk said, finishing his own. He watched the other man leave the office, then sat wearily in his chair. He eyed the empty glass for a moment and set it down, and swiveled to look out his window.

    It was an overcast August day outside, spitting a cold rain driven by harsh winds off the Moskva, and it matched his mood well. He, too, felt like spitting, but the target of both his contempt and saliva was beyond his reach now. Far beyond the one, though not the other: not only was he dead, but his embalmed body had recently been moved from its high-profile resting place in Red Square to a site at the Kremlin’s walls. He considered, for the briefest moment, having his office moved so that he could, in fact, open his window and express his annoyance to the cause of it.

    His musings were interrupted by the arrival of his secretary, who tidied up the empty glass of his last visitor, and who refilled his own glass.

    “Comrade Premier,” the young man said.

    “Da, Aleksandr Pavelovich?” he answered.

    “Your schedule has been cleared for the next two hours.”

    “Spasiba,” the bald head of state said again. He picked up the vodka and considered it as his aide left the office When he was quite alone, he opened his lower left desk drawer and took out the framed photo which lay face down within, and turned it to look at the strong face which seemed to gaze back at him.

    “Josef Vissarionovich, you were a fucking rabid bastard animal,” he said to the picture and raised his glass to it. “Za vas, you shit.” He drank deeply, and set the vodka down again. He hung it on the wall beside the desk where it had hung until recently: a reminder of the challenging road to leadership, and sat back down again.

    “But what of yourself, Nikita Sergeyevich?”

    The bald man’s eyes shot open. “What?” he asked in disbelief. He looked around for the speaker, even before he consciously realized it was the voice of a man long gone. “Who is doing this?” he demanded in a voice which cracked at the end.

    “The fucking rabid bastard animal, my old comrade,” the voice came from his side, so he looked at the wall and his jaw dropped.

    “Yob tvoyu mat!” he breathed when he saw the eyes in the picture regarding him, the lips under the bushy mustache curved in a grand smile.

    “Da! Exactly, Nikita Sergeyevich! You are about to fuck your Mother… Mother Russia, to be precise.”

    The man looked at the vodka glass on the desk: empty. But it had been only a small amount of vodka in a life long filled with it, and…

    “Now, comrade. You renamed my city, moved my old aching bones from a position of honor to a position of piss and shit, and condemned me after my death when I could no longer respond. This seems hardly fair, does it?”

    “You can’t be real! I, I must be… be having some… it’s a delusion of some sort..!”

    “WAKE UP NIKITA SERGEYEVICH!”

    The bald man jerked, and looked around, eyes wide.

    “I meant that figuratively, Comrade. You complete fucked up the opportunity after you boldly ordered the shoot-down of the U2 flights May of last year- you had Eisenhower by the balls when you captured the pilot, but you let him squirm away!”

    “But I…”

    “But, you, pah! You were lucky when the foolish Amerikanskaya elected Kennedy instead of Nixon; he is a harder man than you, ‘Hurricane Nikita’. But if you continue your policies of inaction, our allies in Cuba will fall, and then who will keep the Yankee cowboys in check for us, eh?”

    “What…” the bald man swallowed. “What must I do?”

    “You will send weapons, and spetsnaz to train our Socialist brothers under Fidel, and pledges of assistance to arm them with our latest missiles to keep them safe from the imperialist Amerikanskaya, for a start. For a second, you must WAKE UP NIKITA SERGEYEVICH!”

    The bald man’s eyes flew open, and his yell brought his secretary at a run.

    “Comrade Premier! Are you well? Is anything wrong?”

    Nikita swallowed the awful taste in his mouth, and his breathing slowed somewhat. “Da. Da, Aleksandr Pavelovich.”

    “Do you need anything Comrade?” the young man asked.

    “No.” He glanced at the wall next to him and saw the picture. He squinted: was the smile just a bit wider than he remembered? “On second thought, yes. Get me Comrade Castro in Cuba,” he said, finally.

    “Da, Comrade Premier.”

    “Oh, and Aleksandr?”

    “Da?”

    “A large glass of cold water, if you please.”

    1. Observer Tim

      What little I’ve read of Comerades Stalin and Khrushchev tells me you nailed it, David. This is the kind of hallucination that easily could have happened in surreal life. Great story!

      Unfortunately, the Cuban Missile Crisis has been inexorably tied in my mind to Jay Ward’s story of the attempt to gain statehood for Moosylvania (Rocky & Bullwinkle). According to the story, they showed up at the White House not long after the missiles were discovered.

      1. Cceynowa

        OT, you comment made me realize I really, really, REALLY need to go back and study on actual history. I could follow lionetravail story (and he did a fine job of capturing the hard exterior and internal conflict of the men portrayed in his narrative), but your reference to Moosylvania brought much more reference for me.

        Lionetravail, a good read, as always. I use your use of native speech and dialogue as almost a course study on how to do it right. Great job!

    2. Manwe38

      Somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it actually went down. You captured the mood of Moscow, not to mention its weather, perfectly, and the dialogue was spot-on.

      Well done!

    3. Reaper

      Wonderfully written. It took me a second because at first I thought you were changing names and describing the thought patterns of Stalin, but that is mostly me waking up still. Once I got it this was even more amazing. Thank you for this one.

  33. Dennis

    After David’s inspiring post of his story placing, how many are going to do the WD short story contest? I’m working on one which is partly why I haven’t been able to post here for a couple of weeks. I hope many do as we have some great writers on this forum

    1. lionetravail

      Me me me me! I will be- have a few candidates to try. For the record, I’ve submitted stories to the recent genre fiction contest, stories I expanded from prompt takes; one in sci fi (clones), one in horror (Istanbul).

      I think everyone should feel like they can enter, as no one really knows what the judges will be looking for, plus I agree with Dennis about the very fine writers in this community 🙂

      (And thanks for the kind comment, Dennis!)

      1. Dennis

        Thanks David for mentioning that. I remember a recent post about people wondering if a previous posted prompt could be used for a contest. I guess since this once is up to 1500 words and mine have been mostly 500 i could expand one enough to make it new. I need to increase my odds so that helps.

  34. Dennis

    I sat down at my writing desk for another late night power session. I hoped to pound out a few more chapters tonight as I was behind schedule. It had already been several days in a row of 12 hour work days and then coming home to another six hours of writing. My eyes could barely focus. But I glanced at my prized autographed photo of Jay “The Doc” Wilson and new he’d help me through, just like he always did.

    I looked at his autograph, penned in that special red ink that I swear looked like blood. He had that devilish grin and piercing eyes. I always wondered what fiendish plot was being created in his head as that picture was taken. Yeah, he’s the man. He’s up to Twisted Tales number fifty and has no plans to stop. He’s a machine. I’ve read them all, studied them, borrowing a few ideas here and there which all students do at the beginning. In fact my latest novel is based on a plot idea form Twisted Tales twenty-five. But I’m sure he doesn’t mind, probably takes it as a complement.

    After an hour of straight writing I needed a break. I was seeing double. And when I glanced at The Doc, I swear his grin grew a bit and his eyes shifted ever so slightly. It was either the lack of sleep or my creepy story getting the best of me. I wondered if The Doc started out this way.

    Two hours later I was on a roll but got stuck on one particular scene and didn’t know what do to. Then an idea from Twisted Tales thirty-four popped into my head. “Yeah, I think that will work.” The Doc saved me again. Someday I’ll have to thank him personally.

    As I sat back for a moment feeling good about my small victory, I noticed a change in the photo. The Doc was no longer smiling but almost laughing at me. The ink of the autograph began to run, each letter looking as if it was an oozing wound.

    With all of that distracting me I didn’t hear the approaching footsteps. A chill ran down my spine and now The Doc appeared to be looking past me as he continued to laugh. I heard a creak of a floor board and took a slow gulp as I swung my chair around.

    Could it be? My eyes must be deceiving me because there before me stood Jay “The Doc” Wilson in the flesh with the same grin and piercing eyes as in the photo. I wanted to jump and scream for joy, but the scream took a different turn as I saw him raise the long, shiny knife above his head.

    The first and last words he ever spoke to me were, “Here’s for stealing my ideas asshole.”

    Killed by the hands of The Doc. Now how cool of a story is that?

    (Sorry Jay, I couldn’t resist. I hope you don’t mind the liberties I took with your persona.)

    1. lionetravail

      OMG, Dennis this is great for several reasons- it’s fun, well-written, and wonderfully imagined. And on top, Jay “the Doc” Wilson has totally made it: he’s got fan fic written about him!

      Woot! Nice job!

    2. cosivantutte

      😆 And the moral of this story is: Don’t steal The Doc’s ideas. Or…If you’re going to steal his ideas, don’t do it in front of his possessed picture. 😀

    3. Observer Tim

      It’s somehow appropriate that the picture is one of Doc. Given that he’s still alive (you are still alive, right Doc? Not writing from beyond the grave?), the picture has probably been possessed by his reputation. And that would be scary indeed. 😉

        1. Kerry Charlton

          I finally got here to read you. This is so funny for early morning, you’ve set my whole day up. Chilling funny, funny, chilling. Back and forth you went. I had a great time in reading this. Keep up the wondefrful stories Dennis.

  35. acre19641

    Speechless: On the wall next to your desk you have the picture of someone you greatly admire. It’s been there for a few years, but today you notice something different about the eyes-they are looking in a different direction. You rub your eyes, as if they are deceiving you, but when you look again you now notice the person’s mouth is open, as if he or she is trying to speak to you. Write this scene and (what happens next).
    You notice that the picture of stigma frond is talking to you to warn you about A DOCTOR NAMED
    Lopez. The doctor is trying to kill you with experimental medication. Then you go tell you psychiatrist this and they lock you up with Dr. Lopez being your doctor. He wants to use experimental medication on you. So you run for the door there is no escape off of ward 39 in Battle Creek MI. We just want to make you feel better here. Nobody here to get you we are just trying experimental medication on you is all. Then you tell then about the picture and they say delusions thinking again, try more of the medication. Then you shut up and they say it works and release you back into the wild again
    By Shawn Acre

    1. Observer Tim

      This is an interesting and frantic take, Shawn. It reads almost like the movie pitch for a thriller. Like most good second-person takes it’s very short, which is good because the style is hard to maintain.

      You don’t really need to include the prompt text; posting here it’s assumed.

  36. yaxomoxay

    Fast, check the picture. No, not the one on the wall, but the one on your facebook, that selfie you took last month in your office. Shit. Holy shit, you’re NOT going insane. You see it, the Great Leader’s picture is different than what it was on last week’s selfie, the Great Leader’s blue eyes are now pointing left. Everyone knows that They check your social traffic, and They issue the phones. But this… this is impossible. You look at the Great Leader again. No way! His mouth is open, you see that his mouth is slightly open as if he wanted to say your name. At first you think that They are testing a new monitoring technology, you touch the picture with the necessary reverence to avoid the overpopulated rusty jails. It’s just a picture, it’s on the wall, painted and unmovable as always. You think about the forbidden paintings, you saw some of them in the school’s restroom back then, like the Mona Lisa and her mysterious smile. Or the other one, the creepy with the man screaming the one they call “The scream”.
    What is the Great Leader doing? You try to remember what they told you about him, that he never lost at soccer or chess, that he has been seen working twenty-four hours a day for over sixty consecutive days. You sing in your head the songs he can sing so well on the radio. But this, is stuff out of the world.
    You have nothing but to talk to him, in a different way than your morning routine. You ask him his name, and at every blink of your eyes his facial expression slightly changes, but there’s no sound. It’s like an old cinematographer, you try to blink as fast as possible to read his lips. After several tries, you read and it doesn’t make any sens. You ask Him one more time, and you read the same word. You think it’s spelled Freydom, you write it down and once you do, the Great Leader’s mouth stops moving, but His eyes become watery. You know that it’s another impossible event, He doesn’t cry, ever, or if he does it is a show of His greatness and humility.
    You get back to your pad; Freydom. It’s a message from Him, so it must be important. What does it mean? What is it? You contemplate to call the authorities, but there is no way for you to explain that you’re not being blasphemous. What if they don’t see what you see. You’re afraid, you’re heart keeps running until… His face goes back to normal, His eyes now dry and His face as commanding as usual, as it should be. You’re left with just that piece of paper, and you’re too afraid. You know in your guts that it could be a dangerous message, something that should be kept away. There’s only one choice left for you: forget everything and throw away your “Freydom”.

    1. lionetravail

      Nicely done, Yaxomoxay. I totally feel like this is taking place in a dystopian future, and is the opening scene to a much longer story where freedom has never been known. It’s very evocative, so great job on this.

    2. Observer Tim

      Great job, yaxomoxay. Despite a few touches which set it in an alternate (or future) universe, I’m strongly drawn to an image of Kim Jong-Il and his cult of personality.

      Why do I have the feeling the portrait’s cry for ‘Freydom’ is actually a call to be set free of the living hell of captivity to his cult? This could easily be the seed of a much longer story about the nature of freedom.

    3. Reaper

      The way this is written, the reference to social media, it has a very strong 1984 feel brought to the modern time. I don’t read typical oppressed nation in this. I read cautionary tale. Forget everything and throw away your freedom, or the alternate reading the way you led to it, ignore everything. Those are words of a culture that has known freedom and given it up for illusions, not ones that have never known it. There is some strong commentary in this and I loved it.

  37. Pete

    With the twins fed, bathed, and hopefully—oh please God—down for the night, I enter what was once my office. It’s been another one of those whirlwind evenings and I’m not really in the mood to clean up, but alas, I find my chair has been mistaken for a laundry basket. I turn on the lamp to more surprises, finding that my antique desk is buried beneath the clutter of construction paper, crayons, magazines, and other arts and crafts.

    Finding my laptop, I knock over a tube of glitter that falls to the floor like fairy dust. It just never ends. I sink into the chair of clothes and wait for it to boot up. From the sound of things, Ella is on the couch in the den watching The Biggest Loser. With the kids in bed we no longer have to play nice or even speak to each other.

    I stare at the picture on the wall, the one from my childhood home. Dad is pushing my sister and me on the swings, we’re maybe eight and five, all breeze and smiles. It’s my favorite picture of him even though I always notice how my dad’s eyes are set on Stacey, his boundless love captured forever in time. She always was Daddy’s little girl.

    I log into facebook and start the mindless stroll through my feed, feeling my mind liquefy as I stare at the pictures of other people’s kids, plates of food, cars, selfies, skimming over the thoughts on the midterm election. Wait.

    I jerk to a stop and scroll back to my sister’s throwback Thursday picture—the same photograph on the frame on my wall. Only in her picture Dad is looking at me. Same soft eyes, same loving glance, but looking left, not right. I stand up and compare it to mine. Everything is the same, even the trails of her swirling blonde hair in the wind. But now, in the picture on my wall, Dad is looking directly out to me, reaching.

    I take out my phone, my hand rattling as I punch Stacey’s name. It’s not until the third ring that I realize we haven’t spoken in nearly two years. Mom’s funeral.

    “Eric?”

    “Stacey, how are you?”

    “I’m uh, good.”

    A horrible silence falls between us. I squeeze the bridge of my nose, looking to the wall. I sit up straight. Dad is nodding in the picture. I think about popping a Xanax.

    “You still there?”

    “Yeah, sorry. Hey look, that picture, the one you posted of Dad. He’s looking at me. Did you see that?”

    She sighs. “Um, yeah Eric, of course he is. You were always the favorite.”

    I turn to my photo. Dad’s eyes are once again locked on Stacey. I can almost hear the squeak of the chain as he pushes us.

    Higher!

    “Eric, are you sure you’re okay?

    “Yes, uh, I don’t know. Hey, was Dad cross-eyed?”

    When she laughs it reminds me of those summer trips to the beach, when we were bored and I’d make up jokes trying to get a chuckle out of her. “No, I don’t remember him that way.

    “Me neither.” This time the silence is warmer. With my foot I trace the glitter on the floor. In the other room a physical trainer screams about a weigh in. I think about the man I’ve become. Snapping at my wife, always in a rush to get away. When did I stop smiling?

    “God I miss him, Stacey.”

    “Me too.”

    I look back to the picture of my father, selfless and caring, enjoying a moment in the sun that he never could have known would mean so much to his two children. Or maybe he did. I don’t know. I just know that it’s my turn to do the pushing.

    I decide to buy a swing set.

    1. Cceynowa

      Your MC “playing nice” with his wife for the sake of the kids made my insides ache. Great story Pete, and beautifully written. Your last line was perfect: full of hope and promise– everything a marriage, family relationships, and parenthood should be.

    2. lionetravail

      What a wonderful slice-of-life story, Pete- love the present tense for this! It’s such an eternal theme, when the ‘wakeup’ finally comes.

      I think you handled this awkward prompt (at least I found it so- how many tropes are there to explain something so improbable?) very deftly: the ‘impossibility’ of Dad facing the other way to send a message to his wayward son is unimportant and barely felt in this story, since the rest of it is so powerfully touching.

    3. Reaper

      You made me run an emotional roller coaster. Your first paragraph had me smiling, the second brought dread and despair. From there I was with your MC in his emotional journey. This was lovely Pete.

    4. Dennis

      I really loved this Pete. How many families are like the one you describe? Unfortunately more than I want to know. But you gave hope for this family and you did it so cleverly with the photo. Really nice touch.

  38. jhowe

    Mario Peru talked on the phone in his spacious office overlooking the bustling canals of Venice. He was talking to his man in Miami about a matter that was best left undisclosed. In a recessed niche in the plastered wall Mario admired his framed Mona Lisa which never failed to calm his suffering nerves. The conversation with his man ended badly and Mario was grateful for the presence of the grand lady.

    After pouring himself a small glass of limoncello at the well-stocked sideboard and adding two Maraschino cherries, Mario sat in his leather arm chair and put his wingtip clad feet on his mahogany desk. He raised his glass to the Mona Lisa and admired her ever vigilant eyes that seemed to follow him everywhere. “Mon Cherie,” he said with a smile. “You find me irresistible, no?”

    It was at times like these that Mario could not help but recall and ruminate the story of his great grandfather, Vincenzo Peruggia. In 1911, Peruggia, a museum employee, had stolen the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in broad daylight. There were many investigations that led in many different directions but the painting was finally recovered two years later in Peruggia’s apartment and was returned to the museum. Vincenzo Peruggia, it was assumed, never managed to smuggle the painting back to Italy where he fervently believed it should be displayed. He had spent only two years in a Paris prison for his crime.

    Much was written about this heist and speculation about the authenticity of the returned painting was much talked about among some in the art world. But it was back, and to the endearing public, that’s all that mattered. In fact, Mario knew but kept to himself, the painting that now hung in the Louvre was a fake. Commissioned forger Yves Chaudron had painted six copies of the Mona Lisa after the heist in an attempt to sell them in the United States. This scheme failed, but the best forgery, painted on antiquated canvas, ended up stashed in Peruggia’s apartment while the original was secretly sent to Peruggia’s brother (Mario’s Great Uncle) in Naples who had shortened his name to Peru upon learning of his windfall.

    Mario Peru raised his glass once again. “Mon Cherie, it pleases me to have you here with me. During our next drink together I shall recall how you came to me.” Mario drained his glass as the grand lady appeared to wink at him. Coughing, he set down his glass and walked to the painting and saw to his horror that a sizable fragment of pigment had fallen off the painting around her right eye.

    “What dreadfulness is this?” Mario said, examining the damage closer. Had he allowed the painting to become too dry? He stared at the canvas, at the void the fallen pigment had left behind and thought he could see the image of a wheel. Had Leonardo painted his masterpiece over another painting? He thought it unlikely. He lightly scraped the area with a thumbnail and more pigment fell off. There was a horizontal bar that reminded Mario of a train wheel.

    In anger, Mario scraped at a piece of loose paint around her mouth. The head of a figure appeared wearing what appeared to be a conductor’s cap. Mario calmly walked back to his desk, opened a side drawer and removed a Smith and Wesson .32 revolver. He pulled back the hammer and it clicked into place. There were no trains in 1503. He contemplated the end of the blue/black barrel. What he had here was a fake. Mario raised the gun and fired a bullet into the Mona Lisa, right into her frumpy ass heart.

    1. Jay Wilson

      That poor guy. This whole time he thought he had the original Lisa, and it turns out he had a poorly painted one on used canvas. Nicely, done, Jhowe. Your prose are fluid and the back-story was the most entertaining part for me. 🙂

    2. Cceynowa

      This is great jhowe! I gave up shortly after starting on this prompt with making it a “real life scenario.” I simply could not think of a way to twist it to realism… and then you post this masterful piece! Bravo!

    3. lionetravail

      Very clever, very slick. Great job finding a way to make the story fit perfectly to the prompt, getting the action and reveal in a wonderfully innovative way. I am so impressed, as I found myself struggling with this prompt. This was readable, and awesome, and I worry about what Mario’s gonna do from here- I suspect a great deal of physical pain will be had by many 🙂

    4. Observer Tim

      Mario should have known something was up when the painting was on canvas; the original is on a wood panel. And I think he’ll be even more unhappy when he finds out that some of the copies from that era are also worth a tidy sum, especially if their provenance ties them to the theft. It would have been enough money to finance his voyage to hunt down and blast whoever ripped him off…

      Great story, jhowe!

    5. snuzcook

      Love the long circle of justice in this one, jhowe! You’ve woven a great story, told it well, gave us a deliscious reveal, and sealed it with a kiss–well, a .32 slug to the ‘frump ass heart.’ Well done!

    6. Reaper

      This is a deep story with a lot of info for such a small number of words. You also had me thinking suicide and the ending was beautiful, poetic, and just amazing. Nice story telling here.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m with Reaperon this one. I was certain he’d kill himself. Then he just became an ordinary, sleeze crook. Quite a story. You in top form this week.

  39. Jay Wilson

    From Inside the Bedroom

    When I was little, I got scared easily. There were noises in the house that I couldn’t explain, and to this day, I can’t quite describe the type of sounds. They were eerie and slightly distant as if not in the house at all, but they were definitely coming from inside.

    One night I laid in my bed having a hard time sleeping. I passed out and woke up several times. Around midnight, there was the faint sound of static in my ears, and, oddly, the poster of Einstein seemed to be moving. Of course, it was dark in there and I was no stranger to the ways in which darkness played tricks on you. So, I just closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

    A little while later, I woke up and I heard something moving in my room. I opened my eyes real wide like you do in the darkness thinking that it might help you see better, and I looked around. I could barely see anything, but one thing I remember very clearly. When I put my head back on the pillow and looked at the poster on the wall, it was torn, and the man was gone.

    I jumped out of my bed, and looked around. I’d seen my fair share of scary movies growing up, and so I knew that if the poster was empty, then it had to have gone somewhere. Well, I didn’t see anything, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I looked down to put my slippers on to go sleep with my mother, and there was a hand reaching from under the bed toward my ankle.

    I screamed, and then ran out of the bedroom as fast as possible. I slammed my door shut, but I felt something following me the entire way.

    When I got to my mother’s room, I jumped into her bed and snuggled into her. She wrapped her arms around me, and thank God for her because if she hadn’t I probably would have completely lost it.

    I was finally able to fall asleep, but I woke up three hours later when a loud noise clattered and a light turned on. My mom stood at the bedroom door in her work clothes, and she looked at me. She told me she was sorry that she got stuck at work, and that she didn’t mean to get home so late. I looked at the clock on her dresser, and it was about four in the morning. Then I began to wonder, who was in the bed with me if not her?

    1. Cceynowa

      Why do I even bother reading your stuff Jay? I know it will creep me out, and yet, like an addict, I am drawn into it. This story is no exception, and it disturbs me more than your previous posting. I’ve got a thing with things under the bed… ugh. No sleep tonight

    2. Observer Tim

      This is the kind of creepy story I love; the one with the fear that turns out okay but severely unnerving at the end. You did a great job ramping up the atmosphere, then letting us down easy until the twist.

    3. snuzcook

      This one had me shaking my head, Jay. So many imaginings to explain what happened. I prefer to believe in a benevolent surrogate, because the alternatives are just too creepy. Well done!

    4. Nicki EagerReader

      Wonderful- your story poured ice water on the mills of my childhood fears (of which I still haven’t grown out). I laughed out loud when I read the last paragraph- creepy, poignant, and entertaining!

    5. Dennis

      Left us hanging again. No matter who was in that bed, it was still a bit creepy. The story reminds me of when I was boy and had this painting of a clown hanging in my room. In the dark as in you story the lights played with the clowns face and I swore it changed. To this day I don’t know why that painting was in there.

  40. Reaper

    Et Tu Berliner?

    Help me, one of a few universal phrases that translates so perfectly we can recognize it without sound.

    Conversely, trying to figure out what someone means when they ask for help without dialogue and diagrams is like trying to figuring out what your mother really wants for Christmas. My guilt makes me digress. Let me back up.

    Hanging above my desk in a place of honor is a framed photograph of a man I greatly admire. You would recognize it if you saw it. It is of this man in the last happy moment of his life.

    I was in the office waiting on a call. The call was to let me know when the heart I was transplanting began its airlift. As soon as that phone rang I would rush to the hospital. Being it was my first time performing the surgery my nerves were on edge and I was doing some deep breathing. When I looked at the picture my hero was looking in the wrong direction.

    I blinked, sure it was the stress causing the hallucination. When my eyes refocused they witnessed his mouth open as if he had something to tell me. I rubbed my eyes to make the insanity go away. When the dots cleared I saw his mouth moving in that timeless cry. Help me!

    “How can I help you?”

    But I knew. I’m what you might call middle of the road, or pick and choose when it comes to politics and causes. So while I am pretty adamant that anyone who owns a gun should take safety courses I don’t think they need to be a marksman. I own a gun. I have taken courses. I am not the world’s greatest shot. However, my hero needed me. He was smiling at my thought process.

    With the rifle in hand I stood in front of the picture and between worlds. My heels still felt the hardwood but my toes were on soft grass, I could tell even through the shoes. The stale odor of my coffee wafted from the office behind me to mingle with scent of said grass and exhaust from the world before me. I was a ghost in two places, unseen in both. I took careful aim at my target. I had to wait for the right moment or this would all be for nothing. My heart hammered with my thoughts of healing a wound to the world but finally I steadied my aim and waited for the face I knew would arrive.

    Cell phones have no respect for cross time events. They are also loud as hell, even between worlds. Just as I was squeezing the trigger my phone exploded with the call I had been waiting for. It ripped me completely back to my own time. Just before I fell out of that other world I saw his head going back and to the left. My shot had gone nowhere near the book repository I had been aiming at.

    1. jhowe

      You made me think on this one Reaper. I had to read it again to get it. Actually, I didn’t have it completely figured out, so I cheated and read Cceynowa’s comment and then it hit me. Was the grass the grassy knowle?

    2. jmcody

      One thing I love about your writing is how you always manage to bring the story full circle at the end. All the pixels suddenly, almost magically line up and the full picture blazes into focus, which makes for a very satisfying read. You’ve done it again here. (I believe it’s called artistry.)

      The heart surgeon wanting to heal a wound to the heart of the world was poetic, and a nice touch. I found myself disappointed that he did not succeed, and then horrified by what actually did happen.

    3. lionetravail

      Great historical fiction take, Reaper! I felt this story very keenly- who wouldn’t want the chance to rewrite history and undo a great tragedy?

      It’s awesome.

    4. snuzcook

      Clever take on the prompt and well executed, Reaper! You evoked the sensation of standing between two worlds well, and the hubris of the MC thinking he could change history only to create the evidence for a durable conspiracy theory was brilliant. Good one!

      1. Reaper

        Thank you for the kind words snuzcook. Coming from a writer of your caliber that means a lot. I’m glad that came through. I think I’m a little fixated on the idea of standing between worlds recently, in a metaphorical sense, so I was worried it would not read right.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I stand in your wake after this story. Because I was there that morning two hours before Oswald fired his rifle. I had been in a meeting downtown and when I got out, I drove the course Kennedytook. . My office was less than a mile from Parkland hospital. This is a brilliant way to bring back the past. Sorry to take so long to get to your story. When I read you, I read art…….

        1. Reaper

          Kerry, I was hoping for a comment from you on this one. Partially because I agree with your comment on your story and also look forward to talking to you every week. Also because I know you have strong memories attached to this event. You have mentioned them previously. As I was writing this I kept thinking, if I screw this up Kerry is going to take me to the woodshed. I’m pleased to have my work called art by you, it means a lot and I’m glad it brought out emotion. I’m just sorry they are not good ones.

      2. Reaper

        True story, the cell phones have joined with social media to take over the freemasons. I’m not sure what their plan is but it’s a definite conspiracy. Thanks Dennis, your words made me smile and feel pride.

    5. Herald Harbinger

      Enjoyed the story and the twist. The deepness and complexity of this piece could easily be developed further. I’m left with the big “What if” question and several others…but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s why I like it?

      1. Reaper

        I hope that’s why you like it. It could be developed further but one of two things would happen. It would turn into a complete conspiracy theory story and I would cry, because I have this thing against most conspiracy theories. The other is is might turn into a very pale imitation of King’s 11/22/63 and that would be bad all around.

  41. Observer Tim

    The Drawing

    A couple of dozen lines, that’s all she was. I’d stared across the desk at Muriel Trent when she drew the image, gasping in awe at the sheer artistic talent. And at the fact that she, like me, was a slightly overweight, slightly underdressed, slightly nerdy nobody. I’d wanted to ask her out, but never could work up the courage. If I could be said to have one great regret in life, that was it.

    That was thirty years ago. The only change is that I had the picture laminated when the corners started to fray. She watches me at the computer when I play video games; when I get a high score, which isn’t very often, I turn the screen to show her. When I have to scrap another abortive attempt at a novel, I cry to her.

    It was my birthday. The rest of my family was on a cruise in the Caribbean; they said we’d get together when they get home. My friends, both of them, were busy: Carl was in Muncie Indiana for some work thing and Andy was at his sister’s wedding reception. It was a quiet night, like so many before it.

    I looked up at the drawing; I’d never named her, since that would tie down her personality to a real life. A part of me said if I named her she would find someone and leave me. I know it’s stupid, but when was the last time your mind played fair?

    I stared for a moment and my wistful expression turned to confusion. I know that drawing intimately: every line, every contour, even the tiny point of blood in the corner from when I sneezed at her after the operation. But something was different. Her eyes, barely a shadow on the paper, were looking at me.

    I stared, gaping. The image was changing, shifting images like some art nouveau animated ad on the TV. Her mouth, normally a tiny slit, was opening. When the voice came it was barely audible, more the memory of a voice than real speech.

    “Daniel, help me.”

    I hyperventilated, trying but failing to gasp out a response. A few disjointed syllables were all I could manage before she spoke again.

    “The Montrose, Apartment 3C.”

    I’d heard of the place; it was a run-down four-storey walk-up about ten blocks away. I was sure I was hallucinating, but that tiny black inverted comma on the drawing’s cheek was all it took to put me in motion. I was out the door in less than two minutes.

    I rushed down the street at a fast walk, which was about as energetic as I could get with one foot half-gone. The Montrose stood at the corner of eighth and fifteenth, where it had for as far back as I could remember. I stepped over the place where somebody had vomited on the sidewalk and tugged on the ‘security’ door. It opened.

    I’m not too horribly out of shape, but the three half-flights of stairs up to the third floor nearly killed me. I’ve never been good with stairs. When I reached the landing I looked down the hall in both directions. There were three closed doors with black letters on bilious green frames: A, B, and D. The empty doorway must be apartment C.

    I walked into an apartment that could have been mine. The furniture was aging and worn, a few old science magazines begged to be thrown out. There was a dirty glass on the kitchen counter and one of the knives was missing from the rack.

    I heard a rasping gasp from the bedroom. I hobbled there at maximum speed and stared in.
    It was Muriel; even after all those years I knew her. What I couldn’t get my mind around was seeing her with her jeans around her ankles and blouse hiked up, her hands tied to the bedpost and a knife sticking out of her chest. The blank stare in her eyes told me she was dead.

    Her faint gasp told me I was an idiot. I snapped several pictures with my phone (no, I’m not sick like that – it was evidence), then called 911. I found a blanket and put it over her, then tried to wake her.

    It must have been a slow night because the paramedics were there in less than five minutes. The police were only seconds behind. When I told the police my story I got an all-expense paid ride to the station and some nice chrome bracelets.

    It took several hours to sort everything out, especially when they saw the pictures on my phone. At the time I didn’t know why they finally let me go, but later I found out it was because Muriel had woken up and given them a partial description of her attacker. For once I was glad not to be a muscular man in my mid-twenties.

    The police actually took me to the hospital where she was staying, mostly because she’d asked to see me. By name. An officer stood in the room as I went in to see her.

    Her voice was deeper and a bit hoarser than I remembered, though that could just have been the rejuvenating effect of a bad memory. “Daniel? Is it really you?”

    “Yeah, most of me. Are you okay?”

    “Not really. I was stabbed and…”

    “I know. You don’t have to say it. I was the one who called 911.”

    “That’s what they said. What caused you to be there?”

    I thought of giving some flip line about being in the neighbourhood but decided to do better. I told her the truth, all the way back to the talking picture. She made me repeat that part two or three times.

    That’s really the end of the story. They never caught the bastard that attacked her, but I was there to help her through recovery and counselling. The drawing hasn’t done anything else weird ever since. Not even when Muriel moved in.

    1. Cceynowa

      There is so much about this I like, I don’t even know where to begin. The story itself is fantastic, and the ending makes my heart smile, but what I can’t get over is all the little details and phrases that drew me in and painted such a clear picture (puns intended). My favorite, if I had to choose, would be, “more the memory of a voice than real speech,” but the inverted comma is a close second for sure. Beautiful writing.

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks greatly, Cceynowa; that’s a wonderful compliment. I discovered back in my D&D days that tossing in a few tiny irrelevent details could really help build the reality of a descriptive scene. I recommend the technique to everyone who writes.

        Of course, the downside involved hours of gaming time devoted to figuring out why there were two copper coins and a rat skull in the corner of the room…

    2. jhowe

      Nicely done OT. How do you think of these things? I read this straight through and could picture every detail as the story unfolded. Very enjoyable and heart warming.

    3. Manwe38

      This was a gorgeous story, Observer Tim. I absolutely loved the tension and suspense, not to mention that the ending just made it for me.

      Thanks for sharing!

    4. jmcody

      How poetic that the symbol of your MC’s lost love, the artifact left by the one that got away, turned out to contain the seeds of a new relationship. That’s kind of how life works, in my opinion, and you’ve illustrated that sense of mystery beautifully here.

      I have just one quibble: He took pictures and then called 911? Really???

      Other than that, I loved it.

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks, JM, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart (it’s arguable whether the hopeless or the romantic takes precedence).

        Regarding the quibble, I could argue that Daniel was kind of stressed out and not thinking clearly at that point. It’s amazing the kind of odd decisions that get made in a panic state.

    5. lionetravail

      What a wonderfully human take on how to handle the bizarre, and take it in stride. Such great language here, Tim- I love the last line, offered almost as a throwaway, which just seals how human a story this is: “Not even when Muriel moved in.”

      Fantastic!

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks, David. I’ve always dreamed of trying to write an entire story in “throwaway lines”, but I haven’t quite figured out how yet. I know when correctly chosen and placed they can add entire new directions to a story.

        I won’t say I’m easily distracted, but … squirrel!

    6. Nicki EagerReader

      Great story, and I loved the characters- they were so real and endearing with their could be better, could be worse kind of lives. I also really enjoyed the language you employed (“abortive attempt at a novel”- never found words that better conveyed THAT particular situation and feeling- BRILLIANT)- and thanks for always being so meticulous about punctuation etc. 😉 It marks you out as the pro you are.

    7. Reaper

      The only thing I can add to what I see below is that for me it’s the things you don’t say that make this even more amazing. The missing half foot which I assume is a diabetes thing from other bits you have thrown in. The way we all approach our healthy with the MC saying he’s not that out of shape then disproving it in the next line. Amazing story and a wonderful read all around.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m at the bottom of a heap of your admirers, Tim, all with wonderful comments on your story. Needless to say, I totally agree. I was captured from the first line to the throw away at the end. A special kind of brilliance here.

  42. Jay Wilson

    When A Picture isn’t a Picture At All
    Word Count: Absurd

    During the middle of 2010, my friend Travis got me a job working at his friend’s place because they needed someone to housesit for the summer months. I agreed, mostly because I was usually fine on my own and, because I was between jobs, I needed the money.

    Two weeks into my stay, I began to hear strange noises throughout the house. There was a random pop, like the sound made when you force air through pursed lips. It would echo down the hallway, and I could never figure out where it came from. Sometimes, it sounded like someone kicked the front door, just one solid thump. I always checked the porch, but no one was there. I obviously just assumed it was a couple of the town kids even though the closest house was two miles north.

    One evening, after another two weeks of odd noises, I walked through the living room, and something caught my eye. There was a little girl; she was maybe nine or ten, and standing in the hallway between that room and the kitchen. She had soot-black hair, a white gingham dress with a blue sash. She stared blankly at me, this much I remember because of how terrifying it was, and she kept her arms slack at her sides. Clutched in one hand was a small brown teddy bear with a missing eye.

    I turned away from the room and made my way back to the guest room. I closed the door, and sat down at the wooden desk on the far side of my room. I didn’t want to believe that I had seen anything, but I knew I wasn’t crazy. After all, I had hallucinated before—not being a stranger to drugs—and this was as real as it got.

    I stayed up that entire night until the sun came up, and I investigated the living room. I specifically focused most of my attention on that hallway where the little girl stood. The walls looked normal, and there was no mirror. The light recess above housed nothing more than a small incandescent bulb, and there were no nearby windows.

    A few days later, when I’d finally started to get some of my gumption back, I walked into the kitchen to grab a midnight snack before heading back to my room. I reached into the refrigerator to grab a cup of yogurt and a small bottle of Sunny Delight, and when I closed the door, the girl was standing behind it.

    I froze, nearly crushing the yogurt with my grip. Her muddy brown eyes stared up at me, the small one-eyed bear dangling from her tiny hand. For a long time our eyes met, and she seemed strangely curious of me. Not by any action of hers, but it was a deep inner feeling, one that I cannot explain. All I knew was that I eventually realized I could move, and ran from that room.

    When I got back to the guest room, I sat at the edge of the bed. My heart raced so hard I could hear and feel the thump deep in my ears. I didn’t know who that girl was or what she wanted, but I was certain that something was going on in that house.

    The next day, I finished dusting living room, and sat down to watch some television. I wasn’t always so lazy with my time, but I couldn’t resist the high definition video and theater-like sound. It was like being a theater but with regular TV shows.

    After the show ended, I stood and walked to the other side of the room to look at the rack of DVDs. As I looked through the rather poor collection, I looked up at a painting hanging from the wall. It was incredibly old, black paint on amber canvas. The portrait was of a man that reminded me of Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors. Despite the poor taste in movies, I thought, at least they knew good books.

    I chose the least bad movie I could find, fed it to the DVD player, and sat down to watch it. About fifteen minutes in, one of the characters in the movie reminded me of Twain, and so I looked back up at the painting. I couldn’t quite remember how it looked when I first saw it, but I swear his posture was looking at me at first near the rack, but now he was watching me on the couch. An uneasy feeling fell over me, but when I went back to the movie, I quickly forgot about it.

    Well, as you may or may not guess, I fell asleep during the movie. It was around five in the evening, and when I finally woke, night had fallen. After my second encounter with the girl, I had vowed to never be in either the kitchen or living room after dark. It was a simple rule, and I broke it to pieces.

    When I first opened my eyes, my initial thought wasn’t that I had passed out and was in the living room in the dark. It wasn’t that the movie had ended and that the television had shut off due to inactivity. No, it was that I couldn’t move. My eyes were open, I could look around, but from the neck down, I was paralyzed.

    No sweat, I thought, it wasn’t the first time I suffered from sleep paralysis. I’d endured it when I was a kid, and could usually avoid it by going to bed when actually tired rather than napping when my brain wasn’t exhausted. Except this time, I wasn’t in the safety of my own home. I was in the living room.

    I quickly looked around, but because I couldn’t move, all I could see was the wall, the coffee table, and the television. I looked up at the painting hanging on the wall, trying to keep my mind off the idea that the creepy little girl could be staring at me from behind. I expected to see Mark Twain, but instead I got some other thing. It had thin gray hair that looked more like strands of thread hanging from his boil-ridden skull. His eyes had sunk so deep that the eyelids and eyebrows were pulled tight. His mouth hung open, lips pulled so tight against his teeth that any extra tension might split them in half. The worst part was that he stared at me, and it was definitely deliberate.

    I tried to move, but I couldn’t. The man in the picture, or whatever he was, didn’t have a problem moving. He turned toward me, eyes engaged fully on mine, and a hand that wore skin like wet Kleenex on bone reached up and grasped the edge of the painting. I swore the tapestry was flat, but now it was three-dimensional, a portal of some kind that now allowed a dark creature to enter the living room.

    He climbed entirely from the wall, and landed on the ground with a soft thump. He wore a tattered suit, an old white shirt and tie behind a black blazer. As he moved toward me, I struggled to break the paralysis. With each step closer, the soft hungry groan for air escaping his thin lips grew louder and louder. He struggled to breathe as if asthmatic, but it didn’t feel restricted but as though the lungs had long dried up and filled with cobwebs.

    When it reached the coffee table, I blinked hard hoping that if I closed my eyes I could channel more energy to getting off that couch. No such luck, and as fortune would have it, when I opened my eyes the little girl was standing in front of me. This time, however, she stared up at the evil thing coming toward me.

    It stopped, and stared back at her. The dark gasps for air continued to wheeze, and she remained vigilant in stance. Eventually, she took a step forward, and the man took a step back. She took another step, and he receded further. Eventually, she’d pushed him against the wall where he climbed back into the painting, which quickly turned back to a two-dimensional portrait of the man that looked like Mark Twain.

    The girl turned, and slowly moved toward me. The bear dangled and danced at her side. She stopped next to me, and stared down into my eyes. She made no facial expression. Just stared. After a moment too long, I was able to shake my leg. Then, all at once, my entire body let out a giant quake. At some point during my recovery, the girl disappeared.

    I jump up from the couch, looked up at the painting, and Twain stared at me again. I promptly ran to my room, gathered my things, and left that house as fast as possible.

    I arrived home around three in the morning. The five four drive was terribly tiring, but it was much better than having to deal with the strange things in that house. I fell asleep, feeling completely safe in my own bed.

    The next day I called Travis, and told him I couldn’t stay there anymore. He inevitably asked why, and I told him everything that happened. We’d been friends for so long that I didn’t have any problem revealing to him that I may or may not have lost my shit in that house. He said he believed me, but that he would have to go there and watch it in my place. I told him he shouldn’t, but he did anyway.

    Around two in the morning, I got a call from Travis. He asked me where he’d seen that little girl, and I told him once in the kitchen and twice in the living room. He then asked me about the painting that I saw, and he told me he couldn’t find one. There was nothing on the wall in the living room or any other room in the house. I told him that was impossible, but I dared not drive out there to prove him wrong.

    At the end of our call, I wished him good luck, and decided to use Google to search for any information about the area. I figured there was always some kind of legend about something or other that might explain what happened, and I was right. Apparently, in the forties, a small family lived in the town, I presumed it was in that house though they didn’t specify where. During the summer that year, the police found the entire family murdered. The knife, as they said, was found hidden in the bear owned by the little girl. She had apparently perished after having eaten much of her family members and died from consuming too much rancid human flesh.

    A good bit of fear turned my body cold, and I looked up from my desk. I thought hard about the moment in that living room when I was paralyzed, and I wondered if that was her father in the painting. I certainly couldn’t know without seeing a picture of him, but there was real fear there when he backed away. He didn’t want the girl near him. I wondered if the little girl had appeared just to come after me, and further wondered if the father had tried to stop her. All these questions and more rushed to my mind, but then just as quickly vanished when I saw a small brown bear sitting on the edge of my bed. It had only one eye.

    1. cosivantutte

      Wow! Excellent job with this one. Great description and building of tension. The ending creeped me out. There’s just something very disturbing about a little girl killing and then eating her family members.

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow. This is good, Doc. It’s an excellent ghost tale with a surprising turnabout, told using masterful description. You really ramped up the creepiness factor, and set the bar very high for others who follow.

    3. Cceynowa

      Welp, shoulda seen that one comin’. Children should not be cannibals, I’ve long maintained this, simply because they do not know how to use stoves and other cooking devices properly, and everyone knows that raw human flesh is bad for you…. See what your story has me thinking! Excellent job, and creepy as all get out. Well done.

    4. jhowe

      This was a well written, suspenseful tale with lots of cool elements thrown in. I liked it when you broke the simple rule to pieces. This flowed nicely throughout and had me literally edging forward on my seat.

    5. jmcody

      “…a hand that wore skin like wet Kleenex on bone reached up and grasped the edge of the painting” has to be my favorite line in this.

      I thought the little girl was protecting the MC from the ghoul in the painting, and I was very surprised to learn that the opposite was true. I love it when a piece of writing surprises me. Nice, Jay.

    6. lionetravail

      Creeptastic! Awesome work, Jay- what a rich read, and a nice little glimpse of the unknown in one man’s life. Love the end, and the mysterious appearance of the bear.

      Yikes, what do you do when the crazy supernatural takes a liking to you? Great story.

    7. snuzcook

      Well done, Jay! I enjoyed the story immensely. It’s interesting how a character (or person) who simply silently is present can be interpreted as positive or negative. In this case, I read her as benevolent and the creepy male spectre as malevolent despite the reveal at the end. Love the bear reappearing for a nice touch of the never-ending creeps.

    8. Reaper

      I was expecting the painting to show up. The fact that it was missing and the bear did made this even scarier. Nice read. Still need that edit button. only thing I noticed was the friend asking where he’d seent he girl instead of I’d. Nice story and very intense.

    9. Dennis

      Very creepy. The appearance of the girl made me think of the twins in the Shining. i too thought the girl was there to help. I’m still trying wrap my head around why a girl would kill and eat her family. Was their house on top of some ancient burial ground? 🙂

  43. Trevor

    Please comment your thoughts on my story. Be completely honest! Sorry if it’s a bit long.

    A Writer’s Revenge

    The photo of Damien Buchanan had been hanging from the wall in my study ever since I’d moved into the apartment. Damien had been my favorite author ever since I was a child. His horror series, Fright Night, might not have been very popular, but I adored them. I would read one every night, devouring his twisted tales of horror like chocolate. His stories were always so disturbing and gruesome-and I loved them. Those stories were what inspired me to be a writer.

    And, I had to admit, Damien Buchanan was quite the looker back. He had a smooth, youthful face, green eyes that seemed to stare right into your soul, and long dark hair that went down past his shoulders. While other girls in my class fell for pop singers and movie stars, I fell for a woefully underrated author.

    Then, one evening, I was just mindlessly channel surfing when I noticed a report on the news channel. It was the worst news I had ever heard: Damien Buchanan had died in a car accident. The footage of Damien Buchanan’s Ford, crushed and mangled beyond comprehension, made me burst into tears right on the spot. For a long time, I acted like it had been my parents who had died. I stopped hanging out with my friends and immersed myself in writing. It became the only thing I lived for. Writing was my way to escape the harsh realities of life.

    Now, after several years of struggle, I had finally made it. I was a professional writer with my own horror series: Tales From The Darkest Mind. The series had gained a small following, but nowhere near as large as the followings for Twilight or The Hunger Games. The apartment I rented was very spacious and a great writing environment for me. I had converted one of the bedrooms into a study where I could write. My writing desk was against the wall, and hanging above it was a picture of the beloved man who had inspired me to pursue this career. Whenever I had Writer’s Block, I would look at the photo and the words just seemed to come as easily as water flowing down a river. Even though he was dead, he was still inspiring me.

    One warm summer night, I was up late working on the latest Tales From The Darkest Mind book. I needed to have it done by the end of the month, and I had only finished three of the sixteen stories I needed to include. As my eyelids grew heavy and I started to nod off, I glanced up at the picture of Damien. His green eyes seemed to stare right at me.

    “Wait a minute. His eyes aren’t supposed to look straight.” I thought. Usually, his eyes were looking to the right, as if he were looking at someone standing beside him. I rubbed my eyes, thinking that my drowsiness was making me see things, but Damien’s eyes were still staring daggers at me.

    Then, before my eyes, Damien Buchanan’s blank expression turned into a smile. I jumped up and backed away from the framed picture as Damien’s mouth began to open. Then, he spoke. His voice was very smooth and confident.

    “Hello, Amy.” He noticed my terror-stricken face and spoke with gentle reassurance. “Don’t be afraid. It’s not like I’ve come here to kill you. Why would I want to hurt my biggest fan?” Now calming down, I walked over to the wall, took the picture frame off its’ hook, and sat down in the chair to talk with Damien.

    “How are you here? I thought you were dead.” I said, choosing my words carefully. I didn’t want to say something stupid in front of my favorite author.

    “I am dead, and I don’t really know HOW I got here. But I’m glad I am. The truth is, I’ve been here for a while now. I can see that you’re a very big fan of my work. I appreciate that, Amy. Not many people enjoyed my stories. Guess they were too grisly for them.” Damien spoke with passion and elegance, like a really good motivational speaker. Suddenly, I felt tears streaming down my face. They cascaded down my face like a waterfall. Some of my tears splashed onto the glass picture frame.

    “What’s wrong, dear? Why are you weeping?” Damien asked, his voice filled with genuine concern.

    “I-I’m sorry. It’s just that….when you died in that car accident, I took it really hard. I just can’t stand the fact that you’re gone.” I said, drying my tears with the sleeve of my sweater. The scratchy fabric did nothing but irritate my eyes.

    Damien was silent for a moment, as if I said something that offended him. But then, he told me something that made me gasp in surprise:

    “I didn’t die in a car accident, Amy. I was murdered.”

    “What!? You were murdered? But I saw the news report! You were in that car! You were dead!” My heart was pounding so hard, I thought it might spring out of my chest.

    “It was a setup. My killer snuck up behind me in my apartment and whacked me over the head with a baseball bat. The blow killed me instantly. Then, he put me in my car and drove it off that bridge to make it look like I’d driven off the road.” Damien talked pretty casually for someone describing his own death.

    “Oh my God! I can’t believe this! Who was it? Who killed you?” I didn’t mean to sound excited, but I just had to know who murdered the best author I’d ever known.

    “William Hasburg.”

    I recognized the name. He was the author of a fantasy series entitled The Battle Of Galaxia. It was really popular with my classmates, but not with me. I just wasn’t into fantasy or sci-fi. But the book became a smash hit, completely overshadowing Fright Night. I couldn’t imagine any reason why William would want to kill Damien. It obviously couldn’t be to get rid of literary competition.

    “Why would William do that? Why would he want to kill you?” I asked nervously, unsure that I wanted to know the answer.

    That’s when Damien revealed the whole story to me. He and William had gone to college together, and they were even roommates. They both had the same dream: To become famous writers. So when their English professor announced that the student who submitted the best short story would get it published in a famous writing magazine, both of them got to work. They would spend hours working on their stories, even giving each other pointers on how to improve their stories. When the day came for their professor to announce the winner of the contest, Damien’s story came out on top.

    That’s when William changed. He became very distant from Damien and wouldn’t even talk to Damien anymore. Finally, at the end of the semester, Damien opted to change dorms. He couldn’t stand William’s patronizing silence. “I guess that, after that, William started to hate me. And hate can make a person do crazy things. Even kill.” Damien concluded his tragic backstory.

    “Wow. I can’t believe William got away with it. I’m so sorry.” I felt like my heart was bleeding out in painful spurts.

    “He doesn’t have to get away with it.”

    “What do you mean?” But deep down, I knew what Damien meant.

    “You can make sure he doesn’t get away with what he did to me. You can get the justice I never received from the law. You can avenge me, my prodigy! Avenge me!” Damien’s calm, collected voice had now erupted into one of fury and raw emotion.

    “You’re right. I’ll do it. I won’t let you down, Damien.” With that, I put Damien’s picture back on the wall and got onto my computer. I searched up William Hasburg online and saw that he had a book signing scheduled for that Friday at a bookstore in town. It would be the perfect time to get my revenge. I told Damien what I planned to do, and he nodded in agreement.

    “It’s perfect, my dear. Completely flawless.” Damien said, his voice oozing with satisfaction.

    The next morning, I got up early and drove out of town to a rundown gun shop. I bought a 32mm pistol and paid for it on the spot. I didn’t even have to fill out any paperwork. Now I had everything I needed to carry out my plan. I just had to wait for Friday morning to arrive. Every minute felt like an hour.

    When the day finally came, I put on an old ski mask, got my pistol, and started for the front door. But before I left, I got a few last words of encouragement from my new mentor.

    “Don’t let his pleas for mercy stop you. He’ll do anything to stop you from giving him what he deserves. Don’t let him fool you.”

    I drove out to the bookstore just as the book signing was beginning. A long line of people, mostly teenagers, were lined up inside the store, waiting their turn to get their books signed by William. Hidden behind a rack of paperback novels, I watched the young man sign books and greet fans. The huge smile on his face almost made him look innocent. But I knew what he had done. I knew he was evil. I was ready.

    “Hey! Hasburg!” I shouted as I stepped out from behind the metal rack.

    William got up and looked at me, and many of the people who were waiting in line turned to face me. William gasped in surprise when I raised the pistol at him.

    “This is for Damien.” Those were my last words to him before I fired the pistol. The bullet went right through his skull, splattering blood all over the display of novels behind him. Panicked cries of terror rang throughout the store like a wailing fire alarm. Teens and store employees ran around in a frenzy, trying to get out of the building. Before anyone could stop me, I ran out the front door, pushing several people out of my way to do so.

    I leaped into my car and sped away with a screech of tires. I drove out to a secluded lake and tossed the pistol and mask into the dark waters. They sank faster than a brick in the ocean. My job completed, I got back into my car and drove home.

    I went into the study, got Damien off the wall, and sank down into my chair. “I did it, Damien. I killed him.”

    “Great work, my dear. You’ve been such a loyal fan to me. I couldn’t have asked any better of you.”

    “Thank you.” I stared at Damien’s beautiful face. His smooth complexion. His long, flowing hair. His abs that were peeking out from his unbuttoned shirt. “I love you, Damien.” Then, I kissed Damien, forgetting for a moment that he was just a picture.

    “I love you too, Amy. I will never forget you.” And with those last kind words, Damien vanished, being replaced with his lifeless, still photograph. And ever since that day, I’ve never had trouble writing a story. Tales From The Darkest Mind has become the most popular horror series on the market. And there’s only one person I have to thank: Damien Buchanan. Because even though I can’t talk to him anymore, I know he’s still with me.

    1. Observer Tim

      This reads like it should be one of those Tales From The Darkest Mind, Trevor. I love the way you worked the idea and painted the depth of the MC’s obsession. The story itself is polished, suspenseful and enjoyable.

    2. jmcody

      This was a very imaginative approach. I liked how the MC got caught up in a horror of her own making. I am left wondering if this was a tale of madness or possession, but either way works. I will give one constructive criticism: it was a little exposition-heavy and I am wondering how you could have worked some of the backstory about her obsession into the dialogue with the photo. This is probably the number one thing I have learned from this forum, and something I always struggle with. But overall this was a very enjoyable read. Nice work, Trevor!

    3. Cceynowa

      This was an imaginative and creative take on the prompt, thank you for sharing! I felt like parts of it could have been tightened up a bit, especially in the first few paragraphs, but once you hit your stride mid-story it was wonderful. I constantly have to force myself to work within a word limit for this forum, and while it doesn’t always happen sticking close to the 500-limit usually helps me tighten up my own writing. I’ve had to learn to share the story and only the story, even though I love the details. Again, well done and thanks for sharing!

    4. Reaper

      Funny thing. I had this exact experience with a picture of Jay, except he was in a hospital for the criminally insane not dead. Hmmm.

      The story was great. I felt like this was aimed at a young teen audience. While the story was good for all ages the style seemed to go a bit younger. If that was the case please ignore what I am about to say. If you are aiming at a bit older I would agree with tightening it up. Throughout there are some repeated words in places that are a bit jarring. In the beginning there are sentences that repeat or rephrase thoughts where you could cut it down to one, possibly longer, sentence. That was the only thing that caught my attention though. Even with that this is a gripping story.

      1. lionetravail

        @ Reaper- hahahaha

        @ Trevor- nicely told story; I really liked the take into the dark side of rabid fandom. If there’s one thing I’d add to Reaper’s suggestions for polish is your main character Amy. She’s clearly a fan, and clearly has a creepy crush on Damien, but… it’s a reach for the average person to be willing to murder someone at a picture’s (?!?) say so. I’d love for you to telegraph something which paints her as not just an inspired fan of Damien’s, but a radical, on the edge kind of person who might very well go murder someone on the orders of a delusion or completely inexplicable event. Don’t get me wrong, I think the story is really awesome- I’d just like to see at least a hint of Amy’s crazy/sociopathy/OCD fan quality in the story to really make me feel disjointed.

    5. Nicki EagerReader

      I agree with Cceynova on the word count, though I think this story is one that should be contained within 500 words. I enjoyed it a lot, though up til the end I didn’t trust Damien- did his ghost set up Amy to off his old (successful, alive) buddy? Definitely dark… 🙂

    6. Dennis

      Great story and i too was wondering how it would end, that maybe Damien just got Amy to kill Hasburg. Although I think it is alright to go over the word count it is a good practice to try to stick to it. As others have said, that would help tighten it up. Also, using various sentence types would help and takes a while to learn. Great job.

  44. cosivantutte

    Sorry in advance for this one’s weirdness:

    Harrison Ford, a craggy-faced brooder in a rumpled trenchcoat, sits in a half-busted rowboat. He glares at a palm tree to his right. It’s a glorious, mysterious moment captured by Annie Leibovitz and reduced to a 6 x 8 frame. He’s 12,000 times older than me, but he is my muse, my inspiration, the hero of my secret fan fictions. I look at this picture every time I sit down to write and the words flow like ink on my keyboard – black and fast.

    Today starts like every single day. I sit down to my computer and look at my beloved picture. But something has changed. It takes me a few minutes to see what it is. He’s no longer glaring at that palm tree. He’s looking straight ahead, glaring at me.

    No. I must be seeing things. I rub my eyes and look again.

    His mouth opens and he speaks in that fabulously crabby Harrison Ford voice. “Stop staring at me, ya freak!” The picture slams face down.

    I sit still, mouth agape. Did I just have a bizarre, imaginary episode? I pick up the picture and set it upright. And he resumes talking.

    “I’ve tried to ignore you, but it’s been five years! Five years of goopy faced fan girl staring. I can’t take it anymore! I quit.” The picture waddles to the edge of the desk and, before I can think to stop it, jumps off. Half-way down to the floor, the picture disappears in a puff of sawdust.

    I look down at the pile of sawdust on the floor. “What the heck?”

        1. jmcody

          Unless it was Edwin’s wall that the picture of RDJ was hanging on… hmmmm…. 🙂

          Harrison Ford was an interesting choice, and that is exactly what I would imagine he would want to say to an obsessed fan. This had your trademark quirkiness which I always enjoy. “What the hell” is the perfect closing line (and also the thing I usually say after reading the prompt each week.). Thanks Cosi, this made me smile.

    1. Reaper

      Priceless. I can now go about the end of my day with a smile on my face. Thank you for this one. I think this weeks prompt inspires weirdness. I spent my night at work trying to think of a less bizarre story to tell. I’m glad you jumped in with both feet on this one.

    2. Cceynowa

      Oh my, typical Harrison. I keep thinking about the girl in one of the Indiana movies that has “call me” written on her eye-lids. Someone else mentioned the surreal adding to this piece, and I agree. “What the heck” is the perfect ending, for this prompt and your story! Great job.

  45. Girlwithalaptop

    I’m dreaming.

    I mean I must be.

    Stood my picture of my mother who had past so long ago, whose eyes were not looking into the camera like it always have been. Instead my mother looked to the left. I shake my head once more in fear I may be imagining it. I look back up expecting it to look it’s normal self but instead it changed once more.

    My mother had her mouth open as if to say something. I grab the picture and start to rub it with my shirt. There must be dirt, the picture can not have just changed. When I bring out the picture again and again it moved. My mother was gone. In fear I drop the picture, well only a picture frame now, and back to the wall. I’m crazy. I must be going completely bonkers if I think the picture moved then my mother disappeared.

    I sink down onto the ground of my room and attempt to compose myself. I gathered all my courage and went back to my bed were the picture laid. I picked it up looking into the glass and there sat my mother in the picture like it always was. She was holding a baby, me, and smiled tiredly into the camera that my Aunt Rachel held. I sighed and put down the picture.

    I decided to call my best friend Jackie, a shrink, to ask her what had happened. My phone was charging in front of the window like it had always been, across from my bed. Not a tiring journey but it was still difficult with all my things thrown around. As I bend to grab my phone I hear a bang. Not a gun bang or something dangerous but a sound of someone hitting a window. I look up to see an attractive man in the opposite window. He was shirtless with a tattoo on his back. He wasn’t looking at me nor was anyone below me to make the noise. I look back up and the man was looking back. I realized that it wasn’t my usually neighbor, he was younger and more my age than the collage professor from before. He had shocking blue eyes and longer hair. In short he was smokin’ hot! He gave me a friendly smile and turned back around in his apartment and disappeared. I laugh to myself about how stupid I must of looked gawking. I return to my mission of getting my phone it see an anonymous text message.

    ‘go down stairs to get the mail, hurry Maddeline!’

    I stood up straight. What the? No one knows my real name, I always say Maddie. The only person who used Maddeline was…

    I turned back to the picture of my mother holding me. The picture had changed again to her winking.

    ‘Let’s go! Chop chop you’re going to miss him!’

    My phone read again. I quickly grabbed a light jacket and my mail key and ran down the stairs not bothering with the elevator.

    Our mail boxes were out side in the fifty-six degree weather. I knew I was crazy to trust some hallucination and text messages but what the hell!

    The cold air surprisingly welcomed me instead of me getting hit in the face like usual. I walk to the boxes trying to calm my heart rate. There stood the man. The man from the window. He was leaning on the wall reading some letters. I fix my hair in a few sweeps and walk calmly to my mail. Surprisingly I did have quite a few letters and bills which made this all the more weird.

    “Hey, you’re the girl in the window right?” I hear a deep voice say. I turned.

    “Oh, yes. Sorry about that I just wasn’t expecting you to be there. I mean its not like I watched the guy before you or anything. That sound suspicions you know what I’m going to shut up.” I rambled feeling my face get red. The man laughed and I felt my heart jump.

    “It’s alright. I’m Jacob.” He said holding out his hand to greet me.

    “Maddie.” I tell him grabbing his oh so warm hand. I suddenly feel a vibration from my phone. I took a quick look at it too the the anonymous again.

    ‘Maddeline! Use your real name child!’

    I roll my eyes and continue.
    “But my real name is Maddeline if you prefer.” I explain.

    ~~~~
    Five years later Jacob and I were married. The picture also disappeared that night and I still get random texts once every blue moon. I don’t know if it really is my mother or not but honestly I don’t care. I feel like it is and it is a nice feeling to know someone is looking out for you. And besides it lead me to Jacob, my mother found my soul mate for me. So what proof did I have not to trust it!

  46. Cceynowa

    One Sided
    Words: 500 exact

    Einstein was usually covered in post-it notes, his wisdom hidden behind random memos and important meeting dates. His left cheek held the scar of a wayward thumbtack from my college years. Regardless, on the days when I needed him most, his steady gaze was there to provide me with silent encouragement.

    I had found the image in an aging magazine in my high school counselor’s office. It was in one of those throw-away publications full of inspirational quotes and advice, but Einstein’s words about logic getting me from point to point stood out. I had ripped the page from the magazine, stowed it in my backpack, and kept it for the better part of ten years. I had used logic to approach problems and imagination to find cost effective solutions. Seeing my budding talent Weinheimer Products and Trade Corp. had hired me while I was still earning my graduate degree, and in short order I was sitting pretty behind an elaborate oak desk auditing company mergers, bonds, and stock purchases. With some hard work I could retire before I was forty, and it was all thanks to Ol’ Albert pinned to my wall.

    My boss had frowned slightly at the ripped out page, but he had been willing to overlook my taste in decorations. After all, I never questioned his photograph of Gene Simmons, so why should he question mine of Albert? Sure, I knew that I should probably put the page in a frame, or find a better image with the same quote, but something about the creased and flimsy magazine paper was enduring to me. It too had suffered the late nights, missed holidays, lack of personal relationships, and obscene amounts of take-out food to obtain the spot at the oak desk. We were connected, Albert and I.

    Perhaps that is why I did not find it strange to be reading my latest proposal aloud to Albert one Friday evening long after everyone else had called it quits for the week. What did give me pause was when I noticed Albert’s eyes shift from straight ahead to the office’s far corner. I sat my proposal down and rubbed my own tired eyes. Working eighty plus hours a week was starting to play tricks on my mind. When I opened my eyes, Albert was staring directly at me, and I could see the intelligence behind the ink. His lips began to twitch. I could hear the paper moving, crinkling, and ripping. “Why have you not?”

    “Why not what,” I stuttered, leaning closer to the page.

    “Looked on the other side,” his face became still once more.

    With trembling hands, I took my friend off the wall and turned him over. The page now showed a group of children and adults gleefully gathered around a picnic table during a summer outing. The quote was from Michael J. Fox: “Family is not an important thing; it is everything.”

    My tears soaked through the page, staining Albert’s face on the other side.

    1. jmcody

      This was a nice about-face and a lovely way to portray the tension between the logical and emotional. More importantly, as a harried working mother I appreciated it’s message about priorities. In truth, it’s all about the family — Most of us work to support our families, but it’s important to at least aim for some kind of balance (even though we all know that work-life balance is a lie.)

      So you can see that your writing touched a nerve!

    2. Reaper

      Okay. The new format is messing with my head so apologies if this ends up in the wrong place. This is lovely for the story and the message and you did manage to get me there without being preachy. The story is the high level I have come to expect from you. What caught me were little details. The torn out page was perfect for Einstein because that is how I imagine him as a man with everything I have heard and seen from and about him. Excellent work.

    3. Cceynowa

      Thanks all! Family time is high on my list right now, and heavy on my mind. I’ve been turning down side jobs to spend more time with family, and thus this piece was inspired.

    4. lionetravail

      Beautiful story, Ccey, and fantastic with how quickly you got such a wonderfully written piece done- congrats. (One word choice- enduring, seemed to me like you might prefer ‘endearing’?) It was poetic in how the very things your MC admired about Einstein were turned upside-down by the very things Einstein told him were important. There’s a term I use when I see beautifully symmetric and harmonious writing- for me, it’s lyrical. Great job.

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