Spoken Stories

Today (March 20) is World Storytelling Day, a celebration of the art of oral storytelling. Stories have existed long before recorded human history, and in many cases, we would have no record of history prior to the written word if not for the tradition of passing along verbal tales from generation to generation. For example, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Aesop’s fables were first shared by word of mouth and were only recorded long after the stories were first imagined. The same is true of many religious texts.

Stephen Hawking, who passed away last week—and a man who, robbed of his voice, found a way to keep sharing his wisdom, said it well:

Writing Prompt: For World Storytelling Day, share the best story you’ve ever heard or told by word of mouth, or have a fictional character recount their favorite story.

Post your response in the comments in 500 words or fewer.

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41 thoughts on “Spoken Stories

  1. Jennifer Park

    38. The Odyssey

    [Follows “37. The Illness”, under “Simile but Different.” Click on my name above to see the list of chapters.]

    The Tstriniks were proud, boastful, aggressive, and deeply cowardly. This made them deeply easy to manipulate. For one, all Barbara had to do to win the trust of the new king was to listen to their tall tales at their first meeting after the coronation.

    “For thirty days I floated away on the decrepit dinghy, away from my warriors, away from my home, away from my treasures. I had nothing but the rancid seagoo to eat. Nothing but the clouds to shield me from the sun.

    “When I arrived at Kptgh, I was immediately thrown into the dungeon, for they knew of my defeat, and a defeated contender to the throne is more dangerous a criminal than a Gamn Shchk.

    “For two hundred days, I shivered alone in the dark, living on the slime that my tormentors dripped down the wall. For two hundred days more, they didn’t bother giving me the slime. I had to scrape the goomoss off the walls myself.

    “Then, a miracle. One of my tormentors was themselves thrown into the dungeon next to mine. They had given to me, and to other prisoners, too much slime. We could speak to each other only by scraping on the walls with our claws. We spoke to each other of our glorious campaigns. We made each other laugh with parodies of the other contenders. We pledged to each other our unending friendship.

    “Before our claws wore down to nothing, my friend was released to be enslaved. This was their mistake. My friend led a glorious rebellion of slaves in Chmni. Then swept through the Pgshp Valley, and down the Shktbidb Coast, and came to rescue me in Kptgh.

    “When we marched into Tstrini, our army of slaves had grown larger than the warrior army of Pkhbi, who was presuming to take the throne.

    “In the great battle, my friend, Shph, was heroically killed by a lucky volley.

    “But, I, and my slave-warriors, we were victorious. Phkbi was beheaded, and I declared myself king.”

    Barbara nodded appreciatively. She already knew the story.

    And that the Tstriniks no longer engaged in real warfare.

    All this had taken place inside a virtual chamber. A child’s game by Earth’s standards.

    A game with real consequences, but a game nonetheless. Princeling Phkbi had indeed been beheaded.

    Shph, of course, had never existed.

    And the king–the king no longer had a name–was now the king.

    Just for good measure, Barbara nodded again.

    “Now, Ambassador, tell me of your tale.”

    Barbara stuck to protocol. “Your triumph is my honor, my Lord.”

    So did the king. “Indeed. Do bask in my glory, Ambassador.”

    These were the folks entrusted with peacekeeping in this sector. Thankfully, they also had real weapons and knew how to use them.

  2. writer_sk

    Mom cleared her throat, cutting through the final thoughts my father had on local politics, having eaten every last bite of Easter ham, his slightly nervous habit of clearing all the plates away looming as he half smiled and bowed to let my mother have the floor. My sister grinned, still nibbling at bird-sized bites, having taken a reasonable amount of meat and starch but no peas. Her eyes darted back and forth hoping for a bit of sarcasm, jovial ribbing or humorous take on, well, really anything. I watched her delicate hands flutter to move the hair that would pop back over her eyes. I always recalled the bob hairstyle she got that so suited her small elf-like face. She hating the cut so much she cried but I loved how it made her look older and younger all at once. Her hair hung long now, was over-processed and a portion always shielded her right eye. Her hair-do, like her life could never reach it’s full and reachable potential. I remembered her small chubby fingers and little giggle when I chased her around and tickled her. I remember getting her out of her crib and putting her in my bed. I loved her as if she was my own baby as there are six years between us. When she fell and hit her head in her 20s, overcome by her addiction problems, at a loss as to what to do, I brought her a symbol of our childhood when she was in the hospital – my favorite rag doll, Stacey, who was a holly hobby doll. My mother said Lys picked her up and held her as though she were made of glass. My sister’s own state was often more fragile than glass. She was “O.K.” today. My mother would say in a hushed tone while pouring the coffee for dessert and blessing herself with the sign of the cross that she “looked good.” It was an assessment mom frequently made that I had grown to observe meant nothing. I could never tell if my sister was using or clean at any moment. Occasionally she disappeared for long periods during a family party but the only way I knew for certain was if she stayed away entirely, too engrossed in her other world to come back to the world of the living.

    My mom began her tale and before she spoke we knew it would be either about her dad, her childhood or church. She’d recently taken to telling stories about my aunt but I had rudely mentally checked out of that tale, and not responded and hadn’t heard one since. I took a bite of the restaurant-worthy garlic mashed potatoes with pieces of red skin in them that my husband had made with real cream and real garlic and thought of the apple pie I brought. We would have it directly following dinner, whereas I like to serve dessert two hours after dinner at my parties. I made room for it by not taking more deviled eggs than the two halves I’d consumed.

    Mom began in a childlike voice, “My father would say, ‘Connie, we’re going swimming. We’d tear into the house and grab our suits. He’d say be in the car in ten minutes. We’d say, yes dad and my mother would’ve packed up a delicious picnic lunch with cheese and tomato sandwiches, lemonade…”

    My uncle tried to send it in a different direction, often foggy on memories, “Was that when I broke my arm, Connie?” She shook her head no. My father set the forks straight and took my uncle’s plate, piling it upon the balanced other dirty plates and reaching for mine said, “Ya done, Sar?” I nodded thinking about the pie, “Thank you.”

    Everyone wanted to escape before mom’s story got long and teary. We all looked around, my sister saying, “I’ll do the dishes.”

    Even my recently-joined-the-family aunt-in-law seemed to know the drill. “That coffee smells great.” And then, “shall I pour everyone some?”

    My brother-in-law stayed, thoughtfully gazing at my mom and hanging on her every word, perhaps comparing a childhood memory of his own or maybe enjoying the wistful whimsy mixed with sorrow my mom’s stories had. I almost got up then decided to wait until at least she told the part about the dolphin ride on Papa’s back.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I didn’t know whether to smile or wipe a tear, your story hit me from so many directions. So true, it hurt some and yet the heart warming took over. This is obviously true or you are a writing genius. Even if it is reminisce, you’re in a class by yourself this week.
      Perhaps losing my.brother and sister both in the last two years can only stay inside so long. There are disadvantages being the baby of the family and this is one of them . However I wouldn’t have missed.this story for the pleasure of reading it

  3. E.C

    “The forest is overrated.” I piped from the passenger seat.
    “Maybe you were just looking in the wrong places,” Isabelle replied optimistically and turned onto a dirt path. “Trust me this place is amazing.”

    I sighed, un-amused. I have never visited a park, canyon, desert, or mountain that ever looked like anything from a book, a dream, or movie. I want to experience the emerald green grass, and morning dew. I want to feel the dense silence of mountain snow days. I want to smell the crisp spring air of a lilac and wild flower coated valley. I want to feel the sudden refreshing breeze on a scorching desert dune. Instead I got slime green moss, and afternoon animal sweats. I received heavy hail on a faded mountain face. I got the smokey wind of a polluted valley slum. And sweat off 5 pounds in the unrelenting Nevada desert.

    “Yeah well. I don’t want to get my hopes up.” I said as Isabelle parked in a gravel parking lot. We exited the car and stretched. I slung my backpack onto my shoulders and doused myself in bug spray.

    “UGH! I have a mosquito bite already!” Isabelle screeched as she snatched the spray out of my hands. I peered into the dense foliage. The trees seemed to bend into an arch which gave way to a secluded path.

    “So far. Mildly impressed.” I nodded as Isabelle smiled.
    “Let’s get a move on then girl!” She happily lead the way. In order to be happy with what I was given, I had to learn to be happy with what’s not in the book, or on the TV screen; no matter how bad I wanted to find it.

  4. Moirai-TQ

    We don’t have a privacy fence around our backyard, but a 4’ cyclone fence. Looking out our back sliding glass door, you can see for at least two miles. It really seems like forever, though. Our fence backs up to a sidewalk and a county road. On the other side of the county road are the acres and acres of pasture land. There are cows and a couple of small reservoirs. The cows are the best.

    Just watching them from our slider calms me down. Once in a while, if they’re close, I’ll open the door and yell out to the cows, “MOOOOO!” Yep, moo. Not the sound that cows really make, but moo. Ha ha ha ha! I get a kick out of it. I’ll yell it a couple more times. The cows turn to look at me. The looks on their sweet faces say, “Oh there she goes again. She’s such a silly human.”

    The cows are grass fed Angus. Most are completely black and some have white faces. I do have one favorite who (yes, who) was born about six years ago. The grass was still brown. Most of it was really short, but along the ditches that the rancher had dug to irrigate the fields some of the grass was about two to three feet high. I saw this brand new calf walking on the other side of that line of ditch grass. He looked blue. His hide was black and white spots. Not the normal black or white face Angus. I fell in love instantly. I wished I had the money to buy that calf. I wanted to keep the hide when she died, as he is gorgeous.

    I named the calf Blue.

    A couple of years go by and I’m convinced Blue is a bull. Then one year, what was hanging down indicated Blue was not a bull, but a cow! I wondered if she was going to be bred. I wanted to see little Blues walking around in the pasture land. I dreamed of owning her one day. If only.

    In the fall of 2017, I looked out at the cows, mooing at them, and I didn’t see her. I was heartbroken. Blue was in someone’s freezer! My dream would never come true, not that it would in reality anyway. But just knowing that the hide went to someone else or to a tanning factory was too much for me. I wanted to cry over Blue, but that would be silly. She’s just a cow! But she’s Blue!

    A couple of weeks later, I came out of my funk! Guess who was back?! Blue!! My Blue was back. I’m back to dreaming about owning the meat and hide. This will never happen because I don’t have the money and I’ve never spoken to the rancher about Blue. He would probably think that I’m crazy.

  5. Pete

    I breezed through the doors of Autumn Springs Assisted Care Center where I found the lovely Miss Cheryl at the front desk, stunning as ever in pink, her sandy blonde hair wrapped in a braid that fell over her left shoulder.

    She was going on with another nurse about latest drama with that no-good boyfriend of hers. I wiped my hair back and pretended not to listen as I signed the guest register, but Miss Cheryl shot me a wink that gave my heart the hiccups. Any man doing her wrong needed to get his brain checked for defects, that’s what was going through my head when she came around the desk and took my hand. “Oh Caleb, thank goodness you’re here, Mr. Wallace is having a day.”

    I didn’t have long. Mom wanted me home by dinner. And when Miss Cheryl squeezed my hand, I tried not to think about how Papa was having more and more “days” these days. With a nod, I set off for room 414.

    With a nod, I set off for Pap’s room. I marched past all the fancy paintings that lined the hallway and thought back to when he’d moved into this place. It had been so sudden. One minute he had his house and his truck, the next he was here, stuffed into a little room that could hardly hold his big voice.

    The biggest difference I’d found was that sometimes Papa’s eyes got wobbly and confused, like he’d just landed on planet Earth and was taking it all in. The candy—that was new. And he liked to ramble on about his childhood, telling the same story until my ears felt like they might melt and slide right off my head.

    His door was locked. I gave it a few bangs being that the old man’s hearing was shot. Another couple of bangs got him up and barking. “Who is it?”


    I heard a grunt. Something crashed to the floor. If I had to guess he’d banged into that table in his kitchenette, the one he was always cursing, calling it cheap like everything else at Autumn Springs. The door opened and my papa stood before me like he’d just marched through a tangle of briars.

    “Hey Papa. They said you’re making a fuss about something.”

    “I’m not.” he tossed a glare down the hall. “They are.”

    “Well, can I come in?”

    He turned, leaving the door open. Just as I thought, the little table was cockeyed against the wall, two overturned chairs on the floor.

    I walked in and picked one up. “Okay, so what’s the problem?”

    “Movie night,” he grumbled. “I ain’t watching Casablanca.”

    Movie night. Just like last week. I sat on the couch and did my best to remain calm. He crossed his arms and said he wasn’t going. I looked at him real hard, into those cloudy eyes of his, thinking maybe he was pulling my leg. Had to be. I mean, we had this exact conversation last week—right down to the foot stomp. How could he not remember last week but know every little detail about some storm fifty years ago?

    He caught me staring at him and growled. “What?”


    I looked away, pretending I didn’t care. Trying to be more like Mom. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t pretend not to care when I cared more than anything that my only grandpa was brain sick, whatever that was.

    I hopped up, turned to the windows and pulled the shades apart. Papa blinked at the sun, shielding his face with his hands like the world’s most dramatic vampire.

    Sometimes you had to laugh. “Come on, Papa. You love the sun.”

    He shifted in his recliner. Out the window, one of the staff members was pushing along an old lady in a wheelchair, over the walkway with the little bridge. The poor lady didn’t seem to notice that she was outside. She didn’t notice much of anything, really.

    Papa cleared his throat, his voice low but stirring with mischief. “Hey, did I tell you what happened over at Joe’s place the other night?”

    I froze, blinked my eyes and swallowed down a lump in my throat. I started to turn around to Papa but never made it, looked back to the window to blink a few times. Joe—Papa’s childhood friend. They used to run around causing trouble with when he was a kid, younger than me. He and Joe bet Marvin Peel that Marvin couldn’t pee across the electric fence.

    I caught my breath, fell back on the couch. I forced my attention to Papa, to the dull gleam in his eyes, ignoring the wet burn in my nose. I shook my head, knowing I had to be home soon. But soon would have to wait.

    “Joe’s place, huh? Nope. What happened?”

    You might say there were better ways to spend my thirteenth birthday, but hearing that story again, about how poor Marvin Peel got lit up like the county fair, it wasn’t so bad. Papa laughed his way through the end with a few new details, a few new words and chuckles and cackles and by the time he finished we were carrying on and he’d forgotten all about movie night.

    I just hoped Mom would understand.

  6. ShamelessHack

    It’s 4:45 in the afternoon and there’re no customers in the bar.
    Eddie and his scruffy dog walk in through the open door.
    Eddie sits on a barstool and the mutt jumps up on the empty stool next to his.
    The bartender stops wiping the bar, takes one look, and says to Eddie, “Sorry pal, but I don’t let any dogs in here.”
    Eddie says to the bartender, “How about if I buy the dog a drink? Would that be OK?”
    The bartender thinks for a minute, and says, “Nah, I don’t think so.”
    Eddie says, “How about if the dog orders the drink himself? He can talk.”
    At that the dog looks at the bartender, puts his front paws up on the bar, and says, “I’ll have a Bud Lite. Thanks.”
    The bartender is stunned. “Whaaa…?”
    Eddie says, “Now is it OK?”
    The bartender stares at the dog. “What’s your name, pup?”
    “George,” says the dog.
    “OK, George.” The bartender eyes the dog for another minute, then looks at Eddie and says, “The dog can stay.”
    The bartender brings the drinks and goes about his business.

    A few minutes later, Eddie leans over the bar and says to the bartender, “I have to go to the john. Will you watch George for me? He’ll be quiet, and it’s OK if he orders another beer.”
    “Sure, go ahead.”
    Eddie heads to the men’s room.
    A minute later the bartender checks his watch and makes a face.
    As there is no one else in the bar he says to George, “George, can you do me a favor?”
    “What’s on your mind?”
    “Well, it’s almost five o’clock, and if I don’t get a newspaper to bring home to my wife she’ll be pissed.”
    “Well, I can’t leave the bar, and there’s a newsstand down at the end of the block, but they close up exactly at five. Will go get me a copy the Daily News?”
    “Here, George. Here’s the money.”
    The bartender pulls three dollars out of his pocket and holds them out to George. The dog takes the bills in his jaws, jumps off the stool and disappears out the door of the bar.
    A few minutes later Eddie comes out of the men’s room.
    He looks around and then at the bartender. “Where’s George?”
    “I sent him out to get me a paper. But he should have been back by now.”
    Eddie runs to the open door and looks down the street.
    About halfway down the block there’s scruffy old George. And he’s in the middle of humping an elegant French Poodle.
    Eddie runs up to him.
    “George!” he yells at his rutting mutt. “What’s going on here? You’ve never done THIS before!”
    Without slowing down, George looks up at Eddie and says, “I’ve never had any MONEY before!”

  7. Sarah Doyen

    “Tell me a story,” I ask of my husband.

    Since the car accident six months ago I’ve spent most of my time concentrating on rehabilitation. The most difficult part to cope with has been my loss of sight. A lifelong reader, I miss the delicious pull of the written word.
    Last month my husband gifted me a subscription to an audio book service. This opened my literary world again. As wonderful as the gift has been, my favorite storyteller remains my husband himself.

    “I didn’t bring a book with me, darlin’,” he replies.

    “Since when have you needed a book to tell me one of your hunting yarns? You’ve never been a man of few words. There must be story from your childhood that I haven’t heard yet?”

    “Well yes, I suppose there is.”

    I smile and reach out to him. No longer fumbling, I know exactly where his hand is laid.

    “In the North Carolina woods,” he began, “there lived a family by the name of Hardsmith. They lived in a small, well kept house. The family was hardworking and friendly with neighbors, but kept themselves to themselves.
    One Sunday morning, my father’s pickup broke down on his way to town. He could tell from the way the vehicle stuttered and rolled to a stop that he would need to take it to a garage. Without enough oomph to pull to the side, he found himself in the middle of the country road.
    My father exited the truck and began to push, one hand on the wheel and the other braced against the door frame. Steering the disabled truck to the right, he was pleased when it began to pick up speed.

    ‘Looks like you could use a hand,’ came a voice from the passenger side.

    My father startled slightly. He looked up to see Mr. Hardsmith also pushing the vehicle.

    ‘Thank you for your help, friend,’ my father said as the truck stopped.

    He lifted the hood and his suspicions were confirmed. This kind of repair was beyond him. However, it was not beyond the talent of Mr. Hardsmith, who happened to have a work back slung over one shoulder. Pulling out the tools of his trade he made quick work of the repair.
    Back on the road, my father made his way to Aberdeen. A small town, without so much as a stoplight. There were two churches on the main drive. Service at East Southern Baptist had just ended. My father stopped to let a few parishioners cross the road. As they crossed he took notice of who the family was, the Hardsmith’s. All five of them. My father’s mouth could have caught flies it gaped open for such a length. Mr. Hardsmith dressed in his Sunday’s best lifted a few fingers and nodded his head in greeting.

    ‘Good to see you, friend,’ said my father, puzzled.

    ‘You as well. May you and your family have a blessed day,’ Mr. Hardsmith replied as he continued on with his family.”

    1. writer_sk

      Good storytelling and lead up with the husband and wife. I wondered Whether the father was surprised because of how quickly Mr Hardwick got to the church? Just curious.

      1. Sarah Doyen

        I had intended the father’s surprise to be related to how Mr. Hardsmith seemingly appeared to be in two places at once. The father drove straight from the plain-clothes Mr. Hardsmith and then encountered the same man exiting church in his Sunday’s best.

  8. Kerry Charlton



    According to my Mother, I was born tired. I awoke at three in the morning. Kidneys
    told me they weren’t working as they used to. Tossing and turning for an hour, sleep
    finally arrived. William Holden held my hand, and gazed at me with those incredible
    eyes. Being young and beautiful, I had stolen his heart. He turned his face to me and said,

    “I love you with a passion of fury.”

    My lips parted in desperate anticipation. The sound of a phone ring, caused Hong Kong
    to disappear. Whoever had called,I vowed to eliminate from my life. Mary Ann, a second cousin by marriage, spoke,.

    “I have a job as a security guard at Huntsville State Prison.”

    “Isn’t that nice.” ‘Tomorrow, I’ll change my phone number,’ I thought.

    “What I called about,” she hesitated; “Chuck is going to truck driving school in San Antonio. I need to bring him over there.”

    “Why sure, Mary Ann, bring the boys also.”

    Staggering into the kitchen, I asked my husband,

    “Frank, is it too hard for you to make coffee?”

    “I need to borrow three hundred to pay the light bill,” he said.

    Eyes welded half shut, I wrote the check and waived goodbye as he strode out the
    door without a word.. Retirement ideas were in place. If Frank ever quit work or died, I planned my move to the south of France.

    Walking back to my bedroom, the smell of wet sheep, hung in the air. I looked at
    Frank’s pillow and threw it in the washer, setting the cycle on max with double soap. Fifteen minutes passed, the washer quit, water filled the utility room floor. Soap oozed out the top of the lid.

    Dragging his fifty pound, saggy pillow out of the washer, I dumped it in the laundry basket and slid the soppy heap to the deck. Water and feathers went everywhere and forty minutes later, I had mopped the utility room, the hall and the kitchen.

    Heading toward the deck I noticed some wild animal had thrown up on my chaise lounge. I pulled the power washer from the garage.Blowing the chaise cushion across the deck, I noticed Frank’s pillow, slumped in a corner. Why not? I pulled the triggefr and his pillow exploded into a soggy mess. So what, Frank deserved it.

    Mid afternoon, I ran two red lights hurrying home from grocery shopping, trying to beat the runs home first. I punched the wfrong code on the alarm . Then panicked while dialing the alarm people and listened to,

    “All agents are busy ya ya.”

    Steady, piercing noise from the alarm, removed my ear wax, set bell ringing again and I heard the phone.”

    “Please state your name, address, your mother’s birthday and your shoe size.”

    “Can’t you stop the siren?”

    “Calm yourself Mrs. Dingleberry, I’m trying to read the manuel.”

    “Damn.” I thought,” I should never have married a man named Dingleberry.”

    I threw the phoine through the garage, grabbed the lopping shears, a ladder and hauled tothe alarm siren and cut the electrical wire to the hoirn, for blessed silence. I then opened the door to inside and Princess, my calico launced herself and gotbstuck on my Capri slacks.

    She was tangled for good and I couldn;t walk so I slipped out of my slacks and realized I had put on panties from the love shop around the corner. And the door bell rang. I jerked the door opened and yelled.

    “What do you want?”

    The young man stood there agape and dropped a box of brouchers on the porch.

    “Please excuse me lady, I’ll come back at a more convenient time.”

    “TYjhat’s perfectly all right, come agfain whenever you feel a need to.”

    Imclosed my front door. An evil look descended on me. Iwondered what the boy would tell his supervisor. Who knows, I might become a favorite hot spot for door to door salesmen. Looking for my capri’s I found them under my desk’ Princess had managed to free herself and was curled up on top of them.

    “Princess, give my pants back to me. I need to unload the car.”

    Finishing up in the kitchen, I stopped by the stereo. slipped in a cd of Tom Jones Greatest Hits, settled in jy chair and picked up mylatest book,

    ‘Iwonder how the r
    pickle queen’s cat is going tomfigure out who was the murderer in PineBluff, Arkansas?’

    1. writer_sk

      Kerry •- this was a great adventure. It reminded me of the book Freaky Friday in which the daughter switches bodies with the mother and floods the washing machine.

      The pillow and whole deck scene was terrific. The Underwear and Princess were spot on. loved the whole adventure. I’ve akways wanted to write a chain- reaction story.

  9. brookesmith

    The best story I ever heard was the one that got me interested in the universe, the one that got me interested in science, that got me interested in my grandpa. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him, but we rarely saw each other, because we lived far, far away from each other. We saw my Papa about once a year, and it was always an awkward reunion, then several days of me and my sister listening to the adults bicker about politics or something or other.

    The thing I liked the best about my Papa’s house was his porch. It had two, huge, comfy rocking chairs that faced this huge clearing, where all you could see was grass for miles and miles. But, if you looked up, you could see stars for endless more miles and miles. I could stare at those for hours, as there was nothing else to do in that old house.

    One night, as I was out there, my Papa came to join me. He was a intelligent man, the smartest man I’ve ever known. He knew everything there was to know about everything, it seemed like, to a seven year old me.

    “Hello, Brooke.” He began, eyes riveted on the sky.

    “Hi.” I said quietly, eyes riveted on him.

    “Want to hear a story?”

    “Sure!” I said excitedly, for I loved stories, stories about magic and princesses and dragons.

    He reached into his pocket and drew out a piece of notepad paper and a pen. He drew a small dot in the center of the paper. “This is our galaxy. Do you know what it’s called?”
    “Sure, its called the Milky Way Galaxy.” I licked my lips. Those were my favorite candies.
    He then drew what seemed like a billion more dots around it. “This is the other galaxies in the universe. Then, imagine an infinite amount of papers, just like this one. That, child, is the universe.”


    Then, he went inside, and instead of me staying outside all night….I followed him

      1. Kerry Charlton

        you hit my inner heart when you mentioned your grandfather. I was very close to mine. He was a Lutheran minister who’s favorite hobby was reading murder mysteries. An unusual and highly intelligent man. I loved the ending, it said everything that needed to be said in one sentence, good job.

  10. GrahamLewis


    You cannot look twice at the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in.
    — Heraclitus.

    Sometimes the best stories are never told.

    Token Creek is a tiny Wisconsin hamlet, named for the bright burbling nearby trout stream. Its biggest feature these days is a well-mowed cemetery, fifty or sixty graves, headstones worn and faded, lichen-blotched, some knocked over, some propped up. I once came across a long stone laid the length of the grave, and with considerable effort made out the inscription: “Mary Ann McCallum,” dated 1857. At the foot of the stone, “Also her infant daughter.”

    Nothing more.

    I doubt the story in those few final words will ever be told. Most likely Mary Ann and the girl died in childbirth, which might explain no name for the daughter. Not likely Mary Ann was unmarried and alone on the prairie; money for the tombstone came from somewhere. Still, no other family members mentioned, no “wife of” or “daughter of.” Maybe it wasn’t a childbirth death after all – maybe a pregnant Mary Ann got sick, and died before the baby was due. Maybe smallpox or some other contagion. And her family moved on.

    Maybe this, maybe that.

    The hamlet mattered back then, two mills, a school, a church, a social hall. All gone now. The railroads went elsewhere and the social hall burned down. All gone, like Mary Ann and her daughter and the details of their lives. Like the wind, like the water that murmured through the creek back then, all having long since flowed into the endless sea of time.

    1. writer_sk

      Graham- Poignant and observant, this piece is a well-told contemplative story. I pictured the MC in the peaceful setting.

      I go for walks in the cemetery by my house. If I have someone with me it often leads to interesting conversation about the graves and surroundings.

    2. Bushkill

      the story untold, or unheard, or unlived. there is so much unknown when staring deep into the past. even some of the things we think we know are rarely known with rigid certainty as the flow of time tends to erode memory.

      your take is beautiful in the depths of mystery. the depths of possibility.

  11. Bushkill

    I’ve spent many a day fishing with my best friend, USMC (retired) and a parade of other men and women from different branches of the armed forces. This story was told to me one such trip and is priceless. I use first-person, and act as the storyteller as best I can. (there is a separate story with the same MC and maybe I’ll get time to pen it.) I kept to the 500 word count, but it hurt.


    I heard the fire popping as it burned through the dry timber. It poured heat; as if this cursed country needed any more! Still, the smell emanating from the roasting gazelle spitted over those coals smothered the heat for a moment. MREs get boring and time spent crawling through buildings in a manhunt for insurgents gave good cause to celebrate in moments like these.

    We had been rotated out of Fallujah; sent to the rear for a little r and r. Our billet had us camped at one of Sadam’s old estates, complete with attached game lands. It only took the men a few days to weaken enough in the absence of higher authority before they shot and butchered one of the animals.

    We would eat well today.

    My comm set barked to life as the guard shack radioed back. “Lieutenant, we have inbound friendlies. Looks like the Major’s a little early.”

    Not good; he is the higher authority who hadn’t wanted any of these animals killed. Therefore, meeting the Major would present a challenge. I picked up my binoculars, focusing on the approaching convoy. They raced through desert, distance aplenty among the vehicles. Too little space and IEDs got more than one.

    When he arrived and stepped out of his car, I welcomed him with a parade-ground perfect salute.

    He wasn’t buying it. “Lieutenant! What do I smell!” It wasn’t quite a yell, but it wasn’t softly said either.

    “Sir, my marines put down a wounded animal. The locals took a shot at it and when we responded to the weapon’s fire they decided they weren’t hungry. We were, though.”

    His face purpled, and the light from the fire danced merrily in his eyes. “Under no circumstances are you to shoot these animals. They are the property of the Iraqi people!”

    And then he was gone.

    A week later, driving back from Fallujah, dirty, and stinking like everyone else in this heat, he stops again. There is another animal over our fire.

    To say he is displeased would be a disservice.

    He gets out of the vehicle in a black rage. “LIEUTENANT!”

    I hustle over and salute smartly.

    “Walk with me a moment,” his voice barely audible, his rage scarcely contained. ‘The walk’ was a euphemism that generally meant I-don’t-want-your-men-to-see-me-put-my-boot-up-your-***. I walked.

    He spun, putting a bony, callused finger in my chest and unfettered his rage. “I TOLD YOU YOU WERE NOT TO SHOOT ANY MORE OF THESE ANIMALS. WHAT, IN GOD’S NAME, IS THAT DOING OVER A FIRE.
    “Sir, the marines did not shoot the animal, they cornered it and killed it with their entrenching tools.”


    Deafening in the extended pause before his retort.

    “MARINE, THEY AREN’T OUR ANIMALS TO KILL! NO MORE OF THEM ARE TO DIE. FOR ANY CAUSE!” A pause, a moment lasting a lifetime, and then with a voice as quiet as the grave. “Do I make myself clear?”

    “Yes, sir!” I saluted, trying desperately to keep the smile from my face.

    1. writer_sk

      Great tale! Though I’m an animal lover I understand the soldiers pint of view on this. I thought you captured all the details ñicely and the banter between the characters had the authentic feel of real conversation.

  12. MET

    This is a true story… was not born when it happened but heard the tale often enough…

    The Storytellers
    By Mary Elizabeth Todd

    I grew up in the mountains of Appalachia, and am a mountain person to the core, which makes me rough around the edges. My Aunts, who lived in South Carolina, often shook their heads about me and sometimes gave my mother a pitying look.
    Growing up in the mountains I learned three things. A person who could sing a song was worth knowing was one. The second one was a person who could recite poetry was another, and the last one was to be a storyteller you had to meet a high standard. I knew great ones, and how I loved it when one of them started in on a tale. I loved the ones who told tall tales because you knew they were jawing with you.
    My father was one of those great storytellers. He also could recite his poetry and play a harmonica. I felt a sense of pride as one of the other storytellers would say, “Joe recite some your poems there.” Their favorite was a man who got drunk and sold hog heads in an auction outside the general store. They would be clapping their hands and laughing. Then one of them would challenge Da, “Tell us a real story.”
    Da shook his head, but then relented. “Well let me tell you the reason the Loop was made.”
    There was nodding of heads for they all knew the Loop was the bridge that was a loop in the Great Smokey Mountain Park, and they knew my father was part of building those roads as were they.
    Da then said, “President Roosevelt was going to dedicate the park, and they were in rush to get the road built. There was one crew working from Newfound Gap and one from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.”
    They knew the story and were all nodding their heads.
    Myrtle spoke up and said, “You know, Joe you always get in trouble when you rush things.” Everyone nodded.
    Da said “When the two ends got closer, they realized the road had a twenty feet difference between them.: At this point Da made motions with his hands to show the people how big a mistake it had been. He continued, “Col. Lee was stomping back and forth. You know he could cuss up a blue streak.”
    One man said, “Joe, you could match him.” I smiled because I knew that was to throw Da off his storytelling. They were also telling the truth.
    “Well, he was cussing,” Da began again, “and most of us were staying out of his way. But there was this young architect. He was still wet behind the ears, and he walks over to Col Lee with a drawing of a loop in the road,” Da again shows his audience the way the drawing had went. “Col. Lee let out a sting of cuss words not to be said in front of ladies. That young man was so downtrodden that his shoulders sagged almost to his knees.” One of the more animated storytellers got up and added his view of how the young man had shuffled away. He was there also so we all knew that he should know. The room filled with laughter.
    “Col. Lee was watching him as he walked away. He had that look about him that the wheels were turning in his head. He then lifted his hand and pointed to the young man. He called out, ‘Son, let me see that again. I think it will work.’”
    They all smiled because nothing is better than someone figuring out how to do something to fix a problem. They admired that in a person.
    “We worked hard hours, but the road was finished in time for President Roosevelt to dedicate the road. I was there. I saw the dedication. All those dignitaries were up front, but I was looking at the man who changed my life. I learned to be a surveyor in the Civilian Conservation Corp.”
    Everyone was smiling because they also did that work many of the storytellers I knew also built roads.
    All the great storytellers I grew up with are gone now. I miss those days in Myrtle’s living room listening to tales being told and laughing. As the evening came on, the younguns would run outside to play a game of “There ain’t no buggerman out tonight, Daddy kilt them all last night.” We would eventually end up catching lightening bugs and telling each other stories about ghosts and haints and such like creatures.

  13. RafTriesToWrite

    “Hey Benster” I called for our son from the living room.

    “Yes daddy?” Ben, aged five, replied as he entered the room.

    “It’s time” Ben’s eyes glowed like fireworks glistening its bright fury in the sky. He was happy indeed; even waited all day to hear the story. I remember the first sentence in that book.

    “Later!” The word, the voice, the attitude.

    I smiled. I remember it perfectly.

    We both sat on the couch and got comfortable. Later! I shut my eyes, say the word, and I’m back at the bookstore near the vacation house, nine years ago, on the fiction section, reading the first sentence of the very book that made me meet my soulmate.

    “So you like fiction too?” He asks. Sometimes I talk to random people only when I know they’re really approachable and kind.

    But when it’s the other way around I tend to ignore people like him, but I’m feeling a little bit chipper today than the usual. I don’t know if it’s because of the smell of the unread books or the fact that I’m actually out of the house.

    “When it’s really good. Otherwise I’m stuck at the romance section.” I responded to his question when usually I wouldn’t, hopefully he’ll leave me alone now. I’m not one to “chat” with strangers too much.

    “Oh really? Have you read ‘The Gracious Fall’ by any chance?” I put back the book that I was holding on the shelf and faced him. He had his hair in one swoop to the back and his eyes looked like ocean blue.

    I smiled at him. “Is that the two guys on the beach thing? I liked that one.”

    “So you like those kinds of romance novels?” He emphasized the word ‘those’ like it was supposed to mean something.

    I frankly don’t get it.

    “I just like romance novels in general” I turned my back to him and started walking to the romance section.

    “Wait” He said. I stopped and turned to look at the person who’s holding me back from the romance section of this book store.

    “Peter, or Pete if you want” He smiled and extended his right hand for me to shake. He seems friendly enough. Being judgmental to a person you don’t know is minus friendship points though.

    “Alexander, Alex for short” I shook his hand for the first time. Odd way to meet someone. Usually I get to shake hands with people who I’m introduced to or in other cases people I meet.

    “Alex. Nice to meet you” he chuckles as he says my name. Was he amused that I introduced myself? Or was he just happy in general?

    “Likewise” I can’t tell yet if he’s smart, but by the way he looks like right now, he may need a dictionary when he leaves the bookstore.

    Was that too mean? It doesn’t matter. He won’t know.

    “So, you were on your way to the romance section I suppose?” He asks out of the blue.

    “Uhh, yeah. You?” I crossed my eyebrows. Why would he ask that? Unless.

    “I can tag along, if you want” There it is. I knew he was going to say that, he does look like the type of guy to ‘tag along’ with some stranger he just met.

    I smiled. “Please” I wanted to sound kind. I am kind, just not to people who I don’t trust and right now, I don’t know what this guy’s deal is but my guard is up – for now.

    If anything he’s too trusting with the people around him. I almost kinda feel sorry that I don’t immediately trust him fully as I imply him to be fully trusting me as a stranger he just met.

    I made my way to the romance section without interruption this time as he walked right behind me.

    After buying three books for me and two for him we went to a nearby coffee shop and talked some more.

    It’s weird, because I never get to hang out with people out of the blue like this. Especially with people I just met, it’s just strange but it also feels kinda nice.

    I invited him over for dinner to which he was really happy to oblige.

    “And that’s how it all started” I looked at Ben, who’s now sleeping soundly on the couch and just smiled.

  14. Poetjo

    An After Work Drink

    Adolf finished his work and went to Lucifer’s office to give his report for the day. He hated his work, it was repetitious and brutally dull but most of all he hated the heat. The heat was relentless. He’d been down here for 26,622 days and apparently, he would be here for the rest of eternity.
    The heat had long since singed off his eyebrows and his handsome mustache and as soon as he put on his uniform each morning, the heat would wilt it to a soggy, wrinkled mess. He hated everything about this job but the thing he hated most was having to report to Lucifer at the end of each and every day, but he didn’t have a choice. Lucifer demanded a report and so Hitler squared his shoulders, knocked on the door and was summoned inside Lucifer’s office.
    Lucifer was sitting behind his desk, a simple steel one because anything made of wood would have caught fire eons ago. Hitler groaned inwardly when he saw the bottle of Scotch on the desk and knew he’d be here for awhile.
    Lucifer looked up at Hitler, smiling widely. He poured two drinks and said, “Adolf! Always good to see you. Take a load off!”
    Hitler took his glass and sat down. He hated Scotch and hated these tete -a -tete’s in Lucifer’s office at the end of his day. Lucifer always wanted to tell him a story that no doubt he’d heard before and Hitler had no choice but to listen.
    “Did I ever tell you about the time I screwed over the big guy?” Lucifer asked, pointing upward with his index finger. He continued, without waiting for Adolf to reply. “They had two sons, Cain and what the heck was that other guy’s name?”
    “Abel,” Hitler said, having heard this story thousands of times.
    “Right, right, Abel,” Lucifer said, grinning. “Well, those two brats grew up, one of them tending the flocks and the other was a farmer.” He laughed. “Stupid boys,” he said. “I could have gotten them better jobs with more perks but they wouldn’t listen to me.”
    Hitler smiled, wishing he was anywhere but in Lucifer’s office at the end of a long, blistering hot day.
    “But I did something better, I suppose,” Lucifer said. “I planted some jealousy, bitterness and anger in the oldest boy, Cain and boy, did he come through for me, given what happened.” He looked at Hitler, expectantly.
    “What happened, Sir?” he said, knowing that Lucifer always wanted to look like he was the star of the show.
    “Well, both of the boys offered sacrifices to their God and God chose Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. I guess he had a craving for lamb for dinner rather than potatoes and carrots.” Lucifer paused and poured himself another drink, warming to his story. “Cain got pretty ticked and so damned if he didn’t whack his brother over the head with a rock and it was lights out for Abel.” Lucifer laughed, a sound that always sent shivers down Hitler’s spine. “So God told Cain that he had to wander around Nod for the rest of his life and believe you me, Nod is not a place that people seemed to enjoy.” He pointed to a map on his wall, singed on the edges from the interminable heat. “Nothing but desolation in Nod,” he said. “I had a summer home there for years and loved it but too each his own.”
    Hitler took a small sip of his Scotch, hating the way it burned his mouth and throat. “Nod does sound like a horrible place, Sir,” he said.
    “You betcha it was,” Lucifer replied. “But I never get any credit for Cain, even after all these centuries. I was the one that planted jealousy, hatred and bloodlust in his heart but all these years people want to believe that the moral of the story is ‘thou shalt not kill’. Fools!” he said. “Cain wouldn’t have killed his brother in the first place, if it wasn’t for me,” he mused. “But then there’s always Judas. Did I ever tell you about him?” He took another drink and settled in for yet another story about how he alone was responsible for the death of the prophet Jesus.
    Hitler nodded. It was brutal working for a boss who loved to hear himself talk. He sighed and held out his glass for more Scotch. He was going to be here for awhile.


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