(DEADLINE EXTENDED!!) May 25 – JUNE 14, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “The Crow & The Owl”

This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “The Crow & The Owl”. Participants must write a story based on this image:

The photo is open to interpretation.

Required Elements:

1. The crow and the owl must have (or seem to have) a conversation, hurled insults, whatever you choose. It does not have to be actual words, it may be implied if you so choose.

Word limit: 1600.


  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be less than 1000 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Ken Allen per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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76 thoughts on “(DEADLINE EXTENDED!!) May 25 – JUNE 14, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “The Crow & The Owl”

  • May 26, 2017 at 1:08 pm
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    What’s their relationship? Are they married? Just friends? Life partners? Who owns the fence? I thought only parrots and parakeets could talk. Which one has OCD? They both appear to be on leashes. Should we ignore that? You’re almost forcing us to write fantasy, you know. I hope you can live with that.

    Reply
    • May 26, 2017 at 1:09 pm
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      Oh my dear darling Ken….. I am 100% confident in your ability to write the most extraordinary story based on this image … 😉

      Reply
      • May 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm
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        actually I updated the requirements slightly. Doesn’t have to be an actual conversation it may be an implied conversation between the two.

        Reply
        • June 6, 2017 at 4:15 pm
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          Awwwwwwww I’m sure it’s great! 👍

          Reply
          • June 8, 2017 at 12:16 am
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            The Real. (Translation.)
            @ The Carrie – (Hey Zylkster,)
            Could you delete my story please? I want to change (transmogrify) two words. (The title.) It’s not really about mayflies. (sex, or mayflies.) Therefore: (e pluribus ipso facto), it must be changed. (Hasta la vista, baby.) Thank you. (Graciasnost.)
            Ken (Me, not the other Ken.)
            p.s. (Posterior Scratch)
            I hope this can be done without anyone noticing. ( I feel certain this can be done without anyone caring.)
            Drop me an email when this is done, if you could. (Have your pixels call my pixels.)
            Cheers. (Bah!)

          • June 8, 2017 at 8:53 am
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            lol No problemo – have I mentioned how much you crack me up?

    • May 27, 2017 at 12:35 pm
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      Hahaha!

      Reply
    • May 29, 2017 at 6:09 am
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      “They both appear to be on leashes”. Could be the handles do their shopping bags, Ken.

      I’ve posted a bizarre story. but then, it’s a somewhat bizarre prompt, Carrie 🙂
      Not fantasy, just a speculative vignette from a possible future ….

      Reply
  • May 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm
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    PECKING THE FAT

    “Caw!”

    “Too-wit!”

    “Caw! Caw!”

    “It’s okay, they’ve gone.”

    “Phew. That’s a relief. Bloody hard work, that cawing. Does my throat in.”

    “At least you get to sound threatening. My too-witting … cuddly-sounding, that’s what it is.”

    “Funny that, when you’re actually a vicious predator.”

    “I know, right? People see me and they say ‘Ah, look at the cute ickle owly-wowly’. I’d like to rip their eyes out sometimes.”

    “See, you can do that – you’ve got talons. Me? All I can do is peck, and they wouldn’t stay still long enough to let me.”

    “I get your problem, yeah.”

    “I have pecked eyes out before, don’t get me wrong. There was this corpse in the copse once … suicide, I think. I had his eyes for breakfast. Very tasty. Course, he did stay still long enough.”

    “Ha! Well, you see, that’s where your life’s easier than mine. You’ve got your carrion just sitting there, haven’t you? Me? I have to catch my food, and the truth is it just don’t want to be caught.”

    “That must be tricky, yeah. But at least it’s fresh once you’ve caught it, isn’t it? I mean, you can’t imagine some of the stuff I have to eat.”

    “What like?”

    “Road kill, for instance. Flattened, squished, all over the shop. And if it’s been there a couple of days, you’ve got your maggots to contend with.”

    “I like a maggot, me.”

    “Oh, I don’t mind maggots per se, but when all you want’s a nice bit of shredded, freshly demised hedgehog, a maggot can be a bitter pill to swallow.”

    “They are a little bitter, you’re right. But I like that.”

    “Each to his own, I suppose.”

    “Yeah. Vive la difference, as they say in Italy.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Or it might be Germany. Whatever. That’s another thing. Wisdom. Where did they get that bloody idea?”

    “What idea?”

    “That I’m wise? Okay, I’ve got a good idea about geometry – angles of attack and all that – but geography and bloody algebra … bottom of the class, me.”

    “Tell me about it! I can’t even write my own name.”

    “What is your name?”

    “I haven’t got one – that’s why I can’t write it.”

    “That makes sense.”

    “Can I say something?”

    “Go ahead.”

    “I really like your plumage.”

    “It is rather nice, isn’t it? I got caught in a shower this morning and it kinda fluffed up. I have to confess … I don’t like people saying I’m cuddly, but I do like to take care of myself.”

    “It shows. And the colours … that flecking is something else.”

    “Thank you. Yes, fetching … but functional, too. I bet if you saw me in my tree, you wouldn’t see me.”

    “ ‘If I saw you, I wouldn’t …’?”

    “Camouflage. I stand out like a sore thumb here on this fence, but put me in my tree and you’d have trouble spotting me.”

    “That’s another thing!”

    “What?”

    “Bird-spotters!”

    “Awful!”

    “Terrible!”

    “They clump around the woods, trampling the undergrowth, disturbing the wildlife. Get off home and do some gardening, why don’t you!?”

    “It’s not that. I mean … they’re never interested in me. They walk right by me as if I was invisible.”

    “That’s ‘cos you’re not rare enough, isn’t it?”

    “Rare, shmare! It’s their loss, that’s what I say.”

    “You’re lucky in that respect, really.”

    “How so?”

    “They don’t hunt you, kill you and stuff you.”

    “There is that, I suppose.”

    “But I agree – it’s their loss. You have a lovely shiny coat. Look how it catches the sunlight.”

    “You’re very kind.”

    “My pleas– … Hang on! They’re coming back. I’m off home.”

    “Me too. See you tomorrow?”

    “Yeah. See you. Too-wit!”

    “Caw!”

    .

    Reply
    • May 29, 2017 at 12:28 pm
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      If they turned this into a film it could be called Carrion Pecking …
      Some gentle avian humour plus outsider observations of human behaviour too.
      Their conversation reminds me a little of a couple of neighbours chatting over the garden fence – “I really like your plumage.” “It is rather nice, isn’t it? I got caught in a shower this morning and it kinda fluffed up…” I almost expect them to start talking about their ailments and operations next. Good fun, the secret lives of birds.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm
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        Ha! ‘Carrion Pecking’ – that’s better than any of the (so-called) jokes in my piece (damn you, Andy!)

        Reply
        • May 29, 2017 at 4:52 pm
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          🙂 Not sure about that, Phil, but you’re welcome!

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    • May 30, 2017 at 9:03 pm
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      Great story, Phil! I was wishing the word count was a little higher…very interested to see what else these birds would discuss…nicely done!

      Reply
    • May 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm
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      Very nicely done Phil! I enjoyed this one immensely.

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      • June 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm
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        Thanks Andy, Christopher and Adrienne (when are you coming back?!) for your kind comments.

        Reply
        • June 21, 2017 at 7:53 am
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          I hope to be back soon, Phil. I’m in the proposal phase of my doctorate. I’m nearly ready for IRB approvals and then my research. I miss writing for fun. I’m hoping to have my degree later this year or early 2018. I miss you all! I enjoy reading the stories and imagining what I would write for each topic. I will get back soon!

          Reply
    • June 10, 2017 at 11:41 am
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      Phil,

      (I think you went out on a limb when the crow claimed he knew Italian, it was a bold plot maneuver but I think you pulled it off.) That was a fowl attempt at humor. 😀 All kidding aside, in short, well done. (But not over cooked.) I think you and I took the same basic approach to the prompt, whereas yours leaves one with a chuckle, my story, (in the words of Neil Young) “starts off real slow and then fizzles out all together.”

      Nice job on the dialogue.

      BTW – Regarding your comment last week about my story reminding you of the old sea story, ‘Mutiny On The Bounty.’ I saw the movie so long ago I can barely remember it, but some kind of ‘coinci-transen-dental’ providence brought the old book into my possession last week and I finished it yesterday.

      It was EXCELLENT! Of course, our tastes must differ in some ways, and ‘Mutiny’ has a bunch of scruffy, villainous sailors in it, and a lot of senseless cruelty and violence. (You might call it overdone, whereas me, I call it realistic!) Actually, they were good sailors with a villainous Captain.
      Have you ever read ‘Two Years Before The Mast’? That was a great book too, but not as good as ‘Mutiny.’
      I intend to skip book #2 and read Pitcairn Island
      I recently read a book called ‘Codex’ by Lev Grossman. I think it would appeal to you. At the risk of spoiling it, not only are there no murders in the first five pages, there isn’t one in the first 150 pages. I won’t say any more than that. It’s a great book. It’s a bit like an Ian Pears story, but not as intricate.
      I will say no more.

      Reply
      • June 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm
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        Is it better the the Vikings one? (‘cos that left me a bit … trying to find a joke but none comes to mind … cold.)

        I haven’t read ‘Bounty’ (or ‘The Caine Mutiny’) – most of my name-dropping-to-impress comes from films, I’m afraid.

        It was the owl that quotes an ‘Italian’ saying, which just goes to prove how clear my dialogue was … (note to self: “Must use more tags!”)

        Looking forward to reading your story later.

        Reply
        • June 11, 2017 at 3:18 am
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          Philip,
          Well, at least the ‘Saxon Tale’ didn’t leave you feeling horny. (The Viking helmet? With the horns?)

          You might go to Amazon and get a sample, of ‘Codex’. If you’re interested. It’s similar in style to the Ian Pears books, (it’s not just a bunch of murders strung together, it has a plot,) or: you could rent a DVD with five seasons of ‘The Honeymooners.’ I’ll never know, either way.

          I was surprised that you didn’t care for that Cornwell book. I’m not into all of that maiming and violence either, but much of the violence is part of the story. Part of history. Some reviewers even cite Cornwell’s skill at describing massacres or battle scenes! It’s not a big draw for me. I think it’s the character that hooked me. He is ( Uhtred of Bebbanburg,) unique in his moral and religious beliefs for that time, a loveable and heroic heathen.

          Actually the dialogue in your story was very clear, I was trying to make a joke, not a point. I thought the story was flawless.

          Reply
    • June 12, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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      Phil, your story made me laugh, out loud even, and in a good way. Love the conversational tone of these two birds. Like Andy said, reminded me of two old friends chatting over a cup of coffee, or tea. Very smooth and natural, and I love the complaints they had about their plumage and the humans.

      The humor was spot on, just enough to make you chuckle, but not overly done, or forced. Great job!

      Reply
  • May 29, 2017 at 4:33 am
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    True to Nature, or The TransAvians

    Ever since Jekyll, the world’s first cyber-enhanced cat – or “transfeline” – hit the headlines, the fashion for AI-augmented animals had spread across the globe. Corporations, universities and defence industries threw themselves into creating new capabilities for our fellow Earth inhabitants, and no self-respecting celebrity would be seen without an enhanced chihuahua or pangolin.

    Jekyll’s fame grew in line with his ever-extending abilities, while his natural cat curiosity fuelled a ceaseless quest for knowledge. Many a day he could be found in the British Library, or closeted with scholars at Oxford and Cambridge colleges. His latest passion was for ancient Greece, its poetry, literature and philosophy.

    This evening as the sun begins to set, we find him in St James’ Park playing his lyre. Through his voice synthesizer he sings a poem by Sappho he has set to music. Tourists stop to watch. Super-sentient squirrels descend from branches to show their offspring what is possible with cybernetic implants, and birds settle nearby to offer a chorus.

    Amongst the birds are two of the boldest, an owl and a crow. They settle on the back of the park bench where Jekyll strums.

    “How charmingly sweet you play,” says the owl, as Jekyll finishes a poem.

    The owl’s words permeate to Jekyll’s consciousness through the translation interface in his implant helmet. He finds the emergent avian languages fascinating, a combination of vocal signals and wing semaphore. Birds tend to resist the implant helmets and powered exoskeletons favoured by land-based animals, owing to their impact on aerodynamics. Still, many have implanted chips and communication collars connecting them to the Avian Grid. Through this they can download knowledge modules and capability apps, and connect to the inter-species language interface.

    “Thank you,” says Jekyll, inclining his head slightly to one side in acknowledgement. He feels a primitive impulse to lunge at the birds, but his embedded emotional equaliser counters the urge. Just a minor atavistic tremor, compared to his old self. Maturity, experience and self-knowledge gradually remove the old instincts over time, he had found.

    “I have developed a great passion for the world of the ancients,” he adds.

    “It is strange that you, a feline, identify so closely with the world of the no-wing-two-legs,” observes the crow.

    “Human history is so much more interesting and varied than that of my own species. Yesterday and every day before cats sat on fences and faced each other down. Or caught a mouse. Much the same as you, I guess. Building nests, eating roadkill and not much else. No great generals or poets, no great inventions or progress …”

    “Until now. With our natural tool-using abilities plus our cyber-enhancements, we are becoming great engineers and mechanics, as you see.” The crow gestures to a row of trees where exotic multi-tiered crows’ nests weigh down the upper branches.

    “Indeed,” says the owl. “Being augmented should enhance who we are, rather than transform us into humans with unusual body-shapes. It is better to be an owl-plus, rather than a human with feathers. But perhaps it is different for domestic animals – I know I risk offence if I say ‘pets’. For your cat-nature is inextricably intertwined with human society. You are bound to favour them more than we do.”

    Jekyll acknowledges the point, and the owl, as was his wont, warms to his lecture. “Crows and owls, on the other hand, barely register in human culture except as evil portents in horror stories.”

    “Yes, even the collective noun for crows – a ‘murder of crows’ – is a micro-aggression,” interrupts the crow with indignation.

    “Yet a ‘parliament of owls’ surely gives another side to it, linking owls not with horror but with their legendary wisdom,” suggests Jekyll. “Though in truth I don’t see a necessary connection between parliaments and wisdom.”

    “These are human constructs, and ones we should ignore if we remain true to our natures,” says the owl, settling on his perch and ruffling his feathers for emphasis.

    “I feel I am true to my nature, in my constant search for knowledge. But there are elements of cat-nature I willingly forego in order to fulfil this. There are many things I have done – like biting the legs off a frog – which I do not wish to do again. They are done and done with. Progress depends on this.”

    “Is it progress to sing songs from an ancient human past?”

    Jekyll transmitted a smile emoji to the birds, accepting the point good-naturedly. “It is getting dark, and soon the park will be swarming with bats, endlessly debating species-stereotyping in the gothic novel, and chasing moths. And for me, it’s time for supper.”

    “Out of a tin, rather than freshly killed?”

    “At a Michelin Star restaurant, actually, with Princess Charlotte. I adore that woman, especially when she tickles me behind the ear.”

    The owl and the crow watch Jekyll as he clips his lyre to his exoskeleton and then bounds across St James’ Park in giant leaps towards the Palace.

    “Such a name-dropper,” murmers the crow, unable to hide the envy in his tone.

    “Under his fame, though, I sense a melancholy,” observes the owl. “His great learning and fame are not bringing him true happiness. Cyber-enhancement has taken him too far from his roots.”

    “And what are you owls doing to both advance and stay true to your nature?”

    “Now, that is interesting. We are by nature hunters. So, we are using Amazon’s AIAAS, that is, artificial-intelligence-as-a-service, and Google’s robotics platform to design in-flight targeting drones to work alongside us. You may have heard us testing them over Hampstead Heath.”

    “And the no-wing two-legs are happy to let you do this?”

    “Happy or not, we are doing it. By the way, I do find your referring to them as ‘no-wing two-legs’ a little irritating. Why do you do that?”

    “It’s a literal translation from our old language. What do you call them?”

    “From tomorrow,” says the owl, “we call them ‘prey’”.

    The crow hops a couple of steps across the back of the park bench in astonishment, and then replies, “Do you mind if we mop up the leftovers?”

    Reply
    • May 31, 2017 at 12:22 am
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      Andy
      Quite a story. I find the ending eerily good.

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    • June 6, 2017 at 5:17 am
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      Really inventive and funny story, Andy. There’s almost TOO much good stuff here (a slight risk of getting a bit cluttered in such a format), but you should never complain if you get locked inside a sweet-shop. I’d mention opposable thumbs, and the absence thereof, but that would be against the spirit of the story, which is great fun.

      (It looks like it’s just me and thee … épées at dawn?)

      Reply
      • June 6, 2017 at 9:23 am
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        Thanks!
        “Opposable thumbs” – details, details 🙂

        Naturally, it’s using chirrup- and wing-semaphore-activated interfaces for the birds, and multiple opposable digits come as detachable modules with Jekyll’s exoskeleton, operated through neural implants.
        (With sci-fantasy, there’s an answer to everything!)

        I have my votes sorted – you’re my top choice in each category and overall!

        Reply
    • June 10, 2017 at 11:11 am
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      Andy,

      This is a very entertaining story despite all the science you have crammed into it. There is a lot to digest. AI, implant chips, exoskeletons, cyber-enhancements and AIAAS; but it is, as usual, skillfully done. There’s a lot of your signature humor too, a great plot, plausible science and a clever reveal.

      When I got to thinking about it, my only real problem with this story is the delivery of the reveal. “From tomorrow,” says the owl, “we call them ‘prey.”

      The expression, ‘from tomorrow,’ may be common in your neck of the woods, but it is unknown to me and takes a little of the snap out of the punch line. (For me, scholarly world traveler that I pretend to be.)

      But this would make a great addition to your excellent series of short stories involving Jekyll the cat, which I’ve read, and, unless I’m mistaken, could provide a whole new branch of cyber-enhanced animal history for that series.

      I think, if you were to add this to your collection of related short stories, you could get away with less detail about the cat, which is adequately covered elsewhere in the series; (I realize he’s a key element in this story, but…) I can’t wait to hear more about the real thrust of this story: technological enhancements that give predatory earth animals an increased advantage. I assume you’re going to expand on this. (I hope you’re not going to tell me that something like this is already in the series because, I don’t remember anything quite like this. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Andy.

      Reply
      • June 10, 2017 at 7:20 pm
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        Ken

        I don’t think this story is so great – kind of cobbled together. I thought, “bloody hell, what can i do with this prompt. Talking birds?” Then it came to me that i had, in another context, a talking animal I could put to use.
        So it’s a kind of story graft, like doing tissue repair on a burn using shark skin to help the graft take. So maybe an odd fit in the end, cramming too much in that elsewhere flows more naturally. So I’m not sure it really fits in with the other “Us and Not Us” stories either 🙂

        “From tomorrow” – I think we do say that over here. Or is it only me? Perhaps I could try: “Tomorrow and henceforth” or something.

        Reply
    • June 12, 2017 at 2:55 pm
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      Fantastic take on the theme Andy, very unique and different and I love it. I do think there is a lot here to take in, and might do well, if you have any inclination to go further with this story, to spread it out over the course of several pages or chapters.

      It’s almost too much detail, and a bit daunting in such a short story. But you are a fabulous writer who made the scientific details of the story interesting.

      I’d love to read this in a longer version where you can draw out the characters a bit more. Great fun!

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 8:35 pm
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      Very entertaining, Andy…I really enjoyed this one! Great work!

      Reply
  • June 6, 2017 at 10:25 am
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    Another tough prompt this time around, so we’ve EXTENDED THE DEADLINE TO NEXT WEEK JUNE 14TH.
    Hope this gives more people time to submit a story. 🙂

    Reply
  • June 8, 2017 at 12:41 pm
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    ‘…as the crow flies.’
    By Ken Cartisano – June 2017

    The crow’s peaceful solitude was broken by the flapping arrival of an old and trusted friend, as the owl landed on the fence next to him in a rush of wind and feathers.

    After a respectable period of mutual silence, the owl said, “What ‘cha doing? Watchin’ porn?”

    “Very funny,” the crow replied. “Although, I have to confess to a certain degree of voyeurism.”

    They lapsed into silence, watching the spectacle before them.

    It was early evening, the moon had not risen yet, and a leafy mountainside formed an inky black backdrop to the multitude of flashing fireflies. Thousands and thousands of them twinkled on and off in the open meadow. Some of them blinked in perfect harmony.

    After a time, the crow said, “It’s funny, watching their mating antics. A female over there flashes a few times, trying to get someone’s attention, and then this guy over here signals back, he likes her cadence. But she stops almost as soon as he starts. She isn’t interested in his attention. He doesn’t know it, but his color doesn’t appeal to her. Doesn’t matter that they’re both totally in sync. She’s just not interested in his tint.”

    The owl said nothing.

    The crow cocked an inquiring eye toward the owl. “You ever eat them?”

    “By accident,” the owl replied. “It’s an acquired taste, one I never developed.”

    “Me either,” the crow said. “Too bad. They’re so abundant.”

    “They’re abundant once a year,” the owl reminded him. “The rest of the year you’d starve to death—I don’t care for them.”

    “I like watching them,” the crow said wistfully.

    “I know you do,” the owl said, then swiveled his entire head around, his huge golden eyes boring into the crow unsympathetically. “Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in three years. You’ve been coming here your entire life. Then nothing. I thought you were dead.”

    The crow coughed self-consciously. “It’s a long story.”

    The owl waited.

    “It involves a cat.”

    “So you almost got killed,” the owl guessed.

    “No, not at all.” The crow said. “Didn’t you get my message? I saw Robin down south and told him to send my regards. Did he mention me?”

    The owl swiveled his head to look behind him, then back around to the front. A stray firefly flew tantalizingly close. “No. Robin’s an idiot. You would’ve had better luck if you’d sent your message by snail darter.

    “So what happened with the cat, crow?”

    The crickets chirped as the fireflies danced. After a long silence the crow said, “I met one.”

    “Explain ‘met’. How do you meet a cat—and live to tell about it? Not that they frighten me any,” he added, as an afterthought.

    “I was tired. And came down to rest in a developed area near the triple bend in the great river.”

    The owl blinked noncommittally.

    “There was a domestic cat, inside a fence. I should have been more cautious and landed on the fence to scope out the situation first.”

    “But you were tired,” the owl offered.

    “Yeah. So, I land in the yard. It’s dusk. Still pretty light out, but I didn’t see him ‘till it was too late.”

    “What happened?”

    “He had me dead to rights, owl. But he veered off at the last moment. Then he trots off a few feet and plops down in the grass and rolls over on his back and looks at me.”

    “And then you flew away. The end. Everyone’s happy.”

    “Nooo,” the crow cooed. “I know it’s crazy, but I took a couple of hops in his direction, and—he jumped up and ran from me, right behind the trunk of a tree. Like he was terrified.”

    “I don’t like where this is going,” the owl muttered. “You should have flown away.” The owl felt sure that his friend had fallen into some kind of trap. What else but foul play could have waylaid him for three years? But he was keen enough to notice that his friend was in excellent condition physically, if not mentally.

    “Well,” the crow continued, “I know what you’re thinking, and I thought the same thing too. Playtime’s over, it’s about to get real, and trust me owl, I’m not stickin’ around. I leap for the sky just as this cat comes charging out from behind the tree and he’s just about on me. He’s as fast as lightning. But instead of swatting me out of the sky, he leaps up into the air next to me.”

    “What? You mean he missed?”

    “No,” the crow replied. “I mean yeah, but it was intentional.”

    “So he was still playing you.” At this point, the owl swiveled his head 180 degrees away from the crow, as if looking for sympathy from a bunch of sex-crazed fireflies. They ignored him. “I don’t believe I’m hearing this.”

    “No—no,” the crow insisted, “You don’t understand. He didn’t want to eat me. He was mimicking me. He just wanted to fly, too.”

    “Preposterous!” The owl spluttered. Then flapped his wings nervously as if he’d lost his balance. “What was it about you that made this cat suddenly want to fly?”

    “I’m not sure.” The crow sounded thoughtful. “Believe me, I wondered about it for three years. It was as if he’d never seen a bird before. Maybe he’d lived in a cage all his life. I don’t know, but he was playful and fun, and we became friends, owl. Good friends.”

    “And when it came time for you to leave…”

    “I stayed.”

    “You’ve been living and playing with a cat for three years.” The owl’s expression was ineffable. Silence from the crow was all the confirmation he needed. They both watched the frolicking fireflies for a time. “What happened?”

    “He died,” the crow said.

    The owl nodded sagely. “I could hear the sadness in your call,” he said. “I’m sorry, crow.”

    “Me too,” the crow said.

    Reply
    • June 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm
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      Ken, I love this story. It’s funny, thoughtful, and very sweet at the end. The conversation is natural and smooth, you did a great job of giving us the sense that these were two old friends. It flowed nicely, and I was eager to find out why crow was away for so long.

      Well done, my friend, a very un-Ken story, but you did it so very well.

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 7:15 pm
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      This is a beautiful story, Ken, of an impossible friendship. The tantalising ‘three years’ of absence keeps us guessing throughout. The answer is a fine one – a cat that wants to fly, a friendship born of the cat’s admiration for the crow, and the crow’s gratitude for not being eaten. The ending is very poignant. The title is perfect. The dialogue and the tags (“The owl blinked noncommittally.”) really well done. I love the observations on the fireflies, but think that maybe they don’t have too much to do with the crux of the story, and that the number of words used could perhaps have gone towards adding flesh to the crow/cat friendship. But all in all, it’s a lovely read.

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 1:10 am
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        Philip,

        Thanks for your kind remarks. Personally, I loved the fireflies. They set the scene. And since I only used 1000 words, I still had a surplus of 600 words I could have used to flesh out the crow/cat relationship without deleting anything. But I was happy with the story as it was and didn’t want to ruin it. I wanted to get to the end before the reader did.

        Yesterday I saw a video of a crow/kitten friendship that was documented with video footage. I did not see this video until after I wrote the story. (About a week after I wrote it.) However, I did see video of a cat/owl friendship more than a year ago, it was that video which provided the plausibility of the cat/bird friendship. I used the crow instead of the owl because, as you observed, the crow was more vulnerable. (Although to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I even thought about it when I wrote it.)

        I did not think the story was very good and was reluctant to share it with anyone.

        Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 8:43 pm
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      Wow, Ken, a very nice story. Funny, and touching. Nicely done.

      Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 10:53 pm
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    The Rise
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    It was The Owl’s turn to lead the meeting, which meant he’d end the night doing that creepy thing all owls do; turning his head in a complete 360, and loving how it upset The Crow, who believed it was a showy affectation the ancestors would not approve of.

    “Must you?” The Crow asked.

    “It’s what we owls do.” The old bird said with a sly smile.

    Then The Owl finished with the usual mantra, “Principium et Finis. The beginning of the end.” Followed by The Crow’s echoing response, which he made sure was louder and more enthusiastic than that of The Owl’s.

    And with that, the meeting had officially come to an end.

    If there were more of them, like it had been in the past, it would’ve been a powerful display. Now, however, it was only a pitiful cry from the last two shapeshifters who still attended the monthly gatherings honoring their ancestors.

    Both would now go back to their very human, and very normal lives as Lionel Pickett and Barnabas Warleggan, instead of The Owl and The Crow, respectively.

    Just before they parted ways, Lionel said to Barnabas, “We shall rise again, you’ll see.” But Barnabas wasn’t sure he believed that anymore.

    **********

    The cat was waiting for Barnabas when he arrived home —not his cat, the neighbors annoying orange tabby, who hated Barnabas, as if he knew what Barnabas was, and didn’t like it one bit.

    It hissed at him like it always did, but Barnabas was in no mood tonight. “I’ll show you not to mess with a member of the Warleggan Clan.” Then Barnabas transformed into the large and impressive crow, thinking it would scare the tabby away.

    Instead, the cat stood his ground and let out an ear piercing shriek that frankly, scared Barnabas, who instinctively raised his claws in a defensive posture.

    Now, either this cat purposely distracted Barnabas, which was highly possible, or he was just the luckiest tom on the planet because the shriek diverted Barnabas’ attention, and he didn’t see the woman coming at him with a shovel —not until it was too late. Not until she sent him careening into the concrete wall of the carport.

    He would transform back into his human appearance if he blacked out, so Barnabas tried desperately to stay conscious, but he could feel himself slipping into darkness.

    The last thing Barnabas remembered before the lights went out, was his neighbor towering over him, and the cat standing next to her, looking triumphant.

    **********

    Ruby Atwater wasn’t usually up at 3 am, but her beloved cat, Clawed Monet, woke her with his “Let me out or suffer the consequences,” caterwauling.

    Ruby nearly fell asleep as she waited by the back door for his return. But Clawed’s terrified meowy-shriek startled her out of her drowsy fog and chased away any trace of sleepiness.

    Without hesitation, Ruby rushed to his rescue, but Clawed wasn’t in his usual spot. “Clawed, where are you?!” Ruby whisper-yelled, not wanting to wake the neighbors.

    Then she heard the terrible shriek again and realized it was coming from her neighbor’s yard, which was separated from her property by a chest high privacy fence.

    Ruby wasn’t exactly in any kind of shape to climb a fence, but to save her beloved Clawed Monet, she’d do just about anything. And that devotion was immediately put to the test when she saw the large, black bird flying towards Clawed with its talons extended.

    Ruby acted quickly. Seeing a shovel lying next to the porch, she ran, and in one motion, lifted it, swung, and knocked the bird into the concrete wall of the carport, and it just laid there like a heaping pile of unattached black feathers.

    “I think it’s dead, Clawed.” She said to the cat, who meowed in agreement.

    However, it wasn’t dead. Unbelievably the damned thing started to move again. Well, it didn’t really move exactly, it undulated, and rippled in a way that Ruby couldn’t make sense of.

    Without realizing it, she slowly backed away, simultaneously scooping up Clawed and clutching him to her chest. Ruby wanted to run, but she couldn’t. Then the bird began transforming into something else, and all Ruby could do was open her mouth and scream.

    **********

    When Barnabas woke up, his head ached, and he knew instantly that his right leg was broken. He was in some kind of basement, locked in a cage large enough to sit in, but not tall enough to stand.

    “What is this,” he muttered.

    “It’s a dog kennel,” the voice said from behind him. Barnabas jumped at the sound of her voice, which sent a sharp pain up his fractured leg.

    Barnabas turned to see the woman sitting on a couch and watching him with a detached curiosity. The damned cat was next to her, and both were eating from a bag of potato chips.

    Barnabas was naked, having transformed out of his clothes, but she covered him with an old wool blanket that was giving him a rash.

    His tall lanky 6’4” frame was cramped, and he tried, unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position without moving his broken leg.

    “Are you hungry?” she asked. Barnabas tried to recall her name, ‘Rita, Rachel…something like that,’ he thought. But the idea of food sounded wonderful, and he nodded “Yes, I am hungry.”

    “So you’re a Birdman, huh? I ‘ve had some strange neighbors, but you take the cake,” she said. There was a look in her eyes that unnerved Barnabas. What normal person would be so complacent after watching a bird morph into a man?

    Ruby, who Barnabas thought was Rita or Rachel, heated up a large bowl of stew and slid it through the opening normally used for a dog’s bowl.

    Barnabas took a few large bites of the stew then asked, “Why do you have a kennel this large?”

    Ruby looked at him thoughtfully, “It was an impulse buy. Believe me, I never thought that I’d be living next door to a…” She paused, “Just what the hell are you by the way?”

    The stew was delicious, and Barnabas quickly ate it up before answering Ruby. After he scooped the last bit into his mouth, Barnabas said, “Rachel, is it? Could you please allow me to stretch my legs, it’s quite cramped in here.”

    “My name is Ruby, and no, I can’t let you stretch your legs. Besides one is broken, and you haven’t answered my question.”

    “You wouldn’t understand what I am,” Barnabas said, trying to find a way to get blood circulating throughout his limbs.

    “Try me,” said Ruby.

    Barnabas looked at her keenly. She wasn’t afraid of him, and he knew from his people’s history that those were the most dangerous humans. “I am what you call a shapeshifter,” he said, “someone who can—“

    “I know what a shapeshifter is Cochise, I’m not an idiot.” Then she paused, “But I thought you were all a myth.”

    “We are not a myth, I guarantee you that.”

    “Are you the last of your kind?”

    “Yes,” Barnabas lied.

    “You tried to kill my cat.”

    “In all fairness, he attacked me first.”

    Ruby chuckled, “That sounds like Clawed.”

    Then her expression grew very serious, and she said, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with you, Birdman.”

    “You could let me go,” Barnabas said trying to smile, but it looked like a pained grimace, instead.

    Ruby shook her head, but said nothing.

    **********

    Ruby Atwater was right to be leery of a shapeshifter —especially a crow, they were notoriously untrustworthy.

    But Ruby was intrigued by him when she should’ve been afraid. She was fooled by Barnabas’ very human demeanor and forgot about the large crow-beast that tried kill her cat.

    And her curiosity got the better of her, which is why she let Barnabas stretch his legs. After all, how could she have possibly known that shifters heal faster than humans? That Barnabas’ leg was just fine when she unlocked the cage and let him out.

    **********

    Barnabas took care of the cat first, but Clawed wasn’t afraid of him and hissed at Barnabas until the very end.

    Ruby tried to run upstairs, and lock him in the basement. She almost made it too, but Barnabas changed into the crow before she could escape.

    When police arrived, they found blood everywhere, some of it human, and some belonged to an unidentifiable animal. Authorities ruled it a homicide even though Ruby Atwater’s body was never found.

    **********

    Word spread fast throughout the small community of shapeshifters that there was a battle and a victory by one of their own. They believed this was the time of their ascension. Soon the weekly meetings, once attended by only Barnabas and Lionel, now had hundreds of participants, and more were on the way.

    “Legend tells us it was the humans who hunted and killed our people to near extinction,” Barnabas said to the large crowd, “Maybe it’s time for a little revenge.”

    Shouts of “Victory!” filled old Lambert Hall. They were in their animal forms, grand spectacles of days gone by. An odd collection of predator and prey, together as if they were attending some kind of freakish family reunion.

    Barnabas and Lionel watched over the proceedings, “This must be what it felt like for our ancestors,” Barnabas said.

    “I told you we would rise again.” The Owl spoke proudly

    Barnabas nodded, as he watched the frenzied group of shifters chant, “To the rise of the shapeshifters! Principium et Finis!”

    Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 7:32 pm
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      An effectively strange tale, Alice. The idea that there’s a guild of shape-shifters ready to rise again is a great, coherent extension of the prompt. The dialogue is snappy and natural-sounding (“I know what a shapeshifter is Cochise, I’m not an idiot.”) It all gets very dark in Ruby’s basement – shades of ‘Misery’ I thought. I think that maybe Barabas gets out of the pickle a little too easily (Ruby shakes her head, but then lets him out?) Overall, though, a very inventive bit of strangeness.

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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        Thanks Phil, I think you’re right about Ruby releasing Barnabas, but as a woman who isn’t shocked by a shapeshifter might do something as strange as let him stretch his legs. I want to submit this one to SFB, I might re-work that section, I’ll see how it shakes out.

        Thanks for your critique, they always give me good ideas how to improve my story.

        Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 9:01 pm
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      I liked this story a lot, Alice, especially the exchange between Barnabas and Ruby. Good work!

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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        Thank you Christopher! Glad to see you back again this week. 🙂

        Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 12:14 am
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      Your writing skills really shine in this offering and the story is excellent from that standpoint. This is by no means a bad story.

      You portray Ruby as a fierce, wily, self-possessed opportunist. (She must be an opportunist, she kidnapped her neighbor just to find out what he was.) The problem is that she has to go through an awful lot of trouble to drag that large man home, then put him in a cage. After all that, I think she’d be reluctant to release him. I guess I feel like you missed an opportunity to develop Ruby into the formidable protagonist that she seemed to be.

      One thing that would make this work better, is if the shape shifter retained the shape of a bird at least until she gets him home. Makes more sense too, she’s more likely to hold a large strange bird captive than a large strange man.

      This story was about the shape-shifters. I think it should’ve been about Ruby, and her cat, Clawed Monet.

      I hate to pick nits as I am very grateful to you for your kind remarks about my story. But those are my honest observations.

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm
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        Ken, never feel bad about saying how you really feel about my stories, I appreciate the honesty, and you’re always respectful.

        And I think you’re right, how does she get a big dude to her basement. This is part one of a two, maybe three part story I’m going to submit to SFB, and I think I’ll change that part so Ruby is removing the bird and he shapeshifts at her place.

        Since it was about an Owl and a Crow, this part focused on them, but remember Ruby’s body was never found. So we may not see the last of her, or Clawed for that matter.

        Thanks again for the honest critique, you and Phil are always good at giving me ideas on how to improve my stories.

        Reply
  • June 12, 2017 at 5:52 am
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    Lured

    “Did you do it?”

    “Yes, did you?”

    Billy stared hard at the two birds. Crow’s black feathers glistened in the sunlight, its dark eyes reflected the world. Owl, its own wise face displayed knowledge unfathomable by man.

    “Did you do it?” Crow repeated.

    “Yes,” added Owl. “Did you?”

    Billy looked down at his hands as guilt spread across his young face. Too innocent to lie, too enraptured to tell the truth, too young to know the difference.

    “No,” he mumbled, entwining his fingers, hoping the birds might forget what they had asked him to do so he could talk about what it was like to soar through the clouds.

    “Why not?” asked Crow.

    “You want us to like you, don’t you Billy?”

    Their voices carried levels of disappointment that struck Billy’s chest. He had let them down. They had asked him to do something and he couldn’t, he just couldn’t. He pouted.

    ***

    Mrs Jenkins placed her frail hand on top of Melanie’s and squeezed. “How are you doing, dear? How are you holding up?” Her voice was crackly, like trying to tune the radio onto a station, her mind as absent as the playlist of white noise.

    Melanie smiled, mournful yet thankful. “I’m okay,” she croaked. She lied, but what else are you supposed to say in those situations? “It’s been tough, on everyone, more so on Billy.”

    She sipped her tea, the liquid as bland and lifeless as her life now felt. Disconnection was prevalent, the doctor had told her. As usual as the common cold in winter, as necessary as taxes at the end of the financial year. It was the emotionless rationalism that she clung too. That and Billy.

    “He loved it when Frank came home,” Melanie said absentmindedly, her words beginning to waver. “Billy would watch the clock in the lounge room, counting the minutes. When he heard the sound of a key in the lock, he would run to the front door.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

    Mrs Jenkins slid a plate of stale, oatmeal cookies over to Melanie, and smiled. “Eat something, dear. You need to eat something.”

    ***

    “It’s just that,” Billy began.

    “What, Billy?” Owl said.

    “It’s just that … mum caught me and said I shouldn’t. She said I shouldn’t play with knives. Said they were dangerous.”

    “Your mother doesn’t love you, Billy. Doesn’t love you like we do,” Crow said. “You believe that, don’t you Billy? That we love you?”

    “Sure,” Billy said, his voice small.

    “Do you want to fly away with us, Billy?” Owl asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Do you want to play with our brothers and sisters above the clouds, Billy?” Crow asked.

    “Yes,” Billy responded. His voice louder now, more resilient, more sure of the answer.

    “Do you want us to take you to your father, Billy? We can do that,” Owl pressed.

    “Yes!” Billy screamed. “I want to see daddy.”

    “Then you know what you have to do … for us … for him … for you.”

    ***

    Mrs Jenkins slurped her tea, her false teeth clicking on the side of the china cup. “Do they know what happened, dear?”

    Melanie sighed. “No, still don’t. They think it was a heart attack. I mean, it’s been months, surely they could figure out what happened. All the police could tell me was the car left the road and hit a tree. No sign of braking, no problems with the car, no bad weather. It just doesn’t make sense.”

    “Sometimes, dear, life doesn’t make sense … like the pyramids or that awful man, Donald.”

    “Not knowing is so hard,” Melanie continued. “He was so fit and healthy, no signs that would suggest anything. It was like his soul just lifted out of his body never to return.”

    “I remember when Bernie went. He told the doctor to kiss his behind and he gave me the finger. Stubborn little bastard. I’m sure the devil would have invited him right in for tea and biscuits.”

    She pushed the plate closer to Melanie. “Eat something, dear. You need to eat something.”

    ***

    “But I don’t want to hurt her,” Billy protested.

    “You must, Billy,” Crow urged.

    “You must burn her,” Owl added. “Burn them all.”

    “But … my mum.”

    “We will look after her,” Owl comforted. “We will protect her.”

    “If you do as we say,” Crow cried. “If you follow our directions. If you follow us.”

    “We know where she keeps the matches. The top draw in the kitchen.”

    “And there is clear liquid in the laundry.”

    “Do it. Tonight. When she is sleeping. And we can all fly together.”

    “We love you, Billy. Our brothers and sisters are waiting to play with you. Your father is waiting for you. He is waiting for you.”

    “Tonight, Billy.”

    “Do it tonight.”

    “Alight!” Billy screamed. “I’ll do it.”

    “Good,” Owl hooted.

    “Excellent,” Crow squawked.

    ***

    Mrs Jenkins bit down on the old biscuit, crumbs falling from her dry lips onto the counter top. “Yes, dear.”

    “Sorry?” Melanie asked, her cup now empty.

    “Oh, I thought you said ‘excellent’. Well, yes, I mean, I have been baking for a little while now.” She pushed the plate into Melanie’s saucer. “Eat something, dear.”

    “It’s okay, really.” Melanie looked into the older woman’s vacant sky-blue eyes. “Thank you.”

    “For what, dear?”

    “For this. For coming around. For talking … for letting me talk.”

    Mrs Jenkins smiled. “No problems whatsoever, dear.” She looked over at the small child sitting at the kitchen table. “How’s your little boy doing?”

    Melanie looked over at her son, pangs of guilt lashing at her entire being. Pins and needles ran over her body. “He just hasn’t been the same since the accident.”

    “Still not talking?”

    “No, not a word,” Melanie replied, crossing her arms. “Doctors don’t know what’s wrong. He doesn’t seem to have any trauma. They think he could snap out of it at any time.”

    As if sensing the conversation was about him, Billy looked over to his mother with a blank stare. Melanie forced a smile and waved. Billy didn’t respond, like she wasn’t even there, and returned his fixation to what was in front of him.

    “I just don’t get it,” Melanie continued to her guest. “He just stares at that photo of those two birds all day long. I just don’t know what to do.”

    “Burn it,” Mrs Jenkins said coldly.

    Melanie shook her head. “Excuse me?”

    “Mmm?” Mrs Jenkins replied. “Nothing, dear. Have a biscuit. You need to eat something.”

    Melanie looked longingly over at her son, wishing for anything that could bring him back to her. “I wonder what he’s thinking.”

    ***

    You are going to die.

    You will burn.

    I am with the birds now.

    Reply
    • June 12, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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      Hey Ken, so glad to have you back.

      This story is really creepy, and I love it. The birds or at least Billy believing the birds want him to kill his mother is full on scary and works very well with two creepy birds like an owl and a crow.

      The story moves along nicely, and I like the changes in settings. But one thing I’m curious about and that is this Mrs. Jenkins. She seems to be hearing the voices that Billy is hearing, but you don’t really explain why, or give any indication that she is somehow involved or just plain crazy.

      I don’t think that everything in a story has to have a reason or be explained, sometimes it’s good to leave a little mystery, but Mrs. Jenkins role just doesn’t make sense to me, it’s a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit, just a tiny bit of explanation would do so what she’s hearing makes sense in the context of the entire story.

      Still, I love your writing style, and this story could be amazing if it’s fleshed out further.

      Welcome back!

      Reply
      • June 14, 2017 at 6:57 pm
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        Thanks, Alice. Totally agree about Mrs Jenkins. There was plenty of scope (and words) to build her out a bit. She ended up having more of “staring” role than I originally anticipated and i didn’t take advantage of that.

        Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 7:54 pm
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      As Alice says, this is really creepy stuff, Ken. I like how you lay the line of breadcrumbs for us to follow, and it all comes together in the end … except, perhaps (as Alice says again) the role of Mrs Jenkins, and also the rationale for Billy’s subconscious need to kill. There’s the birds’ promise of flight, and a reunion with his father, but why a killing in order for these wishes to be fulfilled? “You must burn her,” Owl added. “Burn them all.” Who is “all”? Who is “her”? The birds say they’ll look after the mother, but then they want her burned? Or is that Mrs Jenkins? Does the mother/Mrs Jenkins have something to do with the father’s death? Why must she burn and not die in some other way? Perhaps too many unanswered questions? A very unsettling read, though.

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm
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      Very creepy story, Ken. I really enjoyed the back and forth, shifting from one side of the story to the next…it set the ending quite nicely.

      Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 12:54 am
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      Hey Ken,
      Welcome back. I missed ya.

      This story is a puzzle, wrapped within a mystery, run over by an enigma. (I joke.) I was waiting for others to comment first, hoping that the smart people would figure this out for me. But noooooo.

      Okay, the child is traumatized. His father has died very mysteriously. The old woman doesn’t do more because — she just wants Melanie to eat a cookie. A stale cookie. She says it over and over. But she is connected to Billy somehow. There are parallels drawn between Billy’s desire to ‘soar through the clouds.’ And Mrs. Jenkin’s ‘vacant sky-blue eyes.’

      Perhaps Mrs. Jenkins is behind the death of the father, and now working on Billy to bring more grief upon Melanie. The stale cookies indicate a lack of real empathy, or consideration. (Or maybe she’s just a hoarder and I’m seeing symbolism when there’s nothing but stale cookies.)

      This is a psychological suspense thriller, but the clues are not clear enough for me to do more than speculate. Still, the overall effect is quite chilling.

      Reply
  • June 13, 2017 at 10:57 pm
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    Chosen (1,587 words)
    Written by Christopher Smith
    © 2017
    One end of the tether is tightly wrapped around my hand, and God forgive me if it slips loose before it is time. Its other end is tied to the ankle of a tawny owl, which is perched on the top board of the darkly stained fence I crouch beside. My counterpart squats just as I am, roughly six yards opposite me. He also holds a tether, only the bird attached to his happens to be the darkest bird—a crow or a raven, I cannot tell—I have ever laid eyes on.

    This is not the first time that I have played this game, and I know the end result will be the same. I only pray that I am not the one to pull the trigger.

    I have been employed by Mr. Cunningham for nearly seven years, and when he called me “to the field” not twenty minutes ago I am no better prepared than when he called upon me the first time, or the second. To be called out is an honor—it means that he trusts you—but let me endure anything else, anything, to avoid the next fifteen minutes or so. Ron—the man opposite me—has never been called upon. I know this because of his glazed eyes and the worry within them. He has heard the same rumours I have, of what happens out here.

    Four hundred yards from Ron and I, toward the crushed-stone lane that joins the manor to the side road and eventually into town, are four men: two are standing, two kneeling. The two standing men are security, and although they are casually dressed there is no mistaking their importance, even at this distance. They are armed and don’t pretend to conceal that fact, their guns drawn. The kneeling men are the secondary targets. They have been stripped of their clothes and no doubt their dignity. They are unknown to all of us here, and believed to be shipped in solely for Mr. Cunningham’s amusement; more rumours.

    A breeze ruffles my hair, and although the sun has dried the dew beneath us the earth still feels moist, cool. It is quiet, and when the wind dies off I can only hear my worried breathing and the rhythmic whump-whump of my heart.

    The hoot-shriek of the owl startles me, and when I glance upward it is staring at me, into me. It calls again, cocking its neck in my direction, as if blaming me for this mess. This causes the black bird to ruffle its feathers and caw, strong and harsh, accusatory, thrusting its head upward. It continues to plead-cry as it shuffles along the fence board, and to me it looks nervous, scared even.

    I glance at Ron; he is sweating, his eyes uncertain, panicked. His throat works up and down in an attempt to swallow his fear.

    “Don’t let that tether go,” I whisper, harsh and serious. His eyes dart toward me and he nods, and then he is back with his black bird, determined.

    I hear one door shut and then another, and then a car starts, and from the manor’s far side, where the garage it situated, eases Mr. Cunningham’s dark town car. It passes the front of the manor—a dark rectangle against a backdrop of white—and leisurely rounds the vast garden that dominates the front lawn. I hear the crackle of tires biting stones as the driver descends the winding lane toward us, and my heart rate picks up considerably.

    The black bird begins to caw, hurried and raspy cries that sound desperate. It flutters its wings once, more of a stretch than a true attempt to fly, and then a second time, this time a little harder. Ron yanks his tether hard—so hard, in fact, that I imagine the black bird’s feet coming clean off—and for a wonder the bird calms, settles back onto the board. Its cries continue, and this rattles the owl. In my fear of his bird escaping I am just in time to notice that my grip on the owl’s tether is loose. The owl attempts to take flight, and I pull back, forcing it to settle on the fence. I loop the tether around my hand until there is very little slack remaining.

    Its hoot is a shrill sound that frightens me. It alternates glances between the black bird and me, screeching. For a beat I wonder why the owl hasn’t flown off of its perch to attack me, and I quickly wrap the tether once and then twice around the top fence board to avoid just such a disaster.

    Ron sees this and does the same; a smart man.

    I note how conversational the birds have become. As if understanding that they are in this until the end, they enter into a back-and-forth banter that, although panicked, seems somewhat consoling, compassionate. Perhaps the birds have heard the rumours as well.

    As the birds settle, either from fatigue or acceptance, I hear the distant conversation of another animal: Mr. Cunningham. The two men on watch greet him and ask how he is this morning, and Mr. Cunningham replies. This exchange is so bizarrely sincere, with no concern for the two men kneeling before them. If they are lucky, only one of them will die this morning.

    Mr. Cunningham claps one of the armed men on the shoulder, and then the driver approaches and hands his employer a rifle. The driver then heads to the rear door and opens it, and out steps Mr. Cunningham’s whippet, Trigger, a slim and muscular beast the colour of dirty snow. Mr. Cunningham whistles and Trigger sits intently by his side, its head cocked toward us.

    As Mr. Cunningham shoulders the rifle and aims it in our direction I begin to loosen the owl’s tether and signal for Ron to do the same. He does, but there is a moment where he can’t quite untangle it and I fear he might also die today. Then it slips loose, and I realize I was holding my breath.

    “Getit!” Mr. Cunningham barks, creating one word out of two, and the dog digs its paws into the ground and springs forward.

    One of the armed men had given Ron and me a set of bastardly instructions, and with my experience I felt the responsibility to help him through this.

    “When the bird wants to go, you let it,” I say, no longer whispering, “even if your gut tells you to hang on, which it will.” He nods, a frantic thing that worries me, and then he turns to watch the dog. “The bird, Ron, watch the bird!” His eyes draw tight and puzzled for an instant and then, perhaps thinking wiser of it, he complies.

    I can hear the dog approaching, a galloping whisper of wind.

    And then the birds begin to chatter, shrieking and—whining?—pleading. Perhaps they really had heard the rumors. The black bird’s feathers ruffle, settle, and then flutter again, this time stretching wide, preparing to escape. Ron drops the tether and stumbles flat to the ground, his jaw hanging low, eyes wide.

    And then the tawny owl is up and climbing. I shake the tether loose. It lets out a cry, long and grating, but before it can finish it is flung backward, a dusting of feathers in its wake. It drops from the sky and hits the ground with a wet thump, its screech dying in its throat.

    Ron slurps at the air in hitching gasps as if he cannot get enough of it, his skin pale, his eyes large and irritated. The dog claims its prize and then saunters back to where its master stands, gun still smoking. I rise and make my way toward the five men near the dark town car. All of their eyes are on me.

    Without glancing back I say, “Don’t watch.” But of course he will.

    Only Mr. Cunningham is smiling, and as I inch closer I see that both kneeling men are crying. The dog drops the owl at its owner’s feet, and the man kneeling on Ron’s side of the field is pulled to his feet by one of the armed men. He is shoved toward the town car and into the back seat. He has survived today. Or maybe not; it’s hard to know for sure.

    The second armed guard presents a second gun, presumably pulled from his waist band at the small of his back. He holds it out, handgrip first, for me to take. I do. He then takes a few steps away from me and settles just behind and to the left of Mr. Cunningham, who is still grinning, now even wider than before.

    “Go ahead,” he offers, and I raise the gun and put a bullet into the kneeling man’s forehead; no need to delay the inevitable. His head tips back and the dead man’s final thoughts are thrown onto the grass in a spray of blood and brain and bone that is nearly artistic, pretty, in the morning sunlight.

    The guard, his weapon now trained on me, approaches with a hand out. I give the gun back to him, turn, and start toward the manor.

    “You can set the main table for brunch,” Mr. Cunningham calls after me, and although he is not laughing I can hear the amusement in his voice. “Make sure you wash up first.”

    I turn and tell him that I will, and with pleasure.

    Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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      Sorry for jamming everything all together, guys; I should have spaced the paragraphs out a little. Looks like a hard read the way I have posted it.
      But I guess that’s what I get for posting at nearly midnight my time!

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 8:16 pm
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      Fantastic stuff, Christopher. A nightmarish, twisted scene, superbly described. The tension and horror is almost tangible (helped by the option of the present tense). You’ve incorporated all of the picture-prompt perfectly. There was something I didn’t quite get: what happens to the blackbird? Does it escape? And there’s one false moment, for me: “Perhaps the birds have heard the rumours as well.” That takes us out of the story because of course they couldn’t have heard them. Maybe: “It’s as if the birds have heard the rumours …”(?) But details, because it’s a finely executed (no pun intended) story.

      Reply
      • June 14, 2017 at 9:19 pm
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        Thanks, Phil.

        And, yes, the black bird escapes. There was another paragraph in there where Mr. Cunningham takes another shot, this time at the crow, and misses, and leaves well enough alone, lets the black bird escape. But I had to cut somewhere (this story got out of hand – nearly 2,300 words!), and that was one part that got the axe. I thought that “Ron drops the tether and stumbles flat to the ground” was enough to imply that the crow escaped, but on a second read I could have done a little more with it.

        As for the birds also hearing the rumours, I wanted to imply as much as possible (because of the writing prompt) that the birds were communicating on a different level, that perhaps the other surviving birds from Mr. Cunningham’s twisted game had relayed the message of what it was all about, but I could have done a better job at that.

        Thanks for the feedback…I appreciate it.

        Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 1:59 am
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      A dark and sinister story of wealthy excess. Skillful writing. I wish I could elaborate but it’s past my bedtime and I’m falling asleep in my chair.

      Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 1:38 pm
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      I love your writing style, it is so descriptive I could envision much of what was happening. This is a unique story, very clever, and I liked how you had the crow and owl speak to each other in their own bird language, that worked very well.

      And I liked the story, but I found the middle section in particular, wordy and muddled a bit. For me, it was hard to picture what was happening and here, your gift of writing details might have gotten the better of you. I know this sounds crazy, but it was over descriptive and made it hard to decipher what the main character and Ron were actually doing with those tethers and the fences.

      Still, a good story, and even with what I wrote above, I still enjoyed it.

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 7:05 pm
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        Thank you, Alice…I appreciate it.

        And I agree with. It was a story that wanted to be longer, which I then forced to meet the word count; the story suffered a little because of it. Things weren’t as clear as they could have been, and of course waiting until the last minute to post it did not help things, either.

        Thanks, again! Looking forward to the next prompt!

        Reply
  • June 14, 2017 at 7:49 am
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    “Oops” by Carrie Zylka

    “Are you going to ignore me forever?”

    Silence…

    “Seriously? It’s been days Moira.”

    “Go to hell.”

    Danny combed his head with a claw, trying to smooth his ruffled feathers. He was still trying to figure out why this tiny body did the things it did. “How many times do I have to apologize??”

    A sharp black beak snapped precariously close to his large eyes, causing him to hoot and hop in surprise. “Do you even know why I’m mad Danny?”

    “I’m assuming because the spell went awry. But I wouldn’t know since you haven’t spoken a word to me since it happened!”

    The crow coked its sleek head to the side, eyes contemplating. “You’re an idiot.”

    “Of course I am Moira, I’m always the idiot.” His voiced dripped with sarcasm.

    The crow hopped closer. “You Danny are an idiot because you’re having the time of your life. What the hell are we going to do if we can’t get back to our human form? Huh?? This is your damn fault!!” Her wings unfolded halfway and then settled back against her body. She took a moment to compose herself. “It’s your fault and you’re over here hooting it up like it’s a damn parlor trick.”

    Huge owl eyes looked almost pained. “I am not…..BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU SAID HOOT!!”

    The raven let out a squawk and lunged at him, but the tether attached to her leg yanked her backwards in a flurry of wings and feathers and angry cawing until she was able to right herself.

    “Would you calm down already? I know they asked Professor Gregario to help reverse it. If anyone can figure it out he can.”

    ~

    Luckily for the two unfortunate wizards, the best minds were working on the issue. How a simple practice spell had gone so awry, much less by such an experienced wizard Gregario would never know. He was annoyed by the situation however; he’d held a torch for Moira for decades and could never understand how she had settled on such a buffoon.

    Deconstruction of the spell finally finished he gathered his equipment and spell components and made his way to where the two were sequestered.

    As he came closer he briefly contemplated…perhaps he should return Moira to her human self and somehow “mix up” the spell components so that Dan stayed in bird form forever.

    Would she eventually come to love him? Was it worth the risk of her finding out such a nefarious plan?

    Hmmmmm…he had exactly eighty yards to decide if he had to courage to take such a life altering step…

    Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 7:51 am
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      So am I really the idiot who out “clevered” herself with this prompt?? Not a great effort by any sense of the word, I had such great plans when I chose the prompt…. But hey, better than no story!!

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 8:28 pm
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      A fun story, Carrie. The conversation in the first part is really well done – a good likeness of matrimonial peevishness (“Of course I am Moira, I’m always the idiot.”) The thrust of the second part is great (Should Gregorio deliberately bungle the de-spelling of Danny?) but does feel a little rushed and a bit too ‘on-the-nose’, perhaps. But it’s an enjoyable read, nonetheless.

      Reply
    • June 14, 2017 at 9:25 pm
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      I enjoyed this, Carrie, although there was still a lot of room remaining until maximum word count; the story could have gone deeper. I was only beginning to settle into the story and it was finishing up.

      Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 1:55 am
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      Great story idea. A spell gone wrong. Really clever. And the master magician agonizing over his options. Most tantalizing.

      Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 1:43 pm
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      A very fun story, I know you were short on time, but I agree with Christopher that there is a lot of room here to expand this story.

      Reply
  • June 14, 2017 at 11:15 am
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    I’ll put the voting link up later this evening, to give everyone time to read Carrie, and Christopher’s stories. Glad you two got one in in time.

    Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 4:59 am
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      I vote … therefore I am

      Reply
      • June 15, 2017 at 3:26 pm
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        Hahaha!

        Reply
  • June 15, 2017 at 7:17 am
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    I voted. Still did not get to finish my tale of star crossed lovers. It was the owl and his whole family were against his union with Ms Crow and they meet down the track and their love is re ignited tragically just before the death of one of them. No spoilers. Sorry I really must be less tired and do more writing for this.

    Reply
  • June 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm
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    Results will be up later today 🙂

    Reply
  • June 15, 2017 at 2:14 pm
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    Have voted now – didn’t have time to comment on latter stories I’m afraid.

    But I’m going to jump in before Ken C in proposing alternative titles for the stories, which came to mind as I read through:

    Phil – “Carrion Pecking”
    Ken – “Owl and Pussycat sitting in a tree …”
    Alice – “The Birdman of Atwater’s Cellar”, or “Shovelling off this Mortal Coil (– almost)”
    Ken A – “Picture to Burn”
    Christopher – “Eeny, Meany, Owly, Crow”
    Carrie – “I’ll keep this spell on you, because she’s mine”

    (Apologies)

    Reply
    • June 15, 2017 at 2:41 pm
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      I love this Andy, fantastic!

      Reply

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