September 14 – September 27, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “Tragedy”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “tragedy”.

Story Requirements: completely open to writers interpretation.

Word Count: 2,000


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  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
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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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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 stay within the word limit set for each contest.

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 Phil Town 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.

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74 thoughts on “September 14 – September 27, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “Tragedy”

  • September 14, 2017 at 1:43 pm
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    Say hello and post your general chit chat comments here!

    Reply
    • September 23, 2017 at 11:42 am
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      Frequently, when we get a new prompt, the first thing I do is I look up the main word, in this instance, ‘Tragedy.’
      I found that it has two main definitions, one is as a generic term to describe anything awful, and the other is specific to a play in which (tragic events result) ‘in an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character.’
      This is the use of the word that intrigues me. I want to do a story where the good guy gets it in the end. (No pun intended.)

      Reply
      • September 23, 2017 at 8:41 pm
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        tragedy definition. A serious drama in which a central character, the protagonist — usually an important, heroic person — meets with disaster either through some personal fault or through unavoidable circumstances.

        I think I fulfilled that requirement in my story without even thinking too much about it. Although I could have the organisation Joanne represents prevent her death at the last moment to continue the story or bring Joanne’s brother or a son or daughter or both in to rescue her or avenge her death. Which ever will up the anti.
        Comedy is actually much harder to write than tragedy. It is easier to get people to cry and empathise with a character /s than have them laughing uproariously throughout. I really admired the late Robin Williams and also Eddy Murphy is good, but Eddy gets a bit too predictable in his obscene humour. I also like Jim Carey who I can get to cheer me up or the Scottish fellow Billy Connelly.. poor Billy has Parkinson’s and that is a tragedy for a great talent.

        1. an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.
        “a tragedy that killed 95 people”
        synonyms: disaster, calamity, catastrophe, cataclysm, devastation, misfortune, misadventure, mishap, reverse, vicissitude, setback, trial, tribulation, affliction, blight, injury, adversity, sad event, serious accident; More
        2.
        a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character.
        “Shakespeare’s tragedies”
        synonyms: tragic drama, drama, play; literarybuskin
        “Shakespeare’s tragedies”

        Reply
  • September 14, 2017 at 9:04 pm
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    Hello, don’t have anything to say though. 🙂

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    • September 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm
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      Hahaha me either!
      Have you ever heard of Wasteland Weekend?

      Reply
      • September 15, 2017 at 8:40 pm
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        No what’s that?

        Reply
  • September 17, 2017 at 11:34 pm
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    Hey guys, and gals, (and others – I know you’re out there.) So — I thought last week’s prompt was a tragedy. It certainly turned into one. I mean, the stories were pretty tragic. Who would have thought that a simple letter could cause, or be the link, to so much grief? I wouldn’t have thunk it. On the positive side, so few people write letters anymore. So, you know, less letters, less grief. Right?

    Anyway- we had this hurricane come through the state last week. A big one. Me, Kim and about 6 million other Floridians left the state. About twelve million people lost power for about a week. Nobody we know suffered any real harm or damage, although, almost every single dock on the river was destroyed, or at least, rendered unusable. We got back in town yesterday at 2 in the morning. Spent the day visiting friends and relatives, and today we undertook the task of cleaning up the debris.

    Hurricanes take all the local flora, and smear it all over the landscape. As if a giant scythe or rather, something with less finesse, like a shovel, came through and bashed every living and non-living thing for about 8 hours. Then left and went away.

    I’ve been through about eight or nine hurricanes and they can be pretty intense. (They’re like 200 mile wide tornadoes.) We (Kim and I) find that the real hell begins after the hurricane. (After you’ve been scared half to death.) No ice, no electric, no A/C, no gas, no water, no sewer, no showers, no functioning traffic lights, and no businesses are open anyway, so there’s nowhere to go. There are no regular services for a few days at least, depending upon how much damage there is. There’s really nothing to do but clean up the debris, and sit around in your own sweat, swatting mosquitoes. It sucks.

    So we just said, ‘screw it, we’re out of here.’ We had a place to go to that was out of state.
    But now we’re back. Our electric is on, we cleaned up the debris. Had a steak, took a shower, turned on the TV, and whataya know, another hurricane is heading our way.

    Let’s be clear, here. This is not my tragedy story. I’m just relating what’s been going on for the last ten days. I almost got run over by my own boat today too, while it was still on the trailer. But that’s another story for another time.

    So, what have you guys been up to? Anything interesting?

    And thanks for the potato offer Ken, but we’re fixed for potatoes right now.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2017 at 3:56 pm
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      That’s seriously sucky, but glad you and yours have got through it.
      I was tempted to post something on social media about being stuck for several hours past midnight at Zagreb airport due to a hugely impressive electrical storm that lit up and shook the building, but all pales beside the real weather you’ve been having over there.
      I’ve been hugely busy, and having to clear the decks for travelling, Now I’m travelling. Hope to get a tragic story in. Well, some of my stories are tragic but unintentionally so. But we’ll see.

      Reply
      • September 23, 2017 at 1:19 am
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        Hey Andy!

        I was in Croatia once, a long, long time ago. (So far back it was called Yugoslavia.) I was never in Zagreb, but I had to walk through someone’s garbage in Dubrovnik, in my bare feet. (It’s a long story and the garbage was the only negative.)
        As for lightning. (or as I like to say, lightening.)
        I was in this empty house once, alone, supposed to vacuum the carpet as a favor. I’m in the dining room, looking out through a set of windows at a vast expanse of open land, and I could see these clouds gathering, and the storm growing, and the room getting visibly darker, and the thunder kept getting louder, and closer, like it was ranging my location. The house got even darker, it rattled and shook more violently with every bolt.
        I knew, intellectually, that storms do not target people or houses, but something made me feel, in my gut, that this storm was coming right for that house, and me in it. I needed to get out of there.

        I should add that I’ve never had an abnormal fear of lightning, neither before or after this incident– and it was daytime, middle of the afternoon, on the outskirts of an ordinary middle class neighborhood. Nothing spooky or creepy going on. And this was in Miami, where lightning is as common as palm trees. This is where I grew up.

        But I was so spooked, I ran to my car, jumped in and split. I left the vacuum and had to come back for it later. Nothing like that ever happened to me before or since. I wish I had a dollar for every thunderstorm I rode a bike or motorcycle through. Normally, I enjoy thunderstorms, especially since I don’t have to be out in them anymore. This was the only time I ever felt frightened by a storm, or any kind of weather, for that matter.
        Looking back now? I think my visual and auditory senses determined that the lightning was striking, by chance no doubt, in a more or less straight trajectory towards my position, (that’s what ears were originally designed for,) my senses concluded that I was in danger, the message was forwarded to my amygdala, which responded by releasing a biochemical agent, like adrenaline, into my bloodstream, causing a fight or flight response. (Fight lightning? No can do.) Since there was nothing to fight, my only option was to flee. Which I did.
        Which brings me to the prompt.
        Tragedy.
        I was toying with the idea of writing about my writing career, or my love life, or perhaps my skills as a sailor, or my exercise program, my twelve attempts to refrain from commenting, the loss of 17 different cats, my favorite football team, my unrealized ambition to become a meteorologist, my inexplicable fear of goats, darkness, and goats in the darkness, or possibly the armadillo, that’s all, just ‘the armadillo’, (watch one some time, you’ll see what I mean, it’s a tragic creature,) etc., etc., etc. Plenty of tragedy there, but I don’t see it shaping up into anything entertaining yet.
        I have no ideas. It’s—troubling.

        Reply
        • September 24, 2017 at 3:51 am
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          Aww Ken FEAR of goats?? They are the most affectionate bossy creatures out. You have never known a good goat. Nothing to be scared of.

          Reply
    • September 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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      Wow Ken, you could write a story about all that you and Kim are experiencing. I’m just glad you two are okay, and I hope that next hurricane isn’t as devastating. Take care, my friend.

      Reply
    • September 19, 2017 at 12:01 am
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      Ken
      Glad you and Kim are ok and sorry for calling her Kathy (Do not know where I got that one from.) I have been wondering how you are getting on. Sounds like a bunker is what you need with its own generator and fully airconditioned, a massive library of good literature both fiction and non-fiction, a couple of freezers with some prepared frozen soups, a hydrophonic garden underground, a well stocked pantry and a magnficent chef kitchen or two with a robot cleaner installed and you and Kim can invite all your friends and party underground till all the shyte is over. 🙂

      Reply
      • September 19, 2017 at 12:02 am
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        Sorry you also need exercise. I forgot the gym and the swimming pool and a well equiped home cinema.

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        • September 23, 2017 at 2:02 am
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          Thanks Ilana,
          Dang, you think of everything. You’d make a good survivalist, and a pretty decent billionaire too! As for Kathy, I mean Kim. You can call her Kathy, I don’t mind. I call her ‘Je Babette Le Bon Bons.’ Which, loosely translated means, ‘Miss I Love Chocolate.’ You know, (well, how could you know?) Kim has only seven letters in her entire name, and she’s not Asian. (Duc Su Pe, for instance. That’s cheating, Kim has a real name. An American name.) Seven letters. I have nine letters just in my last name, and then two more names on top of that. It’s a miracle we can live together with such enormous differences. I have twice as many syllables in my last name as she has in her entire name. I have eight syllables in my whole name to her pathetic two. Two syllables! In her whole name! You may well wonder how Kathy, (Je Babette) can have an entire name out of just two syllables. It’s pretty hard to do. I’m sure very few people know anyone with only two syllables in their entire name. It’s a puzzle. But it’s true. I’ve seen her passport. Two syllables. Pretty fascinating if you don’t think about it. And I don’t think you will.

          Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 7:27 am
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    Fishing boat

    Maud Harris

    The boy looked out to sea. Alone on the shore, the ozone smell strong in his nostrils, gulls wheeled and soared above him and mist obscured the horizon. A chill wind lifted his fair hair and whipped around his knees. Toby wished he were old enough to wear long trousers
    How long he had been standing there, he didn’t know; most days he wandered down to the cove, deserted now in the winter season. Where does the sea end, he wondered, does it go on forever? It certainly went as far as his young eyes could see. It had been three weeks now since the fishing boat had set out. Three long weeks. Yet still he expected to see the red sails appear on the horizon, hear the cheerful shout and be swept up and swung around by strong arms. Autumn had morphed into winter, the sea had changed from blue to grey – the wind colder, more cruel, and still Toby waited.

    A tiny dot in the vast expanse of water, the boat drifted, becalmed. The storm had come suddenly out of a clear sky. The great tornado venting it’s fury as it ripped out the sails. Panic tightened Adrian’s chest, he struggled with the controls as a huge wave engulfed the deck.
    His partner, Bill, was furiously bailing water, the veins in his neck standing out, his muscles aching from competing with the deluge. All day and all night the vengeful and unrelenting Gods of the sea wreaked their fury.
    Then came the calm.
    The two fishermen, exhausted, lay back in the boat, the engine torn from its housing by the force of the water, the sails shredded, hanging loose. The sea, which had raged and foamed just hours before now lay as silk. The blue/green ripples reflecting the sunlight in shimmering patterns. Adrian reckoned their food supplies would last a week if they were careful, but anyway, they would be rescued long before that. Surely a passing ship would see them and come to the rescue? Surely the alarm would be sent out when they didn’t arrive home? A week passed; hope wrestled with black despair as night followed day with no sign of help.
    Down in the hold Bill struggled with the engines’ housing. It lay below deck bent by the force of the water.
    The rations wouldn’t last another week and the fresh water, if used sparingly, may last another ten days.
    ‘But we will be seen and rescued before then, won’t we?’
    The question hung in the air, neither man daring to voice their concerns.
    Bill, his face haggard, his beard salt encrusted, grew more morose as the days wore on with no sign of help, and with the food supply dwindling rapidly. He grew more and more manic as his attempts at repairing the damaged engine failed. Frantic now, he paced the deck, muttering to himself through cracked lips, his eyes sunken in his pale face.
    The tenth day saw Bill, at midnight, sitting in the bows, he appeared
    calm, detached, gazing into the middle distance, he was listening intently, rocking to and fro as if to music. The fluorescent water gleamed with myriads of algae, phosphorescent; their pinpricks of light reflecting the stars as far as the eye could see.

    Adrian heard nothing.
    He climbed the ladder up to the deck.

    “Come on, mate, I’ll watch and you get some rest.”

    “Can you hear her?”

    Bill turned his haggard face to Adrian, madness in his eyes.
    Adrian scanned the dark ocean.

    “Hear who?”

    “That young girl, she’s calling to us, beckoning.”

    “Bill, mate, there’s nobody there.”
    Bill, stubborn now.

    “I know what I can see. ”

    “Come on now, let’s get you down to the bunk, you haven’t slept for four nights.”
    As Adrian went to lead Bill to the ladder he turned, furious, and landed a punch on Adrian’s jaw that stunned him.

    “For Christ’s sake, man, you’re hallucinating.”

    Bill launched himself at Adrian, a heavy spanner in his hand, as Adrian, fighting for his life, grabbed a metal bar and laid Bill out cold on the deck. Manhandling his semi conscious shipmate down to the bunk, Adrian covered him with a blanket.
    Choking down the despair that threatened to engulf him, Adrian settled himself down for the night. The moon through the porthole cast a blue glow over everything, the atmosphere seemed charged with electricity. Adrian supposed it must be some phenomenon coupled with the phosphorescent sea.
    In other circumstances he could have appreciated the beauty of the scene, but here, with virtually no food and just two days supply of fresh water left, Adrian gave in to despair and wept. He fell into an exhausted sleep, fitfully tossing and turning, waking up bathed in sweat. What awoke him, he didn’t know, but a feeling of dread such as he had never known engulfed him. Bill’s bed was empty. The ladder up to the deck was slippery with slime, the smell of rotting fish pervaded his nostrils. Gripping the ladder firmly, he climbed on to the deck. The air was heavy with a sea mist, and the moon cleaved a path through the water.
    Bill was nowhere to be found. A battered straw hat floated on the swell.
    The Siren had claimed her first victim.

    The heavens echoed with Adrians’ cry, his fists raised skywards he roared out his grief and shock.
    Alone now in a boat with no sail and a days supply of water, Adrian lay down on the deck and awaited his fate. Haggard and weak with hunger, the worst thing was the thirst. His tongue swollen, his lips cracked and bleeding, he sweltered by day and froze at night. Strange images floated in his tortured mind. In the hinterland between waking and sleeping he heard a soft voice calling him, the song was haunting, sweet and disturbing. It sang in a strange language of peace and calm. Adrian didn’t understand the words, but he knew the message they conveyed.
    Staggering to his feet, he made to follow the sound.
    From the depths of his dwindling consciousness an inner voice shrieked.
    ‘Don’t listen to her, she’s not real.’

    But still the Siren voice persisted. His face streaked with tears, Adrian threw himself down on the deck and covered his head with a blanket blocking out sound and sight. With the last vestiges of his strength, he resisted the voice.

    Joan walked down to the cove, Toby, her son stood in the same place, looking out to sea, he had refused to move from the spot; still he expected to see the red sails appear. Joan gently put her arm around his shoulders. Tears brightened her eyes.

    “Come on son, there’s nothing more we can do. Your dad and Uncle
    Bill won’t be coming back.”

    Toby clenched his fists.

    “Yes they will, I know they will.”
    His jaw set, the child refused to cry.

    “Go away, Mam. I’m staying here until they come home.”

    The deck of the boat reeked with the smell of mouldering nets; Adrian, unconscious now, lay motionless in the bows. He didn’t see the yellow helicopter on the horizon, he didn’t hear the drone of its engine. He was oblivious to the voice of the medic and the rope ladder lowered from the hovering craft.
    Back on dry land, young Toby finished his vigil.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2017 at 10:05 pm
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      Great story Maud and so glad you are back with us. I have missed your stories and the lyrical essence of your writing. Very real.

      Reply
    • September 27, 2017 at 3:00 pm
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      Hi Maud, it’s great to have you back, as Ilana said, we do miss your stories around here.

      I like this story, it’s very haunting, and heartbreaking to see Toby hoping his father and uncle to return. The only thing I would say is when you’re shifting perspectives, ie going from Toby to his father on the boat, it would be nice to have some sort of indication that we are indeed shifting from one scene to the next. That way our brains are ready for the transition, as it is now, at first I had no idea what was happening until I read further into the section.

      Still, it is a fine story Maud.

      Reply
    • September 27, 2017 at 8:08 pm
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      Beautifully written, Maud. The pace was great and pulled me along.
      I would agree with Alice regarding the shift from one perspective to the next, however. It only took away from the story a little, but it still took away from it.
      That being said, great job!

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 3:07 am
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        Hi Maud! Well, your writing is still impeccable. Great description. One word threw me at the very end, though, the word, ‘finished.’ Because it contradicts Toby’s statement in the previous paragraph. Shouldn’t it say: ‘…young Toby continued his vigil.’(?) To indicate that he stays there ‘until they come home.’(?) (I don’t know, maybe I’m nuts, but I’m not being picky. When I hit that last sentence I went, “Wait, what does that mean?)
        I think you should replace ‘finished’ with a different word. (There’s plenty to choose from.) Other than that one word, I think it’s a beauty.

        Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 9:16 am
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      Welcome back, Maud! Please stay!

      That’s a lovely story. The reader really gets a sense of what it’s like to be on the boat (through your very vivid description). The bookend device of having Toby waiting for it works well. There’s a bit of tragedy (Bill – his demise is really well described), then the threat of more (Adrian), then the upbeat ending (but with Toby still thinking he’s lost his father). And then you throw in a bit of legend, too. Good stuff.

      Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 9:59 pm
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    The Tragic Human Race
    “Oh, I’m bleeding.” Joanne pulled her finger quickly back from the print scanner. The security attendant was by her side immediately with a cotton wad which she placed firmly on the finger applying quite some pressure.

    “There” she said, “you must have caught it on something.” She quickly dabbed the blood with a cotton wad, and then took the cotton pad and placed it in a plastic bag and threw it down what Joanne presumed must be a rubbish chute. She beckoned Joanne to follow her down a corridor and through two other security doors, and finally up some stairs to a door labelled INTERVIEWS, both she and Joanne were electronically body scanned and finger printed.

    On entering the room Joanne saw three people sitting at a table who rose as one, when she entered. The guide slipped quietly away. A small blond woman, who Joanne guessed to be in her late thirties spoke first and introduced her two companions; another younger Eurasian woman and a fit-looking man with a head of grey stubble and a weathered looking face, despite having perfectly manicured nails.
    “Good morning Joanne. I’m Sarah Rodin – Early Development Director. Anna Tamsin is in charge of the Further Development and Selection Area. Ron Maddison – Development Enhancement with Placement and Termination Services.”
    Sarah’s hands were cool and had a crisp hard feel to them.

    By contrast, Anna’s hands and voice was limp. Despite the manicured perfection of his nails and smooth skin, Ron’s handshake was definite and hard. He cut in to the conversation.

    “We’ve looked at your resume and talked to some of the contacts on it. This’ll be the final part of our selection process. Your references recommend you highly. Very impressive. Sarah and Anna will show you around our facility and then you’ll return here and we’ll discuss your application and your conditions…if you get the position.” He looked at the sheet of paper on the desk in front of him. You are applicant 59 and we are short-listing to 10 out of 200.” He stretched his legs and stifled a yawn.

    “Come with us.” Sarah took charge and led Joanne and the languid Anna down a maze of corridors. They entered a wide room filled what looked like clear Perspex ovals containing cloudy liquid that gurgled softly through a gentle hum of machinery. Sarah walked closer to one and realised with a shock that floating inside was what looked like a human foetus of six months. She went closer and could hear what sounded like a Mozart sonata. Turning aside she caught Sarah watching her with a satisfied smile.

    “Yes. It is Mozart. That will be an Alpha child. We are using music to enhance brain development and potential.” Sarah smiled smugly at Joanne’s shocked surprise. It was now with some sense of unease, Joanne followed the two women around the room and it was explained to her that this technology meant that women were free to pursue their own careers, wants and entertainment without the burden of producing the next generation.

    “The embryos are placed in artificial wombs at the five-day development stage. We test the amniotic fluid periodically. Any abnormalities are terminated. The ARW is then washed out and a new embryo is implanted once it is sterilised and prepared with either the lining of animal wombs or human womb material taken from voluntary hysterectomies or from cadavers. We have very few failures now.”
    “ARW?”

    “These.” Sarah gestured to the rows of clear Perspex bubbles containing the foetuses. “Artificial Reproductive Wombs.”

    “We can even open the ARW if need be and operate without the foetus dying. If we think it is valuable enough.” Anna added. “Any questions?” Joanne thought for a moment.

    “Yes. What happens if there is something wrong with the foetus at say six or seven months? You terminate?”

    Sarah and Anna exchanged a brief glance. Sarah answered her.

    “Yes. We terminate, more often than not. Then the remains are processed for cultures.” Joanne suppressed a shudder of horror as Sarah continued.

    “Semen and ova are now harvested from all students in upper secondary schools. It has been compulsory for the past seven years. On leaving school there is now mandatory sterilisation of the whole population.” Perceiving Joanne’s shocked expression, she explained further.

    “In the past, our country’s social services were overwhelmed with people who had had children for the wrong reasons. They could not or did not care adequately for them. After much consultation with expert anthropologists, it was decided that all breeding and raising of children would be state controlled and through the use of ART – Artificial Reproductive Services. We collect semen and ova from the population and test it extensively for disease and work out the best matches. We also eliminate any genetic disorders and use only the best of the best to breed our next generation.” Joanne again held back a shudder of disbelief.

    Sarah waved her hand over the artificial wombs in the room they stood in.
    “This room holds about one hundred foetuses and it is one of two hundred such rooms in this facility and we are building another one that can develop up to fifty thousand foetuses over nine months.” Anna cut in.

    “All reproduction is state controlled. We select the best of the developing foetuses through testing. These are the prime alphas and from them we will select the administrators, the scientists and directors of companies and services. They will be smart, athletic and the best of the best. Then we have the Beta group who are smart but not the smartest. They are our professionals, our teachers and middle management. Then our gamma groups are the tradespeople and technicians. The Deltas work as shop assistants, supermarket loaders, warehouse staff and even labouring. Then we have the Zeta class which will be our soldiers, and beasts of burden. They will follow orders without thinking too much of the consequences. You tell them and they will build, tear down and kill on order.”

    “Yes. We are involved in great work. Tidying up civilisation and saving societies and people from themselves.” Sarah paused, “it is great work and there is the added bonus of knowing you are going to be one of this world’s saviours.”

    “People bred indiscriminately in times past. There were mistakes. Girls got pregnant at an early age or women who should never have children had them. Now it is much tidier and all children are adequately cared for. You will join a team that will herald a new and ordered world. There are no mistakes here.”

    As Joanne hesitated both Sarah and Anna caught it, and in in that instant, her fate was decided.

    “Anna, take Joanne down to the staff canteen for a coffee. I will see you there shortly.” Sarah walked through the doors and Joanne followed Anna down more corridors to the staff dining area.

    ******

    Sarah walked quickly back to the room where Ron Maddison sat reading and writing at the desk. He looked up as she entered.

    “So?” Sarah shook her head.

    “Not suitable. Emotionally unstable.”

    “So we prepare the exit chamber?”

    “Yes. I’m afraid so.”

    “It’s a great pity. She’s some fine DNA sequences. Remarkably disease free. No chance of thyroid problems or diabetes and even cancer. Can we harvest her eggs? What age is she?” He looked down at the file. “Humm. Thirty seven. Getting on but doing an ancestry search, most of her mother’s family lived into their nineties. Healthy and strong. I accessed her hospital records and she has had remarkably little hospitalisation over the years. A tonsil operation at twenty years of age. No children. We may be able to harvest her ovaries and womb before the exit processing takes place.”

    ******

    “So how do you know when the children are ready to be born?”
    “Well, there are prostaglandins released at approximately thirty-nine to forty weeks. We monitor the developing foetus for its readiness for independent life. Then hormones are flooded into the ARW and a birth process is simulated and the child is expelled from the ARW into a warm towel. He or she is cleaned up and checked for any abnormalities. Then we take them to the nursery. There they are placed in a crib with an artificial breast through which they receive their nourishment.”
    Anna beamed at Joanne. “See we have thought of everything. The cradle even rocks and coos to the child to simulate the actions of a real mother.” At this last remark, Joanne shivered inwardly. “But it is not,” she thought to herself, “a real mother.” Then another thought occurred to her.

    “What happens if the new born child is, eh, abnormal?”

    “Good question, Joanne. I am glad you asked. We check the level of abnormality and it is usually not significant; as we have checked the developing foetus throughout the previous forty weeks. However, if it is significant then, sadly the newborn is quietly euthanised. Usually starved of oxygen, until it passes.” Joanne felt ever more uneasy, but could not resist asking a further question.

    “And so, what do you consider a “significant abnormality”?” Anna became quite enthusiastic at this question.

    “Well, a fairly vivid birthmark. Especially on the face. Uneven and ugly features that do not resolve themselves after a month. Knock knees and over shot or undershot jaws. We also look at tooth and jaw structures and if they require extensive surgery we delete the individual around the time of their birth. It is cost effective.”

    “You two seem to be getting on well.” Sarah suddenly appeared at Anna’s side. “We need to keep moving.”

    “Yes,” Joanne replied. “Will I get to see the babies and the young children? I am very intrigued as to how they are developing and how we get to look after them.”

    “We will be doing that shortly. You will need to go inside the PC Processing Chamber beforehand. Where the babies are, it’s a sterile environment. We do not vaccinate. Not until the children are at least five years old and their immune systems can cope with the vaccines.”

    “Can I go to the toilet please? Beforehand. Coffee bladder.” Joanne asked and Anna directed her to the toilets in the corridor. Once Joanne was inside and out of ear shot, she turned to Sarah who slowly shook her head.

    “EC or PC?” She asked although from Sarah’s look she already knew the answer.

    “This one, she’s an EC, I am afraid. But Ron wants her DNA and genetic material. He says her family history is remarkably healthy and long lived.”

    *******
    Inside the toilet, Joanne pulled out a thin card. It unfolded and became a tablet. She quickly texted a message and closed the tablet and folded it up again.

    “It’s worse than we imagined. I hope I can make it out. Ron Maddison told me I am candidate 59 out of 200. They are choosing 10 out of 200. But the other 58 are still missing. Along with others. We need to get to the bottom of this fast. We don’t know how many candidates they have had in previous advertisements. I am not sure if it is a private organisation run by the government of this country. However, what is happening here is a human tragedy. We must not allow it.”

    ********

    Joanne flushed, washed and exited the toilet. The two women turned towards her.
    “Anna, please escort Joanne to the chamber. I’ll catch up with you both on the other side.” Sarah was off down the corridors at a fast march.

    Anna smiled sweetly at Joanne.

    “Come with me and we’ll see the children as soon as we’re finished processing.”

    They walked down towards two sets of double doors. Anna patted Joanne on the shoulder. “You go to the one on the right. I’ll go through the left one.”

    Inside the left chamber, Anna watched through a glass window as Joanne slowly collapsed to the floor in the next chamber.

    Reply
    • September 23, 2017 at 11:32 am
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      In the sixth paragraph you wrote, ‘Sarah walked closer to one and realised with a shock that floating inside was what looked like a human foetus of six months.’
      ‘Sarah’ should be ‘Joanne.’ (I’m quite sure about this.) It’s a minor thing. Otherwise, its a great story, ‘Stepford Wives’ meets Planned Parenthood in ‘Brazil.’
      Excellent use of dialogue in delivering the story.

      Reply
      • September 23, 2017 at 8:32 pm
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        Thanks Ken. I will correct that and repost it today. Yes it should be Joanne. That is why editing is such a great tool along with peer feedback on improving the story and tale. 🙂

        Reply
    • September 24, 2017 at 4:03 am
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      Edited: The Tragedy of the New Race

      “Oh, I’m bleeding.” Joanne pulled her finger quickly back from the print scanner. The security attendant was by her side immediately with a cotton wad which she placed firmly on the finger applying quite some pressure.

      “There” she said, “you must have caught it on something.” She quickly dabbed the blood with a cotton wad, and then took the cotton pad and placed it in a plastic bag and threw it down what Joanne presumed must be a rubbish chute. She beckoned Joanne to follow her down a corridor and through two other security doors, and finally up some stairs to a door labelled INTERVIEWS, both she and Joanne were electronically body scanned and finger printed.

      On entering the room Joanne saw three people sitting at a table who rose as one, when she entered. The guide slipped quietly away. A small blond woman, who Joanne guessed to be in her late thirties spoke first and introduced her two companions; another younger Eurasian woman and a fit-looking man with a head of grey stubble and a weathered looking face, despite having perfectly manicured nails.

      “Good morning Joanne. I’m Sarah Rodin – Early Development Director. Anna Tamsin is in charge of the Further Development and Selection Area. Ron Maddison – Development Enhancement with Placement and Termination Services.”

      Sarah’s hands were cool and had a crisp hard feel to them. By contrast, Anna’s hands and voice was limp. Despite the manicured perfection of his nails and smooth skin, Ron’s handshake was definite and hard. He cut in to the conversation.

      “We’ve looked at your resume and talked to some of the contacts on it. This’ll be the final part of our selection process. Your references recommend you highly. Very impressive. Sarah and Anna will show you around our facility and then you’ll return here and we’ll discuss your application and your conditions…if you get the position.”
      He looked at the sheet of paper on the desk in front of him. You are applicant 59 and we are short-listing to 10 out of 200.” He stretched his legs and stifled a yawn.

      “Come with us.” Sarah took charge and led Joanne and the languid Anna down a maze of corridors. They entered a wide room filled what looked like clear Perspex ovals containing cloudy liquid that gurgled softly through a gentle hum of machinery.
      Joanne walked closer to one and realised with a shock that floating inside was what looked like a human foetus of six months. She went closer and could hear what sounded like a Mozart sonata. Turning aside she caught Sarah watching her with a satisfied smile.
      “Yes. It is Mozart. That will be an Alpha child. We are using music to enhance brain development and potential.” Sarah smiled smugly at Joanne’s shocked surprise. It was now with some sense of unease, Joanne followed the two women around the room and it was explained to her that this technology meant that women were free to pursue their own careers, wants and entertainment without the burden of producing the next generation.

      “The embryos are placed in artificial wombs at the five-day development stage. We test the amniotic fluid periodically. Any abnormalities are terminated. The ARW is then washed out and a new embryo is implanted once it is sterilised and prepared with either the lining of animal wombs or human womb material taken from voluntary hysterectomies or from cadavers. We have very few failures now.”

      “ARW?”

      “These.” Sarah gestured to the rows of clear Perspex bubbles containing the foetuses. “Artificial Reproductive Wombs.”

      “We can even open the ARW if need be and operate without the foetus dying. If we think it is valuable enough.” Anna added. “Any questions?” Joanne thought for a moment.

      “Yes. What happens if there is something wrong with the foetus at say six or seven months? You terminate?”

      Sarah and Anna exchanged a brief glance. Sarah answered her.

      “Yes. We terminate, more often than not. Then the remains are processed for cultures.” Joanne suppressed a shudder of horror as Sarah continued.

      “Semen and ova are now harvested from all students in upper secondary schools. It has been compulsory for the past seven years. On leaving school there is now mandatory sterilisation of the whole population.” Perceiving Joanne’s shocked expression, she explained further.

      “In the past, our country’s social services were overwhelmed with people who had had children for the wrong reasons. They could not or did not care adequately for them. After much consultation with expert anthropologists, it was decided that all breeding and raising of children would be state controlled and through the use of ART – Artificial Reproductive Services. We collect semen and ova from the population and test it extensively for disease and work out the best matches. We also eliminate any genetic disorders and use only the best of the best to breed our next generation.” Joanne again held back a shudder of disbelief.

      Sarah waved her hand over the artificial wombs in the room they stood in.

      “This room holds about one hundred foetuses and it is one of two hundred such rooms in this facility and we are building another one that can develop up to fifty thousand foetuses over nine months.” Anna cut in.

      “All reproduction is state controlled. We select the best of the developing foetuses through testing. These are the prime alphas and from them we will select the administrators, the scientists and directors of companies and services. They will be smart, athletic and the best of the best. Then we have the Beta group who are smart, but not the smartest. They are our professionals, our teachers and middle management. Then our gamma groups are the tradespeople and technicians. The Deltas work as shop assistants, supermarket loaders, warehouse staff and even labouring. Then we have the Zeta class which will be our soldiers, and beasts of burden. They will follow orders without thinking too much of the consequences. You tell them and they will build, tear down and kill on order.”

      “Yes. We are involved in great work. Tidying up civilisation and saving societies and people from themselves.” Sarah paused, “it is great work and there is the added bonus of knowing you are going to be one of this world’s saviours.”

      “People bred indiscriminately in times past. There were mistakes. Girls got pregnant at an early age or women who should never have children had them. Now it is much tidier and all children are adequately cared for. You will join a team that will herald a new and ordered world. There are no mistakes here.”

      As Joanne hesitated, both Sarah and Anna caught the moment and her fate was decided.

      “Anna, take Joanne down to the staff canteen for a coffee. I will see you there shortly.” Sarah walked through the doors and Joanne followed Anna down more corridors to the staff dining area.

      ******

      Sarah walked quickly back to the room where Ron Maddison sat reading and writing at the desk. He looked up as she entered.

      “So?” Sarah shook her head.

      “Not suitable. Emotionally unstable.”

      “So we prepare the exit chamber?”

      “Yes. I’m afraid so.”

      “It’s a great pity. She’s some fine DNA sequences. Remarkably disease free. No chance of thyroid problems or diabetes and even cancer. Can we harvest her eggs? What age is she?” He looked down at the file. “Humm. Thirty seven. Getting on but doing an ancestry search, most of her mother’s family lived into their nineties. Healthy and strong. I accessed her hospital records and she has had remarkably little hospitalisation over the years. A tonsil operation at twenty years of age. No children. We may be able to harvest her ovaries and womb before the exit processing takes place.”

      ******

      “So how do you know when the children are ready to be born?”

      “Well, there are prostaglandins released at approximately thirty-nine to forty weeks. We monitor the developing foetus for its readiness for independent life. Then hormones are flooded into the ARW and a birth process is simulated and the child is expelled from the ARW into a warm towel. He or she is cleaned up and checked for any abnormalities. Then we take them to the nursery. There they are placed in a crib with an artificial breast through which they receive their nourishment.” Anna beamed at Joanne. “See we have thought of everything. The cradle even rocks and coos to the child to simulate the actions of a real mother.” At this last remark, Joanne shivered inwardly. “But it is not,” she thought to herself, “a real mother.” Then another thought occurred to her.

      “What happens if the new born child is, eh, abnormal?”

      “Good question, Joanne. I am glad you asked. We check the level of abnormality and it is usually not significant; as we have checked the developing foetus throughout the previous forty weeks. However, if it is significant then, sadly the newborn is quietly euthanised. Usually starved of oxygen, until it passes.” Joanne felt ever more uneasy, but could not resist asking a further question.

      “And so, what do you consider a “significant abnormality”?” Anna became quite enthusiastic at this question.

      “Well, a fairly vivid birthmark. Especially on the face. Uneven and ugly features that do not resolve themselves after a month. Knock knees and over shot or undershot jaws. We also look at tooth and jaw structures and if they require extensive surgery we delete the individual around the time of their birth. It is cost effective.”

      “You two seem to be getting on well.” Sarah suddenly appeared at Anna’s side. “We need to keep moving.”

      “Yes,” Joanne replied. “Will I get to see the babies and the young children? I am intrigued as to how they develop and how we get to look after them.”

      “We will be doing that shortly. You will need to go inside the PC Processing Chamber beforehand. Where the babies are, it’s a sterile environment. We do not vaccinate until they are older. At least five years old and their immune systems can cope with vaccines.”

      “Can I go to the toilet please? Beforehand. Coffee bladder.” Joanne asked and Anna directed her to the toilets in the corridor. Once she was inside and out of ear shot, Anna turned to Sarah who slowly shook her head.

      “EC or PC?” She asked although from Sarah’s look she already knew the answer.
      “This one, she’s an EC, I am afraid. But Ron wants her DNA and genetic material. He says her family history is remarkably healthy and long lived.”

      *******

      Inside the toilet, Joanne pulled out a small card. It unfolded and became a tablet. She quickly texted a message and closed the tablet and folded it up again.

      “It’s worse than we imagined. I hope I can make it out. Ron Maddison told me I am candidate 59 out of 200. They are choosing 10 out of 200. But the other 58 are still missing. Along with others. We need to get to the bottom of this fast. We don’t know how many candidates they have had in previous advertisements. I am not sure if it is a private organisation run by the government of this country. However, what is happening here is a human tragedy. We must not allow it.”

      Joanne flushed, washed and exited the toilet. The two women turned towards her.

      “Anna, please escort Joanne to the chamber. I’ll catch up with you both on the other side.” Sarah was off down the corridors at a fast march.

      Anna smiled sweetly at Joanne.

      “Come with me and we’ll see the children as soon as we’re finished our processing.”

      They walked down towards the two sets of doors. Anna patted Joanne on the shoulder.
      “You go to the one on the right. I’ll go through the left one.”

      Inside the left chamber, Anna watched through a glass window as Joanne slowly collapsed to the floor in the next chamber.

      Reply
      • September 27, 2017 at 3:38 pm
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        Whoa! Iceland is doing something similar, by having babies with Down’s Syndrome aborted before they’re born. So you story as dark as it is, isn’t so far off from reality.

        Well done Ilana, I loved the flow, and the dialogue, and the tension. You do a great job of conveying from the beginning that something is off about this place, and you let it unfold naturally and wonderfully. Great job my friend.

        Reply
      • September 27, 2017 at 8:34 pm
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        Very nicely written, Ilana. I enjoyed it from beginning to end, especially the dialogue. A very intriguing story!

        Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 9:23 am
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        A very disturbing glimpse of the future – a bit ‘Brave New World’ (if I remember it right – it was decades ago that I read it). I like (I don’t like the fact, but the way you worked it) how Joanne thinks she’s on top of the situation, but the reader knows she isn’t. It’s a thing I often do in early drafts of stories (which I try to correct) and that’s to tie everything up neatly. That very last line … yes, we’re sure what happens to Joanne, but we’d be equally sure if you left it at her entering the chamber, and it would be a little more subtle and elegant (imho). A well-told tale, though.

        Reply
  • September 21, 2017 at 5:38 am
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    Wow, IIana. That’s chilling! I’ll never answer another Job ad again.

    Reply
    • September 21, 2017 at 7:35 pm
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      LOL just make sure you answer ads that have nothing to do with Assisted Reproductive Technology and Social Engineering of the Left’s new world order. I think education etc and other health services might be ok. LOL

      Reply
      • September 21, 2017 at 7:36 pm
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        I am quite critical of people who do think in a coldly compassionless manner and are totally about self interest. Children produced without loving parents – a mum and a dad, become horrifyingly lacking in empathy.

        Reply
  • September 22, 2017 at 9:24 am
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    TRAGEDIES

    “Come on, we’ll be late.”

    “Just a moment. Almost finished.”

    Constance held the thimble up to the light. It was given to her by her grandfather when she was a child, the first in her collection: glazed porcelain, deep red, with, in spiralling gold leaf: “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.” She mouthed the words now as she gave the thimble a careful wipe with a duster.

    Constance’s husband, William, was in the hall, speaking to the baby-sitter.

    “So here’s my number … just in case.”

    “You’ve already given it to me, Mr Taylor.”

    “Have I? Ah. Anyway, we put her down half an hour ago, and she should sleep through. But if there’s anythi–“

    “I’ll call straight away. Don’t worry.”

    “Good. Come on, Connie!”

    Constance placed the thimble on a rack, gently nudging it to be in perfect line it with the others in the row. Before she left the room she cast a proud glance at the racks holding her collection, then went out into the hall.

    William was waiting with her red coat.

    “The table’s booked for eight.”

    “We’ve plenty of time, darling.”

    Constance took her coat and passed the baby-sitter at the door.

    “See you later, Julia.”

    William followed her out.

    Julia waited until the car had left the drive before she made the call to her boyfriend.

    ~~~~~~

    William put his hand on his wife’s knee as they pulled into the drive.

    “That was a wonderful evening, wasn’t it?”

    Constance patted his hand and forced a perfunctory smile.

    “It was nice, yes.”

    William took his hand away and gestured towards the house, where all the lights were off.

    “That’s odd.”

    He stopped the car and they got out. The night was cool and still.

    William saw now that the front door was ajar. He rushed forward and burst in, Constance close behind. As he went to turn on the light, he stumbled over something soft.

    “What the …!”

    The light revealed Julia’s body, sprawled across the floor of the hall. A dark red stain spread out from her head on the grey carpet.

    “Naomi!”

    William bounded up the stairs, half sobbing already with the fear of what he might find.

    Constance stepped over Julia and made for the living room. She switched on the light and gasped. It looked like an earthquake had hit it: strewn around the room were what was left of the television and sound system, the carriage clock that had sat on the mantelpiece, the framed photographs that had been hanging on the walls … but Constance’s horror was reserved for the broken racks and shattered remains of two hundred thimbles.

    William appeared in the doorway, a little bundle in his arms.

    “She’s all right, darling! She’s all right!”

    Constance didn’t answer. She was on her knees, whimpering, searching for the pieces of a deep red thimble with gold-leaf lettering.

    .

    Reply
    • September 23, 2017 at 11:19 am
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      There are several tragedies in this story. The tragedy of a loveless marriage, the murder of a clueless teenager, and the ultimate tragedy in that Constance is a cold-hearted bitch who cares more about her stupid thimbles than she does about her own daughter. Good story Philip, with your usual understated point.

      Reply
      • September 23, 2017 at 11:22 am
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        I suppose that’s a little harsh. Indeed, Constance cares most for the one thimble with its deeply sentimental value. But still… she stepped OVER the dead babysitters body.

        Reply
      • September 23, 2017 at 3:08 pm
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        Thanks, Ken, for both your comments and yes … you hit the nail on the head both times (at least that was what I was going for), although I feel that Constance is disturbed or possibly depressed rather than “a cold-hearted b*tch”.

        Thanks again for the read and the positive words.

        Reply
    • September 27, 2017 at 8:38 pm
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      Nicely written, Phil. I enjoyed it, but found it ended too quickly. I was devouring it and then it was over; it would have been nice to have more to chew on!

      Reply
    • September 27, 2017 at 10:22 pm
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      The story started slowly, but had my interest right from the start. Then it got going, and abruptly, it was over. I wanted more, it seemed to need more. I liked how the story flowed, the seemingly innocuous conversation between Constance and William, as if they were just an average couple.

      But there was something deeper there, understated, but there nonetheless. I think Constance was a bit psychotic, her single-minded focus on those thimbles was irrational compared to the safety of her kid.

      Well written Phil.

      Reply
  • September 22, 2017 at 4:22 pm
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    Well Phil
    Pretty gory stuff and we know the value placed on the baby sitter’s life too. She was less important than the thimbles.
    Good use of dialogue. You could possibly have extended the dialogue at the restaurant to show a bit more of their characters and build suspense. You know we had two thousand words this time. LOL
    Great story but I was left wanting to know the following: why did the boyfriend kill Julia? Was he someone she had met on fb who hid his criminal record for assaults and rape in a cunning manner? It seemed a little too pat. Was he someone she had been going out with for a while and all of sudden showed psychopathic tendencies? Or was she from a traditional middle eastern family and they found out she had a boyfriend and when her brothers/father arrived, the boyfriend raced away and they killed her? We have to delve into the potential reasons for the murder. Or did she simply refuse to be intimate with him and he got nasty?
    Am I giving you something to think about yet?
    I think I want to be a forensic detective in my next life? Why people would want to hurt another person or even kill them has always fascinated me. Possibly because try as I might to imagine it, I cannot imagine going out of my way to hurt other people or even try to get them to hurt themselves which seems quite order of the day in many younger people today or even some older people.

    Reply
    • September 23, 2017 at 3:04 pm
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      Thanks for the read, the nice long feedback, and the positive comments, Ilana!

      Is it really that gory? Hmm … As for the murderer … well, it’s not a whodunnit?, but I’d hoped the reader might do, mentally, exactly what you did and speculate about the circumstances. What IS clear, it seems to me, is that it doesn’t really matter how Julia died because that’s not the story; her death is merely there to highlight the characters of the main protagonists.

      I agree with you, though, about hurting people; I try not to do it emotionally (it occasionally happens, unfortunately – it’s stronger than me sometimes!), and I’ve certainly never done it physically – as an adult, at least; as a child, everyone has fights, don’t they?

      Thanks again!

      Reply
  • September 25, 2017 at 9:48 pm
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    Pieces (1,995 words)
    Written by Christopher Smith
    © 2017

    Summer, delicious in its warmth.

    I hear the pinging, ringing echo of my hammer, gripped in one hand and still hot from the pounding. I smell the dampness of our double garage, amazingly faint on that day but soon to be forever heightened. I smell the oily stink of grease, some past spill or leak long forgotten. I smell freshly cut wood, a sweet, warm scent that once triggered thoughts of summer sunshine and sweat and chilled beer but since provokes only an empty, meaningless sorrow. I see the flecks of sawdust twisting in the soft breeze, dancing around me until they settle on my hair, my clothes, inside of my nose.

    My back is sore. And my knees. My neck, too. I’ve yet to purchase a table for my chop saw and I’ve been kneeling and bending and measuring and cutting off and on for nearly two hours now. I stand to stretch. I glance out into the sunshine to check on my daughter; she was riding her bike in wide, lazy circles on our driveway not five seconds ago. She’s not anymore, though. Not that I can see, anyway. I was only keeping a back-of-my-mind ear on her; the training wheels rattling on the stone-littered driveway had been assisting me, but with the sporadic screams of the chop saw I must have lost the sound of her movement. I call her name and she doesn’t answer.

    She was right there, and now she’s gone.

    Until this point my life has been solid and steady, all pillars surrounding it set firmly in place and showing no signs of erosion. My life has been wonderful in every sense of the word’s meaning, but now one pillar is gone…missing. Something with teeth clamps around my heart and sinks in deeper with each passing second, and suddenly I’m cold.

    I call her name again, this time moving, slowly at first and then in panicked steps…or so it seems, because I have no real sense of moving any quicker than before. The three cars parked in our driveway are blocking my view to the road and I wonder briefly why we have so many. Two would do, and we could manage with one. Perhaps if we had managed, perhaps if I hadn’t bought that wreck of a beauty to fix up, she’d still be with us…perhaps.

    I glance from side to side—from one neighbour’s front yard to the other—but this is a formality, only to check those mental boxes fluttering in my head like angry mosquitoes, because already I’m moving toward the road; in my near-lifeless heart I know that’s where she’s gone. I call her name again and as my vision crests the rusted top of that beaten-up piece-of-shit Thunderbird I can see the crown of the helmet we bought her last summer, the bright sunlight tickling the purple and pink and yellow flecks surrounding the butterfly- and ladybug-print she had instantly fell in love with.

    As I get closer—inching in sickly slow steps because I can’t seem to move any faster than that—I see that she’s studying something on the ground, something I can’t make out, small pebbles or a bug, maybe. Closer still and I see that she’s on the road, not by much, maybe by foot or so, but she’s on it, and that’s enough to make my stomach sink and fill with something that feels like cold metal. I call her name again—for the fourth and last time—only as loud as I think I holler I can’t seem to hear my own voice. Instead of her beautiful name I hear an overwhelming rumbling—a screaming engine leading a tattered muffler. I hear partially deflated tires kissing screeches from the road.

    I’m running now, only that’s an illusion; I’m climbing through molasses.

    This is when she looks at me. This is when she smiles. This is when her eyes are the brightest. This is when the colours and sounds and smells of this nightmare escalate and become too real, like I’m trapped in a small room, my sensory perception sharpened to a maddening degree, and all of it—her radiant eyes, her glaring helmet, the sharp coughing of the approaching car’s muffler, the thick thump of my heart, the ill stink of hot wood buried in my nose, the stench of burnt tires—is ricocheting around me in tight circles, heaving me close to an edge I pray will simply give way and take me to her.

    After all that running I notice that, somehow, I’m much farther from her than when I’d started, and at this realization—that I’ve been reduced to an observer, that I’m too far from her to ever be able to help—I see in my peripheral the car’s yawning grill, vertical bars of chrome that look like bladed teeth, screaming closer to my daughter, twelve inches, eight, three, none.

    This is when my heart stops beating—for how long I’m unsure—and when it starts up again it will only be a sad and deflated imitation of itself.

    That helmet was meant to protect her from falls of three, four, maybe five feet, no more than that, I’m sure.

    It certainly wasn’t meant to protect her from this.

    This is when the beast of metal cutting quickly through the sunlight knocks my baby down, takes her away from me, and leaves me questioning everything I’ve ever done and so much more waiting for me two, four, ten years from now. The helmet breaks open—a thick crack! that could be thunder but sadly isn’t—her eyes and smile still brilliant, beaming, her mind distant from the terror upon her, unknowing.

    And this is when I wake up—always on impact, never before.

    **********

    My eyelids don’t flutter or ease open but soar with a shotgun-blast quickness that flings me from one horror-filled world to another drowning in reoccurring waves of agony. My vision is blurry but soon settles and then clears, and I know how irritated my eyes must look, how exhausted. I’m sweating. The nightshirt and boxer shorts I wear are pasted to my skin, wet and itchy, and I can smell the stale stink stuck to me. The bed sheets are cold and damp; I feel like I’m lying in ice water. I’ve either tossed the covers to my wife’s side of the bed or she has stolen them from me because the night air has touched me deep and I’m shivering.

    It’s always now—lying semi-awake in a world that feels neither real nor dreamlike, my nightly revisit of that endless day still too clear, never fading—when I’m forced to recall the most painful part of it all: my little girl’s beautifully infinite eyes against a backdrop of her cracked and blood-spattered helmet. It seems as if those brief moments run through my mind in long, drawn-out hours, and wanting to revisit them has nothing to do with it; I can’t seem to help it. A small part of me feels it’s therapeutic, only a much larger, more rational part knows that it’s self-punishment.

    I prop myself up on my elbows and look at my wife. She still sleeps…soundly. I glance at the digital clock sitting alone on her night table; it displays an hour that makes little sense against the dark surrounding us: eight o’clock. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been asleep at either of the eights.

    There is a tug at my shirtsleeve, and before I have time to turn I hear the plop of it snapping against my arm. My daughter is standing there. The outline of her fades as I focus on it, bending into the darkness, but I know it’s my baby; I can feel her.

    I should know how the rest of this half-dream plays out by now, but it’s amazing how each time she appears by our bedside I once again convince myself that she’s real.

    She needs to go to the washroom, she says, and she would like me to take her, to keep her company. Sure I will, I tell her; anything for her, and anytime.

    I swing my legs over the side of our bed. The floor is cold. I grab for my glasses and they’re as cold as the floor, and once they’re on the only blur remaining is the constant fatigue circling through my body, a droopy, frayed fog that’s endless. Her arms are raised, her tattered blanket dangling from one fragile fist, already waiting for me to pick her up. I do. I stand and lift her to me. She wraps her legs around my stomach, her arms around my neck. She sets her head on my chest. Her scattered, curly hair is warm on my chin, my neck, and my face. She settles into the crook of my elbow as I slip my arm under her. Her blanket is bunched at the base of my neck and I can feel her tiny, sleepy fingers working its silk tag for comfort. I raise a hand to her head and I stroke her hair. I feel no sign of the injury that took her. She smells like warmth, like angels, like love. We walk—together—and my heart aches for it to go on and on.

    I’m crying now, silent sobs that distort my whispering, telling her that I love her and I always will.

    And then an endless white surrounds me and I surrender to it. I’m in a vacuum. I’m bordered by a deep, endless nothing, and then blackness, so thick and evil I see its teeth, quickly devours me, and I scream.

    **********

    When I wake I’m wet and cold, kneeling in front of the toilet and clutching her blanket, my shaking fingers rubbing its worn silk tag. I’m mumbling her name, repeating it. And I’m crying.

    The last eight months have been this way and I feel the next eight will be just as bad, and that’s only if I make it that long. Insomnia clings to me like a cold I can’t shake, deadens all feeling, although somehow this memory snaps those same feelings awake, full and bright and ravenous.

    I’m a terrible father. I’ve told my therapist this and she has told me that I’m not, that I’m being too hard on myself. I appreciate and commend her effort—I’m paying her, after all—but I can’t believe it…won’t. If I did I’d be forgiving myself for my girl’s death, and I’ll never do that.

    The bathroom’s floor is cold. I’ve stopped crying; it still hurts (it always will) but I have nothing left inside. I slink back into our bedroom and slip my daughter’s blanket under my clammy pillow. I find it hard to let it go, even for just a minute, but I need to change in to some clean nightclothes. After that’s done I pull gently on the covers my wife has hoarded and arrange them so they will blanket the wet bed sheets. I fetch the thick quilt in the bottom drawer of the armoire in the corner and slip it over me as I join my wife. The clock on her night table declares a more rational hour now. My eyes are swollen, burning and irritated and tired, but I know there will be no true sleep for me, not this night, and probably not ever again.

    I concentrate on my wife’s breathing, deep and long and rhythmic, praying it will eventually coax me to her. I bless her ability to sleep…and then curse her in the same breath.

    Eventually, unknowingly, I slither into heavy pre-sleep warmth; my eyelids slip shut; the heavy silence of the night begins to claim me. I ease down into the darkness. My mind begins to close, and in this in-between world that isn’t quite sleep but nearly there is absolutely nothing.

    And then something, someone, tugs at my shirtsleeve.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 1:16 am
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      Oh my gosh, this is beautifully written, the flow the descriptive quality of that awful moment played clearly in my head as I was reading. This kind of unimaginable tragedy is written so perfectly Christopher, it reads as if it truly happened to you, I pray it did not.
      Fantastic story!!

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 3:12 am
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        Christopher, Your writing has an especially appealing tempo. (I can’t describe it any better than that.) And the delivery, the narrative is compelling. I thought, ‘Wow,’ when I finished your story. I wasn’t sure I liked the plot, but it was delivered so effectively, with such powerful writing, I was glad I read it. It pulled me in and changed my mind. Your writing is so impressive, I may try to mimic it. (Hope you don’t mind. I’ll have to study up on it, so just keep writing. )

        Reply
        • September 28, 2017 at 7:19 am
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          Thank you, Ken – I’m flattered! (And I don’t mind at all.)

          The plot is certainly not a likeable one, but I am glad you enjoyed the writing enough to keep reading; that is always my main goal.

          Thanks again for the kind words, sincerely!

          Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 7:16 am
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        It is not a true story, Alice, not to worry. My biggest fear as a father (for any parent, I would imagine) is to lose their child, especially in such a tragic way. It was a very difficult story to write, but one I felt I had to.

        I’m glad that you enjoyed it! (If “enjoyed” is the right word for a story as disturbing as this one was.)

        Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 7:30 am
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      A terrifying, expertly realised story, Christopher. At one point, the narrator says “I’m climbing through molasses” (I’d have used ‘wading’, but the ‘molasses’ metaphor is perfect) … and that’s how we read this. It’s all so slow and inevitable … and that final line is terrific. Really good stuff.

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 7:59 am
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        Thank you, Phil, glad you enjoyed it!
        “Wading” could have worked, but “climbing” (to me, at least) sounds like it would take more effort, therefore showing (or trying to) how hard the narrator is working to get to his daughter.
        And I agree with the last line; I get chills every time I read it…and I know it’s coming! I think it works really well.
        Thanks again for the kind words!

        Reply
        • September 28, 2017 at 9:20 pm
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          Hi Christopher
          Waiting for the vote totals I have decided to give a few comments on the stories I missed commenting on. This story is well written and visceral as you can sense the fear on many levels. You are right. It is the worse possible pain imaginable that one could lose their child either through illness or some other means accident.
          I used to have a nightmare as a child about losing my father and then my mother through cancer. I had a distant relative who died of cancer when I was about eleven or twelve years old and she left one child. Horrible, and that was bad enough imagining who would look after myself and siblings and hoping it was NEVER an Aunt who I found totally horrid. I think losing a child, is however even worse because you have this little being who is in your care and who you are responsible for protecting from the world’s evils and who you are prepared to give up your life for him or her. It is every parents worst night mare and you have captured the angst well.
          Very nice flow in your text and it has a solid base in reality.
          Your last line is poignant. Great story. Well thought out.

          Reply
  • September 26, 2017 at 9:34 pm
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    A Hollywood Tragedy in Three Acts
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    ACT I

    Natalie Lake could’ve been a star during the golden age of Hollywood, with her wavy red hair, porcelain skin, and stunning green eyes. Men like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner would’ve known exactly how to capitalize on her looks, and her less than stellar acting abilities.

    Never heard of Natalie Lake? Well you’re not alone, most people haven’t. But in the 1990s, Natalie was the “It” girl, at least for a few short years. She was beautiful, feisty, and had quite the screen presence —but no one was going to mistake her for Meryl Streep.

    Natalie’s star rose nonetheless, but like so many actresses before her, she found out too late that fame was at best fleeting, and at its worst a soul crushing endeavor.

    **********

    Natalie Lake moved to LA from San Diego in 1988. Her timing could not have been any better, Madonna was huge, and Natalie rode that wave of unbridled sexuality into a small part in a Martin Scorsese film. It didn’t matter that her part ended up on the cutting room floor, because Natalie had made quite an impression on the people who counted, and by 1991 she was working steadily in Hollywood.

    While Natalie saw herself as the next Bette Davis, or Katherine Hepburn, most thought of her as a two-bit actress who, if she marketed herself well, could have a nice career showing just enough of her assets to sell movie tickets.

    And sell them she did, in such gems like Girls Just Wanna Be Bad, and The Grim Peeper, both horribly exploitative B movies, where any excuse was used to have Natalie take off her shirt.

    But Natalie wanted to be taken seriously, and convinced Paramount to let her star in a dramatic film called, Escapade.

    “No one’s going to take me seriously if all I do is flash my boobs,” Natalie told her agent.

    But the movie was a stinker, and after a few test screenings, Paramount decided to cut their losses and released the film with no fanfare in January, in what is called a “dump” month. These are the months where studios release films they are contractually obligated to release, but believe they’ll tank at the box office.

    One critic said of Natalie’s acting, “If wooden and stilted were positive attributes for an actress, then Lake would be a shoe in for an Oscar.”

    It was the first of her films that didn’t make the studio a profit.

    But Natalie shook that shit off, and after nearly everyone predicted her career over, she finagled a way to walk down the red carpet at The Academy Awards, on the arm of none other than Al Pacino.

    The publicity got her an audition for a new Tony Hayes action film, and Natalie got the role of the sexy love interest —of course.

    On the junket for the Hayes film, a reporter accused her of being more infamous than famous, and Natalie quipped, “I’ll take infamy, just make sure you spell my name right.”

    She had no idea how prophetic those words were.

    ACT II

    1993 was by far the best year for Natalie Lake. She co-starred in two big budget films; one starring Sylvester Stallone and the other, Tom Cruise. And it didn’t hurt that Natalie herself leaked to the papers that she was dating both men during filming. None of it was true, but Natalie thought the story would be good publicity for her.

    And she was right, that stinker of a film was all but forgotten, and predictions of the death of Natalie Lake’s career were greatly exaggerated.

    **********
    In the summer of 1993, Natalie met thirty-two year old Danny Mack, an up and coming writer, whose screenplay The Butterfly’s Gift, was already receiving some Oscar buzz around town, even before it went into production.

    Danny had one actress, and one actress only, in mind for the lead, and that was of course, Natalie Lake. He was one of the few people who appreciated what she tried to do in that box office bomb Escapade.

    And as luck would have it, Natalie wanted the part almost as much as Danny wanted her to have it.

    And in Hollywood, where everybody knows a guy, who knows a guy, who knows someone famous, Danny’s good friend, another writer David Fincher, knew Natalie’s agent, and a meeting was arranged between Danny and Natalie.

    But no studio was willing to risk making another serious film with Natalie Lake, so she produced it herself, through her Big Dreams Production Company.

    The industry thought this was a death blow for an otherwise brilliant script. And headlines like, Danny’s Folly, and Typhoid Natalie, blared across the front pages of trade newspapers around Los Angeles and New York.

    But Danny was smitten, and no one was going to convince him that Natalie Lake was not a perfect choice for the role.

    It was evident immediately that Danny and Natalie were an item. And in another shameless PR stunt, Natalie began comparing their relationship to that of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. No one was buying it though, mainly because, as one critic wrote, “Natalie is half as talented as Monroe, but twice as arrogant.

    And they were right. Natalie was beginning to believe she was invincible.

    And you know what they say about pride going before a fall.

    **********

    There were problems with the production right from the start when two directors dropped out of the project because of interference from Danny, who kept changing the script to appease Natalie. The budget was soaring out of control and Natalie was running out of money fast. She managed to pick up a few investors along the way, but they were refusing to give her one more dime.

    But when Natalie convinced acclaimed director Alexis Carella to helm the film, Sam Hanson, head of production at Universal decided to step in and provide Natalie with the rest of the capital needed to finish the film.

    **********

    Alexis was able to get Natalie to act in ways, even she didn’t think she could, and to the surprise of Universal execs who saw the dailies, one said, “She’s good, she is actually good.”

    Natalie began to hang on every word Alexis uttered, and she spent more and more time with him outside of shooting the film, often leaving Danny at her Hollywood Hills home alone for days at a time.

    The writing was on the wall for Natalie and Danny’s short lived relationship, when People Magazine’s cover read, “Where’s Danny?” above a photo of Natalie and Alexis having a romantic meal at Spagos on Sunset Boulevard.

    Danny didn’t believe it was over between him and Natalie, even when she asked him to move out. And when he kept harassing her to get back together, she had him barred from the set.

    After that, Danny spent most of his time drinking instead of writing. Finally Fincher convinced him to sober up.
    “Look Danny,” Fincher said, “You’ve made a name for yourself in this town, don’t ruin it because of her.”

    But all Danny wanted was Natalie back.

    ACT III

    Natalie and Alexis were the new power couple in town, thanks to her impending award winning role, and a movie that critics and fans alike could hardly wait to see. Natalie was on cloud nine, and she had quickly forgotten about Danny, the man who had helped her get to this point.

    But it was an article in the newly formed Entertainment Weekly Magazine that started the tragic events that would follow. The story was from Danny’s point of view, and this was a scoop since the writer was as accessible for interviews as JD Salinger was. For some silly and desperate reason Danny thought it might convince Natalie to take him back.

    It did the exact opposite. The article made Natalie look like a selfish, conniving, bitch who used Danny to get the role of her dreams. And for the most part that was true, but Natalie couldn’t afford the bad press just before the release of Butterfly.

    When Danny showed up on the set to hand in a few re-writes, Natalie went into a rage.

    No one knew, or at least they wouldn’t say who released the video to the media of Natalie ripping in to Danny.
    Some say it was Alexis himself, who thought that kind of behind the scenes drama would be good for the film. But he never admitted to it, and we may never know the truth.

    What really damaged Natalie’s reputation was when she said to Danny, “You are a worthless piece of shit, and I wish you would just drop dead.”

    No one could’ve guessed what would happen next.

    **********

    The video was released to Entertainment Tonight, Hard Copy, Inside Edition and any other second rate tabloid television show. It played ad nauseam to the delight of an audience who never seemed to tire of it.

    Natalie went on an apology tour to try and salvage her reputation before the release of The Butterfly’s Gift, but her appearances only added to the firestorm, and finally she was advised to remain quiet and let the controversy die a natural death.

    Danny was inconsolable, he called Natalie day and night, and when she stopped taking his calls, Danny went to her home and demanded she let him in.

    Natalie wasn’t there, but Danny found a way into her house through a second story window, and he waited for her to come home.

    She was out with Alexis, and they didn’t get back until just after 2am.

    What happened next has been disputed over the years, with some reports saying that Danny and Alexis got into a fight and, Alexis was carrying a gun that Danny got his hands on. Others say Danny brought the gun with him.

    Whatever the truth was, Danny did indeed have a gun, and he waved it around as he told Natalie that he loved her. Then Danny Mack lifted the pistol to his head, and pulled the trigger.

    It was Natalie’s reaction that doomed her. She gave an ill-advised press conference the day following Danny’s death, where she did nothing but defend herself, and seemed unmoved by her former lover committing suicide right in front of her

    The press placed the blame on Natalie for Danny’s suicide, the video making the rounds once again, and in light of what Danny did, Natalie became a villain in her own story.

    And the damage was done.

    Universal shelved The Butterfly’s Gift, and Natalie escaped to Italy until things died down. But things didn’t die down especially after Danny’s family went on the talk show circuit with their own account of the relationship.
    She and Alexis fizzled, the 90s ended with Natalie Lake a Hollywood pariah.

    In 2001 Lifetime made a move about Natalie’s life, starring Anna Nicole Smith, who would come to her own tragic end a few years later. And Natalie moved back to her home town of San Diego.

    She lived a quiet life working in small plays, hoping to improve as an actress, and weather the storm until her comeback.

    In 2003 Alexis finally returned her phone calls, but dashed any hopes of a Natalie Lake comeback. Later that year, she took a handful of pills and left a heartbreaking note that said, Here lies the woman who used to be Natalie Lake.

    Natalie was 38 years old.

    In 2005, Universal finally released The Butterfly’s Gift. It was the smash hit Natalie had hoped for. The following year she posthumously received the Best Actress Oscar, and Danny Mack the Oscar for best screenplay.

    And in a twist that seemed like it could only happen in a Hollywood movie, it was Alexis Carella who accepted the awards for both Danny and Natalie.

    Reply
    • September 27, 2017 at 8:50 pm
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      Another great story, Alice. I loved the “feel” of it, how it read more like a documentary than a short story. The flow was great as well…nicely done!

      Reply
      • September 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm
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        Thanks Christopher, I’ve been listening to these podcasts detailing the history of old Hollywood and every story seemed like a tragedy. So I thought I’d do my story documentary style. I’m glad it made sense to you and you understood what I was trying to do. 🙂

        Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 3:22 am
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      Alice – A Hollywood Tragedy.
      An enjoyable story. Very smooth writing. I thought the three act device was clever. The story came across (to me) as a legend, and the amount of background and peripheral information was really impressive, and skillfully embedded in the story, which augmented its credibility. (I suppose that’s the whole idea. Hey, thanks for that insight.) I would change the name of the story though. It’s the only weak point. There’re a couple of errors. I don’t remember where, but they’re there.

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 11:39 am
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        Thank you Ken, I found the errors, and will repair them. I was just going to call it Natalie Lake, then I changed it to its current title. I am glad you enjoyed it, I always love those “True” Hollywood stories, that was my inspiration.

        Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 9:27 pm
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        Alice you are not going to like what I am about to say.
        This is not your best story. You can do so much better in story telling. You are telling way too much. It reads like a documentary and not a short story.
        I would have preferred that you took one incident from Natalie’s life and played that out to show the tragedy of her existance.
        Danny’s suicide could have been your story and using dialogue to show how the story unfolds. He is waiting upstairs and hears Alexis and Natalie come in…then the rest is in your very capable hands on a keyboard.
        It is good writing, excellent writing and I know that you could have made this a real keBOOM tragedy..
        I do know why some people probably hate me for I am a truthsayer and cannot help myself at times. Sorry, …. hope your feelings are not hurt.
        I am just giving my honest appraisal.

        Reply
        • September 29, 2017 at 2:05 am
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          No worries Ilana, this is what the group is for, honest critiques. I always appreciate your honesty, and you always give, even unfavorable critiques very respectfully. My feelings aren’t hurt, and never worry about being honest with me.

          It was supposed to feel like a documentary, so I guess I was successful because that’s what you got from it. And maybe it was that style that you didn’t like since you said you liked the writing itself.

          So there is a lot of telling because I wanted it to feel like one of those E True Hollywood Stories they used to play here in the States.

          I do love your idea of focusing on Danny’s suicide and beginning with him waiting for Natalie and Alexis, but then that wasn’t what I was going after.

          Thanks again my friend, I appreciate you taking the time to read and critique my story.

          Reply
    • September 29, 2017 at 8:03 am
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      (Sorry for the tardiness, Alice!)

      This has the feel of a magazine article, and you bring your knowledge of cinema to it to make it very authentic-sounding. For me, though, because of the (expertly-rendered) style, and because there are lots of familiar facts (because of our familiarity with this kind of story) I didn’t feel I could get close to the characters really, so that the ‘tragedy’ didn’t touch me at all. Perfectly executed technically, though.

      Reply
      • September 29, 2017 at 9:47 am
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        Better late than never my friend.

        I had a feeling this “story” might not sit well with some, I took a chance because I love these kinds of Hollywood stories. They are all similar in some ways which is why this story feels familiar, and for me the tragedy is told more like a news story than a story meant to elicit “feeling” the tragedy. I wanted Natalie to feel as if she were a real former celebrity, and in that at least I think I succeeded.

        I appreciate your critique Phil, and your honesty, it is always appreciated.

        Reply
  • September 27, 2017 at 1:08 am
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    Miss Perception. (1954 words.)
    By Ken Cartisano

    “So—how’ve you been?”

    She looks at me quizzically. I can’t read her expression. Is it disdain? Embarrassment? Or is it just my imagination? Then she smiles. “I’ve been good.” She looks around as I weigh those three words. “Why don’t we sit down?”

    I nod. “Yes, of course. Good idea.” I smile self-consciously. I feel like an idiot, a monster, an asshole. I look around, then back at her. And she does that thing she does so well. She looks at the bar, then at me and makes a face that forms the question. ‘Shall we sit at the bar?’

    I’d rather not. I want privacy. I scan the outdoor venue and spot a small table across the patio. It occupies an isolated, shadowy space, even though it’s in plain sight. She reads my expression, starts toward the table then stops and turns around, extending her hand. I hesitate, then reach with the wrong one. We weave through the tables holding hands like a mother would lead a child, rather than—something else.

    We reach the table and she releases my hand, then waits. I realize she’s waiting for me to do something—what? I glide around her and pull out her chair. She smiles and lowers herself into it with the dignity of an Egyptian queen. Her hair smells like a mountain rainforest, rich with beautiful but unidentifiable fragrances. I help adjust her chair as she pulls herself a little closer to the table, then she looks up into my face and says, “That’s good.”

    My heart is racing as I sit down across from her and force myself to smile. I would try to describe her face but, what would be the point? There’s nothing striking or unique about her appearance: Light brown skin, dark brown eyes, long brown hair, and yet—she is, without question, stunningly beautiful.

    I’m about to say something when the waiter appears. A handsome young man in black shirt and pants, towel over his arm, two glasses of water on a tray. He practically bows and welcomes us to the restaurant. Then pulls two menus seemingly out of thin air and lays them magically upon the table in front of each of us. “I would tell you about our specials—but I think we all know what a waste of time that’d be. So I’ll leave you two to peruse the menu. Can I get you something to drink in the meantime?”

    She looks at me in a way that says, ‘I know you have no clue what to order. Shall I?’

    And I nod, gratefully.

    “A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc,” she says, “chilled.”

    “Very good Madam.” She smiles at him. “And Sir,” he adds. I’m already an afterthought. She could make him her slave in less than an hour. Probably. I try not to think about it as I attempt to comprehend what’s on the menu.

    She clears her throat and I look up. “Are you in the mood for fish?” She says. “I hear they have fresh seafood and—let’s see.” She scans the menu. “How about mahi-mahi in a mango chutney sauce?”

    I look at her blankly. I haven’t been able to eat since she agreed to meet me here. That was two days ago. I should be starving, but I’m too nervous to be hungry. “Sure.” I say. “Mahi’s good.”

    She looks concerned. “You don’t like fish?”

    “No, no. I do!” I protest, almost frantically. As if it would matter to her.

    “You’re sure?” She says.

    “Yeah,” I say. “I’m just, not that hungry.”

    “We could share a meal, if you like. I’m not that hungry either.” Just like that, she’s so accommodating, and, I feel like maybe we have similar anxieties. But I wave off the idea and say, “No, no.” I don’t want her to think I’m cheap, or poor. “We’ll eat what we eat.” It sounds stupid now that I’ve said it.

    She smiles and looks down at her glass. I steal the chance to glance at her figure. She’s a mature woman, she looks like she could eat a fish all by herself. She’s voluptuous, not slim or sleek, or sporty. If I were to extend the car analogy, she’s a Rolls Royce. She’s plush, well-appointed, finely finished, beautifully built, luxurious but powerful. Quiet. Leather and wood and steel. But I forget all that when she raises her glass of water, and her eyes meet mine. “Here’s to you and me,” she says.

    I pick up my glass of water and clink it against hers. “Here’s to us,” I say. And a mysterious emotion flickers behind her eyes for just a fraction of a second, barely discernable. We both take a sip and set our glasses down in unison. There’s a wet ring on the table cloth from the condensation on my glass. It makes me think of my armpits, and then my forehead.

    “Are you hot?” She says, “Or uncomfortable?”

    “No, no. I’m fine.” I take another sip of water. It’s cold and refreshing. Water. That’s what she’s like. Water. Something you can’t explain, it’s colorless, odorless and tasteless, but you have to have it. Without it, you die. That’s the essence of it anyway. That’s how I feel about her. I don’t know why. I don’t know what she’s doing to me, or how, but I know it’s her, not me. I’m not like this. I’m married, and my emotions grew stale a long time ago, but I’m satisfied. Contented. Or was, until I met her. And she’s married too. That’s what makes me an asshole.

    I have no idea what I’m doing, only what I hope to achieve. I’ve only met her twice, briefly, and heard through a mutual friend that she kept asking about me. On a lark I just—impulsively asked her to meet me here, and she agreed. And now here we are.

    She smiles playfully. “So, Joe.” I wait. She touches the stem of her wet glass. “Why did you ask to meet with me?”

    My hands are on the table and I look down at them. “I don’t know,” I say. “I guess I just—wanted to…”

    “Be with me?” She says.

    “Yeah, something like that.” I’m afraid to look at her. The waiter appears with our wine. He sets the glasses on the table, pours a small amount in each glass. I’m relieved by the interruption as she samples the wine and nods her approval.

    “That’s nice,” she says.

    I look up. Was that meant for me?

    “Are you ready to order, Miss?” The waiter asks.

    Her attention is split between me and the waiter. “No,” she says. “Not yet.”

    Then she says something to him in a language I don’t know. Maybe it’s Spanish, or Italian. Whatever it is, he understands her. “Si, si,” he says. They exchange words. It’s all gibberish to me. Then he backs away quickly, promising to return.

    I’m mystified as to what just happened and can’t hide a look of puzzlement. She ignores my confusion and leans forward, resting her hand on my arm, the combined effect conveys the essence of intimacy. Heat seems to radiate into my arm from her touch. Her lips are full and beautiful. Her eyes are clear, intelligent. She’s so close. I want to lean across the table and…

    “I knew I could trust you the moment I met you,” she says.

    “Really?” I say. My throat is alarmingly dry.

    “Oh yes, Joe.” She smiles and her hand is still on my arm. “The way you looked at me, when you shook my hand.”

    “Is that so?” I manage to croak. It comes out sounding like, ‘Ill zack toe?’

    “It’s nice to meet an honest, straightforward man for a change.”

    My throat, it’s parched, I take a couple of gulps from the frigid glass of water.

    “Have you ever cheated on anyone, Joe?”

    The question catches me off guard. I almost regurgitate my water. Before I can answer she says, “See? You’re not that kind of guy.”

    “Well, there was this one time in high school,” I say, wiping water off my chin, “where I think I was dating someone else before breaking off the previous, you know, relationship.”

    She laughs lightly. “That’s the first instance you remember? Then I’m right. And high school doesn’t count.”

    She was right, I thought. I hadn’t cheated on anyone, and clearly, I wasn’t very good at it. I take a good look at her face though, and would gladly toss my reputation into the potted planter for the chance to be with her for one day and one night.

    She removes her hand from my arm and says, “I invited my husband by the way, he should be here any minute. I hope you don’t mind.”

    I wouldn’t say I minded, devastated would be more accurate. “No of course not. That’s fine, fine.”

    “I told the waiter we’d order when Frank arrives.”

    “Of course, of course.” So that’s what she’d said. I stand up. “I’m gonna take myself to the men’s room for a minute. I’ll be right back.” I nearly stumble over a chair on my way across the outdoor patio, and who should I meet halfway there but her husband Frank. “Joe,” he says. “Nice to see you again. Are you leaving already?” We shake hands. His voice and smile are cheerful enough, but there’s a suspicious glint in his eyes, or so it seems to me.

    “Just goin’ to the bathroom, Frank.” I turn and point to the table where his wife is sitting, she wiggles her fingers in a delicate wave.

    “Ah, there she is.” He gives me a manly pat on the shoulder and heads toward his wife.

    I close the bathroom door behind me and lean over the sink, I look up at my frazzled image in the mirror. “I invited my husband?” I say to my stunned image. I mentally castigate myself. Not for being unfaithful, but for thinking I could have obtained the unattainable. Like a boy scout gazing up at Mt. Everest and thinking the effort to reach it’s summit was a feasible endeavor. What a fool I am.

    I rinse my face and neck with cool water; and dry myself off thoroughly while wondering what I’m going to say to the happy couple that awaits me at the table. I’m thinking I may pay for their meal and leave early, as I exit the bathroom and meander over to the cashier.

    I’m an unimposing fellow and lay my credit card on the counter to get the girl’s attention, when I hear the voice of my clever waiter behind me. He must have seen two people at the table and pays me no mind as he chats to one of his colleagues in hushed tones. I can hear him quite clearly. “The chick at table eight asked me for my phone number. She’s a player.”

    “No way,” his buddy replies.

    “Yeah,” he continues, “right in front of her boyfriend too.”

    “What?”

    “She asked me in Spanish, right in front of him. He obviously doesn’t speak Spanish.”

    I risk a glance around as he rushes off with a tray of steaming food.

    “Can I help you?” The cashier startles me.

    I quickly palm the credit card. “Can you tell me which table that is?” I ask her discreetly as I point to my table. “I’d like to buy them a drink.”

    “The couple sitting in the shadow over there?”

    “Yeah.”

    “That’s table eight.”

    A party of four approaches from inside the restaurant and she forgets I’m there.

    “Okay, thanks,” I say to no one, as I make my way back to the table.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 1:34 am
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      Hmm…Interesting story, and well written. It had me most of the way through, but then it ended and I was trying to figure out what was so tragic about the story.

      Maybe it’s just me, the ending baffled me. Is Joe going to go back to the table to what? Blackmail the woman, or now he believes he has a chance because she’s a player? Everything was so good up to that ending that didn’t quite make sense to me.

      I think it was a great set up, and a fun read, but lost me at the end.

      I did love the flow and the way you described the nervousness of Joe.

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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        Hey, thanks for the feedback Alice. I agree, the ending is vague and therefore weak. And I didn’t notice it. (I think I was just relieved to have found a place to finish it. ) It needs a more distinct ending.
        But the story was rife with tragedy. I can’t believe you didn’t see it. She orders a Sauvignon for starters. That’s tragic. Who orders Sauvignon at a fancy restaurant? Then, she’s expected to taste it. That’s a tragic error on the author’s part. Nobody tastes Sauvignon. They pour it, you drink it, that’s it. Then he gets all sweaty and has to take a birdbath in the men’s room. And finally, a tragically lame ending. I don’t understand how you don’t see the tragedy in this story.
        You know, something as simple as getting the wrong flavored ice cream can be a tragedy. (Especially to a five year old.)

        I guess I’ll put this on the back burner and maybe revisit it in the future to see what happens when he returns to the table. I had no idea where this story was going as I wrote it, and perhaps it just isn’t finished. I think because I made a point of writing it in first person present tense, I could really put myself in my main characters shoes, and to be honest, it made me feel uncomfortable. I could feel the character’s anxiety and self-reproach. Notwithstanding the results, it was a strenuous exercise for me.

        Reply
    • September 29, 2017 at 8:14 am
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      (Sorry for the tardiness, Ken!)

      I really like this story because … well … I think it could have happened to me (so I shouldn’t really ‘like’ it I suppose, but anyway…). The moment the realisation hits the narrator, when he overhears the conversation, but then still has to double-check, is very strong. And I like how he’s going back to the table. To do what? Well, that’s for our imaginations. Thinking about it, I’m not sure how far it satisfies the prompt, but ne’er mind.

      Reply
      • September 29, 2017 at 10:54 pm
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        Ken I am so sorry I did not get to critique your story but I did like it. You kept the tension up until the end, but the end lost me. However still told in your inimitable style.
        You portrayed a woman who really just liked to think she was that little bit better, smarter and sexier than everyone else, very well. Met women like that and yes, they must get some sort of a high from all their multiple liasions. The adrenlin rush from the fear of being found out, but so brazen as to think it doesn’t matter. They have the ultimate delusion, I guess.
        A good read, but the end my friend, needs more work.

        Reply
  • September 28, 2017 at 9:12 am
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    I know it’s past the deadline but I couldn’t help myslf…..

    A Tragedy of Epic Proportions by Carrie Zylka

    “Ohhhhhhh no!!!!”

    “Oh Missy – this is truly a tragedy!!”

    “Jenny I am so sorry…”

    “I don’t know, this is just awful.”

    “I know it is. I am so very, very sorry.”

    “This is what happens to me. These things ALWAYS happen to me.”

    “This is just awful, these things don’t happen to normal people.”

    “I know, and they say tragedies come in threes…what’s next? How much more of this can my heart take?”

    “God, I am just so sorry Jenny, I don’t know what else I can say.”

    “I know you are, and I appreciate it.”

    “What can I do?? Tell me what I can do!!”

    Jenny eyed the bottle of wine on the floor, its ruby red contents spilling across the linoleum of her kitchen floor. She squared her shoulders and looked her friend right in the eye.

    “You can get a couple of straws. We’ll turn this tragedy around yet.”

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 11:40 am
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      Hilarious Carrie, at least you have your priorities straight. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 28, 2017 at 11:40 am
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    Waiting for Ken C. (as usual 🙂 ) and Maud’s votes.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm
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      Alice, I was just about to send you an indignant email claiming that I already voted yesterday, but decided to double check first before unleashing the full measure of my indignancy. Good thing I did, as I discovered, (tragically) that I had filled out the form and made all of my choices but failed to hit the ‘POST’ button. Sorry about that. It’s a tragic mental condition I was born with. (Some people call it stupidity, and I’m not fully qualified to debate the issue.) Oh well.

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 1:25 pm
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        Hahaha, no worries. I’m sure you can get some help for your condition, in the meantime we’re here for you Ken.

        Reply
  • September 28, 2017 at 1:26 pm
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    Just waiting on Maud, hope she makes it in today, it was so nice to have her back.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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      While we’re waiting for Maud,

      I changed every body’s story names again. Obviously, no one should feel obligated to pay me any money for these fabulous new names, but if you wanted to use them, that would be okay. (Just this once.) Next time you’ll all have to pay – 50 cents a name. (It’s my latest get rich quick scheme.) I’ll work out the details later, like they do with our health care. Meanwhile, here are my free samples.

      Disclosure and Non-Disclaimer.
      I hope that everyone fully appreciates the amount of time I spend considering their stories in order to come up with these goddamned names. Naturally, I couldn’t resist making up some funny ones, but there are actually a few really good story titles in there. If you’re not amused, at least have the decency to be offended. Thanks, and You’re welcome.

      The ‘suggestions’ are in ‘parentheses.’

      Here they are, in order of their appearance.

      Maud Harris – Fishing Boat. (The Sounds Of Sirens; Sea Yeti; Mermalaid; Red Sky Morning; Red Sails; or The Yellow Boat.) I know there’s no yellow boat in the story. I’m well aware of that.

      Ilana Leeds – The Tragic Human Race. (Placement Termination Services; Artificial Reproductive Services. A.R.S.; Fetal Attraction; Parts Department; Take A Number Please.)

      Phil Town – Tragedies. (Anatomy of a Tragedy; Anatomy Of A Narcissist; Tragedia; Tragedeus; Tragedimonium.)

      Christopher Smith – Pieces. (Torn; Jagged.) I got nothin’.

      Alice Nelson – A Hollywood Tragedy in Three Acts. (A Hollywood Tragedy; The Legend Of Natalie Lake; The Ballad of Dan and Natalie; Legacy; Made For TV; The Color White. )

      Ken’s (Mine.) – Miss Perception. (So, Joe; Be With Me; Fat Goose Liver Paste; Piece de Resistance; A La Carte.) I actually tried out two of these names before posting with the crappy one I settled on.

      Late Entry:

      Carrie Zylka – A Tragedy Of Epic Proportions. (I Hope Yer Drivin’ Cuz You’re Too Drunk To Walk; Straw Hogs; That Time I Sucked Glass Into My Mouth Thru A Straw, But Was Too Drunk To Care.) That last one sounds like a country and western song.

      Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 2:06 pm
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        I can neither confirm or deny that my story is based on true events…

        Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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        And for me, I may have to update the title to “I Hope Yer Drivin’ Cuz You’re Too Drunk to Walk “…that’s pretty epic 😂

        Reply
      • September 28, 2017 at 9:17 pm
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        Hahaha, I love Fetal Attraction, that’s my favorite. And I really like most of the ones you had for my story, The Legend of Natalie Lake is pretty cool. Great job again with the titles. 🙂

        Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 9:42 pm
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      Wow Carrie
      But if you use straws it will be a tragedy for you if you get glass in the straw. I got a bit stressed for you, reading that. Please buy a new bottle of wine or buy a cask of good red.
      As a part time taxi driver, I often ferry these people to the Liquorland so they can buy a couple of casks of cheap white or red wine and it is sad. They often spend their pension on this gut rot crap and I think to myself, why not just buy one bottle of good white or red every six months and enjoy what you are drinking? But then I am a hedonistic, snobbish bitch. I would rather not have quantity. I like quality. The after taste stays with you, like a perfectly blended good coffee.

      Reply

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