April 2 – April 15, 2020 Writing Prompt “Facing Your Fears”

Prompt: We are living in trying times, and sometimes facing our fears can help us deal with them more effectively. So, for this prompt write a story that deals with one of your biggest fears. You do not have to be the main character, as long as the story deals with your greatest fear.

Good luck and Don’t Be Afraid.

Word Count: 1,200




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The writing prompt for March 19, 2020 will be chosen by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin.




 

378 thoughts on “April 2 – April 15, 2020 Writing Prompt “Facing Your Fears”

  • April 2, 2020 at 9:33 am
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    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment within a day or two, feel free to use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.

    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    Reply
    • April 4, 2020 at 5:06 pm
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      Signing in for comments, like Adi for distraction, and like Ken, because I’m scared to write about my deepest fear – especially now when all I have is time to sit and think about it. Yikes. Mayhaps I’ll think of something else to write about…

      Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 2:38 pm
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      Signing in again for comments. Didn’t work last time.

      Reply
  • April 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm
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    Being a 16 year old kid, I haven’t managed to do a whole lot of story entries. That being said, I always try to read some of the entries, since you’re all fantastic writers, and it personally helps me to learn from your skills. And I can safely say this is one of the most interesting prompts I’ve seen yet, very excited… (also brilliantly inspiring/helpful for these “trying times”)

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    • April 2, 2020 at 2:55 pm
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      Peter welcome! Love it that we have geriatric writers like myself (65 + 😊) and the middle stream, the youthful and the youths like yourself.
      Keep up the good work and good writing. 👍🏻👏🏼

      Reply
    • April 3, 2020 at 12:59 pm
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      Peter, I had no idea you were 16. Your writing and your demeanor is that of a much more mature individual. Glad to have you here my friend.

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      • April 4, 2020 at 4:24 am
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        Good to be here fellow writers, good to be here.

        Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 9:16 pm
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      Wow, like Alice said, I had no idea you were 16. You and me are the same age lol. Technically I’m almost 17 (In a couple months) but for now I’m 16.

      You sound very mature, and so does your writing.

      Good luck writing a prompt!

      Reply
      • April 7, 2020 at 1:55 pm
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        It’s awesome to see another teen on here, and by the way I love your stories. Thanks for the luck, I feel like I need it at the moment…

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  • April 2, 2020 at 3:56 pm
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    Signing in – for stories, for inspiration, for distraction …

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    • April 3, 2020 at 8:31 am
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      Signing in for comments and hopefully to drop a fun tale at your feet. I am not really scared of much though as I feel I have conquered a good amount of my fears in my 39 years of age. We shall see! Cannot wait to read the stories!

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      • April 3, 2020 at 10:04 am
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        Lucky you, Kristin, conqueror of all fears! Perhaps you can write something for us about how you got there?

        I’m quite the opposite – used to be afraid of nothing, hopeful and all that. With the rolling years (I’m a bit older than you, but not by much), I became more skeptic on the hope front and more and deeper fears crept in upon me.

        Cast your spell on me, Lady Magic!

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      • April 3, 2020 at 10:59 pm
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        No fear, eh Kristin? How about a snapshot of me in my birthday suit, that would scare the crap out of you. Don’t worry, the thought of that happening id far more frightening to me.

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        • April 5, 2020 at 9:33 am
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          Meh. I have seen worse I am sure. I have my story idea ready though! Just laced my coffee and sat down in my office to get started. here is a fun hint – After much thought and

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          • April 5, 2020 at 9:35 am
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            Oh I didn’t finish my thought there. After much deliberation I have decided my fear is a punishment worse than death.

  • April 2, 2020 at 8:26 pm
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    Here I am signing in…what’s the timeline for Facing Fears in terms of last date to get it in… Liz

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  • April 3, 2020 at 1:34 am
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    Congratulations Andy. As much as I’d like to gush over your win, I’m more inclined, for some odd reason, to blenervate over the incredible feat of three people allegedly named Ken to finish in the top four. What could be better? Except maybe all three Ken’s finishing in the top three. But let’s not dwell on that.

    But Fourth Place!?!? I don’t know how I’m going to break the news to Kim. She’s a very bad loser. And she’s got a devastating right hook. Wait, I know. I’ll lie. Yeah that’s it. Why didn’t I think of that a minute ago? (I must be gettin’ slow in my old adage.) I’ll just say that – there was a mix up in the voting. Some confusion because there are three Kens. And our stories were all similar. Most of the votes that went to Ken (F.) were probably meant for me, because an F and a C are fairly close together alphabetically, not to mention how similar our personalities are. We’re both polite, courteous, kind, deferential, obsequious even. (Heaven’s to mergatroid.) But very opinionated. Especially Ken. The other Ken. No. The other, other Ken. (Here’s where I offer to start over and she hates that. She can barely stand to listen to me explain something once, let alone twice.)

    Okay, here goes, I’m going in. Wish me luck Andy. And Ken, and you too Ken.

    If you never hear from me again, try not to be too obvious in your jubilation.

    Reply
    • April 3, 2020 at 3:20 am
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      No worries, Ken. I won’t blush if you gush, I’ll just thank you so much.

      Interesting to see how Kenpetitive you guys are, as well as being jolly good Kenpany.
      BTW, wasn’t there once a fourth Ken? Ken Allen? (?) Or is that the maiden name of one our current three, perhaps?

      Reply
      • April 3, 2020 at 9:54 am
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        A fourth Ken? Are you joking!

        “Allen” not my maiden name lol!

        Ken Allen, wherever you are and if you’re reading this, welcome back to A Place For Mostly Ken-Named Fiction Writers…

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      • April 3, 2020 at 11:12 pm
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        Yes, their was a fourth, well, at the time, he was just the second. I was the first and only. Kenneth James Allen. I spoke with him by email a few times, and he refused to go with a different name. I was very reasonable. I told him: “Look, Ken, you’ve got three first names. Why can’t you just be James, or Allen. No one will mind. They don’t read your stories anyway. What difference could it possibly make to you?

        He seemed a bit sullen afterwards, and said he would think about it. Never heard from him again. I can’t imagine what happened to him.

        Just kidding. He had a very good sense of humor and was adept at infusing that into his stories in various ways. You would have really liked his stories, Miles. He lives (or works) in Australia. Was working on a book along with a day job. And just dropped out of the writing after awhile. I even emailed him several times and tried to get him to come back. I don’t think he answered but one of my three emails.

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        • April 4, 2020 at 3:14 am
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          Ken James Allen should join again, now that Kens have the wind under their wings. Email him again. Give him the good news. But sound friendly. Don’t propose any welcome gifts to him in the form of pictures of yourself in your birthday suit or your green Speedos. If you do it right, he’s bound to accept the invitation. What else is there to do under 24/7 lockdown?

          Do it for me. You just said I’d, for one, love his stories…

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          • April 5, 2020 at 4:17 pm
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            Miles,

            Green Speedos? I shudder. Ufff,… that’s, that’s a brain stopping image if ever there was one. Although I must say, Ken, I totally deserved it. I had it coming to me. I bow to your comedy genius, young avatar.

          • April 5, 2020 at 4:31 pm
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            Whenever I need a smile a Ken comes through 😺

    • April 3, 2020 at 10:37 am
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      You’ve got your story laid out there, Ken! The fear of facing your woman when the story she practically wrote for you didn’t win the contest. You’ve got a great helper there, but a lioness too. Bites both ways.

      Never mind, she even gave you the idea for this week’s story. But don’t tell her.

      You’re ok, are you?

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      • April 3, 2020 at 11:29 pm
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        Splendid, Really pleased to come in fourth, considering the quality of the writing and stories last week. (Don’t tell anyone though, I must maintain my air of stunned disbelief.

        Don’t want to do a fear of Kim.

        This is some good advice I borrowed from Former Def. Sec. Donald Rumsfeld.
        The biggest fears are the fear of the unknown and the fear of the known.
        The fear of the known unknown and fear of the unknown known.
        And lets not forget fear of the Gnome, the unknown Gnome, and the known Gnome And…
        The fear of Nome, Alaska. That’s a big one.

        Reply
  • April 3, 2020 at 7:56 am
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    Hi All,

    Just checking in to Kenpany headquarters. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that there may be less than three of us around this time. The chances of all three coming in the top four must be quite small………and yet, it happened. But fair praise for Andy, the cream rose to the top!

    It makes for very interesting reading to go back over the results as far back as I can. I joined in around Christmas 2018. There have been so many different winners. That just goes to show what a wealth of talent is available in this group. Anyone can win although “winning” is not the main reason we are here, I hope. It’s a bonus to know that your fellow writers appreciate what you have written and that’s what keeps me going.

    The level of debate has certainly tightened up my writing and I am much more careful now with my editing and proof reading prior to posting my stories. I know that if I miss something, one of you will spot it!

    At the moment I am facing one of my fears that is, not having a clue what to write about for my next story. Admittedly, it’s not a major fear but the blank page needs to be dealt with so I’m off, can’t keep stalling.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

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    • April 3, 2020 at 10:17 am
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      Hi Frape… you gotta write something think think think! Let’s go for it – all Kens in top three this time round, in whichever order. After last week’s feat, that’s the only better medal we can aim for!

      I’ve just heard there is another Ken (Allen) who sometimes hangs around here. He may join us too. “Allen” is not YOUR maiden name, right? It’s not mine. Not Cartisano’s either. Cartisano is nee Poole.

      As for me I’ve got an idea cooking in my head (for a story. No not for a coronavirus vaccine. Sorry). I just need to find the time to download it from my head onto my outer. I’m noticing that home-staycation is more time consuming than going to the office. Days are flying (sleeping in longer, admittedly).

      Ken

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      • April 3, 2020 at 10:24 am
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        *outer?? That had to read “computer”.

        My computer spell-checker changed it. Perhaps he’s shy when I mention him by name!

        He does even stranger things than that. Like saying “not responding” when I finally click on “save document” after a day typing. He thinks that’s just so very funny. Even wonders why I’m not laughing like I should.

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      • April 3, 2020 at 11:55 pm
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        “So, for this prompt write a story that deals with one of your biggest fears. You do not have to be the main character, as long as the story deals with your greatest fear.”

        My greatest fear? I’m not telling anyone my greatest fear.This may require some thought.

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        • April 3, 2020 at 11:59 pm
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          Liz only has 3 letters that’s just like a Ken isn’t it…I could be a Ken… can women be in the Kenclubfranchise…

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          • April 4, 2020 at 3:26 am
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            Yes You Ken!

            But in our larger Chapter of three-lettered, two-legged writers. Of any gender.

            Sorry about your cats, but four-legged writers are not allowed. I’d relax that leg rule, but Cartisano is adamant it must stay. He’s still haunted by a crazed millipede that once wanted to join.

            What are the cats called? Are they three-lettered after all?

        • April 4, 2020 at 3:30 am
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          The great fear of having to tell your greatest fear? Write about that.

          Jeez, I’m doing all the homework for you, these days!

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          • April 4, 2020 at 3:32 am
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            The great fear of having to tell your greatest fear? Write about that.

            Jeez, I’m doing all the homework for you, these days!

            THAT WAS FOR CARTISANO. I don’t know why it came down here!!

  • April 3, 2020 at 9:53 pm
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    Kentastic! Three in the top 4!

    (Thank G** for Andy, though – we’d never hear the last of it.)

    This time I AM going to read and comment on stories as soon as they’re posted, and not leave it till the last minute.*

    (If anyone’s interested, I posted a little explanation of my last story on the previous thread, responding to Ken F … but the comment finished up in a random spot. Anyway … as I say, if you’re interested.)

    (*I’ve said THAT before …)

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    • April 4, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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      “Thank God for Andy” – I think the last person to say that was Boris Johnson, when his alleged inappropriate funding of his (alleged) lover’s business while Mayor of London got knocked off the front page by a certain wayward royal friend of Geoffrey Epstein ….

      Reply
  • April 3, 2020 at 11:39 pm
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    Phil, I’ve been waiting with basted bread to hear your take on your story. In fact, I sent you a formal registered letter requesting your immediate clarification. So I’m pleased to hear what you allege was your intent, but I’m afraid it was a partial confession since you also claim you imagined an Imp on your character’s shoulder. Tell me Phil, Was this Imp visible, (like a gnome?) or invisible, like a voice in your head?

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    • April 4, 2020 at 9:04 am
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      Invisible to all but the character himself!

      (But the internal dialogue idea works too … definitely not two distinct characters, though.)

      Reply
  • April 4, 2020 at 3:52 pm
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    Phil,
    If I ever need a legal or diplomatic consultant, your name will be at the top of the list.

    Reply
  • April 4, 2020 at 10:35 pm
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    Ok, folks, I’m taking the plunge this time. I had to respond to this prompt because I’ve been living it.

    Reply
  • April 5, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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    *Authors note – when faced with the question what do I fear, Many may choose the idea of death. Myself, I fear the punishment or act that is worse than death. This story however, may stand out with several different fears mixed into on big cauldron and that is just life isn’t it? Please, Enjoy my twisted fears.*


    Vicarious Redemption
    By Kristin Record (1191 words)

    “Is it worth it?” Lucas pulled linen pants onto his lean hips and flashed a mischievous grin.

    “Hmm?” Florence pursed her lips in mock thought. Lying amidst the crumpled sheets and downy pillows she sighed in post-coital bliss. She eyed Lucas as he continued to dress and rolled over onto her side, the bedding forming to her body like a soft cloud.

    “Yes,” she replied once he had tugged his shirt over his muscled chest. “If you’re asking me is it’s worth dying to love you, then the answer is yes.”

    Lucas dipped down and brushed his lips against hers. Grasping her face in his hands he held her gaze. “In a different world, a different time.” His thumb stroked her cheek.

    Florence pressed the soft skin of her face into his calloused palm and closed her eyes. “I would be yours, and you would be mine.” She whispered but when she opened her eyes his expression was no longer lustful. His face had gone white and his eyes focused behind her.

    “What?” As she turned to follow his gaze a shriek escaped her lips. Her husband’s frame filled the narrow doorway giving him the illusion of a giant. Grasping at the sheets to cover her nude body, Florence cried out. “Duncan! Oh Gosh, this isn’t what it looks like!”

    Duncan remained silent. His head tilted to the left as a bitter chuckle rolled through the room and waves of anger crashed over the two of them. He stepped aside as two uniformed men strode in, faces of stone.

    “Duncan! No, I can explain!” One of the men ripped the sheet from her body, jerking her off the bed to her feet. The other took Lucas to the floor in one swift moment, tethering his hands behind him.

    Duncan ignored her giving a simple directive. “Take him to the cells, leave her with me.”

    Held in place by large hands Florence sobbed as the guard roughly hauled Lucas from the room. “Wait, no! This is my mistake, my punishment! Leave him! Take me! He didn’t know who I was, this isn’t his fault!”

    Duncan nodded and the guard released Florence from the vice grip tossing her to the floor.

    “Please, Duncan, let us talk about this first.” The guard left the room slamming the door behind him. The air weighed heavy with anguish.

    “Cover yourself.” Florence flinched and reached for her robe. He kicked her, the toe of his boot colliding against her teeth and stars formed behind her eyes.

    “An affair!!” His voice bellowed down at her as his foot caught her again but now in the chest. The air in her lungs whooshed out in a painful gasp. “Punishable by death woman. Death!”

    Florence rolled onto her side attempting to breathe.

    “I would rather die,” she rasped out, the words burning like fire.

    Duncan stilled. “You would rather die? Indeed, I’m sure you would.”

    “My punishment is death but spare Lucas.” Blood soaked spit ran from the corners of her mouth, her teeth ached.

    “Spare Lucas.” He mocked her, “That’s how you want this to go? With you begging mercy for your pathetic lover?” Florence recoiled anticipating another blow. Instead, he paced away from her stroking his beard.

    “Duncan, I knew the consequence for me. I know how the Church chooses to punish this violation. I don’t fear death.” Her voice a whisper as she watched him stride back and forth before her.

    “I agree. Death is not a punishment for you. You wife, deserve a punishment worse than death.” A wicked smile curled at his lips. “Vicarious redemption.”

    Her jaw dropped. The room started to spin and she vomited on the floor.

    “Ah, the Church will allow it I’m sure. Yes. You will take this sin, this guilt, this violation and place it upon your lover to redeem yourself.”

    “I would never! I bear the weight of this sin as my own!” She lifted a defiant chin.

    “I’m the Bishop of the Church and I’ll decide how you choose to atone for your sins! Now stand up and dress bitch.” He sifted through the closet and removed a crimson gown. “A perfect color to wear while executing your paramour.” He tossed the garment at her.

    Florence rose to her feet and dressed in slow motion. “Me? No please.” The words fell to deaf ears.

    Duncan opened the door and motioned to the guard, “Retrieve the horses and prisoner. The Lady of the house will be hosting a dismemberment execution.”

    Rage flew from her as she lunged at Duncan, striking him in the back. “I will not!” The back of his hand collided with her jaw and her head rattled.

    “You will!” He barked. “You will put this on him and live knowing to never break our commandments again! Are you afraid now sweet wife? Well, it is time to become stronger because of it.” Duncan hauled her up from the floor, “Now, shall we proceed to the courtyard, my lady?”

    Lucas was nude, spare the blindfold that covered his eyes. Ropes tied his wrists and feet. Each attached to one of four horses facing different compass directions. The horses stood grazing at grain buckets.

    Florence let out a strangled scream at the sight. Leading by the elbow, Duncan guided her over to him and removed the soggy blindfold.

    “Oh, Lucas!” She wept her knees buckling beneath her. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

    Duncan laughed as she fell to the ground. “Forgive you? No, Wife. He cannot forgive, for he is holding the burden of your sin.” He waved his hand and a guard mounted each horse.

    “Stand now, and give the command.”

    Lucas’s face was pale. He closed his eyes.

    “I can’t do it,” Florence whispered. “How am I supposed to do this?”

    “In a different world, a different time.” Lucas breathed the words audible giving her a grim smile.

    Sobs rolled from her body like an avalanche of falling snow. Leaning close to his ear she wept, “I would be yours, and you would be mine.”

    Florence let out a shallow breath and stumbled to stand. Duncan nodded to her once as her trembling hand raised towards the sky.

    “I, Florence Fitzgerald. Wife of the Bishop, Duncan Fitzgerald ” She faltered her voice breaking in half.

    “Do it now.” Duncan glared at her his rage reaching her like rays of the sun.

    “Clean my sins by the way of vicarious redemption and sentence Lucas Hannover to die.” One of the horses let out a whine of impatience.

    “I love you” she breathed and dropped her hand back to her side.

    With a loud command, the horses jumped in unison. Lucas’s scream was fleeting as they fled, dragging his limbs behind them. A rain of blood-covered them as his head and torso hit the ground with a wet thud. Florence emptied the bile in her stomach between screams and sobs.

    Duncan grinned at her, his eyes twinkling beneath his blood-soaked face.

    “Tell me, wife, now what do you fear?” He spat on the corpse, chuckled, and strode away.

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    • April 6, 2020 at 11:57 am
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      Kristin, well golly gee… I read this story with many expressions crossing my countenance…. furrowed brow…squinted eyes… tightened lips…grimaces and really wanted to stop reading…but I didn’t.. hoping some how before the end there would be a happy ending…uplifting words… but no… just that sick twisted feeling…. so of course I have to admit your writing skills to evoke response in the reader are good… I think I almost feel normal now. thanks, Kiz

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      • April 6, 2020 at 1:03 pm
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        Yes!!! Yes!! Not all tales end with rainbows. I was actually nauseous writing this but I am trying to settle into my genre a bit more even if it entails adding more gore. This review is everything I was aiming for with this story. Nice to know I hit it well.

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        • April 6, 2020 at 2:47 pm
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          Kristin, fabulously inventive story. The horror of Florence’s situation is well rendered – without overmuch pathos, just slick, streamlined prose that really punches the reader in the gut. Very well done!

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    • April 7, 2020 at 11:06 am
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      Yikes, poor Peter, and Florence…

      Now I know why I’m glad we don’t live in a medieval era.

      Very good story, I was a bit shocked, cause I didn’t know what vicarious redemption was. Boy was I surprised…

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      • April 7, 2020 at 11:46 am
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        So funny thing. I didnt I ow what it was either. This story started with a completely different plot which had me researching messed up things in religious history. Then I came across Vicarious Redemption and the whole story changed. I was so intrigued by the concept.

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    • April 7, 2020 at 11:41 am
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      Caught in the act! Pacey story and gruesome punishment.

      There’s a story about Tsar Peter the Great that this story brought to mind. He had his wife’s adviser and alleged lover beheaded, and kept the head pickled in a jar on her dressing table to remind her of her offence. I don’t know if any vicarious redemption was involved, but her position as Tsarina was not affected.

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    • April 7, 2020 at 9:13 pm
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      Phew! Great story, Kristin. The beginning is fantastic, efficiently establishing the mutual love that will make the ending even more horrifying. And the action and dialogue are really well laid out: pacey, lean, direct. The bishop is an excellent creation, his hypocrisy taking his evil factor to 11.

      I think it’s “The words fell ON deaf ears.” I also think that ‘naked’ is better than ‘nude’ (which is a bit ‘Benny Hill’, isn’t it?). And “Duncan! Oh Gosh, this isn’t what it looks like!” is (unintentionally?) funny, while ‘Gosh’ is perhaps a little weak in the circumstances (and probably not of this time).

      Having said that, your story is terrific stuff.

      (I agree with Ken C about the main scenario having elements of ‘Matty Groves’, though it’s not as horrific as your story. Also, have you read ‘The Execution of Damiens’ by HH Ewers? I read it in a horror anthology when I was younger and it’s been sleeping in my subconscious ever since; your story woke it up!)

      Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 5:30 am
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      Hi Kristin,

      Firstly, this is a superbly written story that packs quite a punch. I was aware of the death by horses as you describe but the way you set this out is really visceral ( no pun intended) There are one or two minor quibbles as mentioned by others but it’s a gripping and horrifying story nonetheless. Well done.

      I had not heard of the expression “vicarious redemption” so I looked it up. The first example was Jesus on the cross dying for other people (us). Then I saw a link to a speech by a well-known British writer, intellectual and broadcaster Christopher Hitchens, now deceased, I believe. It was not very pleasant to listen too, especially for a Christian but it did explain the VR notion.

      Great story that i am sure will be judged to be right up there with the best for this prompt.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • April 11, 2020 at 2:06 am
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        Brilliant story Kristen and can see it garnering one of my votes. Be a hard act to head off. Excuse my pun. Descriptive and built suspense up. Quite horrific. Well done.

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    • April 12, 2020 at 10:11 am
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      Very visceral read. The detail of the torso thudding to the ground really made it feel like I was there and I really didn’t want to be. You broke my detachment from the scene and made me squeem away – which is what every horror story should do.

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    • April 13, 2020 at 4:30 pm
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      Wow, Kristin. You took the whole concept of being “drawn and quartered” to a new level. I never thought about it in the detail that you provided and the reason you provided. I love medieval history and I totally believed this! Well done!

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    • April 13, 2020 at 6:12 pm
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      I’m still shaking, Kristin! This story is as chilling as it’s realistically told. The only consolation is that it’s apparently set in medieval times (bishop, etc.), distant in time from where we are now. But, then again, human nature never really changed… Scary stuff…

      I read the story yesterday and I still can’t take out of my mind that image of torso-and-head hitting the ground with a wet thud. This image is so graphically powerful, if crude and gory. Something feels stuck between my stomach and the back of my throat each time I picture it. Your imagery works! At least you speak of Duncan spitting on Lucas’s “corpse”. My initial impression was that, at least in theory, a torso can remain alive for a while just after all four limbs are brutally pulled out from it, and until it hemorrhages. That would have been totally unbearable.

      The quick transition from the warm sexual scene to the extreme violence that follows – both physical and psychological – left me rather breathless. But as extreme as it maybe, it’s all so realistically portrayed, especially for the era in question. The actions of the all-powerful bishop-husband to annihilate the humiliation and jealousy caused to him by his cheating wife is also perfectly believable.

      Lucas twice says “In a different world, in a different time”. I’m not quite sure of the exact meaning of this, but it’s certainly significant for the story. Is it a cry for hope that somehow true love will reign over tradition in some other dimension/life? Lucas seems to be a believer. Is this how he faces his greatest fear?

      Well done, Kristin, you’ve got this gore-horror subgenre well within your grasp. You got to be the lady who’s not afraid of anything to come up with a story like this!

      Frape’s story’s next for me to read… I hope it’s gonna be light breezy reading. I’m still reeling off, can’t take another one like yours so rapidly in succession!

      Ken

      Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 11:59 pm
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      Wow, chilling. It was giving me imageries of Spartacus or Ben hurt movies I had seen in my childhood. Good gripping writing.

      Vicarious redemption…just throw your sins to some one else, eh?

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 10:24 am
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      Kristen,

      I kinda thought it did have a happy ending – unlike Kiz – but I speak from a husband’s point of view. I think the Bishop’s anger was misplaced. I’m willing to bet the thought of her lovers being drawn and quartered, (why it is called quartered mystifies me as there are 5 pieces – more like quinted), didn’t stop her from seizing the moment whenever the thought of a little side action grabbed her, while the Bishop was otherwise engaged. He should have dispatched her as well. Otherwise, he just ends up taking out a different lover every week or so. But you explain why he doesn’t kill her (which is the entire story), so there is that.

      All in all, a well told story, and I really like some of your active descriptions, such as: One of the horses let out a whine of impatience’ although it probably should have been a ‘whinny of impatience’ for accuracy, but still, I heard the sound because I was completely drawn in. Nice job, Kristen.

      Reply
  • April 5, 2020 at 5:06 pm
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    FOUR DATES WITH DEATH
    by Ken Miles
    1,200 words

    SIX

    His body lay in repose before the altar. It hadn’t yet sunken in, that I won’t ever hear Grandpa Jack’s voice again. I knew that people died, just like flowers withered. But I’d never personally known anyone dead.

    Grandpa was the epitome of life. ‘Jack-in-the-Box’, they called him, for he had no peace in his body. I knew he was faster than me, when we raced. He only let me win so I felt good. He was naughty too. He’d steal candies from Grandma’s kitchen and we’d eat them together, lots of them, sitting hidden on the floor behind the couch.

    “It’s our secret, I promise I won’t tell,” he’d say to me. Now I knew he wouldn’t. I realized I was crying.

    My grandparents more or less brought me up. Grandma fed me, grandpa entertained me. My filmmaker dad was often away. Mom couldn’t raise me. She wasn’t cut for it, shouldn’t have become a mother. She should’ve pursued the modeling career she’d once embarked on. But then I wouldn’t have existed. So I suppose she did the right thing doing the wrong thing. My good looks are the one thing I got from her.

    I didn’t like that place, the church. Grandpa’d taken me there, once. It was dim inside, smelled creepy too. Seemed like a castle in a scary fairytale. Grim notes from the organ completed the spooky picture. There was then this man, badly beaten up, bloodied all over. His skin quivered to the myriad flickering candles.

    “I’m scared of that man,” I whispered, huddling Grandpa.

    “That’s Jesus!” he said, “when we die, if we’re good, we go to him.” I didn’t want to die, and now I wasn’t sure I wanted to be good.

    A thought crossed my mind. I’d give Grandpa’s body in the uncovered coffin a good shake, yell out, as I often did, “Grandpa wake up! Let’s play!” He’d look at me, a little annoyed for rudely interrupting his sleep. A second later his face’d brighten up. “Yes! It’s playtime!”

    But that day, in church, things were too somber. Everyone was sad, nobody spoke. Without Jack-in-the-Box the family seemed extinguished. We all wore black. I had a borrowed black suit on, it belonged to cousin Adrian when he himself was six. The organ sounded even spookier than the other time, even though I was older now.

    The urge to play faded away. I thought I’d let Grandpa sleep this time.

    SIXTEEN

    Ten years later I encountered death again. Not that it mattered much this time. My dad never was a big part of my life. Besides, something else absorbed my attention.

    Dad fell from a dolly-crane while filming ‘Madness’, crashed his cranium. Two weeks on and mum pulled his life-support plug. He was of no use to her in a vegetative state. My father did everything when he was home, changed the lamps and did the housewife. Mom wouldn’t touch a mop or microwave a McDonald’s meal.

    Dad gone, she got this Honduran girl my age called Clara to do the housework. Clara’s warm exotic beauty and demeanor enchanted me. I’d walk her home after she’d done the evening dishes, that’s where our love grew. She worked to save up to study medicine, she said she wanted to make a real difference in the world. This made me fall deeper in love with her. I hadn’t met many nice people in my life since Grandpa died.

    Mom noticed something. “You wanna tuck in bed with a bleach-smelling Mexican!?”

    “She’s Honduran”, I corrected her, “and she’s becoming a doctor.”

    “A doctor!” she burst laughing.

    Slighted, I didn’t want to say anything else. Not to that woman.

    So she continued unopposed, “Even your father cleaned toilets better than her!”

    Because she shouldn’t be cleaning toilets, I said to myself but not to my mother.

    TWENTY-SIX

    I’d always been terrified of death. Not so much death in and of itself, but the idea of oblivion, of becoming nothing. I tried to put off the fear till later. So when that tumor appeared at 26, I couldn’t have been slapped harder in the face.

    I’d sensed something was wrong for days. I told Clara, in the middle of the night, right after sex. We went downstairs to her clinic and she examined me. When she started crying I knew it was bad.

    Her old professor at the university hospital agreed to take me on. The odds the operation succeeded were firmly against me. Three out of seven died under the knife.

    When I was taken inside, my greatest remorse was leaving Clara in the waiting-room. Good chance I wouldn’t see her again. Anesthesia, then, did short work of my worries.

    Something must’ve gone wrong. I could see them panicking.

    “We’re losing him!”

    I saw myself from atop. I felt at ease, serene, only somewhat confounded to see my own body from the outside.

    “What’s that?” I wondered, disconcerted. I got nearer the back of my head. “Damn! I’m balding!” The little circular patch of scalp glowed in the theatre’s bright white light.

    I saw Clara in the waiting-room. Funny how I could see her through the wall, and still see the wall itself. It’s like I could peer between the gypsum molecules. I went over, sat next to her, caressed her hair. She couldn’t see or hear me. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply and smiled.

    The doctors and nurses pounded my chest frantically, their eyes glued to the obstinate straight line on the oscilloscope. They were about to give up. So I slipped inside my body again. For their sake too. Exasperated, they were doing their best.

    Slipping back in was like putting your pajamas on after they’ve been air-dried for far too long, coarse and uncomfortable. But I soon got used to my skin again. The line on the oscilloscope reawakened. The room became jubilant.

    But I soon slumbered, and next I know was coming to in the recovery ward much later, when the anesthetic wore off. The pain of the cut was excruciating, but mitigated by Clara’s beaming face peering over me, smiling. Relatives aren’t usually allowed in there, but being herself a doctor, she negotiated her way in.

    “Professor Rutgers said you’re gonna be fine!” A warm tear rolled off her cheek onto my hand.

    THIRTY-SIX

    I’m mad at the authorities. I know this coronavirus caught them pants down. But how could you send a doctor to the frontline unarmed? No face-mask, no gloves? Would they send soldiers to war without guns?

    The hospital chaplain called. He simply said, “The Great Gardener picked the prettiest flower.”

    I couldn’t even tell her goodbye. Clara succumbed after consecutive 16-hour shifts trying to save others. It didn’t take long. From home under enforced lockdown, I see the convoy of military trucks on TV leaving the hospital for the cremation furnaces. Clara’s body’s in one of them. Then I watch, disinterested, endless statistics from the coronavirus deathbeds. Television channels are running out of fresh programs to air.

    I’m mad, but not unhappy. I know for fact that Clara’s right here next to me. Just where else could she be?

    Reply
    • April 5, 2020 at 6:42 pm
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      Beautiful story Mr. Miles. I don’t think I could write a better story than that. (Doesn’t mean I won’t try, but…Man, that’s sweet.)

      Reply
      • April 6, 2020 at 2:54 pm
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        Thanks Ken!
        What’s happening to me these days? I’m writing what people are calling sweet story after sweet story! I used to have people eating people. Monstrous savagery…
        Is it the lockdown? Did I catch the bug? Is it what it also does to us? Maybe too much gluten from too frequent pasta… I know I should eat more fresh fruit and veg, and I usually do, but now how do I know nobody sneezed on them?
        Glad you liked it Ken. And yes you’ll come up with a good one too, you’ll see! If not, there’s always the great fear of writer’s block to write about…
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 10, 2020 at 12:56 am
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          No Ken,

          I meant sweet as in ‘a candy apple red Dodge Challenger with low-profile slicks, mag-wheels, super-charged engine, twin dual exhaust pipes, fuel-injected nitrous-oxide stacked hemi with four on the floor, roll-cage and wheelie bars. That kind of sweet. Or like, hitting the ball in the middle of the racket if you’re a tennis player.

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 6:52 am
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            Ah – ok then!

            Like it better that way 🙂

        • April 11, 2020 at 5:17 am
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          Ah Ken, soft sweet story. Bitter sweet though. Good flow and high finish like the ducco on a good jaguar car. Your story blends well. Liked it.

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 6:59 am
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            Thanks Ilana – I’m pleased you liked it. Yes, bitter sweet throughout, but then I preferred to leave the reader (and myself too) with a message, a glimmer of hope. We sort of need that badly right now!

    • April 6, 2020 at 12:07 pm
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      Ken M. – Your story is great and so realistic, Did you have an experience as in the operating room… that is a common theme in near death experiences and I wonder if it is a reality. It seems impossible the “you” in your body just disappears after death… very peaceful calming story… thank you, Kiz

      Reply
      • April 6, 2020 at 2:27 pm
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        Thanks Liz!
        No, not my personal experience. It would be comforting to go through a clarifying NDE like that – it sort of resolves the mother of all fears once and for all; the rest of one’s life on earth would be a breeze.
        But it’s the personal experience a fellow university student said he went through. Not an NDE, he practices astral projection and apparently that’s how he discovered he was balding!

        Reply
        • April 6, 2020 at 2:53 pm
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          Ken M – My favorite part was when he realizes he’s got a bald spot. Brilliant flash of comedy that even further humanizes your very emotion laden piece. You wrote of my greatest fear – that the love of my life might die from coronavirus (or anything for that matter). Obviously one day it will happen, I just want to go first…

          Reply
          • April 7, 2020 at 8:52 am
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            I’m fond of that baldness bit of the story too: the mundane momentarily stealing the attention away from the transcendent.

            On your fear, true, death is more of an issue for those left behind than for those who die. If there’s more after we’re gone, then it’s a sort of promotion, the next step in life, for the “dead” person. If there is nothing at all but oblivion, then the dead person doesn’t know. It’s the living that are left behind that are confounded and in misery…

          • April 15, 2020 at 10:46 am
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            Trish, my wife and I have had that very conversation, many times. Each of us not wanting to be the one who is left behind without the other. But, thinking about it, she made me change a story once when a story I wrote, based on an experience of ours, jumped into the future and had her going first. Her exact words: “Why did I die first?” My answer, that I was the writer, was not good enough for her, so I changed the story to keep the peace.

    • April 7, 2020 at 11:11 am
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      Ken M, you monsterrrr… I was so worried about Clara, and how’d she’d lose her husband, and when he survived, I was sooo relieved. Clara dying came as a punch to the gut. You just broke my metaphorical heart!

      Of course, that balding spot though. I laughed out loud at that one!

      Reply
      • April 7, 2020 at 8:04 pm
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        Oh sorry Alyssa, if this came as a punch to the gut… but I made you laugh too, so I suppose one makes up for the other!

        But Clara’s not really dead… that’s my final message. The narrator knows the mechanics of the afterlife from his own personal excursion to the “other side”. He’s sure the love of his life is right there next to him. I suppose that’s a great comfort for him, even if he may miss her physical presence.

        I based this on many testimonials I’ve read (and some of people I met), but I don’t have such a personal experience myself. I never died and came back. I never astral-traveled. I never saw a ghost. I never even met a zombie. I did once see a UFO though.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 8, 2020 at 6:50 am
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          Aaah, I miss-read the last line. (Curse my bad eyesight!) I thought it Said “I know for a fact Clara’s right here next to me, Just where?”

          Oookay, looking back, my miss-read version of the sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense lol. Now that I’ve got the right version, much more happier! My metaphorical heart has been fixed lol.

          I’ve heard about those testimonials too. I’ve had quite a few horrid injury’s over these years, but never a brush with death (thankful for that one).

          I also, have never seen a ghost, zombie or even a UFO! I did see several moose once…
          moose trumps UFO maybe? Lol

          Reply
          • April 9, 2020 at 10:53 am
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            I’m glad you’re happier now, Alyssa! Last thing I wanted was to break your heart. Metaphorical as it may be…

            I’m shocked to hear about your fair share of “horrid injuries.” Watch your step girl! I hope you’re all right now.

            I wouldn’t want to get to the painful point of (almost) no return of my narrator. But, at the same time, it would be very comforting for the rest of one’s days on earth to experience first-hand something like that, which proves that there is more to life after we “die”.

            Meeting up with some talkative ghost would be more convenient and less painful however, with more or less the same result!

            Moose vs a UFO? Hmmm I’m torn on that one, now!

            Cheers! And really, take care, don’t hurt yourself again…

            Ken

    • April 7, 2020 at 11:51 am
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      Excellent story, well constructed and the pacing is just right.

      The narrator has a fear of death – yet apart from the first one, in the event he takes each in his stride. Or, I should say, finds ways of coping. Do we, sadly, become more practised at it?

      There is one typo that is interesting: “My father did everything when he was home, changed the lamps and did the housewife” …

      Reply
      • April 7, 2020 at 8:19 pm
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        Thanks Andy, glad you liked it.

        Well, rather than ways of coping, I wanted to open a window to the possibility of death being a gateway to some other dimension. Very much like birth transporting us from water to air, death takes us from air to “ether”. I’m not saying I believe in this. But many have claimed to have had similar “brush with death” experiences. It might be their brain running low on oxygen. But who knows?

        Did the housewife? I saw that lol and decided to leave it there! It will tell apart the clean minds from the dirty ones 🙂

        Ken

        Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 9:15 pm
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      This is smashing, Ken. You establish ‘death’ as the theme from the word ‘go’, and return to it in three of the four chapters. Two of the deaths are very touching, the other blackly funny (“Damn! I’m balding!”). All the characters are expertly established, thanks to your showing us (hardly any description – it’s all in their deeds.) The ending is topical, infuriating then moving/uplifting. That last line … lovely.

      Observations? As with my comments to Adi, these may seem churlish, but here goes:

      – I found the ‘inter-titles’ (is that what they’re called?) a little distracting; you could maybe have established the narrator’s changing age in the body of the text (?)
      – Typos? “… that I WOULDN’T ever hear Grandpa Jack’s voice again.” / “She wasn’t cut OUT for it.” / “… huddling UP TO Grandpa” / “… changed the lamps and did the housewife” (a Andy says, sounds naughty – ‘played’?) / “… next I know was coming to.” (“The next thing I knew I was …”)
      – “We went downstairs to her clinic and she examined me. When she started crying I knew it was bad.” Sounds a bit quick and easy.
      – “The odds the operation succeeded were firmly against me. Three out of seven died under the knife.” The odds are actually in your favour.

      Reply
      • April 9, 2020 at 10:39 am
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        Thanks Phil, for the praise and especially for pointing out the errors. Not churlish at all, I’m here for that, above anything else. For those extra (and expert) pair of eyes. So keep your very useful red pen handy, Phil.

        I may be using this story for a local writing contest. Since it’s got the coronavirus in it, now is the time to throw it around. Your corrections will of course be incorporated and if I win I’ll mention you in the award speech or buy you a virtual beer, whichever you prefer 🙂

        I’m glad you liked the story. That balding spot bit seems to have made quite a hit with many of the readers. It’s like Marge making sure she rinsed the last dish on her way out of her house on fire in The Simpsons, the fuss we make about the little things in life, while Rome is burning…

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 10, 2020 at 1:05 am
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          Ken and Phil,

          Of course Phil is right about everything, but I would disagree on the inter-titles, as he called them. They are unusual, (that’s why none of us knows what they’re called) but I think they work wonderfully because they’re so short and perfectly self-explanatory. That’s the only suggestion Phil has made that I could, (and therefore must) disagree with. It’s your call though buddy boy. Good luck in the contest.

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 7:06 am
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            I’d usually prefer a story to flow from scene to scene with the use of just textual words. But I sort of needed some kind of divider in this one, and I didn’t want to throw in the last-resort three-asterisk device. So I went for these “intertitles” delineating the defining years in the narrator’s age. If it were a novel, they would’ve been chapters, I suppose.

        • April 15, 2020 at 10:51 am
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          Make sure he pays up, Phil. He still owes me a virtual beer and is now in hiding. (He’s calling it quarantine or isolation, but I know better, the piker.)

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm
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            No, yours was a real beer, Roy. Not virtual. At Fukushima, when it gets safe there 🙂

          • April 20, 2020 at 5:56 am
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            Ken M. It might as well be a virtual beer, knowing the half life of the radiation at Fukoshima will be longer than my half life. If we survive this Corona thing and circumstances ever coincide with the two of us getting together in the same location, to show you what kind of guy I am, I’ll buy the first beer. Dinner, however, is on you.. No takeout.

            Roy

      • April 12, 2020 at 7:13 am
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        Well, yes, I got the math wrong! Originally it was “3:7”, then decided to write it out in words (figures in text look ugly!). It had to read “seven out of ten (died)”, and instead I wrote “three out of seven“. Thanks for pointing it out, Phil.

        Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 5:55 am
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      Hi Ken M,

      Great story. To me it has a number of threads that you have linked together and wrapped it all up in a virus blanket.

      Others have pointed out a small number of minor issues but none of these detract from the quality of your writing. The day I write something that is perfect in every way will be Red Letter Day!!!

      Seems strange that I am writing this comment directly under your story but when I press “post comment” it will go at the end. I have read through all the other comments and they have done a very thorough job in their comments.

      I found the story sections to be helpful not distracting. The out of body experience, hovering above and seeing through walls and spotting the bald patch are really good devices that keep the story running along at a good pace.

      Cracking stuff, Ken.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 7:23 am
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        Thanks Ken, I’m pleased you liked it. It’s indeed a result of various threads that could each be a story in their own right (or a much longer story overall).

        Some “threads” are drawn from life experiences or from things I’ve heard (including the out-of-body experience – an experience told by a University buddy who practices astral projection).

        I missed a preposition here and there (while looking between hospital wall molecules…). Phil mentioned some… red pen out anyone who spots any other errors, please! Especially the teachers out there!

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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      Ken,

      This a beautiful story! Well written and believable. I was taken in from the beginning. I learned something new. We don’t have statues or figures in the Church of Christ in which I was raised, so I never considered how a child might perceive a figure of Christ on the cross. I always explained to my children when they asked or if they saw a picture or if we were studying the crucifixion. Thank you for bringing that out in your story. It added to the realism. Wonderful work. Adi

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 9:33 am
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        Thanks Adi, I’m pleased you liked it. Yes, crucifixes and other religious artifacts in Catholic churches can be quite “violent” and bloody and may impress very young children. If they were movies they’d be rated “18+”!

        What denomination do you follow? I know that most reformed churches keep artworks to a minimum, to avoid distracting worshippers from a more profound inward experiences. Catholic churches often go overboard in the other direction…

        Ken

        Reply
        • April 14, 2020 at 3:00 pm
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          Ken,

          I’m a member of the Church of Christ, patterned after the New Testament church and based on strict biblical principles. We don’t have religious artifacts in our buildings and we sing A Capella (no instrumental music). We believe that baptism is essential to salvation and is a baptism of immersion once a person reaches the age of accountability (no infant baptism) and knows the significance of the baptism by repenting of our sins and choosing to follow Christ for life.

          My father was a preacher, song leader and elder in the church for many years. He resigned from the Elder-ship after my mother developed Alzheimer’s. My grandparents were faithful members as well.

          I have visited other denominations and some artifacts can be violent and scary, I agree.

          Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 3:52 pm
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      Well this was just great. Simply a great read. You held my attention and when you got the the end, my eyes welled for Clara. The bald spot made me smile but your description of entering back into the body was wonderful! The only thing that stuck out to me what this line ” changed the lamps and did the housewife” I would assume you meant housework, but I honestly got a pretty good chuckle from it. Keep up the amazing work!

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 9:40 am
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        Thanks Kristin! I’m glad you enjoyed my piece throughout, housewife blunder included! Yes, I meant “housework”, but well, it could’ve been either way really! Good you got a chuckle from it!

        My favorite part of the story is the “Twenty-Six” segment too: the bald spot, seeing through wall molecules, entering back in the body feeling like putting on coarse pajamas… I’m pleased you enjoyed those parts too 🙂

        Ken

        Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 12:06 am
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      Touching. Loved the Grand pa character. Little details and touches– like the bald spot . At the end Clara’s death was heart breaking but like the way you resolved it…she is always there, will be. No body can take away the memories.

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 5:03 am
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        Thanks Dita! The grandpa who’s the life of the party is based on my own grandad. He was the naughtiest person I’ve ever known. When he passed on (I was grown up, not six like the narrator) I said to myself “if people still live after they die, my grandpa will surely make it known. He’s not one to keep quiet!” So far he hasn’t paid us a visit, played some ghostly prank or something. So I don’t know. But he may show up any time… I’ll let you know if he ever does!
        Ken

        Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 12:17 pm
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      Thoroughly enjoyed your story, Ken Miles. Sad, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.
      Life goes on after this earthly sojourn. That’s for sure.
      The bald spot and the pyjama bit added the necessary pizzazz!

      Good one!

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 5:10 am
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        Thanks Marien! Yes, as you noted, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. That has the potential to cancel out the sadness throughout the story.

        I think that the narrator’s own out-of-body experience when he was 26 gives him more than just hope (perhaps certainty) that Clara is still alive in another form after the coronavirus kills her.
        We just don’t know do we? Believing in afterlife is after all as difficult as believing in oblivion. It just can’t be that it’s all for nothing with us and the universe…
        Ken

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 10:40 am
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      Ken M.,

      Even yet, another story of dying alone. This prompt is saying a lot through it’s various authors. Well done, liked the four steps and, while not a proponent of out of body experiences (although to this day I think I may have had one once – common sense tells me I have reimagined it after eye witness accounts may have altered my memory), you did that very nicely. Kept me engaged and I enjoyed reading it.

      Your encounter of the character at the age of six thinking of his grandfather as sleeping reminds me of my 3 year old nephew who with his father carrying him, approached the coffin where my wife’s mother – his grandmother – lay as the two of them paid their final respects. My nephew Matt pointed and said, “Is Grandma sleeping?”. My brother in law, thinking this was not the time to explain death to a three year old, said, “Yes, Grandma is sleeping.” Then, he said, “Speaking of that, it’s about time for your nap.” Matt drew back in his arms, looked at his grandmother, then looked back at his dad with horror on his face, saying “In there?” We were right behind him in line and it was hard to stifle a laugh. To this day, I wonder what the people who saw us laughing were thinking.

      Well written story Ken M. I got no quibbles with your writing. No critique from me.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 4:23 pm
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        Thanks Roy – I’m pleased you enjoyed reading it and thanks for your praise.

        It’s interesting how we (not only kids) often compare dying with sleeping. With the exception that there is no waking up. Or is there? I prefer to keep this an open question. Why should consciousness, after all, in all its subtlety, be exclusively bound to biology?

        Ok that’s the question of the ages… just reworded a little…

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
  • April 5, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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    Yikes. This puts ‘green speedos’ in perspective. (Not soooo bad.)

    ‘He spat on the corpse.’ You mean the torso? Or…
    The word ‘bishop’ sounds like somebody puking. Now I know why.

    Kristin,
    Have you ever heard the song “Matty Groves’? By Fairport Convention? Theme-wise, somewhat similar to your very fine story.

    Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 9:49 am
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    Small, Red and Deadly.

    by Ken Frape. 1200 words.

    Despite her diminutive size, the spider was venomous and deadly. She was on a mission to give birth and driven by pure instinct as she emerged from the cooling pile of discarded clothing on the bedside chair and scuttled across the polished, wooden bedroom floor. The fragrant air of a cooling Summer’s night gently wafted through the open shutters. To her it was dangerously cool, she must hurry.

    She made her way up the wall and across the ceiling then abseiled down her silken thread towards the heat source she had detected. Abruptly, she came to a stop barely an inch above the sleeping man’s face. His regular breathing made her swing to and fro in the draught. As he breathed in he drew her towards his mouth and, as he exhaled, he blew her away.

    The man and his wife beside him slept on, blissfully unaware of their proximity to almost certain death.

    The spider maintained her position, her eight eyes watching. After a few seconds the man turned over and, as he did so, his luxuriant silver – grey thatch of hair brushed against the spider. Quickly, she darted from her thread and moved purposefully towards his warm and inviting ear cavity. A minute later she had completed her task and her tiny babies were resting safely in the warm, soft earwax of the still sleeping host. The tiny hairs in his ear sensed her presence and he shivered, his skin prickling. He pulled the duvet closer to him but, by then, his night visitor had scurried across his pillow and down the trailing quilt to the floor. Her life’s work done, exhausted, she would be cold and dead within the hour.

    In the Entomology Department in The University of Oxford’s research laboratory the next day, Professor Solomon gathered his team around him.

    “We have a new research project,” he told them. “This little arachnid, the female of the species,” he indicated the tiny black and red spider in the research tank, “is proving to be an incredible find. Warning. She is pregnant and programmed to leave her babies somewhere warm and moist, so be extra careful. The recent tests on her toxicity indicate that she possesses the highest levels ever found in any arachnid.”

    The team moved a tentative, albeit nervous, step closer.

    Bob Sherman, the newest member of the team, shuddered, partly due to his lifelong phobia of spiders crawling over his skin and partly by the way in which Professor Solomon moistened his lips with obvious relish, displaying a set of perfect white teeth.

    He felt sweat break out all over his body. His recent long spell of unemployment after graduation had led to him applying for each and every science based research assistant’s post and this one had come up. A six month trial. The very thought of spiders made him go weak with nausea but if he could just face down this fear at least he would be able to pay his rent.

    The professor continued, “She is called Solomonosia Cardinalis, named after yours truly, as I found her under a rock in the Amazon Rainforest during my recent expedition. But then you all know that already, don’t you?“

    His team gave a polite round of applause but the Professor waved their applause away with a waft of his hand.

    “You’ll notice that she has a tiny red spot on her back, hence the Cardinalis. Be very, very careful if you go anywhere near her as she moves surprisingly quickly and she jumps too,” he paused for effect, scanning the faces of his wide-eyed colleagues…”one tiny drop of her toxin on your skin will kill you, slowly and very painfully. As yet there is no antidote. Our job is to find one.”

    Bob swallowed again and took another step back.

    In the quiet of the early evening, Professor Solomon finally gave in to his fatigue. His head was aching as it had all day and his neck and back were cramping after twelve hours hunched over test tubes, culture dishes and microscope, performing cutting edge science.He had been able to carry out further tests on the toxicity of this tiny arachnid, nicknamed Little Red by his team. The results were astounding. The potential spin – offs for the pharmaceutical industry were enormous and, if managed effectively, this project could keep his research facility in funds for the rest of his career.

    Possibly he could even realize his dream of a Nobel Prize.

    His name would go down in history.

    Before leaving for home, the professor rinsed his face under the cold tap in the men’s room. He dried his face and then, not for the first time, he knuckled his right ear to ease the itching. He ran his fingers through his luxuriant mass of silver grey hair and slipped his sunglasses on.

    Cruising along the freeway, in his red sports car, ten miles from home, he casually probed his right ear again with his finger nail. “Wax” he thought but as he glanced back towards the road he suddenly registered that there was a dark speck on the end of his finger. His eyes widened with dawning horror.

    The words “Oh my God, no!” had barely left the Professor’s mouth before his speeding car slammed into the crash barrier. The disintegrating vehicle then careered across the tarmac in a shower of broken glass, plastic and metal before slewing to a halt across several lanes.

    By the time the emergency services had managed to force their passage through the stalled traffic, the Professor was barely conscious, his eyes wide open and staring, small red bubbles frothing on his lips. Most of the twenty or so tiny black and red spiderlings released by the professor’s probing finger had, by then, dispersed around his body or into folds in his clothing. Some were deep in his hair, enjoying the warmth of his scalp. Several landed on the warm tarmac where they scuttled away into tufts of roadside vegetation. One remained embedded in his ear wax, its tiny legs waving helplessly.

    In the emergency room the medics quickly stripped away the Professor’s blood – stained clothing and got to work on his injuries. Several tiny spiderlings, unnoticed by the medical team, scurried away, one finding a new host as it quickly climbed an errant strand of hair and disappeared under the rim of a nurse’s surgical cap.

    The consultant arrived and asked for an update as she leaned over the patient to make a cursory examination, her braided hair draped across her shoulder.

    “Who is he?” she asked a team nurse.

    “Professor Solomon, from the University. He is a specialist in the study of deadly spiders,” the nurse shuddered as she spoke. “Give me blood and broken bones everyday,” she added. “But spiders? No way!”

    “Vital signs are weak, but he’s hanging in there,” the consultant commented as she nonchalantly brushed a tiny dark speck from the corner of her vision.

    “At least we don’t have to worry about deadly spiders in here, do we?”

    Word count 1199

    Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 3:34 pm
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      Deliciously creepy and crawly. I loved the way you linked “the man” to the research scientist via his luxurious grey hair. Very well done!

      Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 11:15 am
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      Ah ha, Ken F you just made my day. I’ve always been afraid of spider (nasty little things) and my siblings argue, saying that they’re harmless (poor souls, they have no idea how wrong they are)

      Now I can prance around my house, showing my siblings this story with a smug smile, showing them, just how creepy spiders can be.

      Let’s hope the shiver as much as I did.
      When the spider crawled into the man’s ear, ugh, I got chills up and down my spine.

      I dare say, I might just try and quarantine myself from spiders now!

      Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 11:59 am
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      “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”

      Irony, a touch of hubris too. Great story, Ken, and excellent descriptive writing – as well as being skin-crawlingly horrific! You know what’s coming, and there’s no getting away from it. And then wham! Something even worse happens – though (maybe perversely?) something that is somehow less scary. We’re funny creatures when it comes to risk, aren’t we?

      And then at the end – a kind of doubling down on the dramatic irony. Great stuff.

      Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 10:12 pm
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      Excellent story, Ken (so good that I may have to re-think mine, which would pale in comparison). As Trish says, the link between the man in bed and the professor is expertly done. The spreading of the spiders is a little like the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, isn’t it? (Intentional?) When the crash happens, I thought you were going to spoil the tension, but then we find the Prof helpless to stop the little blighters going where they like, and unbeknownst to all around because the Prof can’t warn them. As with Kristin’s, your story woke up one I read in my youth, with a similar scenario, this time featuring an earwig (‘Boomerang’ by Oscar Cook).

      Observations:

      – There could perhaps be a separator (asterisks?) before this line: “In the quiet of the early evening…”
      – Not sure about the relevance of the ‘Bob’ thread.
      – The thing I liked least was the last line, which I found a little forced. I think “But spiders? No way!” would have been the perfect ending.

      Great stuff!

      Reply
    • April 8, 2020 at 11:49 pm
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      Fabulous story Mr. Frape. Creepy and crawly. Nice details.

      ‘She came to a stop barely an inch above the sleeping man’s face.’

      ‘The spider maintained her position, her eight eyes watching.’ Eeee-uhhh- huhuhuhuhuh. (And I like spiders, from a distance.) (Okay, I respect them. I don’t actually like them.)

      Professor Solomon, indeed. (Pride goeth somewhere you don’t want to be.)

      Great dialogue, great ending. It’s amazing how similar this is to an epidemic, while being something entirely different altogether.

      Fabulous story, writing, dialogue, The whole ball of ear-wax. (What is it with you, Alyssa and Kristen? You guys and gals are trying to give me nightmares.)

      Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 10:25 am
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      This is a great infestation tale that makes my skin itch just thinking about it. My only question is: how did the spider end up in his bedroom? (and maybe that’s just my lack of imagination or inattention to detail due to this headache that hopefully isn’t a side affect of spider bites) You did a great job with this creepy crawly tale

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 1:23 pm
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        Hi Wendy,

        I can answer your question or I can leave you to work it out for yourself and possibly unravel my tale of horror.
        Let me think……

        Ken F

        Reply
        • April 13, 2020 at 9:30 am
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          I played my own detective and saw the clues in the VERY FIRST PARAGRAPH and smacked my head that I missed them. I’ll chalk it up to “stay at home head” lol

          Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 4:07 pm
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      This is a true creepy story. What in the Tales from the crypt, spider tale this is! To say i enjoyed it would be an understatement. You flat out gave me the heebie jeebies. From the moment the sinister spider laid her eggs I was hooked and didn’t want to be. Wonderful Job. BRAVO!

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 12:42 pm
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      Creepy, so creepy!
      Last evening, I was watching a small blonde(!) spider, swishing with the breeze, slowly devouring an ugly fly three times its size, in the garden. I can’t stand flies..so was thinking up a rhyme.

      But after your story, never again will I look at them.

      But I am sad about that nurse….not during these days when they do so much.
      They don’t need spiders to add to their woes.

      Good story!

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 3:29 pm
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      Ken, Ken, Ken,

      Thanks so much for contributing to my persistent insomnia. All I needed was yet more reasons to keep me from sleep. I fear I shall never sleep again.

      Even though I was literally queasy from reading your story, I was hooked to the creepy, crawly end. UGH!

      If your goal was to evoke emotion in your readers, you succeeded with this one! Great work.

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 7:43 pm
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      The story resonates with me: I fear another arachnid, the deer tick (that’s the one that once bit me; never had a dangerously close encounter with a spider. Not that I’m seeking one. Certainly not now after reading this.)

      It sometimes sounds like a documentary by David Attenborough (and that’s intended as praise, that guy is brilliant), and here and there you fill us in on the horrific things that are going on with Profs. S. in a neat, smooth way. We know enough about this spider by the time we’re reading what’s going on to be genuinely scared. Very nicely done, Ken.

      The ending is great, but I sort of wanted more punch. I don’t know what to suggest. Perhaps a scream? Some indication the nurses, doctors realise something? I don’t know. I liked this story enough, I wanted more of it. More to happen before it ended…

      Ken

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 2:08 am
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      And one more thing I liked: the fair, democratic concern the story shows for the fears and needs of both man (fear of [nearly-]invisible threats, need to dominate nature, need to feel exalted) and spider (fear of cold, fear of getting spotted (!), need to lay offsprings in a safe environment). It’s a nicely done commentary by a seemingly unbiased narrator.

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 4:56 pm
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      Ken F – Well Mazel Tov and all that jazz to your absolutely chilling creepy crawly story… you know I know it was a top tier story but sometimes fear makes one avoid… Please don’t let this encourage you to be creepier next story…try for a little tenderness…warmth and fuzzy.. well done although that’s what we expect from a Ken…. Kiz

      Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 12:12 pm
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    Ken F. – Great way to put two fears together and bring out the fears in humanity today… makes black widows seem a minor issue…I feel creepy and am rethinking my care of spiders… Kiz F.

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    • April 11, 2020 at 5:26 am
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      Creepy crawly story. Well written and tied together nicely at the end. Great writing.

      Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 12:25 pm
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    Facing Fears by Kiz Fisher

    Ever since I heard the phrase facing your fears, long, long ago, I’ve wondered what does it mean to face a fear. I don’t think of my self as fearful. I’ve been in crisis situations where I’ve felt myself become incredibly calm and do what had to be done.

    That’s not a flippant assessment of myself. Changing careers and lifestyle in my 40’s allowed me to be a member of a rural volunteer fire department, become a firefighter and EMT 1A. I became a Corrections and Communications employee in the county Sheriff’s Department and had multiple trainings for self protection and “command presence”. That last one sounds odd but it really means everything.

    So command presence is just a matter of reaching deep inside quelling the panic and the “oh crap… what the hell …everything is going sideways” feeling and everything speeds up reaction – decisions – actions – while at the same time your outer demeanor is calm assertive and in control. I don’t know if I’m giving a good picture with these words… but when you’ve got it you know it and I have also witnessed others in that mode and it is pretty impressive.

    But fear we’re talking about fear…facing fear… I don’t think command presence will do a whole lot with my biggest fears physically.. I think I fear most Black Widow Spiders and the runner-up Rattlesnakes, mostly because I have an over active immune system and in it’s attempt to protect me from a poisonous bite might just do me in…it’s caused me problems medically more than once in my life. I like spiders and snakes. If there is a spider in my home and I can’t reach it I tell them out loud, “remember the deal is if I can’t see you, you are safe”, and I’m always happy when I return and they have moved …where I don’t know… if they are within my reach I carefully cover them with a glass slide a paper over the opening and release them outside, they’re probably not happy but they have a chance for a better life.

    My brother and I played with Garter snakes in our yard. I never feared snakes but as an adult and I became aware of my medical issues with an over-active immune system somehow Rattlesnakes became a focus of fear probably because I was an active hiker and camper and enjoyed trudging through the woods mostly on trails but anytime I was in a field or around tall grass and shrubs I was on total alert and aware, where I live today is rural and snakes abound and I was not overjoyed to find a baby rattler sunning on the edge of my porch one summer morn.

    I really don’t think that is my biggest fear…I fear for my sons and their families, I want everyone to live happy lives with all the tools they need to be self supporting able to live and have the life they want. I don’t fear dying I’ve lived a good life, I have a wonderful family I want my sons to know how much I love them and how meaningful they have made my life. I had my sons when I was still young. My fractured childhood did not teach me much about being a parent.

    Most of what I observed in the many different chapters of my life demonstrated what not to do. As a result of this I realized as my children grew I was still learning how to be an adult and made many mistakes and wish I’d known better sooner. My whole goal in life was to raise my two sons to help them to do well in school, go to college and they would end up in happy marriages with professional careers. It wasn’t a perfect journey but they excelled and my goal in life was achieved.

    I remember at my retirement party from the County. My oldest son, a Veterinary Pathologist made a little speech about me and one of the things he said is, “My Mom is a worrier…” he mentioned things he did that worried me and continued, “she used to say to me when I was a teenager… I hope you have a son who is just like you,”. and added, “the best thing is that I do have that son and even better he likes to spend a lot of time with his Gramma”. My younger son, a Science Teacher, has called me “his rock”, even now when he has retired from his 30 years of teaching, we reassure each other on whatever is unassuring in our lives. When he was a teenager his go to response to an admonishment was “I didn’t try to!.” My constant response was ” Well try not too”. When his son was a teenager we were going somewhere and while loading something into the backseat, and my grandson upon doing something and being called on it said to his father “I didn’t try too,” my son replied as he looked across the seat at me, “well, try Not too.” My heart sang.

    I hope when I’m gone and my sons have to deal with all the stuff everyone accumulates over a lifespan and hasn’t made use of the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning book they don’t feel irritated with me.

    I do know what my greatest fear is… losing my sons, if something should happen to one of my sons, if they should pass before me, I don’t think I could bear it, I cannot even begin to imagine how any parent can survive the loss of a child. My daughter-in-laws and three grandsons would suffer too, I know…but I cannot see anything beyond my pain of loss and find it hard to think I could go on… this is my biggest fear and I don’t want to face it.

    Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 3:04 pm
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      Kizlet,

      This is more of a commentary than a story, no qualms, just an observation, expressing a commonly held view by most parents. Not being an actual parent, but, without exposing too much personal history, I think I know exactly what it’s like. Some higher force in the universe chooses our fate for us. All of us.

      We like to think that we can cheat our fate by lingering on the platform, waiting for the next train, but that plays right into ‘Fate’s’ hand.

      Barring parenthood, I think most people’s greatest fear is death itself. That mysterious, inescapable, eternal oblivion. (I don’t care if that’s grammatically incorrect.)

      My story, which is combobulating in my brain as I sit here, may very well ignore the prompt, abuse the prompt, murder the prompt, or all three. That’s my greatest fear, oblivion. Death. I suppose death in one’s sleep is preferable to one described by Kristin, and, now that I think about it, the more time one has to contemplate oblivion, for some that seems to make it easier, for others, much harder.

      A quick and painless death is the best that one can hope for, I suppose.

      Reply
      • April 7, 2020 at 8:20 pm
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        Ken C – Well.. but wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to hover around for awhile and see what happens next… I mean just be a friendly helpful ghost or just think of those you might just want to scary haunt a little…maybe when you die you get to choose if you want to go to the pearly gates right away…. I mean really the odds of that are slim but who really knows.. being a Jew I don’t think about heaven… however a very dear Christian friend of mine who absolutely believes did get me to promise her if when I die, Jesus appears and asks me, “now do you believe?” I should just say yes and not argue about it… so there’s always that… it is hard to imagine that we just stop..there’s nothing…that our thoughts and ideas that seem to appear from nowhere just end… how often through history do we find ideas inventions surface in the world with no chance of communication between entities… just wishful thinking on my part most likely. Kiz

        Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 5:56 pm
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      This feels like a well-written column piece for a magazine. Has integrity, and highlights a fear that strikes a chord for sure.

      And I also learned about command presence. Maybe I should work on that!

      Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 9:19 pm
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      I like this, Liz. Not a story as such, I don’t think, but a neat rundown of what frightens you, and the tools you’ve acquired to cope with those fears.

      It chimed with me a couple of times: the fear of spiders, and your rule for letting them stay indoors (“remember the deal is if I can’t see you, you are safe”). I do the same if they’re less than half an inch (total span, legs included), and if not, it’s out the window! (using your method). I read somewhere, though, that putting house-spiders out is actually a death sentence for them. But then I’ve asked myself: how do they get into houses in the first place if not over the surrounding ground? The second thing is your fear about your sons passing before you. My brother died, and my mother had to cope with that. She seemed strong on the outside, but I think she must have brooded on it all the time.

      I sincerely hope you can have your wish and be spared that.

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      • April 15, 2020 at 2:47 am
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        Revise your half-inch spider rule, Phil. I just read Ken Frape’s story and I thought I should tell you.

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      • April 15, 2020 at 2:52 am
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        There’s also cryogenic preservation. Since we’re talking about options. But, yes, I know…

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    • April 10, 2020 at 6:19 am
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      Hi Liz,

      As the others have commented, this is more of an honest outpouring of your fears than a story as such but it is well within the parameters set by the group. It makes for really interesting reading as it touches upon things that we all know about or actually share. Death is there for all of us, come what may and we don’t get much choice at the end, with one or two notable exceptions such as suicide or the Dignitas Clinic.

      My parents developed a fear of dying apart from each other. Didn’t happen for my Dad who died holding Mum’s hand, just after their 70th. wedding anniversary. Mum is now in a Care Home so I can’t say that any of our family will be by her side when her time comes.

      I think you have done us all a service in the way you have written this and you really have used the prompt.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 10, 2020 at 1:02 pm
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        Thank you Ken F. – Alice said we could outpour and I took the opportunity.. helped me too.. Kiz

        Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 2:53 am
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        There’s also cryogenic preservation. Since we’re talking about options. But, yes, I know…

        Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 4:36 pm
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      I can certainly relate to the theme of this. It feels like a heartfelt journal entry of an incredible Mother.

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    • April 14, 2020 at 12:31 am
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      Thank you for sharing your fears so candidly, Liz. I could relate to many of them. For example fear of losing loved ones especially our young ones make me cringe. Your piece is more like a journal than a story or memoir. But I enjoyed reading it.

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    • April 14, 2020 at 1:54 pm
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      Here’s a mama who has gone through exactly what you fear.
      My handsome 24 yr old lad went ahead to be with Jesus in a car accident, in Kansas City. He was sitting behind without a seat belt, and his friend was drunk, drove fast, accelerated in a culvert.
      The phone call from the hospital was like the movies. 2005.

      If not for the resurrection, I would’ve been a broken woman. Jesus died even for this. My family drew strength from this truth.
      I learnt the value of forgiveness too.

      God has gifted me with immense humor ( my version) much joy, and peace!

      Your account is touching and you’ve expressed your thoughts in all its vulnerability and honesty.
      It doesn’t always have to be a story, does it!

      Fear not. Only believe. It changes lives.

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 2:56 am
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        Your comment is very uplifting Marien. Thanks for sharing this. Inspiring, really.

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    • April 14, 2020 at 5:04 pm
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      Kiz,

      We have a lot in common. I can’t stand spiders or snakes and I’ve had several encounters with them both over the years (since I was raised in Florida)! I especially remember the night my mother was poking a “pretty” red, yellow and black snake with her foot, in the backyard, trying to get it to move away. I’ll never forget my father literally falling off the couch when she described it, screaming that it was a coral snake and deadly. Running outside, he wasn’t in the mood to encourage it to move and he killed it.

      Losing my children is an ever-constant fear. A fear born when I lost 3 babies prior to birth almost exactly 1 year apart (a little girl and boy/girl twins). I’d already had 2 beautiful children and adopted a third. To lose these babies was just as traumatic as losing one of the others would have been. It’s been 34 years since Ashlee died and 33 years for the twins. I still miss them every day. When I miraculously became pregnant with my rainbow baby, I was terrified the entire pregnancy that I would lose him too. He will be 25 years old next month.

      Thanks for sharing your fears. This topic was a true “stretch assignment” – taking us out of our comfort zones and making us face some of what we fear the most. You did good!

      Adi

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    • April 15, 2020 at 2:39 am
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      Hi Liz, Kiz…

      This story develops like a testimony based self-help book, with several takeaways and an honest, neatly told account of a mom’s (and gramma’s) typical fears. And some not so typical ones too. There is a sprinkling of humor making the piece a very appetizing read, despite the somber subject. At first I thought it’s gonna be too self-consciously attached to the prompt, but then it does take a life of its own.

      I’d like to point out some errors I came across, that can easily be weeded out:

      “your outer demeanor is calm assertive and in control.” > a comma after calm?

      “in it’s attempt to protect me from a poisonous bite” > its (ah this must be an autocorrect thingy, mine is trying to play clever too!)

      “I never feared snakes but as an adult and I became aware of my medical issues with an over-active immune system somehow Rattlesnakes became a focus of fear…” > I feel there’s some missing connector here, maybe “when” needed after “and” or move “and” from where it is to just before “somehow”? Also rattlesnakes doesn’t need yo be capitalized. And this bumper sentence is too long, I had to stop midway for a breather!

      I hope that helps and thanks for sharing your (?) fears with us…

      Ken

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      • April 15, 2020 at 12:42 pm
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        KenM -thank you for the appreciated comments – Kiz

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  • April 6, 2020 at 2:41 pm
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    Adi, simply heartbreaking. Beautifully written. And I’m so sorry about your Mom….

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    • April 7, 2020 at 11:37 am
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      Agreeing with both Trish And Ken.

      Well-written and touching story, rooted in experience.

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  • April 6, 2020 at 3:39 pm
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    I can relate to your biggest fear being the unbearable pain of loss…and having to soldier on alone. It’s awful to contemplate. I also related to your fear of snakes and of finding one on your front porch. Just two weeks ago, we were venturing outside for a grocery run and we quickly ran back inside because a five foot long snake was on our front porch. We looked him up and I think he was a ratcatcher, so no harm to us would have ensued, but how scary to see. I hope your family is well.

    Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 7:06 pm
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    The Fear Factor
    Written by Alyssa Daxson
    Word count: 1167

    The warm, humid summer air rolled through the small, stuffed classroom. The air conditioner set in the side rattled away, desperately trying to pump cool air through.

    Students sat at desks, their gazes either trained at the ground, or wandering aimlessly, filled with unspeakable boredom.

    The bang of a door brought their attention briefly to a long, lanky man, covered in a white lab coat, as he stepped into the room, a strained smile stretching across his face. “Hello all,” he said, awkwardly waving a hand.

    Nothing but silence greeted his words, and the man, known as Dr Gabriel Thornton, cleared his throat nervously. “As you know, I’m a guest speaker from Thornton Labs, over in New York City,” Gabriel continued, striding up front and stopping by a big black chalkboard. “Your teacher, Mr Fredrick, was kind enough to invite me over.”

    Again, there was no response, as the students looked on drolly, each and everyone of them in their own little world.

    “Well, to start off,” Gabriel said, ignoring the silence, “I’ve got a little experiment I’d like to try.” As he said that, Gabriel reached into his coat, and a pulled out a syringe, full of a purplish liquid. He flicked the needle, watching, entranced as the liquid sloshed around in the tiny glass tube.

    “It’s something I call, fear factor,” Gabriel said, glancing up.

    The students now were at rapt attention, the sight of the needle and strange liquid drawing them in like a song. Gone were the dull eyes and open mouths, instead the students looked on, eager, and even a bit hesitant.

    “What’s the fear factor?” One student, a chubby boy by the name of Roger asked, his beady eyes scrunched up.
    Gabriel smiled, his teeth glistening white, and stared silently.
    Roger shivered and looked away, the Doctor’s gaze reminding him of a shark.

    “Well, everyone is afraid of something, right?” Gabriel said, once Roger’s gaze broke away. There was a silence, before a quiet smattering of yes, and maybes, sounded across the room.

    “This needle, and it’s lovely contents make you live your fear,” Gabriel explained, walking down the classroom. He reached the door, and slowly turned the lock, smiling as it clinked into place.

    The students shifted nervously, the tension in the air rising considerably.
    “So, if I was afraid spiders, then that needle would make me see spiders?” Roger asked, his voice trembling slightly.

    Gabriel met his gaze, and nodded slowly. “Although to you, it would probably make you see, and possibly be eaten by spiders,” he paused and shrugged, breaking away from Roger’s terrified gaze. “It all depends on how afraid you are.”

    As Gabriel walked up the center, there was a scoff from one student, who stood up, his chin thrust out arrogantly.

    “I’m not afraid of anything,” he announced, glaring around the room, daring anyone to challenge him.
    “Sit down, you idiot,” a small, thin boy hissed, who was hunched over his desk like a squirrel.
    “Quiet Stephen,” the boy standing up snapped, his eyes glaring.
    Stephen flinched, and gave the boy one last glare, hunching over his desk again.

    Gabriel, observing the exchange, smiled broadly at the boy standing up. “Not afraid, are you?” He asked, tilting his head.
    The boy nodded firmly, a cocky smile spreading across his face.

    “Well, what’s your name then?” Gabriel asked, his eyes glinting.
    “Brady,” the boy said proudly. “After the football player.”

    Gabriel nodded absently, his eyes drifting into the distance. “Well, Brady, would you be able to do something for me? Unless you’re too scared…” Gabriel’s voice was low and smooth as he stared at Brady, who shifted nervously, staring to realize the trouble he’d gotten himself into.

    “Sure, yeah I’ll do it,” Brady forced out, and hesitantly followed Gabriel up to the front of the class.

    Gabriel took out the needle, and gripped Brady’s shoulder tight, the veins in his hands bulging. “Woah, woah, what are you doing?” Brady stuttered, trying to break away.

    Gabriel grip tightened, and a devilish grin spread across his face. “My dear boy, I’m showing you what it is to fear,” he snarled, before plunging the needle into Brady’s neck, injecting a small amount of the liquid into his body.

    Immediately Brady seized up, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He collapsed to the ground, convulsing, a bloodcurdling scream leaving his throat.

    “What are you doing?!” Roger yelled, jumping to his short feet. Gabriel turned towards him, and his arm shot forward, grabbing Roger by the neck, and shoving the needle into his jugular vein.

    “Exactly what I’m doing to you,” Gabriel growled, as Roger fell to the ground, screeching about spiders, shaking uncontrollably.

    The students, barely to comprehend what was going on, sat there in shock, watching as two of their classmates convulsed on the ground, screaming uncontrollably, tears streaming down their faces.

    A pounding on the door distracted Gabriel as he stood above the two students, and his gaze hardened as a deep, male voice called from the hallway.

    “Dr Gabriel! What is going on?!” The voice yelled. Gabriel didn’t answer, and watched as the door rattled from the impact of somebody hitting it.

    One student made a move to get up, his mouth opening to cry for help. Gabriel was by his side in an instant, and seconds later, the student was curled up on the ground, shrieking in terror.

    Gabriel’s eyes were alight with a feverish glare, and he gazed around at the terrified students. “Anyone have any questions?!” He yelled, raising his arms high.

    There was a stifled sob, and one girl covered her eyes and started to rock back and forth, crying out in a teary voice for her mom.
    Gabriel smiled, and slowly moved towards the girl, who screamed, backpedaling into a corner, her eyes trained in the needle, which was poised to strike.

    “Noo!” A voice cried, before Stephen launched himself at Gabriel, his small body crashing into Gabriel’s chest.
    Gabriel stumbled back, and the needle slipped from his hands, landing on the floor with a clink.

    Stephen, laying splayed across Gabriel, desperately grabbed the needle and wrenched Gabriel’s head to the side, and plunging the needle into his vein, pushing the rest of the purple liquid into his body.

    Gabriel convulsed for a second, before his eyes found Stephen, and a wicked smile spread across his face.

    Stephen scrambled away, his eyes wide with fear. “No… how?” He breathed, his voice quiet and trembling.
    Gabriel grabbed Stephen’s shirt collar, and wrenched him to his feet. He shoved Stephen against a wall, and watched as Stephen’s face slowly turned blue, gasping for breath.

    “Because my dear boy, after years of back-breaking, grueling scientific work, I made a discovery,” Gabriel said, his voice soft and smooth as he watched Stephen’s eyes flutter shut, the life leaving the small, brave boy’s body. “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

    Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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      Alyssa – OK this isn’t fair… so far every story I’ve read has made me tense and worried and fearful, and hasn’t helped me face my fear it just gives me more things to fear…if you guys would stop being so adept at eliciting fear it would be helpful, I’m running out of Nitro patches… that said I was fairly terrified reading your story… well done..

      Reply
      • April 7, 2020 at 1:36 pm
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        Haha thanks Liz. I have to say, most of these story (especially the spider one!) have not helped with anything lol. Maybe I need some nitro patches… Care too share? 😉

        Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 5:49 pm
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      Well-written story, Alyssa, good tension. It feels like it’s building to a punchline when the reason will be revealed. I’d thought maybe he’d got the first students to fake their fear. But he’s really doing it!

      I’m not sure if fear itself is the only thing to fear – maniacal guest speakers reusing a syringe to stab multiple victims seems something any reasonable student would have a right to be fearful of 🙂

      Reply
      • April 8, 2020 at 6:38 am
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        Lol you have a very good point there Andy. I would probably be screaming and running for the hills if I met someone like Gabriel Thornton.

        Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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      Well, Alyssa, this is mad (in a very good way), and Dr Thornton is absolutely bonkers. My favourite bit is the tension as he shows the syringe for the first time (more than when he starts using it, in fact). It’s at that moment that all the possibilities run through the reader’s mind. I would maybe have liked to see him begin a little weaker, so that the transformation into the maniac is even more accentuated (but space for character development is limited, I suppose). The classroom dynamic among the pupils, illustrated by the four kids, is really economically drawn.

      As mentioned, the last line is very clever but is perhaps a bit of a dampener on the carnage that has gone before.

      Great read, though.

      Reply
      • April 8, 2020 at 6:36 am
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        Thanks Phil for reading it. 🙂

        Everyone else seems to agree, that the ending was a bit of let down, so that very helpful. Next prompt I’ll try to make my ending extra special lol

        Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 6:33 am
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      Alyssa,

      Great story that is certain to be amongst the best when voting takes place, in my opinion.

      i note comments made about your opening sentences and the ending. I have a writer friend ( multiple award winning writer…I hate him!!) and he has always talked to me about my endings. He suggests taking away the final sentence to see if it was really needed. In my case, it often wasn’t needed, as it didn’t add anything. It’s a good thing to consider although I have to disagree with the others in this instance in that I felt that the last line was useful, like a final hand clap or the thump as you close a hardback book at the end of reading it. It’s closure, quite literally.

      A really impressive story, right on the prompt.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 10, 2020 at 5:23 pm
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        Thanks Ken F!

        Truth be told, I was very hesitant about my story. Usually, my process when writing books (and I’ve learned this over many mistakes) is always take at least 3-4 days to mull my story over. Cause I will have these crazy, insane ideas that sound good in my head, but on paper (or screen) they sound completely bonkers.
        I once, wrote a two book series about a boy and his dragon in an apocalyptic world. The general idea, although cliche was actually decent. But my imagination butchered it, adding all these crazy ideas that didn’t fit.
        This story was somewhat the same, with the idea of a doctor, who waltz’s into a classroom and injects students with a serum that makes them live their wildest fear.
        Of course, not the tamest idea. I decided to just post this straight from the crazy press, and I’m glad it had gotten pretty good feedback. I was not expecting that lol.

        Wow, with a message this size, I think I’m copying you Ken’s….

        Reply
        • April 15, 2020 at 3:43 am
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          “Wow, with a message this size, I think I’m copying you Ken’s….”

          Lol Alyssa! Mine is still coming. The comment. I see the other two Kens have already given you their bit. I read your story, loved it, and my review will be coming soon to a screen near you. So watch this space!

          Ken (M.)

          Reply
          • April 15, 2020 at 9:06 am
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            I just read your comment, and call me crazy, but I think yours is longer! Best once again lol!

    • April 13, 2020 at 4:49 pm
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      “Brady,” the boy said proudly. “After the football player.”

      Yep, this line wins the story!!! This was madness and I enjoyed it.

      Reply
      • April 13, 2020 at 6:06 pm
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        Haha, I was wondering when someone would pick up on that! Proud to admit that I am indeed a Patriots fan! Glad you enjoyed the story, and the little Easter egg too!

        Reply
          • April 13, 2020 at 7:08 pm
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            I know, I was shocked! The poor pats. Hopefully he’ll be back!

    • April 14, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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      Alyssa,
      I work very hard to not let a spirit of fear take over my emotions. I now have a fear of reading anymore stories in this thread.

      Whose prompt was this? Do we need to take them into a back room and put the fear of something in them? Wow. I have no words.

      Your story succeeded in evoking a great deal of fear. UGH. Masterful work. I think I need to take a break.

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 7:09 pm
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        Haha, I’ve gotten a lot of that. My condolences for scaring you lol. I think Wendy chose this prompt. Should I call Dr Gabriel…?

        Thanks for reading it!

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 6:40 am
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      Hi Alyssa,

      As promised here I am, the third Ken to comment, this prompt round. I’m usually the first. You’ve memorized us by now, right? There’s F., there’s C. and your favorite one, M.! Confusing, I know, but life is never simple.

      So, as I already said somewhere else in reply to one of your comments to somebody else’s comment, I really loved your story. I read the other commentators’ reviews too. They mostly “attacked“ the ending, and Ken C. had a go at your opening shot. Let me start with that. And with a confession. I have an iCloud folder where I copy and paste anything I read here or elsewhere that I like very much. Something I like the sound of. Some words that just seem so good together. Some expression in a fine twist. In short, anything I wish I had written myself. And the aim of this list of excerpts is to steal from it, whenever I need something.

      Ok, that’s off my chest now.

      More: those first two paragraphs of yours that Cartisano castigated found themselves in my stolen treasure throve! So I obviously disagree with his assessment. Cartisano and I, for the record, often agree (he won’t admit it, but we do), but when we disagree we do so in a big way, with diametrically opposite views, no less.

      Those first two paragraphs really put me in the mood for this story, they set the scene of a bored class in a stiffly hot classroom with hardly any consolation coming from a pathetic air conditioner. This makes Dr. Thornton’s success in grabbing the pupils attention even more noteworthy. Dramatic, even.

      Cartisano’s alternative start is great too and conveys a similar feel. But I certainly have no issues with yours. I know his problem. The adjectives. The adverbs. The advice from Hemingway. Mark Twain. Stephen King. But it’s fine by me. And he’s going to say “Ernest. Twain. King… just who’s Miles?” I’m seeing it coming..

      About the ending, in theory I like it. It does wrap up the story nicely, a good life lesson too. I never doubted the visiting scientist’s good intentions, despite his interestingly rough ways of handling the kids to get his final point across. My very notable “Horror Film Theory” credits lecturer at University (I studied film-making) often mentioned that well-known quote of fearing fear itself as a leitmotif of the horror genre, so I’m there with you and Dr. Thornton on this one.

      The problem with it is that it’s simply too famous and has a bit of a worn out feel because of that. I think that is the real problem the other commentators found with your ending. Anyone unfamiliar with that quote would just say wow. So don’t change it, unless you find something really, but really better. But any other ending, better or not, would need a total reworking of the story leading to it. And you just can’t do that to such a good story.

      That was about the beginning and the end. And the middle? A very entertaining read that kept me on the edge of my seat, as I saw one pupil after another fall prey to the fearmonger. Luckily I myself didn’t fall off my seat. The hospitals are busy enough with the coronavirus right now, it’s not a good time to hurt myself.

      It’s most satisfying to see the class bully succumb. In real life, as others have hinted at, only a crazed educator would use such unorthodox and potentially dangerous methods to drive his point home. Or one with very good political contacts. But (1) this is a story not reality, and (2) crazy people do exist in this world and one never knows when they might show up. Showing the kids the syringe was, to me, scarier than actually using it. But then the story required some action too. And I think you conveyed it brilliantly. And in nicely woven language too.

      A couple of things I’d have liked to see:

      – I would have preferred “Dr. Thornton” or simply “Thornton” to “Gabriel“. Referring to the eminent scientist by his first name in the context of a class of pupils somewhat diminishes his authority (and fearsomeness). I don’t know how it is in schools in your area, but at my school we didn’t even use to know of the teachers’/visitors’ given names.

      – We don’t get to know what Brady is really afraid of, do we? I want to get inside his head and know what a bully finds fearsome!

      Those are the only two things that leave me yearning; otherwise it’s a story that I’d love to keep with me for a long time to come.

      Btw, in your comments, you mention writing book after book. Lots of writing projects, apparently. Have you published any? Where else can we read Alyssa Daxson? This talent can’t stay forever in hiding!

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 9:42 am
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        Well, it’s suffice to say that my long comment was best by your longer comment….

        Let’s get this typing party started, and maybe by the end, I’ll have a longer comment. One can only hope tho!

        I’m really glad that you liked my beginning! I still quite like Ken C’s ending tho. Maybe you two Ken’s will clash…? Or three? (Should I start chanting fight right now? It seems like the appropriate time)

        As for Brady. Yesss I relished his demise. And Like you said, you wanted to see Brady’s fear. Well that was actual idea, that Dr Thornton would grab Brady, and tell the whole class his fear, and then inject him.
        Of course, then I would possibly be leaving people wondering how the Dr Thornton knew that. And the explanation would probably be too long.

        Fun fact; Brady’s fear was claustrophobia (now you know his fear!)

        As for writing my books. I have indeed written a good amount. But I haven’t published any yet. I’m writing a three book series, and one separate book. The three book series is almost done, and then I intend to publish them all at once.

        The one separate book I’m writing right now, but I’m only a couple chapters in.

        Thanks for reading it!

        Cheers back to you!
        Alyssa

        Reply
        • April 16, 2020 at 4:45 am
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          Good try, Alyssa, but I think I’m still winning – the rambling-musing-longest-comment-ever game!

          Ok, so Brady’s weak point is claustrophobia. Indeed, having Dr Thornton finding that out and telling us about it would’ve needed a different chiselling to your story-line, with some more innovative technology involved. Like an app on his phone that shows what the syringe found. Bit far-fetched.

          I’m a firm believer in showing rather than telling. So perhaps the injected Brady rolls under tables, panicking in the confined spaces, and yells “get me out, get me out!”

          “C for claustrophobia!” concludes an excited Dr Thornton, still fascinated like a little kid by his own invention…

          Good to hear you intend to take your writings out of your harddisk on to the bookshelves. Do let us know of your big day, ok?

          So you’re looking for a Ken-fight. Appropriate time to start chanting fight, you say? Hmmm, us C., F. and M. don’t usually hold words back, true. Una Poole (Unamoona) gets involved too, sometimes. Quite inexplicably, she’s in the Ken cartel too. Even Liz wants to join. In fact she approximated her name to ours, she’s Kiz now.

          But it’s all friendly hair-pulling. Ken Frape would never let himself into a fist fight. He’s British and a former schoolmaster.

          Cartisano has his rough edges, but he’s well-meaning too. The tongue is sharp, but in a good way. With a legendary sense of humor. Only once we came to blows.

          Like your Dr Thornton, I found Ken Cartisano’s Achilles‘s Heel, the one thing he absolutely can’t stand. That’s cucumbers and robots in the same story. I made that mistake sometime last autumn, October I think it was. I believe you were here with us already, but I’m not sure if you took part in that prompt, “See you, hear you” it was called, something like that, or if you followed the Ken C. vs Ken M. fracas that followed. I still don’t know what his problem is with cucumbers and robots together… Doesn’t one sort of bring up the other to your mind?

          I leave you on that one. Start chanting?

          Ken

          Reply
          • April 16, 2020 at 10:13 am
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            Hey Ken, I actually do remember that cucumber robot one. It was quite unusual.
            Especially because it had cucumbers and robots. As I recall, I liked it.

            Okay, now I’m warming up. Gotta get these pipes working for my chants.

            I’ll be back after I drink some water, got to hydrate

  • April 7, 2020 at 9:16 am
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    Very inventive, Alyssa. I especially enjoyed the small details you included – such as the knock at the locked door with the voice asking if everything was alright. That truly increased the tension in the piece. I thought your writing was incredibly creative and enjoyably creepy. I have to admit, I was a teensy bit disappointed in the end. I expected some kind of horrific onslaught after the wonderful buildup you’d written. Somehow the famous ending quote detracted a bit, for me, from the justifiable horror I’d been feeling thanks to your great writing. All in all, though, I enjoyed your story and thought it was very good.

    Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 11:18 am
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      Thanks Trish for the critiques. I had trouble with the ending, and after I posted this, I realized that, just like you said, the ending is somewhat dull. It’s a shame these things hit me only after I’ve posted my story

      Reply
  • April 7, 2020 at 12:33 pm
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    Hi Adi,

    Such a lovely, touching story. My parents, when they were both alive, were really terrified of not being together, after 70 years of marriage, when one of them died. This is now happening for so many people with this dreadful virus. My Dad died aged 95 holding my mum’s hand. He had vascular dementia for about 8 years.

    There are many different fears and this was such a good prompt. I think the quality of the writing in this group will really draw inspiration from this prompt as you have so clearly demonstrated.

    Your story is clearly a very personal one and my heart goes out to you regarding the way your mother has been treated. I hope you are able to achieve a satisfactory resolution and closure.

    Keep writing,

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape.

    Reply
  • April 7, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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    Alyssa,

    This is excellent writing, and an excellent story.

    If you don’t like the ending, you have plenty of time to request the story be pulled, rework it and re-post it. I didn’t have any real problems with the ending, it wasn’t as good as the story (which is absolutely fabulous), but my main complaint is with the first two lines. Which is critically important for such a great story.

    You wrote:
    The warm, humid summer air rolled through the small, stuffed classroom. The air conditioner set in the side rattled away, desperately trying to pump cool air through.

    Too many adjectives, and for what? You want to describe a hot, stifling, cramped and uncomfortable environment. I get it. I know what you’re trying to convey, but the words you use pile on the each other and then cancel each other out.

    Summer air is usually warm and humid. Rolling air is generally refreshing, and how does warm air roll through a room with air conditioning on? Aren’t the windows closed?

    The summer’s heat was stifling in the small, cramped classroom. An ancient, rusty air conditioner made a heroic but futile effort to cool the room.

    Capeesh? (Capiche?)

    Otherwise, this is an excellent story. A wonderful read. (I hate you.) That’s a compliment coming from me, in case you were wondering.

    Reply
    • April 7, 2020 at 5:14 pm
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      Thanks Ken C (ah ha, I got it right this time). Your sentence about the warm summer air and conditioner sound a lot better then mine lol. Maybe I’ll steal it for another story… (unless it’s copyrighted, in which I’ll commit a crime, and steal it anyways)

      But I get what you are saying. I capiche!

      I guess I’m glad that you hate me lol

      Reply
      • April 9, 2020 at 12:01 am
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        Alyssa,

        Well you certainly should be. I don’t waste hate on just anyone, especially these days. I don’t see any copyright on that comment. Like Phil said, that part when he pulls the syringe out and holds it up in front of the class. That’s classic. This is really a great story, you get a lot of tension, fear and suspense in such a short span of words. It’s great.

        Reply
        • April 15, 2020 at 8:47 am
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          (and for some reason my mega comment didn’t show up here at the bottom as it should have, but decided to tuck itself somewhere above in between the other comments. Just why do computers try so hard to be difficult?)

          Reply
          • April 15, 2020 at 9:45 am
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            Maybe they don’t like you? Or more likely they’re going through a phase. A very stubborn phase…

  • April 7, 2020 at 8:59 pm
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    An intense read, Adi (very sorry about you mother); the emotions are very raw here. I like this detail a lot because it chimes with the kind of things I’ve felt at the moments of grief in my life: “… [she] would never forget standing outside the window or the feel of the bricks under her hands.”

    It will seem churlish of me in the circumstances, but I have to say that the part about the murder seems to be a different story (albeit a good one, to be developed further).

    A difficult read, but it’s good to know that you mother is at peace now and, as you say, she did not die alone.

    Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 2:00 am
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      Echo Phil’s comments re the murder at the beginning of the story. Sorry about your mother. Alzheimers is a terrible disease.It is a living death.
      Well written.

      Reply
  • April 8, 2020 at 8:33 am
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    A Short True Story

    Them
    by Robt. Emmett ©2020
    [550 words]

    I have always been afraid of them. As a little child, I hated to have to go to bed at night. With fear and trepidation, I would enter my dark bedroom, glance at my bed. I knew they were under there. I would strip off my clothes and slip into my blue, footed jammies, with the poop-chute flap in the back. All the while, never taking my eyes off the dark edge under my bed. Screwing up my courage, I would climb up the foot of my bed, rather than entering my nighttime sanctuary the way ordinary people did. They were under there and would grab me by my ankle.

    Over-nighting at my grandparent’s large brownstone home wasn’t any better. They would follow me. There wasn’t a spare bedroom, so I had to sleep on the couch in the dimly lit living room. As I fought sleep, they were there, just outside the bay window, waiting. Their bony fingers were shadows on the wall above where I lay. They waved and waited for me to doze off. I tried hard to stay awake because I knew what would happen if I drifted off. But I did, and they would – poke me – all night long.

    In the mornings, I’d tell Grandma about the shadows and what they did. She’d smile and say they were just the branches of the leafless maple on the boulevard. The streetlight back-lit them, and they couldn’t possibly reach through the glass and touch me. I knew better.

    As I grew older, I realized it wasn’t them poking me. No, instead, it was the result of the spastic action of my fingers. I’d slept with my arms wrapped around myself. That realization should have solved my fear of them; it didn’t. Occasionally, I’d dream. They would nearly get me. Every night, bedtime was a fear-filled experience. What could I do about my fears of them under my bed, though?

    They followed me when I left home and entered college. In my first year, at the beginning of the winter quarter, I made an appointment with the head of the Psychology Department. Surely, he could help me overcome my worries and fears of them. We met, and he agreed to help me. We would meet twice a week. He assured me that by the end of the spring quarter, my fears would be resolved. It would cost me ten dollars a session. Twenty dollars a week, for twenty-five weeks, 500 bucks was totally beyond my budget. The choice was simple, get rid of them or eat for two quarters. Starving to death was not an option.

    At the end of the spring quarter, the head of the Psychology Department stopped me in the hallway. He wanted to know why I hadn’t returned for counseling. I explained that rather than talk to him, I’d spent half of what money I had had, drank beer, and discussed my problem with the bartender. For the price of seven, ten-cent glasses of beer and a thirty-cent tip, he’d given me the solution to my problem with them. I was delighted, and all for just a buck. The head of the Psychology Department demanded an explanation. I said, I went back to my dorm room and cut the legs off my bed.

    – ℜ –

    Reply
    • April 8, 2020 at 3:04 pm
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      Robert E – OMG this is great, not to diss Therapists but many years ago after miserable heartrending breakup and a move across the country I decided to go for some counseling to help me sleep better and stop grinding my teeth, at the 2nd or 3rd visit she told me I could continue to talk with her at great expense or I could go to the dentist (her husband) and find out about wearing a night guard to protect my teeth… I so love my night guard and wear it faithfully every night…many many years, and I sleep wonderfully…. good story…still smiling – Kiz

      Reply
      • April 8, 2020 at 7:23 pm
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        Thank you for you comment. Life’s problems seem to always have more than one solution. Some are very off the wall as shown by ours.

        Reply
        • April 9, 2020 at 11:44 am
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          Ken C, wasn’t your story here too? Back water something? It had the characters Tim and Triss. Is it playing hide and seek again? Nasty little story if it is. They can be so disobedient sometimes.

          Reply
          • April 9, 2020 at 1:56 pm
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            Alyssa,

            I asked to have the story pulled as two people who read it didn’t seem to get it. I could’ve waited for a third opinion, but two is enough for me. It must need another re-write, or a flame-thrower, or spiders and a syringe. I don’t know yet. Maybe an iceberg or two. Not to worry. It’ll be back.

    • April 10, 2020 at 6:48 am
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      Hi Robert,

      Great short story. Whilst you did have lots of additional words allowed, your story is complete and needs no additional wordage.

      You describe those fears common to so many children. Unlike most of them, though, you took your fears with you to college and needed to consider expensive counselling.

      In the end, this nicely written story comes to a neat and simple solution in cutting off the legs. Alternatively, have you considered sharing your bed with someone? In my college days I just couldn’t wait to get to bed and never felt the need to look underneath the bed but perhaps we should keep the lid firmly on regarding my college experiences.That’s another story!

      Well done,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 10, 2020 at 7:53 am
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        Thanks for the kind comments, but as stated, it’s a true story. Tom was the barkeep and owner of a dive called – the 4th Street Tap. It was located in the second worst part of town. The reason the four of us poor college students drank there was the 10¢ Fitger’s tap beer. We didn’t tell other students about the place for two reasons. If too many people started to frequent the place, Tom would raise to price of beer to a quarter. In reality, it was the three permanent fixtures seated at the far end of the bar. We didn’t want them to have to find a new place to hang out at. We’d treat’m to a beer when we’d leave.

        Reply
        • April 10, 2020 at 10:49 am
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          Hi Robert,

          Apologies for not having the sense to take note of your title regarding this being a true story.
          This makes it an even better tale to tell.
          Ken Frape

          Reply
      • April 10, 2020 at 8:18 am
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        Sounds like Alice would censor a story of you college days.

        Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 9:59 am
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      Robert – hilarious. I loved the way your story starts out building fear in the reader, and then boom – you’ve got a punchline at the end. Way to inject some hilarity into this series of pieces. Very funny.

      Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 5:13 am
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      Fun story – and kind of the triumph of a kind of practical common sense. Or perhaps, a practical but irrational response to an irrational fear. But f it works!

      Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 10:38 am
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      Oh my god I laughed at that ending Robert! I hope your fingers have calmed down a bit and the scary build up of what are the boney creatures trying to get you was a great lead in to the slow realization and then “treatment” of your condition.

      Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 4:56 pm
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      I loved the last line because when i read this line “What could I do about my fears of them under my bed, though?” I actually spoke aloud and stated, ” Well he could put the bed on the floor!”
      This story is creepy because it is quite a common fear. I still remember running and jumping onto my bed after turning off the light as a kid. Even now at 39 years of age my bed does not have a frame but sits flush to the floor. Yep, it’s like you were in my brain and i really liked you poking around up there! Good Read!

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 6:45 pm
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      Robert,
      Thanks for breaking the cycle of unrelenting fear! Loved your story and the solution. If only all problems were that easy to solve! This is a great story. Keep them coming!

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 10:12 am
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      Hi Robert,

      I thought the beer itself would solve the problem! It can be a cure for anything, can’t it? The cheaper, less sophisticated the better…

      But ok, that’s a fine solution you and your bartender came up with. And it’s a true story, too, as a bonus.

      When I read “cut”, I said to myself, “oh no, not the fingers!” I was relieved it was just the legs of the bed, phew!

      Just curious, did your fingers happen to quieten down once you believed you solved the issue once and for all? Our minds can play such tricks.

      Calling the whatever they are “them” made them even scarier. A bit like King’s “it”. The worst fears are from unknown, unseen enemies. We know of one such monster right now, the world over… at least they gave it a name not so long ago…

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 12:48 pm
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      Good story, well presented! Kids do face this fear.
      A scary build up leading to an easy peasy solution. Beer wisdom! 🙂

      Reply
  • April 9, 2020 at 4:00 am
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    Couldn’t stop reading.
    Why were they leaving Florida?

    Reply
    • April 9, 2020 at 11:21 am
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      Robert,
      If you don’t know, maybe it needs a re-write. I may ask the Moderators to pull the story and try again. I had a similar reaction from someone else. I thought it was a rather obvious reveal, but, maybe not.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2020 at 10:30 pm
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    Hi Robert. This is a really well developed, scary story that suddenly becomes a joke (with a very funny punchline). I like how you never give ‘them’ a name, and the fact that ‘they’ follow the narrator round. Very neat story.

    (I saw a really scary short film on-line last week, which your story reminded me of a little. I’d put the link here but I think it mucks up the page, so if you’re interested, go to YouTube and search ‘Shadowed – Short Horror’.)

    Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 7:05 am
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      Loved your story Robert. The irony in the ending was delicious. Great write plus being short and snappy. Keep ’em coming.

      Reply
  • April 10, 2020 at 12:22 am
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    Iceberg Salad.
    By Ken Cartisano
    1179 words.

    Jim and Jessie were relieved as they crossed the state line into North Carolina. Theirs was the only car on the four-lane highway.

    A road sign indicated there was a rest stop just up the road, and Jess had to use the facilities.

    It was Jim’s idea to buy a small trailer and load it up with various sundries and non-perishables. ‘Things we may find useful ‘down the road,’ he’d said. But Jess had a more practical position. ‘What if we need to make a quick get-a-way, back up or turn around? We can’t maneuver with a fucking trailer hitched to our car.’

    She’d made a good point, but Jim had prevailed. ‘Certain things are available here, now. Let’s get ‘em while we can.’

    *******

    Neither of them commented as they read the sign that directed ‘cars’ to one side, and ‘trucks and trailers’ to the other side of the parking area. The items they’d purchased and loaded were long gone, along with the trailer. Nearly a dozen roadblocks, barriers, police checkpoints and highway bandits had coerced, pilfered, bargained or stolen most of what they’d brought, until finally, in a desperate deal for freedom at the last roadblock, Jim had offered the trailer as payment for passage through the treacherous backwaters of Northeast Georgia.

    They both possessed weapons, and had argued after each confrontation. Converse to their characters, Jess was unwilling to shoot someone, ‘over a can of peas,’ as she put it, but Jim was getting tired of being pushed around, mentally, physically, and financially. But he’d known a cop many years ago, who had confided to him once, that in his twenty-one years on the force, he’d never had to pull his service revolver more than halfway out of its holster.

    Jim had decided that he would not brandish his weapon unless he fully intended to use it. He’d never even killed a chicken, let alone a deer or a cow, so the idea of shooting a human being was extremely farfetched, despite the frightening circumstances. These were the kind of things he was thinking as they came to a stop in the deserted rest area.

    “I don’t like it,” Jim said. They sat there with the engine idling, looking for some furtive movement or tell-tale sign of miscreants lurking about. Nothing moved. He put the car in park and turned the engine off. They sat there in silence. As the lengthening shadows ushered in the gathering dusk, Jim stated the obvious. “If we wait any longer it’s just gonna get darker.”

    “I know.” Jess said. “I gotta go anyway.” They looked at each other. “Sorry…” she said.

    He bit his lip. “S’ okay, I’ll cover you.”

    She put a hand on his arm. “You think that’s necessary? This ain’t the wild west, ya know.”

    “Isn’t it?”

    He escorted her into the building, then into the restroom to make sure it was clear, then he worked up the courage to scout the men’s room, dropping to his knees to check under the stalls. All clear. He went back outside to wait.

    When Jess re-emerged from the bathroom, Jim was standing outside the glass entrance, watching a group of men, four of them, loitering about their car. They’d materialized out of nowhere, their demeanor clearly menacing.

    In a deadpan voice he said, “Which one of you wants to get shot?”

    The tallest and cleanest one stepped forward and slipped a badge out of his back pocket, holding it up. It gleamed impressively. “Police,” he said, and approached them with disarming confidence.

    “Oh Christ,” Jess muttered. “Just what we need.”

    A car went shushing by on the highway with its headlights on. It was already dark. That’s how fast things change.

    “We noticed you got Florida tags…” the man said.

    “Hold it right there, mister.” Jim said. He pulled his gun from a holster in the small of his back, a double-action nine-millimeter, with a built-in grip safety. It was cocked, loaded and ready to fire.

    The man remained calm. “Easy boy, you don’t wanna be a cop-killer, do ya?”

    “Jim,” Jess hissed at him. “Jim.”

    The three alleged ‘deputies’ had been lounging on their car, Jim and Jess’s car, in a glaringly impolite way. Unprofessional, it seemed to Jim. Jess hadn’t noticed. As the man with the badge cajoled them in a soothing voice, his three associates fanned out around them.

    Jim pushed Jess behind him protectively with his free arm, then held the gun with both hands pointed directly at the man’s chest, which was already uncomfortably close. “I said, back, the fuck, off.”

    The man stopped and extended his arms out to his sides, palms up. “Aww come on. You’re not gonna shoot all four of us, are ya?”

    With fourteen rounds in the clip, it was possible, but only if he acted decisively. If they were cops, Jim decided, they’d have pulled their weapons too. Therefore, they didn’t have any; and they weren’t cops, but there were four of them, he and Jess were surrounded, the glass entrance to the building was no real defensive position. His mind raced. “Jim, please.” Jess pleaded. “Don’t shoot him.” She was ready to surrender. But to whom? And for what?

    “If you’re all really cops, show me your badges,” Jim said, without taking his eyes off their front man.

    The man’s face went slack, he straightened, and clucked, as if caught with an ace up his sleeve. “He wants to see your badges, men.”

    A couple of them laughed, they were bold, their confidence was frightening. The longer Jim delayed, the more difficult his position, and they all knew it, except maybe Jess.

    Jim saw a set of headlights coming down the highway. It was nearly past them by the time he realized it. Without thinking, he raised the gun in the air and fired once. The brake lights went on as the vehicle slowed, then the blue flashers went on. It was a Carolina State Trooper. As he veered off the road and into the rest area, the four men raced off into the woods.

    Jim put the gun on the ground, stepped back about ten feet as the trooper came out of his car with his weapon drawn.

    Once they’d sorted things out, they thanked the trooper for his intervention, but as the trooper began to write up his report, he reminded them of the curfew in place, and in a terse tone said, “I see from your I.D.’s that you’re from Florida. You have some proof of residency in our pretty little state?”

    Jess assured him that they did, and showed him their paperwork. Once satisfied that they had a right to be there, he became a bit more sympathetic. “Never been to the sunshine state myself. We’ve had some coastal flooding ourselves in recent months thanks to that goddamned iceberg, but honestly, is it really that bad?”

    Jess and Jim shared a grim look. “Around our place? It was about ankle deep when we left,” Jess said, “and the water’s gettin’ higher every day.”

    Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 8:15 am
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      The day you describe is coming.

      Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 10:03 am
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      Very intriguing topic – climate change induced dystopia. Well written too. I was on the edge of my seat for most of Jess and Jim’s adventure.

      Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 11:48 am
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      Ken C… Oh great..🥵 now we have another nightmare to anticipate… and here I was thinking it was just another Covid-19 scenario demonstrating how awful us humans can be to each other… and then the last two paragraphs were actually a relief and a little lightness and then the greater implications of ankle deep water slowly crept through the fog in my isolated safe distance brain…. but what about evaporation won’t iceberg water eventually evaporate and we can wait it out… but then evaporated water turns into rain and then the rain….I need to stop thinking or coffee, I need more coffee… Kiz

      Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 5:07 am
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      Tense story, Ken, very well-wrtiten as always.

      And a kind of hierarchy of fears: the (now routine?) social breakdown, robberies, fear of using a gun/taking life, fear of the unknown dreadful things those guys might be going to do – but they are all eclipsed by the fear that’s being realised with global warming. I think this is a clever story with a lot in it.

      Would icebergs cause local flooding, or just generally raise sea levels when the ice melts, btw? I genuinely don’t know. Is there a glacierologist or global warmer in the house?

      Apostrophe watch: I.D.’s ? Well, if Phil is taken to task for a rogue comma … 🙂

      Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 6:01 am
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      A tense little story with many good points. The killer kens are going at it again. 🙂

      Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 10:15 am
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      Ah ha, there it is! The story hath returned!

      Great story, I really enjoyed it (this time and the first time too)

      Up here (northwest) I usually don’t see flooding, and your story made me happy that I don’t

      Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 11:15 am
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      Hi Ken C,

      Another great story. Your writing rarely ( could say never) disappoints me as the reader. I know you took this one down and then reposted it but honestly, it worked for me either way.

      I was carried along by the notion of travelling across a first world country that is becoming increasingly hostile ( in the story that is) as tried and trusted rules and agreements break down. Thus, your characters have lost most of the stuff they had when they left Florida having had it coerced, pilfered, bargained or stolen from them. They are scared and constantly looking over their shoulders for danger. Not much of a road trip if enjoyment was the motivation, which it clearly wasn’t.

      Then we get to the gun. As a non US person, this aspect of life in the US fascinates and scares me and there is no need to rehash the old arguments about gun ownership. However, I was so pleased that Jim used the gun in the way that he did. A really smart move. Using it without shooting anyone. It just could catch on.

      One thing I don’t get is the notion of “having the right to be there.” I assume, if you are an official resident of any US state with papers to prove it, you can travel anywhere across the country? Also the way people in America seem to always notice out of state plates in a way that doesn’t seem to apply in the UK. Perhaps it’s because your states are so big and that the state is on the car plates. It almost feels like people from “out of state” are aliens, somehow different, not to be trusted. Or perhaps I have read too much Jack Reacher stuff…in fact all of them.

      You have served me up a great big slice of American life that seems to foretell a terrible environmental disaster. Who can disagree with this?

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 11:59 am
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        Ken Frape,

        Regarding your thoughtful comments on my story.

        Yes, gun ownership in America is a fact of life. I own several. For recreational purposes.

        ‘The notion of having the right to be there.’

        It is an accepted way of life that travel between states shall not be infringed in any way. Historically speaking, the individual states enjoyed much more autonomy in the past than they do now. There were few federal laws covering criminality across state lines until the early twentieth century due to the advent of the automobile and the ease of obtaining lethal weapons. Outlaws could commit crimes in one state, cross into another and avoid arrest until committing a similar crime in that state.

        The classic story, ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ details the illegal but common practice of stopping American migrants from entering or crossing state lines during the great depression. And very recently, the governor of Florida erected highway checkpoints to identify and coerce travelers from badly infected states to self-quarantine upon arrival at their destination. Short term rentals were prohibited. And still are as far as I know. (Don’t know how you’d visit a state if you weren’t allowed to rent a room.)

        As for license plates, this is an observation that I didn’t really notice until you pointed it out. But it’s quite true that license plates are indeed a bit like a banner. A statement of one’s status and identity. It’s pervasive and pernicious. When in the state of North Carolina, our Florida tags bestow certain undesirable traits upon Kim and I that we don’t really possess. Nor do we condone those traits, but our license plates are something like automotive book covers, for good or bad. But Americans, for all of our flaws and coarse behavior, are essentially decent and open-minded. Like most people I’ve met, in every country I’ve been to, as well as foreigners who I’ve met here in the U.S..

        I’m no historical expert, and I would not discourage you or anyone else from checking (and even correcting) any misinformation I may have inadvertently given here. Generally speaking, I think the information I’ve given, and the basis of my story is accurate and correct.

        And I really appreciate the kind words and detailed observations you’ve made about my story, Ken.

        Ken C.

        Reply
        • April 14, 2020 at 12:17 pm
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          Hi Ken C,

          Thanks for filling me in on some of the background to your story. You see, I was intrigued by it and wanted to know more.

          I have nothing to add regarding the general honesty and decency of most people except to agree.

          I found your information really interesting and useful. The notion of state and out of state plates is particularly stark in that, as you state, people make ( possibly incorrect) assumptions based upon only that piece of information.

          There are, of course, registration numbers on cars in the UK that correspond to different areas but that only says where THE CAR was first registered, nothing about the people.

          We have ANPR too ( auto number plate recognition) which is a computerised system that registers any and every vehicle as they pass the thousands of police cameras dotted across the country. Thus, any journey can be tracked. This has been used to solve crimes and over the recent Easter week end a number of drivers were fined for making non essential journeys in their cars, in contravention of the lockdown measures in place. I believe the police also used drones to spot the “naughties.”

          Interesting times, eh?

          Keep safe,

          Ken Frape

          Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 3:19 am
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      Terrific story, Ken. I was a little confused at first – who are these people and why are their things vanishing? – but then I was grateful for the indefinition because it propelled me/the story forward, searching for the answers. The scene in the rest area, before they get out of the car, is very tense (reminds me a little of the film ‘Zombieland’), as is the stand-off, which is almost half the story but never dull. Then at the end, the answers to the questions we’ve had in our minds as we were reading; the right decision to hold them until the end.

      I suppose I should find something to criticise, but apart from Andy’s ‘I.D.s’, there’s really not much. I’m always conscious of the first words of a story (Andy validly took a swing at mine). A lot of them start ‘Character did/was …’, and here yours does that. “Jim and Jessie were relieved…” Nothing wrong gramatically, but just to tweak it a little, to make it slightly different, it could begin: “As they crossed the state line into North Carolina, Jim and Jessie were feeling relieved; theirs was the only car on the four-lane highway.” (I’m scraping the barrel here.)

      Really enjoyable!

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 7:30 pm
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        Hi Phil,

        Thanks for the advice. You’re being awfully generous, I think. That’s a much better beginning than what I had. It seems kind of amateurish to start a story with the characters first names now that you mention it. I hope I don’t do that too often. (Zounds!)

        I had a lot of trouble with this story’s introduction and the ending. The first six or seven lines. And especially the first line, which, as I know I’ve mentioned often enough, is strategically important. Once it got rolling it wasn’t very difficult to write, (needed a lot of clean-up) but the introduction gave me fits. I think the first line was the last thing I changed just before posting it. It was even worse than it is now, if you can believe it. (Oh do believe it.)

        If I could change it right now, I would, but this story has already been re-written once.

        How about this?

        ‘The absence of cars on the four-lane highway was a trifle unsettling as they crossed the state line into North Carolina.’

        No need to use their names because I introduce the main characters again, get this, in the second and third sentences. (D’oy. What a wizard I be.)

        Oh well, you live and learn. (If you live.)

        Thanks again, Phil. I’ve changed it on my copy.

        Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 10:44 am
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      I kept waiting for the salad, Ken, WHERE WAS THE SALAD? No seriously, I was expecting them to have taken the risk because they had been so long without fresh vegetables that the risk was worth it for a fresh salad. But this ending was just as good (probably better and definitely less humorous) so I forgive you… this time.

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 7:46 pm
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        Wendy,
        The salad’s gone? I can’t believe it. The whole story pivoted on those leafy greens. I must’ve deleted it accidentally, or, in a passive-aggressive swipe at vegetarians. (Cutting my head off to spite the reader.)

        Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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      I also kept waiting for the salad and was so happy it wasn’t that kind of Iceberg because yours was quite a bit more scary. I always enjoy reading your stories. This one is no exception.

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 7:07 pm
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      Ken,

      Another wonderful tale. Darn it. The Kens were serious about vying for 1st-3rd place I see. I made a decision while reading your story.

      I’m rather enjoying working from home and not going out. Your story has convinced me that it is safer to stay in. I’m not near any large bodies of water. I’m sufficient distance away from both the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. Too landlocked for an iceberg to reach me.

      I’m perfectly safe here. Nothing to fear … except tornadoes. There are always tornadoes. Nashville a few weeks ago and East Tennessee this past week.

      Hmmm … maybe I’ll rethink that decision.

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 11:01 am
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      Hi Ken,

      It sounds like something from these days, your story, curfew and all. Maybe not from right now, but a few months down the road when the lockdown will start getting to people’s heads. But then it turns out to be climate change. We’re seriously a planetful of problems, here on third rock in row in this unfortunate solar system…

      I found the story exciting, especially in the way I could myself feel the characters’ nervousness as I read along: the exasperation with being repeatedly messed around with, the fear of what may happen on what seems to be a tense distopian scenario, the fear of having to use violence against fellow human beings, Jess’s concern Jim might lose his mind with a gun in his hand… I felt it all rising inside me as I read on.

      The ending does come a bit easy, I must admit. It was a clever way Jim used to lift himself out of his predicament without hurting anyone or getting deeper in shit. But then it sort of falls flat. I know climate change is no joke. We know that the planet is in deep trouble at the end of your story, but Jim and Jess’s more immediate troubles simply evaporate into thin air.

      I sort of anticipated something bigger, more painful, more perverse, more ironic or more revealing (about the characters, not the planet) might be happening at the end. Not that it’s a bad ending, but I wanted more. The intense nervousness deflated too quickly for me.

      The good news? The Coronavirus seems to be fixing climate change as we speak. Saudi Arabia is not happy, but that’s a minor issue. So it’s not such an unlucky solar system after all. And it’s fine on all the other eight planets. There’s some robotic junk on Mars, but never mind that.

      Are we gonna be top three this time, Ken (and Ken)? Competition is tough…

      Ken

      Reply
  • April 10, 2020 at 1:08 am
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    TEN INCHES

    I had an hour to wait for my connection, so I came out of the station, wandered down Castle Street and found a small pub. It was dim inside, sunny out, and it took me a few seconds to get my bearings. When I did, I found a stool at the bar and settled.

    The barman came over and I ordered a bourbon, straight; I would’ve got a beer, but I know what train toilets can be like sometimes. When the glass was set in front of me and I’d paid and taken my first sip, I had a look round the room.

    It was empty except for me and a man who could have been 40 or 60, two or three stools away at the bar, hunched over what looked like a large whisky.

    I paid him no mind and took another sip of my bourbon. The variety of bottles on the shelves behind the bar provided some interest until the man mumbled something. Because I hadn’t been expecting him to speak I didn’t catch it, but when he repeated it, I did.

    “Ten inches it was. At least. And black.”

    I let out a little involuntary snort.

    “What’s so funny?”

    I looked to my right; the man was staring at me. He was unshaven, and even in the dim light of the pub I could see that his eyes were red, with grey half-circles under them. I realized I had a smirk on my face and wiped it off instantly.

    “I said what’s so funny?!”

    “Nothing,” I invented. “I was just thinking about … the first time I tried Tequila.” And I pointed to a bottle of Tequila on a shelf.

    “Hmm,” the man huffed, and I thought that was the end of it. Seconds later he was sitting next to me. His aspect was no better than at a distance, and he smelt like he hadn’t washed in weeks.

    “I loved her, y’know?”

    I’m the kind of person who’s sure not to make eye contact with crazy people on buses because of the danger of being drawn into a conversation. I downed my bourbon in one and made to leave, but the man grabbed me by the sleeve, so firmly that I lost my balance and was forced to get back on the stool or fall.

    “Really?” I said, my mind racing to figure out an escape plan.

    “And she loved me.”

    “Yeah?”

    “She did. Let me buy you a drink.” He gestured to the barman to top us up.

    “No, actually …” I began to protest.

    “Just the one,” he insisted. And by this time the barman was pouring. I settled back on the stool and glanced at my watch, both to check the time and to show the man that I needed to leave soon.

    “Dover, it was.” The man ignored my watch gambit and launched into his story, his tone one of doomy resignation. “You ever been to Dover?”

    I told him I hadn’t, but he wasn’t really interested in what I had to say, only in getting his story out – that much was clear. He started singing in a cracked voice.

    “There’ll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover.”

    I glanced at the barman, who rolled his eyes but failed to come to my rescue.

    “Y’know that song? We was singin’ it together that day.”

    He took a big slug of his whisky and wiped his mouth with a grubby cuff.

    “There’s this path, see, runs along the top of the cliffs. Lovely, it is. You’ve got a green slope runnin’ away on one side, then the cliffs themselves droppin’ down, and the sea in the distance.”

    I took a large sip of my bourbon and looked again at my watch. I’d need to be leaving in ten minutes or so to get back to the station.

    “Course, it was dead choppy that day. Windy, see? And that’s why there weren’t nobody around.”

    I started to feel misgivings tickling my stomach. I turned and had a good look at the man’s face. He was staring at me but not seeing me; there was a vacancy in his eyes, like he was watching the scene he was describing and not registering the here-and-now.

    “So I says to her – Lucy her name was – I says: ‘Go and stand over there and I’ll take a picture.’ And she giggles and goes and stands near the edge. She was lookin’ so pretty. Here …”

    He pulled from his jacket pocket a dog-eared photo and smoothed it on his knee before placing it in front of me. Lucy was young and indeed very pretty, her long dark hair billowing to one side in the wind. And she was standing close to the edge of the cliff. Much too close.

    The man took the photo back and gazed at it lovingly for a few second before returning it to his pocket.

    “That was jus’ moments before it happened,” he rasped. I could see now that his eyes were glistening. He picked up his drink, the ice rattling in the glass.

    “They should have railings up there or summat.” His voice was shaking.

    “What happened?” I ventured, knowing full well the answer. I was suddenly engrossed in his story, dreading the inevitable.

    “A bit of the cliff crumbled – must’ve been the rain they’d had that week. And down she went.”

    I felt my mouth gaping open.

    “To the rocks?” I could have kicked myself as soon as I’d said it. Talk about insensitive! But he didn’t seem to notice.

    “Nah.”

    I gasped with relief. He carried on.

    “I ran and looked over the edge, and there she was, a few feet down the side, hangin’ on to a bit of rock with both hands. She was screamin’ like crazy. I started to climb down, careful like, so as not to kick bits of rock on top of her. But that’s when I saw it.”

    He took another slug of his whisky, finishing it. He ordered another two drinks with a gesture; I was past protesting.

    The pause lengthened and I felt knots in my stomach now. Impatience got the better of me.

    “It?”

    He turned to me and this time took in my face, his eyes searching for what I realized later was understanding.

    “A rat. Black. Must’ve been ten inches long. Or more. Right next to my Lucy’s hands. Had its nest nearby probably. I tried to shoo it away with my foot but it weren’t goin’ nowhere.”

    The man turned to face me full on now and grabbed my jacket with both hands.

    “I’m bloody terrified of rats, see? Always have been, ever since I was a kid. I … couldn’t. I jus’ couldn’t …”

    The truth hit me and some bile rose to my throat. I remembered my train and broke free of his grip. He lowered his head to rest it on the bar, and as I staggered out of the pub, I could hear his sobbing. I can still hear it, 20 years later.

    “Oh, Lucy. I’m so sorry. My sweet Lucy.”

    Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 8:13 am
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      Love your dialog, Phil.

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 3:57 am
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        Thanks, Robert!

        Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 3:50 pm
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      Hey Phil,

      I’m doing the ‘Phil made a mistake dance.’ La-la-la-da-da-da-dee- Ouch! I think I strained something. Damn you, Phil. I haven’t done that dance in so long, my dance muscles have atrophied.

      Very fine, beautifully written story Phil. You really know how to set the scene. This is one of those stories where there’s no reason to sympathize with the narrator, nor the old drunk. But that doesn’t detract from the story.

      I (this is real boring and I should probably delete it, but…) I have worked so many hours on the night shift in so many goddamned donut shops in my life, that I’ve seen more bums, drunks, nuts and weirdos, than most people would in ten or twenty lifetimes. Guys who would come in with paper stuffed in their sweaters to fend off the cold, because they were sleeping on park benches, smelling horrible, barely comprehensible. Hadn’t showered or bathed in God knows how long. I rarely threw them out. As long as they didn’t cause any trouble I’d let them be. (there were very few customers to bother at 3 in the morning.) One place was near a greyhound bus depot, it was like a landing zone for derelicts. Sometimes we’d give them free refills but they had to pay for at least the first cup, otherwise, word would get around that we were an easy mark. (Which, truth be told, we were, thanks to me.) What I didn’t do, is listen to their stories. I never had the time, (I had to make the donuts for the morning rush hour traffic.) and the few occasions when I did, they rarely made as much sense as your character did.

      One guy used to drive a cab. “Oh,” people would say, “a yellow cab?”
      “No,” he would say, “Pineapple. It was a pineapple cab.”

      Usually, when characters sink that low in life, they don’t have enough money to sit in a bar, so they buy booze by the pint and drink it in a nearby park, and even if they did have the coin, they wouldn’t be tolerated in any kind of bar.

      Stiil, all things being equal, your description of both characters behavior is very realistic, right on the mark. The way the character initiates the conversation, (gruffly) moves closer, physically grabs the narrator by the arm. In fact, the story is so well told, it sounds very plausible, like something that really happened, and I don’t doubt that you may have incorporated a real life event that adds credibility to the narrative. If not, then you’re an even more accomplished story-teller than I give you credit for. (Sorry to bore you with all that.) That’s my reward for your mistake. Which is…

      he gazed at it lovingly for a few second before returning it to his pocket.

      Reply
      • April 10, 2020 at 7:06 pm
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        Ken, and Phil – I think there’s another mistake OMG. There shouldn’t be a comma in “There’ll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover.”

        A singer might take a breath between lines in a song, but grammatically the comma is incorrect, I’m afraid. We need to maintain standards here, you know …

        Reply
        • April 11, 2020 at 1:05 am
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          Andy, You think I should cut Phil some slack? I could do that. He’s only made four mistakes in five and a half years. I suppose I could overlook his rare mistakes.
          .

          Reply
          • April 11, 2020 at 4:49 am
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            I guess they are more noteworthy in that case … 🙂

            On the other hand, maybe they are ‘Persian flaws’, errors deliberately woven into the fabric to show the artist is but human.

            Actually, aside from pulling Phil’s leg, between everyone in these contests there are not usually that many mistakes, are there? Is everyone using Grammarly and paying for professional editing?

        • April 12, 2020 at 4:14 am
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          @Andy

          ” ‘I think there’s another mistake OMG. There shouldn’t be a comma in “There’ll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover.’ ”

          Ah, now that’s where I beg to differ.

          “A singer might take a breath between lines in a song…”

          Exactly! If the man is singing the song, he NEEDS to take a breath there.

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 9:28 am
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            If you wish to argue the case for respiratory uses of commas as opposed to the correct grammatical uses of them, that’s another matter 🙂

            On the whole, I don’t feel we need commas in order to breathe …

            BTW, I’m willing to bet there’s not a comma in the sheet music either.

          • April 12, 2020 at 7:54 pm
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            Phil and Andy,

            Don’t listen to him Phil, he’s desperate. The comma marks the stanza, everybody knows that, especially Andy. And, it’s dialogue, and therefore, the rules of grammar are flexible.

            I think you’re picking nits, Andy. Phil might make a mistake in a story once a year, I’ll believe that, but he certainly isn’t going to make TWO mistakes in one story. That’s just preposterous, man.

            (pst. I have some commas I’ll sell you. Cheap.)

          • April 12, 2020 at 8:10 pm
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            Thanks for defending my honour, Ken. In return, I’ll take half a dozen of those commas off your hands … let’s say ten bob? (As long as they’re in good working order mind!)

            [Meanwhile, Andy, the official name of the song actually goes one step further than the comma and sticks two bloody great brackets in there: ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’ ]

          • April 13, 2020 at 1:33 pm
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            I once had an editor who was excessively fond of commas (- if I’ve mentioned this before, my apologies). It was for a German publication for papers on technology and transport as part of a Danish government project, and they hired an American editor on the assumption Americans speak English. Thing is, I’ve found, they have their own way of doing it.

            Anyway, this one was devoted to commas. I think he bought a job lot from Ken C, enabling Ken to restock on apostrophes. He (the editor, that is) covered my crisp and economical prose head to toe with commas. He even amalgamated short and pithy sentences into longer ones so he could use more commas. Maybe he thought it appeared more academic that way.

            If he was a devotee of Phil’s respiratory commas, I suspect he must have been asthmatic, or had to run up several flights of stairs to get to his office leaving him very short of breath. Could be that.

            Anyway, I pushed back on the comma overload until rebuked by the coordinator of the project who said ‘He’s doing this to everyone, we have to have consistency. The commas of the many outweigh the Plain English of the one.’ So it goes sometimes.

            As a reaction to this, in my own editing I treat commas as I do double entendres. (Every time I see a double entendre, I whip it out …)

            However, I feel I have to retreat against the doughty combined forces of Phil and Ken.
            So I’ve spent the afternoon on the phone to Faber (the publishers), as I spotted that in all the Faber books of verse they end most lines of poetry *without a comma*. Can you believe that? Left me wondering if all these poets know how to breathe. Could be why there are so few poets left. Most of them expire when they read their stuff out loud, I guess….

      • April 12, 2020 at 12:29 am
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        Una,
        What’s all this talk about donuts? I thought you were an innocent nun sent to do penance in a church run by an evil Bishop? Did you make all that shit up? It’s okay if you did, (because this is a fiction site) but, you know, I think now would be a good time to come clean about your true history, and background. If you don’t mind. (I don’t want to seem pushy, if you don’t want to reveal any of your past, that’s okay.) But, I’m really, really intrigued.
        Ken C.

        Reply
        • April 12, 2020 at 2:01 am
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          My dearest Ken,

          the one with the C after his name.

          If you wish to avoid appearing pushy, you should probably stop pushing. This is not to say that I don’t find your curiosity, and consternation flattering. What saint wouldn’t? However, I’ve found that people often assign attributes to me based entirely on my profile picture, this is like assuming that some of your best contributors are obviously amoebas.

          Surely you realize how silly this is.

          If it would satisfy your curiosity, after my ‘exorcism’ I worked in numerous doughnut shoppes, mostly as a server, but I did a few gigs as baker. Do you remember me?

          Una

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 4:03 am
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            Okay, first off, I never knew anyone named Una. I would remember a name like that. So you’re either lying about knowing me or that’s a fake name. I remember the faces of most of the women I’ve met, but I don’t remember all their names. Perhaps you could help me out by giving me your real name, or some kind of hint.

      • April 12, 2020 at 4:06 am
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        Una – don’t you remember I told you (or Ken C – I can’t remember) that I’d be sprinkling mistakes here and there in my stories to make your day occasionally? Glad it got you dancing. The least I could do.

        I like your description of the donut shop. You make a valid point that the man in my story wouldn’t normally be allowed in the bar … but I figured he’s not homeless, nor penniless, merely alcoholic and beyond caring about his physical condition. And the barman, not having much trade, might let him stay there if he doesn’t cause too much trouble.

        I think I echoed something you wrote recently, actually (with a little bit of Ken F thrown in) – narrator meets man in bar. But then it’s not exactly a unique situation anyway, is it?

        Reply
        • April 12, 2020 at 4:09 am
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          These comments are appearing all over the shop when you post them. I’m going to get some mates round and start a sweepstake, betting on where the comments land.

          (Let’s see if THIS one lands under the other one I’ve just posted …)

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 4:09 am
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            Phew!

    • April 10, 2020 at 7:00 pm
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      Which is greater, love or fear? We have an answer in this case.
      And nice irony, perhaps, in the way his fear turns the man into a kind of rat

      I like the use of the framework narrative, a story within a story, so we get regular references to the narrator’s reaction to the drunk’s reported story, to guide our own. And very good, natural dialogue too.

      On the critique side – I think the opening paragraph is a bit prosaic, so the story kind of drifts in setting a background that could have been dropped in more economically as the story progresses.

      Actually, the title of ‘ten inches’ and the reference to a bar put me in mind of the old joke about a guy who goes into a bar and produces a ten-inch tall pianist to play a tiny piano, brilliantly, to everyone’s amazement – the result of a misheard wish granted by a fairy whom the guy had rescued.

      Reply
      • April 11, 2020 at 9:53 am
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        Hi Andy,

        I remember the story of the piano player who was ten inches tall ( although it was 12 inches when I heard it. ) I very nearly posted it here but you beat me to it and did so in a very circumspect manner.

        I am trying to go through every story carefully this time round and make some sensible comments. I cannot use the excuse that I am too busy.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape.

        Reply
        • April 12, 2020 at 4:22 am
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          @KenF

          “I remember the story of the piano player who was ten inches tall ( although it was 12 inches when I heard it. )”

          That’s inflation for you.

          Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 1:14 am
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        Andy,

        ‘Oh no you dinnint.’

        By the by, Persian flaw. This phrase was unknown to me until today, intriguing concept, and just more proof that Persian carpet makers were slightly full of themselves. I used to do a similar thing when hand-lettering signs, although the mistakes were always accidental, (like a small drip, or a smudge in a letter). I would often leave one small, barely noticeable mistake, that was a kind of insignificant signature that helped me remember the sign I had lettered.

        But I AM NOT PERSIAN. I refute that scurrilous charge. (In case you were thinking of making it.)

        How do you explain this, Andy? Is this some kind of Easter miracle? (notice the small ‘m’ in miracle?)

        No, I–I thought not.

        Thanks for pointing out that crazed apostrophe you discovered in my story. I’ve been looking all over for that fucking thing. I have a little apostrophe ‘repository’ as it were. ((Okay it’s a jail, all right? It’s a fucking, no actually it’s a holding cell, that’s it. An apostrophetic holding cell.

        And I had that apostrophe manacled, and locked (okay it’s more like a dungeon. Okay? I’ll be honest with you.) It was locked and manacled, I went out to have lunch, came back, and it was gone. Like a Houdini apostrophe on steroids. (If you can imagine such a thing. And why not. Why couldn’t you? You appear to know what Persians are thinking when they write Phil’s stories. ((If I understood you correctly, and I have no reason to suspect that I didn’t.)) Okay maybe a couple of reasons, But no more than that.) So we’ll just assume that you’re still with me on this.

        Hopefully I’ll remember that plural acronym rule in the future, or resort to my other tactic, and never use an acronym again.

        Anyway, long story short, you found it. I’m grateful, profoundly grateful. I couldn’t be more full of grates, than I feel like I am at this moment.

        I hope it passes soon, one way or the other. Send it over when you get a spare moment. (The apostrophe, I mean.) And again, thanks for introducing me to Persians, and the ancient practice of covering a mistake with a lie about God’s greatness. That’s the kind of thing that can really come in handy in a crisis of this magnitude.

        Ken C.

        Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 4:21 am
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        Thanks, Andy! Yes, a good point re the opening. I actually like it – it provides the context quite economically, I think, and I remember reading stories by famous writers who do something similar – but I can see that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

        That’s a good joke (the old ones are the best! 😉 ) … and in fact it’s somewhat related to the reason the narrator snorts …

        Reply
        • April 12, 2020 at 4:24 am
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          @Andy

          Bloomin’ comment misplacement!

          Reply
          • April 12, 2020 at 4:35 am
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            Or ‘displacement’ even …

          • April 12, 2020 at 12:02 pm
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            I found the comment! (Hope this one ends up in the right place …)

            You like the opening, and I don’t dislike it at all, Phil. You’re in great company with the likes of Dostoevsky who use this kind of structure a lot in short stories. Nonetheless such short stories are considerably longer than we can post here.

            The set-up scene is very atmospheric, makes it easy to visualise.

            On the other hand, there are 4 paragraphs of set-up, maybe 15% (?) of your word count before getting into the bones of the story, which is the encounter between the narrator and the traumatised drunk. So I was just suggesting (suggesting only, to be sure) that the first of those 4 paragraphs could be trimmed.
            Overall, I think it’s a great and well-written story.
            Even with the controversial respiratory comma!

        • April 12, 2020 at 8:22 pm
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          Yo Phil,

          After reading all the comments between you, Una and Andy, I’ve concluded that their collective complaints are…. in a word, bullshit.
          Una is processing the story according to her own experiences (with bums in donut shops). She makes assumptions about the character and the bar, but especially the character, that she simply has no way of knowing. And, they’re irrelevant to the flow and point of the story.

          Andy on the other hand. Well, I had to look up the word ‘prosaic’ to see what it meant. And I was shocked. I won’t even…I’ll spare you the synonyms. Most uncalled for. I felt like the 15% (talk about getting technical) of the story that you ‘wasted’ on atmosphere was well invested. (I could almost smell the stale pipe-smoke.)

          I would offer to pistol whip him (Andy) for you, but it’s very hard to travel these days. I also offer a service where I just shoot people with rubber pellets. It’s called ‘riot shot.’ It hurts like hell but causes no permanent damage unless you hit someone in the eye.

          Having said all of that. It finally dawned on me that you both knew the definition of ‘prosaic’ without looking it up, you’re both English, he’s pulling your leg, you know it, and your ‘prosaic’ fucking English humor is a complete anomaly to poor, stupid, violent Americans like me.

          That’s okay, we’re going to kick this fucking virus’s ass, and we’re going to do it with a moron for a President. (Mark my words, gentlemen.) That’s why you like us. We do the impossible.

          Reply
          • April 13, 2020 at 2:13 am
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            I just hope I’m still around when that happens.

          • April 14, 2020 at 12:02 pm
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            This comment sounds kind of crazy, even for me!!! Let’s just chalk it up to cabin fever and leave it at that.

    • April 11, 2020 at 5:59 am
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      I am torn between Phil and Ken’s C’s dialogue. Great writing both of you. You have given me a conundrum yet again. I’ll have to get out the scales or use a rubric and if you both end up in a tie? Horrifying thought.

      Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 10:53 am
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      Once again you are spot on with your dialog – I could hear that old drunk’s voice in my head. I kept wondering about what the 10″ black thing was and it turned out to be a rat and the pinion in this gut-wrenching tale of being unable to reach past your fear, and I know I was going somewhere with that sentence but lost it, sorry. Great job again.

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 3:44 pm
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      Well, the old man is a wimp and Lucy is better off dead. There I said it. I would rather fall from a cliff than have my love terrified of a tiny 10 inch black rat. He deserves to be stinky and drunk shame on him.
      With that out of the way, what a great tale with wonderful imagery and dialogue.
      Thank you for pointing out a fear I didn’t even know I had. My husband being too much of a ninny to protect me. Ha!

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 5:06 am
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      Master story teller strikes again. Great story, Phil! It’s all perfect..

      I read your story with the White Cliffs playing in the background. Definitely recommend that.

      Looks like everyone’s hunting for the faulty needle in the verbal haystack
      For pure nit picking sake, I found this.. “Course, it was dead…. apostrophe kinda missing before C!! Ya?

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 10:35 am
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      Phil,
      Another great story – darn it! Give some of us a break. I’m beginning to feel inferior in my writing. LOL. Really, I was taken in by the story and I was ready for the great fall or push or Lucy slipping from his desperate grasp. The appearance of the rat and the man’s fear took me by surprise. What a clever twist. (Do rats climb cliffs? High cliffs? I’ll have to look that one up.)

      My children and grandchildren like to “help” me get over my fears by bringing new pets into the house – rat, bearded dragon, snakes, etc. I implement the “out of sight, out of mind” principle and make them keep the critters in their rooms, out of my sight.

      This works very well – until one of the critters inevitably escapes from their habitat and roams through the house. At that point, all bets are off. There will one of two endings – they either find the eloping varmint and replace it in its habitat or I kill it (or have it killed). I had a very traumatic experience years ago when my older son’s 4 1/2 foot red rat snake escaped and I was home alone.

      Loved the story, dialogue and the twist at the end. Adi

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 9:35 am
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      This one is for the dialogue! Crisp and the kind of muddled up wording one expects from a half-drunk slob reminiscing the times when his life first ended.

      Great story too, Phil. I knew where it was going once Dover came up. Say Dover and it’s either the cliffs or the Chunnel. But there was still the ten-inch black mystery to solve, and the story keeps going at a good pace till the very end. Never a wasted word, or an unnecessary pause.

      There is pathos too. Alongside the narrator I was steadily drawn into the man’s sad tale. From the initial sense of disgust towards him, I found myself in great remorse for him by the time he finished his tale.

      Stay off the cliffs guys! Too many have been dying taking selfies these past years. Don’t say Phil didn’t warn you.

      Ken

      PS Nice new profile pic. Taken at a safe place, I hope. More positive looking than the drab old one.

      Reply
  • April 10, 2020 at 10:07 am
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    Phil – there was a nice build up to the ending and I eagerly followed along to see where the story was going. Nicely done.

    Reply
    • April 10, 2020 at 12:17 pm
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      Phil- yes this story could have ended with a horrific push…but took us to the horrible possibilities of irrational fear and the inability to push beyond them…great dialog

      Reply
      • April 12, 2020 at 4:26 am
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        And thanks, Liz!

        Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 4:25 am
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      Thanks, Trish!

      Reply
  • April 11, 2020 at 11:31 am
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    Hi Phil,

    Quite simply, a super story. As others have mentioned, it is ( virtually) flawless and it rattles along as any good story should.

    The plausibility of the situation works for me although, unlike Unamoona, it is outside my personal experience but it all hangs together so nicely.

    Your dialogue has been praised and rightly too. it is, in my opinion, a real skill as dialogue and direct speech ( i.e. the stuff we put in inverted commas or speech marks) are not one and the same thing in a good story. We overlap and interrupt and leave gaps when we speak whilst when we write it down it can get cleaned up and too exact. But not when you do it. One thing I have tried to do is to record two people having a conversation and then to try and transcribe that into “real” dialogue. Really hard to do, very time consuming.

    Great stuff Phil,

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 4:31 am
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      Thanks very much, KenF, for all your positivity and encouragement on here!

      About the dialogue … I’ve found that imagining the personality/nationality/class, etc. of your character and simply reading the dialogue aloud to yourself usually whittles it down to something approaching natural-sounding.

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 9:37 am
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        (my comment to your story nestled up somewhere further up, Phil. Don’t know why it didn’t come down here)

        Reply
  • April 11, 2020 at 5:52 pm
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    Roy – But did Jen sterilize the thermometer after she used it? That was where my mind went but now I see it doesn’t matter… well I wish you the best… Kiz

    Reply
    • April 11, 2020 at 9:13 pm
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      Always something to trip you up, but at 1198 words, I didn’t have any left to assure the reader the thermometer was safe, but as you saw, it doesn’t really matter. Good catch, though! Thanks, Liz – I think. Or should that be, Thanks, Kiz?

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 11, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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        yes it’s Kiz for now… I’m working on something which may become clearer next prompt (it’s a secret).

        Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 2:40 am
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    Facing Fears
    Ilana Leeds
    (1200 words including title)

    Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm”. It goes deeper though, than the threat of the above three elements. We will face them daily in living a life in this world. Pain does not faze many of us as it goes hand in hand with harm. We may try to minimize it, but again it is part of living life to its fullest. Facing danger is a fact of life.

    It is the hidden dangers that cause an unpleasant prickling sensation, dry the lips, catch the breath in one’s throat, make one break out in a sweat and set the heart racing. The things one cannot see; that lie hidden within the subconscious from childhood and that bring a reaction which can only be defined as fear – the fight or flight response.

    Fear for me has been “abandonment” and “rejection” by the one who is supposed to love you above all else. Fear is never being good enough or loveable enough. Fear of never being worthy enough to earn the affection or love of those around you from the earliest point in your life. The fear is standing on the edge of that metaphorical precipice day after day, tethering and alone. Your arms flail helplessly wind milling as you try to keep your balance. You see the abyss blackness rushing up at you, winding darkly dangerous tentacles reaching for you and you rear back afraid. You find your feet stuck to the ground and you tremble, the sweat trickling down your back and belly. And you cannot control your response or know why it is you feel that way and others in your family do not.

    You don’t understand. You want to reach out and steady this revolving world. It moves too fast. You are giddy with it. This fear clutches at your heart.

    “Mum”, you say, plaintively, even pathetically. “Mum, what’s wrong?”

    She grabs your thick hair and pulls at it, tearing the brush through it. You cry in pain and she slams the brush against the side of your head.

    “Stop your whimpering. Stupid child. If you knew what I had to endure.” She rips the brush through the hair again. The knots and tangles are roughly dragged smooth. “You are so lucky. You little bitch. You have a family.” She divides the hair into two sections and then comes the part I have been dreading. She pulls one section up on top of my head and plaits it tightly, so hard I get headaches but I dare not loosen it. My gran does though.

    My late brother used to make jokes about how she plaited my hair. He would pantomime our mother pulling my hair so tight that she had to put her foot on the side of my head and tug; plus the whacking with the hairbrush if I moved or complained. She never did put her foot on my head, but it sure felt like it.

    While years later I could laugh about it, it was not funny when I was five or six years of age. At around eight years of age, my gran taught me how to plait my hair and thus the daily torture ended. Gran got me to practice on her hair and we practiced until my plaits were good enough to pass muster. I think Mum was glad that I was doing my own hair. Then she had no reason to touch me. I often felt she loathed touching me. I cannot remember one hug of affection from her during my childhood.

    The only hugs I remember were from Dad and my gran, two of my uncles Dick and John, my father’s older brothers and my father’s first cousin and aunt in Sydney – my great Aunt Kath and Aunty Brenda.

    I had often wondered how someone could hate their own child so. Especially as she had been fostered out as an illegitimate child in Austria in 1921, but that is another story.

    When we had been particularly trying the refrain was always the same.

    “You bastard of a child. I’m going back to Austria. You and Christopher can stay here. You’re Australian brats. Steve’s like me. He’s Austrian. I’m leaving because of you.” She would use this argument to ensure my father gave me a hiding for my wrongdoings and things I had done to annoy her.

    Stephen was my youngest brother. He was number three in the family and he could do no wrong. She often said he was the mistake she was glad she made.

    “Your father and I decided we’d have four children before we’d had you two.” She was fond of telling me. Then she would pause, to give full impact to her next words. “You two were such brats; … such a problem we agreed to stop at two. We had a boy and a girl. I couldn’t stand the thought of two more of the same, like you two.” She would pause again. “I was devastated to find out I was pregnant again. Stephen was born. He’s been perfect in every way.” And it was true. Stephen could do no wrong in her eyes anyway.

    I however took my beatings in good stead, secure in the knowledge if my father beat me soundly to her satisfaction, our family was in no danger of being divided. That was one of my greatest fears of my childhood and early teens. If she left the family home, it was going to be all my fault.

    “If you don’t punish her as she deserves, I’m going back to Austria.” My mother stood there hands on her hips. A frown crossed her lovely face. I hid behind the door trembling yet again. My father looked resigned.

    “What did she do this time?”

    “She ran off with the boys into the bush. I’d asked her to bring in the washing and iron the handkerchiefs and pillow cases.”

    Or

    “She didn’t listen. I switched their legs the pair of them. Told them not to chase the chooks. She encouraged him to do it. So he did. She’s the ringleader. She’s got to be taught a lesson.”

    So my father would strap me either with a girth strap from the saddle shed or the rod he used to clean the rifles with it. I forgave my father many times. I knew she had forced him to do this. If he did not, I had no doubt that she would make good her promise to leave and take Stephen with her. Then my father would be left with two children to look after, his mother, our gran and the weight of three properties to manage with his older brother Dick.

    My fear of ‘impending abandonment” marred the first thirty-five years of my life at least. It was only when I discovered that I was a useful person in my own right and not a nuisance or a total bothersome person who did not even deserve to breathe the same oxygen as other people, that my path to healing my emotional-self began and finally valued myself and saw my life path as worthwhile.

    Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 8:54 pm
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      I hope that woman burns in hell. And all women like her. ———————————– did I say that out loud?

      Ilana,
      If this is truth, and I have no reason to think that it is, then what you’ve described is a horrible, evil, unbalanced sociopath. That’s what you call a person who would use human beings as ransom. Somebody should have told that poor child the truth when she was so much younger. It’s a shame no one put a rusty shovel to the side of that woman’s ‘lovely’ face when the child was a lot younger.

      Reply
      • April 13, 2020 at 5:20 am
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        Bit harsh Ken. She had real issues and sometimes you have to forgive and move on. After all she is your mother and however flawed parents may be, that is part of life and I made a conscious decision to move on from it. She could not help her resentment seeing that she was fostered at birth. Another story.
        I wanted her to acknowledge me as a person and that I was her child and I loved her no matter what.
        It was my father who I felt most sorry for. He had to continually cater to her whims and hurt two of his children to please her and keep the peace.
        After Gran died there was little he could do. I was not allowed home at 17 and a half and was sent to a hostel in Brisbane after I left boarding school. I was sent to boarding school at 11 and a half. Six years.
        I have moved on thank goodness and gotten over my feelings of panic and rejection. We all move on…

        Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 9:18 pm
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      Ilana -There is truth there from somewhere.. I know that truth… the mention of the Mother being fostered out as an illegitimate really demonstrates why…she knew no other way… children learn parenting skills by demonstration and their own experience… the best hope in a fractured childhood is they remember and learn how not to parent and know their children will never feel this pain… the Mother did not know any other way… and Ken C why all that anger at the woman and no mention of the father’s culpability, he allowed and enhanced… Shame Ken C.. Shame… and good writing Ilana… Kiz

      Reply
      • April 13, 2020 at 5:26 am
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        My father had very little choice. One of the few times he wept tears of frustration and angst was when he had to beat me to keep the peace. He was between a rock and a hard place. He was a very decent person overall and there is a lot more to the story.
        He was very sensitive and decent person. She was pretty twisted because I believe she was abused both emotionally and sexually in a foster home as a young child which led her to be quite callous and abuse be herself.
        My gran was a wonderfully decent human being and she helped me through my Childhood.

        Reply
        • April 13, 2020 at 5:27 am
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          Sorry auto correct on the phone. Callous and abusive I meant to say.

          Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 11:20 am
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        Liz and Ilana,

        I should be ashamed for expressing righteous indignation? Okay. (I wish that were the worst thing I’d ever done.) I agree with your contention concerning the father’s blatant culpability. But don’t see how that would be helpful or instructive at this late date. But an objective jeer at ‘mummy dearest’ was absolutely in order.

        It seems to me that the ‘child’ in this story inherited the same enabling tendencies of her father. Which, objectively speaking, is the single best ingredient necessary for horrendous behavior. To paraphrase a famous sentiment. ‘Evil thrives when good men do nothing.’ Ilana’s story epitomizes this axiom, whether she knows it or not.

        My father left the country when I was eleven and didn’t return for over fifty years. Why? Because his second wife didn’t want him to, he only came back when she was mentally incompetent. I hardly know him, and despite my affection for him we’re practically estranged. Do I blame her? Yes. Do I forgive him? Not entirely. Do I make an issue out of it. Hardly. But it’s there just the same. That’s just human nature. Imperfect. I don’t feel ashamed about that. Nor do I approve of intentional shaming. (How can we make this guilt as painful as possible.) Ha ha. I appreciate your comments as they gave me a chance to expand on my original comments.

        To Ilana directly. Perhaps you should have your son read this story to you, out loud. YOU, were a blameless victim of pathological parenting. I have no hidden agenda, or reason to mislead you on this subject and am merely calling it the way I see it. Your denial is a very common and natural reaction, and your emotions are more important than my detached opinion. Your parents were people, people make mistakes. That’s life.

        Reply
        • April 14, 2020 at 11:50 am
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          Yes Ken C, The shame comments were intended to be funny (it came from some comedy bit I saw somewhere sometime) to soften the blow of my visceral reaction to the mother only being the villain… of course the father was culpable too… he was not an innocent victim.. he aided and abetted the mother.. there is no excuse and he could have stopped the abuse… I apologize for abusing you with the “shaming”… Kiz

          Reply
          • April 14, 2020 at 11:25 pm
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            Kiz,

            Don’t sweat it, Kiz, This is what Ilana does, she gets everybody fighting with each other then she eats all the cupcakes in the room. Then when somebody notices she says, “Fuff – fapes? Wha fuff- fapes? Fi fiddent feat fo fuff-fapes! She does this all the time. You gotta watch her.

            She does this with a straight face, mind you. So I’d appreciate it if you’d read this with a straight face.

            Thank you.

          • April 15, 2020 at 12:13 pm
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            kenc – Damn..I failed the straight face…please warn in advance henceforth – kiz

          • April 15, 2020 at 2:41 am
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            Oh Ken C you never fail to get me laughing so much my finger was shaking as I tried to like your comment but could not because I kept breaking out into manic bursts of laughter. 😂🤪🤣😂🤪🤣! I’d hate to see us have a zoom session one day, but in fact truth to tell that could be a great thing. If we got annoyed with each other we could water pistol the screen with coloured water. We could toast each other with beverages, eat coffee and drink toast and Monte Carlo biscuits all around the world in multiple time zones. Some of us would be bleary eyed after work and exhausted, others would be in their pyjamas and even others could be zooming in in the early hours of the morning.
            I am in a very tired end of a frustrating day now and you have lightened my day with laughter. One thing I have learnt in my long life is don’t take yourself too seriously. It is better to laugh and the world laughs with you then cry, because not everybody wants to cry, but people always love to laugh.
            🙏🍹🤜🤛🏻

        • April 15, 2020 at 6:12 am
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          My son would have a hard job reading this story because his literacy is so poor. Part of the stress I am going through is the way the public school system in this country has failed him and I am constantly beating my head against a brick wall to try and get them to see his potential as a student and person. Many people are prejudiced and not only against my child who is biracial, but against indigenous kids, migrant kids – stories some of my little indian students would tell me and afghani kids about what they were called and how they were treated makes me heart sick. Why cannot we just see the inner beauty of each person and his or her potential and laugh and find joy in knowledge I do not know.
          There is such a thing as very subtle racism and making things available only if you have the required level of education to know how the system works and I feel so stressed and tired at the moment trying to do three jobs at once and pushing people to do their job properly makes me with little time to do my job as well as I would like. I am bloody exhausted and heart sick. That’s all. The human race disappoints me and at the moment, I wish everyone who is filled with unreasoning hatred and racism and silly whatevers would just catch covid-19 and only leave alive those who love life and others. There I have said it. I am a nasty nasty old woman tappy tapping at a keyboard driven my anger at my fellow man like a famous playwright of the 19th Century who used to keep a piece of rotten fruit and a scorpion in a glass jar on his desk. Ibsen was his name I believe.

          Reply
          • April 16, 2020 at 5:09 pm
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            Hi everyone,

            I’m just here for the cupcakes. Did I miss anything?

            Ilana, I know exactly how you feel. Life sucks, but then we’re reminded of the alternative and… at least it’s life. I have a phrase that I use to address disasters great and small. I turn to Kim, shake my head and say, ‘People. That’s the problem. People.’ Unfortunately, they’re also the solution, so getting rid of them is not an option.

      • April 14, 2020 at 11:51 pm
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        Personna Desiderada

        I have a theory about your story, Ilana.
        The Universe is patient, Nature is pragmatic.

        I suspect…. that in the course of eternity, Nature and the Universe conspired to tamper with creation by combining two otherwise useless beings. One was so hard it broke everything it touched, and the other was too soft for its own good. So the Universe brought them together so that Nature could give them a child.

        In so doing, these two unique forces, granted these two hapless beings the greatest gift of all. Consciousness of Time. And a chance to overcome their nature.

        Time for the generous man to be less compliant, to be tougher in defense of his offspring.
        Time for the iron woman to be more forgiving, to restrain her rage toward a blameless child.

        The Universe didn’t care if either of them used their time wisely, and Nature had no interest in anything but what they’d created anyway, certainly not them. And what they created was the girl in your story. You were the result of that cosmic chemistry, the product of Nature’s will, concocted by the patience of the Universe.

        Perhaps creation needed a being whose will was as hard as steel, but powered by a heart as soft as a down feather. For what purpose would it go through all of that trouble? Do you have any idea?

        I think you do.

        Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 4:54 pm
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      Here, hold my wine while I ugly rage cry. Then come let me wrap you in a big hug. This was beautifully written for such a tragic story.

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 2:43 am
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        Thanks Kristen Hugs back. 🙏❤️🤜🤛🏻

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 4:42 am
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      “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
      They may not mean to, but they do.
      They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.” *

      “But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
      Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another’s throats.” **

      Intense and evocative story with some powerful imagery – all the more effective for being based on experience.

      There’s a speech by JK Rowling to college graduates that you can find on YouTube, where amongst other sage advice and witty comment she says, “There’s an expiry date for blaming your parents for everything”. And I think that’s something we all kind of find in the end as we make our own way in life. But for some, as for the narrator here, that’s a much harder road than for others.

      Very good writing.
      Just one thing – on the edge of the precipice “tethering and alone”. Teetering?

      * (btw @Phil – note correct use of commas in poetry, lol :-))

      ** (btw @KenC – note correct use of apostrophe … :-))

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 6:03 am
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        My thoughts exactly Andy. We try our best as parents and as our parents tried with us. So many factors come into play and yes there is an expiry date for blaming parents and even siblings for the way you turned out. We all gotta go it alone and like ourselves too. We are a part of our parents and they see in the most part an improved version of themselves, although not always. They might see a version with parts missing…. LOL
        Ah one does have to have a sense of humour, despite ourselves.

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 10:52 am
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      Ilana,

      I’m so sorry you had to go through this as a child! One part of your story struck a chord with me as I lived the same torture. The vicious tearing of the hair brush through my hair. I have very thick hair and my mother enjoyed torturing me way too much each morning. She often gave up the hair brush for a comb which was even worse. I cried and yelped in pain and received a smack from her in response. I went to school with the salty tracks of my tears on my face.

      When I was 7, she took me to a hair salon. The stylist pulled my hair into a ponytail and in one whack, cut it off. My hair was cut as short as my brother’s and I looked like a boy. It took me years to forgive her for that one. I was humiliated while my two younger sisters were able to keep their long locks of hair and flaunted this in front of me.

      Child abuse is not acceptable in any form. Shame on your mother for perpetuating this type of abuse and drawing your father into her warped thinking. Shame on your father for allowing himself to be drawn into the violence but mostly, for not protecting you! I’m glad you have been able to move on, but even when we move forward, the emotional scars left by abuse do not go away.

      Sending love and hugs!

      Adi

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 10:19 am
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      I got that nagging feeling, while reading, that this may unfortunately be true to life. The details are so vividly pictured. Also the theme of difficult upbringing and child abuse recur in your stories, Ilana. Then I read the comments and confirmed my initial feeling.

      First of all thanks for sharing this with us. It can be cathartic, but also takes courage. Maybe you should dwell deeper and write the book of your misplaced childhood. Many would be able to see their own story in it, although everyone’s experience is invariably unique. You’d be doing a lot of good to many people, as they too may then find the courage to delve into their own childhood they’d rather forget about but shouldn’t. Not necessarily to think up with which garden tool to hit their mothers (or fathers) in the face, but to liberate themselves of the heavy subconscious burden they carry. Think about it. This is book material, Ilana. What you just gave us is the backcover.

      Who’s to blame? (the issue of many of the comments) Nobody, really. For everyone is a product of the circumstances that brought him or her to this world and then brought him or her up. As your story clearly demonstrates. The mother knew no better. She’s probably the biggest sufferer of your cast of characters. The father had little option. True, he could’ve been bolder, more decisive, but that would have probably led to the disintegration of his household.

      Hope you don’t have to carry your grievances with you to this day, Ilana. Although it’s probably impossible to shed off all past negativity, short of moving to a Himalayan retreat.

      Ken

      Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 3:41 am
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    Really great story, Roy. (I hope it’s fictional – at least the part about being infected). The light tone of two of the conversations is expertly rendered – great dialogue (except maybe when it gets a little too expositiony) … and then the serious one that slams the brakes on. And the touching ending with the very real (I imagine) fear – making the Reader’s Digest writing job and everything else pale into insignificance. Good job.

    (Mad Magazine went bust?! Damn! I loved that. But you don’t miss your water till the well runs dry, I suppose.)

    Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 7:00 am
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      Great story Roy. Very tight plot and the ending was well done. Loved it.

      Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 7:00 am
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      Thanks Phil, totally fictional so far, but the fear is real. My research, I really did do that, showed the fear of dying alone, was more of a fear for the living that were losing those dying. That they couldn’t be ‘there when’ for the other.

      Having been near death twice in the past ten years, when you are near the edge, so to speak, being alone isn’t what you think about, it’s taking that next breath. Several times I was surprised when I ‘realized’ I was still alive. The other person may have been there, but truly, in your mind, you are in there alone.

      The delusional joke is a real incident between Kathy and I.

      Mad did go out of business, but I understand there was a reboot attempt in December of 2019, but don’t know how successful it is.

      Not sure how this story will fare, but it was cathartic for me. You are right about some of the dialogue, that is something I work on all the time, but maybe I should have spent more time. This story was originally written the day after the prompt was announced, but has gone through several revisions and I finally decided that less was more.

      Appreciate your comments.

      Roy

      Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 3:56 am
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    This is harrowing stuff, Ilana. I can only imagine (through your vivid and terrifying descriptions) what life must have been like for you back then, and feel grateful that my own parents were kind and loving. But I’m happy that you seem now to own the trauma and have converted it into strength. Thanks for sharing – which must have been a hard thing to do.

    A (virtual) hug from me.

    Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 4:29 am
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    Loved this story Roy. It started off lighthearted and funny, and then his worst fear comes and hits him like a punch in the gut.
    My metaphorical heart was in danger of breaking again (fragile thing!) it still hasn’t fully recovered after its brush with death on Ken M’s story

    Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 8:28 am
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    Hi Adi,

    You’ve translated the feelings of grief, fear and helplessness very well into words that bring up those very emotions in the reader, whether he or she had those same experiences or not in their own lives.
    Thanks for having the courage to write on this theme while living through the very same story yourself.

    Death is always horrible, and especially for those left behind. And right now it’s compounded by these ridiculous but necessary coronavirus restrictions.

    My best wishes to you, Adi, and your family members in coping with these difficult times in a way that, while grief is certainly part of the story, smiles about the good times you and your mother (and father) spent in a life together also feature and become even more cherished than ever before.

    I love the details in your story (eg. face on the brick wall) that so very well paint the emotions outwardly.
    I also like the way you try to bring reasoning into your tale (eg. it may be after all a good thing to let Nature do its thing and alleviate the mother’s suffering, liberarate her soul), but, at the same time show us that no amount of logic can take the pain away. This important dilemma is well woven into the fabric of your story throughout.

    The story of the murdered girl, while related to the rest of the piece in the sense it introduces the narrator to the concept (“monster”) of death, is too long. I was eager to get back to the mother. The flashback of the death-dreams/nightmares connects much better, IMO, and works very well with me. I would have liked to see more such poignant backstory from the mother-daughter relationship: the good times, the lots of “firsts” in life together (first trip out of town, first sibling born, etc.), some inversion when the mother had nursed the daughter after a near-fatal accident, also deep regrets about teenage rebellion when daughter pitted herself against her mother but never really apologized… that kind of thing.

    The frustrating issue of the coronavirus reverberates well right now. I’m not sure if future readers unfamiliar with what we’re facing at the moment would get it, without some more filling in. But that’s to be seen – depending on how the current crisis affects the communal memory in years to come.

    Thanks, Adi and “bon courage”…

    Ken

    Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 9:53 am
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    Spore by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [520 word count]

    It started with a tiny prick, the kind you get and swat at without really thinking about it. She didn’t even remember where it had happened. Over a couple of days there had been a persistent itching just under the skin on her leg. Again, it was something that you wouldn’t really worry about too much, just scratch at distractedly or maybe put some cream on and forget about. It was at the end of the first week that she began to worry.

    The skin had gotten scaly, much harder even than skin that is scarred gets. There were thin grey lines that grew away from the itchy spot (which wasn’t itchy at all – didn’t really feel anything there anymore) that she could almost see growing longer. Then the grey started to crystallize – that’s when she began to panic.

    What was it that had stung her? What was growing on her – in her? Was it changing her in some fundamental way? Was it killing her? There wasn’t anyone locally who could answer these questions (it was an exploration assignment after all) and she felt a strange repulsion to going back to their main base in the settlement. She didn’t want her colleagues to panic, so she hid it from them. She tried studying the crystals with her lab equipment, but they were impossible to remove from her flesh. She did her best to scan them and test for reactivity as they grew, but aside from the kind of electrical interaction you find with mineral crystals, they were unresponsive to anything. It was as if she were fossilizing.

    She went out into the surrounding forest more and more frequently, winding her way through the trees, tracing the edge of the ponds and streams with her footsteps. Increasingly more of her was getting eaten up by the crystals. It was impossible now to hide them from her colleagues. The panic had subsided to a kind of acceptance – or at least a dull ambivalence – of the growing stain on her humanity. She was relieved when she saw the crystals growing out from underneath her colleagues’ sleeves as well. They began exploring the forest together. As each day passed the crystals grew. Even though the feeling in those areas was gone, the crystals somehow moved with the fluidity of muscles and electrical impulses. They began to shed their clothes.

    She now saw the beauty of these shards that had replaced her meat and bones. She felt the buzz of her seedmates, the impulses from the surrounding flora, the whispers of the water and earth. They began growing together into an interconnected structure, still roving, still searching for more. They were like a crystallized fungus spreading through the forest… and it was beautiful. They realized that everything before was so one dimensional, so selfish and flat. The refractions of the world through the crystals of their eyes had magnified the beauty, the wonder, the hunger for it all. Now it was time for them to return to the settlement. They had to show the others what they were missing. They had to spread the seeds.

    Reply
    • April 12, 2020 at 9:05 pm
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      Wendy,

      This is an excellent story. I don’t know how you do it. This has a bit of alien, geology, creepiness, beauty, and horror all wrapped up into one very tight little story. It’s like a Mike Tyson upper-cut. Really inventive. I read Ilana’s comment, and (I hope she reads mine as well because) all of the elements to explain the circumstances are in the story. ‘(it was an exploration assignment after all)’ and there’s a ‘main base’ in ‘the settlement.’ So, it’s all there, but you call so little attention to it you hardly notice it.
      It’s a fabulous short horror story, Wendy.

      Reply
      • April 13, 2020 at 9:52 am
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        Thanks, Ken! At least it wasn’t like Mike Tyson ear biting, though that could be how the crystals spread…

        Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 9:23 pm
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      This is an excellent premise, Wendy – the context (exploration … somewhere), the very original type (and beauty!) of the affliction, the sinister ending (the whole of the settlement are going to get it).

      I do think the quality of the idea deserved more space to grow, though. At the moment you’ve got about 500 words, and it feels to me like a bit of a rush to get through events. These questions, for example, in paragraph 3 make it all escalate very prematurely (imho). “What was it that had stung her? What was growing on her – in her? Was it changing her in some fundamental way? Was it killing her?”

      The way you describe events themselves is fantastic – I just wish you’d taken a slightly more leisurely route. (This is probably just me – others seem to like it just the way it is … so take what I say with a pinch of salt!)

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 10:49 am
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        Phil, (and by extension, Wendy),

        No I think your sentiments hit the nail on the head, Phil. Both Trish and Ilana were left wanting more, it’s just that Wendy does brevity so well. But with a cushion of 700 words, she is foregoing the element of suspense which, let’s be honest, is the soul of horror and the hand-maiden of science fiction. Your advice, as usual, is so understated it can be a little too easily disregarded. (But that’s not really a problem. Is it?)

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 4:56 am
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      I really like this. Very good descriptive writing, kind of beautiful horror. very visually evocative.

      Works as it is, but as others say could also be developed as a longer piece.

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 11:02 am
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      Wendy,

      You amaze me in what you are able to tell in an economy of words. This story leaves so many questions about what had caused the crystals, more about the transformation, etc. How do they “spread the seeds?” You did so well in relating this story in such a few words. Am I selfish because I would love to see this as a longer story? You left me wanting more!

      Adi

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 10:35 am
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      Hi Wendy,

      Oh that fear of things that grow and multiply, uncontrollably is an endemic fear to us humans. It comes in many forms: worms, rashes, cancer, mould, weeds, overpopulation, germs, nasty ideas going viral, populist scares, false religions, conspiracy theories, COVID… and the end result is almost always horrific.

      But you managed to turn this fear on its head! It’s all so beautiful in the end. It may even be the purpose of our lives, to disintegrate in our present form and re-form in a more unified, selfless existence…

      You rewrote Buddhism in 500 words.

      Well-done is an understatement!

      Ken

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 12:15 pm
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        The act of losing one’s self into a collective is something I actually fear (and why I’m not a Buddhist lol) so even with the beauty part, it still terrifies me lol. I did actually have to face this fear when I was diagnosed with a viral based cancer though, so I guess I’m more at peace with it than I was, but still, I wasn’t drawn into a new collective consciousness so there’s still a seed of fear in that…

        Reply
        • April 17, 2020 at 8:55 am
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          I’m with you on this, Wendy. As much as us humans feel the joy of unison and belonging, we also appreciate individuality.

          That idea, common to Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. that the ultimate reason of our existence is to melt into “oneness” with the cosmos is hard for me to grasp, too, as it probably is for most people of a Judeo-Christian heritage, whether they’re believers or not. We have a manned gate to our Heaven (or Hell), and we’re supposed to pass through it one by one. Maybe showing our spiritual passport too.

          Still, your story paints a very “Eastern” picture, and makes that prospect quite desirable.

          Ken

          Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 10:03 am
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    Adi, your details really made this story real for me – the bit about the feel of the bricks just put me outside that window with you. I do have to agree with Phil though that the part dealing with Theresa’s murder seems a bit out of place in this piece especially when it is such a hard contrast to the drawn out frustration of the slow loss of your mother is. But this story is really good and you worked your emotions into a well-written story of fear.

    Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 12:57 pm
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    Wendy – more please. This is a terrific piece! Your concept of a crystalizing seed spreader is very inventive and your story drips with cleverly inserted details that explain the setting and situation. I’d love to read more…

    Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 9:51 am
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      Thank you! I let the story dictate its length and lately they’ve been super short. I started with the idea of the crystals and it grew from there (even I groaned at that)

      Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 1:22 pm
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    Adi, Avery gripping story that rings true, mainly because it is true. I, (well, most of us, too) am/are well aware of what you’ve gone through recently, and your story is well told. Good job. No critique. Let’s just leave it at that.

    BTW, I intentionally don’t read stories until I have mine posted, and it’s interesting that you and I dealt with the same fear. I figured out in my answer to Phil’s comment on my story, that we the living, fear those dying are dying alone if we aren’t there.

    In this case your fear was she would die alone – without you. That’s my fear, that either my wife or I will get this and the other will not be able to be there because WE don’t want them to die alone. I’m glad you were able to hold your mom’s hand. I wish I had had that option. My mother died when I was fourteen months old, and I wasn’t able to even get to know her, let alone be there for her when her time came.I don’t even know where she is buried. My stepmother kept all that from me until I was around eight or so. Be glad you had your time.

    Great story that I wish you didn’t have to tell.

    Roy

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    • April 13, 2020 at 12:40 pm
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      Very well written! Your pain saturated this story in such a realistic tone. I am truly sorry for your loss. Like some comments above I found the side story a bit off the path like I was reading two different tales.
      You are quite a wordsmith and look forward to reading more of your work.

      Reply
      • April 13, 2020 at 1:06 pm
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        Thank you all! Please read my revised story below. This one I wrote in the midst of the pain with the ending I hoped for. The revised one is the real story.

        Adi

        Reply
  • April 12, 2020 at 1:41 pm
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    Excellent story and an element of science fiction there. This something you could develop into a longer piece. Only one thing confused me. You say colleagues joined here so she was part of an exploration unit from another main settlement?

    Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 9:50 am
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      Ilana, as Ken said, I left slight hints about how she she worked at an exploration base and that there was a main base at the larger settlement area.

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 10:36 am
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        (my comment found its way further up, Wendy, instead of down here)

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  • April 12, 2020 at 8:36 pm
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    Roy,

    First the good news. The writing is excellent. This entire story is dialogue, and it’s so clever and witty, you hardly notice (or care) that nobody goes anywhere. It’s much better than my dialogue, and there’s a lot more of it.

    Now hear me out. This story needs a plot adjustment. You have two adults who are trying to avoid infection, (getting the virus, dying, whatever, the greatest fear doesn’t have to be stated.) He’s self-isolating, and they’re staying in separate rooms, wearing masks at home…’ This lays the groundwork. It’s no surprise that she gets it, (the wife) as she’s a critical care nurse.

    The reveal in this story, is that he gets it from her BECAUSE of the thermometer. It’s the one thing they forget to worry about.

    It’s a great story already because of the writing, but there’s no twist, is there? With a minor tweak, you could give the story a bit of irony. Run it past your wife and see what She thinks.

    Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 9:40 am
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    I agree with the others that the transition in this story from light to heavy was well written and the last line really hit home and tied it all up nicely.

    Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 10:06 am
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    I wrote my story a couple of days before my mother passed away, with the ending I had hoped for. She passed away last Monday, 4/6/20. I appreciate all of the kind words, thoughts, and prayers. They mean more than you will ever know.

    I have revised my story to fit the true events.

    Carrie or Alice, I will leave it to you whether or not this story can replace the first one. This was a story I had to write.

    Thank you all!

    My mother’s obituary:

    https://www.shackelfordfuneraldirectors.com/obituaries/Karen-Davis-16/#!/Obituary

    (Of course, we cannot have a service until the virus restrictions are over.)

    Reply
    • April 13, 2020 at 5:09 pm
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      Adi, of course this can replace your first one. I am so sorry to hear about your mother, take care my friend and I’ll remove the older version.

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 7:08 pm
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        Thanks Alice! I appreciate you. It’s been a rough week.

        Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 10:09 am
    Permalink


    Through the Window
    Adrienne Riggs (w- 1,201 – including title)

    Celeste stood outside the nursing home window, silently observing the room inside through a two-inch opening. It was the closest she could get. Her mother, Faye, was lying in bed on the other side. She had called her mother’s name loudly and told her how much she was loved. There was nothing. No response, no movement, no indication that her mother had heard her. Celeste rested her cheek against the cool surface of the bricks at the base of the window as she watched her mother’s breathing. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully beneath the blankets, her face turned slightly toward the wall.

    Faye had just turned 77 but looked younger than her years, her lovely face still smooth and unlined. Celeste stood; her gaze unwavering from her mother’s still form. Emotions flowed like liquid heat through her body, too many emotions to isolate, one feeding off another. She felt love, anger, sadness, helplessness, frustration and yes, fear.

    Celeste watched her mother through the window, desperate to be inside holding her hand. She was frustrated at the circumstances that prohibited visitors into the nursing home. She was angry that a careless mistake by one of the staff had caused an injury that her mother could not come back from. Celeste had come to terms with death many years before when her grandfather had died, but this was her mother. As she pressed her hands against the window screen, she felt helpless.

    Her mother’s body, taken over by Alzheimer’s, no longer had any quality of life. Celeste knew that Faye’s death would be a blessing, her soul freed from her diseased body, forever at peace with the Lord. Celeste knew this – rationally, logically, intellectually and spiritually. Her breaking heart and conflicting emotions, however, were at war with her brain.

    Celeste’s greatest fear during her mother’s long illness, was that she would die alone. That she and her father wouldn’t be there when the Lord carried her home. Now, separated from her mother by brick walls, glass windows, and a nation in quarantine against an unseen virus, her worry had grown into a full-fledged, heart-rending fear.

    Day after day she returned to the window, watching her mother’s decline. Her long battle to live was ending and death lingered nearby. They could keep her from coming inside but they could not keep from seeing her mother through the window.

    After each visit, after each devasting report from the nurses, she bowed her head in prayer.

    “Please dear Lord, let us be with her at the end.”

    She lost count of the minutes and hours she perched outside the window, standing on a stepstool to be able to see inside the room better. Requesting that the nurses raise Faye’s bed and turn on the light so Celeste could see her better. She was sure that she was an irritant to the busy staff, but her mother came first. She insisted that her mother be repositioned, covered, kept comfortable.

    The coarse texture of the bricks made imprints in her hands as she gripped them in frustration. Each day, her mother was eating less – if she ate at all. One day, they had to give her liquids by the spoonful to try to keep her hydrated without choking. She was rarely awake. When was the last time she’d seen her mother’s beautiful blue eyes? Kissed her soft skin? Stroked her silver hair? Breathed in her mother’s scent as she kissed her? Would she ever have the opportunity to once again, do the things that she had taken for granted all of these years?

    Each night, she blew Faye a kiss through the screen before wearily walking to her car in the gathering darkness. Each time she left the window, she was crying.

    On an early spring day, she received the call she knew was coming. It was time to see her mother. She drove to her father’s home to pick him up. Jim’s grief was etched deeply in his face, his pace slow and unsteady as they made their way to the nursing home. Most of the ride was silent. Neither wanting to express the truth and fears deep inside them. Finally, her father spoke, wanting confirmation of his worst fear – losing his wife of nearly 60 years.

    “Do they think she is dying?”

    Celeste tried to come up with a comforting answer and finding none, simply said, “Yes, Daddy. Maybe not today, but yes.”

    They were given masks, gloves and gowns before being allowed to enter her mother’s room. A shadow of the woman she once was, they held Faye’s hands and sang to her. Her father prayed and Celeste tried not to cry. She kissed her mother through her mask, lowering it a bit to inhale the scent of her mother’s hair.

    The last call came Sunday afternoon. Faye’s time was ending, her body beginning to signal the changes that come before death. Her father sat, holding her hand, his head bowed in grief. After several hours, he left, to go home to rest.

    Celeste stayed. She dared the staff to make her leave. She sat beside her mother’s bed the entire night. She laid her head on the pillow next to her mother. She sang to her and prayed for her. She held her mother’s hand. She stroked her hair and listened to her breathing. Closing her eyes, she placed her hand on her mother’s chest, focusing on the feel of her heartbeat and the rise and fall of her breathing, becoming shallower over time.

    Her father returned that Monday morning. Celeste had urged him to hurry. He took his place beside his wife, the love of his life, his bride. He held her hand and kissed her lips one last time. Together, he and Celeste, sat with her as her breaths grew shallower, the pauses between breaths, longer, her skin showing the signs of approaching death. He never released her hand.

    It was Celeste who saw the last breath taken and her mother become still. As she called for the nurse, her father’s grief-stricken face registered the fact that his wife was gone. She had not died alone. He slowly released her limp hand and placed it under her blanket.

    It was over, her mother’s suffering was ended. What followed was a blur. She cut a lock of her mother’s hair to keep and kissed her one last time. Celeste’s adult children, the grandchildren stood outside, watching through the window. They grieved and cried because they had not been allowed inside to see their grandmother and say goodbye. They all stayed until they came to take her to the funeral home.

    Celeste’s son took his grandfather home. She lingered a bit longer. As she walked outside, the sun seemed to mock her grief. She stopped beside the window for the last time and touched the wall. She would never forget standing here or the feel of these bricks under her hands.

    As she walked to her car, she was grateful for the final hours she’d had with the woman who had given her life. Celeste wept as she drove away. Her mother was finally free.

    Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 6:34 am
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      A strong story written with feeling, centring around “breaking heart and conflicting emotions”.

      A number of completely understandable but incautious actions on the social distancing side?
      I sincerely hope all will be well with this family.

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 1:46 pm
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      Sad, yet memorable, these last moments with mom. I was reminded of myself with my mother fading away from this world.
      So well written.

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 10:48 am
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      My condolences, Adi on your mom’s loss. She must be at a better place now.

      I read your other comment about your church and faith. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure your faith is of great solace at a time like this. I was brought up Catholic, but I don’t follow anymore. That’s not to say I’m not interested in religion/spirituality or that I’m an atheist. Just “non-congregational.” But still very much in search of meaning…

      On your story, I much prefer this second version, as it concentrates on the mother, and clearly draws a lot from your recent sentiments. The tale of how the little girl had encountered the concept of death can be in itself a separate story for another time. I had written a long comment, which disappeared with the removal of the first version of your story, which I suppose you had read, so I won’t repeat what I had commented there again here.

      Ken

      Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 1:13 pm
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    Revelation
    
by Roy York

    1190 words

    My cell phone rang, It was Glen, my agent. “I’m looking for someone to cover a story angle for a national magazine,” he said.

    “Who?” I asked, imagining Mad Magazine, because Glen likes to play practical jokes, although I knew they had gone out of business years ago.

    “Who what?”

    “Magazine.”

    True to form, he said, “Which.”

    “Which?”

    “Which magazine. Not who, that’s bad grammar.”

    “Jesus, Glen,” I said. “You’re my agent, not my fucking editor.” I had grown surly being confined at home because of Covid-19 virus isolation. Three weeks of going nowhere except out on my balcony looking at the empty streets below. My wife and the dog were both steering clear of me.

    “This is your chance. Reader’s Digest is looking for someone to write an article on the pandemic concerning America’s “fears” and I thought of you immediately.”

    What a load of crap that line was. “How many have turned you down?”

    “Just about everybody. I’m desperate to find someone or the Digest will move down their list of favorite agents. Do you want a shot at this or not?”

    I was doing OK writing free lance, but I had to admit getting something published in Readers’ Digest would be a coup for me. “Of course I’ll do it.”

    “Good. The article must be about your greatest fear.”

    “Does it have to be about the pandemic?”

    “Of course, you moron. Why would Reader’s Digest ask for an article about one’s greatest fear during a pandemic, if it wouldn’t be about the pandemic?”

    “What’s the deadline?”

    “Friday.”

    “Friday? This is friggin’ Wednesday; in the middle of the afternoon. That gives me two and a half days.”
    “Well, actually,” said Glen. “It gives you two and a half days and two nights.”

    “If you’re not going to let me sleep, can I take time to eat?”

    “As long as you eat fast and someone else makes it,” Glen said. “Seriously, Paul, this is a big break for both of us. All kidding aside, you need to reach out to people, do a little research and put their fears into words. You’re gifted that way, and I did think of you first.”

    Glen knew how to reach me. He was good at that. He could normally play me like a fiddle and I would dance to his tune. “Yeah, you knew I’d do it. Are there any surprises and what’s the pay?”

    “No surprises, and this is big time pay. $1.00 a word and they want at least 10,000 words, with a 15,000 word cap.”

    I whistled. “Damn. OK Glen, you got a deal. I’ll get started and you send over the contract. I’m assuming we can do this with on-line signatures,”

    “Umm … That might be a day or so down the road. Like tomorrow afternoon. They want to see a 2500 word sample first.”

    I paused while I pondered whether or not I wanted to put several hours into this only to have it rejected. ‘Right now,’ I thought, ‘not getting this assignment is my biggest fear – wait, no – it’s getting it and not meeting the deadline. Damn … ‘

    “Are you there? Did I lose you?” Glen’s voice floated out of the blue; at first as if he was far away, until I realized I had time traveled into my old nemesis: procrastination.

    “I’m here. I was thinking.”

    “Well, don’t think too long. Just get the damn thing done. Call me later with the 2500 words. And, don’t get sick. We both need this piece.”

    “I can’t promise that. You know Jen’s a critical care nurse. But we’re both following all the guidelines. Neither of us is a spring chicken and as you know, both of us have underlying causes. It makes us extra careful.” I said goodbye and hung up.

    I called my son. “What’s your greatest fear?”

    “That you or mom, or both of you, have the virus and die. Hello, by the way, and why?”

    “Hi, back. Just wondering because I’ve got an article to write and it deals with fear during the pandemic. That’s it? One or both of us dies?”

    “That’s it.”

    “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”

    “Nope, just the two of you and Ellen and the kids.”

    “It’s funny, but I worry about the same people dying that you do, including you, of course.”

    “I understand, but the two of you are more vulnerable, because of who it’s worse for.”

    “Yeah, those bastards keep adding stuff to the list of who’s most likely to die from this damn thing, so I told your mother if they add good looking and smart to the list, I’m in serious trouble. She said, ‘If they add delusional, you’re a goner for sure’.”

    He laughed. “Just make sure you keep following the rules.”

    Suddenly, the phone started buzzing, and I had a call from Jen. “Hold on, son, Mom’s on the line.” “Yeah,” I said. “I’m on with Michael. Make it quick.”

    My blood ran cold when I heard her next words. “I’ve got Covid and they’re keeping me here. I had a temp this morning, so they tested me. It’s not bad, but they won’t let me go. Call me later. Don’t tell Michael.”

    “I can’t do that, Jen. He has to know.”

    “He can’t come, anyway. Just don’t tell him right now, OK? Promise me that.”

    “OK. OK.”

    “I’ll call back.” She disconnected.

    “Hey,” I said. “I’m back. That was mom telling me she wasn’t coming home for awhile.” There, I hadn’t lied to my son. “Listen, I’ve got a few calls to make to get this article done. Thanks for your input, I’ll be sure to quote you.”

    “Bye, Dad. I Love you.”

    “I love you, too, Son. Give Ellen and the kids our love.”

    This had just taken a serious turn. Up until this moment, I hadn’t really been concerned it was going to happen to us. Even though logic told me it was more likely than not – because of Jen’s job. We even discussed her not working until this blew over, but she told me she couldn’t quit – and that it was her decision – not mine.

    I sat down on the couch, my breathing coming rapidly as I started to suddenly shake inside. We’ve got 46 years together. I felt a shudder go through my body, ‘Jen’s got it and I’ll be next,’ I thought. Frantically I raided the medicine cabinet looking for the thermometer. Then I noticed it laying on the counter. When Jen used it this morning, she left it out.

    Panicky, I stuck it in my mouth, hoping there was no fever. As I read the thermometer, I suddenly realized I hadn’t sterilized it. A chill went through me as I thought about what I had just done; possibly signing my own death warrant. How stupid, and this stupidity can’t be fixed.

    A new and greater fear flooded my senses. It wasn’t that we might die. I’m past that.

    It was … we would die … alone.

    Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 3:14 pm
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      This is a beautiful story, Roy. I am having a feeling to see it in Readers Digest one day soon hoping it is just fictional and you are fine. The flow of the story, the tension, dialogue and the end, I loved them all. Dying together yet alone is a strange fear in this situation, a cruel side of this pandemic. I could relate with it and you painted it well.

      Take care and stay well. Dita.

      Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 7:18 pm
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      Beautiful story Roy. I see we were channeling the same fear – the thought of someone dying alone. The difference, your characters dying separate and alone. A very real fear in this pandemic. We came close to it with my mother. Well done. I felt like crying.

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 10:04 am
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        Adi, I mentioned the fact we both wrote on the same exact theme, with different characters, story line and results, but still had the same exact fear after reading your story. I would like you to know I thought of you as I wrote this story, as I knew what you were going through, but I was especially happy for your father whose world revolved around being with your mother at that very moment she said goodbye, even though it was in her own way. The fear is for the living, not the dying. When I lay at death’s doorstep twice in the past ten years, it was my fear my wife couldn’t say goodbye to me for her own needs. I wasn’t afraid to die alone, and if the roles were reversed, I would need to be there for me, more than her. Thank you for your kind comments. I had the same reaction when I read your story, emotionally.

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 6:40 am
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      Very good story, Roy. Excellent use of dialogue.
      And I like the structure – not only light-hearted followed by a descent into fear, but a situation that is very future-oriented (about writing success) to one that is future-fearful.

      Dying apart is the new normal at the moment … very challenging for all who face it.

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 11:22 am
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      You catch very well the essence of our times, Roy – not just “good old death” as we always knew it (which was bad enough), but the new reality of having to die alone.

      At first, I thought some of the dialogue was redundant small-talk, especially for a short story. Eg. “I love you, dad”, and such. But on second reading, I realized that what a few short weeks ago was mere salutations, in this sad new age of social distancing has taken on a new deeper significance. It’s no longer small-talk. Some people would give all they have to be able to utter some of those words in person, right now.

      This is the story of reference for the covid era.

      Ken

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 1:08 pm
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      I do love all the raw emotions so well expressed in this story. Fantastically done!
      Just a few months ago we were all living such normal lives and now this seems to have changed it all.
      There is this beautiful thing called hope.
      Chin up,
      Marien

      Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 1:15 pm
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    Alice and Carrie, please delete my first story and replace it with this revised version (in the same location, if possible). For the first time ever, I’ve altered a story after submitting it. The suggestions from several writers were too good to not listen to.

    Roy

    Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 3:52 pm
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    What Is Fear?
    (1200)

    Ha ha ha … she sang in the face of fear.

    She was no longer a slave to fear.

    Every morning, when Mia came down the stairs, she was on a high. Hallelujah mode switched on in her voice, the rhythm of life tingling in her toes. It was a good thing she didn’t slide down. There was a high likelihood, so she held onto the bannisters. She was careful like that.

    She had packed a daily quota of much needed courage building, fear-banishing verses from the Bible in her heart and soul. A bit of Proverbs here, a Psalm and John 14.

    O yes, she needed the Peace that passeth all understanding. Impossible to explain, but they were cemented deep down in her guts.

    The isolation was telling on her. Her fellowship ladies had got together on Zoom, when each spoke about uncertainties, their fears, their over demanding families, endless washing up.. Stoically they built each other up. ‘Twas refreshing like summer dew when she saw their faces.

    An uncertain future was looming ahead. Staggering numbers of unemployed added daily were just as heart rending as the body bags. A barrage of horrible Whatsapps gave explicit details how this putrid virus was built in some lab.

    Who can you trust? A fearsome proposition, if you suspect delivery boxes.

    Mia was much like the persistent widow with her prayer and supplication. The bane of a woman ever since Eve had latched onto the weakness of her indecisive man, to cause the fall in the garden.

    The front doorbell rings.
    The newspapers had arrived at the doorstep. She brought them in. Even the newspaper had become a threat this month of March. She trashed the plastic wrap in the bin and washed her hands. Singing Morning has Broken…not Happy Birthday.

    Singing should chase any unseen germ into the far away and beyond.

    100,000 infected. The dems were still fighting with the Reps. Both pointing nasty fingers at each other.
    You didn’t do this on time.
    No, I did it my way.
    I’m so smart. I saw this coming before you did.

    People….. Mia screamed under her breath.This season will pass.
    This germ will NOT get the better of the world.

    Wake up, all ye who sleep. His kingdom will be expanded. The gospel will not be hindered.

    “Where are my socks?”
    “Look for them. It’s under your nose.”
    “Why is food not ready? I’m famished.”
    “I called and you didn’t come.”
    “You aren’t listening. You need an ear vaccine. Ask Bill.”
    “As if you ever listen.”

    It’s the usual battle in most homes reflecting the battles on the political front. Precisely because everybody was watching news on TV. Death, death death. If you hear depressing news all the time, how can there be any kind of healing?

    But this is a common foe, people. Get real. Unite. Fight the damn thing together.
    Can women fight this pandemic better than men?
    Females have double xx chromosomes in their genes to be more resilient. Double padlocked to overcome any biological challenges.

    Her daughter was on the frontline… a pulmonologist in critical care.
    Mia discovered she was talking to herself more these days. Each time she thought of her girl, she went to her knees in prayer.
    O Lord, keep Texas safe. Let the numbers diminish.
    Let the curve flatten, let that putrid covid go back to the hell hole from whence it sprung.
    You mean china?
    No!!! Back to hell.

    2 pm.
    Time ripe for a different kind of distraction.
    She had talked enough to the cucumbers and beets.

    Now to talk to the mister.
    He was at work in his office, just down the corridor, turn left, three stops from the kitchen roundabout.
    His head deep inside his laptop- working out the nuances of how to keep his head above troubled waters.

    She became the buxom secretary, Ms. Joe.
    (Little play acting should change the temperature of the day)

    Ms Joe: Please, Mr. Boris, there’s a woman outside come to see you.

    (Boris took two full minutes to realise his wife was playing a game.)

    Boss: Ahhhh! Do send her in. Get me some wine and my cigar.

    Ms. Joe: (peeps outside) He can’t see you. Please go away.
    Come again another day.

    Wife : He never wants to see me. (sobbing)

    Boss Boris returns to his computer.

    (The playacting lasted for a minute. Only Mia felt the giggle rising in her belly.)

    4pm: The day wears on.

    Staying tuned, watching. Keep praying. The horrible news was on non stop. Sounds were eating into her brain.To Fauci or not to Fauci. Was there ever going to be a pandemic readiness?

    “I am going to the store.”
    “Ma, please don’t.”
    “What can possibly go wrong if you cover yourself with masks and gloves?”

    With creative juices flowing, she color coordinated her clothes and mask to visit Waitrose, to get onions and almond milk.
    A climatic end to the day.

    How else do you cope?

    Eating became a weapon of mass perpetuation. The family took turns to cook delish meals.

    “Today I’m making Schweinebraten and kartoffel kloesse. I used to hate them when the muttis made it,” said Boris.

    So on Tuesday, Papa cooked from memory his German dorm food and then got garrulous about his 17 year old college student days in Leipzig. Old stories come out when things get sentimental, you know.

    On Wednesday, the young girl made Tapas which was joyfully received, whilst she revisited her Boston days.

    Mia cooked favorite dishes day after day. It was a distraction to cook. O BLESSED highlight!
    She was building a people of power nutritionally.

    Then came the long walks on the beach, on desert sands. Distancing with anyone remotely walking alongside, except for gazelles. A weak ‘hi’ or a judicious ignoring of your neighbour because you don’t want them coming anywhere close to you.
    God forbid if they coughed.

    Then came The Friday with the promise of Goodness. Two traitors on either side.

    “The one on the left was the ancestor to the virus. Didn’t he mock the Redeemer much as the virus is mocking everyone off their pants today?” Mia felt brilliant with this new knowledge.

    7 pm:
    Bird Talk ❤️FB entry.
    It’s been three weeks since Lisbeth flew in at my doorstep, to make her new home.

    Our family nurtured this mama-to-be with much love. Just as our Heavenly Father said.

    We crept in and out of the front door or used a side entrance, not to disturb its peace.
    Even Dolce didn’t bark up the tree being most compassionate.

    Last week the eggs hatched, and we welcomed the little ones with a song.
    ‘Yes, Jesus loves you!’
    Didn’t sing the Bear song deliberately.

    “Oh look at his hairy head!”
    Yes, Boris is rather hairy. Meghan looks prettier though!”
    “You named them, Ma? But why so English?”

    “Well! Mama bird chose this Ficus Benjamina tree to make her home?
    Had it been a Jackfruit tree, I’d call them Ashok and Kamala.”

    “Besides Boris is out of danger. Symbolic of good TLC this season. Praise God!”
    “And Meghan?”

    “Because soon she will fly the coop.”

    Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 8:25 pm
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      it’s a mash-up

      It’s a combination of different things, politics, positive thinking, religion, work, play, relationships, food, frustration, nature’s miracle of re-birth, a husband’s lack of mirth, social dearth… (Uh-oh, I’m starting to rhyme. That’s troubling.)

      Not clear who Meghan was. Daughter?

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 5:21 am
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        Thanks for reading. Yes, you got my gist. Wunderba!

        Meghan is the little sister bird to Boris- there were two. But also symbolic of my girl who will fly the coop too one day.

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 7:01 am
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      Upbeat story about a somewhat kooky narrator skipping positively through the day, brushing fears aside more than facing them. Kind of like doing a song and dance act to “Accentuate the Positive” on the deck of the Titanic while everyone else is racing to the lifeboats.
      Fun stuff.

      Meghan – you think she won’t stay with Harry?

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 8:52 am
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        Nah they won’t last 10 years! I do hope I’m wrong however. The romantic if anything still remains despite a much battered life. The cynic in me says no she will only have one child possibly two, but Harry made a bad choice for himself and a good one for Meaghan. I’m kind of sorry for him. She’s a very very street wise woman and he’s a bit of an innocent compared to her. I’m of the opinion big brother William is a far more sa’avy chap when it comes to reading people.
        Pooor Bugga Harry

        Reply
        • April 15, 2020 at 11:13 am
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          Ilana,

          I hope you are wrong (no offense). I think Harry and Meghan are wonderful together. She is much stronger than Diana but the unrelenting attacks in the press can wear anyone down. I admire Harry for taking action to protect his wife and child, not wanting his wife to face what his mother did from the press and paparazzi. William is strong and authoritative but does not have the ability to do what Harry did to protect his family. William is 2nd in line to the throne. He must toe the family line and hold to the ancient traditions. Heavy is the crown that adorns the regal head.

          Reply
        • April 15, 2020 at 4:46 pm
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          Just to chime in here… I have had the same thoughts… Meghan is not a naive schoolgirl… she is an actor and they thrive on publicity and controversy… she would not be able to capitalize this in Britain but Canada is peaceful but wait possibly California…you know the southern part near Hollywood and Sunset will be just right… hopefully Harry and child will be happy… his brain just followed his heart… we will see…

          Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 11:37 am
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      Hi Marien,

      So here is a fast-fueled day, almost stream-of-consciousness-like diary not quite unlike the way our own days, these days, are unfolding, locked at home but bombarded by news, real and fake, from every side, and emotions of all sorts, from frustration to fear to inwardness to calm to hope filling every remaining gap of our re-invented existence.

      Your story is upbeat and generally positive. And yes, Easter and the beginning of spring got caught up in this coronavirus madness. When will we resurrect?

      Another story of reference for our strange times. Up there with Roy’s.

      Ken

      Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 9:40 pm
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    A very different take on the theme, Marien, and it works well, I think. It has a kind of crazy, delirium-fuelled rhythm to it. You jump around from one isolation experience to the next, and we get a good idea of the (your?) family and their closeness. And you also have time to comment on the handling of the crisis by those in charge – not taking sides but showing your frustration.

    It’s a kind of ‘morning pages’ exercise, where we get to see inside your mind … and very interesting it is, too!

    Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 11:56 am
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      Marien,
      Your writing has a unique style…. different vignettes….various collages of thoughts in this desperate situation, but as a whole I couldn’t catch the coherence and it may be my short coming as a reader.

      Reply
      • April 14, 2020 at 1:10 pm
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        It’s my style, not your shortcoming one bit! :))

        It’s tough to focus when the writer jumps as fast as I do! Lol!
        If I were not the writer, I don’t think I’d figure this woman out.

        Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 1:16 pm
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      I’m so honored that you read my story… that’s exactly what I like to hear!
      A different take, delirium- fuelled ! Love the comment. Makes me totally delirious now.
      Thanks.
      That’s how I see life. Swing like Jane from one branch to another, make sure to sing!
      Tarzaaan still hasn’t figured this Jane.
      🙂

      Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 10:12 pm
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    Hi Everybody,
    Here is my story and now I am going to catch up on your wonderful stories. Take care. Stay safe. Stay well. Dita.


    Bubble

    Julie opened her laptop clicking away the title of her blog post – ‘How to Face your Fear’. She was determined to crank up at least a thousand words this morning, uninterrupted, before the world woke up, before her toddler son got up. Julie would not let anything obstruct her.

    It was four thirty in the morning. Through the stillness a monotonous gnawing sound ‘anh, onh, anh onh’ kept slicing the silence of the night.

    Across the window Julie could see her neighbor friend Lily’s house. The sound was coming from her breast pump that was extracting milk from Lily. She could see Lily’s back through the slanted blinds in the dim light.

    Lily rose and poured the milk in small containers to freeze later. She bent down to the crib but straightened up and paused. She plopped on the chair, crouched, holding her face in her palm.

    Julie narrowed her eyes. Lily was shaking, wiping her face on her sleeves.Julie shut the laptop and grabbed her cell phone.

    “What’s up, Lily? Everything okay?” She texted her.

    Lily held her phone and answered,

    “I will be okay once the day starts, once I get busy with the customers. Right now, Julie, I am not. I feel scared. Worries get me at this wee hours, like a monstrous octopus grabbing me with its spiky tentacles. What if…?”

    “What if, Lily?” Julie sent her message.

    “I so want to hold my baby this very minute, in my bosom, letting her nurse but I am afraid. What if I bring this virus home? Would my seventy-two-year-old mother be able to handle it? She is the sole caretaker of my little Emma.” Lily sniffled.

    “I know, my friend. Single moms like you and me, we have to be extra careful. You must protect yourself.”

    “How? I am the only breadwinner.”

    “You should wear a mask and gloves.”

    “What mask?”

    “Remember the masks you bought when we painted baby Emma’s nursery?”

    “Yes! What would I do without you?”
    ***

    After Lily opened her counter well protected she had a call from the management.

    “Lily, you don’t need to wear those masks or gloves. You are not dealing with sick patients like nurses or doctors. It gives a bad impression about our store image, you see. Our brand. Customers are your bread and butter, Lily. They are always right, no matter what. Remember that. Always.” She looked straight into Lily’s eyes. “ You must give them your best. Okay? Keep problems at home. Don’t bring them at work.” She patted Lily with a grin.

    Lily had thought of sharing her worries about her aged mother but swallowed it. She nodded, taking off her mask and the gloves.
    ***

    Lily put on a smile and kept checking out groceries, one cart after another with “Have a nice day” at the end and ” How may I help you?” greeting each new one. Hour after hour.

    A lady with blond curls stared at her. ”Are you Chinese?” She asked, curling her nose. “Did you visit China recently? This Chinese virus…” She blew her nose.

    Lily fixed her gaze straight at her penetrating icy-blue eyes.

    “No, I am from the Bay Area. Born and brought up in Concord, right here. Wish to visit China someday. Never had a chance yet.” She replied with a forced smile remembering customers are always right.

    ***

    At the playground, the two friends met like every afternoon with their respective children in strollers. Today they sat apart, six feet away, not on the same bench anymore.

    Lily shared all that had happened with the lady with ice cold eyes.

    “Xenophobia! Another virus.” Julie sighed.

    They both kept quiet for a while until Julie broke the silence.

    “But you must wear the mask, Lily. You have the right and responsibility to protect yourself.”

    Lily wished she had her guts. She took a long breath and said,

    “I am exhausted, Julie. Tired. Worn out. Last week I had a fifty hour schedule. I am afraid it is lowering my immunity. What if I can’t produce enough milk for Emma?”

    “Don’t you worry about the milk, my friend. I produce enough to feed both. And Shawn doesn’t need as much since he started solid food.”
    ***

    Shawn blew bubbles and they burst in front of Emma’s face with rainbow hues. Emma tried to grab them and burst in belly laughs. That made Shawn laugh more and repeat the game. Both mothers broke in giggles and guffaws in this silly game until tears started rolling their cheeks. Tears of silliness and joy.

    ***

    Next few afternoons Lily didn’t show up at the playground. Julie came to know that Lily was under the weather and for safety sake they are quarantining for fourteen days.

    Julie was worried because Lily’s blinds were completely shut with the curtains drawn. Her cell phone was off.

    One day Julie left some frozen breast milk at their door and in a short while Lily’s mother came and stood in front of the window. She blew kisses and folded her palms like praying. Julie was assured that they received the milk.

    Julie woke up every morning at four thirty to catch up on her writing, but couldn’t write a single sentence after the heading “How to Face Fear”. Instead she worried, wished and prayed to see her friend.
    ***

    Around noon an ambulance came and took Lily away. Her mom with the sleeping baby on her shoulder, and Julie from another window witnessed it without a word. Julie paced back and forth in her room thinking what to do.
    ***

    That afternoon she took her sewing machine to the playground and hooked it with the barbecue outlet and whirred away making masks. Curious neighbors came to know about Lily and started joining her bringing their machines too, working together quietly at different corners of the compound.

    People started dropping homemade masks in baskets. Then one day one of them decided to collect signatures from all the apartment dwellers protesting a boycott of the store urging to protect their employees. Hundred and thirty signatures with a slogan “If you cared for your brand” slapped the manager’s desk.

    In the meantime the Governor of California announced that every grocery clerk must be acknowledged as in the frontline and be protected with a N95 mask. Each person going out in public was required to wear a cloth mask to protect each other.
    ***

    Fourteen days passed since Lily was taken to the hospital. One day Lily’s mother got a phone call from the hospital nurse that she couldn’t understand. She ran to Julie for help. “What are they saying? Lily couldn’t make it? What does that mean? When will she come home?” She looked at Julie.

    July didn’t know what to tell except she hugged her, taking her frail old body to her bosom and cried.

    “Oh, you must not.” The old woman jerked suddenly, “We are separate families, we are in separate bubbles, Lily told me.”

    “No, stay with me.” She drew her close. “ We are one family now, in the same bubble.”

    The old lady rested her head on her shoulder like a baby.

    1191 words.

    Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 1:05 pm
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      A beautiful heart warming story! Makes me cry, Dita.
      A true friend, to the end and beyond, is worth more than diamonds. From offering baby’s nourishment to looking after the old mom!

      ‘July didn’t know what to tell…’ you got that name wrong, but never you mind! ha ha!
      Bless you!

      Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 12:55 am
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      Hi Dita

      I’m in accordance with the sympathies you espouse and you certainly convey the elements of a great story.

      There were a few minor errors, like ‘Don’t bring them at work.’ ‘Next few afternoons…’ Nothing too serious or glaring. However, the dialogue lacked contractions. I only saw two or three when there should’ve been about twenty. Things like: ‘Oh, you must not.’ ‘You are not dealing with…’ ‘They are always…’ ‘I am from…’

      There were way too many of those for me to really get into what could be a very good story.

      Having said that, I will now get down and get funky. (I’m feeling flippant.)

      I come away from this story with one very specific impression.

      There was a lot of milk.
      I was distracted by the milk.
      I can’t help it. I love milk.
      Cow’s milk. (But there were no cows. Not one cow. That made it even more distracting.)

      The bubble. Using a bubble to anchor a story is like, well, I don’t know, the fourth dimension of syntax? Something like that.

      However, the milk bubble is something only a mother could love, not another serious milk lover. (like me.) Truthfully, I didn’t care for that entire section with the kids in the park. A bit corny, I thought.

      I have a sudden overwhelming desire for ice cream.

      I’m serious. I’m going to have some ice cream. At two in the morning. A pile of it. Chocolate. Are you feelin’ me, Dita? Soft, melted, chocolate ice cream.

      Actually, your story made me think of boobs. So all of this chocolate talk is just payback for that. I can’t get boobs off my mind, Why is that? Doesn’t matter, I’m definitely going for the chocolate ice cream.

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 3:42 am
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        Now I’m thinking about ice cream. Although instead of chocolate, it’s rocky road…
        Delicious, smooth, chunky rocky road…

        It’s 4:40 am right now. Too late for a midnight snack? Thoughts, Ken C? After all you’ve started this craving of mine. Maybe if I can get back to sleep, I’ll dream about ice cream?

        Reply
    • April 15, 2020 at 12:07 pm
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      I really like this story, Dita. Very well constructed, and nicely rounded with the ‘like a baby’ reference at the end.

      A lot of social observation embedded in there, and in a way it’s a story about female solidarity. The people who get on and do the stuff, working on what is needed from bottom, taking matters into their own hands.
      Effective and thought-provoking.

      Reply
      • April 15, 2020 at 12:28 pm
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        Thank you. Meant a lot to me after Ken’s remark. Again, I am happy that it touched the reader.

        Reply
        • April 15, 2020 at 11:22 pm
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          Sorry Anandita,

          Not trying to make fun of you, Just working on my disaster comedy. Clearly needs work. Trying to keep it light.

          Not easy to be funny where I live. In a country where, if you’re standing in line to buy ice cream with nine other people, you know that, on average, four of them are complete idiots. Guaranteed. That’s in a line to buy ice cream, a fairly intelligent activity.

          If you’re in line at a hardware store, the percentage of stupid people in the line goes up. And some of them are holding garden tools, hammers or sharp implements that could poke someone’s eye out.

          If you’re standing in a line to get toilet tissue, you may be the only intelligent person in the line. And that’s assuming that you have a good explanation for being there yourself.

          Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 12:02 pm
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      Hi Dita,

      This is a story that captures very well some of the frustrations we’re passing through right now. Living together has become so difficult. Working, shopping, breastfeeding a child and so on – all simple daily things until not long ago – have become dreaded dangers.

      Lily is caught up between the extremities of her mum’s and her baby’s generations: both vulnerable in their own way. But it’s her who succumbs in the end. And the fault is of her shop-manager who couldn’t see beyond his “company image” glasses. And of the authorities who took long to give clear instructions eg. about mask wearing obligations.

      The idea of the bubble, real and metaphorical, is great and could have been exploited further. Eg. by starting with a physical bubble of some sort early on in the beginning of the story (not the middle) and ending with the metaphorical bubble in the end (as you did).

      The many separators (asterisks) have annoyed me a little. Try to move through the story time-lapses more naturally through the use of words. Some separators remain necessary, of course. I use them too. But you’ve got too many here.

      That racist interlude about the Chinese was brilliant. Also the way it’s likened to a virus. And the smart way Lily answers the customer.

      There’s also Julie’s enduring friendship as an antidote to all the bad things that happen. It may have not been enough to save Lily from the virus, but it leaves us readers with a good feeling.

      Cheers!

      Ken

      Reply
  • April 13, 2020 at 10:59 pm
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    Marien – I’m confused.. i’ve gone back and tried to make sense of this and just can’t… at one point I thought oh this is a story from a bird family’s point of view but trying to make that work from the beginning didn’t …so I’m thinking it’s just me my mind just isn’t grasping it… so I’m waiting for more comments to see where I’ve gone wrong… Kiz

    Reply
    • April 14, 2020 at 12:57 pm
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      I fully understand, Liz! Thanks for reading. It’s my quirky way I look at all things happening around us.
      It’s not a bird’s view. This family has plenty time to study nature, and care for it.

      I can’t be serious, or write murky stuff. That’s me. 🙂
      So it’s a description of a day in the life of a family living within the four walls- and trying to do their best to get on with life.

      The mother gets peace of mind through prayer. That’s it. She entertains herself with her own play acting. I learnt this from my mom, and she from hers.

      Every bit told here happened. Nothing is untrue.
      Cheers,
      Marien

      Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 1:10 am
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    Phil,

    I like your new profile pic. It’s about time. You look so much less like an inmate in some forgotten institution.

    Very difficult choices to make this time around. May have to use a dart board, index cards, a magic marker, magnet, string and a hatchet. If all goes well, Kim will sleep through the whole thing. She may have questions in the morning.
    But
    My strategy, after all these years, is to act like I want to tell her what I was doing all night.
    For instance:
    ‘You’ll never guess what I did last night. I found all these discarded doll heads in the neighbor’s garbage, right? And they were a perfect fit for the potato gun, it turns out, so I went down to the overpass…’

    And she goes, ‘yeah, yeah that’s great… can you take the garbage out? Here. All the way down to the street please. Thank you.’

    By the time I come back in, she’s completely forgotten whatever I was talking about. Or that I was talking. At times she seems surprised to see me. Like she’s hired a hit man and they’ve ripped her off again.

    323 ‘thoughts’ on this thread. Surely this alters the definition of ‘thoughts’ doesn’t it? Must be a new record. (That’s what I was going to say.)

    I’m shocked at the news that Mad Magazine is going off the news stand. This is worse news than the Corona Virus. (by some tricky measurement standards.) By the way, what IS a news stand? (I smell a hoax.)

    Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 3:46 am
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      Now the real question is, why would there be baby doll heads in a garage?
      Maybe this guy has phobia? And he’s killing all the vicious dollies in his house. Quite violently I might add.
      Or maybe it’s a doll factory? Or, here it comes folks…
      Those dolls framed this guy for doll murder, and you, Ken C, have unknowningly stumbled upon a huge conspiracy.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 1:18 am
    Permalink

    I tempted to like my own comment. Just for the fuck of it. Just to prove that the software works. I mean really, that’s legit. Who knows? If you don’t test things in advance. look what happens!

    Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 1:36 am
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    I TEMPTED? I ‘AM’ tempted. Good Lord. I’m really piling on the ‘thoughts’ now. Not a crime though. This is all totally legal. You know sometimes, I just don’t see how I leave out a word like ‘am.’ I could swear that I typed that word, and it just disappeared. As if there was some kind of reticulated spectral force, lurking in the interstices just waiting for a chance to make us all look like idiots. Hey, I’m not paranoid. I’m worried about the rest of you. The force is wasting it’s time on me. Like trying to drown a fish. But there may be hope for the rest of you. (Probably not though, so don’t get your hopes up. Now you just watch, I’ll bet one of my parentheses disappears. Making this all look like one confusing thought-fart. Which, in a way, I suppose it is.

    Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 3:52 am
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      Your computer must hate you. You better run Ken, or next time it won’t be a “am” missing…
      that sounded very ominous… of course this could be your computer typing, and not me, Alyssa.
      But of course it’s not. You just have to trust me. Of course you could try and find me and see for yourself, but I think that’s gonna be happening. Unless you use pigeons. They could home in on my scent. I think. Is that how pigeons work?

      Your fart thought isn’t single anymore Ken. It’s gotten engaged to my fart thought. The wedding date is May 4th. I’m thinking a big cake with a fart joke for the main course.
      Unless of course you disagree…
      (I’ve used 3 ‘of courses’ through out this message. I like them a lot)

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 12:42 pm
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        Alyssa,

        The alleged doll heads, were not in the garage, they were in the neighbors ‘gar-bage’. (gar-ba-shzay.) Slight difference. But…I like where you went with this Alyssa, upside down and backwards. Doesn’t matter, as long as you took it somewhere.
        The premise does raise some questions though. What were all these heads doing in the trash? (I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me.)

        Why was I looking through my neighbor’s trash? (It was late, or early, and I was bored.)

        What happened to all the doll bodies? Were they drawn and quartered? Are these medieval dolls? (I hope, uh, help me out here. Do I hope so? Or not?)

        Are potato guns a real thing? Are Americans truly so depraved that they would use potatoes as ammunition? During a food shortage? (The answers to these questions are all obvious.)

        (You and I should definitely join farts, Alyssa. The evidence is overwhelming.) However, let me be clear on something, not all engagements result in a marriage. Our farts may (to use a stale phrase) ‘make beautiful music together’ only to discover later on that they are not in any practical sense compatible. (Like garlic and pistachios.) It’s a very sad fart-fact that 50- percent (or whatever number you choose to believe) of engagements result in less or no further engagements.

        But, that shouldn’t, and doesn’t mean that farts should refrain from further, more and ongoing engagements. (As long as the farts are of legal age and status. Further restrictions may apply.)

        There is such a thing known as (it’s still just a theory, mind you) remote-fart-entanglement. Essentially this is the theory that one fart can affect another remote and distant fart without any observable contact or communication. (If I were Einstein, I would call it, ‘Spooky Fartation at a distance.’ Or something catchy like that. But I’m not Einstein so I just call it — a remote mingle-fart. Remote mingle-farts are, I don’t know, what we’re doing now? A mystery to me? However, if you ever want to collaborate on a story, I ‘ ‘ all in. I think there should be pigeons in the story, too.

        I really should be voting now, Alyssa.

        Reply
        • April 16, 2020 at 12:57 pm
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          By the way, Alyssa, when I copied the title of your story into my word-enhancer software. (The nerve ganglion between my brain and my fingers.) It came out ‘Fear Factory.’ The ‘Y’ changes it pretty dramatically.

          Reply
        • April 16, 2020 at 1:13 pm
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          Well Ken C, our farts can certainly make beautiful music together, but I don’t think other people would appreciate it. The smell alone…
          Phew, it would stink. To say the least. Maybe they should see other farts? It’s a big, gastrointestinal decision. We should take some time to mull over this bowl of fart.

          I think I would hope that those doll’s were medieval, because those are much more cooler. I would want to be framed for murdering medieval dolls, not some boring generic brand of doll from the nearest Walmart. If you going out, why not go out with a bang?

          And Ken, I went upside down, backwards, forward, downward, perpendicular, intersection and parallel.

          Reply
        • April 16, 2020 at 1:32 pm
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          Ok, Ken and Alyssa,

          I must jump in here. I am a doll collector. I speak for the dolls. The mere thought of dolls or doll heads being discarded as garbage wounds me to the core. That is doll murder and is punishable by … give me a few minutes, I’ll think of a good punishment.

          Dolls have been in existence, I’m pretty sure, since the beginning of time when little girls drew faces on rocks and talked to them. Doll abuse should rank as highly as child abuse since they represent children. I would not dream of casting one of my beloved dolls into the trash. There are ways to repair them and make them like new. (Except for porcelain dolls, porcelain shatters. Like Humpty Dumpty, even the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put them back together again.

          I would give you specifics about baby doll repair but it might make one squeamish to talk about replacing doll insides and reattaching limbs, heads, etc. It can be a delicate procedure. The “death” of a doll can be traumatic. Please show respect and don’t shoot them with potato guns or anything else.

          Signed,

          Avid doll lover.

          Reply
          • April 16, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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            Adi,

            Well………………..

            Of course not. I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing….
            anymore. Now that I’m educated. And enlightened.

            And not a moment too soon for the enlightenment either, as it seems pretty clear that the dastard who’s doing these diabolical deeds is my ‘not so mysterious’ next door neighbor. A pleasant young chap with a wife and a toddler.

            Perhaps he’s the one being framed, and some vindictive villain (somewhere else, obviously) is harming these precious little ‘doll thingies’ and dumping them in his trash bin to mislead the police and the investigator, a young but savagely successful and now retired elevator sales woman named Cleophelia. Cleophelia Jackson-Foothold.

            We’ve got the makings of a really bizarre detective mystery here, I think. (I DID NOT say good. I said mysterious.)

            Do you have any background on Cleophelia? Anyone?
            Jello?

          • April 17, 2020 at 7:04 am
            Permalink

            “It all began when Raymond found the collection of headless dolls in the Old Curiosity Shop ….”

  • April 16, 2020 at 8:29 am
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    I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s stories this round – some high quality writing here indeed.
    Couldn’t pull a story together myself, though. Next time, maybe.

    Meanwhile, I wish everyone all the best in the voting.

    Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 4:36 pm
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      Pity we didn’t see a story from you, the Cup Holder! Maybe you’re one who’s afraid of nothing?

      Well, think little curiosity shop now. Think think think. No excuses next week 🙂

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm
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      No worries, but you must take responsibility for your lateness 🙂

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 1:15 pm
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      Yessir, I do believe it is. Take me away officer! Although I will request some rocky road ice cream. It’s complicated.

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 1:18 pm
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        Huh, that was meant for Ken up there. Now my computer is being naughty… Ken, you must’ve done something to it. It’s the only obvious answer. You pigeons must’ve found me. Time to go off the radar again

        Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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    Now that Ken C. has decided to turn in his votes, here are the results:

    THE WINNER IS!!
    First Place: Small, Red and Deadly by Ken Frape

    2nd Place: Ten Inches by Phil Town
    3rd Place: Revelation by Roy York
    4th Place: Four Dates with Death by Ken Miles
    5th Place: Through the Window by Adrienne Riggs
    6th Place: Vicarious Redemption by Kristin Record
    7th Place: Iceberg Salad by Ken Cartisano
    8th Place: Spore by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    9th Place: The Fear Factor by Alyssa Daxson
    10th Place: A Short True Story by Robert Emmett
    11th Place: Facing Fears by Ilana Leeds
    12th Place: Bubble by Dita Basu
    13th Place: A Tie between, Facing Fears by Liz Fisher and What Is Fear? by Marien Oommen

    Favorite Character: “Narrator” from Four Dates with Death by Ken Miles
    Character Dialogue: Ten Inches by Phil Town

    Congratulations Ken Frape!!
    And thank you all for participating.

    Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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      Hi All,

      Thank you so much for your votes. In the company we keep in this writers’ forum, to come top is a very humbling experience.

      There was a huge amount of “traffic” on the site during the past few days, which just goes to show how much effort people put in. I am very happy to be a part of all this.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 2:41 pm
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        Well done Ken – a well-deserved top placing.

        And Ken M and Phil for the category prizes. And Roy and Adi for being up and around these guys. And … and ….

        Reply
        • April 16, 2020 at 4:38 pm
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          Thanks, Andy

          Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 3:15 pm
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        Frape,

        Did you just refer to my mentally deficient ramblings as ‘traffic’? You flatter me, sir. Congrats on the win, Ken, you certainly earned it with a great yarn, very well told.

        Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 2:49 pm
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      Well done, Frape!

      A well deserved win for a finely written story. It was in my top five too.

      You did to little spiders what “Jaws” did to sharks!

      Thumbs up to Phil and Roy for the two other podium spots, and to all really – I enjoyed all the stories, as I said in my comments to each one of them.

      Thanks guys for the Best Character Oscar to my Narrator. I didn’t see that coming 🙂 He’s now asking for a pay rise.

      I’m pleased with fourth place too. This further encourages me to submit this story to a local short fiction contest. Usually, they do plays, which then get acted out, but because of the coronavirus they’re doing short stories (and online readings) instead this year. I will incorporate the fixes that many of you suggested. I’ll be having up to 2,000 words to work with, so I’ll be fine with the word limit :- )

      Thanks again,
      Ken

      Reply
    • April 16, 2020 at 6:19 pm
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      Congratulations Ken (thoroughly deserved) and all (for some top-notch stories).

      And thanks for the dialogue prize – very encouraging!