DEADLINE EXTENDED!! February 27 – March 18, 2020 Writing Prompt “Lost in Translation”

Theme: Lost in Translation

Story must contain a phrase (word, sentence etc.) in a foreign language and its translation. But the translation doesn’t have to follow the foreign phrase immediately afterwards.

Word Count: 1,200



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  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
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Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.
See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.





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

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

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

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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

The writing prompt for March 19, 2020 will be chosen by Ken Cartisano.




228 thoughts on “DEADLINE EXTENDED!! February 27 – March 18, 2020 Writing Prompt “Lost in Translation”

  • February 27, 2020 at 12:14 pm
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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
  • February 28, 2020 at 10:55 am
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    Lost in translation – like ‘coup de grâce’ is French for lawnmower?
    I think I’ve got this.

    Reply
  • March 1, 2020 at 7:17 am
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    No, it means ice cream.

    Reply
  • March 2, 2020 at 5:43 pm
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    Signing up. See all y’all soon.

    Roy

    Reply
  • March 3, 2020 at 8:32 am
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    “Polyglot Perfidy”
    (1049 words)

    “Bienvenue, Welcome! Why not try learning French,” the ad started. I kept reading and was giving the idea of learning French serious thought when I noticed a similar ad for German a few lines down on the Craigslist site. That got me to thinking about learning German until I saw the exact same ad for Japanese. That seemed curious, so I checked and yup, they all were from the same guy – Robert Downhum – who was offering these language lessons at his home.

    I was instantly intrigued. A polyglot who offered lessons in his own home. This could be very useful to me. I immediately picked up my phone.

    “Mr. Downhum? Hi, I’m Brian Gillchrist and I live not too far from you. I’m very interested in taking your language lessons.”

    “Fantastic! I recommend starting with a twice a week class. Which language are you interested in?”

    “All of them,” I replied nonchalantly. You see, for my purposes, it didn’t matter what language I learned. I merely wanted the opportunity for alone time with Mr. Downhum.

    “Really? How intriguing. You must have a lot of time on your hands, Mr. Gillchrist? No wife and kids to keep you busy, hmm?”

    “No.”

    “And let me guess, you find books more appealing than friends?”

    “Well, I guess you’ve got me figured out.” I figured I should go with his excuse, although god knows books weren’t the reason I had no friends.

    “Well, fine. Shall we start Tuesday? How does 7pm work for you?”

    “7 on Tuesday is fine by me. Will there be anyone else there? And do I need to bring anything?”

    “No. It’ll be just the two of us – I live alone and I prefer to take students individually. And my fee is just $20 for Tuesday’s session,” Mr. Downhum replied. That stopped me a bit. Only $20 per session? I didn’t know much about language lessons but that seemed awfully cheap! Oh well, I was only planning to go to one lesson…but then…I get ahead of myself.

    “See you then,” I replied as I hung up. I took a long look at my phone and practically jumped for joy. It was finally happening! I could…well…again…I need to explain this as it happened.

    Time didn’t move fast enough for me that weekend. I waited for Tuesday and when Tuesday finally came I was panting for the clock to reach past noon so I could legitimately begin my preparations. After noon the minute hand seemed to drag more slowly than usual. I only took a minute to get ready and then I sat in my favorite chair and waited. I savored the thought of Mr. Downhum, alone, in his house. I knew I would be ready. I had been waiting for so long for another chance to…sorry…I keep forgetting myself.

    The clock finally reached 6:30 and I set off for Mr. Downhum’s home. I decided to walk so nobody would see my car outside his home. Once I reached his house I quickly crossed the lawn and raced to the door to lessen the chance that any neighbor had seen me. I knocked and to my relief Mr. Downhum came quickly to the door so I didn’t have to linger on his front porch for long at all. I think I was totally unseen. So far, so good.

    “Mr. Gillchrist! You are right on time. I see you walked. Brilliant! No car to…er…I mean walking is good for the soul.”

    “Now before I begin, I need to ask if you know any languages?”

    “A phrase or two of Japanese, French, German and Latin,” I replied. “My favorite is Japanese – hajimemashite, douzo yoroshku onegai itasimasu.”

    “Yes, that is a good one. Do you know what it means?”

    “Please treat me gently at this our first meeting,” I responded. “But as you know, that is a literal translation, it is really used as English speakers use the phrase – Nice to meet you – it’s just something you say at a first meeting to be polite.”

    “Yes, I always think of it as the words to use to check that the person you are talking to is alive,” Mr. Downhum said. “I’m glad you are. Very glad indeed,” he said as he chuckled.

    Now you know that chuckle unnerved me. It was a cold hearted guttural laugh that emanated from high up in his nose, not even his throat and certainly not his belly. It was creepy. The hair on the back of my neck began to rise and I began to think there was more to Mr. Downhum than met the eye. Warily, I looked around and was satisfied that I didn’t see any knives or other weapons. I know that sounds a bit paranoid to some, but for people like me, it makes utter sense. I was on high alert.

    “So, Mr. GIllchrist, won’t you have some food?”

    Still on high alert, I worried about the food. Might be poisoned. I asked to wash my hands first and he pointed to the bathroom which was past the kitchen. I headed in that direction quickly, not wanting to put my back to Mr. Downhum for long. In the kitchen I looked quickly to see where the trash might be. Under the sink? In the closet? Ah, finally I saw it, a bottle of rat poison, opened and empty, at the top of pile in the unlidded garbage can. I knew it.

    Just as I was picked up the rat poison bottle, Mr. Downhum turned the corner into the kitchen. I guiltily dropped the bottle back into the can.

    “So, you’ve seen. I can’t risk you leaving without getting my satisfaction,” he shouted as he raced towards me, grabbing a sharp kitchen knife en route.

    I was not taken aback as I had been warned by the rat poison. I pulled out the blade I had secreted in my boot during my preparations and I threw it into his heart before he could reach me. Then as he continued his forward momentum I grabbed another kitchen knife from his counter and sliced his neck as a coup de grace.

    As I began to dismantle his body, I thought to myself, “Go figure! What are the chances that we’re BOTH serial killers?”

    Reply
    • March 6, 2020 at 12:43 am
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      Trish,

      While in broad agreement with Ken Miles, I feel that this story could stand with a few corrections.

      It seems like you shift from past to present tense a few times. I think the story should be in present tense and stay there.

      Be that as it may,
      The sentence starting with: “Mr. Gilchrist! You are right on time…. And ending with: “I need to ask you if you know any languages?” This should all be one paragraph. You’ve broken it into two and it confuses.

      ‘…he said as he chuckled.’
      ‘It was a cold-hearted guttural laugh that emanated from high up in his nose…’ (etc.) Okay, so he actually laughed, he didn’t chuckle at all. (Be consistent.)

      You use the phrase ‘on high alert’ twice, with only eight words between them. This may have been intentional but it reads like a mistake.

      Near the end of the story, you have a couple of errors:
      ‘…at the top of pile, in the unlidded garbage can…’
      ‘Just as I was picked up the rat poison bottle,…’

      Some weird wording:
      ‘I can’t risk you leaving…without getting my satisfaction.’ I suspect you’re still trying to hide the ulterior motives of your characters, but at this point, it isn’t necessary.

      I hope you’ll fix these errors because it’s still pretty early in the contest.

      Errors aside, I love your writing, Trish. It’s very clear. Vivid, without being gaudy or trite. I loved the last line, ‘as I began to dismantle his body…’ Unfortunately, by this point, it was not a surprise. If you could keep this fact from the reader until the last line, THAT, would be truly audacious. (Wouldn’t it?)

      Reply
      • March 6, 2020 at 9:58 am
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        Ken, thank you for the close read. I can and will fix most of what you mentioned above, but I’m struggling with your note about tense. The story as I envision it is the narrator remembering actions that have already happened. So, as I envision it, his thinking needs to be in the past tense. But as I try to be consistent with my tense, I am struggling with how to include dialogue in past tense this remembered scenario. Then, to follow your advice more directly, I tried to envision the story being told in the present tense. The dialogue is fine then, but then I’m not sure how to share the thinking of the narrator in present tense too. I’m sure this is simple, but for some reason I can’t get my mind wrapped around it. I’m guessing you are busy, but I welcome any further assistance you can provide on the tense issue. Thank you in advance! Trish

        Reply
        • March 10, 2020 at 11:41 am
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          Hi Trish,

          Let me post my own story before the deadline drops, and I’ll be happy to re-read it a couple of times. I could be wrong. Others, especially Phil, often correct this feature of my stories as I don’t always get it right. I think (although it was a few days ago) that my instinct was telling me that you didn’t need to utilize past tense at all. (I think that may be a form of cheat that I use to avoid this problem altogether. Not sure.

          I’ll get back to you on it though.
          Ken

          Reply
        • March 11, 2020 at 2:08 pm
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          Trish,

          I think you write just fine without my help. But in answer to your question, the lines where the character says: “All of them,” I replied nonchalantly. You see, for my purposes, it didn’t matter what language I learned. I merely wanted the opportunity to be alone with Mr. Downhum.

          You’re breaking the fourth wall here, aren’t you? I like this, and wouldn’t change it for anything.

          I think, what I mean is, most of the story is dialogue, it seems very present tense. But then, when you describe your MC’s anticipation, that’s when you are reminded that this is a story that has already happened. Past tense.

          Phrases like: ‘I was only planning on going to one lesson…but then…I get ahead of myself.’
          ‘It was finally happening! I could…well…again…I need to explain this as it happened.’
          ‘…been waiting for another chance to…sorry…I keep forgetting myself.’

          These three phrases are not so much breaking the fourth wall, (although they may do that as well) but they remind us that events have already taken place, and, in my opinion, they’re not really necessary to tell the story. You can break the fourth wall without slipping into past tense. And I think you’ve added them to convey the sense of mystery or impending suspense, but I think your story already does that without these phrases. The only way to really find out is to read the story without those three phrases and see if the story comes up lacking.

          It’s not a make or break kind of thing for me. But… your writing is really good so. It’s like having a real pretty boat. If you got a real pretty boat, you don’t want a bunch of tangled ropes and lines laying about, detracting from the vessel’s overall beauty.

          You may feel like these three phrases are a key element of the story. So, let’s see what Philip says.
          Not only will he probably confirm your conviction that you’re right, but he’ll do it in a way in which I may even learn something. Who knows.

          It’s a great story, Trish. A very novel, darkly humorous tale of coincidence. (Or fate.)

          Reply
          • March 18, 2020 at 11:26 am
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            Thank you again Ken, for your close read and continued attention to my story. Several have commented that the hints I gave to the protagonist’s intentions were unnecessary, as you also said. I think I understand the tense issue now – either I put the entire thing as a memoir – sans dialogue – or I put it all in present tense and skip the protagonist’s asides. Since the asides have been viewed as not needed by several readers, putting it all in present tense would be best, as you said initially. Sorry it took a bit for that to sink in to my head. I’m not going to have time to re-write this story, but please be confident that I have taken your advice to heart. I sincerely appreciate your feedback and intend to put it to good use in future stories. Very kindly, Trish

    • March 11, 2020 at 9:15 pm
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      Hi, Trish

      This is a very well rendered suspense story – slick action, good dialogue, an intriguing narrator. I don’t have a lot to say that the Kens C and M haven’t already said. I actually suspected that Gilchrist was after Downhum (strange name … any significance?) – possibly revenge for some earlier hurt caused. I wasn’t suspecting that Downhum was also up to no good (in fact it was a risky way to catch victims, wasn’t it? Gilchrist was a loner, yes, but any other student might have had friends/family that they would tell about the classes). So the reveal about Downhum came as a nice twist for me (though I don’t think having it there at the end as a question quite works). Ken C mentions me re your narration … I think it works nicely. I like the way the narrator begins to tell us about his plans, then takes a step back – kinda tantalising. One little observation: When Downhum says “I see you walked.” … how does he see that?

      Enjoyed your story a lot. Thanks!

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 11:33 am
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        Phil. Glad you enjoyed the story and thank you for the close read. I appreciate that you thought the narration worked nicely. I do think that based on Ken C. and Roy’s comments I might cut down/out that sort of thing in the future. Cheers, Trish PS – When Downhumn says “I see you walked,” my thinking was that Downhum was looking out a front window to check Gilchrist’s approach.

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 9:32 am
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      Trish, First the good thing. I like your writing. This is a well written story from a pace point of perspective. You keep it moving, and you introduce new material to keep me interested and reading. Aside from some of the things others have pointed out, errors not withstanding, it is a well constructed and well written story. This is the not so good thing. I think, IMHO, you give the reader too many clues. I knew from about this sentence:

      ‘You see, for my purposes, it didn’t matter what language I learned. I merely wanted the opportunity for alone time with Mr. Downhum.”

      that Gillchrist may be a serial killer. As I was saying that to myself, it entered my mind that Mr. Dunham himself, might also be a serial killer with the very next sentence. So, what I’m saying is you didn’t need to tip me off. At this point we don’t need to know, and you don’t need to tell us. I would apply that same logic at the various points you tip us off even further. Then, having done that, the last two paragraphs would have been a surprise to the reader. But, a well done story and a well written story.

      I will leave you with this. One of my favorite jokes is the guy driving along and sees a hitchhiker. He pulls over and offers him a ride which the hitchhiker accepts. Then, as they start down the road, the driver says, “I’m surprised to see hitch hikers these days. Tell me, aren’t you at least a little bit afraid I might be a serial killer?” The rider looks over and says, “Yeah I did think about that. Then, I thought, what are the odds there would be two serial killers in the same car?”

      I’m going to assume that you may not have heard that joke, but if you did, it was buried in your subconscious. You handled it very well.

      Roy York

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 11:30 am
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        Roy – thank you for your detailed feedback. Ken C. also mentioned that I didn’t need the indications of the protagonist’s intent. I won’t have time to rewrite this story, but I look forward to being able to make good use of your critique in future pieces. That is to say, I should leave out the hints to the reader! Thanks again, Trish

        Reply
        • March 18, 2020 at 1:26 pm
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          Trish, you are welcome, and I truly hope I helped. It’s not exactly called author intrusion, but it’s damn close. The whole idea of a good mystery is the twist at the end that hardly anyone saw coming. You had one, but tipped everyone off! Stephen King, as good as he is – good, did I say good – as great as he is, does that from time to time in his stories. Sometimes it doesn’t mean much, but sometimes he aggravates me to no end, now that I know little Sally at some point in this story is going to have her cute little head ripped off by some insidious monster, probably lurking in a sewer someplace, and she might even be a teenager by then. You are a good writer but misdirection is tricky and sometimes hard to do, but I think you have the chops to do it.

          Reply
    • March 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm
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      Hi Trish,
      I got to read your story. Extremely well written and got me stumped at the end.
      From innocent language learning to an unexpected end.
      O man! What a twist.
      Scary!!!

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 11:35 am
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        Thanks for reading and commenting, Marien!

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 5:17 am
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      I liked your story, Trish. The writing is smooth, the language rich and alive with images and emotion. It enabled me to easily visualize the settings and the mindset of the characters. If anything, you did such a great job at inviting the reader into the protagonist’s mindset that, in my opinion, you really did not need to be throwing additional hints as to his intentions so early in the story. I would have preferred it if my suspicion as to his intentions (and the similar intentions of Mr. Downhum) would have been allowed more of a state of suspension until the very end. Not much to add to Ken’s comments, beside – “Now you know that chuckle unnerved me” should either be ‘Now you know that chuckles unnerved me’ or ‘You should know that that chuckle unnerved me’. Nevertheless, like I said, a most enjoyable story indeed.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 11:37 am
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        Sarig, thanks for reading and commenting! Several made the same point you did about not needing the hints. Point taken, and thank you for the critique. I will make use of your feedback in future pieces. Keep smiling, Trish

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:09 pm
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      As I’m last to comment – as well it seems, as being the last to write – there is little I can add to what has been said. Though probably, most of it I wouldn’t have noticed or said!
      I think your story is well-written and flows well. It revolves around an unlikely coincidence, and once you accept that and the necessary suspension of disbelief, it all hangs together. Entertaining.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 5:21 pm
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      I wouldn’t take that title so soon Andy, I think I may beat you…

      Trish, loved the story, it had a nice twist at the end and as practically everyone else said, good writing.
      I did figure out who both the serial killers were before the ending, but that didn’t stop me from liking it.

      Very entertaining! It did also remind me of that joke Roy told you about, the one with the hitchhiker.

      Great story!- Alyssa

      Reply
  • March 3, 2020 at 9:26 am
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    Signing in

    Reply
  • March 5, 2020 at 4:22 am
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    Hi Trish,

    Oh what are the chances of…? The chilliness of that final question is perhaps the scariest bit! Good story which had my face glued to my screen as I read on, eager to know what’s gonna happen at Downhum’s home. It scores high on the suspense/curiosity-arousing front. At least it did with me.

    I felt there was something suspicious, creepy too, with both Gillchrist’s willingness to learn those languages and Downhum’s offer to teach them. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but I knew something was wrong somewhere with both these men. This uncertainty you instill on the reader, is another thing that, to my eyes, makes this story rise to prominence.

    I mean, who would just decide to learn not one but three new languages, purely on a whim, without any real reason to learn them? And who would teach such three diverse languages? It’s not something totally unheard of, perhaps. Polyglot teachers might exist, but I felt something was wrong with Downhum’s intentions. Also in the way he advertises his different language services, separately, almost sneakily. Like he set out his fishing nets as wide as possible, to ensure a catch. I knew something was wrong with him, but didn’t know what, and didn’t think it would be *that* wrong. All that was enough to raise the suspense, without giving the final outcome away.

    That bit about Gillchrist having no friends is a masterstroke in misdirection. Whether intentionally or not, it led me to think that what he was seeking was much yearned for friendship, rather than language-learning, from Downhum. Perhaps I took it that way because I had a similar experience myself. I used to teach English privately and, once, an elderly businessman asked if I could teach him at his own home. His payment was generous, higher than I myself asked for initially. He’d present me with gifts in the form of home-made food and jewelry (he was a jewelry-maker) I didn’t even care about (but still, it was a nice gesture on his part). He was not in the mindset of learning any English at all, and indeed learned very little. He was instead very keen on talking about his life (I speak his language, Italian). And such a life it was! He was embroiled in crime, he said, and told me lots of stories of his exploits, which I took with a pinch of salt (but listened to attentively anyhow – good fodder for my stories!). Until he disappeared, and months later a friend of his showed me a newspaper with a news-article on my ex-student. He’d been caught, arrested and imprisoned. At that point I believed every word he had told me! It was interesting how he used the English-learning thingy to have someone – me – to talk to.

    I thought your story was going somewhere along those lines. But then, Gillchrist’s enthusiasm, craving even, about being alone with Downhum made me suspect he was searching for something even more intimate than just a friend to talk to. Another brilliant and deceptive misdirection on your part. Then, the inevitable happens. And there is no way to stop it, at that point. It didn’t happen to me (or to my student) in my own real-life story. Thankfully. I mean I’m writing this now, two decades later, and I’m neither dead nor on death-row… I may have been lucky.

    Cheers!

    Ken

    Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 11:39 am
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      Thanks for the close read and fun comment Ken! Keep smiling, Trish

      Reply
  • March 5, 2020 at 6:09 am
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    AMBASSADORS
    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words, excluding titles and this line)

    “Dig this: you’re U.S. Ambassadors!” the Rector exalts Dyl and Matt, totally ignoring Louis. “Honor us in Italy, like you honored our Campus on the field. The world used to look up to our country. But the events of recent years have made of us an object of ridicule. It’s your job, boys, to bring back our shine!”

    The sports-loving Rector handpicked the two jocks for the student-exchange. Louis earned his ticket by handily winning the exam-based contest. The Rector does finally turn to Louis, shoots a scornful glance at his belly, and offers him this: “You’ll find good food in Italy!”

    Inside the ancient auditorium, the three sit in a sea of unfamiliar faces. You can tell exchange-students from locals by the headphones they’re wearing for simultaneous-translation of the Principal’s introductory speech.

    “Hey Louise!” Dyl deliberately mispronounces Louis’s name. “I’m in no mood of anymore Englishiano on these prehistoric headphones. You hold the fort, ok? Tell us what she’s blabbering about later…”

    “And we’ll keep it going that way,” Matt adds, “I’m here for a long-drawn holiday, not boring lectures! Italian gals are hot, I hear. You take the notes, Lou-Lou, then pass’em on to us…”

    “We’ll be nice to you, back home,” Dyl gives him an incentive. “Good to have friends like us. Especially if it’s a loser like you!”

    Waves of muffled laughter float inside the auditorium each time the Principal lifts her pointer-stick. She’s a midget, but very well-pronounced at the upper-rack. Whenever she points up high, things get a bit awry, breasts bouncing with a mind of their own. Dyl and Matt already got a name for her, Mrs.Jiggles.

    Circus over and four-hundred-or-so freshmen stampede like they’d been held in there by force. Dyl and Matt seek Louis’s update on what’s to happen next.

    “It’s siesta-break… then registration and first-session at two-thirty… but somewhere else…”

    “Siesta-break!? Cool!” Matt likes the sound of that.

    “Only problem,” Louis sounds worried, “I didn’t quite catch the address we should go to…”

    “You don’t tell me! Poo-poo brain – were you lost in the boob-show?”

    If nothing else, the jocks gotta have their names registered, before their long party begins.

    “Where’s everybody?” Dyl looks around for help. The freshmen have already dissipated in the crowded piazza.

    “Those two! I saw them inside!” Matt points at two girls he recognizes from the auditorium.

    “Do you speak English, senoritas?”

    “Signorinas, meathead!” Dyl corrects him.

    “Yesss, small bit.” The girl in the bright yellow dress pronounces “small”, “zmole”, but seems proud for at least being able to say just that much.

    “Zmole bit? Sounds promising!” Dyl mocks her. “Where did jugs-lady say we go next?”

    “No capisco. Jugs-lady, what’s means?”

    “First lesson – the venue?”

    “Vino?”

    “No, not vino! Lord! I’ll explain slowly, ok? This stupido here,” he points at Louis, “was supposed to be listening for us. But was taken in by the Principal’s boobs –“

    “Boobs!” jumps in the other girl, blue jumper with “Wonderwoman” splashed across it. “Tette!” she translates that singular word for her friend’s benefit. “Vogliono andare da qualche puttana!” she continues, quite convinced they’re asking for the nearest bordello.

    “‘Pipistrello’, Via Amalia, 69…” she informs them briefly, keen to get rid of them.

    “Took that down, Louise?” Dyl asks. Then, turns to the girls: “join us for siesta-break?”

    Both screw up their faces. The one in blue grabs her girlfriend by the waist and pulls her away.

    “Schifosi!”

    “Schifosi – the airport guy said that when I downed three doughnuts straight! Looked it up – means disgusting!” Louis chips in.

    “So we’re disgusting, right?” Dyl’s livid. “Fuck you!”

    “Zame to you!”

    “Lesbians!”

    ***

    “I think those bitches sent us to the wrong place!” Dyl tells Matt, as the three enter ‘Pipistrello’.

    “Choccolato or vanilla?” asks a man with piercings crammed on his every facial protrusion.

    “Can’t say no to ice-cream!” Matt’s eyes haven’t yet adjusted to the dark interiors of the brothel.

    “Are you pretending or you’re really moroni?” the man speaks a mixture of English and Italian in a Slavonic accent.

    “You wanna fuck a Nigerian or a Ukrainian lady?”

    “We’re not here for that,” asserts Louis.

    “Then what you here for? Looking for your long-lost mammas?”

    “For our first lesson…”

    “Very funny, cicciotello!” That’s Italian for chubby. “Here comes your first lesson!” With that, he slaps Louis’s pink babyface. “School-of-hard-knocks here. You’ll learn quickly!”

    “They may be reporters,” whispers another guy, also in an Eastern-European accent, “we’ve been there. Don’t let’em go…”

    The pierced man draws out a carving-knife and orders Matt and Dyl up a narrow staircase to a room upstairs. Louis just follows of his own accord. The pimp sort of knew he would.

    “You’re lodging here till you say what the fuck you really came here for! I’m not sure you’ll be taking your balls with you when you leave.”

    He takes their phones. Louis gives his Samsung, but still has his iPhone. “I’ll give you trenta minuti to think about the consequences of lying to me!” The man makes himself clear, then leaves.

    “You still have your other phone? Call the police – hurry!” Dyl hisses to Louis.

    “I dunno the number!”

    “Google it, forchrissake! ‘ITALY – EMERGENCY’!

    Louis types frantically, hitting all the wrong letters, until a number comes up.

    “American citizens! Kidnapped! Serious! Pipistrello…” He’s curtly cut off.

    Soon enough a helicopter hovers above the building. Armored trucks roll down Via Amalia. The evacuation sirens are deafening.

    “Gosh! Did we start World War Three?” cracks Dyl.

    A commando in full combat-gear hangs down a rope at window-level from the chopper above and swings himself into the room where the three are being held, shattering the glass-pane with his body.

    The pierced man’s just barged in. “And who d’we have here now? Rambo?”

    Rambo flies back out of the window with the three students clamped to him. Matt and Dyl raise victory fingers at the news-cameras and right-place-at-the-right-time vloggers, feeling quite the heroes, as they descend to street-level. Louis just buries his head in his thick neck.

    A TV helicopter broadcasts the Hollywoodian spectacle live, hitting the world headlines. This military unit isn’t often called in. It’s more likely found rescuing African migrants from the Mediterranean or Alpine skiers from avalanches.

    ***

    “You called the army, idiot!” Dyl scolds Louis.

    “I was under stress, man! He was gonna kill us…!”

    “‘Emergenza Catastrofe Nazionale’ – Lord! National catastrophe! Even I can understand that!”

    When the Principal finally arrives, she’s ferocious.

    “In under twelve hours you’ve been to a whorehouse, stirred up a national emergency, the U.S. Consul had to call your President to tell him you’re all right, you played the fools on every TV screen in the world! You even called our Mayor’s daughter lesbian!”

    The more agitated she gets, the more Mrs.Jiggles lives up to her name. Her frontispiece dances wildly as she springs up and down her toes. Ambassador Matt can’t hold it back anymore. And then, Ambassador Dyl bursts out too, laughing uncontrollably.

    “You get out of my sight!” she orders Louis.

    “And you two are on the first flight back home tonight.”

    Louis just can’t understand what’s wrong with those two. He’s now sole Ambassador. He fulfills his duties with utmost diligence.

    Reply
    • March 6, 2020 at 10:04 am
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      Ken, Very imaginative story. I got a little confused when you called the boys “US Ambassadors” – I think you meant American ambassadors (with a small a) – I think US Ambassador is a title presented by the US President for his emissaries overseas. But overall, very imaginative with nice details to add flair to the story.

      Reply
      • March 6, 2020 at 11:51 am
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        Hi Trish,

        I’m pleased you liked it, nice little details included 🙂

        I think the Rector is somewhat bombastic in comparing them lads to Ambassadors (the President’s men and women overseas, as you rightly point out) or his tongue is firmly lodged in his cheek when he says that. But his joke will soon come back to haunt him for a long time to come!

        But yes, it could have been American ambassadors too, as you suggest, and avoid the confusion.

        I called the story itself “Ambassadors”, as it’s a jokey piece all in all and I find the clash between the “solemnity” of Ambassadorship with the absurdity of what these young men come up with quite funny in and of itself.

        But that’s all provisional. Ken C. will now find me a much better title, which I’ll gladly accept. He offers this service to us for free.

        Thanks for reading and commenting, Trish.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • March 10, 2020 at 3:25 am
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      That’s a fun story there Ken, made me think of one of those guys that goes up a real tall ladder way up, to a platform, where he builds a little more suspense, maybe slips while putting on his goggles, and then off the platform and into a tiny pool of water he dives, and he lives. Pops up and out of the pool and everybody loves it. That’s what your story reminded me of. I got a visual on that.
      Names?
      Dyl and the Pickle Of Doom?
      Oui, How You Say, F@8cked Oop? Orrrr,
      Americana Rama Lama Ding Dang Dong Gong. (You told Trish it was lighthearted.) Fong-A-Ronga. (Okay I’m just screwing around now. Not only are these names free, but they will be ‘Extremely Free.’ As Free As Can Be.

      I didn’t see anything particularly confusing about it, your story, but hey, my story will be unbelievably confusing. It’ll make yours seem like a simple nursery rhyme. , if I post it in time. Not making no promises. Okay I promise. (Hey, how’d you do that?) Quit that. Okay, I gotta go run my story through-out the cuisinart, translator inducer-mogrifier. Sometimes everything turns yellow. I don’t know, we’ll see. I’m putting it (not me) in there, irregardless. (That’s right, irregardless.)

      Reply
      • March 10, 2020 at 11:38 am
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        Sure the titles are all free, Ken? And will always be free? This is not a 3-month trial period, is it? And then I’ll be left all alone in this world without anyone to turn to who could come up with decent titles for me. You won’t be trying to sell me the premium version at some point, will you? Because I’m a sucker for those kind of offers. You should know I’ve locked my credit card in a cabinet and left the key at my ex’s place the last time I was there…

        Dyl and the Pickle of Doom? Hmmm. Too serious for this laugh-out-loud story. Did you, Ken, laugh out loud, by the way?

        But some play with the name Dyl does bring up some interesting prospects. Perhaps, next time, I’ll have the student-exchange happening in Poland, instead of Italy. And there comes the title: “Polish Dyl”. A bit made by you, a bit made by me.

        I won’t have drowning African migrants in the Baltic saved by that helicopter squad, though. It won’t make sense. Perhaps Swedish refugees trying to enter Poland illegally or something… That would make perfect geopolitical sense, right?

        Americana Rama Lana? Or “I don’t speak Italyish” or “Do you speak Americhiano?” The opportunities are endless. We’ll keep working on this one. Neither of us seems totally satisfied yet. I can see that…

        On seeing this prompt, I set out right from the get-go to write a funny piece. A break from cannibalism and wives brutally killing their husbands, right? Right. It all started with Mrs. Jiggles in mind. I could picture her easily. Fun fact – there’s actually a bit of true story in my tale: the real life Jiggles wasn’t the Principal, though. There was this secretary back at my old school who used to think she’s very sexy and dressed accordingly. She was the butt of jokes with the boys, of course.

        And one day me and two friends really messed up and ended up in the Principal’s office. We knew severe after-school detentions were to come our way. Then we hear tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock coming from afar on the tiled floor, every tick-tock just slightly louder than the previous one. It had to be her and her high heels. Who else? “Oh here comes Giorgina (the “sexy” secretary), to complicate matters!” I whispered to the other two. They just couldn’t resist that, in those circumstances, and burst out laughing like there was no tomorrow. As the originator of the (lame – but contextual) joke, I myself remained serious. Totally innocent-looking. The Principal thought the other two were laughing at him or something. He’d already been mad at us at whatever we had done (which I forgot what it was now), and the laughter made him absolutely livid. He told me to get out his sight. And the other two. Well, they stopped laughing at some point. I’m sure they did…

        The rest (whorehouse, helicopter drama, Dyl, Matt and Louis, the girl in a blue top with “Wonderwoman” written across it, etc. is all fictitious. Just in case someone asked.

        Just in case someone asked? Where is everybody this week, by the way? It looks like this site has been nearly abandoned or something. After the massive participation of the past weeks, it’s now a little sad in here. I know there are people whose computer has crashed, or are planning the hike of the century, or need to paint their house when the rain stops. And the economy is not doing well. And there is the Coronavirus. Some of us may be standed out at sea on hapless cruiseliners. It’s a world full of so many things to do. But, hey, that’s why we write stories. To lose ourselves a little bit.

        And this COVID-19, by the way, how much luckier could a writer be who some odd decade ago wrote a book about a pandemic spread by a virus called Wuhan-400! His books are re-selling now for $200 a copy. And he’s gonna hit the bestsellers list. Dean Koontz is his name. I’m so envious. They’re saying he’s a prophet too. He may set up a new Church of Pandemicology and many would join. I’m gonna write some prophetic story about a catastrophe that will happen in twenty years’ time, with some really detailed info. One never knows it may come true. Including the details. And I’ll set up my own Church of Whateverism, then…

        So you’ve got a story baking, Ken? A very confusing one, you said. I’m looking forward to reading it… get it out of the oven on time for us… Two more days and Alice will ring the bell. Hurry!

        And your friend Una Poole? Anything from her at all this time? She’s good too…

        Ken

        Reply
    • March 10, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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      Ken,

      Overall, I think this was a awesome little story and I think this is the most hilarious one I’ve read today. This just seems like the scenario that would pop into my mind when I thought about exchange students and not really knowing the language of the place your sent to. And for some reason this actually reminds me of my many childhood misadventures with my two cousins, who while definitely not as disrespectful and rude as Dyl and Matt, have dragged me into some pretty stupid situations.

      Alexis.

      P.S. I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I was dealing with school and family issues and a whole bunch of stuff in the last few months. Hope everything’s been well with everyone here. 🙂

      Reply
      • March 12, 2020 at 9:09 am
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        Hi Alexis – welcome back! You were just about to start college when we spoke last, and now you’re already mid-year! I hope everything has been legendary, so far in your freshman year!

        Now you’ve got to let us in on what your cousins dragged you into in your personal misadventures…! Now that you mentioned it. Or slip it all in one of your stories, when the prompt fits 🙂

        Thanks for your nice words about my story and I’m glad it made you laugh. I set out to produce something humoristic this time round… so I’m curious to see if readers really laughed. And how loudly! It’s always a risky business with humor. That’s why I never became a stand-up comedian (although it would’ve been nice!). At least, in writing, one gets the chance to hide if nobody laughs…

        A story from you now? We’ve managed to get the ladies-in-charge to extend this prompt by a week; you can still make it!

        Ciao!
        Ken

        Reply
        • March 12, 2020 at 8:59 pm
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          Hi Ken. Yeah, I was just at the start of school the last time we talked. I actually passed all of last semesters classes with A’s and B’s so I’m pretty darn happy about that. Last semester was probably the best between these two semesters. This one is just kinda stressful and hectic due to some family things that happened at the start of the year and trying to figure out what in the world was going to happen with school as everything starts closing due to the virus. But, I guess it’s getting better.

          They’re kinda just stupid little things we did between the ages of like 8 – 12 maybe, but nothing exactly like what happens in your story. Maybe, one day I’ll use my favorite misadventure of ours as a bases for a story. If the chance is ever presented to me. That actually sound like a fun story now that I think about.

          No problem, it was a fun story to read. I’ll admit, humor is odd to me, I can sometimes make people laugh at the odd things I say, but more or less I’m clueless when it comes to writing it down (mostly because humor in the real world is a fluke with me). So, I comende you, I could never have written [or thought of writing] something as funny as this.

          I actually wrote out a really rough draft of a story, but, I’m not sure if I wanna post that one or write another story up… Might just rework what I have done already.

          Alexis.

          Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 10:07 am
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      Ken, loved your story plot, and loved the pace, and the humor. I do feel, however, that you had a much longer story and went back and trimmed it down to the maximum without rewriting some of the parts that were no longer making sense. They made sense to you as you edited it because you know what is and isn’t going to happen, but not the average reader, IMHO.

      I also didn’t understand how Louis didn’t get sent home. Or, did Mrs. Jiggles (loved that) send the other two home because they laughed at her obviously well appointed breasts moving? For that reason only? Really? Maybe for leering, but I didn’t understand laughing. Just me.

      I see you are using some of your “Ken C.” tricks to get to 1200 words, but you need to seriously look at each sentence and save as many words as you can. I have discovered, having done this since 2013, one can buckle down and economize one’s word usage rather than throw words together with apostrophes. You are a very good writer and don’t need to do that.

      When we first started, we only had between 750 and 800 words to write these stories. Otherwise, you were cut off mid sentence and you never knew where the cut off was. It wasn’t an exact number each week.

      I learned, along with several of the writers who are still here, how to find ways to say the same thing in fewer words. You can do that, because you are a good enough writer. Hemingway taught us that brevity for the sake of writing is a good thing. Melville taught us the exact opposite. Read Moby Dick if you haven’t already, but get ready for a boring, longwinded(sic) read. Hemingway would have written the same story with 75% fewer words, and sold more copies.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 2:03 pm
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        Hi Roy,

        Thanks for reading and commenting on my story.

        You’re right, it was a longer story which I had to trim down to the 1.2K word limit diktat (which is almost always the case with my stories). The trimming down process is usually beneficial in tightening the stories and the final versions are usually much better than the first drafts thanks to that.

        But sometimes the problem that you mentioned arises: some essential pointers are removed, which I, the writer, still have at the back of my mind, but the reader doesn’t have a clue of.

        I read through my story again to spot the sentences that I, as you said, ought to have rewritten in order for the readers to understand what I’m saying. But I couldn’t quite spot them – I’m still reading my story with my writer’s eyes! Could you please, Roy, point out to me with your fresh reader’s eyes the said sentences, so that I know which ones they are? I won’t fix this story this time, but it would be a valuable lesson for future stories.

        Mrs. Jiggles suspends Dyl and Matt for blatantly laughing at her. On top of the mayhem they’d caused that day. Sort of last straw. Louis doesn’t laugh, and she could probably see that the studious lad was a different kind of person and only got dragged into that mess by the troublesome pair.

        Thanks again for all the precious advice, Roy and I hope you’ll have some time to get back to me with the identification of the unclear sentences.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
      • March 16, 2020 at 7:34 pm
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        writer 8888247238888rr8822,

        “I see you are using some of your Ken C. tricks to get to 1200 words.”

        Tricks? What tricks?
        Would you kindly elaborate on this statement?

        Reply
        • March 17, 2020 at 8:53 am
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          Ken C., Apologies are in order to you as that was simply a typo which was supposed to be Ken M. tricks, not Ken C.

          Chalk it up to old age and a compromised immune system. Which places me in that high risk Covid 19 high danger zone. Hence, my going out once in a while proclivities are now reduced to hiding in my basement and working on projects, when I’m not writing apoligies. Mea culpa.

          Roy

          Reply
    • March 17, 2020 at 6:22 pm
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      Pacey, fun story, Ken. The use of the present tense for the narrating really oils the wheels. There’s a classic ‘bullies exploiting nerd’ plot-line which also moves it along apace (familiarity picks us up and carries us). The ending is satisfying in that the nerd gets the prize (to stay and be the sole ‘ambassador’). The dialogue’s very good. A couple of observations/suggestions: I think a divider (asterisks) could be slipped in after the second paragraph. The “That’s Italian for chubby.” aside is kinda breaking the 4th wall and is a bit jarring. The “Rambo flies back out of the window with the three students clamped to him.” is perhaps a bit far-fetched (for me, anyway, and for the tone of the rest). And I think Louis could have had a bit more agency; he wins the ‘prize’ just because he doesn’t laugh? All in all, though, I had a good smile at this.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 5:38 am
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      A most entertaining story, Ken, clear, flowing and well-rhythmed indeed. It reads intentionally amusing, in a somewhat of a comic-book style, and stretching the limits of realism without taking itself too serious. That being said, I believe that a similar yet rather more unique result could be achieved without the use of such clichéd stereotypes. The jocks, the chubby nerd, the Eastern-European pimp could have been rounded into more unique characters that would have made the story pop. Like Alexis said, though – the most hilarious story I’ve read so far.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:24 pm
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      A fast-paced story of unexpected cultural exchange … captures a laddish tone very well.

      Reply
  • March 6, 2020 at 9:00 am
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    NAH-WAH-TA-KA-NAH-WEE

    It was just Roberts and me. I’d convinced him not to bring Sylvia. The jungle was no place for her – not because she was a woman per se but because of the type of person she was: sweet, delicate. Roberts took some convincing, though, and I know why. He wanted – he always wanted – to have someone close by that he could domineer.

    So he’d left her in a cheap hotel back in Manaus. Roberts was a proper cheapskate; he could have afforded to put her in a room at the Heritage, but lack of generosity, even to his own wife, was just one more of the traits that made him such a terrible person.

    I’d much rather have stayed with Silvia and let Roberts go off on his wild gold chase by himself, but for one thing, that would have made him even more suspicious than he already was. Also, he was my boss and insisted he needed me as an interpreter. I speak fluent Portuguese, which would be needed for the guides, but I also have a smattering of local native languages, picked up on previous forays into the ‘selva’.

    We took a steamer down river for three days, with a canoe tied to the stern, trailing behind. When we reached a certain point, I asked the skipper to let us off and we took to the canoe, with three guides and our stuff. We let the steamer disappear round the next bend in the river before we plunged into the jungle along a tributary, the guides doing the paddling.

    I love the jungle. One of my favourite things about it is the emerald green of … well, just about everything. And then the noise; you never have a moment when there isn’t some screech, or hoot, or buzzing coming from the trees and vegetation, even in the deepest, darkest part of the night. It’s mysterious and dangerous, beautiful and poisonous. It’s Mother Nature at her most fecund. And we were entering her, in search of gold.

    Roberts had met a man in a bar in Manaus – half white, half native. The man had a pocketful of nuggets, a thirst for cachaça and a loose tongue. The more booze Roberts plied him with, the more information he spilled. He ended up dead in a nearby gutter – he was a nobody, and nobody would ask any questions – but not before he’d drawn what was essentially a treasure map that Roberts consulted now as we moved slowly along the tributary.

    It took us another half-day to get to the clearing marked on the map. We ran the canoe up onto the bank. Two of the guides and I collected wood and built the fire while the other went to catch our dinner. Roberts sat with his back to a shiringa tree, sipping from his flask and observing our work from beneath the brim of his hat. The fire was started and crackling away when the guide brought back a line of piranhas. We grilled and ate them with cassava; Roberts had a mouthful but concentrated more on his flask.

    In the morning, Roberts ordered the guides to stay in the camp while we proceeded. I remonstrated that we might need them, but he came close and whispered in my ear.

    “We have this,” he said, brandishing the map, “and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them.”

    I glanced at his face and there was a shining there, something I’d seen before: the beginning of gold fever.

    “But what if–” I began. He cut me off, guessing my fear.

    “If we come across any natives, we can sort it out ourselves, can’t we?”

    Five hours later we were approaching the cross on Roberts’ map. I thought it ludicrous that we should be basing this expedition on a map scribbled down by a man soaked in cachaça, but I didn’t say anything to my boss. In fact we didn’t speak at all. He was intent on the route, while I was enjoying the greenery and the ambient noises.

    Then suddenly I heard a call that didn’t belong to a beast of the jungle, up ahead, about 50 metres I guessed. I’d been leading, hacking at the undergrowth with a machete. I stopped dead.

    “Come on, Foster, no dawdling,” Roberts said at the top of his voice. I whirled round and put a finger to my lips.

    Roberts got the message straight away. He caught up with me and leaned in.

    “What is it? Natives?”

    I nodded.

    “If they appear,” I said, my voice shaking a little, “Perhaps I should do the talking.”

    Roberts bridled.

    “You’ll do no such thing. Who’s the leader of this expedition?”

    I gaped at him, astounded at his arrogance, and not for the first time.

    “But you don’t even–” Once again, Roberts guessed what I was going to say.

    “I know I don’t, but they need to know who the boss is here – it wouldn’t be you, would it Foster, seriously. And you’re going to teach me a phrase to break the ice, as it were.”

    I stared at him in disbelief; this wasn’t a bloody party. Then I had an idea.

    “All right, so … do you want to say something like ‘We come in peace’?”

    “That’s a very good idea, Foster … for a change.”

    He was asking for it.

    “Okay, so repeat after me: Nah-Tah-Wa-Ka-Tah-Wee.”

    “Nah-Tah … Wa-Ka-Tah-Wee.”

    “Very good, sir,” I said. And it was; he’d reproduced it perfectly.

    He was repeating the phrase to himself under his breath when the bushes up ahead parted and three natives emerged, one of them obviously the chief.

    They approached and stopped a couple of metres in front of us, looking us up and down. The chief smiled. I recognised the paint on their faces; they were a peaceful tribe … normally.

    Roberts took a step forward.

    “Nah-Tah-Wa-Ka … Tah-Wee,” he declared ostentatiously.

    The chief’s smile disappeared in a shot. He shouted something that I didn’t catch and half a dozen men were suddenly beside and behind us. They grabbed us and dragged us unceremoniously through the undergrowth to their village.

    Two hours later, I was stumbling along the path we’d taken, retracing my steps to the clearing. My back had been punished by their whips, but I was happy … or rather relieved. They’d released me because I knew enough of their language to plead for mercy. Roberts hadn’t been so lucky; when I left the village, they’d already lit the fire, and now there were distant screams in the air, mixing with the other jungle noises.

    I think I’ll be in the clear. The welts will prove that I wasn’t favoured by the natives, that I shouldn’t be incriminated in Roberts’ fate. And I have the feeling that Silvia will be happy to see me … and not see Roberts, ever again.

    Why was the chief so incensed, though?, you may be wondering. Well, you see, “We come in peace” would actually translate as “Nah-Wah-Ta-Ka-Nah-Wee”.

    “Nah-Tah-Wa-Ka-Tah-Wee” means “Your mothers are all whores.”

    I should be ashamed of myself, but you know something? I’m really not.

    Reply
    • March 9, 2020 at 10:49 am
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      ***Spoiler Alert – don’t read this, guys, before you’ve read Phil’s story***

      Hi Phil,

      Wow, this language from hell! Got to watch every letter very carefully, or else…! Even after you told us the secret, I still have to scrutinize the differences to see where they lie precisely. I wouldn’t dare speak this lingo before I’ve passed – at least – my “A” level in it! Especially since the punishments these “normally-peaceful” people reserve to foreign offenders are not as refined as their parlance…

      Brilliant, Phil, one of my fave stories since I’ve been in here. The ending correlates well with what Foster says in the beginning about prefering to stay behind with Sylvia rather than do the jungle. I was a bit perplexed when moments after he says he prefers not to have gone on the trail, Foster claims he loves the jungle. But the rounding up at the end with Sylvia neatly on his mind clarifies the matter to me.

      I thought there’d be more than the simple ability to express oneself in the Natives’ language that will ultimately save Foster but burns Roberts. I have a little bit of a dilemma about the Natives’ logic: I’d be quite offended by someone saying that awful thing about all the mothers in my town and who actually *knows* very well what he’s saying. More so than by someone who must be parroting what someone else said. But perhaps they didn’t give Roberts enough opportunity to prove his total ignorance of their language during the (undoubtedly fair) trial they must have afforded him before he licked the flames. Or else the tables could have turned on Foster, as the true originator of that savoury phrase about their mothers…

      Or, it may very possibly be that Amazon Natives approach logic somewhat differently from the way I do. It’s actually quite interesting how purely monolingual people who never ever studied another language (not even unsuccesfully) usually have absolutely no clue of how difficult their own language must be to someone who doesn’t speak it. I uselessly repeated “I don’t speak Hungarian, Magyar, or whatever you call it!” to this guy in Budapest who was trying to tell me something. He went on and on in Hungarian, not even trying to slow down a little (not that that would have helped me much!) quite blissfully ignorant of the fact that the rest of the world is not perfectly fluent in his native tongue. And this was someone in a European capital. Let alone, a jungle man in the Amazon. So, yes, I give you that, their logic may not be like yours or mine…

      The gold may be just an excuse to get the story going, but still, I would have made the Natives appear *after* our guys had dug it up (and Roberts generously making his subordinate carry – and eventually keep – it!). Foster would return with Robert’s dream-gold too, besides the other important fact that he’d be sleeping with his wife tonight. You drew a great picture there, Phil, of a loathsome man in Roberts. I’d love to see his spirit cringe even further, seeing Foster having it all. While he burnt.

      But then, indeed, how would the Natives let Foster not only leave alive, but also take his gold along with him. Well, it could bring up another interesting argument on how gold means nothing to those people, since they have it in great abundance. A lesson in practical economics. The way Spain and Portugal bought an entire continent’s gold for a few mirrors and scissors… But, fine, that’s another theme for another time!

      Wah-Nah-Kata-Wah-Nee!!

      (it means “Good bye my friend!”)

      (I think.)

      Ken

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:04 pm
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        Thanks, Ken … and that’s a great idea about the gold!

        Reply
    • March 11, 2020 at 1:03 am
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      Phil,

      Nice story, old man. Very nicely written, crisp and snappy, each sentence is active and adds information or perspective to the story. It’s a greatly satisfying plot, a tad predictable, (you tipped us off), but for all else considered, this is perfectly composed and executed. When I finished it, I couldn’t think of any flaws, and really enjoyed the story. Later, when other people aired a few flaws or shortcomings I could see their points, but these new revelations, hours or days after reading the story, did not detract from my previous enjoyment. In other words, even when people tried to disenjoy me from this story, I remained firmly post-joyful. However, all the questions left me with a few questions of my own, but I ask them just for fun.

      What jungle were they in? Is Catalan spoken in Brazil? They had to be on the Amazon, even though you don’t mention it, because your characters were eating Piranha. Pretty sure they’re found nowhere else in the world. You mention that the natives speak Portuguese, but when I type the characters words into the Universal Translator, it says they’re Hawaiian.

      There was another word. Selva. Selva is a Catalan word for ‘jungle.’ It’s also a province in Spain, isn’t it?
      What exactly is going on here? (I have the Internet so don’t try anything funny.)

      You know, I did something like this myself, not too long ago, I kind of had some zygotes, flirting with a ribosome and offering to take her to the ‘mitochondria’ for a little ‘choo-choo-muchacha.’ Funny how that can happen when you write fiction, isn’t it?

      Okay, so look, I’m not taking this story apart like Ken Miles did. He practically dismantled this thing and put a new nose-cone on it. (I’m not here to do that.) I’m here to deride Ken Miles, for being so likable. Despite being so thorough in his critiques. Maybe it’s because he’s positive and constructive. I know, it sounds crazy doesn’t it? I might try it sometime, if only to prove how pointless it is, but, not right now. I don’t want to put the horse in the cart, and then try to pull the cart myself. That would be stupid. The cart would be easier to pull with the horse behind it.

      Reply
      • March 11, 2020 at 2:52 am
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        It’s the Amazon Ken. Affirmative. El Phil have a clear clue there: Manaus! And the Piranhas too. Though I have a colleague who has those in his aquarium…

        Reply
        • March 11, 2020 at 2:53 am
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          *gave a clue

          Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:13 pm
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        Thank you, Mr C. I don’t know where Catalan comes into it – perhaps you’re a Barça fan? (Ken C furiously accesses google to see what that nonsense is all about.) Ken M has identified the location through my subtle clues (though you were there with ‘piranha’, too.) The title and other native expression are actually invented. What do they mean in Hawaiian? The ‘new nose-cone’ made me lol.

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 10:52 am
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      Phil, as always a good story. Though I didn’t know what Nah-tah-wa-ka-tah-wee meant when Foster told Roberts to say it, I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

      I am reminded of an old joke regarding a Texan who robs a bank in Texas and escapes into Mexico where he is chased by the local Mexican sheriff and a Mexican posse.. Realizing he may be caught, when he sees the posse heading his way, he hides the money in an old well. They finally catch up, arrest him, and demand he tell them where the money is. He keeps replying, No Comprende Espanol. Finally, they get an old Mexican who speaks English to translate. Then, the sheriff sticks his pistol to the robber’s temple and says to the translator in Spanish, “Tell this man I am counting to three and if he doesn’t tell me where the money is, I will blow his head off.” The translator nods and tells the robber what the Sheriff said. “The man replies, “I believe him. The money is in the old well just south of here by the Acacia Tree. Please don’t kill me.” “Well,” says the sheriff, “What did he say?’ The translator replies, “He says he will never tell you and for you to go fuck yourself.”

      If anyone doesn’t understand, let me know and I will send you the explanation. The reason I say that, is every time I tell that joke someplace, I have people who give me funny looks and say, “I don’t understand.”

      Phil, what I liked about your story, and well, about all of your stories, is THEY ARE ALWAYS WELL WRITTEN. I know, I’m shouting, but I MEAN IT. I am never disappointed. Keep writing and keep entering stories, I always look forward to them. I have no real quibbles with anything in your story. The characters are well defined and the story line is excellent. Of course, you always come up with a word that I think I understand, but always have to check. Fecund. I thought it only applied to be pregnant, but discovered it means abundant also, and in a green way, such as you meant. Nice, now you are expanding my knowledge base.

      Roy

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:15 pm
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        Thanks, Roy – as always, very encouraging, and I’m grateful for that. And that’s a great joke!

        Reply
        • March 20, 2020 at 8:53 am
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          Phil, you’re welcome. Your writing always, always is good. Some are just better than others. It’s like making love. The first time is beyond the description of ecstasy and after that each time is only wonderful.

          Nobody asked me to explain the joke, so I’m reasonably certain they all got it. That joke was told to me by a Russian interpreter, and it’s as funny in Russian as it is in English. Usually jokes don’t make the transition. In this case he told it both ways, the American way with a Mexican sheriff and in Russian with an American in Russia in a small town where they didn’t understand English, which is fairly rare. It’s a much longer joke in Russian.

          BTW, while I have you this forum I’ll answer your critique of my story. The easy explanation is the guy was looking at the mug when he ate his gun to memorialize his wife, and the doctor didn’t realize the mug was still around and didn’t attend the funeral when the daughter came back. The real explanation is I didn’t have enough words to explain that. Originally, I had her take the mug from her father after her mother’s funeral, and the ending was different, but her character argued with me and told me she wouldn’t steal anything from her bereaved father. I believed her, so then I had to figure out what the dad did, and that’s when he walked to the closet and took down the box. I didn’t even know he owned a gun, until he took it out of the box.

          Does anyone else have their characters discuss things or show them things like this? It didn’t happen at all last year when I was chemically cleansed, or so they tell me – I’m cleansed for the time being – so I attribute it to a clearer state of mind.

          Roy

          Reply
          • March 20, 2020 at 1:20 pm
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            Thanks for getting back, Roy. Yep – that ‘space’ thing can be a b*gger.

            You speak Russian?! Brilliant!

            Love this: “I didn’t even know he owned a gun, until he took it out of the box.”

          • March 20, 2020 at 6:26 pm
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            Phil,

            I taught myself Russian when I was with Rotary International and we hosted judges from Russia and various ex Russian Sattelites, such as Eastonia, Khazakstan and others. My problem was I knew enough Russian to be dangerous, and could speak it like a native, but didn’t know enough Russian to be fluent. I actually had someone ask me where in Russia I was born. That created serious problems when I used the wrong words. So, I used it socially at parties and such, but never when interpretation was needed. That was well beyond my means. And, the fact I haven’t spoken it in years except for isolated instances makes it very rusty. Now, when I watch The Amerikans, a show on TV, I can’t keep up when they speak Russian. Bummer. Fun language to speak, however. Really fun. So gutteral and meaningful, full of inflection. You can make people laugh or angry with how you say something in the same words. Good stuff.

    • March 17, 2020 at 10:08 am
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      Greetings, old friend. Been out ‘n about, but due to That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named I’ve got plenty of time for writing once again. Liked your story, as I usually do. A couple of points, though. Sylvia appears as Silvia in the 3rd paragraph. The term ‘boss’ is originally early 19th century American, but caught on in the early 20th century. Therefore, I’m not sure that it fits the time period your story belongs to. Other than that, sharp as always.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 4:57 am
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      Greetings, old friend. I’ve been out (for the count) and about (without doubt) for a while, but owing to That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, I at least have time for writing now… I liked your story, as I always do. The punch is amusing, even if on the slightly foreseeable side of things. A couple of points, though. Sylvia appears as Silvia in the 3rd paragraph. The term ‘boss’ is early 19th century American in origin and became more wildly used only in the 20th century. Therefore, I’m not sure that it fits whatever time period your story is set in. All in all, a good, solid and well-tuned story, Phil.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 4:58 am
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      Greetings, old friend. I’ve been out (for the count) and about (without doubt) for a while, but owing to That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, I at least have time for writing now… I liked your story, as I always do. The punch is amusing, even if on the slightly foreseeable side of things. A couple of points, though. Sylvia appears as Silvia in the 3rd paragraph. The term ‘boss’ is early 19th century American in origin and became more wildly used only in the 20th century. Therefore, I’m not sure that it fits whatever time period your story is set in. All in all, a good, solid and well-tuned story, Phil.

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:21 pm
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        Sarig! My man! Great to see you back here (and that was a really good story from you!) Thanks very much for the comment and the ‘Silvia’ heads-up (I have a couple of Portuguese students called Sílvia, hence …). The ‘boss’ thing is interesting but not a deal-breaker, I don’t think. That last comment is a great example of ‘damning with faint praise’! 😉

        Hope you stick around (at least until we’re let back out).

        Reply
        • March 20, 2020 at 6:20 pm
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          Good on you, mate 🙂

          Reply
        • March 20, 2020 at 6:29 pm
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          Was it? Was going more for praising with a whiff of nitpicking 😉

          Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:25 pm
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      Classic story in many ways – gold, jungle, ‘natives’, greedy bad guy gets his comeuppance after a narrow scrape for the resourceful good guy. Fluently told, zips off the page. The language – did you make that up or are you fluent in indigenous South American languages?

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:25 pm
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        Thanks, Andy! Yes … it has lots of actually quite clichéd elements (thanks for calling them ‘classic’ 😉 ). And yes, the native expressions were invented.

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 3:06 pm
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      Wicked! In spite of it I do like your story very much- for its easy read, and free flow. Master craftsman!
      Reminds me of a funny story that happened to me in a new city when my colleagues fooled me with the nuances of a language that I didn’t know. But that was funny…not wicked!
      Great read.

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 8:29 pm
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        Thank you, Marien! Is the trick your friends played on you repeatable here? I’d like to hear it. (Reminds me of Monty Python’s ‘Hungarian Phrase Book’ sketch – which you can find on YouTube if you’re interested and haven’t seen it.)

        Reply
  • March 6, 2020 at 10:08 am
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    Great story Phil! Well told too.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 8:30 pm
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      Thank you, Trish! Very kind.

      Reply
  • March 9, 2020 at 4:58 am
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    Hi, everybody,
    and again, I’m not going to post a story. I’m very sorry, but my PC crashed and I’m still busy saving data.
    I will now take a break and not post anything for a few weeks. There are too many other things I have to take care of.
    Enjoy the writing. Hopefully I will be back soon.

    Reply
    • March 9, 2020 at 7:16 am
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      Your stories from such unusually unique angles will be sorely missed in here, Juergen! Make it a few “few weeks”, please, if you can…

      I hope you’ve been succesful with your data retrieval. It could be very frustrating; we depend too much on these fantastic but sometimes idiotic machines!

      Cya soon!
      Ken

      Reply
    • March 9, 2020 at 12:55 pm
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      That sucks berlinermax, hope you get things situated and we see you back here soon!

      Reply
    • March 9, 2020 at 5:35 pm
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      Jurgen,
      I really enjoy your stories and your unique and creative takes on the prompts. Very sorry to hear of your ‘computer smash up’. Sell those sunglasses on ebay and buy yourself a new ‘puter.’ Then, back-up the back-ups of your backed-up back-ups. (I’m just telling you what Ken told me to do.)

      Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 10:56 am
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      I’ll look for your return. Your writing is always unexpected, covering the prompts in ways I could never, ever think of. That’s a good thing.

      Roy

      Reply
  • March 9, 2020 at 9:10 am
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    I’m afraid that I’ll have to copy Juergen. I’ll be able to do next story prompt, but unfortunately for the next couple months(yep, I spelled it right) I won’t be able to participate 🙁

    I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail with my family on April 1st. And for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a 2,000 mile hiking trail that goes from Georgia to Maine. I’m afraid I’ll be gone a couple months.

    I might be able to drop in if I catch some places with reception, or am able to scrape up some spare time, but for the most part, I’ll be AWOL.

    Also, great Phil, that story was awesome, I loved it!

    Reply
    • March 9, 2020 at 9:45 am
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      That’s what I call a hike… 2,000 miles! You’ll surely come back with lots of stories to tell us 🙂

      Get good shoes!

      Ken

      Reply
  • March 9, 2020 at 10:03 am
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    Hi all,

    I’ll have to follow in Juergen’s shoes as well. I’m not going to be able to get a story in this time, All of my time and energy has been on saving my house for the past two weeks or more. The insurance company insisted on a few “little” repairs. Being a single (woman) homeowner is a great deal more difficult than I anticipated when I bought my house 15 years ago. Anyway, thanks to my youngest son and his friends and some church friends, we are almost done! Scraping and painting is the last of it (and since it is forecast to rain the next 7 days) that will be placed on a short hold.

    I’ll jump back in on the next prompt – hopefully!

    Adi

    Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 11:13 am
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      Bummer. Were you anywhere near the twister that recently ravaged Nashville?

      When I was a freshman in high school, our town (and school) was destroyed by a tornado that hit around 8:20 at night, May 20th, 1957. Jeezo Peets, but that dates me. Anyway, it missed our house by only blocks, and I have plenty of ‘weird’ stories regarding the damage. The school I went to was named Ruskin High School named after John Ruskin and we had giant letters spelling out the name that stood out of the ground by the gymnasium street side. R-U-S-K-I-N. All that was left after the tornado roared through were the letters, R-U – – I-N. Pretty ironic.

      The other really weird thing is my signed yearbook was left in my locker at school that night. I had gone to the school to see if there was anything still in my locker, but it was a twisted, smashed mess, the lock was missing, but it was shut and couldn’t be opened. When I started school the next year, on the first day, a friend handed me my yearbook. Said he found it under what remained of his home’s front porch when they were rebuilding his house. Other than a few tar flecks across the surface, and a couple of dents in the padded cover, it was intact, and dry. Which I don’t understand because it also rained right after the tornado. Must have been already under the porch. Oh, by the way, the kid lived over a mile from the school. Total mystery.

      See you next prompt, hopefully.

      Roy

      Reply
      • March 17, 2020 at 9:29 am
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        Thanks Roy. I’m 2 1/2 hours from Nashville so we weren’t hit by the tornadoes. We had our share in 1999 and a year or so after that. Jackson was hit three separate times. The damage and debris then was unbelievable. It was like trying to drive through a war zone.

        Tennessee has had it rough over the past month. The tornadoes and loss of a whole church family and a 4 year-old from another family plus the other lives lost. The disappearance of a 15 month old baby that wasn’t reported for 2 months and then they found her little body. We also lost 3 boaters – two teens and an adult- who were in a fishing contest. It took over a week to find them. And now the virus.

        The only “good” part of the virus precautions is that I get to work from home every day instead of 2 days a week. Everything is closing. This past week we had the time change and it was my rotation to be AOD (Administrative Officer on Duty) which is 24/7 on-call for a week for over 100 providers in West TN. That means, little to no sleep. My rotation ended this morning and as soon as I’m off work, I’m going to bed!

        It wasn’t in the cards for me to write a story this time but I am reading and I will vote. As always, I’m impressed at the different takes on the prompt. I don’t have time to comment on them all but I have enjoyed them!

        I pray that everyone stays safe and healthy. As for me and mine, we are staying fairly close to home. The really hard part is not being able to see Mom since the nursing home is locked down and not allowing visitors. Daddy is really struggling. He lives to sit with her every day and now he’s sitting at home alone. Oh well, Que Sera Sera.

        Adi

        Reply
  • March 11, 2020 at 8:33 am
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    Since there is a paucity of stories and the deadline rapidly approaching, maybe we could extend this a week. I promise I can add a story if that is the case. I’m just not ready this morning due to other commitments. If not, that’s OK, just thinking ahead.

    Roy

    Reply
    • March 11, 2020 at 11:57 am
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      I agree with Roy’s proposal. One more week! One more week!

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 12:29 am
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        Great story Phil. I had a feeling we might have an extension so will try to whip up something over the weekend. Bit of a head scratcher this one.

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 8:31 pm
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          Thanks, Ilana. Shame you couldn’t get one in this time. Next?

          Reply
  • March 11, 2020 at 9:00 am
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    Some Like it Hot

    Rabi had finally found the church he wanted to be a part of. After the service was over, the stragglers would gather near the coffee counter to be served. It cost him 2 dollars each, which he religiously dropped into the little mug beside the coffee machine.

    Martha was on coffee duty that morning, standing in her usual place with an eagle eye. Somehow she liked to pick on Rabi each time he drew near for coffee. It was either about where he placed the cup, the spoon or if he had put in the right amount. Rabi was a good man and would never cheat anybody. He knew the God above was watching his every move.

    But Martha, had never travelled out of her town, and certainly wasn’t used to strange color combos. Somehow felt his kinda face, with that unusual beard, needed to be monitored all the time.

    Week after week, Rabi was checked.

    Finally, he could take it no longer.

    He said, rather loud, “ Hey Martha, I’ve heard you repeat this for four weeks now. Can we just move on? Pick on somebody else, please. Though, I reckon, it’s far better to get a hold of your tongue. Janne doh.”

    Everyone standing around the counter stopped short. There were raised eyebrows, red rounded lips et all, watching him.

    After he said it, drawing forth on his strong North Indian accent, he quickly added to soften the blow, “Arre! We are just out of holy worship. Now can I have my coffee, mere pyari dost?”

    Martha handed the cup to him, totally pissed by his response, preferring to override him if she could.

    “Are you abusing me, Rabi? Is this fair?”

    “Shukriya, he said, with a smile, receiving the cup.

    “Sugar? Here’s some.” She spooned two big heaps into his cup. Her hands were trembling now.

    “No sugar, Martha, I am borderline diabetic. You wanna make me a full blown one? Thank you, my dear!”
    Uttering this weak joke, he looked around for some commendation.

    There was none.

    Unfazed with the events of a perfect Sunday morning, Rabi drove home. Nobody guessed he was a wealthy man, earned by the sweat of his own labor in a foreign land.

    More than four decades ago, he had migrated to this land of the brave and free. Got his PhD in Petroleum Engineering and was raised to the Company director by sheer hard work. His tasteful home sprawled on the suburban lands where he grew vegetables and flowers, where cattle roamed and two of his favorite horses neighed in glee each time they saw him.
    A success story, you’d call him.

    But for Martha, life was very different. Money didn’t come easy. The sheer fact that neither she nor Pete pursued any great degree, or got any great job. Most often it was a hand to mouth existence. Their two kids had moved on to their small living quarters. There was no pressure on them to succeed in class- so they smoked, and drank, and wasted their lives plenty even before reaching their thirties. Oftentimes Martha got frustrated and she would yell loudly at everyone. The neighbors could hear her yelling at her mangy dog every night.

    The last two years her brain had become a bit foggy. She couldn’t remember if she had gone to the store or not and would go again after a few hours and buy the very same provisions.

    The worst was when she brushed her teeth over and over again- her jaws were cut.

    There was nobody to share her story. Martha had tried so hard to be the perfect wife and mom, all her life, devoting herself to her family.

    Some women would go off on a holiday or spend girl time with other women, play bridge, spiced up with a bit of husband bashing and feel charged returning to their homes. But not Martha.

    Where could she process her feelings? Pete couldn’t understand her, couldn’t fix her. Little did either of them know they had become each other’s problem.

    One day, Pete strayed into the prayer room, on the pretext of returning a book, as the pastor had announced that folks could go there for special prayer, being burdened now with his half blundering wife. He wanted to try all solutions.

    There was Rabi in the prayer room. Pete, not a whit embarrassed, poured out all his woes.

    “I am seriously considering divorcing her. She is now a burden, can’t manage on her own. I can’t be lugging her and her bags around wherever I go.”

    Rabi tried to hide the shock on his face.

    “Come on, it’s just one life we have, right? Can’t you see? I am 65 now. There’s this sporty woman I met at the cafe. There’s this mountain in Africa, I want to climb and Martha can never get on that trip.

    Totally freaked out, Rabi had a vivid coffee memory. Served to him with such disdain. Now in a flash he saw the whole picture.

    You never know what the other person is going through.

    He understood her frustration; was nothing to do with him. Really!

    Two months after this rendezvous, Pete got a brain surgery, which turned out to be the worst kind.

    It was now him in the wheelchair. Loving Martha took it on her to wheel him around. He could just about sit on it, and stare vacantly beyond the horizon. But Martha loved him unconditionally and so for her it was absolutely no trouble.

    “Honey, can I get you a drink?” They had stopped outside a lemonade stall.

    Pete was dozing off. He hardly heard her.

    After six months of constant serving with loving care, he slipped into the great beyond. He had caught the virus.

    There were not many at the funeral. But few friends at church did come to the ceremony. There were very few flowers and nobody had anything to say.

    Then it was just a gravestone. An ordinary man had slipped off leaving less than an ordinary mark in the annals of time.

    The mountain never got climbed.

    Rabi visited Martha every Saturday. She was now a changed woman.

    Her yelling had stopped. Her scrutiny was done.
    She knew better to cherish these special evenings with this funny man who spoke strange and spent time with her. They became best buddies.

    Her kids decided that she needed to go to a Retirement Home on the same street. They visited every other week, though they lived in the same town.

    It was Rabi who dined and wined Martha to tell her the latest news or play some music on YouTube.

    For him it was a chance to serve somebody. That’s how he saw it. It was a cultural thing learnt at his grandpa’s knees when he was little.

    “Seva karo, granpa used to say. He who serves the most, reaps the most.”

    “How do you like the idea of climbing the Annapurna, Martha?”
    “Are you abusing me again, Rabi? What’s this annahpannah?” Martha chuckled.

    “Nahhh,… it’s a mountain range in Nepal. Wanna come with me, girl?”

    Reply
    • March 11, 2020 at 2:18 pm
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      This is a lovely story Marien. It has a few minor errors, but it’s so enchanting and divine, that I can’t bring myself to criticize a single digital hair on it’s beautiful little head.

      Reply
      • March 15, 2020 at 6:50 am
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        I’m beyond pleased to hear this from you, Ken. Thank you for your kind words. You’re all experts in this genre, whilst I’m a rambling straggler of sorts. I can handle critiques having washed my hands so much these past days.:) Fortified and strong.
        Thank God for the writers community.

        Reply
    • March 12, 2020 at 9:50 am
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      Hi Marien,

      You gave us a lovely life-saga, capping a series of ugly – but all too common – events with a positive young-at-heart revival for both Martha and Rabi.

      A variety of issues that plague human beings are presented here: marital fatigue in old age, failing health, memory loss, racism towards strangers, offsprings’ attitude to elderly parents, death of a spouse and the near-insignificance of one man’s life in the grand scheme of things. Sad stuff, really. But then you still manage to leave us with a happy, good-natured and positive ending. From deep down in the valley of tears to (quite literally) the top of a mountain! Go Rabi and Martha, Annapurna’s all yours to conquer! I’m not sure if Rabi should tell Martha it was really Pete’s idea to climb a mountain with her. Perhaps he should. It could be poignant and fair. At that age, maybe there should be no-more rivalry between man and man. Especially on a mountain in Nepal, where every human is invited to become one with Nature and the universe…

      While there’s life, we should live it. It’s a good mantra to go by. Thanks for giving us this story.

      Have you been to Annapurna yourself, Marien?

      Ken

      Reply
      • March 15, 2020 at 7:10 am
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        Wow! That’s such a great idea. Rabi telling Martha- but does it take away the romance?
        It does add a moral richness to that mountain top! Surely no place there for oneupmanship.

        This story actually happened at a church in the US, casually relayed to me one day. And boom! I used it here!

        Since you asked, yes, I did climb the Annapurna in 2015- went up 3000 metres, in a week.We had a fantastic guide with us.

        Thank you for reading and your valuable comments, Ken Miles. Your analysis sounds better than my story 🙂

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 2:48 pm
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      Like Ken C., I too, noticed the little errors, but the sheer poetry of the story kept me reading. There is a lot I could tell you to change to make it a better written story, but nothing I could tell you which would make it a better story. Nice job, Marien.

      I didn’t understand the line ‘Janne, doh’. Is it a take on her being unknown to him, a Jane Doe, or a play on words as in Janne (woman), and ‘doh’ an exclamation, used in this country by cartoon character Homer Simpson and has become a byword for ‘you should know’.

      Roy

      Reply
      • March 15, 2020 at 7:30 am
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        Hello Roy,
        Sheer poetry! Is this a dweam? Will it all disappear when I wake up?

        Truly I would like to know the errors. I did write it all in one day flat before the earlier deadline because the story was told to me two days earlier. I put in some Hindi words there.. not that I’m fluent in it myself.
        India is a large country and we all speak different languages.

        Shukriya means ‘thank you’
        janne doh is ‘let it go’. Not a Homeric d’oh!!
        Now can I have my coffee, mere pyari dost?” The last bit means “my dear friend”
        Seva karo… is ‘do service’ literally. Do good.

        So grateful for this site. An escape from green monsters, we can be lost in our world with clean fingers, tapping on keys.
        Cheers.

        Reply
        • March 15, 2020 at 2:34 pm
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          Let’s start with this. These are all ‘little’ things, but they make a difference in flow if people stop reading the story to decipher their meaning. You wrote:

          After the service was over, the stragglers would gather near the coffee counter to be served. It cost him 2 dollars each, which he religiously dropped into the little mug beside the coffee machine.

          No ‘the’ is needed before stragglers. Using ‘the’ indicates there are always stragglers, and if you simply wrote stragglers would gather, it conveys the thought when there are stragglers they gather. It cost him 2 dollars each. I’m sure he didn’t buy more than one, or you would have mentioned that, so saying this – Coffee was 2 dollars which he … and so on would be better.

          You wrote: Somehow she liked to pick on Rabi each time he drew near for coffee. Somehow conveys a different meaning, like she didn’t know why she did it, which I don’t think you meant. What I think you meant was, She liked to pick on Rabi, you don’t need somehow, because you tell us why she picked on Rabi, she liked it. There’s no ‘somehow’ to it.

          You wrote: He knew the God above was watching his every move. No need for ‘the’ God. There is only one above, unless your religion says otherwise, in which case it should be, He knew one of the Gods above, or He knew the God of Choices we make, or whatever type of god, would be correct. So, He knew God above was watching, or even to save a word, He knew God was watching because we all know God is ‘above’.

          You wrote:“Honey, can I get you a drink?” They had stopped outside a lemonade stall.

          Pete was dozing off. He hardly heard her. After six months of constant serving with loving care, he slipped into the great beyond. He had caught the virus.

          Pete dozed off standing outside a lemonade stall? Really? I assume standing because they were outside. If they were inside, I could see them sitting down.

          Pete was dozing off. He hardly heard her. Either he heard her or he didn’t hear her. If he hardly heard her, he would indicate that, I think, or there would be more. It might have been better to have said, Pete didn’t appear to hear her question, or Pete appeared to have dozed off. She shook him, or she looked at him quizzically. Because we know in the next sentence he had passed on, and wasn’t capable of hardly hearing her or hearing her at all.

          You wrote: Uttering this weak joke, he looked around for some commendation.

          After uttering this weak joke, he looked around for some support. Commendation may mean approval, but not in this context. By looking around he was seeking looks or voices that supported his weak joke. Which, I didn’t think was that weak. Actually if he’d have looked at me, I would have smiled and nodded my head.

          All little things, my dear, and nothing you really need to get stressed out over. It’s difficult for a person writing in a second language. It’s something I have tried in both Italian and in Russian, and is extremely difficult for me. I commend you on how good yours is. You use words that I wouldn’t use in English, like learnt, instead of learned, although I think that is fairly common in England and countries like India that learned their English from England, because I know whilst is used a lot, instead of while.

          There’s more, but I’m leaving it alone for awhile. You may or may not agree with me, and others on this site might think I’m being picky, but you are writing on a site that asks for critiques. That is my critique as I see it. If you don’t think I need to be quite that picky, I will back away. But, I know it’s the little nuances that make good writers into great writers.

          Roy

          Reply
          • March 16, 2020 at 7:52 pm
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            Roy,

            Good advice for the most part. However, as per Pete. He was in a wheelchair and near vegetative state after his brain operation, that’s how he could doze off in front of the lemonade stand.

            Two months after this rendezvous, Pete got a brain surgery, which turned out to be the worst kind.
            It was now him in the wheelchair. Loving Martha took it on her to wheel him around. He could just about sit on it, and stare vacantly beyond the horizon. But Martha loved him unconditionally…

          • March 18, 2020 at 8:18 am
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            Roy, dear Roy,

            Dunno how to start on this one…. But here goes, Goodhumor being my middle name.

            1: The stragglers meaning those specific few who linger after church service for coffee and small talk.

            2. Yes. That ‘each’ shoulda have been dropped. First draft had his wife with him 🙂 Then I made her sit at home.

            3. ‘Somehow’ to convey that somewhere in Martha’s deep dark innards, a dislike button switched on.

            4. The One and Only true God, I preferred to write as ‘The God above’.

            I come from a line of ‘Syrian Christians’ in Kerala from the time Doubting Thomas landed on our shores in 52 AD, with the gospel. Surprise! Surprise…didya know this? Of course hinduism is the predominant religion in India, and we are a minority. There are very old churches here. Knowing Jesus changed my life.

            5. Martha was wheeling Pete around. He dozed off… this is what happens to stroke patients.

            6. It’s true, I do like to throw in a bit of Old English kinda phrases. Since I was a student of OE, Middle English, Phonetics, bit o’ American Lit, during my Masters, and later became a teacher of Shakespeare, Hopkins, Milton, Wordsworth and Eliot.
            All in all, my written language as of today ‘doth’ confuse the reader.. and I giggle inside me. I do it for kicks.
            My daughter who is a film scriptwriter is my biggest critique. I love confusing her as well. It’s my BeenThereDone That license I’ve given myself.

            7. I learnt English from the very beginning, it’s my first language. That’s how it was in the convent school I attended, with very strict nuns 🙂

            Thanks so much for your comprehensive reading. It’s great to be able to answer all the points.
            But you guys here are geniuses. So all in good spirit.

            Best,
            Marien

          • March 18, 2020 at 10:59 am
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            Marien,

            I’m fairly good at reading between the lines, and the Good Humor line tells me you were maybe slightly irked a bit, especially when I arrogantly told you that English was your second language, but, for me, the friends I have in India, and I have several friends there, some write the same way, so it was an error to assume what I did and in all cases it was their second language. And, for that assumption, I truly apologize. However, from a writer’s standpoint, I will entertain your answers.

            The is a meaningful word in American English, and I can only speak from that objective, It conveys much more than being an article. In many cases it is an adverb or an adjective helping to describe situations. such as in the straggler instead of stragglers. The stragglers conveys it always happens and stragglers simply means if there are any they get coffee, but it doesn’t always happen.

            And we can go right to number 4 with this. Had you capitalized ‘The God’ above instead of writing ‘the God’ above, I wouldn’t have said anything. Obviously you believe in The One True God, and in American English ‘The’ is almost always capitalized, even in the middle of a sentence telling everyone that God is not just a god, but The God.

            I accept your explanation but reserve the right to say that, to me as a reader, it indicated an outside force other than Martha’s deep dark innards. Somehow doesn’t apply in that case.

            I’ve already answered your number 4 above.

            Again, I accept your explanation in number 5, but as a reader that doesn’t say that to me. I wasn’t talking as a writer. Pete had done more than dozed off. He may have appeared to doze off, but when stroke patients die, they don’t doze off.

            Yes, with number 8 you doth giggle and surprise. As well as with number 9. Now that I know that you shan’t get any more critiques on those issues. See, I can use Shakespeare’s frothy language, also.

            Again, with your last line, I stand corrected and shall endeavor to be less judgmental.

            As I said, my only goal is to make good writers better.

            Roy

    • March 17, 2020 at 6:51 pm
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      As the others have said, this really is a lovely story, Marien. Ken M hits the nail on the head when he describes how so many stages and emotions are passed through. Martha’s redemption – from being a harridan to becoming sweeter and gentler, through the pain of Pete’s passing – is very touching. And the scales falling from Rabi’s eyes is a lovely shift, too. That’s a great last line! A couple of things: Why ‘Rabi’? Is he Jewish? (‘cos they meet in a church). And I know it’s more difficult to do in this short format because of space, but I’d beware of telling rather than showing. For example, this: “Nobody guessed he was a wealthy man.” You go on to show us this very well in the next paragraph, so this line is superfluous. And “Oftentimes Martha got frustrated and she would yell loudly at everyone.” You could just show the shouting here – the frustration would be understood (from what you’ve just told us in that paragraph). There are a couple more instances in your story. I just think it’s more satisfying for the reader if he/she can put two and two together to make a picture, rather than have it handed to them on a plate. But this takes little away from what is a very charming story.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 8:35 am
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        Thanks so much, Phil. ‘Showing more than telling’. I’ll definitely take that cue next time. At least try to.

        I was using a North Indian name ‘Rabi’ – because I wanted to bring in those Hindi phrases. No, not a Jewish rabbi!!

        What’s interesting is that all this really happened- except for the romantic twist- at the end.

        I was also told the couple had their cheek swab tested, found they were jews- so believed they were special.
        Didn’t have space for that in the word limit.

        Life provides so much for us to write on. Good fun even if you’re holed in.

        I’ve got lot to learn. I write commentaries on regular stuff, only recently got into this story writing binge.
        Cheers,
        Marien

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 11:37 am
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      Lovely story, Marien, Heartwarming and very well told. The only thing I’d like to point out is that showing always trumps telling. The story makes its point very well without a need for the narrator to elaborate on, for example, what it means to succeed or fail in life.

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 11:53 am
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      Marien, I loved the romance of your story. It was nice to read something upbeat after all the doom and gloom in the news. I particularly enjoyed the two paragraphs that described Rabi and Martha:

      “More than four decades ago, he had migrated to this land of the brave and free. Got his PhD in Petroleum Engineering and was raised to the Company director by sheer hard work. His tasteful home sprawled on the suburban lands where he grew vegetables and flowers, where cattle roamed and two of his favorite horses neighed in glee each time they saw him.
      A success story, you’d call him.”

      “But for Martha, life was very different. Money didn’t come easy. The sheer fact that neither she nor Pete pursued any great degree, or got any great job. Most often it was a hand to mouth existence. Their two kids had moved on to their small living quarters. There was no pressure on them to succeed in class- so they smoked, and drank, and wasted their lives plenty even before reaching their thirties. Oftentimes Martha got frustrated and she would yell loudly at everyone. The neighbors could hear her yelling at her mangy dog every night.”

      In just one paragraph you offer terrific details that help readers understand your characters ad their motivations. Very well done.

      I’d love to see you expand on that style of writing – the style you used for those two paragraphs. Of note, the sentences in these two paras flowed nicely from one to the next. In a few of your other paragraphs I felt jarred from one thought to the next, as though transitions of thought had been excluded from the page.

      But that is a small thing against the romance of your story, Keep smiling, Trish

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:27 pm
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      This is a touching story with some good character development, Marien. I agree with Phil about the telling rather than showing aspect. On the other hand, there’s a very fine tradition where of telling a tale in a ‘storyteller voice’ which can also work well. One way some short story writers do it with a framework narrative, where things are set up for a first-person narration by a main character. “This is what he told me” kind of thing, so you can get an inside and outside perspective. It might work well with a story like this one.

      As for our Roy trying to entice you to write in American English – RESIST, RESIST!
      lol 🙂

      Reply
  • March 11, 2020 at 12:35 pm
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    Carrie and I talked it over yesterday and decided that this prompt will get one more week! Yay!! So you have until March 18th to post a story. Hope this helps those that couldn’t get one in this week.

    Take care.

    Reply
    • March 12, 2020 at 9:31 am
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      Thanks Alice and Carrie! Hopefully we’ll see some more stories in… I want to read more; had enough of hearing about this coronovirus wherever I turn my head!

      Reading good stories, like doing anything pleasant, does help with the immune system, right?

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 12:33 am
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        Likewise

        Reply
  • March 11, 2020 at 4:50 pm
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    Sueño Viviente

    Written by Alyssa Daxson(Writer2019
    Word count: 972 (Including title)

    Zak’s eyes flew open, and he inhaled deeply, drawing in a lungful of sweet, sickly smelling air. Sitting up slowly, Zak glanced around confused. He was in a dark room, that looked eerily familiar. Slowly stepping off the bed that he was on, Zak walked cautiously towards a small, maroon painted door.

    Grabbing the doorknob, Zak pushed it open, stepping into a narrow, dimly lit hallway.

    “Hello?” He called out, his soft voice low and wary. There was no answer, except for the wind that blew outside, making the house creak.

    Venturing down the hallway, Zak saw a small living room ahead, neat and tidy, moonlight shining through a large window set into the side. Stepping into the living room, Zak’s eye caught a mirror in a corner, the moonlight glinting off the glass pane.

    Walking towards it, Zak caught a glimpse of the person in the mirror.

    He stopped, his breath catching, a cold feeling rising up. Reaching out a trembling finger he let it touched the glass pane, a lump in his throat. The person in the mirror stared back at Zak with bright, stunningly blue eyes. Brown hair flopped down into their face, and narrow shoulders shifted.

    “No, no, what’s happening?” Zak murmured backing away. The boy in the reflection was him. Fifteen years ago.

    “This isn’t possible,” Zak whispered, touching his hand to his face, wondering if what he was seeing was real. The last thing he remembered was getting into a truck, ready to drive to the store, pick up a couple things he and his wife needed.

    His wife. Zak’s breath caught in his chest. “Amelia?” He suddenly called out, whipping around. Dashing towards the maroon door he’d come out of, Zak pushed it open, entering the room again. He quickly found the light switch, flipping it up.

    The room burst into bright light, and Zak groaned, shielding his eyes briefly. Once he was able to look again, Zak glanced around the room, realizing with increasing panic that it was empty.

    “Amelia?!” Zak yelled again, his voice trembling. “Zak?” A voice answered, high with concern. Zak gasped, a big sigh of relief escaping him. “Amelia!” He shouted, darting out of the room. Entering back into the living room, Zak stopped short, his mouth dropping open.

    “You’re not Amelia,” he said, dumbstruck. The figure in the living room tilted their head, smiling slightly, confused. “Honey, who’s Amelia?” She asked, taking a step forward.

    Zak backed up, his hands knitting together, and his head shaking vigorously. “No. You’re dead. I saw you die,” he whispered, trying to process what he was seeing.

    The figure stopped, their smile freezing. “Dead? What are you talking about?” The asked, now concerned instead of confused. Zak blinked rapidly, trying to clear away the tears that were forming. “Mom, you died five years ago, I watched you,” He croaked. “For goodness sake, I shoveled the dirt into your grave myself.”

    His mom took a slow step forward. “Zak, are you having bad dreams again?” She asked quietly, her lips puckering into a frown. Zak did nothing but stare, the tears he was holding back now flowing freely down his face.

    His mom took another step forward, her hand grabbing his. “Aw my poor boy,” she murmured, pulling him into a loving hug.
    Zak obeyed numbly, letting himself get lost in her embrace.

    It wasn’t possible, he told himself. This is just a dream. But still… everything seemed so real. The light, the air, although it did smell weird, a bit like ammonia. But the thing that felt the most real was his mother.

    Her strong arms, pulling him close. Her breath, breathing down his neck, smelling like cinnamon. Her voice, sweet and soft. Zak was uncertain now. Was this a dream? And if it was, did he really want to wake up?

    ——-

    The rain pounded against the windshield of the truck, hammering loudly. Bob Segers ‘Night Moves’ blared from the speaker, filling the truck with the sound of his guitar. A man sat in the drivers seat, his head tilted to hold the phone that was pressed up against his ear.

    “Yeah, yep. I got the milk don’t worry,” he chuckled, “Yeah, see you soon Amelia.” With those words he took one hand off the wheel, grabbing the phone and hanging up.

    The phone binged once, and the man’s eyes flicked downwards, distracted.

    In that one moment, his gaze, not on the road, but the phone, the man failed to see the other car, a large truck, much like his own, barreling straight towards him.

    A horn blared through the air, and the man’s gaze snapped up, seeing the truck. He yelled a curse word, his hands scrambling to yank his car out of the way.

    It was too late.

    With a ear splitting sound of metal against metal, the two trucks collided, bending inwards, both occupants slamming their heads against the wheels, getting knocked out cold.

    ——

    The monitor beeped slowly, indicating a steady heartbeat. A nurse bustled around the room, throwing occasional glances at the man stretched out on the bed, his chest rising slowly, a peaceful smile upon his face.

    Everything looked fine, normal. But the IV cord, snaking down his arm, the tube, stuffed in his mouth, giving him air, the one and only thing keeping him alive. Those were not normal.

    Zak Carter was stretched out on a hospital bed, his wife, Amelia beside him, crying softly, aware that her husband would never wake up.

    He’d just gone out to get groceries, but instead ended up in a horrible car crash that put him in a coma. Oblivious to his fate, Zak would never wake up, but instead be stuck in his sueño viviente, a living dream, until the day he died.

    Reply
    • March 11, 2020 at 5:41 pm
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      Alyssa- what a beautifully rendered take on the prompt. I could see where you were going but I so enjoyed the ride because your words so clearly evoked a mood. Well done!

      Reply
    • March 12, 2020 at 10:32 am
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      Magical, Alyssa… a touching story of love refusing to go away, even when life itself is fading.

      I read Dr Raymond Moody’s “Life After Life” account of scientifically-observed NDEs a long way back, and I’ve been fascinated ever since by these kinds of stories. Yours adds another dimension to the “regular” plot, as Zak never recovers to come back and tell us about his “tunnel experience.” But you took us into his living dream, where we see him meeting his lost mother, but not Amelia, who’s still “on the other side” locked inside her physical consciousness. I’m sad that the seuño vivente ends and Zak does actually die. I would have prefered a hint of eternal hope. That the living dream lives on forever. One day Amelia will join in too whenever her lease on earth is also up.

      Like I think I mentioned other times, your choice of words hinting at facial expressions and bodily gestures that reflect inner emotions are fabulously crafted. This is another strong point of your writing skills which I personally admire.

      There are a couple little typos you can easily fix:

      – Reaching out a trembling finger he let it **touched** the glass pane.

      – **The** asked, now concerned instead of confused.

      – With **a** ear splitting sound

      I was a little distracted by the use of the plural as a way to conceal the gender of the figures in the dream. I associate this technique with artificial politically-correct (formal) language, and I don’t really like it. I know you’ve used it here in order to create some suspense as to what gender the figures even are, by not telling us right away. But I don’t think that was necessary. If a guy is looking at a mirror, I’d assume right off that the reflected image is going to be one of a guy. (Unless it’s a story in which a guy is looking at the female side of him, which is not the case here) There’s enough suspense and thrill for me as a reader on hearing that the figure is Zak’s own younger self.

      So, “Brown hair flopped down into their face” would work better for me if it’s “Brown hair flopped down into his face.”

      The same with the mother. True, he was looking for Amelia and the figure was of someone else. But since it was still a female figure, I think that “The figure tilted… her head” and “She asked, now concerned instead of confused” could work better than the following:

      “You’re not Amelia,” he said, dumbstruck. The figure in the living room tilted their head.
      “Dead? What are you talking about?” The(y) asked, now concerned instead of confused.

      We ought to see what the character is seeing. It takes Zak a moment or two to get into grips with the fact that the young guy in the mirror was (himself!) and to realize who that woman who is not Amelia really was. But I think he knew immediately that the guy was a guy and the woman was a woman.

      Fascinating stuff again, Alyssa! And good you made it on time for this one, before you set off on your great Appalachian Trail!

      Ken

      Reply
      • March 12, 2020 at 11:18 am
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        Hey Ken! Thanks for the praises and advice.

        You are right, I actually did mean to hide their gender. When reading/writing the story I didn’t think about that use of those words.
        The original story I was writing was that Zak would meet his younger self, not be his younger self. I guess that thought was still stuck in my mind when I used those ambiguous words, instead of actually stating their gender.

        And those spell checks… man they get every time! They’re like a bug! I must squish them!

        Thanks again!- Alyssa

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 12:50 am
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      Great stuff Daxson. You really know how to create a mood and describe a scene. I admit though, that the errors described by Ken Miles are so simple, but really arresting to the story. Instead of clarifying things, they muddled the narrative. Further down you write, ‘…the man failed to see the other car, a large truck, much like his own, barreling straight towards him.’

      This is an example of over-thinking it. Or overstating it. This is an action scene. Don’t drag it out. When you do, you end up describing, re-describing and re-re-describing what he did. ‘He failed to see a large truck, barreling straight at him.’

      A horn blared, the man’s gaze snapped up, he yelled a single curse word. It was too late.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever heard an accident in real life. It makes a sound that is truly horrendous, and very difficult to convey. It’s like a thump, a bang, a crash, and a tinkling all at once. Or at least all jammed into one seemingly extended second in time. You do a good job of conveying the physics of it, but then, you fail to capitalize on that great description by telling us that they banged their heads against the wheels. The steering wheels? You should be clear on that.

      I love the story conceptually, really enjoy your writing and the version of the afterlife that you so blithely (in a carefree manner) project, but the errors, small as they are, undermine the story at key points.

      BTW, I’ve been on short sections of the Appalachian Trail. Part of it runs fairly close to our cabin up in NC. There are areas where it is so well-worn, that it becomes a small ditch. Sixteen inches wide, by six inches deep. Especially at higher elevations. And you find that you have to look at the ground constantly or risk tripping or falling down. You can’t even look at the scenery without coming to a complete stop. So, take my advice, stop often, and look around. And don’t be macho. It’s a very tough trail in some spots, easy in others. If you find yourself, and your trail-mates in a very difficult section, you can always come off the trail, spend the night in a motel, get your shit together, and jump back on the trail somewhere further on. No one will hold it against you. You may even be glad you did it.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 1:08 am
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        Thanks Ken C(so many Kens.. is it just me or were there three Kens? Or is that my brain making up stuff?)

        For the Appalachian Trail, I fully expect to be taking breaks, and enjoying the scenery. And the worn down trails, that’s pretty cool, shows you how many people have walked it.

        I’m hiking with my family, which is pretty big(8 kids in total, including me). The younger siblings will probably have to take breaks a lot more often, so I will probably use that time enjoy the mountains(and hopefully not bears) around me. It should be an interesting experience to say the least…

        Great story by the way, I loved it- Alyssa

        Reply
        • March 14, 2020 at 10:21 pm
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          Sounds like a blast Alyssa, the perfect way to do the trail. Have fun. Hope you don’t forget about us. And yes, there are three Kens. I’m the original, the other two are improvements.

          Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 3:17 pm
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      Two of the three Kens in this group, Cartisano and Miles, have covered enough of what I was going to point out, so I won’t do that. And, I agree with them, it is a nice story. (The other Ken, by the way, is Frape, also a good writer, as are the other two.) So are you, but you have a bit of a way to come. You do have a habit, which is easy to correct – I think it’s a habit. You don’t leave a space between your first parenthesis and the last letter of the previous word. Go back and look at your answers to Ken C, I’ll wait. (While I’m waiting, I’ll go wash my hands – one can’t be too careful these days.)

      See what I mean. No space. Told you.

      Probably just carelessness, but you did it three times and it was distracting at first, then I started counting them. So, I have to assume it’s something you do all the time.

      Now, go wash your hands. Are you still planning on the Appalachian Trail thing in light of the current ‘social distancing’ going on? Might want to consider postponing that, but if you don’t, be careful. Not a lot of spots for cleanliness on The Trail, you know.

      Good plot line, and I loved learning sueno viviente’. I’ve never learned how to put the tilde over the ‘n’. I’ve tried, but it never worked for me. A living dream. Interesting. I’ll look forward to reading your stories when you get back.

      Roy

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 8:03 pm
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        Ah ha! Ken Frape! Thanks Roy, that’s who I was thinking of.
        I knew there was another Ken, but his name avoided me like the flu( although that wouldn’t be that bad, right? The flu avoiding me? ) Btw, the space in parentheses? Is that ___ ^ what you were talking about? If so, that would be a habit on my part, it’s something that I used to do, and haven’t quite shook it off. Thanks for pointing it out!

        As for The Appalachian Trail, we are still hoping to do it. It might be risky, but right now is the only time that we can do it. We’ve been waiting a year, and if we delay any longer, we might not be able to do it. Hopefully everything works out!

        Reply
        • March 15, 2020 at 2:43 pm
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          Here’s what I’m talking about: In the paragraph above answering me asking about it, you wrote – but his name avoided me like the flu( although that wouldn’t be bad, right? The flu avoiding me? )

          It should be: but his name avoided me like the flu (although that wouldn’t be bad, right? The flu avoiding me?)

          A space before the first parenthesis (singular), and none after, then none before the second parenthesis and one after. Capishe?

          Good luck if you get to go on the trail. Sounds like a blast.

          Roy

          Reply
          • March 15, 2020 at 6:26 pm
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            Aaaaah, now I got it, my brain was slow on the uptake I guess…. thanks for the point out, again lol

        • March 16, 2020 at 11:45 am
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          Hello,

          It’s me, the other Ken the real Ken Frape.

          Still around but just doing other stuff that has temporarily distracted me.

          Ken Frape

          Reply
          • March 16, 2020 at 8:06 pm
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            Ah ha, I knew you weren’t a figment of my imagination. I thought for sure that there was another Ken, and I’d read his (very good) stories. Thank you for reassuring me that I am indeed, not crazy. Guess I’ll have to cancel the appointment with the mental institute!

    • March 18, 2020 at 11:41 am
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      Excellent story

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 1:25 pm
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      Nice mysterious and creepy feel at the start, phasing into a poignant sadness at the end. Very effectively constructed and written.
      I guess living the dream is not always the same. Or is he dreaming the live? And stuck with his mother rather than his doting wife. Maybe not room for both loves in this half-world? Agree with others about the pronouns, btw.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 5:30 pm
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        Thanks Andy for reading the story, I was wondering if you would make it for this prompt. I see down below that you managed to squeeze your story in.

        And great question, is Zak living the dream, or dreaming the live? Maybe you should go ask him? I don’t k ow how you’ll be able to do that though…
        maybe ask Ken C, he always has answers to strange and weird questions
        (no offense of course Ken C 😉)

        I thought about adding his wife into his living dream, but decided it would be too confusing. One second his wife is with him, the next thing the readers know is that she’s beside him on a bedside.
        I probably could’ve figured out some way to weave that in, but instead I just opted for his mother.

        And those pronouns… they get me every time. In my writing class I will get points deducted because of them… they just slip my mind, and I don’t process them until after I post the story. Tricky lil buggers!

        Maybe they should be called con-nouns instead of pro-nouns *ba dum shish!*
        Yeah I know, sue me. That joke was more horrible then coffee, but I had to try! No applause? Oh well… I guess that makes since. Check out standup comedy for a job…

        Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 9:46 pm
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      Hi, Alyssa

      A very effective, nightmarish story. – nightmarish especially when we find out about Zak’s predicament at the end. The first part, where he stumbles around the house in a daze, is really well done (although I found the over-use of ‘Zak’ to be a little distracting). The ending is good … but I think the last paragraph is maybe piling on the explanation a bit too thick – you could perhaps have finished at “…would never wake up.”, or even “…crying softly.” That first part, though … scary!

      Reply
  • March 12, 2020 at 9:17 am
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    Hey Cartisano, where’s your story gone? You did it again…now you see me, now you don’t, your favorite game. Do you wear fishnet stockings too by any chance?

    I’m gonna report you to the eukaryota police…

    Reply
    • March 13, 2020 at 5:45 pm
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      Mr. Miles,

      You remind me of that song, ‘Counting Blue Cars.’ You ask many questions, but your avatar looks like a thirteen-year-old detective, so I guess it makes sense.

      My story is coming back, Miles. (If it hasn’t already arrived.) Now that the deadline is extended, I was able to refine it, clarify the Eukaryotica, add more brillig, (a few slithy toves) and edit out the gametes. (That was hard. It’s not often we get to use ‘gametes’ in a story.) (I suspect that Wendy would tear up your gametes and throw them in your face, just for a laugh.)

      Trish was correct in that little Capitalized Ambassadors fiasco. That’s the kind of thing that I notice subconsciously, but don’t have the knowledge to understand why it bothers me. A tip of the hat to Trish on that one.

      I checked on that Koontz story. He certainly nailed the origination point, not much else. It’s kind of amazing that no one has really done a bio-weapon doomsday scenario before. (At least, not that I know of.)

      I’m a fan of Dean Koontz. He wrote one of my favorite books. ‘The Taking.’ I lost interest in him after a while. Too many of his books followed similar themes about serial killers or other super nutjobs. I wasn’t enthralled with his ‘Odd-Thomas’ collection either, I gave it a try, read a couple of them, I think they were geared toward the young adult audience. I still get his fan-newsletter.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 6:44 am
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        Hi Ken… ok, I can now see it’s back in, your story. Luckily, I hadn’t yet filed the report with the EPF (Eukaryota Police Force). I’m glad I hadn’t; it wouldn’t’ve been pretty.

        As for my Capitalized Ambassador blunder, the more I think of what Trish said, and now you too, the more I agree (that it shoulda been a small “a”). Or, more drastically, I that I ought to give this story the Andy Lake treatment, ditch the first two paragraphs and start right off with the auditorium scene. The backstory of how the kids had been chosen for the student exchange can be filled in (or just alluded to) later. I’m not bothering our moddies with any changes at this stage, but I’d keep the advice handy if I use this story elsewhere.

        Oh, the child in Counting Blue Cars asks far more valid questions than mine. I gave up on those big questions on God and who she is exactly a very long time ago. Because nobody here has the answers anyway. Many just pretend they do and to fool others and themselves. I only asked you what stockings you wear. Nothing divine.

        And you don’t have to answer me. Actually, please don’t!

        Ken

        Reply
  • March 12, 2020 at 9:30 pm
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    When It’s Time
    by Roy York
    1158 words

    Father Finn O’Malley held his hand over the coffin and intoned, “Ashes to ashes ,,, dust to dust.” He lowered his hand and looked out at the group of mourners huddled around the grave site. “According to scripture, we are returned to the earth from whence we came.”

    Speaking softly, he said, “Dear friends, some of us are asking why Jennifer Marie Haskell was taken from us so early. The simple answer is … God decides when to call us home. We are all part of His plan, and it is not ours to question; we leave it in God’s hands.

    “I know this isn’t a satisfactory answer for our hearts, but when we think about it, we will all be meeting on God’s heavenly shores in a very short time, considering Heaven will be forever. I am reminded of the words of my Polish Grandmother whenever we lost a family member. She would cross herself, and say … komu pora, temu czas … which means, literally … when it’s time, you go. When it’s your time, you must go, as God has chosen you.

    “We may wonder why, but trust in the Lord. Jennifer Marie Haskell is relieved of her earthly duties and her illness. She suffers no longer. Our Lord, in His infinite wisdom has taken her home. May God rest her soul.

    “Mr. Haskell has asked me to announce he and his daughter, Marie, will be hosting a reception in his home immediately following this service. He would like to see you all there … now, please join me in the Lord’s Prayer … Our father … “

    ***

    Jim Haskell stood by a portrait of his wife propped on a hall table, next to a colorful and gaily decorated mug. People filed into the reception slowly, paying their respects, pausing and talking in low tones, some with tears in their eyes and others unable to talk at all. Next to Jim was Marie and her husband, Ned. Their two children, Jimmy, age 4, and Leslie, age 2, were sitting on the couch playing with some toys provided by their mother, oblivious to the loss of their grandmother.

    Last in line was Father O’Malley. He shook Jim’s hand solemnly. “One day, you will be able to look back on the good times. Perhaps now would be the time to think of the times you spent with Jen that were the most memorable and happy. I have found it helps people get through the day when they are reminded of such times. Surely you and Jen had those memories.”

    Stoically, Jim kept his composure and responded to the minister, “We spent our honeymoon in Mexico. It’s why this mug is sitting next to Jen’s portrait. She loved that mug. It was the first thing she bought when we got there. She drank orange juice out of it every morning of her life …” he paused, the next few words spilling out awkwardly and garbled as he choked on the words he was trying to say.

    Regaining his bearing, he said, “And, every night, right up until the last, she would have a Bloody Mary, no offense Father.”

    “None taken. Indeed, it must be a wonderful memory for you.”

    ‘I will cherish that mug as long as I have it.”

    The priest then turned to Marie and her husband and started talking to them. Jim, realizing he could finally leave the reception line, took the mug and walked over to the area they had set up as a bar. He poured himself several fingers of his favorite bourbon over ice, and raised the mug. Tapping on it’s side with a spoon, he soon had everyone’s attention.

    “The first thing I’d like to do is thank each and everyone of you for your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes. The last few years of not knowing what was wrong with our beautiful Jen and then finally losing her have been hard on all of us. The doctors still don’t have an answer to her ‘wasting disease’ and I don’t know if they ever will. Rest assured, they are still doing their best to try to figure out what she had.

    “To my daughter, Marie, I raise this special mug and offer a toast. You are now the same age she was, 27, when I married her 28 years ago. You are the very image of your beautiful mother, and every time I look at you, I see her. God has granted me that final gift. To my wife, Jennifer Marie Haskell, may she rest in peace.”

    ***

    It was a week after the funeral when he received a phone call from the family doctor. “Jim, I have the results of the autopsy tests.”

    Halfway through a bottle of Gentleman Jack bourbon, Jim was unsure of how he should react. Finally, he said, “Give it to me straight, no holds barred. Do you know what killed my wife?”

    “What have you done with that Mexican mug that Jennifer was so fond of?”

    “Sitting right in front of me, filled with bourbon.” Jim raised his voice. “Come on, Doc, spill it.”

    “Lead poisoning. That’s why we couldn’t find out what was wrong with Jen. Even though she had classic symptoms of lead poisoning, no one recognized them at all. Not even the specialists. They were sure she had MS”

    “Lead poisoning? It couldn’t be. We drank bottled water. Our house is new and new houses don’t have lead paint. Besides, you know what a food fanatic Jen was. She washed everything and was always careful about what she ate.”

    “That’s just it, She drank from that Mexican mug. If we could test it, we would probably find it was made from clay filled with lead. Over the years, drinking acidic drinks such as orange juice and tomato juice would leach out the lead and deposit it directly into her blood supply, slowly killing her with no one being the wiser.”

    “Jen’s gone. Nothing I can do about it now … well no, there is something I can do. Thanks for your call.”

    He walked to the closet and took a box from the top shelf, “What was it Father said?” muttered Jim. “Komu pora, temu … something or other. When it’s your time, you must go.” He picked up the pistol and held it lovingly. “It’s time … I’m coming, Jen.”

    ***

    Marie’s husband ordered two drinks from the bartender at the airport as they returned home from the ‘Remembrance of Life’ ceremony held for her father. “Two Screwdrivers, please.” After the bartender delivered them, Ned clinked his glass to Marie’s. “In honor of your parents. It’ll be good to get home. It’s been a tough few weeks.”

    She smiled through tears. “At least when I get home I can drink my Bloody Marys from Mom’s Mexican mug. This is all I have left to remind me of my mother, and I intend to drink from it every day, just like Mom.”

    Reply
    • March 13, 2020 at 8:09 am
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      Roy, what a poignant tale. Ironically enough I had to attend a funeral yesterday and your description of the service and attachment to familiar objects owned by the deceased rang so true. Your plot was skillfully rendered- it hung true but you didn’t telegraph where you were going and your ideas were fresh enough that I wanted to keep reading. Very well done!

      Reply
      • March 15, 2020 at 2:50 pm
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        Thank you, Trish. I appreciate your kind words. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer writing it, but I am one of those writers who try to write about everyday things and make them real. I think back to funerals I’ve been to, and what was said and done, and try to emulate actions, dialogue and so on.

        It’s funny, but the story first ended with the line, It’s time … I’m coming Jen. Then, my character Marie’s voice reached me and asked where the mug was, because she wanted it. And after thinking it over, realized she was right, and since she didn’t know what the doctor told he father, she would take it home and continue the family curse unknowingly.

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 12:00 am
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      Roy,

      This is a very satisfying story. Good clean writing, smart dialogue. It’s not a happy story, obviously, but more of a modern day, slow-motion, forensic horror story. Where sentiment is the character’s (plural) undoing. A very creative plot that’s well developed and laid out for the reader.

      The story’s atmosphere is really bright, despite the dreadful circumstances. A funeral, the reception, the news from the doctor, bang, a second funeral. Somehow, perhaps intentionally, the atmosphere of the story is in contrast to the story’s events. You may have done this deliberately to mislead us, in which case, it does that. You don’t realize what a tragic story this is until you get to the end. Even though, IT STARTS WITH A FUNERAL! (Go figure.) That’s a pretty good trick.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 12:48 am
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        Great story Roy. Really tidy plot and well fleshed out characters with few words. Irony plus.

        Reply
      • March 15, 2020 at 3:00 pm
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        Mr. Cartisano, this coming from you makes my day. Thank you for your excellent critique, and I did intentionally try to keep it real, I also avoided having everyone sobbing, and so on. Such as the minister saying try to remember the good times, and not saying ‘try not to remember the bad’, because that’s just asking people to do just that, remember the bad times.

        I also think the toast to his beautiful daughter (the image of her mother) and him declaring it was God’s final gift to him, was an uplifter, and also signaling his possible exit, but stating God’s – final – gift. without spelling it out, something I’m learning to do. Let my readers think what they want, not and not using author intrusion.

        Haven’t got to your story yet, but looking forward to it, because I know you won’t disappoint.

        Thanks again.

        Roy

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 11:52 am
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      A very lean and smooth three-act play, Roy. The story in its entirety is revealed through action and dialogue and could be most suitable for stage production.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 1:33 pm
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        Why, thank you, Sarig. You haven’t been around in awhile, and it’s good to see you back. At least I think it’s you that used to grace this site with a story from time to time along with your comments.

        I had not been able to sit down and write stories for almost a year because I was in a chemo fog thanks to colon cancer, but recently that fog lifted and the ability to have a story rattle around in my head and coalesce quickly is back. My characters have regained their ability to talk to me, or, I rather, have been able to hear them and write down what they say. I hadn’t thought about a stage play, but maybe that’s one of those things that I’ll look at down the road some time. Hmmm….

        Roy

        Reply
        • March 18, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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          Aye, I was around about a year ago. I believe you were being treated for cancer back then and am glad to see that you’ve pulled through and that we again get to enjoy your craft, Roy.

          Reply
          • March 18, 2020 at 3:47 pm
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            That’s a nice compliment, Sarig, thank you. Glad you’re back, too.

    • March 18, 2020 at 1:31 pm
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      That’s my favourite story of yours that I’ve read, and you’ve written many good ones, of course! Really well constructed and the tone and dialogue are just right. Great stuff.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 2:26 pm
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        Andy, good to see you back in the fold. Haven’t read your story yet, but am anxious to get there and read it. Gotta anyway before I vote. Thanks for your kind words. This story wrote itself and I love it when they do that. It makes my job so much easier to just dictate what my characters say, what they do and why they are even there. Love it when that happens. Glad you liked the story.

        Roy

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm
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      Wow!!! Now I’ll think twice of buying mugs whenever I travel abroad!

      All the stories I’ve read so far are terrific.
      Yours is a clean piece of skillful writing. Makes me want to shout out to Marie… ‘stop’…..
      Kudos to you.
      I’m guessing there’s just one Roy…and seriously, I really appreciated your detailed review.
      Not irked one bit. Will be looking out for more in my next.
      Take care!

      Marien

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 3:56 pm
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        Thanks, Marien, than I shall write in detail, keeping in mind what I’ve learned about your style. The story of the mug is based on fact. I read an article that dealt with that very subject with the difference being the person didn’t die, but they almost did, but some bright young doctor made them take the test for lead, and then they found the culprit was her Mexican pottery mug. She recovered, but with ongoing kidney and memory problems. I just took mine to another conclusion. Thanks for the kind words about the story.

        Roy

        Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 10:03 pm
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      Hi, Roy

      This has a very touching thread running through it – the idea of remembering, never letting go … even if it’s via an inanimate object. I myself have things of my mother and father that sit around the house, and I might touch them as I go past, or think of my parents when I use them (I have a lovely brass letter-opener which was my father’s and which I use often). I like the episodic nature of the story (the opening service is well rendered – sounds very authentic). There were a couple of things that didn’t seem to me to be quite verisimilar: I don’t think Jim would have left the mug for someone else (his daughter, in fact) to be poisoned by; and the family doctor seems very close and would also, I think, have followed up on the whereabouts of the poisonous mug. But it’s a warm and tragic story.

      Reply
  • March 13, 2020 at 6:04 pm
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    Memento Mori
    By Alexis Winter

    “Can you believe they actually killed her?” I looked up at my friend. Her usually bright green eyes were dull as she looked at the TV. Too preoccupied to even touch her food, which was likely cold by now. “They just shot her… in front of everyone on the street – they probably don’t even feel bad about it.”

    I sighed. That was just how Obscura Plague victims were dealt with when they escaped. Eliminated before they could possibly spread the plague. Which was sad when, after eight years, we still didn’t know how it spread. But, I’ll admit, Veronica had a valid point. I’m sure everyone still saw that poor teenager fall to the ground whenever they closed their eyes. The police could have just taken her back to the hospital, but what was the point, she’d have died either way.

    “I know… it’s hard to think about, but just be happy they didn’t try to massacre everyone there.” I responded back. I knew it wouldn’t make her feel any better, but it was the truth. There were times when whole groups of people would be killed just to prevent even the thought of contamination. In truth, it was strange they had let us all go without a hitch.

    Veronica glared at me for such a horrible comment. “I suppose.”

    As the news came back on, our eyes moved from one another to the TV. “Early last month a young woman, Mori Shi, escaped from her room in the Obscura Ward of Morning-tree Memorial Hospital. She hadn’t been seen until last night when two police officers were forced to eliminate her due to her condition.” The image beside the newscaster shifted over to videos of young men and women spray-painting various buildings and walls with the Umbral Societies’ various symbols and iconography.

    But, among them was something new. A strange new phrase I hadn’t seen since the group magically popped out of the woodwork three years back. “Since her death, members of the Umbral Society have begun to spread graffiti across the streets. The phrase Memento Mori -”

    My eyes traveled over to the door it opened. Veronica’s little sister slamming it shut a moment later. Her backpack hit the floor with a harsh thud – like she was carrying a bag of bricks within it. The eleven-year-old plopped down next to me, her arms crossed and her eyes burning holes into our rickety table. “I thought you were staying with your dad and you-know-who for the weekend.”

    Blake’s scowl only seemed to deepen. “Supposed to,” she answered back. “But Dear stepmother sent me home as soon as I stepped onto the porch. She doesn’t want Her kids to get sick – you know because we were within breathing distance of an Obscura.”

    How horrible is that. We didn’t even know if this disease WAS contagious. “The hell’s wrong with her! Was your dad home?”
    Blake shook her head. “Nope. I told her to talk to him, but she said she’d do so once he got home. So, I could either go home or wait outside until like – what, eleven o’clock…”

    Veronica seemed to have finally snapped out of it at that point as her head swiftly turned to her younger sister and her lips curved down into a snarl. “She told you that! Oh, she’s lucky I don’t want to scare her poor children for life or I’d-”
    “There’s no point.” Blake mumbled as she pulled her sister’s food in her direction and proceeded to dig in. Not seeming at all fazed by the betrayed look on her sister’s face nor the fact that the food was obviously not warm anymore. “By the way, good spaghetti.”

    I snickered as I patted the girl on the shoulder as I looked at the clock. It was three thirty P.M. Time to go see Rufus. “I’m going to go. I’ll be back in a while.” The two siblings gave me a small wave as I turned around to put my shoes on.

    ***

    As I made it out of the building, the sound of a spray can hissed through my ears and I peeked into the alleyway between our apartment and the restaurant next door. There was a lanky teen with the black Umbral Society coat writing that phrase on the side of the restaurant’s wall. Memento Mori. What the hell did that mean? It was probably in one of the restricted languages.

    Maybe it meant Remember Mori. It would make sense; mementos were something you got to remember a place or event. And the group had been holding riots and strikes in other places for all the deaths caused by the Obscura Escapee Law.

    My lips parted to speak out to him, but before I had, he stopped what he was doing and walked farther into the alleyway. Just like most of the Umbral Society did when they knew they’d been spotted. They were like shadows, you could see them, but never interact with them. They were just there. Not hidden, but not tangible either. It was probably because the police thought they had every right to eliminate them as they did the Obscura.

    “I wonder if there isn’t something more to all of this,” I muttered as I walked down the street. My eyes wandered across the various symbols painted across town then to the people wandering about with paint brushing and cans. Sometimes I wondered if the Umbral Society was keeping these painters employed. There wasn’t much need for them otherwise. Most people didn’t paint around this area given they didn’t have enough money. But the government didn’t want other people’s propaganda on the walls. People might start thinking…

    As I rounded the corner, I came face to face with Rufus’ small little house. It was probably one of ten that still existed around here. Old and broken down, but still nice. Before I could even walk up the sidewalk, the door swung open to reveal Rufus himself. “What the hell are you doing here kid?”

    “Morning to you to, Rufus.” I muttered as I slid into the house. Rufus grouchily closed the door and walked in after me, going back to his position on the couch much like he did whenever I came to the house.

    “I heard you were out and about when Mori was killed,” he muttered. “Must have been hard. Poor girl didn’t deserve that.”

    “Is that what that phrase is – the one everyone’s been tagging. In memory of Mori.”

    Rufus stopped, shook his head “Almost, but not quite.” He sighed. “Remember you must die. That’s what it means. All of us, the Obscura patients, us in the Umbral Society, even people like you. We’re all the same in that way. I suppose that’s what we want people to remember. We’re all the same. In life and in death.”

    I frowned, but nodded my head, nonetheless. There was more to this than just that. Some hidden meaning behind the words that only they were privy to. Or I’m just overthinking this. No. He had that look in his eyes. Like he didn’t want me to know the truth and… maybe it was better that way.

    Reply
    • March 13, 2020 at 9:42 pm
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      Nice story! I have to ask though, was this inspired by this cornea-virus outbreak? That’s at least what it sounded like the me

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 1:39 am
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        First of all, I’d like to say thanks for reading my story. Second of all, in a way I did chose to write this because of the virus. I probably wouldn’t have started writing this story if it weren’t for the outbreak. I had the idea for the illness from a story for one of the prompts from last year and added onto it. I guess the timing just seemed right. Especially considering I was sick with a cold when the previous story was written and now I’m sick again. I guess I just have sickness [The virus and my cold] on my brain right now and I just kinda let my worries out in this story… Everything is getting a little scary now with everyone freaking out about the virus and not sure what to do at the moment.

        Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 12:07 am
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      I like it. It’s mysterious, dark and foreboding, and it leaves you feeling that way. Unsettled, Which is totally apropos.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2020 at 1:44 am
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        Hey Ken C.

        Thank you for taking the time to read this. I have to admit I’m pretty happy with your assessment of the story. I was actually a bit worried about how it would seem, I had to chop a lot of extra stuff out and I thought it wasn’t quite as good as my previous story I wrote in the universe, but I think I did better than I thought.

        Thanks 😁
        Alexis Winter

        Reply
    • March 16, 2020 at 8:34 am
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      Very well written story and plot line. As Ken C. said, (Gad, I hate it when he beats me to the words I wanted to use) mysterious, dark and foreboding. And deep, too. There, a word of my own. Makes you think. I got some things I could nitpick about, but I won’t. Good job and good story.

      Roy York

      Reply
      • March 16, 2020 at 10:51 pm
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        Hey Roy,

        Thanks for reading. Like I said in my comment to Ken C. I had to cut out a lot of the stuff I wrote in the 1.5k first draft of the story and I was really not sure if it was any better, worse… just kinda meh. I’m really glad that you guys have thought it was this good.

        Also, I really don’t mind if you guys nitpick, most of the time it helps me find some really stupid things that I missed while writing.

        Alexis.

        Reply
    • March 17, 2020 at 9:40 am
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      The Obscura – is this related to the Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts? LOL.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 11:26 am
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        Hello Adrienne,

        When I created the first story that later kind of evolved into this and a few others, I don’t even remember if I’d watched Fantastic Beasts or not [I’m usually horribly late with watching movies] by the time I had the original idea. If I had it was probably just bits and pieces of the movie while I was at someones house or something. And in all honesty, I kind of forgot about the Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts, until you mentioned it.

        But, I settled on Obscura after looking through google translate and any other translator sites for a word that meant Shadow, then after that wasn’t working out started looking for words that meant dark and stumbled upon Obscura. I don’t know why, but it just kinda sounded like a word that could be used for some kind of illness/disease/plague that no one seemed to be able to understand.

        Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 11:59 am
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      Alexis, loved your tale. Very spooky with great details about the shadowy Umbral Society and the coronavirus-like Obscura. Very well done!

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:14 pm
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      Aye, most befitting current frenzy indeed. A Very well written story, Alexis, gripping and thought provoking, with a beautiful use of language to boot. I appreciated the human touch, getting a sense of the relationship between the characters while sidetracking along the route of Veronica’s sister’s story. I felt that the story was losing some of its momentum towards the end, though. A few things I’d like to point out: ‘Rufus’ small little house’ (repetition); ‘Morning to you toO, Rufus’; ‘most of the Umbral Society…but never interact with them’, but then Rufus says: ‘us in the Umbral Society’ and proves more than willing to spill the beans 😉

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 1:11 pm
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      Great title and concept, and the opening paragraphs are especially effective. Really well-written, and reflects the current apocalyptic mood. The slightly mysterious last paragraph hints at a sequel – what is the Umbral Society’s shadowy real intention?
      One small thing – when it says “How horrible is that. We didn’t even know if this disease WAS contagious” … isn’t a plague by definition contagious (even if the means of contagion are not understood)? So that one line (only) jarred with me a little as it seemed to contradict the opening description.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 10:34 pm
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      Hi, Alexis

      A worrying story because … it’s just a small step away from being true, if things carry on like they are; I saw a story on the Portuguese news today, images from a balcony into the street, where the police are shepherding an old woman home, making sure not to get too close. They’re not shooting us … yet. You’ve created a disturbing, dystopian world, with a shadowy resistance movement and an unseen but intimidating State. I really like this line: “It was probably in one of the restricted languages.” – speaks volumes. I felt that the ending trailed off a little … or provided a strong springboard into Chapter 2 of your novel!

      Reply
  • March 13, 2020 at 6:23 pm
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    Eukaryotica. (A Microbial Evolutionary Love Story.)
    By K. Cartisano. Word Count (1145)
    3-13-2020

    I was sitting in a deserted downtown pub, staring at the weather report on a muted TV, when a bell jingled and the tavern door opened. A man lurched in from the freezing cold, shook off his heavy coat, and wove his way between darkened tables, toward me and the bartender. A hearty looking soul, he pushed a chair and a stool out of his way, ordered a drink, laid some cash on the bar and then appeared to recognize me. “Ah, Doctor Nichols, I believe.” He downed his first drink and waved the bartender back over.

    Without waiting for a response, he introduced himself. “Name’s Morgan, Pete Morgan. I teach ethics at Emory, right down the road here.” He tossed his head to indicate a direction, but made no attempt to move closer or to shake my hand.

    I belched. I was on my fourth drink and not in the best of moods.

    He was oblivious. “I saw your lecture at the symposium earlier tonight. Very impressive.” He downed half of his second drink.

    “Then you were the only one impressed,” I said, spinning my drink on the bar.

    “Oh no, we were all impressed.” he said.

    I ignored the ‘we’ reference, as if Morgan spoke for the entire scientific community. What a fraud. The irony was that Morgan was the only one to show any interest at all.

    “I don’t understand the reaction at the conference,” I said. My presentation had been virtually ignored, which is not unheard of, but this research, and these findings were revolutionary. They changed the definition of humanity itself. “We’re symbiotic creatures, man. Seriously symbiotic.”

    Morgan nodded. “It would seem so.”

    “It would seem so?’ Do you doubt it?”

    “No. Stai predicando al coro.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “You’re preaching to the choir, Dr. Nichols.”

    “Oh. I see.” I shared a look of mild consternation with the bartender, who I’d established a platonic relationship with over the past three days. He was terribly handsome, attentive, half my age and gay. Well look,” I said, “the research is cut and dried, there’ll be no problem replicating my results. That doesn’t concern me at all, it’s what’s in the cells, and how they behave.”

    “I think you made it quite clear in your presentation, which was excellent, in my opinion.”

    “If it was excellent, why was it ignored? By everyone?”

    Morgan shrugged. “Maybe they’re focused on something else.”

    “Something else? Like what? Climate change? Pah! On a cellular level, all life on earth relies on a virus to reproduce and evolve. What could be more important than that?” I’d already proved that the nucleic acids were ill-designed for reproduction. They split, but that’s not the same as reproduction. “Reproduction creates variation and mutation,” I said, “the essence of the evolutionary process, and THAT function is carried out by viral entities. Interlopers.”

    “Interlopers? I’m not so sure about your interpretation, Doctor Nichols.” He huffed audibly.

    “Oh really?” I was a little tipsy, and viewed Morgan as an intellectual lightweight. I’d never heard of him, and couldn’t even remember what field he was in. “I was unaware of your expertise in ancient microbes, Professor. Forgive me, or better yet, enlighten me.”

    He ignored my sarcasm and seemed intent on his own image in the mirror behind the bar. “Well, how old are these microbes you’ve been researching? I mean—historically.”

    “What are we talking about? The Eukaryotes? Oh, I don’t know, a couple of billion years?”

    “And the Archaea? How old are they?”

    “As a cellular construct, the Archaea are easily twice as old.” I said. Gazing at my own reflection in the mirror.

    “And yet, neither of these ancient microscopic structures were independently capable of sexual reproduction, were they?”

    I felt like a student in one of his classes, and I didn’t like it. “No, that’s my point exactly. The earth is only four and a half billion years old, and these structures go back almost…”

    Morgan wagged his finger at me, the age of the earth was not in dispute, nor relevant. “So as far back as these cellular structures can be traced,” he said, “there’s no possibility, as far as your research can tell, that they were capable of the kind of reproduction that would result in evolution. Correct?”

    I was impressed and admitted it. “Well…it appears that there was at least one person paying attention to my lecture.” I raised my glass and toasted him. “Yes, you’re correct. Which leads to the point of it. That a tiny, ancient viral entity resides so deeply in our DNA, that we can barely differentiate it from ourselves, but we know it’s there, because it’s passing chemical messages back and forth between otherwise virgin, disinterested coroplasts. It’s not really a form of sex between zygotes, it’s more like an infection, which is what viruses do. They infect things.”

    In fact, it was feasible that humanity was merely a large, flesh-and-bone, mobile troop carrier for an ancient miniscule virus, a hypothesis I didn’t care to mention.

    But Professor Morgan seemed perturbed about a different point. “So, your estimation of the age of that virus, Doctor Nichols, is about the same as the ancient nuclei it’s infecting. Is that your contention?” It sounded like an accusation. And I was guilty.

    “Well, sure.” I confessed. “So what? What’s so unusual about a four-billion-year-old virus?”

    Professor Morgan downed his drink and set it on the bar, leaned toward me and said, “You should assume this virus, is much, much older.” He put his coat on, weaved his way through the tables and out the door, leaving me and the bartender speechless.

    When I returned to my research lab a few days later, I directed one of my interns to locate Pete Morgan, professor at Emory. The man was weird and utterly without social skills or credentials, but he was brilliant, and fascinating, and I was dying to speak to him again.

    A month later, on threat of dismissal, the student was forced to admit that no such Professor Morgan existed, as far as he could tell, in this, or any other country.

    I was really intrigued about this, and kept an eye open for this beefy character at future seminars and conventions. Six more months passed before I finally ran into him, at which time he denied ever having met me, in a bar or anywhere else.

    “You’re wearing the same heavy coat,” I told him.

    He showed me his wedding band. “I sell laboratory equipment, Miss, whatever your name is. I wouldn’t know anything about your research. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He looked at his watch. “I have an appointment at noon.”

    It’s possible that he reacted that way because I was eight months pregnant. (The bartender? Of course. Don’t even ask.) But I believed him, I don’t think he remembered me.

    Reply
    • March 14, 2020 at 1:12 am
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      I loved this story, as it was my second time reading it. I started to read it, and I was like, ‘I’ve seen this before…’ and then my not-so-very-helpful brain kicked in.

      Even though I got confused by the DNA part(cause that’s just how it is for me) I still loved it, and am intrigued by this so called man who disappears for months on end, and then doesn’t remember the person he had this huge debate with. Interesting indeed…

      Reply
    • March 16, 2020 at 1:19 pm
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      You piss me off from time to time, Cartisano, and this is one of them. This friggin’ story is so well written I believed it was non-fiction and that just by itself is enough. You made the scientific parts totally acceptable, even though I know that probably 90 percent was total Cartisano bullshit. And that, my friend is the mark of a great writer. Great story, great plot, great everything. I doff my hat in your direction. If no one else adds a story, at least I know I’ll finish in the top seven.

      Roy

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 1:15 pm
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        Roy,

        I don’t know if you read any of the other comments on my story, but they don’t sync up well with yours. And while I agree with the shortcomings that have been pointed out, I still appreciate your assessment on the writing. Which I also agree with. (That it was really good.) I only have one small issue to clarify. 90 percent of the story was factual, and only 10 percent was ‘total Cartisano bullshit.’ (You flatter me, ‘old man.’) So, I guess that takes quite a bit of air out of your compliment, (or turns it on its head.) Either way, it was a short-lived high but fun while it lasted.

        And for what it’s worth. Hell no I’m not offended. I love it when you get gritty.

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 3:08 pm
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          Thanks, Ken, I really did like your story and the dialogue was excellent. I, like the others was a bit confused with the ending, but I figured it out without getting a headache. And, it’s nice to know you did a little research.

          Roy

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        • March 20, 2020 at 8:38 am
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          Sorry Ken, your reputation preceded you and I jumped to an erroneous conclusion you were simply bluffing or in this case, bullshitting your way through, I do that quite a bit. In my space story a few weeks back, I did a great amount of research, but the way I put it together was scientifically wrong, but it sure sounded good to me, and a lot of the voters and readers of that story. that was my intent, and I thought you were doing something of the same thing. So, maybe it wasn’t 90 percent, but I’m guessing more than 50. The only thing about the story I didn’t really care for was the uncertainty of the heroine as to the father. Surely both you and she knew who it was. As my wife says to me, “I will always know I’m the mother of all three of our children. Short of a paternity suit, you can never be certain.” Kept me on my toes all these years, although I’m positive I the father, well pretty sure, umm… none of them look like me at all. No, no… I’m their dad. Yep. Sure of it.

          Roy

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    • March 18, 2020 at 12:03 pm
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      Ken, I loved your descriptions. I felt like I was sitting at the bar. But I didn’t understand the ending of your story, I’m sad to admit. I was hoping for a (excuse the bad pun) big bang, and felt I just heard a whimper. Nonetheless, well crafted writing.

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      • March 19, 2020 at 1:53 am
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        Thanks Trish, I appreciate your honesty and I believe your assessment is accurate. (And funny.) Some really good writing that deserved a better ending.

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    • March 18, 2020 at 1:33 pm
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      Love the title – brilliant! And love the concept of the story. But in the end, I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt a mood, but not a resolution. I think this issue of ‘what makes us us’ at the microbial level is so important and overdue for fictional treatment. Acing it for originality here.
      Needs some work on the science, though, I think – ‘coroplasts’? And, joining into your characters’ theorising, zygotes are the sex (or the result of it), not the ones having it (those would be the gametes?)

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 2:42 am
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        Andy,
        Thanks for the compliments. Duly noted. As I confessed to Trish, I, and others, thought the ending fizzled. As for the science, I know that ‘zygotes are the sex, not the ones having it…’ but it sounded better that way, and only you would know the difference between a zygote and a gametes. I was hoping you’d keep it under your hat.

        As for… I wrote ‘coroplast?’ Shit. Coroplast is a plastic substrate I used to use in the sign business. I must be going fucking senile. Coroplast…? I think I meant ‘cytoplast.’

        Well, as I told Ken, (Miles Winston) (very firmly) I played a bit fast and loose with the terminology as I was having trouble keeping all the chloroplasts separate from the mitochondria, not to mention the ribosomes and the reticulum. (I was never any good at biology. In fact, I was so bad, that when I took it in high school, I felt sorry for my teacher. Yes, and he also felt sorry for me. I wasn’t so dumb that I didn’t realize that as well.)

        I got the idea for the story from ‘The Tangled Tree,’ by David Quammen. It’s an amazing book. The science is, in fact, incredible. It’s beyond science fiction. It’s kind of like ‘Quantum Biology,’ if you know what I mean. The main thrust, if you want to scan the subject, is HGT. Horizontal Gene Transfer.

        Here’s an excerpt:

        ‘Of course, the presence of chimpanzee genes, or Neanderthal genes, isn’t the half of it. There’s also that viral DNA—including syncytin-2, a gene co-opted from a retrovirus, repurposed to enable human pregnancy. The fact that endogenous retroviruses constitute 8 percent of the human genome certainly complicates our sense of Homo sapiens as a species of primate.
        …And so does the realization that within every one of our human cells reside captured bacteria, long since transmogrified into mitochondria, without which we couldn’t exist.’

        (‘…repurposed to enable human pregnancy. …captured bacteria…’ See? I did not make this shit up. It’s real. As are the 100 trillion bacterial cells hanging out with us.)

        I’d like to salvage this story. Hate to see it relegated to oblivion. Thanks for the straightforward feedback. (Coroplasts. Sheesh, what an idiot.)

        I haven’t read your story yet and it’s already 3:30 in the morning. (I will find it. And I will read it.)

        Cheers, (as you Briskets like to say.)

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 5:51 am
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          Hi Ken – I’m on your wavelength with all this. (Apart from the plastic sheeting and stuff 🙂 )
          That is – humans as ecosystems, and consciousness as a delusion.
          We think we know who and what we are, but basically we don’t have a clue. We are more not what we are than we are what we are, so to speak. With the human microbiome, Trillions of bacteria, viral matter, microscopic parasites etc. More non-human DNA than human DNA in what we think of as our body.

          “Be the best version of yourself” – yeah right. The rest of ‘me’ might have other ideas, and probably does.

          And all this before we get into epigenetics, horizontal gene transfer, aliens messing with us etc etc. Fertile, if not fecund ground for speculative fiction.

          As for a wrong word popping in to one’s head (or typing fingers) – happens all the time. I was having a text conversation with my daughter yesterday about her measures for surviving imminent lockdown, and she said she’s panic-buying chocolate and prosecco. And I replied that for me it’s tea (as you’ve heard) and fruit bats. Typo or Freudian slip? I love those organic no-sugar fruit and nut *bars*, and always have some nearby in case of an emergency. But fruit bats? That’s probably how this all started, so perhaps at the back of my mind and just popped like a viral interloper into the conversation.

          As for being bad at biology – I was almost put off science for life by my first experience. Eleven years old, I arrived late (I was always arriving late) for the first biology lesson at secondary school. The teacher told me to sit at this lab bench at the side of the room, where there was a partially dissected frog in an open tray of formaldehyde, and a variety of unidentifiable body parts in jars. I don’t think I heard a word that lesson, transfixed by the horror of what lay before me and trying not to puke with the smell. Or faint. I gave up all the sciences as soon as I could (you could do this in the UK back then), only picking up an interest in later life. I wish I knew what I was doing back then, Or now, even.

          Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 2:36 pm
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      Excellent story, Ken. Just a couple of things to point out – ‘whom I’ve established a platonic relationship with’; ‘I’d already proven’. In all honesty, I was oblivious as to the fact that the protagonist was a woman until the very end 🙂

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 2:51 am
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        Thanks Sarig,

        Should it be ‘with whom I’d established a platonic relationship.’
        Is ‘proven’ not a word. ‘proved’. I think I knew that and forgot.. On the bright side, it’s possible I didn’t know, and didn’t forget anything. I look into that as I’d like to revamp this story.

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 1:13 pm
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          No problem. It should be ‘with whom’, instead of ‘who I’d established a platonic relationship with’. ‘Proven’ instead of ‘proved’ in perfect form. Where does all this knowledge and understanding of viral evolution from?

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    • March 19, 2020 at 10:51 pm
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      Ken, I’m really impressed with all the scientific lingo here … impressed but bemused, I’m afraid. I get a block as a reader when confronted by it. It’s my fault. I sucked (as I believe you Americans say) at science at school, and that sucking never left me (if you get my drift). So when you give us (me) this fantastic line: “Professor Morgan downed his drink and set it on the bar, leaned toward me and said, ‘You should assume this virus, is much, much older.’ “, I know it’s a very important message, but it whizzes past me, two metres above my head. And from that point on, I’m in the wilderness. My fault again. What about if the two academics could have their conflab, and then the narrator has to simplify it for the benefit of the bartender (us), who’s listening in? But that would probably take up too many words for this contest. Hmmm. What I really loved, though, was the opening – the bar, and ‘a man walked into it’. I could picture it as if I was there.

      Reply
  • March 14, 2020 at 1:24 pm
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    Hi again Ken,

    I’m very intrigued by the premise of this story that we exist thanks to other living creatures. That should in turn thank us for hosting them inside our cells. Whatever “our” means. It’s like everything’s theirs really. They were here first. They made us. Fundamentalist Eukaryotism is the true religion.

    I got a bit lost in the technicalities of how it all works. Let me say that the exposition to us layman readers in eukaryote sex-assistance science is very well devised on your part, by having these two characters from different fields reacting to one other at the pub. But I’m still quite ignorant in the field, even after reading the story twice. Although that doesn’t rob me any of the pleasures of pondering on the interesting repercussions of Dr Nichols’s research…

    I suspect there’s something I didn’t get that had to do with Morgan’s disappearance and his reemergence in a new guise, and Dr. Nichols’s (so she’s a she!) pregnancy. And the eukaryotes. A lot seems to happen at the end. It’s all quite refreshingly surprising. But I can’t quite make the link between all those final reveals.

    One more observation: the way the microbes play the sex game for the larger creatures makes them the directors of the orchestra of (a good chunk of) animal life, not just us humans. So, they’re not the very thing that makes us – humans – special. Perhaps if they were fundamental to neural transmission within our brains (instead of inhabiting our groins), these viral invaders could’ve been considered as the essence of being human. But I may be stretching the new religion too far now. E poi questa storia parla davvero di sesso. Down to the nuts and bolts of the erotic.

    And all this talk of microbes taking over the world! Look what happened. There’s a state of emergency, out there, now…

    Take care Ken, everyone!

    Ken

    Reply
    • March 15, 2020 at 2:50 am
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      Ken Miles,

      Well, I can see by your comments that despite all your attempts to resist it, my story is winning you over. At the speed of the continental drift. I left some loose ends laying about on this one Ken.

      First of all,
      My ‘Counting Cars’ reference was in light of your ‘many questions.’ Feel free to disregard any god lyrics, or any lyrics at all that I might bring up, in my desperate attempt to promote the group ‘Dishwalla.’ You caught me.

      ‘Comedy is risky business. I want that on my tombstone.’ That’s what I want on my tombstone. As I was saying, comedy, very hard to pull off. But you do it pretty well most of the time.

      Okay, so you got confused, what happened to Professor Morgan? He was temporarily infested and controlled by the ancient virus which can inhabit any part of a human, because they’re tiny, they’re in the ribosome’s Ken. (Or was it the ‘verbiculum?’ The Coroplastate? Doesn’t matter, a very tiny, possibly the wrong cellular part, but the exact part, doesn’t matter.” (I sound like Trump trying to explain sex to Eric.)

      (Oddly, the part where the virus causes the RNA to pass messages back and forth, at a cellular level, (somewhere) that is a fact. That’s true, it’s in the book I’m reading.

      In fact, I’m reading an entire book on the history of microbial evolution, just to write one story for you people. And you know what I get for this? What makes it all worthwhile? That simple, down home secret that explains the miraculous reason for my generosity in entertaining you people? Nothing. I get nothing. Crickets. Except for you, Ken. That’s why I like you. And regret that I’m about to lecture you.

      You don’t need to understand epidemiology to allow it as part of the plot. We allow ‘Warp Speed’ in our stories. (Some of them. Okay, as few as possible.) But it’s a small obstacle to a good story. These are such tiny obstacles, these viruses, they’re so small. Why do people hate them so much? Oh that’s right, they often kill us. I forgot about that.

      It’s beside the point. You don’t need to understand how the nine-billion-year-old virus does it, Ken, or does what it does, it just does it. For all we know, it may be all powerful. Like a single being that could use people like cells, get them to engage in a mob mentality, or remain passive when it was against their interests. Imagine such a being. We might as well tell you now that the Professor is a giant God Virus. He comes and goes in the body of a lab equipment salesman? Is that not funny?

      (Oh Come on, Ken wrote a story about a monster under the mud of the battle field, you guys tossed him up on your shoulders and carried him down main street for a ticker-tape parade. (Honestly, you people must be very judicious.)

      And then the good Doctor Nichols, she never had sex with the gay guy, she just snagged some of his DNA, (I don’t know how, probably cut his finger off,) mixed it with hers. She didn’t even tell him. (She was like Dr. Frankenstein.) No, better, she was Mary Shelley. She made a kid, out of a gay bartender. What else. Is there anything else? That I didn’t tell you about?

      I have a story, a true story, about women’s nylon stockings. I had a drawer full of them at one time. And then, my ex-girlfreind, or soon to be my ex-girlfriend, found them, marched me into the garage and showed me my own stockings, and demanded to know what kind of weird shit I was into with all these stockings. So I told her. “I use them to strain paint.” And then I said, “If you don’t believe me, I suppose I’ll have to kill you.” (I think all the paint cans, sandpaper and the permeating smell of mineral spirits helped to convince her. But it might have been the threat.)

      (The Bugs May Be Here To Save The Planet.)

      BTW, you made some great observations after that, about identity. I just think we’re one big voracious organism. The whole planet. A tree is a tree, even if it’s grafted, it remains what it is. Likewise, whatever parts I have, and whatever parts I acquire, those parts are human too now, even if there’s 10 trillion of them parts. I’m still human, baby. Look at me. Look at that fat, that’s human fat. That fat will be both our downfalls, me and Mr. microbe.

      But on one point I have to disagree. You dismiss reproduction as if it’s insignificant and yet, reproduction is so abundant and varied, and a major influence on behavior. While we can’t say that these microbial hitch-hikers effect our behavior, we can’t say that they’re not affecting our behavior either. There are so many of them. But you got all of that. That was not the part that confused you.

      This has got the markings of a great unfinished (possibly even unwritten) book. It would be cool though, a story about organized microbes, that were actively out to get us, at war with us, humanity, and we knew it. So we would concoct things that would hurt it, and it would manage somehow to hurt people in some strange way. (Maybe causing a toxic tide in a town with canals running through the city. I don’t know. But the thing is intelligent, and spread out, no matter what we do, it’s like trying to kill ants in sand, with a hammer.

      Yeah, you stay safe, Mr. Miles. Don’t touch anything and watch what you breath.

      Reply
  • March 15, 2020 at 2:36 pm
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    The Loneliest Man is in a Crowd
    By: Sarig Levin

    I step outside and light myself a cigarette. Through the large window across the street I see an old man watching TV in the darkness of his living room, pervaded only by a flickering bluish hue.

    I fasten my jacket and give myself over to the drab embrace of an autumn evening. The rough paving stones brush against the soles of my feet as I round the corner, mingling with the crowd filling the Oudegracht – the main pedestrian artery at the antiquated center of Utrecht.

    Pulling up the lapels on my coat, I park my tailbone on a chilly stone bench, pull out a pack of Drum and start rolling myself another cigarette, just as a couple of identical teenaged twin-towers, blonde and adorable, pass me by. A phone goes off, and while one twin engages in a conversation, the other starts fixing herself up. I smile as she glances my way unintentionally, but she ignores me, picks up her shopping bag, grabs her sister by the arm and pelts along.

    I light up my smoke while attempting to shelter it from the drizzle, lean against the railing and stare across the canal, where a naked man is leaning against his balcony railing, smoking a joint and staring right back at me.

    At the bottom of the Oudegracht stands the Dom – an enormous Gothic tower soaring more than a hundred meters into the purple sky. At the foot of the Dom stands a small coffeeshop, with a figure of the T-1000 cop guarding its door, a big fat joint hanging off the side of his villainous grin.

    I lean against one of the many bikes double chained to the railing, wipe the marks of light rain off my face and stare at the awe-inspiring tower.

    “Wat is dit nu?” demands a stern, middle-aged woman, as she crosses the street.

    She stops and glares right at me. I, however, do not speak any Dutch.

    The woman grabs the bike I was leaning against, release both chains and ride off, cursing under her breath.

    Nothing much left for me to do but to mount my own ancient, rusty bicycle and ride across the uneven cobblestones, over the footbridge and into the rainy night.

    ***

    Behind the counter stands a chubby fellow in a loosely buttoned Hawaiian shirt. Right outside the coffeeshop, a life-size Terminator cop is getting soaked by the rain.

    “Goedenavond,” I say, as I approach the counter. “Super Skunk, alstublieft, voor tien gulden.”

    “Aha, the good stuff…” he says, producing a zip bag and holding it for my nose to inspect the authoritative skunky aroma.

    As I pay the man with a crisp tenner, the doorbell rings twice and in walks an enticing blonde, with bosom so heavy it’s nearly busting out of a blue sweater under a long trench coat.

    “Goedenavond, Saskia,” I greet her, as she shakes the rainwater out of her adorable cupid curls in slow motion.

    “Thought I might find you here,” she says merrily and kisses me on both cheeks.

    The two of us grab a table. She tears a cardboard strip off the lid of her cigarette box and rolls us a filter, while I complete a perfectly engineered joint with one hand only, light it up and pass it over to her.

    “I just broke up with Rob,” she informs me. “I’m so fed up with typical Dutch-boys.”

    “Rob? You mean as in your boyfriend?” I inquire, somewhat slyly.

    “Ex-boyfriend!” she exclaims, with a somewhat sly smile of her own.

    “Care for a cup of coffee?” she adds, passing the joint back to me.

    “Ja, graag! Twee kopjes koffie, alstublieft.”

    “Sure, coming right up!” replies the vendor. “Good old Dutch coffee.”

    “Well, if it ain’t Dutch…” I initiate.

    “…It ain’t much!” she picks it up where I left off and the three of us laugh pleasantly, as the rain outside finally dies off.

    ***

    Once we’ve entered my room, I embrace Saskia’s warm body, taking in the soft odor of her skin, and the two of us lock in a passionate kiss. The palms of my hands gently surf the delightful curves of her body, riding the waves of her waist, rounding the swell of her buttocks, until finally grabbing a firm hold at the base, sweeping her off her feet and carrying her over to the bed.

    By the time I throw her onto the mattress, Saskia is on fire and nearly tears my shirt off. A masterful hand dives under the covers of her sweater, undoes her bra and the two most perfectly round, full and firm breasts I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in person pop out for a breath of fresh air.

    At that moment, there’s a knock on the door.

    “Ja,” says Saskia, without being the least bashful.

    The door swings open, revealing the towering twins in the flesh, as adorable as when I first saw them by the canal. They giggle, but remain standing there, as half-naked Saskia glides over to the door and gently funnels them into the room.

    I lie back and watch, as Saskia guides their hands over to her perfect breasts, and the three start kissing. She begins to undress one of the identical nymphs, while the other disengages and slowly steers over to the bed, unbuttoning her shirt with a naughty smile and reaching for my…

    ***

    A sudden discharge in the nether regions releases a mental anchor, which forces an unfortunate ascent back to the surface of reality. Saskia and the twins reach out for me in muted yearning, before fading away into the mist of my mind.

    A chilling wave of angst slams into me as I’m coming up for air, perspiring and all alone inside my dusky room. Attempting to shake away the threads of the kind of sweet dream that only ever serves to bring out the bitterness of reality, I roll over, stuff my hookah with a mixture of Super Skunk and Drum, light it up with a shaky hand, suck on the tantalizing serpent and blow my mind into bits of misery and despair.

    * * *

    White paint is peeling off the walls of this derelict student house. The old washer standing in the center of the laundry room appears to be caught in a web of clotheslines, bearing somewhat strange, moist fruits.

    The centrifugal dryer is dancing in a futile effort to squeeze a bit of water out of my clothes. I lean against the wall and watch it rocking and jolting, as a lanky, pasty looking youth enters the room, carrying a laundry basket. I smile and greet him with a gesture of the hand, but he turns his head back without as much as a sign of recognition.

    “De buitenlander is nog steeds hier,” he informs an agent hidden somewhere beyond the boundaries of this common space.

    “Oke, Rob. Bedankt,” echoes a female voice.

    Rob picks a few sexy panties, a couple of huge bras and a blue sweater off one of the clotheslines and leaves the room, while I resume watching the dryer performing its jolty swan dance.

    Reply
  • March 16, 2020 at 10:42 am
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    It’s clearer now, Ken, after reading your explanations. Well, maybe because you’ve been reading that book on epidemiology, you’ve expected too much from your ignorant readers.

    (Although we’re all, little by little, becoming epidemiologists with the onslaught of information coming in right now from every direction about anything-virology.)

    It’s certainly a piece that might belong to a longer writing project. Too much in it to fit in a short story. A novel? Without loose ends.

    I’ve been cooking some ideas myself on a pandemic novel that might strike a chord in this Year of the Virus-Lord 1.

    I don’t dismiss reproduction/sexuality. I get it that if a viral entity controlled our sexuality, it would in turn quite surely also control a good chunk of our behaviour. My point was that that would be the same for all the higher animals, and not just for us humans. Or, actually, more for the other animals (except the pandas perhaps), given that us humans have some distractions from our sexuality. Although I don’t know, maybe everything somehow springs out of sex and the yearning for sex (art, politics, fashion, sport, war, everything). So your premise maybe right. I’m getting there. At continental drift speed.

    Maybe your story would do well with some more allusions to what you had in mind. So Nichols must have stolen the gay barman’s DNA? No, I don’t think she cut off his finger. It’s not in her. Not in the character you worked up for us. But that hair in her cocktail she decided not to kick up a fuss about. That hair could have come in handy later on…

    I see a distopic ending to your symbiotic human-viral coexistence. The virus is caught out, and we get to by and large eliminate it from our bodies, for it is also the very thing that makes us fart. No more embarrassing gaseous emissions from the rear end. But we get to wonder why we don’t feel it anymore. The big urge. The porn industry collapses. For the first time “Cement And Concrete Weekly” sells more copies than “Maxim”. We go the panda’s way (why doesn’t your virus like pandas, btw?). Our population dwindles. There’s panic in viral circles: they’d banked so much on our relentless planet-wide sprawl for their own survival. They helped us multiply. Now this is what they get from us for it. They turn their attention to rabbits. Won’t try again with large reptiles and hairless apes. One day this world will belong to the mighty bunny.

    Ken F.’s getting away with his mud-monster without giving any logical explanation to his premise? While so much is being asked of you about your virus? I think it’s a genre issue. Frape’s piece had a poetic slant to it, a poignant touch too. No further questions asked; poetic license. Yours means to be SciFi, and with that, explanations are called for. Even if they are spoof science. Or real science from a book you read, but I didn’t.

    And thanks for stating that you like me, btw : -)

    Ken

    Reply
    • March 17, 2020 at 10:22 am
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      Ken (Miles.),

      I’m sorry if I sounded irritable in my previous comment. I’m sure I wasn’t, but nobody ever believes me when I tell the truth, why should you? So I’m offering a blanket, pre-emptive, prophylactic apology. I was expecting a couple of ooh’s and maybe a single ahh. Instead, you offered a couple of improvements, pointed out some shortcomings and yawned. (You deny yawning?)

      I’m kind of kidding there, but I do apologize sincerely for characterizing your criticism as confusion. You never used the word confusion. You said you ‘got lost in the technicalities of how it all works.’ And that is an entirely different matter. And a legitimate complaint. You understood the story, and the premise perfectly well, this is obvious from your critiques.

      You were, of course, correct on all fronts. A hair in her cocktail is a brilliant device. Her pregnancy was an afterthought. But I like it, and I liked the idea that she would get pregnant artificially, it just didn’t occur to me until after I’d posted the story.

      As for Professor Morgan, whether God-Virus or no, so much stranger things happen in the world than one man denying that he remembers a pregnant woman he once met briefly in a bar. As far as I’m concerned, it’s His loss.

      I have to state, for the record, that I didn’t really object to the accolades afforded to Ken for his ‘War Muck Monster.’ (I’m an ardent fan of Ken Frape.) But I found your comparison of our two stories insightful and entertaining none-the-less.

      Your foray into the dystopian possibilities of my story was/is hilarious. I thought about the implications myself as I was writing my story but didn’t come up with anything so creative and amusing as you did. (The Cement & Concrete Weekly.)

      I suppose it was ambitious of me to try to cram the essence of evolutionary biology into a few paragraphs, but hey, it was my first attempt. I swear, I’ll get better at it.

      I confess that the whole point of my story was to convey the essence of current micro-biological theory, which sounds like science fiction but, incredibly, is as factual as I could make it, given my lack of scientific credentials. The scenery and people were fictional, the biological aspects were factual, in their essence. (I may have gotten a few terms interchanged, but the theories are correct, likewise their ramifications.)

      I suppose I’m disappointed that the technical aspects of the story were overly complex for general consumption. It was not what I was hoping to hear. Never the less, I really appreciate the time you put into analyzing our stories. You often see vast untapped possibilities and unexplored tangents that could not help but improve the stories. And are a source of interest and entertainment to me regardless of their overall usefulness.

      Cheers.

      Reply
      • March 17, 2020 at 10:47 pm
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        Miles, K.

        Well, I let Kim read the story, Miles, (do you mind if I call you Miles? You do? Mmmm. Have you ever thought of going by the name of Miles? It’s a great handle. Miles Winston. Who needs a name like Ken when you can go with Miles?) Anyway, she said she didn’t get it. I can quote her exact words. “I don’t get it.” She said. “Who got her pregnant?”

        And I said, “What is it with you women? All you care about is who the father is.”

        And she said, “The father? I don’t even know what the story’s about. I thought I would start with something simple, like, ‘Who the fuck got her pregnant?”

        I took a deep breath and said, with exacting courtesy, “Did anything else in the story jump out at you?”

        “I wish,” she said. “The story has no ending, you should have let me read it before you posted it.”

        And then, and this is the masterstroke of her genius. She flipped up the last page, as if there would be another final page, paragraph or sentence beneath it. As if I were playing a clever joke on her. So…

        I thought about telling her that the ending was purged, contaminated, or just plain missing, but I knew she wouldn’t believe it. She wrinkled her nose, and held its limp pages out for me to retrieve. Which I did. I buried it in the back yard, after I soaked it in gasoline, burned it to ashes, and doused it with five gallons of water. There’s no trace of it. Except on this site. So, if the story disappears again Ken Miles, just — let it go.

        I still think you should change your name. Miles Winston. Think of it. (What’s your middle name, and please don’t tell me ‘Philip.’)

        Reply
  • March 16, 2020 at 9:50 pm
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    THE FABULISTAS
    By Jack McDaniel

    “Been fifteen years,” said Strider, who propped up the doorway to the old house, thumbs through a couple of the belt loops on his jeans, “but I don’t see no profit in it.”

    “No,” agreed Tanaka, “no profit.”

    “Fifteen years?”

    “Sure, Peet,” said Strider, “you ain’t the first to see a dead Beatle walking through town.”

    “Lennon probably takin’ up with Mary Lou.” Tanaka nodded his head sagely as he spoke. “She’s loose like that.”

    The old liars made subtle signs of agreement. Peet was still confused.

    Peet wanted to take the blame for his lack of motivation and industry in life, but there was always an excuse waiting in line in front of him. He liked the Fabulistas and they were cordial, but he still felt like an outsider. Perhaps it was the age difference.

    The old liars weren’t fazed by his story. They’d heard it all in their time. They examined the details and tried to smithy out something passable in it while the iron was hot. They knew Peet, knew him well. He’d peter out and lose interest before long, a lack of concentration, they reasoned. Lying, they told all who inquired, required stamina, experience and an intimate relationship with the lubricant Jose Cuervo.

    “I wonder,” said Tanaka after a while, “if Lennon still wears that skirt and those heels?”

    “You got it wrong,” Strider corrected. “That was the astronaut they said was on the moon.”

    “That’s right, I forgot. Age does that to you, Peet—makes you forget. When was that ’75 or ’76?”

    “Something like that,” mused Strider. “My memory is faulty around the edges.”

    Tanaka shuffled his feet and looked out across the pond. “Am I correct in thinking, gentlemen, that Mary Lou also took up with the astronaut?”

    “Of course,” replied Spiro who sat on the stairs tonguing a blade of grass. “She’s loose like that, always been.”

    “Those were her young days,” said Strider, “before she had to go two counties over for something fresh.”

    The world was spinning in the wrong direction for Peet, which was odd on several levels. When the Fabulistas got together everything stopped. Nature quit buzzing. The bees and flies and gnats all took a seat to listen to what was being said. Even the breeze lingered off to the side, whispering at a respectful level. Peet was having trouble focusing. Being in his late-forties, he was still young, and he had mostly learned to keep his mouth shut when one of the Fabulistas peddled advice. He even practiced patience as far as he could, despite the fact that it rubbed him raw.

    But his confusion won out. “What astronaut?”

    Peet immediately felt awkward, as if he’d asked a question that shouldn’t need answering.

    In their heads, the Fabulistas flipped through the catalog to locate the details of the story. Tanaka wasn’t certain he remembered the minutiae any longer. A few synapses had busted loose sometime after one of the Bush’s left office and he’d never found the time or motivation to drink them back into place.

    Spiro dusted off the sleeve of his Member’s Only jacket and said, “Pretty sure I’d have to consult JC to get it all straight.”

    Peet was dismayed. “What’s Jesus got to do with it?”

    “Can’t remember, that’s why I need to consult Jose.”

    “Jose?”

    Strider decided the old door wouldn’t collapse without his assistance so he stood erect and slowly ambled to the porch railing that overlooked the roses and rabbit holes. “Am I correct in thinking the astronaut was the Russki who defected back in the day? Wasn’t he the one who was so well trained they supposedly sent him to the moon instead of one of our boys?”

    “That’s right,” said Spiro. “But they told everyone his name was Wilson or Armstead, something like that. That was back during the Cold War, remember?”

    “Sure, I remember.” It was coming back to Strider now, something about the roses triggered his gray matter into overdrive. “They put him up in town during the show. Right down the road.”

    “Show?”

    “It was all filmed not thirty miles from here, Peet—out in the desert.”

    “What show?”

    Tanaka regarded Peet with mild disbelief. “What show? The moon landing, of course. You didn’t think that was real, did you?”

    Spiro and Strider stiffened and gazed hard at Peet.

    “The boy don’t know,” said Strider at last, “too young. It was a big Hollywood production—camera crews, men wearing sunglasses and some slide rule geeks buzzed about for a few days.”

    “Then it all went away,” took up Spiro. “except the astronaut. He hooked up with Mary Lou. She’s loose like that.”

    Peet thought, But I saw John Lennon just down the road, on Main. Then he chastised himself. The Fabulistas knew more about the world than he ever would. How could he believe he had something new to offer them? It was damn near embarrassing.

    Tanaka said, “Still don’t see no profit in it.”

    “No,” said Strider, “no profit. Peet, you might keep Lennon to yourself. Ain’t gonna get you nothin’ around here.”

    “I’d stay away from Mary Lou, too,” added Spiro.

    “Stay away—”

    “Sure, you’d put her in an awkward position. You don’t want to do that. Mary Lou is a fine woman.”

    Peet was having more trouble focusing; the astronaut, the Russki, Lennon, Mary Lou and Hollywood were crowding his mind and stealing space before any form of independent or coherent thought could gel. He felt something else stirring in him, clearing a path, a nexus of energy that set his mind to wandering and fostered a sense of industry, however slight. It crept up on him and made him believe he could niggle some fries out of Donna at the drive-thru on Main. Might take a little work, but he figured he was up for it. Suddenly, he was hungry and had a hankering to leave the old liars.

    “Thanks, fellas, for all the info. Ah, la vache!” Peet waved absentmindedly and walked away. The Fabulistas watched as he disappeared down the road.

    Ah, la vache?” It was Tanaka’s turn to be confused.

    “Means Such is life,” said Spiro.

    “Is that so?”

    “Sure it is. He’s young, Peet, but he’s been around some. Plus, Lennon speaks French and Russki, probably got it from him.”

    “Had to get it off Lennon,” reasoned Strider, “not much of an imagination in ol’ Peet.”

    “He’s lazy, but he’s still young—and he doesn’t know Jose well, yet.”

    “Lacks stamina,” said Strider.

    Ah, la vache.” Spiro rose from the steps. “Holy cow! I’m thirsty. That’s a lot of ground we covered in that history lesson. I need to consult Jose and make sure we got it right. I don’t want to confuse the details. It’d be bad on us to hand down a bunch of gibberish to the next generation.”

    Spiro tugged his Member’s Only jacket down over his waist. Tanaka and Strider nodded and joined him. The three of them shuffled toward the back of the house.

    Spiro mumbled, “I thought it was Michael Jackson that brought the Hollywood here. Damn memories.”

    Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:09 pm
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      Jack, I loved your description of the Fabulistas- the old men who sit around telling tales. Funnily enough, I know an older gent who is always after me to find him Members Only jackets at the local thrift stores where I shop. I guess its an old man thing – nice detail to include. I thought your dialogue was very lively and realistic. I loved the interjections the Fabulistas repeated about Mary Lou. I felt like I could imagine an afternoon spent whiling away the hours with these guys. Nice story. – Trish

      Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 2:48 pm
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      Wonderful story, really. Masterful play with language, imagery and metaphors, entertaining and a delight to read.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 1:40 am
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      McDaniel,

      I’ll be honest, there’s nothing wrong with this story. Clearly, you’re a talented writer and this is very clean and polished work. It’s excellent in that regard, but it (mind-blowingly) reminds me of ‘Dahlgren.’ Are you familiar with that book? (I read it fifty years ago and I’m still pissed off about it.) If that’s the style you were going for, you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams. I hated that book. All 838 pages of it.

      To use a more familiar analogy, this is kind of ‘Clockwork Orange’ – ish. Not my favorite dipping sauce either, but, ‘Clockwork’ still… has wide appeal, it’s considered a cult classic. Of course, your story is lighthearted and jaunty, with a touch of vim. It doesn’t have the same sinister vibe as ‘Clockwork’, so my comparison is a bit off the mark. But that’s my take, for good or bad. I hope you’ll take a crack at the next prompt. Give me something to compare this to. (Or are you a one-trick pony?)

      As harsh as this all sounds, I suppose you could take some solace in being compared to Samuel R. Delany and Anthony Burgess. That’s not such a bad thing. I guess.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 6:13 am
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      Interesting effect this story had – starts with a bemused eyebrow-raise, then a smile steadily broadening to full beam by the end. Kind of an engaging shaggy vache story, with one fabulation tagging on the end of another, with periodic reprises. What’s it about? I guess the way we know stuff, forget stuff, make up stuff, garble stuff and then how it gets thrown together in a half-baked cultural soup with a dash (or more) of Tequila. Holy cow! Such is life. Or not.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 8:46 am
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      Jack,

      I read this yesterday, and decided to wait until today to reread it and respond. I thought maybe I would change my mind. I am in concert with Ken C. on this, not that you aren’t talented, because you clearly are. It’s a well written story that flows well. It’s just that I was confused a bit. I think your paragraph that ends with ‘ It’d be bad on us to hand down a bunch of gibberish to the next generation.” kinda sums it up for me.

      I’m one of those realists I guess, so it’s my own damn fault. For instance, when it comes to art, show me a Norman Rockwell, and please, please keep those friggin’ Picasso’s away from me. I saw some of Picasso’s early work, and it’s clear he’s talented, but his later shit you can keep. I feel the same way about writing. Give me a good Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, and you can keep Portnoy’s Complaint and Philip Roth, awards aside.

      I also, would like to see more from you. So, I guess there is that.

      Roy York

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 11:13 am
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        Now that’s an interesting comment, Roy. Maybe it gets to the heart of how we assess a story. There’s kind of two sides to it – how we react personally to it, coming at it with our preferences, and how the writer achieves what they are trying to do. I think we have to give as much credit as possible for the latter, even if a story is not to our tastes.

        I’m allergic to dragons, witches, vampires, demons and angels as a rule. But if someone writes a knockout story in any of those kinds of genres – as some people have here – they’ll get a vote from me.

        Personally I’m drawn more to the kind of Chekhov or Stefan Zweig kind of character-driven or psychological short story, though I know often people want something that has a bit more bite and action to it.

        And I also love originality, and something a bit more satirical, speculative or even absurdist, or experimenting with form, or playing with ideas, that’s great to see. Then as well as our reaction, we’re challenged to engage with it in its own terms.

        So I’m waving a banner for Jack’s story here. Which, I would think, in modern art terms is probably more Magritte than Picasso, in a way?

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 11:36 am
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          Yeah, Andy, you’re welcome BTW, but regarding Jack’s story, I hope he realizes that while I didn’t care for his story so much, I did indeed like his writing, dialogue, flow, structure and all that, and that I think he is a talented writer. Very talented. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I read it twice and still thought it on the off the wall side.

          When I stand in an art museum and listen to people who point out what they think the artist is trying to do, or listen to people at a book club tell me what they think a writer is trying to do, I think for the most part they are pretentious as Hell. I wasn’t talking about what I think he was trying to do for me, I’m talking about what he did for me.

          I was once asked by an art sales person in a gallery trying to sell me a painting what I thought of a particular piece. It happened to be one of Picasso’s later works with some squiggles on it, and they had a print (number 55 of 450) a seriograph, I believe, and I didn’t know it was a Picasso. I looked at it, looked over at him and said, “Well, I don’t think the artist can draw very well.” He choked and sputtered for a few seconds, called me a ‘philistine’ or something similar and asked me to leave. I ended up buying a very nice painting from a fellow salesman for $1500, and as I walked out I said, “Call me when you get a Picasso print that looks like someone can tell what it is.” I think he may have had a mild stroke. I still laugh about that to this day.

          However, I’m not equating Jack’s work to any of the anecdote above, just that I like what I like. I can still admire something, but it’s not what I would buy, and if I won’t buy it, I find it hard to vote for it. I do admit, it’s a very well written piece. I think sometimes my stories aren’t off the wall enough for some people, and have been referred to by a member of my family as a ‘Hallmark Author’. I can live with that.

          Roy

          Reply
          • March 19, 2020 at 12:16 pm
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            Yes, well, to be honest I generally prefer from the art point of view to be in the National Gallery or Tate Britain to being in the Tate Modern, except for the occasional exhibition, the view and as a meeting place.

            We were in the Pompidou Centre a few years back, and there was an exhibition of a painter’s work who had spent his whole career painting entire canvases black. Exploring all the nuances of black. A very celebrated guy in France. I’m afraid I found it thought-provoking for about two minutes, but others there were having long, detailed and exuberant conversations about it. It’s interesting what people (think they) see in things, and the social context of that too.

            BTW, I’m not sure what a ‘Hallmark author’ would be. But I’d say your style is very assured and your stories know where they’re going, like there’s an author well in control of his material and has done a fair bit of polishing before publishing.
            Are you tempted to write something that’s ‘off the wall’ at all? Just for the hell of it?

          • March 19, 2020 at 2:59 pm
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            I’m going to send you my ‘artist’ joke, because it’s too ummm… explicit for these hallowed pages. Yes, I have thought about doing an ‘off the wall’ piece’ and when I think about it and try, it looks so silly (and it may not be) to me, I abandon it.

            A ‘Hallmark writer ‘ in the context used is a writer whose topics are generally happy ending stories about life, (although I do have a dark side in a lot of stories), mine generally involve everyday life of everyday people. The Hallmark channel over here is full of similar stories, and while they do deal with life and death, it’s almost always a ‘death’ with meaning, such as a mom and son making up after years of estrangement while one of them is dying, and the story, in general is more uplifting than not. There’s a whole friggin’ channel devoted to it.

          • March 20, 2020 at 8:30 am
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            Andy, if you still have my email address send me an email so I can send you that joke I promised. I can’t pull your address up, probably because it doesn’t start with an A or an N. All my efforts have failed and I would have to look through thousands of various combinations to find yours.

            Roy

    • March 19, 2020 at 11:15 pm
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      Hi, Jack

      You have a terrific way with language. Your story cracks and pops like a firework display. If one took any section out and examined it, one would say it was brilliant. Put all the sections together and you have what happened in our family’s back garden many, many years ago: my parents always bought a large box of fireworks for November 5th (which is a special day in Britain – Guy Fawkes Night). On this particular night, the box was on the ground with the lid off, my father lit the first firework (perhaps a Catherine wheel), a spark fell in the box and … you can maybe guess the rest. It was exciting, but also a big confusion of flashes. And that’s how I felt with your story. (But this is a subjective view – witness others’ love for it here. What do I know?)

      Reply
  • March 16, 2020 at 10:24 pm
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    POSTED FOR SARIG LEVIN


    The Loneliest Man is in a Crowd
    By: Sarig Levin

    I step outside and light myself a cigarette. Through the large window across the street I see an old man watching TV in the darkness of his living room, pervaded only by a flickering bluish hue.

    I fasten my jacket and give myself over to the drab embrace of an autumn evening. The rough paving stones brush against the soles of my feet as I round the corner, mingling with the crowd filling the Oudegracht – the main pedestrian artery at the antiquated center of Utrecht.

    Pulling up the lapels on my coat, I park my tailbone on a chilly stone bench, pull out a pack of Drum and start rolling myself another cigarette, just as a couple of identical teenaged twin-towers, blonde and adorable, pass me by. A phone goes off, and while one twin engages in a conversation, the other starts fixing herself up. I smile as she glances my way unintentionally, but she ignores me, picks up her shopping bag, grabs her sister by the arm and pelts along.

    I light up my smoke while attempting to shelter it from the drizzle, lean against the railing and stare across the canal, where a naked man is leaning against his balcony railing, smoking a joint and staring right back at me.

    At the bottom of the Oudegracht stands the Dom – an enormous Gothic tower soaring more than a hundred meters into the purple sky. At the foot of the Dom stands a small coffeeshop, with a figure of the T-1000 cop guarding its door, a big fat joint hanging off the side of his villainous grin.

    I lean against one of the many bikes double chained to the railing, wipe the marks of light rain off my face and stare at the awe-inspiring tower.

    “Wat is dit nu?” demands a stern, middle-aged woman, as she crosses the street.

    She stops and glares right at me. I, however, do not speak any Dutch.

    The woman grabs the bike I was leaning against, release both chains and ride off, cursing under her breath.

    Nothing much left for me to do but to mount my own ancient, rusty bicycle and ride across the uneven cobblestones, over the footbridge and into the rainy night.

    ***

    Behind the counter stands a chubby fellow in a loosely buttoned Hawaiian shirt. Right outside the coffeeshop, a life-size Terminator cop is getting soaked by the rain.

    “Goedenavond,” I say, as I approach the counter. “Super Skunk, alstublieft, voor tien gulden.”

    “Aha, the good stuff…” he says, producing a zip bag and holding it for my nose to inspect the authoritative skunky aroma.

    As I pay the man with a crisp tenner, the doorbell rings twice and in walks an enticing blonde, with bosom so heavy it’s nearly busting out of a blue sweater under a long trench coat.

    “Goedenavond, Saskia,” I greet her, as she shakes the rainwater out of her adorable cupid curls in slow motion.

    “Thought I might find you here,” she says merrily and kisses me on both cheeks.

    The two of us grab a table. She tears a cardboard strip off the lid of her cigarette box and rolls us a filter, while I complete a perfectly engineered joint with one hand only, light it up and pass it over to her.

    “I just broke up with Rob,” she informs me. “I’m so fed up with typical Dutch-boys.”

    “Rob? You mean as in your boyfriend?” I inquire, somewhat slyly.

    “Ex-boyfriend!” she exclaims, with a somewhat sly smile of her own.

    “Care for a cup of coffee?” she adds, passing the joint back to me.

    “Ja, graag! Twee kopjes koffie, alstublieft.”

    “Sure, coming right up!” replies the vendor. “Good old Dutch coffee.”

    “Well, if it ain’t Dutch…” I initiate.

    “…It ain’t much!” she picks it up where I left off and the three of us laugh pleasantly, as the rain outside finally dies off.

    ***

    Once we’ve entered my room, I embrace Saskia’s warm body, taking in the soft odor of her skin, and the two of us lock in a passionate kiss. The palms of my hands gently surf the delightful curves of her body, riding the waves of her waist, rounding the swell of her buttocks, until finally grabbing a firm hold at the base, sweeping her off her feet and carrying her over to the bed.

    By the time I throw her onto the mattress, Saskia is on fire and nearly tears my shirt off. A masterful hand dives under the covers of her sweater, undoes her bra and the two most perfectly round, full and firm breasts I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in person pop out for a breath of fresh air.

    At that moment, there’s a knock on the door.

    “Ja,” says Saskia, without being the least bashful.

    The door swings open, revealing the towering twins in the flesh, as adorable as when I first saw them by the canal. They giggle, but remain standing there, as half-naked Saskia glides over to the door and gently funnels them into the room.

    I lie back and watch, as Saskia guides their hands over to her perfect breasts, and the three start kissing. She begins to undress one of the identical nymphs, while the other disengages and slowly steers over to the bed, unbuttoning her shirt with a naughty smile and reaching for my…

    ***

    A sudden discharge in the nether regions releases a mental anchor, which forces an unfortunate ascent back to the surface of reality. Saskia and the twins reach out for me in muted yearning, before fading away into the mist of my mind.

    A chilling wave of angst slams into me as I’m coming up for air, perspiring and all alone inside my dusky room. Attempting to shake away the threads of the kind of sweet dream that only ever serves to bring out the bitterness of reality, I roll over, stuff my hookah with a mixture of Super Skunk and Drum, light it up with a shaky hand, suck on the tantalizing serpent and blow my mind into bits of misery and despair.

    * * *

    White paint is peeling off the walls of this derelict student house. The old washer standing in the center of the laundry room appears to be caught in a web of clotheslines, bearing somewhat strange, moist fruits.

    The centrifugal dryer is dancing in a futile effort to squeeze a bit of water out of my clothes. I lean against the wall and watch it rocking and jolting, as a lanky, pasty looking youth enters the room, carrying a laundry basket. I smile and greet him with a gesture of the hand, but he turns his head back without as much as a sign of recognition.

    “De buitenlander is nog steeds hier,” he informs an agent hidden somewhere beyond the boundaries of this common space.

    “Oke, Rob. Bedankt,” echoes a female voice.

    Rob picks a few sexy panties, a couple of huge bras and a blue sweater off one of the clotheslines and leaves the room, while I resume watching the dryer performing its jolty swan dance.

    Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm
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      Sarig, your initial paragraphs made me feel as though you were describing a dream. Then the bedroom scene made it seem even more so, but at the end you seemed to ground the story in reality. Interesting. Your descriptions are vivid and well thought out. Your story flows well. Nicely done.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2020 at 12:34 pm
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        Thanks, Trish 🙂

        Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 6:44 am
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        Wow, a very well-written and effective study of loneliness in a foreign land. The street scene in Utrecht is convincingly conjured up – made me reminisce a bit as I’ve worked there in the past, and I’ve definitely seen at least two of those blondes – and I like the way the description is very much anchored in the narrator’s mood. I guess it’s back in the 1990s or so, as they’re not using Euros for currency yet. Or maybe they still pay in guilders in ‘coffee shops’, I wouldn’t know of course.

        Basically, the guy needs a girlfriend (or 3, maybe?), some company anyway. It seems he both stimulates and sublimates his yearning in a cloud of smoke … There’s something very brutally honest about his awakening from his dream and returning to harsh reality. Good stuff.

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 1:50 pm
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          Thank you, Andy. The story is indeed set in my personal experience of pre-EU-nised Holland at the turn of the millennium. I just love the notion of a 2.5 gulden coin 😉 However, this little sequence aims at portraying a sense of estrangement that might be typical to people starting their lives in a cold, foreign and often less than welcoming land. A bubbled up existence, I call it, made inglorious harder by not being able to speak the language.

          Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 1:43 am
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      Hey, great to hear from you again Sarig.

      You’re writing is really riveting. It has a nice, I don’t know, controlled flamboyance? (Like an expert bowler who has a balletic approach to the line, and then flings the ball down the alley like Thor with his hammer. And gets a strike, I might add.) There’s nothing wrong with the form, or performance. The incongruity enhances the whole affair.

      I had to translate your foreign phrase my own self, (totally unfair, and took me all of ten seconds) which adds some kind of something to the story. An important something. I can guess what the story means, (a pipe dream) but I’d rather not because I’m probably wrong. Have you thought about adding some microbes to this, some bacterial shenanigans? The environment seems suitable enough. Just a thought.

      Lovely writing.

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 9:04 am
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        Very well written story, Sarig, and while I had a couple minor problems with some of your terms that I felt were superfluous, they don’t really take anything away from your excellent story. I’m more of a realist when it comes to using words and I don’t like to use words that make readers pause, even though I know what they mean. Such as pervaded. It just seemed wrong to me, although for the life of me I really can’t think of a substitute word. Maybe invaded. However, I digress, because that may be considered nit-picky, but if I wre your editor, I would encourage you to change it.

        You also took me along for the ride, and I appreciated that. I was right there in the room when the – as you put it – the two twin towers walked in. Nice, I got the picture. Even at 77, that part of my primeval brain still functions perfectly. Well done. Stay with us for awhile.

        Roy York

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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          Thank you for your kind words, Roy. I’m glad those images did the stirring in the places they were meant to 😉 Yes, the choice of vocabulary to use is definitely an issue with which I find it most difficult to strike a balance between easy of reading and challenging my reader. Words are like colors we use to paint a picture in the mind of the reader, and the more shades we allow ourselves to use, the more detailed the picture can be. That’s why I seek to use the whole range, and, among other reasons, why I continuously fail to get published just as well 🙂

          Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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        No microbes or bacterial affliction, just good, healthy melancholia with a touch of alienation;) The dream sequence does begin with the contrast between the the dark, cold and estranged city streets and the bright, warm and convivial coffeeshop, and ends with the protagonist waking up in his solitary, dusky room. Thanks for your colorful words of encouragement, Ken 🙂

        Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 11:43 pm
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      Welcome back, Sarig! This is fantastic writing, capturing a place and mood so well. You rarely use mundane language – always finding a colourful way to describe the most mundane things. The erotic section is seriously steamy – just this side of too near the mark. A couple of things took me out of the flow: “…grabs her sister by the arm and pelts along.” (I don’t think you can ‘pelt along’ – along suggests something a little more leisurely; ‘pelts past’ or ‘pelts away’, maybe). And “A chilling wave of angst”. Naming ‘angst’ for what it is feels like a bit of a sledgehammer blow, given the different, subtler way you’ve treated everything else. But these are nits, definitely.

      Reply
      • March 20, 2020 at 6:51 pm
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        Thanks for your kind words, Phil. I appreciate all the nits and pieces I can get.

        Reply
  • March 18, 2020 at 5:43 am
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    MAACHODE

    “Why does Fabian call you ‘Maachode’? Is it your nickname?” Clare asked Davin as they chatted about people in their surroundings.
    Ignoring Clare’s question, Davin turned his attention to the shower tray. He bent over to scrub, then moved on to the bath tub.
    He chucked the scrubbing pad in the handbasin and clutched his hands on its rim. The muscles in his arms flexed as they straightened up.

    “Ah! From now on, I’ll call you, my dear hubby, ‘Maachode’.” Clare rubbed one hand over Davin’s back, then turned and stepped back into the hotel room. She quickly swept her eyes everywhere to make her usual check despite trusting Davin in completing his workload satisfactorily.

    Minutes later, Davin followed her when they left the room.
    “See you in the dining hall, Maachode. The cook has made your favourite meal, lamb roast, potatoes, brocolli and all the trimmings and apple crumble. We spoil you.” Clare’s eyes twinkled as she batted her eyelids.

    They walked along the corridor. Davin dropped his gaze on the floor. Suddenly, he stopped, and
    held Clare’s arm. They stood facing each other for a while. “Don’t call me Maachode! It’s not a nice name. I hate it. Don’t tell anyone about this! I hate being called that name.”

    “Maachode sounds so lovely and unusual when Fabian calls you by your nickname. I like it too.”

    “I don’t. Fabian is my boss. He gives me some labouring jobs and I am getting some experience in the construction business, plus the xtra money helps with clearing the debts we incured for the wedding and the solicitors processing my immigration papers. The wedding and solicitors dug a big hole in our finances.” Davin his hold on Clare’s arm and they resumed their walk.
    “I stay zipped up because I don’t want to cause an argument. I love working in the construction industry. There is so much to learn. Prefer it to cleaning hotels rooms and bathrooms. I’m not doing this job after my papers are cleared.”

    “I prefer you working with me. I know you rather be out there, building houses.”

    “Hopefully, Fabian will give me some more work, Clare.” He paused before adding, “I’m so grateful and in love with you, so lucky that my friends are jealous. I’m moving faster than they’re. ”

    “Jealous of what?” Clare pursed her lips and turned to look at Davin. “I bet they tell you that you married me, an older woman, 8 years your senior, to clear your immigration status, to gain citizendship here.”

    Davin nodded. “We’re happy. That what matters. You make me a happy man. I’m blessed to meet you, my soulmate, who I am so in love with.”

    “You make me a happy and decent woman too . I don’t care what people say.” Clare reached up to Davin’s lips to kiss him. “All will be fine. Soon, you will gain your right to stay and work. I expect you will still love me. I’ll be so disappointed if you don’t. I’m a good catch, you know. I have received some warnings from my friends.” Clare winked at Davin.

    “Oh!”

    “Yes. Everyone keeps telling me that you’ll disappear. We’re not suitable and we don’t fit in. I don’t want to believe them.This is a honeymoon period, they say, when everything seems great.” Clare took a long breath. ” I’m willing to try hard to keep my marriage. I want to build a home with you with children around us.” Clare locked her arms in Davin’s and they start walking.

    “Same here.” They reached the double doors. Davin pushed the door open and let Clare pass through.

    “Maachode!” Clare whispered. She put a finger on her lips and giggled.

    “Please, don’t say this word. It’s nasty and gross. It means ‘motherfucker’.” Davin squeezed his eyes as he said it.

    “Aw! That’s rude.” Clare’s eyeballs grew big. “That is bad. I’m stunned. Are you called this because you got hitched with me, an older woman than you?”

    “Could be! But, let it be. I’m not bothered as long as he gives me work.” Davin looked away. “They’re so jealous that I found you and you accepted to help me sort my papers. I will have options to work anywhere I want to. Fabian fears he’ll no longer will be able to keep me in ransom, in low
    pay and hard work as he does to the others. In a way I like him. He helps me in my time of need.”

    They parted ways to carry on with their duties.

    After lunch, the hotel became quiet with all the guests out or in their rooms. A few member of staff at the hotel gathered by the reception desk. Davin went to relax further at the end of the hall for his break. Clare sat near the receptionist and bent over to complete her paperwork.

    Davin looked around towards the reception desk when the phone rang. The receptionist shielded the receiver with her hand and turned to Clare. “The call is from Fabian, looking for Davin. Call him!” She raised her to look for Davin.

    “Let me answer it.” Clare whispered and took the phone from the receptionist.
    “Hi Maachode. I’ll call Davin for you. He is on his break.” She responded, then called out for Davin.
    “Davin! Maachode is looking for you.” she shouted to Davin, loud enough for Fabian to hear.
    “He’s coming.” Clare turned back to talk on the receiver.

    “I’m not Maachode! Davin is!” Fabian’s voice rose with a tinge of surprise as he spoke. It dragged as he sounded not pleased.

    “I thought your name is Maachode. I heard you saying it many times. I’m sure I heard the others call you by that name? Are you Maachode or not? The name sounds just right for you.”

    Davin snatched the receiver from Clare. She pressed the loudspeaker button so that she could listen to the conversation despite not understanding any other words apart from ‘Maachode’. She cupped her mouth to snuff the giggles that took hold of her.
    Clare could hear Fabian raising his voice and getting angry as he spoke to Davin. Davin played with the wire whilst apologising. “It’s a mistake. She doesn’t know, doesn’t understand. Sorry.”

    “You got me in trouble, here.” Davin said to Clare as he closed the call.
    Clare removed her hand from her mouth and burst out laughing.
    “He didn’t like you calling the name. He is so angry with you and me.”

    “This cheers me up. I’m glad I offended him.” Clare wiped her watery eyes. “I can just guess, he was swearing at me although I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I hope he learns how offensive it is to call people names.”

    Davin saw the funny side of it. The giggles caught him and he smiled. “No-one has ever talked to him like that, he said, and asked me to tell you not to use that word again. He was not impressed at your translation.”

    Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 6:57 am
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      Nice writing – an engaging and pacey inter-cultural slice of life, bringing in bullying, power-relationships, prejudice and suspicion of people’s motives. And also nicely some uncertainty that the couple feel about their relationship as they work things through. And another feisty female character from you too. I like it! What language is that btw? Just in case I have to use the term some day … 🙂

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 9:18 am
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      Chitra, your writing just gets better and better. Nice story of revenge, although it was dangerous of Clare to risk Gavin’s job, but you handled it well. In keeping with my sit picking self in an effort to write critiques, I think you still tell a bit too much through dialogue that didn’t sound as if two people would actually say that in an intimate setting. Such as in this paragraph: “I don’t. Fabian is my boss. He gives me some labouring jobs and I am getting some experience in the construction business, plus the xtra money helps with clearing the debts we incured for the wedding and the solicitors processing my immigration papers. The wedding and solicitors dug a big hole in our finances.” Davin his hold on Clare’s arm and they resumed their walk.

      He doesn’t need to tell Clare this, and I don’t know it we really need all that information. In a short story you can be forgiving for keeping the dialogue shorter, such as: “I don’t. Fabian is my boss. You know I’m only working for the experience and the money that we need after spending so much on our wedding and the immigration solicitor.

      In this case, he’s reminding her, not telling her something she is well aware of. Now, your readers are aware and I don’t think the dialogue is so stilted.

      “I prefer you working with me. I know you rather be out there, building houses.” You simply have a typo here, in I know you rather be instead of I know you’d rather be.

      Good story, playful and kept me interested.

      Roy York

      Reply
    • March 21, 2020 at 11:41 pm
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      Hi, Chitra

      A very pertinent story – I’m sure there are many people in Britain in Davin’s position. You show well the real affection between him and Clare, despite – as Roy rightly points out, I think – the at times somewhat unnatural dialogue. You also show throughout how desperate Davin is to keep on the right side of Fabian … so that when Clare risks everything with her little trick, it seems very reckless of her (however much Fabian might deserve it). I like the story, though, for its portrayal of immigrant labour and the difficulties faced.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2020 at 7:04 am
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    Some great stories, but my story has languished half finished, because I’ve just been overwhelmed with all the stuff we have to do in preparation for teaching online in case there is a total lockdown of the schooling system. I think I will try to read all the stories and vote at least and try and comment on some this week and hopefully with the next prompt I will be able to let the creative juices flow.
    Again my apologies I feel really bad when I miss out but the wonderful thing about this group is if we do pop out for a session or two we can always pop back in and renew our acquaintance with all these wonderful writers. Sending you all my love for this session and in the next session a story.

    I will so had a few health issues. About five years ago I had cancer and they removed All of my reproductive organs are actually along with them some
    Lymph nodes in the groin 12 all up which means I get a lot of oedema especially in the left leg and makes walking painful at times. It’s actually quite frustrating because pain makes you tired, and I don’t achieve half of what I want to do in the day. I just feel so exhausted sometimes.

    Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 7:44 am
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      Chitra- I loved the way Clare got back at Fabian. Revenge is sweet. What a nice love story you wrote!

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 6:59 am
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      Hi Ilana – hopefully we’ll see one of your stories next time.
      And in the meantime, keep safe and wishing you health and happiness.

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 9:20 am
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        I’m with Andy, get your shit together girl, and write some stories. Miss ’em.

        Roy

        Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 12:43 pm
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      Take care Ilana, we missed you this time around, but I hope to see you in the next round.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2020 at 8:16 am
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    The Nunc Dimittis

    Compline, the Night Prayers, is by far my favourite service of the day. It had rounded off another fulfilling day at the Jinan Mission School in southern Hubei. I rose, knees creaking, from genuflecting before the altar.

    Whenever I head to my bed, the words of the Nunc Dimittis are still in my mind: “Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace …” –
    “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
    For mine eyes have seen thy salvation … A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness…”

    The words remind me why I am here: to find peace, and serve the light in overcoming the darkness that is in man.

    But for once a feeling of unease was surfacing through my familiar thoughts.

    * * *
    After breakfast Father Barnabas, principal of our small mission school, asked me to walk in the gardens with him.

    “Brother Anthony,” he said, “I’m troubled by the sudden departure of young David Cheng. I understand he returned home, then was sent away to Zhijiang to work in his uncle’s store. Is that so?”

    I nodded.

    “Such a bright boy, such a waste of talent.”

    “True. But if his family need him ….”

    “You knew the boy well, Brother Anthony?”

    “Yes, after lessons he’d often come to work with me in the pharmacy. Lately he accompanied me on some visits to the sick. I’d hoped he would train as an apothecary, or even a doctor.”

    Barnabas stopped and laid his hand gently on my arm. “I’m in a quandary. The day before he left, I took young David’s confession. Of course, I can’t reveal what he said. But he was greatly distressed. All I can do is ask – did he say anything to you?”

    “About leaving? No. But he did say he feared he’d committed a mortal sin, and is destined to everlasting torment. He wouldn’t say any more.”

    Barnabas sighed deeply. “Hmm. I haven’t slept or had a moment’s inner quiet since that confession.”

    The imposing figure of Father Josef was striding towards the schoolroom.

    Barnabas glanced from him to me. “He’s been such a find, hasn’t he? Father Josef, I mean. Such energy and passion for teaching. And for a man of his erudition, a veritable polymath, to be out here in the middle of nowhere? A Godsend, wouldn’t you say?”

    “I believe it was the Archbishop of Hankou who sent him …”

    “With high recommendation. The boys love him. And his singing voice … Anthony, do you think he might know anything about why the boy ran off so suddenly?”

    “Father Josef and I are taking a trip into Jingzhou on Saturday. To get supplies for the school and the pharmacy. I’ll have a word with him on the way.”

    “Oh, would you?” said Barnabas. “You’ve been a man of the world. Had a life before joining us here. You can talk about things in ways … well, know I would struggle.”

    * * *
    On the Saturday, Father Josef was in high spirits. He pointed out the temples high on the cliff face above the Yangtze, seeming to know much about them. He chatted in Mandarin to the mule-leaders, who seemed charmed by his attempts to master the local dialect.

    In town we went our separate ways. There by chance I encountered an old friend from my days in military service, Dr Cowper. We hugged as if we were brothers, and set to talking about the different paths our lives had taken.

    “Yes, I’m a ship’s surgeon with the Navy now. Hard to think you’d find the British navy so far upriver, but we support the Chinese Customs Service. I can’t believe you’re a monk, though!”

    My mind went back to the days when, as a soldier in the so-called Eight Powers Army, I’d played my part in crushing the Boxer Rebellion and ending the siege of the embassies in Peking. The cruelties inflicted by the rebels on Christians had affected me profoundly. As had the savagery of our reprisals. As we lunched together, Cowper questioned me sympathetically about the road I’d travelled. I guess both of us in our own ways were on missions of healing.

    As Cowper stood up to leave, Father Josef barrelled past us, somewhat the worse for drink.

    “Good Lord,” said Cowper. “What on earth is that scoundrel doing out here?”

    Then he told me about the scandals that had seen Josef transferred out of Hong Kong to Shanghai, and from there to who knows where. And ultimately here.

    Josef joined me as Cowper left, insisting on drinking more. He ordered a bottle of the strongest local spirit, and kept refilling our glasses. “Gan bei!” he cried. “Bottoms up!”

    Now if ever was the time to ask him about David’s leaving.

    “Yes, a shame. Nice boy. Clever too. And good looking!” He raised a glass at the thought.

    “Apparently, David thinks he’s committed a mortal sin. Did he talk to you about it?”

    “Mortal sin? What is he, twelve, thirteen? At that age it’s natural. All boys want to, how shall we say, explore? Experiment a little?”

    “Do you know if he did? And with whom?”

    He furrowed his brow. “Think about it, Anthony. Most of the important things we learn as men, we learn outside the classroom. There are things we think of as sins which may not be. And besides – sins are the raw material for two of our greatest sacraments, are they not? Confession and absolution!”

    I studied him for a while.

    “Ah, don’t judge me, Anthony. I know you’ve done your fair share of sinning in your time.”

    Indeed I had. “But a child, Josef?”

    “A young man. Call it a rite of passage.”

    My mind drifted to the various herbs I’d ordered, and how they might be used to poison his drink. Then I shrugged the thought away, crossing myself twice. What was to be done? My heart was heavy.

    Josef was spark out when I found the bearers to gather all the supplies together. We found a team of litter-bearers to carry Josef back.

    The sun setting over the gorge through which the Yangtze flowed had a rare beauty. The sharp evening light glistened off the fast-flowing river, and all the colours seemed more intense. Above the roar of the river I could hear the ryhthmic beating of a gong in one of the hill temples.

    As we rounded a bend on the track, one of the litter-bearers slipped in the mud and sent all four of them sliding down towards the river.

    Josef had been pitched further into the river, flowing fast from the melting of the winter snows. He was wide awake now, and his look of amazement gave way to one of terror. Then acceptance as he watched me restrain the bearers from risking their lives to save him.

    We stood trembling as Josef was pulled under by the current and swept downriver. He resurfaced, a little further on, face down, his cassock billowing out and riding up over his backside.

    “Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace,” I said quietly. “And bottoms up!”


    [1196 words]

    Reply
    • March 18, 2020 at 12:16 pm
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      Andy, very well written story. Excellent descriptions and realistic dialogue. Creative plot with a well-deserved twist to the evil Josef at the end. Nicely done.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 9:29 am
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      So good to see you back with a story, and a really, really well told story at that. Although, I must confess, I hit upon the clues almost immediately, as to what Josef was, but how you handled it was masterful, with a great ending, and those two, really good, interchangeable phrases. Made me smile, even though I frown at my proclivity to seek morbid justice to those who prey on the young and/or vulnerable. I had no problem with how you dispatched Josef as if God had also had enough and sent a slipping emissary to right a wrong, and it was delicious to note the line, ‘Then, acceptance as he watched me restrain the bearers from risking their lives to save him.’ Nice job Andy and you made voting tough. Just saying.

      Reply
      • March 19, 2020 at 10:29 am
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        Thanks indeed Trish, Alyssa and Roy for your kind comments on my story. 🙂

        As well as the guy getting his comeuppance at the end, I was trying to portray him as someone who might be otherwise quite an interesting or valued person and the context in which he’s operating.. Not sure I entirely succeeded in that.

        So I was less interested in a twist (we know early on who most likely did something) than in how the ‘good guys’ deal with a bad egg in their midst. The senior monk is too unworldly, and possibly concerned with reputation as well. The narrator is tempted to do the guy in once his transgression is clear. But he pulls back from actively doing it – yet he’s content to take a passive route to letting him drown. Hmm, moral problems?!

        “Thus shalt not kill, but need not strive
        Officiously to keep alive”

        Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 11:08 am
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      Bottoms up. Very good. A very realistic (unfortunately) story and especially the ending.

      Reply
    • March 22, 2020 at 12:03 am
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      A really good story, Andy. I got a sense of the place and time just through a few carefully chosen words. Everything’s so elegantly put (your trademark). The plot itself is great, and the way of Josef’s demise … God’s hand, perhaps, relieving Anthony (and Barnabas) from dilemmas to come. A couple of things. I know you wanted to end up with that quote, but the opening I felt exists merely (or mainly) to set that up, and is a slow start; I think “After breakfast Father Barnabas, principal of our small mission school, asked me to walk in the gardens with him.” would have been a perfect beginning. Also, when Anthony has a drink with Josef in town, you tell us that Josef is “somewhat the worse for drink”. Maybe their conversation could have shown that in places (he seems very lucid as it is). But I liked the story very much.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2020 at 7:02 am
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    Yikes all read, have to vote. But top 5 is tooooo overloaded ….

    Reply
  • March 19, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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    Waiting on votes from Chitra and Alexis. You have until Noon MST. 🙂

    Reply
  • March 19, 2020 at 1:16 pm
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    “Translation” – March 19, 2020

    THE WINNER IS!!
    First Place: NAH-WAH-TA-KA-NAH-WEE by Phil Town

    2nd Place: The Loneliest Man is in a Crowd by Sarig Levin
    3rd Place: When It’s Time by Roy York
    4th Place: The Nunc Dimittis by Andy Lake
    5th Place: Some Like it Hot by Marien Oommen
    6th Place: THE FABULISTAS by Jack McDaniel
    7th Place: Sueño Viviente by Alyssa Daxson
    8th Place: Eukaryotica by Ken Cartisano
    9th Place: Polyglot Perfidy by Trish
    10th Place: Ambassadors by Ken Miles

    **Chitra Adjoodah and Alexis Winter Did Not Vote

    Favorite Character: “Rabbi” from Some Like it Hot by Marien Oommen
    Character Dialogue: Eukaryotica by Ken Cartisano

    Congratulations Phil!! Great job my friend!
    And thank you all for participating.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 3:35 pm
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      Well done Phil!
      And Marien and Ken.
      And everyone, really!

      And Alice & Carrie for hosting and running the show

      Keep safe, everyone.

      Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 3:55 pm
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      Wow! Thanks everyone. That’s really made my week-of-self-isolation – especially given the great set of stories posted.

      And … Take care! Stay safe!

      Reply
  • March 19, 2020 at 4:27 pm
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    Congrats all! Great stories!

    Reply
  • March 19, 2020 at 4:55 pm
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    Congratulations Phil. On some very fine writing. I had you in second place because your title was so aggravating. But your writing was, as always, top notch.

    When deciding on the votes every other week, I always open a blank file, and list the names of the stories in the order they’ve been written. If the list is short, I just copy and paste them. But if the list is long I type them in manually. This helps me to remember the stories as I prepare to vote. Then I create the list of my favorite stories, typing them out. After the fourth try to replicate the title of your story, I just stopped at Nah-Wah-Ta.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2020 at 8:34 pm
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      Thanks, Ken. And now I know how to aggravate you! Thanks for that, too.

      Reply

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