April 16 – April 29, 2020 Writing Prompt “The Curiosity Shop”

Prompt: You enter an old curiosity shop/thrift store/blackmarket. You can only choose one object. What is its story?

Word Count: 1,200




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  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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
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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).

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The writing prompt for March 19, 2020 will be chosen by Liz Fisher.




 

323 thoughts on “April 16 – April 29, 2020 Writing Prompt “The Curiosity Shop”

  • April 16, 2020 at 1:42 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
    • April 16, 2020 at 2:17 pm
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      Signing in!

      Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 2:25 pm
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      Hi, I just posted a story in a comment below but I meant to use my writing pseudonym instead of my real name. Can you let me re-submit it under my other name, or can you change it?

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 6:20 pm
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        Hi A.R. welcome to the group! I can change the name on your story to your pseudonym, no worries.

        Reply
        • April 24, 2020 at 6:50 pm
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          Thanks so much.

          Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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      All- I read all of the stories and everyone of them deserved comments of praise… the ones who made me smile, think and even the eewwweess a little grim with unlikeable characters… my life is unseemly busy especially since I’m retired and I have to figure out a better way to read the stories and comment immediately… I really feel the need to explain all the stuff that keeps me occupied but I bet we all have similar issues and I would sound like a whiney baby… I just feel so blessed to be allowed and part of this group of incredibly talented and worthy writers … Kez

      Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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    Signing in.

    Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 5:34 pm
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    Based upon the results of the last contest, my own exhaustive research, focus groups, a fortune-teller and a psychic reading, I’m going to try to incorporate an alcoholic bum, a nurse with a syringe, a ten-inch spider, a window and a torso in my next story. If the word count allows, I’ll throw in a spore, and a demented ex-pole-dancer nicknamed ‘Bubbles’ who has an irrational fear of coffee tables, matzo balls and midgets.

    I almost forgot, during a pandemic.

    To accommodate Mr. Miles, the story will build to a crescendo of cataclysmic consequences and end with a terrific bang.

    This is a perfect prompt for something like that.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2020 at 9:04 am
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      Ken,

      Dammit! Now I will have to think of something else for my story.

      Ken F

      Reply
      • April 17, 2020 at 11:21 pm
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        Yess. (rubs hands together as if washing them, but without soap) It’s all part of my cleaver, I mean clever, yes, clever plan.

        Reply
    • April 17, 2020 at 9:14 am
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      Also a grandpa in a coffin. Essential, too…

      Reply
    • April 17, 2020 at 12:54 pm
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      You know Bubbles LaBimbo the pole dancer? BTW I thought she said she was check, not pole.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 6:21 pm
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    yep,signing in… will try so hard not to make it about me, my family, two dogs, six cats and will attempt fiction… -Kez

    Reply
      • April 16, 2020 at 9:08 pm
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        Yeh, I think it’s the only way….

        Reply
  • April 17, 2020 at 6:06 am
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    Signing in, and already there’s a story crawling around in the story attic trying to climb out. Umm … There’s only one exit which is tightly locked, and I have the only key. Hope it works.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2020 at 11:18 pm
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      Roy,
      There’s an old Italian saying that the Irish live by, If yer key don’t fit, yer might be at the wrong door.

      Reply
      • April 18, 2020 at 6:35 am
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        Since I’m a lot Irish I understand. In my younger days I could open the attic and locate files in nanoseconds. Was a whiz at Jeopardy, and even qualified for the show back in ’85. Nowadays I’m still fumbling for the key while everyone around me is answering the questions, well, with Jeopardy it’s the other way around. When I was in the chemo fog I couldn’t even find the key. With writing, time is on my side. I’m at the right house, it’s the only one on the block. Just gotta find the right key.

        Reply
  • April 19, 2020 at 6:47 am
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    Sorry once again, Alice & Carrie … could you please delete the above story and this message. Many apologies.

    Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 11:58 am
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      No need to apologize Phil, I’ll remove it post haste 🙂 Hope all is well with you my friend.

      Reply
  • April 19, 2020 at 6:57 am
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    THE ZUNUKEETU

    I found it at the back of the shop, tucked into a corner behind the dusty shoes I’d been going through. I recognized it immediately by its shape and size – like a baby’s arm, elbow and all, or like a small, chunky boomerang. I lifted it out. It was as dusty as the shoes so I blew on it, a little cloud lifting into the musty air. A dull, dark grey, and heavy – it was the zunukeetu, sure enough. I turned it over in my hands, inspecting it, incredulous.

    I could feel a tingling all over my skin – not through touching the zunukeetu as such but because of its significance and the good fortune of finding it. My mind raced back.

    ~~~~~~~

    “I swear, they told me where to look!”

    Pete scoffed. He scoffed a lot. He was typically very cynical about everything.

    “Okay, so let’s start again. Where did you see them?”

    “In the woods. I was there doing some excavation – you know, looking for more of those beads we found.”

    “And then suddenly you saw a light?”

    “Exactly! Blinding. And the earth shook. I had to scrunch up my eyes, then when I opened them, there it was.”

    “The flying saucer?”

    “Don’t say it like that – makes it sound silly. It was a spaceship, but not like anything we humans could produce. It was golden, kind of shimmery, and humming.”

    “And why did it touch down in the woods? Why not on some open field? Seems a bit dangerous – trying to land amongst the trees.”

    “Sophisticated navigation equipment, I suppose – I don’t know. And I expect they didn’t want to be seen.”

    “So where does this … thing come into it exactly?”

    He held the object up to the light to look at it better.

    “Well, I was standing there, amazed and scared stiff, when there was this hiss and a panel slid open on the side of the ship.”

    I hadn’t noticed but now I did: Pete’s cynicism had swiftly become intense curiosity, and he was all ears.

    “I took a few steps back and hid behind a tree. Who could have guessed what would come out?”

    “Wise.”

    “What did come out were two beings. I say ‘beings’ because they weren’t human, that’s for sure.”

    “What did they look like?”

    All trace of doubt had disappeared from Pete’s voice.

    “They were white and shimmered like the ship. Tall, thin. They had two arms and legs, and a head, but they had just three fingers on each hand – long fingers. And they kind of floated down from the ship and hovered in front of me.”

    “So they’d spotted you.”

    “Yes. They were looking straight at me with their piercing eyes. And then one of them started speaking.”

    “What did he … it say?”

    “Zrraftoprsstikiwoof.”

    “Wha–!?”

    “Zrraftoprsstikiwoof. Don’t worry – I was like you; didn’t have a clue. Then the other one said something to the one who’d spoken, and he … it touched a kind of button on its arm and spoke again.”

    “And?”

    “It came out in English this time. ‘Hail, earthling. Fear not. We come in peace,’ it said.”

    “Well that was a relief, I suppose.”

    “You bet. I asked them what they were doing here … and they ignored me.”

    “Rude.”

    “No, they hovered over to a piece of ground between some bushes and the one who’d spoken before – I guessed it was the leader – said ‘Dig here, earthling’. And so I did.”

    “And this is what you found?”

    “Yep.”

    “So what is it?”

    Pete started smelling it as if that would help identification.

    “I asked them exactly the same question. ‘It is a zunukeetu, earthling,’ the leader said. And so I asked what it was for.”

    I took the zunukeetu back and stroked it, in thrall to its strangeness. Pete got impatient.

    “And what IS it for?”

    “That’s the incredible thing. Do you know what the leader said to me?”

    “That’s what I’m asking!”

    “ ‘The zunukeetu is a bringer of joy. Keep it near and you will lead a life of true happiness.’ ”

    “Yeah, right!”

    Pete had reverted to his familiar cynicism.

    “You may not believe it, but I do.”

    “Whatever. So, that was it?”

    “Yep. They hovered back to the ship, floated in, the door hissed shut, the earth shook, there was that blinding light again, and they were gone.”

    “They came I-don’t-know-how-many light-years to land in the woods and give you … that?”

    He pointed at the zunukeetu, a look of scorn on his face now.

    “Seems so.”

    “Well, I don’t buy it.”

    Pete was right back to his default position of negativity.

    “You know what, Pete? I don’t care if you do or not. I’m keeping this thing close to me.”

    “I don’t care if you don’t care. I’m off for my tea.”

    And he ran away down the path, his baggy shorts flapping as he went. I turned and headed for home too; it was getting late and my mum would be worrying where I was.

    ~~~~~~~

    Initially, I half-convinced myself that my own story was true. I had the zunukeetu always nearby, as I’d told Pete I would, and I did indeed enjoy a very happy childhood. But as I got a little older, life began to get more complicated, what with increasing pressure to do well at school, determination to be seen as credible by my friends, and a growing interest in girls. I kept the zunukeetu in a cupboard in my bedroom, but it rarely saw the light of day. Then the time came to go to university, and the zunukeetu was way down the list of essential items to take with me; it got left behind.

    My first year at university was a catastrophe: my father died, my first real relationship with a woman crashed and burned, I dabbled in drugs, failed the year and dropped out. I stuck around for a couple of years doing menial jobs to get by, then returned home with my tail between my legs and found office work with the local council. It was steady but crushingly boring, and outside work, all my friends had either moved away or were married with kids; Pete had done both.

    One night, I was sitting on my own in the local pub getting drunk, as had become a habit. My thoughts drifted to my childhood and I remembered the zunukeetu. When I got back, I went straight to my bedroom, somehow knowing before I even looked in the cupboard that it wouldn’t be there. I confronted my mother; she’d thrown “that horrible thing” out almost as soon as I’d left for university.

    My life has continued to be a series of disasters and disappointments of varying degrees. I’m still single, still in my parents’ house – my mother died last year – and still in the same soul-sucking job. But I’m suddenly feeling more positive because maybe that’s all about to change.

    I don’t know how the zunukeetu came to be there in that charity shop – what journey it had been on – but one thing’s for certain: this time I’m not letting it out of my sight.

    Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 6:23 am
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      Really enjoyable story, Phil.

      Captures that wistfulness, that something from childhood happiness, whatever it might be, maybe a time when we could believe whatever we imagined – and if we could only get it back …

      Loved it.

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:29 pm
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        If only, Andy …

        Thanks!

        Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 7:20 pm
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      Enjoyed the story. Phil. You have a knack for making up words lately. This story was no exception. Zunukeetu. Almost makes me wish I had one. Maybe I do, and don’t know it. I’m a pretty happy fellow with a pretty happy life. No problems with the writing, and I like the journey I just took.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:30 pm
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        Thanks, Roy.

        I’m sure you have one somewhere. Have you looked in the attic?

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        • April 30, 2020 at 8:32 am
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          Just checked the attic, and am heading for the basement. I’ll let you know. Wait, a minute; what am I saying? Of course I have one, I can’t imagine a richer life than the one I am currently living, and after last year’s scare, I know it’s somewhere in this house – it has to be.. Now, if I can just find it before Kathy throws it away.

          Oh little zunukeetu, where are you?

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 30, 2020 at 8:20 pm
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            Keep looking, Roy – half the fun is the chase.

    • April 23, 2020 at 6:52 am
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      Hi Phil,

      this is a beautiful coming-of-age tale from a rather unusual angle.

      It’s a true story, I think, for many of us. The zunukeetu is a child’s innocence, and when we lose our zunukeetu that’s when we no longer feel that just about anything we dream of is possible. When your favorite toy-soldier gets to be called Caroline or Tamara or Stephanie and she’s not necessarily going to soldier on for you as your dedicated toy-soldier had always done. When you need to fend for yourself, and life doesn’t always help. That’s my take on this story.

      Unfortunately, your narrator remains stuck in that quandary for more than he should have. His mum had thrown his zunukeetu away (so many a man’s lives are indeed ruined by well-meaning mums!), and he seems like a lost soul the moment that happens.

      He’s positive, towards the end, but I don’t know how he’s going to find his zunukeetu again. Or you mean his mum’s demise finally breaks his bad spell?

      And btw, zrraftoprsstikiwoof, mate, earthling, very sincere zrraftoprsstikiwoofs on my part 🙂

      Ken

      Reply
      • April 23, 2020 at 11:37 am
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        Ken M.,

        Your next to last question is answered by Phil’s first sentence. ‘I found it at the back of the shop.’ So even though Henry’s luck hasn’t changed yet, the correlation between the turn of his life’s events and the loss of the item are more than enough to hang his optimism on.

        You see?

        Reply
        • April 24, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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          Oh yes, yes of course. I must have rushed through the intro part, missed something there, the first time. It’s clear now on a second read.

          That mother hypothesis of mine is for another story, another time!

          Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:33 pm
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        Thanks, Ken!

        The question is: Is holding on to your zunukeetu a stubborn refusal to grow up?

        (Ken C has it right about your doubt.)

        Reply
        • April 30, 2020 at 4:00 am
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          Been thinking hard about it, Phil… the real zunukeetu is not quite the physical object (although we may hold on to a physical totem that represents it), but those limiting beliefs we’re taught when young.

          Holding on to them keeps us happy, but blissfully incomplete. Kicking them in the ass and relearning life from scratch is painful, but in the end can be liberating. Can also send us down a spiral too.

          Worst is, though, remaining uncertain if to let go of or hold on to our zunukeetu(s). Dig this Henry!

          (Shhh the zunukeetu got you my number one vote, Phil. And this on such a tough week, with so many brilliant stories. Many resonated with me, and the zunukeetu a bit more).

          Ken

          Reply
          • April 30, 2020 at 8:22 pm
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            Yep, knowing when to let go is tricky … but having had one at all is a plus!

            (Thanks for the vote!)

    • April 23, 2020 at 11:30 am
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      Phil,

      This is a fun story. Invented words, aliens. I think the real skill demonstrated here is how you insert the innocent and carefree dialogue of two boys into the story, sandwiched between the more mature exposition of an adult with real-life concerns, problems, emotional scars and the baggage that goes with them.

      The sense of hope and optimism at the very end is a cool refreshing contrast to what precedes it.

      Since neither of your characters is an invisible gnome, I found your dialogue to be a bit more believable than what was offered in your last story. Just my little old opinion. It’s a very enjoyable story, Phil.

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:35 pm
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        No, no, gnomes here. And I promise never to let one enter a story of mine ever again … or at least …

        Thanks, Ken!

        Reply
    • April 23, 2020 at 12:10 pm
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      Phil,

      Another great story to add to your collection.

      I have no idea where my comment will appear but I have read all the other comments written so far and can find nothing to argue with. The last comment visible was from Liz. I say this as apparently our comments might not always go in the order in which they were sent.

      I love the notion of making up a great new word, a new object and of making it something large enough to be a bit too awkward to carry around ( like a baby’s arm, elbow and all…great description) like a good luck charm. And then it gets consigned to the back of the wardrobe as childhood becomes teenage, then becomes adult. I wonder how many of us did something similar or had a “so-called” good luck charm? Then, as young adults we didn’t need good luck charms as we were invincible, weren’t we?

      This was all so real and mundane and then you wove in the spaceship. A master stroke, that, of course, nobody will believe for one moment. Will they? Really? Are you sure? A spaceship? Surely not. I wonder what the Moon folks said when the Earth spaceship landed in their front garden and took a giant step……..? and don’t try to tell me that the Moon is uninhabited. It’s all a conspiracy. Apparently.

      This is why we write stories and why magical realism, or whatever we choose to call it, is so wonderful. We can write whatever we like and who’s to say that it isn’t or couldn’t or shouldn’t be true?

      Great stuff, Phil.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 12:14 pm
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        Phil – loved your story. The plot was uplifting as someone else already said, and I really enjoyed your snappy dialogue. Having Pete be so cynical about the spaceship takes the mickey out of any reader who might scoff at such things.

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        • April 29, 2020 at 9:40 pm
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          Thanks very much, Trish!

          (I don’t blame Pete really – he’s only 10.)

          Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:38 pm
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        Thank you so much, Ken, for your ever positive spirit.

        That name … do you know how many forms it went through till I found a unique one? It’s amazing what already exists in the world if you check first on g**gle.

        Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 1:06 am
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      Oooh I likey likey! Though not a fan of talismans.

      Total faarbication of words and still making it sound authentic. I particularly like their language since they arrive from the planet of Dog.

      One question: What was to be understood by this singular word?…. “Wise.”
      O do tell.

      Perfektohwoof!

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:43 pm
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        Thankoof, Marien!

        (“Wise” here = ‘smart’ … to hide behind the tree. In fact I should have used ‘smart’ instead – ‘wise’ was maybe too grown-up a word for Pete.)

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 7:55 am
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      Pnukut Zunnugga Bunnutty Approzimmmini Meannaaa Ggguunnumagaa Azunzunimugitty Wonwon wonWonwon.

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 9:44 pm
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        Yes, but only on Tuesdays.

        Thanks, Ilana!

        Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 10:24 am
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      Phil,

      May I borrow your zunukeetu? Or can you tell me where to find one? I really need it in my life right now! LOL

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 8:18 pm
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        Loaned virtually, Adi. Sorry about all your problems. Take care.

        Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 10:41 am
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      Hi Phil,

      Just a final thought. Your word “zunukeetu” puts me in mind of the vuvuzela that was used to such devastating impact in the football World Cup in South Africa some years ago.

      Ken F

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 8:26 pm
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        That’s interesting, Ken – it actually morphed (see my other comment to you above) through Swahili, so apparently it still has an African feel to it!

        Reply
  • April 19, 2020 at 5:31 pm
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    I wrote a story but I’m not really that thrilled with it. It just kind of coalesced onto the screen a couple of nights ago. Kind of corny if you ask me. I probably shouldn’t post it, but what the heck, decided to post it until I come up with something better, more suitable to the prompt. If i can.

    I’m creating a new genre. The disappearing story.

    Reply
    • April 19, 2020 at 11:23 pm
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      Ken C- I don’t know.. it’s interesting to say the least… I have to go back and read it again without John Oliver talking in the background and I kept being distracted either wanting to get back to your story and not wanting to miss what John was babbling about this week last or something like that… it’s mysterious and i need to figure out who Beth and Frank are… I think I know but not sure,,, if I’m right this is a lovely curious tale about the ravages life can bring.. well I had more to say but then my dogs started barking hysterically and wouldn’t stopeand I tried to explain it wouldn’t be wise to run hysterically out the door to find a raccoon or skunk or maybe even a bear on the porch … there was a skunk altercation a month ago …anyhow there was my neighbors older daughter on my porch to tell me the interior light was on in my car… she had been ringing my doorbell that hasn’t rung in a few years which is why I have a bell on the screen door handle and oh wait … yeh the story I want to read it again so don’t delete it yet… and when I came back from the car issue… there was huge and I mean huger than I’ve ever seen raccoon on the porch… cleaning up the feral cats food… Kez

      Reply
        • April 20, 2020 at 10:19 pm
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          👍 well so far between Ken C and Ken F I feel like a kinderkid .. I wonder where Ken M will come in…I’m almost ready to give up my quest… Kez

          Reply
  • April 19, 2020 at 5:34 pm
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    The Curiosity Shop.
    By Ken Cartisano
    WC – 1103

    It was as good a place as any to wait for my errant young wife, Beth; always running late, that one.

    A little bell jangled as I opened the door and was hit with an overpowering smell of… I don’t know, not decay, more like… despair. That was it. The smell of a soldier who’s been captured by the enemy. I stood there for a moment, absorbing the feeling and allowing my eyes to adjust to the gloom and the clutter. I think I detected a hint of hope. Not optimism. There was none of that.

    I closed the door. The room was cramped and shabby, and dominated by a series of long, sturdy shelves. The floor was worn in the middle of each aisle, cupped from wear. It took a lot of shoe leather to wear away wood in that manner. I was confronted by a wire dress-form being attended to by a mannequin. The mannequin was wearing an 1890’s full length Victorian dress, full of lace and buttons. Her features were perfect, her pouty painted lips were still red, her eyebrows always arched.

    I looked around. A box of small cylindrical tubes that held old records, a flowery sign that said ‘Poppies.’ I was drawn to a pewter set of figurines. I examined one, then another. They were either flawed or designed by some deviant artist, as I could not pin down the nature of their details.

    I came upon a bin full of assorted small items, glass knobs; marble orbs; door handles; pig-themed salt and pepper shakers; dice; a deck of playing cards with scantily clad women on them.

    The opposite shelf held heavy old iron pans, tin cups, some rusty metal toys and several dubious looking electric fans. One of them started turning, very slowly. It hummed in electrical desperation. The cord was so cracked and frayed only a fool would leave it plugged in. One spark and this place would… I could not find the switch so I followed the wire and pulled the plug from the wall. An ornate floor lamp tried to foil my mission, its heavy base firmly set against me, but I prevailed.

    “Can I help you?” An old woman’s voice wafted over the six-foot shelves.

    I tripped over something on the floor, a beautifully crafted old wooden toolbox, with more than a dozen narrow drawers and compartments, made by a skilled Italian woodworker, for an artist, in Venice. Somehow, I knew this.

    “Just looking,” I said, as I pulled a stethoscope hanging from a nail in the wall and examined it for damage. Its chrome finish was cracked and peeling. I placed the ear tips in my ears and held the diaphragm against my chest. Nothing. No sound. I noticed one of the other fans started to turn, very slowly. I considered walking back, putting my finger between the grill and giving the blades a push.

    Instead, I made my way along the back wall, an old woman stood like a sentinel behind a sagging, chipped and ancient glass case filled with watches, pocket-knives, lighters and rings. There were some crystals too. I assumed she was the proprietor.

    “Interesting selection of goods you have,” I said.

    Her eyes traced the form of the stethoscope hanging around my neck, came to rest on mine. “Are you trying to be funny?”

    I was suddenly uncertain. “Yes? Uh, no.”

    Her half smile was endearing, despite her age-ravaged face, it was like a reward, or a gift she bestowed upon my silly, bored, scope-adorned self. “You have any tools?” I asked, not really wanting any.

    “Is that what you’re looking for?”

    “Not really.”

    She gazed at me with a penetrating look. “I know what you’re looking for and it isn’t tools.”

    “One of your fans…” I said.

    “You unplugged it.” She finished the sentence for me. “You always do.”

    That was a strange remark, but I was already distracted by some wind chimes, collecting dust in the corner of an alcove. But I turned to look at her and she was watching me with eyes that were so beguiling, I felt an undeniable attraction. Which might’ve made me shudder, I’m not sure, because she turned away abruptly.

    “Why don’t you put these wind-chimes outside?” I said. “Let them chime?”

    “Someone’ll steal them,” she said without looking up.

    I felt bad about the shudder. “Oh, I don’t think so. You should be more trusting. The sound might attract more customers.”

    “And you should be more cynical.” She said in a crisp tone of voice.

    “You act as if you know me.” I said, drifting back in her direction.

    “I should,” she said. Her gaze was tender, it touched me in a way that felt strange but intimate. “You come in here all the time.”

    “I do?”

    “Yes, and you’re in love with that mannequin…”

    “I am?”

    “…you treat her like she’s alive.”

    My mouth hung open. “I do?” I acted incredulous, but it didn’t surprise me, because I said, “Well… she’s almost as pretty…”

    “…as you.” She finished, before I could say it myself.

    I was standing next to a bin of hats and scarves, a cracked and faded mirror hung from a post for shoppers to get a look at themselves. The reflection of an old man was looking back at me. I looked down at my hands, the same hands that had put the stethoscope around my neck. How could I fail to notice the wrinkles and age spots?

    I turned to her in confusion, and she said, “Here, let me have that stethoscope, Frank.” And she slipped it off my neck and hung it back on the nail in the wall.

    Her name was Beth. I remember that now. But how do I know her? Do I have a crush on her?

    She slipped her arm through mine, and steered me gently towards the door, I tipped my hat as we passed the mannequin. “See ya later, sugar.” I quipped.

    The bell jingled again as she led me outside. “Your wife will be along soon, Frank. You like to wait for her out here, especially in the afternoon.”

    She escorted me to a bench and waited till I sat down. She bent forward and touched me gently on the face. I barely felt it, and then she kissed me so sweetly on the lips that I remembered. I loved her. I have always loved her, I realized, as I watched her walk back into the Curiosity Shop, when the door closed, I scanned the street for my beautiful young wife, who is always running late.

    Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 6:01 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Please don’t be tempted to take this story down. To me, it is an absolutely beautiful piece of writing.If anybody writes a better story then we will have a bumper week ( two weeks). I am going to try but the gauntlet is well and truly thrown down. My story is ready and will be here soon.

      The descriptions of the various objects for sale are so believable and I loved the way you started me wondering about the fans and the mannequin who really seemed like a living, breathing woman. You gave no clue to the age of the narrator, until well into the story which was an added touch of your skill.

      You use several really nice phrases such as;
      “always running late, that one.”
      ..”the smell of a soldier who’s been captured by the enemy”
      the fan “hummed in electrical desperation”
      “You should be more trusting” and “You should be more cynical.”
      “I scanned the street for my beautiful young wife, who was always running late.”

      It’s poignant, this story and it evokes a whole raft of feelings about getting old, of ill health, dementia, memory loss, personal loss et al.

      Great stuff Ken.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 21, 2020 at 12:51 am
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        Ken F.,

        I thank you for your kind comments. Let’s be clear though, I wasn’t tempted to take this story down, I was planning on it. I’m already working on its replacement. However, my second story could devolve into a lighthearted bit of tomfoolery and only suitable for the amusement of you and our fellow writers. (You know, spiders, syringes, torsos, et. al.)

        However, respect and consideration for your very obvious skills and talent, behooves me to seriously consider your suggestion, Ken.

        Regards,
        Ken

        Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 6:26 am
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      I agree with Ken F, Ken (C)

      For me this is one of your best ever stories. Well constructed, still has that sharpness in dialogue, though it is necessarily more spare, and the gradual reveal is just excellent.
      Pretty much perfect, IMHO.

      Reply
      • April 20, 2020 at 7:30 pm
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        Ken C.,

        Let me join the chorus of writers who think this may be the best, or at least, one of the best stories you’ve ever written. After reading it for the second time, I said to Kathy, “You need to read this. I think you’ll like it.” She did, and I was right. She had a little problem with a captured soldier ‘smelling like desperation’, but I explained what I thought you meant. As she read on she said, and I think she was right on the money, “This story took me into the shop and I was there seeing the things he was writing about as he described them. And it ended so poignantly. I really like this story.” I had to agree. I have no quibbles with your writing at all, my friend. Good job. I’m in excellent company this week with Phil, you, Ken F., and Andy preceding my story. I hope it has a chance.

        Roy

        Reply
        • April 23, 2020 at 8:31 am
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          (Hi Ken, I commented on your story. For some reason, my comment showed up below Ken Frape’s story… look for it 🙂 WordPress seems to be getting kenfused, too…)

          Reply
        • April 23, 2020 at 10:49 am
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          Roy,

          I really appreciate your comments Roy. And I’m honored that you thought enough of it to ‘foist’ it off onto your wonderful wife. (She’s wonderful because she puts up with you.) I wondered about that ‘captured soldier’ line myself. (A bit of a ‘little darling’ no doubt.) So I feel like she offers sound objective criticism.

          Which makes me wonder why you don’t listen to her more often. You’re probably stubborn.

          As for her “seeing the things he was writing about as he described them.” That’s the kind of critique that’s worth saving and cherishing.

          Thank you, Roy. And please forward my thanks to your wife, as well as my congratulations to her on her excellent taste in ‘husband picking.’

          Ken

          Reply
          • April 24, 2020 at 9:33 am
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            Ken, you are more than welcome. And, funny you should mention ‘husband picking’. I am lucky indeed, but it was I that chose her, and it was truly ‘Love at first sight’ – I even told a friend the night I met her that I was going to marry her. It took a year and a half and two proposals, but finally got the job done. It took a lot of fast talking, but, it paid off. I have loved her for over 56 years – without let -up. Although there were days I didn’t like her, I have never not loved her. Not for even a moment.

            Over the years I have only asked her to read another author’s work only once, and that was to point out several grievous errors to her and asked her to keep her sharp eye open when I hand her my stuff to read. “If I do that,” I said, “tell me.” So, feel honored indeed that I selected your story to be the first from an admiration standpoint.

            I truly do think this is one of your best stories from a story aspect. And, from a writing aspect, although there were a few things I should have mentioned. Nothing about the tenses, I’m always struggling with that, so nothing there from me. However, there are two things I noticed. In this sentence – I came upon a bin full of assorted small items, glass knobs; marble orbs; door handles; pig-themed salt and pepper shakers; dice; a deck of playing cards with scantily clad women on them.’ – you used semi colons to separate the items, when a colon was called for and then commas. This is how it should have been – I came upon a bin full of assorted small items: glass knobs, marble orbs, door handles, pig-themed salt and pepper shakers, dice, a deck of playing cards with scantily clad women on them.

            Whenever you are listing items, use a colon and then commas – semicolons are used when two dissimilar phrases are used and you want to break them up.

            Finally, your closing sentence while perfectly stated, should be two distinct sentences like this:

            I have always loved her, I realized, as I watched her walk back into the Curiosity Shop. When the door closed, I scanned the street for my beautiful young wife, who is always running late.

            And those last two lines sealed the deal with the story for me. I felt your character could be me, and you described it perfectly. I love it when an author does that and says it so very well. Great job.

          • April 26, 2020 at 12:20 pm
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            Ken C. – like so many others, I loved your story. The way you gradually unveil the age of your main character by having him view himself in a mirror with a slowly dawning realization of his age – pure genius! I too enjoyed many of your phrases – the floor that was “cupped” (the word feels as smooth on my tongue as the floor must feel to the character’s shoes), the comment that the character “prevailed” against the fan. Very well done!

          • April 28, 2020 at 8:16 am
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            Absolutely best story of yours that I have ever read and I had a tear in my eye at the end. I am also missing my socks now. Great story and it will be hard to pass up Ken. Don’t you dare take it down.

    • April 20, 2020 at 6:39 am
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      The Victorian Emporium by Ken Frape

      Tucked away down a narrow side alley on the outskirts of town, the old shop seemed to have been there forever and yet, if asked, locals could not recall having ever seen it. Paint was peeling from the window frames and the sign that used to creak on chains had long ceased its creaking as rust calcified its links.

      Henry Wiggins, 39 and recently orphaned by the number 44 bus with the driver slumped dead at the wheel, was one of the few people who did know of the shop’s existence but only because he had just found it. He couldn’t remember ever having seen it before and shops don’t just suddenly appear, do they?

      Henry and his parents had been regular “bric-a-braccers” but only on a Wednesday. Routine was particularly important to Henry, especially now, since his parents’ sudden demise as that bus swept them off the pavement. It was this routine that now shaped Henry’s daily life and held at bay the strange feelings of loneliness and grief that he didn’t know how to express or explain.

      Thus, it was a Wednesday and Henry was staring through the dusty window of the Victorian Emporium, Back Lane, Middleton. He rubbed the glass with his coat sleeve and looked through the bottle glass pane at the object for sale that had stopped him in his tracks. He leaned forward and had a closer look before stepping inside the shop as the scorpion-tailed bell jangled over his head.

      “Morning, young man,” a sonorous voice sang out across the surprisingly spacious interior.

      “Good morning, er…Mr… errr?” Henry touched his hat in polite greeting as a tiny old man appeared, almost as if by magic, at his elbow, his fuzzy mutton chop whiskers and aroma betraying evidence of years of pipe smoking. His head was as smooth as a billiard ball.

      “Pickles is my name and bric-a-brac is my game,” he almost sung the words.

      Never one for small talk, Henry pointed to the window sill.

      “How much for this, Mr. Pickles?”

      “What, the Victorian Puddle? “ He flipped over the small manila price tag. “It’s £250 but to you, as a valued and dare I say it, singularly astute customer, let’s say, £225?”

      The object in question was mounted on a wooden board about five feet by four feet surrounded by a wooden frame some eight inches deep. Around the inside edge was soil that sloped gently towards the water-filled centre. Henry dipped his finger into the water and touched the muddy bottom.

      “There’s not many genuine Victorian Puddles about these days, you know.” Pickles emphasised the word genuine.
      Henry removed his trilby and fingered the lining.

      “Thank you, Mr. Pickles. I trust you.” He counted out the notes, twelve twenties and popped the ten and the five change back inside the lining. Henry was pleased that his parents had chosen to hide their money under their mattress. It was reassuring to have that much money, £17,476.43 to be precise, mostly in twenties. Henry counted it every day at least once, and put it carefully into piles of one hundred pounds each, all the same way round, edges neatly lined up. A comforting routine that seemed to maintain a connection with his parents.

      Henry arranged for the Victorian Puddle to be delivered later that afternoon. Free delivery. By a quarter past six it was resting on the carpet in his living room, the furniture having been rearranged to make space. The puddle was a muddy brown colour, a slab of chocolate. Henry could not see the bottom so he dipped his fingers in, just as he had in the shop. This time though, he didn’t feel the bottom. He pushed his whole hand in, then pushed up the sleeve of his jumper and used his whole arm. Still no bottom! The handle of the broom fared no better so Henry rushed upstairs and rummaged around in his Dad’s wardrobe. There, right at the back, he found his Dad’s prized possession, his fishing rod. Minutes later, Henry had attached a weight to the end of the fishing line and carefully lowered it into the water. Click, click, click went the reel and down, down, down went the weight as Henry stared at the spot where it disappeared into the water. Then he ran out of line.

      “Fifteen metres! That’s fifty feet,” he exclaimed.

      This Victorian Puddle, six inches deep in the shop was now, it seemed, a bottomless pit.

      As Henry mused over this conundrum, there was a sudden huge tug on the line. Instinctively, he tightened his grip but, caught off balance, he toppled headfirst into the water. The water closed over his head and moments later it settled back to its former dark, slab of chocolate, muddy brown colour.

      If Henry was surprised by this sudden turn of events and of course, he was, strangely, he had no feelings of panic or alarm as he slowly drifted downwards into the depths. The water gradually became clearer and, as he looked up, he could see a hazy window of daylight where he had entered the puddle. Suddenly, darting and dashing at dizzying speed, a shoal of multi-coloured fish skittered around him. The leader approached Henry and touched his nose before racing off again to lead its team in another dazzling dance, waggling its tail fin as if to say, “Come on Henry, come and join the dance.”

      Moments later, Henry’s feet touched the bottom. He laughed and a string of tiny air bubbles escaped his mouth. Instantly the little fish chased them, prodding and poking them until they burst like soap bubbles. Then they spread out around Henry as if to say, “More, more.”

      Henry peered around him in awe. He was in a wonderfully peaceful, subdued, half-lit world of misty greens and browns as if he was looking through tinted film. Plant fronds wafted to and fro and brilliantly coloured fish flashed in and out. Without any apparent thought or effort on his part Henry found himself engaged in an aquatic ballet as he chased the little fish, ducking and diving in and out of the foliage. When he stopped, the fish would dance around him, the water a blaze of slivers of splintered rainbows and silver bubbles, all of which had to be chased and popped. As he moved his feet, wispy trails of silt wafted around him, then drifted lazily back to the floor.

      Above his head, Henry did not notice that the window of light had grown smaller and it continued to do so, until, with a final pop, it closed completely. Had he noticed, it is unlikely that Henry would have been concerned. He really was having the time of his life with his new friends, the only friends he had ever had.

      Later in Henry’s house, the police investigated and found a sales tag, next to the puddle. It said,

      Victorian Puddle, £250.00
      The Victorian Emporium,
      Back Lane,
      Middleton.

      It was a real mystery, they said, as there hadn’t been a shop in Back Lane for well over a hundred years.

      Ken Frape April 2020

      1200 words

      Reply
      • April 20, 2020 at 12:21 pm
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        Ken (Ken F, that is) – a mysterious, surreal, bittersweet tale. The writing flows very smoothly (though I had to read the longer sentence at the start of the second paragraph a couple of times to get its drift).

        The Victorian puddle is an original and intriguing concept. It forms a gate into another place, where I hope Henry continues to enjoy his immersive, blissful and somewhat trippy oblivion.

        BTW, I trust the image of rust calcifying is a poetic conceit, rather than a novel chemical reaction …

        Reply
        • April 23, 2020 at 12:21 pm
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          Hi Andy,

          Correct observation, in scientific terms. Perhaps I should have said “oxidised” but in the meantime I would like to claim “poetic conceit.””

          Ken F

          Reply
      • April 20, 2020 at 7:47 pm
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        Ken F., We are really entering our best this week, aren’t we? Based on what I’ve seen of the first three, I certainly hope so. You haven’t disappointed in the least. A Victorian Puddle. I hope this is your invention, because the only Victorian Puddles I am aware of are the ones Victorian gentlemen threw their coats over for Victorian ladies to walk on so their feet would not get wet. You took them to new depths. Ha, Ha, I’m killing myself doubled over with laughter. New depths. Which is exactly what you have done. Well done, old chap, well done. Great story, I have no quibbles with the writing.

        Roy

        Reply
      • April 20, 2020 at 9:31 pm
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        Ken F.- Yes, engrossing tale, really catches one up…it needs to be longer why were police investigating…what brought them to the residence …but then everything is mysterious in the scenario so why would the ending be solid.. good job.. Kez

        Reply
        • April 21, 2020 at 5:06 am
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          Hi Liz,

          Thanks for reading and commenting on my story.

          You mentioned that it should have been longer and you are right. I originally wrote this as a much longer story (3000+ words) when word count wasn’t an issue. If you contact me directly on kenfrape@hotmail.co.uk I will send you the full version.
          The police were investigating a missing person. Although Henry had no friends and his parents had been mown down by a runaway bus, he was still missed and thus he became a missing person (misper in police jargon.)

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape

          Reply
      • April 21, 2020 at 9:12 pm
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        This is terrific, Ken F. The mysterious shop down a back alley isn’t new (though the name and address are), but the ‘Victorian Puddle’ certainly is. What a brilliant idea! It’s just deliciously absurd. And then later, quite touching: it’s consumed Henry, which should be horrific, but he’s actually very happy about it because of the dreariness of his life heretofore. As Andy says, it’s all very trippy, and as Roy says, I was actually expecting Henry to use it to win a lady, but you took it in an unexpected and very satisfying direction.

        I think I bothered you last week about your ending, and I’m going to do it again (soz!). The last line just seems (imho) a little too on-the-nose – you’ve already established that it’s a mystery shop in the first couple of paragraphs, so it feels a bit like someone telling a joke and then saying “Geddit? Geddit?” and explaining it. So I would nave welcomed something a bit more subtle.

        But that doesn’t spoil what is a vastly enjoyable ride.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 8:23 am
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          Echoing Phil here. A great story just that tiny jarring note at the end, but again a great story. Lovely read.

          Reply
      • April 23, 2020 at 11:41 am
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        Ken Frape,

        The fun starts with the name, ‘The Victorian Emporium.’

        This story is quite magical, like your Santa Claus story. The best thing about your magical stories is that they take place in an all too real world.

        The very idea of a portable puddle is, in itself pretty hilarious. Knowing the quality of your writing, I did not hesitate, I was all in. (A portable puddle, I thought. ‘This guy’s a genius.’)

        And then, when he brings it home and ‘assembles it’ as it were, it then reveals its true nature. Even more ingenious.

        This is a nice line:
        ‘He rubbed the glass with his coat sleeve…’

        And here:
        ‘Plant fronds wafted to and fro and brilliantly colored fish flashed in and out…’
        ‘…the water a blaze of slivers of splintered rainbows and silver bubbles, all of which had to be chased and popped.’
        The magic is conveyed by the writing itself.

        Mr. Pickles’ style of speech has a nice, authentic Victorian ring. (I’m no expert though.) And the ending is perfect, for there it is that we fully realize the extent of poor Henry’s lonely existence. As if that puddle were made for him. (And it was, by you.)

        This is a really creative and beautifully written story, Ken. (Just when I thought that I… Oh hell, never mind.)

        Cheers,
        Ken C.

        Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 1:33 am
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        Creatively, deliciously chocolatey besides being ‘deep’ly absurd!
        Imagination’s running riot. Whoever thought a puddle could be brought home? And a Victorian one at that.
        That’s what writers do..

        I am thinking Mr. Pickles may have gone to Henry’s home to get the mattress for his emporium.
        Tsk tsk…

        Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 9:24 am
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        Hi Ken,

        This story is a piece of beautiful poetry on the ugly subject of loneliness.

        Henry’s lonely existence is striking. Already sad for a man his age to be still in his cradle, he’s then “orphaned” too. His routine and exactness are other cues of a person trying to stay afloat in life not through social interaction, but by arranging and keeping in good order the little world around him. A perfect candidate for the madness you prepared for him!

        At least, there’s a sort of happy ending for him, with his newly found fish friends. It’s like when, as kids, they used to tell us that if we’re good, when we die we’ll spend eternity singing with angels. Swimming with fish sounds just as bad. I’d have better ideas about how to spend eternity. But Henry seems happy. So we should be too, for him, I suppose…

        The metaphysical essence of this story is brilliantly rendered. It’s one or two lines below the absurdity threshold throughout, but never too removed from reality to feel completely off. I dare say it could be interpreted as a psychological thriller, delving into Henry’s deep, unexplored, mostly empty psyche. Maybe that’s what the puddle is. Whatever it is, it’s a marvelous, remarkable invention. Like Alice’s rabbit hole.

        At first I thought the puddle was going to be a time-machine, taking Henry to Victorian times, when perhaps life would have matched his stiff character better. Sort of Tom’s Midnight Garden sort of thing. But then it flowed nicely in a different, much more mysterious direction.

        I liked it so much I’m going to request the full version of this story if you don’t mind sending it to me.

        Ken

        Reply
        • April 27, 2020 at 9:33 am
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          Hi Ken,

          Full story on its way to your e mail address.

          Ken F

          Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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        You have some great descriptions here Ken F and the whole of the tale feels like a bit of a Victorian tale. The idea of a Victorian Puddle seemed so much true to the culture that I looked it up to see if it was an actual thing. (It’s not) But you made it real for me and I’m glad that Henry found some happiness at last.

        Reply
    • April 20, 2020 at 7:01 am
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      A very lovely story, Ken. Not much to add to Ken F and Andy’s comments really. The description of the items in the shop is glorious – as clear as a photograph. The gradual revealing of the narrator’s reality is very subtly done. The story will bear many readings, I think, to uncover new bits of meaning – rather like finding odd items as you wander through the shop.

      Shall I pick a nit or two? Ok, if you say so.
      – “Her name was Beth. I remember that now. But how do I know her? Do I have a crush on her?” That’s either a confusion of tenses by the writer (you) or a reflection of the narrator’s confusion. (?)
      – “…an overpowering smell of […] despair. [..] I think I detected a hint of hope.” Seems to be a contradiction, but once again, maybe the narrator’s confusion?

      But ignore me. This is a smashing story.

      Reply
      • April 21, 2020 at 1:12 am
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        Thanks Phil,

        A good catch. It should read “Her name is Beth. I remember that now….” I will change that.
        The second observation is also instructive: I may be using the wrong words here, antonyms, or it may be the quantity that contradicts, One could have ‘a lot’ of despair and ‘a little hope’ But as it’s written, I use different senses to convey the contrast, ‘overpowering smell’ but a ‘hint of hope’ is ‘detected.’ I don’t specify. Still, all of this vagary calls for clarity. Two very good reasons to delete the story. But ‘smashing’ goes in the ‘pros’ column. Thanks again, Phil.

        Cheers,
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm
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          Ken F. – Lovely story. Henry’s underwater experience in the Victorian Puddle reminded me of the underwater scene in the most recent Mary Poppins film where Mary and the children take a romp in an underwater world via a bathtub. I thought your rendering was much more original and interesting, however. I was a bit confused by the comment that Henry was “orphaned” at age 39. I suppose losing one’s parents technically does make one an orphan, but I ended up with the image of Henry being some kind of mentally compromised individual who had childlike qualities. Not sure if that was what you were going for… That said, I liked your story a lot.

          Reply
    • April 22, 2020 at 2:02 pm
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      No doubt in my mind, that was a beautiful story. Even when the twist became apparent, I was enthralled.

      Reply
      • April 22, 2020 at 2:09 pm
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        That was intended for Ken C’s story, but I also thoroughly enjoyed Ken F’s story.

        Reply
    • April 23, 2020 at 8:18 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Oh did you finish this one with a bang for me, this time round! A silent bang that’s louder than a bomb, that cruel alarm bell that signifies the end of a man, before the real end even comes, when memory plays up with his feelings and existence and tricks him into becoming a prisoner inside his own skin.

      The intricate description of the old curiosity shop, for me (and I think for you too) stands for the clutter of a long and interesting, but now fading, lifetime. The fan that can hardly turn, that needs to be plugged out, the old cupped floor, all the flaking items whose glory time has now passed and whose history is forgotten, and so on, are all brilliant metaphors of what happened to him, the narrator, of old age and dementia.

      My personal favorite is: “I placed the ear tips [of the stethoscope] in my ears and held the diaphragm against my chest. Nothing. No sound.” It captures it all doesn’t it?

      The recounting of the story, itself in a demented way (typically forgetting the essentials of life, while remembering quite sharply the details) is the greatest achievement of this piece.

      At first, I thought this story was taking long to get going (although I enjoyed every bit of the detailed description of the items inside the shop). But then I realized that that description *is* the story, for those items indeed describe the long lost experiences of this aged man.

      It’s nice how love still survives (Beth and the mannequin), which make this a beautiful love story too.

      Great piece all around, really.

      Did I hear you were contemplating lifting this story? You did it before. I’m not taking any chances. I’m keeping a copy while I can!

      (Btw we once sort of agreed to privately swap two of our mutually loved but removed stories (your “A Mother’s Love” and my “Kebab Haus”). Is that still on? Shall we send them to our motherators, who have our emails?)

      Ken

      Reply
      • April 23, 2020 at 8:21 am
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        (The above was intended to go right after Ken Cartisano’s story. Dunno why it appeared here!)

        Reply
    • April 23, 2020 at 8:30 am
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      (Hi Ken, I commented on your story. For some reason, my comment showed up below Ken Frape’s story… look for it 🙂 WordPress seems to be getting kenfused, too…)

      Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 2:31 pm
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      Absolutely loved this story, Ken C! And your telling is perfect.
      What a band of great writers! No idea what I’m doing here… but it’s a challenge. And I like challenges.
      Loving all the comments too. Leading us to get a glimpse of Roy’s love story too. Whoa!
      Best,
      Marien

      Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 1:43 pm
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      This story is so sad but sweet. As everyone else mentioned, you have some great turns of phrases and imagry in this. I love how he keeps going back to the fans. I don’t even know why, it just sticks with me. I feel like I’m in that shop.

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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      Loved your story Ken. Beautiful and not as cynical as some of your stories can be. A gentle descriptive piece. I have read it three times and liked it more each time.

      Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 10:39 am
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      LOVED this story Ken! I’m glad you didn’t take it down. Great work!

      Reply
  • April 20, 2020 at 5:35 am
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    The Borrowed Past

    “Hey, Melinda,” called Jim from behind the counter. “I’ve got an amulet here that’ll ward off superstition. Yours for a tenner!”

    I smiled across as he burst out laughing at his joke. He had that warm twinkle in his eye, something I’d hardly ever witnessed in my life. Perhaps that was one reason I kept coming back to “Jim’s Junk Shop” as it’s known locally. For me, it was an Aladdin’s cave of past lives. Or rather, stages in people’s lives, as they shed bits of themselves and move onto something new.

    Growing up in care, I had no family history around me. I went to college with a single suitcase, and that was me. Now I surround myself with borrowed items to fabricate a past. Perhaps it was Jim I was drawn to as much as the antiques. If I could choose a grandpa for myself, it would be him.

    “How much is this?” I asked, holding up a tarnished pendant. It felt pleasingly ancient and somehow important to me.

    Jim came over and gave it a cursory glance. “Hm, not sure. This stuff only came in yesterday from a house clearance. Haven’t valued it yet. For you, though, £2.50.”

    “You sure?”

    “Yep. If you clean it up and find it’s worth a fortune, you’ll split the profit with me?”

    “Of course,” I laughed. And I would.

    * * * * *
    “In the year of Our Lord 1662, it is hard to believe how much the land we see has changed since the Fens were drained and put to work. In the days of King William, the land was all marshes and swamps, from Boston to Cambridge. You could only reach our Isle of Ely by boat, or by wading chest deep in the murkiest water ever to drown a soul.

    “Evil roamed these desolate lands, my son. Ravaged by Vikings, Danes and Normans, it was the darkest of dark lands: a home to cutthroats, thieves and fugitives. How many are the bones that lie beneath our feet! How many the restless souls!

    “And tis said that on a moonlit night, with chill winds blowing the reeds, weird beings would rise from the swamp. Some say they were half frogs, half men, summoned by spells in secret ceremonies, where witches danced as fallen monks chanted in demonic tongues.

    “In these days a Saxon woman, Aefra by name, left her home in Crowland. She took the same path on this same night each year: past the Abbey, through the woods and into the swamps beyond.

    “Ten years before, the Normans had raided her village, leaving her for dead beside the body of her husband. They took her fair Wilona, her only child. They ravaged village after village, dragging out many into the swamplands, to do with them what cruel men do in lawless times.

    “Aefra searched high and low till one day she found some blood-bespattered clothing of her daughter. Certain that Wilona’s body lay within this swamp, she tarried many days, weeping constantly. Tying a strip of Wilona’s dress on the lone maple that stood by the swamp, she marked Wilona’s unholy grave.

    “Each year Aefra went alone out into the swamps to pray for her child, by the side of the maple. Yet her suffering grew, rather than lessened, as she minded the cold body of her child, lying in corruption and alone in the swamp. Now Aefra determined to end their sufferings. She would join her daughter at the bottom of the swamp, to cradle her head throughout eternity.

    “Aefra hurried into the dark woods, and hesitated. Ahead she espied a strange figure rushing clumsily through the undergrowth. She heard the monks’ chanting carried on the wind. The hairs on her neck stood on end, but nothing could deter her. Soon she would be reunited with her child.

    “Reaching the edge of the swamp, she saw her maple. It was time. She gathered stones into her bag. She would hang it around her neck and walk into the waters, till they consumed her.

    “At that moment, the waters swelled as a creature rose from the depths of the swamp, covered in mud, thrashing and writhing, uttering the vilest curses imaginable. It plunged down, re-emerging amidst hideous cries.

    “Dropping the bag, Aefra stood transfixed. She had never heard such suffering and anguish. It tore at her heart, echoing the pain in her soul. Whether man or beast or demon, she was drawn inexorably towards it.

    “As rain lashed down, she plunged into the swamp, towards the creature. At her touch, it spun round with eyes witnessing great affliction and despair, mouth stretched open in a silent howl of anguish. Wordlessly, she put her arm around it, supporting its abject body. They stumbled to the edge.

    “The man – for man it was – lay there, shaking his head and choking all the while. She wiped mud from his eyes, nose, and lips with gentle fingers. She sat, confused; her resolution gone.

    “At last, he told her of his grief. Of his wife and child taken while he was away fighting the Normans. Of his failed attempt to drown himself on this desperate anniversary night.

    “As the pouring rain washed, bit by bit, the stinking swamp mud from her face, Aefra knew something with certainty: Wilona and this man’s son had called them, had brought them together.

    “This is why, my son, when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil: neither from the evil men of this world nor the phantom shapes of another. See this talisman I wear around my neck? It was made by that same man, your many-times-great-grandfather. Can you see what is written here?

    “‘Amor vincit omnia’: Love conquers all. I believe it is so.”

    * * * *
    I was standing by the counter carefully polishing the pendant. I wanted to read its Latin inscription when a flustered young man ran into the shop.

    “Hi – I think you cleared my grandmother’s house? Mrs Crawford’s?” he said.

    “Indeed we did,” said Jim.

    “There’s something of sentimental value that I think must be in one of the boxes. It’s a …”

    He stared at the pendant. “I think that’s it …”

    “I see,” said Jim. “Well, I’m afraid I’ve just sold it to this young lady.”

    “Well,” the young man said, addressing me, “It shouldn’t have been left in the house. My mother, well, she didn’t … anyway, my grandmother told me the story and said one day she would like me to have it. And I dearly want something to remember – ’

    I held up my hand to stop him, and held out the pendant. “It’s yours. I have no right to it.”

    “But you must’ve paid – ’

    “I’m happy it’s where it belongs.”

    “Well, you must let me buy you a drink to say thanks,” he said.

    I looked over to Jim, who winked and nodded his head towards the door.

    In the pub, Mike – for that’s his name – excitedly recounted the history of the talisman. And I cautiously began to wonder if this borrowed past might be the beginning of a future I could call my own.

    Reply
    • April 21, 2020 at 9:39 pm
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      A great story, Andy. The ancient tale is beautifully rendered – so atmospheric. And the full-circle twist is neatly done, pointing to a bright future for the young couple. I like the opening joke! And the last line is very good – referencing the fact you established at the beginning that the narrator collects other people’s pasts. (I think this idea would make a great story by itself: “Now I surround myself with borrowed items to fabricate a past.”

      One technical question: The ancient tale sits in the middle of the story but doesn’t seem to have a textual link with the bookends. “This is why, my son …” Who is speaking? (Does it matter?)

      The ancient tale though … very memorable.

      Reply
      • April 22, 2020 at 4:04 am
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        Thanks so much, Phil.

        To address your technical question – in my mind it was literally his son that the narrator of the middle section, a descendant of the people in his story, is addressing. And it’s implied that the pendant continues to pass down through the generations via the young man’s grandmother.

        Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 9:53 am
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      Nicely written story Andy, with a great opening, although I didn’t understand the ‘joke’ at all.

      Her being raised in ‘care’, I took it to mean she was a foster child or an orphan, and yet, still having such a lovely outlook on life. And not going on about the misery of it all. She needed a ‘grandfather figure’ in her life, so she chose one.

      I did that sort of thing, myself, substituting two uncles for that ‘attachment’ of need for a grandfather figure, having met only one of my grandfathers, on three different occasions: Once, when a small boy, he stopped by late at night and I was introduced to him and shook his hand. He left soon after. I never did learn why he stopped by, other than to talk briefly with his son, my father. Then, I saw him from a distance as he sat with friends from the Masonic Lodge – I was a teenager – he was a big deal Mason, I learned, and then, the last time at his funeral as he lay dead in his coffin. Another strange twist: He was married to my mother’s mother. (He was a divorcee and she a widow.) They married two weeks after my parents married. Kinda makes me my own cousin, because he and my mother became step-sister and step-brother. Think about it. (Any of my father’s sister’s or brother’s children are my cousins.)

      And, I loved your ending. I also understood, or thought I did, about the ‘story’ in between the opening and closing parts, being a recreation of what she learned from the new beau in her life as they grew closer with each other. I truly enjoyed reading the story and it is indeed, well written.

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 10:24 am
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        Many thanks Roy.

        I think I’m going to be trying to work out your family relationships for the rest of the day now!

        ‘In care’ is indeed the phrase used over here to cover exactly what you say – growing up in a children’s home or foster care. Often it’s a mix of both. The idea for Melinda actually came from a touching news report I saw the other day, following a couple of young women around 19 years old who had recently left the care system and how they are faring during the lockdown. One was the only person left in her university accommodation, as everyone else had gone home. And the other was in a tiny bedsit. Two very lovely and articulate people it seemed, but very much feeling the lack of family at this time.

        And yes, you have understood the connection of the story sandwich, the story in the story in the story. I think Melinda’s new beau gives her the outline. But when she first takes a liking to the pendant, that’s when we lucky readers get to hear the story of it’s origins from someone who owned it back in the 17th century, telling its story to his son.
        As for the joke – I leave you to keep thinking on that, as I keep trying to work out if you are your cousin’s uncle or grandson or what 🙂

        Reply
      • April 25, 2020 at 1:33 pm
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        Roy,

        You must have omitted something of significance in you family tree. Oh I see it now, this was your father’s father, So your paternal grandfather, married your maternal grandmother, (I’m gonna need a pen and paper and a flow chart.) Any children they may have had would be your uncles, therefore, your father became your uncle when his father married your grandmother. Now if their children had children, or your parents had any other children but you, then they would be both siblings and cousins at the same time. Your sister would be your cousin!

        As such, and in the great state of Kentucky, you may kiss her but you shore as hail caint marry her son. Now go take a cold shower and have a beer on me.

        Reply
        • April 25, 2020 at 4:08 pm
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          Ken, you need a score card. Cousin, sister, it was in Missouri. That’s why I said, my dad’s step-sister’s child (me) made me my own cousin. You’re right, my mother was legally my aunt. That union, the one of my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother also produced a son. He was only a half uncle on each side, but I shared more of a blood line with him than any of my other twelve or so (I can’t give an accurate count) uncles. And, I was an only child. My Dad had six brothers and my mother had at least seven brothers. And there were plenty of girls, too. My dad had five sisters and my mother had six or seven. I didn’t meet them all. I’ve got a list somewhere. Hard to keep track of them. Some of them had twelve kids apiece. At last count I had over 100 blood cousins, not counting step cousins when my father remarried following my mother’s death in 1943. My step mother had a bunch of brothers and sisters, too. Never met all of them, either. My family tree looks like one of those Banyan trees in Southeast Asia with roots everywhere.

          Did ya hear about the couple walking out of a Missouri courtroom following their divorce. He turns and asks, “Does this mean we ain’t brother and sister?” Divorce in Missouri is different. The old question why is a tornado and a divorce the same in Missouri? Because you know for sure someone’s going to lose a mobile home. I could go on, but I will spare you.

          Roy

          Reply
    • April 25, 2020 at 7:51 am
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      Hi Andy,

      Another really great piece of writing. Another strong contender this this prompt.

      I particularly enjoyed the setting of the central story having lived and worked in Lincolnshire / Cambridge/ Peterborough and around that area for 20+ years. I have college friends who lives in the area around the Norfolk Broads and they reckon that the marshes and swampy areas around where they live can easily swallow you up if you stray off the pathway. Thus, that part of the story really resonates.

      I enjoyed the sandwich style of writing and i did get the joke, which, I have to say, is quite subtle.

      There is a certain poignancy about the notion of growing up in care or a “looked after” child…looked after by the state. I was asked to write a report some years ago by a local authority into why young people in residential care homes did not do well at school. I almost cannot believe that somebody was prepared to pay me to find this out. Doh!! I interviewed several young people around eighteen years of age after they left the care system and it was nice to hear that some of them were doing really well but were still very vulnerable.

      I hope Melinda is one of the lucky ones.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 25, 2020 at 11:29 am
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        Many thanks for your comments, Ken.

        I seem to have spent my life (so far) on the east side of England. Born in Essex, lived most of my life in Cambridge, a few years in Peterborough, then Ely, and now up in Lincoln. A penchant for cathedral cities, or at least historic ones, it seems. One of my daughters lives in March, right in the middle of the Fens. And we do drive past Crowland and its ruined Abbey sometimes to get from here to there. I didn’t make up the name, in case anyone is wondering!

        “I hope Melinda is one of the lucky ones.” – I’ve got a feeling she will be.

        Cheers, Andy

        Reply
    • April 25, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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      A good read, Andy, and I read this first!
      I do get the opening ‘joke’. It maybe whatever Jim says is a happy thing to Melinda, who is starved of family. However, the meat in the sandwich was a bit tough to understand because of the open quotations which never shut!
      I like the open hint of romance in the end. Self appointed Granpa Jim approves of the alliance with a ‘wink’!
      So it’s cool!

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 5:50 am
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        Hi Marien, and thanks.

        The open quotation marks is standard practice if someone is continuing talking – maybe a tad old fashioned now? I don’t know. They do shut at the end … I used that format to distinguish the voice from that of the narrator (Melinda) in the bookends (if you can have bookends of a sandwich!)

        Reply
    • April 25, 2020 at 6:58 pm
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      Andy baby,

      (How’s the Duke of Ducks?)

      That’s a wonderful story Andy. I too didn’t get the joke on the first read, but I read the story again and it was like, duh. So obvious. I once had someone ask me if I believed in reincarnation, and I said, ‘Not in this particular lifetime.’

      The meat part of the story is really well written. I mean, it’s beautiful writing. And you’ve created something like a layered story, or rather a story in contrasts. The modern gentle interplay of civilized human beings versus the savagery and ‘tribal’ violence of earlier peoples in the same area.

      My only suggestion on this story, not that it isn’t excellent, but it seems that it would work better if the inner story is a story being told by a man (or a woman) presenting the ring to his/her wife or daughter on their wedding day. I think that would do it. (Too corny? You might be right.) It does make you wonder though, how is this ring passed along? Why is the story being told? I think it needs some kind of familial ritual to give it gravitas.

      How you would add that context to the storyteller of yore, that I can’t help you with.
      I don’t know. Splendid writing though.

      Does that make sense? Because I think I hurt my brain. (Whaddayou tryin’ ta do ta me? Make me think? I don’t like that. I’m American you know. I don’t like thinking. Waste of energy if you ask me, so don’t ask me. All right? I don’t know anything. I just got done cleaning myself, all right? Write it any way you want. Write it just the way it is. Oh you already did? Oh. Okay. Well, there you go. What are we arguing about?)

      Cheers Bub.
      Ken

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 6:01 am
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        Oh what?… sorry … uh, I was just taking a competitive nap. Where was I? 🙂

        Many thanks for the kind comments and the suggestion. I guess I could have slipped in, re the talisman, “that will be yours one day when I’m gone” or something like that to emphasise the continuity.

        All in the duckdom seems to be fine today, thanks.
        Actually, I’ve been making eye contact with a lonely crow this morning. Possibly he’s thinking the same thing.
        Seems to be a young chap without a partner so far. He’s been a regular visitor for the past couple of weeks, likes to sit in the same spot.
        I told him the story of the talisman, and it seemed to buck up his spirits.
        I wonder what his story is?

        Toodle pip, and keep safe!

        Andy

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 11:12 am
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          So Andy,
          I meant to mention that I must have read your story only once, as I mistook the pendant for a ring somehow.

          Birds are fascinating. Animals are fascinating. I’ve always believed they’re much more intelligent than conventional egocentric science allows. Their singular handicap being the inability to communicate as effectively as humans, and no oppose-able thumb. .

          That, and a dollar seventy U.S. will buy you a gallon of gas these days.

          Reply
          • April 28, 2020 at 11:44 am
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            Ken C – What!? a $1.70…where…it was $2.29 yesterday and I did a little dance at the Pump….

          • April 28, 2020 at 6:51 pm
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            $1.29 last time I filled up. Just sayin,’. I did a dance, too, Liz. Even tho I won’t fill up again until August.

            Roy

    • April 27, 2020 at 11:07 am
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      Hi Andy,

      I loved this beautifully told, well-rounded story. At no point did I suspect where it was going, keeping the sweet surprise till the very end, for me, when everything falls neatly in place.

      The young woman who’s seeking to build a history around herself finds a great deal of it in this young man’s family epic, a tale which I’m sure is going to become her own too, as that penchant of love plays out its magical role once again.

      I like the fairytale qualities of a story which at the same time is not at all detached from reality, be it historic or of our times. The legend of Aefra is beautifully narrated too. Did you make it all up or is some of it rooted in the local folklore of your area?

      My favorite part (besides the ending) is:

      “For me, it was an Aladdin’s cave of past lives. Or rather, stages in people’s lives, as they shed bits of themselves and move onto something new.“

      It’s a great way to describe a shop of this kind. Loved it, really. I’ll be looking at such “junk shops” and flea markets through different eyes after reading this.

      The historical “sandwich” is nicely recounted. I admit I was quite restless to get back to Melinda. And especially so since I didn’t know who was doing the “chunky” talking. Not that any part of the old tale bored me (quite the opposite), but it sort of seemed long till we got back to the present and the people we know. Of course, the old tale is crucial to the understanding of the story, but perhaps it could be told quicker without losing any of its significance? Or have the (till then) mysterious talker interrupted by the mysterious listener somewhere midway by a question or a remark, just to break it a little? But maybe it’s just me. The other commentators seem to be fine with it as it is.

      And… how is Melinda going to share the profit of her re-trading the £2.50 penchant for love? I think Mike and her will be adopting him as grandpa, right?

      Ken

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 12:46 pm
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        Thanks so much for the comments, Ken. And glad you liked the story.

        On the middle bit – the specifics are all made up. I did some background work on Anglo-Saxon names and stuff, and about the timing of the draining of the fens by Dutch engineers, which starts about 200 years after the tale is set.
        But the context of Aefra’s tale is historical – the Isle of Ely was the centre of resistance, led by Hereward the Wake, to William the Conqueror after 1066. The Norman reprisals were severe.

        And Crowland Abbey, as I mentioned, is real. It was dissolved by Henry VIII and fell into ruin, but was significant in the English Civil War (shortly before the time of the middle-section narrator) when it was fortified by Royalist but stormed and taken by Oliver Cromwell. If you go to Ely now, you can visit Cromwell’s house, as he lived there.
        Very little of the historical detail makes it into the story, but I like to make sure stories fit the times they are in and sidestep any possible pitfalls.

        As for the length of the middle bit – I tried chopping this back in several ways. Well, actually did so till I could bear to prune it no more. I did fear it might test the reader’s patience, but every edit seemed to lose something of the flavour of the language for me. Maybe I just needed 1500 words in total to balance it up with more space for Melinda.
        And I think you’re absolutely right about her future and adopting Jim as Grandpa 🙂

        Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm
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      Thank you very much Andy for providing the joke in the first paragraph that I finally understood, at 3:30 am this morning. I appreciate solving it and being able to go back to sleep. I finally related the incongruity of amulet and superstition. When I worked at a grocery, we would ask new employees where we could find grass fed shrimp and gluten free wheat germ. It took them awhile but they finally understood. At least I think I understand.

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 12:20 pm
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        Oh my goodness, Roy. I feel really bad if I’ve stopped you from sleeping!!

        But I appreciate your tenacity in working this one through. Kind of a slow-burn, I guess 🙂

        And yes, that’s it exactly! You can sleep easier now …

        Reply
        • April 27, 2020 at 1:00 pm
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          Ah, yes, Andy. It seemed everyone got it but me, and all my life I have been the man of a thousand jokes. To not get one was driving me crazy and my mind, apparently, was working on it as I slept. Then, eureka!

          BTW, did you receive the Welch coal miners joke I sent?

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 28, 2020 at 3:54 pm
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            Yup and responded via email, Roy. As I guess you’ve seen. If not, I’m mentioning it now …

    • April 27, 2020 at 1:12 pm
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      Andy, Yes, this is a great story, the middle wasn’t too long… except the emergence of the creature was a little wordy… and the joke in the beginning made me think I was missing something and searched for a deeper joke… even researched amulet in my dictionary and found although we might think of having an amulet as superstitious, the word superstitious was never used as descriptive of an amulet.. but I digress I was engrossed in the story and enjoyed it.. Kez

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 8:37 am
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        Well rouonded story and this has a lovely flow to the story line. A very positive story for grim times. Loved it.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 8:38 am
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          Well rounded. I need to go to bed and read the rest of the stories in the morning and submit mine. Too tired now.

          Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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      Andy, I also liked this story, and the bit in the middle could even stand on its own. It was a bit of an abrupt switch and maybe another line at the beinng showing that it was a grandparent telling the family tale would have made it feel more integral from the get go. But I loved the way it wrapped up so it didn’t bother me so much by the time I finished it.

      Reply
  • April 20, 2020 at 7:14 pm
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    At the Last Moment
    by Roy York
    1200 words

    Sheila and I were in a dusty, quaint curiosity shop. The kind that might hold a long forgotten treasure. She picked up a rather unique lamp from a dusty, and long neglected shelf. I laughed. “Looks like a genie lamp.”

    “What if it really was a genie lamp? What would you do?” she asked. Sheila looked at me quizzically, her green eyes reflecting the gold of the lamp.

    “I’d make a wish. I know I could make our life better.”

    “I don’t know if I would. There are some things better left alone.”

    I smiled. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t wish for world peace? I thought all beautiful women wished for world peace?”

    “Doesn’t mean it would be good for mankind.”

    “OK.” I said. “Give me the downside to world peace.”

    Her red hair reflected the soft light of the shop as she held tightly to the lamp. She glanced away. When she turned back, her eyes were hard. “You won’t like my answer.”

    I was growing annoyed. “Try me.”

    Her demeanor changed, not for the better. “It’s the day after everyone on earth has been annihilated by a plague.”

    “My God, that’s … that’s … well I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t world peace.”

    “It certainly is.” Her temper flashed. She was like a match in that respect. She would flare up quickly, but seconds later the flame would be gone. “The day the earth is rid of humans is the day there will be world peace.”

    “That certainly won’t happen,” I said.

    “You don’t know that.”

    I glared at her. “Why are we arguing anyway?”

    She kept on. “Let’s say one of us rubs the lamp and gets three wishes. What about the other person? Do they get one of the wishes? Do we wish together? Or does one of us just rub the lamp, get what we want, and to hell with the other person?”

    “What’s wrong with you?” Now I was beginning to heat up. “Don’t turn this into something it isn’t.”

    “Me?”

    This was going in the wrong direction. “Jesus, Sheila. You act like I’ve made a wish already. It’s a silly lamp. If it bothers you, put it down.”

    On returning it to the shelf, the look on her face transformed to one of serenity. Eyes sparkling, she turned as if nothing had happened and said, “You’re right. It’s a silly old lamp and there’s no genie.”

    As we got in the car she said, “I didn’t like holding that lamp. It felt evil. I’m glad we didn’t buy it.” She shuddered.

    “Yeah, right.” I was sure she really wanted it.

    That night I was restless and when I did sleep, it was filled with crazy dreams. All of them involved the lamp. When I woke Sunday morning, I was exhausted.

    “Honey, are you OK?” Sheila’s look was concerned.

    “I’m fine,” I lied. “Just a stomach thing. I didn’t sleep well.” Later that day I drove to the shop. I entered and hurried back to where we saw the lamp.

    “May I help you?” The owner had come out of nowhere.

    Surprised, I said, “There was a lamp here yesterday. My wife saw it and she loved it. I came back to buy it as a surprise.”

    “A lamp? You are in the wrong section.”

    “No, no. It was right here.” As I said those words I saw the lamp on the shelf and grabbed it. “This one. How much is it? I’ll take it.” I was babbling.

    The man studied me for a moment. “Ah, that lamp. A lamp such as that is very valuable. It is not for sale.”

    “Maybe I was a bit hasty. I can find her something else.”

    “This has been in my family for generations and you ask me to put a price on it. ”The shopkeeper smiled wryly. He was a master at this and I, a mere beginner.

    “You seem to want it so badly, keep it..” He looked startled. I wasn’t as bad at this as I thought.

    “Perhaps I was the one who was hasty, and should reconsider,” he said.

    “Make it fast. I’ll give you $50.”

    “It would be an insult to my family if I sold it for that price, but I will make an exception for you, $250.”

    I reached in my pocket and pulled out some bills. I peeled off $150 and handed it to him. “Do we have a deal?”

    “You drive a hard bargain. I will take the money, even though my wife will cry for a week. The lamp is yours.” He smiled wickedly. “Before you leave, you need to know there are only two wishes left.” he said.

    ‘I wonder why he told me that?’ I thought. As I walked to the car an uneasiness overtook me. The lamp felt evil. Now I understood why Sheila was glad to set it down.

    I turned to take it back to the store and get my money back. Too late – the closed sign was already up. I peered inside and my blood ran cold. All the way to the back, the store was empty; nothing but dusty footprints.

    I hurried to the car and threw the lamp on the seat. As I drove by a dumpster in the center, I stopped, threw the lamp in, sped away and drove home.

    I had another terrible night’s sleep. After Sheila left for work, I grudgingly did the same. Getting in the car, I actually jumped. There, on the seat, was the lamp. I picked it up and as I did, rubbed it accidentally.

    A puff of smoke, and suddenly a genie sat next to me. He looked like a mobster in a bad suit, and I felt like I was in a movie. “Really?” I said. “Where’s your turban?”

    “You watch too much TV,” he said. “Listen, you get two wishes – no funny stuff – no living forever – no bringing back the dead. You’ve got two minutes.”

    “Two minutes? That’s all?”

    “You should’ve thought before rubbing the lamp.” I hesitated. “You’re wasting time,” he said.

    I suddenly knew what I wanted. It was perfect. “Then I want one extra moment after each moment for Sheila and I. That’s one wish. We’ll find you for the second.”

    “You want an extra moment for you and Sheila after each moment. Then you’ll find me for the second wish?”

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Done.” The lamp and genie disappeared.

    You see, that moment extra becomes a moment, then an extra one appears, that becomes a moment, and so on. Pretty slick, huh? I fooled the genie into granting us eternal life.

    I explained everything to Sheila, but she wasn’t having it. She totally blew up. I had really made a mess of things. Finally, I said, “Look, we’ll find him, make the second wish and erase all this.” We’ve been searching ever since. Sheila left me hundreds of years ago and spending eternal life without her is miserable.

    We see each other occasionally, while looking for the lamp. That’s how we spend all of our time, hoping to find the lamp and finally wish … for that last moment.

    Reply
    • April 22, 2020 at 4:19 am
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      Quirky tale, Roy, with good momentum and I had no idea where it was going to end up. Not entirely sure of the temporal mechanics involved in two people having extra moments while others do not, but it’s a cute and original idea.
      Moral #1: Be careful what you wish for.
      Moral #2, perhaps? Make the most of every moment. Even if you have an endless supply 🙂

      Reply
    • April 23, 2020 at 12:13 pm
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      Roy,

      This is a very clever plot. Very well written. I love the description of the characters. The physical description of the woman, her name, combined with the dialogue, conveys a very specific image (to me) of one of the most amazing, undervalued and unusual creatures in the universe: An Irish woman. I think I was tired the first time I read it, as I got to the end and thought, why were there only two wishes? On the second reading, the next day, it was as plain as day, so certainly not your fault.

      The writing and dialogue are as crisp and clear as always.

      I have one suggestion which you’ll probably disregard, and believe me, I enjoyed the story immensely and had no objections to the plot as I read it. So feel free to disregard this, as it only amounts to further unrewarded work on your part anyway. Having said that…)
      Regarding Andy’s comment on the immortality logic.

      If it was me, I would think a Genie would prove very difficult to fool, if not downright impossible. So, I would simply have the Genie warn the narrator that many people wish for immortality, and all those who do, without exception, regret it. Then the character, thinking himself ultra-clever, simply asks for immortality in a creative way, but it doesn’t fool the Genie. Nor does it prove wise.

      This removes the difficult assumption that a mere mortal has to outwit a Genie for your story to work.

      Cheers,
      Ken C.

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 10:23 am
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        Ken C., thanks for your critique. I always listen to anything some other author has said about my stories hoping to learn how to be a better author by implementing their advice when writing later. As you may or may not have noticed, last theme I actually changed my story based on advice given by you and a couple of other readers. I normally don’t do that. And, I was considering changing this one after reading yours and Andy’s comments.

        Regarding the genie being smart enough to ‘catch’ the extra moment’ wish – I actually did think about that possibility when I wrote it – but I reasoned (and I think this is a very good reason) that if the Genie was stupid enough to be constrained in a lamp for possibly all eternity until someone finds and uses the three wishes, he would be stupid enough to be duped by some clever person outwitting him a second time.

        Having said that, I wish now I would have changed the story around a bit and should have pointed out the fallacy of ‘eternal life’ by having one of them – her probably- ending up in a ‘brain dead’ or similar situation and being faced with lying there for eons not being able to die, and/or having them run into the ‘genie’ somewhere walking around and discover that the genie tricked someone stupid enough into using the third and final wish to grant the genie his freedom while he helped them get to where they needed to be, such as President of the United States, and that they would never be free of eternal life and all of its downside.

        Yep, be careful what you wish for, you may get it. I think a lot of people are currently biting their lip, and second guessing themselves for their vote three Novembers ago, as they contemplate the stupidity of 45 thinking injecting sanitizers into Covid patients would help kill the virus. Makes about as much sense as blending vegetables like broccoli into liquid and injecting it into your children’s arm as a way to get them to get the benefits of eating vegetables, without actually having to taste them. Yep, there’s a candidate for finding the lamp. Maybe 45 did find one while walking along a Florida fairway and we are all paying the price.

        Roy

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 2:31 am
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          Roy, (322 words.)

          First off, thanks for the corrections. Just so you know, I’ve got a copy of ‘the elements of style’ within arms reach, but I never open it. I really thought I was using them damned semi colons properly. But no. And as for the last sentence, I totally agree with you on that. I noticed that after I posted it, a very long sentence, thought about bothering the Captain, or the First Mate, but you know how irritable they can be sometimes, (they once threatened to shove that ships bell up my ass) so I just thought, it’ll keep till the morning.

          After reading your remarks and the political flourish at the end, I replied to your comment with a 985 word screed that excoriated everyone from Gollum, to the Pope.

          I was unaware of the wrath and vituperation that had built up inside of me until I responded to your comment and luckily, I realized that you might not appreciate, or deserve the full, total, unrestrained, deconstructive anger that erupted out of me like Joe Pesci with a punk in a nightclub after a couple of drinks.

          Fortunately, I came to my senses just in time to short circuit the posting process. Which is a good thing because I’m not angry with you, or anyone in particular. But I do have an issue with republicans in general right now. I’ll air it out somewhere else at some other time. And this is not about being offended or anything like that.

          As for Genies. You should have done a little research on those genies Roy. Genies are not stupid, they’re more like enormous reservoirs of metaphysical energies. In the form of a spirit. It’s a very clever myth. (Who knew?) You should look into it. It never hurts to do a little research on a story. You can find some great and brief descriptions of the genie phenomenon. If the link below works.
          https://mysticinvestigations.com/paranormal/what-three-wishes-cant-a-genie-grant/

          Ken

          Reply
          • April 26, 2020 at 11:13 am
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            Ken, I appreciate your recognition of my editing skills. I do tend to nitpick occasionally, and it is seldom, if ever, I can find things of yours and Phil’s, Alice’s and a host of other writers on this site to nitpick on. So, I try to point them out with great glee, much like you do when you find Phil making a, dare I say it out loud, mistake?

            Regarding the Genie issue and research. I wish I would have found the website you sent me before I wrote my story, It is interesting, but like most fictional writers (and politicians), I find a source that supports what I want to do. And, I, being the clever human that I am, think I have foiled the Genie in my story with limited ‘support’ research.

            However, having said that, I also know that fictional characters pick up new traits over the years, such as Dracula. Sunlight kills them, a silver cross discourages them, a wooden stake in the heart kills them, garlic wards them away, they cannot see their own reflection in a mirror, and they must be invited into your home. Well sir, I finished Dracula the book by Bram Stoker not that long ago and don’t recall any of these being mentioned in the book. Including the last one, because I know for a fact that he was an uninvited guest at many a midnight feeding on the necks of buxom and lovely, young damsels in the book. Therefore, I said to myself, all of these now accepted FACTS came about by modern day movies and writers exploiting Stoker’s character. Since movies are written by writers, and books are also written by writers, (well, some are – some are written by people still striving to become ‘writers’) I assume they made the changes they saw fit to make their story work.

            You sir, are watching writing history in the making as I rewrite some of the most famous Genie myths of all time. Genies are stupid and can be fooled, especially in my stories. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

            Roy

          • April 26, 2020 at 12:32 pm
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            Roy – loved how you rendered this super creative plotline. Great story! I so appreciated the haggling dialogue between the main character and the shopkeeper. I also thought the ending was unexpected and fun. Very well done!

    • April 27, 2020 at 1:59 am
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      World peace is still a far way off because of one nut.
      I totally get Sheila’s reaction.
      The man’s wish completely negated her subtle hidden rub, ya?.. “On returning it to the shelf, the look on her face transformed to one of serenity. Eyes sparkling, she turned as if nothing had happened…”

      Should your title have been ..For that last moment? Instead of At?

      Oh these restless souls! But look how much he loves her!

      Strange story 🙂

      Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 12:26 am
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      That’s a meaty story, Roy, with lots of bits to mull over. I like how your protagonists find the lamp in the very first paragraph – no mucking about (though repetition of ‘dusty – I’d drop the first one). The relationship between the two people is edgy, very realistic, their underlying problems carrying through to the hundreds of years of separation. The point about ‘world peace’ is nicely put; witness the drop in pollution worldwide in recent weeks, when we humans are out of the equation. The ‘moments’ idea is very novel … but it’s quite a complex one to come out spontaneously – maybe you could have had the narrator tossing and turning in bed to think of a wish, then having the ‘eureka’ moment and taking that thought forward to the next day when he meets the genie.

      Things I wasn’t so sure about: the genie as Mafioso – shifts the tone to comical briefly; where did the first wish go? (it’s probably staring me in the face); the use of the word ‘evil’, which is a bit of telling rather than showing (maybe a question of space?); “Sheila’s look was concerned.” (‘Shelia looked concerned’?); the haggling with the shopkeeper is fun but takes up quite a lot of the story, and I wonder how essential it is to the plot as a whole (?).

      But having said all that, this is smoothly written, Roy, and very enjoyable.

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 9:44 am
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        Phil, it is staring you in the face. Right after he gives the shop owner the money, the owner says, “You need to know there are only two wishes left.” Which ties into the fact, the owner knew he was coming back and the shop only existed for this one sale, for whatever mystic reason.

        This story was a parred down version of a story I wrote for the writing group you, I and Alice were a part of before I left. I don’t know if you were there yet, but it was originally called ‘One’, or ‘One More Wish’, something like that. In parring it down, I think it left a few unanswered questions, but I really like the premise of it and it fit this prompt, so I rewrote it. The longer version is much better and was 2500 words long, so you can see it was cut it half. Probably shows now that I’ve said that.

        Thanks for your always insightful comments and advice. I truly appreciate it. You always make good points, but in the original version the Genie and the shopkeeper are brought to life far more. Leave it to you to notice that omission of character development.

        Roy

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 12:28 pm
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      Hi Roy,

      This story grows on the reader… from a mere couple arguing on a rather strange issue to a huge moral lesson on the non-necessity of immortality.

      At first I wondered why two people in love should really flare up so passionately about the road to world peace. Of all things. Maybe on who left the toilet seat up, but world peace?

      But then the evil spell the lamp seems to cast on whoever holds it gave me enough reason to think that it had something to do with it. That took some time to sink in. Then came the bad dreams, the restlessness, the inexistent shop…. it all added up to a very climactic ending (or non-ending, given the subject at hand!). I liked that second half of the story immensely. And the ending… wow!

      One thing I thought I knew (but I’m probably wrong): is it true that one can make wishes to a genie as long and as complex as one would like to as long as the word “and” doesn’t feature anywhere? (As that would make it two wishes.) I’ve always held that as an important bit of knowledge in case someday in my life I happen to come across a genie. One never knows, right?

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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        Ken M., Yes indeed, the mere touch of the lamp transferred the evil to the person holding it. Since the narrator hadn’t really touched it until the next day, he only had dreams. Then, the bad shit started happening after he bought it.

        And,one might say, the genie may have had something to do with it, also. Genie lore varies, but nowhere does it say one can’t find a stupid or tired genie, so I’m sticking with my premise. I could have had the narrator say, I want one extra moment after the last moment, for the couple that bought the lamp yesterday. Unlike Ken C., who sent me to a really informative website all about genie lore, I didn’t research it enough to know if I really could make a wish with the word ‘and’ in it.

        I found out all about other creatures, also, like vampires while answering Ken’s question, so I’m sticking with my premise that we writers can change any kind of shit we want or add to it, and let that little bit of new folklore become the reality as our work grows in stature, manage to stay modest while accepting the prize for literature from some obviously learned group smart enough to bestow it upon us.

        Roy

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 9:56 pm
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          Yes, we can change the folklore, add or deduct a little bit here and there! Wouldn’t it have been the writers (or more likely, oral-tradition story-tellers… people like us) of old, who’d have initiated most of the folklore anyway?

          “nowhere does it say one can’t find a stupid or tired genie” – haha, I love that, Roy 🙂

          Reply
        • April 30, 2020 at 12:43 am
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          Roy,
          Your optimism is as funny as your Genie’s are fallible. No, more funnier. (I really did laugh out loud at your last comment.

          Reply
          • May 1, 2020 at 10:05 am
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            Ken C.,

            Somebody on this site is going to do something spectacular and when that does happen, I can say, “Oh, yes, I’m one of his/her contemporaries. I used to edit their work.” The writing on this site is too good for that not to happen.

            Roy

    • April 29, 2020 at 12:50 pm
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      I totally thought it was going to end up that Sheila was the genie because your description of her was so firey and she was discouraging the validity of most wishes. Your “trick” on the genie was interesting, but I was a little confused since if he still had the lamp how come they couldn’t find the genie again?

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 2:17 pm
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        Wendy,

        I have several endings in mind, that all came about after I posted the story and the questions started. But, in the story posted, in Genie Lore (apparently there is such a thing) I discovered (thanks to Ken C.) what genies are and are not allowed to do. In some genie lore, the genie wants to be found so he can grant the third wish. In some cases, the genie is then granted mortality. My genie, likes his life in the lamp, because (and I learned this on I Dream of Jeannie), the living conditions in the lamp are quite good, plus you can come out just about anytime you want and do just about whatever you want, so why, would the genie want to be found? Seems reasonable he would do his best to hide from whomever his current master happened to be. You see, my guy outsmarted himself. He, after wishing the second wish, was the genie’s master, but let him off the hook. Perhaps that is why the genie was so quick to grant the wish.

        “You want an extra moment for you and Sheila after each moment. Then you’ll find me for the second wish?”

        “Yes,” I said.

        “Done.” The lamp and genie disappeared.

        My guy give him the green light to disappear. What a dummy, huh? Here he thought he was set for life with a hot redhead, and then screws up everything including the chance at reversing the second wish.

        In a further development, I toyed with one of them getting ill and spending eternity in a vegetative state, but I just couldn’t handle that thought, and the other idea was to have my guy run into his ‘mobster’ genie at one point out walking around and ask him where the lamp is and the last line in the story is, “I dunno, you gotta find the guy who got the third wish.” After all, someone else got the first wish. There is so much to think about in genie stories, I took the easy way out.

        Roy

        Reply
        • April 29, 2020 at 2:36 pm
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          A-ha! That does make more sense. I was thinking of the genie as someone who wants out of his situation and that the third wish should be expedited.

          Reply
  • April 21, 2020 at 9:35 am
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    A DOLL FOR CHRISTMAS
    by Ken Miles

    It looked good enough to me. I’m no doll expert, but $8 seemed a good deal. I could fork out no more than that on my niece’s present, that Christmas. I reck’nd Linda’d love a doll almost her size!

    I cared less what her mom’d say about a second-hand present. My sister held a grudge against me since the day I was born. Two years my senior, she’d been a most horrible person to grow up with. Then took away all I had, made sure I ended up destitute.

    She’d messed around, got pregnant at seventeen. The guy vanished the moment he knew. Not that she deserved any better, if you ask me. But when she brought Linda home, I loved that kid. She took after me: blond, good-looking, spirited little creature. A flower sprouted out of a concrete curb. I played her dad. When her mum wasn’t looking. Or drunk.

    Soon I turned eighteen, big sis kicked me out of home. Just because she could.

    Before he died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when she was almost due, dad willed her the family house. The Dodge and his entire life-savings too. Everything. Despite all she’d done, she still was daddy’s princess.

    And me? Dad never got over that nagging suspicion I wasn’t his. Mom had an affair, back in the day. And then there was my blond hair. He didn’t get a clear answer, and when mum died she took the mystery with her.

    I wished I could pamper Linda with more than just a second-hand doll. But those days I lived hand to mouth, on the dole, at a homeless shelter. An evening on fire with some lady of the night and I had to decide which days of the month I’d go hungry. ’Twas 2008 and you’d sooner pan the docks for gold than find a job.

    I passed by Sainsmart’s to wrap the doll in gift-paper. They had it for free there. For their customers, really. But they didn’t check. Christmas paper was all taken, so I pulled a sheet from the Happy Birthday roll.

    I lay the doll on the white side of the paper, moistened a finger on my tongue to clean a dirty spot on her cheek. She was pretty, her eyes seemed like they were really looking at me. Linda was gonna adore her.

    “Fuck!” The paper I’d cut from the roll was hardly enough. Perhaps because I knew I was stealing it. I gathered her voluminous hair to somehow fit it all in. That’s when I learned that her right ear was missing. Like it’d been deliberately removed, sawn off. I crumpled up the wrapping paper in anger, and headed back to the old curiosity shop where I’d got the doll.

    “The ass’ole gotta swap it for me. He must’ve known about it ear…,” I muttered along the way, training for a fight. The other dolls were all pricier. “I ain’t payin’ him another dime! His fault! That’s no way to threat customers… I could’ve made a fool of myself… Linda could’ve thought I’m a weirdo, a serial killer or something!” There was one in the news doing the rounds those days, he’d rape women, kill ’em, then take an ear as a souvenir.

    When I got to the shop, no fight was needed. The ancient shop-keeper simply waved a weary hand toward the shelf with the dolls, hinting I could just pick another one. He remained head down, working on his sudoku, like I’d found him and left him before. I lifted the dolls’ hair. They all had a sawn off right ear!

    I brought that up to the old man, who seemed surprised, though not overly concerned. He ran a finger on the rough edges where ears had been, then just said, “We’re not Harrods. We sell the trash we get. Li’l kids chew off dolls’ ears y’know.” He left it at that and limped back to his place behind the counter, calling out someone called Brandon on arrival.

    A younger man, small frame, emerged from a small door, that looked like a hole through the floor-to-ceiling mountains of clutter.

    “Son, show the gentleman more dolls inside. These out here are damaged. And he’s a finicky buyer.” I wasn’t, but decided to live with that.

    “I’ll bring ’em here…” Brandon said.

    “Take him inside, don’t bring out any more stuff. Already drownin’ in junk as it is!”

    “But…” Brandon was reluctant.

    “Do as I damn say!” The old man held sway in there. The diminutive thirty-something slipped back in his hole like a scared rat. The father buried his head back in his sudoku.

    Struggling through the tight doorway – my height didn’t help – I found myself in a small room made smaller by the sheer amount of wares that filled it. An awful smell, something between plastic and expired bologna permeated the air.

    Brandon quickly shut a metal IKEA cabinet, lit on the inside. He frantically turned the key, pulled it out and slipped it in his pants pocket.

    I had but a fleeting glimpse. But it was enough, I got it.

    Ears adorned the shallow shelves inside the cabinet. Some in pairs: little shiny plastic ears and larger fleshy ones, slightly bluish and bloodied on the sawn edges. It was him! That sicko must’ve followed young mothers through the dolls their daughters got.

    He showed me some dolls, lifting their hair with immense care as if they were living beings, showed me their right ears. He didn’t care check the left ears. I just wanted to get out of there.

    I now had another idea.

    “I’ll keep the one I got,” I told him, “these aren’t even half pretty. I’ll glue her hair to where the ear was. Really no problem. Sorry to trouble you.”

    I popped out into the shop proper and grabbed my doll back from the old man’s counter.

    “Found nothing better? For what it cost you, still a bargain, ain’t it?” That geriatric was a shrewd merchant. “Here, spread the love,” he then said handing me his business card on my way out.

    I knew it! The doll had a geotracking sensor sewn under her skirt. And more. Her eyes were webcams.

    ***

    Now that Linda’s fourteen, I felt it’s time I told her the truth. Not the full truth, of course, but just about enough truth. That I’m not really her dad. I’m her uncle, who lovingly raised her up as next of kin. The same way I inherited everything back from my sister. Which should’ve been mine too, to start with.

    Linda’s shocked to hear how her mum was brutally murdered by that notorious ear-collector, the one now on the Netflix series. She was last of eight young mothers he killed and mutilated, before getting caught and executed. Shame it took the cops so long to add one and one. To find out where all the one-eared dolls came from. He could’ve, for a bit, left behind his passport for them! I’d made sure I slipped the shop’s business card in Linda’s doll’s battery compartment.

    Linda’s shaken, but she’s a brave fine lass. She hugs me and says I’ll always be her dad.

    Reply
    • April 22, 2020 at 4:33 am
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      Taking your cue from the headless doll discussion, you’ve come up with suitably twisted story there, Ken! There’s kind of a slow reveal of the main character’s (the narrator’s) personality. Hints that maybe he’s not the innocent/victim he makes himself out to be. Yet his care for Linda shows a good side. Or does it? What’s he really like as a substitute parent? Could be sweet and lovely, or possessive and controlling. I’m not sure Linda is entirely in safe hands ….

      Reply
    • April 23, 2020 at 3:46 pm
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      Well, well, well… another walk on the creepy side, eh Mr. Miles?

      I loved the story for the sheer complexity of the character. He’s blond, he tough, he’s a bastard, he’s out in the cold, but still in with the kid. He’s bitter but decent, generous but cunning, ruthless but practical.

      He doesn’t actually do anything terrible himself, other than to place a business card in a battery compartment, and then wait. He has all the traits of many a successful survivor. (Some would say sociopath, I’m sure.)

      I don’t think it’s especially useful to seek narrow definitions of a fictional character either, as Andy does, calling your narrator a villain. That’s his opinion, the sister was a far greater villain to my way of thinking. But who cares? Consider the convict in ‘Great Expectations.’ Clearly a villain, but where would Pip be without him? In the real world, villains are often the people we have to work with, or for. (It’s like hearing a cop say he knows who the ‘bad guys’ are. Life is too complicated for such simplistic thinking. Isn’t it?) Likewise, with those who call into question a fictional character’s ethics. (This has been pulled on me a few times.) Most REAL people are ethically challenged anyway.

      You, Ken, do not let your characters fall into that broad trap.

      Your story has a few mistakes, but a real interesting style to the writing, of which I got a high-level dose of. And I’m not complaining. Even if it was a bit rough, staccato, in places cumbersome, but not unpleasantly so. (At this point, you’ll probably ask for details.)

      Okay. Here’s a perfect example. It even has one of your mistakes.
      You wrote it this way:
      He showed me some dolls, lifting their hair with immense care as if they were living beings, showed me their right ears. He didn’t care check the left ears. I just wanted to get out of there.
      (This is excellent. Except for the typo.)
      The key to this is ‘lifting their hair with immense care as if they were living beings.’ This is wordy, but it conveys the peculiarity of the character as well or better than any other phrase could.

      If I were re-writing this it might turn out this way.
      He showed me some dolls, holding and touching them carefully as if they had feelings. He showed me their right ears and never once checked the left ears. I just wanted to get out of there.

      My version is smoother, but yours is better. It conveys more feeling as well as information. It really sticks. ‘He didn’t DARE check the left ears.’ Unfortunately you misspelled the most important word.

      I’m just making some observations here, Ken, that’s all. (And I’m certainly not putting you up on a pedestal. God forbid.)

      Here’s another:

      “Found nothing better? For what it cost you, still a bargain, ain’t it?” That geriatric was a shrewd merchant. “Here, spread the love,” he then said handing me his business card on my way out.

      ‘That geriatric was a shrewd merchant.’ This is your style. Impossible to duplicate. I would’ve removed the word ‘then’ and added a comma after ‘said’. (A minor detail.) But all in all, your style of writing is punchy and energetic, very descriptive and generally concise. I LIKE IT.

      Here’s an example where you brushed up against the curb, but it’s still unique and concise phrasing.
      ‘Soon I turned eighteen, big sis kicked me out of home. Just because she could.’
      I would have written: Soon as I turned eighteen, my sister kicked me out. Just because she could.

      I found the mistakes enlightening, like a view through a doorway onto your writing style. They added to what was already an intriguing story with a fascinating character.

      You wrote:
      (Btw we once sort of agreed to privately swap two of our mutually loved but removed stories (your “A Mother’s Love” and my “Kebab Haus”). Is that still on? Shall we send them to our motherators, who have our emails?)

      Motherators? They’re not old enough for me to call them that.

      Sure. I gave them permission to give you my email a long time ago, but if you prefer to remain aloof, up there in your ivory tree house, valiantly fighting off the Covids with a rope-ladder and a drum of hand-sanitizer, that’s fine. It’s up to you.

      If your anonymity is important, we could simply post each of our stories at the end of this thread, once it’s closed. But yes, I would love a copy of that original story. And don’t try to FOOL me Ken. Don’t send me some watered down, sanitized, politically correct, bullshit shadow of the story. I want the original.

      Do forward it to Alice and Carrie. I will do likewise with “A Mother…”

      Thanks man.
      Cheers,
      Ken Cartisano

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 4:19 pm
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        @Ken wrote: “I don’t think it’s especially useful to seek narrow definitions of a fictional character either, as Andy does, calling your narrator a villain. That’s his opinion…”

        Huh??

        I think if you check the thread, Mr C, you’ll find it’s Ken M, the very author himself, who first declares the narrator is the villain, responding to my comment that he’s a nuanced/complex character : “There’s kind of a slow reveal of the main character’s (the narrator’s) personality. Hints that maybe he’s not the innocent/victim he makes himself out to be…Yet his care for Linda shows a good side. Or does it? What’s he really like as a substitute parent? Could be sweet and lovely, or possessive and controlling…”

        Then I note you pronounce judgement on the ethics of his sister “a far greater villain to my way of thinking” – though of course we only have the narrator’s word for this interpretation of events …

        Your apology accepted. 🙂

        Reply
        • April 27, 2020 at 1:55 am
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          Andy,
          Andy,
          Andy,

          I can tell you’re really mad because you put an @ in front of my name. You only do that when you’re furious. So I know you’re angry, but before you send your flocks of birds after me, hear me out.

          What you’re doing, is finding the bad people in other people’s stories, and telling us they’re villains. That’s not useful. And not helpful to the characters. What if Ken wanted to write a sequel to this story, and the main character wanted to open a daycare center? See? You’ve ruined his character’s life. And a lot of people, like Roy, for instance, don’t even know what the guy did wrong. As far as they’re concerned, Ken’s character (let’s call him evil-doer) Ken’s character Evil-doer, deserves to get his child care competency certificate. His CCCC. He just wants what any sociopath might want, a chance to put down roots, and become a ordinary citizen, maybe study for the seminary. And he would, But for you and your constant finger painting. And finger pointing. You’re not thinking ahead, like I am. You’re too complacent, sitting up there in your Ivy-covered abbey watching the Martins, flying in from Africa… Do the Martin’s really migrate to Africa and back? That’s amazing. Are those the birds that people make those really high birdhouses for?

          But seriously Andy, your advice is so good and your comments so funny, and insightful, that despite the fact that we both know I’m right, practically clairvoyant, I suppose, just this once, for the good of the many, I guess… I could probably, see my way toward screwing up the courage, and the decency to offer you a sincere, heartfelt and hones

          Reply
          • April 27, 2020 at 2:47 am
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            You nearly got there, Kenneth, for which, than…..

            But my day is done for now.
            I’d never thought to question whether the house martins actually do go to Africa. I won’t be able to sleep now. My afternoon nap is shot to pieces. Come the autumn I’m going to have to follow them, what else can I do?

            Meanwhile, if you’re looking for investors in a Sociopathic Daycare start-up – ask Ken M. He can at least provide some of the toys, albeit somewhat used …

      • April 24, 2020 at 6:22 pm
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        Thanks Ken, that’s very appreciated and useful – the points in my story you highlighted, which could do with some improvement. I’ll be studying every word you said.

        I’ve applied that clipped style of language, disregarding at times conventional language rules, in order to slip under the skin of the narrator. To speak like I imagine he would have spoken, especially since the story is told in first person. I may have not been consistent enough in this, with parts of the story being more “intellectualized” than others.

        Like Andy said, I was first to call my narrator a villain. Not him. Ouch… history teaches us that rows over my stories between Cartisano and Lake usually end up in total war. We’ve got the Coronavirus, this time round, guys, we’ve got a virus to fight, so calma ragazzi!

        I tried to create a rather likeable narrator, who the readers might support throughout the story, only to disappoint the readers, in the end, that this guy they have been walking with is a killer too. By omission, not by commission. There’s a sister who’s an asshole, and a serial killer who’s mentally sick. But the hero is worse than them in a way. He’s strategic and as cold as steel in getting his own back.

        Here is my email:kencam33@icloud.com.

        We can write directly, as you suggested, without having to go through the moderators. I wrote another message just on that, but I don’t know where messages are going, these days!

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 25, 2020 at 12:21 am
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          Ken M.

          (Calling a serial killer a villain… I mean really, what next? What is this world coming too?)

          Well, I had a feeling you were close to the word limit, so, you know, I only wanted to point out a couple of places where you used more words than you needed. But really, your writing has quite a nice ‘flare’ (Okay, flair, if you insist.) That isn’t smooth or flowing but is really engaging. It’s like, hey, no one likes to be grabbed by the front of the shirt, but when someone does it, they really get your attention, don’t they? That’s really all I was trying to say.

          As for the villain thing, Andy made some notable points about the character that I utterly failed to notice. Such as his propensity to quarrel and fight. (Kind of like Andy and me.) And someone who gets the drop on a serial killer and doesn’t DO ANYTHING? When you’re reading the story, you empathize with the character because, Who wouldn’t want to just get away? But after a mere smattering of reflection, Jeezus, the failure to report such a horror is just criminal.

          I don’t know, the word ‘villain’ just conjures up the image of Boris Badanov and his svelte wife, Natasha Fatale.

          However, this constant feuding between me and Andy could be settled once and for all. I propose to challenge Andy to a nap contest. Whichever way he wants it: The longest naps, or the most naps. I don’t care, I’m prepared for either option. Well prepared. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.

          And just between you and me Ken, keep this under your hat, but as jealous as I am of his country manor conservatory overlooking the pond and his forty-seven hectare ‘Dukedom.’ (I don’t know what a hectare is, or a Duke, come to think of it.) But… when one waxes wistfully about the loons in a lock down… well, as far as I’m concerned, they’re just asking for it.

          I’m kidding of course. It sounds fabulous doesn’t it?

          Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 1:36 pm
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      As always, your stories are truly entertaining, this one being no exception. I like the narrator use to explain things, but didn’t see what others saw. I didn’t think he had anything to do with his sister’s death, as others did. That’s not something you can plan and execute simply by inserting a business card in a battery case. What isn’t explained is how the cops got the doll as is hinted. Or is it? I’m not sure I understand the passport and doll thing. But, I did enjoy the story.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 10:08 am
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        Hi Roy and I’m pleased to hear you found my story entertaining. That’s my aim… to entertain. I got nothing else to sell!

        I’m a bit surprised that the narrator’s passive involvement in the killing-by-omission of his sister wasn’t evident enough. A man witnessing something like he did (a serial killer’s souvenir-ear cabinet), would have usually reported it to the cops right away. He did leave the shop’s business card for the police to find (inside the doll at the predictable future crime-scene) and they eventually executed the killer. But not before he “arranged” for the killer to murder the hated sister, by making sure he delivered the geotracked doll to her house.

        The passport bit was somewhat redundant. I admit that. I could have left that sentence out. What I meant was that the police, if they were competent enough, should have caught the serial killer earlier: seven young mothers had been killed and they all had a mutilated doll in their house. The police could have tried to trace the dolls to their common origins – the same old curiosity shop. Did they really need the serial killer to leave his passport behind for them to get it and find him? Where is Sherlock Holmes these days?

        While writing this, I’m thinking I may have not made it clear enough that the serial killer practiced his art by sawing off the dolls’ ears BEFORE they were sold, and then followed the mothers of the girls receiving the dolls and take their ears too, after killing them. And he LEFT the dolls at the victims’ houses. Is that maybe where I confused you? Perhaps I should have him dress his victim mothers’ bodies like the dolls he sold them (his fetish), or something like that, to make the dolls-women connection clearer. But that would then make the police seem even more idiotic for not getting it…

        Thanks again for your observations. If you have the time to reply, it would help me polish this story for next time. Much appreciated Roy, as always.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 11:41 am
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          Wow Ken M… I haven’t read your curiosity story yet but just read response to Roy and it made me shiver and a little afraid to read the story…but I will.. and then write again… Kez

          Reply
          • April 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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            I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you, Kez. Kez? Well, yes, not nice stuff! Then tell me what you think 🙂

            Ken

        • April 26, 2020 at 11:48 am
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          Ken, First, I think you are an excellent writer. But, like all of us, we are usually happy with what we’ve written until someone else, not quite as proud of our work as we are, takes the time to point out little things we think we’ve fixed, covered, loved and so on.. I go through my stories on a line by line basis looking for errors of commission and omission before giving them to my, by now famous beta reader, my lovely wife. She tells me the unvarnished truth. Even though I defend myself vigorously, she is inevitably right most of the time. There was this one time I wrote a story and she hated it. Told me I shouldn’t enter it, and said if I did, it wouldn’t even get enough votes to end up in last place, let alone near the top. Nursing that wound all the way back into my office, I poured a scotch, thought about my story and without changing so much as an apostrophe, entered it. It won first with an unheard of all First Place vote from the other writers. It’s happened from time to time. I know Ken C., has done it, along with Phil and Alice, so I felt I was in good company. I am, however, smart enough not to bring it up when she’s redlining current work because I know she is a good editor for me, won’t put up with my arrogant bullshit, and hurt feelings, all because she loves me.

          So, I will continue to point out those things I see from time to time, and hope my critiques are taken with the intent they are delivered, that of wanting to make the writer aware that not all their readers got what they were trying to sell. You, in your explanation, did a better job of telling me what I was trying to point out, than I could have. So, no need to rehash your work, you actually know what it needs. Every time I have trouble with a phrase, paragraph, word structure and leave it in anyway, it always, always, comes back to bite me in the ass. Every time. You’d think I’d learn wouldn’t you?

          O yeah, there is one thing you need to watch. You use a lot of contractions to save words. More than I think you need to. I do find it distracting and I’m sure others do as well. I know there are times in dialogue contractions are excellent, but not in the body of the story. At least not too many of them. Keep an eye out for that.

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 26, 2020 at 2:02 pm
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            Hi Roy, no worries, I’m actually here for that too, to get a fresh pair of eyes each time someone reads my stories and point out something which I thought made sense but didn’t. Or that wasn’t clear enough, or expressed in less than stellar English.

            After several drafts of a story, I get so accustomed to what I have in mind and on my screen that I fail to see certain parts of the plot that may be discordant.

            One solution is to get someone else to read the piece, as we do here. Or I read it again myself six months later (by which time I’d have probably forgotten all about it!). So I clearly see the great value of the honest, no bull critiques I get from you and some others in here.

            It also feels good to be told of what has worked well. Not just for the feel good factor, but also to realize where the good path lies. Which is also important, of course.

            Only once I had my feelings hurt in here, when (for the Halloween entry) I didn’t receive a single comment. I got a couple of likes, and a mid-chart placing, but that was all the feedback I got. That’s when I had myself commented on many, or all, of the other stories. And I often do it in a rather thorough manner, too.

            So I’m not one who’d let my ego come in the way of accepting criticism and enjoy a learning experience. I love the contests here, but, for me they are not an end in themselves but a ticket to becoming a better writer and build up a good portfolio of stories for future writing/publishing projects. I feel I’ve learned a lot since I joined this group, nearly a year ago. From the critiques and from reading other people’s stories too.

            So keep them critiques coming!

            As for my excessive use of contractions, yes, I do overdo it. It’s not a stylistic choice, but a frustrated last resort attempt to fit inside the word limit. After trying everything else, I’m often left with 1212 to 1220 words! And aching fingers. But I’ll keep in mind your advice about this too.

            Thanks a lot, Roy!
            Ken

    • April 26, 2020 at 4:09 pm
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      Ok Ken M. I read the story and your comments to Roy were scarier than the story as there was no descriptive account of the terror and torture of the victims in the story, your comments left only the imagination. The only editable error I noticed was “no way to threat customers”, and I thought he must have meant “treat”, but then thought about the context and decided ..yeh…maybe it’s a subtle threat…and I likewise justified “care check left ear”.. meanwhile the narrator uncle/dad was completely unlikeable and deplorable.. taking care of Linda was minimal atonement… at first I believed he was using the doll to point blame away from him and he was his sister’s murderer and it makes reasonable sense the tracker and the doll cam would bring Brandon to his sister….at the same time Brandon knew the narrator had seen his collection and may have figured it out so why would he go where he would be suspect unless he killed the uncle/dad too… so are you sure Brandon was the killer or was it the old man or do I just think too much… good story…well done I even forgot this was a themed story.. Kez

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 5:54 am
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        Hi again Kez… the serial-killer killed the sister. Thanks for pointing out that little gap for me. I’d need to tighten the story up a little there, make it clear that the killer didn’t realize the narrator saw his ear collection. Or else, indeed, he may have thought twice about following that particular doll (although crazy is crazy, he may have been too passionate about carrying out his deeds to just simply refrain…). But yes, he may have wanted to kill the narrator too (although where was he going to find him? And where was he going to start from in killing a man? Besides, he didn’t like men’s ears…!).

        Still, you have a point. I should add something to that part of the story to the tune of:

        “He didn’t see I was already in there. But I saw everything in that cabinet. .”

        or

        “From behind his back, I got a quick glimpse of what was in there…”

        That would make the story a little more foolproof I suppose!

        So I didn’t scare you enough with the story as with my comment to Roy. Hmmm… I should develop that comment into something… for the Scariest Short of the Year Award (is there such an award?).

        Thanks again! And don’t buy second-hand dolls. Ever.

        Ken

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 1:00 am
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      Well, Ken, if Roy’s story was ‘meaty’, this is … (thanks to Roy for the SPAM derivation – I love titbits like that. And just to add to the spam thread … my mum used to make spam fritters – spam in batter, fried – which, believe me, were terrific.) But I digress.

      Really like the plot and the characters. As Ken C pointed out, the style of the narrator’s thoughts is quite unique and refreshing. Yes, his morals are questionable, but I think the scales dip in his favour overall. The plot twist is really quite subtly done – the narrator takes the doll knowing what use he’s going to put it to, but we don’t know till the end. This may have been mentioned by others (I’m afraid time is tight and I wasn’t able to read in detail all the comments your story generated) but I found this a little sudden and on-the-nose: “I knew it! The doll had a geotracking sensor sewn under her skirt. And more. Her eyes were webcams.” I think he could have noticed ‘something’ as he left the shop, but you could have kept that something from us, the reader, till later.

      There are some typos, as others have mentioned, but they detract little from a really neat story.

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 9:37 pm
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        Hi Phil, and thanks for your favorable views on my story. I’m pleased to have managed to please the master storyteller in here. I don’t think I ever managed to place higher than you in this contest. In Miss Universe maybe, but not here! Maybe I did, actually, but I don’t remember. When I did win, it’s because you didn’t take part, I think. Although you claim you never skip a prompt, so I really don’t know… But at least I managed to entertain you 🙂 That’s a win, for me, in and of itself…

        On that point you made, on the “technical discoveries” my fine narrator makes when he looks under the doll’s skirt and finds a geotracker (why was he looking under her skirt, anyway!), that was indeed perhaps unnecessary for the reader to know. I’m not sure. Without that revelation, I’d have expected someone to ask me how on earth could that absolutely lovely guy Brandon find out where the dolls went, after they were sold, i.e. how he traced the young mothers’ residence addresses, so that he would then rape them, kill them and kindly relieve them of their right ears. Perhaps I should have replied to that skeptic reader that a serial killer would simply know how to trace his victims, it’s just in him, his natural talent. Like no-one would question if and how Mozart composed what he did compose. One would just listen and enjoy.

        Back to our point, it’s indeed a bit difficult to gauge how much to tell and how much to hold back, in a story, I’m sure we all face this dilemma quite often. If you give too much, the plot gets banal, predictable. If you hold back too much, you might leave some readers totally clueless. That’s why I love being here: the comments from you brilliant guys, Phil et al, offer me good hints on where I’ve gone overboard or left my readers clueless. Take my story a couple of prompts ago, the one called “Sugar” – almost everyone agreed I should have stopped that story earlier. About this one I’m not sure. I should perhaps remove or push forward that bit of the doll’s technical upgrades and let the readers use their imagination. But, even as it stands, Roy, for example, still didn’t get what the narrator did wrong, on first reading. The fact the narrator knows exactly what Brandon has in mind is quite critical. But then, sure, I didn’t have to spoonfeed the reader…

        I hope I haven’t said any nonsense, in this comment. I’m writing under the effect of more alcohol than I should have consumed on a Tuesday night. Almost a Saturday night’s worth. It can sometimes helps, at other times it can mess things up a little.

        Thanks again, Phil. Also for the bit on the spam fritters mom used to make you. It’s nice when we share bits of our lives in here too, not only stories and comments on stories. It makes us a nice bunch, doesn’t it?

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
  • April 22, 2020 at 3:39 pm
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    Hi Andy,

    For me the narrator is the main villain. He’s a victim, too, but the way he fixes his fate is purely evil. I wanted to break with the traditional hero-villain stereotype formula, here.

    I think all the characters in the story are victims of their circumstances, and then lose every sense of decency in the way they deal with their predicament. No-one is purely “bad” or purely “good”. As in real life. But in an extreme, dangerous situation, in this case.

    I had started working on a totally different story for this prompt, a more abstract, philosophical one. But then I found that doll-talk of last week between Ken C., Alyssa and you quite intriguing and it took off from there. So you all chipped in this, guys…. call it team spirit 🙂

    I didn’t dwell much on how good a substitute father the narrator is to Linda. He’s probably fine and a dedicated foster dad, but there is always the troubling past of how he dealt with her mother, and took over Linda, and the sad fact he wouldn’t be telling her the whole truth ever.

    My main theme here is not the issue of parenthood, though, but the twisted way in which he got his own back. Some domestic murderers would use a knife, or a gun or poison. This one used a serial-killer as his weapon…

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Andy.

    Ken

    Reply
    • April 22, 2020 at 5:50 pm
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      HI Ken – yes, it’s clear he is a villain. I was complimenting the way his dark side is foreshadowed before the reveal – his taste for fun in the evening, his quickness to anger and spoil for a fight, and his bitterness/jealousy etc

      Btw, what’s ‘expired bologna’?

      Reply
      • April 22, 2020 at 7:18 pm
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        Yes, I’ve put in those elements to show early on he’s not a saint. But then he feels “guilty” stealing wrapping paper…

        I’m glad it worked with you the way I intended 🙂

        ‘Bologna’, besides the Italian city, is a sort of mortadella, US style…

        Reply
      • April 23, 2020 at 12:30 pm
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        Andy,

        ‘Expired bologna’ is an imaginary construct used to convey the smell of rotting ears.

        But you already knew that.

        What the hell is ‘mortadella’? And don’t say ‘bologna.’ Please.

        Reply
        • April 23, 2020 at 12:51 pm
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          I was indeed guessing the smell had something to do with the ears, or maybe unwashed serial killer in a confined space – but I genuinely had not come across ‘bologna’ to describe food. Apart from spaghetti bolognese, and somehow that seemed unlikely.

          Now I know it’s a kind of mortadella, it’s like, er, of course, what else …?

          Reply
          • April 23, 2020 at 4:08 pm
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            Andy,
            I found this definition for you and Ken.

            ‘Bologna was one of the more accessible meats of the early 20th century. It kept well and, most importantly during the Great Depression and the war-rationing era, it was cheap. Made out of discarded or fatty parts of meat, even organ meat in some places, bologna was more affordable than ham or salami.’

            As you can see by this definition, bologna is nothing at all like ‘mortadella.’ That’s like saying flank steak is pretty much the same as filet mignon, because they both come from the same animal.

            It’s much more like a hot dog. (Which also has a slang connotation.)

          • April 24, 2020 at 4:31 am
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            Thanks for the definition, Ken.
            It sounds like we could be on our way down to pork luncheon meat or spam here.

            Oh, there’s a memory. They used to serve us deep-fried ‘spam fritters’ at school … excuse me, must just go …

          • April 24, 2020 at 4:40 am
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            Spam, spam,spam, spam………….
            Ken F

  • April 24, 2020 at 4:56 am
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    … OK, back now. That’s better.

    As we wait for the next batch of stories, just want to say I hope everyone is holding up well during this period of isolation.
    I’m writing in the conservatory here, looking out over a lake (the watery kind, not a family member …). I can spy on the neighbours from here – coots, mallards and swans mostly, and there are wood pigeons and magpies building nests in the trees. The magpies swoop down to the guttering of the conservatory every now and then to gather clumps of moss and fly back to the nest. Nice to see some folk still working, and cleaning out the gutters for me too.
    The house martins should be back from Africa and setting up home in the eaves soon, the one time of year they land. Soon they’ll be flying low over the lake, scooping up insects as they fly.

    Hopefully we’ll all be flying out and about too before long (but without the insect-scooping).
    In the meantime, keep safe everyone

    Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 12:58 pm
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      How spam got to be spam is an interesting story, Shoulder Pork And Meat, heavily processed and salted for WWII usage and when the Hawaiian Islanders discovered it during the war, apparently because soldiers didn’t eat it and gave it away, they adopted it. It’s a friggin’ staple in the islands. My Grandchildren got introduced to it through a Hawaiian boyfriend of their other grandmother and love it. Why, I don’t know. It’s so friggin’ salty it’s inedible for me. The eat it in something called Musubi (Moose-oo-bee) and it is downright disgusting. (sticky rice and spam wrapped in seaweed). At least Baloney – you say Balogna, I’ll say baloney – is edible. Especially fried.

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm
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        No prob with providing you with my email addy, Ken. Here it comes:kencam33@icloud.com.

        You can send me your “A Mother’s Love” story there, and I’ll reply with mine to your address. I also got that promised Ray Bradbury article on short story writing for you. I’d rather not put it up publicly on the thread here as it’s from a magazine and it’s copyright.

        Also anyone else who wishes to say “hi” privately, that’s the address you find me at 🙂

        Ken

        Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 1:39 pm
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        Interesting meaty stuff there, Roy. I’ll say “[smell of] expired spam” next time, then, if I publish that story elsewhere in the future. Also for the funny effect of the double meaning of spam.

        I had “luncheon meat” in my first draft, but that’s two words (I was tempted to hyphenate them, but thought better of that!), and I was at the word limit.

        Baloney, bologna, balogna don’t seem to be popularly known east of the Atlantic, and mortadella seems to be unknown to the west.

        But does spam even get expired? With all that salt and preservatives it’s loaded with?

        I need a particularly bad smell! Of rotting ears, to be precise.

        Sorry if it’s lunch or dinner time for anyone reading this…

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 3:49 pm
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          Ken,

          There is no stench on earth like that of rotting, decaying or otherwise decomposing flesh. Stench is a particularly useful word and associates nicely with that of rotting human ears. Sometimes the stench can be found on living people in extreme cases like gangrene and flesh eating bacteria, but dead does it for sure.

          By the way, we do know what mortadella is on this side of the pond, and while similar, doesn’t come close to bologna in taste. Mortadella is usually a little rosier and has those round, white, ‘fat’ spots on it. Bologna is pale like that of human caucasian flesh, before it starts decomposing. And, then it starts to turn a sickly … well, never mind.

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 28, 2020 at 9:49 pm
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            “Bologna is pale like that of human caucasian flesh, before it starts decomposing. And, then it starts to turn a sickly…”

            Then bologna it is! For the smell – stench, yes, that’s the word! – of rotting caucasian ears in an IKEA cupboard in a small room at the back of the old curiosity shop…

            OK, so you’ve got Mortadella there too. Not sure if it’s all over the place, though – my former brother-in-law (from New Jersey) had no idea what it is. But you’re somewhere on the Great Lakes, right? A world away… Or you’re big on delikatessen 🙂

          • April 29, 2020 at 9:02 am
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            Ken M.,

            I think we’ve beaten this balogna and mortadella issue to death, and one would think that morta could be derived from the Italian word for death, morto, but no such luck. It translates from mortalo which is Italian for ‘mortar’ because the big sausage like thing mortadella is cut from looks like a mortar. But then, standing in a delicatessen, most Italian meat looks like mortars before is cut. So, your guess is as good as mine

            No, not too much in the way of delicatessens for this boy. My wife seldom uses delis for a lot of reasons, mostly the salt and fat content, so consequently, I don’t get to partake very often. If I were single, and my bad habits didn’t kill me, I would probably rely on delicatessens for most of my eating and more than likely look like a round ball with arms and legs sticking out.

            Roy

        • April 27, 2020 at 3:41 pm
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          Ken M.,

          I must confess, I relied on what I read a long time ago regarding SPAM and I was ummm … wr … wro …wrong.

          There, I said it, for the entire world to read. I was wrong. It’s only the second time. The other time was when I thought I was wrong and I wasn’t.

          I read that it was a government labeling when they bought the product from Hormel Foods during WWII and it was an acronym for Shoulder, Pork, And Meat – SPAM. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! It was devised in a contest by Hormel Foods around 1937 to get people to try it and prop up US sales of the product. The winner (the brother of a Hormel Executive – a little nepotism?) received $100 – the equivalent of $2000 in today’s money for coming up with SPiced hAM. The first two and last two letters of the two words – SPICED HAM.

          The government did buy it and use it as a canned meat for soldiers in WWII and it was so popular in England and Russia (We were buddies with Russia in those days – it was after WWII we got to be involved in all the skullduggery and crap.) it became a staple. I was right about Hawaii, they love the stuff. There are tons of it in grocery stores and they do make Musubi with it.

          Just wanted to set the record straight about SPAM. Now, go wash your hands. When was the last time you did? Just looking out for you, cause I don’t want anything to happen to you or any of this writing group.

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm
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            OK, now I feel up-to-date on my knowledge of anything-deli 🙂 Incidentally spam and ham are also both used in email parlance. Everyone knows spam. And ham is undesired emails which however one has somehow requested, like when signing up for something. Given the new info, I’m almost sure them computer people got all this terminology from the deli counter. Now don’t ask me what mortadella-mail is! Or why some emails you get have white spots of flab on them.

    • April 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm
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      Andy, other than not going to one of our local grocery stores and having our daughter who lives close go for us, she won’t let us go there because it’s a hot bed for the virus and they weren’t using proper precautions at first. Most places weren’t. And, I really miss not being able to hug my grandchildren (hence a story from that idea.)

      Life hasn’t changed much for my wife and I. We can’t just jump up and go visit someone occasionally like we used to or go to a local shop to get something we need for a project. We have, however, learned how to make do with what we have at home, and to order online.

      We can still go to the pharmacy when we need to, and I have curbside pickup up at our local big box store for something I need, and still go to a couple of small grocery chains that have special hours and precautions, but really, we just do more of what we were doing before the virus struck. And, we are meticulous about following all the restrictions: wearing a mask, gloves, social distancing, sanitizers, and washing our hands, and all items purchased are wiped with a sanitizer or washed, (such as vegetables).

      I’m in that older, male, compromised immune system, A+ blood type, underlying causes (high blood pressure) and my body overreacts to infection by going crazy attacking cells, category. It’s done it twice already in my lifetime and I don’t need to test it against Covid-19. But, we are staying as safe as possible, bingeing on Star Wars – watching the last one tonight. Then, we’ll probably start on the Marvel series of movies, but have seen most of them recently. There’s always Amazon Prime.

      I was more interested in you being in the conservatory watching the birds flying over the lake. If you have to be working from home, I guess being in the conservatory watching the loons is as good a place as any and I am just a tad jealous.

      Me, I watch the loons at night when the President gives his entertaining and laughable press conferences. Better than Laugh-in. Annnnnnnnd now, Ladies and Gentlemen, Heeeeeere’s Donald. Every day is a laugh fest and I can’t wait to see what comes out of his mouth next. Hoping his followers that believe every word he delivers follow up on the injectable sanitizer idea to cure Covid he came up with yesterday. There’ll be that many less voters for him in November. In the mean time, I hope all of my friends are staying safe.

      The other thing is, I wonder where all the other writers are? It’s not like they’re out and about. Stay safe, Andy. My best to you and your family.

      BTW. send me an email or give me the first two letters of your email address. I can’t find it on my computer and I had something to send you that isn’t suitable for print on this site. An old joke I promised you.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 1:58 pm
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        Indeed best to keep up the social distancing, Roy – keep safe.
        We have masks, gloves and alcohol wipes and everything when we shop as well – quite surprised how casual some of the other shoppers and staff are, though.

        We’ve been watching lots on Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer. It’s quite common now for us to be watching something and after 5 minutes we’re saying, have we seen this before? Watched a film last night, Silver Linings Playbook, and my wife swears we’ve seen this before. I have absolutely no recollection of that. And we’re into the new season of Bosch. Takes a long time to watch a couple of episodes as one or other of us nods off after eating, and we track back several times an episode.
        But I’m also attempting, amongst other things, to write a crime novel Two linked novellas, in fact. So absorbing quite a lot of crime dramas as ‘research’. There are some really good European series as well, from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, France, Poland … and a few good series come out of Wales as well, also partially sub-titled. Bodies, villains and troubled cops in scenic places are the basic ingredients.

        Yes, the man with the disinfectant and the sunlight and the big brain. I wish some of those other folk up there with him would stand up and be counted, just tell him he’s an idiot. Or be more diplomatic and tell him straight up he’s wrong. They’d be sacked, but would be made for life. And retain some integrity. Publishers and TV would be queuing up for the inside story from them.

        My email – andy.lake@flexibility.co.uk. That’s the one I always check. (It’s in loads of places on the internet, so not worried about revealing it). And anyone else is welcome to contact me also.

        Take care, and all the very best to you and yours,

        Andy

        Reply
        • April 24, 2020 at 2:05 pm
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          Andy,

          Research, huh? Bosch is something we watch, also, but we’re still in season 3. I like Michael Connelly, and it’s interesting how different the same story is on TV and one of his books. Like how the Police Chief’s son dies (book – suicide and TV show – shot dead), and other notable incidents.

          Now, I have to remember the joke I promised to send. I thought of it yesterday, but didn’t write down the key phrase and now I can’t think of it. I’m sure I will.

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 26, 2020 at 12:34 pm
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            Ken M- Another super creepy tale very well rendered. I love the way your mind works and how you capture those weird thoughts on the page. Great story!

  • April 24, 2020 at 12:23 pm
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    THE BACK ROOM

    I whispered the password into the tiny window cut into the door. The window slammed shut and I heard muffled discussion behind it. Curious, I pressed my ear against it which pushed the brim of my hat over and it fell to the floor. Cussing, I bent over to get it just as a loud clunk sounded from behind the door. It opened with the eerie squeak. I whispered a silent thank you as I reseated my hat, the brim safely obscuring my eyes. Passwords are worth their weight in gold in a place like this and you don’t want to know what I did to get mine. That’s a story for another contest.
    I walked into the laboring glow of a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling when a man appeared ahead and opened another door. As I crossed the threshold, the door slammed shut behind me and everyone turned to look. You could’ve heard a jukebox screech to a halt, it was that kind of place. Strange places make for strange company, indeed. I took a breath, pulled my hat down a bit lower and walked on. Cheap fluorescent bulbs bathed the place in a sickly yellow light. The floor was dirt. Somewhere, I heard the someone speaking in some occult tongue. I surmised it was late 17th century French. I didn’t know if I loved this place or was frightened to death of it.
    You could get anything you wanted here, no ID required, no credit check, hard cash only. Any service, any weapon, any drug, data, stolen artifacts, whispered secrets, anyone, anything was there for purchase, and not always for cash. I mused the idea of black-market shopping lists: BDSM services (anonymously, of course), ten caged chickens, and a capsule of venom from a Death Adder for me today, thanks. All in a day’s work for the daughter of a Mexican Curandera and a Catholic priest.
    Through the furtive crowd, I pressed on. I knew that what I sought would not be in this sector. I had to go deeper, the inner sanctum, the back room. If a black market has a ‘back room’, then you know there’s going to be some profoundly twisted shit in there. By the way, never mind what I had to do to get that password, too.
    Mama recorded everything in her journals: verses for Sumarian prayers, incantations, recipes for ointments and healing teas; but I was after one thing, a tiny bag of bones. Lore had it that they were the bones of an infant that had delivered stillborn. When it was cremated on a pyre, the bone remained unburned within the ash. Naturally, accusations were made that the bones must be of something either holier than us, or they were cursed, perhaps by some ancient evil, reincarnate. Take a guess at which thought was more popular
    Word spread like hellfire about these Bones of the Unburned, they were eventually called, and people did unspeakable things to get their hands on them and they’re dark powers. Ask my mother…
    Mama wrote in her journal that she doubted the bones powers until she saw it for herself. She and father snuck, disguised, into a private cultist gathering, who claimed to have the bones and would bring about their powers by burning a thief at the stake. No fire or tinder was used, only a spell. Cloaked in long robes, they blended in with the attendees and stood in witness. Some high preist cast a spell over the bones as they were laid into a nest of hay, the accused was roped to a stake, screaming and thrashing in his binds. As the chanting healer backed away, a smoke began to wisp up from the bones. Within minutes, the fire was raging and the thief was burned alive, and left smoldering on the pyre. The attendees swooned in the magic, sang in worship of the iniquitous bones and dancing in circles around the pyre.
    Over time, the bones found their way from thief to thief until they were whisked away by someone unsuspected, my mother. Her intent was to perform a binding spell upon them and toss them into the river so they may be lost forever, but she had been followed. She raced to the river and began wading through it, her pursuers fast on her heals. Before her spell was begun, they grabbed ahold of her and drowned her. Her body washed away in the rainy currents.
    I wrote the second password on a piece of paper and gave it to a large man dressed in black oversized sweats. He read it, looked back at me then disappeared into the shadows behind him. A moment later, another man, dressed eloquently in a striped navy suit, appeared. He had a three o’clock shadow and smoked of menthol cigarettes. He looked me up and down, an amused grin on his face, and raised the piece of paper in his hand.
    “Where did you get this?”
    “That’s my business.”
    The suit laughed and shifted his weight back and forth, the paper still between us.
    “What is it that you want from here?”
    “That’s my business, too. I gave you the password, you know its legit and I have business to conduct back there.”
    His smile remained, sardonic and pompous. Finally, he moved aside with a flourish of his arm, allowing space for me to pass him, so I did. Past the suit and into the shadows, went I, into a very small room where an old man sat behind a small desk. He was watching an old gangster movie on a tiny television, his arms tightly crossed, a cigarette hung from his thin lips. I reached inside my jacket pocket, pulled out a rubber-banded wad of bills and tossed it onto the desk. He averted his eyes from the television to the stack of cash, then up at me. I could feel the sweat dripping down my face as my heart vibrated in my chest, but I couldn’t walk away empty handed. This had to work.
    “What ya want?” the man asked, his arms still folded on his sunken chest. A thick band of dark grey hair wrapped around the back of his head.
    “I want the bones.”
    Unfolding his arms, he grabbed the cash, flipped through it casually, then tossed them back onto the table. His eyes returned to me, narrowed in suspicion.
    “What ya want with those?”
    “No questions asked. The moneys all there,” I said, nodding to the stack. “The bones, please.”
    The old man rubbed an itch on his bald crown, sniggered, then walked behind a curtain. I crossed my arms, waiting. The man in the striped suit eyed me from the corner.
    The old man returned with a small paper bag and set it, cautiously, on the table. He looked up at me from below his bushy brows.
    “It’s serious business going after something that shouldn’t be found. Sometimes, the danger lurks, not in the item, but in the search for it.”
    I picked up the bag and looked at it. Smiling, I averted my eyes back to the old man.
    “I’m well aware of the risks, ask my father…”

    Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 1:40 pm
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      No prob with providing you with my email addy, Ken. Here it comes:kencam33@icloud.com.

      You can send me your “A Mother’s Love” story there, and I’ll reply with mine to your address. I also got that promised Ray Bradbury article on short story writing for you. I’d rather not put it up publicly on the thread here as it’s from a magazine and it’s copyright.

      Also anyone else who wishes to say “hi” privately, that’s the address you find me at 🙂

      Ken

      Reply
    • April 24, 2020 at 5:07 pm
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      Hi Kris and welcome to this group. You’ll find out that we’re a very active bunch of writers, very keen to critique and encourage one another in a productive but also friendly way.

      I’m one of three Kens in here, btw. I’m sure the two others, Ken C. and Ken F., will stop by to say ‘hi’ too at some point..

      Your story gripped me and I could feel its beat all along. A lot was invested to create the atmosphere, which worked well with me, as I could picture that strange place very well in my mind’s eye.

      Perhaps there was a bit of unnecessary repetition: doors/windows opening in the beginning – the story took a little time to really get going; passwords and their importance/difficulty to obtain them were emphasized more than once – I got it the first time, no need, really, to be told again; on your way in there’s the laboring glow of a light bulb (I loved that – I could perfectly feel the atmosphere that it conveyed), but moments later fluorescent lamps delivering sickly yellow light show up – also highly atmospheric, but I started to feel the burden of repetition weighing down the narrative a little.

      The bones’ backstory fits in neatly, as you skillfully bring it on in the middle of the story, rather than starting with it. The legend of the unburned bones is beautifully conveyed too.

      My favorite part is the description of the market and the services and products it offers. Nicely done and very evocative. “Whispered secrets” are amongst the wares on offer – a masterstroke, if you ask me, loved it.

      The only thing I’d criticize in that part is that you mention “hard cash only”, but then a line or so down “anything was there for purchase, and not always for cash.” I know what you mean, but it sounds a little contradictory at first sight. Fine, no credit cards or bank transfers, but sexual favors, blood payments, slavery, etc. may be accepted. Somehow reconcile the two points, Kris, take out the word “only”, refit the wording a little.

      There are some typos here and there. I’ll point out these for you:

      Somewhere, I heard the someone speaking in some occult tongue. > take out “the”?

      Mama wrote in her journal that she doubted the bones powers > the bones’ powers

      people did unspeakable things to get their hands on them and they’re dark powers. > their dark powers?

      “That’s my business, too. I gave you the password, you know its legit. > it’s

      The moneys all there. > money’s

      Then there was this:
      “Passwords are worth their weight in gold in a place like this and you don’t want to know what I did to get mine. That’s a story for another contest.”

      I find addressing the reader so directly somewhat vexing. Especially the reference to the actual contest. It’s something personal. I know that some readers might actually love this direct communicative style between author and reader. So ignore me, perhaps, it may just be me. As other comments come in, other readers might give their views on this.

      I hope we’ll be hearing more from you, Kris. Do stick around, it’s a good spot, here 🙂

      Cheers!

      Ken (Miles)

      Reply
      • April 24, 2020 at 5:25 pm
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        Hi Ken, thanks so much for the review, I really enjoyed reading it. But I’d like to clarify the perceived repetition in the beginning regarding the lights and passwords. She entered through two places to get into the market, the first password brought her into a dimly lit room, then there was a second entrance which required a second password and it brought her into a different part of the room, hence the change in surroundings.
        Thanks for bringing the extra/unnecessary wording and grammar corrections to light, so much to remember/re-learn. I’m very excited to be here, and plan on submitting regularly. This was really really fun to write, and right up my alley!
        Kris aka ARJames

        Reply
        • April 25, 2020 at 11:16 am
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          Hi again, Kris

          Yes, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it here. The contest provides a bit of fun and it’s sort of feedback in and of itself, in the form of a “popularity check”. Although there are so many good stories, at times, they could all be winners… but when we vote we got to to choose! The best part of it all is the critique we get from each other on what works and what doesn’t in our stories, what can be done better and what is just superbly done. It’s a learning experience all the way. A second, third, tenth pair of eyes…

          This group has been going steady since it was founded by writer Roy York in 2013. Now it’s run by Alice and Carrie. It’s mostly U.S. based, but with a strong presence from both sides of the Atlantic and both hemispheres. Some members have been here for many years or right from the start.

          I myself have “only“ joined a year ago, but never missed a story prompt since! I find the fortnightly prompts perfectly convenient. Less frequent and I’d have probably lost interest, “forgotten” about it. More frequent and it would be too committing.

          There’s a lot of talent, with a varied array of writers of different ages, styles (crime, horror, ‘creepy’, fantasy featuring more often than other genres, I’d say, but really everything is covered) and different levels of participation. A good mix all in all.

          I’m pleased my advice in the other comment proved useful to you. I’d have preferred a less prolonged entry into the blackmarket, so that the story proper gets going sooner. The similar elements (my perceived “repetition”) do, IMO, sort of hold the story back from kicking off soon enough. I know that you wanted to convey the feel of a huge, segmented, secret underworld into which the narrator travels till she reaches its darkest depths. But that’s still brought to us nicely through other elements like: I had do go deeper, the inner sanctum, the back room, [there where] there’s some profoundly twisted shit.

          My fear with a prolonged beginning is that the ordinary reader might lose patience, if the action doesn’t come soon enough. Of course, there are readers with different tastes and temperaments, some of whom are enthralled by lavish atmospheric descriptions. But with some others it’s not so, especially the younger readers of the Twitter generation, for whom even a short story might feel epically long.

          In this group we have different temperaments too, with some who favor style and atmosphere over plot, and v.v. But here we’re all writer-readers and language lovers to some extent. The ordinary reader might more often be a plot-seeker more than anything else, I think.

          Now, there will most probably be some other reviewer with a totally opposite viewpoint, you’ll see 🙂 Even if he’s also called Ken.

          Cheers!

          Ken

          Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 2:44 am
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      A.R. James.

      Hi Kris. Shall I call you A?

      I really enjoyed the story, Kris, the first time I read it, I didn’t notice the password problem because there’s an abundance of mystery and imagery. I love the stuff about the bones, fireproof bones. That was a good bit, sounded really authentic, mystical, something one might risk much to attain. Wonderful description of its history and power.

      This story could benefit from what I like to call, ‘Andy’s Gambit.’ Because Andy suggested it about six months ago, and has since denied any knowledge of, or accepted any credit for coming up with this editorial strategy. Which is, to eliminate the entire first paragraph of a story. This story doesn’t need the first paragraph. It’s okay, but it doesn’t need it. And that gets you into the story quicker and cuts down on the repetition. (If Andy continues to deny his involvement in this strategy, we will start calling it, Ken’s Maxim.) This is not an all or nothing deal either, you can delete most of the first paragraph, or half of it. But the point is, there’s way too much unnecessary info in that first paragraph, whether you want to believe it or not. The great thing about a gambit, rule or maxim, is that they are a general rule that will work for anybody. You don’t need to be at some higher level of skill to apply one. (Like a common spell let’s say, or a cheap useful decryption algorithm. If I were you, I would delete everything in the first paragraph except the little trap door.

      The nature of the trap door in the door is unclear.Don’t call it a window if it doesn’t have glass in it.
      Like the other Ken says, “…no ID required, no credit check.” (Period.)
      Evil incarnate. Not reincarnate.
      …dressed elegantly. Not eloquently.
      My heart pounded in my chest. (vibrating doesn’t sound right.)

      Still, the writing is fabulous. These mistakes are minor. (To tell you the truth, the two passwords didn’t bother me that much— until I read it a second time. and they were quite noticeable. After a second reading I scanned the story and found the word ‘password’ five times. You can’t do that unless you’re going to use it. Or tell us what it is, or what you had to do to get it. But you didn’t, so this story is not about passwords. You can only use a diversion so many times, and then it becomes a predictable annoyance. (Which would detract from an otherwise excellent story.)
      I would limit the reference to passwords to no more than twice if i could.

      As for breaking the fourth wall, I think that’s what it’s called. I think that was okay, it could go either way, because the story is modern and weird. There’s a fair amount of dark humor, and this fits in well with it. Also, I think you can break this fourth wall rule when the story is moving fast, as yours does. It will take some people out of the story though. No question about it. Made me smile though.

      I really enjoyed this story. It was like a quick wild amusement park ride, and over before I knew it.

      Ken C.

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 8:48 am
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        hi ken, thanks for the critique. I agree about the overuse of the word ‘password’ but I will stand by my first paragraph, for now. However, I appreciate the tactic of deleting the 1st paragraph to see if it was effectively introducing the story or not, I’ll keep that in mind for future editing.
        Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to call the ‘window’. I’ve seen in movies a small ‘window’ cut in a door and that can be slid open or closed, or opened like a tiny, miniature door that allows the face to be seen through it, a security measure which I felt married well with the theme that I was trying to describe. So, that’s what that was about.
        I used the word ‘vibrated’ instead of ‘pounded in my chest’ because I feel that ‘pounded’ is an overused verb and it sounded that way in my head. Plus I wanted to use a word that better described the heightened nervousness she was feeling. I’m not 100% happy with my choice either but I felt that it worked better than ‘pounded’.
        Thanks for speaking on the dark humor in the story. I am a big fan of mixing a bit of humor with horror (my preferred genre), which is one of the reasons I liked the first paragraph because she accidently drops her hat in a moment where she’s nervous and maybe trying to look serious.
        Can you tell me more about this ‘fourth wall’?
        Overall, great critique, very fair and honest. I can tell that it won’t take long to improve in this group.

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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          Kris,
          Here’s an explanation of the fourth wall. When you mentioned the contest, you were speaking directly to the other participants on this thread. So, in a sense, you were addressing your audience.

          The technique of breaking the fourth wall generally applies to plays, TV shows and movies. It means that a character talked directly to the audience. The term originated from the idea that a theater stage is made up of three solid walls, the fourth wall is invisible. The audience looks past this last wall like voyeurs

          Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 7:47 am
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      Hi Kris,

      Welcome and what a great start.

      As predicted by Ken M, the other Kens are around to offer our comments and here are mine. Remember though, that advice about the generality of a story does not have to be taken as it’s opinion whereas when people point out typos and grammatical errors we probably need to take notice. We all get things wrong and the one thing we all have in common is that there is no danger of any of us being perfect.

      I did enjoy reading your story. It kept me interested and it has a good pace and flow. I did not notice the password “issue” on first reading but having seen Ken Cs comments I read it again and I think he does have a valid point. He usually does!

      I can’t disagree with the odd technical error mentioned by the other Kens and in fact, I picked some of the same ones out myself although to be perfectly honest, I am not a technical reader who pays really close attention to that level of detail on first reading. First time round it’s all about getting the flavour of the story. Yours tasted good!

      It’s a very realistic sounding world that you create within the confines of this dark and devious club. The inner sanctum room is a place you would have to be quite desperate to want to visit. It is exactly the kind of place where you might imagine you could find bones like the ones you mention.

      I didn’t know what “breaking the fourth wall” meant until recently. i have learnt a lot from this site. I am happy with the way you did this with the exception of the use of the word “contest” I think I would try to say, “that’s a story for another time and place.”

      It’s good to see another new participant,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 8:56 am
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        hi ken, thanks for the critique. you definitely got the point of my including an ‘inner sanctum’, for the item she sought was something that would be kept that way, because it is dangerous to wield.
        I actually meant to delete the sentence with ‘contest’ in it, so I keep grinning to myself when someone brings it up. I’m sort of glad that it got the attention that it did, good or bad.
        I look forward to working with this group more in the future.

        Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 7:55 am
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      Enjoyable and gripping story, Kris.
      You’ve created there a dangerous and decadent place, kind of like the dark web made manifest in the physical world. That works really well. The narrator is bold and determined, and makes a good, rather enigmatic, lead character.

      Being born from a traditional healer and a catholic priest, the narrator kind of embodies the religious/cultural mixing of Latin America. I was wondering if you would go somewhere with that in terms of revealing what the narrator wants with the bones, or if there had been some kind of conflict between her parents, coming from their different traditions.

      I’ve read it three times and each time see a little more. But at the end I’m still left with questions – mainly 1) why did she want the bones and 2) is the reference to her father at the end significant somehow? Sorry if I’m a bit slow and have missed something.

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 9:10 am
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        andy, thanks for reading and commenting. You definitely got the image that I was trying to create, ‘like the dark web made manifest in the physical world’. that is a part on the back from me 🙂
        What I chose to leave out was the facts that since her mother was killed in the act of trying to neutralize them, she felt compelled to honor her mothers final action. I wish I would’ve written something about the lead’s age when her parents passed away and how her fathers death is related.
        I was trying to reference that her father was killed doing the same thing that the daughter was doing at that very moment, seeking out the bones. She smiled about it for, what could be, many reasons. In her hands, in her possession, finally, was the same artifact that led to the deaths of both her parents and she was feeling triumphant in finally being so close to finishing the job that her mother couldn’t.
        I enjoy writing in a way that leaves enough room for the reader to wonder what the background/events could’ve been. I enjoy doing that when I read, I get to chew on it for a bit longer after I’ve read the book, like having dessert after a satisfying meal. In other words, I like leaving out details that would spoonfeed the reader, but I am still learning how to do that without leaving out too much and leaving the reader clueless.
        I hope that answers your questions, thoughts?

        Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 9:12 am
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          *pat* on the back, not ‘part’ on the back, rather..

          Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 1:23 am
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      Hi, Kris, and welcome!

      A very atmospheric piece. The reader gets a real sense of the danger of this hellish place – if anything can be bought there, then I imagine anything can happen there. You raise a number of active questions that prick our curiosity: Who was the baby? Why does the narrator want the bones? What exactly happened to the father? The fact that none of these is directly answered is not a deal-breaker – the mystery lives on beyond the end of the story, and that’s fine – but it suggests that this might be the beginning of a longer story or possibly a novel (?)

      Others have mentioned the typos (they’re very eagle-eyed the folks on here!). Just a formatting tip: before posting, double the paragraph breaks to create gaps in the text – easier on the eye.

      Great to have a new voice here! Hope you stick around.

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 9:04 am
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        Good morning Phil, thanks so much for reading my story. I’m thrilled that readers are curious to the unspoken details in the plot as I like creating a blank space. I will remember the paragraph break advice for next time. Thanks again.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 10:03 am
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          A.R./Kris – Great atmospherics in your story. I found myself feeling nervous for the narrator as she crept through the bazaar. I found a few of your sentences a bit clunky and they pulled me out of the reverie I was enjoying through your otherwise very evocative prose: in particular the contest line (previously mentioned) and the jukebox line (also previously mentioned I think). I too was a bit confused by the reference to the father at the end and for me, that confusion caused the ending to fizzle rather than igniting more interest in my head as to that mystery. You had a lot of mystery already in the story, so I think I was hoping for a few more answers towards the end. All in all, your writing was very creative and you clearly have a knack for setting a scene. Well done!

          Reply
          • April 30, 2020 at 6:44 am
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            Welcome KrisThere has been enough commentary of a constructive nature, so I will not repeat but suffice to say welcome and as Phil said, an atmospheric story and you have a good voice. Lovely.

  • April 24, 2020 at 2:52 pm
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    Send Me the Pillow
    (1200)

    “Here’s the whole jar!”

    Appacha gleefully overturned the large glass jar, and out fell all the coins.

    The year- 1940.
    Some math here should ease your mind.
    Those days, Indian coins were called paisa.
    100 paise= 16 ānnas= 1 Rupee.
    Could fetch them 100 sardines or 20 lbs of rice.

    Those days of simple living and high thinking when Peace flowed like a river, Love rose like a mountain; Joy, sprouted fountain-like, blowing healing springs of life everywhere. With simple fried sardines, papads, rice gruel and green veggies from the garden, for dinner.

    On Sundays, it was grander- either chicken or lamb stew.

    Mary loved these moments when Father did his theatrics after dinner every day, as he brought different surprises to the table. Today, he was teaching them the value of collecting coins to use on a later date if ever the need arose. But he also taught them as the Lord is their shepherd, they shall never be in ‘want’.

    The older brothers, a force to reckon with, watched the show quietly. Abe was stroking his chin, while Jireh was making up a rhyme in his head.
    Appacha divided his booty, giving each of his 8 kids, a share of his wealth, saying:
    “I don’t know about the future,
    But I know who holds my tomorrow.”
    The coins in the big jar were thus distributed.

    Dinner usually ended with a hymn. The sisters were a happy, uncomplicated lot. Mary was the prettiest of the 5, and jealousy was an unknown factor.

    The old Judge knew well the ways of the land. His contemporaries had gotten dowries ready – a gift of money to be given to each man who would marry their daughters. But Appacha thought differently. He educated his girls. One became a gynaecologist, the other four majored in math, biology, education, and astronomy- out of interest, not compulsion.
    Quite a feat for a 1940’s Indian father.

    Year creepin’ up-1944.
    Mary was growing to be the prettiest damsel in college. Boys whistled when they saw her, but she paid scant attention, being mortally scared of her older siblings who’d shame her. Besides she couldn’t conceal her blush. In India those days, there was no question of dating or falling in love.

    That’s when Gracie, her best buddy, decided to tell her about her handsome cousin, the air force doctor who had lost his wife in childbirth two years earlier.

    “Would you like to marry my cousin? He’s a nice guy.”

    “Shhhhh.” Mary blushed. She wasn’t such a forward girl.

    Exactly two weeks later, Judge Cherian got a written proposal from the air force doctor. It was quite a daring thing to do those days. The young man was working for the RAF at the time. Both his parents had passed on within a month, in his final year of medical school.

    How deep his sorrow may have been, we never knew. For he never spoke about it.

    Now Appacha reckoned his older daughters gotta get married off first, so he offered the older two as a bargain- would he choose the doctor or the school teacher?

    But Kuruvilla was insistent.

    “I asked for the beautiful one, Mr. Cheriyan.”

    “But she is in college, needs time to complete her studies,” he averred.

    But Kuruvilla was still quite persistent.

    That night during supper, Appacha, after much thought, decided this gentleman from a well known family was too good to let go. Like the judge sitting at judgement, giving the option of life sentence or freedom to the one charged, he popped the question -to the 19 year old girl.

    ‘Dr. Kuruvilla has asked for your hand, do you want to say yes or no?’

    Mary was bashful, you’d say. How could she say ‘ yes’ when everyone was staring at her?
    She was longing to say ‘yessss’ in her heart.

    Gracie, the matchmaker, had done the needed boastful bragging on both sides.

    Mary didn’t know how to answer her father’s question. The silence was killing her.

    Her practical, oldest sister Asha came up with a suggestion.

    ‘Mary, do you like this proposal? Well, if you do, don’t waste any more time. I’m giving you the salt shaker.
    Just pass the salt.”
    Asha handed her the salt shaker.

    Mary took the silver salt shaker and quickly passed it. She looked down again, her cheeks flushed pink.
    Her ears burned a bright red.

    Done deal. Trial resolved.

    The blushing girl had said ‘yes’. Marriage preparations soon began in full swing. The wedding was to be at the St George’s Cathedral, Madras, with military honors.
    (My grandpa, when excited, pronounced ‘marriage’ with the stress on the ‘age’…Marri -aage. I never understood why.)

    Kuruvilla, meanwhile, returned to the front lines because it was the time of war. He wrote long letters to his beautiful lady love, deep down in Kerala, which she carefully hid with her other priceless treasures- the coins her Appacha had given her, and the silver salt shakers.

    Before he left, Kuruvilla had presented Mary a silken pink pillow which she loved to bits. That was her hiding place.. the soft downy stuffing of her pillow. Not for the salt shakers though.

    Kuruvilla loved to serenade Mary with, ‘Send me the pillow that you dream on….’ In his deep bass whenever he called her. Those were heady days of telephone romancing.

    After their wedding, the handsome couple moved to Lahore for the foreign posting till the war was declared over.

    The year-1980
    The year Judge Cheriyan passed on.

    A little later, the beautiful home got sold.
    The movers came to remove all the knickknackery. Our professorial uncle made sure there was nothing silly left in the home as he kept the literary collection all to himself.
    That’s how the love- pillow disappeared from the home.

    2020… the year pacing forthwith.
    Mary, though old and widowed, is the epitome of refinement, still a cheerful soul.

    Mia, her youngest daughter, had stopped the car outside the Thrift Centre. She had some donations to drop off. Mary went along inside. She had no desire to buy anything but loved to read the old books that were donated, her eyesight being excellent.

    Her eyes slowly wandered to the top shelf where the bedcovers, carpets and cushions were displayed. Mary couldn’t believe her eyes. There was her pink silk pillow displayed RIGHT ON TOP! She raised her frail body to look at it more closely.

    “Mia, can you get that down?”

    But another lady browser was quicker. Drawn to the colorful cushions, she perched herself on a stool, and grabbed the silk pillow.

    Mia recognized the look on her mother’s face.
    It was something special. That silk pillow… suddenly her dad’s voice reverberated through the walls. ‘Send me the pillow that you dream on….’

    Though she couldn’t fathom how it even reached the top shelf.

    Mia did the unthinkable.
    Totally wicked.
    Never before and never again would she ever.

    She sneezed on the pillow with an exaggerated force.
    Lady Browser dropped it and scooted as fast as she could.

    Picking it up, Mary hugged the pillow, listening to the tingle of the coins, while stroking the papers within its velvety smoothness.

    Reply
    • April 25, 2020 at 10:40 am
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      Interesting story, Marien. The ending is rather abrupt, but totally believable, although a bit disgusting. In today’s virus infested world, however, a subtle cough may have been all that was needed to remove the grabby lady browser. All’s fair in love and war; and Mary was in love with the pillow and her mother’s memory.

      I’m getting used to your writing a bit more, but that’s not a bad thing. You write quirky sentences like this one: She had no desire to buy anything but loved to read the old books that were donated, her eyesight being excellent.

      Having excellent eyesight has nothing to do with reading the old books that were donated, IMHO. It’s like saying she loved to look at the flowers, her eyesight being excellent. She loved to look at the flowers because they were beautiful, I would think. Same with the books. She enjoyed reading them because they were interesting, not because she could see them real well. At any rate. It made me smile.

      Another interesting sentence: The movers came to remove all the knickknackery. How about – The removers came to remove all the knickknacks? Nickknackery? Interesting. Not wrong, but different.

      I find it fascinating to read a story about marriage in other countries. Especially India with it’s sometimes still rigid rules about who marries who, who marries when, and arranged marriages. We’ve had several guests in our home from India and my wife and I have spent many an enjoyable evening as guests explain to us how they got married, how their family felt, sibling’s jealousy, and so on. Quite interesting and not very understandable to say, you cannot marry until your older sister does, or you cannot marry this person from another caste or religion. Even though I know that goes on in America as well. It made my life so much easier to marry my wife, because as luck would have it, we were both practicing the same religion when we met. Made her parents a lot easier to get along with. I once had a Jewish father slam a door in my face when I stopped by to pick up his daughter to go to a movie. He absolutely forbade it. I was shocked to say the least. I called her from the corner and she said he was very upset and we probably shouldn’t see each other any more. I couldn’t have agreed more. First date, so easy to say that, but had I met her in college or something and developed a relationship before meeting her father, it would have been quite interesting.

      At any rate, I enjoyed the story, and it had a great ending.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 1:59 pm
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        Dear Roy,
        I really do enjoy your comments! Gives me the giggles.

        The eyesight thingy…. yup! I was thinking if a 95 year old Mary could be reading books…her sight has to be good, And it’s worth taking note of that. But your angle is mucho better in a stereotypical way.

        I used knickknackery to be different. Had to check the number of Ks that went in there !!

        Indian marriages are a different cuppa altogether. But it works pretty well.
        There are much fewer splits and therefore no step/ extended families. Because parents take the trouble of marrying their kiddos within the social circle and definitely within the same faith. Once introduced, the couple takes time to discover the pros and cons. And then go on to tying the knot that ought not to break. 🙂
        Happy to know that you have a taste of them where you live. Where, may I ask?

        Thanks again!
        Be blessed.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 10:41 am
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          Marien,

          I am now living in Michigan, but used to live in Las Vegas, where I was a member of Rotary International. We had a program called Group Study Exchange which involved sending 4 or 5 young business people who were not Rotarians along with a Rotarian Group Exchange Leader. The entire group is individually housed with various hosts in the country they visit. And, that country always sends a group back I was a Group Exchange Leader to England, but that is a one time thing, the rest of the time my wife and I would, whenever possible host one of the group, (many times the group leader), so we got to learn a lot about people, their country, their home life, their family and so on. There are 530 or so Rotary Districts and that meant there would be about 530 or so exchanges every year. I was also a District Governor at one point in 2004-05 and it was a thoroughly wonderful experience. India is very big in Rotary International. Rotary International was instrumental in making India polio-free, something I am very proud of. Surely, you are familiar with that program. All free to every child in India. There were days we would immunize over 100,000,000 people. It amuses me to watch our governments so inadequately prepared for this current virus. Rotary is currently helping in 13 different countries because of their ability to organize volunteers and assist in helping testing and defeating Covid-19. Unfortunately, the US currently has an idiot at the helm not wanting to ‘raise’ the number of cases because ‘it makes him look bad’, and when the time comes, if he’s still in office, this country will not have the benefit of Rotary’s skills.

          So, the short answer is we have several friends in India, many of whom we communicate with regularly, and have learned a lot. While arranged marriages are anathema to most Americans, our guests were quite in favor of it, and several of them are still proponents, although they are meeting resistance from the younger generation. I understand why it could work, but I fell in love with a beautiful young lady (love at first sight – and she was the one who became my wife and the mother of our three children) before I even met her, and had my parents told me I would have to marry someone else, someone I never met, I can assure you that would have never happened. Ever.

          Roy

          Reply
          • April 29, 2020 at 6:29 am
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            Dear Roy,
            This is almost surreal- your telling me about Group Study Exchange!!

            I was selected to go to Iowa in 1995- April-May from the Hyderabad chapter of the Rotary Group. I don’t remember what number it was.
            But I got selected by virtue of my essay.. why I should be the chosen professional to represent India. There were at least 3 selection rounds and finally got chosen in the field of education. I was the teacher in the group. That was my first visit to the US of A from India.

            And it was grand to stay with the Rotarians, speak at their meetings for 2 minutes, visit the Iowa University, Ames? The Capitol? at De Moines… forgotten most of the great landmarks now. Even visited a jail and saw those hard core prisoners.
            I still have a tee shirt with Boone inscribed on it. I got to sing a hymn with an old lady on the piano in a beautiful home overlooking the Mississippi. Great memories.
            There’s one name that pops up… a Breckenfelder who I stayed with. Someone took me for a broadway show as well. Somebody gave me a golden apple after I spoke. I got to address many students. Came on the tele, and on the radio.
            Gosh… so many memories. It was a great trip. And I found I was pregnant just before the trip.. didn’t tell the selection committee or they would’ve dropped me like a hot potato!
            Thank you, Rotary International!

            Thank you for telling me a bit about yourself…

            Yes, I’ve heard about the fantastic work that Rotary does… but never been a part of them.
            India is doing pretty well considering the immense population. They have some natural immunity. Must be their spices :))
            Also, I’m a bit proud of the fact that my father ( the Kuruvilla in the story) in early 60’s introduced the BCG vaccine in Kerala- that’s where I come from. Today BCG is being talked about as a reason for the immunity in India. He had been to the WHO in Finland and done something there. Dunno what.

            I live in Abu Dhabi now.
            So thrilled to read about your being the District Governor!
            Like I said surreal, serendipitous… what are the chances!!

            Best,
            Marien

          • April 29, 2020 at 9:13 am
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            Marien,

            I was hoping you knew about Rotary because of India’s heavy involvement, but wasn’t counting on it, because one would think the US would be more aware of Rotary, but alas, so few in my country know or care, even though Rotary is the oldest NGO, one of the largest, and is in more countries than any other group. Third behind the Olympics and the UN for penetration. Pretty good, and the majority of Americans still aren’t aware. And we lead the way in immunizations.

            For you to be a Group Study Exchange participant was, indeed, surreal. So, no need for lengthy explanations, you know the score and don’t even need a score card. Excellent. I was lucky enough to be the Centennial Governor for Rotary, as I was District Governor during 2004-2005, the 100th anniversary of Rotary. Pretty cool stuff. I was also unfortunate enough to be DG during the Southeast Asia Tsunami, where hundreds of millions lost their lives in one tragic moment. We helped raise over $225,000 from my district alone, but as we all know, money cannot bring back the staggering loss of human life, much like we are experiencing now.

            So pleased you were a GSE member.

            Roy

    • April 26, 2020 at 8:14 am
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      Really like your story, Marien – its love story over some 80 years, and its evocation of a simpler and poorer time when small things could be the source of much happiness. There’s a theme of treasuring things until later, partly represented by the coins mentioned at the start, in the middle and coming back at the end. But really it’s the pillow and the letters that encapsulate the romance of their relationship.

      A couple of things – I am slightly alarmed that someone else had the pillow for 40 years (1980-2020) and never washed it! Ugh! Had they done so they would have found the letters and coins, of course, so it’s good that they didn’t …

      The other is something an editor would pick up. The song which is central to it wasn’t released until 1949 and the version in the late 50s is the famous one. Well, the husband might have been away in one of India’s other wars, but the 1944 reference is all we have here. How’s that for a nitpick? I found that out by wanting to hear the song. It’s the kind of thing your fans will love to point out at readings when you’re famous!

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 2:07 pm
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        Ha ha ha…. never thought of washing that pillow either. But surely it had the inner cover, neatly zipped up. Decorative pillows are for decoration.. not for use. Assuredly there’s no 40 years of drool on it. :))

        After I posted the story, I did check on the date of the song!! Love the nit picking.
        It was in the year of the Lord 1944, that my parents got married. It’s their story.
        I made up the pillow though.

        I love your last line. :))

        Cheers!

        Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 9:27 pm
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      Marien,

      When I saw the title, I thought, no way this can be any good. Okay? That’s what I thought. Send me the pillow? I was wrong.

      It’s a thoroughly enjoyable tale. It always amazes me the way some writers can tell the story of someone’s entire life in one short story as you have done here. Wonderful, sympathetic characters, the structure and organization of the story is clever without being too clever, and I loved the ending, and the little twist, (that the pillow had mementos stuffed within it.

      How coins could remain undiscovered for so long is a little sketchy, you probably should have left them out of it, but the papers is believable. The ending was hilarious, and totally unexpected, especially as it utilizes the fears of our current affairs.

      A very nice style of casual grammar-scoffing and cadence to your writing as well. (I’m no scholar okay? so, if you didn’t’ break any grammatical rules, don’t cuss me out, it just seemed like you disregarded the rules here and there, and if you did, I thought it was fine. You got away with it. It’s a very enjoyable story Marien.

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 2:14 am
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        Thank you, Ken C, for reading and liking.
        Thrilled.
        Last week my older brother told me this ‘Coins in the bottle’ story which is for real. My granpa really did such things. So I had to stuff them into the pillow 🙂 for posterity’s sake. It’s raather strange, I agree.

        In my youthful teaching days, I was a grammar Nazi, but now with a GenZ daughter, my writing does turn ‘memelike’!

        If I remember right, my parents used to sing this song…was a baby then. Both gone now 🙁

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 2:05 am
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      A lovely sweep through time, Marien. You can almost reach out and touch the love in the family home and later between Mary and Kuruvilla (though like Roy, I wonder at the strangeness – for us – of arranged marriages). The characters are vivid without too much description, our impression coming from the way they act. The ending is nicely warming – the pillow signifying and substituting an absent love.

      I thought the little lesson in currency at the begining was a bit superfluous as you don’t actually cost anything in the story and it’s a brake on the rhythm before we even get started.

      But that’s all I have to mention on the down side. It’s a busy, colourful, very enjoyable story.

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 5:48 am
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        True about the currency bit, Phil. Thanks for heads up. But I did want to mention the old currency used in India pre independence which brought in much stuff- as my granma used to say. Maybe I needed to expand on that. But then the word limit.
        Love the kind words.
        Cheers.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 10:07 am
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          Marien – for me your story has the rhythms of a fairytale told by a loving grandmother, perhaps even as she gifted a relative a momento like the pillow. I found the wisps and whims of focus a bit disorienting, but in the end they made for an enjoyable ride through time and relationships. Its all about love, isn’t it, in the end? Nice story.

          Reply
          • April 29, 2020 at 5:31 am
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            Thanks, Trish! I appreciate your reading and the comments.
            🙂

    • April 29, 2020 at 7:42 am
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      Hi Marien,

      This story has a most evocative feel to it as you describe a time and place that had such warmth and a sense of family.

      I think that we need to be very careful when we look from the outside into other cultures. There is a danger that we might feel that the strangeness and the differences of other people’s practices makes them inferior. I certainly don’t think that the British ( and any other former colonial powers) can cast the first stone in this matter.

      I really enjoyed this story and you have created another unique piece of storytelling.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 6:54 am
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        Interesting and evocative writing. Good story. I liked it. It connects in a very real way and lovely except and I agree with Roy here, the ending is a bit ummmm not so nice.

        Reply
  • April 25, 2020 at 2:31 am
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    Curious Curiosity
    1198 words

    Kelly walked past the Curiosity Shop, on her way home. A pendant in the window grabbed her attention.
    It looked like Grans, that had been left to her then gone missing before she ever received it.
    She went into the shop and asked to see it.
    “Where did you get this please?”
    “A young man brought it in. I have his details. Is there is some problem?”
    “Yes, I was left it in Grans will. It disappeared.”
    The shop owner looked out the details of the man who had sold it to him, no one Kelly knew. Then again, it wouldn’t surprise her if the name shouldn’t really say Bret Barton.
    “I know it’s Grans pendant. I’m going to have to buy it. It means so much to me.”
    She couldn’t really afford it. It was of far more sentimental value.
    Kelly had once asked Gran about the pendant. There was a small ornamental key and a flat oblong piece with fancy edges. Grans answer had not made a lot of sense.
    “This is the key to your future. It’s my way of making sure no one else gets what I want you to have.”
    Kelly had asked what she meant. Gran wouldn’t tell Kelly any more, perhaps later. Moments before she’d passed away, Gran had raised the pendant and began to say something like ‘secret landing, yours’ Bret hadn’t been there, too ignorant and uncaring.to bother to come into hospital and be with Gran in her last hours.
    Kelly and Bret had been adopted by Sally Barton. He’d been ten, Kelly eight, Mrs. Barton in her fifties. She’d joked that she was more like Grandmother. They had got around to calling her Gran.
    When Kelly got home, Bret was lying on the sofa watching T.V.as usual. He was so lazy, had not worked for years. Kelly worked full time, plus any overtime, in a nursing home, to pay the bills
    She took the pendant out of her bag, held it up and watched Bret’s expression
    . Yes, he’d sold it, she could see by the look on his face.
    “What’s that?” he asked.
    “The pendant Gran left me, the one you sold to the Curiosity shop.”
    “Don’t know what your talking about.” He turned the sound up on the T.V.
    Kelly wondered what else he’d sold. A few ornaments had disappeared.
    Kelly started wearing the pendant. It made her feel as if Gran was with her, as well as making sure Bret wouldn’t get his hands on it. She would look around the house, try and make sense of what Gran had said, in the past and as she was dying. The house was on the market, sadly. If only she could afford to keep it. Bret was doing nothing to help, just waiting eagerly for his half of the money. Where he planned to live, Kelly had no idea. He wouldn’t be moving in with her, that was for sure. There might just be enough for her to buy a small flat. She so loved Grans house though.
    Kelly worked an early shift. Bret was out, when she got home. Perfect time to look around the house, try and solve the mystery. As she looked about, Kelly noticed several things missing. A silver statue, had to be worth hundreds of pounds! The silver cutlery set had gone, and a golden broach, much of Grans jewelry.
    Kelly had wondered if they might have to sell a few things to pay bills, especially if they couldn’t sell the house quickly. She would have talked everything over with Bret. How could he, the swine? And all he was doing with the money was boozing. He’d never seemed to love Gran, appreciate what she had done them. Gran had said he must have had a difficult upbringing before she’d adopted him. Perhaps he had, but he was thirty now, about time he changed his ways.
    Kelly walked about staring at the pendant. She’d lived there twenty years. What could she have missed? Then as she walked across the landing, she recalled those last words Gran had muttered as she died, ‘secret landing yours’. Landing, was it here somewhere, what ever it was? She looked at herself in the mirror as she passed. Then froze on the spot.
    The mirror had the same shape and decorative frame as the rectangle on the pendant. She tried to lift the mirror. It was attached firmly. She ran her fingers around the frame. Something moved slightly. She turned it, there was a small keyhole. Did the key on the pendant fit in there and actually work? yes!
    The mirror was a cupboard door. Shelves full of tins and an envelope with Kelly’s name on it. She opened it, and read…
    ‘Dearest Kelly, I’ve saved up the contents of these tins for you. You have been so caring and helpful to me over the years. Bret will get his share of the house. This is just for you. If Bret got hold of it he would drink himself silly, waste it all. You must do what you want, don’t feel you have to keep it all for bills or whatever. Enjoy your life. I know you will be sensible too.I guess I’ll be gone on my way, by the time you read this. I love you, will be looking down on you, I’m certain.
    Love from Gran, Sally Barton.
    Ps, added my signature in case there should be legal issues. I could have left you this in my will. Bret can be mean, demanding. I thought it better he knew nothing of it.’
    Kelly was in tears. She opened a tin and found several hundred bank notes. Then she heard Bret returning. Kelly put everything back into the cupboard, quickly shut the door and locked it again.
    “What’s for dinner, haven’t you cooked anything?” He bawled.
    “Cook your own, lazy lump. I’m going for a walk.”
    Kelly walked to the estate agents and asked them to take the house off the market, explaining she had savings and inheritance from Mrs. Barton. She could just pay Bret his share and the commission.
    It would leave her bank account empty. She couldn’t bank much cash, but she felt more secure, knowing she had at least a thousand hidden away.
    A long wait, while everything was dealt with, by Kelly at their end, except getting Bret to sign here and there. He hadn’t bothered to look at what he was signing, just wanted to know when he would get his money, and to know where they were going to live.
    “I’ve got a one bedroom flat lined up, don’t know where you’re going.” Kelly felt a bit naughty, lying. Eventually Bret moved out, getting a part time job in his favorite Pub. Well that was a start.
    Kelly opened the secret cupboard. More bank notes, jewelry, some broken gold objects. She began counting.the money. Over two thousand! How had Gran managed this? She had used to put cash in a tin in the kitchen, for ‘rainy days’, then moved it because Bret had started helping himself.
    This was enough cash for many rainy days.

    Reply
    • April 25, 2020 at 3:45 pm
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      Janet, I like the feel good story you wrote, even though a tad predictable. I was pretty sure when you mentioned a key it opened something that would reveal Gran’s intentions. You were pretty explicit. Perhaps you could have had a bit of misdirection here and there to throw readers off track. You jump around a bit, because I didn’t see it flowing that well from part to part. I understand having to explain things, but with a little effort, it could still flow better. You tell a lot, instead of showing , but you will learn to do that in time.

      I am also a little confused about her suddenly buying the house when it wasn’t an option before she discovered the treasure her Gran left. You wrote, if only she could afford to keep it. If you meant, she now has enough to tide her over after buying her brother out, you should mention that when she opens the mirror cabinet and realizes what she has. After rereading it, I see she walked over to the real estate people and took it off the market, but it took me two times. More my fault than yours, but I shouldn’t have had to read it again to know that. If you put your own house on the market and take it off, why do you have to pay a commission? She owned the house, didn’t she, along with her brother?.

      You don’t mention it as a possibility such as – I would buy my greedy brother out, but that would take more than I have, or deplete everything and there’s nothing to save me if I should get sick. Then she discovers the money, and she’s overjoyed knowing she can get rid of dear old brother, AND keep the house.

      But, I like your premise, you paint the brother very nicely as a self absorbed loafer who is using his sister and therefore I don’t like him, which is your intention as a writer (well done), and you make the sister likable. And, she puts him in his place with ‘lazy lump’. You almost ruin it by making him redeemable (getting a job – at least it’s a start). But, that’s your prerogative as the author – to do with your characters as you like.

      And, when you wrote, “I’ve got a one bedroom flat lined up, don’t know where you’re going.” Kelly felt a bit naughty, lying. She could have simply said, “I’ve got a place lined up. Don’t know where you’re going.” and she wouldn’t have been lying. Then again, her being naughty, makes her a bit endearing, I guess. Naughty has a different connotation than being ‘bad’, but it’s usually reserved for children, not a twenty eight year old.

      I’m also wondering if adopted kids would call their new mother Gran, even at her request. Are you aware of something like this, or did you just make it up and thought it would be a nice touch? And, you had her sign the note, Gran, Sally Barton. Would she have done that? I would have thought she would have signed Sally Barton after the post script.

      I owned two pawn shops in my younger days, and I can tell you that when you buy something, you don’t reveal the seller, not even to the police, unless they have a warrant. I know from experience, the owner wouldn’t have told you a name. In addition, if she could prove ownership, she didn’t have to buy it. Simply prove it and the owner would be obligated to give it to her, but only with proof and only in a legal manner.

      In your next to last sentence you wrote: She had used to put cash in a tin cup … You don’t need the word ‘had’.

      Still, I will think good thoughts knowing Kelly will live happily ever after and perhaps even invite the Lazy Lump over for the holidays, her being the kind of person she is. Hope he doesn’t steal the silver while there visiting.

      Roy York

      Reply
      • April 26, 2020 at 3:24 am
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        Thanks for your very useful comments. I have taken note. No I have never been in the situation my main character was in, thank god.(Literally)

        Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 12:58 am
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      Hi Janet,

      The second half of your story is quite nice. With a positive upbeat moral and message. (Not that anyone cares about that, but still, it’s nice.)

      In fact, the story instantly became understandable at this sentence: “This is the key to your future…”

      Prior to that, I had serious problems understanding who the characters were, and what was happening, and here’s why.
      ‘It looked like Grans, that had been left to her then gone missing before she ever received it.”
      That’s a mouthful of phrases without any commas. Grans should have an apostrophe so the reader knows its possessive. In fact, the character doesn’t KNOW it’s Gran’s, at this point she merely suspects it. So the sentence is inherently confusing and it involves the key, the actual key, to the story, the plot and the cache.
      A few lines later. “Yes, I was left it in Grans will. It disappeared.” After some consideration, I understand this sentence, but it takes time because the wording is rather awkward.
      This is the kind of thing that gives us all fits, we know what we’re talking about as we write, but we have to translate our knowledge into information to the reader. And the tricky part is conveying information without it sounding unnatural or contrived.

      ‘It looked like the pendant Gran always said she would give to her, but it disappeared before she ever received it.’
      “Yes, Gran’s will specifically left it to me. It disappeared.”

      Again let me repeat, once I got past the first part of the story, I found myself quite engrossed. But the confusion at the beginning is slightly off-putting.

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 2:08 am
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        Thanks for your comments. I will take them onboard and try to make things clearer another time . I have a friend, retired teacher, who reads my stories through some times and points out faults. Can’t see her while in lockdown and she has no email address!.

        Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 10:41 am
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      Enjoyed reading your story, Janet
      Others have noted some things that might make the story run a little smoother.

      Bret’s indolence and dishonesty provide reasons for rooting for Kelly. And she’s a good egg too, hardworking and caring. But I wonder if we might have got to know more about her and engage further with her character if there was some suggestion of what she wants to do with her life if she can be free, solvent and independent? Just a thought.

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 10:12 am
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        Janet – I too enjoyed your story. I tend to agree with the comments of others – there are some places you could have tightened up your writing and it would have been nice to learn a bit more about Kelly’s future goals. I won’t rehash what others have said. All in all a nice piece.

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 4:40 pm
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      Welcome, Janet! This is a clear, neat story, with good pace. The main characters are clearly delineated – ‘good’ (Kelly) versus ‘bad’ (Bret). There’s some suspense while we wonder about the mystery of the pendant – cleanly resolved. Roy speaks of ‘misdirection’, and I tend to agree with him – there could perhaps be something that keeps us on our toes a bit, that surprises us (I thought it was coming when Bret arrives home – would he catch Kelly at the cupboard? Nope – she shuts it in time, quite comfortably). The ending is satisfying in that all the loose ends are tied up … yet perhaps a little TOO cleanly? A smooth read, though.

      (As I said to Kris, when you post your next story (which I hope you will!), do a double return for each paragraph to break up the text and make it a bit easier on the eye.)

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 2:44 pm
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      Quite a predictable story line. Such things happen and may good always win.
      No fatal twists or turns. I’m certainly glad there is no horror involved.
      The formatting seems to have played havoc here. Some run-on sentences as well.
      Interesting!

      Reply
  • April 25, 2020 at 10:11 am
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    Kris,

    Welcome to our little patch of the world here. Good story, but one of the things you sign up for are critiques. We are generally a gentle lot, but I think ALL aspiring writers should be ready for, and in fact, welcome, critiques. It’s been my personal observation that, while sometimes painful to read or hear, you will grow as a writer.

    I noticed a couple of things. In the sentence – It opened with the eerie squeak. – It should be “It opened with an eerie squeak.” or followed with ‘It opened with the eerie squeak one would anticipate …expect … think would happen, or so on. Perhaps that was a left over editing mishap and that happens a lot during rewrites.

    Then, a few sentences later you write – Passwords are worth their weight in gold in a place like this and you don’t want to know what I did to get mine. Well, yes I would like to know what you did to get yours. A throwaway line, I think. Better you had said, “I’m not going to tell you what I had to do to get mine.” As I sit and write this, I want to know.

    And the line – ‘that’s a story for another contest’ is author intrusion, and truly has nothing at all to do with THIS story. It’s better to leave it out and not do it. I know, because I am and have been guilty of it myself many times. That’s how I recognize it. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the story it is better left on the writing room floor. Learn that lesson now. If you do find an agent and publisher, you will appreciate that advice. And, so will they.

    I will only do a few more, and let you look for the rest, but as a new writer, you truly want those ‘beautiful phrases’ to identify your work, and to identify you as a brilliant young author, blazing new trails in literary journalism. Phrases like: I walked into the laboring glow of a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling,may have sounded fresh and new to you, but the sentence is laboring under the weight of the word labor. I had to stop and think about what you meant by that phrase. Can light bulbs labor, I wondered? Does the author mean flickering? What does he mean? Overworking? How is that possible? How can a light bulb overwork itself? And so on. Readers shouldn’t have to stop to figure out what you meant. This next phrase, though, I thought interesting: You could’ve heard a jukebox screech to a halt, it was that kind of place. But, it too, made me stop and reflect. Why didn’t he just say the jukebox screeched to a halt, I wondered? But, I figured it out. Still, Im not sure you needed to say if there had been something there, then this would have happened.

    This passage also made me stop: Through the furtive crowd, I pressed on. I knew that what I sought would not be in this sector. I had to go deeper, the inner sanctum, the back room. If a black market has a ‘back room’, then you know there’s going to be some profoundly twisted shit in there. By the way, never mind what I had to do to get that password, too.

    How did you know that you needed to go deeper. Perhaps, Through the furtive (I assume they all are averting their eyes) crowd, I pressed on. I knew that what I sought would not be in this sector. I had to go deeper.

    How did you know that? We don’t know because we can’t see what you are seeing, and you didn’t explain it, or, worse, you didn’t show it. And, then you end the paragraph with, By the way, never mind, what I had to do to get that password, too. Author Intrusion and reading the reader’s minds, all in one sentence. If you must do that sort of thing, ending with the word ‘either’ would have been a better choice than, ‘too’.

    I could go on, but I will end with this one last note: I averted my eyes back to the old man. It doesn’t work for me. I know it’s one of the tail end definitions of averted, but I think it was used incorrectly. You turned to look at the old man. I Looked back into the old man’s eyes. A number of different choices, but averted shouldn’t have been one of them.

    All this is just my humble opinion. Feel free to take what you want from this, or completely ignore it, it’s your choice. Paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, I think this is good advice. “Don’t use words you don’t need. Write sparingly. Your readers will figure it out. Use words they will understand easily.”

    Hopefully, you don’t think I’m overbearing in this critique, it’s not my intent. My intent is to make you go back and take a good look at what you write and think, is that blue prose? Am I writing this for the reader, or was that line for me? You’ll get it. I see some talent lurking in your story. Bring it out in the open.

    Lines like this:
    Unfolding his arms, he grabbed the cash, flipped through it casually, then tossed them back onto the table. His eyes returned to me, narrowed in suspicion. I liked it, although you should have said ‘tossed it’ (the cash) I got what you were showing. Or, you could have said, He grabbed the cash, flipped through the bills, then tossed ‘them’ (the bills) back on the table. I got a lot out of those two sentences that I liked.

    I didn’t really understand your ending, ‘ask my father’, but assume, it’s because their search ended in his wife’s eventual death. That’s a lot to ask from that sentence. And, I don’t know if it wrapped up the story. It was like you had to say something. “I’m well aware of the risks … and let the reader wonder if you were talking about losing your mother to the search.

    Please stick around for the next theme and let’s see what you got this next time. I’m looking forward to it.

    Roy

    Reply
  • April 25, 2020 at 5:35 pm
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    The Pearl Handle – by Liz Fisher

    Curious how things just happen to fall into your hands. Alice never thought that way. “Nothing just happens” she’d say in an annoyed tone of voice, “you were meant to have it.”

    Watching the middle-aged woman browse through the Estate Sale, Alice wondered if this woman would be the one to pick up the silver letter opener. She barely finished the thought when the woman reached out and picked it up.

    Alice saw another woman approach and say, “Beth, you don’t need another letter opener, you already have a collection of old junk, aren’t you supposed to be clearing out stuff…not getting more.”

    Beth kept holding the thin blade with simulated pearl handle opener, absorbing the feel of it and wondering about the owner. The opener was definitely old and had a commercial on it’s handle, “Shenango Valley Commercial Institute,” Sharon, Pa. with a 4 digit phone number. Beth wondered how it ended in an Estate Sale in Davis, CA and why would someone keep it so long, what did it mean to them.

    Alice hovered nearby but didn’t say anything. She saw Beth reluctantly lay the letter opener down and look at it. Beth then reached out and gently pushed the opener forward so it was partially under the edge of a dinner plate and then she wandered off to another table.

    Alice trailed behind Beth as she meandered through the leftovers from a life well lived. There didn’t appear to be anything appealing to Beth’s quest which made Alice question her own opinion about the offerings. Maybe it wasn’t such a well lived life after all.

    Alice wasn’t in the habit of questioning herself, a successful woman in the business world of men. She thought of herself as competent and had a good feel for commercial opportunity. She really had only failed at one thing in her life. She didn’t think about it much.

    She realized she had forgotten about the browsing women until she heard the jingle of the bell hanging on the door and looked over to see Beth and her friend exiting without buying anything. Alice drifted down the hall to the stool in the corner and sat somewhat dejectedly waiting.

    It didn’t seem long at all before the bell jingled again as someone entered the Estate Sale. Alice felt as though she had been aroused from a long sleep as she silently looked to see. Her spirit soared a little as she recognized Beth from before.

    “Good morning..how are you today” Russell asked Beth.

    He startled Alice as she hadn’t seen him for days and had almost forgotten about Russell.

    Beth said, “I was here about a week ago and was interested in a letter opener, I think it was from a company in Pennsylvania. I didn’t buy it then but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it and had to come back and see if it’s still here”.

    Russell said he knew what she was talking about and walked down the aisle, Beth followed and Alice drifted behind. Once again Alice remained silent and just observed.

    Russell stopped and said, “Oh… someone must have taken it, it was right here.”

    Beth looked around him and pointed, “It’s right there …I see the handle next to that plate.”

    “Hmmm,” said Russell, “someone moved it.” Beth did not admit the “someone” was her.

    Beth picked up the opener and immediately felt relieved and grateful to have the opener in her hands, she knew it was meant for her. She didn’t know why but it happened to her before…more than once… and she had learned the regret of leaving something behind did not go away and included being fraught with guilt.

    Beth occasionally wondered what her son and daughter would think of her collections when she was no longer amongst the living. Would they hold an estate sale? Would they go through the items and wonder about why she had them? She especially wondered about the things she had to have…the things like this letter opener… what would happen to them… it didn’t mean anything to her except she had to rescue it because it meant something to someone else…or else why would they have kept it. How long does this cycle continue.

    “Okay,” Beth said, “yes this is just what I’m looking for, do you know anything about this? How did it come to be here?”

    Russell responded, “Well, my wife grew up in Pennsylvania, but she moved out here for college and never went home, I know the letter opener was something she really cherished. Always had it on her desk, used it to open every letter she ever got.” He continued, “I did wonder why it was so special, it had a thinner and smaller blade than your average opener, the handle was round, smooth and pearl like and at first glance one would think it was an expensive keepsake, but then you’d see the advertisement and realize it was just a commercial giveaway and why she loved it is a mystery. I was just going to toss it… toss it out… but for some reason…just couldn’t… she would never forgive me.”

    Beth said, “WellI think it could have a home with me, how much is it?”

    Russell rubbed his eye and after a moment said, “It’s yours, as I said it was a give away, so let’s just say you earned it by returning and I give it to you.”

    Beth thanked him put the letter opener in her purse quickly said goodbye and walked away…

    Russell said, “Well Alice, I hope that was the right thing to do…you’ve spent enough time in the hallway… time for you to move on…I’ll always love you.”

    He knew Alice wasn’t listening and had already left. He knew when Beth walked out the door and he felt Alice drift away from him she had chosen the letter opener.

    Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 12:37 pm
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      Liz – great foray into fiction! I recall that many of your earlier posts were taken from real life – this one is wonderfully creative and filled with so many details that make it jump off the page. Spoiler alert – wanted to be sure I read it right – Alice was a ghost? Super cool ending!

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    • April 27, 2020 at 12:21 am
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      Liz,
      That’s a great story. Wonderful writing. I was totally tricked. Read it a second time to savor all of those little hints you gave, without tipping your hand.

      There’s more to this story than the obvious. That affinity for certain things that we acquire, the connections we make between our memories and special objects in our lives. (Think, Rosebud.) (I have a glass letter opener, coincidentally, that looks exactly like a small bowie knife. I’ve had it for over a quarter of a century, and it belonged to a former girlfriend who didn’t seem interested in it. I asked her if she wanted it one day, and she said no. So that object that she owned and didn’t care about has become one of my prized possessions. (It’s not valuable, it’s just unusual.)

      To get back to the subject, and your story, that’s what your story explores, that weird attraction that we develop to things that others are completely immune to. I wonder if ‘Alice’ and I are just weird kind of people, or whether all people feel certain instant attachments to inanimate objects? Because, she goes with the letter opener when it goes. And no, the story doesn’t divulge the reason behind her special attachment to that object, but I think that was a smart move. Because it’s very possible that even ‘Alice’ doesn’t know why.

      So your story really appealed to me in a way and on a level that seems really implausible, doesn’t it? But it did. It was also very well written, nicely constructed and delivered with an outstanding reveal. I really enjoyed it.

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 10:11 am
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      Liz, This is a quaint tale! What brought about this attachment that Alice should hang around? Its mystery?

      The end confused me a wee bit……Alice drift away from him she had chosen the letter opener.
      Is something missing here?

      If she were a ghost, that’s different then. 🙂
      Or is it that she doesn’t trust Russel to do a good job?

      Interesting take.

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      • April 27, 2020 at 10:31 pm
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        Marien – yes, Alice is a ghost/spirit waiting for her precious opener to be saved… I”m not sure but I think the opener and the company it advertised might have something to do with the only thing Alice failed at.. Russell knew why she clung to it and let her go… I mean that sounds reasonable – doesn’t it? -Kez

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    • April 27, 2020 at 10:53 am
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      Nice story, very smoothly written and with great flow.. I had a feeling that Alice wasn’t all there (so to speak!) about halfway through, as she didn’t talk with anyone, just observes. When she does appear to say something, Russell doesn’t register it at all – the clincher. And when I reread it I saw the adjectives you’d used to describe her movement – ‘hovered’, ‘drifted’. And there’s a bit of naughty misdirection when she moves the paper-knife, but I guess that’s a power ghosts sometimes have.

      It’s a mystery why she is so obsessed with the paper-knife. Are there letters she wants to open? Perhaps letters from her lover that Russell had not let her read? She’s waiting in the hallway with the paper knife for the postman to arrive, to read the next letter before Russell can get to it …All kinds of possibilities! But then again, the actions of spirits are not always guided by rationality. Maybe she’s caught in a moment and just can’t get out of it.

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 3:54 pm
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      Liz, Kiz, Kez or what ever you’re going by these days,

      It took me awhile. Thank God this one didn’t stick with me and keep me awake at night like that joke of Andy’s. You thoroughly bamboozled me from start to finish. So much so, I didn’t realize that when you wrote her spirit soared as Beth picked up the letter opener, you really meant it. Even at the end I was confused. That was days ago and I just read it again and the light dawned as I realized what you had done. Totally and completely caught me off guard. Good Job, I’m usually pretty good at seeing past author’s misdirection but in this case you dragged me along like a confused teenager, thinking I understood everything, when I understood nothing. Nicely written and I see great improvement with your ellipses. Not perfect, but you have already explained it’s not something you stress over. I’ll keep hoping.

      Roy

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      • April 27, 2020 at 8:41 pm
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        Thanks Roy, appreciate the comments, meanwhile I have come to appreciate the information assisting me into doing better in terms of proper ellipses, grammar etc. not only rating my comments but those to other writers. I do wonder though about style, the individual quirks and odd terminology are often, what one, well me anyway, enjoys in reading some authors. So when we correct oddness or suggest how something could be better worded are we eliminating the diversity and uniqueness in the author… enjoying the difference is why we read…we don’t want to be like Reagan’s Redwood trees…so yes, I can improve, I’m just not sure if I want to… btw what are ellipses… Kez … (I may have been wrong about the Liz- Kiz – Kez and have to give it up… we’ll see later this week…)

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        • April 28, 2020 at 10:14 am
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          Liz, ellipses those three little dots used for pauses. They are like dashes, or parentheses, and aren’t a lot different, although they convey different meanings. Parentheses are used to take an aside in the story for an additional comment that may not have anything to really do with what the author is writing. For example this sentence: My father was never home when I was a child; I always felt he loved his archery (where he went every weekend without me) more than he did me. The aside isn’t necessary to the story, but adds a little bit of info the author wants included.

          Dashes and ellipses are used similarly. You have several examples of them in the paragraph you wrote asking me what they are. You are almost using them correctly. You need to simply put a space before and after the three dots … like this, not like this… or …this, or even this…before moving on. Three of them were incorrect, but one was correct. Yeah! That’s 25% better than it used to be. Still, don’t let it detract from your writing, which I like, and think you are getting better and better. This week was a great example of how much you have improved, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).

          Roy

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    • April 29, 2020 at 5:53 pm
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      This is very lovely, Liz. The shift halfway through, when Beth returns after a week … I thought then that maybe Alice had Alzheimer’s and was just lost in time, but the truth is nicer. It could have been quite heavy-handed, but you treat the twist with such a light touch … very good indeed. In the end, Alice goes with the letter-opener, so it means more to her than Russell … you have to suspect that it signifies a lover – probably the love of her life, lost at some point. (“She really had only failed at one thing in her life.”) Beth’s musings about what she’ll leave behind are spot on; I’m getting similar feelings as I get older. I’m considering doing a real clear-out sometime soon, so that the heirs to my estate (*cough*) don’t have to.

      A couple of observations:

      – I think near the end you suggest that Russell knows/feels pretty much for certain (the last line) that Alice is still around (until she leaves with the letter-opener/Beth). I think that feeling could have been a little more vague.

      – This is a description of the letter-opener that Russell gives to Beth: “…it had a thinner and smaller blade than your average opener, the handle was round, smooth and pearl like …” – a bit superfluous when it’s right in front of them.

      – Take a look at how many paragraphs begin with a name of one of the characters, which makes the style a little repetitive (unless it was deliberate for some reason). You could maybe find a way to embed the names further into the paragraphs a little more often.

      The mystery of why she follows the letter-opener will stay with me for a long time, which is a good sign! Great stuff!

      (I have a brass one with a bone handle in the shape of a bird, possibly Indian, which belonged to my father. I love it and use it all the time, always remembering him when I do.)

      Reply
  • April 26, 2020 at 6:01 am
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    Shop of Lost Things

    I slammed the door closed behind me with my weight as I pressed up against it, trying to catch my breath. As I forced my heavy breathing to slow, I focused on what I could hear behind the door, my ears scrambling for any sound or indication of an approach. All I could make out was the buzz of the crowded streets, conversation and eager footsteps melting into a general hubbub that masked anything sinister.
    They were still out there, I knew it. I could only hope that the crowd would work as well in masking me as it did them.
    Slowly, I peeled myself off the door- simple, wood with faded paint peeling at the edges- and dragged my eyes away to survey the shop for the first time since my hasty arrival. I sighed in relief as I realised it was empty, my ears burning at the thought of how I would’ve looked to any sane person. I inhaled the strange smell of the shop, of rotting wood, old air, and an unusual perfume I couldn’t place yet seemed oddly familiar.
    It was dark, but I was slowly realising that that was more to do with the contrast to how bright it was outside and the curious lack of windows. Now that my eyes were beginning to adjust to the change, I could see more and more of the shop.
    I have to say, it was a lot bigger than it had looked on the outside: the back wall out of sight and hidden by the rows and rows of sagging bookshelves.
    From where I was at the front of the shop, I couldn’t tell what kind of shop it was. To my right was a wooden counter with a closed door behind it, DO NOT ENTER carved in it. On the wall surrounding the door were notes and papers pinned to boards. Most were missing notices with pictures of people and various objects.
    I didn’t pay it much mind and decided to browse the rows of shelves while I was here. I had time to kill until I could be sure it was clear outside and I was curious.
    The first few shelves I came across were filled with books of varying sizes, thickness, and subject too, it seemed. Nothing seemed to be in a particular order. Sightings of the Ghostly Tuba… He Stole My Shoes… The Carrot in the Mash… Rules and Rabbits… The Hidden Saddle… Case of the Miniature Mackerel…
    I wasn’t in a particular mindset to read and very soon my concentration was drifting to other cases as I mindlessly scanned the odd contents.
    Clothing from an all manner of different time periods from beaded masks and a scarlett military captain’s uniform to a literal ball gown fit for a princess. The most intimidating collection of guns and swords I had ever seen, also looking suspiciously real. A row of small trees and flowers that were oddly vibrant for the dim shop and I swore I could see them twitch out of the corner of my eye. More books, a glittering array of jewelry, a disturbing collection of fake eyes, a full bookshelf dedicated to small painted portraits of puppies, and several of perfumes and exotic smelling incense which I suppose explained the pleasing but oppressive smell.
    It was several bookshelves at the back that caught my interest the most, drawing me past all the other items until I stood there puzzling over its purpose. Not that much of the other shelves made much sense.
    This time, there were objects that would’ve belonged to any of the other sections, a mismatch and fitted together, all filed under paper name tags. What caught my attention the most was that one of the tags had my name on it. Bending to lean in closer, I examined the object my name was attached to.
    It was a small stuffed elephant toy, old and tatty. Scratched black bead eyes, the age-softened fabric a faded grey rather than it’s original pale blue, stitches pulled loose at the seams. It was lumpy, the stuffing misplaced, and it was slumped miserably on the polished shelf, by far the most pitiful object there yet by far the most precious.
    Tears welled in my eyes.
    “E-Ellie…” I whispered as I picked up the long-lost childhood toy and traced its trunk with a shaky finger. Memories, long locked away, came back to me.
    I saw a train station, its glass roof flooding golden light into the open space as shiny black monsters of metal and fire rattled in and out with puffs of steam that escaped into the sky where the glass roof ended. I was ten. Getting a little too old for toys but still I tucked the little elephant under my arm tightly and skipped along, tugging happily at the warm hand that encompassed my smaller one. Neither of us said anything, smiling in the golden light as I gazed curiously at the detailed architecture of the station and the faces that passed us. I think he was scanning the trains, watching, always watching.
    The hand let go of mine, but I didn’t pay it much mind, too busy gazing at a family taking a group photo on the other side of the station.
    I think he must have said something. “Your mother will find you, just stay where you are.” That’s what I remember at least. He was wrong.
    When I finally looked at him, he was walking away, his back tall and blocking out the light. Even then, I knew I’d never see him again.
    I didn’t go after him until it was too late, too busy convincing myself that he wouldn’t possibly leave me like that. But he left, and I spent hours in that train station searching and tripping and crying.
    That’s where I lost Ellie. I couldn’t even tell you where exactly in the station she must have fallen. She was there in my arms one moment, then gone the next. I stopped looking for my father and started looking for my poor toy. I never found either of them and my aunt came and dragged me away from that train station crying.
    After that day, I was determined never to cry, never to look for, never to even think about that man again.
    But now, years later, I looked at that toy I had lost, looking as tired and as worn as I felt, so different to how it had looked through my ten-year-old eyes.
    I cried for the first time in years.
    I don’t know how long I spent on the floor of that strange shop, crying as I felt the tears and memories overflow. He had given me Ellie on my fourth birthday, smiling and happy and warm.
    Eventually I came to my senses, checked the time on my watch and stood as I wiped my eyes with a tired chuckle. I passed all those shelves full of lost things and forgotten memories with the old toy tucked under my arm. I didn’t meet anyone on my way out, the counter bare as I left.
    Maybe it was time to look into the past.

    Reply
    • April 26, 2020 at 4:05 pm
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      Amelie, beautifully written and carries the sting of painful nostalgia very nicely. Although I wondered what forced you into this shop, and who “they” were was never exposed, I don’t know if you need that reason to use that as the method for rushing into an unknown shop. I did like the pressing against the door bit, and then peeling yourself away, so it didn’t detract from the story for me as I drifted along on your very descriptive words. Nice job.

      I have no quibbles with the writing, other than my musing above. So you stole your old aptly named stuffed toy back? Is this entire story simply a metaphor of being frightened for some reason and escaping in your mind which is the dimly lit store and rediscovering an uncomfortable memory? And, whatever happened to your mother? I would have liked to know that. So many questions, and yet, you gave so many answers.

      This will be in consideration for my top stories, for you and Ken C. both dazzled me with your poignant look at the lives we lived and revisit now and then in our memories and wrote about so well.

      Roy

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    • April 27, 2020 at 11:03 am
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      Really good writing, Amelie – both the descriptive writing and then the realisation that this is an interior journey, and the curiosity shop is a store of half-forgotten or unexplored memories.
      It’s very effective.

      Roy’s not sure who she’s running from at the start – but I’m guessing it’s the weight and anxiety of daily living, and the narrator is not going to have the resilience to deal with those pressures any more until she gets to grips with the suppressed grief that’s gnawing away inside – the lost toy is not only itself, but symbolises a deeper loss also.
      I might be wrong about all this – I often am … but that’s how it touched me.

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      • April 28, 2020 at 10:17 am
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        Amelie- A lovely piece of writing that delivers a gut punch towards the end as the reader begins to understand what Ellie means to the narrator. I too wondered what caused the narrator to dive into the shop – I got the impression she was being chased- and I found myself a bit concerned for the narrator even towards the end. I kinda felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop about these mystical others that were chasing her so fiercely that she hurridly ducks into a strange shop. I wonder if you could have achieved the same lovely effect of your writing without mentioning these others in the beginning. But all in all, nice writing!

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    • April 29, 2020 at 6:14 pm
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      An intriguing, beautifully-written piece, Amelie. As Roy says, your shop vies with Ken C’s for wonder. (I love the names of the books! And calling the elephant ‘Ellie’ … lovely!) Andy suggests (I think!) that the shop might be bits of her memory, but the weapons …? Perhaps bits of everyone’s memory, and she finds the one that refers to her (with a tag). I too was wondering about who was chasing her. The opening is very exciting, but maybe for another story. Whatever is outside could have been described so that it feels more generically threatening – as if it were simply the stress of adult life, for example (?) I’m not sure about the last line. ‘Look into the past’ why? Lovely stuff, though.

      Reply
  • April 26, 2020 at 12:10 pm
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    The Fur.
    By Trish. Word Count 1196.

    “Yes, all clothing, housewares and pictures are fifty percent off,” said Eve from her stool behind the cash register, sitting adjacent to her walker. “So that blouse will be just three dollars today. Can’t promise it’ll be on sale tomorrow, so you better buy it now before somebody else does.”

    Eve was proud of her salesmanship. She’d been working at the hospital thrift store for going on twenty years now and boy did she know how to close a sale. She’d sold almost fifty dollars worth of merchandise during her last four-hour shift, and she felt sure she’d top that today, since the sale was motivating buyers to crack open their wallets.

    “No, electronics are not on sale today, I’m sorry,” said Eve to a regular who held up a radio with an inquiring eye.

    Eve watched her customers carefully. She knew all her regulars, and she could tell who *needed* to shop at the thrift store by the way they dressed and how they spent their money. She made sure that those people received a quiet discount at the register. Not so much that she was ripping off the hospital, but enough that it made a difference to a person who was just trying to make it in life.

    “Wow! You’re getting genuine crystal wine stems for $2 a piece. What a bargain,” enthused Eve to another customer as she wrapped up their purchase in old newspaper.

    Eve also knew who “shopped thrift” because they saw it as a game. Eve noticed who pulled up to the shop in a Lexus or a Cadillac. She noticed when customers only purchased sterling cutlery and designer clothes. Those people never got charged less than the official, actual price. And sometimes she didn’t even give them the sale price if they were too stupid to notice which items were listed on the sale board. Eve figured her little “accounting trick” balanced out the discounts she gave to others and helped her feel confident that she was still helping the hospital.

    “Well, next week…” Eve started to explain the upcoming sale to one of her regulars who needed the information when she saw a young lady out of the corner of her eye – a new customer. Eve always paid special attention to new customers, so they’d be sure to feel the thrift store was a friendly place. Accordingly, Eve interrupted her sales talk to welcome the new girl. “Howdy! Welcome to Midtown Hospital’s Thrift Store. I’m Eve and I’m happy to help you with anything you need.”

    Eve was disappointed to see the girl turn away, her ratty blonde hair billowing as her head turned. Eve then noticed the thin girl’s shabby clothes and well-worn shoes. “Oh well,” Eve thought to herself, “that young girl needs us. She’s probably had a bad day.”

    Eve continued to watch as the young girl meandered through the store – first touching the collectibles, then fingering the luscious velvet fabrics in the sewing section. Eve grew nostalgic as the girl stopped in front of a fox fur stole. “That was mine,” said Eve, even though the young girl didn’t appear to be paying attention. “My husband Frank gave it to me as a wedding present. The eyes are real red crystals and the toe-nails near the tail are genuine fox nails. Its real fur.” The girl still didn’t appear to listen as she stroked the fur wrap. “I used to wear it when my husband and I would go to Church supper dances.” The girl took the stole off the hanger. “Once a week,” Eve continued as the girl wrapped herself in the fur and took a twirl. “After Frank died I had no place to wear it so I decided to donate it here. It’s marked fifty dollars, but for you I’ll make it thirty.”

    Just then the girl seemed to hear Eve. She glanced in Eve’s direction, then furtively looked towards the exit. There were only ten steps between the fur rack and the exit. There were no obstacles in the young girl’s way. She ran.

    “Why you little shit,” screamed Eve as she bounced off her stool and grabbed her walker. Eve couldn’t move all that quickly with the mobility assistance device but she’d be damned if she was going to let some little ragamuffin steal her fur. And after she’d even offered a discount on the damn thing! Well, no thief was going to get by Eve Dellinger. She pushed the walker forward on its wheels so fast the tennis balls on the struts started wobbling and almost fell off. As she worked her arms and lurched forward she screamed, “Come back here! Frank gave me that. Its fifty dollars!”

    Sadly, by the time Eve reached the door the little girl and Eve’s fur were long gone. Eve returned to the counter and told the customer who’d been waiting, “Dammit, that was fifty dollars for the hospital. And it was a gift from my husband….”

    Eve couldn’t forget the little rat-haired blonde who’d taken her fur. She stewed over the young lady for days, muttering to anyone who would listen, “who steals furs from a thrift store?”

    Then it happened. Eve had just left the 7-11 with her iced coffee in her walker cup-holder, when she saw the little rat-haired girl walking nearby. And she had on Eve’s fur! Eve looked around but saw nobody nearby to help her chase the thief. She had only seconds to think, but Eve was quick, and so just as the young lady came near, Eve threw her iced coffee at her, screaming, “Thief, thief!” The young lady gave Eve a quick look of recognition before she ran off across the parking lot, dropping the fur stole as she ran. Eve painfully bent down to retrieve her fur, and she lovingly draped it around her shoulders. Then she slowly entered the thrift store and perched up again on her stool, with her walker at her side, confident nobody had seen her lapse in judgement.

    Unbeknownst to Eve, thrift store regular Officer Javita Hernandez had been watching from the window. “Eve! Why did you scream “thief”- that young lady hadn’t even been in the store! And did you throw something at her? That’s assault!”

    “Yesirree I did,” said Eve emphatically. “Now I know you aren’t going to lock me up after all the discounts I’ve given you Javita. Fair’s fair. She stole my fur from the store a few weeks ago. I got it back, and I’ve changed my mind about donating it. It’s gonna be part of my burial trousseau.”

    Eve continued to wear the fur for the rest of her shift. In fact, she wore that fur for every shift thereafter until she died at the ripe old age of 95. And Officer Javita Hernandez was present at the viewing to verify that the funeral home got it right – Eve was in fact buried in the fur that Frank had so lovingly bestowed to her on their wedding day. The fur that Eve loved so dearly and hadn’t realized meant so much until it was almost lost.

    Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 1:19 am
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      Trish,

      Eve sounds like a very accommodating person, until that poor, broke, deaf girl stole her donated fox fur. Then she turns into Genghis Khan, crusading marauder of the Siberian Thrifts.

      Now hold up a minute, I know what you’re thinking. ‘How could I possibly know that that girl was deaf? Right? That’s what you want to know. Well, how did Eve know she wasn’t? I just assumed by her behavior that she was. In fact, her initial behavior pegged her as a shoplifter, too.

      I don’t know Trish, this is almost a sad story for our sad times.

      On the bright side however, despite my lack of sympathy for either character, I was still impressed with your writing. Very tight, very clean, very clear. I felt like I was in the thrift store, watching events unfold as they were happening. And the elements where you describe Eve’s ‘situational pricing’ was very entertaining, and endearing.

      I didn’t really care for either of the main characters, but I like your writing. I like reading what you write.

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 11:12 am
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      Trish, I can visualise the fox fur. My grandmother used to have one and it became part of a basket of dressing-up clothes we had when we were young. Kind of scary actually with its little beady eyes and little feet.

      Eve’s a feisty character – has her own moral code about who is deserving of discount and who of being overcharged, and then proves she’s not someone to mess with when she goes for the thief.

      And there’s a moral in there, about not knowing what we’ve got till it’s gone.
      An intriguing and well-written story with strong characterisation.

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 12:51 pm
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      Trish,

      Andy and Ken C. Summed it up well. Great writing with characters that didn’t deserve it. I know that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t. I think John Updike is one of the best out there, yet I hated his characters . None of them were even slightly likable in his ‘Rabbit’ series. Yet, the writing was fantastic. Don’t go crazy, I’m not comparing you to Updike, well, maybe a little.

      Roy

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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      ‘Ratty blonde’ and ‘rat hair’ kinda gives us a clue right there that this buyer is foxy. I do like your style of writing.
      I volunteer at our church Thrift store sometimes and it’s exactly how you say it is. There’s a lady like Eva here who does a great managerial job. You gotta watch out for the stealers.
      Well done, Trish!

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 10:25 am
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        Ken, Andy, Roy and Marien – thanks for reading my story and commenting on it. I really find everybody’s critiques quite helpful. To Roy and Ken – I actually envisioned Eve as a very sympathetic character but after reading your critiques I re-read my piece and realized that in editing I had either cut out the sympathetic sections or simply skipped writing them. But so vivid was my imagination of Eve in my little head that as I initially read and re-read my piece I somehow felt that my piece included all the bits I had neglected to include. I’ll be sure to focus on getting a better rounded picture of my characters in my future pieces. Because who wants to read about unsympathetic characters? (Unless they get their cumuppance in the end!)

        Reply
        • April 29, 2020 at 1:31 pm
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          “Because who wants to read about unsympathetic characters?”

          That’s a really good issue to raise – there are writers like Jonathan Frantzen and Martin Amis who populate their novels with unsympathetic characters, but who are very much feted.
          I think Eve is a bit different. I don’t find her unsympathetic. She’s going to go to the grave singing “I did it my way!” I think we’re also inclined to be forgiving of our elderly friends and relatives who can be a bit on the bullish and maverick side. That’s kind of how I think about her. She’s kind when she’s feeling charitable, and aggressive when she’s crossed. Maybe arbitrary and unpredictable. But certainly well-drawn.

          Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 1:16 pm
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      Trish, I read your story again on voting day and have to agree with Roy… your story really brings out the visceral reaction to Eve who appears especially selfish with no empathy or compassion I really didn’t like her… excellent writing… and I had the thought your comments to all the writers are so kind, generous and caring ad of course spot on … it just surprised me the character came from you … so makes you even better at reaching beyond yourself.. Kez

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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      I really like your story, Trish. Eve is a very strong character. As others say, she’s not sooo sympathetic; she reminds me very much of the managers of ‘Charity Shops’ in Britain, of which I’m an ardent customer whenever I’m back there – a little bit bossy, but essential for the smooth running and money-making of the shop. But she has positive traits – the willingness to give the hard-up a discount, the readiness to stick it to pretentious, wealthy customers. I think you could have made her a little more sympathetic by focussing more on the stole and earlier, and showing us what it means to her (e.g. reluctance to sell it, nervousness whenever anyone showed an interest in it, mention of Frank earlier, etc. … and definitely NO discount for that!). The moments before, during and after the theft are really well written – the ‘before’ is very suspenseful. Very enjoyable.

      Reply
  • April 27, 2020 at 8:06 am
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    The Führer’s Staubsauger.

    And so we come to a highlight of the contemporary history museum here in Tauberbischofsheim. In this showcase you can see the vacuum cleaner that the locally-born doctor and music teacher Anton Bierhuber discovered in a second-hand shop in 1965. He later donated it to the museum. It is an AEG Vampyr, built around 1932; it is not possible to give an exact date. You can see the long handle, which resembles a broomstick, at the bottom there is the suction nozzle and the motor, and the dust-bag hangs directly on the handle. It looks exactly like thousands of other vacuum cleaners of the time. But while the dust-bag in the normal version is brownish, here it is designed in red and white and features a swastika. In addition, the appliance bears the initials H.H. on the engine block. So what makes this vacuum cleaner so special that millions of visitors come to Tauberbischofsheim every year just to see it?

    It is the “Führer’s Staubsauger”, as it is commonly referred to in the press. To explain to you how the device got its name, I’ll tell you the whole story. It is an exciting example, of how contemporary history is shaped.

    The relationship of the Führer to household appliances has only recently been examined in detail by science. In most reports from contemporary witnesses it was never mentioned. It still is one of the deepest and most fascinating secrets of the Third Reich.

    If you look at the more recent research, you’ll see that the Führer had special relationships with household appliances at a very early stage. There is, for example, Josef Neumann, a resident of the men’s dormitory where H. had lived in his time as a landscape painter. Neumann reported that the odd Austrian always had a broom beside his bed. However, he never used this broom to sweep the room. Moreover, he forbade all others to touch the broom or even to look at it more closely. It is said that there was even a brawl over it.

    Other contemporary witnesses stated that even during the Führer’s famous speech on 24 February 1920 in the Munich Hofbräuhaus, there was always a broom close to him. The party dispatched two members of the SA Saalschutztruppe (SA hall protection squad), whose sole task it was to look after the broom. They were also forced to maintain strict silence about this mission. At the end of the event, the two SA men received another strange order: They were to steal a vacuum cleaner from a storage room and bring it to the Führer’s apartment. Both men maintained their silence. Only on his deathbed did Erwin Huber, one of the two hall guards, confide in his wife.

    In the years after the seizure of power, the Führer’s special relationship with household appliances was an open secret in the leadership of the NSDAP. When exactly the AEG Vampyr exhibited here came into the possession of the Führer can no longer be dated exactly. It must have been shortly after the Reichstag fire in 1933. After that the device was the Führer’s constant companion. During a trip to Italy for Mussolini’s birthday there was an incident which the pilot of the Ju52 that took him there remembered later. The plane was full when the Führer noticed that his vacuum cleaner was not on board. He was very upset and could not control his violent temper. Finally, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave up his seat on the plane and took the train to Italy, so that the vacuum cleaner could be taken along. The pilot remembered that the Führer already had a Luger in his hand when Goebbels decided to leave the plane.

    In the Führer’s private residence, the Berghof in Obersalzberg, there were separate bedrooms for him, his mistress Eva Braun and the vacuum cleaner. Eva Braun is said to have been pathologically jealous and prone to depression. The reason: there was a connecting door between the Führer’s room and the vacuum cleaner’s, but not to her room. Blondie, a German Shepherd, also didn’t like the vacuum cleaner; she often growled at the sight of it and had to be calmed by the Führer himself.

    In the bunker system of the famous Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze in East Prussia, the vacuum cleaner of the Führer also had its own room. At that time, however, electrical sockets were not as widespread as today. When the Führer personally brought his vacuum cleaner into the room intended for it, he found that they had forgotten to install a socket there. This was no small matter, as the concrete walls of the Wolfsschanze bunkers were six metres thick. Now it was too late, the sockets couldn’t be flush-mounted anymore. The architect of the building and the construction manager were deported to Ausschwitz and executed there.

    But what was the reason for this special relationship between the dictator and his personal vacuum cleaner? Of course, an erotic aspect was always discussed. It is not so rare for people to perform sexual acts on household appliances, but very rarely was an emotional bond seen to develop this way. Recent research therefore assumes that the Führer rather longed for the company of the vacuum cleaner. He just liked to talk to it. It’s well known that many dictators have a major problem, because at some point they no longer have any significant interlocutors. Nobody dares to contradict them. Even closest friends nod at everything a dictator claims. After all, even friends have been executed often enough after a thoughtless statement. So in the end dictators are very lonely people.

    The Führer once described this in detail in his diary: “The more I get to know people, the more disappointed I get about them. The more I long for my trusted vacuum cleaner.” Only when he was alone with his vacuum cleaner did he feel truly free. One of his personal assistants believed that he saw the Führer lying in bed next to his vacuum cleaner, laying his hand on the appliance‘s switched-on motor, as if on the heart of a lover. The AEG Vampyr made a very typical sound, a kind of howling, loud and powerful, very similar to a Wagner opera.

    The Führer, his dog, his mistress and his personal vacuum cleaner spent their last hours in embattled Berlin together. When Russian soldiers conquered the Führer’s bunker, they only found dead bodies there. The dog and the woman had been poisoned. The Führer himself, however, was strangled. A cable was found around his neck, obviously belonging to a vacuum cleaner, an AEG Vampyr.


    Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 10:20 am
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      A revisionist history that a vampire can really sink it’s fangs into. Enjoyable story Max. Very enjoyable, original, and almost believable. Welcome back.

      Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 2:49 pm
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      Jurgs,

      The Vampyr? What a great name for a sucking device. And AEG. Anders Engineering Group? There’s a brand I remember from my childhood that very few people were lucky enough to own, it was called a Kirby. It even had a headlight.

      Your story is very entertaining, it’s not easy to write about such abject evil as Hitler and yet still get some laughs out of it. I think maybe it’s the ultra-absurdity of it, even while the story is delivered with a ‘straight-face.’ (Something you Germans are quite good at. No?)

      There are some intriguing truths in this story, specifically about dictators, and the fate of those who advise them, no matter how judiciously. Which makes it fitting that a ‘Head Of State’ would find friendship with such a device.

      This is your second story that I know of in which the main character is a household appliance. (I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.)

      Now I wonder, what’s next for you Jurgen? A microwave that has an affair with a blender? Or, Man vs. Mixer? The Rise and Fall of the Rotating Rotisserie?

      You certainly keep us on our toes, Jurgen. Fabulous writing, by the way. Very matter-of-fact, sterile, institutional, like an educational video. And yet the material is absurd. Very clever, I think.

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 6:42 pm
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      One of the best tips about comedy that I’ve heard is “play it straight”, and that’s what you do here, Jürgen – very well. The style of the guide is spot-on – very dry, informative. And behind that is the absurdity of the idea. And behind THAT, and what we have to keep in mind, is the evil of the man. You’ve mixed all that together in a great presentation, dripping with black humour. Very nice.

      Reply
  • April 27, 2020 at 11:28 am
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    That’s an amusingly offbeat concept, Jürgen. Had me chuckling from the title. Though the story gets more serious and a bit grim as it goes on.

    found a picture of an AEG Vampyr – it’s like this?
    https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/506443920580983731/?autologin=true&nic_v1=1ayvl5Qwez%2Bp8cg6GQNrpxxNqzlteg3fQD%2FihnUyqXC0p4fSn%2FGMDXSx0T%2FTKAFEZQ

    This is one of my favourite lines: “The relationship of the Führer to household appliances has only recently been examined in detail by science.” I mean, almost every other aspect of his life – historic, legendary, imagined, nonsensical – has been under the microscope, so why not this?

    OK, what’s it all about? It could just all be playfully absurd. Or maybe it represents that one monomaniacal obsession that won’t fail him when everything around him might be undependable or falls apart … but which in the end kills him. Or maybe Eva, or Himmler even, strangles him with the cord out of jealousy …

    Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 11:38 am
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      Yes, Andy, that’s the one. They didn’t have new models every year, the one on the pic was built from 1929 foor several years. As for your thoughts about what’s that all about, I won’t comment it (for now.)

      Reply
      • April 27, 2020 at 11:49 am
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        I hadn’t realised that electric vacuum cleaners went back that far, so it was a surprisingly interesting piece of research.
        As for my thoughts -no doubt over-interpreting as usual. Actually, I’ve remembered something else about H’s psychology which probably has something to do with it …

        Reply
        • April 29, 2020 at 6:16 pm
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          Yeah, I am still wondering what he did with the broom. I will slap my imagination down when it travels to the vaccum cleaner potential acts. NO, NOOOOOO.
          It reminds me of a ER doctor telling tales about gerbils and blender attachments stuck in people’s lower orifices! I mean really?? I am not a prude and did live a little more exciting life in terms of relationships in my younger years, but there have to be some orifices that are not intended for gratification purposes, don’t they?
          I mean a gerbil in your bottom??? The poor little thing, and why would you??
          At least the vaccum cleaner got its revenge. It could have been a Jewish or gay vaccum cleaner and had just had enough of the madman’s ravings and decided to end the noise. Who knows. Interesting story and it did bring s a smirk to my lips.

          Reply
    • April 27, 2020 at 12:11 pm
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      This is where the phrase ‘that sucks!” has a positive connotation. Looks like it does so, and powerfully.
      I had an American aunt who had a big house with a central ducted vacuum cleaning system, with inlets in each room. That kind of system would have been even harder to retrofit to the bunker, and harder to cuddle at night.
      Quite a diversity of concepts and applications in this field!

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 10:27 am
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        BerlinerMax- Now this IS the second story I’ve read from you about appliances…makes one wonder, doesn’t it? 🙂 Very creative bit of historical fiction. Very creative indeed.

        Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 6:19 pm
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      Berlinermax I am beginning to suspect you have some interesting twists and turns in your personality. This close relationship with household devices, especially vaccum cleaners is sending a worrying little shiver of apprehension up or is it down my spine.
      Dear me…

      Reply
  • April 27, 2020 at 4:00 pm
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    Ken C., my man, you’ve done it again with some excellent writing. Good plot line, good story, well written and only one teeny tiny mistake that I will politely point out, and not with great glee. Cobra does not and should not be capitalized. Other than that, loved the story. Now, please tell me you just put this in for fun, because as much as I like this story, and it’s good, it’s not as good as the first.

    Roy

    Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 2:32 am
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      Thanks Roy,
      I appreciate your opinion on the two stories. As often happens, (with me anyway) my best stories are easy to write, and they don’t really appeal to me all that much. (How long will it take me to internalize this?)

      Plus, I boasted that I was going to write another story that specifically named nine items that it would include, in addition to the prompt. An alcoholic, a syringe, a window, a spider, a torso, a dancer, a spore, a grandpa and a pandemic. This I’ve done. These were major elements in the stories posted last week. It was a fun challenge.

      As much as I like the first story, (a lot) I like the second story better because it has action, an abundance of imagery, satisfies the prompt, it has a plot with no loose ends, a moral, an element of mystery and a philosophical position (on certain unnamed things.)

      The first story may indeed be better. But ‘Coventry’ was a real labor of – well, labor. It was like giving birth to a vacuum cleaner, while it was running. I thought I was done with this story three days ago. But each day, I saw ways to improve it. Two days ago, I removed a major character. I realized he was not just irrelevant, he was detrimental to the story. When I pulled him out, I got an extra three hundred word cushion to add detail and nuance to the rest of the story. I didn’t have a meaningful or proper ending until last night. And today, before I posted it, I added words and phrases in at least six different places. And I’m certain that they were the right phrases. Like the last one, I wanted that message somewhere near the end of the story. (That was a big part of the point. She did good by him, now she wanted him to do good for her. That last phrase was the perfect expression of that directive, and it fit very neatly in as the last line.

      I already asked Alice or Carrie to take the first one down. It’s a good story, I’m convinced of that, and that just makes it easier to do what I said I would do. Write a second story, and that’s a story I wouldn’t mind getting some feedback on. Although at times, that seems like asking too much on this thread.

      Cheers,
      Ken

      Reply
      • April 28, 2020 at 4:13 am
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        Hi Ken – let’s look at what’s so appealing to others about your first story.
        I’d say first off it’s very poised, polished and controlled. Second, it’s both visually evocative of something we can identify with, and emotionally too without being sentimental. Third, the pacing and reveal are pretty much perfect. It makes for a very involving and engaging read.

        I know most of your stories are kind of high energy, coiled and sprung ready to bounce out with quirky characters, sharp dialogue and amusing (often hilarious) turns of phrase, and you’re fond of the engagingly implausible, as are we when we read them. But your first story showed another side to your artistry. Do you think your second story can involve and touch a reader as much as the first does? That’s an important consideration.

        You mention the amount of labour put in, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the point. I suspect Rembrandt would have found it easier to paint The Night Watch than he would to dig a tunnel. It’s not the labour, it’s the finished product that counts.

        On the Covenant directly, there are some memorable images and I like the ‘pay it forward’ message at the end. But I think we’ve reached a stage in our relationship where we can be direct, no? 🙂

        There are some technical things. I know the first and last sections are first person narrative, but about a third of the paragraphs begin with “I”. There’s a point around the 9th-10th paragraph where there are 5 consecutive sentences beginning with “I” and a few more “I”s in the middle of them for good measure, just in case we’re not sure of the POV.

        You set yourself a difficult task with the disparate range of items you wanted to include. So the story’s had a difficult birth. Maybe because of that the story includes too many darlings that need to be killed off to make it tighter.

        My collegial advice – if you want a story that appeals to the reader keep the first one. For one that appeals to the writer, you’ve made your case … but I think it remains in need of some polishing. Others may disagree of course.

        (I’m going to have to go and check if Rembrandt ever did dig a tunnel now. Wish I hadn’t thought of that one … I’ll let you know)

        Reply
        • April 28, 2020 at 7:42 am
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          Andy,

          Maybe wondering about Rembrandt digging a tunnel will keep YOU awake tonight. Poetic Justice.

          Roy

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          • April 28, 2020 at 8:06 am
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            Haha, hmm, yes!

            I think I should have used an example like, “Richard Strauss would probably have found it easier to compose Also Sprach Zarathustra than to install a duct-based vacuum cleaning system in the Fuhrer’s Wolf’s Lair.”

            I’m pretty sure he never tried.

        • April 28, 2020 at 2:09 pm
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          Andy, (This is 500 words so you might want to skip to the last two paragraphs.)

          I really appreciate the opinions you offered on the two stories, and the opinions of several other writers as well. But your comment was more technical because you offered observations, which are more concrete, and therefore useful. (As well as being inconvenient.)

          I checked on your observations of the ‘Covenant’ story, and there were indeed too many ‘I’s. I fixed it on the spot. But the point is that the story still needs work. Whereas, the other story is done. (Pretty much.)

          Mostly, I look at this group as a clinic or an internship, not a contest, even though it is a contest. While the idea is to improve my writing, my ultimate goal is to entertain. Those who expressed opinions were pretty clear, they liked the first story. That it ‘deserved’ a place on the thread.

          I think the one thing causing me to hesitate is the fact that Kim was the lone dissenter, she liked the second story better. And she’s proven to be an accurate judge of stories, over time.

          But let me be frank, posting two stories for one prompt was a selfish act. I justified my bratty behavior by pretending it was an experiment. And that experiments are inherently inconvenient. I think I managed to get what I was really after, a comparison of my two stories, and praise for being so ‘clever.’

          I should pull both stories for creating such a spectacle. At this point, I wouldn’t expect many votes for either story anyway. There are plenty of other great stories that deserve attention.

          The only other reason to go with the second story is that I boasted that I would do it. I try to avoid making promises, but here, I thought for sure I controlled the outcome. I guaranteed that I could and would post a different story, even if it was shittier. I could live with that. I did not expect ‘pushback.’ But now that I’ve gotten it, the ‘pushback’, I think it’s valuable, (because clearly, I have no fricking idea when I’m writing a good story or not, even after it’s written! (What an idiot! I should run for President, I’d be a shoo in.) In fact, if my judgement is a factor, I’ve only written about five good stories in five years. (Oh well, it’s better than none.)
          Anyway,
          In the end, I really thought I’d wrangled the second story into something more entertaining, I took such pains to make it so. But the idea for the story started as a joke, then turned into a prank, and then became a mission. Now—I’ve even managed to convince myself that it was some kind of experiment, like I’m a fucking ‘literary physicist.’ (It’s getting deep around here. Where are my boots?) I call bullshit on myself.

          I should’ve taken Phil’s advice. He said save it and use it for a future prompt.

          I’ve already composed and sent a note to the moderators requesting them to take it down.

          Reply
          • April 28, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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            Ken,

            As the nurse said to the patient after the digestive medicine she gave earlier took effect, “I think you’ve made a good move.” Indeed, a smart move. NO offense to Kim, but she missed it on this one. And, you should value her opinion. As you told me, she’s stuck with you all this time, apparently, so she must have some good sense, or would she disagree with that? You tell me.

            Roy

          • April 28, 2020 at 3:40 pm
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            “Mostly, I look at this group as a clinic or an internship, not a contest, even though it is a contest.”

            Well, I guess if we were more competitive we’d be saying “Take down that first story. The second story is miles better”!
            But we’re not saying that.
            We’re nice folk.

            We’re idiots.

          • April 28, 2020 at 4:30 pm
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            Ken C. – Before this story disappears I figured I’d get my two cents in … Your piece was SO inventive! I loved the way you brought in all of our senses (her minty breath, the wetness of the puddle splashing the narrator when the car races past, etc.) I thought your second story was a great ride of imagination and I enjoyed it immensely. That said, I too liked your first one better – it was kinda like drinking a good bourbon: the cheap stuff’ll do the trick, but the good stuff is just so much smoother,

  • April 27, 2020 at 9:41 pm
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    Ken C – gee what a positive story, a little round about way of passing it on..but not terrible, or scary or gruesome just wondering all the way through what’s going to happen next and we still don’t know… why can’t Cobra be capitalized? -Kez

    Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 9:29 am
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      Liz, when writing a sentence involving a particular animal, one that is let’s say a man eating tiger, and it is specific, it is permissible to capitalize the Man Eater, or the Tiger was prowling around the tent last night, although one doesn’t have to. When discussing tigers, and in this case cobras, the sentence wasn’t being written about THE cobra, but A cobra. Just one of your run of the mill cobras. Hence, no capitalization. Unless, of course, the word begins the sentence. I just checked and the above is correct.

      Roy

      Reply
  • April 28, 2020 at 5:56 am
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    Hi Ken C,

    I have just reread your first story, The Curiosity Shop, then the new one Covenant and the couple of comments already in from Liz and Roy and Andy.

    One thing strikes me. It is that you are a seriously good writer as is evidenced by the fact that you have produced (or given birth to) two very good stories from one prompt. But they are not twins, these two. Far from it.

    My problem is that I am now going to have to choose which of these stories I like best. OK, I can only vote for one of them as one will be taken down but personally speaking, I think you have chosen the wrong one. I stand by my original comments and my plea that you should have let the first one stand. It had such a poignant touch to it whereas Covenant is, by your own admission, a challenge you set yourself to include all those different elements. Thus, it is more contrived but still a very good story.

    Andy has made some very pertinent points that go into some real technical detail. He acknowledges the potential strife between writing good stuff for your readers and writing good stuff that satisfies you, the writer. We all experience this. Personally, I feel that if I like what I have written, then I believe it will get positive feedback.

    At the end of the day, Ken, you have made a very powerful case for keeping the second story, as is your prerogative.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    Reply
  • April 28, 2020 at 1:19 pm
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    I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish this. I’ve been thinking about this prompt for ages and I guess I had too many ideas and couldn’t whittle it down into one. I like the way it finally ended up though. It was totally not at all like what I had originally wanted for this prompt though lol.

    Reply
  • April 28, 2020 at 1:21 pm
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    Armageddon in a Jar
    by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [1200 word count]

    Chesterfield and I stood outside the Curiosity Shop while the rain hammered down on us. The windows looked dark and cluttered, but the shop was always open on Sundays regardless of weather or impending doom. What a day for armageddon.

    I pushed open the shop’s door and a bell tinkled our presence to the caretaker. He’d dealt with us before and had an uncanny knack for knowing what we needed. “What you seek is in the labyrinth upstairs.” He had names like that for each area of his store. “It adds a touch of ambiance,” he told me once when I asked him about it. We creaked our way up the aging stairs to the third floor.

    Walking through stacks of human detritus, we passed the discarded toys and cracked, rotting furniture of eras past. The air was full of musty smells and dust motes. The deeper we moved into the jumble of cases and shelves, the more I felt the odor of the place seep into me. A cryptic dream this morning told me that today was the day and a sense of deep anticipation ran through me that bordered on the edge of fear. Chesterfield’s eyes, gazing absentmindedly through the shelves, conveyed similar sentiments.

    But then we saw it – an antique jar full of ancient teeth. There was a slight rustle when the contents shifted as he picked it up. Chesterfield admired it, breath held tight. I reached out to take it from him and the lights flickered and went out. A flash of lightning through some unseen window froze the room in vignettes – a rusted tree, a withered tentacle, rainy shelves – as we wove our way out of the labyrinth.

    We pushed through the greenish halflight of the storm to the front of the store. The Caretaker stopped us at the counter.

    “You know the price.”

    I reached into my coat and took out the silk wrapped payment, handing it to him. He unwrapped it and sucked air through his half parted lips. Inside the fabric was a preserved toad with a little brass collar around its neck. “You found it,” he whispered, barely audible above the storm.

    “Is it a fair trade then?” Chesterfield asked, as eager to get on with it as I was.

    “Yes, oh gods yes,” the Caretaker distractedly brushed us away with one hand as he cradled the toad with the other. I wasn’t sure what it meant to him, but I didn’t have time to worry about that now. We shoved off back into the sheeting rain.

    * * *

    Drip, drip, drip

    The leaky roof was killing me as I tried to concentrate on my task. I had the jar’s contents on my workbench and had to pay close attention to what I was doing so that things didn’t go sideways. Spells were always such fickle things. I blew the powder in a cloud across the teeth spread out on the slate table top and waited for it to settle. The only way to find the teeth we needed was to test for the residue that transdimensional magic left behind.

    I sat back and sipped my tea, disappointed to find it had grown cold. I sighed and pushed it away.This was the third time I had to try the spell since a train kept interrupting at the absolute worst possible time, shaking the foundations and causing dust and stray water droplets to rain down from the ceiling. I couldn’t wait for this all to be over so I wouldn’t have to stay in this damp and dingy shithole of a house any longer.

    Chesterfield came into the room, puzzling over a peculiar old map. “I think I know where we have to go next.” He went over to peer at the teeth. “It’s just hard to coincide the markings on the map with places in the real world. It doesn’t help that so much has been torn down and paved over since it was drawn.” Shaking his head, he picked up my discarded tea and grimaced at the coldness of it.

    As he went to turn the kettle on, I continued my work, applying a slight electrical charge to the powdered teeth. I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of them begin to glow. These were just what I needed to complete my task. I grabbed my gear and my coat.

    “Forget the tea, we’re ready to deal with the demon.” Chesterfield unplugged the crusty kettle and we left that hovel and took off in his car to find the place where the border betweens worlds had worn thin.

    * * *

    The place we needed turned out to be located behind an old abandoned warehouse just outside of town. We parked at the back of the cracked lot and climbed the slight rise into the patch of scrub where we were headed. I cleared away some thorny vines and weeds and saw that there was a slab of granite that was just the right height to work as an altar. It looked to be aligned with the local ley lines and I set to work preparing my tools for the spell.

    “Are you sure about which demon that’s trying to come through?” Chesterfield was always a stickler for details.

    “Yes. All signs point to it being Brrrzzybub who plans to destroy civilization in precisely 35 minutes from now.”

    I placed my tools and the teeth on the cloth I had spread out over the stone. Centering and grounding myself, I began to chant. A portal opened above the altar as lightning ruptured the bruise colored sky. I screamed to be heard over the deafening thunder and howling wind. A writhing form began to press against the portal, trying to find a weakness in the membrane. Tentacles slithered through and stretched an opening that a snapping beak surrounded by wriggling limbs and a thousand eyeballs used to enter our dimension.

    “WHO DARES… oh, are those my teeth?” Brrrzzybub had at least half its eyeballs focused on the altar. “I’ve been looking for those everywhere.”

    “We are here to serve you, Demon Master. How may we help you in your domination of our world.” Chesterfield and I prostrated before the tentacled monster. Two of its limbs had grabbed the teeth and pushed them into what looked like gums inside the beak.

    “Oh that’s so much better, I can actually chew my food now. You know, I woke up in such a surly mood this morning, but it has really shaped into a great day. What’s that you were saying about dominating your world?”

    Chesterfield lifted his head, a confused look on his face. “Err, it was foreseen that you would come into our dimension and destroy civilization as we knew it.”

    “Huh, that does sound better than what I had planned. It feels like I might need to grab a snack first to boost my energy.” At that the demon tore Chesterfield’s head off and then went to town on his body. “This is so much more enjoyable than swallowing my food whole.”

    With horror, I watched as he turned toward me. Well, at least I didn’t have to go back to that shithole house.

    ###

    Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 3:43 pm
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      Wendy, what a lovely gruesome story. Nice writing and I loved what you did with your outworlder by his interpretation of what they said: “Err, it was foreseen that you would come into our dimension and destroy civilization as we knew it.” As ‘we’ – the two of them – knew it. Then, having destroyed civilization as they knew it, by dispatching the two of them, (their world no longer exists) he could go back to his normal life (with teeth) of showing up occasionally for a snack or, should he run across a group of snacks, that weren’t social distancing, maybe even dinner. Good story, well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      One teeny thing: You wrote: I had the jar’s contents on my workbench and had to pay close attention to what I was doing so that things didn’t go sideways.

      Wendy, it’s little, but worth mentioning. You do not need the word ‘that’ after so. It should just be – so things didn’t go sideways. I’ve been guilty of that particular sin myself, many times. And, I’m sure in writing to a 1200 word minimum, one single word you don’t need can make a difference. It happens to me frequently.

      Roy

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 2:03 pm
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        Thanks for pointing that out! It’s hard to step far enough away sometimes to see your own speach failures creeping into the writing. I was indeed cutting superfulous words to make the limit and this should have gotten the axe.

        Reply
    • April 28, 2020 at 4:08 pm
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      Well-written and interesting story, Wendy.
      You throw in all the demon fantasy tropes – spooky old shop, mysterious object being sought, lights go out, lightning flash, magic spell, altar, hellish demon breaking through – then you subvert these with the slightly clueless demon and darkly comic denouement. That the two protagonists want to serve the demon is also a surprise – one’s instinct after watching god knows how many series of Buffy that they’ll be going to close the hellmouth or generally do battle.

      I want to ask, why do they need the teeth when this demon is due to break through anyway (or so it is believed). And why cast a spell on the teeth?
      But I’ve been regularly told off in the family for asking ‘why?’ in fantasy. It’s because it is so, and that’s all! I understand!
      Entertaining story!

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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        Andy, in my story I was thinking that the main character had a prophetic dream that told them when they needed to perform the ritual in order for the demon to appear. If these details were arranged correctly, then the destruction that was prophesied in the dream would come true. This is all ponderous and destroys the misdirection I gave as to whether they were stopping the demon vs calling it.

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        • May 1, 2020 at 9:11 pm
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          I know what you mean, Wendy. Maybe the narration could have been in the present tense throughout? e.g.:

          “With horror, I watch as he turns toward me. Well, at least I don’t have to go back to that shithole house.”

          Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 12:11 am
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      Wendy,

      I think that witch bit off a little more than she could chew. Ha ha.
      (Amazing what lengths some people will go to just to get out of a lease.)

      Seriously speaking, this is an exciting story. There were just two things that bothered me. One was the secondary character’s name. ‘Chesterfield.’ It’s long, strange, and unlikely. (Lucky Strike would have been no less outlandish.) I was going to name a character Babette, recently, and changed it at the last minute after much internal conflict. Character names are a funny business, and I’ll just leave it at that.

      The second thing was the teeth. After applying an electrical charge ‘to the powdered teeth’ she was pleased to see, ‘a few of them begin to glow.’ If they were powdered, how could they be individual teeth?

      All other aspects of the story were terrific. Your writing is splendid and your story lines are decidedly unique. (Aren’t you the one who wrote a story about a cow once, from the point of view of the cow?)

      Reply
      • April 29, 2020 at 2:16 pm
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        Ken C. – The powder was applied to the loose teeth, not a product of pounding them to powder. I get the bit about using Chesterfield. My original name for the character was even more unlikely and so stupid I won’t tell you what it was. I guess I was hinting at a bit of steampunk sensibilty by choosing such an antiquated and ridiculous name. I should have just called him, Ken, since that seems to be all the rage these days.

        And yes, I did write the cow story. Her name was Milkshake and she was filled with lactose and ennui. There was also the one about the sock who went on a quest, so I am a bit weird for sure.

        Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 8:12 pm
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      I really like all the questions your story raises early on, Wendy – who are the people, why the teeth, what’s the spell, etc. You hold this information back skilfully, and that draws us along. The shop is well described – motes, mustiness, creaking. You say in one of your comments that you were going for ‘serious’ when you started, then it got weird. I felt that myself a bit; the beginning suggested pure horror, but then “Brrrzzybub” and “WHO DARES… oh, are those my teeth?” – very funny, but a big swing into broad comedy. Just one more thought: the narrator is going to get scoffed, so how is she (he?) narrating events? (From the afterlife, I suppose?)

      I did enjoy this, though.

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 5:41 am
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        ” the narrator is going to get scoffed, so how is she (he?) narrating events? (From the afterlife, I suppose?)” asks Phil

        There are precedents for this, like the first 5 books of the Bible and the Gospel of John, both apparently written by authors who report their own death at the end. Though they do write of themselves in the third person, so it often slips by unnoticed.

        Wendy, one thought did occur to me, to build on your comment about letting the silly weirdness take over. In the style of “knock knock” jokes the narrator could end by saying, “Armageddon out of here” … and that solves the narrator dying problem 🙂

        Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 4:06 pm
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        I was less thinking of it as being narrated by the other as us kind of living in his head, so the fact he’s dead doesn’t really affect the telling of it as it were.

        Reply
        • May 1, 2020 at 9:12 pm
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          (Sorry – posted this in the wrong place …)

          I know what you mean, Wendy. Maybe the narration could have been in the present tense throughout? e.g.:

          “With horror, I watch as he turns toward me. Well, at least I don’t have to go back to that shithole house.”

          Reply
  • April 28, 2020 at 4:34 pm
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    Wendy – I simply love your writing. Your plots are so creative and your descriptions so evocative … I’m quite jealous! I thought the twist ending was very fun- it reminded me of a Peter Paul and Mary song for kids called “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor.” At the end of the song, Mary makes a slurping sound because the boa constrictor is done – just like your demon with the narrator. Great story!

    Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 2:18 pm
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      Haha, Trish, I know that song! To be honest, I really struggled with this story and was going for serious when I started it, but then just let the silly weirdness take over and it’s much better for it.

      Reply
  • April 29, 2020 at 8:15 am
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    The Africanologie Shop
    (1199 words)
    It was deep in the forbidden zone. The yearning fanned a flame of passion that built within me a steady fire that ate at my reason.

    Hidden in the deepest recesses of the ruined city for the past sixty plus years, stories had been passed down by several generations of the Roamers about the shop. It has been a last outpost before the five year plague in 2020 to 2025 claimed three quarters of the world’s population.

    We had thought we were safe. Social distancing had worked for a while. The first wave made everyone complacent and they relaxed. Slowly things went back to a new normal, until the second wave hit, and then the third and then the final fourth wave which tore through the earth’s population killing all but the most resourceful and resilient of the human race. Trouble is, the city dwellers wanted their circuses, their football matches, their entertainment and fun with all it entailed. It was the quiet people who survived. Those ones whose lives went on in a quiet routine of chores and those who trod gently on the earth. Those whose lives had been taken over by the quick and the brash; they survived. The conquerors did not.

    The shop had been a point of interest for many. The man who ran it, had been elderly during the plague. He survived it. So did his son and his son’s wife. Their children did not. All four of them had succumbed to the plague. The old man’s wife had died. They took in a boy Huyang whose whole family had been victims. He was only six years old at the time. It was he who ran the shop today.

    The son of the original owner and his wife still lived there. Huyang, who was now a man of sixty plus years, cared for them as they had cared for him, all those years ago? He fed them, and cared for them and the shop. Many wondered why he would still want to live in the midst of a ruined city. Often, the roamers who journeyed to the city would see him going through his early morning Tai Chi routines and then he would prepare tea for himself and the old couple. I was told this was the best time to catch him in a pleasant mood.

    You were supposed to wait at the shop entrance until he offered you some tea.
    Sometimes he had ignored the silent watcher at the entrance. Sometimes the invited watcher got no further than the shared tea and went home empty handed. This happened to seven or eight out of every ten visitors. Only if he saw something in you that touched him, did he invite you inside the shop.

    It was just a shop, you may say. What’s so different about a shop specializing in Africa cultural artifacts and curios? Many of these pieces were from the African continent and surrounding middle eastern countries, particularly Egypt and Yemen. The goods were second hand, tired copies of original pieces. Nothing special.

    Those who visited it thought different. No one ever went twice. They would go and return with a strange light of peace present in their eyes and demeanor. They all took just one object from the shop. They would not talk about it. I once asked an older woman, “Did they had to pay for the things they took?” She simply smiled a sad, distant smile and nodded.
    “What?” I asked. “How much?” She shrugged, a weary knowing look passed over her face.

    Those who returned had a satisfied aura of contentment and accomplishment. I had wanted to go ever since my uncle Jonah had returned from there. I was five or six when he left and just past my seventh birthday when he returned.
    Before he went, he was a wild spirit, sharp edged like a new knife and unpredictable. He would cut a swathe with his tongue in the group. People were afraid of him, not just because of his size, but his unstable nature. He was a risk taker until he journeyed to the north into the forbidden zone and in search of Africanologie. He came home changed.

    ***********************************************
    Where was the shop?
    It was in a once great city of different cultures and diverse interests. Sydney in Australia. It had once been a vital hub of commercial interests, tourism and the arts. It had had a harbor with an arched bridge that now lay in rusting ruins broken in half, both ends ran down into the choppy water. Its famous opera house, whose once white sails now the colour of rust; whose dusty broken tiles littered the ground on its peninsula, stood a silent sentinel to the city’s demise.
    Tall office buildings peered sightlessly out over the harbor where the remains of some of the Manly Cat skeletons floated – rotting hulks bobbing aimlessly testing the chains which anchored them to the piers at Circular Quay which had stood vacant and empty of crowds for the past 50 plus years, had been reclaimed in part by the bushland and shrubbery that tangled through the narrow streets of The Rocks. Buildings wept green vines and the great Morton Bay figs had rippled their roots through the roads and lane ways.

    *******************************************
    It was here that I went in search of the Africanologie shop. In the early morning half-light, I stumbled over the tangled vines and tree roots that had invaded the roads and alleys of the harbor side suburb The Rocks. Finally, I came upon the clearing and two park benches under a huge Morton Bay fig tree.

    He was there. Already finished, he did not look at me as he stoked the fire and put a Billy can of water on the iron hook that arched over the fire. He went inside the shop and returned with the old couple whom he seated together on one of the benches. He made the tea and then as if it were an afterthought he turned.

    “Would you care to join us?” Without waiting for my consent, he took an extra cup and poured out four cups of steaming tea. Serving the old couple first, he then offered me my cup. We drank slowly with appreciation.

    “Would you care to see the shop? Perhaps there is something you want?”

    I cannot remember consenting, but I do remember the sense of peace that prevailed walking through the crowded little antiques and African artifacts stacked tight against the walls.

    I chose a small African mask carved in black onyx stone. It was fixed to a gold chain with a small red gold clasp.
    “How much?” I turned to ask him. He was no longer there and the walls of the shop seemed so much dustier and untidier than before.

    The amulet lay in the palm of my hand. I really wanted it. I waited one hour, then two hours, but he did not return. Nor could I see the old couple. So I emptied my rucksack onto the bench.

    Then I wrote him a letter and returned home to the country filled with a gladness I couldn’t explain.

    Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 10:57 am
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      Ilana, Gosh dang it, you’re not supposed to make it this hard to vote with a late entry. I had it all figured out, then get up this morning and see this. Now things are in shambles in my voting consideration thanks to you. How the Hell are we supposed to vote some of these stories better than the others. Besides Cartisano, and Amelie and others putting some of their best in front of us, now you show up with this.

      If I might be so presumptuous, I believe in all the years I’ve been reading your stories, this may be the best, and is extremely well written. Your bits and pieces of phrases seem to flow from your fingertips like magic. This line, for example: buildings wept green vines – how descriptive and yet containing the sense of mood as the vines destroy the very buildings to which they cling.

      Having been in Sidney and even able to satisfy a hunger in more ways than one, with a boat cruise featuring a dinner of Morton Bay Bugs – large prawns the size of lobsters – but I digress, I could see the destruction wrought by the plague as I read, and sincerely hope you are not prophesying a future for the rest of us.

      A minor error here and there, mostly tense, like these lines – Hidden in the deepest recesses of the ruined city for the past sixty plus years, stories had been passed down by several generations of the Roamers about the shop. It has been a last outpost before the five year plague in 2020 to 2025 claimed three quarters of the world’s population. The first sentence should read – stories have been passed down. But then, I get tripped up over tense a lot, so I could be totally in the wrong here. Maybe it’s because I think the second sentence should read – It has been a last outpost ‘since’ before the five year plague. As I read the two sentences, had and have just seemed to be wrong. If someone knows for sure, help me out here.

      I’m not going to nitpick any further, lets just say I loved what you did with the story line and and the prompt. Now go wash your hands before you feed your goats. The way tigers and dogs and cats have been getting the virus in this country, wouldn’t surprise me if goats could get it. Bet they won’t waste a test to find out. I’m still surprised they tested animals here.

      Good, well written story.

      Roy

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 12:46 pm
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      But … but then what happened …

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 1:01 pm
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        Liz,

        Only those who make the journey know, and none of them can explain. You have to make the journey yourself. (Deal with it.)

        Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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      Well this is very elegant writing and a somewhat mysterious tale, Ilana.

      One unique thing about it that I love, is that it’s a dystopian tale that doesn’t revolve around guns and savagery like 99% of other dystopian stories do. It has a wistful tone.
      And though it’s mysterious as to actually what’s happening at Africanologie, I think there’s no mistaking the essence of what’s happening.

      Why Africa? I’m guessing here (i.e. making things up, again) but perhaps it’s something to do with going home to where the human race came from, and the emptying of the rucksack maybe symbolises a last emptying of oneself to achieve a greater happiness? That would go with the theme of urbanisation/industrialisation being negative for humanity, and the need to get back to a simpler, perhaps more ancient and spiritual way of life (as shown with Huyang and his Tai Chi …)
      Anyway, I felt that glow after reading the story, so something’s working …

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 2:25 pm
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      Ilana, this is exactly the kind of story I wanted to write for my prompt but got lost on the way to it. I love some of your imagry “Buildings wept green vines” is just excellent!

      Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 8:29 pm
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      This is lovely, Ilana. The mention of 2020-25 makes it very topical, but you don’t labour the point (a plus) … and I learn that I’ll be ok at least! (“Those ones whose lives went on in a quiet routine of chores and those who trod gently on the earth.”) You establish the history of the shop very carefully, as well as the current owner, including this very nice ‘plant’: “Only if he saw something in you that touched him, did he invite you inside the shop.” That comes back to help us later when the narrator gets invited in. And the narrator’s worthiness is highlighted by the fact that he/she waits to pay. I like the last line very much – it’s a gladness (good word!) that the narrator couldn’t explain, and I don’t think you have to either. Very nice.

      Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 8:25 am
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      By the way, Ilana, one other thing I wanted to point out was how much ‘tell’ there was in your story, but you magically. somehow made almost all of it ‘show’. That is difficult to do and you made it look easy. I think I’m going to print this one out and keep it as an example. Just like I’m going to keep Ken’s. I do that from time to time for inspiration.

      Roy

      Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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      Ilana,

      This is a beautifully conceived story with amazing writing.
      It’s not perfect, it could use a little more polish as you said when you posted it. So I was prepared for some typos or tense errors. There were a few, and in spite of the story’s few flaws, this is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Certainly one of your best.

      Other than our bleak future, the story implies many things, but tells us little or nothing! But the reason this story is so good is the writing. Such simple, yet meaningful words describing so much calamity in so few words. It’s a good thing I made a point of reading your entry before casting a vote.

      Some beautiful phrases:

      ‘No one ever went twice.’
      ‘he was a wild spirit, sharp-edged like a new knife…’
      ‘…a once great city of different cultures and diverse interests.’
      ‘I cannot remember consenting, but I do remember the sense of peace that prevailed…’
      And everyone’s favorite… ‘Buildings wept green vines…’

      This is a great opening line. ‘It was deep in the forbidden zone.’ The next sentence should be, ‘Hidden in the deepest recesses of the ruined city…’ The rest of that second paragraph should be re-arranged and re-written. The tenses are wrong, some of the phrases are in the wrong order, but all the right words are already there. Each phrase and sentence is full of meaning and implications. Words like deepest recesses, ruined city, passed down, generations, last outpost, five year plague.

      You said you rushed this story out at the last minute, so I’m not accusing you of sloppy writing. But it does need some editing, which you can do yourself when you have time. This story is just so good it simply must be polished. And published somewhere. (for instance: The goods were second hand, (or) tired copies of original pieces. Without the word ‘or’ the sentence contradicts itself. Another sentence ends with, ‘…all those years ago?’ (Interrogative unnecessascaire.) These are such easy fixes they must be done. I insist. Ep, ep, ep, ep, ep, ep, ep, ep—ep!……… Ep, ep, ep! I insist. I insist! (Put that goat down and fix this story.)

      For contrast, there is one sentence I would send to the bench. ‘The yearning fanned a flame of passion until it built within me a steady fire that ate at my reason.’ That sentence should be moved to somewhere else in the story. It’s a great line and a relevant piece of information, (okay maybe not so great) but it doesn’t belong where it is. (Pardon me for being so bossy.)

      After 30 minutes and several iterations, I would just get rid of that line altogether. It refuses to accommodate the rest of the story! Or change it so much that it’s unrecognizable. In all cases, it should not be allowed at the front of the story. (BAD sentence. BAD, bad sentence.)

      It is as unnecessary as the question mark. There is no need to explain the yearning, the need to go. You either do or you don’t.

      I loved the story and your writing, Ilana. Wonderful job. And thank you, by the way, for your kind remarks to me. Not sure which comment was for which Ken, but hell, they were all good. So thanks.

      Reply
  • April 29, 2020 at 2:09 pm
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    Hi all,

    Sorry I’ve been MIA. It’s been rough since Mom passed 3 weeks ago and then Daddy had a fall this week. He didn’t have his life alert button or his phone with him. By the time I realized something was wrong when he didn’t answer the phone and could get out to his house, he’d been on the bathroom floor for almost 2 hours. We had to break the door in to get into the house. Luckily he’s ok, and just has bumps and bruises but it took 3 of us to get him up (a cop, a first responder, and my son).

    I haven’t had time to read the stories and will not be able to vote. Good luck to all! Can’t wait to read the stories when I have some “free” time.

    Adi

    Reply
    • April 29, 2020 at 2:48 pm
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      Praying God’s peace over all of you at this time, Adi. He is your great refuge in times of need.

      Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 1:18 pm
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      Adi,

      Well, you surely have enough grief and worries to keep you occuppied. I think of you often and with sympathy.

      It is as if we are all at a grand but dimly lit ball and none of wants to take to the floor, but all present seem to gradually understand that we all have to dance with the Master Of Ceremony, grief, before we’re allowed to go home, or on our not-so-merry way.

      I offer condolences again, on the passing of your mother.

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 4:42 pm
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        Thanks Ken! I don’t mean to be a whiny baby, but I’d be lying if I pretended that the last few weeks haven’t been some of the hardest I’ve ever been through. My world was knocked off its axis and has been spinning out of control. Hopefully things will get back on an even keel soon.

        Thank you for your kind words and thoughts! Love and hugs!

        Reply
  • April 29, 2020 at 2:19 pm
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    Hey I’m sorry, I won’t be able to vote, these past two weeks have been crazy. Sorry!

    Reply
  • April 29, 2020 at 5:01 pm
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    Whoa… read them all and voted: once again we have a great selection of stories and it’s really not easy to choose the top five! I think the standard is really going up week on week…

    I also wish I had the time to comment on all the stories. But, when time is not kind to me, I’d rather comment to a few at length and in depth, like I often do (and gained some notoriety for!) than just throw in a quick two-liner at all the stories, just to be there…

    Hey Juergen, you’re back! I know you’d said you’d be away for a while, many prompts ago, but didn’t realize it was gonna be this long. I thought you found somewhere better than us! Or a vacuum cleaner sucked you up. One gets worried, you know. Especially in such strange times like these. So, really good to see you back, mate.

    Welcome to the newcomers too… AR/Kris, Janet, Amelie. Great debut. Hope to see more from you in weeks to come 🙂

    Ken

    Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 4:14 am
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      Thanks Ken M. I hope I can write for the contest from time to time. Reading all the stuff here takes a lot of time, the pdf I made is a 200 page book now. 🙂 But whenever boredom strikes me I’ll be back. And there is nothing better …

      Reply
  • April 29, 2020 at 6:27 pm
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    Sorry I have not had time to comment on all the stories, but I will vote and yes the competition is very stiff today. My story was done under the pump and in one sitting. I can see faults in it and cringe. Did not have time to write and reflect on it for a few days, so yes, a bit too much tell and not enough show.
    Thank you Roy, Liz/Kez and Andy for comments and kind words. I will try and comment as I vote later this afternoon. If I do not comment it is only lack of time. Remote teaching is putting me under the pump. Big time as we get used to it. At least, I am a bit more tech sa’avy then some of my compatriots who are finding the whole process challenging.
    I

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 4:11 am
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    Sorry for not having the time to comment on your great stories. But I’ve read them all and voted für my favorites! Greetings from rainy Hamburg!

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 7:15 am
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    Raining here in South Eastern Victoria. Torrenting down yesterday. The mother earth reclaims her own. So hard to vote. I am off to look to my goats. Before going to bed. Cheers all. Such good stories.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 12:35 pm
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    I just need a few more minutes. to read Ilana’s story before voting. Sorry about the delay.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 2:50 pm
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    “CURIOSITY SHOP” – April 30, 2020

    THE WINNER IS!!
    First Place: The Curiosity Shop by Ken Cartisano

    2nd Place: The Victorian Emporium by Ken Frape
    3rd Place: The Africanologie Shop by Ilana Leeds
    4th Place: Shop of Lost Things by Amelie
    5th Place: The Borrowed Past by Andy Lake
    6th Place: THE ZUNUKEETU by Phil Town
    7th Place: At the Last Moment by Roy York
    8th Place: The Pearl Handle by Liz Fisher
    9th Place: A Tie Between: A DOLL FOR CHRISTMAS by Ken Miles and The Führer’s Staubsauger by berlinermax
    11th Place: THE BACK ROOM by A.R. Rose
    12th Place: Armageddon in a Jar by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    13th Place: Send Me the Pillow by Marien Oommen
    14th Place: The Fur by Trish
    **Janet Davies didn’t vote

    Favorite Character: “Narrator” from The Curiosity Shop by Ken Cartisano
    Character Dialogue: The Curiosity Shop by Ken Cartisano

    Congratulations Ken C, amazing job!!
    And thank you all for participating.

    Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 8:28 pm
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      Congratulations, Ken! Lovely stuff.

      Can I just remind you of what you said a couple of weeks ago?

      “I wrote a story but I’m not really that thrilled with it. It just kind of coalesced onto the screen a couple of nights ago. Kind of corny if you ask me. I probably shouldn’t post it, but what the heck, decided to post it until I come up with something better, more suitable to the prompt. If I can.”

      That’s how much YOU know! 😉

      Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 3:38 pm
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    Did I mention that I wrote a second story? Was anyone aware of that?

    My first and second place votes went to the second and third place finishers. There’s a definite concensus on the quality of those two stories. After that, I diverged from the majority. (I had my reasons.) But they were all imaginative stories of superior quality and wonderful range.

    If this was’t a contest I would feel really stupid right now. (No, now that I think about it, I feel really stupid anyway.) You all did this on purpose, didn’t you? You’re working together. It’s a conspiracy. (Actually, it only takes one or two of you to make me feel stupid.) (Pretty funny, eh Phil? Everyone thinks it’s them right now.)

    Wendy, I am dying to know the original name of your Chesterfield character. I was up all night wondering what could be worse than that? Was it ‘Cartisanofield?

    Thanks for the votes people, and the comments. And the advice. And the ocassional lecture, (Andy.) And the email address, Ken. I feel so smug, I think I’ll just write a half a story for this next contest. About a guy, who hasn’t had a haircut in 3 months, and his cats don’t recognize him anymore, which is bad because a small rat has taken up residence in his hair which he now realizes is growing at an exponential rate but he doesn’t want to cut it because it might be a sign, or an omen, or he’s a big fan of Sampson. But it doesn’t matter because I never finish the story.

    Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 3:45 pm
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      Hi Ken C,

      So glad you didn’t take that story down.
      It deserved first place.
      Happily and deservedly behind you on this one.

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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        Great victory, Ken. On all fronts. Great victory speech too. Congratulations!

        Now that we’ve got your warning, let’s all start looking after our memories. Sudoku. Learn Korean. Eat walnuts.

        Ken

        Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 4:43 pm
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      Ken C.,

      One of the smartest things you’ve done lately, is kill that second story in favor of the first. I loved Ken F.s, original Victorian Puddle story,, but you, Amelie and Ilana wrote stories that were simply some of the best writing I’ve read lately. Great job everyone, this is some really great writing. What a great site this is. I’m tickled to death I had something to do with starting it.

      Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 4:00 pm
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    Great win Ken loved your story. Well deserved wins on all accounts.
    Thank you to voters that put my rush job story in third. And yep Ken it will have some edits to nip and tuck it into a more presentable free flow form… 😊👍🏻

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 4:38 pm
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    Congrats Ken!!

    I’ve read half of the stories and hope to read the rest soon. Tough competition this week. Sorry I missed it.

    So, I see that the Kens are still battling for top billing in the ratings. I’ll have to be mindful of that when I get my next story in.

    Way to go all!!

    Adi

    Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 5:52 pm
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    Congratulations, Ken.
    Was my first placed story too.

    Congrats to all the others, too.

    Y’know, I think Ken’s win was a team effort. All the voices persuading him to keep this story rather than the other one. And I think my LECTURE about that was the clincher :-). So I’ll take 30% of the winnings for my cut, thank you.
    And the beers are on Mr C!

    BTW, as well as Ken’s narrator I had 3 other top contenders for favourite character. I’d like to make a special shout out to Marien’s Mary, Trish’s Eve and Jürgen’s vacuum cleaner. All very memorable.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 8:07 am
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      Thanks Andy, for the encouraging word. 🙂

      Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 10:11 am
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      Ken,

      It was not only a win in the story department, but a clean sweep through everything else. And, I’d like to take partial credit for your win, too. I’m sure the second story might have done well, but I would have been willing to bet it wouldn’t have been in the top three. Don’t get me wrong, the second was a good story. But your first effort, for me, resonated. I could see me in a few years sitting on a bench, looking for my pretty young wife, who’s always late, that one.

      And, yes, I’m optimistic. Not about that pretty young wife, I’ve got that. NO, that win in literature.

      Roy

      Reply

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