Bonus: September 9 – October 7, 2020 Short Story Fiction Contest Prompt “Winter Love”

Theme: Winter Love

Winter is the only time two lovers can be together.

The rest is up to you.

Required items:

  • Snow

Word Count: 2,500*

*word count is normally 1,200 – since this is a 30 day prompt we are increasing the word count. And will allow additional time to read/vote.

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90 thoughts on “Bonus: September 9 – October 7, 2020 Short Story Fiction Contest Prompt “Winter Love”

  • September 9, 2020 at 12:31 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
    • October 5, 2020 at 8:16 am
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      Signing in

      Reply
  • September 9, 2020 at 2:07 pm
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    I don’t know if I’ll get a story in, especially starting college, but hot damn this has potential for some good writing

    Reply
  • September 9, 2020 at 4:35 pm
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    Signing in!

    Reply
  • September 12, 2020 at 11:26 am
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    COTTON CANDY
    by Ken Miles
    (2,500 words)

    I used to think that Manorfields was the center of the world. Oh well, in a way it was.

    When you’re brought up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and your best friends are a dog and some cows, and the greatest thrill is driving your dad’s tractor across endless fields, well, that’s when you think that a little town of 4,000 people is really the crossroads of the cosmos. There was even a bus back then, the only one, that left Manorfields on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, that took people as far out as Fargo. That was such a big dream for a little boy like me to be one day seated on that bus on the way to a place people said was even bigger than Manorfields. How could I’ve known, back then – I was a mere little kid of four or five – that the first time I’d be going to Fargo would be in a prison van. But I’m rushing you. Let’s go back to those days when I was four or five.

    My dad used to take me to Manorfields, once a year, a few days before Christmas, to the traditional Christmas Market. We used to go by tractor, we had no other means of transport. Those days it was a common sight. Tractors raced up and down the only asphalted road that funneled traffic from the many countryside dust tracks down to Manorfields.

    At the Christmas Market, every December, my dad would treat me to a cotton candy. Now, if you knew my dad, you’d know he never spent a dime on anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. We were almost self-sufficient on the farm. Just hand-to-mouth self-sufficient. Our crops and four cows fed us. Dad sold the milk and cheese we didn’t need, some crops too, when the weather was generous. But that was all. The little money he made almost all went on diesel for the tractor, and to keep the generator that lit up our house going. We weren’t connected to the grid, no-one was out there. There was no money left for life’s pleasures, and there were no pleasures to talk of anyway, even if you had the money. So you now understand why cotton candy was so very special to me. That once-a-winter thing sweeter than home-made cheese.

    But there was more to it. Out there on the ranches where I lived, there was a curse. There were only boys, not a single girl. Fact is I hardly knew what a girl or a woman was. My mom died giving birth to me. I had no sisters or female cousins, no aunts that I knew of. The other farmsteads only had male offsprings, unless they hid the girls somewhere underground! Let’s be clear, here, even the boys, I’d hardly ever got to meet them. Houses out there stood some two or three to several miles from one another. It was really lonely for an only child growing up with his introverted dad out there, with nothing to do, only dreams to cling to.

    At first I didn’t quite understand what it even was that I missed so badly. Something mysterious gnawed at me as the years molded me, and, over time, new longings took the better of me. I just got a hint of what this strange feeling was at the Christmas Market, at that very stand where my dad bought me cotton candy. A woman and her daughter, my age more or less, manned the little cotton candy stand. The woman took the money and the little girl spun that thin wooden stick inside what I used to think was a washing machine until pink cotton candy magically materialized around it. She looked like a fairy to me, with her golden hair and that wand in her hand that grew and grew as more of that enchanted fuzz spun around it. She then handed it over to me, and always winked at me as I took it and our eyes met briefly.

    I couldn’t even tell if she was as pretty as I thought she was. I had no point of reference for what constituted prettiness. There were no other girls in my world. She was easily the prettiest girl I knew. I was in love of course. Twice in love, with cotton candy and the girl who made it for me. I fancied that she only winked at me, that she was equally in love with me as I was with her. Of course – I was little and a bit naïve, but not stupid – I did suspect she may’ve winked at every boy or maybe at every other customer too. But I just couldn’t catch her winking at the others. I spied on her while she served the customers in front of me and sometimes lingered a little to see if she winked at the ones that came after me. She didn’t. Or she did it so well that only the person getting the wink would see it. I was totally confused. And was this such a big deal for me back then? Oh let me tell you that it was the most important thing in the world!

    And so it went, year after year, I lived for that little twinkle of winter love. I was then six years old and after that seven and eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve. And then thirteen, and fourteen and that’s when I started to understand certain things that I knew were there all along but didn’t know how to explain them earlier on. Things like that overpowering lust that tickled my throat before, but now pierced my heart.

    My dad and I continued going to the Christmas Market every year. I’d grown out of cotton candy, of course, and qualified, now, to illicitly served mulled wine, on a stool alongside him and the other drinking men. I was 17, that year when I plucked up the courage, and slipped away to the cotton candy stand. The girl that tormented my entire childhood was still there, a ravishing adolescent now, so beautiful it hurt.

    I waited till she was free, faking a casual stance, and guilessly asked her for the gents. She pointed in the direction of the toilets and smiled. I smiled back and she winked at me. It was magic, pure magic. Throughout the year that followed I resolved to speak to her again come December, ask her her name, perhaps, maybe tell her what she meant to me, tell her that my dad used to buy me cotton candy from her. Ask her if she remembered me at all. Say it’s okay if she didn’t, for God knows how many children she sold cotton candy to over the years. I’d tell her that I loved her cotton candy. That I also loved… That I thought she was pretty. That I was sure she was pretty. I mean what else does one say tol a beautiful girl? I’d no idea.

    But all that wasn’t to be. The year that followed nearly ruined me.

    Blame it perhaps on the raging hormones of a young frustrated teenager. Or on a dad who really never was there for me. Or on the bad company I winded up with. Especially Jimmy Damon. Jimmy lived some six miles from us, but was still technically our next-door neighbor, so to speak. My dad had developed rheumatoid arthritis, and gave up work. When I made it clear to him that I wasn’t inclined to follow in his miserable footsteps, in a fit of fury, he sold the tractor and the remaining two cows and defaulted on the lease on our land. Jimmy, who was ten years older than me, became a sort of a role model to me. Not that I liked the guy. Brash and overbearing, always wearing that sardonic smile he was. But, I admired him for taking on his dad, throwing out a long family tradition of meagre sustenance farming and taking up hunting. He replanted bushes on his family’s lease and shot wild boar like a spider traps flies.

    When he got wind of my dad’s giving up on our land, Jimmy went in for it and added it to his hunting grounds. Our land lay between two stretches of wooded areas. With the fences gone boars took a shortcut through it, and Jimmy’s rifle feasted on them. The peaceful world of my childhood now sounded like a warzone. Bam! Bam! Bam! Especially at night, when the boars tried their luck under the dubious cover of darkness. Jimmy taught me how to use a gun and paid me five dollars for every head I brought back to him. Soon enough I was feeding myself and my sick dad. My old man never uttered a word of gratitude. This fall of his and rise of mine was a total defeat for him.

    One day, Jimmy took me aside and spoke of this new project he had for me. There was but one bank in Manorfields. All I had to do was to sit at the wheel of the getaway car, honk if the cops showed up, and drive as fast as I could out of town once the guys were back inside. And for just that, he said, I’d get a quarter of the spoils, the same quarter like the other guys’d be getting for actually robbing the bank. I was doing fine killing boar, and only accepted the bank job because I was scared of Jimmy. He was not one for taking a no for an answer. And the boar job could’ve been on the line too, if I refused.

    The other two robbers already had stockings over their faces when they got in the car, and I’d no idea who they were. I was new to this, and they probably didn’t trust I’d keep my mouth shut if I got caught.

    The whole scheme failed spectacularly. A bank clerk, one of only two present at the bank on that sleepy August afternoon, resisted the assailants. He apparently recognized one of the robbers. Or so he claimed, for it was difficult to recognize them with their faces covered. Perhaps he figured out the voice. Or he was just bluffing, trying to scare them.

    Well, big mistake. You should never tell an armed robber that you recognized him. You leave him with only one option.

    Precious time was wasted, and we got rounded up before we’d even reached our second car and set the getaway on fire. Jimmy and the other two got the electric chair for killing that man. That’s how it was done back then, clemency hadn’t yet come of age. The people actually clapped when the judge read the sentence, nobody pitied the guys. Jimmy and his friends were men of honor, they never disclosed which one of them fired the fatal shot. Even if that meant all three got fried for it. I got 15 years for my part. Which I then brought down to twelve with good behavior and a hard-working attitude while behind bars.

    When you’re inside for twelve years, and you’re then set free again in the world, everything looks different, like you’ve just landed on another planet. My dad died while I was doing my time. The country, I heard, got sucked into a brutal Asian war that started and finished while I was inside. At the prison workshop, we made helmet straps for our soldiers. I managed to put aside some money, while others wasted it all on ridiculously marked-up fags the screws sold them. It wasn’t much, but enough to start my life over. Well, to start my life for the first time, I should say.

    It was a bitterly cold December day in Fargo, when I was released. As I walked out of the prison gate unhindered, the glacial air greeted me without a hint of compassion. I nearly regretted leaving the relative warmth of my prison cell behind. I got on a bus, heading back home. There was really nothing for me to go back to, except a cobweb-filled house. But I had to start again from there, my ground zero. As the bus rolled through the snow covered wilderness on its way to Manorsfield, the infinite white blanket outside painted the bleak picture that was my life, futile, frigid and featureless. I’d no roots, no plans. When I got off in Manorfields, the Christmas Market was on. It had sprawled over the years down from the town center to the frozen roadside where the bus let off its passengers.

    There was one thing I really wished to do like nothing else. To stop by the cotton candy stand, if it was still there, and have a glimpse at that girl who had colored in my childhood. If only, at least, that one thing in the world had remained the same.

    The town square had undergone a thorough facelift. A kiosk of a more permanent nature, selling anything from ice-cream to nougat to handicrafts stood where the makeshift cotton candy stand used to be. I could see the back of a woman, bent over behind the counter. When she rose, it was her, my winter love, now a grown-up woman, still graced with that unmistakable fairy-like gaze so well imprinted in my memory.

    “You used to sell cotton candy right here, do you remember me? I used to come every year,” I told her in one breath.

    “I know. I used to wink at you!”

    I was too inept with women to capitalize on that unbelievable moment. Instead, like a fool, I pointed at her kiosk and remarked on how much the business had grown since the old days.

    “I had to fend for myself,” she explained somberly, “I learned the hard way. My dad was killed in a bank robbery. My mom, she used to be here with me, she died too, soon after, didn’t get over it.” Tears rolled down her pretty pink cheeks.

    There exist no words I could’ve said at that junction. I instinctively reached out for her hand and held it in mine. Her hand was small and soft and as cold as ice, but it soon got warmer in my firm grip. That was the beginning of a very long story.

    If life, for whatever strange reason, ever brings you over to Manorsfield, and you see a man inside the biggest kiosk on the main square, that’s me. You’d see Jenna, now my wife and truly the most beautiful woman in the world, next to me. During the Christmas holidays, our daughter Faye’s there too. She winks at the little boys she has eyes for, as she hands them cotton candy.

    I don’t know if Jenna knows. Well, I’m sure she does. The whole town knows. We just don’t talk about it. We like better the warmth and coziness of our winter love instead.

    Reply
    • October 2, 2020 at 10:07 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Just love this story. It’s written with your customary skill and charm but this time it’s more gentle, more subtle, apart from the bank robbery of course.

      I really enjoyed the way it has a gentle predictability to it but that is in no way a negative aspect. I really wanted Jenna to be there every year and after the prison sentence and for the love affair to happen. Daughter Faye is an added bonus and I can almost believe that no-one in town talks about what happened. Almost.

      I cannot find anything to pick at. Why would I? This was a departure from some of your more hard-edged stories recently and a welcome departure too. It shows another aspect of your personality as a writer.

      We’re talking here about forgiveness and love. The notion that our youthful indiscretions can be outlived, that bad things happen and good things can follow. Surely this is the positive message that we need to hear. Especially now.

      Well done my friend,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • October 5, 2020 at 9:34 am
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        Hi Ken,

        Thanks for your nice words about “Cotton Candy”. That’s much appreciated on my part. It’s indeed a clear departure from my feel-bad stories of recent weeks. Incidentally, it’s the negative stories that more often than not bring me most success at the top of the charts. The feel-good ones usually tend to get voted somewhere in the middle (we’ll see with this one), and the outrightly humorous ones straight at the bottom. That’s my experience in here.

        I’m personally very pleased with “Cotton Candy” too, especially in the way it sort of developed out of nowhere; as soon as I saw the theme I sort of visualized this story and knew there was going to be a Christmas Market and a beautiful gal selling candy floss in it. Then it all sort of flowed naturally from there. Or, in other words, almost got written by itself, with little effort on my part.

        I just changed ‘candy floss’ to ‘cotton candy’ (it’s also known as ‘Daddy’s beard’, ‘barbe de papa’, where I live!) for our American-majority readership, and because I like it more like that (I gave floss enough prominence in the kebab house story and it didn’t ring nice to me here after what had happened in that story!), and also because the story seems to happen in America (the wide expanses, the reference to Vietnam, the electric chair, the ease with which a bank could be robbed, the town of Fargo…).

        As for the greater subtlety, I think the 2.5K word-limit is more accommodating to my style of writing. I had enough space to let the narrator expound his inner feelings and thoughts. With the usual 1.2K, I often curtail the inner workings of the mind of my characters in order to simply have enough words left for the action and backstory.

        So, yes, this longer short-story format was an interesting experiment in what I can achieve with more words available to me. I’m sure you also had the same feeling. Still, however, I’m fond of the more-direct (=less subtle, alas) 1.2K format, keeping in mind that most readers nowadays have (or think they have) little time to spare. An 8-minute read (1,200 words) can be done while waiting for the bus or at the dentist’s (especially if it contains some cannibalism and you’re just about to let someone literally dig inside your mouth once you’re done reading it!). A 15-20 minute read like this one (2,500 words), might have less potential in our time-efficiency obsessed society. Yes, (some) people read novels, but that’s a different kind of commitment. For bedtime, when other better things are not forthcoming.

        Thanks again, Ken, and it’s nice to see you around again. I’m very pleased you loved this story.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
      • October 5, 2020 at 9:53 am
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        Thanks Ken. Yes, when one thinks winter, warm and fuzzy somehow spring to mind! And mulled wine (cotton candy for the kids). I’m pleased you liked it, Ken. As discussed above with Ken F. (and so I won’t repeat), it was a departure from my ‘regular’ installments of the horrendous things man does to his own kind. Mind you, I had feel-good stories before too (An Orange Cat In Rome, Tamed Twice, After The Coffee, Four Dates With Death, just to name a few), but I’d say some two-thirds of my stories feature the most despicable depths of the human soul. My mind more often goes in that direction. Well, this was an exception, and I’m very pleased with it… and very pleased you liked it 🙂 All three Kens like it…

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • October 5, 2020 at 5:45 pm
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      A very lovely story, KenM. There’s a grand sweep to the whole thing that should feel rushed in the short story format, but doesn’t (it probably needed the 2,500 words, though). I think a lot of the appeal, at least for us men, is that we all had annual ‘love affairs’ like this one (ok, I speak for myself). The use of cotton candy and not, say, toffee apples (candy apples?) is significant, I think – cotton candy has that sweet yet somehow intangible quality that the ‘love affair’ has here. The conceit whereby it’s only once a year that the narrator gets to town, and only once a year that he sees the girl, is well reasoned and believable. The connection between the bank robbery and the girl comes out of the blue but doesn’t feel forced and is a nice surprise (though you ask us to suspend disbelief rather that she doesn’t feel at least bitter with the narrrator). A heads-up: a ‘fag’ is something different in US English. Really like this.

      Some random thoughts on cotton candy:
      – Did you know it’s called ‘candy-floss’ in the UK?
      – My favourite photo of my brother and me when we were young has us eating candy-floss.
      – The song ‘Orange Skies’ by Love features cotton candy.
      – There was a short clip doing the rounds recently with a raccoon and some cotton candy. Have you seen it? Heartbreaking.

      Reply
      • October 6, 2020 at 3:50 pm
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        Hi Phil, thanks for commenting and I’m pleased you liked this story.

        Indeed, it recounts a good chunk of the narrator’s life saga, and, as you said, it did need the 2,500 words. The overall feel of this story would have got lost if I was limited to the usual 1.2K word limit.

        I suppose Jenna understood (from the trial hearings, perhaps?) that the narrator had been “pushed”, almost against his will, into taking part in the bank-robbery. In a way, the narrator was also a victim of circumstances. Given that he remained in the getaway car all the time, she knew that he did not have a direct connection with the killing of her dad. I didn’t go into that (I find court trial stories quite boring), but I implied, instead, that love can overcome any obstacle. If the narrator had actually pulled that trigger, it would have been very difficult for Jenna to ever forgive him (although not impossible). I could have elaborated a bit more on this, but instead left a little bit of mystery as to whether Jenna was even aware of the narrator’s involvement. Probably she was, and, for both of them, their love-story serves as a liberation from life’s past miseries and mistakes.

        Where I come from, we also call ‘cotton candy’, ‘candy-floss’ (I was raised in a former British colony). Interestingly, it’s called ‘Daddy’s beard’ (barbe de papa) in the country where I live (Luxembourg). About ‘fags’, that’s cigarettes for me. I didn’t know that it’s only a British (and British Commonwealth) thingy. So, I see, it’s also short for faggot, in the U.S… None of our American friends pointed that out to me (yet!). I looked it up after I read your comment and I found this cheeky bit of dialogue on the internet that clarified it to me, once and for all:

        British guy: Do you want to smoke some fags?
        American guy: Yeah lemme get my gun.
        British guy: What? Mostly we use a lighter.
        American guy: To kill a homo?
        British guy: No I mean this (takes a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket)
        American guy: Oooo! No thanks I don’t smoke.

        (That could easily be a story for this week’s ‘Culture clash’ misunderstanding prompt! Two nations separated by the same language… But I didn’t write it myself.)

        Btw I set this story in America and wrote it, as much as I could, in American English (except for the fags) because it does seem it takes place there (see my reply to Ken Frape’s comment on that, so I won’t have to repeat it all here). I also tend to opt for American English, when I can, as I sort of gravitate towards that demographic when I think of my target audience. Blame it, perhaps, on the fact that Americans are less familiarized with British English (some call British spelling, “mistakes”), than the British are with American English (due to America’s huge influence on popular culture in our times, I suppose).

        It’s nice that I brought back to you fond memories of your younger self with your brother eating candy-floss, as shown in your favourite childhood photo. What an immortalized little big life detail…

        But I need to look up that raccoon and cotton candy clip, now that you mention it.

        Thanks again for your critique and the interesting fun-facts too 🙂

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • October 6, 2020 at 2:28 pm
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      Lovely story, ken. Truly heartwarming, inspiring and very well-written. Not much for me to add to what the other guys already wrote, nor any nit to pick.

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 7:28 am
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        Hi Sarig, thanks for your nice words and I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

        It’s nice to see you back here, too, after some time we haven’t seen you. Your story-telling ranks among my personal top faves 🙂

        My ophthalmologist told me to stay off screens (I badly need to rest my eyes), but I’m going to disobey him to read “Just A Winter Affair”, before I start taking him more seriously…

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
  • September 14, 2020 at 1:57 pm
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    Mountain hopping. Scarce intranets. I’s no time to protract contractual fee-yood with Rathin, AT THIS TIME. Love, great topic, Winter love? Seasonal love? 2500 words, a month to do it.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2020 at 7:35 am
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    Ruby Pendant
    by Robt. Emmett ©2020

    The winter of ‘61 was different in many ways. Thanksgiving Day dawned cold; below zero cold. It stayed that way for more than a week; ten days, to be exact. In that time, there were three cat track snowfalls. Finally, it warmed up to the mid-teens. Then it snowed for real. Three and a half inches fell on Christmas Eve. The next afternoon I drove to the Greyhound Bus depot to pick up Cookie. She would be home from Saint Cloud Nursing College until New Year’s Eve day. And I planned to monopolize every minute of that time.
    In her parents’ company, she and I, her bratty little sister, and on two occasions, the family dog, visited every one of her relatives. Finally, on her last full day of vacation, her parents informed me her schedule was clear, and we could do as we pleased. Skating at the lake with her was now on the agenda.
    This was the first Christmas Eve Cookie, and I wasn’t together since we’d started dating five years earlier. Last year, after Midnight Mass, I suggested we should be more than going steady, but until my financial situation improved, I wasn’t proposing – officially. At the time, she agreed my high school class ring would have to do until I could afford an engagement ring.
    During the holidays, the people with cabins or cottages on Beaver Lake had taken advantage of the moderate early evening temperatures and the clear moonlit skies to enjoy skating. For skating music, they all tuned their radios to WEBC. Some of the lodges had bonfires and welcomed all the skaters. I’d been to the lake a coupla times and skated with a few old friends.

    In the early afternoon, Cookie and I shopped and had an early supper at Sammy’s Pizza before we headed to the lake to skate.
    We’d spent two hours and had circumnavigated the lake. If we hadn’t stopped so often to chat, it would have taken us less than an hour. Entering the cabin, “Just leave your skates by the door,” I said, as I tossed our mittens and tossle caps on the hall table.
    “I like the way your mom has redecorated the living room.” She sat down on the thick, rose-colored, Persian silk area rug and hugged her knees to her chest. “Is the fireplace new?”
    “Yes,” I lit the gas fireplace, and I fixed us a warmer-upper. “Here, this’ll chase the chills,” I said, handing her a small tumbler and sat beside her.
    Looking over the top of her cat-eye glasses, “You college guys think that candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker, right?”
    “No.”
    “No?”
    “You know that’s not my style.”
    “Sure?”
    “Absolutely.”
    The little taste wrinkled her nose. “Phew, that is strong stuff. What is it?”
    “Kirschwasser. Cherry Brandy to you. Take it all in one good swallow.”
    She coughed and gasped, “Oh jeezs, that burns going down.” She coughed again.
    “I know, but it’ll chase the chills.”
    Setting the empty glass on the end table. “That’s the second brandy I’ve ever had.” A little smile played at the corners of her mouth. “Want to hear about the first one?”
    “Sure, tell me.”
    Cookie snuggled against my shoulder. “That stuff does warm.” She paused a moment. “Back when I was a little girl, Mom was …”
    “You mean last year … Ouch, you need to register those fingers as weapons.”
    “Are you through, motor-mouth?” I nodded. “I was seven. Mom did catering for the rich people on the east side. Occasionally, they’d give her a bottle of something, kinda like a tip. The first thing she’d do when she came home was to set it on the counter. While she was upstairs changing into her housecoat, I’d take a sample. Then, with my teddy bear and drink, I would hide under the dining room table. It usually had a long tablecloth on it. Most times, it was Mogen David wine.
    “Ah, you’re a closet drunk.”
    “No, I was an under the dining room table drunk.” She snickered. “Anyway, one night, she came home with a different shaped bottle. I couldn’t find a small glass and over-filled a water glass. When I tried to pour it back, I was making such a mess that I …”
    “You drank it.”
    “Oh, yes, and it burned all the way down. I thought I’d never catch my breath.”
    “And?”
    “I fell asleep on my teddy bear.”
    “You passed out.”
    She smiled, “Yeah. The room got a little fuzzy and was turning, so I closed my eyes to make it stop.”
    “Did you sleep there all night?”
    “No. Mom carried me up to bed sometime later.”
    “I don’t think two brandies in ten years make you the town drunk.”

    Shivering, I noticed the fireplace had timed out. The rising moon cast long golden shadows along the walls. Yawning, I glanced down. She was smiling in her sleep. Gently, I unfastened the gold chain around her neck, removed my class ring, and slipped it on my finger. I had a little trouble lining up the end of the gold chain to the pendant’s loop. Succeeding, I snapped the chain clasp shut.
    Her eyes popped wide open. “Robin, what … what are you doing?”
    “Taking my class ring back.”
    Grasping my hand, she bolted upright, “Why?” Twisting and turning the pendant, her eyes squinted as she tried to get a good look. “What is it?”
    “You remember the pendants you saw at the university book store?”
    “Yeah, two bucks, big deal. Are we breaking up, and this is my goodbye gift?”
    “No, I had Jerome Seiler, at Security Jeweler’s, order it for me, ah us. It’s real gold.”
    “For real?”
    Mustering my sincerest look, “I wouldn’t lie to you.”
    She leaned in and planted a noisy kiss on my cheek. “You’ve changed.”
    “Jewelry seems to work better than candy or liqueur, doesn’t it?”
    “It does with me.” So does this mean that we are more than going steady?”
    “Yes.”
    “What?”
    “It means I promise not to date any of your good looking girlfriends. That’s what the pendent means.”
    She glared at me, “So now you’re going to date my semi-good looking ones?”
    “It’s a thought, but no. Also I …”
    “Robin, what was that noise?”
    “I don’t know.” Standing and helping Cookie up, “Sounded like it came from next door. But I talked to Bob last week, and he said the whole family was going downstate for the holidays.”
    Easing the sheer kitchen curtain open a crack, I nearly sneezed from the months of accumulated dust.
    We watched as two large men drag the third towards the next-door cottage. “Are those guys your neighbors?”
    “No, and I don’t recognize them at all.”
    They stopped at the front door, and I noticed that the guy in the middle seemed unconscious.
    She bit her knuckle as the trio disappeared through the front door of the cottage. “Robin! his hands are tied behind him, and he looks like he’s injured.” Trembling, “What are we going to do?”
    “We wait.”
    “There is a phone on the table in the living room. I could call the police. You keep watching.”
    “Brilliant. I should have thought of that. Careful, don’t turn on any lights.’”
    She slams the receiver back. “There’s no dial tone.”
    “Ah, sorry, Cookie, I forgot. Dad disconnects it in the winter.”
    “I’ll open the window a crack while they’re inside, and maybe we can hear something. Cookie, come quick, they’re coming out.” We watched the men walk to the green duo-toned Volkswagen van in the driveway. “You hear that?”
    “Yeah, they’re coming back in three hours.” The VW retraced its tracks to Sand Beach Road and disappeared into the darkening twilight.
    “So, what are we going to do?” Hands on her hips, “We can’t leave him there.”
    “First, we need to get over there and check things out.”
    Boots and jackets on, we headed out the door. “Let’s go.” Cookie headed toward the hole in the hedge separating the properties.
    “Wait, we can’t go straight over. When they come back, they’ll see our tracks and follow them back here. This way.” I lead the way to the neighbor’s place on the other side and out onto the ice.
    At the cottage, “Looks like they smashed the lock.” Pushing the door open,” I’ll go first.”
    “It’s dark in here.” Cookie said. “And I don’t see the guy.”
    Flicking on my flashlight, “That’s why I brought this.”
    “Whoo, ever the Boy Scout.”
    “Yeah, ‘Be Prepared.’ I’ll check this side room. You wanna look in that one.”
    “Duh, I don’t have a light. I think I’ll just stick with you.”
    “K. Come on.” There was no sign of the man in either of the front rooms. “He’s gotta be in the back bedroom then.”
    “Robin, what … what if … if we find a … body in there?” She hesitated, then slowly easing the door open, “There,” she said, “under that blanket on the bed.
    I gently pulled the blanket back — just galoshes. Lifting the blanket at the other end of the lump revealed a man’s face that looked like the pizza we’d had for supper.
    “Is he … I mean …?”
    “Yes, he’s alive, but someone used his face for a punching bag. We need to get him outta here and fast. You grab his feet, and we’ll carry him outside.”
    She dropped the feet. “I can’t lift that much. He’s too heavy. What are we going to …?”
    Holding up a finger, “Give me a minute. Let me think.” I walked out of the room. “Got it. You wait here, I’m going to …”
    “No way, mister, I am coming with you. You got that.”
    “Okay, we’re going back the way we came. I need to get some stuff from the shed.”
    “How come your Dad doesn’t lock this shed?”
    “He lost the key last summer and hasn’t found the time to get a new lock. Besides, there’s nothing of much value in here anyway.”
    “Still, he should lock it.”
    “Dad’s Dad, what can I say.” I found the small sled I use to haul firewood across the frozen lake from Uncle Lang’s place. “We get him on this, and I’ll pull the sled across the lake to Lang’s place. Then we load him into the car.”
    “How far is it from here?”
    “Quarter mile or so. See those birch trees over there? That’s Mitchell’s Point. It’s just around the side of it. I can easily skate that far, pulling him on the sled. It’s an eight or nine-mile trip by car.”
    “And how does your car magically get across the lake?” I fished the keys from my jeans and tossed them to her. She nodded her head, knowingly, “I should have guessed.”
    “Grab that rope. I’ll need it to lash him to the sled.”
    “Now, here’s how you get to Lang’s place.” She listened. After we loaded him in the car, we head to town for help.”

    “You missed your driveway.” Cookie said. “Why?”
    “I’m going next door to Peggy’s house.”
    “What? Why all of a sudden do you need to see HER! Don’t you think WE have more important things to do?”
    “Her Dad’s the police chief, remember?”
    “That’s right, I forgot.”
    “Misses O’Hara, is the chief home?”
    “He just walked in.” Calling over her shoulder, “Patrick, someone here to see you.”
    Peggy stepped from behind the door. I knew it was coming and manage to dodge the kiss she tried to plant on my lips. Pouting, “What, no kiss for me?”
    “Can’t. I made a promise to …”
    “Hi, Peggy.”
    “Oh, hi, Cookie. I ah, didn’t see you.”
    “What can I do for you, young man?”
    I gave him the short version of what we’d seen and heard at the cabin and explained how we’d got the man into Dad’s car. The girls left the room, as Patrick listened, then, “Interesting tale, but County doings are not in my jurisdiction. But as a favor to a neighbor, I’ll call Sheriff Stanco for you, for free.”
    “Patrick, be serious!” Peggy and Cookie returned.
    “Yes, dear.” He dialed as Cookie stepped in front of me.
    “I was going to show Peggy the pendant.” Opening her jacket, “I must have lost it at the lake when we were moving him.”
    The chief hung up the phone, “It’s all arranged. The sheriff’s men will be waiting for the green Volkswagen van. I said, you said, it’s okay to park in your driveway at the cabin.”
    “Sure, chief.”
    “Daughter, why the pout?”
    “Robin gave Cookie a gift.” She snickered, “He and Cookie are now sorta pre-engaged. He promised her he wouldn’t date other girls, and that includes me.”
    Patrick sighed, “Whew, that’s a load off my mind.”
    I caught the winked he shot my way.

    Two sheriff deputies met Cookie and me at St. Mary’s Hospital. They and the orderly loaded the man on to a gurney. After it disappeared into the Emergency room, Cookie and I did a fruitless search of my car. It had been a long day, and tomorrow early, Cookie would be boarding the bus back to school.
    ~ New Year’s Eve day ~

    I took her single suitcase out of my back seat at the bus depot and set it on a snowless spot near the bus’s cargo bay. Cookie walked to the counter, had her ticket stamped. Holding her close, we let the crowd pass around us.
    “I still feel bad about losing the pendant.”
    “Oh, ya, that reminds me, turn around.”
    “What?”
    “Just do as I say, okay?”
    She rolled her blue eyes and turned. “There, happy?”
    “Sheriff Stanco stopped by this morning. He’d just come from St. Mary’s Hospital. The head nurse gave him a trinket the injured man said wasn’t his.” I’d fixed the broken chain.
    Cookie’s hand shot to her chest. Feeling the ruby pendant, she spun around and grabbed my face with both hands. “Thanks.”
    The encore kiss was even better than the first one. “Cookie, people are watching, ya know.”
    “Like I care. Let them get a life.”
    — Ԙ —

    Reply
    • October 2, 2020 at 10:24 am
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      Hi Robert,

      Really enjoyed your story and especially some of the dialogue. Very natural, “candy is dandy but liquor is quicker,” is a great line and one that I have never heard. The young love relationship is very natural too.

      The premise of the story is a reasonable one and it flows well. Maybe perhaps a little too much in the telling and it could be shorter. It’s strange, isn’t it, that when we have only 1200 words we want more and here am I suggesting that with 2500 words, you could have used less.

      Others, of course will have different opinions but I suspect that we will all acknowledge that you are a good writer and storyteller.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • October 3, 2020 at 11:23 am
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        Thanks Ken for the comments. Maybe 2500 is too much. Maybe 200 would be better.
        Not my problem!
        This might be of interest or not.

        A little background on the story and a bit more.
        It was the winter of 61-62. In the dozen winters I’d spent at our cabin, it was the only year the lake remained snow free. It snowed and snowed plenty, but it was a cold snow, and the wind brushed it onto the shores.
        There were spring that fed the lake, dozens of them. One was about 50 feet off the neighbor’s dock (the cottage in the story). Summer found Bob, Bill, Rod, Carter, Kenny (East High Cake-eater), and me (Cathedral) sitting on Bob and Bill’s pontoon boat parked over the spring. We tied the anchor (a concrete-filled three-pound coffee can) to the end of a 100 feet of ¾ inch manila rope and talk Bob, the youngest, into riding it into the spring. He stepped onto the anchor, hyperventilated a bit, then Kenny slowly lower Bob. Kenny lost his grip, and the rope hummed as it disappeared over the front of the boat. The bow dipped as the rope bottomed out.
        We waited and waited some more. Then Bob shot up. His swim trunks cleared the water. He crashed back under and didn’t resurface. Bill, his brother, and I dove in as he broke the surface. We helped Rod and Carter get him on the boat. He was blue and shivering, so he couldn’t talk.
        On shore, two brandy’s later and wrapped in a wool blanket, “Shit, is it cold down there.” An hour later, he was normal. Well, as normal as Bob ever gets.

        Reply
        • October 3, 2020 at 3:24 pm
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          Hi Robert,
          Hey, that’s a brilliant extra to the story.
          I have found since I started on A Place for Fiction Writers that I rarely write the longer stories I used to write. The standard length of short stories in my local competition is 1500 words but I have others, much longer, even perhaps the beginning of a novel.
          The one I have entered for this prompt is new but it has elements of another longer story that was over 3000. The point I am making is that it is always an arbitrary thing to have someone else set limits on our writing but at the same time it is good training and a useful exercise.
          Thanks for the reply to my critique.
          Happy writing,
          Ken Frape

          Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 4:52 am
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      An interesting story, Robert, and wonderful dialogue. Something about the relationship between the lighthearted romance and the menacing (and somewhat confusing) felony aspects of the story didn’t quite fuse naturally for me, though.

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 8:26 pm
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      You squeeze a lot into this, Robert. It’s a brisk read – the dialogue is especially good and really gives it rhythm. I think I agree with Sarig, though: what’s the story about? Is it about the narrator and Cookie’s relationship? If so, the adventure with the beaten up man seems superfluous. Is it about the crime and victim? Then parts about the relationship are superfluous (the whole ‘brandy’ story, for example). I think you have enough for two good and very different stories here.

      Reply
      • October 8, 2020 at 4:26 am
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        Sarig and Phil, I do appreciate your comments. Now I’ll add a PostScript. The story is a Reader’s Digest version of a local incident. The fellow in the cottage was one of the opposition leaders of a small group of dissidents within a local union, causing a bit of a problem.
        Cookie couldn’t drink. When she did, she said her knees got ’fuzzy.’ The fact is, neither her mother nor her grandmother could drink. Her daughter, on occasion, can seriously dent a wine bottle.
        The relationship was not a superfluous one. It’s lasted a relatively long time.
        The only fictional part is the lake’s name.

        Reply
        • October 8, 2020 at 10:08 am
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          Thanks for getting back, Robert. What I meant was that if the story is about the crime, then all the stuff about the relationship is largely superfluous TO THE STORY (not superfluous in itself). And vice versa.

          Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 5:07 pm
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    Moon Shine.
    wc 2415
    k. cartisano

    Hiding behind an ancient spruce tree, I felt like I had the drop on these two fellows sitting at their campfire, and then I heard a twig snap behind me. I turned my head just in time to catch a rifle butt square in the jaw. I came to as I was being dragged through the snow by my feet; which were soon released, leaving me lying face up in the snow too far from the fire to feel its heat. Above me, a tangle of bare and frosty branches danced and flickered with firelight. The sky beyond was black.

    “Whatcha got there, Dusty? An interloper?”

    “Dunno. Caught him spyin’ us from behind a tree.”

    “Spyin’ us? Well, whatcha gonna do? Tie him up? Shoot ‘im?”

    I pushed myself up on one elbow. “Whoa, whoa. Hold on a second there, men.”

    Dusty’s rifle reappeared, the barrel end this time, just inches from my face. I raised my free hand and gently pushed the barrel to one side of my head and said. “Do you mind?”

    Silence. There were three of them. Dusty had been off relieving himself when I happened along. Bad luck is all that was.

    The ground was freezing and starting to chill my butt to the bone. “May I get up out of this snow-drift?” As much as it pained me, it seemed wise to be polite and courteous with these men, until we could sort things out.

    One of the men sitting by the fire said, “If you try to run for it, it won’t end well.”

    I rose slowly and dusted the snow from my pants, folded my arms over my chest and shuffled closer to the fire, which seemed feeble in the face of all that white snow. Despite the freezing air, its heat had revealed a ring of rocks. A battered coffee pot sat on one stone and a small iron skillet leaned on another. One of the men held a jar half-full of clear liquid. Moonshine. He passed it around. They skipped me.

    “So,” I inquired, “who’s in charge of this operation?”

    “Operation?” Moonshine said. “What’re you, some kind of retired General?” Then he spit a giant goober in the fire. It landed on a flaming board and immediately began to sizzle.

    What I was trying to figure out, was if these three locals were part of the militia, or just three random idiots taking matters into their own hands. I wasn’t sure at this point which would be worse. As idiots, they would be entirely unpredictable, but as militia, they would have orders to apprehend someone like me, and return me to the militia commander: Another unpleasant prospect.

    ‘Moonshine’ seemed to be in charge as he said, “Chet, tie his hands behind his back.”

    Chet got up, spun me around and tied my wrists with twine that felt like it was made of dried horsehair. He spun me back around, and pushed me hard enough to leave me sitting in the snow again.

    For the next two hours, I listened to the three men exchange stories of which they were all familiar, but their thick mountain accents made their tales unintelligible to my ‘outsider’ ears. Trouble is, I wasn’t an outsider. My home and wife were in that cove, and I was determined to make it back to her.

    Unfortunately, all roads in were blocked by a militia that didn’t recruit me and whose gruff commander didn’t believe me when I told him I lived there, confiscating my horse and rifle instead. None of his militia-men knew me, nor I them. So I opted to walk in under cover of darkness. A task easier said than done.

    I still had resources, a few racks of ribs, some flat iron steaks, and a sidearm holstered in the small of my back, concealed under several shirts and a thick, fur-lined winter coat. I’d be shot three times before I could extricate the damned thing from its holster though.

    Around midnight, all three of my captors fell into a light sleep, by 1 a.m. they were all snoring. I worked the makeshift twine off my wrists and rose to a crouching position. I pilfered the rifle laying beside Mr. ‘Moonshine’ first, a loose stock clacked as I raised it from the ground, causing him to roll over and mumble in his sleep. I froze, and then slowly backed away from the fire and the three sleeping men. I looked around, searching for a trail, found it and looked up. It was snowing lightly. A heavy snow would cover my tracks within half-an-hour, but this light sprinkling was useless.

    In the preceding three hours, a full moon had risen over the mountains, it’s wan light glinting and twinkling off of every snow covered surface. I came to a crunching halt in a clearing at the top of the next ridge, and examined the rifle. A Winchester of unknown caliber. I had no idea how many rounds it held, nor did I have the opportunity to steal more ammo, which was probably in ‘Moonshines’ pack, that he was using as a pillow. I figured it would hold seven to ten rounds, that’s it. The sidearm, still holstered under my jacket, was useless except at close range. I could have used it to shoot them in their sleep, but that didn’t seem sporting. Looking back now, I wish I had.

    I followed the trail through the woods for about two hours, my confidence rising, hope and the crisp air filling my lungs, powering my every step.

    Heading down from a steep ridge, a mile or two from my cabin, the trail petered out and I wandered into an area littered with broken tree limbs and tangled shrubs and nearly sprained my ankle. I limped over to a tree stump and rubbed the offended joint vigorously. It seemed to be okay, so I muttered a small prayer of thanks under my breath and continued down the ridge. That’s when I heard the same tree limbs that I’d just trudged through snap and pop from up the hill behind me. All three of them were in pursuit, swearing at the terrain and the weather, mad as hornets and gaining on me.

    And no wonder my trail was so easy to follow: Big fat boot prints in damn-near a foot of snow. My only advantage was that they didn’t know how close they were. I needed a plan. Quick. Some way to disguise my tracks, or find a barrier to hide behind and make my stand.

    They were so close now I could hear them jawin’ at one another, maybe a hundred yards separated us but they still hadn’t seen me. I came upon a giant fallen poplar, perpendicular to the trail, four feet in diameter, torn up by the roots. I doubled my pace, moving past the tree, staying on the trail. I wanted to circle back around to the log, but give them enough prints to think I’d kept going. I trudged forward for as long as I dared, then took a hard left for 50 paces and then headed back to the log. Sounds were muffled by the snow, but they were so close, it was hard to believe they hadn’t seen or heard me.

    I crept low for the last few yards to the log and scurried, like a rat, along its length on all fours, getting as close to the trail as I dared. They were discussing what they did to thieves in a most insulting way, sounding brash and loud. Not sure if it was false bravado, or confidence, I felt a tightness in my chest, but I reasoned that their confidence covered whatever small noises I may have made until I settled into a spot almost devoid of moonlight, and waited for them to pass my position. They were bold but careless. Still, my hands were shaking as I raised the Winchester and braced my elbows on my knees. Then I realized, after carrying it for two hours, I’d forgotten to cock the damned thing. Would it fire if I simply pulled the hammer back? I didn’t know.

    The three of them walked past the log, their backs presenting three equal targets. Two of them were wearing dark vests, I aimed at the one with the light vest and waited.

    Once they’d nearly reached the end of my tracks, I pulled the trigger and the gun just clicked. “Shit.” I cussed under my breath. The three men heard it, and me. “What was that? Who’s there?” In the eerie light of the moon, they resembled cardboard cutouts. I cocked the rifle, braced it on my knee again as the three men started to turn, raising their rifles uncertainly, except for ‘white vest.’ He froze, and listened for what sounds he could hear, and therefore made the perfect target. I pulled the trigger. The muzzle flash was so bright, I almost didn’t see him go down, backwards, arms flailing. But I knew I hit him somewhere solid. He didn’t move. The other two men ran in opposite directions. I jumped over the log, putting it between me and them. I scurried twenty or thirty feet along its length just to change my location when I heard a commotion of crashing underbrush. Chet had committed himself to a full on kamikaze assault, emerging from behind the roots of the toppled tree. He stopp ed when he saw me.

    I fired, and missed. He jumped back behind the tree roots.

    Meanwhile, I realized the third guy was behind me somewhere. Without thinking, I eased myself on top of the log, length-ways, figuring I could cover either side of the end of the log, and it worked.

    Kamikaze man (Chet) creeped out from behind the roots in a crouch, completely unaware of my location just above him, and though it took two quick shots, I dropped him to all fours and then flat on his face. My adrenaline was flowing and I slid off the tree to check his condition. He looked dead too.

    “Hey fucker.”

    Uh-oh. I turned just in time to see the muzzle flash, the sound and the bullet hit me simultaneously, somewhere in the gut. The bullet took my breath away and knocked me flat on my back. I don’t know where my gun went. I was gasping for air as ‘Mr. Moonshine’ came over and looked down at me. “Ain’t dead yet, eh? Good. You will be soon. One way or another.”

    I couldn’t hear much of what he said as my ears were ringing from the close range of the gun shot. The pain in my lower chest was excruciating, and I was not in the greatest defensive position either: spread-eagled on the ground, arms out, wheezing. I wiggled my fingers, they were the first and the easiest things to move. And they brushed up against something cold and hard.

    Moonshine had a halo of smoke around him and was taking a swig from his glass jar. My fingers danced around on the cold metal object. It was Chet’s rifle. I hooked a finger through the trigger guard. Moonshine looked my way, “Ready to die yet?”

    “Ouch.” I said, loudly, as I yanked Chet’s gun to my side.

    “What’re you doing down there?” I sensed him beginning to amble my way, and realized I was lying in the shadow from the moon, because I don’t think he could see me very well, yet he was perfectly silhouetted against the moonlight and the snow-laden trees.

    Chet’s gun was a simple bolt-action, single shot, high caliber. I had to hope he’d already cocked the goddamned thing, and would have, if he wasn’t a complete moron. Old ‘Moonshine’ never saw the gun barrel pointed at his chest. He walked right up to me, confident, his gun cradled in his arms. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I pulled the trigger on that old cannon of Chet’s, firing at point blank range.

    I was no more than a mile from home. I crossed through fields of corn, hay, a fair number of thorny thickets. I had to stop often to catch my rasping breath. At one point, I came across a stream and was able to disguise my tracks. The snow was falling heavily now, big wet flakes that would muddle the tracks and trails. I pounded on the cabin door an hour before sunrise and my wife opened it, took one look at me and gasped. My entire body was covered with spattered blood, leaves, thorns, dirt, twigs: I was shivering with shock and hypothermia.

    She pulled me inside and shut the door. “You must be freezing,” she said, as she began helping me shed the coat. The pain began to set in. She noticed my swollen jaw, and the way I could barely move my arms. She clucked at me and as she looked at my face she said, “What happened? Did you fall? Or…”

    “I’ve been shot,” I managed to whisper.

    She hesitated for just a fraction of a second before proceeding to peel several more layers of clothes off. “How bad?” She said. And “Where?” But I had no idea.

    We got down to the last few shirts, and she shook her head in consternation. “You look like you’ve been dragged through a swamp, but there’s not much blood, Jim. Kind of strange.”

    “Do you know how cold it is? I wouldn’t be surprised if the blood froze right in the wound.” I said, trying to be funny.

    Under the last clean shirt we got to the steaks and spare ribs I had wrapped and taped around my waist. A flattened lead round had penetrated a steak and shattered one of the spare ribs behind it. It fell on the wooden floor as we unwrapped the highly prized meat.

    She touched my abdomen with a finger several times until I winced. “Yeah, that’s the spot.” But it didn’t hurt much worse than the rest of me.

    She applied a poultice of some sort to my jaw and filled me with hot soup and a few sips of whisky. “You’re a lucky man,” she said. “You want to tell me what happened?”

    I knew that in some time, I would tell her the details of that night, but for the moment I said, “No sane person should come between a man and his ribs.”

    Reply
    • October 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm
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      Hi Ken,

      This story has a real authenticity to it. I can picture the situation and can almost feel the cold and the feeling of jeopardy.

      The final line works really well in the context of the story when the guy just wants to get his head down for some sleep and proper explanations can come later.

      The style of the writing and the language work well in my opinion. I can’t exactly place where the story takes places but it certainly isn’t in a park in the UK in Winter.

      Nice one, Ken.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • October 5, 2020 at 6:20 pm
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      Terrific action, KenC! Edge-of-the-seat stuff. It brought to mind lots of references: many westerns, Jack London, ‘Deliverance’, ‘The Road’ (The militia … what’s all that about? Mysterious, but I’m glad you didn’t feel the need to clarify.) It’s all very cinematic – very vivid. It’s a strange idea to be wearing meat (see ‘Ross Noble – Meat on the Face’ on youTube), which becomes just a little convenient later on. But we can forgive this convenience for the really excellent action. (Have you ever tried writing a film script?)

      Reply
      • October 6, 2020 at 11:34 am
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        Ken and Phil,

        Thanks to you both for your wonderful comments. As far as location, I know this place, and there are probably other places like it. (I’d rather not say where it is.) As for the historical aspect, I couldn’t decide whether this should be pre or post civil war, or more like some future date uncertain. So I withheld specifics and found it worked well without them.

        Phil, no, I’ve never tried writing a film script. As for militia’s, oh, they’re very big here in the states, theoretically, somewhere. Everybody acts like they belong to one, but I don’t actually know of any, and since we’ve maintained a standing army for a hundred years, militia’s are not really relevant to anyone except those who think they need to be prepared to defend themselves from the government (or zombies.) But as we’ve all seen, governments can kill you in any number of creative ways. Usually through negligence and ineptitude.

        Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 5:09 am
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      A tight, action-packed story indeed, Ken, graphic enough to make a good screenplay. It did remind me of Jack London in style and I too appreciated the vagueness of the location and circumstances. Though a wife is mentioned from the very beginning, getting back to her doesn’t feel like the main motivation, or even strong enough motivation for the protagonist to struggle against all odds in order to get home. That makes me wonder whether this story should be considered a ‘winter love’ story, as riveting and well-written as it certainly is.

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 5:49 am
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      Catching my breath. Ok… I’m fine… Phew! It’s me, Ken. Ken…

      What an action piece! Your descriptive genius transported me to that place where this story happens, wherever it may be. The dialogue, so authentic, paints a picture of the men uttering the words, so real I could see them, smell them. I sensed an American feel in the whole piece (as Ken F. said, we’re not in an English rose-garden), and very much a Civil War era touch overall. But there’s a lot of talk that the divisions in present-day America very much resemble the ones that tore the Nation in Lincoln’s time. So, because of that (and the constant talk of ‘militias’) there’s a current touch to the whole piece too. The future? Not distant. You’ve got good ole rifles, not solar-powered carbon-neutral laser-guns.

      You had another good story, last year, with that same unspecified Civil War-like backdrop, and I think the same argument (about the time-frame) came up. It’s a short story and not a novel, so it’s fine with me that the exact details are not given.

      The escape seems a little too easy to me. But you did allude to the guys possibly being ‘idiots’. But *that* idiotic for all three doze off at the same time, leaving their inadequately tied prisoner alone and with enough leeway to steel one of their rifles and get away? It perfectly underlines their idiocy, perhaps, and I can live with that. But perhaps a force majeur (more major than the need to sleep) could have been brought in (a grizzly bear attack?). To allow the prisoner credible enough latitude to actually escape, in the mayhem.

      A shot in the gut, though not necessarily fatal, is not exactly a great finale for our Jim. So I thought. How relieved I was when you reminded me of the meat in his clothing and how it came between the bullet and his skin! ‘Spare ribs’ takes a brand new meaning. You’ve got yours, and if you wish to keep them, good to have some spare ones!

      Reminds me of Yasser Arafat who was once shot and the bullet hit a war medal he had won in a previous battle and caused him no harm. That’s one medal that deserved a medal!

      To quell Phil’s protest that wearing meat is a very strange thing to do, convenient as it may have been to do so in this story, perhaps you could emphasize the need for men in this part of the world to wear meat in order to survive. Maybe the narrator tells us a little tale of men who lost their way in the white wilderness and only survived thanks to the steaks (and whiskey) in their underwear. Or invent some local lore that a wolf would never attack a man wearing meat, for the smell gives a wolf the impression this beast is a ferocious one it had better not tamper with… Something to make wearing meat the most obvious thing to do, something not strange at all (for Phil. I’m fine with it as it is). Also: maybe, Jim smells a juicy ribeye when he first shoots Moonshine in his chest, before he then shoots him again in the head for good measure. Unless that may reveal too much too soon…

      A winter love story? Well, love is not exactly the main point of this story, although it certainly feels cosy for Jim to get back home, in the end, to his loving wife, especially after what he had gone through. You didn’t feel like writing a love story as such, but what you wrote redeems the rather tangential way you satisfy the prompt. I’m overlooking that.

      Great stuff Ken… I really loved reading this story. And the ending too, brilliant. Coming from me, you know I wouldn’t let you get away with a bad ending (or a non-ending). But this really is as good as it gets.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • October 8, 2020 at 2:40 am
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        Wow, Ken. Thanks. Quite a glowing rieview. I also wondered if it would lose points in satisfying the prompt. Especially because, one could conclude from the ending that he loved steak more than his wife. I just thought, if anyone else was writing this story, he’d be hell bent on seeing his woman. In my story, it’s suggests that he loved the meat. And the last line reinforces it. (No one should come between a man and his ribs..)( However glib it seems now, I confess that that was my intention.

        I think you’re correct, his escape being too easy. His captures could track him easily in the snow and he was, for all intents oyed but not speccifically that if he ran they would track him and
        then they would be obliged to kill him. What I failed to convey, even though it’s in the story, was that with the fresh snow, even if he escaped, they could track him. And shoot him. One more sentence could’ve conveyed that. It’s funny, the story really has no plot, it’s just a chase scene, on foot, down a mountain, with a shootout and some meat. I wondered whether it would qualify for the contest..

        Chairs,

        Reply
        • October 8, 2020 at 4:52 am
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          It qualifies.

          The prompt says “Winter Love” and “two lovers” (Carrie never said they have to be necessarily both human), with the only other requirement being the mere mention of snow. If it’s a ‘Jim Loves Steak’ romance, then so be it. It’s a love story.

          And especially so, since the Steak Loves Jim too, as we saw at the end, she (the steak) heroically saved his life. A Steak in Shining Armor would always save her man, wouldn’t she? (Now, please, don’t get me started on cholesterol, it was a lean, organic, non-GMO cut…)

          No one should come between a man and his ribs. There is the heart between a man and his ribs, right? Love, again. And then the spare ribs, even more love. Juicy too.

          This is the peak of love stories, Ken. You underestimate your potential.

          Reply
  • September 27, 2020 at 11:06 am
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    Under the Aurora, She Fell in Love
    by James Alex Harding

    ‘Cold’, thought Esme, as she trudged through the knee-high snow towards the black-brown blot, off in the distance. She should have probably formulated a more nuanced line of thinking, but it was hard to do so when her extremities were ice and her brain was a blowing, bruising blizzard.

    The cottage would be warm, at least. She took solace from that as she struggled onwards, fighting the compacted snow at her feet for purchase. Ice had made its way into one of her boots: she could feel now, slurry at her toes, slowly melting, slowly numbing her. Not feeling was queer and discomforting, but it was preferable to the alternative; preferable to pain. Freezing winds whipped mercilessly at her face, a constant and agonising reminder of this. She wore a woollen covering, but still, her cheeks were beet red; hot with inflammation, despite the cold gales that bruised them.

    Esme was trembling subtly by the time she reached the dense thicket of sabre pines. She had hoped for reprieve, but even here, the wind found her. It wailed through the wood, rustling leaves, disturbing the snow nestled on the branches. Gnarled roots lurked below the white: cold traps, plentiful and cruel. She tripped once, injuring her knee, and again, injuring her pride. The distant howls of animals could be heard, emanating from somewhere deep in the forest. As they breeched her hearing, Esme had the unmistakable feeling she was being watched. It should have unnerved her, but it didn’t. She smiled softly, gladdened by the knowledge.

    By the time she exited the forest, the girl’s subtle trembles had turned to untameable shivers. ‘Not long now,’ she tried to tell herself, as she stared up at the mountainside ahead and the cottage at its apex. ‘A cold distant trek,’ reality whispered, ‘and now starts the incline.’ A heavy sigh fell from her mouth, but that was all. She did not stop. Rather, she pushed herself on, moving upwards as well as forwards now.

    As the sky above shifted from navy to a darker hue, her thoughts turned to him. Even after all this time, nine months, his face remained as clear as when she’d seen it last. Bright and beautiful and lineless, it was like no other. His smile lit up every room he entered; his hair a tangle of bold, shiny waves. His body was so soft to touch that some days Esme thought she might fall right through him. His was a strange, impossible beauty, but it was beauty nonetheless.

    They had met many years prior. She had been younger then, whereas he had seemed as ageless as ever. He had found her in the heart of a swirling storm, shivering and alone, one step from demise. “Stop!” A hand outstretched, he had appeared beside her. It was only then that she saw: half-hidden by snow, a deep crevasse lay just ahead, its bottom unknowable but for those who fall. “You must be careful, child,” he said. “This is a perilous place for pretty things.”

    For a few moments, Esme could only continue to stare at the crevasse. She should have fallen in; she would have fallen in, if not for him. Her gaze rose slowly. She looked over at her saviour, her expression flashing grateful, scared, confused. “How?” she managed to utter, through chattering, clacking teeth.

    His response was a knowing smile that shone through the blizzard. He then took her by the hand and led her safely through the labyrinth of ice. Despite the sheer drops and rugged terrain, Esme had never felt safer then when their fingers were interlaced.

    After that, they met every Winter. She would have liked it to be more, but Spring and Autumn were not kind to him, and Summer was cruellest of all. A harsh season, full of glare and blaze, it left him diminished; far from his beautiful best. Some days, as she sat sweltering in her suburban compartment, feeling the brutish heat of Summer on her skin, she would think of him. And reminiscences would turn to dreams, and her dreams to painful, grief-stricken pining. If she could have tossed the sun into the deepest reaches of space then, she would have, for him.

    Up above, the first glimmers of green were beginning to appear in an empty, cloudless sky. Soon, the Aurora would fill the heavens with its magnificence. Arcing and arrowing, falling and fading, it would shimmer and shine, stealing across the sky, and stealing smiles and hearts as it did. Vivid hues it would paint: gorgeous greens; blood-red scarlets, golds, silvers, and blues; purples so bright they hurt to look upon. For a single mad moment, Esme contemplated lying down and just staring up at it all. She knew she would freeze if she stopped, but the beauty of the Aurora made her consider it. ‘And I wouldn’t freeze,’ she reminded herself, ‘because he’d never let me. He would save me; just as he did in the storm, all those years ago.’

    The mountain’s incline caused her calves to ache intolerably and turned her feet to puffy, misshapen lumps. Worst was the breathlessness though. The higher she rose, the less air there was to choke down. It left her tired; it left her dizzy and disorientated. Briefly, she lost sight of the cottage, behind craggy peaks of rock and ice. Panic took her then, potent and immediate. She groped at her surroundings, desperately trying to sight a waypoint or familiar landmark, the fear worsening her breathlessness, the breathlessness worsening her fear. Just when hopelessness began to set in, a shaft of dazzling, green light blazed from above, shining the way. “Thank you,” she whispered to the heavens, before stumbling and staggering the final 200-metres of her journey.

    The cottage was homely, in both senses of the word. Fashioned from felled logs, its design was as crude and rugged as the landscape that surrounded it. Little larger than a room in size, its only concession to vanity was a small, stout chimney that rose from its roof. Elsewise, it was a barren, windowless place.

    Snowdrifts had partially concealed the cottage’s door, so Esme was forced to hack her way through with an ice-axe. Even when she did eventually reach it, the stubborn slab of wood was begrudging to allow her entry. Its iron hinges groaned as she pushed against it, fighting her for every inch, screeching and screaming in protest. Finally, the door yielded all at once and she tumbled inside with a spray of snow and sweat.

    The interior of the cottage was exactly as they had left it, nine months past. The kettle remained positioned on a nearby gas hob, waiting to whistle once more; ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ still lay open on page 175; the bed was made, impatient for their return. With every part of her cold, damp and aching, Esme wanted nothing more than to start a fire. There were logs aplenty by the hearth, already cut alluringly into quarters. She took half a step towards them, before resisting the urge. He wouldn’t like it; the smoke, the light, any of it. Instead, she lit a candle, moving it over to a nearby table and taking a seat. Removing her ice-caked gloves, she ran her fingers over its juvenile flame, flexing them, cherishing its meagre heat. Slowly, feeling began to return to her, and with it, the adrenalin that had got her here finally receded.

    Esme did not recall falling asleep, but one rarely does. The candle, it appeared, had long since flickered out. Where once it was long and slender, now it was stubby and misshapen. Wax spread from this rugged mountain, an avalanche of white slowly colonising the table. For a few fatigue-addled moments, Esme wondered what had woken her. Then she heard. The hinges of the door were groaning softly, the snowy rage from beyond growing momentarily louder. Him.

    She turned and watched as a figure entered: resplendent, beautiful, bright. The sight half-blinded her tired eyes, but she refused to look away. Light surrounded the newcomer. No, that was wrong; that didn’t do him justice. He was light: gorgeous greens; blood-red scarlets, golds, silvers, and blues; purples so bright they hurt to look upon. “Esme,” he said, beaming.

    “Aurora,” she replied.

    They embraced then, holding each other, loving each other, until the sweet bleakness of Winter moved to the sad warmth of Spring.

    Reply
    • October 1, 2020 at 2:12 am
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      James Harding,

      Wow. Powerful writing. Riveting story. The sweet bleakness of Winter’, eh?

      Reply
    • October 5, 2020 at 1:00 pm
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      Hi James,

      This is a beautifully written piece. A true love story, in the winter and it hits the prompt head on.

      Lots of lovely phrases and descriptive passages that really highlight your excellent writing.

      Super story,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 5:22 am
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      Wow. Such a beautifully-written story, James. A wonderful use of language and imagery, woven nicely with masterful storytelling. Maybe a hint or two less to the embodiment of the aurora might have led to the idea of Aurora, her lover in human form, coming as a complete surprise for me at the very end. Is the period of nine months since their last encounter alluding to pregnancy? If not, I would suggest changing the number, so as to avoid that association.

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 8:07 pm
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      A superb story, James. The hardship of the climb is really well described (have you ever read ‘To Build A Fire’, by Jack London? Similar … but it doesn’t end so happily!) The middle section, where we find out about the ‘man’, is like a beacon, giving Esme (and us) hope. The little description of the spent candle as a mountain is very clever. And then ‘his’ arrival … goosebumps here. Terrific!

      (And welcome!)

      Reply
  • September 28, 2020 at 11:27 am
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    Just a little, pre-reading comment – the link to Under the Aurora, She Fell in Love doesn’t seem to work.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2020 at 12:59 pm
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      Oops – fat fingers while adding the url – fixed and thanks for the heads up!!

      Reply
  • September 28, 2020 at 11:39 am
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    Just a Winter Affair
    By: Sarig Levin

    Desperately trying to hang on to the threads of a dream, as sweet as morning dew on the tip of your tongue, you can’t help but feel its spell slipping away from your grasp. The inner mist is as thick as a thief, pilfering all traces of recollection as to where the hell you are. And so, at this primeval, pre-coffee & cigarette stage of the day, the best you can do is take a guess, roll with the odds and hope for the best.

    You attempt diving into several semi-conscious parts of the box and surface with a half-baked sensation of being somewhere around Europe. You also seem to recall Russian speaking of late, a Buddhist temple maybe, but all these hints and allegations ain’t getting you the least closer to a decent sense of focus.

    Sensory data indicate the bed you’re in is rather warm and cozy. However, calendrically speaking, you’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be winter right about now. Are you alone in this bed? Could you be completely naked, and if so, should you appropriately be so? On top of all that, why is there a definite aroma of dashi in the air?

    And what the hell is dashi anyway?

    It’s when it all starts mixing together; when all these memories, scents, sounds, languages, cultures, climates, people and experiences become blended in one another, that you may also become aware of the fact that you are no longer just a vacationer on the outskirts of society.

    You were always planning to stay somewhere long enough, to stay with someone particular enough, but you never actually did. Somewhere along the road, a trip had become a journey, a journey has turned into vagabondage, and now, it’s this bloody guessing game every time you need to open your eyes. Now, that you have become an Outskirter.

    * * *

    And so, you open your eyes…

    The bed you’re lying in is soft, the sheets clean and the blanket thick and silky. This is a maidenly bedroom, and no doubt about it. The outlined remains of your hostess’ body indicate petite proportions of a questionable age.

    To your relief, a quick scan of the room points towards an adult proprietress of a probable Asian origin. You’re quite familiar with the instinctive urge to quickly edge away from the scene of a one night stand. This bed, however, feels amicable, familiar even. It feels like a safe haven. Therefore, you stretch diagonally, across the entire bed, shut your eyes and are re-sinking fast, as the earth suddenly begins to quake.

    You make a hasty attempt to resurface from the deep, while quake turns into wobble, yet need to halt just below the surface of reality for proper decompression.

    “Good moa’ning, Sarig-san. Aiko coffee make!” echoes a squeaky voice through the caverns of your mind, as the bed continues to wobble. You manage a grunt and roll over to your side, buying yourself some time while simultaneously turning your back at the unknown – bearer of confusion and brew.

    “Her name is Aiko then,” you now seem to recall, “but we call her Aikoko, for short – a late autumn fling in a faraway land that blossomed into a full-blown winter affair.”

    Finally, a useful bit of information!

    At this point, you can’t help but wonder as to the emotional capacity expected of you in this particular relationship. You quickly try tapping into that part of the box labeled ‘Feelings’, as a warm, miniature body presses up against your back. However, it’s a complex mechanism at the best of times, and now is definitely not the best of times.

    Therefore, the most loving smile you can muster under the circumstances spreads across your face. Eyes slowly open halfway, meeting eyes that are halfway open wide, a face as round and sweet as the moon itself, crowned with long, straight black hair and attached to a chubby, richly bosomed body, handing you a steaming cup of coffee.

    “Ohayou Gozaimasu! (good morning)” you manage a soft mumble.

    “Aikoko today – happy?”

    * * *

    Alone.

    You’re all alone.

    Spent a while being alone.

    At which point does alone become lonely?

    At a certain point, you feel it all loses meaning and purpose, if you don’t get to share it with another living soul. Weeks and even months may pass, as you’re travelling on your own, absorbing a uniquely authentic blend of experiences and challenges.

    That time ought to come to an end when nature takes its course. And sooner or later, nature always does. You just happen to be relaxing in the comfort of a traditional Japanese ryokan when an unlikely host, or in this particular case – a hostess, opens up and welcomes you into her inner circle, into her confidence and care.

    You needed a human being to connect to, and along she came. She needed someone to take care of, and there you were. However, that’s all in the future. At the present, you’re mostly screwing, and pretty much like rabbits on Viagra at that.

    She looks so sweet you wanna cuddle her the first moment you lay eyes on her. Soon after, your hands meet under the table, while faces are kept above, and stay that way long enough for both to realize what’s happening here. From there to bed the distance is cultural mostly, made gloriously short by this sign of desire.

    By the time the sun rises the next day, you’ve got yourself a lover.

    No more solitary admiration of the roaring elements, which made, in their grandeur, this turbulent wonder that is Hokkaido. No more days spent in wait for rides on the side of country roads. No more warmth-less nights, shivering atop your hammock. Human warmth, passion and intimacy have become your reward.

    Fully give in to the experience and an entire culture may become available to you. Doors to various possible universes will open, beliefs will be put into question, mistakes will be made and various pipers will, eventually, demand payment.

    * * *

    Out of the depth of a dream, as sticky as a bath full of honey, the pull of reality grows too strong for you to ignore. You grab at the seam of a wooly Winnie the Pooh, who’s busy licking Alice from Wonderland, herself dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform. Nevertheless, you feel it all slowly slipping away from your grasp.

    “Good moa’ning, Sarig San. Aiko coffee make!”

    Thus, you are pulled out of your decompression and made to float to the surface of reality. Bright light spots turn into flashy manga figures, bouncing around the outskirts of your vision, as your ears eventually pop, leaving the world in utter stillness.
    In the center of your fuzzy vision is a face, as round and sweet as ever – a face you’ve grown most fond of lately, attached to a chubby, richly bosomed body, in a cute little suit, short miniskirt and carrying a Winnie the Pooh handbag.

    With a sunshiny smile across her adorable face, she leans over and places a steaming cup of coffee on the nightstand and a generous cleavage in your line of vision. With a randy smile of your own, you grab her arm and pull her into the bed. She titters in your embrace, but gives in to your lips, as you smear her lipstick to bits.

    “Aiko now work go!” she cries out, but you’re damned if you’re gonna let another perfectly good morning stiffy go to waste.

    A hand now craftily slides underneath her skirt. In one quick motion, you pull her pink panties off, grab one handful of breast, one handful of buttock, then slide yourself all the way in. She wails, you moan, pull out at the last second and, shortly after, she’s already straightening up her suit and hurries into the bathroom to fix herself back up.

    Casually sauntering in behind her, you embrace her with your clean hand, while washing the other under the running tap. You plant a wet kiss on her cheek, she giggles and the two of you stare cordially at your reflection in the mirror.

    “Ohayou Gozaimasu, Aiko-chan. Today – happy?”

    “Hay (yes),” she squeaks. “Aiko today very happy! Sarig happy?”

    “Hay,” you reply. “Sarig happy because Aiko happy.”

    “Becos? Nani (what is) becos?” she asks, while readjusting her makeup.

    “Aiko happy – Sarig happy.” That’s about the only way you’re able to simplify it for everybody’s benefit.

    There’s steam rising from underneath the tub’s plastic cover. Beneath it, there’s a hot bath waiting just for you.

    “Aiko together happy!” she says, turns around and hugs you tightly. You kiss her other check, fondle her buttocks and lightly slap her out of her own bathroom.

    “Today together Christmas shopping go?” she inquires, while bending over to pick up her preteen handbag.

    “Tabun (Maybe), Aiko-chan. Nani Aiko eating want?” you can barely resist the urge to fondle her some more, yet point at your mouth instead and mimic chewing.

    “Aiko sushi bar want!” comes the answer you’ve been dreading.

    Both shopping and eating out are somewhat heavy on your budget at the moment, but the lady does occasionally require wining and dining, which is a very modest price to pay for all you are getting in return.

    “Okay. Shopping; after, sushi bar go,” you give in with a smile.

    “Yeahhhh…” she skips like an overenthusiastic manganese cheerleader.

    “Aiko…winner!” she cries, and turns to leave.

    “Aiko very kawaii (cute),” you add, and hear her giggle, as she heads down the stairs.

    “Aiko now work go!” echoes her reply. “Bye bye, Sarig”

    “Bye bye, Aikoko…”

    And with that, you fold the plastic cover, slide into the steaming bath and close your eyes. Would you believe she’s thirty four years old?

    * * *

    Christmas has passed, a snow-clad winter has settled in and you are still enjoying the warmth of her little country house. You are not overstaying your welcome, for the arrangement was for you to leave only once spring will have moved in, and that’s the status quo you’re still successfully maintaining.

    She has drifted off, as per usual, cuddled in your arms. You know you should be waking her up, as you do every single night, carry her up the stairs to the bedroom, where you would attempt to get some, and instead would get none. However, you just remain sitting there.

    The wind has shifted of late and a cloud of detachment seemed to have settled upon the two of you. The joy of fucking like rabbits went down the hole, and Wonderland just ain’t no fun anymore. But the truth is that you no longer care. Once the fun is spent, a fuck ain’t much of an outperformance to simple, uncomplicated, demand-free self-gratification anyhow.

    On the other hand, you know it’s much more complicated than that. You know she’s gradually coming to realize you are not the one she can depend on to be dependent on her, and that’s just the tip of an emotional iceberg you are far from able to help her cope with.

    Everything withers and dies in the end. That’s just the inevitable truth. Romance, friendship or even great sex are no different. The human condition doesn’t allow us to linger around the same plateau forever, no matter how breathtaking the view may be. We must keep on moving, seek complications and destroy the existing structure in order to build something else in its stead. That is, after all, what makes us human, all too scheiße human.

    * * *

    Jesus F. Christ! All you wanted was to invite a friend for Christmas, as is customary in the lands of the setting sun, and now she cannot even look at you. She’s driving the both of you back to her home in muted fury, an irritable little girl on the outside, struggling with a grownup’s scorn on the inside.

    It all started in a parking lot, screwing in the front seat of her car.

    Next thing you recall, you were having a nice conversation, with ‘me Tarzan go here’ and ‘me Tarzan go there’, lots of humor to spice it up, yet less than your usual amount of effort attention to what she’s trying to say. Looking for an opening you were, and no doubt about it.

    “Aiko remember Sarig friend from Tokyo?” you took the first one that came along.

    “Korea girl?” she replied, staring at you all doe-eyed.

    “Hay! Aiko good memory,” index finger pointed at your temple.

    “Memoly? Nani memoly?” But you ignored the inquiry.

    “Sarig friend no have friends in Tokyo. Sarig want to invite to Christmas party together, okay?” you finally managed to squeeze in the punch line.

    The silence which followed could not have been a good omen…

    “Sarig and friend sex have?”
    “Nay, nay! Sarig friend only.”

    “Sarig and friend sex have!!!”

    * * *

    ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through her dwelling, not a sound was heard, not of fighting nor quarreling. You’ve already laid the gifts around her plastic tree, decorated with bright lights and Disney figurines.

    She looks as kawaii as ever, in her tiny Barbie suit, and all you wanna do is put her over your knee and spank her bare buttocks. You’ll do no such thing though, for underneath her childish exterior is still a scornful woman. Instead, you embrace her and kiss her tenderly.

    “Merry Christmas, Aikoko,” you say softly.

    “Merry Christmas, Sarig-san,” she softens in your arms.

    After dinner, you cuddle on the couch under the Christmas lights. Who could’ve imagined this night is to be the last time she would give herself to you, and with equal desire at that.

    You spend hours talking and laughing, maintaining an easy going channel of communication. Nevertheless, a part of your mutual bond has faded away – the part in charge of convincing all the other parts that there’s more to this than just selfish needs. All pretense of a romantic essence is lost forever. You need each other, depend on one another, even desire one another at times, but you do no love each other.

    Once self-deception fails, the collapse of the entire system is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time. The nature of needs is a slippery one and its course elusive at best. Sooner or later, someone would bail out. That someone is most often you.

    “Nothing is free in life,” you think to yourself, as you lie in bed beside her, listening to her managing to make even snoring sound cute. Everything you get in life has a price. We are a race of dealers, constantly negotiating the price of actions and emotions. The price of today is measured in tomorrows, and tomorrows, and tomorrows…

    If you cannot pay the piper, the rats will slowly creep back in, till you’ll be forced to pack it in and skip town.

    The piper is not in any way evil. She simply deserves to get paid.

    Reply
    • October 5, 2020 at 1:19 pm
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      Hi Sarig,

      In some ways I felt that I did understand and follow this story until I read Ken C’s comments that, as he so often does, hint at hidden depths that eluded me. It is a winter love affair or certainly a winter sex – fest. That much I can see and I just wonder why I need to read more into it than that…..simple, superficial me!!

      I would also like to address the “pay the piper” line too. As far as I know, the full expression is, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” In other words if you are paying for something then you decide how it should be delivered. I didn’t really see why this was relevant in this story.

      The story meets the prompt and is an interesting read that is full of insights and hints but, for me, it was about a guy getting as much sex as he could whilst the relationship lasted. As long as both parties are OK with that then all well and good although the narrator’s take on things doesn’t do much to elevate the male of the species.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • October 6, 2020 at 3:38 pm
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        Hi, Ken.

        “Pay the piper” (idiom): to pay for one’s pleasures or bear the consequences of one’s actions, i.e. pay the man (or in my case, the woman) in whatever it takes to keep her happy, or you’d end up paying an even steeper price.

        This text was meant to be both vague and ambitious enough to allow each reader his or her own reading. Therefore, your self-proclaimed ‘simple’ reading of it is just as true as Ken C’s, ain’t it. What I meant to say is of no importance. Only the reading counts.

        As a result of your reading, Ken, you felt uncomfortable with and unsympathetic toward the protagonist/narrator and his masochistic tone and behavior, and that’s all right. It takes all sorts (of voices) to make a world (or at least an interesting one). We do not need to agree with someone in order to see the value in his or her story (take H.H. in Lolita, for example). The choice of 2nd person narration makes objective appreciation of a story more difficult, though, doesn’t it?

        Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 3:24 pm
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      So, Sarig, here is another Ken for you… if you don’t mind; the third one in a row, Kens coming out quite like the rats of Hamelin…

      There is a lot in your story, starting off very beautifully with the protagonist half here half there between reality and the land of dreams and fantasy (I love that part, esp. the bit on the intangibility of dreams).

      It all then slowly but steadily moves on to more concrete, hard sex, which you portray rather well, not leaving any details to the imagination, yet not falling into the trappings of obscenity. It’s not easy to portray sex decorously without, on the other hand, making it sound ridiculous. I’d say you struck the right balance here. Not pornhub, not a church tract on sex education either.

      Then, after the ‘loving’, we get the anti-romantic climax Act Three. It turns out to be a tale on the human condition, on how everlasting happiness and satisfaction are as intangible as dreams themselves. Maybe reality is a dream too? Catch it while you can, let go of it, when it’s gone…

      From a fairy-tale beginning, to XXX we go, and then we finish off with a sound philosophical tract. You planted a lot in here, Sarig.

      There are times when through your narrator you do philsophize a bit too much, perhaps. Like with this:

      “The human condition doesn’t allow us to linger around the same plateau forever, no matter how breathtaking the view may be. We must keep on moving, seek complications and destroy the existing structure in order to build something else in its stead.”

      It’s actually a great paragraph, so true and one I’d like to remember. But it sounds like it’s coming from a book on philosophy. I, the reader, should perhaps have been able to deduct this great truth through what the narrator is experiencing rather than being told in black on white what the tragic human condition is. The ‘show, don’t tell’ business thingy, I mean. I know it’s not easy. Especially when what is being played out is of such enormity.

      There are some other great lines I’m keeping from your story, for their sheer depth and beauty. Like the paragraph above, some are more philosphical than ‘story-like’, but still, you have put some great words together. Here are some of my favorites:

      “Somewhere along the road, a trip had become a journey, a journey has turned into vagabondage.”

      “From there to bed the distance is cultural mostly, made gloriously short by this sign of desire.”

      “You know she’s gradually coming to realize you are not the one she can depend on to be dependent on her.”

      “We are a race of dealers, constantly negotiating the price of actions and emotions.”

      It’s a story I want to read again and again (I’ll print it, for my eyes’ sake, doctor’s orders), to fathom further what I may have missed the first time. It’s a tale of desire hijacking satisfaction, lust undermining love, winter disavowing summer.

      If only it could be ‘storified’ a bit further, translating the purely philosophical bits into action. (Although, to say it all, one can opt for a part-fiction part-philsophy style; many succesful writers have done that, and you do it quite well too. Some won the Nobel Prize for it [I read Gao Xingjian’s “Soul Mountain” recently and it worked with me] but admittedly it’s not everybody’s cup of tea).

      The Japanese aspect in your story is well drawn too (I’m very familiar with that country and peculiar culture – I worked for five years for a Japanese company and visited numerous locations in that country). The jovial exterior with a hardened core, you express it very well.

      This is one memorable piece, Sarig, that’s for sure. You remain in my top fave list. Never disappointed me so far 🙂

      I also appreciated very much what you said to the other Kens about the readers owning the writing as much (or more than) the writer. It’s another piece of wisdom, on your part, there!

      Cheers,
      Ken

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 7:28 pm
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      A very intimate story, Sarig, I suspect based on experience? (there’s a ‘Sarig’, after all …) As KenM says, you push the boundaries of explicitness (obscenity?), but just keep the right side of it. Key to that is the giving and taking on both sides. Although the ‘Sarig’ in the story is getting his fair share of gratification, Aiko seems to get what she wants, too (serving? – or is that just Sarig’s wishful thinking?). It feels like an ode to regret for lost opportunities – it’s sad, anyway. It’s a very complex and, for me, satisfying photograph of a couple’s journey. One thing, though – I don’t think you can generalise as you do (or at least you can, but only unreliably): “The human condition doesn’t allow us to linger …” For many people, it does. Some great, original turns of phrase that makes your work rather unique. Very thought-provoking and … good.

      Reply
  • October 1, 2020 at 1:53 am
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    Sarig,

    Engrossing story, very entertaining. Not sure I fully deciphered its meaning, though. I think you should delete the last two sentences. Or put them somewhere else. The price of today is measured in tomorrows. That’s your last line. I’m not sure what it means, but it’s a helluva lot more original than the pay the piper lines. And I’m not sure, despite what you may believe, that this story has anything to do with ‘paying the piper’ anyway.

    It has more to do with sex and love than suffering consequences. (That’s what paying the piper is all about, right? Suffering consequences?) Unless the suffering was from a simple miscommunication. That’s not what you’re saying here. You’re saying the entire thing, planet, life, range of emotions, it’s all designed to break down. To keep us moving, evolving. But that’s where this main character starts. Vagabondage. I’m not sure I follow the gist of the lessons he has learned or is trying to impart, in this story. Seems like there’s an awful lot of happiness, and not many ‘mistakes.’

    and perhaps that is your intent.

    Reply
    • October 6, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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      Hi, Ken.

      I always feel that it is somewhat futile to try and explain one’s text, for its meaning has very little to do with the concepts and ideas one attempted to incorporate in it and everything to do with what the reader got out of it. If the reader missed your intended mark then you probably hadn’t marked it well enough, ‘s what I’m saying. I’m not saying that you missed my mark here, but maybe you read too much into it. There’s a price to every human interaction, is what I’m saying, and romance is no different. Sooner or later, everyone makes mistakes and have to suffer the consequences. When you strike the kind of deal I attempted to describe here (i.e. host me as a lover for the winter), like the people of Hamelin made with the pied piper, you pay the man (or in my case, the woman) in whatever it takes to keep her happy, or you end up paying an even steeper price. That’s how life works, my friend. All the sex stuff, that’s just to keep it real, colorful and entertaining.

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 3:26 pm
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        (for whatever reason, my comment found its way further up, nestled between Frape and Cartisano’s comments… Go look for it 🙂 )

        Reply
  • October 2, 2020 at 11:54 am
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    Snowfalling In Love.

    by Ken Frape

    2254 wc

    The rain drops are driven on mercilessly by the wind, crashing into the windows of the old Victorian school building, each one harassing the one in front and being hurried in turn by those following. The rattling, pitter-patter of water on glass resonates inside the classroom as the students look up, distracted from their schoolwork. With only twenty minutes of the school day remaining, Mrs. Goldsworthy knows she has lost her pupils’ attention. She sets them a simple reading task but she is fully aware that most of the pupils are studying the sky not the written words in front of them and her thoughts are turning to her own journey home in the dusk. The chilled rain will soon turn to icy sleet and the class, born and raised in the country, know that this storm is the harbinger of Winter.

    In the following days, the clouds will darken even during daylight hours, the mercury will drop like a stone and the wind will pick up speed. Every child in the village will dream of the snow that will follow as surely as the hungry fox will steal another chicken from the coop.

    As the Winter darkness descends, a single glowing lantern by the Red Lion pub on the village green will light the drinkers’ arrival and then, thirsts slaked, guide them home in the inky blackness.

    Silence will reign over the village and the snow will stealthily fall, single flake by single flake, millions upon millions, as it always does, whilst the villagers sleep between soft, warm blankets and the children dream of faraway places and magic carpets and giant snowmen.

    With the arrival of dawn’s magical stillness, the air will soon be filled with the snapping and crackling of excited children’s footsteps, echoing into this new, unexplored wonderland of blinding, pristine whiteness. The children will burst from their doorways, their shapes unfamiliar, like overstuffed pillows, bundled up and tied with string as they breathe plumes of cloudy, moisture-laden breath into the crisp air of a Winter’s morning. Indulgent parents, remembering their youth, will flap their dressing-gowned arms around themselves, watching from warm doorways, slippered toes curling on the threshold as the smell of warm toast draws them back to the warmth of the hearth. There will be time for exploration, for snowballing, for creating slides and for the building of snowmen. Mrs. Goldsworthy will accept that her children will be distracted, excited, impatient to return to the frosty fields and pathways as their eyes swivel from sums in their books to the leaden sky’s promise of more snow.

    By the end of that first day of snow the village will hunker down once more, fires burning brightly, the children tired but replete with tales of slides and snowmen and icicles. Damp clothes will steam in front of the embers of the fire overnight. The parents will sleep, albeit fitfully, their minds on practical matters. The children will slumber on too, their dreams more carefree, eager to further their exploration before the inevitable “melt” that will bring an end to their fun.

    In the darkness of the night, the death screech of the fox’s prey is deadened under the thick white blanket. There’s a soft, almost imperceptible sense of moving air as the owl sweeps past on silent wings. These are the only sounds….except…

    “ Marmaduke, are you there? Are you awake?” An aristocratic voice whispers quietly in the chilly gloom.

    “Is that you, Daphne?” A similarly well modulated, soft voice answers.

    The children have made a snowman, and named him Lord Marmaduke Fotheringay. Beside him stands his fiancee, Lady Daphne Wentworth, after the characters from a popular television programme.

    There is a soft swish as the snow couple wave their branches-for-arms- and- hands at each other. Their carroty noses are pointed towards each other in greeting. The children must have raided the dressing-up box for Lady Daphne is attired in a long red silk scarf, an evening gown and a tiara peppered with plastic jewels. She has a smear of frozen lipstick for a mouth and an embroidered shawl has been carefully draped around her shoulders. Her coal black eyes are, of course, coal. She peers closely at Lord Marmaduke.

    “I’ve really missed you, Marmy, my darling, “ she tells him. “It’s been so long and I just couldn’t wait to see you again.”

    “I know. I’ve missed you too, my love,” he replies with heartfelt honesty. “I heard that last winter was one of the warmest and wettest on record. Hardly any snow about.”

    “Yes, it has been dreadful, absolutely dreadful,” she exclaims. “The months have just dragged by but as soon as the wind turned to the north-east I just knew we would be together again. I hope we can spend a little more quality time together this Winter. Look, can we get a bit closer, do you think?”

    Daphne beckons to Marmy with a seductive wave of her branchy-hand.

    “You stay there and I’ll see if I can slither towards you a tad,” Marmy replies eagerly. “Hold on, old girl, my feet are jolly well frozen to the spot .” There is a grunting sound followed by a slight crack as Marmy breaks free. “I’m coming, Daphne!”

    Moments later the two snow figures make contact. They hold branches and touch carrots. There is a kissing sound, followed by a slight thud.

    “What was that? “ asks Marmy, his eyes straining to see in the darkness.

    Daphne looks tenderly at Marmy. “Your carrot just dropped off but don’t worry, the children will pop it back on in the morning.”

    “What are you wearing, Marmy?” She smiles fondly as she looks at him.“You look like you are dressed for a dinner party.”

    Marmy has been dressed in a bow tie, a long black scarf and a top hat and around his feet he has been given a pair of black lace-up shoes. Apart from that, he is as naked as,…a snowman.

    “Someone will be looking for those in the morning, I expect,” says Marmy with a guffaw, looking down at the shoes.

    “Children, eh? They just snaffle the first thing they can find when it comes to dressing us up. I must say you look jolly attractive in that red scarf. Really suits you, Daphne.”

    “Oh, do you think so? I always think red makes me look a bit washed out, if you know what I mean?”

    “No, not at all, red really is your colour.”

    “What about this ball gown? Does it make my derriere look big?”

    Marmy glances down at Daphne’s well-rounded posterior. The children have been very generous with the snow in this area.

    ” Of course not, my darling,” he says, choosing his words with care. “You would look positively wonderful even in a string bag. In fact, when I last saw you, you were dressed in one!” They laugh.

    “So, what have you been up to since last Winter ?” He asks.

    Daphne thinks for a moment or so. “Well, I spent quite a lot of time in the North. There’s always snow around somewhere up there of course so I met up with a few old friends.”

    “Oh yes, who was that then?” Marmy asks. “Any of the chaps I know?”

    “Whitey?” Daphne replies. “You know, one of the Edinburgh Whites. You remember him, I’m sure. Massive chap, the size of a polar bear and there was Storm, such a lovely girl and then there was Blizzard….”

    Marmy interjects….

    “….Never really liked him, that Blizzard chap. A bit of a bounder if you ask me. A bit too full of himself.”

    “Well, perhaps,” says Daphne. ” He says he originally used to live at the top of Mount Everest. Thinks that makes him special, I suppose.” Daphne smirks.

    “So how did he get down here, with the rest of us ordinary folk?” asks Marmy.

    “Avalanche,apparently.”

    “How the mighty have fallen,” Marmy grins.

    “And how about you then, Marmy? Where did the weather take you this year?”

    Marmy smiled at this, his smile a somewhat crimped affair through his pastry-cutter lips.

    “At the end of the last snow season, I hung around for a while, spent time on the ski slopes, of course, then, after the dreaded melt I was evaporated up into a passing cloud with a rather vocal crowd blown over from the Welsh mountains. They spent nearly every waking moment singing.” He sighs and smiles at the memory.

    “Then a storm took us across Europe and the Urals. I joined up there with some Ukrainian snow flakes before we were rained down into the river. Then the sun came out and it’s back to the clouds, then down as rain again. You know, the water cycle is fine, of course but frankly, it all gets a bit boring after a few hundred cycles.”

    “Yes, all precipitation is all well and good but you can’t beat a good, old fashioned snow flake, can you, Marmy?” Daphne adds.

    “So true,” says Marmy.

    “Still, mustn’t grumble, I suppose,“ Daphne says. “I mean, did you hear what happened to that Scottish contingent?”

    “No, what was that then?” Marmy pricks up his cauliflower ears.

    “Well, apparently they melted from the highlands and ran down into a valley where gallons and gallons of them were taken out of the river and they ended up in a whisky distillery.”

    “No! Never. What jolly spiffing fun, eh?”

    “I don’t think they thought it was fun, by all accounts.”

    “Why ever not?”

    “Well, think about it, Marmy. What happens to the whisky?”

    “People drink it, of course.”

    “Then what happens to it after people have drunk it?”

    Marmy thinks for a moment. “Oh no! That’s disgusting. Oh, my word!”

    They both stand in silence for a few minutes, lost in their own thoughts of old friends, the water cycle, whisky distilleries and musical Welsh raindrops.

    Suddenly Daphne whispers, “Shhhh. Stand still, old chap.”

    “What is it,” asks Marmy very quietly, his coally eyes swivelling in his snowy head.

    “Stray dog approaching. Hope it’s not hungry and vegetarian.”

    “Why’s that then?”

    “He’s sniffing your carrot!”.

    A minute later and the dog has wandered away, bladder now empty. Around Daphne’s feet there is now a rapidly freezing, yellow puddle. Marmy starts to laugh.

    “What are you laughing at Marmy?” She asks.

    “Have a look around your feet,” he tells her.

    Daphne looks down. “Oh gosh,no,” she sighs. “Still, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later, what with us standing out here all night, you know, helpless. At least that tells us that the temperature is still below freezing and you can wipe that smile off your face by the way. That dog took your carrot!”

    Marmy tries to make a sniffing sound. “Never mind, at least I won’t be able to get a cold in the nose. Remember last year when my nose dripped all night? Most irritating. Let’s just hold branches shall we? You never know when we will meet up again. If the temperature rises, apart from getting doggy wee on the hem of your ballgown, you could be melted and gone by morning.”

    “Yes, and you too, my dear.”

    “I don’t mind melting, darling, as long as you are there too. We could pool our resources.“ He laughs at his own pun.

    “That’s a nice thought, my dear,” Daphne replies with a straight face. She doesn’t do puns.

    Later, much later, as dawn is just beginning to show itself below the edge of the horizon, Marmy turns his eyes towards Daphne.

    “Daphne darling,” he begins.

    “Yes, darling,” she replies.

    “I just want to tell you something, just in case we get , well, you know, watered down or evaporated again or thawed.”

    “You don’t need to say anything, Marmy, I know.”

    “But I want to say it anyway. Would you mind awfully?”

    “Very well, go on then.”

    “ Lady Daphne Wentworth…….I love you……”he starts to say.

    “I love you too….Lord Marmaduke Fotheringay,” Daphne replies.

    The rest of their words of love are drowned out as a snowplough driver, in a hurry to clear the road before the new day starts, chugs around the corner in his bright yellow beast. With a roar the vehicle churns up huge swathes of snow and blows a fountain of dirty grey- white slush onto the pavements and into the front gardens of the cottages nearest to the road.
    The sound of the snow plough gradually diminishes until all is silent once more.

    As a weak early morning light struggles to announce a new dawn, lights snap on all across the village. Children excitedly coax their parents out of bed for a second morning of snowy fun. Fires are stoked back into life, kettles roar and toast is browned and buttered.

    As those first doors are opened the children rush out to greet their snow people and then stop in their tracks. They look all around, mystified and yet, certain that this was where Lady Daphne and Lord Marmaduke were when they went to bed last night but now all is grey and mushy.

    Lord Marmaduke Fotheringay and his fiancée Lady Daphne Wentworth are nowhere to be seen but sticking out of the snowheap are two hand-like branches, their fingers entwined as if they were lovers, holding hands.

    Which, of course, is exactly what they were and by nightfall, they will be again.

    2254 words
    Ken Frape
    September 2020

    Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 6:14 am
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      Such a wonderful story, Ken, stimulating and entertaining, skillfully transporting me, as the reader, to the settings in which it is grounded. I particularly liked the artful way in which the story shifts from its detailed and atmospheric exposition to the amusing, touching and weirdly realistic love story between the two snowpeople.

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 6:22 am
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        Hi Sarig,
        Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.
        I had two possible stories lined up and decided to go for the snow people so that I could get some dialogue in there.
        Kind regards,
        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 11:04 am
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      Really lovely, KenF. The build-up description, especially the projection (using the future tense) of what the winter will bring is beautiful (you’re a master at that). The dialogue, too, is great – it has a kind of 1930s gentility to it and is very charming. The final image of branchy fingers entwined is really touching. A couple of observations/doubts: The sudden switch from that future description to the present, with “In the darkness of the night, the death screech of the fox’s prey is deadened …” – that jolted me a bit. Also, the (I have to repeat, very beautiful) description clashes a little, tonally, with the dialogue … (maybe just me). Overall, though, a very lovely experience.

      (See also my response to your comment on my story.)

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 7:49 pm
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        Ken F
        a lovely imaginative rendition of the prompt. You have brought out the romance of the winter snow beautifully. Phil has dealt with the grammatical aspects of your story, so I will confine myself to saying how much I enjoyed your descriptions of the place, the snowpeople and their relationship. A truly wonderful story. I also appreciated the longer word length. It gives you much more scope for some glowing descriptions. I would also suggest it is difficult to write like this with the shorter word restrictions.
        I give up on my name. It insists on me being known as Gippy Goats Alpines. Ilana has been erased for now, until I can find a way to fix it. Just imagine a book of poetry or short stories or a novel even written by Gippy Goats Alpines. People will think “what on earth have the parents of this person being thinking when they named her or him. the name is not gender specific is it?
        I always got amused by walking into a class room of primary school kids a couple of years ago, and we had a Dakota, Ohio, Montana, Virgina (that is more a normal name as is Carolina), Carolina, Pennsylvania (I kid you not. He was Pen for short) and Colorado. I blame the USA sitcoms. Parents without much imagaination or forethought sit in front of the TV and go “Oh, love the sound of that USA state, let’s call our bump that.”
        I guess it would be worse if they started naming their kids after USA politicians.
        “How’s the Trump bump goin’?”
        Or
        “You surely are stridin’ well with young Biden.”
        or
        “Pelosi would you like a toastie, dear child?”
        “Pence please don’t look so tense.” Please forgive him he’s ADHD.
        Or they could name their kids after USA cities. It could become the IN thing…
        I’ll tell my son, if you want to give your children a non hebrew name, bags Nashville or Chicago. We could set a trend…

        Reply
    • October 8, 2020 at 8:13 am
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      Here is Mr. Ken Frape at his best again, guys… The very man who wrote Victorian Puddle, has now topped it with this gem of a story.

      Well done, Ken! It’s such a pleasant read.

      The introduction setting the scene would have usually been too long, if it wasn’t so beautifully written – the most beautiful ode to winter I’ve ever read (makes me almost love winter, which in real life I detest.).

      I did wonder when the main characters of the story are going to show up, but was in no rush to meet them, while I traveled with you through the joys of winter wonderland. And when the characters did come, it all fitted perfectly: winter is indeed the mother of these two charming snowpeople you’ve crafted. Winter itself is a living character in this story, not a mere descriptive setting.

      The snowpeople are of course anthropomorphic, but you did throw in some details here and there to remind us who they really are. Things like “they hold branches and touch carrots”, induct us into the life and ways of snowfolk, their culture and customs. Brilliant! So good I wish I’d come up with this myself instead of you…

      While this story mesmerizes the little child in each and every one of us, it also looks after the more rigorous adult mind, by giving a scientific explanation to the whole thing. Pseudoscientific, it may be, but the technical details are precise enough:

      “At the end of the last snow season, I hung around for a while, spent time on the ski slopes, of course, then, after the dreaded melt I was evaporated up into a passing cloud…”

      “You know, the water cycle is fine, of course but frankly, it all gets a bit boring after a few hundred cycles.”

      And there is good humor throughout, tongue-in-cheek, of the finest type. Like when he gives her a pun and she gets it literally, for example. And, things like:

      “He’s sniffing your carrot!”. Yes, that’s what dogs do!

      And wait a minute. This could be the prequel to Victorian Puddle, come to think of it. Is that how the puddle came to be, perhaps? When the spring of 1889 finally comes around, and after Lord and Lady Snow had been recreated by the children over and over again every evening throughout that winter, they may end up becoming a muddy puddle in the badly paved sidewalk…

      “I don’t mind melting, darling, as long as you are there too. We could pool our resources.” Is that why there was so much love in the water Henry found himself diving in? That dude was called Henry, right, if my memory serves me well? You’ve got the first two parts of a mystifying trilogy, there, Ken. But the snowplough truck? It must have been its Victorian equivalent. A man in a hurry with a large spade?

      Cheers!
      Ken the Other

      Reply
    • October 8, 2020 at 10:21 am
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      Ken F,
      Amazingly, I agree with everything everyone else has already said. I read all the comments and there’s little to add. Ken M itemized and reiterated some of your best lines, and I especially liked his suggestion about linking this story with Victorian Puddle.

      I also agreed with Phil’s suggestion about that phrase, ‘the screech of the fox’s prey.’ You could go with (‘the hoot of an owl; the howl of single wolf, a warning to predadors, ….) Something similar. I thought the dialogue was good, could be trimmed/improved, but the story is fabulous. For all its flaws, this is definitely the best story this month.

      It has that odd mystical quality that you sometimes weave into your plots.

      Needs more polish. That’s the bad news. The good news is: You’re working on a diamond.
      This is a wonderful story, Ken. I loved the philosophical description of the water cycle. Turning the snow itself, though I don’t know how, into an animate being. And it totally works. (I suppose he’s a snowflake) And he, ‘the animate being,’ is very practical and matter of fact’ regarding his philosophy and fate. There was enough science to support the story, but no support under that, (that’s part of the mystical). the reader happily goes right along. Excellent writing and a really creative story.

      Take Phil’s advice, change that line about the fox, tweak the story one more time, think of it as a final tune up on a race car. That last final adjustment to the carburetor. This is a great story, Ken.

      p.s. Change the garbage truck to a horse-drawn hearse. (Or not.)

      Reply
      • October 8, 2020 at 11:21 am
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        Hi Ken C,

        Thanks so much for your comments. I just love the notion that I need to polish my story but it’s a diamond. That’s a wonderful comment. So much better than polishing a turd! I suspect we all, as writers, have had to do that.

        I’ll get polishing as soon as possible.

        I did make one small edit earlier after submission as I felt that I had got something wrong with one of the tenses towards the end. I would be unwise to ignore the issue of the “owl screetch ” bit and will do so in my copy here but it’s too late to do so on the site now as we are all voting.

        I really appreciate the critiques I have received and I know that during the past two years since I joined this august group of writers, my work has improved no end.

        I did enjoy the challenge of writing with a 2500 word allowance as 1200 and 1500 seem to be the most common allowances in my experience unless it’s very short, sharp flash fiction, around 100 – 300 words.

        Looking forward to seeing if I can in fact put this together with Henry and the Victorian Emporium. I did do one that I sent in to Carrie and Alice where I joined Henry with the girl with the chooseyouradventure.com card and “never trust a (sea creature etc). I chose a mermaid. Never heard back about it. I think I will dig it out and see if it is bright and sparkling or dark brown and dull.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
  • October 3, 2020 at 9:07 am
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    TWO SNOWFLAKES

    You’ve probably heard that no two snowflakes are alike, but how does anyone really know? With all the gazillions of snowflakes that fall every winter in the different parts of the world. I mean, is there someone who goes round and checks them all with a magnifying glass? Of course not – that would be absurd. So this fact is a little dubious, if you ask me.

    And if you ask Frahsty, who is the snowman I make every year. I make him in the same spot in the garden and with the same shape, the same plastic carrot for a nose, same pieces of coal for eyes and mouth, same old bowler hat, same red and white striped scarf, same broomstick for arms. I love Frahsty (I named him after a song I heard on the radio once), and I love how he keeps me company for a few months, till spring comes around and he melts away, lamenting his fate but happy that he’ll be returning. “I’ll be back!” is the last thing he says to me, just before the pieces of coal that are his mouth drop to the sludgy ground around him; after that, he can’t say very much at all.

    When I bring him back the following winter, he’s very hazy about the year before, so I have to fill him in with what happened when he was here. I also like to tell him about what’s been going on with me and my life while he’s been away.

    Anyway, he knows a whole lot about snow (as you can imagine) and told me that the thing about there being no two snowflakes alike has never been proven in the snow-world so is just speculation. But there are some facts about snow that Frahsty says are kosher.

    For example, Eskimos – Frahsty tells me that some of them don’t like to be called that, but for the sake of simplicity… – do indeed have many different words for snow: kanevvluk is ‘fine snow’, qanikcaq is ‘snow on the ground’, muruaneq is ‘soft deep snow’, nutaryuk is ‘fresh snow’, etc. And he says that the warning ‘Don’t eat yellow snow’ is actually very sound advice.

    But the other day Frahsty told me something about snowflakes that I’m sure no one knows: that they actually have feelings, and that they have, rather ironically, been very put out by the currently popular appropriation of their name to describe someone who is easily hurt or offended by the statements or actions of others. I was loath to believe the revelation; how could bits of snow have human emotions? Frahsty put me right:

    “Well, you do know that I’m very fond of you, don’t you?” he said. “And what am I but a collection of compacted snowflakes?”

    I had to give him that. So I let him tell me a story that illustrates the fact well, I think. I’ll transcribe it as best I can.

    “Once upon a time, there was a snowflake. When he formed high up in the cold air, he fluttered to the ground and lay there, crisp and new, his fellow snowflakes nestling around him. Through the long winter months, he got to wondering what it was all about – this snow-lying-around-in-the-snow business. He asked his fellow snowflakes, who had fluttered down with him. They didn’t know and didn’t seem at all curious.

    Not so very far away, another snowflake had fallen and was asking the same question, to herself and her flaky companions. But answer came there none.

    The snowflakes spent the winter musing on the mystery of life and when spring came, they melted and were gone.

    The next winter, the exact same snowflakes were in the snow-fall (a strange fact, but true).

    Our two snowflakes fell apart from each other again, and asked themselves and those around them the same question: ‘What’s it all about?’

    The other snowflakes didn’t seem interested in the question this time either. And so another long winter passed. And another. And another.

    But then there came one winter when our two snowflakes landed right next to each other.

    ‘What’s it all about?’ they asked in unison and were startled by each other’s question.

    ‘You … you’ve just asked the same question I’ve been asking for … ever!’ he said.

    ‘And you!’ she said.

    ‘Winter wonderland!’ they exclaimed, laughing.

    The two snowflakes, their crystal hearts bursting with something warm and magical, snuggled up close to keep cold and passed that winter in thitherto unknown bliss.

    In spring, just before they melted, they promised to be together the following winter, establishing the coordinates where they should form. And when winter came around, and the air was right, they did indeed form and flutter down together, spending another blissful freeze in each other’s company.

    And so it has been ever since.”

    Having the story so stark on the page can’t really reflect the tenderness with which Frahsty told it. But I can tell you that when he’d finished, I noticed, at one of his coal-eyes, a drop of water forming before falling to the snow-covered ground with the tiniest of splashes.

    I don’t think he was deliberately hinting at anything, and he probably didn’t even know that he himself was missing something. But anyway, the day after he told me the story, I built another snowman right next to Frahsty. Or perhaps I should say ‘snow-woman’.

    .

    Reply
    • October 4, 2020 at 9:47 am
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      Hi Phil,

      How interesting that we have both taken a similar view on this prompt. I love what you have done to take the notion of the snowflakes and that every one is different. I’m sure many of us have asked that same question, “How do we know that?”
      It is very well written but then that’s a given with your work. The flow and the dialogue are also excellent.
      Great stuff Phil and clever use of the name Frahsty.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 11:08 am
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        Thanks as always for your kind words, KenF. Please believe me that I wrote and posted my story blind (i.e. without seeing any of the others, including yours). Just one of those coincidences. (Yours is much richer, too.)

        Reply
        • October 7, 2020 at 12:51 pm
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          Hi Phil,

          My wife suggested that the first part of my story, the descriptive prose and then the second part, the dialogue, could have been two different people writing. She may have a point but it was all me.

          Absolutely no suggestion that our story similarities are anything other than coincidence apart from the expression that, “great mind think alike.”!

          I also love the notion of personification. The first piece of writing I had published ( there aren’t many!) was about no man’s land being a hungry beast. It was a piece of flash fiction, only 300 words max.

          Thanks for your critique. I have had a good look at what you have said and you have made very pertinent points. I may have to use the edit function.

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape

          Reply
          • October 7, 2020 at 7:31 pm
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            I remember that story, KenF – great!

    • October 7, 2020 at 6:40 am
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      Short and sweet, Phil, with the two parts, the metaphysical and the fabulous, well-connected. Kosher-wise, is it safe to assume Frahsty is of Jewish affinity? Just one sentence didn’t sit right with me – “And if you ask Frahsty, who is the snowman I make every year.”(full stop)…then, what?

      Reply
      • October 7, 2020 at 11:14 am
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        Thanks, Sarig!

        Frahsty could be Jewish, why not? But I was using ‘kosher’ in its new, general sense, meaning ‘genuine and legitimate’.

        If you read the end of the preceding paragraph and the sentence you mention together, I think it makes sense: “So this fact is a little dubious, if you ask me. And if you ask Frahsty, who is the snowman I make every year.”

        Cheers!

        Reply
    • October 8, 2020 at 8:47 am
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      That’s a lovely story, Phil, delving deep into the essence of existence and what on earth (some say, what the hell) we’re doing here. The snowflakes find the meaning of “life” (existence) in each other, which is very romantic.

      I like the way you framed the main story (the legend of the snowflakes) within Frahsty’s story. It gives both a greater sense of authenticity than if told separately. And it’s all recounted magically through the words of a child, whose fond memories you create masterfully and very effectively.

      Maybe the ending (which is conceptually great, the kind of ending I like) could have been less direct. Instead of saying ‘snowwoman’ per se, you could have gone about creating for Frahsty another one like him, “and I made her beaufitul, borrowed for her my mom’s favorite hat and pearl necklace and the gold watch daddy had given her for her birthday.”

      (Your next story will be about the trouble you got into with mom and dad the next day. But never mind that. It’s the magic that counts.)

      This phrase, btw, is for keeps: “snuggled up close to keep cold”.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • October 8, 2020 at 10:14 am
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        Thanks very much, KenM … and I agree 100% about the ending. “Through the words of a child”, though? Not necessarily …

        Reply
        • October 8, 2020 at 12:06 pm
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          Well, true… not necessarily. I for one thought I grew out of making snowmen (and as a child, for that matter, I lived in a place where the temperature hardly ever dropped below 15 degrees Celsius even in winter – thankfully).

          But (saying this after reading your story and Ken Frape’s), I didn’t know what I’ve been missing!

          Reply
  • October 4, 2020 at 6:05 am
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    Hi Carrie, / Alice
    I must have missed something but I have a message that says I do not have permission to edit my story.
    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • October 4, 2020 at 10:19 am
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      Hi Ken, make sure you are using the same log in as the one you posted your story with. If that doesn’t work try a different browser.

      Reply
  • October 7, 2020 at 7:25 am
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    The Snow Maiden
    The road through to the cabin high up in the Snowy Mountains was guttered and overgrown. Impassable in places, even with a 4-wheel drive vehicle because of the early snow falls, Jack had allowed for that by packing the mules up to cabin for the last 30 kms of the twisting mountain track. He had planned to leave his trailer carrying the two mules and a dairy goat at a friend’s farm in the foothills. He then trekked up the mountain pass to the cabin he and Catherine had bought fifteen years ago when they became empty nesters. They had spent every winter from May to August in the mountains there together except for the last two years when her MS had become so chronic, she could no longer spend time far from medical help or civilization’s hospitals. That the last weeks of her life had been difficult for both was an understatement.

    “Please take me up to the cabin. Just one last time. I want to die there. Please, Jack.” She had begged.
    Jack had wanted to fulfil her wishes. But family and medical authorities thwarted every attempt to do so.
    “Dad No. You cannot be serious. She needs oxygen and to be close to the hospital.” Said Kate their eldest daughter.
    “No. That’s selfish. We want to spend time with her. Her grandchildren will be robbed of spending those last weeks with her. You can’t do this to them. To us.” Their son Jonathan was adamantly indignant.
    “Yes, but then she dies without us around her.” Paul their youngest was upset. “Doesn’t she want us to be with her when it’s her time.”
    “Her time?” Jack had snapped. “Don’t you mean your time. I know what she wants.” He paused and then added in an undertone. “So does she. Please.”
    “I’m sorry Mr. Wicks but I would suggest it is very unwise to go trekking with your wife in her condition. Especially in the snow and ice. A winter chill could possibly be the death of her.” Her physician murmured.
    “Death of me. That’s the whole idea.” Catherine spat. “I’d be with the one person who really matters in my life now.” Jack squeezed her hand tightly, remembering the athletic feisty sixteen-year-old he had first seen on a basketball court playing center forward almost forty years ago. Her blonde ponytail was gone many years since. Her hair had been chopped into a neat shoulder length bob cut which had manifested various shades of blonde and auburn depending on Catherine’s mood of the moment.
    “Oh, don’t look so shocked.” She rapped at their children who stood with mouths agape around her hospital bed. “You lot have your own lives to live now. You’ll have to get on with it after I’m gone. After all, none of us last forever. Do we?”
    And so, it raged and ebbed. Finally, she refused to eat or drink. Jack was at least able to get them not to force feed her or put in a drip for hydration after she had pulled out the canula at least a half dozen times.
    “No, NO, NO!” she had screamed when they tried to insist. Jack slept by her bed in that last two weeks it took her to die. She refused to see the children or grandchildren after couple of days. “I want them to remember me as their Gran, baking for them and reading to them. Playing with them. Not some stupid old woman lying in a bed feeling sorry for herself.”
    She died a week after her fifty-sixth birthday on the weekend.
    “The cabin Jack. Go when I am gone. Rest. I’ll see you then.” She muttered briefly in a moment of consciousness before the end.

    So Jack went after the funeral. The preparations were a welcome distraction from his grief. Thirty years was not long enough. Friends, his children and grandchildren all thought he needed company when all he really wanted was to be alone with his memories of her. It was if they were trying to plug a void of unfathomable proportions and he could not explain adequately to them his need for just be alone in the universe. He wanted to dissolve into the atmosphere; to search for her soul somewhere out there in the pinprick lights of the night sky or in a warm morning sunrise or in the crisp freshness of the cold winter days, he so wanted to rejoin her.
    He had last gazed on her body lying there so cold and icy white in a plain wooden coffin, the rouge that had been brushed over her cheeks to give the appearance of life ironically, tinted his fingertips as he had trailed them over her cheeks one last time. He regretted then, not doing as she had begged him to do. Take her to the mountain on a stretcher up to the cabin.
    Three days after the funeral he left the trailer at his friends’ property and rode one mule up the mountain trail leading the other packed with dry goods and supplies for the winter. The goat was secured with a lead rope to the pack mule. She browsed her way along behind.
    Making good time, they reached the cabin late afternoon on dusk. The setting sun shadowed the mountains and valleys with a warm brush of colour.
    He checked the stables which had been closed and opened the double gates to air them out. Last year’s hay delivered in their absence filled one end of the building. More than enough to last the winter, he thought as he checked the bales. Good quality rye and clover hay he observed, rubbing some of it between his palms. The mules and goat will be happy. The more than 100 bales would also provide insulation against the bitter cold of the coming winter.
    The firewood would need to be attended to and he realized he would need to ask his friend to bring some up few 44-gallon drums with a trailer hitched to his tractor. He was glad he had allowed his friend Rory to convince him to buy a SAT phone. The chain saw and the electricity generator would both need fuel. He only had two drums left.
    Settling his animals in the stables with feed and water, he locked the doors and entered the cabin through a door that adjoined the stable building.
    He was surprised at the lack of dust in the cabin. There were also no cobwebs. He lit the wood stove, filled the kettle from the tap fed by a well he and Catherine had re dug and installed an electric pump – solar operated and with a generator cut in – to build up better water pressure for an adequate shower. He would take a shower tomorrow once the wood stove had heated the freezing water up. Making a meal of eggs fried in the cast-iron skillet and bread fried in the same pan, he ate, washed up and packed the fire box with wood that would last the night and then went to bed fully clothed except for his boots and coat which he placed by the door to the stables.
    There was another door into the cabin from the outside, but it was down through the cellar. The kitchen, lounge sitting room and bathroom were on the same level as the stables. The cellar was huge and covered the area of the stables and the cabin. The door to the outside was at the far end and set in under a deck that looked out over the valley. The buildings had been built of stone originally and set into the side of a mountain.
    Not all people or animals roaming the valley were friendly. Both Catherine and Jack had reason to be thankful in the past that they had this security measure. He realized that the cellar door may now be overgrown and would have to be dug out to be opened. He went to sleep thinking of this task to be done in the morning.
    During the night he dreamt of things he could not quite remember. A woman with alabaster skin. Her face hidden from him, but he knew she spoke to him as he heard her voice inside his head. He had awoken remembering the sweet curve of her hip and the angle of her knees, with the roundness of her muscled calves and the delicacy of her feet as she had danced in his dream. Her hair had swirled around her body reaching to her thighs, a rich curtain of sensual covering that worked his desire. His body ached. Something he had not felt for some years. The love he and Catherine had enjoyed had been comfortable. A slow fire that warmed them in their latter years rather than consumed them. He woke feeling embarrassed when he thought about the dream and the woman that had inhabited it. He also felt slightly guilty, knowing Catherine was but barely ten days in her grave.
    During the day, as he went about his chores, making the cabin fit his needs again, he felt her presence as familiar and known to him. Something seemed to catch his attention out of the corner of his eye at times. He did not feel alone.
    The snows came. Four days later. He had gotten wood and stacked the cellar with four meters and his friend Rory had bought some fuel for the generator.
    “Jack, if you get bored, you don’t have to be alone up here. You know that?”
    Jack nodded. It was as much a statement as a question. He wanted to be alone. The pictures of Catherine and their three children together with the grandchildren were in his mezzanine sleep out in the cabin. Taken before she became so ill, they were a reminder of what he once had and he wanted to bask alone in the memory of it.
    “Ok. Thanks.” He clapped Rory on the back. “You’d better be going. Otherwise the snow clouds will bear down. I’ll keep it in mind.”
    The woman began to invade his senses more as time went. Sometimes he slept a night without her visiting his dreams and others he woke in the early hours of the morning. It was then he often noticed the cold damp on the other side of the bed. It was as if a patch of snow had melted there.
    One morning he was sure he glimpsed a pale form passing him by just as he was waking. Other times, he was sure he half heard laughter. A woman’s deep throaty chuckle. It was not a malicious chuckle but more a caressing laugh deep within the chest that bespoke of a joyous abandoned life. He was afraid, yet curious. He wanted to know her and yet he felt wary.
    Just before the spring thaw he knew her.

    He woke one morning and unbelievably he saw her form sleeping on the bed beside him.
    She looked up at him and smiled a perfect white smile. Her body and form as pale as the snow outside.
    “They call me the snow maiden.”
    “Who?” he asked.
    “The ancient ones. Before your time.”
    “Why?”
    “Because just because…” She said.
    “Why, how are you here?”
    “I come only to the broken hearted.” She smiled wistfully. “Only they can see me.” She reached out to touch his cheek with her slender fingers that curved down to his chin and brushed his stubble softly. A sensual gesture of affection. He shivered despite himself.
    “You will heal.” She paused. “And then I will be gone. With the snow. I will not be back next year. I have other places to visit. Others to comfort.”
    When he looked at her, she appeared indefinite, almost undefined as a shadow is.
    He turned to gather his thoughts and when he looked back, she was gone. There was only a cold dampness on the bed where she had lain.

    Rory found him a month later. He was lying on the bed as if he were cradling someone or something. It was quite strange. Heart attack was the medical cause of death. His face was strangely peaceful.

    Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 1:05 pm
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      Hi,

      Not sure quite how to address you. Is it Gippy or Goats or Mr / Mrs/ Ms Alpines?

      In any case this is a most beautiful piece of writing. Poignant and heartfelt and the situation was so true to life, sadly. I wonder how many people are “allowed” to take their final breath in exactly the way they wish, or request?

      As well as being truly a love story in the winter it is also seemed to be a ghost story of sorts although this ghost seemed benign and then, reading the story again, it’s not a ghost at all, it’s a spirit, an essence of Catherine then again, she is the Snow Maiden. Perhaps she was all three.

      This is a beautiful piece of writing and I really loved it.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
    • October 7, 2020 at 7:54 pm
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      Lovely stuff, Ilana. Catherine’s demise and the family tension around it are very well handled, giving justification for the trek into the mountains. Your descriptions of the cabin are terrific. And then the presence/appearance of the mystery lady – first through dreams, then glimpses, then contact. This line is a little on-the-nose for me: “I come only to the broken hearted.” – we need to know that fact, but it could maybe have been established a little more subtly (?) I was a little disappointed with the ending – not how you wrote it (that was cleverly done) – but with the fact. Does Jack really have to die? (The Snow Maiden tells him he will heal – does it have to be through death?) Also, maybe you could have shown a little of what Jack does during his time at the cabin … before the woman appears; it seems that’s the only thing that happens in his time there. But this is a very atmospheric and heavy piece, lightly-handled. Very nice.

      Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 12:05 pm
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    I am telling votes now, and will post the winner soon!

    Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 1:43 pm
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    Did you mean tallying?? 😊

    Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 5:17 pm
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    Hahaha yes I sure did!!

    We’re waiting on clarification from one person, as soyas they email me back I’ll post the winners!

    Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 10:32 pm
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    Ok writers!

    Without further ado here are your winners:

    1st Place goes to….”Snowfalling In Love” by Ken Frape!

    2nd Place: The Snow Maiden by Gippy Goats
    3rd Place: Just a Winter Affair by Sarig Levin
    4th Place: Two Snowflakes by Phil Town
    5th Place: Moon Shine by Ken Cartisano
    6th Place: Cotton Candy by Ken Miles
    7th Place: Under the Aurora, She Fell in Love by James Alex Harding
    8th Place: Ruby Pendant by Robt Emmett

    The favorite character….was a tie between Lord Marmaduke Fotheringay and Lady Daphne Wentworth from Ken Frape’s “Snowfalling In Love”!
    The story with the best dialogue was “Snowfalling In Love” by Ken Frape

    Congrats Ken! You killed it!
    And congrats to all, you all did so well, and it was fun having longer form stories to read.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2020 at 12:27 am
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      Congratulations, KenF!

      (Though I didn’t have you top … but then most of my choices missed the popular order by quite a bit this time,)

      Reply
      • October 10, 2020 at 3:17 am
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        Hi Phil,
        Thanks for your comments. I was very surprised to get the top spots in a very competitive field but more than happy to accept.
        I have taken your comments on board and made some suitable edits in my final version on my computer.
        Great to be a part of the group. It has really improved my writing.
        Kind regards,
        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • October 10, 2020 at 3:23 am
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      Hi Carrie,
      Thank you so much for this. Such a lovely surprise when I looked at my phone at 5 this morning!
      Really didn’t expect this but delighted to accept as it comes from all of the writers and it was a strong group of contenders.
      Kind regards,
      Ken Frape

      Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 11:29 pm
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    Congratulations Ken Frape. (Looks like all that advice I gave you finally paid off. Remember? When I said, ‘Quit writing about trains?’ No?) JK Lots of great stories this time through, your position at the top is well-deserved and no small achievement.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2020 at 3:11 am
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      Hi Ken,
      Thanks for your comments and you are right in that I do take notice of your advice. Mind you, I think I might still have a few train stories up my sleeve.
      Very nice to come top this time round but I really did not expect to as there were several great competitors.
      On to the next one now.
      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • October 10, 2020 at 3:27 am
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        Congratulations Ken well deserved win. Shocked that I am the bridesmaid as I didn’t think my story was all that good compared to some others. Loved your story. Also a few others. Doing some editing on mine and adding in bits. I really do like the longer word length.

        Reply
        • October 10, 2020 at 6:26 am
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          Hi ,

          I wasn’t surprised by your high position. It is a cracking good story and others obviously agree.

          Yes, it is nice sometimes to have a bit more freedom with the word count. Apart from flash fiction, around 100 -300 words, I was more used to 1500 words for a local competition so our 1200 was a bit of a change initially.

          Good luck for next time. Get your bridal dress ready!

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape

          Reply
          • October 10, 2020 at 9:15 am
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            Well done, Ken F. You cleared all the prizes this time round and deservedly so! I had you up there too (at least I have the satisfaction I picked a winning horse 🙂 )

        • October 10, 2020 at 9:32 am
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          You are the maid of honor!!!

          Reply

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