April 6- April 19, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “The Devil”

This post is for stories related to the Contest theme: “The Devil”.

It is believed in some cultures that if you hear your name called out late at night you should not turn around because it might be the Devil calling you.

Premise:
One dark night, a man is alone in his home when he hears someone calling his name. He turns around…

The story must have a man at home alone, but it’s up to you to decide what kind of Devil is calling his name. It can be Satan, or some other devilish figure, human or supernatural, that lurks in the darkness. That is entirely up to you dear author.

Word limit: 1200.


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

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

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

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be less than 1000 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Renette Steele per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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137 thoughts on “April 6- April 19, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “The Devil”

  • April 6, 2017 at 10:32 pm
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    REMEMBER TO COMMENT AND/OR CRITIQUE ON ANY OF THE STORIES, HIT THE REPLY BUTTON BELOW THE CORRESPONDING STORY. WE ARE NO LONGER USING LINKEDIN FOR OUR CRITIQUES.

    THANK YOU, THE MANAGEMENT.

    Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 4:40 pm
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      “Life is a traumatic series of senseless calamities ultimately culminating in oblivion. Try not to obsess over it.” Ken Cartisano. Today. (Me? Depressed? Heck no. What makes you think that?)

      Has anyone else noticed the strange similarities between Andy and Carrie’s profile pictures? The blond hair, sunglasses, black shirts, weird alien creature in the background? Possible conspiracy afoot? Or just a coincidence? I’ll have to do more research. Where did I put my Ouija board?

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 5:58 am
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        … and never seen in the same place at the same time …

        Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 6:47 am
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        Great conspiracy story and hopefully the next writing prompt: Carrie and Andy walk into the same room and universe implodes … what happens next? duh duh duuuuuuuuuuuh.

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        • April 20, 2017 at 3:43 pm
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          I don’t know about you Ken, but my profile picture doesn’t really do me justice. In reality I have a bigger brain and much smaller claws

          Reply
  • April 7, 2017 at 1:06 am
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    Old Man Lost
    AWJWhite

    “Shh, old man,” Reggie mumbled to himself as he eyed the TV. “It’s not the end of the world yet.” He leaned closer to the television. “The end of the world hasn’t come yet, for we old soldiers still sit in purgatory uncalled. Surely that devil would call us if he knew we sat at ease.” The TV blared, for Reggie used the sound against the loneliness of his soul.
    News reports troubled him: the president declaring war actions, kids dying, no one understanding why killing was so easy for the man, volunteers sent packing as democratic pigeon minders, told they got no business, old people dying and no one caring.
    ”Hush, Reggie, pray he doesn’t call you. You can barely keep time at a social dance with the old women down in the basement of the church. Not much of a social, all of us left by families that know our minds are going. Not much to be happy for, to care for, to do. Puzzles and number thingy squares. Old women knitting. Women ruminating like cows, no brains left. Young folks and nurses bugging folks to be active. Folks showing us computers, damned machines. Shh, damn it, man, don’t get so upset. Don’t call attention to your dark soul. You don’t want the attention of that type. They bury us with trumpets blowing and our service honored, but there is little honor in what we did. We killed, oh that we served as God willed. Oh, that peace was close, but it ain’t coming”
    The news flooded the room. Missiles launching from planes, children laying dead, yellow gas coating everything. Reggie looked down at his hands. His hands, beautiful hands, that had held a child when it was born, helped it learn to walk, paid with labor to send his child to school, and watched with pride at the start of the Great War III. Strong hands that had served him, that had held his wife as she sobbed at the telegram from the War Department, now sat idle in his lap. Sad hands that watched the news take his wife’s will to live, that buried her.
    “Reggie, man, you have to keep quiet, man. Don’t say your thoughts too loudly, or they’ll have you out the door as a traitor. I’m you, you know, still you. I’m me. I was…I am, I get so confused these days.” He moved the food on his plate around in circles. TV food, the folks next door brought TV food to him each night. They said it was okay he didn’t know them. He hated that. They told him names. They had no faces. The food was placed on his TV tray. One plate, one fork, one spoon, one glass of water. His teeth were worn and so his food was precut, mushed by him into the catchup. He took a bite, swallowed, and took another. Food had no real meaning, it just kept him alive. It all tasted the same.
    “When’s it morning, old man, when’s morning coming? Not soon enough. Devils on the TV, devils in church, next it will be devils in my home.”
    The door to the room he sat in opened and closed. Reggie didn’t bother looking around.
    “What do you want now,” he asked. “You don’t normally come for the dishes. Got something for me?”
    Whoever had entered the room hissed at him, “Good evening, Reggie.”
    “Don’t know why you bother me every night. I’m an old man. Got a devil for president, a war to begin more wars, ain’t nothing going to ever be okay again.”
    “Your pain, it seems worse tonight, Reggie. Shall I take it from you?” The stranger moved to the front of the couch. He pushed the plastic container of pills in front of Reggie.
    “Pain means I’m alive. I’m an old man. Ain’t nothing going to matter ever again. Leave me alone. I don’t want nothing from you.” He watched the change to a game show. “See they roll that wheel and people guess words. Fools always take too long. You want to watch this show with me? I ain’t about to go out with all that fireworks on the news going on.”
    “I can take your pain away, Reggie. I can ease the burden of your heart.” The stranger sat down and rested his hand on Reggie’s knee. “I’m worried about you, Reggie, you don’t do anything but watch that idiot tube. The news will make your heart stop, if you keep watching it.”
    “Heart stopped years ago when the wife died.”
    “Reggie, all you have to do is tell me that I can take your soul to a different plane. But you have to say it.”
    “Hell, you think you’re the devil or something? Take my soul to a plane. A plane to a place where no-one gives a damn. Nah, you get out. I’m not going with no devil. I have my own devils inside me. I live my own hell, don’t need to go to one.”
    “Heaven won’t come to you, Reggie, not ever. You’ll never find relief sitting here. Come with me, Reggie, you’ll be warm and with family.”
    Reggie watched the wheel spin. “Hey, weirdo, you know that phrase right there? Daniel Webster said it.”
    “Fine, Reggie, fine. What’s the phrase?”
    Turning to the illusion beside him, Reggie laughed and said, “Get the hell out.” He leaned back in his couch and closed his eyes. “Devil wouldn’t want me, I’m to much of a grumpy old Gus. Close the door as you leave. Damn curmudgeon needs his rest.”
    The devil stood and smiled. Reggie was one of his favorites. He could bide his time. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Reggie.”

    Reply
    • April 8, 2017 at 7:32 am
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      Ann we’ve missed you and your wonderful storytelling! A great take based on current events. I enjoyed how you showed us his confusion with age and the lonliness/anger at his situation and 3rd helplessness he felt. Great story.

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      • April 9, 2017 at 11:53 pm
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        Thanks. A note of sadness, My coach, mentor, editor died a week before my trip to meet publishers and agents. So, still writing but working on stretching the mind a bit.

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    • April 14, 2017 at 11:11 am
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      I am left wondering why he wants so badly to take this old man. The work is great but it feels a bit incomplete.

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    • April 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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      Welcome back Ann, hope this is a regular occurrence.

      I liked this story, and how you wrote the chaotic thoughts going on in Reggie’s head. Nice flow, a few areas of confusion, would have been interesting, as Dean mentioned to delve into why the devil wanted Reggie so bad, but all in all a fun and nicely told story.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 9:56 pm
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      Someone asked why the devil liked this man. As I understand, he liked Pratchet too.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 8:26 am
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      I like your story a lot, Ann. Really captures a troubled soul, loneliness, and the zeitgeist with all its absurdities and horrors.

      To Dean’s question about the Devil’s motivation: it seems the Devil claims Reggie because of the killing he has done – and I think that is one of the key issues swept under the carpet currently in the will to action: making war to achieve peace, doing evil to fight evil (etc). And you capture that so well: “They bury us with trumpets blowing and our service honored, but there is little honor in what we did,” followed by the poignant descriptions of the fruits of conflict. Very well-written and thought-provoking.

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    • April 19, 2017 at 4:32 pm
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      Ann,
      I think Andy’s comments sum up the story and my feelings about it better than I could have done it myself. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mentor.

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    • April 19, 2017 at 6:04 pm
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      Hi, Ann

      Welcome back!

      This is a beautiful (albeit in parts, paradoxically, ugly) story. A lonely old man, stuck in the turmoil of his thoughts and memories – that all rings very true (and there but for the grace of God …). I like how the Devil is trying to entice him away to Hell (“you’ll be warm” – ha ha!), but it’s clear that what we have in this world is in fact a terrible hell of our own making. Despite all his curmudgeonliness (I don’t think that’s a word, but you get my drift), Reggie’s a really sympathetic figure. And with “Reggie was one of his favourites”, so is the Devil! Really good story.

      (Sorry for your loss.)

      Reply
  • April 7, 2017 at 2:46 pm
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    1200 words???
    What have I been missing???

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    • April 8, 2017 at 7:26 am
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      lol, the person that chooses the next prompt also gets to choose the word count!

      Reply
  • April 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm
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    Details

    by Dean Hardage

    The old man sat poring over the results of years of surveys, studies, statistics, and other more abstruse information that the average person would not even recognize as related to anything. He’d been instrumental in collecting all of this data for the last three decades of his life. Now the more he examined it, the more he collated and compared it, the more apparent the underlying pattern became. Just as he closed the cover on the final study he heard a sound behind him.

    “I wondered how long you’d wait.”

    A low, mellow laugh filled the air as the old man turned toward the source of the sound. The figure he was as humanoid but had red skin, small protuberances on either side of his head that might be considered horns by some, and a very pointed chin and nose. It was, in fact, the very image that many called the Devil.

    “I had to be sure. It’s the rule, you know.”

    “I’d guessed, but never really knew for sure.” the old man answered the strange yet attractive being that now faced him.

    “Come now, no false modesty. You had this sussed long before now. You’ve just got an almost too scientific a mindset, so willing to doubt and so unwilling to be certain of things until you have all the facts. Don’t you know you’ll never have all the facts? There are just too many for a single being to collect. I’ll say this for you, you gave it one hell of a try.”

    The old man smile a little at the compliment even as his mind raced. He’d began to suspect that the history of his world was not its own and had been altered many times by a force he could not identify. He’d spoken to others who glimpsed parts and pieces of the same pattern he saw but not one of them had been willing to accept his vision. He saw the outline of a plan that had embroiled mankind in the conflagrations of war more times than he cared to count. It had caused the deaths of hundreds of millions, even billions of his fellow human beings though it had also brought knowledge and technological advances that made life longer, better, and easier to live.

    “When did you start seeing it, if I may ask?” the red-skinned being queried.

    “History 201, back at the University. When I stepped back and looked at the whole picture of humankind it looked like a random jumble at first, but the longer I studied the more the pattern emerged. Oh, it was faint, to be sure, and so complex I thought I was just imagining it for a long time. But after that last confrontation, something clicked. I started all of these studies, got involved in all of the research, and started compiling the data. Thirty-some years’ worth until I could see the complete picture.”

    “You’re amazingly persistent as well as perceptive. It’s been a pleasure to watch you do your detective work.”

    “Can I ask one thing?” the old man asked in a tired voice.

    “Certainly, though I don’t promise to answer.” replied the being.
    “Why?”

    “Why what, my friend?”

    The old man scowled. This thing was no friend of his and he had no sense of humor to spare for it.

    “Why all of this? Why do you do this?”

    “An experiment, of course. We want to see what kind of beings, what kind of societies, and what kind of civilizations form under stresses that push them to their very limits. So far you have managed to avoid a lot of potential pitfalls that could have destroyed you.”

    “And it doesn’t trouble you when you kill millions?”

    “We don’t kill anyone. You kill each other. We don’t make those choices, you do.”

    The old man nodded to himself, aware that what the other being said was true.

    “And now, my friend, I must go.”
    “I’ll try to stop you, you know.”

    “Of course you will, we expect nothing less. We believe you will be unsuccessful since the vast majority of your fellows are not able to see as you do.”

    “Will you come to taunt me again, to let me know just how precarious our situations is?”

    “No, my friend, I will not come here again. But don’t despair, you’ll always know I’m around. After all, it’s hard to stop studying after a lifetime.”

    The old man sobbed as the red-skinned visitor vanished as though it had never been, leaving him fully aware but helpless to stop what he knew would continue to happen to his people and his world. He looked sightlessly at the mound of data only he could understand, knowing that the Devil was truly in the details.

    Reply
    • April 8, 2017 at 7:27 am
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      A fine tale, a nice little mystery that left the reader wondering what the facts were that he had been collecting. Great story Dean!

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      • April 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm
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        A lot of my stories come from words or phrases I find interesting. Thanks for the comment.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 6:52 am
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      That’s a very good story, Dean. I like how the ‘Devil’ sounds like such a reasonable chap. Also, how you resist the temptation to spell out the data – we all know what it’s about, deep down. And the frightening suggestion that we are the gods’ playthings or experiment (the ‘Devil’ uses ‘we’ a lot).
      You have a great way with words, but paradoxically … there are a number of typos here, which takes the shine off just a tiny bit.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm
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      Dean, I love this take on the Devil using us as a giant Petre dish. You can tell this old man feels so alone, knowing what he does, and being unable to stop it. Good dialogue, nice flow. But as Phil said, a few typos that takes the reader out of the story. Still, a fine job.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 8:40 am
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      Clever and rounded story, Dean. I forgive you the punchline at the end – it did make me chuckle!

      Fake history – faked by aliens whose appearance is like the traditional image of the devil. Nice touch. And topical as people often seem to prefer fakery they can agree with than the complexities and nuances of what really happened. And happens.

      “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Those who *do* study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

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    • April 19, 2017 at 2:56 pm
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      Dean:
      Love the plot, the concept, and the writing. A variant of Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End.’ I suppose it has been done before, but not on a one-to-one basis. One man, one demonic being. Would make a good two act play.
      Those few little typos didn’t take me out of the story, but they contradict the skill and talent of the writer.

      An example of the nits. You wrote: ‘Can I ask one thing?’ the old man asked in a tired voice. (‘Can I ask one thing?’ He ventured, wearily.)
      ‘The figure he was as humanoid but had red skin,…’

      I don’t know about you, but with me a lot of errors creep in after editing. I make changes to the story and forget to adjust the relevant or connected passages. Small errors detract, however minutely, from what is a fine piece of writing.

      To catch unwanted errors, you might try this. Read the story from bottom to top. From the last paragraph, to the first. When you read the paragraphs in reverse order, you’re no longer reading a story, you’re merely proofreading one paragraph at a time.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 3:56 pm
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        Great advice Ken, reading the story in reverse order. I’m going to try that.

        Reply
  • April 8, 2017 at 12:33 pm
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    Three days !

    Before we start, I want it on record… I’m not a bad guy. I’ve done things mind you… terrible things some would say… things I wouldn’t want to come to the light of day but over all I’m not unprincipled or unethical for the sake of self gain… I am, at best, a victim of circumstance.
    Well, perhaps victim isn’t the best choice of words. Willing participant sounds naive and I’ve been way past naive for some time now. My eyes were open. I went willingly, boldly, happily, consequences be damned but dear God, there were things I never saw coming, things I now wish hadn’t been set in motion.
    To be fair, I suppose it was inevitable.
    I was in a dull, unproductive relationship. Five years of the same thing day in, day out, no surprises, nothing new or exciting. All very predictable… meatloaf on Sundays… fish on Fridays… sex once every second Saturday.
    In the beginning it was alright. I had thought it a quirk, a lack of self-confidence or experience on her behalf or mine. Given enough time it would get better and eventually it would correct itself.
    It didn’t.
    Without intention or desire we grew apart. It wasn’t her fault… I’d like to think it wasn’t mine but sex became more work than play. It had become dry, difficult, tedious and boring. It wasn’t good for her or for me. So much so, that in the end we both gave up and went our separate ways. It was the best solution all the way around.
    I kicked around for almost two years after the divorce. Just me. Eat, sleep, work… and very little more than that. I didn’t see the point of getting involved. I couldn’t take the thought of that life starting all over again. I just couldn’t do it.
    Then, purely by chance, I bumped into Lilith… literally. That’s when it started, all of it. It was twenty four hours that changed my life. The twenty four hours that came to define me… I had no will of my own. It was the last time I could remember having the ability to say no to a woman and mean it. I would do anything for that woman… anything. For the first time in my life I was whole… despite my best efforts I fell in love. Life was good… was being the key word.
    “Henry,” The word came to low, soft, barely above a whisper.
    I knew that voice. It had been decades since I heard it last but down deep inside, I knew it.
    “I wondered how long it would be before you showed up.”
    “I would have been here sooner but as you know I’m a very busy man.”
    “Man?”
    “Semantics’ you understand.”
    “What do you want?” I asked, fully aware why he was here.
    “Henry… let’s not be coy, a deal is a deal. Times up. I’m here to collect.”
    “I agree but you voided the contract, so pound sand,” I groused, turning my back to him.
    “AAh, nice try Henry but I am nothing if not detailed orientated,” he chuckled.
    “The deal was I would have 55 years to be with Lilith,” I spit angrily.
    “And so you did.”
    “You took her three days early… we where three days short of our agreement,” I said pounding my cane to the floor in anger.
    “Hold on, let’s get something straight. Her passing had nothing to do with me. I collect them, I don’t knock them off. I’m hurt you would think that of me.”
    “Three days… someone has cheated me out of three days. The way I see it… the contract is null and void.”
    “Three days? It means nothing, little more than a snap of a finger. Why, a hundred years is nothing more than a single deep breath.”
    “The way I see it I get another go round.”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “Three days short… I’ve been cheated. I want another go round. Seventy five years with Lilith. Not one minute less.”
    “You’ve gone mad. You think an over sight of three days entitles you to another seventy five years?”
    “I do, you voided the contract and I want retribution.”
    “You have gone mad.”
    “You’re the one that said a hundred years is just a deep breath. I want another life time with Lilith.”
    “Because of three little days?”
    “Exactly.”
    “And that’s all?”
    “I want us both to be of sound mind and body, no cancer, no diseases, no aliments to steal our happiness. I want to be allowed to live unencumbered by you or your kind.”
    “No women, no fame, no wealth beyond imagining?”
    “Lilith is all I want. We can make our way without your help.”
    “Oh sure, sure… so?”
    “So?”
    “That’s it in a nut shell?
    “That’s it,” I returned defiantly, squaring my shoulders.
    “Alright, let’s say I agree to this. It would have to begin in… let’s say thirty years… just to keep it on the up and up. I wouldn’t want it to get around that I had slipped up, bad for business, you understand.”
    “I get it. I want to remember her and I want her to remember me… not this life, not her cancer, not her pain but to know me and remember all that was good between us before she became ill. Understand me?”
    “Oh, clearly. You’ve thought this through I can see that… anything else?
    “That about covers it,” I returned stiffly. My heart pounded in my chest in anticipation as I fought to conceal it.
    “Alright then, it’s a deal just as you stated it, right down to the last second… seventy five years for the both of you, sound body and mind,” he said a little to cheerfully for my taste, extending his hand.
    I ran the entire conversation through my head again to be sure I had missed nothing before taking his hand.
    At the instant I touched him it burned like I had wrapped my hand around a branding iron. I did my level best not to show my pain until he released me.
    “Good doing business with you Henry,” he smirked.
    “We’re done here,” I mouthed weakly.
    “Yes, yes we are. One little detail before I go. You didn’t specify where you were to reappear. I can set either of you anywhere in the world I want… a globe apart.”
    I realized he was right, he could put her anywhere he chose. I screwed up big time.
    “I’ll find her,” I said defiantly.
    We’ll see Henry, we’ll see,” he laughed and with that he was gone.

    Reply
    • April 14, 2017 at 11:08 am
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      The first rule in making a deal with the Devil. Don’t. It is a rare occasion indeed when one gets the better of Him and this is a great example of that cautionary tale. First rate.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm
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        Doesn’t stop us from trying though does it Dean ?? Thanks for the read!

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    • April 17, 2017 at 7:08 am
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      Hi, Tegon

      A nice mixture of humorous and faintly chilling, . That’s a great opening paragraph, establishing the confessor/listener relationship between Henry and the reader. I’d echo my comment to Dean: “You have a great way with words, but paradoxically … there are a number of typos here, which takes the shine off just a tiny bit.” Finally … the Devil tricks Henry, but this – “I want another life time WITH Lilith.” – should have protected his rights under the contract, shouldn’t it?

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 7:21 pm
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        Thanks for the note Phil… I wasn’t aware we were “writing – writing”. I thought this was a prompt exercise… I’ll be more mindful.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:27 pm
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        Yes I suppose it would but then I wouldn’t get to write all the other cool stuff. And while we’re talking about it I can’t spell my way out of a wet paper bag… if there’s no red line under it I’m good to go !! Thanks for the read Phil.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm
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      Clever story Tegon, proves you can’t outsmart the devil. Nice flow, we get a good sense of who Henry is. My only problem is the transition from meeting and falling for Lilith to her death. It was quite abrupt, I didn’t realize that so much time had passed. Maybe some kind of statement letting the reader know you all had a lifetime together. Other than that and a few typos, a really fine story.

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 7:24 pm
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        Thanks Alice… tell you what – you kill Todd for me and I’ll have Lilith live a little longer for you… yeah???? Come on, you know it’s a good trade !

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    • April 18, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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      Tegon – very good dialogue, and pacey and engrossing tale.
      Like others I feel there’s a bit missing in the middle about their initial length of time together. And I got confused by the 30 years, 75 years etc and the overall timescale. I think Phil has also spotted something that undermines the denouement. The Devil is cheating … but maybe we should expect that! But these points would be easy to amend – a very enjoyable tale.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2017 at 10:22 am
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    HEAT

    “Sash.”

    Sacha stops what he’s doing and looks round. He thought he heard his name, but there’s no one there. He spots what must have caused the noise … that sounded like his name – the blind, billowing gently with the warm breeze that wafts into the apartment through the open window.

    God, it’s hot. Into the 30s, and the air-con broken. Sacha called a man to fix it, but he can only come tomorrow. So, a night of sweltering heat and sleeplessness ahead.

    “Sash.”

    He goes back to his writing. It’s getting tense: his protagonist, Peter Stone, is on the trail of the murderer, Jack Diabhal, and he’s close … but time’s running out. The killer’s holding Peter’s wife somewhere, and Peter has to take him alive or he’ll never see his wife again. But she may already be gone, slashed to ribbons like the killer’s other victims. Either way, Peter must know.

    Sacha writes from what he knows – at least about his devotion to his wife. He loves her absolutely. She’s a lawyer and working late; he doesn’t love that so much. He takes a sip of his bourbon and cracks his knuckles loudly, ready for another chapter.

    “Saaash.”

    He turns round again. The blind is still; the breeze has stopped. He shakes his head, as if to rid himself of an annoying mosquito, and tops up his drink. He needs more ice.

    The kitchen is fluorescent-bright compared to the study. Sacha opens the refrigerator and takes out the tray of ice cubes from the freezer compartment. He runs the back of it under the tap to release the cubes.

    “Sashdoit.”

    The sound of the water on the freezing tray, then the clunk of the cubes in the bowl he’s put in the sink.

    “Sashdoit.”

    But the tap is off now. So where …? He looks round: the kitchen is the same as always, except for something that’s out of place. What is it? He focusses – a little difficult because he realises he’s had one too many to drink. What? Not the tea-towels, hanging tidily on the rail by the counter. Not the pasta jars, lined up in order of size. Not the … that’s it! The block of kitchen knives, normally pushed to the back of the counter, is at the front, almost on the edge.

    “That’s not right.”

    He goes over and is about to put the block back into its rightful place when …

    “Saaashdoooit.”

    This is closer. Sacha grabs a knife from the block and swings round. No one there.

    The fluorescent light on the ceiling begins to flicker.

    “Sashsashsaaash.”

    Sacha swings round again. No one. Nothing.

    “SashdoitNOW!”

    He swivels sharply. A figure in red. He lunges. A scream. The figure falls. His wife! Home. Crept in. Not to disturb him. On the floor now. Scarlet coat spreading across the tiles. But no. That’s not her coat. That’s … not … her … coat!

    “Sashdidit! Sashdidit!”

    Sacha turns, slowly this time.

    Another figure. Dark. Red. Pointed teeth grinning.

    .

    Reply
    • April 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm
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      Phil, as always your writing is fabulous, but I am of two minds here. The first I loved the abrupt ending, but on the other hand I’d like to know who the creature is? It almost seems like the story is unfinished.

      That being said I love the Devil is in the Details and the story within a story. Very clever.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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        The ‘creature’ is the devil, Carrie. It’s the prompt. (You super-models crack me up.)

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    • April 14, 2017 at 11:06 am
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      Wonderful imagery. It draws you into the action and turmoil whether it is real or a horrible psychosis. Really great work.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:37 pm
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        Thanks, Carrie! The figure is supposed to be the devil (as Ken points out in his inimitable way below!), or some kind of demon, anyway. Didn’t want to be too descriptive, especially at that point in the story.

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        • April 19, 2017 at 7:48 pm
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          (Or “in his inimitable way above!” – got my boxes in a twist!)

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:38 pm
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        Thank you very much, Dean – very kind.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm
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      Phil very eerie tale. Loved how you slowly revealed the story for us, and I love the voice urging Sacha on. The writer writing a dark story, that seems to spill into his real life, very Kingesque, and I loved it. So much so, I wanted more, this could be the beginning of a longer story. Great flow, love the dialogue and the tension of the story.

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    • April 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm
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      Sacha the slasher! As Alice says, definitely a Stephen King feel about the this, and very well done. I liked especially the domestic detail woven in unobtrusively, which contrasts with the fantasy world of violence – or supernatural force? – that seems to be taking over the writer’s febrile mind.
      One thing – I completely misread ‘Sashdoit’ until the end when I saw ‘Sashdidit’. Aha! Sash-did-it, Sash-do-it, OK. Was reading it like ‘Sashdoyt’, which of course makes no sense. But possibly I wouldn’t be the only completely stupid reader (yes? no?)

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      • April 19, 2017 at 1:34 pm
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        Andy, I agree, I read ‘Sashdoyt’ too. And if you’re so stupid, then how come I have to look up the word ‘febrile’? I’ve never even HEARD of this word.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 2:32 pm
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        Andy, I literally laughed out loud when you said you read SashDoIt as “Sashdoyt.”

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:41 pm
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        Thanks, Andy. You and Ken are boyth right, of course – I doyn’t know why I didn’t think of the hyphens – much clearer!

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    • April 19, 2017 at 2:07 pm
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      Tragic. A tragic dearth of dashes. I think it would have helped me and Andy, (dumb and dumber) if you had put dashes in the eerie whisper. ‘Sashhh-dooo-iit.’ Knowing you, you probably thought about it and decided against it. (Due to your dash-indulged upbringing.)
      In America, (where we have ‘the Donald’ as our President) ‘focusses’ has only two esses, not three, or four, like they do in Scotland. But you’re from England, and let’s face it, you guys make the rules. That’s why it’s called English.
      Kidding aside, you lay the foundation with the heat and the blinds, then gradually build tension in the kitchen with the ice, the water and finally the knives. Then the flickering fluorescent light.
      The short, choppy sentences toward the end help to convey the action that they describe. A really fine story Philip. In a way, or rather literally, his imagination killed his wife.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm
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        Thanks, Ken – you’re too kind. “Knowing you, you probably thought about it and decided against it.” Nope! (See above.)

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  • April 10, 2017 at 12:36 pm
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    “Ben…” The voice spoke from behind him.

    He stood staring out the window, the big, fat snowflakes fluttered down, covering the streets of Milan in a silent blanket of white.

    “You must go to him.” The voice made it a command, not a request.

    The figure at the window turned slowly. Wrapped in sweaters and shawls, the person’s features were indistinguishable. “I will not.” She spoke quietly. “I’ve worked too hard to escape that madness.”

    The voice in the darkness came from a man leaning against the table, the cottage was murky and only the faintest of outlines could be scene. But when he spoke, bright white, perfect teeth matched the white of his eyes, making him seem a specter. “He will need you.” He crooned.

    “I said no.” She shivered. “If I go, all will be revealed. And I will have to go somewhere else, create yet another new identity.” She shook her head and a stray curl escaped the wrap around her head. Its bright auburn color was like a shock against the grays and blacks and whites of the room.

    “You can’t pretend to be a man forever. He loves you…he needs you…you need to feel him…It can only be you, no other woman…not his wife…not his slave girl…only you….”

    Beatrice turned back to the window. She thought about the life she’d had to create after their affair in Florence, after their lovechild was stillborn and how his wife found out and how Gemma had nearly beaten her to death. Unable to fight back, weak from childbirth she’d taken the punching and kicking and prayed for death. Shunned by the town and betrayed by her lover, she’d fled the city and gone north, but her reputation had followed her, forcing her to re-create herself as a man. The thought of facing that condemnation again made her weak.

    Her life here was quiet and boring and silent, free of poetry and trappings and talks of Hell.
    Or so she thought, for here, standing in front of her was a being not of this world; a shadow creature, here to torment her with thoughts of her former lover.

    The creature had come to her twice in the last week. Always calling her by her new name, deferring to her new identity until she gave him silent permission. Secretly, the creature captivated her. The darkness is what drew her to her former lover in the first place. She’d always held a fascination with the supernatural in the most biblical sense.

    “He will die without you; all will be lost without you. You must be his guide, you must show Virgil the way to him.” The voice was calm, seductive.

    And here, on the morning of Good Friday, it somehow seemed fitting that this shadowy creature would ask her to sacrifice herself to save the man who would forever hold her heart.

    This day of sacrifices and of blood.

    She sighed, tears welled in her eyes and her chest tightened. She’d been able to deny this creature’s request the first time, but her broken heart could not resist a second.

    “Tell me what I must do.” She whispered tearfully. “Tell me what I must do to save my beloved from the clutches of Hell.”

    The demon chuckled. “You must give yourself fully and freely so that you may enter the realm.” The demon’s form became more masculine, more humanoid. He took two steps and he was close to her, his nostrils flaring like a hunting cat scenting its prey. He reached out and snaked his hands beneath her cloak.

    She could smell the sulfur on him, feel the heat radiating off his body as he moved closer. The suddenness of his hands caught her off guard and her sadness turned to panic at what he was asking her to do.

    She stopped him, holding up her hand. “No. I will give myself after we’ve saved my Dante.”

    The creature’s face went from a mask of lust to a mask of annoyance. “Fine, you will enter the fifth level and find him there; you will need to locate the Poet who will then guide him to the right path.”

    Beatrice looked at his face and saw…something…there. The realization hit her like a sack of flour. “Your master does not know you are here, does he?” She narrowed her eyes.

    The demon stepped back and seemed to square his shoulders. “He does not. He must not. I am beholden to another who has set me on the path to help rescue your beloved boyfriend.” He sneered at the word.

    “Who? Who has compelled you so?

    “I will not tell you the name for it is of no consequence. Just know that I must help him escape in every way that I can. And you are his best hope. His mind is filled with images of what he has seen, of what he has witnessed. Acts of violence and horror has filled his mind until he can see nothing else. I believe your connection to him will help draw him from the madness and set him back on his path.”

    Beatrice considered this for a moment. “Then you shall not have my flesh deceiver. For you will take me there willingly that I may save my beloved Dante from whatever level of Hell is currently is on.”

    “A Twisted Tale of Dante’s Divine Comedy” by Carrie Zylka

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    • April 13, 2017 at 12:43 am
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      Interesting that you chose this setting… I found your line ‘He reached out and snaked his hands beneath her cloak.’ a very telling construction for your plot. Dante would be proud !

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    • April 14, 2017 at 11:17 am
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      Wonderful descriptive writing in the reason for her circumstances, her loneliness and desperation. Not sure I quite understand how a demon would be compelled to act against Satan’s wishes but an interesting twist. Gotta wonder how she fares in the Fifth Circle.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:37 am
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        Thanks for the comment Dean! I tried to imply that the demon was “compelled” by another to do their bidding. i.e. a witch or occultist was trying to help Dante by compelling the Dante to seek Beatrice out.

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    • April 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm
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      Having not ever read Dante’s work, I probably don’t get all the connections to that. But as a stand alone story I thought it had tension and romance and intrigue. Love how it flowed, and the dialogue was done well. My one issue was at the beginning, it seemed the main character was a woman masquerading as a man, and the shock of red hair falling from the wrap, was a bit confusing to me, but again not having read Dante, that could be why I’m missing something. Still very well written, even for a troglodyte like me who hasn’t read Dante. 🙂

      Reply
      • April 17, 2017 at 10:04 pm
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        there are two versions. one is traditional and dark, the other is a sci fi novel and filled with hope, compassion, and strange twist, by Niven.

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        • April 17, 2017 at 10:47 pm
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          Thank you Ann 🙂

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:39 am
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        Alice, thanks – I wanted to convey that she was disguised as a man due to their extramarital affair. The original story is wonderful, the whole thing is really about Dante’s obsession with Beatrice whil ehe was married!

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    • April 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm
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      The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia [diˈviːna komˈmɛːdja]) is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature.
      It only took him twelve years to write! –I’ve never read anything by Dante, so I can’t draw any conclusive comparisons with the original story. For an alleged comedy it doesn’t sound very funny. I like the imagery in your story. Sights and sounds are great, but smells are the best. ‘She could smell the sulfur on him, feel the heat radiating…’
      A grammatical point: ‘Then you shall not have my flesh, (comma) deceiver.’ Otherwise it reads:
      ‘You shall not have my flesh deceiver.’
      ‘Well I don’t want your flesh deceiver. And I didn’t borrow it either, perhaps you misplaced it or left it in the car.’
      “I must have my flesh deceiver Beatrice. Are you sure it’s not in your purse?’
      “For the last time, you daft, dolt-witted demon, I don’t have your flesh deceiver.— I’m going to bed.” She slammed the door as she left the room.

      (A minor point.) On the last line, you omitted the word ‘he.’ (‘…whatever level of Hell is currently on.)

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 1:29 pm
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        ‘I must have my flesh deceiver, Beatrice.’ (!!!) I just made the same mistake that you did!

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      • April 20, 2017 at 11:11 am
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        Hahahaha! Good catch n the comma!!!
        It’s one of my favorite stories, because quite frankly it’s utterly f’d up in the most spectacular way lol.

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    • April 19, 2017 at 1:28 pm
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      Clever and intriguing take on an old love story, itself shrouded in multiple interpretations through the ages. So why not a good twisting of the tale? And you do it really well, Carrie. Unrequited courtly love becomes a torrid affair, and Dante himself is trapped in his dreams/poetic musings in need of rescue. And there’s a Shakespearean bit of cross-dressing at the start – or is that a clever device to get round the requirement in the theme for the voice to be calling a man? 🙂
      Next challenge to capture a Dantesque feel – translate the story into verse …

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      • April 20, 2017 at 11:13 am
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        Hee hee why yes, yes indeed it is the only way I could shove this story into the prompt requirements.

        I couldn’t get the story out of my head and had to figure out a way to make it work. So I thought the “banished whore, attempting to escape recognition” transforming into a clever disguise might just work!

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    • April 19, 2017 at 5:48 pm
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      Hi, Carrie

      Like others, I’ve never read ‘Inferno’, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a very atmospheric piece. You’re using various senses (as Ken pointed out) – it’s visually vivid but you’ve got some smells in there, and touch (I loved “the suddenness of his hands”). As Alice says, the beginning is slightly awkward in terms of the pronouns – maybe you could refer to the person as ‘she’ right from the off but still give her a man’s name? (then we find out later why). The ending is a little bit anti-climactic because it suggests the trip to see the lover … which we don’t see. A bit of a cliff-hanger …

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      • April 19, 2017 at 6:08 pm
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        Sorry – ‘Inferno’ is just a part of ‘The Divine Comedy’ … (That’s how much I know!)

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      • April 20, 2017 at 11:15 am
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        Thanks for the feedback, that’s a great suggestion. I struggled with the end, it’s hard to sum up the next 18 chapters of a story in your own way!

        Reply
  • April 13, 2017 at 7:06 pm
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    Give the Devil His Due
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    I met the devil when I was ten. His name was Dobbs, and he was my uncle.

    Mama and I moved in with my grandfather after daddy went “away,” which I found out later meant daddy was in prison. Dobbs lived there too, ever since he got out of the army. “Dishonorably discharged,” Old Man Tillman said when he didn’t know I was around.

    Mama hadn’t spoken to her father in years, mainly because he didn’t approve of my daddy. And when Grandpa opened the door and saw me and mama standing there with our suitcases in hand, he said, “I told you that man wasn’t no good.”

    “Please daddy, not in front of Moses.” Mama pleaded.

    The devil stood just behind grandpa, lurking, waiting. He pushed past the old man, hugged his sister then set his sights on me. “Hi Moses,” he smiled, “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

    Mama gently nudged me with her elbow, “Go say hello to your Uncle Dobbs, honey.”

    “Hello,” I said, but I made no move towards him.

    He came closer, shook my one hand with both of his, “Wow, that’s some handshake,” the devil said, then he held my hand in his giant mitts for just a little longer than was comfortable.

    **********

    Grandpa had 40 acres of beautiful pristine farmland. At first, I tried to help out with chores, hoping he’d learn to accept me. But he only ever saw me as my father’s son and rejected me outright.

    “I don’t need your help boy, just stay out of my way.” He said finally. I was ten but I knew he would never love me.

    I wonder how different my life would’ve been if grandpa had taken an interest in helping raise me. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so easy for the devil to strike.

    So I used to explore the property either alone, or with my cousins when they came over. Sometimes the devil would be there, watching us play.

    My favorite place though was the old barn that sat about a mile east of the house. It was one of the original outbuildings constructed by my great-great grandfather, but it had long outlived its usefulness. I went there to be alone, and get away from my grandfather’s hateful eyes.

    One day the devil was there, sitting in my spot, waiting for me when I arrived.

    “Hi Moses,” he said with that phony smile. He had candy and comic books, and against my better judgment, I took his gifts. For weeks he showed up at my spot, with treats, talking to me like I mattered. And he was real nice until…well until he wasn’t.

    “No one’ll hear you scream way out here Moses.” He said.

    When he was doing things, I’d close my eyes to escape, but he’d make me open them. “Oh no Moses,” he’d say, “I want all of you here.”

    Each time Dobbs would say, “If you tell anyone, they’ll take you away from your mama, and put you in a boy’s home.

    Of course, it was all lies, but at ten I didn’t know any better. So I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t think anyone would’ve believed me even if I had said something. The devil had me just where he wanted, helpless and alone.

    **********

    The nightmares started soon after.

    “If you don’t stop that boy from screamin,’ Nora, and keepin’ me up at all hours, I’ll throw ya both out!” Grandpa said.

    “He can’t help it daddy, it ain’t his fault!”

    “I don’t care whose fault it is! I didn’t want him here anyway, he’s as worthless as his daddy. Probably the devil himself hauntin’ his dreams cause a who his daddy is.”

    Grandpa had no idea just how right he was.

    Mama did her best to help, but the dreams came almost every night, and I had no control over the screams that accompanied them.

    Things only got worse when the devil started coming into my room late at night. I tried pretending I was asleep, praying he’d just go away. But he’d sit on my bed, his big hands shoving me around until he was done.

    It went on like that until other kids began telling their folks about Uncle Dobbs. Then the devil skipped town after grandpa warned him that some men were coming for him.

    Mama knew what Dobbs had done to me —I could see it in her eyes. Instead of dealing with what happened, she bought me toys and candy to ease her guilt, then she rationalized his behavior.

    “Dobbs don’t mean no harm,” she said, “He can’t help himself, daddy said he was just born that way.”

    Then I knew the devil hurt mama too, and I forgave her for knowing and not doing anything to stop him.
    She was as much a victim as I was.

    Besides, Dobbs was gone, and we were free of him —for a little while anyway.

    Grandpa died the year after Dobbs left, surprisingly he left the farm to mama. To his dying day, he blamed me for Dobbs leaving.

    **********

    I was seventeen when the devil paid us another visit.

    I came home from school, and found mama sitting in the living room, pulling on her hair the way she did when she was nervous.

    “Hey Moses, your Uncle Dobbs is here.” She said trying to smile. I could see bruises on her arms, and his fingers were digging into her shoulders as she spoke.

    Mama couldn’t look at me, and I understood why. Dobbs had already hurt her while I was at school, and she knew there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to stop him from hurting me.

    He smiled, it was the smile that showed all his teeth, the one he wore just before he…

    I realized then that I had to do something, or Dobbs would use us up until there was nothing left.

    **********

    It was Mama’s Bunco night, she didn’t want to leave me alone with Dobbs, but I insisted. “No, mama, you go and have some fun.”

    She wore an anxious smile, and her eyes darted nervously back and forth between me and Dobbs.

    Once she was gone, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the devil came for me. He couldn’t help himself, even after all these years.

    I sat in the den, in grandpa’s old, worn leather chair, staring out the window, the devil hovered in the doorway behind me.

    “Hello Moses,” he said, “You’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you.” His voice was eager, the way it was back then. It sickened me.

    For an instant I was that kid again, terrified and alone, just praying someone would help me. No one did then, and no one would now either —now I had to help myself.

    “Look at me Moses,” Dobbs demanded.

    I looked down at the knife blade gleaming in my hand, and then I turned to face the devil one last time.

    Reply
    • April 13, 2017 at 10:46 pm
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      An excellent story Alice… one can only hope things turn out for the good. I see these monsters from time to time in my job… I believe your character’s solution is the only solution. A very good write. In this case I think I would have preferred a more solid ending… an absolute, corpse on the floor, 100% dead kind of an ending… that would make my soul rest more easy. A well told, good visualization story… you got my vote !

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      • April 14, 2017 at 12:29 am
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        Thank you very much Tegon! I think it’s safe to say that Dobbs is dead 🙂 You said you see this in your job, what kind of work do you do?

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        • April 15, 2017 at 12:51 am
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          Hi Alice… I am an REO Contractor. I work for an investment group that buys houses to flip. From time to time they hire guys fresh out of prison that have no idea what end of a screw driver to hold onto. 90% have been inside for more than a decade. They have a different way of seeing the world… they are avaricious, unrelenting, hungry for the opportunity to take advantage. From my experience it is not safe to say Dobbs is dead. Moses is 17, your devil is older, more cunning, more experienced, heavier with far more to loose. He will not fall easily. The world is a very, very dangerous place… I have seen and experienced to many things I wish to never see again. Make believe or not your story holds far more truth than polite society should see…

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          • April 15, 2017 at 3:53 am
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            Tegon, you make a good point about abusers like Dobbs, they would be cunning and strong and do anything to save themselves. And it sounds like you are giving people a chance who don’t have many avenues once released from prison. I’ll leave the story open ended and the reader can imagine Dobbs fate. He definitely deserved to die. Thank you for explaining your line of work 🙂

      • April 14, 2017 at 11:04 am
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        Thank you Ken!

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    • April 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm
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      Hi, Alice

      The all-too-common crime is handled really sensitively – we know the horror, but it’s not graphic – doesn’t need to be. There isn’t a single bit of superfluous info or detail. I really like how you created so many believable, complex relationships in such a short space. The time jump is handled really well. For me, the ending, as Dean and Ken say, is perfect. Also – and you’re always good at this – the names are great. Really top-notch stuff.

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      • April 19, 2017 at 7:42 pm
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        Wow! Thank you so much Phil. I am speechless, and I’m rarely speechless 🙂

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    • April 20, 2017 at 5:08 am
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      Alice – as always, a very smoothly told tale. You have a real story-teller’s touch which always makes me want to read on.

      It’s a tale of abuse and revenge, with relatives complicit or wilfully blind and victim-blaming en route, and a touch of dramatic irony in Grandpa’s comment “Probably the devil himself hauntin’ his dreams”. Actually, I think that bit of irony would be more effective without the following line that spells out ‘this is irony’.

      Despite the fine quality of the writing, I think the story had less impact on me than it might have – maybe it’s a bit too straightforward and linear towards what seems an inevitable revenge, an innocent versus pure evil. It’s what as a reader you want to happen – but in real life victims very rarely do take revenge or get any kind of justice. Things more often emerge decades later, with all kinds of emotions suppressed. With the set-up, there’s a lot of scope for complications, flashbacks, more depth to the characters – for me the mother comes out as the most potentially interesting character, and that aspect could maybe be developed more (for example).

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 9:35 am
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        Thank you Andy, very good points you make. I do appreciate them and maybe I can pursue them in a longer version of the story where I can delve into each character more.

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  • April 14, 2017 at 11:01 am
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    Excellent story, Alice. It is, unfortunately, too common an occurrence but you handled it beautifully. I for one likes the ending. Leaving it to the reader lets him or her decide what final justice looks like. Everyone has their own concept of what they would do in such a situation.

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    • April 14, 2017 at 11:05 am
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      Dean, thank you. I appreciate the kind words. And I agree with leaving the ending as is 🙂

      Reply
  • April 15, 2017 at 6:44 am
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    In League

    “Waiting,” the old man muttered. “He always makes us wait.”

    He eased back into the soft leather armchair and slowly sipped his drink. He gazed into the fireplace, a solitary orange flame flickered wistfully. The world had become a whole lot colder recently and that transcended into the room with relative ease.

    “Unacceptable,” he continued, running a hand through his white beard. “Wouldn’t you agree, Allah?” He turned his head to the matching armchair.

    Allah’s skin was as dark as the sun-kissed cliffs and as smooth as the shifting desert sands. He was lost in his own imaginary world and merely closed his dark eyes in response. He then replied in his native tongue, “To tell you the truth, Jehovah, I’m enjoying the break from the never-ending stream of prayers and offerings.”

    Jehovah lifted his glass towards his rival. “Amen to that.”

    Suddenly, the heat in the room grew, the flames in the fireplace intensified, and a whisper seeped into the room, enveloping its residents.

    “Jehovah …. Allah ….”

    Jehovah sighed. “For the love of us, Lucifer, there is no need for your particular brand of parlour tricks here.”

    The whisper turned into a snicker and finally a screech so loud it would have made mortal man’s ears bleed and bones crush to dust. There was a flash of colour and a gust of fabric as Lucifer appeared in her assigned seat closest to the flames. Calm returned and she sat back, crossed her long, stockinged legs, and materialised a cigarette that glowed bright red when she placed it in her mouth.

    “Good evening, gentlemen,” she said with a wink and puff of smoke that arced to the ceiling in a crackle of white noise.

    Jehovah sat his glass on the mahogany table that separated each of them. He regarded her long jet black hair that framed her porcelain skin and bright, green eyes. “While the façade is appreciated and all niceties aside, Lucifer, we’d rather understand why we’re here and where the other deities are.”

    Lucifer expelled more smoke, with the souls of those long past regressing to the roof and disappearing. “I have a proposition for you … for both of you, and one that doesn’t concern itself with the, how do you say, less significant divinities amongst us.”

    “That doesn’t answer the question,” Jehovah said. “Management will not be impressed with this.”

    Lucifer held up a long finger. “Firstly, my response answers your questions.” She held up another finger and turned her hand to show her black nail polish. “And Second, Management are fully aware of this assembly.”

    Jehovah sat back and stroked his beard. Allah slowly blinked and ran a hand over his chin. They both considered that last remark. The fact that Management entrusted Lucifer, of all gods, to coalesce the divinities in such a fashion was not only concerning, it was also intriguing.

    “What is this proposition you talk of,” Allah said.

    The cigarette disintegrated as Lucifer clasped her hands and placed them on her knee. “One year,” she stated. “One year under my reign. Three hundred and sixty-five days with only me at the helm.”

    Jehovah guffawed at the suggestion, his laugh sending a shock wave around the room. Whilst the furniture shook, the response did little to shift the smile from Lucifer’s face.

    “Preposterous,” Allah said evenly.

    “Absurd,” Jehovah added, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “You? At the helm? Alone? The streets would turn red with blood.”

    “Blood?” Lucifer retorted. “Really? Do you dare talk to me about blood? Look at what’s happening now, what’s been happening for the past two thousand years. Death and destruction, all in your names. For you and against you. So, don’t you dare start pointing a finger in my direction when you two claim to be all high and mighty.”

    Jehovah opened his mouth to speak but had no reply. Allah stared at the table, searching for a response, searching for an answer.

    Lucifer continued as she held up her hands. “Now, I’m not saying I haven’t profited from all of that, from all of your so-called holy wars. I mean, we all have, but I have not caused it.”

    Allah said, “You have not caused it because of we, the Light, stop you. We hold you in check. We protect the mortals.”

    “Oh, Allah, darling,” Lucifer said, a sliver of sympathy entering her voice. “You can spin that story all day long.” She sat forward. “But the facts are this. Your rubrics that all can be forgiven, no matter what they do, is killing you guys. And I’m not kidding, it’s actually killing you. People are getting away with anything and everything because whatever they do you’ll still let them in your respective pearly gates. Mortals don’t need forgiveness, they need fear. They need to know there are actual consequences for their actions. They need a vengeful God.”

    Jehovah seized his drink from the table and sat back. He swallowed the remainder of the contents. “You’re lying. Management would never agree to such a horrendous thing.”

    “And yet they have,” Lucifer countered with a smile. With a wave of her hands, a single piece of parchment appeared and she gently placed it on the table. She spun the page so the two immortals could see the marking at the top, a stamp in bold letters that read: ‘[ENDORSED BY MANAGEMENT]’.
    Lucifer materialised a ballpoint pen and sat it down next to the contract. “Your dogma is killing their realm, and you know as well as I do that when our followers die, so do we.”

    Jehovah and Allah sat silently, unable to respond to such accusations.

    “Come on guys, a year off. Think of everything you could do when you are aren’t troubled by the incessant demands of man.”

    Lucifer exchanged glances with both men who seemed to be mulling over the proposition, considering the outcomes of such a course of action.

    “Management is seeking a change, and they want this so bad they are willing to offer a sweetener.” She sat back and smiled, her white teeth reflecting the flames. “I only need one signatory on the agreement. So, it is understood that the first to sign will regain their status, their followers, their places of worship, everything … after the year has expired.”

    “And the other?” Allah enquired. “The one who doesn’t sign?”

    Lucifer smirked. “The other is lost to history, a forgotten deity. Out of a job.”

    Jehovah and Allah looked at each other, like two gunslingers at high noon settling a dispute.

    “Only needs one signature,” Jehovah said absentmindedly.

    “So, if neither of us signs it, then the contract is null-in-void,” said Allah. “It’s worthless.”

    “But if one of us signs it, the other is lost forever.”

    “And in league with the devil,” Allah said, narrowing his eyes at his opponent.

    Silence.

    Deafening silence.

    Then both of them dove for the pen.

    My enemy’s enemy.

    Lucifer smiled, conjured another cigarette, and sat back to watch the show.

    Darkness will be our saviour.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2017 at 6:33 pm
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      Definitely an original idea, and a really good use of the prompt. This is my favorite line, “For the love of us, Lucifer.” Cracked me up. It’s a nice story, well written , there’s some humor thrown in, and I a question at the end in regards to what things would be like if Lucifer got his year. Nice job!

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 6:23 am
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        Thanks Alice … Definitely fun thinking what the “Gods” would say to each other. I believe in an earlier version I had Jehovah saying: “Jesus Christ, Lucifer!” … And, perhaps Lucifer has already had their year!

        Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 2:10 am
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      This is a great story Ken. (Another great story.) Now that you know that, let me point out two things. (Only two.) and a question. ‘…particular brand…’ *it’s a cliche’d phrase. (I’d toss those two words.) And ‘Management ‘are’ aware. I think Management is a singular verb that denotes a group. Just as ‘group’ is singular, as opposed to groups. Perhaps Philip will clarify my point, or correct me. That’s my opinion though. Great story in every other respect, Ken. The whole concept, the revelation of who the characters are, the wonderfully creative image and flash of Lucifer. Which brings me to my question. The opening line is. ‘He always makes us wait.’ He who? Lucifer? Then why does he appear as a flaming hot woman? Was that a mistake or an allusion to Lucifer’s penchant for disguise or shape-shifting. I would just stick with one gender, if you’re trying to convey something else, then I didn’t get it. So I hope it was just a typo. Great story though Ken. I can’t emphasize that enough.

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 6:37 am
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        Thanks Ken C …
        1. Religion is clichéd
        2. ‘Management are’ vs ‘Management is’ – ‘are’ sounded better in my head, however I suppose I should have written: “The Management are aware …”. Now, given this was dialogue and no one ever talks in complete sentences anyway, I believe there is some creative leeway here. Keen for thoughts.
        3. Gender change was definitely purposeful. Jehovah says: “… the façade is appreciated …” however maybe this was too subtle. Although, point taken. Could have made it easy and made Lucifer a ‘she’ from the start, but then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

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        • April 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm
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          Ken A.
          1. Religion is cliched.
          All the more reason to withhold your tithe.
          2. ‘Management are’ vs ‘Management is.’
          “And Second, Management are fully aware of this assembly.”
          “Management is seeking a change, and they want this so bad they are willing to offer a sweetener.”
          You may not agree with me–but you have to agree with yourself. If you’re going to be wrong, at least be consistent.
          It is true that dialogue allows, and even encourages muddled grammar. But I’m not Dialogue, I’m Ken. And I disapprove.
          More importantly, if Jehovah, Allah, and Lucifer are all in the same room, who in Bugs Bunny’s name is, or are, ‘Management?’ This is just another funny but under-appreciated aspect of your wonderful story, my good man.

          Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 6:42 pm
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      Hi, Ken

      A treat of a story. Really funny, slick and biting. I must admit to a bit of an internal groan at the beginning when it looked like it was going to be like a standard stand-up joke (“There was Jeh*vah, All*h and the D*vil sharing a drink …”), but then your treatment of the scenario, and the serious undercurrents, really turned me round. I like the concept of ‘Management’ (meaning another level in the godly hierarchy). (Ken C … don’t rely on me too much to be the arbiter of grammar questions – I’m British, and therefore speak a different language from you! … but on the question you posed, in Britain we often see groups/sports teams/companies as plural.) I also had a bit of a giggle with the line Alice mentioned, also “Amen to that!” Really great fun, this.

      Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 5:35 am
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      Ken A – what an interesting story, with some clever and funny lines as others have mentioned. As much is covered by other folk, I’m going to go out on a limb and comment theologically. I know it’s a light-hearted story with a few sharp thrusts of social/historical commentary – but the theology is also interesting.

      The set-up is in one way, as Phil says, like a joke. In another way, it’s like the Book of Job where God and Satan seem remarkably pally. And it’s got a Job-like theme, about how there comes to be evil in a world where God is believed to be good – and especially good to the righteous, yet it doesn’t work out that way. You turn Satan’s challenge around – instead of getting control over Job, he will have control over the whole world for a year.

      About the team of Gods – there are lots of undercurrents of that in the Bible in the embedded ancient near-eastern mythologies and even in the word for ‘god’ in Genesis, which is a plural world and some believe reflects belief in an old pantheon of gods in charge of creation. Hmm.

      As for the idea of gods of limited power in charge of the earth – that’s a staple of Gnostic Christianity, the idea that the most high god is so pure and above all he can have no contact with anything so impure as matter, so entrusted the earth to a Demiurge, a kind of less perfect halfway god. Who can be vengeful and arbitrary. In other words, you story picks up on some ancient themes!
      BTW, I really like both the world-weariness of J and A and their will to survive.

      The casting of Lucifer as female also picks up on a patriarchal strand of literature regularly attacked by feminist scholars – the association of the female with tempting and evil. (I have a feminist friend who cold rant for hours about that.) So that also stands the story in a fine tradition of religious literature!

      Apologies for such an outpouring of nonsense in response to your story!

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 5:39 am
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        Typo: ‘plural world’ in the above should of course be ‘plural word’

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      • April 20, 2017 at 6:44 am
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        Wow – thanks Andy. That just added a thousand layers to a paper thin story! I appreciate the RE lesson, and any connection to my story is entirely by accident (or divine intervention perhaps?). Had a whole lot of fun writing this one. Early on I used the character names of: Jerome, Allan and Lucy for fear of potentially upsetting someone … but then I thought, to hell with it. If someone is upset may God strike me ……

        Reply
        • April 20, 2017 at 8:37 am
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          All down to my theological training. I knew it would come in useful one day!
          Squeezing the last ounce of meaning out of texts was all part of the gig 🙂
          Yes, it is a fun story – and maybe more theologically grounded than your modesty allows.

          Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 1:06 pm
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      Ken,

      Wonderful! I have always thought that Lucifer got a bad rap. He, or she, was never responsible for the murderous sprees so celebrated by the faithful. God was a genocida mass murderer many times over. I think it is time for a change.

      Reply
  • April 15, 2017 at 11:51 am
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    Now that’s what I call an agnostic !!! Good story Ken… point well made.

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    • April 16, 2017 at 6:37 am
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      Thanks Tegon.. I had actually written a different version in the style of the bible (Book of Lucifer), but thought this made it a little hard to read.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm
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    Out, Demons, Out

    You sit on the armchair, facing the fire burning in the large Georgian fireplace. You rest your chin on the end of the barrel of the shotgun, the stock braced between your feet on the floor. You have sat in this position for the past 20 minutes.

    You try to ignore the voice behind you, at first whispering your name (“Keith …. Keith”) then rising in crescendo, till your name sounds like the screech of an owl in the night. If you turn, perhaps you know already what you will see. The wall lamps are casting its shadow large across the hearthrug, and you see a dull reflection of movement in the marble of the fire surround.

    You know its shape, the curled horns like a ram’s each side of its head, the horns on top like an ibex, the face like a leopard. For you have seen this creature many times before in your dreams. You can feel its steadfast hate, its longing for possession, and you know inside exactly what it wants to possess.

    The edges of a wry half-smile curl on your lips – if you pull the trigger, you will surrender the very thing it wants to collect from you. You know you cannot cheat it this way. And there remains in you an obdurate pride, somehow you wish to remain in control of your own destiny.

    So you turn to look at it, monstrous in its looming, standing like the statue of an ancient god in its dark death-blue cloak, chained lions attending it on either side. You empty both barrels into the creature, but it grows larger and glides toward you.

    But then you hear the sound of footsteps running in the hall. The door opens – and then there is no one there except you, clutching the weapon in your foolishness, staring in desperate rage at the broken panelling on the wall.

    Anton, your head of security gently takes the shotgun from you. Julia, the housekeeper, is wide-eyed at the door.

    “It’s alright,” you say. “Just an accident …”

    “No way should this be lying around loaded,” says Anton firmly. “I’m putting it back under lock and key.” He gives you a look that is both firm, and yet seeks your permission.

    You nod. “Of course.”

    The house settles down again. You drink the coffee Julia brought you, and pace the oak-panelled room. You know you are a user, have plumbed the depths and risen to the heights. You reassure yourself that you are a high-performing user, all is under control. Only sometimes the darkness rises and becomes tangible. You close your eyes and hope it will pass.

    You remember how, as a youth, you gravitated to the bizarre, the psychedelic, and especially the dark: following the Edgar Broughton Band and their mayhem to festivals and small town venues in the 60s and early 70s, idiot-dancing and shouting ‘Out, Demons, Out! …Our, Demons, Out!”, while gladly embracing every demon on offer. You opened the doors of misperception and never looked back.

    You devoted yourself to drugs and music, acid rock, metal, trance … While for others it was for fun, or just a pose, for you it was an imperative, a calling. You were drowning in your addictions, stealing, cheating, dodging the law and everyone you owed money to, until you hit rock bottom and lost everything.

    Then you made your business career out of the depths of debt the only way you knew how: selling the stuff. In pubs. On the street. In colleges. Investing in clubs and festivals, to find both a paying audience and a market. Laundering the profits into property ventures, and into the art and the treasures gracing this room. A roller-coaster ride, but it took you to the top.

    It is midnight. Your pacing stops. You feel it. There is something there, but what? You take down an antique samurai sword from its mount and return to your armchair to wait, the sword lying across the arms of the chair. Your legs tremble and you tap your restless heel on the ground.

    Then a voice behind you: “Keith. Keith.” Sharp and authoritative. A will to disobey floods through you, an instinctive reaction to that voice. You turn to confront him, your father, in his dog-collar and pastor’s hat, humble and imperious at the same time.

    “Son, what are you doing with your life? Don’t you remember that life is a gift to be treasured – both yours and other people’s? It’s not too late to turn …”

    “I’m only doing the same as you,” you snap. “Getting people to sing, wave their arms about, get high – what’s the difference? Except in my world the music and dancing are much better.”

    “And what about the people you sell death to?”

    “As if no one has died when they’ve been sold religion!” you cry. “No, people just have to look after themselves. If I can do it, so can they”

    Your father shakes his head in dramatic sorrow. Then he raises his head and looks you directly in the eye.

    “People like Irena?” he asks. And that is too much. You raise the sword and slice right through him diagonally from left to right then right to left, and watch the slow bleeding from his impossible cruciform wounds. He holds out his arms to you, and comes forward to embrace you. As you slash wildly with the sword, he passes right through you and disappears.

    Panting now, you collapse back into the chair on the other side of the fireplace, dropping the sword beside you.

    Irena. You think back to the days when you had nothing. You and Irena huddled together around a small fire in that derelict house, keeping warm together. Laughing together. Getting high together.

    And then you remember how you found her, so strange, like she was folded on the floor. Not stretched out like you’d imagine, with her head flopping back. No, she was folded, her long legs almost straight, her chin almost toughing her knee, her arm with the tourniquet jutting awkwardly to one side. And how you wanted to unfold her, reassemble her, bring her back to life.

    The immeasurable sadness settles over you again. You look at the sword, but know you could never bring yourself to fall on it. These moments will pass. The sun will rise in the morning and shine equally on the rich and the poor, the smart and the foolish, as it does every day.

    Then you hear her voice behind you, so warm and inviting: “Keith!” You want to see her so much you jump out of the chair and look – and let out a piercing wail.

    Your staff have heard your cries, and rush into the room. They see you standing there, your arms on the antique cabinet, staring wild-eyed into the mirror, now frozen mid-scream.

    “Shall I call the doctor?” asks Julia, as Anton takes you by the shoulders.

    Her words sink in, and slowly you return to the here and now.

    “No, Julia, that’s fine,” you say. “I can look after myself.”

    Reply
    • April 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm
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      Very powerful story Andy. I loved how you used the theme, the devil tempting him to end it all. The story just flows and is so easy to sink into, the dialogue, internal and with the devil is very well done. Keith is a man on the brink and you do a wonderful job of showing us how he’s slowly falling apart. Great job!

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 2:39 am
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        Thank you Alice
        I used to know someone who made money pretty much in that way, lke the guy in the story. Though he didn’t get so rich, more what you’d call a lifestyle business these days. I don’t know what he did when he came out of prison … or if he had any demons. Seemed pretty friendly and happy-go-lucky when I knew him.

        Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 1:50 am
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      Andy,
      Wild story Andy-san. Starts off really seriously, and then gets more serious. Epic description of a tormented soul. (But why write about me?) Wonderfully done second person point of view. I don’t think I’ve ever done that yet. (Here, let me try it.) But you did. You wrote your story in second person. You did it to be different, to stand out.
      “Did it work?” The nurse asked.
      “Did what work?” You said.
      “Writing the story in second person, silly.”
      You pull the hammer back on the shotgun. “Did I? Miss Hornblower?”

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 2:53 am
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        Haha, Ken!
        Apologies for being serious and seriouser!
        Happily, you embraced the challenge you set yourself. You wrote in the second person, didn’t we, they concurred …. 🙂

        Second person viewpoint is a bit risky, as some people are allergic to it, but I think it can give a way to project the reader into a person’s head, especially a troubled person. But there’s still something of an external view because there is an outside voice providing the ‘you’ commentary.
        Would be hard to maintain for a long story, though Italo Calvino does it every alternate chapter of ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’. But then the book doesn’t make any sense, so why not?

        Reply
        • April 19, 2017 at 5:38 pm
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          Woah.
          Did you just use three different points of view in one sentence? It’s not that I can’t count, it’s just that POV is one of my many…I mean my one, weak point. I’m an expert with commas though. If you ever need help with, or extra commas, I’m the guy to talk to. I would elaborate but my wiffe is pulllling mme out; the dor an we half to don;luta water suit. jJTallk to you later

          Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 6:59 pm
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      Hi, Andy

      This is a really good depiction of a man with demons – in his head and behind him! The atmosphere in that room is really heavy – suffocating almost. Your command of language is, as ever, a big plus. Like Ken, I was impressed with the second-person telling – that really puts us there from the very start. I really like the ending, too … it’s blindingly obvious that he can’t! Just a question of time? One thing that struck a false note for me was the detailed description of the devil – unnecessary, I thought. Also … maybe just me, but I wasn’t sure why the “piercing wail”. Good stuff, though! (My brother had an Edgar Broughton album – ‘Wasa Wasa’ – horrible!)

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 3:44 am
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        Thanks Phil.
        Interesting you’ve picked up on a possible over-description of the first vision, and the under-description of the last – what does he see in the mirror that causes him to let out that piercing wail?
        I don’t think I’ve ever written before about a devilish being, and probably not very good at it – I guess it’s an accumulation of hallucinatory tropes that play to his fears in his disturbed and febrile mind, with his suppressed guilt.
        (That ‘febrile’ is especially for Ken C!)

        Edgar Broughton Band – I saw them in Chelmsford in the early 70s. If anyone wants a taste, here they are at Hyde Park in 1969

        . I think my brother was there. I was way too young to go …
        Anyway, as you suggest, they may be something of an acquired taste. Some great idiot-dancing towards the end of the clip.

        Reply
        • April 20, 2017 at 7:12 am
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          (I lasted 1 minute 30 …)

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          • April 20, 2017 at 8:19 am
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            BTW – wasa wasa is Arabic for Satanic whisperings, which seems appropriate to the theme.
            Though actually, not much the band did was very whispery, I think.

          • April 20, 2017 at 11:29 am
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            You lasted longer than I did Phil, sounds like his mouth is stuffed with cotton balls.

        • April 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm
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          The song wasn’t much but the lyrics were great. I love the part where he screams ‘Moontheratshit.’ And ‘Ah, laaa, gaaa, naaa, ahg.’ Which, in Swahili, (I think that much is obvious) probably means, ‘come over here and kiss me baby.’ Or, ‘We wait for the mothership to send us further instructions.’
          That was an alarming look at out species, Andy. Thank you. Thank you very much. I watched the whole thing. (But only once.)

          Reply
  • April 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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    Split Infinitive.
    by ken cartisano ©2017

    Someone said my name. Someone behind me. It woke me up. I had been sleeping on the couch in the living room and had fallen asleep with my back to the room. I was looking at the flower pattern on the cushions. I worked the graveyard shift at the bakery; and I’d been up all day, and all of the previous night, more than 24 hours straight. Since I had to go back to work in 5 hours, I decided four and a half hours of sleep was better than none. So while the rest of the family went out for dinner and a movie, I was left blissfully alone.

    Now, you’re probably going to think I’m crazy but, the impression that someone had spoken my name was not the main reason that I felt like there was someone standing behind me. It was more of a feeling, a gut instinct, or intuition. Which was strange because, I knew I was alone. The house was completely silent: no TV blaring, no radio, no dishwasher running, and the only light burning in the whole house was in the dining room. The light from its multiple bulbs cast a gloomy indirect light through the door and over the top of the shelf that separated the two rooms.

    I tried to tell myself that what I’d heard was just a figment of my imagination, part of my dream. Except I hadn’t been dreaming. I had been roused from a deep sleep; and the frightening notion that someone was standing right behind me persisted. Even more alarming was the sudden, and completely unfounded certainty that whatever was standing behind me was so hideous and gruesome, I would probably die from fright alone.

    So you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, why didn’t you just roll over and look?’ And that’s exactly what I thought. I’ll just roll over, see nothing, and go back to sleep. The problem was—I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. The only thing I could move was my eyes. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I’ll admit that I thought the house was haunted, but that didn’t seem relevant at the time, I don’t even think I thought about ghosts. What was relevant, was that I was awake, unable to move, and, it felt very much like there was someone in the room behind me. Something or someone—strange.

    Why I thought this I don’t know. I’m a cheerful guy, an optimist and part-time comedian. I worked six nights a week as a baker, and for all intents and purposes, I lived mostly at night. I rode a bike to work as people were getting ready for bed. My customers were mostly night people too: Police, night watchmen, the occasional drunk.

    I strained every muscle in my body to try and roll over. It was as if half of my body was fighting the other half. As if one side of me did not want me to roll over, and the other side of me did. One side was fearful, the other side was curious. It was as if I was locked in a physical battle of hopelessly equal forces. Neither side could possibly win.

    Despite all appearances, I had the distinct impression that my head might have moved a fraction of a millimeter. I wasn’t sure whether that was so, or whether I’d simply imagined it. The thing to do, I thought, was to keep trying to turn my head, to focus my efforts on just swiveling my head around on my neck.

    Even though the effort to turn my head seemed to produce no results, after a time, I could see that my field of view had changed slightly, but noticeably. More of the ceiling was visible. So it seemed that I could move my head, but only in the smallest of increments. One degree per minute perhaps? Maybe less, I don’t know. I had no idea how long it was really taking because I couldn’t look at my watch. I couldn’t move my arm. I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t see the wall clock. I had no clear concept of time without the benefit of motion.

    My curiosity was urging me on, but at the same time I was quite literally petrified. I wondered if I was paralyzed from some undefined but visceral fear, or was my fear the result of my inability to move? I seemed altogether too rational and lucid to be frightened by the paralysis. That would have been rational. My fear was irrational. A fear of some unknown, unseen devil or demon from someone else’s imagination, which rendered me, in every sense of the word, scared stiff and unable to move. I don’t know how else to describe my situation.

    The other unsettling thing was the cessation of sound. It was not just quiet, as I strained to hear anything so slight as a joint crack, a breathe or the rustle of clothing; what I heard was the absence of sound. As if time had come to a virtual standstill. I didn’t even hear the comforting sound of a clock ticking.

    I kept trying to turn my head, and my body at the same time now. It seemed to take an eternity. Eventually I could see the top of the wall behind me, and in those last few degrees of arc my head turned at the relatively blistering pace of molasses until at last, I could see that except for me, the room was empty. No demons, no devil, no alien creatures beamed down by an overly ingratiating Scotsman. There was a mirror on the far wall, it reflected the image of a man in blue jeans with a red flannel shirt, laying on a flowered couch. No bizarre coincidence there, as that’s what I was wearing. But…

    I heard the distinctive thud of car doors slamming and involuntarily glanced towards the open window: the family returning from their night out. Voices, the reassuring sound of laughter, then I glanced back at my reflection and gave it a long hard look.

    The experts would say that I had woken while my body was still asleep. The brain secreting special chemicals that disable the skeletal muscles when you sleep, that way, when you dream about driving a car or walking the dog, you’re not actually doing it. It’s uncommon to wake in this state they say, but not unheard of. And that may be so. But—a couple of things stand out for me. One, if my body was paralyzed, how could I move my head? Albeit slowly.

    And the other strange thing is, when I had finally rolled over and first saw my reflection in the mirror? Although the clothes were the same, I didn’t recognize the face. The man who had been gazing back at me was a stranger.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2017 at 7:24 pm
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      Whoa! Great premise Ken, and I love the idea of waking up and the body is still sleeping. The story feels more like the opening chapter of a longer story. I was immediately interested in the plight of the main character, and even though the story flowed nicely, there was a lot of describing and explaining, but a lack of actually telling a story, if that makes sense.

      I loved the ending though, and wanted to know more about who’s face he saw and why. I think this could be the beginning of a longer story.

      Reply
      • April 18, 2017 at 1:19 am
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        Thanks Alice,
        As for the lack of telling a story–well, the main character is very tired, so this is a story that’s pretty low on action, and devoid of plot and dialogue. (Or humor.) I’m thinking of putting this story back in the shop and installing some fins, bubble skirts, curb feelers and a pair of fuzzy dice. I need to juice it up. I bet you it’ll draw a crowd then. As the saying goes: “If it don’t go, chrome it.” (I think it needs a pumpkin and a chainsaw, and some Mazola oil. And a sexy chick, who’s into pumpkins. She wears pumpkin colored nail polish, eyeliner and hair, she also has a pumpkin colored tooth. She meets our main character at a flossing seminar where they had both hoped to meet someone smarter than themselves, but they found each other instead. Over time they both ended up cheating on one another, but they were both too dumb to figure it out, thus preserving there otherwise ‘perfect marriage.’) I don’t want to give away any more, and you don’t either. But I think I may work on this a little more.

        Reply
        • April 18, 2017 at 1:58 am
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          Hey Ken, thanks for being a good sport. I’m probably being ultra picky, but I just think you’re a really good writer and maybe I’m being too hard on you. Any hoot, I do love the whole premise of the story, and I appreciate that you always take my critiques well.

          Reply
          • April 19, 2017 at 12:54 am
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            Alice – re: ‘thanks for being a good sport.’

            I thought your comment was far from being too hard on me. (Especially when you consider how crusty I am.) I was going to do some more terrible jokes, but I was pretty sure that you didn’t think the first batch was funny. (I mean god, ‘…a flossing seminar’?) What do I have to write to get a laugh around here? Criminy.)
            It reminds me of that old saying: It’s like pearls before–bailey? No.
            Pearls before hookers? No, that’s not it. Pearls before harbor? No. Although that does sound familiar. I fail to see the wisdom of pearls! That was it. I fail to see the wisdom of pearls.)

            All kidding aside, I debated asking you or Carrie to delete my story, as I really wanted to work on it. but decided to just leave it. (Nothing quite so sad as an abandoned story, but at least there were no pumpkins in it.) In fact, this is the second story I wrote for this prompt. My first idea, (which was worse, if you can believe it,) was to do an interview with the devil. But it was too flippant. One thing I don’t want to do is disrespect the devil. That’s just asking for trouble. I tried to put myself in his (the devil’s) shoes, which was not that hard it turns out, and channel his ego and POV into the story, but you know, after I chainsawed the neighbors car in half and set the police station on fire — I don’t know, the rest of the story, and writing about it was anti-climactic.
            I think my story is disorganized too. I don’t know about anyone else, but my paragraphs seem to migrate a lot. (Especially at night.) My stories don’t always come out in a straightforward beginning to end sequence. Sometimes it takes me a few days to figure out which paragraph should start the story.
            Anyway, thanks for the feedback. I appreciate your compliments, and as for your criticism–well, you’re too far away to throw a snowball at, so I’ll just stick my tongue out at you. (Ooo thee? On thticking eye thung out aa thuu, ath lee theak. Ath lee thhhhhh-eek. (Thit, thith ith nut-th harther than I thought ee woo thee. )

          • April 19, 2017 at 2:11 am
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            Ken, you always make me laugh 🙂 I’m glad you didn’t delete your story, this was a hard ass prompt, and I was the idiot who came up with it. You can jeer me all you want I can take it. 🙂

    • April 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm
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      Hi, Ken

      You’re much too self-effacing – this story works! Almost nothing happens, but it held my attention absolutely. In fact, the fact [sic] that nothing happens is a plus for me. The subject of the story and the telling kinda intersect (nothing happens to the narrator, and we see the nothing played out at length – but never in a boring way). I don’t think I’m explaining myself very well. One of my favourite films is a French one called ‘Le Trou’. In it, some prisoners dig a hole to escape from their cell. It takes them about 15 minutes (if you’re ever sent to prison, make sure it’s a French one!). And we see every second of the digging. I love that kind of sh*t! And that’s what I felt when I was reading your story. Slow (as “molasses”!), very well described. And a good, ‘Creepy Tales’ kinda ending.

      Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 5:49 am
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      Just seen that it’s time to vote. As I’m running out of time to comment, I’ll just say re your story, Ken, I agree with Phil. And Alice.

      One thought – are we all strangers to ourselves?
      Maybe some stranger than others?

      Reply
  • April 17, 2017 at 7:12 pm
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    The devil rides
    by Emmanuel Malho, 2017

    “Alonso.”

    I’m sitting on the ground. Back against the wall, arms around my legs, head between my knees. This soft and sweet, wild and bewitching voice. These days I was wondering how long it would take to ear it again.

    “Alonso.”

    I take a deep breath. I slowly pulled my head out. The scent is flowery and spicy. Otherworldly. Penetrating. Intoxicating.

    “Alonso.”

    I opened my eyes. Moonlight barely lit the room. Old dark oak furniture, cracked windows. Ruined walls, intruding roots. Broken pavement, open ceiling. My eyes are used to this darkness. I can see clearly. I can see clearly the pristine, golden armchair – almost throne-like – a few meters ahead. I can distinguish this familiar presence, sitting right there majestically. Legs crossed, arms on the chair’s arms, chin held up. A short, dark red robe barely covering her body. Her red irises glowing in the dark, staring at me. Her bright, copper hair reflecting the moonlight.

    “Abigail”. My voice echoes in the dark room. I can feel her smiling to the sound of her name.

    “I missed you.” She uncrossed her legs. “We should hang out more often.”

    “I bet some people wouldn’t like that,” I laughed softly, slowly heading towards her. “And you know you’re quite not my type,” I winked.

    “Well, about that…” She said, leaving the armchair and heading towards me. “You know I won’t take no for an answer…” She gently slides the tip of her index on my bare chest. I caress her face. The familiar bloomy, freckled, slightly wrinkled, silky skin turns into a smile.

    “Tell me you missed me.” She asked, twisting her head on my hand.

    “You know I did. And I didn’t.” I replied, looking deeply in her shining eyes.

    “You’ve always been making such a fuss lately… I wish you’d be more like the first time we met.” She whispered, turning her back on me and heading to the window.

    “I wish I’d never met you… But one cannot escape his fate, can he?” I whisper to her ear, holding her waist and pressing my chest on her back. She shivered.

    “You know…” She grabs my waist, pulling herself towards me. “It can’t be helped. We have to do this.” A blend of pleasure, pain, contentment and disdain filled her melodic voice.

    “For how long?” I asked, kissing the bottom of her neck.

    “Until the day we die.” She pushed her head back, shivering again.

    “You’re immortal. You are just keeping me alive and barely… For this.” She evaded my grasp and turned. She stared at my body from head to toes.

    “I’m doing a good damn job at it.” She noted, hands on her waist, proud of herself.

    “Where are we heading to now?” I asked, slightly more serious.

    Her eyes turned full red, markings on her irises spinning fast creating the illusion of a black vortex. That did not impress me anymore. She licked her lips, voluptuously.

    “Syria. Most of the job is done.” Her eyes turned back to their normal state. “We’ll just go and wipe the rest.”

    I shook my head, conforming to my fate.

    “Don’t you ever get tired of this?”

    “Why would I? You know I love this. And I have the perfect companion for this.”

    She pushed me to the ground violently. Bones from my back broke from the impact, but I was OK with it. They would be back in their place in a few minutes. She stood right above me, her hips close to mine, and started unbuttoning my shirt. Her pointy tail caressed my long hair, taking them off from my eyes.

    “Remember our trip to Punjab, Afghanistan, Persia and Russia?”

    “It was our first trip. Cholera pandemic. Almost a million died.” I recalled, with a hint of sadness in my voice.

    “You were so fiery! You really were into this by then… All that passion… All that hate… People feared you… You were the image of power itself!”

    “I was young. People think in dumb ways when they’re young.” I mumbled.

    “More than 2 million. Bengal.”

    She enticed, ripping my shirt off. Big nails instantly grew from her fingers in her right hand. Her index nail lacerated the skin from my chest. She was enjoying this, as she always does. “You’d have racked up at least double those souls if humanitarian aid did not come.” She licked her lips again and bit my neck.

    “You didn’t see them starve to death. I saw every single one of them.” The memory was undying. Thousands of thousands of people begging for food. People falling, hopeless. Not for themselves, but for their loved ones. I remember every single face of theirs.

    “You feed on this too. Why do you complain?” She slid her hand beneath my trousers, reaching for my lust. My breath became louder. Her touch warmed something inside me. Maybe feeding on those souls allowed me actually to grow one.
    I opened my mouth to contest but she put her fingers in, silencing me.

    “You are my messenger. You are destined to this, from the moment you were born.”

    She looked deeply in my eyes. Despite me being good at this, doubt started crossing her mind since the students’ poisoning in Kosovo. I became more sensible to the suffering. More compassionate. I could see the disappointment and simultaneous pride in her hell-fiery eyes. My clothes burned, slowly, burning my skin as well in the process. She took her robe off. Her peachy breasts were still shaking from the motion. Her body skin was as bloomy as her face’s. Too red for my taste, but I could not complain. The souls I have been giving her this millennium allowed her, the oldest woman of all times, to keep this voluptuous appearance. I was in for a hell of a ride. After a few minutes, all went dark.

    ———

    “Go forth, Death. Reap souls for your devil.”

    Her voice echoed in my head. I opened my eyes with the deafening sound of explosions. It started again. Hundreds of thousands. I could see the souls leaving their dismembered bodies. Most of the bodies, disintegrated by the blasts. Some would cling to life but to no avail. They were there to die and be reaped.

    Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 1:33 am
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      Man, that’s some fabulous writing Emmanuel. Graphic, powerful and vivid. Great stuff. There were a few lapses, like: ‘I shook my head, conforming to my fate.’ (accepting my fate.) I would delete the whole line. And, ‘I’m doing a good damn job at it,…’ (I’m doing a damn good job of it,…)
      Still, pretty excellent writing over all, and a riveting story.

      Reply
      • April 19, 2017 at 4:24 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback Ken!

        Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 6:57 pm
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      Wow, a very dark story Emmanuel, but nicely told. I think it flowed okay, but there were a lot of grammatical errors, and awkward wording that hurt the flow and took me out of the story in places. Still it is an intriguing premise, that could be even better with a little tweaking.

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 3:50 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback, Alice!
        I actually struggled with the wording on this one. The idea was there for a couple of days and it took me some time to actually write it down. I’ll take a little extra time next contest!

        Reply
    • April 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm
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      Hi, Emmanuel

      A very original take on death and soul-reaping. The subject matter has no right to be sexy, but it is, very. I think I would have left the places that death visited vaguer – the mention of Kosovo, for example, while pertinent, takes us out of the supernatural scene (e.g. instead of Syria, ‘the desert’). We’d know what you were talking about, but it wouldn’t be so on-the-nose. As Alice says, there are some language lapses (tenses would be the easiest thing to fix – just be consistent – past or present for the main narration). Very intriguing angle, though.

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback, Phil!
        I tried to play with the verb tenses to pull in the reader more “in the moment”, but at some point it felt confusing even to me. I’ll keep that in mind next try!

        Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 6:51 am
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      Indeed, graphic and powerful, Emmanuel . Good pace too, it flies along.
      Something of a Greek tragedy here, with the death/lust of the supernatural beings and the death-lust amongst the lesser beings below.
      “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods – they kill us for their sport.”

      Reply
      • April 20, 2017 at 3:54 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback, Andy!

        Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 6:27 am
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      Sorry I did not find time to participate this week. Too much family crap happening and just feeling very washed out. Got to keep on top of things at work and son started back for second term etc etc. But I voted and it was bloody hard with such excellent stories. One story stood out though.
      It was a flawless diamond among many semi polished rough gems. Diamonds, rubies and saphires.
      I really did love this weeks’ stories and would have liked to write my own about two brothers who turned into monsters but did not have the energy or the heart to make a cynical lightness of deeply distressing events.
      Great stories everyone and hope to be with you to fight the next round of story tellings.

      Reply
    • April 20, 2017 at 11:17 am
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      Just waiting on Dean and Ken C to vote. I won’t be able to post the results until I get home from work tonight, but if you subscribe to the blog you’ll get the notification of the next prompt later this afternoon.

      Otherwise I’ll post it here this evening.

      Reply

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