January 15 – January 29, 2020 Writing Prompt – Calm

Theme: Calm

Requirements: The word “Calm” must appear in your story at least once.

Word Count: 1,200



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

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

The writing prompt for January 30, 2020 will be chosen by Roy York.




364 thoughts on “January 15 – January 29, 2020 Writing Prompt – Calm

  • January 16, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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    Read the stories here:

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

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

    Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 7:11 pm
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      Alice or Carrie
      I forgot the title – It is “The Morning Calm”

      Reply
    • January 22, 2020 at 8:48 am
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      Hmmm … Not receiving anything. This has happened before, so let’s see if a reply gets me where I need to be.

      Reply
      • January 22, 2020 at 8:51 am
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        It seem to have worked. Cool.

        Reply
  • January 16, 2020 at 8:57 pm
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    Likewise. Calm, kind, carefree and cool…

    Reply
  • January 16, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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    Signing in for comments. I’m praying for calm!

    If you are a praying person, please keep me and my parents in your thoughts and/or prayers.

    My mother, in the end stages of Alzhiemer’s, is having problems eating. We are unsure of how much longer we have with her.

    My father, fell twice late last Saturday night. He did not break anything but he is recovering slowly. He is not handling Mom’s decline well and he is now afraid to go out for fear of falling.

    I have an ear infection and acute respiratory infection bordering on pneumonia (Thank you West Tennessee once again!). It has been an exhausting and stressful week.

    Thanks friends!

    Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 12:26 am
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      I’m not a praying person, but I’d like to offer my condolences, if it means anything

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:40 pm
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        Thanks Peter.

        Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 2:50 am
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      Hi Adi, may you find solace in this difficult period. I know you’ve been dreading the arrival of these events for a while now, and it’s not easy. Plus, when it rains it pours, too. But one thing at a time. Take care of yourself, first of all. May there be glimpses of peace and perhaps also revelation in all that’s going on, for it’s in such times of trial that life’s true purpose often emerges.

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:41 pm
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        Thanks Ken. You are so right!

        Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 10:11 am
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      Alll the best to you, Adi! You asked about how we see the contest. I agree with most of what you wrote in your comment. I’m not in it for the win either, although I have to remind me from time to time. I’m in it for the deadline. For me it’s an exercise in discipline.

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:44 pm
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        The exercise in discipline is one of the best aspects of the contests. Writing within time limits and also staying within a specified word count are great skills to hone in writing. I love the challenge in cutting my stories down to size without losing the major plot points and flow. Thanks!

        Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 2:40 pm
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      Sorry to hear the difficulties you are dealing with, will keep you and your family in my thoughts. Take care.

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:44 pm
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        Thanks Alice!

        Reply
    • January 20, 2020 at 9:52 am
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      Hi Adi,

      My thoughts are with you at this difficult time. My father had Vascular dementia for about 8 years until he died aged 95 and it was a very difficult time. My mother, now 96, found it very stressful but we were able to keep them in their own, the family, home.

      Respiratory infections are rife this year in the UK according to my acupuncture guy. He said he had never known a year with so many people with pneumonia and my cough has lasted for weeks and weeks.

      Get well soon,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:49 pm
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        Thanks for the words, Ken. I hate Alzheimer’s. Mama is “slowing down” and Daddy doesn’t seem to know how to cope. I’m worn out. I’m better but still fighting the cough. UGH. I’m the Energizer Bunny – I just keep going and going and going. LOL

        Reply
    • January 20, 2020 at 10:08 am
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      Be well, Adi. What a lot you’ve got on your plate. Be well and stay strong!

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 2:50 pm
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        Thanks Trish!

        Reply
  • January 17, 2020 at 3:10 am
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    Congrats Wendy for your New Beginnings success!

    It was an unusual, but at the same time very relatable story in this day and age of enforced wellness.

    The kind of “I’ve got the yoga, and the mindfulness, and the Vedic stretching, and the stress-relief course, and the transcendental meditation, and the happiness session, and the Pilates – oh my, so much to do… I’m so stressed!”

    If memory serves me well, this is, I think, the second time you finished your story by burning down your own house, right? Should I be concerned?

    But then again, I had several stories involving cannibalism of some sort or another. And I won’t harm a fly. Certainly won’t eat one.

    Ken

    Reply
  • January 17, 2020 at 3:54 am
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    KEN CARTISANO, TO THE FRONT OF THE CLASS PLEASE!

    (I tried to reply to your last comment in reply to my comment replying your comment in the New Beginnings thread, but there’s no reply button. We must’ve got on WordPress’s nerves. So here is my reply here…)

    ‘Supperman’, ‘Flesh Gordon’… [Roy: Ken C. said ‘Flesh Gordon’, not ‘Flash Gordon’]. There was also ‘Bathman’. They used to at least try to be creative, back in the 80s.

    Enough on that one!

    BREXIT. Well, you count your people in meatheads vs non-meatheads. My best explanation of Brexit is that there happened to be (by a mere whisker or two!) more tea-drinkers than latte-drinkers when the poll was taken. Not in London (that’s 95% latte; in continental Gibraltar 99%), but in the rest of the Isles.

    It’s complicated.

    The latte dudes feel more European/cosmopolitan so they are generally ‘Remainers’ (EU-supporters).

    The tea-drinkers are the real Brits, or so they think and they are ‘Brexiteers’. Some of them may even have nostalgia of an Empire on which the sun has now more or less set, that once included India and Ceylon and their tea-plantations. And the USA too was also (one other little place) in the fold. Till the tea was literally thrown overboard by you ungrateful people.

    So, the takeaway is that tea is global, latte is just European. So, who’s cosmopolitan now?

    You see, it’s not that simple. It boils down to meatheads vs non-meatheads in the end of the day, of course. The way you explained it with regard to the US. But recounted in a way by which nobody gets too insulted. More British-like, so to speak.

    About Creationists, I once met one too. I asked him how he could be so sure that God exists. I mean, genuinely: I’d have been pleased if he convinced me. Creation by God sounds neater to me than being called an ape. Anyway, he said that the proof is in the Bible.

    “God exists, of course, because the Bible says so.”

    – “But how can you be so sure the Bible is correct?”

    “How can it be other than correct? It’s the very word of God!”

    I stopped asking him questions. Did a full loop there. The answer must lie somewhere else.

    Reply
    • January 19, 2020 at 1:46 pm
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      Ken,

      Forget the bible. That’s a book, of stories, written and passed down through the centuries. A history of man (and woman. And goats and sheep. Giants, Pharaohs, cut-throats, a cast of thousands.)

      God’s almost a bit player in the bible. Doesn’t show up when he’s called, has a poor sense of timing and urgency. Makes cruel and pointless demands. Uses people as pawns to prove a point. Turns people into pillars of salt. Punishes the innocent to prove a point to the evil. The bible doesn’t shed God in a flattering light. Given all that, God’s pretty cool though. God and his/her partner. The Holy Ghost. (With a name like that, she must be a real looker.) Jesus tried to make it a threesome but in the end they were like, nah. I don’t think so. We’re gonna have to drop you off here. The original deal was to show you what it was like to be a God, not to actually make you one. (Sorry about your luck, Jeez.)

      This is the creation theory held by the Mystic-Skeptics. (Sometimes known as ‘The Unremitting Near Holy Order of The Mystic Skeptics.) Actually, they have several creation theories, but this is their current favorite.

      Reply
      • January 20, 2020 at 3:59 am
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        That was to some extent the theme of my Superman story. How an old mysterious text (or even a comic) could grow into a cult, and then a religion. Not that there is no universal bits of truth at all in such texts (whether it’s the Bible or Superman or even some of our own stories here), but to select just one text and turn it into an explanation of just about everything in the cosmos does raise my eyebrows, to put it mildly. Also believing blindly in our Apehood and stopping there…

        Reply
    • January 19, 2020 at 3:01 pm
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      Ken M, you’re creationist friend would’ve been better off if he just said, he didn’t know if God existed, but he has faith God exists based on his belief in the bible. That’s what I tell people, it’s all about faith. Saying “Because the bible says so,” to someone who doesn’t believe in God or the bible, means nothing. Just a quick “I don’t know, but I have faith,” will suffice.

      And Ken C. I was listening to a podcast recently that talked about the very thing you said about God’s absence in the Bible. This theologian said that those things attributed to God commanding the Israelites to do, like kill entire villages and what not, wasn’t God at all, but the Israelites thinking this is what a God would do based on what they saw Kings do when they conquered lands. Why God allowed this, and why He seemed to be AWOL is beyond me.

      So who knows, why was God so absent, does he exist. I would say yes, but to all the other things, I would have to say I just don’t know.

      Reply
      • January 20, 2020 at 4:15 am
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        Yes, Alice, a humble “I don’t know” is the most viable answer such people should give. Because we really don’t know. That also includes atheists who think they know, unwavering as they may be in their disbelief. They don’t know either, and ought to admit it.

        One can, of course have faith in the Bible, etc. and that’s, as you said, valid enough. But it’s something one has to find for himself.

        I have faith – but at a wider level – that there’s more to our existence than just what we see (and hear, touch, taste, smell). For, as difficult – even ludicrous for some – as it may be to believe in something supernatural like God, the afterlife and so on, it’s equally (if not more!) difficult for me to believe that everything exists for nothing.

        Reply
      • January 21, 2020 at 4:15 am
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        My only point, other than trying to be funny, was that the bible is confusing, poorly structured, contradictory and altogether unflattering to the being it purports to honor: God. As a source of spiritual guidance in faith, tolerance and understanding, as so many claim it to be, it actually sucks. You can find more faith and understanding in your average waitress than you can in the bible.

        On the contrary, the existence of God is hard to deny.

        To look upon creation, be it a sunset; a thunderstorm; a volcano; a coral reef; a snow-capped mountain; a field of wildflowers; a puppy; a waitress; or a giraffe; and deny the existence of God, is like holding an umbilical cord in your hand and denying the existence of motherhood.

        The trouble with the bible is that it sounds like a book written by a committee of ill-informed politicians with conflicting motives, and published about a thousand years ago. (Give or take five-hundred years.) It makes well-intentioned people question their own instincts. It is almost as bad as religion.

        But I have no such reservations about God, who gave us free will. Therefore it follows that many of our problems are of our own making.

        BTW, I’m the founder and sole member of The Church of the Mystic Skeptic.

        Reply
    • January 22, 2020 at 1:01 pm
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      I’m well aware, but he equated it to Star Trek, and I was a big Flash Gordon fan back in the day and there is no comparison with the two except they both happen in outer space.

      However, now that I think about it, there are good guys in both, beautiful women, emperor’s, space ships, far away planets, good fighting evil, and so on. Maybe Ken is right and Star Trek and Star Wars are just a big rip off of Flash Gordon.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2020 at 4:13 am
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    “Legs would come after the step was taken”

    (from BERLINERMAX’s ‘Green’)

    I like this line… it’s almost a mantra, a life-lesson, encouraging people (and fish!) not to fear taking a first step and then see what happens!

    One to keep!

    Thanks Juergen.

    Ken

    Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 6:48 pm
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      Adi hope things are looking up and sending prayers for your strength to grow and and grow.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2020 at 6:16 am
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    TIME EXPERT
    Since he was at school,Pete had been known for always being on time. Even at primary school he was known as a girlie or teacher’s pet for finishing everything at the right time.

    At university he never missed a lecture or a tutorial for which his tutor praised him and said that it would suit him perfectly in his preferred future career as a project manager.

    Sure enough when Pete left university with a degree in business he got a job with a nearby local council as a junior project manager and in a short time was working on his first project to help plan and deliver a new community centre.
    His boss thought that he had done such a good job that when the next project came up he was put in charge of all the management. As usual Pete did a very thorough plan including timings down to the nearest day, hour or minute possible and made sure that they were all distributed the right people in time.

    This was a large project to deliver the first block of council housing since the 1970’s. Pete was thrilled to be involved with it and did his best to make sure that it was a success. Everything was going very well with all the houses built and the final block of flats to be completed at which point he had planned for a ceremony for the politicians, builders, council workers and others involved to celebrate with a few speeches before the bottles of bubbly were opened. Pete got there in good time and was delighted to see that fewer people than had he hoped for had turned up.

    But he kept calm and when it came to the speeches, the leader of the council was first up and gave a spirited speech in which he even thanked Pete for his planning. Waiting for the next speaker who should have been a leading trade unionist. At which point Pete saw an attractive young woman coming his way and when she reached him said, “Are you Peter MacCarthy?”

    “Yes I am.”said Pete.”Why?”I am the secretary for the leader of the council and he is expecting to be here at 8 o’clock.Not many people work in 24 hour clocks and I have a feeling that there might be quite a few arriving at 8 o’clock rather than 1800 hours. He asked me to come down now in case he was wrong. By the way, my name is Heather Price.”

    “Thanks Heather. You are right. I was working on a 24-hour timing. Would you be free to join me at Antoines at the bottom of the hill tomorrow at 1800 or 6 o’clock as normal people say?”
    “Happy to, Pete. See you there.”

    So it all turned out the best that it could have done.

    Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 7:19 am
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      Hi Alan – and welcome!

      So Pete got a first date with this Heather thanks to the confusion caused by the politically-correct 24-hour clock. Of all things. Not bad. You said she was attractive too, right? Good that this uptight guy (I get that impression he was) did see this opportunity coming and just this one time he was flexible enough to seize it.

      The perks of a little flexibility versus the virtues of a life that’s too well-planned. That’s the interesting conflict I see in this story. Am I right?

      I would have integrated the timing of the date within what was already going on, if I were you (which I’m not, so forgive me for stepping on your turf!).

      Instead of inviting her at Antoines tomorrow evening, my Pete would have panicked a little “So what’s going to happen between now and eight!?”

      Oh, I know, he then thinks: “Heather, will you join me at Antoines at the bottom of the hill. We’ve got some time to kill till your boss is here, haven’t we?” She accepts.

      8pm comes and goes and Pete and Heather at Antoines don’t even realize it. They miss out on the whole ceremony. But it can’t be that bad. It’s actually not bad at all…

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
    • January 17, 2020 at 8:47 pm
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      Hi Alan,
      I’m Alice one of the moderators here, along with Carrie. Welcome to the group, happy to have you here.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2020 at 11:25 am
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      Hi Alan,

      Welcome to the group or a welcome return if you have been away.

      I remember years ago during a Summer Olympic Games the final of one of the sprints was set down for 1500 hours and one of the finalists turned up for a 5 o’clock race so obviously he missed his race completely.

      I think you could develop your theme so that perhaps Pete is on the receiving end of the confusion. He seems a bit too perfect for my liking! That’s not a criticism, just a heartfelt comment.

      I am looking forward to reading more of your stories,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • January 21, 2020 at 3:42 am
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      Hi, Alan, and welcome!

      There’s a nice build-up here to the twist, which revolves around 24-hour-clock confusion. (You’re British, right? I always think of Captain Mainwaring – and myself, tbh! – when this subject arises …). Pete’s progress is so smooth that we’re expecting some kind of hiccup, so there’s a good bit of tension generated. I think I agree with Ken M that the ending is perhaps a little too smooth; there could have been some extra complications introduced.

      There are a couple of mistakes, I think: “Pete got there in good time and was delighted to see that fewer people than had he hoped for had turned up.” Shouldn’t that be ‘disappointed’? And the idea that this government would countenance building council housing is pretty far-fetched. 😉

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 4:27 am
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        Phil you stole my comments. Ok joke Joyce but you have said what I picked up so I will say no more. Welcome though to our little writing group.

        Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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      Hi Alan, welcome again. You got some great critques here, the only thing I can add is when doing dialogue put the different speakers on separate lines, makes it easier to make out who’s talking. Nice story, like some of the others, would love to see it developed a bit more.

      Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 3:45 pm
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      Alan – Welcome to the group. Having that out of the way, we need to talk.

      Everyone else has been rather kind, and while I will be gentle, I think, you need to make some changes, not only in this story, but in your general writing habits. You need to proof read your stories a bit better. Make it a point. A clean fair story may get you higher marks than a great story filled with mistakes.

      You missed the word ‘to’ in the sentence ending all distributed the right people in time. And you ran a couple of sentences together.

      Your last sentence in paragraph 5 doesn’t make sense. You wrote: Pete got there in good time and was delighted to see that fewer people than had he hoped for had turned up. Really? He was delighted that fewer people than he had hoped for had turned up? Really?

      Then, in Paragraph 6, you write: Waiting for the next speaker who should have been a leading trade unionist. This is not only an incomplete sentence, it doesn’t indicate who is waiting.

      Then you further compound it when in the next sentences and paragraph you write: At which point Pete saw an attractive young woman coming his way and when she reached him said, “Are you Peter MacCarthy?”

      “Yes I am.”said Pete.”Why?”I am the secretary for the leader of the council and he is expecting to be here at 8 o’clock.

      This could have been cleaner by writing, Pete saw an attractive young woman coming his way, Upon reaching him she said, “Are you Peter MacCarthy?” This eliminates the reader from thinking at first it could have been Peter asking a question when she arrived. (I realize she is asking him because she’s asking his name, but if it had been another bit of dialogue, such as “What time does the next speaker talk?” there could have been confusion as to who is talking.

      And, finally, When she says, “I am the secretary for the leader of the council and he is expecting to be here at 8 o’clock. This, too is confusing. The leader of the council just spoke, how could he be expecting to arrive at 8? Oh, wait, does she mean the leading trade unionist? Well, lad, that isn’t clear at all. I had to read it twice before I realized where it was going. See what I mean?

      And lastly, (I was only kidding when I said, And finally) your ending sentence read: So it turned out the best it could have done. Not only is the sentence (once again, IMHO) grammatically incorrect, it’s an ending for a fable. So, dear readers, it turned out the best it could have been done. A jolly good ending. What is ‘it’? A date? Solving the time problem?

      Furthermore, my dear fellow, that’s author intrusion. Don’t you think it could have been better? He got a date for dinner? If it turns out the best it could have done for me, it included breakfast, and that’s after he turned over the next morning and asked her about breakfast, after brushing her hair back and telling her how beautiful she is.

      Whew! However, I think it was a fairly good first start and you used the theme correctly. I think he might not only have been a good student, but was quick to seize the day when the young lady showed up. I think you could have taken it a bit further, also. And, that would have changed your ending quite a bit, I think. I enjoyed the story, but you have to realize you’re in the company of some very good writers, here. Learn quickly, and amaze us next time out of the box. See you in next week’s round – hopefully – if I haven’t scared you off.

      Roy York

      Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 6:28 pm
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      Hi Alan – nice to see your story here.
      Kind of a “geek gets the girl” story. Actually he’s not shy about coming forward to ask someone out. There’s some inner confidence there, I think 🙂

      It seems you’ve used less than half the available word count, so there’s some potential to add in some drama/complication or work some parts through dialogue rather than narration perhaps – all the things the other guys here have suggested.

      On things going wrong withe timings – have you or anyone here seen the John Cleese film “Clockwise”? About a headmaster who obsesses over time-keeping, and then things start to unravel when he’s asked to speak at a prestigious conference. A classic – funny and painful to watch at the same time!

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:30 pm
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      Hi Alan,
      Welcome to the melee. Your story strikes me as pretty good. I didn’t go over it with a fine toothed comb, and I noticed a couple of errors here and there, but overall, it’s a clever plot idea and nicely carried out.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2020 at 10:02 am
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    Hello everybody and Congratulations to Wendy! The best story doesn’t always win, but this time it did!

    Reply
  • January 18, 2020 at 7:49 pm
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    This prompt is what I SHOULD be doing, but obviously what I’m not doing. I have a feeling that my story will be anything but calm 😉

    Reply
  • January 19, 2020 at 5:25 am
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    I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. Except not really, because I’m actually deathly scared of rollercoasters. Good story Phil, that punctuation and the occasional CAPITALISED WORD keeps catching me off guard.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2020 at 9:24 am
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    D’oh! It was simple enough: “The word ‘Calm’ must appear in your story at least once.” So what did I forget to do?

    Alice/Carrie … could you please delete my story and consider the one I’m posting below? (I’ve only inserted a short sentence with that word.)

    Sorry, and thanks.

    Reply
      • January 19, 2020 at 3:40 pm
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        Thanks, Alice!
        (A story from you this time? Go on!)

        Reply
        • January 19, 2020 at 5:32 pm
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          Phil, I think I’m actually going to have a story this time. Working on one, so should have it up sometime next week. Fingers crossed 🙂

          Reply
          • January 21, 2020 at 6:19 am
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            I am half way through my “calm” story. I think I will be sick of the word calm by the time I have finished with it. I am seeing how many times I can insert the word calm into my story or use my thesaurus to find similiar words like serenity, tranquil and blah blah. Unfortunately there is an Israeli movie on SBS so I have to leave my story at 624 words screaming no don’t leave me. Do NOT ABANDON ME NOW!! But I must, as I love Israeli movies and to hear hebrew is music to my ear and calming. I am so sick of this Meaghan Markle and Harry Windsor stuff.

  • January 19, 2020 at 9:25 am
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    HOMEWARD BOUND

    How many days has it been now? Three? Five? A week? Two? I’m not sure. But I’m sure I like that gown. Are we going out somewhere, darling? Not the Wilsons’, I hope. I suppose we wouldn’t dress up for them anyway, would we? You’re not going to tell me, obviously. A surprise, I suppose – like that mystery tour I took you on when we were going out. In the early days. When things could still be mysterious. Is that a string quartet? Brahms, I think. You’re so elegant. Elegant music for an elegant woman. And beautiful. Have I ever told you … I’m sure I have. There you are, perched on the rails like a little bird. Be careful. Bells. Church bells. I wish we’d got married in a church. You wanted to, I didn’t. I could have given you that much. It wouldn’t have cost me anything. No, don’t go. Stay and keep me company. In fact why don’t you come over here, away from the side. Yes, but be careful – the deck’s very slippery. Now, lie by me. Mmm … your perfume. Like a sea breeze. Ha! And let me … just … taste your neck. Raspberry. My favourite. Thank you for wearing raspberry. And velvet. Your neck. Soft, warm. Will you tell me? Tell me you love me. Why won’t you speak to me? Hello … Miss Elliott? Are you here too? Chalk scraping across the board. Repeat after me: I must not, I must not. Don’t run in the corridor. The hand-bell for assembly. Shorts and grazed knees and pigtails and kissing behind the bicycle shed and the scent of freshly-cut grass on the playing field … ah, that’s so good … and catching butterflies and I’ll race you to the shops and back. No cheating now. I’ll be the cowboy today, Pete, you can be the Indian. Or I’ll be the pirate. Yes, that’s better. You can be the King’s captain. Avast! Shiver me timbers! Eight bells! Eight balls. The ball. Pass the ball. Don’t hog the ball. Hog the hog. Hahaha. Dog the dog. Noggin the Nog. Four Feather Falls. And Fiona. That first kiss. Behind the shops. I wonder what happened to you. You were very bright. I expect you became a scientist or something like that. It must be 30 years … I can still taste that kiss. But you can’t have me now. I have my darling. Where have you got to, though? You were here a minute ago? Are you in the galley? Are you making sushi? It seems that I can almost … mmm, yes. You’ve always been good at sushi. Let me just lie here a little longer and then I’ll come to the table. This wood. Hard on my bones. I should get up. Maybe soon. Boom! Bang the deck. Boom! Bang the deck. OW! Splinters! I’ll get them out later. Or you can, Dad. Yes, your eyesight’s better than mine. Long time no see. How have you been? Still smoking, I see. Give me your shirt. Yes, there’s that tobacco-iness. I’ll just keep this close. How’s Mum? Is it pancake day today? Sugar and lemon. Oranges and lemons. The bells of St.Clement’s. When I grow rich … na na Shoreditch. I’ll give you some money now if you’ll only help me. You see I can’t … I can’t … move. It’s the calm. We can’t move. We’re not moving. I’m not moving. It’s not moving. It’s not … I wish she’d come back. Where are you darling? Where … WAIT! What’s that? A … a bell? THE bell. Did it sound? I thought I heard it sound. And if it sounded, that means … and a crack! A crack of … it can’t be … the sail flapping and snapping? The sail flapping and snapping! Darling! I … I’m coming home!

    I’M COMING HOME!

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    • January 24, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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      Phil,

      What perfect stream-of-consciousness writing. The thoughts of your character flowed seamlessly although chaotically through his experience. I assumed he was stranded in a boat for days and losing touch with reality until the snapping of the sails signaled his saving and ability to make it home. Am I right? This was very well done! (Darn you! Must you always show us up? LOL) I enjoyed the ride.

      Adi

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      • January 27, 2020 at 5:57 pm
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        Thanks, Adi. I actually set out to write it as you describe, but by the end it had become something a bit more ambiguous (see comments from Kens F & M). All interpretations valid!

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      • January 28, 2020 at 3:48 pm
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        I was completely on the Kens boat and thought it was an end of life type journey, but I like your version of events better.

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    • January 26, 2020 at 7:05 pm
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      Stream of consciousness and very realistic. Right up there.

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      • January 27, 2020 at 5:59 pm
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        Thanks, Ilana.

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    • January 27, 2020 at 8:25 am
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      The highlights of a lifetime flowing through a confused/panicked mind at the brink of impending death, is it? Is “home” the afterlife? Is it there where he’s going to meet his love again? Maybe she didn’t heed his advice to be careful when she stood perched like a bird on the (window) rails? Maybe I’m completely off. Maybe no-one is supposed to know what it’s all about. Maybe you don’t know, either. Maybe you don’t want to know. Leave it that way, don’t answer me, if that’s so.

      A really nice justaposition of big life-events (first kiss, marriage, etc.) and seemingly trivial ones (chasing the butterflies, etc.), all getting equal treatment, because there is really nothing trivial. And perhaps nothing important either. When the moment of truth cleans the slate.

      I like the flow, sometimes thematic, sometimes by rhyme, sometimes by sound, sometimes chronological… It’s the way we think, right? It should be easy to reproduce thought in writing, but it isn’t – it must really take something to write like that. We’re too trained to write like we ought to talk. Difficult enough to write like we *really* talk. Write like we *think*? It takes someone like Phil. I tried sometimes, but didn’t get far. I’m too much after meaning. Because, perhaps I want to make my stories suitable for popular (mass) consumption. Because I want to be rich and famous (still way to go there!). But I’d love to write like this from time to time, in the rapid and illogical language of thought and consciousness. It must be the purest form of literature. I’ll keep your story as a good inspirational piece to have a look at from time to time…

      Thanks for your comment to my story, “Calm Down, Tracey, btw. (I’m answering your comment there too, if you’d like to have a look, because you made a couple of interesting points I’d like to take on for that story).

      Ken

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      • January 27, 2020 at 6:04 pm
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        Thanks very much for the long and thoughtful comment, Ken. All interpretations valid, I think (see comment to Adi above). It all just kinda tumbled out. It’ll be a kind of ‘Marmite’ story, I reckon (are you British?)

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      • January 27, 2020 at 6:43 pm
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        Ken Miles,
        The bulk value of your observations notwithstanding, you said:
        “…I’d love to write like this from time to time…”

        I’d rather you didn’t. And I’m doing everything I can to stop Phil from doing it again too! Don’t make it harder for me.

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    • January 27, 2020 at 6:35 pm
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      Phil,

      No. I’m afraid the character is already too delusional to sail a boat. Unless he was merely dreaming of being delusional. (You wouldn’t try to pull that on me, would you?) The trouble with this story is that I have to read most of it before I realize it’s the main character’s delusional imaginings. Which is why it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      As a guy who likes to sail a bit myself, I seriously, (and I may still do it) considered a story like this, a Captain whose crew is ready to mutiny because they’re stranded in an extended calm. But I thought the ending would have to be either unique (that would be difficult to come up with) or predictable. (No fun.)

      This story annoyed me. Very unusual for you Phil. And I think you did it deliberately. And that’s okay. No, no, don’t apologize. I renamed it. See unattached insult section somewhere at the end of the thread. (If at all.)

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      • January 27, 2020 at 7:14 pm
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        Thanks, Ken (I think). As I said … ‘Marmite’.

        (In fact a number of my stories seem to have annoyed you recently … so I’m winning!)

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        • January 29, 2020 at 2:38 pm
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          Phil,

          You said, (In fact a number of my stories seem to have annoyed you recently… so I’m winning!)

          Hahahahahahahahah. (Pause) hahahahahahaha. Well, I don’t know. I thought I was giving you extra grief because you were doing so well lately.Can’t swear to it though.

          Either way, you’re definitely winning. This is pretty unusual for you. (Not winning, I mean the stream of consciousness thing.) I generally don’t cotton to that style of writing.

          I don’t know what ‘Marmite’ is. Will have to look it up to know what the reference is.

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          • January 29, 2020 at 4:34 pm
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            You’re always having a dig at me! 😉 (But I like it really.)

            Marmite is a savoury spread made from yeast extract. Much loved in Britain … by half of the population. The other half can’t get within ten metres of it.

            Hence …

    • January 28, 2020 at 3:51 pm
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      While I’m with Ken C on stream of consciousness being annoying in general, I think it works in your story. The shorter format than say, James Joyce, makes it more palatable I think. I do like the way you shift the thoughts from one direction to another using rhymes or similar sounding words and keeping all the thoughts relatively positive is something I fear I could never do. I do like the emphasis on tastes and smells he remembers as well.

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      • January 28, 2020 at 6:22 pm
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        Thanks very much, Wendy. And glad you noticed the tastes and smells (and feels, in fact). My extensive research on hallucinations (ok, 5 minutes) told me that all the senses do often come into play.

        (Have you ever tried to read ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ or ‘Ulysses’? I’ve tried but failed – very daunting. As you say – you don’t need SO much patience for a short piece.)

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    • January 28, 2020 at 3:54 pm
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      You mentioned Marmite to Ken C. One of my favorites. Just a touch on a piece of buttered toast. Great stuff. Good in soups and stews, too. I really have to agree with the others, Ken. Great stream of consciousness writing, and I’ll have to try that, but damn, man, you’ve set the bar so high, and I don’t think I can do it. And I don’t think I should even try. I’ll wait until Ken C. does it, then, I’ll do it, that’s the ticket. Yes, I think I’ve got it. Or, I’ll get it, or Ken will. One of us will, I’m sure. Good job, as always. Nothing to pick on and you’ve covered the theme originally and cleverly once again.

      Roy

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      • January 28, 2020 at 6:24 pm
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        Ha ha – thanks Roy. Your comment does in fact suggest you’ve mastered that style! 😉

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    • January 28, 2020 at 3:59 pm
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      Phil, wow! It’s hard to write stream of consciousness and have it make sense and flow as well as this story did. I like the idea of this story being ambiguous, meaning something different to different people. Because for me, I thought of a man in the late stages of Alzheimers, reliving his life in this non-linear chaotic way memories must come to someone who is beginning to forget everything. I could just see this poor man in a hospice room, in a feverish state saying whatever memory flooded into his mind. And coming home to a wife who had died years before.

      I really enjoyed this, whatever you meant to write. It was quite beautiful.

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      • January 28, 2020 at 6:27 pm
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        Thanks, Alice – you’re very kind.

        (Worryingly perhaps, I can see myself in the man … which I suppose is natural as all of that came out of me.)

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    • January 29, 2020 at 1:49 am
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      I like the rhythm, I love the poetry. And I’m not sure I understood everything. But that’s art when you love things you don’t understand. There are even people I love without understanding them.

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      • January 29, 2020 at 5:42 am
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        Thanks, Jürgen.

        (I’m not sure that even I understand everything, and I wrote it! 😉 )

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    • January 29, 2020 at 6:27 am
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      Well, I do like this.
      I always like it when people do something a bit different, and here the writing is great, with the linkages from one idea to the next by theme or wordplay or rhyme or rhythm.

      And I also like the ambiguity of the context. Who knows for whom that bell tolls, or why?

      (With the mention of Wilson and a hint of being lost at sea, I kind of got Tom Hanks in mind, but I’m sure not intended …:-))

      All one paragraph, so against the ‘rules’ of modern writing – but go for it.
      One of the books on the Booker Prize shortlist, ‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellmann is mostly ONE SENTENCE over 1000 pages. So why not?

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      • January 29, 2020 at 2:53 pm
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        Andy,

        One sentence over 1000 pages? Some things aren’t done because they don’t make sense, or they aren’t practical. (One sentence, 1000 pages.)

        I recently read a book that had almost no punctuation. I kept expecting the writer to reveal some purpose or function behind the illiterate writing. None was ever given. I finished the book. It stunk on ice, and the lack of punctuation added nothing.

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        • January 30, 2020 at 4:44 am
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          I checked out the Booker-listed Ducks in the bookshop, and bought a copy for my brother. He’s more literary/artistic than what I am, and loves anything avant-garde. He assures me he likes it, but is taking a rest from it at page 700.

          The book with no punctuation, Ken – were you reading it in English or, like Phil, in Portuguese?

          You know the Bible in the original languages had neither punctuation nor even gaps between words. The Old Testament didn’t even have vowels, they popped some in later. So there’s precedent, maybe even High Authority for this approach …

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      • January 29, 2020 at 4:43 pm
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        Thanks, Andy! ‘Wilson’ popped into my head and may have been a sub-conscious nod to that film – who knows? (I cried my eyes out over Wilson. How stoopid is that?)

        Have you read any Saramago? I’ve read just the one (‘Blindness’, made into a film with Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore), and I did it in Portuguese (which I was very proud of). Great book. Anyway … Saramago uses hardly any punctuation – difficult to get used to, but it almost forces you to read at a brisk pace.

        (He may be the bloke Ken C is referring to below.)

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        • January 29, 2020 at 4:44 pm
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          (er … He may be the bloke Ken C is referring to … above.)

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        • January 30, 2020 at 4:47 am
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          I haven’t read any Saramago – but he’s on my list now! Well done reading it in the original!
          Nor have I seen the film. But Julianne Moore can do no wrong in my eyes, so must seek it out.

          And who can keep a tear from their eye when Wilson floats away? (There’s a special implant for surviving sentimental moments in films, I believe!)

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  • January 20, 2020 at 10:05 am
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    Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright.

    Ragged undulations and watery craters define the pockmarked contours of the monster that is no- man’s- land. It quivers beneath its frost-hardened carapace of soil, scattered body parts and crusted blood, punctured by the ragged quills of the splintered treeline.

    In the darkness stretcher bearers scurry from body to body, sharing their grim endeavours with the rats, determined to complete their duty whilst the snipers’ rifles cool and contract.

    No- man’s- land is a ravening beast. It is insatiable and it will swallow, without trace, friend or foe alike. But for now, it waits, listening, as quickening night gives way to watery day.

    And then, a voice rings out clearly across the divide, whilst soldiers, some mere boys, hunker down and cringe at the prospect of the resumption of hostilities. More death, more dying, more horror, their hollow-cheeked faces predict until that mellow baritone carries across the ravaged earth.

    “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
    Alles schlaft, einsam wacht
    Nur das traute hochheilige Paar”

    The familiar tune captures the moment, transporting so many young men in that instant to their homelands, to their wives and sweethearts, to their families and friends, to roast turkey and plum pudding, to warm fires and warm beds, to warm hands and warm hearts.

    The voices swell in number and volume as both sides join in song,

    “Silent night, holy night
    All is calm all is bright
    Round yon virgin Mother and child”

    Emerging with caution from that desultory dawn light, two soldiers approach each other, little more than mud spattered boys, on Christmas Day, 1914.

    Tommy grasps the hand of the enemy he’s been drilled to hate, to kill. They stand toe to toe, man to man, eye to eye, real for the first time, no longer anonymous. Their young faces mirror each other’s fear and sorrow, capturing the death of a generation’s innocence. Images of sweethearts are shared, edges frayed by the constant caress of the absent lover. So alike, in another life, they could be, would be, friends, comrades, brothers.

    The soft, shell-shocked earth sinks, settles under their feet. The rabid creature is waking, stretching, hungry again.

    Jerry accepts Tommy’s cigarette. He coughs. Both laugh, joyously. It’s a sound so rarely heard, brittle in that frosty dawn air. All around, other young men slip from their trenches, breathing clouds of heat into the crispness, steaming evidence of their zest, vigor and vitality. Life after all this is the only Christmas gift they seek. Handshakes, cigarettes and schnapps are exchanged.

    A football soars high into that sharp, bated breath of early morning. Youthful eyes follow its flight, heads tilted up and away from the horror quivering beneath them. They run and jump and shout for joy if only for a few brief splinters of time, imprinting heavy boots upon the beast’s back, their greatcoats as goalposts.

    Word travels quickly down the line to the rear, to the safety of a requisitioned farmhouse. The Generals grow impatient, claret glasses full on Christmas morn. A football match? This is mutinous and must be stopped! Officers are dispatched to threaten court-martial, the firing squad.

    Match over, the young warriors slide back into their trenches as the distant guns roar once more, growing ever closer.

    The monster licks its cannon-fodder hungry lips.

    Time to feed once more.

    “Silent night, holy night
    Stille Nacht, heilige wacht
    All is calm all is bright
    Alles schlaft, einsam wacht”

    Ken Frape January 20th. 2020

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    • January 21, 2020 at 3:51 am
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      Wow, Ken. This is so beautiful and horrible at the same time. The conceit of no-man’s land as a living monster is terrifying and very original (I think). It’s an old story superbly rendered. Great descriptions. The most uncomfortable thing for me is the date when it takes place: 2014. I bet all the Tommies and Jerries thought it would be over soon …

      Excellent.

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      • January 21, 2020 at 4:40 am
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        Hi Phil,

        Thanks for your kind words. The notion of creating a monster from no-man’s-land is, I feel, an original idea. The story of the First World War football match beside the trenches is a well-worn theme, so I felt the need to give it a new twist.

        Not sure what you mean about the date. It is set in 1914.

        For some reason, probably my War Poets readings during schooldays, the First World War and its associated horrors has always fascinated me. Man’s inhumanity to man at its most extreme, one would think until one looks at the world today. Have we learned nothing????

        Now, to Homeward Bound. This piece starts with a very apt title but not obviously so until you really start to read the words carefully. It had a particular resonance for me as I recognise so many phrases, “oranges and lemons,” “Noggin the Nog” ( now where did he go?)

        It’s the final overture of a life lived with love and friendship and family. They have gone ahead to prepare the way. It’s a stream of consciousness, an outpouring of memories as the bell beckons and the final darkness descends. There’s no mention of pain so it sounds like a good end. Keep calm and carry on until the end.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

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        • January 21, 2020 at 6:02 am
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          The ‘1914’ comment was not a criticism, Ken. I meant that those young men – and their families, and the people of those countries – probably thought that it would al be over soon. Little did they know that there were another three + years of horror waiting for them. That’s what made me uncomfortable.

          Thanks for your comments on ‘Homeward Bound’..

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          • January 21, 2020 at 6:14 am
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            Hi Phil,

            Don’t worry, I didn’t see it as a negative criticism but it made me go back to my original to see if I had made a mistake with the dates. I think you are right though in that there was a lot of dialogue in 1914 that it would all be over by Christmas and yet, there were years more suffering to come.

            Kind regards,

            Ken F

          • January 26, 2020 at 5:38 am
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            Excellent metaphor. Great story. Terrible war.

      • January 25, 2020 at 7:52 pm
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        Phil,
        You wrote:
        ‘…the date when it takes place: 2014.’ What you meant was ‘1914.’ Hence the confusion.

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        • January 25, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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          D’oh! Thanks, Ken C.

          And sorry for the confusion, Ken F (I read your comment as “Not sure what you mean about the date. It is SET in 1914.”)

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    • January 21, 2020 at 9:08 am
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      Ken, great story about the WWI fraternizations. Just watched a terrific French movie about the topic – Joyeux Noel. Highly recommend the movie as it has terrific characters who really make the drama come to life. I liked how you described the no-man’s land as a monster, and the German renditions of Silent Night were lovely and also true to history – as I understand it the German singing of Silent Night kicked off a lot of the fraternization.

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    • January 22, 2020 at 10:40 am
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      War-based stories are often well-written, this certainly isn’t an exception

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    • January 24, 2020 at 3:20 pm
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      Ken,

      Powerful story! You captured so many conflicting emotions of war and the humanity of the boys and men who fought and you brought it all to life in your writing. Great work!

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    • January 27, 2020 at 4:12 am
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      Hi Ken F.,

      you bring back to us the distant but harrowing reality of WW1 – and in such poetic terms.

      Not too long ago (years), the last person who remembered that War passed away and took along with him the last personal experience of the trenches. But the memory remains with us all. I was at Verdun, France where your “beast” lies dormant under velvety green grass. Only the thousands of crosses and the strangely lifted ground give a clue, nowadays, to what happened in the fields of death over a century ago.

      In a most refined way, you carve out of those horrors the beauty of the human spirit, through the playful camaraderie between enemies who could’ve been friends. And who indeed became friends if for just a few moments. What I personally consider as the first World Cup final happened there on that day, in no-man’s land, well before the first final that’s officially recognized by FIFA!

      You’re right – it’s the ground beneath their feet that was the “beast” – metaphorically, but quite literally so, too. It was for those mere inches of muddy ground per day that a hundred-thousand fine young men on each side gave their lives (I’m just talking of Verdun – many more died elsewhere too, of course). For that damned wretched ground.

      Nowadays it would be different, the beast has grown and changed. The government of XYZLand would be ill-advised to capture California for its land and wealth, and subsequently rule the world. The computer nerds that make our world go round (and California great) would simply go away and make somewhere else their silicon valley. It’s not for ground that we fight these days. The trenches have also gone digital. That’s where the blood is.

      I have been working on a draft for some time now with a sort of similar plot line, in Vietnam, where a US and a Vietnamese soldier are left alone for dead after a brutal battle, and each of them has the choice of killing the other and having no-one to help him get away or just say “hello” and then help each other out of their common predicament. It’s more of a survival story, than a triumph-of-spirit piece like yours. But I’ll keep your story by my side when I get back to continuing mine. Just for the feel-good inspiration!

      Btw, thanks for you comment to my “Calm Down, Tracey” story too 🙂

      Ken M.

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      • January 28, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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        “… a US and a Vietnamese soldier are left alone for dead after a brutal battle, and each of them has the choice of killing the other and having no-one to help him get away or just say ‘hello’ and then help each other out of their common predicament. It’s more of a survival story, than a triumph-of-spirit piece like yours.”

        Not wishing to rain on your parade, Ken (but I am, and others might along the way, so just a heads-up) … have you seen ‘Hell In The Pacific’ (1968), with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune?

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    • January 27, 2020 at 8:00 pm
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      I like this story Ken, but object to the idea of (alluding to) blaming war on an evil insatiable monster in the battlefield dirt. I suppose it’s allegorical or something, but it’s like you’re flirting with science fiction, but not serious about it. Giving me cause to wonder what exactly the story means. Therefore, I renamed it. (Sorry.)

      Even more compelling than this event (to me) are the many instances of musical competitions and rivalries of the Civil War, where each side would take turns playing inspirational songs until a final rendition of ‘Home Sweet Home’ was played by both sides to resounding cheers.

      It’s a good story though Ken, meaningful, humanistic, well-written.

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    • January 28, 2020 at 3:57 pm
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      Ken F – so much beautiful and terrifying imagery in your story. I’ve heard about this Christmas truce a number of times and places, but your telling kept my interest despite that familiarity so that’s a win in my book!

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    • January 29, 2020 at 6:45 am
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      That’s a classy recasting of a familiar tale.
      Phil has noted the conceit of no man’s land as a living monster, and the life of the environment the soldiers live in, which is merged with them, is captured in such transferred epithets as ‘the shell-shocked earth’ and the ‘bated breath of early morning’. So for a while it seems it seems not only the soldiers from each side but the earth itself are merged into the moment. Good stuff!

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    • January 29, 2020 at 10:32 am
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      Great job, Ken F. of telling a story that needed to be retold. It reminds us of man’s inhumanity to man, at the same time, telling us it doesn’t have to be that way if we would all think of what’s right when treating our fellow man (mankind) – no #MeToo comments, please. Good job, and you brought the story to life. Loved it. Got no bones to pick.

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    • January 29, 2020 at 11:18 am
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      Ken, Phil is right, this is beautiful and horrible all at the same time. The land as a creature taking the lives of soldiers is again, beautifully horrible imagery. Love the flow of this story, so visual in its descriptions. I could see the soldiers, feel their fear, and sense the dread of them returning to the fight. I just love the writing here.

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  • January 20, 2020 at 10:09 am
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    CALM DOWN, TRACEY
    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words excluding titles and this line)

    Tracey tears open the envelope that came in the mail. It must be that tracking-sticker she bought online last week. She habitually forgets her handbag behind, in shops, at the Ladies, on buses. From now on, she’ll be able to find it. She downloads the app, scans one of the stickers – for some reason they sent her two – peels it and attaches it firmly inside her handbag.

    “You wanting to track-and-trace MagicSticker1?” the Chinese app asks her.

    She taps “yes” on her smartphone. A map of the world zooms onto North America, then all the way down to the very location inside her home where her handbag’s sitting. Brilliant! Thank you, technology.

    She wonders what to do with the second sticker. She spots Mike’s briefcase on the sofa.

    “Would you like a track-and-trace sticker in your briefcase, hon?” she asks him. But he’s in the shower. He doesn’t hear her.

    She has a better idea. She’ll just stick it in there. Tell him nothing. She won’t just track his briefcase. She’ll track HIM!

    A succession of thoughts, quicker than the speed of reason, follows. Before long, the second sticker perches off the tip of
    Tracey’s long red middle-fingernail, ready to find a new secret home inside Mike’s briefcase.

    “You wanting to rename MagicSticker2?” the app asks. Tracey types “Mike.” She stares at the screen for a little while, until that tinge of conscience goes away.

    Tracey has little to do most days. While Rosita, the maid, cleans the apartment Tracey just sits, legs up, for hours on end, watching whatever comes onto her Social-Media feeds. Now she has a new hobby: following Mike throughout his day, tracking every step he makes. It’s not just fun. She feels in control. Not that she mistrusts Mike. She’s no reason to. Just that he’s a man, good to keep on a lead.

    Mike would be home after a long day at work, sometimes, and she’d confront him with strange questions like, how many clients he visited that day. She’d know it’s five. He’d carelessly say “four.” Or sometimes, perhaps, lie for no particular reason, as people often do. She’d hold his feet to the fire: “Four, really?” He’d think this is weird. What’s she even up to? What’s her problem?

    Too tired for a senseless fight, he’d concede it was five. “You’re right. Forgot Gordon. It was a flying visit.” He’d feel like a naughty boy caught in some misdemeanor. He’d feel controlled, micromanaged, interrogated. Pissed off.

    She’d feel cheated. Lied to. Why’d he say four when it was five? Maybe because it doesn’t fuck’n matter? “But if he lies to me on something so inconsequential, what about bigger things? When he says he loves me? What about him and Julia, the mini-skirted secretary at his office?” Overdrive.

    Her slighted, him pissed, they’d speak little for what’s left of the evening. In bed, he’d try to make amends. But she wouldn’t want to know, turns around.

    No sex tonight. Fine.

    He’s tired. Didn’t feel much like it anyway. He’d switch on his lampshade, sit up and grab Ken Miles’s “Invisible Thread” – he’d been reading the same chapter for weeks. Good stuff. Really, with a good book in hand, who needs sex? He’d again find himself looking at the words instead of reading. Until he’s too sleepy, switches off and day’s over.

    ***

    “Reston Street? Mike wouldn’t have clients there!” Tracey mumbles, alarmed. An inner voice tells her “Keep calm, Tracey.” But the icon “Mike” continues to move along the sidewalk of Reston Street, right in the heart of the Red-Light District.

    The icon stops. Mike waits, then enters a building. Tracey taps on the location. ‘Tico-Tico Gentlemen’s Playhouse.’ She shudders. This is all happening! Live. Dizziness interferes with Tracey’s mental faculties. The icon stays in the same place for mere three minutes and twenty-seven seconds.

    A quickie? A blowjob?

    Is he returning home now? To the arms of his loving wife?

    He isn’t. He walks down to Remington Place, where Reston and Rhys Streets meet, forming the notorious “Three-Rs” that make up that seedy district every good girl in town is warned by her mother never to venture into.

    Mike enters another building. ‘Eva’s Lair’. He stays longer, this time.

    Only now the full extent of what she’s witnessing takes over her. She smashes her phone violently on the floor. It’s over! Fuck’n surely over! Mike’s out of her life. She’d kill him if she could! How could he do this to her? She’s usually haunted by Julia. But this is way beyond that! She gave him all her love, this is what she gets in return. She’ll fucking surely kill him, he deserves no better!

    “Calm down, Tracey” says her inner voice again. But this time she doesn’t even hear it.

    ***

    “Open for me, honey. I don’t have the keys!”

    “Don’t honey me! Go away!”

    “What’s going on? Tracey? Open! Please!”

    “GO AWAY!!”

    Mike, exasperated, kicks the apartment door in. She grabs the baseball bat that sits next to the door. Mike placed it there to use in case of a break in. She hits him across his face. He recoils, stunned, only to receive a heavier blow upon which he collapses in a lifeless heap. Such’s the brute force of a defeated woman. Not yet content, she slams him further destroying his skull, chest and genitals. Until there’s nothing but a formless mound in a pool of blood.

    She stares at her masterpiece for a long while, swept by a surreal sense of calm. She knows that happy memories of their good times will come back to haunt her. She knows she has to escape. Fast!

    But for now, she just enjoys her emotional release.

    When the landline rings, Tracey jolts. She drops the bat and, trembling, brings the cordless-handset to her ear. A man asks for Mr.Myers. She says Mike’s napping.

    “Constable Pierce Lowan, here. Parklane Police-Station,” says the deep voice.

    Her heart stops. She doesn’t say anything.

    “Are you all right ma’am? Still there? Mrs.Myers, is it?”

    “Yes… Mike’s wife…”, she’s afraid her voice gives away something. But does the Constable already know? How?

    “Good news ma’am. We got your husband’s briefcase. He reported it missing earlier. Lucky turn. My boys were after some big fish in Three-Rs. Didn’t get’em, but at least the briefcase turned up. We knew this kid who nicked it. Rotten to the bone. iPhone, wallet, passport – everything’s here. Some cash gone. The punk did a quick shopping-spree in Sin-City. Mr.Myers can come over soon he’s up. No rush really. In safe hands now,” the Constable recounts, a proud accent evident in his bouncy intonation.

    Tracey can’t find her voice back.

    “Sure you’re all right, ma’am?” Her silence puzzles the Constable.

    Tracey drops the handset. She can’t even cry.

    “Mrs.Myres? You all right?”

    Mike’s blood’s seeps onto the apartment-block’s common landing, reaching the staircase. The initial drops build up into a steady red waterfall down the steps. A wild scream comes from the staircase. Mrs.Royce, the Myres’s elderly neighbor across the landing, has just got home.

    “Mrs.Myres? Please answer me!” The shattered handset still works. “Shall I send an officer over to your place?”

    Reply
    • January 20, 2020 at 10:17 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Great story, I really enjoyed reading it and the dialogue will be hard to beat.

      Towards the end, I began to wonder what might happen if the brief case was stolen but I didn’t predict the ferocity of the murder.

      Well done,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 9:01 am
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        Hi Ken,

        Thank you for your comment and I’m pleased you enjoyed my story.

        Yes, perhaps the final bit was a bit too bloody… I’m taking in comments on that: perhaps I’ll tone it down a little in another future version of this story.

        May I ask you, at what point of the text did it occur to you that the brief case may have been stolen? Perhaps pulling out a telling word or two may reduce the possibility of that suspicion on the reader’s part?

        Ken M.

        Reply
        • January 27, 2020 at 9:56 am
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          Hi Ken,
          T
          The “Reston Street…Mike wouldn’t have clients there…” words made me wonder. Not sure it’s really an unwitting clue, more an inspired guess by me.

          Ken Frape.

          Reply
          • January 29, 2020 at 3:46 am
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            Thanks Ken – much appreciated!

            Now that I know where the possible clue is, ‘ll try to make it sound less obvious there, next time I redraft this story. Perhaps something like:

            Tracey: “A new client? Reston Street? Never been here before…” She clicks on the venue. Tico-Tico Gentlemen’s Club. She opens the pop-up ad. A silhouette of a girl wrapped around a pole clearly shows what kind of place it is. Tracey’s mind goes into overdrive. It’s her fault perhaps. She refused him sex. A man needs sex! Still… Mike has no right to do this to her…No right. No fuck’n right!

            Perhaps that links up better with the previous part of the story and gives fewer hints (spoilers) as to what’s really going on.

            Ken

    • January 21, 2020 at 5:57 am
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      Brilliant set-up, Ken – the placing of the sticker, unbenownst to the husband, really opens up loads of possibilities, and the route you choose is very satisfying. I had a giggle at ‘Tico-Tico Gentlemen’s Playhouse.’ and ‘The Three-Rs’. The attack is out of the blue and quite shocking.

      And that’s the first of my observations: the attack seems inordinately violent. The short form doesn’t, I don’t think, build up enough of a head of lunatic steam for the attack to seem appropriate. The second obs. is the use of ‘would’ to denote routine. Normaly it would be fine, but here it’s used a little too extensively, I think, and you end up with strange sentences like this: “She’d know it’s five.” If you’d used the present tense for all the verbs in that section, it would have been tidier, I think. Finally, I feel the bloody coda is a little redundant and actually detracts from the power of the twist. You could safely have finished here: “Tracey drops the handset. She can’t even cry.”

      Having said all that, it’s a really enjoyable story, and the sticker idea is … a killer.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 8:56 am
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        Hi Phil, thanks!

        I had that feeling about the coda while I was refining the final version (and had just got the whole thing down to exactly 1,2K words and was very eager to submit!). Indeed, the story finishes with Tracey’s realization of her horrible mistake, exactly at that point you mentioned. The rest that follows is unnecessary.

        Given that my finger was itching to click on the submit button, I thought, I’ll leave that bit tailing off and see if other people bring it up and confirm my thoughts. And so you did. I’ll probably be publishing this story, and will certainly take your advice and stop at “She can’t even cry.” All that happens after that (the elderly neighbor’s discovery and scream, which the Constable must have heard, and the immediate dispatching of a police officer to Tracey’s home address) certainly compound Tracey’s problems if she was planning a swift escape from justice. But the story is not really about that. She’ll never escape her immense guilt and regret. That’s what it’s all about. So point taken there!

        With some more words available to me after the elimination of the coda, I may be able to somewhat build up enough of a head of lunatic steam for the brutal attack to seem appropriate, as you (very aptly) put it. I had Tracey’s and Mike’s sexual life and overall relationship taking a dive thanks to that sticker, in order to sort of prepare the reader to what was going to happen. Her violent trait is somewhat visible in the way she destroys her smartphone (also so that she has no hint when Mike was returning home). But, apparently, it still isn’t enough to justify the level of the final violence. Others may have felt the same, from the comments I got.

        Perhaps I can make Mike’s entry more aggressive, as he suspects she’s hiding something (someone?) from him in refusing to open the door for him. She panics and hits him with the bat. Perhaps harder than she intended, accidentally killing him. I can stop there. The rest of the beating is not incurred by accident – she vents off her revenge for “betraying her.” Maybe I can leave that bit out. Just killing him makes the story work well enough, without her having to butcher his various body parts. More suggestions on this by other readers are welcome, btw.

        On the use of “would” to denote routine, I re-read that part and you’re right – it’s clearly overused. I think, next time, I’d start with the would-form, just to set the “routine tone”. Then proceed with the present tense as normal, as you suggested.

        So, many thanks, Phil, for your very useful practical advice to improve the mechanics of this story and I’m very pleased you enjoyed the read and found it noteworthy!

        Ken

        Reply
        • January 27, 2020 at 9:47 am
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          Ken, I like the idea of less violence and she thinks he’s an intruder. Makes your ending all the more horribly great. Good luck w publishing- sounds like a winner!

          Reply
        • January 27, 2020 at 6:07 pm
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          Glad it seems to have been helpful, Ken, but do remember they’re only observations/suggestions – it’s your story, after all.

          Reply
    • January 22, 2020 at 10:42 am
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      Cracking story, and I agree with Ken F – dialogue is great

      Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm
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      Ken,

      Wow. Didn’t see that violent ending coming. This is a perfect example of how one’s thoughts and emotions can run away from them resulting in unforeseen consequences. Wow.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 9:11 am
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        Hi Adi, thanks for your comment.

        Yes, that’s the intended lesson from this story – not to let one’s thoughts and emotions run away from them and make them do things they’ll regret.

        This is an extreme example, but too often jumping into conclusions (especially in matters of the heart) leads to undesirable results.

        Also, the fact that the reputation of men in general influences Tracey to believe Mike would cheat on her. It’s already bad enough that she effectively puts him on a lead. Then she lets her suspicious mind dampen their relationship. In the end, well… it couldn’t have ended worse.

        Ken

        Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 10:17 am
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        Ken M,

        By the way, I knew the briefcase had been stolen right away when the tracker started veering off into territory that Mike would not have gone to. The brief stop in one scandalous place and then another, (to me) indicated someone wandering around who didn’t have much to do and was just trying to see where the action was. this didn’t sound like Mike, so I assumed the briefcase had been stolen.

        I still didn’t see the violent way that Tracey reacted coming and that was a jolt, but she had worked herself up into a frenzy. How awful for Mike! (The degree of violence took me off guard but I didn’t think it was overly bloody in description.)

        I’m not sure that anyone else caught on early that the briefcase was stolen, but thought I’d mention it. Hope this helps! Very clever story!

        Adi

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 3:52 am
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          Hi Adi!

          Could you perhaps pinpoint to me which word(s) may have hinted to you that the briefcase had been stolen? I may fix something there to keep the surprise till the end. Ken F. mentioned something along those lines too, but I’d like to have multiple opinions on this from different readers 🙂

          Btw. I hope your life at home has somehow improved and things are clearer and less stressful for you now.

          Ken

          Reply
          • January 30, 2020 at 8:28 am
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            Hi Ken,

            I knew the briefcase had been stolen when Tracey talked about Reston Street and knew that Mike would not have clients there. You also indicated this was the Red Light District – another place that Mike would not be likely to go to. Does this help?

            Adi

    • January 27, 2020 at 8:41 am
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      A family drama, as the newspapers would call it. And the wife is the killer for a change. Grusesome! I’m glad I’m not married.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 9:18 am
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        Hi Juergen!

        I have a whole series of wife-kills-husband-themed stories, The Hallway Murders, actually… I may roll out one or more here, from time to time, if they fit the prompt. But, perhaps, better not. You may meet some really nice gal one of these days. You’re just about to propose to her. And then you remember Miles’s stories. You change your mind. Pity! Not every marriage ends up badly. Only most.

        Ken

        Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 8:53 pm
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      Ken Miles: Calm Down, Tracy – Lovely (Edgar Allen) Poe-ish story, the use of a high tech gadget as the vehicle for a murder of passion is clever and nicely done. I read the comments by Phil and Ken and while I see Phil’s point, I disagree. I think you’ve got your story written, you just don’t know when to stop.

      You’ve established her unproductive existence, obsessive nature and controlling behavior very well in advance of the violence.

      Her husband Mike forces the issue by breaking down the door thus provoking her, and the weapon she uses is conveniently at hand. This is not premeditated. The first blow is hardly surprising.

      On the second blow, you write that Mike ‘collapses in a lifeless heap.’ A third and final blow is sufficient to affect the outcome. If she stops there, (sufficiently vented), you can forgo all that ensuing blood, guts and gore. For this story to work, all she needs to do is hit him twice and the deed is done. The third swing is just icing.

      This story could end anywhere after: “No rush really. In safe hands now.” That’s a great closing line in lieu of its inaccuracy.

      The stolen briefcase was no surprise to me either. Nor should it be, in this case, the reveal is in HOW the character learns of her mistake, not when the reader figures out that she made one.

      Congratulations, you’ve earned one Name Change Exemption. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind changing the name of this story too.)

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 4:34 am
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        Hi Ken,

        Do give me a better title though, if you have one for me! In spite of my earning a Name Change Exemption.

        I’m not particularly keen on “Calm Down, Tracey”, which I devised to slavishly satisfy the “calm” prompt.

        Perhaps “The Second Sticker”?

        Or “Track-And-Trace”?

        “Track-and-Tracey”? lol

        (Fck! Only now I’m realizing why I chose the name Tracey! It testifies the existence of our subconscious mind, if anyone doubts it’s there! I didn’t think up the name of the woman – it just came by itself. Once I had the story outlined fully-formed in my head**, the name “Tracey” just popped up in my head out of thin air. I wondered for a brief moment why it even came up. And as I often do, when that happens, I typed the name “Tracey” on Google-Images to see if the majority of the women who own that name also match the image of the kind of woman I had in mind. Many of them did (check for yourself if you like!), so I went on with that name. Just now, while I’m typing this to you and mongering on the title, it occurred to me [yes, me. The very writer of the story. More than a week after I wrote it!) why it had to be “Tracey” and not “Josephine” or “Ludmila” or “Claire.” What do you call a woman who TRACES her husband’s every step – TRACEy, of course! Thank you subconscious mind for giving me a hand from time to time… Make it more often please!)

        **(in my reply to Juergen’s second comment I explain how the story came to my mind, if you wish to now)

        Ok, back to where we were: do hit me up with your title suggestion(s) if you have any! You’re the tried-and-tested genius in that field 🙂

        I read what you suggested to me very carefully. It’s good to see differing views from different readers. I thought I had made Tracey seem obsessive enough to justify the tragic end of the story, as you also noted. Still, I can intensify that in some way, perhaps. Within the psycho-sexual realm of her relationship with Mike, I suppose.

        There is quite a unanimous agreement on the fact that the story should stop earlier. That’s clear by now. I totally agree and should have done it before!

        Some people seemed to “like” the gore at the end as it sort of intensifies the finale. But I see your point that just killing Mike is enough to close the story – and seal Tracey’s fate. I’ll need to juggle a few things in that part of the story and see what happens.

        I know you said it didn’t matter to you that you suspected early on that Mike’s briefcase had been stolen. As you said, it’s not the main point of the story. Actually, the reader might be hoping along the way that Tracey realizes that much herself too. (Except those readers who like to see blood, perhaps!). Still, I would appreciate it if you could indicate to me the point in the story/word(s) I used, that rang the word “stolen!” in your head. The more I keep the surprise till the end the better, in my way of looking at it.

        I’m pleased you liked the story, Ken. And thank you for taking your time to write your comment. I’m going to be suggesting something about this to the mods: a recognition for “Best Commentator” for each prompt (like the ones for Best Dialogue and Best Character), for I think the commenting bit may be a tad overlooked in here, while it is really central to why we write the stories and post them on this site. The contest is actually secondary to the commentaries.

        Ken

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 7:26 am
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          If Tracey did cry at the end, you could call it “The Tracks of my Tears” ?

          Reply
          • January 29, 2020 at 10:18 am
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            I’d make her cry then 🙂 Good title. Same first letter resonates well in names/titles. A la Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe…

        • January 29, 2020 at 7:14 pm
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          ‘A Sticker For Punishment’ (?)

          Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 4:14 pm
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      Dammit I wrote a reply and my internet cutout as I was posting it.

      I agree with the others that the story would be better ending at “She can’t even cry.” I do not agree with them about the violence. While I was shocked at the extant of the violence, I think it elevates your story from just another jealous wife/technological cautionary tale type trope. I do like the idea of building up the psychosis the tracking app is creating though.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 4:49 am
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        Hi Wendy,

        Pity I didn’t get your first reaction, due to that internet cutout! Frustrating, isn’t it?

        Thanks for the good advice. Yes, the coda has to go – I need to cut the story shorter, at the point you (and many others) suggested. It needs to stop where it matters.

        It’s good to hear your point of view about the extent of the violence. As you noticed, there were varying views on this. I wanted Tracey to “take it all out on him” (especially on his genitals) for what she thought he had done to her (which would have been utterly appalling for a married man to do, had it really happened. Although, still, no-one has the right to kill, for whatever reason).

        By taking it all out on his dead body, Tracey reaches a very temporary moment of calm (which I may have done to simply satisfy the prompt). Then the storm arrives through that phone-call – the Constable’s announcement hitting her harder than she had hit her husband with that bat.

        But yes, I may have to build up some more tracking-app-induced psychosis to justify the ensuing level of violence, as you suggest. I did put in some psycho-sexual “issues” that arose between her and Mike, but they don’t seem to be enough for some readers, vis-à-vis the bloody ending. I’ll revisit that segment of the story, in a rewrite.

        Thanks again!
        Ken

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:54 am
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      Great story! I’m sure that’s why such stickers don’t exist to this day. Friends of mine are horror fans, so I have contact with the genre. There you find stories that only serve as an excuse to organize a bloody slaughter festival. The end of your story reminded me a bit of those stories. 🙂

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 4:01 am
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        Bad news. They exist!

        In fact, this story just formed in my head upon an advert for such a product coming up out of nowhere on my browser.

        Admittedly, I don’t know if they really work. It may have been some Chinese firm trying to scam me out of some money for a fancy piece of magic-plastic, for all I know.

        I didn’t buy them, so I can’t attest to their reliability. I don’t have anything (or anyone) to track. But it’s good that ad came up at the right time for the writer in me!

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 7:17 am
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          If you want to do such a thing you can track a mobile phone. And people do that. So I wanted to start a business which rents out people who carry your phone around town while you visit your little secret.

          Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 10:51 am
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        And who said technology is taking away jobs from us? It gives us new things to do! But you have to train your people well, Juergen. I mean, I wouldn’t want to have to bring up evidence I was “just” down at the Tico Tico and the one involved in the bank robbery was your TrackBusterz Inc. guy carrying my phone!

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 7:20 am
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      Well-written story, Ken. And interesting use of tenses for immediacy and then to tease out a pattern as their relationship deteriorates in distrust. It’s an interesting take on the emerging surveillance society, where we have more and more capability to ‘big brother’ each other. We worry about state and big corporations, but the effects can be closer to home.
      And a reversal around domestic violence with the woman in the suspicious, controlling and ultimately abusive role.

      I kind of think Tracey over-reacted, though 🙂 (She would benefit from the counter-emotional implants in my story, perhaps!)
      I agree with others that the ending could be less violent, even less deadly. You could even turn it around as he lies incapacitated at home, and tracks her while she has to go out to work in a role-reversal, perhaps.

      You’ve asked about where people twigged the briefcase was stolen. I kind of twigged that from the start – the fact of having a tracker prefigures some dramatic conflict about location, doesn’t it?

      But it may have been on my mind as it’s something I’ve had recent insight into, when my daughter’s phone was snatched in Leicester Square a few months back. She was able to track its location from another phone, send a snapshot of the map position to the police (who were slow to react due to ‘other priorities’, as they said later) and then track it to a pawn shop in Ilford where the owner turned the people trying to sell it away as they had no documentation to prove ownership (my daughter contacted the pawnshop owner directly). Then after a few hours it disappeared and wasn’t possible to track any more 🙂
      Had her husband been tracking her via her phone, who knows what might have ensued … !

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 10:55 am
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        Thanks for your insights, Andy.

        We had a similar case with a phone going missing, and we managed to track it down to the home address of an acquaintance. He returned it, claiming he had taken it by mistake. We know he’s a prankster, so maybe it was just that. But the joke was on him that day. So we were a bit luckier than your daughter. The phone itself is not the worst bit, it’s the loss of personal data and potential use of the device in crime and identity theft that’s more disturbing…

        To my story. I have nothing against Mike, but I like to have him dying at the end of the story for a more total, irreversible catastrophe for Tracey. But your suggestion is also interesting.

        “Paralysed from head to toes, except for some control of his fingers, Mike is wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. His business has had to fold and the insurance money barely pays the mortgage. Tracey, who’d never worked in her life, has to go out cleaning shop windows. And what does Mike do all day? He follows her on her iPhone tracker. He nearly wishes she veers off a little. Tracey doesn’t worry about him anymore. He certainly won’t be going anywhere.”

        Cartisano would kill me if I changed it (we’ve been there, haven’t we?), but such ending would have its merits too. I see a bit of wicked black humor in it…

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 11:03 am
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          I liked the original story a lot, but I like the paralysis story much better.

          Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:36 am
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      Ken M, love the dialogue and set up, this story flows wonderfully and I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what she’ll do. I think with the initial set up of who Tracy is, we could see this wasn’t going to be a good ending for Mike, but it was a fun ride getting to that brutal ending!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 5:21 am
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        This must be a milestone in my writing life – I managed to get Alice on the edge of her seat!

        Yes, the very Alice Nelson that has had me – how can I put it? On the edge of my toes? – on so many walking commutes listening to her (and Carrie’s) great podcast stories! Stories that have in and of themselves been a great inspiration to me in my writing efforts.

        Thank you, Alice! Also for moderating this site.
        Ken

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 8:13 am
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      Ken M,

      I liked your story and the surprise ending, with one exception. And, it’s easy to change. I have no quibble with the writing, it’s excellent. I do have a quibble with the blood dripping onto the landing and then turning into a waterfall so the elderly neighbor can see it. After the second blow, and when Mike’s lifeless body plunges to the floor, (which means he’s dead, folks), the body will no longer bleed. The heart has to be beating. So, to fix this, there are two ways, either Mike’s still alive, in which case his body crumples to the floor, but he’s unconscious, and she doesn’t continue to beat him to a pulp, (the body still won’t bleed) or, the blood doesn’t trickle down the steps. The door is simply ajar and the elderly neighbor who screams sees the body.

      All in all, a very good take on a very old plot line that you breathed fresh life into.

      Roy

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 4:49 pm
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        Thanks Roy – I’m pleased you enjoyed it 🙂

        Good to know about dead bodies and blood. Honestly, I didn’t spare a thought on that bit. Never tried it out either.

        Luckily, that blood-waterfall part (can’t I just say “bloodfall”?) is in that overrun bit of the story that I intend to chop off anyway in a future redraft, following the advice of several commentators. So it’s easy to get rid off.

        But I’ll keep it in mind for future works: dead body, blood stays inside. I usually have bodies being eaten up, so I don’t think I encountered this problem before.

        Ok, nice thought to close the day!

        Cya!
        Ken

        Reply
  • January 20, 2020 at 10:17 am
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    Signing in for comments.

    Reply
  • January 20, 2020 at 10:23 am
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    Ken, well-written story with great plotline. I liked the little details you tossed in – like when she used her red fingernail to peel off the sticker. Very well done!

    Reply
    • January 25, 2020 at 4:40 am
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      Good story with a twist ending. Poor Mike.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 9:29 am
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        Hi Ilana, thanks for your kind words. Also for your empathy towards Mike. He had one hell of a bad day. I mean, enough having your briefcase with all your important stuff – wallet, phone, keys, passport – stolen. He didn’t know that was the least of his problems, that day.

        Ken

        Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 9:26 am
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      Hi Trish,

      Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your kind words!

      I didn’t think much of that detail of the fingernail myself, while writing the story, so I’m glad you mentioned your appreciation for it. That’s one good reason I like to be here: to find out what does and doesn’t strike other readers! I actually went back to that line, to read exactly what I had written so that I’ll put in such kinds of details in future stories, as is fitting for each piece, of course.

      Ken

      Reply
  • January 21, 2020 at 9:13 am
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    A Bit of Fluff & Nonsense
    (Word Count 979)

    Bill smiled broadly and raised his eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion as he looked over at his colleague Tom, who was pulling door duty at the store this morning. “Ah, let’s see if he’ll play Opposites today,” thought Bill.

    Tom turned just in time to catch Bill smiling and raising his eyebrows, so Tom returned Bill’s glance while furrowing his eyebrows down and frowning. “Childsplay,” thought Tom. Then, for his return motion, Tom scratched his right ear with an exaggerated motion, smiling outwardly as Bill scratched his left with just as big a grin. Bill then hitched his pants up an inch or so by the belt, and in response Tom lowered his pants by the belt an inch or so. Tom, getting bored, thought he should up the ante a bit. He then burped so loudly that Bill had to be able to hear it.

    Bill did hear. “What the hell is the opposite of a burp?” he thought while giving the store another once-over for potential shoplifters. “Wish I could fart at will, but short of that, I got nothin,” he muttered to himself. He briefly considered swallowing air as the opposite of a burp, but in the end opted against it as Tom would never be able to witness that action. And witnessing the opposing action was the whole point of this silly game they’d thought up to liven up their days. So, he pointed his forefinger at Tom. “First point of the day goes to Tom,” Bill thought, knowing his pal would be thinking the same thing.

    Just then he noticed a woman looking under the racks and muttering to herself. “Great, another crazy,” he said to nobody in particular. Bill walked towards her and realized he could hear her.

    “Beep.” “Beep.” “Beep.” “BEEEP.” “Bee-eeep,” she repeated as she skulked around the racks.

    “OK lady, look here. You gotta get a move on. You ain’t shoppin for nothin we sell, so why don’t you just hightail it outta here.”

    The lady looked up, her facing tinging red and her mouth forming a big “o” as she stopped mid-“beep”. “Sorry. I’m looking for my son.”

    “Sure you are. Please get a move on, or I’ll have to call the mall cops.”

    “No really, he was just here. He must’ve run off somewhere. Do you think he might have gone out of the store?”

    “Look lady, I don’t know nothin about no kid of yours.” That was true. He’d been playing Opposites with Tom with such focus he had no idea if she’d entered the store with a child. But it didn’t matter. She was acting nutty, so he’d treat her like a nutter.

    “Beep.” “Bee-eep,” she started to say with a little more forcefulness in her voice. “I’ve got to find my son!”

    “Okey, dokey. That’s enough,” Bill pushed the button on his radio that called the mall cops. He then texted the code for a nutcase so the mall cops would be prepared. He signaled to Tom for back-up. Tom ran over and the two of them quickly began edging the lady towards the store security office, ignoring the lady’s frequent screams of “Beep” and “my son is missing”. Once they arrived Bill pushed the lady into a chair and locked the door.

    “OK, lady, calm down.”

    “I WILL NOT CALM DOWN. MY SON IS MISSING. LET ME OUT NOW.”

    “Look, lady, we can’t have no nutters running willy nilly around the store. Scares other customers, see? You’ve gotta quit and get outta here, see?”

    Just then the security room door opened and the Mall cop entered. “Another nutter, I see? Let’s get her outta here. Lady, come with me.”

    “I’M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT MY SON,” the lady was turning purple and a little spittle was running out of the side of her mouth. She lunged for the open door but the Mall cop caught her and returned her to her seat with a forceful thump. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? I JUST WANT TO FIND MY SON!”

    And with that a little cherub entered the security room, carrying a huge plastic firetruck from the toy display and wearing a huge grin and goofy big eyes. “Mama? Beep-beep!”

    “Great, son of nutter…” said Bill, to nobody in particular.

    “OK, lady, your son has appeared. Now can you explain why you two are beep-beeping all over our store,” asked Tom.

    “Is that the problem? He liked the Road Runner cartoons as a kid, you know, Beep, Beep I’m the Road Runner, Wiley E. Coyote and the ACME corporation? So he got the nickname Beep. Why didn’t you ask me his name? Why didn’t you believe me?” said the woman quickly as she hugged and cuddled her toddler.

    Tom looked sideways at Bill, whispering, “or maybe she gave birth in the car on the way to the hospital and all the other cars were cheering her on, you know, honking and whatnot?”

    “Yeah, they shoulda called him Honk, maybe,” said Bill, just as softly.

    “That’s enough. Let her go, please, boys,” said the Mall cop as he closed his notebook and began to exit the room. “Thanks for the quick alert. Too bad it was a false alarm.”

    The lady quickly departed, toddler in tight grip, leaving Bill and Tom to themselves.

    “Well, that killed a half-hour,” said Tom, “now what are we gonna do for the rest of the day?”

    “How ‘bout we play Do Like Me – you know – the opposite of Opposites?”

    Tom smiled and scratched his right ear and then mimed pulling a bit of fluff off his jacket, grinning wildly as Bill did the same things as he headed off to his post by the clothing racks.

    And, with much more of the same, so went another day at the department store.

    Reply
    • January 25, 2020 at 10:52 am
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      A fun story, Trish. The games Bill and Tom play are quite believable; I worked in a factory for a year, night-shift, and to relieve the boredom I would do things like think up my top ten Beach Boys songs and sing them to myself. The ‘beeping’ is a neat little mystery (well resolved); I was thinking that the woman is indeed disturbed and thinks she has an alien child. Nice dialogue.

      A couple of points: I think Bill’s opening line to the woman would have been more “Can I help you madam?”, before he goes into the more aggressive behaviour. And maybe the ‘nutcase’ references should be kept for the characters; the neutral narrator should perhaps be more p.c.

      Enjoyed it.

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 11:05 am
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        Thanks, Phil. Points well taken- I hadn’t thought about the fact that the guard who wants to keep his job would more likely start off less aggressively as you say. Good point, thx. Also, I tried to have the non-pc descriptions of the lady come either as internal monologue or dialogue. Guess I missed- not trying to offend anyone. Thank you for your feedback. I most appreciate the feedback from others on this site. Helps me sharpen my writing a lot. My husband & pals will only read so many stories before they scream for mercy…

        Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 6:44 pm
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      A fun story and yes, good work.

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 6:17 am
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      Hi Trish,

      A very believable story, especially for those of us who have endured mindlessly boring jobs. I did a summer back in my student days as a street sweeper. I had my own barrow and all the gear. and I was out on my own tidying up kerbside rubbish. I had to keep my eyes peeled for whenever the supervisor turned up to do a random check.

      The crazy games worked well for me as a reader. The only thing that grated a bit was, as mentioned by Roy, that I felt that the interaction with the woman was a bit off. Perhaps that is because I am older and have experience, that the two lads did not have.

      kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 9:15 pm
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      Trish,

      I knew these guys who had some crazy friends who worked the night shift at a fire hose manufacturing plant. (This was a loooooong time ago. Way past the statute of limitations.) I worked the night shift elsewhere. Once, on my night off, this friend and I visited these guys, and they decided to have forklift races at the fire hose plant.. It was a miracle no one got killed.

      I felt the characters in your story sounded more thuggish than hapless or clueless. But I think it was your intention to portray them unfavorably at the least.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:01 am
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      Hello Trish! It’s a great idea with the beep, beep. Because at the beginning the reader also thinks the woman might be a bit strange, even though the two sallespeople aren’t exactly the brightest candles on the cake either. And in the end everyone was wrong, including us as readers. 🙂

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 8:53 am
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      A slice of life and a fun story, Trish.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:49 am
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      Trish, what a fun story. I think Bill just assuming the woman was a “nutter,” shows just how much he and Tom have little regard for their jobs. Any inconvenience and they just want it end so they can get back to their silly game. Love the dialogue and when the mystery of the beeping mom. Nice flow, and a satisfying ending.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 5:57 am
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      Hi Trish,

      Good fun, reading this piece. Enjoyed it 🙂

      Like some others said, the guys do seem to descend upon the hapless mom somewhat too ferociously. Especially since it’s a shopping mall, usually staffed by bullshitters trained in customer-care, you know. If it was street hawkers in an open market, then, yes, any sort of rough handling of an unusual customer could be expected.

      But it’s “yet another nutter” – apparently they had other crazies earlier on in the day. Once bitten, twice shy. Perhaps that’s what got on their nerves: one nutter after another and finally they lost it. So, ok, I can almost live with that one.

      I thought something more traumatic would happen. I’m pleased we got a neat explanation for the beeping lady. It would have been more dramatic, though, if she was actually thrown out, for example, and then the boy is discovered later in the store and they’ve got to deal with his wild crying until they finally relocate the mother. It would have served them well!

      The store manager: “Do your damn job! You’re not paid to spend the day here laughing! That’s what you get for it, now deal yourself with the crying…”

      Tom to Bill, whispering: “And Opposites Day it is…”

      Very nicely written throughout, by the way, especially the little things here and there – the facial expressions, gestures and such. The dialogue too.

      Ken

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 8:21 am
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      Trish, your story was everything you named it. Exactly that. Good job. I don’t have any quibbles with your writing at all.

      Roy

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 8:46 am
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      Hi Trish,

      This was a fun story although (and it might be my age), I found the silly games Tom and Bill were “playing” to be a bit childish. I also thought they over reacted to the mother. Why didn’t they understand that a child was lost instead of thinking the mother was nuts.

      My interpretation of the beeping initially (and this comes from my work in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities) was that this was the mother of a child with autism who had few words. Some can speak, many are non-verbal and some communicate through sounds beeping, clicking with their tongue, grunts, etc. I thought she was responding to a child with special needs.

      Quality customer service is definitely not the forte of these two. I wonder how the business is doing with these two in charge. LOL

      Anyway, this was different in a fun way. Good work.

      Reply
  • January 22, 2020 at 4:06 pm
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    Ummm… Carrie… I believe this contest goes until the 29th…

    Reply
    • January 23, 2020 at 1:08 pm
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      I realized that about 2 minutes after I posted it lol

      Reply
  • January 22, 2020 at 4:28 pm
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    Trish beat me to this as I was writing it. 29th, Carrie. We got a week left.

    Reply
  • January 23, 2020 at 1:50 am
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    Waterfalls (Word Count 1195)

    Orion halted his footsteps on the bridge, his naked toes settling on the damp planks below him. He looked up ahead of him, but not in curiosity, in desire. He knew what laid in the direction that his eyes were so focused on. A waterfall. So close to the bridge that he felt like he could touch it. It flowed down like a sunset. Not impetuously, but serenely, for only few can perceive such beauty if they pay enough attention. There was no paroxysm of water when it landed. No, because there was no bottom to Fomane Falls.

    It was older than any of the villagers who walked by it each day. It had witnessed joy of the highest heaven, and pain of the lowest. Some said the water gliding through was the same water from the dawn of time. Others said it would be there once time stopped. Orion had heard himself that it had power beyond understanding. He believed it, even though it was a tale passed on from his ancestors of generations ago. So many lies, too many truths. Many feared it, diverting their eyes whenever they trekked across the bridge. And yet it never failed to pique Orion’s interest. He enjoyed the relaxed presence of the waterfall, taking refuge whenever he needed it.

    He sat here today because his sister had gone missing. Gaia, a girl of only ten summers (four less than Orion), slipped away from the fire festival the night prior with no reason spoken. Orion was still figuring it out – Gaia never missed the fire festival. They used to dance around the sturdy ramón trees together, and she insisted on climbing the trees to pull down the fresh breadnuts. He began to talk to himself at this point, it helped to separate the inner despair and the hope that he tried to uphold. “She was so close to everyone’s heart.” he mumbled, wiping a tear before it even had a chance to form. “No, she is close to everyone’s heart.” he told himself.

    As he stretched his legs up to stand, his heels slid on the water that was no longer seeping into the planks, and instead forming a puddle. Moss exuded out of the wood, only aiding Orion’s stumble. He called out as he felt himself falling, as if in slow-motion, but nobody answered, the bridge empty as a politician’s promises.

    When he found himself dropping down Fomane Falls, his mind was overrun with thoughts. Although they all came out as screams, and often a curse word. Water never directly fell onto him, but the further down he dropped, the more vigorous the water became. He wondered if there actually was a bottom to Fomane Falls. Rocks became more prominent, narrowly avoiding Orion’s bare arms in a dance of life or death.

    After a perplexing amount of time (it couldn’t have been more than an hour, but Orion’s head was reeling), Orion launched into a pool of water. He felt no agony. No, none at all. In fact, it rid him of the anarchy within his head, as if it had healed him.

    He kept sinking downwards, forgetting his surroundings for a minute. Until two firm hands clasped onto his arms, lifting him up out of the pool. Momentarily stunned, he coughed water out of his lungs, staring in bewilderment at the people around him.

    A circle of about ten people was formed around him, staring back at him. A beard appeared in front of him, speaking in a rough voice. “Stand up, my boy.” The beard was attached to a bald head, which was attached to a thin, frail body, mostly covered in a gleaming white tunic. He apparently wasn’t in any surprise about Orion’s sudden arrival, merely smiling at him with a mouth that was certainly missing some teeth. “Welcome the hurt you have coming, but never welcome it staying.”

    “Excuse me? What do-?” Orion’s words stopped immediately when he saw his sister running towards him.

    “ORI! ORI!” Gaia waved her hands out in front of her, clearly excited to see her big brother. He wrapped her in his arms, letting the water drip from his head onto hers. They stayed like this for a few minutes, and everything was fine.

    And then Gaia whispered two words that changed everything.

    “Help. Me.”

    Orion continued to embrace her, not wanting to give away any sense of urgency. The village had been attacked by terrorists before, he knew not to make rash decisions. Keeping his arms around her, but more in a protective manner now, he whispered back “Follow my lead.”

    They broke apart, still smiling at each other. The crowd around them was clapping, superficially happy to see the two together again. White Beard Man took slow steps towards them, placing himself in between the reunited children. His veiny hands planted themselves against the backs of Orion and Gaia, prompting the return of his crooked smile. “I think you’ll make wonderful additions to our kin.” The others seemed to agree, clapping viciously fast now.

    Orion still hadn’t come up with a plan by the time they were bathed and given fresh clothes. Almost the second after he’d pulled his head through the crimson tunic, a woman wearing an identical tunic opened the door, not allowing him a moment alone once dressed. She, like the White Beard Man, placed her wrinkled hand against his back, pushing him back out into the hall where he fell in that damned pool.

    Except it was different now. The torches on the wall were extinguished, the room cocooned in darkness. White Beard Man had his hand on Gaia’s shoulder, his other hand gesturing at Orion to come forwards. Orion took cautious steps in his direction, glancing at everyone he passed on his way. Once Orion arrived in front of the elder, the man grabbed him too, forcing him to adopt the same rigid posture as Gaia. He squawked at the gathering, “Brethren!” his old voice only carrying so much volume. “Tonight we welcome two new bodies to our tribe.” As he said the words, he raised Orion’s and Gaia’s arms into the air, as if to claim a victory. “We shall initiate the oldest first.” Orion’s legs were shaking, cracking under the pressure. White Beard Man must have noticed, because his hands were now on Orion’s cheeks, as he whispered “Don’t worry, child. It’ll only hurt a bit.” At this point, two of the bulkier men walked out of a door, with a crucifix resting on their shoulders.

    That was the last sign that Orion needed. He screamed at Gaia, ordering her to run for the waterfall. She understood his idea, climbing the rocks veiled by falling water. All that time climbing ramón trees had paid off. The tribe noticed her abrupt escape but kept their focus on Orion. They viewed him as the better prize. As Gaia looked back at Orion for the last time, she made direct eye contact and told him she loved him. He looked back and repeated the words, his tears fully formed.

    His eyes changed, losing all life. His face was blank. It was… calm.

    Reply
    • January 25, 2020 at 11:36 am
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      Some great mystical imagery here, Peter – the bottomless falls are very mysterious (but if it takes Orion an hour to fall, how is he not smashed up on meeting the pool – I suppose magic? – and how long is it going to take little Gaia to climb back up?). The toothless, bearded man is pretty scary, as is the idea of initiation into this ‘tribe’. There’s a touching bit of heroism on the part of Orion. I think a more defined description of the pool and its surroundings could have been useful – suddenly we’re told there’s a door, which I found a little confusing. Nice slice of fantasy, though.

      Reply
      • January 26, 2020 at 3:36 am
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        I see where you’re coming from on the “more description needed” part, definitely keeping that in mind if I find myself in a similar writing situation later. I think it’s mostly because when I was writing it, I had a clear image of what the area looked like, and thus I had no sense of urgency to describe the area to the reader (a bad idea, obviously). And you’re right, I did leave it very vague with the pool, but my idea was a sense of magic, so I’m glad you sort of got that. And last but not least, yes, it would take Gaia a painful amount of time to climb back up. But maybe it’s up to the reader to decide whether or not she made it…

        Reply
        • January 26, 2020 at 6:43 pm
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          I liked this story up until the end. It somehow left me dissatisfied with what happens to the girl and the boy. I don’ t quite know how to say this, but there was a sense of something missing or incompleteness there. Not sure how else to express my feelings here.
          It is very well written, but I would work on the events and conclusion more. Just a bit. Keep up the good writing though and welcome.

          Reply
          • January 27, 2020 at 1:08 am
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            Firstly, thank you for the compliment. Secondly, fair enough. I didn’t feel the incompleteness when writing it, but that’s what stories do really, everyone reads them differently. Good to hear Ilana, much appreciated.

    • January 27, 2020 at 6:25 am
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      Hi Peter,

      Well done on creating a magical, mystical world. Some excellent descriptive passages. I like descriptive writing too.

      I think that, after reading the other comments, there is some kind of agreement that the ending slightly disappoints after an excellent opening. One can, of course, suspend disbelief and just go with the flow ( water, you see!). Anything is possible in the world of our imagination. As long as you keep your readers in the world you have created so well, then they will continue to go with you.

      An enjoyable story. Well done.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 9:23 am
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        Thanks Ken, means a lot (I haven’t had the chance to write a lot, but this is the one I’m most proud of)

        Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 1:00 am
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      Peter,

      You create an interesting mythical world that’s very nicely developed and described, and it allows for flexible physics too, and then you create a mythological waterfall within the myth, and all this mythology goes out the window when Orion hits the bottom of the infinite waterfall. That’s your choice, but what’s the point of creating an alternate reality if you don’t stick with it?

      I think the story veers off-track a little with this sentence. ‘The village had been attacked by terrorists before, he knew not to make rash decisions.’
      What terrorists? Which village?
      Yet this is the point that you indicate that these bottom dwellers present a threat to the children, (Gaia and Orion?) but you’re not very specific about the nature of that danger. A little detail about that would be useful, I think.

      You end up at the prompt very nicely though.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2020 at 1:04 am
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        Glad you liked part of it, and a mental note has been made about certain other parts of it.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 10:33 am
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      Strangely, I’m going to agree with Ken C. I really liked the beginning of the story and your style and description were good. I too was a little confused about the line with the comment about the terrorist attack and I also felt a little disappointed with the ending. Just a little bit more description about what they might do to Orion – even if it is only through describing the tribe members in a little more detail to show what was “off” about them might help. Probably you just needed a little bit more than 1200 words to fill out the story. But it was a nice fantastical story.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 11:52 am
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        To be honest, the word limit does sometimes well, limit me to how much I put in e.g. descriptions. But gracias for complimenting the beginning, my style, and description.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:53 pm
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      I like the world you build here, Peter. And the flow of the story carried me along so I wanted to find out what happens to the two central characters.

      I was a bit thrown on first reading by the names, though. ‘Orion’ and ‘Gaia’ come with a fair bit of Greek mythological baggage which I expected to somehow be woven in. Like Orion the hunter, walks on water, is blinded, dies in various ways and ends up a constellation; Gaia the personification of the earth, and with no love for Orion as it happens. I thought you might be somehow turning the story around. But then in the end – they’re just names with none of the mythic background? (or am I wrong?)

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 1:59 pm
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        I completely understand where you’re coming from, as it was actually the first thing my brother asked me when he was reading it (we’re big mythology fans), but I only chose them for the naturistic feel it has, which I wanted to go for because of the jungle world I’d created for them. Thanks for commenting on the flow, I was proud of how it worked out, because I usually end up rushing it due to the word limit, and it ends up being way too choppy

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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      Wow Peter, loved this fantastical tale. The waterfall, the weird cult-like group initiating poor Orion. I liked this story, the atmosphere of it was mysterious and a bit scary. I liked how you never explained this group at the bottom of the falls, made the story all the more harrowing.

      I found this sentence a bit confusing, “She, like the White Beard Man, placed her wrinkled hand against his back, pushing him back out into the hall where he fell in that damned pool.”

      What pool? Did I just miss something, it’s quite possible. I was just wondering what that meant. It’s still a wonderful story, but it took out of the story a bit trying to figure out what it meant.

      Wonderful job Peter!

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 4:00 pm
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        Kind words Alice, much appreciated. And that sentence is referring to the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, that Orion fell into when he reached the bottom. I imagined a sort of circular hall area where the pool was.

        Reply
          • January 30, 2020 at 12:39 am
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            No problem 🙂

    • January 30, 2020 at 8:30 am
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      Good take on the theme, but I do have to agree with a few of the others regarding how long it took to fall down the waterfall, especially without the water falling on him. Jumping from a plane (with a parachute to slow you down) takes only a few minutes, so either he falls in intense slow motion (which would explain his ability to only plunge a few feet into the pool for someone to pull him out), or he fell from some unfathomable height. Neither of which is possible, unless as Phil mentioned, magic is involved. I think a simple ‘he doesn’t know how long he fell, because for him time had stopped’, or something along those lines would eliminate that problem. Otherwise, nice fantasy, You may have wrapped it up a little too neatly for me, as I’m wondering why he didn’t run with her. Just asking …

      Reply
  • January 23, 2020 at 3:48 pm
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    The Shot – Redoux
    by Roy York
    1200 words – not counting these.

    It hits you as you open the mail and stare at the invitation. Thirty years. You’ve been invited to your 30th High School Reunion. You casually glance at it, even unconsciously sneer a little, as you think back to those traumatic days, Nahhh, You have better things to do than subject yourself to reliving high school humiliation. Girls giggling behind your back, and saying something under their breath – so they thought – but you overhear them discussing your zit. Things like, “God, hasn’t he ever heard of Clearasil?” and “He must dress himself, because his mom wouldn’t let him leave the house looking like that.”

    Those and other high school insults careen back and forth inside your head. You can feel the embarrassment creeping up around your collar now, and high school was thirty years ago. Just as you start to throw the invitation in the discard pile, you notice the name at the bottom of the invitation: Cordially yours, Nancy Wunderlich. Holy shit. You haven’t heard that name in a long time, ten years at least, but you never forgot why you remember it so well. Nancy Wunderlich and ‘The Shot’.

    Your mind immediately flashes back thirty three years to when you were fifteen. You’re playing a pickup game of basketball with a bunch of guys, when a group of girls walk by and start heckling, saying they want to play. One of your buddies, Darrell Magnussen, tries to explain that it is shirts against skins, guys against guys.

    Nancy Wunderlich dares Darrell to play for one shot – winner take all. She gets to go first. If she misses, the girls go home. If she hits, and he doesn’t, everyone plays, boys against girls. If both hit, they shoot again until someone misses.

    Darrell hesitates, but finally is goaded into playing by one of the guys, so he agrees. Nancy hits the shot. Not just any shot, but from the top of the key with her back to the basket – all without looking. A shot that rips the twine with a sound you’ve never forgotten; anyone who was there hasn’t forgotten it either.

    Darrell’s looking around for someone to help him, but he is on his own – in no-man’s land. He steps up to the top of the key, bounces the ball a few times, and thinks how he is going to make the shot.

    Nancy holds up her hand, “Just a second, Darrell. I want you to make sure you know who you’re playing with. You guys can be shirts and we’ll be skins.” With that she takes off her top and unfastens her bra, dropping them to the ground. She’s nothing but ‘skin’ from the waist up. “Your shot,” she says.

    It’s no contest. No one’s aware if the shot Darrell takes even hits the backboard. Later, nobody could recall what happened; just like you, everyone’s eyes were on Nancy and her ample bosom – even the girls’.

    You break out of your reverie and stand there caught between throwing the invitation away, or, in lieu of your recent, mostly salacious, thoughts – thinking the idea of seeing Nancy Wunderlich after all these years might be worth the anticipated pain of a reunion.

    You look at the reply card and decide to send it back marked ‘will attend’. First, however, you are going to see if Nancy Wunderlich is a Ms. or Mrs. A quick check on Facebook shows her photo, and while time has passed, the result has been spectacular. Under relationships there are the words ‘no current relationships’.

    Another flashback to those ‘good old days’ crosses your mind: after finally working up the courage to ask her out during your senior year, her answer pains you until this very day. “What?“ she replies. “You wait until our senior year? I waited every day last year for you to ask me out. You’re too late. I’m going steady with Johnny Petrie.”

    Petrie. You remember him well. He was one of the guys there that day when Nancy bared herself to the entire world. He was also one of the worst guys you could think of that she would go out with. Johnny Petrie – boy Don Juan.

    All he ever talked about were his conquests. The only reason Johnny Petrie dated girls was to get to home base. First base was the date, second base was the bra, third base were the panties, and home, well, that was when you scored. They were never dates with him, but bragging rights. According to Petrie, he always scored.

    You walked around for weeks cursing your stupid lack of intestinal fortitude in waiting to ask Nancy out. You remember making up your mind that faint heart never won fair lady. Confidence became your middle name. It worked. The very next day, during a test run, you asked the Prom Queen, Delilah Vincent, to go out and she said, “Yes”.

    You won’t make that mistake this time. The card appropriately marked ‘will attend’ is slipped inside the self addressed stamped envelope and you put it out for pick up the next morning.

    * * * * *

    The valet takes your keys and promises your Mercedes will be in good hands. Then, as you turn to go, you hear a voice that sends a chill along your spine – Nancy Wunderlich’s. You turn. She looks as radiant as ever, and you’re glad you came. “I recognize you from your profile on Facebook,” she says.

    “I would have recognized you anywhere, anytime. You are as beautiful as ever.”

    “Flattery will get you everywhere – keep talking.” She breaks into a laugh that is sheer melody.

    Walking toward you is Johnny Petrie. The mood darkens.“Nancy,” he says. ‘Good to see you.”

    “Hello, Johnny. You remember Ted?”

    “Don’t remind me. I’m trying to forget.” He laughs rudely, then says, “Hey, Nancy, maybe you and I can get together later and finish that thing we started in my back seat thirty years ago?”

    Her face darkens as her eyes flash. The pain of that evening is evident in her look. He’s a jerk.

    ‘Remain calm,’ you think, ‘You got this’. You take a deep breath and find your voice. “Why don’t you run along, Johnny boy,” you hear yourself saying. “Nancy and I were having a nice conversation until you came along.”

    “Why don’t you try to make me run along,?” asks Johnny. “Think you can? You never could before.”

    A sense of complete calm envelopes you. “I’ve been waiting for this day since high school. A sixth degree black belt in karate assures me you will not be a problem.”

    Petrie stands there wondering if he should try it, then shrugs. “Hey,” he says, “No harm in trying,” and walks away.

    Nancy looks at you. “Do you really have a black belt in karate?” she asks. “You sounded so confident”

    “No, but Petrie doesn’t know that. He’s a bully. Like most bullies, if you challenge ‘em, they’ll back away.”

    She laughs again and grabs your arm to walk in with you. “I think this could end up being a lovely evening,” she says.

    You smile confidently, those are your thoughts exactly. You’re both adults now, but you’re hoping … maybe second base?

    Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 9:16 am
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      Hi Roy,

      A very smart move…..using an older story to create a new one. I well remember Nancy from the basketball match and I know the feeling when an invitation arrives to a school reunion. It raises all sorts of questions, memories and half-remembered events or low points. We were generally all so vulnerable as teenagers. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder we ever got over those 13 – 19 teen years.

      As always, your writing is clear and concise. I have not found any negatives except, I guess and it is only a small one, I almost felt a sense of deja vu.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 4:27 pm
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        Thank you, Ken F. I had another venue whose theme was ‘The Shot’ so, I tried to shoot at two baskets with one ball. I liked what happened the second time around, (I also liked my character, Nancy), and I also seemed like a good time to write in 2nd person. I hadn’t tried it in over a year and it came pretty easily. I may try more of it more often just for discipline.

        Reply
      • January 26, 2020 at 6:36 pm
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        Great writing Roy. Really loved this story. We had a Nancy in our class. She was a scream and her name was Vanessa. Ever since my school days, I associate the name Vanessa with a saucy and fiesty woman who is unafraid and very brave. I envied her at sixteen her bravery and always wondered what happened to her. I was a bit prudish and still am to some degree. Just my nature I guess.
        Great story.

        Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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      Roy,

      Great take on the theme! High school reunions – just missed my 40th reunion, just as I missed the 10th, 20th and 30th. I truly enjoyed seeing the perspective from the male side of the fence.

      We girls were more catty. We only wanted to return for reunions to see all of the pretty, popular cheerleaders turned older and fat. We didn’t stop to think that we also, would be older and fat. While I wanted to see my few good friends, I didn’t see the point of going to see the majority of the class of 563 that I graduated with, since I knew few of them and the majority would not remember me anyway.

      I know its hard to believe, but I was painfully shy and withdrawn. I worked hard at being invisible and I was very good at it. I didn’t date any boys from high school so didn’t have that connection. I was the nerdy girl with her head in books that rarely spoke, made good grades and was the teachers’ pet – which was not a popular position to be in.

      Who knew when they began, that high school reunions would trigger so many negative feelings as we age? Now, college reunions? That’s different! High school was suffered just to say we made it through alive and could enter adulthood. College was exciting and full of great experiences that are fun to relive and remember.

      Another great story from you, flawlessly executed. Sigh.

      Loved it! Adi

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 8:58 am
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        You’re too kind, Adi. But I did enjoy writing it.

        High school, even though I got along fairly well with all the factions, there were several Johnny Petrie’s in my life that took sheer delight in being bullies. Befriending a Fonzie type, black leather jacket and all, stopped that, after he stepped in once during a situation with a couple of them my senior year.

        I should write a story about that. Never got bothered after that; one of them still probably walks funny to this day. Word spread fast. Once, when something was developing, one of them actually stepped in and told the guy he should reconsider if he valued his teeth. His comment was, “What’s he gonna do?” His buddy told him I wasn’t the one to worry about, but, Mike H. was. Bully Boy left quickly. Sweet feeling watching him walk away. Saw Mike once about fifteen years ago and he didn’t remember anything about it. His wife loved the story, though.

        Hope things are going better for you and you have resolution in your life. That piece you wrote awhile back in a reply to Ken C. about a typical day in your life was hilarious.

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 10:40 am
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          haha there was a “Fonzy” type in my elementary school who was also a Mike H. I’ll assume we’re talking about the same guy

          Reply
          • January 30, 2020 at 8:37 am
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            Let’s assume that. All high schools have someone like that, I think, with the tough guy image, who are really good guys underneath. Why they play the tough guy has always amazed me, but they do. I guess it’s because I had the school valedictorian, who was a pretty big kid, stand up for me once and the bullies laughed at him. I think, because he didn’t look like he could back it up. Bullies aren’t stupid, just insecure in their own manhood, and trying to prove it, mostly to themselves, every day.

    • January 25, 2020 at 11:53 am
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      This chimes with me, Roy. We don’t really have Secondary School Reunions in Britain (at least we didn’t for my years there), but it’s a familiar scenario from US Film and TV (‘Grosse Pointe Blank’, and one particular episode of ‘The Mentalist’, for example.) So the outcome is a little predictable in that respect, but it reads very well, and it’s refreshing to see the ‘second-person narration’ that you mention – very well rendered here. Cheeky re-tread of a past story, but why not? All very smoothly done.

      (And on a personal note, I wonder what happened to Margaret Jones …)

      Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 3:45 pm
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      Roy, I really enjoyed this story. Fun characters with interesting actions. I appreciate that you intentionally wrote in second person, and you did it with great skill, but I wonder if the piece might have been more powerful in first person. I found all the “you” business distracting. Otherwise, great piece!

      Reply
      • January 28, 2020 at 7:04 am
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        Thanks, Trish. The biggest danger of writing in second person as a male writer is not being able to draw in female readers to identify with the story, which, in this case I admit, is testosterone overkill. The whole purpose of second person is for the reader to feel the same emotions as the author. It had been a while since I did a second person story, and while I’m happy with it, I learned from it thanks to your critique.

        The subject matter is gender specific and it should probably never have been written in second person, unless I was writing to an all male audience. This group is certainly not that, but I don’t always think of those consequences ahead of time.

        I always appreciate a good solid critique, and I always get that from this group; even when I don’t agree, I know they are honest appraisals.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 10:16 am
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      Hi Roy,

      At least nobody gets killed at the end, this time round (I think that was Dennis Wager’s High School Reunion story of some time ago, right?).

      I like the sweet revenge of wit over muscle (or Casanova-ism). The story is told in a very refreshing and somewhat tantalizing way and the emotions and utter nervousness of the narrator are quite palpable.

      Shirts against skins? Fine – gotta be a boys-only game. Or not? Good one, Roy!

      I think the story can stop with “No, but Petrie doesn’t know that.”

      That’s the most powerful line and what brings us to a climax. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced of this.

      The rest of the line, “…He’s a bully. Like most bullies, if you challenge ‘em, they’ll back away.” is quite obvious, I would say.
      We saw it happening before our eyes just a moment ago (Petrie was actually challenged, and indeed he backed away). This last part of the line only takes away some of the punch of the brilliant “he doesn’t know that” bit.

      I’d stop there and refrain from the rest of what follows too, if I were you. I know that the second base joke is quite a gem (does “base” also stem from a basketball term? I know next to nothing about basketball). But, perhaps, this jokey bit can come before (in the narrator’s wishful thinking, or something like that).

      “No, but Petrie doesn’t know that” just has it all. With that line you show us that:

      (1) the narrator managed to get rid of his rival suitor to the woman in question
      (2) he has just saved the damsel in distress
      (3) he made her laugh, thanks to the witty karate bluff, and a good laugh scores good points with a woman
      (4) he proved to be on the right side of things (moral high ground)

      With all of that under his (not-black) belt, he’d quite certainly get to Ms Wunderlich’s second base tonight. Or so you make us believe. After all too prudish we know she is not.

      Stop at that magic punch line, and we (your naughty readers) will imagine the rest!

      Ken

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 11:57 pm
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        Wow, this is an amazing literagnosis. (I just made that word up.) This seems like really good advice, Roy. I was wondering what was wrong with this story, which is actually pretty good. It’s the ending, you’re spelling out the moral for us, which is totally unnecessary. Almost insulting. (Okay, I wasn’t insulted, but intelligent people probably were.) You should take this Ken Miles fellows ad-vice, Roy.

        It seems to be the theme this week, deleting paragraphs, run-on endings. (We’re like a bunch of menstruating women. Jesus.)
        Okay well, whatever.

        Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 8:41 am
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        Ken M.

        2nd base is in baseball, the four corners of the infield and the batter has to touch all four bases to ‘score’. Hence, the term in the story. I put that explanation in their because I felt some of the readers may not know the term, score, meaning ‘all the way’, as in rounding the bases and getting to home plate to score. I guess I didn’t take it far enough.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:21 am
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      Roy,

      I’m searching for an old critique or two that I can re-use and build on to comment on your story. lol It may take a while. One thing, ‘You smile, those are your thoughts exactly.’ The ‘confidence’ is implied, to add it is redundant. (And I only noticed it because it’s right there on the screen just above where I was typing my crappy joke.)

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 8:50 am
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        Yeah, Ken, I just couldn’t help myself with the confidence thing. Thanks for your comments.

        It goes back to when I met my wife. After I first saw her, I knew she was ‘the one’. Head over heels in a split second. I remember the moment I first saw her as if it were yesterday. Blond hair with the sun shining through it as she walked in a little cafe I was in. Eyes so blue they make the seas in the Caribbean weep. Plus, she was gorgeous.

        To make a long story short, a week or so later, I had the chance to introduce myself to her, which I did, by buying her a cup of coffee in that same little cafe. I told her we were going to go out and I needed her phone number to call her to set up where and when. She later told me she had never met anyone as confident as me, and that while she didn’t intend to give me her phone number, she couldn’t help herself.

        Still crazy in love with her all these 56 year later, and think she’s even more beautiful now than she was then.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:10 am
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      High School Reunions, an inexhaustible subject. Like many of us, I am fascinated by Nancy, how cool she reacts in front of the basketball hoop. And the end of your story is of course like chocolate for us who suffered from the violence of classmates. Unfortunately, I have had the experience that the same groups formed in our last reunions as then. That’s why I didn’t go there for a long time.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 8:56 am
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        Thanks, Berliner Max, I’m glad I was able to rekindle memories of high school so vividly for you, even though it brought up a darker time.

        I am surprised I don’t have more trauma in my life due to the way high school went for me. A couple saving graces, a couple of friends, as I mentioned, and in my senior year, I had my own car, a 1949 Lincoln Continental that was absolutely a life saver. And, my senior year worked out fairly well in the popularity thing – because of the car – no doubt. Plus, I had a cute little girlfriend who dominated my time when I wasn’t working. So, the last few months were absolutely great which certainly allowed me to forget the first three and one half years.

        It’s funny, but I didn’t have a Nancy in my life, but my son did. His story of a similar incident in high school, gave life to ‘The Shot’.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 10:42 am
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      My only criticism of this story is that I wish it was a 10, 15, or 20 year reunion instead of 30, but only because it’s a shame that they had to wait that long to get together. All in a fun read!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 9:00 am
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        Glad you liked it Wendy. High school can be an inexhaustible subject as Max said. Indeed.

        Better late than never, Wendy. And, 50 is the new 30, so it was still doable and 2nd base could still be a major thrill.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:08 pm
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      A gentle story about long overdue one-upmanship and, perhaps, making up a little for lost time.

      But – ‘second base’? Where’s your ambition, man? 🙂 Maybe still a little ‘intestinal fortitude’ required!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 9:03 am
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        Andy, I didn’t want Ted to be Johnny Petrie. Otherwise, it would have been ‘Home’. And, I also had to consider the feminine side of this great group. I certainly didn’t want Nancy to be a ‘cheap’ date. 2nd base was a gentleman’s way out, and I took it.

        Good to see you back, Andy. I’ve missed your stories.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 4:00 pm
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      A very sweet story Roy, and as usual your dialogue is on point. Great flow, and a depth to the characters that’s hard to do with so few words. I hope Ted gets to second base 🙂 Nice job, my friend.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 9:05 am
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        Thank you, Alice. I’ll be getting to your story next, and while I’ve already read it, I’ll be reading it again to figure our where it goes in my vote. I can’t decide if it’s going to be in first, second, or even third. I’ve still got a few stories to read yet, but you will be up there.

        Roy

        Reply
  • January 23, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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    The Mantra
    By Alice Nelson ©2020
    (1191 words)

    I am calm…considering. Considering what he did —what they did.

    My therapist taught me a technique she said would help deal with the pain and anger.

    “Lynn,” she said, “Get well acquainted with this, make it your mantra. Use it during those tough times, and believe me there will be some very tough times.”

    “Thanks for the pep talk,” I tell her.

    She laughs, but not with her eyes.

    “Take a deep breath,” Dr. Farner says, “Then repeat after me, I am fine. I won’t let what he did define me.”

    I’m paying her for this bullshit? I think, but don’t dare say.

    Later that week, however, I see him, Dan, my ex, walking downtown hand in hand with her. They’re laughing without a thought of how they ripped my heart out and stomped on it.

    So I try Dr. Farner’s mantra, Okay, calm, deep breath. I am fine. I won’t let what he did define me.

    But I still want to beat the shit out of them.

    ***

    Would you be surprised if I told you other people knew about the affair and said nothing?

    Probably not.

    Vivian, one of my oldest and dearest friends knew, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I screamed at her.

    “It wasn’t my place,” she said wringing her hands and looking at her shoes.

    They were very nice shoes.

    “You cried with me on those nights when Dan “worked” late,” I said to her. “I told you I thought he was cheating on me. You said, ‘Dan would never do that to you.’ But you knew!”

    Vivian continued looking at her shoes. That made me want to beat the shit out of her too.

    Calm, deep breath. I am fine, I won’t let what he did define me.

    I think the biggest humiliation is that my husband left me for a woman whose name is, get this…Bitty.

    Can you believe a grown woman calls herself, Bitty?! It’s Ironic too, considering there isn’t one thing bitty about her. One of her boobs is as big as my head. But those are her greatest assets, weapons she wields in the direction of any man she sets her sights on.

    I have no idea when her magic began working on Dan, but if a sac full of fatty tissue, and milk glands is enough to get him to leave me, then we never had much of a relationship, to begin with.

    So was our whole marriage a lie?

    Calm, deep breath. And yes the whole fucking thing was a lie. Still, don’t let it define you.

    I’ll make sure to tell Dr. Farmer that I added to our little mantra. Maybe she’ll be proud of me, maybe she’ll even laugh with her eyes.

    **********

    It’s a big day for me, life-changing really. Because today is the day Dan and I sign the divorce papers.

    Breathe, stay calm.

    As stupid as it sounds, there was still a part of me that thought we’d work it out, like in the movies. That Dan would realize that we had something good.

    Now I had to face the fact that Dan saw something in Bitty other than her massive mammary glands. I had to face the hard fact that maybe he did love her.

    Maybe he does, but don’t let it define you.

    I made it to the attorney’s office at 2:02. I burst into Jack Andersen’s office, huffing and puffing like a bull because I’d run all the way from the parking garage so I would arrive before Dan. But he was already there, and so was she.

    Who brings their girlfriend to their divorce signing?

    Breathe, stay calm.

    “Hello,” Dan said as I sat down.

    “Hello,” I replied. Then I looked at Bity and said, “Nice cleavage, I hardly notice your stomach bulge.”

    Dan glared at me, Bitty nearly burst into tears. I know it was petty, but it felt good, and it worked much better than that stupid mantra.

    We were cordial as Jack went over the details of the divorce.

    Then Dan hit me with a bombshell. Well, actually Bitty hit me with the bombshell, probably to get back at me for the stomach bulge remark.

    “We’re selling the house, you know,” Bitty squealed, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your fair share because Dan’s a good man.”

    Dan gave Bitty a stern look.

    “I didn’t want you to find out like this,” he said, “We’re moving to a smaller place, that house was always too big.”

    “Fine,” I said, trying not to show how upset I was. Kicked in the crotch yet again by the man I once loved.

    I never wanted the house. It just hurt that he would never sell it for me, but was now doing it for her.

    I wanted to rip them both apart.

    Then I could hear Dr. Farner’s voice saying, repeat after me Lynn, ‘Okay, calm, deep breath. I am fine —Oh shut up Dr. Farner!

    Jack was looking at me after the lovebirds left, “I give those two 7, 8 months tops,” he smiled.

    “Thanks, Jack,” I said. He was an old friend of ours, one that didn’t take sides after the break-up.

    At least I didn’t have a meltdown until I got to my car. I tried the breathing exercises, Okay, calm, deep breath. I am fine. I won’t let what he did define me.

    I breathed in and out so much I almost passed out. Figures that fucking shit wouldn’t work when I needed it most.

    **********

    I’m feeling much better now. Sure, the wine helps, but I am ready to accept my new reality.

    Or, I should say, my newest reality.

    I followed them after I left Jack’s office. They went to a nice restaurant in Covington, no doubt to celebrate Dan’s newfound freedom.

    My dear friend Vivian and her husband Cal were there too. It used to be the four of us at these kinds of dinners.

    I went back to the house on Sheridan, knowing they’d be out for a few hours. I used the spare keys to let myself in. I always meant to return them to Dan, but held on to them…just in case. Guess this was that ‘just in case’ moment.

    It was around 11:30 when they returned.

    I hit Dan over the head as he walked in. Bitty just stood there, staring down at him lying on the floor.

    “Tie him up,” I said.

    “Okay, okay,” she begged, “Just don’t hurt me.”

    “Oh, I won’t, this is between me and Dan,” I told her.

    Even after I tied Bitty to a chair facing the unconscious Dan, she still thought I wasn’t going to hurt her. I guess Bitty applied to her brain size.

    I set the fire hoping they would suffer even more before actually dying.

    It doesn’t matter if I’m caught or not, it was worth it just to see the looks on their faces when they knew they were going to die.

    Stay calm, breathe. I am fine. I won’t let what happened define me.

    What do ya know, I feel great!

    Guess Dr. Farner was right, the mantra does work.

    Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 6:57 am
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      I love pop quizzes! What’s the subject matter and how many questions?

      Roy

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 9:02 am
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        No fair Alice. I was replying to your ‘test’ email and when mine posted, yours was deleted. Left me hanging out to dry. LOL

        Roy.

        Reply
        • January 25, 2020 at 11:38 am
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          Hahaha, Sorry Roy. I was wondering what that was all about. 😄

          Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 4:17 pm
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      Wow! Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned! A perfect revenge fantasy. I loved the remark Lynn made to Bitty in the lawyer’s office! Brilliant! Wish I could think that fast. Loved it and glad to see you writing here again!

      Adi

      Reply
      • January 24, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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        Thank you Adi, it’s good to be back, and it’s also good to see you back in the fold . And I’m so glad to see all these new writers, joining the group!

        Reply
    • January 25, 2020 at 4:32 am
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      YES, YES very much something I can say YES to!!! Revenge is a dish best served hot or cold. Depending on the season of course.

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 11:40 am
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        Ha Ilana, revenge sure is tempting, and I can relate wanting to enact it too. 😊

        Reply
        • January 26, 2020 at 5:37 pm
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          Yeah the imagination is a great tool. Thank Goodness we know the difference between imagining and not enacting. LOL 🙂 :-}

          Reply
    • January 25, 2020 at 12:18 pm
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      Great to see you back in ‘the front office’ again Alice, and a great story for your return. Lynn’s inner monologue is a good reflection of her attitude, to her ex, and to Dr Farner’s technique – she’s paying lip-service to it, but we get the sense pretty early on that she’s actually well off-kilter. The repeated use of the mantra works really well, with a very funny tweak to it later on, and the final use of it – not what Dr Farner had intended at all. There’s a little issue with tense right at the very beginning: “Lynn,” she said […] “Thanks for the pep talk,” I tell her. But it’s generally a very slick and deadly tale, and very enjoyable.

      Reply
      • January 25, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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        Phil!! Hahaha, it’s good to be back in the front office 🙂 Thanks for your kind remarks, and thanks for the comment on the tense issue at the beginning, I missed it after having read over the story several times. You have a sharp eye my friend. 🙂

        Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 3:41 pm
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      Alice, well done! Great writing & thanks for all you & Carrie do to organize this effort.

      Reply
      • January 26, 2020 at 10:01 pm
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        Thank you Trish! And you’re welcome, Carrie and I love what we do.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:14 am
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      I love how the mantra structures your story. And how it gets new meanings, serves new purposes. It’s also very exciting to see how much we love reading stories about revenge that we wouldn’t approve of in real life. (I hope!) As if such revenge stories take the strength from our own thoughts of revenge.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 11:05 am
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        Thank you berliner, revenge is better in fiction (some times) 🙂

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 10:50 am
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      See Ken F, I’m not the only one who burns the house down at the end! But seriously I like the build up to her finally going over the edge. That mantra did the exact opposite of what it was intended to. I do find it funny how many of the stories for the “calm” prompt are full of violence.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 11:07 am
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        I noticed that too Wendy, could just be the mind of a writer to take a calm theme and turn it on its head. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:17 pm
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      Well this story has that classy Alice storytelling voice, where you know it’s going to end up dark and with a twist!

      As well as the mantra structure and irrepressible growth of Lynn’s anger, I like the observations about splitting up e.g. the role friends play before and after. A complete and rounded story with a convincing inner voice from the narrator.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 2:42 pm
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        Wow, thank you Andy! I just can’t seem to get away from that dark side. Better in story than in life I say. Thanks for the kind words my friend 🙂

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 4:38 am
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      Hi Alice,

      Such an enjoyable story! At first, I thought it was going the soap-opera sort of way: couple, betrayal, anguish, then somehow everyone’s happy again at the end of the day. But, it immediately took off nicely with Lynn questioning the mantra, and then everyone else around her as she sinks deeper in the extent of the full knowledge of what had been done to her.

      Then came the Jack bit. Ok, she’s gonna hook up with Jack, be happy again, even happier than she ever was with Dan. Then Dan will want her back (in the next episode).

      But, not with Alice Nelson!

      It will never be that predictable. The ending took me by sheer surprise (even though I’m just coming from writing a story, myself, about a woman who butchers her non-unfaithful husband). There is satisfaction in the way Lynn punishes Dan, Bitty (making her an accomplice in the killing – I love that bit, especially) and also the house. The inclusion of the house is a masterstroke as it’s a symbol of the nest that bore no fruit, of insulted love.

      Great stuff. Also the slamming of the mantra, representing all these fluffy-psych approaches so trendy and flourishing all over the place these days. Good old style revenge can’t be replaced by some mere breathing exercises.

      This is the first time I’m seeing a story in here from you, Madam La Moderatrice, since I joined last May or June… and what a blast!

      Ken

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 11:47 am
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        Ken M, thank you so much! It’s good to be back, but it was daunting with this group of writers. I so appreciate your kind words, and digging deep into Lynn’s spiraling out of control. This was a fun prompt, and I’m glad to be back, hope its not so long between stories again. Thanks again, and take care 🙂

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 9:22 am
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      Welcome back Alice to the site, for at least this time. Hopefully, it’s a New Year’s resolution and we’ll see more of you on this thread. You did wonderful, girlfriend. Absolutely wonderful. Loved the story and how you used the theme. Gonna be tough to pick the top story this week, but you are in contention. (Cash please, no checks; or a gift card would also work …) I got no bones to pick with it at all.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 11:49 am
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        Thank you Roy! (Gift card is in the mail) 🙂 It is so good to be back, I miss this group, and this current group of writers are exceptional. Thanks so much for the sweet words, I guess revenge is an easy topic for me to write about 🙂 Take care, my friend.

        Reply
  • January 24, 2020 at 9:32 am
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    Hi Alice,

    Great to see that you’re back in the writing chair on this site.

    I just loved this story for the sheer humanity of it. Doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and their mantra, schmantra, ………!!! At the end of the day, the best possible advice as it leaves the mouth of the advice-giver is not necessarily the best possible advice at all when it reaches the ear of the receiver. Sometimes we just have to get even, whatever the effect upon our karma.

    And then you do a neat, clever thing at the end and use the mantra. Nice touch.

    PS The name Bitty made me laugh. It is a word used to great effect in a British TV comedy where a 30 or 40 something man calls out “Bitty!” to his elderly mother who is still breastfeeding him. It is quite awful really but comedy often does that and challenges our boundaries.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 6:35 pm
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      Hi Ken F!

      Thank you for the wonderful comments. That’s funny about Bitty being used in British comedy, we use it here too, usually with the word “itty” preceding it. I thought it fit the other woman in the story. It’s good to be back, hopefully there’s not as huge a gap between stories for me this time. 🙂

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 10:04 am
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      Ken,

      Your comments about a man calling out “Bitty” to an elderly woman was enlightening.

      Where I come from, older women were sometimes called “Biddy” or “old biddies” – a derogatory term but commonplace.

      Biddy “meaning a woman, especially an older one, regarded as annoying or interfering.”

      Biddy can mean “a hen, a fowl” or “A woman, especially an older one who is extremely talkative.” (The Free Dictionary).

      This definition also refers to the origin of the word “biddy”, which is primarily “chicken” (beginning in the 17th century). To call an old woman a biddy was the same as calling her an “old hen”.

      The musical “The Music Man” with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones has a song about the older ladies of the town gossiping about Shirley Jones’ character, the librarian – “Talk a little, peck a little, cheep, cheep, cheep” and during the song, the picture of the ladies bobbing their heads in gossip with their feathered hats, changes into a flock of chickens and then back again. It was a perfect illustration. LOL.

      And that’s the Rest of the Story ….

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 4:42 am
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        (for some reason some of my comments are not going to the bottom of each respective thread, as normal. Don’t know why. Just saying, as there is danger they may not be seen, nestled as they are between older comments!)

        Reply
        • January 30, 2020 at 11:50 am
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          It’s happening to me too Ken. Carrie’s the brains of this moderating team, maybe she has some ideas why this is happening. 🙂

          Reply
  • January 24, 2020 at 2:39 pm
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    Ripples

    Adrienne Riggs (W – 1,197 – excluding title and name)

    Tessa stepped gracefully along the forest path. The sun sparkling between the dancing leaves of the trees cast moving shadows along the way. Her flowing white gown clung to her breasts and slender legs as she moved, her bare feet gliding over the pine needles carpeting the trail. She turned her face toward the sunlight, her long auburn hair cascading down her back to gently caress the sway of her hips. She knew this path well. Her arms were open wide, embracing the cool air, the scent of the woods, the singing of the birds and her freedom. Her slim body swayed to the music that only she could hear.

    The forest animals paused in their activities to watch her pass by, no fear evident in any of them. They were familiar with the woman and her slow, silent passage through the trees. They knew where she was headed and several followed her, quiet and unseen. The squirrels jumped through the treetops while the deer followed in the shadows of the trees. They watched as the light brightened on her face and she quickened her pace toward the opening in front of her.

    At the edge of the trees, she paused, and she gazed toward the glassy pond in the middle of the clearing. Her body trembling, she ran forward in gleeful anticipation, her feet relishing the feel of thick, cool grass beneath her. When she reached the edge of the still pond, she threw her head back and laughed while spinning in circles, her arms outstretched and her gown flowing around her. The squirrels chittered to each other and the birds burst into song above her. She slowly stopped spinning and gracefully sank into the soft grass, lying among the daisies growing there. She lay on her back, closing her eyes once again and basking in the warmth of the sun on her face.

    This was her peaceful place; the place she retreated to when she needed to restore calmness to her heart and soul. An old owl watched her from high above, perched in the branches of a tall pine tree. He gazed, unblinking, at the sight of the woman in her bright white gown lying in the vibrant grasses next to the pond in his domain. Tessa opened her eyes to the bright blue of the sky and searched the trees until she found her friend. While song birds flitted from tree to tree, he was still. She laughed.

    “You think you know something, don’t you?”

    He shifted slightly on the branch causing a small pine cone to fall toward the pond. Tessa turned onto her stomach to watch its fall, holding her breath until it made a gentle ‘plop’ into the water. Her chin in her hands, she sighed as she watched the ripples fan out in ever increasing circles from the point of entry. She could feel the negative emotions lingering within her being released as the circumference of each little outward movement grew. When the last ripples reached the banks of the pond and it became still again, she turned over and closed her eyes with a smile on her full red lips. She was calm and contented and fell into an easy sleep.

    ***
    “Who is that?” John pointed to one of the monitors on the wall. “She’s a beauty.”

    Mark glanced at him with a bemused expression. These newbies were all the same. “Yeah, she’s a beauty all right. Don’t let her fool you.”

    John walked closer to the monitor and whistled.

    “Down boy,” Mark advised, “you don’t want to mess with this one.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding, right? She’s tiny. What is she, about five-two, a hundred and fifteen pounds?”

    Mark just shrugged. “Maybe.” He watched John’s expression as he got closer to the monitors.

    “What room is she in?”

    Mark sat back in the chair, his keys jingling with the movement. He was going to play this out.

    “That one.” He pointed to a door across from them with a tiny window at the top. “Try not to disturb her. She doesn’t like it.”

    John walked over and at 6’3”, he easily looked in through the protective glass in the door. The woman was even more stunning from this view.

    “Why is she lying on the floor? Is she asleep?”

    Mark chuckled. “She calls it her ‘Peaceful Place’ where she can be completely calm.”

    “What’s her name?” John couldn’t take his eyes off her ample breasts and slim legs outlined beneath her gown. Her perfect face, pillowed on long auburn hair, was at peace.

    “She likes to be called ‘Tessa’.”

    “Why is she here?”

    “She’s been a bad, bad girl.” Mark replied, watching John while also keeping an eye on the monitors.

    “Oh, come on! You have got to be kidding. What kind of ‘bad’ things could that little cutie do?”

    “You’d be surprised” murmured Mark watching Tessa make a slight movement. “You might want to get away from that door.”

    “Why?”

    “Just do it” Mark warned. “Don’t you want to know her real name?”

    “Ok, what is it?” John was getting frustrated as he glanced at Mark.

    “It’s Trixie. Trixie Borden.” Mark waited for recognition to kick in.

    “Trixie … Borden?” John suddenly turned red. “No way!”

    “Get … away … from … that … door” Mark said slowly and quietly as he watched Trixie. “NOW.”

    John turned, the keys on his belt hitting the steel door with a loud, metallic sound.

    “Too late” Mark growled, jumping to his feet and running toward the door as alarms sounded.

    John tripped over his own feet backing from the door as something vicious attacked it from the inside. Startled, he fell hard on the tiled floor, bouncing his head off the door frame. He landed half lying against the door and half on the cold tile floor. His vision blurred and pain exploded in his brain as bile rose in his throat with waves of nausea. He felt the door shaking from repeated onslaughts against it and heard crazed animal roars of rage. The pounding on the door and window echoed in time to the pounding in his head. He flinched as shards of the protective glass fell on him and felt himself pulled roughly across the floor as people ran past him.

    Guards, a nurse and doctor all descended on the room. John lay in dazed pain trying to decipher the shouting of orders and cursing amid anguished animal screams of pain and rage. Streaks of blood dripped down the door from the shards of remaining glass in the window. John closed his eyes to stop the room from spinning.
    The chaos seemed to last for ages and then, sudden silence.

    “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” a voice said as gentle hands touched his aching head. It was the nurse.

    John opened his eyes to see guards carrying Trixie’s unconscious body from the room. She was wearing a straight jacket. Everyone else was staring at him but he was too stunned to care. He looked up at Mark.

    “Trixie Borden?”

    “Yeah, the serial killer.”

    Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 7:46 pm
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      Well written and great imagery, but the two sections of this story did not connect for me. What were you trying to show in the first section? Her connection to nature? Otherwise I really liked the style here of the writing.

      Reply
      • January 26, 2020 at 12:09 pm
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        Ilana,
        About Adi’s story. I assumed that the first part takes place inside Trixie’s brain. You think she’s in the woods but it turns out she’s meditating on the prison floor.. One could infer that she enjoyed nature. Might even have been a vegetarian. Her animal sympathies extended to a distrust of man, in general. Her savage attack supports the theory.
        I think.

        Reply
        • January 27, 2020 at 8:31 am
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          Ken,

          You always understand my stories! You have it perfectly. Her meditation is so good, she can remove herself from her environment if only for a short time. It is also a lesson in not underestimating someone based on their looks and demeanor. Her beauty and apparent calm, masked the crazed killer inside, ready to strike. If she can fool the guards, perhaps she can manipulate them. Alas, the craziness and insanity within can no longer be contained so easily.

          Isn’t it ironic that many of our “calm” stories morphed into madness, murder and mayhem? That’s not where I was going when I started mine but here we are. LOL

          Thanks for the comments!

          Adi

          Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 3:34 pm
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      Adi, I was lulled into a sense of total tranquility by the first section. Such a lovely description! Your second part was quite the shocker, as intended. While I appreciate the creativity of the juxtaposition of the second half, I kinda wished for something lovely to happen to your woodland nymph… That said, very good writing!

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 8:33 am
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        Thanks Trish. The ending was not what I had planned when I began the story. Sometimes the characters just take over and write their own endings. LOL

        Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 8:53 am
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      Hi Adi,

      Great story and all the better for reading the comments written about it. Ken C, as ever, got right to the point and confirmed my understanding.

      Beautiful descriptive prose at the start that sets the scene nicely.

      Who says that even serial killers can’t have some pleasant thoughts?

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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      Hi, Adi. “A game of two halves”, as we football (soccer) fans might say. A lovely opening, lulling us into a false sense of security. It sounds like Snow White and her friends in the woods. Then the second half, which is in very stark contrast … and it works (for me). What I like most perhaps is that although we ultimately learn that Trixie is a serial killer, we (I) feel a lot of sympathy for her because of that first section. She’s crazy, yes, but she still has beauty in her.

      A couple of thoughts. I was a little confused about what exactly happens to John: he’s backing away from the door, but then he bangs his head on the door frame? I also feel that the neat tying-up at the end detracts slightly from the impact; it would have been enough for us to know that she is a very dangerous person (and the name ‘Borden’ is also a massive clue), without the spelling-out of ‘serial killer’ (despite what I said above about it).

      I really liked the structure of this, though, and the execution.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 10:34 am
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        Phil,

        Thanks for the comments! I had to cut the story down to fit the word limit and some of John’s fall was cut. Originally, he tries to back away but his feet get tangled and he spins around hitting the door and frame. That spinning around was critical and I was in a hurry to trim the story and submit and I took out an important piece. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I’ll put it back in the story as I may make this longer later.

        I’m glad so many caught on to the use of the name Borden! That was intentional. It was perfect for my character. I thought about adding that Trixie used an axe in her killings but felt that would give too much away.

        Thanks again!

        Adi

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:17 am
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      At the beginning of your story, I thought I kind of know what that amounts to. And I was so wrong. That was fun.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 10:58 am
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      I also enjoyed this story. I have to say that I figured the first part was a meditation because I have actually used my own “peaceful place” but then I liked the switch to what was going on outside her head. I was also a little confused by the scene where she attacked the guard, it was a little tough to follow what exactly happened to him. But ultimately I liked to stark contrast of the two halves.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 11:25 am
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        Thanks Wendy! This was actually taken from my own “peaceful place”. I picture my stress dissipating with the ripples in the pond.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:30 pm
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      “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

      Great story, The perfect almost dreamlike place and the Francis of Assisi (or Disney?) connection with the supporting cast of animals – and then the jolt. To the real world and her other self. I think the contrast works really well.

      I was also a little confused though at first about what happened to the guy – was she breaking through the door or what? So just stumbled a bit in the reading at that point.

      (btw ‘straitjacket’ should be all one word and without a ‘gh’, so it’s not just a sartorial observation ….)

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 11:27 am
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        Thanks Andy! I appreciate the comments. I can’t believe I spelled straitjacket wrong. I need to stop trying to write so fast!

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 4:36 pm
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      Adi, I love, loved this story! Starts off so peaceful, you get the idea that Tessa/Trixie is in her own imagination, but the twist ending was a shocker. Wonderful dialogue, especially the inner dialogue of Tessa, you paced the story perfectly. It flowed so well, and the transition from Tessa’s peaceful place, to her outburst was wonderful. Great job Adi!!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 5:12 am
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        Hi Adi,

        Why did you wake me up from the dream? That’s how it literally felt, when the second half of the story forced itself upon the first magically-written – poetic even – half. A rude awakening, as it may be, you used a very effective transition as a tool to show us the other side of this woman’s character: so serene on the inside, yet so lethal on the outside.

        The first part, in particular, is a clear manifestation of your writing talent in evoking atmosphere and painting with words. You’ve shown this in past pieces, and here you reach the sky. Well done, really.

        The second part is very well written too – being dialogue-based, it contrasts heavily with the forest part. The peering of the guards onto the woman (first through the monitor, than in her cell) almost amount to visual rape to me. The male gaze, and also the men’s dialogue, interfere with the pure beauty of this lady and her dream. Even though, she’s herself, a vicious killer. Borden, no less.

        I don’t think it’s co-incidental that you gave John his height, to maximize the effect of this “rape effect.”

        There’s nearly a touch of justice in what Trixie does to John (which is not shown too clearly, but he evidently does get badly hurt), even though it doesn’t seem like he did anything too harmful to her at first sight. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but she’s sort of revenging against male-kind, right? Perhaps, that’s what brings out the nasty side in her?

        Ken

        Reply
        • January 30, 2020 at 10:52 am
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          Ken,

          Thanks for the comments! You are correct about the story. The leering guard looking at her through the window admiring her “assets” was a type of visual rape. John’s height was intentional as well. He was so focused on that aspect of her, he didn’t respect where they were and there was a good reason for her to be locked in this room.

          When I had to cut the story back to meet the word count, I took out some important details about John’s fall. Trixie is crazy, maybe insane, She retreats into her “peaceful place” and any disturbance brings the rage back to the surface – against men, against life, whatever. The sound of John’s keys hitting the door wakes the sleeping animal, if you will.

          John receives the warning from Mark but Trixie’s transition from peaceful meditation to menacing animal-like rage is swift. It catches him off guard and startled, he trips over himself trying to get away from the door and falls. I explained how I had it described originally above in my response to Phil. He goes from lustful leering to startled fear and the contrast in Trixie’s behavior is his undoing. She never actually reached him to hurt him, except when the glass breaks.

          I think I may actually adapt and use this story in the asylum novel I’m working on. Trixie would be right at home in the asylum. I could have her use her beauty to lure men to her and she uses their adoration to seduce and kill them. Hmmm. I think it will work! LOL

          Thanks again!

          Adi

          Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 10:35 am
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        Thanks Alice!

        Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 11:24 am
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        Thanks Alice!!

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 9:29 am
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      Adi, your opening paragraph is textbook for me. If I taught writing, this would be on the blackboard for my students to persevere to emulate.

      I visualized the beautiful woman walking along and, like the animals, stepped back quietly on the forest floor, to watch her, mesmerized as she passed by, while holding my breath. As good as it gets. Took me out of everything I was doing. I went back and read it twice more before I continued on.

      I liked the two part story. Especially the Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aspect. Absolutely loved the story. Nothing to quibble about at all. Well, there is one little thing. Trixie Borden? Subconscious use of ‘Lizzie Borden’ from Ken C’s story last time out? No matter. You did well. Very well.

      Roy

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 10:56 am
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        Thanks Roy!! I appreciate the comments! The use of Borden was intentional although I’ve never really seen substantial evidence to prove Lizzie Borden killed her parents. Too many holes in the “evidence” the police thought they had. LOL

        Reply
  • January 24, 2020 at 7:39 pm
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    The Morning Calm
    By Ilana Leeds

    A sonorous clap broke through the morning calm. The young monk’s sinewy arm muscles bunched up and then relaxed, as he swung the huge mallet rhythmically against the worn shiny brass disc his height and half again.

    BOOM, BOOM, BOOM – the sound echoed through the valley breaking open the calm of a faint rosy dawn blossoming across the eastern hills. The boy replaced the mallet by the disc and took his place to the left of the raised dais. He began to pray using the ivory beads wrapped around his wrist, slipping them through nimble fingers.

    The padding murmur of bare feet on stone corridor floors echoed down hallways as maroon robed monks silently flooded the large prayer hall with its marbled floor. The patter punctuated the early morning tranquillity. The Lama was already seated cross legged on the dais. He had been there an hour before the appointed communal prayer times, praying and meditating. His presence filled the room a welcoming glow of love and peace – perfect calm.

    As the monks filed in, a cacophony of maroon shades, they took up their allotted places in an orderly fashion. They sank cross legged into a traditional lotus position, and there was a calm contentment which filled the room with the sound of their breathing. Even and rhythmic, in a long intake of breath, then it was drawn out – a soft sibilant sound that vibrated in the back of the chest.

    A low hum of sound that grew in intensity and charged the hall‘s atmosphere as the last stragglers filed in, their bare feet gently scuffing the smooth floor. They slipped in and joined the others to create a sound wave that flooded up through the archways of the high ceilinged hall.

    “OOooMMMmmmmmmmm Maaanni Ppaaaadammmeeeeee Hummmmmm, Ooommmmm Maaannnniii Ppaaaddmmeeee HHuummmm”

    The chanting rose and fell, rose and fell – petals of a thousand rose blossoms scattering in multi-coloured streams on a gentle winding breeze. Compassion swelling and falling, rising up and gliding down as a goshawk on an updraft wind.

    On the hill side a shepherd boy pauses on his journey up the mountainside with his herd of goats. He leans on his staff listening to the distant monks chanting up in the great hall of the monastery on the mountain peak across the narrow valley. His animals glad to pause, cropped at the tough mountain turf. The herd queen’s bells tinkled as she busied herself with the bushes lining the path up the mountain side. She reached out to bite the tail of an unwary buck kid not hers, who was opportunistic enough to angle his head towards her teats as her doe kid knelt to drink on her other flank. She caught him by the tail and nipped down hard enough to send him scurrying with a squeal to where the rest of the herd was moving slowing up the mountainside, browsing bushes and small shrubs. The boy walks around the herd, using his staff to bring in those that stray too far from the main herd. Usually the young kids who wander towards the edges of the forty or so goats under his charge, he sends towards the older animals with a clup on the side from his staff.

    Unseen by the boy, a young mountain cat with swollen teats observes his herd’s progress, crouching she follows them several metres away. Her ears flick back and forth, her eyes yellow slits rimmed by black. Her dappled coat blends into the alpine shrubbery and shadows. She hopes to capture and carry away a young kid if the opportunity presents it.

    Down in the valley a hunter in his hide steadies an arrow notching it against the taut string of his bow. He takes aim, slowly stretching the cord of the bow back, back – the motion smooth and flowing. He feels a thrill of anticipation. A deep sense of serenity before the kill – a cold icy calculation. Then he sees it. A female deer with its spotted fawn walking through the shallow rushing stream to the magnificent stag in his sights. Tensed to release the arrow before they ruin his shot, a sound is carried on the clear morning air. It unsettles him, catching him in a focused embrace. He slowly loosens the tension on his bow string and lowers the arrow unfletching it.

    It is a murmuring sound. A chant rising and falling, it swells over the mountainsides and echoes through the valley. The trio of deer stand ears pricked and noses raised to the breeze. The stag has a full brace of antlers. He ambles regally over to a rocky outcrop on the mountainside and places his front hooves on the rocks and stares out over a small clearing surrounded by the scrubby bushes. It is in one of these bushes, crouched low, the hunter observes him. He makes his decision and repositions his arrow, notches it into the string of the bow and readies it for the shot. He aims for the stag’s heart, just behind his left forequarter. As the stag lifts his head, nostrils quivering to scent the breeze, the hunter releases the arrow. It lands with a whump in the stag’s side. The animal rears up and then leaps to the side and falls flailing, making a harsh cry of surprised pain.

    In the monastery the morning meditations and prayers are drawing to a close.
    The boy is crouched next to the lama. He watches His Holiness’s lips moving gently and slowly over the ancient chants.
    The boy rises slowly to stand palms pressed together in the traditional greeting manner in front of his heart. His shaven head bowed.

    The lama looks quizzically at the child, his black eyes bright and soft.

    “Holiness?” The boy begins. The old man studies him, and nods gently.

    “Holiness, why do the soldiers come? Why do they hate us so?”

    The man smiles briefly at the boy.

    “Because we have something they will never have.” He reaches out and touches the boy’s chest above his heart and brings his hand back to his own heart. “We have here what they cannot have. Unless….” He leaves off the thought hanging in the still mountain air.

    The boy nods not quite understanding, but he bows and backs out from the Lama’s presence. The lama sits a solitary figure in the great hall. The sun rises up and he is bathed in a golden glow that floods through the tall windows and tips the mountain peaks with a blush of colour.

    A cry of anger rises up from the valley below. The boy has discovered the mountain cat that has cut a two day old kid from its mother. He charges at it swinging his stick and thumps the ground with a scream. The cat takes flight. Perhaps there is easier prey, it thinks.

    The hunter is beginning to cut into the stag’s belly. Steaming entrails spill out onto the dewy ground. The fawn and its mother have fled high into the mountains.

    The morning is quiet as it enters the day calm.

    Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 12:28 pm
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      Ilana,

      This is absolutely awesome writing, but I would get rid of the second and third paragraphs altogether and shorten the first. After that? Wow. The writing just blew me away. Oh yeah, and the last sentence. Not sure about that one. I’d probably get rid of that one too. You don’t need it! It’s fine without it.
      If you disagree with me (comma) that’s fine. I don’t mind. It’s still a great story, and fabulous writing. IMMOO. (In my moderately obnoxious opinion.) I hope you don’t think I’m joking. Jokes are in parentheses. No this is definitely one of my favorites so far, and I started at the top of the thread.

      Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 3:38 pm
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      Ilana, great take on the prompt and beautiful writing. Very well done. I disagree with Ken on his thought to take out some of the early paras- the writing is great and it sets the scene well. Must admit I agree with his take on the final line.

      Reply
      • January 26, 2020 at 4:41 pm
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        Yes on second thoughts the last line could be cut out or dunno, I’ll have to think about what, how, why to end perhaps. I do love Ken C’s comments and one of the reasons I continue writing here is his feedback, apart from the comaraderie of a shared activity.

        It’s like a little family. Ken’s comments are always interesting and paradoxically succinct and verbose. 🙂 Also the comments of others are also taken on board and reflected on. All feed back is valued.
        I actually love feedback and having my stories criticised because that is how we learn and develop. By the same token, I am always scared of the sacred task of commenting too much at times on the writing of others for fear of crushing rather than developing skills and expertise in the craft.
        Anyway I thank you both for your feedback. 🙂 I am off to do my duty by the other writers here and to try to impart words of wisdom, encouragement and helpful or not so helpful hints….

        Reply
        • January 26, 2020 at 5:26 pm
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          Adi- I know what you mean. Commenting seems fraught with potentially negative outcomes. Nevertheless I do try, mostly because I appreciate others’ feedback on my pieces and it seems only fair…Hopefully folks appreciate & understand.

          Reply
          • January 26, 2020 at 7:08 pm
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            I’m Ilana LOL 😀

          • January 26, 2020 at 7:49 pm
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            Flying fingers finish foolishly. Sorry Ilana. Think I had Adi on my mind but meant to write your name. Glad you caught it!

        • January 26, 2020 at 11:21 pm
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          Ilana,

          Well, you were a member of this writing group before I joined, so, you know how often I accidentally do the very thing I warn others not to do.

          ‘Under no circumstances should you allow allow duplicate words to slip past your proofreading.’ Ken Cartisano 2015

          ‘You must make sure that know typos find there weigh into your finial draft.’ Ken Cartisano 2016

          ‘People sometimes fail to see the underlying genus behind my plops.’ Ken Cartisano 2017

          ‘Etcetera, ett cetera, excetura.’ Ken Cartisano 2018

          ‘I think I’ve had one tea many martuni’s.’ Phil Town 2019

          I’ll be posting my story in a few minotaurs, Ilana. Hope you get a chance to read it.

          Reply
        • January 28, 2020 at 2:17 am
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          Ilana,
          I’m paradoxically succinct and verbose? This is the most insulting compliment I’ve received since Roy said, “This story’s pretty good, sort of.” Nah, just kidding. I’m thrilled. It all boils down to Transactional Analysis. When I’m talking about you I’m succinct, when I’m talking about someone else I’m verbose.

          Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 8:36 am
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      Great imagery Ilana! I enjoyed the story.

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 9:15 am
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      Hi Ilana,

      Beautifully written story, as ever. You take words and paint a picture and within very few words I am in that space, sitting barefooted on that smooth marble floor, ready to chant or meditate. I like the way we can compare and contrast the meditating monks who rely on the shepherd and people who work on the land with the shepherds who rely on the monks for spiritual guidance.

      I have local friend who is a very successful short story writer ( see johnhollandwrites) . He has a view that we should look very critically at our opening and closing sentences or paragraphs and see how well our stories stand up if we remove them. I have done this on many occasions and, for me, this has been inconclusive. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

      In this case, you could lose the first paragraph and the second and the new opening paragraph would still work well. However, I’m not sure why you would want to do this unless someone suggested it. It’s like the editing process where we look at pieces we wrote some time ago and we just feel the need to tweak it, without only small gains, if any.

      Love this writing site and the way it has stimulated discussion. I am part of a local writers’ group, meeting together once a month in my house. The critiques are nowhere near as good and useful and thought-provoking as on this site and long may that continue. There’s a huge element of respect built in here as we are all writers prepared to put our work out there to be critiqued.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • January 28, 2020 at 12:27 am
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        Ken F.

        It was I who suggested it to Ilana that she delete her first three paragraphs. It was a serious suggestion. Not all of my suggestions are serious, as you know. But this one was. (At least I didn’t suggest that she vaporize them.) And it was Andy who suggested to all of us to think about nixing the first paragraph most of the time.

        What I find myself doing, is rearranging my stories. That seems to me to be the most amazing thing. That I can write a halfway decent story, out of order! But it definitely happens.

        Now, on the subject of critiquing, last week I criticized someone for using too many adverbs. Then I went over my own story and found about forty of them.

        In the first two paragraphs.

        Which should have been deleted anyway!

        So, if I have any credibility left, I’ll sell it to the first taker for 37 cents. But I digress. Mightily.

        Reply
      • January 31, 2020 at 9:45 pm
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        Thanks Len for kind words.

        Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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      Hi, Ilana. You’ve produced a really vivid scenario, where beauty and calm co-exist with violence (some natural – the cat – some necessary – the hunter – some gratuitous – the coming soldiers). It’s a tableau, really: there’s no real forward momentum, rather it’s a description of a moment in life on that mountain. And very lovely it is, too (though I was hoping the stag would dodge his fate …)

      You’re at the other extreme to me in terms of description. I’m no good at it and avoid it as much as possible. You’re very good at it, but I felt here that it was a bit OTT at times (e.g. the sentence beginning “The padding murmur…” – an avalanche of adjectives.) There’s a bit of inconsistency of tense: it starts in the past, then morphs into the present. I think the present could have been used throughout.

      A lovely read, though.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:24 am
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      I love that story. The descriptions are very visual, we can see and hear the monks in the valley. And again expectations form immediately. It is expected to be a “positive” story. And suddenly we are faced with death and killing. And then we learn that death is also part of the valley and the world. It reminded me of the “Circle of Life” from the movie “The Lion King”.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:16 am
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      I absolutely love this story, Ilana! I love the feeling of breathing in and out that the rhythm of your paragraphs make. The switching between the three locales is great and keeps the mood of the story moving forward. I understand what the others said about the last sentence, but I probably would have written something similar just to complete the thought of the story, so I have nothing constructive to help with that lol.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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      This is writing to bask in, Ilana. Quality. Transports you to the place. I love it.

      There’s perhaps something about the last sentence which doesn’t quite gel with the first, perhaps, though I think it is intended to reflect it. But to me it seems the morning is kind of starting twice? Or does it just need a comma before the last word?

      Apart from that, I really wouldn’t change a word.

      (Though – minor points – I would add a hyphen in 3 places, and a comma in a couple of places. And there’s a missing word, I think, in one place.)

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 4:49 pm
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      Beautiful imagery Ilana, your descriptive prowess is wonderful. You could remove the first two paragraphs in a story this short, but if you plan on making this a longer story, those first two paragraphs do a great job of setting the atmosphere of the story.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 9:36 am
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      Great writing Ilana, although I had to reread it because I wasn’t sure why things were jumbled around and didn’t understand the boy and the priest thing at first … maybe I still don’t. Anyway, it certainly isn’t the writing that leaves me stranded, which is awesome by the way, in my humble opinion, just the way it’s put together. Does that make sense to you?

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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      You transported me to that lovely distant place. I could almost feel and smell the morning air, hear the monastic hum. A story that appeals to the five senses and works very well in that regard.

      I usually prefer stories with a twist and a surprise ending, where the relationship between characters and events is consequential. I didn’t find that here. The only thing impinging on all the three casts of characters is the hum that permeates the valley. Still, though, I found this piece very pleasant and satisfying.

      Your expertise with goats has added an extra touch to what goes on with the herd. That part gets a documentary touch, which I liked very much too. Well done, Ilana.

      Ken

      Reply
      • January 31, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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        Thanks for all comments. Appreciated 😊☺️

        Reply
  • January 26, 2020 at 10:12 am
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    Calmtree Yoga.

    MM – Calmtree Yoga, you’re speaking to Mindy Munz. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Let go of everything! How can I help you?

    JD – Hello, my name is John Smith. I want to learn yoga to relax a bit. I’ve been so nervous lately.

    MM – Breathe out very, very slowly and let go of everything that worries you. We offer various activities. Our introductory course “Peaceful Beginners” will start this weekend. There’s also a discount if you book today.

    JD – Yes, that’s good. I don’t know much about yoga. A beginner’s course is certainly the right thing for me. But I have to bring Harry along.

    MM – Yes, very good. Feel the relaxation! We can offer you a partner rate if you book the course with your partner.

    JD – No, Harry can’t do Yoga. He’s a pig I’m afraid. A very cute domestic pig.

    MM – Oh! That’s a problem. Pets are generally not allowed on our premises. Many of our customers have allergies.

    JD – Harry is a very friendly pig. He likes to sit on the sofa and watch what I do. Cant he just watch? He’s such a lovely fellow. If he likes something, he sometimes grunts in a funny way. All the kids like Harry.

    MM – No, unfortunately that’s not possible at all. We have a strict rule against animals in our yoga center. Aside from allergies, some of our members believe that a yoga class is not vegan if there are animals present in the exercise room. I’m so sorry.

    JD – Nothing but prejudices! All people have prejudices against pigs. Harry suffers a lot from the way he’s treated by us humans. He’s one of God’s creatures too! Why does he always have to stay outside? Harry is so kind and he’s done no harm to anyone. Why can’t you make an exception?

    MM – You can’t bring a pig to a yoga class! We’re not a petting zoo! Think of the other participants.

    JD – But why? Why can’t a cute little pig watch when his best friend learns to relax? Harry is so nice. The kids all want to stroke his sweet snout. Do you know that pigs are smarter than humans? And yet we kill them to make sausages, don’t we? I mean, mankind has so much to make up for in relation to animals.

    MM – Mr. Smith! You’re welcome to enrol with us, but you must leave your pig at home. Our rules explicitly state that animals are not allowed on our courses.

    JD – This is racism! Nothing but racism!

    MM – Now stop, you stupid beetroot!

    JD – Stupid beetroot?

    MM – We only use vegan swear words!

    JD – You know what, I’ll just bring Harry with me! If you get to know him personally, you’ll definitely change your mind. I can also bring little Betty, my cute, black, pot-bellied pig!

    MM – Are you listening to me at all, Mr. Smith? I’ve told you several times now that pigs are generally not allowed here. Even if they’re cute! Pigs stink. I’m sorry! I wanted to say that pigs have a special body odor!

    JD – You get used to the smell very quickly. After all, nature gave them that smell. Harry and Betty have to get used to our human smell too, remember that!

    MM – I’m telling you for the last time! Animals are not allowed here! If you come to our practice room with an animal, I’ll call the police and have you and the animal arrested. No matter whether it’s a dog, pig, horse or crocodile!

    JD – That won’t be necessary, Ms. Munz!

    MM – I’m glad to hear that! You’ll leave the animals at home then?

    JD – Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert Jackson. I work for the “National Yoga Treatment Evaluation Institute”. At NYTEI our task is to control various yoga activities and to evaluate their effectiveness. We’re part of the national consumer protection movement.

    MM – You don’t want to book a course at all and you don’t have a pig?

    JD – Part of our job is to check if the people who teach yoga have already achieved the serenity they need. Are they calm enough? The story with the pig always works well here.

    MM – You lied to me. What will you do with the results?

    JD – The results of our survey are evaluated and published on http://www.yogaevaluation.com, the well-known portal on the web.

    MM – Oh! I didn’t do very well, did I?

    JD – Ms. Munz, unfortunately I have to tell you that you did not convince us. We recorded your voice and simultaneously sent it through our heart rate monitor. Your pulse was far above average and a tremor in your voice suggests high blood pressure. How long have you been practicing yoga?

    MM – How long? To be honest … I bought a book and I’m trying to do the exercises from the book. I lost my job as a playschool educator because I lose my temper easily. I had a confrontation with one of the children. The parents made sure I was fired. But what should I do now?

    JD – Stay calm! Close your eyes for a moment. Then take a deep breath! Now exhale slowly! Let go of everything! Are you feeling better now?

    MM – A little bit. Maybe I should look for a beginner‘s yoga class.

    JD – This is definitely a good idea. If I may give you some good advice, Ms. Munz: leave your pets at home. Have a nice day! It was a pleasure speaking to you!

    Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 10:20 am
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      I really enjoyed the way you stuck to the theme & made it slyly funny at the same time. Uproariously funny wouldn’t have been very calm, so the gentle calm was perfect. Fun story!

      Reply
        • January 27, 2020 at 7:27 am
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          Thanks for the link. It’s similar, though he is a much better looking person.

          Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 9:20 am
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      Hi BMax,

      As ever, you take the theme into new and unexpected directions. Your brain must be a very interesting place from which to draw inspiration.

      An excellent way of writing too and very entertaining.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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      Great fun, as always, Jürgen. The dialogue format works well. I really love the reversal of roles. And the beetroot joke is great. There’s a bit of ‘telling’ here: “I lost my job as a playschool educator because I lose my temper easily.” – you’ve already shown us this in Mindy Munz’s (great name!) increasing frustration with John Smith. I wonder where the conversation would have led to if it had been an authentic call? (In some ways I was a bit frustrated that we didn’t get to see how Mindy would have handled an appearance of JS with his pigs … but then that would have been a different story.)

      Nice one!

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:26 am
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      once again a funny story, Juergen. I was getting frustrated right along with Mindy. Unfortunately there are actually people like this in the world, but the twist was hilarious.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:32 pm
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      Very entertaining story.
      You know I wonder about things like yoga and Alexander technique. It’s interesting that after 4 million years of human evolution, we need to pay people to show us how to breathe and stand upright. Maybe we’ve gone off course somewhere?

      Pet yoga is also growing in popularity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG-Ra-beBRw

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 7:14 pm
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      That was a fun story berliner, I could feel the frustration of Mindy as the conversation went on. Not sure anyone would handle that situation well. I also loved the dialogue, and the flow of the story. 🙂

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 9:44 am
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      “We only use vegan swear words!” How great is that line following ‘Stupid beetroot?” It’s beyond great. Laughed out loud. Funny story, Berliner Max. Yoga, nice work if you can get it. I do think Ms Munz should practice mindfulness. It would probably help. Good job on the theme. Your mind works in mysterious ways, does it not? Just sayin …

      Roy

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 10:24 am
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      This reminds me of a friend who had a health food store, who’d go on and on how we could keep off every sort of ailment, if we took the stuff he sold. Behind him, he had a mighty arsenal of vitamins and minerals and whatnot. Until I visited him, one day, and he was all muffled up in an already very warm shop, struck down by a horrible cold. Like your Munzy yoga expert, Juergen. Can we use the term snake-oil merchant, here?

      It’s a very funny piece, had me giggling all along. The formality of the ending doesn’t top the rest of the humor in the story. Could there perhaps be an even funnier reason a man with a pig might be calling a yoga centre? I mean most people must know someone who at some point did just that, right? But, that’s going onto another train of thought…

      Vegan swear words! ROFL. This one takes its place among the best bits I’ve ever read in here. Anywhere. I’ll be borrowing it from you at some point, Juergen. I’m sure I will; I like it too much.

      This is probably also the story that most stayed faithful to calm theme of this prompt…

      Ken

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 10:27 am
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        No, your bonus story is the one that mostly stayed faithful to the calm theme! It does include the word calm somewhere, doesn’t it?

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 11:04 am
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      Loved this story!! It made me laugh. That poor woman, taken in by a hoax! I believed the part about the pig.

      I could relate to the pig scenario because we had a pot bellied pig at one time. It was my daughter’s and it created havoc in the neighborhood when it escaped one day. (I try not to think about that bizarre adventure to much even though it is much funnier in the telling.)

      Awesome work!

      Reply
  • January 26, 2020 at 2:22 pm
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    Hi Guys! I will not be able to work on some of these awesome short story writing tasks as I have decided to start cresting my own book! I am calling it ,’The Bully.’ Remember when we all did the prompt ‘The new beginning.’ I am using this prompt as my first chapter of my story. I have used your comments and have altered certain phrases and words and I was wondering if you could give me advice on what I could do to improve this even more. Here goes….


    Chapter 1:The New beginning
    A new beginning, well, I haven’t felt them in quite a long time. It had always been the same in my life, all week I stayed at home with my mum helping her out with chores whilst she went to work in the evening. And then over the weekends I would stay with my dad, eating popcorn and watching movies all night whilst Tracey, dad’s new snobbish girlfriend, was out singing gigs in the pub. School wasn’t so bright either, especially with my worst bully on my track, Lily Wolf. I used to be bullied so much by her, mostly because I didn’t have friends, or I did, but they never were there for me during tough times.

    Everything changed when I turned 12. Mum had got a promotion and was transferred from Los Angeles to New York. She had already found a new school for me to move to and had already spoken to dad about what was going to happen. They had decided that I was better off living with mum, since both dad and Tracey would be working fulltime all week, and so I would have to live on my own, which I wasn’t ready to do yet. Although I had the offer of leaving a school I never really desired to go to, even if I had the ability to fled my bully and go to a new school that provided better opportunities for me, even if I had the power to overcome my fear of seeing dad leaving us for Tracey every step of the way, something had always told me that Los Angeles would always be where my heart would stay!

    “Hattworthfolk High School!” I exclaimed as the cab turned a right towards the new school. It was my first day of school !The scorching sun was shining brightly in the morning sky, cars horns honking with pride. Quietly I observed the amazing scene around me. Large apartments scintillated under the blue sky as people rushed from here and there, trying to reach their destination in time. Fountains spurted with glee as the beautiful greenery grew more luscious around its surroundings. My tummy flipped in nervousness as the cab drew closer and closer to the school…

    BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The car drew to a halt, almost tilting the cab towards the pavement. Silently, I got out and started gradually walking to the gate, turning back every few minutes to watch my cab turn a corner down the street. Once it had disappeared down the city square, I approached the gate, greeted the security guard that was ushering me inside, and walked the elongated pathways towards the grand school that stood before me.

    I was greeted by a sweet scent of perfume, which floated towards me as I silently walked past the beautiful flower beds. Children rushed as teachers hushed. Birds tweeted as children chorused throughout the whole morning.

    DING! DING! DING! Loudly the school bell rang, reminding us that the school day had already started and that registration would soon take place. I was making my own way through the winding corridors, when a girl rushed down the corridors and stopped in front of me.

    “Hi, my name is Rosie and you must be Maranda, the new student. Let’s hurry up and go to class before we get into big trouble!” With that Rosie grasped my hands and hurriedly dragged me across the corridors towards a class which was labelled,’8G.’ Then she hastily hung up her coat and bags and pointed towards the coat hanger on the opposite side of her for me to hang up my own stuff, before adjusting her hair and hurrying into class with her notebooks bulging out of her hands. For a moment I was speechless. What is going on?

    Cautiously I crept into the classroom, and then suddenly stopped motionless, eyes transfixed of the chaotic scene before me. Children screamed whilst pounding around the room like vigorous lions, as paint flew from one corner to the other. (Did I tell you that my classroom was an art room) Gum drooped down from desks as art supplies encircled the whole place. It was just like one of those scenes where you just sit at your desk awkwardly, waiting for your teacher to suddenly burst in and claim a detention for the whole class, even if you were not involved. Suddenly, paint of all colours flew across the air towards me, landing directly on my perfect t-shirt I had just brought the day before. Angry, I scowled at the boy who had launched the paint onto me than sat back only to be harassed by flying aeroplanes circling around me. Was I in the wrong class?Just then a paper aeroplane flew across the room towards the open door, missing the display board outside and instead hitting a beautiful woman by the name of Miss Honey.

    Her eyes sparkled with glee as she hushed everyone down and her red lipstick sparkled with a delicate smell of strawberry as she quietly greeted us. (I knew the smell of her lipstick very well as my mother had the same one as her in her own collection.) It was just like a magic spell. One by one, each child replied to her welcomes and sat down at their desks and within seconds it was as if nothing had ever happened!

    “Lily Croft!”

    “Yes miss!”

    “Daniel Riverton!”

    “Sup miss!”

    “Maranda Bellamy……!”

    Cautiously everyone turned their chairs and peered over to the corner of the classroom, where I sat. Nerve surged up my shaking spine as my voice trembled in return.

    “Y…….y……………Yes?”

    Mrs Honey smiled and closed the register, before walking to my desk. All eyes were still on me, and I felt the urge to rush out of the classroom and out of plane sight, escaping from the horrible consequences of my dreary life.

    Mrs Honey crouched before talking to me in a sweet and delicate voice.

    “You okay?” She whispered. “You’ll get accustomed to this place in no time at all.” She brushed back her hair, her eyes sparkling with curiosity, and kindness.

    OK, I admit, school was awesome. I have made two new kind and caring friends: Kayla and Mya. They are cool, and probably look out for me more than my past best friends. Our class was not too bad either, just a few rifts here and there; well we can’t blame them! Lessons were awesome, my favourite is art, having been an art scholar for the past few years. There are also lots of co-curriculum opportunities, basketball being my favourite sport.

    No bullies! I just feel the freedom in me from the tight chains that have been dreading me my whole life. And the best thing, is that dad is moving to New York! I will be able to see him every day, and you know what, maybe Tracey is amazing after all!

    I just feel a new me, a new beginning to my life, and I cannot wait to experience more!

    Reply
    • January 26, 2020 at 3:26 pm
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      You’ve got a lovely story there! Without knowing the direction of your book, it’s hard to give advice on how to start a first chapter. I will say that I’m a fan of books that start with a bang and bring you right into the meat of a story. Those kinds of beginnings grab my attention and make me want to read the book. Your current first chapter has more of a scene-setting feel to me- that seems to fit your writing style, so, perhaps that is fitting depending on how you want to work your book. Good luck!

      Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 12:15 pm
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      Neha,

      Hattworthfolk High School? The only reference that that brings up on the entire Internet, is your story. Amazing, really.

      The paragraph that follows the naming of this school may be one that should be deleted however, if not vaporized with a laser gun.

      I looked up scintillate and it appears that your use of that word is technically correct, though rarely used in the fashion that you used it. (Okay, so I learned something.)

      Overall though, I think there might be a little too much flim in your flammery. (But it’s your choice.)

      For instance:
      ‘Car horns honking with pride.’ This is so rare as to be almost unbelievable. (Unless you’re driving the Nissan Goose.)

      I like the spurting fountains, but the glee in their spurting is a bit overzealous. (Just kidding, I think it should be spouting fountains. Unless you’re writing ‘purn.’)

      I don’t know Neha, your descriptions are a bit too ‘flourishing.’ I think I would scale back the descriptive elements in your story and concentrate on action, plot development and character. Character descriptions are a fun way to get descriptive, but the environment, (scorching sun, luscious plants, scintillating buildings) is pretty unnecessary, unless, UNLESS, they’re critical to the story. One must decide what to emphasize and what to abbreviate.

      That’s my take on your first chapter. It could be condensed. Others may see it differently.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 3:10 pm
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      Interesting and upbeat start – where’s it going to take us, I wonder?
      Good luck with the project!

      Reply
  • January 26, 2020 at 5:25 pm
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    A very interesting story. Tongue in cheek, I take it. I like the upbeat last paragraph and you have hooked me in to wanting to know more about the narrator. Good characterisation.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2020 at 8:06 am
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    berlinermax’ bonus story.
    (Don’t vote for that. Vote for the other one.)

    How the accident happened? Yes sir, I’ll tell you. I calm from here, I see the crossing, but suddenly someone calm from over there. Looked like he calm from nowhere. And a horse carriage calm from the underpass. And a guy on a skateboard calm I don’t know from where. The horse carriage calm to where the skateboard was and I calm into them and there was a sound and the someone from over there calm into us and it made another sound. Then the bus calm, it was a double-decker bus and it calm quickly, calm into the pile and then there were many sounds and I calm confused. But I think I had the right of way and none of the others were allowed to calm.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 11:48 am
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      Hoo-ha. Very funny Jurgen. One suggestion. “I be-calm confused.” (I wish I’d thought of this.)

      Reply
      • January 27, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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        “I’m calming! I’m calming!”

        “Really? It sure doesn’t sound like it …”

        Reply
  • January 27, 2020 at 12:18 pm
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    Realty Check. (Filename: Smoke 1.4)
    By Ken Cartisano
    Word Count – 1180
    1-27-2020

    The self-described ‘Facilitator’, sat at the head of the table, wearing a well-fitted gray suit, white shirt, four carat sapphire cufflinks on each wrist, and a hand-sewn tie from a village in Tuscany. He looked like a mannequin in a department store window, but with strong masculine features and expensive cologne. His calm demeanor radiated competence.

    Mr. Jones and his lawyer were seated to his right, two powerful men reduced to whispering in his presence.

    A legal counselor sat to the ‘Facilitator’s’ left, and two assistants stood by to shuttle documents back and forth. An innocuous Brahm’s melody played so softly from invisible speakers that no one noticed the soothing sounds.

    “Gentlemen.” The ‘Facilitator’ said. “Are we ready to proceed?”

    *****

    Dave opened his eyes to find his distraught wife sitting next to him on the edge of the bed, shaking his shoulder. A smoke alarm was screeching from somewhere downstairs.

    “What’s going on, Jan?”

    “The house, I think it’s on fire.”

    He sat up, sniffed, inhaled. Smelled nothing. “You think?” He scratched his head. “Did you call the fire department?”

    “Do you think we should?” His wife said.

    Dave looked around, it was pitch-black, then dimly lit, then pitch-black, then dimly lit. Over his shoulder, on the nightstand, the alarm clock’s bright orange numerals were flashing on and off, its backup batteries stuck on 12:00, He reached for the lamp and pulled the chain to confirm that the power was out, then fumbled around for his phone, knocked it off the nightstand and onto the floor.

    “I’ve got it.” Jan said, scooping it up off the floor and handing it over.

    He found the ‘on’ button. “With our luck the damned thing’s dead.” But it was simply turned off. One of the phone’s initialization screens was so bright, it illuminated a good part of the room for two or three seconds. Just long enough to reveal a layer of smoke clinging to the ceiling: White, odorless smoke.

    He flung the covers off, swiveled to put his feet on the floor. “Where’re the kids?” He tapped the phone to access the keypad and punched in the emergency number, 9-1-1.

    “I don’t know. In their rooms?”

    It was a two-story house. All the bedrooms were on the second floor. “Go get ‘em, Jan.” And added, “Hurry!”

    He stepped into his slippers, tapped the call button and made his way through the door to the head of the stairway as his wife returned with their two kids in tow. One rubbing sleep from his eyes, the other wide awake. “Jeffrey was already up,” she said. “Playing video games. Isn’t that right, Jeffrey?”

    “Your father…” Dave began.

    As if on cue, her nearsighted dad exited his room in a worn bathrobe, with a shotgun in hand. “What’s going on here?”

    “Jesus, Dad…”

    “Who are you people?”

    “Dad it’s me, your daughter, we have to get out of the house. Now.”

    “Why? What’s going on?”

    “The house is on fire.”

    “So?”

    “Dad…”

    Dave began herding his kids down the stairs. The Emergency Operator answered the phone at the same instant that they reached the first floor.

    “Hello. Nine-eleven. What’s your emergency?”

    “Come on kids.” Before he could push his two sons in the direction of the door, it crashed inward, sending chunks of wood and drywall up against the opposite wall. Though they were unhurt, the implosion was frightening and the concussion was deafening.

    “Nine eleven. What’s your emergency?”

    Dave couldn’t hear a thing.

    “Sir? What’s happening? Can you tell me what’s happening?”

    He and his boys stood spellbound as a massive figure filled the now gaping doorway, backlit by bright flashing lights, shrouded in smoke and clouds of shattered plaster, it looked like some alien creature from a Sci-fi movie as it entered the room.

    ********

    “Have you made your selection, Mr. Jones?” The ‘Facilitator’ asked.

    Mr. Jones got the nod from his attorney and said, “Absolutely. Without question. Number 1722.” He spun the catalogue around for the Facilitator’s benefit, to a photo of a beautiful two-story house, sitting atop a remote bluff.

    But it was a wasted gesture.

    Instead, the Facilitator consulted with each of his assistants over his shoulder, in tones that could not be overheard. The assistants, a male and a female, glanced in Mr. Jones’ direction once or twice, their expressions were unreadable.

    ********

    Despite the confusion, Dave realized the intruder was neither alien nor fireman but a large man in a Haz-mat suit. “Who the hell are you?” He demanded.

    The intruder’s voice was too muted to hear through the suit’s layers and he resorted to gestures and hand signals. His intent was clear enough, he wanted Dave and his family out of the house. But why? Dave began to doubt that there was an emergency, let alone a fire. “Who put you up to this?” He shouted.

    He could hear his wife screaming despite the noise, but not her exact words.

    And then the gun went off. Her father’s shotgun. It knocked a hole in the ceiling and produced another shower of plaster and debris; an accident, but the white-suited man retreated rapidly through the hole where the door used to be.

    His wife was unhurt, crouched at the foot of the stairs covering her ears, while her father had dropped the gun and raised his hands over his head in self-reproach, both kids were terrified but their screaming was drowned out by the sound of a chopper hovering over the house.

    Hooded officers in armored black suits broke through the windows, shattering glass in every conceivable direction. Then they took down each member of the family, including the kids, shoving their chests firmly into the glass they’d just broken while securing their hands behind their backs with plastic zip-ties. Each person was hoisted to their feet in turn and escorted out of the house through the hole in the front entrance. Which led to a well-lit mobile command center and a couple of prisoner transport vehicles.

    Dave caught a glimpse of those vehicles and began to holler and resist. He didn’t want to be separated from his kids, let alone arrested, but the officers didn’t respond to his pleas, requests, or demands, as if they were deaf and mute.

    A smattering of select reporters were present and threw a few disheartening questions at the husband and the father-in-law as they were being processed for transport. “We didn’t do anything.” The husband claimed, ignoring the reporter’s questions. “No one was shot.” While the father-in-law mentioned the word ‘accident’, he was driven away in custody before he could give any further details.

    *******

    “Now, let me remind you, Mr. Jones,” the Facilitator said, “because the house and property that you specifically selected is currently occupied, a host of additional liabilities may be incurred.”

    “I understand,” Mr. Jones replied. “I don’t care.”

    “And Realty Inc. will not be responsible for any of those liabilities, legal or financial, beyond what is
    stipulated in the contract.”

    “Agreed.”

    “Then we have a deal.” And all four men stood up and shook hands.

    Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 5:24 pm
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      A terrific story, Ken. Great action, interspersed with returns to that mysterious meeting, doomily hanging over the story right until the end. And you still find time for some humour – the old man’s “So?” is a brilliant joke. And the title’s pretty funny, too. The figure in the doorway … ‘ET’, right? The undercurrent is Kafkian – there’s this anonymous board that decides on compulsory purchase of property. We have the HS2 railway in Britain … so it’s not far from the truth really.

      There’s been a lot of suggestions to cut the ends off other stories this week, and I think you could lose that last sentence, making “Then we have a deal.” the last line. Just an imho.

      Really enjoyed it.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 1:08 am
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        Hey Phil,
        Thanks for the feedback. And you’re right about that last line. Who ends a story with ‘they all stood up and shook hands.’ ??? What was I thinking? (slaps forehead with heel of hand.) This story depressed me. I didn’t really want to write it. It could be shorter. But once again, I was running out of time.

        Reply
        • January 29, 2020 at 7:07 am
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          Great ending Ken. Tied it up rather neatly I thought. Action packed and I had to read it twice to be sure that I thought I understood it properly. Just back in school starting with students Friday so have to get to sleep. More to say but Phil and Andy kind of covered.
          Neat sidestep on my part I know but I’m tired and rambling sorry ….😖😊

          Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:36 am
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      It’s a story where you hope it’s fiction. But you can’ bet sure. Modern horror stories don’t need monsters, officials can take over this part. Creepy. Entertaining creepy.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:35 am
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      Again, I like the switching back and forth between the two stories happening. I was confused a bit about the family in the house, but then so were they, so I think this lent itself to the story. In a way it reminded me of a Russian film I saw where a local bureaucrat wanted the land where a man was living and went to extreme measures to get him to leave. But in this case the measures are even more extreme. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I like this story just the same.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 7:46 pm
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        Wendy, I saw this movie, it was called Leviathan, and it was so good, and tragic. I loved it!

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:26 pm
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      Action driven, with little breathers here and there, each time we’re taken to that Realty Inc. meeting. Which add up to even more overall suspense. Not for a moment did I drift off!

      I’m not sure, Ken, if I’m satisfied by the ending, as any explanation I can think off for this savage evacuation has to be too outrageous for my understanding.

      Maybe I’m missing something too, very possible. But I read it twice in a row.

      This piece reminds me of that play “Blasted”, at least in the way the Serbian soldier storms into the quiet hotel room in Leeds, which somehow ends up in the midst of the atrocities of the war in Bosnia…

      It does sadden me when “outside life” invades the privacy of domestic life, as in your story. And you paint that aspect most evocatively. Even in war, it’s the thing I find the most depressing. Not that soldiers’ lives, at the war front, don’t matter, but the disturbance of private intimacy, is even more unsettling to me.

      The command of the language is great and fresh, as always. An inspiration, really. The descriptions and atmosphere too.

      Why did you say, somewhere, you didn’t really want to write this story, Ken?

      Ken

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 1:35 pm
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      Btw in my first reading I thought the family members were going to be tied from their legs and lifted out of their house heads down into the dark sky by helicopter. It could be an alternative dramatic (and traumatic) exit, actually. Especially for the film version of this story 🙂

      The characters’ chests being pressed against the broken glass, while being arrested and tied, is also a master’s touch evoking the brutality of the intruders.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 7:48 pm
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      Talk about eminent domain taken to the extreme. Good use of dialogue and I loved the switching back and forth between scenes. I don’t know…I liked it but it was missing something for me. Not the usual snappy Ken story telling that I love so much. Still, good story my friend.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 2:41 am
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      A different kind of Cartisano caper this time. And it’s been a bit puzzling for some. I had to reread it, but then I always do with every story and see more each time.

      OK, here’s my take on it. It’s about the little man (family) versus the irresistible greed of corporate America. Or corporate anywhere, perhaps. But it’s in America, I presume. The dark conspiratorial forces can co-opt the resources of the state to impose their will. Down here at ground level, we ordinary folks don’t know what’s going on, except that it’s happening. And we’re innocent, but it doesn’t matter.

      I read (below, below) that you’re not happy with the story, Ken, and want to get rid of some of the over-the-top force of the forced entry. And somehow reporters know to be there, which undermines the secret conspiracy a bit. That’s kind of filmic though. There are always flashing lights and random reporters. WHen I first read the hazmat suits I immediately thought they’ve been infected with coronavirus or novichok or something. That would be a way of legitimising getting people off the scene.

      And you want to get rid of the shotgun. I want to keep it. Grandpa’s shotgun for me represents the illusion that the robust individual can defend himself against an oppressive state with a shotgun. It might have worked against George III (well, a musket) but against the dark forces of the corporate world and its allies in the deep state? Now way!

      Have I completely made up my own story here?

      Reply
  • January 27, 2020 at 6:12 pm
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    Now that I’ve read the story all the way through Neha, this seems like a pretty complete tale. The end of the chapter seems to tie things up nicely. Though all conflicts have not been resolved, no serious challenges present themselves. The real challenge here, is to accurately present the fear and anxiety felt by the main character in anticipation of transferring to this new school.

    The appearance of the school, (its gardens, facade, and fountains) can be an important element in describing the event, I concede. This was an aspect of the story that didn’t occur to me, but ‘proudly honking car horns’ detracts from their function rather than enhancing it.

    I see how you’ve incorporated previous suggestions into this draft, which, (in my never so humble opinion) improves the story substantially. (Especially since they were my suggestions.)

    In short, More story, less words. Have at it. (Bring on the bullies.)

    Reply
  • January 27, 2020 at 6:20 pm
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    Now a story from the future … perhaps

    Reply
  • January 27, 2020 at 6:23 pm
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    Emotional Pathology

    Jorg Ragnussen, Emeritus Professor of Emotional Pathology, stepped up to the podium.

    He looked across to the empty chair where his opponent in the debate should be. It was a tactic he recognised. Her lateness was no doubt a contrivance to disconcert him and focus emotional attention on her eventual arrival. He could deal with that.

    He looked around the audience in the room, then made a sweeping gesture towards the billion eyes watching from afar, acknowledging the applause and interest from their avatars swarming in the high vaulting roofspace above. He began his argument.

    ‘For nearly two centuries we have been developing affective computing to enable machine intelligence to recognise, interact with and respond to human emotion. Endowing it with emotional sensibilities. We need to stop, review and rethink what we are doing.

    ‘The truth is this: all emotion is pathological.

    ‘You may say, “We are creatures of emotion”. But emotion has an evolutionary context. And the context of human existence has changed. Let me show you. For example, we have these.’
    He gestured towards the outward signs of his implants, silver filigree jewel-tech attached to his temples.

    ‘And all these.’ With a sweep of his hand he summoned a series of holo-images illustrating the vast range of neuro-controlled prostheses and devices in common usage. Then images of replicators and the artefacts they produce, then of vast cities in space, of new lands of health and plenty.

    ‘Consider how far we have come,’ he continued. ‘Our evolution is taking us beyond the usefulness of our emotions. We can improve ourselves, create ever more beneficial living environments, travel the galaxy without inflicting huge damage on the places we tread, as we did in the early days. And the main risk to our progress is – the volatility of our emotions. Territorial conflict, jealousy, pride and fear have all interrupted our progress and set us back over the past thousand years.

    ‘Our emotions evolved as spurs to action and reaction, to decisions for fight or flight. But we no longer need either to fight or to flee. Nor fear the lack of anything. Nor fear that others will take what we have. Yet our emotions remain, like a shadow-side to ourselves, dragging us back to primitive behaviours at odds with our new capabilities.

    ‘But you may ask, “What of happiness? Of love? Of pleasure shared? Are not these desirable emotions?” I say not. Happiness always carries its shadow, the fear of its loss. The surge of chemicals that boost happiness cannot be sustained in the human body. We can sustain them artificially, for sure. But the result is addiction. That brings its own set of problems and dysfunctionality.

    ‘And what of morality and justice? For millennia the human race has been misled by conflating right and truth with whatever makes us feel good – ’

    The door of the theatre swooshed open as Amira Yu, Professor of Hyper-Affective Cybernetics and Director of the Empathic Grid, made her entrance. Ragnussen stopped mid-sentence. He had not seen Amira in person for many years. Older now, she carried herself with great style and elegance. His counter-affective implant routines noted the impact of her charisma, and adjusted accordingly.

    As intended, Amira had interrupted the flow of his presentation. Ragnussen smiled graciously, and gestured for her to speak.

    ‘Without emotion, we live a lie,’ began Amira, speaking before as she took her place at the opposite podium. ‘My learned colleague feels that it is by controlling emotion that we have made the advances we have. My thesis is this: The greatest advance in human history is the great leap we have made in understanding each other, by being able to upload and share our emotional state to the Empathic Grid, to receive feedback and support from billions. You don’t agree, Jorg? You regret the pioneering work we did together all those years ago?’

    ‘There were good reasons for being able to simulate sensations online – ”

    ‘Ah, the early days of Internet of Feelings. You’re making me feel nostalgic!’

    “It’s gone too far, Amira. Your Empathic Grid has sent emotionality spiralling out of control. Billions of people waste potentially productive lives wallowing in a half-real emotional melodrama. It has slowed the advance of humanity.’

    ‘But Jorg, explain your burning desire for progress? Isn’t that based on emotion? What drives you forward to seek a better world, if not emotion?’

    ‘A combination of intellectual satisfaction and aesthetics. Just as a mathematician can see beauty in an equation, so it’s possible to appreciate the beauty and logic of making the right logical choices. But we need to divorce the pursuit of excellence from the personal pride we feel when we succeed, and the jealousy we feel towards others when they do better than us. By using counter-emotional implants and cognitive reassignment, we can achieve excellence with calmness and magnanimity.’

    ‘But surely calmness itself is an emotional state!’
    ‘No. True calm is the absence of emotion. Inner peace is not achievable when we are slaves to emotion. And wallowing in the borrowed emotions of others takes us ever further from peace.”

    Amira smiled. ‘Let us test your doubts about the Empathic Grid. I invite you to join the Grid, just for ten minutes, for a thought experiment. Will you do that?’

    The audience near and far signalled overwhelming approval. Jorg nodded cautiously. He had been expecting such a stunt and was confident that with the aid of his implants he could withstand any theatrical emotional demonstration. Now connected to the Grid, he felt the wave of emotional reactions to his arguments, to his perceived coldness, but also to his perceived honesty.

    ‘Jorg and I have a long history, as colleagues, rivals, opponents – and lovers! Do you remember our liaison with affection, Jorg? Ah. I see. For a moment we felt your affection, plus a little confusion and consternation. Same for me too!

    ‘Now – would the young gentleman in the third row there please stand up? Can you tell us who you are?’

    A young man in his mid-twenties stood up. ‘Your son, of course, Mother. And the Professor’s son, as you told me a few days ago.’
    The Empathic Grid spiked with excitement and anticipation.

    ‘Yes, Tor is seven months younger than the years that have passed since we ended our affair. And yes, it had to end. You couldn’t disrupt your family at that time, nor did I want you to. Since then ….’ She shrugged.

    Jorg’s face had turned white, then reddened. His inner turmoil was shared with the billions on the Grid. Waves of emotional support and shared emotional experience sought to comfort him, while a sub-current of hostility to him flowed across the Grid. All the while the counter-affective routines in his implants sought to neutralise the emotional flux, attempting to neutralise the impacts of both the compassion and condemnation alike.

    ‘Should I have told you?’ asked Amira. ‘As time went on and your fame grew, I feared that we – Tor and I – would be unwelcome encumbrances to you. Emotional encumbrances.’

    Jorg was regaining his emotional equilibrium, his professorial balance. ‘Amira, is this true?’

    Amira looked him in the eye, and asked: ‘Do you want it to be?’

    [1200 words]

    Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 8:28 am
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      Andy, I liked your Empathic Grid concept. For me your story really took off when the professor connected to the grid. I wonder if it might be even more powerful if you trimmed the first section of much of the descriptions and added to the descriptions of the professors reaction to the son. I liked your ending a lot. Cheers!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:03 am
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        Many thanks for your comments, Trish!

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:40 am
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      Exciting idea: would we be better off if we had no feelings? In any case, a lot of therapists would be unemployed. But without emotions we wouldn’t be human either, we would be robots.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:06 am
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        Thanks, Jurgen.
        Unemployed therapists? Such is the future of work! I imagine though that the would need to upskill to twiddle the implants and analyse the data dumps from all the emo-streaming and algorithmic filtering.

        And robots? Or maybe better versions of ourselves, without all the angst and conflict 🙂

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 8:02 pm
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      Sounds like something that people would want to achieve in the future, but can we ever really turn off our emotions? I think Amira proved we can not. Andy a well told story using scientific jargon that didn’t make the story drag along. Full rich characters and a believable premise. I liked the flow and the open end. Is Tor Jorg’s son? I think Amira is bullshitting him, this was her attempt to prove him wrong, but that’s just me. 🙂

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:12 am
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        Many thanks, Alice. Trying to create distinctive characters with different styles of speaking reflecting their characters and outlook.

        I don’t know yet if Tor is Jorg’s son. Do you want him to be (lol)?
        I’ll know if I write a next episode, but I suspect you may be right. Both characters try to demonstrate their points with evidence, but Amira’s approach is more theatrical and manipulative, with the emotional pull. These days it seems that’s how people win support, regardless of whether what they say is true …

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 3:55 am
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      A Cold War of the future, Andy, between hearts and minds? The goings-on in your story are quite a viable history-to-come, as the human race continues to depart at a greater speed than ever from its animal origins toward the machine. We’re already there, to some extent, aren’t we? Well on our way…

      Profs R. is quite convincing in his opening speech. At first, I thought: oh, another podium type speech story. But I didn’t get bored for a single moment. There’s a bit of exposition, sure, but this is soothed as the Professor peppers his cold expository presentation with such memorable gems as “Happiness always carries its shadow, the fear of its loss” or “True calm is the absence of emotion” among many others. His fear of Amira’s imminent arrival is palpable throughout. Fear. An emotion, right? Just this fact kills what he says, in real time as he says it.

      Amira convinces too, without having to make much effort. She does throw in some witty philosophical bits too. “Without emotion, we live a lie”, is my pick. She doesn’t rely on words, though, but on pushing the Professor straight into the pool of experience. He struggles to swim. And then, well, in the end, she presents him with the fruit of the Tree of Life. And with the final choice of the heart: “Do you want it to be?” in reply to his empirical question “Is it true?”

      It’s got it all, Andy. This is more than just a story, but a lesson to humanity, asking us all if (and how) we want it to be.

      I like the way you bring in the relevant terminology – the Internet of Feelings, Emotional Pathology, the Empathic Grid, the counter-affective implants. One day, in the second half of this century perhaps, maybe early on in the next, scientists might dig back and find your story as they wonder what to call the new ideas and gadgetary of the day.

      Some mentioned Facebook as the Empathic Grid we’ve already got. I don’t think so. Sure, it’s got its potential, but has so far proved to be more of a Hypocrisy Grid. All those “friends” and “likes” – we must be the most empathic generation in history. Not.

      Surely not.

      Ken

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 5:02 am
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        Thanks so much for your comments, Ken, and your engagement with the story.
        Very much on my lines of thinking (so has to be right, eh? ;-0 )

        You made me think about Jorg’s “fear” of seeing Amira, a former colleague and lover. Is it fear, or anticipation? And can you have anticipation without at least a tinge of fear or some other comparable emotion, I wonder?

        I don’t know the answer to this, as I haven’t written it, but would someone’s antipathy to emotion be only the result of dispassionate reflection on humanity, or might one expect it also to have psychological roots in some deep hurt or trauma of some kind? It may be so!

        Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 1:54 am
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    Great story Andy. Excellent writing. My first impulse at the ending though, was, “No fair.” But then I think, between the Grid, the counter-affective routines, the implants, all will be neutralized. The professor will be fine.

    The Empathic Grid sounds something like Facebook.

    I wonder, had the professor not been buttressed by his anti-emotional implants, wouldn’t Amira’s emotional ambush be considered a kind of assault? Considering the implied power of the empathic grid? Eh? What gives ‘ere, mite?

    Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 4:05 pm
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      A fascinating and convincing story, Andy. It’s already happening, this Empathic Grid, isn’t it? (As Ken C suggests with his Facebook reference.) And Jorg’s philosophy – progress for the sake of it – is also true of today, I think. His reasoning is super-clinical. (helped by your command of the language – superb.) That last line is terrific.

      You were right on the word limit, so my suggestions might not have been possible, but I would have liked more interaction with the avatars (deafening applause from them, or boos, etc.). And I think I would have liked some action to connect Jorg to the Grid – some switches switched, or panels tapped, or holograms stroked, or something.

      A very thought-provoking story, very well rendered.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:36 am
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        Many thanks for your kind comments and feedback, Phil.

        I agree it would be nice to have some more audience response and setting-context. There was in the draft before I trimmed it, two other instances of audience response in fact which I trimmed down to one.
        Trish on the other hand would like to trim the descriptive elements – which is also possible as the whole thing is dialogue-driven. As a debate, I guess it ought to be!

        A long time ago I had a kind of version of this that was 750 words. This is a recasting and expansion, and I think the ‘calm’ prompt introduces a good element, about whether ‘calm’ is an emotional state or the absence/emptying of one, which is a tension I like.
        One day I may take this forward as a longer piece, perhaps, fleshing out the backstory (or starting earlier, as it were) – I am encouraged by the comments here to do so!

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 3:23 am
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      Many thanks indeed, Ken!

      Yes, there is something facebooky behind the Grid It’s what people will do with the tech if they get the chance, I guess.
      I was speculating about a technological and social progression from being able to describe and share/fixate on how you feel online, which is what we do now, then moving to being able to upload shapshots of one’s emotional state so that other can experience it (retweet it, etc), and then to live-streaming of emotional states that we can share and react to (or critique…)

      “Emotional ambush” – that’s just what it is and is arguably abusive. Though she gives him the option to participate or not …
      Hm, makes me think: I wonder how a Jerry Springer (/Jeremy Kyle) -type programme would pan out with this technology? Could be popular and devastating in equal degree…

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:26 am
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        (Not sure how my response to Ken ended up under Phil’s comment. Maybe because the train I’m on went through a tunnel. Or I clicked ‘reply’ in the wrong place.)

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        • January 30, 2020 at 3:58 am
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          My comment to your story, too, Andy went somewhere in between the other comments. Hope you’ll find it! And I’m not even in a train going through a tunnel. Perhaps in a tunnel going through a train. No, it’s something to do with the imperfections of WordPress, I suppose…

          Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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    Eye of the Storm by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [word count 423]

    Arzakh was surrounded by chaos. All three factions were trying to take Nikel Outpost, a pivotal point in the three banners war to gain emperorship. Daggerfall Covenant troops had been successful in gaining ground against both the red bannered Ebonheart Pact in the east and the Aldmeri Dominion in the south, but the yellows had been increasing their attack and really starting to push back. She wasn’t really sure why the few reds had come all the way down here when the keeps closest to their home base were occupied by her blue compatriots. Naturally everyone in her battalion said they were working together to take them down.

    Arrows and spells were flying all around her and corpses of all three factions littered the ground. Healers were trying to resurrect as many soldiers as they could, but the death toll was overwhelming them. It was one of the bloodiest battles Arzakh had seen for a long time.

    As the Covenant battering ram turned Nikel’s front door to splinters, blues began rushing in to clear the outpost of Dominion troops. Hot oil was burning her team to death and the barrage of arrows and caltrops dropping from the building’s upper story was compounding the destruction. Yellows came swarming down the stairs just as the vanguard hit the outpost’s back flag. They bombed the blues with their destructive spells and then ran away from the next wave.

    Arzakh knew what she had to do. She ran up the backstairs to get in front of the retreating yellows. Before they could summon their magic again, she laid down her own arrows and caltrops, ran into the thick of them, and…

    It all became calm. She looked deep inside herself and released the berserker rage that was her birthright. It expanded from her in a whirlpool of wind and ice, freezing her opponents where they stood, trapping them in her more mundane weapon’s reach.*italics*

    The calm broke and Arzakh cleaved the closest elves in half with her greatsword. Blood and bodies pooled in her wake, red and yellow insignias and banners littered the floor. As she pummeled her way down the main staircase she saw the rearguard finishing up what was left of the Dominion troops. It had been a slaughter on all sides, but the Covenant troops had proven the victor this time. Chants of “For the King” and “For the Covenant” rang through the outpost. The blue banner was raised and, for now at least, King Emeric was one step closer to the Ruby Throne.

    Reply
    • January 28, 2020 at 3:36 pm
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      This is another story I wrote for my video gaming guild in conjunction with the contest. I’m multitasking lol

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 12:50 am
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        Wendy, what does this story do for your gaming guild. How is it used?

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        • January 29, 2020 at 1:23 pm
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          We have a bimonthly newsletter that sometimes has role playing stories in it. One of our members has a long running soap opera like serial story going.

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    • January 29, 2020 at 12:48 am
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      Wow Wendy, you’ve managed to encapsulate an entire final battle in under 500 words. Really amazing writing. Unbelievable scene, incredible action, so much happens.

      Despite its brevity, you’ve conjured up vast hordes of soldiers, dying so quickly not even magic can re-animate them fast enough, did I mention magic?, spells, swordplay, blood, guts, waves of attackers, and then the calm. Sort of a slow motion moment, Where she unleashes her own strange power, and then the action resumes. It’s really excellent.

      It takes a moment at the outset to fully comprehend that the three colors are sufficient to identify the principals, who is fighting who, and that the narrator is the character named ‘Arzahk.’ (Pronounced: ar-zahk. lol) Once I understood that, it was easy to visualize the entire chaotic scene. Amazing really.

      Pretty impressive writing Wendy. Just out of curiosity, do you have any idea how much time you spent on these 500 words?

      Reply
      • January 29, 2020 at 1:31 pm
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        Dammit, I just can’t get used to this new laptop. I had a reply all written out then touched the screen in the wrong place and poof, it disappeared like Kaiser Soze

        Wow, Ken C thank you for your comments. This was one of those prompts where I had a dozen inklings of ideas, so had trouble choosing one. By putting it into the context of the game I was able to winnow it down and get something written, but it took 2 weeks almost until I thought to do that. I’m not sure exactly how long the actual writing took, but it did happen in one sitting. I was having some difficulty translating the three faction colors naturally into the story. I wanted to make sure someone unfamiliar with my particular game would have enough information about the three groups. My husband is sick so I couldn’t test it out on him (he doesn’t play.)

        Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 2:46 am
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      What an unusual interpretation of the word “Calm”. The inner peace to find the birthright of rage. And back to battle. (Can I come out of hiding now?)

      Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 4:26 pm
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      Hi, Wendy. Concentrated action! It’s GoT/LotR type stuff, which normally leaves me cold, but this has many things going for it: brevity, great names, slickly-described action (the moment of calm is fantastic), an ending to take us beyond the ending (this is obviously an episode from something much grander), a strong female lead.

      I must admit to being a little confused by the names and colours – I kept having to back-track to connect a flag colour to a faction name. And this felt a little weak: “the Covenant battering ram turned Nikel’s front door to splinters” (the ‘front door’ makes it sound like a house in the suburbs). Similarly, ‘ran away’ here: “They bombed the blues with their destructive spells and then ran away from the next wave.”

      Intense stuff, though.

      Reply
      • February 3, 2020 at 8:14 am
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        Thanks, Phil. I guess I probably should have just stuck with either the color or the faction name for ease of understanding. It was hard to not just talk like we do in the game, so I should have stepped back just a little bit to make it clearer.

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 3:00 am
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      That’s a torrent of action, Wendy. Carried me along.
      Having not played a video game for about 30 years (I think it was Crash Bandicoot then) I’m kind of out of touch with the capabilities of modern games, but I understand there’s a fair bit of conflict …

      And I’m always a bit puzzled by the interplay of magic and primitive weaponry. Like in LOTR Gandalf can wield amazing zappy power, but prefers to spend his time riding a horse and whacking people with a pole. It’s not logical, Captain! This modern mythology lacks the realism of Crash Bandicoot and good ol’ Space Invaders, perhaps 🙂
      But I know I have to suspend my disbelief … I’ll try, I’ll try!

      BTW I recently finished reading The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (have I mentioned that before?). Have you read that? Chinese SF. Big chunks of that take place in a remarkable video game and at first I was like, WTF? But it works and makes sense as part of the whole. Kind of.

      So carried away was I by the pace of the writing, at the end I misread “closest elves” as “closet elves”. My mistake. But I am now inspired to write a story about closet elves. Maybe it should be a requirement for the next prompt.

      Reply
      • February 3, 2020 at 8:18 am
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        Thanks, Andy. Yeah there’s lots of zappy magic and then stabby swords in this one lol. I did read that the Three Body Problem a few years ago, it was full of interesting ideas. I love reading sci fi and fantasy from other cultures because it starts from a different place and then can take us even further than some of the same tropes we’re used to.

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 4:04 am
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      I felt thrown in every direction as I read through this battle of colors… It was difficult to hold on to anything. Then I realized it’s a video-game, right? That explains it – it’s exactly how video games must feel like if you’re inside them (also playing them, actually!). I didn’t know which side to take (pick a favorite color, perhaps?), but then I supported Arzakh, since she’s mentioned by name. But it’s hard when you’re in a video-game without having the controls in my hands! In any case, Long live King Emeric! We love you! (who is he?)

      Is this from a real video-game or you made it all up, Wendy?

      Reply
      • February 3, 2020 at 8:20 am
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        That’s exactly how it feels for me inside the game Ken M! This is from an actual game that I play, Elder Scrolls Online. And King Emeric is voiced by Bill Nighy, so you know he’s an important guy, lol.

        Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 9:06 pm
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    It has come to my attention that many of you are feeling the crunch of the current insult shortage.

    I’m sure that most of you realize by now, what an honor it is to be at the receiving end of one of my legendary ‘insights.’ And it seems that a few people may be starting to look forward to the brilliance of my special gift, and I appreciate their dependence; but I just want to take a moment and inject a little reality into the situation here.

    The sad fact is, I don’t have time to insult everybody, every week, equally. It’s just not possible. Dishing out disdain is a lot of work, and frankly, none of you are worth it. That’s why I’m issuing this statement, which allows me to perform blanket insults by addressing everyone at once. (This may be the key to solving the current insult crisis.)

    I’ve thought about doing insults in group form, but I don’t like it, you don’t like it, nobody likes it. Nobody likes being ‘grouped.’ That’s the problem, insults have to be personal. So, I hope that those who feel shortchanged or left out of the ongoing ‘Insult-a-palooza,’ will bear with me. You’re not being overlooked, your stories and comments are being read, re-read, examined, dissected, bisected, resected and disrespected. You’re on the list, or in the hopper. Do not doubt it. I’m doing all I can and we’ll get through this crisis together, or without you, if we must. Whatever works.

    And no, I don’t appreciate your patience. So save it for someone who will. (Your pet parakeet, perhaps.)

    You’re all very welcome. (I’m sure.)

    Sincerely,
    Ken

    Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 11:18 am
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      Ken, shall I write a new robot story, to get you started?

      Reply
        • January 30, 2020 at 4:14 pm
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          Fruits and vegetables

          Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 1:49 am
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        Hey Mr. Miles,

        I’m getting ready to cast my vote Miles, thought I’d drop you a note, answer your question(s).

        So, you heard I didn’t like my story. Well, it’s a long story, and not a very good one.. At least three people said they had to read it twice. That right there is a major indicator. But that’s not why I don’t like it. (I disliked it before everyone hated it.) It has no twist or reveal. No redeeming event or transformation. The story reminds me, (visually) of an imposing, three column unpainted, concrete bridge. Sturdy, built to last, not much to look at. Especially in this fog.

        It could’ve been pretty good if I’d let it simmer a few more days. Essentially the problem is that I’m asking readers to go too far and wait too long for clues about what’s really going on. Part of the problem is the action sequences are too slow. (The characters don’t even seem that alarmed.)

        Need to delete the shot gun, and the swat team. This story should have been about a company that fakes biohazardous clean-ups, decontaminations, quarantines. A much better ruse for what they really do, illegal evictions. All the broken glass and shattered doors was unrealistic, for the scenario I envision now. It would have been cleaner, quieter, scarier, with men in suits just appearing at their bedside in the middle of the night. It could’ve seemed more like an alien abduction, or invasion.

        I could do a lot of things but I’m not going to so I’m going to stop talking about that.

        Let’s see, you wanted to know when–in your story—-that I first figured out—-that the briefcase was—-gonna be stolen.

        That’s the kind of thing that’s impossible to tell. I can give you a rough estimate. I started reading the story at around 9:30, finished it in less that fifteen minutes, so I’d say around 9:35. AM. I hope that helps.

        Reply
        • January 30, 2020 at 3:43 am
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          Hi Ken – see above for my comment on your story and on this comment.
          My comment on your comments has ended up under my comment on Phil’s comment. I don’t know why. This InterWeb can be confusing.
          (I hope this comment is in the right place)

          Reply
        • January 30, 2020 at 10:35 am
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          Well, yes, I would have liked a more valid reason for the forced evacuation (like the biohazard idea), even if it’s just a scam for the big fish to eat the smaller fish. (It happens all the time in the oceans, and nobody lifts a finger!)

          So you made that important realisation (stolen briefcase) at 09:35. That’s 5 minutes into the story. But now I need your exact morning reading speed to get to my much sought after answer…

          Reply
    • January 29, 2020 at 6:43 pm
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      Okay so, while we were waiting on people to vote, I typed up some really good alternate names for everyone’s stories. I do this as a Public Service. To the literary community. It’s FREE. You pay nothing at all.

      TIME EXPERT by Alan Pattison Time, Hiccup.

      Homeward Bound by Phil Town Boneward Hound.

      Silent Night. Holy Night. by Ken Frape Soggy Night, Gory Sight.

      CALM DOWN, TRACEY by Ken Miles Hang, On Sloopy, Sloopy Hang On.

      A Bit Of Fluff & Nonsense by Trish Abba Flabba Doo.

      Waterfalls by Peter Holmes Waterfails.

      The Shot – Redoux by Roy York The Rewrite – Edited.

      The Mantra by Alice Nelson Oh No You Dinnint.

      Ripples by Adrienne Riggs The Mimsy Path. (Almost went with nipples.)

      The Morning Calm by Ilana Leeds In Chant We Musk.

      Calmtree Yoga by berlinermax Clamsassle Enigma. (Take that, Bjorn.)

      The New Beginning by Neha Neil A Newer Beginning, Using the word ‘Start.’

      Realty Check by Ken Cartisano Signing Shitty On The Hill.

      Emotional Pathology by Andy Lake Some Writers I Know, Some I Don’t.

      Eye of the Storm by Wendy Edsel-Kerwin The Heart Of The Galactic Shit Cyclone… of Death! MF’s.

      DISCLAIMER: These names are not for personal use. No one, from the creators, to the administrators, the hackers, the bloodsucking vampires, or anyone else of another race, creed, nationality, species or planet of origin, shall be held responsible, in any way whatsoever, for your use of these names on any of your stories. But you’re free to do so if you like.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 8:54 am
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        Re titles, I liked the double / triple meaning in your original title

        Reply
      • February 3, 2020 at 8:23 am
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        I like your your title better than mine and surprisingly would fit right in in the video game crowd lol

        Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 11:20 am
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    Just waiting on votes from Ken Cartisano, Neha Neil, Alan Pattison.

    Remember, unless you let us know you need more time voting will end in just about an hour. 🙂

    Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 11:49 am
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      Carrie, are you sure? I voted last night, I thought. Let me check my other PC it’s possible I failed to hit the send button after making all of my selections. will let you know in five minutes.

      Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 11:52 am
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    Well, I don’t see any unsent pages. I’ll go back and do the vote again. Don’t know what could’ve happened.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 11:58 am
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    Carrie,
    I may have forgotten to add my name and email address to the form before sending. You should have it now. Sorry about the delay. (Pardon my stupidity. You should be used to it by now.)

    Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 12:27 pm
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      Got it and thank you!!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 12:51 pm
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        I sent two separate emails, one with the new prompt. Let me know if you haven’t received them, for whatever reason. I also forwarded the email response to Alice from the 14th. Don’t know where in cyberspace that one went if you didn’t get it.

        Sorry about the delay everyone. But, this is an easy prompt that I hope provokes some great stories.

        Roy

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 4:36 pm
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      Congrats Alice! Back with a bang. One of my faves too, amongst so many stories I liked this time round.

      Seems like it pays to burn down the house: the other time Wendy did it and won, now you too 🙂

      Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 12:27 pm
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    And without further ado…..here are your winners!!

    1st Place: The Mantra by Alice Nelson
    2nd Place: Silent Night by Ken Frape
    3rd Place: Homeward Bound by Phil Town
    4th Place: The Morning Calm by Ilana Leeds
    5th Place: Ripples by Adrienne Riggs
    6th Place: Emotional Pathology by Andy Lake
    7th Place: CALM DOWN, TRACEY by Ken Miles
    8th Place: The Shot – Redoux by Roy York
    9th Place: Waterfalls by Peter Holmes
    10th Place: Realty Check by Ken Cartisano
    12th Place: 11th Place: Eye of the Storm by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    13th Place: Calmtree Yoga by berlinermax
    14th Place: A Bit of Fluff & Nonsense by Trish

    Story with the favorite character: The Mantra by Alice Nelson “Lynn”
    Story with the favorite dialogue: Ripples by Adrienne Riggs

    Congrats Alice!! And great job everyone!
    Today’s prompt is to be chosen by Roy, once he gets us the theme/required elements I will post it.

    Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 2:46 pm
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      Congratulations, Alice! Back with a bang! Pleased with my 3rd. And congrats all. This really is a great group.

      (And I really liked your story, Ken C. You’re being too hard on yourself.)

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 3:43 pm
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        Thank you Phil! And you’re right, Ken C. is too hard on himself.

        Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 5:19 pm
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        Yes, well done, Alice!
        I posted congrats abut 4 hours ago, but now it’s gone? Or didn’t get through?
        If it pops back in, I’ll be more than happy to congratulate you twice!

        Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 4:29 pm
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      Congrats all!

      Alice, you sailed back in and took the prize! Way to go! Voting was tough but the final choices were clear. This group rocks!!

      Roy,
      Thought you said the next prompt was going to easy??? I have a feeling it might be “hard for most of us.” Sorry, just getting a head start!

      Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 4:37 pm
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      Congrats Alice! Back with a bang. One of my faves too, amongst so many stories I liked this time round.

      Seems like it pays to burn down the house: the other time Wendy did it and won, now you too 🙂

      Reply
      • January 30, 2020 at 4:54 pm
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        Thank you Ken M! Remember to burn something down for the next prompt. 😂

        Reply
    • January 31, 2020 at 5:59 am
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      Hi All,

      Thanks for your votes and congrats to Alice, my winner too.

      Looking forward to this next prompt too.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 2:38 pm
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    Congratulations Alice. Great to see one of your more mediocre stories up on the thread. (Where we can all make fun of it.) Great to have you back in the competition too, (you’re so easy to beat.)

    I actually took pity on this story and that’s why it got one of my votes. I can’t speak for anyone else of course but…it’s possible there were others who felt the same way.

    I’m thrilled with my 10th place finish, but feel bad for Trish, Jurgen and Wenders who are lined up behind me wondering why I’m ahead of them. I suggested the list might have been read backwards, . (But we’re all cool with it, Jurg with the jokes, Wendy and her flamethrower and Trish’s cats, with Trish. Along with some ghosts, and crickets. Some of us are having wine, coffee, chewables. Okay that’s just me, I don’t know what everyone else is having.)

    I finally let Kim read my story and she did her imitation of a cat throwing up. I said, “Don’t make me play charades Kim, did you like it or not?”
    “This is not your best work.”

    10th place… is like an upside-down backwards suspension of redemption. You’re not the worst, but you’re not very good either.

    I forgot to add that Kim left the story lying on the floor when she finished reading it and added, “You know how you save printed copies of your stories?” I nodded. She said, “I would just leave that one there.”
    On the floor.

    “Don’t sugarcoat it Kim.”

    So, that was a pretty interesting prompt, can’t wait for the next one.

    Reply
    • January 30, 2020 at 2:44 pm
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      Coolio! Thanks Ken…I think 🙂 Thanks everyone for your votes, it was good to be back in the fold with all these fantastic writers I haven’t really gone up against, so that makes this one really special. Woo hoo, hope I can get one in for the next prompt. 🙂

      Reply
  • January 30, 2020 at 2:47 pm
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    Good job everyone, cracking stories

    Reply