January 18 – January 31, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “The Ride”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “The Ride”.

Requirement Element: Something or someone fragile or vulnerable.

Word Count: 1,200


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  • 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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Ilana Leeds per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


 

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258 thoughts on “January 18 – January 31, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “The Ride”

    • January 19, 2018 at 12:44 pm
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      You sure are!

      Reply
        • January 28, 2018 at 7:18 pm
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          Just counted up 10 stories so far. We are really rocking the robin on this one. 🙂

          Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:34 pm
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      Carrie,

      Where’s the story from you that is going to rock this prompt. I’m on pins and needles.

      Reply
  • January 19, 2018 at 3:00 pm
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    This could be interesting…..

    Reply
  • January 21, 2018 at 8:41 pm
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    The Ridden and the Riders
    “So, today is the big day, eh?”
    “Yeah.”
    “Reckon you’ll be ok? You’ll stay the 8 seconds? That ole bull has a bad, bad rep?” Tess was teasing him. The tip of a pink tongue caressed her up lip and teeth. She widened those blue pools of azure light and giggled. One leg perched on the fence and the other planted down unbearably close to his thigh.

    “I rid him once afore. Two years ago. At Warwick. Eight secs. But he trod on me afore the clowns could distract ‘im. Mean bastard.” Dywane fixed his gloves and pulled at their wrist edges. “I lost by ten points though.” He tried not to show his nervousness, but it was not just the 8 sec ride ahead of him that was making the sweat trickle down from under his hat band over his neck into the open neck of his check shirt. He tried not to let his eyes stray over to where Jodi, his boss’s seventeen-year-old daughter was being called up for the barrel race on her handsome chestnut Flash Jack. He cursed his failure to resist the pleasures of the flesh last night. If Tess was to find out, the thoughts flittered through his head making him more than nervous. Tess spied the lanky frame of Arthur loping towards the riders’ pen. She waved vigorously.

    “Oh shit.” Thought Dywane. If Arthur finds out about Tess, he will be dead meat on a stick and hung out to dry. Arthur fancied himself as Jodi’s protector. Remembering the passion with which she had overwhelmed him, it was surprising that Jodi was ever in need of a “protector”. Men may need to be protected from her advances. She was a hot one, a regular steamer in fact.

    “G’day, Arthur! Didn’t know you were takin’ up the bulls, big boy?” She walked over and clapped him on the arm, then feint punched him lightly in the chest. “I though the gee gees were more your style?” He looked a bit nonplussed but endured it. He raised one eyebrow at Dywane.

    “Dywane. A word mate! After you finish your ride. Ok.” Arthur’s face gives nothing away. Dywane nods assent as he climbs over the fence to where the bull is snorting and pawing up the earth in the chute. He has become meaner and much chunkier since Warwick Rodeo. They didn’t call him Turd Tosser for nothing. TT for short.
    “Yer checked the flank rope?” He calls to one of the boys prepping the bulls and readying them to ride. He fixes his spurs, checks his gloves and springs up to stand straddling the chute, just above the bull who, aware of the man above him lifts his massive head and snorts in either anger or anticipation.

    “Pull the rope down tighter.” Then he drops lightly onto the bull’s back, feeling the animal’s muscles tense, slides his gloved hand under the front rope and grips tight and raises his other arm in the air once his grip is secure. The raised arm is the signal, the chute door opens. The bull explodes through the opening into the area. Dywane has just a split second to adjust before the bull begins bounding and twisting mid-air to dislodge the man on his back. He must balance his body, maintain his centre of balance on the maddened animal’s back using just one contact point – his gloved hand gripping a rope girding the animal’s wither. He must not touch the bull with his free hand. It must remain higher than or level with his shoulders. He must spur the bull’s withers and remain on the animal rising and falling in perfect rhythm, jarring his body this way and that, for eight long seconds before vaulting off to roll in the churned sands of the area.

    Dywane’s head snaps back with the bulls first impact. His teeth rattle in his skull as the bull rose and fell. He keeps the clowns in view, as did TT, the bull. TT does not know which is more irritating; the man on his back, the clowns whistling and waving umbrellas and coloured scarves, or the roars and screams of the crowd. He twists up and down to dislodge the man. Success as Dywane’s face smashes into the back of TT’s massive head as the bull rears back and up. The man falls on the bull’s shoulder as he lifts off again in a twisting, bone jarring buck.

    Dywane’s body arches up off the bull to land with a thud. The bull charges head lowered, his horns aim for the man’s prone body. Then his view is blocked by a waving scarf and the twirl of an umbrella covered in ribbons. Tail lashing and mean eyed, the bull turns and charges. Behind him two men grab Dywane and half drag lift him out of the area.
    ****
    Jodi is one of the first to see him in the hospital.

    “I can’t see you again.” She says. Secretly, he is pleased, but he pretends sadness.
    “Why not?” He manages to mumble between his swollen lips and cheeks.

    “Well, it’s kinda like this.” She is self-conscious about what she is going to say. “I only wanted to find out what it would be like. You know. I didna want to go into bein’ married n’all without some experience.”

    Dywane rises to one elbow, not sure he understands what she is saying.

    “Well, me and Arthur are gunna be married in September this year. Hate for him to find out. Find out I bin bedded before ‘im.”

    Dywane is confused. “So you don’t want to go out with me?” Jodi shakes her head.

    “No. You was just a practice run. For me. I didna mean to take you for a ride. Just don’t want ya to say nuthin’ to Arthur. He was gunna ask you before you got smashed up. If he does, please don’t tell him. Ok.” Her eyes were wide with an unspoken fear.

    “So and if he wants to know why there is no blood and you are a virgin? What will you say?” Then, Jodi laughs.

    “Well, I do lotsa horse riding and I’ll tell ‘im, it probably broke me hymen long time ago.” She has gone from fearful to a cheerful chortle in seconds. Now she is reassured that he will not tell Arthur about their exploits the previous night.

    After she leaves, Dywane tries to sleep. The pain killers have made him drowsy. He is woken up by someone gently touching his shoulder.

    “Hi. You ok?” It is Tess.

    “I’ve had better days.” He laughs. Then he stops. Tess is close to tears.
    “Dywane I want to tell you this now. I’m sorry. “she stops and wipes her eyes. “I saw Arthur go up to you before your ride, and I want you to know, it meant nothing.”

    Dywane shook his head. “What do you mean? What meant nothing?”

    “He was going to tell you that he spent the night with me.” She teared up again. “I was trying to make you jealous. We did nothing. I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
    • January 21, 2018 at 8:49 pm
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      I have made a small correction and wanted the first draft deleted but it will not let me post again. Weird.

      Reply
      • January 23, 2018 at 12:02 pm
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        That is weird, do you need the other one deleted so you can post? Otherwise you could email it to us and we can just copy and paste, replacing the original one.

        Reply
    • January 25, 2018 at 10:46 am
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      Hahahaha what a tangled web we weave!!! Great story Ilana – lots of characters smashed into so few words and you definitely made it work.

      One quick clarification:
      “Oh shit.” Thought Dywane. If Arthur finds out about Tess, he will be dead meat on a stick and hung out to dry. Arthur fancied himself as Jodi’s protector.” Did you mean “If Arthur finds out about Jodi, he will be dead meat on a stick and hung out to dry.”?
      If so I can go in and make the edit for you.

      Reply
      • January 25, 2018 at 11:31 pm
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        AHAhha, clever girl. That was exactly the edit I wanted to make as I put the wrong name there. There was one other thing, but I am so tired from taxi driving I have forgotten now where. I could have put in a story about the rural taxi war we are involved in at the moment. It would be a story of rural taxi company ruled by some bullies. One an ex policeman, actually two ex policemen, but the other one just makes inappropriate comments to young women like “nice dress, like the way it shows your “mammery” assets”. ???????? Like WTF If he said that to me, thirty years ago, he would have received a smack in the head, verbal or otherwise. Anyway a bloke who is an ex bank manager, who went into the taxi business years ago, twelve to be precise, had had enough of their unprofessional attitude so he started his own company. (Let you into a secret. I drive for the ex bankie) Now we have a war going on and the older company had gotten extremely paranoid especially as three of their cars have come over to the new group and so they lost 7 cars out of 12 in the new year instead of gaining a new car from Karl because they hate him. (OH Australia your tall poppy syndrome gets to me some time, all the time.)
        Anyway one of their regular customers who has come to us because we have
        1. Clean cabs
        2. Polite, professional and punctual drivers
        3. Respectful drivers who help the oldies and mothers with prams and drivers who do not harangue them to “Hurry up time is money BLAH BLAH.”
        was waiting to get his cab from Coles supermarket. Ex copper from old company pulls up.
        “You waitin’ for a cab?”
        “Yes. But it’s ok I’ve rung Baw Baw Taxis.” (That’s our new company.)
        “Get in. I’m taking you.”
        “But I want Baw Baw Taxis. I’ve rung them.”
        “Get in the cab. I’m drivin’ yer.”
        So the poor bugger got in because as he told me the next day, “I was scared not to. N is built like a brick shit house on steriods with an ugly temper and an ex cop besides.” He said I tried to stop shaking when I got in and all the way to my house, he bagged out BBT and told him how we were a bad company and stealing all their jobs. Plus we are supposed to have scanners that are picking up where all the West Gippsland Taxi work is and we are pinching it. We have their phone line tapped in other words. So I told this guy tell them next time that Ilana has worked for the Mossad and I have shown them how to rig up an underground bunker and we are tracking all their jobs and redirecting it to the call centre for BBT and we all have open mikes placed in the upholstery of their cars which we put in there before the change over on the first of January 2018 so we can track all their conversations. That will fix the paranoid idiots. All they need to do is lift their game a bit and not treat their customers like shyte.

        Reply
        • January 26, 2018 at 4:10 am
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          Bloody hell, Ilana, that is so funny. Love the way the anecdote escalates, had me chortling all along. You must write that story.

          Reply
      • January 26, 2018 at 9:43 am
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        I noticed that too. It made me stop and re-read, to make sure I understood who was who. Also, in the fourth line the word ‘up’ should be ‘upper.’
        In all other respects this is a great story, Ilana, with the twist at the end taking me by surprise. (Because the narration, up until that point, is totally focused on Dwayne.)

        Reply
    • January 26, 2018 at 7:31 pm
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      Love the title Ilana, it absolutely fits this torrid tale of bed swapping. Loved the dialogue and the twist at the end, never saw it coming. Nice job! Carrie and Ken already pointed out the mistakes, other than those a pretty tight story.

      Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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      Really enjoyed the story, Ilana.

      3 things stood out for me:
      1) The atmosphere which is very effectively conveyed, description skilfully woven in with the dialogue and action.
      2) The sexual under- and overtones/symbolism that run throughout, from the title through the riding of the animals (the horse as well as the bull). Kind of Hemingway, this bulls/passion parallel, and you handle it really well.
      3) You did keep me guessing how things would turn out. Strikes me the women turn out to be more confident players in this charged atmosphere, despite the machismo of the men?

      One thing – apart from the noted name-swap, on my first reading I also went astray at another point. Where it says: “Dywane nods assent as he climbs over the fence to where the bull is snorting … He has become meaner and much chunkier since Warwick Rodeo. They didn’t call him Turd Tosser for nothing.”

      I read this as Dywane had become meaner and chunkier, and was known as Turd Tosser. I couldn’t work out why, but assumed you had a reason for it: maybe much of his day was spent shovelling sh*t on the ranch, or it’s just that Aussie’s like robust nicknames. But a few paragraphs later I realised TT had to be the bull, not Dywane.

      So why did I read it wrong? 1) Because I’m stupid, and/or 2) Dywane is the subject of the previous sentence, so it’s a natural to read the next use of the pronoun ‘He’ as being him. I suggest ‘He’ here should more clearly refer to the animal to avoid ambiguity?
      Minor point, and my misreading did make me chuckle once I realised.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 6:46 pm
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        Ok Andy LOL I can see your point and it may need some refining on that. Maybe it should read Turd Tosser as the bull was affectionately known among the rodeo crowd had become meaner and chunkier since the Warwick Rodeo.
        Thank you for the detailed analysis. We are all in this to improve our writing practices. 🙂

        Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm
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      The Ridden and the Riders (1198 words)
      “So, today is the big day, eh?”
      “Yeah.”
      “Reckon you’ll be ok? You’ll stay the 8 seconds? That ole bull has a bad, bad rep?” Tess was teasing him. The tip of a pink tongue caressed her up lip and teeth. She widened those blue pools of azure light and giggled. One leg perched on the fence and the other planted down unbearably close to his thigh.
      “I rid him once afore. Two years ago. At Warwick. Eight secs. But he trod on me afore the clowns could distract ‘im. Mean bastard.” Dywane fixed his gloves and pulled at their wrist edges. “I lost by ten points though.” He tried not to show his nervousness, but it was not just the 8 sec ride ahead of him that was making the sweat trickle down from under his hat band over his neck into the open neck of his check shirt. He tried not to let his eyes stray over to where Jodi, his boss’s seventeen-year-old daughter was being called up for the barrel race on her handsome chestnut Flash Jack. He cursed his failure to resist the pleasures of the flesh last night. If Tess was to find out, the thoughts flittered through his head making him more than nervous. Tess spied the lanky frame of Arthur loping towards the riders’ pen. She waved vigorously.
      “Oh shit.” Thought Dywane. If Arthur finds out about Jodi and last night, he will be dead meat on a stick and hung out to dry. Arthur fancied himself as Jodi’s protector. Remembering the passion with which she had overwhelmed him, it was surprising that Jodi was ever in need of a “protector”. Men may need to be protected from her advances. She was a hot one, a regular steamer in fact.
      “G’day, Arthur! Didn’t know you were takin’ up the bulls, big boy?” She walked over and clapped him on the arm, then feint punched him lightly in the chest. “I though the gee gees were more your style?” He looked a bit nonplussed but endured it. He raised one eyebrow at Dywane.
      “Dywane. A word mate! After you finish your ride. Ok.” Arthur’s face gives nothing away. Dywane nods assent as he climbs over the fence to where the bull is snorting and pawing up the earth in the chute. The animal has become meaner and much chunkier since Warwick Rodeo. They didn’t call him Turd Tosser for nothing. TT for short.
      “Yer checked the flank rope?” He calls to one of the boys prepping the bulls and readying them to ride. He fixes his spurs, checks his gloves and springs up to stand straddling the chute, just above the bull who, aware of the man above him lifts his massive head and snorts in either anger or anticipation.
      “Pull the rope down tighter.” Then he drops lightly onto the bull’s back, feeling the animal’s muscles tense, slides his gloved hand under the front rope and grips tight and raises his other arm in the air once his grip is secure. The raised arm is the signal, the chute door opens. The bull explodes through the opening into the area. Dywane has just a split second to adjust before the bull begins bounding and twisting mid-air to dislodge the man on his back. He must balance his body, maintain his centre of balance on the maddened animal’s back using just one contact point – his gloved hand gripping a rope girding the animal’s wither. He must not touch the bull with his free hand. It must remain higher than or level with his shoulders. He must spur the bull’s withers and remain on the animal rising and falling in perfect rhythm, jarring his body this way and that, for eight long seconds before vaulting off to roll in the churned sands of the area.
      Dywane’s head snaps back with the bulls first impact. His teeth rattle in his skull as the bull rose and fell. He keeps the clowns in view, as did TT, the bull. TT does not know which is more irritating; the man on his back, the clowns whistling and waving umbrellas and coloured scarves, or the roars and screams of the crowd. He twists up and down to dislodge the man. Success as Dywane’s face smashes into the back of TT’s massive head as the bull rears back and up. The man falls on the bull’s shoulder as he lifts off again in a twisting, bone jarring buck.
      Dywane’s body arches up off the bull to land with a thud. The bull charges head lowered, his horns aim for the man’s prone body. Then his view is blocked by a waving scarf and the twirl of an umbrella covered in ribbons. Tail lashing and mean eyed, the bull turns and charges. Behind him two men grab Dywane and half drag lift him out of the area.
      ****
      Jodi is one of the first to see him in the hospital.
      “I can’t see you again.” She says. Secretly, he is pleased, but he pretends sadness.
      “Why not?” He manages to mumble between his swollen lips and cheeks.
      “Well, it’s kinda like this.” She is self-conscious about what she is going to say. “I only wanted to find out what it would be like. You know. I didna want to go into bein’ married n’all without some experience.”
      Dywane rises to one elbow, not sure he understands what she is saying.
      “Well, me and Arthur are gunna be married in September this year. Hate for him to find out. Find out I bin bedded before ‘im.”
      Dywane is confused. “So you don’t want to go out with me?” Jodi shakes her head.
      “No. You was just a practice run. For me. I didna mean to take you for a ride. Just don’t want ya to say nuthin’ to Arthur. He was gunna ask you before you got smashed up. If he does, please don’t tell him. Ok.” Her eyes were wide with an unspoken fear.
      “So and if he wants to know why there is no blood and you are a virgin? What will you say?” Then, Jodi laughs.
      “Well, I do lotsa horse riding and I’ll tell ‘im, it probably broke me hymen long time ago.” She has gone from fearful to a cheerful chortle in seconds. Now she was reassured that he would not tell Arthur about their exploits the previous night.
      After she leaves, Dywane tries to sleep. The pain killers have made him drowsy. He is woken up by someone gently touching his shoulder.
      “Hi. You ok?” It is Tess.
      “I’ve had better days.” He laughs. Then he stops. Tess is close to tears.
      “Dywane I want to tell you this now. I’m sorry. “she stops and wipes her eyes. “I saw Arthur go up to you before your ride, and I want you to know, it meant nothing.”
      Dywane shook his head. “What do you mean? What meant nothing?”
      “He was going to tell you that he spent the night with me.” She teared up again. “I was trying to make you jealous. We did nothing. I’m so sorry.”
      ©I Y Leeds 2018

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 7:27 pm
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        Rewritten and corrected two “errors” Carrie so if you can delete the other the original please.

        Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 10:18 am
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        Well done, Ilana! I enjoyed this story from start to finish. It is quite the situation this small group has found themselves in!

        Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 10:22 am
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        Great story with a cheeky twist, nicely drawn characters.

        Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 3:30 pm
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        At first I was a little confused in the first paragraph about who was sleeping with whom, but then I worked it out and at the end it turned out everyone slept with everyone so the confusion was understandable. Otherwise it kept me going to the end and I liked the bits from the bull’s pov giving a change of perspective in the middle.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 11:39 am
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      Ilana,

      Nice story, good twist at the end, and don’t have much to gripe about except some punctuation, and since I’m new to the group, don’t know how that’s received.

      I know you can’t use italics, so that makes it difficult to tell when someone is thinking instead of speaking. So, I use ‘ instead of ” for thoughts, and ” for quotes, only.
      In your sentence “Oh Shit. Thought Dywane. If Arthur finds out about Tess…”
      I think it would read better if it were this way. ‘Oh shit,’ thought Dywane. ‘If Arthur finds out about Tess…’ Later you also break up a quote from Arthur. “Dywane. A word mate! After you finish your ride. Ok.”
      To me, this needs a touch of punctuation in this manner.“Dywane. A word mate! After you finish your ride, Ok?” I think it needed a question mark and the comma also eliminates OK from being it’s own sentence.

      As I said, I hope you think this is helpful. If not, let me know and I will restrict punctuation criticism in the future. I just thought it needed a little help. Such as capitalizing She stops and wipes her eyes. Nitpicky, I know, but I really liked the story. I can see the drama. Nice.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 2:33 am
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        No Chuck input is appreciated and yes, I was a bit sloppy with the punctuation. And it would be good to use italics. 🙂

        Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 2:26 pm
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      Ilana: Nice twist ending. I must admit I had some problems with verb tense and accents But that failing may be more in my reading than in your writing I do think the use of”up lip” early on, should have been “upper lip”. Otherwise, quite an enjoyable read.

      Reply
  • January 23, 2018 at 11:55 am
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    I love your story and your title! You’ve taken me away from hum drum life to another place. I also like the plot twist. Great job!

    Reply
  • January 23, 2018 at 5:08 pm
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    The Good Samaritan
    By: Randall Lemon
    (1198 words)

    The constantly swirling red dust obscured Geoff’s vision to the point that even though the speed limit on this back road was 50 mph, he was crawling along at about half that. Almost to give his tired eyes a rest; he looked away from the road and its red frame to glance at his dashboard and noticed the outdoor temperature was 99 degrees.

    “I hope my air conditioner doesn’t give out. It’s brutal out there.”

    Materializing seemingly out of nowhere, Geoff spotted a figure sitting on the side of the road up ahead. Geoff made it a habit not to pick up hitchhikers; too many horror movies and urban legends. He slowed down just a bit more and saw that it was a girl, probably in her teens. She straddled a beat-up looking old valise and clutched a straw hat onto her head to keep it from being blown away. Any details beyond that were completely impossible as she was covered in the red dust.

    Appearing to see Geoff’s car at just that moment, she rose exhaustedly to her feet and stuck out her thumb.

    Geoff knew he shouldn’t do it, but she looked so pathetic, a waif tossed on a red sea of misfortune.

    “Oh what the hell! If it was one of my daughters, I’d want someone to help them out.”

    He slowed his car edging it toward the shoulder of the road. The howl of the wind and the rattle of the dust machine gunning the side of his car became more pronounced. He lowered the passenger window.

    She looked unsure, timid, and possibly afraid; but she edged closer to the open window. She appeared to gain some relief as Geoff’s car acted to disrupt the unforgiving wind that battered at her. She glanced furtively into the backseat, probably to make sure that no one was waiting there to jump out and grab her.

    She didn’t speak immediately and there was an awkward pause. Now that she was closer, Geoff could see that she wore a thin flowered dress and that the red dust had caked to the skin of her arms, face and neck, no doubt abetted by a good deal of perspiration on her part.

    “Excuse me, sir. (Sunday school manners thought Geoff) Do you think you’d be willing to give me a ride to the next town?”

    “As long as you can promise me you’re not some desperate character who’s out to rob me.” Geoff said only half-jokingly.

    A sad smile cracked the caking around the girl’s mouth, “Well, I am a desperate character, but only desperate for a ride and to get out of this wind and heat. I promise not to pull a gun and rob you. Okay?”

    Geoff chuckled, “Alright, I’ll take you at your word. Get in.”

    She grabbed her suitcase and tossed it into the back seat then clambered into the front seat next to Geoff. She struggled slightly getting the door closed as she played tug-of-war with the demon wind that was howling up a storm by now. “Thanks for the ride, Mister. My name is Ellen.”

    “You can call me Geoff, Ellen. Here’s a bottle of water and there’d some paper towel in the glove compartment so you can wipe off most of that red dust, if you like. If you don’t mind my asking, how’d you end up out here in the middle of nowhere? The next town heading this way is Bigsby, Oklahoma and that’s over seventy miles away and Waurika back in the other direction must be forty miles back.”

    “If you don’t mind, Geoff, I’d rather not get into all that. Let’s just say that where I’m coming from isn’t nearly as nice as where I’m going to. If you can just get me as far as Bigsby, I’ll be grateful.”

    “Have you been to Bigsby before? Mostly just a mini-mart attached to a gas station, and few small businesses.”

    “Is that where you’re from, Geoff? You seem pretty familiar with it.”

    “No, but I pass this way quite a bit. I’m an insurance adjustor and this part of Oklahoma is my territory. I was just heading back home to Amarillo when I spotted you. If you don’t mind my sounding like someone’s Dad for a moment, Ellen, you really shouldn’t be hitchhiking and not just because of the unfriendly weather.”

    “Thanks. I’ve heard all the stories, but when you have to get somewhere and you don’t have any money; your choices are kind of limited. Besides, it looks like I got lucky. You don’t seem like a homicidal maniac.”

    “I might talk your leg off, but nothing more dangerous than that. I’m the boring insurance-type of guy with two daughters probably around your age. If Bigsby is your final destination, I’ll make sure you get there safe and sound. Would you mind if I turned on the radio? I like to hear the news and weather at 4:00.”

    Sure, it’s your car. The truth is I’m really headed north of Bigsby to Arnett. My Ma just died and my brother, Dan, is all the family I have left. He works in the gas fields outside Arnett. I’m hoping I can stay with him until I figure out what to do. I don’t have anywhere else to go. Ma and I never had much money and her doctor bills used up what little we had.”

    “I’m sorry about your Mom. Arnett’s only forty-five minutes from Bigsby and I’ve got the extra time. We’ll grab some drive-through and I’ll take you up to Arnett.”

    “Gee, Geoff, that would take you ninety minutes out of you way, but If you really don’t mind, I won’t turn your offer down. I guess this turned out to be my lucky day after all.”

    The two drove in silence for about 10 minutes listening to the country music playing on the radio, when the urgent voice of an announcer interrupted the music.

    “This just in: A gas rig located a few miles west of Arnett exploded early this afternoon. Seventeen workers escaped but five are still missing and presumed dead. Plumes of black smoke filled the air. Emergency officials have been unable to get near the rig because the fire is still burning. We’ll have more on this story as details become available.”

    Geoff turned to look at Ellen. Her face looked stark white, completely drained of blood. Pulling the car off to the side of the road, he took Ellen’s limp hands in his own.

    “Don’t jump to any conclusions. There are many gas rigs around Bigsby. Likely, Dan didn’t work on that rig. Even if he did, the announcer said that seventeen of the twenty-two men escaped. They aren’t even certain any of the five missing men are dead. So there’s no reason to panic. I’ll get you to Bigsby and help find you brother. I’ll stay with you until we do. I’ll call my wife and tell her I may be delayed. I promise I won’t leave you alone. Take a drink of water, and keep a good thought. Remember what you said just a few minutes ago. This is your lucky day.”

    Reply
    • January 24, 2018 at 3:04 pm
      Permalink

      Hey, Great story Randall. Wonderful dialogue, great description of the elements and the circumstances. I only point out two errors in an otherwise sterling story. In the news report, ‘Plumes of black smoke filled the air.’ That doesn’t fit into the news report. (Unless you want to re-word it. It’s the wrong tense.) And the sentence, ‘I’ll get you to Arnett and help find you brother.’ Obviously a typographical error. Great story on all other counts though.

      Reply
      • January 24, 2018 at 5:27 pm
        Permalink

        Thanks, Ken. Glad to be back with the group. Yep, that was a typo. I don’t think we can go back and edit now. Is that correct?

        Reply
        • January 25, 2018 at 10:50 am
          Permalink

          Actually – I fixed it for you!

          Reply
          • January 26, 2018 at 7:41 pm
            Permalink

            Carrie,
            Oh No you dinnint.
            Try pasting this in.
            I’ll get you to Bigsby and help you find your brother.

            Uchh, Supermodels.

    • January 25, 2018 at 10:52 am
      Permalink

      Great job and welcome back Randall!
      A very well crafted tale, I liked the characters and I’m hoping her brother is ok!

      Reply
      • January 25, 2018 at 12:56 pm
        Permalink

        Thanks, Carrie.

        Reply
    • January 26, 2018 at 7:39 pm
      Permalink

      Randall, welcome back!! What a sweet story, I absolutely loved it. Flowed so smoothly, and great use of dialogue. I thought the story might go dark, but that’s something I’d do, you always managed to have really good stories, that veered away from the horror genre. Ken already pointed out the little nits I saw, but this is a fine story. Great job!

      Reply
      • January 26, 2018 at 8:47 pm
        Permalink

        Alice: I must admit that the temptation to cross over to the dark side was very strong. I came up with 3 separate and completely different endings that all dipped into the horror or serial killer genre. One in which the contents of Ellen’s suitcase played an important role. But an acquaintance of mine recently criticized me for being to willing to succumb to murder and mayhem in my stories. So I was determined to keep the story to a positive theme though it made my job quite a bit more difficult. Thank you for your kind comments.

        Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm
      Permalink

      Good to see you back, Randall

      Well-written story that steers away from the usual tropes of dodgy driver or dodgy hitch-hiker. Hard to tell a story with nice people behaving well, and to keep the reader’s interest. Don’t they always say that drama depends on conflict? But the context for drama – or at least strong emotion – emerges with the radio news in your story.

      All very effectively done – but I was also expecting resolution in one of two directions, or both: 1) the reason why the girl was there, penniless in the middle of nowhere, and then 2) as others say, what is the outcome?

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:16 am
      Permalink

      Enjoyable story, Randall. I kept expecting a twist of one sort or another, but was pleased to find that didn’t happen. Nice job!

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 10:25 am
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        Thank you, Christopher. As I mentioned earlier, it was tempting to do the twists (with apologies to Chubby Checker) but I was looking to try to do something more positive and affirming with this story. Usually my stories tend to lean on humor, horror and the supernatural or just plain fantasy. I wanted to deal with real people facing a real situation. The story was inspired by last week’s gas derrick fire in Quinton, Oklahoma. and the tragedy brought to the families of those killed.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:28 am
      Permalink

      Lovely to have a happy ending, it could have gone so wrong. You chose to make it right. Well written.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 10:32 am
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        Maud: Thank you, I’ve already mentioned my motivation in this particular story to be positive. As some of the authors here have pointed out this quite possible instead of being an ending could just be the beginning of a much longer story. I’ll have to mull over the possibilities. Thanks,again.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 11:22 am
      Permalink

      Randall,

      Nice story, engaging and it held my interest. It has a happy ending of sorts, (which I vacillate on when writing), which I like, but I probably would have liked it just as much as if it hadn’t ended that way because of the quality of the writing. At a book signing once, in a meet and greet with a famous author, I asked him about endings and he told me he had changed several endings after writing it the way he originally intended it to be in his rough draft, and often it was exactly the opposite. Such as someone dies instead of lives, and so on. A lesson for me there.

      One teeny, tiny little thing that is probably just nitpicking since I can’t find much to complain about is the protagonist tells the girl “The next town this way is Bixby, Oklahoma, and that’s over 70 miles away…”. I think you could have simply said Bixby, as you tell us you’re in Oklahoma four paragraphs later. It just sounds funny saying the town and state to someone you’re talking to in conversation, unless, of course, it’s in a different state other than the one you are in.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 2:50 pm
        Permalink

        The reason I included “Oklahoma” here is because the driver lives in Amarillo,a Texas town along the same route. I didn’t want the readers to be confused. The story takes place in far western Oklahoma relatively near the Texas border.

        Reply
        • January 29, 2018 at 3:48 pm
          Permalink

          I didn’t see Amarillo in the story and don’t know that. I can see why you included it but still don’t think you need it. Sounds a little stilted to me. But that’s me. Good story, however.

          Reply
        • January 31, 2018 at 5:22 pm
          Permalink

          Randall,
          I think Chuck makes an excellent point. (Which totally slipped past my all seeing eye.) You’ve repeated the location unnecessarily, and in the dialogue, unnaturally. And, odd as it may seem, I don’t think most readers care where a story takes place in any case, so much as getting a feel for what it looks or feels like. This could’ve taken place, ‘in the middle of nowhere’, ‘between Blintz and Bamberg,’ or ‘just a few hours from Gnat, on the way to Snailtooth Junction.’ It’s important as a writer to know our geography, absolutely, even if its only in our heads, but I don’t think it’s nearly as important to the reader. For what it worth.

          Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:36 pm
      Permalink

      I really liked the descriptive parts in the beginning of the story, they really painted in my mind. I too was expecting a darker end, but I guess that says more about us than your writing ;^) I thought it wa sgoing to end strangely because of the twist of the news, but the last line about the lucky day cinched it.

      Reply
  • January 23, 2018 at 7:06 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Randall good to see you back in the swing of the writing thing. Liked your story, but I want to ask you to continue it somehow. It seems to have vanished into thin air, the ending and the tension. It seems like a lot of things packed into a box that is several sizes too small and you are trying to put the lid on it.
    Also one minor thing about the beginning:
    “he looked away from the road and its red frame”Not sure what you are trying to imply here. Do you mean that the road is framed by red dust? In any case the road would be obscured in part by the swirling red dust. As a veteran of many an outback dust storm in Australia, the dust just fills all your orifices with grit and fine grained sand, hair, ears, eyes, nose, mouth and works its way into your clothing and butt crack too. That is unless Oklahoma dust behaves differently to the American dust storms, which it could do, heh?

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 1:45 am
    Permalink

    I, too, wanted more. Is this a first chapter of a book? Engaging story!

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 12:41 pm
    Permalink

    Paula and Ilana: Thank you for the kind comments. This was written in response to the story prompt and so is not the first chapter of a book (at least not yet.) I would like more of the story as well but the 1200 word restriction makes that impossible at this time. The “red frame” comment was actually supposed to convey how the dust had gathered in the grooves around his car window as he looks out framing what he could still see through the clear (ish) part. As always, all comments are welcome and appreciated.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 5:29 pm
    Permalink

    I loved your story! I’ve grown up around aviators, and my husband is a flight control engineer. Nice twist–good job!

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 5:43 pm
    Permalink

    Moving On
    By Paula Young
    1134 words

    Sarah lay on the ground on a hillside trail a good ways from the house sobbing uncontrollably. Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach.
    “What a cliché my life has become,” sniffed Sarah. She sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers. “My husband has hooked up with my best friend, and there’s no way I can stay here. It’s his farm, his business. Even if I wanted the house, he would always be right there.” She sighed. “Tahiti sounds so good… but not likely, either. What am I going to do? I have a child to care for. I don’t have anywhere to go! I would stay with my parents, but the judge said I must remain in this state. Dear God, please help me!” She sobbed some more.
    After she had cried every tear she could produce, she wiped her eyes, and dusted herself off and headed slowly back to the house. She knew her daughter would know she had been crying, but it couldn’t be helped.
    “Hey, Dumplin’! Let’s go for a drive. “
    Mia jumped up and ran to her mom, her ponytail swishing. She was a carbon copy of Sarah, but smaller, and her hair was the color of honey instead of dark brown.
    “Are we looking for a new house, Mommy?” asked Mia, her green eyes shining.
    “Well, let’s just see what’s available.” One foot in front of the other. That’s how she would survive this. Left, right, left, right….
    Sarah had circled several places in the newspaper that were in the nearby town.
    “OK, here’s the first one.”
    “Mom, it looks like it was once a good idea, but someone forgot about it.”
    “I always liked this house from the road. Up close it does appear to be a fixer-upper. More fixer than upper! Let’s try the next one.”
    “I love this house! Can we call the realtor?” The neighborhood was full of trees, and the house appeared to be modern, recently built. The pink granite stones appealed to Sarah.
    “OK……It’s in bankruptcy, a drug dealer’s house? I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’d be interested. Thank you so much. Whew! Oh my goodness! I wouldn’t want his friends coming by! Where’s the next one?”
    “Oh, Mom! It’s beautiful! Let’s look inside!”
    Sarah marveled at the beautiful old white house with black shutters. It had more “Gingerbread” than Hansel and Gretel’s house! And look at the porch. She could imagine herself swinging in a porch swing.
    “I’ll call the realtor.”
    They entered the historic home.
    “It has a big living room, and three bedrooms,” advised the realtor.
    “Let’s look at the kitchen, Mia.”
    “Uh, Mom. What kitchen?”
    How had the previous owners lived here? There were a few old metal cabinets, a small stove and refrigerator that must have been made in the 1940’s! Sarah gathered that the house must have had a kitchen in the back at one time, and this was a pitiful attempt to “modernize” a dinette area.
    “This would take too much money to renovate.” The cost of the house alone was in Sarah’s upper limit. Sarah and Mia both sighed. “There’s one more on the list.”
    “I can show you this one,” said the realtor. “It was owned by a sweet lady with lots of cats.”
    “Mom, my ankles are itching,” said Mia as they walked through the yard.
    “Mine, too. I think this yard is infested with fleas! Hurry! Run to the car! Wipe your feet and ankles off with these.” Sarah felt defeated. Was she reduced to living in flea-bag of a house?
    “Well, I think I’ve reached my limit for today,” sighed Sarah. She took three deep breaths to keep from crying again.
    They got back in the car and drove slowly towards what used to be home.
    Then she saw the two-lane country road that turned off to South Hallow, which was about 25 miles away. It wound down a hill into the trees. It beckoned to her. Come hither.
    “Why not?” thought Sarah.
    “I love this road! It makes you want to drive really fast, but then there is a farm machine. And going up and down the hills makes my tummy feel funny.”
    “Mia, put your window down. Let’s smell some fresh air.” Their hair blew in the wind. Mia put her hand out the window to hand-surf.
    “Look, Mom! The cows are all lying down. Do you know why?”
    “No, why?”
    “Because they’re tired!”
    They both laughed at Mia’s 5th grade humor. It felt so good to laugh. It felt good to leave the troubles behind and just drive. Oh, for this road to go on forever and never have to deal with anything!
    All too soon they saw the houses and businesses of the village.
    “Oh, Mom! Can we stop at the dairy bar?”
    “Sure! Let’s get some ice cream. They have the best chocolate!” They sat in the sun at a concrete table with a blue umbrella. Sarah could feel the stresses of the day blowing away with the breeze.
    “Sarah! And Mia! I haven’t seen you for ages,” said Rosemary, one of Sarah’s friends. She gave the mother and daughter a hug. “What are you doing here?”
    “We’re having a much needed break from browsing for a place to live.”
    Rosemary had heard of Sarah’s break-up. She thought a moment.
    “There is a new apartment building right around the corner. I think they have a vacancy. I’ll ride over with you.” Rosemary could be a bit pushy, but it was most welcome now. Sarah desperately wanted someone to tell her what to do next.
    The women looked at the apartment. It had two bedrooms, a good size living room, a small dinette and adequate kitchen.
    “Mom, this isn’t so bad.”
    “You could live here for a while?”
    “Sure! But can we get a kitten?”
    Sarah was so relieved to have the weight of finding a residence for them lifted. This would give Sarah the time she severely needed to regroup and begin the healing process. Mia needed that time, too. This apartment would be close enough for Mia to visit her dad, but far enough away that Sarah wouldn’t run into her husband or her un-best friend. It seemed to be the perfect solution for now.
    “I’ll ask the manager, but I think it will be OK!
    And in that moment Sarah thought many things would be OK. She had a place to go, and a friend in town, and a feeling that things might be survivable after all. And a happy daughter never hurt! She was thankful for the lure of the rural road.
    “I’ll put my desk here, and the cat bed here, and Mom, we’ll need a new shower curtain…..”

    Reply
    • January 26, 2018 at 7:36 pm
      Permalink

      Paula, ‘Moving On.’
      This is an entertaining story, with some fabulous writing, a diamond that could use a little more polishing. (You must be ruthless.) (That’s why the word limit is so useful.)

      A kind of ‘The Road Less Traveled’ story. About people, and change, and real life.

      ‘The two-lane country road that turned off to South Hallow, winding down a hill and into the trees.’ (Nice. Tell me more.)
      ‘It beckoned to her.’ (Yes. Me too.)
      ‘Come hither.’ (Too much.) (I don’t like talking roads.)

      “Sure! Let’s get some ice cream. They have the best chocolate!” They sat in the sun at a concrete table with a blue umbrella. Sarah could feel the stresses of the day blowing away with the breeze.
      (This is great!)

      The opening phrase in this sentence is not realistic.
      ‘After she had cried every tear she could produce, she wiped her eyes, and dusted herself off and headed slowly back to the house.’
      She wiped her eyes, dusted herself off and headed slowly back to the house. (That says it all without any exaggeration. It’s all you need.)

      (My advice is free by the way, designed to be more entertaining than useful, and worth much less than I charge for it. Keep that in mind.)

      Reply
    • January 27, 2018 at 11:53 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Paula, a very heartfelt story. You said earlier that it’s from a moment in your life and it feels like a personal story. I really liked the dialogue and the openness of little Mia as her mother tries to process all that has happened.

      Ken mentioned a lot of the same things I saw, so I won’t mention them again here. I think that open ended finish works very well, it has the sense of a new and positive beginning for Sarah and Mia in their life after the divorce.

      A few tweaks and this could be quite a powerful tale. Nice job, and welcome to the group.

      Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 1:40 pm
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      Enjoyed the story, Paula – lots of things about it ring true, not least the dialogue. And it has great pace to maintain the interest.
      Great capturing of a turning point, the combination of practical and emotional factors – and the sunny optimism of a child contributing to turning a corner

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:35 am
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      Like Ken, I liked the ‘when paths diverge’ angle. It’s a leap of faith to take the road less traveled. Great story, with authentic sounding mother and daughter dialogue.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:40 am
      Permalink

      A solid story with a happy ending, Paula, which I am a firm believer in when it’s done well. I found it was lacking the emotional power that a story like this should invoke, however, although the bones of it are there. Also, I felt that it was, at times, choppy when shifting from one scene to the next.
      Some polishing and playing with the emotional side a little, in my opinion, would make this a really good story.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 2:38 pm
      Permalink

      Paula, First, I like your story. I like feel good stories, and this is one. You tie it up neatly, but I do have a few literary bones to pick on in your story.

      The first few paragraphs in a story, in my humble opinion, are probably the most important, although some may argue the last few are but, my dear, if they don’t get past the first they can never get to the last.

      Your first two paragraphs are: Sarah lay on the ground on a hillside trail a good ways from the house sobbing uncontrollably. Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach.
      “What a cliché my life has become,” sniffed Sarah. She sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers. “My husband has hooked up with my best friend, and there’s no way I can stay here. It’s his farm, his business. Even if I wanted the house, he would always be right there.” She sighed. “Tahiti sounds so good… but not likely, either. What am I going to do? I have a child to care for. I don’t have anywhere to go! I would stay with my parents, but the judge said I must remain in this state. Dear God, please help me!” She sobbed some more.

      This is what I would recommend and why:

      Sarah lay on the ground on a hillside trail a good ways from the house sobbing. Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach.
      Sarah sniffed. ‘What a cliché my life has become,’ she thought. She sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers. ‘Since NAME HERE has hooked up with my former best friend, NAME HERE, there’s no way I can stay here. It’s his farm, his business. Even if I wanted the house, he would always be right there.’ She sighed. ‘Tahiti sounds so good… but not likely, either. What am I going to do? I have MIA to care for. I don’t have anywhere to go! I would stay with MOM AND DAD, but the judge said I must remain in this state.’

      She choked out, “Dear God, please help me!” then sobbed some more.

      In the first paragraph, just drop the word uncontrollably, Then, in the second paragraph she can sniff and think properly.

      No one thinks of husbands, best friends, children and parents in those terms in their thoughts. Give them names, then they become more real. In your second paragraph, you are telling everyone, instead of showing everyone, how Sarah feels as if she’s sitting across from the reader talking to them. You are explaining who everyone is. You can do that later after the first few paragraphs. Simply give their names; your reader will sort it out.

      In the changes made the reader is no longer sitting across from your character; the reader is in the mind of your character, buying every word she is saying. It took me quite a while to break the habit of telling instead of showing when I write. I still do it, but try to catch it when I reread my work. I flet that’s what you were doing – telling, not showing.

      I really liked the comment ‘she sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers’. Well done. I saw the nervousness as she sobbed. And, I see a very good writer hiding behind those ‘telling’ moments, just ‘show’ me.

      And, my comments are yours to use as you see fit. If you like them, swell. If you don’t, let me know and I will back up a little. I am only trying to help, and that, I believe is the purpose of this group. To wet our writing chops and get constructive criticism. I hope I have done that.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 4:08 pm
        Permalink

        Thank you so much for the helpful comments–that’s why we share our work, to improve!
        Do you know if we are allowed to edit and re-post?
        Paula Young

        Reply
        • January 29, 2018 at 5:51 pm
          Permalink

          I’m new here, Paula. This is my first time. Check with Alice or Carrie, but I think you can repost one time. I’m not sure of the protocol, but one of them can surely guide you through it. Or, you can give them your changes if they aren’t a lot. Hope this helps.

          Chuck.

          Reply
          • January 30, 2018 at 8:00 pm
            Permalink

            Regarding the “sobbing uncontrollably”–this was absolutely the lowest moment in Sarah’s life. How do I communicate that?

          • January 30, 2018 at 9:37 pm
            Permalink

            Perhaps, a single line just before Sarah sniffs her comment. Don’t want to put words in your mouth, but something that will tell the reader how she manages to pull her self together so she can then communicate her thoughts. They don’t have to be rational, and they can be confusing to her, but I don’t think she could do what you have her doing in the second paragraph without getting it together somehow. Perhaps the thought of Mia and how she needs to be strong for her. That’s a lot I know, but I have faith you can do it. Maybe, “I can’t let Mia see me like this,” or “I won’t let that sonofabitch stop me. I will survive.” You’ll come up with something that lets her communicate her fears, yet not be undefeated.

        • January 29, 2018 at 6:52 pm
          Permalink

          Hey Paula, you can re-post your story one time. Re-submit story just like you did this one, then let Carrie and I know, and we’ll remove this story. 🙂

          Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 2:40 pm
      Permalink

      Paula: I really like some of your wording and turns of phrases. The image of “hand surfing” gave rise to particularly pleasant associations for me. After the recent experience with a yard full of fleas from the “cat house,” I found it a little unbelievable that Sarah succumbed so readily to Mia’s desire to bring a kitten into their newly found apartment but parents in such stressful situations are prone to give into the requests that their children make in order to placate them. This may sound odd but the one thing that bothered me was while Sarah might have a friend that lives in the new town, how about Mia? This town is 25 miles from her previous home. Will she face attending a new school?

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:59 pm
      Permalink

      I liked Ken & Chucks advice, so I’ll just give what I liked about your story. There was some great realistic feeling descriptions. The part where they take the road reminded me of when I was a kid and we’d drive on “roller coaster road” also hand surfing. That moment was my favorite in the story. From when they see the road through the line about the stress blowing away was really great .

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 9:16 pm
      Permalink

      Please replace “Moving On” above with this revised version. Thanks!

      Moving On
      By Paula Young
      1167 words

      As Sarah walked up the hill, the full weight of the events in her life caused her to fall to the ground, wailing. Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach.

      Sarah sniffed. “What a cliché my life has become,” she thought. She sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers. “The Jerk has hooked up with Donna—some best friend! And there’s no way I can stay here. It’s his farm, his business. Even if I wanted the house, he would always be right there.” She sighed. “Tahiti sounds so good… but not likely, either. What am I going to do? I have Mia to care for. I don’t have anywhere to go! I would stay with Mom and Dad, but the judge said I must remain in this state.” She choked out, “Dear God, please help me!” then she sobbed some more.

      When she regained her composure, she wiped her eyes, and dusted herself off and moped back to the house. She knew her daughter would know she had been crying, but it couldn’t be helped.

      “Hey, Dumplin’! Let’s go for a drive. “

      Mia jumped up and ran to her mom, her ponytail swishing. She was a carbon copy of Sarah, but smaller, and her hair was the color of honey instead of dark brown.

      “Are we looking for a new house, Mommy?” asked Mia, her green eyes shining.

      “Well, let’s just see what’s available.” One foot in front of the other. That’s how she would survive this. Left foot, right foot…

      Sarah had circled several places in the newspaper that were in the nearby town.

      “OK, here’s the first one.”

      “Mom, it looks like it was once a good idea, but someone forgot about it.”

      “I always liked this house from the road. Up close it does appear to be a fixer-upper. More fixer than upper! Let’s try the next one.”

      “I love this house! Can we call the realtor?” The neighborhood was full of trees, and the house appeared to be modern, recently built. The pink granite stones appealed to Sarah.

      “OK……It’s in bankruptcy, a drug dealer’s house? I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’d be interested. Thank you so much. Whew! Oh my goodness! I wouldn’t want his friends coming by! Where’s the next one?”

      “Oh, Mom! It’s beautiful! Let’s look inside!”

      Sarah marveled at the beautiful old white house with black shutters. It had more “Gingerbread” than Hansel and Gretel’s house! And look at the porch. She could imagine herself swinging in a porch swing.

      “I’ll call the realtor.”

      They entered the historic home.

      “It has a big living room, and three bedrooms,” advised the realtor.

      “Let’s look at the kitchen, Mia.”

      “Uh, Mom. What kitchen?”

      How had the previous owners lived here? There were a few old metal cabinets, a small stove and refrigerator that must have been made in the 1940’s! Sarah gathered that the house must have had a kitchen in the back at one time, and this was a pitiful attempt to “modernize” a dinette area.

      “This would take too much money to renovate.” The cost of the house alone was in Sarah’s upper limit. Sarah and Mia both sighed. “There’s one more on the list.”

      “I can show you this one,” said the realtor. “It was owned by a sweet lady with lots of cats.”

      “Mom, my ankles are itching,” said Mia as they walked through the yard.

      “Mine, too. I think this yard is infested with fleas! Hurry! Run to the car! Wipe your feet and ankles off with these.” Sarah felt defeated. Was she reduced to living in flea-bag of a house?

      “Well, I think I’ve reached my limit for today,” sighed Sarah. She took three deep breaths to keep from crying again.

      They got back in the car and drove slowly towards what used to be home.

      Then she saw the two-lane country road that turned off to South Hallow, which was about 25 miles away. It wound down a hill into the trees. It beckoned to her.

      “Why not?” thought Sarah.

      “I love this road! It makes you want to drive really fast, but then there is a farm machine. And going up and down the hills makes my tummy feel funny.”

      “Mia, put your window down. Let’s smell some fresh air.” Their hair blew in the wind. Mia put her hand out the window to hand-surf.

      “Look, Mom! The cows are all lying down. Do you know why?”

      “No, why?”

      “Because they’re tired!”

      They both laughed at Mia’s 5th grade humor. It felt so good to laugh. It felt good to leave the troubles behind and just drive. Oh, for this road to go on forever and never have to deal with anything!

      All too soon they saw the houses and businesses of the village.

      “Oh, Mom! Can we stop at the dairy bar?”

      “Sure! Let’s get some ice cream. They have the best chocolate!” They sat in the sun at a concrete table with a blue umbrella. Sarah could feel the stresses of the day blowing away with the breeze.

      “Sarah! And Mia! I haven’t seen you for ages,” said Rosemary, one of Sarah’s friends. She gave the mother and daughter a hug. “What are you doing here?”

      “We’re having a much needed break from browsing for a place to live.”

      Rosemary had heard of Sarah’s break-up. She thought a moment.

      “There is a new apartment building right around the corner. I think they have a vacancy. I’ll ride over with you.” Rosemary could be a bit pushy, but it was most welcome now. Sarah desperately wanted someone to tell her what to do next.

      The women looked at the apartment. It had two bedrooms, a good size living room, a small dinette and adequate kitchen.

      “Mom, this isn’t so bad.”

      “You could live here for a while?”

      “Sure! But can we get a kitten? One without fleas!”

      “What about school—your friends?”

      “I can make new ones, and still see the old ones. They are not that far away. It’s OK.”

      Sarah was so relieved to have the weight of finding a residence for them lifted. This would give Sarah the time she severely needed to regroup and begin the healing process. Mia needed that time, too. This apartment would be close enough for Mia to visit her dad, but far enough away that Sarah wouldn’t run into her husband or her un-best friend. It seemed to be the perfect solution for now.

      “I’ll ask the manager, but I think it will be OK!

      And in that moment Sarah thought many things would be OK. She had a place to go, and a friend in town, and a feeling that things might be survivable after all. And a happy daughter never hurt! She was thankful for the lure of the rural road.

      “I’ll put my desk here, and the cat bed here, and Mom, we’ll need a new shower curtain…..”

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 12:12 am
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        Hi Paula, because you re-posted your story within the comments of your original story, when I delete the first one, the new one is also deleted, along with some of the critiques. If you could post the revised addition below at the end of the entire thread, beneath Christopher’s story, then I can delete the old one without the new one going too. Sorry.

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 8:36 pm
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      Paula,

      I agree with Chuck on everything he said, except for one major, major point. Most of this story is dialogue. Therefore, your second paragraph, which reads much like a soliloquy in a play, where the actor expresses his/her thoughts out loud to the audience, could be better expressed as exposition. Where you simply explain the circumstances. It’s difficult to portray monologue realistically as you’re attempting to do in your second paragraph.

      It’s great to deliver a story through show, rather than tell, but telling the story is so much more expeditious, and can relieve the writer of the need for clumsy or awkward plot devices. Since the rest of your story consists largely of dialogue, it seems to me there’s plenty of room for exposition.

      I’m not trying to be argumentative, I just came to a different conclusion than Chuck on that particular point. And I think its worth considering a completely different approach on how to convey Sarah’s thoughts and feelings. As for how to convey the sense that this is ‘absolutely the lowest moment in Sarah’s life?’ Good question Paula. But however you do it? Just don’t use adverbs.

      ‘Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers.’
      ‘She sat in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers.’ (Those are a good start.)

      Imagine you are standing 40 feet away from Sarah, watching her. What do you see?
      Is she hunched over? Breathing heavy, does she have the hiccups? Is her face wet, eyes red and puffy, her nose running? Does she wipe away the snot, or the tears, on the back of her hand and throws the twig viciously but they barely fly two feet before they fall to the ground? Impotent against even a gentle breeze? I don’t know. Try to imagine how you would be able to tell if a complete strangers life had come completely apart. Then describe it, then edit it.
      The point is, the words, ‘crying uncontrollably’ doesn’t – really – convey – much in the way of detail, emotion or visual impression. The trick is, (and maybe this is what Chuck actually meant, you can’t just say someone feels bad, you have to draw us a word picture, that leaves us with the image of someone who feels bad. Otherwise, it’s just a police report. (The subject was sitting in the grass, crying uncontrollably. And talking to herself.) Now that I think about it, talking to yourself is a wonderful expression of distress.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 9:09 pm
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        I couldn’t have said it better myself.

        Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 6:14 pm
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    Oh Ken
    You got me in that one. I kind of expected that the pilot was faking it, towards the end, but nice story. Lovely. Do you fly? Love the ending. 🙂

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 6:17 pm
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    Sweet story. As I am house and land hunting at the moment it rings true.

    Reply
  • January 25, 2018 at 10:40 am
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    Deluxe Package. (1196 Words.)
    By Ken Cartisano
    © Jan. 2018

    I love to fly, I just don’t know how. For my birthday, my wife gave me a ticket to one of those flights in a restored WWII airplane. The ticket read, ‘Deluxe Package.’ I asked her what that meant, and she feigned ignorance. I may not know how to fly, but I can usually tell when she’s lying. So, it’ll be a surprise then.

    First, they introduced me to the pilot, then they explained what we were going to do. I was escorted to the plane, told where to step, and meticulously strapped into the cockpit with a complicated harness.

    All pre-flight checks complete, the ground crew retreats to the tarmac. The starter whines—the engine coughs, sputters, and then roars to life with the power of five hundred and fifty horses. The pilot, Jim, is seated directly behind me. I can’t see him. He checks the rudder, flaps and ailerons. The control stick between my legs moves forward, back, left and right. All systems go.

    I’m in the front seat, adorned with an unflattering aviators cap, with earphones sewed into the flaps. The pilot’s voice crackles to life in my headset. As we taxi toward the runway, he asks me what kind of flying I’ve done, and I tell him. “I’ve flown hundreds of times, in a simulator, only twice in real life.” He proceeds to explain everything about the plane and how it works. The gauges, the controls, how to lower the landing gear. I already know all this stuff, but I don’t object. It’s part of the experience.

    Just before take-off he says, “See that red button on your right?”
    “I do.”
    “If anything goes wrong,” he says, “push that button.”
    I wonder what it does.
    “It’s just a formality,” he adds, “No one’s ever had to use it.”
    “What is it, the ejection seat?”
    He answers with, “Here we go.”

    The engine revs and we start rolling forward. It’s a vintage old tail-dragger, and rides like a Model-T Ford on a rutted dirt road. I can’t see a thing over the cowling until we get up enough speed to lift the tail section off the ground. Before I know it, the bumpy ride turns suddenly smooth as the ground drops away. The runway ends at the edge of a green pasture, with teeny-tiny cows that are shrinking as we ascend.

    It’s late October. The sky is filled with thousands of little unsociable clouds, refusing to clump together. The view out the window is incredible. The pilot levels us off at four thousand feet, and turns control of the plane over to me. “You’ve got the stick,” he says. He urges me to fly straight and level, then lets me turn, climb, and do a couple of slow barrel rolls. I don’t know why, but there’s something exhilarating about looking up and seeing the ground.

    All too soon he retakes the control stick, makes a long, careful turn and descends toward the airstrip. I’m a little disappointed that it’s already over, and wonder how much extra this supposed ‘Deluxe Package’ cost.

    I notice that we’re not lined up with the runway, and not descending either. ‘Ah hah,’ I think. ‘This—is the Deluxe Package.’ The flight is extended. I’m emboldened enough to ask, “Where’re we going?”

    There’s no answer. A small mirror with a view to the pilot’s seat is useless due to the vibrations.

    I notice the starboard wing dips slightly, and stays that way. “Are we going to the beach?” I ask. But again, there’s no answer.

    It’s not easy to turn around in the cockpit of an old two-seater. You’re strapped in, the seatback is high, there’re all kinds of hazardous looking handles, lanyards and warning signs. But I manage to turn far enough to see that the pilot looks unconscious. His head is tilted awkwardly to one side and there’s some spittle, or drool on his cheek. Without a second thought, I jab the red button on the dashboard and my earphones crackle with sound again. “Air Traffic Control. Is this an emergency?”
    “I think it qualifies, yes,” I reply.
    “All right,” he says. “It’s important to stay—.”
    “The pilot’s unconscious.”
    “Are you sure?”
    Craning my neck, I manage to get a glimpse of the pilot again, he hasn’t moved and his eyes are still closed. “If he isn’t, he doesn’t seem interested in flying the plane.”
    “Right, right. Okay. So what’s your name, buddy?”
    “Ken.”
    “Okay Ken, don’t worry, we’ll get you down in one piece. All you have to do is follow my instructions.”
    “I’ll certainly try.”
    “You’re flying a T-6 trainer, Ken. I’m an instructor and I’ve flown this plane many times. It’s sturdy, simple and made for beginners.” He says his name is Pete, and he tells me I’m going to have to focus on the altimeter, and to begin nosing the plane to a lower altitude. It’s harder than I thought. He patiently directs my flight path into a wide gentle turn that sets me on a return course to the airstrip. It’s a long way off. My hands are sweaty.

    “Your next goal,” he says, is to bring the plane down to 1000 feet.”

    At 1,000 feet, he instructs me to lower the flaps and the landing gear. The whole plane shudders and gains altitude while dramatically losing airspeed.

    The controller sounds shrill as he orders me to point the nose down harder and give it more throttle. I have to admit though, the plane seems to know what it’s supposed to do.
    The ground comes up quickly and I hear the controller say, “You’re coming in a little fast but…”

    The next thing I hear is the landing gear thump as the wheels make contact with the runway, and the controller is shouting in my ear. “Cut the throttle! Cut the throttle!”

    He didn’t need to tell me twice.

    The plane quickly lost speed, the tail wheel touched down, so I couldn’t see over the cowling again. But the controller continued directing me. “You’re drifting left. Nudge it to the right. Good. Good. Keep her there.” In no time he guides me to an isolated taxiway and tells me how and when to hit the brakes.

    You can’t imagine how relieved I was when the plane finally stopped. I could see a truck racing out to meet us.

    The controller prompts me to cut the engine. “Silver button. Lower right portion of the dashboard.”
    I see it, and push it. The engine sputters to a halt and the canopy slides back as if automatically.

    The two ground crew members climb up onto the wing. The one who’s releasing my harness says, “Did you have a nice flight, Ken?”
    “Nice flight? It was the most hair raising experience of my life!” I’m concerned about the pilot and as I stand to exit the cockpit, I turn to see how he’s doing. “Your pilot seems to have…”

    The pilot is grinning from ear to ear and says, “Nice job, Ken. Ever think about flying as a career?” Then he wipes the spittle off his cheek and says to the ground crew. “Who’s next?”

    Reply
    • January 27, 2018 at 9:02 am
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      Ken, I really liked the story but did, I admit, have a little problem with the pilot not being noticed as really flying the plane. When I reread it, little give-a-ways crept in, such as “the canopy slides back as if automatically” and “the vibrations rendered the mirror useless”, so I imagined the pucker factor kept Ken from turning around and notice who was really landing the plane. I know I would be concentrating on how to explain to my family why I need to change my shorts if I ever got the plane down. Kept my attention and liked the surprise ending. Nice job.

      Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 1:50 pm
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      Well this really was quite a ride, Ken. Excellent pace to the story, good tension and I was feeling pretty nervous near the end, even though the narrator has to get through it (or else he wouldn’t be telling the story). All the parts of the story tie up neatly, with lines like “I have to admit though, the plane seems to know what it’s supposed to do” in retrospect showing that the trainer remained in control if needed.

      I reckon if any pilot pulled a stunt like this in the UK they’d be struck off as a trainer, but I guess you’re all a bit more wild and gung-ho over there. If I was in the front, I’d probably have had a heart attack for real, btw.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 6:55 pm
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        I am totally with Andy on this one and with Chuck on the needing to do a quick underwear or dacks change after the flight landed. Tell you that I am a really nervous flyer at the best of times and frankly you would not want me behind the controls flying a plane in to land. I think I might just close my eyes and pray to God to take my soul. ;-O

        Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 3:21 pm
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      Nicely told Ken, I know nothing about flying, but your descriptions sound as if you’ve had experience flying a plane.

      You effectively hinted at the pilot being alright by telling us the plane seemed to know what to do, but we don’t realize those clues until the end, the sign of good story telling.

      Andy, I think here in America as well, that guy might lose his license.

      Fun story Ken!

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 11:08 am
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        Thanks guys and gals,
        I’m pleased that you all picked up on the hints, especially the ‘plane seemed to know what it was supposed to do.’
        In reality, this kind of flying experience is more entertainment than instructional, and they do make you sign a waiver. As far as the risk and danger involved, hell, they have scuba diving excursions where you swim with sharks. You couldn’t pay me to do that.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:42 am
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      This is one of your best stories Ken, it moves along at a great pace , though I imagine you’ll be wary of wifely birthday presents in future.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 8:52 pm
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        Thanks Maud,
        As for wifely presents? Yeah, you bet I’ll be wary. I think a couple of steak knives are missing. Wouldn’t want one of them to turn up suddenly in an unexpected place. (Like between my shoulder blades.) And I’m not even really married! Yikes…

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 12:36 pm
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      Although I picked the ending partway through the story it in now way spoiled things for me. Fantastic story, Ken! Great pace, and the description was nice. I especially liked: “The sky is filled with thousands of little unsociable clouds, refusing to clump together.” (Although I think that “refusing to clump together” was unnecessary as “unsociable” did the trick.)
      Nicely done!

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 8:49 pm
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        Thanks Christopher, Glad to see you posted a story this time. Haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
        I (am and will continue) to consider your opinion about the cloud behavior. (And I’m not trying to be snarky here, although you can expect at least one small joke.) You think that ‘refusing to clump together’ was unnecessary. It’s possible that they’re not unsociable at all, it’s just that the wind is not cooperating. Seriously though, this is one of those sentences that, the more I try to improve it, the worse it would probably get. However, (still serious) I think the real test is to read it with your shortened version in the story and see how it sounds. Thanks for the feedback, Christopher.

        Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 2:52 pm
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      I always enjoy your stories, Ken. At first I found the story a little reminiscent of a scene from the movie “Space Cowboys” and I figured you were heading in the same direction as that, but you are too original to fall into that trap. I particularly liked: “Cut the throttle. Cut the throttle! He didn’t need to tell me twice.” But he did, he did. It just made me laugh. I did think that the ending was telegraphed about halfway through the story by the “Deluxe package” emphasis but it in no way hurt the story.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 9:07 pm
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        Thanks Randall.
        I really liked that line too. (Cut the throttle.) I was wondering (after I posted it) if this story would be better in second or third person. I realized after I wrote it that the POV eliminated the possibility of a fatal crash, but then, this is a lighthearted tale, and I think the first person POV works to keep it that way. I just wish I could have kept everyone in suspense a little longer, though.

        Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 4:07 pm
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      This was a fun one. The hints did give it away, but it was fun waiting to find out when “Ken” would be in on the joke. Good pacing.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 9:28 pm
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        Wendy.
        You’re back!
        Your brevity (anti-dis-succinctiveness) is remarkable. Just between you and me, my story originally had a bomb and some smoke in it, but got edited out.

        I’m willing to bet whatever is in my left pocket, (the one with the hole in it), without looking, or cheating, that you used 163 characters less than you needed in your story this week. That would be 1037 characters. That’s my guess. And I’m going to post this now before I look. This is to prove, not how smart I am, but how well I cope with being terribly wrong.
        I’m looking forward to reading your story. And counting the words.

        Reply
        • January 31, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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          I meant 1037 words, Wendy, not characters. Words! (The suspense is killing me.)

          Reply
          • February 1, 2018 at 11:18 am
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            haha You were only off by 43 words Ken

  • January 25, 2018 at 11:59 am
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    Hey folks, we forgot to mention that the word count for every prompt from now on will be 1200 words. Carrie and I have discussed it and this is a good limit for flash fiction, which is what we’re writing. So, when it’s your turn and you submit your prompts, don’t worry about providing a word count.

    Thank you,
    The Management.

    Reply
  • January 25, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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    Probably not my choice of content, but it held my interest. I assume the boy probably had a fake ID, or how else would he get a drinks in a bar? He does seem older than 16. Maybe he looks older, too? Nice twist at the end.

    Reply
    • January 25, 2018 at 5:33 pm
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      Paula, at age 16, I drank (two beers max) at one country tavern, the two large hotels in town, and three tradesmen bars. I acted as if I didn’t mind being carded. Also, the town across the Stateline was “easy.”

      Reply
  • January 25, 2018 at 9:39 pm
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    The Ride

    You light the cigarette with an expert flick of your zippo lighter and slip the lighter back into the watch pocket on your jeans, knowing how cool you look. You’ve practiced that move hundreds of times; right after you saw James Dean do it in “Rebel Without a Cause”. You push the pack of Luckies back under your rolled-up T-shirt sleeve sure that every eye in the group of kids standing on the corner is on you.

    You take a deep drag and casually blow the smoke out of your nose for a second, letting everyone know this isn’t your first time around a cigarette. You look casually toward the group with your head slightly lowered, another move that you’ve practiced. You see her all right. The cute one with the short dark hair, dark eyes, tiny frame and red, red lips. She’s noticed you, too.

    You casually walk over to the group, taking another drag of the cigarette. As you get closer, one of the other girls separates herself from the group and walks toward you, thumbs stuck in the back of her jeans pockets, hips swaying, drawing your eyes to hers. She smiles and coos, “Think you’re pretty hot stuff, dontcha?”

    You give her a look up and down appraising the merchandise. You like what you see. “Who’s askin’?”

    “Judith, Judy to my friends. You got a name?”

    “Well, Judy, the name’s Dean, like James.” You draw it out slowly. James Dean can take lessons from you.

    “First or last.”

    “First or last what?”

    “Your name. Is that your first or last name? Are ya hard of hearing or sumthin?”

    Some of the crowd collectively giggles at this. Not so cool. You need to get this situation under control or all this is going down the drain. You came here to make a new start. Everywhere else you’ve been, you couldn’t make any friends. This time it is going to be different. This time you won’t be hurt if you play it right.

    Girls like the aloof, silent type, the “bad” boys, something you’ve learned the hard way. Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean, and now you. You smile with closed lips, the corners of your mouth turned up, eyes slightly squinted. Not too much. Careful now – that’s it – you’ve got her attention. “It’s James – James to my friends.”

    “No shit? Like the real James Dean?”

    You don’t know quite how to answer that, so you wait a moment. Then, carefully, “Yeah, I’m real. Wanna feel?”

    “I’m not sure.” She looks back toward the group. “You got something worth feelin’?” This time the entire group laughs loud.

    The cute dark haired girl says, “Grab it while you can Judy, ‘cause boys only last for a minute or two, then there’s nothin’ left to grab.” Everyone laughs again. This isn’t going the way you want it to, but she throws you a lifeline.

    “We’re gonna go out to the submarine races later, but first there’s gonna be a drag race. Wanna ride along?”

    Submarine races, the teenager’s answer to Lover’s Lane. You’ve never been to one, but you know what it is. Keeping your cover, you make your answer short. Flicking the cigarette away, you blow out the last bit of smoke and nod your head. “I’m in.”

    “Good, you ride with me.” Judy holds up a set of keys and jiggles them. “If you’re a good boy, I might let you drive.” She sashays over to a cherry, ’57 Corvette Sting Ray convertible.

    You hope she doesn’t see the excitement in your eyes, because while you want this to be the coolest thing you’ve ever done, you can’t let them know that. You follow her to the car and tell her, “You drive. If you’re a good girl, I’ll drive back. That’s after I drive you crazy at the submarine races.”

    She starts the car as you jump into the front seat. Even though you jam your knee on the gear shift because your timing was a little off, she doesn’t seem to notice. Then she says, “I’ll kiss that and make it better while we wait for the periscopes to come up at the submarine races.’

    Your heartbeat accelerates at that comment, but it doesn’t take long for you to realize it was only the beginning of its rise, as Judy peels out and jams the ‘Vette into second gear, with another shriek of rubber grabbing the pavement. Quickly, she kicks it into third and fishtails around the corner, leaving you to wonder if the car is going to flip, then she crushes the accelerator and screams down the highway, narrowly missing two parked cars. You hold your breath.

    A minute later, Judy pulls the Corvette onto a blacktop side road and coasts to a stop at a painted white line. You start to breathe again. A few cars pass you and pull over onto the side of the road a quarter of a mile away. They turn one of the cars around and flick the headlights. Another car pulls up next to the ‘Vette. A Dodge with pushbutton transmission. You know this because your old man has one exactly like it. Maybe this kid behind the wheel boosted your old man’s car? Wouldn’t that be something? Sitting next to him is the dark-haired girl.

    Car lights turn on up ahead lighting the road. The girl steps out of the Dodge and pulls a white scarf off her neck and walks between the cars and stands in front. The two cars start revving their engines. You look over at Judy and she blows you a kiss and says, “Sit tight, James, this won’t take long.” The dark-haired girl holds the scarf up and drops it.

    The roar is deafening as the cars scream away. The ‘Vette falls behind because the wheels spin too fast as the car fishtails. Judy makes a correction and the ‘Vette lunges forward. You fly back into the seat holding on for dear life. You hear yourself saying, “Come on, Judy, step on it,” when what you want to say is, “Jesus Christ! Stop the car before we get killed.” Your heart is racing a mile a minute. You just want this to be over. Seconds later, you pass the finish line and it is. You’re still alive. The Dodge has beaten the Sting Ray, something you didn’t think a pushbutton car could do. Now you know for sure it isn’t your old man’s car.

    The car stops and Judy looks over at you. “Damn,” she says, “We lost.” She reaches out and pulls you over toward her and kisses you on the lips. “I’m gonna need some real hard consoling at the submarine races tonight. You up for it?”

    You give her your best Marlon Brando/James Dean smirk. You kiss her lightly. “I’m up for it right now. How about you?” You kiss her again, this time slowly. Brando could take a couple of lessons from you, too. “Now, where are those submarine races?”

    Reply
    • January 26, 2018 at 7:01 am
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      Back to the ’50’s and how important it was to be just so cool! I was so hoping the girl would win the race, though!(just me!) As a military brat, I know how important it is to fit in. Good job!

      Reply
      • January 27, 2018 at 9:07 am
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        Thank you, Paula,

        I originally had her winning but changed it at the last minute thinking that she would need consolation rather than being supercharged about winning. And, I was running close to the 1200 word limit. As it was, I had to tweak the story and remove some stuff. Yep, being cool is a tough job for teens. Most of the ‘coolest’ kids I ever met were cool in groups and were ‘basket cases’ one on one with all their vulnerabilities showing.

        Reply
        • January 28, 2018 at 7:32 am
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          Ken,
          Thanks a bunch for the time you invested in this critique, Ken. As you will see, I used most of your suggestions. But, like you said, paring down is not easy.
          A side note –
          “Bar,” was originally written as the day after a bad ending to a dance at a private girl’s school. I never intended Bar to be a major character. She somehow evolved herself. Bar returns two years later when he enters college and recruits him.

          Reply
    • January 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm
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      That’s a good, fun little story, Charles. Well written, and I like the first person perspective of the ‘new kid’ just trying to fit in for a change. And doing a hell of a job.

      One problem, you mention the phrase ‘submarine races’ six times. Four times in rapid succession. No good. Can’t do that. You certainly want to continue alluding to it. No problem there, you just can’t say it over and over.

      Reply
      • January 26, 2018 at 4:37 pm
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        Ken (if I may),

        Please, it’s Chuck,

        Thank you and looking back, I see you are right on the money. I could have referred to the submarine races in several ways, such as the races, later this evening, etc., so I thank you for that. I’m usually pretty good about trying to avoid repetition.

        Actually, the story is written entirely in second person, something I’ve never tried until this story. I found it fairly easy to do, except I had to really watch my tenses, because it is very easy to write in the past tense occasionally, while everything else is in present tense. What my attempt was, is to have the reader be the character, even though I tipped the fact the character was a he. I could have kept it neutral and let the ladies view it through their eyes, too, but I thought it would be too difficult and take away from the story.

        Thank you for your kind comments.

        Chuck

        Reply
        • January 29, 2018 at 11:26 am
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          Hi Chuck,
          Thanks for (graciously) straightening me out on the POV. I won’t claim stupidity in this case, but rather inexperience. I’ve seen a few stories written in second person. I’ve converted stories from first to third person, and vice-versa, but I’ve never tried second person myself. It seems very effective at putting the reader in the story. And I have trouble with tenses in any POV. I have a tendency to ‘drift’ into first person even when I don’t mean to.
          Anyway, it’s great to have yet another skilled writer participating in the group.
          Ken

          Reply
          • January 30, 2018 at 7:06 pm
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            Thanks, Ken. I am pleased to have found this group and look forward to reading some very, very well written stories. Yours being no exception.

    • January 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm
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      Fun and well-executed story, Chuck, building on an iconic movie moment. I like the use of the 2nd person to draw the reader in, giving that sense of immediacy.
      There’s something in common with Ilana’s story – instead of raging bulls and sex, here it’s fast cars and sex. Also handled effectively throughout, picking up two meanings of ‘the Ride’.
      “Submarine races” was a new one on me (had to check the urban dictionary – wasn’t sure if it had something to do with filled rolls, lol) – two countries separated by the same language, and all that, and something I missed out on in my youth.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 3:47 pm
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        Submarine races may still be going on for all I know. Having participated in many in my youth. Time well spent, I might add. There used to be a few other references such as ‘up periscope’, dive!, and so on, but I won’t delve into those meanings here.

        Thanks for your kind comments. The story was fun to write, and mostly wishful thinking on the author’s part.

        Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 7:04 pm
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        Well written story. You set the characters up well. Can you please explain ‘submarine races’? Is that a euphemism for sexual play between teenagers? Set me wondering after I read some comments. I just thought it was my mind playing tricks on me at one point in the story.

        “You don’t know quite how to answer that, so you wait a moment. Then, carefully, “Yeah, I’m real. Wanna feel?”

        “I’m not sure.” She looks back toward the group. “You got something worth feelin’?” This time the entire group laughs loud.”

        AND of course this one sent the mind spinning:

        “She starts the car as you jump into the front seat. Even though you jam your knee on the gear shift because your timing was a little off, she doesn’t seem to notice. Then she says, “I’ll kiss that and make it better while we wait for the periscopes to come up at the submarine races.’”

        What actually were the submarine races? Have I missed something important here?

        Reply
        • January 29, 2018 at 11:34 am
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          Ilana,
          The reference to submarine races is when you go to the beach and make-out. (You know, fool around?) Because submarines travel underwater, you can sit there on the beach all night long and never actually see one. And of course, there aren’t any anyway.

          Reply
        • January 29, 2018 at 12:23 pm
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          Ilana, if you are lucky enough to be near water, Ken is correct. However, growing up in the midwest where oceans, rivers and lakes were often too far to go, you simply went someplace with a decent view and some privacy and ‘made out’ there. Supply your own imagination as to what “Up periscope” and “Dive” means as I mentioned in another comment. My wife and I have many very fond memories of the submarine races and in explaining them to our children, made sure they were adults when they found out we actually went to them. Nothing was more fun than going with a group of friends, usually all in different cars – although not always – and then the next day discussing who saw or didn’t see what. New people to the group took a while to catch on, but, they too, learned to ‘love’ the submarine races.

          Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 7:13 pm
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      Chuck, I love how this story takes us back to a different time. Your descriptions fit the period so very well, it felt like a scene out of a James Dean movie. I love the vulnerability of “James,” who took on this persona to fit in and find friends. I can totally relate to that desire.

      You set the time period very well, the dialogue was smooth, and felt real. Wonderful job, Chuck!

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 10:53 am
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      Fast paced story, you captured the ‘cool is everything’ attitude , also the underlying uncertainty of a teenage boy. I Ioved this.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm
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      A great read, Chuck. A cleanly painted picture, and enjoyable from the get-go.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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      Chuck: 1200 words is a problem all right. I felt like this was the beginning of the story I wanted to hear. I wanted to see if James could find a way to fit in without having to become a movie stereotype. but because of the word limit we only get to see that he may be in for a very enjoyable time later.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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      This is my favorite story so far (spoiler alert). I think you did an excellent job of the 2nd person. Done right (like here) it really pulls the reader into the story. The descriptions of his feeling, the cars, the dialogue all came out great and really told a story that felt real.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 7:10 pm
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        Thank you Wendy, hope it stays that way. There’s some stiff competition in this group. There’s a little bit of truth in the story, but a whole lot more wishful thinking and imagination. I was able to kick the smoking thing, but never have gotten over my love for fast cars and even faster women.

        Reply
  • January 25, 2018 at 9:48 pm
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    YELLOW

    William Painton stood near the hoopla stall, scratching a circle in the dirt with the toe of his shoe. What if he could dig down in the dirt quickly, he thought, so quickly that he could jump in the hole he’d dug, cover himself with dirt and hide, and no one would know where he was, and Benny would go away and leave him alone.

    “What do you say, Painton? Hey! I’m talking to you.”

    William continued to draw the circle. Okay, the idea of the hole was far-fetched. But maybe Benny would get bored if he just ignored him. Yes, that was a good plan. Keep scratching the circle.
    Benny strode over and punched William on the arm. The younger boy yelped.

    “Did you hear what I said, Painton?”

    “Sorry, Benny. What?”

    “You little worm. I said you were yellow.”

    “I … I’m not.”

    “What do you reckon, boys?”

    Behind Benny, the three Carter brothers took a step forward as one.

    “I reckon he’s yellow,” said Petey Carter, jabbing his finger at William. His two brothers nodded.

    “See?” said Benny. “We all think you’re a lily-livered. Yellow. Worm.”

    There was nothing William could say to that, so he said nothing.

    Benny hit William on the arm again. He yelped again.

    “I … I can’t go on it, Benny. The doctor says–“

    “Doctor, schmoctor. Painton, if you don’t go on it, you know what’s going to happen to you, don’t you?”

    He went to hit William yet again but his fist stopped an inch from his arm.

    “I haven’t got any money, though,” William bleated.

    From somewhere close by there was an almighty SWOOOSH and screams – some of excitement, some of fear. William’s lip started quivering.

    “Not a problem. We’ve got the money, ain’t we boys?”

    Benny took off his baseball cap and held it out to the Carter brothers. They hadn’t signed up for donating their pocket money and glared daggers at William as they dropped their coins into the cap.
    Benny counted the coins, pulled one out of his own pocket and grabbed William by the sleeve.

    “Come on. Doom time!”

    He put on a diabolical laugh that the Carters copied as they hurried across the fairground, with William in tow.

    There was a queue at the ticket booth, and while they waited, four of the group looked up at the loops and sickeningly steep curves and drops of DOOM. Involuntarily, Benny and the Carters gulped at the sight. William was suddenly finding his trousers fascinating.

    “Someone’ll have to go with him, make sure he actually gets on and stays on before it reaches the first bend,” said Ned Carter.

    “You been on it before, Benny?” asked Titch, the youngest of the brothers.

    “Me? I … yeah, loads of times.” Benny laughed, but without the confidence of before.

    “So, you go, then,” suggested Petey. “We’ve only got enough for two tickets.”

    “Suits me,” said Benny, forcing a grin now.

    The queue had been moving briskly and it was their turn. Benny bought the tickets, shoving William through the gate, under the sign that read ‘DOOM – YOU MAY NEVER COME BACK!’ The Carters moved a little distance away, their faces a picture of relief that they weren’t going themselves.

    The only car still empty was the one at the very front of the train. The other people had filled up the cars from the back; they weren’t stupid. Benny pushed William in and plonked himself down next to him. The attendant jogged along the train, making sure everyone was settled and strapped in. He leaned over and locked the safety bar across Benny and William’s chests.

    Benny glanced sideways at William, hoping to find that that he was a quivering wreck, but he merely looked uneasy, his eyes darting this way and that, as if searching for an escape route.

    The train jerked suddenly and started trundling along the track, very slowly.

    “The calm before the storm”, someone sitting behind them commented.

    They picked up speed and drifted around the first curve, Benny and William leaning into it. Benny had the grin from earlier fixed on his face now.

    “This is great!” he shouted, but with a wavering in his voice. “What do you reckon, Painton?”

    He turned. William was staring in front now, his jaw clenched. Benny saw it and panicked inside.
    “Painton!?”

    William was thinking, concentrating on a moment – a moment that hadn’t seemed so significant until now.

    His father had been in the army and in Afghanistan. He knew that his son was weak but loved him unconditionally, hoping he would turn out stronger but understanding that he probably wouldn’t. Before his last tour of duty, he took William to one side.

    “Make me proud one day, son, in whatever you do”, he said, giving William a great big warm bear-hug before getting on the bus taking him to the barracks. It was the last time William would see his father.

    William filled his head with the moment now, feeling the warmth of the hug again.

    The cars sped round a sharp curve with an almighty SWOOOSH. Benny gripped the safety bar, his knuckles turning white. By his side, William had unclenched his jaw and was simply sitting with his hands on his lap.

    The train slowed, climbed, steeply, more steeply still. Some of the people behind the boys started screaming ahead of what they knew was coming.

    Slower, slower, slower, reaching the peak, a moment of suspension, then … then … then they were falling, falling from the sky, the bottom of the dip rushing towards them, and the screams, some of excitement, most of fear, from the people behind them, and from Benny, his face distorted with horror, and then vomit, the toffee apple from earlier, and William in another place entirely, a faint smile playing on his lips, and then the bottom of the dip, reached, and relief, until the next curve, and then the loop, getting nearer, nearer …

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Benny stumbled out through the gate. The Carters were waiting.

    “How’d it go, Benny?” piped up Ned.

    “Yeah, great! Fantastic!” Benny’s tone and ashen face belied his attempt at enthusiasm.

    “Where’s Painton?” asked Petey.

    Benny turned round, the brothers following suit. There, taking his own sweet time, came William, his hands in his pockets.

    “See you at school on Monday then, fellas!” he said as he strolled past the group and away across the fairground, whistling a jaunty tune as he went.

    .

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 2:21 pm
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      Touching coming of age story, Phil – William goes through a gate saying “DOOM – YOU MAY NEVER COME BACK”, and he does indeed cross a threshold and you feel indeed he won’t go back to how he was. Emotional moment as the pivot of the story.

      Just one thing I wasn’t sure about: “The doctor says …” was this just an excuse or is there an underlying problem – and if so, what, and how is that overcome? By willpower? That’s left dangling a bit, I think.

      (If I were William, btw) I’d keep up the pretence of being weak and yellow, though, to see if I can always get people to pay for my rides … but I’m probably less honourable than him 🙂 )

      Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 8:24 pm
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      I love roller coasters and I loved how you used it as the ride for the prompt. Loved the characterizations, the shy and vulnerable William being bullied. Then flipping it and seeing that Benny isn’t as tough as he pretended to be.

      Nice use of dialogue, smooth flow to the story and characters that were multidimensional.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 2:52 pm
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      Nice story. Don’t have a lot to pick at. Joining this group is an eye-opener. All of the stories I’ve read so far are well written with a few minor things here and there and I could probably go back and pick out a few things I would do differently, but that would be petty and it won’t happen to this very nice story of how boy uses his late father’s words to make his life better. I love stories that teach bullies a lesson without resorting to violence. Good job, Phil.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 8:42 am
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      Great to see the bully get his at the end. Here’s hoping that he learned a lesson and grew up a little. Nice story.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:26 pm
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      Liked the story a lot, Phil. I did expect something to come of the doctor business especially when it was reinforced by the reminiscence of William’s father knowing he was weak and would probably never be any stronger.

      Reply
  • January 25, 2018 at 11:43 pm
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    Great use of dialogue Phillip and I enjoyed the read. I love the juxtaposition of the William’s thoughts of his father and the roller coaster ride. There are many layers to this story. It is a winner. Great writing.

    Reply
  • January 26, 2018 at 7:53 am
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    The Train.

    The phone call came through when I was on an oil rig deep in the stormy North Sea. There was no time to lose; the hospital stressed the urgency of the situation. Arranging for the helicopter to fly me to the mainland I arrived at Edinburgh rail station by taxi.
    The taxi driver was making desultory conversation; I replied in monosyllables. There was only one thing on my mind. I had to catch that train. The Flying Scotsman was the new version of the LNER 4472, which had been replaced in 2011 by the all new electric train with its bright yellow body work. The journey time had been reduced to 4 hours with a stop at Newcastle. I was in no mood to appreciate these facts, as I previously stated, the only thing on my mind was to reach Le Mans, France in time.
    With a resounding hoot, the train started and gained speed almost immediately. Any other time I would have been thrilled at the newness of the coachwork and the speed at which we were traveling. Green fields, urban back yards, rivers and forests all flew by, but the excitement of the varied scenery was wasted on me. My one aim was to reach the hospital before it was too late. I’d brought a book with me but the words ran into one another, I couldn’t concentrate for more than one page at a time.
    The other occupants of the carriage were an ascetic looking cleric and a couple of excited teenagers who chatted incessantly. The cleric caught my glance and rolled his eyes. I looked away, not wanting to engage with anyone and opened my book once more, staring at words that had no meaning. I glanced at the cleric, willing him to say a prayer that I would reach my destination in time. If the two teenagers had not been there I may have asked him, but my anxiety was too deep and personal to share.
    The buffet car presented a short diversion, and after a strong coffee and a smoked salmon roll I caught sight of myself in the dining car mirror. Panic! Had I packed my razor? In the rush to get off the rig I had thrown a few things together haphazardly: I would check the contents when we reached the Eurostar terminus.
    Arriving at London St Pancras I negotiated the maze of platforms and escalators, wishing there had been time to check out the ‘Longest Champagne Bar in Europe,’ maybe another time when things were not so fraught. The transfer from the Flying Scotsman to the Eurostar for the Gare du Nord was surprisingly easy, and I was beginning to feel less stressed now that I was actually on the train to France. Sitting opposite me in the carriage was an elegant young woman, probably French – there is something undefinable about a French woman, nothing I could pin down, just an air of ‘joie de vivre,’ a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, – but again I was too preoccupied to give it much thought. The train gathered speed passing Kentish hop fields, oast houses and washing lines until we reached the tunnel. Within minutes we were out of England and into Europe. The Gare du Nord was bustling with travelers all rushing in different directions, gesticulating and talking loudly in a variety of languages, predominantly French. The taxi rank was mercifully free, and jumping in a cab, I gave directions for Montparnasse station and the connection that would take me to Le Mans. I prayed I would be in time. Hurtling along at 160 miles per hour the journey didn’t seem too long and arriving at the magnificent city of Le Mans I hailed a taxi straight to the hospital.
    Following the directions written in French, I made a mad dash to the ward.
    She lay there, exhausted, deathly pale, the sweat streaking her brow. One limp hand lay outside the sheets. Behind me the midwife encouraged her. “Just one more push cherie.” Then suddenly, a miracle! With a hearty squall, there he was – my son.

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 2:39 pm
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      Enjoyed your pacey story of an anxious journey, and the various snapshots that capture moments on the way. Then an ending I hadn’t expected – and a good outcome. I was questioning who the vulnerable person was right up to the last moments, and then we find out.

      As someone who uses these trains a lot, I noticed certain liberties with the geography and other details, but hey this is fiction so that’s OK. However, I did wonder why, in view of the urgency, the narrator didn’t just fly from Edinburgh to Paris – it’s about 1.5 hours, regular service. Or from Aberdeen, which is where helicopters from oil rigs usually land (2 hours to Paris). As opposed to about 15 hours by train. So must have been a long labour involved – good of his missus to hang on in there for him !

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 7:10 pm
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        Yes, my concern was the long journey and I am with Andy on why the bugger had to make his missus hang in there with the birth until he arrived. Me, I’d be tellin’ hubby, you catch that plane and if I and bub do not wait well then, tough titties!
        It was a bit anti-climatic for me. the ending was a surprise. I was expecting a death or sick person at the end.
        Maud please do not take this as criticism designed to crush. It is not. I believe this is not one of your best stories. You have written far better, despite the technical excellence, you have written better stories that hold the reader to the end. Not that this did not, but the ending fell flat sort of. Just my gut reaction for what it is worth, ok.

        Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 8:36 pm
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      I absolutely loved this Maud! There was this tension all the way through, “Will he make it in time.” I was with him, rushing hoping he’d make it. The pacing was wonderful, and I loved how you wrote his thought process. It read so well, and flowed so smoothly. Great job Maud.

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 3:00 pm
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      Nice ending. You’ve got all the elements. A good start, nice middle, and a good ending with a little twist, especially for all parents out there. A couple of punctuation things, a colon instead of a semi-colon after ‘I had thrown a few things together haphazardly…A colon implies a full stop and even perhaps a list would have worked here, but it’s only a half stop and not a completion of a different thought, but on the same thought as the first half of the sentence. Maybe there are some differences in how it’s done in England and the Continent rather than in America. I know the quote marks are different, along with ellipses being used differently. Good story and an enjoyable read.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 9:10 am
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      A fine story, Maud. Fantastic pace and a satisfying end. The mind jumps to a terrible event – something gone wrong – and I was pleased with the turn the story made. Great job!

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 2:15 pm
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      Maud: Your story was short and to the point. It had a pleasant ending instead of the much more dismal one I feared. I did thing the use of “joie de vivre” and “Je ne sais quoi” seemed a bit hackneyed but that is a pretty cranky complaint on my part.

      Reply
  • January 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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    The Last Ride
    By Alice Nelson ©2018

    Johnny Mitchum was going about 70 down Route 40 in his dad’s 1968 Dodge Dart GTS. Twins Hank and Frank Needham were in back, and best friend Clay Albright rode shotgun.

    Aggie’s diner was their destination, a last night of fun before the twins left to work in Texas, and Clay headed to San Diego for basic training.

    They’d been friends since kindergarten, but now at age 22, the “Four Screw-ups,” as Johnny’s father called them, were well past the age when people smiled and saw their misadventures as harmless teen pranks.

    It seemed they were also beginning to realize that those days of doing a whole lot of nothing was nearing its end, and Johnny suggested “Let’s ride to Aggie’s, sit in those old greasy booths, and have one last hamburger before we say adios.”

    “We’ll be back Johnny,” Clay said.

    Johnny scoffed, “You fools are going to kiss this shithole town goodbye for good, and I don’t blame you.”

    “You’ll find somethin’ Johnny,” Frank and Hank said in unison.

    “Oh yeah, I’ll become the top stock boy at Wal-Mart,” Johnny laughed, but his eyes were desperate and sad.

    Life was changing for the “Screw Ups,” and Johnny was the only one terrified by it.

    “One last ride,” Johnny said quietly, and the others nodded in agreement.

    **********

    “You gotta baby it, Johnny,” Vern Mitchum told his son. Johnny was ten when his father bought the old rusted GT.

    Vern was usually sober when working on his baby, and Johnny was thrilled when the man asked him to help with the car. Then Johnny accidentally knocked the refurbished carburetor onto the garage floor, and his heart nearly stopped when tiny pieces broke off in the fall.

    “I’m sorry—” But Johnny didn’t get a chance to apologize before the punches came in swift, concise blows, knocking Johnny off his feet. “You think this shit is cheap!” Vern yelled, “You owe me $62.50.”

    Johnny sat on the ground crying, his dad took a long gulp of his beer, and went back to working on the Dodge.

    **********

    Johnny was hurtling down Route 40, the monstrous groan of the 440, V-8 engine could be heard for miles around.

    Clay was worried about his friend. Johnny hadn’t been the same since they all told him they were leaving town. After finding out, he went on a bender for an entire week.

    Johnny hadn’t said much since he picked the guys up, and Clay tried to get him to talk.

    “I’m surprised your dad let you borrow his car,” Clay smiled.

    “He didn’t,” Johnny said flatly, and Clay knew immediately not to push the issue further.

    **********

    Johnny was fifteen the first and only time his father let him drive the Dodge. Johnny moved it along carefully down the road.

    “Remember son,” Vern said, “This is a delicate machine, treat it like a good woman —if there is such a thing,” then he fell into a wet, phlegmy laugh, slapping his thigh, and pounding Johnny on the back.

    Johnny pulled into the parking space outside Pete’s Tavern, and Vern, in a hurry to show off the car to his buddies, opened the door too quickly, bumping it into one of those yellow parking posts.

    Vern’s face grew red. In his mind there was only one person to blame —Johnny.

    Vern yanked the boy from the car, and beat him right there on the black top outside Pete’s. No one even tried to stop him. Then Vern said, “That’s you’re first real beatin’. My daddy gave me mine when I was seven, so consider yourself lucky.”

    Vern’s friends laughed, and Johnny sat there, humiliated, his face swollen and bruised.

    **********

    Johnny’s foot pushed down on the gas pedal hard. Aggie’s was only a few miles away, and he was anxious to get there and relive old times.

    “Johnny, man, you’re doing 80, slow down!” Clay said, worriedly.

    Johnny turned off of Route 40, onto an old black top road. They hadn’t been there since high school and Johnny thought he turned down the wrong road.

    “Did you miss it?” Frank and Hank said in unison.

    Then they all saw it, the Aggie’s sign, hanging above where the doors used to be. The burnt remains of their childhood hangout, gone.

    Johnny looked around in disbelief, “Where is it?” he said, looking panicked, “Where the fuck is Aggie’s?!”

    “Johnny—” Clay tried to calm him, but Johnny snapped and began tearing to shreds what was left of the old diner, cursing, and crying, his hands bloodied and torn.

    **********

    “Come on dad, please…” Johnny asked. “This is the last time me and the fellas will be together, probably forever. Let us take the Dodge for one last ride.”

    “Fuck no!” Vern said, slurping a beer and watching the Rangers/Astros game.

    “But you rarely drive it!” Johnny screamed.

    “Don’t yell at me, boy.”

    Vern was a large man, but had gotten soft over the years, still he was pretty formidable. Johnny stood up and grabbed the keys off of the hall table.

    “Put them keys back, or you’ll wish you had,” Vern said, still sitting in his chair watching the game.

    Vern resented his son since his wife ran out on him when Johnny was eight. So it’s no surprise that he didn’t see the growing rage, didn’t think he needed to fear a son who Vern believed he had broken a long time ago.

    Johnny stood there squeezing the keys until they left marks in his palms. He was suddenly calm when he walked to the chair and unleashed years of frustration and rage upon his father.

    When Vern Mitchum stopped moving, Johnny took the keys and went to pick up his buddies.

    The last thing Vern Mitchum heard before he checked out for good, was the Astros winning the game on a bases clearing home run.

    Vern was a Rangers fan.

    **********

    Sheriff Everly’s car pulled up behind Clay, Frank, and Hank, who were watching Johnny punish the burned down diner.

    The sheriff asked, “Why’s he beatin’ the shit out a Old Aggie’s?”

    They all shrugged, then Clay asked, “What happened to it?”

    “Burned down about two years ago, some fuckin’ meth head set the place on fire.”

    Everly watched a few more moments then said to Johnny, “Hey fella, that’s enough a that shit.”

    Johnny turned around, his eyes wild, blood dripping from his hands.

    **********

    Clay said Johnny swung at the sheriff, Frank and Hank said Johnny hurled a piece of burned wood at him, whatever happened, Johnny ended up in the local jail, and after Vern was found, he was transferred to Clarksville State Prison.

    No one was shocked that Johnny killed Vern, “I’m just surprised it took him this long,” a neighbor said.

    **********

    Clay, Frank, and Hank went to visit Johnny before leaving town. At first, none of them knew what to say, so they just stared at each other like idiots.

    Then Johnny, always the leader, finally said, “At least we had one last ride, huh fellas?”

    They all smiled, then began reminiscing about old times at Aggie’s.

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 2:56 pm
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      Excellent writing, Alice. Here are just 3 things I admire about your story:

      1) It’s very visual – both the places and the atmosphere are very skilfully conveyed, drawing me right in. And the description is woven into the narrative and the dialogue/dialogue ‘tags’ so it’s seamlessly embedded

      2) Cutting backward and forward in time – hard to do while maintaining the momentum of a story in any case, but to do it within the word limit in such a polished way is very impressive. And this is central to the character development of Johnny – showing character development in a microstory is always a challenge, and you use this technique to do it very effectively

      3) The ‘Ride’ theme is present throughout. But I really liked the treatment of the ‘vulnerable/fragile’ required element. Here is a character who acts tough and bullish, does something dreadful, but at the same time is shown to be psychologically fragile and vulnerable throughout his childhood and youth. Great stuff!

      I note also the effective MacGuffin device in the quest to find Aggie’s, and the topical use of the word ‘shithole’ ….

      Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 7:13 pm
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        Andy has summed this up beautifully. A very good story Alice and one that makes you want to reread it for the sheer pleasure of reading a good story. I actually really liked this story and it is neck and neck with another. Good writing this prompt.

        Reply
        • January 28, 2018 at 10:08 pm
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          Thank you Ilana, glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

          Reply
      • January 28, 2018 at 10:08 pm
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        Wow! Thank you so much Andy, I am floored by your kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story.

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 11:16 am
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      Another gem, Alice. Your stories rock! you capture all the poignancy and marry it with realism. Great word picture of the boys’ friendship.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 12:29 pm
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        Thank you so much Maud!
        “Your stories rock!” I love that, thanks again, I am so glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 3:25 pm
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      Great story Alice. Excellent writing. And I think Andy summed up its outstanding aspects nicely, pointing out significant elements that I didn’t even notice.

      I only have one suggestion. (I’m posting this on the thread in case I’m wrong. Someone else may know more about this and correct me. And I realize this is picking nits, but honestly, it’s only one nit.) In the very first line: ‘Johnny was going about 70 down Route 40 in his dad’s 1968 Dodge Dart GTS.’

      I realize you’re efficiently providing information in the fewest possible words here, but this is the first sentence. I don’t think the specific name of the road or the car is as important as starting the story with more zip.

      The corn stalks were a blur as Johnny drove his dad’s ‘68 Dodge at speeds twice the posted limit. Twins Hank and Frank Needham were in back, and best friend Clay Albright rode shotgun.
      Clay was going to basic training in the morning, the twins were leaving for jobs in Texas. Johnny just wanted one last night of fun at Aggie’s diner.

      Something racier, like that. (Plus, cornstalks convey a kind of pastoral desolation, the last place a young man wants to be.) I don’t even think you need the character’s last names in this story. Certainly not Johnny’s.

      That’s my two cents worth.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 4:34 pm
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        Thank you Ken! Although I like your suggestion for the beginning, it sounds like the beginning to a very different story, one that isn’t heading down the same path as I wanted this one to go.

        I wanted to set a certain tone right off the bat and I thought describing the muscle car and it’s precarious speed down the road, set the stage for what followed. I write mainly on instinct, and this opening felt right to me.

        Thanks Ken, I’m glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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      It’s like I said once before. This is a very good group of writers and I think I might learn a lot.

      So, I have a question regarding the first line: Johnny Mitchum was going about 70 down Route 40 in his dad’s 1968 Dodge Dart GTS. Twins Hank and Frank Needham were in back, and best friend Clay Albright rode shotgun.

      Had I written it, it would have been the same except…best friend Clay Albright riding shotgun. Would both be correct? Is one correct and not the other? Is Johnny was going one of those past tense things that requires Clay ‘rode’ shotgun instead of ‘riding’ shotgun? I struggle with this sort of thing all the time.

      Although I know dialect is generally whatever the author wants it to be, I would be saying ‘outa Old Aggies’ instead of ‘out a Old Aggies’ and ‘That’s enougha that shit’, instead of ‘That’s enough a that shit. Small differences but personally, I think it flows a little better as one word instead of two. Or should I say insteada two?

      Nice Story Alice, and I always like to see the bad guys come to a bad end, for him that is. Nice take on Johnny being the only one knowing it’s The Last Ride. I think I’m gonna (see, gonna is one word) like this group.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 4:37 pm
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        Thank you Chuck! And I agree this is a great group of writers.

        As far as using “riding” instead of “rode,” the entire sentence is written in past tense, so it made sense to me to use the word “rode.” But I’m no expert, any grammarians feel free to jump in.

        I think you’re right with the other words, making them one instead of two would work better, I’ll change them when I re-write it for SFB or the podcast.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 9:58 am
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      Great story, Alice, as usual. Your stories have a way of really pulling the reader into them, something very difficult to accomplish. I enjoyed this all the way through. Nicely done!

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 12:17 pm
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        Thank you Christopher! I miss your stories, when will we see one from you again 🙂

        Reply
        • January 30, 2018 at 1:58 pm
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          You are welcome!
          The plan is to polish my story this evening and post it shortly thereafter.
          I had one half-written for the last prompt but couldn’t find the time to finish it. I’m hoping that things have calmed enough on my end to be back at it regularly from now on.

          Reply
          • January 30, 2018 at 6:17 pm
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            Looking forward to reading it!

    • January 30, 2018 at 2:06 pm
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      A kind add much here, Alice. I thought it was an almost perfectly written piece. I suppose “days of doing a whole lot of nothing was nearing its end” should be “days… were nearing their end.” I did find it a little incredible that in the 2 years that had passed since Aggies burned down, not only had none of the 4 gone there, but none of them had even heard about the fire, but maybe that’s just me.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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        Good point Randall, I’ll have to come up with a legit reason why they didn’t hear about the fire, but Aggie’s was in a different town, a place they went on weekends during high school and they had just lost contact with it in the 4 years since graduating.

        And the “Days nearing its end,” I’ll change that in the re-write.

        Thank you Randall, I’m glad you enjoyed it, “almost perfectly written,” is an awesome compliment thanks my friend.

        Reply
  • January 27, 2018 at 10:33 am
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    Brief Encounter

    I was giving myself the rare treat of travelling first class. A bit of comfort, and most of all you get the space to spread out and work. Then an elderly lady landed on top of me as if from nowhere, showering me with the coffee I was poised to drink. Trying to stand, she fell across my laptop as the train lurched again.

    I helped her to an upright position. She stood there unsteadily, looking completely stricken. “I’m so, so, sorry,” she exclaimed.

    “It’s fine – are you OK?” I asked. I grabbed a serviette and began to wipe the coffee splashes from my laptop.

    “Your computer isn’t broken is it?” she asked. I noticed she put something that she’d dropped on the table hurriedly into her pocket.

    It was then I saw a large man a few rows ahead get up, as I thought, to help the elderly lady. But he just stood there, observing impassively.

    “Can I help you back to your seat?” I asked.

    “I’ll take it slowly,” she said, sounding more composed. “Once again, I do apologise.”

    She made her way slowly along the aisle, holding the side of each seat in turn. I finished what was left of my coffee.

    * * * *
    Later that week I started feeling sick. ‘Man-flu’, joked my wife and daughter. I’m generally very resistant to winter bugs. But this time my jaw ached painfully. In fact, all my bones seemed to ache in turn. My throat felt swollen and tender.

    Jo, my wife, became really concerned when I cancelled all my work, even the calls I could do from home. “This isn’t you,” she said. “You must go to the doctor.”

    She bundled me into the car and drove me to the clinic. As we went through the entrance, I collapsed. I woke in a sweat on a trolley. Doctors and nurses crowded over me as my wife described the symptoms.

    “I’ve seen this once before,” said one of the doctors. “We need to get him isolated, and I need to make some calls.”

    * * * * *
    “You should see our house,” said my daughter, Lucy, through the clear plastic screen in the isolation ward. “It looks like that scene at the end of ET. All white tents and tunnels and people walking around in, like, spacesuits!”

    I smiled. Either they hadn’t told her, or the reality hadn’t kicked in. Then again, very possibly she did understand, and was trying to cheer me up. That would be just like her. Always wanting to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, as we used to sing together.

    Some new visitors arrived – Inspector Marie Talbot from the Met Police, and someone she introduced as Natasha Adams from MI5. Instances of polonium poisoning are bound to attract the interest of the security services, after all.

    “We’ve been talking to your doctor,” said Talbot softly. “I’m so sorry to hear your prognosis. Do you feel well enough to talk?”

    My prognosis: extensive liver damage already. Worse to come when my organs pack up one by one. “It’s OK. Seems to have stabilised,” I lied.

    “Some good news for your family,” said Natasha Adams. “They are not in any danger. Trace levels of polonium are very low. Apart from some of your clothes, and your laptop, nothing exceeded normal background levels in your house. The family can go back there in a couple of days.”

    She looked at Jo and smiled.

    “We’re still puzzled about why you should be a target. We’ve been through all your business affairs, everyone you said you’d been in contact with. Can you think of anyone at all who would want to do this?”

    “No one.”

    “No enemies, stalkers, jealous ex …”

    “My husband has no enemies,” Jo interrupted. “He’s the kindest man imaginable. Won’t even swat a fly. Rescues spider from the sink. He goes through life with rose-tinted spectacles on, seeing the good in everybody. He cries in sentimental films, and does this stupid ‘blessing’ thing with total strangers because he imagines they might come to harm….”

    “Shh, now,” I said. “You make me sound like a complete idiot!”

    “ ‘Blessing thing’?” asked Talbot.

    “That’s what Jo calls it,” I explained. “No, it’s just that sometimes I see, say, a young couple and they are so blissfully into each other, you can see the love in the air. And you want everything to be right for them. So in my mind I project a kind of protective bubble around them, and wish them lasting happiness. Or a couple of weeks ago we visited a historic house, and there was this very old couple. We saw them several times. And the way they helped each other, listened to each other, the way they held hands, and she’d lean into his shoulder – you could feel their connection, their delight in each other. So I wrapped a protective bubble around them.”

    “I remember them,” said Lucy. “They were so sweet. And you told us about that old lady on the train.”

    “Oh yes. An elderly lady fell on top of me when the train lurched. She seemed very frail, just skin and bones under her coat. So I threw a bubble over her as she tottered on her way, to keep her from harm. Sounds mad, I’m afraid.”

    The two investigators looked at each other. “Can you describe this woman?”

    “Well – old, as I said. Very slight build. High cheekbones. White hair under a kind of woollen beret…”

    “We’d lined up some pictures of people to show you, to see if you’ve been in contact with them. So let’s start with this one …” Adams held up her iPad.

    I peered through the plastic screen. “Yes! That’s her. How – ?”

    “She was taken ill at Heathrow a couple of days ago. The doctors just assumed it was an old person struggling with flu. Only identified as polonium poisoning this morning. And the train journey connects you. Let me make a call.”

    Within half an hour they had CCTV footage from the train sent to the iPad.

    “Yes, that’s definitely her,” I confirmed. “But why would anyone want to poison her as well?”

    They looked at each other, eyebrows raised.

    “Her name is Liliya Komorova. Long-serving Russian agent – ex-KGB, then FSB. Seems she came out of retirement for a special assignment,” said Adams. “From the video, it’s clear you weren’t the target at all. You see this big chap standing up? He’s the bodyguard of Oleg Petrukhin. A freelance cybersecurity expert who used to be high up in the FSB. And apparently, he’s been writing a book and hacking into the accounts of Russian oligarchs. Your sweet old lady, Komorova, it seems, was looking for an opportunity to slip some polonium into Petrukhin’s drink.”

    An accident. Perhaps that was why she looked so stricken – she’d missed her chance and suspected she’d poisoned the wrong person.

    I had to ask. “And how is she?”

    Jo shot me an angry glance.

    “Apparently she was exposed to pretty high levels of polonium,” said Adams. “But the news is, she’s pulling through. Somehow, it seems, she has an extraordinary resistance to it.”

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 9:41 pm
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      Andy, I really enjoyed this part spy story, part mystery. Wonderful flow, and dialogue. I especially love the set up of the story with the old woman on the train, and the devolving of the MC’s life after that encounter.

      I think it’s apparent that the old woman gave the Main character something, the mystery is in the why. I kept expecting the main character to turn out to be some kind of ne’re-do-well, but the story works really well because he is just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      Nice development that leads to a surprising end. She must’ve been poisoned a ton to have built of a resistance to the poison. Great job, Andy!

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 5:31 am
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        Thanks, Alice!

        I think there’s a clue to her resistance to the poisoning in the text, possibly – it’s as if someone is protecting her somehow, she’s been ‘blessed’ with immunity perhaps.
        The story’s a kind of portrait of someone who always thinks of other people’s welfare first …

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 11:33 am
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      So it was his ‘protective bubble’ that saved the assassin from a worse fate? It’s creepy to think that this kind of thing actually happens – the polonium, not the bubble.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 5:09 pm
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        Indeed, Maud. But maybe the bubble happens too? See Ken’s comment below!

        Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 3:37 pm
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      The comments are almost as entertaining as the story.
      (One typo. He rescues spiders. Plural.) One question though. How do you know about the protective bubble? I’ve never told anyone about that. Not even Kim.
      This is really a tragic story, but you tell it with such charm and good cheer, you hardly notice that it doesn’t have a happy ending. This is some really beautiful writing, man.

      Reply
      • January 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm
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        Thanks, Ken!

        Spider – not a typo. It’s the same spider: came back every time because she knew she’d be safe from being squished there.
        …. OK, yes, it’s a typo … 🙂

        Protective bubbles – you too? I started doing it long ago with the kids, as they began to go out in to the wild world more independently. Does it work? Hopefully …

        Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 11:34 am
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      Andy, well done. I wasn’t sure where this was going but was interested to find out. You painted a clear picture here, with solid characters to back it all up.
      Good job!

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 1:53 pm
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      Andy: I really enjoyed the story although I felt the ending was a little open-ended. Much of that is due to the word limit as is the fact that I would have liked the characters a lot more fleshed out. I did find it a bit incredible that the CCTV footage could focus so well on each and every seat of the train but I am unfamiliar with the security measures of the (British?) railway system. Well-written.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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        Thanks, Randall

        CCTV – for many years the British have been the most filmed people on earth as we go about our daily business – though a few Chinese cities are catching up now!
        In most trains there is CCTV at either end of the carriage and in the door lobbies. Here’s a link to an notorious incident filmed on CCTV when a politician claimed he couldn’t get a seat on a train and filmed himself sitting the floor, but the train CCTV showed he was fibbing:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tpgu1rxXLSU
        In first class carriages the seats are much more spaced out so most people can be seen clearly on camera and anything in the aisles for sure

        Reply
        • February 2, 2018 at 2:49 am
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          Oh JOY!!! Love it when a politician – especially one like Jermey Corban or whatever the pathetic pollie’s name is – is caught out on CCTV!! I sing the rest of the day.

          Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:08 pm
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      Andy, nice piece, but I really would like to know a more definitive prognosis for the unnamed protagonist (I think you could have fit a name in there somewhere to make us even more sympathetic, but we don’t even know his name except he’s Jo’s husband and Lucy’s dad). I think some kind of charges at least being mentioned against the antagonist would have made the story a little more positive, since I got the impression the guy is going to die. At least you didn’t say, “The ‘good’ news is, she’s pulling through. Apparently, you did a little research on polonium poisoning, so hope the FBI doesn’t ever have a need to search your computer.

      Reply
      • January 30, 2018 at 5:27 pm
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        Thanks, Chuck

        Isn’t it clear the perpetrator isn’t going to get away with it? Can’t see any other possible outcome …

        And yes, the narrator has no hope. But it’s all in his words, no omniscient narrator, and a key part of his character is understating his own condition while being – perhaps unreasonably – caring about others

        Reply
        • January 30, 2018 at 7:00 pm
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          Wasn’t clear to me, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong in writing it that way. I was voicing my opinion. Yes, Andy, I like the author to lead me to the garden spot without me having to work at what they were trying to tell me. I’ve always been a more ‘this is what happened’ reader, than a ‘wow, I’m gonna have to figure out where this is going reader’. Yeah, the guy is dying and worried about his perpetrator. No wonder Jo shot him an annoying look. I get it, I just don’t like to have to guess if that’s where you were going. “The news is she’s pulling through, but she will still be looking at the gas chamber” type of thing. And, his name is Clay (or whatever), not Lucy’s dad. I like my characters to have more sympathetic character when they are dying and a name would help, but that doesn’t mean yours have to, especially not for my benefit. An author’s choice of character development is his or hers, and his or hers alone. Critics be damned.

          Reply
          • January 30, 2018 at 7:43 pm
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            That’s interesting, Chuck, and thanks for your honest viewpoint.

            I try to avoid overt sentimentality – I often see ‘button pressing’ moments in stories where, a bit like TV movies, we are cued to weep. And I don’t like to feel I’m being manipulated as a reader. So I prefer to let the situation speak for itself, and it’s up to the reader how they react. But perhaps I overdid the understatement this time?

            The guy is called Mike. I edited the story down from around 1650 words – so quite a bit was chopped out to end up at 1199 words. One word that went was his name – well, the whole section of dialogue that included his name. So that was probably a mistake not to sew it back in somewhere.

            BTW, the genesis for the story is an incident about 3 weeks ago – I was on a train and a frail old lady did indeed land on my lap as the train lurched and then as she got up she whacked my laptop across the table. A couple of days later I came down with this dreaded winter flu – I was wondering who I’d been in close contact with that might have passed it on. No radioactive substances involved though. As far as I know.

          • January 30, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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            Thanks, Andy. Now I know his name, and thanks for sharing. Like I said, you can leave or take my comments and use them or lose them. But thanks for listening. Isn’t it great as a writer you can take a single incident and turn it into a James Bond Movie. Gotta love writing. I know I do.

          • January 31, 2018 at 11:12 pm
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            Chuck,
            I hope you’ll pardon me for seeming as though I’m ‘jumpin’ all up in yer grill,’ but…

            You’re new to the group, so you don’t know that many, many stories posted in this contest have had unnamed main characters. As such, sometimes when we vote for our favorite characters, we have to choose, ‘The Main Character from ‘Story XYZ.’ This is Flash Fiction. It may seem inconceivable to omit a main character’s name in other longer works of fiction, but we do it all the time.

            As for the status of the perpetrator in Andy’s story: Let’s see now. Inspector Talbot from the Metropolitan Police department, and an Agent from MI5, the British Secret Service, have arrived to show the Main Character a photo line-up of potential suspects, one of which turns out to be a well-known Russian agent, Liliya Komorova. (She’s in the hospital, and even though she yet survives, one must PRESUME, unless the Met and MI5 are completely incompetent, that she is under police guard.)

            I don’t see how her ultimate fate could be made any clearer.

            But this story is not about the fate of the Russian agent anyway. Or the police or security personnel in the form of Natasha Adams and Marie Talbot, or Oleg Petrukhin, the purported target. It’s about the unnamed main character, and his peculiar gift, and kindness toward strangers. (Even serial spiders.) Since the story is presented from his point of view, his name is spectacularly irrelevant and would add nothing to the tale. In fact, the main character is the only character who isn’t named. (A clever angle to the telling, in my opinion.)

            It’s not necessary to hit the reader between the eyes with a paddle every time you want to introduce a canoe to the story. Is it? I’ve read plenty of stories that were too subtle for my Paleolithic mentality, (I readily confess), but this certainly isn’t one of ’em.

            That’s just my honest opinion, Chuck.

          • February 1, 2018 at 9:13 am
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            A couple of things to cover, I guess, in light of your comments Ken. I realize I am new, and I have, I admit, probably made a critique or two I would like back or to reword. Keep in mind my motives were good.

            Regarding Andy’s story, I was trying to point out that to win over readers sometimes you have to draw them in any way you can, and I have seen better results when my characters have an identity, be it ‘Ralph’ or the one-eyed man. Whether a good guy or bad guy (generic ladies, don’t get gender over this) I think (and this is just me) I like to identify them. That’s where I was trying to go with the critique, and in retrospect, I probably really didn’t give a crap what happens to the lady spy who kills a guy by mistake, except I would like to know his innocent death didn’t go unpunished. Besides, I didn’t have much to critique because the story was well written with all the elements: a good start, a middle and an ending that was good, but I think could have been better. It had a modicum of suspense, but with 1200 words, that’s hard to build in any story. It even ended up in my top five, (( won’t say where).

            However, having said way too much, I tend to do that, I will make an attempt in the future to be more succinct. I think that’s why I write – because I have so much to say, if I didn’t write it down, it would just spill out at precisely the wrong moment – which has happened in my past – so I write. Keeps me sane. Keep the cards and letters coming folks, I love ’em.

  • January 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm
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    Ken thanks. You have given a very thorough analysis. I don’t want to add more, except to say that some similar elements of the story troubled me.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2018 at 5:43 pm
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    Andy
    Your stories are always fascinating to me. I like the twists and turns. Bit ironic that the wrong guy is going to die and the “clumsy” poisoner pulls through. Well written. I have just investigated a few of the symptoms of polonium poisoning and they say the effects are apparent after a few hours?
    Sorry to be a pedantic bitch, but I love to cross check facts even in published novels and texts and get a thrill of vicarious satisfaction when I find errors. Probably why I like teaching so much and rooting out half truths. Only kidding.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2018 at 8:28 pm
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      Thanks for the kind words.

      On the science, I think you’ll find it depends on the amount ingested, as with any kind of radiation sickness it depends on the amount of exposure.
      With Alexander Litvinenko it was around half a day for him to feel ill. But he got the full amount intended by his attackers. In the story, it’s an accidental dosing and the impact of radiation poisoning more slow-acting, but nonetheless inevitable as the reduction in his lymphocyte count progresses.
      The narrator is also a man who shrugs off early signs of illness, as he doesn’t like to go to the doctor. And being teased about ‘man-flu’, it’s a question of honour to soldier on!
      Had Komorova delivered the full dose to her intended target, Petrukhin, he would certainly have had a more rapid demise.

      And I welcome fact cross-checking – I do it too 🙂

      Reply
  • January 27, 2018 at 6:36 pm
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    Engaging story that held my complete attention to the end–quite a “ride!”

    Reply
    • January 27, 2018 at 8:29 pm
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      Many thanks, Paula 🙂

      Reply
  • January 28, 2018 at 7:37 am
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    Please delete the previous post of “BAR”
    Bar by Robt. Emmett [1025words]

    As I drove through Jay Cooke State Park the weather changed. The overcast turned to a heavy mist. I stopped and put the top on my convertible up. At the Oliver Bridge, lightning flashed and the rain pelted my canvas car top. Half an hour later, I parked on 5th Street and entered the Hammond Avenue Tavern as the rain stopped.
    I put two quarters into the Wurlitzer 1015 and began punching buttons. I finished choosing the songs and went to the end of the bar overlooking the street. I watched the people passing by the big plate glass window. They seemed to be in a hurry to go somewhere, do something. I should be going somewhere, doing something. I did, “A whiskey sour, small glass, one ice cube.” He eyed me, toying with the idea of checking my ID. He shrugged, mixed my drink, set it on my salted cocktail napkin, and turned away to stack glasses on a clean white bar towel.

    Two drinks, my limit, I started to leave. I almost missed seeing her. I watched her as she stopped by my ‘53 Ford Convertible, Ivory Lady. Her brown hair hung to her shoulders of her dark green, front-buttoned sweater. The outline of her too tight black skirt defiantly caught my interest. “I’ll be back,” I said over my shoulder as I walked to the door at.
    I stopped two feet from her. “Do you like the car?”
    She frowned, “Your car?” I nodded. “It’s nice,” she continued, “even has a name on the fender.” Her green eyes matched her sweater. She reminded me of Rita Haworth. I stepped closer. “Buy ya drink?” She looked at me, hesitated. “Sure.” She shrugged, exposing the medallion in the hollow of her sweater. “Sure, why not.”
    She slid onto the stool next to me. To the bartender, “Southern Manhattan, hold the cherry.”
    Puzzled, “You don’t like cherries?”
    Smirking, “Cherries are overrated if you catch my drift.”
    We chatted. I bought her another and she asked, “What year are you?”
    “I’m a senior, or will be, this fall.”
    “Me too, you must lead a clean life. You don’t look that old,” she said studying my face.
    “Are you going to school this summer?”
    “Sorta. I teach girls swimming at Teachers College. It’ll help me with my sports medicine major.
    Major?
    We chatted the afternoon away. The streetlights had come on, the rain had let up. Soon the place started filling with the after supper-crowd. “Want another?” I asked.
    “Five’s my,” she hiccupped, “limit.”
    I’d had what two, three, no four.
    “Let’s shed this place. Want to get something to eat?” I asked.
    “Les go fo’a ride, in the car with a name, okay?” she slurred.
    I opened the driver’s door, she slid in, and her skirt hiked up her thighs. I slid in and started my car. “Where would you like to go?”
    She smiled, “Anywheres yews want to,” she burped, “go is hokey-dokey whit me.”
    “By the way, my name’s Rob, what’s yours?”
    “Name’s Barbara,” she burped. “But I goes by Bar.”
    “Ever been to Amnicon Falls?” I asked. “It’s only twenty minutes, wanna go there?”
    She put her hand on my knee, “Sure.”

    I stopped in the deserted parking lot overlooking the Upper Falls. At first, we kissed slowly. After a while, I came up for air. I tried not listening to the blood pounding in my ears. I shivered, not because I was cold. “Crank down your foggy window,” I said as I lowering my window.
    I watched by the light of the radio’s dial as she started to unbutton her sweater.
    She read my eyes, smiled, flung her long hair over her shoulder, and whispered, “Unfasten it if you want.” My hand slid up the middle of her back.
    A high-powered beam of light exploded in my face. It blinded me. I covered my eyes. The flashlight roamed the interior of my car.
    Then I noticed the light also illuminated a large gun.
    A gruff voice demanded, “Let’s see some ID, Now! I’m the park ranger for this place and it closes at sunset.”
    I dug out my driver’s license and handed to the ranger. Bar turned and quickly started to button up her sweater.
    “Here,” he handed my driver’s license back. “Don’t they have any necking places on the other side of the state line? Next time you get horny, Stud, do it somewhere else. Turning to Bar, “Miss, I need to see some ID?”
    She leaned across me and handed him her college ID card.
    He walked around the back of the car to the passenger window. “You have anything with a birth date in it?”
    She dug into her small purse and pulled out driver’s license. She handed to the ranger.
    He looked at it. He flashed his light in her face. Opening the door, “Step out miss.” She cast a questioning glance at me and slid out the door. They walked away from the door. I couldn’t make out his words, but his tone was intimidating. She returned and sat on her side of the car. As he slammed the car door shut, “Get outta my park and outta the state, now.”
    On the ride back to town, Barbara just looked out the window and brooded. I attempted conversation. She ignored me. At tavern’s parking lot, she pointed, “That’s my car, the Ford.”
    She started to get out, but stopped and said, “You bastard.” I never saw it coming. Her slap watered my eyes. “You son-of-a-bitch, do you know what you damn near cost me … do you?” Before I could answer, she continued, “Yes, you coulda cost me five to ten years.” I was too slow. Her fingernails raked my cheek and nose.
    “Five to ten years, what the hell are you talking about?”
    “Because, Dip-shit, you’re a high school senior, age sixteen. I’m a college senior, age twenty-one. The ranger thought I brought you across the state line for sex. In this state, it’s called white slavery, asshole.”
    She got out of my car, slammed the door, and gave me the finger as she walked away.

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 12:53 pm
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      Done!

      Reply
    • January 29, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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      Much improved Robt. The removal of the high school girl improves the story and doesn’t give away the reveal. I notice that you shortened the dialogue at the end. I believe that helped immensely too. I think you’ve successfully resolved the contradictions in the plot, but there are still quite a few typos.
      For example:
      “I’ll be back,” I said over my shoulder as I walked to the door at. (walked to the door at?)’
      ‘She dug in her small purse and pulled out driver’s license. She handed to the ranger.’

      Also, the Park ranger would not identify himself. You could identify him in the exposition.
      ‘The light illuminated a large gun, in a holster attached to a uniformed park ranger.’

      In the previous version, I realized the puke was from a previous night, but only after I’d posted my critiques. But that’s not an issue at all in this version.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 11:48 am
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      Wow…too bad for this guy!
      Sure, she could have been charged, got into some real trouble…but a high school senior getting with a college senior?!? This guy really missed out.
      Good story. You should try writing it with a happier ending, though!

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 11:53 am
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      My sympathies are with the boy. The woman was just a predator, and anyway, isn’t every young lads’ dream to be seduced by an older woman ?

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 12:09 pm
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      I skim-read your earlier version a while back, and I can see the polishing that you’ve done between the two versions. So it’s a pacey and racy tale of alcohol-fuelled lust and, I guess, naivety on both sides that could have had more serious consequences than a slap.

      As a non-American, I don’t really get the state line/’white slavery’ bit. Though of course I believe you when you say it’s an issue (what’s the difference between the two states?). Over here two consenting people 16 or over can do whatever they want wherever they want without interference from public authorities or park rangers…

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 1:42 pm
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      Robert: I don’t feel comfortable critiquing another writer’s style. That’s one reason I never wanted to be an editor, but I know it is somewhat expected on this site so here goes: I found the story quite interesting although I thought the ending was telegraphed quite early as his age seemed apparent to me from nearly the start”salted” cocktail napkin down to her shoulders of her dark green “defiantly” maybe definitely. A couple of small things: Maybe I don’t drink in bars enough but what is a “salted” cocktail napkin? I found the wording awkward on the business about her hair and shoulders: “down to her shoulders of her dark…” maybe.”down to the shoulders of her dark…” or “down to her shoulders on her dark…”. I also wondered about the use of “defiantly” and thought perhaps “definitely” might work better. The dialogue was very good though I hated to see grammar go completely out the (fogged) window. I do understand your reasoning there, though. Hope I didn’t rough you up too much.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:31 pm
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      Robt., I think the thing that would have helped me the most with this story is if the young man had simply lied to her, and then she found out. Then I would have understood her anger. She even mentions he looks too young for a college senior. Although I did like the fact the shoe was on the other foot for a change. But her stupidity shouldn’t have fueled all that anger. Whether they crossed state lines or not, she was still guilty of statutory rape, and that makes her culpable. Otherwise, I really liked the story and how you cleaned it up. It was the first story I read coming on to this site before you changed it, and you did a pretty good job of fixing it, although I think there are a couple more things that could help. I really didn’t like the burping when she was drunk as the left the bar, which grossed me out, but hiccupping would have worked just fine. And, Anywhere ‘yews’ want to go isn’t a drunk slurring the word ‘you’ in my humble opinion. Dialect, and I’m assuming that drunk speech is a form of dialect, is difficult to do in the first place, but it should still sound like a drunk did it, and ‘yews’ doesn’t do it for me. I might be the only one who feels that way, so feel free to take my advice or leave it

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 6:16 pm
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      Hi Robert, I wasn’t able to read the first version, this one sets a nice tone, and races along nicely. I wondered if Rob knew he was being seduced by an older woman, or if it were just a misunderstanding at what kind of senior he was.

      It’s a fun story, and like Ken said, could use a bit more tweaks and it will be an even better story. I don’t know if you read your story out loud after you wrote, I find that helps me weed out those little mistakes that our brain tends to fill in when we’re reading our stories in our heads.

      Nice job, Robert

      Reply
  • January 29, 2018 at 11:18 am
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    Apologies to all in advance … due to bad time-management on my part, for the second theme in a row I don’t think I’m going to have time to comment on stories this week (at least not to do them justice). Very sorry – hope to be on it next time. (I will be reading and voting, though.)

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    • January 29, 2018 at 11:59 am
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      No worries Phil, I hope things ease up for you soon 🙂

      Reply
  • January 30, 2018 at 3:19 pm
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    The Mountain Path by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin ©2018 [1080 words]

    Jadain huddled against the cold. It had seemed so easy going up the mountain, at least as easy as the mountain ever is. The sun had been shining and his goat had no trouble climbing to the meadow where the Blue Starflowers grew. The midday sun had even been warm enough that he had taken off his coat and enjoyed a brief nap after his lunch. Unfortunately, the nap ended when a cold breeze blew in, bringing storm clouds with it. The spring storms come on quickly this far up the mountain and there was no time left to dawdle.

    Carefully, Jadain plucked a starflower, placing it in the special travel vase he wore around his neck. A small bottle on a leather thong, it was made especially for the sacred journey each pledged acolyte made before completing their training at the temple. The blue starflower only grew in one place and bloomed for only a few days each year. If an acolyte could successfully climb the mountain and return with one intact within one day, then they were deemed worthy to care for the spirit of the mountain.

    So he had put the protective globe around the vase and closed his coat tight around them. He then unpacked his snow cloak as an additional layer of protection. The first flakes began to fall as he swung into the saddle and turned the goat toward the snow trail. It was a longer, but safer bet down the mountain during the storm. The snow had fallen steadily since then and the wind had strengthened as they descended leaving them with only a few feet of visibility. Luckily his goat was surefooted and knew the way down by heart.

    The squall became harder and harder to move through. Luckily there was a waystation coming up soon where they could rest out of the wind. Half natural cave, half manmade building, Jadain silently gave thanks that the snow hadn’t hidden the structure from him. The recessed door wasn’t blocked by the growing snowfall, so he was able to open it and lead the goat inside. Someone from the temple had recently switched out the straw and left fresh firewood.

    Jadain hung his snow cloak and brushed off the goat who promptly sat down in the straw and began nibbling on some oats that were also left there for the mountain’s pilgrims. The firewood stared pointedly at him from its rack near the hearth, but Jadain knew that if he didn’t want the starflower to wilt he’d have to make do with sharing body heat with the goat. The stone walls of the waystation kept out the wind and the oil lamps left off just enough heat to thaw his fingers. It would have to do.

    As the sun set, the wind began to calm. The snow let up and the clouds parted showing the river of stars twinkling in the night sky. Jadain only had until midnight to return with the blooming flower. He bundled back up and led the goat back to the trail. Or at least to where he believed the trail to be. The mountain was an unbroken sheet of white. Thankfully, the goat still seemed to know where to go.

    The moon began to rise as they reached the tree line. The snow wasn’t as thick here, but they still had to find their way carefully. The descent was taking so long that Jadain was certain he wouldn’t make his deadline. Tending to the mountain took time, strength, and above all patience. The mountain gave its beauty and its bounty in summer, but that was balanced with its harsh winters filled with avalanches, hungry predators, and blocked roads. He had spent years training, working hard to be worthy of it.

    Pressing on, Jadain couldn’t help but worry about his future. The mountain would choose him or it wouldn’t; there was nothing he could do about that. He felt the vase pressed between the coat and his chest, hoping his best would be enough. As the moon rose higher, the goat’s steady pace and the stillness of the night began to calm him. The blue moonlight filtered through the tree branches, sparkling off the snow. The night sounds of the forest were muffled, but the occasional hoot of an owl or snow sliding off a branch kept the quiet from being oppressive. Jadain’s heart grew lighter and his shoulders relaxed. The journey had been beautiful and enjoyable, then treacherous and trying, but the end had brought peace and beauty once again.

    As his knot of worry loosened, Jadain took some time to appreciate the night. A slight movement out of the corner of his eye caused him to turn his head. Atop a ridge in a clearing stood a stag with two does. They watched Jadain and his goat move past until they were hidden again by the trees. The mountain had given him the gift of this night even if he didn’t make it back in time.

    The trees finally began to thin out and Jadain caught a whiff of wood smoke. The temple was at the edge of the village and they would have a bonfire lit in the courtyard awaiting his arrival. The goat, sensing home, picked up its pace and Jadain’s heart began to beat faster. The midnight bell began to toll just as he passed the gate and rode into the courtyard. He jumped out of the saddle and threw open his cloak as he approached the Head Guardian. Opening the travel vase, he was relieved to see the blue starflower had survived. He handed it to the guardian as the final toll rang out.

    “Jadain, you have survived all that the mountain has dealt you, more even than most acolytes face. You have proved your resourcefulness and brought back the flower that represents the spirit of the mountain. It is with great pleasure that I now call you Guardian Jadain, Tender of the Mountain.” The Head Guardian then embraced him. He carefully took the flower and placed it in a tea cup. He poured tea over the bloom and handed the cup to Jadain. “Drink in the spirit of the mountain. It has chosen you and you have chosen to defend it. Welcome and be warm.”

    Jadain felt the warmth wash down his throat and spread throughout his body. He had done it. He’d passed the test and now the real journey would begin.

    Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 3:41 pm
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      Wendy: My only problem here is that for someone facing such an important deadline and one that apparently many others have failed to surpass, Jadain seems awfully lackadaisical about it. He takes a nap instead of heading straight back with the sacred starflower. This allows him to get caught by the snowstorm. Then he shows no great consternation at needing to stop at the waystation, a further delay. He is very fortunate indeed that the storm was as brief as it apparently was, Sometimes it seemed that the goat was more worthy of the honor of becoming Guardian of the mountain. Having said all that, I quite enjoyed the premise of the story and I think that your writing style was impeccable.

      Reply
    • January 30, 2018 at 4:23 pm
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      Randall & Chuck I understand where you both are coming from. I tried to cut out most of my unfortunatelys, suddenlys, and luckilys. I obviously missed some. It’s a bad habit I fall into.

      I see what you mean about the deadline and I could probably flesh it out more describing what a Guardian does as it’s more like caring for the path, the waystation, and the pilgrims. But I didn’t want to bog it down with too much back story. I started it a few times trying to bring out enough background without halting the motion of the story.

      Reply
      • February 1, 2018 at 5:18 pm
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        Wendy,

        While I would (with tongue in cheek) dub this story, ‘Dances With Goats,’ you have captured the grandeur and danger of a snow-capped mountain journey.

        You have a gift for clear and vivid imagery in your prose. This would become more obvious to others if you trimmed away some of the duplicate words and phrases. (Examples of which others have already pointed out.) Having read your last excellent story, and therefore knowing what horror you’re capable of, (is that a blowtorch in your hands?) this story is remarkably serene and esoteric.

        You have a knack for creating lovely phrases like:
        ‘The mountain gave its beauty and its bounty in summer…’
        ‘Atop a ridge in a clearing stood a stag with two does.’
        ‘…the clouds parted,’ revealing ‘a river of stars twinkling in the night sky.’
        ‘The blue moonlight filtered through the tree branches, sparkling off the snow.’
        ‘The firewood stared pointedly at him from its rack near the hearth…’

        Good stuff. Beautiful, in fact.

        Interesting point that the goat, (like my pilot) seems to know how to get Jadain home. (At some point I thought they were both going to fall off a cliff, for sure.) They arrive, not early, not late, but right on time. (Trust in your goat.) I felt that using the flower to make tea was a nice touch.

        (Wait a minute – isn’t the Blue Starflower poisonous? No, no. You’re right. I’m thinking of the White Starflower. Of course.)

        Very, very nice writing, Wendy. Watch out for them duplicates. I predicted you’d use far less than 1200 words. And I was right. Brevity is good.

        Reply
        • February 2, 2018 at 11:03 am
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          That IS a blowtorch. Thank you for the praise and I’m glad everyone loves the goat, hehe. It’s a thin line between purple and descriptive prose, so I’m glad I got it right this time.

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    • January 31, 2018 at 8:31 am
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      Nicely descriptive, Wendy, you captured the spirit of the mountain. The tension around whether he would make it in time was well portrayed. I agree with the others about the use of adverbs, less is more. Overall an enjoyable read.

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    • January 31, 2018 at 11:14 am
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      Wendy, I love the descriptive quality of your writing. I quite enjoyed this story, the use of the adverbs didn’t really 🙂 bother me, I thought they worked. I also wasn’t bothered by Jadain’s calm quality, isn’t that the attributes that one would want for someone who would be the keeper of the Mountain. I thought the story flowed beautifully, it had a peaceful pace that really captured my attention. Great job!

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      • January 31, 2018 at 11:56 am
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        Maud and Alice, thank you for your kind words!

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  • January 30, 2018 at 4:07 pm
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    Wendy, It’s been awhile for me reading a saga type story with the promise of more to come and I enjoyed the story, but I do agree with Randall. Although Jadain seemed to be content as if he knew he was the chosen one and it was the mountain’s decision, he seemed fatalistic. And, my question is, if he is to become a Guardian of the Mountain, and the Mountain seems to have a mind of its own, what exactly is their job? That is what you need to bring out if you take this further and develop this story. Here’s a couple of things: First in this sentence: Unfortunately, the nap ended when a cold breeze blew in, bringing storm clouds with it. I don’t think the word unfortunately is needed. And a couple paragraphs later you have these three sentences:

    Luckily his goat was surefooted and knew the way down by heart.

    The squall became harder and harder to move through. Luckily there was a waystation coming up soon where they could rest out of the wind…

    You don’t need ‘Luckily’ this close together if you need the words at all. In the first sentence, it definitely isn’t needed (in my opinion – for what it is worth) and in any event, it is too close to the other use of ‘luckily’. Which I don’t think is needed because he knows there is a waystation. That isn’t luck. You might give him a nod as a good planner ‘knowing’ the way station was there rather than dumb luck.

    Otherwise, you made the story fairly readable, and I think if you develop it you may have something. I also think you needed a little more drama, somewhere along the line causing the delay, rather than a mischievous mountain. Some form of odds against him making down the mountain type event, perhaps an avalanche, which makes it almost impossible to overcome, but, because he may be the chosen one, he overcomes it and makes the 24 hour deadline instead of sauntering into camp, come what may.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 7:27 pm
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      Hi
      Wendy. Nice descriptive writing. Enjoyed it. Agree that we can work on paring out the unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Your writing becomes more effective if you leave the actions to show and less is more in this case. Good story though.

      Reply
      • February 1, 2018 at 11:21 am
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        Adverbs are my weakness

        Reply
  • January 30, 2018 at 5:16 pm
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    Still-Beating Heart by David Provost (WC: 641)

    Once he finished watching them die, Kwento would steal the weapons from Fulani herdsmen and store them in his torn-down Kia Optima.

    Kwento had killed before but thought it best not to make it a habit. He preferred to record the gruesome tragedies, but not be instrumental in the process of what made them so terrible.

    His glass-doll body was fragile but his survival instincts were firm. Over the years, he and his inoperable Kia had seen the worst the ethnic Fulani gangs had to offer. Machetes painted with dried blood were stacked in the trunk space. Half-loaded glocks that reeked of intestines rested across the coffee cup holders. The car’s wheels had not budged in years but it had witnessed violence of all different shapes and forms.

    Kwento was the last living member of his immediate family and was most comfortable only spending time with himself, dying Fulani heardspeople, and his out-of-commission Kia. Being around the dead was the only thing to remind him that life can be distinguished.

    Talking with others was not Kwento’s strong suit. When he watched Fulani heardsmen die, almost always at the hands of others, he never spoke to them.

    That never stopped them from trying to goad a reaction. Their final breaths would be spent uttering insults such as:

    “You sad sack of a whore son!”

    “Your car is very ugly and you will burn in Hell.”

    “Are you just going to watch me die with those fucking Cookie Monster eyes?!”

    One evening, after hours of waiting for typical carnage between his peasant class and the Fulani elite to break open, Kwento heard someone tinkering with the dead men’s weapons in his car.

    He approached the Optima with humor and leisure, expecting to scare off an adorable firefinch from a place it didn’t belong.

    For the first time in many years, Kwento did not see a dying body, but a living child. A young girl, hijacking his inoperable Kia.

    The girl was more chubby than a newborn baby after feeding and taller than any of Kwento’s nine, athletic brothers. Her long dress was paisley and her forearms were intimidating.

    Kwento wasn’t used to talking to Fulani children with a still- beating heart in their chest and didn’t plan on making it a habit.

    The large child in a paisley dress attempted to hotwire the Kia, a skill Kwento himself had never thought to learn himself. He didn’t know what to do with the fact the he appeared more frightened than the girl except to stand immobile and strike down hypothetical movements his brain invented on the spot.

    Many words needed to be said to the Fulani child. Words like:

    “Why the hell are you in the driver’s seat of my sacred Kia?”

    “Your dress looks like it was made by a blind and bitter seamstress!”

    “Are you running away from something or towards someone else?”

    The Kia soon complied with the efforts of the child in the paisley dress and was ready for riding. The girl looked at the weapons around her with motive. She grabbed a knife dangling from the blind-spot mirror and threw it to Kwento’s feet. Something for him to remember his Kia, and the girl in paisley by.

    Kwento failed to find his reflection in the knife. Those possibilities were covered by the blood of the guilty.

    The same blood he wondered might live in his body.

    When he looked up at the girl in paisley, he saw a child with her mind glued to the future.

    Who was he to tear her back to the present?

    Shouting over the ignition of the girl’s new Kia, he started a habit of talking to people very different from him.

    “Go,” Kwneto said. He thought to add, ‘and don’t come back’, but he realized was no longer his call to make.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 7:14 am
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      I would love to hear the back story on this piece. You have taken me to totally new territory.

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      • January 31, 2018 at 7:18 am
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        I appreciate that Paula, I’ve very much enjoyed your work on the contest forums thus far.
        – I’m currently enrolled in a course on African culture. There is so much going on over there that we never hear about!

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      • January 31, 2018 at 7:29 pm
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        Yes. More back story needed. A lot of unanswered questions raised and we need to know more or be shown more.

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    • January 31, 2018 at 11:25 am
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      I couldn’t quite make out what this story is about. ‘His glass doll body,’ and why was there no reflection in the knife? who were the guilty ones? was he a vampire? too many questions for me to fathom out. I would like to know more.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 11:42 am
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        Thank you for the feedback, Maud!

        This story to me is just about an encounter between two strange, quiet people in a violent land. No supernatural element— although a vampire drama set in Nigeria sounds awesome :0

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    • January 31, 2018 at 11:46 am
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      I loved this David, feels like part of a longer piece though, and like Paula I want to know more. I love the pace and flow of the story, and Kwento is an interesting character. Nice job.

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      • January 31, 2018 at 11:57 am
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        Thank you so much, Alice.
        My comfort zone is without a doubt first-person, so I’m happy to hear Kwento was still an enjoyable figure in this third-person flash piece!

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    • January 31, 2018 at 12:45 pm
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      There are a few unanswered questions, the first of which is, you expect the reader to buy the fact that the car hasn’t moved in many years, yet a quick hotwire job fires up engine gasoline that probably couldn’t burn if you held a match to it. However, I’m willing to suspend belief for that.

      My second question is is the dialogue, especially the insults of dying people, and even the protagonist himself, actual dialogue, or just the musings of your mind as you write the story. This is obviously from a culture I am unfamiliar with, so I am asking a real question not trying to be a smart ass critic.

      Your descriptions are interesting such as: The girl was more chubby than a newborn baby after feeding and taller than any of Kwento’s nine, athletic brothers. I thought about that for awhile and think it’s a little clunky. Personally, I think – The girl was more chubby than a well-fed baby is a better way of saying it because I never noticed any of my kids looking chubbier right after feeding. Pacified maybe, but not chubbier.

      Interesting story in the sense it made me think about other cultures and that’s a good thing.

      There was a plural mishap in this sentence: Kwento failed to find his reflection in the knife. Those possibilities were covered by the blood of the guilty. I think it should have been – Kwento failed to find his reflection in the knife. That possibility was covered by the blood of the guilty.

      Would love to see some of your other stories in the future.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 1:56 pm
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        Thank you for taking the time to read and for the specific criticisms, Chuck!

        All your points are completely understandable, and if I expand/alter this piece in the future I will certainly take your comments to heart.

        As for the dialogue, I’ve never been to Nigeria but do have a number of Nigerian friends. My understanding is limited certainly. Perhaps a mixture of what I’m used to hearing in my head for characters and what I might expect from Nigerian locals.

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    • January 31, 2018 at 1:41 pm
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      I enjoy post-apocalyptic stories but this one was a little muddled. I was confused about his dead eyes and glass doll body. Is he an AI/ robot/android or are you just commenting on his fragility physically? What made the girl a tall strong child as opposed to a full grown woman taller than his brothers with huge forearms and the ability to hot-wire cars? Spelling: I believe you mean”Herdspeople” as opposed to “Heardspeople”, likewise: Herdsmen. I realize 1200 words makes a fleshed-out story difficult.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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        Thank you for the feedback.

        There’s no speculative fiction component to this piece. (Although I love the genre!)

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    • January 31, 2018 at 4:13 pm
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      Kudos on the original setting, amidst communal conflict in northern Nigeria. We haven’t had many stories set in Africa – and this is quite a disturbing one, with Kwento’s disturbed psychology and behaviour – presumably coming from his family loss and isolation. I like it more the more I read it.

      On the other hand, though, yesterday I saw Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on TV, and amongst other things she was lamenting western understanding of Africa – all we think of, she says, is about big animals and incomprehensible tribal wars. Nigeria is also the world’s 20th largest economy, with a huge and well-educated middle class, 50% urbanized … I know the setting of your story is legitimate and one has to choose somewhere for dramatic events. But is there also a risk of consolidating heart-of-darkness-type stereotypes (blood, bodies, machetes, herdsmen, poverty, broken-down cars, etc)?

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 4:19 pm
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        btw – that last is a tangential thought your story spurred, not a criticism

        Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 5:14 pm
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        I’m glad you enjoyed the story and I totally agree with you Andy.

        I would normally frown upon the war zone heart of darkness depiction of an African setting, but I was very much compelled to write about this current/ongoing crisis for some reason. Maybe because I haven’t read anything about it much outside of footnotes on news websites. I’ve being researching land disputes in Nigeria and there is so much tragedy, it’s horrible.

        Reply
  • January 30, 2018 at 10:15 pm
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    Ups and Downs (1,186 words)
    Written by Christopher Smith
    © 2018

    One minute you’re celebrating a job promotion or your teams’ securing of that sought-after account, the next a heart attack, possibly yours. Or a much-needed vacation at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise, then the following week your wife discovers lumps—plural—on her breast, despite the care she’s previously taken to detect any sign of them, and guess what, my friend: they are all the furthest thing from benign. On one page in the book of your life you have a near-death experience while crossing the street; turn that page and the next time—at that same intersection, mind you—you are unlucky enough to get hit, and welcome to months of agonizing physical therapy to learn how to walk all over again.

    Extremes, perhaps, but I would argue against that notion; shit like this happens all of the time. And regardless of their severity—major or minor; does it really matter?—they affect us just the same, and inevitably change us for good or ill.

    Precautions can be taken, sure, and common sense certainly helps, but all of us experience lapses in judgment that lead to events we’d give our lives to take back…unless those same events have claimed our lives. Either we’ve hurt ourselves or, most likely, someone else. These events are inevitable—life is inevitable. Learn to ride the wave instead of being drowned by it; and when you do manage to ride it, if only briefly, the key is to limit the celebration of it.

    * * *

    The wave that threatened to drown me was learning that my wife of eight years had been—was being—unfaithful. The suspicion of the affair wasn’t good news, and the discovery of it was worse, but the mind’s defence mechanism is fantastic, isn’t it? I avoided the pain by telling myself what a blessing it was, how much better off I’d be without her. This artificial defence, I later learned, was designed to last for only so long.

    I should mention that leading up to that point our marriage wasn’t what you’d call solid, and perhaps I was simply too scared to break our unhappy routine by getting a divorce because it was—you guessed it—convenient. I could have saved us both a large amount of drama, sure, but I’m no mind reader, and at the time her possible cheating on me was a long assumption to leap to. No, we didn’t have kids holding us together, but we had a house and a dog and his and her bath towels (now stained) and coffee mugs (now chipped), and sometimes—as sad as this may sound—unhappy isn’t a marriage killer. She had her space and I had mine. We cohabitated, we were roommates, and I guess we had both reached a point where that was fine.

    What wasn’t fine was some guy fucking my wife in our bed, on sheets that had been a wedding present.

    Shortly after my suspicions I installed cameras: one in the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the basement, one facing out to the driveway and the front walk. I only wanted to gather some hard evidence—a phone call, perhaps—but as it turned out I found some hard (and rather large) evidence. Only three weeks after the cameras were discretely installed and synched with my phone I caught her and some swinging dick in action…twice, and then their elaborate pillow talk of how they’d scamper away to be together.

    The anger was there but buried, as I’ve mentioned, and this is where, in its absence, I’d decided to give her what she wanted, what would be best for me, and leave. But I would confront her first, of course; rub her nose in the puddle of piss she’d sprayed on our wedding vows, if I could. But essentially I would be an adult about it, or try my best.

    Turns out that was a hard task to accomplish.

    * * *

    I was sitting in the recliner in our bedroom’s reading nook when she arrived home from work. Her routine was to shower and change when she got home, so I knew she’d head upstairs, and that’s where I’d confront her. In my hand was my phone. On it, playing out like a nightmare I’d convinced myself was amusing, was her and her lover, doing what lovers do, what her and I hadn’t done in quite some time.

    “Hey.” It was without meaning, like most of what our relationship had been for the last year or so. “What are you watching?” It was insincere, something to fill the dead spots in our exchanges.

    I was smiling, a choked and forced thing that probably looked awkward, like I had to take a shit. Now that this was happening I’d realized a little too late how difficult it was and the rest of it would certainly be. I simply turned the screen toward her.

    Her eyes widened, only slightly—she hadn’t expected it or anything like it—but then she smiled and even managed a laugh, either happy I’d discovered it or amused at how she looked on camera, his face buried in her crotch.

    Remember that defence mechanism I was telling you about? This is where it crashed, where I crashed.

    Her reaction was nothing I’d expected; in all the scenarios I’d played out in my mind, this one never crossed it. If the discovery of her infidelity hurt, the discovery of her discovering my discovery hurt ten-fold, a hundred. If there is a point of madness, an invisible line we all have etched somewhere inside of us, then she not only stepped over it but, sprinting, left it far behind.

    In that moment—her still watching the video, still smiling, entertained by it, seemingly oblivious to me or the point I was trying to make—I thought I would take hold of her neck, kill her. I saw my fists against her face, the blood, the eventual crime scene. I saw my shaking hands attempting to dial 9-1-1 with increasing difficulty, the damage behind me, done. I saw police, handcuffs, news reporters, curious neighbours.

    Worst of all I saw myself, phone in hand, getting up from the recliner. This was the start of it all, slow, breathless pulses of me stepping to her and beginning the end of her, the end of me.

    And that was when she flinched, took a step back. Her eyes were on me now, not the phone, and she looked terrified, as if she had seen all that I had. And that was the difference, I think. I would like to tell you that I would have walked on past her even if she had continued to laugh, amused and mocking, but I just don’t know.

    As it turned out, her reaction saved me, shook me awake. I simply shook my head, brushed past her, left the house.

    Oh, and I sent an email to all of my contacts—hers, too—the video attached.

    Ride the wave, right? Because I’ll be damned if I’ll let it drown me.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 4:13 am
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      Thought-provoking story, Chris.
      Interestingly, I don’t share the sympathy that the narrator evidently has for himself – I’m more on his wife’s side despite her infidelity.
      The guy strikes me as a bit cowardly as well as sneaky – kind of wants out the marriage, but won’t walk away unless he can assign blame to his wife and ‘rub her nose in it’. Then he fantasises about beating her – nothing to be proud of – and in the settles on revenge porn.
      I think she’s better off out of it and hope she sues the sh*t out of him for posting the video, lol

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 7:16 am
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        Neither of them seem mentally balanced, although I agree with you: his scale is tipped a little more than hers. Keep in mind, both of them were cowardly (staying in an essentially loveless marriage) and sneaky (her with the cheating, him with the cameras), he simply went a slightly more childish route when it came to confronting her about it.
        And to clarify: he wasn’t fantasizing about beating her…although if you read it that way then perhaps some reworking of the story is in order. It was his mind’s anger, what he feared he might do, what he could actually see himself doing despite wanting to simply confront her and then walk away. I think we have all had a situation or two (granted, not quite like the one in the story…hopefully) where our anger threatens to get the better of us. In the end, I think the narrator did a pretty good job of controlling himself. If revenge porn was the worst that actually happened, it certainly was the better of the two scenarios.

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 5:27 am
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      Pretty well written as if you and I were having a cup of coffee and you were relating all this for the first time, unedited. A few things here and there, but overall an interesting, graphic story that doesn’t leave much out. The part I liked best was when he realizes that all the scenarios he played through his mind don’t materialize, as most of us realize when we do the same about some upcoming confrontation. It put me in the story at that minute and I forgave you for going on about everything in detail.

      I have to agree with the other critique a little, I think, who took your wife character’s side because your protagonist was sleepwalking through a marriage that your wife character did something about. Nice ending. Good last line, and, although I’m not a revenge porn type of guy, it was an interesting element at the end. I would have shot her.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 7:24 am
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        Thank you, Chuck. I debated on writing this story in the third person but decided it wouldn’t be as effective.
        Thank you for your mercy! I thought that him giving into his anger would have been a too-brutal outcome (although I seriously debated writing it that way, anyway), and I too was happy with his choice.

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 9:08 am
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      Chris, that was a multi layered story, The man’s character was revealed right from the beginning. Ride the wave, take no action – no upfront action anyway. Secretly installing cameras, failing to engage in any kind of dialogue that might put them back on track, fantasizing about killing her, all cop out mechanisms. No wonder his wife found an outlet for her frustrations. Not that I condone her actions, but your average woman needs more than bland co-habiting, for instance, there were no children, I wonder if she wanted them? Did they ever talk about this? It’s comfortable to ride the wave – until you fall off. I enjoyed the story, though!

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 9:19 am
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        Thanks, Maud.
        And I agree with you: many things unanswered in this story. And there are always two sides to any story, and we (the reader) only received one.
        Glad you enjoyed it!

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 1:59 pm
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      I found your story both realistic and creative. It’s a good look at a marriage as Titanic hitting its personal iceberg. The first section needs some sentence structure work but maybe you were trying to go for a stream-of-consciousness type of effect. At times I think you get a little too cutesy with your wording like “the discovery of her discovering my discovery” but falling in love with the way one says things is an occupational hazard.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 2:20 pm
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        Thanks, Randall.
        The sentence containing the multiple use of “discovery” just came out that way when I wrote it. The character seems like he could rant a little and so I liked the way it fit.
        Some editing needed in this piece, for sure, especially after having read through it a few times. You always find a few things that way, don’t you?

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 2:48 pm
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      Christopher I agree with Maud, this was a skillfully layered story, and I really wasn’t sure where it was going. Unlike Andy, I had little sympathy for the wife, and I understood the husband’s anger, even the thoughts of harm. The characters are multidimensional, real people who do stupid things to hurt each other.

      This gives a real account of how love can quickly descend into hate. I really liked how you laid it all out, and how the story unfolded. Great job Christopher!

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 7:36 pm
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        In agreement with Alice and Maud. A well layered story. I have to agree with Chuck though. I would have wanted to do damage to her. Real damage. Confronting isn’t when our partners are not honest and also it is the greatest insult not to end the partnership or marriage, but to go off with someone else and do it in the shared marital bed. Bad bad.

        Reply
        • February 1, 2018 at 7:12 am
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          Ilana, I couldn’t agree with you more!

          Reply
      • February 1, 2018 at 7:11 am
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        Thank you, Alice!

        Reply
    • February 1, 2018 at 6:30 pm
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      Christopher,
      This is a tragic story. Excellently written. The best part of this story is its honesty. For anyone who hasn’t been through a divorce, or even the break-up of a long-term relationship, there is a yawning chasm between what you fantasize or imagine should happen, and what you actually do. (Or don’t do.) As this story depicts.

      I don’t understand the sympathy for the woman. The not very sympathetic main character, who has no name, is willing to settle for a loveless relationship. His wife, who is not willing, should have sought a divorce. She’s an unfaithful cheat. Why blame him?

      Infidelity in a relationship evokes everything from anger to deep emotional pain, insecurity, bafflement, worry, dejection, self-pity, righteous indignation, frustration and fear. Amid such an array of conflicting emotions, it’s hard to maintain ones poise and decency. I applaud you Christopher for tackling such a difficult theme and treating it with such appalling realism.

      It’s easy for those who haven’t been in this situation to shake their heads and cast aspersions on one side or the other. In reality, a failed relationship can be one of the most distressing events, short of illness, death or paralysis, that one can imagine. Your anger wrestles with your reason, and thankfully, except in those cases that we read about or see on TV, logic and reason usually prevail. But at what cost to our self-esteem? And clearly, as the comments indicate, you can’t expect much sympathy or understanding from others.

      While your character’s actions are contemptible at best, they are, at least understandable. Hers? Not so much. The best solution, and the hardest, is to take an axe, (whoa, whoa, WHOA people, don’t get ahead of me,) a FIGURATIVE axe, and cut the ties that bind as quickly and generously as possible, and don’t look back.

      Great story.

      Reply
      • February 1, 2018 at 6:46 pm
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        Wow. Thank you for the kind words, Ken.
        I think that critique of my story flowed better than my story did.

        Reply
        • February 1, 2018 at 7:40 pm
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          Christopher,
          I’m very windy today.
          But no, actually, I’ve yet to read one of your sentences that I thought I could improve on. On the other hand, you haven’t been around nearly as long as Alice. So, you know, it could happen– eventually. (And then you can ignore me like she does. Hahahaha.)
          I felt like it was an emotionally powerful story. Not because I’ve worn similar shoes, (it was a long, long time ago, and she had no sense of humor,) but because of the writing.

          Reply
      • February 2, 2018 at 4:33 am
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        Interesting response, Ken.
        The talking point on Sky News over breakfast this morning was, should marriages have an expiry date of around 20 years? Kind of a review point, written in at the start. Would save some of this grief.

        When my first marriage broke up, a friend who whose 4th marriage had just ended advised me, ‘you can have good divorces and bad divorces’. One of his ex-wives was cooking supper for us when he told me this. Life happens, was his view, and best to keep on good terms with everyone if possible.

        Having seen quite a few marriages go down the pan, one thing I have noticed is how at least one of the parties often likes to cast themselves as the victim and therefore blameless. That can be the case. But in Chris’ story, though the woman is behaving badly, the guy has put no effort into the relationship, and is so self-pitying and playing up the victim role – he wants to have a righteous anger moment. Rather than being more authentic and positively deciding what he wants to make of his life – I think that’s Maud’s point.

        Sign of a good story, Chris, to generate this kind of diversity of views. I think this couple’s splitting up is going to lead to their dividing their friends between them as well as their possessions – like it’s dividing us in our responses 🙂

        Reply
        • February 3, 2018 at 12:29 am
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          A marriage can be dissolved at any time, Andy. No need for a review date.

          The wife in Christopher’s story was doing the deed in their bed, regularly. Why? Her boyfriend couldn’t bring her anywhere else? They couldn’t afford a hotel room? Was it a bit of a thrill? Was he also married? Whatever her motives, she’s rubbing the husband’s nose in it. Her behavior makes her a jerk.

          When the husband shows her the video, she thinks it’s amusing. That’s not normal. (I’m sorry, but that’s just not normal.) That shows a complete lack of empathy or compassion. (It might be funny later on, but not immediately.) It’s one thing to cheat, or to want out of a relationship. That’s not uncommon or cruel. But to do it without any consideration of the effect your actions will have? On someone you live with? That you once cared about? Naw man, that’s cruel.

          You make the assumption that the husband hasn’t put any effort into the relationship. You don’t know that. (He isn’t making any effort currently. True. But then, at this point you can’t blame him.) Since he’s just discovered and proved his wife’s infidelity, how authentic would it be to just put on a happy face and focus on the next phase of his life? That takes time. We recover in phases. Disbelief, (hence the cameras,) Then there’s anger, then sadness, then grief. It takes time to start looking forward.

          My take on this is that what this guy is experiencing is painful, but fairly normal. And, he would get over it. But this story is about the revelation, not about the end game.

          Reply
          • February 3, 2018 at 5:39 am
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            You have made the complainant’s case very effectively, Counsel!

            Now Christopher has to write the story from the woman’s point of view – after all, we have one side of the story here

            Like, she regards the videoing as contemptible behaviour – does she see it as part of a pattern? What else has he done, in her view, that she wants to goad him (and so on)

            I agree about the reality of a ‘grief cycle’ in breakups – except he’s already confessed it’s a kind of marriage in name only. So in this case, really, what is the nature of the loss? It’s more about pride, I think, than genuine grief about the loss of affection – there wasn’t any left to lose by this point …

  • January 31, 2018 at 1:16 am
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    Moving On (revision)
    By Paula Young
    1167 words

    As Sarah walked up the hill, the full weight of the events in her life caused her to fall to the ground, wailing. Everything she held dear was slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach.

    Sarah sniffed. “What a cliché my life has become,” she thought. She sat up in the weeds, breaking twigs with her fingers. “The Jerk has hooked up with Donna—some best friend! And there’s no way I can stay here. It’s his farm, his business. Even if I wanted the house, he would always be right there.” She sighed. “Tahiti sounds so good… but not likely, either. What am I going to do? I have Mia to care for. I don’t have anywhere to go! I would stay with Mom and Dad, but the judge said I must remain in this state.” She choked out, “Dear God, please help me!” then she sobbed some more.

    When she regained her composure, she wiped her eyes, and dusted herself off and moped back to the house. She knew her daughter would know she had been crying, but it couldn’t be helped.

    “Hey, Dumplin’! Let’s go for a drive. “

    Mia jumped up and ran to her mom, her ponytail swishing. She was a carbon copy of Sarah, but smaller, and her hair was the color of honey instead of dark brown.

    “Are we looking for a new house, Mommy?” asked Mia, her green eyes shining.

    “Well, let’s just see what’s available.” One foot in front of the other. That’s how she would survive this. Left foot, right foot…

    Sarah had circled several places in the newspaper that were in the nearby town.
    “OK, here’s the first one.”

    “Mom, it looks like it was once a good idea, but someone forgot about it.”

    “I always liked this house from the road. Up close it does appear to be a fixer-upper. More fixer than upper! Let’s try the next one.”

    “I love this house! Can we call the realtor?” The neighborhood was full of trees, and the house appeared to be modern, recently built. The pink granite stones appealed to Sarah.

    “OK……It’s in bankruptcy, a drug dealer’s house? I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’d be interested. Thank you so much. Whew! Oh my goodness! I wouldn’t want his friends coming by! Where’s the next one?”

    “Oh, Mom! It’s beautiful! Let’s look inside!”

    Sarah marveled at the beautiful old white house with black shutters. It had more “Gingerbread” than Hansel and Gretel’s house! And look at the porch. She could imagine herself swinging in a porch swing.

    “I’ll call the realtor.”

    They entered the historic home.

    “It has a big living room, and three bedrooms,” advised the realtor.

    “Let’s look at the kitchen, Mia.”

    “Uh, Mom. What kitchen?”

    How had the previous owners lived here? There were a few old metal cabinets, a small stove and refrigerator that must have been made in the 1940’s! Sarah gathered that the house must have had a kitchen in the back at one time, and this was a pitiful attempt to “modernize” a dinette area.

    “This would take too much money to renovate.” The cost of the house alone was in Sarah’s upper limit. Sarah and Mia both sighed. “There’s one more on the list.”

    “I can show you this one,” said the realtor. “It was owned by a sweet lady with lots of cats.”
    “Mom, my ankles are itching,” said Mia as they walked through the yard.

    “Mine, too. I think this yard is infested with fleas! Hurry! Run to the car! Wipe your feet and ankles off with these.” Sarah felt defeated. Was she reduced to living in flea-bag of a house?

    “Well, I think I’ve reached my limit for today,” sighed Sarah. She took three deep breaths to keep from crying again.

    They got back in the car and drove slowly towards what used to be home.

    Then she saw the two-lane country road that turned off to South Hallow, which was about 25 miles away. It wound down a hill into the trees. It beckoned to her.

    “Why not?” thought Sarah.

    “I love this road! It makes you want to drive really fast, but then there is a farm machine. And going up and down the hills makes my tummy feel funny.”

    “Mia, put your window down. Let’s smell some fresh air.” Their hair blew in the wind. Mia put her hand out the window to hand-surf.

    “Look, Mom! The cows are all lying down. Do you know why?”

    “No, why?”

    “Because they’re tired!”

    They both laughed at Mia’s 5th grade humor. It felt so good to laugh. It felt good to leave the troubles behind and just drive. Oh, for this road to go on forever and never have to deal with anything!

    All too soon they saw the houses and businesses of the village.

    “Oh, Mom! Can we stop at the dairy bar?”

    “Sure! Let’s get some ice cream. They have the best chocolate!” They sat in the sun at a concrete table with a blue umbrella. Sarah could feel the stresses of the day blowing away with the breeze.

    “Sarah! And Mia! I haven’t seen you for ages,” said Rosemary, one of Sarah’s friends. She gave the mother and daughter a hug. “What are you doing here?”

    “We’re having a much needed break from browsing for a place to live.”

    Rosemary had heard of Sarah’s break-up. She thought a moment.

    “There is a new apartment building right around the corner. I think they have a vacancy. I’ll ride over with you.” Rosemary could be a bit pushy, but it was most welcome now. Sarah desperately wanted someone to tell her what to do next.

    The women looked at the apartment. It had two bedrooms, a good size living room, a small dinette and adequate kitchen.

    “Mom, this isn’t so bad.”

    “You could live here for a while?”

    “Sure! But can we get a kitten? One without fleas!”

    “What about school—your friends?”

    “I can make new ones, and still see the old ones. They are not that far away. It’s OK.”

    Sarah was so relieved to have the weight of finding a residence for them lifted. This would give Sarah the time she severely needed to regroup and begin the healing process. Mia needed that time, too. This apartment would be close enough for Mia to visit her dad, but far enough away that Sarah wouldn’t run into her husband or her un-best friend. It seemed to be the perfect solution for now.

    “I’ll ask the manager, but I think it will be OK!

    And in that moment Sarah thought many things would be OK. She had a place to go, and a friend in town, and a feeling that things might be survivable after all. And a happy daughter never hurt! She was thankful for the lure of the rural road.

    “I’ll put my desk here, and the cat bed here, and Mom, we’ll need a new shower curtain…..”

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 5:13 am
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      I like what you did with the story, especially with how you handled someone else’s suggestion of Mia and how she was going to be after getting jerked from one house to another. It’s a nice ending. A really nice ending.

      Paula, all of my suggestions are meant to be just that. Suggestions. Yours to think about, use if you want, discard with a shudder wondering why do you want me to do that if you think they are out of line. My wife is my beta reader and almost always has good suggestions for changes, but not always. She once ripped a story of mine I was going to enter in a writing contest and after listening to her regarding how she didn’t like the characters, the dialogue, the ‘unrealness’ of the story, I decided to leave it as it was because I liked it and I thought it was real with accurate dialogue. It won the contest unchanged. I still listen to her advice and usually take it, but the lesson I learned was, this is MY story and I won’t fundamentally change it because it doesn’t sound right to her.

      My advice to you is to reflect on what critiques you receive and if you think they are correct, do something about it. I enter writing contests, not to win although that is a nice validation, but to learn and become a better writer. I sometimes take each sentence and see if there are too many words, can I get by with less and still carry the weight of the story the way I want. How does “this” word affect the next paragraph and the story in its whole? It’s a discipline that “flash fiction” is perfect for due to the minimal word count. I published my first book while a novice and if I had it to do over again, there is so much I would change and rewrite it makes my head spin. And, I just might do that. Keep writing and working hard to be an even better writer, because I think you have a talent for it, as many in this group have.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 5:52 am
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        I thank you so much for the input. I attend a monthly critique group, and agree that you add or take away only what rings true to you. The things I changed in the story I felt made it a better story.

        Reply
  • January 31, 2018 at 9:11 am
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    Patient Zero written by Carrie Zylka, edited by Andy Lake down to 1198 words!

    The road stretched out before them, the hum of the wheels on the blacktop hypnotic.

    Matt was tired. His hands were tired of gripping the motorcycle’s handlebars and his back ached from being in the same position for so many hours.

    But he loved this bike. He’d found it hidden away in some old farmers barn. The old Heritage Classic had fired up on the first try and hadn’t failed him since.

    His hand cramped and he placed it on the gas tank, caressing it like he would his lover’s stomach.

    Behind him, Molly stirred, lifting her head from where it had been resting against his back. He felt her trying to stretch without upsetting the bike.

    They’d been on the road since sunrise, and he figured they had about six hundred miles to go before they reached the CDC in Atlanta. Travel was much slower going than he’d like. And the tension of being on constant alert was exhausting – watching for victims of the virus, roving gangs, and debris that might blow a tire.

    But they rode on.

    His precious cargo – patient zero, the one that could put an end to the outbreak – was safely nestled against him. He’d ride until he couldn’t see anymore, fight bands of outlaws that would happily rape her to death, and give his last drop of water to this tiny girl who could prevent his wife and children from eventually dying a horrible death.

    In his mind, he shuffled through the list of potential threats. Distracted by what could happen, he never saw the traffic spikes.

    The Harley kicked and bucked as the spikes tore through the tires. Molly screamed and clutched him tighter as the bike skidded on its side. He felt the tearing of his pants and the hot shredding of his leg. Shoving the pain aside he pushed the bike off them and grabbed her by the arm. Yanking her to her feet he urged her to run towards the tree line. Grabbing the tactical shotgun from the saddlebag, he limped after her.

    Fear shot through him as he heard voices on the road. They raced through the brush trying to put as much distance between them and the group that’d waylaid them. Eventually the voices faded away and he breathed a soft sigh of relief.

    Unfortunately he knew they weren’t out of the woods yet. Figuratively or literally.

    Dusk was coming on as they paused to catch their breath. “We can either find shelter for the night or try to find a car. There’s a part of me that wants to push on,” he said.

    She looked up at him, her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. “No Matt, I want to keep going. If they can use me to find a cure I want to get there as quick as we can.”

    He nearly wept at her bravery.

    They spent the next hour circumventing the section of the road where they’d been nearly ambushed. Once past they paralleled the road checking cars abandoned along the side of the road. He checking for gas, she checking for random supplies. These days a single bottle of water was worth its weight in gold.

    Many cars had crashed or been vandalized, their gas tanks long since drained.

    Finally they spied a small truck. Moving closer to the driver’s side Matt shied away. Sitting in the driver’s seat was something out of a nightmare. What had once been a fairly large man was now a zombie-like figure.

    Sneaking closer, Matt tapped on the side of the rear panel and was rewarded with the sound of a nearly full gas tank. Looking again at the humanoid creature in the driver seat he could see why no one had messed with it.

    Desperation won out over good sense. He turned to Molly. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go over by the passenger side door. I’m going to open this door and get that thing out of there. Once he’s out you get in and close all the doors so he can’t get back in at you. Understand?”

    She nodded, eyes bright in the darkening gloom.

    They took up positions and Matt took a breath. The creature had spied him and was snarling against the driver’s side window. Black eyes hungry for the only thing that motivated it now that the virus had cooked its brain.

    Matt quickly opened the door and made large motions with his hands to keep its attention focused on him. The creature lurched out of the truck and towards him, faster than he thought possible. Matt was pleased when he heard the tell-tale click of the door latching.

    Molly was safe.

    Distracted, he cried out as the creature tackled him. He tried to push it off him, twisting to avoid sharp teeth clanking together, precariously close to his face. They rolled in the dirt, as Matt tried to avoid it sinking its teeth into him.

    Knowing it was a risk, Matt raised the shotgun and pointed it at the thing’s distended face and pulled the trigger.

    Brains and skin and bone rained over him. He shoved it off him and sat up, spitting out debris.

    Making his way over to the truck he climbed in and was pleased to find the keys still in the ignition. It fired up on the first try and he eased out onto the road.

    They reached Birmingham around 2 am.

    “Matt are you ok?” Molly’s small voice spoke in the darkness. “You don’t look ok.”

    “I’m ok, Molly. I’ll get us there.” Matt’s voice was hoarse and raspy.

    “I can drive, you know. My grandpa showed me how last summer.”

    “Really, I’ll get us-ahhhhh” He gripped the steering wheel as pain shot through him.

    “Matt please!” Molly shouted, grabbing hold of the wheel to keep them on the road. “Pull over, Matt!”

    He eased the truck to a stop and turned on the dome light. Molly gasped. He looked at himself in the mirror and nearly wept. Feverish and cramped, he had obviously contracted the Pelosa Virus. Early stages were the worst and lasted several days before your brain succumbed and cooked from the inside out.

    “You must’ve got it from that man who owned the truck.” Molly whispered. She was frightened, but for a twelve year old, more in charge than he at this point. “I’ll drive the rest of the way.”

    He nodded and they switched seats. She looked comical behind the wheel, her legs barely long enough to reach the gas.

    Matt leaned against the door, relishing the coolness of the window. “It has cruise control, just keep it steady. Highway 20 runs straight into Atlanta. The CDC will have checkpoints I’m sure. If something happens to me just explain who you are. Tell them you’re the daughter of the scientist that released the Pelosa Virus. You have to make them understand your blood is the cure.”

    Molly nodded, her tired face stoic and determined. “Don’t worry, Matt. We’ll get there in time and they’ll cure you.”

    She eased the truck out onto the road and started the final leg in the ride to save humanity.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 11:13 am
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      Good pacing, good description, and the dialogue moves the story just enough. I do wonder why whoever waylaid them didn’t chase them or at least didn’t try very hard if the couldn’t catch two overtired, roadrashed, desperate people. But that is a minuscule peeve. Well written and tells enough of the tale to stand alone or to be fleshed out into a longer story.

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 11:29 am
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        Thanks Wendy,
        I believe the answer is simple.

        They are just really tired ninjas.
        But ninjas just the same…. 🙂

        All joking aside for the version I’ll be reading on the podcast there’s a whole section where the bad guys chase them and the only reason the don’t get caught is because Matt and Molly leads them on a merry chase smack dab into a bunch of zombies.
        So they escape while the gang is occupied trying not to be eaten.

        Damn word limit… 🙂

        Reply
        • January 31, 2018 at 11:51 am
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          I’m intrigued by these tiny ninjas hehe.

          Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 12:20 pm
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      Well, All I have to say is, “You, so rocked this prompt!!” Nice, well written, got nothing for ya critique-wise. Kept my attention. Now I can go vote after I make sure there aren’t any stories.

      Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 2:18 pm
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      Very well-written as always, Carrie. One small quibble “farmer’s” not” farmers”. Having watched “The Walking Dead” from its very first episode on TV, I guess I was a little inured to the horror this story should stir up in a reader, I enjoyed it but it seemed like “Yes, yes I’ve heard all this before.” I found it ironic in that musing about traps, ambushes and road debris, he becomes so distracted as to not see the traffic spikes that were an obvious indication of a prepared ambush. He “shreds” his leg but it is no apparent hindrance on his ability to outrun the gang. Either do something with the shredding or leave it out.

      Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 2:57 pm
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      Loved it Carrie, it was like a tension filled episode of The Walking Dead. And like everyone else, I want to know what happens!! Great job.

      Reply
    • February 1, 2018 at 7:15 pm
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      Carrie,

      Wow, the pacing IS good. The writing is fabulous. (I thought you were a supermodel? This was written by a genius. A genius supermodel.) You should put your weapons down and write more often.

      (At the same time—Jesus! Will you quit cleaning your scope while I’m talkin’ to ya? Christ.) At the same time, I agree with Randall, this has been done in almost every imaginable way. Even I know that, and I’m not much of a Zombie or apocalypse fan. (If fan is the right word? And I don’t see how it could be, but…) But the writing IS fabulous— realistic and crisp. Which makes for an exciting and fast-paced story.
      For zombie devotees, this has got to be the cat’s pajamas.

      And — it can and must be said, for those who intone, ‘This has already been done.’ I say, “Not by ME it hasn’t.”
      You can use that if you want.
      You’re welcome.

      Reply
  • January 31, 2018 at 10:14 am
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    What a gripping story! I’d love to read the next “chapter”! Good job!

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 11:31 am
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      Thanks Paula!

      Reply
  • January 31, 2018 at 11:03 am
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    Wow, Carrie. Fast-paced and gripping. Like Paula, I want to know – did they make it? Great story.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 11:23 am
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      The writing and pace are perfect for the genre, Carrie

      The ‘RIde’ theme and vulnerability required element are to the fore the whole way through – it think it’s awareness of Molly’s vulnerability as well as her importance that sustains the tension in such a gripping way.

      ‘Pelosa virus’ – that’s not a subtle reference to someone who (it has been said) should smile more often, is it?

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 11:30 am
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        It’s actually the last name of a particularly hateful co-worker, although i did make that rather amusing connection after I wrote it!

        Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 11:30 am
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      Thanks Maud!

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 7:40 pm
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        Great story Carrie. Pity I did not get to read it properly earlier. Good pacing. I want to change my vote for best paced story. 🙂

        Reply
  • January 31, 2018 at 11:11 am
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    Ok my fabulous writers, TIME’S UP!
    Time to vote for your favorite stories and characters and boy do we have a collection of killer stories this time around!

    The voting link: http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-2018ride/

    Remember you MUST vote for your story to qualify and you CAN NOT vote for yourself.
    Phil will not be able to vote so he requested his story be excluded from voting.

    ~

    For you over achievers – the next prompt is:
    1. a physical barrier either existing or in the process of being built
    2. a criminal fence a dealer in stolen goods
    3. to fence with rapiers
    4. a fence that surrounds something to protect or to keep out

    The writers should use their imagination and use the word fence creatively to bring the motif through the story.
    They must include a gateway or door
    Someone/ something is saved and someone or something is lost.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 11:40 am
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      Carrie, you know in the voting list you appear as ‘Carrie Zero’ – is that a new nom de plume, lol?

      Reply
      • January 31, 2018 at 11:44 am
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        It’s my super secret pen name hahahaha
        Thanks I’ll update it!

        Reply
        • January 31, 2018 at 2:31 pm
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          Carrie: I screwed up my first vote because I left off favorite character. I hit the go back button and did it again so I don’t know if you received 2 separate votes from me or only one. Please use only the vote that included the best character information. Sorry about the flub, too many late nights I guess.

          Reply
          • January 31, 2018 at 2:40 pm
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            lol no worries…I got it!

          • January 31, 2018 at 2:58 pm
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            thanks.

  • February 1, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    Just waiting on Ken……cuz that’s not much of a surprise hahahaha (slacker!!)

    Reply
  • February 1, 2018 at 5:31 pm
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    Carrie, et al.
    Sorry. I’ve been busy all day and still have two more stories to read before voting. Relax, have a drink. Watch a couple of episodes of Rick and Morty. I’m reading as fast as I can.

    Reply
    • February 1, 2018 at 6:40 pm
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      Rick and Morty is awesome.

      Reply
        • February 1, 2018 at 9:27 pm
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          Wabalubadubdub!

          Now I want to do a R&M inspired prompt:

          “Your story must include Mulan McNuggets Sauce”.

          Reply
          • February 2, 2018 at 11:01 am
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            Well David….you get to choose the February 16 prompt!!!

            I think that should be a story requirement hahahaha

  • February 2, 2018 at 1:05 am
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    :-O ?///?///

    Reply

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