July 11th – July 24, 2019 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “Traveling Through the Night”

Theme: Travelling Through the Night

You can use any mode of transportation you like, it’s the journey that matters.

Story Requirements:

  • None

Word Count: 1,200

 

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

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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

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

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here. According to the writing prompt roster, the next person to choose the theme/first line/dialogue prompt is Andy Lake.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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113 thoughts on “July 11th – July 24, 2019 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “Traveling Through the Night”

  • July 11, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment, feel free to copy and paste the title and permalink in the comments below so it does not get missed, or use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.
    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 10:44 pm
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        I hope nobody minds if I read their stories to get some ideas. I don’t see how I could make a beer run entertaining. Unless I was a zombie travelling through territory controlled by psychic cows–with laser fences, then the earthquake hit. It was all lasers and cows and zombies piled up on top of everything, and the worst part was that it shook up the beer. Like a minor disaster movie. What do you think Amy? I’m afraid to look. Has anyone done anything like this yet?

        Reply
        • July 13, 2019 at 1:11 am
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          Lol Ken C! I don’t think anyone has done a story like that just yet (you can read through them to be certain, I highly doubt anyone would mind) and I’m certain you could definitely make it great.
          Just remember: Shaken up beer fizzes everywhere when you open it right away, be careful that it doesn’t get into the driver’s eyes while he’s driving. He may stop short and be turned into a zombie himself because the earthquake threw his car into the laser lit cow fence.
          Then again, scientifically thinking, I suppose a spewing brewskie could possibly refract the light just right and may work like a perfect alcohol laser beam that could inevitably kill the zombies and you, my friend would heroically save the day… or night in this case.

          Reply
          • July 13, 2019 at 8:34 am
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            And the title of the story would be… (Drum roll please.) Zombie Apoc-hiccups.

          • July 13, 2019 at 9:55 pm
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            Trying to congratulate you on your story Ken last prompt. Great story in a very full field of contenders. However this site keeps telling me it has been reset. I have wasted an hour on something that should have taken me five minutes to do. Glad to see your name in lights or first past the post so to speak. So for the twenty- fifth time I am trying to say congrats and then get some work done.

    • July 12, 2019 at 6:15 am
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      In the UK, we write ‘traveling’ with 2 ‘l’ . The Americans have swallowed one of our ‘l’.

      Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 11:58 am
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        We want justice for that lost l don’t we Chitra

        (also I’m signing in for comments)

        Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 12:29 pm
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        Chitra, I know. When Ken F sent us the prompt there was that extra ‘l’ I just thought he’d made a mistake. Now I know that you Brits just like adding extra letters to words 🙂

        Reply
        • July 12, 2019 at 1:16 pm
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          Hi Alice,
          I don’t think we have added extra letters to words.

          The English Language origins from the English. Other countries have adopted it or forced to adopt it. and have changed bit of it here and there to deny that the roots of the language are from England. Seems like they identify themselves in that way.

          No offence meant.

          Americans like to show they are different

          Reply
          • July 12, 2019 at 10:36 pm
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            Chitra and Peter,

            We have your ridiculously unnecessary L. And if you Brit’s ever want to see your L again, you need to release the extra i you’ve been holding in aluminium. That second i belongs to us and we want it back. The idea that one of our letters would go to London to ride a giant ferris wheel named in its honor, and end up being detained, quarantined and sequestered in a strange metal is inconceivable.

            You have no one to blame but yourselves.
            Release the i, and nobody gets hurt.

          • July 12, 2019 at 11:58 pm
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            Oh no offense taken Chitra, see we even spell the word ‘offense’ differently 🙂 I know the origin of the English language, I was just joking. Not sure why the spelling was changed, but we’re Americans, we have to do it our way. Remember 1776 🙂

          • July 13, 2019 at 2:32 am
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            “Two countries separated by the same language”, eh?
            (Who said that, btw? Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Mrs Maisel?)

            “Remember 1776” – some us aren’t old enough for that, Alice 🙂

            But it’s interesting that American English contains a lot of archaisms, bits of language that stopped evolving when they crossed the pond. Maybe around 1776. Like all those -ize endings we talked about last time around.
            And words like ‘oftentimes’. Sounds quaint when you hear an American say that, like they’ve just walked out of a Shakespeare play.

            But not so ‘aluminum’, Ken C. That’s just an egregious error. A sore thumb in the US and Canadian periodic table.

            I’m guessing in North America kids are taught “25% of the mass of the sun consists of helum”. Or you go out and buy “lithum” batteries.
            Even the French agree with us on this, and they disagree with us about most things on principle.

            So, willingly and with considerable joy we’ll send you back your missing ‘i’, for the sake of our ears and international harmony.

          • July 13, 2019 at 4:42 am
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            “I don’t got…”

            I rest my case, m’lud.

          • July 13, 2019 at 4:53 am
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            Andy, hahaha, I look good for 243 🙂

            Phil, “I don’t got,” is not the normal vernacular here. It’s not considered incorrect, it’s a lazy use of the language. 🙂

          • July 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm
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            Ken C, you offer an interesting negotiation. You may have your precious i, just please have mercy on our l. It doesn’t do well under pressure…

          • July 13, 2019 at 1:37 pm
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            Oh my god I’m British and I’ve always spelled ‘offence’ as the -nse ending.
            That makes me feel stupid…

    • July 12, 2019 at 7:51 am
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      This should be fun!

      Reply
    • July 12, 2019 at 10:54 am
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      Looks like I may have posted my story at the wrong place… it came on top instead of at the bottom of the string. Could this be fixed? Sorry, it’s a bit confusing…

      Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 12:53 pm
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        Hi Ken M. I deleted your story, so if you could re-post it underneath at the end. Don’t reply to a story any comments, post your story in a fresh comment box. Thanks my friend 🙂

        Reply
        • July 12, 2019 at 10:48 pm
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          Yean, and can you change you’re name while you’re at it?
          Jesus, what’s with all the Ken’s around here. I can’t relax. I’m tense. (And they’re all better writers than me.)

          Just kidding Ken. Carry on.

          Reply
          • July 13, 2019 at 12:00 am
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            Yeah it’s some kind of Ken bacteria, that just keeps growing and growing 🙂

          • July 13, 2019 at 1:30 pm
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            it’s like a sweets store (candy for Americans, but let’s not get into that conversation again…)
            but as I was saying, it’s like a sweet store
            because it sells
            ken-fectionary

          • July 15, 2019 at 6:27 am
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            Haha – there must be some Ken-magnet in here!

            My story will be coming back in a moment – I’ll make sure I’ll post it at the right place this time…

    • July 20, 2019 at 7:05 pm
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      Hi Alice – there’s also Ken Cartisano’s story to add to the list…

      Reply
  • July 11, 2019 at 4:20 pm
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    Actually like this prompt.

    Reply
    • July 11, 2019 at 4:44 pm
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      Hi Alice and fellow writers. Hope I can cook up something. Hope summer is blissful . Catch up soon.

      Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 12:23 pm
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        Hi Anindita, I hope you have a story this time too!

        Reply
  • July 11, 2019 at 5:06 pm
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    Travelling Through The Night

    A short story by Ken Frape.

    Admission: As this is my prompt I decided to get a head start before heading off to Ireland on holiday. Yes, Ok it is another train story but that doesn’t mean anybody else has to include a train. It’s up to you.

    The Night Train.

    There’s something languorous about travelling on the night train and making love to the rhythm of the railtrack. Darkness adds an additional frisson of excitement to the nocturnal journey, imbuing with it a sense of delayed gratification. There’s no need to rush. We have all night. The night train cruises through the slumbering countryside, in no particular hurry, at ease with itself compared to its daylight companion that hurries and bustles, one eye always on the clock. Circadian rhythms dictate a slower pace now. “We’ll –get- there, we’ll- get- there, we’ll- get- there,” sigh the carriages as they slide through the dark-shrouded towns and villages, a highwayman’s horse with blanketed hooves, the night fox on the prowl. The people in the houses near the tracks are barely even aware of the gentle passage of the night train as they slumber on towards daybreak. Only the insomniac and the night hunter watch its progress with passing interest.

    On board, the sleeping compartments are now occupied, doors closed tight against the chill and prying eyes. The restaurant car is shut down, the tables cleaned and prepared for breakfast to be served an hour before pulling in to the terminus in the early morning. Then, with a shriek of brakes and a crashing of doors the journey will come to a halt, the magic shell of darkness broken. The frenetic day will take over from the languid night. But for now, there is no movement in the train’s lengthy, dimly lit corridors except for the gentle hip- swaying motion of the carriages following the curving track.

    In my compartment in that early dawn prelude to the new day, my partner and I have been sleeping, entwined in each other’s arms, legs exposed to dissipate the heat generated by our recent passionate exertions. Clothing lies scattered, abandoned in wanton haste. An inverted champagne bottle lolls from side to side in the ice bucket, its contents long since consumed, the ice now turned to water. A dressing gown, never worn, modesty cast aside, hangs casually from a hook on the door. The catch is pulled across to reveal a single external word, “Engaged.”

    Rolling up onto one elbow, I look down at my sleeping bedfellow. I am looking down upon a most exquisite face, certainly not a fellow in the male sense of that word. She stirs and elongates her sinuous body, raising her arms above her head in that wonderful first stretch of the morning. Her full breasts, the subject of much of my attention and anticipation as we sat in the restaurant car the previous evening, rise above the still crisp, white railway sheets. Last night, she was clad in a classic blue silk dress with a deeply scooped neckline, part of that alluring décolletage decorated by a silver and pearl necklace. Since then I have explored every inch of those mounded breasts and found so much to enjoy in that journey.

    As requested, I was already seated when she slid into the seat opposite in the dining car last night. I had been careful when dressing for dinner. Smart casual was the order of the day so I dutifully obliged. She looked at me, a long held look and then, apparently satisfied, she looked away.
    “Have you ordered? She asked.
    I shook my head.
    I looked back into her hazel eyes, skilfully made up, my gaze moving on to her carefully brushed auburn hair and the glistening silver and diamond-studded hair slide.
    She tapped the menu with a reddened fingernail.
    “I am hungry,” she said simply, with crystal-clear ambiguity, “so let’s eat first.” She was enjoying the situation.

    The food was foreplay. Little conversation was required as we savoured the textures of the chef’s specials, the fine wines and the delicate sweet offerings. Around us, other couples were enjoying the same selection of food. I wondered how many of them were anticipating the same après-dinner activity as was on our menu. As we slowly drank our coffees, several other couples dabbed their serviettes to their lips as if giving a secret signal and left the dining car.
    As I rose to follow suit she reached out and placed her delicate hand upon mine.
    “Not yet,” she said. “There’s no hurry. “
    I looked across the table at her and she smiled.
    “After all, we have all night, don’t we?”
    We were the last to leave the dining car and almost immediately the waiter swept in and removed our coffee cups. Like us, he was anxious for bed.

    Everything that night was almost dreamlike, a dance, choreographed in slow motion. We both knew the moves, had danced this dance many times before. This time though, like Ravel’s Bolero, we started slowly, removing each other’s clothes with care but as the tension mounted we became more abandoned, more urgent in our lovemaking, more exploratory. Soon, we cast caution and clothing aside and writhed on the tightly tucked bed linen, undoing the cabin porter’s hard work.

    As Ravel brought his lovers to the top of the mountain, to the lip of the bubbling volcano, so too did we reach our peak and then threw ourselves from the top with cries and shouts of pleasure. Not death for us into the volcanic inferno but rather a slow and gentle descent to earth, to return our hearts to a steady beat once more.

    We made love again before dawn and then slept as we travelled on through the lightening skies towards our final destination.
    At six in the morning she rose from our bed and I watched with interest as she opened her suitcase and selected her clothes for onward travel. The outfit of a rich and educated woman. A woman used to giving commands and seeing them obeyed. Any further physical contact between us was now clearly forbidden. A barrier that had been lowered between us had been raised once again. I was unconcerned about this as it removed any awkwardness regarding our parting. I quickly dressed myself, picked up my case and stepped forward to open the door of the compartment for her. She held up her hand to halt me.
    “I shall leave first and you will immediately close the door behind me and remain here for one minute. Then you may also leave. Agreed?”
    I nodded.
    “Don’t I even get to know your name?” I asked as she turned away.
    She reached for the door, turning towards me once more and, for just a brief moment, I glimpsed the lover from the night before, not the haughty gentlewoman.
    “That would be…… unwise,” she said “and it could spoil what has been a most satisfactory arrangement.” She paused, glancing down briefly at the money-filled envelope on the bed. “One that I hope we may repeat.” With that she brushed her lips against mine then eased out of the compartment and was swallowed up in the early morning melee.

    I counted out the full sixty seconds then checked my make-up, smoothed my skirt over my hips and left the compartment, slipping the envelope into my handbag.

    Ken Frape
    July 2019-07-11
    1188 words.

    Reply
    • July 12, 2019 at 8:01 am
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      Very smooth story Ken. I loved the descriptions and imagery. What a surprise twist at the end. Well done!

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 11:29 am
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      Very well done, Ken.
      This is tauntingly titillating but tastefully done. I like the notion of describing the rhythmic sound of the train with a repetitive phrase. That’s a really nice touch. The writing is excellent all around, wonderful dialogue. Clever twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, at all. You totally fooled me.

      I only have one objection, with one sentence. Which reads:
      ‘Darkness adds an additional frisson of excitement to the nocturnal journey, imbuing with it a sense of delayed gratification.’

      One: You used the word ‘frisson.’ That’s bad enough by itself.

      Two: It means ‘a sudden thrill.’ So ‘a frisson of excitement’ would be on the redundant side. (a sudden thrill of excitement.) .

      Three: The sentence contains three redundancies. Darkness, nocturnal; frisson, excitement; adds, additional.
      Without the duplicates, it’s a good sentence. (reversing ‘with it’ as well.)

      Darkness adds a layer of excitement to the journey, imbuing it with a sense of delayed gratification.

      ‘Or.’

      Darkness adds a mysterious frisson to the nocturnal journey, imbuing it with a sense of expectation.

      I would change that sentence. Other than that? I salute you.

      Reply
      • July 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm
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        Hi Ken,

        Thanks for your comments and they are well made. I can’t quibble with your grasp of the language and the improvement to this sentence.

        An admission here- you probably remember of few prompts ago, we had a spate ( or so it seemed) of train stories. I decided to write another one at that time in order to start a collection. Thus, I had this one all lined up and when I got the message that it was my prompt I was poised and ready to go. I added a rider that it did not have to be about a train journey.

        I have just posted a tongue-in-cheek message to everyone about your success in the last prompt. Very well deserved of course.

        Happy reading,

        Your fellow Ken

        Frape

        Reply
        • July 14, 2019 at 3:04 am
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          Ken,
          Posted it where? Where is it? So I’m finally famous. A sea shanty has been written in my honor? Uh-oh, wait a minute. Tongue in cheek? That’s my weapon of choice. This is gonna hurt. But that’s okay. I’m ready. I deserve it. (Notice I didn’t say I could take it.)

          Your story, by the way, is excellent Ken. I read that sentence the first time and didn’t notice a thing wrong with it. It wasn’t till a second reading that I noticed something funny about it.

          Is your lampoon on the old thread? I look forward to reading it.

          Reply
          • July 14, 2019 at 3:26 pm
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            Hi Ken,
            Greetings from Ireland!
            I posted a comment but it may have taken itself off onto cyberspace. I will try to retrieve it or redo it.
            Watch this space.
            Ken Frape

        • July 14, 2019 at 2:33 pm
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          Ken La Frape,

          I found and read your tongue-in-cheek message to everyone, and all I can say is. I knew it. I knew it all along. A goddamned conspiracy. (Cue the dramatic music.) I don’t doubt that the Russians are involved as well. Carrie Zylka, indeed. More like Catarina Zylkastrewveskitros.

          But seriously. Yeah, that was pretty funny. In fact, I think you’ve done a good job of duplicating my style of humor. (Okay, that’s a little frightening, but impressive just the same.) You have a very good sense of humor, Ken. (No matter that you incorrectly spell it.)

          I just watched the entire ‘Good Omens’ movie from start to finish. Don’t know if you’re a Terry Pratchett fan but based on your sense of humor I think you should be. As good as the movie was, (pretty good) it can’t come near the humor that Pratchett and Gaiman attain through their writing. In the movie they include a lot details from the book, but things are moving along so swiftly, you hardly have time to notice. Whereas in the books, the authors (can and do) take the time to describe each and every visual prank in detail. The style and circumstances of the narration are very funny too.
          It put me in a mood to write a funny story, but, looking at what I’ve got so far, it ain’t happening.

          I’ve considered the idea of writing a story very badly. But then I worry, will bad writers think I’m mocking them, or, worse, will no one KNOW that it’s comedy? But then, I write badly all the time. I just assume everyone does. My significant other will say things like, (just recently, mind you).

          “What’s this? Why is THAT in there?”

          “Take that out. It’s not funny.”

          “This sucks.”

          “You should delete the whole first paragraph.”

          And one she does so well, ‘the long, dramatic sigh.’ “Here, let me see that.– Uhfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff……”

          These are actual recent quotes. Thank God I have such a, such an honest, and intelligent person to get feedback from. (Really, her allegiance with Satan is a wholly separate deal and doesn’t affect her literary advice and opinions. At all.)

          Because of her incisiveness, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought I was a little harsh in my criticism towards them as well. The good news is, well actually, there is no good news. The good news is, we’re done with the bad news.

          In fact, I was just telling a fellow author how I came up with a great plot last week, and then proceeded to do everything in my power to foul it up with horrible writing, redundancies, typos, unnecessary falsehoods, incorrect Nobility references, too many adverbs, cliche’s, trite-isisms.. I spent more time RE-writing that story than actually writing it. And one of my pet irritants is the ‘conflicting fact.’ I don’t know what they’re really called but, they’re like:
          All eyes were focused on him as he inconspicuously boarded the train. Every seat was taken, so he made his way down the aisle as the train got underway and settled into a seat by the window.

          You know? That could be kind of funny. A story filled with contradictions. Literal and grammatical. (Step away from the idea, everyone. Step a way.)

          My how I do prattle on.

          So tell me Ken, were you a Principal? Or something else? You probably had several positions. Started out as a janitor, say and ended up High Commissioner Of Hall Passes. You said you worked around schools for 35 years. What did you do?

          Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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      Great story Ken F. It’s definitely nice and sultry. I did not expect the final reveal, wow.

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    • July 14, 2019 at 6:25 pm
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      Lovely stuff, Ken. You’re a master of description, we’ve seen that before, and this is no exception. I love the period feel. The sex is very delicately but … sexily written. And the (as Andy says) double twist at the end is terrific … and makes all that comes before doubly decadent.

      In the first part, I got a sense of this famous poem & documentary film:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_twehPlRPs

      And mention of Bolero reminded me of Dudley Moore/Bo Derek in ’10’.

      But these are mere observations. Your story works really well and I enjoyed it immensely (as I did your last one, with its several [as Ken C said] LOL moments).

      Reply
    • July 16, 2019 at 12:35 am
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      Enjoyed your story with the O’Henry style twist at the end. Liked the description, the sound effect of the rhythmic thud of the train, your sexy descriptions, lucid, smooth. But I agree with Ken. C regarding wordiness. Overall a great read, Ken F.

      Reply
    • July 11, 2019 at 5:27 pm
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      Hi Chitra,

      Wow, that was a rapid response! Here in the UK I am just about to switch off and get to bed as it is 11.30 at night.
      Glad you liked the twist.

      it’s always a risk to post a story early or be the first but I needed to do it so now it’s done.

      Regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • July 11, 2019 at 5:35 pm
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        Hi Ken,
        Love the whole read of your story. The end gave me a jolt.

        I am from The UK too, from Buckinghamshire in England.

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        • July 12, 2019 at 5:58 am
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          Hi Chitra,

          Buckinghamshire, eh?
          I used to work in Slough, before it was designated as being in Berkshire, lived in High Wycombe and got married in Haddeenham, near Aylesbury.
          Small world isn’t it?
          Ken Frape.

          Reply
          • July 12, 2019 at 6:08 am
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            Hi Ken,

            Small World indeed.

            I am from High Wycombe, more towards West Wycombe. Been here for the last 44 years. Will end here hopefully.
            Slough was one area I covered before I retired from work.

            Chitra

      • July 11, 2019 at 5:45 pm
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        Very well written, Ken, and a good twist at the end. A couple of twists, really.
        And a nice instance of zeugma thrown in -: “we cast caution and clothing aside” – along with the rhythmic description and volcanic extended metaphor.

        Unlike your last story, however, I’m guessing this one isn’t based on experience?
        Or is it?

        Reply
  • July 11, 2019 at 6:08 pm
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    And now for something completely different….

    Reply
  • July 11, 2019 at 6:09 pm
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    A Certain Time

    You listen patiently as she sets out her case, a wry smile playing on your kindly face. People are always questioning your faith in the scriptures. You’ve heard it before and know the answers.

    “As a scientist, you must understand the speed of light?” she asks.

    “I’m a biologist, not a physicist,” you reply. “But of course, I understand the basics.”

    “Well, think of this. If the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, light from there takes at least 2.5 million years to reach Earth. Therefore, the universe must be older than the 10,000 years you believe. So as a scientist, you cannot hold everything written in your book is literally true.”

    “It’s obvious,” you say. “At Creation, God said ‘Let there be light. And there was light.’ Don’t you see? He created all light everywhere at once – including the light visible that’s from all stars, no matter their distance. You think that would be impossible for God to do?”

    “You seem very certain of that.”

    “I am.”

    “So is there nothing anyone could do to put a little dent in your certainty?”

    You shake your head and smile.

    “What if we could take you back to before the time you believe creation happened? In the spirit of science, will you come with me on that journey?”

    You laugh. But she is serious, and presses the question. A little anxious that you may be tempting fate, yet overcome with curiosity, you agree. Besides, there is an argument to be won!

    She leads you into the university’s Temporal Mechanics Institute where she works. You enter the temporal containment chamber, a small theatre with four seats that can rotate and view any side once the journey begins.

    She tells you that here you can travel through time to view what has passed before, anywhere on earth. To view, but not participate or change. Travelling, as it were, in a self-contained viewing ‘bubble’. Two assistants – ‘time pilots’ she calls them – take their seats and pull control consoles towards themselves.

    “As a matter of interest,” she asks, “what do you think existed before your creation?”

    “By definition,” you say, “there was nothing existing before creation. Only darkness. Perpetual night, only night that was not defined by its opposite, day. Anyway, I don’t believe we can go and see what didn’t exist!”

    “Well, let’s see if a little time-science can illuminate some shadowy corners of that dark night for us!”

    As the journey begins, you look through the windows. Colours blur and you see the world you know empty into white. You are flying now across the world in 11,000 BCE, travelling east. You see the stretch of land connecting Britain to continental Europe before it was submerged. You home in on human settlements, watch people walking the Earth before Adam and Eve. And you wonder.

    “Let’s go back further,” she says. The world around again fragments. The colours empty into white, then re-emerge. In the course of a few minutes, you have travelled back through ten million days and nights. ‘We are now around 40,000 BCE. What do you see?’

    You see small groups of people. As you move in closer, you can see they are Neanderthals. You are fascinated by them, by their camps, by their society. She tells you the time bubble has full sensory capability. Now you can hear them talking, the children chattering. You can smell their cooking, their body odour, and the freshness of the fields carried on the wind.

    “Shall we go back further?” she asks. “I can show you the time when the inorganic becomes organic, when life begins. We have the deep magnification to show the process, just as if we were in the lab.”

    You see it, and are shaken. Your cherished beliefs around Creation are emptying into a void of uncertainty. But you sense also a great opportunity. The temptation is too great, and you ask to see Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and St Paul.

    She nods, and the bubble travels forward, eastward again and further south. The world empties into white, and new views emerge of sand and slaves, temples and pyramids.

    She tells you the Theology faculty has quietly funded extensive searching during the development phase, but to no avail. They have not found Moses in ancient Egypt or Sinai. Instead they have found the time when his legend was born, when the Israelites told their stories round campfires during the conquest of the land.

    You witness battles with Canaanites and Philistines. You witness first-hand the massacres, the commands of prophets and priests for whole tribes to be slaughtered. You smell the death and blood, hear the ecstatic celebrations, and see heads paraded on spears.

    You see some historical events confirmed, but moral certainty empties into a void of repulsion.

    Fast forward to a new world, and Jerusalem under Roman rule. You see Jesus teaching, and are elated. You witness the crucifixion and weep. You go to the tomb on the third day – there is no activity, you do not see anybody emerge from any tomb. A short jump to a few weeks forward and you see his followers delight in seeing their Lord risen, much as St Paul described his own encounter: a vision.

    Exhausted, your journey ends. You bid farewell with conflicted thanks.

    For several days you are troubled. In the end, after much soul-searching, you find there is only one possible explanation. Just as God created light instantly at all points everywhere, so God created histories everywhere, for all possible times and for all viewpoints!

    It is written in the story of ‘doubting Thomas’: “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.” In an age of time research, where we can comb the past for evidence, we must add “Blessed are those who have seen, yet still believe”.

    You look to the heavens and give thanks, for you are sure that you have passed the test.

    [993 words]

    Reply
    • July 12, 2019 at 6:24 am
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      Hi Andy,

      This is yet another wonderful example of your writing, or, should I say, another example of your wondeful writing. The ideas that you discuss are as old as time ( however old that may be) and I expect that man will be forever seeking answers to these same questions.

      Great idea to invent the time capsule with the proviso that you can see, hear, smell but not interfere in the events being witnessed. Time travel with human interference is a nightmare scenarion. Such an invention could answer so many historical questions but leave others unanswered.

      As a person of no particular faith I am always surprised by the degree to which others do believe in something that cannot be proved but then this is the definition of faith, isn’t it? Belief without evidence.

      As you said, something completely different from my effort and a world away from my train journey that you rightly mention, was not based upon my own experience.

      Great stuff Andy.

      Reply
    • July 12, 2019 at 8:09 am
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      Andy,

      Awesome story! I loved how you connected the character’s faith with the seeing and even seeing, still believing and holding on to faith. As a PK (Preacher’s kid), my faith has been the cornerstone of my life. Very well done!

      Adi

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 5:36 am
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      Hi Andy,
      Nice journey in the time bubble. A great reminder of time gone by.
      Got my thinking cap on, questioning of my belief of what really went on in the past before and around the creation of the World. And what is to come after I leave.

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 4:10 pm
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      Very well done Andy. I have never been much for reading spiritual or testimonial work of any kind but you kept me interested and reading which shows your amazing writing skills are keen and versatile. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. 🙂

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 10:03 pm
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      Hi Andy a great use of the prompt and as a fan of your writing, you have not disappointed me. Travelling through the night or darkness and unravelling. Good work.

      Reply
    • July 14, 2019 at 6:48 pm
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      Another great story, Andy. To watch as the believer has his beliefs sorely tested is uncomfortable, all the evidence beginning to break down the edifice of his faith. But then he (?) comes up with a catch-all (and very convenient) new theory that protects his faith from any and all future doubts. While I can’t personally share that kind of impermeable faith, I like the way you got him to that point – the time travel is a neat device (though it seems like it’s the first time anyone’s thought of testing faith in this way – a bit odd since the technology seems to be well established … unless it’s simply a metaphorical time machine). I also really like your use of 2nd-person narration, which feels just right for this (but I’m not sure why).

      Reply
    • July 16, 2019 at 4:56 pm
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      Thought provoking, Andy. Well done. Loved your second person narrative style and the way you took me through this journey in the bubble machine.
      I am glad I passed the test at the end. Good job.

      Reply
    • July 19, 2019 at 8:59 am
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      Hi Andy,

      You take us on an apparently gentle ride into the most troubling question of our existence. The ride may look smooth, sliding neatly on the cold tracks of objectivity, but we can sense throughout the whole piece the subjective despair bubbling inside the second person narrator.

      The way you portray and carry along this tension is done, IMO in a masterly fashion – allowing space for both points of view to fully express themselves: the cold scientist and the emotively charged human being seeking connection with a higher consciousness.

      I get the feeling that there is overall empathy towards the religious person, and that deep down we should all wish his point of view prevails. But the evidence is to the contrary, and the story all in all supports – unfortunate as it may be – the cold universe theory of cosmic dust flying in immense emptiness with no underlying purpose or conscious design. I’m not sure of this, but I re-read the story with this in mind and that’s my feeling.

      Perhaps you planted the very well-crafted pro-religious ending to reinstate the balance. Perhaps the story is specifically told in the second person so that the reader feels closer to the religious narrator.

      Living with the question of why we are here constantly looming above our heads is only bearable because of the ambiguity that remains with us, in spite of the ever expanding far-reaches of science. You take science further, in your story – with Space sort of conquered, it’s Time next to be dug into. Your time-travellers take away the last few straws we may have been clinging to, the “Jesuses in our heads” – they’re mere fables or exaggarated/manipulated histories at best, as your story explains, so beautifully, but catastrophically for the religious mind.

      I happen to be reading a book right now that is quite the opposite of your story: it takes down the pillars of science in quite a similar way your scientist takes down the pillars of faith. It’s called “We Have No Idea” and is written by a top CERN physicist, who takes a humourous-but-still-serious look at what science still can’t explain, which as he concludes is almost everything, from dark matter to antimatter and all that kind of stuff. We only know the things that our meagre five senses let us know, and apparently most of reality lies beyond that. Anyway, its’ a good (and also entertaining) read and brings in enough ambiguity to the scientific side for anyone who wants to keep believing to feel free in doing so!

      “Blessed are those who have seen, yet still believe” – I love this one! It’s certainly a valid update for our times!

      Ken

      Reply
  • July 11, 2019 at 11:50 pm
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    The Crack Of Dawn
    By: Amy Lynn Raines
    (1196 Words)

    Traveling through the night wasn’t easy for Sydney, at least for as long as she could remember. Not that she remembered anything beyond the last two days or so. Of course, she only assumed her name was Sydney because she kept having flashes of light in front of her eyes accompanied by severe pain behind her temples followed by hearing someone scream the name.
    “Help me! Someone! Please!” No one answered her choked out pleas.
    She wiped tears from her face and kept walking, not knowing where she was going or why but trudged along anyway hoping to find anyone that could help her or at least see something that would trigger a memory that would tell her what had happened to her.
    The blood on her jeans and the rocks grinding inside her shoes like shards of glass as she walked had not told her anything at all. Nor had the dirt caked in her hair revealed anything, nor the dirt and splinters under her fingernails. She wiped away another tear she hadn’t even noticed crying, looked at her hand and found a smear of wet blood. Cautiously, Sydney wiped at her eye again and found more blood. Walking her fingertips along her hairline and nudging drying mud patches aside, she discovered a long gash that ran parallel to the crest of her forehead. The pain flashed with hot, white ferocity when she touched the gaping wound. The world swam in front of her eyes in confusing shades of black, blue, gray and red when she touched the deepest part.
    Sydney lost her footing, stumbled to the ground and acquired a brand new cut on her cheek. She turned, sprawled out on her back in the middle of the paved highway that seemed to be leading her nowhere in particular, closed her eyes and let the world fade away into nothing more than background noise of chirping insects and croaking frogs.
    Bright lights flashed in the trees as a car sped toward her. The driver slammed his brakes, jumped out of the car and ran over to the young woman laying torn, broken and bleeding in the middle of the road.
    The figure walking toward her looked horrifyingly familiar. Sydney held still keeping her eyes closed, hoping he would assume she was dead.
    “Frankie is going to be pissed.” He growled angrily as he lifted her body like a large baby and placed her in the back seat of his car before climbing under the wheel and pulling out his phone.
    “Hey Frankie, its Mark. I went back to make sure everything looked normal and found Sydney in the middle of the road! From the look of her and judging by the distance, I think she dug herself out. I’m sure she’s dead now, although she’s still warm.”
    Mark paused, listening as he drove in the direction Sydney had walked from. He pulled over next to a large stand of trees and turned the engine off. Sydney could hear familiar shouting through the phone that sounded just like the voice she had been hearing.
    “Yes, I know we had a deal. How in the hell was I supposed to know a shovel wouldn’t kill her? Like I ever killed anyone before. I know, don’t worry. I’m putting her back in her grave where she belongs, I’ll roll that huge rock over top so she can’t escape, you know, just in case she isn’t dead yet.” Mark listened to Frankie rant in return.
    “Look, your my cousin and I understand that you don’t want to go through a bitter divorce but c’mon, really? You’re seriously going to threaten me for taking out your pretty little wife for the huge chunk of change you gave me so you can marry that rich broad you been chasing after Sydney’s declared legally dead? Don’t threaten me, you will regret it!”
    The sound of Mark arguing with her husband faded away as everything she didn’t remember came flooding back. She realized the car she was in belonged to Frankie which meant there should be a loaded nine millimeter with a silencer under the driver’s seat. Sidney turned as quickly and quietly as she could, slid her hand under the seat and found what she wanted.
    “Go to hell! Maybe I’ll just send you there!” Mark hung up as he glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Sydney moving.
    “Oh, no you don’t.” He got out and opened the back door to pull her back out of the back seat.
    He didn’t notice the gun aiming up as he helped her stand so he could look her in the eye before returning her to the shallow grave he had dug for her off this back road in the middle of nowhere.
    “I’m sorry, Sydney. You’re a nice enough woman but Frankie is family and Emma is loaded.”
    “So is this.” She croaked out as she squeezed the trigger, the shot was silent.
    Sydney fell backward into the backseat as soon as his hands released her.
    Mark’s body hit the ground with a new hole in his chest, he was dead.
    Pulling herself up, she dropped the gun on the passenger seat and carefully stepped over Mark’s corpse giving the back door a shove as she went. She slid into the driver’s seat, pulled the door closed and started the car. Her head was pounding and her mind kept going blank but she finally made it all the way up the long driveway of the home she had shared with Frankie for over four years.
    He and his new woman ran to the car with the tinted windows as she reached for the gun she had tossed in the seat beside her.
    “Mark! Oh no!” Emma screamed as Frankie pulled the driver’s door open to face his almost dead wife.
    “Sydney! What did you do?” Her husband turned to stare at the bottom of the car.
    She didn’t hesitate to fire off two rounds. One for Frankie, and one for his mistress. They hit the ground side by side in a pool of mingling blood.
    All her strength spent, Sydney slumped to the side to do the only thing left to do. She pulled herself beside her husband, reached into his pocket for his phone and dialed 911. She repeated the address to the emergency operator in a hoarse voice then flopped onto her back to wait for help to arrive.
    She turned her head toward the sound of the sirens. In the well lit driveway she saw that Mark’s arm had somehow managed to get caught in the back door.
    “Look what I brought home today, Dear.” She giggled wryly as her last breath escaped her body just before dawn.
    The cops and paramedics filled out their reports leaving the crime scene unit to clean up the gruesome mess.
    In the newspapers the next morning, the front page headlines read:
    “Wife murders her husband and his mistress after dragging his cousin for twenty-five miles, seeking vengeance after being buried alive.”
    The most chilling detail was the one the newspapers hadn’t printed, Sydney died with a satisfied smile on her face.

    Reply
    • July 12, 2019 at 6:44 am
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      Hi Amy,

      A really good story with gruesome outcomes. A familiar theme, adultery and murder but tackled in a way that you made it all your own. I loved the notion of unknowingly dragging Mark’s body along for all those miles. He deserved it, didn’t he?
      I’m glad that Sydney made it back to her house to finish her business but sorry for her that she then died too. Perhaps she could have been allowed to live.

      A slight disconnect for me was the spacial accuracy of where Mark was shot ( beside the grave off road) and then how he could have got caught in the car door. Small point, I know.

      Well written and an enjoyable read.

      Regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • July 12, 2019 at 1:19 pm
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        Hi Ken F,
        Thanks for your comments and feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I couldn’t help myself in going a bit dark with this one.

        It would have been just as easy to let Sydney live but in all honesty I am one of those writers that has a tendency to kill off my own favorite characters just because it seems like a good idea at the time. I have always enjoyed stories with happy endings too but have a lot of fun with showing that sometimes the good guys don’t always survive at the last second and prevail. I did enjoy giving Sydney the satisfaction of seeing Mark before she died though, lol.

        To clarify the disconnect you found (I may have worded my idea incorrectly in this particular area)-
        Mark had parked the car at the edge of the road (The driver’s side would still have been slightly on the asphalt) but had not moved Sydney toward the grave just beyond the trees just yet- that was merely his intention. He was still on the phone when he saw her moving. When he helped her out of the back seat, she shot him next to the back door of the car before he could carry out his intentions. When he slumped to the ground it is not too far fetched that his hand could have landed inside the car door and getting stuck when Sydney shoved the door closed. (My mom actually dragged her book bag like that once. The strap had just barely gotten caught on metal just inside the door, it had closed most of the way and didn’t swing open at all. Her book bag tore pretty bad by the time she got home.)

        Reply
      • July 13, 2019 at 5:43 am
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        Hi Amy,
        Enjoyed the story despite the gruesome details which dressed it up as it is a crime story.
        You expressed your thoughts nicely.

        Good punishment for the adulterer, husband snatcher, and greedy family member, not to be recommended in real life.

        Reply
        • July 13, 2019 at 11:52 am
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          Thank you Chitra, for your comments and feedback. I’m glad you like the story. It was a lot of fun going a bit darker with this prompt.

          Reply
      • July 13, 2019 at 10:11 pm
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        I echo Ken’s concerns. Great story, but that jarred. How did he get caught in the back door? Unanswered question there. Plus, I am still trying to understand how she could drive home and then die a few minutes later. Internal injuries maybe, but death by a blow to the head from a shovel surely would not bring about that early demise. Human beings are pretty tough when all is said and done. Maybe her husband had a gun and shot her before dying or something of that nature. Good story, but you want to build tension more and involve the reader more. I thought about it. Maybe she should have played dead and had her have the gun and shoot him in the back of the head when he pulled up at the house….???

        Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 3:11 am
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      High octane story that carried me along all the way. Is crime one of your favourite genres?
      Pacey and well-written.

      There’s a paragraph in the middle that’s a bit expositional, where Mark crams the whole backstory into one piece of the dialogue, telling Frankie a lot of things he already knew, but for the readers’ benefit. Maybe could have drip-fed that in bit by bit in the dialogue and when they arrive home?

      Tough ending for Sydney. Actually, I also felt a little sorry for the mistress. Seems she’s maybe being duped by the scumbag husband for her money? Or does her running to the car mean she is complicit? But hell hath no fury and all, so she gets it.
      So – you certainly got me involved, a very enjoyable read.

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 5:27 pm
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      Amy,

      Well done. I truly didn’t expect the part about Mark being dragged by the car. Well played.

      My only quibble about this well written story was this. I had to suspend some disbelief at the end. I questioned how Sydney managed to drag a body for 25 miles without being seen by anyone or another car on the road – even in the early morning. Also, catching an arm in the door would have been tricky since the door would not have been able to close and latch. Most vehicles alert drivers when a door is not fully closed. I realize that Sydney wasn’t fully alert but she managed to drive. Would his body have remained intact for 25 miles? Would his arm bear the weight of the body being dragged without being severed in the process?

      Maybe I’m overthinking it. I love forensic science and maybe I’ve watched too many crime shows.

      Other than that, I enjoyed the story!

      Adi

      Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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      Amy,

      You have a wonderfully gruesome story with a very diabolical plot, and I like where you’re going with this. But I have a couple of suggestions.

      Regarding that long expositive passage that Andy mentioned, and begins with:

      “Yes, I know we had a deal. How in the hell was I supposed to know a shovel wouldn’t kill her? Like I ever killed anyone before….” And ends with: “…your pretty little wife for the huge chunk of change you gave me so you can marry that rich broad you been chasing after Sydney’s declared legally dead? Don’t threaten me, you will regret it!”

      Too much information.

      You could shorten it like this:
      “Yeah, you told me your wife was a tough cookie, but Christ, I hit her in the face with a shovel and buried her alive. Good thing the car wouldn’t start, ‘cause the next thing I know she’s staggering down the road headed back to town. Which means I’m going to half to kill her and bury her twice, and that’s gonna cost you and your greedy little mistress extra.”

      In the final scene, you write, “Look what I brought home today, Dear.” She giggled wryly as her last breath escaped her body just before dawn.

      Forget that ‘giggled wryly’ stuff. Dying people rarely giggle, wryly or not. They may grimace, grin, sneer, gasp, cough, spit, drool, shudder, shake, stare blankly, (which is very risky, because a blank stare will get you buried quicker than you can say ‘ribonucleic acid reflux’) but they don’t giggle, as that diminishes the poignancy of their death.

      “Look what followed me home today, Dear.” With her last dying breath she whispered, “I think it’s your cousin.”

      I would keep the title but change the wife’s name to ‘Dawn.’ And the ‘crack’ would either be the sound of the shovel or the crack of the pistol shot.

      You’ve got a great idea here, but you’re complicating it with too much back story and missing out on some clear opportunities for literary mischief.

      It’s not too late to make some changes.

      Reply
      • July 13, 2019 at 10:15 pm
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        Yes Ken is right. Great story with loads of potential to be better and better.

        Reply
    • July 14, 2019 at 7:14 pm
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      I like this story, Amy – very gruesome, and satisfyingly so (if you like that kind of thing, and I do). As with Ken F’s story, I had a flashback to a film I like – maybe you know it? ‘Blood Simple’?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDDScog-xSg

      I have to echo the comments of the others: firstly about the paragraph that Andy and Ken mention – yes, I think the info needs to be sprinkled in a little more subtly; secondly about Sydney dying (although the next best thing is as you did – giving her a smile as she departs); finally, Mark could have got his jacket caught in the door, rather than his arm (which might be impossible, as Adi suggests). And an extra bit of karma/torture might be to have Mark groaning at the end; he wasn’t killed by the gunshot, but has been dragged for 25 miles …

      Enjoyed the story!

      Reply
      • July 17, 2019 at 3:25 pm
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        I really like these suggestions Phil. I think Amy’s a bit like me, ingenious and devious, but her creative process generates a lot of false positives, minor inconsistencies, or stereotypical drama that, once removed leaves behind some wonderfully inventive stories.

        Unfortunately, we can’t all be like you Phil. Cavalierly dictating your story with a glass of sherry in one hand, to some overworked minion, in fear for their job, inscribing your words with the dedication of a Sistine Monk sworn to silence, and then bowing subserviently as they back away toward the gold-inlaid door of your Victorian mansion sitting high atop the Iberian Plain.

        What a life you must lead.

        Reply
        • July 18, 2019 at 5:49 am
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          I have a number of minions, who work in pairs – one writes the words, another the punctuation. Any mistakes and they take a dive off of, as you uncannily guessed, my Victorian mansion sitting high … etc. Plenty where they came from.

          (Not sherry but Port, though.)

          Reply
    • July 20, 2019 at 5:58 pm
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      Hi Amy,

      you’ve created a good plot and a gruesomely painted canvas to accompany it. An enjoyable read.

      Like others mentioned before me I did get the feeling that a lot of what Mark told Frankie was really being told to me, as the reader, in order to fill me in. As thirsty as I was to get this important information, it would have been more satisfying to receive it along the way rather than all at one go. Some of it could have perhaps come by showing rather than telling.

      I for one wasn’t troubled by how on earth Mark’s arm could have got stuck in the door. One never knows how such things may happen, especially in panic situations. Perhaps getting caught in an electric window could be more believable?

      For one thing, however, I wouldn’t have made sure Mark is dead from the gunshot before Sydney set off. That would open up the possibility of him trying to crawl up the departing car and somehow getting stuck and dragged along alive.

      Since gruesome is the name of the game, perhaps only the arm arrives and the rest of his body is littered along the way. There’ll be no need for the phone call at the end: the patrol police get to the scene of the final shootout by following Mark’s body parts; sort of a Hansel and Gretel remake, 18+ version.

      Some suggested keeping Sydney alive. But what for? Why keep alive a woman who is severely injured, memory-challenged and certainly traumatized for life? I think that having her die with a satisfied smile on her face, as you do, is a good solution. I can’t think of a happier ending for her.

      Ken (the other other one 🙂 )

      Reply
  • July 13, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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    Thank you Andy for your comments and feedback and am glad you enjoyed the story. Yes, I absolutely love the crime genre. (John Saul and John Connolly are a couple of my favorites in this genre)
    You are also correct in my ‘blooper’, feeding the background slowly would have been a bit more suspenseful. Maybe through a final argument between the dying wife and cheating husband? Or maybe by letting Sydney inform the mistress to watch her back because Frankie had already tried to kill her?

    Reply
  • July 13, 2019 at 5:35 pm
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    Hi all,

    I’ve been bragging about this great group for some time to my writer’s group, the Word Weavers. I’ve encouraged the members to join us here so don’t be surprised to meet some new members in the group! I hope this was ok.

    Adi

    Reply
  • July 13, 2019 at 10:15 pm
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    Wow the more the merrier I say.

    Reply
  • July 14, 2019 at 7:57 am
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    GETTING BACK

    “Ok,” she says, “Let’s imagine something.”

    I close my eyes and sink back in the chair. It’s a comfy chair. I’m sure they choose them deliberately. Of course they do. It wouldn’t be any good to be sat on a kitchen chair for the full 45 minutes, feeling the wood, fidgeting. No, I’m in cotton-wool clouds, letting her soft, smooth voice take me.

    “Let’s imagine you’re at a party. It’s a good party. Lots of booze and the drugs you like. Lots of nice-looking women. Great music. You’re having a good time.”

    I can picture the scene. It’s like a lot of parties I used to go to. In the wild days.

    “Yes, it’s one helluva party. But at one point in the evening, a moment arrives. It’s a significant moment. You look around and see all your friends getting wasted, and they’re a mirror image of you.”

    I open my eyes and look around. I’m still in the room. She smiles gently and pauses. I get the message and return to the clouds.

    “They’re a mirror image of you, and you find yourself not liking it. You don’t like them – or the way they are – and by extension you see that you don’t like yourself.”

    I can feel my face twisting into an expression of disgust. I want to be out of that party.

    “It’s still a great party, and it’s still quite early, but you decide to leave.”

    I realise that I’ve tensed up, but now I feel myself relax, knowing what my next step will be before she tells me.

    “You say goodbye to the host and your friends – make some excuse – and head outside. It’s a clear night. The autumn air chills you, but that’s ok, your car’s close by.”

    My car – my best friend these days. I let out a little laugh.

    “Are you all right, Steven?”

    I nod and she continues.

    “You get in the car and drive. The party’s out in the countryside, but you know it’s a simple route home, so you don’t need to worry about maps or sat navs. You just need to drive, to get away from the party.”

    I feel myself behind the wheel of the car, familiar, and I imagine myself turning the key and putting her into gear.

    “It’s a straight road, tree-lined. Firs. Your headlights pick out the trunks as they slip silently by. You’re heading home.”

    The warmth I feel from the car doubles at the prospect of home. It was a good idea to leave the party.

    “You’re driving fast enough to feel the speed, but not recklessly. Because that’s not you. It’s a straight road with no other traffic. You take out a joint and light up. Put on some good driving music. Feel the buzz.”

    I know exactly what music it is and my foot starts tapping.

    “This, you think, this is the life. Just you in your car. Doing what you want, when you want to.”

    It’s true. I feel very content, but I sense a big ‘but’ coming.

    “It’s a long road. You finish the joint. You flip through your music files. Nothing takes your fancy now. You turn the music off.”

    My foot stops tapping.

    “You drive on. The same trunks of fir trees. Trees. And trees. And trees. And up ahead, to your right, one that’s fallen, by the side of the road. And behind it, before they slip past, a glowing pair of eyes.”

    I clench my fists.

    “Your headlights catch them as you pass. A pair of eyes. In the night. Watching.”

    I want to open my eyes but I’m afraid. I shake my head – at least I think I do.

    “They’ve gone, hundreds of metres behind by now. You just have the trees. Illuminated by the headlights. Slipping past. Then to your left …”

    She pauses. She’s freaking me out a bit now.

    “… another pair of eyes, between the trees. No, several pairs. No … many.”

    I sit up and look at her. She’s still the kind-faced person from before. And still that gentle smile. And a little reassuring gesture with the head that leans me back and closes my eyes.

    “You should have brought that woman with you. For company. For protection. The one you were talking to at the party. The one with the stories and the funny laugh.”

    I go back to the party that I had in my mind before. I can’t think of any woman in particular, so I conjure up an old flame: Carmen. It occurs to me suddenly that I miss her, and that perhaps we didn’t finish completely, though I haven’t called her in ages. When this is over, maybe …

    “But you’re on your own. The trees slip past. The eyes multiply. And there’s the monotonous parade of trees. Each the same as the previous one, and the next. There’s no break in them. No side road. No road signs. Just the straight road. And the trees. And the lines in the middle of the road, drawing you on.”

    I’m tense again, fists clenched, eyes screwed tight, head shaking.

    “Then you see it.”

    My muscles loosen immediately; the tone of her voice is light and hopeful.

    “A figure, way ahead, in a hi-vis jacket. You can’t see if it’s a man or woman yet. You’re approaching the person more slowly than you think is natural. Why haven’t you passed them yet? You were driving quite fast. But no, they’re still ahead.”

    I find myself trying to figure out who this could be, and why they’re significant.

    “But you know, deep down, that you’re approaching this person slowly to give you time. Time to decide. So, Steven. What are you going to decide? Are you going to stop and pick them up? Or …?”

    Or carry on along the road on my own, past the trees that appear and are as quickly gone. The trees. And the eyes.

    I open mine and I’m in the room. That gentle smile, the pad put aside now.

    “Have a think about what all this might mean and we’ll speak next time, ok Steven?”

    I nod and stand, stiff from sitting. I say goodbye and as I leave, a face pops into my head again: Carmen.

    .

    Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 8:33 am
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      Well-written as always, Phil. And structurally interesting story, as it reads like a half-and-half first person and second person narrative, as the (hypno?) therapist creates a story for the client to live through, a journey into himself.

      Steven seems to be a character inclined to self-loathing, perhaps, or looking to make a change from a rootless and uncommitted life. Whose are the eyes watching him from the side, though, from whom he can’t escape. His own, or someone else judging him …?

      Given that this is a therapy session, I half-expected a Freudian ending, where the figure in the hi jacket would be – his inescapable mother! At which point he puts his foot on the gas and …

      But in the end, maybe he just needs a good woman to keep him on the straight and narrow, help him settle down. A (possibly) romantic ending, with a note of hope.

      Reply
      • July 17, 2019 at 11:41 am
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        Andy,

        I think I liked your assessment of Phil’s story almost as much as I liked Phil’s story. (Although your assessment made more sense. And I didn’t say I didn’t like his story.)
        I wasn’t sure of the meaning, though, (Phil can be so subtle, and we can’t waterboard him over a plot twist so….) I think, either Phil’s character was an ordinary chap with anti-social tendencies, or a serial killer with a therapist. Not sure.

        Reply
    • July 19, 2019 at 9:31 am
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      An introvert making himself believe extrovert lies about the good life (partying, booze and drugs, women, etc.), but then getting back to himself and realising that the good life has to come from within him? But, then, there is a limit to what he can give to himself. He still needs Carmen. That’s my reading of the story, Phil.

      It’s probably a totally different reading from what you intended to write. But that’s after all the essence of a great story – every reader can take out of it what he finds for himself. And every reader may find something different in it. And even the same reader may find something new with every new reading.

      It’s a thought-provoking story, not only because a story with a hypontherapist has got to be so, but in the way it’s paced and structured, as well as the exquisite use of language. Along Steven’s journey, I felt his (and my) comfort of the known threatened by the menace of the unknown (the eyes, but also the trees, the never ending road that should have been a short drive, etc.). The call of home is comforting – but there are two homes, the one he’s heading to and the other called Carmen.

      I can’t quite figure out the meaning of the person Steven comes across close to the end of his session. There must be something metaphorical there. Perhaps something in his life he ought to overcome, but simply can’t get over? The following makes me think so: “Why haven’t you passed them yet? You were driving quite fast. But no, they’re still ahead.”

      It’s a literary sort of piece, not the “mass-market” kind of stuff. (I mean that in a good way!). Haunting, too…

      Reply
  • July 15, 2019 at 6:35 am
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    DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL – A short story by Ken Miles

    “You’re nothing but carved wood!”

    Fr Savior glares at the large pastiche crucifix hanging above the main altar, in front of which he prayed for forty years. The pain from his prostate cancer verges on the unbearable. His prayers have been left unanswered. Every single one of them. He is totally abandoned.

    “I’M TALKING TO A DAMN PIECE OF CARVED WOOD!” he now shouts the words out loud, jolting the members of the small congregation: no more than four elderly women, seated sporadically in the church, praying and forever fingering their rosary beads.

    There is an earie, if momentary pause in the monotonous hum of prayer, but in no time the women resume, praying a little louder as their senses have been awakened and there now seems to be a more dire need for divine audibility.

    Fr Savior, not without difficulty, rises from his knees. The cancer feels like it’s tearing his back-passage and perineum apart. At 64, he is the only remaining priest in the Parish of Huntington County. Disinterested in women, he joined the Seminary at 19, when it dawned upon him that the one thing that interested him was back then abominable, even punishable by law. “You’re gonna waste your life!”, was his father’s harsh judgement, when he first saw his son in priestly frock.

    Eventually, Fr Savior did make a name for himself, not for any holy deed, but by becoming a world expert in the preservation of relics. Body parts and sometimes whole corpses of New World saints would come from places far and wide so that he fixes them for eternity, if not in the ethereal sense at least in a good dousing of formaldehyde. He became such a master of this unbeautiful art that not once but twice the Vatican called him for work there on important relics.

    “Idiots! JUST PLAIN IDIOTS!” he roars at the old ladies. They’re not receptive to the voice of his squashed soul, and simply compensate by further raising the volume of their obstinate prayers, made mostly of words they barely understand. “Where are the youngsters, where is everyone? They’re out their living their lives! They’re not idiots like us in here. My father was right!”

    He climbs up the altar, with that kind of agility only anger or fear can infuse in a man, and forces down the large but surprisingly light balsa crucifix from where it hung for over half a century. The artifact flies onto the marble floor, shattering and echoing like thunder in the large empty stone building. Jesus’s head detaches from the rest of his dead body and rolls like a wild ball stopping right in front of one of the women, who rises and respectfully makes the sign of the cross.

    Sister Patricia has just pulled in the reserved carpark by the sacristy and got out of her Mini when she hears the noise and runs inside the church. John, the sacristan, also comes in from the churchyard, where he was picking weeds from ancient gravestones.

    “Are you all right, Father Savior?” screams out Sister Patricia, visibly panicked as she sees the priest sitting on the altar, legs hanging down, like some spoiled brat. She notices the broken crucifix on the floor and covers her mouth in shock.

    John picks up the longest fragment of the cross, and inspects it, wondering what on earth has happened. He only checked the hook that held it onto the wall last week, during his routine safety check.

    “Don’t worry, Patricia” – Fr Savior usually called her ‘Sister Patricia’ – “It was of no value. The work of some untalented artisan.”

    The priest gets back on his feet and stares at the young nun. “Instead, worry about yourself! Don’t waste your life, young woman!”, he tells her fervently. In his fit of anger, he irreverently grasps her habit, which rips all the way down revealing her underwear.

    On seeing this John, quite instinctively hits the Reverend on the head with the crucifix piece he was holding.

    ***

    Fr Savior is blinded by the bright light. Quite like emerging from a dark tunnel, his eyes take time to settle. Two beaming exotic faces take shape right in front of him, almost magically materializing out of the blinding glare. They are almost identical, warm and welcoming. Their perfectly smooth skin glows, bathed in a halo of bright light.

    “Are you angels? Did I die?” asks the priest, bewildered but somewhat easy in his mind.

    The two look at each other and giggle, then say something to each other he could not understand. In a flash, as if programmed, they both disappear and in one voice call Dr Rutgers.

    “The Father is back, he woke up again!” the two interned student-nurses excitedly inform the doctor in their cheerful Filipino accent. Since Father Savior was brought to the hospital three weeks ago, it’s been unclear if he’ll ever return from his coma.
    Dr Rutgers dismisses the nurses, shuts the ward door and tilts away the bright examination lamp.

    “So Father Savior here, right?” The doctor seems quite devoid of enthusiasm. “I’ve been told of your fight with Jesus. You gave him the first blow. And then he hit you back.”

    “Is that what happened?” asks Fr Savior, credulously, still figuring out on which plane of existence he now resides. “Who are you? Where am I?”

    “So you don’t recognize me?” asks the Doctor, not without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

    The priest lifts his head up, his neck aching badly in doing so. He can now see the man who is talking to him, holding on to a stand on which hangs a bag filled with pink liquid that’s connected to a pipe going to a needle in his wrist. Seems like a hospital ward, but the tall and slim forty-something ginger-bearded man in the white coat doesn’t ring a bell.

    “You used to call me ‘Cookie’ when I was your altar-boy.”

    Cookie! Yes, of course. A shiver runs down Fr Savior’s spine. Alfred Rutgers. Such a long time ago! This must be his life being played back to him, just before judgement. His sins being laid bare.

    “We’re in a closed room together, just you and I, like in the old days”, the doctor affirms, now sounding menacing.

    “Forgive me, Alfred!” begged the priest.

    “No, that’s not you! Call me ‘Cookie’, like you always did. I’ve suffered ever since, I lost my religion soon enough. No, I won’t forgive you!”

    He gulped, and then continued, “But I will do you a favor: I will cut short your journey in the long dark night of the soul. Yes, God exists, if you must know! He gives us life and then takes it away. At will.”

    The doctor looks intensely at the patient, his eyes overflowing with hatred, then adds, “And today, right here, I am God.”

    With that, he twists the dosage knob on the bottle with the pink liquid in it from 5% to hundred. The patient shakes wildly, lights flicker like fireworks in his eyes as his blood pressure rises to dangerous heights. The cells in his brain melt. Then it is night again. A much longer night.

    1,200 words (excluding title and this line)

    Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 8:51 am
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      A pacey and visually gripping story, Ken – I felt I could see the action almost as if on film. There’s an underlying story of having power and being powerless. And of a heartfelt revenge, although he doctor has the possibility of causing him more suffering by prolonging it?

      Phil picks up the spellings and the slips in tense. I also am not sure about ‘interned’ for the nurses – maybe a US/UK thing, but I would associate ‘interned’ with being put in a prison camp.

      And I’m not sure what a nurse or pharmacologist would make of the last paragraph. Do drips have dosage controls in percentages rather than drip or flow rate? And I wondered what medicine or poison would ‘melt’ brain cells. A graphic way to portray suffering, but is that literally possible?

      All the same, it’s a vivid story centring on a disreputable and memorable, thought-provoking character.

      Reply
      • July 18, 2019 at 8:33 am
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        Hi again Andy and thanks for your comments!

        I’m glad you enjoyed my story and I read your observations with a lot of interest. As for the story seeming almost like watching a film, well, I’m professionally trained in film-making – so that might explain it! Perhaps I should put together a little film crew, get some actors together and borrow a church and hospital ward for a weekend or so… If I’m there at Oscar night, I’ll mention you and say you gave me the idea 🙂

        You ask this good question: “The doctor has the possibility of causing him more suffering by prolonging it?”
        That would certainly add more drama (but, first up, Ken Frape would have had to prolong the word-count, lol!). The way I see it, the doctor and ex-altar-boy certainly wants to have his revenge and kill his former abuser. But perhaps he also wants to eliminate his horrible memories and “kill his childhood experiences” so to speak. For that reason, he may not want to prolong things by too much. But a lead-up to such a frame of mind would have needed exploring the doctor’s psyche deeper. We don’t know him to well from the very few words he utters. And again, the word count was my worst enemy there…

        As for a “nurse intern”, I think that would be a “resident nurse” in the UK, right? I wanted young, foreign, student nurses as the only other ward staff-members in the story, so that the doctor will have more of a free hand to kill his patient with impunity and still keep it believable for the reader.

        I don’t know much about nursing, but I worked at a private school in the past and we had what we (correctly?) called “interned staff members” ie. graduates and even undergraduates who would work for a short while for us just to get the experience (and a new entry on their CVs). I assure you we didn’t use to lock them up!!

        You catch me off-guard with the exact way fluid medicine dispensers work. I have the feeling that these bottles-hanging-on-a-stand-attached-via-a-pipe-to-a-patient* are one of the most hateful things one sees in hospitals. Like in you’ve got to be in a really bad state to end up like that! But, honestly, I never noticed the exact way they work and if they are marked in percentages or other ways. Perhaps there are different types from different manufacturers. Next time I’m in hospital, I’ll take note of this. But I’m in no hurry for that…

        And, no, as you say, I don’t think that there is any sort of medicine that can “melt brain cells”, the way I put it in the story. (Although we may assume that the revengeful Doctor, who knew who he had in that bed, could have put something other than medicine in that bottle). I sort of meant it metaphorically – a meltdown of the character’s consciousness and destruction of the self. Or at least of the physical hardware in which concsiousness resides. That’s why I specifically went for the cells in the brain. But, true, it may come across as overly metaphysical in a story that is otherwise very firmly rooted in vivid physical reality.

        Btw. I’m not sure if you’ve been back to last fortnight’s story thread (the “…she accidentally swallowed…” one). I replied to your comment to my story “A Hooker Named Hailey” about bananas – with potatoes! Have a look, if you haven’t already.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        * “bottles-hanging-on-a-stand-attached-via-a-pipe-to-a-patient” – this is how I could have saved on the word-count in my story!

        Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 3:01 pm
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      Ken M3

      Yo. Great writing. Very intense and gripping story. It unfolds itself very nicely, with a nice bit of divine justice at the end.

      I concur with Andy on the realism of the medical equipment. And it’s effects. A more realistic treatment could be encapsulated in pushing a plunger, opening a valve, or tapping a few keys on an electronic medication dispenser. It’s a minor issue, but becomes critical because it’s an integral part of the ending. In fact, shortening the actual means of killing the character is secondary to the realization by the character that he is about to be murdered. The means by which could be incorporated into that realization. (Does that make sense?) This is not a criticism so much as an observation. That is the crux of the story.

      Like: He watched helplessly as ‘Cookie’ tapped in a twenty-fold increase in medication. A level that would effectively burn his synapses and fry his brain. (You know, be vague enough to suggest it might just be metaphorical, instead of literal.)

      But these are pretty minor tweaks to what is already a very good story, carried along by what I think is excellent writing.

      My biggest complaint, is the ‘Fr Savior.’ It’s used six times. As a voracious reader, I overlook a lot of minor literary gaffs. Like annoying bones in a well-cooked fish, you just pick ‘em out and toss them aside without slowing down too much. This is like that. BUT, it was so glaringly obvious, and so easy to have fixed, I had to wonder what on earth would make you think that ‘Fr Savior’ was grammatically correct?

      Still, it’s a good story Ken 3.

      Reply
      • July 18, 2019 at 10:10 am
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        Ken3 to Ken… (are you Ken1 or Ken2?) …here.

        Thanks loads for the nice words about my story. That’s very much appreciated and I’m pleased to have entertained you in some way (besides some annoying fishbones I left here and there).

        You being you, I wouldn’t be a hundred per cent sure if you really mean what you say at face value or if you’re being somewhat sarcastic. One’s got to read well between your lines!

        But then again, I read what you wrote to Amy the other day, and by your own rulebook – since (1) I haven’t been in here for long enough yet and (2) I never won this contest – I can’t as yet have the honor to be the target of your “harrassment” lol So you may have actually liked my story, as you say. For real!

        Also, the other time, I read a passing but very positive comment you made about my story “A Hooker Named Hailey” while you were talking to someone else, which makes it sound all the more real. Thanks for that too!

        So, to the story… About the medical equipment, which both Andy and you mentioned, I admit I have not researched it and it’s not technically precise (unless I happened to be very lucky!). Have a look at my reply to Andy, above, which I’ve just written, where I explain my take on that issue.

        I tried to figure out this one: “Shortening the actual means of killing the character is secondary to the realization by the character that he is about to be murdered.” If I get it right, worse than being killed in itself is the realisation of being killed. I’d say so, too. As we see from life, the realisation (and anticipation) of something bad about to happen is usually worse than the actual happening.

        I could have emphasized that further, as you suggest in your comment. The Reverend could have been tormented for longer. Also calling the perpetrator “Cookie”, as you suggested, instead of “the Doctor”, to look at him from the priest’s perspective would be a good idea.

        Honestly, I tried to slant the story (perhaps not so succesfully) in a different way, to make it seem that the priest believes he is already dead and dealing with his “afterlife” even before he actually dies for real. His return from the coma seems to him like the oft-mentioned tunnel of death with light at the end it. Then he mistakes the two young smiling Filipinas in the bright light of the hospital lamp for angels, complete with halo and all. Then comes “Cookie”, a ghost from his distant past and he believes the film of his life is being played back to him (as they used to tell us in religion class) just before judgement.

        I wanted him to swim in those deep waters of not being able to tell for sure if this is life or the afterlife that he’s experiencing. So when he does die for real, it is less important to him (he thinks he’s already dead!) and more important to Cookie, who finally gets his revenge and buries once and for all his ignominious past. But I may have rushed through it, and not explored these possibilities to their fullest extent. And, alas, the word count alarm was ringing loudly by that point…

        About the “Fr Savior” thingy, I couldn’t understand, at first, where exactly you picked a (fish)bone with me… Did I write “Saviour”, God forbids (and saves us!), instead of “Savior”? The British way? God save the Queen. No, I didn’t!

        Is it because I sometimes wrote Father Saviour in full, and sometimes in abbreviated form? I actually did that deliberately – in full when people addressed him in direct speech, in abbreviation when I, the narrator, was talking about him.

        Then it occurred to me. I think I found it! It’s probably the lack of period after Fr! Now, I was taught back at school (and I know we should unlearn a good part of what we where taught at school, but that’s another issue for another day) that when we abbreviate a word by using its first and last letters (as in “FatheR” = “Fr” or “DoctoR” = “Dr” or “MisteR” = “Mr” we do not put a period. Period.

        When, instead, we use a different last letter in the abbreviation from the last letter of the full word, such as in “Number” = “No.” or “Professor” = “Prof.”, then we must use a period. I always went by that rule.

        Now, that you brought it up (or so it seems!), I checked it out (my teachers could have been wrong after all – they’ve got a well-documented track record of being wrong in many other things).

        And – here we go again – it’s one of those things the English language seems to have dropped in the ocean from the decks of the Mayflower. Quite like my Mr Janusz Jwaszkiewicz, Kizzy’s dad, as it happens, the British rule about abbreviations and periods, was thrown overboard and drowned somewhere in the Atlantic well before reaching America’s shores! Along with all the “…our”, “…ise” and a host of other British gems (of doubtful value). Just the switch from “…our” to its leaner cousin “…or”, as in “colour/color”, “neigbour/neigbor”, etc. must have saved enough ink, paper and electricity in four centuries of American printing to have had a discernible positive impact on climate change… It’s not just the Paris Accords that count.

        Got to leave it at that!
        See you next time round – I’ll be back to comment on the other stories, once at a keyboard though…
        Ken (the other one)

        Reply
  • July 15, 2019 at 6:08 pm
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    Hi, Ken. A quite common theme – revenge for wrongs done – takes on a new slant here. The first part, in which the priest loses his faith and goes a little berserk, is very nicely done; you give us a strong reason for him to flip (his cancer) … and in fact, if he were a real believer, his 40 years of service would surely support him spiritually in his time of need. But we see that maybe God was never really the main reason for him to serve the church anyway, rather some other attraction … The confrontation with the doctor/altar-boy is well set up by the incident in the church, though I felt his demise was a little ‘on-the-nose’ (but perhaps he needs a nasty end for the nasty piece of work he is?). There are a couple of typos (‘earie’, ‘their’ for ‘there’), and you slip occasionally into the past (e.g. “On seeing this John, quite instinctively hits the Reverend on the head with the crucifix piece he was holding”) when you’ve chosen (validly) the present tense as the main one to tell the story. It’s an eventful story, well told.

    Reply
    • July 18, 2019 at 7:50 am
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      Hi Phil – and nice to meet you! I’m pleased you liked the story and thanks for all the observations.

      True, I may have been severe in the nasty way I saw the Reverend off, but I didn’t want to be too kind to him, unlike the way I treated the snake in “Tamed, Twice” four weeks ago. In my first draft, I allowed for some redemption by finishing the story with “And this time it will be long till dawn.” But then I removed it. Let’s leave life after death the mystery that it has always been, I thought. And especially for this unsavoury man in my story.

      I purposefully threw in a good deal of imagery of death throughout the write-up (picking weeds from gravestones, the crucifix, the terminal cancer, the relics business) in preparation for where the Rev.’s would be heading at the end of his long “night”. So, when that moment came along, I just let him have it!

      Oh – and those typos! They slipped through the net in spite of my checks (and spell-checker). Sometimes, it’s got to be a fresh pair of eyes. Thanks for pointing them out! The same goes for the occasionaly slip into the past in a story I wanted to plant firmly in the present.

      I will comment on your story and the others shortly – so be back soon 😉
      Ken

      Reply
  • July 15, 2019 at 7:11 pm
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    Some awesome stories I read in this site so far. will get back for comments later. Here is my story:

    979 words
    Traveling Through the Night

    “I am scared of dark.” I screamed and flicked the light. “I can’t sleep in the dark. I have to keep lights on.”
      “Why? What are you so afraid of, Nisha?” Alan squinted. 
      “Worries. They take advantage of the darkness. They creep up on me like bugs, like a line of ants. Black ants with huge eyes if you look closely.” With a pause, I added,
      “Like the eyes of my boss. Droopy huge eyes hovering on me showing his gritted teeth, exclaiming ‘FIRED!’ Like those hooded headlights of cars. BANG! head-on crash!. And when my eyelids get heavy, I feel I am falling. Falling in a deep, deep pit. A bottomless dark hole. Dark, dark, oh so dark. And then, Alan, I feel I am dying, going down, down deep in the dungeon. I can see my baby. My little Shayan, only three years old, cringed in a fetal position, lying on the cold concrete floor, abandoned, orphaned, like the picture of the child I had seen recently on FaceBook, the immigrant child, separated from his mom, imprisoned in a camp in the USA.” I panted. But also felt better, lighter to open up to Alan. My eyes went blurry with tears but his eager eyes were on mine. 
      “I can’t sleep, Alan. I’d sit up and light up all the switches in our apartment to make sure I am alive, Shayan is not an orphan. I can take care of him. But what if I can’t meet deadlines and I am fired? Do I have the guts to set me free and start my dream job of being a writer?”
      I felt a warm soft press on my palm.
      “You’ll be fine,Nisha. You fear yourself. Nisha, your name means night- dark night. Beautiful. Tonight I have a surprise for you. In the dark!” He grinned turning towards me. His eyes have iolite-blue hue. Peaceful. I never noticed before.

      Alan turned his face to focus on driving. Clouds gathered in a pattern, like scales of fish. Gray silvery ones. Then within a short time, it changed to puffy cumulus ones with darker splotches of steel and slate.  
      “The cloud is worrying me.” Alan clucked but didn’t quite open up. 
      “It is beautiful. Seems like it might rain.” I gave my opinion.
      Tekapo twenty kilometers – read a sign. Lake Tekapo would be our night stay before we head out to Christchurch tomorrow. 
      “Do you know what’s so special about Tekapo?” Alan asked and I shook my head. 
      “It is one of the rarest places on earth free of light pollution.” 
      “You mean Nisha is respected?”
      “Yes.” Alan gave that killer smile when the dimple on his chin deepens. 
      We saw a lake, pristine, surrounded by snow drizzled mountains. 

      Inside the cafe a delicious smell of caramelized onions and nice window seats invited us. The drama of the clouds began. Though it was not raining cumulus clouds now formed a tower almost starting from the ground at the horizon. Orange, yellow burnt sienna streaks splashed on the gray mounds. The sun was setting. Across from the lake, lighting struck and then it was like watercolor pouring from the sky. It rained there, but not here then. 

      “That’d clear it. Phew!” Alan blew a sigh of relief. Gradually the rain came to our side too, pitter-patter and when it was over Alan took me to my hotel room. “Take a nap, rest and meet me around ten at the lobby,” he said.
      I still had no idea what surprise he had stored for me. When I asked, he laced his fingers in mine, “Just trust me. The darkness will not kill you, Nisha, I promise. We will travel through the dark, you’ll see.” 

      In a short while, a van came. There was no headlight. A guide descended and helped us climb where we found two other couples and two students already in. The car would drive in total darkness. Though we were bundled up well, steam emerged from our mouths and nostrils. 
      The van stopped. The guide showed a red torchlight in that pitch darkness directing to a hall. They gave us hot cocoa and a warm blanket, then took us outdoor and directed to look up. 

      There was no moon in the sky, not a trace of cloud. Just stars. I had no idea there are so many stars up in heaven. In the beginning, I could only locate the big dipper which I call the Big Question. Then the hunter guy Orion. Through the telescopes, I could see the Alpha Centauri, our closest star, (not considering the Sun), only four light-years away! And the Southern Cross over the horizon.
      By and by a huge imaginary canoe floated in the sky; the guide told us the Maori legend associated with it and the Greek mythology that the goddess’ breast milk spurted and sprayed when baby Heracles fussed and that was the story of the Milky Way.
      The more I stared at the sky the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation- the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave. This abundance of the universe, the vastness gave me chills, not the freezing cold temperature. It was a mesmerizing feeling I had never experienced before.

     I remembered that seeing the Southern sky was in my father’s bucket list and it didn’t happen. But it happened through me. I shared that with Alan the next morning.
    “It’s strange that I felt his presence in that infinite ambiance, in that darkness, among the stars, Alan. Thank you!”  
      “Are you scared anymore?” He asked. 
      I took a deep breath. The dark coffee, midnight black in that little cup smelled delicious. “Yummy!” 
      He planted a kiss on my cheek with a smile.  

      
                  
        

    Reply
    • July 16, 2019 at 6:21 am
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      This is a beautifully observed story, Anindita. You have a way with descriptive writing that employs all the senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, sound – and here creates the perfect atmosphere for the story. You also convey something of Nisha’s sense of awe at confronting the cosmos, and that sense of scale runs back into history, to mythical beginnings from different cultures.

      The relationship is sweetly depicted, and is a stabilising factor in Nisha’s life. Is the man too perfect? I guess some of us are … 🙂

      The presentation of Nisha’s fears struck a chord, and it’s a nice touch that her name means night, which helps give an understanding of the source of her fears.
      And the contrast between the worries at the start with ‘black eyes’ like ants, staring at her from the dark, and at the end the bright stars illuminating the sky is also classy, helping to give a balanced structure to the narrative..

      I didn’t so much read this story as bask in it.
      Now I’m booking my flight to Lake Tekapo!

      Reply
        • July 17, 2019 at 2:26 pm
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          Only 113.00 U.S. Cheap. Airfare? 1600.00 (If you ride in the luggage compartment. $2700.00 if you want to sit in a seat in the cabin.
          Do you live in New Zealand, Anindita?

          Reply
          • July 17, 2019 at 7:55 pm
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            No, I live in the USA. I went there last year. I was not in the business class, not in the luggage compartment either. But travelled with just a carry on :))

    • July 17, 2019 at 1:39 pm
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      Anindita,

      You really amaze me. You wrote a story once that made me cry like a baby. It came in last place. It was very distressing to see such a beautiful story encounter so much indifference.

      There are a few spots of rough-looking writing in this story. Like, “Do I have the guts to set me free and start my dream job of being a writer?” Should be: (Do I have the guts to quit my job and follow my dream of being a writer?) I sure hope so.
      I felt a warm soft press on my palm. (I felt a warm, soft pressure on my palm.)
      I still had no idea what surprise he had stored for me. (I still had no idea what surprise he had in store for me.)

      Little stuff.
      You omit a lot of commas that would greatly clarify your sentences into specific phrases.

      However,
      I endorse Andy’s comments wholeheartedly. You have a knack for creating beautiful images, and evoking feelings of warmth and empathy with your writing. There are some paragraphs, (yes, unbelievably, more than one, several, bunches,) that are so beautiful, it rivals the feeling one gets when confronted with some divine natural landscape, like a snow-covered mountain, a gurgling country stream or a towering waterfall.

      ‘The drama of the clouds began.’ (That sentence, ‘the drama of the clouds’ !!!) Though it was not raining(comma) cumulus clouds now formed a tower, almost starting from the ground at the horizon. Orange, yellow, burnt-sienna streaks, splashed on gray mounds. The sun was setting. Across (from) the lake, lightning struck, and then it was like a watercolor pouring from the sky. It rained there, but not here. (Period.)
      !!!Unbelievable!!!

      ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation – the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave.’
      Brilliant!

      The ending is superb. ‘I took a deep breath. The dark coffee, midnight black in that little cup, smelled delicious. “Yummy!”
      Perfect.

      Beautiful writing. Beautiful story. (Needs a few more commas, but—I don’t even care.)

      Reply
      • July 17, 2019 at 7:59 pm
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        Oh Ken C, I had been last many times. Many pillars of successes! Thank you for your editing and the commas. I am glad that I could touch your reader heart. That is what I strive for. Thank you again for your feedback.
        Enjoyed reading your story too. Crisp dialogue and the mystery at the end..chic!

        Reply
    • July 18, 2019 at 3:50 am
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      Anindita, I can only third Andy and Ken’s comments. This is very lovely. You mention at one point “it was like watercolor pouring from the sky”, and in fact your descriptions are like a painting – a painting with words. Exquisite. Yes, there are some mistakes, but the spirit of the piece shines through that. If there’s one thing I would change, it would be the description of the narrator’s worries – not the content, but the form. Rather than have it as dialogue, I’d report it, i.e. “I told Andy about my worries. How they…” etc. (This is because I felt that little section sounded – to me, anyway – a little unnatural as dialogue.) That ending is terrific – when Alan asks her if she’s scared and she doesn’t answer directly but obliquely using a comment about the (midnight black!) coffee. Smashing.

      Reply
    • July 19, 2019 at 11:02 am
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      Very nice, Anindita. The descriptive flair is nowhere boring and is essential to the story. The external descriptions – the weather, the sky, the coffee – seem to reflect very well the internal workings of Nisha’s psyche and her journey of deliverance from fear to embrace of life. Including the darkness. It is not easy to portray what goes on inside a troubled mind (or any mind, for that matter), and your way of showing us what was going on in Nisha’s through the sensorial descriptions of what was happening in the physical world around her is done as effectively as it is done graciously.

      This may have been intended and labored upon on your part or maybe it came out naturally as a result of your writing talent. Or, as often happens, as a mixture of both (inspiration and perspiration, as someone famous, I forgot who, once put it). Well done – and now, after your story and the mention of Tekapo as the least light-polluted place of earth, I’m a bit apprehensive not of the darkness but of the light. There is too much light around us! This also reminds me of Andy’s story – too much light there too (light of knowledge/science in that case), troubling the religious soul. We can do with some more Tekapo-darkness and ambiguity!

      Ken

      Reply
      • July 19, 2019 at 11:07 am
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        Btw, I wanted to say that I especially loved this line:

        ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation – the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave.’

        I would make it even leaner – it’s self-evident that it is a strange or paradoxical revelation:

        ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. The more I wished to see, the more it gave.’

        Thanks for giving us those words!
        Ken

        Reply
        • July 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm
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          Thank you Ken for your feedback. You are right pointing out that wordiness in that sentence. I decide to omit that. I am so thankful to you and the other Ken for making my story more polished and tight. I loved your piece too Ken M, and think I posted that earlier. Thank you again. Dita.

          Reply
  • July 16, 2019 at 2:14 pm
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    BODIES ON BOARD

    Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another when they took the long haul night flight back home, when the fare was at its cheapest.
    They slid along the four seats in the front row in the belly of the aircraft.
    Sandra sat upright, casting furtive frowns at Madeleine as she fastened the seatbelt across her toddler’s waist, then opened the cot in front of her for her other infant

    “Excuse me.” Sandra caught the arm of the stewardess as she strode along the aisle. The stewardess bent slightly to Sandra’s eye level as she listened to her request. “Could you find me a better seat. I don’t want to spend seven hours watching this woman nurturing her babies. I hate bodies, children especially, around me. The plane is unusually full of all sorts of bodies. The bodysmell! Oh!” Sandra pinched her nose.

    “Oh!” The stewardess straightened up and said. “I believe you chose this seat. ”
    “Yes, but not the company here.” Sandra motioned to Madeleine and her children. “I thought it would be fairly away from everyone else. I don’t have anything against them, mind you. I just want to travel in peace and quiet. These children will soon be crying and the mother would be faffing about with them. She has started already.” Sandra swept her hand towards Madeleine.

    “I’m so sorry to hear about your anxieties but the plane is full. The only seat vacant is next to yours. There’s nothing I can do to help you.” The stewardess rushed away without waiting for an answer.
    “I’m sure there are seats in the business class. You owe me a decent trip on this plane. I paid for this. I’m going to make a complaint.” Sandra shouted at her.

    Later on, everybody settled down when the lights went out and the shutters came down. The plane plunged in the dark and was well up in the night sky when Madeleine decided to visit the lavatory as her children had fallen asleep.

    “Excuse me.” Madeleine touched Sandra’s hand which was resting on the arm of the seat, to talk to her.
    Sandra removed her eyepatch to stare at Madeleine.
    “I want to let you know I am popping into the toilet for a few minutes. Do you mind keeping an eye on the children for me in the event of them waking and looking for me?”
    “No!” Sandra leant forward to face Madeleine. “I’m not a childminder. You can do whatever you like but don’t ask me for help.” She wrapped a blanket around her knees.
    “Sorry!” Madeleine leant back and pressed herself into the seat. She was not expecting that kind of rebuke.
    “Why are you travelling alone when it is obvious you need help to look after these mites?” Sandra asked and pointed to the children. “Where’s your husband? He should have been with you, helping you. That is what normal people usually do. You won’t have to cry or beg for help.”
    “Hum!” Sandra was hesitant to say more of her private life to a stranger. “He is with us.”
    “Really! Are you kidding me? Is he in the back, resting whilst we’re suffering here?”
    “We know he is with us.”
    “Who do you think you’re lying to? Oh! You mean he is here in spirit. If he is, then I have the Holy Spirit here with me, helping me with the discomfort you’re forcing me to bear.”
    Sandra bit her lips, put her eyepatch back on, turned her head over one side and closed her eyes.
    Madeleine raised her head above her seat to look back and around her. Everyone seemed to be sleeping. She got up and crawled to the toilets.

    She caught up with some sleep when she came back, then she woke up with her toddler asking for a drink.
    “The lady, the stewardess, will soon come around with some drinks and food. It is almost morning.” She whispered to her.

    Sandra fidgeted in her seat and talked as if to herself. “I don’t understand why people have children and can’t look after them. Look at this one. I bet you her husband has abandoned them.”
    “What is she saying mum?”
    “Don’t take any notice,” Madeleine answered.
    Sandra turned to her, switched the light above her head on and peeled her blanket away from her. “She will when she grows up and asks about her father. He doesn’t seem to be here, does he?”
    “When is daddy coming back, mum?” The child cut in the conversation.
    Madeleine could no longer control her civilized manner, “You don’t know us and you are building stories about us. If you want to know I will tell you.” Sandra put the earplugs over her toddlers ears. “Their father passed away whilst we were on holiday. You cannot imagine how much we have been through in the past couple of weeks. I am taking his body back home and he is in a casket in the cargo compartment in this plane.”
    “What?” Sandra eyes popped out. “You mean we have a dead body beneath us. We’ve been travelling with a dead person on board.”
    “Yes.”
    “Oh, my God! I never go to funerals because I am scared of dead people and now you’re telling me we have a dead body in this plane, we’ve been travelling with one all this while. ”
    “Yes.”

    Sandra flapped her hands in front of her face to ventilate. She got up to address the passengers. She shouted, “Listen to me passengers.”
    People started switching their head lights on.
    “This woman here is telling me that there is a dead body in the belly of this plane. We have been duped, not warned about it. I and most likely most of you did not get the choice to be in such a position. I tell you, we have grounds for a complaint and compensation. I demand that the airline have an answer to this. I’m disgusted and so should you.”

    “Please sit down.” A stewardess came over to calm Sandra. “You can make whatever complaint to the airline when we reach our destination, but for now, please stay quiet. You’re distracting and upsetting other passengers.”
    Sandra pointed to the empty seat next to her “ The spirit of the husband is sitting here. She told me.” Sandra lied.

    “If you carry on like this, we will get you arrested by the Police as soon as we touch down.”
    Another steward sat her down and threatened her. “I will get you a drink if that helps.”
    “Please do. I’m so disturbed.” At the mention of being arrested Sandra seemed to regain her composure. She sat down and pretended to be on the verge of crying “I demand a free first class ticket for my next trip.”

    “Poor you!” One of the passengers came to talk to Madeleine. “This is the last thing you need. She makes it harder for you. Perhaps, you could seek compensation for harassment on the plane.”

    Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 9:16 am
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      Chitra, I hope someone was videoing this to add to the store on YouTube of obnoxious people on flights 🙂

      I enjoyed your story. The depiction of Sandra and Madeleine makes for a good contrast in personalities. One self-centred and narcissistic, who feels the world should be organised around her preferences and irrational fears, and the other who is quiet and self-effacing. Good to see the other passengers and cabin crew rally around Madeleine.

      Nice prefiguring of the later turn of events with the empty seat. (And I’m guessing the airline wouldn’t refund the ticket …)

      One thing – though I think the story is well told through the dialogue, I feel it may be too grammatically correct, the English too perfect? A few more contractions, some incomplete sentences (e.g. you could have Sandra interrupting people) might add further realism.

      Minor point: “Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another” – I felt was slightly confusing at the start. Perhaps “Sandra came across Madeleine and her two children when …” or something like that, just to show where the boundaries in the separate travelling parties are.

      I was on a long-haul flight one time when a mother flew in first class and her two young children, who looked about 5 and 7, were in economy, like me. The mother just popped in to see them two or three times. Extraordinarily well-behaved kids, but I did wonder about the set-up. And I wonder how Sandra would have coped with that?

      Reply
      • July 17, 2019 at 2:17 pm
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        Chitra,

        I loved the story, but would’ve liked a better ending. Something more definitive. Although that’s not to say it wasn’t realistic. I think I was surprised that ‘Sandra’ was incensed even at the idea of a dead body in the cargo compartment.

        Like Andy, I too was confused by the first line. I think a more critical choice of wording would fix that. And it’s the first line, so it needs to be absolutely clear. Like:
        ‘Sandra first encountered Madeleine and her two children on the long haul night flight back home.’ (Omit the bit about the fare, because, as we later find out, ‘the seats were purchased in advance.’)
        The second sentence doesn’t add clarity either. They’re not in the belly of the aircraft. They’re in the cabin.
        These two confusing sentences are no way to start such a moving and heartfelt story. Because from that point on, the story is riveting, the dialogue is realistic and the plot and characterizations are fascinating.

        (Now that I think about it, maybe it was you who wrote the story that made me cry. How could I get you and Anindita mixed up? That’s ridiculous.) I’ll have to check my emotional index catalog and see what I can unearth about this mystery.

        Your story is very moving, Chitra. Change those first two sentences or I’ll really start blubbering.

        Nobody wants that.

        Reply
        • July 17, 2019 at 8:38 pm
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          Hi Chitra, what a touching story! I could relate very well as I had to travel with two small children many times across the continents at one time. Fortunately never met a neighbor as obnoxious as that lady. The mom in your story is so poised and her kids so well behaved that the obnoxious lady stood out darker. And we felt more empathetic when we came to know about the husband.

          With that thought in mind I wished the ending was different…s the airlines or someone did something dramatic. Just a fellow traveler’s passing remark is not enough for this strong story.

          Your language is lovely and fluid, only the first sentence felt a bit odd to me. Maybe the two ‘when’ in one sentence made it..
          (Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another when they took the long haul night flight back home, when the fare was at its cheapest.)

          Hope you don’t mind me critiquing that. You can easily fix it breaking the sentences and submit to a good magazine!

          It was nice knowing you Chitra, though virtually. 😀

          Reply
    • July 18, 2019 at 4:20 am
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      I liked this story, Chitra – very clean and well paced. I like how the protagonists are introduced right in the first line (although it could maybe have been a little clearer, as Andy and Ken said). Sandra is satisfyingly grotesque. And the ‘my husband is with us’ is a nice bit of misdirection. From the moment of the reveal, it gets a little manic (air-rage!). I wonder who you wanted the story to be about? In the second half, it becomes Sandra’s story, but there’s potentially a moving angle to be explored in Madeleine’s story, which I think is a little neglected after the reveal (notwithstanding the other passenger’s concern in the last line).

      There’s a story in the news now about a ‘Sandra’ … and she’s going to have to pay!:

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/18/abusive-woman-billed-for-85000-after-raf-scrambled-to-escort-plane

      And your story reminds me also of a nicely-done Portuguese anti-racism film:

      Reply
  • July 17, 2019 at 12:26 pm
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    A Mother’s Love.
    by Ken Cartisano © 7-17-2019
    1198 words.

    “My date stood me up,” she said. “Can you give me a ride?”

    She was tall and husky, not pretty, and reeked of perfume. He scanned the immediate vicinity: A dark and deserted curve on a desolate side street. Yeah sure. Get in,” he said in clipped tones. “Come on, come on , come on.”

    She was barely in the car when he stomped on the accelerator, slamming her back into the seat. “Jesus Christ, man. Are you crazy?” He ignored the question, speeding down quiet suburban streets, barely slowing down for stop signs. “Don’t you wanna know where I live, Mister?”

    “Not really,” he grunted.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It means I’m not taking you home right now.” Before she could react he added, “You can thank me later.”

    She spun around in her seat, but there was no one pursuing them. She looked him over as he slowed to a stop at a red light, and thought about jumping out, but before she could act on her impulse, he had turned right and they were racing down the main boulevard.

    He gave her the once over a few times as the streetlights shone through the windshield in flashes, like a strobe, light and dark, light and dark. She was a prostitute, apparently, and not a very attractive one at that. ‘Just my luck,’ he thought. Then, ‘She’s the lucky one.’

    “What the hell are you running from, Mister?”

    “A real bad feeling.”

    “A feeling, huh. Well, then maybe you oughta just stop and let me out.”

    “If you promise me you can get outta the fuckin’ car in ten seconds…” He snarled. “…I’ll pull over and let you out.”

    The odometer rolled off a third of a mile while she thought about it. Every streetlamp reminding her that she was getting further from her territory, further from her pimp. She touched her jaw gingerly, then turned in her seat again, but it was more for show than anything else. There were no other cars on the road. And certainly none in pursuit. She pointedly stared at the side of his face as he drove. He was not a big man, and appeared to be unarmed and focused on driving. It felt more like a rescue than an abduction. Still… “So what’s this bad feeling all about?”

    “I’ve seen things, lady. Things I shouldn’t have seen.”

    “Really?” She said. “Like…what kinds of things?”

    His expression was grim. “Horrible, monstrous. Like…” He hesitated, as a pair of headlights turned onto the road ahead. “Like something from a nightmare.”

    The oncoming headlights swayed, then veered off the road completely, coming to a stop in a field beside the road.

    They both craned their necks at the car as they went by.

    “What are you talking about, Mister?”

    “Okay look, I know you’re not gonna believe me, but I saw what looked like a good-sized tactical assault force, coming up out of Lake Ashby.”

    She hesitated. “Did you say, ‘up’ out of Lake Ashby?”

    “Exactly,” he replied. “They came up out of the lake. I’m no military expert, but no military force on this planet comes up out of a fucking lake. Not the Russians. Not the Chinese. This shit was alien.”

    He continued. “We send in preliminary assault teams, usually Marines, who go in and secure an area for a larger invasion force. That’s what this looked like. A small, but potent advance operational…”

    “Why didn’t you go to the police?” She blurted out. “The station’s on Main street, you drove right past it.”

    “The police? Are you kidding? They’d have thrown…” He checked himself. “You think they could stop an alien invasion? I don’t.”

    The city street quickly turned into a dark open road. A short string of cars passed going the other way, heading towards town. “What’s your name?” He asked.

    “Iris.”

    “Iris. Okay, I’d be happy to drop you off, Iris, anywhere you like, but I’m a little pressed for time.”

    “I can see that,” she said.

    He held up a tiny memory stick, no bigger than his thumb. “I want you to take this.”

    “What for?”

    “I need you to deliver it to a friend.”

    “So?”

    “Take it.” He said.

    “Uh-uh.” She shook her head. “I’m not gettin’ involved.”

    “You’re already involved. We’re all involved.”

    “No I’m not,” she maintained. “You have no idea what my ‘boyfriend’ would do to me if I took the night off. Uh-uh, no. Pull over.”

    “Iris. Take the flash drive.”

    “Uh-uh.”

    The road was clear in both directions. He looked up through the windshield. There were too many stars, they were too close. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and tried to hand it to her, finally dropping it in her lap. “Take my money. There ain’t much, but I want you to take it.”

    “Why, so you can get me for larceny, too? No thanks.” She gingerly placed the wallet on the console between them.

    “Iris,” he insisted. “Check my I.D. I’m not a cop. I’m not even a ‘John.’ You flagged ME down. I shouldn’t have picked you up.”

    “Why did you?” She said, picking up the wallet and opening it.

    “I thought you were in distress.”

    “You’re the one in distress,” she said. Checking his I.D. Extracting most of his cash.

    “We’re all gonna be distressed if this information doesn’t get to the right people, Iris.”

    “Why should I care? I don’t give a shit what happens to you, or anyone else for that matter.” She slipped the money into her bra.

    He took a deep breath. “Iris, if you don’t deliver that thumb-drive some time in the next 12 hours. Your pimp’s gonna be dead, you’re gonna be dead, half the people in this state will be dead. Is there anyone in this town that you care about? Anyone on the planet?”

    She had a son, somewhere. “I don’t wanna get involved,” she said.

    He saw something familiar and abruptly pulled over, gravel went flying as they slid to a stop. “See that line of trees?”

    She didn’t answer.

    “They follow a paved path. It’ll take you to the next town.” He reached into the back seat and produced a jacket. “Put this on, it’ll keep you warm.” He pulled a debit card and a slip of paper from his top pocket and held them out to her. “Deliver that thumb-drive to this woman. She’s on the faculty of Stetson College. She’ll know what to do with it. Tell her it’s from Jason.”

    She accepted the items. “Is that your name? Jason?”

    “No,” he growled. “It’s a code word. Find this woman, give her the thumb-drive and say the name Jason. That’s all you have to do. Now get out.” He reached across her and opened her door. “Go on. Get out.”

    The engine roared as she watched the car fishtail back onto the blacktop, racing off into the night. She had no intention of complying with that lunatic’s demands—until a brilliant beam of light illuminated the vehicle, arrested its progress, and plucked that car off the road as if it were a child’s toy. And then the light went out.

    Reply
    • July 19, 2019 at 8:56 am
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      This is a terrific story, Ken. As Andy says, you can imagine a booming voice at the end saying “This was a Quinn/Martin Production”. There doesn’t appear to be an ounce of flab on it. The pace is exhilarating and is perfectly in step with the flight of the couple. If there’s one thing I’d point to it would be to spread the reveal about the ‘assault force’ coming up out of the lake over a couple more lines, just to get even more suspense out of it, like:

      “What are you talking about, Mister?”

      “Okay look, I know you’re not gonna believe me, but I saw something coming up out of Lake Ashby.”

      “What do you mean? What something?”

      He hesitated, glanced at her as if to make a final check that the information was safe with her.

      “Something that looked like a good-sized tactical assault force.”

      The ending is great. As Andy again said, it could take the story into new episodes. And it would be a great premise: A person (the ‘hooker’) eminently unsuited to heroics, called upon to be heroic.

      Thoroughly enjoyed this.

      Reply
  • July 17, 2019 at 12:41 pm
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    (French Connection United Kingdom.) I’m missing an open quote in the third line. Right before the words ‘Yeah sure, get in.’

    Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 4:52 pm
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      Didn’t notice the missing quote mark.

      On “French Connection United Kingdom”: FCUK do designer glasses. I’ve seen people wear them, with the FCUK brand standing out boldly on the legs of the glasses. People pay a designer premium for that? Nothing like having FCUKwit emblazoned on the side of one’s head, is there?

      Reply
      • July 20, 2019 at 6:47 pm
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        Well, it’s amazing what lengths and expenditures people will suffer in order to ‘look good.’ F.C.U.K. is definitely a fashion statement, but I don’t know what the statement says. Speaking of statements, (smooth eh?) Did I chase everyone away with my own brand of FCUKwit?

        French Connection is probably a pretty obscure reference now that I think about it. I suppose hardly anyone but the British, (and by British I obviously mean Londoners, since we Americans can name only one other English city. Liverpool.) It’s probably passe too. Which explains, (the punch line) how you know ABOUT IT. (The caps lock was accidental but apropos.) In case you’re wondering, it’s because of the Beatles. That’s how American’s know about Liverpool, and THAT’S ALL they know.
        However,

        I believe, Andy, that if I sat down and made up twenty or thirty names of British towns and villages. More than half would actually exist. Does this sound entertaining? (After this, I’ll do names of Western American Towns. Urk, Arkansas, Blech, Texas. Etc. But first, I want to do British town names.)

        British town names are so practical. Like, Chatham County Briar Patch By The Freezing Sea.
        It’s important to keep that in mind while I imaginate.
        Sussex By Sandwich, – Sandwich by Sussex – Greenwich Village – Brownwich Township – Bluewich By The Cheese – (Speaking of Sussex.) Essex on Gingham. – Latex – Fairfax Green – Bunglenadian Tuft o’ Wills.- Oxford – Nixford – Foxtrottingham – Sherwood – Notsherwood. Nottingham – Nothingham – Rottingham – Tottingham – Rotford – Rotford On Avon – Rottington – Rottington Heights – The Shallows – East Uppington – Lower Hideaway.- Bristol – Feastern Famine On The Green. – Todd.
        Well? How did I do?

        I don’t feel inspired to do American names now. My brain is exhausted now from the British names. Luckily, I came across a data base of American city and town names, and I couldn’t come up with anything funnier than what exists. Like: Last Ditch, Busted Gulch, Dreams End, Besmirch, Deadhorse, Dreadmore, Fatality, Gropers Mill.

        I hope…. that none of those are actually real towns.

        Reply
    • July 17, 2019 at 5:18 pm
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      Great story that swept me along, Ken. There’s an evolving mystery about the driver. At first it seems he could be a serial killer, sexual predator, or just insane/paranoid, and we gradually eliminate those possibilities as we go along. Believable, pacey dialogue (as always) lets the story unfold naturally. And I didn’t expect it to end like that – very dramatic on the one hand, and a dilemma to be resolved on the other.

      A nod to HP Lovecraft with the aliens emerging from the lake, perhaps? Though overall has more the feel of a Quinn Martin production like the invaders. In fact, this could be the first of the series, as Iris now has to make a decision and then is herself in mortal danger … Excellent stuff!

      Reply
      • July 18, 2019 at 1:16 am
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        Thanks Andy,
        I’m not a fan of Lovecraft, (ask any of my ex-girlfriends) but the constant references to him by more erudite readers is extremely annoying. (Pardon my honesty.) That is not to say that you,,, are annoying, Andy, just the words, H.P. Lovecraft. (I’ll have to Google him to check for sure, but, I don’t believe I’ve ever read any of his stuff. O’Henry either. I hear that name a lot and am clueless about what references are being made.)

        As for aliens in the water, notwithstanding whatever Lovecraft did, it’s been done at least a few times, hasn’t it? Also, I have five friends who told me they saw one float overhead and then dive into the ocean right outside their oceanfront hotel room. I don’t believe them. Because if it really happened, none of them would have been sober enough to notice. They didn’t realize that I could figure that out. They all thought they were funnier than me too. Smarter? Yes. Funnier? No.

        (Actually, one of them was.) Jack Crowder. Now, if you go and ask Jack Crowder if he knows me or has ever heard of me he’ll probably deny it. He’ll say, Ken who? Ken Caught-his-pants-on-fire? No. No. Doesn’t ring a bell. Anything else? My baloney sandwich is getting cold. Or warm, whatever will make it taste worse.

        But he knows me. It’s just retaliation. That’s all it is. I wouldn’t believe in his spaceship, and now he doesn’t believe in me. So, me, him, and the aliens are all even. As far as I’m concerned.

        I’m glad you liked the story Andy. I meant to respond to your comments about the story, but I think the topics I covered were far more important. (Okay, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree then.)

        BTW, I haven’t critiqued your story yet, because I wanted to let it sift into my brain. (Some would say fester.) I’m so eager to comment on it, that I just made a comment, and then backspaced over it. That’s right Andy. I have that much restraint. (and a backspace key, a lot of people don’t have that. I have it and I use it. Frequently. But obviously not enough.) Jesus. See? This is why I don’t need a therapist. I have you, Andy, and the other two people who might accidentally read this. Woe be unto them, poor souls.

        Okay, so, whoever had the stamina to read this comment up to this point, (it’s probably just you, Andy) this information is for you. Survivors, of my first five paragraphs. (People looking for the secret to happiness? That’s in my next comment.) Regarding my story, Andy. Actually, the original ending just had a giant claw coming out of the sky. But I read it to my mother, and she suggested the beam of light. (After she got done laughing.) And I think she was right. (Just because she’s senile doesn’t mean she can’t be right. Right?) I really wanted to shorten this story and add some background, but I couldn’t figure out what to get rid of. (It was all horrible.) I mean, I think the story has some weaknesses, but then, at some point I thought, ‘this is just a story about travelling through the night.’ (With a hooker and a lunatic) And I felt like I’d fulfilled the requirements..

        You will get your critique, Mr. Lake. All in good time.

        p.s. I really don’t truthfully understand Philip’s story. (I want that on my headstone — when I start buying up used headstones.).

        Reply
        • July 18, 2019 at 3:10 am
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          “I’m not a fan of Lovecraft, (ask any of my ex-girlfriends)” – LOL

          Yes, there are other instances of aliens emerging from the water. If I send my mind back 50 years (in a time bubble) I remember the old Fantastic Four comics I read, with Sub-mariner and that other guy, his rival, who had an undersea empire. Not the Little Mermaid, a bit more Attila-the-Hun-like, and with followers who weren’t crustaceans. (Although that could fit with your original idea of the giant claw that was rejected by your editorial adviser.)
          Anyway, I think the Lovecraft note was because I don’t know anything about Florida, which in my mind is endless sunshine above and all swampy and dangerous critters below. And Lovecraft likes swamps. 2+2 = 17 in the reader’s mind, in truth that’s the relationship between writer and reader.

          (Actually, I have been to Florida once. To Miami airport, where I actually transited onto the wrong plane. About to head for New York rather than Nassau (Bahamas). Tight security, eh? Mad dash and a narrow escape. One day I hope to see Florida beyond the airport.)

          Reply
  • July 18, 2019 at 9:02 pm
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    Hey Andy,

    I had a similar experience. Had a layover in Seattle Washington not too long ago. I’ve wanted to see Washington for a long time. We never had a chance to leave the airport, and couldn’t see anything from the airport. Couldn’t even see Mt. Rainier.

    The thing about Florida, is that it’s really flat. And low. It has an immense amount of land that has water on it. And a lot of it is very swampy. The thing that’s disturbing Andy, is, we’re having a growth spurt in my area, growth is good, but it should be smart, and ecologically practical and responsible. I mean, even if there WASN”T a global warming crisis, I’d still be an advocate of smart growth. But what I’m seeing, is clear cutting. What was once a natural forest habitat is stripped down to the dirt. Acres and acres of land, stripped, down to the dirt. The roots and trees piled up, a few truck loads are harvested, the rest are burned. BURNED!

    I mean, am I missing something? This is incredibly poor land management. No trees are saved. None. Maybe a dozen, so they can say that they saved some. No mulch is made. They lay in the roads, build a bunch of cookie cutter houses, plop two spindly myrtle trees down on each lot. I wasn’t thrilled about the whole project, but hey, it had to be done. But the way that they’re doing it is, you know, very stupidly.

    Someone remodeled and upgraded an old supermarket here in town. (A very big, employee owned and popular chain store.) They took out all the trees in the existing parking lot. Eighty, ninety and one hundred year old oaks, at least. Sturdy as brick shit-houses. They cut them down, chopped them up, and laid a zillion cubic yards of jet-black asphalt re-laid, with no cover, no shade, no trees. No canopy. Are these people idiots? Or am I crazy? My wife said she stopped their for lunch the other day and it was like standing in a frying pan. It’s almost as if there were a malign force somewhere, pushing humanity towards a cliff with nothing but rocks below. It’s like watching your own species take an active role in its own extinction.

    You know what I’m saying?

    Reply
    • July 19, 2019 at 10:45 am
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      Roots. Trees have the temerity to have roots, as well as the canopy. People who make nice flat roads and car parks don’t agree with that …

      Reply
  • July 19, 2019 at 10:46 am
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    Ken!! I should print out your story and write on top of it with a large marker “This is how a damn good story should be written!” And then stick up the printout on the wall over my computer so I have a glimpse of inspiration each time I look at it.

    I mean there are different styles and all that in which one can write a story, but your style – dialogue-driven and the dialogue being so damn natural and realistic stands out to me as very much “way to go”!

    I so often get my stories hogged up in chunky paragraphs of backstory. Getting the reader into the picture and that sort of thing. Then, most of my writing effort turns out to be a massive clearning up operation to bring down the paragraphs to bite-size portions and whenever possible to dialogue. And then fixing the dialogue to make it believable and as natural as I can. The result may sometimes be good enough. But it’s not fun.

    Perhaps that’s what you do, as well. But I don’t think so. It feels to me that your dialogues flow out of you naturally and in first draft. Let us in on this – we’re sort of competing for a (fun-)contest in here but the real trophy is to learn from one another. And there is a lot to learn from you and your way of writing. I’m going to be taking lots of notes, if you don’t mind!

    Ok, so you won’t think I’m just BS-ing you, praising and all that, let me mention the one thing that felt bumpy to me in the story. Someone else, I think Phil, mentioned it too, when I was reading the comments:

    I starting reading the story when I really needed a coffee. “Ok, let me start, reading”, I told myself, “then stop along the way and get the coffee. And then continue reading.” But there was no stopping. The coffee had to wait. (I just had it now while writing this, for the record – so I’m fine, if you were worrying about my physical welfare!). The story is so gripping that I just couldn’t let go of it – and what better attribute of good writing is there than stories readers simply can’t let go off?. Whoever was chasing that lunatic was chasing me! T

    The intense mystery surrounding the manic rush this man was in was then, alas, cut off short, when you let us in on the alien invasion. It wasn’t just a jump-cut (to use a filmic term) in the story but a leap from one genre to another from what seemed to me like a mystery/thriller (perhaps even sexy) story into – all so suddenly – science-fiction!

    And make no mistake about it – I am a huuuuge fan of SF, I certainly have no problem with that genre. And not even with the idea of mixing genres (in spite of what the story-gurus say – and what Amazon classification-by-genre methods nearly make obligatory to novel writers – I think mixing genres is a gift not a sin).

    But in “A Mother’s Love”, I wasn’t prepared for that shift.

    So much so that I still hoped this man was a lunatic *imagining* aliens or a criminal bringing up aliens as an excuse to bait the woman, and that there was something more psychological to it than real actual aliens.

    And again, nothing wrong with aliens: they certainly can be part of a story (I witnessed myself an “alien craft” landing many years ago, and unlike your friends I was doubly sober and two other persons saw it from different positions. So, if I saw something alien in reality, be sure I won’t find it mind-bogling to see some aliens in fiction). But in your story they come in a little bit too unannounced, IMO. Just that. Otherwise terrific top-notch writing.

    Ken

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