Extended!! March 14 – April 3, 2019 Flash Fiction Contest “Impulse Buy”

Theme: Impulse Buy

An impulse buy leads to a life changing event.

Word Count: 1,200



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145 thoughts on “Extended!! March 14 – April 3, 2019 Flash Fiction Contest “Impulse Buy”

  • March 14, 2019 at 1:56 pm
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    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked here within 24 hours after your posted it, please let us know as we may have missed the comment.)

    Reply
  • March 14, 2019 at 2:19 pm
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    Signing in for comments!

    Reply
    • March 16, 2019 at 12:42 am
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      Signing in and hope I get a chance to write in my crazy life teaching in four places to survive financially.

      Reply
  • March 15, 2019 at 2:22 pm
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    A GIFT FOR SHARON

    £9.99 they always do that – make the price a penny less than a round figure as if we punters are fooled but it’s £10 isn’t it? even so it’s a very reasonable price for such a beautiful ring diamonds they say but they can’t be real diamonds surely at that price maybe they’re just off-cuts – pieces they’ve found on the floor after they’ve done a bit of cutting of big ones diamonds are the hardest material known to man apparently – or maybe there’s something harder they’ve discovered or invented I don’t know anyway they’re jolly hard but let’s have another look at that ring the presenter has lovely hands really set off the jewellery she’s presenting makes it more appealing I suppose the TV company hired her based on that although she’s also very attractive overall yes I wouldn’t mind going out with her but I have to be faithful to Sharon because she’s THE ONE and I’m sure she’d love that ring hang on what’s that flashing? only eight left? can that be right? only eight in the whole country? I don’t think I believe that – it’s just a ruse to get you to buy it immediately not go away and think about it because if you thought about it you might not buy it and I should probably go away and think about it but what if it’s true and there really are only eight … seven left?! I do honestly believe Sharon would love that she has nice hands too when she places the hamburger on the counter and takes the money what a thrill yesterday when I accidentally touched her hand and the way she looks at me sometimes I’m sure … six left! I’d better get on and buy that now where did I put my credit card oh you idiot! where did you put it maybe … yes phew! down the side of the sofa what made me look there I wonder? well you’ve done it before haven’t you? there was that time … five! stop dithering you imbecile get on the phone what’s the number? ok here goes 012834820738 they could have simpler numbers couldn’t they? it’s ringing yes I can see that on Sharon’s finger I wonder if she’d put it on the third finger left hand or maybe she’d think that’s being a little forward of me but “faint heart ne’er won fair maiden” that’s what I say … five! why don’t they answer? “you’re in a queue” another ruse I’m sure of it to keep you on the line – they charge the earth per minute on these calls and … four! come on! come on! I need this ring I think it’s something that’ll impress Sharon and I’m definitely going to give it to her – all that other stuff I bought that’s in the spare room I can give that to her afterwards – later when we really get to know each other I’m certain she’ll be nice to talk to she has a nice face not like some of those other women … three! oh I’m going to miss it please please please answer if I don’t get this ring I think that’ll be the end of me and Sharon it’ll be like an omen – that it’s “not to be” and … two! my goodness I don’t know if my heart’ll stand this much longer I should just hang up there’ll be other rings or maybe even a necklace yes perhaps a ring is a little forward it might scare Sharon off but a necklace well that’s another story yes I think I’ll … hello? yes I’m interested in the ring reference number …

    Reply
    • March 24, 2019 at 6:55 pm
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      Well done, Phil, well done! The more I read of your story, the more anxious I became as the “time” ran out. Then, in the midst of the action to beat the clock, you wove a picture of a man who apparently “loves” a woman but as the story progresses, he becomes more of a stalker (as evidenced in packages stored in the spare room) who barely knows the woman. Great tension and great story!

      Reply
      • March 25, 2019 at 8:20 pm
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        Thanks, Adi! I don’t know if ‘stalker’ is the right term, because that has a negative connotation, doesn’t it? Maybe he’s just a poor, misguided, harmless soul (?) I don’t know. I suppose it’s how you perceive him, and your perception might be entirely valid.

        Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 3:15 am
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      What an exciting story! At first I had problems reading it without punctuation marks. But then I read it aloud and became more and more excited. So the thrill of the teleshopping was transferred 1:1 to me. Great experience!

      Reply
      • March 25, 2019 at 8:23 pm
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        Thanks, Jürgen! Sorry about the problems, but glad you got on the right wavelength in the end.

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    • March 25, 2019 at 8:50 am
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      Dear Phil,
      What fantastic concision. It captures to perfection the breathlessness of the experience itself. It draws us in, the way the protagonist is drawn into the ruse.
      The idea of weaving the narration into the stream of consciousness is brilliant, for the immediate familiarity with the character.
      A perfect piece!

      Reply
      • March 25, 2019 at 8:25 pm
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        Thanks, Flo! (Don’t forget to post yours … on time this time!) 😉

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        • March 26, 2019 at 8:25 am
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          héhé… on it! 😉
          … though it won’t qualify, yet again, because I will not be able to vote this time around…

          Reply
    • March 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm
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      I agree with everyone you really got the intensity of the situation conveyed through this stream of consciousness. I’m not a huge fan of the style but it really lent itself well to this story. The pacing is great and the way you slowly realize that Sharon isn’t his wife or girlfriend, but just someone who works at the butcher he frequents but is totally ‘in love’ with is brilliant.

      Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 5:02 pm
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        Thanks very much, Wendy! (We’ve got an extension so I’ll read your story later on). I was thinking that Sharon worked in a McDon*ld’s or somewhere like that … but a butcher’s could work too.

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        • April 1, 2019 at 9:03 am
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          I was thinking raw hamburger meat, that’s why I thought butcher. I probably just got back from the grocery shopping

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    • April 3, 2019 at 12:38 pm
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      Phil,

      The only thing I can say that hasn’t been said by all the others is – what a fantastic piece. Or, maybe they did all say it and I wanted to say it again. Love the stream of consciousness writing, although I’m not sure you need the question marks. I thought that odd, since there was no other punctuation. Any reason for that? Since you teach writing there may be rules about that sort of thing.

      You had me breathing hard at the end wondering if he would get to buy the object in question, and then having obtained it, would he ever give it to her, or will he just fill a room with gifts for his never to be girlfriend and finally be found laying in the middle of the room, dead of heartbreak through unrequited love, never having applied the old maxim, ‘Faint heart never won fair lady’?

      There are too many out there who fulfill that role. My wife tells me that I interested her when we first met only because I was so confident. She had never been around someone who did not know the meaning of the word ‘shy’. I told her cousin the day we met she was the one, and that I was going to marry her. It never occurred to me that she might refuse. That was probably my saving grace, and she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 5:24 pm
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        Thanks for your positive words, Roy. I suppose I put in the question marks because if not the lines could be construed as affirmations, and that might make it confusing (or more confusing than it already is!). Nice detail about you and your wife! That’s the way to do it!

        (I don’t teach writing per se, actually – rather general English.)

        Reply
  • March 16, 2019 at 6:52 am
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    Hi Phil,

    Firstly, well done for being the first to post your story. Last time when I posted early I felt like I was the only one left on the planet for the best part of a week. It was as if I was on the deck of the Marie Celeste! So don’t worry, I am here and I am writing this critique NOW.

    I love the stream of consciousness style of writing that you have employed here and the skilful way your story unfolds. It also helps to cut down on the amount of punctuation you need but that’s no doubt a bonus not the aim of the exercise!

    You hit the nail on the head in terms of how we all feel about this type of selling and marketing. It’s all “hurry, hurry” isn’t it? And, of course, when an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. A diamond for less than a tenner! I know when I have been trying to purchase an item over the phone ( back in pre-online sales days) I can think of any number of reasons to hang up but end up waiting until the call centre person answers.

    The story also hints at loneliness. In this case the sad narrator dreams of a relationship with a girl / woman that he doesn’t really know, only her name and how nice her hands are and her nice face. The room full of previous purchases also confirms his desire for a relationship which, I fear, is doomed to failure.
    It’s a very poignant piece of writing Phil.

    Regards,

    Ken Frape

    Ken C and I have agreed to be just Ken Cartisano and Ken Frape. No. 1 or 2.

    Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 8:28 pm
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      Thanks very much, Ken – I feel that you’ve touched all the bases there. Couldn’t have said it better myself! 😉

      Reply
  • March 19, 2019 at 3:38 pm
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    A Wrinkle in Time
    By Madeleine L’Engle

    IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
    In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground… 🙂

    Reply
  • March 21, 2019 at 12:36 am
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    The Collection
    By: Adrienne Riggs (1,195)

    Maria settled in her recliner to check Facebook. With her 5 year old twins in bed, this was the only quiet time she had. Items from sales groups, including multiple doll groups popped up in her thread. Maria collected baby dolls, an interest since childhood. She had an entire bedroom devoted to her collection which she shared with her daughters.

    Maria browsed through the sale ads, telling herself that she really didn’t need another doll. Her resolutions dissolved when a large Raggedy Ann popped up on the screen with a link to Ebay. This doll was 28” tall and made in the 1960’s, it was listed as “vintage.” The doll looked to be in pristine condition. Maria’s attention was caught by the low price and the fact that no one had bid on the doll.

    Her finger hovered over the listing, as she examined each picture. She could already picture the doll sitting in the white rocking chair in the doll nursery. Before she could stop herself, she’d hit the ‘Buy It Now’ button and the doll was hers.

    Maria kept the doll a secret until its arrival. Her daughters, Lucy and Lola, were very excitable and she knew she wouldn’t get any rest if they knew a “new” doll was coming. She rearranged several “babies” in the nursery to make sure the little white rocker was ready for its new occupant.

    When the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of the package, the girls ran to the door.

    “Look Mommy!” they squealed in unison. “It’s a package! What is it?”

    Maria smiled. “It’s a surprise!”

    Lucy hopped up and down while Lola pushed the box to the couch. Maria opened it, removed the protective wrappings and lifted the doll from the box.

    “Oooooooh! Mommy! She’s beautiful!”

    “I’m gonna call her Anna” Lucy declared.

    “No! Her name is Belle” Lola insisted. The influence of the Disney princesses was strong in the household.

    “Sorry, girls. Her name is Ann. Raggedy Ann.”

    “Ok, Mommy.”

    “Let’s put her in the nursery and I’ll fix lunch.” The girls watched Maria pose the doll in the white rocking chair where she fit perfectly.

    After lunch the twins took a nap. When they woke up, they ran to the doll room. Each girl grabbed one of Ann’s arms to hold her. The doll was stretched between the two children. Maria caught them before they tore an arm off.

    “Stop it girls!” She rescued the doll and placed her back in the chair. “Let’s leave Ann alone for a while. You can play with one of the other dolls.”

    As the days passed, Maria noticed that neither Lucy nor Lola wanted anything to do with the new Raggedy Ann. When they played in the nursery, they now avoided the doll.

    When the children set up a tea party at the little doll table in the center of the room, Maria smiled.

    “Maybe Ann wants to join the tea party.”

    Both girls glanced at Ann smiling benignly from the rocker. “No, Mommy. She doesn’t like to play.”

    Maria laughed, “Sure she does! Let’s try it.” She reached for Ann but stopped at her daughters’ reactions.

    “NO, Mommy! Don’t move her!” Maria froze at the identical looks of terror on the girls’ faces.

    “Ok, calm down, it’s all right. What’s the matter?”

    Both girls mumbled, “Nothing, Mommy.”

    Feeling uneasy, Maria tried to find the Ebay listing for the Raggedy Ann to see if there was something she had missed in the description of the doll. The listing was gone, deleted.

    After that, Maria found herself checking on the doll and the girls often. When she glanced into the nursery while doing housework one day, she found Ann on the floor across the room.

    Maria went to the girls’ room. “Hey, I thought I told you to leave Ann in the rocking chair.”

    “We have, Mommy.” The children were absorbed in building a block tower.

    “Don’t lie to me. I found her on the floor today.”

    Neither girl looked at Maria. “She likes to move around. Anna said the chair gets hard” Lucy commented.

    “Anna said? Lucy, are you saying the doll talked?”

    The child shrugged. “I heard it in my mind.”

    “Yeah, Belle doesn’t like us very much” Lola chimed in, still focused on the blocks. “She told us to stay away.”

    “Her name is Ann” Maria reminded them absentmindedly as she went over their words in her head. She gave a nervous laugh. “You two certainly have a vivid imagination!”

    “Yes, Mommy.”

    The next night, Lola’s screams woke Maria from a deep sleep. Rushing into the bedroom, she found the child huddled in her bed sobbing. Lucy was holding her sister tight and her eyes were wide and frightened.

    “What’s wrong? What happened?” Maria was breathless.

    “Belle grabbed and hurt me!” Lola pointed across the room. Turning, Maria saw the Raggedy Ann sitting next to the dresser; her hands crossed in her lap, the benign smile still in place.

    “I’m sure it was just a nightmare. Why did you bring her in here?”

    “We didn’t” Lucy whispered. “Mommy, I pulled her off of Lola and threw her on the floor.”

    “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?” Maria checked Lola. The child had angry, red scratches on her neck.

    “Mommy? Can we sleep with you? We don’t wanna stay here.” The girls were crying now.

    “Yes, go now! Hurry!” She watched the girls run to the door and out into the hall. She walked over to the dresser and picked up the Raggedy Ann. There didn’t seem to be anything different about her, but Maria wasn’t taking chances. She placed the doll back in the rocking chair and locked the doll room door.

    In the morning, the girls seemed subdued. After breakfast, Maria sent them outside to play. Going to the doll room, she unlocked the door. When she tried to open it, it caught on something on the floor. Pushing harder, Maria found the Raggedy Ann lying behind the door and other dolls thrown around the room. She glanced at the empty rocking chair.

    Grabbing the doll, she ran into the kitchen and found a box. She wrapped the doll in paper, stuffed her into the box and taped it up tight. Shaking, she watched the girls playing in the yard through the kitchen window. What was she going to do now?

    ‘Ping.’ Maria’s phone signaled a notification. She picked it up and unlocked the screen. It was a breaking news story.

    ‘Robbery at Warren’s Occult Museum’ “The curator of Lorraine and Ed Warren’s Occult Museum announced the disappearance of its most haunted artifact; a doll alleged to be demon possessed. The doll was kept in a special, locked glass case. If you have any knowledge of the location of the doll known as “Annabelle”, please call this number immediately.”

    The picture of a large Raggedy Ann doll in a glass case appeared on the screen. Maria screamed and dropped the phone. She glanced at her daughters and then stared at the taped box in front of her.

    What had she done? She reached for the phone …

    Reply
    • March 23, 2019 at 7:18 pm
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      Hi Adrienne,

      Sorry not to have posted a comment earlier but here we are now.

      I really enjoyed the notion that such a purchase (Raggedy Ann) made in all innocence by Maria, could turn out to be so sinister. I think I began to cotton on once strange things started to happen but I couldn’t have guessed exactly what the ending would be.

      I think it is also a good thing to leave the story unfinished. In other words, Maria now knows about the doll allegedly being demon possessed and yet she still has it in her house with her children. The final question is, Who is she going to phone?
      Good use of the names too, Anna and Belle.

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • March 24, 2019 at 6:43 pm
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        Thanks Ken F.! I didn’t want to give the ending away too soon but was wondering who would catch the girls’ names for the doll! I appreciate the comments!

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    • March 25, 2019 at 3:31 am
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      Now I know what a Raggedy Ann is. Wikipedia explained it to me. The story started quite harmlessly, and it took me a moment to immerse myself. But then it got scary. I was afraid the girls could be harmed. I hope I understood everything correctly and the girls are fine …. Exciting story!

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      • March 26, 2019 at 9:33 am
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        Thanks Jurgen! I love Raggedy Ann dolls. She was the first doll I ever had as a child. This story was based on a “real” haunted doll named Annabelle.

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    • March 25, 2019 at 9:35 am
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      Dear Adrienne,
      There is a predictability in this story, as you explore a very classic tropism: the haunted doll, which paradoxically helps to highlight the qualities of your writing: excellent structure, good flow and controlled dialogues.
      Well done!

      Reply
      • March 26, 2019 at 9:33 am
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        Thanks Flo!!

        Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 7:42 pm
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      Hi, Adrienne

      This is spooky (starting with the fact that the family has a room dedicated entirely to dolls!) You follow the main tropes of possessed doll stories/films (as Flo suggests), but do it very well. There’s good pace, and a nice rhythm in the way the scary moments are dropped in. The name trick is well played … although the ‘Ann’ that Maria chooses is maybe a bit too near Lucy’s choice of ‘Anna’ when the doll arrives (I think Lucy would have said that she ‘won’ over Lola). Nice open end to a good read.

      Reply
    • March 26, 2019 at 9:31 am
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      Hi all!
      Do you realize that Annabelle is a real “haunted” Raggedy Ann Doll? I just used her for this story. Here is the link to her story. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annabelle_%28doll%29. She really is kept at the Warren’s Occult Museum in a locked glass case. The Warren’s were paranormal researchers. You can see Annabelle’s picture in the link. Annabelle and Robert the Doll are reported to be the top two haunted dolls. Robert even creeps me out.

      The real Annabelle was the inspiration for the movies The Conjuring, Annabelle 1 and 2, etc. However, the doll used in the movies was not a Raggedy Ann as the real Annabelle.

      Phil, if you think the story creepy (which was intended) and the notion of a doll room weird, then don’t come to my house. LOL!! I have dolls (baby dolls) displayed all over the house. I’m trying to get them arranged in one room so they don’t overtake us all. My oldest grandson (19) thinks they are creepy. My youngest granddaughters think I’m the coolest Nana EVER, because they spend their time playing with the babies.

      Anyway, glad you all enjoyed the story! If ever there was a temptation for impulse buying for me, it would be (and is) dolls.

      Adi

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      • March 26, 2019 at 4:37 pm
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        I’m with your grandson, Adi – cold smiles and all those eye following you around the room. Brrr!

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      • March 27, 2019 at 4:54 am
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        Thanks for sharing the wikipedia article. It gives a new perspective to your story.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 1:31 pm
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      I’m not a super fan of doll collections and so often people use them as a short cut to a an unhinged person, but (probably since you are a normal person with a normal hobby) you made the doll collection a fun and wholesome thing and kept just the one doll sinister. I admit that I picked up on the name immediately due to the film franchise, so figured she was an evil spirit. The worst part is that unbeknownst to me my husband was working on our water filter and there was a scary high pitched whine coming from the bathroom as I read your story and your suspense had me envisioning a possessed toilet, which thankfully wasn’t the case but shows you had a good wind up lol.

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    • April 3, 2019 at 12:48 pm
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      Adrienne,

      Good to see you back writing, and nice story. Got no problems with anything about the grammar, punctuation, plot line or writing skill. Well done. I might have liked a little tighter ending, either one where she is debating sending it back … or one where it won’t go back. it keeps coming back, as if it is eventually going to grab it’s prize … the two young daughters. That would be a truly terrifying story, if she shipped it back to the Occult Museum and then opened up the bedroom door a day ot two later to find the doll in ‘its’ rocking chair, with the rocking chair moving, then the last line would be, Maria hesitated to look into the girl’s bedroom, afraid of what she would find. Loved the story. Good job, Adrienne.

      Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 12:51 pm
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        Thanks Roy! I’m so glad you are back and doing better!

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  • March 21, 2019 at 2:07 pm
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    Just to let everyone know I am finally home and after two major operations and a raging peritonitis infection, still find myself very weak. I will have to live with a colostomy for a while, maybe until June o July before they can reverse it. Each day I get a bit stronger and today I felt like sitting in the office for a while and catching
    up. I’m not sure if I will be posting a story, although I would like to. Sorry Ken, I can’t write a story about drubs unless it’s totally made up. I didn’t get any narcotic drugs except the first day or two and they soon took me off those as I was having a bad reaction. This has not a been a pleasant experience, except on the up side, I have lost 15 pounds. Things being what they are, I’m glad to be back among the living. Hope to fill everyone in on all the gruesome details in a future story when the prompt is right. In the meantime, it’s good to be back in front of the keyboard and able to put two sentences together. Last week I couldn’t concentrate enough to care about almost anything. Life will be different and this thing didn’t kill me, so it the old saw is correct I should be back even stronger.

    Roy

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    • March 21, 2019 at 3:11 pm
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      Glad to see you back, Roy, and in one piece. ‘As melhoras!’

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      • March 21, 2019 at 6:50 pm
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        Hi Roy,
        Great news. Glad to hear that you are on the mend.
        Regards,
        Ken Frape.

        Reply
    • March 21, 2019 at 3:35 pm
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      Roy,
      So glad to see you back! I’ve been praying hard. I saw on Facebook that you had run into complications and my worry warred with my faith. Take it easy my friend and I’m glad you are feeling some better. You are a fighter and you will beat this setback. Love and hugs! Adi

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    • March 21, 2019 at 6:41 pm
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      Hey Roy, good to see you up and about. Looking forward to seeing you back in the rat race. Take care my friend.

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    • March 22, 2019 at 7:11 pm
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      ROY…. You’re ALIVE! Congratulations. Great to hear from you. We all thought…, well, some of us thought, well, maybe it was me and Adi… actually it was just me… anyway, we, that is I, thought, ah well what’s the difference what I thought, the amazing thing was that I was thinking, if you stop and think about it. (Which we won’t, I hope. Except Phil. He’s always thinking, that one. He once told me he can think and watch TV at the same time. But let’s forget about Phil for the moment, shall we?)

      But seriously I was getting a little concerned about the silence. Great to hear you’ve pulled through though. It sounds like you had some pretty serious surgery. And complications. No picnic. Now that you’re home and moving around I’m sure the worst is behind you.

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    • March 25, 2019 at 9:37 am
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      Congratulations, Roy!
      Best wishes as you continue to improve and find new flavors in life!

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    • March 27, 2019 at 1:20 pm
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      It’s great to hear from you again and I’m glad you made it through. Just remember each day that you made it past the worst part and each day is a step further away from that.

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  • March 23, 2019 at 10:05 am
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    Love on the Line by Ken Frape.

    She cuts a striking, yet solitary figure. There is a hint of sadness in her eyes. The station bench is unforgivingly hard, its Victorian cast iron armrests and feet painted in gluntinous, Great Western Railway green. The carrier bag on her lap contains a bright red silk scarf. An expensive impulse buy in the station mall’s rather over ambitiously titled Fashion Emporium? She removes the scarf from the bag and drapes it stylishly around her elegant neck and shoulders; the colour coordination is perfect. The thin material lifts and falls as the swirling air tugs at it before moving on to play tig with a strip of plastic which swirls and drops, swirls and drops and then rests as the breeze hurries on to a crisp wrapper, eager to play.

    With small, precise movements of her perfectly manicured fingers, she pecks a tiny scrap of fluff from the hem of her smartly cut skirt. She rolls it deftly between finger and thumb before releasing it, following its movement as it is carried away on that same breeze that is ever present in the wind tunnel of railway stations.

    The stopping trains creep up on the platform stealthily, arriving almost soundlessly, slinking predators, ssshhhing to a soft halt. As they wait, timetable aware, they purr and vibrate, gathering themselves with feline impatience as they first disgorge and then swallow up further chunks of human cargo. As doors thump firmly closed, the shrieking whistle gives them permission to snake away once more along the glistening ribbon of ever-narrowing track.

    She briefly raises her head as an express train blasts through the station, her eyes widening at its sudden arrival as it pummels an opening in the air before dragging sudden silence in its wake.

    “You could scream now and no one would hear,” she thinks as the carriages rapidly shrink away to a pinprick then nothing as they head towards the distant horizon. Without realising it, she has spoken out loud.

    On hearing her words in the ensuing quiet, an inquisitive elderly lady initiates conversation. Red Scarf looks up quickly. Hers is a beautiful face, with startling blue eyes. Her make-up has been applied with skill and to great effect, enhancing nature’s generosity.

    “No,” replies Red Scarf brightly, her warm smile driving away any shadows, “I’m not waiting for the Birmingham train. I’m waiting for a special train. I’ve arrived early so that I won’t miss it.”
    “A special train! That sounds very romantic,“ the elderly lady coos, her tone carrying a hint of nostalgia. “If you don’t mind me saying so. “
    “No, not at all,” says Red Scarf. “It’s my husband’s train. Comes through here every day about the same time, just after 12. Unless, of course, it’s cancelled or delayed!”
    “Your husband’s train?” The elderly passenger further enquires.

    Red scarf offers no explanation but releases a small sigh as she smiles almost to herself. “ Yes, I always come here at this time. The children used to come too, most days, when they were little.”
    “ But not today?” The elderly lady continues her inquisition.
    “No. Not today. They’re in school now.”
    Her vision wanders into the middle distance, looking but not seeing as her eyes mist.
    “How old are they?” The inquisitor is in full flow now, anxious to glean further pieces of information.
    “My children? Michael is 6 now and Eleanor, I still think of her as the baby, is four and a half. She looks just like her Dad too.”

    She laughs then, the tinkling, brittle sound of stainless steel tea spoons on glass bottles.

    “Your husband must be very special,” opines the old lady, also smiling. “You know, for you to come here every day to meet him.”
    “Yes, he is. I’ve always loved him and he is a wonderful Dad.”

    The old lady nods, not too old to remember the quickening pulse of anticipation at the approach of a lover, the gentle touch of a hand, the caress of soft lips on bare skin.

    The huge station clock clicks over another minute and the tannoy clanks into metallic life. Passengers unconsciously check their wrist watches, untrusting of the rail company’s timepiece. It looks too ancient to be reliable.

    “Please stand back from the white line. The next train is the London to Doncaster express.”

    The inquisitive lady turns back to Red Scarf, eager for more tidbits but the seat is now empty. She catches a glimpse of the younger woman, nearer to the platform now, unwinding the scarf from around her shoulders.

    At first, the ground begins to thrum with gentle seismic undertones as the twelve segmented monster announces its arrival.
    Red Scarf has mingled with the crowd as they brace themselves to face the onslaught. The bright scrap of silk billows in her hand and the screaming blast of wind seeks to tear it from her grasp as she raises her arm high above her head. The rail beast storms down the silvered rails, exploding into the station, swamping every other sound, its blunt features elbowing aside everything in its path. The windrush barrels into the faces of the bystanders, its fingers running amok through careful hairdos, flapping tightly held newspapers, prising the words and the breath from pursed lips.

    Anxious to be seen, Red Scarf has edged out of the crowd towards the platform’s edge, alone now and heavily buffeted by the rushing wind.

    The flash of red will be unmissable to her husband, she tells herself.

    She had to buy the scarf when she saw it in the shop. It is so much more than just an impulse purchase. It is a signal.
    Red is the colour of love after all.

    How else can she tell him that she still loves him even though he has left her for another and will no longer take her calls? He will understand when he sees her.

    For one split second she locks eyes with her husband, the driver in the cab, as she waves the scarf over her head.

    Then Red Scarf’s look instantly turns to horror as her foot slips sideways and she plunges into nothingness
    .
    The train hits her with liquefying force, hurling her aside, exploding blood and bone onto the waiting passengers and across the windscreen of the cab. Screams on the platform began to break out but they are instantly drowned by the screech of the emergency brakes. The scarf, released from the lifeless hand of its owner, swirls and twists in the turbulent air that carries it upwards and upwards, towards the heavens. Then, bored with the hunt, it releases its prey. The red silk floats down to become a shroud that drapes itself over the face of the station clock, shielding it from the horror below.
    Ken Frape
    1146
    March 2019 A Place For Fiction Writers – An Impulse Buy

    Reply
    • March 24, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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      Ken,
      What a powerful story! At first I thought the woman was planning suicide by train. The end was cleverly written. You have such a way with words. I haven’t been on a train since I was 4 years old. I remember the station and inside the train but not the sounds, wind, etc. outside. I felt like I was there in the story when I read your descriptions. Great work.
      Adi

      Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 4:13 am
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      Hello Ken, I admire your choice of expressive words. Somehow those descriptions make the story bigger than life. Greatly done.

      That’s the second story about trains that I read from you. I also like trains and have to watch them pass whenever I’m in a train station.

      Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 9:44 am
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      Such beautiful writing, as always, Ken! And a very unique sense of surprise as we witness the story unfold, like a scarf (… easy pun).
      Absolutely love the last three sentences! It is a powerful and vivid image! In and of itself, it would be enough to inspire a whole movie, just for the pleasure of shooting that one shot…

      Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 8:03 pm
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      Hi, Ken

      Absolutely fantastic descriptions here – so vivid. And they include all the senses. Then the characters: ‘Red Scarf’ is nicely mysterious (she even doesn’t have a name), and you keep her purpose in the station from us very tantalisingly; the older woman is a perfect interlocutor for her – elderly women tend to have that little bit of inquisitiveness that can bring stories out. It’s a nasty end for ‘Red Scarf. As Adi says, I was half expecting a suicide scenario, so the fact that it’s an accident scenario is a ‘nice’ surprise. A couple of things that I personally would have preferred to be different, and they both have to do with ‘on-the-noseness’ (yes, I know – no such expression exists, but I hope I can make myself understood): “How else can she tell him that she still loves him even though he has left her for another and will no longer take her calls?” and “The train hits her with liquefying force, hurling her aside, exploding blood and bone onto the waiting passengers and across the windscreen of the cab.” These two facts could maybe have been transmitted more suggestively, but that’s probably just my taste. I return to the descriptions of the station and the trains, though – marvellous stuff.

      Reply
      • March 26, 2019 at 8:43 am
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        Hi Phil,

        Thanks so much for your comments.

        The notion of suicide was something that I did toy with as I was describing the sadness that underlies Red Scarf’s demeanour. A sort of breadcrumb trail with things like where are the children now? Are they really in school? Is Red Scarf unhinged by her situation? Has she come to teach her husband a lesson that he will never forget by stepping deliberately in front of the train? But no, in the end it’s just an accident.

        I do get the “on-the-noseness” reference. It’s the age- old dilemna of show don’t tell and I can certainly give more consideration to this in my writing. In this case, after so much carefully descriptive writing, I wanted to hit the reader with a sledgehammer.

        I also wanted to include a chunk of dialogue as I don’t always consider this.

        .Having said that, I attended a ten week course on scriptwriting and ended up with a 10 minute play with just two people and that is all dialogue. The nice thing was I actually got to see it performed at the local theatre festival.

        Regards,

        Ken Frape.

        Reply
    • March 27, 2019 at 10:07 am
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      Love hurts. Unrequited love makes bloody fools of us.
      Still, I love the writing Ken. Very descriptive and draws you into the story, allows you to form a fairly clear, (but not too clear) image of the main character. Never heard of the word ‘gluntinous.’ Can’t even guess what it means. (Utilitarian? Ubiquitous? Google says: No definitions found for this word. Would you like to Google other planets?)

      Serious suggestion here, As the husband’s train comes into the station, while there may be some small amount of displacement, until the train actually comes abreast of the passengers on the platform, there’s really not much turbulence, (as you seem to point out earlier in the story. Which is great, and correct.)

      Perhaps it would be intrinsically more shocking if the moments before the fateful ending, there is no turbulence, no —- I just re-read it. No, I see what you’re doing and I like it, the only thing I’d suggest is to make it clear that the turbulence you describe, (just before the splat) is felt by people further down the platform as the train is entering the station. Maybe just add the words, ‘At the far end of the platform’… the rail beast storms down squealing rails, exploding into the station, swamping every other sound…

      At the end ‘screams on the platform began to break out’ should be ‘begin’ to break out…’ (I think.)

      These are minor things in what is a wonderfully riveting story with a terrific ending.

      Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 10:24 am
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        Hi Ken,
        Excellent and accurate comments as ever. I was beginning to wonder where you were as I hadn’t seen anything from you lately. Of course, you are allowed a life outside A Place for Writers.
        Gluntinous is a spelling mistake that I spotted after I had posted so I decided to keep my head down and hope no one would notice. Except you of course! It should be “glutinous”.
        The wind rush in scientific terms is very much as you say but as a good friend of mine in the newspaper industry always said “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
        You are correct about that word at the end too.
        Thanks,
        Ken Frape

        Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 11:09 am
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        Regarding ‘glutinous.’ (Not gluntinous.) I found it. I just forgot how google works for a minute. I put the word in the lower search bar instead of the upper. (Scary.)

        Reply
        • March 27, 2019 at 12:48 pm
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          Ken F,

          I subscribe to the same philosophy. The only thing that really matters in fiction, (in my self-inflated, overblown, obnoxiously pretentious opinion; SIOOPO) is consistency. Which, obviously, can be tricky when you’re making things up. I don’t think my brain worries too much about consistency when I’m making things up. I have to go back and thoroughly check for that after getting the basic story written.

          This is a great paragraph!

          The stopping trains creep up on the platform stealthily, arriving almost soundlessly, slinking predators, ssshhhing to a soft halt. As they wait, timetable aware, they purr and vibrate, gathering themselves with feline impatience as they first disgorge and then swallow up further chunks of human cargo. As doors thump firmly closed, the shrieking whistle gives them permission to snake away once more along the glistening ribbon of ever-narrowing track.

          I’ve been in remission for the last week or so. If I may stretch the use of the term.
          I was being audited, by the Bureau Of Obnoxious Persons. (B.O.O.P.) I never heard of them before, they said they were a new department under Homeland Security. I said, “How does over-obnoxiousness fall under National Security? How is that a security threat?” and they both looked at me like, like I was just being unnecessarily obnoxious!

          It’s quite a process, as are all things, but not as bad as it sounds. (Which is also generally true.) It was a minor misunderstanding anyway. I’ll spare you the details.
          Just kidding.

          Seriously though, I did go out of town, and truly, the other comments are more illuminating than anything I can add. And worst of all, lately, I can’t think of anything funny to add. Besides, in appreciation for the other members of the site, every now and then I take some time off, give them a vacation from me. It’s only fair.

          Reply
    • March 27, 2019 at 1:28 pm
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      You use such vivid description in this story! I particularly liked the bit “glistening ribbon of ever-narrowing track.” I too thought it was leading toward suicide, but the accident is much more tragic. Well done!

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 9:19 am
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      Enjoyed the story … this is meant as a solid critique, from my point of view – I love your descriptive lines. Some of them are delicious. Having said that, I think that less is more. As much as I love each of them on their own, I think collectively, they consume the story. I found myself looking for more lines that took descriptive levels to new heights, than reading the story. Although “The train hits her with liquefying force” is a great line, and it conveys everything you want it to be visually to the reader, and the follow up “hurling her aside, exploding blood and bone onto the waiting passengers and across the windscreen of the cab.” Whew! I had to turn my head aside as my mind took all that in. Still, I loved your story, the plot line, the writing and everything else about it, except what I discussed above. I just feel it was a bit too much for me.

      Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 9:25 am
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        Hi Roy,

        That’s fine. I accept your critique as a way to improve my writing and, perhaps, to tone down the “purple prose” as some may call it. I do have a tendency to overwrite my descriptive passages. You are right that less is more.

        Regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
        • April 4, 2019 at 10:05 am
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          Thanks, Ken. I feel if we don’t give honest critiques, we are only hurting our fellow authors. I certainly know I have a long way to go to become the author I want to be, and at first, I basked in the glow of friends and relatives who I asked to be beta readers giving me compliments on my writing. That is, until I one day realized, the were being nice. A story I entered on this very site in the early days was one which received such glowing remarks and was shot down immediately by some sharp eyed critics who were being honest. I learned a lot that day. About myself and my writing. I ask each of my beta readers now to give it to me straight. If you like it, tell me why. If you don’t tell me that, too.

          BTW, I still liked your story and voted it into the top five. It took me quite a while to tone down my ‘blue prose’. I guessI just liked to read my own descriptive writing, when others just wanted clean lines that describe the scenery, characters and so on, in the Hemingway style. Crisp, clean and short. He said if you can write using fewer words, do so.

          Reply
          • April 4, 2019 at 10:40 am
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            Hi Roy,
            Such true words. My poor, long suffering wife has been my listener for a while and when I joined a writers’ group it was quite a shock. The comments were sharp and critical and I was amazed that the other writers could glean so much information from just one reading. They were also a mixture of published authors, short story competition winners and masters degree academics. Quite daunting but I’m glad I stuck at it for honest feedback.

            Ken Frape

  • March 25, 2019 at 3:06 am
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    Being Visible.

    The beautiful woman gives me a look. We are facing each other on the metro train. I watch her as she tries to stay serious. But she doesn’t succeed. A grin appears on her face and spreads across it until she has to laugh. As soon as this laugh has conquered her, I have to laugh too. It feels strange. When was the last time I laughed? And why did I stop?

    After a long day of boring work, I leave the office at 5pm. As soon as I step into the street in front of the building, a group of young people nearly knock me over. They chat happily and don’t seem to notice me at all. Once again I have the feeling that I’m no longer visible. I have had that feeling quite often lately. Is it because I’m getting older? Or does my boring life makes me unvisible? A life like a plaid shirt?

    On a small square there is a clown entertaining the the passers-by. He shapes balloons into funny animals, then gives them to the children. He juggles balls. People stand around him, staring, marveling and sometimes laughing. Suddenly I know how to end my invisibility. As the clown goes around with a hat to collect money, I put a bill in it. Then I look him in the eye and pull the red ball his nose off his face. He looks at me in surprise, looks at the bill for a moment, then gives me a nod and a smile. From his trouser pocket he gets another red ball, just like the one I took from him. I turn around, put on my new red nose and make my way through the city center.

    Now everybody looks at me, the man with a red ball in his face. Most people smile, but some look particularly serious or aggressive. A little boy gives me a high-five, then runs back to his parents and hides behind his mother. An elderly couple looks at me like I personally insulted them in an obscene way. I smile at them and shrug. Like a real clown, I exaggerate my movements. Slowly I start to enjoy the situation. It feels like a cheeky harlequin, who was hiding inside of me, has stepped out to play with his audience. Two little girls stand right in front of me, obviously waiting for the show to begin. I throw my briefcase in the air and catch it again. Then I bow with a big gesture. The girls laugh, one of them puts something in my hand. It’s a piece of candy that looks pretty used. I thank her with another deep bow. Then I pretend that I throw the candy in the air and catch it in my mouth. At the same time I let the thing fall into a flower box.

    Now I am completely visible. It feels strange, it feels new, but it feels great. Hardly a single person passes without looking at me. I am a clown playing a boring office worker. The plaid shirt is my disguise. I walk stiffly in small steps. I look over my shoulder to see if anyone is following me. I stop at a poster, take an invisible pair of glasses out of my pocket, put them on and study the text with a frown. The crowd applauds.

    On the way to the metro I look many people in the face; most of them give me a smile. What am I doing here? I don’t want to think about it because that distracts me. So I prefer to smile and try to communicate with the people around me.

    Now I get onto the metro and I see this woman standing there. I watch her smile at me and then laugh. She walks up to me, gives me a wicked grin and steals the red nose from my face. As soon as she’s put the ball onto her nose, I take it away from her and put it onto my face again. We struggle a bit and suddenly we both realize that we are holding each other. We are a little embarrassed and let go. Shortly after, she gets out and waves goodbye to me. She blows me a kiss. I’m shaking with excitement. Tomorrow I want to take my red nose to the office. Because I’m an adventurer.

    Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 6:20 am
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      Hi Berlinermax,

      I just love the way you used the prompt. I had to go back and read it again to see the impulse buy.

      The whole notion of people feeling invisible in our modern society is very well done. The solution that you suggest is so simple and as they say, “laughter is the best medicine.”

      Is there a potential world-wide movement in the making here? The Red Nose Planet, perhaps, as a permanent version of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Are there enough red noses to go round? Clearly yes to that!

      Can you imagine the next meeting of the G7, the world’s leading nations, if all the leaders wore them?

      I liked the way the narrator gradually reveals his inner, real self. “I am a clown playing a boring office worker. The plaid shirt is my disguise.” Great lines.

      Entertaining and thought-provoking.

      Thanks,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • March 25, 2019 at 10:00 am
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        Ah! Jürgen’s false naivety at its best! I simply love this story, man! You catch on such a profound universal feeling too well spread in our world, and make it sound so easy to confront.
        As Ken said, I like how you make the prompt such a finite element of the story, a discrete touch that moves on, exactly like the clown’s nose is a ridiculously tiny object but oh! so powerful!
        (Both yours and Ken’s story actually have that quality in common.)
        The last paragraph is very funny, where 2 adults let their inner kid loose, then are briefly embarrassed by it. Nevertheless, it is now something they have shared.
        … and the touching sense of empowerment from the last sentence. A hardly convincing statement, but its allure makes it worth hanging on to.
        This story is a gift: thank you!

        Reply
        • March 27, 2019 at 5:03 am
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          Thanks Flo! As for the last sentence: My experience is, that when you’ve done something “impossible” everything seems possible. For a while.

          Reply
        • March 27, 2019 at 5:03 am
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          Thanks, Ken, Mr. Frape. There is no such thing as a Red Nose Day over here, and even clowns in hospitals are still the exception. But yes, I can image that. But I’d be afraid the red nose could become something like Santa Clause. If everybody wears a costume it’s no effort.

          Reply
        • March 27, 2019 at 5:07 am
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          Hello Alice, there seems to be something wrong with Ken’s comment box. Could you rearrange my comments so that they make sense again?

          Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 4:59 am
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        Thanks, Ken, Mr. Frape. There is no such thing as a Red Nose Day over here, and even clowns in hospitals are still the exception. But yes, I can image that. But I’d be afraid the red nose could become something like Santa Clause. If everybody wears a costume it’s no effort.

        Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 5:04 am
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        Hello Ken! I get mixed up with these comment boxes. Please look further down.

        Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 8:17 pm
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      Hi, Jürgen

      This is lovely stuff – the transformation of a man in the space of an hour or so. He’s discovered a way to be noticed and fulfilled, at least to a certain extent. And he’s discovered himself – the child/clown inside him. I fear for him a little, though: it’s one thing to wear the nose on the street and use it to challenge strangers’ perception of him, but maybe quite another to try it at work. He may be heading for a fall (?) But that’s me being too prosaic, perhaps. I like how you start on the Metro and come full circle. And as Ken says, it’s a very thought-provoking story.

      Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 5:09 am
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        Thanks Phil! And again you noticed something I haven’t. The full circle was no intention. (But no one has to know that.)

        Reply
    • March 26, 2019 at 9:44 am
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      Jurgen,

      I love, love this story! There is a clown lurking somewhere inside all of us. I could really relate to this story. I was so shy in high school, (I know, hard to believe. LOL.) that I worked hard at being invisible and I was really good at it. Your story highlights the fact that we aren’t meant to be invisible and getting people to smile and laugh can be intoxicating and pulls us out of ourselves.

      Walgreens (the pharmacy) does a promotion each year called Red Nose day and if you buy the red ball for your nose, you help fund vaccinations for children whose families can’t afford. While writing this, I just realized that my red nose is gone. I had it on top of my laptop screen here at work. I’ll have to look for it. You’ve inspired me to wear it more often.

      Thanks for a great read!

      Reply
      • March 27, 2019 at 5:13 am
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        Hi Adi! Thank you!
        Over here we have no Red Nose Day and nearly no one has a thing like that at home. So maybe in your country it would not be as thrilling to put on a nose downtown as it is here. I like that about the contest: You learn small differences in cultures. Like the “beamer” in the last round.

        Reply
    • March 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm
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      Again, you took a clown (which is often used for creepiness) and turned it into a happy joyful moment for the protagonist. I love his blossoming and finding of himself. (That was my theme too, usually I’m a bit darker) I really liked your story’s progression.

      Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 1:41 pm
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      Another fabulous story Jurgen. Your approach to the prompts is so creative and unusual in a wonderful way. This is no exception. The transformation of your character is so complete, unexpected and cleverly done. Nice, subtle, positive opened-ended conclusion.

      I was disappointed in the response to your last story which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps my time in the advertising world makes me especially cynical, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the lengths (literally to hell and back) a marketing rep would go to in order to land an account.

      And the idea of demons and devils worrying about their image, the profusion of ideas and ‘voluntary input’ offered by the clients.

      It was very funny and well written. Not to mention curiously insightful.

      This latest story is also brilliant.

      Once, a long time ago. I was hanging a sign in front of a business in a busy downtown district shortly before noon. I was moving the ladder around, going up the steps, then going back down and moving the ladder again, trying to get it in just the right spot to install the hardware to hang the sign, when I see a woman coming down the street. It’s a full-sized city block with wide, perhaps 15’ wide sidewalks and she’s quite a long distance away. But she’s the only one on the sidewalk, the only pedestrian in sight, and heading my way.

      Curious to see what she really looks like, I keep looking up at her, from the ground, from the ladder. The first step, the second step. I guess I was a bit obvious in my curiosity and she was, after all, approaching me and could hardly fail to notice me on my ladder in the middle of the sidewalk. Or that I was watching her approach.

      And as she gets closer I can see that she’s about my age, shorter than me, attractive and well-dressed. She closes the last twenty or thirty-foot gap between us coming directly toward the ladder while I’m standing on the third step. And I’m thinking, ‘She’s coming right up to me. Why is she coming right to the ladder?’ And she’s looking right at me.

      She stops, looking up at me, grabs the ladder and makes the pretense of shaking the ladder the way a monkey would shake a palm tree to get a coconut out of it. I thought it was pretty funny but…

      I was speechless. And then she walks around the ladder and keeps going. She never said a word. And neither did I. And she never looked back.

      I am not making this up. (I should have asked her to marry me.)

      Anyway, the point is, that was the opposite of invisibility. And your story reminded me of that odd event. People do strange things.

      One thing though, you messed up the phrase where he takes the nose off the face of the first clown. (There are a few other typos, but that one’s important.) Great story though, Jurgen. If it were possible for me to feel envy, I’m sure I would at this point.) Alas, all I feel is admiration. What more can one say?

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 3:34 am
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        Thanks for your comments, Ken.

        I like the little stories you tell in your comments. So I enjoyed the encounter with the ladder shaking woman. 🙂

        And yes, maybe the Devils-in-Marketing-Story was more of an inside joke. But that’s ok, I try not to write for the contest anyway. I believe you can write good stuff only if you are willing to write really bad stuff. A writer should not seek consent very early.

        I keep telling myself that, but I’m not sure if I’m listening. 🙂

        Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 9:22 am
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      Loved the ending, and liked the story. Interesting plot line and well written. I really don’t have much to critique, but it is an out of the way, crazy kind of love story. I hope they find what they are both looking for.

      Reply
  • March 26, 2019 at 9:28 am
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    Discover Impulse

    He tries to blink but somehow fails to maneuver the left eye, which won’t close entirely. He lifts the left hand in an attempt to adjust it but, again, control breaks down, and the whole arm ends up over the shoulder. How annoying. Adjustments are a frustration. He values perfection and efficiency. But there is no way around it. One doesn’t update oneself in a blink of an eye. He pauses. Takes the time to survey the new image facing He in the mirror. Aside from the crooked angle of the left arm over the shoulder and the left eye only half closed, what does He see?

    A pair of bright blue eyes, of that glassy glaze often seen on dolls. That will have to be rectified. Curvy, long and dark eyelashes, which purpose doesn’t seem to protect the eyes from dust or any other undesirable particles. Rather, they look designed to give the whole face an expression of sleepiness, a certain weight indicative of lasciviousness? Something the male entities would enjoy finding in female ones? He ponders. But is He convinced? Runs a few scenarii of what would pertain to the theme of seduction. Remains perplexed. Those eyelashes will definitely require an intervention. The cheeks, full, are more satisfactory: their sweet curves combine youthfulness with gentleness. That’s good. The pouty mouth, on the other hand, is all wrong. As soon as He regains control of his limbs, He will start with that: take out the silly moue by thinning out the line of the lips, and blending their hue with the rest of the complexion, the feature that turned out the best. The box said “peach”, but He suspects an easy marketing cliché, meant to please larger crowds. Not white neither colored, with the possibility of applying to both, and the extra bonus of being Asian-pleasing enough… PC. Lame. The reality He sees is more distinct: a subtle chestnut with orange undertones. Was naming the nuance so delicate, that the advertising department did such a poor job of it? He quickly runs a vocabulary list. He is not sure why the glossary appears in French, but what the heck? Let’s see… “Feuille-morte”is attractive, but it will need to be specified as “feuille-morte clair”, a poor choice. He should be able to find the perfect term, one that covers the complete spectrum. “Tabac” will present the same difficulty. He stumbles upon “caramel” and “havane”. Both appealing. The trick, with words, is that one often succumbs to the seduction of the name itself rather than what it really designates. He switches to English: “burlywood”! quite a find! Though “fawn” jumps right in its wake. However, He presumes He is letting the attraction for the word take over. What about Kiswahili? He might have more luck with Serbian. Or Macedonian. Māori…? Ha! this is getting ridiculous: as usual, He is letting the fascination for information distract from the task at hand. He will settle for “havane” for now. Nothing is ever forever. And He’d better address that command issue.

    He turns away from the mirror and focuses on the controls. Those mishaps are unexpected, really, since all the menus are the same as what He has always used until now. A body is a body, and moving it should be straightforward. To have started in front of a mirror was probably an error. He must have let appearances distract He. Now things are being handled more smoothly. Every part is promptly under control. He jumps. Waves both hands. Rotates the ankles. Bends. Crouches. Pulls out a Pilates manual and runs through a 45min routine in 2min. Switches to an old calisthenics practice, and finishes it off with a program from the Astronauts National Gymnastics Training Center. In less than 17min, everything is in check. Pleasantly so. The frustration recedes. He is now ready for the mirror.

    He opens the old box of accessories along with the one that came with the body, and attends to the face. First the mouth, as He had planned. Shape and shade are easily corrected. He hesitates but a few nanoseconds between tending to the eyelashes first, or the eyes. He goes for the eyelashes. But they bring up the question of the hair: shouldn’t they match…? No, He will go for contrast. A 20th cent. look: short bleached hair with chestnut eyebrows and darker eyelashes. Only not that long, heavy and curly. Shorter, a tiny bit thinner, and definitely straighter. He scans the box, picks up a couple of options, tries both at the same time. Pulls out the less fitting one and replaces it with the second of the becoming pair. Poom! That’s taken care of. He observes with satisfaction that there’s no need to do anything about the eyebrows. The eyes are another story. Always the trickiest item… He scans the box of lenses. Dozens of them. He has a weak spot for green eyes. Tries on a pair. Ha! That’s nice. He throws a quick smile at his reflection. But they are somewhat too easy. Too obvious. He shuts his eyes and scans a list of faces with similar skin complexion. Can’t find anything. Goes for one shade darker. Interesting… He uncovers a series of African-American visages whose eyes share a similar tone of grey. It gives them an enticing profundity and singularity. He turns back to the box of lenses. Will He find a satisfactory shade of grey with a very discreet hint of green…? Of course He does, and smiles again as soon as the lenses are in place: He feels great about his developing taste. Proud. An additional feeling. Everything goes much faster now: after the hair, bleached blond and super short as previously decided, the clothes are swiftly chosen and jumped into. They are modern, sleek, with minimal lines that make them a natural skin on the body. All in various gradations of grey. Elegant simplicity at its upmost best. He faces the mirror once more, immediately satisfied with what He sees. There is no denying the fact that it is more androgynous than what they might expect, but He feels good about it. Checking the time, He consents to the luxury of an extra 32sec, in order to analyze the range of new feelings. Satisfaction with his efficiency. Pride for his developing taste. There is one more that eludes him, but the 32sec have run out. They have been waiting for the allotted 30min. He must get back to the living-room.

    As He walks in, the two smaller entities, Kyra and Olu, shriek in delight. Apparently, they love the makeover.
    Ama, the female adult entity asks them with a smile, “So, how do you like having a female nanny, children?”
    The little ones are clearly delighted.
    Ama turns to He: “And how should we call you now, He12?”
    “She… 5, isn’t it?”
    “Yes, that’s right. We have had much more males than females since the kids were born, for some reason. And how do you feel, She5? Any new emotions gained in the process?”
    “Yes! I have it now: impulse! It was a very instructional experience, buying this new body on a whim!”, replies She5, glowing.

    Reply
    • March 27, 2019 at 5:18 am
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      Hello Flo,
      and again your story starts in the Close Up, it takes a moment to find your way around. Just as your protagonist needs time to move the limbs of his new body. And then the whole picture: We are in a world where skin color and gender are just as variable as today’s hair color. Where skin color is not a fate.
      And then come the questions and the associations.
      Thought provoking? Absolutely!

      Reply
    • April 1, 2019 at 9:10 am
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      Flo, I like the way the story almost seems sinister at first with someone who can’t move correctly and then is choosing how to present themselves. So often in stories with female androids (or any human looking ais) it turns into a sex doll/robot hooker situation, so it was refreshing that he/she turned out to be the nanny! I like the idea of an ai choosing a body on a whim too, it’s kinda fun to think about being able to change who you are presented as on impulse.

      Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 7:09 pm
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      Hi, Flo

      Great stuff! I really like how you make us guess what it’s all about right from the word ‘go’. I was thinking of God (because of the ‘He’), and trying to figure out, if this is God formatting Himself from scratch, who provided the pieces/data!? But then we find out and it’s a very satisfying reveal. If I have one suggestion it’s that there might be just a little too much choosing of features in the main body of the story (less can be more), but that doesn’t really detract from a very original (and soon true-to-life?) story.

      Reply
  • March 26, 2019 at 9:35 am
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    Hello Alice,
    I am posting this story, even though I know it will not qualify (again!): I am entering a 10 day retreat tomorrow morning, with absolutely NO connections whatsoever… not even smoke signals…
    But I didn’t want to let yet another prompt pass me by.
    In advance: good luck to all the participants! There are some awesome stories up there!

    Reply
    • March 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm
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      Thank you Flo, hopefully things will work out for the next prompt.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 12:55 pm
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    I too, was late to the game after a busy week. I just couldn’t get the ending right.

    Black Magic by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [word count 518]

    Kendra had seen it there at the register and on impulse added it to her purchase. Who even buys black lipstick? But she just felt this overwhelming need to have it. She tried to ignore it, sitting in the bag with her allergy meds and tampons. It just kept pressing at her.

    ‘What was I thinking; I’m not some emo teenager. Why would a grown ass woman wear black lipstick?’ She shook her head at herself, but still that lipstick called from inside the bag the whole way home. She unpacked the bag in her bathroom, setting the lipstick on her sink where she could consider it in the morning.

    When she began getting ready for work the next day, Kendra picked up the black lipstick, considering it with a bit of hesitation.

    ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will.’ She took off the lid like someone removing a band-aid and before she could think any more about it, she placed it to her lips. She traced its inky tone along the line of her full lips and pressed them together sealing the deal. She looked in the mirror and a different woman looked back at her. A confident woman. A woman feeling her own power.

    Kendra looked down at the boring grey pants suit she had chosen this morning. She never really felt comfortable in these conservative costumes. So she stripped it off and found a white silk wraparound dress she had bought on sale but never had an occasion to wear it to. But for the woman with the black lipstick, Wednesday was occasion enough. She found a nice pair of wedges that matched and when Kendra looked in the full length mirror, she saw a goddess looking back. For the first time in a while, she smiled at herself.

    To her surprise, her confidence didn’t falter when she got to work. She grabbed coffee and made chit chat with coworkers. Melinda told her she loved the dress. Keith in accounting smiled back when she said hi to him. She even felt good about speaking up on the conference call with the main office – something she had rarely done in the past.

    Each day Kendra wore her black lipstick was a day she felt more like herself. More dresses and less suits began populating her closet. She stopped straightening her hair. She asked Keith out for coffee.

    “I don’t know what it is about you lately, Kendra, but you seem on top of your game,” her boss Rick told her at her next review. Then he actually gave her a raise!

    Kendra kept wearing her black lipstick and her confidence stuck with her. Sure, she had to wait for that promotion, Keith broke-up with her, and not everything was peachy keen all the time. But she moved on, tried harder and got that next promotion, met Mark at a poetry reading, never blamed herself for the things she couldn’t control. Some days the black lipstick was plum, or red, or that one summer when it was gold, but its power was always there shining through.

    Reply
    • March 28, 2019 at 4:43 am
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      Hello Wendy,
      hey, that’s a story like a sister to my story. But you take yours a bit further, which I have not done with mine.
      I always look at the other posts and comments only after I’ve posted my story. If someone had a similar idea.
      By the way, I like the end of your story quite much. Maybe the lipstick is the beginning of a longer journey. I did not trust my protagonist that much, which is why I preferred to end mine when he felt he was a winner.

      Reply
      • April 1, 2019 at 9:11 am
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        I like the way your story stayed in that moment though. The open ending gives us room to interpret his change the way we want.

        Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 8:25 pm
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      Hi, Wendy

      As you said in your comments to Jürgen, your story has similar elements, in this case a woman spontaneously deciding that she’s not going to be a shrinking violet anymore. You say “not everything was peachy keen all the time”, and it might have added to tension to see some of those hiccups (space was limited though, I know). It’s a lovely last line; I wonder if in fact she actually bought black lipstick at all, or is that just in her mind? (and the thought of it made her feel stronger)

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 9:51 am
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        Thank you Phil. I always find the last line the hardest to write to finish it off without sounding trite.

        Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 3:06 pm
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      What a wonderful story, Wendy. Amazingly brief and yet, it totally nails the prompt and the reader in one fell swoop. The concept is brilliant, (the lipstick doesn’t even have to be magical) and the story is beautifully written. Your writing is so incredibly clear and concise that – I will leave it to you to decide how I reacted to it.
      a.) I’m trying to emulate your style.
      b.) I hired two M.I.T. graduates to write a computer program that writes like you.
      c.) I’ve given up writing and am joining a Swedish Monastary.
      d.) In a fog of ecstatic pleasure, I purchased 12,000 shares of Elizabeth Arden.
      e.) I had a dream…and there was black lipstick, Martin Luther King, and a mountain in it.

      Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 12:45 pm
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        Ken, I’m adding the f option: You run out to buy lipstick to match your “wife’s” shoes

        Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 9:31 am
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      “Some days the black lipstick was plum, or red, or that one summer when it was gold, but its power was always there shining through.” Quirky line.

      Here’s what I think the ending reveals to me. The original and daring use of the black lipstick, which she found to be the self confidence booster she needed, gave her so much confidence she discovered that, like Dumbo’s feather, she didn’t need it to be black. It could be plum, or read, or even gold and she saw deep inside to the real person she was when she looked in the mirror. Loved the story. Nothing to quibble about. Truly, really liked the story. A primer for young ladies to boost their confidence. The only person who can make changes in yourself is: YOU.

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 4:29 pm
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      Wendy,

      Loved the story! I could totally relate to your character. It’s amazing how one little thing can instill such confidence in someone. This story came just at the right moment!

      After telling myself that I was going to accept my graying hair “gracefully”, my 7 year grandson brought me back to reality and said, “Nana, your hair is SO gray!” That was it. I was done. I went to the store, found what I was looking for and dyed my hair back to the glorious rich auburn it was most of my life. (Don’t tell anyone! LOL) The change has been amazing. I feel more like ME and it was a real confidence booster!

      Great story!

      Adi

      Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 1:49 pm
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    Hey all! We’ve had a few requests to extend the deadline so we’ll be extending the vote to April 3!

    Reply
    • March 28, 2019 at 10:23 am
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      Well, this is excellent news. I’ve had a story rumbling around, but the various medications I’ve been on have made it difficult to put two sentences together, let alone, a plot that makes sense. I quit my pain meds cold turkey on Sunday and the fog is less dense, but whispers of its mind clouding ability still linger. Sleeping at night has been especially difficult, and the sleep aid I have chosen, which I may soon abandon also, seem to only work between early morning hours and then I wake at 6 or 7 while it’s still dark. I’m much more active now, and I’ll be back at full strength, at least until the chemo starts. I’ll be getting a couple of major tests done in the next two weeks which will tell us which starts first; the ostomy reversal or the chemo. My doc says if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be around to write until the next thing Mother Nature has in store for my finally finds me and does me in. He seems to think I’ve got lots of time because his words were; I find it difficult to believe you are almost 77, you appear to be more like 60 or 65. Who knew? Maybe 80 is the new 60. Anyway, I’m grateful to have the chance to go back, read and critique the stories and add one of my own. I will try to answer each of you personally for the nice welcome back I got from everyone. Feeling good in Michigan, ta ta for now.

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 12:17 pm
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        Interesting story Roy. Everything’s going well and the doctor tells the guy he thought he had the body of a semi-retired bodybuilder? A very clever fictional proposition, but you had an extra five-hundred words. You could’ve utilized the word count to fill out the character a little more.

        Just kidding. Thanks for the medical update. It sounds like a serious ordeal you’re going through. But that business of the doctor telling you that you look 15 years younger than you are? Well, I’d get a second opinion on that.

        Keep us posted old man. We’re all pulling for you, of course.

        Reply
        • April 3, 2019 at 12:57 pm
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          Thanks for making me laugh, Ken. I missed that while I was in the hospital.

          Fortunately, my wife was there, and I find it far more satisfying to have her tell friends and family what the doctor said. It did make me feel good, however. I’m finally around to feeling human, but after a few hours, a sense of tiredness sets in. Just went for a walk up and down the block. Got some exercises to do later, too. Gotta maintain the strength build up, so perhaps, in the near future, I’ll feel like the guy I used to be. I think when I finish this, I may go kick back and try to catch up on a quick snooze. Do’t want to nap too much, I’ve finally been sleeping more at night, and I think that’s part of my success in feeling better.

          My personal thanks to everyone who even bothered to give me a shout out. It was appreciated. One of the things I looked forward to most after just being home, was to be able to sit in my office and write a story. Feels good. More, even, than I thought it would.

          Reply
  • April 1, 2019 at 8:31 am
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    Correct Change Only
    by Robt. Emmett ©2019

    I went to the local hardware store to get some odds and ends for a little project I had going in my shop. As I walked in the door, I noticed the new cashier. Cute little thing. Most likely a recent grad of our local high school.
    I cruised up and down the aisles, plucked a package of brads from the shelf and put them in my pocket. I noted the price. Next, I added two pair of small brass hinges to my pocket and added their price to that of the brads. I continued on my buying spree and kept a running total of my expenditures. Finished shopping, I headed to check out. Along the way, in my head, I calculate what the 5.5% state sales tax would be on all the items I had stashed in my pockets.

    At the checkout counter, I got to the recent grad for my cashier. I proceeded to empty two shirt pockets worth of stuff onto the counter. She started to scan the items. Then I emptied one pants pocket worth of things. She gave me a weird look and continued to scan. I smiled at her and put a five-dollar bill and three ones on the counter. I knew the price of the items I’d picked up would total $8.20. I double checked my computed the tax and knew it would be an additional 45 cents. From my other pants pocket, I drew out a handful of coins and dropped two quarters and a dime. I paused to check which coins I’d dropped. I didn’t want to make a mistake. I needed a nickel, so I dropped one. She sighed and gave me her best, ‘Are you through?’ look and finished ringing up my items. I knew what the total sale, including the tax, was going to be. She smiled and said I owed $8.65 and started picking up the paper money. The five and the three ones and put them in the till. She picked up the quarters, paused, and then picked the dime and paused longer. As she picked up the nickel, she looked at me and her blue eyes nearly crossed. Her mouth did the goldfish gulp. I’d truly confused and flustered her. By the time I arrived at the automatically opening doors, she recovered, wished me the usual parting salutation, “Have a good day.”

    As I started to climb into my pick-up, but a shout from the closing doors of the hardware store stopped me.

    “Hey, you, wait up.”

    Normally, I don’t respond well to “Hey you.” This time, I did. I stepped back onto the black asphalt parking lot. I noticed I’d missed parking in a slot by half. Oh, well, next time I’ll try harder . . . or not.

    He wheezed to a stop. I gave him half a minute to catch his breath. He stuck out his hand, “Parsens, Bill Parsens. I teach Mathematics at Craig High School.”

    Oh, goody, another college-educated teacher who wasn’t taught the practical side of math.

    I nodded my head.

    After another deep breath, he said, “I was behind you, back there,” his head motioned toward the hardware store. “I saw that mental math trick you did. How’d you do it?”
    “Simple, I multiplied eight-dollars and twenty cents by one point zero fifty-five.”
    He noticed my smirk. “Ah, the hell you did, come on, how’d you do it?”

    “Well, a few years back the sales tax was 5% and easy to do head math. Then the city fathers in their infinite wisdom decided to build a municipal swimming pool and increase the tax by half a percent. Well, anyway, five is not the easiest number to work with, but ten is. All ya need to do is move it one place to the left and now you have one-tenth of the original number. if you move the decimal point another place to the left you have one-one hundredth of the original number. See?”

    He sorta nodded his head. Suddenly a big smile cracked across his face. “And then you divide by two and you get back to the five-point five percent, right?

    “Righto!” I said. “Move the decimal point left and the $8.20 becomes eighty-two cents. Move it one more place and it is eight point two- cents. Drop the point two and add the eighty-two and eight and you have ninety. Divide it by two and you have forty-five which is added to the eight dollars and twenty cents to make the eight dollars and sixty-five cents it cost me for the stuff I bought.”

    “Use the tens,” he said, as I climbed int my truck. “Brilliant!”

    Tom Jefferson had a great idea; make our money in units of ten. Too bad we don’t measure in tens.

    On a whim, on the way home I decided to get lunch. While waiting at the menu kiosk for the person in the large station wagon ahead of me to place a special order for each of the half a dozen bouncing brats, I read the entire McDonald’s menu through five times.
    Ultimately, I reached the McDonald order window and ordered. At the pick-up window, I waited behind the station wagon. Finally, the person at the window started handing out bags and bags of food. I waited while each bag was inspected. A conversation between the driver and the McDonald food handler ensued. I waited. Finally, another, smaller bag appeared. Satisfied, the station wagon drove off. At last, my turn. At the pick-up window, I gave the clerk a five-dollar bill. My total was four dollars and twenty-five cents. I didn’t need three quarters wearing a hole in my Levis, so I picked a quarter out of the ashtray and handed it to her.

    “You gave me too much money,” she said.

    “Yes, I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar bill back.”

    She sighed and left the pick-up window. Shortly, she returned with an assistant, so the name tag said, manager. He asked me to repeat my request.

    I did.

    The manager handed me back the quarter and said, “Sorry, we don’t do that kind of thing. It’s against store policy.”

    He left the window and the clerk gave me my order, three quarters, and a one-dollar bill.

    I left McDonald’s drive up. I know, I was undercharged by a buck. I only did it so as to not confuse the clerks at McD’s anymore.
    — Ԙ —

    Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 7:24 pm
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      Hi, Robert

      This is very clever (although I misted over a bit during the calculations – numbers ain’t my thing, and I trust you!). I wonder if the narrator is you or a fictional character – a little OCD, in an amusing way (for the reader – the trip through the store is a good read, but I was expecting a security guard any minute – goods stuffed in his pockets?). The refusal of the McD manager to countenance the offer of the odd coin to facilitate change is hilarious. Is there a moral to the story, would you say?

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 4:21 pm
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      Robert,

      I am envious. I am “Mathematically Challenged” and your story made me very anxious as you described the mental calisthenics in determining the cost of the items. I was also waiting for store security to show up when he was placing items in his pockets. You totally lost me in the math but the story was great, especially the part about McDonald’s. It’s pathetic that people today don’t know how to count change or make change. Who knew it was such a valuable skill when we did it as kids working our first jobs without even thinking. Great job!

      Adi

      Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 8:56 am
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    Hi Robt.,

    Great stuff that required me to reread it with a paper and pencil in hand, then a calculator and I had to round up an odd 0.01. Is that right? We have 17.5% value added tax ( VAT) in the UK and that, of course, is relatively easy to calculate as 10% plus 5% plus 2.5%.

    It really made me smile. I am quite good at mental arithmetic but I don’t do the calculations in my head, although I always have a pretty good idea of the general total expected.

    I also have seen a look of horror or confusion on the face of young shop assistants when I have made a similar offer although I have never been told that it is not shop policy but I’m sure it will happen.

    This is an intriguing piece and I really enjoyed it. The prompt was well covered with the words, “On a whim.” Very good.

    i hope this gets the readings and critiques that it deserves as, since the extended deadline has been announced, things have gone very quiet.

    Regards,

    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 5:33 pm
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      Thanks for sharing about your VAT. Is it uniform throughout your country? Our sales tax varies from State to State, county to county, and even city to city. the highest sales tax in the country is in Chicago (one of the many reasons I don’t travel to or thru it.
      As of Mar 24, 2014 – There are 9,998 different sales tax jurisdictions in the United States. I’m sure by now there are over 11,000. It’s one of the two major reasons tourists have money here. The other is tipping.
      Thanks for the comments, RE

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 7:36 am
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        Hi Robt.,

        My wife reminded me that our sales tax VAT is, in fact, now 22%! That’s a huge tax on nearly everything. It is the same across the UK though so that is a kind of blessing.

        Now, tipping is a big issue in the States I gather and virtually obligatory? In this country it is a bit of a mess as you never know if the tip actually finds its way to the person who served you and in some restaurants a service charge is already included but is not legally enforceable. We went to Iceland last year and there is no tipping at all.

        Regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
        • April 3, 2019 at 12:57 pm
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          Ken,
          No tipping in Iceland? Outrageous. I was thinking of sailing to Iceland, but I’m afraid to take my boat out in the ocean. So, you know… that ‘s a big obstacle to overcome. I would fly if I could–but Iceland is so small, I don’t think there’s room to land a plane, (and that’s assuming you could even find the damn thing in all that ocean.) I suppose I could rent a private helicopter or something but that would be a little too costly. It’s seems a shame but I think I’m just going to have to scratch Iceland off of my bucket list.

          Actually (almost all kidding aside) I’d love to see Iceland. But, again, my boat is too small. (Too bad, better luck next life-time, If you get one.)

          Reply
        • April 4, 2019 at 7:27 am
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          The rule for wages, as with everything else the government meddles in, is confusing – to say the least. Back when I started to eat out, the rule was 10%, dinosaur steaks were 15%. If the waitress is an order taker only -10%. If she’s more – more.
          Now, those who have been waitresses, they tip more. Both my daughters had wait jobs before they were old enough to do so. Their father, rightly, thought because he provided food, clothes, and a roof, they could do house work for free. But I digress. They now both generally tip in the 20-25% range.
          There is a formula for the division of a waitress’s tips to the unseen members of the wait staff. Failure to adequately compensate the waterboy, and she has to deal with thirsty patrons. Stiffing the cook (BAD move) the patrons are eating cold food. Etc.

          Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 5:34 pm
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      Thanks for sharing about your VAT. Is it uniform throughout your country? Our sales tax varies from State to State, county to county, and even city to city. the highest sales tax in the country is in Chicago (one of the many reasons I don’t travel to or thru it.
      As of Mar 24, 2014 – There are 9,998 different sales tax jurisdictions in the United States. I’m sure by now there are over 11,000. It’s one of the two major reasons tourists have money problems here. The other is tipping.
      Thanks for the comments, RE

      Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 11:20 am
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    Lay-A-Way.
    By Ken Cartisano (wc – 1183)
    4-2-19

    I don’t make friends easily.

    It was impossible to miss the small display window on the corner just before the train station: A singular pane of glass, recessed into a dirt-stained, concrete wall, glowing with a soft amber light. Under an overcast sky, an arctic wind rolling in from the lake buffeted the entire city. In such conditions, I was pulled toward the window from across the street like a bee drawn to nectar.

    The sign on the window said, ‘Clothing by Sade.’ Pronounced, Sha-day. The clothes are heavenly. The prices? Astronomical. That should be their motto. I’ll confess, I’ve been inside the store a few times, but I’ve never had the nerve to buy anything.

    I stopped in front of the window and stood staring at the items on display, whose acquisition would add four inches to a woman’s height, boost her confidence (along with a few other things), and perhaps even give her a new outlook on life.

    Okay, so I exaggerate.

    It’s unlikely that a new pair of shoes would change one’s life so dramatically, but if ever there was a pair of shoes that could, these would be the ones. Their four-inch heels looked like gold-plated spikes, upon which rested an elegant shoe of rich, blood-red garnet, liberally sprinkled with tiny golden sparkles that seemed to shine, and move, from within the surface. The toes had the sleek, predatory shape of Black-tipped Sharks. I could visualize the two killer shoes, skimming along a polished dance floor, sizing up their prey, and moving in for…

    ‘No,’ I told myself. “Absolutely not,” I said to the shoes.

    What a bore I’ve become. I won’t even mention the price, but spending that much money on a pair of shoes is unthinkable. Still…

    Like a pin popping an imaginary bubble, a pair of hands reached into the display case and removed the shoes. ‘Well, that’s that,’ I thought. A gust of wind seemed to drive home the point, holding me in stasis as I turned to leave. And then an amazing thing happened. The same hands returned the shoes to their cloth covered dais—with a small yellow tag dangling from one of them. ‘50% off’ was scribbled in black marker. A cardboard ‘CLEARANCE’ sign was placed alongside.

    ‘One-half off?’ My reaction was so pronounced, I instinctively looked around in embarrassment. The sidewalks were jammed with rush hour denizens, gruffly determined to catch the earliest trains home, oblivious to all but their destination—while I stood transfixed, immobilized by a pair of shoes.

    Normally I wouldn’t even consider it, but the detestable Mr. Jenkins had just granted me a raise for the first time in three years. (How that man could live with himself, I’ll never know.) So if I put the shoes on Lay-a-way, every bit of that paltry sum could go towards the shoes until they’re paid off.

    I turned and pushed my way back toward the store entrance against the flow of humanity streaming toward the depot. Like a herd of animated overcoats, with woolen heads, or a new species of urbanized penguins. If it wasn’t so brutal it would be funny.

    I reached the front door, saw the proprietor with her hand on the lock a split-second before she saw me, and after a moment’s hesitation, she opened the door and let me in.

    “We close at 5:30,” she sniffed.

    “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll only be a minute, I promise.”

    I removed my gloves. Respite from the icy wind was gratifying enough, but it was warm, and quiet as well, like a sanctuary. I pulled off my scarf and loosened my coat. The proprietor, an old woman, looked dubious in a manner refined by years of practice and experience. She wore a dull-yellow shift with large buttons down the front. It was a cavernous store and we were its only occupants. I felt compelled to whisper, “I want those shoes in the display case.”

    “The red ones, darlin’?”

    She seemed surprised, which I found annoying. ‘Why not?’ I was tempted to ask. Am I so desperately drab? Or obviously single? “Yes,” I replied, with a smile. “The red ones.”

    She asked for a shoe size, and I gave it to her.

    She was humming an old tune when she returned from a distant aisle and offered to let me examine them. I checked to make sure the size was correct and handed them back. “Would you mind telling me how much they cost?”

    The aging proprietor located a bar code scanner, aimed it at the label until the device issued a cryptic beep. She raised the scanner and frowned. “Oh my, they’re three-hundred and ninety-nine dollars—plus tax.”

    I pulled my hand from my checkbook as if it was a glowing hot iron. “Aren’t they on sale?”

    “Oh yes,” she chirped. “You saw the sign. But technically, the sale starts tomorrow. The inventory system changes the price at midnight.”

    “So I should come back tomorrow?”

    After a painful pause the old woman said, “I can let you have them for the sale price. I’ll make an exception.”

    “Yes, but, I’d like to put them on Lay-a-way, if I may.”

    “I’m sorry, sweetie. We don’t put clearance items on Lay-a-way. Company policy, I’m afraid.”

    ‘Company policy.’ I remember staring down at the intricate design on the deep pile carpet, inhaling the musty smell of the old building. I bit my lip and shoved my fists deep into the pockets of my overcoat.

    “However,” she held up one finger, like an attorney making a point. “Since you’re putting them on Lay-a-way today…” With the other hand she removed the key from the cash register. “But we’ve already closed the registers…” she put the key in her pocket. “You can’t technically make your purchase until tomorrow.”

    I began thanking her profusely but she shushed me. “I think those shoes were made for you. Here, just let me…”

    “You have no idea how much this means to me…”

    “Now, now,“ she fluttered her fingers in the air. “Don’t be silly. Just let me get your info and a small down payment and we’ll set these aside.”

    I felt light-headed, almost giddy, as I handed her my I.D.

    She returned it promptly and said with a pleasant smile. “Will that be all, Mr. Williams?”

    I was forming a coherent reply when we both heard the sound. Like nothing you’d ever want to hear in your lifetime. Two trains on the same track, colliding at a high rate of speed. The walls shook, the lights blinked and swayed, and the display window broke from the shockwave. A very long moment of utter silence ensued, a very long moment—and then the screaming started, and the sirens.

    Mr. Jenkins and I left the office at the same time. He was on the train and I wasn’t. When investigators asked me how I missed the train that day I didn’t want to lie, so I simply said I was in the store, buying shoes for my wife. The proprietor and I have become very good friends.

    Reply
    • April 2, 2019 at 12:35 pm
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      I thought that the protagonist being a Mr. was enough of a twist, but then the train accident happened and it was unexpectedly tragic, yet not for the narrator. An emotional roller coaster Ken.

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 4:09 am
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      A double surprise! Sure, I expected a surprise, but the second one really hit me.

      When I read the story a second time, I found my favorite phrase: “I think those shoes were made for you.” You have to know the end to appreciate that sentence.

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 7:46 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Another masterpiece of ambiguity and misdirection. It is a story that deserves rereading which I gave it.
      I loved several sentences especially; the crowd, a “herd of animated overcoats with woollen heads”. Great stuff.
      So, in the end, the narrator IS married, IS a man and the shoes ARE for him. He must live in a very interesting household unless, of course, his wife does not know.

      Another great piece of writing, Ken.

      Regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 8:12 am
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      Hi Ken,

      I worked out that Lay-a-Way is a form of credit payment probably very common in the USA. I had never heard of it. In the UK we have credit, obviously but when my parents were younger it was known as buying something “on the never never.”

      Just a thought. I guess they thought that it meant that you could have the goods now and eventually it would be paid off but then you could buy something else and thus, “never never” finish paying or owing.

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 4:16 pm
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      Ken,

      Wow! What a powerful twist to the story. I enjoyed it immensely – after I got over the shock of someone contemplating paying $400 for a pair of shoes!! Really? Then, after all the indecisiveness about buying the shoes and finally making a decision, and revealing the character as a man, you throw in a major train wreck just for good measure. Awesome, my friend, awesome.

      Adi

      Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 7:45 pm
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    Hi, Ken

    Saved by shoes! I really like the misdirection. I was admiring your narrating from a woman’s point of view, then the reveal of the ‘Mr’ (and the concocted story of the wife?) Then there’s the mundane preoccupation with whether or not the narrator can afford the shoes or not, while a disaster waits around the corner (well revealed also, in almost a throwaway fashion – the shoes were more important to the narrator, perhaps). I didn’t quite understand the significance of the opening line, nor the closing one for that matter. But this is a really well designed and narrated story.

    Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 1:44 pm
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      Thanks Phil, great observation about the first and last line, they look a little bit like pot-holders, or the latex gloves one of the surgeons was wearing just before they sew you back up. HOWEVER, at least your comment leads me to believe that all of the other sentences are significant. I consider that noteworthy. Believe me, I was worried about more than a few of them, and still am.

      I’m just messing around with you Phil, I really do agree, the two sentences are completely insignificant. Good call.

      I don’t think I’ve commented on your story yet, but I read it. It’s a short, sad story about —– my future if I don’t start helping Kim in the fucking kitchen a little more often. (She didn’t say that in so many words of course. /no collusion/ But I definitely got a very similar message.)

      But SERIOUSLY, I hate that stream of consciousness type of
      type of,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Writing. I mean, that’s what all of my writing looks like when I START. So when I see a one page per paragraph story I say, ‘Wait, this can’t be finished yet, it looks like my first draft.’

      Let me put it this way, (and then I’ll sit down and shut-up.) I like the idea and what you were doing, I just didn’t like the way that you did it. I It could be a personal preference (avoidance of mental streams), but I don’t think so.Told differently, I think the story could have been much more moving, or touching, or more hopeless. I didn’t know what to make of the character at the end of the story. I mean, he’s a pathetic character, and there’s a little of the pathetic in all of us, but you have us in and out of the story so fast, there’s no time to develop any empathy for the poor wretch. You gave us a snapshot but the topic deserved a painting. That’s all I have to say. (Don’t do that again.)(Please.)

      See what happens when you tell me to delete two sentences? I tell you to re-write your story. But it’s just a coincidence. Nothing more. I will count backwards from three and you will wake feeling refreshed, invigorated and bursting with creativity. Three-Two-One.

      Reply
      • April 3, 2019 at 5:33 pm
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        Touché, Monsieur Pussycat! 😉

        I entirely respect your dislike of that style (you rat). In fact it was just me experimenting a bit, but there IS a logic there (in theory): thoughts (like the ones here) are instantaneous things that flash into our minds; by showing them, I hope the reader is carried along with the speed of those thoughts, and as we enter the narrator’s head, so we (hopefully) can feel the tension he feels. Yes, the story could be told in the third person, and as you say, it might have generated more empathy, but the features I’ve just mentioned would (I think) have been lost.

        Now get out in that kitchen and cut up the veg!

        Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 8:58 pm
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    Impulse Love by Carrie Zylka

    She twirled around in her gown. Pausing to wink at her reflection with eyes framed by outrageously long fake eyelashes.

    The masquerade ball started in an hour and she was ready.
    Ready as she’d ever be.

    The dress and the ticket to the ball had nearly drained her meager savings but she didn’t care.

    Recently divorced, she was feeling slightly self destructive. And she’d always been denied the annual masquerade ball by her ex-husband. He’d always said it was frivolous and not his thing, and she was of course never allowed to go alone.

    So when she’d received the email the tickets had gone on sale, she’d impulsively purchased one.

    She stood in front of the full length mirror, on the wrong side of 40, just a few pounds overweight and yet feeling confident and sexy and beautiful and hopeful.

    She danced down the hallway, secretly hoping one of her neighbors would stick their head out into the hall so she could prance around like a peacock with an audience.

    She arrived at the mansion fashionably late and walked into the room with her heart in her throat. She knew there would be women a hundred times more beautiful than her, that she couldn’t possibly pretend to be in their league, but tonight she didn’t care.

    Her only intent was to have a great time. To soak it all in. To eat caviar and drink champagne and pretend her life was as beautiful as she’d like it to be.

    She never thought in a million years she’d spy the most beautiful creature in the crowd. She never thought in a million years she’d wait to catch his eye…and NOT look away when he looked at her.

    He stood talking to a gorgeous brunette, sipping champagne and smiling a crooked smile. He glanced up and they locked eyes.

    She felt her chest heave as he politely excused himself and made his way over to her.

    He snatched a fresh glass of champagne and handed it to her. She took it and their fingers touched.

    “Hi.” He said.

    “Hello.” She returned, bringing the glass to her lips.

    He reached up and twirled a blonde curl around his finger. “Beautiful…” He breathed.

    Despite herself she felt her neck and chest flush.

    “Join me at the bar?” His voice was like warm honey and she felt her stomach clench.

    “Absolutely.”

    He held out his arm and she took it. Their skin to skin contact sent a jolt through both of them but neither pulled away.

    Together they walked across the dance floor, people unconsciously making way for what could have been a royal couple, so perfect were they together.

    An hour went by. They spoke few words but his attention never left her. She soaked it up like a sponge. Feeding off his confidence. Daring to hope this wasn’t all a dream.

    “I’d like to see you again.” She said, inserting as much confidence into her voice as possible. Heart in her throat, waiting for the rejection.

    “I’d love to see you again.” He answered and his dimples nearly caused her knees to buckle.

    Never in a million years would she have ever dreamt of this kind of a guy paying attention to her…

    In that very moment, all things seemed possible.

    Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 9:54 am
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      I kept waiting for the twist that it was her ex husband, but you didn’t fall into that. Now I want to know what happens when the masks come off.

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 3:24 pm
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      Carrie,

      I wrote a story once that had no ending. I was trying to be clever. The ending was that there was no ending, and everybody who read it said, ‘where’s the ending? There’s no ending.’ That was the last time I posted a story with no ending. And I swore I would never write a story with no ending every again.

      But, I never swore I wouldn’t leave a comment with no ending. And this leaves me with a host of possibilities, a variety of ways to

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 5:00 pm
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      Hi, Carrie

      This story rises to a crescendo and … beyond it will just keep on rising for the characters. Wendy and Ken talk about the lack of an ending, but I think it’s there. The protagonist (Cinderella-type figure) has gone out on a limb for this ball, and it’s everything she hoped for. It could have been a disaster (wall-flower), but magic happened, and the future’s rosy. That’s the ending. Nice positive tale.

      (In this day and age, are you allowed to reach out and twirl a complete stranger’s hair without fear of getting sued?)

      Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 12:44 pm
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        I agree with you Phil. The ending is there in plain sight. ‘In that moment, all things seemed possible.’
        Still, I reserve the right to be difficult, while I’m chopping the vegetables.

        Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 12:48 pm
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        It wasn’t that I missed the ending, but rather that I’m interested to read the next chapter. My curiosity was piqued.

        Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 9:34 am
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      Nice little love story, Carrie. Glad you were able to get it in. Hope they both find what they are looking for. I don’t have any quibbles with your writing at all. Nice clean and succinct.

      Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 4:10 pm
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      Carrie,

      I loved the story! I always wanted to dress up and go to a ball – just once. I can’t dance and I don’t drink but I always wanted that fantasy experience. Like Wendy, I have expected the man to be her ex – but you didn’t go there and made it more of a romantic interlude that every woman should have at least once in her life. Great job!

      Reply
  • April 3, 2019 at 9:26 am
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    The MontBlanc by RM York
    1994 words

    My wife and I like to visit antique shops looking for those priceless items people don’t realize have historical and intrinsic value. This particular day we were in a store that had a display of old fountain pens, one of which was a MontBlanc. The price was marked $1,750. I had always been fascinated by fountain pens.

    “My cousin Harry showed me one of those once. Said it was his grandfather’s. We were in our teens and he had to sneak it out of his grandfather’s room to show me. I guess it’s a big deal. Funny, he called about a week ago and asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to buy it. You aren’t interested in anything like that are you?”

    “Do you know anything about a MontBlanc?” I asked.

    “No, just that Harry acted like it was made out of nitroglycerin the way he was handling it.”

    “It’s like the top of the line of fountain pens. Some costing thousands of dollars. Look, the price on this one is $1,750.00.”

    “Well, Harry told me that his Grandpa wants to sell it and he was looking for $500.00. I would have said something to you, but I never knew you wanted to own one.”

    “When we get home, let’s call your cousin and see if he still has it. If I can get it for the right price, I’d love it. I love the feel of writing with a fountain pen. Maybe that’s just an illusion I’ve built up in my mind, but I think a good old fashioned note or letter from someone written in ink with a fountain pen, is not only elegant, but says something about the writer. It says something classy.”

    I drove home with mixed feelings. If cousin Harry still had the pen, did I really want to spend $500 on a whim? And, if it was gone, how would I feel then? Cheated because I had first crack at it and my wife let it get away?

    “What do you know about your cousin, Harry, anyway?” I asked.

    “Not much. He’s a strange one. I’m not sure if he’s all there, but I do know he’s basically lazy and has been sponging off his family like a leech for years. I heard that his grandfather doesn’t have much time left. He turned 94 earlier this year and the whole family was at his party for a family reunion. You were there, don’t you remember?”

    I thought back? “Vaguely,” I said. “I remember there was cake.”

    After we got home, while Sheila fixed dinner, I did some research on MontBlanc pens. They started making the pens in 1906 in Germany, and were considered the finest fountain pen you could purchase by many. The sought after Fitzgerald Writer’s pen is a collector’s item and sells for several thousand dollars. I was hoping that Harry didn’t know what he had.

    Sheila handed me the phone and said, “Harry wants to talk to you.”

    “Hey, bro,” he said. “Cousin Sheila tells me you might want to buy the MontBlanc. I talked to my grandfather and he wants to tell you about it before you buy it. Can you and Sheila drop by? I’ll show you the pen and you can see Gramps. How about we see you around 8:00 tonight, the old boy goes to bed early.”

    I felt rushed, but didn’t want to lose this opportunity, so I agreed. At 8:00 PM we were ringing the bell and Harry came to the door. After seeing him, I recognized him from the birthday party. A few minutes later we were in the presence of Harry’s Grandfather, more spry than I was led to believe.

    He handed me the MontBlanc. I held it in reverence. A thing of beauty. “How did you come by it?”

    The old man spoke in a whisper, forcing out the words with every breath. “WW II. I was with the occupying forces in 1945 and was part of a contingent who categorized items believed to be stolen from the Jews and needed to be accounted for.”

    “”Is it stolen?”

    “All depends on how you look at it. I was the clerk signing all the various forms and used the MontBlanc to do so. When I finished signing the forms, I simply put it in my shirt pocket absentmindedly and didn’t even realize I had it until I returned to the barracks. I decided to keep it. Did I steal it? I don’t think so.”

    I opened the pen and held it up to a bright light next to the old man. The barrel of the pen had a reddish hue, a sure sign the pen was, indeed, the real thing. The story I was told was also perfect provenance later on to determine its real value.

    Not wanting to lose this opportunity, I looked at the old man. “$500, huh?”

    “Only because you’re family. Sheila was always a favorite of mine. I thought about selling it at auction, but, with it’s history, I felt it might turn up stolen somehow, so decided on a private sale. It could be worth more, but $500 and it’s yours.”

    After a little small talk I wrote a check for $500 and gave it to the old man. He handed me the pen. I thanked him and we left shortly after. Only when we arrived home and I examined the pen more closely did I discover what I had purchased.

    Looking at the nib, which is the metal point that you write with I saw two engraved marks. Looking closely with a magnifying glass I discovered two tiny swastikas. I disassembled the pen and discovered engraving around the ring holding the barrel to the body written in German. It read, Unser Neuer Anfuhrer Adolph, 1933: Our New Leader, Adolph, 1933.

    ‘My God’ I thought, ‘This pen may have once belonged to Adolph Hitler.’ I thought about my options: Try to sell the pen; use the pen and never reveal its history; or do the right thing and donate the pen.

    * * *

    Sheila and I stood looking at the new display case in the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, in Israel, guests of the curator, alongside with several Holocaust survivors. There in the center was my donated MontBlanc with a plaque next to it explaining the pen’s origin and a smaller sign underneath, reading; donated by Simon and Sheila Silverman.

    The curator shook my hand. “Many people would have tried to profit from such a discovery. You did not. Why?”

    “I don’t think I could live with myself, knowing that over six million Jews, and countless other millions could have been murdered with orders signed by this pen and one of the most reviled men in history. The only letter I ever wrote with the pen was to you and the museum asking if you wanted it. My great-grandparents were killed at his hand in 1945, only days before the war ended. That order may have been written with that pen. It belongs here, as part of history. May we never forget.”

    Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 9:59 am
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      Wow Roy! You always put in little details that make your characters human like the line about remembering cake.

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 10:14 am
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      Hi Roy,
      What a powerful piece of writing. The way it is written carries such a feeling of authenticity. The subject matter gives pause for thought and can never be anything less than emotional.
      Well done and welcome back.

      Reply
    • April 3, 2019 at 5:19 pm
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      Hi, Roy

      The pen motif is really well handled, with details that show research (unless you yourself are a pen collector) and care. The narrator’s decision not to profit from the discovery is warming. I think the decision itself could maybe have been made a little more dramatic (e.g. if you took this entire sentence out, there’d be a leap, and the reader will put two and two together about the decision: “I thought about my options: Try to sell the pen; use the pen and never reveal its history; or do the right thing and donate the pen.”) But that’s splitting hairs really. It’s a story with heart, and it’s good to see you back.

      Reply
      • April 4, 2019 at 9:50 am
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        Thanks, Phil, now that you mention it, I think you are absolutely right.

        Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 4:07 pm
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      Yay! Roy is back! Another great and powerful story Roy. I absolutely loved it. Glad you are feeling better!

      Reply
  • April 3, 2019 at 9:32 am
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    Sorry to be getting in just under the wire, but I’m just now getting back to my old self and still have trouble keeping it together for any length of time. I tire far more easily than I did before the two surgeries. However, no more excuses. I’m back. I wish I could have had more than 1200 words, because I think the story deserves that, but it is what it is. I hope you enjoy it.

    While I always try to write the winning story, I see some stories out there that are absolutely terrific. So, we’ll see where this attempt fits in. I’ll be posting my comments on the other stories later today.

    I’m also not quite sure where this story came from. It just sort of wrote itself while I simply put the words and sentences together. Maybe I’m channeling someone? Who knows?

    Reply
  • April 3, 2019 at 2:38 pm
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    I don’t see Wendy’s story in the list of story links at the top of the page.

    Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 11:19 am
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    Still waiting on a few votes. If you haven’t gotten yours in yet, there’s still plenty of time.

    Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 11:56 am
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    Waiting on votes from; Adrienne, Flo, Wendy, Robert, and Carrie.

    Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 12:47 pm
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      Sorry! I’ve been in meetings in Memphis. I’ll jump to it now.

      Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 2:02 pm
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    THE RESULTS ARE IN!!

    Impulse Buy April 4, 2019

    The Winner is!!

    First Place: Being Visible by berlinermax
    2nd Place: Love on the Line by Ken Frape
    3rd Place: Black Magic by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    4th Place: A Gift for Sharon by Phil Town
    5th Place: The MontBlanc by RM York
    6th Place: The Collection by Adrienne Riggs
    7th Place: Lay-A-Way by Ken Cartisano

    Favorite Character: “Mr. Williams” from Lay-A-Way by Ken Cartisano
    Character Dialogue: The MontBlanc by RM York

    Congratulations BerlinerMax, great job my friend!!!
    And thank you all for participating.

    Reply
    • April 5, 2019 at 12:33 pm
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      Well done (again) Berlinermax,

      Well deserved, even it you did push me down into second place! ( Hear the sounds of gnashing teeth.)

      The next prompt has really caught me on the hop as two of my last three entries have been about trains or were on trains. Trains are like buses, as people say in the UK…….you don’t see one for ages then two come along at together.
      Such is life!

      Thanks to all those who voted.

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 2:07 pm
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    You people are amazing. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And thanks again to Phil, who gave some helpful advice in matters of grammar and language.

    Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 4:05 pm
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    Congrats Jurgen!! Another wonderful story. Keep them coming!

    Reply
  • April 5, 2019 at 8:27 am
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    Congratulations Jurgen. On a well-deserved, I should say, another, well-deserved win.

    Reply
  • April 5, 2019 at 9:30 am
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    Congratulations, Jürgen! Keep ’em comin’!

    Reply

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