May 4 – May 16, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Styx”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Styx”. Take the viewpoint of the bidder, take the viewpoint of the main character, take the viewpoint of the victim (if she’s an assassin, a voodoo queen or death reaper), just have fun with it.

Story Requirements:

  • None

Word Count: 1,200



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

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Ken Cartisano per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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84 thoughts on “May 4 – May 16, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Styx”

  • May 5, 2018 at 8:04 am
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    I am a man in eternal hurry. Since I saw the prompt last night, despite the Quiz Contest at school, my whole being has been in the grip of something inexplicable. The Judges don’t award special points to the one writing the story first. Even then I wanted to be the first writer to have written the story. I didn’t even think of editing at first. When I did, I found lots of mistakes. My request to you all is not to read the first one and read the next. Love you all and happy weekend.

    Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 8:19 am
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    Sorry, I can’t delete these posts. At the third reading, I’very detected four more mistakes. Bear with me.I’m going to post it for the third and final time. You see, you can hate or ignore me but you can’t break my indomitable spirit.

    Reply
    • May 5, 2018 at 8:49 am
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      lol
      You are cracking me up! 🙂

      I’ll delete the older story versions for you.

      Reply
      • May 9, 2018 at 2:44 am
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        Just curious, is the word count the usual 1200 or has it been bumped up to 1800 as in one story?

        Reply
        • May 9, 2018 at 6:26 am
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          Hi, I don’t know really if I’m burging into others’ territories but I feel that enquiring about the word-limit for the story contest, you had my story in mind. I’m sorry if it crossed the word limit. You see with the kind of old-fashioned mobile that I use, it is really hard to find the actual word-count. I’s dying to be the first one to post my story, made innumerable mistakes. All thanks to Madam Carrie Zylka that I could finally post it without the mistakes. Shall be much obliged if you be kind enough to let me know the exact number of words in my story for a re-write as there is time yet. I’ll shorten it, if that is allowed. Looking forward to the favour.

          Reply
          • May 9, 2018 at 7:19 am
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            I don’t know exactly how long your story is, but it seemed longer than the others. I figure 500 to 600 words on an 8.5 X 11 page, 12pt. New Roman with 1-inch margins. It all depends on the amount dialogue and other variables.
            Here are two sites that will count your words for you.

            https://wordcounter.net/ or https://www.countofwords.com/
            P.S. Interesting story by the way. Robt.

  • May 5, 2018 at 8:47 am
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    The Insatiable Urge to Life ( The Story of Styx):
    Today , I’m gonna be auctioned in the Fairly Place. What’s that? What did you say? How can a human being be auctioned in the Market? Let me tell you something then. There are hundreds of people being auctioned in the open markets all over the world on a daily basis and Fairly Place in Adelaide is not exactly a market as such. It’s a place where during the weekends, things, mostly second hand get auctioned off like second hand cars, jewellery, furniture, and yeah,  humans, mostly females – discarded, devastated, drained out females like me. Can you hear the auctioner rapping? It’s my turn to be auctioned this time, and I’m surprised to see a handful of people still showing interest in my life, which is a closed book. Right now, amongst the crowd of faces surfacing in my misty eyes, I can only crave for one – Greg. The man who left me but never let me live without his memories. If there is life after death, I’d like to be Greg’s again. And this time I won’t allow the world to come between us …..
    “Styx, will you please come down to lend me a hand with the pudding? The guests will be here any moment and the dinner items are yet to be on the tabke..”
    “Coming, darling. Let me just wear my make-up and I’ll be done.”
    By the time I’s down in the kitchen, Greg, sorry, his real name was Gregory was rubbing his forehead with the back of his palm, the kitchen towel hanging from the side of his pants. Even with the sweat around the temple, he looked the most handsome man I’d ever met. He was not so much handsome externally if you would take a careful look at him from up close as he had a heart of gold. I couldn’t even realize how quickly the first couple of years of our married life had run out. He treated me like a queen and the care and love with which he did so was just phenomenal. I was madly, desperately and hungrily in love with him. Even after four years of conjugal life. But then things started souring not so much between Greg and me as it did beween him and my parents. Unfortunately, both my parents didn’t like him from the start of our marriage. Nor did my only sister. I preferred not to invite them over to our two posh bungalow as gradually the hatred of my parents rubbed off on to Greg and I despised having scenes. He didn’t like me to spend much time at my parents’.
    On a gloomy Saturday afternoon, my sister, Rita,  called me from her place at Cooper Street to tell me quite dramatically that mom had fallen off the ladder and badly sprained her ankle. I asked her if dad was at home. He wasn’t. He had gone out and wasn’t likely to be back for the next half an hour or so. He’d taken his car. She asked me then if I could go over and see what I could do. Rita also apologised for leaving the task to me as she had an important errand to run. Greg was out too. He was meeting the doctor about the infertility test at his chamber and wasn’t likely to be back sometime soon. So, I wrote a chit on the sticky pad and stuck it to the refrigerator informing him about mom’s sprained ankle.
    It was only after I had reached their place that I realized that the ankle was not so bad after all. Dad was back in the living room with the TV on and mom looked guilty but relaxed.
    “Mom, why did you tell Rita that you had fallen off the ladder?”
    “Simple, otherwise you won’t come. By the way, I’d to go to the Super Market and ran into Greg there on his way back…”
    “God! Did you have to meet Greg of all people? ”
    ” It’s was accidental. I guess, he hadn’t seen me, otherwise he wouldn’t have driven up.”
    That evening I left early but when I reached home and entered our bungalow with the spare key, I was surprised to see the house in darkness though Greg was back. I knew it from the garraged car. Stealthily I crept upto our bedroom and found Greg sitting at the chair near the window with his head on the table ducked under his hand. The dusky, crimson sky seen through the glass windows looked ominous.
    “What’s the matter, Greg. Aren’t you feeling well?” I cannot describe what happened next. I’d never seen him that angry. A quarrel ensued though I tried to avoid it at first. Greg started calling my parents names as was his recentv habit. I too lost my temperament. Then Greg huffed and puffed and went out of the room fuming. I thought he’d better be alone till he regained his restraint and composer. Waited till 11for his return, but there was no sight of him. Greg didn’t come back home that night. Not the next. I got panicky and called dad. He asked me not to worry and wanted to know if I had informed the police. I didn’t like the idea and resolved to wait. I waited for two full days but there was neither any call from him nor any news.
    Though hesitant, I phoned the police on the third night. They asked me the typical police questions and promised to call back incase they could obtain any information.
    I received information not from the police but from Greg on the fourth night. He was calling from a hotel in Tasmania. He’d been very upset about having met my mom in the market, hale and hearty, and finding on his return the chit about her sprained ankle. For this blatant lie, he decided not to be back home. He wasn’t sure about how many more lies I had told him and thought it best to stay away from me. He also asked me not to worry about his things as he didn’t need them. He would keep sending me money till further notice.
    I was stunned by the time the line want dead in my hand. My world crumbled around me that night. That’s how he left me and I learnt to live without him. I had initially no financial problem as he would send me enough to survive. My parents advised me to file a divorce case against him. They also suggested that I move on with my life forgetting him. But how could I? How could I forget the best years of my life spent in his loving care? One month turned into two, then two to six without any intimation of Greg. Somewhere deep down I knew that Greg belonged to me and would eventually come back to me, however much he abhorred me at that time. One night while I was on my way out of the shopping mall, someone dashed against me and while helping me pick up the shopping, turned his head to look at me. Next moment I was gazing into the bluest eyes I’d seen on anyone. Having lent me a hand, he asked me in to the coffee shop at the side, just to let him know that I’d forgiven him. That’s how my parents set David up for me (I came to know about it from him after a couple of weeks when my loneliness was beginning to get the better of me and making me hungry for companionship). Dave was honest and did not want to take advantage of my situation. That’s how it all began. On a cold, wintry night in December just before the Eve, Dave came with the gifts for me. His thoughtful gesture and the closeness for the rest of the evening made me go week in the knees. When he wanted to leave, I held him back. That was the beginning of my life of sin.
    From Gregory to David to Justin to all those nameless faces. My parents and sister cut off all ties after Dave had left me, not so surprisingly either. They were civilised people and had their heads to save and lives to live. Greg was still sending me money from Canberra. But by then, I had moved to a remote part of Adelaide and safe though I had thought the place to be, I was forced out of my apartment by my neighbours. They had somehow found out. In any part of the third world, I would have been stoned to death or burnt alive. Out drunk, doped and destinyless, I was rescued by a man old enough to be my father. He turned out to be the Devil in disguise and after his lust was satiated, he sold me off, unbeknownst to me, to a paddler. That’s how finally I landed up in the Auctioner’s. By then Life had lost all its charm and meaning for me. It didn’t matter whether I ended up in a brothel or an alms house. I was confined in a hotel room, far from the maddening world, for weeks. I was treated well by them. It was only last Friday that they made me dress up again. As the girl in her twenties, helped me with the dressing,  I looked at the wall mirror close at hand after ages. The curls around my temples, the doe-eyes in the round face with their sparkle that Greg gloated about, the lascivious lips that so ‘bewitched’ Dave, the sharp nose on top of a voluptuous figure, were still the same but the zeal for life or living was blown out of my life.
    Half an hour later, two huge men led me out of my prison. They had earlier asked me to throw away the cigarette butt and keep still.
    Can you hear the auctioner’s rapping on the board? It’s me being auctioned this time, and I’m surprised to see a handful of people still showing interest in my life, which is a finished book.
    Thirty-Two million ….Four
    Thirty-three minllions …..Three.
    Thirty-three million. . Two
    One … and the last exhibit for the day, Styx,  goes to Mr. Gregory Arnold from Bristol. CONGRATULATIONS, Mr. ARNOLD. You may take possession of your commodity after completing the formalities.
    At a signal from the auctioner, I got up from the sofa and headed inside. I found my new owner heading my way chatting excitedly with a group of friends or relatives. The hair around his whiskers had started turning gray. The eyes behind the glasses were not as kind as those of the man who once said that he had had eyes for me alone. In short, he is not like Greg…..but wait. What did the auctioner call out – Mr….Mr. Gregory Arnold from Bristol. ..?
    And all on a sudden, the overpowering urge to live took complete hold of my heavy eyes after donkeys years.
    The End

    Reply
    • May 8, 2018 at 4:40 pm
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      Hi RNB, I really enjoyed your story. Poor Styx had a terrible time with the conflict between the love of her life and her parents, and then her world just spiraled downhill from there. I’m so glad it ended well for her after so many years of living in her own personal hell.

      I found your story a bit difficult to read without line breaks in between paragraphs. I caused me to sometimes inadvertently re-read the beginning of the same sentence a second time and interrupted the flow of the story for me.

      I found your interpretation of the story prompt very interesting. Unfortunately this type of auctioning likely actually happens.

      Best of luck with your story!

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 9, 2018 at 5:35 am
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        Thank you, Madam. In happy that you have enjoyed my story and for your crystal clear interpretation of the story ( I’m sorry about the title tough. I wanted to call it: The Insatiable Urge to Live. I didn’t even notice the mistake in the title till a few days back). I made lots of mistakes in the first draft and then the second one I posted in a hurry. There was no need to, actually but being what I am, I wanted to be the first person to post it. At 57, I’l’ll gradually learn to be more patient and prudent.
        Regarding the spacing in between the paragraphs, I used single spacing and that might have confused you. Do you think double spacing is the norm these days? Please let me know. One reason I’m taking part in all these contests is to learn from seniors like you all.
        Let me wish you all the best of luck and success once more with your story. Regards.

        Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 1:51 am
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      rnb478509336, I love a good descent into madness! I like how you kept referring to the auctioneer, it helped to connect to the story and dig into those other senses we have.
      Some of the plot and character decisions took a little ‘leap of faith’ from the reader, and some of the sentences are a little clunky. Still enjoyed it though.

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:45 am
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      Wow this one is sad and dark. I can’t help but think that even though she ends up back with Greg, that things won’t turn out as nicely as she may think. I mean, he just disappeared and left her to spiral down and then instead of returning he decides to buy her? Probably not the nicest of guys. But he does seem to be rich, so maybe it will work out after all. The fact that I’ve read all this into your story means it got into my head, which is a good thing.

      PS I agree with Jen that adding a space between paragraphs makes it easier to read on this site due to the format of the comments at least.

      Reply
      • May 15, 2018 at 10:52 am
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        Thanks Madam Wendy,
        I don’t look at Greg that way. He loved Styx with all his heart and soul. But the parental interference proved to be too much for him to handle. He somehow felt that so long as her parents were there, he ‘d have to play the second fiddle. So he stayed far away, not exactly out of her life, did try to help her financially, and when the time came bought her back into his life with the highest bid like a true friend should.
        You see, Madam, I wrote the story many moons ago and once I had posted it, I wanted to wash my hands off it. Honest and that was that! I couldn’t bring myself back to reading my story again. Sorry if I have failed to satisfy you.
        Stay blessed.

        Reply
        • May 15, 2018 at 3:09 pm
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          I didn’t mean that it wasn’t satisifying, just that was my interpretation of how the events panned out. I think that it’s great when stories can work in different ways for different people.

          Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 4:35 pm
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    Shouldn’t the slang, Donkeys years be Donkey’s ears?

    Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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    Thanks, Madam. I think, ‘donkey’s years’ is a very oft-used idiom, not a slang. Let me also tell you, in this connection that I tried writing the story in the first person narrative point of view as if Styx herself is sharing her story.
    Regards.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2018 at 9:29 am
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      Mr. Ken Allen,
      I’ve just finished reading your story for the second time and I want you to know that I’ve enjoyed going through it. I didn’t comment on your story earlier though I must have been one of your early readers. I didn’t as some parts of your story were still unclear to me. In other words, I was intrigued by your story.
      If I say now that I could make everything about your story out, that will be a big lie. Something tells me that there was a connection between the angelic being and the other two, that there was something of a love-triangle involving all these three characters. Whatever it may be I like the mercenary character of Styx, the narrator. The parts from where get to know about the frustration of the first murdered man with the world or the ceremonial knife – are sheer masterclass. I like the ending of the story as well, especially the last two lines. By ‘Blood will spill’, I take it that the woman, who betrayed, was going to die. But the last line – The ledger balanced, left me groping for more. Does it mean that with her death the chapter involving these three got closed? Does it mean that none of the villains and the victim were spared with justice meted out to each one of them?
      I read it somewhere that the characteristic of a good short story is that it leaves the reader satisfied. Your story hasn’t left me satisfied. On the contrary, it has left me asking for more. This is what in my humble opinion, gives a distinct flavour to your story and cuts it out from the rest.
      All the very best with your Story.

      Reply
      • May 14, 2018 at 1:56 am
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        Thanks for your comments. I’m great at writing stuff that has glaring pot holes, incomplete characters and loose connections – leaves it open to a sequel. I’ll be happy to give you all the details post voting, so i don’t ruin for others the immense joy of wanting more (or, being completely underwhelmed)

        Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 6:37 am
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    Story

    He asked me what my name was … again. I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t paying attention when I was talking, perhaps preoccupied with the task at hand. I mean, when you call someone like me to a place like his, either you’ve done some serious shit, or someone you know has. I told him that I go by several names, given to me by people who feared me, those who worshipped me, and by those or bid for my talents. He considered this for a moment, and the pained look on his face gave me heart palpitations. Styx, I eventually told him. Just call me Styx.

    He asked me if I was serious, that I would do as the ad implied. Of course, I told him. Anything less would be humbug. He continued to ask the odd inane question, in between sips of some liquid he had poured himself when we sat down. It felt like he was stalling. Was it the money? I looked around at the antique furniture that filled his library. Why, the seat which I found myself perched was worth more than I made last year alone. So, no, it wasn’t about the money.

    Then it must be about the victim. I don’t know why people squirm at this point. I mean, to have a seating with me is big step, a leap for some. And surely when people are past that point, there is no going back. I asked him if he wanted to reconsider and he said, no. He added that what needed to happen, needed to happen.

    I nodded and asked him who it was that needed despatching. He dithered again. Usually, at this stage, I would have produced a gun or a knife or something to hurry the conversation along, but the old codger was growing on me. His thick glasses, thinning white hair, bulbous nose and bright red bowtie had lulled me into complacency.

    He asked me again if I was capable of undertaking the tasks required. I sighed, and I could tell that he knew he was pissing me off. Look, I told him, maybe you want to think this over, consider a few options before signing on the dotted line. He told me forthrightly that he was ready to proceed, so I invited him to share the name with me. He leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. I wasn’t sure who he was hiding this information from, given we were the only two people in the room. Regardless, I too leaned forward.

    He gave me three names and the reasons. The first one was his, that he was calling for his own death. Now, this isn’t a common request, but it’s not like I haven’t heard it before. Timmy Parks on death row in Texas, Reggie Whatts amidst a paedophile investigation, Macy Perkinson in the throngs of one of her psychotic episodes, and Susie Florence from the depths of her depression, just to name a few. They had opted for assistance because they couldn’t do it themselves. I was more than happy to offer my expertise in the matter.

    But there was just one thing, he said, but he needed to show me. He started to unbutton his shirt. People had often requested a last this or a last that, some final prize before their departure. I never obliged, mainly because I had a reputation to uphold. Regardless, in this case, I told the old man that there was no amount of money that he could offer that would satisfy me in order to satisfy him.

    Alas, it didn’t stop him, nor slow him down. He continued to disrobe in front of me. Once his shirt was off he stood. A small forest of grey accumulated between his sagging pectorals, his round belly fell over his belt. His face turned red as he strained, pain emanated forward. A grey feather appeared over his shoulder, and then another one, and then another until wings had fully extended. This was something that I had never seen before. I mean, I had read about them, sure, but to see one in the flesh was astounding.

    He told me he was broken and that he needed it all to be over. I was curious. I queried him how he came to be. He told me he fell from the heaven’s quite some time ago and had been dying ever since, even though it was impossible for him to do so. He said he was sick of the human savagery, the hurt, the pain, the suffering. He had been doomed to experience it all forever, without any reprieve.

    I told him that I could not, in fact, do what he had asked. Not because I lacked the skill or talent, just that I lacked the fortitude to despatch such a creature. He pleaded and begged, mentioned how he had been driven to the depths of despair to watch humankind crumble around him without the ability to step in and do anything about it. He said he had lost his will, his spark, and hence his feathers had too, lost their colour.

    I asked him if he knew what it would mean, to despatch him. He nodded. He understood that due to his expulsion, he could not simply return, and unfortunately left just one other alternative. He said anything would be better than staying where he was. There was no talking him around, nothing I could do. He was resolute in his decision and ready to accept the consequences. I accepted the duty but declined the bounty. I told him that I could not possibly accept payment for such a task. He gave a small smile like he felt sorry for me and awkwardly lay down on the couch.

    I retrieved my ceremonial knife from my satchel, you know, the one with the intricate handle and engraved with the name of Him. I plunged it deep into his chest. As I broke the skin, a shaft of light erupted out of him. Within a few seconds, he was gone.

    “Holy shit,” the man said as he swallowed his forth Tequila shot. “That is one hell of a story.”

    I nodded, raised a glass, gave a silent toast, and threw it back.

    “Say, what were the other names?”

    “Sorry?”

    “You said he told you three names, and the first one was his.”

    “He did.”

    “Well? Just give me one! Who was another person?”

    I downed another shot and looked at him. “You!”

    The knife sank into his back with ease. He stayed alive just long enough for me to tell him why.

    The ashen look on her face was priceless. Her hands jittered as she finally lit a cigarette on her third attempt.

    “Why are you telling me this?”

    “Because,” I started, “He wanted you to feel the same fear those children had before they burnt. He may have been unable to do anything, but I don’t have the same constraints as he.”

    I stood.

    She cried. I couldn’t tell if it was for them, her crime, or herself.

    It didn’t matter.

    Blood would spill.

    The ledger balanced.

    Reply
    • May 8, 2018 at 4:45 pm
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      Hi Ken, what a great story!! I enjoyed the details and the dialogue between Styx and her customer. I that that it was very clever that her customer was not a mere mortal but someone much more interesting.

      I must admit, I’d love to know the reason why the second person was killed and more details about the third.

      The ending was awesome. Styx was obviously very good at her job… and she enjoyed doing it!

      Good luck with your story!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 5:34 pm
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      Ken Allen,

      Great story, well executed. I love the concept, it’s very intriguing. A suicidal angel. Imaginative. Great writing too. I’m left with questions, but they’re not really relevant, so who cares.
      Two typos.
      In the first paragraph: ‘…and those who bid for my talents.’ In the sixth paragraph: ‘Throngs’ should be ‘throes.’
      ‘Anything less would be humbug.’ (I thought this was incorrect, but I looked it up and I was wrong.)
      Nice job.

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:55 am
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      I liked the idea of Styx telling the story to the other targets as a way to lure them in. However, I agree with Jen. If you had just a little more breathing room you could fill out the last two kills a little bit and would take this story up a notch. I do like the idea of a killer for hire who has the expertise to deal with ‘unusual’ clientele though. This would make a great short story if you fattened it up a bit. Flash fiction is hard when some stories just need a bit more space to be told.

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 2:51 pm
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      Welcome back Ken! It’s always good to have one of your stories among the bunch. I’ll try and get to it soon. Just wanted to say hello.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 11:24 am
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    Just checking in. You’re gonna have to cut the old guy some slack here, but if I get the gist of this prompt, ‘Styx’ is just the story of someone called ‘Styx’ and she worked for the highest bidder. Styx, then can be anything I want ‘her’ to be, female, transgender, or ‘other’? And the work performed by ‘Styx’ can be anything I want it to be? Am I correct in these assumptions? Not trying to be daft about this, but wasn’t sure.

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 11:40 am
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      I sure hope so.

      Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 11:42 am
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      Yes absolutely…..

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 11:40 am
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    Hi! It’s my first time here and I have a story all written up to submit based on the contest theme! Just wondering if it’s ok to add a link to my story on my website after it’s been submitted. Also wondering if, after the winner has been decided, I can post my story in full on my website. Copyright is a funny thing… 🙂 still learning!

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 11:44 am
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      Hi and welcome!

      Yes, these contest / prompts are really just for fun, and to grow as writers. We have the copyright reference in the posts to protect the writers themselves from getting their story stolen. You own your work and can do with it as you will.
      Also it is considered published if you go to submit the story to a literary contest. Especially the ones that payout.
      😊

      Reply
      • May 6, 2018 at 1:09 pm
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        Thanks Carrie! I’ll do a quick final re-read and then post my story! This is a great site for getting new eyes on one’s work. I’ve read many of the stories before but this will my first time participating!

        Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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    I’m going to be skipping this one. I’m quite busy and will soon be without connectivity. Have fun everyone!

    Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 1:33 pm
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    OUTBID

    Rachel lined up the collection of sleeping pills on her dresser and glanced at the unopened bottle of vodka sitting beside them.

    She slowly counted the pills and decided that there should be enough, but she had to be sure.

    Her two previous suicide attempts had failed.

    The first had resulted in 37 stitches, which had been expertly sewn into her wrists less than an hour after she had slashed them with a razor. The angry scars were constant reminders of her failure to achieve her goal of leaving this world behind. If her roommate hadn’t been sent home early from work that day due to a power outage at her office, Rachel would have succeeded in her quest to end her life.

    The second time, Rachel had climbed the steps of the fire escape late at night and, without hesitation, jumped from the roof of the four-story building. When she woke up two days later in the hospital with a broken leg, cracked ribs, and a healing surgical wound from a ruptured spleen, she discovered that she had somehow landed in an open dumpster, instead of on the hard concrete surface of the alleyway between her building and the next.

    Rachel had been forced by medical personnel to seek treatment from a therapist. But talking about why she wanted to die hadn’t helped, not that she had expected it to. The encouraging words spoken by the psychiatrist had meant nothing to her. Rachel had said all the right things to him, told him what she knew he wanted to hear. She had promised that she would never try to kill herself again, that she realized she had so much to live for. But they had all been lies.

    Rachel was determined not to fail this time. Her roommate wouldn’t be home for hours. The only thing she had left to do was online research to make sure that swallowing the pills and alcohol she had on hand would result in her falling into a sleep from which she would never awaken.

    As Rachel waited for her computer to boot up, her thoughts turned to Kevin. Ever since he was killed in that horrific car accident, Rachel’s life was meaningless. She suffered from horrifying nightmares. She had lost nearly thirty pounds since his death three months earlier because the thought of food repulsed her. Social interaction of any kind made her physically ill.

    Shortly after the funeral, her best friend, Jessica, had suggested that she leave the house she had shared with Kevin for 23 wonderful years and move in with her. Rachel accepted. This was before the overwhelming desire to die had taken over. She would do anything to have Kevin back. But since this was an impossibility, she would come to him instead.

    Rachel’s therapist felt that she should take time off work in order to grieve, so, instead of bartending, she was living off of Kevin’s life insurance settlement. Not that she cared about money or material items. In her current state of mind, she didn’t care about anything. Without parents or even a sibling to turn to, Jessica was the only person who cared about her. They had grown up together and couldn’t be closer to one another if they had been bonded by blood.

    As Rachel began researching how many sleeping pills would guarantee a fatal dose, an annoying pop-up appeared on her computer screen.

    The ad featured a photo of a pretty brunette and included the caption:

    ‘Your wish is my command. I can make your heart’s greatest desire come true…for the right price.’

    Rachel moved her mouse to close the pop-up when a second one appeared in front of it in the form of a chat box.

    …Styx is typing…

    “Greetings, my name is Styx. Is there something missing in your life? Something you would pay any price to obtain…or have returned to you?”

    Rachel hovered her mouse pointer over the ‘X’ in the top right corner of the chat box to close it, but impulsively typed her own message instead.

    “Can you bring my dead husband back to me?”

    Rachel pressed enter as a sob escaped her lips. She was about to close out the screen again when she noticed that her message was being responded to.

    …Styx is typing…

    Curious, Rachel waited.

    “Yes. What are you prepared to pay?”

    Rachel smelled a scam. She knew that what she was reading was impossible. But she couldn’t seem to stop herself from replying.

    “I don’t have much money. But I can give you anything else, do anything you want.”

    Rachel knew she was being ridiculous, but she couldn’t help herself.

    …Styx is typing…

    “The highest bid I have for the return of a deceased loved one is four million dollars. I will require something worth more than that to grant your wish.”

    All reason left Rachel as she read the message. She desperately tried to think of something, anything, that she could offer to become the highest bidder.

    “Can I bid a body part? Sell my soul? Provide a service to you?”

    Rachel waited for several minutes, but there was no response.

    Feeling foolish, and with all of her hope depleted, she once again moved to close the chat screen.

    …Styx is typing…

    “Would you kill a person of my choosing to get your husband back?”

    Without hesitation, Rachel quickly typed her answer.

    “Yes!!”

    …Styx is typing…

    “Congratulations, you are the highest bidder. Your wish has been granted, pending payment. You must kill the person who loves you more than any other. Once this deed has been completed, your husband will come back from the dead and reunite with you.”

    The chat box disappeared. Rachel stared at the monitor screen.

    Rachel had a choice. Kill Jessica and reunite with Kevin. Or commit suicide, as she had originally planned.

    She couldn’t think straight as she completed her research and confirmed that the amount of medication she had was well above that which was necessary to end a life.

    Then she made her decision.

    Jessica entered the apartment a couple of hours later. Rachel handed her a drink and watched her friend take a sip.

    “Oooh, I love vodka. And whatever else you’ve added to it. This is scrumptious. What’s in it?”

    “A bartender never divulges her secret ingredients,” Rachel told her.

    Jessica downed the rest of the cloudy liquid and licked her lips.

    “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Rachel smiled.

    It didn’t take long before Jessica’s words began to slur. She murmured that she was feeling sleepy and made her way over to the couch to lie down.

    Rachel knew that it would take a couple of hours before her friend’s heart stopped beating and her breathing ceased.

    Rachel was ecstatic. She was going to be reunited with Kevin!

    An hour later, she checked on Jessica. Her breathing was laboured and her heartbeat was weak and irregular.

    Then Rachel heard a notification beep come from the direction of her computer. She walked over and saw the now familiar chat box appear.

    …Styx is typing…

    “A higher bid has been offered. Your wish will not be granted.”

    The chat screen disappeared.

    Reply
    • May 7, 2018 at 7:33 am
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      I love reading stories which move one profoundly. I won’t go to the extent of saying that your story has done that, Mr. J.H.O’Rourke, but there is something in Outbid that has kept me pondering over ‘the milk of human foolishness’, if I may be allowed to use such an expression.
      I like the varying paragraph lengths. How you started with the long ones till the middle and switched over to short ones from then on. Your language is just fabulous. I like the way you have made use of the prompt. I doubt though if in the context of the twenty-first century, anyone would be so foolish as to kill her best friend, orphaned as she is, just to have her DEAD HUSBAND BACK!
      One more thing before I wind up, I realized the mistakes I made while going through your story. I won’t mind giving you seven on a scale of ten for writing Outbid. All the best.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2018 at 5:03 pm
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        Hi RNB,

        Thank you so much for honest critique and kind words!

        I agree that killing her friend in order to get her husband returned to her from the dead would be an unfathomable choice for a reasonable person. But perhaps not for a grieving widow who has become so depressed and delusional that she has thrown all reason away, leaving only a tiny piece of misplaced hope still within her grasp.

        Jen

        Reply
        • May 9, 2018 at 6:00 am
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          Thank you once more, Madam J.H. O’Rourke for the clarification. I read your story with all seriousness and can’t account for the reason how or why I failed to take note of the fact that Rachel was a grieving widow after all. You are right that for such a depressed soul with ‘such a tiny piece of misplaced hope’, it is quite natural to throw all caution or reason to the wind to have her husband back from the dead.. Take care and stay blessed.

          Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 2:04 am
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      Hi J. H. O’Rourke, well, ain’t Styx a bitch! I love the roller-coaster of this one and the intent behind Rachel’s motivations to kill her friend. I wish there was something to support Rachel’s belief in Styx (perhaps a smaller, ‘do this to get that’ to prove it was true. Love the ending

      Reply
      • May 14, 2018 at 9:58 am
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        Thanks Ken! I feel a more expanded version of this one coming on… best of luck with your story. It was wonderful!

        Jen

        Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 5:11 pm
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      Jen O’Rourke,
      A deliciously diabolical plot.
      I think your description of the character’s circumstances more than adequately qualifies her for errant thinking and destructive behavior.
      Clever use of the prompt…’Styx is typing.’ As a plot device as well as a character.
      Great writing: Lean and economical.

      Reply
      • May 16, 2018 at 12:14 am
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        Thank you Ken for your kind words and encouragement! It was a fun piece to write and I’m already look for to participating in the next contest.

        Jen

        Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:23 am
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      Such a dark ending! Of course, the whole thing was dark, but that ending is a killer. Great job on making the worst of a bad situation. The descriptions of her failed suicide attempts are good and I agree that the “Styx is typing” really created a kind of suspense to move the story along.

      Reply
      • May 16, 2018 at 12:18 am
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        Thank you so much for your comments, Wendy and for reading my story. I appreciate your kind words and am so glad you enjoyed the ending. It was a fun story to write!

        Jen

        Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 3:28 pm
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    Can’t wait to read the stories for this prompt! Maybe I’ll have time to write something soon other than my dissertation. I’m sick of “scholarly writing”!!

    Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 3:41 pm
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      ‘Dissertation’ is a weird word. I hope you get better soon. (Ha, ha.)

      Reply
      • May 15, 2018 at 11:36 pm
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        I had to throw an LOL in here re: Ken’s dissertation comment. Still giggling 🙂

        Reply
      • May 17, 2018 at 7:49 am
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        Thanks Ken. Dissertation has become an evil word, the bane of my life, sucking all of my time and energy. By the way, I loved your story. It was well-written and I wanted to know what was in the last 3 pages of the book. Clever – that the murderer was distracted by the book and the woman was able to take him by surprise.

        Reply
  • May 9, 2018 at 4:51 pm
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    Rich’s Auction Barn
    by Robt. Emmett ©2018
    [1198 words]

    I’d stop in Rich’s Auction Barn every Tuesday evening. It wasn’t a barn; it was a defunct single story furniture store. If Rich, the auctioneer, had something of interest, I’d come back the following evening and try to outbid the antique dealers. Most nights, I used the Barn as a social event. My half-hearted bids usually bought me nothing. I’d spend my time talking to Kathy. I’d known her years ago, in high school. She was the captain of the cheering squad. I found out about her accident when I returned to town. Back then, she said to stop calling her Kathy and to call her Styx.

    “Sticks, why,” I asked, “cuz you’re on crutches?”

    “Not that kinda sticks, Styx, with YX.”

    “You mean S-T-Y-X?”

    “Yes.” She never explained.

    Her job was to take phone-in bids from people who had deep pockets and wanted to remain anonymous. Their bids usually won because they had the bucks.

    The crowd hanging out at Rich’s Auction Barn was a family bunch. We were, for the most part, friendly, fun loving, sometimes boisterous, and respectful. The one thing we didn’t do – run up someone else’s bid. We could have. It would have made Rich more money, but he didn’t like it and on more than one occasion had told us so. The real reason for respect – we’d be seeing each other again in a week. Another quirk Rich had was the size of bids. Under a hundred bucks, any bid was good. Over a hundred dollars, bids were to be in twenty-five dollar or more increments. Over five-hundred bids’ are in the fifty-dollar or more increments.

    Tonight, as most nights, found me leaning against a wall and drinking free coffee. We’d talk, except when she’d make an anonymous bid for someone. When she won the bid, she’d marked the price on the bid card and put it back into the pocket of her Home Depot nail apron she used to hold the bid cards and her cigarettes.

    Rich held up an item. “Hold on, I need to go to work.” She pulled her stack of bid cards from her apron pocket, sorted through them until she found the one she wanted. The bidders around the hall voiced their price. She flashed the card at Rich. He nodded in recognition. The price was jumping up fast. Rich started to ask, “Do I have …?”

    The black-hair woman in the leopard-skin elastic pants nodded her head.

    “Do I have …?” Styx bid a little more than Rich asked. The bidding froze. Styx bid had shocked spastic-elastic and the rest of the crowd. Rich pointed in our direction, then looked at leopard pants and shrugged. “Better luck next time, Jan.”

    “Deep pockets will win every time.”

    Styx nudged me, “Just gonna drink free coffee or are you gonna buy something?”

    I smiled and held up a finger.

    The auctioneer put his hand on a large cardboard box and asked for an opening bid of twenty dollars. There were no takers. He asked for a ten-dollar bid and still, no one raised a hand. The big box sat there, contents unknown, just waiting for a buyer.

    “One buck,” I hollered.

    Then Rich looked at me, shook his head, and stage-whispered, “Thanks, Rob. You’re the last of the big spenders.” The crowd knew me and enjoyed the humor at my expense. “Do-I-heara-two-dolla bid? Who’lla-givea-two-dolla? Anybody? Somebody? Two-dollas, two-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” He paused again. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at me, “Sold to Cheap-ass for a buck.”

    The auctioneer and the crowd moved on to the next item as Styx side-glanced me.

    “What?” I asked her. “I got this big box for a buck. Who knows what great treasures it holds?”

    “You came here tonight to buy a box of junk you don’t need?”

    “It only cost me a buck.”

    She laughed, “Big deal. That stuff’ll be lying around your shop a year from now.”

    “Will not!”

    She rolled her eyes, “Will too!”
    ~*~

    I spent the week sorting my box of treasures into smaller boxes to take around to other collectors and antique dealers. By the weekend, I had unloaded it all and after gas money, I’d made a few bucks.

    Wednesday evening before the auction, I had a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke.

    Leaning against the wall, drinking coffee, I waited. After stopping to talk to another bidder, she came over, leaned her crutches against the wall, and sat in the chair next to me. “See anything interesting?”

    “Yeah,” I didn’t elaborate. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to play the crowd. It was larger than usual. Red stood near the center of the table that held the tools. He idly sorted through a box of rusty bits I knew he wasn’t interested in and be wouldn’t bid on. Half a dozen tool dealers I knew were milling around and eyeing each other. There were three guys I knew to be private collectors. The two men in suits looked out of place. We weren’t the bib overalls kind of auction-goers, but none of the Auction Barn regulars ever wore a suit and tie. I saw Fat Jim whisper to Bill and glanced at the locked showcase. It was the reason for the large crowd and me being at the Barn.

    In the ten years I’d been looking, I’d only laid eyes on four of them that were for sale. Two were counterfeits, another had a small nick, and the other wasn’t worth half the money the owner wanted. I would get this one. I had too. There were only eighteen in the set. I had seventeen. The locked showcase held my eighteenth.

    “You want it, don’t ya Rob?”

    “I do. What do you think I’ll go for?”

    “It’s in great shape. On a scale of 10, it’s a 9 or better.” I said.

    “My guess, it’ll be as low as seven-hundred, and as high as nine, nine-fifty.”

    “Yeah, and if it breaks a grand, it’ll see fifteen-hundred.”

    “How much are you willing to spend?” She asked.

    “Seven-fifty.”

    Rich had held off until the end of the tool table sales. He unlocked the showcase. “Here we go folks, who’lla gimme a two-grand, two-grand, two-grand where.” It was the crowd’s turn to get even. No one bid. “Folks, this is a pristine Stanley number one bench plane. Damn open the bid somewhere.”

    “One dolla,” I said. The crowd laughed, even Rich. That was the start, bids exploded from every corner of the room. In seconds, the price was at four-seventy. The bidding paused. If someone said fifty, the bid would be over five-hundred and I wouldn’t be in a position to get a bid in at seven-fifty. “Six even,” I said.

    Styx flashed a card, and said, “Seven-fifty.”

    The bidding stop and she’d stolen my bid.

    “Do-I-hear-eight-hundred-dolla-bid? Who’lla-givea-eight-hundred-dolla-bill? Anybody? Somebody? Eight-hundred-dolla bid-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” A long pause. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at Styx, “Sold.”

    “Rob, would you get it for me?” I did. As I handed her the plane, she said, “Stop in tomorrow, pay me, and it’s yours.”

    “Tell me, why the name Styx with YX?”

    Smiling, “Google it.”
    — ℜ —

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm
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      It is the most realistic of the stories I have read so far as regards the auction house and the bids. The writer’s first hand knowledge of the auction barn is the main charm of the story. Time and again, I had the feeling that he must have been to one to be able to write so effortlessly about the happenings there. Besides, I also like the way he has made use of and explored the word STYX till the very end:
      “Tell me, why Styx with YX?”
      ….Google it.
      I wish the author all Success and Luck with his endeavour.

      Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 10:03 am
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      Hi RobT,

      Great story! It kept my attention throughout and made me feel like I was in the Barn with everyone else. I enjoyed your interpretation of the prompt and your characters. The ending was great. I must admit I did some googling after reading your story. 🙂

      Best of luck!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:30 am
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      Robert, I like this one! The story moves and while it is small in scope it showcases a tight group of colleagues who compete against each other in a friendly way every week at the auction house. So many of these stories this week are dark or crazy, so this bit of well written reality is refreshing. I like the relationship you were able to draw in the short amount of space between Rob & Styx.

      Reply
    • May 17, 2018 at 7:52 am
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      I really enjoyed this story. The scene was set perfectly and I loved the dialogue and banter during the auction. Well done!

      Reply
  • May 13, 2018 at 11:00 pm
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    The Ending. (1184 Words.)
    By Ken Cartisano © 2018

    Paul Moss sat in his easy chair, a cone of light illuminated a book in his lap. The rest of the room was dark, a feeble glow emanated from the kitchen, creating more shadows than light.

    It was a boring book, thin, just under 200 pages, and though the main character was a serial killer, the book dwelled on the surprisingly dull monotony of his day-to-day existence. He was an anonymous employee of a large shipping company, living with an ill and aging relative who occupied the back bedroom in a near state of vegetation. He had no wife, no friends, and no pets.

    Much like Paul. The similarities to his own life were, in one way, understandable, but in another, remarkable. He too had an ill relative, his mother, whose consumption of pain pills rendered her all but unconscious most of the time. Like the character in the book, Paul was a predator too. As a predator, his primary means of survival was camouflage. He never called attention to himself. He had a perfect driving record, paid his bills on time, didn’t cheat on his taxes and even went to church occasionally.

    His only act of hooliganism was the theft of the book he was now reading. Another patron at the coffee shop left it on the table, presumably while visiting the bathroom, and quite by impulse, Paul rose, veered toward the book and swept it up off the table. He carried it in plain sight as he strode confidently out the door. It was so unlike him. A pointless little robbery that risked much for no reward. A dog-eared corner, three pages from the end of the book, gave him the sadistic but fleeting satisfaction of knowing that he had deprived the original owner of finishing the book just pages from the ending. He tossed the book on the kitchen counter and forgot about it. A week or so later, his curiosity compelled him to read it himself.

    He was so near the end of the book that he wondered how in the world the author could come to any resolution in so few pages. In the book, the character was at home, relaxing, when a vehicle pulled up in front of his house.

    At that moment, the throaty sound of a powerful vehicle, possibly a muscle car, came growling down the street and stopped very near his house. The engine idled for a moment or two and then silence ensued, a blissful respite from the unwanted noise. ‘Mr. Jenkins must’ve won the lottery,’ he mused. He sat there, thinking. He noticed that when he focused, he could hear a TV playing somewhere, the ticking of the wall clock, the sound of a dog barking in the distance. But he didn’t’ hear the sound of a car door slam.

    No matter, he resumed reading, only two or three pages to go. The character in the book was startled by the sound of the doorbell ringing. This made Paul pause. It seemed a little far-fetched that the innocuous ding of a doorbell would rattle…

    A real-life pounding on the door made him jump with alarm. It was uncanny. An impertinent knocking that was completely inappropriate for this time of night. His drapes were closed, and he considered ignoring the intrusion and raised the book intending to continue, but the banging on the door resumed. Even louder than before. It was rude. Who bangs on a stranger’s door at 11:30 in the evening?

    He set the book on the coffee table and stood, examined himself in the full length mirror on the wall, adjusted his shirt and sleeves, smoothed his hair, then strode gracefully to the door.

    He yanked it open in between two impertinent knocks. “Who is it and what do you want?” He was confronted by a woman with brown hair and soft brown eyes, dressed in black leather and heavy boots. She was wearing fingerless gloves and held a helmet in one hand. She didn’t say anything. She was attractive despite the lack of any distinguishing features. “Well?” He said.

    “I came to get my book,” she replied.
    He instinctively looked over his shoulder and as he did, she could see past him. The book was lying in plain sight. “That’s my book,” she said.

    He scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Goodnight, Miss.”
    He moved to close the door but she shoved her boot in the door jam, preventing him from doing so.

    Paul remained calm, unruffled. He was a large man, in excellent condition, with perfect posture, good eyesight and hearing, robust and healthy all around. “Do you mind?” He said.

    She said, “I want my book.”

    At an impasse short of using actual violence, Paul sought to distract or dissuade her. “What makes you think that that’s your book, Miss…?”

    She said, “Where’d you get it, then?”

    “I don’t have to prove that I own it. You have to prove that it’s yours.”

    “You can’t tell me where you got it because you can’t buy it anywhere, Mister Moss.”

    “How do you know my name? Miss…”

    “You can’t buy the book because I wrote it, and that’s the only printed copy. I know your name because you stole my book. I saw you steal it. And I followed you. I’ve been following you since you took it, Mr. Moss.”

    The fact that she had been following him unsettled him more than she could have known. This is exactly the kind of thing that he’d managed to avoid for twenty years, despite countless victims and murders. “Perhaps we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, Miss…?”

    She didn’t respond to his attempts to learn her identity. She just repeated her demand. “I’d like my book back, Mr. Moss.”

    He sighed, as if surrendering to the inevitable. “Of course you can have your book back Miss, whatever-your-name-is. It was very bad behavior on my part, I’m afraid.” He swept his arm graciously behind him. “Would you like to come in?”

    “No thanks.” She said. “I just want my book back.”

    He exuded disappointment. “You know, I’m just a few pages from the end. I can’t tell you how grateful I’d be if you’d just come in, I could fix you a drink, and finish the book in hardly more than a…”

    “Tough.” She said. ‘Gimme the book. Now.”

    “Okay.” He said. “I suppose I had that coming.” ‘You bitch,’ he thought, as he turned and retrieved the book. He felt like throwing it at her, the nerve of this twit, standing there in his doorway daring to intimidate him! Paul Moss. She would pay. Outwardly calm, the thought of threatening her was almost irresistible as he returned to the open door. He held the book near his chest as he leaned towards the woman and whispered, “Here’s your precious book back—Missssss.”

    She accepted the book, dropped it into her helmet, and in the next instant a Glock materialized in her hand, with a silencer. He didn’t really see it until after the bullet was exiting his back. The first bullet, that is.

    Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 12:36 am
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      Dear Ken,
      I like your style, your mastery of the language, the dialogue, almost everything about the story. I consider myself lucky to be taking part in such contests alongside writers like you.
      Now, I find it interesting that you haven’t used the name Styx anywhere in the story while that was the only clue or hint, call it what you will, given in the prompt. The similarities between the content of the unnamed book and the events in the life of Paul Moss are crafted innovatively and make The Ending an interesting read. The suspence of what is there in the last three pages, the fast-paced encounter between him and the intruder culminating in the meticulous murder of Paul, make me wonder whether something equally gruesome featured there.
      Something keeps on bothering me though. The time is 11.30. at night. Paul is a huge man looking for his chance to get even with thisy attractive -looking yet plain woman, leaning closer to her but ends up paying a high price with his life for being overconfident and unsuspiious as it normally happens with the victims of serial killers in reality. This is a big loophole in what could have been otherwise a well-deliniated character and takes much of the charm of Paul Moss away. We like our heroes to be smart and intelligent don’t we?Looking eagerly forward to the prompt from you next and all the best with your story.

      Reply
      • May 14, 2018 at 10:11 am
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        Hi Ken! I enjoyed your story from beginning to end! I found myself holding back from reading ahead.

        I would just love to know what the last three page of the book said. I’m also wondering if the assassin planted the book somehow knowing that Paul would grab it or if she was just a crazy book-lover… or something else!

        The back and forth between Paul’s actions and the contents of the book kept the suspense level high.

        I didn’t see the end coming. Loved it. Best of luck with your story!

        Jen

        Reply
        • May 14, 2018 at 3:24 pm
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          To Jen:
          Thank you so much. This is one of those stories where we want to know more about the plot device, (The last three pages of the book) than anything else. Me too! I wish I knew.

          And personally, by the time I finished the story, I felt like she planted the book, it was a lure. (Clearly, she was all business and knew what she was doing.) So naturally, (everyone will say) she has to get it back (her book) before she kills him, or anyone else, otherwise the book can be traced back to her. (But I don’t know about that what with the level of technology these days. Micro-publishing? That’s a real thing, isn’t it?)

          I mean really though, as a gimmick, is a book a really novel idea? Seriously though, this ‘book thief avenger’ might have some comedy potential, even though there’s absolutely no trace of humor in the story so far.
          I appreciate your comments, Jen.

          Reply
      • May 14, 2018 at 3:21 pm
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        Thanks Raffin,
        I loved your comments. To be honest, I didn’t fully understand this prompt. I Googled ‘Styx’ six different ways before I wrote a single word and couldn’t find any specific reference that related ‘Styx’ to a murderess or hit-woman for hire. Which is what is implied in the prompt:

        ‘They called her Styx, and she worked for the highest bidder…’
        ‘Take the viewpoint of the bidder, …the main character, …the viewpoint of the victim, just have fun with it.’

        Everything I found indicated that ‘Styx’ was a river marking the entrance to the underworld, or a Goddess by that name, or a symbolic barrier that, once crossed, one cannot return from. No references at all to murderous women acting freely or for hire.

        So I disregarded the ‘name’ Styx itself. It had no significance to the prompt other than as a simple name. (As far as I could tell from my research.) To me, it was unnecessary, and therefore, implied.

        You mention the killer’s susceptibility. I’m not sure I agree with your definition of a loophole. I think maybe what you mean is that it’s a weakness in the story. But I get your point. I think the story deserves a longer format, to expand on both characters, which, I was perfectly willing to do, but the word limit prevented it.

        Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 2:29 am
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      The other Ken … I love how Styx (i’m assuming the girl is Styx) takes such a back seat in this story, different to the rest. Your writing is superb as always. It certainly sounds like an opening chapter into her story (I’ve got the movie in my head). I liked the connection to the book playing out in real life – I wished after she shot him, she read that last page/paragraph were the protagonist was killed, just to round things out. But the question i still have is, did she shoot him because he took her book, or because she found out about him, or because she is a nutcase?

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:39 am
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      Somehow you kept it light and dark at the same time Ken! The absurdity of the book thief balanced with darkness of a serial killer mixed with a hitwoman (possibly?) could definitely be a hit tv show. Remington Steal

      Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 3:29 pm
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    Ken!
    Where ya been, Ken? Don’t tell me, I don’t want you to have to kill me.

    I agree with your sentiment, ‘it sounds like an opening chapter into her story.’ This is a character driven story, I think, (but as you noted, the focus is on him, not her) with a lot more potential for development than the word limit permitted.

    Your question. Why did she kill him?
    a. He gave her a bad review.
    b. She has to be at least a bit of a nutcase no matter what.
    c. None of the Above. That’s why you have to read the full story, due out in 2021. Under the working title, “The Book With The Damning Review.” I do appreciate your comments, Ken.

    Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 5:26 pm
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    Stÿx by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [1176 word count]

    Her town had too many guitarists and not enough drummers, so Stÿx never had to worry about finding gigs. She just played for whoever paid her the most, kinda like the highest bidder. Her only stipulation was that they played metal. Thrash, screamcore, classic metal cover bands, neo-hair metal, sometimes even punk. This last week a local all-female Aerosmith tribute band called Ragdolls needed a fill-in since their drummer ate some bad shrimp during a late night Chinese buffet dare.

    Ragdolls was a bit lighter than Stÿx liked, but since she was the instigator of the ‘bad shrimp bet,’ she figured she owed them. Plus it was a mindfuck watching a woman doing a caricature of a man doing a caricature of a woman. It just wasn’t very challenging. She was itching to get back to something faster and heavier. In fact, she was ready for something completely different – something to push her drumming to the limits.

    After their last set, Stÿx flopped onto a stool at the bar to grill Chico the bartender about any prospects. He was always up on the comings and goings in the local metal scene and had helped her out in the past. It probably wasn’t even because of that time she decided to do an impromptu striptease on his bar. Come to think of it, that netted her quite a few gigs that summer.

    “Something different, eh? Let’s see, Blank Leopard are going on a mini tour next week, but their normal drummer has finals.” He poured her a Captain & Ginger while mulling her options. “Or that new retro punk band, what’s their name…”

    “Fear Nothing? Nah, I’m looking for something that hasn’t been done. Any outsiders been sniffing around lately?” Stÿx chewed on her straw while tapping out a rhythm on her thigh.

    “Well, there was some twitchy dude in here a couple of days ago asking about who’s the best drummers on the planet or some shit. He was such a weirdo, man. Like I don’t think that fucker even blinked.”

    “What is it like some sort of reality show or something?” That would be different. Likely also lame, but it was something.

    “I don’t know about that. He mentioned something about tryouts though at a warehouse on the edge of town. I think it was tomorrow night. He left a flyer up in the pool room.”

    Stÿx thanked him and paid up then grabbed the flyer on her way out. It didn’t really say much else, but at least there was a time and place so she figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

    * * *

    Chico was right – this guy was twitchy. It was almost like he was wearing the wrong skin. Aside from his weirdness, Stÿx saw a mix of drummers milling around; some familiar from the scene, some strangers, and a couple big name guys she’d admired for years. ‘This must be one amazing gig,’ she thought.

    There were drum sets scattered throughout the warehouse and everyone was divided into groups. Each group got a chance to audition using a variety of styles and then the judges chose their top contenders. These moved on to the next round, wash, rinse, repeat. Finally Stÿx was at the main stage with two of her drumming idols, some guy she’d never heard of, and her biggest competition for gigs here in town. The twitchy guy shuffled over to the mic and addressed the competitors and the crowd without blinking once.

    “These are the rules. We’ll play a recording and everyone listens then plays it back verbatim, then a second time improvising. After this, we’ll make our final decision.”

    This was the kind of stuff Stÿx did for fun, so she was feeling good. They made it through the first recordings – songs she’d played hundreds of times. Then the recordings got more obscure and harder to emulate. Everyone was keeping up, but she knew they were getting as tired as she was. Drumming was her life, but it does take a toll to play so intensely for so long.

    “OK, this is our last set. You’ve all proven you’re the best, but we just need one spectacular drummer. If you can prove you are the best this planet has to offer, I promise you the gig of a lifetime.”

    The twitchy guy hit the button and the strangest music Stÿx had ever heard came out of the sound system. It was hard and fast, but the beat was crazy and full of holes. There were some instruments that didn’t sound right either, vaguely like strings combined with odd woodwinds – definitely weird.

    She closed her eyes and began counting in her head. The holes in the rhythm were dropped beats. It happened on the 5th & 17th, then 5th & 19th, then 5th & 13th, and finally 5th & 19th again before repeating. There were a couple of shifts in tempo too, but she was pretty sure she figured those out too. The song ended and she opened her eyes. Her competitors looked anywhere from queasy to confused.

    They picked up their sticks to start the verbatim run through. The music began and so did the drummers. Stÿx heard too many beats to her left and the twitchy guy called out, “disqualified.” Then to her right the wrong beat was dropped. “Disqualified.” Another drummer got tangled up, screamed, “fuuuuuuuuck!” and then threw down his sticks. That left just one other competitor.

    The song looped back to the beginning and Stÿx closed her eyes – time to improvise. She felt the strange rhythm, the weird pacing, the dropped beats. Then she let loose. Adding a crash here, some extra hi-hat there, a truncated roll on the snare. She was so into it she didn’t even notice she was the only one left. This was what she had been looking for. The music pulsed through her, her arms and legs moving to the alien beat, sweat soaking her clothes. She built up and up and up to a crescendo like she’d never experienced before then crashed down into the end of the song.

    She was met with a stunned silence punctuated only by her heavy breathing. Then slowly the room began to clap. This was her dream come true. She was being heralded by her peers as the top drummer in the world. The twitchy guy grabbed her hand and threw it up in the air.

    “We have our winner! Stÿx is the best drummer in the solar system!” Everyone cheered and confetti filled the air. He steered her off the stage and into a back office.

    “Time to learn what you’ve won, Stÿx.” Twitchy guy stared intensely at her. “I’m not really human.”

    ‘So that explains it,’ she thought. He handed her a glass of champagne.

    “This was just the first round in an intergalactic reality show. How do you feel about space travel?”

    “Like I was fucking born for this shit. When do we take off?” Stÿx had finally found the highest bidder of them all.

    Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 6:49 am
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      How can someone’s comments be this thoughtful and well-phrased? Keep writing, Mr. Ken Cartisano to win a million hearts. Good luck with your story.

      Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 10:28 am
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      Hi. I read your story twice after coming back from school. While going through your story I felt all along that this one was coming from someone who knows a lot about drumming (should I say music?). I also know it for a fact that drummer Styx would get my vote for the Best Character or character development, for the matter. I like the way you have led us to the climax towards the end as her drumming reaches the crescendo.
      The reason I didn’t comment earlier and I do hope that you will take it in the right spirit, was your frequent use of the four lettered f-word. I guess, a realistic portrayal of the character demanded it. But I belong to the old school with the belief that any great piece of Literature tries to do away with the use of such slangs.
      Great story. My prayers and wishes are with you for your success.

      Reply
      • May 15, 2018 at 3:12 pm
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        I was a little worried about using the language in this venue, but it felt right in the story. Thank you so much for your kind words and while I’m not a drummer, I have known a few and have been around musicians most of my life, so I’m glad I was able to make it realistic in that way.

        Reply
        • May 16, 2018 at 4:27 am
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          I think the language was just right. Certainly not gratuitous. I think your judgment is spot on. Which reminds me; where the fuck is everybody else this week? 🙂

          Reply
          • May 16, 2018 at 7:40 am
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            @KC – “Where TF is eveyone else?”

            Scotland. Working in St Andrews and then touring around a bit. WiFi only reaches these parts every third day and with a favourable wind.
            Heading back home, but sadly no time to get stuck into Sticks.What’s the next one?

          • May 16, 2018 at 8:10 am
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            I spent 9 days chasing turkeys (unsuccessfully I might add….) and concocting a new “stories based on past Deadwood residents” podcast in the Black Hills of South Dakota…

            I was hoping to get a story in (about a ghost whisperer named Styx hired to clean out a building that used to be a brothel in the 1800’s so it can be turned into condominiums) but plum ran out of time!

          • May 16, 2018 at 10:33 am
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            I’ve been working on two stories, one for SFB and the other for the podcast. Thought I could get a story in, but time is tight. Hopefully back in a few weeks.

    • May 15, 2018 at 11:56 pm
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      Hi Wendy,

      I really enjoyed your story. It moved along at a great pace and I loved your use of the prompt. I loved your main character, especially her ambition, talent, and self confidence. She knew what she wanted and sought it out.

      Regarding the usage of swear words, I thought they added to the story. This use of language felt natural to me coming from her character as a drummer in the metal genre of music.

      I loved the shifty non-human and the ending. I hope Styx goes on to become the master drummer of the galaxy!

      Great story! Best of luck!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 16, 2018 at 4:18 am
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      Oh man, that was great. I loved this story. Wait a minute. You named it Styx. Drumstyx? Why you little dickens. Wonderful story Wendy. I really enjoyed it. Your writing, (which is a separate thing) is also terrific. So smooth.

      Reply
      • May 16, 2018 at 4:09 pm
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        I decided to go ridiculous sine I figured everyone else would go dark. And naturally there is a superfluous umlaut in there since she’s into metal…

        Reply
  • May 16, 2018 at 6:05 am
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    The Counteroffer (739 words)

    By Victoria Chvatal

    Squinty Bob called me with bad news just as I was ready to hit the bars.

    “Hey Joe. I heard Styx is after you.”

    “That so?” I drawled, though inside, I felt like swearing. Styx was expensive. And she never, ever missed her mark.
    I only had a single enemy who could afford her – one I’d made not a week before.

    “Bet you wish now you hadn’t swiped old Marcus the Chef’s stash, eh?” Squinty wheedled.

    “Bastard’s loaded. He could spare a bit. Bet he didn’t even notice…”

    “The Chef notices everything, Darkie. That’s why he’s loaded.”

    I could do without the lecturing, but I still needed his help.

    “Hey Bob, could you set me up a meeting with Styx? I wanna make a counteroffer.”

    He whistled. “Well… I s’pose you got a bit a’cash now. See what I can do.”

    ***

    He did come through, and two nights later I was waiting for Styx in one of those coffee joints with enough noise that you can’t be overheard, but where you can see if someone’s approaching your table. Still, she almost managed to surprise me.

    “Darkie Joe?” she asked, voice pitched low. What with the hat and scarf, you couldn’t see much of her face, and with the way her clothes wrapped around her you couldn’t even tell what shape her body was. And all that without obviously looking like a disguise. Come to think of it, I could buy the lady a drink at a bar – in normal getup; and two hours later she could waste me, with me none the wiser. It was a creepy thought.

    “You Styx?” I replied. She nodded, and I went on.

    “I heard there’s a contract on me. I want to make a counteroffer. How much was the bid?”

    “Listen, Mr…”

    I didn’t let her finish.

    “Look lady, I’m not asking who bid on me. But I can hardly make a bid if I don’t know how much the first one was.”

    Styx seemed to consider that for a moment, and finally inclined her head slightly.

    “Fair enough. The bid was 970 grand. Any new bids have to be at least 50 grand higher to be considered.”

    I could hear the smirk in her voice, even if I couldn’t see it. The bitch was enjoying herself. Of course the old bastard Marcus knew exactly how much I’d lifted off him – how much I had, – and perhaps Styx did as well. Well, there was nothing for it.

    “Alright. My bid is a mill and 30 grand.”

    “Accepted. Please deposit half the money here within a day,” she passed on some instructions written on notepaper, “with the rest to be paid once the job is done. I’ll let you know when. Oh yes, and leave instructions on where to send a refund.” Seeing the look on my face, she added: “In case of a successful counteroffer.”

    This time I did swear, though only after getting home. I was now as skint as before I’d gotten into the Chef’s stash, and I wasn’t even off the hook. I wasn’t dumb enough to think I’d lifted all of his money. Marcus the Chef always had something cooking, and I don’t mean in the kitchen. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the old bastard bought a restaurant one day – the poshest one in town, of course. And of course Styx would go straight to him with my counteroffer, hoping to get a higher bid. She probably hadn’t bothered letting me know ‘cos she thought I couldn’t afford to bid… Or maybe she had – indirectly, by letting a rumour reach Squinty Bob…

    First things first, though. I read the note Styx had given me and made arrangements for the deposit right away. I also made preparations to have the other half of the money transferred, if and when it came to that. You just didn’t mess with Styx.

    The real question was, how much more the Chef had, and if he’d think I was worth the trouble. I considered it while chucking stuff into a small suitcase I hadn’t used for years. Of course, now his own hide was on the line, unless he bid higher… Maybe he wouldn’t hear of my counteroffer in time. What was the chance of that?

    Suitcase full, I snapped it shut and headed for the door. I figured it was best to skip town before I got that refund.

    Reply
    • May 16, 2018 at 11:58 am
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      Hi Vicky,

      Great story! Fast-paced and filled with interesting dialogue. It kept my attention throughout. I loved the dilemma that Darkie Joe found himself in. He had a couple choices, not of them good. I loved the ending when he skipped town. Hopefully Styx won’t track him down!

      Thanks for the great read!

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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        Opps, I meant Vicki not Vicky. Sorry, I spelled your name wrong! Best of luck with your story!

        Jen

        Reply
    • May 16, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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      Squinty Bob is probably my favorite name I’ve read on here. I like the kind of pulpy feel this story has and the way you kept it right to the point. The line about the Chef always had something cooking was pure camp and I love it. I like the way you made it about a counter offer too, slightly different.

      Reply
  • May 16, 2018 at 10:34 am
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    I will have the voting link up around 11 am MST, so that gives anyone who has a late story about an hour and a half to get it posted.

    Reply
  • May 16, 2018 at 8:16 pm
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    I was just wondering, and i know it’s been a while, but did there used to be a voting category of ‘best pacing’? Maybe i was dreaming, or perhaps one of you are …

    Reply
    • May 16, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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      Hahahaha, no Ken, you were not dreaming. We decided to do away with the “Best Pacing” category. Or maybe this is all a dream.

      Reply
      • May 17, 2018 at 6:19 am
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        I always like it when someone tries something a bit new – whether in terms of the concept, plot, literary devices or whatever.
        So I think it would be cool if there were something like: “Most original …” to replace the pacing category.

        But with this and other categories, I think there should be a ‘Not anyone this week” option.

        That’s a genuine suggestion. I remember one time no one wrote any dialogue. Phil got “best use of dialogue” with a well-written interior monologue, I recall. It was the closest anything came to dialogue that time and a fair result given that there wasn’t a “no one this week” option.

        Reply
        • May 17, 2018 at 11:47 am
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          I think that’s a really good suggestion Andy, I’ll talk it over with Carrie.

          Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 7:26 am
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    Dear All … Unfortunately I wasn’t able to write a story for this prompt, and I won’t have time to read, comment or vote … my apologies … next time, I hope

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • May 17, 2018 at 11:48 am
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      I couldn’t get one in either Phil, hopefully both of us will next time. Take care!

      Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 11:47 am
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    Waiting on Vicki and Ken’s votes before I tally up the results.

    Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 2:49 pm
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    So many great stories! Can’t wait to find out the results! Good luck everyone!

    Jen

    Reply

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