Story Thread: October 20 – November 2, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest “A Cup”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the Contest theme: “A Cup”.

It can be an actual cup or a metaphorical one.

Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

New:

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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 be under 1000 words.

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 Travis Keys 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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12 thoughts on “Story Thread: October 20 – November 2, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest “A Cup”

  • October 24, 2016 at 10:59 am
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    A Cup of Memories

    By Dean Hardage

    “You understand that this process is very hazardous.”

    “Yes,” replied the old man, “I have read all of the literature you provided. I signed the waiver and permission. What more do you need?”

    “Nothing. I just….well, some people don’t realize what could happen.”

    “It could cause permanent brain injury or even death. I understand very well, thanks.”

    “As you say. May I ask one final question, just for my own curiosity?”

    “Sure.”

    “Why? This experiment was meant for much younger people and, not to put too fine a point on it, in much better shape both physically and mentally than you.”

    “Didn’t I meet all of your criteria?”

    “Yes, of course, but much of it was borderline and, well, the director didn’t want to risk any appearance of being discriminatory.”

    The old man chuckled.

    “Good old political correctness. I wouldn’t have sued.”

    “Then why?”

    “This research is supposed to help people with diseases of the brain or injuries that destroy memory, right?”

    “That’s correct, sir. We are trying to get a better picture of how human memory works. We know it’s very associative, that is, interconnected through common points of reference. A scent of new-mown grass triggers memories of childhood, that type of thing.”

    “Well, I’ve had my share and then some of people forgetting me and all of their other loved ones. This is one small thing I can do to maybe keep others from having the same thing happen.”

    The white-coated technician nodded.

    “Then let us begin.”

    He checked the array of electrodes that had been attached to the old man’s head and other nerve points while the subject of his inspection lay quietly and patiently. A final thumbs up from the identically clad technician behind the glass partition told him all was in readiness.

    “Now we’re going feed impulses into your brain that will prevent the associative paths in your memory from switching off. Then we’ll project an image onto the screen in front of you. Feel free to describe what you’re remembering. It will be very disorienting and possibly frightening. If you cannot continue, please just release the switch in your right hand.”

    “I don’t need all the nuts and bolts, son. Let’s just get on with it.”

    “As you wish.”

    With a nod to the technician in the booth, he left the room and dimmed the lights. The old man felt a strange sensation of expansion just before the image was projected for him. It was an ordinary, white coffee cup.

    He was suddenly slung through a kaleidoscope of remembered events, images, sensations, and people from his past. One instant he was sitting with his unit in the mess tent during basic training. “Nothing beats a good hot cuppa’ Joe.” He tasted the strong, bitter brew and even as he savored it the memory changed. Now he was in a fortune teller’s tent at a carnival, having his cards read. He remembered every line, every vein in the supposed gypsy’s hand as she turned on the last card in the pattern. “The King of Cups, signifying self-control, generosity…”. He’d given her twice what she normally charged. Another shift, this time he was back in church as a child, learning the 23rd Psalm for the first time. “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over…”.

    Then his unspoken and unhoped for prayers were answered. He was moving along the river of memories where his beloved Amelia was the source of the flow. He relived their first meeting, their blooming love, courtship, and marriage, the birth of their children, growing older together and all the while hearing the smooth baritone voice of Ed Ames singing their favorite song….

    The technician in the booth jumped when the monitors suddenly shrilled out in alarm. The subject had slipped unnoticed into cardiac arrest. By the time they summoned paramedics to assist it was too late. The old man was gone.

    Several days later the lead technician reviewing the results of the tests. He perused the contents of the old man’s file for a moment and stopped suddenly. On the detailed history that had been collected he saw that the old man had been married. He wife, Amelia, had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and had not recognized him in the last years of her life. A tear sprang suddenly to his eyes as he remembered the last words that had been recorded before the old man passed.

    “Sometimes in the evening when you do not see, I study the small things you do constantly. I memorize moments that I’m fondest of, my cup runneth over with love.”

  • October 25, 2016 at 9:51 am
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    The Fate of the Universe by Carrie Zylka (655 words)

    It would have been a hell of a way to die.

    Toniya let out a frustrated sigh.

    “This sucks.” She muttered looking down at the cup laying on the floor. It wasn’t that her new maidservant had tried to poison her; it was more that her heightened Borean sense of smell had not detected it. She was only alive because her human lover had burst into the room and knocked the cup out of her hand after intercepting some encrypted message or some such.

    “It’s only going to get worse.” John said. “You seriously need to get some body guards or something. I mean shouldn’t all the royal family members have one? I don’t know much about your culture but I’m assuming assassination attempts are pretty common.”

    She shook her head, her flaming red hair shifting like hot embers. “No, actually assassination attempts are rare. Well shit, I think. I have no idea. Us commoners never heard about them if they happened. But I guess that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.”

    “Well I can imagine you’ve upset a lot of people with your sudden royal blood discovery and all. Shouldn’t they assign you some food tasters or something?”

    She glared at him. “Seriously Johnny I…I don’t know! I’m new to this remember? I have no idea what the protocol is.”

    “I know sweetheart.” He wrapped her tiny frame in his arms. Tears welled in his eyes as he tried not to think about what her bloodline meant for their relationship. He was trying to be brave; he knew her coronation and subsequent alliance with the Telek race would mean the end of them. He’d never felt so strongly for another person in all his life and his heart was breaking.

    The universe had been on the brink of war when she’d been discovered purely by accident a few months ago. The two super planets, Borea and Tel, had negotiated a marriage between Toniya and one of their royal sons. The contract dictated that they produce heirs and that these heirs would subsequently rule the soon to be united solar system.

    She was in reality, nothing more than a breeding cow.
    But there were those that did not want the alliance. War was a very profitable business; he shivered at the thought of how close the assassin came.

    The Borean royal line consisted only of males; and killing Toniya would have ensured war. He ran his hands over her shoulders. Such tiny shoulders to bear the weight of the universe.

    “I don’t want to not be with you.” She whispered her voice cracking. “This isn’t fair. I want to be with who I was meant to be with. Not some strange Telek man who I’m barely even physically compatible with and probably smells like guro dung.”

    He resisted the urge to snatch her up and race out the door with her. He knew he couldn’t allow his own needs to cloud his judgement. He’d been raised better than that.

    He moved her over to the window. They were in the Borean Palace, the soaring spires providing a stunning view of the docking station with all the different and cool looking spaceships that had fascinated him as a child, and of the sprawling city the Borans had built upwards over time.

    He stood behind her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders, his mouth close to her ear. “Look.” He said. “Look at your kingdom princess, all of those people; they will live because of you. All the different races and creatures that call this world and so many other worlds…home. They will survive because of your sacrifice.” His heart caught in his throat. “Because of our sacrifice there will be no war torn streets, no bombed out buildings, no hunger and disease.”

    She leaned back against him. “I love you.” She whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks.

    “I love you too sweetheart, I love you too.”

  • October 26, 2016 at 1:54 am
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    The Lips Don’t Lie.
    © 10-25-2016 – by Kenneth Philip Cartisano

    “So I understand this is a missing persons case,” I said.

    “In a way,” my client replied. “I met her at a party, fell instantly in love, but before I could get her name or address, she slipped away.”

    “Whose party was it, we could start with their guest list.”

    “No,” he said. “It was my party and she showed up uninvited.”

    “Mmm, a party crasher,” I made a note of it. “So, what was it about her that you found so intriguing?”

    “Everything,” my client exclaimed. “She was beautiful, charming, fascinating and unusual.”

    “Did she leave anything behind, a purse, a business card, a glass slipper?”

    “She left behind a print.”

    “A fingerprint? Well—that would only help if she’s a felon, or a gun nut, or a, a…”

    “No, not a fingerprint: Lip prints.”

    “Lip prints,” I said. “Are you serious?” His angry stare was sufficient answer. “Let me see ‘em.”

    He called his personal assistant. “Myrna! Bring me the cup.”

    “She left prints on a cup? That’s…

    Myrna delivered the cup to her boss, who handed it to me. “Wow.” I said without realizing it. “This is a really nice set of—prints.”

    “You should have seen the lips that left them,” he said.

    “I eyed Myrna, a stern looking woman with high cheekbones, hair pulled into what looked like a painfully tight bun. “Who’s this?”

    “My assistant,” he averred. Then he dismissed her. “That’ll be all, Myrna.”

    I think she sneered at me as she turned to leave. I felt a twinge of sympathy for her husband, if she had one. Her legs reminded me of scissors.

    “All right then. Where were we?”

    “Lips.” My client said.

    “Of course. Lip prints and the missing maiden. Can you give me a description of her?”

    “She looked like a goddess.”

    “How do you know? I heard it was a costume party.”

    “That’s right,” he said. “A Halloween costume party.”

    “So she was wearing a mask.”

    “Yes,” he confessed. “But—she had a way of walking, a way of talking.”

    “Yeah? Did she throw her hair to one side?” I demonstrated. “Like this?”

    “Don’t be ridiculous, of course not.” We avoided each other’s eyes for a few uncomfortable moments, pretending like we were thinking. “What am I gonna do?” He said.

    I thought about it for a few moments. “I’ve got it. A lip-synching contest.”

    “How’s that going to help?”

    “First of all, it’ll entice all the women in your circle of friends to present themselves, and—and this is the important part. You can examine all of these ladies lips up close.”

    “Yeah?”

    He seemed doubtful. “Then we can offer them a cup of—whatever it is you serve, and we’ll keep close track of which woman is wetting her whistle with which cup. Eh?”

    He agreed, eventually. I subsequently described what would be required for me to make the arrangements. After a lengthy bit of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, I left with a big fat check in my sweaty palm.

    The night of the lip-synching contest came. And went. Alas, although many of the ladies were lovely, none of the lips resembled the latent lip marks found on the original cup.

    We were sitting in his office, I chewing on a piece of yesterday’s cigar, while my client berated me for my expensive lack of judgment.

    I was gazing lethargically at his desk when my eyes came to rest on a wayward, unclaimed cup. I reached out and picked it up. I studied it, turned it this way and that, then I turned my attention to the original cup. The lip marks matched remarkably well. (Actually, they were identical.) I handed the cup over to my client who examined the new cup, and the old. We were both staring at each other in clueless wonder when Myrna scythed into the room, and stopped no more than a foot from her boss.

    “That’s mine she said.

    “What is?” He said, with lamb-like innocence.

    “That is. That cup.” She clamped her fingers over it like, like one of those giant claw things that you see at a junkyard, and lifted the cup away from his grasp with mechanical efficiency. “What’re you doing with my coffee?” She looked in the cup, then she looked at me, then she looked at her boss. “You two are weird,” she said, then turned and cut a hasty retreat.

    He was still numb, in shock, a great time for me to bring up the subject of payment. I’d solved the case by finding the woman who belonged to the lips. “Well, that’s that, I guess. Do you need a bill, or what?”

    “He looked at me but I could see he had a faraway look in his eyes. He reached into the desk and brought out a wad of cash that would – actually it was a gold bar. It clunked with a rich, dense sound as it hit the desk.

    I picked it up. Actually it was so god-damned heavy I had to slide it across the desk. “I’m not complaining but this is a pretty strange form of payment.”

    “Don’t worry,” he said, “you earned it.”

    It turns out Myrna wasn’t married, and my former client has no more need of my services. The last I heard, he was fetching coffee and taking orders from Myrna now.
    It’s amazing what a good pair of lips can do. And that’s no lie.

  • October 26, 2016 at 9:44 am
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    THE CUPPA

    “I’ll make you a nice cuppa, mum.”

    Pam got up from the rustic wooden table and filled the kettle at the sink. The gas ring popped into life with a turn and click of the knob on the stove.

    “I’ll do it just as you like it. Just as you taught me.”

    She took the teapot from the cupboard and rinsed it under the tap. The window above the sink gave onto the back garden. There was still dew on the grass, plants and flowers, sparkling in the morning sunshine. Here and there, a pearly spider’s web nestled in a bush, or between flower stalks.

    “The birds haven’t got any food, mum. I’ll just go and put some out while the kettle’s boiling. Won’t be a mo’.”

    When Pam opened the back door, a waft of cold autumn air sneaked into the kitchen. She went to the shed, rummaged around and came out with a bag of seed. She took her time to fill the half-dozen feeders.

    When she came back into the kitchen, the kettle was whistling.

    “Brrrr! Bit chilly out there. I know – should’ve put my coat on, really.”

    She lifted the kettle off the stove and poured a little hot water into the teapot.

    “Always heat the pot first.”

    While the hot water was doing its job, Pam crossed to the Welsh dresser, opened one of the cupboard doors and delicately brought out a blue and white cup and saucer. She cradled it in her hands for one or two precious moments, then placed it next to the teapot.

    “The willow pattern one, eh? Your favourite.”

    She lifted the cup and inspected it in the light from the window. The rich dark-blue Chinese pavilions, boats and birds gleamed against the pristine white background. Pam carefully placed it back on the saucer and popped the gas on again to bring the water back to the boil.

    “That cup. Remember when I got it for you? We were going round the antique fair, and you saw it and liked it, but we didn’t have enough money with us. So I went back the week after and bought it. Oh, you were so happy with it … and it gave me such a thrill to see you happy.”

    Pam was keeping busy as she spoke. As the kettle started to whistle again she took a tin down from a shelf; opened the drawer next to the sink; chose a teaspoon; levered the lid of the tin off with the handle of the spoon; emptied the water from the teapot into the sink; measured three teaspoons of black tea-leaves from the tin and dropped them into the teapot …

    “One per person, and one for the pot.”

    … turned the gas off; grabbed a tea-towel to hold the hot handle of the kettle; poured the boiling water into the teapot; put the lid on it; wrapped it in a red woollen cosy …

    “I love this cosy. Nice bit of knitting.”

    … carried the teapot to the table; unhooked a green mug from the wooden mug tree on the Welsh dresser; took a bottle of milk out of the refrigerator; took it and a small bowl of sugar to the table; and sat down.

    “No sugar for you, I know – you’re sweet enough already. I’ll have a bit, though … I’ll give up soon. Must start losing a bit of weight. But I’ll wait until …”

    A little milk went in the cup and the mug, and the cosy came off the teapot.

    “I think that should do it – it’s had enough time to brew. Let’s take a look.”

    Pam poured some deep, golden brown tea into the mug.

    “That looks good, doesn’t it?”

    Now she filled the cup. Then she leaned back in her chair, took the mug and raised it to her lips, taking a cautious sip.

    “Mmm. Yes, that’s perfect. Just the way you liked …”

    It was too much for Pam. She placed the mug back on the table and laid her head there, too, sobbing quietly. She stayed like that for some while, until her shoulders stopped rocking.

    She sat up straight, sighed heavily, wiped her eyes, got up and took the mug and the cup and saucer across the kitchen. She poured the tea into the sink, rinsed the cup and dried it with gentle, loving care.

    Then she returned it just as carefully to the cupboard in the Welsh dresser and softly closed the door.

    .

  • October 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm
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    The Edinburgh Cup.
    Brrr, brrr.
    “ Hi, Mum, is Dad around?”
    “ He’s in the garden, practising his putting. That’s where he’s been for the last three months, 5 hours a day. We used to have a life before he became obsessed with that damn Golf Club. He’s got this crazy idea in his head that if he practises enough he can win the Edinburgh Cup.”
    “ Well, Mum, you know Dad. Once he gets an obsession there’s no stopping him.”
    “That’s all very well, but I’m supposed to put my life on hold while he messes around ‘following his dream’”
    This last sentence is said with heavy sarcasm.
    Tom breezes in, oblivious to ‘that look’ on Mabel’s face.
    “What’s for tea, love?”
    “Get it yourself.”
    And Mabel bursts into tears.
    “Whatever’s wrong, have I done something to annoy you? Come on old girl, this isn’t like you.”
    “How do you know what’s like me or not? You are never here. All day you spend in the garden with those golf clubs, I only ever see you for meals, we never talk.”
    “But we do talk, love, I’m talking now. I promise you, when this tournament is over, you’ll see a lot more of me.”
    Mabel dries her eyes on the tea towel.
    “We used to go out for a meal occasionally, or the odd weekend in Skegness. How long is it since we did anything together?”
    “Look love, it’s one month to the tournament, you know how much I want this Cup; it’s the only trophy I haven’t won for the club. I know I stand a good chance but I do need to practise my swing, you must see that darling. All this will be worthwhile, believe me.”
    Tom tucks into his steak and kidney pie, and with a quick peck on Mabel’s cheek, he retires to the garden clutching his golf bag.
    Mabel is left to seethe quietly, warring emotions fight for supremacy; anger, disappointment, abandonment. Pouring herself an overgenerous measure of whisky she moves from the sofa to stand in front of the mirror.
    ‘I’m still young, I still have my figure and although I say it myself, I’m not bad looking. If it was another woman I could understand it, but golf ! Would my life have been different if I had married someone else, someone who actually sees me as a woman, who appreciates me?’ The telephone interrupts this introspective mood.
    “Hi mum. How’s the old man?”
    Mabel launches into a tirade for a full five minutes, after which she feels much better.
    The day of the tournament finally arrives. Tom is up at dawn, pacing up and down, he can’t contain his excitement.
    “Here we go love; today I’ll bring you the Edinburgh Cup, just you wait and see,”
    “Does that mean we can have our lives back, go out occasionally, see more of each other?”
    “Of course, sweetheart. After I win this competition there is nothing else left for me to win. This is the pinnacle – I will hold every trophy in the club.”
    Later, at the clubhouse Tom stands in front of the Edinburgh Cup. He caresses the glass case.
    “Tomorrow you will be home at 22 Broughton mansions.”
    Charles, a long time golfing buddy sidles up to him.
    “There’s stiff competition, Tom, old son. I know of at least two players you’ll have to watch. Most of the others are no threat, but It’ll be a close run match.”
    Charles pats the glass case, addressing the Cup. ‘You won’t be easy to shift, it’ll be a hard game.’
    The first hour weeds out the competition, one getting stuck in a bunker and needing five shots to get out; several others lack the aggressive spirit and become disheartened by the three players who take an early lead. Another hour passes, Simpson slices what should have been an easy shot, reducing the competition to two serious players – Tom and Seth Elderby. The rest of the field gamely stick with it. Tom and Elderby, both equally determined, slog it out for a further two hours. Seth is visibly flagging, which boosts Tom’s confidence no end. Though bone weary, he feels a rush of adrenaline as they near the last hole. This is Tom’s home course, he knows every blade of grass; his fellow club members cheer him on. He is invulnerable, the vision of the Cup spurring him on.
    Mabel feels a surge of relief as Tom arrives home, slightly worse for wear, clutching the trophy. Now they can get their lives back on track. Over dinner she shows him some travel brochures.
    “Just imagine a cruise down the Danube; two weeks of four star dining, visits to Vienna, Slovakia – all those places I’ve always dreamed of. Shall I book it up?”
    Tom is less than enthusiastic.
    “Two weeks is a long time to be marooned on a boat. What if we are stuck with people we don’t like? I hear that they sit you at a table with the same people for the whole voyage, you don’t get to choose.”
    Mabel decides to soft pedal and wear Tom down with subtlety.
    “Well, darling, maybe later in the year,”
    “Tell you what!” says Tom triumphantly. “I’ll take you out for a meal on the weekend.”
    “That’ll be nice, dear.” She replies through gritted teeth.
    Two months later.
    Brr, brr.
    “Hello Tom. Charles here. As you know, the club president is due to retire next month. The committee have elected you in your absence. You’ll take on the rôle, won’t you?”
    Tom gasps. “I’m honoured, Charles. Of course I’ll take it on.”
    Mabel’s knees give way and she sinks down in the nearest chair. Inwardly she screams. ‘No. No. No.’
    Lifting the Cup down from the shelf, and picking a bottle of good claret from the wine rack, she empties the wine into the Cup, followed by a good dollop of rat poison.
    “Let’s celebrate, darling.”

  • October 27, 2016 at 8:20 am
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    Awoken
    By Ken Allen (936 words)

    Christian Clay’s eyes snapped open, his pupils instantly adjusting to the dull yellow glow. He slowly pushed himself off the hard surface and stood with bare feet. The floor was somewhere between carpet and concrete and he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it reminded him of.

    He viewed his surroundings, spinning on the spot with as much decorum as a defensive tackle attempting a pirouette. A curved, frosted glass wall encircled him.

    “Hello?” he called out. His voice echoed around the vacuum. His gaze followed the wall where the surface met at a disc at the top.

    “Hello?” he repeated. “What am I doing here?”

    Muffled sounds floated around him, too disjointed to form into any words, too incoherent to make any sense.

    The cold hit him and he could feel an emptiness grow inside his stomach. An itch ran the length of his left arm and he rubbed it furiously. That’s when he noticed the tattoo, an intricate tribal artwork that wrapped around his wrist and ventured up his arm, disappearing into the sleeve of his orange jumpsuit. He traced the black ink with his finger, hoping for the memories to stir, however, his mind was as empty as his stomach. He traced up to a tag on his left breast, five numbers embossed on his outfit. “What the hell is this?” he muttered to himself.

    A muffled voice wafted over him. It was soft, like it floated on a pocket of air before coming to rest, encasing him. “What’s your name?”

    Christian shot a glance upwards towards the ceiling, seemingly the source of the questions. He looked down at his feet, hoping a name would come. “Ch …Christian,” he called out. “Christian Clay.” His name came easier to him than he thought. An edge of panic then gripped his voice as roughly as the cold grasped at his throat. “I don’t know where I –.”

    A voice cut him off. “Where are you from?”

    “I … I don’t know. What is this place? Who are you?”

    More muffled voices, more coldness, more emptiness.

    “I don’t feel well,” he said. “Can you help me?”

    Nothing.

    He ran a hand over his shaved head, the smooth surface cold to the touch like he was touching a polished stone. He padded over to the wall. “Hey, can you hear me?”

    No reply.

    He placed a hand on the glass. It was warm to the touch and he let the energy enter him, a soothing spark running up his spine. He cupped his hands to the wall and tried to peer through the foggy surface. Vague outlines and clouded movements filled his vision, neither of which gave him any sense of his location.

    “Hey!” he yelled. “Can you hear me?” He thumped on the barricade and it shifted forwards.

    He stood back and regarded his confines for a moment, once more spinning on the spot. As he did, he realised the hunger was shrinking and the coldness leaving him.

    Another voice invaded his senses, bringing with it the return of the ailments, and he clutched at his stomach with cold hands.

    “What’s your name?” the voice said.

    Christian threw his head back. “Christian!” he roared with whatever energy he had. “Let me out!”
    His body flipped again, a heat growing inside him to fight off the elements. Every shouted word seemed to fortify his being.

    A flood of questions fell upon him, all stunted and overlapped. “Where are …”, “When were …”, “Why did …”

    The words berated him, pushed him down. He felt like he was drowning in a verbal storm, each sound splashing on his face, causing him to choke.

    He threw his hands to his ears, attempting to block out the noise, but the voices cut through him like daggers, infecting his senses and piercing his soul.

    “Stop it,” he screamed, “Just stop it.”

    The voices kept on going and his body shifted from a cold nothingness that weakened him to a white hot ball of rage that intensified.

    He slammed a fist against the wall. Once again his enclosure shifted and the voices dissipated. Energy coursed through his veins and his heart pumped wildly out of control. He pushed again and another surge entered him. Again and again, he pushed, punched and kicked the wall, and with every movement, he could feel himself getting stronger, the voices distant. He was almost immune to it. He could feel the darkness beginning to shroud him, black wisps emerging from the floor.

    With one more scream, he shoulder-charged the wall, and he was free.

    #

    Becky, Loren and Sue screamed as the small cup flew across the room and smashed into the cupboard wall. They kicked at the ouija board in an effort to distance themselves from the fright and regain some level of control in the mayhem.

    “What do we do,” Becky said, the fear in her voice growing by the syllable.

    Sue shook her head, unable to piece together a coherent sentence. Beside her, on the front page of the newspaper, a story title “Child Killer Christian Cooper Clay Executed” extended into the room. The black bold letters anchoring themselves in the moment.

    Loren slowly raised a finger and pointed over Becky’s shoulder. She screamed, the pitch and ferocity causing the girls to jump and run out of the room.

    #

    Christian watched the young girls dart out the door and grinned. He liked it when they ran. He rubbed his hands together, the evil smirk growing on his face.

    He had some killing to do.

    THE END

  • October 27, 2016 at 12:06 pm
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    The Magic of the Bazaar.

    “Isn’t this fun?” said Connie to her husband, Frank, as they immersed themselves in the Cairo souk. The bold colours of fabrics and piquant spices were everywhere, piled high in the meandering narrow alleyways of shop fronts. The contrast between the deep shadows cast by the sun and the blinding glints where it met shiny brass teapots was disorientating. Crowds bustling. Traders’ hollerings to ‘buy, buy, buy’ composed a rich cacophony.
    “I’m enjoying the chaos of it all, yes,” said Frank taking Connie’s hand, partly through affection, mostly so as not to lose her. “You know, all situations can be mathematically described, this bazaar experience – I’m not so sure. It’s as random as it gets, although…”
    “Frank! You have to learn to switch off,” Connie playfully smacked the back of his hand. “This is supposed to be our honeymoon!”
    “Sorry. Yes, yes, I’ll stop now.” Frank smiled and squeezed her hand although in his head he continued to create formulae defining the surroundings.
    “That’s better,” she said. “Let’s absorb some magic.”
    Of course Frank knew there was no such thing as magic but indulged his wife’s lively imagination. It’s what he loved about her. Even magic can be mathematically…
    A man stepped out from a shop and in front of them, his hand theatrically clutching his forehead. They tried to side-step the human obstruction. He anticipated their move.
    “You sir, using my mystical third eye I can look into your mind and see you are… a scientist. Am I right?”
    A lucky guess, thought Frank – he wore glasses, his general appearance geeky; definitely a desk- bound worker but obviously not trendy-looking enough to be mistaken for a web-designer.
    “Yes, you’re right,” said Connie, open-mouthed. “That’s amazing.”
    Frank remained unimpressed.
    “Amin, at your service.” The trader shook Frank’s hand. “Ah! You are a physicist.”
    Now Frank was slightly impressed. And bemused. He raised his hands in surrender.
    “You got me.”
    “Are you familiar with the mathematics of probability?”
    “Yes, I’d say I have more than a grasp of the idea.”
    “Excellent, so do I. It’s in our Egyptian blood. You see, Egypt is where mathematics was born, the Greeks will argue otherwise but let me tell you,” Amin leaned forward, “we invented Greece.” And he laughed.
    Without realising it, Frank and Connie had been manoeuvred into the back of Amin’s shop. He indicated they sit in the two swivel chairs placed at a glass-topped table; he took possession of the other, more ornate chair opposite them. Arranged on the table was a small red ceramic ball beside a stack of three plain cups. The Westerners stared as the Egyptian set the cups upside down in a row, placing the central cup over the ball.
    “You know this game?” Amin asked, shifting the cups about on the table.
    “Yes,’ answered the couple, watching like hawks.
    “Then where is the ball?”
    Frank pointed to the far right cup; Connie, the far left.
    “You have not been married long,” assessed Amin. “My advice: you would do well to listen to your wife.” He tilted back the left-hand cup to reveal the ball, and showed the other two were empty.
    Connie smiled. Frank frowned.
    “Let me increase the odds that you will find the ball,” Amin said, raising an eyebrow to Frank. The Egyptian took away two of the cups. He placed the remaining cup over the ball and slid it around the glass surface.
    “One cup?” said Frank.
    “One cup,” affirmed Amin. “Maybe we should have a little wager, say twenty dollars?” The Egyptian placed a note on the table.
    “No,’ said Frank. “It’s a trick, you’ll use sleight of hand or misdirection to conceal the ball.”
    The Egyptian, exhaled disappointedly and took his hand off the cup.
    “I am offended by your mistrust. However, I will allay your fears. I will not touch the cup at all. Your wife will move it instead. She will be in complete control.”
    Connie inspected the cup – it had no secret compartments or holes, it was ‘just’ a cup. Frank tapped and squeezed the red ball – it was solid. There was nothing untoward about the glass-topped table. Satisfied, the couple looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Frank placed twenty dollars on the table to match the Egyptian’s stake.
    “Oh no, no, no, no. As I have raised the odds so heavily in your favour it is only fitting that we raise the stakes too, make the game more interesting. If you win you can have the pick of anything from my shop.”
    “I like the look of that necklace,” Connie said to Frank.
    “It’s going to look great on you,” he answered with confidence as, with only one cup to choose from, the couple couldn’t lose. This Egyptian shopkeeper was deluded.
    Amin sat back, his face deadly serious.
    “Should you lose, I take your wife.”
    Despite the mathematical certainty of the bet, Frank was now reticent. He looked at Connie.
    She whispered, “There’s no such thing as magic, is there?”
    “No, there isn’t,” answered Frank. “Absolutely not.”
    “Let’s do it then.”
    She placed the cup over the red ball and slid it slowly about the table. The hidden ball could be heard rattling as it moved. Connie stopped. She kept her hand on the stationary cup, the ball rattled to a halt a moment later.
    “Are you finished?” said the trader softly.
    She nodded.
    Frank swallowed loudly.
    “Then where is the red ball?” asked Amin.
    “Here,” said Connie and lifted the cup slowly. Her hand shaking. A blue ball rolled out.

    (960 words excl. title)

  • October 30, 2016 at 2:20 pm
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    The Cup
    There it sits. Its off white porcelain, taunting me to touch it. I don’t want to touch it. I know if I do I will fall under its spell. The magic will take hold of me. Right now, I don’t want that magic.
    I remember when Gram and Gramps lived at the end of the lane, Keeping the small orchard going. It didn’t matter who used the cup. When they finished they’d take it to the sink, give it one drop of soap, a good rinse and set it in the dish drainer. Never dry it and put it in the cupboard. On cold nights we’d all have hot chocolate, so I know there were other mugs.
    When I was about six or seven, I asked Gramps. “Why that cup? It is not pretty or anything. Just plain ol white.”
    Gramps replied, “It just feels right.”
    “Gramps how come it never gets put in the cupboard?”
    “Because child it makes your Gram act like one of her bitty hens.” Gramps grinned and winked as he dried the cup and set it on the second shelf of the cupboard by the sink. Giving a chuckle, he points for me to sit for the show, as he leaves the room.
    Grams was up stairs making the beds. She came down bible in hand. Setting it on the table by her favorite chair next to the window, she headed to the sink. “Gramps get his coffee?”
    “Yes, Ma’am.”
    Grams gives a humph, looking about with hands on her hips. She picks up a dish rag and starts cleaning every surface in the kitchen. Checking under places she knows it can’t be. Like under a grocery receipt. Looking the receipt over she circles the items in question and places it in the file by the phone. You can see her temper rising. Her banging of things gets louder with each item she moves. Gramps peeks around the corner a big grin on his face. We watch as Grams hunts and pecks about mumbling to herself. The steam building. Before she blows Gramps walks in. “Woman,  whats got your tail fathers all in a ruffle?”
    “Where on earth did you put my cup old man?”
    “Right here, on the shelf where it belongs Easter Sue.” He reaches for  the cup in the  cupboard, pours Grams her coffee and settles her in her chair. Grams grasp the handle and takes  dainty sip from the side. All her steam vanishes, she smiles at Gramps. “You ol fool.”
    Gramps and I walk outside. He smiles and says,”That is why we don’t put it away.”
    We both laugh.
    When Gramps comes in tired and worn from working, he goes up to shower. When he comes down dinner is on the table. After dinner He stretches his long legs out and says,” Got any pie? I only like two kinds of pie. Hot and cold.”
    Grams laughs and brings Gramps a cup of coffee in the white Cup along with his pie. Gramps big ol hands wrap around the front of the mug, as his fingers are to big for the handle, and drinks from the back. Says the handle keeps him from dipping the cup to far, to fast and burning himself. All the tiredness and worry of the day wash away as he drinks and the jovial Gramps returns.
     After Gramps died, Grams would spend all day holding the cup. Said it made her feel closer to Gramps and brought her joy.
    Grams spent several years at a home for the elderly. Shortly after she passed a package showed up for mom. The note read: Easter Sue wanted to make sure you got this. We have others that looked similar. She always knew which one was hers. Said it just felt right. We got to where we’d rinse it and leave it in the drainer by her sink. So we could always find it.”
    Mom would cradle it in her hands like it was delicate china or a birds egg. Cupping her hands around the bottom, drinking out of the front. She said it made her feel wiser, calmer, more in control. Any time she felt  stressed or sad she would  use the cup and I would watch the mood melt away.
     When I was in college pulling an all nighter at home I drank tea. I didn’t like coffee and anything that had had coffee in it ruined the tea. One night not thinking i grabbed the cup by mistake and found it was the best cup of tea I’d ever had. Being a lefty i drank from the wrong side.
    Mom passed last week from a long bout with cancer. She is gone way to soon for my liking. I am mad. I want to stay mad, hurt, heartbroken. But the cup with it’s faded color and hair line cracks keeps calling me to touch it. Just touch it.
    I stand staring, studying. there’s nothing special about it. It is still plain  white. Dingy white at that from years of use. You can see a few stains. So why do I not want to touch it? Whats its spell? What is the magic it holds?
    Simple: Generations of Love, family and comfort. Though I want to be mad mom is gone I need that simplicity that love and comfort. I sit down to my tea and the sorrow seems bearable. I am free to cry now.

  • October 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm
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    After Josh
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    It‘s a plain white mug, adorned with images of monsters, space ships, beam weapons and other paraphernalia of a young and fertile imagination. Carl turns it in his hands, slowly, eyeing closely every detail. Still, his mind seems to travel another universe, not sure where it wants to be.

    Structure is scarce. The porcelain’s white remains prominent – yet not dominant. Carl always liked the cup because of this scarcity and how it amplified the image’s intention, because the love, life and hope that it conveyed.

    Its bright, sometimes clashing colors attract Carl’s attention in a subtle, yet authoritative way. A thick purple line spans across a third of the cup’s surface, obviously a particle beam exiting some kind of weapon and hitting a group of hostile aliens at the other. A space ship hovers in the cup’s white void. A group of bushy-furred extraterrestrials floats in mid-air.

    The image started out as a drawing on paper, an art class assignment. Josh’s teacher detected little artistic value and initially didn’t select it for processing onto ceramic. But Josh insisted. He had worked hard on it. And he wanted to bring it home and show it to dad.

    Carl liked the cup instantly and he said so. Thirteen-year-olds need the recognition of parents, but for Carl praise came easy because he truly enjoyed the work. His favorite coffee cup had been broken a few days earlier and so he chose Josh’s mug as its successor. He had used it every day from then on, for one year and a half.

    A year and a half later Josh died in a car accident on the way home from school.

    Carl and Ellen had four children, two older and one younger than Josh. Life had to go on for that reason alone. Karen, 24, their oldest, had just finished her studies and moved abroad to take a job. Michael was in his second year of college and Sam, the youngest, had just entered junior high.

    All, of course, were shattered, caught in a fog of numbness as they carried on their lives, which for an unfathomable, unacceptable reason had become ‘lives after Josh.’

    The kids seemed to move on more easily. Lesser were their memories that tortured the elders: Josh the infant, sucking at his thumb when Ellen’s breast was late for lunch. Josh starting to walk, clinging to a chair, which he pushed forward with every step, Josh dropping from his stroller in pursuit of a rabbit, climbing a ladder, entering primary school.

    Having witnessed less they had less to leave behind, less to forget. At least Carl hoped so while he knew there was no fair way of comparing how each of them suffered of that empty space in the heart, each of them ultimately walking their own lonely path in memory of Josh.

    Carl’s clearest memories start with Josh entering school, taking his first steps into the larger world, timid at first but then more boldly, daring even, trust and confidence growing with each new experience.

    Carl had always marveled at what he called the slow emergence of maturity of a human being. He had adopted the view that children are adults without experience. Seen from that angle, the man that Josh was emerged day by day before his eyes, like a gem shedding the soil that had covered it until its discovery. Often when returning from school Josh shared disasters that had happened in his day – reprimands from a teacher, a fight with a schoolmate, the loss of change from his allowance. Carl thus remembered his own time as a child when these little confessions helped him to come clear with life, to make a clean slate, get ready for another step forward, assuring him he was okay, that life was good in spite of the occasional setback.

    Josh’s plans for the future had ranged from being a computer scientist to becoming a painter or sculptor. Carl and Ellen had fully encouraged his endeavors into all this realms.

    What was Josh bringing home from school on that fateful day? What was he going to tell? They had planned to go out to have pizza for dinner. Surely, Josh had been looking forward to that. What else had he planned for the evening. It had been a Friday – no school the next day.

    These thoughts had beset Carl every single day. Somehow Ellen had moved on more quickly, helped by her focus on the other children, especially Sam. Carl half resented but also admired it. It had helped him to move forward. Surely their remaining children deserved their love and attention, not to become orphans through the loss of her brother.

    Carl had resented it when acceptance set in some time ago – beyond his control and against his conscious desire. It felt he was losing Josh once more, slowly now, to loss of memory, a beloved thing of the past fading, drifting into oblivion.

    Should he resist, refuse to forget, ensure at least one part of the world remembered that precious young life?

    But life knew better than that. It had given him time – to cope, to mourn, to suffer. It had given him what was proper and honorable but life also had love to give.

    Carl smiles as his hands turn the cup – for the first time not in memory of Josh but in a gentle realization of life’s greatest gift, which is love. It came to him in the faces of Karen, Mike and Sam, in the face of Ellen, in the awareness of all the good that happened in utter disregard of tragedy.

    “What about dinner?” Sam peeks into the room.
    “Pizza.”
    Sam isn’t sure.
    “Or what about Smokey Joe? I like their big hall.”
    Sam’s eyes widen: “Are you sure?”
    “It’s Friday. A good day to stay up longer.”
    Sam is okay with that.
    “I’ll call mom.”

  • November 1, 2016 at 12:04 am
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    Shattered
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    It was the moment that changed her life forever. And it started with a simple white cup.

    The cup was just sitting on the table, a left over dish from breakfast. It was the one with the black and yellow logo from the company she used to work for.

    She doesn’t even remember what was said, they were both mad, yelling at each other. Then he picked it up. Things seemed to slow down after that, as he hurled the cup at the wall just behind her. At least she hoped he was aiming form the wall, and not her head.

    Silence filled the room. Shards from the cup lay at her feet, some of it was in her hair. The look on his face was one of triumph at first, then anger…then maybe sorrow.

    It was too late though, she was already imagining her departure, and he knew it.

    She didn’t yell, didn’t throw anything back at him. She merely got up and went into the room and began packing.

    He followed her, “Sorry,” he said, but it sounded hollow. “Please talk to me, don’t pack. Give yourself time to calm down, then we’ll talk.”

    “Me get calm?” She was incredulous. Still not screaming, just shocked that the one who threw the cup was telling her to calm down.

    “I just mean—” He stopped, what did he mean?

    She continued to neatly fold her clothes into the very large suitcase they rarely used. But it was the perfect size for the ‘see ya later’ kind of packing she was doing.

    He watched and grew more panicked, ‘I need to stop her,’ he thought. He took the clothes from her hands, “Stop —stop packing for one minute and listen!”

    He twisted her arm, instantly regretted it, but it was too late —again. This time she did get angry and swung at him with her good arm, and landed a punch in his left eye.

    The cup was the beginning, but what happened next was definitely the end.

    He was filled with so many confusing emotions, sadness, sorrow, but it was the anger that won out. ‘She’s willing to throw away ten years for one mistake.’ He thought. Not remembering there were ten years of many mistakes that culminated in a simple white cup being thrown at her.

    His eye stung, and then all of it became her fault. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her out of the room. Not exactly the start to any kind of reconciliation.

    “Let me go you fucker, let me go!”

    “Shut up bitch, you hit me!”

    There was a chorus of bitches, and fuckers, whores, cunts, and assholes. Enough to finalize the end of a tumultuous marriage. Oh yeah, this was definitely the end.

    He accused her of overreacting, while she kept saying, “You threw a mug at me!”

    He’d forgotten that, or rationalized it, convincing himself that she had no right to hit him.

    “Let me go!” she yelled. And he obliged by cupping the back of her head and shoving her so hard that she careened into the wall —just like the mug.

    She felt the blood gushing out of her nose before reaching up and touching it. Seeing it, and feeling the pain in her nose, which was obviously broken, broke something in her. She was in a rage. All those years of letting things go, all the times she said sorry, just so they wouldn’t fight anymore, all those times he was an uncaring selfish asshole, welled up inside her and she went into a rage, like the green fleshed Hulk of comic books.

    She turned to look at him, her face already bruising from the broken nose, “Hon…please, I’m sorry, but you—”

    ‘But me,’ she thought. ‘That’s what he always did, turned his faults into my mistakes.’ She ran towards him, her arms raised, her hands like claws, screaming like a wild animal. It took him by surprise, and he fell backward, his arms protecting his face, as she rained down blow, after blow.

    She was screaming and crying, and swinging, then he was able to get the advantage back, flipping her over on her back. Now he was on top. He was in control. He placed his hands around her neck and began to squeeze.

    She stared at him, no fear in her eyes. This was because she had it in her hand already, grabbed it as he tossed her over. He would kill her, she knew this. She always knew he was capable of it. But he didn’t know that she was also capable of ending his life.

    It was a piece of the cup that started it all, and the shattered remains of it would save her life. He didn’t even realize what she’d done at first, his hands were still clamped down on her throat. Then he felt the blood squirting from his neck. Bullseye! Give the lady 50 points, she hit an artery.

    Finally, he let go of her throat, and she crawled away, gasping for air. He fell back choking on his own blood. He was trying to say something to her, ‘Help, or maybe her name,’ but he couldn’t, it was too late for that as well.

    The neighbors called police after hearing her screams. When they arrived, she was still standing over his body.

    They took her away, first to the hospital where the ER doc told police her injuries matched her story. She heard the detective say, “Looks like self-defense fellas.”

    She was taken to the precinct to give her statement, and wait for a friend to pick her up. The kind detective came in and handed her some coffee, in a simple white cup —just like the one that started it all.

    She took it with two shaky hands, and looked at the detective before saying, “I am going to miss him.”

  • November 2, 2016 at 4:15 am
    Permalink

    It had been an intense day at school. Now she was home, lying on her bed, Ellen texted Rachel her best friend.
    Hi where u @?
    Home. U?
    Likewise. U want 2 catch^.
    Sure. Where?
    @ Romeo’s Pizza. Tell Maria 2 meat us there. Bring your cards 2.
    G8. C U.

    As Ellen strode through the lounge room on her way out, Damien and Scott looked up.
    “Where’re you going?”
    “None of your business.”
    “You’re supposed to watch me and Scott. I’m not thirteen yet.”
    Ellen turned to stare at him.
    “Meaning?”
    “We’re under age. You can’t leave us home alone. You’ll catch it from Mum.”
    “I’m not going far. Besides you’ll catch it from me if you do anything I would of.” She opened the door and “Also I’ll only be an hour. Maybe less. There’s food in the fridge and you can make your own milkshakes.” She slammed the front door as she left.
    ***
    Romeo’s Pizza was only a block and a half from their house in the small country town where Ellen, her two younger brothers and an older sister lived with their parents. Romeo’s had been owned by the same family since 1916. The Sicilian migrants who had opened Romeo’s – one of the first cafe Pizza joints in the state, were the great-grandparents of the present owners Rocco and Carlotta. Rocky’s great-grandfather had also been Rocco Giovanni Castano. Rocco’s twin brother was called Giovanni Rocco Castano, of course.
    Ellen and her friends liked the warm family atmosphere of the Pizza restaurant and cafe. One wall of the cafe section was decorated with cups that bespoke of the sporting achievements of the Castanos, both male and female over several generations. They had excelled in Baseball, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics – almost to an Olympic level before marriages and the family businesses claimed their passion and expertise. All the Castanos married girls from the Old Country and old families too. The girls were often sent back to Sicily to marry suitable grooms from the right families.

    Sitting waiting for the others to arrive, Ellen’s gaze slid over the awards. It was then she noticed the small silver cup tucked into the back of cabinet, between two awards for basketball from the 1950’s. She thought at first it was a christening cup, assuming that the Castano’s were Catholics, it was likely given that they came from Italy.
    “Ciao dolcezza. How’re you today? Latte? Two? Where’re your friends? Coming?”
    “Fine Carla. Fine. Yes. Latte with two sugars.” As the brisk little woman turned to go, Ellen stopped her.
    “Dolcezza, you wanna eat too?’
    “No, no. I just want to ask about that cup there.” She pointed to the cup rising from her seat as she did so.
    Carlotta shrugged and shook her head.
    “Dunno, dolcezza. I’ll ask Rocco for you.” She walked over to where Rocco was making pizzas and shovelling them into the ovens.
    “Rocco la bambina vuole conoscere il piccolo bicchiere d’argento con la premiazione dello sport?”

    Rocco dusted off his apron, took it off.
    “Dove è lei seduta?”

    “E ‘Ellen. Tabella 6.”

    He walked over to the cabinet and took out the cup which was a silver beaker and placed it on the table where Ellen was sitting.
    “Why do you want to know about this particular cup?” Ellen saw the sadness in his face.
    “Well, it’s not for a sporting award, is it?”
    Rocco slowly shook his head.
    “No. It’s not. But the man who gave it to my grandfather was a brave man. A strong man. He was a champion in every respect.”
    “So why is it there? Among the sporting awards?”
    “Because he had no family. No family left, he knew still living. My grandfather put it there when he died.”
    Rocco was quiet for a moment. He picked the cup up and rubbed the raised surface of the tarnished silver beaker.
    ‘His name was Sam. They met when my grand-father was in Italy during the war. He was a partisan. They found him in the forest with another man who died. They had escaped a German death march. They became friends. My grand-father took him to America and gave him work after the war. Sam searched through Europe for twenty years after the war ended for any family. Even a cousin or distant relative that might’ve survived.” He paused. “He was the second youngest of thirteen children. All of his older brothers and sisters were married and had families. He was engaged to be married when the Nazis came. He had a younger sister of fifteen. None of them survived. Or we don’t know.”
    “So why is the cup in the cabinet?”
    “Because the cup belonged to his father. It’s a Kiddush cup. The Jews make a blessing on wine or grape juice on their Shabbat holiday every week or on their holy days. This was custom made in Venice by a famous silversmith in the seventeenth century. See.” He held the cup up for her to see.
    The cup was truly a work of art. The Hebrew lettering was decorated with a grape and leaf pattern and the raised silver work was truly magnificent.
    ‘My grandfather ordered that the cup be put on display in the cabinet. He hoped one day that a member of Sam’s family would come in and recognise it. It was put there when Sam got sick. He was sick for two years before he died.”
    Ellen shook her head.
    “You know, it would be difficult for someone Jewish who keeps everything to come here, don’t you?’
    “No. Why?”
    “Well, a lot of Jews keep strict kosher. Romeo’s isn’t kosher. You’re Italian. What was Sam’s last name?”
    “Caro.”
    “Wow. That’s amazing. Could I and my friends try to help you find any of his relatives, if they are still living?”
    “Ok. Why not? You think we should do something more, Ellen?’

    Just at that moment, Ellen’s two friends Rachel and Maria entered.

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