DEADLINE EXTENDED!! Story Thread: Aug 4- Aug 24, 2016 Flash Fiction Last Line Contest “In A Few Moments, There Would/Will Be No More Doubts”

DEADLINE EXTENDED!! LAST DAY TO SUBMIT A STORY IS NOW AUGUST 24TH. LET’S GET SOME MORE STORIES SUBMITTED!!

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the Last Line Theme: “In A Few Moments, There Would/Will Be No more Doubts”. The Required elements are:

  1. Your story MUST end with the words, “In A Few Moments, There Would/Will Be No more Doubts.” You can use either “would,” or “will” as long as your story ends with the above last line.

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.

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:

One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.

Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

***NOTE: Starting with this contest, the next writing prompt will be chosen via the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

 


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10 thoughts on “DEADLINE EXTENDED!! Story Thread: Aug 4- Aug 24, 2016 Flash Fiction Last Line Contest “In A Few Moments, There Would/Will Be No More Doubts”

  • August 8, 2016 at 9:34 am
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    ALLEGEDLY

    I’ve been dogged by doubts all through my life.

    My mother doubted whether she wanted me (as I was to find out much later in life when I uncovered some letters she’d written to an aunt of mine). I don’t hold that letter against her, God rest her soul. I and the country thank her for my life.

    Teachers at school doubted my intelligence; I was put in the ‘dummy’ class – momentarily only. My father made them understand – helped by a large check for the refurbishment fund – that I really deserved to be with kids who didn’t dribble while they were writing a composition.

    The kids at that school doubted my sexuality – at least the names that some of them called me would suggest as much. I soon proved them wrong with Sue-Ellen Baker. And if I landed a couple of nights in jail as a result, then it was time well spent – and served. My father’s check book came in handy again there.

    When I left school, the whole family doubted whether I should go to university. What were they thinking? That it would burst my brain or something? No. I went and graduated. Economics.

    Doubts as to my reasons for avoiding ‘Nam while I was at college? Well, I didn’t want to come home in a body bag – that was the main one. But I also knew that people depended on me at home, and I wasn’t about to disappoint them.

    Then when I left university, most of them (I mean my family) doubted my business skills and were against my taking over the family firm. My father didn’t doubt me, though, and handed it to me lock stock and barrel. Good ol’ dad.

    Some doubted whether my subsequent business ventures were always sound. Well, you can say what you like, but that tower bearing my name that I had built – well, that’s going to be a landmark in the city for many, many years, I can promise you. Even after … ‘you know what’ happens. ‘Cos it was built with American materials. No matter that it was built mainly by immigrant labor. American materials are the best in the world and will make up for that.

    And gosh darn it, people were still doubting my sexuality and my sexual prowess well into my adult years. But look at my wives, and the children I’ve given them. And people can doubt whether they’re my kids, but I promise you, they are. At least, I did it with all of those women, and they had kids some time later, so they sure as hell must be mine. And they’re great kids. Like their father. Great.

    And then of course, all those doubters when I won the nomination. Didn’t they see the other guys who were running?! I mean, give me a break. A minimally intelligent orangutan would have won against that bunch of losers and crazies.

    And then the race for the Big House. Come on! Who would have doubted that I’d beat that shady lady. Oh, I know many did, but when it came down to it and people had to toss a coin, the coin knew what was best for the country.

    Then office. I’m sorry, but if someone’s built up a business empire from nothing – well, next to nothing – well, from an existing and thriving business, ok, but it needed developing – then what’s running a country but a kind of extension of that? Doubters? Schmouters!

    And finally, there were those who doubted my ability to juggle the “geo-political complexities of the modern world” – whatever they are. Well, no more juggling with my NORMAL-SIZED HANDS!!!

    I just need a finger. A solitary finger. Normal sized. Hovering. Over this button. Oh, you doubters. Fear not. In a few moments, there will be no more doubts.

    .

  • August 8, 2016 at 9:35 pm
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    The Lottery
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    Doubt.

    It is my constant companion —my friend?

    Maybe.

    It’s the only thing in my life I can count on, so doesn’t that make it my friend?

    I’m Emma Wallace, and yesterday I was an average 38 year old woman —today I am the winner of a lottery that millions entered, and only I was chosen.

    But it’s still here —doubt, telling me I don’t deserve it. I’m certain the Commissioner will come in and inform me that it was all a mistake.

    I’ve been sitting outside his office for more than an hour, ‘Why is he taking so long?’

    Finally, his secretary says, “He’s ready to see you now.”

    I enter a very large and extravagant office, ‘Why does that bother me? After all, he is The Commissioner of the Region.’

    But it does bother me, because I see no signs of the sacrifice he encourages all of us to endure. “They ask us to do what they won’t,” the voice of doubt says.

    “Hello Miss Wallace.” The commissioner is a tall handsome man, “I am honored to meet you young lady.”

    “Is he really?”

    The Commissioner must see the questioning look on my face because he asks, “Are you alright Miss Wallace?”

    “Yes sir, just a bit nervous.” His secretary set down a tray with coffee and pastries, she glances at me on her way out, ‘What was that look…disgust?’

    “I’ve been looking at your records Miss Wallace, and the council and I find that you are an ideal candidate.”

    I am relieved. My parents were so proud when my name was called. Since my older brother Daniel’s rebellion, as they call it, both have been ostracized by some important people in the region. But now that I’ve been selected, they can hold their heads up high again.

    The commissioner stares at me, unblinking, then he asks, “What’s the one thing you wish for most in regards to your selection.”

    Now for the obligatory statement that will be played the night I make my ascension. It will show everyone that I am a patriotic citizen of the region. There’s no chance in me blowing this answer, I’ve been trained day and night on what to say in my final interview.

    “I wish to make the committee and the commissioner proud. As well as do what’s in the best interest of my people and my family.”

    ‘You don’t believe that.’

    Shut up doubt.

    The commissioner believes it, and that’s all that matters.

    Mom and dad are throwing a lavish party in my honor —although it is more their re-introduction into society, than a celebration for me. The doubt creeps in again, “You can’t do this,” it says.

    But it’s all I have. I’m 38, unmarried, and I have a nothing job. I know the probability of finding a husband is zero, because I’m past the regions prime age for childbearing, and no worthy man would take a chance on me. So this is it, the lottery is my last chance at glory.

    “Is it?” The voice says.

    I have a full week of television interviews, newspaper stories, and elegant dinner parties to attend—it’s almost too much to bear. “You don’t want this,” the voice says. And maybe it’s right.

    ___________________________________________________________

    Tonight the most respected family in the region has invited my parents and I to their home for dinner. My older brother Daniel, whom I haven’t seen in years, suddenly appears at my window.

    “Daniel, I’m so glad to see you. Have you heard that I—“

    “I don’t have much time Em. I need you to come with me, you can’t do this.”

    I shake my head, but I want to go with him.

    “These lotteries won’t save the region, they’re nothing more than—”

    But before Daniel could finish, The Commissioner’s guards burst in and take him away.

    “We thought he might try and contact you,” Mom says. “That cult he belongs to keeps interfering with the lottery, and you being his sister, well…” Mom didn’t finish, she saw the look of anger in my eyes.

    The voice, “Why won’t they let him talk to you Emma?”

    She keeps trying to justify her actions, “We couldn’t take a chance that he’d take you away so close to the celebration.”

    “Don’t trust her.” Doubt says.

    Part of me never did.

    The day has arrived. After spending weeks as the name and face of the region, I am now going to cash in my lottery ticket —on prime time television in fact.

    They bring me into the final room, camera flashes blinding me, and the media making a noisy and furious ruckus. My friend doubt appears again, “Maybe Daniel was right.”

    Why was I doing this? Was I trying to earn my parents love?

    “Of course Emma, it’s always been about that.”

    Doubt…my only friend, telling me what I need to hear.

    The council assistants help equip me for my mission. As I step out onto the balcony of Commissioner’s Hall, I am greeted by the raucous cheering of the crowd —it is overwhelming. But Daniel’s is the only face I want to see.

    “Today ladies and gentlemen,” The Commissioner says, “We have our first female lottery winner. And as I’ve gotten to know her over the course of these many weeks, I am certain that she will take the fight to our enemy without hesitation. She is an inspiration to us all!”

    The crowd is cheering again, as the suicide vest tightens around my midsection —so much so, I can hardly breathe.

    I am one, in a long line of lottery winners —all have failed to secure the peace. I am certain that none of this will make any difference, still, I doubt that I’ll be the last.

    At least I know that in a few moments, there will be no more doubts.

  • August 9, 2016 at 8:09 am
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    Shift

    By Dean Hardage

    Ralph went over his notes for the hundredth time, or perhaps the thousandth, he was no longer certain. That thought brought a sardonic grin to his features. Uncertainty, the very basis of their research, the unpredictability of quantum mechanics.

    His mind drifted back to one of his PhD. courses so many years ago when a guest lecturer was trying to impart the meaning of quantum mechanics and the idiosyncrasies of the quantum realm of reality. Ralphs was struggling with it just like others when the lecturer finally smiled and repeated an oft-quoted source of information on the subject.

    “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t really understand quantum physics.”

    That was a couple of decades back and Ralph had become first a research assistant and then a co-researcher into the vagaries of the quantum realm. The more he studied and the better their instrumentation became, the more convinced he became it wasn’t as random as was believed.

    “What you’re saying is impossible, young man. Even if you could predict a major quantum shift before it happened, no one would ever know it including you. All of reality would change and become something different, perhaps so alien as to be unrecognizable, but perfectly normal to all of the inhabitants,” one of the senior researches had said to him.

    Undeterred, he had continued his private research alongside the work he was doing under the auspices of the University. He hadn’t mentioned his findings to anyone but his coworker, Frank. All of his data indicated something was about to happen, something that would have consequences no one could imagine.

    “It’s happening,” Ralph said to his research partner Frank. There was a strange air of calm recognition of fate in his simple remark.

    “What’s happening, Ralph?”

    “The quantum shift I’ve been telling you about for months,” Ralph answered.

    “Not that crackpot stuff again. We haven’t got the knowledge, equipment, or methodology to see shifts at that level,” Frank huffed.

    “We can’t see electrons but we know they’re there.”

    “Yeah, and we can make them flow and utilize their properties. It’s indirect evidence but it’s perfectly valid.”

    “I’ve shown you how we can detect a fluctuation in local quantum levels. That serves as an indicator of the status of the entire quantum realm.”

    “Bah. It’s so random from our point of view that there’s no way to extrapolate the kind of information.”

    “You’re wrong, amigo,” Ralph countered earnestly. “The Realm is like an ocean, reacting to stimuli we can’t conceive but flowing with currents and waves. Everything I am seeing is like the buildup of a tsunami. Something has caused an upheaval in the Realm and it’s going to affect everything.”

    “Dude, you’ve been cooped up in here too long. We need to get you some fresh air and sunshine to clear the cobwebs.”

    Ralph just shook His head, then jerked up when the computer on his desk beeped. He stared at the screen and even as he watched reality began to shudder and break apart.

    “In a few moments there will be no more doubt.”

  • August 19, 2016 at 7:39 pm
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    The Accused
    Paul: Ok, John, do you think it will work?
    John: Umm, I’m not sure, Paul. We can test some of the units tomorrow. I’ve some people who have agreed to be test subjects.
    Paul: Where are they from? The Universities?
    John: No.
    Paul: So where then?
    John: I’d rather not say.
    Paul: Do they understand the dangers involved?
    John: Yes.
    Paul: Do they understand that once the chip is in, they will die if it is ever taken out?
    John: Well, it hasn’t been explained in precisely those terms. I have indicated that to extract the chip once it’s in place, is life-threatening.
    Paul: Ok. How many subjects have we got?
    John: Ten. Possibly another two.
    Paul: Oh.
    John: Yes, two more want to join the group.
    Paul: So why are you hesitating? The more the merrier, I say.
    John: Well they are high profile. As I indicated to you earlier, we need subjects that have little or no family. Then there are no awkward questions asked, if something does not go as planned.
    Paul: So, the other ten?
    John: They are for the main part individuals with no friends, no family that we know of. Loners. They won’t be missed.
    Paul: So did you go to a homeless refugee or a hostel?
    John: No. I went one better. These people will be missed by no-one. Least of all, their victims.
    Paul: Prisons then?
    John: I can’t say. They will arrive tomorrow in the van. Security will be tight. We need to have the units prepared. I’m entering their data on the chips tonight.
    Paul: So will you need help?
    John: No, it is simply a matter of cut and paste. Some of the files are quite extensive. You do not need to know who the participants in this experiment are. What we need to know is that it will be an effective means of control.
    Paul: So I am not allowed to even see the data you are entering on the chips?
    John: We have decided as few people as possible should see the data on the chips. In case something goes wrong, damage to the government is minimised.
    Paul: So who is ‘we’? Aren’t I your partner in all this?
    John: You are Paul. But these are the conditions of the contractor. If it works well, you’ll be in the know. Ok.
    Paul: No, it’s not ok. I am your co-inventor and how do I know you will not claim the invention is yours?
    John: You don’t. You’ll have to trust me.
    Paul: Trust in this case, holds a lot of cards to be dealt.
    John: Ok, understood. See you tomorrow bright and early. 5 am. The subjects will be here at 6am.
    Paul: Yes, see you later.
    The doors of the lab close with a barely audible click.
    ********
    John: Hello. Simon. Paul may have to be cut from the program. He is asking too many questions. ………..good. Yes. We’ll play it by ear, then?
    **********
    Maria: So glad you’re home sweetie. Big day?
    Paul: Yes, my love. Frankly I am worried. We have a contract for the micro-chip and unit we have developed, but John is not giving me the details.
    Maria: So you think he is going to double cross you? But everyone knows that you worked on the development and played a great part in the project? Don’t they?
    Paul: Yes, but for some that means nothing. They want the finished product. Once it reaches this stage, I become expendable.
    Maria: I am sure he could not be that unscrupulous. Could he? You’ve known him since primary school.
    Paul: Well, yes. I think he could. Some people can sell their grandmothers, parents and siblings for the right price.
    Maria: I hope you are wrong sweetheart. He’s been your business partner for ten years or more now.
    Paul: I remember once, what he did to one of his sisters. She was meant to come into some money from the grandmother’s estate. It kind of concerned me. It was not a big amount. Just $35,000. He said his sister was rolling in money. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. He and the executor of the will signed the money to his account and hid the fact that she never got it. Two years later, he goes to the sister’s funeral. She’d committed suicide. Debts and unable to pay bills. She’d gassed herself, rather than go on the streets. But what got to me was his lack of remorse. He said he was glad he’d diddled her out of the money. She was weak bitch. That’s what he called her. A weak bitch. Would have been a waste to give her the money, he said. He was actually glad she was dead. Said her children were better off without her. John can be very cold. I don’t think our friendship means as much to him as it does to me.
    Maria: Well you’ll have to find out one way or the other. If he’s like that, maybe it’s better not to work with him. You’ve enough talent to go out on your own.
    **********
    Paul: Here is my pass.

    Guard: I’m sorry sir. You’re no longer authorised to enter the lab. We’re under government restrictions.

    You’ve only a level 4 security. You’ll need a level 1 clearance.

    Paul: Who authorises security?

    Guard: John Pederson-Schmidt and Simon Arthur.

    Paul: But I work with John.

    Guard: Not according to this. You’re in the experimental area alone. No doubt about it.

    Paul: Please call him. You’ll see. I work in this lab. Call him. there is no doubt I work here.

    Guard: We have received explicit instructions Sir. I am sorry. There will be no more doubts.

  • August 20, 2016 at 11:57 am
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    The Burn.
    © 2016 by Ken Cartisano

    You might be surprised at the kind of sarcasm I have to put up with in casual social situations, when someone asks me my occupation and I have to admit that I’m a climatologist.

    I also have a degree in Meteorology, I work at a research institute and don’t make much money. This too, I think, adds irony to the tale.

    So here’s the story:

    I met these guys in a bar in downtown Napa, when I ducked inside to grab a drink, and partly to escape the smoke from several local wildfires. They were big players in California real estate: suits; Rolexes; BMW’s; pretty wives and big houses. They were sitting at a table near the bar talking about the weather. I couldn’t refrain from commenting on their conversation.

    I’ll skip the specifics of what they were saying, and just repeat what I told them. “I’m preparing to release a paper on climate change which proves that California is entering a century-long drought.”

    They were skeptical of course. ‘Oh, how would you know that?’ Ben scoffed.

    Carl said, “Climatology? That’s not a science, that’s a guessing game.”

    Sam had the funniest retort. “I’ve never met a weatherman before. Can we see your dart board?”

    I laughed politely of course, and then turned serious. “I hope you guys don’t own any real estate around here, because once this story gets out, California property values are probably going to plummet.”

    The color drained from Carl and Ben’s faces, while Sam called for another round of drinks. “I could be wrong of course,” I added. “But all the data indicates a drought that will only get worse over the coming decades.”

    That’s right, I said ‘decades.’

    I finished off the last of my drink and wished them all a good night, but Sam grabbed me by the sleeve and said “Hold on a second pal. Can I buy you a drink?”

    I wasn’t really interested and I made that clear, but these were big shot real estate salesmen, they weren’t used to taking no for an answer. So I sat back down at their table and told them some theories about climate change, emphasizing the evidence that California had a geological history of extensive droughts and the likelihood that the current one would continue. We talked for about an hour, and they proved to be great listeners.

    When they were half-drunk, yet distinctly sober about the future—I bid them good night.

    One of them, Carl I think, came up with the plan to murder me. Can you imagine? That’s how much money he had invested in real estate: Millions. His idea was to entice me to an exclusive and coincidentally isolated lakefront property that none of them owned, bash me in the head with a nine iron, and then push me into the lake. Nice guy, that Carl. Some guys will stop at nothing to protect their investments.

    Ben was more practical. “Hey,” he said, “If we can come up with a way to discredit the guy, that would work just as well.” Sam and Carl were listening. None of them really liked to get their hands dirty, so Ben continued, “We could hire some little trollop to, you know, tell his superiors that he’s been chasing young girls around.”

    “Or children,” Carl chimed in enthusiastically. “We could find someone to put child porn on his computer, huh? Man, that’d be the end of HIS career.” He drew a finger across his throat to emphasize the point.

    But Sam was more of a realist than a realtor, and by far the shrewdest of the three. He said, “Look, you two are drunk. Nobody’s gonna murder anybody, all right?” He swished his drink around while that sunk in and then said, “We’ll just divest.”

    “Yeah, but…” Carl started to say.

    “But nothing.” Sam cut him off. “I’ll talk to the guy. Get him to delay the release of his study for a while. With a few months worth of breathing room, we can sell off our properties at a substantial discount, enough to make ‘em sell quick, collect the cash and put it into gold and silver.”

    Ben was skeptical. “How’re you gonna do that, Sam? We don’t even know…”

    “I got it covered. While you two were in the men’s room, I got his phone number, told him I’d call him. I told him I wanted to hear more about his theory.”

    “Yeah?” Carl’s relief was palpable. “You think he’d do that?” He ran his fingers through his receding hair. “I need time, Sam. I don’t own big chunks like you and Ben. I’ve got a shit-load of little properties scattered all over the fuckin’ valley. I need time.”

    “Leave it to me,” Sam said. “I’ll schmooze him up so well, he’ll forget about publishing his research for a couple of months.”

    So that’s how I became a real estate tycoon. Sam and I worked these two clowns like the chuckle-heads they were. I dangled the bait—Sam set the hook. Sam’s no realtor, he’s a meteorologist for WKYZ in Redding. We both had some money saved, I took out a second mortgage. Me, Sam, and two other guys formed a real estate investment trust, borrowed some money from a local bank, then used a lawyer friend to make ridiculously low bids for the properties, which Ben and Carl grudgingly accepted. And that’s how it played out.

    To be honest, I harbored serious reservations about the scam, since it was, in fact, based on sound scientific theory.

    “So,” I said to Sam, as I surveyed the billowing clouds of an impending thunderstorm, “do you think this drought is ever going to end?”
    “Did you see the Weather Channel?” He replied, picking up the remote.
    “No,” I said, as large raindrops began to splatter on the roof and driveway.
    He turned on the TV, and in a few moments, there would be no more doubts.

  • August 21, 2016 at 2:57 pm
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    A Certain Time

    You listen patiently, a wry smile playing on your kindly face. You’ve heard it before and know the answer.

    ‘You’re a scientist,’ she says. ‘And you understand the speed of light?’

    ‘Of course,’ you reply.

    ‘So if Andromeda is 2.5 million years away, light from the galaxy takes at least 2.5 million years to reach Earth. Therefore the universe must be older than the 10,000 years you believe. As a scientist, you cannot hold everything written in your book is literally true.’

    ‘It is obvious,’ you say. ‘At Creation, God said “Let there be light. And there was light.” He created all light everywhere at once – including the light visible from all stars. You think that would be impossible for God to do?”

    “You’re certain of that? Is there nothing anyone could do to shake your certainty?”

    You shake your head and smile.

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

    She leads you into the university’s Temporal Mechanics Institute. You enter the temporal containment chamber, a small theatre with four seats that can rotate and view any side once the journey begins. She tells you that here you can travel through time to view what has passed before, anywhere on earth. To view, but not participate or change. Travelling, as it were, in a self-contained viewing bubble. Two assistants – ‘time pilots’ she calls them – take their seats and pull control consoles towards themselves.

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

    ‘Let us go back further,’ she says. The world around again fragments, the colours emptying into white, then re-emerge. ‘We are now around 40,000 BCE. What do you see?’

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

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

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

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

    She tells you the Theology faculty has funded extensive searching, but to no avail. They have not found Moses in ancient Egypt or Sinai. Instead they have found the time when his legend was born, when the Israelites forged their beliefs in the conquest of the land.

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

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

    Fast forward to a new world. You see Jesus teaching, and are elated. You witness the crucifixion and weep. You go to the tomb on the third day, and do not see him rise. A short jump forward and you see his followers delight in seeing him risen, only it as St Paul described his own encounter – a vision.

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

    After much soul-searching, you find there is only one possible explanation. Just as God created light instantly at all points everywhere, so God created histories everywhere, for all possible times and for all viewpoints.

    It is written, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.’ In an age of time research, we can add ‘Blessed are those who have seen, yet still believe’.

    You give thanks, for you have passed the test. Feeling the warmth in your heart, you know that in a few moments, there will be no more doubts.

    [779 words]

  • August 21, 2016 at 8:23 pm
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    Songs from the River
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost but now I’m found,
    Was blind, but now I see.”

    A range of opinions exists concerning the meaning of life, its origin, its purpose and also its duration. Most people assume life begins at birth. Many believe it ends with the death of the body. Many others talk about a life after death – reincarnation, ascendance to heaven, descent into hell, circles in limbo, other variations.

    Death itself is not often a subject of idle talk and avoided whenever possible.

    What lies between birth and death though is what deserves the most attention. As the stream of life meanders through the hills and valleys of destiny one can flow with it, surrender to its movement, add one’s own interpretation and direction or a mix of both but ever within its majestic movement toward the inevitable goal – whatever that might be.

    ###

    Eight people stand at wooden poles, facing a hundred armed guards as the tie-up-team does its job.

    Myuran Sukumaran, 31, was born in Sri Lanka. His family, including a younger brother and a younger sister, moved to Australia in 1985 where they lived near Sydney. Sukumaran apparently was shy as a boy, suffered from bullying and racism at school. Only in his teens he began to make friends and started to feel accepted.

    He dropped out of university, worked in mailrooms at a bank and in the Sydney passport office, hoping that the good life – fast cars, night clubs, a carefree future – would be sometime within his reach.

    In 2002 at a party he met Andrew Chan. Chan worked at a catering firm but was also dealing narcotics, being a drug user himself. Chan later described himself at that time as going nowhere, knowing how it feels to be a junkie but not thinking much about it. Together Sukumaran and Chan started to smuggle drugs from Indonesia to Australia.

    In 2004 they were arrested at Denpasar Airport as ring leaders of a drug smuggling operation that involved seven others and about 18 kg of heroin. They were tried in court and both received the death sentence.

    Such momentous rocks in the stream of life undoubtedly elicit conflicting emotions. In videos of their arrest Sukumaran and Chan were in denial, barely containing their anger at the arresting officers. They were uncooperative, Sukumaran refused testimony, lying to police, changing his signature to obstruct the investigation.

    But the river continued its flow.

    It takes time for the stream of life to find a new direction. As consequences present themselves with undeniable clarity they slow the pace, opportunities arise, opportunities for choice.

    Sukumaran started a business from prison. (Naming it Kingpin Enterprises was certainly a move of lesser wisdom.) Both he and Chan admitted to their parts in the drug operation. They took active roles among the prisoners, organizing daily duties, helping them cope with life in prison.

    Certainly there was hope. According to Indonesian law a death penalty shall not be carried out if the prisoner truly reforms. The motivation for change, of course, is prone to doubt. Who would deny he has profoundly changed when such change will save his life? Can there be proof that a person will hold his course once death’s finger no longer points in his direction?

    Sukumaran began to paint pictures. Chan became a Christian. As one appeal after another failed they maintained course. Sukumaran started an education as a painter. His talent was obvious, gaining international recognition. Chan studied theology and became a minister. Both continued to actively help their fellow prisoners, including those on death row like themselves.

    During appeals prison guards told the judges that Chan and Sukumaran were model prisoners. The head of the prison suggested the death penalty should not be applied. People who met them over the years insisted they were truly reformed.

    Was there a chance? Three months after the Indonesian Supreme Court rejected Sukumaran’s appeal Joko Widodo succeeded Susilo Yudhoyono as president. Widodo, the ant-like metal fan needed to appear strong – if not in leadership then tough on crime. And with more than 80% of the population supporting the death penalty it was unlikely a pardon would come.

    When Sukumaran was asked what he thought about a life in an Indonesian prison should the death penalty be revoked he thought a moment then said: “It would be a life.” Chan explained on camera the execution procedure: ten guards fire their rifles, three of them with live bullets, at a prisoner’s chest. Should the prisoner survive the officer in charge would shoot them at point blank.

    Sukumaran’s last painting, an Indonesian flag painted in bloody red, carries the signatures of eight prisoners – all to be executed together for drug related crimes: Myuran Sukumaran (Australian, 34), Andrew Chan (Australian, 31), Martin Anderson (Nigerian), Zainal Badarudin (Indonesian), Raheem Salami (Nigerian), Rodrigo Gularte (Brazilian, 43), Sylvester Nwolise (Nigerian, 50),
    Okwudili Oyatanze (Nigerian, 45).

    ###

    They were granted a last wish – their last words to be those of ‘Amazing Grace,’ a Christian hymn.

    “t’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
    And grace, my fears relieved.
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed.”

    We will not know what went through their hearts as the song drew to a close. Had theirs been a life worth living? Certainly it could have taken another course, a longer path. Was this the just verdict of life, the fate they deserved, justice done, the will of God fulfilled?

    Was this the end or would the stream of life continue to flow?

    Only the river knows the answer.

    But as the song neared its end and guards pointed laser lights at their hearts to direct the executioner’s bullets there was one certainty: In a few moments there would be no more doubts.

  • August 22, 2016 at 11:33 am
    Permalink

    Shall we Tango?

    The target jogs into my crosshairs. It’s a balding black male in his mid-forties with a scar above his left eyebrow that’s about the size of a silver dollar and almost as perfectly round as one. “Confirmed,” I whisper to the gun. A green dot briefly appears in my scope. I hold my breath and counts down from three. I pull the trigger.

    The bullet hits the man in the center of his scar leaving an indent. He staggers into one of the light posts that line the sidewalk. The second bullet finds its home in his bicep. The third bullet misses as he rolls into the street where he ducks behind a parked Prius.

    “Grenade,” I say to the gun. A red dot flashes in the scope. I quickly look up and down the street—it’s still deserted. “Grenade,” I repeat. Again, a red dot flashes in the scope. Before I can initiate the manual override, the man bolts from behind the car. I catch him with a bullet to the back of his left knee. He skids face first into the asphalt, but that doesn’t stop him. He pops back up hopping on one leg. I watch in disbelief as he ejects his damaged leg right above the knee. Where the leg was, an orange flame appears. I lower the scope unbelieving when his good leg is also consumed in fire. The flames intensify leaving black scorched marks on the street.

    “Automatic,” I yell to the gun. It clicks followed by the green dot. I squeezes the trigger all the way down as bullets pour from the gun’s barrel. They strike the man in his back but they ricochet harmlessly away as he begins to ascend. He is suspended in the air waging his own private battle with gravity. He wins out. There’s a loud boom as he soars away.

    “Tracker,” I say. A screen opens up on the side of the gun. I didn’t kill the man but the bullet lodged in his bicep will lead me to him. I put the gun down next to where I’m kneeling in the window and wipe my brow with my forearm. The gun gives off an distinct beep—the man is coming back. I snatch the gun from the floor and aim out of the window. He’s a speck in the sky but he’s growing larger with each passing second. “5-5-7-2-7. Rocket,” I say this time to ensure the gun does as I say. The green light flashes twice in response. I wait until the man gets closer. He stops, hovering in the air, just out of range.

    Through the scope, I can see his battered face. The scar on his forehead is missing along with the skin on one side of his face. Sunlight glints off the metal beneath. He smiles at me as he raises an arm. The gun registers what he’s about to do before my brain can process it because it automatically launches golden flares into the sky. Through the haze of the flares, I can see the man’s arm flying my way propelled through the arm by a stream of fire. “Shield.” I sling the gun across my back and leap from the window as a translucent orb forms around me. The arm explodes in the empty room. I’m blown through the air, but I land in a crouch in the middle of the street.

    The gun is back in my hands. I shoot at the man who is now diving straight at me, remaining arm dangling, in what I can only guess is a last-ditch kamikaze dive to kill me. There’s no point in running. I have a job to finish, and then I’m going to find out who set me up on this suicide mission.

    All of the man’s actions up to the point have gone against the Intel I received on Gary Johnson—forty-five, pastor, father of four, and a terrorist operative for the Old Republic Party. He was
    supposed to be human and not a murderous cyborg hurtling through the sky at me. Nevertheless, I need Mr. Johnson somewhat intact so I can find out who sent him so I can kill them.

    I steady myself in the street with the scope to my eye. “Sniper.” The muzzle of the gun extends. I have one shot to put a bullet in the same spot the first one left a dent. It’s hard to get a lock on his face as he rattles towards me. I count down from three and then pull the trigger.

    The right side of the man’s head explodes. I jump to the side and roll away as he crashes into the street leaving debris behind him. He groans to a stop a hundred feet away from me.

    I get up and cautiously approach what’s left of the man. His torso is still mostly in one piece. The half of his head that wasn’t destroyed by the bullet has an eye that blinks at me when I peer at it. Whoever made this cyborg wasn’t messing around. I raise the gun and put a bullet through his eye. I take a chip from the underside of the gun and begin searching for the mainframe of the cyborg. Finding it just under the broken open shoulder, I place the chip on one of its many circuits. “Hack,” I say to the gun. Numbers begin scrolling on the gun’s screen.

    I have many enemies that want to see me dead. Which one tried today, I have no clue, but as the gun beeps, I know in a few moment, there will be no doubts.

  • August 23, 2016 at 1:45 am
    Permalink

    After the Choice
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    I don’t enjoy films as much as I used to. I went with Frank because I like the atmosphere – the large hall, the subdued chatting, the break for ice cream. And I thought he might be bored going alone. It felt strange imagining him sitting all by himself.

    The first time I offered it he was surprised. “Are you sure?”
    “Of course, why not?” I sounded completely natural.
    “Why not?” He said it matter-of-factly.
    “You don’t want to waste the money?
    “No, no, no.” He still wasn’t sure. So I waited.
    He, finally: “We could go for dinner later.”
    “Great. I get my stuff.”

    I guess that’s not what he had meant but I got my stuff and we went. I actually enjoyed the film – action oriented, no car chases. (Thank God.) And the music won an Oscar for Best Original Music.

    ###

    I play the violin, working on piano. I don’t read sheet music, which is a bit limiting but I have no aspirations to join an ensemble. I play in a band that enjoys a decent recognition. Enough to make a living.

    It hasn’t always been like that. I met them when they had to replace a flute player – Celtic music, niche market. The violin would do just fine. They had experienced some churn of musicians due to extended dry spells. My appearance changed that a bit.

    People kind of like my act. I didn’t. I want it to be for the music. But after some time I learned my way around and people stopped to notice. Of course, they knew. I’m sure. But now it’s fun and it pays. What more could I wish for?

    ###

    Still, back then I needed to make ends met. I wanted to. So I took that job as a masseuse – a real masseuse in a massage parlor attached to a fitness center. I know it sounds like cliché but the hours were right and the money okay.

    That’s where I met Frank.

    In the beginning I tried to hide it. Stick to the job, no small talk after. But half hours turn out to be too long for that. He soon noticed but never asked questions. I appreciated that.

    Still, one day I took the lead: “Do you mind?”
    “Mind what?”
    “Mind what.” I didn’t feel like explaining.
    “Ah that.” He must have expected the question.
    “Yes… that.”

    I had grown to like Frank and I knew it was mutual. But how far could it go? How far would he be willing to take this after the next step? My question, innocent as it was, was a make-it-or-break-it thing.

    There was a pause. It made me tense: “Does it matter to you? It must… somehow… matter.”

    In my mind I was going through the options, the list of possible answers:
    — “Of course not.” Oh my good. Not ‘Of course.’
    — “Well…” Playing for time to break the bad news.
    — “I can’t see why it should.” Right, I give a good massage. Let’s keep it at that.
    — “Time is up.” I didn’t expect that but it felt like it was.

    “Actually no.” There was surprise in his voice, real surprise.

    And another pause.

    “Not at all.” This time he was amused. Surprised and amused. And relieved.

    So was I.

    ###

    We went to dinner that evening and the evening after that. We married a year later. His work as an architect requires he travels occasionally so my work with the band doesn’t get in the way often. Life is good. We actually love each other.

    And we match well, also professionally. I mean in terms of client contacts – the usual events, cocktail parties, receptions, that sort of thing. I’m a good entertainer if I want to and my condition adds spice to the atmosphere. Some guys actually get turned on. Not that I would care.

    ###

    Then there was this guy – on a reception at opening day of a hospital. We talked for some time. I was confused, for the lack of a better word. He said I have a 50% chance.

    “Please don’t.” The thought arose in my mind as if it had always been there. I had been through 50% chances, 80% chances, 30%, real good, substantial chances and worth-a-try attempts. Back then when it happened. In the end I had settled for 0% and I was good with that.

    But Frank insisted we look into it.

    “Why?” Didn’t he love me? The way I was? What was his problem? If anything, it was my problem alone. Right?

    Well, we looked into it. Science had progressed over time. That’s what science does. But so had I. I had a good life. I was okay. The one thing I didn’t need was hope for a pie in the sky, a light at the end of the tunnel and… plop.

    I didn’t need that. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t.

    “What do you have to lose?” I hated him for that.

    But you can’t argue with logic. Not for long.

    ###

    And that’s how I ended up here. It’s a matter of minutes now. My mind is racing. “Am I really that good? Am I good enough?” The violin, the band… is it my music or is it… me. Frank’s clients. Is it my mind or my condition? Am I interesting enough without it?

    And will it work? Will it work?

    There is a 50% chance that I see a black hole when the bandages come off. And a 50% chance that not. And I don’t how much of a chance that it lasts.

    How I will feel when the blackness continues? Can I return to how it was? To the life I know? Will Frank be disappointed?

    So many questions. Only one thing is certain: about one of them in a few moments there will be no more doubts.

  • August 24, 2016 at 10:58 am
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