STORY THREAD; Feb 4 to Feb 17, 2016 Flash Fiction First Line Contest: “It Was The Most Beautiful…”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the First Line Theme: “It was the most Beautiful…” Your story must begin with these five words, and a Required Element in your story must be a “Mirror.” 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. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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). Send your votes via email LIFlashFiction (at) gmail.com. Winner will be announced in the Comment and Story thread.

  • You may vote only once and cannot vote for yourself.
  • In order for your story to qualify you must submit your top 5 votes.

The winner shall name the next week’s writing prompt.
In case of ties, co-winners may be announced and the moderator shall select a winner to name the theme.
The winner has three days after the announcement to contact either Alice Nelson or Carrie Zylka via LIFlashFiction(at)gmail.com with the next theme/items of their choosing.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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26 thoughts on “STORY THREAD; Feb 4 to Feb 17, 2016 Flash Fiction First Line Contest: “It Was The Most Beautiful…”

  • February 5, 2016 at 2:02 am
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    THE ARTIST’S FRIEND

    Jack McDaniel

    It was the most beautiful place to create. It possessed a quiet solitude that allowed ideas to coalesce in unexpected ways. Life fermented here and discovered new planes of being. It went beyond work when he set up his canvas in this room.

    The child’s question took him by surprise. He hadn’t heard her enter.

    “What are you painting?”

    “A portrait.”

    “Can I see?”

    “In a moment. I’m almost finished.”

    “Who is it a portrait of?”

    “A friend of mine. It’s for her birthday. She doesn’t know I’m painting it.”

    The young girl tilted her head, pursed her lips, stared out the window. She hung there, unmoving, like the bits of dust caught in the sunlight that spilled into the darkened room. The artist looked around the canvas, wondering at the quietness.

    “Something on your mind, Lara?”

    “I was thinking about my friend. I wish I could paint her a portrait. I miss her.”

    “What has happened to her?”

    “Nothing,” the word trailing off as if something were being remembered as it was spoken.

    The artist’s room was an old warehouse or workshop, on the second floor in one of the barrio’s many abandoned buildings. It was quite large. The building was made of red brick, as were the room’s walls. Its wooden floors dried and warped. Dust had taken up permanent residence. It possessed its own form of quiet, the room, with a scent that was at once old and freshly alive. In spite of its sparseness – empty save for the artist, his tools and Lara – the room felt cozy and inviting, a place that time had set aside.

    “My mother says I’m not allowed to see her anymore. She’s not the sort of person I should be hanging around with.”

    “Well that’s too bad,” said the artist. “A trouble maker, is she?”

    “Not really, I don’t think. She’s just different.”

    The artist smiled, looked around his canvas, “Lara we’re all different in the barrio.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “You are too young to understand, I think. But … we are the rejects. The square pegs that won’t fit in a round hole. We think differently than those on the outside, many of us, anyway. In all societies there have always been those on the fringes. Sometimes they are visionaries, free-thinkers, intellectuals, and artists, like me. And sometimes they are lunatics and criminals, but mostly they are the downtrodden. They – we – are the stuff of life.”

    “The downtrodden?”

    “People who are down on their luck. The poor. Those society has abandoned or beat down, oppressed.”

    “I think that would include my friend.”

    “Why do you think your friend is one of the downtrodden?”

    Lara thought for a moment, shuffled her feet, put her hands in her pockets. “People just treat her differently. They don’t like being around her sometimes. They get quiet when she is around and ignore her. Or they seem uncomfortable. I heard some people say mean things to her.”

    The artist cleaned his brush, slapped it on the towel in front of him and grabbed a new color of paint with it. “Why do you think that is?”

    “I think they’re scared. Mom is. She’s always scared. Scared of losing who she is. Scared that Pan21 will come back.”

    The Pan21 virus attacked everyone everywhere. Those who survived and never showed any signs of it were simply immune from its effects. Nearly half of the population succumbed to the virus. The deaths were painful but the struggle relatively short. The virus ran its course in three days. It almost always ended with the individual bleeding out from the inside, suffocating in their own blood.

    A few humans contracted the virus and showed symptoms but somehow were able to fight it off. Doctors didn’t understand it and when half of the population is lost so quickly resources are limited to find a cure. After a while no one really cared about cures. Everyone moved around in a bubble of past and current pain. One didn’t dare consider the future. It was a mirage, a carrot at the end of an impossibly long and crooked stick. Another tomorrow was the best anyone hoped for.

    “Well,” said the artist, “when people are scared they can change. Some of them turn away. Others get angry and lash out in unfortunate ways. Sometimes they even get violent and hateful.”

    “How old is this friend of yours?” He asked.

    “I don’t know, older. Your age, maybe.”

    “My age? What’s her name? What did she do to upset so many people?”

    “Nothing much, really. She just survived.”

    The artist froze. “Oh,” he said, after a moment. “I see.”

    For those who contracted Pan21 but didn’t die from it there were side-effects. They became ashen. Their melanin and p-protein production was affected in a way that their skin, hair and eyes lost its normal pigmentation, the color washed away. None of them got darker. They simply lost color.

    The artist lifted his canvas from the easel and lowered it.

    “Let me ask you something, Lara. What do you see when you look at her?”

    “Just her, my friend.”

    The artist smiled. “And so you should. Would you like to see the portrait of my friend?”

    “Sure!”

    The artist turned the painting for Lara to see. She gasped. “It’s beautiful,” her voice a whisper of wonder.

    The portrait was of a survivor standing on the curb in front of a cafe. She had the ashen skin and hair and the grey eyes. But she was so alive! So beautiful. She stood there strong and tall, even though somewhat aged, her long coat falling elegantly around her. The street scene was full of color and life and the artist’s friend was the most vibrant and luminescent thing in the painting.

    “When we get to know people,” the artist said, “beauty becomes a relative thing. Better, I think, to see them for who we know them to be, than the silly things others believe.”

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  • February 6, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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    COCKSURE

    D. Pasha

    It was the most beautiful chicken I had ever seen. Not it– he. A rooster as beautiful as the most spectacular pheasants I had ever encountered at the Rare Bird Garden. Only a peacock could have been better, because you could put a mirror out for them and watch them fan, but he was strutting his stuff for Georgia, my only hen, a good-looking, lazy slattern who laid five eggs a year, but crowed almost every morning. Now, however, she was clucking coquettishly. I could see why.

    “Where did you come from?” I asked the Mystery Man. He answered with a musical, ringing crow, so different from the grating alarm of my late, tailless Rupert, so named because he was always going off half-cocked.

    I didn’t really need his answer. A car had slowed down on the county road at dawn, and then I heard that crow under the window. With those tail streamers a yard long, I’d have to build a bigger coop. It was worth it.

    I took them both their feed. “I’m getting you tonight, Baby,” I promised. “And then I’ll build you a better house.”

    Just then, I heard the voice of Hilda Harlow coming over the fence. “Is that your chicken?”

    “No,” I said. “He’s a walk-in. But I’m going to get him.”

    Cripes, I thought then, why didn’t I lie? That woman likes nothing better than malicious mischief… But trying to get this marvellous rooster while he was awake was proving futile. I went inside for a cup of coffee. No sooner had I poured than I heard what I feared: frantic squawking, followed by two dull chops… then silence.

    The T on her name is silent, I told myself. I ran to where I could see the front of her house. Her car was retreating into the distance.

    ……

    The hammer strokes rang out like the morning call of a rooster. Harlow (silent T) looked over the fence. “Whatcha doin’?” she asked.

    “Building a bigger coop,” I told her. “One that locks. I liked that rooster so much, I found out what kind he was. Now I have a dozen straight-run chicks coming from the hatchery.”

    “Straight-run?” But I explained.

    “Some hens, some roosters. Brown Leghorn hens lay eggs *every day*. And the roosters are so pretty… I like roosters. They get you up without fail every morning. Rotten eating, this breed, but so melodious! I know you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.”

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  • February 6, 2016 at 9:57 pm
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    GUSTAV’S MIRROR

    It was the most beautiful mirror anyone in the town had ever seen, a town that was known for its beautiful mirrors.

    The Royal Family ordered theirs from the local mirror-makers, and not just the royalty of this fair land; foreign kings and queens often sent emissaries to view and then purchase one or more of the superbly crafted objects.

    The most renowned of the mirror-makers was Gustav. He used only the finest materials and was famous for the style he lent to every single mirror he produced, each one unique. Others copied his styles, but this did not bother the great man; rather, he felt flattered that people would think his skill and art worthy of copying.

    Gustav did not know quite how he came by the skill he had, although he knew exactly when he received it. He had had a simple upbringing; his grandfather had been a carpenter, his father a glass-maker. He supposed that his vocation came in equal measure from the two of them. He was a competent, if unremarkable, craftsman … until that August night in his 35th year.

    He had locked his workshop and was making his way home when he was blinded by a sheet of brilliant white light that appeared from nowhere and seemed to block his path. He fell to his knees, certain that it must be some holy sign, but as suddenly as the light had come, so it was gone. He got up, patted himself to make sure all his parts were in place, shook his head vigorously to clear his mind, and took stock of where he was and how he felt. In truth, he felt no different than minutes before.

    But the next morning, when he opened up his workshop, he sensed a tingling in his fingers. He sat down to sketch a new design for a mirror and had finished it within the hour; the mirror itself was completed by the end of the same week. When the merchant who sold his work saw it, he gasped at its strange beauty and at first did not believe that Gustav had made it, so different was it from those he usually produced.

    That was the first of many exquisite models Gustav designed and produced. His name soon reached the King, who sent courtiers to meet Gustav and view his work. Within days, the monarch had ordered a special mirror from the old craftsman.

    The Queen was in a deep trough of despondency after losing their only son in an accident. The little prince had fallen from the royal launch on a river trip and had been swept away on the currents; his body had never been recovered. The King had been trying for nearly a year to bring his wife, whom he loved greatly, out of her malaise, but whatever entertainment he staged for her, whatever jewels he gave her, he could not lift her from the depths of sadness to which she had sunk.

    And so he ordered a mirror from Gustav, but not just any mirror; it had to be the most beautiful one he had ever made and like no other in existence. Apart from those instructions, Gustav had a free hand.

    For seven days, the old man locked himself away in his workshop, the only visitor his maid, who brought him his meals every day. Word got around that he was producing something wonderful for the King, and one by one, the townsfolk began to gather outside his door, eager to be the first to view Gustav’s latest work.

    When he finally emerged a week later, blinking in the sunlight, there were scores of people crammed around his door, clamouring to see the mirror. Fearing a disturbance, the local sheriff advised Gustav to bring the mirror out, which he reluctantly did.

    The crowd fell silent as he unveiled it. When they saw it, there was a collective sigh of disappointment: the frame of the mirror was elegant but made only of ebony, not of gold, and nor was it studded with jewels as the people had been expecting. And it was turned very simply, not intricately carved like most of Gustav’s other work in wood. But then someone in the crowd cried out:

    “Look! Look at the glass!”

    Everyone focussed on the glass, and what had seemed at first a standard reflective surface suddenly started shimmering, like the surface of a lake. The crowd gasped as one, in awe of the master craftsman and his skill.

    Comments of “Beautiful!/Exquisite!/Wondrous!/Sublime!” came from the crowd, and then spontaneous applause. The sheriff, seeing that the crowd had been appeased, turned to Gustav:

    “Right. Let’s get this up to the castle!”

    A cart was produced, and some of the townsfolk helped to gently load the mirror onto the back, padding it well so that it would not break on the short journey to the court.

    Gustav was brought in front of the King and Queen, who was sitting on her throne, weeping softly.

    “Show us what you have, then, my good man.” The King gestured for Gustav to uncover the mirror, which a team of servants had carried in from the cart.

    Gustav drew away the cloth and stepped aside. The king’s face dropped: he was expecting a thing of great ostentation, and what Gustav had made appeared to be a very simple thing that commoners might have in their houses.

    “What do you mean by this!? I asked you to–“

    “Wait!” The Queen interrupted him. “Look!”

    The mirror had started shimmering like before. The King and Queen rose from their thrones, transfixed.

    The mirror continued to shimmer like water in sunlight, then the surface parted and out onto the stone floor of the throne room spilled a body … of a young boy. The Queen screamed. The King held her to him. The boy, soaked from head to foot, staggered to his feet.

    “Mother?” he spluttered.

    .

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  • February 9, 2016 at 3:35 pm
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    It was the most beautiful day for writing. David’s breath plumed in the crisp air, and he buried his hands in his windbreaker’s pockets. He’d always been a winter man. He trotted down the steps from the parking lot to the seaside promenade, strode to his favorite café, and entered the inner room that jutted out into the sea, overlooking the waves. The room was blessedly empty apart from an old man near the windows.

    David took his seat at his regular table, ordered black coffee with honey, and dug out his writing supplies from his backpack. The virginal sheets of paper taunted him. So many possibilities, so many paths his novel could take… The infinite freedom offered by the empty page both excited and daunted.

    He chose a sharp pencil, sharpened it a little more, and set the point to the top left corner of the page.

    “Chapter Three,” he wrote in neat script.

    And paused.

    A soft scratching sound competed with the glass-muted growl of the waves. David flicked a stare at the old man at the front table. He was busy doodling on a piece of paper, his half-full glass of carrot juice beside him.

    David shook himself and returned to his story. “Marek,” he wrote, for Marek was the name of his protagonist and thus a very likely first word for the chapter. There. He’d pierced through the virginity of the page, so to speak, and now he could concentrate on properly making love.

    “Marek woke up with alarm and looked around wildly.”

    Crunch, crumple.

    David gritted his teeth and, much more discreetly than his protagonist, looked around. The old man was balling up the piece of paper he’d doodled on. As David looked, he reached into a weathered messenger bag, took out another piece of paper, and started doodling anew.

    David exhaled a long breath, closed his eyes, faced forward, and opened his eyes on his work once more.

    “Marek woke up with alarm and looked around wildly. Some loud noise had penetrated his sleep and—”

    Scratch, scratch, scratch.

    David’s hand tightened on the pencil until his knuckles ached. He forced his fingers to loosen up and placed the pencil meticulously beside and parallel to the paper. His stare meandered against his will to the old man’s table, and this time he allowed it to linger. Huh. The man wasn’t doodling; he was drawing with a thin charcoal stick. David craned his neck but couldn’t make out what the man was drawing. He rose two inches from his seat for a better vantage point, but just then, the old man stopped sketching and looked up at him. Cheeks flaming, David dropped back to his seat and snatched up the pencil.

    Marek. He would write more about Marek.

    Scratch, scratch.

    He couldn’t.

    He caught his lower lip in his teeth and shifted his papers around until he had a clean white page in front of him. Then, slowly, he set pencil point to paper and started scribbling.

    “The old man guarded his sketch pad like a dragon on his pile of gold.” From the corner of his eyes he peeked at the old man’s hands. “The charcoal stick left smidges of black on his gnarled fingers, but he didn’t seem to mind.”

    Scratch, scratch.

    “The soft sound of scratching filled the air. What was he drawing? A mystery no one could guess at besides the man himself…”

    An hour later, he carefully returned the remaining half-pencil to its box and surveyed the three tightly-written pages. They fitted nowhere in his novel, and he didn’t have much to do with a short story other than perhaps submit it to some magazine or writing contest. Ah, well. So much for a beautiful day for writing.

    He paid for his coffee, hoisted up his backpack, and made to leave the café. His eyes caught the image of the old man in the mirror by the door. He’d been sketching this entire time, but now he sat back, met David’s stare in the mirror, and touched two fingers to his brow in a faint salute.

    Confound it. David turned back, crossed the room over to the windows, and slammed the three written pages down on the old man’s table, making the forgotten carrot juice slosh in its glass. He turned to leave, but a light touch on the sleeve of his windbreaker halted him. The old man, with a straight face but for an amused flicker in his eyes, picked up the pages and gently placed them aside, revealing the piece of paper he’d been working on; upon it, soft charcoal lines came together to depict a young man in a windbreaker, writing diligently.

    David smiled, ducked his head, and walked out into the brisk wind. It was a beautiful day for writing, indeed.

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  • February 9, 2016 at 4:27 pm
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    The Looking Glass (Chapter 1 of Edgar Poggit)
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    It was the most beautiful fuck up anyone in the company had ever seen in its 15 year history. Beautiful that is, to the people who enjoyed watching the fall of Peyton Thorne; the perpetrator of this colossal screw up.

    Oscar, her boss, had been yelling at her for about thirty minutes. His minions, Heather and Rachel, sat stoically by their leader, shaking their heads and looking thoroughly disappointed at the appropriate times.

    “Your bone headed mistake will cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars!” He screamed. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?! Spittle flew from his mouth and landed on the desk in front of Peyton, she was transfixed by it. “Well?!” Oscar demanded.

    She looked up at her boss and mentor, and he was shocked to see that Peyton was as angry as he was. She devoted every day of the last 5 years to this company, and now, one mistake, granted an expensive one, was going to cost Peyton her job. She said nothing, but inside Peyton was thinking, ‘You’ll be sorry Oscar.’

    Her termination was immediate. Peyton fumed inside as the whole staff watched her pack the mostly useless items from her desk, and walk out, humiliated. Some were amused by the golden girl’s fall from grace, others simply wanted to know who would inherit her spacious office.

    Word had spread throughout the industry that Peyton Thorne was damaged goods, and no other firm in town would even grant her an interview.

    That’s why a few weeks later, Peyton stood on the railing of the Morrison Bridge at 3 am, with a bottle of Jim Beam. She let out a somber laugh and said, “Jumping seems like as good a plan as any.”

    “Does it?” A voice said from behind, startling Peyton who whirled around and almost fell into the water below.

    There, on the other side of the bridge stood a very old, and very short man wearing an old fashioned bowler hat.

    “Peyton Emerson Thorne” He said, sounding like a father scolding his child. “Get down you silly girl, you know you’re far too much of a narcissist to kill yourself.”

    The strange little man was right, she had no intention of committing suicide that night, or any other night. So Peyton threw the empty bottle into the water below, and stepped off the railing.

    “I am Edgar Poggit, madam, at your service.” He removed his hat and bowed down in one exaggerated motion.

    “How do you know me, Edgar Poggit?” Peyton was still a bit tipsy.

    “Oh, I’ve been watching you for a while my dear.”

    Then he came across the bridge so swiftly, that Peyton didn’t even see his legs move. He was several feet away, then suddenly he was standing right in front of her.

    Then Edgar Poggit pulled a mirror out of his pocket, “Wanna have a looksee, and get a gander at the real you?” He grinned.

    Now stone sober, Peyton backed away, convinced this odd man’s claims were true, but also certain that she did not want to look in that mirror.

    “Are you the devil?”

    He laughed, Peyton didn’t care for his laugh. “Oh no, Miss Thorne, not the devil. I am what you might call a facilitator. Someone who helps people remove those pesky difficulties from their lives. He smiled, she didn’t care for his smile either.

    Peyton was still leery of Edgar Poggit, but she was intrigued as well. “What will your mirror show me?” she asked.

    With lightning speed, Mr. Poggit bridged the gap Peyton had put between them, and placed the mirror in her hands.

    “Look in the mirror Miss Thorne, it will solve all of your problems.”

    Peyton hesitated, but in that instant, the spry old man touched the mirror, and a collage of images that were her life, flashed across the smooth glass.

    At the same time, Edgar Poggit’s voice thundered in her ears. “Oscar took away your livelihood, because of one little mistake.” He boomed. “Dragged your name through the mud so badly, you can’t even find work in this town. You sacrificed so much for him, and he threw you away like a piece of trash. For weeks your resentment has been building, let it out Miss Thorne! I can help facilitate your desire for revenge.”

    Edgar Poggit’s voice was relentless, Peyton closed her eyes tightly and yelled. “Stop!”

    When she opened them, it was morning, and Peyton was in her apartment, in bed.

    ‘Thank goodness it was all a nightmare.’ She said.

    Just then, the doorbell rang, it was Heather and Rachel, standing there dressed in matching black skirts and white shirts, like the freaking double mint twins. “Where is he?” They asked in unison.

    She looked at them dumfounded, “Where’s who?”

    “Oscar. He was on his way to see you a few hours ago. He said you called, and wanted to talk. The police phoned the office and said his car was abandoned on the Morrison Bridge, but there was no trace of Oscar.”

    Peyton didn’t make that call, but she knew who did.

    “I don’t know where he is.” she said, absentmindedly. Before they could respond, Peyton closed door on Heather and Rachel’s protestations. She turned around, and wasn’t surprised to see Edgar Poggit sitting on her couch, with that frightening smile on his face.

    “I didn’t want Oscar dead.” She said.

    “Oh no, of course you didn’t Miss Thorne, I am a facilitator, not a murderer. You did however want Oscar gone, which he is, but don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.”

    Seeing Peyton’s confusion, Edgar Poggit produced the mirror once again. This time, instead of seeing snippets of her life, Peyton saw the terrified face of Oscar, silently screaming, and somehow trapped inside the mirror. What was even more horrifying was that Oscar could see Peyton, and their eyes locked as he mouthed the words, “Help me Peyton, please, help me.”

    LINK TO Chapter 2

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  • February 10, 2016 at 2:35 pm
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    It was the most beautiful image Josiah ever seen. He wasn’t really seeing it, of course, since dark matter was completely invisible to the human eye. The glowing web on the screen was alight with an image interpreted from the gravitational effects of the enigmatic material. He knew that the web was nothing more than a reflection of those effects but the image burned itself into his brain. It had no discernable pattern and he knew that it was not put there by any intelligence but it seemed to him to have some kind of purpose for being. It was profound and beautiful beyond measure but it could be the end of all he knew.

    His world, his solar system orbited within the galaxy near a nexus of gravity created by the dark energy web he was currently visualizing. This position had caused numerous strikes by meteoric bodies against the worlds in his solar system. His people had learned to watch for these cosmic projectiles and managed to construct defenses against them over time. It has been a sort of blessing in disguise, forcing each person to realize that the only way to survive was to work together. The whole population was united in a way few others could ever realize.

    The Project had been started decades back and continued by each successive government. They knew that there would come a time when their defenses would prove insufficient and they would need an alternative. None of the citizens who worked on the project ever expected it to be used in their lifetimes and Josiah had been among thousands of volunteers that routinely submitted their names.

    One day not long after he’d done his duty an announcement came that changed his expectations. A rogue planet, probably thrown out of its home galaxy by some stellar disaster, had been caught in the gravitational web of dark matter and was on a collision course with their solar system. The Project was their only hope.

    He remembered how the selection process quickly winnowed out those who were unqualified either by physical reasons and the lack of aptitude and education. Josiah was selected as one of the hundred taken in the first round. He took tests, did simulations, spent hours being drilled and then tested again. In the end it was decided that he would pilot the ship that carried the hope of an entire world to try to divert a disaster the equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion a thousand times the size of any that had ever been conceived. He had only a few weeks to prepare since he would have to travel for some fifteen years to reach his goal. If he missed by even a minute or a kilometer, his mission would fail and his home would die.

    Josiah shook his head to clear the fog of memory. Though it seemed like only days to him his instruments told him he had come within striking distance of the gravitational nexus. Now was the time to push the ship to its full speed, approaching the speed of light to within the tiniest fraction of a percentage point. The ship’s mass would be enormous, strong enough in theory to generate such an impact it would shatter the rogue and pull its remains along with it out of the gravitational path. It was hoped this would steer the remnants of the rogue away from its collision course.

    Unfortunately for Josiah, that speed would also slow time in the ship to a near stop. He would never see his home or his people again. He might never see anyone again. He was supposed to decelerate once he was clear of the dark matter nexus but it would take him centuries to read his instruments and even decide what to do. He didn’t know if he would even survive the encounter. None of that mattered now. Now it was time to do what he came for.

    With a single touch on the control panel the ship accelerated to nearly the speed of light. Its mass increased exponentially until it was twisting space as he passed, leaving a visible trail in its wake. The last thing he saw was the reflection of his face over the luminous orb seemingly caught in the web of the strange, dark substance. The last thought in Josiah’s mind before time came to a near stop was regret that he must destroy it, even in self-defense. The technicians monitoring the ship’s telemetry and the scientists observing the ship’s approach silently wished Josiah success and a life beyond theirs. They knew he would not be able to stop the ship for many centuries, if ever, and hoped he would find a place to call his own. The watched as the relativistic craft plowed head on into the thick rope of dark matter that connected their system to the nexus to collide with the orphaned planet and waited.

    The memorial shone brightly in the sun, the multitude of mirror-like facets making it sparkle like a jewel. Josiah’s name was etched on panel followed by just one word.

    “Savior”

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  • February 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm
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    I WISH… (revised)

    It was the most beautiful image that has remained since the day we stood in the golden prairie wool and stared at the memories floating upward into an endless sky. He was young, a child really, but, no one ever really saw him that way. He was treated more like an elder; his demeanor, mannerisms, were just something about him that made him look out of place when he was with children his own age. He didn’t belong with them. He looked uncomfortable and uneasy, almost like his privacy was being invaded with immature piercing screams and a childishness he long had long ago outgrew. And in a moment, his life was cut short in an accident that crushed us all.

    Ricky Hall was barely 6 years old when he fell off a butte and tumbled into a ravine. His body was found four days later; he was gone by then. In those few short years with us, his maturity surpassed the five decades of my lifetime. I often wondered what to say to him, much like when I was a young boy trying to make conversation with my grandfathers. I just wasn’t a natural, I guess, or maybe I didn’t understand that it was okay to be inexperienced and naïve, especially when I was lucky enough to sit in the same room when elders came to visit. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out what I could contribute to the conversations instead of doing what I should have been doing in the first place, which was simply to listen. I wished I was like Ricky who looked so comfortable when he sat near his great-grandfather. The elders would roll a cigarette for him, without tobacco of course, and watch in amusement as the paper cigarette dangled loosely from his lips. He became one with them.

    I had a chance to visit with him one day, when I was asked if I could bring him to school. It was strange to feel so awkward, like I was the child.

    “What’s in your lunch bag,” I asked, almost rhetorically.

    “Peanut butter and jam. My favorite,” he responded in a barely audible voice.

    “When I went to school, that was my favorite too.”

    I glanced at him and saw that he was staring beyond the endless countryside. I wondered what he was thinking about.

    “When I was a little boy, about your age, we used to travel on a wagon with a team on that old trail over there,” I told him, pointing to a barely visible set of lines that were nearly covered with weeds and grass. I noticed his interest had stirred. “Grampa and gramma used to take me to town with them during summer break. I had a lot of fun with them. They used to buy me lots of candy.”

    “Did you ride horses too?”

    “Oh yeah. Grampa had a little pony and a saddle for me. We used to ride together all over the place to visit. It was fun.” His attention was now focused on my story.

    “Would you want to ride with me?”

    He nodded his head and said innocently: “Do you have a pony for me?”

    “Yeah, my boy. I have just the horse for you. I’ll pick you up this weekend and I’ll have him saddled up and ready for you, okay?

    He nodded and a huge smile lit up his face just as we pulled up into the schoolyard.

    “Remember, my boy, this weekend alright?”

    “Okay uncle,” he replied as he gathered his lunch and backpack. “See you.”

    I glanced into my rearview mirror and saw him watching me drive away.

    **************************************************************************

    I brushed the horse down and cleaned the saddle and bridle as best I could that morning. That pony snorted, his hoof pawing the ground. It seemed restless. I carefully placed the saddle blanket on before cinching the saddle loosely on the pony. It followed obediently as we walked toward the house where Ricky was. I tied his boots with a strip of rawhide and placed them over the saddle horn. His boots were new. They had never been placed into the stirrups, but yet, they didn’t look out of place as they dangled effortlessly with each step. I could feel tears welling up inside as we followed the hearse.

    I bought Ricky his first pair of cowboy boots and a nice black felt hat in anticipation of what I hoped to be the first of many long rides together. My little elder was becoming close to me; I could sense it. I wanted to be the uncle I wished I had when I was growing up.

    The day seemed limitless. It was one of those days you didn’t want to end. The candy-blue sky became like a easel later when balloons of all colors the family released mirrored beautifully with the multi-colored clouds as the sun slowly inched downward. It was a sight that has become etched into memory. It was hard to be tough that day. It was reassuring to know that his spirit was floating upward like the balloons, but it was sad too to know his body had been lowered downward in his final resting place.

    I take that pony with me on those long rides into the coulees and along those old wagon trails of my youth. The texture of the well-worn leather reins always feel comforting wrapped around my old and calloused hands as the gentle breeze playfully teases my long hair. I wish we had taken our first ride together. I wish I wasn’t late that day.

    I later found out he had run over a half-mile away, to the highest butte to see if I was on my way. I wish I had picked him up early, instead of going to the store that morning to buy his first pair of boots and a cowboy hat.

    I wish…

    Reply
  • February 10, 2016 at 3:17 pm
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    It was the most beautiful apple.

    At the end of summer, when I plucked it from the tree, it was ripe and red. It glowed, like a sunset, and reminded me of Anna. It reminded me of the way that she would toss her head, auburn hair falling about her shoulders. It reminded me of freezing water and her waterfall laughter, many years ago, when she and I swam naked in the valley behind my house, and kissed each other’s bodies under the warm sun.

    That, of course, was before she started to look in the mirror.

    In the autumn, when the leaves fell from the trees, it was still the most beautiful apple. Kept cool and dry, its skin dulled in colour, it reminded me of Anna. It reminded me of the way she would spend her time in front of the mirror, avoiding the sun on her skin. It reminded me of the way she brushed her hair and snarled when I came near.

    That, of course, was before she stopped eating.

    In the winter, when the icy wind bit, it was still the most beautiful apple. Rotting and black, its insides soft and beginning to smell, it reminded me of Anna. It reminded me of the way her corpse looked as it lay on the mirror. It reminded me of her empty eyes, staring at the roof above her as I shut her in the dark.

    It was the most beautiful apple.

    Reply
  • February 10, 2016 at 3:25 pm
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    Reflection
    ©2016 Sami A.F

    It was the most beautiful pair she had ever seen.

    Those enchanting grey eyes that stared back at her were quite bewitching. They were her eyes right? Taking a step back from the mirror, Clarice examined her face. She looked quite healthy, even after that incident. The bedroom was rather plain. The mirror had a simple white frame that rested on an eggshell colored dresser.

    “Alice?” A voice emitted through the bedroom door.

    Alice, still staring at herself in the mirror, seemed rather confused. She was the one being called right? Refraining from answering, the girl turned away from her own reflection to face the door. She opened her mouth, yet she didn’t desire any sound to emerge. A knock at the door.

    “Yes?” Alice asked cautiously.

    A woman entered the room giving Alice a worried gaze. “Are you okay, Alice?” Alice was her right? The girl simply nodded at the older woman. “Coming down for breakfast?”

    “I’ll be down in a minute,” Alice nodded. At the answer, the woman’s face lit up with relief. “Mom?” Alice asked with a crack in her voice. The woman beamed widely, and nodded. Exiting the room, Alice was left alone. She eyed her room suspiciously, as if she was finally recalling the events.

    “My name is Alice,” The girl whispered to herself before making her way downstairs.

    The table had been set with the usual breakfast meal. It was her usual breakfast right? A cup of tea with scrambled eggs. Alice slowly made her way towards the table, as if she were analyzing each an every aspect of the house as she did so. Her mother noticed that, and her worried eyes were glued to her daughter as they had been for quite a long time. “Sit down, dear.” Her mother said with encouragement.

    “Aren’t I going to be late to school?” Alice asked innocently.

    Her mother sighed in disappointment as her eyes remained on her daughter. She shook her head, made her way around the table, and slowly placed her comforting hand on Alice’s shoulder, “There is no school today, Alice.” That seemed like the most appropriate response. A response that she had been using for quite some time.

    “It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten eggs!” Alice said quite enthusiastically.

    The woman chuckled quite forcefully as she had done many times as well. “Dan might visit today! Doesn’t that sound great?”

    Alice turned to her mother with a frown, “Dan?”

    “Yes,” She replied. “You remember Dan.”

    “You mind if I finish my breakfast in my room?” Alice said in a low voice.

    Her mother simply nodded in response. As soon as Alice had disappeared with her plate, the woman picked up her cellphone and dug a number from her contact list. After a few rings, a deep voice called out. Alice’s mother hesitated for a moment, but managed to finally speak out, “Dan. It’s happening again.”

    Upstairs, Alice sat on her bed running her fingers through her hair. Stopping at an abnormal feeling on her hand, she ran her index finger over a noticeable scar that had long been closed up. Ignoring the scar, Alice walked to stand in front of the mirror.

    “Alice?” The woman said walking through the door.

    The girl turned towards the woman, then back at the mirror as she gazed at her reflection. “That girl is pretty,” Alice said pointing at the mirror. “Her eyes are beautiful. Who is she?”

    Reply
  • February 11, 2016 at 11:32 am
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    A Life in Pursuit of Beauty – (revised)

    It was the most beautiful, yes, the best place for sure. Just right.

    He remembered the Loch from a childhood visit. It was all he remembered, and more. Now, at the age of 89, so much life had passed in between times.

    Yes, he remembered as he settled down on the picnic blanket and leaned against the lone tree, so much of his life had been in pursuit of beauty. All that time spent in the world of art, theatres, literature, the most fashionable drawing rooms, parties with beautiful people. The people he had loved – they had all been beautiful. Two wives, many lovers.

    And Georg! Where had that memory come from to ambush him? Such a beautiful young man, so perfectly formed, the quiff that flopped across his handsome forehead in the mornings, the smile … But so vacant! A simple soul. Where was he now? Of course – gone, his life cut short like so many others. Theirs had been an affair in a safer, though more secret, era.

    His wives were beautiful too. Much admired and coveted, and they had been his. Hermione had been impossible to live with – but maybe he had been too. She was gone now. And Katya too. As her beauty had faded, their love had resolved to respect and trust, a mutual caring that flared back into something more profound in her last days. How long ago? More than a decade past. He struggled to fill in the intervening years, a series of memories almost without context: parties with friends he never saw again. He was almost the last one standing.

    But of course the children, most of all the children. He closed his eyes and remembered the best of days, when the children were young. He loved to buy them clothes, only the best, imported from France and America. But mostly he loved the beauty of the way they moved, and smiled, and threw their arms around him as he picked them up and swung them around.

    They had grown up to be fine people, he reflected, though not without some traumas on the way. Then their children – and now great grandchildren. He regretted he had not the health or energy to enjoy them as he should.

    He knew at the last visit the great-grandchildren were uncomfortable and impatient to leave. He felt for them, stuck with this old man who smelled strange and whose intestines gurgled constantly, easy to hear through his wasted muscle and paper-thin skin.

    And when he looked in the mirror in the mornings, he could not see the person he felt inside, but instead some wizened caricature of himself. He knew he had never been the best looking of men, but surely an 8 out of 10? One who knew how to dress, and carry himself with elegance and panache.

    But no more. He was a sick old man, edging ever closer to incapacity. He knew his family talked about him in phone calls, in whispered conversations in the corridors as they left after visits. He loved them for their concern, and hated them for it at the same time. That he should be dependent was bad enough, but to be an issue was intolerable.

    That’s how it was. His life had become un-beautiful. Unbearable.

    Unbearable – like the infernal itching across his whole body. Down to chronic kidney failure. He hadn’t told his family he had stopped having dialysis. At his age, he now found it left him too exhausted to enjoy life between sessions. He had barely stepped outside for a year until now. So he had planned a last venture into the world to savour the sights and sounds.

    First class train to Edinburgh, then a stay at the Old Waverley Hotel. Dressed in his finest, he visited the theatre and as many galleries as he could take in. Some inadvisable fine dining, with maybe his last friend still alive, a former actor. Walking was difficult now, and he was unsteady on the capital’s steep inclines and cobbles.

    And then north. A short stay in a guest house to flush out his system with little but pure water. And then here, to this spot nearby. He regretted the few white lies he told to cover his movements. He did not want any unexpected help at this moment, just to be alone.

    It was evening now. The sun had set in the west over the hills behind him, and it was cold and damp. A clear night lay ahead, and on this March night the forecast predicted it could fall to minus 2 Celsius. He hoped so.

    He began to shiver, and took out a hip flask from his small rucksack. It contained his favourite single malt whisky. He pursed his lips and nodded in appreciation as he savoured the flavour in his mouth, and then let it slowly go down his throat. He felt the warming.

    He looked to the night sky. Had he ever looked to the night sky before? Maybe on some romantic tryst many decades ago, but it felt like a new discovery.

    Now he was shivering badly, and began to drift in and out of sleep. He willed himself awake, determined to see the sunrise. He switched on his torch, and took a small photo album from his rucksack. He flicked slowly through the pictures of all the people who had added beauty and colour to his life, and began to drift away.

    He woke with a start at the first glow of dawn over the hills on the other side of the loch. The first rays of the sun glistened off the frost that covered his coat. He tried to control his shivering, and to sit more upright, but lacked the strength.

    The sun rose clear above the hills, reflected golden across the water. He could not speak. Gazing at the brilliance all around, he thought, “Yes, this is beautiful. Truly beautiful.”

    (992 words)

    Reply
  • February 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm
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    Fading into darkness
    © Emmanuel Malho 2016

    It was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Solomon could see the reflection of the moonlight in every tiny shard. The thought of it crossed his mind. He kneeled and started crying.

    A few hours earlier

    It was the most beautiful night Solomon had ever seen. He wasn’t sure if it would be the last, so he took the time to savor it. It was a slightly cold September Friday night. Solomon was sitting in the ground of his balcony. He poured himself another lowball glass. The stars were shining above him. The crescent moon was like a young woman, staring at him, as if it were waiting for him. “Well maybe tonight”, he thought. He looked at the inside of his apartment. Then he looked at his half-full, half-empty glass. “… After another old fashioned”, and he got up and went inside for a refill of his Friday night drink. The ashtray in his balcony held the more than two packs’ filters he had been smoking for the last hour. For below passersby, Solomon’s balcony looked like a chimney.
    His brother Josh came up.

    – I’m glad you came. Here, pick your poison. – Solomon handed Josh a pack of cigarettes and an empty glass. – My minibar, your minibar – he pointed out to his fridge. Josh helped himself with a shorter version of Solomon’s old fashioned.

    – So, how’s it going? – Solomon asked.

    – Better than here, it seems – Josh noticed, looking at the empty whiskey bottle and the empty packs of cigarettes. – Mom always said this trip wouldn’t be good for you. You look like you need a doctor. Have you been eating alright?

    – Well, yeah… How’s Tiffany? And the kids? – Solomon swerved his brother’s attention. His face lightened up for a few seconds.

    – Well, Zeke just got into school. He’s been there for a week and he’s already saying he’s having a blast. He’s a smart kid. He’s always asking when you’ll get a girlfriend and bring his cousins home. Tiffany… You know how she is. She’s been a mother hen until now, that won’t change now. I guess it’ll get worse by the day. – They both laughed. – We miss you, you know that?

    Solomon lighted another cigarette. He took a deep breath. Then he sighed.

    – Things haven’t been too easy…

    – Smith & Nephews are being too rough on you? – Josh patted his younger brother.

    – Just quit it! – Solomon retorted, holding his brother’s hand off. – Business is going good…

    – What’s going on then, little brother? – Josh challenged him.

    – I hate it when you do that, you know? – Solomon stared at his brother, trying ineffectively to menace him. – I think I’m just homesick – he lied – I may catch a plane soon enough and go see mom. How’s she been? – He diverted, again.

    – I think she’d love that. She’s been asking for you. She’s worried about you. She says you’re not calling, you don’t pick up her calls… What’s wrong with you? – Josh reprehended his brother. Solomon picked his phone out of his pocket and shrugged.

    – Bad signal.

    They spent a little time together, talking and gazing at the stars and the moon. Smoking some cigarettes, and Solomon kept hitting the old fashioned.

    – Well you don’t know what it’s like yet, but I have a wife and a kid to get back to. And for your own sake I hope you pick a good one. – They chuckled – You take care, kid. And keep in touch. For crying out loud, go see mom. If you don’t say anything I’ll be back Sunday. Mom will kill me if I don’t. You sure you don’t want to tell me what’s going on? – He looked at Solomon like the elder brother he’s been. Protective. Confident. Strong. Solomon always looked up at him. He was looking up at him now. For a few seconds, Josh thought Solomon would spill it all out.

    – I’ll be there Sunday for lunch if it’s OK with Tiffany and Zeke. – And he drank his glass. – I’ll walk you to the door.

    – Never mind. Stay right there or go to bed, I know my way – Josh said, picking up the bottles and the ashtray into the apartment. – See you Sunday!

    – See you Sunday… – Solomon mumbled, grabbing another bottle from the minibar and barely hanging.
    He was heading to the balcony again, but he stopped in front of the mirror in his hallway. A shady young adult, barely conscious, was looking back at him.

    – Don’t you look at me that way, boy… – he said, drunk, to his mirrored self. – It’s not like YOU could do any better… – He gave a final stare at the mirror. He felt the long lasting hatred towards himself build up deep inside of him. He saw the rage burning in his eyes, his skin turning red. He threw his arm back and forth, letting the whiskey bottle head right to the mirror, shattering it to pieces.

    It was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Solomon could see the reflex of the moonlight in every tiny shard. The thought of it crossed his mind. He knelt and started crying. He couldn’t control the tears. So he didn’t even try. He couldn’t tell why. He didn’t know why. Everything seemed meaningless now. Everything had no reason. He seemed meaningless now. He had no reason. He grabbed the biggest shard hard enough to cut his hand and his fingers. His dark blood was dripping from the previously shining shard. The thought of it crossed his mind again. This time, he held the shard firmly and cut his wrist. The red hatred started to glow off of his skin, turning paler by the minute. Solomon felt his strengths go away, dripping through the wound he did to himself. The little shards on the ground were shining no more. Solomon’s sight grew weary. Solomon himself had no more strength in a few minutes.

    – Come, take me – he said to the shining moon, as he faded into darkness.

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  • February 11, 2016 at 7:11 pm
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    ROMEO
    © Kenneth Cartisano 2016

    It was the most beautiful love story since Romeo and Juliet.

    Darrell Lict was a philandering pig. He had a very brainy girlfriend named Stormy Bastille who tolerated his many trysts because she hated confrontation and frankly, he frightened her. Over the years, Darrell had abused her in ways that made her think she was worthless.

    Stormy pretended to be unaware of Darrell’s infidelity by occupying her time with many other interests, one of which was making money. She was a successful businesswoman who had squirreled away a small fortune by skimming profits from her business and hiding the cash in her safe deposit box. In time, Darrell convinced her that he could be trusted with her money, and she gave him access to the safe deposit box.

    One day, while making a deposit, Darrell met a frumpy young teller named Dianne Tameechia. Dianne and Darrell began their relationship with some harmless and playful flirting, until one particular weekend when Stormy was out of town. Darrell stopped in at the bank and asked Dianne what she was doing that Saturday night. Dianne feigned a pout and admitted that she was spending the night by herself, watching Seinfeld re-runs.

    Darrell, ever the opportunist, asked her if she’d like some company. She agreed, and that’s how their liaison began. Because she worked at a bank, she insisted that they be discreet, but their illicit affair smoldered like a slow-burning fuse for months until one day, Dianne asked Darrell if he had ever considered leaving Stormy.

    “Oh I couldn’t do that,” Darrell exclaimed. “I’m too old and comfortable to consider starting over.”

    Dianne persisted in prodding him over the ensuing months until one day she remarked that Darrell and Stormy made frequent visits to their safe deposit box.

    “Well, yes,” Darrell admitted. “Stormy has salted away some money, but it was only about twenty thousand dollars,” he lied. Not nearly enough money for he and Dianne to live on. At least, not in sufficient splendor.

    One afternoon, as they were having lunch together, Dianne said, “I’ve been thinking. Would you consider leaving Stormy if I had, say, 80 or 90 grand?”

    Darrell’s heart skipped a beat, but he maintained his composure and a calm outward appearance. “Maybe,” he said, with his mouth full. “Why?”

    “Because,” Dianne said, “I’ve figured out a way to filch about a hundred grand from the bank, and no one will notice for days.”

    “Oh don’t be ridiculous,” Darrell said. “You’ll do no such thing.”

    “I would for you, Darrell, my sweet. We could hi-tail it out of town, and live in Costa Rica, like royalty.”

    This was almost too good to be true, and just what Darrell was waiting for. “How do you propose to do this?” Darrell asked.

    “Well,” she leaned in close and spoke in a whisper, “the drive-thru deposit box has a compartment that holds a serious amount of cash. My boss will be out of town in a few weeks. We’ve been getting large deposits like clockwork, from a local contractor who always deals in cash. I think this may be our chance.”

    Darrell wiped the gravy off his chin and smiled innocently, but almost choked on his coffee when Dianne said, “You could pilfer your girlfriend’s safe deposit box too. Between her money and the bank’s money, we could end up with a tidy little sum.”

    “Well,’ Darrell hedged, “It’s really not that much.”

    “Maybe not,” Dianne said, “but she couldn’t report it stolen because if she did, she’d have to pay taxes on it, right?”

    ‘Frumpy little Dianne was a clever one,’ Darrell thought. ‘Too clever by half.’ They agreed to do the caper on the weekend that Dianne’s boss was out of town, and Darrell informed his girlfriend Stormy that he was going on a fishing trip with an old friend from high school. He’d be back in a few days.

    Thus the plan was hatched, the trap was set, and Darrell snatched all of Stormy’s money from the safe deposit box, much more money than Dianne knew about. Dianne was sincere when she assured Darrell that she had managed to pilfer a large sum of cash from the bank as well, and together they made their get-away in a car Dianne rented with a fake I.D.

    They left Saturday afternoon, drove thru the night and all day Sunday. Late Sunday night, Darrell was awakened from a pleasant dream when Dianne, who’d been driving, exited the freeway and turned onto a dark, lonely stretch of road.

    “What’re you doing?” He asked.

    “I have to pee,” she said.

    “Here?”

    “I have to go, Darrell. I can’t wait. The next rest area is 50 miles away. Hand me the tissues in the glove box, will ya?” She checked the rear view mirror and pulled off the side of the road.

    “Are you sure about this?”

    “I have to go, Darrell. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

    She took the keys and set off into the woods. After a minute or so, he realized he had to pee too; plus, this was the perfect place to strangle the smarmy bitch, and make off with all of the money. So he followed her into the woods and began to relieve himself on a tree. “Dianne,” he called out. “Where are you?”

    A twig snapped behind him. It was Dianne. “Any time you’re ready, my sweet,” she said.

    He smiled without turning around and replied, “I was just thinking…”

    Those were his last words as she bashed his brains in with a rock. “I’ll bet you were,” she said, as she tossed the rock to the ground.

    A few days later, Stormy got a call from her stepsister, Dianne. “Oh, hi sis. What’s up?”

    “Just called to tell you that I took care of that problem you had.”

    “Really?”

    “Yeah, I’ve got your money too—less expenses of course,” Dianne said.

    “Thanks sis. You’re a doll. Let’s do lunch tomorrow.”

    Reply
  • February 13, 2016 at 10:04 am
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    Red

    It was the most beautiful day.

    Her hair was long and vibrant, and the source of her nickname, Red. She was late for lunch at her grandma’s house and spurred her horse to a gallop. Grandma was a stickler for punctuality and would likely give her a lecture on discipline. Red was a bit of a rebel, this wasn’t the first time she was late.

    When she arrived she leapt off the horse and called out, “Grammy, I’m here.”

    The diatribe started, “You young people have no sense of time or place.” When Red bounced up the steps to the porch, her grandma couldn’t resist a smile. “Darling you look so pretty.”

    “It’s a wonderful day, Grammy, so green and peaceful.” She always called her grandma Grammy.

    “C’mon in Red,”

    “In a minute Grammy, could I just go and see the horses.”

    “Yeah, do that, they really miss you. Whenever I mention your name, they start neighing.”

    Red laughed and went to the stables to see her favourite, Black Beauty. The other horses nuzzled her for a sugar cube and neighed to the heavens for a pat.

    And then there was the wolf. The horses hated him, but he persisted in dropping by every day as Red was feeding them oats. He had befriended grandma – and speak of the devil, he was visiting this very minute. He was coming around singing a tuneless song and calling her Grammy. No one but Red was allowed to call her Grammy.
    “Red, it’s your grandma, She told me you were here so I rushed out to see you.” He noticed the pail in her hand. “Been feeding the horses? They’re rather rude you know.”

    “No they’re not.” Red said indignantly with her hands on her waist. “You are. I’ve hated you since childhood, ever since you scared the life out of me.”

    “Let bygones be bygones,” the wolf said. “I said I was sorry a million times.”

    “And sorry makes a dead man live?”

    “But you’re not dead,” Said the wolf.

    “That’s just a saying. You haven’t even been to school. You can’t even hold a steady job. You’re a lout.”

    “Don’t say that Red”

    “Call me Miss Red.”

    “But you’re no older than I am.”

    “Grammy I’m hungry, can we start,” she said, ignoring the wolf’s pleadings. She was quite arrogant, our Red, different from her childhood self.

    They all sat down to eat, and Red made sure she wasn’t anywhere near the wolf. The dining table was huge; many a party had been celebrated here. It was at one of these that the wolf first saw Red, and wanted to be her friend, but he never got a chance. She had never forgiven him for scaring her. It was a childish prank he’d pulled, and hadn’t really eaten her grandma, but Red had fallen for it.

    So the wolf sulked, Grandma said, “Don’t sulk wolf, eat your food.” Red giggled, making him sad. Grandma scolded Red for being rude at the table.

    After dinner, Red became sleepy. Ultimately, after a short nap, Red came out to see them preparing to play foosball. She watched them for awhile. Wolf’s team needed a player and Red reluctantly joined him.
    They flipped a coin. She whooped with joy and served the ball to the 5 bar. They were a good team. They kept the ball from their opponent’s striker bar, made 5 points and were declared the winners.

    It was time to leave. She had a project to complete so she bid her Grammy goodbye and promised to come back soon, Grandma instructed the wolf to escort her home.

    “Grammy, I’m not a kid anymore. I’m taking Black Beauty who is fast as lightning; I don’t think old wolf will be able to keep up.”

    “I think you underestimate him, child.”

    “C’mon then,” she shouted, “I’m leaving”

    Wolf caught up with her and said, “Aren’t you rather rude to me. It has been years since we had that childish fight. And you’re still upset. I think you need to grow up.”

    Red was quiet. She thought of the game they had played, and how they won through his skill. He was an expert player, yet he had never mentioned it. He was humble.

    And the years she had hurt and resented him.

    She said, “Wolf – I’m sorry.”

    “That’s alright.”

    “Aren’t you happy?”

    “Yeah — I am. But…”

    By now they had arrived at Red’s cottage…

    “Thanks for the escort, Wolf. Bye.”

    “Bye”

    Wolf pulled his horses reins around and looked back once more with moony eyes.

    As he was about to mount his horse, he saw something shining lying in the dirt. He kneeled down and picked it up. It was a broken piece of mirror.

    He face broke into a wry smile as he gazed at his reflection in the mirror. He was a different species than Red. She would never be his.

    Reply
  • February 13, 2016 at 5:03 pm
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    Fit for the Easter Parade
    By: Randall Lemon
    (997 words)

    It was the most beautiful image I had ever seen. I had come to the city in search of the perfect gift for my fiancée. She was the love of my life and deserved the very best I could afford to give her. The problem was that I knew almost nothing about women’s fashions and most of my friends indicated that I had terrible taste.

    I know it seemed old fashioned on my part but Easter was fast approaching and I thought that a new hat might be something that my fiancée, Jill, would really enjoy. I had tried a number of major department stores and was amazed at the lack of variety for hats. They looked okay, maybe even nice; but nothing stood out as being as special as Jill was to me.

    I was about to give up and head back to Clarksville when I noticed this little shop tucked in between the giant retail stores around it. It was the kind of place that refined ladies call a boutique. Its name amused and attracted me: Sheree’s Chapeaux.

    “What the heck, looking in one more store wouldn’t kill me and Jill was worth the time and effort.”

    I crossed the busy street, squared my shoulders and stepped into the small store. A tiny bell tinkled over the door announcing my arrival. The shop smelled of powder and perfume and seemed a quiet island in contrast to the noisy din of the city outside.

    I’d gotten no more than two steps through the doorway before I froze in my tracks caught up by the beautiful tableau in front of me. A petite Asian beauty stood just a few feet away staring into a full-length mirror. While she was both exotic and attractive, it was not her, but what was on her head that had captured me like an insect in amber.

    This was the hat for which I had been looking. It would be the perfect gift for Jill and would show her how much her love means to me. It was amazing and completely different from anything I had seen before. The hat sat sloping down on the right side of the girl’s head. The main portion of the hat was a seven-inch diagonal platform from which descended a thin black open fishnet veil enhanced by dozens to tiny black puffballs which reached to just below the woman’s eyes and showcased them beautifully. Atop the platform was a profusion of colorful butterflies. The insects had their wings spread wide. One was golden brown. One had wings of aquamarine. One was a deep sapphire blue. The others were various shades of pink and red.

    The contrast of the black veil and colorful hat highlighted the woman’s face and made her eyes sparkle with the luminosity of a star upon which one could wish.

    I quickly surveyed the store and realized that all the hats here were one-of-a-kind. What if the Asian woman purchased it? I would never find another like it!

    Desperation emboldened me and I approached her. But before I could speak, she turned and fixed me with those lovely eyes.

    “Good afternoon, sir. I am Sheree and this is my store. How can I help you?”

    Hope burst from my chest lighting up the features of my face.

    “I couldn’t help but admire the hat you are wearing. I’ve come to the city looking for the perfect gift for my girlfriend and I think that hat might just be it. By any chance, would it be for sale?”

    “Actually, this isn’t a hat at all. Back when these were first made, they called them “fascinators: because of the effect they had on men and women alike, but also because they helped women fasten their hairstyles. This is a vintage fascinator made by Elsa Schiaparelli back around 1937. You won’t find another one like it anywhere.”

    While the history lesson was interesting, I began to worry.

    “I wanted to get Jill something to show her how much I love her and I thought that just might be this ha… I mean fascinator but when I hear words like vintage and one-of-a-kind, I start wondering if that hat might be a too expensive for me. Do you mind my asking the price?”

    “Tell me, what is your name?”

    “Henry, ma’am, Henry Claymore from Clarksville.”

    ”Well Henry, would you say that, Jill is one-of-a-kind? Do you have a photo of her in your wallet?”

    “Absolutely, here let me show you. She’s the nicest and prettiest girl in the world, uh… not to offend you Ms. Sheree. You are a very beautiful woman as well. It’s just that Jill is special”

    Henry handed Sheree the picture. As Sheree looked at the pretty young girl in the photo a slight smile crossed her lips.

    “I could be wrong Henry, but I think this hat and Jill were made for each other. Seeing her, I can’t imagine the fascinator ever looking as good on anyone else as it would on her. I can’t just give you the hat for free but I will give you a special price if you promise to take a photo of Jill in the hat and send it to me. How about $100.00 and I’ll throw in a pair of black fishnet gloves along with it? Let me just take it and put it and the gloves in a nice hat box for you to give to Jill.”

    While Sheree had looked at Jill’s picture, Henry had managed to glimpse the hat’s price tag and saw that it sold for $350. He was a little embarrassed to take advantage of such a wonderful discount.

    “Ms. Sheree, my dad owns a moving business in Clarksville and I work for him. If you ever need anything moved, you call me and I’ll be right up here with the truck.”

    Tears appeared in the corners of Sheree’s almond-shaped eyes.

    “Believe me Henry, your story has moved me already.”

    Reply
  • February 14, 2016 at 7:38 am
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    A Bedazzling Gown

    It was the most beautiful feeling as Eileen gently took hold of the formal gown’s fabric once again, bringing it up and holding it between her thumb and three forefingers.
    It’s pure silk lining skimming along the pads of her manicured fingertips while the textured nylon mesh overlay was lightly raking her thumb.
    She continued holding the two fabrics between her thumb and forefingers, sliding them back and forth against each other, feeling the roll and glide, hearing the squeak of nylon talking to silk, eyeing the slinkiness of the shiny weave.

    Subconsciously her thumb began slowly circling over the designs and weaves of the fabric sending tingling currents and impulses through her fingers, coursing up along her arms and into her brain, reigniting the emotions that had overwhelmed her last week.
    That first time she had stepped into the designer store Eileen was stopped in her tracks, bedazzled by the gown.
    Singled out from the collection of exclusive designer stock it was being displayed on one of the store’s ultra modern mannequins.
    From that day on Eileen grew increasingly obsessed by the diamond coloured gown; attracted to its minimalist style, the slinky drape of its excellent cut and quality of its fabric.

    Once home she immediately googled the designer’s website learning that it was originally founded in Germany and recently a new collection was created in Saint-Tropez, France.
    ‘Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden is a regular customer.’ Eileen was hooked.
    Strutting before her bedroom mirror, Eileen imagined herself working Parisian runways, sought after by Europe’s top fashion houses.
    By the week’s end Eileen could no longer imagine life without the gown.

    ———————————————-

    ‘I will make you mine.’
    Pretending nonchalance she released the fabric from her fingers, allowing it to slither back down against the mannequin’s shapely legs.

    ‘You must try the creation on to truly appreciate its beauty.’ Gushed a breathy voice seemingly emanating from within a cloud of expensive smelling perfume.
    Startled, Eileen took a step back looking up in time to notice a slim and toned woman, immaculately dressed, emerge from the cloud.
    Eileen read ‘Sophia, Store Manager’ on her name tag.

    ‘Oh, I-I-I am ju-just looking thanks.’

    ‘Our fitting rooms are over here to the left,’ directed Sophia ‘and we can discuss accessories and make-up,’ seemingly oblivious to Eileen’s faltering protests.

    ‘No, really I can’t … I’m sorry, this is all a mistake,’ stammered Eileen frantically seeking escape from the bewitching Sophia.
    Please can’t there be a distracting customer or a phone call?

    ‘Come this way. What can I call you?’

    Eileen panicked. Should I give her an alias?
    She thought better of it. ‘Eileen.’

    ‘Eileen, you are determined to own this dress regardless of the consequences. I have been observing you.’
    ‘This gown is desired by many, but it belongs to one particular person,’ continued Sophia mysteriously.

    She leaned in close to Eileen, ‘Why, only yesterday a woman was caught on security camera trying to shoplift the dress. She is a celebrity and this is not the kind of media exposure she would have been seeking.’

    Eileen blushed, her heart thumped. She was feeling exposed and trapped.

    ‘You want this gown Eileen. Without it you will live a life of regret,’ purred Sophia, laying a bejewelled hand on her arm. Eileen felt naked under Sophia’s penetrating gaze. It was apparent that Sophia knew her trade.

    She earned her reputation among the rich and famous on her uncanny ability to read her clientele and flatter exclusively to their fashion tastes.

    Eileen succumbed to Sophia’s persuasive ways, yet fearing where this was leading her.

    ‘Come Eileen, follow me.’

    Sophia stood to one side, inviting Eileen to step into the fitting room opulently fitted with full length mirrors on all sides.
    Sophia retreated for a few minutes allowing Eileen her privacy.
    Trembling, she tugged her navy tunic dress over her head and dropped her cotton leggings to her feet, before removing her sandals and stepping out of the leggings.

    Sophia returned holding the gown. Its mesh overlay shimmered and sparkled under the shafts of strategically placed lighting as it snaked along her forearm, dipping low before arching up to slink over the hanger like an exotic carpet python coiled around a tree branch.

    Eileen was mesmerised under its spell. Momentarily she forgot her fear of exposure under Sophia’s scrutiny.
    She accepted Sophia’s help to adjust the gown, watching her reflection wiggle itself to allow the gown to slither down over her one hundred and seventy three centimetre frame and tap the floor.
    She turned sideways to peer at the loose scooped back exposing her chiselled shoulder blades and a short train giving length to her average height.
    She looked glamorous, her brown hair stopping just above her shoulders in a neat bob, and green eyes like shining emeralds complementing the diamond coloured fabric.

    Sophia had brought in exquisite strappy gold sandals and a gold Croc print rectangle clutch.
    Only now Eileen dared to ask the price. She knew it will be exorbitant.

    ‘Seven thousand three hundred and thirty dollars and seventy five cents.’

    ‘I am so sorry…’ she trails off helplessly, unprepared for that price.

    ‘We don’t have a sale then?’ Sophia’s voice and attitude was abruptly changing.

    ‘To compensate my time spent with you I want you to step out onto the shop floor and parade the gown for me.’

    Stepping out she was immediately confronted by a waiting man and a woman. Eileen wanted to flee.

    ‘Eileen meet Hans and Renee,’ gushed Sophia, all charm again.

    ‘Hello Eileen.’
    Hans extended his hand toward her.
    Renee looked on appraisingly, then said,
    ‘Sophia is our scout and she agreed to model that gown in her store as part of our search to find the girl who will show unique qualities befitting a top model for our Paris based agency.

    ‘Eileen, you are that girl!’

    Reply
  • February 14, 2016 at 4:37 pm
    Permalink

    REWRITE
    © 2016 Anika Madison
    979 words

    It was the most beautiful waterfall he’d ever seen. As fifteen year old John gazed upon this sight, he knew for the first time what peace felt like. As the watery waves cascaded down the rocky terrain, John was able to turn his attention from his chaotic life to this peaceful scene. The water spilling over into the river below caused small ripples that flowed towards him. The feeling of calm John felt as he watched the small gentle waves reminded him of the way he felt when his mother used to rock him to sleep. He put his hand in the water and pressed against the ripples, causing opposition to the direction of what represented his peace. It was symbolic of what he did in his own life each time he was exposed to any kind of tranquility. Suddenly John heard a loud crash. As he ran towards the scene, he saw an injustice. Peace left as anger took its place.

    A young African American woman got out of her car and approached an unconscious white man sitting in his car who had just slammed into a tree. He narrowly escaped hitting her. Reaching in her pocket to get her phone, John could hear her telling the man she was going to call for help. A white policeman driving by the accident quickly emerged from his car and slammed the woman on the ground. The terrified woman rolled over and the officer began to punch her repeatedly. She cried out that she was pregnant. The officer stood her up and slammed handcuffs on her. As was his normal reaction, John rushed to the scene with fists flying. Suddenly these words flashed in his mind… REWRITE! He immediately stopped and calmly told the policeman what happened and that the woman was just trying to help the unconscious man.

    To John’s surprise, the policeman calmed down and called for an ambulance. John stood by the woman’s side and went to the police station where she met her father. After giving their statements, the woman was released. John’s story was rewritten.

    Throughout his life, John tried hard not to feel hatred or despair. But he kept seeing the grey of society. His world was full of immorality and constant sadness. His step-father was an abusive adulterer who tormented his mother. On occasions, his step-father would turn his abusive behavior towards his step-son, which made John lift weights to gain a lot of bulk. It only took one beating from John to teach the step-father a lesson. When John again witnessed his father attack his brother, he became irate and started toward his father. Suddenly these words flashed in his mind… REWRITE! It was then that he knew he had to change.

    As part of his decision to change, he joined a movement to help further his new way of thinking. Against all odds, John became a fighter of injustice. He learned how to use his head instead of his hands. God rewarded him for those efforts. Those who put a target on his back were all brought to justice. John was free. John’s story was rewritten.

    Every time John witnessed an unjust act, he would see in large bold letters above the situation. REWRITE! It happened again when he met fifteen year old Christopher three days before John’s twentieth birthday.

    Christopher was a high school student John rescued from a bully when visiting Christopher’s school as a speaker. When the bully was pummeling him on the ground of the school yard, John saw the word REWRITE above the unfair fight. He rushed to Christopher’s defense and pulled the browbeater off of him. Because of John’s massive frame from weight lifting up to five hundred pounds during his intense workout sessions, the very sight of him put a stop the bully’s actions and caused the ruffian to flee. Before Christopher’s tormentor ran off, John whispered something in his ear that ensured Christopher’s safety from that day forward. John gained a mentee that day. In the days ahead, Christopher would learn a lot about life and how to protect himself. Christopher’s story was rewritten.

    The next four years of John’s life were better than the years before. However, he was constantly fighting demons that were trying to destroy him. He would fight daily as the demons would try to get him to take his own life. John had three failed suicide attempts that caused his mother to put him in a rehab center. She was convinced he was on drugs. Once this was disproved, he was sent to counseling. Two and a half years later, he was back on track. His story was rewritten once again.
    On his twenty seventh birthday, John went back to the waterfall that brought him so much peace. This time his peace was not cut short by a loud crash but by the loud noise of a close range gunshot. A bullet went through his back and out of his chest. John fell face down into the calm rippling water which caused the ripples to turn red. The shooter fled the scene as John struggled to turn himself onto his back. As he felt himself slipping away, he saw the word REWRITE in the clouds above. John began to pray.

    Minutes later, the same EMTs that helped the woman he rescued years ago did the same for him. A woman was hiking in the area with some friends and found John clinging to life. The gunman was eventually caught. John fully recovered. The ultimate rewrite of John’s life was complete.

    Two years later on his wedding day, John was reflective. He realized that God was always with him and that he was assigned a specific task. John’s job was to rewrite the stories he was called to be a part of. He was very good at his job.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2016 at 5:05 pm
    Permalink

    The River

    It was the most beautiful display of pure natural nature.

    I have traveled to many places around the world but none took my breath away like this. I’m not sure if it was the beauty or the anticipation of what lay ahead.

    We arrived at seven in the morning, just as the sun was beginning to peek its head over the top of the rims. The river was wide and deep, crystal clear like a sheet of glass reflecting its surroundings. We were prepped and loaded into the three boats. We floated along in quiet silence taking in the view, in awe of all it had to offer. The rims above us were Twenty-five hundred feet up, it was hard to imagine anything surviving in this rugged country, but our guide was quick to point out things our untrained eyes couldn’t see at first; an eagle watching from a pine, a squirrel scampering along, perhaps the eagle’s breakfast.

    The guide and his two man crew expertly steered our vessel around a few rocks, we took a couple gentle dips, as he checked to see we all followed his instructions, a soft, yet stern reminder here and there as we floated on.

    There was a change in the serenity, a roaring noise, the sound of rushing water, a cheer arose from the boat ahead, we heard” Hang on,” and like that we dipped a foot and rose back up, half back down again, as we glided between the rocks. It all lasted only a few minutes but it got the blood flowing.

    “Just a teaser friends.” Came a joyful laugh from somewhere on the wind. You could hear the raft behind cheer and squeal, as we had and the boat before us.

    Three more times we crossed similar or slightly stronger rapids. Then we rounded a bend, the roar was almost deafening, the rocks much larger, not ones we could easily slide over, but rather, be guided through. Like taking a deep breath before beginning a race, the river rats align their boat’s course of action. We watched the first one disappear, before we could even shout our encouragement, we were pulled forward, dipping and rocking side to side, shooting upwards only to plunge again. No time for cheers as one fought off the panic and the repeated drenching.

    Then all was calm once more, we floated upon a pristine mirror of glass. The crew encouraged us to take a swim. I am not much of a swimmer, but was determined to enjoy this moment. They assured me they wouldn’t let me drown or float away. As I slipped from the craft into the mighty river, my head went under and panic like I’d never known before over took me, trying to plunge me deep into trouble. “Trust the life jacket, trust the life line.” I told myself over and over. As I began to trust, I relaxed and found drifting a long on my back starring at the sky a million miles up was the most peaceful I’d felt in ages. The sun warmed me in a way I can’t explain.

    All to soon we were called back to the rafts and a friendly water fight between the three vessels broke out, we drifted to a large sandy bank. There we ate our sandwiches’ and chips, had our fill of bottled water and stretched out on the rocks. Once everyone was sufficiently warmed up, we loaded back aboard.

    Our leaders instructed us to dig in deep to our foot holds, securing ourselves in, for the ride ahead.
    “I’ve never lost anyone on a trip yet, I don’t plan to now.”

    It wasn’t long and once again you could hear, long before you could see, the rushing water. The sound this time was deafening, the canyon walls echoing the noise to twice its volume.

    We plunged two feet down and shot up three, to drop two more within seconds, the raft pitching side to side. We hung on to the ropes on either side of us, crossing the raft, with every ounce of strength we had, feeling our toes curl, hoping for a little extra grip, as we traversed onward. Suddenly we were sitting still, the water swirling all around us, like being trapped in the eye of a hurricane. As quickly as the stillness came, we rocketed straight into the air, like being spit from the spout of a whale, over a four-foot fall .. thinking we’d be meeting our end. We popped out from under the waterfall like a bobbing cork, once more before us stretched a long peacefulness, pure magnificent beauty.

    It was better than any roller coaster ride man could build.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2016 at 7:58 pm
    Permalink

    The Baby

    It was the most beautiful baby Angie ever saw. There was a knock on her apartment door. She opened it. She looked down and saw the sleeping baby in a carrier. There was a diaper bag with a note attached. Angie looked in both directions. No one was there. She brought the baby and the bag into the living room of her apartment. She sat down and read the note.

    Dear Angie,
    Please take my baby. She’s now yours. Her name is Brittany. I know you can give her a better life than I can. If you choose to tell her about me, show her this picture so she knows what I looked like. And tell her I will always love and miss her.
    Love,
    Brittany’s Mother

    A picture was taped to the bottom of the page. It looked like a high school portrait. Angie immediately texted her friend and neighbor, Cassie.

    “Come here now? Something I need to show you.”

    “Be there in 5.”

    Angie ran to the door when she heard the knocking.

    “What do you want to show me?” Cassie asked.

    “Follow me.”

    She gasped. “What a beautiful baby. A relative?”

    “No.” Angie asked, “You have time for coffee?”

    “Yes I do,” replied Cassie.

    Angie brought the baby into the kitchen. “Have a seat at the table. I’m putting the baby next to you. Her name is Brittany.” Brittany started to stir, then want back to sleep.

    Cassie sat down. “So…what’s going on? Did you do a great job hiding a pregnancy or what?”

    Angie laughed. “There was a knock at my door. I opened it, and there she was. She’s mine now.”

    “What?!”

    “Hold on a second.” Angie left the room and returned with the note. “Read this.”

    Cassie read the note. “This is the sort of thing you’d see in a movie. Things like this don’t really happen do they?”

    “It just did.”

    Cassie pointed to the picture. “Do you know this girl?”

    “No.”

    “How did she know your name?”

    Angie replied, “I don’t know. I’m guessing she saw me at work with my name tag on.”

    “Do you remember seeing any pregnant women, or should I say girls? If this picture is recent, she’s still in high school.”

    “I didn’t, but it’s hard to tell. Everyone had their coats on.”

    “The poor girl. I wonder where her parents are.” Cassie said, “We need to notify the police.”

    “No.”

    “Angie!”

    Angie started to cry. Cassie got up and put her arms around her. “I know how badly you want to be a mother, and I know you’ve wanted this for a long time. Listen to me. You can’t keep this baby just like that. It isn’t a cat or a dog. Besides…wouldn’t it be better to wait until you’re married so you have someone to share the joy with?”

    Angie replied, “Cassie, that day will never come. I’ve accepted that now. You know as well as I do that I keep meeting the wrong men. I’m 35, and I’m tired of waiting. I really want to be a mother, even if it means being one on my own.”

    Cassie replied, “I can understand your point, but you can’t just keep this one. It’s not legal.”

    Angie sat down at the table and put her face in her hands. Cassie said, “I’ll make the coffee. Then I’ll look through the diaper bag and make sure the baby has what she needs. When she wakes up, she’ll need to be changed and fed.”

    After Cassie made the coffee, she left the kitchen and returned with bottles and formula. “We have everything we need for now. I’ll get a bottle ready.”

    “Thanks.” Angie stood up. “Oh…I’m sorry, Cassie. I should be doing this.”

    “It’s okay, Angie. Sit and relax. You have a lot to digest.”

    The baby woke and began to cry. Angie picked Brittany up and held her close. She swayed back and forth while taking in her smell. “Do you think she understands her mother is not here?”

    Cassie replied, ‘It doesn’t’ seem so. I think she’s too young for that.”

    Angie walked outside the kitchen and stopped at a mirror on the wall. She looked into it. “Cassie, come here. Don’t we look great together?”

    Cassie sighed. “Angie, please try not to get attached. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

    Angie took Brittany to the couch and changed her diaper. Cassie came in carrying a small tray with their coffee mugs and a bottle. “Did you changer her?”

    “I did.” Angie asked, “How do you know so much about babies?”

    Cassie replied, “I’ve been helping my sister with the twins.”

    Angie gave Brittany her bottle. The two friends watched in admiration. After the feeding, Cassie gently said, “We should make that phone call now.”

    “I guess you’re right. This is hard.”

    “I know.”

    Angie’s voice cracked. “Can you do it?”

    Cassie replied, “Okay. I’ll call from the kitchen.”

    Angie laid Brittany on her lap. She smiled and talked to her. Brittany gave Angie a smile and made cooing noises.
    Cassie returned to the living room and sat down. “They’re on their way.”

    Angie picked up Brittany, handed her to Cassie, and sobbed.

    25 Years Later:

    Angie said, “Brittany, did I ever tell you about how you became my baby girl?”

    Brittany replied, “You have, and I love that story.”

    “And I love to tell it to you.” Angie smiled at Brittany’s round belly. “Especially now that you’re about to have a baby of your own. I still remember the wait before they let me adopt you. It felt like an eternity. But it was well worth it. They even gave me back the note with the picture.”

    Brittany said, “She was pretty. Oh…but not as pretty as you.”

    Angie laughed.

    “I wonder what happened to her. Do you think she’s still alive?”

    Angie replied, “I hope so. And I hope she’s living happily somewhere.”

    “Me too.”

    Reply
  • February 15, 2016 at 8:12 pm
    Permalink

    It was the most beautiful sunset they had ever seen. They watched it dance on the wall creating shadows of the small tea pots that adorned the window sill. Gold covering the green walls, which overlooked the bed of her friend, cast a look of the gold foil found at Versailles. Truly a treasure.

    “Annie? We had a good run, didn’t we?”

    “We did, old man, we did. Are you interested in another run of troublemaking?”

    “No, Annie, I’m afraid that my time is ending soon. You should keep the trouble-making up.”

    His lined face turned to hold me in his gaze. “Look at me, child. You’ve got to get off this planet and into somewhere where your gifts can be appreciated. You write well, but if you stay here, you are condemning yourself to eventual prison or worse. No one likes to read the truth. Someone has to tell it. Promise me you’ll leave here tonight, under cover of dark. I’ve arranged a driver to the departure area. Your ship is there in the impound area. Tell them you are an inspector or something. I’d go with you, but someone needs to cover your departure.”

    His seriousness was compounded by the packed bags leaning against the front door. It was urgent that they leave, and it was unsettling to find out she was going alone.

    Bards of old used to be protected from the battle, they and the pipers were to be left to tell the tale of bravery and treachery. Man had moved beyond those ideals over time. Now those of them who wrote something other than the dribble released by the military occupation were subject to being the first arrested and the first to die.

    She looked over at the old man. “Are you sure you won’t come?”

    “Lass, someone has to stay here so they don’t look over there. The ship comes first. It takes only one to fly it, but two for company. You’ll be okay, I’ve heard you talking to yourself.”

    “Very funny.”

    The car pulled up to the door and Annie was on her way.

    The news that night spoke of a fleet of escaping criminals who had broken into the military impound lot. Fire and acid rained down on the fleet and the government had prevailed again. The old man chuckled to himself. He was sure she had made it.

    There was a loud banging on the back door. Sighing, knowing his life was about to end, he went downstairs to answer. There was no use in resisting.

    “What are you doing here? Annie? Why aren’t you gone?”

    She grinned, the small ship behind her. “I forgot the mustard and the autocorrect for my word-processing program.”

    Reply
  • February 15, 2016 at 10:32 pm
    Permalink

    The Soldier

    It was the most beautiful moment for him as a soldier. The moonless night provided the perfect camouflage. The fatigues, he wore, were soaked soggy in the heavy downpour. The fate of the other soldiers was no different. They were singularly focused on taking down the enemy.

    ————-

    The ship finally docked an hour past midnight… after travelling for 21 days, carrying the soldiers. The burden was unbearable… for the soldiers were all dead. The relentless rain did not ease the pain.

    —————
    Under the fire and without back-up, holding off the enemy became difficult by the moment. His platoon was spread out thin through the jungle. Help would take time to come.

    Unexpectedly, an explosion ripped them through. In its aftermath, he realized that the commander and five of his mates were dead. Rage filled him. As the second in command, he took control automatically and led his men forward. He knew that his next move was tricky. He gestured to his lieutenant to take another route along with half the men left with them. That way they would be able to trap any sudden action by the enemy.

    He charged ahead with his men in the direction from where the fire came and was still blazing. Soon, they were in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp. Making their way stealthily, they caught three enemy soldiers guarding the camp unawares and in one neat movement slashed their throats. From their vantage point, they could see that the camp was in the process of shifting. Trucks were being loaded on the double. A tiny flicker of light a little distance away told him that their chief was holding a meeting and there were a handful of men with him. There was no time to be wasted. He gestured for his men to move in nearer without being spied. The plan was to open sudden fire and create multiple explosions in such a way that the camp will flatten out but not the supplies.

    Everything went exactly as per the plan. The trucks, loaded with ammunition and dry food supplies, were captured. But something that he did not anticipate happened in that instant.

    ————

    At the dock, the long and arduous task of removing the corpses from the ship began immediately. Families were informed to come and identify their men. The bodies were in different stages of decay. The stench of death spread faster than the word. Even the rain could not erase it.

    —————-

    The enemy chief, it seemed, had the last word. A mere second prior to the camp getting decimated, the chief managed to finish sending an SOS seeking reinforcements by air. As a result, the smooth and almost non-existent drone of the approaching fighter aircrafts raided and bombed the area in the blink of an eye.

    Everything became quiet. Only the sound of rain falling heavy could be heard.

    ———————–

    Under the makeshift camp near the dock, all 150 soldiers were laid out in rows. Some families were already in the process of identifying their loved ones. The heart-rending cries from all directions froze the young wife in mid-motion. The scene in front of her was real enough to ascertain that her husband – the second-in-command of the squad – was no more. In the same breath, she could not make herself believe that her strong, brave and full-of-life husband was not alive. Urged by the father-in-law and two younger brothers-in-law, she slowly moved forward.

    With the guidance from the officers posted to help out the families of the soldiers, they slowly came to the spot where he lay. The young wife immediately identified her husband despite the deathly pallor of the face and torn clothes. The father called out for the doctor stationed there and informed him that this indeed was his son. The doctor, out of habit, performed one final check of the soldier’s body. Something made him pause. Didn’t they check out all the soldiers already? Not waiting to ask his deputy, the doctor quickly examined him further. The next five minutes dragged in extreme tension for the family. Finally, the doctor turned to them and said, “I don’t know how it’s possible after this long but he is still holding on. I have to shift him immediately to the hospital.”

    He turned to the young wife and with moisture in his eyes – because it was unlike anything he witnessed in this demolished squad – said, “You are one lucky woman. Your prayers have been heard.”

    The young wife fainted with relief.

    Within seconds, the soldier was shifted to the base hospital, a few kilometers away.

    ————-

    Six months later, the young soldier made enough recovery to be able to sit up on his own on the hospital bed. Over the months, he was operated multiple times for various fractures and treated for several wounds. It took him three months to walk without aid and another two to get discharged.

    Back home, the morning sun felt good on his face and the light breeze carried promise of a life that he eagerly looked forward to. The joy of his life – his five year old daughter – came running to him – like she did every morning, since he was home, just to ensure if he was still around or not. He picked her up and sat her on his knee. His father, on his way to the farm, patted on his shoulder, advised him to take rest and left. He stood up slowly and urged his daughter to go and play.

    He went inside in search of his wife. As she stood brushing her hair, he caught her eye in the mirror and smiled at her. She smiled sweetly back at him.

    —————-

    The fearless officer was honoured with the country’s highest award for his bravery. After a long career in the army, he retired a satisfied and grateful man surrounded by his supportive wife, children and a horde of grandchildren.

    Life was good.

    Reply
  • February 16, 2016 at 12:10 am
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    The Interview

    It was the most beautiful day of the winter, yet Hari nervously waited outside the old red bungalow that housed the State Elderly Support office. He arrived at 9.30 am as his interview was to take place at 10 am.

    The small yard in front of the bungalow looked gross with dry leaves, paper wastes and plastic wrappers scattered here and there. The only wooden bench in the yard had experienced the wrath of nature for years. Hari sat on it and waited for the office door to open.

    Hari, an average built man in his late forties had thick hair was jet black at one time but now has turned grey. Gori, his wife and fifteen-year old daughter Nisha, have asked him many times to dye it black but, Hari believes in originality. His face bore creases common in people living in the cold climate. The deep green blazer he wore had army emblems on it. The metal buckle of his waist belt and his black boots shone like a mirror.

    Hari was born into a Nepali family in Samchi, Bhutan. His father was a farmer. When he was young, one day, some personnel of the Bhutanese army came to their village and announced something unpleasant. The innocent villagers looked clueless after they left.

    Later Mom asked Dad, “Why was the army here?”
    “We have three days to vacate the village,” Dad looked thoughtful.
    “We aren’t going anywhere! We can’t leave our home, property and crops.”
    “The officer said we aren’t legal Bhutanese and live here illegally. If we don’t leave they will evict us forcefully and shoot us all.”
    “Where shall we go?”
    “I don’t know.” Dad replied.

    They gathered whatever they could carry and walked with hundreds of others through the jungles and hills and were forced to cross the border and enter Nepal. At the end of the long tiresome walk, they found themselves among thousands of other evacuees in the Beldangi refugee camp in the Jhapa district of Nepal. The few years they stayed there were years of misfortune and hardship with little facilities for healthcare, education or electricity.

    Dad luckily found work in India and they moved to Darjeeling. Mom too found work in the same tea garden and Hari and his sister went to a school nearby. As years went by Hari’s family became Indian citizens. Hari grew up and found a job with the Indian army in his early twenties. All went well till that bullet hit him and the medical board had him retire from service.

    ****

    The office opened at 10 am and Hari walked in to find there was nobody. An old fat man wearing a dirty undershirt and a broom in hand yelled, “Please stay out I am dusting.”
    After some time, the sweeper left saying, “You can sit inside.”

    Around 11 am a young man wearing khaki pant, shirt and a pair of slippers arrived with a large lunch box.
    “Why do you people come so early, the officers will arrive after noon,” he commented while adjusting his hair looking at a mirror.
    “I have come for a job interview,” Hari said.
    “Oh, I am the office boy Ananta, what time did they ask you to come?”
    “10:00 am” Hari said
    “Take off all the zeros, your interview will take place at 1 pm. This is a government office, the babus get paid for their presence. When they work they claim overtime.” Ananta laughed.

    A few minutes later Ananta returned with two cups of tea, he gave one to Hari and sipped on the other. “First-morning tea, I make for myself.”
    Hari took a sip and admitted it was a good cup of tea.

    The quiet office became noisier as more people arrived. Hari noticed no one did any work; rather they were busy discussing yesterday’s cricket match. A closer look at their physical structure told Hari none have ever played the game on a cricket field, yet all gave judgement and posed as experts of the game.

    Around 1 pm Ananta said, “Sahib is ready to see you.”
    Hari followed Ananta to the door of a chamber. The door had a metal board engraved in black. It said Chief Project Manager, C. R. Bakshi.

    Hari knocked on the door.
    “Come in please,” a coarse voice answered.

    Hari opened the door, a strong odor of tobacco made him dizzy for a second. Inside the big blue carpeted smoky room sat a dark complexioned man in a blue blazer. His bulging belly touched the edge of the wooden table. His red tie flowed from his neck like a wave curved up on his belly to disappear under the table. He looked straight into Hari’s eyes from behind hid golden framed glasses,
    “Hari Gurung?”
    “Yes sir,”
    “Take a seat.”
    Mr. Bakshi concentrated on a file and puffed on his cigarette. A pack of 555 cigarettes and a golden lighter sat at the edge of the desk. He also observed Mr. Bakshi’s hair was too black for his age.
    “I saw you walking in, you don’t look physically challenged, and the post is reserved for the handicapped.” Bakshi said.
    “While serving in the army, I worked in the high mountains. One day an enemy bullet hit me, I had to be hospitalized and my balls had to be amputated. Here is my handicap certificate.”
    Mr. Bakshi observed the paper anxiously. He took off his glasses and stretched back on his chair. He looked at Hari, “Very nice you are a handicap and an ex-army man, you get the job.”
    “From when shall I join work?” an excited Hari asked.
    “From next month, you will receive your appointment by mail.”
    “What will be my duty hours?”
    “Come around 1 pm.”
    “Sir, the outside board says the office hours are 10 am to 5 pm.”
    “This is a government office, there is little work. People who come to work at 10 have nothing to do and end up sitting and scratching their balls. What will you scratch?” Mr. Bakshi said.
    Hari said to himself, ‘Welcome to the civilian life.’

    Reply
  • February 16, 2016 at 4:15 am
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    To Be in Love in India
    Revised

    It was the most beautiful occurrence in the life of a young man and a girl when they were not even aware that the fire was burning on both sides.

    God showered his blessings on Nikita. She was a beauty with a perfect figure, chiseled features, and very expressive hazel eyes. Boys were after her, but she never encouraged anyone for friendship. No boy dared to take any liberties with her, as her brother was a martial arts champion. She got numerous offers for modeling, but her elder brother put his foot down. It was demeaning to him that her sister should walk on the ramp and men should stare at her. He had heard many stories of the models ultimately taken to bed by the promoters or sponsors. She did not protest as she was least interested in such a career. She wanted to do MBA after her graduation and go for a lasting career.

    Manpreet lived two blocks away from Nikita’s house. Their families were quite friendly with each other and often had their evening tea together. Manpreet was an introvert, and a brilliant student studying in a prestigious engineering college in Delhi. He was tall, fair and handsome and the girls fell for him, but he was simply interested in only one girl and that was Nikita.
    Manpreet never said beyond a hello to Nikita and avoided conversing with her although he often fantasized about her. He lacked the confidence and guts to approach her and never guessed that Nikita was head over heels in love with him and didn’t know how to pursue it.

    One day, as he was passing by Nikita’s house, she gave him a book and spoke in a low voice, “There is something for you in it.” When he reached the corner, he opened the book; there was a letter for him- Hi,
    What is wrong with me? Your hello is just audible to you. Why you avoid talking or looking at me? You are handsome and many girls have a crush on you. I may not be beautiful, but am not bad looking, the mirror reflects so. You ignore me and it kills my heart. I have decided never to come to your home.” He laughed.
    At night, he wrote a three-page love letter. It took him 2 hours, as he was at a loss how to start the letter.

    He roamed around her home for 3 days with the book in his hand. She knew of it, as she watched him from her bedroom window. He thought that Nikita can stand him no more. Or perhaps, she was not well, that worried him all the more. He became sad and stopped going near her house taking the back door lane.
    She cursed herself for being naughty. Finally, she came to his house and said hello, he returned the book with the letter.

    Their love affair blossomed, but they could not find a spot to have a heart to heart talk. They got 3 chances to smooch, but never for a lingering kiss.

    One day, he called her home on the mobile, when no one was around and his mom was busy in the kitchen. They were huddled together on the stairs, a comparatively safe place and when he was just going to kiss her, she felt that someone was around, a woman’s intuition. She saw his mom standing there, but looking toward the back yard. She separated from him and rushed to her house, her head lowered in shame.

    In the evening, Manpreet took several round of her house to speak to her. She came out at 9.30 p.m. when not a soul was around. He whispered,” Mom has seen nothing.”
    “Are you sure?
    “Otherwise, she would have talked to me. She hides nothing from me.”
    She jumped in joy, “Thank God!” gave him a flying kiss and rushed to her home; not wanting her family to know that she had been out and was talking to Manpreet.”

    The very next day, Manpreet’s mom went to Nikita’s house to meet her mom. After some small talk, and hesitation, she caught her mom’s both hands,” Sarla, I have a proposal to make. We want Nikita to be a permanent member of our family.”
    Sarla hugged her and kissed her forehead,” What more could I wish! But have you talked to your husband?”
    “He will feel obliged if you agree.”
    “Oh Tripta, I’m so happy.”
    In the evening when Sarla talked about it to her husband, he took no time to give his approval. They elders met in a restaurant and decided not to reveal it to the kids, lest it should hamper their studies.

    One day, Manpreet and Nikita went to Nehru Garden, a haven for the young lovers. As they were strolling in the park holding hands, she spotted her brother snuggled with a girl and kissing her. She freed her hand and walked back with long strides. Manpreet was astonished, “What happened?”
    “There is my brother with his friend.” She did not say, a girlfriend. She did not want to lower herself in the eyes of her brother who was so protective of her and she adored him. It was okay for him to be with a girl, fter all boys are boys!
    Going to this park again was now out of the question.

    They made a plan to go to the Buddha Jayanti Garden on Valentine’s Day, a rendezvous for the young crowd. They were very excited to be together on this auspicious day. After many days of cloudy weather with no rains, it was a day of bright sunshine. As they entered the park, they saw the Moral Police of the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu nationalist party. There they found the young lovers doing Bethaks [continuous sitting and getting up] while holding their ears, being forced by the party’s volunteers. It is a sign of inflicting humiliation on an erring wrong- doer This party abhors the celebrations of the Valentine’s Day as it is according to them against the Indian culture. Those who protested were beaten up by these so-called reformists. Manpreet and Nikita rushed out. A lean, athletic man shouted at them, “Stop!” They ignored him and continued walking fast. That man ran after them and caught Nikita’s hand. Manpreet gave him menacing looks, “Leave her alone!”
    He ordered, “You too follow me.”
    Manpreet gave him a blow on his nose and hit him hard in his stomach and he fell flat and cried for help from his fellow volunteers. At that moment, a large police force arrived and freed the lovers from the clutches of the Sainiks. In retaliation, the Sainiks threw stones on the cops. The police resorted to the lathi charge; as a result, many of them got injured. They were arrested. None of them tried to escape, as these self-acclaimed custodians of the Indian culture were ready for any sacrifice to save the nation from the degenerated western influence The zeal of fanatics for their cause though they are misguided and brain- washed, is just mind blowing.

    They never planned for an outing ever again. One day, when Manpreet boarded the metro at Rajeev Chowk, he found Nikita there talking to her friend. He quietly sat in the opposite direction. When she saw him, she went agape. She told her friend,” I am going to him to have some tips on Economics from him.”
    “Who?”
    ”That one, who is sitting opposite us.”
    “After your lessons, give me a chance to sit with him. He is so handsome! I want him to take me in his arms. Oh!”
    “Shut up! Stupid!”

    It was a great opportunity for them to be together. After two stations, the train got jam packed. They could hear each other’s breathing, and felt intoxicated with each other’s body smell; it was the most beautiful occurrence in their love life. Their thighs were jostling rhythmically and that was an add-on bliss.

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  • February 16, 2016 at 7:34 pm
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    Nuisance Calls – Revised

    It was the most beautiful day. Rosie, a care worker and I had laid the tables in the open air and sun-drenched garden of the Residential Care Home I was managing. The eight residents and my two children sat by the table to eat their lunch when the Homes Inspector pulled in the drive in his new convertible with its roof down.

    “Not him, again.” Rosie turned to stare at me. “Unannounced Saturday visit!” Rosie shouted, pulled her lips down and raised her shoulders. Mine sagged down as my energy drained out of me. Rosie knuckled at the table. The residents looked at her. “Sorry, love. I’m angry with that man coming up the drive.” She apologized with a nod down the drive. She picked the empty plates and made her way back into the house.
    “Calm down, Rosie. He’s got the upper hand. He can make our life harder. So far he hasn’t made any damaging comments on the Home.” I said.

    I turned my attention to the children. “Hurry up, go and hide in the staff quarters.” I hoisted the children from their seats and forced them to get out of sight. They ran into the house.

    Rosie hated the inspector after one incident when he turned up one early morning and caught her helping herself with the breakfast. Shocked when caught in the act, she swallowed a big piece of grilled bacon that lodged down her throat. I called Emergency and they took her to the hospital to have the piece of meat removed. It was chaos that day.
    That morning Katie, one of the other staff, had taken one of the residents to the general practice to have her yearly flu jab and from there they went into town so that Katie could collect the medications for the residents from the pharmacy.

    “You can take the children to school. I am here,” He offered twiggling his eyebrows. I did not trust him in case he filed a report on me for leaving the home unattended.
    “I can’t leave the Home with one person on call.” I thanked and reminded him. I forced myself to smile. “Two staffs have to be on duty at all times.”
    That day, the children missed school.

    I walked down with a faked smile plastered on my face, to greet the unwelcomed visitor.
    “What a lovely idea?” He remarked, turning and smiling at me as we walked up to the garden. I gritted my teeth to conceal my bubbling anger.
    “Cup of tea is on the way,” Rosie shouted back from the kitchen. We could hear her banging the pots and pans in the kitchen.

    The inspector walked around the residents and raising his head to the sky, commented, “What a beautiful day?”
    “Are you enjoying your meal, the sunshine and making the most of the good weather.” He continued, completely unaware.

    Rosie came back with a big pot of tea in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other. I collected the rest of the dirty plates to take them into the kitchen whilst Rosie poured the tea. I just wanted to escape from him for a few minutes. I was raging inside but bit my tongue to stop me from saying something detrimental.

    Donald, one male resident, a bit of a loner, left the party to get back to the lounge where he either watched a James Bond movie or read a James Bond book. That was his routine. I caught up with him as he entered the house and stopped by the mirror to brush his hair and long, white, unruly beard with his hands, something he was obsessed with doing – posing by at every mirror as he passed by. We were used to his eccentric behaviour.

    “Donald.” I called out whilst I loaded the dishwasher.
    “Yes, M’am.” He bent his head, cocked one ear to reach to my level, still caressing his beard as he paid me his full attention.
    “There’s a expensive car with its collapsed hood in the drive. The side mirrors are excellent. They give you the perfect reflection. Go and check it out for yourself. You’ll love that.”

    “Really!” Donald’s eyes grew wild.

    “I give you permission to use those mirrors. If anybody says anything to you, tell them to p..s off and f..k off from here.” I pressed on my lips and clicked my fingers.

    “Wow! Thank you very much. M’am” He said and scooted outside. I watched him as he scanned the drive, moving his head here and there, shading his eyes with his palms.

    I chuckled at my own mischievous behaviour.

    It did not take long for the inspector to spot Donald adjusting the mirrors of his car to look at himself combing his hair. He rushed down and approached Donald, “Why are you playing with the mirrors? You’ll break them. This is a very expensive motor.” He pointed at the car and watched as some of Donald’s hair escaped to fly and land inside the car.

    He jumped a couple of feet when Donald scowled at him “P..s off and f..k off. It’s none of your business.”
    The inspector’s comments got stuck to his throat. He swallowed with difficulty.
    Within minutes he rushed back to me as I busied myself getting the diary ready for him to check the entries of the previous days of the residents’ activities.
    I raised my eyes and nodded with the face of an angel and listened as he said, “I have to go as I have to be somewhere else. I’ll see you some other time. Meanwhile enjoy the sunshine whilst it lasts.”

    “Same to you,” I wished. “Enjoy driving with the hood down whilst the sun is out.” I clapped the diary shut.

    The staff were briefed on how to deter the inspector from calling unnecessarily and at odd times.

    Reply
  • February 17, 2016 at 9:36 am
    Permalink

    MENT THREAD; Feb 4 – Feb 17, 2016 Flash Fiction First Line Contest: “It was the most beautiful…”
    THE COW.
    By Deshpande RaghavendraRao.
    It was the most beautiful day for me to member the day that a Muslim fruit vender bought a cow. He bought it for feeding and extracting its milk and also for worshipping it. Strange it may look to see that a Muslim adopts a cow for rearing and worshipping it. But there is a story behind it.
    One day I returned from a temple after offering my prayer. I came to the middle of the road and saw a cow standing with a paled face looking constantly at the fruit vender selling his plantain fruits on four wheeled push cart. I felt pained at the pathetic condition of the cow and its strong desire to eat the plantain and fruit vender not noticing it.
    I neared the vender and asked “Does the cow daily come here near you and stand here? The vender replied“Yes Sir this cow daily comes here and stands for a long time till I leave and I don’t notice of it”. I bought one dozen of plantain fruits and peeled off skin of each plantain and fed all the one dozen fruits to the cow. The cow looked at me with gratitude. Then I thought that how I could feed the cow daily at least with few banana fruits. The owner of the cow is neither known to me nor to the fruit vender.
    “ I will pay to you the cost of half dozen plantains and feed the cow daily whenever it comes near him” I proposed to the vender. The venders eyes gleamed and said” Yes sir I will feed it. I paid him an advance amount of Rs 500/- He pocked it. I left for my house.
    Usually after a month after visiting the temple I saw the fruit vender feeding the cow the peeled off plantains. In fact the amount I paid already exhausted for one month. Irresistible anxiety in me forced me to find out what happened. I went to the fruit vender and asked him why he was feeding the cow when money I gave him exhausted. “Sir there is a reason for it” and the incident that made me feed the cow is follows.
    “One day after selling some fruits I was going ahead by pushing ahead my fruit loaded cart and suddenly a truck loaded with cement bags was speeding towards me. I thought that the truck would kill me in a split of a second. The cow was watching the truck heading towards me faster and the cow sensed the danger ahead and instantly rushed towards me and pushed me aside with her horns and I fell down but with no injuries and the truck headed fast. The onlookers tried to catch the truck but could not. I almost went into shock and recovered a few minutes later and looked at the cow with deep sense of gratitude and tears rolled down my eyes from saving from the death”. And the fruit vender touched cow’s feet as a mark of honor and respect. He felt that the cow is his savior and protector of his life. But he wanted to do something for the cow for saving his life and he could no more leave the cow alone. He did not know who the owner was? He asked for my advice to do something for the cow as an act of the gratitude.
    I advised him to follow the cow and find out the owner and buy it from him and take it home feed it as an act of gratitude.
    The fruit vender followed the cow and found its owner. He pleaded him to sell the cow. But the owner at first blatantly refused to sell the cow to a Muslim doubting that he might kill it for meat. I convinced the owner that and told him the reason for purchase of the cow and assured the owner that he would look after the animal like his mother who saved the vender’s life from being killed in the truck accident. Convinced the fruit vender paid the amount as agreed by owner and took away the cow to his house and constructed a separate shed to shelter the cow and continued feeding the cow with plantains along with fodder and grass. Later the fruit vender came to know the importance of the cow and her being sacred and medicines made from cow’s milk to cure diseases and why Lord Krishna loved the cows so much and why God and goddesses reside in the cow and even its dung is sacred which is used to cleanse the houses to ward off the evils.
    After purchase of the cow the fruit vender performed the marriage of his daughter and son got high paying soft ware job and now he became a whole sale dealer not only in selling the plantains and other vegetables. His business increased by many folds. Now he became richer and wealthier. He collected money from his other friends and started a separate Go Shala where he maintained about thirty cows .Daly in the morning after offering prayer in Mosque he would go to Goshala sporting Kumkum tilak on his fore head and applying tilak on the forehead of all the cows and feed them with quality fodder and plantains. Before Goshala he got installed a statue of cow carved out of a stone in sitting posture. In the beginning the fruit vender earned the wrath of his community people for worshipping a cow which is the animal of Hindus. The fruit vender convinced them that the animals have no religion and communal feelings and the cow saved his life and prevented his wife from becoming a widow and his siblings orphaned .Now not only himself but also all his community people began going to Goshala and pray them with folded hands in supplication and offer them the fodder ,plantains and garlands around their necks and adorn them.
    Written by Deshpande RaghavendraRao.
    My email:- raghavenderdeshpandey@yahoo.com
    70deshpande@gmail.com

    Feedback to this story is invited.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm
    Permalink

    It was the most beautiful face she’d ever seen. Bailey stared at herself in the mirror. Could any bride be more beautiful? She was never worried about her beauty however, it had always been her dark temper that had gotten her in trouble and now when it counted the most she was afraid it might have finally have done her in. Would he show? She wasn’t concerned about her groom. She knew he was waiting anxiously down at the long end of the aisle right beside his best man whose heart she knew would also skip a beat or two as she walked down the aisle.
    Bailey had never doubted for a moment that she would win Roger’s heart and getting Roger to ask her to be his bride and this elaborate wedding was all a part of the plan. Bailey had grown up dirt poor. She knew it was her beauty however that caused Roger to bring her into his world and so she kept her anger tucked away so that he would fall deeply in love with his sweet Bailey Mint Kiss as he liked to refer to her.
    She had gotten a job waitressing at his country club in order to meet him. He of course asked her name and thought he was so clever by ordering that drink. All of Roger and his friends thought they were clever – at first- but Bailey patiently waited and the plan, their plan centered on Roger and everything fell exactly into place. However, just because Roger had thought he was so clever in the beginning when she knew he was completely enthralled she had intentionally caused a fight just to send him packing. This had her friend in an uproar!
    “Don’t worry, I know what I am doing,” Bailey had assured him but he hated when she deviated from the plan. However, Bailey’s dark temper prevailed and she felt she needed to teach Roger a lesson before she moved forward. So she went out on a date with his best man during their break.
    “He’ll never forgive you, her friend had protested, “but of course Roger had. If not just to prove that he was the better man who always won in these sorts of things than anything else. Bailey was a master at knowing the male psyche. She took Roger back and just to ensure she had her man, she said, no sex until the wedding night.
    “It’s time, madam,” the wedding planner smiled sweetly at Bailey. “It’s so sad that you have no family here to help you celebrate on such a beautiful day, “she said to Bailey in sympathy as she touched her arm.
    “I know,” Bailey said lowering her eyes, “but let’s not dwell on that, family is something I am gaining today, right?
    “Oh yes!” the wedding planner cheered right up, “and what a good family you’re getting!” she leaned and whispered to Bailey as if she was telling her some special secret.
    Bailey slowly made her way down the aisle, her heart thundering in her chest. For the first time in life she was unsure of herself. If her friend didn’t show, the entire plan would fail! She began to regret her dark temper. They’d had a huge argument the night before over details, the wisdom of her dalliance with Roger’s best friend, all kinds of things. Roger’s mother hated her. Maybe she would convince him to call it off at the last minute her friend argued. But no, there Roger stood, smiling back at her like a simpering fool. His mother was right there on the front pew, with a painful smile on her face. Bailey searched the huge church for her friend, her eyes quickly darting around and then coming back to Roger. She didn’t want to give anything away. Then she heard a cough. It came from the middle of the church. She quickly looked over and there he was! He must have known she was worried. Bailey began to relax.
    Bailey looked back at Roger’s mother sitting there in all her finery. She gave her a bright smile. The woman almost recoiled but quickly regained her composure. Bailey was sure her friend caught the encounter though. Roger never seemed to see how his mother could do any wrong. Bailey sneaked another look at her. They were both natural ash blonds with emerald green eyes. I wonder if under all of this prim and proper façade she has a dark temper like me, Bailey thought. Well, we’ll soon see, she chuckled to herself. All that morning she’d had the most trouble keeping herself from giggling out loud.
    Finally, she made it to the altar and Roger took her hand as if he had gained some big prize and the minister began his monotone drone of the marriage vows. Bailey barely listened. Finally, he reached the part where the congregation was asked “Is there any reason why these two should not be joined in marriage, let him speak now or forever hold his peace”.
    “Showtime!” Bailey thought. Most people assumed this part of the ceremony was a formality.
    “I do!” Her friend, almost bounced out of his seat in the middle of the church. The entire church gasped as they turned to see the buffoon who would dare to interrupt such a high society affair.
    “She can’t marry him, because he’s her brother!” Bailey’s friend said, “Isn’t that right, mother?” he said as he turned to look at Roger’s mother.
    The entire church gasped again.
    “Do you want to tell all of these fine folks how you dropped us off in an orphanage to snag the first man who would give you the good life here in Atlanta?”
    Roger’s mother stood up to defend herself but then fainted.
    Bailey’s brother then turned to the church and said, “Listen folks, I am sure you have much to talk about and as you can see there will not be any exchanging of vows today!”

    Reply
  • March 16, 2016 at 6:23 pm
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    Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused those who submitted stories after the contest’s closing date. This thread has been closed since February 17th, but we neglected to officially close the thread. For those of you who posted a story late, if you’d like to enter another competition click this link to find the new story thread which will be posted Thursday March 17, 2016. Again thank you for submitting your story.

    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1927932/1927932-6111267909034594304?trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_6115897543177097217

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