Story Thread: June 23 – July 06 Flash Fiction Contest “Newborn”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the Theme: “Newborn”.

The prompt can involve a newborn child, animal, or idea. An ideology or an Island. Even something new from the old.

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

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

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

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

Story Submission Rules:

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

Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

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

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

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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10 thoughts on “Story Thread: June 23 – July 06 Flash Fiction Contest “Newborn”

  • June 23, 2016 at 2:54 pm
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    Childhood’s End (With Respect for Arthur C. Clark and Stan Lee)

    Dean Hardage

    He looked out of the window of the room that had been his home for many years. It was beautiful, this tiny world, and he would hate to leave it even though he knew much greater things awaited. The Time was upon him and he knew he could no longer stay among the people he knew and loved. He would carry the memories of them all the long eons of his life.

    He pondered the wisdom of his forbears, the ones that had devised this system. All of his kind were raised on primitive worlds by those who could be regarded as savages before they were reborn into the greater world. When he had asked why, he was simply told, “They feel.” Those words had not meant anything to him then. He felt. He felt heat, moisture, softness, sharpness, all of the things that one encountered. Now, on the verge of departing from them forever, he understood. They had emotion, they connected with one another in a way His people had not for many millennia. He had learned what it meant to be one of such a group.

    He held the last possession he treasured, given to him by his adopted Grandfather when this form was only a few planetary years old. It was a brightly colored and illustrated paper book, something called a comic. He had learned many lessons from this world but the one from this book remained in his mind. “With great power comes great responsibility”. With those words echoing in his mind he walked from his room out of the house and into an open field. He knelt and opened His mind to its fullest extent. The human form glowed with the energies that surged through him and dissolved into glowing bits that drifted away in the evening breeze, leaving barely a trace of his terrestrial existence. Traveling on the folds of spacetime an entity left the small planet, taking the equivalent of a backward glance.

    “Farewell, my first home. I shall never forget you nor what I have learned. Excelsior!”

  • June 24, 2016 at 7:54 pm
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    THE BABY JAY

    “What do you mean you’re pregnant!?”

    “Just what I said. I’m pregnant. Expecting. In the family way … I am with child.”

    “But Maria–”

    “I know. You’re going to say you thought I’d given up on men years ago. And you’re damn right.”

    “Exactly. One of the reasons I fell in love with you was because I thought you’d put men behind you.”

    “So to speak.”

    “So to speak. So what’s this crap about a baby, then?”

    “What can I tell you? I started putting on weight. Missed my period. Took the test – half a dozen of them, actually, just to be sure. And I’m bloody preggers!”

    “You’re shitting me, aren’t you? Was it my sister that put you up to this? It’s not funny, you know.”

    “No shit, Jo. I’m up the duff and there’s no getting round it.”

    “So you lapsed, then?”

    “Nope.”

    “Don’t tell me you were raped and didn’t … tell me.”

    “Nope.”

    “You did artificial what’s-its-name … what IS the name?”

    “Insemination. Nope.”

    “I’m getting bored now. What’s the story, then?”

    “I haven’t been within a million miles of sperm in over ten years.”

    “You’re telling me that Nick was the last bloke you were with … in that way?”

    “The last bloke I fucked – let’s not get coy about it. Yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”

    “But that was over ten years ago!”

    “That’s what I’m telling you!”

    “But then … that can’t be.”

    “It can’t, but it is.”

    “So then …”

    “Yep.”

    “Jeez!”

    ~~~~~~~

    “I TOLD you to book in advance.”

    “How was I to know there was going to be a congress here at exactly the same time?”

    “It’s called the Internet, Jo!”

    “Okay then, smart-arse. Why didn’t YOU do the booking?”

    “Because I don’t know if you noticed, but I was busy having a baby.”

    “Okay, don’t get sarky. Anyway, this little room’s all right.”

    “It’s a bloody cupboard!”

    “Not literally, don’t exaggerate.”

    “And why are we here on holiday anyway! I’m bloody knackered. Giving birth takes it out of you, you know?”

    “Which is why we’re on HOLIDAY! Duh.”

    “Keep your voice down. Think of Jay. Look at him. He IS lovely, isn’t he?”

    “He is, yes … … …”

    “Go on. What’s the problem?”

    “The father …”

    “Bloody hell. Not again!”

    “Yes, again! You’ve never lied to me before – at least I don’t think you have. But this … you must think I’m a donkey or something.”

    “How many more times do I have to tell you?!”

    “Try once, but the truth, okay?”

    “The truth? All right. For the nth bloody time … I – DID – NOT – FUCK – A – MAN!”

    “Oh, for God’s sake!”

    “Getting warmer.”

    “You know what? I’ve had enough.”

    “You’ve what?”

    “I’ve had enough. I’ve had it up to here.”

    “Me too. All this suspicion.”

    “No, I mean it. How can I be in a relationship with the woman I love when she just keeps lying to me?”

    “I’m not ly– … What are you saying?”

    “That maybe …”

    “You can’t leave. You can’t do that. Look at Jay. Just look at my– our little boy.”

    “I know, he’s lovely.”

    “He’s an angel, and he’s going to be someone special – I can feel it.”

    “But–“

    “I can’t manage on my own, Jo. I need you. WE need you.”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Darling, please. Anyway – remember the crib? You’ve still got to finish that when we get home.”

    “The crib, yes.”

    “That’s it. Now, come over here next to me. He’ll be asleep for a while longer.”

  • June 27, 2016 at 11:03 am
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    Perspective

    The child slid from his mother’s womb into the waiting hands of Helena. His mother Lucia had fainted with the last push and did not hear the midwife gasp. Helena looked carefully at the silent child as she laid him on a towel between his mother’s legs.

    His eyes were almond shaped and a beautiful silver-gray. He had a round rosy face under wispy blond hair. He was awake and alert yet he did not cry. His broad chest and wide shoulders had made his birth difficult. He was almost perfect. Almost.

    Lucia awoke and Helena quickly tied the cord and severed it, separating mother and child. She rubbed the baby briskly, to clean the film of birth from him. She lifted him, wrapped loosely in the towel. Piercing screams erupted as Lucia saw her child. Hysterical with fear, she fell back on her pillows as the door slammed open and the Master entered. Helena bundled the child quickly.

    The Master, known as ‘Bart the Brute’ among the townspeople, was a large, imposing man. Lucia fainted once more, her pale skin looking like porcelain. Helena looked from her mistress to the master of the house.

    “What is this?” he thundered. “Where is my son?”

    He looked at the bundled infant and dared Helena to tell him it was not a boy. She knew that he had dictated that the child was to be a son and she had feared his response should the mistress give birth to a girl. Clutching the baby, she now feared something worse. With an arrogant smile, Bart ignored his pale wife and reached for the baby.

    “Well, let’s have a look at the boy!”

    Helena handed him the child and retreated to the bed to tend to Lucia.

    Bart took the small bundle and looked into his son’s face. The infant stared back unwavering.
    “Well, he is a hefty lad” Bart said, “And alert too. Just look at those eyes! I vow there is intelligence in the child.”

    Helena washed her mistress while waiting for the afterbirth. She held her breath, preparing for the storm as the Master uncovered the rest of his son. An enraged bellow filled the room and Helena flinched.

    “What is this monstrosity, this half creature? This is not my son!” Bart roared with rage. Instead of legs, the baby had only fleshy protrusions where the lower limbs should have been, malformed and useless.

    “Take him! Drown him in the pond or do what you must, but never speak of it or I will kill you!” Helena jumped as Bart threw the baby across the bed. “Go! Take that … thing and be gone!”

    Helena caught the child against her chest. “But he’s alive! Your wife…”

    “Later! She can lie there. Now go!”

    Grabbing a soft shawl for the baby, she ran from the room. In the kitchen she pulled on her cloak and held the child beneath it to hide him. She ran down the dirt road, past the pond, to her home in the woods.

    She entered and carefully sat in the rocking chair near the fireplace. She removed the shawl from the baby and held him to her aching breast as she prayed. As he nuzzled against her she felt her body respond with the familiar sensation of her milk letting down. The little one greedily latched on and suckled as tears ran down her face.

    She thought of the tiny grave next to her husband’s out back. Her own baby had died not two days before and her grief had been unbearable. She had to think quickly. She could not kill the child but keeping him meant she would have to leave her home behind. She couldn’t risk the Master finding out that the child was still alive.

    When the babe was satisfied, she diapered him and pulled a tiny gown over his head. She laid him in her child’s cradle. Lighting a fire in the fireplace, she moved the cradle so that he would be warm but in no danger from the flames. Leaving him asleep, she hurried back to the manor.

    Entering the Mistress’ bedroom, she knew she was too late. Lucia had hemorrhaged and died. Helena wondered, had Lucia embraced death to escape her husband’s wrath? As Helena stood there, Bart entered and looked at his dead wife coldly. Lucia had been of little use to him except as a vessel to bear his children and she had failed.

    “Well? Is it done?” He fixed Helena with a bold stare.

    She looked down. “Yes, Sir. The child was weakly and died in my arms.”

    Bart nodded. “Good. What have you done with the body?”

    “There is an unmarked grave behind my home.” It wasn’t a lie.

    “Good” he nodded again. “I will let the preacher know my wife has died in childbirth.”

    “Won’t he want to see the baby?”

    “I will tell him that it came away in pieces. He will not question me.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “You speak of this, Woman, and I will see you hanged.” He pressed a few gold coins into her hand. “Now go.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Helena grasped the coins and ran home. The child slept as she counted the coins and packed her meager belongings. The coins would be enough to pay for her transportation, food, and lodging until she could reach her sister’s house a few towns away.

    She extinguished the fire and pulling on her cloak, looked at the peaceful babe. It mattered not that he was lacking legs, the child had an innate intelligence in his face and she would see that he grew up educated. One day, this baby would be a great man and the world would take note of him.

    As dusk descended and the shadows of night lengthened, she secured the baby beneath her cloak. She picked up her bag and hurrying down the road, the two of them disappeared into the darkness.

  • June 27, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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    The Rickshaw Puller’s Daughter

    The newborn’s cry pierced the sweltering night’s air. It was followed closely by a shhhh as the morose midwife attempted to console the child. The childless family’s new daughter did not bring about a celebration as it might have in the Western Hemisphere. Here, in the poverty stricken village of Marrati, located in the district of Punjab, a daughter meant a dowry that the family would not be able to afford. Not being able to afford a dowry would be bring great shame upon the family and possibly mark them as social pariahs. The midwife knew this, she dealt with it daily, and so she did what she always did in situations like this. She swaddled the little girl in a piece of the mother’s torn sari, kissed the child on her tiny forehead, then prepared to hand her to her father who had stepped inside once his named had been called.

    Avikrish entered the candlelit hovel knowing that his presence being required so soon after birth could only mean one thing–a daughter. The midwife was kneeling on the dirt floor, next to his sleeping wife, with her arms outstretched. In her hands was a red bundle. He took the baby and cradled the tiny human in his arms. He was careful not to look down at the child’s face, knowing that doing so might steal his resolve.

    “Does she know yet?” he quietly asked the midwife.

    “No,” she said shaking her head. “Just take the child and do as you must.”

    He nodded, wanting to apologize to the midwife for some reason, but instead he turned and quickly walked out of the door made of old rags. He walked silently through the slumbering village where most of the men had made the same depressing trek as he was taking. The shadows from the other hovels seemed to retract from the dirt road when he passed as if they were disgusted by the act he was about to commit. He was disgusted with himself, but what choice did he have?

    Just that day he had arrived back in Marrati after spending a week in Punjab pulling a rickshaw. In five days of work he had earned roughly four hundred rupees (about six dollars). He had less than two hundred left to show for it. The girl would be as expensive to raise as a boy, but at least with a boy, in time, he would be another source of income for the family. He could use a little help on days like today where he was feeling a little feverish and the calf muscle on his right leg felt strained from pulling the heavy Europeans around all week. He hoped it was just fatigue. There was a strange illness afflicting the people of Punjab. Many had died in the past month. Gruesome deaths from what he heard, but he was too poor to worry about dying. He could only afford a few days rest before he heading back to the city. He hurried to edge of the village then directed his footsteps towards the wooded area a short distance away.

    Sakhi awoke from her troubled dreams in near darkness. Although there was a dull pain between her legs, it took her mind a moment to remember the ordeal of childbirth. She reached a hand to feel her leaky, swollen breasts where her child should have been. The absence could only mean one thing. She turned her head to look at the empty spot where her husband slept. She sighed and fought the hot tears that began spilling from eyes.

    It’s unfair she thought. To be born a female in India was a lifelong injustice; that is, if you lived long enough to bear witness to actually living. Her daughter would never experience the beauty of having a life growing inside her. Maybe it was for the best because the disappointment of having a child snatched away just because it lacked a penis made her spirit want to flee this world. She blamed all of India for the emptiness she now felt inside, but most of all she blamed Avikrish. He had promised her that she would never have to experience this pain.

    After her family had managed the dowry to pay his somewhat wealthy family, she had come to find out he was a drunkard. Any money he got he spent on sharaab. The money his family had given him was long gone, and they no longer acknowledged their eldest son. He had drunk them from modest dwellings in Punjab to the poor village of Marrati. She hated him for it, but she thought a child might be able to spur his responsibility and put the family on a path out of this rundown place. That idea was on its way to the grave like most things in her life. She sighed with frustration and stared at the doorway waiting for her husband to reappear.

    Avikrish paced outside his home unwilling to go inside and face his wife who would likely be awake by now. He knew that he had disappointed her greatly thus far in their two year marriage with his drinking and infidelity, but she had always forgiven him. He was unsure of how she would receive him after tonight’s happenings. He had been unable to father a son to brighten the prospects of the family. He was a failure.

    Resolved to get this over with, he pushed aside the rags and walked in. He was immediately met by the furious gaze of his wife, which promptly melted into a look of relief and happiness when she saw the sleeping girl in his arm.

    “I couldn’t do it,” he said bringing the girl to meet her mother and have her first meal. “We’ll work it out somehow,” he said kissing his wife on a cheek. A throbbing was just starting at his temples. He ignored it, reveling instead in what would be a fleeting moment of happiness.

  • June 27, 2016 at 11:02 pm
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    “You see, it is my first time here.” I was speaking to the line of others who stood ahead of me. I thought, “I wonder if any of them heard me.” Still no response.

    Some distance ahead, perhaps two or three hundred people away, I thought I saw a flash, a brightening of someone on the fringe of my field of vision, and then a disappearance. Where one had stood there was now an open space.

    Suddenly the line shifted forward by the space of one. One awaiting person that is. Just like me. Perhaps they too had been puzzled by the lack of communication among their fellow waiters.

    Then another brightening occurred and the line shifted forward a bit. Once again a forward progression by the space of one person. It was hard to say how long it took between each brightening. It was hard to pass the time without conversation. But no attempt of mine to engage my neighboring waiters produced any response.

    Only a brightening and single person forward advance created any response. And it was not a verbal expression but simply a few shuffling footsteps.

    The closer I moved the greater the sense of anticipation that arose within me. There seemed to be a palpable aliveness in the air. It grew stronger with each brightening and the line ahead grew shorter.

    It was then I noticed those following after me. An endless progression of people waiting to reach my spot in the line. I wondered if they felt the same anticipation I felt. I wondered if they wondered the same things I pondered.

    What would I look like? Would I have two parents? Where would I live? What language would I be learning? Would I remember anything from my time of waiting?

    The brightenings were closer. And closer. Just before a waiter began shimmering the others would appear. The others were beautiful. They had golden circlets embracing their foreheads. This tunics ended just above the knees. The cloth was a shimmering and multicolored material. The others each had a pair of large feathered wings.

    I was startled to hear one speak to the waiter just ahead of me. “Are you certain you wish to do this? Do you understand the sacrifices you will have to make? It is a place of much sorrow and hardship. True, this is what it takes to learn the true meaning of love. But are you truly willing to pay this price?”

    Each of my fellow waiters had apparently been asked the same set of questions. And each had consented in order to learn and grow in the most precious gift. To be able to love and be loved.

    My immediate fellow waiter shimmered and then disappeared. Then it was my turn.

    The others appeared for me. But they looked saddened. The joy I had seen in their faces as they prepared the preceding waiters was not there.

    They spoke with wavering voices. “You will not be going. The life planned for you will not be able to take place. You see the woman selected to be your mother has chosen not to go through with her responsibility. You will not be able to live on Earth and make the contributions planned for you. You will not be a newborn after all.”

    I stood there in stunned silence. And just then my mother not to be left the abortion clinic.

  • June 28, 2016 at 2:03 am
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    Heartless.
    © 2016 by Ken Cartisano

    “Cut the umbilical, Jeff. It’s time.”

    He severed the cord with a shaky hand. “I’m not much of a midwife, am I?”

    “You’ve done just fine, Jeff, just fine.”

    After a few moments passed. “Can I hold him?”

    She offered up the newborn: Her eyes glowing with pride and pleasure.

    “Jeez, he’s so delicate. I’m afraid I’m going to break him.”

    “Just hold him here, and here—that’s it. And don’t worry. He’s not that delicate.”

    Jeff held the tiny creature with the utmost care. Its little fingers grasping at his, arms moving spasmodically. “He’s not very coordinated yet, is he?”

    “That’ll take time, honey. That’ll take time.”

    “But he can already see, can’t he?”

    “Of course. All the tests confirm his functions are normal and unimpaired.”

    “He’s amazing, Jane. Just amazing” Starting to sweat, he said, “Here, you take him, I’m, I’m afraid I’ll drop him.”

    *******

    Six months later Jeff slammed the front door as he entered the tiny apartment, breathing heavily. “How’s he doing?”

    “He’s fine, honey, fine. Stop worrying so much.”

    “Am I? Am I worrying too much? He’s my first, you know. My first…”

    “Yes dear, I know, your first one. I understand. Mine too. But we have to keep our heads.”

    “You think we’re doing the right thing?” He ran his fingers through his hair and paced back and forth.

    “Look,” Jane said, “we’ve talked about this for months, longer in fact. With the money we get for this little guy, think of how much more we can do. And how much easier it’ll be to do it.”

    He meant to look out the darkened window, but instead, all he could see was his own reflection. “Money definitely does make things easier.”

    “Of course it does,” she replied in a soothing voice. She came up behind him and put her arms around his waist. “You do want to make more of them, don’t you?”

    He saw himself smiling at his reflection, and then burst out laughing. “Yeah,” he said. “Oh yeah—you bet I do.” He turned around and embraced her amorously. “I feel like making something right now.”

    She kissed him firmly on the lips, then separated herself. “Not tonight, dear. I’ve got a paper due in the morning and a test on Tuesday. But Tuesday night?” Her eyebrows arched seductively. “It’s a date.”

    He sniffed the aroma coming from the kitchen and was about to comment when Jane said, “Check on Joey will ya? While I finish fixing dinner?”

    “Sure hon, no problem.”

    *******

    One year later:
    They were self-consciously silent as they rode the elevator to the 93rd floor. Jeff cleared his throat, “He must have one hell of a view from way up here, eh?”

    Jane gave him a disdainful look. This was no time for levity. It was imperative that they presented themselves as shrewd, rational people who knew exactly what they were doing. There were no guarantees that things would go as planned. Securing a meeting with one of the richest men in the country was just the first step, a substantial achievement to be sure, but merely the first move in a carefully thought out plan in which everything must go well, and more importantly, feel right.

    A bulky man in a tight-fitting suit met them as the elevator doors opened. “Right this way, please.” He eyed the carriage they were pushing with some suspicion, even after checking its occupant.

    He led them to a large metal door and spoke into an intercom. “Mr. Bates. Jeff and Jane Orofin to see you, sir.”

    “Fine. Send them in.” The buzzer sounded as the security guard punched a code into a keypad. The metal door slid open and Jeff and Jane entered the main room of the stunningly appointed office.

    An impeccable man in a high priced suit sat behind a huge desk made of one-inch thick glass. He casually offered them a seat without rising from his chair or offering even a perfunctory handshake.

    Jeff said, “We’ve brought you the item.” His smile resulted from nervousness. Jane was solemn and composed.

    At this, Mr. Bates rose and came around the desk. He leaned over the baby carriage and said, “Not much too look at, is it?”

    “That’s a matter of opinion,” Jane sniffed.

    “I meant no offense.”

    “None taken,” Jane replied.

    Bates leaned back against his desk. “Does it get bigger?”

    “Yes—‘he’ll’ get bigger, of course.” She sounded irritated. “It’s in the contract.”

    She pointedly handed a slip of paper to Mr. Bates. “Here’s the account number.”

    Bates accepted it distastefully. “A million dollars is a hefty sum.”

    Jeff looked around the room. “That’s the deal we made. Besides, it looks like you can afford it.”

    Bates tossed the paper on his desk. “How do we know he’ll—perform as promised?”

    “You don’t,” Jane said. “But when he’s fully matured, our projections assure us that he will exceed all of your expectations in a reasonable span of time. If you’re not interested—just say so.”

    Mr. Bates waved his hands in a conciliatory manner. “There’s no need to get defensive, but—I’m giving you a million dollars. How can I be sure that this is what you claim it is?”

    Jane leaned over the carriage and addressed its occupant. “Joey, do you want to stay with Mr. Bates? Yes or no.”

    It seemed that they were all holding their breath. A timid voice came from the carriage. “No, I don’t like him.”

    Jeff exhaled with finality. “Well, that’s that, Mr. Bates. I guess we’ll be on our way.”

    “Wait a minute, wait a minute.”

    They paused half way to the door.

    “That’s it? He says ‘no’ and we have no deal?”

    “Like we said, he’s a fully sentient Artificial Intelligence—with free will. And he apparently doesn’t like you. Goodbye Mr. Bates. Perhaps your competitors will be a little more likeable.”

  • July 2, 2016 at 3:29 am
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    The journey of a soul is long. We learn each lifetime. Souls arrive with a mission. They depart freed or with new baggage from the lifetime just exited. Live well. Develop holiness in all ways. What is holy? What is evil? Who is the judge?

    *******
    All rise. The court is in session.
    Be seated. You understand why you’re here? The outcome depends on answers here. Prosecutor Michael, are you ready?
    Yes Holiness Master of Worlds.
    Defendant Muhammad Tararia. Are you ready? If so, your trial begins.
    This court has no authority to try me or my brothers.

    So say you. But we shall have to differ on that account. This is the court of Living and Dead Judgements. Prosecutor Michael, begin. You will conduct your own defence.
    Why? That’s my first question.
    Sorry? I don’t understand.
    Why did you do it? I mean what’s the purpose? You see a girl sleeping in her bed. Sound asleep. Peaceful. Her hair spread fanned out over the pillow. Her eye lids flutter. Long lashes. Smooth cheeks flushed. She is totally unaware and yet…did you hesitate? Did you think, this child; this little girl – she could be my sister? She was after all, only three years younger than you. Did you hesitate even for a few moments? A second?
    No. No hesitation. No time. The decision had been made before. I did what I came to do. I didn’t think. No reflection. If I thought too much, I’d have failed.
    Failed? Don’t you understand? You did fail. You took someone’s life? A child who had a few hours before danced on stage before an appreciative audience. A child who’d spun and moved with sublime grace. She bought joy to so many. So alive, cheeks flushed pink, eyes bright shining with life, lithe limbs moving with the passion and energy of youth. Why? What had she ever done to you? Why did you bring so much pain to her and to others.

    She existed that’s all. She existed for who she was. For that, for that, I kill her. I kill her so my family can live. Now they can eat.

    She existed?

    Yes. She was a Jew. Yes, I killed her for that. I was told. Do NOT look even a second. Do not let them hold you with their eyes. Do not listen to their pleas for mercy. For me, she is nothing.
    But she was a little girl. Full of life. With life’s potential, now never realised. She could have been your younger sister, no?

    But she wasn’t my sister. She’s one of them. A Jew. My sisters were asleep in their beds safe. My sisters are good Muslim girls. If not, I kill them too.

    Your sisters? What? You’d kill your own sisters? Why?

    Yes, definitely. If they dishonour our family. Of course. We have no choice. We must.

    Sad. You don’t like girls? But that is beside the point. No Jews coming through the windows in the early morning hours to stab your sisters, are there?

    No we would kill them if they did. They would not dare.

    Why? Because you would kill them?

    Yes. Of course. So they killed you. You are now a martyr to some, a murderer to others. But you still have not answered why.

    She was a Jew. She deserved it.

    How?
    Because she was one of the Jews. Doesn’t that answer your question?

    No. Isn’t a Jew just like you? A creature of flesh, blood and bone. Not an angel or a ghost. A living being. Her death and yours without real purpose.
    No. NO not at all. My death has a divine purpose. Hers too. To be my vehicle to Allah.

    So you did not pity her or her family for one moment. You did not feel their suffering when you spilt the blood of their daughter. Her terror – did that not move you? What do you remember?

    The blood. Lots of it. Blood boiled up over the blade. It flowed in rivers. I knew it would. She was young and strong. I had to stab her many times. I wanted to be sure I had her. Before.

    Before? Before what?

    The others. The other Jews would kill me.

    Why do you smile? You don’t think they have the right? The right to defend their own, their families?

    No. We have the rights. I am a martyr. I defended the al Aska mosque. My mother said so. I am a hero. She will get money to live. A Jew will die. It will be worth it.

    Do you feel sorrow? Any sadness?

    No. Not at all. I wait to be taken to my willing virgins. I was promised. I came and did what I did with a pure heart.
    We are truly sorry Mohammed. There are no virgins for you here. Your punishment – immediate rebirth. That will be it your Holiness, Master of the Worlds, – we await your verdict. How and when at your discretion.

    Mohammed Tararia your learning is not complete. You will have a choice. You may be reborn as one of ten piglets to a sow in a feedlot in the USA for the next seventy reincarnations, or you may choose to be reborn as human child to a family of the court’s choosing.

    I’ll take the second one. No problems.

    Good. You will be reborn in 45 seconds. You will be a girl. Your parents are Moshe David and Chaya Rochel Mendelson. Mazal Tov. You have a life of learning and love ahead. You will have twelve children in this lifetime to replace the Jewish girl you stabbed to death.

  • July 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    The Machine – Chapter 5 of Edgar Poggit
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    Harris Newbern was a clown. But not the ‘Let’s make balloons for the kiddos at birthday parties’ type of clown. Harris was the kind of clown that didn’t know he was one. Other people called him that behind his back because of his shock of red hair, and a nose that was constantly red, thanks to allergies that plagued him since he was a kid.

    But most people laughed at Harris because he tried to be a tough guy, when he was nothing more than a low-level thug for a loan shark simply known as McManus. The skinny kid who was bullied at school and had the shit beat out of him at home, grew up and found his savior in the weights that bulked him up to a respectable size. Still, he was only ever used for small jobs. So when McManus called him in, and personally told him to “visit” a little pawn shop on 8th Avenue, Harris hoped this job would be the first step in him becoming McManus’ right hand man.

    McManus sent Harris to a place called Poggit and Sons Pawnbrokers. He told him, “This is your first big job Harry, make me proud son.” Harris had been with McManus since he was 17, and the felon had become something of a father figure to the young man, but this was the first time he ever called him son. Harris saw it as a sign of big things to come.

    Poggit and Sons was a dark and cluttered shop not much bigger than a closet. It was filled with useless knick-knacks, and worthless items that desperate people brought in to sell, so they could buy food, drugs —or sometimes both.

    A short, older man walked out of the back room. Harris noticed his movements were fairly agile for an old guy. One minute he was behind the counter, the next he was standing next to Harris.

    “Hello,” the merchant said, “My name is Edgar Poggit, how may I help you?” He spoke with a slight English accent, and Harris thought his voice sounded slightly soothing, yet terrifying all at the same time.

    Mr. Poggit wore an old style bowler hat, and a nifty little black jacket and tie. He reminded Harris of that dude Alfred, from the old Batman movies —only Poggit was about a foot shorter.

    “I work for McManus,” Harris barked. “You’re late on your payments, and McManus don’t like that.” Harris wore his usual white tank top, highlighting his large biceps. He loved using his size to intimidate people, especially an old man like Poggit.

    Harris was surprised at how relaxed Poggit seemed. Usually at this point, the suckers Harris “visited” were on their knees pleading, promising to sell their children to pay off their debts, if need be. But this guy… this guy was eerily calm, and Harris felt a small trickle of sweat run down his back.

    Poggit was leaning on a cane, and stood looking at Harris as if he were sizing the big man up. Finally he said, “I’ve been waiting for you Mr. Harris Newbern.”

    “How do you know my name? I never seen you before in my life.”

    Poggit gestured for Harris to sit in a chair that wasn’t there just moments before. “Sit my friend,” he said. It wasn’t a request.

    Harris’ composure was wavering, but he wasn’t about to let some old dude bully him, so he flexed his muscles, and refused to sit down. “Look mister, you owe McManus ten grand, do you have it or not?” Harris was surprised at how high and shrill his voice had become.

    Edgar Poggit cocked his head to one side. “I don’t have it Mr. Newbern. So what do you propose we do now?”

    Fear and intimidation always worked in the past, so Harris was at a loss as to what he should do next.

    “You enjoy harassing people, don’t you Harris? Poggit shook his head, as if he pitied the poor man. “You were bullied, now you choose to bully others.”

    “You don’t know a damn thing about—”

    “I know you see McManus as a father figure.” Edgar laughed. “How sad, only a man whose own father was an utter failure, could see a crook like McManus as a hero.”

    Harris’ face turned as red as his hair, he sprang forward, and reached for the old man’ throat. But Poggit was quick, and in that eerily nimble way of his, Edgar Poggit picked up a crystal jar, and before Harris knew what happened, he was already in The Between, preparing to become fodder for The Machine.

    __________________________________________________________________

    Harris Newbern woke up in a hotel room in Las Vegas, his head was foggy and he felt a little queasy. “How’d I get here?”

    The last thing he remembered was the strange little man in the pawn shop, and McManus’ order to…”To what?”

    But Harris wasn’t working for McManus anymore, he was doing the bidding of The Machine. It had gained a tremendous amount of strength when Maisie made her way into the circuitry of Building 21. Not even it expected her to be so strong.

    But Edgar Poggit was returning to try and stop Maisie, therefore stopping The Machine from accessing its full power. If things played out the way it hoped, it would be reborn stronger than ever.

    Harris Newbern was re-animated for the specific task of finding and killing Edgar Poggit. The Machine manipulated his memories, making Harris believe that he was carrying out McManus’ orders.

    “I won’t let you down boss.” Harris said on his way to find Poggit. He belonged to The Machine now, and The Machine would not be satisfied until Edgar Poggit was dead.

    Link to Chapter 1

  • July 4, 2016 at 4:59 pm
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    Birth Station
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    “You gotta be kidding me.”

    Potkins’ slammed on the table.

    “A second birth? What about a second death?”

    “Mr. Potkins, please understand–“

    Of the few unbroken things in the room Potkins now grabbed a coffee mug and sent it sailing in my direction. I evaded it politely, which enraged him even more. But the sound of breaking ceramics and the cup’s fragmentation into scores of tiny pieces seemed to put a shimmer of hope into his eyes – for the briefest of moments, until he reached for a vase.

    Potkins’ continuing denial of his situation was beginning to annoy me. I knew this kind of thing could be unsettling. I had my own share of experience what it felt like when death didn’t turn out what it was supposed to be.

    Not that Potkins’ and my life had been similar. Not by a long shot. He had lived in the fast lane and died an untimely death in the firm expectation that would be the end of it all.

    I on the other hand had played by the rules. Neither did I smoke nor drink, nor eat excessively. I had not lain eyes on my neighbors’ wives nor on their possessions. I had confessed my sins to the proper authorities and tithed regularly. When I died, three years after my wife of 45 years, it was just days after my heart attack. I had not become a burden to anybody and left earth without debt of any kind.

    According to what I had been taught I was now supposed to come before the throne of God, into the presence of Christ and Holy Spirit, be judged for my sins and, having followed all the rules, ascend to heaven.

    Imagine my surprise when I awoke sitting on a church pew amidst a congregation singing hymns. I did my best to fit in but something was wrong. Extended periods of singing, interspersed with brief breaks in the lobby where all partook of warm, sweet tea and bland cake put my humility to the ultimate test.

    It seemed to span ages. My loneliness, which I hadn’t noticed before, grew into despair and from there beyond all limits. In the end I think it was the cake that did me in. Not that I was given to gluttony, but my wife had made excellent cake.

    ”Enough!”

    I screamed at the top of my voice. For a significant time period I then gave into rage. I have no sense how long this lasted in earthly time but it was long enough to open my eyes. My complete lack of self-control was embarrassing while the abandoning of self-restraint came as a relief. And while my agitated resistance began to tire me it became painfully clear that this unholy state of mine was as solid as rock and, so it seemed, ever-lasting.

    ###

    Potkins still held on to the vase. Something else had caught his attention.

    “Hi Frank.” I turned around to face Neil, my supervisor (lacking an appropriate term.)

    Neil’s appearance – three-day beard, Hawaii shirt, Bermuda shorts, rainbow-colored flip flops – was inappropriate as usual. As always he appeared to be just dropping by, being in the area – a chance visit. I knew better, though. Neil always appeared on time, and on purpose.

    Indeed – with a fleeting glance at Potkins, he pointed to the door: “We have to talk.”

    ###

    These had been the exact words he used when we met in the church hall, back then, me having screamed until the end of my wits. I had followed him into what would become my office and been given a mission: greet and orientate new arrivals in this realm. People like Potkins.

    It was the same office we entered now. Sizable stacks of case folders covered my desk. Somewhere between them – my fault – an Origami bird, a standard exercise in the Japanese art of paper folding. My wife had been fond of it during our time on earth. I, however, had always avoided vanity. Only recently had I developed a liking, or shall I say love, for the same art, though I always found it appropriate to hide such vain details from the public.

    Neil looked right through the piles directly at the bird, took it with a smile, unsurprised. He turned around and stared me in the eyes: “I’ll reassign you.”

    “What?“ I had come to accept that this was my final destination, my ultimate assignment, my mission. Though it wasn’t heaven it certainly wasn’t hell. I was grateful for that.

    Completely oblivious to my utter dismay Neil insisted: “You’re ready now.”

    ‘Ready now.’ The ugly image of church pews, spiritless song, bland food and drink crashed into my mind. Was that my ultimate fate? Had I myself required preparation and was finally found… ready?

    I shuddered at the thought.

    Neil turned back to the desk.

    My office in this realm was not much different from the room where I had spent the rest of my days. There was a window in the back. The desk resembled the coffee table which our daughter had bought for us on our 40th wedding anniversary. The chairs were virtual replicas of the armchairs we had back then.

    I saw myself, older than now, sitting alone, staring out the window. On the table lay a Bible, which I had continued to read dutifully. Beside it a pack of Origami papers, some finished pieces – birds, flowers, other forms, fruits of my wife’s limitless patience.

    Turning to Neil I gathered all my courage: “What do you mean? Ready?”

    Neil handed me the bird but didn’t turn from the scene. Over there, someone else was sitting in the chair beside me, facing the window, watching the rising sun.

    I knew it was time to go. My birth was beginning.

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