Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Fence”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Fence”.

1. a physical barrier either existing or in the process of being built
2. a criminal fence a dealer in stolen goods
3. to fence with rapiers
4. a fence that surrounds something to protect or to keep out

Story Requirements:

The writers should use their imagination and use the word fence creatively to bring the motif through the story.
They must include a gateway or door.
Someone/ something is saved and someone or something is lost.

Word Count: 1,200

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  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Alice Nelson per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

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166 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Fence”

  • I’m wondering …. When the prompt was pre-announced in the previous thread it had the theme as above, but also said the stories:

    “… must include a gateway or door
    Someone/ something is saved and someone or something is lost.”

    Are those required elements or just the fence?

    • Carrie Zylka

      Shoot let me clarify

  • Ilana Leeds
    Let’s make the gateway or door an option
    to something /someone saved and someone or something lost.
    So either or. It could be a bit stifling if all those elements need to be included. Let;s keep the prompt simple so people/writers can run with it.
    Congratulations Carrie. Great story and well deserved win. Great writing last week. Some fascinating stories.
    • Carrie Zylka

      You want to change the prompt completely or add to it?

      I think it’s a great prompt that’s pretty open.

      Except for story requirements we could put “one of the following”.

      The way it reads, it’s like you have to include each point which I don’t believe is what you intended.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Nevermind I just realized I missed half your prompt when I created the post.
      Should be fixed now! (I think)

  • So, it’s a story about a guy whose wife leaves him after he hocks his wedding ring to take fencing lessons with the alluring widow of a local pawn broker. Got it. No problem.
    • Who’s paying for this fence? (And please don’t tell me ‘Mexico.’)
      • Carrie Zylka

        I heard The Cartisano Company was springing for the bill….

        • There was an error when subscribing. Please try again.

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          I never get any notifications for this site. Can’t even subscribe. I think it’s a conspiracy. A plot to deprive me of my rightful notifications. This is a clear violation of my creative rights. I’m calling on my team a lawyers (Pinky, Binky and Destiny) to draw up a letter of protest, and a demand for immediate redress. You’ll be hearing from us, very, very soon.

    • Ilana Leeds
      Oh exactly Ken. I look so forward to reading your version of this. LOL (Not lots of Love, sorry. Though I could be coaxed in a weak moment. Maybe the following: Nice bottle of wine – at least $50 plus, a dozen red roses and a nice meal or two on a train ride to Darwin on the Ghan. But then I would have to leave my son and my goats and I think not. They are more important than my own pleasure and comfort. However, it is nice to dream momentarily.) Bit cold over there in the USA at the moment. Probably not in Florida. Here it has been bloody hot. I hate extremes of anything.
      Well the fence could be metaphorical too. Think on that. We create barriers all the time. They could be in understanding or language barriers, cultural barriers built or torn down. Just let the imagination roam wide. Then fence it in. 🙂
      • Ilana,
        I think you’re flirting with me. Your fondness for goats is common knowledge. But a fondness for ‘old goats’ seems like a bit of a revelation. Who knew?
        • Ilana Leeds
          That is all I have been doing for years, flirting at a distance. It is far cheaper and easier on pocket, the heart and the mind, plus does not distract one from familial responsibilities.
          I can adequately amuse myself..
          “rechercher à nouveau des amours passés et des choses d’une nature coquette”
  • Chuck Lilburn
    I wondered why I wasn’t getting any posts sent via email and realize you have to weigh in each new storyline to get the new posts and comments when they come out. Is that a correct assumption? I checked all the little boxes as the bottoms, so I should receive something when the next comment comes out. Or maybe this comment will show up.
    • Chuck, if you subscribe to the blog you should receive a new email every time a new post is published.
      The next time you comment click on the “Notify me of new posts by email” box, or alternatively you can subscribe to the newsletter. We send an email blast when we post a new prompt.
      You can sign up for that here:
  • Chuck Lilburn

    Case stood at the window surveying his property as he sipped his coffee on a beautiful spring day. A soft curse escaped his lips as he noticed the gate swinging back and forth on the pasture fence. It meant the cow was loose. He sighed; before he could do anything else he had to go round her up. ‘We’re going to need that cow with a baby coming; should’ve have fixed that fence long ago,’ he thought.

    He heard a soft cough behind him. He turned to see Jesse, his wife of just under a year, coming into the kitchen. One hand was protectively holding her abdomen, cradling their soon to be born son; the other rubbing sleep from her eyes. “Any more of that coffee left?” She glanced at the nearby, almost empty pot. “How long have you been up, anyway?”

    “I couldn’t sleep, so I worked on the carburetor. It’s all fixed; I’ll be putting it back on the 150 after I have my breakfast.” He smiled, “You can make more coffee. I’ve got to round up Maryjane. Somehow, she managed to knock open the gate on the pasture fence again. Not sure how she’s doing that.”

    “You have a way with that sort of thing. You’ll figure it out.” Jesse walked close to Case and put his hand on her stomach. “He’s kicking up quite a storm this morning. I told him he’s not due for a month, but I think your son has other ideas.”

    Case felt the kick and laughed. “Is that a kid in there or a kangaroo?”

    “You should know, you’re the one who put it there.” She grinned. “Go on, take care of Maryjane, and when you get back I’ll have breakfast ready. Then you can tell me why you named that cow Maryjane.”

    Case headed toward the barn. Maryjane wasn’t more than a hundred yards away. He spotted her as soon as he closed the door. He knew Maryjane wouldn’t go far; he figured she just wanted some of that new spring grass she could see on the other side of the fence.

    He soon had her back in the barn enclosure then checked the gate and fence to see what he needed to fix it temporarily. ‘Baling wire should hold it,’ he thought. At the barn he slid the door back looking for the roll of baling wire he knew was near the tack room. He saw the wire a few seconds later. ‘That’ll do it’, he thought.

    He reached down to pick up the baling wire. Case heard it before he felt it, but by the time he saw it, it was too late. The high-pitched rattled warning hadn’t registered at first. He quickly drew his arm back pulling a rattlesnake hanging on by its fangs stuck deep in his arm. “Jesus.” He shook the snake loose and it dropped to the ground into an instinctive coil, its head swaying back and forth, tongue slipping in and out tasting the air.

    Case backed away and looked for something to kill the snake. ‘Can’t have a rattler in a cow barn,’ he thought. A scythe was hanging nearby and seconds later the snake was in pieces. He slid off his belt and used it as a makeshift tourniquet. Case figured he didn’t have time to waste as he ran from the barn calling for Jesse to call 9-1-1.

    He wouldn’t be able to use the truck without the carburetor and there was no time to fix it now. His forearm was already swelling and turning dusky red, almost black as the poison started to take effect, his right hand useless. The pain was becoming intense. He just hoped Jesse was already dialing. He slowed down, common sense telling him that running would only elevate his heart rate, pumping the poison that much faster.

    He stumbled into the house, the door left open. “Jesse, where are you?” He heard her cry out then fast-paced breathing. He ran to the bedroom and found Jesse lying across the bed, holding her stomach. She was in obvious pain, breathing rapidly, rigid as a board, with her back arched. He rushed to her side, “Jesse, what is it?”

    “My water broke and I started having labor pains.” She reached up toward her husband. Case reached out and Jesse saw his arm. “Oh God, Case. What happened? You’re hurt.”

    “Rattlesnake. I killed it. Come on, let’s get you up, then we’ll see about me. Where’s the cell phone?”

    “On the dresser being charged. Oh, Case, your arm looks so bad.”

    Jesse tried to get up but fell back on the bed gasping from another sharp pain. “These pains are coming fast Case. You might have to deliver this baby.”

    Case found the cell, dialed 9-1-1, and explained the situation and the urgency. Listening, he turned to Jesse, “The ambulance is over in Dover. They’re sending a county squad car out with a nurse.”

    “Tell ‘em there might be three of us needing attention when they get here. This baby isn’t gonna wait.”

    “Then all three of us can ride in together.”

    Case made Jesse lie down while he talked about the fence and the snake, which grew in size as he told the story, trying to keep her mind occupied while they waited. The pains were coming quicker. Case didn’t know if he could deliver a baby, but he would try. Minutes later they heard someone at the door. Case called out, “We’re in here.”

    Case explained about the snake to the nurse. She took a quick look and said, “Your baby isn’t going to wait. You can. You go in the other room. Let me deliver this baby and then I’ll tend to you. I don’t need two babies on my hands. Once we give you some anti-venom, you’ll be fine. You need to get to the hospital, but first things first – you have time.”

    After what seemed like an eternity but was only minutes, a loud baby cry pierced the house and Case raced into the bedroom to see his son.

    Jesse patted the bed next to her. She looked exhausted but happy, a smile radiating from her as she held her newborn tenderly. “Come here, Daddy, and meet your new daughter.”

    Case looked at the nurse with surprise. “A girl? But they said it was going to be a boy. We were going to name him Case.”

    Jesse, worn and tired, smiled at Case sitting next to her. “Looks like we’re going to have to name her Casey.”

    “A girl. Dang, I was counting on a boy. This is wrong, the nursery’s even painted blue.”

    “Wrong? Case Sutterfield, whatever are you talking about? Maryjane is fine, you’re going to be OK and you’re holding your brand-new daughter. Sounds like things are right, not wrong. The only thing you got left to do is fix the fence…and the truck…repaint the nursery…get rid of that darn snake…and…”

    Case stopped her with a kiss. “Anything else?”

    “You can tell me why you named that cow Maryjane.”

    The nurse laughed, “You can explain on the way to the hospital. I’d like to hear that, myself.”

    • Ilana Leeds
      Lovely story imbued with a gentleness of spirit despite the snake bite and the drama of it all. Nice and realistic story with a feel good approach.
      • Chuck Lilburn
        Thanks, Ilana. That was my whole point – to have a feel-good story, I almost had it quite the opposite, but decided to leave the new little lass with both parents and a cow to get through winter, My original story had one of them not making it. Since I couldn’t decide which one, in author benevolence, I decided to save them all. Glad you felt it was realistic, it’s something I’ve learned from flash fiction; how difficult it is to gain the reader’s trust and to make your characters likable (or hateable) enough and give realistic dialogue with such a short word count.
    • A story with a gentle happy homesteady vibe and perils overcome akin to Little House on the Prairie, Chuck. The guy seems a little casually stoic about his snake-bite, perhaps, and the others a little unconcerned – hope the timeline isn’t working against him as after half an hour without treatment things an turn a little grim. Or so I’m told.

      And why is the cow called Mayjane? My guess is she’s named after a previous girlfriend who was always trying to get away from him and he was always chasing. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t told his wife so far …?

      • Chuck Lilburn
        Having been burned in the past by not doing research, I found out that it usually takes 6 hours before things get dicey after a rattlesnake bite because it’s hemotoxic rather than neurotoxic (krait, mamba, coral and a few others). The 1200 word limit forced my hand, so I had to make it appear he was being more cavalier about the whole thing, rather than him dissolving in front of his wife who was facing a real situation, much more urgent and painful than his. Neither of my two beta readers pointed out your concern, so I thought I was safe.

        I suspect if the right prompt comes up, or one I can work with, that everyone in this august group will learn how Maryjane got her name. I do have to admit that Maryjane is the name of an early girlfriend who did me badly, so it may have been subconscious with me. Thanks for the review and critique.

        • Well I haven’t handled any venomous snakes since my days as a charismatic preacher, and we had a bit of pre-charming going on as well as bamboozling them by speaking in tongues 🙂

          I don’t think it’s a big deal re the precise facts, btw, for a work of fiction – though some varieties of rattlesnake do have neurotoxic elements in their venom. But really it was just the sang-froid I noted, as generally I think the sooner one is treated the better. I admire the old stiff upper-lip as a quality in general, though.

          • Chuck Lilburn
            Originally, Case was hanging by a thread when the nurse finally arrived and she had to make a choice – someone was not going to make it – but I was in a feel-good mood wrapping it up, and as I stated earlier, all three survived through author benevolence. Some days I’m just an incredibly nice guy. This is one of them. Thanks for your comments, they are truly appreciated. I like your sense of humor and your style. Can’t wait to read your story. With names to go all around, I hope, this time. So, forgive me for not naming the nurse in mine. Couldn’t stick in a qualifying sentence to name her. However, if you need to know, it was Ruth.
          • Haha! Name that character …
            However, you are in good company. After all the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet is never named except as ‘Nurse’, and she’s the third most important character in terms of her lines. So if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for us!
    • Phil Town
      A lovely story, Chuck. The pace is really well handled: the day starts out steadily – relatively normal – then escalates into a rush of obstacles, before subsiding into a safe, gentle ending. I liked the relationship between the couple – familiar, loving. The last part is maybe a little too loving(?) – I’d have thought the (realistic) priority would be to get to hospital, rather than have a bit of banter. There are a couple of instances of superfluous dialogue/exposition – ostensibly meant for one of the characters but actually directed to the reader: “I’ll be putting it back on the 150” (the wife would know where he was putting it back) and “My water broke and I started having labor pains” (‘My water broke’ would be enough.) Details, really. It’s a very enjoyable story.
      • Chuck Lilburn
        Thanks, Phil,
        Your points are well taken. That’s why the nurse hurries them along, and I do understand what you mean regarding the 150. Having thought about it, I think it was reasonably normal dialogue. Originally, I had it ‘truck’ but thought using ‘150’ instead would make it a bit more realistic as that’s the way the couple referred to the truck, as “the 150”, a term of endearment for some Ford users in the states. And you are spot on regarding stopping at “my water broke”. I have a tendency to overexplain to the reader and have worked hard at restricting my author intrusion. Apparently not hard enough, as I just took “into the story” off the end of the last sentence. Where else would you put author intrusion? In fact, I’m giving a talk at a school on Wednesday and two of the factors I’m speaking about are redundancy and author intrusion.
    • Christopher Smith
      A good story, Chuck, with a happy ending. I rarely write happy endings, and perhaps there is an inner fear that I won’t be able to pull it off, that it will come across cheesy in the end, but I liked how you wrote this one. Drama with a splash of bad luck with the snake bite and the baby coming at the same time, but it all worked out, didn’t it? My point is, you did it well, and I was entertained throughout.
    • Chuck,

      That snake story left something on the table. (An opportunity.) Most people would freak out if bitten by a snake, let alone a rattler. What’s needed in this story is a different snake. Like a Python or a Boa Constrictor falling out of the hay loft onto the characters shoulders, and wrapping its tail around his neck. Tightly. Maybe that would scare him. (Nothing else did.) And while childbirth is undoubtedly no picnic, I don’t think it matches the severity of a deadly snake bite. But I could be wrong, and I hope I never find out either way.

      Perhaps the cow was in on this. In cahoots with the snake. Hmm? You know how cows are. (Or can be. Mostly the black and white ones.) A cow named ‘Maryjane’ could have a checkered past. (It’s worth looking into.)

      I think you created a life threatening situation, and then treated it like waiting at the bus stop. And that’s okay. Nobody died in my story either. (And there was an actual bus.) But I’ll let you in on a little secret: The one you really gotta watch out for around here is Alice. Not me. And Alice doesn’t go in for none of that, ‘Benevolent Author’ stuff. She’s ruthless with her characters. On average, I’d say she kills about half of them. (BOOM. You’re dead m*tha f***a!) She often (Okay, sometimes.) kills her own narrator. That’s how ruthless she is. I’m just saying. The point is, you can’t always save the husband. You gotta save the baby, (I think that’s the rule) but the husband is generally expendable. I’d get a fresh snake and start over. (And this time, don’t forget to kill somebody.)

      • Chuck Lilburn
        Actually, I once lived in a state where a man caught a rattlesnake, played with it all day after being bitten several times, refusing to go get help because he said he would be OK. He finally, later that night at his family’s urging, went to the hospital where he eventually died. The doctor said if he had gotten antivenom within 6 or 8 hours he would have been fine, with few side effects. (Alcohol was involved which MAY have clouded his judgment.) I remember the story clearly because it happened on my birthday. While I’m not saying Case couldn’t have been a bit more whiny about the whole situation, Case decided he was gonna man up and not be a wimp while his wife was undergoing excruciating pain (got this straight from my wife who said childbirth is definitely not for anyone with only a moderate pain threshold). She said, while she wouldn’t prefer snakebite, she didn’t think it would compare to a labor pain and then trying to pass a bowling ball, while it’s happening

        Thanks for the viewpoint, and I hope it doesn’t deter voters because my guy has a calm demeanor. Maybe I need to kill off a few people. That will be my goal in my next submission, unless, of course, it’s about unicorns, rainbows, and popsicles. In which case it will only be the unicorn that gets whacked.

        • Very funny Chuck. An excellent plan, kill the unicorn. (Good name for a book or a story.) Perhaps you’ve heard of Bill Haast, a legendary snake expert and Director of the Miami Serpentarium, who was bitten over 170 times by venomous snakes like the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, a Malayan Pit Viper, a Cottonmouth. He gave himself daily inoculations of snake venom for 60 years though. And finally died at the age of 100 from natural causes.
          He dropped out of school at the age of 16. After working for a bootlegger in Florida, ‘where he was pleased to find plenty of snakes,’ and eventually trained and worked as an airline mechanic, where he used his toolbox to smuggle exotic foreign snakes he’d acquired, into the country.
          • Chuck Lilburn
            Perhaps there’s something to snakebite venom actually helping people live longer as in Bill Haast, of whom I was a big fan, although I HATE snakes more than Indiana Jones. So this is what I am going with: snakebite poison has a way of actually making you calm in tense situations. That’s it, that’s what helped Case stay calm. That’s my story (no pun intended) and I’m sticking with it.
    • Maud Harris
      A nice feelgood story. It could easily have gone the other way. I like the banter between Case and Jesse. There was a real wholesome feeling to it.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Hah! I did a cow story too! But I like the pacing in general of this one, though I agree with Ken that a little more sense of urgency about the snake bite – even if it came from Jesse – would have created a little more tension in the story. The characters are believable and even with few descriptions I have a vision of the place and characters. The bit about Maryjane’s name is a cute call back to earlier in the story showing the love between the married couple.
      • Chuck Lilburn
        Thank you, Wendy. I am beginning to realize I needed Case to be more concerned about his arm and his bite, or, like you said, maybe Jesse. I had a chance with the Nurse who could have said, ‘this is really bad’ and actually had a line in the story having about him laying down with his arm up. Instead, I went first things first with the line about handling two babies. OK, OK, I surrender. In talking to my beta reader (my wife) she pointed out she said that, although I’m blaming the fact I have selective hearing for missing that critique from her. Thank you for your comments, they are well taken and very kind.
    • Alice Nelson

      Chuck, I guess I’m in the minority, I thought your story contained the right amount of urgency. He was terrified as he ran to the house, but seeing his wife in labor, he was able to set aside his own fear. Having had a few kids of my own, many things can go wrong with a delivery especially a home one, vs a snake bite where the anti-venom was available.

      I liked the characterization of Case and Jesse, it did feel like a real life story with a bit of fiction thrown in. Story flows smoothly, and I loved that it had a happy ending. But darn it, i want to know why Case named that cow Maryjane.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Awwwwwww cute story Chuck, I don’t know anything about rattlesnakes (we don’t have them in Wisconsin) but I ‘m not sure who I was more concerned for….the baby coming or dying of a rattlesnake bite!

      • Chuck Lilburn
        Carrie, Umm…don’t know quite how to break this to you, but there are rattlesnakes in Wisconsin, especially in the lower south eastern portion of the state. While Wisconsin isn’t being over run with rattlers like some states, (Texas, Oklahoma,etc.,) they are certainly there.

        Sleep tight tonight.

  • Phil Town

    With Ceana asleep on his back, Gilliosa trudged along the uneven track that wound its way up the densely wooded hill. Gilliosa knew that they must reach the top before nightfall – the eastern side of the hill was home to nocturnal beasts that would have them for supper if they didn’t.

    His legs were weary and aching, but he forced himself on, his only thought the top … the top … the top. And so, just as it was getting dark, they cleared the rise. Gilliosa carefully swung Ceana down from his back, waking her.

    “Where are we?” she groaned, her 13-year-old voice gruff with sleep.

    “We are at the top, little one,” her uncle said, pointing to the valley below and the mountain beyond. A swirling mist covered the floor of the valley, the craggy mountain rising up into the dusk, as if piercing through the mist’s cover.

    “So that’s Beinn Dòchais?” asked Ceana.

    Gilliosa nodded.

    “And what’s that red line?”

    She pointed at a luminous red band that gleamed through the mist at the base of the mountain.

    “That is An Fheansa. It goes all the way around Beinn Dòchais.”

    “Is it high? I mean … can we climb over it?” Ceana was getting ahead of herself, eager to reach the mountain the next day.

    “I am afraid not, pretty.”

    “There must be a gate though, right?” The young girl was wide awake now.

    Gilliosa swallowed. “Yes. Geata An Toom.”

    “Geata An Toom!” Ceana’s eyes lit up with excitement. Her uncle noticed and frowned.

    “Come child. We will need a fire in case the beasts decide to join us.”

    As they picked up firewood, Ceana came close to the old man.

    “Will what we find on Beinn Dòchais really save our village, uncail?”

    “That is what the Council thinks. Legend has it that other villages in our region – which had the same problems with their crops as ours – all found the solution on Beinn Dòchais.”

    “But what is it? What is the solution?”

    “We will find out tomorrow,” Gilliosa said. “But now we must rest. It will be a long day.” Something caught in his throat and he had to look away from Ceana.

    Exhausted, he laid his seven-foot body down on a bank of moss. Ceana lay beside him and settled her head in the crook of his neck, stroking his long, grey beard until she too drifted off into slumber.

    The morning brought a fine drizzle that seemed to add a layer to the mist in the valley. They breakfasted on hard biscuits and water before setting off. The track was less winding on this side of the hill as they descended into the mist. They rested several times as the day wore on, partaking of biscuits and water again at each stop.

    Gilliosa led, but when the track widened at a certain point, Ceana came up alongside him.

    “Uncail. I’ve always wondered … why haven’t you got any children? Why haven’t I got any cousins?”

    Gilliosa slowed the pace, as if thinking of his answer and walking were not entirely compatible.

    “I sought God, my dear. I loved God above all else – women included. And so I reached my seventy years without the kind of love that your parents had.”

    “Were my parents good people?” Ceana looked up at the giant of a man, her expression almost pleading for the right answer.

    “They were excellent people, Ceana.” The girl exhaled, relief now written on her face.

    “I’m glad. I wanted–”

    Gilliosa interrupted her by stopping dead and barring her way with his arm.

    “Ssshhh! Listen!”

    Through the mist, a little way ahead, they heard a sound like rocks tumbling down a slope. But it was not rocks.

    “Gràinne!” Gilliosa whispered.

    “Who’s that?” Ceana whispered back.

    “The guardian of … Geata An Toom,” said her uncle, and she noticed a wavering in his voice. “She is up ahead. Now, do not say anything, anything at all. Let me do all the talking, all right?”

    Ceana nodded, fearful now.

    They turned a bend in the track and there it was – the mighty Geata An Toom, made of pitch-black wood, connected to the glimmering red An Fheansa that stretched away on both sides and faded into the mist. In front of the gate was the stooped form of an ancient woman, cackling to herself – a sound like rocks tumbling down a slope.

    “Greetings!” she spat, through black stumps where her teeth should have been; this was no welcome.

    Gilliosa stepped forward, pulling Ceana behind him as he did.

    “We come seeking entry to Beinn Dòchais,” he ventured. Ceana had never heard him so meek.

    “Of course, my dears,” said the old hag. “But you must know that there is a condition to entry.”

    Gilliosa bowed his head in submission to Gràinne’s will.

    “You may pass, but you must leave, here with me … a virgin! For my supper.”

    Ceana gasped. This was an evil like no other she had witnessed in her short life. And when Gilliosa put his arms behind him and clasped her to his back, it dawned on her that her short life was set to be just that.

    “I agree to your condition, old woman,” Gilliosa said, now bolder.

    “Good! Good!” Gràinne spluttered. “I’m so hungry I could eat a …” She started cackling again.

    “Yes, I agree.” He turned to face Ceana, who recoiled. He gave her a sad smile before turning back to the old woman. “You shall have me.”

    The woman’s cackling stopped and became coughing. Ceana’s jaw dropped, her mind racing to make sense of the scene.

    Gilliosa whipped round and kneeled so that he was eye-to-eye with Ceana.

    “Little one, it must be so. I have but few years to live, you have your whole life ahead of you. You must proceed to Beinn Dòchais, find what the village needs – it will come to you, whatever it is – and return there to live your life.”

    “But uncail, I–“

    “Ssshhh, pretty.” He put his finger to her lips. “It is what I want, and it is how it must be. Now go.”

    “No, uncail, I can’t.” She was crying now.

    “Ceana. I love you. I am proud of you. And I have faith in you. As I have faith in God, that He will take me and find me peace. Please go now; it is getting dark.”

    He stood up straight and walked to the old woman. Ceana let out an almighty sob that seemed to empty her of emotion. She walked, at first tentatively, then determinedly, past the two old people and through the Geata An Toom, which creaked open as she approached.

    Once through, she looked back. The old woman was enormous now, bigger than her uncle. She loomed over him and with a flourish, covered him with her cloak. As the young girl looked on, the Geata An Toom creaked shut, blocking out the horror.

    She stood there for several moments, her heart as heavy as lead. Then she turned, wiped her eyes, lifted her shoulders, and started towards Beinn Dòchais.


    • Chuck Lilburn
      A nicely told tale with a well-worn plot. The magic is in the writing and your ability to hold the reader’s attention to the end is very good, even though I was pretty sure which way this story was going to end. Like Ilana, I would like to know more about the An Fheanca and why this evil guardian exists. Nice touch making the uncle a virgin – very good misdirection and will probably deceive most readers to figure the little girl is going to be her dinner. Well done. I also like the way you created the names used such as Beinn Dochais, just familiar enough to the ear, yet strange. Reminiscent of Frank Herbert in “Dune” with his terms, such as Bene Gesserit and Gom Jabbar.
      • Chuck Lilburn
        Ummm…where is everybody? Is it normally this quiet just three days before the end of the contest, or is everybody out shopping for Valentine’s Day?
    • Good writing, as always, Phil, and must be to carry me along with a fantasy story – as it did.
      The plot-line is indeed familiar – in fact not unlike Carrie’s story last month: older male ready to sacrifice himself, younger female who is special, on a journey beset with danger (etc) only rather than Zombies it has a traditional folky Celtic vibe.

      The use of what seems like (Scots?) Gaelic names and locations helps to give the story a legendary/mythic quality. And the hero being seven foot tall and seventy years old adds a folk-tale edge in the detail.

      All this is nicely overlaid with a kind of dark ages/late antiquity Christian ascetic kind of feel with the old man who is dedicated to God and the virgin=pure/sex=impure – that kind of contrast is central to saints tales of the era. Kind of combination of pagan and Christian elements. Did leave me wondering, though, if virgins really taste different to demons or if it’s just their imagination?

      There’s a real taste for this kind of story currently – and I think the quality of this could really make it work as a longer ‘young adult’ piece also.

    • Christopher Smith
      A great story, Phil. I really enjoyed how interesting the story was, even though it is such a small part of (I feel) a much larger story: Ceana’s adventure. There are so many unanswered questions in this story, which is the beauty of flash fiction (or short stories, for that matter) – let the reader draw his/her own conclusions.
      There was a part of me that thought Ceana was going to be the sacrifice, in which case the story would have had a much different feel.
    • I liked your story Philip, I didn’t see the reveal coming. (Until it was too late.) I thought that making one of the characters seven feet tall was a huge mistake.
      But seriously, what I’d really like to say is this: (Hey man, where ya been? I missed ya.) Okay, here’s what I wanted to say:

      I hate stories with weird f**kin’ names. I’m the only guy on the planet earth who’s willing to admit that he didn’t like Dune. Yeah, I read it. I read it. Frank Herbert. Dune. Dune Messiah. (I am not looking this up.) Son of Dune. Dune Slayer. Dune Of All Time. (Whatever. Pick any three. I think there were just three.) I read ‘em. Like, fifty years ago. I hated ‘em. Mostly because of the crazy character’s names. I mean, here’s the deal, here’s what I would say to Frank Herbert and other writers who use imaginary words and names in their stories. (It could just be a form letter.) “Hey Frank, why do you have to invent new f**kin’ words, just to make your story sound ‘fantastic’ — you’re pissing me off. Use real words, Frank. There’s like, a hundred million to choose from! I don’t want to have to learn how to pronounce imaginary words, just to enjoy your f**kin’ story, you f**kin’ ego-centric p**ck!”

      That’s what I would like to say to Frank Herbert. But I like to think of myself as a gentleman, so—I’m going to ask around, see what a gentleman would do in this situation.

      Anyway, While I wait, I would like to add that I’m all for short, easy to pronounce words, like, ‘flux capacitor’ ‘Wookie’, ‘Tribbles.’

      But this, Philip, this is over the top. An Fheansa? Beinn Dochais? Ceana? Gillosa? Geata An Toom?

      So, while still waiting for a gentleman to return my call, I looked up ‘fheansa’ and came across the word ‘deagh’ and found a translation for ‘deagh fheansa’ from ‘Scottish’ f**king ‘Gaelic.’ Can you believe it? Scottish Gaelic! And what do you think it meant? GOOD FENCE. That’s right, it meant ‘good fence.’ Very frickin’ funny Philip.

      Actually, that WAS pretty clever. Still, I’m a little pissed off. Am I to assume none of these words are invented? Do I have to look up all the other words too? Do they all have meaning? When I search Google for these terms tomorrow will they be gone? Will I be here? Will I still have no friends? More enemies?

      You better hope we never meet Philip, because if we do, I’m gonna demand that you buy me a drink for this. (Two drinks.) (Make that two doubles.)

      • Don’t like the names??
        I guess The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were a special kind of challenge for you, Kenneth – or rather, Cionaed …
        • Sauron, Morder, Galadriel, Orcs. Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Gollum. Ents. Elendorf. Nope. No problem there. Cionaed? I have no idea where my tongue goes on that one. Is that middle English for Kenneth? Celtic? Druid? Gaelic? Pig-latin? Froomish? Feel free to enlighten me. I’m all ears.
          • Cionaed – yes it one of the Scots Gaelic forms of Kenneth. Means born of fire maybe. You like that?
            And pronounced Cionaed. Got it? 🙂

            I won’t be able to get a story in this time but next time I think it has to include an Irish person falling in love with someone Polish, and set between Byelorussia and Wales. Just for you, Cionaed De’an Sgrolla!

      • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
        I liked the feel of this story and the uncle being the virgin was a good addition. Pacing was good, I like the use of Gaelic names (as a fantasy reader I have no problems with non-germanic/english names). I would like to see it fleshed out – the YA angle was a good suggestion. Fairy tale rewrites are gaining traction right now and this could work with that.
    • Maud Harris
      I loved the Gaelic lilt running through the story, and the ‘virgin’ bit was a surprise. It held my interest all through and certainly leaves the way open for a sequel.
    • Phil Town
      Thanks to everyone for your kind comments. The names in the story seem to have raised some interest (or in the case of one reader, not naming names, paroxysms of fury…). In fact, the place and object names are all generated through Google Translate (using English > Scottish Gaelic), and the people’s names from a Gaelic name list, also found via Google. Cheating maybe, but I’m not used to writing this kind of fantasy, so needed help …
      • It was fake fury Philip. Completely–fake. So sad.

        Seriously though. Yes, Fantasy is not your normal genre, so you were experimenting, and that, is totally commendable. (I commend you, old man.)

        (And,) for those who might be inclined to misinterpret my zany and foulmouthed attempts at levity, I want to assure the members of this group, (especially Philip,) that I love Philip’s stories. (Philip is one of the groups most outstanding writers, whose style, brevity and creativity I constantly try to emulate. And surpass from time to time.) I want to make it clear however, that I don’t share the near universal awe held for Frank Herbert and the Dune series.

        Now, I’m not saying that Frank Herbert’s Dune series has no artistic merit. But I am saying, as humorously as I can, (I thought) that I found his pronunciation-defying fictitious names and locations, to be a distinctive barrier to digesting and appreciating his books, and I would, and do, (with a very clear conscience) actively try to deter fellow writers from doing that same thing.

        I realize no one wants to consciously write down to my level. (Duh.) But I think unpronounceable names detract from the story. Unless there’s a damned good or very valid reason for them. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

        How about next week I dedicate myself to simply saying what everyone wants to hear? All present, say ‘Aye.’

        Be careful what you wish for…

        • Phil Town
          Kenneth, dear Kenneth … I was, in my own inimitable, bungling way, trying to be light-hearted with my “paroxysms” (I need to take lessons in humour from someone who knows…). I love your critiques … please don’t ever change … in fact, here’s a song for you (minus a couple of lines of the lyrics):

        • Chuck Lilburn
          Oh, my God. A Dune denier trashing Frank Herbert and the greatest story of all Fiction and I’m having to deal with it – not well, I might add. Ken, please tell me that you are undergoing some sort of mental counseling for an incident in your childhood involving a Chrisknife. Give me something to cling to. Please, otherwise I shall go mad, I think. How can you say those things? I mean, trash Phillip Roth all you want (or I will, given the chance), but, please by all that’s Atriedes, tell me you don’t mean this regarding Dune. No doubt there’s Harkonnen blood in your veins. That can be the only answer. Yes, that’s it. Is it Ken Cartisano or Ken Corrino? You are writing under an assumed name. Clever.
          • Chuck,
            My mistake. The Dune I was thinking of was written by Herbert, Frank. A simple mistake to make. I doubt that the one you’re referring to was about people riding around in the desert on giant sand worms. Right? That’s what I’m sayin’, it was pretty weird. And there was some kind of, I don’t know, special or rare — something. Crystals? Snail sweat? Tears? Secretion? That everybody wanted, and was willing to fight for? I don’t remember. But, as you can see, clearly this was not the Dune YOU were talking about. Haha. What a funny misunderstanding. This Dune that you read, what was that one about?
            By the way, how’d you know about the counseling?
            • Chuck Lilburn
              It’s Spice, not essence – you know the Spice of Life, Melange.

              Yeah, I see where you got off on the wrong track and were talking about a different Dune. Had to be a different Dune, otherwise, there would be a few Fremen heading your way, your Italian heritage from House Corrino and all that aside. Or is that House Cartisano?

              (Fayed, take care of this if it gets out of hand, and take Alia with you if you think you need her, just get rid of our problem.)

          • 😂😂😂😂😂
            Best comment of the whole damn page!
    • Alice Nelson

      Philip a beautiful story, you expertly laid out clues throughout the story that Uncail was going to do some heavy duty sacrificing. But still when it happened, when he said goodbye to Ceana, you wrote it beautifully. And that’s what makes this story so good, the writing is smooth, the story so easy to delve into and get lost in.

      I agree with Ken, making a point that he’s seven feet tall, I expected that to play more of a factor in the story. He could’ve just been a large man, a protector of Ceana. Still, that doesn’t take away from the story at all.

      I loved that this is a fantasy type story, not your usual style, but you did it wonderfully. Even knowing where the story is going, it is still a great ride getting there.

    • Phil, you know I’m a sucker for a good fantasy story! Like previous comments I’d like to know more, the world-building was superb, (and I don’t care what Ken says) I love the names you came up with!

      I didn’t catch that the old man was going to be the Virgin until it was revealed, even though there was a bit of foreshadowing.

      It flowed well and I really loved the characters.

  • Ilana Leeds
    Wonderful story Phillip. You have created something that makes me want you to continue and I want to read the text that follows on…
    • Maud Harris
      I’ve just had a disaster ! My story, which had 700 words to date and promised to be a good one, has disappeared. I did all the right things, saved it, every time – honest. I came to the bottom of the page, clicked the first word of the new page and everything else disappeared. I tried every which way to retrieve it, but it’s no use, it’s gone, gone, gone. I’ll try to remember it in detail, but don’t wait around for me. Excellent stories, Chuck and Phil, sorry I haven’t got a more in depth critique this week, but unless I can solve this problem…..
      • That’s a shame, Maud. If you’re using Word it can pop up in other directories just to be difficult or as a recovered file. You could try a search on distinctive word from the story in Windows Explorer (e.g. a distinctive name), and who knows it might appear in the list.
        The other thing that I’ve known happen when helping people with disappearing files is they can end up being saved in OneDrive by mistake (if you’re using the more recent versions of Word).
        Hope you can find it, anyway.
  • Chuck Lilburn
    Nice twist. I love it when I caught completely flat-footed at the ending. My hat’s off to you and it looks once again you are someone to beat. I have no real beef with your story and I’m too lazy to go back and reread it looking for something. if it didn’t stick out at first, I’m not gonna beat you up with something just to be doing it. Good story.
    • Thanks Chuck,
      You’re too kind. To be honest, I’m going to ask Alice to delete it. It needs more polish and a faster start. Too much baloney at the beginning. I’ve already deleted about 40 words But I don’t expect anyone who’s already read it to read it again.
    By Ken Cartisano
    ©2018 February. (1142 words.)

    Thomas gazed listlessly out the window as the bus bounced down the dirt road, leaving a plume of dust in its wake. A gleaming metallic ribbon, the border fence, bisected the landscape, stretching from horizon to horizon.

    Assigned to a job this close to the border was pure coincidence, and the twice daily bus ride gave Thomas little choice but to ruminate on his fate. His inability to speak the language hadn’t won him any friends either, so he always sat alone, prompting him to project an air of indifference to the often intense visual scrutiny of the other passengers.

    His profound despondence was shattered by the sound of a body plopping down in the empty seat beside him.

    A young Mexican, in his early twenty’s, wearing a torn shirt with a batman logo on the front, held out a calloused hand in friendship. Thomas accepted the hand gingerly, as his palms were still tender from blisters not yet fully healed. With a disarming smile, the young man said, “My name is Carlos. What’s yours?”
    The young Mexican looked doubtful. “Tah-miss? You mean, ‘Toe-mas.” He placed the accent on the second syllable. “Here in Meh-hee-co, your name is Tomas.”
    “No offense but—I don’t think so, Carlos.”
    “Trust me, Tomas.” He leaned toward him confidentially. “You will fit in better, I think. It’s a small adjustment to make. Considering…”
    “Considering what adjustments I’ve already made?”
    “No. Considering the fact that you don’t know the language.” Carlos looked uncertain, but when Thomas shrugged, Carlos grinned.
    “How is my English, Tomas?”
    “S’ okay.”
    “Okay? I think it’s pretty good for a Mexican. Not as good as yours, of course but, give me time.”
    This drew no response from Thomas.
    “So, what brings you to our happy little country?”
    Thomas suspected Carlos had ulterior motives for his friendly overtures, but he had almost no possessions, and therefore, very little to lose. “I was deported,” he said, “Picked up by Immigration’s officers and deported. No notice, no warning, no…”
    “You should have been more careful, Tomas. In life, you have to stay one step ahead of the man.”
    Thomas snorted with disgust. “I had no reason to be careful. I thought I was—I had every reason to think I was a citizen!”
    “Have you looked in a mirror lately? No offense Tomas, but you look very much like me.”
    Thomas’s reply was bitter, “That doesn’t mean anything. Just because I look Mexican doesn’t mean I can’t be American.”
    “No?” Carlos looked puzzled. “I thought you had to be rich and white to be an American?”
    “You don’t really believe that.”
    “No. No I don’t. But—I don’t understand why Americans seem to hate Mexicans so much.”
    Thomas traced a curved line on the dust covered window with his finger. “I don’t know, man. I didn’t think they did.”
    “So what did you do for a living then? When you believed you were an American?”
    “I was in school. College.”
    “You mean like, University?”
    Thomas nodded.
    “What did you study?”
    Carlos looked at him in wonder, as if he were a prize-winning cow. “Just between you and me, Tomas? I don’t think you should be digging trenches. I’m going to talk to the foreman about you.”
    Thomas gazed out the window again. “Whatever.”


    That evening, after work, Thomas was summoned to the Project Manager’s office and offered a seat. A fat, sweaty man with huge forearms and greasy hair said, “Someone told me you were an engineer.”
    “I’m studying to be an engineer. Or was.”
    “Can you design a tunnel? Thirty feet below ground?”
    “Sure. It’s not that hard to calc…”
    “A tunnel that won’t collapse? A half a mile long?”
    Thomas hesitated. “It would take considerable investment in materials but…”
    “You think you could do it?”
    “Yeah. I don’t see why not.”
    The Project Manager quizzed Thomas for two hours, long after he could see that Thomas had a solid understanding of structural engineering. After watching him solve a particularly tricky problem, he leaned back in his chair and said, “You, my friend, just got promoted. No more digging for you.”
    “What about the language barrier? I’ll need an assistant—to translate,” Thomas suggested.
    He and Carlos never touched a shovel again. Within months Thomas was promoted to Project Manager. His language proficiency improved, but he was allowed to keep Carlos as his assistant.


    It was much more complicated than he could’ve imagined. The tunnel was longer than a half mile, with multiple entrances on both sides. Plus the entire construction project had to be done in secret, under the incessant surveillance of the U.S. Border Patrol. But all went well, with few setbacks, and no disasters or cave-ins. No loss of life. As a result, he was celebrating the successful completion of the project with the other managers when one of the contractors approached him. “I suppose you intend to use the tunnel yourself, eh? Tomas? To go back?”
    “Ah yes, Tom-miss.”
    “I’ve thought about it, I’ll admit that. But no.”
    The contractor smiled. “I can make it happen, if that’s what you want. Just let me know. But…” He poured more tequila into Thomas’s glass. “I speak with some authority when I say there are more tunnels to build. Your continued assistance would be welcome, and generously rewarded.”


    He and Carlos were sitting at a table on a terrace outside a popular Mexican restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sultry rhythms of a live band filtered out through the open windows. Thomas was dressed in a pressed white shirt, jeans and new tennis shoes. His mustache had filled in nicely, along with his wallet. Carlos wore polished shoes, white pants and a black silk shirt with red roses on it.
    “So—are you in love, or what?” Carlos asked. Their girlfriends had gone to the bathroom together leaving them alone for a few minutes.
    Thomas’s girl, Maria, was by far the prettier of the two. “I don’t know. What d’you think?”
    “Honestly?” Carlos said. “I think she’s beautiful.”
    Thomas nodded.
    “And nice as well. So,” Carlos continued, “you ever figure out what those tunnels are for?”
    Thomas shook his head. “Not for certain. But I think we both know they’re not meant for drugs or Mexicans.”
    “Very good. I knew you were a smart cookie.”
    They both sipped their beers, bobbing their heads in time to the music.
    “Did you ever see one of them?” Carlos asked.
    “Russians? Yeah. Once or twice, carrying bales of money, among other things. I can’t imagine what they’re up to, but they pay well.”
    “Well, it’s not our problem, amigo. Personally? I think they just like fucking with Americans.”
    They touched their bottles together with a soft, gentle clink.
    “I’ll drink to that,” Thomas said.

    • Neat story, smart ending, amigo.

      You know the problem with border fences? Apart from tunnels?

      Coastlines. America’s got about ten thousand miles of coastline, including a couple of thousand in easy reach of where migrants want to come in (east and west). Just shifts the economics, and helps people who want to traffic and smuggle by boat.
      And airspace. Just pop things and people over by drone. I saw a filmlet on YouTube of someone who attached several drones to a bathtub and used that to get about. I’m busy investing in a fleet of these.
      The fence as economic opportunity – build it and they will come. As your story nicely illustrates, Ken 🙂
      On shifting money and stuff around – very good British series McMafia just been aired. Watch out for it!

    • Maud Harris
      Great story, Ken. Highly topical, too. Carlos seemed like a good guy and you portrayed Thomas’ insecurities perfectly. I wonder if Donald Trump knows about the tunnel ?
    • Phil Town
      I really enjoyed this story, Ken. It’s topical, political, plausible. The personalities of the main characters and their relationship are well drawn in the limited space. There’s some nice detail and description (the blisters, the opening paragraph). And the ending – the reveal of what the tunnels are for – is funny and satisfying. But those names! Thomas/Tomás? Carlos? Maria? Come off it!
      (Kidding – really good story.)
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Ken this story is great! The whole time I kept thinking I knew what was going on and never saw the Russians coming. Great twist!
    • Alice Nelson

      Ken, nice story, very topical. I loved the dialogue and the character of Thomas (Tomas). The story was nicely paced, and you held your cards close to the vest, surprising us with that ending. I enjoyed it.

    • Great story…the the transformation from doldrum to humor was great!
      And I love that you put a funny twist at the end on what is such a hot-button topic in the world today!
  • David Provost
    I hope you all enjoy my story this week. I wanted to try a hybrid fiction piece.

    It’s written like non-fiction but has a beginning, middle, and end & the events described are fictitious.

    • Where is it, David? Where is this rumored story? It sounds suspicious. (Or sub-fictitious.) I’m doing Comedy Critiques this week. (Apparently.) But I can’t critique a story that, itself, isn’t real. No can do. (Well, actually I could, but I’m not going to.) Take a deep breath and post that baby.
      • David Provost
        Well Golly, Ken. I’m starting to feel pressure. Sweating beads to please you all.
  • Maud Harris
    I didn’t manage to retrieve my story, but I wrote another from the bits I remembered.
  • Maud Harris
    Mending Fences.

    “What’s the matter with you, you lousy mutt?”

    Abe sits on his front porch, shoulders sunken, his features creased into a scowl. His nicotine stained fingers gripping a whisky glass. Prince, the sheepdog approaches, his tail down. The dog can usually guage his masters’ mood, and experience has taught him to keep his distance on such occasions.
    His aged bones protesting with every move, Abe rises painfully from his chair.

    “Come on you mangy whoreson. We got some sheep chasin’ to do. “

    “Tosser!” Thinks the dog.

    The storm came without warning, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Prince cowered in his kennel as torrential rain lashed the yard, branches and tiles were hurled against the door. A deafening crash echoed as a bolt of lightning split the huge oak tree in two, half of it landing on the woodshed and half on his trailer.
    In the calm of the morning Abe surveyed the damage. Steam rose from the puddles as the door of the hen house swung on its hinges, Jemima, his favourite hen, lay on her back with her legs in the air. Of the other hens, there was no sign. The woodshed was flattened and the logs were strewn haphazardly around the yard like a defeated army.

    “I’m getting too old for this.” Abe grumbled.

    “Too damn right.” Thought the dog.

    “let’s go and see the damage.”
    Prince jumps up at the sound of his masters’ whistle and together they set out up the hill to the top field. The dog runs on ahead, glancing back every hundred yards to see if his master is following. He relishes the chance to nip at a few sheep. Abes’ breath clouds in the morning air as he toils up the hill. Reaching the top field, he sees with dismay that three of the fence panels are down, the wood splintered and stcattered around the field. The gate swings on its hinges, his herd of pedigree ewes are scattered over the mountain. His prize ram has broken out of his pen, and is making hay with the ewes.

    “There will be a price to pay,” smirks the dog.

    Prince rounds up most of the sheep and returns them to the field, but the ram stands his ground. He plants himself firmly in the dogs’ path, refusing to move. Prince charges him, but the old ram doesn’t move an inch. The dog tries bearing his teeth and snarling, but the ram fights back, his head down, feet pawing the ground, the stand-off is complete. A sudden sharp noise breaks the silence as Abe raises his shotgun and fires into the air. The ram turns and runs.

    “About time, too.” Thinks the dog.

    The light fades as Prince herds the last of the sheep into the field. Abe makes a temporary repair to the fence, using wire and salvaged branches. Exhausted, they slink back home. Abe collapses into the armchair, bone weary and aching in every limb.
    “What’s it all about? Where did I go wrong? Three sons I’ve reared, all big strong lads but not one of them wants to work on the farm. There’s no value to hard graft any more. A day’s work on the farm would kill most of todays youngsters. Since I was a boy I’ve worked from dawn till dusk in all winds and weathers, and for what? Any fool can sit in a warm office and make money at the push of a button; it takes real guts to maintain a farm. I certainly used the belt enough, and locking them in the woodshed until they finished their homework, well, that worked because they all graduated. But where has that left me? They don’t even write, well, maybe a card or two at Christmas. But nothing more. They’ll be quick enough to come and read the will when I croak, which, by the way I’m feeling, won’t be long.”
    Abe slumps down, self pity oozing from every pore.
    Waking as dawn colours the sky, he gathers together enough wood and tools to build the new fences. His trailer lies mangled under the fallen tree, so Abe has to think of a new way to transport the load.

    Prince looks on. “What now!” he thinks.

    “Right! If I use the door of the woodshed as a sleigh, we can drag these tree branches up the hill.”

    “What d’you mean ‘We,’” growls Prince.

    Fixing a stout rope to the side of the sleigh, he harnesses the dog, and taking the other rope in his hand the pair start on the arduous journey up the hill.

    “Hey! I’m a sheepdog, not a bloody beast of burden.” Thinks the dog.

    Breasting the hill, Abes’ breath catches in his throat.

    “What the hell…”

    His face flushes with anger as he reaches for his shotgun.
    There in front of him, instead of the makeshift repairs from yesterday, are three new fence panels immaculately bedded in and secured. The gate hangs straight, fixed with new hinges and a spring catch.

    “Who’s been trespassing on my land? I work this field, and only me. Nobody has asked my permission to meddle with my fences. He’d better stay out of my way unless he wants a load of lead shot.”

    Abe inspects the new fences. Whoever did this knows something about farming, he muses. I don’t know anyone near enough to do this overnight. They’re still trespassing though. Mending fences one day and stealing your sheep next day. Abe grumbles all the way down the mountain. Strangely enough, now he has a new grievance to occupy his mind, his physical aches and pains seem a whole lot better.
    Approaching his cottage, he sees with surprise that there is smoke coming from the chimney.

    “I know I didn’t light the fire this morning.” He says to himself. Priming his shotgun, Abe kicks open his front door.

    “Hey, Grandpa, don’t shoot.”

    A young lad of about twenty is sitting his table. Abe stares at him. The resemblance to his eldest son is startling.

    “It isn’t…Richie, is it?. Good God, son, I haven’t seen you since you were ten years old. What are you doing here, and was it you trespassing on my land? “

    “Well, yes, I hope you don’t mind. I arrived two days ago, but the coach couldn’t get near because of the storm. I got a bit lost and found myself on the mountain. When I saw the damage to your fences I decided to do something about it. I found my way back to the road, hitched a lift into town and collected the wood for the repairs and htiched my way back to the field.”

    “You must have been up all night. I must say you made a good job of those fences. Where did you learn that technique?”

    “I’m on my last year at agricultural college, and I need a six month placing at a working farm to complete my degree. That’s the reason I was coming to see you. Dad says there’s nothing you don’t know about farming, and I need the experience. I don’t want money, I just want somewhere to stay and my meals.”
    The lad looked suddenly anxious.

    “Please, Grandad, you will say yes, won’t you?”

    Abe assumed a stern look.
    “Well, I don’t usually entertain trespassers, but I guess I can make an exception for family.”

    ” Too damn right!” Thinks the dog.

    • Phil Town
      A lovely story about a kind of second-hand reconciliation (Abe and his grandson), although we (I) might have felt happier for Abe if we/I didn’t know that he’d taken his belt off to his kids; you could perhaps have had them abandoning him despite being well treated by him, which would make him a bit of a martyr. The descriptions of the storm, the farm, the countryside are very nicely done – I had a good picture in my mind of what was going on. I think the idea of seeing the dog’s thoughts are fun, but maybe not for this story – it doesn’t fit for me somehow. Maybe “Prince looked at Abe as if to say …”, something like that? There are a couple of switches between tenses that pulled me up a bit. And I agree with Chuck about the wood – that seems a bit far-fetched. But all in all, this is a really enjoyable story with a heart and a satisfying ending.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I’m going to agree with Phil on this one. I do like the story and the end was nice with the grandson. The dog’s thoughts do seem a bit out of place in the story, but I did like the standoff with the ram. Good dialogue, good pacing, and great descriptions.
    • MAUD!
      I like it. But I don’t think you’re finished yet. The writing is fabulous, I would avoid messing with that as much as possible. Except for one, single, heart-of-the-story paragraph. (I’ll get to that in a minute.) And one other sentence. The story just needs adjusting to take full advantage of what you’ve got going on here.

      Okay. First, let me stress that this is NOT a comedy critique. I’ve been reading your writing for over two years now, and you blow hot and cold. When you’re hot, your writing sizzles. Not sizzles with fire, but sizzles like Mount Rushmore. Solid, real, hard, like you can run your hand over it and feel the grit of it.

      The writing in this story is like that. It is stellar.
      Pardon me for being so wordy with this critique, and I may have repeated myself in order to hammer home my point. But I hope you can see what I see.
      You don’t get enough credit for your writing from what I’ve noticed in this group, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this will, if you trust me, be a fricking absolutely cool-as-all-hell story. But you’re going to have to make some changes in the story. Think of your writing as the contents, the ingredients for a meal. And I’m like, this little big-mouthed, part Italian friend of yours who has come for a visit, and I see that you’ve got tomato paste, sausage, onion, oregano, pasta, Romano cheese, basil, and olive oil. You’re not sure what you ought to make, maybe some pasta? And I’m like, “Not sure? This isn’t some pasta. This is a fabulous spaghetti dinner! You just have to put the ingredients together properly.”

      You’ve already chopped the onions, grated the cheese and are browning the sausage. So, I could just stand back and watch, and it would probably be halfway decent. (But, at the risk of annoying you, I’m not going to do that.)

      Okay, so, here we go:
      I like the main character, Abe, he’s realistic. A wizened old bastard who raised his kids with a belt, and now, (perhaps older and wiser) regrets it just a little bit. Or maybe he doesn’t. But I do know one thing, you can’t redeem a Saint, it’s pointless, only sinners need redemption. So a character with flaws is someone I can identify with. (Not that I HAVE any flaws myself, but I know that most people do.)

      As for the thinking dog. I like the concept. It’s great, in fact. Sheepdogs are incredibly smart. I don’t think his thoughts are sufficiently dog-ish, but I like the concept. Refine it. (Or rather, roughen it up some. As in: “It’s gonna be ruff dragging all that man-shit up the hill. I’m a sheepdog, not a Bull Mastiff.” “If he barks at me one more time, I swear I’ll drool in his soup.”
      He’s a clever dog, so his thoughts should be as clever as possible.

      You should allow minor adjustments to the relationship between the dog and the old man. (Mean old cuss that he is, he LOVES his dog. I would minimize the dog’s fear of him. (Which comes through a little too strongly in the first paragraph.) How much the dog understands Abe is totally irrelevant, or he his dog. What’s important is that they talk to each other. It’s a two way street.

      And this is what’s going to turn this duck into an eagle. The paragraph that starts with, “What’s it all about? Where did I go wrong?” This is a lot of monologue. It doesn’t really fly as monologue. But it doesn’t have to be. What will make this story ring like a bell, is to double down on what you’ve already built the foundation for. You already have the dog talking to Abe, why not have Abe talking to his dog? People talk to their animals all the time. It doesn’t matter one wit whether they understand us or not. It just so happens that this one does. (But the old guy doesn’t know it.) Here you have an old guy whose only companion is his dog. Convert Abe’s monologue (where he starts with, ‘What’s it all about?) to him actually addressing the dog. This won’t require much actual rewriting.
      And this becomes the vehicle by which you tell Abe’s story.

      However, you SHOULD polish this paragraph. Minimize the lecturing, clean up the errors in tenses. (This is the heart of the story, not the beginning or the end, but the heart of it.) Some of the tenses are wrong. (It should go a little more like this. “What’s it all about, Prince? Where did I go wrong? I’ve reared three sons, all big strong lads. Sure, I was liberal with the belt. Locked them in the woodshed a time or two, to make them do their homework. It must’ve worked though, ‘cause they all graduated. But where does that leave us, boy?” (See what I’m saying?) You’re not really changing the writing, you’re just making it a monologue to the dog, rather than the reader. And polish it. Trim it.

      One other very minor suggestion, but it’s key to the feel and sense of the character:
      ‘Abe slumps down. Self-pity oozing from every pore.’

      No. I doubt that. You need to get rid of the self-pity. (And the ooze.) This guy doesn’t pity anything, least of all himself. He may be tired, angry, full of doubt, maybe even reproach, but certainly not self-pity.

      ‘Abe dozes off. But not before feeling the stark nature of existence pulling him down, ever closer to the grave.’ (Something like that. I don’t know or care how you rewrite it, as long as he’s not pitying himself.) From there on it all stays the same.
      ‘Waking as dawn colours the sky, he gathers enough wood to…’
      This story is much better than anyone realizes right now. Maybe even you too.
      Don’t quit on it. You’re almost there.
      One last thing. At the end, the grandson notices the dog and says, “Nice lookin’ dog. Is he smart?” Or something. Draw the hint of a new connection forming between the grandson and the dog too. Have the dog reply to the grandson’s comment. Swing for the bleachers Maud. This is a fast ball coming in right over the plate. Make the most of it.

      • One last thing I see what Chuck and Phil are saying, and they’re right. But this is the great thing about writing stories. If you have the mental flexibility, which most people don’t, you can fearlessly make major changes to a story, and it’ll make the story more believable. And that’s the goal. For the reader to get to the end unimpeded. Without doubts.
        You can eliminate all that jazz about the grandson rebuilding the fence. (I know what you’re thinking. “Rebuilding the fence PROVES that the grandson is a resourceful energetic worker. An asset.” But the fact that he’s there, is going to agri-school and is willing to work for his meals is proof enough.
        You can have Abe and Prince trudge all the way to the top of the hill, only to realize that Abe has forgotten a necessary tool. The wire cutters, crowbar, tin snips or something. “Dammit Prince. If only you knew what a crowbar was, I could just send you down to fetch it.”
        “If only you didn’t lock the tool shed, I would go down and get it you old son-of-a-wrinkled hag.”
        They turn and notice the smoke coming out of the chimney. Or someone standing in the yard, who then goes into the house before they get there.
        Doesn’t matter how you do it. The details are not really that important, as long as you reshape the story to remove anything that causes the reader to pull up short.
        I’ll shut up now.
      • Maud Harris
        Ken, I only just found your critique. I was going back over my stories to see how I could improve them and realised that somehow I hadn’t read this one. I must say, it’s the most useful appraisal I ever had. It’s given me a whole new way of looking at Abe and Prince. It’s last months story, so I hope you get to see this. Thanks again – there’s more to you than being the office comedian!
    • Alice Nelson

      Maud, I have to agree with Ken. This is a sleeper story that is even better than we realize. Ken gave you some great suggestions to make this really good story, fabulous. I love Abe, I’ve met hardened old guys like him, and one thing I notice is deep down these men are warm characters, who lived a hard life and don’t know any other way to do it.

      When you discuss how he raised his boys, it came off as callous to me. What I think is Abe didn’t know any other way to raise them, he was probably treated the same way by his father. You can make him more empathetic, if that part is written not by a callous man who doesn’t care, but by a man who didn’t know any better.

      And the dog talking, I just loved that. Ken’s right, make it go both ways. That aspect could really make this story sing. Prince is a character worth focusing on in his own right.

      I really had a good time with this one, it has so much potential that I want to read it again when you’ve massaged it a bit. Ken’s advice is really wonderful, take it and run with it Maud. A fine, fine story.

    • Like others I like the characterisation of Abe, which rings true.

      I also felt a bit of a Dastardly/Muttley relationship there – which was both endearing and humorous. And I think you’ve intended Prince as a kind of humorous foil to Abe’s misanthropy and self-pity.

      So my take is that you’ve intended this as a playful story – and for me it works, I smiled my way through and nodded appreciatively at the character-building of Abe and his curmudgeonly acceptance of some good coming from his family.

    • Maud, I’m not going to repeat the points that everyone else stated, they all bring up a very good points, I too found the fact that the kid gets back into town and somehow magically arrive with all these materials and worked all night without him after noticing to be a little far-fetched.

      I personally like the dog, and I do wish Abe head realized what a faithful loving pal he had there!

  • Chuck Lilburn
    Maud, I like the twist in your story of the man’s gene pool of family love skipping over the second generation and showing up in the third. I also like your thinking dog. What I do have a quibble about in the story is the fact the kid hitched a ride back to the mountaintop with three fence sections and assorted hardware. I think that needs revisited. (I guess it could happen but I have to suspend a little belief for that.) Other than a few punctuation things, some capitalization misses, the only other thing I would add is a little more showing, a little less telling. Good storyline, however, and believable. Well, except for the part about getting a ride with the fence sections. What I really like about your story are your descriptions such as: ‘His aged bones protesting with every move, Abe rises painfully from his chair.’ and ‘Abe slumps down, self pity oozing from every pore.’ However, none of those changes will stop me from voting for your story based on its storyline. A better story is going to have to come along. I’m glad you were able to reconstruct it.
    • Maud Harris
      Hi Chuck and Phil.
      I’m having a rethink. 2 possible scenarios. Either, 1/ Abe has the wood delivered to the field the day before, or 2/ Richie hitches a lift on a flatbed truck that just happens to be parked outside the hardware store. These won’t be in time for this story, but thanks for the constructive critique. It will go in my archives.
  • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    Dances with Cows By Wendy Edsall-Kerwin ©2018 [ 995 words]
    Milkshake stood on the hill looking out across the valley. The sun was warm on her face and there was a slight breeze keeping the flies off. To her right was a copse of trees that a brook babbled through on its way to the pond. Milkshake knew all these places so well that she could picture how they looked at any particular time of year, in any weather, at any time of day. It bored her.
    She stood on the hill chewing her cud staring over this familiar land at what lay past the trees, the brook, the pond. She stood contemplating the electrified bane of her existence – the fence. Her big cow eyes narrowed. She had to get out of here.
    Behind her some calves lipped at flowers, heifers flirted with the bull in the next field over (that fence bothered her not at all,) and other cows sat or stood, totally unconcerned with how fully known and confining this place was. It didn’t bother them that they did the same thing each day or that they relied on the farm hands to bring them water when it was dry or feed in the morning and again in the evening. It didn’t even concern them when they took their calves away each year in a truck that came back sometimes empty, sometimes with completely different animals in it. But it bothered her.
    She had tried talking to some of the other cows about her feelings.
    “Why would you want to leave? We have all of our needs taken care of here. We never go hungry, when we get sick they give us medicine, and we don’t have to worry about coyotes or mountain lions,” Homefry had replied to her. “My mother’s mother’s mother was a range cow and her friends would die from snake bites, got worms, went thirsty. It was horrible. You don’t want that.”
    “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Milkshake had said at the time, but the confinement continued to gnaw at her.
    Each day she watched the farm hands come in and out of the field. She would follow them to the gate, exhaling in frustration every time they remembered to lock it behind them. Milkshake began to walk the fence perimeter during the day, checking for broken wires or tilting posts – any signs of weakness. Those farm hands were way too good at their jobs.
    * * *
    The afternoon sun had grown a little too warm and Milkshake moved with the other cows into the shade of the trees. She drank from the stream and looked down toward the pond. A stretch of the hated fence crossed the pasture between the pond and the horizon and she followed its length with her eyes. There was light glinting off something near a cloud of dust that was slowly settling back to the ground. As it cleared, Milkshake saw a couple of farm hands getting out of the truck whose windshield turned out to be the source of the sun flare.
    ‘Now what are they up to?’ she thought. It was too far to see what was happening, but Milkshake watched them until the other cows began moving away toward the feeder, mooing for her to join them. She decided she’d investigate tonight as the others slept.
    Night had fallen and the moon began to rise as Milkshake quietly slipped away from her sleeping companions. She picked her way along the stream down toward the pond. As she got closer, she saw a pile of something close to where the fence should be. It was still too dark to see what it was. The frogs were singing their nighttime song down at the pond and Milkshake enjoyed the freedom of moving without the herd. She lowered her head to drink some cool water from the pond and just stood there awhile listening to the night.
    She must have dozed a little because the moon now seemed brighter and higher in the sky. Milkshake began moving toward the pile, which was beginning to resolve itself. It looked like a pile of branches, but they seemed too straight and regular. As she got closer, she realized there was a breach in the fence behind the pile. The branches were fence posts! Those farm hands must have been working on the fence and forgotten to block the opening overnight. Milkshake thought, ‘Now is my chance to finally be free!’
    She began walking with a purpose toward the hole in the fence. As she passed through it she saw a wide open meadow stretching before her. Milkshake moved faster and faster, starting to kick and frolic like a calf in springtime. The weight lifted from around her heart. She was free! She spied a copse of trees far across the open field and began moving toward it. She’d rest awhile there and decide what to do next once the sun returned. She had the rest of her newly freed life to explore this new world.
    * * *
    The farm hands watched the cow that was just a dot moving through the trees along the far stream. They had loaded the old fence posts onto the back of the flatbed.
    “I’ve never seen a cow look so happy before, at least not one older than a heifer. She’d running around like a little calf.”
    “Yeah, it was about time Fred bought that land to expand. Now the cows can spread out and we can pick up some more this year at auction.” He took his gloves off as the others got into the truck. “But I wonder how Milkshake will feel once she discovers the fence around this field?”
    “Let’s just let her enjoy it for now. She’ll be back to pacing the fence soon enough. I’m sure she’ll be glad she got a change of scenery at least.”
    They drove off watching the happy cow dancing in the field, enjoying her new confines.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I actually started a completely different story and hated how it was going, so I decided to write this one from a cow’s POV. PS I named this story for you, Ken.
    • Chuck Lilburn
      Wendy, Wendy, Wendy. How do the cowhands see the cow frolicking in the moonlight that far away (remember – you made her a dot) and what are they doing out there so long after dark? All the cowhands I’m familiar with are throwing down IPAs at that point. Otherwise, loved your story, Milkshake is a perfectly good name for a cow, in fact, an excellent name considering her frolicking so much after she gained her temporary freedom. I liked the POV from the cow’s point of view and, wonder how you happen to have such intimate knowledge of how a cow would think? Just sayin’. You must be a farm girl, if not, then you have telepathic powers. Cute story.
      • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
        Chuck – The farm hands were supposed to be seeing her the next day, I realized that it wasn’t clear, but needed to post it by the deadline (lol) Milkshake was actually one of my friend’s cows, I can’t take credit for the name.

        Phil – I get the on the nose-ness of that now. I think I was just building up to the fact that she won’t actually have freedom.

    • Maud Harris
      You conveyed the cows’ thoughts and feelings nicely. A well written story that captured my imagination. It would be nice if, when they bring in the new cows, Milkshake will meet a bull that she fancies.
      • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
        Thank you for the kind words.
    • Phil Town
      I love this bitter-sweet tale, Wendy. You handle the language beautifully, creating a little micro-society with great economy. Although Milkshake has her moment of victory and glory, it’s ultimately a very sad ending – or a very nicely cooked mixture of sad and happy. There was just one moment that I thought was a little heavy-handed: “Milkshake thought, ‘Now is my chance to finally be free!’ “. That’s a little on the nose, perhaps? You could have shown this – maybe she does a little skip when she sees the gap, something like that. Very nice, though.
    • Christopher Smith
      Wendy, loved this story. And is it weird that my heart actually dropped for Milkshake near the end? Maybe, but the fact that it DID drop is a true credit to the writer – well done!
    • Wendy, I really like this. It’s one where I can happily suspend disbelief because we’re being invited to enter into the world of Milkshake and her coworkers …
      I also think it’s quite profound. Isn’t that what we so often do, step from one circumscribed world to another, and call it freedom? Maybe it’s inevitable … The caged cow sings of freedom – and dances for it in the end despite it being illusory.
      The last line is brilliant, btw – a great image, tinged with a paradox and a bit of philosophy, perhaps
    • Alice Nelson

      I just loved Milkshake, loved her perspective and her need to be free. Like Andy said, it was easy to suspend disbelief and see this as a story from a cow’s perspective.

      I’m glad Milkshake will bet a little time to believe she’s broken free, but I’m also glad she’ll be safe (relatively speaking) within the confines of the farm.

      You have a great descriptive quality to your writing, and this is what makes it easy to believe that we are in the mind of a cow. Nice job!

    • Hi Wendy,
      Well, it’s thrilling to think that someone who wields a blowtorch would remember something I wrote, especially while naming their story. Thank you. Although, I think this story deserves a better name, but I can’t think of one at the moment.

      I agree with Chuck about the dot. Easy enough to get rid of. (They watched her from a distance (delete) moving through the trees along the far stream.”

      Unlike Maud’s story, the plot, or storyline is perfect as it is. But the writing could be improved. Which is not to say that I don’t like it. I certainly enjoyed the story and I like your writing style, which has an elegant flair to it. (This is a bit perplexing. Because of the blowtorch, I mean.) Maud’s exposition is more utilitarian, but she conveys more information, whereas your writing tends to create a mood. For instance: ‘She lowered her head to drink some cool water from the pond and just stood there awhile listening to the night. She must have dozed a little because the moon now seemed brighter and higher in the sky.’
      That’s mood writing. Don’t try to deny it.
      I’m not criticizing it, merely pointing it out. This is your style. Some people don’t have one. (Like Philip.) (I’m not laughing, just smiling.)
      The real speed bump in this story, for me, is in the dialogue. “Yeah, it was about time Fred bought that land to expand. Now the cows can spread out and…” This is too contrived. It’s your reveal. You should rewrite this. There are fifty ways you could rewrite this any number of which would probably sound better. Or you could just tell us what Milkshake doesn’t know, then let the cowboys observe and comment. (Like you did.)

      The outstanding achievement here is that this engaging story is about a cow. And the cow—is us.
      Most of us spend our time striving to attain (fill in the blank) only to realize that we’ve merely moved ourselves to a new (fill in the blank.)
      I didn’t feel sad for the cow—because I don’t extrapolate other people’s stories. I stop where the story ends. (Unless it has an ambiguous ending.) But I can see how that inherent message is embedded in the story. Now that others have mentioned it. (Buzzkills.)
      A lovely story Wendy.
      You should re-do that ending. You owe it to Milkshake.
      Possible names:
      Don’t Fence Me Bro.
      The Cow Jumped Under The Moon.

      • Ilana Leeds
        Wendy I enjoyed your story and as an animal person (as opposed to people person) I relished this story of a cow confined and longing for green pastures and freedom. She was my favourite character this week. Good work.
        • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
          Thank you Ilana!

          Thank you also, Andy, Christopher, & Alice!

          Ken – Don’t Fence Me Bro omg But seriously, thank you for the good advice. Along with adverbs (which I managed to keep under control this time) dialog is what I struggle with.

  • Ilana Leeds
    I am still finishing my story. Please can we have a few hours grace? How long have we got? I will be finished by tomorrow morning 8 am Australian Eastern Standard Time. I am having a disaster with my car and wondering what in the hell the mechanics are playing at. Car keeps overheating. I think it is the themostat that is not working and I keep getting told it is major work the heads and they are not doing anything? I hate the stress of having to push people to do the things you are paying them to do. All I want is to be able to have the security of a reliable car because my work depends on a reliable car and I do not cope with with uncertainity and being stuffed around. I am anal enough to like to know what my schedule is for the next two or three months which is why I make a horrible Casual Relief Teacher as I am in a continual state of angst about my job security and how much work am I going to be getting etc etc etc. Rant over.
    Can I have 12 more hours please? To finish my story.
    • Alice Nelson

      Ilana you have until 10am PST to turn in your story. I hope that gives you enough time.

  • Alice Nelson

    Abel, and The Man in the Black Suit
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    The song played quietly in the background. Abel was singing along softly, his leg dangling over the arm of the chair as he flipped through his Superman comic book. Give me land lots of land under starry skies above, Don’t fence me in, he crooned.

    “Abel could you shut your face, and turn that dang song off,” I yelled.

    “No,” Abel said quietly.

    “Mom! Abel’s been hogging the record player with that old song all afternoon. Can I listen to something else?”

    Mom came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a dish towel, “What would you like to listen to Violet?” she asked with a knowing smile on her face.

    “Uh…I don’t know, I’m just tired of this song.”

    Mom laughed, “Oh Vi, let him listen to it one more time,” she said. Then she turned to Abel, “Just one more play through, then turn it off.”

    “Yes mama,” Able said, sticking his tongue out at me.


    The house we lived in was built by our great grandfather, Chester Callahan. Abel and I found a box of his things in the attic —unfortunately, that Cole Porter song was among the items. He also found an old picture of a tall, frighteningly gaunt man wearing a black fedora, and matching black suit and tie, holding the hand of a little girl.

    “Is this great grandad?” Abel asked our mom.

    She shook her head, “I don’t know who that is. Maybe he was a friend of great grandad’s,” mom said.

    Abel didn’t care who it was, he loved that picture, and had the nerve to hang it up in our room.

    “Take that old ugly thing out of here Abel, it’ll give me nightmares,” I told him.

    Abel pouted, then shoved it under his mattress.


    After I suffered through one more round of Don’t Fence Me In, mama said, “You two go out and play until dinner’s ready.”

    “Mama can we go in the field?” Abel asked.

    “Just keep the house in view, kids.”

    “We know mama,” I said running outside trying to beat Abel to the fence that separated our property from the field.

    Mama always told us to keep the house in view, and we always did. Until that one day we didn’t, and Abel never came back home again.


    It all happened so fast. We were running in the field, throwing dirt clods at each other. Abel was wearing a red cape mama made for him, pretending to be The Man of Steel, and he wanted me to be Lois Lane.

    “I’m not gonna be some helpless girl who needs Superman to rescue her,” I huffed.

    So Abel went off, pretending to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and I turned and started picking the wild flowers that grew in vast quantities in the unkempt field.

    I heard Abel talking in the field behind me, “Oh yes, I love that song too,” he said. But when I looked up to see who he was talking to, Abel was gone. The red cape was the only thing left behind, billowing in the wind as if an invisible Superman were hovering over the field.

    “Abel!” I yelled, but he didn’t answer. I turned round and round, surveying that desolate field, but Abel was nowhere.

    We had gone out so far, I couldn’t find our house. Then I heard mama yelling, “Violet, Abel, dinner’s ready!”

    I ran all the way to her, with tears streaming down my face.

    We stood at the fence that divided our yard from the field, I was holding mama’s hand as daddy, along with the sheriff and plenty of volunteers, searched for Abel. But I knew they’d never find him.

    I didn’t say that to mama. She kept fidgeting, and glancing at me periodically. It was as if she were saying with her eyes, All you had to do was keep an eye on your brother. Or maybe that was just my guilt telling me tales.


    Weeks had passed, and people stopped searching altogether. The sheriff opted instead for posters around town with Abel’s face on it.

    “It’s as if he vanished from the face of the earth,” I heard someone say.

    So when I heard Abel’s voice coming from the den one night, I just knew it was a dream; my mind clinging to the hope that my little brother would return.

    I walked down the stairs and crept up to the door of the reading room where the record player was kept. I stood just outside the door, silently listening as Abel sang his favorite song.

    Then I heard another voice, a man’s voice say, “You sing beautifully young man.”

    “Thank you,” Abel said.

    I peeked into the room, and there was Abel, sitting in his favorite chair, with his leg dangling over the side, looking at his comics. And standing next to him, looking at me intently was The Man in the Black Suit, the very same one in the picture from the attic.

    “We’ve been waiting for you, Violet,” he said softly.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Well, because your brother misses you dearly, that’s why.” The man in the black suit said.

    Abel looked up just then, and smiled. But his eyes were dull, and empty, not like those sparkling brown eyes that lit up every time he grinned.

    “Hi Vi-oh-let,” he said, stretching out my name in that way that used to infuriate me. I wasn’t mad then though, I was just happy to see him, even if it were only in my dreams.

    “Why’d you leave me Abel?” I asked, tears brimming in my eyes.

    “I had to Vi, but you can come with us if you want. The man said it was okay.”

    “I can’t go Abel.”

    “Why?” he asked.

    “Because you’re in heaven, and I’m not dead yet, so I can’t go with you.”

    Abel looked at me closely, “I’m not dead, Vi.”

    “What are you then?” I asked.

    “I’m with The Man in the Black Suit,” Abel said.

    Then the man came toward me and I began to cry, “I wanna wake up,” I yelled. “I wanna wake up.”


    I woke up in my room, with Mama sitting by my side, “It’s okay Violet. It was just a bad dream.”

    “Mama I saw Abel, he wanted me to come with him.”

    She held me tight, “I miss him too baby,” mama said, stroking my hair.

    We stayed like that for several minutes, and I was starting to drift off to sleep, when I saw it. The picture of The Man in the Black Suit; that very same picture Abel wanted to keep in our room, the very same picture that mama put back into the box in the attic, weeks ago.

    This time, instead of a little girl standing next to the man, there was a little boy.

    “Abel,” I whispered, “Abel is that you?”

    And when the image nodded, I opened my mouth and began to scream.

    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I love the last section of the story, it’s a great horror ending. Some part of me wants some more fleshing out, or maybe I just want it longer to draw out the creepiness and suspense. It really has all that in it, you do a great job of having a normal rural family take a dark turn, and I like that line about “until the one day we didn’t”
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Wendy. I wish there was more space to flesh out the creepiness, with a 1200 word limit, I wanted to give some idea who Violet and Abel were. Thank you for the kind words.

    • Chuck Lilburn
      Well Miss Alice, guess who will be lying in bed tonight, looking at the ceiling thinking about that picture and the little boy nodding his head. Thank you, I think. At least I will be able to try and think of another story to write, which will now probably be a horror version of unicorns, rainbows, and popsicles. However, do want to point out a little thing I saw which you may have already noticed. Mom suddenly transformed to Momma in both description and by recognition of the children. I think it should be one or the other, although this is picky and in no way takes away from the awesomeness of this story. You weaved a crafty horrific tale and it is good. Plenty good. Really plenty good.
      • Alice Nelson

        So sorry Chuck, make sure you keep the lights on 🙂

        I thought about making mom/mama consistent, but it seemed more real to use both. I know when i was a kid, and even today, I called my mom everything from mama to mom to mother to dude, depending on my mood. I think most kids have several names for their parental units. Any hoot, thank you for the kind words, the fact that it scared you and may keep you up is music to my ears. 🙂

    • Chillingly spooky, Alice – and very well executed as well. I won’t sleep tonight. Can I unread it? No, the haunting imagery is here to stay 🙂

      But it’s not only that makes it good. The connection between the children is well-drawn, and then disturbingly transformed, and then, at the end, we’re drawn into Violet’s nightmare. Classy story.

      • Alice Nelson

        Wow, thank you Andy. As I told Chuck sleep with the lights on 🙂 i was concerned it might not be an effective scare, but looks like I did okay. Thank you my friend 🙂

    • Christopher Smith
      Beautifully written, Alice. This story held a very creepy vibe throughout, and the ending gave me chills. I could picture all of it, every step of the way.
      Another homerun, my friend!
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Christopher!! I’m glad you saw the creepiness throughout, I was trying to convey that. I almost didn’t post this story, though. I kept fiddling with it until 2 0’clock in the morning MST. Thank you for the kind words, my friend 🙂

    • Wow! You’re writing is just fabulous, Alice. I have to confess though, that I wasn’t actually that sc-sc-sc-sc, I wasn’t that sc-sc-sc-sc, I wasn’t th-th-th-that frightened. Hardly at all. Still, this is a brilliantly written story. Rod Serling would be impressed.
      Have you been reading some Stephen King lately? There’s an amazing economy of words, great pace and relentless momentum toward the final scene.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Ken! Hope you have a night light. I really am floored that you mentioned Rod Serling, and Stephen King in the same critique of my story. Thanks so much!

  • Maud Harris
    Oh Alice ! That sudden turnaround shook me rigid. A story with a helluva punch. Brilliant.
    • Alice Nelson

      Maud, thank you so much. I’m both glad the story shook you, hope it doesn’t keep you up nights 🙂

  • Phil Town
    This is extremely spooky, Alice. Really well constructed – little pieces establishing the place, the relationships, the Man in the Black Suit. It’s all very humdrum and normal. Then the disappearance, and that ending. Brrrrrr! I only didn’t understand why the opening section was from the mother’s pov (it could easily have been from Violet’s). But that takes little away from a very effective ghost/horror tale.
    • Phil Town
      No it wasn’t! Scratch that! It WAS from Violet’s pov. D’oh. Sorry!
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Phil! Great to have you back critiquing again. I went back to see if I had indeed changed the point of view, because I was pretty tired when i finally finished this story. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, my friend.

  • Ilana Leeds
    The Fence
    Dogger Williams moved slowly. Lately his body had begun to fail him. Especially with tasks that required a lot of movement, he would feel the weight of time creeping through his limbs. Then, at the day’s end, he unsaddled his roan mare, brushed, watered and fed her and set her graze round the campsite. Then he walked slowly into the hut to find the hidden place in the earth near the back corner where his “medicine” was. He scrabbled in the earth and pulled out the flagon of over proof rum he had stashed there.
    Hours of repairing and clipping the dog netting fence that stretched far into the distance, had tightened his shoulders and bend his spine forward. Days and months riding the boundary fences that defined the borders between Eillara Downs and the neighbouring properties had bowed his legs permanently and weathered his face to a wizened leather with two pale blue sapphires set deep under a beaten broad brimmed Akubra hat. When he was hired, the overseer had queried his name.
    “What’s your Christian name, mate?”
    “Dunno. Always been. Long as I ken member.”
    “Surely you remember being called something else. How’d you get such a name?”
    “Me mum said waz cuz on account o tha rabbits and dingos I waz trappin’. They’s called me Dogger. I waz little and me couzins started callin’ me dogger.”
    Dogger’s hearing was not too good. He’d received a kick in the head from his father who was prone to drunken rages when on a binge. Dogger had gone in to protect his mother and a sister. He was ten years old at the time. His father had back handed him knocking him to the floor. Then he stomped on the kid’s head with a heavy work boot. Both eardrums were busted. One ear healed and the other was never the same. Dogger was a quiet drinker and a solitary one. He preferred the company of his dogs Bastard and Bloody and the horse Tobruk. In his cups, he would talk out his life story to the animals who showed great patience and endurance listening to Dogger’s life tales of his early childhood and teenage years. Dogger was one of fourteen children of whom only he and two sisters with three brothers survived to adulthood.
    Dogger was twenty-two years old when he took the position of boundary rider for the Eillara Downs Station, nearly sixty years ago. He had outlived all his sisters except one. All three remaining brothers now lay underground in a dust-strewn cemetery. It took eleven months to ride the boundary fence and that included a three-week holiday in Alice Springs once every cycle of repair was complete. He had completed the fence route sixty-five times. He had decided to complete it one more time before he gave it up. Sixty-six was a round number. He liked twice six as he had been born in 1866 on the sixth of June.
    “Isn’t it about time, you hang up the boots, Dogger. Take a quiet little cottage in town?” The new manager told Dogger ten years back just before the big war. Dogger smiled quietly and shook his head. The new manager did not think much of the old man. However, it had been stipulated in his employment contract that “Dogger Williams was to remain in the employ of Eillara Downs Station for as long as the man wished to ride the boundary and he was to be paid a monthly sum of £ 22 8 shillings 10 p. Stores and provisions were to be deducted and the balance paid into his bank account in Alice Springs every eleven months.” Even with his three-week binge in town, Dogger only spent the equivalent of two and a half months wages a year and that was mainly over-proof rum, a bit of tea, flour and few tins of treacle. He understood from inquiries he had made about the old man that he rode the boundary fence, making repairs and trapped dingoes along the way, checking some of the water holes and stock. He also understood that the old man had accumulated a rather tidy sum of money over the years. It meant he could well afford a house in town and have income to spare for many years to come.
    “Frankly, once the old coot falls off his perch, we can do the boundary check in a tenth of the time with a car.” He scratched his chin. “and far more cheaply, besides.”
    A couple of the other riders and stockmen were shocked by his lack of empathy. It made them nervous as to when they might also be considered expendable, by the same manager. The last time Dogger had met with the manager to collect his stipend and to pass on his reports, the man was abrupt with him.
    “Haven’t you thought about giving this caper up? Be a lot safer and better for your health to live in town? Wouldn’t it?”
    The old man shrugged and took out his tobacco pouch and began to slowly roll a cigarette – fine and slim with rich dark tobacco that was given free from the station stores.
    “Not yet.” Was all he said through half closed eyes, sucking in the smoke, at peace.
    Intent on getting the rum out for his nightcap and with dusk darkening the skies and throwing shadows in the hut, he did not notice the snake curled up in the corner until it struck his boot. Surprised he put out his hand and then the snake reared and struck. Its fangs sank into his hand between the joint of the thumb and forefinger.
    Then it was gone.
    Shocked he stared at the two puncture marks. Venom dripped from where the snake had struck. As an afterthought he sat down and opened the flagon to drown the wounds in rum. In eighty-two years of life, he’d handled many snakes. Never been bitten. There is a first time for everything he thought to himself. Even dying.
    He knew he would not have much time to complete what he had to do. A half hour at the most before convulsions would make things difficult. He called both dogs to him. Tossed them the remains of the roo leg he’d shot yesterday and as they were preoccupied wolfing the meat, then shot both dogs before they realized what happened. He took careful aim at the horse and dropped her from fifty plus yards.
    Finally he turned the gun to himself.
    Six months later when Dogger did not turn up at his usual time, they waited a week before going out to look for him. It bothered the manager that he did not know the exact time of death to get the wages exact. His money was to go to a child that he had had in his youth with a young indigenous woman he would visit in the town in his youth.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I struggle with the deadlines too, Ilana. Given time you’ll be able to iron the parts that need fixed but this is an interesting portrait of a man at the end of his era. I enjoyed seeing the Aussie version of the cowboy, being in the US it’s easy to forget how similar our West and your country were in the 1800s.
    • Chuck Lilburn
      I give up. You write a snake story that has all the pain and recognition by the old man of all the trouble he’s in as if you were giving me a primer on how to do it for my character Case. I hope you’re happy. Kidding! 🙂

      Seriously though, I truly enjoyed the tale and loved the vernacular. Had a Zane Grey feel to it. I think you could have cleaned the end up a bit, as someone else mentioned, but, as they do, realize the limitations of trying to work and write to a deadline.

      Nice story, Ilana with a sad, but satisfying ending.

    • Ilana, I like this a lot – you know where it needs a bit of polish, but I like what I see and great phrases like, “the weight of time creeping through his limbs”.

      Great portrait of a solemn, stubborn and solitary old codger who has essentially enclosed himself within his own narrow boundary fence, partly through choice, partly through the circumstances of a very tough life. Shooting of the horse and dogs – he seems them as simply adjuncts of his narrow life? Or does he see it as a kindness as with his swift death they wouldn’t last long? Though the dogs might eat him …

      Not so sure about “the roo leg he’d shot yesterday”, though – one I guess that was hopping around the outback on its own? 🙂

    • Alice Nelson

      Ilana this story needs to be expanded. I loved it, loved Dogger, and the Australian vernacular. You do this so well, so descriptive making Dogger a three dimensional character that we can empathize with.

      The one part that stuck out for me was this part:

      “Haven’t you thought about giving this caper up? Be a lot safer and better for your health to live in town? Wouldn’t it?”
      The old man shrugged and took out his tobacco pouch and began to slowly roll a cigarette – fine and slim with rich dark tobacco that was given free from the station stores.
      “Not yet.” Was all he said through half closed eyes, sucking in the smoke, at peace.”

      It wasn’t clear to me that after this Dogger was now alone, and not still in the company of the manager. Maybe something signifying Dogger left.

      And the end does seem like it is a continuing story and not the end of one. But you already knew that.

      Still Ilana, this is some fine writing, I enjoyed the story very much.

    • Phil Town
      This is terrific stuff, Ilana. Really vivid description of a really basic life. The details are excellent: the leathery face, the bowed legs, the deafness, the family history. All of the vocabulary and place names give it authenticity. The mere fact of the 11 months … wow! You don’t need to tell us how many square miles that might be. I love the kind of listing of events (the short sharp sentences). And I think the ending – the matter-of-factness of it – is at once deeply sad and perfectly fitting. If you’d had time, you could have spaced the paragraphs to make it easier on the eye, but that’s all I could fault really. Loved it.
    • Christopher Smith
      Liked the story, Ilana, but it read (to me) like a bulky story. From the start it seemed like it would be hard to squeeze it under 1200 words – it just had that feel to it.
      It was interesting, and well told, just not enough space for you to really spread your wings and tell it like it needed to be told.
    • Ilana,

      Wow. Wonderfully vivid writing of a fascinatingly austere life story.

      Alice has a good point, you need to help the reader delineate the middle section from the beginning and end. (Space asterisks please.)

      As to the ending, ‘Finally he turned the gun on himself.’ Is it just me, or is that not a pretty good place to end the story?
      I’m not sure how relevant the information in the current last paragraph is. If it’s relevant, shouldn’t you emphasize that info sooner somehow? The reason I’m not sure is because—if he’s 82 when he dies, how old is this child he’s leaving the money to?
      Sixty two?
      If what you’re trying to convey is the fact that he’s been supporting a woman and/or a child over the course of many years, a more noble expression of dedication (and character) than leaving a lump sum to one’s heirs, then that has to have happened earlier in his life. If it’s only about an inheritance, then it’s not that important.

      The funny thing about this story, is that this man’s entire life revolved around the fence. (The prompt.) Your narrative dances all around that blatant reality somehow, without ever really calling any attention to that fact. I find that very, very intriguing. I didn’t really even notice the fence until after I was finished and started thinking about the story.
      Imagine that.

  • Ilana Leeds
    Oh this so badly needs ending. Cringe the last line with youth and also the “thens” in the first paragraph…
    I will critic more in the morning of others. Sorry for this impoverished rushed effort.
    • Maud Harris
      That was a good picture of a reclusive man, you made him real. I agree with you about the ending, but I know how hard it is when you’re right up against a deadline. That last twist about his child was a pleasant surprise.
    • Ilana Leeds
      The Fence
      Dogger Williams moved slowly. Lately his body had begun to fail him. Especially with tasks that required a lot of movement, he would feel the weight of time creeping through his limbs. Then, at the day’s end, he unsaddled his roan mare, brushed, watered and fed her and set her graze round the campsite. Once he had finished feeding the animals, he walked slowly into the hut to find the hidden place in the earth near the back corner where his “medicine” was. He scrabbled in the earth and pulled out the flagon of over proof rum stashed there.
      Hours of repairing and clipping the dog netting fence stretching far to the north and west for thousands of kilometers, had tightened his shoulders and bend his spine forward. Days and months riding the boundary fences that defined the borders between Eillara Downs and the neighbouring properties had bowed his legs permanently and weathered his face to wizened leather with two pale blue sapphires set deep under a beaten broad brimmed Akubra hat. When he was hired, the overseer had queried his name.
      “What’s your Christian name, mate?”
      “Dunno. Always been Dogger. Long as I ken member.”
      “Surely you remember being called something else. How’d you get such a name?”
      “Me mum said waz cuz on account o tha rabbits and dingos I waz trappin’. They’s called me Dogger. I waz little and me couzins started callin’ me dogger.”
      Dogger’s hearing was not too good. He’d received a kick in the head from his father who was prone to drunken rages when on a binge. Dogger had gone in to protect his mother and a sister. He was ten years old at the time. His father had back handed him knocking him to the floor. Then he stomped on the kid’s head with a heavy work boot. Both eardrums were busted. One ear healed and the other was never the same. Dogger was a quiet drinker and a solitary one. He preferred the company of his dogs Bastard and Bloody and the horse Tobruk. In his cups, he would talk out his life story to the animals who showed patient endurance listening to Dogger’s life tales of his early childhood and teenage years. The dogs acknowledged his stories with occasional tail thumps that raised shallow dust clouds. Dogger was one of fourteen children of whom only he and two sisters with three brothers survived to adulthood.
      Dogger was twenty-two years old when he took the position of boundary rider for the Eillara Downs Station, nearly sixty years ago. He had outlived all his sisters except one. The three remaining brothers now lay underground in a dust-strewn cemetery. It took eleven months to ride the boundary fence and that included a three-week holiday in Alice Springs once every cycle of repair was complete. He had completed the fence route sixty-five times. He had decided to complete it one more time before he gave it up. Sixty-six was a round number. He liked twice six as he had been born in 1866 on the sixth of June.
      “Isn’t it about time, you hang up the boots, Dogger. Take a quiet little cottage in town?” The new manager told Dogger ten years back just before the big war. Dogger smiled quietly and shook his head. The new manager did not think much of the old man. However, it had been stipulated in his employment contract that “Dogger Williams was to remain in the employ of Eillara Downs Station for as long as the man wished to ride the boundary and he was to be paid a monthly sum of £ 22 8 shillings 10 pence. Stores and provisions were to be deducted and the balance paid into his bank account in Alice Springs every eleven months.” Even with his three-week binge in town, Dogger only spent the equivalent of two and a half months wages a year and that was mainly over-proof rum, a bit of tea, flour and few tins of treacle. He understood from inquiries he had made about the old man that he rode the boundary fence, making repairs and trapped dingoes along the way, checking some of the water holes and stock. He also understood that the old man had accumulated a rather tidy sum of money over the years. It meant he could well afford a house in town and have income to spare for many years to come.
      “Frankly, once the old coot falls off his perch, we can do the boundary check in a tenth of the time with a car.” He scratched his chin. “and far more cheaply, besides.”
      A couple of the other riders and stockmen were shocked by his lack of empathy. It made them nervous as to when they might also be considered expendable, by the same manager. The last time Dogger had met with the manager to collect his stipend and to pass on his reports, the man was abrupt with him.
      “Haven’t you thought about giving this caper up? Be a lot safer and better for your health to live in town? Wouldn’t it?”
      The old man shrugged and took out his tobacco pouch and began to slowly roll a cigarette – fine and slim with rich dark tobacco that was given free from the station stores.
      “Not yet.” Was all he said through half closed eyes, sucking in the smoke, at peace.
      Intent on getting the rum out for his nightcap and with dusk darkening the skies and throwing shadows in the hut, he did not notice the snake curled up in the corner until it struck his boot. Surprised he put out his hand and then the snake reared and struck. Its fangs sank into his hand between the joint of the thumb and forefinger. An eastern brown and aggressive when its space was intruded on.
      Then it was gone.
      Shocked he stared at two puncture marks. Venom dripped from where the snake struck. As an afterthought he sat down and opened the flagon to drown the wounds in rum. In eighty-two years of life, he’d handled many snakes. Never been bitten. There is a first time for everything he thought to himself. Even dying.
      He knew he did not have much time to complete what he had to do. A half hour at the most before convulsions would make things difficult. He called both dogs to him. Tossed them the remains of the leg of the roo he’d shot yesterday. As they were preoccupied wolfing the meat, he then shot both animals before they realized what happened. He took careful aim at his mare and dropped her from fifty plus yards.
      Finally, he turned the gun on himself.
      Six months later, Dogger did not turn up at the homestead when due. They waited a week before going out to search. The manager was most bothered that he did not know the correct time of death to get Dogger’s wages exact. The money in his bank account went to his only daughter he had had earlier in his life with the young indigenous woman he would visit in the town on his breaks.
      • Ilana Leeds
        I edited it as I could not help myself with it. Sorry and then I had to post. Am voting but will try to comment on all the stories later. Some good ones. Hard decisions to make.
  • Christopher Smith
    Caged (1,188 words)
    Written by Christopher Smith
    © 2018

    Close to seven hundred of us occupied the camp at the time they raided it. They came in the night’s darkest hour, swooping in by the thousands, or so it seemed. We would learn later that only twenty-three of them were responsible for taking us—twenty-three to skirt our watch, swarm, and capture seven hundred. They were efficient and so incredibly quiet, and eventually I would hear that night referred to as “a clean capture” and “textbook.”

    Our seven hundred (or thereabouts; some were killed in the taking) joined another four hundred from a neighbouring camp. We all pooled in the “Y” where our road (from the north) met with theirs (from the west), all of us stunned and disoriented. While our captors smoked and muttered clipped conversations we did nothing; only in retrospect would it have been quite possible to overpower them. But of course at the time we didn’t know how many of them there were, and there were whisperings that many were waiting in the surrounding bush.

    Then orders were barked, some people were jabbed with stunning canes, and we were once again on the move. The march was long with very little rest, and as we broke free of both the treeline and darkness into the morning’s first light we saw a large spread of land. We crested a small hill, all of us staggering, and toward something that looked like a barn the colour of worn, dry paper. Attached to its rear was a highly fenced yard, the top of which was lined with razor wire, and we were all steered toward the towering double gate at its middle.

    A young man broke from the group, bolting back toward the trees. A crack disrupted the morning’s silence, and as he went tumbling forward blood leapt from the hole in his head, briefly dancing in the breeze before spattering the grass. He collapsed in a heap and they left him there.

    The stunning canes weren’t the only weapons they had.

    No one else has attempted an escape, for everyone remembers the man in the field, shot without thought and left to rot. Also, we are weak, and the guards’ eyes never seem to leave us. But a quick death is beginning to feel like a valid option, a mercy.

    * * *

    Time is funny here. Our capture could have happened weeks ago, or months. Exhaustion has blurred the lines of both reality and common sense, although even fatigue’s dimmest depths could not dull the memory of when they claimed my brother, Gareth. Six days he’s been gone now.

    Guards circle the fence’s exterior in groups of two or three. A small handful of men in long jackets walk among them, speaking quietly and occasionally pointing at the captured, debating, then moving on. On the day Gareth left us, a tall guard with a long moustache spied my brother and then marked him. He called over a slim man with a chiseled face and whispered in his ear. The slim man nodded. Gareth had been chosen.

    There appears to be no rational order to how people are chosen. Or maybe there is an order, a system only they know and we simply can’t recognize. Not that it matters, of course, because in the end it all comes to the same. Only one freedom awaits us on the other side of the barn’s large wooden door: death.

    When the men with the coats were finished, the men with the stunning canes entered the enclosure. They moved with the speed and efficiency of machines, in a manner that was militaristic—exactly how, I suspected, they had done on the night they had taken our camp. They surrounded a pocket of people, claimed the one who the long jackets had selected, and then moved on to the next pocket. Again and again they shifted strategically through the pen, claiming the chosen. Those picked—men, women, and children—left single file through the tall gate and entered a long run of fence toward the east side of the building. This run sat at such an angle that our eyes could follow them to the barn’s wooden door, above which someone had crudely etched “Exit.” Gareth glanced back at us, his eyes red and wet, and was then pushed through the door.

    And that is when I lost him.

    * * *

    A tragic nightmare, all of it, but when Gareth was taken a hopeless reality fell upon our family like stacks of bricks dropped from an incredible height. A wicked haze has enveloped our family, just as it has the majority of people here.

    People rarely speak, for what could be said? Nothing that would make much difference. They feed us like animals, sloshing water into troughs and dolloping an oatmeal mixture into buckets. Any and all true human desires have been killed. The ground is damp and especially cold during the night; we have lost a few to exposure. The morning routine involves clearing out the dead, stacking them on carts and rolling them into the same building where the chosen are religiously escorted.

    And now the men with the long coats are back, and as their eyes and fingers dance over the quickly diminishing crowd, as they talk in code, I feel…ready. They chose me, of course, and I step toward the gate; they will not need to fight to collect me. My mother waves at me, her eyes absent of any sign of who she used to be. My father weeps—it is the first time I have seen him do it. A tired, relieved grin touches my lips.

    Ten of us were selected today, and together we march through the wooden door.

    It eases closed behind us, and we are instructed to take our clothes off. We do, and then we step into shower stalls. As I wash I notice how one guard gathers our discarded clothes into a large bag, then tosses it into a corner.

    We are ushered down a stretch of hallway, and at the other end step onto a declining conveyor belt. At the end of it stand two guards: one with a stunning cane, the other a bat.

    I am fourth in line.

    An elderly man is first. There is a flash to the left of him—of us—and he glances in its direction. On his right is the man with the stunning cane, and he uses it. The elderly man drops to the ground before them, and I see the second guard lift and then drop the bat, and then again. Soon both guards are standing again, waiting for the second in line: a young boy.

    At the far end of the large room sits what looks to be a wood chipper, the floor surrounding it stained with shredded memories.

    Gareth appears from behind it, and he is smiling. He manages a wave, and I return it with a smile. I begin to cry, because after losing so much, losing him, we have found one another.

    To my left is a flash, and then, blessedly, the darkness.

    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Oh Christopher, this story is so sad and bleak, but well told. Even in this short of a story you can feel the despair creeping in and the relief at death. Good job!
      • Christopher Smith
        Thank you, Wendy. I found it really tough to keep within the word count. I had to keep cutting and cutting. Seems to me there is much more story here.
        Thanks again!
    • Maud Harris
      Phew, Christopher ! You must have been in a dark mood when you wrote this. descriptive but chilling.
      • Christopher Smith
        Thank you, Maud!
        I always find in interesting to see how dark I can dive into a story. So far I haven’t touched the bottom of the deep end, but I feel like this story was close.
    • Chuck Lilburn
      Hmm…a reconstruction of the Holocaust? A story of a future Holocaust? Baffled, but truly enjoyed the story. Nice ending. I like the writing of these lines: ‘as he went tumbling forward blood leapt from the hole in his head, briefly dancing in the breeze before spattering the grass. He collapsed in a heap and they left him there.’ Nicely done. You need to read what an abattoir is, and if you replace your characters with cows, there you have it. Or perhaps, you know exactly what an abattoir is and chose to reconstruct one with people. Anyway, it’s horrific enough thinking about man’s inhumanity to man.
      • Christopher Smith
        Thank you, Chuck.
        And my intention was to re-created an abattoir setting. My ultimate goal was to actually have the cows (or another animal) caging and then killing the humans, but I couldn’t find a way to do that without it seeming jokey, so I didn’t bother.
        The line you pointed out was my favourite of the story, by the way – ballet meets heavy metal.
        • Chuck Lilburn
          Well then, spot on, mate, well put – ballet and heavy metal.
          • Christopher Smith
            Thank you, my good sir!
    • Very effective writing, Christopher. Could be written for Holocaust memorial day, or as you and Chuck say, about an abattoir, or maybe it’s a mood piece with a modern moral about what happens when a small but well-organised minority capture a more peaceable – and passive – majority. Anything like that happening in the world today? A treatise on them-and-us-ness and arbitrary power.
    • Alice Nelson

      Wow Christopher a powerful and sad tale, told beautifully. The beginning when they’re first caught, reminded me of the Batan Death March. This is a grim tale but so well written, I don’t mind a dark story especially when it’s written as well as this is.

      This story moves along at a really good pace, and you drew us into the terrible lives of these people. Drops us in the middle of their lives, but you still manage to make us care about them.

      So, is Gareth really there at the end, or is it the narrator thinking he sees Gareth before he dies? Just curious, great story, Christopher.

      • Christopher Smith
        Thank you, Alice.
        And I thought of the Death March while writing it. All in all a terribly hopeless tale.
        And to satisfy your curiosity, the narrator only thinks that she sees him, her mind playing tricks in her delirium. I’ll need to reword that in order to make it clearer.
        Thanks again!
    • Phil Town
      Very grim and brilliantly told, Christopher. The opening sentence is great: “Close to seven hundred of us occupied the camp at the time they raided it.” The absence of specific identification of who ‘us’ and ‘they’ are works to give the story mystery and universality. (Although I wasn’t sure what ‘the camp’ was …) The story is doom-laden throughout – the resignation of the people is sad and depressing and all-too familiar. The first-person perspective works perfectly (but I was shocked to see you tell Alice that the narrator is a woman – I had a man in my mind. It makes it all the more harsh somehow). I wonder what the point of the ‘centre’/’plant’ is (if they’re humans and not cows). It can’t be genocide, can it? (because the people are despatched in too piecemeal a fashion). Horribly well told story. (And I’m glad I’m vegetarian.)
    • Christopher,

      Dark, dark, dark. My initial impression was a civil war scene. The brutality of that war is vastly under appreciated. Of course, toward the end of the story, it’s clear that the story represents some kind of fictional alternate reality. But when you consider the pervasive brutality of our own world, one ends up wondering if this is necessarily an alternate reality so much as some future conflict, or actual events we’ve simply never heard of. Very creepy. The understated depiction of hopelessness, of death being welcomed is horribly effective.
      Once again, your writing and composition demonstrate tremendous skill.

  • A Good Friend by Carrie Zylka
    (read via text message)

    Good morning sunshine!


    “How’s it going? Heard anything about that new job?

    Nope, nada. Fingers crossed though.

    Mine too, I hope you get it. You keep complaining about your job and it would be cool to see you get a better on.

    I know right?? This one has a bonus structure so that’s cool.

    Will you be doing the same thing?



    IDK though, I’m still a little on the fence about it.

    Why? I thought you were all gung ho?

    It would require me relocating.

    WHAT?????? WHERE TO?????

    California 🙁

    wtf how did you not mention this to me??

    I know, I know……

    No more Margarita Mondays?? No more taco Tuesdays?? Where else will I find a bestie that wants to eat and drink as much as I do??

    I know, stop!! You’re going to make me cry!

    Selfishly I don’t want you to get the job. But I’m trying to be a good friend and hope that you do because I know it will be a good move for you. But this still sucks.

    I know. That’s why I’m so on the fence. I really need the money but I don’t want to lose all my friends here.

    Girl, you’ll make new friends. And it’s not like we’ll lose touch. I can keep up with you on fb.

    I know, it’s just scary.

    You got this girl! You got this!!

    Thanks…you really are the best friend a girl could ask for…. I just got an email from the company.

    WELL WHAT DOES IT SAY??? Don’t hold me in suspense!!

    I got the job!! Holy cow I got the job!!!!!

    Well congrats girl! You know what that means right???

    Thirsty Thursday at Mo’s????

    Hell yeah! We’re celebrating! We’re going to walk through that door and whoop it up! Happy Hour here we come!

    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I like the texting format of this. The Thirsty Thursdays comment was was hilarious and brought the end up a bit even though she’ll be leaving her friend.
    • Chuck Lilburn
      Nice concept, built along the lines of stories I used to read in pulp magazines that were letters from one person to another or a corporation, but very up to date. Light-hearted, and frothy. How do you write in blue text?
    • Good to experiment the format of the story.
      Is there a way to get emojis and stickers in as well? Quite a few novels are doing that these days.
    • Alice Nelson

      I love the texting concept. Is this based on a real life experience? In this day and age, everyone can relate to a conversation totally done in a text format. Sort of bitter sweet, having to leave friends, but still manages to have a happyish ending.

    • Phil Town
      A refreshing and easy read, Carrie. We’re being a bit voyeuristic, which is quite neat (lucky – or a shame, depending … – that neither of them went the racy way …), and it’s good to see a natural, warm friendship on the page/screen. I think there maybe needs to be a pause just before this (“…. I just got an email from the company.”) – something like “Hang on! Hang on!” – a more distinct (and dramatic) break in the conversation while the character reads the e-mail. A novel story, though.
  • Alice Nelson

    I’ ll put the voting link up soon. We had a lot of stories come in just under the wire, so take a gander at them and I’ll have the link up un momento.

  • David Provost
    A (Mostly) Complete Guide to Becoming a Legendary Hero by David Provost (WC: 833)

    If you are reading this letter, that means you’ve decided to become a legendary hero. Congratulations! You may call me, Aaron, the Squire. I successfully became a legendary hero sixteen years ago to the day. Not much has changed since then, except that I rarely receive compliments on my hair anymore and I haven’t wrestled a goblin in well over a decade.

    I know you’re going through a lot right now, because I’ve been there. It’s scary (you’re allowed to say that, it won’t lessen your chances of becoming a legendary hero, because no matter what you are now– I am here to help you). Embrace any anxiety you may be feeling. It’s time to immortalize your name.

    There are certain things one gas the option of doing on the trail of becoming a legendary hero. You could purchase some light armor and put it on (I advise you do this). You could purchase some heavy armor and put it on (I advise you maybe do this. I mention heavy armor because it looks more heroic and intimidating than light armor, and I know for a fact that the lovely princess I rescued was unimpressed with my affordable, light armor and never returned my letters. I have been made aware that Sir Bolden the Brash sported heavy and pricey armor when he re-rescued her and now the two of them are madly in love and co-own a castle and have two beautiful twin daughters together).

    You could sharpen your sword and shine your shoes vigorously and get used to the smell of Orc blood (this will take some time, especially if Orc blood makes you nauseous and your sword is, much like your light armor, affordable but not mesmerizing).

    You could pre-write a speech for the princess that awaits your arrival, even though it probably won’t sound quite as awe-inspiring as it did in your head.

    You could learn how to properly orient with a compass and map, because going “with your gut” might get you killed before you successfully become a legendary hero.

    You could save up enough bronze coins to legally acquire a pre-owned sprite. You could call it something cute like “Bubbly”. You could keep “Bubbly” in your breast pocket for good fortune and even after you’ve become a legendary hero it will keep you company at night when you’re alone. You will always be a legend in the eyes of “Bubbly”.

    There are things you should never do if you desire to become a legendary hero. DO NOT climb, slice through, or jump over any fences on your quest to rescue the princess. Those fences were put in place by legendary heroes of yesterday (myself included) that know the most lethal paths on heroic quests and strive for your survival.

    DO NOT tell your family and friends you’ll “be back soon” from your quest. DO NOT tell them you “don’t know when you’ll be back” (this will instill unnecessary fear in both you and your family/friends). DO NOT get misty-eyed on your way out the door and tell them you “don’t know if you’ll come back at all”. This will surely harm your chances of becoming a legendary hero.

    DO NOT pick fights with any other aspiring legendary heroes you may run into. This will almost always get you impaled and you will not be remembered for anything except, “that fraudulent legendary hero who got impaled and died”. An aspiring legendary hero picked a fight with me on my quest sixteen years ago, and they are no longer here to read this letter. Work together with your fellow aspirer and let the princess decide which one of you will be legendary. The princess has all the power.

    There are some experiences that you will inevitably face on your path to becoming a legendary hero. If you gruesomely decapitate a Dark Magic Weasel Wizard, you will receive a rush of adrenaline, the likes of which you have never encountered.

    You will be lauded and worshipped by your village upon your official return as a mint legendary hero (until the villagers become worn by you and move on to celebrate the next legendary hero to return from his quest). You will endure the miserable sensation known as “knight chaffing”. You will wish you never had a groin to begin with and momentarily regret that heavy armor you’ve probably invested in.

    You will give your horse a name. You will witness your horse getting eaten by a fire-breathing dragon. You will shout out the name of your horse in anguish, as it perishes (it was either the life of your horse or the life you own, and dragons prefer horse-meat over human flesh, anyway). You will stay up all night in the subsequent hours because “Bubbly” will probably be balling to compensate for your incapability to process grief in a mature way.

    You will fall in love with the princess before you even lay eyes on her.

    Once you successfully become a legendary hero, you will have a yearning to offer advice to aspiring legendary heroes. You will eventually run out of advice to give completely. Despite all this, you will at the very least, be legendary.

    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      This is hilarious David! I play video games and this perfectly encapsulates the rpg lifestyle.
      • David Provost
        Thank you, Wendy! I wanted to take advantage of second-person voice while taking a stab at “choose your own adventure” board/video game tropes.
        • Chuck Lilburn
          David, I’m not an expert, but I’m not sure this qualifies as second-person. Second-person the way I understand it, is readers see the story through their own eyes, and that’s not quite what this does. Second-person would be ‘You read the letter written to you from Aaron the Squire. You smirk as you read the lines, ‘I successfully became a legendary hero sixteen years ago, wondering if you should take this step.’ (Or whatever)

          By telling us this from Aaron’s POV, it is not second-person. Don’t mean to be a Grinch, but that’s how I understand it.

          Otherwise, I liked the lightness and the grandeur of the whole piece. Now I wish I played video games, but I’m still back with Asteroids and games of yesteryear. When I get on a real video game like WarCraft I don’t make it long enough to pull my sword before some avenger swoops in for the kill on the new guy and I get too frustrated.

          • Yes, the story is more instructions and suggestions from the 1st person viewpoint than 2nd person view. But I guess the essence of a Choose Your Own Adventure is crossing the boundary between the text and the reader.

            It’s an enjoyable parody, David, with nice touches like ‘knight chaffing’ – though should that have only one ‘f’?

            One of the best novels I’ve read recently is Nathan Hill’s “The Nix”. Quite brilliant. That also has some video game addicts (addicted to questing) in it, and part of the book is written as a Choose Your Own Adventure – only it’s about the central character’s relationship rather than the games.

    • Christopher Smith
      Very much enjoyed this, David. A light-hearted and amusing read, funny and entertaining.
      Good job!
    • Alice Nelson

      David this was a fun read, and I don’t play video games at all. I enjoyed the instructions about the quest, and laughed a lot. Great job, maybe you should develop your own video game.

    • Phil Town
      This is great fun, David, and invaluable advice for anyone wishing to become a legendary hero. I for one am going to print this off and stick it on the corkboard behind my computer – for when I decide to take the plunge and join up. Very witty ‘story’.
    • Hi David,

      I lighthearted primer on the world of multi-player gaming. Not an online gamer myself, this story never-the-less gives me a whole host of ideas.

  • Ilana Leeds
    What is the next prompt please? Will critic more stories as I have time. Must do my next story tomorrow as I am working all next week.
  • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    This week was a tough vote, so many great stories!
  • Alice Nelson
    Hey I’m at an appointment, will post the tally when I get home. This gives those that haven’t voted time to get their votes in.
    • David Provost
      I will vote as soon as I get out of class today!
  • Well, Fellowish Writers. Don’t get excited, these are not the winners. These are your new, and distinctly improved story names. You are all very welcome.
    You’ll thank me in the morning. Twenty years from now.
    I guess I’ll wait.

    Alice – The Man In The Picture In The Attic In The Black Coat. (With A Hat.)
    Phil – Do Your Deagh Fhreansa.
    Ilana – Dogged.
    Wendy – Napolean Milkshake.
    Christopher – Dearth Camp Earth.
    Chuck – Snake Bittle.
    Maud – The Prince and Abercrombie.
    David – Gamefoolery.
    Carrie – Go Text Yourself.
    Ken – L.A.iens.

  • Ilana Leeds
    You’re slipping. Not happy with my “new” title. You can do better.
    • Carrie Zylka


  • Alice Nelson

    Just waiting on David who will vote when he gets out of class 🙂

  • Alice Nelson

    Ilana, and everyone else. If you’d like to get a head start on the next prompt its:

    “What’s in the Attic?”

    Story Requirements: An elderly man or woman needs help cleaning out their house, as they prepare to move. A neighbor offers to help, and touched by the much needed assistance, the elderly person says the neighbor is welcomed to anything they find in the attic. What do they find?

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