Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “It’s all in the genes”

Theme: It’s all in the genes (in any sense or context – not a required phrase).

Story Requirements:


Word Count: 1,200

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201 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “It’s all in the genes”

  • Carrie Zylka

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment, feel free to copy and paste the title and permalink in the comments below so it does not get missed, or use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.
    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    • Family Business

      by Ken Frape.

      August 2019

      Hi Dan, thanks for dropping everything like that. Yes, that’s right, of course I wouldn’t have asked you if it wasn’t important.

      Now, how long is it since you joined the firm? 12 years isn’t it? OK thirteen then. And you’re so much more than a colleague, of course. Hell, Jane and Eileen even go to dance class together and our kids go to the same school. I lost count of the number of Sunday mornings standing on the touchline watching our boys play football. That was until your Teddy missed that penalty in the Cup Final and then dropped out of the team. That’s OK, don’t mention it. I’m sure Teddy is sorry too. As manager, I would have dropped him anyway.

      The thing is, Dan, even in a family business like this, we can’t afford to carry anyone who isn’t pulling his weight.
      So, I need to tell you that we’ve noticed a marked downturn in your performance and, quite frankly, I’m deeply disappointed in you, after all I have done to support you. Your departmental productivity rate has slowed by over 4% over the last quarter. Yes, I know it’s a team effort but remember our company motto, “We are only as good as our leaders”. Well, Dan this is me doing my job. Leading from the front as ever!

      Yes, I know that you have explained to me about things happening at home but I can’t allow family considerations to colour my decision. I’m sure you understand that, don’t you, Dan? Yeah, sure you do. It’s just business.

      Well, I’ll tell you what this means for you. The Board members have voted unanimously to terminate your employment with immediate effect. You will receive the usual generous package of benefits and, of course, my personal reference will reflect the great service you have given to our company over the past 12, sorry 13, years. What’s that? Oh, no need to thank me Dan. It’s no less than you deserve.

      How will we manage without you? Well, just hang on a moment and I can show you. Miss Thomas, will you ask Bob Anderson to come into my office?

      Ah, Bob, good to see you. How’s your wife? Yeah, really? That’s great. What a girl, eh? And the kids? Excellent. Your Robbie’s going great guns in the football team. Took over from Dan’s boy, Teddy if I remember right, after that penalty miss lost us the final last season? Yeah, thought so. Great, we’ll need him in the company team this season. Great stuff, Bob.

      Now Bob, I’d like you to meet Dan. You’ll be taking over from him tomorrow. Dan this is Bob Anderson. Bob, this is Dan Stephens. I’m surprised you two haven’t met before. You have? Well that’s good then.

      So, Dan, this is the thing. As well as your declining performance here as Northern Group Team Leader and the figures speak for themselves, we were concerned about your ongoing recreational drug usage. We all need recreation but you have to keep things under control. And that picture of your Jane on social media, drunk and bursting out of that swimsuit has sent a few guys pulses racing, I can tell you. She’s obviously been working out really hard to get herself into that kind of shape but it’s really not the kind of family image the board wants to encourage.

      But the bottom line is the trade figures. Bob here has been a part of a very special fast track, hothouse training programme and, being completely frank with you, Dan, there’s just no way you can compete.

      No, I haven’t forgotten the good years and the Sales Team Leader of The Year Trophy on your desk but we can’t dwell on past glories now, can we? Where would we be if we did that?

      So why Bob, you ask? A fair question. Well, you see, Bob is a machine as far as business is concerned. He has the perfect family, takes no holidays with them, never takes time off and he works 12 – 16 hours a day, minimum. He has no hobbies apart from his son’s football and his work rate is phenomenal. He overtook your latest sales figures by 10th of the month. By the end of the month he had exceeded your sales by 72%. Yeah, that’s right. 72%. Impressive, eh?

      What more can I say? Just between you and me, Dan, if Bob was to replace you at home and taking into account his age, weight and general health he would be able to make love to Jane in a third of the time, with three times the energy and give 15 times more satisfaction, without breaking into a sweat. Luckily, for you, he also has no interest in sex, or in your wife, as lovely as she is, or so he tells me, ha ha!

      I know the truth can be brutal, Dan but there it is. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at these five year projections. See the graph here, where it suddenly starts to shoot upwards almost vertically? Well, that’s tomorrow, the first day after you’ve gone. By the time Bob gets to your age he knows we will have lined up his replacement, but by then we predict that he will have made this company twenty seven million more than you and have a whopping pension pot.

      Look, Dan, cut out the tears, will you, I’ve seen it all before from you. This is business. Why don’t you get home to your lovely wife. She’ll be waiting with that beautifully toned body of hers. You’ll have a bit more time on your hands now and you can also teach Teddy how to take a proper penalty too!

      You’re a lucky man, Dan. Think of this as an opportunity.

      It’s been great working with you, Dan but all good things come to an end. I’ll give you ten minutes to clear your desk. OK? Then security will see you out. Oh, and don’t forget to leave your company cars keys, phone and credit card. Your reference will be in the post tomorrow. There will be a taxi waiting out front in ten minutes. On the company of course!

      Dan, don’t do that! Dan, let go of Bob. Oh, well done Bob. Where did you learn a move like that? Is Dan alright? That was quite a thump you gave him, Bob and so unexpected too. So fast! I thought you were all business, but I can see you’re more than that.

      Right, thanks Bob, I’ll talk to you later. Bye now.

      Dan, here’s a tissue. That should stop the bleeding. Just don’t get any blood on my carpet. I think it’s time you left, before you do anything else to embarrass yourself or the firm. Now!

      And you never did know how to fight, did you?

      Think yourself lucky that you’re my little brother or my reference wouldn’t be so favourable. Well you go right ahead and tell Mum. You can have a good cry on her shoulder ….just like you always do!
      Ken Frape August 2019 1196 words.
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      • That’s a stone cold story Ken. A bit disappointing (the story, not the writing), as I expected some kind of twist, or complexity. Like maybe he was being replaced by an automaton, or a younger clone, or one of Andy’s talking cats. But no, it was just his rotten brother.

        I think the odd thing about this story, the ‘jank’ is that it’s all one-sided. That’s the trick of it. That’s what makes you wonder. Or rather, I wonder if this story, if told with dialogue could have the same punch, or crunch at the end. It’s quite good, all in all, just depressing. Not fun, like Phil’s entertaining serial killer. (What a crazy group of writers.)

      • Phil Town
        Good story, Ken, with a nice little twist (although with all the stories, knowing what the theme is kind of signals twists and turns a bit, but that’s unavoidable, I suppose). The silent interlocutor is a refreshing perspective. I’ve tried it before myself, and it’s not easy, but you pull it off well … except maybe when the exposition is a little unnatural (e.g. “Took over from Dan’s boy, Teddy if I remember right, after that penalty miss lost us the final last season?”). A good read.
    • Ken Frape
      I am away so please exclude me and my story from the voting this time round .
      Ken Frape
  • So who’s going to be first? Looks like me …

    I was thinking about this prompt, and how it could be something about who we are in relation to who we’re descended from, and the opportunities for character development in that context.
    Of course the prompt needn’t be historic at all, but could go in all kinds of directions

    • Hi Andy and Ken C,

      This is like an adversarial sport with words used as the battle tools. Your comments make for such fun reading that I am beginning to wonder if I might just sit back and watch you two verbal gladiators going at it. The entertainment value is enormous and, unlike most big events, ringside seats are free ( thanks Carrie and Alice!).

      i have already prompted Ken C to write a little Red Book of Cartisano Musings, or some other catchy title, as long as I get the credit for suggesting it. About 10% seems fair. Andy has already got there so he doesn’t need any help from me.

      Additionally, once the “battle” is over, I may just scour the auditorium for a few literary scraps that I might be able to weave into something half decent, although based upon the quality of the offerings already in place, I am beginning to despair. And it’s raining throughout Gloucestershire in the middle of Summer.

      Shame about the Cyclops. Was thinking of using this one.

      Anyway I had an idea about diamond smuggling from Africa. A father and son duo used to regularly travel between Jo’burg and Amsterdam until they were eventually pulled over by the customs officers who thought they looked a bit suspicious. Even after a baggage and strip search no diamonds were found until a new, young and keen customs officer searched the men’s clothing again. There, in the seams of their denims, they had sewn hundreds of suitably-sized gems. The newspaper headline said about this father and son team,

      “It’s all in the jeans.”

      Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

      Ken Frape

  • Like Mother, Like Daughter

    “I want to ask you about one of the elephants in the room, Mother – ”

    “Elephant? Here?” Rosa looked theatrically around her room in the nursing home.

    “Haha. It’s just a way of saying there’s something obviously important that everyone’s avoiding talking about.”

    “You don’t say. OK. Go ahead.”

    “Well, when the time comes, what kind of funeral arrangements …?”

    “That’s what you’re fretting about? It’s all in my will. Embalm me, coat me in bronze and mount me on the prow of a ship. It’s my dream, and you have to make sure it happens. OK? After I’m gone, you can just tell people my ship has sailed.”

    “OK, OK.” Martha smiled.

    “Or a woodland burial, if the bronzing is a step too far for you. Plant a rose over me, to feed on my body as I decompose. Then you can remember me as the beautiful rose I was, with the sharpest of thorns.”

    “You don’t have to tell me about those thorns, Mum. I have the scars!”

    Rosa chuckled. “Why ask that damn-fool question, anyway?”

    “Well, you’ve been saying we should be straight about this illness, not beat around the bush.”


    “But we haven’t talked about … how to see you off. Seems it’s not in good taste. And besides, you’ve had those ashes of Dad in the corner unit for years. So I thought maybe you wanted the same, and have your ashes – ”

    “ – kept in a trophy cabinet? Or scattered along with his? Don’t be ridiculous. Anyway, those aren’t your father’s ashes.”


    “I’ve no idea what happened to them. No, those are Teddy’s ashes.”

    “Teddy? … Labrador Teddy?”

    “Uhuh. He was special.”

    “But Dad ….”

    “Don’t get all maudlin’ about him. He wasn’t your father anyway.”


    “I’d rather forget the miserable so-and-so. And everything he did.”

    “But YOU left HIM, Mum. Until he took you back.”

    “Took me back? I came back to care for him after his diagnosis. So, you don’t think I had good reason to leave him?”

    “Of course you did. A tall, handsome, stinking rich and unreliable reason, called William.”

    Rosa chuckled quietly. Several changes of expression betrayed her mix of emotions as she remembered the episode in question. “True, William was all those things. But he wasn’t the reason I left your father.”

    “Who’s apparently not my father …”

    “Well, whoever the hell he was to you – Frank was a weak-minded jackass who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.”

    “So you were both at it!”

    Rosa gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Enough now, Martha. With your history of infidelities and addictions, judging me and your ‘father’ is unbecoming.”

    Martha opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. Her mother had a point, perhaps. Then Martha’s indignation surfaced again. “Well, I always suspected being unable to form stable relationships is genetic. So, who’s my real father then?”

    “No idea.”

    “God, were you that promiscuous?”

    “OK. You want the truth?”

    “Why not? It might be the first time!”

    “You sure?”

    “God, Mum, just spit it out and see if I believe it.”

    “The reason … the reason I don’t know who your father is – it’s because I’m not your mother.”


    Rosa gave a lop-sided smile, raised an eyebrow. “You asked.”

    “You’re just messing with my head. Again.”

    “I never knew whether to tell you or not. I mean, what’s the point? It was Frank and I who brought you up, dusted you down each time you messed up your life. Who else can claim the dubious honour of being your parents? Jesus, you’re not going to cry are you? I’d rather you yelled at me …”

    “So – is this your legacy, huh? To give me crippling doubts about who I am and where I came from?”

    “I should have kept my mouth shut after all, if you’re going to fall to pieces over minor details.”

    “Minor details?!”

    “You’re, what, sixty-three? By now, you are who you are. Or bloody well should be. One little piece of information, a technicality, doesn’t change who you are.”

    “You think my parentage is a technicality?”

    “When you think about it, it is. Unless you want to make some big goddam after-the-fact drama about it.”

    Martha covered her face with her hands and grimaced. “OK. I’ll play along. So, who IS my mother?”

    Rosa sighed. “I suppose I can’t leave you hanging, after letting the cat out of the … can of worms. Your mother was Jessica, my younger sister.”

    Martha looked sceptical. But Rosa seemed serious. “No! Really?”

    “Really. She was only sixteen, a bit wayward. Young and foolish. An awful lot like you in your twenties, in fact.”

    “Aunt Jessica! I remember her, a little. And then she … “

    “Yes. Went off on one of her globe-trotting trips. Then disappeared. We never knew where she went, or what happened, if she’s alive or dead.”

    “But why did you never tell me any of this?”

    “Oh, the 1950s were very different times. I was twenty-five, and just married. We lived with my parents at first. Can you imagine me being young? When Jessica told them she was expecting, they were completely mortified. Sent her back to Ireland to have the baby. Frank and I went over, and came back with you.”

    “Your names are on my birth certificate.”

    “Yes, people will believe anything if you’ve got the piece of paper. We sorted it all out over there.”

    “But you still could have told me at some point in the last sixty-three years!”

    “I could have.” Rosa sighed. “When Jessica disappeared from contact, I was so angry at first – until the missing person investigation started. We shielded you from that. At the time, I couldn’t bear the idea of you having a picture up on your wall of some sainted ‘real’ mother. Jessica could be sweet enough when she wanted to. But mostly she was an irritating, self-centred good-for-nothing. Don’t look so shocked. A dying woman can tell it like it is! And I certainly didn’t want you looking for your ‘real’ father, who was probably one of the deadbeats she hung around when she wanted drugs. Or who paid her when – ”

    “OK, spare me that, please.”

    “Think about it. How could I tell you that, possibly, your mother had just upped and left, abandoned you? How would that help anyone, especially you?”

    They were both silent for some time. Eventually Martha said, “So should I tell Jenny and Adam than you’re not their real grandma? Nor great-grandmother to their kids?”

    “Tell them what you like. If you think it helps.”

    Martha furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure I will.”

    Rosa nodded slowly.

    “Though I’m glad you told me, Mum. Because I think we’ve found another elephant in the room.”

    “Jesus, they’re everywhere!”

    “This one is telling me how much, despite your best efforts to hide it, you’ve always loved me. Better than any other mother could.” She leaned forward to give her mother a big hug.

    “Get off me, you lummox,” said Rosa, fending her off. “Now get out of here, and for God’s sake take all those bloody elephants with you!”

    [1198 words]

    • Andy,
      I found your story unique and entertaining (no spoilers), what I loved the best is the way you exercised your wonderful knack for keeping the reader focused and pulling them along by their own emotions.
      The more I read your writing the more I enjoy how quickly I can identify with and understand how your characters feel in the moment. Describing characters and getting a feel for them is not easy when working within a word limit (I have really come to understand this, lol) but you pull it off smoothly every time. Wonderful story! 🙂
      • Thanks so much for your kind comments, Amy – much appreciated. But too generous, I’m sure.

        The word limit is indeed always a problem. Very hard to create a storyline, with credible characters/character development, include dialogue and description, have thought-provoking or evocative impact, etc. Something has to give …

    • At his wedding, while sitting quietly at a table, and reflecting on his recent nuptials with his new bride, my late brother-in-law accidentally heard two of his “aunts” discussing how his mother was not, in fact, his mother and wondering if she ever told him. When confronted, his “mother” denied what he had heard and his “father” backed her up. Both went to their graves with the truth being buried with them. Unfortunately, my bother-in-law went to his grave without knowing anything other than he had been ‘mysteriously’ adopted and there was no paperwork of any kind. Even his birth certificate (like in your story) had been conveniently altered by the court to prevent the adoption agency from being revealed. Genetic testing by his offspring confirmed the fact he was related to someone other than his mother and father.

      Truth is stranger than fiction. So, thanks to you, I cannot write this story. Yours, however, is excellent. Good job. Some of the dialogue could be made a tad more believable, IMHO, but otherwise, you kept me interested right to the end. Always the mark of a good story.

      • I think these things are more common than often supposed in the previous generation, and I sympathise with your brother-in-law’s discovery.

        We (my siblings and I) recently found out that my father had been married before and so have had an unknown half-brother throughout our lives. He’d be some 20 years older than me.
        And a relative has also uncovered a mystery about my father’s parentage, including a mystery about a ‘cousin’ of his who was probably his half-sister. He died when I was young, and we never had any contact with relatives on that side (at all) – presumably both my parents wanted to keep things secret. Probably there are dozens of relatives we could have known. It puzzles me quite a lot, as otherwise it seems out of character with the positive and broad-minded parenting I had.

        One of my mother’s cousins was illegitimate, and once he retired set to finding out who his father really was. All he knew was that he was a policeman and had gone overseas. That depiction of his father turned out to be kind of economical with the truth, and he wrote a book about what he found out. A sad story in many ways. And it made me think, I wonder how much it really helps to know ‘who we really are’?

        Reflections on this kind of thing helped to conjure up the story, though not addressing any of the particulars directly.

        • My mother told me that when she was a child, her father disappeared just before the Great Depression, leaving her mother in such destitution, that she was forced to give her kids away to relatives who accepted the kids, but not the mother. My mom and one sister went to one family, the other one went to a different family. It was all supposed to be temporary. They lost contact with each other, and my mom never saw that sister again.
          • Correction: My mother found her sister after about 60 years. (I still have doubts, but whatever, she passed away. Her sister.) They were both so young that neither of them was certain of the date they were separated. (Or hardly any other details of the event.) When you consider how traumatic that should have been, between that, the Great Depression, WWII, its amazing how normal my mother, and the rest of her generation turned out.

            I never met any of my grandparents. They all passed away before I met them. I think one disappeared, two died young, and my father lost contact with his father for 39 years. He didn’t live much past their re-union. (grandfather.) I spoke to him on the phone once. I had a couple of jewish step-grandparents for awhile, which is completely irrelevant to my genetic make-up. It’s a long story. (With no Pandas.)

          • Ken – seems there are many such stories, and hidden tragedies – as also per Roy and Jurgen’s comments.
            But then people get on with their lives, and who can gauge the impacts overall?

            I guess also a generation or two from now, we’ll see how openness fares compares to secrecy.
            Though I won’t be here to see it, I guess.

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Andy,
      Such a great story and, from conversations with my mum, 96 not out, the dialogue is spot on so I am not entirely in agreement with Roy about that. Some old(er) people are more than happy to talk about their demise and often they lose their social inhibitions. My dad certainly did. For some, of course, a secret is a secret, to be taken to the grave.
      I also have done some family ancestry research and there are quite a few hidden truths in there.
      I predict that this story of yours will be hard to beat but time will tell.
      Ken Frape
      • Many thanks, Ken
        96 not out – a great innings so far 🙂
        Yes, ancestry research throws out some curved balls. My sister’s sister-in-law has been doing this for our family as well as hers. And sending away for my father’s military record also – amid indecipherable acronyms – brought some new light.
    • Hi Andy, I know what you’re doing here. You’re trying to make me be serious for a minute. I think it’s working.

      I think the dialogue, as good as it is, (it’s very smooth) sounds a little too glib, especially considering that one of them is on their deathbed. A couple of phrases are to blame, I think: ‘crippling doubts’, and ‘dubious honor’. These two phrases sound a little too expository. (To me.) Other than that, it’s all good.

      The story has a great reveal which you seem to downplay. Not sure if that’s the right way to go with it, as I had to stop and give this story a lot of thought to figure out what it REALLY said, or says. Not that the message is hidden, or anything like that. (I just thought that it was really subtle.)

      Your story touches on matters of self-image, and the right to know the truth of ones origins. The character is being protected from her true heritage by those who rescued her from it. (And a consequently uncertain fate.) When she finally forces the issue on her dying mother, she finds that what she believes about herself, is more important than what others believe: More important (even) than what others know about her. That’s a fantastic message, for everyone. Not that you want to make it obvious, but I’m not sure that that message is coming through. (Then again, it may be perfectly plain and I’m just the last one to get it. That would not surprise me.)

      This is a nice, thoughtful, entertaining story about genetics, people, and family relationships.

      It’s also the exact story that I was going to write, but now that you’ve done it, I’ll have to do something about a Cyclops whose genes contain traces of Iguana and Gecko which gives him an advantageously mobile eye, but a disturbingly vertical pupil. This genetic variant dismays all the other ‘cyclopi’ to the point of banning him to a region extensively occupied by putt-putt golf courses and sponge divers. (A bleak prospect.)

      Needless to say, he totally loses it, goes on a rampage, there’s a car chase, some cleavage, and eventually the other Cyclopsesians realize he’s the only one of them who can drive, and accordingly appoint him to the position of ship’s captain. (They’re all on a spaceship by the way, did I forget to mention that ?)

      That’s the premise, anyway. (Not to detract from your story or anything.)

      • Cartisano. it’s blatantly obvious (to me) that somehow you have managed to appropriate my entire story and character line leaving me know choice to abandon my genetic cyclops story. There were differences, cleverly misdirected by you to throw me off track, but I’m on to you. You and have managed to make me completely rethink my story line. For example the sponger divers in my story were pearl divers, but I think a court trial allowing discovery will show you clearly stole my story prior to my being able to publish. See you in court.
        • My team of feline lawyers Binky, Pinklestein & Destiny, eagerly await your filing. They assured me they’ll have you wrapped up in writs from here to Hoboken and back. (One of them actually hissed.) Then there’ll be a counter suit, a defamation action and a writ of carpel tunnel. Sooo, you might want to reconsider. Don’t do anything hasty, my friend. I’m sure we can settle this thing out of court, if it isn’t already too late.
      • Thanks for your comments, and I like your interpretation of the story. Sounds good to me. And happy to press the serious button.

        On the dialogue – If you imagine it as a radio drama voiced by Maggie Smith and Kate Winslet, does that help?

    • Hello Andy,

      great story! Great headline, by the way. And all the comments show you hit something there. In the aftermath of WW2 lots of women had to “forget” about how they got pregnant and find someone willing to support them and their children. So there was a whole generation of people who didn’t know where they came from. Especially in Berlin. Everyone knew there were questions you must not ask.

      I also admire the way you make these two women come alive in my mind. Hiw difficult it is to love each other, even in such a situation. Well done!

      • Thank you, Jürgen. Very glad the characters came alive for you.

        Yes, war, invasion and displacement generate many such situations. Today also in various parts of the world.

    • Phil Town
      A lovely story, Andy, told only through dialogue. That’s always a challenge, and you manage it (in my mind) almost perfectly. I end up really liking the characters. How have they changed during the story? Well, one has got a lot off her chest, and the other has discovered where she came from … and realized her unconditional love for her surrogate mother and vice-versa (this last point could maybe have been teased out a little more maybe – with a slightly slower realization/revelation … but space constraints?). Great last line!
    • Hi Andy,

      I can feel the emotional tension as the two women talk, trading closeness for self-preservation. I thought the yearning for closeness would win in the end, but no it doesn’t. And perhaps better that way – than an illusion that a “thorny” lifetime could just be fixed by a hug at the end of the line…

      The tension in dialogue is superimposed on the lingering stressful knowledge of one of the women being on her death bed and about to go soon. That, for me, added another layer of drama.

      I’m not sure if it was intended, but I saw the following: the character self-preservation (pride and such) of the mother is echoed in the bombastic ways she wants her physical body to be preserved after death. I like stories in which the physical is a metaphor of the less obvious and subtler realities of life.

      You make very good use of dialogue, and by and large it is very smooth and credible. Perhaps some bits here and there a little are a little overcooked or “intellectualised”, but you prepare us for that by presenting the older lady as “theatrical” in her gesture to look for an actual elephant in the room (I think she did know the meaning of the expression – the daughter could have just laughed it off, without having to explain it).

      Just to give one example: “Enough now, Martha. With your history of infidelities and addictions, judging me and your ‘father’ is unbecoming.” It is perhaps a bit too “complete” in the circumstances of a bitter old lady on her death bed. Perhaps something like: “I won’t hear any of that, Martha. Not from you, with your history of infidelities and addictions” or even drop the rather technical terms “infidelities” and “addictions” for more slang expressions. But then again, you might want the old lady to sound a little bit stiff in her choice of words.

      As some others may be hinting at, the story works more effectively with people who are shocked by some of the things that went on with this family and which we discover through the dialogue. Other people, who have been exposed to these kinds of relationships and worse (child abuse, incest, and so on), may have got desensitised to such things. Which is a tragedy in its own right.

      That’s my two cents for now!

  • Quite an entertaining and charactersome story Andy. Very gentle.
    • “Charactersome” I like! Many thanks, Ilana
  • Disturbing The Counselor
    (1197 words)

    Dr. Beth Flynn preferred counseling rocky marriages but had been plagued by moral decisions ever since her new patient Roger Smith, made his first appointment more than six months ago. The man was insufferably insane. The only thing that prevented her from alerting her bosses and getting him placed in one of the local facilities was her obligation to confidentiality. Smith had not confessed any crimes yet but she knew that his fantasies were barely a breath away from reality.
    A knock sounded on her office door, startling her out of her sinister thoughts. Sometimes she regretted not taking some tiny little office in a large building instead of this office with its’ large and spacious waiting area.
    When she opened the door Roger Smith was standing there with blood spattered all over his clothes and the exposed skin of his face, neck and hands. There was even blood in his hair threatening to drip onto his forehead in an elongated teardrop. The smell coming off him matched what her eyes saw making bile fill the back of her throat.
    “Dr. Flynn?” He sounded concerned when she ran to the phone on her desk and dialed 911.
    “Stay right there Mr. Smith!”
    “Its not what you think! I swear! I had another nightmare and need your help!”
    “What did you do?” She gestured to the blood on him while balancing the phone on her shoulder and reaching for the can of mace she kept in her desk drawer.
    “Oh! I took a job at a butcher shop to help quell my urges. I fell asleep on the couch as soon as I got home and forgot to shower and change. Please, Dr. Flynn?” He looked so frightened she put the phone down on the desk beside the cradle and gestured to the sofa she kept for her patients’ comfort.
    “Leave the door open.” She demanded, “Sit down and tell me what has you so upset.”
    “Isn’t it unethical to leave the door open? What if someone else hears my dreams?” He countered closing the door behind him.
    “Fine. You’re right. Sit down and tell me whatever is on your mind.” He quickly complied making her wish she had just told him to go home and make a new appointment preferably after he showered and changed his clothes.
    “As I said, when I went home from my new job I began to have ‘nightmares’ as you call them. Of course, I was not so much frightened as I was intrigued.”
    “Do you want to tell me what it was about? You sure looked scared when you showed up here unannounced.” Dr. Flynn still held the can of mace and remained standing.
    “I am scared but not of what you think. Let me explain my nightmare.” Smith went on, “I fell asleep thinking about our sessions and how you said I should find a non-violent, therapeutic endeavor that would keep my impulses under control. That’s why I decided to work at the local butchery, so I could dismember and slice things without actually doing anyone any harm.”
    “Not exactly what I had in mind but your attempt is commendable. Go on.”
    “Thanks. In my dream, you were there. You kept telling me how proud you were of me for following in my father’s footsteps and taking a job that would help me reach my full potential.”
    “Your full potential?” She could hear the malice in his voice.
    “Yes. You see, Dr. Flynn, no one has ever understood me quite the way you do. I know now why I needed you to guide me. I knew we were destined to be joined in some way or another.”
    “Mr. Smith. Roger. I think you’re making too much of our sessions. My job is to keep you from harming others. Is that what frightened you?”
    “The thought of living without you scares me.”
    Roger was off the sofa and across the room before she run for the door. He pinned her against the far wall with a satisfied smile etched across his face. He breathed his hot, rancid breath in her face as he spoke his next words explaining himself.
    “Last night, I read my father’s journals. He had a counselor who instructed him to seek full time care at some facility. I was just a child in those days but I remember her face well from the pictures my father had. His doctor’s name was Becky Flynn: your mother. My father had urges just like I do and he realized the same thing I did. It wasn’t therapy he needed, it was guidance from someone who understood and a job that let him exercise and perfect his talents.”
    “Your father murdered my mother?”
    “Murder? No. It’s more like he allowed her to help him become better at his job before he left, the same way you’re going to help me.”
    “Like hell I will!” Dr. Flynn shouted remembering the can of mace still in her hand. She aimed it upward and pressed the button.
    The mixture of compressed chemicals sprayed all over his face, burning his eyes, making him yell. He let go of her shoulders and rubbed at his eyes as the police came rushing in the door with their guns drawn. In under a minute they had him cuffed and were escorting him out the front door of her office then another officer helped her lock up and took her to the police station to make her statement.
    “That was some smart thinking, Dr. Flynn. Dialing 911 and leaving the phone off the hook so she could hear everything. You saved yourself and solved your mother’s murder, she’d be proud.” One of the officers commended her bravery.
    At the trial, Smith’s attorney argued that his urges were not his fault because they were genetic. Flynn didn’t buy it and neither did the jury. Smith went to a maximum security prison for the criminally insane. The butchery he worked at was a slaughterhouse his father had set up in his basement where the police found human remains from some of the people that had gone missing in the past year as well as several other people who had gone missing while Smith’s father was in town.
    Dr. Flynn was grateful the review board had been gentle on her for leaving the phone off the hook but they reminded her that her obligation was to her patient not her own fear. She wondered how patient privilege trumped the safety of counselors of any caliber but kept her thoughts to herself.
    On more than one occasion, she found herself wondering if genetics could play a role in someone’s fantasies and urges as the lawyer had said. He had no real evidence except the murders but that was enough to make Flynn seek counseling for herself.
    Emotionally and psychologically damaged, she left her private office for a job as a school guidance counselor where her services could be put to better use. She spent her spare time finding a way to amend the oath counselors are bound to. She knew better than anyone that silence was not golden, sometimes it has consequences.

    • I enjoyed your story, Amy – fluently written, maintains tension from the beginning and as well as having strong characters highlights the ‘all in the genes’ theme in the relationship of genetics to behaviours, plus the patient confidentiality issue, to make it a more complex and sophisticated story, as Chitra comments.

      I tend to agree with Ilana, too, that maybe the storyline needs a longer word count. The first two thirds of the story is dialogue-driven, then, in the last third the dialogue fades out, with the last two paragraphs kind of summing it up from, as it were, outside the story. I wonder if there’s a way to do this that maintains the energy of the first part, while still having the focus you want to have. Maybe through a jump to a courtroom scene?

      • Hi Andy, Thanks for your feedback, it is appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I am sure there are many ways to improve the story, although I did have a lot of fun writing it since it is along the lines of the novel I am currently working on.
    • Writer misdirection is an art, one that you need to work on in this reader’s humble opinion. You represent the patient working at a local butcher shop twice, and then it turns out in your summary of your story (wrapping things up neatly for everyone – but as Ilana and Andy point out – too neat and dry) his ‘butcher shop’ is his own basement.

      I think you could have misdirected everyone a bit better. I didn’t feel misdirected as much as fibbed to by the author, rather than the character.

      I don’t know if I’m explaining it correctly, but I think something like – as it turned out, the butcher shop he worked at was all in his mind. It wasn’t a butcher shop at all, but a well maintained ‘shop of horrors. I think that could have been related to by the police dialogue explaining what they found when the went to his home.

      However, I’m going to let you slip off the hook slightly, because, as others have pointed out, this story needs a 1500 word limit, not 1200. Good story all in all, but, with an unsatisfying ending.

      • Hi Roy, Thanks for your comments and feedback, they are appreciated even if I don’t exactly agree. Misdirection was not exactly the goal here even though it took that bit of a turn. The character told his counselor that he worked at a local butcher shop which turned out was extremely local for him if not for her- in his own basement. I’m sure the reveal could have been smoother but it simply didn’t work out that way this time which is okay with me since that is the point in trying to edit a story to keep with a word count as well as maintaining a thick story-line. Editing a large book is pretty simple for me, learning to edit something small on the other hand is the skill I am learning and honestly having a really great time at it.
    • Hi Amy,
      I was tempted to offer you this golden nugget of wit.

      ‘This was a real rib-tickler, the meat of the reveal really hit me in the chops, but as it ground round to an end, I found myself stewing over the character’s fate for some time before finally deciding I had a bone to pick with you.’

      But then I decided to be serious.

      Your dialogue is spectacular, Amy. You’re a prolific writer with a wonderfully robust imagination. You’ve conceived, edited, and posted a story before I’ve even fashioned a rough idea. Which is a little depressing, I’ll admit, but no reason to try to discourage you, so I hope you receive my advice in the constructive spirit in which it’s intended. Simply put, that advice is: I don’t think you’re done yet. This story could stand more editing.

      So I disagree with those who think your story needs a larger word limit. In my opinion, it could do well with a lot less words.

      You wrote: ‘…then another officer helped her lock up and took her to the police station to make her statement. This could be substituted with the words: (Later, when making her official statement…)

      You wrote:
      ‘Roger was off the sofa and across the room before she (could) run for the door. He pinned her against the far wall with a satisfied smile etched across his face. He breathed his hot, rancid breath in her face as he spoke his next words explaining himself.’

      This is a great piece of action which you then disguise with a load of excess prose.

      (Roger was off the sofa and across the room before she could make it to the door. He pinned her against the wall with a sadistic grin on his blood-spattered face, and said…)

      The fact that he has bad breath is repulsive, as you intended, but pales in comparison to the real nature of the man. It’s unnecessary. You have a great story–in your story. Now that you’ve written it, you have to work on it some more in order to present it in its best light: Removing unnecessary words, phrases, and information.

      I think what this story needs as much as anything is re-organization.

      (For instance: This could very well be your ending.)
      One of the officers commended her bravery. “That was some smart thinking, Dr. Flynn. Dialing 911 and leaving the phone off the hook so we could hear everything. You saved yourself and solved your mother’s murder, she’d be proud.”

      Again, let me reiterate. One thing that you do really well, Amy, is dialogue. Your dialogue is excellent, which in many ways is the key to good writing. Don’t you dare let anyone discourage you. I love your imagination.

      • Hi Ken C.
        Thanks for your comments, feedback and very kind words, too kind I’m sure. I promise, I take everyone’s constructive criticism as it is intended- it helps me grow as a writer. I am not so easily discouraged, I enjoy writing way too much to give up because a story or two doesn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.
        This story could have used the extra attention, I’m certain but in the end of things I was just a bit too pressed for time with the new school year starting. I noticed you have a story posted now, you shouldn’t second guess yourself so often, you seem to come up with something great when you least expect it. I look forward to reading your story along with all the other posts this evening.

        I’m not a student, lol. I home school my 3 children and had to get the classroom and their academic structure set for the year. My oldest son is set to graduate at the end of this academic year which will be a lot harder for him since being hit by the police cruiser before Christmas this past year. The mirror caught him above his right eye and threw him more than 35 feet, he has suffered some memory problems since then but is determined to finish this year on top- he is one of the most resilient, stubborn young men I have ever seen which is what will see him through this. My daughter Promise planned on posting another story on here this time but got preoccupied with her studies, she’s hoping to get it in before Wednesday afternoon. My youngest son, Gabriel is autistic and has Downe Syndrome but is so very bright- he’s very high functioning, a true blessing.

        Anyway, I really felt bad that I wasn’t able to get on here and comment sooner, hopefully I have everything set now and will be able to resume my typical schedule.
        (The beginning and the ending of the school year is generally the craziest here especially when I’m working as a crisis counselor- Some of the story was based on personal knowledge, lol, which definitely helped.)

        • My Dear Amy,

          If I didn’t already know I was an idiot, you have provided irrefutable proof. While I’m whining about a head cold while on VACATION, you’re cheerfully carrying the burden of raising three kids, and educating them as well.

          I tried being a crisis counselor once about forty-five years ago, and never got past the training stage. After one poignant practice session, the counselor said to me, “Well, I’m afraid your caller just killed herself. Maybe you’re not cut out for this.” And I suppose he was right.

          Whereas you have said exactly the right thing, at the right time, in the most perfect way. You have very politely put me exactly where I belong: In my place.

          On behalf of everyone else on the site, I thank you. And I offer my own personal thanks for putting me in my place with such class and dignity. Your optimistic response to my critique humbles me.

          All I can say, with my customary honesty, is that I’m sorry for being so critical, and that I look forward to your next story with nearly as much anticipation as I do to your cheerful, thought-provoking, and elegantly worded comments.

          I hope the school year goes well for your children, that Promise will find the time to write, and believe with all my heart that both of your sons will prosper and thrive.

          • Hi Ken C,
            Please take my previous comments the way I meant them. I crave the criticism that allows me to learn from other writers who can see my random errors even when I can’t- don’t stop, it is a necessary truth to writing anything. I look forward to the comments, advice and critiques from everyone here because not only do I learn about writing but I get to experience the writing styles of amazing writers who are genuinely interested in helping one another grow, that is why I encouraged my daughter to post her writing here as well. She has only posted twice but intends on posting again soon because even she knows the power of in depth constructive criticism and how it is good for a writer. (The irony is she wants to be a chef, lol- with a goal to someday meet Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsey.)
            This school year should be an exciting one and seems to be starting smoothly but I genuinely felt bad for neglecting my new found friends here because I love reading the comments as much as the stories.
            You are absolutely not an idiot, a head cold on vacation?That’s pretty awful, I hope you feel better soon.
    • Very exciting story. I especially liked the beginning. That scene is very well described, it feels like a movie and triggers strong emotions. Like the others here, I think the beginning is the strongest part of the story. But the end also surprised me. A must read.
      • Hi Berlinermax,
        Thanks for your comments and feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. It could have used some extra editing but time didn’t allow that this time around.
    • Hi Amy Lynne,

      I have spent quite a while reading your story as well as the various comments made. I’m not sure there is a consistent message in there as we all offer our diverse opinions based upon our own life experiences.

      Yes, I agree that there were some misdirects especially regarding his job in a buther’s shop but I am happy to go along with that because the story still hangs together and for me, that’s what really matters.

      The length of the story is the length of the story. A shorter or longer version would be different. Could you expand it? Of course you could. Could you shorten it? Of course you could but we are engaged in a group activity here that specifies a 1200 maximum and I suspect we try to keep 1200 words in mind as we create our masterpieces.

      You really highlight some of the complicated issues that face professionals every day and your own background has clearly given more weight to these as they are within your experience, I guess. This all adds to theconviction ( not a legal one) that underpins your story.

      The madness of the patient, Smith was exemplified by the way up covered in blood and said that he had fallen asleep and hadn’t had time for a shower. This is apart from all his other actions, of course that offered more than a clue.

      I have great admiration for families who choose to home school or home educate in the UK and do it effectively. Here the official term is Elective Home Education or it was in the county I worked in as a home school adviser for nearly ten years. My collegues and I saw some excellent practice. EHE is not as popular in the UK as in the US but numbers are growing rapidly and I feel ( as a former school principal) that this is due to a growing dissatisfaction with our education system.


      Ken Frape

      • Hi Ken F.
        Thanks so much for your comments and feedback. I’m glad you liked the story. You have effectively outlined my very reasons for bragging about this group to everyone I know as well as other writers, hoping they will come here and enjoy learn from this group of talented writers. One of my favorite things about being here is that we all share our experiences as much through our comments as in our writing, I have never seen such a close knit group before and am very proud that I am here with all of you.

        I honestly think that the 1200 word count is the best part of the prompts here because it teaches us to edit, re-edit, then start all over again until we have it exactly where we want it. Unfortunately, mine was a write it and post it and didn’t get as much of my attention as it should have but it was very fun all in all.

        Homeschooling here in the US varies by state and can become quite difficult when teaching so many grade levels at one time but in my opinion it is well worth the sacrifices involved. There are actually a lot more people here that are switching to homeschooling their children while others are mortified by the sheer idea of teaching their own kids because it can be quite a challenge. Of course there are still plenty of people that look at me like I have grown a second head because of this particular choice, even some of my own family members find it ridiculous to home school because they think home-schooled children are anti-social. I would assume that maybe some are but I have never met one to be honest, including my own children who are very social.

        I find it really awesome that you were a principal as well as a Home School Adviser, both of those jobs take some serious heart and dedication to education- very admirable. I understand being dissatisfied with the education system and personally could not imagine life any other way, that is one of the main reasons I stick to using regular textbooks rather than enrolling my kids in an online school- They seem to learn more and they study a lot of things that are not available in public schools (I taught my oldest children Mandarin for years because they want to visit Bei Jing someday. This year they wanted to take up Spanish instead.) yet there are some things they can’t do here because they are home schooled such as school sports and programs. There are ups and downs to either side of that scope.

        I have only met one other Home School Adviser before now, she was in NY and was extremely dedicated too but here in GA we don’t have Advisers and I actually miss talking to her about the kids’ studies and activities. (She helped find global pen pals which prompted my kids to want to learn Mandarin in the first place.)


      • Ken F,

        I read with interest yours and Amy’s comments about school and you finally answered my query as to your specific role in the educational system. While the US school system could use some tweaks, it is unfortunate that something short of a majority of american’s seem to realize that what really needs fixing in the good old USA is the political system. Where money, and it’s effective utility out weighs all other considerations. Until that gets fixed, I’m afraid all other roads will remain rocky and uphill all the way.

        I don’t think that people truly realize how much impact teachers have on the lives of their students. Mr. Clarke, Mr. Vega, Mrs. Dewhurst, Mr. Martin, Mr. Cosgrove, Mr. Dickinson, Mrs. Shan. These are just a few of the names, and their visages are still very clear, of some of the teachers that I had in school, some 50 odd years ago. It might interest you to know that, Mrs. Shan is remembered for her cruelty to a disadvantaged student, (one of only two such awful teachers who was released shortly after her melt-down) and Mr. Martin was a silver-haired Assistant Principal who, despite never saying a word, struck fear into the minds of the entire school. He was always present, silent and as stern looking as Moses. After being sent to him for discipline after an episode of delinquency that should have gotten me expelled, he did absolutely nothing worse than make me admit the foolishness of my behavior, sent me back to class, and it never happened again. (I think we agreed to keep his gentle nature a secret between us.)

        Many more teachers I remember more as episodes, or I remember their faces, or moments of special relativity (humanistic). Like the History teacher who played the French National Anthem through a rolled up calendar as a clue to the answer on a pop quiz question. Art teachers, shop teachers, English teachers. Physical Ed. (Who could ever forget Coach Jacaboni?)

        Odd as it may seem, the teachers had a much more lasting effect on my memory than most of the students. The teachers are all long gone of course, and I regret not contacting every single one of them and thanking them for their efforts. It almost makes me weep to think of how much they did, for so many people, and for so little compensation.

    • Phil Town
      I was really gripped by your story initially, Amy. The dialogue is very good, the image of Smith turning up at the door covered in blood is very vivid and original, and the idea that their respective parents had a similar professional relationship is very neat. I kind of think it loses a bit of steam after the mace is employed – it all becomes a description of events which, while tying up all the loose ends, rather puts a brake on the pace of that first half. If you could have found a way to make that information less of a recounting … but then space constraints, I suppose. The second bit could be reworked, imho. But I really liked the first part.
  • Hi Andy,
    Enjoyed having a good read of your story. Original and entertaining. The theme on unconditional love is very pleasing.
  • Hi Amy,
    Enjoyed reading your original and macabre story. I don’t usually like crime stories. But, I read it and was fine with it. My Focus was more towards how ptofessional Dr Flynn was in dealing with her patient.
    I liked the way you threw other ideas to complicate the story and explain the crime as a mental illness.
    • Hi Amy,
      I was thinking that over here, we don’t address a counsellor as ‘Dr’. We do for a psychiatrist.
      Considering Roger’s condition the counsellor would have referred him to a psychiatrist.
      A psychiatrist has the authority to sanction a patient straightaway to a psychiatric establishment depending on the severity of the patient’s condition and whether he is a danger to himself and to others. The police is called for security and back up.
      That degree of Mental illness is genetic. Therefore doesn’t need to be explained.
      • Chitra,
        Over here, a psychiatrist could be a marriage counselor, although it is rather unlikely, unless it was very profitable. This is a bit of inconsistency in Amy’s story since, it seems obvious that the man is not married. Or at least, if he is, no mention whatsoever is made of his wife.
      • Adrienne Riggs
        I have known several counselors/psychologists who hold doctorates in counseling and therefore are referred to as Dr. Just FYI. A counselor doesn’t have to be a medical professional or hold a medical degree to be a Dr.
      • Hi Chitra, As a crisis counselor myself, I have been addressed as Doctor on several occasions and that we are bound to not disclose any details of our sessions unless there is a crime committed or admitted. We are not permitted to call the police or have someone committed on a ‘hunch’. Up until a patient actually says they committed a crime, our hands are actually tied because we don’t have actual proof of the crime in question. Sure, we can suggest to the patient that they should consider staying in a facility for more in depth therapy and more secure help but in the end it is up to the patient. (This is the part of the oath I find particularly ludicrous since I have been in very threatening situations in the past and could do nothing about it because of the doctor-patient confidentiality clause.)
  • Good story, but I felt the story was larger than the word count allowed. The ending was a bit too pat. I felt you needed more at the end to satsify the reader and up the tension a little. Well written but it needs work still.
  • Trying to figure out why I don’t receive notifications of mew comments and posts.

    • Carrie Zylka

      I don’t know either.
      I’m not getting comments despite having checked the “get comment notification via email” box.

      • Ken Frape
        Same for me. I logged on last week and hadn’t seen any comments or stories up til now when I went directly to the website.
        Ken Frape
        • Carrie Zylka

          Weirdly enough I just checked my spam folder and there were all the comments!!!
          Seriously wtf

  • Dennis Wagers
    Sorry for the errors. I actually pasted the wrong version of this story.
    • Carrie Zylka

      If you’d like to repost it I can delete the one you just did.

      • Dennis Wagers
        Yes please, there are several things that need corrected.
        • Carrie Zylka


  • I have enjoyed reading your heart wrenching and soul searching story.
    The emotions are well described. I was pleased for both father and son when they fought to accept the normality in life in a changing world. That how it should be.
    • This isn’t a comment on Amy’s story, is it?
    1,198 Words

    The sun rose slowly, the light shimmering on the surface of the water, causing it to sparkle and glisten like diamonds.
    “Why are we here, Dad? Really?”
    Brad Mitchell regarded his son, “What do you mean?”
    “I mean you put your trip on hold to take me fishing. That’s not you.”
    Brad cast his line into the water, wondering how to approach this. “I thought we could have some time together, you know, to fish and talk.” He watched his son sigh.
    “Look, Dad,” Timothy’s voice rose slightly. “I know this is about me, but do you think that taking me fishing and having a heart to heart is going to change anything?”
    “No, but I do want to talk it over; I want you to help me understand. I can’t get my head around you, and this gay thing. When I look at you, I don’t see gay.”
    Timothy groaned, letting his fishing rod rest against the side of the boat. He crossed his arms. “What do you see Dad?”
    “I see an athletic, strong young man with all the promise in the world ahead of him.”
    “OK, well, what’s gay suppose to look like, Dad? You tell me.”
    Brad was quiet for a moment. He had always been proud of his son’s good looks. Most of which came from Evelyn, Timothy’s mother. With his easy smile, flawless tan skin, those wide green eyes, and thick brows, he was appealing to everyone He had a shock of golden hair, muscular arms and legs, a thin waist and broad chest. Everything about Timothy vibrated with masculinity. “It’s just, Tim, you don’t have their ways. You don’t move, and you don’t talk, well, you know, like someone gay.”
    Timothy looks at him, incredulously. “My god dad, are you hearing yourself, stereotyping?”
    “I’m not…its just you don’t fit into that, that…”
    “Type?” Timothy said with his palms up.
    “I keep wondering, what would your mother think?
    Timothy’s hands went up, his face hard. “Oh no, don’t you use mom against me on this. Mom would…,” Timothy’s voice broke, and he stopped talking.
    Brad was immediately sorry. Timothy’s mother was still a touchy subject. “You’re right; I shouldn’t have said that.”

    Timothy grew quiet after that, stewing, with his back toward his dad, going through the motions of casting his line into the flickering water. After several minutes he turns to Brad, and laying his fishing rod to the side. “You know what I think mom would do?” He said mater-of-factly. “She would cry at first, but not because I’m gay. She would be crying for what I’ve had to go through up to this point. She would know about all the nights I lay awake, not being able to sleep. The countless prayers and bargains I made with god, begging him to take this from me. She would think about all the hate and the bigotry in the world.”
    “Don’t you think I haven’t thought about all that.” Brad interrupted.
    “I’m sure you have Dad, but not as much as about what’s it gonna feel like to be around all your friends from the office when they find out you have a gay son. What are they gonna think?”
    “Stop!” Brad nearly shouted, leaning forward. “Just stop. Sure I’ve thought about those things, but I’ve also thought about you. I’ve thought about my son, wallowing around in bed with another man and it sickens me. It turns my stomach. I’ve thought about the fact that you’ll never give me grandkids to love and yes, I’ve thought about the shame, the terrible loathsome shame of it.” He stopped, having said more than he had ever planned. His breath came quickly. “So, there.”
    Timothy’s eyes shone with tears. Yes, there it is, isn’t it.” His voice low and tremulous, “The ugly core of it all, where the rubber meets the road as you say. Well, you know what dad? I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m loathsome to you, I’m sorry for the shame I cause you, but I can’t change it.” His eyes filled with hurt and anger. ” I can’t change who I am. I’ve tried to make it not so, god how I’ve tried. I can’t change it for myself, I can’t change it for god, and I can’t change it for you.” A tear broke free and ran down his face. He wiped it away, turning away from his father’s eyes.
    Brad sighs, looking at his only son. His chest felt full, no matter how deeply he breathed it wasn’t enough; it was like his body couldn’t get enough oxygen. Cranking his fishing line in and sitting there, looking at the sun in silence, his mind races. He knew Timothy was crying, but he couldn’t offer him any solace, not right now.
    The next hour passes in silence with the sun rising fully, the fog dissipating and the fresh morning air, turning warmer. Brad lives the hour with desperate fear rising and growing inside him. A fear of how he feels, of the things he said, how those things now lie between them, like a fissure; a gap that may prove unbridgeable. Brad cringes inwardly at the thought of losing his son. He couldn’t bear that thought. If Evelyn were here, she would know what to do; she would be able to help him, she would have kept him from making terrible mistakes like he just made. She would be able to make it right again between Timothy and him, but she isn’t here. Cancer claimed her three years ago, and when she left, she had taken a piece of him, the part that made him sane and reasonable.
    A title wave of despair swept over him. Looking at his son, he sees the boy, the man, standing in the boat, back lite against the morning light, his hair tasseled by the breeze; Brad watches him casting silently, angrily into the sunlight. Brad’s heart dissolved, and he breaks into tears. Timothy turns, his eyes wide with concern. Brad watches him come to his side; he feels his son’s warm hand on his shoulder.
    “Dad, it’s OK. This thing isn’t your fault.”
    At those words, Brad wept even more. Timothy, his amazing son, was there for him, even after what he had said to him.
    “It wasn’t anything you did,” Timothy continued. “It’s just who I am; it’s part of my make up. It’s not your fault.”
    All Brad could manage was a nod. It was a full fifteen minutes before he could speak again. Timothy sat there by him during that time.
    “Tell me about Aiden.” Brad found himself saying. “What’s he like?”
    “Come on, dad, you don’t have to pretend to want to know about him.”
    “No, I do. Listen, It’s not going to be easy, Son. Your mother isn’t here to help me, and I’m going to make some blunders along the way, but I want you to know, I’m going to try like hell to do this.” He watches his son smile, his eyes searching his.
    “I love him, Dad. I do, Just as much as you loved mom, and oh yeah, he likes to fish.”

    • I am not so sure that in these times the prejudice faced by the son is so real. There are enough people who do not judge a person for being gay as to make it more comfortable for a person who is gay to lead a relatively peaceful life. We are all less judgemental. Although the rejection by the father if it occurs would be extremely traumatic. Those closest to us and biological relatives have the power to hurt us most. Their rejection is totally traumatic but one would hope most people with a gay daughter or son would be able to see past that and love the person for who he or she is, despite not agreeing with their lifestyle.
      Also the father is a bit over dramatic. Plenty of gay couples use surrogates if they are males and often have two children using both men’s semen by AI.
      I would imagine the challenges faced by gay couples are far more intense than this.
      Personally I think a person’s private life is just that, their own business. I tend to take people as they come across to me, and while not a fan of same sex marriage, I still support their right to choose who they happen to be in a relationship with and it is their business and not mine. Nor is it my business to judge another human being or pronounce any sort of judgement on him or her from a moral viewpoint.
      However I felt the story was cliched and the theme over used.
      How would you make this story more successful? More pleasing to the reader? I would have liked a debate about the right or wrong of using a surrogate to bear a child? Should we deny a child a father or a mother?
      Very interesting story (and court case in Australia) that is going on at the moment is a gay man who fathered a child for a lesbian couple who are now moving back to New Zealand. Now this gay man was involved in both girls’ lives and both called him Daddy despite him not have a biological connection to the second girl. The lesbian couple used an unknown sperm donor because the man was asked to triple his child maintenance to the couple and he was already paying $75 a week for the child he helped bring in to this word. As a person who went 13 years without much financial support or emotional support for our son, I respect the fact that this man does not just see himself as a sperm donor but an actual father. Father hood is more than just paying money but being present in the child’s life and participating in it and sharing issues and having an impact on and influence in that child’s life. It does not matter if you are gay, straight or whatever, but have a positive effect on a child biological or not, has no price. You cannot buy love.
      There are so many confused and frightened kids in the world today as parents live beyond the family boundaries, indulging themselves in many ways without prioritising their children. Family goes way beyond biological connection. I see the results of some very horrible family situations in my work and often the people who hurt their kids the most are biologically related… dreadfully sad and I despair at times on how to help these kids and bring them to see hope in the world. If I was ten or twenty years younger I would foster, but my health precludes it and dealing with my son and his issues – got enough on my plate.
      I just want something more, something deeper for your young man. Timothy has deeper issues and this one has been done to death a bit…sorry.
      • Thanks so much, for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate your insight. Sadly to say, however, there are still many places in rural America where being gay is not acceptable at all, and I agree with your point that the story is a bit overdone and cliché, however, my purpose was to entertain by bringing out the raw emotion of these characters. I appreciate your feedback and take note of all your suggestions.
      • Ilana,

        This story is about one of the things that you cite. And I quote, ‘…often the people who hurt their kids the most are biologically related…’ This is an optimistic take on that issue. I’m not sure that this ‘has been done to death a bit…’ but I have to admire your blunt critique, even if I disagree with it. There’s no question about how you feel or where you stand. Your unaffected clarity is refreshing.

    • Hi Dennis,
      Repeating my comment as it seems I have posted it in the wrong place.

      I have enjoyed your heart wrenching and soul searching story. The emotions are strong as father and son have a one to one discussion on the issue that bothered them.
      I am glad to read that the father, although struggling, conquered his prejudices and accept his son as he is and is ready to welcome his partner. He was almost ready to embrace the changing world.
      That is how it should be.

      • I am so thankful that you took the time to read my story. I have written alone for years, fearing to share my stories, but now I’ve decided that’s behind me. I am looking forward to having feedback and the chance to improve my craft.
        • I am so glad you are feeling safe in sharing your stories and I hope you do share more and your writing and you go from strength to strength.
        • Hi Dennis,
          I think most of us has gone through this stage.
          The first step leads to the journey.
    • That’s a fluent piece of writing, Dennis. And interesting character development focusing on the father, which creates a story structure kind of like a Kübler-Ross grief curve. More or less. And the father is experiencing some kind or kinds of loss – his image and expectations of his son, possibilities of grandkids (in his view) or at least the kind of extended family he might have hoped for.

      Is it realistic, as per Ilana’s scepticism? I have several gay friends and relatives, and some were quite fearful of the kind of reaction in this story which led to them leading double lives for a while. But when they came out to their parents they found only love, support and acceptance.
      However – I know that’s not the universal way of things.

      As to whether it’s all in the genes – “I can’t change” – I guess it’s how his dad made him …

    • Dude, Dennis,

      That…is lovely writing. Splendid really. It almost brought tears to MY eyes. The most heartwarming aspect is the fact that the young man, Tim, forgets his anger in his empathy for his father. THAT, is the brilliance of this story. Along with the writing, which is really fabulous. And that is not to say that it didn’t have a few minor errors. But, the way that you use descriptions of their actions to segue into the dialogue is fabulous.

      The few minor errors I saw were:
      ‘looking at the sun in silence.’ (Nobody looks at the sun, for long.) (…looking at the glimmering fishing line.) (…staring at the reflection of the sky in the water’s surface.)(?)
      ‘back-lite against the morning light.’ (silhouetted by the morning light.)
      ‘his hair tasseled by the breeze.’ (hair tousled by the breeze.)

      There may be a couple of tense errors here, but if there are, I’ll leave it to someone more knowledgeable than me to address that. I know of someone whose daughter just came out to him recently, and she appears to be in her 30’s. What else would cause her to wait that long but fear of rejection? No. I think that the hardest person to come out to would be to one’s father.

      This is a really engaging story. Relevant, touching and very, very well written Dennis.

      • Dennis Wagers
        Thanks for your kind comments, and I value your insight and suggestions. I can see clearly how your suggestions will improve this piece.
    • A story that touches the heart. I am also a son and a father, and I can relate to both persons well in the story. I especially liked how the father’s tears are described. Crying men in a story often seem “artificial” to me. But here I find the tears convincingly presented. These tears are the first step to a new bond between father and son.
      By the way, “where the rubber hits the road”, great expression.
    • Hi Dennis,

      A really well presented piece of writing that explores a very challenging topic.

      Having read other people’s comments, I can’t help feeling that personal experience of such a situation is crucial. Those of us who “haven’t been there” can only offer opinion but the emotional context will be missing. We would be saying what we think we would feel but we really don’t know.

      I am sure that “coming out” must still be a huge challenge, even a serious threat, in many parts of the world.

      Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking piece.

      Looking forward to seeing more of your writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    • Phil Town
      This is a very touching story, Dennis – the way it seems like there are two immovable objects up against each other, but they both compromise and cede a little in the end. I suppose it may seem like Brad is being impossibly old-fashioned, but I found that very believable; there must still be people out there like that. It’s heart-warming that they finish this confrontation on good terms, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be hard in the future, especially for Brad. But he’s made the first step towards acceptance, and ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. There are issues of verb tense here (it starts in the past, shifts to the present, and then gets all mixed up). Either would be acceptable, but it needs to be consistent. Lovely last line about the fishing.
  • Hallo Everyone,

    Thanks for all your comments on my “night travel” story.

    The story has some flaws, I know that. To me it was an exercise in building up suspense. I read a lot of thriller books, and some of them create suspense by adding more and more cliches.

    And of course the reader has to be disappointed in the end. A good thriller plays with our expectations and disappoints them in the end. I did this in a simple way. The whole thing is a “paint by numbers” thriller.

    Yes, there are flaws in the crunching scene. Do you know movies, where two things crush into each other and it takes minutes? The scene was meant to make fun of this.

    Andy, Ken C., Phil Town,
    if someone wants to commit a murder and doesn’t know how to do it well, I’d recommend reading Patricia Highsmith. Hitchcock made films of some of her novels. I’d also recommend her book on writing “Suspense”, the textbook for my little exercise here.

    Phil Town,
    I’m glad you liked my story. Thanks for the insightful comment.

    Ken C.,
    disappointment is part of the author’s game. But you can’t disappiont all of the readers all of the time.

    Thanks for the who/whom rule. Yes, I still struggle with the foreign language. So I decided it will be ok if my stories have a foreign touch (like an accent) sometimes.

    Ken Frape,
    no we don’t make our readers feel well. That’s not our job. Think of the happy couple, who never hat a quarrel. Boring. And we are not allowed to bore here.

    RM York,
    no, no personal insights. Grin! My life won’t do for a thriller.

    Thanks again, it was a pleasure reading all of your comments even this late. It was like coming home from a long trip and finding a pile of birthday cards in the letterbox.

    And now to the Genes.
    How about a story where Mr. Roddenberry meets Mr. Kelly and they have a good time. Why? Because … See headline.

    • Very funny about Mr Roddenberry and Mr Kelly. I’m guessing they met with another guy, 24 hours from Tulsa?
      • I had to google that guy. I’ll listen to the song. The third guy I had in mind is that energetic drummer from Chicago. 🙂
        • If you’re not sure about that song, perhaps they could dance to a track by former Berlin resident David Bowie …

          Excellent drummer choice, btw!

  • Everyone’s probably heard of the old adage about committing the perfect murder. According to the WHO, a person is murdered every minute, globally. And one-third of all murders in America go unsolved. (Just thought I’d throw that out there, in case Roy is thinking of doing a genetic murder mystery.)
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Hope to participate this go around. Can’t wait to read the stories. Adi
  • So, I wrote a story, finally, it has genetics, (in the form of offspring, a loop-hole large enough to drive an entire universe through, (is that the right through? I don’t know. Who cares. I’m hungry, weak and dehydrated,) genetics, a worm-hole, a three-part apocalypse, numerous rejection letters, and a time-loop.

    (In my defense, I was in a fevered state when I wrote it. Really. I came down with some kind of killer flu three days ago, and thought I was going to die. (It sucks when you get sick on vacation. No doctor.) And of course, the wife is always skeptical. (Aren’t they? Men? You goddamned right they are.)

    They say: ‘You men. You get a cold and act like your dying.’

    I moaned and tried to roll over, but slipped in my own sweat. Shivering uncontrollably I had just enough strength to hold out one feeble finger and managed to croak out, ‘I want to be buried in my Subaru.’

    She slammed the door on her way out.

    ‘Cough medicine,’ I whimpered. ‘Bring me….’ But she was gone. Fortunately, she came back with cough medicine. So I was forced to forgive her. She saved my life, right? Originally ‘I whispered.’ But after some thought, I decided to have ‘whimpered.’

    This is no cold. This is more like the flu. A Russian flu. I can’t stand my own breath. Okay that has nothing to do with the Russians, I’m just saying, (if you’re Russian, don’t be offended.) I was sick before I knew what was happening. The virus infiltrated my immune system, before I knew it, I began hacking, which is like coughing but much more suspicious.

    Sure sure. Y’all probably think this is funny. ‘Fake germs,’ you say. ‘There’s no such thing as the Russian flu.’

    But what about my breath? You didn’t think about that, did you? Believe me, my breath is real. As real as breath can get. It smells like someone took almonds, and soaked them in toothpaste, and then roasted them and the toothpaste with a blowtorch. Uchh, I hate almonds.

    But enough about me, and my breath. I just wanted to make excuses for my story, which, I may delete when I come to my senses. If ever. If I ever had any. Which, okay, I can sense the doubt. (I have good doubt sensors, if nothing else. And they’re tingling. Always tingling.)

    • Thanks for sharing. The detail is – atmospheric. Tell the truth, Ken – you’ve overdosed on Amaretto, yes?

      Apart from which, hope you’re feeling better.
      And that some way, some day, the story manifests itself out of your dream-state 🙂

    • Hi Ken,
      A bit late to send you my sympathy.
      Poor you. You sound like you’ve recovered well.
      Kim may be right when she says that men get a cold and they feel like dying. It all in their genes.
      Take care and keep well
  • You all want to know where my story is? Where’s the hole? Where’s the hole my Subaru goes into? No hole, no story. Start digging suckers. You don’t even have shovels in your hands. Do you all think I’m blind? Or stupid? Don’t answer that. You have no intention of burying me in my car, do you? What’s that?
    Oh right. That was Kim that was supposed to do that. Okay sorry. My bad. I’m a little testy, my ears are ringing. I had a nightmare about almonds, with wheels, and luggage carriers. It’s probably just, it’s nothing. I’ll just post my stupid story, if…
  • Phil Town


    Of course I did it. I killed her, and I enjoyed it.

    But I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail for it. Who can blame me? No, I wouldn’t want to be 30 or 40 years eating swill and watching my back in the showers, just because of a stupid mistake. A mistake that I hadn’t made with any of the others.

    I remember each one, with great relish. They were all very similar, naturally – hence the name the press came up with: ‘The X-Murderer’ – but I can differentiate them in my mind by the many details that made up their context: the place – the smells, the sounds, the temperature; the lead-up – how I’d stalked them, how I got to the scene, what I’d had for dinner on those nights; the women themselves – what they were wearing, their perfume, the trophies I took; and the aftermaths – the increasingly outlandish theories in the media, the interviews with family members and friends, the photos of each of them in happier times. All highly satisfying.

    And the last one was perhaps the most satisfying of the lot. She was the youngest. But hey! She was over 18, I made sure of that. I’m not a paedophile, after all!

    It was down by the canal. Why a pretty woman like her would use that path to get home every night, I don’t know. She was brave, yes, but terribly reckless. And as we now know, it was to be her downfall.

    I’d spent three weeks watching her, following her discreetly. I’d made sure of the spot where it would happen – where there was no chance of witnesses. And I’d chosen a rainy night, so that any clues I might leave would be washed away or contaminated.

    So when I did it, I was perfectly calm and relaxed and could enjoy every second, especially the exquisite moment of the final double-slash to her stomach – always my favourite bit, and my signature on another job well done.

    But then the horror. The ignominy of the knock on the door in the early hours, the handcuffs, and my son watching on. I myself had been reckless: there had, after all, been a witness – a man who’d been sheltering from the rain, under a bridge over the canal. In the dark and the rain, I hadn’t seen him. If I had, there’s no way he’d have been around to bear witness to anything; he’d have been floating face-down in the canal for sure.

    I only knew about him half-way through the trial. The prosecution were taking a pounding from my defence lawyer – the speculative and circumstantial nature of the evidence, and the accusation of racism – and I was loving every minute of the proceedings. I especially liked to see the woman’s parents in the gallery, the mother with a handkerchief to her face, he father with an arm round her. And all because of my work.

    Then one Friday morning my lawyer hit me with the news; they had an eye-witness and he was going to testify the following Monday. I didn’t show my lawyer how I was feeling – he believed in my claim of innocence – but underneath my calm exterior I was boiling. My son visited me later that day and I explained the situation to him. He’s a good boy, my son – sensible beyond his 17 years. I’d told him on a previous visit that I was completely innocent, and I had no reason to think that he didn’t believe me.

    I spent the weekend on my bunk, sleeping very little because of the worry and the anger. How could I have been so stupid? So careless? Monday morning came and I braced myself for the torture of the witness’s testimony. I was supposed to go to court at ten, but that time passed. It got to 11 and there was still no sign of my lawyer. Then he arrived, all in a flutter.

    There’d been a break-in at the witness’s house – a burglar. Various things had been stolen and the witness’s head had been caved in with a hammer.

    I suppressed a smile and the exhilaration I was feeling. My lawyer told me that without the man’s testimony, the case had no legs, and so it proved. The jury came back with a ‘not-guilty’ verdict and I was a free man.

    It was with a light step that I left the court that day – one of those beautifully sunny spring days that seem to augur a similarly bright future. Yes, my spirit was buoyant. The only thing I could think of was getting back to business, and being much more careful about it this time.

    My son was at the main door to meet me. I smiled and went to shake his hand, but he by-passed my extended arm and gave me a long, warm hug. When we separated I saw that he was grinning, and there was a familiar sparkle in his eyes.

    <\font color>

    • Fabulous story Philip. Somewhat predictable, but still devilishly marvelous.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ken!
    • Dennis Wagers
      Great story Phil, extremely well written. I had guess the son would be deeply involved at the end, but was guessing he would be the witness.
      • Phil Town
        That could also have worked, Dennis. Thanks!
    • I think you should be worried, Phil, about how comfortably and convincingly you slip into the skin of a crazed serial killer. Or maybe we should be worried??

      As we know there is a genetic theme to be brought in, I kind of thought when you said at the start ” They were all very similar, naturally” you were referring to the victims rather than the killer’s signature method. So I suspected that maybe there was some kind of genetic link between the victims, e.g. through the narrator had found at that both he and his victims were descended from one particularly vicious psychopath (or something) and he was on a mission to rid the world of this menace …. which is just me overthinking things, as usual, or a skilful piece of misdirection.
      So in my mind I was having fun with that story, and the ending turned out to be a bit closer to home, and a little more familiar. I wonder if there’s more you could do to get the reader on the narrator’s side, somehow, to make it more emotionally provocative?

      • I’m worried. (LO Eek!)
        I was going to tell him about his typos, but suddenly, I don’t feel like it anymore.
        I don’t mean to butt in but can’t help myself, Andy. That’s a really brilliant idea for a plot. You and Phil would make an amazingly diabolical partnership. With his cold-blooded cunning, and your devious creativity. Scary. What would Marvel Comics call you two? ‘The Lit-erat-i’? ‘Two-Tome losers’? ‘Bind, Gag, Read?’ Presuming you’d read some of your short stories to your victims before you offed them. “I have a novel, or short stories. Which would you prefer?”
        Police were scratching their heads. “They call themselves the Laketown killers, Sergeant. But there’s no lake anywhere in the vicinity, and of course, the word ‘town’ doesn’t help us at all. There are twelve small towns within a fifteen mile radius alone. We’re hopelessly stumped.”
        • Phil Town
          Ha ha, Ken! ‘The Laketown Killers’. It has a certain ring …
          I did of course include that typo you mentioned elsewhere, just to see if you (and you only!) were alert … but it was also something of a trap, I’m afraid. You’ve revealed yourself to be a bit of a snitch. And I know where you live.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Andy! Yes … I was a bit worried myself when it just fell onto the page … hmmm. About the narrator – I don’t really want to make him in any way attractive – he’s a monster – but I did have the idea (too late!) to introduce a reference to the pride he’s feeling in his son. I had that thought the morning after posting, which is yet another reminder to me to SLEEP ON IT BEFORE POSTING!
    • What a spectacular start of the story! Yes, the monologue of that killer is scary, but it’s also fun. He is not a pedophile! This is so colorfully overdone, that you realize quickly, it can’t be meant too seriously. So you relax and enjoy the story. (Yes, I had foreseen the end, I was afraid they would arrange for a joint action.)
      • Jurgen,
        Everyone’s entitled to their opinion of course, and so I don’t agree with your take on Phil’s story. But I do find it interesting and worth considering. Specifically that the story is ‘so colorfully overdone,’ that ‘it can’t be meant too seriously.’

        I mean, obviously, the story is not written by an actual serial killer, but I think it may well portray the flat-toned, superficial, narcissistic thinking of one.

        • Phil Town
          “obviously, the story is not written by an actual serial killer” Well, …
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Jürgen! I wasn’t trying to make it fun, in fact (the Paedophile comment was a moment of absurdity, yes), but the fact that you found it fun … well … 😉
    • Hi Phil,

      Great story told in a way that takes away much of the menace. Very entertaining too and a good read.

      When the only witness went missing I thought, “How convenient” and then began to guess that it was the son, so it was not a big surprise but it was the ending I felt that this story deserved.

      There is a slight issue for me regarding the eye-witness who was only mentioned by the prosecution halfway through the trial. Surely this person was the only reason for the man’s arrest in the first place.

      Great stuff Phil as always.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Ken. I was trying to make the narrator glib in the hope of making him more menacing … I don’t think it worked! 😉 I agree with you about the trial details – a bit of disbelief-suspension called for, I think.
    • Great and interesting story.
      Fascinating how you got into the criminal’s mind and how some people can have a double life
      It took a few seconds before I realised that father and son are as bad as each other.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Chitra. In fact the son is only just starting out, but he shows a lot of potential! 😉
    • Hi Phil,

      I like your attempts to go into the mind of a senseless criminal and observe how he tries to make sense of what he does. Even if for me, like most people I suppose, this shall remain forever incomprehensible: no matter how much we delve into his psyche, the only explanation is that he is “sick”.

      But just being “sick” won’t make an interesting story. We must hear his point of view, however aberrant it may be.

      It’s good that you douse quite a lot of what this man says in enough (black) humour – after all this is not a man to be taken too seriously (unless you find yourself alone with him) and he does what he does not for some cause (terrorism, occult, racism, etc.) but just for kicks. Like some of us may have an ice-cream, a few shots of vodka or a threesome. It almost makes your guy believable. Acceptable? No way.

      Some have commented that they saw the son bit coming, and I admit I am one of them. However, I think it may have to do with the fact that we all read your story in this “all in the genes” context. So, of course the son had to be some psycho killer like his dad! If the story is presented in a more neutral reading context, the surprise might remain more intact till the end.

      Perhaps you can also throw in some misdirection with another person/persons involved who may have also had an interest or possibility in killing the witness. But then, yes, I know… the word count!

      Hope some of that made sense!


      • Phil Town
        It all made perfect sense, Ken … and thanks! I mentioned the ‘problem’ of the theme giving the game away in my comment to Ken F, but what can we do? The extra misdirection … yes, another character would have been a good idea. I actually had 400 words or so to play with, so …
        • Ken Miles
          Next time pass those 400 spare words to me, when no one is looking! I spent way more time chiselling off my story well over a thousand words than actually writing it!

          Btw another detail I took note of in “Sparkle” is the “accusations of racism” bit – it’s very topical of our times: taking advantage of one’s rights and ultra political correctness, something that often gets to me!

          • Abigail Rose
            Very unique and mysterious story, it’s rare for me to read a story from the point of view of the killer, not the detective…

            I liked the part where the father killer hugs his son, it shows how proud he is of him, taking after him in the killing business, it was sweet and horrifying at the same time.

  • Rewrite. (1198 words.)
    by K.P. Cartisano I

    Dear Sir or Madam,
    Please consider this outline for ‘A History Of The Third Millenium.’ (Along with attached manuscript.) It’s a rough first draft, but wondered if you would be interested in funding its completion. (See Attached file.)

    Proposed Table Of Contents.

    Part I
    I. The Basics Of Genetic Engineering.
    II. Nature vs. Nurture.
    III. Genetics vs. Mutation.
    IV. Designed vs. Natural.
    V. The Spread Of GMO’s. (Genetically Modified Organisms.)
    VI. The Prevalence Of ESM’s. (Early Significant Mutations.)
    VII. Genetic Specialization Techniques.
    VIII. Mutation Isolation Techniques.

    Part II
    I. The Mutant / A.I. Alliance.
    II. The A.I. and Mutant Strike Of 2032.
    III. The Genetic Crusades.
    a. The First Fully Genetic World Governor.
    b. The Second Genetic World Governor.
    IV. Genetic Immortality.
    a. The Little Lie. (It Doesn’t Work.)
    b. The Big Lie. (It Will Never Work.)
    V. The First Mutant Rebellion Of 2099.
    VI. The Great Reconciliation.
    VII. The Second Mutant Rebellion.
    VIII. The Genetic Conspiracy Theory.
    IX. The Apocalypse Part I.

    Part III.
    I. Mutant / A.I. Civil War Of 2170.
    II. The Apocalypse Part II.
    III. The First Genetic – Mutant Armistice.
    IV. The Genetic / Mutant Union.
    V. The A.I. Revolt of 2440.
    VI. The Great Realignment of 2550.
    VII. Mutant / A.I. Restoration.
    VIII. The First A.I., Mutant, Genetic Alliance.
    IX. The Looming Final Apocalypse.
    X. Wormhole Opens, Go Back To Chapter I.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Faithfully Yours,
    Elijah el Shaddai II


    June 2, 2029

    Thank you for your submission, Mr. Shaddai II. While your outline and manuscript are interesting, they don’t really represent any groundbreaking or novel insights to the global consequences of Genetic manipulation. Perhaps a smaller, more flexible publishing house would find more interest in your ‘treatise.’ Thank you for your interest.

    R.T. Bumstadt
    Ransom House Publishing.


    Aug. 14, 2067
    Mr. E. E. Shaddaim III

    Regarding the 35 year-old manuscript you recently sent to us. Our Editorial Staff has determined that the aforementioned ms does not fit comfortably into any of our existing publishing models. We thank you for your interest and suggest you consider one of the self-publishing options widely available to straggling arthurs.

    Citizen 0377742g95szTU-2 (Bitty.)
    Department of Rejections.
    Ransom House Publishing.


    Augustine 37, 2097
    Mr. Elijah el Shaddam IV

    Mr. Shaddam,

    Our records indicate that this outline for, what we consider a very intriguing work of fiction, is already in one of our databanks. While we appreciate your interest in this as yet unpublished work, our legal department has informed us that it might provoke the ire of certain political and anti-humanitarian factions at a time of considerable civil and legal turmoil. Should circumstances change, we would be happy to receive your input on this particular project.

    J.T. Harvener
    Interim Editor-in-Chief.
    Ransom House.


    Janus Two, 2169
    To: Mr. Elijah el Shaddaim VI

    Mr. el Shaddaim,

    The story of this manuscript and its origins is interesting and touching, and while we would like to offer our condolences over the tragic loss of your father and grandfather in the A.I. and Mutant troubles of recent times, the manuscript you referenced is, in fact, already in our possession. While it pains us to admit that we are unaware of how it came into our possession, we are in no way willing to relinquish ownership at this time.

    In any case, the manuscript does not currently fit comfortably into any of our publishing niches.

    We wish you the best in all your future endeavors Mr. del Shaddaim.

    Sincertainly Best Woggles,
    Abbu Cyf Alubeirre
    Charge-de-Affairs – Department Of Chaotic Developments.
    Ransom Publishing Et. Al.


    Septal 17th, (inclusive) 2302 (202 G.E.)

    Greetings el Shaddaim IX, Elijah E.; Esq.

    After several failed attempts to reach you Mr. Shaddaim, I’m concerned about your well-being. It has come to the attention of the drones in our historical records department that an Outline and MS (manuscript) entitled, ‘History Of (the) Third Millennium,’ appears to bear certain uncanny similarities to actual historical events. While we are not interested in publishing the manuscript itself, we have contacted certain official authorities who have expressed an interest in this manuscript, its specific origins and whatever connection you have, and any light you might be able to shed on said manuscript. If you receive this message before the end of your life, please contact me, or one of my associates at:
    Harper, Boll & Weevil, Attorneys-At-Law @ 1-11-111-232-4454-7233 ext. 10540033741

    Good day sir,
    Gavin R. Harper XIII


    3-9-2445 BCE / 345 G.E.
    To: el Shaddai, Elija E. XXVIII

    Sir/Madam Elija,

    Surviving remnants of an extensive database indicate that you were in negotiations, if not outright litigation, with the previous owners of that database, for the rights and or partial rights to a manuscript entitled ‘History Of The Third Millennium.’

    While it is hard to imagine how one could do so, along with several other predictions contained within your ancestor’s manuscript, it appears that your ancestor correctly predicted a possible multi-phased, three part apocalypse.

    Inquisitive and rational minds would like very much to meet with you, and have tracked your location to 57 Ganymede Outworld 34. That, unfortunately, is where the trail grows cold. Should you receive this communication anytime in the near, or distant future, please feel free to contact me, Agent Deuterious Modemnal at:

    A.I. Lunamod 66332 at 75222/58 Deuterius Modem
    Thank you.


    Dear Mr./Ms./ E. el Shaddaimanthrum XXXI

    It is with great reluctance that we disturb you in your time of mourning, but the Genetic Precept contacted the Mutant Sector Governor, who then contacted a retired assistant to the Spiral Editor-in-Chief of the Regional Directorate of Artificial Intellectual Matters. A manuscript, purportedly belonging to one of your distant ancestors has re-surfaced after many, many years. While it is not our intention to publish it (spirits forefend) we are curious as to the specific nature of the manuscript’s origins. Especially as it pertains to its accuracy.

    Having undergone two prior apocalyptic episodes already, it is with considerable anxiety that we are forced to stand by while enormous internal conflicts strain the limits of our semi-galactic empire. In addition, an enormous wormhole has appeared near Alpha Centauri, and it is anything but stationary, giving even greater weight to your ancestor’s predictions. Anomalous time warps are increasing with disturbing regularity.

    If you would be so kind, we would gladly pay all expenses incurred by you, or any of your extant progeny, in order to help shed some light on this grand, and inexplicable mystery.

    I look forward to your response, sometime before the end of the universe, if you please.

    Sincerely yours,

    Officer Ebin 556 A.I.

    Grand and Exalted Artificial Director Of Intra Galactic Communications, Publications, Legalities, History, Genomes and Mutations.



    Dear Sir or Madam,

    Please find in the attached pod-mail, an outline for a book I’ve written which contains various data points regarding the facility of understanding and manipulating wormholes.
    It’s a fairly concise second draft, but needs serious professional attention to make it readable.

    Part I.

    Chapter I. The Basics Of Relativity.
    Chapter II. The Space-Time Continuum.
    Chapter III. Grand Unification vs. String Theory.
    Chapter IV. Quantum Mechanics.
    Chapter V. Wave Forms vs. Quanta.

    • Well this is clever. A flash fiction story that also serves as the synopsis of your Asimovian trilogy and opus mirabilis

      Some fun with names there too.

      How does the author, Elijah el Shaddai, know all this? Well i remember from my Hebrew classes that ‘el shaddai’ is one of the names of God ‘the Almighty’. And of course Elijah, he’s been up there and seen stuff, no doubt. In fact, if truth be told, he’s up there now. Am I overthinking this again? Have I gone off the (weather-)beaten track?
      (The only other thing I remember from my Hebrew class is that I met my first wife there. Which has no relevance, but it came to mind.)

      All in all, the story’s hoot, and a clever, science-literary one which has a philiosophical/ethical point about the ways we’re heading. Unless we stop to think about it. Or even if we stop to think about it, but make dumb choices. Which isn’t really like the human race, is it?

      Who is the last letter from btw?

      And btw btw, could it be the manuscript was rejected for misuse of apostrophes? (Part 1, chapters 4 and 5) …
      So if anyone tells you misusing apostrophes is ‘not the end of the world’, I think they may be misguided.

      • Andy,

        You liked it? Holy Cow. I was just about to have it deleted. Okay, maybe I should look up opus mirabilis first. Could be an insult. I don’t know yet. Hold on.

        No. Seems pretty complimentary. Even for you, Andy. Thanks. (Are you serious?)
        Synopsis for an Asimovian Trilogy. I sure didn’t think of that. But no, you’re not over-thinking it. You have ‘divined’ the exact nature of the plot. The only place we differ is in who is at fault, in this case my point was, sometimes, even God has to take a mulligan.

        Who is the last letter from? The one from Officer Ebin 556 A.I. ? Is that the one you’re referring to? (I was thinking some all-encompassing Artificial Intelligence/Interpol/Editor/Archivist/Scientist/Turtle.

        Even after making a serious attempt, I’m at a loss about the apostrophe errors. Did you mean Part One, Chapters 5 and 6? Could you clarify? I’d be happy to have a blue text story.

        (BTW, keep this under your hat, but Philip made a typographical error in his story. Yes, Philip. Philip Town. (In fact, there may also be a grammatical error as well.) This could be the proof I’ve been looking for, that Philip is human. I haven’t told him yet, I’m waiting for the right moment. This is his third (or possibly fourth) mistake in almost five years. (He probably just needs reading glasses.)

        Realistically, I don’t think this story will touch yours Andy. But I’ve come up with a brilliant strategy to beat you this time. It’s called cheating. Have you heard of it? I don’t want to say any more than that. Good sport that you are, you’ll probably want to wish me good luck.

        • Last letter – the one that begins “Dear Sir/Madam” and ends “Wave Forms vs. Quanta” – that is again from Elijah el Shaddai, I presume, still going after all these years? (which would confirm his immortality).

          Apostrophes: GMOs and ESMs are plurals, rather than possessives, I would hazard. The punctuation police are out and about today. Not a showstopper, but I do have elderly relatives who go around supermarkets and correct this usage on signs for “CD’s” and “potato’s”

          • Yes, you presume correctly, Andy. And I did not know that rule about GMOs and other acronyms (?) I’m still working on the proper use of semicolons, too. You think I’d know this shit by now, wouldn’t you? Good thing my old English teacher isn’t here. She’d be very disappointed in me. This is so often the problem with assuming the authorship of God. Except for minor little mistakes like errant wormholes, God doesn’t make grammatical errors. (AT least, that’s what He told me.)

            This story didn’t start out with such a grand scope, it was more like ‘a clairvoyant writer’s revenge.’ After some thought, a gallon of cough syrup, (jk) and a few delusional episodes, mk (mostly kidding) I decided to swing for the bleachers. It seems to me as if I completely missed the ball.

    • War, apocalypse … but one thing stays the same. Nobody will publish the manuscript, although it is obviously in high demand. It seems somehow familiar … Ransom House, my favorite.
    • Hi Ken C,

      i have only one thing to say; “What the……?”

      Ken Frape.
      Obviously that new medication that I sent you has not arrived or is not working.

      • Hi Ken F,

        Which medication were we talking about? And what makes you think it isn’t working?

    • I actually really like this.
    • Phil Town
      Full marks for originality, Ken. I loved the fact of the publishing house re-discovering the documents over the centuries, and the (as always suspicious) military getting interested. I thought that maybe some of the first events are a little too close to now? (e.g. “II. The A.I. and Mutant Strike Of 2032.”) But then who knows? I like the instances of language change, but just to check: was this one intentional?: “… self-publishing options widely available to straggling arthurs.” Great fun.
  • I’m working on a shorter, less ambiguous story, with a crappier ending, (if that’s even possible.)
  • Una Poole

    Unnatural Selection. (Word Count 1004.)
    By Una Poole Aug. 4, 2019
    I was eavesdropping. I’ll admit it, but it was unintentional. I was standing on the balcony, in the dark, looking for solitude. The younger crowd was downstairs, lounging around the pool on a warm tropical night, cocktails in hand.
    “Well how crazy is he?” That was Bruce’s voice. He’s a snappy, cheerful, middle-aged man now.
    “He’s not exactly crazy. He’s got Asperger’s,” Mike replied. An uncertain silence ensued. “It’s a mental condition,” he continued, “but… he’s not crazy, he’s just…” His voice trailed off.
    I dragged a chair carelessly across the tiled balcony and sat down next to a table where I could rest my soda. Though I was beyond their line of sight, the sound of the chair scraping across the floor was loud enough to be heard by everyone around the pool.
    “Who’s up there?” Bruce asked, loud enough for me to hear, but I ignored him. I was in no mood for company or conversation.
    “It’s probably Jamie.” I heard Mike reply. ‘Just Jamie,’ is what he meant.
    It’s true, I already knew about Mike’s brother; his mental problems; the burden it placed on the family. The excruciating difficulty of having a mentally disabled sibling, or child.
    Mike and Bruce forgot about me almost as soon as they mentioned my name. Which was fine with me.
    People are amazingly resilient, persevering through the most daunting circumstances. Mike’s brother is a very severe case. He can’t hold a job, will never have a girlfriend, children, a family. He’ll be like a child himself, a poorly functioning child at that, until the day he dies. The parents have accepted it. Mike has moved on. You can hear that in his voice. It doesn’t bother him. He feels lucky I suppose. Don’t we all, in a way? The mostly unimpaired?
    Bruce on the other hand, he was looking for something else, a sense of simpatico? His brother was certifiably insane: A Paranoid Schizophrenic. Locked up in an asylum. He’d been discovered lurking in his parents bedroom in the middle of the night, holding a 10 inch carving knife. They were good parents. His mother was a little crazy too, but not like that, not dangerous or violent. Bruce was not like his brother, he took after his father: Calm, happy, well-adjusted.
    “So how’s your little brother doing?” Mike asked him.
    Bruce answered breezily. “Meh, same old, same old.”
    “You ever go and visit him?” Mike asked.
    “Not too much.” Bruce replied. “It’s pointless. I went to see him after mom died. I said to him, ‘Hey, mom died.’ And he said, ‘Yeah? How’s she doing?’ And I said, ‘No man, don’t you get it? She’s dead. She ain’t comin’ to see you no more.’ And he just shrugged and started complaining about the food. He ain’t all there. It’s sad.”
    Without wanting to, I reflected on Bruce’s comments. ‘Sad’ was an understatement. I remember his younger brother. He was still living at home when I met him, going to school, going on vacations. He said some weird shit from time to time, but what teenager doesn’t? I thought they were messing with me when his parents told me he was crazy.
    They told me the whole story eventually. They didn’t want to have him committed, because once that happens, there’s no turning back. But at some point, when he got older, and bigger, and crazier, they had no choice. Now he’s permanently institutionalized. It’s a nice, clinical word: Institutionalized.
    Two young men, talking about their crazy siblings over cocktails, and to be honest, I barely even listened. They weren’t exchanging much information that I didn’t already know. That’s why they didn’t care if I was listening. I’m family too.
    The part of the story that bothers me is that Bruce, ‘the sane one’ got married about six years ago. He met a woman who didn’t want to have kids. Her family has a bit of psycho-history too. She didn’t think she was biologically capable of having kids, and he was totally okay with that, because of his own family history. But guess what mother nature did? That’s right, she got pregnant, had a kid, a little boy. They named him Evan.
    She’s an interesting woman, Bruce’s wife, intelligent; observant; cynical. I didn’t trust her when I first met her. She has an unwavering, almost hypnotic gaze. She always seemed disgusted or pained at one thing or another too. I remember thinking, ‘What an awful match.’ Bruce is so upbeat, and cheerful, and she’s so serious and cynical.
    I think I know why, now. One of the relative’s kids was standing with his back to a flight of concrete stairs, precariously close, staring at the television across the room. I was talking to Bruce’s wife at the dining room table. Without warning she interrupts me mid-sentence to shout at her kid. “Evan!” She yells. “Don’t you dare.”
    I turn to look, and Evan is marching back and forth in front of that five year old child who’s completely oblivious. Evan marched one way, then stopped and turned around and marched back the other way, missing the other kid by less than and inch both times, then he stopped again and turned around for a final pass.
    It took a moment for the circumstances to sink in.
    “Evan!” She yelled. He was only ten feet away, she was incensed, focused like a laser, starting to rise up from her chair like a serpent. “Don’t you dare push him,” she hissed.
    And that’s when it dawned on me. What she knew. That Evan was thinking of pushing that little boy backwards down the stairs, a fall that could’ve killed him. It would’ve looked like a perfectly innocent accident.
    “Come here,” she commanded. And he obeyed. “Go sit on the couch and watch TV.”
    I forgot what we were talking about. I don’t think she remembered either. She glanced at me and then looked away. What I saw in her eyes wasn’t cynicism at all. It was dread.
    • Slowly a tension builds up, until the last scene. And that culminates in the last word. Thriller in a nutshell!
    • Well put together story with a great ending.
      • Enjoyed reading your well written story.
        Reminds me of specks of myself in my children and grandchildren
    • Hi Una,

      A great piece of writing in my view. It deserves more comments but I’m sure they will come.
      It’s a crisp and concise piece of writing and I really enjoyed the way in which you discovered what the look in Bruce’s wife’s face meant. By the way, does she have a name?

      Clever to see how families either inherit each other genes or just some of them and how some things just stay hidden.

      I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading more of your work.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    • Interesting and well-written story, Una, that builds some tension as it gets towards the end.

      I had to read it several times and sketch a family to tree to get who was whose relation, as I got the brothers confused at first and thought maybe one of the brothers referred to is the narrator, Jamie. Jamie’s voice is quite melancholic, seemingly a quite isolated observer, but that gives him an overview and insight.

      There’s something about the inevitability of Evan’s condition given the history of mental illness on both sides of the family, “all in the genes”. Actually, it’s quite a negative portrayal of mental illness and psychological conditions, but it picks up on the impacts on families in an authentic way.
      I look forward to reading more of your stories.

    • Excellent! I really enjoyed your story. There’s Some really good things going on here. There’s something undulating between the words and lines of this story and I don’t think tension is the word for it. It feels more like expectation. You keep waiting to find out where this is going.
    • Una,

      I too was a little confused as to who was related to who, and this seems like one of those stories that could do without most of the first paragraph. Perhaps a few lines down, somewhere within the dialogue you could spoon in the atmospheric warm, tropical, pool side air, ‘with cocktails in hand.’

      I think this story should start with the words, “Well, how crazy is he?” That’s quite a bit more compelling than what you wrote.
      ‘I was eavesdropping, but it was unintentional.’ A contradictory sentence that adds very little to the story. And seems to put the story’s focus on the narrator, rather than the true subjects of the story. But then, maybe that’s what you intended.

      Still, it’s an interesting look at how genes can figure into the decisions and choices made by people with no real interest in genetics.

      Hope to read more of your stories in the future.

    • Phil Town
      A very interesting story, Una, which feels awash (deliberately, I’m sure) with people who have mental problems. Like a couple of the others here, I had to go back and disentangle the characters (present and remote) and their relationships, so that could have been a bit cleaner, I think. The monologue and the dialogues are excellent. My favourite line: “I said to him, ‘Hey, mom died.’ And he said, ‘Yeah? How’s she doing?’” Madness crystalized in just a handful of words. The description of Evan’s dangerousness in the little scene with the other kid, and the mother’s unspoken reaction in the last line, are also excellent (reminds me of the film ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’, with Tilda Swinton). Good stuff.
  • It’s all in the Genes.

    Life sciences are the new big thing, and the exhibition “Genes and Possibilities” proves that impressively. Our reporter Berlinermax was on site and has an overview for you:

    People with animal heads are no longer in fashion. Luckily, if you ask me. A young man wearing the head of a bulldog is an unforgettable sight, but a dog’s jaw is not very suitable for speech. Thus, parents of children with dog heads have had to listen to a lot of criticism, and so this fashion died in the end.

    The new hot thing is genetically engineered whole body tattoos. You can choose between hundreds of designs, so if you want, you can have a child with a Van Gogh painting on their body, or a map of the world or a photograph of your grandmother; the possibilities are endless. Genetically engineered tattoos are better in quality than the ones applied conventionally, and they beautify infants from day one. Many fashionista parents want the best for their little ones. That is why the company offering these tattoos can’t satisfy all its customers; there are long waiting lists. Tattoos that change color or flash with the help of externally implanted LEDs are still in development. Parents should stay curious, the industry is very busy inventing new products.

    In general, children have become the perfect lifestyle accessory for everyone, rich or poor. Life sciences are trying to use genetic optimization to create better kids that will make their parents even happier. For example: Longtime babies are the new black. The term stands for children who stay small, sweet babies for years. Babies who always smile and almost never cry. A genetic growth brake provides for this effect. And as soon as the “baby” time is over, those children grow up in months. So they can leave home and mama can enjoy another longtime baby. Image sweet children who never get into puberty, this dream of all parents can now be fulfilled by modern genetics. However, it should be noted that all products and procedures are patented, so please do not try to mix genes at home. Never forget they are human beings nevertheless.

    In the exhibition you’ll find lots of reasonably-priced products too. Do you like tanned people? Then have your children equipped with the dark gene, and they will be born with a beautiful tan. The method is called pre-tanning. Certainly it will be standard in a few years. Can you still remember the time when most people were not tall, slim and blond, when not everyone had the ideal weight? You see, the times of imperfect bodies seem to have gone with the dinosaurs, but that’s wrong. It’s just 20 years since genetically optimized first-generation bodies became a common sight.

    Bodies that adapt to extreme heat or cold so that they don’t need heating or air conditioning for a lifetime have become as standard as dirt-repellent skin, which helps to save water.

    One company is in the process of developing a person with a lifetime of exactly three years, just as in the film “Bladerunner”. But the United Nations Ethics Council will probably not approve series production, so human servants won’t be available for the foreseeable future.

    But what was my personal highlight this year? A fascinating special being? A creature that easily gets you one million Instagram followers? That will make you the center of attention at every party or talk show? OK, here is my choice: The “Molphin”, a breed between human and dolphin. Here, the head resembles that of a human, so the ability to speak is secured. The rest of the creature’s body is very similar to a dolphin. A Molphin can discuss Goethe’s plays or the dying forest syndrome with you. And the next moment it can jump out of the water, as if there was no gravity. It is pure magic to observe this being as it glides effortlessly through the water. You immediately wonder why God himself did not create such a beautiful creature. Luckily this gap in creation is now filled, and certainly modern life science will find and fill many more gaps in the future.

    • Super creative story Jurgster. You pack a lot of peculiar creatures and concepts into such a short story, and adopting the format of a news story really worked for me.
    • Hi Jurgen,

      Great piece of imaginative writing once again.

      Whilst a part of me is aghast at the prospect of such “monstrous creations” another part says that we are already there with our interbreeding of animals such as cats and dogs, lions and tigers.

      Humans really are a strange breed.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    • This is fun, Jurgen, as well s a little disturbing. It’s kind of in a tradition from HG Wells’ Dr Moreau’s Island to Margaret Attwood’s Oryx and Crake, about humans creating hybrids. Misuses of technology, or as your reporter says, filling in some gaps left by God? I like the description of the Molphin, I want to meet one.

      The story raises serious ethical issues about where are heading, designer babies, genetic self-decoration and human shallowness and hubris, (etc), all with Berlinermaximal offbeat humour. Like it!

      • The story is full of food for thoughts. It is entertaining, instructive and also scary.
        I enjoyed the read.

        I was in Bhutan lately. I saw an animal, (can’t remember its name given) in a forest zoo which had the head of a cattle and the body of a horse. It obviously interbreeding.

        In Thailand, we visited a place where baby tigers were sucking milk from a mother pig. It seemed so unnatural.

        They are places where they sponsor or get away with such research.

    • A dark story.
  • Adrienne Riggs

    By: Adrienne Riggs (w -1,196)

    Maya sat in the dimly lit room and watched her mother, Kyra, sleep. It was all her mother did these days. Alzheimer’s had created havoc in Kyra’s brain and robbed her of her skills, talents, personality, thoughts, and memories. Eventually she lost all ability to care for herself and the function of muscles left long unused. She was lost somewhere inside herself as the great thief slowly ate away at her life. Maya imagined her mother locked away in a shell, unable to find her way out. In the beginning, Maya could still see glimpses of who her mother was in the random clear speech, a look of awareness, a kiss responded to, and recognition in her eyes – if only fleeting. Now, the shell was locked leaving only a breathing, sleeping, eating remnant of life with her mother’s face and body.

    Maya had done a great deal of reflecting over her life while sitting with her mother in the nursing home. In the room, it was fairly quiet and often dim. Outside in the hallway, people were constantly moving to the cacophony of people shouting, old women crying, buzzers and bells ringing non-stop at the nurses’ station. The nurses ran back and forth doing their duties. Elderly people wearily pushed their way down the hall in wheelchairs or shuffled behind walkers. Some sat, neglected and alone, slumped over in their wheelchairs; sleeping to escape their dismal existence. If there was something to be grateful for, at least her mother was beyond caring. Of course, Maya and her father made sure her mother was treated well by their constant presence and involvement in her care.

    It was somewhat ironic that Maya was the only child to help her father care for Kyra. Two of her siblings lived in other states and were much too busy with their own lives to care about the parents who gave them life and sacrificed for them. Thinking back over her childhood, Maya almost had to chuckle. It was ironic because of their four children, Maya had always felt like she didn’t belong. She wondered for years if she was adopted because she never quite seemed to fit in. Yes, she had some of their physical attributes but she didn’t have the confidence and beauty of the others. She was shy while the others were outgoing. Her mother had treated her much more harshly than the other children. No matter how perfect Maya attempted to be, her mother always wanted more, expected more, demanded more of her. Was it because she was the oldest that this was so? Had her mother resented her? The more Maya had pondered it over her childhood, the more convinced she became that there must have been a mix-up at the hospital and they’d brought home the wrong baby.

    Kyra had been a talented woman who never met a stranger and loved to be the center of attention. She reveled in relaying personal stories about her life and her children – but she didn’t hesitate to throw in the negative with the good. In introducing her “beloved” children to others, she never began with Maya.

    It was always, “This Michael, our only son. Isn’t he handsome? He takes after his father. And this is Mary, she’s our social butterfly, always smiling and laughing. This is our ‘baby’ Martha, she’s our bright sunshine and … this is Maya, our oldest.”

    It was at that point that Kyra’s voice would drop into an exaggerated whisper, “Maya is our homely, awkward child” and then she would give a little laugh.

    Even now, Maya would cringe remembering those words. Was it any wonder she had been quiet and shy? She remembered wanting to disappear when this would occur. She remembered how she had mastered the art of being ‘invisible’ while she was growing up, and she was good at it. Outside of her small circle of friends in high school, no one today would know her or remember her. Those days seemed so long ago.

    Kyra coughed and groaned in her sleep bringing Maya back to the present. She watched her mother until her breathing settled back into a normal rhythm with the aid of the oxygen cannula she wore. In her late 70’s, Kyra’s sweet face was smooth and unlined by age or time. Her hair was more silver than grey. Whenever Maya kissed her, she would breathe in her mother’s scent. It was the same she remembered from childhood. Maybe it was a silly thing to do but it was the best reminder that her mother was still there with her. Whenever she held her mother’s hand, Kyra would grip her fingers tightly as if she never wanted to let go. Maya looked at their fingers intertwined and thought again how ironic life could be.

    Her sister, the “social butterfly” had passed away after Kyra was diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s. Maya counted it a blessing that her mother was spared that grief. Her brother, the “handsome one”, had his own life and besides his wife, he was married to his work. Even so, he usually managed to make one trip a year to see their parents and help their father with household repairs and maintenance. The ‘baby’, her parent’s “sunshine”, was the one that had caused them great heartache though they made huge sacrifices for her. Without regret, she had disowned their parents and had not been to visit them in 10 years.

    ‘And here I sit’ Maya thought contentedly, holding on to Kyra’s small hand. She remembered the beautiful things her mother had created with those hands. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t crochet or knit and her cross-stitch pictures were true works of art. She had been intelligent and quick with math and numbers. She had loved crossword and logic puzzles and owned thousands of books, all of which she had read and treasured.

    Maya looked at her own hands. She had inherited her mother’s love of books and writing. She had inherited her artistic talents although Maya preferred painting and drawing and illustrating to the needlecrafts, other than cross-stitching. She had inherited her intelligence and work ethics from both parents. Although she had to admit that the gene required for understanding mathematics was completely lacking in her genetic make-up.

    When her father walked in the room, Maya moved so he could sit by the love of his life. Tears swelled as she watched him kiss Kyra tenderly and saw her eyes open wide as she heard his voice. Her father’s kiss and the sound of his voice were the only times that Kyra showed recognition. It made Maya happy because her father was happy. Maya slipped into the restroom to dry her eyes. She was happy that the insecurities of her childhood had disappeared as she became an adult and made her own way in the world. She was the combination of the best qualities of both her parents. As she looked in the mirror over the sink she smiled, there never really had been any doubt that she belonged. The face in her reflection matched that of her mother.

    • No doubt. Funny how things turn out after fifty or sixty years, as your story demonstrates. Some things change drastically over time, some things never change. And we never really know why, so we shrug and say, ‘who knows?’ or, ‘it must be in the genes.’ Lovely story Adi.
    • Hi Adi, it’s nice to read a friendly story for a change, a story that mainly consists of the thoughts of a daughter about her mother. The essence to me is that the problems are smoothed by time and love. They do not cause an explosion. Very beautiful.
      • Concur with most comments here. Adrienne I love the subtle characterisation and the feeling the reader gets from “knowing” your characters.
    • Hi Adrienne,

      Such a powerfully emotive and descriptive piece. “The great thief” is such a wonderfully accurate description for Alzheimer’s as my own experiences tell me. Your words bring back the tears to my eyes as I watched my own father slowly disappear under that same cloud and gradually drive my mother into a pit of despair.

      Your story echoes some words that I wrote the day after my own father died. As I arrived at his bedside my mother was holding his hand and she was happy that she was there to see him and hold him one last time after 71 years of marriage.
      I will happily send these words to you if you would like to read them. Even five years on I cannot read them aloud or in public.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Adrienne Riggs
        Thanks Ken. Please send me what you wrote about your father. I write about my mother all the time. I came up with this story while sitting with my mother. And yes, I look like her. LOL.
    • A poignant story that strikes a chord, Adi. And one that picks up on who each of the characters is. The crafting of the mother’s personality through the memories of the daughter is skilfully done, and it weaves in seamlessly who the daughter has become.

      Very good title, and I liked the way it is reflected at the end, giving the sense of a very rounded story.

    • Marvelous Adrienne, really well written. I liked the little nip at the end.
    • Phil Town
      An ultimately lovely, touching story, Adi. It’s heartening that Kyra has people around her that love her, and it’s a very neat and powerful device to have Maya, the child that was under-appreciated when younger, is the only one who’s now there for her. I think the paragraph describing where the other siblings are is actually superfluous, though; it’s enough to know that for whatever reason they can’t make the effort to rally round their mother. Like Ken F, I was struck by the use of “the great thief”. Is that yours, or is it a common expression for Alzheimer’s? Very vivid, whatever.
      • Adrienne Riggs
        The “great thief” is my term. I’ve watched everything that Alzheimer’s has stolen from my mother over the last 10 years. It’s the disease that keeps on taking and taking and taking. Ultimately, it will take my mother’s life. She’s in the end stages now. Thanks for the comments!
        • Phil Town
          Sorry for that, Adi. May it be as gentle as possible.

  • It’s all in the genes…

    “RRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRowwwwwwwmmmmmmmmmMMM.” The sound of Charlie’s motor bike imitations echoed through the flat. It was meant to be a holiday. A short break for her and Bray and the kids before their fourth and final child appeared to torment her yet again with sleepless nights and mounds of laundry with sicked up milk and the slightly off smell of baby pooh would keep her busy for the next twelve months at least.

    Three year old Sarah was awfully quiet. That was not a good sign. Chloe liked to know exactly where each of the three children were and the easiest way to do that was through the individual noises made by each child. She knew Stewart the eldest at eight years, was with Bray his father on the beach.

    Chloe lifted her bulky body off the bed. She needed to find Sarah.

    “Sarah, Sarah honey do you want to come down to the beach with Mummy?” her ankles were puffy and her lower back ached. Not wanting to go around collecting, she decided to offer some enticement. “Honey, let’s go find Daddy and we all go for ice creams?”

    There was dead silence in between the revving and roaring of Charlie’s motor cycle which was crawling walls and jumping over the lounge settee and the coffee table. Charlie would be easy. Mention ice cream or cake and he would appear as if transported by the universal desire of his sweet tooth to the point of utterance.

    “Sarah honey… we are going! Are you coming?” Chloe walked towards the hallway to pick up her sun hat and beach bag from the hook near the door. “Com’ on Charlie. Let’s go I scream for ICE CREAM!” Charlie appeared with his motor bike poised in one hand, as if by some magic at the front door before her.

    “Mummy tummy big big BIG.” He patted her bulging belly. Then he put his head close to her belly button and screamed “HELLOOOO TOM TOM. HELLO WHEN YOU COM’IN OUT? EH?? Chloe instantly cupped both hands over her stomach.
    “Charlie, no darling. Not so loud. You will scare him.” She spoke in a dramatic whisper.
    “Then he won’t gunna come out?” Chloe nodded vigorously.

    “HELLOWWWW TOM TOM. DON’T WANT YOU. DON’T COME. DON’T WANT A BROTHER! NOTHER BOTHER BROTHER!” this was screamed at her stomach as loudly as Charlie’s four year old lungs could manage. It was pretty loud.
    “Charlie, CHARLIE! Oh no Charles Bradley Sandston, you listen here, that is NOT A NICE thing to say to your baby brother.”
    “Don’t care. Don’t want another brother.” Charlie grinned up at her without a trace of malice. Just good natured annoyance.
    “You apologize now. Your poor baby brother. He is probably crying inside. You need to be nice to him.” Charlie leaned in close to her stomach and muttered to it.

    “You sad? You sad? I sad cause you ain’t comin’ ‘ere, you hear!” He poked a chubby finger at the belly. Chloe did not know whether to laugh or cry or feel worried. She wanted to find Sarah in the flat. It was only two bedrooms, an open plan living and lounge room area adjoining the kitchen and a small bathroom off the hallway. The front verandah off the lounge room faced the beach front with miles of white sand and cobalt seas that disappeared into endless blue skies. The hurt her eyes. Where was Sarah?

    “Sarah, SARAAAHH? Honey we are goinggg! ICE SCREAM TIME!”

    Where was that child? She was beginning to get desperate. She decided to text Bray and get him and Stewart to come back from the beach. Five minutes later she saw the two of them trudging up the path through sand dunes studded with beach grasses, covered in sand, reddening skin testament to the fact that neither of them had slip slopped and splashed enough before leaving for their beach frolic. She had done a quick scoot around the flat and no sign of Sarah. Chloe tried to keep the panic that was rising in her voice, from making her words quiver and stick in her throat.

    “Bray, when did you see Sarah last?” She lumbered down the steps. “I’ve called and called. She’s not in the flat.”
    “She was playing with her dolls on the verandah when we went down to the beach. I told her to go inside out of the sun. Stewart got her a drink of water. We put the Wiggles on for her before we left. She was sitting on the couch watching them. You were asleep in the bedroom.”

    “Yeah I saw your note. You didn’t want to wake me.”

    “Ok. So she didn’t come down to the beach. She’s not in the flat. Let’s look around the flats. Maybe she’s gone to visit those two little girls in flat 8 on the other side of this villa row. Don’t panic.” Bray patted her arm. Stewart brought her a glass of water.

    “Don’t panic Mum. It’s ok. We’ll find her.” She thought then how alike Bray and Stewart were in more ways than one.
    “We’ll go and door knock. You stay here. Charlie are you coming with us?” Bray reached down and put Charlie on his shoulders. Charlie proceeded to drive his motor bike on Bray’s head. Bray rolled his eyes and reached his hand up to clasp the bike.

    “Charlie, park it mate.” He looked back at Chloe sipping her water. “You make yourself a cuppa. We’ll be back in no time.”
    She felt so nervy and her pent up energy crackled. The water and tea settled her down. It was twenty minutes after they left, she felt a gush of warm liquid seeping down soaking her tracksuit pants.

    “Shit, shit!” She rose and made her way unsteadily to the table where her phone was. It went straight to message bank. “My waters just broke. I’m calling an ambulance.” She tried not to sound too desperate as she grabbed unsteadily for her hospital bag. Dialed triple 000 and waited barely 10 minutes, counting time between escalating contractions, before the ambulance screamed up the driveway.

    Just over an hour later she was sitting up in the birthing suite of the hospital cradling a tousled red head baby boy, when Bray walked in to the room with the other children.

    “Where was she?”

    “Under the house. In their blanket cubby. She was sleeping with her Tom doll.”

    “So how? Why didn’t you answer me when I called you?”

    Sarah her hair a tousled fiery mess, peered up at her. “I didn’t wanna wake tha baby. So I keep stillo. He was sleepin’.”
    Bray laughed and shook his head. “Typical mum genes. She takes after you. Kids first.” He looked at her holding their latest addition. The smaller children crowded around their new brother. Stewart held back looking at his father for cues.

    • Ilana, that’s a very believable slice of family life there, highlighting the different personality traits within the one brood. And at the end, a hint as to who they take after, or model themselves on. Realistic language, tailored to the ages and the situations of varying urgency. All very nicely done.

      One further observation: I question “the slightly off smell of baby pooh” – apart from a superfluous ‘h’ (unless it’s an unexpected baby bear…), my recollection is more of house-emptying diaper-bursting explosions that even sent the dogs running for cover, as much as “slightly off” smells … perhaps there’s some rose-tinted nostalgia in the brew here 🙂

    • Ilana,
      This is a wonderfully complex story with finely understated clues and subtle hints at the nature of the various characters and their interactions. It is like a genetic layer-cake story of interconnectedness, mutual support and dependence. A very good read.
    • Phil Town
      A really well rendered, action-packed, bustling couple of scenes, Ilana. The chaos of family life is well established. I liked Charlie’s resistance to the new baby – refreshingly different from the norm we see in real life and on TV. I felt that the panic level was a little low when Sarah went missing – perhaps you could have suggested that Sarah was always disappearing, so that this was just another one of those occasions. A couple of bits of exposition for the reader: e.g. “Maybe she’s gone to visit those two little girls in flat 8 on the other side of this villa row”. But I liked the noise and chaos, and the happy ending.
    • A very lively story. I admire parents who can handle three or four children. I’m afraid I would explode several times a day. And one more thing: I wonder what it’s like to live so close to the beach. I think it might wonderful, but also pretty sandy.
      • Abigail Rose
        Great story! It made me wonder how the mother felt, having a child when she has no idea where her other one is!


    “Max is a lucky chap. I knew I am holding gold dust when you showed me his work.” The agent/salesman from Great Artists Agency said as he, Celia and Miles strolled along in the gallery, admiring the pencilled portraits of famous political and aristocratic individuals. “All these are sold. We have since displayed most pencilled portraits. Our advertisement paid off. People in the portraits turned up and bought the drawings. Isn’t that marvellous?” The salesman said, waving his hand to the framed pictures.

    “We didn’t even know our son does pencil drawings as well as colour painting.” Celia turned to reveal. She coughed slightly whilst framing her mouth with her hand. The emotions started to bubble inside her. The words seemed to stick to her throat.

    “The Duke was fascinated and encouraged us to send his portrait to the competition he was a judge of. And it won the first prize. He remarked that he doesn’t have a pencilled portrait of himself and was impressed to see himself in this kind of work. The portrait will take prime position in the main hall of his mansion.”

    “We’re so honoured. ” Miles joined in the conversation. “Max is so secretive. He doesn’t like anyone checking on him, looking at his work.” Miles added. He rubbed his chin. “We’re so thrilled that our son is so talented and as successful as we’re as artists.”

    Celia swallowed hard and played with her hands over her face. “He has just started his degree in Art. I don’t know how we’re going to break this to him. He will be angry that we went into his studio and rummaged into his belongings. Perhaps, he did not want us to know that he does pencilled drawing too.” She turned to look for confirmation at Miles.

    “Or plan to give us a surprise as he always maintained.” Miles said and jutted his chin and clicked his tongue.

    “You will have to tell him. We can’t let this golden opportunity slip.” The agent said. “The clients want their pictures signed. This means extra income for us and for Max of course.” The salesman wiped an imaginary dust on the frame of one picture. “You’re so lucky to have a child as talented as you’re. There is no doubt that like you he will earn his bread through his talents.”

    “I know. It is carried down in our genes. We inherited this gift. For generations, our family, on both sides, has been artists. It runs in our blood.”

    Celia sought for the seat in the middle of gallery and sat down to cry. Miles dropped next to her and held her shoulders as her body shook as she sobbed. “I cried like this when Alex was born. ” She reminded Miles. .

    “Thank you.” Celia lifted her gaze to the assistant who brought her a box of tissues and placed it next to her. she pulled a handful of tissues to dry her face.

    “ I remember.” Miles cast his gaze down to his shoes. “ We cried out of shock, disappointment then when the doctor, after the baby screening, announced that Alex is going to be a paralysed child. The muscle in her arms and legs are paralysed. I remember the words so vividly. Their assessment felt like a bomb dropped on us.”

    “Do you have another child?” The salesman asked.

    “Our daughter. She is a lovely child. She will want for nothing. We have come to terms with her extreme disability.” Celia wiped her nose and face as Miles and the salesman looked on to her. “At least we have one bright child. Max adores Alex very much. There are a few pictures of her in the piles of drawing.”

    “ We have enough in the bank to keep her looked after until her last breath in the Care Home, the best place for her. We couldn’t cope with a highly demanding child and regretfully had to place her where she gets the best care in the World. It makes me sad she is so paralysed and can hardly put two words together when she speaks.”

    “She understands when people talk to her and recognises everyone. She’s fine up there.” Celia said raising her face and pointed to her temple.

    “ Whenever we call on her, the caregivers remind us not to say anything bad about any of their patients because they do understand although they look like they don’t.” Miles added. “Not that we talk ill about them. Max is overly protective, adores his sister, spends quality time with her. He jumps at your throat if you say anything negative of her. I’m sure he will look after her when we’re gone.”

    Celia closed her eyes as she cast her mind back, drifting to when Alex was born. “Back then I thought how unlucky we were. It did not make sense. No-one in our family has a disability. I was not a geriatric mother when I had her. Max was born two years before her. The difference is so striking and unconceivable.”

    “Alex is our flesh and blood and we must never forget that. I am sure she will be thrilled to hear about her brother’s and our success.”

    “My son won the first prize in the competition,” Celia and Miles proudly announced to all visitors and buyers who visited their studio, an extension to their house.

    “Ok. I will come if this is as urgent. I am so annoyed that you won’t tell me about the news on the phone. It has to be face to face. What is it really? Has Alex started to talk, walk and feed herself? Has she stopped using the wheelchair? I am a bit disappointed that you haven’t found the time to bring her home for the last six weeks that I have been away at Uni.” Max voiced his displeasure.

    “We’re so proud of you, son” Miles chipped in before he cut the communication.

    The following day Max collected the caregiver and Alex. He pleated his brows as he greeted the agent.
    “Take her to her room, please? We have business to discuss here.” Celia rushed to command the caregiver to carry her responsibilities.

    “ You’ve been in my studio whilst I am away!” Max spread his fingers over the drawings laid out on the table. His face lit up as a smile spread over his face.
    “This is what why we called for you. This gentleman worked hard to get your work recognised. Your drawings are exhibited in the gallery. The one of the Duke won first prize in the competition.”

    “The portrait I drew.” Mat creased his brows, then burst out laughing. “These are not mine. They’re Alex’s.”

    “Stop joking!” Miles interrupted.

    “Alex is a pencil foot artist. She drew all this with her feet, including the one displayed in the Care Home as you walk into their establishment. ” Max said as he carried on picking and admiring the drawings one at a time. “There is no way will I steal my sister’s thunder.”

    • Phil Town
      There’s an important message in your story, Chitra: don’t be fooled by appearances. Also, there’s an implicit criticism of the parents: they’ve put Alex away to get “the best care in the World”, but they’ve obviously abandoned her in spirit, otherwise they would surely have known she was so clever as a painter. Hopefully from now on, she’ll get more attention from them, although it will come in a rather back-handed way. I would have had the parents addressing their descriptions of the children more explicitly at the salesman; at the moment, it seems sometimes like they’re talking to each other, telling each other things they already know. A nice twist at the end.
      • Thanks for your feedback Phil.
        Happy you enjoyed reading my story
    • A heartwarming story. Parents should love their children without any condition. In reality, it can sometimes be hard when one child is so much “better” than the other(s). Meaning she/he fulfills the parents’ expectations more. The end shows how easily you can overlook something, if you only look at someone’s disability.
      • Thanks for the comment and for reading my story, Berlinermax
  • Chitra,

    You’ve got a great story here, but for a couple of inconvenient facts. Alex is paralyzed in her arms, and her legs. How then does she draw with her feet? I suggest you adjust the nature of the disability, she could be a thalidomide baby, born with no arms, or born with cerebral palsy, a muscle disorder. Really, the plot is conceptually sound, and the reveal is pretty clever, but you can’t misinform the reader as you have done. Like Roy says, you can misdirect, but you can’t lie to the reader.

  • Hi Ken
    Thanks for reading my story and commenting. Appreciate it

    I seem to recall beggars in India who have paralysed limbs but their hands and feet are fine. They receive alms by opening their hands. They shuffle around by using their feet and bum. Despite being in such a state they find their way around which means their brain is ok. I saw one person pushing a cart when he had one arm stuck to his chest and was walking even though his legs were buckled.
    Some stroke victims have one side of their face only paralysed.
    They are from minor to severe paralysis. That is why I used the simple word paralysis rather medically defining the term.
    During the Christmas period I support a group of foot and mouth artists who do watercolours on cards using their mouth and feet.
    That is where the inspiration of this story comes from.

    • I see your point Chitra. How wonderful of you to give your time and effort to such a deserving group.
      • Abigail Rose
        Great story! I really liked the ending!
  • Abigail Rose
    A Disturbing Secret…

    My eyelids felt heavy, I tried to open them but it was just too hard, I gave up. Where am I? How did I get here? Am I dead?! I tried to make sense of all the strange sounds and smells around me – listing what I heard, felt, smelled and sensed, a habit that was very handy when it came to sniffing out a pop quiz in math class. Voices. Oddly familiar voices. The scent of something BAD. Someone was crying. Something was wrong.

    “It’s ok, Katey, it’s all going to be ok.” Said a voice trying to comfort the crying. Katey. Where had I heard the name Katey before? Mom. Katey was my Mom’s name! My mom was crying! I desperately tried to open my eyes and comfort her, like I always did, but the other voice got there first, “Katey, CALM down, we both knew this would happen at some point, we just didn’t know when.” “B-but,-sob-N-not t-this—sob-s-soon!” My mother stuttered between sobs, “H-how will we-sob-explain t-this t-to, to-sob- t-the world?! H-er c-classmates-” “It’s OK Katey, we’ll think of something-“ “TOM!! PEOPLE WHO ARE 5 1/2 FEET TALL DON’T JUST SHRINK DOWN TO THREE FEET AND GROW WHISKERS OVERNIGHT!!! IT’S NOT NORMAL! WHAT WILL WE SAY?! SHE CHOPPED OFF HER LEGS AND DECIDED A BEARD WAS A GOOD LOOK FOR HER?!?!?” There was intense silence, mom broke out crying, louder than before.

    Tom. The only other person in the world besides me who mom allowed to call her Katey, he was a good-looking 40 year old with a big gut and laugh lines. His smile was as wide as his stomach, so wide it hurt your mouth to look at it, and I despised him. But he made my mom happy – something that was rare – so I tried to get along with him. Right now, I didn’t care. How DARE he make my mom yell like that!!! I was about to get up and give him a piece of my mind when I decided against it, wondering where this whole “me 3ft tall with beard” thing was going…

    “Katey, I know this is hard for you to understand,” Tom said in a calm, soothing voice,“but we need to consider other options-“ “NO TOM!” My mother said, “She can’t go and live down there with those, those things! I WONT let her!! She needs to be close to me! She needs a normal life! She needs to be dealing with boys and, and debating on what friends to have, studying for tests, and getting her drivers license, getting jobs, not-“ She started crying again. “Katey LISTEN TO ME! You have to! You know it’s dangerous for her up here! She would be safer with here own kind, down… down there.” MY own kind!? DOWN there!?! That was the last straw! HOW DARE HE talk about ME like that, thinking I belonged at the bottom, like I didn’t matter and needed to be hidden!?! Taking me away! And IN FRONT OF MY OWN MOTHER!!!

    I grunted in pain as I lifted myself up, I was in my own bed, in my own room, my mom was sitting on my bean bag chair crying and Tom was standing next to her. The weird smell from earlier still in the room. When she saw me awake she ran to me, embracing me tight and shaking, still crying with make up everywhere, sweating so hard it soaked her clothes and mine. “I’m ok mom.” I mumbled. “I-I’m so, so sorry about all of this Vicky,” “What on earth are you talking about?” I asked. She cried harder. “Katey,” Tom called, “your not up to this, why don’t you go lie down, I still need to give Victoria here her get-well-soon present.” Victoria, ugh, I hated it when he called me that. It took her awhile to let me go, but she left, and I turned my attention to Tom.

    He sighed, thinking of how on earth he could explain what he was about to tell me. Without a word, he reached behind his back and pulled out a small package, handing it to me. I opened it, and stared in disbelief, this guy did NOT know how to give girls presents. I looked at him, then back at the gift. “I know what you may be thinking,” He said. “But-“ “Is this a JOKE?” I asked, holding up the SHAVER in my hands for him to see. “Victoria, what I’m about to tell you is going to be a lot to process, and hard to believe, but I assure you this is not a joke.” He took a deep breath, “what do you remember about before you lost consciousness?” He asked. I closed my eyes, concentrating,

    “I was walking down a familiar road,
    Then I saw a path I hadn’t seen before,
    A creature,
    Curiously running towards the creature,
    Down the path,
    Creature disappears,
    I tripped,
    A blinding flash of light,
    Falling. Always falling.
    And then- blackness.”

    I was back in my room. Tom was watching me, staring at me with curiosity in his eyes and- pity, did I see pity in his eyes? What had happened to me that night in the woods? My attention pulled back to Tom as he cleared his throat, “Interesting,” he mumbled.“Just as I thought.” “Tom?” I asked, “what’s going on?” He sighed, then opened his mouth. “When you were a baby, your father left, correct?” I nodded, unsure where this was going. “Your father,” A pause, “was a dwarf.” I stared at him, did he just insult my father? Why was he talking about such a painful subject? Yes, my father was short, but-

    “Let me explain,” he said. “Yes, your father was a dwarf. And your mother, a human. They met in the woods one night, and fell in love. I don’t know much, but they started seeing each other more and more, learning more about each others’ worlds, whispering secrets to each other. Your father was a dwarf prince of the fairy kingdom. He had an arranged marriage with the princess of the troll kingdom, but he broke the fairy law and ran away with your mother, and became Alexander Stone, the closest translation of his name in english. They got married and had you. It was such a joy for them, and they loved you so much, but then… one day the dwarf king came, raged that his son ran away from him, and then he saw you…” He looked at me, and then went on. “He was so mad that he tried to curse you, but your father jumped in front of you and took the hit…” He trailed off. “Your father’s DNA is in your blood, Victoria. It runs through your veins. When you went off that path… it triggered something. Your dwarf self.” “Tom, give me the mirror.” He handed it over. I looked into it… and screamed.

    • Phil Town
      A very strange tale indeed, Abigail – a curse coming back to bite Victoria (what had she done to deserve it?!) The waking moments, the strange smell, the disorientation … all well done. I wonder why Victoria needs to hate Tom (in the context of the story). Does that change anything? Just to be easier on the eye, you could maybe have put each line of dialogue on separate lines to separate it. Odd and intriguing.
      • Abigail Rose
        Thanks for your positive feedback (or at least I think it was positive)! I agree, the dialogue is a little confusing, I will have to change that in the future…

        Victoria hates Tom because she doesn’t like the thought of her mother with someone other than her father, even though her father is basically gone/cursed out of existence. I agree again, that point was a little unclear… but it makes the story even MORE mysterious…

        • Phil Town
          No, I think that was clear, Abigail … it’s just that I didn’t think that animosity really added to the story. I may be wrong.
    • A disturbing story, well written! I like the beginning when she uses all her senses to find out where she is and whats going on. And the end of course, the shocking realization. For me, this story has the quality of a dream, a nightmare.
      • Abigail Rose
        Yes, one of the worst nightmares a girl could ever have, waking up 3 feet tall with a beard…


    by Ken Miles


    Ofek ran his hand on his forehead to wipe the sweat. Maria was getting dressed.

    “Why don’t you stay?” he asked her. Ofek won’t again have a woman next to him. Because that day was the last of his existence. Even though he tried to believe Mahler was wrong.

    “I must go home now,” she told him, as she fitted her voluminous breasts in her corset.

    Ofek nodded, reluctantly. His job was done. He had lured Maria Schicklgruber, and had sex with her. More importantly, he kept her from returning to the Frankebergers and see Leopold. Now all that was left for him was to cease to exist. Simple.

    When the woman left, he played it all back in his head. It’d been easier than he’d thought. Maria emerged from the greengrocery with her overloaded paper-bag of apples, five minutes earlier than Dubinsky had said. She dropped an apple, exactly as Dubinsky had said would happen. It rolled towards him, he picked it up and offered to help her with the bag.

    “I’ve just arrived here,” he told her, “I’m looking for the Hohenstaufen Inn.”

    She looked at him, thankful for his generosity with the bag. He was a handsome stranger, tall, dark, almost certainly Jewish.

    “The Hohenstaufen? Walk alongside me, I’ll be passing by it.” That was all. Easy. She was his for the next two hours. Not the worst of endings to his existence.


    Ofek pulled up at the address the GPS took him to. The solitary beach house looked ordinary enough, the paint on its facade crumbling in off-season idleness. He had no clue why he was there. He’d got an unmarked packet through the airforce internal-mail with the GPS inside and a post-it saying “Come here on 9th February”.

    He knocked and a man unceremoniously guided him underground, down a spiral staircase. The man glanced at an eye-scanner and a door slid open. Three important-looking men sat behind a large metal cuboid table in the middle of a glistening stainless-steel bunker.

    “Ofek Cohen, welcome, and do sit down,” said the chubbier man in the middle, “I am General Moses Dubinsky.”

    The General introduced the other men as Mahler, head of the Time-Travel Program and Hertel who runs ‘Jewish Genetic Revival’.

    Ofek nodded, eager to know why he was called.

    “You’re a brilliant pilot, Cohen and a patriotic defender of our country. A remarkable spray-painter too,” resumed Dubinsky, rather solemnly, surprisingly including Ofek’s weekend spray-painting hobby on Tel Aviv’s sidewalks amongst his attributes, “We have a special mission for you: “Mission: Gene ‘H’.”

    The General rose and walked around to Ofek, endearingly placing his arm around his neck. “Just imagine, my boy, if six-million of us a century-and-a-half ago were to avoid the ovens. The world would be Jewish by now. Ours!” Hertel nodded. Mahler just stared.

    Ofek was still lost.

    “Just one man plucked out so many of our flowers, tried to eradicate us. And why? Because he was really one of us! He hated us, because he hated his own demons. The enemy is never out there, the enemy is always within ourselves.”

    Dubinsky toned down the rhetoric for the young man’s benefit, “Adolf Hitler came to be by mere condidence. One Leopold Frankenberger, a mischievous 19-year old Jew had a hook-up with his household cook, a Catholic called Maria Schicklgruber. That’s when Maria got pregnant with Adolf’s father. That unfortunate evening, she went back to the Frankenbergers’s for her pocket-watch. She crossed paths with Leopold, her boss’s son. The rest is history, my boy. Very sad history.”

    “And where do I get in all this?” asked Ofek, confounded.

    “We want you to fix that one reckless coincidence. It’s all in the genes, and you can fix that one genetic blunder. When Hitler comes he’ll be proud to be Jewish. Just like you are. And he’ll take after you in other ways too: good-looking, a successful painter. Like he really wanted to be. Women and canvas will keep him busy. There’ll be no Kristallnacht, no Holocaust.”

    He let it sink in, then went on, “We want you to go back in time. You must’ve heard we’re doing these things these days. If you did, you heard well!”

    “I fly jets, Sir, I don’t even know how a time-machine looks like.”

    Dubinsky chuckled, “There’s no time-machine. Time is a mental construct. We’re finding out it’s all vibrations: matter, energy, space, time, thoughts are only different frequencies of the same thing.”

    He looked at the two men-of-science in the room and waited for their nods of approval.

    “We don’t know exactly how it works – we have competence, not comprehension. You just take a pill, Cohen, sit down under a timehood – something like those things ladies sit under for hours at hair-salons – and relax. The brain-boys will do the rest. You’ll find yourself on 11th September 1836, the day Alois Hitler was conceived. And then, go ahead: change history.”


    “I want this one. How much?”

    Ofek looked up. Mahler, the silent man from the bunker, pointed at a spray-painting on the sidewalk.

    Ofek took off his spray-mask. “So you do talk?”

    Mahler ignored that, “Do you know why Dubinsky chose you?”

    “He said why. You heard him,” Ofek sounded irked.

    Mahler smiled, “So you really believe he got you for your fine ass and the crap you paint here?”

    Ofek looked at him, disgusted.

    “He chose you because you are a son of the Holocaust!”

    Mahler took out an old sepia photo. “This Hungarian Jew, István, and this Hannover lady called Edith, survived Auschwitz. They met while quarantined for typhus after it was all over. No way they’d’ve met otherwise. And they were your great-great-great-grandparents.”

    He took a deep breath.

    “Time-travel is tricky business. Dubinsky had a hole in his perfect plan. If one day, our enemies got hold of our technology – and they certainly will – they’ll just have to visit the past again and eliminate the man who eliminated the original Hitler! That simple. And Big H will be back again.”

    He stopped to clear his throat.

    “But with you, they’ll have an insoluble problem – they can’t eliminate you because you won’t even exist! We call it a finite time-loop. We can now bring back the past. But past entities that eliminate their own pasts are erased from the recoverable timescape forever.”

    “I see why you didn’t say a word yesterday, you were the traitor in the room!”

    “I wouldn’t put it that way. Dubinsky has delusional beliefs. I have other views. I developed time-travel with the idea to learn from history. Not change it.”

    Ofek didn’t care.

    “Do you still want my painting? It’s 200 Shekels.”


    Ofek opened his eyes and looked around. He surprised himself he still existed.

    Dubinsky stormed out angrily. Something had gone wrong.

    In a nearby apartment, Mahler dismantled his homemade timehood, while the Austrian prostitute cleaned her face from the make-up she wore to resemble Maria Schicklgruber.

    “This stays between us,” Mahler told her as he handed her payment, “and by the way, thank you for saving the present.”

    1,200 words (excluding the title and this line)

    • Wowwww. Unbelieveable story Ken. Unbelievably smart and diabolical. I think you blew my mind.
      • Ken Miles
        Believe it or not, this story mostly came from an actual dream. But in the dream, I caught her – I spotted a Pink Floyd tattoo on her upper arm while she was getting dressed, making it clear to me when (right, not “where”!) she was coming from. But by then it was to late, the mission had failed!
      • Ken Miles
        Thanks Ken – much appreciated. “Unbelievable” in a good sense I hope! Although (in real life) it may be a better if these things (photoshopping the past) will really remain unbelievable and unattainable…

        Or we’ll be hearing of Time-travel Salons to prevent that old pimple before it caused this bad dimple. People would pay good dollars for that sort of thing!


    • Phil Town
      I enjoyed this read, Ken, although I must admit to being bemused at times (e.g. “But past entities that eliminate their own pasts are erased from the recoverable timescape forever.”) I think it’s because I’m not well versed in time travel logic (I’ve had problems with previous stories about it – there was one from Andy for example, if I remember rightly). After the comp, maybe you could explain what the ending is all about? (My brain hurts …) Having said that, I like the irreverence and couldn’t-care-less attitude of Ofek (“Do you still want my painting? It’s 200 Shekels.”), and the idea that the Holocaust could have been avoided by hijacking a coupling.
      • Ken Miles
        Hi Phil, thanks and sorry to give you trouble with this one! But Mahler, in the story warns of it all being “tricky business”. I will explain the sticking points after the competition is over, as you suggested, so that I allow other readers to figure it all out (or not!) for themselves.

        That way, if anyone else is stuck, they might let me know and I’ll see if there are some really difficult bits to chew on, that perhaps need some more elucidating on my part within the story.

        The fact that I started with a whopping 2.5K first draft and had to erode so much of it to bring it down to 1.2K may have eaten up some essential information. Although the mention of “5 minutes earlier” early on in the story is key to understanding the whole piece. But I won’t say anymore just yet…


        • Phil Town
          Thanks, Ken. I’ll have another read (or five) when I have an afternoon free one day … (It’s not you, it’s me!)
          • Ken Miles
            5 reads…? That’s the sort of trouble Shakespeare used to give me back in the day! 😉
      • Did someone mention my name?
        I think it was my hologram within a hologram story that most confused you, Phil, rather than a time travel one?

        Quickly, on Ken M’s story – I was intrigued by the time manipulators’ assumption that Alois would still be born, but have a different character and that Adolf would still be born, only with better traits. There are other possibilities, such as “It’s a girl, Miss Schicklgruber!”

        I did particularly like the final twist, though, and thought the story construction was excellent.

        (Bit uncomfortable though, with the General’s motivation: “The world would be Jewish by now. Ours!” Sails a bit close to extremist conspiracy theories, perhaps? I would be tempted to tone that down a bit.)

        • A gal-Hitler – lol – I didn’t think of that! It may be an interesting story for another time, Andy. I don’t know who’d own the copyright on that one, you or I! (for some reason the memory of a certain British Prime Minister of the 1980s came to mind while writing that! But no, she wasn’t THAT bad all in all!)

          Yes, there were some wild assumptions made on the part of the time-manipulators as to what kind of Adolf would come up if they replaced his granddad. Unfortunately, the word count meant I had to trim on some clues that I had originally planted that there was indeed more controlled science involved in the whole experiment than what one reads in my final story.

          Namely, Hertel (the Genetic Revival Agency guy) had already run a complex algorithmic simulation that played out the possibilities of implanting Ofek Cohen’s DNA instead of Leopold Frankenberg’s in Hitler’s lineage. They had easy access to Ofek’s DNA from his airforce annual medical check-up samples, and the rest of the computation was up to the bigger Big Data possibilities of half a century from now.

          The new Hitler that emerges from Hertel’s simulation is a painter-womanizer Adolf who is quite keen on his Jewish heritage. And who’s still a boy! (although the girl idea is now certainly intriguing me!).

          But I had 2,500 words with all that in, and I had to sacrifice something to slim the whole thing down and be eligible for the contest. In fact, Hertel ended up doing nothing in my final 1.2K script and I could have even taken him out of the picture.

          There is also the possibility that Dubinsky was just painting a nice picture of what was to happen with the amended lineage. All he wanted was that there’ll be no Holocaust, so a different New Hitler (from the one he pictures) or no Hitler at all (or even a girl one) would have done the job for him. Actually there was no need at all for Ofek to impregnate Maria, but just distract her from going to Leopold. But I thought, I may through in some spice to add to the overall effect, and the surprising ending.

          About the conspiracy bit, well, Dubinsky is an Army General and all that, and I suppose such people may sometimes entertain some big ideas. In any case, I have Mahler calling him delusional in the story itself. But you’re right, perhaps it should be toned down a bit. I don’t want the Mossad to follow me (or recruit me!)…

          Thanks as always for reading and commenting… and שָׁלוֹם !

        • Phil Town
          “I think it was my hologram within a hologram story that most confused you, Phil,…” Ah yes! Complex science fiction, though – that’s what stumps me. (Getting a bit frail …)
    • Ha! What an end! I find Time Travel difficult and usually I do not like it very much. Had my problems with “Back to the future”. But I like surprises, and the end really surprised me.
      • Yes, I also have my own issues with the idea of time travel. But perhaps that’s why I like it – it shakes all the established premises of what we think reality is!

        But, in the story, I did not want it to win in the end – and had those who want to abuse of time traveling being outdone by those who don’t.

        Glad you enjoyed it, Jurgen, in spite of the genre not being exactly your cup of tea 😉

    • I liked the twist at the end, but I had a little bit of trouble with the premise. I don’t know much about Hitler’s genealogy, other than he was actually part Jewish. From your words, it looks like his grandmother had a hook up with a Jewish man but then married a non-Jewish German? So how would sending a Jew back to impregnate her make Hitler more Jewish? Plus Judaism is traditionally passed through the mother, so her being Catholic is still going to be a problem. But maybe I just don’t know all the facts here.

      I did like the double twist ending and if it was a little simplified in the middle I would be totally into it.

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Wendy, thanks for taking the time to comment – much appreciated.

        Historically, Hitler’s genealogy is quite murky. His father, Alois was illegitimate and one of several theories suggests that a young Jewish man was the father in more or less the same circumstances I retell in my story. It’s not, however, the version of events most historians accept, but I decided to work with it.

        Dubinsky’s project, rather than making Hitler “more Jewish” (as you said, he already was, in part, at least according to one theory), was to make him more exemplary Jewish. Sort of more similar to the patriotic Ofek than the mischievous Leopold. Perhaps I could have been more severe with the adjectives describing Leopold.

        But then again, it was a crazy plan, and if I use this story elsewhere I’ll make it clearer that Dubinsky was a bit of a nutcase, and that the reader should be with Mahler and in favor of his attempts to stop the General in his tracks, as he in fact does rather deviously in the final twist. I’d take your advice to simplify the middle part of the story, so that the ending will have more impact. I think I do lose the reader a little bit in the fanciful technicalities on how time travel is supposed to work.

        Cheers and thanks again,

    • It’s late over here, and I’m afraid I don’t have time to comment on the last 3 or 4 stories that came in – but have read and enjoyed them. Well done, everyone
  • Voted.
    Difficult to vote as there are so many excellent stories. Competition is fierce.
    Good luck everyone.
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Great stories everyone!! I enjoyed reading them. I’m sorry I don’t have time to comment on them. Time has been short this week and I’m off to Memphis in a minute. Going to vote quickly before I leave.

    Best wishes to all in the voting!!

    • Abigail Rose
      Ugh! All these stories are so… unique!!! It was REALLY hard to vote, is it possible to vote everyone first place? Thats how good they are!!! However the out come I want everyone to know that in my eyes, they did all got an equal first place…
  • I didn’t get a chance to write anything this week, but this was a crazy mix of stories like always!
    • Alice Nelson

      Hey ladies and gents, I will post the results this afternoon along with the new prompt. So plenty of time to get your votes in. You have until 3pm MST.

      • What’s the time now? I am totally disorientated with these times. Lost Toni Morrison this last week. One of the greats of American literature.

    “It’s All in the Genes” – August 08, 2019

    First Place: Sparkle by Phil Town

    2nd Place: Like Mother, Like Daughter by Andy Lake
    3rd Place: Reflection by Adrienne Riggs
    4th Place: It’s Who I Am by Dennis Wagers
    5th Place: As Talented by Chitra Adjoodah
    6th Place: Rewrite by Ken Cartisano
    7th Place: Disturbing The Counselor by Amy Lynn Raines
    8th Place: It’s all in the Genes by berlinermax
    9th Place: Mission Gene H by Ken Miles
    10th Place: Unnatural Selection by Una Poole
    11the Place: It’s all in the Genes by Ilana Leeds
    12th Place: A Disturbing Secret by Abigail Rose

    Favorite Character: “Brad” from It’s Who I Am by Dennis Wagers
    Character Dialogue: Like Mother, Like Daughter by Andy Lake

    Congratulations Phil!!
    And thank you all for participating.

  • Phil Town
    Yippee! Thanks everyone! And well done all, too!

    (When I first looked at that list, I couldn’t see my name and thought I’d been disqualified because my votes didn’t go through or something, then …)

    I was also chuffed that I got the character and dialogue vote ‘right’!

    So, ‘Shadows’ then …

    • Congratulations, Phil.
      A little while ago you won with a fairy tale, but now it seems you’ve gone over to the dark side and that works for you too!

      A good crop of stories, all 🙂

      • No Ken Frape in the list?
        • Congrats Phil.
          Great stories everyone. Enjoyed all of them
          Thanks very much for reading and voting for my story. I am flattered that you like it.
          Very surprised at my rank.
        • Ken Frape
          Hi Andy,
          I am out of the country and didn’t have the technology to reread and vote so I requested that my story should be withdrawn this time around.
          Ken F
      • Congrats Phil
        Great stories everyone. I enjoyed reading them.
        Thanks fro reading and voting for my story. I am so flattered that you like it. I am surprised at my rank also
  • Good stories everyone. Congrats, Phil. I got a chance to read the stories, but no time for comments this go round. No story, either, unfortunately. Time just slips away. Feeling much, much better, and am really looking forward to writing a story for this new prompt. Already plots are whirling around. Yes, indeedy.
  • My comment keep disappearing and I had to rewrite it.
    When I click on the star on ‘like’ on the stories it doesn’t register either
  • I actually got a notice that someone gave my comment a like. I wonder why all of a sudden. If you (whomever you are) read this, just reply a simple ‘got it’ or something, so I know if I’m getting comment notifications. It hasn’t happened for weeks.

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