“November 19 – December 2, 2020 Writing Prompt “A Zoom Thanksgiving”

Theme: It’s a Zoom Thanksgiving

Requirements:

It’s Thanksgiving 2020 (Or Christmas for those who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving), the usual get togethers are cancelled due to Covid 19, and you find yourself at a  Zoom Thanksgiving with people you aren’t even sure you like. Aunt something or other asks everyone to say what they’re thankful for. You dread the moment when it’s your turn, but then it finally arrives, what will you say.

This is a loose example, the only real requirement is that the story has to take place during a Zoom Thanksgiving with family, friends, or both. Try to introduce some sense of thankfulness into the story as well.

Word Count: 1,200

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

The writing prompt for October 15, 2020, will be chosen by Robert Emmett.

98 thoughts on ““November 19 – December 2, 2020 Writing Prompt “A Zoom Thanksgiving”

  • November 19, 2020 at 3:35 pm
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    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment within a day or two, feel free to 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.)

    Reply
    • November 19, 2020 at 4:50 pm
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      Signing in for comments

      Reply
  • November 19, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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    Signing in for comments!

    Reply
    • November 25, 2020 at 5:27 am
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      Hi Carrie and Alice,

      Can I amend this prompt to be for Christmas rather than Thanksgiving? As a non-USA resident, I don.t know much about Thanksgiving apart from what I can glean from the usual research but that leaves out all the subtle nuances and little traditions that make it what it is.I know it’s a really big deal and family time just like Christmas in the UK.
      If this is a pain -in-the- butt request then I will have to take it on the chin.

      Ken F

      Reply
      • November 25, 2020 at 1:22 pm
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        Oh Ken, I’m so sorry I didn’t think about the writers who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Of course you can amend it to Christmas, that will work just as well, as long as the other factors are present. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

        Reply
      • November 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm
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        Ken (of the Frape.)

        Thanksgiving is about football, plain and simple. Anything that interferes with that, friends, family, turkey, rabid dogs, etc. is just trying to horn in on the action.

        Did I say football? I meant food. FOOD. Actually, it’s about family and food, and like many traditions, the original reason and meaning is not as important as the contemporary one. It has always been nontheistic, and I think that’s the neat thing about it. It’s an areligious celebration of abundance that no church, faith or cult has claimed or co-opted. (Except perhaps capitalism. But we’re okay with that.)

        This year, we all stayed away from each other. We usually have 12 to 15 people over. This year, just me and Kim, and she tried to get me to use a dirty plate. (I’m sure some of you think I did something to deserve it. Yeah, but… What? Oh… most of you? If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a dirty plate. I hate that. I will pick something up off the floor and put it back on my plate and eat it, but I don’t like dirty plates. That’s all I’m going to say about it. (We could be talking trial separation, here. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little.)

        So that’s it, Ken. I hope that was helpful in your diagnosis. I mean research. Or whatever the – oh yes, writing a story.

        BTW, I have a story written especially for, well, no reason. No reason. Never mind.

        Cheers.
        K

        Reply
        • November 30, 2020 at 11:59 am
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          Ken (of the Cartisano),

          Thanks for the message and the amusing comments. You are the master in this.

          I have to say that, having asked if this prompt could be expanded to include Christmas, I just seem to have run out of inspiration to write.I don’t have any ideas in my writing box and nothing has come to me, even something rough and half-finished. These are very strange times though and perhaps the stress has finally caught up with me.

          For my wife Janice and I, Christmas this year will still have an element of family but the restrictions are making it more challenging. My son and his wife live in a Tier 3 area ( the highest tier with the most severe restrictions) and we are in Tier 2, so unless this is relaxed we will not be able to get together. My daughter, son and grandson live about an hour and a bit away and we are all in the same tier. We will meet up, with some reservations and enjoy a day together after about seven days keeping away from the general population.

          The big issue in the UK is that so many people will travel and spend time together and then there might be a big spike in the infections and then another lockdown.

          The vaccine will be available soon, we are told but i will be in the 5th group to be offered a jab so that could take until Easter 2021.

          Anyway, watch this space. A story might appear. Who knows?

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape

          Reply
  • November 21, 2020 at 10:46 pm
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    Yes

    Reply
    • November 25, 2020 at 1:23 pm
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      Same goes for you Ilana, if you’d like to change the holiday to Christmas. 🙂

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:42 am
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        I’d have to change that to Hanukah which is far more up my alley than Christmas could ever be. I started a story about Thanksgiving because I kind of know what it is about, family time getting together with relatives you may like some and loathe others, lots of food which includes a massive dead turkey roasted with crispy skin and lots of cranberry relish (YUMMO!) and food and more food, fights between cousins who are not kissin’ or missin’ and etc. I did think of a story from the turkey’s point of view. A big male gobbler who did not want to be gobbled up by a horde of fat people waiting with knives and forks to dig into his flesh. He was having a turkey nightmare.
        I actually like the idea of a thanksgiving meal where we say Thank You G-D for your bountiful goodness and the fact that you keep nasty relatives far who wish my son and me great harm far way from us. Thank you G-D for health and a hidden wealth in our lives – for beautiful friends and those people who believe in us. Thank you G-D for leading me in the ways of righteousness and goodness and protecting me in the deep valleys of deceit and violence that is this present world. Thank you G-d for the light in the night and the fact that our sun rises in the east and sets in the west daily and for the blessing you have bestowed on me. The birds that visit me and for the blessing of my precious son and my work and my goats and our cat Mitzi and the fact I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. For all this G-d I give thanks and stay the hands of aggressors and those who seek to do us harm and protect us and all good people and our friends. Peace is a beautiful thing to be pursued with all our heart and soul for through peace we honour G-D our Creator and bring harmony into the world. Go and be blessed and in peace.
        I guess we are going for another week?? I shall change my story….?

        Reply
  • November 23, 2020 at 1:33 pm
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    Haha good one! Crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to get one this time! Life has so busy I haven’t had any time to write 🙁

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 9:58 am
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    Oh yeah, count this Zoomer in. We actually have a Zoom event scheduled with my entire immediate family. I’ll probably want to write this in advance, and then highlight it with actual tidbits, not naming any names, of course.

    Roy

    Reply
    • November 25, 2020 at 4:54 pm
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      Hey there, Roy,

      Congrats on your win. I didn’t get the chance to read yours and Vicki’s stories until after a brief opportunity to vote presented itself. There was no time to read the stories, and then vote. So, no vote. Wouldn’t have been fair, and it’s a good thing I didn’t vote because frankly, I thought yours, and Vicki’s were the two best stories. I had you in a virtual statistical tie based on slightly different, but insignificant shortcomings but they were both top-notch stories.

      Yours had a really creepy feel from the get go and you expertly dragged that suspense out until I hated you, (to an amazing extent,) unfortunately, I knew how it ended due to a spoiler comment somewhere on the thread. My bad. I shouldn’t have read the comment.) Equally amazing was my ability to forget what I knew while reading the story, until the end. So I was still surprised when I figured it out, until I remembered that I already knew. This took a little luster off of my brilliance, one could say.

      My only suggestion with this story Roy, would be to trim about a hundred words out of the beginning. (Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re right. I am . I know that. Yes, I’m aware of that too. Absolutely. I agree with you one-hundred percent. Are you done?) Okay, as I was saying, about a hundred words, give or take a hundred. (I’m pulling that number out of my ass of course. Could be as few as twenty, but still,) too many words, at the beginning, you could streamline it, in my humble, ignorant and completely unworthy opinion. Just the beginning. Once it gets going, it’s very absorbing. And creepy, because you just know something bad is going to happen, the cave-in was not the worst of it, somehow you just know that.)

      As for your health, I hope it continues to improve, Roy. (And remember, writing is good exercise for your fingers.)

      Just between you and me, Roy, the prompt put me off. I thought it was a silly prompt, and I couldn’t really think of anything, other than, either the character is sleeping, or he’s an insomniac, and no one else had submitted a story, so I thought, ‘how difficult could it be to write a stupid story for this ridiculous prompt?’ Why are there no stories? So I wrote a silly story about nothing, you know? It wasn’t a junky story, I worked on it with dispassionate diligence despite its silliness, and a few people seemed to think the dialogue was sharp, but I didn’t think it was a particularly creative piece. and I didn’t spend more than a day on it, (24 hours) with a final edit the following morning before posting. So, I don’t know what the votes were, but I doubt that my story would have mounted much of a challenge. I’m sorry to see that Vicki’s story didn’t get more recognition, but I cover that elsewhere.

      Cheers, Old Man.
      Ken

      Reply
  • November 25, 2020 at 2:47 am
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    Well peeps, I’m not feelin’ it with this prompt. Too goody-two-shoesy. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart, but I hope not.

    First of all, I don’t zoom well. I look horrible, like a ninety-nine year old Harrison Ford. An ugly one at that, with stubble. Zooming is one of those things old weather-beaten people like me should avoid. It’s the lighting, and leaning over. Gravity adds 37 years to your features. Gravity is such a buzzkill.

    Sure, we need it. Can’t get rid of it… it’s definitely here to stay. (Like the virus, and masks… worse maybe.) But still, does it have to be such a drag? On everything, all the time? Woah wait. I AM NOT ASKING FOR ANTI-GRAVITY! I want to be very clear with the universe on that. Don’t change anything. Do not—change anything. I think I speak for everyone here when I say ‘We accept gravity. We’re fine with it. Don’t change anything Mr. Universe sir. Okay? Thank you.’ (You have to be careful what you wish for.)

    But I digress, this note is simply an explanation of why I didn’t do my homework.

    So. I just got back from a 15,000 mile trip by camel and donkey. Okay I’m exaggerating. It was 10,000 miles and the camel was air-conditioned. I’m not complaining, really. I had a lot of fun, especially when it snowed. (I love snow. It’s so cold.) (And slippery, one should not forget how slippery it is.)
    Camels don’t understand snow, even though it’s a lot like sand. (That’s why you need the donkeys, obviously.)

    We went through eleven states, two where marijuana is legal, one where they string you up by your hardware for possession of rolling papers. We crossed five major rivers, nine times, without changing direction; crossed various mountains and prairies, windy country; through three time-zones; a couple of deserts, a gulch or two, saw some tumbleweeds, that were stuck to some windmills, with a bunch of cows milling around, discussing what to do about the bison element in their midst.

    Saw some cliffs, some waterfalls, some people. Yup, saw some people. It was inevitable. (Actually, I think it was part of the plan, but it doesn’t matter now.) We survived. So far. (Tested negative anyway.)

    We avoided all major cities and stayed with family or friends. Except for two hotels. Visitor centers were closed. Welcome centers were shuttered. A lot of businesses were already closed in small towns. Restaurants are taking it on the chin. It was, in a way, like traveling in a country that’s under siege, while half the people are trying to act like everything is normal. (Which wouldn’t seem like such a bad thing, it’s just not realistic. And it seems like people go through their ‘unrealistic phase’ at different times and durations, depending on who knows what.)

    The hotel’(s) were– not deserted. There were several dozen cars in the parking lot, at least, and one of the hotels was pretty big, it just felt like it was deserted, because people stayed in their rooms. Mostly. The hotel restaurant was deserted. And the one time when I did run into someone, I didn’t want to share the elevator with him.
    I was already in it when he approached and said, “Do you mind?”
    And I said, “Uh, yeah, I’m afraid I do. Sorry.” And then I pressed the button for the fourth-floor with the muzzle of my glockenspiel.

    That glockenspiel? It’s payback for ‘unflurried.’ (Or homage to it.)

    So, that’s it. That’s why I couldn’t vote or comment much the last week or so. Therefore I put the comments for last weeks stories on this thread. The comments should follow this one.

    You have my word on this, most of it, in a broad, general sense.
    Ken

    Reply
  • November 25, 2020 at 5:00 pm
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    Hey Vicki Chvatal, (if that’s your real name…)

    Nice story last week. (You know, the fog and smoke one? No mirrors, thank God.) I thought it kicked ass. The dialogue was excellent, and somehow (maybe it was just me) but it rendered a comic book (graphic novel) kind of mental image at the ‘truck-stop diner.’ (An unmistakable and very clever use of stereotype.) (I thought.) I was hooked, and you reeled me in beautifully from that point on.

    The vague ending? I thought that a dragon was involved. It flew above him as he drove down the road. It picked up the semi, (well, something did.) At the end, ‘…pointing some thing at a large rock hovering in the air in front of it.’ (If only the rock had spread its’ wings.) Maybe I’m wrong but, where there’s magic, there’s gonna be wizards, and wizards and dragons are like salt and pepper. You don’t have one without the other.

    In any case, I love the ‘blinding flash lit up the night, accompanied by a sound like a thunderclap.’ ‘Magenta-coloured.’ Random flashes. ‘The air felt charged.’
    Great stuff. Vivid, imaginative and entertaining.

    You wrote: Greg drove as fast as he safely could…’ Mmm, I don’t know how you would say it, but if he was really scared, he would actually drive with no regard for rules, safety or the laws of physics. It’s a minor point but one of the reasons this story seemed like it could use a little more polish on the ending.

    This was my favorite story of the contest, and I would’ve put it in first place, (if I had voted). Even with the rough edges I think this is marvelous writing. The last word prompt doesn’t really fit, but it’s a vague line and barely fit into several of the stories. I’m sorry the story didn’t seem to resonate with more writers, or readers, because it sure lit up my brain. Very enjoyable writing, Vicki. Just wanted you to know that that’s what I thought.

    Ken

    Reply
    • December 3, 2020 at 7:23 pm
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      Hi Ken,

      Yep, that’s my real name. I didn’t make it up just to watch people go crazy trying to spell/ pronounce it. 🙂

      Wow, thanks a lot! I’m gratified that you liked my story.

      No, no dragon. The idea is that there’s a mysterious “ore” that releases magical energy when burned, much like electricity is produced from coal, and that energy can be harnessed through artefacts (like wands, etc.). And the folks who discovered it took over an old power station and are experimenting to see what it can do. Hence levitating trucks and the rest of it. I don’t know if dragons would crop up as well, but… not this time.

      As for Greg’s reaction – it felt plausible to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, IMO it’s more of a WTF reaction at this stage than real fear because it’s so weird and so outside any frame of reference he’s got. What would you say that was – magic? Areyoukiddinme? This guy hasn’t believed in magic since primary school, if not kinder. Secondly, the truck had already stalled (from magical interference, but Greg doesn’t know that), so he wouldn’t want to risk it ‘cos how screwed would he be if it happened again before he got away from whatever it is? Lastly, I think some people would react to improbable situations by acting on autopilot, as if the world still made sense. It might even be a survival mechanism – after all, mindless panic is a sure way to get one killed.

      Reply
  • November 28, 2020 at 1:18 pm
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    CHRISTMAS GREETINGS

    “I’ve tried but it doesn’t seem to be running.”

    “It’s probably overloaded – the whole world’s using Zoom today.”

    “Yeah, you could be right. Shame, ‘cos I wanted to introduce you to everyone.”

    “Never mind. Another day.”

    “Okay, for my parents and my sister. But we were all getting together – the whole family.”

    “You told me about your grandparents. Who else?”

    “Well, there are my uncles and aunts in France, and my cousins – they were all going to be on-line.”

    “The ones you said you hated? Those cousins?”

    “Exactly. Jumped up, they are. Just because they’ve made a life for themselves in another country, they think they’re something special.”

    “I’ve got family like that.”

    “And then there’s Uncle Martin.”

    “The priest?”

    “Always giving us sermons about clean living. And just imagine how he gets his teeth into it at Christmas!”

    “He wouldn’t like it that we’re living together, then.”

    “My mum told him we’re engaged.”

    “That’ll take the sting out of it.”

    “Yeah. But ‘clean living’. I wouldn’t put it past him to be one of those kiddy-fiddlers. He has that look about him.”

    “Eurgh!”

    “Anyway, I was hoping I could introduce you, get it out of the way. My mum’s been nagging me about it.”

    “As I said, it’ll be for another day. But what are we going to do instead?”

    “What’s that look … what are you thinking?”

    “We could … you know.”

    “We could. Come here, you.”

    “Mmmshmmff/Mmmshmmff.”

    “Mmm. Shall we repair to the bedroom?”

    “Must we? We haven’t done it on the table yet, have we?”

    “I don’t believe we have, no.”

    “God, you’re hot.”

    “Not as hot as you.”

    “Mmmshmmff/Mmmshmmff.”

    “Let me just take this off.”

    “Take it all off.”

    “Your wish is my command, oh master.”

    “Slowly!”

    “Like this?”

    “Yeah. Wow, that’s something else.”

    “You likey?”

    “I likey very muchly.”

    “Come on then.”

    “Now, get on the table like … that.”

    “Ooooh!”

    *****

    In various homes in Portugal and France, mouths were agape – some with astonishment, others with fascination. Grandparents squinted at the screen, wondering what was going on. Furious, offended cousins covered the eyes of their offspring. A priest, blushing with a mixture of censure and shame, logged out.

    .

    Reply
    • November 28, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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      Phil, I loved every single thing about your story except one line. ‘Grandparents were squinting at the screen wondering what was going on.’ That one. In my world, perhaps, the grandparents would have been the culprits not knowing they were ‘live’ and on camera. But, other than that, well done. Funny, on point, and on prompt. Yes sir, you’ve done it again.

      Roy

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:39 pm
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        Thanks, Roy!

        Yes, it would have been more realistic perhaps that the grandparents would be the ones having trouble with the technology, but then maybe the younger ones are more prone to complacency (?)

        Reply
    • November 29, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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      Haha! Phil this is an excellent story! This one certainly takes the cake lol

      Reply
    • November 30, 2020 at 12:07 pm
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      Hi Phil,

      A really entertaining story that really made me laugh.

      Great dialogue that we know is never easy.

      On the same theme as your story, I heard about a very elderly lady who decided to do a dance class on Zoom. She decided to strip off and be free, unaware that the other participants could see her. Apparently, one person said about this old lady,
      “I don’t know what she is wearing but it needs ironing!”

      i am trying to get something together for this prompt but I have drawn a blank so far.

      Well done, Phil.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:40 pm
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        Thanks, KenF.

        Love the anecdote.

        Shame you didn’t get one in this time (so to speak …).

        Reply
    • December 1, 2020 at 2:07 pm
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      I really like this use of dialogue and the way it flows so well. I love how the couple manage to insult just about everyone in the family in every way. Would personally like to read a Part 2 where the characters have a reunion!

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:48 am
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        Hi Phil
        Great dialogue as per usual and loved the story. I am with Zoe, her echo in fact. Part 2 my man is it coming up in another chapter or so….

        Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:43 pm
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        Thanks, Zoe & Ilana.

        Yes, that (a reunion) would be … interesting.

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 9:06 am
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      Great story Phil and excellent dialogue as always!

      Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 10:33 am
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      Good one, Phil!

      If computer/smartphone screens are a way for many to keep up appearances and paint their perfect selves, getting caught unwittingly online is also the best way to show one’s true colors and opinions!

      This theme is brilliantly portrayed here, by the master of dialogue. I can see red faces everywhere. Thanks for the good laugh!

      Ken M.

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 4:47 pm
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        Thanks, Ken.

        Yes, very uncomfortable all round.

        Reply
  • November 29, 2020 at 11:16 am
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    The Time For Giving.
    By Ken Cartisano
    WC 1197

    The mountains are always greenest in the summer.

    You’re in the woods by the stream when you first realize you’re not alone. The hair stands up on the back of your neck. You can feel his silent, alien presence even before you see him: Dark skin, long hair, feathers, necklace of sinew and bones, painted face and arms, he is well camouflaged against the lush foliage.

    You speak no common language. Your farm is right in the middle of his hunting ground. This information comes too late to remedy matters, even if you wanted to, which you don’t.

    You realize you see him because he has allowed you to. He redirects his intense gaze and you follow it to a tree whose bark is partially hacked and chopped away. It’s a marker. That’s his territory, you understand and you nod.

    Informed of the truce, your spirited wife clucks and shakes her head as she serves you your supper that night. Afterward, she slams pots and shuts pantries with extra force, so you grab your homemade pipe from the mantel and step out onto the porch for a smoke. Sunset always turns the mountains blue.

    Months go by and there’s no glimpse of the stealthy native. No trace of his silent passage.

    The third winter comes early. A meager crop lies frozen in the field, and the grocer is stingy with his credit. Your wife is fat with your second child and you’re contemplating the unthinkable slaughter of your only horse. When you escape the cabin for a fresh load of firewood, you find a pile of orange gourds, and two sets of footprints in the snow. The bright orange gourds are edible, defy winter, and the smell of their roasting pulp lifts the spirit.

    The following Spring, you maintain a cautious distance as the native approaches your offering of cornmeal, cider, and a full basket of nuts, all laid out on the flat-topped boulder by the chestnut grove. It is a token of your gratitude. With one muscular arm he hefts the basket, as that is what he truly covets. Your eyes meet across the glade, and there is no understanding. His inscrutable gaze leaves you feeling guilty; then he disappears into the woods, taking the basket, cornmeal and cider.

    You own title to this land, certified and sealed, but the native—who doesn’t own land, is now beholden, by culture and tradition, to repay your generous gift.

    Three winters pass, brief and mild, but the sixth year sends word of its wrath well in advance, with howling winds and freezing rain. The children suffer almost as much as the animals. On ten separate occasions the primitive hunter delivers cleaned and gutted river trout, laid out on the porch. The following spring you return the favor by leaving him a grouse and six chickens, along with apples and corn from your spring cellar.

    Your youngest child dies in the summer of your tenth year. You dig his grave and bury him while his siblings watch. Your wife is too stricken to attend. There’s no sign of the silent stranger, but you feel his eyes on you as you perform this grim task, and you blame him for your sorrows.

    A few days later, you find a tiny, precious tin of wild honey on your porch. You slam the door and fling it against the wall.

    By the following year, you forgive the Indian for the imaginary transgressions he never committed.

    You intend to express that spirit with a special gift. A turkey is a large meaty bird, but a wily one that often leaves hunters scratching their heads and eating beans for Christmas. You’ve mastered the art of calling them.

    But there’s no sign of the red-faced scowling hunter.

    Your wife lies near death in her bed for most of the twelfth winter, succumbing to it just before the spring thaw. A troubling spate of minor thefts plagues the household that year, but your wife’s illness renders all other events trivial by comparison. Your second eldest, the girl, points out the small size of the footprints that accompany the thefts, while your eldest son stands mute, distracted or sullen. Many nights you sit on the porch alone, contemplating the invisible mountains. On moonless nights they are as black as the abyss.

    A second season passes with petty thefts and mysterious shortages, but no sign of the native, just the smaller set of footprints from time to time.

    In the fourteenth year, the mercantile offers delivery service to farmers in the cove: A miraculous development. Compliments are exchanged; cider is consumed; news is delivered; until the driver brings up Indians. “Had to shoot one ‘o’ them upstart savages a while ago, and I didn’t hesitate. No sir.”

    “When was this?” You ask.

    His answer is vague, ‘A year or two back.’

    You press for details. “Where?”

    “I don’t know.” He says.

    “Think!”

    “Not too fer up the old cove road. Last summer. I run him down with the wagon. He tried to rob me.”

    You stare at the man. “Did he have a gun? A knife? How did he try to rob you?”

    “He flagged me down. Stood in the road flailing his arms.”

    “I thought you said you shot him?” You watch the driver mop the sweat from his brow. “Did you kill him?” Your children are outside, hanging on every word. The driver doesn’t know, or care. Your fist hits the table with such force that everyone jumps. You rise to your feet and hiss. “Get out, you worthless pile of spit… Get out and don’t you EVER come back here.”

    As the sixteenth winter approaches, the cribs and chattel are full and you’re dawdling out by the chestnut trees. In Autumn, the mountains turn red and gold. You see two figures emerge from the woods, walking straight for the porch. Curious, you approach the house too, from a different angle.

    One figure appears crippled, the other, a small, teen-aged native girl you’ve never seen before. As you approach, your eldest son opens the front door and shamelessly embraces her, then hands her the turkey the two of you shot that morning.

    As you approach the porch, you recognize the native hunter by his long black hair, bone necklace and perpetual scowl. He uses a cane now, and is not so fierce up close, especially after being run over by a wagon.

    The unlikely trio waits as you climb the porch steps, the other children watch, mouths open. One child thinks to fetch you a weapon but is restrained by your daughter.

    The squaw is holding the turkey out, a big bird, a huge gift. Too much, really. This is reflected in her perplexed expression. She can’t accept it. They are at an impasse, when your daughter Ann, 14 years old, snaps her fingers and points at the youngest child first. “Get some potatoes, as many as you can carry. Timmy, put more wood on the fire and stoke it. Zeke, get the cider and some tin cups.”

    That bird is plucked and stuffed before the sun hits the ridgetop. No one protests, certainly not you.

    Reply
    • November 30, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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      Hi Ken,

      What a fabulous piece of writing. I am still savouring my first reading and it will not be the last.

      The description of the sheer savageness of the environment is beautiful to behold and so powerfully written. Those early settlers must have had a will of iron. No tablets for a headache and no medication for pretty much anything. god, it’s hard to imagine just how hard life was.

      This was giving gifts with real meaning.

      It has been quite some time since I read a story that had so much power.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • December 1, 2020 at 11:22 am
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        Well thanks, Ken. I’m thrilled that you liked it so much. I don’t believe this really qualifies for the contest, (except in the most abstract sense) but, that’s okay. I wrote it for non-Americans like you, who don’t understand Thanksgiving. So I’m really glad you liked it.

        Reply
        • December 2, 2020 at 5:03 am
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          Great writing Ken. I am really partial to delving back into history to bring to life a raw, passionate clip of the past. The writing is visceral and grips your reader by the “metaphorical balls”. I know I am not allowed to use the other cat metaphor as it has been over used by a President (and his detractors)who excited a lot of people with his use of raw sexually explicit terminology in an effort to capture a moment of lust in a boys’ club urinal when he was jousting in a private “let’s impress the other guys with a bit of sexy time talk” competition. I will just say that your story had beeggg testes. Loved it and it is my pick at the moment with Phil’s brilliance dimming a little, but still he had a great story.
          I love the ending when people come together to break bread over a meal and enjoy themselves.
          I will try to get a story in by next week but I always have a fit of depression from the 3rd of December to 7th as the 3rd marks the loss of a baby in 1973 and the 7th December is my late mother’s birthday. She would be 99 years of age this year. It is a maudlin time for me and my writing pauses in harsh reflection of the past and what should have been but never will and how to climb out of the darkness pit and to walk towards the light….

          Reply
          • December 3, 2020 at 10:57 am
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            Ilana,
            Thank you very kindly for your note of appreciation. I hope you will soon pass through your period of depression, and get back to being anxious and pissed off like the rest of us. (Or at least, half of the rest of us.) Frankly, I’ve come to expect more from a President. For guidance or inspiration, T**** need not have looked any further than Merkel, Macron or Trudeau. But that’s another topic for another site.

            It is an unfortunate probability, that a full life often requires, or at least includes, a fair amount of sorrow. What we love seldom lasts, what we hate can never find the goddamned door.

    • December 2, 2020 at 7:13 am
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      A very cinematic piece, it feels like it should be part of a larger novel. Is that something you are considering? Definitely a fascinating theme.

      Reply
      • December 3, 2020 at 11:00 am
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        Zoe,

        ‘Cinematic.’ I’m getting a swollen ego with these grand compliments I’m hearing. To answer your question, no, I was not considering this story for anything more than what it is. But, I am fascinated with the people, the place and the time. But mostly because the historical landmarks are conveniently located. I have an equal fascination for ancient cities and civilizations, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Celts, Mongols, Mayans, Etruscans, etc., but not much opportunity to study their ruins in person.

        I’ve toured many historical homesteads. Noted the hand-hewn construction. Scanned the crumbling headstones in tiny, local cemeteries, just out of curiosity.

        I’ve stood in the doorway of my own cabin and gazed at the same mountains that they did, stood in those same woods, alone, on a moonless night. Even with what I know, an educated, literate inhabitant of the twenty-first century. Those woods can scare the crap out of me.

        How anyone had the courage and the brains to survive in that environment, without the benefit of any modern electric, or gas-based power or tools, is a feat beyond my comprehension, even when I see the evidence with my own eyes.

        The contingent of Appalachian settlers, mostly Scotch-Irish, may fall far short of the achievements gained by other noble peoples, but they wrestled nature to a draw, bare-handed, for generations. Seeing what they did and how they survived gives me a sense of pride, just to be human.

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 9:14 am
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      Ken, This is wonderful writing! I thoroughly loved it. History is important and we need to remember how this country was built and the hard times our ancestors survived in order to establish what we have now. The native Americans gave up much when the settlers moved in. They have a rich and abundant culture. Thanks for the walk back in time.

      Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 10:20 am
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      This is … I’m going to say it … magnificent, Ken. The first thing – the choice of the 2nd person …. it works so well. The descriptions. I could have sworn you’d lived this life, it’s all so vivid. The grand sweep of the seasons and years and tragedies … and the fact that it’s only after all that time that the families feel they can – as Ilana says – ‘break bread’. The anger we share with the farmer over the ‘killing’. The heart-warming ending. I didn’t understand the thing about the honey? And the nod … are we sure that native Americans understood nods and shakes of heads? But that’s me being petty. This is brilliant stuff. Congratulations.

      Reply
      • December 3, 2020 at 11:01 am
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        Thank you, Phil, for your honest feedback and glowing critique. (The check is in the mail.)

        But, magnificent?

        You’re probably using the ‘English’ version of magnificent. Which, if I’m not mistaken, means passable. I’m happy to accept that as a compliment.

        As far as ‘the nod meaning yes’? Artistic license allows that.

        However, ‘the thing about the honey’ you mentioned. If you didn’t get that, I should probably remove it or devise a clearer alternative. I was trying to describe a small gesture of kindness that’s rejected by the settler, in his misplaced anger.

        Reply
        • December 3, 2020 at 11:33 am
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          Well, I thought it was magnificent – an epic in less than 1,200 words. This (for me) was one of the best things, if not THE best, I’ve ever read of yours. Don’t be falsely modest! (Perhaps you feel frustrated that it didn’t allow you to employ your trademark wit?)

          ‘Artistic license’? Ok … Until an expert in native American Indian culture reads it and tells you a nod means “I’ve just stolen your stallion”!

          The honey … I see … throwing it against the wall is a gesture of frustration/anger at the world? Ok, I get it … I was looking for some reason he’d be angry at the native hunter and couldn’t find any.

          Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 1:02 pm
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      Hi Ken, here you are again with a superb piece of writing from America’s wild side; there in the harshness of a country coming of age, skipping perhaps the usual slow and painful rites of passage towards full-blown civilization, that you’ve given us some of your best writings. Whether it’s man alone against nature, or your Civil War inspired stories, or now with this delightful insight into Amerindian mythology, your stories conjure a picture of an American reality that we’ve only seen through mist.

      I somehow love this line:

      “You realize you see him because he has allowed you to.”

      It delivers in the most profound way the unsettling authority exerted by the Indian on the mindset of the settler; it haunts the White Man, and us readers, for the rest of the story. Until the Indian reappears crippled and downsized, but more approachable, before the end of the story. A masterful use of ‘show don’t tell’ on your part.

      I don’t know about the Zoom bit, but yes we do have, here too, people looking at each other from far, trying (and succeeding in the end) to bring down the (cultural if not technological) screen between them and celebrate a Thanksgiving meal together.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • December 3, 2020 at 11:08 am
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        Ken Kilometers,

        Your description of my story is excellent, and in some ways, more enlightening than the story I wrote. It provided insights that I may have intimated subconsciously, because I didn’t intentionally think them through.

        Despite a firm historical foundation, the story is, as you say, mythological.

        Thank you, once again, Ken, for your kind, thoughtful, and marvelous observations.

        Cheers to you too!
        Ken (Crankysano.)

        Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 1:11 pm
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      More than decent writing, Ken, and very well done in every aspect. I read it twice, the second time just to enjoy it again. (That’s one of the nice things about short stories.) I’m not sure it qualified for the contest, but who cares. Good writing is good writing. While I got to Zoom with my kids and grandkids, and it was grand, just the two of us this year didn’t seem quite as festive as years past. So reading this story brings home to me why we should be thankful in a big way. Thanks.

      Roy

      Reply
  • November 30, 2020 at 8:41 am
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    AFTER THE PRAYER
    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words)

    “Whose hand is that? Hold it back, damn you, whoever you are… I’ll get there, somehow, and I’ll kill you, I swear I will…”

    Ron leans towards his computer screen. It’s a man’s hand, no doubt about that – hairy and all, hovering over Jeanette’s thigh. Only the hand is visible, the rest of the male figure is out of frame.

    “Why do they even call it Zoom!” Ron laments as he zooms into the running video to get a clearer view of the the man’s hand, now venturing under Ron’s wife’s miniskirt. But the more Ron zooms in, the grainier and murkier the blown-up moving pictures get.

    “Hey! Who’s it there? What’s going on, Jean!” Ron yells into the microphone, “Jean! Mom! Dad! Why won’t you answer me? Hey…!”

    Dad says the Thanksgiving prayer, and Mom, Jeanette and whoever else is with them repeat after him, totally ignoring – or not hearing – Ron calling out to them.

    “Damn work! Damn COVID! Damn travel ban, curfew and all… I should’ve been there with them!” Ron grumbles as a tear runs its course down the wild furrows of his wrinkled face. Why would Jeanette do that to me? he juggles words and emotions in his head. After all these many years together.

    His eyes remain fixed on that hand still holding fast to his wife’s skin-color sheer nylon tights, fingertips hidden under the hem of her short burgundy skirt. Everyone apparently oblivious of his presence at the other end of that video-call, Ron taps furiously on his microphone to get their attention.

    Dad lifts the stainless-steel dome lid over the large plate in the middle of the table, and the escaping fumes from the large stuffed turkey fill the room. Soon it’s not possible to see anything anymore, and whoever is holding the webcam runs a handkerchief over the lens to wipe off the water vapor that condensed on it.

    Ron looks carefully, perhaps he will now catch a glimpse of the man next to Jeanette, once the camera is placed in its new position. But the person holding the webcam – Liam most likely, at home he’s the hopeless but presumptuous camera guy, who thinks of himself worthy of Hollywood, yet can’t hold a camera straight – cuts out the mysterious man again.

    In spite of the gravity of the situation, Ron’s lips curl up a little, almost instinctively, at the thought of his overweening younger brother. Liam would ostensibly talk up the photos he’s supposedly taken on this or that photography expedition, and once developed, all he gets is blurred pictures of people with cut out heads and out-of-focus scenery. And now he got into video-making too. Liam’s talents are a standing joke in the family, he’s the great dreamer with sloppy fingers. Here he does it again, but this time it isn’t funny. On one side half of Mom is missing, and on the other the whole man seducing Jeanette is, bar his intrepid advancing hand.

    “I’ll come over right now! Break every speed limit, if I must…! I give a damn about the curfew! I’m coming over and I’m gonna kill you, owner of that hand!” Ron is about to rise, and that’s when he remembers he is now wheelchair bound.

    Jeanette, puts her arms around him and runs her hand on his chest to calm him down. She heard Ron shouting, and huffing and puffing from the kitchen, and abandoned the Thanksgiving turkey she is preparing to check out on him.

    “So you’re here, already!” Ron snaps at her.

    “I’ve been here all the time,” Jeanette tells him.

    “I saw you on Zoom, at Mom and Dad’s… Who was that man, next to you, touching your… leg?”

    “That was you, honey. And that’s not Zoom. That’s the Thanksgiving video from forty years ago you watch every year… the one Liam shot, in which he cut you out. Poor soul, he was one fun, but clumsy little fella. It’s one thing messing up with a camera, another with that motorbike, alas…”

    “Why would I be watching a video from forty years ago?” Ron’s voice switches from angry to confused in the middle of that question.

    “It’s the only video we have of your parents, honey, the one in which they’re both more or less in frame and crispy enough to recognize. You’ve been watching it every year, on Thanksgiving, since Mom and Dad passed away.”

    “Mom and Dad passed away? Why didn’t anyone tell me!”

    “Honey, you’re a little bit confused right now. Come, let’s go to the kitchen. You’re gonna love what you see.”

    “So Mom and Dad are not coming? And Liam?” Ron asks her as she wheels him over to the kitchen.

    “I’m sorry, they can’t make it this year. You know, COVID, curfews and all that…” Jeanette says, trying to make her voice as comforting as she can, even though she might herself burst in tears any moment. But she holds herself together. For Ron. He needs her now more than ever.

    She wheels her husband close enough to the oven and points at the see-through oven-door.

    “That’s one mean helluva turkey, Jean! Will you at least be coming? I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving all by myself…”

    “Yes, I’ll be coming, honey. I won’t miss Thanksgiving for the world!”

    She helps him out of the wheelchair and onto his large wooden chair at the dining table, the same chair on which he sat for the half-a-century they have been together in that house. She sits next to him in the little space left on the edge of the massive chair, as she often did. She is still as slim as a model, in spite of her years. And still as pretty as one, she never really lost it.

    “Do you remember our first Thanksgiving together?” she asks him tenderly, holding her breath. His dementia has taken away most of their memories together. That is the most hurtful part.

    He thinks for a little while, and then slowly forms words out of what he does remember.

    “Yes, Jean, we were in my old Viscount, the one Uncle Melv let me have to save on the scrapyard fees. You’d run away from home with me, your old man never liked me. We shared a sandwich with turkey ham and mayo from the service station, couldn’t afford anything better back then. You said it was the best Thanksgiving turkey you’d ever had. Because you were with me. How can I ever forget that!”

    “I still think it’s the best Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever had,” Jeanette’s eyes sparkle as Ron recounts that dear memory with such lucidity.

    “And then we parked at the Motel carpark, we couldn’t afford a room of course,” Ron continues, enthused by his own words, “so we went on top of each other on the Viscount’s generous backseat. It was a great night, that night…”

    Jeanette whispers something in his ear. His face beams.

    “Yes, why not!” Ron replies, “my legs are no good anymore, but that’s just the legs, and you’re now even lovelier than that chick in the Viscount…”

    “This gal wants you!” Jeanette says, “but let’s first say our Thanksgiving prayer, shall we?”

    Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 7:11 am
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      Very touching story, I’m sure this will make an impact with many people this year especially.

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 1:10 pm
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        Thanks Zoe and welcome here (I don’t think I’ve seen you before).

        I’m pleased you found my story touching. I’ve been working on this, to make my stories more emotionally appealing. I’ve often had commentators saying they found my plots clever, but I’m glad to be hitting this other cord now too in some of my readers. It’s one of the things I’ve learned to look at since I’ve joined this site.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 10:02 am
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      Ken,

      Another beautifully written story from you. This was very poignant and relatable.

      I remember the first Thanksgiving after Mama’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s with dementia. We went to a restaurant because Mama wasn’t able to cook for the first time in years. She didn’t know where she was, she couldn’t remember what she liked, the people around her overwhelmed her and she kept getting up to wander around. She kept thinking that she had to go to the restroom even after she’d just been. I spent the meal getting up and going after her and gently guiding her back to the table. We ate hurriedly and left. None of us said anything. We all knew what was happening and that it would only get worse. It was a sad and somber holiday. This was our first Thanksgiving without Mama. Although I miss her dearly, I would not wish her back here to suffer.

      Thanks for addressing this difficult subject. You did well!

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 6:01 pm
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        Hi Adi, long time no see!

        While I’m pleased you liked my story, I’m sorry if I brought up to the surface any sad memories for you.

        Although I don’t have any direct experiences of dementia, I’m very moved by such stories (like The Notebook) and I’m quite terrified of this terrible way of dying while still living. For if one’s memory is gone, he’s gone too.

        On the bright side, a former school classmate of mine is now a world class neurosurgeon in a major London research hospital and is apparently making some headway in the long road towards curing such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by actually intervening directly inside the physical brain.

        In the meantime, I plan to learn Chinese in my later years. They say that learning a new language late in life is a good gym for aging brain cells to stay on top of the game…

        Thanks for sharing your Mom’s story with us. My made up tale fades next to your true life drama. I hope that life has now generally taken a better turn for you. I know you’ve been through a lot lately.

        Ken

        Reply
        • December 3, 2020 at 2:24 pm
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          Hi Ken M.

          No worries! You did not bring sadness to me. These were just memories, not sad memories. They are part of Mama’s story now, our story and journey with her. There was so much in the beginning we did not know and although the final destination was known; how the journey would go and the turns it would take were always a mystery and we took one day at a time, one step at a time, for more than 10 years. She is now at peace. I am planning a book about our journey with Mama.

          I used to love the movie the The Notebook but could not (and have not) watched it since Mama’s diagnosis in 2009. Daddy watched it often and prayed to die with her like the ending in the movie. Maybe one day I will be able to watch it again.

          Like I said before, I LOVED the story and you dealt with a sensitive subject with compassion and insight. I thank you!

          Hugs,

          Adi

          Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 11:26 am
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      It’s a good story Ken. The opening primes our curiosity, and then you gradually pull back the curtain and we come to see what’s really happening.

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 5:46 pm
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        Yes, and that curtain I pull back for the reader to see what’s really happening is also symbolic of the curtain the distant happy memory of sex on the backseat of the Viscount pulls back for Ron’s shrouded mind.

        I’m pleased you liked it, Ken.

        It’s my first new story in a while. The last ones (when I did take part) were from my back catalogue. This one is made in 2020 🙂

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 2:12 pm
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      Great stuff, Ken! The switch from what we take to be desperate voyeurism to the actual truth is really neatly done. And the back-story of all the past Thanksgivings is very touchingly revealed. And of course, despite all the frustrations of memory-loss and disability, we have a great, uplifting ending. I thought that the reveal of Ron’s dementia could maybe have been established a little less overtly (you even use the word ‘dementia’ at one point), but that takes little away from a really well structured and poignant take on the prompt. Well done!

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 6:14 pm
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        Hi Phil, and thanks for your nice words. I’m trying to work on honing my craft with stories that are more emotionally charged and poignant rather than “just” cleverly set plots. So I’m glad you liked my story from that point of view too.

        I take your point that Ron’s dementia could have been brought in less overtly (less tell, more show). I even used the word ‘dementia’ itself, as you rightly noted. I wrote this story so quickly, I didn’t even realize I had done that until you mentioned it! So I went back to see what you’re talking about, and, yes, true I did use the D word at one point. I’ll remove it if I use this story again elsewhere.

        I also realized just now that my character is called Ron. I think I’d wanted to call him Rob (a hint that something was robbed of him, and that something is not his precious Missus but his very brain), but then I typed Ron and it remained that way! Who’s demented now?

        Cheers,
        Ken

        Reply
        • December 2, 2020 at 6:16 pm
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          (and why did my avatar turn into an angry Christmas tree? At least not a roasted turkey.)

          Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 1:21 pm
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      I liked your story, Ken M. It made me laugh and at the same time, brought home the frailty of old age and how it robs us of our youth in ways we never imagine when we are young. And, my mind wanders as I think what Ron has on his mind after the Thanksgiving prayer, and somehow, I don’t think its turkey. Good job.

      Roy

      Reply
      • December 6, 2020 at 5:24 pm
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        Hi Roy, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m pleased you liked the humor infused into what’s otherwise a very sad subject. If humor (together with love) is the last to die, at least not all is lost, even for people in Ron and Jeanette’s predicament…

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
  • November 30, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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    Hi Ken M,

    Another first class piece of writing that meets the requirements of A Zoom Christmas. You have managed to use the prompt to shine a light on an all too familiar theme,dementia but in your own unique way. I suspect far too many of us have had first hand experience of dealing with parents in just this situation.

    This is also a really good read and the poignant moments when both realise that they need each other and the lovely strands of memory come flooding back.

    There aren’t many stories in this time round but the quality is sky-high.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 6:31 pm
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      Hi Ken, thanks for your nice words and I’m pleased you enjoyed the read (in spite of its somber theme, but happy ending.)

      Yes, the way Jeanette and Ron need one another is central to the story’s theme. You seem to have noticed that before me! While he was afraid he was losing her to the invisible man with the itinerant hand, she’s sad she’s losing him to his deepening disease. While he wheels her away from a tyrant father to happiness in his Viscount many Thanksgivings ago, she now wheels him into newly found happiness this Thanksgiving round…

      No story from you yet? We’re still to top the charts, one day, with three Kens in the first three places. We nearly did it once, but not quite (2,3 and 4 alas!), Andy Lake came ahead of all of us! (and then there was the Lowell Hartman experiment, too, of course). So we have to keep trying!

      Cheers!
      Ken the Other

      Reply
  • December 1, 2020 at 11:46 am
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    TABLE FOR SIX

    by Zoe Popham

    (1,175 words)

    ‘Can you hear me?’ Mom shouts from a black box on the screen.

    ‘Click the video icon, Mother,’ Katie replies tiredly. ‘We still can’t see you.’

    ‘Well I can see you!’ says Mom, as Dad pops up next to her in vibrant color.

    ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ he shouts cheerily. It’s the happiest I’ve heard him sound in years.

    ‘So, Janine is here,’ Dad continues, ‘and I want to introduce her son too…’ The camera swerves around a cramped apartment with glimpses of a large turkey, sweet potatoes and fairy lights. It settles on a middle-aged woman with lank, brown hair, face frozen in fear. Has Zoom stuck? No, Janine is just scared.

    ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ Janine says timidly, and her eyes dart quickly to something off-screen. ‘I’ll just get the cranberry sauce.’

    Oh cranberry sauce is it? We never had cranberry sauce when Dad lived at home. He always said it tasted vile and ‘sweet stuff doesn’t go with turkey’. Seems like now he’s divorced Mom and got a new woman, he’s open to all kinds of cranberry experiences. Frankly, I hope they choke on it.

    ‘Hi Janine, what’s your son’s name again?’ says Katie from a background of bright blue skies. Trust Katie to be a suck up. Always making things nice. People pleaser extraordinaire.

    Janine sits back down with a jug of deep red gloop and smooths down her hair. ‘Uhm, Mitch, he’s called Mitch,’ Janine says. ‘But he’s rather shy,’ and the camera swerves again to a hoodie-wearing boy of around eight years old, face aglow with the reflection of a video game.

    The boy grunts. The camera swerves back to Dad again.

    ‘So Katie,’ Dad says, ‘What’s it like being stuck in Australia during Covid?’

    So typical isn’t it? That my little sister would be halfway across the world, in a far warmer place, when Covid hit.

    ‘I’m so blessed,’ Katie gushes. ‘I’m staying in this place called Coogee Beach, see…’ and she treats us to views of turquoise waves and golden sands.

    ‘Oh I’ve worked it out now!’ comes a squeal as Mom appears. She’s holding a tall glass of champagne and tries to toast us through the screen. I recognize the over-patterned dining room wallpaper, how it clashes with the sofa fabric. I miss my family home.

    ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ Mom continues with excess enthusiasm. I have a feeling this isn’t her first champagne.

    ‘So now we’re all here…’ Dad says. ‘Oh, but where’s Claudine?’

    I, Claudine, had actually been the first Zoom participant, and have been silently waiting this whole time for someone to notice I’m online.

    I click the video and audio icons and make my Zoom entrance.

    ‘Happy Thanksgiving everyone!’ I say, waving at the camera over my microwave turkey dinner.

    Mom squints. ‘Claudine, have you cut your hair again? It’s winter! Katie, will you have a word with her?’

    ‘You only live a few blocks away, Mother,’ says Katie, ‘I’m in Sydney for god’s sake.’

    What Katie doesn’t realize is that I haven’t seen Mom for half a year. ‘I’m in the risk group, darling,’ Mom has told me multiple times. ‘Best you leave me to my romance novels and this new Netflix thing until Covid is over.’ Fine, but I’d expected she would want to call me more.

    ‘Let’s stop talking about hair and get a toast going!’ says Dad as he lifts a bottle of cheap beer and encourages Janine to do the same. ‘I’m making a toast to… Family. Family – old, new and combined!’

    Janine lifts her bottle weakly. Myself and Katie both wait to see what Mom does first. ‘Marvelous idea for a toast dear!’ says Mom, her eyes glossy and sparkly. I wonder if she’s become an alcoholic.

    ‘To family!’ Katie and I toast the screen – Katie in the land of dreams and hopes, me in my grim bedsit in the suburbs.

    I’m a mess, my life is a pit of gray that I can’t even use Covid as an excuse for anymore. While others are learning to speak new languages, writing Booker prize novels and redesigning their living rooms for $10, I’m still wondering what my life purpose is; apart from sleeping and watching bad reality shows.

    I wonder what will happen if I sign out of Zoom now. Will my so-called ‘family’ notice at all? I don’t have travel anecdotes to tell like Katie and my own Mom would rather read trash than speak on the phone. I don’t have a fresh start like my Dad, or someone to care for me like Janine does now, or to buy me expensive video games like Mitch. I don’t have anyone to make me cranberry sauce.

    I bite into my overcooked meal and realize that it tastes of nothing.

    ‘I’m planning to do a tour of the country once Covid’s over,’ Katie is giggling. ‘Oh lovely, so lovely,’ Mom and Dad coo from opposite rectangles in unison. Janine is even starting to smile.

    ‘For such a crappy year, there are so many positives,’ says Mom. ‘We’re all still here, happy, healthy and together! Another toast?’

    And that’s when I feel the turkey piece jam in my throat.

    I swallow hard but, no, it’s going nowhere. Shots of adrenaline spike to my heart and blood pumps in my ears.

    I’m choking!

    The laughter of my family softens, disappears, just like their happy faces. ‘I’m too young to die,’ my mind screams and I grab at the computer frantically, like it can somehow save me.

    ‘Is that lady OK?’ a child’s voice says.

    ‘Oh my god!’ cries Janine, as Katie starts screaming.

    ‘911! Call 911!’ screams my Mom, and my eyes feel wide and wild.

    ‘Claudine, it’s your Father! Take your fist and put it under your ribs, it’s called the Heimlich manoeuvre.’

    My vision is misty, but I listen to his strong, clear instructions. Bang, bang, I push my body into the table, again and again, desperate to live.

    ‘Hurry! My baby can’t breathe!’ my Mom is screaming down a phone. ‘Just one more time, really hard,’ my Dad says firmly as I, again, try to dislodge the food. ‘You can do this!’ I hear Janine shout. And the turkey piece flies out and hits the table.

    And with that I collapse onto it.

    I sit up slowly, laughing and crying in equal measures.

    ‘She’s alive!’ my Mom cries down the phone and holds her hands in prayer. Katie is quiet for once, black rivers of mascara down her face. My Dad drops his head, while Janine rubs his shoulders. The incident has been dramatic enough for Mitch to put down his video game.

    I adjust my screen and see their eyes looking ahead in silence. They are waiting for something. Waiting for me.

    I pick up my glass of water and lift it in the air of the apartment I will live another day in, in a town I can always leave if I want. And I make a toast.

    ‘To family!’ I say.

    And everyone breathes out.

    Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 7:34 am
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      Hi Zoe,

      I don’t think I have seen any of your stories before so this was a really great start. If this is your first time on this site then a very warm welcome to you. I hope to read many more if they are all of this calibre.

      You managed to meet the requirements of the prompt and tell a sad, poignant and true to life account of a real family, warts and all. The dialogue sizzles with deft undertones of jealousy and disappointment that many families will recognise if they just scratch the surface. I really felt the tension in the dialogue as well as the narrator’s frustration.

      I didn’t realize that you can perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself so that is an added bonus in your story.

      Great stuff, Zoe.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 7:47 am
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        Hi Ken Frape, many thanks for your supportive and thoughtful comments, truly appreciated.Yes, this is my first submission after being introduced to the site by Phil Town. I am loving the platform and have loved reading the other stories. The prompts feel like a great way to motivate myself (being a chronic procrastinator) to produce something, even relatively small. Looking forward to reading more from you!

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 10:21 am
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      Zoe,

      Welcome! Loved reading your story. You will fit in well with this group! Great writing. I liked your inclusion of the character using the Heimlich maneuver on herself. When I taught CPR and First Aid, we recommended using the high back of a chair to aid with the thrusts. Great work!

      Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 1:40 pm
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      I really liked this story, Zoe. It’s entertaining. I think the general theme here is resignation, with undertones of sibling-rivalry along with, as Ken mentioned, ‘jealousy and disappointment.’ And that makes the ending something like a re-birth or renewal. It’s touching, and the characters seem complex despite being universal, without feeling stereotypical, and all that in spite of the limited word count. The writing and the dialogue are excellent, and the story is creative.

      I thought you could’ve changed the last sentence.
      ‘And everyone breathes out.’ With: And everyone exhales.? (Of course, it’s the last sentence, so if you ask six different people, (I’m sorry, not people, writers) if you ask six different writers, you’d get six different answers.)

      But this is high quality writing. Skillful storytelling. And a really fun read. Welcome to the group, Zoe.

      Reply
      • December 2, 2020 at 2:18 pm
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        Hi Ken C, thank you very much for your lovely welcome and comments – it’s so great receiving such positive feedback and you picked up on so many of the themes I tried to get across (which makes me sigh with relief). I really appreciate your encouragement and look forward to joining you all again in the future!

        By the way, I also really like your suggestion of the end line. Thanks again for taking the time to feedback.

        Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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      [Full disclosure (for the ‘oldsters’ here): I do know Zoe from a local writing group.]

      As I’ve told you before, I really love this story, Zoe. As our ‘co-groupie’ Adriana said over on Facebook, it’s steeped in humanity. With very few lines of dialogue and description, we have a clear picture of a very complex but recognizable family unit, scattered across the world, with all the back-story and tensions adroitly addressed. The shift from the narrator’s gloom to her thankfulness for ‘family’ is beautifully done, giving us a great uplift by the end. And that last line, which encompasses all the characters and us the reader, is inspired. Really brilliant.

      Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 6:59 pm
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      Hi Zoe,

      I enjoyed your story, especially the undertones signaling the tensions riddling this family.

      My fave bit is:

      ‘Seems like now he’s divorced Mom and got a new woman, he’s open to all kinds of cranberry experiences. Frankly, I hope they choke on it.’

      Well, there’s the karma element with the choking, but I just like the way you put it – all kinds of cranberry experiences haha!

      When Claudine finds the turkey tasteless, I thought it was going to be the Covid symptom thingy (losing taste), but then things took a different turn. I’m sure the choking was a psychosomatic way for Claudine to attract the attention she badly craved for. Even at the expense of choking to death. That’s her real ailment: being ignored and understated, a theme you bring in subtly without drumming it on the reader.

      Well done and welcome here. Hope to see more from you in this little big place.

      Cheers!
      Ken III

      Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 1:56 pm
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        Hi Ken III, apologies for not replying sooner. Thanks for your comments and I love that you loved the ‘cranberry experiences’ line. I always imagine Claudine thinking that with a lot of bitterness haha. And yes, Claudine making a starry lead in the Zoom call could well have been deliberate… Looking forward to reading more of the stories in the future competitions!

        Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 1:39 pm
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      Zoe, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that your name is pronounced using all the letters, as in Zoey. If not, and it’s just Zo, let me know so I don’t slip up and call you Zoey. Welcome to this little group, and much like Phil Town, and Alice Nelson, a winner on your first entry. It’s easy to see why, with a very well written story. It had to be to win over the other stories.

      I seldom hand a story to my wife to read, but in this instance I did. She thought it was brilliant, too. I can go on about it but everyone else has said all of the superlatives I would have used. Let’s just say you are off to a very good start. You added a great twist, so congrats on that. As Ken C., said, a great piece of misdirection with the food tasting like nothing sending all of us to Covidland, and then not going there.

      Haven’t been able to enter much lately, and sorely wish I could have spared the time to enter this one. I was all excited about it whenI read the prompt. Having read the other three stories, I fear my entry may not have made it to fifth place in a five story contest.

      Again, welcome to the group.

      Roy York

      Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 2:02 pm
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        Hi Roy, wow such a compliment that you passed the story to your wife to read. I’m actually blushing! Please send my best wishes to her. I must say it was really fun having a deadline and rules to follow and a challenge fitting into the 1,200 word limit, however I am determined to keep going and enter the next prompt (20 year reunion). At this point though, it feels a lot harder the second time round. Maybe the win was just beginner’s luck! I am really enjoying the chance to read everyone’s stories, all so different and creative. I hope to read your entry for the next one! And all the best again

        PS. Yes my name is pronounced like ‘Zo-wie’. Apparently an umlaut on the ‘e’ would make it easier to say correctly, but I got a bit lazy with looking for that when typing.

        Reply
  • December 2, 2020 at 7:15 am
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    Great story, I felt sympathy and curiosity about the character of Claudine. I think you summed up a typical dysfunctional family perfectly!

    Reply
    • December 2, 2020 at 7:50 am
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      Thanks for your insightful comments!

      Reply
  • December 2, 2020 at 12:02 pm
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    Hey writers!!

    You know the drill… It’s time to vote!

    Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once, and you may NOT vote for yourself.

    http://fictionwritersgroup.com/zoom2020/

    You officially have 24 HOURS from the timestamp of this comment to read through the stories vote.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • December 3, 2020 at 11:18 am
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      I can’t take it any more. I’ve waited six years for someone to edit this. Six years!

      Remember, you MUST vote in order for your own story to qualify. You may only submit your votes once, and you may not, under any circumstances, vote for your own story.

      Cheers.

      Reply
      • December 3, 2020 at 2:00 pm
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        Haha I didn’t notice until after you mentioned it

        Reply
  • December 3, 2020 at 11:07 am
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    Please don’t wait on my vote. Sorry, but I won’t be able to vote until much later, and don’t want to hold things up. Great stories this week. Wish I could vote.

    Roy

    Reply
  • December 3, 2020 at 1:48 pm
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    We are waiting on clarification from two voters, I’ll post the results and the next prompt soon!

    *Edit
    I’m having some technical difficulties, I should have the results and the new prompt up in a couple of hours. Sorry for the delay!!

    Reply
  • December 3, 2020 at 6:14 pm
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    Without further ado…..here are your winners!!

    1st Place: “Table for Six” by Zoe Popham
    2nd Place: “A Time for Giving” by Ken Cartisano
    3rd Place: “Christmas Greetings” by Phil Town
    4th Place: “After the Prayer” by Ken Miles

    Favorite character: The Indian from “A Time for Giving” by Ken Cartisano
    The story with the favorite dialogue was a dead heat between Zoe and Phil!

    Congrats and welcome Zoe!

    Reply
    • December 3, 2020 at 6:31 pm
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      Hi All,

      Well done Zoe. You have made the start that many of us would love to have been able to copy. My first entry, exactly two years ago resulted in a 7th. place with my “Christmas Gold” story. I didn’t mind that in a large group of about 14 writers but I was able to introduce the word “fug” to Ken C and the music of Noddy Holder. He didn’t like either.

      The comments from the others here shows how highly your story was rated.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • December 3, 2020 at 7:08 pm
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        Ken?
        If I remember correctly, that story was about a man, who comes into a coffee shop, and lays a present down on every table. He’s kind of scruffy but he seems to twinkle at the same time. And he leaves before anyone but the narrator even seems to notice him. Is that the story you’re referring to? Because I’m pretty sure that story deserved a much higher ranking, and surely received one from me. I didn’t like the fug, or know who Noddy Naptime was, but I really liked that story. Maybe the moderators know, but I’d be willing to bet I had that in my top three for that contest. If not first.

        Reply
        • December 4, 2020 at 5:37 am
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          Hi Ken C,

          I laughed when I read this comment from you as I was hoping that you would see what I had written to Zoe.

          i went back through the archives to find the story thread for “A Christmas Miracle.” There were 14 or 15 stories posted then. It was this time in December in 2018 so this latest prompt will be my second anniversary as a writer in the group. There were lots and lots of comments at the time and some very useful advice from yourself, Andy, Roy and Phil, I think.

          Your comments and critique were very interesting as I had no idea who you were ( I do now!) and I was a little surprised then by your insistence that “fug” was not a word you had heard and should not be used. However, surprised is one thing but I was not in the least offended or put off. After all, if you don’t want to be critiqued, don’t post your work, or become a school principal.

          I went through my original posted story, “Christmas Gold” and then went into my saved documents to see how it looks now and clearly some of the comments have been acted upon. Whilst I still defend my use of the word “fug” it no longer appears in the saved document! I haven’t heard Noddy Holder yet this year but I’m sure he is around somewhere, rubbing his hands in anticipation at the prospect of earning another £0.5 million in royalties.

          There’s no need to respond to my next question but, “How are things going in the US in the period between the election and the forthcoming inauguration in January.?” Things seem to have gone very quiet lately, which is no bad thing, of course.

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape.

          Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 2:08 pm
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        Hi Ken Frape, sounds like a great title, I will try to go back and find it. Anyone that can introduce another to Noddy Holder is a star in my books 🙂

        Reply
    • December 3, 2020 at 6:34 pm
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      Woohoo! Well done Zoe! Terrific stuff.

      (Hope you stick around!)

      Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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        Thanks Phil! I share the prize with you for introducing me to this great group!

        Reply
    • December 3, 2020 at 7:12 pm
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      Congratulations on the win, Zoe. I liked your character much better than my grumpy old Indian, but there’s no accounting for taste. (In characters, anyway.)

      Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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        Thanks Ken! I actually voted for your narrator as best character. I really loved him and the story and I think it would make an amazing novel if expanded.

        Reply
      • December 5, 2020 at 2:12 pm
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        Many thanks Alice! Looking forward to reading more about you in the future. All the best

        Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 2:05 pm
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      Many thanks! It’s a real honour, what with such great stories in the competition. I’m (tentatively) looking forward to the next prompt and officially saying I will enter soon, while simultaneously wondering what I have agreed to! Hope to read all your stories soon x

      Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 8:44 am
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    Well done Zoe!! Congrats!

    Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 2:13 pm
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      Thank you!!

      Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 9:23 am
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    Congratulations, Zoe! You really started with a bang. And deservedly so. As Ken F. said, it rarely happens that one gets one’s first win here so early in the day. I think I had to wait for about a year or so for that to happen! So don’t underestimate your feat…

    I don’t mind placing last, this time round, I’m fourth right behind three giants with such good stories, so I’m not lamenting anything, I sort of saw it coming, actually…

    Well done, too, to Carty and his Indian and to Phil and Zoe again for the dialogue prize. Is the air good there, in Lisbon, for developing excellence in dialogue artistry? There must be something… I live in a city where a quarter of the population is Portuguese, I’ve got to hang more often around with them…

    Cheers!
    Ken

    Reply
    • December 5, 2020 at 2:15 pm
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      Thanks Ken! Yes it may be the Lisbon air and being in a partial lockdown. Maybe all that pent up creative energy coming out in some form. I must say, it was great to get the lovely feedback but I am not having as a clear an idea where to go with the next prompt. Feels a lot harder the second time. Hopefully I havent used up all the energy! Will you be submitting next time?

      Reply
      • December 6, 2020 at 5:12 pm
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        Yes, I’ve already thrown in something for the next prompt… not sure how fitting, but it’s something.

        True, it’s a complicated prompt, with quite a lot in it; we usually have more straightforward ones…

        Hope you’ll come up with something too.

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
  • December 5, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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    Can anybody tell me why we are getting such a dearth of stories? I know some of the reasons for my not getting there, but we’ve really dropped off the last few months. Come on, people, pick up the quill pen on those cold winter evenings (except for Ilana, whose evenings are warm) and get to writing.

    Roy

    Reply

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